§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
The Opposition have set aside this day to give the Government an opportunity of stating their policy in relation to a number of matters concerning roads. If the House approaches the debate with a slight feeling of nausea I can well understand it, because we have discussed transport ad nauseum for the last 12 months, but it has been a limited aspect and, from the point of view of the Opposition, a not very profitable Measure that we have been discussing—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—nor very profitable for the nation, if hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to take up that point.
We have asked for this debate now because we want to focus attention on a matter which is more particularly the responsibility of the Government and of the Minister of Transport, namely, road policy generally. I want to submit my observations to the House in three parts. First, I should like to ask some questions and to put some views before the House, with their permission, on the general question of the road policy of the Government. Secondly, I should like to submit to the House certain observations in relation to traffic congestion, particularly in London——
§ Mr. Callaghan
Thirdly, I want to deal with the broad question of our approach to road accidents and what action can be taken by this House, and particularly by the Minister and the Government, to lessen the dreadful toll of human life that is taking place at present.
The present policy in relation to road construction is not to permit any. The Minister inherited that policy and he has not changed it. The Government have now been in office for two years and they have carried on a policy from their predecessors which was never particularly adequate and gets less adequate and even less defensible as time goes on. Certainly, when we were in office, the economic pundits, whether of the Right or Left, used to tell us that we ought not to spend any money on roads and both the friends of hon. Gentlemen opposite and also the economic friends who advise us, in their public utterances and private advice are all saying, "Do not spend any money on the roads."
As far as the late Government are concerned, there was great competition for the capital resources of the nation that were available. The competition came from many directions—for the rebuilding of our houses and factories and schools and, on the social side, in relation to the needs of transport itself, such as rolling stock, steel mills and all the investment in agriculture that took place immediately after the war as a result of the backlog that had accumulated. It was easy, therefore, for the Government to accept the advice of both Right and Left at the time that they should not spend money on the roads.
As I understand the attitude of the Government now, it is that the call on our capital investment is not as great as it was. Indeed, it would be surprising if there were such pressure or such urgency, for the war has been over for eight years and a great part of the capital investment whose backlog had accumulated has been overtaken. While there is still considerable pressure on our capital resources, there is no doubt that there is not quite the same pressure as there was during the first year and for three, four and five years after the war.
Do the Government now propose to amend the road policy that has been con- 1110 sistently followed since the end of the war, in order to give roads and new road development a rather higher priority than it has had up to the present time? The economists have had us in their grip up to the present and it is time that this grip was slackened and more money was spent on the roads. We have got to the point where the cost of new roads would be less than the loss we are incurring in efficiency, and so on, by not building them. Therefore, I say to the Minister that we would encourage him to get more money from the Treasury if possible, and a greater share of capital resources than he has had hitherto, so that the miserable figure of£3 million, which was all that was included in this year's Estimates for new construction, should be increased. There is a good economic case to be sustained on those grounds.
There are a number of projects to which the Minister could devote resources if he had them available. Does he not think that the time has come for him to put them in order and to tell us what is in the Government's mind for restarting a measure of road construction? I hope that hon. Members will not feel that I am peddling a purely constituency, parochial or national interest if I place at the top of this scale the road from Birmingham to Bristol and South Wales. That road is heavily trafficked and is a bad road in the sense that as a trunk road it has a 30 miles an hour speed limit for 25 per cent. of its length and comprises throughout almost the whole of its length room for only two vehicles moving in either direction. I believe that that road has a good economic justification for improvement.
There could be, and should be, included as an early priority the Severn Bridge, which would save some 40 to 50 miles—46 miles, I think, is the exact figure—for traffic going from South Wales around to Bristol. A considerable volume of traffic does that journey every day.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I was coming almost immediately to Lancashire and Cheshire—indeed, that would have been my second priority. My hon. Friend has merely anticipated me by half a sentence.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
My hon. Friend should have put the North first. That is where the work is done.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am putting these views to the Minister and I hope he will give us his own. I should have thought that in the order of priority the Lancashire-Cheshire road probably comes second in any reconstruction that ought to take place. The time has come when the economic loss that we are sustaining is greater than the cost of building these new roads, or, at any rate, of starting them.
I see the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) in his place. He, of course, was chairman of a sub-committee that did a diligent job of work on roads when they presented their Report recently to the House. Had I been one of the officials in the Ministry of Transport, I should have been extremely apprehensive in view of the hon. Member's approach. The staff in the Ministry of Transport have been suffering from malnutrition for years, and the hon. Member for Farnham comes along and tells them, "Well, I am not at all sure that you have not been getting a bit too much, and perhaps we ought to cut it down and half-starve you instead of merely allowing you to suffer from malnutrition."
The hon. Gentleman will see that my approach is rather different from his. I understand that the object of a Select Committee on Estimates is to see how economies can be secured, but this only goes to demonstrate how inadequate is an approach of that sort in relation to the investigation of certain topics.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
May I remind the hon. Gentleman that, as I am sure he is well aware, the Estimates Committee cannot deal with increased expenditure or new construction? We were confined entirely to the amount spent on maintenance. It is only fair that that should be stated.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I appreciate that these Committees are not permitted to recommend increases in expenditure, but, equally, I think they are not required to make recommendations which take only a partial view of the situation. I do not wish to criticise unduly the work that was done, because some first-class material was got out of the Report, but I think that the sub-committee perhaps, by their 1112 terms of reference, were restricted to looking at only a very selected sector of the problem.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The hon. Gentleman agrees. This is what I mean. They reached that conclusion, on page XXI, that they hadreceived no convincing evidence of … deterioration of the roads, consequent upon the restriction of expenditure upon maintenance, as would constitute an appreciable danger to road users or a serious threat to the preservation of the value of the roads.…That is a fair conclusion if the assumption to start with is that the roads are fit for the traffic.
A great deal of the discussion has gone on about whether our roads are going back or are being maintained in a state that is fit and proper, neglects something that has been taking place every year since the end of the war: namely, the growth in motor traffic. It may well be that these roads were adequate for the traffic of 1928, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there has been such an increase between 1928 and 1953 that these roads are now carrying a number of vehicles which has grown from 2 million to 4.7 million. The question, therefore—it was outside the hon. Gentleman's purview—is whether, even assuming that the roads are not going back and are not deteriorating, the road system as such is adequate for a growth in the number of vehicles of over 100 per cent.
The Minister will realise how much of his case I am making for him and how I am, I hope, strengthening his hand for a later occasion. But these are considerations which we must all have in mind, and I am trying to expose the case in as fair and objective a way as possible so that we can see what the position is.
I should like to put to the Minister another point on which he can take a decision and get work done, if he has not already done so, even without spending a lot of money. That is, in relation to the Road Research Laboratory.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Dr. Glanville and his staff are doing a first-class job of work down there and are doing it on very little money. I am not in favour of throwing money away on research for the sake of it, but I think that the memorandum that 1113 was put in to the Select Committee on Estimates by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, which the hon. Member for Farnham and his colleagues will remember, showed that for the expenditure of a little more money a great deal could be got from the Road Research Laboratory in terms of dividends. I refer to the memorandum that is included on pages 112 to 118 of the Report, and particularly to the Department's recommendation No. 4 on page 117, in which they suggest that the Road Research Laboratory should get some money in order to embark on full-scale experiments on particular roads.
The work that the Laboratory has done on soil stabilisation, in building and constructing new roads, merits the highest praise from the House. I think that about£250,000 is spent on research every year out of the total road bill of about£75 million. The Report shows clearly that for the addition of another£150,000 investment and 100 staff, they could really be doing a job of research that could mean substantial economies, if the results came out right, in relation to the sum of£75 million that we are spending; and in relation to£75 million,£250,000 on research is not an incredible amount.
§ Mr. Nicholson
The hon. Member is being somewhat critical, but perhaps he would do justice to the sub-committee. We asked for that extra memorandum particularly with that end in view, and I hope he will give the Select Committee a word of praise on that.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I thought I had already said that the Select Committee had done a good job overall. It was the terms of reference which prevented them from making more than a partial review of the whole subject. I certainly re-emphasise that, because I should not wish to attack the work that was done by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. It was a first-class job and it exposed the subject very well indeed. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will regard any comments that I make as indicating a desire to help and not simply a desire to criticise destructively.
I suggest, therefore, to the Minister that here is a decision, which, perhaps, lies in his hands, which he could take, and which it is important he should take. If, as I think, he feels after his experience in the 1114 Ministry of Transport that he is always going to be cut down by the Treasury, it is of vital moment that we should get as much as we can out of the money we get; and money spent on research will, of course, achieve that.
I myself have formed the conclusion that the highway authorities are doing the best they can with the money that is available on the maintenance of roads. They have been quick to take advantage of the work of the Road Research Laboratory, and by lengthening the life of the roads considerably since the end of the war, through the system of carpeting roads that is now used, they have undoubtedly been quick off the mark and have secured the maximum advantage. I believe that a little more money spent on research, as is the view of the Select Committee, in this case could yield us even bigger dividends in that direction.
So much for road policy; I sum up by saying that I hope the Minister will spend more on research as he will have a limited amount to spend on roads at any time. Secondly, the time has been reached when we ought to be making a start on some new projects in relation to our road system as a whole, where there has been nothing done since the nineteen thirties. Thirdly, he should prepare and give to the House a list of priorities and schemes which he would like to see started, and do his best to start them.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
The hon. Member is scarcely being fair to the House and to the country unless he commits his party to a figure. He has been bandying about great schemes—the Birmingham to Bristol road, the Lancashire-Cheshire road, and so on—and is giving the idea that a great deal of money should be spent. Are we to have no figure for it at all? Otherwise, we shall have to consider that the hon. Members' economic "pundits" are still in control of him.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The figures for all these things are well known. An estimate has been prepared for the Birmingham to Bristol road, as I am sure the Minister knows, and for the Severn Bridge and a figure has been quoted for the cost of the Lancashire-Cheshire road. All I am asking is that the Minister should give a picture of what is in his mind in relation to them. So far as the attitude of my 1115 party is concerned, if the noble Lord wishes, I will send him a copy of a new and powerfully written document called "Challenge to Britain," where he will see set out the attitude of the Labour Party to road development. I was not trying to be unfair to anyone, but I thought I was exposing the position in as open a way as possible.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Is the hon. Member not going to tell us how much extra he thinks should be spent this year?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I hope that in summarising I may deal with that. If I forget, perhaps the noble Lord will remind me when I come to the end of my speech.
I come to the problem of traffic congestion, which must trouble the Minister as much as every one of the eight million who live in London and travel there, as well as those who live in other cities. Here, again, is a problem which ought to be exposed. I do not use the word in any denigratory sense, in case the noble Lord jumps to his feet again. It is a problem we ought to consider and on which we ought to get the view of the House. Most of our great cities today are suffering from some form of traffic congestion. I shall not talk of the problems of Cardiff here, but in my city we have a very difficult problem and every hon. Member could talk about his own local problems.
Here, I think, we have responsibility for discussing the problem of London, which, after all, is a national one, not only because so many people live within its confines, but also because the road system of the country is based on the hub of London with radial spokes running north, west and south. The problem of London is undoubtedly one which will give the Minister and succeeding Ministers bigger headaches than almost any other problem. They are suffering in London from the fact that there has been no major building of roads in this city since Kingsway and the Aldwych were finished 40 years ago. That is not true, of course, of the outskirts, but in inner London nothing has been done. By inner London I mean the area north of the Thames, stretching from Vauxhall Bridge, Chelsea, to the Tower, where there has been no major development for 40 years.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I know, but I prefaced my remarks by saying that I think this is true of many large cities. I merely deal with the national capital of England because it is the focus of the traffic system, the hub of the traffic system, of the whole country. I shall deal with Cardiff when we have a Parliament for Wales.
The problem in London is, I think, summarised by the figures which were secured by the Road Research Laboratory regarding the Strand in 1949. They found that 2,100 vehicles per hour were moving up and down the Strand. I am told that since then the density of traffic in inner London has increased by about 14 per cent. and there must be about 2,500 vehicles an hour moving along the Strand at present.
The same is true of many other streets. All of us who were present in London during the Coronation and those who have to move about in London know that London is strangling itself. The knot is getting increasingly tighter year by year. The question is, how are we to untie it? How are the Government proposing to set about it? What chance has the Minister of securing funds to get this job done? The problem will get more and more difficult unless he can tackle it fairly soon.
The Minister has an excellent Report from the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee on traffic congestion, which I know he has been studying. There is no need for us to set out the problem in any great detail. Figures have been produced to show that in the rush hours in the capital of this great country traffic is moving at five or six miles an hour, on the average. Mr. Valentine, of the London Transport Executive, produced that remarkable statistic which showed that if only he could get one more mile an hour out of the London omnibus he would be able to save about£2 million a year. That would not be in petrol, but because more work could be got out of the bus and fewer buses would be needed. As he readily admits, it is a crude statistic, but it is an indication of the magnitude of the saving which could be made with a proper road system.
1117 The London Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee suggest that there are four main arteries in London which ought to be released. It is to this matter that I should like to direct the attention of the Minister and to see what he has in mind about it. First, they suggest that there should be a widening of The Strand between George Court and Charing Cross Station, immediately west of Savoy Street. I walked up the Strand this morning to see what it looked like and I counted 19 buses between Charing Cross Station and the Strand Hotel, all stationary pointing East. Traffic, once it gets around the Aldwych into the funnel of the Strand gets into a narrower and narrower road until it finally debouches into Trafalgar Square.
The Committee suggest that this is the first artery that ought to be unknotted and I think they are right. They suggest that Euston Road should be the second of the East—West arteries, the Strand being the first, and that the North and South arteries should be Park Lane and Tottenham Court Road. This job, I hasten to tell the noble Lord, would cost£9 million to carry out along the lines proposed by the Committee.
The question is: is it worth it? In my view, which I put to the Minister, the time is being reached when we just cannot afford not to do it and a start will have to be made. I am very interested in the proposal of the Report, because we must all have in mind the problem which would be involved in pulling down those vast buildings. Can it be done by what they call arcading—making arcades by gutting the ground floors of the buildings and propping the rest of the building by means of columns?
That would give the incidental advantage to pedestrians of being able to walk under the shelter of some of the buildings and the road could be extended. The pavements in the Strand are about 10 feet wide. We would get two more lines of traffic; and you would not have to demolish those buildings—not that many of them are of great architectural interest, so far as I can see. The relatively minor operation of taking up the ground floor could be carried out. I know that the Minister has been going into this problem and I should like to hear his reaction to that suggestion.
1118 Another problem which must be dealt with is that of car parks. It is estimated that there are 16,000 vehicles on the streets of inner London every day, because they have no home to go to. They suggest there should be an immediate expenditure of£1½ million on constructing underground garages in Grosvenor Square, Berkeley Square, Cavendish Square and St. James's Square. I know the objections to this proposal. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government were quick to express them in relation to the amenities of these squares. I hope that every hon. Member will read the report of the working party on car parks which contains diagrams and pictures drawn by skilful architects depicting what St. James's Square would look like were it replanned in the way they suggest.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I have read the report from cover to cover and in my view not one penny should be spent on it before the problems in Lancashire are dealt with. Is my hon. Friend aware that there are twice as many people living per square mile in Lancashire as in any other part of the country; that the problems in that area are terrible and that they should be given the maximum priority?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am sure that my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to make his own speech and put his own case. This is one of the reasons why I suggest the Minister ought to give us an indication of the priorities he wishes to draw up.
I am here exposing a case which, unlike the case of Lancashire, has been fully investigated, where practical remedies have been devised which should be drawn to public attention, whatever may be the position in other parts of the country. We have all got our share of the problems in all parts of the country, but the fact remains that this is one of the biggest problems in London and it has to be solved, because slowly but surely traffic in the capital is coming to a full stop. If something is not done within the next decade I would not care to say what will be the average speed of vehicles through the centre of London.
Accidents have increased considerably this year. This must be disappointing to the Minister and to his Parliamentary Secretary, whose absence we all regret. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is 1119 unwell and I am sorry to hear it because I know that he has done a great deal in this matter of road safety. But it is the case, alas, that the total of accidents for May was the highest for this month since 1937, and I believe that for the year as a whole the accident figures are 10 per cent. up on last year.
We must take drastic action if we are to deal with this matter. We have tried propaganda for years. In our various ways we have all done our best, by means of propaganda and education, to reduce the problem of road accidents, and so far we have not succeeded. Indeed, the only improvement indicated in the nature of road accidents would seem to be that now-a-days motorists are killing each other more than pedestrians——
§ Mr. Callaghan
That may perhaps be regarded as a slight improvement, if you are a pedestrian. Although I fully accept the view that you cannot attach blame to any one particular section of road users the fact must always remain that it is the motorist who has control of a lethal weapon and, therefore, the greater responsibility must at all times attach to him.
I am sorry to see, from some researches which have been made, that some new cars are, in some respects, not as good as old cars. In regard to rear vision, for example, which is important in the matter of overtaking, and so on, the Road Research Laboratory did some research on some types of new cars. They found that the rear vision was worse on the newer models than on the older models. Although that is something which the Minister cannot directly influence, I am sure he can do something to bring to the notice of car manufacturers the vital importance of having clear vision all the way round. It is not just good enough to have a nice-looking job; it must be efficient.
I am sure that the major problem is that of the roadworthiness of vehicles. I seem to have attracted a lot of correspondence since notice of this debate was given. A number of people have written and have come to see me on the question of road accidents. Among the many letters I have received is this one, which 1120 I opened just as I was coming into the Chamber this afternoon. It is written by a driver of 25 years' experience as a heavy goods driver. In his view un-roadworthy vehicles are the biggest menace for people using them. He says:I would like you to put to the Minister of Transport why the road transport operators pay their drivers at piecework rates or bonus per load or so much per mile, some not taking their boots off from one week's end to the other.As I am speaking in a not very acrimonious atmosphere I shall not give names, but he goes on to say that the people by whom he has been employed for the last three years—I will give the House two guesses as to who they are—set standards of roadworthiness and road safety which he has never known before.
I was interested to read in "The Times" this morning that a check on defective vehicles recently took place at Luton, where 20 summonses were issued against the owners and drivers of vehicles found to be in an unworthy condition. The report says:Superintendent H. J. Woods said that more than 100 vehicles were examined on two days and over 70 per cent. were found to be defective.… Most of the cases arose from defects in braking or steering systems. Immediate prohibition orders were issued against vehicles. Several haulage contractors were among the defendants…
§ Mr. Callaghan
I made that inquiry and I found that there was not a single British Road Service vehicle among them, which is what you would expect. They ought to set a high standard and I am delighted that they have done so. This is one of the reasons why the men feel a genuine anger about the Measure the Government are now putting through. I am glad that the Minister seems to be restarting this practice of on-the-spot inspections. I hope he will develop it. There is no doubt that the spot check is one certain way of making sure people do not allow their vehicles to go on the road in an un-roadworthy condition.
The Road Research Laboratory has done an excellent job of research into the braking performances of motor vehicles and brake testing. I spoke recently to the Road Research Laboratory director and he said that, in his view, 1121 road braking, brake capacity, was one of the most important factors to watch. I should like to hear what the Minister has in mind about that aspect of the problem.
All of us should try to formulate public opinion so that magistrates are far more ready to take away driving licences than they are at present in cases where people are found guilty of behaviour which they should not indulge in on the roads. I recently came across what strikes me as an incredible case, if it is true. It was reported in the "Leicester Mercury" of 30th April, that a lorry driver, who had knocked down and injured an auto-cyclist, and had driven on and failed to report the accident, was fined a total of£21 and his licence suspended for a month. This man had 30 previous convictions. Needless to say, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents had awarded him a medal for safe driving. I only hope that he received it before he got all the convictions.
