HC Deb 24 April 1953 vol 514 cc1643-57
Colonel J. H. Harrison

I beg to move, in page 4, line 30, to leave out "or two," and to insert: two or section (Rear lights on vehicles with projecting or overhanging loads). This Amendment is purely formal, and makes reference to the supplementary provision of the new Clause about overhanging and projecting loads. When reprinted it will read Any power to make regulations conferred by Section one, two or three of the Act… etc.

Mr. Renton

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. R. Bell

I rise only to ask my hon. Friend if he can explain what that means. I have tried to understand it with the suggested Amendment, and it does not seem to make any sense. When the Amendment is inserted it reads: … section one, two or section (Rear lights on vehicles with projecting or overhanging loads).

12 noon.

Mr. Renton

If I might intervene to explain to my hon. Friend, the position is that this difficulty arises from the fact that we have inserted in the Bill this morning a new Clause which has not got a number to it. This is a formal procedure. Mr. Speaker will no doubt correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that it will be automatically permissible for the Officers of the House to give a number to the new Clause and to replace the words, Rear lights on vehicles with projecting or overhanging loads. by the number of the Clause, whatever it is. Then, of course, the matter will make sense. I think my hon. Friend is right in saying that strictly speaking, as a matter of grammar, it does not make sense at the moment, but that is a temporary consequence sometimes of the things we have to do in this House.

Mr. Bell

If that is the explanation, then everything is all right. I understand that it is not possible to leave a gap because, at the moment, it would read, "Section (2)" and then the words in the Amendment. I take it that the House simply relies upon the discretion and intelligence of the Officers of the House to realise that "Section (2)" is not the phrase to which the words in brackets would be added.

Amendment agreed to.

12.2 p.m.

Colonel J. H. Harrison

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

I wish to thank all those who have contributed so much to the framing of this Bill, particularly my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and also the Parliamentary Secretary, who has been most kind and helpful. We have also had great co-operation from the manufacturers of vehicles who will be affected and may later have to re-lay out some of their plant. But they, like everyone else, are anxious to do everything to bring about a reduction in the appalling rate of accidents on the road. I have also had great help from many hon. Members of the House and, through correspondence, from members of the general public, who, after all, will have to drive vehicles under the provisions of this Measure.

As we had no discussion on the Second Reading of the Bill, I should like to take the opportunity of saying that it is more comprehensive and in greater detail than it was when I presented it to the House five months ago. All the way through there has been no opposition to it. The Bill started because of a very bad accident taking place in my constituency. Four people in a small Austin car were driving slowly at night and drove into the rear of a lorry on which no light was visible. Two of them were killed. The Bill is an endeavour to save life and loss of limb on our roads.

I should like to draw the attention of hon. Members to a very excellent publication called, "Road Research. Technical Paper No. 25" the substance of which is produced by Dr. Glanville and his staff at the Road Research Laboratory and is of great interest. It should be noted that manufacturers of motor vehicles, particularly private cars. by a voluntary agreement in 1946, decided to increase the luminous intensity of rear lights on those vehicles. The luminous intensity is measured by Candela and under the international agreement it was increased to 0.25 per cent. This laboratory tested the luminous intensity of the ordinary rear light of a private motor car manufactured before 1939 and found that the average was as low as one-fifth of that of the modern new car.

Many of us have seen the bright rear lights of a new car twinkling a long way in the distance. Sometimes, quite unexpectedly, one comes upon an older car of which the light is extremely dim, but probably that light conforms with the law as it is at present. Unfortunately, lorries have not conformed to the new regulation and on tests being made the luminous intensity was found to be one-twelfth—0.02 Candela—which was considered a reasonable intensity for a rear light.

I do not know what is in the mind of the Minister, but I do not think it wise to put in a provision in the Bill to make it statutory that every vehicle should have a light of a luminous intensity of 0.25. I hope, however, that something may be done by the regulations which my right hon. Friend will publish under the Bill in due course. Among the causes of the lack of light showing is that of a wrong type of red glass in the light or of a slightly stronger bulb being necessary.

So far as I can make out—it is a low estimate—if we got the willing co-operation of all vehicle users to conform to these new regulations there would be a saving of 2,800 accidents a year or, in casualties on the road, of 4,000, of which at least 100 a year would be fatal. Of course, we shall never be able to prove those figures, but this reform would be to the benefit of the people.

It does not always fall to the lot of a back bench Member to promote a Bill—or, if he does so, to get as far as this stage—affecting such an enormous section of the whole population. I ask for the willing co-operation of everyone to try to make this Measure work in the interest of saving life, because we do depend on the good will of the people of this country. All laws are bad laws unless we have the willing co-operation of everyone to try to obey them.

