HC Deb 24 July 1953 vol 518 cc816-42

Order for Second Reading read.

2.17 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)

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

This Bill has the merit of being somewhat simpler than those with which we have been dealing this afternoon but, like the other Measures, I think it will command general support from all sides of the House. There has been grave concern about the loss of life on the roads and, in particular, about the accidents to school children. In 1952, 31,000 children of school age were involved in road accidents, and, of those, 460 lost their lives. I have sought to discover what proportion of those accidents occurred to children going to or leaving school but, unfortunately, I have not been able to get any figures which I could give to the House. I think it will be generally agreed, however, that there must have been some proportion and that the House would wish to do all it could to prevent those accidents from occurring.

This problem is not a new one; indeed it is not confined to this country. As long ago as 1936 the Inter-Departmental Committee on Road Safety Amongst Schoolchildren was set up, comprising representatives of the Government Departments concerned, local authorities and teachers. It recommended an extension of the use of local authority employees and other suitable persons for the purpose of patrolling crossings where school children have to pass. It was envisaged that suitable people, selected by the education authorities, would be in charge and that they would carry some form of sign which would be approved by the Ministry of Transport. Following that recommendation the Ministry of Education informed education authorities that expenditure incurred by them for this purpose would be assisted by grant.

By 1952, in England and Wales 73 education authorities out of 155 were operating patrols. In Scotland the corresponding figures were 10 out of 35. In 1952 the Government thought that it was right to consider encouraging a wider use of these powers. After consultation with the local authorities, it was decided that responsibility in the matter should rest upon the Home Office in England and Wales, and the Scottish Home Department in Scotland. The local authorities were also informed that it was proposed to introduce legislation covering such questions as recruiting, training, organisation and the financial assistance involved.

Pending legislation, an appeal was made to county councils, county borough councils and, in Scotland, the councils of large burghs, to proceed as well as they could. In fact, very satisfactory response was made. There were 32 new education authorities in England and Wales who started this system for the first time in 1952, and other authorities have started since.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

Are the 32 included in the 73 authorities?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

The 32 are included in the 73.

This is, of course, an enabling Measure. It does not compel an authority; it is designed to clarify the position and to encourage further action of the same kind being taken.

The first thing I want to make clear to the House is that the Bill does not seek to set up a new auxiliary police force. I think it is important that I should emphasise that at the outset. Nor does it in any way supersede the police in the functions which are properly theirs. Where traffic is heavy and complicated at a crossing, then the control must remain in the hands of a policeman, but it is, of course, not possible to have a policeman available in every place where children cross the roads frequently going to or leaving school, and the experience of the police and the local authorities shows that the needs in these particular places can often be amply met by school crossing patrols.

These school crossing patrols have not been in the past and are not now vested with the powers of the police. It is the duty of the patrol—that is to say, the person who will carry the sign—simply to display that sign at a place where children are crossing, and the sign will in fact be of the same kind as the halt sign which is available at certain cross-roads today. Beyond that, the power of the person carrying the sign is precisely that of any ordinary citizen who is at present at a crossing governed by a halt sign and who may be a witness of a motoring offence. Therefore, in effect, what the Act provides for is that a halt sign should be available at certain places when it is needed, and that there should be someone there on the watch, so to speak.

The primary purpose of this Bill is to increase the number of patrols and so provide for the greater protection of children. But there is, of course, an important secondary effect, that there will be a number of instances where a patrol can release a policeman, and to that extent the policeman will be available for essential duty elsewhere. That secondary effect is also very valuable.

Perhaps I might say a word on the subject of what have been called scholar patrols. The question has been asked why no provision is made in the Bill for scholar patrols—that is to say, the use of older school children as what have been called road prefects, to take charge of the other children on the roads. The reason is that that is outside the scope of what is intended by the Bill. The Bill is concerned with traffic at crossings, and, as I understand the theory of the matter, the road prefects are concerned with the organisation of children perhaps at crossings and perhaps elsewhere. The purpose of road prefects is both narrower and wider than the purpose of the patrols. The Bill, therefore, does not deal with them. Their position is left entirely unaffected.

The Bill empowers county councils, county borough councils and the corresponding authorities in Scotland to make arrangements for school crossing patrols It is expected, however, that in most cases the police will be very closely concerned. For example, chief officers of police may well be consulted on the proper location of these patrols, and again the police may be asked to give help in the training, selection and organisation and so on of the patrols.

A county borough council can delegate the powers given by the Bill to its watch committee. It is not necessary, therefore, to deal specifically with that case, but in other areas some new provision is needed if it is desired to delegate to the police authority the powers given to the councils. That matter is taken care of by Clause 1 (5) and the Schedule. In London the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis is already responsible for these matters and the Metropolitan boroughs wish that arrangement to continue. There has been the fullest consultation and cooperation which will, no doubt, continue and the position in London, therefore, is left as at present.

The Bill provides that county councils and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis shall have regard to representations of authorities within their areas, and there are corresponding provisions in that connection for Scotland. The Commissioner of Police has asked me to give this specific assurance, that there will be no diminution of consultation so far as the Metropolitan Police area is concerned, and I am also assured that county councils will continue to take full account of local opinion within their areas.

