§ 12.41 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and the very grave statement that the Minister of Transport has made reinforces tremendously the case I want to make today on behalf of a large number of interested bodies and organisations for the raising of the speed limit of heavy commercial vehicles from 20 miles to 30 miles per hour. The right hon. Gentleman has made a statement which, although the matter is not finalised, seems to imply that there is now an irrevocable decision to raise railway freight charges, and possibly passenger charges, which will add to the general cost of transport to industry. Without doubt, therefore, industry everywhere will be looking for an avenue of escape, and will want to find that, as far as it can, on the roads. Therefore, if anything can be done to ensure that road transport is efficient and as speedily organised, so much the better.
The Road Traffic Act, 1930, as amended by other enactments, lays down that goods vehicles with an unladen weight in excess of three tons are restricted to a maximum speed of 20 miles an hour, whilst those of three tons and under are permitted to travel up to 30 miles an hour. The object of this debate, for which I think there is all-party approval, is to invite the Minister to make an order as soon as may be raising the permitted speed limit of all heavy commercial vehicles, except those fitted with solid tyres or drawing a separate trailer, to the general limit of 30 miles an hour.
I will not weary the House by going back too far into the history of this matter, but opinion has been working up on all sides for the last six or seven years that this would be a desirable reform to make. In 1944 a joint memorandum was presented to the then Minister of Transport by a committee of goods vehicle manufacturers and operators which recommended, in the interests of design and 2600 operation, that this change should be made. Although the views of trade and industry on this subject have been known for a long time, so far there has been no response. In the last year alone, two deputations were taken to the Ministry of Transport, one on 6th January, 1950, to the Parliamentary Secretary, and the other on 23rd May to the right hon. Gentleman himself, at which I had the honour of being present.
In order to show the House how widespread is the demand, I propose to enumerate some of the bodies which were either represented on those deputations or have since attached the policies of their organisations to this reform. They are as follows: The British Road Federation, the Federation of British Industries, the Mansion House Association on Transport, the National Union of Manufacturers, the Road Haulage Association, the Traders' Road Transport Association, the Traders' Traffic Conference, the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club, and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. I do not know of any organisation of any importance that has anything to do with road transport policy, either passenger or vehicle, which is not interested in this reform.
§ Mr. Poole (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
On that point, would not the noble Lord agree that the trade unions who cater for drivers and men employed in the industry have a definite interest in the matter; and would he say which of those support it?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I quite appreciate that, but it would not be right for the hon. Gentleman to maintain that the trade unions are against this, for they have not yet taken a stand on the matter. I will refer to the union side of the matter before I sit down.
There are several main reasons for raising the speed limit of these vehicles, and I propose to deal with each. First, there is an overriding economic reason which links up with what I said at the beginning of my speech. There is no doubt whatever that higher productivity throughout the nation would come from this reform. It is an obvious case and does not need arguing. It is almost impossible to produce statistical evidence as to how much productivity would be raised if these commercial vehicles went faster than they do, 2601 but it is common sense, and it stands to reason, that if this reform were made and schedules were recast accordingly, we would get an increase in productivity which would redound to the benefit of the nation and would possibly lead to cheaper prices.
The general output of industry is needlessly retarded if restrictions are put on the speed of operation of road vehicles, if some vehicles move more slowly down the road than others, and if working schedules are enmeshed in low gear by State regulation. In these days we must have full and frank recognition of the fact that modern road transport exists not merely for the purpose of moving goods from one part of the country to another, but that it is in itself an integral and vital part of the process of production and distribution. The Prime Minister has himself said that transport today is the conveyor belt of industry. He will not thank the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport if that conveyor belt moves too slowly.
Secondly, there is a case to be made for this on grounds of road safety alone, although at first blush it would not appear to be so. There are various factors to consider. There is substantial support for this reform on those grounds. For example, in May, 1947, the Committee on Road Safety, which included five representatives of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and three representatives of the police, issued its final report, paragraph 66 of which includes these words:Having regard to improvements in braking equipment, we see no objection on grounds of road safety to an increase of the speed limit of 20 miles an hour at present applicable to heavy goods vehicles.Someone, it may have been the right hon. Gentleman himself, ascertained the views of the local road safety committees on this subject by a letter sent to 1,724 of them. Only 17 of that number replied opposing the increase. The rest tacitly accepted or wrote positively approving it.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)
We might as well have the facts correct. The number registering against it was 85.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
If the right hon. Gentleman inaugurated this movement and is responisble for collecting the evidence, I will of course accept that.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I cannot give way. Mr. Deputy-Speaker has already appealed to us to shorten our remarks in view of the time factor.
There is a question of uniformity of traffic speed which, clearly, has its effect upon road safety. Roads today are getting more congested than ever, and it is quite obvious that if overtaking can be avoided as far as possible, if heavy goods vehicles move along the road at a uniform rate and there is no passing of heavy commercial vehicles by light commercial vehicles, we shall reduce some of the risks of accidents. Overtaking is inevitable when one class of vehicle is restricted to a speed below that of other traffic.
Objections have been raised on the question of safety. It is said, for example, that running schedules would be raised to a flat average of 22 miles an hour if this reform were made and that this speed is too fast for built-up areas and perhaps too slow for the open road. I do not, however, know of any responsible organisation which would suggest a flat average speed. It is clearly unworkable, and all those concerned would cast their schedules so that a speed of something less than 22 miles an hour would be done in built-up areas and something greater on the open road. Each route is considered in the light of its own peculiar circumstances and an average speed determined accordingly. For example, if a heavy vehicle is being driven from the London docks to Slough, a much lower average would be scheduled for that route than for one lying mainly through the open country.
