HC Deb 24 April 1953 vol 514 cc1626-38

(1)Where a vehicle on a road during the hours of darkness carries a load projecting to the rear more than three and a half feet behind its tail light, it shall carry a rear lamp in such a position that no part of the load projects to the rear more than three and a half feet behind that rear lamp.

(2)The Minister may by regulations provide that, subject to any prescribed exceptions, where a vehicle on a road during the hours of darkness carries a load overhanging laterally by more than the prescribed distance (measured from such point as may be specified in the regulations), the vehicle shall carry a rear lamp in the prescribed position to indicate the overhang; and any such regulations may apply to a vehicle otherwise exempted from carrying a rear lamp by section eight of the principal Act (which relates to vehicles towing and being towed).

(3) Every rear lamp carried in accordance with this section or regulations made under it shall comply with the prescribed conditions, and shall be carried in addition to the tail light:

Provided that the Minister may by regulations exempt, in any prescribed circumstances, a vehicle carrying such a rear lamp from carrying a tail light or from carrying two tail lights.

(4) Separate lamps need not be carried for the purposes of subsection (1) and of regulations under subsection (2) of this section, or for the purposes of any such regulations and of any provision of the principal Act which requires an overhanging load to be marked by a white light showing to the front, if a lamp is carried satisfying all requirements applicable.

(5)In this section—

  1. (a) "hours of darkness" has the same meaning as in section one of the principal Act;
  2. (b) "rear lamp" means a lamp showing to the rear a red light visible from a reasonable distance;
  3. (c) "tail light" means any rear lamp carried attached to the vehicle in accordance with the principal Act, as amended, or regulations thereunder.

(6) Paragraph (2) of section seven of the principal Act is hereby repealed.

(7) This section shall come into operation on such date, not earlier than the first day of October, nineteen hundred and fifty-four, as the Minister may by Order made by statutory instrument prescribe.—[Colonel J. H. Harrison.]

Brought up, and read the First time

11.7 a.m.

Colonel J. H. Harrison (Eye)

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

It may be considered rather inappropriate for a back-bench Member to bring forward a Bill dealing with transport when we have debated the subject so much this week, but when the Report stage of this Bill was tabled we did not know what the preceding business of the week would be. I am happy to say that so far, at all stages of the Bill, there has been complete agreement on all sides of the House and that everywhere I have had nothing but help. I hope, therefore, that the same spirit will be evident in the consideration of this new Clause.

We debated this point in Committee in connection with Section 7 (2) of the Act of 1927, which is the principal Act and which has existed for the last 26 years. That section deals with an overhanging load at the rear of a vehicle, and the law as it has stood for the last 26 years has been that a red or rear light must be placed within six feet of the end of the projecting load. The lamp need not necessarily be on the vehicle itself. We are legislating by the Bill so that every vehicle will in future carry two rear lights and two reflectors visible, and an extra lamp, within six feet of the end, in addition to or in substitution of one of the two rear lights, the object being that all four should be visible to anyone approaching from behind.

During the Committee stage debate on this question, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton), who has taken a great interest in the Bill and for whose help I am extremely grateful, queried whether a provision stating "within six feet" was adequate in view of the increased amount of traffic on the road these days. It may have been adequate 26 years ago, but there is now a great deal of driving at night, with vehicles almost head to tail, and it was questioned whether six feet gave the necessary safety. In Committee I did not feel justified in accepting a shorter distance without being able to consult the various people on whose co-operation and good will the working of this Bill will depend. I did say in Committee that it seemed to me that there might be a case for reducing the six feet, but to not less than three feet.

I have consulted my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and various bodies who are interested in the Bill. We have to consider not only commercial vehicles that carry the goods we require, but also all classes of private vehicles, because many private cars have overhanging loads. For instance, a family when they are going away on holiday like to load up the luggage carrier with various equipment. There may be, perhaps, tent poles extending over the end. It would be wrong if we were to say that nothing at the end may project over the final rear light, but it does seem that six feet is rather too long. Therefore, by consultation with various interested bodies, it has been accepted by everyone that the right distance would be three feet six inches. This means one could have a projecting load as in the past over the end of one's vehicle, but one must put on a lamp, either one of the two on the vehicle, or an additional one three feet six inches of the end.