May I now say a word about finance? We hope that, as a result of the Bill, patrols will shortly be operating in all parts of the country. If that comes about, it is estimated that the additional cost of the Bill to the Exchequer will be of the order of £80,000 a year. In those circumstances, the total cost to Exchequer and rates together, of operating the patrols will be £430,000 a year, and that will include pay and insurance of patrols, the cost of signs and uniforms and everything else.

As to uniforms, many authorities operating patrols have adopted a uniform consisting of a cap and a loose fitting coat. On the whole that has seemed to be the most satisfactory type of uniform. It is intended that in due course there shall be a standard uniform for the whole country. It seems desirable that the person who acts as a patrol shall be instantly recognisable by anyone familiar with the roads.

School crossing patrols are not new. They are already operating successfully over about half the country. This Measure places responsibility on the Home Office and the Scottish Home Department. It provides for an Exchequer grant of not more than half the total expense. It puts into a single Measure provisions governing the stopping of traffic and the penalty for disregarding signs. It is a very simple Measure. There may be points of detail on which the Bill can be improved in Committee, but I feel sure that the general principles will recommend themselves to hon. Members in all parts of the House, and I hope it will be given a Second Reading this afternoon.

2.31 p.m.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

I wish to congratulate the Government on this Bill. I do not suppose I shall ever have this privilege again, so perhaps I ought to make it clear that this is one occasion on which I think they have produced a useful piece of legislation.

I am very glad to be able to say a few words about this Bill. As the Joint Under-Secretary of State said, in a comprehensive speech, this matter does lie very close to the hearts of all who have been concerned with road safety. There are a number of ex-Parliamentary Secretaries to the Ministry of Transport and ex-Ministers present. Those of us who have been Parliamentary Secretaries and have also been chairmen of road safety committees can never have that experience and afterwards feel quite the same about the problems of road safety once they have been brought to our notice. This has certainly stimulated in me a continuing interest in the subject.

I am delighted to see that the Government have brought forward a Bill which, as the Under-Secetary said, is based on an experiment and local initiative. In the first place, people banded themselves together. I remember a personal experience of a group of mothers in a provincial town in 1946 whose children had to get off a 'bus in a busy road. They banded themselves together and drew up their own rota of duty. Some of them went as far as four or five miles in order to serve as patrol. That is how the thing started. Now the Government come forward with provisions which will make it statutory and perhaps clear up some of the obscurities which always grow up around a voluntary system of this sort.

I appreciated the speech of the Joint Under-Secretary, but I thought he emphasised the regulatory powers here. I know he did not omit the stimulatory powers which ought to be exercised, but I am concerned with the 50 per cent. of local authorities who have not got patrols of this sort. Of course they are not wanted in every county; I suppose it would be idle to have them in Caithness, or perhaps even in Cardigan, but there are far too many local authorities who have not got patrols. I want the Government to stimulate local authorities into adopting patrols. That is the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport. I am sorry that they have not a representative here because, although the Home Office will be responsible for administration, the. Ministry of Transport should bring the matter to the notice of local authorities.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport would have been here, but, unfortunately, he is suffering from a cold.

Mr. Callaghan

I am sorry; I know he has a great interest in the problem of road safety. What I am anxious to ensure is that it shall fall to his Ministry to stimulate local authorities into embarking on school crossing patrols. I do not share the legal fears expressed in another place, where the matter has been discussed, because I do not think legal sanction is of the greatest significance here.

The important thing from my experience is that motorists should clearly know that children are crossing a road; then they have not the faintest desire to get in the way of the children. This provision will be of great assistance to any motorist who sees someone stepping into the road, clad in some sort of uniform and holding up a sign of the sort proposed. That will help him to stop and will remove doubt from his mind as to whether children are crossing the road or not. From my experience there is no doubt that motorists will welcome this and are ready to observe the provision. It will remove doubt from their minds, relieve the anxiety of parents, and enable children to cross roads much more safely. For all those reasons I welcome the Bill.

The Joint Under-Secretary reminded us that a number of patrols are already serving. I wish to suggest one or two things about those to be appointed. I suggest that it is desirable that these traffic patrols should have some knowledge of how to judge stopping distances of vehicles. It is simply no use walking on to a road and putting up a sign five feet away from a vehicle approaching at 25 to 30 miles an hour. Obviously, someone who has had driving experience is best able to judge the distance. I certainly hope that when the police are training patrols they will ensure that the patrols have something in mind as to the stopping distances in which drivers may reasonably be expected to brake.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of wages. Who is to fix the rates of pay and what are to be the conditions of service? It would be helpful if the House could have some idea of that. Are the uniforms to be provided by the local authorities? Will the patrols have to pay for them? Now that we have a Bill we had better inquire into these things. There have been a variety of systems in the past.

We had better know what is in the mind of the Government on these aspects, and we should be grateful if the Joint Under-Secretary could give some information about them. I see no reason why persons who are disabled should not be just as competent as anyone to do this job. I have tried to hold up a sign and did not find it particularly difficult. I have seen fears expressed to the effect that the sign might be blown down, but I do not think there is a substantial difficulty. I hope that persons will be employed who can render a useful service in this connection provided their physical and mental capacities are unimpaired.

