§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. S. P. Viant (Willesden, West)
I beg to move,That this House expresses its grave concern at the enormous number of accidents, fatal and non-fatal, on the roads of this country and requests that further measures shall be taken to improve road safety.I make no apology for selecting this subject for discussion this morning. I think that it is one which is causing grave concern to the majority of our fellow citizens. To appreciate that, one needs only to look at the enormous number of casualties in the past year. I should like to quote from the very valuable little paper known as "Safety News." That paper has analysed road accidents for 1951. They gave the analysis in April, 1952, and they said:During 1951 in Great Britain there were 216,493 road casualties, including 5,250 persons killed. These figures mean that on an average there were 25 road casualties every hour of the day and night throughout the year and one person killed every 100 minutes.Those figures alone form in one's mind a mental picture of what is taking place on the roads of this country. If those casualties were to pass in front of us as a regiment of soldiers, the picture would undoubtedly be exceedingly impressive. But we grow accustomed to 1714 figures and I fear that few of us are inclined to give to them, or to what lies behind them, the attention that we should. The analysis continued:Compared with 1950, there were five fewer pedal cyclists killed and two fewer pillion/sidecar passengers killed, and child pedal cyclists sustained nine fewer serious injuries. Apart from these exceptions, all classes of road-user showed increases in the number killed and injured last year. The total increase in deaths amounted to 238 or 5 per cent., and the total increase in injuries amounted to 14,930, or nearly 8 per cent.They go further in their analysis. They say that during 1951 nearly 43,000 of the road casualties in Great Britain were children under the age of 15 years and nearly 25,000 of the casualties were people over the age of 60 years.
Not only is this taking place at considerable cost in life and limb but it is also very costly financially. An estimate has been made of the cost entailed, and it says,A conservative estimate of the total cost of road accidents in Great Britain during 1951 is £146 million.They arrive at that figure in this way. Compensation for persons killed and injured accounts for £120 million, damage and repair to property for £13 million, and administration and other costs account for the remaining £13 million. By far the largest single item is the estimated £98 million compensation for 52,369 persons who were seriously injured. Road accidents in Great Britain last year cost the community £3 per head of the population. We find that poor rear lights were responsible for 3,400 casualties.
In the light of my experience as a motorist and as a magistrate, I feel that we have reached the peak of what we are likely to effect by educational methods. I hope we shall be able to do better, but I think that if we were prepared to accept that fact we should appreciate more readily that safety will depend more and more upon improvements in our roads and upon reconstruction.
§ Mr. Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough) rose——
§ Mr. Viant
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not interrupt. There will be plenty to follow, and probably I shall answer his question as I go on. I feel 1715 that we should be prepared to face this fact—that improvements in the roads and new construction is the line along which we should proceed, without, of course, dropping the other method.
First, let us look at the revenue derived from the motor tax. Some of us are sufficiently advanced in age to be able to appreciate what was the purpose of the tax when it was instituted, but it has, of course, become quite the fashion to continue raiding the Road Fund and using it for other purposes. The estimated revenue from the taxes paid by motor vehicle users in the current year 1952–53 is £305 million. In addition, we must add £43 million Purchase Tax on new vehicles, making £348 million. Of this amount the Government have allocated £33 million for road work. A similar amount will be found by local authorities. This will permit of only 60 or 70 per cent. of pre-war maintenance and little or no improvement or new construction.
There will be no major improvement in the road accident position until more improvements of roads and new construction are embarked upon. We must face that. It is no use blaming the Ministry of Transport. It is no use blaming the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We, as a House of Commons, are responsible; we can determine precisely how much money is to be allocated and we must accept a share of the blame. In six years since the war, £1,000 million has been collected by means of motor and fuel taxation. Only £165 million has been allocated to the roads. That is parsimony carried to the extreme, and we are paying for it in the road accidents, beyond a shadow of doubt.
To the observer it would in many ways appear that the Ministry of Transport display a spirit of complacency, but that is hardly fair. If we do not provide the Department with the money, we cannot expect them to do the work. I am thinking for the moment of the Western Avenue. There was a time when that road started at Shepherd's Bush and went through Acton, and there it ceased. It ended nowhere. Today it has been carried on and ends on the Beaconsfield Road, but it has not even yet been completed. The dual carriageway remains to be completed at the far end. It took 1716 25 years to build that road, so one can very well say that the Ministry of Transport seem to exemplify a spirit of complacency—but that would not be fair.
At the eastern end of the North Circular Road—that is, the other end—we find trunk road A108 extending from Edmonton to Cheshunt, where it joins the main road A10. In its seven-and-a-half miles length from the North Circular Road at Edmonton to Cheshunt, it is one of the main arteries out of North London. It was designed as a dual carriageway each to be 30 feet wide. Only one carriageway has been completed, 22 feet wide. It is almost impossible for use by three lines of traffic. The result is, of course, that there are accidents galore. I am informed that the land was bought for a dual carriageway. The land is there, and even two miles of dual carriageway would save lives and accidents. But accidents take place there galore.
There is another spot to which I desire to direct the Minister's attention. It has received considerable publicity within the last few days. It is on the Great North Road at Biggleswade, where that unfortunate fellow was killed on his motor cycle—a road safety officer. It is called the "Mad Mile" because of the enormous number of accidents that take place there. This is one of the classic examples of the sort of experience that we have on the roads.
There is a main road with fast-moving traffic. There are side turnings, and the custom has grown up for drivers to come out of a side turning, keeping closely to the near side kerb without stopping to see if anything is coming. Another driver is coming down the main road on the near side position to the right of the side turning, possibly with someone else on his off side. In those circumstances it is utterly impossible to avoid a collision.
The Minister needs to consider whether the "Go slow" sign is adequate for circumstances such as those. "Halt" signs are the only indication that can be given that will be of any value in such positions as that. The Minister must also consider that the "Go Slow" marks on the roads itself are not worth the time taken to paint the letters. Few people pay any attention to them.
I come to my own borough. I can cite only a few facts, but if my hon. 1717 Friend the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach) should catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, he will be able to amplify the points I am making. In the Borough of Willesden in 1949 there were 1,216 accidents; in 1950, 1,472;in 1951, 1,600. In 1949 there were 13 fatal accidents: 18 in 1950;18 again in 1951—and we carry on a vigorous propaganda in our schools and wherever educational work is likely to prove effective.
The North Circular Road runs right through the borough for about three and a half miles, and that North Circular Road is known to carry at peak hours upward of 1,200 vehicles per hour per carriageway, of which there are two. During 1951 there were 385 accidents on this section of the road, six of which were fatal. We have been asking for a speed limit on this section of the road. My hon. Friend and I have made repeated appeals for the imposing of a speed limit there, but the Department appears to be quite complacent about the matter.
Now, why should this unlimited speed on the roads in these built-up areas be so sacrosanct? Why do we not exercise some common sense and even humanitarian feeling in this regard? It does not make all that difference whether one gets to the other end of the journey five minutes earlier or five minutes later, when one compares that with the sacrifices that are being made on the roads today. I would appeal to the Minister to reconsider this subject of imposing the 30-mile speed limit in the built-up areas. It is true that these roads were made for fast-moving traffic, but we have allowed the ribbon development to take place, and we ought to accept the responsibility for that, and the only way to do that is to see to it that no longer can these roads be used throughout for their primary purpose; and we must impose restrictions upon them.
Twelve months ago we drew the attention of the Department to another instance at Neasden Circus. The Department said it would receive attention, but even to this day at the peak hours it has been necessary for as many as four policemen to be there on duty to disentangle the traffic. [AN HON. MEMBER: "More."] I have seen four. Others may have seen eight. I can speak only for myself. However, we have been promised that the roundabout there shall be re- 1718 moved and lights instituted. I hope that with the new Estimates the Minister will get speedily to work to see that the roundabout is moved and that the promise of the installation of lights is carried out. That is an appeal I make in regard to Willesden.
There was a Committee appointed in December, 1943, to consider and to report to the Department on the subject of Road Safety. It issued its interim Report in December, 1944. The final Report was issued in December, 1947. The full Report was accepted—the full Report with no exceptions—but few of the recommendations have been implemented. The recommendations were as follows: road improvement and modernisation; the elimination of level crossings; more mobile police patrols. As to that, manpower imposes a restriction. However, I am not so much concerned as to whether the patrol is a policeman or someone else. There are others, perhaps not so well endowed with physique as the police, who could act as patrols equally well. Surely the Minister should be considering whether it is possible to recruit patrols of a lesser standard of physique than the ordinary police. It is the job we want done.
Other recommendations were: more-efficient rear lighting on commercial vehicles—and I understand that a committee is just about to report on that subject and also on the subject of dazzling; more parking spaces; obligatory brakes and bells on bicycles; clearer street name plates; improved street lighting; and revision of the Highway Code.
Few of those recommendations have been implemented. I want to know what the Minister is going to say about these things today. What is he going to promise us? Will he inform us that any of these proposals are about to be carried out in the near future?
I pass now to the subject of dogs on the road. The number of dog licences issued is simply astounding. In 1950 the number was 3,089,450; in 1951, 2,921,534; in 1952, 2,927,426. Unaccompanied dogs upon the highway are a frequent cause of road accidents. As the law now stands, there is little incentive to cause dog owners to prevent their dogs from straying on the highway. All-careful dog owners keep their dogs on leads when they are on busy roads, and this should be the rule for all dog owners.
1719 It is estimated that during 1951 a total of some 75,000 accidents were attributable to dogs straying on the highway, and that a total of 2,580 persons were injured, including 30 fatally. I understand that the significance of the problem has been appreciated, and that the Lord Chancellor has appointed a committee to consider the law relating to civil liability for damage caused through dogs. I gather that the Lord Chief Justice is chairman of that committee, and I should like to know whether the Minister can give us any enlightenment about it. This is a serious matter.
I now come to the subject of pedestrian crossings. Speaking for myself, I think that the zebra crossings have been a great success. They are in their infancy as yet and a great deal of education needs to be done, more especially with the older generation than the present generation, because the older generation have grown accustomed to dashing across the roads just as they think they will.
But the most urgent problem of all is the lighting of uncontrolled zebra crossings during the hours of darkness. In view of the motoring organisations, some form of localised overhead lighting, contrasting in colour and intensity with the normal street lighting, is desirable, as this would not only make the crossings visible but would illuminate pedestrians using them. I understand that experiments on this have been carried out and we shall look forward with great interest to hearing the views of the Department on this matter.
The no-waiting restriction in advance of zebra crossings—that is, within the minimum distance of 42 ft.—is important, but in fairness to vehicle drivers the existence of a no-waiting area should be clearly and unmistakably indicated. The present broken yellow circle on the pavement is not regarded as a satisfactory sign. Signs should be erected on posts in the usual manner. It is also important to have at least 150 ft. of non-skid surface on each side of the zebra crossing. It is impossible to brake suddenly on a slippery surface—and one has to brake suddenly on occasions when people jump off the pavement on to the zebra crossing almost before the motorist is aware of it.
1720 I think that some further educational work can be done in teaching people what should be done before they step on to the zebra crossing. The pedestrian has obligations as well as the motorist. Frequently, when I have been hearing cases in court I have learned that pedestrians have jumped off the pavement without looking either to the right or to the left. Now, the majority of citizens know precisely how to stop a bus at the bus halt, and I see no reason why the pedestrians should not hold up their hands at the zebra crossing before making any attempt to go on to the crossing, and so give the motorist some indication that they intend to go across. It would be simple, but again it would depend upon the speed and the ability with which we are able to get that educational idea across. None the less, I think it should be adopted. I should be happy at least to know that it was.
So far I have spoken on what one might call non-controversial subjects, but in over 20 years' experience on the bench it has been my lot to preside over hundreds of cases in which motorists have been charged with being under the influence of liquor whilst driving a motor. There was a time when some of us used to switch on the wireless at breakfast time and listen to one who became known as the "Radio Doctor." We all know him, and we all appreciate much of the work he did as a broadcaster. That is beyond the shadow of a doubt.
But there were occasions when some of us would have taken exception, and I can well imagine that some of those who like a drink or two before they get into their car would take exception to the broadcast to which I wish to refer this morning. The broadcast was entitled "Keep death off the road." I am sure he could not take exception to this quotation, where he said:But face this fact, and here we begin to think of driving, the effect of even small quantities of alcohol—I don't mean amounts that make you drunk, but much smaller amounts—is to diminish skill, diminish self-criticism, to prolong the reaction time, the time between spotting a danger and acting accordingly. In fact, to do just those things that make a skilful driver of a motor vehicle less skilful…This isn't guess-work or uplift…I know that folk with a few on board think they're driving better—oh, they drive magnificently, or so they think—but that's one of alcohol's little tricks. It makes us feel 1721 pleased with ourselves—less self-critical in fact. People only think they are driving better. They're not in fact.Then he says,It's that one for the road that's the trouble. Have the one for the road when you arrive as a reward for having driven there without one…I am not trying to convert you or anybody else. I'm only stating the facts.These facts have to be appreciated by this House. Casualties have to be cut down.
I quote here from an article in the "Daily Express" of 6th December, 1951, written by Chapman Pincher. He says:Take two drinks and drive is a recipe for death…The number of motorists caught driving under the influence of drink has risen sharply to more than 2,000 in the last year. Probably more than two million drive under the influence and get away with it.That may be an over-statement, but, none the less, he is entitled to his opinion. He says:There is indisputable evidence that the motorist who takes only a couple of drinks impairs his driving ability enough to make him a danger on the road. Doctors, scientists, and legal authorities are agitating for a more rigorous police test of intoxication to catch these offenders. They want something more certain and more convincing to a jury than inability to walk chalk lines or say tongue-twisters. It must be a test based on a firm legal definition of 'under the influence'. Only one definition would be accurate and fair, they believe—a definition based directly on the quantity of alcohol in the motorist's blood.It was 12 years ago that a Select Committee pointed the way to effective action by means of the scientific blood test for alcohol drinkers. During those 12 years much of the nation's life blood that has been poured upon our highways could have been staunched and saved. Usually the strongest evidence they can bring against an offender is that he staggered or his breath smelled. For a crime that can result in death to innocent men, women and children, this is a fantastic legal situation.
To plead, as some do, that to require such an accused driver to submit to a scientific blood test for alcohol is an infringement of personal liberty is a quibble against reality. Two or three drops of blood from the lobe of an ear of a drinking driver cannot and does not outweigh the life-blood of his victims.
1722 The law already demands that a person must pass a driving test, have good eyesight, adequate hearing, suffer no physical or mental disability and produce evidence of a certificate of insurance against third-party risks. It is equally within the powers of administration and entirely constitutional for a further enactment to be added. I am throwing out this suggestion for the consideration of the House, because sooner or later we have to face up to these facts.
Society has to protect itself, and I am suggesting for the consideration of the two Departments concerned—the Home Office and the Ministry of Transport—that something in the nature of the following may have to be added to the declaration that we all now sign before we get our certificate of driving. From and after the passage of this Act every person seeking a driver's licence or the renewal of an existing driver's licence shall sign a statement of consent to the taking of a chemical test to determine whether he or she is under the influence of drink in charge of a vehicle in the event that he or she should be so charged during the term of any such licence.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
May I put one question? How long will it take for this test to be made after a person is apprehended?
§ Mr. Viant
That depends on how soon he is taken to the station or the place where the test is to be made. I put this proposal forward and I hope that we shall approach this subject today in a non-party spirit. We are all concerned in this matter, and we want to save every life we possibly can. We have to face up to this menace on the roads.
What would we say if we saw an engine driver coming out of a canteen after having taken alcohol before he went on his locomotive? The motorist on the road has a charge and a responsibility equal to that of the man driving a locomotive on the railway. Human life is sacred. This has to be considered. Side by side with that, the Treasury have to face the fact that there is no hope of saving more human lives and cutting down casualties unless we are prepared to advance more money for the modernisation and construction of new roads.
§ 11.48 a.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
I beg to second the Motion.
I am sure that the House will agree with me when I say that the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) has done a great service in moving this Motion, not only to this House but also to the country as a whole. He has, behind the statistics which he has presented, unfolded the tragic story which is summed up in this increasing death roll on the roads of this country. It is difficult when one is dealing with such a problem as this, measured as it is by the statisticians, to interpret what these figures mean in the actual havoc that they play in the lives of our people.
In seconding the Motion, I am conscious that many hon. Members wish to speak on this subject and so I shall be brief. I am not a motorist. I am, in the best sense of the word, a pedestrian. I am fortunate in having in my wife a motor driver who has a clean record over the last 23 years. I am prepared to recognise that she has an ability which I cannot hope to achieve. I am thus content to leave that side of our life to her ability. Consequently, I approach the problem without the prejudices of either the driver or the pedestrian.
The pedestrian is as great a factor in road safety as is the driver. I have watched the evolution of men from the stage of pure pedestrian to expert driver. It is astonishing how their psychology changes. The pedestrian sees everything wrong in the driver, but, once he becomes a driver and has some experience of motoring, the adjectives which he uses about pedestrians are such that to keep within the proprieties of the House, I cannot record them. It is essential however that the driver should exercise some imagination and have a retentive memory of the days when he was a pedestrian.