In looking into one thing one nearly always finds other things, and in looking into the question of loads projecting from the rear one could not avoid also the question of loads projecting laterally. I find that under Section 7 of the principal Act, where a load projects over the side of a vehicle more than 12 inches from the side light of the vehicle, at night it has to have a light to the front, but there is no mention at all of a rear light on the laterally projecting load.

My attention has been called to the deliberations of a Working Party at Geneva on the Construction of Road Vehicles. A general recommendation was made that both a front and a rear light should be on laterally projecting loads within 16 inches or 400 millimetres of the edge of the load. On the whole, this country has been rather behind in bringing in legislation to make our law conform with these international conventions. Therefore, it seemed to me that it was wise, whilst we were dealing with the projecting loads at the end of vehicles, that we should deal also with the loads projecting laterally, and that if they went over a certain distance they must have a rear light.

One of the difficulties in drafting this new Clause has been that the rear lights on the vehicle are not at the moment specifically fixed in any one place on the vehicle. The Minister may make regulations under the new Clause to fix the point at which the laterally projecting overhang shall carry a rear lamp. We have to be rather careful in drafting this new Clause to make certain that he can get this rear light on the laterally projecting load in the place it is needed. I think we have achieved that.

Now let me run briefly through the different subsections of the new Clause. We are not altering Section 6 of the principal Act which applies to certain horse-drawn vehicles, and this will not apply to them. Subsections (1) and (2) relate to the rearward projecting and laterally overhanging loads respectively. In the case of the rear, we put in a figure of three and a half feet. In the case of the side ones, we leave the details to the Minister. I think it would be attractive to mention in the Bill the figure of 16 inches, but it is considered better to leave the working out of the details to the Minister by regulations. We have always to remember that the shape and size of vehicles are changing, and that vehicles fall into many different categories.

11.15 a.m.

The last part of subsection (2) makes this new provision apply to a vehicle towing another vehicle or trailer. As the law stands at the moment, on the original vehicle one does not have to have any rear lights if the trailer is within five feet, and so all rear lights are on the trailer. The last sentence of subsection (2) deals with that.

Subsection (3) empowers the Minister to prescribe conditions to be applied to rear lamps, and reproduces the provision which already exists in Section 7 (2) of the principal Act about the lighting at the rear of projecting loads, and extends it to laterally projecting loads also. Subsection (4) provides that separate lamps need not be carried to mark laterally or rearward projecting loads if the requirements of the Bill can be met by a single lamp. It may be possible to embody one lamp, a white one at the front and a red one at the rear.

Subsection (5) is necessary because in this new Clause "rear lamp" and "tail light" have special meanings attached to them. "Tail light" is not used elsewhere in the Bill, and has to be defined because in the Act of 1927 it is defined only in relation to Section 1. Subsection (6), by repealing paragraph (2) of Section 7 of the principal Act, has the effect that Section 7 of the principal Act now will relate only to front lighting on laterally projecting loads and has nothing to do with rear lighting at all, which will be covered by the new Clause.

By subsection (7) a reasonable amount of time must be allowed before the new Clause comes into operation. That is obviously necessary for manufacturing and other reasons. The actual date on which the new Clause shall operate is left to be fixed by order made by the Minister, but it is not to be a date before 1st October, 1954.

Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)

1 beg to second the Motion.

I shall do so briefly because my hon. and gallant Friend has given a very clear and a fairly full explanation of the new Clause. Having suggested one or two of the matters of substance contained in this new Clause, I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend for having put them in concrete legislative form which, I hope, will be readily acceptable. It is rather extraordinary that such mundane affairs as the lighting of vehicles should somehow become matters of such complexity when we try to get them in legal form, especially when we are building on what has gone before; but they are difficult indeed.