This is staggering. I cannot believe that the House wants a man with 30 convictions for road offences to be free to parade up and down the roads taking toll of life and limb among his fellow citizens. I believe that the whole House feels that magistrates should be as severe as possible wherever cases are proved of drivers using their vehicles dangerously. The possession of a licence is a privilege, and magistrates should not hesitate to deprive drivers of licences where they are likely to be a danger to life and limb.
The presence of police on the roads is one of the greatest factors for safety. The Road Research Laboratory made an investigation not long ago. They stationed a couple of policemen beside two zebra crossings. The policemen did nothing. They did not direct traffic; they did not take any notes; they did not look anywhere in particular. The effect on public behaviour was quite remarkable. More people used pedestrian crossings than before. More motorists pulled up than hitherto. Generally speaking, the mere presence of the policemen was a remarkable factor in stimulating road courtesy. The presence of more policemen on the roads, more mobile patrols, would encourage a higher standard of road courtesy.
1122 There are many other considerations but I shall not detain the House except to say that the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) asked about the cost of all this. I would say to him that the time has come when we must be prepared to spend more money on these projects. I cannot determine exactly what the Minister can get because it is not my job and I have not got all the figures. In any case, the Minister has to strike a bargain in the last resort. I think that I do my job on behalf of the Opposition, and, I hope, on behalf of the House, if I expose these problems and say to the Minister, "Here is the task and we should like to know from you what order of importance you give to it and what order of priority it should have."
The British Transport Commission are to spend£17 million on automatic train control for British Railways. Had that been in operation ever since 1912 it would have saved 400 lives. The standard of safety on British Railways is incredibly high. Because we have a disaster in which many people are injured at one time, there is a great rush of public opinion. We feel that British Railways must, therefore, spend£17 million on automatic train control throughout the whole system. That control would have saved 400 lives in 40 years.
We are losing 5,000 lives a year on the roads in driblets of ones and twos. When we come to balance where the capital expenditure should go I suggest we have reached a position where the case for additional capital expenditure on roads is overwhelming. We should certainly support the Minister in anything he could get out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer which would go part of the way to ameliorate, or solve even partially, some of the problems I have attempted to outline today.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)
The whole House will be grateful to the Opposition for having asked for a whole day's debate on these most pressing subjects. We are also grateful to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) for the temperate and helpful way in which he made his observations. It makes me not exactly nostalgic for the old days, but I 1123 am very grateful to him for helping to focus this issue in a businesslike way and to command, at the same time, the support and understanding of the House and, later, of the country.
I shall do my best to deal with all the questions he asked. If, at the end of my observations, I have left anything unsaid—and this applies, of course, to any subsequent speaker—my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will deal with it when he winds up the debate. I should like to thank the hon. Gentleman for his reference to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, who has shown a great zeal in the crusade for better manners on the road and for an improvement in the accident figures. I am sorry that ill-health has prevented him being here today, but I hope that during the summer Recess he will be able to continue the very useful work, on which we have all relied a great deal in the past 18 months, of driving round the country, meeting the local road safety committees, and making first-hand reports about what we can do to help in the different localities.
I share the view of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) that, though London is of immense importance, London, as we all know, is not the whole story. I am very conscious of my responsibilities. I have no wish to dodge them even if I could, for they are written into many statutes and they are known to both sides of the House, not least to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South East, who served in the Ministry of Transport, and also to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) who, I understand, will close the debate to the Opposition.
I am, for my sins, the traffic authority for London, but I should like to make it plain that I have nothing to do with London passenger fares. I am the traffic authority for London—for the whole of the London traffic area which covers more than 10 million people. My powers in this field, though considerable, are rather limited. A cook in my house was travelling a few weeks ago in an early morning bus which was going very slowly. She heard an old lady in front, who knew nothing of her iden- 1124 tity, say, "What this bus driver wants is the Minister of Transport on his tail." Unfortunately, my powers are limited and so are the bus drivers' powers, for the frightful congestion in London must be an even greater strain on the drivers who, I think we all recognise, are among the safest drivers in the world.
Elsewhere it is my duty to confirm, modify, or reject sometimes, the traffic regulation orders made by other authorities. In London there is a special machinery which my predecessors will remember. We have the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee. This body has a widespread membership of users, Government Departments, Metropolitan boroughs, the London County Council and trade unions. I refer to this body any regulations before I make them. Of course, the responsibility is mine, but I rarely refrain from acting on the advice of that Committee on day to day traffic matters. As they are the first to realise, some of their recommendations are bound to involve great questions of Government policy involving a lot of expenditure. As in their report of 1951 on congestion, other interests are involved and I am not, in the same manner, able wholly to endorse all they say.
In the field of safety I have great responsibility for road traffic, pedestrian crossings and a host of other things, though the actual enforcement is mostly in the hands of the Metropolitan and other police forces. As the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East reminded the House, I have also under my authority the licensing of vehicles. I share with him the belief that this spot scrutiny, as in Luton, is one of the best ways of identifying vehicles that ought not to be on the road. Whatever the inconvenience caused to the trading community, I am sure that this must be pushed on with with vigour. I am delighted that the whole House agrees with that.
In the sphere of road construction I have a highly difficult task of settling the priorities for the very little amount of money which is available from the Road Fund. I note that Lancashire is well represented and I also see present Members from Staffordshire.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
A great many places have sent requests to me telling really alarming stories not only of the accident rate in their localities, but of the hold-up to local industry—an interference with the pipeline of industry in every degree as severe as an internal block in a factory itself. Under Defence Regulation 56A, it has fallen to me to have to prevent people spending their own money, and this has been about the hardest feature of it.
I am also the trunk road authority, and, as Minister, have responsibility for grants for classified roads. It has not fallen to me yet to open a single road since I became Minister of Transport, but, only a few months ago, when I opened the new Dover car ferry, I was given a gold key on that occasion. A former Minister of Transport who happened to see it in my house said casually, "I have 40 of those at home, given to me for opening roads when I was Minister." It is not in order to add to my collection, but to do something practical to help the transport problems of this country, that I hope that I become as rich in that direction in future.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
May I now, on behalf of Lichfield, invite the right hon. Gentleman to open the Levett's Fields bypass if and when he will sanction that expenditure?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I am sure that Dr. Johnson would have had the proper answer, but I am not sure that it would be wholly repeatable here.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East also gave some very graphic illustrations of the accident position, and I am certain that no one can read these figures and realise the wealth of human tragedy which they show without feeling very distressed, and no Minister of Transport could be anything but continually reminded of the dangers of complacency and the need to do everything we possibly can. After the war, restrictions on motoring—petrol rationing and other restrictions—led to a significant drop in road accidents, but, since the restrictions were eased, and with the astonishing exception of 1952, there has been a lamentable increase in these figures, culminating in the very serious figures for the first six months of this year, in which the casualties—killed and injured—total over 1126 103,000, an increase over the corresponding period of last year of over 8,000.
It is true, of course, that we are still below the accident figures of 1938, when we had a smaller population. Now, we have some 20 per cent. more traffic on the roads, but we are creeping, in the last six months, alarmingly close to that figure, and I think we ought to wait until the end of the year before we claim that we are actually better off than in 1938. Certainly, we are far worse off than we were in 1952. The May figures show 432 dead, an increase of 80 on last year for the same month; June, 407, an increase of 25, and the death roll already in these six months is up to 2,274, an increase of 184 on last year.
It is, I think helpful, when what we can do for the roads is bound to be limited, to break up the accident figures into certain categories and show what all of us can do for the different categories. All road users contributed to this increase, but the main increases in the five months to the end of May were among motor-cyclists, other drivers and, almost the most tragic of all, child pedal cyclists. Pedestrians, and particularly old pedestrians, and passengers show a smaller increase, but still an increase on the figures of last year.
I received a letter today, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman did, asking if we could specify what are the sorts of causes of accidents, and if we could give them in tabular form. The hon. Gentleman knows the difficulty of analysing figures quickly enough to have an impact on the public mind, and it is even then not certain that any one factor is the real compelling factor. Police records show that the following are among the leading causes: Turning to the right without due care; misjudging clearance, distance or speed; careless crossing of road junctions; overtaking improperly; excessive speed, having regard to local conditions; and, in the field of pedestrians, the story is continually one of pedestrians who cross or step into the street, to quote the police phrase, "heedless of the traffic." These faults were probably the most important factors, and well over half the accident returns come under these headings.
If I may now give one or two figures of an analytical kind, in the first five months of this year, there has been a 1127 7 per cent. increase in the number of motor-cyclists killed, a 4 per cent. increase in pedal cyclists injured, and it is possible to analyse even further the extent and nature of the tragedy. Here, I should like to say how grateful we all are to the newspapers for their attitude to this great social evil, and, if I pick out one newspaper, it is not to suggest that most of the others are not doing the same, but the "News Chronicle "sent me the other day a very interesting analysis showing the danger age in the case of children to be between four and seven—before they go into school and get exercised in the drill which is now almost universal or even use controlled school crossings, which I will talk about a little later. The hon. Gentleman's own wife played some part in this direction in earlier days, and he knows that this accident tendency gets better when children go to school.
When they leave school on getting into their 'teens, the percentage grows worse, and so it goes on steadily until we reach the 70s at which the figures are catastrophic. It is, indeed, seven times as dangerous for a person of 70 to go on the roads as a child of 12. It ought to be possible—and sometimes we are doing it—to identify old and rather infirm people, infirm rather than old, by a mark such as a coloured stick like the blind people carry.
The most dangerous age for pedal cyclists appears to be 15, for motor cyclists 25 and motorists 20 or 35. It is a ghastly picture of incalculable loss of the nation's wealth. The road research people are now working on it, and I wish to join in the tribute paid to Dr. Glanville and his staff. It is estimated that£150 million a year is what we lose in injury and accident alone, quite apart from the human loss and misery, which is quite incalculable.
I know that we can produce figures to show that we are not as bad as other countries. The accident rate is rising steadily in a country like Germany, which has very fine roads and an autobahnen system and two million fewer cars, yet more casualties than we have. The rate is also rising in America. It is true that others are worse than we are and that their roads are more dangerous, but that does not absolve us from our duty of 1128 doing all that we can. Everybody, even the most trusted pedestrian, must accept the fact that the rate is the highest since 1938.
The total number of vehicles registered in this country has gone up and quite extraordinary figures are now available for the increases during last year. If hon. Members would care to have them, I will send them these figures, or will circulate them in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but I can say now that, while in 1952 there were 37,000 new cars and motorcycles registered on an average each month, this year, in January there were 47,000, in February 36,000, and, in March 45,000.
It really is the most astonishing figure, showing that the average new registrations for each of the first three months of this year were 43,000, compared with 37,000 a month for last year. That is, of course, before the summer months. Some very interesting research work has been done by a number of economists in this field, and I see in the "Westminster Bank Review" of a recent month a calculation which suggests that by 1965 there may well be over six million vehicles in Britain. At the moment there are under five million, and of these there may well be 3,320,000 private cars.
As I said, we have to try and face up to what we can do and not rely merely, or indeed mainly, on improvement of the roads. I do not deny the value of road improvement, and I will come to that a little later, but I think we would be losing sight of the possibility of what, at any rate, if started now would not result for years if we concentrated too much on the road side. We must search for every possible way of dealing with the situation with the roads only slightly improved—slightly but steadily—from what they are now.
When I point out that the maintenance of our roads has dropped by 15 per cent. in recent years, that we have millions of pounds of work which we have started, such as the Purfleet Tunnel, and have not finished—the most uneconomic expenditure of all—it shows what a tremendous amount is needed for these things, which will not mean new trunk roads or new bypasses, as well as for any other claims that those new roads might demand.
As I said, the problem of enforcement and of giving advice is one for the police, 1129 and I would not entrench on their prerogative or that of my hon. Friend, but I have been reading, rather tardily I am afraid, of the fascinating Lancashire police experiment in the year before the war. It is the report of the Chief Constable of Lancashire on what could be described as a blitz on road accidents in that county—the experimental motor patrol scheme. In one year they succeeded in cutting down the number of killed by 18 per cent. and the seriously injured by 42 per cent., and of children killed by 41 per cent. in one year and of seriously injured by 50 per cent. Up to the war the figures for Lancashire were slightly below the national level.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
That is a very interesting fact, because before the war they were just below the national figure. After this blitz, the figure fell from 5.4 to 2.5 per 1,000. Many problems, not least that of manpower, enter into a repetition of such an experiment, but it shows what can happen when there is an all-out drive in a limited area. This improvement, incidentally, was accompanied by a considerable fall in the number of prosecutions and possibly with an increase in the penalties for those whom it was decided to prosecute.
§ Mr. Smith
This is a very interesting and informative report on the position in Lancashire It is submitted by students of local affairs throughout the country that the women police are doing very good work. When the right hon. Gentleman is giving consideration to the matter, will he consider using women for this kind of work?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
That is a matter on which, I am sure, my hon. Friend will be very pleased to have something to say.
There are certain things in which I have a direct responsibility and there are some quite considerable opportunities open to me, and I am very anxious to take them. There are many people, mostly those who know little about motor cars, who think that it is all a question of speed. I do not think that the House as a whole would take that view. We know that the economic life of the country must be carried on, and there is a strong case, on grounds of economy, for certain types of vehicles whether it be the 1130 three-ton lorry or whatever it may be, going even faster than they do today. We also know that 80 per cent. of the accidents are now occurring in the built-up areas where there is a speed limit of 30 miles an hour.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I have mentioned certain contributory factors, but I think we should be losing sight of what is practical if we pretended that speed was the main factor. There is no evidence to suggest that it is the main factor.
I am constantly being asked, not least by Members of Parliament for North London whose constituencies are cut across by great new bypass roads which have been built to enable people to go faster and so avoid congestion, to impose a speed limit of 30 miles an hour on other roads. I have quite often, in conjunction with local authorities, had to say "No" to requests of this kind. The imposition of a speed limit on a special stretch of road in an urban area is certainly a highly effective deterrent and safeguard, but if over done it will lead to a general disregard of the 30 m.p.h. limit everywhere. If people come to regard it as unreasonable, they are then getting to the mental outlook of disregarding it when they ought most carefully to regard it.
I will give the House some figures. The Dover Road is 70 miles in length and at the moment 41 per cent. of the whole road is restricted. In the case of class 1 and 2 roads in the County of Lancashire, 49 per cent. are already subject to the 30 m.p.h. speed limit. I do not think that in an industrial area of that kind one could, without the clearest evidence, frivolously impose more 30 m.p.h. speed limits. If we include the County Borough of Lancashire, 64 per cent. of all the roads in Central and South Lancashire are now subject to the 30 m.p.h. limit. If we take the trunk roads of this country, 17 per cent. are subject to the 30 m.p.h. limit and of the other roads 27 to 28 per cent.
We have to be exceedingly careful what we do about what could be called a too liberal conception of the 30 m.p.h. limit. But there are cases, of course, where it ought to be imposed and where I hope it will be imposed, but elsewhere it may be that a system of traffic lights, and, 1131 in particular, a system of progressive traffic lights, would be a much more effective deterrent. If they are properly placed, it is possible to check the speed of all vehicles along given stretches.
We know from police observation that traffic signals are 90 per cent. effective. Only a handful of people disregard them, and I would urge those who cry out quite naturally, and particularly where children are concerned, for the 30 m.p.h. limit to think of this alternative. These lights are observed, and the general public have accepted them as reasonable. Incidentally, they are inexpensive to erect and that has helped us quite a lot in a period when money is very short. I am glad to say that this year we are giving an increase of£334,000 from the Road Fund for this purpose making a total of about£840,000 in the Estimates for these traffic lights.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
Could my right hon. Friend explain what is a progressive traffic light?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Progressive traffic lights are so arranged as to check individual cars along stretches of the road so that they do not group together at successive lights, but are held up sufficiently for safety to be observed. I could draw it afterwards for my hon. Friend. I am not certain that I could explain it as simply as I could draw it. Incidentally, the only person who knew exactly how they worked was Sir Stafford Cripps. I once asked him if he had ever found any problem beyond his mental comprehension. He said that that was one which he nearly found too difficult to understand, but that he understood it before he finished with the case.
§ Mr. Maurice Orbach (Willesden, East)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say why, if these traffic lights are so inexpensive, they take so long to erect? I am informed that it would take five to six months to erect traffic lights along a line of roads in which I am interested.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I will certainly follow up any particular hold up of that kind. That is just the value of a debate of this kind. If any hon. Member has a similar case I can assure him that speedy action will be most welcomed in these matters, especially by those devoted officers who, as the hon. Gentleman said, 1132 have felt so frustrated by the failure to get adequate funds in the last few years.
§ Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)
The right hon. Gentleman was talking about built-up areas and the restricted speeds in them, but he has not correlated them with the percentage of accidents. He said that the built-up percentage was 41 on the roads in South Lancashire and 17 per cent. on the roads to Dover. Is the accident rate less there, or not? Does he not agree that the most dangerous idea of the lot is the three lines of traffic, with two white lines? It is the most dangerous in my experience.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I would hesitate to say which is the most dangerous, because everything which may look quite innocent can turn into something dangerous. I did give the figure before, when I said that about 80 per cent. of the accidents happened in built-up areas. I do not think that the figures for any one county are diffierent from those for the country as a whole.
Another thing I can do is to push out the new Highway Code. The Departmental Safety Committee, over which the Parliamentary Secretary presides in my Department, is meeting on the 30th of this month to finalise the Highway Code supplementary material and, I hope, to finalise and endorse the Code as a whole. I will send it to representative organisations, and the way will then be clear to publish it.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I remember that when the Highway Code was originally brought out there was great feeling in this House that we could not amend it. It seems ridiculous that the Minister should be able to send it only to representative organisations, who may amend it. Hon. Members might be given a chance to look at it for that purpose. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give us that opportunity.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
That is a very sensible suggestion. I do not see any reason why it should not be done. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman opposite knows from his experience why it was not done before. I will try to identify Members of Parliament as far as I can with such useful projects.
We have already given a great deal of consideration to a comprehensive driving manual giving elaborate details of the principles of good driving and some not 1133 quite elementary instruction on the working of the vehicles themselves. I would be very interested to hear if hon. Members feel that such a publication would serve a useful purpose. It would be a great deal cheaper than many of the more elaborate trade publications and it could be made to cover a much wider field. This would do something to train people better. We would gladly look at the possibility of publishing such a manual.
I did break up the figures of accident which I gave, and I dealt with motor cycles. There is a very disturbing number of deaths of young people, and 50 per cent. of all the motor cycling casualties admitted to our hospitals are with head injuries. It seems to be an act of sheer lunacy not to wear a crash helmet which, as a newspaper said lately, is built with the British Standards Institute special safeguard and can be bought for the cost of six gallons of petrol.
I intensely dislike compulsion where voluntary action will work, but I have been, and I am still, seriously wondering whether this is not a field where compulsion should be insisted upon. I am reluctant to do it, and not only because of the difficulty of enforcement—anybody who goes on the Great West Road can count the number of young men motor cyclists who have such crash helmets and will appreciate that there is a real problem of enforcement—but because I believe that the lesson can be brought home by example.