Another objection is that there would be irresponsible operators who would take advantage of the raising of the speed limit as an opportunity to set impossible schedules. Again, I do not think there is any evidence whatever for this contention. The great majority of operators of heavy goods vehicles are firms of national repute and they would not be so irresponsible as willingly to involve their drivers and their vehicles, and therefore themselves, in accidents and their consequences.
If this speed limit of 30 miles an hour were made statutory, there is no question at all that drivers as a whole would be 2603 less accident-prone than they are today. Nothing is more wearying to the nerves of drivers of these heavy goods vehicles than to have to travel at something under 20 miles an hour, uphill and downhill, and changing gear all the time in order to manœuvre and to pass other vehicles. If there were a steady forward speed of 30 miles an hour, the amount of gear changing would quite obviously be very much less.
Some parties seem to think that these enormous vehicles would come thundering down the road at vast speeds, scattering men, women and children—and, perhaps, chickens, too—in all directions, but I cannot imagine anything of the kind happening. These vehicles nowadays have braking and other systems of great complexity and effectiveness and they are entirely as manageable as some of the public service vehicles which can go at 30 miles an hour.
There is a distinct anomaly on the subject of public service vehicles. I have a graph which is produced in a most interesting document, the Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, of 12th January, 1951, dealing with a lecture by Dr. W. H. Glanville, of the Road Safety and Research Laboratory. In a graph on page 165, he plots the speed in miles an hour of vehicles against the braking distance in feet. He shows clearly that a 5-ton unladen vehicle is safer than a bus or heavy public service vehicle. For instance, at 30 miles an hour an ordinary motor car, such as we all drive, can stop in 50 ft. and a 5-ton unladen lorry in 60 ft., whereas a bus requires 80 ft. That seems to me to be clear evidence of an anomaly, which could be rectified by raising the speed limit for these heavy vehicles. As to the standards of braking, these vehicles are now built to the highest engineering standards and can be inspected by Ministry of Transport officials or by the police at any time, and there does not seem to be any danger in allowing them to travel faster.
That brings me to a point about the police. There is no doubt whatever that today the police are not prosecuting those who contravene the law. They cannot do so when the law, as in this case. is an ass. Nobody can expect modern vehicles of comprehensive design and with the braking that I have described, to go along the road at 20 miles an hour, and they are 2604 not doing so—we all know that. They are going beyond 20 miles an hour; and the moment we cut through the statutory speed limit because it is ridiculous, the inhibitions of the drivers are released and they go much faster than they ought to go, and very often over 30 miles an hour.
If we were to increase the speed limit to 30 miles an hour, we would make it possible for the police actively to prosecute in an enormous number of cases those drivers of vehicles who are contravening the law, and that itself would act as a brake upon the drivers who go beyond 30 miles an hour and would bring them back to the proper limit. I assure the House—it must be known to all hon. Members from experience—that if that were done, the speed limit would be observed.
Thirdly, as a major case for the change, there is the question of vehicle design. Paragraph 66 of the Final Report of the Committee on Road Safety considered the arbitrary distinction in respect of speed limits between light and heavy goods vehicles as having an undesirable effect on both design and operation. The emphasis on light weight, to keep vehicles within the higher speed category, serves to differentiate home and export goods vehicles, and the elimination of this factor would make greater standardisation of models possible and so lead to manufacturing economies.
The higher speed limit would also assist manufacture for export by bringing the speed of vehicles used in this country nearer to that of vehicles in other countries, where high cruising speeds are permitted. This is the only country, so far as I know, with a speed as low as 20 miles an hour for these vehicles. In the United States of America, they travel at 50 to 55 miles an hour; in France, 31 miles an hour, and in Holland 37½ miles an hour.
Finally, I wish to say a word about the position of the unions. I do not know that we can do more than express a fervent hope for support from the unions in the interests of productivity, and as the general industrial and economic situation of the country gets graver, the case for union support improves. Some sections of drivers have claimed that all the benefit from this reform should be passed on to them. Clearly if we did that, there would be no advantage whatever in 2605 making the change. On the other hand, I am sure that all in this House would agree that the men's earnings must not suffer, nor must drivers be asked to spend longer hours upon the road for the same wages as they are getting today, unless, of course, that was all part and parcel of a great nation-wide movement to work longer and harder for the same wages.
The result of this reform would be certain cash sums—no one can estimate how much—being released to the road transport industry. It seems a matter for straightforward negotiation between the employer and unions to see that these sums are properly apportioned. I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman would not today wish to give a firm assurance that he is to legislate next week, or next month, but I do not want him to say either that the final outcome of this matter must wait until the employers and unions have got together. That would merely maintain what the mathematicians call "a third variant" and no one would be able to move at all. I should like him to say that, whatever happens in the matter between the two sides of industry, he will legislate at a moment of his own choosing, and, perhaps, that will have a beneficial effect in getting them together to discuss the new schedules of operation.
This House in the last five weeks has not done a very great deal to help forward the country in its perplexing situation. Here is a chance of making a small, but notable, reform to reduce costs and to increase our competitive efficiency in the world, and I hope the House as a whole will approve of it.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
As the House knows, we have lost 25 minutes of the time for the five Adjournment debates, and as of the five debates, this one is the longest, I think it should suffer the 25 minutes—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Let me finish, please. I thought first of cutting each Adjournment debate by five minutes, but if we did that, it would leave the last Member only 25 minutes instead of half an hour. If we take the time off this debate the four hon. Members and the Ministers who are to reply to them will be coming in at the times for which they have been warned.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
With great respect, I think that is a little unfair to 2606 this subject and to those who have made a special study of it and wish to take part in the debate. Could you compromise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and perhaps take a quarter of an hour of our time and another 10 minutes off somewhere else?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the noble Lord will work that out and bring his suggestion to me, I shall be very glad to consider it.