Discussing this new Clause with my hon. and gallant Friend, I asked him, "Is subsection (4) really necessary? It looks a very neat piece of drafting, but what does it all come to? Must we have that? "Without labouring the matter too much and wearying hon. Members with a long explanation, I would say that I think it is desirable that we should have something to ensure that there is not an excess of zeal in trying to comply with every statutory provision, some of which overlap; and this prevents nonsense being made when statutory provisions regarding the lighting of vehicles with overhanging loads of various kinds overlap.

It may seem extraordinary that, when there is a fair multiplicity of provisions describing the various types of overhanging loads, we are not able to arrive at a conclusion that these provisions may be complied with if a lamp, which means one lamp, is carried satisfying all requirements applicable. When we think it out, there may very well be loads where one lamp might satisfy the various provisions, even though each of them separately would seem to indicate that different lamps should be available; so subsection (4) is undoubtedly necessary.

Mr. Hannar Nicholls (Peterborough)

I wish only to emphasise that if the lateral overhang goes on both sides of the vehicle we must make perfectly certain that there is a rear light on both ends of the overhang. On the roads nowadays, with special cranes and lifting gear being transported, with lorries carrying very big loads, there is overhang on both sides, and I was not absolutely clear on reading the new Clause whether it was necessary to have the rear light shown on both sides of the overhang or whether it would be only on the side we call the offside. If at some stage that could be made clear, it would be very helpful.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) that it is difficult to find words to give meaning to what we intend in this matter, but now that we are devoting this time to it we ought to try very hard to cover all these points. The overwhelming interest of people of all parties in the country today is in facing the question of road safety, and we must ensure that we do not abuse the roads, because owing to the economic difficulties we have to face we are not able to make improvements in the roads and road lighting which we would normally like to do. Therefore, in the interim period, until important road improvements can be made, we must try very hard to see that vehicles using inadequate roads have all these extra signs and lights in order to maintain as high a degree of safety as possible.

The special point I wanted to emphasise on this new Clause was that, in order to give effect to our intentions in this matter, it should be made perfectly clear that the rear lights on the laterally overhanging load should be on both sides if the load overhangs on both sides.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I want to make only one observation on this new Clause, which I do in response to a telephone message I have only this moment received, and it concerns the figure of three feet six inches. I understood my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) to say that the figure of three feet six inches had been put in after consultation, but he did not say with whom. I have heard from at least one operator that some operators think the figure of three feet six inches too small. For instance, a furniture van has a tailboard which projects more than three feet six inches. I wonder whether at a later stage, if it is found that that figure is a bit too small, there might be an opportunity for reconsidering that matter.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I agree with the hon. Members for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) and Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) about the number of words that are necessary to provide for something which at first blush appears to be so simple, but even the fact that there are so many words leads to some further complications. The hon. Member for Peterborough said it was difficult to find words giving effect to our meaning. I see myself at some time after 1st October. 1954, sitting on the bench trying to give some meaning to the words the House is now being asked to pass, and to some regulation that is made under this new Clause.

One of the difficulties confronting magistrates adjudicating on some of these technical motoring points is the fact that, in addition to the Section which makes the general provision, they have to consider certain obscure and little-known regulations which have been made by the Minister and try to apply the two to the case in front of them. Although police officers generally seem to be very well instructed in some of these highly technical matters, these cases sometimes give rise to acute conflict between the police and the solicitor appearing for the defendant, and quite long and intricate arguments can be submitted.

I should have thought, in spite of what the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) said, that the only question is whether there ought to be any difference allowed for the actual rear light. On occasion, if the rear light is not very effective, it is astonishing to find how much the load projecting beyond the rear light is obscured when someone is overtaking. A load of steel rails or scaffold poles, or something like that, can be a very great danger, even to careful drivers who are overtaking.