The Research Board in their Report a year or two ago drew attention to the fact that more than 50 per cent. of the casualties were head accidents, and that this was about twice as great as the corresponding proportion of seriously injured Army motor cyclists, all of whom wear crash helmets. I would say to parents who are anxious about life in the Army for their young men, that if they were as anxious to make their motor cycling sons wear crash helmets we might get somewhere nearer to the heart's desire.
I am glad to say that on 27th July, that is this week, the British Standards Institute issued their first specification for a crash helmet for everyday wear by motor cyclists. It ought to be a matter of absolute honour for every home in the land where there is a motor cyclist 1134 to ensure that a crash helmet is worn, on all occasions preferably, but most certainly on all occasions when speed may be indulged in.
Another problem with regard to motor cycles is the difficulty of initial training. It is very hard to have people driving alongside a man who is learning to drive a motor cycle on the highway. I would commend through our House and through individual members the R.A.C. and Auto Cycle Union Motor Cycle tuition scheme. It is very cheap. Young men can learn to ride on motor cycles provided by the motor cycling club, and do so off the highway. There are 70 such clubs throughout the country. These organisations deserve every congratulation, and everything that can be done will be done to spread them throughout the country.
Just as I was coming into the House I received a letter from the Ilford Motor Cycle and Light Car Club begging me in the course of my speech in today's debate to instruct all local councils to lay out a suitable piece of ground within their boundaries so that the local motor cycle club can organise an A.C.U. learner-training scheme. I know it will come hard to a lot of councillors and to some Members of Parliament to realise that motor cycling is the way of life of millions of young men, but so it is, and every council should co-operate so that we can have a widespread observance of that scheme.
In regard to pedal cyclists the figures are, as I said, very disturbing. The organised cyclists clubs appear to have a road safety consciousness, and on the whole I think they have done well in very difficult conditions. They have done remarkably well, because it is not among the organised cycling clubs, but the single cyclists or the small party all bicycling together, that the danger lies. I would remind hon. Members of that terrifying picture in the recent book by the Road Economic Research Council, "The Child on the Road." It is one that we should all take to heart. The book shows that it is 30 times more dangerous for a small boy to be out on a bicycle than it is for him to be on his feet. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, that most excellent body which is doing very valuable work, runs a safe cycling school. They give certificates of training and proficiency badges. They would gladly 1135 extend their activities to other parts of the country if there was a local demand. I hope that there will be such a local demand.
I have been asked to make Regulations about pedal cyclists, including one to make the carriage of bells compulsory. This we have decided not to do. Indeed, the Committee on Road Safety did not urge it. After a great deal of thought—because Regulations do not come very easily to me—I have decided to issue a regulation as soon as possible making the carriage of two efficient brakes compulsory on all bicycles, whether old or new. I am sending the proposed Regulation to the interested parties to examine.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I only want to bring out the full facts. I am sure that the Minister is aware of this problem in relation to child cyclists. He referred to the report of the Research Council. The Council asked what the child cyclists did to put themselves in danger. They answered the question by saying that two-thirds of the injuries were caused when children were just going straight ahead, neither overtaking nor passing. It seems that there is a joint responsibility for accidents happening to children.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I quite agree. None the less, efficient brakes would be a help to 12 million cyclists. The police, despite their very great and pressing problems of manpower, are in favour of this proposal. The Road Research Council say that the internal expanding brake is very much more suitable, particularly for new cycles. I earnestly ask manufacturers of bicycles to bear this in mind as, in view of the experts, who have tested many types of machine, it may be a prime factor for safety for children, so many of whom have been unnecessarily killed.
Finally, in these various categories there is the category of pedestrians. Some 45,000 to 50,000 road accidents a year are found on analysis to be due to the fault of the pedestrian himself. With zebra crossings, for which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes) deserves the main credit, and with the lighting of the zebra crossings which was decided upon by the present Government, we have done our best to help in that field.
1136 We shall go on in every possible way, but much of the remedy lies in the hands of the pedestrians themselves. They, of course, ought to read the Highway Code and not airily dismiss it, as some do, as if it were only for motorists or motorcyclists. It is essential that pedestrians should know at least the braking distance within which a motor car can stop and the salutary results of what may happen if one crosses too near.
I am considering whether to ask Parliament for some powers to carry out experiments in some form of compulsion on pedestrians at dangerous crossings and elsewhere. We have given a good deal of thought to this matter, because undoubtedly it will need the co-operation of the public. If the public do not co-operate, enforcement will be almost impossible but I think that we have reached a stage in losses of pedestrians which demand a more revolutionary approach.
Last year pedestrian casualties on or near crossings in built-up areas fell by 5,500 as compared with the year before. It may be said that some of this reduction may be due to the reduction in the number of crossings, but the greatest factor undoubtedly was the zebra crossings. Unfortunately, the novelty of the zebras is wearing off in some minds. One cannot have a new idea every year or the public will become bemused. We must get back to having the public regard the zebra crossings as the only safe place to cross.
A number of Private Members' Bills have been of great value in relation to lighting. Curiously enough, most of the legislation on lighting has come from Private Members, including the 1947 Road Lighting Act and the two recent Acts for which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) were responsible. We are increasing the grants for street lighting and authorising expenditure of some£2 million a year. We hope to increase this by over 25 per cent. this year. Those are all ways in which we can help.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, Northwest)
Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House any idea of what has been the effect of the twinkling light?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
It is too early to say, but the police and others in many districts feel that it has been successful. It has not been sufficiently universally applied as yet to secure much value from it, but where it has been applied it seems to be working pretty well.
Other proposals have been put forward by road safety committees and other bodies. If any hon. Members want information about any particular subject and want to know why the Government have not accepted all the recommendations, my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will be very pleased to answer them at the close of the debate. We hope to introduce legislation at a fairly early date on road traffic control matters, and some of the features of these proposals will figure in that legislation.
The last point with regard to accidents relates to the problem of better roads as a contributory factor towards cutting down the number of accidents. I will not quote overmuch of the report of my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson). It is true that he was dealing with maintenance and not new construction, but he said that the safety factor had not been imperilled, or words to that effect, by inadequate maintenance. We all realise that roads are a contributory factor to road accidents. No case disputing that, supported by whatever figures, would be accepted by the people as a whole.
A much stronger case can be made for better roads on other grounds—as part of our national production drive—but nevertheless it is true to say that better roads would undoubtedly cut down the number of road accidents. On this issue I cannot do better than refer the House to some excellent addresses given recently by Mr. C. T. Brunner and the remarkable research work done at Birmingham by Professor Gilbert Walker and Messrs. Beesley and Waters. I have met them more than once and I have found them of great value in their contribution to this and other problems.
Most of the accidents still occur in built-up areas and it looks as if the best way to deal with accidents is not by an ambitious road programme, though there is a case for that on other grounds, but by dealing individually with the thousands 1138 of black spots. Some 80 per cent. of all accidents take place in built-up areas where most of the pedestrians and traffic are concentrated and from which very little of either can be shunted away. If one takes an analysis, such as the most interesting one which the "New Statesman" made a week or two ago, one finds most revealing facts.
In 1951, on a straight road where there was a speed limit the number of accidents all over the country was 52,000. The number where there was no speed limit was 18,000. On junctions where there was a speed limit of 30 m.p.h. the accidents numbered 43,000. Where there was no speed limit the number was 6,000. On cross-roads with a speed limit there were 22,000 accidents, whereas on crossroads with no speed limit accidents numbered 3,000. So it looks as if the best way to cut down accidents is not by doing anything spectacular but by tackling thousands of dangerous spots all over the country, such as crossings, roundabouts and so on. It costs£3,000 to eliminate one accident a year on any one black spot, but on purely economic grounds when every accident is costing£500 there is a very good return there, leaving out of account altogether the gain in human rejoicing.
§ Mr. Keenan
Are not the figures which the Minister has quoted, showing fewer accidents where there is no speed limit, due to the fact that where there is a speed limit the area is built up and there is a concentration of population whilst the population in the areas free of speed limit is dispersed?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The point that I was making was that there is a mass of population in the built-up areas and they cannot be diverted because they live and work there and therefore we have to concentrate upon improving safety measures in those areas.
We are trying to concentrate first and foremost on the black spots and this year and last year grants have been£3,250,000 of which£2,500,000 have come from the Road Fund. Some 80 per cent. of this has been now committed. I hope that the plea that I now make for a reduction in accidents is more effective than the plea which I made when I was first appointed the Minister.
§ Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
Will the right hon. Gentleman not agree that we have come to a stage where we have reached road saturation and we may have to impose a limit on the number of vehicles that can be allowed on the road?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I should like the hon. Member to start working out the privileged classes under such limitations. I have heard it said that if only those who have paid for their own motor car were allowed in London we might solve the problem. I do not endorse that view, but I hope that I shall be succeeded by somebody else before I have to draw up a list of those who are allowed to have motor cars and those who are not.
There is a very strong case indeed for a road programme, but a much stronger case for a road programme for the improvement of production than for alleviating accidents. As the House knows, the present Government, and their predecessors when the rearmament drive started and a year or two after the very hopeful speech of the former Minister of Transport under the Labour Government, were forced to place severe limitations on capital investment on the construction of roads. It has been argued often that motorists pay a tremendous amount of money and therefore there ought to be a splendid road system, but I do not think that the spokesman of any party now would claim that the yield of motor taxation should determine the level of road construction. The taxation on motorists, like other indirect taxation, is imposed to keep down inflation by restraining purchases and raising the revenue for Government expenditure.
No indirect tax can now be earmarked for a specific item. The problem of deciding how much we are going to spend is a matter of policy. It is also a matter of priority. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East half hinted that there is no longer any great problem. Indeed, we hope that so far as materials are concerned, the situation is improving, but we also have our problem of priorities.
I read lately a phrase to this effect: "To lay down new roads in the Welfare State, we shall have to give up something else." There is quite a lot of truth in that observation. I do not deny that the construction of good motor roads and improvements 1140 in great cities and elsewhere will yield a dividend. On Thursday I am going to Birmingham, where one firm has told me that if there was quite a relatively small loop road made in Birmingham, the Digbeth-Deritend road—not a very ambitious project in terms of pre-war expenditure—this firm alone would save£3,000 a year, the capital value of which is about one-third the total cost of the road.
I read in one of Mr. Brunner's books that a road from Warrington to Keer Bridge costing£12½ million would yield a 10 per cent. dividend in the saving of the cost of vehicles every year of£1,300,000. I do not quarrel with those estimates. We have had to limit Government expenditure and capital investment expenditure; we have had to keep Government expenditure within bounds, and to keep the amount of capital investment limited in relation to national savings. Otherwise, we would have been in a much worse financial position than we are today,
I think the situation is slightly improving, and, while I would not say that we are out of our difficulties in every way in this field, perhaps we could regard the very modest sum now allowed for new construction,£1 million, as the end of the beginning. We now start with Estimates for the Road Fund grant in aid, of£33,131,000 for the coming year, which is£1 million up on last year. I know that costs have risen, but we are in a position to use some of this£1 million for new construction, and that itself is a very dramatic improvement.
In this new construction I have got to remember, as I hinted before, the huge amount of money for the completion of schemes like the Dartford Tunnel which have already started. It might be argued by later historians that the Government ought to spend£27½ million, when they get that money, on completing the larger schemes which we started and have not finished, but I do not suppose that it will work out quite that way. Those are very formidable things to confront any Minister.
In Scotland we have undertaken to spend£1 million in the Highlands in the next three years, and in Wales we are awaiting the Report of the Lloyd Committee in which there has been a great 1141 deal of emphasis laid on roads. I am hoping to be able to be more liberal with local authorities in the working of Defence Regulation 56A, provided the total investment programme is not exceeded. We have laid down plans this year for new construction and major improvements, which will cost£22 million, to be begun next year or as soon thereafter as resources permit. This programme will go really beyond the black spots and will begin tackling the terrible problem of congestion.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the Dartford Tunnel several times, and Scotland. Does he remember his own experience at 6 o'clock one morning, and is he going to do anything about that?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Lest the House be in any doubt about the occasion to which the hon. Gentleman refers, I should explain that I was in a train travelling to Eccles which was kept standing in the fog waiting for the swing bridge to open. I agree that that problem, with a lot of people being held up, including men working on piece work, will certainly have to be tackled. It is a matter which I am never likely to lose sight of or be allowed to forget.
I shall be interested if hon. Members in the course of this debate will deal with one or two of the suggestions which have been made, including the possibility of toll roads and toll bridges, which ought not to be completely dismissed. Parliament gave powers for the Mersey Tunnel, the Dartford-Purfleet Tunnel and the Forth Road Bridge. Many people hold that motoring pays enormous taxes, but it might be argued that some motorists would be prepared to pay a little more and get a decent trunk road. Anyway, I would be very interested to hear the comments of my colleagues on that thought.
§ Mr. Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend, but may I ask whether he is satisfied that the extra money that he has said he is prepared to allow for roads will cover the increase in costs which is likely to take place?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Of course, in these Estimates there is provision for that sort of thing. The Treasury must take some account of rises in costs, but I am nature- 1142 ally bound by the same considerations as apply to all other Government expenditure when there is a sudden and unexpected rise in costs after an estimate has been prepared.
There has also been discussion about the possibility of a loan and there has been some misunderstanding with the British Transport Commission in this matter. The Harrow disaster, leading as it will to the expenditure of many millions on automatic train control, has not unnaturally led some enthusiasts for road development—and I count myself as an enthusiast—to believe that the railways are in some way receiving preferential treatment.
As most hon. Members know, the Commission have powers under the Transport Act to raise money by floating loans with Treasury authority. This is merely a means of finding the ready money within their own investment programme. It does not in any way increase the amount of investment which they are allowed to do. The investment ceiling applies to them as it applies to the roads. The precise point at which the ceiling comes down either on the railways or on the roads is, of course, a matter of policy, and I am very interested when hon. Members put forward arguments in favour of a higher ceiling for road development.
The last matter with which I want to deal is the problem of traffic congestion, and if I relate it primarily to London, it is because London's experience at the Coronation will be most recent in people's minds. I am conscious that it exists in many other places as well—from Birmingham to Bristol, Lancashire, the Tor Point Ferry to Plymouth with a mile long queue, Queen's Ferry, the Medway, Don-caster Bridge about which the local authorities came to see me last week, Birmingham and many other cities. If I relate this problem to London, it is not because I think London is the only important place.
We have had some slight improvement this year. Motorists in London and travellers in London buses may regard this as almost incomprehensible, but the improvement in London traffic lights has been quite definite and marked. We have been taking censuses. At Piccadilly Circus the delay to travelling is now cut down from 115 seconds at the lights in 1950 to 69 seconds. In the case of 1143 Tottenham Court Road to Euston Road the delay is reduced from 84 to 61 seconds. We are now hoping to introduce a system of these progressive signals in Oxford Street as well. We have also introduced many parking restrictions with the aid of the local authorities, and we are having an experiment prohibiting the loading and unloading of goods on the free side of certain streets.
The result of this has been a slight improvement, and last year London Traffic moved half a mile an hour faster than in 1950. [Laughter.] Lest one should laugh at that modest improvement, I would remind the House of Mr. Valentine's observation that a one mile an hour improvement saves the London travelling public£2 million, and so every improvement is highly desirable. I accept the demand for the four main artery schemes for London, and I hope it will not be long before I can take some token action at least in that field, to the extent of some£9 million or£10 million. We are not in the least opposed to the proposal for arcading, and the new hotel in Conduit Street will have that provision made, but, as has been said, the problem of congestion in London is much magnified by the absence of parking facilities.
I want to thank the Committee on London Parking for their most admirable Report. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South suggested that not one penny should go to London until Lancashire and the other counties had had something done for them, but he cannot have read the Report quite so carefully as he said.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
It was the very essence of the Report that the scheme would be virtually self-supporting. In Mr. Samuel's Committee the very imaginative idea was born of an underground parking system in London, which would be self-supporting. I am most anxious that we should carry this a stage further and have at least a large scale experiment. It must be remembered, however, that a lot of other people have to be consulted. There is the problem of amenities. It is a remarkable fact that a committee with so many interests, including the police, Government Departments, road users and the London County 1144 Council, should have come to an almost unanimous conclusion.
I am not one of those pessimists who believe that if we make better parking arrangements in London we shall increase the London transport problem, owing to people coming into the City who now leave their cars outside. If that is the result we shall have to think again, but I do not think it is anything but a counsel of despair. Anyhow, I am sure that we cannot leave it as it is, and I hope that each individual Member of the House will use whatever influence he has in helping experiments of this kind to be carried on. They cannot be carried out without the good will of the public, both in the building of such garages and their use when built.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South has had a very fair share of the interruptions while I have been making my speech, and I gave him an earnest of my interest in his county by the early morning start I made some months ago. I am fully mindful of the needs of other counties and cities, but we shall not get anywhere if we play one part of the country against another. This is a United Kingdom and, despite the splendid efforts of the police, the parking and other arrangements in this capital city are inexcusably inadequate. The sooner we can do something effective in London, the sooner will its influence spread throughout the country, and other authorities, with Government aid, will be able to follow the good example.
I am very grateful that we have had an interesting debate so far, and I look forward to the speeches of hon. Members on both sides of the House in tackling a problem which we recognise confronts all parties, and deeply involves national survival.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
Is not the right hon. Gentleman going to make any reference to the part played by alcohol in road accidents. Has not he heard of the Lord Chief Justice's complaint?
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Freeman (Newport)
I do not wish to follow the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) on the subject of alcohol, although it plays an important part and should not be overlooked. The 1145 courts do not deal adequately with accidents which are caused by those who take alcohol, but I want to call attention to one or two other matters which have been neglected.
As this matter is a major influence in public affairs, and road accidents now caused 4,000 or 5,000 deaths and between 200,000 and 250,000 casualties a year, some people recommend that a Royal Commission might be set up to solve the problem. The course would be strongly recommended if it were not for the fact that it would take two or three years before we got the Report, and the delay would probably hold up improvements that might be made, but the day will come when a Royal Commission on this matter will have to be set up, and we shall then have all the facts concerning this problem.
It is perfectly true that traffic in this country has increased enormously since 1922. There are now five times the number of cars and other vehicles that there were then, and the density in Great Britain is the highest in the world. That is a factor which we cannot ignore. According to the International Road Federation, although the density of traffic on our roads is 18 per mile, in the United States it is only 17, in Belgium 16, in France seven, in Sweden four, and in Pakistan less than one. We have the densest vehicle population in the world.
Although it is recognised that cost per mile is not the only factor in regard to road accidents, it is well to bear that factor in mind. According to the report of a speech by Mr. Brunner, which has been referred to earlier,£10 per mile is spent on the roads in the United States,£4 in Portugal,£2 12s. in Sweden,£1 17s. in Belgium and only£1 9s. in Great Britain, so, of all the progressive countries, we are probably spending the least per mile. I am sure the Minister would agree that more should be done to improve our roads from that point of view alone.
The case which occurred at the North London Magistrates' Court and was quoted in connection with justice on the roads is borne out by another case of which I heard only recently. In this case the accident was seen by a policeman, and it indicates the disregard which is often paid to regulations for road safety.
1146 A widow, who was the matron of a hospital, was walking along a road and a motorist was seen 100 yards away when she arrived at a zebra crossing. She looked in all directions very carefully, and before this motorist arrived she put up her hand to indicate that she was crossing. The motorist took no notice whatsoever until he arrived within a distance of six yards from the crossing. According to the police constable, he then skidded and knocked into this poor widow, who is now in hospital, permanently injured.