I want to speak about what are known at the Ministry as "black spots on the roads." For 20 years I was closely associated with the London Ambulance Service, and throughout that time I had the opportunity to study the street accident maps of London. The remarkable thing was that the ambulance crews could almost say by experience just where street accidents were likely to happen as a result of the maps recording the black spots. The Ministry has the same records. 1724 The maps show clearly the black spots, indicating clearly this factor in connection with accidents on the roads.
I welcome the recent decision of the Ministry of Transport to make a special allowance of £1 million to finance work necessary to remove these black spots. The Minister should not be content with that amount but should use his influence with the Treasury to obtain a larger grant so that the divisional engineers, acting on behalf of his Department and with the police, can be assisted not only in reporting the black spots as they arise, but also in having them removed as soon as possible. I am advised by the Road Transport Federation that at least £5 million is required to deal with the black spots of which the Ministry is already aware.
The roads are becoming a growing menace to life because of the increase in the number of vehicles. In 1910 there were 144,000 motor vehicles on the roads, but today the number is approaching 5 million. Thus it becomes increasingly difficult to control the traffic and to reduce the risk of danger to pedestrians.
Recently my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) and I were caught up in a great deal of local agitation as a result of fatalities on the Birmingham-Wolverhampton by-pass road. My right hon. and learned Friend will agree with me that the measures which were taken by the Minister's predecessor were prompt. Although the Minister did not agree with our representations for a speed limit, we appreciated the prompt action taken to improve conditions on the by-pass.
I appreciate the attitude of successive Ministers of Transport about the speed limit. No matter to what party they belong, they are not convinced of its merits. Nevertheless, I come down definitely and without qualification on the side of the introduction of a speed limit on by-pass roads going through townships and overspill communities established since the construction of these arterial roads. The Ministry, I think, views the speed limit entirely from the driver's point of view and has not due regard for the opinions of the pedestrian. There is a strong case for having a speed limit where a by-pass road goes through a community and has to be crossed by 1725 parents and children when going to school or for shopping purposes or for taking part in the general activities of their own community.
Roundabouts or traffic lights should be established at every road junction where practicable. My hon. Friend spoke of the provision of additional mobile police patrols. I pay tribute to the grand work which mobile police patrols are doing, not only in controlling traffic, but in assisting motorists to secure a better sense of their responsibilities. In view of the restive-ness we find in sections of the community because of the increasing menace on the roads, I strongly urge the Minister to bring the public, in conjunction with the police, to his aid by giving them a measurable and direct responsibility for traffic control.
I suggest the appointment of special constables or traffic wardens. Why not apply the same principle as was applied to Civil Defence and the St. John Ambulance and recruit a corps of special constables with appropriate qualifications so that they may aid the police at weekends, particularly on by-pass and arterial roads. He will, I am sure, get many volunteers.
The other point to which I want to refer briefly is the matter of the motor cyclist. Last year 46,000 of them were involved in road accidents. I know the thrill that young people experience in the use of the motor cycle, but I think that speeds of 70 and 80 miles an hour and even more on the roads, weaving as they do between the other traffic, is an embarrassment to other road users. I do not know how this can be dealt with. It has been suggested that some limit to the speed capacity should be fixed in the manufacture of these cycles, I consider that the increasing number of motor cycles on the roads requires the immediate attention of the Minister.
I have expressed all the points of view which I want to put to the House. In conclusion, I would say to the Minister that this is a problem which enters into the experience of every home, and all I want to urge today is that the hon. Gentleman, as long as he is in office, will seek to bring this road problem within sight of a more reasonable solution so that men, women and children can go about their several avocations with some sense of security and not in 1726 fear because of this menace on the roads.
§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Sir Austin Hudson (Lewisham, North)
I should like to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) for choosing this subject for a Friday debate. This is essentially a House of Commons subject, because everybody who speaks today will have some contribution to make which may be of use in diminishing the number of deaths on our roads. My excuse, if one is needed, for intervening in this debate is that I lived with this topic for some four and a half years at a time when motor vehicles numbered 2½million as compared with 4½million today. Some of the topics we have already discussed this morning were present in our minds then.
The first subject I should like to speak about is that of pedestrian crossings. When I first went to the Ministry we were experimenting with the first of these crossings. It was started at the time when the late Mr. Oliver Stanley was Minister of Transport, and it was finally developed in Mr. Hore-Belisha's time, the signs today bearing his name. But we realised then that we should have to judge by experience, and the development has now taken place of what are called "zebra" or "zeebra" crossings—I am not sure which is the correct pronounciation.
In my view these crossings are undoubtedly proving a success. I am one of those people who is both a motorist and a pedestrian. I have to do a vast amount of my motoring in London because I represent a London constituency which is some 10 miles out. I am quite sure that whereas motorists, owing to their number, could not give proper heed to the old pedestrian crossing, they are doing their best—I am talking about the great majority—to respect the zebra crossings and make them a success.
I am also certain that a great number of pedestrians are using them with both commonsense and restraint, but there are two difficulties, and I have no doubt that the Parliamentary Secretary will be dealing with them today. The first is the difficulty of seeing them at night and in muddy or wet weather. They are sometimes almost invisible, but I am glad to say that the Ministry has been trying 1727 experiments for lighting the crossings. It is a coincidence, I think, that these experiments were mostly carried out on a long stretch of road in Lewisham. There were winking lights, beacons lighted up, and lights over the crossings, and these experiments went on for some months to see what the result would be. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us that he has got some system either of lighting the crossings at night or of showing to the motorist that the crossings are there in order that he may be ready to stop if necessary.
The other difficulty has already been dealt with by the hon. Member for Willesden, West, and that is the foolish pedestrian who will rush across. Some of them even go so far as to start at the back of the pavement to get steam up before they actually get to the crossing. I hope the pedestrian will realise that the most careful motorist in the world cannot stop dead, however slowly he is going, and that any sort of sign while standing on the kerb, such as with the hand, with an umbrella or with a stick, is a vast help to the motorist. If he could do that, it would save road accidents.
Then we have the very small minority of pedestrians who loiter deliberately on the crossing to show that they are as good as the motorist. That irritates the motorist, and I hope education will show them how foolish that is. We all know of the other kind of pedestrian who goes across and waves a cheery "Thank you" as he is going. If we could get more of those it would assist us in doing away with road accidents.
I hope the Minister will not be stampeded into having too many of these crossings. We do not want too many, as we had with pedestrian crossings, and we certainly do not want too few. Too many would not add to road safety. The people who ask for an increase generally are those who are frightened for the safety of children crossing the roads. I entirely agree with the point of view of the Ministry that a pedestrian crossing is not the safest way of getting school children across the road. I am sure the best way is to have these traffic wardens or safety wardens during school hours. To put down a special crossing where an ordinary crossing used to be because it 1728 is near a school would, I am sure be a danger to the children and would not add to their safety.
I would add one thing about wardens. I am told that difficulty has arisen in some parts of the country as to who should pay for the wardens. I hope that it will not prevent the warden system being brought into use, and that the Government will take a strong line and say which Department is responsible for them —the Home Office, the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Transport. I hope that the Government will tell the Ministry that it must get on with the appointment of wardens as quickly as it can.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
This matter is usually in the hands of the county council, and payment usually rests between the education committee and the police authority. Does it really matter who pays, so long as the Government make themselves liable for the usual 50 per cent. grant, which is payable on both services?
§ Sir A. Hudson
At the present time, some authorities are not appointing wardens because of what I call intertribal warfare. The Prime Minister should lay down whose responsibility it is, and should tell the particular Ministry to get on with it. I think the hon. Member and myself are in entire agreement.
When I last spoke on this subject I said that most road accidents were caused by the human element, and that was generally agreed to. Accidents are caused in two ways. The first is the irresponsibility shown by quite a number of pedestrians who cross roads with their heads down, not taking the slightest notice of the traffic. The second cause is insufficient care by motorists and cyclists, because of impatience.
If a motorist is in a queue he may find himself getting impatient, and then he takes that chance which he should not take and which may lead to a road accident. In that respect I recommend such people to turn on their car wireless. Music, it is said, has charms to soothe the savage breast. I find that if I turn on the wireless for a little while I feel better, even if I only hear a report of the proceedings of this House.
1729 I do not entirely agree with the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) about the efficacy of speed limits on all occasions. I had a lot to do with this matter in my time at the Ministry. If speed limits are imposed at places where the majority of motorists feel that the limit is an imposition, impatience starts again and we are inclined to get accidents. We do not want people to use excessive speeds in dangerous places.
At the black spots we found that what prevented accidents more than anything was to put up a railing so that pedestrians could not rush across the road at that particular place. That is a particularly easy thing to do on dual carriageways, if the railing is put in the middle. The railing is certainly a hindrance to loading and unloading, but if the railing is put in the middle of the dual carriageway at places where there have been accidents, people do not go to the middle and turn back. They cross at the proper crossing place. We found that accidents were avoided in that way.
I do not want to be too long about this speech, but I want to add a word about safer roads. Both the present Government and the last Government have found that the capital expenditure programme has made it impossible to get on with the scheme of trunk roads which was initiated before the war. Could we not make a beginning with some of the projects which were then planned or were already started? The hon. Member for Willesden, West gave an example, Western Avenue. There are other examples where roads were ear-marked and clearing was done. In some places the foundations of the road were begun. I hope that the Ministry will look at this matter and see whether some further progress is possible.
We must take advantage of circumstances as they arise. For example, the last trams will be abolished in South London next month. That will give an opportunity for making new layouts at places like the Elephant and Castle, and across Lambeth Bridge where tram lines have prevented the setting up of a roundabout system. I hope that the Ministry will take these matters in hand immediately, or see that the local 1730 authorities get on with them at the earliest moment.
Another example is the Thames Embankment. The last trams will run along the Embankment this month. Next month there will be a new opportunity. Instead of two widths of road for motor traffic and one for trams there will be three, and the Ministry of Transport will be able to lay out the road in a much better fashion. I am a little alarmed whether the bombed sites on which we are now starting to build have in all cases been used for cutting off corners or widening bits of roadway. This opportunty may never occur again in our lifetime.
I could have said one or two other things, but many other hon. Members are waiting to speak. I will only add that there, is no infallible remedy for safety on the roads. We can have our tests, improve our roads, and so on. We do not need a Royal Commission or any other inquiry. I think we have all the facts before us. There is a standing committee of the Ministry of Transport on safety. I urge that that committee should be allowed to function. There are various committees in existence, and they sometimes fall into disuse. If this particular committee functions properly, matters which turn up in this House on which inquiry is needed could be sent to it automatically, and the answer given to the House. In that way much good work would be done in such matters as headlights, rearlights and road improvements.
Education of the pedestrian and the motor cyclist—particularly of the motor cyclist—is the chief way to prevent road accidents. I mentioned the figure of 4½million motor vehicles on the road, as against 2½million in 1935 or thereabouts. People who travel on those vehicles, whether public service vehicles or private cars, ought to learn the points of view both of the pedestrian and of the vehicle driver. If they learn that the driver cannot stop dead when somebody rushes into the roadway, they will not be likely to rush across themselves when the time comes. If we try to improve our roads and to concentrate on this kind of education, I believe that we shall soon bring down the ghastly figures of road accidents.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) on having raised this very important matter of road safety, and I should like also to congratulate the other hon. Members who have made very constructive suggestions. If I do not follow in exactly the same fashion, it is not because I mean to be unduly critical but because I think I shall be able to show that we have not as yet been able to get all the satisfaction that is necessary by leaving affairs to Government Departments or semi-official organisations.
I take issue at once with the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson). I believe that a Royal Commission is required, because it is only by focussing the whole of public attention upon this question of road safety that the matter is likely to be dealt with urgently. Hon. Members will remember that I suffered the loss of many young boys in my constituency as a result of the terrible disaster in Gillingham. It was the worst road accident in history, and I think it aroused everyone's conscience, with perhaps two exceptions.
The Kent County Council at that time said that it was going to have road safety patrols abolished. I raised the matter in the House and was told by the Home Secretary that the matter was going to be looked into to see if anything could be done to prevent that happening. That is a long time ago. Still we have not got the question of road safety patrols settled satisfactorily. The Minister of Transport himself said that the use of road safety patrols is the best way of preventing the loss of young lives.
§ Mr. Pannell
Was not the difficulty after the Gillingham accident the very difficulty referred to by the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson), namely, that there was a rather sordid squabble on the Kent County Council between the police authority and the education authority as to who should pay for the road safety patrol, and that within less than a month of the accident they decided to throw the matter overboard altogether?
§ Mr. Bottomley
I did not embark upon that; what my hon. Friend says is true, but I did not want to take up too much 1732 time, as many other hon. Members wish to speak.
The second case in which public conscience was obviously not aroused—and this indicates the danger of leaving things entirely to officials—relates to a mother of one of these boys who had been killed. She happened to be employed by the local bus company. Her husband was serving in Malaya, and hon. Members can imagine the state in which she found herself. At that time the bus company checked her accounts and found that she had lost some of the money—half a crown. They sent an official letter demanding its return. I need hardly tell the House that when I heard about it I sent a cheque for half a crown, which was subsequently sent back. That is an indication that we cannot leave things entirely to officials. A public inquiry was required, and that is my reason for arguing now for a Royal Commission.
I remember going to the funeral after this accident, and we were all touched by the words of the bishop. I can recall his words. He said:My dear parents, your children will not have died in vain. They shall yet save numberless lives by their untimely passing.Let us see what has been done by the Ministry of Transport who ought to have been as much concerned as all of us who raised questions at that time. I demanded a public inquiry. I raised the matter in the House in Question and in debate. In the first place, the Minister said that he would have an inquiry. He then went back on his word.
We are getting used to that so far as political matters are concerned, but it is a very serious matter when, as a result of solemn departmental consideration, an inquiry is promised and then the Minister has to tell the House that the inquiry will not take place. He said that the trial at the Old Bailey and the coroner's inquest provided ways of investigating the matter. If anyone suggests to me that either of those places is a suitable substitute for a public inquiry, I give him the answer; it is certainly not.
This road accident involved all the factors which are likely to cause serious accidents. There was the question of the Highway Code; were the boys marching on the right side of the road? We still do not know. Months afterwards the 1733 Ministry of Transport have not given public guidance on this point. Was the street lighting up to standard? It is true that the Gillingham Council has slightly improved the wattage. But that is not good enough. In any case, we are not concerned with the Medway towns alone. The whole country is concerned. We ought to have some guidance upon street lighting, and that has not been done.
Then there is the question of dangerous driving. In the case of dangerous driving we still have not had a complete examination. In the Medway towns we still have not had any guidance upon speed limits for buses. That matter was raised at the coroner's inquest. But all these points to which I have referred are involved, and we have not yet had a statement about a thorough investigation into the cause of the accident.
The Minister subsequently told me that a meeting of the departmental officials would be held on the matter and that the Committee on Road Safety would investigate it. All I can say is that the Committee on Road Safety have not done much before. It met nine times in four years. The "Star" newspaper states public opinion correctly when it says:Since the Chatham incident the public conscience has been thoroughly aroused. People are no longer content to leave this grave problem to the private ruminations of the Standing Committee on Road Safety.That is true. I put to the previous Minister of Transport a question about how many road accident inquiries were held in 1951. He gave me the answer-none. But in the case of railway accidents there have been 14 inquiries. There was recently an aeroplane disaster in the Sahara desert, and at once someone was sent out to investigate and hold an inquiry. Yet when 24 boys are killed on the roads there is no inquiry, and it seems there is no likelihood of one being held.
Either Parliament knew what it was doing when it said in 1930 that there are powers to hold public inquiries, or it did not. When I asked the Minister whether those powers were unnecessary, he refused to give an answer of any kind. I think those powers are necessary. Parliament was right when it decided to give these powers, and I hope that we shall have inquiries into these street accidents as a means of affording the best method of prevention.
1734 I should like to make one further point which I think is important in connection with road safety. I have been associated for many years with the National Union of Public Employees, and that body represents the men who are employed upon the roads. The men employed upon the roads have told me time and time again that one of the major causes of accidents is the bad state of the roads. This is foolish economy. We cannot condemn the Ministry of Transport for this. They have not been given the money to do the job.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer would be doing something very useful, not only in the interests of road safety but also for the export drive, if he were to grant the necessary money, because if we have good roads we have good communications. This facilitates the maximum efficiency in transport in the field of production, and by that means we get increased output. In addition, in time of war communications are of importance; good roads are necessary to get the weapons of war along as fast as possible. The Chancellor would be serving a threefold purpose if he would give more money to the Ministry of Transport; he would be assisting road safety, the export drive and re-armament.
§ 12.28 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
I do not think the hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) would want this debate on road safety to centre around the observations which he has just made on this particular accident. He has made his point, and no doubt part of the reply of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be devoted to it. Therefore, he will perhaps excuse me if I do not follow him.
The hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant), who raised this matter, gave some very useful facts and statistics on road safety and accidents on the roads. In order to try to indicate the full nature of this problem, perhaps the House will forgive me if I add one or two facts. We have an enormous leeway to make up in this country, because during the war it was not possible to take action to improve our roads, and since the war other subjects consequent on political changes have taken priority. More recently we have had the great re-armament campaign forced up the country, and again roads have followed far behind.