I accept the wording of Clause 1 that Arrangements may be made by the appropriate authority and I accept that the Minister does not wish to make them compulsory. I ask for an assurance that local authorities will be stimulated in this direction.

On Clause 1 (4) I am a little concerned about the relationship between the county council and the local authority as the case may be. This is a case where the county council will be responsible for instituting the patrol, but the non-county borough, or urban district council, may be the highway authority for that particular area. In those cases the non-county borough makes recommendations to the Ministry of Transport about the provision of pedestrian crossings, and the Ministry may accept or reject them as the case may be. Under that system I did not like deciding on a recommendation which came from 200 or 300 miles away that there should be a pedestrian crossing in a particular area.

We are in something of the same kind of difficulty here. I always felt that the decision as to whether there should be a pedestrian crossing or not should be taken as close as possible to the locality affected by the decision. Here we shall be in a position—I fully understand the difficulties of it—in which someone sitting in a county council office in the middle of what may be a large county will be deciding whether there is to be instituted a school crossing patrol in a town perhaps 20 or 30 miles away, in which the highway authority may be a non-county borough or an urban district council.

I suggest to the Joint Under-Secretary for his consideration before the Committee stage whether we should make it mandatory upon the county councils to consult other local authorities in their area before they reach decisions of this sort. The Joint Under-Secretary may tell me that anyone who feels strongly about it may raise the matter with the county council. That is no doubt true, but if a decision has been taken it is always more difficult to get it reversed than for consideration to be given if one raises the matter before a decision is taken. I am not suggesting much of an Amendment, and I have no strong feeling about it, but I would ask the Joint Under-Secretary to consider between now and the Committee stage whether it should be made mandatory on county councils to consult other local authorities in their areas.

Turning to the question of the uniform, I put it in the mind of the Joint Under-Secretary that he should avoid being too meticulous under Clause 2 (3) in prescribing the uniform. I remember when I was at the Ministry of Transport that because Regulations had been made prescribing exactly what form a pedestrian crossing should take a prosecution would at one time fail if a stud or two were missing. Some clever person is bound to find a loophole if we prescribe exactly what sort of uniform is to be worn. Our legal friends will no doubt find that the patrol has not been wearing his hat or that his Sam Browne or whatever it is is missing, and will be able to get away with it on a point of law. While it is desirable that we should be able to recognise these people clearly wherever we may be in the country, I suggest that we should not be too meticulous in laying down precisely what uniform should be worn by patrols; the matter should be left flexible to some extent.

I agree with the Joint Under-Secretary that there is no point in including the scholar patrol in this Bill. I will say, however, while I have the opportunity—we do not often have the opportunity of talking about these matters, although we are to have another debate next Tuesday—that my experience of scholar patrols in other countries is that they are highly desirable and should be encouraged in the absence of the school crossing patrol. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley), for example, who is interested in this matter, that these patrols do not control the traffic. A scholar patrol has nothing to do with traffic; it controls the children, as Earl Howe made clear in another place. The job of such patrols is to gather the children together and prevent them from crossing the road until it is clear and then to let them go across. Scholar patrols, I repeat, are in control of the children and have nothing to do with the traffic.

People have doubts about whether children are capable of exercising their judgment in this way. They are. Senior pupils do so in many countries today, and are capable of doing so very well. I strongly hope that in places where we are not to institute one of these school crossing patrols schools themselves will go out of their way to organise scholar patrols, whereby senior pupils look after the smaller ones and allow them all to cross the road together, these scholar patrols being in position five minutes before school opens and for five minutes after it closes.

Generally speaking the behaviour of our school children on the roads is better than that of their parents. For that we are indebted to the excellent work that has been done in training them by the schoolteachers, who, as I know, have since 1945 paid a great deal of attention to this work; and also to the police, who have done invaluable work and made a lasting impression on the minds of many children by going and talking to them about road safety. The standard of behaviour of children on the roads is very high. I hope it will last them into later life; it seems to me that the effect wears off after some time.

I am glad to be able to support the Bill. It is another Measure in the road safety field which we can all welcome. I urge the Minister to stimulate local authorities to adopt its provisions and to start a campaign among them so that they will know what are their powers and duties under the Bill. I wish him all success in the speedy enactment of this legislation.

2.45 p.m.

Colonel J. H. Harrison (Eye)

I am sure that any Bill introduced in this House to try to stop many of the accidents from taking place is welcome on all sides of the House. It seems to me that a Bill can be of two kinds; it can either be positive, that is something which removes some factor which is causing accidents on our roads, or it can be negative in the sense that it places greater restrictions on those who are using the roads. I am a little sorry that the whole of this Bill is rather negative.