That motorist was fined£5 and£3 4s. 6d. costs for driving without due care and attention. His licence was not suspended, and no further action was taken. For knocking down this poor old woman and injuring her for the rest of her life he was fined only£5. This man had had four previous convictions, one of them only six weeks before this accident. The magistrate had power to terminate his licence, but he did not do so. In such a case much more drastic action should and could be taken by the courts. It makes the public very doubtful whether sufficient is being done by the courts to call attention to cases of this description.
The other case which I want to mention was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). A lorry driver knocked down a person and was fined£10. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents had given him a medal for safe driving. Many people are asking whether the£72,000 which we pay to the Royal Society is being adequately spent and whether that money, or some of it, could not be spent more advantageously. It is true that the Pedestrians' Association, the National Cyclists Touring Club and other associations, together with local authorities, have been called into a general inquiry which the Minister is conducting, and at which evidence is given with regard to road accidents, but all the sums provided in connection with road accidents are passed through the hands of the Royal Society, and it seems that that money could be spent more adequately if other organisations had control of some of those funds.
Another point is the percentage of unsafe cars on the roads. It has been reported that 70 per cent. of the cars on 1147 the road today are not in a roadworthy condition. The same comment applies to bicycles. Unfortunately, a cyclist can do almost what he likes on the roads. He needs no registration and no third party insurance. He is not responsible, except indirectly through the courts, for any accident. He need have no brakes or satisfactory steering. A child of three or four can go on to a road with no previous experience, or a man of 90, and can carry a passenger if provision has been made for that, without any responsibility but causing a good deal of danger to the public.
I wonder whether the time has not come when we should do what is done by many other countries—register bicycles and see that they are in a road-worthy condition, as well as seeing that cars are in a roadworthy condition. We should also place a limit on cyclists, particularly on children who ride fairy cycles on roads where cars are being driven at 80 to 90 miles an hour and where there is no restriction whatever. I was glad to hear the Minister say that he would take cognisance of those facts and would see what could be done to restrict very small children in their riding on roads when they have no experience or responsibility and cause a good deal of danger.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
What I said about pedal cyclists was that we would introduce regulations making the carrying of two efficient brakes compulsory.
§ Mr. Freeman
That is the first step, but I do not see why the whole bicycle should not have to be roadworthy, because steering and other matters are equally important. I think every cyclist should know that his cycle is in a roadworthy condition in exactly the same way as a motorist should know. I am not sure that we ought not to have a registration system whereby, whenever his licence is issued, the motorist would also have to produce a certificate to say that his car is in a roadworthy condition. It would mean that his car would have to be examined at any rate once a year. With 70 per cent. of the vehicles in an un-roadworthy condition at present, it seems that the time is opportune for more drastic action in this direction.
Lastly, I want to deal with a point which has been raised previously con- 1148 cerning the Severn Bridge. This project has been under consideration for many years. At present South Wales is almost an island, and I hope this project will be undertaken and some definite action planned to further this scheme which will bring not only amelioration to the traffic problem of South Wales, which for many years has been one of the poverty-stricken areas, but will also bring amelioration to the whole of West England in solving a traffic problem which is growing more and more acute there at the great expense of all concerned.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I know many hon. Members wish to speak and I shall therefore keep my remarks as brief as possible. I venture to address the House because I was Chairman of a sub-committee of the Estimates Committee which recently produced a Report on roads. I hope that hon. Members interested in the subject will think it worth while to read that Report and the evidence, because an immense amount of interesting material came out of it, and we endeavoured to make the Report a source of easy reference which would contain facts, figures, and tables not easily available elsewhere.
What struck me most about the evidence which we received on the whole subject was how much the subject lends itself to flights of imagination and to building castles in the air, and how very difficult it is to get any definite information. We were criticised for the last sentence of our recommendation in which we said:Your Committee are bound to record the fact that they have received no convincing evidence of such deterioration of the roads, consequent upon the restriction of expenditure upon maintenance, as would constitute an appreciable danger to road users, or a serious threat to the preservation of the value of the roads as a national asset.With all the Ministry of Transport's facilities and those of the highway authorities at our disposal, as well as that of the numerous bodies interested, it was amazing to find that we could not get any sort of table showing the details of the roads in various categories of deterioration. I expected that we should be faced with evidence to this effect, "There are so many miles which will fall out of use in three years if something is not done, and so many miles which will 1149 fall out of use in six years and so on." But we did not get that. An over-all annual survey of the roads was undertaken by the Ministry of Transport a few years ago, collating the reports of the various highway authorities, but that has been dropped on the grounds of economy. We met scores of people and many organisations which said our roads were falling into a worse and worse condition, but not one could produce anything which was not merely an opinion.
In these matters we get a tremendous volume of opinion, but very little factual evidence. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said he is convinced that the time has come when a large investment in new road construction would prove to be economic from the long-term point of view. He may be right, he may be wrong; but unless he can produce some facts and figures to prove that opinion to be correct, then it is merely an opinion which is not worth no more than that of anyone else in the country. I was glad to hear the Minister give certain examples of where definite estimates had been made of the saving to certain businesses or to industry as a whole if certain new roads were constructed.
My first plea, therefore, is for more information about the roads and less vague talk. I am afraid I was left with the impression that a lot of the complaints about our present road system—I am not talking about the lack of new construction but about existing roads-was based simply on imagination. It is an easy subject about which to become very crank-minded. I hope the Minister will listen to this plea by the Select Committee for more information and more facts.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I do not disagree at all with the suggestion that we should get as many facts as we can, but the hon. Member should give attention to the views of engineers who have been concerned with this problem for a very long time and who have said that the foundations of roads which were constructed for light horse traffic will suffer badly over the next few years because of the volume of heavy vehicular traffic which they are carrying today.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I do not think any Committee or serious body of people should pay any attention to things like 1150 that unless they are backed by examples. Some engineers say that, some say the exact opposite. As a Member of a Select Committee of the House, I refuse to accept expressions of opinion and demand factual evidence. These engineers do not produce factual evidence. It can be produced when roads are seen to deteriorate and when they collapse; that is factual evidence. A mere expression of opinion, that a state of affairs underneath the ground on large stretches of road in the United Kingdom is dangerous, is quite valueless to any serious-minded person unless it is backed by physical examples. I am glad the hon. Member raises that point because that is typical of the attitude of mind which pervades the whole of this problem.
I want to turn to the question of accidents. Neither the Minister nor the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East drew quite a fair picture. Nobody does anything but deplore the accidents which take place on the roads. No single accident is necessary, and every human life lost or human being injured represents individual suffering of high magnitude. We must keep our heads about this, however. I want to give the House some figures, I want to consider accidents from two points of view—first, per million of the population and secondly, per number of vehicles on the roads. The worst year for accidents per million of the population was 1941, when 197 people were killed on the roads per million of the population. In 1952 that figure had sunk to 96. Of course the war years were exceptional. In the 10 years before the war, I think, the figures were between 143 and 164 per million of the population, but even compared with that, the figure of 96 in 1952 represents an improvement. I do not think there is any need to lose our heads about accidents.
Let us take the figures per 10,000 motor vehicles on the roads. Again, one of the war years is the worst—1944—when 45 persons were killed per 10,000 motor vehicles, whereas in the last year before the war the figure was 22. In 1952 the figure was 11. Again I say there is no cause to lose our heads, or to despair in face of these figures.
Let me now give some comparable figures with regard to children. In the last year before the war 1,130 children were killed on the roads. The number 1151 rose to over 1,500 in 1941. In 1952 it had fallen to 786. Per one million of the child population, in 1952 the figure was 71. Before the war that figure was always well over 100. Per 100,000 motor vehicles—100,000 this time—in 1938 the figure was 38 children killed; in 1952, 18. It certainly shows there has been an improvement, and while I stress that improvement, it is not in an endeavour to breed an atmosphere of complacency about it, but because I think that when any problem becomes viewed emotionally, in an exaggerated fashion, that militates against a wise solution of that problem. So I think we should try to keep our heads about road accidents.
My view about road accidents is this. Whatever we may call it, bad manners or anything else, they are due to plain, honest to goodness, bad driving. Bad driving is, in the main, cured by only two methods of approach. It may be cured by propaganda and proper training. I know myself that I am a very variable driver. Sometimes I drive very well. Sometimes I suddenly become aware that I am tired and driving badly, and I take a pull at myself.
We all know that as individuals we are all susceptible to propaganda, and I do not think there is enough propaganda. It is not good enough only to make speeches in this House. They may accomplish a good deal, and a good deal can also be accomplished by appeals, and a good deal can be accomplished by letters to the newspapers, but I think we want notices and appeals stuck up on hoardings to people to drive carefully. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) is not here now.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I thought the hon. Gentleman had nipped out for a quick one. I should like to see a propaganda campaign and publicity about avoiding a drink before driving.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I would not say that. Now as to training. I myself have never passed a driving examination. I got a licence before all that, but I think that after a certain age it should be compulsory on everybody, whether he has had 1152 an accident or whether he has not, to pass a driving examination. It would fill me with terror, but I think when I reach a mature age I should be asked to undergo that.
§ Mr. Nicholson
The function of the police should not be mainly to prosecute. They should not be regarded as the enemies of the driver. They should be regarded as counsellors and advisers of drivers. I entirely disagree with people who say we want heavier penalties and more rigorous enforcement of the law. We do not, in my opinion. We want counsel and advice by the police. We want the policeman in a friendly manner saying, for instance, "Look here, old boy, you pulled out in a dangerous place. You should be more careful." It has been the proud boast of this country that the law-abiding citizen with no criminal intent has always regarded the policeman as a friend. Speaking as a motorist, I do not think motorists do always regard the police as friends. I do not see why motorists should be in a class apart.
One of the most important recommendations of this Committee was one that, I am sorry to say, neither the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East nor my right hon. Friend referred to, and that is that an effort should be made to standardise traffic signals, crossing signals, and all such other devices. To my mind it is ridiculous that the types of traffic signal should be entirely at the choice of the highway authorities. It came out in the evidence given to our Committee that one borough in London refused to have zebra crossings, and we asked the representative of the Minister of Transport what he thought about that. He said, "That is entirely at the discretion of the citizens of that borough," to which I replied that I thought it was as much a matter for the people who passed through it, and all the rest of the population.
I think it is absolutely ridiculous that the system of the installation of traffic signs and things of that sort should not be uniform and consistent throughout the country. I am shocked that the use of the "Halt" sign and of the "Go Slow" sign, the use of reflector studs and other 1153 things of that nature, vary as between the area of one highway authority and the area of another highway authority. I should like to see it laid down definitely, for example that every road that enters a major road should have a "Halt" sign. One highway authority does not have a "Halt" sign at crossroads but only where there is a T junction, and others may have them at both. I do beg my right hon. Friends to give careful consideration to that aspect of the matter.
Reflector studs, for instance, I regard as being of the utmost value. If they are of the utmost value they ought to be universal. If they are of no value at all there ought not to be any. I think they are the greatest safeguard in fog and at night which we could have. I was much surprised as well as sorry that the Minister did not refer to what I think is a most valuable recommendation in the Select Committee's Report.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Certain recommendations were made for further study by the Ministry of Transport, and we are engaged in examining them now. The Report, I think, was published on 29th April. It raised a number of issues about which we must consult the local authorities. My hon. Friend referred to one local authority in London that did not want zebras lit.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
It is still more true that they did not want them lit if they had them. We have got to be very careful when dealing with semi-autonomous bodies. I deprecate as much as my hon. Friend individual habits of that kind which strangers entering the locality may not know, but we have to go carefully in a free country, and then we shall get where we want as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I am very glad to hear my right hon. Friend's words, because he has put his finger on the spot. The difficulty is that the highway authorities are semi-antonomous, and I am wondering whether in certain respects such as the use of traffic signs they should remain semi-autonomous or whether the Minister should not have power to direct, so that necessary action can be taken by the State. I think all this care for the 1154 constitutional position is quite admirable, but if it costs human lives I think we may have to revise our views.
I come to the point raised by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East—the question of the road research laboratory. We were impressed by the niggardly way in which it was treated. It comes, of course, under a different Vote; it does not come under the Ministry of Transport Vote; that makes a complication; but I was impressed by the niggardly way it was treated and the fact that the whole of the knowledge of their results is not adequately diseminated to the local authorities for them to use.
We made this recommendation thatThe Ministry of Transport and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research should consult together with a view to improving the means by which knowledge of the results achieved by the Road Research Laboratory is disseminated,and we made what we thought was a rather ingenious recommendation to the effect that there should be a switch over from the Treasury contribution to the Road Fund to an increased contribution to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research for the use of the Road Research Laboratory.
I have rather a feeling that there was a slight prejudice—I hope I am not using an unfair word—against the Road Research Laboratory. It has been starved and treated in a niggardly fashion, but its achievements are absolutely amazing. Due to it the life of the ordinary road surface has been vastly prolonged. It has done remarkable research which will lead to the cheapening of new construction, if and whenever we have any new construction. There is almost no end to the field in which they can bring about results which will achieve remarkable economy.
As my right hon. Friend said, this is fundamentally an economic question, because it would be quite easy to listen to all the enthusiasts and wreck this country's economic recovery; but no opportunity should be lost of finding ways by which we can get better value for the same money. I know that the work of the Road Research Laboratory is one of those fields from which we get our money's worth for a comparatively small investment.
I do not want to conclude without saying that I think the way in which capital 1155 investment devoted to the roads is looked at by the Treasury needs investigation. I shall not detain the House by going into a lengthy technical speech, because hon. Members will find all about it in the Report of the Select Committee, but I think that this is a matter which needs looking into.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
Unlike the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson), I do not think that the public really regard the present incidence of traffic accidents other than as something which is deserving of the utmost serious attention.
§ Mr. Snow
The hon. Gentleman said that we ought not to panic. There is a difference between panicking and shocking those sections of the public who are responsible for accidents.
Although not agreeing with his politics, I have always recognised the great administrative ability of the Minister, and I congratulate him upon his speech this afternoon, which was both able and comprehensive. Nevertheless, he did omit certain matters, no doubt because of the restriction of time.
Yesterday, the armistice in Korea was published in the newspapers of the world and hon. Members will have seen the statistics of the casualties and deaths which have occurred in that war. According to one article which I read—I trust the figures are correct—in the three years ended 26th May this year, the British nation lost 680 killed and there were 3,421 additional casualties. In the first six months of this year, on the roads of this country, there were 2,274 deaths incurred in an overall figure of 103,279 casualties. I think that these figures ought to be quoted because they may perhaps bring the whole problem into better perspective. The trouble is that these figures for the first six months of 1953 are worse than those for the equivalent period of 1952. There have been 184 more deaths this year and 8,122 more casualties.
What worries me is the structure of the consultative machinery upon which the Minister must rely to a great extent for eliminating the danger on our roads. As I understand the structure, at its lower 1156 level we have the local road safety committees and they may work under or with the county council road safety committees. But it is a fact that this is a very loose organisation. There is no uniformity, and I think that uniformity in this matter ought to be enforced. I am advised that the County of Hampshire has no road safety committee. I am also advised that the Isle of Thanet has no road safety committee.
I ask the Minister: Is it a fact that there is no formal contact between these road safety committees and the Departmental Committee on Road Safety? Is it a fact that in reality they operate through regional federations under the auspices of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents? If that is so, I do not think that is right. I think it should be a direct Ministerial responsibility and not a responsibility through the agency of a semi-private organisation, albeit that organisation is responsible and in receipt of a Government grant.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the kind remarks which he made about my speech. Surely he is conscious of the value of having a central body which sifts and analyses what comes in from the different localities without attempting to prevent what might be sometimes an unpalatable fact reaching the Minister. It is valuable to have a central body. RoSPA has carried out its duties admirably.
§ Mr. Snow
I do not think that it should be done by a semi-private agency; I think that it should be a direct Ministerial responsibility. Indeed, I think there is force given to my case by the fact that we do get cases where the local road safety committees of a local authority or county council find themselves in conflict with the Ministry's officials.
I raised the case of a certain intersection of roads which bears the essentially English name of Muckley Corner. There we have a direct conflict of opinion about the size of a roundabout which all local opinion considers is absolutely essential to avoid danger at that particular spot. We have the county road surveyor saying that a certain size roundabout is necessary and the Ministry's divisional road engineers saying that a very much bigger roundabout is 1157 necessary. At the same time, the Parliamentary Secretary tells me in the House that because the island considered necessary is so big, there is not the money to provide it. That goes right against local opinion.
This afternoon, the Minister came to the House and gave notice that he is going to introduce regulations about the provision of two effective brakes on a cycle. The whole House will welcome that, but I think we ought to look into what has been the history behind these proposed regulations. The period of gestation goes back to 1944. I want to demonstrate this whole operation of the consultative machinery by the facts brought to my attention by a certain Mr. Leech who is known to the Minister's Department. On 10th October last year, Mr. Leech wrote to his M.P. saying that, as an experienced motor cyclist, he thought that brakes and bells on pedal cycles ought to be made legally obligatory.
In due course, the Minister replied to this gentleman's M.P. on 23rd October, 1952, and he said in that letter that in the Interim Report of the Committee on Road Safety of December, 1944, there had been a recommendation that cycles should carry bells and have two effective brakes, but, said the Minister, stocks were inadequate to enforce this regulation if such a regulation was put forward.
Mr. Leech, being a persevering type, was not very satisfied with the answer, and he made inquiries in the trade, I have all the correspondence here. He wrote to what he considered to be one of the biggest cycle agency factors in the country, and I take the liberty of quoting their name because they are a responsible company—Halfords—and asked what was the position about brake equipment. They wrote back that they did not understand what the Minister was talking about. They had excessive stocks and they could not sell all of them. They added that with reference to the Minister's observation on the standards of brake equipment, they had no knowledge of such standards.
This is a very important matter because if the Committee on Road Safety is considering certain standards, surely the constructive side of the trade ought to know about them so that they can get the 1158 necessary production plant. That having been checked with Halfords, who said that they had excess stocks, the Minister was informed. He acknowledged the information in a letter on 5th January this year. This is where I must become slightly controversial. The letter from the Minister was written by his private secretary who said that the Minister agreed that the regulation was necessary but he and his Parliamentary Secretary were too fully occupied with the Transport Bill to give the matter immediate consideration. It is not only the delay of the present Minister about which I am complaining. There was also his immediate predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes).
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I remember the correspondence clearly. I was naturally very preoccupied, but the matter was high in the list of items to which I wanted to turn afterwards. I have announced that there will be such a regulation. However, it was suggested in 1944, and after that we had a Labour Administration for several years. The present Government have come to a decision fairly fast in all the circumstances.
§ Mr. Snow
I was qualifying my remarks to the right hon. Gentleman by saying that my right hon. Friend was equally responsible. The Government have been in power for two years and they ought now to have done something about it. The Transport Bill was not popular in large parts of the country, and the provision of proper brakes on cycles ought to have been dealt with before road transport was de-nationalised.
That is not the end of the story. The letter written by the Minister's private secretary on 5th January ended by saying that, because the matter was so important, a further letter on the subject would be written at the end of the month. It was not until 18th May that a proper reply was received. I propose to read it to the House. It ought to be read because it demonstrates the slow machinery for bringing to the attention of the Minister the need for amending legislation or regulations. The letter said:You will remember our earlier correspondence on the question of making it compulsory for bicycles to have efficient brakes and bells. As you have pointed out, the supply position over these items of equipment is no longer an obstacle to making regulations to this effect, but up to now Ministers have not decided that 1159 this additional piece of legislation was necessary. Very lately a resolution that all bicycles should have two effective brakes has been submitted to the Minister of Transport by the Road Safety Conference of Organisations presided over by Lord Llewellin. The Conference recommended that this, along with a number of other resolutions, should be considered by the Departmental Committee on Road Safety. The resolution is accordingly being referred by the Minister to the Committee, and a reply to this effect was given by the Parliamentary Secretary in the House this afternoon.That was in May. We are now in July and nearly the end of the Session. In 1944 a responsible Departmental Committee made a recommendation and it has taken all this time for amending legislation to be brought in. It is not good enough. The public are entitled to know why there has been this extraordinarily slow procreative period.