§ 1.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Pargiter (Southall)
In view of what has transpired, I do not propose to detain the House too long on this question. I want to support the suggestions which have been put forward in connection with the speed limit. I am concerned with the unification of speed limits of comparable vehicles because I believe that one of the biggest factors of danger on the road is that comparable vehicles are not comparable from the point of view of the limitation placed on their speed.
That also has a deterrent effect upon the engineering industry, with which I am principally concerned, because it tends to throw the weight of balance in the construction of vehicles on to the lighter—and, at high speed with heavy loads—less safe type of vehicle and place at a disadvantage the heavy type of vehicle specially constructed to carry heavy loads. This trouble goes back to the original Road and Rail Traffic Act which made an arbitrary distinction between the laden and unladen weight of vehicles, placing the emphasis on the unladen, whereas it is obvious that what matters is the laden weight as far as road surface and efficiency of the vehicle are concerned.
One may have a vehicle of less than three tons unladen weight which is able to travel at 30 m.p.h. legally carrying a weight which in total is the equivalent of 12 tons gross. On the other hand, a machine of five tons unladen weight which by virtue of the limitation on the total weight for a four-wheeled vehicle, would be able to carry only seven tons pay-load, making a gross 12 tons, is limited to 20 m.p.h. That does not make sense, but it is part of the Act. It is something to which I hope the Minister will give attention at some time, in order to remedy the anomaly.
2607 The heavy vehicles section of the engineering industry, which employs a greater proportion of skilled labour than is employed in the lighter type of vehicle construction, is being penalised. Consequently, the better class vehicle is purchased less often than it ought to be and the lighter vehicle is sold more readily. These are factors of great importance to the engineering industry and of importance also to the general conduct of industry in the country. If these vehicles travelled at the same speed, it would mean that a person wanting to purchase a vehicle would naturally purchase the best vehicle, not the vehicle which would give him a higher speed. It is well known that the rate of obsolescence of the heavy vehicle is much less than the rate of obsolescence of the light vehicle. The heavy vehicle lasts longer, and in the end needs less maintenance. The driver is generally more happy with a heavy vehicle because he can drive with less trouble and in greater comfort. It has a more powerful engine and it is not necessary to change gear so often, which is one of the most fatiguing factors in driving.
The question of safety has been touched on and the noble Lord referred to a lighter vehicle passing a heavier vehicle. It is not only that, but it is also a question of a heavy vehicle passing another heavy vehicle—one doing about 16 miles per hour and another trying to keep to the limit but to keep up to 20 m.p.h. It has been the experience of many hon. Members that vehicles go along two abreast for 300 or 400 yards or more and this is a fruitful source of accidents, about which something ought to be done.
The question whether the vehicles travel at 20 or 30 miles per hour is not the question with which I am mainly concerned. I am concerned that they should travel at an equal speed. I am concerned also with the bus, which is not safer than the heavy vehicle, as has been amply demonstrated by the noble Lord on eminent advice, when braking at speeds of 30 miles an hour. If anything, the answer is in favour of the heavy commercial vehicle, because the centre of gravity is very much lower than it is on the bus and therefore, liability to overturn is thereby reduced. That makes the heavy vehicle at comparable speed safer than a double-decker bus, and there is 2608 no case on safety grounds for this difference in the limitation of one vehicle as against another. The limiting factor now in regard to the light vehicle is peculiar. It is concerned with the weight within the 12-ton gross which the size of the tyres can carry without bursting, and that is a sad commentary upon the regulation.
I would also touch on the question of home and export trade, because I have seen this problem in operation. We have done this in the lighter car market. What is required for the export market is vehicles of higher horse-power than we have been in the habit of constructing in this country. Because of the limitations of taxation, we had to produce lighter engines than were generally available and required for overseas markets. That was recognised, and arising out of that recognition we had an alteration in the system of taxation. As a result of that, larger engines are now being fitted to cars generally in this country, and our export markets are correspondingly benefiting, because instead of having to construct two vehicles or two types of engines, manufacturers are now able to have one production line where formerly they had two. Consequently, our ability to compete in the overseas markets is very much better than it was.
Turning to the question of heavy commercial vehicles, what is required for the overseas market is a vehicle with a powerful engine, which is generally what is required in this country to do properly the job for which it is intended. The numbers of heavy commercial vehicles involved would not permit of the production of two types of engines, which means the use here of an engine which is capable of a very much higher speed than is permitted in this country. In other words, it is not operated economically here, because it is not used to full advantage. It seems to me that on those grounds the machine ought to be properly used.
It is equally true of the heavy vehicle —I have had some experience of it— that driving it at 30 m.p.h maximum when it is laden is very much less fatiguing over a long distance than is driving the same vehicle at 20 m.p.h. Hon. Members know what happens in the case of a car. If one has a little momentum at the bottom 2609 of a hill, one can go a good way up it, if not to the top, without changing gear. There is no difference in the physical effect of driving a heavy vehicle from that involved in driving a car. If it is travelling at approximately 30 miles an hour at the bottom of a hill, the driver will be able to get very much nearer the top before changing gear than is the case if he is keeping to the present limit. It is a great advantage over long distances—say, journeys from London to Manchester, and even more so beyond Manchester, as the hills are very much worse further north— not to have constant gear-changing. For that reason it is desirable that the proposed change should be effected.