I consider that the cost to every member of the public who has a bicycle, a motor cycle, a car, or other vehicle, will be very small in conforming with these regulations. I think it will be a matter of a few shillings, which ought to be regarded as a form of insurance to save their own lives and limbs. Regarded in that way, surely the cost is extremely low. We do not want these regulations only enforced by police action and the bringing of cases to court—we want the willing co-operation of everyone. I am told that it is possible to have a photometer which measures the luminous intensity of rear lights.

It has been my aim, in this Bill, to make some points statutory and to leave others to regulations to be made by the Minister. I believe that my right hon. Friend is trying to design a new type of reflector, which is provided for in the Bill, by which the angle of reflection of light will be more acute to the driver of the oncoming vehicle. Then, if the lights of the vehicle which is badly parked on the edge of the road or outside a village hall or public house, have failed, the lights of the oncoming vehicle will be able to pick up the reflection at night. We have to remember that as years have gone by manufacturers, in some cases very rightly, have increased the power of headlights and that that automatically diminishes the power of the old rear light which should be seen by the driver of the following vehicle.

If I may recapitulate, the object of this Bill has been to provide that where a vehicle is two wheels wide on the road it will have to carry two rear lights and two reflectors. When I started this Bill, I was content with one reflector and one rear light, or with two rear lights. Now, with a great deal of labour, instead of giving birth to twins, I find that I have produced quads. We have added these reflectors under an international convention of 1949 which other countries are observing.

When a vehicle is only one wheel wide —the bicycle or the motor cycle—it is required only to have one light and one reflector. The sole exception is the case of the ordinary pedal tricycle, which will need only one light and one reflector. If. of course, a bicycle or motor cycle has a sidecar attached to it, it becomes two wheels wide and must have two lights and two reflectors.

We are not asking the owners of pedal cycles to do more than they are already required by law to do. The existing law is that every bicycle shall carry a rear light—but this is not generally observed —and under the 1945 Act they should have to carry a reflector in addition. The 1945 Act, which gave the Minister power to implement this provision, has not been brought into effect because of certain manufacturing difficulties. All that the Bill does now is, not to increase what the bicycles have to carry, but to implement and put a date to the 1945 Act.

I am told that when this House tries to do anything to alter the law relating to bicycles, there is usually a great outcry. All I can say is that I have not had a single letter of protest against bringing in a date to implement the 1945 Act. I believe that most cyclists are now convinced that it is in their own interests that they carry a light and a reflector to show themselves as much as possible to overtaking vehicles.

The last point, in which I was particularly interested, is the case of a trailer or lorry which has a large tailboard or ramp for loading cattle or horses. Very often in country districts the tailboard or ramp is put down and obliterates the rear lights of the vehicle. That is breaking the law, but it is hoped that if these reflectors are fitted they can, by the Minister's regulations, be placed in such a way that when a tailboard or ramp is let down, at least the reflectors show. To comply with the law, the lamps should show also, but there are people who will break the law. Nevertheless, we hope that this may be a means of reducing the number of accidents.. I should have liked to include more in the Bill about ramps, but I was informed on good legal advice, that to give greater emphasis was really condoning an offence.

If the Bill is implemented it should prevent 2 per cent. of the accidents which at present occur. Remember, also, that every accident is an economic loss in money value apart from sentimentality, loss of life or limb, and the disablement of breadwinners. I am informed that the Bill might save as much as£2 million a year.

I believe that with the help of everyone, I have been able to sponsor a Bill that is a wise Bill and one that is very necessary to reduce this loss of life. We are a little complacent about the loss of life on our roads. There was a tremendous outcry in the House and in all our national and local Press over the tragic loss of over 300 lives in the flood disaster early this year, but every month on our roads more people are killed— nearly 400—than lost their lives in that flood disaster. The tragedy gets hidden away, and we have to accept it. Any attempt—and I hope there may be others —to reduce that accident rate is in the interest of all our people. I feel that they will do their utmost to observe the Bill if it becomes law, and I confidently recommend it to the House.

Mr. Renton

I beg to second the Motion.