I now turn to capital investment for the removal of danger spots on roads. On 22nd June I put a Question to the Minister asking him what provision there was in the Department's financial set-up specifically for the financing of improvements to roads to remove danger. The Parliamentary Secretary gave me a rather woolly reply. It said, in short, that there was no special fund but any money which was necessary was taken out of the Estimates submitted annually to Parliament.
On 8th July, Lord Leathers, in another place, gave a fairly specific answer. He talked about a special sum of£3 million which had been allotted for the removal of danger spots on our roads, saying that it covered a period of two years, of which we were in the second. I do not know why the Parliamentary Secretary could not have told me that the previous month. If the sum of£3 million has been allotted for the sole purpose of dealing with black spots, I cannot understand why it should not have been more specifically brought to the attention of the House, and, if necessary, additional Supply voted for it. If road accidents can in part be eliminated by the provision of more money, let us get on with it and vote more money. I cannot think the House would willingly restrict Supply if it could prevent deaths on the roads.
The Minister talked at some length about the analysis of the causes of accidents. I want to draw one or two other 1160 points to his attention. In the Press notice issued by his Ministry on 19th May there was a special addendum entitled "The wrong way to turn right." On the basis of the analysis prepared by his Department, one must conclude that that is probably the most important factor causing accidents. However, I would ask the Minister whether it is not a fact, from his own personal experience of driving on the roads, that the danger in the case of cyclists and motor cyclists is not so much a car turning right, having had a cyclist in front of it give way, but the second car coming up behind which the cyclist or motor cyclist did not expect. Very often a car overtakes, then the cyclist thinks everything is all right and goes back towards the middle of the road, unaware that another car is coming behind, and usually there is a lot of noise and his attention is distracted and an accident occurs. That is a matter which should be brought to the attention of cyclists and other road users.
Is it not time that we eliminated "Slow" signs? As we approach a major road we see a sign "Slow. Major road ahead." I have seen correspondence in the newspapers about this and my experience leads me to believe that the "Slow" sign is, in itself, a cause of accidents. What does "slow" mean? If one is driving a Bentley it may mean 20–25 m.p.h., if in an Austin 10, 12–15 m.p.h. Variations of that character increase the risk of accident. We ought to follow the American system under which a road is either a "Go" road or a "Stop" road, the responsibility thus being fairly and squarely placed on the shoulders of the users of those roads.
Is it the law that where a village has no lighting system there cannot be a speed restriction? If it is, the matter ought to be looked at. No doubt the Minister's advisers will have read of the very sad accident in the Hampshire village of Bentley recently in which a small child was killed. There is no warning that a crossroads is in the near vicinity, there is no speed restriction, and there are 200 children on what is virtually a main road through a small village. That should be looked at.
There is a rather more delicate point about which the Minister ought to know. It is wrong that any organisation should have a system for pooling funds and 1161 making a payment from them to meet fines. I should have thought that if a fine was imposed on a driver, it ought to be paid by the driver. I do not like the idea of there being a club to which subscriptions are paid for the purpose of meeting fines. It does not seem to be right, and I should imagine that it is precious near contempt of the law.
The House will have seen the quotation in the "Observer" last Sunday from the diocesan letter by the Archbishop of York on the subject of more drastic fines, and even the confiscation of the vehicles of habitual bad drivers. On this I find myself at variance with the hon. Member for Farnham, because I think it is the habitual bad driver and the person who is habitually involved in accidents who should be very severely dealt with.
I should like to refer to certain matters affecting children. Deaths of children in this country are very shocking indeed. During the 12 months ending 31st May this year there have been 787 deaths of children, and in the calendar year 1952 there were 786 such deaths. I think an appeal ought to be made to motorists that if they see ahead children on cycles, they ought to give them that much more room than they would do if they were adult cyclists. There is also the question of the age limit at which children should be permitted on cycles on the roads. This is controversial, but I think I ought to mention it. There is a case for children below a certain age not being allowed on the highway, and that ought to be looked at.
As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education has been kind enough to come this afternoon, I should like to address some specific remarks to him on the provisions which exist under Section 39 (5) of the Education Act, 1944. We are dealing with accidents, and I think one cannot forget the question of school children. There is a very strong case for having another look at Section 39 (5) of the 1944 Act. Perhaps the Minister before he replies will be guided by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education on this matter. In Circular 242, which was issued by the Minister of Education, it was laid down what were the exact minimum requirements below which school transport by bus would not be provided. In other words, it would be provided for children 1162 up to the age of eight who must walk two miles to a primary school and children above that age who must walk three miles. Then the Minister said in her circular that she was prepared to consider special cases where there were particular traffic dangers.
I should like to ask how many special applications have been received by local education authorities and how many have been agreed by the Minister. How many applications for providing bus transport for the distances below the minima have been received? In the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates on Schools—I am referring to page XIII—there was some mention of£135,000, which was the additional sum necessary to provide transport for children in houses on new estates attending old schools in distant localities. The cause of that is the time lag between the building of houses and the building of schools. I cite this figure because there is a climate of public opinion in some quarters that the public are tired of having their rates added to by the necessity to finance additional school buses. This£135,000 is the sort of thing which irritates some members of the public.
There is no doubt that the cost of running school bus services has reached a very big figure indeed. It amounts to£4 million, but surely it is not too much to ask the public to consider what the effect will be if we make school children go along roads where there is a great volume of traffic and where the accident rate is likely to be high. This affects rural areas and particularly that class of road where there are no footpaths, where there are high hedges, and where there are blind corners. I think it was most ill-advised of the Minister of Education not to be more careful in how she phrased that circular, bearing in mind the additional dangers that must ensue.
I am well aware of the fact—and this may be part of the official answer—that 90 per cent. of pedestrian accidents are in built-up areas, but one cannot help but be impressed by the fact that little children going to school along these foot-pathless roads are in great danger, quite apart from the fact that their faculties, due to fatigue, might not be operating as well as they should. Many of them have to walk long distances.
1163 In that connection I should like to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education to the fact that the present drafting of Section 39 (5) of the 1944 Act states that the distance to the school shall be by the nearest route. In the country there are many villages which are very long indeed. I have one in my own constituency called Stonnall. Little children starting from the wrong end of the village—if I might put it that way—to go to school might have to walk a very great distance. They can be very fatigued at the end of the day, which may impair their faculties particularly in regard to oncoming traffic.
I do not want to detain the House any more except to say that I think the whole House will support the Minister of Transport in any drastic legislation he may consider necessary. Earlier he talked about imposing certain legislation on pedestrians. I have not given that matter very much attention, but I think the public, more especially that section of the public which can be identified as responsible for accidents, must be brought up against the facts of the situation and be prepared, if necessary, to accept drastic legislation.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
I do not propose to detain the House for more than four or five minutes. The Minister of Transport recommended us to analyse the statistics of accidents in the hope of breaking down the problem. I asked a Question in December last about accidents in which cyclists were involved to try and find out how far they occurred in the hours of darkness. I find that under fatal accidents one in four was after dark and in the case of serious accidents one in five. I therefore made inquiries as to what steps had been taken in other countries to try to prevent accidents after dark in which bicycles were involved.
I found in Austria that it has become compulsory for all bicycles to have reflectors not only on the back of the bicycles but on the pedals, for the simple reason that the movement of the pedal means that the light reflected in the reflector is very much more self-evident than when simply fastened on the back of the bicycle. I have here a very simple device which can be added to an existing 1164 bicycle pedal. I have taken some trouble in connection with this matter. At this point I might add in parenthesis that I have no personal, financial or any other interest in this development, but I have discovered that it should be practicable to market it at somewhere between 2s. 6d. and 5s. a pair.
I have a considerable correspondence on the subject, but as I promised to be short I will not quote it at any length, and I have tried to discover what has been the effect of that compulsory regulation in Austria on the road accident situation there. I found that it was only introduced last June, so that there has not been time to get comparative figures, but the Embassy staff, through the Foreign Office here, were good enough to advise me that their experience is that they are far more easily spotted than the ordinary reflectors and can hardly fail to reduce the number of accidents. These reflectors can be fitted to other types of pedals as well.
I hope the Minister will take note of the fact that I have here other samples which I can show him. The only reason for not raising this matter with him sooner is that the result of my researches and quotations for such things only came in within the last few days, that is since we knew there was going to be a debate on the subject. I hope the Minister will take serious note of what I have said, and I hope that this debate will make the makers and the public realise the value to cyclists that this would be.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) said that he had no financial interest in this invention, but I think he is in danger of being offered a job as salesman by any firm which takes over the manufacture of these articles. I think every hon. Member was interested in his idea, and no doubt the Minister will look into this matter and perhaps adopt such a sensible suggestion.
The right hon. Gentleman must have been struck by the remarkable unanimity in the House today, and I think I am voicing the general opinion of hon. Members when I express my appreciation of both speeches made from the two Front Benches this afternoon. This is the only speech which the right hon. Gentleman 1165 has made since he took his present position that has received any appreciation from this side of the House. This afternoon we all felt that he made an excellent contribution to an important problem.
§ Mr. Blackburn
My hon. Friend thinks that there was one omission from the speech of the Minister, but I have no doubt that his point of view will be put before the House before we finish this debate.
I shall restrict most of my remarks to the question of road accidents. The Minister paid tribute to the fact that help had been given by the Press, but I think much more could be given. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) that it is important that the public should be shocked into realising the actual situation. It is not my intention to repeat the figures already given, but I think those given by my hon. Friend about the comparable figures of Korea and the casualties on the roads of this country ought to be widely known.
As I was saying earlier, the Press could do more than they are doing to bring this matter before the public. I do not know whether the Minister has any influence with the Press, but if he has I suggest that if, for a month, we could have as a main headline of all the daily papers on the front page, "War on the roads. Today's casualties "—so many accidents, so many deaths, so many injuries and, as the month went by, the cumulative total, people might be shocked into realising the seriousness of the problem.
We must remember that we have a joint responsibility for this problem, whether we are pedestrians, cyclists, motorists for pleasure or drivers of public or commercial vehicles, and we all have our part to play. When I taught my two boys to drive, the first thing I said was that they must be prepared for every other user of the road to do the wrong thing, because unless they were prepared for that, most likely there would be mistakes and accidents.
Reference has been made to pedestrians and to the suggestion by the Minister that there might be legislation. I shall not say much about pedestrians, but every- 1166 body must have met the kind who will stroll slowly across the highway when a motorist approaches and looks at him as much as to say, "I have as much right on the road as you have." That is quite true. He has as much right on the road as any cyclist or motorist, but a good many pedestrians do not realise that their power to stop suddenly is much greater than that of a motorist. We also know the kind who never goes the shortest way across the road, but has a facility for finding the longest diagonal. Unless pedestrians begin to play their part and to co-operate, there will continue to be unnecessary accidents. That is the tragedy of this problem, that there are so many unnecessary accidents.
I believe that according to the law cyclists should not ride more than two abreast. I am not sure whether that ought not to be altered to single file. On some of our narrow roads, if two cyclists ride abreast, and a motorist is passing, with another one coming in the opposite direction, there is always the danger of an accident. It is incumbent upon the motorist to take the greatest care, because a good many cyclists are children and the alarmingly high rate of death is among children. As a country we cannot afford to waste so much young life. Not only in regard to cyclists is there a serious problem, but also in regard to young pedestrians.
As motorists we must realise the part we have to play. Reference has been made to the fact of cars being on the road that are not road worthy. It ought to be considered a crime to take on to the road a car which may be a danger to the general public. I do not know how it can be dealt with but it might be possible to say that cars must be examined by responsible garages at intervals and, when a motorist applies for a renewal of his licence, it might be possible for him to have to state when his car was last examined and declared roadworthy. There are other things which tend to create accidents where the motorists are at fault, and I think, we shall have to introduce regulations with regard to headlights because many of them are a danger.
§ Mr. Blackburn
Anyone who has done any motoring knows that it is unnecessary to have the very strong headlights 1167 which some cars have at present. Mention has been made of speed, and I think the Minister was correct when he said that speed was not necessarily wrong. What matters is speed in the wrong places. I am not satisfied about the present regulations for restricted and derestricted roads. I would take the power out of the hands of the Minister and would put it into the hands of people who know the district. I am not referring to county councils, but to the local authorities. They know the conditions, they know at first hand the amount of traffic along a road. I would also put into the hands of the local authorities the decision with regard to one-way streets. A local council is composed of responsible people. They have been elected, and they ought to be allowed to decide whether a street shall be made a oneway street.
Let me give an example. In a small town in my constituency—Dukinfield—the local council have for a long time been pressing that a certain street should be made a one-way street. There had been a serious accident there, and last year this was followed by the death of a child. The council made renewed application to have the street declared a oneway street but their application was turned down by the Ministry. Following this, I put a Question to the Minister to ask how many deaths we are to have on that road before we are allowed to make it a one-way street. Therefore, I say that on matters such as this I should be prepared to give greater power to the people on the spot.
There are certain signs that are not very helpful. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth referred to the sign "Slow—major road ahead." I see no sense in such a sign. If it is a major road that is ahead, the only sign that ought to be there is "Halt—major road ahead." How it ever came about that there should be a "Slow" sign, goodness only knows.
I am not satisfied about the pedestrian crossings. The Minister seemed to indicate that the blinking, winking or twinkling lights at the zebra crossings are likely to prove a success. As a motorist, I do not like them. The danger is that the attention of the motorist is on the light rather than upon 1168 the roadway where people may be crossing. I should much prefer to see a notice at the side of the road about 50 feet beforehand giving warning to a motorist that there is a zebra crossing ahead rather than have the lights on the actual crossing.
I suggest also that wherever practicable on the zebra crossings there ought to be an island in the middle of the road; and I should like to see in many of our towns far more islands in the centre of the roads. I have had it frequently stated to me by visitors to London that in spite of the amount of traffic here, they often find it much easier to cross the road in London than in Manchester, because in London there are more islands. If a pedestrian has only to watch the traffic in one direction and can stop in the middle of the road and look again before completing the crossing, this would be a great help.
§ Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)
My hon. Friend has referred to Manchester. There, on the very wide highways such as Oldham Road and Rochdale Road, the local authority has taken steps to provide refuges in the centre so that pedestrians can cross the road quite easily. Manchester, therefore, has taken, and is taking, every possible step to ensure the safety of those who use the roads.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I am sorry that I have touch Manchester's pride, but as I live near Manchester, and spend a good deal of time there, I can also claim to know Manchester. The alderman—I mean my hon. Friend—should take a walk down Deansgate, Manchester, on a busy day and see how many islands he can find in the middle of the road.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I repeat, it would be a great help in many of our towns if we had more islands in the centre of the road.
Another important matter is that we should have more standardised street lighting on our main roads. Every motorist knows that he can tell when he is passing from one local authority area into another, because there is a sudden change in the street lighting. Some of it is exceptionally good, but some of it is 1169 not as good as it ought to be. If we could have a standard of main road lighting below which no authority is allowed to go, this would be helpful in reducing the number of accidents.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) is waiting for someone to refer to the question of drink. I do not hold the rigid views of my hon. Friend on this subject, but whatever our views we must all feel that something must be done about the motorist who goes on to the road when he is under the influence of drink. The only thing to do is to see that, automatically, he loses his licence.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I do not follow my hon. Friend as far as to say "and his car." I say that that driver should lose his licence. He could, perhaps, be given the right of appeal after two years. It is no use leaving the position as it is at present. The situation is serious and drastic steps must be taken.
But it is not only people who go on to the roads under the influence of drink who should lose their licences. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) referred to an instance in which, I believe every hon. and right hon. Member would agree, the licence ought to have been taken from the man long before the case arose. A man who has committed 31 motoring offences is, obviously, not the sort of man who should be on the roads. The time has come when the magistrates must begin to impose more serious penalties, by which I mean more the taking away of the licence rather than increasing the amount of penalty, because to some people a£50 or£100 fine is no great loss.
I should like to add a few words on the matter of congestion. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) was anxious that the position of Lancashire, Cheshire and the North should be known as well as the serious position in London and other places. One of the things that we shall have to do to relieve the congestion of the roads is to reduce the number of heavy vehicles on the roads. Far too many goods are being carried on the 1170 roads that could quite conveniently be taken by rail.
Unfortunately, the Minister has been responsible for an Act which will make it more difficult to have a co-ordinated and reasonable transport system. [HON. MEMBERS: "It will be easier."] Everyone will agree that there is a good deal of heavy traffic on the roads which is a danger to the roads and to other road users; and where this can be diverted to the railways, it ought to be so diverted.
On the subject of congestion in London and other big towns, I think the time is coming very soon when the private motorist will have to be banned from the main shopping centres. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It may sound a drastic remedy, but I am quite convinced that the time is coming when that will have to be considered. We have smokeless zones in the centres of our towns and soon we shall have to have zones in which there are no private cars. I know that a number of private motorists would not like that, but in the general interest it may have to be done. In any case, there are too many people using their cars to go into towns when they could conveniently use public transport.
§ Mr. Blackburn
My hon. Friend says "walk," but most people have lost the idea that they can walk. It is no use deciding that this is a serious problem and not taking any steps to deal with it. We shall not deal with the problem in the centre of London merely by having new garages and parking places; the problem is too serious for that.
I return to the seriouness of the question of road accidents. I was sorry that the Minister was not present when I referred to the part which the Press could play in this matter. I hope he will read that part of my speech and, if he has any influence with the Press, try to prevail upon them to undertake a campaign such as I have suggested. Everyone realises that this is a very serious matter and for once both sides of the House are united, but speeches either here or anywhere else will not solve the problem. Action will have to be taken and I sincerely hope that as a result of the ideas put forward today that action will be taken.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Colonel Alan Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) in detail. I think the House very largely agrees with most of what he said, and I think that when he commented on the unanimity we had shown in the House he was doing nothing less than stating the truth.
The problem of road accidents is one of terrible importance; there is no question about that. I must again emphasise what other hon. Members have emphasised. The public have to be shocked into having something done. There is no other way of dealing with the problem. I feel that pedestrians and cyclists have a much greater respoasibility than that for which they are given credit in these matters. The wobbly cyclist, to my mind as an experienced motorist, is a terrible danger on the road.
The pedestrian—particularly the one to whom the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde referred who crosses the road looking as if he thinks, "I have as much right on the road as you have," may be adding to the list of famous last words, but he is then adding to the dangers of the roads. One, in England—not in Scotland—said to me the other day," When I get on to a zebra crossing I know quite well that the motorist will stop." That also might be added to the list of famous last words. I feel that the Archbishop of York, with the greatest respect to him—and we have a great respect for him—is a little wide of the mark in suggesting that we should confiscate the car that causes an accident. In that case we should also confiscate the bicycle, or part of it, or take off the leg of the pedestrian, to carry the suggestion to its logical conclusion in the most practical way.
Something more ought to be done in the matter of standardisation of the road signs in the country. Driving not long ago from Salisbury to Perth and missing London, I saw a good section of Great Britain and the variety of design of directions on the roads was something which was astonishing. It was bad enough for one who speaks English and lives in this country, but what it must be like for a foreign motorist I do not know. Although I do not like rules and regulations any more than most hon. Members on this 1172 side of the House—and a great many hon. Members opposite—I feel that something more should be done in the way of standardisation of road signs.