I wish to deal with the question of safety which has been raised. I do not believe it to be the real crux of the question. I believe that the real crux of the question is the failure of the employers and trade unions to come to terms upon what the schedules ought to be, and what the conditions of employment ought to be, if such a change were made. It is no secret that the matter has been broached over a fairly long period and that that has been the main factor. A short time ago every Member was favoured with a copy of a magazine called "Headlight." It is an unofficial publication which is not sponsored by the Transport and General Workers' Union, and there is nothing in it which is claimed to represent the union's views. I agree with some parts of it. The interesting feature of the magazine is that the whole evidence it contains relates to the safety factor and to the danger raised by an increase in the speed.
When one turns to the back page, one notes that it contains some derogatory references to the Transport and General Workers' Union, with which I do not agree. It goes on to say,The road transport industry has been thoroughly neglected in these essentials by the trade unions."—that is, proposals in regard to the workers—So let us have first things first: Close the industry to all newcomers while there are still thousands of drivers unemployed."—I was not aware that thousands of drivers were unemployed—Retiring age should be fixed at 60. Adequate pensions should be provided for these men. Second men should be employed upon all vehicles carrying valuable loads and eventually upon all vehicles with a carrying 2610 capacity of 5 tons and over. Wages should be revised so that the lorry driver can earn a reasonable living wage without having to work overtime. Once these improvements have become firmly established, increased speed would not mean redundancy, for, as the limitation of manpower within the industry would tend to supply only a sufficiency of labour, wages and conditions should improve, and an increased speed limit coupled with the additional remuneration the men would then be in a position to demand, would be necessary in order to cope with the traffic.In other words, it advocates the creation of conditions in which it would be absolutely essential to have an increase in the speed limit.
I do not wish to deal with the merits of the whole of those demands. Some of them appear to be very good and reasonable. But what I have read puts into proper perspective what is the real difficulty in the question of the speed limit. I should not be in favour of increasing the speed limit or of altering the conditions of labour of the workers engaged in the transport industry if it meant worsening their conditions.
It has always been an accepted fact in an industry in which incentive bonuses are paid, that if a man is required to work harder, or works harder of his own volition, he should receive some additional benefit from it. It is obvious that if a man is to do what has been a 10 hours' journey in eight hours, he ought to receive the advantage of those additional hours either in the form of additional remuneration or shorter working hours. That seems the logical thing to do, and the sooner employers and trade unions get together in this matter and come to some broad conclusions on principles, the better it will be for all concerned.
The only other point to which I should like to draw my right hon. Friend's attention is the question of schedules. An alteration in the speed limit will in itself make no alteration to the existing schedules. They can be altered only provided that the alterations are agreed to by both sides of the industry. I believe that the necessary machinery exists by which such agreement can be reached and disputes can be settled. So a variation in the speed limit would, it seems to me, have the effect that the persons concerned on both sides of the industry would have to get together and agree on what was a fair, equitable and sensible arrangement to both sides of the industry before they altered existing 2611 schedules. Accordingly, there appear to be adequate safeguards in regard to that aspect of the matter. But unless something is now done to make an order, the two sides will remain a long way apart.
It is important in the general interests of the national economy that this industry should work efficiently. That is all I am concerned abouzt—the efficient operation of the industry, without the bar that at present exists against the producers of heavy commercial vehicles, which is important to the country as a whole. Finally, it would have the effect, which from the point of view of this House is vitally important, of bringing the law back into repute.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It has been agreed that this debate should go on until 2.15 p.m., that the next debate, to be initiated by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley) should go on from 2.15 to 3.10 p.m., that the debate which is to be initiated by the hon. Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton) should go on from 3.10 until 4.0 p.m., and that the times of the two final half-hour debates should not be altered.
§ 1.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
There are many interesting points which could be raised about the important subject which my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) has raised, but in view of the shortness of the time available for this debate, I will confine myself to one point only. I wish to speak from the point of view of the road user in the rural areas, and particularly in regard to Cornwall.
All hon. Members who have motored in Cornwall will, I think, agree with me in congratulating the Cornwall County Council on the high standard of maintenance which they achieve on their roads. Their road surfaces are excellent, not only on the main roads between the main towns, but on many of the side roads also. They maintain a series of studs and cats' eyes down the middle of the roads which easily distinguish the near and off sides of the roads by day and by night. They have done a great deal to ease off the corners at dangerous crossroads, and to do away with walls and hedges and substitute fencing.
2612 There is one thing, however, that they cannot do. In a county such as Cornwall, it is inevitable that a large number of the roads should be narrow and winding. It would be an impossibly expensive task to straighten and widen many of the roads, because unfortunately many of them appear to have been designed in the first instance by the cow which, perambulating round some ancient field, or making its way through woodlands up the hills, has made a path which man has afterwards followed, and it has gradually become a road.
§ Mr. Wilson
This is noticeably so in the picturesque and beautiful district known as Roseland, which is entirely situated in my Division, where every road takes a right-angled turn every few hundred yards. There is another stretch on the main road between St. Austell and Truro, where the road winds up from the little village of Tresilian, up what is in effect a narrow gorge, with on the one hand a steep wooded bank and in some places a rocky precipice, and on the other a very steep decline going down to a stream. Nothing can be done about that road without colossal expense, either to widen or to straighten it, yet that road carries a very heavy amount of traffic. One has only to go on to that road at any time of any day or night to see what happens on this stretch of about a mile and a half of narrow winding road. If any slow-moving vehicle is going up or coming down that road and is maintaining a slow pace, there immediately queues up behind it a long line of private motorcars, motor coaches and buses extending sometimes half-way down this stretch of road—simply because there is this one vehicle meandering up or coming down.
That results in a very serious temptation to a driver, either behind the slow-moving vehicle or somewhere further down the queue, to cut out and try to get ahead of the slow vehicle. I have seen that happen time after time, but one is bound to meet a corner on that road very shortly, and I have seen cars cut out in an attempt to get round a slow vehicle and meet something else coming the other way, and it is very difficult to avoid an accident. I cannot say how 2613 many such accidents have actually taken place on that stretch of road, but it is certainly a very dangerous practice. The only practical way of overcoming this difficulty, in view of the expense which would be necessary to straighten or widen the road, is to keep a steady flow of traffic on that type of road, of which there are many.