12.15 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Gurney Braithwaite)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) for deferring his remarks on the Bill so that I may intervene now as I have to leave to fulfil an engagement. The Bill received an unopposed Second Reading and this is, therefore, the first opportunity to offer a few observations on behalf of the Ministry of Transport regarding its provisions. It has passed through all its stages with great expedition. The Committee stage occupied little longer than an hour, the Report stage has gone very quickly today, and its passage through the House has been of the nature which another Measure in the field of transport might well envy.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) is to be congratulated on the wise use he has made of his good luck in the Ballot. The Bill as amended and as it has now emerged has the full backing of the Government, who extend a hearty welcome to this contribution to road safety.

My hon. and gallant Friend in this Measure has not sought to deal with all outstanding matters regarding the lighting of vehicles, and we have still very much in mind many questions which arise from the problem of dazzle. The Road Research Laboratory have been hard at work on this problem. The Government have these further questions in view, and, as I have mentioned once or twice before, as soon as there is a convenient opportunity we hope to proceed with legislation on such matters in the not too far distant future.

It is obvious from the debate this morning that there is no difference of opinion amongst us, on either side of the House, about the rear lighting of vehicles on the roads leaving a great deal to be desired and creating a very definite menace. No single class of vehicle is free from blame. The Bill, together with the regulations which my right hon. Friend will make under it when enacted, will effect virtually all classes of vehicles.

The obligation to carry reflectors will from 1st October next year be universal at the commencement of the winter. It will affect, for instance pedal cycles and farm vehicles just as much as private cars, goods lorries or 'buses. My right hon. Friend does not intend to make wide use of the exempting power which is granted to him under Clause 1 (4) unless there really are special circumstances.

The obligation to carry a second rear lamp will apply to vehicles from a date or dates to be prescribed by the Minister by order. I have already given the date for the new vehicles, and, although it is some time ahead, we believe that the existing vehicles will probably be brought in as from 1st October, 1957. We had in mind 1st January, 1958, but the 1957 date would conform to the spirit of the Amendment which has been made this morning. The nature and positioning of lamps and reflectors to comply with the new requirements which are to be laid down by Regulation are now under consideration. My right hon. Friend asks me to inform my hon. and gallant Friend and the House that he hopes that the draft regulations will be ready before the Bill is enacted.

No one can travel about our roads without realising the urgency of this problem. I motored some 400 miles last week-end in South Wales and was impressed over and over again by the importance and urgency of improving the rear lighting of vehicles. This Bill, which we are now giving its Third Reading, is an excellent example of what a Private Member can do by putting his good fortune in the Ballot to good and con- structive use. This is a most useful Measure, and it will lighten the Departmental load when we come to legislate ourselves.

May I, in apologising to the House for not remaining here for the rest of the discussion, because I have a feeling of confidence that this Bill will be read the Third time nemine contradicente, and that my presence will not, therefore, be required in the Lobby, also express a hope that may find an echo even on the benches opposite—

Mr. Ede

What does the hon. Member mean?

Mr. Braithwaite

I think that when the right hon. Gentleman hears the end of the sentence he will realise why I put in the word "even." May I express a hope that may find an echo even on the benches opposite that when this Measure passes through another place the Amendments sent to us will not be too voluminous in character?

12.21 p.m.

Mr. Ede

The Parliamentary Secretary is incorrigible. After having had a very bad week at that Box, he now tries to make one of those rather cheap points that used to enliven our proceedings on dull evenings when the hon. Gentleman sat on this side of the House. I hope that he will not go before I ask him one question. I should not like to keep him from whatever good lunch somebody is providing for him.

Is it not about time, now that we are having these new regulations made, that there should be a compendious volume published of all regulations that are made connected with vehicles and road traffic so that clerks of courts, practising solicitors and others can have all the documents together? I am quite sure that Members of the House who practise in the courts will know the difficulty that occasionally arises when an offence has been committed against one of these rather obscure regulations. A great search has to be made for it, and no one in the court seems to have a copy of the regulation under the provisions of which the prosecution is taking place. If a volume could be published putting them all together, which could be made the subject of annual or biennial review. I am certain that it would be of great advan- tage to those who have to deal with the offences, whether as advocates or as magistrates. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will bear that matter in mind.

Mr. Braithwaite

Whether incorrigible or not, I think that that is a suggestion of great value, which I will communicate to my right hon. Friend. I have now to go and pay for my own lunch.

Mr. Ede

I commiserate with the hon. Gentleman; I shall have to do the same. I am very grateful to him for the reply he has given me, because this is a matter that causes great inconvenience from time to time.

Apart from that, I think we should all like to join in congratulating the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) on the success which he has achieved and the lucid explanation which he has given us this morning of the rather complicated Amendment which he had to move, and of the general purposes of the Bill. We all desire that safety on the roads should be improved. One is sometimes appalled at the way at which the monthly figures are received because, whether they show a slight reduction or, as on one or two occasions recently, an increase, they are certainly an appalling indictment of the way in which the roads are being used.