I should like to ask my hon. Friend whether or not he has considered, in this very necessary job of getting our children safely to school, whether it would be wiser and cheaper in the long run to build, on the larger trunk roads, either light bridges over them or subways under them. That might sound rather extreme but, in the case of the railways, at practically all stations now we have to use either a subway or a bridge if we wish to cross the lines. I remember as a small boy being taken straight across the line. Today it is safer for a child to cross railway lines than to cross our main trunk roads. After all, in most cases a train keeps to the rails and comes in only one or two ways. If we are to spend a sum, which we do not begrudge, of nearly £500,000 per year without getting anything of a positive character for it, I offer the suggestion that if some of that could have been diverted towards the construction of subways or bridges which would be permanent and would not require any one to be in attendance that might in the long run prove to be safer.

In the second case also there would be no check on a great deal of our traffic on those roads. It is wise to remember that in the morning, when children are going to school, a great many people on cycles, motor cycles and in motor cars are going to work and lorries are transporting goods needed in our manufacturing industries. I entirely agree that road traffic does not mind pulling up but the diminution of the effort of the country as a whole should be borne in mind.

My hon. Friend said that the chief constable may be consulted in the training of these school patrols. I should rather like it to be provided that he must be consulted. It is important that the chief constable, the person who is chiefly concerned about traffic control, sees that these patrols are properly trained. I have seen, as we all have, a number of these patrols operating. Most of them are good but some come out in rather a tentative manner and not with the full assurance of the policeman. It should be impressed upon them that they should not take the children across in driblets, continually holding up the traffic, but should take them across in batches.

Turning to the patrols themselves, I would ask whether these men or women are to be recruited entirely from those who are not doing full-time work elsewhere. I am thinking of people who are retired or disabled. This is a job for the discharge of which we should not take able bodied men and women away from industry or agriculture.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

Or from the police force.

Colonel Harrison

This is a job which would be welcomed by pensioners, and I should like an assurance that no able-bodied people are being employed, unless it be teachers, although it is possible that teachers may have been specially excluded from being so employed.

We have seen these patrols operating in white coats rather like those used by the police force. If my hon. Friend is thinking of a standard uniform I would refer him to the white capes worn by the French police when controlling traffic. When I was in Paris last year—I was there on a Parliamentary delegation—I was struck by the ease with which one can see the French police in their large white capes. Perhaps something on similar lines could be provided for these patrols, and which could be put on over other clothing. Not even the legal profession, I imagine, could argue much about the exact detail of it.

I welcome the Bill, though I wish more of it could have been positive. I am sure it will have the good wishes of those who use the roads.

2.52 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)

I recall that it was in the recent debate upon the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) that a promise was given of the intention of the Home Office to introduce a Bill of this kind It will be welcomed in my constituency.

I am glad to see present this afternoon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) who was the Minister of Transport with whom my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) and myself discussed the serious situation which arose as a result of several fatal accidents in my constituency, and especially on the famous Birmingham-Wolverhampton by-pass road. Today most by-pass roads have lost their original usefulness because building has been carried out on both sides. Children and their parents have to cross these roads, either to go to school or on shopping expeditions, and unless something is done along these lines parents will demand that much more vigorous measures be taken, because this slaughter of children cannot go on without the social conscience being roused.

I noted with pleasure the statement of the intention of the Home Office to increase the number of mobile police patrols. It might well be better if the Home Office and not the Ministry of Transport, were the Department concerned with the road accident problem. There does not appear to be that "motor mentality" at the Home Office which seems to exist at the Ministry of Transport.

The Joint Under-Secretary was not so specific in referring to the position of the police regarding recruitment and administration of these school crossing patrols. I read the speech of Lord Lloyd in another place and I gather he indicated to Lord Lucas that the police would be responsible to the Home Office, in conjunction with the county authority, for the recruitment, organisation and administration of these patrols. I hope that is the intention. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) that it would be a good thing were that so.

I am glad my hon. Friend referred to remuneration. We would like to know what the Government have in mind concerning it. The Exchequer will figure to the extent of not more than 50 per cent. of the approved expenditure, and in those circumstances a fair wage resolution becomes an important matter. I hope the Home Office will give a lead to local authorities so that there may be complete uniformity about how these people shall be paid. I suggest they be brought within the purview of the National Joint Council for local authorities' non-trading services, who would be the appropriate negotiating body to determine their rates of pay and conditions of service.

I know that this is a Committee point, but the Joint Under-Secretary will appreciate that these people will be working during inclement weather and I hope their uniform will include some protective clothing. With those observations, I extend whole-heartedly my congratulations to the Home Office for introducing this Measure.

3.0 p.m.

Mr. Henry Brooke (Hampstead)

This Bill seems to me a happy prelude to the more far-reaching debate which we are to have next Tuesday. I hope that a Measure on these lines will reach the Statute Book as soon as possible, and I think the whole House will be glad if, through the operation of this Measure and through the keenness of everybody concerned, better arrangements can be made throughout the country to secure the safety of children going to and from school.

The only point which I wish to raise is a London one. As I read this Bill, outside the Metropolitan Police district the responsible authority will be the education authority, but inside the Metropolitan Police district it will be the Commissioner of Police. Within the County of London, we have a rather peculiar situation, in that the London County Council is the education authority, whereas the Metropolitan borough councils are the local authorities in the strictly local sense but have no educational powers.