To take one example, in the county of Perth the white line along the centre of the road is divided into sections—it is a dotted line until one comes to a bend where caution is required. Then it becomes a continuous line so that by day or night a motorist knows that he is coming to a dangerous bend because of the continuous line taking the place of the dotted line. Yet, in another county that does not happen, but something quite different. One is prepared for one type of sign and may meet another and that, in a flash of time, may be enough to cause an accident which could have been avoided. Therefore, standardisation is something which needs watching carefully.
I turn from road accidents to the question of road congestion. I feel no compunction whatever in referring to a place where traffic congestion is as bad as anywhere in the United Kingdom. That is the passage across the Forth at Queensferry. I beg the Minister to realise that I am not trying to be frivolous or to be a nuisance but I wish to emphasise a particular point in connection with this proposed bridge. First, it is not a matter which is the concern of Edinburgh and Fife only, as some seem to think. It is a great national highway of Great Britain and should be continuous and should have been made continuous long ago.
My right hon. Friend having mentioned the matter of tolls, I ask if he would consider the application of tolls to a possible construction of the Forth Road Bridge. Many people say that it is going backwards in development to return to tolls. There may be something in that. We do not like the idea of tolls, but in the United States of America a lot of bridges and great highways have tolls on them, and that is so in other countries. In this country we have the example of the Mersey Tunnel, which is a godsend to those who live in that part of the world. The tolls charged there are very modest.
I ask whether, in considering the possible construction of the Forth Road Bridge, the Minister has given enough attention to the money which could be received in return for that spent by instituting a system of tolls on the new 1173 bridge. The cost of the bridge would not have to be borne entirely by the State, but would be borne partially by the local authorities. I think the Minister is underestimating the number of vehicles which would cross the bridge. He estimates the number at 3,000 a day. I think it would be considerably more as the fact that the road was open and there was a wide bridge there would undoubtedly encourage more traffic than may at first be thought probable.
Even the figure given by the Minister would mean more than one million vehicles a year, and that is a vast number. I think his figure errs on the cautious side and, for calculating purposes, I would take a figure of 1,100,000 a year. That represents more than one-third of the traffic now carried by the Mersey Tunnel and the small toll fees at the Mersey Tunnel bring in at present an average revenue of more than£600,000. For the same fees the Forth Road Bridge would bring in an annual revenue of£200,000 but those fees are far too small. For the Forth Road Bridge I think we could well afford, and the motorist would gladly afford, an increase in the fees charged on the Mersey Tunnel. Supposing they were doubled, they would still be far under the charges made by the ferry steamers at present conveying cars across.
To double the Mersey Tunnel fees in relation to the Forth Road Bridge would bring in revenue of well over£400,000 in the first year, and in the first 10 years at any rate it would bring it up, I am convinced, to£600,000. Surely, with that possible amount of traffic receipts coming in, and partial year-to-year construction which, as the Minister knows, amounts in the early years to a comparatively small cost, it is worth undertaking the work, when it is known that eventually there will be a handsome income which will go far to meet the capital cost.
I beg the Minister with all the seriousness at my command on behalf not only of Scotland as a whole, but of Great Britain, to see that something is done to link up this great highway through the centre of Great Britain. It would be an immense achievement. If the attention of the Chancellor was drawn to these figures of tolls he would see reason in this matter. I am convinced that the motoring public and indeed the cycling and walking public would willingly pay 1174 double the Mersey fees in order to get this great highway constructed.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Orbach (Willesden, East)
The object of the Minister, and I am sure of all hon. Members, is to make an impact upon the public, not to shock anyone but to secure the co-operation of everyone in reducing the toll of the roads. When the Minister gave an analysis of the figures of road accidents in relation to their cause he did not refer to what was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) who said it was necessary that every vehicle should be roadworthy. The Minister may remember that in our last debate on this subject I brought up this matter, I thought rather forcibly, but I got no response from the Front Bench.
This afternoon the Minister has said he is to introduce a regulation that two brakes must be fitted to pedal cycles. There is little use in introducing such a regulation unless we see that the motor cycles, which, apparently, cause most of the accidents today, and the ordinary motor vehicles, have adequate brakes and lights. I saw a report recently in the Press of a sample survey made in one town, where 70 per cent. of the vehicles checked were declared not to be road-worthy. It is a shocking state of affairs that we should allow obsolete cars not only to be on the roads, but to be sold by dealers to people who have never driven cars.
The reply may be that it is difficult to enforce the existing law because there is not a big enough police force. I challenge that statement. On the last occasion we debated this subject I quoted from my own researches into the question of parking and what the police call obstruction. I gave examples of what happens and of the waste of time and manpower involved in members of the Metropolitan police hauling up hundreds of motorists before the London magistrates for parking offences.
It seems to me ridiculous that a motorist who has left his car in a Soho back street for 20 minutes should be hauled before the courts and the time of the police wasted, when what has occurred has not created any accident. That point seems to have been forgotten. I could be a little naughty about this and 1175 say that, if we are so short of policemen for the enforcement of the law, it would be a very good thing if policemen were not hired out for private purposes on payment of fees. I suggest to the Minister that this matter might be inquired into. It would appear that someone has been slow in not using the subway beneath Kingsway, formerly used by the trams, as a parking place. I do not know whether that matter has been investigated.
The Minister said he was considering bringing out a simple manual of driving which could bear an official imprint, and would be understood by all potential drivers. That would be an admirable thing but he should include in it the elementary facts about what happens to a motor vehicle when you depress the clutch, or put on the brake or depress the accelerator. Quite a number of women drivers—1 include my wife—are unaware of what happens to the car when you push this button or the other and they get into quite a state——
§ Mr. Orbach
No, not only women. Perhaps I may be excused if I appear to be a little anti-feminine in this case and say that it applies to both men and women. I must be careful about what I say or. otherwise, I shall find myself in difficulties when I get home. I hope that the Minister will consider including a short and not too technical explanation of what does happen to an internal combustion engine in those circumstances.
It would be churlish of me not to pay a tribute to the Ministry for the job with which they helped me during the last three weeks. The Minister said it would be a mistake for us to consider that arterial roads constructed for fast traffic and for getting goods from one place to another in the shortest time, should be derestricted because houses have been built along both sides of them. We cannot be blamed for that. Because there was a measure of planning to secure decent highways, and private enterprise did some ribbon development alongside those roads we cannot be blamed, and neither can local authorities, who, seeing houses springing up, provided amenities such as playing fields, schools and public libraries for the occupants.
1176 I have had difficulty in trying to convince the Ministry experts that people killed on the North Circular Road in my area are not in some way to blame because they lived by the side of that road, and because a library and two schools and playing fields have been provided for them. The Ministry experts have not the proper attitude towards this question, but I would thank the Minister and particularly the Parliamentary Secretary, for the speed with which work has been done to meet the dangerous situation which existed along the North Circular Road from Staples Corner to Neasden Circus.
This is a matter which I first brought up in the House some years ago. Three people had to be killed in five days before action was taken; but I am pleased to say that there has been action. I hope that, as a result of the Minister's assurance, we shall not have to wait six months before the three sets of traffic lights which have been promised are erected. I support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow). There is some obstruction in the Ministry. I do not blame the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary or their predecessors for that obstruction. I believe there is obstruction because the experts have not made up their minds.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
In reference to what was said by the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow), the advice that we had about the shortage of material came from a trade association. I thought so at the time and I have checked up since. This was advice given by the trade association itself.
§ Mr. Orbach
At a meeting at which experts were present last week when the installation of lights on the North Circular Road was agreed to, I was told that it would take five or six months to erect them because, apparently, they are tailor made. I do not know what that means. One cannot get a suit tailor made nowadays, but apparently one can get tailor-made traffic lights.
I asked whether it was possible to have some emergency temporary traffic lights erected. After a time I got agreement from those responsible for policy that that should be done and then the technicians said that it was not possible. As an engineer I asked what engineering 1177 difficulties were in the way. There was no response. We all pay tribute to the Minister for his administrative zeal. I hope that my plea will be satisfied and that we shall not have to arrange any more demonstrations along the North Circular Road, because last Sunday when I headed the march I got soaked to the skin, and that is not a very pleasant experience.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
I want to start by making a few remarks about the debate. My first comment arises from the claim made by an hon. Gentleman opposite about the unanimity with which we view these matters. That certainly is true when we consider the distant objective, but there is bound to be a great deal of controversy about the means which we should adopt. That controversy has already been revealed in the debate, and I think that my right hon. Friend welcomes it.
That being so, we are lucky that, comparatively speaking, the debate has been free from interruption. Obviously what my right hon. Friend wants are coherent speeches from hon. Members expressing what they really feel about these vast problems. It is of small consequence to indulge in a lot of interruption and to pursue small points to the end. I am glad that we are not doing that. Also, we have been comparatively free of constituency cases. This is a national problem and we must approach it from our own personal experience of national needs and requirements. I have a certain amount to say, and I hope that I can say it speedily and with proper brevity.
The other general comment I wish to make about the debate is that the Government are in full sympathy with the feelings of the House on this matter. The debate was arranged at short notice. Hon. Members in all quarters have shown that they are fully seized of the urgency and importance of these questions. The Government, who had not much notice of the debate and could not be expected to be prepared to deal with all aspects of it, have proved by the speech of my right hon. Friend that they are fully abreast of these matters especially of accidents and congestion problems. My right hon. Friend made what was regarded in all parts of the House as a 1178 capital speech, with the exception that he did not produce at the end the monetary capital which we all require. In passing, I join with others in regretting the absence of the Parliamentary Secretary who for the past two years has given coherent and urgent thought to these problems and dealt with our personal cases in the most friendly and expeditious way.
My right hon. Friend asked for concrete suggestions. One matter mentioned was the spot check on road worthiness. That may have been instituted in Luton. They may have the organisation for that there and it may have been a success; but as a national matter it raises a vast question of administrative cost. How can we find the police, the authorities and the time and money to institute a thoroughly satisfactory scheme for investigating road worthiness? My right hon. Friend mentioned the proposals for legislation about the brakes on cycles. One can see how difficult that will be when it comes to looking into corners of back yards——
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle(Oldbury and Halesowen) rose——
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I am sorry. I will not give way. I have refrained from interrupting for the reasons I gave and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do the same. It will be most difficult to find out where these cycles are and to put them through a proper system of investigation.
I wish to say a few words about driving tests. I should like to see a sort of age call-up instituted. It is time that those who have been driving for many years and who are now approaching the age of 60 or 70 should be given a driving test. That suggestion raises a host of administrative problems. I do not know whether they could be tackled satisfactorily. Everybody who wants to drive now and who is in the prime of life has to go through a driving test. Yet there are thousands, perhaps millions, of people, who drive and who have never taken a test. I have not myself and I dare say that a lot of other hon. Members have not. We ought to look at the date when tests were first introduced and see whether we cannot institute a call-up of a selected age group and put them through a driving test.
On the subject of headlights, I have one complaint which is shared by people like 1179 Mr. Christopher Brunner and others. It is of headlights being turned on at night time in well-lit areas. It has been proved conclusively that the headlight shows up a vehicle against a dark background, whereas modern overhead lighting shows up a street and produces the vehicle as a dark object. The impact of those two lighting systems—of headlights and modern overhead lighting—cancel each other out completely. The result is confusion. There should be a regulation about that.
I was glad to hear what the Minister said about the speed limit. Let us have no attempt at further limiting speed. Let us avoid as far as possible applying the speed limit to the arterial roads which were originally designed, and ought to be maintained, for fast-moving traffic.
Now I enter a controversial field in which I hope to tread rather warily. I refer to what the Archbishop of York said about the danger of speed as such. This has a relation to the problem of what might be called the docile queue lover. It is a characteristic of our people. The English are in some respects rather curious. In the last few years, during and since the war, we have developed a kind of queue mindedness, a kind of "After you, Sir" attitude.
What we get on the roads today are very large numbers of people who are so cautious in their driving that they dare not pass anything, and, when they come up behind a large bus or a lorry, which is by law restricted to a certain speed, they all bunch up nicely behind it and pack themselves up tight, so that nobody else can attempt to pass. If we then get somebody coming up the road with a decent car—[Interruption.] Yes, a decent car which is also safe, and which can pass at speed, or it may be the driver of a modern van taking goods at speed from one works to another, he cannot pass. He is so absolutely maddened by this congested mass of vehicles that he is forced into the position of being a road hog.
There is the question—who is the road hog? Is it those people who have forced themselves into this close mass of drivers pursuing safety first as an end in itself, or it is the person who has a good vehicle, who has driven for many years, and who, perhaps, is compelled by his firm to reach 1180 a certain point at a certain time, who is the road hog? I find that very difficult to answer.
We see the same problem again on these pedestrian crossings. We see drivers approach a crossing with great timidity, looking from side to side to see if anything is coming. Then, there is a person on the crossing, and he steps forth with one foot and then withdraws his foot, and, gradually, through this business of courtesy and "After you," and "Let me be quite sure I am on the right side," we produce congestion on the crossing itself.
We all get annoyed as drivers when we see the old gentleman who raises his stick, knows his rights and marches smartly across the crossing. We feel like running him down because he does that. But he is on the right side of the law. He is claiming his just rights and behaving as he should behave, according to the law. I have a feeling that, if people not only drove but also marched on the roads, knowing the law and showing that they know the law, there would be very much less trouble than there is today. I would be the last to say that we should end courtesy on the road, but courtesy carried to extreme lengths produces congestion in itself, and I defy anybody to controvert that statement.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I now come to this question of accidents and congestion, particularly in London and the suburbs. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East said he was opposed to underground garages. I agree with him. They are an immensely expensive project, and I think that we can do things far more useful than that.
May I start here with a very minor suggestion? When the traffic light goes green, the chances are that a vehicle moves across the crossing, even though the driver knows that he will jam the crossing when he gets there. It ought to be part of the Highway Code—and part of the courtesy on the road movement, in its proper sense—that one ought not to move, even on a green light, unless one knows that there is space on the opposite side of the crossing into which the vehicle can go. Time and again, buses and cars on heavily congested crossings simply go on moving on the green light, knowing that they can pack the crossing 1181 and jam up the road, and that is just what they do. I would make that part of the Highway Code.
Now, a suggestion in regard to a comparatively minor device which I hope my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) will secure the chance to explain, and which concerns the parking meter. It has been tried in the United States and also in Bâsle in Switzerland, and it is a great success. The object is to produce a parking meter which charges the sort of economic price which induces people not to park their cars where the parking meter is. If hon. Members do not understand that I will leave them to my hon. Friend.
As for parking places in general, and these not only affect the ordinary motor and motorist but also London Transport buses, I think we should get large parking areas, not garages necessarily, but large parking areas at positions roughly one-third and two-thirds of the distance across London, on the outer ring. People would then come in from outside, park their cars for the day in these places, and use London Transport for the rest of their journey to work. If London Transport did that in the case of their own vehicles, we should not have this congestion, with buses moving at two miles an hour and more or less empty in the middle of the day.
Now I come to my major suggestions for dealing with this problem, and first I take the question of roundabouts. I would urge hon. Members to visit the fascinating map room at Scotland Yard which shows quite conclusively that the traffic light is a superior system of controlling traffic to that of the minor roundabouts, and saves accidents. One hon. Gentleman mentioned the Neasden roundabout, which is a failure, and is, I understand, to be removed. All roundabouts that are comparatively small and on roadways where the intersections are simple and straightforward are more or less a failure. There is more congestion there than there is with traffic lights.
It is only in the cases where we get a large roundabout, such as in Parliament Square and such as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) himself devised for the Festival of Britain at the other side of Waterloo Bridge, where the traffic stream uses several roads, that it is a 1182 success. We must have a large enough area to make the roundabout idea a success. Where that is not the case, I suggest that we ought to remove the roundabouts and substitute traffic lights.
I cannot understand why it is that, whereas the French, who suffered so much in the war, have been successful in introducing these "fly-unders" on the roads, and particularly on the roads leading out of Paris, we cannot do the same thing. I hope we shall begin to spend some money, and it is with the spending of money that the last part of what I want to say is concerned. I hope we shall see some money spent on these "fly-unders" at intersections of arterial roads leaving London with the circular roads. What has happened to the Abercrombie inner ring road plan? A case was fully made out in that Report, and it was calculated that it would remove up to 30 per cent. of the traffic from the central area of London.
I should like to see something done about this inner ring road system. One hon. Gentleman has already referred to the last road having been built at Kingsway in 1905. It is a shocking thing—I know we have been through two world wars—but one would have thought that we would have been able to spend some money on reconstruction of the roads. I would widen the roads on the inner London ring and would demolish houses where we have to do so. I would pay adequate compensation, and would put an end to this long drawn out system of local public inquiries, which always leads people into litigation. If we did what the Americans and the French do, and gave handsome compensation, we should never have anything like the opposition there is. It all comes back in the end.
For the finer class of buildings, I would do what has been suggested, such as colonnading, and even attempt what the poor French have been able to do, namely, physically to move back a beautiful building a distance of a few feet—roll it back on rollers by hand, it may be. The building in question was the famous Municipal Theatre at Amiens. That must have been a very interesting architectural operation.
I now come to the new roads which I think must be built. The need for new 1183 roads is absolutely compelling. In a debate last year I gave the figures of Government expenditure on civilian services both after and before the war. Every service except the roads has been enlarged four or five times, and an hon. Member said at that time how right that was. I fully agreed with him. The roads are the Cinderella of transport, and they are not being allowed to take their place besides these other services.
Before the war, we spent£60 million a year on roads while today we are spending£80 million. That means, taking into consideration the depreciation which has taken place in the value of money, that we are now only spending three quarters of what we spent before the war in real terms. As an hon. Member pointed out, we have the highest vehicle density per mile in the world and hold only fourth place in the percentage of the national income spent per vehicle per 1,000 miles of road.
I maintain that the time has arrived when large-scale expenditure is required, and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who spoke on behalf of the Labour Party, could not commit his party to a figure in respect of what it is necessary to spend next year. I hope that there was no political intent in that, and that he was not trying to get the Government to state a figure so that it could be criticised as either inadequate or over-adequate. This is far too serious a matter for hon. Members opposite not to be fully frank with their party, with the House and with the country, and to say what they believe is an adequate sum to spend.
I am going to put in a personal plea which may not be shared by my hon. Friends on this side of the House for the spending of£125 million more than we are spending now in the next two years—£50 million next year and£75 million in 1954–55, that£75 million to be held for a number of years until we see where we are getting. After all, this sum is only one-twentieth of the rearmament programme, and let us hope that, as a result of peace in Korea and the new accommodating mood of certain nations in the world, it may be possible to make some slight reduction in that programme. If the£1,600 million we are spending on rearmament could be 1184 reduced by, say,£300 million it would mean taking only a small bite out of that for what I want and the rest would be there to be used for the other great services which we favour. Indeed, there is a high strategic content in the provision of new roads.
Just a word or two about the financing of such a programme. I think that the British Road Federation, who are a very good pressure group, do good service in keeping us up to the mark, but I think they have overstepped the limit a little, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, in saying that whereas we take£330 million from the roads we only spend£80 million on them. If that principle is applied to whisky, beer, cigarettes, betting and football pools it makes absolute nonsense. Transport must bear its fair share of taxation.