1735 To explain the differentiation in recent years between road safety and road improvement, on the one hand, and other matters on the other hand, I should like to give one or two figures to the House. These figures are from the appropriation accounts for 1938 and 1949–50 respectively. Education, then, £58 million; now, £207 million. Pensions, civil: then, £65 million; now £209 million. Housing grants: then, £15 million; now, £61 million. Civil aviation, which is rather exceptional because of the big changes that took place: then, £614,000;now £22,500,000. Finally, roads: then, £22 million; now, £28.8 million. All these other subjects have been enlarged by four or five times——
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Yes, quite rightly—but due to political and economic exigencies, party demands from both sides of the House, and the prior interests of constituents, the roads have been allowed to lapse behind. Now, fortunately, through the lucky choice of a debate by the hon. Member for Willesden, West we can turn to this subject for, I think, the first time for a good many years.
There are one or two other things that should be added for the purposes of record. We are the country with the highest vehicle density per mile of roads: 14,800 vehicles per thousand miles of road, the next country being the United States with 12,400 vehicles per thousand miles of road. Then the comparison tails off sharply to Denmark, Canada, New Zealand and France, each with approximately 3,000 vehicles per thousand miles of road. The percentage of the national income which we spend upon roads is much less per vehicle per thousand miles than in many other countries. The United States leads, then follows New Zealand and then Australia, and we are only fourth.
It is common experience that in travelling upon the Continent or in the open spaces of the United States and the Dominions, the quality of travel upon the main roads there is infinitely greater than in this country. We have specialised more, and perhaps too much, in the quality of our second-class rural roads, which compare most favourably with 1736 similar roads abroad. On our main roads, however, throughout our built-up areas and in the places where these great accident figures come about, we are miles behind overseas countries in effective expenditure.
In all the circumstances, the House would, I think, be justified in demanding of the Government that a sum approximating £10 million should be spent as soon as possible. That is the figure that it is estimated is required to overcome the deficiencies of the last few years and to bring the standard of maintenance of the roads up to what it was pre-war. Even then, we should not be doing what we ought to be doing, having regard to the new place that the roads take in our society due to the rapid development of the internal combustion engine.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
Does the noble Lord mean £10 million a year, or just one payment of £10 million?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I mean an immediate £10 million and thereafter figures which relate the current expenditure on the roads to what it was before the war, having regard to the depreciation in the value of money that has since taken place.
§ Mr. M. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)
Surely, the noble Lord is not suggesting that an expenditure of a small sum like £10 million would make any impact upon the need for improvement on the roads. I do not say that it should not be spent, but if that figure is put forward as an adequate sum to meet the vital requirements, it seems to me to be altogether an under-statement.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I say that an extra expenditure by the Treasury of £10 million is what is needed to bring the maintenance of the road system up to the pre-war standard. I am sure that that is the correct figure, because I have done some research into the subject.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
Does the noble Lord mean the maintenance of the surface without improvement?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I am not talking about what some of my hon. Friends have mentioned—roundabouts, new roads, the preparation of dual carriageways, and things of that kind. I am talking about maintenance.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Oh, no— the normal maintenance of the surface, the preparation of the roadway in advance of crossings, which an hon. Member mentioned, and so on.
After that, we ought to start on a big capital construction programme. The re-armament programme takes priority, but as soon as we begin to find that the level of armaments expenditure is sufficient to take care of the needs of our foreign policy and our general security, the roads ought to have first priority over and above these other great public services which have received their due meed of attention in the last few years. The roads should have the first priority, over and above the railways even, in getting the money that is thereby created.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson). The dual carriage-way programme should be continued, particularly on those roads where the land has already been bought and the fences marked out. I am thinking especially of the Great North Road, which from here to Stamford is a national disgrace compared with what other countries can show.
The French have been very clever in developing what one might call "flyunders". On leaving Paris, in order to cross the ring roads that surround Paris, they have delved down and have carried the main exit roads underneath, with the result that traffic can get quickly out into the countryside.
I do not want to take too long on the general capital reconstruction programme, because this debate is primarily concerned with road safety and with the appalling level of accidents. I hope, with the hon. Member for Willesden, West, that the Ministry will be able to tell us today that the money they have so far earmarked—I think it is £1½million—will be spent in lighting the beacons at the crossings and also the zebra crossings themselves, and also on a great many other things that ought to be attended to.
1738 My hon. Friend mentioned roundabouts. I am not in favour of roundabouts, except in built-up areas. They impede the speed of traffic, and the speed of traffic today is of very great importance, not only to the individual but commercially. I would much rather see on the open roads some of this money put into traffic lights than wholesale redevelopment in order to create roundabouts.
It is very irritating, when travelling fast out of London to be held up every few hundred yards by a large oval mound, even if it is covered with agreeable shrubs and flowers. I would rather see a clear straight run, as one so often sees abroad and in the United States, with lights many miles ahead, so that one can stop quite easily when there is an indication of crossing traffic. So far as the simpler rural requirements are concerned, the white band across the road and the sign "Stop, major road ahead," is effective in halting people coming out of side turnings before they get on to the main road.
I should like to see a number of things put into the Highway Code. One of the most irritating things, and a major cause of accidents, is the way in which heavy vehicles of the Road Haulage Executive and other heavy vehicles tend to "bunch up" on main roads. It results in other drivers, exasperated at having to crawl for many miles, eventually pulling out in an endeavour to pass. Then they find something coming over the crest of a hill, and a major accident is caused.
I should like to see a rule made whereby all major commercial vehicles over a certain size would be required to observe what the Army are required to observe, a number of vehicles to the mile distant by, say, 50 feet. On the brow of a hill or down a slope one could not be certain of maintaining that distance, but despite this, I think it ought to be compulsory for these heavy vehicles to maintain that distance from each other and from other vehicles.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary what progress has been made on the question of raising the speed limit to 30 miles an hour for heavy goods vehicles? We had a debate about this in the last Parliament. All the interests are agreed except, possibly, the trade unions, although I understood that some educational process had been at work in the 1739 trade unions and they were prepared to agree to the change from 20 miles an hour to 30 miles an hour. It is undoubtedly the case that some vehicles are going far faster than 30 miles an hour, and causing accidents, because it is quite impossible for them to maintain 20 miles an hour and the police cannot deal with them because the administrative problem is too great. If the Government changed the law and had them moving at 30 miles an hour, the police could prosecute in the reduced number of cases where they exceeded 30 miles an hour and we would have greater safety thereby.
I think that the police road patrols do a considerable service on the road. But they still concentrate too much on the fast driver—the man on the motor cycle or in a fast car—and decide that he ought to be apprehended simply because he is moving fast. I suspect that very often they do not pay enough attention to what I might call "the little woman," who is a worthy citizen in many ways, but who, when she drives a small car out of a side road into a main arterial road, becomes a menace. She gets lost on the new, broad surface and wanders from side to side before she settles down on an even track. If the police would stop her and whisper a kindly word in her ear and would look for that type of driving rather than for the speedy, but skilful, type of driving by young gentlemen in fast cars, I think accidents would be saved.
I wish to say something on police methods but, here, with a great deal of diffidence and temerity. I cannot rise to the exactitude of medical and forensic language which should be required, but can only indicate the general thought in my mind for consideration of the Government. It is about the question raised by the hon. Member for Willesden, West driving under the influence of drink.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
The right hon. Member for South Shields said that the hon. Member was not under the influence of drink, and of course he was not, but that illustrates my point. Good speeches are made very often, in this House, upon a small glass of light sherry wine. Very bad speeches would be made, 1740 though in fact they are not made, by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who had lowered several large whiskies before they came into the Chamber. A small glass of light sherry is not a bad stimulus to good driving; in fact it is often a very good stimulus indeed. A very small quantity of any drug can do a lot to keep the senses keen and make people more acute in their reactions. For that reason drugs were given to soldiers before they landed on the coasts of France.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
No, I want to be very careful about this. I think that a lot of accidents are caused, not by people who have a little fresh alcohol, but by people who have soaked some hours before. That is when their senses are dull. I do not believe the police pay sufficient attention—perhaps it is impossible to do so—to the quantity of sugar in the blood, while they do pay attention to the quantity of alcohol in the blood. That is where I cannot possibly satisfy the House on the medical and forensic side of the question. I am certain that if we could devise some medical test in the police station after an accident had taken place and really get down to the reason for sluggish reaction of the person driving—it is the sluggish reaction that causes accidents—that would be much better than taking a sample of blood, finding a little alcohol in it and clapping the man into prison.
I am very glad that this debate has been raised, and I urge my hon. and right hon. Friends in the Ministry to approach the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I wish the right hon. Gentleman or one of his assistants had been able to be here, because the Treasury dominate the scene. If this House is agreed on wanting more money spent on the roads, as I am sure it is, and wanting this terrible accident rate reduced, it must look to the Treasury to find the answer.
§ 12.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Orbach (Willesden, East)
I should very much like to follow the noble Lord in some of the discussion he raised this morning, but I rise primarily because my colleague the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) in the valuable and lucid speech with which he opened the debate, made 1741 reference to the borough we both represent and to representations he and I have made to successive Ministers in connection with road accidents in our area.
If I speak rather strongly on this subject, my remarks are not directed to the present Minister of Transport but to the Ministry, because I have raised this question with three successive Ministers. This is the sixth time I have raised it in this House, and up to the moment it has not got me much for my pains. I have raised it by Questions, by interjections and on an Adjournment Motion. All that has succeeded in having a wire fence erected on the North Circular Road. It was mentioned by the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson).
I wondered why that fence had been erected. The hon. Member has given an explanation. It may well be correct that people who poise themselves at one end of the pavement may be deterred from running across the road. I thought the fence was erected so that a person was not "killed twice." That is the only reason I can see for the erection of this fence after the pleas I have made, because the number of accidents on that road last year was greater than in the year before and the number of fatalities was greater than in the year before the year in which the fence was erected as against preceding years.
We have asked for the institution of a 30 miles per hour speed limit and for the erection of traffic lights at two or three of the main black spots in that area. We do so not simply because this is a road upon which traffic moves with the same density as in Oxford Street, not because the road no longer serves the purpose for which it was erected, but because it has residences at each side of it and there are two schools, a playing field, a cinema and a public library on one side or the other of that road, and people have to cross from one side or the other without a single pedestrian crossing along the stretch to which I refer.
Since my last speech on this subject, nothing seems to have been done with the exception of the erection of this wire fence and the installation, for a two-week period, of temporary lights at the Neasden Circus. In answer to a Question of mine in February or March of this year, I was 1742 informed that tenders had gone out for lights to be placed at the Neasden Circus.
Nothing more seems to have been done except that a Press statement was issued two weeks ago to the local Press informing them that further improvements were contemplated. I should have thought that the Ministry might have taken the trouble to inform the two Members for that area who have raised the matter repeatedly, so that we could advise our constituents and the associations in our area of what was being done.
The Minister must look at this problem again. The number of accidents on the North Circular Road last year was 385, six of which were fatal. That figure is a fifth of the number of accidents to all people from 1939 to 1945 in an area which was subject to bombardment.
I wish for a few moments to turn to the general subject. This is an issue upon which we are all experts. The man who, having dodged in front of one's car wheels, raises his fist to one, or the other motorist with whom one is in altercation and who levels the same sort of vile language at one as one would like to level at him—we are all experts on this subject. That being so, my few observations may perhaps be some contribution to dealing with the problem.
The other day, I attended a court in connection with the prosecution of a friend for obstruction. I am not criticising the magistrate, but I was not extremely impressed, because it seemed to me to be an automatic process that if a defendant was represented by a motoring organisation he was fined 40s.; if he came himself, pleaded guilty and made an apology to the court he was fined 10s.; and if he pleaded not guilty and tried to fight the issue it costs 60s., 80s. or more.
The magistrate mumbled something during one case which I understood to be that the motorist concerned was using the road as a convenience. It is the word "convenience" that I should like to take up. I wonder whether the time has not come for citizens to take an action against the Crown or the Ministry because the road is in fact not a convenience either for them or for the carriage of goods or for the pedestrians themselves. Certainly in my area the roads very much require looking at from all points of view.
1743 I should like to mention one instance which I think will highlight a particular part of London which is more prone to the occurrence of accidents than any other. I left this House early one morning and travelled down Whitehall to enter the circus round Trafalgar Square, and circus it really is, or was until a couple of months ago. I found poised over the pavement at Canada House, on the left-hand side of the Square, a motor car with the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) sitting in it. The vehicle had skidded on the wet road blocks there.
I think that every Member who uses that Square will agree that it was until very recently an absolute death trap, however good the conditions of one's tyres and however well one kept one's car under control. I notice that since that accident, which fortunately did not result in harm to the hon. Member, the road surface has been covered with macadam, and it is much safer than it was.
It seems to me that the local authorities in the West End of London ought to be told in no uncertain terms about these road blocks. At every traffic light at which one pulls up a groove is being worn as a result of braking motor vehicles, and one is in trepidation as one puts on one's brake. That handicap to exercising judgment in the correct manner seems to me to be adding to the number of road accidents in the centre of London. There should go out a direction, particularly in the case of the West End of London, that the local authorities concerned should immediately do something about the problem.
I turn to the propaganda campaign which has been carried on for some years. In its effect upon the children of this country it has been very valuable indeed. Children seem to hesitate before they cross the road and to look both ways. It is the mature person, the middle-aged person who does not know whether to dodge backwards or whether to go on running. I prefer children, who go right across, to the middle-aged person who does not know exactly what to do. Whatever our strictures about propaganda, we should ask the Minister of Education to continue that work among the children in the schools.
1744 My hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West spoke about the question of road signs. He drew attention to one where, instead of there being a "Go slow" sign, there should be a "Halt" sign. I wish to draw attention to the sometimes hysterical signs placed about the country by local authorities. In the Whitsuntide Recess, I travelled to Cornwall. On one of the roads there was a big sign—I should have thought that signs of that description were not necessary—which said "Danger." Two hundred yards further along there was another huge sign which said "Danger." One travelled another two hundred yards before coming to an oblique corner from which a gradient led. There was a sign which I should estimate as being about 30 feet by 20 feet bearing the warning "Danger" again.
All that leads to hesitation and fear or apprehension on the part of the motorist. As it was clearly stated on the first sign exactly what to expect, the motorist would understand what to do and apply his mind to the instrument of death, which at the same time is an instrument of locomotion, of which he is in charge.
§ Mr. Orbach
I am sure he would, even if he had had one drink. I wish to say very little about the subject of drunkenness. My hon. Friend knows that I do not myself indulge, but I have no objection to other people indulging if they wish to do so. I believe, however, that if drunkenness is a contributory factor in an accident it ought to result in the person concerned not being allowed to drive again under any circumstances. That is the answer to that problem.
I wish to speak briefly about the zebra crossings. I was very disturbed, as I think most hon. Members were, at the irresponsible way in which the Press dealt with this subject. These crossings were tried in the first place as a great experiment. The Press wrote about them as if they were a danger to the public and all sorts of things should be done in regard to them. Now the subject has been dropped.
I consider these crossings to be a great psychological factor in this important matter of road safety. People walk 1745 across one of these crossings, and they are on a refuge; they smile at one, and one smiles at them. They are self-confident. They were under the impression that all we motorists wanted to do was to slaughter them as quickly as we could. Now there is a partnership of the pedestrian and the motorist arising from the introduction of the zebra crossings which, if rightly used, can greatly contribute to greater safety on the roads.
The motorist ought to make a bigger contribution to road safety than he has done up till now. The question of tyres ought to be the subject of some sort of control, and the examination of brakes and rear lights—certainly on lorries—ought to be considered by this House as a major factor in the question of road accidents. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that something will be done in that direction, instead of just appealing to motorists to see that they have good tyres and brakes.
The law says that they should, but no one seems to enforce that law, and there are cars on the road which have hardly any brakes, with smooth tyres and with no rear lights. Occasionally they are prosecuted as a result of an accident, but they never seem to be prosecuted before an accident has occurred. It would be far better if we saw to it that some of those policemen who are so keen on prosecuting us for leaving our cars parked for a few minutes—and we cannot leave our cars in the sky—turned their attention instead to the question of cars being roadworthy.
I am wondering whether we are considering the use, for road purposes, of the railroads that we are closing down instead of allowing them to become disused and derelict. This is a question primarily of the roads. The question of the judgment of individual motorists comes later. The primary need is the expenditure of more money on road surfaces and black spots, and I hope the last word on that matter was not said by the Minister when he said that he was going to make a contribution of £1¼million this year to eradicate black spots. The sum of £1½million is minute in comparison with the problem presented and I hope that, both with regard to the particular subject I have raised in connection with my own borough and the general subject of road safety, the remarks I have made will be some contribution.
§ 1.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
The hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) in opening this debate said that he did not apologise for having chosen this subject. I am certain that we all agree that there is nothing for which to apologise, and I think that the quality of the speeches which followed must have satisfied him that he has done this House a very good turn. I have no doubt that he was particularly gratified to find that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, as well as his Parliamentary Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, were here to listen to his contribution.