I am anxious that any action that needs to be taken, and any local improvement that has to be made, shall be brought about with as little delay and circumlocution as possible. I can imagine a group of people, parents or others, in a particular neighbourhood wishing to make representations about a school crossing patrol affecting their children or neighbours, and yet wondering to whom they should address their representations. They will probably think first of the London County Council as the education authority, but though my hon. Friend mentioned the Metropolitan borough councils I think he did not mention the London County Council, which has the most vital official interest in the welfare of the school children.

Alternatively, a group of people like that might communicate with their local town hall, and very likely that would be the best course for them to take; but in London the local borough council is not the responsible authority under this Bill, although I think every Metropolitan borough council has its own road safety committee, which would probably wish to express an authoritative opinion on any suggestions or criticisms made.

Thirdly, the group of people whom I have in mind might make their representations direct to the police, either at Scotland Yard or the local police station. This, I imagine, would set in train a certain amount of correspondence when the police consulted the Metropolitan borough council, possibly also consulting the education authority, and, finally, these opinions and reactions would come back to the police, who would decide what to do. My one concern is that at some stage—not necessarily today, because I realise that this is a difficult question to answer at short notice—an authoritative statement should be made giving guidance.

I am perfectly well aware that in the borough of Hampstead, in the first instance, people will write to their Member of Parliament about this, as about every other subject; but there may be constituencies where people have greater inhibitions about writing to their Members of Parliament than have the people in my borough, and in any case it is not necessary that Members of Parliament should be brought in about every detail if there is perfectly good working machinery of which people can make use. If in the near future we could have some authoritative statement on these lines, it would facilitate the operation of the Bill.

3.4 p.m.

Mr. Ralph Morley (Southampton, Itchen)

I am certain that both sides of the House will welcome this Bill, and that the people of this country will also welcome it, because we must do anything that will arrest the dreadful toll of life and limb on our children through road accidents. During the last two decades of my experience as a practical teacher, I did not teach in a single school in which there was not one or more children who had suffered the loss of a leg or an arm, or had had inflicted upon them very serious and life-long injury, as the result of accidents on the road.

This little Bill merely gives legislative sanction to, and enforces administrative tidiness upon, practices which are well known and in use by many local authorities. I believe that more than half the local authorities in the country have formed school patrols. We should be glad of any encouragement which this Bill gives to induce all the local authorities concerned—the county councils and the borough councils—to form these school patrols.

I do not want to look a gift horse in the mouth, particularly one so excellent and attractive as this, but I should like to have one or two assurances from the Minister as to the composition of these school patrols. In another place it was said that it would be a good thing if the patrols were composed of school children, and to my deep regret my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) seems to favour that idea. He instanced the fact that these patrols were successful in other countries, but the transport circumstances in other countries may be very different from what they are here.

Denmark, where they have such school patrols, is a flat country, without the slightest sign of a hill or eminence of any kind. It might be easier for juveniles to work the school patrols in those physical circumstances than it would be here, with our winding lanes and hilly roads. I am quite sure that in most places the proposition to have patrols of school children would meet with resistance from both parents and teachers.

It would be resisted by parents, because they would not feel that they could safely trust their children to the guidance of merely older children. It would be looked at askance by teachers, because if an accident occurred to a child whilst it was under the guidance of one of these child patrols the teacher might be held to have contributed to that accident by his negligence in not having properly supervised the child patrol which was supervising the other children, and he might find a law action brought against him, involving him in heavy damages and costs. I therefore welcome the Minister's statement that there is no intention to use school children as school patrols.

The hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) thought that teachers might do this work. I hope that there is no thought in the mind of the Minister or any other responsible person that teachers should be called upon to do this work. They have enough extraneous duties already which prevent them from carrying out their proper duty of teaching, without having a further extraneous duty this sort inflicted upon them. I hope that the Minister will give a definite assurance on that point.

I must say fairly emphatically that if any attempt were made to force teachers to do this work it would meet with very strong resistance from the teachers' organisations. It is not merely a vague apprehension that teachers might be asked to do this work, because a short time ago, in referring to the administrative memorandum issued by the Ministry of Education, which urged local education authorities to undertake the work of instituting patrols and safeguarding children crossing the roads, the Retford Rural District Council circularised all the other local authorities in its area asking them to insist that teachers should do the work of patrolling the children, because that would be cheaper. Those of us who know the opinion of teachers feel that there is same little danger that they may be called upon to do this work. I hope that the Minister will give a very firm assurance that there is no intention that they should be so called upon.

It seems to me that the best people to form these patrols would be old age pensioners, if they were healthy and had reasonably good eyesight. It would at least enable them to add something to their present rather unsatisfactory pensions. We might employ housewives, who would be willing to devote some of their spare time to this work, in order to add to their household money. From disabled people, old age pensioners and housewives, we could find people who would be most appropriate to form these patrols.