I agree with the hon. Member for Peterborough about the necessity to have regard to the increasing need for safety on the roads. On some of the great main roads at night it is very difficult indeed, driving in those long processions of loaded vehicles going from London to Manchester or Liverpool, or other of the provincial towns, to find, when finally overtaking, that what appears to be a gap between two vehicles at the head of the line is almost entirely closed up by some projecting load which does not project laterally and cannot be seen when the driver is overtaking the first vehicles.

I think the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) is to be congratulated on the care which has been bestowed on this matter, but I hope that the Ministry of Transport and the Home Office, who are concerned with the police application of Measures of this kind, will see whether it is possible, in the first place, to deal with the question of the appropriate distance to be allowed. I hope the hon. Member for Truro realises that, quite apart from pantechnicons, there are other vehicles which, to a person approaching them, have very shadowy and illusory loads projecting behind them, and it may very well be desirable that the final rear light, if I may put it in that way, should be actually at the end of the projection. I think the safety of the roads would be improved thereby.

11.30 a.m.

I would also suggest that it might be considered whether it would not be possible to put more of what is left here to delegated legislation into the statute itself. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Eye that, of course, changes do occur in the build and make-up of vehicles, but it is very desirable that those who have to administer this law should be able to find it as far as possible in one volume, and not have to rely on the hope that the clerk of the magistrates' court happens to have handy a copy of the regulation against which it is alleged the offence has occurred when the police bring a prosecution under the new provisions. I hope that it will be considered how far what is now left to regulations can be put into the statute.

Colonel Harrison

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and the indulgence of the House, I will endeavour to reply to the points made.

Mr. Speaker

I would point out that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has the right to speak again, the Bill having been reported from a Standing Committee.

Colonel Harrison

I should like to say in regard to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) that he is perfectly right in his assumption that under this Bill, if there is a load projecting laterally both sides of the vehicle beyond the distance laid down, a rear light will have to be carried on both sides. The whole point is that lights should reflect from the rear the width of the vehicle and its load, because one cannot drive through the load.

In regard to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), I think that there is confusion in some people's minds over this, although there was complete consultation with a great many bodies which represent road users of all kinds. The relevant words in this new Clause are in line 4, three and a half feet behind that rear lamp. Some people may think that by this Clause one cannot at night drive a vehicle with any load extending more than three feet six inches beyond the end of the vehicle. That is not so. As the law stands, one can have a long projecting load, and one must place the lamp within six feet of the end of the projection. This Clause says that instead of within six feet of the end of the projection, the lamp must be within three feet six inches. Even if there is a big ramp, such as on a pantechnicon, the same rule applies.

I am very sensitive to the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). I think that there is a great deal of merit in the lamp being placed at the end of the load, but, of course, when we make legislation we have to make it so that the public of this country are willing to co-operate and obey. I think that if we were to say that there must be a lamp at the end of the load and there was something projecting only a foot the tendency would be to disregard the provision. The question then arises where to put the lamp. I believe that it is wiser to make a shorter distance than we had in the past, and I think that three feet six inches will be accepted by the public. If there is overloading beyond that distance, a lamp will be required, and if there is no lamp the police will be able to take action.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about overhanging loads of scaffold poles and similar things, but it is the purpose of the Bill that at all times when a vehicle is loaded the load should be visible to oncoming traffic. If one of the rear lamps is obscured by the overhanging load, then there must be another lamp within the three feet six inches.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend, whose right of speaking is I think under the Standing Orders inexhaustible on this occasion, will explain what I am not clear about, and that is whether power to make the regulations he proposes in the new Clause will meet the point put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), which is a very real and substantial one.

It is not just a case of not being able to see the rear lights of a vehicle in front. If there are two vehicles in line one can see the rear lights of one but not the rear lights of the next but one away, and if one wants to overtake the vehicle immediately in front, thinking that there is an interval in between it and the one in front of it sufficiently to pull into, one has no information until it may be much too late that the vehicle next but one in front has a projecting load which cannot be seen until one is about to pull in.