At the beginning of his speech, he said that he felt that the emphasis should be put on road conditions generally and that we ought not to concentrate only upon education. I wanted to intervene at that point, just to say that I was sure that he meant that we must continue with the education that is being carried on now and not reduce it, but that the other suggestions should be carried out in addition. I think he will remember that alongside the very worrying figures which have been quoted in reference to accidents and deaths—which we must all keep in mind—there is a tiny ray of hope which should not be forgotten.
It may well be that the slight improvement to which I want to refer in passing may have come from that education which, I suggest, should be maintained. I should like to feel that my right hon. Friend will be able to go on giving help to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents so that they can carry on with their part in the work of education. From January to April, 1951, the deaths were 1,489 and the injuries were 57,546. In the comparable four months of this year the deaths were 1,356—a reduction of 133—and the injuries were 55,423—a reduction of 2,123. It is an improvement, if only a slight one.
It is because I feel that better education on road matters has contributed to that improvement that I want to emphasise the point that, whatever else we do—? and there is much that we must do—we must not lessen our educational efforts. It is quite clear that something more than mere talk is required. We have to put the promise—to spend £1½ million this year on road improvement—to really 1747 good effect, and I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what has been done to implement that promise. I hope he will remember such things as the speeding up of decisions by his Department when local authorities ask for permission to improve street lighting.
This debate does give one the chance to emphasise the points raised in the letters which we are writing to the Minister. At the moment there are three schemes outstanding in Peterborough in connection with street lighting which would do a great deal to bring about improved conditions and make that city much safer. The hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) said that the Great North Road from here to Stamford was a disaster. The five miles which are in the Peterborough police area certainly warrant some special attention. In 1951, in that short five-mile stretch, there were something like 85 accidents. I feel that that narrow section of road, which carries so much traffic, could be accepted as one of the black spots to which the Ministry of Transport should give speedy attention when this £1½million is being spent.
We do want to emphasise that the Minister will have the backing of hon. Members from all parts of this House if he takes really vigorous steps, in company with the Treasury, to see that the improvement of roads, as regards both their surfaces and their siting, has the right sort of priority. I feel that up to now we have always kept the improvement of roads in the background, as a kind of special reserve to bring into use if we meet with unemployment or economic problems. That may have been a good policy before the war, when we had so many periods of booms and slumps, but I think we should look at the improvement of roads not merely as a social service to be brought in to alleviate unemployment in difficult periods, but as a matter which, in its own right, should figure very high in the priorities when we come to spend money.
§ Mr. Pannell
The hon. Member has hit on a very good point. This question of keeping the improvement of roads in reserve until we had a recession of trade started with the planners in the war-time period, when they thought that full employment would not last quite so long as 1748 it has. They reckoned without the return of a Labour Government.
§ Mr. Nicholls
I am rather sorry that the hon. Member, even in a flippant way, has felt it necessary to make this particular point a party one, because one would have to rejoin that in the periods between the wars, when unemployment was a scourge, it was the greatest scourge when the hon. Member's party were in power between 1929 and 1931. I do not want to say any more about that now. I want to keep to the point on which I think we are all agreed, which is that we should all press the Minister to give to road improvement the priority that it must have, because lives and limbs are at stake. On that particular point I am certain that there is no difference between any of us.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
In any case, a recession in an industry such as the textile industry would not be helped at all by making road improvements.
§ Mr. Nicholls
That is quite correct. It is only when it becomes a mass problem that road improvement should be used to alleviate it. I am certain that it is in everyone's mind that we do want road improvement to have the sort of priority that the importance of the problem deserves.
I have had particular interest in the next point for some time, and it is the question of wardens at school crossings. I am glad that the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who showed a great interest in this problem when he was Home Secretary, is here, because I felt that he and his Parliamentary Secretary started a movement which has brought about a great improvement in the number of school wardens. At that time, I organised a small exhibition in one of the Committee rooms and he paid me the compliment of visiting it. It was then, I feel, that a beginning was made.
In addition to recruiting extra wardens to pilot children across the road, I think we should now take the next step—making it easy for road users to recognise them by having a standard uniform throughout the country. Many authorities have wardens, and they are dressed slightly differently in each area. If they could wear a similar uniform so that they could be easily recognised, I am certain 1749 that their job would be carried out with much greater efficiency. We easily recognise A.A. scouts and the R.A.C. scouts because their uniforms are well-known. If we could give school wardens some such uniform we should recognise them wherever we were travelling and their signal would receive a much quicker and bigger response.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
I am very interested in that point. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the white coat, with sleeves, which is provided in many areas is a suitable form of uniform?
§ Mr. Nicholls
Yes, I think so. The model at my exhibition was on those lines, but at the moment some wardens wear berets and some wear bowler hats.
§ Mr. Nicholls
The women wear berets, and sometimes they are not dissimilar from a bowler hat. If the uniforms were on the same pattern throughout the country the wardens would be easily recognised. The uniforms could be ordered in bulk through a central body and would be cheaper.
Another point I want to make, to which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give attention, is that he should make it quite certain which Department is responsible for engaging these wardens and enabling them to get on with the job. Those of us who have taken an interest in these matters are rather tired of being pushed from the Ministry of Transport to the Ministry of Education, then to the police authorities, and then back again along the same road. Now that we have such a live Parliamentary Secretary, in whom I have great faith, I hope he will be prepared to take on the responsibility.
There are many smaller points which could be taken into account by the Ministry—small in themselves, but added together they would make a contribution to the solution of this vital problem. I support the extension of the "courtesy cop" system and, in order to have a greater number and to save money, I suggest that they could be given a motor cycle instead of a motor car. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary 1750 to give some thought to that. Instead of having two in a motor car we could have one on a motor cycle, perhaps giving the same amount of good advice which my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South suggested should be given to the lady motorist who was wandering about on the wrong side of the road.
I support the lighting of zebra crossings. We know that experiments have been made, and we hope that a decision will be reached so that before the dark nights are here again it will be possible to see the zebra crossings at night as a result of the introduction of the new illumination. I suggest, too, that we need a new addition of the Highway Code which can be clearly understood and in which we are not referred first to page 7, then back to page 2 and then forward again to page 11. It should be in a form which people can understand.
No doubt other hon. Members will be making many other suggestions, but now that the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) is back in his place, I should like to add a word following his vigorous contribution. None will object to the vigour with which he dealt with the problem. The tragedy which affected his constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) was one which ought to have imprinted itself not only upon their minds, as Members representing that area, but upon all of us. None would object to the vigour with which he sought to draw a lesson from that tragedy, but perhaps he was a little too extravagant in suggesting that the powers-that-be had completely neglected the lesson so far. There was some reason for their not continuing the inquiry after the very full inquiry which took place in the court proceedings.
The hon. Gentleman was entitled to ask the Minister whether any lesson had been learned from the proceedings and what they were doing about it, and I support him in that; but he was wrong in suggesting that nothing had been done about it or that the Ministry are satisfied merely with the slight improvement in street lighting which he mentioned. I thought the explanation we had from the ex-Minister of Transport left it quite clear in our minds that he certainly had not brushed the whole matter off. It was in order to turn away that impression, 1751 which may have been created by the hon. Gentleman's speech, that I made reference to it.
§ Mr. Bottomley
Six months after the accident, the Committee on Road Safety and the inter-Departmental official committee have given no advice at all arising from the accident. When I asked a question recently about whether the speed restriction, which the coroner's court suggested, had been introduced, the regional transport commission and the Ministry said they had seen no reference to it yet. The Minister of Transport told me that the question of street lighting was a matter for the local authority whom, he said, had not been in touch with the Ministry. That is not good enough. I do not press for this particular inquiry but certainly something must be done and there should be inquiries in general.
§ Mr. Nicholls
The Parliamentary Secretary interjected, commenting that to say that nothing has been done is not in accordance with the facts; and I must confess that that is my impression, too. I felt that the hon. Gentleman's vigorous speech may have left the impression that the Ministers have not taken the lesson to heart. I have been vitally interested in the subject of road safety for a long time, and my impression, from statements made by both Ministers and by the Parliamentary Secretary, is that they are well aware of the great work which must be done to avoid a repetition of such a tragedy.
Finally, I want to add a general appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to give this overwhelming problem first importance. This is one subject on which all hon. Members are emphasising the points upon which we agree. Since there are so many other points on which we disagree and which have so much publicity, I feel it would not be a bad thing, both for the good of this House and for politics in this country generally, to give some special priority to the important human point in which we are all on the same side.
§ 1.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)
We are all very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) for having raised this important subject.
There is one of the many causes of road accidents which has not been stressed to- 1752 day as much as I think it should have been. It is the question of children on the roads without proper control. Perhaps I feel rather strongly about this because the only two accidents—and they were minor accidents—in which I have been concerned were both the result of children unexpectedly straying on to the roads. There is an especial danger that town children, perhaps accustomed to an area where traffic is relatively slow moving, may go into the country and stray on to main roads where they do not realise how fast the traffic is. That, at any rate, is my experience.
But the point with which I want to deal in particular is the relationship of drink to road accidents, and I deal with it because, as a doctor, I have some knowledge and experience of the subject. I want to try to deal with it in as objective and unprejudiced a way as possible. There are many figures indicating the number of individuals involved in road accidents who had been taking alcohol, but what those figures do not generally show is how many of those who had taken alcohol had been rendered accident-prone by what they had taken.
What, I think, people very easily forget in connection with road accidents and alcohol is the fact that the effect of a drink or more than one drink may last for a very long period—not only for minutes but for many hours. It is for that reason that the B.O.A.C. insists that those who have anything to do with the flying of its aeroplanes not only take no drink while they are engaged in their work but that they have nothing to drink for at least eight hours before taking on duty in an aeroplane.
The law as regards drink and road accidents is found in the Road Traffic Act, 1930, Section 15, which makes it an offence to drive or to attempt to drive or be in charge of a motor car on a road or other public place while under the influence of drink or drugs—and this is the point I want to stress—…to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle…It is those words, "to such an extent," which are the real difficulty.
As we all know, doctors endeavour by examination of the person charged to ascertain whether he was capable of having proper control or not, and because it is such a difficult problem doctors 1753 proverbially disagree. Every doctor knows the ordinary signs of drinking—flushed face, blurred speech, inability to toe the line, and so on; but the difficulty is this: do each, and to what extent do each, of these symptoms render an individual incapable of proper control of a vehicle on the road? That is the real crux of the situation, and that is what it is exceedingly difficult for any doctor to determine. Of course, it is on that that acquittal or conviction depends.
It is known scientifically that a relatively small amount of alcohol does affect a person's capacity for detailed work. It is known also that a relatively slight amount of alcohol does affect an individual psychologically. It reduces control and ability to make rapid decisions. The British Medical Association in an inquiry a few years ago found that three ounces of whisky had a marked psychological effect. It resulted in diminution of attention and control and a reduction of reasoning power.
§ Mr. Hastings
It is six tablespoonsful. Not glasses: it all depends on the size of the glass. Probably, others will know better than I do exactly how many glasses that is.
What is required of a person driving a car, as I see it, more than anything else is that he should be able to take in an urgent situation and respond to it quickly. Anything that interferes with that is, of course, to some extent a danger. Because of the danger of drink I understand that 90 per cent. of professional drivers employed by public authorities and private companies are forbidden by the terms of their employment to take drink when they are driving cars on the road. That is all very well; that may be highly desirable for all drivers; but the law is much less insistent, for the law demands only that the driver should not be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle that he is driving.
How is that to be determined? Let me very briefly remind the House of some of the physiological effects of drink. It has no general effect when in the stomach. It is only when it is absorbed into the blood that there is any general effect at all. Then, having been absorbed into the blood, it is burnt up in the tissues at 1754 a relatively slow rate—about one-third of an ounce per hour. So it takes a pretty long time to get rid of. The question is, seeing its effect is felt only when it is absorbed into the blood, how can we determine how much alcohol there is in the blood?
Fortunately, there is an easy and rapid method of doing this, and by taking a few drops of blood from the ear of the individual concerned in a tiny test tube it can be estimated with complete accuracy. It is found by experiment that in most people—I stress most people, because I shall deal with that a bit more fully in a moment—if there is.15 per cent. of alcohol in the blood they are found not to be capable of driving a car. As.15 per cent. is one and a half per 1,000, it is not a very high percentage. Dr. Holcomb, in America, as a result of very careful research, found that drivers with.15 per cent. of alcohol in their blood were 55 times more subject to accidents than those without any.
§ Mr. Hastings
No, but there is a special test that is arranged for driving in physiological laboratories.
In many countries, in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Turkey, and also in Germany, Switzerland, and parts of the United States, this blood test is recognised officially as evidence, and in some of these countries it is actually compulsory. Its value is twofold—not only on the positive side, but on the negative side also. If there is no alcohol in the blood of the individual concerned, or only a very small quantity, then the individual obviously has not been drinking sufficient to make him liable to accidents. In Denmark, since this blood test has been introduced, the percentage of accidents due to drinking has gone down from about 10 per cent. of the total to 2 per cent., and so it seems to have had in those countries some deterrent effect.
But, people will ask—and rightly—is this test infallible? The answer is—no, it is not infallible, any more than any other test, because it has been shown recently by scientific research, particularly by Professor Leonard Goldberg in Stockholm, that those who habitually take a lot of alcohol can take more than 1755 .15 per cent. into the blood without their being necessarily a public danger. Although this test is not infallible, there can be no doubt that it is very helpful, and that no one with .15 or more of alcohol in the blood ought to run the risk of being in charge of what may be a lethal instrument, a motor car.
I do not suggest that we ought to do what many other countries have done and immediately make the blood test obligatory in a charge of being under the influence of alcohol while in charge of a car. What I appeal to the Home Secretary and those in charge to do is to make such facilities available in every police station, with a notice to the effect that anyone charged could be able, if they demanded it, to have a blood test. This notice should state clearly the value of the test, not only in convicting but in proving innocence.
I believe that if people were given the opportunity to have this test they would use it. I think that most people charged would take advantage of it, because nearly all who have taken drink, either much or little, are convinced they are sober, and they would be only too glad to have the opportunity of trying to prove it. The existence of this test, if available to everyone charged, would also have a very strong deterrent effect to drivers who are inclined to take too much. The clinical or medical test, as I have tried to show, is very unreliable, for doctors proverbially disagree, but blood tests do not.
§ 1.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Higgs (Bromsgrove)
The debate so far has shown that there are two quite distinct aspects of this problem. The first is one to which I need refer only very briefly.
The hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) has already been congratulated upon his moving of this Motion and upon his selection of subject. I think he will be rewarded, and will feel rewarded, if it goes on record for the benefit of all those who sit on the Front Benches on both sides of the House, or whoever, may occupy the Government Front Bench, that from the point of view of a long-term solution of this problem back bench Members on both sides have today given notice that we shall not much longer tolerate a state 1756 of affairs when, of all the very large revenue that is obtained from road users, a minute fraction is spent upon the roads while, be it noted, a very much greater proportion is spent upon, amongst other things, hospitals to patch up the victims of road accidents. That is really nonsense. Whatever little differences there may be amongst us upon either side, I think we are all agreed upon that.
We know that at the moment the control, fiscal though it be in its nature, is really a question of shortage of materials and labour, but when those days are past and it becomes simply a question of whether the money is to be found or no, then I hope—and if I am here at the time I shall certainly do my bit—Members of Parliament will see that that state of affairs is put right. We are all agreed that probably the greatest contribution that could possibly be made towards reducing accidents would be an improvement of the roads, but circumstances are such that we all know in our hearts that for the time being it is impossible to spend a sufficient sum of money on the roads in the near future to achieve any real success, or to make at any rate a noticeable impact upon the accident figures.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, Northwest)
Even if the hon. Gentleman does not think that we could, at the present time, spend the whole amount that he has in mind, would it not be extremely useful if some proportion of it could be spent, particularly where there are bad roads near crossings? That is one of the main troubles at present in relation to zebra crossings.
§ Mr. Higgs
I have been dealing rather with the spending of large sums of money upon new trunk roads. If we have achieved that much, if we have fixed on both Front Benches notice of our determination, then this day has been well spent by the House of Commons.
That is the long-term aspect. Obviously in present circumstances we can best apply our time to considering the other aspect of it, the short-term aspect, the sorts of things that can be done now in present circumstances, with all our limitations. I quite agree that without spending the sort of sums of money which will upset the economic balance of the country, there are many things that 1757 could be well done to improve the roads, even with our existing limitations.
There are a number of lengths of road, by-pass roads and trunk roads which have been started, where there is a mile of dual carriageway, very wide, upon which it is safe to go reasonably fast, when one suddenly comes to a narrow bridge which has not be improved, and then the road opens out again. In those circumstances that narrow bridge is far more dangerous than it would be if the whole length of road were narrow, and I should have thought that, even if our economic circumstances are such that we cannot tackle the whole question of large new schemes for new trunk roads, there was a great deal of virtue in the suggestion, which has already been made from both sides of the House, that some money might well be spent in finishing off the work that was started before the war.