What is holding up the provision of capital? It is the Capital Investment Programme Committee of the Treasury. It is a secret device of Government which this House neither now nor under the last regime has ever discussed or looked at. Of all Government devices it is the only one subject to no democratic procedures. But that is an issue for a Finance Committee and I will not go into it now. That is what has been holding up matters till now, and rightly so, but now is the moment for my right hon. Friend to make an attack upon it. I am sure he will be able to do so with the support of this House and the country.
My hon. Friends are interested, and rightly interested, in the utmost economy in public services, and I am all for economy in those Departments where private interests can take up the slack, but not in this matter of roads. In roads, the State and the local authorities must spend because there is nobody else who can spend. Therefore, in some shape or form the State and the taxpayer must provide the money.
As I do not wish to take up any more time, I will skip the point about the toll roads suggestion and leave that for another occasion. I prefer a loan operation and not one taken on the Budget "below the line," as we are doing for housing. I prefer a definite loan created for the roads. We need an overhaul of road finance.
This hyper-orthodoxy of capital formation from current earnings, which is 1185 exactly what happens now under the Estimates for roads has really reached the limit. Many a man has borrowed long-term capital and spent it on riotous living, and no doubt those who do so go to their graves sooner than maybe. It was left to the good Mr. Gladstone, I believe, to require the nation to draw from their weekly pay packets in order to create State assets which would last for a 100 years. That is a£wise and penny foolish policy, and no other private or semi-State organisation operates on that basis. This doctrine not only keeps taxation unnecessarily high, but is a positive bar to the essential capital investment necessary to keep British productivity in the State sector abreast of other countries.
I claim that just as the individual can make the rake's progress by spending his capital, so from the nation's point of view one can make it the other way round. I do not want this nation to go to an untimely grave.
I should like to establish a sort of priority for the capital sum I have mentioned. I suggested£50 million for next year, and I would spend it in this way. I would spend£25 million on accident black spots,£20 million on completing road schemes suspended in 1939, and£10 million on making a start with the special schemes so dear to the hearts of some hon. Members, such as the Purfleet Tunnel, the Forth Road, the Birmingham—Bristol motor way and the Preston bypass.
We have made tremendous progress since the war in every Department except the roads. My right hon. Friend established a great reputation in the early months of this year in the course of the passage through this House of the Transport Bill. I believe that he can fortify and embellish that reputation if he makes a great stand on behalf of what seems to be the united opinion of this House and the country for worthwhile expenditure upon the roads.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
I listened, as I always do, with very great interest to the contribution which has just been made to this debate by the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). He always brings a certain freshness and colour to our debates, but, quite frankly, I find it exceed- 1186 ingly difficult to agree with him in his approach to this general question of the roads, both in regard to maintenance, construction and accidents. Of course, so far as I am concerned, the first priority must be the terrible problem of accidents on the roads.
However, I think that the noble Lord is a first-class lieutenant to the Minister of Transport, who, I thought, gave us an able survey of the problems affecting his Department, although I thought that the remedies he suggested were anaemic and puny. For example, he spoke about the Lancashire exercise which he described as a "blitz" on road accidents. He spoke about the special effort that was made by mobile police patrols which had a decisive effect upon the scale of accidents, but he made no further reference to it. He spoke, I thought, rather weakly, about the spot checking of motor vehicles. May I encourage him to go further in that field?
The noble Lord said that there were not enough police to deal with the problem of traffic and he asked where were we to recruit the necessary number of men to deal with the spot checking of road vehicles. I will give him the answer, and I hope that the Minister will consider it as well. The Minister says, "I will make it legally obligatory upon the pedal cyclist to have his machine fitted with two brakes." It is easy to deal with pedal cyclists. They do not count for much in society.
§ Mr. Moyle
No, not in the opinion of the big interests. I will tell my right hon. Friend why. Why does the Minister not apply the same principle to the motorist? What is the difficulty of making it legally obligatory upon a motorist to have his car serviced not less frequently than every six months, and that he should have to be provided with a certificate from the garage engineer saying that the vehicle is road worthy?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The hon. Gentleman is not comparing like with like. When I said that the bicycle must have efficient brakes I only said that in future it must have what cars now must have. He is now proposing a new point, compulsory examination of cars periodically. That is a different matter. I am not putting a burden upon the cyclist that is not on the motorist.
§ Mr. Moyle
I shall begin to think that the Ministry of Transport are waking up to the toll on the roads when they deal as effectively with the motorist as they are forced to deal with the pedal cyclist. Why should it not be legally obligatory upon every motorist to have a vehicle that, in the opinion of an expert engineer, is roadworthy? That is the first point.
My second observation is that the Minister is attempting to deflate the claims made for the introduction of the speed limit, and he was assisted very effectively by the noble Lord. I am totally unconvinced by the submissions of the Minister about the ineffectiveness of introducing the speed limit. It is monstrous that no speed limit is imposed upon bypass roads which go through built-up areas. It is monstrous that there is no speed limit in many of the villages which have main traffic roads going right through.
The Minister spoke about the percentage of accidents in built-up areas, and I concluded that that was his main argument against the application of the speed limit. There are, of course, more accidents in the built-up areas, for the simple reason that there are more people in the built-up areas. I cannot see that the evidence that the Minister adduced is in any way a compelling argument against the claim that I made for the introduction of the speed limit in every village, along a main road or on any bypass road which has housing accommodation by the roadside.
I know the problem of the speed limit when we discuss it with the motorist, because it is natural for the motorist to maintain that the speed limit will not in any way reduce accidents. I suggest to the Minister that the time has come for the appointment of a Royal Commission to deal with this matter and to establish the facts, make recommendations for the consideration of the Government of the day and Parliament, and, finally, educate the public.
I am glad that the Home Office have decided to increase the number of police patrols and I repeat the plea which I made in the last debate on this question. Why do the Government not take similar action in connection with the patrol of traffic particularly over the week-end as has been taken in connection with civil Defence? Why not recruit a special corps 1188 of people who are competent to patrol traffic, and relieve policemen for other duties?
It is an extraneous obligation on the police who spend so much time taking notes, examining accidents and reporting to their superiors and perhaps having to appear in a police court to give evidence against a defendant. Of much of that work they could be relieved if only the public were brought to the aid of the Ministry of Transport and the Home Office through a special corps of men and women recruited, subject to certain tests, to assist the police, particularly over week-ends and holiday periods, to patrol and control our traffic on the roads. I am sure that that would be a material contribution to a reduction of the accidents on the roads.
I hope that the Minister will give consideration to the suggestions which I have made, particularly with reference to the Royal Commission and the special corps of people recruited to assist the police in the control of road traffic.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
Perhaps one of the happiest things that has been said in this debate is that the local authorities have made the best possible use of the limited amount of money at their disposal. I am sure that that is true, and that there is not a local authority in the land that would not wish to have more money for both maintenance and capital investment in the roads under their jurisdiction.
We have heard some very serious figures today about the increase in the number of motor vehicles in the country. We were told for instance, that there has been an increase from 2 million to 4.7 million vehicles since the war, and the Minister himself gave the figures of the number of new vehicles that have been registered in the first three months of this year, each of which monthly registrations is greater than the whole of the registrations last year.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I must correct that. I was in error in saying that, and I have already corrected it. I inadvertently gave the monthly average for last year as the total for the whole of last year. There has been a rise, but nothing like as spectacular as my original statement suggested.
§ Mr. Cole
I thank my right hon. Friend for that correction, but the principle obtains that the figures are mounting year by year, though not at such an astronomical rate as I thought from what my right hon. Friend said. The time is coming when we must remember the old adage about the irresistible force, which is the number of motor cars going around the country, meeting the immovable object, which is the roads. The time is coming when we shall have to do something about it. I would endorse what my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) said, and his plea that we should look at this thing in a big way in getting down to the problem. The time is past when we can deal with it on a piecemeal basis, and I hope that the Korean peace and other things will allow us to find more money for this purpose, when, I am sure, it can be accomplished.
We must remember that we in this country depend on the efficiency and on the expansion of our industry, and in particular on our exports abroad. It is impossible to compute—though I think all hon. Members will agree that it is very large—the loss of internal finance and the loss of orders abroad through time lost because of the inefficient road communications at present. What we need is not only the rehabilitation of existing roads but, in many places, the replanning of them, and new roads, trunk and otherwise, to connect our towns.
The road system of these islands lags far behind our necessities in maintaining our industrial position in the world. I myself led a deputation from my constituency last year to draw my right hon. Friend's attention to a scheme that has been on ice for many years, a scheme for a major road linking two towns, which would be for the convenience and the safety of the travellers between them. That is only one of many schemes left on ice for lack of finance.
I would say a word about congestion. Nobody going around towns such as London or Manchester or Birmingham, for instance, can be anything but shocked that in this day and age, in an up-to-date, modern country, we have such an archaic state of affairs in which all the vehicles converge on one point in the town. Let anyone, stand in the centre square of a 1190 town, be it London or Manchester or Birmingham or Glasgow, at a busy time and he will see for himself how traffic congestion and insufficient communications defeat us in our attempt to obtain maximum production, which we are always seeking. Some day somebody must do something about it.
I do not know whether the solution lies in redirection of the traffic or in bypass roads, but the present congestion, with the present rate of increase of the number of new vehicles is a state of affairs that cannot be allowed to go on. I hope that those responsible for the town planning of our new developments are not losing sight of the fact that motorists go to the centre of a town where are the theatres and the shops, and so on. That should be borne in mind in the planning of delivery roads and the places where vehicles may be expected to collect.
I come to the question of accidents and the loss of life on the roads. The great trouble, of course, is to convey to anyone, a Member of Parliament or anyone else exactly what these figures of road accidents really mean. In terms of human life we have been given today the comparison of the losses on the roads to the losses in Korea, but tell anyone that there is this comparison and his reaction will probably be one of surprise that there were so few casualties in Korea. We have to shock the people into realising what exactly is happening on the roads. As it is, unless one of these road fatalities comes to one's own doorstep or involves a member of one's own family, to the majority of people an accident is just another paragraph in the paper. That is one reason why we are not making faster progress towards solving the problem.
Rospa House, of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, are dealing with this problem, as those who have been there know, and hon. Members who have been there may have seen one of their booklets on two early pages of which is a graphic indication of what the loss of life means. It asks the reader to imagine a town with a population of over 160,000—equal to Bolton, for instance. Imagine that every man, woman and child in that town was killed or injured in a year. The whole population of a town that size is killed or injured on the roads of this country in a single year. Take the case of a small town such as Rye or 1191 Dartmouth, with a population of around 5,000. Imagine the whole of the population of that town killed on the roads in a year.
Then imagine 1,000 children at a Saturday morning cinema matinee—1,000 children all in one place. Suppose that something were to happen—which heaven forbid—so that the whole of those 1,000 children were killed. That would be something so terrible it would go down into history and never be expunged from our records Yet just that number of children, 1,000, die on the roads every year. By such imaginative publications as this and by other means this institution is trying to demonstrate to the people what these figures of road casualties mean. Otherwise they mean so little unless someone next door or one's own child or someone else known to one suffers in an accident.
Despite all the rules and regulations, all the zebra crossings, all the reflectors-pedestrians, motorists, and motor-cyclists must have inculcated into them good habits. We have seen this process applied in other directions. Years ago, there was not so much attention paid to the cleanliness of food, or to other things important to our physical health. Gradually, people have been taught how these things matter in the prolongation of our life. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that by a campaign—it will take quite a time—we must have continuous education to persuade people to do the right things on the roads, so that they gradually form good habits and wise ways in using the roads. Then and only then shall we have a diminution of the fatality records.
We have posters already. It has been suggested that we should have many more. I think that is right, but I do not think that that is enough. It is not enough to put a slogan on a poster. A slogan on a poster is a happy way to teach people to remember something, but we ought also to explain the reason behind the slogan—why it is a good idea to wait at a zebra crossing because so and so may or may not happen. Slogans are not enough; we must have slogans which give reasons. I am sure that the real answer to this problem is to stop people carrying out bad habits on the roads by trying to make them automatically do the right thing.
1192 We all know that the large majority of accidents are due to the person who does something on the spur of the moment, which, in quietness of mind, he would not dream of doing. He darts across the road in front of a bus or something like that, and it is very necessary that we should inculcate habits into people so that they do not do that sort of thing. Then we shall stop people from losing their lives. But this is a process of making the minds of the public keep pace with the changing conditions on the roads, and making them adopt habits which are in accord with those changing conditions. The Minister suggested a new manual for drivers. I think that there should be something like that to try to explain the position to pedestrians, with examples as to why pedestrians should take care, and that it should be disseminated among the population.
I suggest that a good way to do this, if we should be unfortunate enough to have ration books next year, would be to have one of these leaflets enclosed in every ration book issued at the Food offices in 1954. If that is not possible—and we shall all be glad if ration books can be done away with—a leaflet might be issued with driving licences throughout the year. I particularly want to get it to the pedestrian, and driving licences would not in every case bring it to the notice of the pedestrian. I want the body of people who, as a whole, are victims of accidents when actually pedestrians, to have this leaflet and information.
I would make a further point. Many people are both motorists and pedestrians at one time or another. I remain firmly of the opinion, having been a motorist for 20 years and a pedestrian for nearly 43 of my 44 years, that a motorist when he is driving a car is a motorist and not a pedestrian and when a pedestrian is walking, although he owns a car, he is a pedestrian and not a motorist.
I remain unconvinced by those people who tell me that every person who can drive a car understands the point of view of the pedestrian. I do not believe that that is true. My experience is that once one sits in a motor car one is a motorist and, although aware of pedestrians, one is not in the mind of a pedestrian. The same applies when one is a pedestrian on a zebra crossing, although one may at another time be a driver of a car.
1193 I think that we should extend the practice, which took place some years before the war, of showing films produced by the Crown Film Unit in cinemas, with one or two pithy examples of things that should and should not be done on the roads. The cinemas have still a fair audience and it would be a very useful and cheap way of showing people what happens on the roads. From what I know about cinemas at the present time, a number of advertisements are shown by local traders, and I do not think that any audience would object to a film lasting four or five minutes dealing with something as important as the safety of their own lives. I should like to make the suggestion to my right hon. Friend that he might extend that process and make it part of his campaign for getting this matter into the minds of the public.
As I said at the beginning of my speech this is a continual process. I do not think that we can look for any revolutionary method of solving this problem. I do not think that we can wait for anything wonderfully new, which nobody has ever thought of, to try to save people's lives. I think it is a question of extending, adapting and improving those methods which we are already thinking about, and all the time hoping that someone will have a new idea. Above everything else, the fact remains that if we want to save people's lives we must inculcate into them habits which make them avoid doing the things which put their lives in jeopardy.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Miss Elaine Burton (Coventry, South)
I would agree with what the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) has said, that the necessity of getting the seriousness of the situation over to the general public, in which we include ourselves, is the outstanding problem.
Before I came to the House today I was looking at a report in a newspaper which gave the casualty figures of our men in Korea as just over 700 killed, and I compared those figures with the road casualty figures, not for one year but just for the month of June. I saw that the casualty figures in road accidents in this country for that month was 407 killed or mortally injured. In other words, in one month we had nearly half the fatal casualties in this country that we had during the whole of the war in 1194 Korea. I do not profess to have any new suggestion as to how we can get that over to the people of this country, but I am quite convinced that is a fact which is not generally realised.
I should like first to deal with the problem of congestion. I agree with the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), that this is certainly not the time to raise constituency problems. We are trying to look at this from the national viewpoint. But I would say that cities the size of Coventry have a similar problem on this matter of congestion. We in Coventry make motor cars. I do not know whether that means that the proportion of cars owned by the population there is larger than anywhere else in the country, but it certainly is very large. I should like to bring to the attention of the Joint Under-Secretary of State, particularly as he is connected with the Home Office, and police affairs though the Metropolitan Police, the problem concerning the police that we have there.
In many of our provincial cities this problem of congestion arises from three chief factors. First, there is the severe congestion of people starting work and leaving work at the factories, particularly where, as it happens in our case, the workpeople have to go across the centre of the city to and from work. This necessitates large numbers of police being on duty to get the traffic moving and to keep the roads clear for getting people to and from work.
The second problem is that which occurs on Saturdays. We have in Coventry and elsewhere a five-day week, and that means that in many of our provincial cities we have people coming into shop on Saturdays not only from the city but from the surrounding neighbourhood. I find that in many provincial cities where I have been there are many more pedestrians coming into shop on a Saturday, than on other days. Not only do they fill the pavements but they overflow into the roads and it is impossible for the buses to keep moving. I would again point out to the Joint Under-Secretary of State that that involves the use of large numbers of police to keep the traffic moving.
Lastly, relating to congestion, is this matter of pedestrian crossings. Our provincial cities have a good number and I 1195 think that they are well used. But I find, particularly in Coventry, that the traffic is brought to a standstill by people using the pedestrian crossings. With us, policemen and policewomen have to be employed at nearly all these pedestrian crossings to keep the traffic moving. I would point out, and I think that perhaps the House would agree, that this congestion is caused in many of our provincial cities chiefly through the city centres being used as stations by buses coming in to put down and pick up passengers. I suggest that it would be to the advantage of all cities where buses are massed round the centre of a square in that city if such traffic had to make use of an inner ring road and was not allowed to come into the centre of the city. That would prevent accidents, save the time of the police, save people's tempers and enable us to get on more quickly.
Coming to actual road accidents, if a murder is committed there is an immediate outcry for the person responsible to be discovered. In the face of that, it seems quite incredible that although thousands of people may be killed on our roads, it is regarded very much as a matter of course. I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South. People have now become so accustomed to accidents—I do not except hon. Members from this—that, unless the position is actually brought home to them, they are regarded just as one of those things.
We are all concerned about what can be done. The right hon. Gentleman paid a tribute to the Press and, in particular, to the "News Chronicle" for the campaign which has been carried on recently. I should like to add my tribute. Many other hon. Members wish to speak, and so I shall not recapitulate what the Minister has said, but it seems to me that there are two things which will help to reduce the toll of accidents. First, all the experts dealing with the matter should know the type of person who is most likely to become a road casualty.
Hon. Members who have read the "News Chronicle" this week will have seen that that newspaper gave us actual age groups for the children and for the old people. Therefore, I suggest that most of the people who are dealing with 1196 traffic accidents in our cities know the age group or the types of person most likely to become casualties. Secondly, those of us who have been to local police stations to inquire about the matter know that it is not difficult to find out where accidents are most likely to occur. We have all seen road maps with the black spots marked on them. If these two matters are dealt with, we shall be some way towards providing a solution to the problem. And I believe this is being done.
But, in spite of this, we shall get nowhere unless, somehow or other, the matter can be got over to the people. I believe that the films, the radio and the Press should each play their part. Somehow we must bring home to everyone the fact that, if this slaughter continues at the present rate, one person in every three will become a casualty at least once in a normal lifetime. I seem to remember some years ago a poster of a widow with the caption "Keep death off the roads." There was a great outcry because many people said it was dreadful. I do not believe that it matters any longer how horrifying or dreadful the propaganda is if it has some effect upon us. Anything that we can devise to bring home to people how very serious the problem is should be used. If any of us are horrified, then that is proof that the propaganda is making an impression. Parliament should consider certain points.