I agree with the Minister about standardised uniforms. They are very desirable so that motorists coming from other parts of the country will recognise a school patrol and will take notice of it. That will also be the case with foreigners who are in this country for a motoring tour. The uniforms should be simple, but standardised and plainly recognisable by motorists. I hope that the signs to be used will be light so that women can use them, and be standardised so as to be recognisable by motorists. The Bill is welcome, and I congratulate the Minister upon the lucidity and brevity with which he introduced it.

3.12 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Bucks, South)

I too welcome this excellent little Bill to which many of my hon. Friends have contributed by their efforts in the past and not least my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls), who is not able to be here today. If I spend a few minutes in critical observations it is only because I think that the general merits and excellence of the Bill are not matters of controversy.

Firstly, I wish to re-enforce what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Colonel Harrison) on the training of the patrols. The Bill is primarily for making it an offence not to stop when a school patrol orders one to do so. Clause 2 is surprisingly absolute in its terms. When a person is required by a patrol to stop he has to stop. There is no qualification about there being a reasonable distance, as I believe there is in the Pedestrian Crossing Regulations. If the Clause remains in this form it is particularly important that the school patrols should be carefully trained, in co-operation with the police, so that they will know what it is practicable to ask the motorist to do.

I hope, however, that the Bill will be altered in Committee and that the motorist will be required to stop in a reasonable way, and not regardless of the circumstances. As the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) has pointed out, many of the roads over which school-children pass were constructed as by-pass roads and are de-restricted either by special Orders or because they have not the necessary street lighting. Traffic is entitled to drive along them at considerable speed, and school patrols should be people who will exercise their functions responsibly and with due regard to the conditions of traffic. In relation to that I would make these two further points.

First, about the uniform. It is very important that a standardised and recognisable uniform should be produced as soon as possible, and I should say before the Bill comes into effect. If we are to create the offence of not stopping on an order by a school patrol we must make the school patrol identifiable as such by the person by whom the offence may be committed.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) suggested that these considerations were not important, but, with respect, I disagree with him on that. It is quite true that the ordinary motorist is not bothering whether a patrol is an official patrol or not. If there are school-children crossing the road, traffic is held up, and the ordinary motorist will stop, but when we pass a law such as this with penal consequences we are not providing for reasonable people behaving in a reasonable manner, but for the odd occurrence when someone behaves unreasonably.

I think the motorist is entitled to know when he sees a school patrol that this is that person of whom an Act of Parliament has laid down that he is entitled to issue orders to traffic, disobedience to which will be punished. In as much as these uniforms have been considered over a very considerable period I think they could be introduced very soon. Indeed, I remember a photograph of my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough in the Members' Cloak Room showing him in the uniform of one of these patrols as much as two years ago. So the matter has been under consideration for a long time, and I think it ought to be possible to have it decided before the Bill comes into force.

The same consideration applies to the prescribed sign in Clause 2. The Bill at present virtually says that any sign which the Secretary of State approves shall be a prescribed sign. I shall not dwell on this for it is primarily a matter for Committee, but the Bill at present does entitle the Secretary of State to make regulations prescribing the sign and then says that if the sign does not comply with the regulations and the Secretary of State approves it, it shall be deemed to be a prescribed sign. That brings us back to the same point, that the motorist is entitled to know, when he sees the school patrol with the sign, that he is seeing the approved sign, and he ought to be able to recognise both the patrol and the sign. That is only fair when we are providing a criminal provision such as this.

Frankly, I do not see any time difficulty about it. Both of these matters have been under consideration for a long time, and I think it ought to be possible for the Secretary of State to decide on them before the Bill comes into force. I hope that with these alterations that could be made on Committee stage this Bill will rapidly take its place on the Statute Book.

3.19 p.m.

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)

This Bill has been described as a negative Bill, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) seemed to hold the view that only by spending a lot of money on bridges and subways could we adequately deal with the problem; but that attitude seems to me to be fallacious. Personally I welcome this Bill, as every other hon. Member does, and I regard it as a positive contribution to the solution of the problem.

I regret that it is rather limited in its scope. As the Joint Under-Secretary of State pointed out, it concerns power to be given to school patrols, as they are called, within certain hours. These powers can be exercised only within those hours and, apparently, only when children are crossing a road. Furthermore, the children have to be crossing that road on their way to or from school. Therefore, the power given to the patrol is extremely limited.

Only this morning, I witnessed a school patrol, as in due course it will be officially designated, hold up a banner to allow an aged and infirm lady to cross a road. Under this Bill that would not be a lawful act, because, as I read the very limiting phraseology of the Bill, the power of the patrol is limited to seeing safely across the road school children, and these children have to be on their way to school or coming away from school. Therefore, I regret very much that these very limiting words have been used. I think that the Parliamentary Secretary might consider at another stage of the Bill if he can widen the terms of it.

In many of the cities of this country, and certainly in London, one witnesses on a Saturday morning strings of children crossing a road at a particular time. They are not going to school nor are they coming away from school; they are going to a cinema as members of one of the juvenile cinema clubs, and a police officer, in most instances, has to be available to conduct these children across the road to the cinema and his presence is again required when the cinema show has finished and the children leave. I cannot see why these patrols should not be empowered to conduct these children to and from the cinema when they are moving at set times in numbers.