You, Mr. Speaker, will recollect a former Member of this House who was for many years the Member for Argyllshire, Mr. Macquisten, who could make a light and pleasant speech in a way which was almost inimitable. Yet I also recollect how one evening, when he was dealing with this question of road safety, he said: "If any of our relatives are half an hour or an hour late in arriving home, is not the first thing that comes to our mind, 'I wonder if they have met with an accident in crossing the street'? "I imagine that all of us, from our own private knowledge, can re-echo that feeling. We are, therefore, entitled to thank the hon. and gallant Member for Eye for having devoted his good fortune in the Ballot to dealing with this matter.

I can only hope that the unanimous feeling that there has been in the House today, and the speed with which the Measure has passed through all its stages, will be an indication to everyone that this House is seriously concerned with road safety, and that we welcome anything that can be done to increase it. One would hope that the good feeling here will also be shown on the roads, for I am quite certain that a great many accidents that occur could be prevented if a little more courtesy were shown on the roads and if people were not so concerned in getting somewhere a fraction of a second earlier than the observance of courtesy would permit.

I was once being driven to this House by an hon. Member, and there was a small car in front of us the driver of which was very meticulously observing the rules of the road. The hon. Gentleman who was with me said, "The trouble with that driver is that he is too much of a gentleman." I wish that on some occasions some people who are obviously not gentlemen when they are on the roads would show a little of the care and courtesy which that man was showing. I sincerely hope that the hon. and gallant Member will get his Bill on to the Statute Book this year, and that beneficial results may soon be felt on the roads.

12.28 p.m.

Mr. Renton

With the leave of the House, I should like to say that this Bill is the result of teamwork—not merely of co-operation between the back benchers, led by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) and the Government—in which manufacturers and the motoring organisations and others have been part of the team. I am interested in this matter in a dual capacity, not only as a Member of the House who is interested in such matters, but also, I am proud to say, as a member of the Committee of the Automobile Association. The A.A. are extremely anxious about the question of road safety, and are giving advice on such matters. They do not consider primarily the interests of motorists, but the interests of road safety.

I was very interested to hear the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) mention just now the question of courtesy, because we have been running a campaign among our own members, using propaganda in which we have tried to stress, by means of illustrated pamphlets, and so on, the value of courtesy in reducing road accidents. It might not be out of place to say that the very distinguished President of the Automobile Association, about two years ago, in a public speech, referred to the very problem with which this Bill is so largely designed to deal, the problem of vehicles with inadequate rear lights, which so often get covered with mud. He referred to the tiny pin-points of red light which are of no value at all.

It is to be hoped that this most valuable Bill will reduce road accidents to a great extent. The right hon. Member for South Shields has, if I may say so, as a lone wolf, on the benches opposite, played a very valuable part in the proceedings on this Bill. Great indignation was expressed yesterday at the possibility, as it was feared, of Private Member's time being taken away from the House today. We on this side of the House are always anxious that Private Members shall have an opportunity—

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

If the hon. Member holds that view, how is it that, a fortnight ago, his hon. Friends counted out the House during the discussion of a Private Member's Bill?

Mr. Renton

Quite candidly, I was not present—

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

No, that is why the House was counted out.

Mr. Renton

I do not propose to pursue that, because it is a singularly unintelligent intervention which shows a wilful misunderstanding of the practices and habits of the House—

Mr. Jones

Not at all.

Mr. Ede

It is the cause of all the trouble.

Mr. Renton

I am very surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should pursue that point. I really had thought better of him.

The one blemish in this excellent Bill, as I see it, is that it contains so much opportunity for delegated legislation. I hope it may be placed on record, for the information of the Parliamentary Secretary and of the Minister, and their successors that there is an opportunity given to the Minister, in making Regulations under Clause 1 (4) virtually to nullify the effect of the Bill. Subsection I (1) states categorically: Every vehicle on any road shall during the hours of darkness…carry attached to the vehicle two unobscured and efficient red reflectors… There the main purpose of the Bill is stated in simple words. But in subsection (4) we find: Without prejudice to the power to exempt from, or to add to or vary, the requirements of this section in the cases provided for by subsections (2) and (3) … the Minister shall have power by regulation to exempt either wholly or partly, and subject to such conditions as may be specified in the regulation, from the requirements of this section, or any of them, vehicles of any particular class or description either generally or in any particular circumstances. In other words, we appear to have given the Minister carte blanche virtually to repeal the provisions of the Bill by regulation. I think we should place it on record now that Parliament, and certainly those of us concerned with my hon. and gallant Friend in promoting this Bill, would be most indignant if that power to exempt were used too widely, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will have my remarks drawn to his attention.