As has already been pointed out, the safety factor on the roads is by no means only a matter of speed. With efficient brakes, an efficient road surface and a properly arranged camber, there is no reason why a heavy vehicle should not maintain the same speed as some of the lighter vehicles. Then it might be possible to maintain a regular flow of traffic, which would do much to overcome this difficulty caused by the delays that happen on narrow roads when a slow-moving vehicle is in front; it would do much to ease that difficulty, and at the same time improve safety rather than have the reverse effect. For those reasons, I am glad to support my noble Friend in the proposal he has made.
§ 1.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)
The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) gave us a very nice short description of the area he has the honour to represent. I am not too sure from his description of the winding, narrow roads of Cornwall that one can argue that it would be even possible, let alone safe, for vehicles to travel on them at a very high speed—say 30 miles an hour. I am not sure that his own county authority may not, because of the dangers of the road, want to erect restrictive signs limiting the speed to 20 or 25 miles an hour.
I have no complaint about the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter). He frankly admitted that he was speaking from the point of view of production and of the interests of motor vehicle producers. I also confess that I am speaking for the people who would have to drive at 30 miles an hour, and whose interest I suggest is far more important that that of the motor vehicle producers.
In opening the debate, the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) referred to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport on the proposed 2614 further increase of rail freight charges, and he asserted that the Minister's statement strengthened his case for the increased speed limit. He went on to say that, because of the increased rail freight charges, it would be necessary for manufacturers and industry generally to try to find a way out from the railways to the roads in order that they could economise on transport costs. It is clear and indisputable that the noble Lord, and those who support his proposal to the Minister this morning, are actuated mainly from the point of view of the profits of the industry.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I did not say one single thing about profits, if the hon. Gentleman means financial profits. I was thinking of the higher productivity of the country.
§ Mr. McLeavy
I gave way to the noble Lord, although he did not have the courtesy to give way to me when he was speaking. I think it is not unfair to represent the whole of the case he put before the House as one based mainly upon the financial aspect of transport.
§ Mr. McLeavy
The noble Lord is entitled to his view, but I hope he does not object to someone else putting his own construction on that speech.
§ Mr. McLeavy
I wish to make three points of objection, which I ask the Minister seriously to consider before he thinks of altering the speed limit. First, an increase in the speed of heavy vehicles would be against the best interests of road safety. Secondly, the health of those engaged in the industry should not be endangered, or their risk of accidents increased. Thirdly, no change should be made without the full approval of the trades union concerned, and without the construction of motor roads, which I regard as essential if we are to increase the speed limit of heavy vehicles.
On the first point about road safety, it would be a crime to increase further the danger on the roads. I call attention to a speech by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, Lord Lucas. It was reported in the "News Chronicle" of 2615 Saturday, 3rd February, 1951. It was given a great headline:Lesson road users must learn.In his address to the Roadfarers' Club at a lunch in London, Lord Lucas forecast a toll on British roads of 6,000 dead and well over 250,000 injured this year. In other speeches on road safety, the Parliamentary Secretary has made what is a serious and alarming statement that, in reference to road accidents, he was at his wit's end.
Let us look at the views, not of anyone interested either in private enterprise or in the workers in the industry, but of Lord Chief Justice Goddard. When at the Old Bailey he was sentencing three men for the manslaughter of a pedestrian who had been knocked down by a lorry, he made a statement which I ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind. This is an absolutely impartial viewpoint which ought to be considered. Lord Goddard said:You have been convicted of manslaughter at a time when the roads of this country are being strewn with dead and dying.That is the view of the Lord Chief Justice.
§ Mr. McLeavy
That may be the hon. and gallant Gentleman's view; it is not mine. I sat and listened to the noble Lord without interrupting. I ask for the same decency to be extended to me.
§ Mr. McLeavy
The unfortunate fact is that hon. Members opposite think that common sense can emerge only from their side of the House. I speak as one who has been associated with the road transport industry for the whole of his life. I speak from experience. I am not speaking from a brief submitted to me by vested interests. I understand exactly what the position is.
2616 My second point is about the health of road transport workers and the risk of increased accidents. This is most important. I have known men who have not been able to complete their normal service in the industry because they have broken down in health, usually suffering from nerves because of the constant strain of driving for six or seven days a week. Many men have had to be put on jobs in the garages with a consequent reduction in wages because of their disability.
The risk of accidents is another important factor. We should not forget that when a man is driving a vehicle, whether it be a light car, an omnibus or a lorry, he is constantly in danger of committing errors of being involved in accidents, and hauled before the magistrates' courts and, of being in serious cases of manslaughter, before the major courts. Drivers are in danger not only of losing their licences or their right to carry on their vocation, but also of being sent to prison if evidence proves that they have been negligent. It is important that we should weigh up these matters very carefully.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southall suggested that the fact that we increased the speed limit would not materially alter the running schedules. From my experience of working out and negotiating running schedules, I would say that the schedules for heavy vehicles are worked out, in the main after consideration of the legal speed. If the limit is increased from 20 to 30 miles an hour, the schedules will be reconsidered, and adjustments will be made.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
I do not think that that is what the hon. Member for Southall said. He said that the mere changing of the speed limit would not affect the schedules. Alterations in the schedules would have to be negotiated afterwards.