Now I should like to turn to some of the other things which can be done with comparatively little expenditure of money. Reference has already been made to the problem of drink and the motorist. I have from time to time had quite a little experience of bringing this matter to its conclusion before the courts. In police divisions where I had that job I have had to prosecute motorists who have been arrested and charged, and in other divisions I have had to defend them. I have occasionally seen motorists on the road whom I suspected to be behaving in the way they were for that reason and none other that I could think of.
I realise the very real problem to which the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) drew attention—the problem of bringing home the fact in court. The more the penalty is increased—such, at least, is my experience of most justices' courts—the more apprehensive justices become of convicting. I think there are two reasons which actuate them in that way. The first, of course, is sympathy with the offender. If the offender is a lorry driver who has a wife and children dependent upon him, and if he earns his living by his driving licence and it is the only way in which he has hitherto learned to earn his living, a reasonable magistrate will think twice before taking his driving licence off him. Then, of course, magistrates are all human. They realise that there is a court of appeal to 1758 which their decisions may go, and the more terrible the penalty they inflict, the more likely there is to be an appeal.
I am glad that in this debate no one has clamoured for additional powers for even more severe penalties in the courts. I think that just as we come to the saturation point of taxation, so we do of penalties. The courts have adequate powers already if they will use them. The maximum punishments laid down, as hon. Members who have experience of these matters well know, are quite adequate. The problem very often is to decide where to draw the line. All sorts of different considerations arise, such as the difficulty of having a satisfactory test.
I knew of one doctor who, when called in by the police on occasions when a suspected motorist was in the station, used to forget all the other tests and get out a pack of cards. He and his patient would play a simple game of snap. If the patient responded quickly when the ace of hearts and the ace of diamonds were side by side on the table, that was one indication that he was reacting fairly quickly. If he blinked at them and took no action at all, that was a very excellent reason for thinking that his reactions were affected.
§ Mr. Higgs
I learnt to play snap long before I learned to gamble.
There is another place to which one can go for help. The Parliamentary Secretary knows that the Home Office have up and down the country forensic science laboratories. I know that the scientists whose services are at the disposal of the police have blood tests and other methods of finding out just how much alcohol a motorist has taken. Recently I was concerned in a case where, for one reason or another, the police doctor did not examine a motorist until over two hours after he was first found in control of a vehicle. The doctor, when he arrived, said quite frankly, "This man may have had alcohol and he probably has, but he has pulled himself together, and I cannot say at 2 a.m. that he is unfit to be in charge of a car. I did not see him at midnight when he was found in charge of a car."
1759 A simple test was made at a forensic science laboratory, and the scientists were able to tell us that the man had taken the alcoholic equivalent of over three quarters of a bottle of whisky that evening. I hope that all the police forces know of the services of these forensic science laboratories which exist in various parts of the country, and which are at their disposal.
I should like to make one other point, and perhaps illustrate it in one or two ways. I am not sure that we have not reached saturation point in another direction, and that is in the number of ways, in which by law we can make people behave in a way which will bring about safety. We can pass an Act of Parliament that there shall be a "Halt" sign or traffic lights, and we can pass an Act of Parliament to the effect that if a motorist does not see a "Halt" sign or traffic lights and conform to them, he is to be punished. But no Act of Parliament which this House places on the Statute Book can physically compel a motorist to be looking at a particular sign at the moment when he should be looking at it.
In the early days of the pedestrian crossings, we drew the attention of motorists to them by a most extraordinary object, now known as the Belisha beacon, and for a time that was effective because it was something new and strange, and because people, even if they had not had their attention drawn to them by publicity, would have stopped to look at them anyway.
Gradually, as "Halt" signs, traffic lights, "Go Slow" signs and other signs became more common, the Belisha beacon faded into the background and ceased to be something which arrested attention. Because of that, we are now proceeding to paint the surface of the road with stripes. I believe that for a number of years the zebra crossings will be effective. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give us some figures relating to them because they have been in operation for some time.
I believe, however, that in a few years' time we shall have the Minister of Transport coming to this House and saying, "Now we are going to paint these purple," or something else will have to be done in order to bring them into the 1760 foreground again. It may be that some other sign will be evolved, and instead of having a post with a yellow knob on the top, we shall have some other sort of cabalistic sign. I say that to illustrate my point that we have reached saturation point in the number of warnings, signs and restrictions we can put on the roads to help the motorist.
I think that the time has come when we have to devise other means of bringing about road safety, if it is at all possible to do so. The field of education is the most important. When a man learns to do something as part of his education, he is like a soldier with his drill—he responds to a given word of command or to a given circumstance automatically and without thinking. The generation to whom motor cars are strange things because they have arrived late in their lives will never respond automaticaly to the situations which motor cars have created. That generation is now leaving us.
We are now coming to a time when by far the greater number of people on the roads have been brought up with motor cars and they can hardly remember a time when there were not some motor cars upon the road. As that change takes place, and as the one number decreases and the other number increases until it becomes 100 per cent., education becomes an even more powerful weapon as we go along. I do not think that education should take the form of putting large posters beside the roads. They defeat their purpose by taking our eyes off our driving.
§ Mr. Higgs
At least one has to look at them to see what is on them. That, to my mind, is one of the faults of these things. I believe that education should begin at a point where people are in the frame of mind to receive it, and that it must be concentrated very largely upon children in the schools. I hope that my hon. Friend, when he replies to this debate, will be able to give us the latest figures available as to the part that children are playing in the accident increase, because I believe we can find encouragement there, and that the money to be spent on preventing accidents and helping motorists can best be spent at the end of the scale.
§ Mr. Janner
How is the hon. Gentleman, who is a very expert lawyer and obviously keenly interested in this matter, to make a distinction between the education which he has been rather deprecating and education in the sense in which he wants it? It appears to be a contradictory argument. On the one hand, he says, "We get so used to things that we do not notice them at all," and, on the other hand, he is talking about educating people to get used to things.
§ Mr. Higgs
The hon. Gentleman has made the point that I was trying to make better than I could have done it. It is very much better that a motorist should halt when emerging from a major road because he learnt when a child that it was necessary to do so, and do it as an automatic reaction, than that he should do it because he happens to have noticed a sign ordering him to do it. If we depend on signs, there will always be a percentage of motorists who do not see them. On a main road leading into London, I recently counted in the space of a mile 35 signs that motorists are required to observe. However carefully one drives, one is bound to miss some of these signs in the course of a day. It is better that one should do the right thing instinctively than because one is ordered to do it.
It is now time that a new Highway Code came out, and I believe we shall hear that the matter has been attended to. There has been some pressure, which I hope will be resisted, that the Highway Code should be made a criminal statute. If that were done, we should need to have another Highway Code for friendly reading. I hope we shall not see the Highway Code re-drafted into terms which can be enforced by summonses. That would cause it to lose all its virtue as a readable document. So far it has been the sort of document people could be depended upon to study. I hope we shall have a Highway Code a little simpler and a little shorter than the present one, and one that does not require us to look back or forward to other sections.
Education which will reach people's minds is the only solution to the road safety problem short of improvement of the roads. We cannot at once have improvement of the roads, but if we can make everyone conscious of the import- 1762 ance of road safety and give everyone who wants it the right kind of advice and help, we shall achieve some progress in the interim period until we can make the roads safe.
I also commend to my hon. Friend the suggestion of the hon. Member for Old-bury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) that there should be increased recruiting of the courtesy officers who are at present so helpful on the roads. I wonder whether their help would be more acceptalbe if, like probation officers in magistrates' courts, they were not in police uniform and if it were apparent to all with whom they came in contact that their business was to help and not to institute proceedings. Their uniform should be different from that of the ordinary police officer. I believe we have reached the end of the time when we can reduce accidents by police action. We have now to do it by helping those who use the roads and who may in any capacity whatsoever cause accidents.
§ 1.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
At the outset of his interesting speech the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) pleaded with the Front Bench to increase the expenditure on road improvement. None of us would disagree with that or with most of his remarks. Every hon. Member who has spoken has stressed the need for greater expenditure on the roads to eliminate black spots and to improve our road system, and we are all desirous of that because it would be a great contribution to road safety.
Another aspect with which I wish mainly to deal is that road safety is not only a matter of the condition of the roads, and the extent of their suitability for the traffic they carry, but is also a matter of the number of vehicles using them and their capacity to cope with those vehicles. As was pointed out by the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), the density of traffic in this country is higher than in any other industrial country. There has been a tremendous increase in the number of vehicles on our roads since the war: there are 70 per cent. more vehicles on our roads today than there were before the war. That is an incredible figure in view of the restriction on the number of new private cars and goods vehicles which 1763 can be purchased in the home market. Nevertheless, the number of vehicles using the roads is steadily increasing.
Thus, when dealing with road safety, it is important to keep continuously in mind that any transport policy which is being framed—I am not trying to make a party point—should take into account the necessity of restricting or regulating directly or indirectly the number of vehicles using the roads, subject always to the provision of an adequate and flexible transport system and the preservation of the freedom of choice of the user. Any transport policy directed to that end contributes in some respects to road safety.
If we can so frame transport policy that vehicles operate as far as possible to capacity so that the minimum number of vehicles carries the maximum amount of goods, we are affecting the number of vehicles on the roads. Between the two wars the transport policy carried out by successive Governments was directed to that end, or at any rate had the result even if it was not solely directed to that end, as it was not. The tests applied were, in effect, the need for the traffic and the public interest.
Part IV of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, brought a certain amount of order out of the chaos then prevailing. It appointed Traffic Commissioners and introduced a licensing system to enable public need and the availability of similar or other forms of transport to be taken into account when granting licences, and that had the definite result of limiting the number of express carriages and stage coaches operating.
Any interference with the 1930 Act which departed from a licensing system based on need and public interest which caused increased competition and a larger number of vehicles carrying passengers would result in an increased number of vehicles on the roads and increased danger for the public, not only because there were more vehicles but because of the intensive competition between them, which would lead to a lowering of the safety standards and increased speeding.
§ Sir H. Williams
The hon. Gentleman says that more vehicles would cause more accidents, but we have 70 per cent. more vehicles than we had in 1939 and yet there are fewer accidents.
§ Mr. Davies
It is obvious that the road safety campaign and road improvements could offset to a certain extent any increase in the number of vehicles, but the fact remains that the more vehicles we have on the roads the more likelihood there is of accidents increasing. If the hon. Gentleman disagrees, perhaps he would like the roads to be so crowded and filled that we should abolish accidents altogether.
§ Mr. Davies
What has me worried are not only the remarks which happened to be made by the Minister of Transport in a short debate last night, but also what is in the White Paper dealing with the Government's transport policy, where it is suggested that the Road Traffic Act, 1930 is to be reviewed. I would urge upon the Government that, in undertaking their review, they should bear in mind the factor of the necessity to restrict the number of vehicles on the road, and that they should not increase those numbers simply for the sake of introducing competition or allowing certain operators quickly to increase their profits. There is a danger in that of going back to the chaos which prevailed before the passing of the 1930 Act.
The same principle was applied to goods vehicles by the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933. Under that Act a licencing system was also introduced, in which, by means of A and B licences, the number of goods vehicles was restricted to the requirements of the service. The effect was again to limit the number on the road. It did not go far enough, and there continued to be severe competition between road and rail which led to the flouting of the requirements of both the 1930 and the 1933 Acts on the matters of the standard of maintenance of the operating vehicles and the working conditions of those who were in charge of the vehicles.
We all recall how in the 'thirties right up to the outbreak of war goods vehicles were running on the roads at speeds far higher than the legal requirements—some do today—and that the drivers were working far longer hours than the Act permitted and were being deprived of those rest periods which were specified. Any 1765 lorry driver today can tell of the conditions under which they operated then, and how much they are in favour of the better conditions in existence now. The reason was that the road haulage business then was organised in a large number of small businesses with each endeavouring to operate at a profit, and to accomplish this they had often to undercut their competitors by flouting the law.
Under the Transport Act, 1947, this process of controlling the traffic on the roads was carried a step further, because it permitted a greater degree of unification, integration and co-ordination which led to a certain concentration of traffic, a concentration which meant that the facilities available were being used to greater capacity. For instance, there is a higher load factor, which means that there is a greater volume of traffic being carried in fewer vehicles. That has an effect both on the roads and the railways —the railways are not our concern today —and the volume of traffic which is being transported is being carried in far fewer vehicles than before the 1947 Act. As a consequence, there are fewer vehicles on the road for the same volume of traffic, and that in itself is a contribution to greater road safety.
There is a further contribution by the 1947 Act, and that is the creation of the Road Haulage Executive and its nationwide network of British Road Services. As a result, there has been built up an organisation which is able to take into consideration far more than the large number of small firms can the question of goods vehicle maintenance and also the safety factor. There are various ways in which British Road Services have been successful.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
Could the hon. Gentleman give us the figures of accidents caused by defective vehicles?
§ Mr. Davies
No, I have not got those figures, but perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will give them to us when he replies to this debate.
§ Mr. Davies
Even 1.4 is a considerable figure, and if it is 1.4 of every 100 killed or injured the saving there would be a considerable contribution to the reduction of accidents on the roads. It is 1766 highly important that those vehicles which are operating on the roads should be in a state of physical fitness, and British Road Services have instituted a system of regular overhauls and routine inspections which have had a considerable effect in improving the standard of vehicles.
Before the Transport Act came into operation and the Road Haulage Executive started to operate, the standard among vehicles was very low indeed. The inspection which is carried out is a preventive measure, and it remedies the defects before they have had the opportunity to bring about an accident. A maintenance network of service stations is maintained which enables any defects developing on the roads to be dealt with immediately rather than that the vehicles should continue to run under unfit conditions.
The second way in which British Road Services, because it is a large-scale organisation, have been able to contribute to road safety is because of the improved conditions of employment of the transport workers. This is a matter which is most relevant to road safety. A tired driver with a heavy vehicle in his care is a danger on the roads, and if he is fatigued there is greater danger of accidents should quick reaction be called for to meet a dangerous situation. Every driver at the wheel has a great responsibility, not only for the goods which he is carrying, but for the safety of the other drivers on the roads and all others who are using the roads at the time. It is also the great responsibility of those who employ him to see that the hours he works and the conditions under which he works are such as will keep him fit, and that the equipment with which he is provided is in such condition that it will not contribute to accidents on the road.
I would say, therefore, that the policy which has so far been followed in road transport in the three Acts which I have mentioned is one which, if departed from, would carry with it the danger that we would return to the system before these Acts went on the Statute Book, a situation which might well increase competition on the roads and diminish the standard of vehicle maintenance and worsen the conditions of the transport workers who operate the vehicles. That would inevitably lead to a higher incid- 1767 ence of accidents unless other measures were taken to offset that unhappy state of affairs.
Before I sit down there is one local matter to which I wish to refer. It is well known to the Parliamentary Secretary's Department because my local council and I have had correspondence with the Parliamentary Secretary on the matter. That is the condition of the Great Cambridge Road. It runs through Enfield and at present there is no speed limit on it there. When it was constructed it was intended that it should be a dual carriageway, and consequently the single carriageway at present is excessively narrow. The general view of the local council, the ratepayers' association, the trades council and many others is that there should be imposed upon this highway a 30-mile limit.
The reason why we take that point of view is that the road passes through a built-up area now, although when the road was constructed the area was not built up. There are houses on both sides, and factories in certain sections. Children run across the road, and from the factories emerge large numbers of workers on bicycles and on foot, especially at the peak hours. The road is only sufficiently wide to allow two lines of traffic, one each way. Accidents very frequently occur when vehicles try to overtake owing to the narrowness of the road. The accidents from 1st May, 1951, to 30th April, 1952, resulted in three fatalities, 18 seriously injured and 17 not so seriously injured. There has since been another accident with one fatality and several injured.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to request his Department to give this matter serious and speedy consideration. The local council were informed in January of this year that there would be a review following some minor improvements which had been effected, but nothing has been decided. There was a further inquiry by the local council in March, and still they were informed that the matter was under consideration by the Department and by the Metropolitan Police. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to have the matter looked into. It is of great local concern, because the number of accidents is excessive for a built-up area.
1768 I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) on raising this matter and on the excellent way in which he opened the debate. I trust that the Minister will take into account all the matters which have been raised in a non-party spirit. If he does so, I am sure the debate will have served a useful purpose and will be a contribution to increased road safety in this country.
§ 2.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)
First I would join with other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) upon his wisdom in selecting this subject for today's debate. It is a subject in which we are all very interested and which causes a great deal of concern in every home in the country. I do not wish to follow the line taken by the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies). It is a great pity that a political issue should have been introduced in his speech. One statement he made was inaccurate. He suggested that as a result of the 1947 Transport Act there are fewer transport vehicles on the road than when that Act was passed.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Crouch
That was the impression that I obtained. It actually happens that the C licences have doubled since that Act was passed.
§ Mr. Davies
I certainly did not say there were fewer vehicles on the road. At the outset of my speech I said there were 70 per cent. more vehicles on the road than pre-war. I did say that the volume of traffic which is being carried in the vehicles of the Transport Commission is in fewer vehicles than before. The increase in the C licences took place before the Road Transport Act became effective as regards road transport, and 70 per cent. of the increase in C licences took place before the Road Haulage Executive had started to acquire any vehicles at all.