What I fear may be the case under these regulations—I do not know, I ask the question—is that, the Minister can only require the vehicle next but one in front to put a rear light not more than three feet six inches away from the end of the load. What I should like to see is the power to prescribe that the vehicle next but one in front, if I may put it that way, must carry on the offside rear of the vehicle some indication in lighting to show that there is a projecting load.

I do not hesitate to advocate such a course, if it is not already covered, because one knows that accidents occur through defects in the rear lighting of vehicles of this kind. A very similar situation arises when there is a trailer on the vehicle. It is perhaps very tempting for a cyclist to swerve into the side of the road, the vehicle passes him and he swerves out again, not realising that there is a trailer behind, because the rear lighting gives him no clue. I remember that just before the war the son of one of our High Court judges was killed in that way. There was at that time considerable publicity given to the matter, and one hoped that an amendment of the law might have followed.

I do not know whether the Bill or the new Clause will cover that point, and whether it is within the power of the Minister to make regulations requiring some indication in the rear lighting of a vehicle that there is either a trailer following or a projecting load which requires a special lamp. Both of these are, I think, points of real substance. It would be reassuring if my hon. and gallant Friend could say that those points are covered. If not, perhaps in another place something may be put into the Bill to make regulations which would enable the Minister to cover these two substantial points.

Colonel Harrison

With regard to the two points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell), I think that where there is a trailer it should be clear to any cyclist being overtaken by a vehicle with a trailer that until he sees the rear-lights of the trailer pass him it is not safe to pull out into the middle of the road, because in most cases the vehicle which is following the trailer will not be showing as many lights or perhaps no lights at all.

Mr. Bell

In many cases the cyclist does not realise there is a trailer until the tractor vehicle is past him. The particular occasion I had in mind was when a cyclist did in fact swerve out very slightly to his normal position when the lorry had passed, not realising that at the end of a fairly long tow there was a trailer.

Colonel Harrison

I appreciate that point. It seems to me that the lights are on the trailer and any cyclist would be well advised to watch until he sees the two rear lights and the two reflectors are past him, which are part of the whole vehicle with the trailer. I hope that will satisfy my hon. Friend.

In regard to the overhanging loads, it is the intention of the Bill, when the load has been put on the vehicle, that from a reasonable distance in the rear two rear lamps and two reflectors shall be visible. One of the rear lights may be on the vehicle and one on the end of the load. Having gone into this fairly fully, I believe that is as far as it is possible to go in making the overhanging load conspicuous to other road users without making the matter too complicated for gentlemen like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields who sit on the bench and administer the law.

As I said earlier, we depend on the willing co-operation of the public to prevent accidents. If we make this too complicated, people will be inclined not to bother at all. I hope the Clause achieves a fair mean.

Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)

I am not completely satisfied about the provision for rear lights on trailers and drawing vehicles. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) has mentioned the case of the cyclist who pulled out before the trailer had passed, and then my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) said that cyclists should not pull out until they are sure that the trailer light had passed them. There are rear lights on both the drawing vehicle and the trailer. What is there to tell the cyclist that the first lights which pass him will not be followed by a trailer with its own lights. Surely any lorry on the highway will have rear lights affixed to it and will not remove them when it hitches on a trailer for a special purpose?

Colonel Harrison

The point was raised in the Committee stage, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) will remember that it was pointed out that under the present law a tractor vehicle drawing a trailer which is within five feet of it does not have to show rear reflectors or lights. If the tractor vehicle shows no lights, it is obvious that a trailer follows. It may be that some vehicles drawing trailers will still show their own lights, but that is not necessary.

It must be left to the common sense of pedal cyclists not to pull out immediately. It may be that another vehicle and not a trailer is following the first vehicle. The cyclist ought to glance over his shoulder to make sure the road is clear. Sometimes all the onus tends to be put on the driver of the motor vehicle, but the possession of a certain amount of common sense must be attributed to a large majority of pedal cyclists.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.