§ Mr. McLeavy
That does not contradict my point. I have not misrepresented my hon. Friend. He said precisely what I attributed to him. He said that there would have to be an adjustment of schedules, and that that would be a question for negotiation between employer and employee. Let us make no mistake about the schedules. They are always based upon what might be called office calculations. They do not always pay due regard to the many serious problems 2617 which arise on the roads. There are all kinds of delays. It is suggested by those who want the speed limit to be increased that drivers are travelling at 30 miles an hour now, and that they are bringing the law into disrepute. I suggest that if we increase the limit to 30 miles an hour, many of these men will be compelled to travel at over 30 miles an hour in order to complete their running schedules.
§ Mr. McLeavy
It is not nonsense. If a driver is delayed on the road, it is all very well for hon. Members to say that provision is made for him to make a reasonable explanation to his employer, but I know how very often the employer does not look with a very friendly eye upon even a reasonable explanation. There is a danger that the employer will say, as indeed he has said on many occasions, "You need not have been delayed so long; you may have had some little delay, but this has been too much." I say to hon. Members opposite and to my right hon. Friend that it is not quite so easy, from the operative point of view, to dismiss the question of running schedules as something which is unimportant.
The third point concerns the trade unions and the question of the construction of motor roads, which I believe is vitally important. I believe that, with the volume of traffic which we have on the roads today, the construction of motor roads is absolutely essential, not only for public safety, but also in the interests of both drivers and the industry concerned. I think that, before we tackle this question of increasing the speed limit, which will inevitably mean greater risks to the pedestrians—[Interruption.]Of course, it will mean that, because of the fact that, if we allow our motor vehicles to travel at 30 miles an hour, we shall have private cars overtaking them and a greater number of accidents because of the greater speed. The overtaking of vehicles is very often the cause of accidents on the roads, and we shall increase the volume of accidents if we allow heavy vehicles to travel at 30 miles an hour. There is always a tendency for the ordinary driver of a motor car to say, "I am going to pass this heavy lorry, and get ahead."
2618 In conclusion, I want again to urge upon the Minister that this is a most important matter. [Interruption.]There have been three speeches in the debate in support of a change and I am the only hon. Member so far who has spoken against it, and I think I am entitled to make my own case, unless the Opposition take the view that no case should be heard except their own. Let it be made perfectly clear, both to the Minister and to hon. Members opposite, that the right of the men in the industry to have their health and their well-being protected is the overriding factor in this matter, and not merely the point of view of the vested interests, which are always able to organise a plausible case either inside or outside this House.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Remnant (Wokingham)
I am very surprised that the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) has taken the line which he has taken, because up to that moment we were discussing this matter in an extremely moderate way. I should like to say that, of course, the hon. Member is perfectly entitled to his own recollection of the opening speech in this debate by my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), which he made, in my view, in extremely moderate as well as telling terms. But my recollection is that he excluded from his speech entirely the question of the profit or loss that the operators of the vehicles would make, and the only reference to that subject which he made was in connection with the productivity of the country as a whole.
The hon. Member for Bradford, East made some remarks in regard to the injuries and deaths caused on the roads. That the figures are much bigger than we would like, we entirely agree, and if the hon. Member can suggest any means of reducing them, the whole House will offer not only its support but its active help. While I agree that that is so, what the hon. Gentleman did not prove, to my satisfaction, at any rate, was to what extent the heavy vehicles which we are now discussing contributed to accidents.
In my own experience of the roads— and I travel considerably on the trunk roads which are used by heavy goods vehicles—the drivers of these vehicles are the knights of the road. I would far rather be behind a heavy goods vehicle 2619 than behind light vehicles and cars. I know perfectly well that if I pull out and show myself in the driver's mirror, I shall not only get signs, but the right signs, and at the right time, as well as signs that can be relied upon. I should like to pay that tribute to them.
I am concerned to know whether heavy goods vehicles contribute to the number of accidents more than other classes of vehicles. In my own experience, the trouble arises mainly from the type of vehicle which I drive myself; that is to say, a car or a light van. I think they are more to blame. If I may take up the point about overtaking which was raised by the hon. Gentleman opposite, and which seems to worry him——
§ Mr. McLeavy
A little while ago, the hon. Gentleman asked me for a valuable suggestion on how to avoid road accidents. If I may make it for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman, it would be to restrict "C" licences and take some of the unnecessary traffic off the roads.
§ Mr. Remnant
I do not think that that suggestion is really one that calls for an answer in this debate.
I want to deal with the question of overtaking. There is some evidence here, though I do not know how much reliance can be placed upon it. It comes from a well-known body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, who, when making tests of heavy goods vehicles on observed journeys of 100 miles, found that, when the vehicles were running at 20 miles an hour, the average number of overtakings, if I may use that word, was 183, whereas when the speed was raised to 30 miles an hour the number of other vehicles overtaking was reduced to 42. That seems to me to show that the number of overtakings is at least reduced at the higher speed, and that is particularly valuable in respect of three-way or two-way roads.
After all, we must all agree that the majority of our trunk roads are not as wide as they ought to be to carry the traffic on them, and that seems to prove that the more we can even out the flow on the road, the less the danger of accidents, and that, by increasing the speed limit to 30 miles an hour, we shall reduce the number of overtakings, and therefore reduce the risk of accidents from these vehicles.
2620 Other hon. Members have quite rightly referred to the strain on the drivers through more frequent gear changes, but there are two aspects of the matter which have not so far been mentioned, and to which I should like to refer. One is the tendency of the driver to allow his attention to wander if he is driving at a slower speed rather than at a reasonable running speed in the circumstances If I may take my own case in driving a car on the open road, if I were keeping down to 20 miles an hour, I should be much more inclined to look at what was going on round about me than at the road in front of me. In the same way, the tendency with heavy goods vehicles is for the driver's attention to wander rather more at a speed which is lower than it need be, and which was justified when engines were not as efficient as they are now and when braking power was not so good.