I was gratified to find that the Government are already getting their delegated legislation ready so that when the Bill has been passed there need be no delay in bringing it into operation. I am disappointed that existing vehicles will not be brought within the ambit of the provisions of this Bill until 1st October, 1957. I do not think a period of some three-and-a-half years is necessary to enable existing vehicles to conform to the very necessary safety requirements which my hon. and gallant Friend has introduced. I hope that there will be second thoughts about that.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields said he hoped there would be issued a manual summarising the various legal provisions relating to the use of the highway, so that magistrates and lawyers should have something compendius at hand. I agree that that would be highly desirable—

Mr. Ede

I do not want there to be anything that summarises. I wish to see all the actual text of all the regulations put into a volume, so that solicitors, barristers, magistrates and those who have to advise magistrates can have the regulations before them when offences which are often trivial and technical are to be considered.

Mr. Renton

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for clarifying that point. I agree that from the point of view of magistrates and those practising in the courts it would be a good thing and that the regulations need to be fully set out.

I think, also, that something further is needed for the road user. We have the Highway Code and I understand that we may get a new code one day. Meanwhile, the present code is most inadequate on this question. I hope that the passing of this Bill will cause the Government to hasten the introduction of a new Highway Code in which there will be some guidance about the lighting of vehicles. I cannot restrain myself from referring to what the present Highway Code has to say about it: See that your lights are in good order and are properly adjusted. Always light up in good time. When visibility is poor, and particularly on foggy days, put on your lights so that other people can see you. That is all. There is no guidance as to exactly what is to be done.

Laws which we pass are of little use if they remain merely paper schemes and this Bill must be enforced effectively with regard to millions of motorists and cyclists. The police are already heavily engaged in all kinds of work, and I sometimes feel that we need a specialised branch of the police force to supervise motorists—I say that although I am a member of the Automobile Association— to ensure that they obey the provisions of the law and to help and guide them.

The provisions of Section 19 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, relating to the length of time a vehicle may be driven, and Section 16 of the 1933 Act referring to the keeping of records of the commercial vehicles, both vitally important provisions, are frequently wilfully disregarded, even by British Road Services on occasions, and I say that the provisions in this Bill and in various other Measures relating to the use of vehicles on the road should be enforced in a more fully organised way.

Instead of the duties falling in a casual manner upon the ordinary police forces, supplemented by a very small staff of vehicle examiners from the Ministry of Transport, it would be a good idea to have a specialist branch of the police within each force whose duty it would be to do this work. Special training would be required and the men who did it would acquire valuable experience which they would be expected to retain in their jobs. They would be expected to make the job a career instead of switching from traffic control one day to detective work on the next, and so on. This is a suggestion for enforcement which I hope will not fall upon deaf ears.

I do not think that it would be out of order to say that bicyclists have a great opportunity of voluntarily supplementing the provisions of the Bill. They could do it very easily. All they need do is to buy a small tin of white enamel and paint the whole of the back mudguard of their machines. Some cyclists already do that, but if all would do it they would be protecting themselves against accidents and helping to reduce the toll on the roads.

I should like to add my congratulations to those already given to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye and to thank him for the kindness which he has shown to me in the treatment which my various suggestions have received.

12.41 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

I rise briefly to say that large police forces in this country already have specialist sections devoted to traffic matters. These include the Metropolitan Police and certain of the larger provincial forces. The smaller forces have not such sections, and I do not see how they can have them. It may well toe that we have gone as far as we can in that connection, given the premise that we are to leave matters with local police forces generally.

Mr. G. Wilson

I wish to add my congratulations to those already given to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison). I am especially glad to do so because perhaps some remarks I made earlier were misunderstood. I was not seeking to oppose the Bill in any way or to suggest that any class of vehicle should be exempted from its provisions. I was merely suggesting that perhaps some vehicles are more visible than others and that it might be reasonable, in deciding on the time when the Bill should apply to them, to provide for a different time from that applied to others. In fact, that is what the Parliamentary Secretary has said. We shall have a later date for new vehicles.

Everyone, in all parts of the House, will join in congratulating my hon. and gallant Friend, hoping that this Measure will help to save life on the roads and to reduce the appalling death rate.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Forward to