§ Mr. Crouch
I do not propose to continue with that line of argument.
Very much better conditions can be created for people using the roads by the expenditure of small sums of money upon relatively small improvements. No mention has been made in this debate about 1769 the importance, particularly to children, of constructing adequate side-walks in our smaller towns and villages. A number of accidents are caused because there are no side-walks on which children can proceed beside the road. I am thinking of a place in my constituency where something like 200 children go up and down a road four times a day.
I am not blaming the Minister that this improvement has not been carried out. The fault lies with the local authorities, who are not aware that there is this sum of £1½ million which can be spent for the improvement of black spots. Greater safety can be given, particularly to children, in this way, and we should let local authorities know that there is money for them if they will get on with the job. I am referring to a side-walk in Blandford.
I have already discussed roundabouts in this House, because I have a very large one in my constituency. There is another method of getting safety on the highways, one which has not been mentioned and which would be much cheaper than some of the methods we are using today. I would like to see the method used which I have seen on the Continent. When a road is approaching a major road, instead of there being a sign saying "Go Slow" or "Halt," the authorities put cobbles for 50 yards or 100 yards from the meeting with the major road. There is no need to put up a notice "Go Slow." The motorist automatically does that. That would be far better than embarking on the construction of roundabouts.
Last autumn I was driving through a little village to the north-east of Paris. I came to a notice which said"15 miles an hour. Eight double bends." I have never travelled more carefully in my life. The notice was quite unnecessary. I found that five miles an hour was all I could do on that stretch of road, and two miles an hour round corners, as a result of the way in which the cobblestones had been laid. This method is very much cheaper and a much more effective way of controlling traffic on dangerous stretches of road than the method of sticking up notices, although it might be necessary to put up notices on main roads to warn anyone who is turning into a stretch of rough road.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
Suppose it were in a congested area. How would the traffic get on in those conditions?
§ Mr. Crouch
I am not suggesting this method for our towns and cities but for the open roads of the country. Roundabouts and signs might be quite ineffective, but we would find the cobbled road would do all that is necessary, without anybody having to be there, to prevent motorists from coming out too quickly on to main roads. I feel that the motorist would soon get used to this idea.
I am disturbed about the ease with which a potential motor cyclist can obtain a provisional licence. A motorist has to have someone sitting beside him when he has an L licence. Eventually he goes through a driving test and is either accepted or refused. But, as the law stands at the moment, I believe a motorcyclist can obtain a provisional licence and at the end of three months he can obtain another one, and he can go on like that without being examined. So long as he does not deliberately break the law he can have L plates on his machine for the rest of his life if he so desires.
I have heard of cases where motorcyclists have preferred to renew their provisional licences over a considerable period rather than be examined. I should like the Minister to look into this point and decide whether it would be wiser to put a time limit on the period within which a motor-cyclist can have L plates on his machine before he submits himself to an examiner to determine whether he is efficient or not.
The Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have many responsibilities. Some of their duties may cause controversy in this House, but I think the most important of all their duties is that of trying to get death off the road, making our roads safer and trying to reduce or eliminate the accidents which occur. Unfortunately, the number of accidents have been gradually increasing. It was on 1st May, 1908, that we started to collect figures of deaths on the road caused by motor transport, and from that date until the end of last year the figure had risen to the alarming one of 204,602. I feel that we should support whatever measures are brought before this House to make the roads safer. Death on the road takes the old and the young 1771 together. We know that people are more susceptible to certain diseases at certain ages, but people of all ages are killed in accidents on the road. It is the duty of each and every one of us to make whatever contribution we can, however small, towards ensuring that people can move on our roads with greater safety than at present.
§ 2.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)
I am sure we all appreciate the very interesting speech which the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) has made, and I am sure that there will be general agreement on both sides of the House with some of his points. I should like, in the first place, to join with hon. Members in congratulating and thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) for having brought forward this important matter for discussion today.
The fact that Parliament has not had a day's debate upon this interesting problem for many years is an indication of the lack of Parliamentary consideration and of the need for such consideration of this important question. In spite of all the road improvements which have been made over the past few years —and do not let us forget that there have been considerable road improvements throughout the country—it is alarming to find the total of deaths and injuries from road accidents rising annually.
In a debate of this character, we ought to put on record our appreciation of the work which has been and is being done by the various organisations, by the trade unions connected with the transport industry, by local road safety committees, the police, schools and the local authorities, in order to try to obtain greater safety on the roads. Some hon. Members have referred to the schools. I should like to emphasise the importance of continuing and, if possible, increasing our educational work in the schools.
Before entering Parliament I was connected with local government. In my county—and I hope this was done in other counties throughout the country—the police used not only to give lectures to the school children but also periodically to send a police constable to inspect the cycles which the boys and 1772 girls used, in order to see whether they were road worthy, whether the brakes were in order and so forth.
To my mind, the fact that a child's bicycle was examined and that the headmaster was informed if the brakes were not safe and if the cycle was dangerous, contributed very largely to road safety. We are indebted to the various organisations, the police, schools and local authorities and, not least, to the surveying departments of the various local authorities who have always co-operated with the Ministry of Transport in this matter.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
I think the hon. Gentleman is right when he says that, but his reference to the increase in the number of road accidents does not reflect the position correctly. If we compare 1938 with this year, with a million and a quarter more vehicles and three-quarters of a million more population, deaths on the road are about 1,200 fewer per year than in 1938. I think that is a remarkable improvement.
§ Mr. McLeavy
I think the hon. Gentleman misunderstood what I said. I was referring to the totals each year. I am not particularly concerned with the niceties of statistics and with trying to prove that the volume of accidents according to the number of vehicles on the road is more or less this year than last year. Whatever may be the statistics, I am concerned with the fact that deaths and injuries on the road are far too high and ought to be reduced and, if possible, eliminated.
I feel that a special expression of our appreciation should be made to the majority of the motorists who display a sense of responsibility and co-operation in this respect. I should like to pay tribute also to the men engaged in the transport industry, on both the passenger and the goods sides. They have played a tremendous part in avoiding and preventing accidents on the road. It is to these men, driving possibly eight hours a day and sometimes more, constantly having to have their minds and attention upon the road, who have to get their livelihood from transport, that we are indebted for the care and responsibility with which they have performed their duties to the community.
I agree with what many other hon. Members have said about the suitability 1773 of the roads. It is quite clear that the roads are totally unsuitable for the volume of traffic which they are expected to carry. The shortage of time does not permit me to give any figures, but comment has been made about the enormous amount of revenue which is drawn by the Chancellor of the Exchequer from the transport industry and the very small percentage of it which finds its way into expenditure for the provision of better roads and bridges. There is common agreement about this, and it is in no way a political matter.
All Governments, in view of the financial position and their repeated claims over many years, have gradually encroached upon the Road Fund in order to provide services other than those for which the fund was intended. The transport industry can legitimately claim that the contribution which it makes is not being used to provide greater safety upon the roads. Even if the debate does nothing else, if it so strengthens the views of the Ministry of Transport that they insist upon the Treasury being more generous in future, we shall have served a very important purpose.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) embarked upon criticism of the Government's proposals in the White Paper on transport, an hon. Member who followed him from the other side of the House criticised my hon. Friend for bringing politics into the debate. I have never regarded the Transport Act, 1947, in a political sense.
§ Mr. McLeavy
That is quite true. Because of my long association with road transport, I have always advocated that it was necessary to apply a system of co-ordination and unification of our transport industry in order to limit the volume of traffic upon the roads. It is because I believe that the 1947 Act, if applied, would bring about a fair and reasonable apportionment of traffic as between railways, waterways and roads, that I regret the decision of the Government in their proposals to amend the Act.
If the Government apply their White Paper proposals to discontinue the area schemes for passenger transport under the 1947 Act, this will mean a reduction in the number of passenger transport 1774 vehicles. Anyone who has been associated with the passenger side knows that nothing is more absurd than having a number of vehicles over a given road, some of which are not allowed to pick up passengers and which fly past, while others have the right to collect passengers at various points. This involves a tremendous wastage of petrol, material and manpower, and a greater volume of danger on the road arises from this stupid practice.
That is why I felt that these area schemes, which would co-ordinate road passenger transport in given areas, could, and should, result in reducing the number of vehicles on the roads for passenger transport purposes. Therefore, I urge upon the Ministry, and particularly upon the Parliamentary Secretary, that they should reconsider abolishing the provisions for the area schemes for road passenger transport.
We are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West not only for bringing the matter before Parliament today, but for the way in which he presented his case. We are indebted also to all those who have contributed to the debate, which will, we hope, impress the Government with the urgency of the matter.
If, in spite of the attitude of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his many financial difficulties, we can get an increased contribution from the Road Fund for the improvement of our roads, and for the provision of local roads or for the starting of schemes, subject to the availability of manpower and material, we ought to go ahead with all speed with a policy of trying to provide safer roads, so that the people will feel much more secure when they travel upon them.
§ 2.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)
I hope that the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) will forgive me if I do not follow him very far. In one respect I wish to do so, and that is to add my very modest congratulations to the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) for bringing this matter to the consideration of the House.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley), who complained of com- 1775 placency, not only in this House but throughout the country, in regard to this really terrible national disaster. I think that complacency has arisen very largely because we have got used to the fact that the roads seem to breed appalling casualties and disasters year by year.
I believe there are two fundamentals which are prerequisite to reducing accidents on the roads and increasing road safety. These I may describe as discipline and money At this stage perhaps I should disclose a not very serious interest which I have in the matter. I happen to be a director of a company which manages motor insurance and, as such, I have a certain amount of experience in regard to road accidents.
On the question of discipline, or lack of discipline, on the roads, when one compares conditions on the roads with those on the railways one is really aghast. On these railways trains do not pass at more frequent intervals than one or two minutes but, on the vast majority of roads, one could only sit down and take a rest commensurate with the time one has between Divisions on the Finance Bill. If you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, were to attempt to walk about on the railway lines, or cross the lines at a railway station other than by the footbridge, even your august position would not enable you to escape the rigours of the law.
When we consider that state of affairs with what exists on the roads, the comparison is found to be quite ludicrous. A few days ago I was motoring through Horsham and, to my amazement, I saw a little girl, who could not have been more that five years of age, riding a toy tricycle on the Carfax, which is the main shopping centre of the town. It was astonishing to me that she was able to survive for a matter of minutes. She had the effect of stopping all the traffic and eventually was saved by a police constable. No one could find anyone in authority to look after that child. I am certain that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that many accidents are due to very young and very old people being allowed to wander about all over the roads without let or hindrance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson) 1776 referred to the extension of railings. I have noticed, particularly at Hammersmith Broadway, that the existence of railings has a very salutary effect. It makes pedestrians realise that they must have a certain responsibility and self-discipline, and not be idle and lazy, feeling that they can cross the road at any point. Although my hon. Friend mentioned the disadvantage when vehicles were being loaded or unloaded, I believe that railings should be used very much more at busy nodal points. One could get over the difficulties of loading and unloading by having telescopic rails, or rails which were hinged and could be moved in order to deliver goods.
The hon. Member for Willesden, West referred to the way in which dogs are allowed to roam about the roads. I agree with him and feel that it would not be harsh to increase penalties on dog owners who allow their dogs to run loose in this way. Reference has been made to motor-cyclists, but I wish to say a word about cyclists. I speak as a motorist. Whereas no one wants to curtail their liberty in these matters, nevertheless there are many who, for some inscrutable reason, seem to have declared war on everyone else on the road. It seems an extraordinary method of committing suicide. They are prepared to ride four or five abreast and prevent anyone passing them. I think that the answer to this problem is what was started before the war—the provision of separate cycle tracks which are really well laid alongside main roads.
§ Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
Is my hon. Friend aware that cycle tracks have been provided, at considerable public expense, but that cyclists do not use them? If he knows the Southend Arterial Road he will see that instead of using the tracks they run races on the main roadway.
§ Mr. Gough
I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Gloucestershire (Mr. Turner-Samuels) and with my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden). Something should be done to make cyclists realise their responsibility.
1777 I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say something about how he intends to use the £1½million for the roads. The question of road surfaces has been referred to. That, I think, is a quick short-term answer. Another answer to the difficulty is that of cambers. If road engineers would realise how many bad cambers there are in this country that would have the effect, particularly among experienced drivers, of bringing about a reduction of accidents, and it could be done at little cost.
I am quite certain that "drive slowly" notices are quite useless. One road should be a major road and another a minor road, and the minor road should have the halt sign. Another question is that of lighted solid islands and "Keep left" islands. I refer particularly to those on the Guildford Bypass, which I use a great deal. It is practically inevitable whenever I use it —about once a week-—that I see one of the glass panels has been broken in an island. That means that practically once a week there is some sort of accident on that road.
I was much impressed by what the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham said. With the greatest respect, it seems that the Ministry have had the problem before them for years. It is the duty of us to raise a feeling of consciousness in the country so that something will be done. There could not be a better way of celebrating Coronation Year than by making a signal reduction in what I think is a national scandal.
§ 2.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
My hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) must feel gratified at the course the debate has taken today on his initiative. He gave us a very good send-off in the kind of speech which those of us who have known him a great many years always expect in his far too infrequent interventions in our debates.
The debate throughout the day has kept to a very high level. I have only one feeling of disappointment about it. It is that we are all so much agreed that I am afraid nothing will be done. I say that because I am one of those who believe that when we get to this stage somehow or other everyone is so certain that someone else is going to do it that they 1778 do not take the action themselves. A little healthy controversy, when we can get it, in this House sometimes provides a driving force for good causes that unanimity fails to give.
I was particularly interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Broms-grove (Mr. Higgs), which was very practical and enlightening. He spoke of the generation to whom motor cars are new. I belong to that generation. My only accident on the road was when, in 1890, I was knocked down by a penny-farthing bicycle. I am afraid that today that would be regarded as insult rather than injury. That, I would add, for the benefit of those who do not recall those days, was when cyclists used to be prosecuted for riding at 10 miles per hour to the common danger.
It gives us some idea of what the internal combustion engine has meant in the social life of our country, and the alteration in our outlook on affairs. I recollect that my Sunday morning's enjoyment before going to Sunday school at the commencement of five attendances at places of worship during the day, was to see two policemen standing, one on one side of the road and one on the other side, with a rope stretched across which they used to pull up to stop any cyclist whom they suspected of going at more than 10 miles per hour.
I was rather sorry to hear one intervention by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd). Let us admit that proportionately the number of accidents to the number of vehicles has fallen, but the absolute number is still so appalling that that can give us no cause whatever for satisfaction. We ought not to have any feeling of complacency about any aspect of the problem that we are discussing today, for, after all, every one of those lives that is lost through a road accident is valuable. Think of the loss of T. E. Lawrence at a comparatively early age through a quite common form of road accident.
The one thing that rather perturbed me about the speech of the hon. Member for Bromsgrove was when he said that the posters might take our minds off our driving, because, after all, there are still a few of us who do not claim to be included in that first person plural. It would be very dangerous if it were thought outside that this House viewed 1779 the road problem from the point of view of the motorist. We ought to view it from the point of view of the citizen, whether he be motorist or non-motorist.
I hope that there will be a feeling in the country that we are not concerned with making the roads more pleasant merely for motorists. What we want to do is to make the roads places where the ordinary citizen, whether he be motorist or non-motorist, can feel certain of receiving the courtesy of every other road user.
§ Sir H. Williams
The right hon. Gentleman is grossly misrepresenting what my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove said. If the attention of the motorist is distracted, then the peril to other people is increased. That was the point of my hon. Friend's argument.
§ Mr. Ede
Really, the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) is sufficiently skilled in listening to debates in this House to have noticed that my emphasis, when I read the quotation, was on the pronoun "our." I agree that anything that distracts the attention of the motorist is undesirable.
The hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) made use of one word for which I have been listening throughout the whole debate—the word "camber." I am certain that far too many of our roads, particularly well-used secondary roads, were constructed for vehicles other than those which are now the main users, with the result that they are a contributory cause of accidents, particularly in the case of inexperienced drivers who are in the main used to driving on roads of modern construction. When they get on to a road where the camber is as steep as it used to be in the days of the old flint road, they encounter, in moments of crisis, difficulties that present to them entirely new problems for speedy solution.
I hope that when the scheme which was described by the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), and which I heartily support, is implemented, sight will not be lost of the point that there are a great many roads the camber and the general engineering construction of which are not suitable for the traffic which they now have to bear.
1780 My right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) alluded to the deplorable accident that occurred in the Medway town in which constituents of his and of the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) were faced with tragic consequences. Is it not astonishing how soon that deplorable accident has receded into the back of the minds of all of us except when we are reminded of it by those most poignantly concerned with it? It is a warning which reinforces what I said earlier in this discussion: Do not let us be deceived by the fact that there is occasionally a great uprising of feeling, that everybody feels that something ought to be done, and therefore that it will be done.
Unfortunately, I did not hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings). I should very much have liked to hear it, because I understand that he dealt, as he is entitled as a doctor to do, very specifically with this problem of the way in which we are to deal with the motorist who drives under the influence of drink, and how we are to ascertain how far he is under the influence of drink.