Again, it is doubtful, as I read the Bill, whether or not a patrol will have power to conduct children to and from school during the school vacation. There are in London and, I believe, in other large centres school play centres to which children go in the holidays. They move across the roads in numbers at stated times to attend these school play centres. I am sure that members of the legal profession could argue if necessary that children proceeding to a school play centre are not actually going to school. I suggest that it might be considered whether or not the wording could not be widened to cover such a case.

Then there are the Sunday schools. Whether the wording of the Bill would cover children moving across a road to go to a Sunday school on a Sunday afternoon I should not like to hazard a guess. It may be that in these days children are not going to Sunday schools in large numbers. On the other hand, there may be some parts of the country—and London is not a good example of attendance at religious assemblies—where children do move across roads to attend Sunday schools, and, from my reading of the Bill, I am doubtful whether a patrol would be able to give assistance in such cases.

Most of the points I have made are Committee points, and I appeal to the Minister to give consideration to them with a view to making this Bill a little more valuable than it is.

3.25 p.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

I wish to add a few words in support of the Bill. We must all have been impressed when my hon. Friend gave us the figures for the casualties among school children. They work out at about three for every two school working days.

The first means of reducing casualties is the excellent education in road behaviour given to the children in the schools these days, but despite that, I cannot help feeling that the framers of the Bill are a little optimistic when they talk about the patrolling of places where children cross roads. We all have experience of the fact that, in spite of the safety education given to them, school children still cross roads wherever the spirit moves them. We know that the Home Office have in mind a regular crossing outside a school, but they do not say so. It may well be that outside every school there should be a proper pedestrian crossing covered by the appropriate regulations.

In addition to that, there should be a school patrol, for which there is now to be proper legal force. If we are to provide legal force, we must be careful about the instruction that we give the patrols. We are told that the sign which they will carry will be similar to a halt sign. Is it to be lit at night? The regulations will be in force until 5.30 p.m. That is of little importance at this time of the year, but in the winter months there will be some period of darkness during which the patrols operate, and perhaps in some dark spot opposite a school a motorist, with the best will in the world, may not see an unlighted sign.

Much has been said about the standardisation of the uniform which the patrols will wear, but nothing has yet been said about the standardisation of their behaviour in exhibiting the boards. One sees some patrols holding the boards upside down and then suddenly putting them the right way up when they wish to exhibit them. Others hold the boards up all the time. Some hold them at right angles to the traffic and twist them round when they want to stop the traffic. Others walk boldly out waving the banner in front of them. If conduct is to vary according to the whim of the patrol, motorists will be in very great difficulty.

I support the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) that the definition in Clause 2 (2) is too short. If we are to make it an offence for traffic not to stop when a sign is shown, we must also take care that a sign shall not be shown without motorists being given a reasonable opportunity to stop, on the lines of the provisions about pedestrian crossings.

I support the Bill, and I hope, as I am sure all other hon. Members do, that it will further reduce the appalling rate of casualties, particularly among children of school age. Anything that will help to do that will certainly have my support and, I am sure, the support of all other hon. Members.

3.29 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

Anything that will help to diminish road casualties, especially among the school population, is to be commended, and that is why this Bill will go through without too much opposition

One thing has struck me in considering the Bill. It is a Bill to authorise the employment of persons other than police constables to guide children to cross the road to and from school. Nevertheless, Clause 1 (5) seems to indicate that it would be possible for a local authority which is not very keen about the matter to arrange with the police to continue to provide police protection to enable children to cross the road. It is laid down that the local authorities may enter into an arrangement with police authorities for the purpose of carrying out the object of this Bill. I think it would be most unsatisfactory if that were so. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will make it clear that the place for a policeman is on the beat, to counteract crime. It should be possible to have the duties envisaged in this Bill carried out by school patrols and not by the police force, which ought to be engaged on other duties.

The second point I want to make is that the London County Council and possibly the Middlesex County Council, the area of which is almost entirely covered by the Metropolitan Police district, are the only two county authorities in the country which are not authorised bodies within the meaning of this Bill. Even the County of Rutland is given a special place which enables it to make the necessary arrangements for school patrols.

The London County Council is the largest local authority in the world, but it is given no status in this Bill. I hope that the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) will take note of that fact. He made some reference to it in a manner more indirect than I am doing now. I should like to see the London County Council and the Middlesex County Council recognised in the Bill to a greater extent than is the case now. The authority for London is the Commissioner of Police, except for the City of London, which has a school population which is negligible. I think there are almost more members on the County Council than there are children going to school within the City of London area. It is rather ridiculous that the City should occupy a more privileged position within the Bill than the London County Council, which is responsible for the education of some 400,000 children.

I hope it may be possible for the Government to recognise the special position of the London County Council and the Middlesex County Council, and not relegate them to an inferior position to the City of London, which has virtually no schools, no education officer and a very small school population. These are points which can be cleared up at a later stage, and I join with other hon. Members in giving this Bill my blessing.

3.33 p.m.

Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isleworth)

It is a great pleasure to support a Bill which has the backing of the whole House. I should like my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State to deal with one or two questions when he replies. First, what will be the difference between the situation at the present moment and the position under the Bill in the County of London? In Heston and Isleworth we are fairly well satisfied with what has been done by the Commissioner of Police, but there are a number of cases where we have made applications for school crossing patrols and they have not been granted. Will it be any easier to get patrols in future than in the past? I was sorry to hear an hon. Member opposite say it will not be any easier, but one would hope as a result of this Bill that it will be.

The next point I want to raise concerns the power of the school crossing patrols. They have power to exhibit the sign and, if it is not obeyed, then an offence has been committed. Who pulls up the motorist? I presume the school patrol will not have the power, but that it will still remain with the police. It will be interesting to know whether that is exactly the situation. Here we have the case of a penalty being imposed and certain powers given to people, but who can enforce those powers?

Finally, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not accede to the request made earlier by an hon. Member on this side of the House that the money should be spent on bridges and subways. The experience of those built in my constituency is that they are not used by the young, who are too lazy, and they are not used by the old, who are mostly too infirm and decrepit to be able to use the stairs. Otherwise, I have much pleasure in supporting the Bill.

3.35 p.m.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I want to thank hon. Members in all parts of the House for the way in which they have received this Bill. Many of the points raised can, I think, be more appropriately dealt with in Committee. I am not complaining that they have been raised, because it is useful to know in advance the kind of points which hon. Members have in their minds.

I agree with the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) who said that this Bill helps the motorist. It is my experience that the removal of doubt is one of the most useful things for motorists. The hon. Gentleman asked who is to fix the rates of pay and conditions of service of the patrols and that question was also asked by the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle). This is entirely a matter for the local authority by which the patrol is employed. That has been the position hitherto and it will continue to be so. The Bill is an enabling Measure. It will enable a local authority to make such agreement as it may with those whom it intends to employ for this purpose.

Mr. Moyle

I hope, in view of the fact that in some measure the Exchequer are financially responsible for this service, that the Home Office, with them, will see that uniformity will apply in respect of payments to these people wherever they are employed?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. I can tell the House that there has been no suggestion hitherto that the conditions of service of the patrols are unsatisfactory.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East referred to Subsection (4) of Clause 1, which deals with the relations between the county councils and the subsidiary authorities. The position is that somehow the relative interests of those two sets of authorities have to be reconciled. On the whole the Government feel that the line drawn in Subsection (4) is the most satisfactory compromise available. It may be that this matter can be discussed further in Committee, but although clearly both the county councils and the subsidiary authorities would like more, the compromise is as fair a one as we can get.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) suggested that it might be better to build bridges and subways. That is not a matter with which I can deal here, but however many such bridges and subways are built, there will still be many places where these patrols are necessary. He asked whether they would be recruited from those who are not engaged otherwise in full-time work, and other hon. Members raised similar points. Again, the choice of men and women for this work is entirely a matter for the local authorities. The Bill does not prevent them from employing any class of person they may choose, but clearly they must choose those who are suitable having regard to local conditions.

It might be suggested that it would be a good thing if the patrol were limited to disabled ex-Service men, but their very disability may disqualify them in certain circumstances. I understand that one of the most satisfactory classes of persons to provide these patrols are young married women, and it may be that a large proportion will be found from amongst them.

The hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen referred to the dangers of by-pass roads. I assure him that I appreciate those dangers. No one could be Member for Hendon, South, with five such roads running through the constituency, without realising the value that these patrols are likely to have in areas traversed by these by-pass roads.

I should now like to answer a specific question which was asked by the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) about Clause 1 (5). I am afraid he has misread that Clause. It does not enable anyone to employ the police for these duties. The purpose of the subsection is to enable a local authority to make an arrangement with the police authority to train and organise the patrols and so on, but not to employ policemen in these duties. As I explained, the secondary purpose of the Bill is to free the police from such duties in order that they may be better employed elsewhere.

The hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen spoke of the position of the police. The responsibility in this matter must be placed somewhere. We have thought fit to put the responsibility in the first place on the local authorities specified in the Bill, and then make provision first of all for them to listen to the representations of other authorities, and secondly for them to delegate to police authorities. I think that is the most satisfactory way of dealing with this matter.

My hon. Friends the Members for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) and Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) both referred to the importance of training. I entirely agree with their remarks, but I would remind them that this service has not been in existence for long. I have no doubt that in due course a system, and perhaps a standardised system, of training will grow up, but I do not think that that can be properly dealt with under the Bill.

Mr. Callaghan

May I ask the Under-Secretary of State one question? Will he or the Minister of Transport bring this Measure, when it becomes enacted, to the notice of other local authorities and stimulate them into adopting these patrols?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the importance of stimulating interest and activity in this connection, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will certainly consider his suggestion. Whether his suggestion is the best way of dealing with the matter, I am not sure; but I agree that our purpose must be to stimulate interest and activity, and we shall certainly do what we can. We will deal in Committee with the other points which have been raised; in the meantime, we will give them very close attention. Having regard to the favourable reception which the Bill has had, I hope that it will now receive a" unanimous Second Reading.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Committed to a Committee of the whole House—[Mr. Wills.]

Committee upon Monday next.