Another point which has not so far been mentioned is that the driver gets much less vibration at about 30 miles an hour than he gets at 20 miles an hour. I do not know what are the mechanical reasons for that, but driving at the higher speed tends to lessen the fatigue suffered by a driver on a long journey.
I am connected with one company which has a considerable number of these heavy vehicles on the road, and I believe that the drivers do everything possible to keep to the regulation speeds and loads. I once asked what difference it would make to the journeys and to the drivers if the speed limit were raised from 20 to 30 miles an hour. I was told that it would make no difference to the number of journeys per vehicle per day, but that it would enable the drivers to sleep in their own beds at night instead of having to sleep away from home. That point is surely one in favour of raising the speed limit, provided there is otherwise no risk in so doing.
If additional evidence were required, we have only to look at Paragraph 66 of the Road Safety Report published in 1937 to see that there is no objection on grounds of road safety to increasing the speed for heavy vehicles from 20 to 30 miles an hour. Therefore, I feel that the raising of the speed limit, as suggested by my hon. Friend the noble Lord, could safely be done, largely because of three things— increased engine efficiency, increased braking power, and the increased skill of 2621 the drivers. It would not only lead to the greater comfort of the drivers, but would lessen rather than increase the danger of accidents.
§ 1.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Pannell (Leeds, West)
The first thing I want to say, speaking as one who has a very strong trade union affiliation with this matter, is that it is not a trade union question but a public question, and that what follows from public action is a matter that should be settled in the normal way by negotiation between the employers, on the one hand, and the workers on the other. If there was anything in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) about which I felt I could complain, it would be that it was couched in terms of mass unemployment when, in fact, we are now in a period of full employment, when a man is perfectly able to sack his boss or to negotiate with him on something like level terms.
Before I came to this House, I worked with a firm which had a very big coach fleet in the summer and a very big goods fleet in the winter. The men who drove the coaches in the summer were the same men who drove the lorries in the winter. In the summer, they drove the coaches at 30 miles an hour, with all the attendant increased volume of summer traffic, but when driving the goods vehicles in the winter—vehicles identical with those they drove in the summer, except that they had goods bodies instead of coach bodies— they were suddenly called upon to do so at a maximum speed of 20 miles an hour. Human nature being what it is, and drivers being what they are, that did not happen at all, and the law was brought into contempt, as, indeed, it is on this subject.
The worst case of manslaughter with which I was personally concerned—as an expert witness in the High Court—was that of an over-bodied and over-loaded two-ton lorry in which two people were killed. We were not told about whom Lord Goddard was speaking when he made the remarks which were quoted earlier to the House. It may be that he was referring to the driver of a Rolls-Bentley, or to one of the bright-eyed boys on the Kingston By-Pass, driving at 60 or 70 miles an hour. No evidence has been submitted to us today in this connection. Regarding the over-loading of 2622 lighter vehicles—because the heavy vehicles are at this disadvantage—one can see in any of the trade papers every week advertisements of helper springs and body strengthening devices, which are not made by the makers of the vehicles, but by outside manufacturers, in order to increase loads.
The consequence is that we get overloaded and over-bodied vehicles liable to turn over. From every point of view, the law at present gives a definite advantage and encouragement, not only to the careless driver, but to that type of haulier who buys a vehicle that is not suitable for the job it is expected to do. Consequently, we get this curious contradiction. It is undoubtedly true that the best commercial vehicle is the heavy vehicle. What my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) said on this matter was perfectly true. Looked at from the point of view of workmanship, the proportion of skilled labour that goes into producing the heavy vehicle is far greater than that which goes into the lighter vehicle. Greater care is taken regarding braking efficiency and the centre of gravity of the heavy vehicle, and the finished product is a far more scientific job than the light vehicle which clutters up our roads today.
Recent figures prove that in the City of Leeds, 25 per cent, of the road accidents were caused by uncontrolled dogs. The Minister gave a very curious answer the other day when he suggested that in order to get over this danger, which is not peculiar to Leeds, but is experienced throughout the country, a notice should be sent out with dog licences calling attention to this fact. Of course, the two objections to that would be that, in the main, the uncontrolled dog wears no collar, and, secondly, that most dogs, even if they have owners, cannot read.
It is not only the Transport and General Workers' Union which is concerned in this matter. I have an interest as secretary of the Engineers Group in this House. I remember when the last Budget proposals were brought forward and it was suggested that commercial vehicles should bear Purchase Tax at 33⅓ per cent., all the shop stewards and trade unions throughout the motor trade drew attention to the fact that such a tax could lead to gross over-loading of 2623 such vehicles, because, by comparison with the lighter types, the heavy vehicles had been at a disadvantage for many years owing to their maximum speed limit of 20 miles an hour.
What they were trying to say, of course, was that such an increase in Purchase Tax would have inflicted a still greater disadvantage on this type of vehicle, and would have been an encouragement to over-load still more. Now, that was put before the executive council of the union, and it was forwarded to the Parliamentary Group here as the policy of the trade union. This policy did not spring from any vested interest, except the shop stewards of the places concerned. As my time is up I will not read the long list of firms that were associated with this, although I have the details in my hand. I will merely say that it did not spring even from the official trade union level. It has sprung from the floor of the factories, and I have just as much right to speak here today in the name of the men who make the vehicles, as have those people who claim to speak in the name of the men who drive them.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)
We have had an exceedingly useful discussion on this subject. It is of some value to me to collect the reactions of hon. Members to this proposal. One could wish that the debate had taken place in circumstances in which we could have got the expression of opinion of more hon. Members. Nevertheless. I sincerely hope that the report of this debate will be read and that the debate will advance the consideration of this subject.