Here again, we are faced with one of the revolutions in our social outlook which has been caused by the motor car. In the old days, when the people who used to be under the influence of intoxicating drink in charge of a vehicle were carters driving home from market, no doctor ever hesitated to say whether the man was drunk or not. "Drunk" had a meaning that even a doctor could give to it in the witness box. When I was a provost sergeant in the Army, I had a test. If the man could take off his boots before he got into bed—if he did so—he was not drunk. If he could take them off no one would say exactly what was his condition, but he was not drunk; but if he got into bed with his boots on, he was drunk. Every commissioned and non-commissioned officer in the Army would accept that as the test.
Some 20 or more years ago, when the offence was still one of being "drunk" I recollect a doctor going into the witness box and saying: "'Drunk' is a colloquial term. I do not know what it means. I can tell you what I observe and it is then for the jury to make up their minds 1781 whether this man is drunk or not." That sort of thing was said because, instead of being carters, the people who were beginning to appear before the courts were those who were getting into the region of the middle-class clientele of the doctors.
This new problem is an important one because, as was said by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove, magistrates are reluctant to convict unless they are quite sure, because of the consequences for the person whom they convict. And, if I may say so, juries are even more reluctant to convict. In fact, in my experience most offenders who are charged with this particular breach of the law ask to go before a jury instead of relying on magistrates who have had some experience of dealing with this class of case. It is therefore desirable, if we could only achieve it, that there should be some test which could be infallibly applied.
I am bound to say that I do not think the blood test matches up to that requirement. It is not infallible. I speak as one who is a non-consumer of alcohol, but I think it is clear to everyone that the same amount of alcohol, particularly a small amount, has a very different effect on different persons who may happen to take it. Whereas one person's judgment may be hardly affected by it, another person, having had no more alcohol, will have a judgment which is very considerably affected.
I have never had the experience of the hon. Member for Bromsgrove, of having a lorry driver in front of me charged with being under the influence of drink. In fact, as chairman of the licensing committee of my court, I had an amazing experience the other day, when the secretary of the local branch of the Transport and General Workers' Union, giving evidence on an application for the alteration of permitted hours, said that it was a rule, enforced by the common consent of all the members of his branch, that no bus driver from a very large garage should take any alcohol until he had completed his daily tour of duty. That is a standard which is undoubtedly the highest that one can possibly expect, and our general experience of the drivers of buses—certainly in any parts of the country that I know—is one that would indicate that that moral rule, applied by 1782 themselves, is of pretty general application.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels rose——
§ Mr. Ede
I am sorry, I cannot give way. I am very anxious not to delay the House unduly. Anxious as I would be in other circumstances to have the assistance of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels), I hope he will leave me to flounder along in my own way as best I can.
Even in the countries where the blood test is used, I do not think it is yet regarded, even by medical opinion, as the sort of test that can infallibly be applied. That it will be of assistance I have no doubt, but I should be very reluctant to see it used other than as something which is permissible but not obligatory. I should like to see the position created whereby the motorist himself could ask for a blood test, so that if this story that a slight amount of alcohol gives one an increasing amount of self-confidence is true, it might sometimes prove that it was misplaced self-confidence and that the prosecution would be given some valuable evidence.
Let us be quite certain of this: it is a very serious social offence for any man to drive a vehicle when he is so far under the influence of drink as to be incapable of the most immediate reaction to any crisis that presents itself. I regard two of the motoring offences as being great social offences. The first is driving, under the influence of alcohol and the second is driving without an insurance certificate. Those two are gross social offences in addition to being offences against the ordinary law of the country.
In questions which I have put to some of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the past week, I have been struck by the feeling that where there is a conviction for the offence of driving while under the influence of drink, the maximum penalty within the existing law is quite sufficient —and here I agree with the hon. Member for Bromsgrove—but that on occasion, not only magistrates but sometimes chairmen of quarter sessions and, if I may even venture to say so, judges of assize, do not seem, in cases which appear to be very aggravated, always to realise how great the powers are which the law 1783 has given them, especially when it is other than a first offence.
I hope that those who are responsible for the infliction of penalties when the offence has been proved, will feel that they have public opinion behind them when they mark with severity this gross breach, not so much of the law of the country as of the social law which should bind us all together in a desire for a safe community.
I want to mention only one other point in conclusion. I was very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) mentioned the relation between the police and the children of the country in dealing with this problem. I believe that the visits of the police to schools and the attendance of the police at the crossings which children have to use over dangerous roads, is a good investment for the police. Some chief constables of police authorities, I regret to say, think that this is something which they ought not to have to do, but, in fact, in the very earliest years it establishes between the police and the child the right relationship of police and citizen in a democratic community, for it assures the child that the policeman, so far from being the bogey he was 50 or 60 years ago to a small child, is a person appointed by the law to help every citizen who may find himself in a moment of doubt and perplexity. I sincerely hope that the influence of the Home Office will continue to be used to persuade chief constables and police authorities to undertake this work.
In spite of the calmness of the atmosphere which has prevailed, we have been dealing today with one of the most ghastly subjects with which this House has ever had to concern itself, for when one checks the statistics which were given by my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West one realises that, if they had not become so appallingly common and appallingly trite, certainly public opinion would be roused. If public opinion will not rouse itself, it is at least our duty to see that the ordinary citizen, be he motorist or non-motorist, should be able to find on the Queen's Highway not merely means of progress but also a safe and certain route by which to carry on his lawful occasions.
§ 3.10 p.m.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Gurney Braithwaite)
Let me commence by reiterating the opening remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), which were to the effect that one of the most pleasing features of today's proceedings has been the unanimity with which we all congratulate the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant), a senior and greatly respected figure in this House, not only on his choice of subject but on the admirable manner of its presentation.
The hon. Gentleman gave notice that he was going to raise, among other matters, the question of blood tests for those driving under the influence of drink. That, as he appreciates, is a matter for the Home Secretary, but it was felt—and, I am sure, rightly felt—that on a Private Members' day the House would resent two Ministerial interventions, and so, although my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State listened to the hon. Gentleman and is with us now, I have been asked to make a few remarks on that subject.
But the remarks which I should have delivered bear so remarkable a resemblance to those which we have just listened to from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields, who vacated the Home Office so recently, that I shall turn at once to matters immediately affecting the Ministry of Transport, which, after all, have occupied the main part of the day's deliberations.
Let me say at once and in the plainest possible language that, although the accident figures are not so high today as they were before the war, they are still appalling. That was the word used by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and I would echo it from this side of the House. They are appalling, and there is certainly no ground either for complacency or for the slightest relaxation of effort.
Before dealing with the points which have been made by hon. Members, I propose first of all to review the magnitude of the problem and then to deal as comprehensively as possible with the remedies, including those which have been already introduced. In due course I shall have something to say about the current accident position.
1785 I think that for the purpose of putting the problem into proper perspective, it would be reasonable to compare the casualties which occurred in 1951, which was the first complete calendar year after the lifting of petrol rationing, with those which occurred in 1938. In 1951 the casualties numbered—and we have had this figure given already during the debate—216,493, compared with 233,359 in 1938. It will be seen, therefore, that the position in 1951 was better than in 1938. Bearing in mind that the population has been steadily increasing, and that since 1939 the number of vehicle licensed has gone up by about 1,500,000, it is fair to say that the 1951 figures might have been expected to have been much higher.
Other factors which have probably had an adverse effect are that there has been, perhaps, a lower standard of road maintenance in recent years, and the difficulties experienced by the police in enforcing road traffic law to the fullest possible extent. It must also be remembered—and I am sure this is a relevant point—that there are a vast number of old motor vehicles on the roads, and many of them may not be in a thoroughly roadworthy condition.
The dangers arising from this may, however, have been counteracted by the fact—I suggest to hon. Members that it is a fact—that those vehicles are generally driven at moderate speeds.
Recent accident figures are a little more encouraging. Again, we must not be complacent, but in the first four months of this year, 1952, the road casualties totalled 56,779, as compared with 59,035 in the first four months of 1951. I think that hon. Members will agree that the decrease is by no means insignificant, and I hope that it is an indication that the upward trend in casualties has been arrested, and that, with the co-operation of road users and of everyone concerned with the problem, we may hope that the improvement will be maintained.
Now I should like to turn to remedial action. We can, of course, never hope to eliminate road accidents entirely, but there can be little doubt that by the introduction of a wide variety of measures substantial improvement can 1786 be secured. I must, however, emphasise to the House that there is no sovereign remedy. The late ad hoc Committee on Road Safety, which submitted an interim Report in December, 1944, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Willesden, West who initiated the debate, and which was followed by a final Report in May, 1947, reviewed the problem most thoroughly and made a very large number of recommendations for the improvement of roads and vehicles, amendments to the traffic law and the education of road users.
So far as the roads are concerned—and this has been mentioned several times today—in the present circumstances of financial stringency wide-scale improvements are out of the question. It must, moreover, be remembered—and I was rather expecting that some hon. Members might mention this, but it did not come out in the debate, and it is of some importance—that over 70 per cent. of road casualties occur in built-up areas, and little can be done, even if the necessary money, materials and manpower were available, to improve the streets of our big cities. The Committee on Road Safety recommended the adoption of a long-term policy to provide for the segregation of opposing streams of traffic and various classes of traffic, but there is no possibility of the highway system as a whole being developed on these lines in the foreseeable future.
In the case of vehicles, one of the recommendations made by the Committee on Road Safety was that publicly-owned vehicle testing stations should be set up at which motor vehicles should be examined at regular intervals. There can be no doubt that the introduction of a scheme of this kind, which would secure, as far as is humanly possible, that every vehicle on the road was in a thoroughly satisfactory condition, would be of great advantage. But it would be costly, both in terms of men and money, and here again I am afraid that it cannot be contemplated at present.
The Committee on Road Safety also made a number of recommendations for amendment of the traffic law, and these will have to be considered in detail when an opportunity occurs to revise the Road Traffic Acts. The new requirements which the Committee had in mind are directed 1787 to the control of pedal cyclists and pedestrians, as well as to the imposition of additional requirements on motor vehicle drivers. Drivers and owners of motor vehicles are, of course, already subject to a multitude of requirements, but if it is found necessary and desirable to add to them, that should be done.
The imposition of regulations in relation to cyclists and pedestrians would obviously give rise to controversy, but although it is the motor vehicle that inflicts the damage—and I am afraid not all the driving on the roads today is of the highest standard—I think it is true to say that some cyclists and pedestrians could display a better road sense, and the public generally might not be adverse to the law being extended to embrace this aspect of road conduct.
It must be borne in mind, however, that the police already have a difficult task in enforcing the existing traffic laws, and it would be a mistake to introduce new regulations, whether related to drivers or to cyclists and pedestrians, unless we were sure that such requirements would be accepted and could be enforced to a reasonable degree by the police and the courts.
I think it is true to say—and here I would agree with those hon. Members who have made the point—that the mobile police patrols, who were at one time know colloquially as "courtesy cops," can do more than any other single measure to promote safety on the roads. This does not necessarily mean more prosecutions for offences. I shall have more to say in due course about our intentions in relation to these patrols.
The Committee on Road Safety attached great importance to the conduct of an educative propaganda campaign to persuade the public to use the roads intelligently. The Committee's recommendations in this connection were adopted, and since the end of 1945 a propaganda campaign has been in progress. In the early years of this new effort there was considerable national Press and poster advertising which supplied a background for the local safety committees' and local authorities' efforts.
The organisation of the local schemes was and still is assisted by the Royal 1788 Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and I should like to take this opportunity to pay a tribute to the valuable work which is being done by that organisation. In recent years we have relied solely on the efforts of the local authorities and the Society. I feel that the comparatively better road accident position is in some measure at least due to these efforts. The necessity for continuous propaganda is emphasised by the pattern disclosed by analyses of the reports of road accidents involving death or personal injury furnished to the Ministry of Transport by the police.
The statistics system now in operation was recommended by the Committee on Road Safety and gives a fairly reliable picture of the contributory factors. I do not think that this is the time to go into the detailed figures, but I should like to tell the House that the pattern to which I have referred shows that human error on the part of drivers, motor cyclists, pedal cyclists and pedestrians was the primary factor in the vast majority of accidents. Of course, this does not mean that such factors as mechnical and road defects did not contribute to a large number of accidents and as I have already said, the improvement of roads and vehicles can make a valuable contribution to safety.
There can, however, be no doubt that the human factor is responsible for a vast number of accidents, and it therefore follows that we must continue to endeavour to eliminate, as far as possible, human error by propaganda backed up by the enforcement of the traffic law. The other side of the picture is the elimination of the possibility of human error by the improvement of road and vehicle conditions.
I should now like to say a few words about the action recently taken and contemplated to improve safety on the roads. It is unfortunate that for the time being, owing to economic stringency, the Government have had to decide to restrict severely all works of major improvement and new construction on roads. Apart from certain works which are indispensable to the progress of the new towns or the reconstruction of blitzed cities, it will be impossible to approve schemes, however desirable they may be on general grounds, other than those specially 1789 designed to promote road safety, concerning which I spoke on 21st February, on the Adjournment, in reply to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Hobson).
As I said then, the Government decided for the first time to make a special allocation from central funds to be used for the elimination or improvement of what are known as accident black spots. Since this decision was reached, we in the Ministry, and particularly our engineers, have been working hard upon the long list of such accident black spots which has been submitted. We decided, in the first place, to consider small schemes costing under £5,000 as these would be likely to give the quickest returns for the outlay.
I am glad to report that on classified roads other than trunk roads we shall approve in the near future some 900 schemes, each costing less than £5,000, which will cost in total £1½million over the next two years, towards which the Exchequer will contribute about £1 million. We also hope to approve about 50 to 60 schemes costing over £5,000 each, which will cost nearly £800,000, towards which the Exchequer will contribute about £500,000. This will mean that over the next two years we shall have works undertaken on classified roads up to some £2,300,000, towards which the Government's contribution will be £1½ million.
I think that, before passing on to the trunk roads, I might give one or two instances of works which we hope to assist local authorities in undertaking on classified roads to cut the accident record. The High Street in Connah's Quay, Flintshire, has a record of some 24 accidents per annum, and the highway authority hope that this may be considerably reduced with an expenditure of some £15,000. We hope to be able to agree to this scheme being put in hand very soon. In Leicester, it is hoped to construct a roundabout at the junction of Charles Street and Belgrave Gate at an estimated cost of approximately £12,000. The accident rate there has been 18 per annum, and it is hoped that these works will very much reduce the toll at this spot. It is also hoped to widen the Pampisford Road in Luton, which has had an accident record of 12 per annum over a number of years. The 1790 estimated cost of this scheme is something over £11,000.
To turn to the trunk roads, which carry a large volume of our traffic, it is hoped to carry out 73 schemes of under £5,000 each, which will cost approximately £150,000, and about 55 schemes each costing over £5,000, the total cost of which will be £600,000. The whole cost of these schemes, will, of course, be borne by central funds. This will mean that, on trunk roads, the Government proposes to spend on the elimination of black spots over the next two years a total of £750,000.
If I may pick from this list one or two instances of how we propose to spend the money, in Lanark, for example—the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) has been in correspondence with me on this matter—on the Glasgow-Edinburgh trunk road there is a serious bottle-neck just outside the Glasgow city boundary between Lenzie Road and Cardowan Road Stepps, where there have been 66 accidents over six years. We hope greatly to reduce this unfortunate record by an expenditure of approximately £20,000.
At Batley Bridge in the West Riding of Yorkshire we have authorised the reconstruction of a bridge where there have been 15 accidents during the past year. This will cost about £28,000. To give one more instance of how we can use this money to advantage, there is in Essex a cross-roads called the Nevendon crossroads where the Class II road from Wickford and Nevendon to the Basildon new town crosses the Southend arterial road. At this point there have been 93 accidents over the last three years. With the provision of a roundabout costing about £16,000 we hope to reduce this serious record.
The hon. Member for Enfield, Easl (Mr. Ernest Davies) and other hon. Members have today put before us other examples. We shall read HANSARD with the greatest care looking at all the cases which they have put before us to see to what extent they can be brought within the scope of this scheme. I have merely given my instances as examples.
My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) emphasised the importance of guard rails. While some expenditure will be in areas outside 1791 towns, the majority of accidents occur in built-up areas, and, therefore, we shall be spending a great deal of this money upon such improvements particularly when this comes to dealing with the larger schemes. This is the point for me to refer to this, which is one of the best means of dealing with pedestrian casualties in towns.
For a long time past the Ministry have done what they could to assist in the provision of guard rails at busy intersections where pedestrians all too frequently get into trouble, and this policy is being continued, even with the present restrictions on expenditure and the use of steel. I should like to take this opportunity of saying that whenever a local authority asks my right hon. Friend for steel to enable it to put up guard rails he always sees that it gets the necessary supplies from the small stocks we have available, and it is hoped that he will be able to continue this.
Several hon. Members have emphasised the importance of mobile police patrols. I have already said that in my view the mobile police patrols—before the war they were known as "courtesy cops;" the word "courtesy" is important—can do more for road safety than any other single accident preventive measure. The Ministers concerned have considered how best the mobile police patrols can be expanded without placing an intolerable burden on local and national finances and police manpower. The right hon. Gentleman knows the difficulty of that problem. As a result, the proposals that have been formulated will now provide a basis for early discussions with the bodies representative of the local authorities.