I am not myself in disagreement with the general trend of opinion that has been expressed today. I think I have only one or two specific points to answer. The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), pressed me to indicate whether I contemplated any effective action in the future, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy), put to me two or three specific points of substance which, I know, exercise the minds of the men concerned. I shall endeavour to reply to those.
First, I will deal with the problem of safety, and in doing so I am taking up the specific point of my hon. Friend the 2624 Member for Bradford, East. I think everyone will agree that the safety aspect is a matter of very great concern to the Minister, because it is the most distressing and disturbing administrative problem with which he has to deal. I think that we do not get on with this problem and that we do not solve it by retaining the prejudices that surround all speed problems in this country. What I think everyone must appreciate is that every citizen in this country is a motorist today. That is a thing we must impress on our minds. It is not just the person with a private car who is a motorist. We use public service vehicles, and our goods are brought to us in goods lorries. Therefore, no citizen of this country can escape the fact that we are in the motor age, and we must accept collective responsibility for approaching these problems and trying to get a solution with as little prejudice as possible in our minds.
The first thing I have to consider is this. What is the number of vehicles and what are the types of vehicles involved in a proposal of this kind? How do they compare with the other vehicles in relation to safety requirements? As a matter of fact, they do not come out of the examination badly. They come out very well indeed. There were, roughly, 78,500 vehicles of over three tons of unladen weight in this country on 30th September, 1949. The next point to be considered is the age of these vehicles. Do they represent a modern type of vehicle in construction and braking power? In other words, is it a good fleet? I find that three-quarters of them are comparatively new registrations—post-war registrations in the period from 1942 to 1949.
We all know that replacement, both by the individual and by ordinary commercial concerns, has been difficult in the period, and there is a kind of feeling among the general public that many of the vehicles on the roads today are obsolescent. It is assumed that that applies to these vehicles. As a matter of fact, it applies to these vehicles less than is the general rule, and the process of modernisation of the fleet is going on very rapidly. In 1950 there were 10,000 new vehicles of this class registered. So I would ask hon. Members to bear in mind that we are discussing here one of the best categories of motor vehicles—a fleet that is essentially up-to-date.
2625 The next point, which was made in several speeches, is that the drivers of the heavy lorries are undoubtedly the best drivers we have in the country. I think that is generally recognised; and so we are not dealing with an indifferent or a careless type of person.
§ Mr. Barnes
I am not going to do so. They are too precious. We have to look after them. There is no question of killing them. However, whilst it is the duty of my hon. Friend—and I see this—to look after certain interests of the men, yet they must not encroach on the field of public rights—the right of the public generally to share in the advancement of the science of this industry, which is the motoring industry.
The third aspect of safety is that my own Department, when this matter was acute, referred it to the Road Safety Committee. Several hon. Members have quoted the fact that my own National Safety Committee, which has to advise me on matters of this character, expressed itself as satisfied that this proposal would not contravene road safety. I did correct the noble Lord because this is subject, as all changes of this character are subject, to agitation, some of which is genuine and some of which is not genuine; but the number of local safety committees that have indicated to me their opposition, over the last three or four years, is about 85, while the total number of road safety committees is 600. Therefore, in view of that fact, I can say that the opposition is not of a volume that, in my view, overrules the considered judgment of my National Committee that looks at all these matters and gives me general guidance.
I want to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East that, after giving this matter very full consideration, I do not think that, on balance, it would increase the danger on the roads. Irritation—psychology—is a most important contributory factor in road accidents. I do not find that heavy goods vehicles are involved in accidents to the same extent as other vehicles and other categories of vehicles on the roads.
Now I come to the health and safety of the men. That is a matter of extreme importance. I would, however, suggest that it is difficult for the Minister, in making regulations, to deal with a matter 2626 of this kind. It would require something more than a regulation approved by an affirmative Resolution of this House for me to deal with things like the effect of working conditions on the health of the men. That appears to me to be a function of the trade union primarily, and the Transport and General Workers' Union, I should like to say, has one of the best records of trade unions in this country in matters of that kind. I can recollect —and I think that this is really the root of the difficulty—that only a relatively short while ago the men in this group in this industry suffered very bad conditions indeed. Their conditions were amongst the worst prevailing in this country. They had very long hours, impossible schedules and they were subjected to all kinds of bad conditions. Relatively speaking, they have only just emerged from those conditions. The Transport and General Workers' Union played a very great part in raising the conditions of the men to their present status.
I do not think that there is any possibility of their reverting to the former state of affairs. Indeed, I say that the community generally is entitled to look at our modern system of organisation and to the joint negotiating machinery—one side representing the men and the other the employers—to negotiate matters of this kind. Parliament cannot do it, the Minister cannot do it. It is my view that an industry like transport does not yield improvement in productive processes as readily, steadily and consecutively as does a manufacturing industry. There is a responsibility on both the trade union representatives and the employers' representatives, when any opportunity comes along, to improve the efficiency and the economy of the industry.
Another point put to me was that I should not consider introducing a regulation of this kind until the motor-road scheme was completed. No one has been keener than I to advance the idea of motor-road construction in this country, but we are all aware that the financial circumstances of today do not permit even the commencement of such schemes. My attitude to this has been, as it has been on a good many of these matters where safety factors are involved, that it is desirable to take Parliament, the public, the Press and the trade unions with me. Better results are achieved if 2627 everyone co-operates. If in an industry the employers and trade unions do not accept their responsibilities, then after a reasonable time we must make our decision irrespective of them.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what he intends to do? Are we to have a regulation?
§ Mr. Barnes
I do not intend to give a decision of that character today. I am hoping that this debate will facilitate an agreement in the spirit of the final words that I used.