I can say at once that what we have in mind is to encourage the more extensive use of police officers on motor cycles, as while this may present some difficulty in relation to evidence because it is difficult to take notes in a police notebook while riding a motor cycle, it is not the intention that the patrols should engage in prosecutions only, but that they should set an example to road users by good behaviour and admonition in such cases where prosecutions are not fully justified. I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) will read those words with some comfort.
1792 Much has been said on the subject of pedestrian crossings, and I should like to turn to that subject for a few minutes. What are now universally known as the zebras have been officially in operation for nearly eight months. My right hon. Friend takes the view that the time has now come to take stock of how they have worked so far. He proposes to invite comments and advice from all the responsible bodies, for example, the local authorities' associations and the principal road users organisations who were consulted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes), who was the Minister of Transport in the Labour Government when the new policy was being framed.
One thing is clear from the volume of controversy which they have aroused—that the zebras have made an impact on the public mind. We know that in certain respects there is room for improvement in the present arrangements, and my right hon. Friend hopes to be able to make a statement fairly soon on some measures which we are proposing to deal with these defects. I do not wish on this occasion to anticipate his statement or prejudge the points upon which, as I have said, we shall be looking for helpful advice.
It is interesting to note that there has been an encouraging fall in the total number of pedestrian accidents occurring in the first four months of this year, as compared with the casualties in the similar period in 1951. The casualties fell by some 500 in February, 1952, compared with February, 1951; 800 in March, 1952, compared with March, 1951, which however, included Easter; and there was a decline of 300 in April, 1952, compared with April, 1951, though Easter this year did fall in April.
I do not feel, however, it would be out of place to make one further remark about the new policy as it has been applied so far. Its aim was to restore respect and usefulness to our whole system of pedestrian crossings and it relied principally on three factors to achieve this: first, simplifying the regulations about pedestrians' precedence and the like; second, removing a large number of old crossings which were in unsuitable places or were of little value; and third, making the crossings which remained more conspicuous by striping them.
1793 What I want to suggest to the House today is that each one of these features of the policy, in our view, can claim a share of the credit for whatever success has so far been achieved. Crossings in the right place can be both useful and safe granted reasonable behaviour on the part of both drivers and pedestrians. In places where they are not much used they inevitably come to be disregarded and this tends to devalue the whole idea. In some places, either from the layout of the road or for other reasons, they can be positively dangerous, and we are doing our best to dispel the idea that because a device such as a zebra crossing may have some value in certain favourable circumstances, it must necessarily have a similar value in all others.
I come now to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson), who was one of my distinguished predecessors in the office I now hold. I see another on the Front Bench opposite in the person of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). I want to talk about this question of the visibility of the zebras in the hours of darkness. All the remarks which have fallen from my lips so far refer, of course, to periods of daylight. We are fully seized of the difficulty which arises after darkness has fallen.
It is for that reason that my right hon. Friend has decided that the crossings shall now be lit. The lighting will take the form of the orange globe which, after all, has become established in our midst and is a familiar feature to us all. It will be so illuminated as to become—if I may use a phrase I used once before—a blinking beacon, or flashing light, by which the motorist will see that he is approaching a Zebra crossing. Here again, this is a matter with financial implications. Consultations with the local authority associations concerning the financial consequences of this decision will commence forthwith.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North also suggested that we might proceed with certain uncompleted road schemes which were initiated before the war. About £6 million has been spent on such schemes on trunk and classified roads, but most of the work was suspended on the outbreak of hostilities in 1939.
The work has been going forward;£6 million had already been spent on it before it was possible for us to begin again. About £20 million would be required to complete these schemes. We should very much like to complete them, but because of the restriction on capital investment this development is held up at the moment. When capital expenditure again becomes practicable, we shall consider proceeding with some of these matters.
School crossings are another matter which has occupied the attention of the House today. I have listened carefully to what has been said. We are convinced that it is unwise and unfair to entrust schoolchildren, especially the very young, to the purely legal safeguard of an uncontrolled pedestrian crossing. Where children have to cross really busy roads on their way to and from school, anything less than some form of positive control can be worse than useless.
By positive control I mean a policeman in uniform or some sort of authorised warden. These are provided at the moment by the Commissioner of Police in the Metropolitan Police District, and by some local education authorities in other parts of the country. As I said recently in answer to a Question by one of my hon. Friends, in order to remove some of the difficulties which have hampered the extension of this service, it has now been agreed that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland should make arrangements with the appropriate local authorities for the recruiting, training and organisation of school-crossing patrols, with financial assistance from the Exchequer.
In answer to another Question, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has said that, in consultation with the Secretary of State for Scotland, he is examining the necessary steps, including legislation, required to give effect to these proposals, and that for the present he hopes that any existing local system for maintaining the patrols will be continued.
Street lighting is another topic which has been raised. There is no doubt that 1795 good and efficient street lighting can help a great deal in increasing road safety at night, but it would be unrealistic to demand that all the built-up roads in the country should have what the Ministry of Transport calls Group A traffic lighting, which enables traffic to proceed without the use of head-lights at speeds comparable with those achieved in daylight. Nevertheless, I should like to see a very considerable extension of efficient lighting on heavily trafficked roads, but even this ambition must be curbed to some extent by the need to apportion our national resources on a system of priorities.
Modern types of lighting using sodium and mercury vapour, and, later, fluorescent tubes, represent a great advance in efficiency. The mercury vapour and sodium vapour types of lighting were establishing themselves at the time when the Ministry's Departmental Committee on Street Lighting was surveying the subject. There is no doubt the two reports of this committee which were published in 1935 and 1937 respectively acted as a great stimulus to the installation of carefully designed, modern systems of lighting which would provide safe conditions for traffic. The Ministry of Transport did what they could to stimulate this development and introduced a system whereby lighting authorities with trunk roads passing through their areas could provide approved systems of street lighting on those roads with the help of a 50 per cent. grant from the Ministry.
These developments would undoubtedly have made great strides if it had not been for the war, which resulted in a practical cessation of development for a number of years. The post-war shortage of materials and fuel made it necessary for the Ministry of Transport to adopt strict and even austere standards before agreeing to the installation of new systems of street lighting. Often where a lighting authority would have liked to replace an obsolete system with some modern system, the Department had to insist that in order to save manpower and materials the lighting authority should be content with the improvement of their existing system.
This meant that an adequate system of traffic lighting would be installed, but that the authorities were necessarily discontented with not having the most up- 1796 to-date system. This often meant that what was a short-term saving in manpower and materials, which it was necessary to effect in a period of shortage, could be criticised as being wasteful taking a long-term view.
I should like to be able to say that this period of shortages and restriction has ended, but hon. Members will be aware that we still have to keep a tight hold on the disposition of our national resources, and for this reason street lighting development has to be restricted. We can only allow limited capital expenditure for street lighting as a whole, and we have to refuse many applications from lighting authorities anxious to install modern lighting systems. We shall, of course, try to allocate these resources so as to provide the most effective assistance to the increase of road safety.
I think it is fair to say that while we have had to exercise restraint, the period since the war has also seen a substantial increase in the provision of modern lighting systems, and it is not too much to hope that in a year or so the rate of development may be allowed to increase. In the meantime, I must ask hon. Members and lighting authorities who are anxious to install new street lighting systems to appreciate that we can only allow so much work to be done each year.
As I stated at the opening of my remarks on this subject, we must be realistic about the extent to which we can hope to provide street lighting in built-up areas beyond the amount that is necessary for ordinary amenity purposes to enable people to go about their business in safety. We cannot hope to install traffic lighting in all streets, and where such lighting does not exist it is the clear duty of drivers of vehicles to make use of their headlights.
Just a word on the subject of the different systems of street lighting. Many times the Department is criticised because of the varying types of illumination in use. It is true that sodium and mercury vapour lamps suffer from the defect of presenting road users literally in an unflattering light. Nevertheless, there is no doubt about the efficiency of these systems. We have tried to persuade lighting authorities that particularly in this period of shortages they should not 1797 install the more expensive fluorescent system where other systems would serve.
Generally speaking, we have tried to persuade the authorities that fluorescent lighting should be reserved for the central and shopping areas of towns where the lighting is not only required for traffic but for amenity generally. It must not be assumed that gas lighting cannot provide an efficient system of illumination. As I have explained earlier, in many cases we have persuaded authorities to economise in manpower and materials by improving existing gas lighting systems to give street lighting up to full traffic standards.
The Highway Code has been referred to, and perhaps I may take it in conjunction with motor-cycle accidents to which reference has also been made. Reports of these two topics have recently been submitted to my right hon. Friend by the Road Safety Committee. As far as the Highway Code is concerned, the Committee were opposed to giving it the force of law but thought it should be revised and simplified, and that as soon as an opportunity occurs the relevant provisions of the Road Traffic Act, 1930 on the status of the code should be strengthened to encourage the police and the courts to make greater reference to observance of the Code in proceedings for alleged traffic offences. The Committee's Report, which is a very detailed one, is still being studied, but I think it is very probable that the Code will be revised at an early date.
As far as motor-cycle accidents are concerned, the Committee have again presented a most detailed Report, which has been favourably reviewed in the Press. They admitted, however, that they found the problem very difficult to solve and that they have been unable to recommend anything in the nature of a sovereign remedy.
The trouble, of course, is that the motor cycle and the motor cyclist are extremely vulnerable and that if a motor cyclist is involved in an accident he and his passenger, if any, are almost inevitably killed or injured, whereas a similar accident involving a four-wheeled motor vehicle frequently results in nothing more than damage to such vehicle.
The Report also involves certain administrative difficulties. Hon. Members who have studied it will see that one of 1798 the recommendations is that the examiner should be on another motor cycle accompanying the applicant, instead of watching him from a spot where he can see him. There are certain administrative difficulties here, which my right hon. Friend is now discussing with the officers of the Department, and he hopes to make a statement in the House at an early date. This also applies to the Report of the Road Safety Committee on the Highway Code, regarding which my right hon. Friend will shortly be meeting Mr. Edward Terrell, the Recorder of Newbury, many of whose suggestions are analysed therein.
The right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley), very naturally, referred to the terrible disaster at Gillingham. We all know how passionately he feels on this matter. May I say to him that if we are averse to the appointment of a Royal Commission to discuss the whole problem of this type of accident, it is not through any lack of appreciation or sympathy? I hope I shall not be misunderstood, either in the House or outside, if I say that on a question of this kind, the appointment of a Royal Commission is a form of political escapism. It leads to delay. It leads to relaxation of efforts.
We have the Alness Report before us, we have the Reports of the Road Safety Committee, and when my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay), the former Minister, replied to the right hon. Member on the Adjournment debate on 7th March, he said that while he resisted at that stage the appointment of a Royal Commission, and gave his reasons which I will not reiterate now, his mind was not entirely closed. The same applies to my right hon. Friend the present Minister.
But the Committee on Road Safety were asked to consider the Gillingham accident, and they have recently submitted their Report. It is far too lengthy to read to the House, but it will be published. It contains a number of sensible though not spectacular suggestions. I happen to be the Chairman of that body, and I hope that those adjectives will be allowed to apply.
§ Mr. Bottomley
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the Road Safety Committee. He did say that the matter would have the widest consideration. Has that taken place?
Yes. I think that when the right hon. Gentleman is able to read the Report, he will find that not only has there been the widest consideration, but that a number of suggestions—and I repeat those adjectives "sensible though not spectacular"—have been made.
We have already issued a letter to a large number of bodies whose members may walk or march on the carriageway, on the safeguards which should be taken to prevent the recurrence of so shocking an accident as that which occurred at Gillingham. It is important to remember that responsibility for road safety is a local as well as a national one, and it is in our view regrettable that Gillingham Borough Council had no road safety committee in being at the time of the tragic event on 4th December last.
I have now given some account of the various schemes which are going forward.
Hon. Members will have gathered, I hope, from the general tenor of my remarks that the Government accept the resolution moved by the hon. Member for Willesden, West. Indeed I go further. I express the hope that it will be carried "nemine contradicente" and therefore go out from this House that, in the midst of our many controversies, we are united on this vital issue.
It is for that reason that I am now appealing to hon. Members in all parts of the House to lend their aid and support in their constituencies to a special effort which we are making this year through the medium of a Road Safety Week during the period, 2nd August to 9th August, when the largest number of our fellow citizens are likely to be using the highways—the week which straddles August Bank Holiday.
It has been decided that the theme for the week shall be "Safe Driving." This does not mean that all the propaganda will be directed to drivers. Local authorities and others preparing their appeals should have no difficulty in directing them also to cyclists and pedestrians as being part and parcel of the campaign. Local authorities and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents have been asked to co-operate in the proposal. I have written to the Service Departments and a large number of organisations interested in road safety asking them to 1800 play their part in this special activity. I am greatly encouraged by the helpful replies which have been received.
We are considering what we can do to creat general public interest in the Week, but I should like to emphasise that it cannot secure a full measure of success without the whole-hearted co-operation of the Press and the B.B.C. I think we can rely on this, particularly as the period chosen for the Week is one when normally there is not a great deal of pressure on news space.
May I reinforce the remarks of the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) and take the opportunity of paying tribute to all concerned in tackling this vast and terrible problem of the toll of the road—police, highway authorities, county surveyors, borough engineers and divisional road engineers. Nor let us forget the voluntary work of the road safety committees up and down the country, who day by day are engaged in the difficult task of educating the public. Recently, when on tour, I had the pleasure of meeting many of them personally, and I was pleased to find that in one or two cases they actually have school children sitting on these road safety committees as members. I think that an excellent idea as providing recruits for the future.
I should like to remind hon. Members of all the hard and useful work undertaken by the Road Research Laboratory of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. We all wish them well in their search for new methods of promoting road safety and are grateful to them for what they have already achieved.
Finally, I would respond to the view put by the hon. Member in moving the Motion in trying to focus public attention on the gravity of this matter. I thought the right hon. Member for South Shields was accurate when he said that we live in an age and generation, particularly after two terrible wars, when the tragedy of death makes less impact upon all of us than it would have done in the days prior to, say, 1914. We read the figures for road casualties and are apt to shrug our shoulders and turn to another page of the newspaper. But may I appeal to the House to unite today in a plea for a fresh and nation-wide realisation of the sanctity of human life?
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I am not sure that the Parliamentary Secretary should not have been allowed part of that inordinately long time in which to reply to the debate. When all is said and done, he should not have let the question of drunkenness go by default as he has done.
An element in all road accidents is an element with which the Home Office is concerned—the question of dogs. Dogs are an element of one in six of all road accidents. Taking the report of the chief constable of the City of Leeds, we find it states that there were 2,734 dogs straying and dogs caused 911 accidents and 17 casualties. Further, there were killed in 1950 533 dogs, and 502 dogs were injured. The comparable figures for 1951 were 408 and 453.
It was rather curious that yesterday morning we had an Adjournment debate, after a very long night, on the question of cruelty to animals, and I advance this argument if only because of the cruelty to animals involved. Last year there were 60,000 dogs killed or injured on the road, one in 50 of the dogs licensed. By way of comparison one in every 300 human beings became a road casualty during the same period. It is very nearly time that we reacted from the electoral cowardice which there seems to be on this matter of dogs. A few years ago this House seemed to be frightened of the question of a rear light on pedal cycles. Members imagined that if they inflicted a rear light on cyclists the effect in their constituencies would be tremendous. That result has not occurred.
When I raised, on a previous occasion, the point I am now making I received nothing but good will from the animal organisations, because the time has gone past for thinking that one can let a dog stray on the road exactly as he likes. What happens in the street in which I live? As dawn breaks the barking of dogs begins. They rush at motor cyclists as they go by, and they bring people 1802 down in the road. A dog does not get drunk, neither can it read the Highway Code; blood tests are not required for them; and yet they are an unpredictable element in all accidents.
This is one of the ways in which at quite small expense we could save an enormous number of lives. Dogs now need to be controlled in city streets, not only because of the question of accidents and the fouling of footpaths and of food shops, but because they are becoming an anti-social element. If I were moving a Motion in a debating society I should propose, "That the dog population is too large, is growing larger and ought to be diminished." The question of the dog population merits the consideration of Her Majesty's Government. Dogs are now becoming a social nuisance and a positive danger to all those people who live in urban districts.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Viant
In the two minutes left, I wish to take the opportunity of expressing my pleasure at the course of today's debate. I can quite understand that a number of hon. Members will be disappointed at not having been able to speak, but that is inevitable. The Minister has outlined a programme which is an exceedingly good one when one bears in mind the limitations of the finance available, and his Ministry are not responsible for that. We shall, however, expect it to be implemented.
I should be much obliged if the Department would give me and my colleague the hon. Member for Willesden. East (Mr. Orbach) an early reply in regard to what is intended in relation to the North Circular Road in Willesden and Neasden.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House express its grave concern at the enormous number of accidents, fatal and non-fatal, on the roads of this country and requests that further measures shall be taken to improve road safety.