First we ought to consider making the use of pedestrian crossings compulsory. I agree with the Minister about this. Although it may not be a popular thing to say, I believe we must impose penalties upon people who do not use pedestrian crossings. Secondly, we should consider the construction of subways at busy central intersections. Thirdly, we must have a long-term policy for redesigning our roads. I believe the whole House agrees with that. Fourthly, we must provide adequate car parks in the neighbourhood of shopping centres, for both shoppers and shopkeepers. On this matter, I differ from some hon. Members; I believe that car parks may have to be underground as well as on the surface. We must also consider the prohibition of parking in central streets and the provision of bus stations on an inner perimeter, where possible, in order to keep buses off the central streets.
1197 There is another small matter which is not necessarily local, but I mention it because the chief constable of Coventry referred to it. He suggests that there should be school wardens at schools sited in streets which were once minor roads but have now become major roads through build up and congestion.
As an ordinary pedestrian and frequently when about to cross a road at traffic signals, I have found it impossible to see the colour of the lights. These lights face the vehicular traffic, not the pedestrian. This afternoon the Minister said that he was authorising an increase of£345,000 in expenditure on traffic lights this year. Could not more "Cross now" signals be installed at traffic lights? Often, as I have pointed out, pedestrians cannot see the colour of the traffic lights and it would make it much easier for them if in most places there were "Cross now" and "Do not cross" signs. I do not know how many of these signs there are at traffic lights, but, for example, those in Trafalgar Square are very useful.
Drivers in general should be more careful about observing the amber light. We have all experienced the driver coming along the road and then, thinking the lights are just about to change, accelerating to cross before they alter. We then get the screeching of brakes and the driver pulls up half-way over the pedestrian crossing, or else there is an accident.
Some months ago I asked the Minister if it would be possible to arrange for the inspection of secondhand cars when these are sold. I suggested that the A.A. or the R.A.C. might undertake the task. Many men working in garages in Coventry have told me that some secondhand cars which are for sale are death traps and should not be allowed on the roads. I hope that this matter will be looked into. Car brakes should certainly be inspected more often.
One further point in conclusion. Of the young cyclists killed on the roads in 1950, 41 per cent. died because they ran into something and 10 per cent. because they fell off their machines. Bearing this in mind I hope the House will give publicity to the course organised by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, which was mentioned by the Minister. The Society has a first-class cycling course, and so far only 40,000 1198 children have taken advantage of it. The Minister said that the Society was prepared to extend the scheme if there was local demand, and I hope that headmasters and Members of Parliament will do their best to produce that demand.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)
Two thoughts occur to me as a result of what has been said during the course of this debate. First, while I agree with what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) and hon. Members opposite about the need to explain to the general public what really are the hazards of the roads, we must not allow ourselves to create such an attitude of mind among people that the terrors of the road become overwhelming and they are afraid to go about their normal business. We must keep a sense of proportion about the matter.
Secondly, the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) spoke about the desirability of keeping buses from the centre of cities and making them decant their passengers on an outer ring from which people would make their way on foot to the city centre. It has been suggested that private cars should be prohibited from entering the central areas of cities, and some such proposal was discussed in connection with the re-planning proposed for my own city after the war. I have a feeling that we may create conditions in which the business and commercial centres of our cities will be starved of the flow of life which vehicles and passengers represent if we make it difficult for people to reach the centre of cities and inconvenient for them to do their business when they get there.
I believe that the motorist who takes his car or commercial vehicle into the centre of a city which he knows to be congested, and which will present him with difficulties in going about his business, has worked out whether it is worth while facing those difficulties or not. The motorist coming to London who has no need to have his car in the centre of the City does not bring it here.
§ Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)
Would the hon. Gentleman take into consideration the fact that it is not the motor car in London which is the difficulty so much as 1199 the heavy goods vehicle with a trailer behind which must come into the city?
§ Mr. Thompson
Exactly the same conditions apply. The driver of the heavy goods vehicle or his employer have taken into account what are the problems arising from such action and whether it is worth while to go into the centre of the city. If they do not have to go, they must accept the consequences of their action.
This problem of road accidents, fatalities, human misery and suffering, destruction of families and decimation almost of our child population which is going on on the roads is a most serious thing. I quite agree that this House, the local authorities and other interested organisations ought to face up to it as a major problem. I do not belittle it in any way.
No driver going on to the roads goes on to the roads intending to have an accident. No driver who goes on to the roads does so intending to be no less careful than he thinks his own well-being and his own safe arrival require him to be. No pedestrian going on to the road does so with the idea of behaving in a manner that would be likely to lead him into any trouble whatsoever. No highway authority, local authority, county council or the Ministry of Transport is ignorant of this problem in all its facets, and the consequences of what is happening, but despite all this and the awareness and consciousness of this immense problem, the appalling accident figures continue to mount.
What have we done in the last 20 or 30 years? We have been nibbling at the fringe of the problem. We have pedestrian crossings, traffic islands, dual carriageways and a most fantastic paraphernalia of road signs, which have grown to such an extent that the average motorist does not know half the signs by which he is supposed to be guided. One of my hon. Friends put the matter admirably, clearly and with great force when he said that if an invading force in these islands, by sniping and ambushing, were to inflict a quarter of a million casualties on our people it is not difficult to imagine the kind of minute that would be sent from the Prime Minister to whatever Departmental Minister was responsible.
1200 It would be headed "Action this day" or something to that effect, and I imagine that the action required from my right hon. Friend would be very drastic indeed.
If ordinary measures have failed and 50 million are still to go on living in these islands, then it seems to me that the House ought to direct its attention to some of the possible extraordinary measures which we should take into account. I do not want to make a speech which would deprive the House of hearing from the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson). I do not go as far as he does in the views he holds about the liquor trade and liquor consumption. But I agree with what I think he would say about the motorist who goes on to the road with his judgment and capacity impaired as a result of having taken alcohol.
Such a motorist ought to be treated as a very special kind of offender. If he does not have an accident, nevertheless he invites the inevitable consequences of the action he took before he set out with his motor car, and it seems to me that the penalties to which he is subjected today are comparatively trifling, bearing in mind the particular offence of which he has been guilty. He ought to be forbidden to use the Queen's highway for five years, 10 years or any other seemingly extravagant period that the House might deem appropriate.
What a queer kind of people we are. While we in this House are aware of this problem and of the relationship between intoxicating liquor and road accidents, we are actually under the powers conferred by the Town and Country Planning Act insisting that every new public house that is built must have a bigger and better car park than the old public house. It seems to me that we are facing the problem without any very really serious approach as to what will follow from such actions. It would not be going too far in this House to insist that a publican who serves a motorist should be treated the same as a publican who serves a minor.
Suggestions have been made tonight about what might be done with the driver who drives a car which is inefficient. Apparently there are great difficulties about having cars inspected but I do not see any such difficulties at all. It ought 1201 to be the duty of a garage proprietor if, in the course of his business, he handles a car which is inefficient or in which he knows there are serious defects, that he should report that matter to the police. He should warn the motorist, which is natural if he has his eye on his business, that he is about to take this action. The responsibility will then be firmly and squarely where it belongs, namely, in the hands of the police.
If a car is found to be in an inefficient condition and it has been in the hands of a garage—cars are frequently in the hands of some garage or another—and the garage proprietor has not done his duty, then he should be debarred from trading. We are facing a serious situation. At present, a motorist is required to have his car insured. He can have an inefficient car insured and the insurance company carries the responsibility this far, that if they have issued an insurance policy for an inefficient motor car and that car is involved in an accident the insurance company pays out. It is quite a serious matter, but not serious enough in relation to the effect on other members of our community who may be injured by the inefficient motor car. The insurance company should be required by law not to issue an insurance certificate for a car that is less efficient than it ought to be
I am well aware that I am suggesting somewhat repressive measures. I have been a motorist for 26 years and, like most hon. Members, I face these problems day by day. I do not want to see created a situation in which the motorist as a class is on the one hand and the rest of the population is on the other, because we are closely intertwined. As a matter of fact, I think the motorist is much maligned because 95 per cent. of motorists go about their business in a proper way, properly equipped to do their journeys in perfect safety. After all, they are in command of a weapon which is capable of inflicting great injury and hardship on their fellows, and they ought to be required to face that position with a proper sense of responsibility.
There are no worse offenders in the use of the Queen's highway than the pedestrians, however, and sometimes their behaviour seems to be positively shocking. Again, I speak as one of them.
§ Mr. Thompson
There ought to be sanctions exercised against pedestrians who are careless. The jay walker ought to be summoned for jay walking and exposing himself to danger, for creating the conditions in which motorists are sometimes involved in accidents for which they have little or no responsibility. What sanctions are there? The pedestrian can be fined, but I doubt whether that is the right way to handle the problem. I doubt whether it is sufficient.
It seems to me that the pedestrian ought to be fined for a first offence and, for a second, should be required to attend evening classes in road behaviour. My word, how he would dislike it. How I would dislike it. Yet it would certainly bring pedestrians to realise that they fit into an ordered pattern of road users and that they cannot treat the highways as playgrounds. It is largely because of the behaviour of the pedestrians that the zebra crossings have lost their value.
§ Mr. Thompson
The hon. Gentleman knows Liverpool as well as I do. I invite him to go to the centre of the city where there is one pedestrian crossing controlled by two extremely efficient women police whose job it is to ensure the safety of the pedestrian crossing a busy road. They have the greatest difficulty in persuading pedestrians to take notice of their signals, which are intended for the safety of the pedestrians themselves. It seems to me that the pedestrians must face up to their responsibilities.
Over the years we have come to regard it as the inalienable right of every man and woman to use the roads. I remember 1203 the old jingle which is probably well known to every hon. Member:He was right, dead right, as he sped along, But he is just as dead as if he had been dead wrong.We have built up an attitude of mind in which everybody is busy asserting his right to use the road over the rights of everybody else, though we ought to regard it as a privilege to do so, and a privilege which may be sacrificed by an abuse of the roads; a privilege which could be lost or limited if we exposed other road users to dangers to which we have no right to expose them and which ought not to be there. If we face this problem in that way, all road users, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians will be jealous of their privileges and anxious to guard their rights.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Keenan
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I ask your guidance? What must I, as a back bencher, do to get the opportunity of addressing the House, which, as you are probably aware, I do not very often attempt to do? I have been here since 25 minutes to three o'clock, with the exception of 10 minutes when I went out about 40 minutes ago.
§ Mr. Keenan
What must I do to get consideration? Have I to send a telegram or write to Mr. Speaker, or what must I do if I wish to speak?
That is a matter entirely for the House. There were many hon. Members who wanted to speak, but the length of speeches is determined by Members themselves.
§ Mr. Keenan
That is not the point, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I noticed hours ago that Members were going to the Chair, and I approached one of your colleagues and found that there was a list. I believe that my name was then added to it. If I want to speak on any debate, have I to write to Mr. Speaker?
§ Mr. Strauss
I am sorry if, by rising now, I have cut out my hon. Friend, but, realising that many back benchers wanted to speak and that our time is limited, I have deliberately waited rather later than usual, and I propose to confine my remarks to about 20 minutes, or 25 minutes at the outside.
My qualifications for entering into this debate are that as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport for some time, I was Chairman of the Road Safety Committee during the last two years of its life and I signed the final report which was submitted to the Minister of Transport. As a result of my work on that Committee, I acquired a certain amount of knowledge and experience and certain views which I desire to submit to the House at the end of this important debate.
Everyone will agree that it has been an important debate—everyone, perhaps, except those who have, unfortunately, been cut out through lack of time.
§ Mr. Strauss
The number of suggestions which have been put forward and the keenness shown throughout the debate by those who have taken part are some indication of the interest taken in this problem throughout the country, and, in particular, of that all-important aspect of the road problem, road safety. In the few remarks which I propose to make I want to confine myself to that aspect, not because I do not have definite views on others, but because it is, as I have said, the aspect on which I have the greatest knowledge and, perhaps, the strongest feelings.
We are all agreed, in all parts of the House, that the accidents and deaths on our roads are appallingly high and that vigorous action should be taken to reduce the monthly casualty lists. Opinions differ as to how this can be best done, and people have varying ideas as to the relative importance of the remedies which can, or should, be applied. When we are considering this problem we should bear in mind one fact which has hardly been touched upon in this debate, and which, indeed, many people think it right to conceal in the belief that by concealing it they are strengthening the case for drastic action. The fact is that, as a result of a great deal of action by 1205 the Government, by local authorities, by road safety committees by the police and by other bodies, the number of road accidents today is far less than before the war.
The accidents and deaths on our roads, both for adults and for children are down by 30 per cent. compared with 1938 and most of the years in the 1930's. If we take the figure which is probably more significant—the number of accidents per vehicle on the roads—we find that there has been a fall of 50 per cent. I think it is important to state these figures. They should not lead us into complacency, but, on the contrary, they should make us realise that by taking action along certain lines we can materially affect the number of road accidents.
During the 'thirties practically nothing was done about road accidents. There were no great safety campaigns and most people seemed to take the attitude that a high rate of road accidents was inevitable and, like unemployment and poverty, would always be with us. But, since the war, we have taken a different attitude and all sorts of road safety activities have been launched and a combination of those activities has brought about remarkable results.
The fact that, based on the number of vehicles in this country, the number of accidents is actually 50 per cent. less than pre-war should stimulate us to intensify and extend our efforts. We should see what more can be done, either along the lines of the action we have already taken, or on new lines, to reduce accidents further, because their number is still frightful.
The fall that has taken place did not happen automatically, but was the consequence of drastic action on the part of a number of authorities. Those actions can be divided into two categories—educating the public and dealing with particular black spots. The accident rate is rising at the moment and in the first five months of this year it was about 9 per cent. higher than last year, although it is still well below 1938.
Yet today, in spite of the drop, 14 people are killed on the roads every day and of the 14 two are children. There are about 600 accidents a day. Every one of those deaths and accidents is unnecessary. Practically every one could have been 1206 avoided if proper care had been taken by the pedestrian, the motorist, or the cyclist concerned. Some people try to comfort themselves by saying that the number of deaths from road accidents is only 1 per cent. of the total deaths of the country and only one to 18 of the deaths from cancer and one to 40 of the deaths from heart disease. But every one of those accidents is a human tragedy and most of them involve great suffering and distress, physical and mental, to the victim and his or her relatives.
What, then, should be done during the next few years to bring down the accident figures? There is the proposal to build new roads and eliminate black spots. Of course, new roads would be some contribution towards solving the problem. If we by-pass villages and towns the risk of accidents in the main streets is reduced. If, on the new roads, there are dual carriageways and the bad corners of the old are eliminated, the roads will be safer. That is all to the good, but even more could be done in dealing with black spots by the use of guard rails, notices, re-surfacing and a hundred and one other ways. Although I cannot accuse the Government of being negligent about this problem—they have done a great deal—they could do much more. One can never be satisfied and I should like to see effort in this direction intensified.
When we consider the main accident problem we must, however, come to the conclusion that the construction of new roads, while highly desirable for a number of reasons, particularly in the interests of the national economy, cannot be a major factor in reducing the accident rate of the country. That is because, as has been said by the Minister of Transport, about 80 per cent. of the accidents occur in built-up areas. That figure is rather higher than I had thought. I should have thought that it was about 60 per cent.——
§ Mr. Strauss
The building of new roads can have little effect on the accident rate in London, for example. In the Metropolitan Police area last year there were 575 deaths and 40,000 casualties. The building of new roads would, obviously, not have much effect in reducing the rate of accidents there.
1207 We therefore have to consider what is the most fruitful use of effort, money and resources we can make which will immediately—during the next few years—reduce the number of casualties on our roads. Apart from the elimination of black spots, which should go on much faster than at present, I believe that the main line of action is one which has been touched upon by a number of Members, and is one which I wish to develop during the few remaining minutes during which I shall address the House. The matter was dealt with by the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) and the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole)—an intensified propaganda campaign.
Much has already been done in that direction and all praise should go to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the local safety committees and the police for what they have done—the police have been magnificent in their educational work in the schools—in propaganda, in getting people to realise the danger of accidents and the need to take care on the roads. I suggest that we now require a nation wide propaganda campaign similar, and on the same scale, as that which was launched about 1946. I urge that, not only because I think it is obviously desirable on the broadest grounds, but because we proved that that campaign had a marked effect on the number of road deaths in this country.
When that campaign came to its peak there was a striking fall in the number of accidents and deaths in spite of the fact that there was an increasing number of cars coming on to the 'roads month by month. I give these figures: in 1946. total casualties numbered 163,000; in the next year the total was 166,000; the year after that, when the campaign was at its height, the figure dropped to 153,000. There were 13,000 fewer casualties and 370 fewer deaths at a time when the number of cars on the road was rising rapidly.
In view of that past experience and the circumstances existing today, it is desirable that a similar campaign should be launched at the earliest possible opportunity and developed on the same sort of scale. It is true that it will be expensive; it will cost£100,000, or may be£200,000, but it will have a lasting effect, 1208 as well as a stimulating effect, on all local activities. In my view, it would do more than anything else to bring down the number of accidents.
What would be its motive? It would try to bring home to everyone using the roads, as we did in the old campaign, the the danger of the roads. We should try to make everyone realise that an accident is something which might well happen to them and not something which happens only to someone else in the next village or the next street.
The campaign must be carried out in such a way that the attention of all road users is drawn to it and they are made aware of the possible horrible consequences of careless road behaviour on their part. Extensive use should be made of the B.B.C., posters, advertisements in the Press and films. A large number of excellent films were produced last time. The active help of every type of organisation should be enlisted, including the churches, and also the brewers who, last time, put up notices in their "pubs" warning people not to take drink before driving. What effect that had I do not know, but the point is that a campaign organised on such a scale should have a cumulative effect.
If the Government consider pursuing this matter, as I hope they will, I should like to tell them that in advertising such a campaign either in the Press or by posters, it is no use using gentle methods. You cannot advertise road safety and ask people to avoid killing each other through the normal advertising technique of pictures of pretty, smiling kirls. You have to shock and frighten people. You have to use such effective means—disturbing as they are, and certain to arouse criticism—as the "widow poster" which was a major feature of the previous road safety campaign.
§ Mr. J. Hudson
Would my right hon. Friend tell the House what method of shocking the people was used by the brewers to bring this home to the people in their "pubs"?
§ Mr. Strauss
They did their utmost, because it was to their interest as well as to the national interest. They put up notices in the "pubs" warning people of the dangers of driving after they had taken alcohol. 1209 The "widow poster" was much criticised at the time because it disturbed people. It was meant to, and I think that it, more than anything else, was responsible for focusing the attention of people on the danger of road accidents in the post-war years. I say, therefore, that if the Government carry out such a campaign which I think they should, despite the expense—though this would be small compared with the cost of other methods which have been discussed—they must be prepared to use drastic measures, and be prepared to annoy and to shock people.
One of the most important effects of such a campaign is that it stimulates local effort. Local road safety committees and other organisations redouble their efforts when they see that a national campaign is being carried on. The accident rate is likely to increase substantially unless something is done, because the number of vehicles on the roads is still growing year by year. There are now 50 per cent. more licensed vehicles than before the war and the number is growing. So, also, is the number of children and old people who are the most accident-prone section of the community. It is especially desirable when the accident rate is taking a marked upward turn that further action, beyond that at present contemplated by the Government, should be taken.
A large number of suggestions have been made by hon. Members in all parts of the House. I have not time to comment on them. I want to put forward two proposals which are important. One is a rather distant proposal and the other an immediate one. They are among those which struck me as important when I dealt with road safety problems at the Ministry of Transport.
One of these days we should set up a system, similar to that which exists in many parts of America, of vehicle testing stations all over the country. Every licensed vehicle should report to a station, to start with maybe once every two years and, later, once every year, to be thoroughly checked. Steering, brakes and everything else should be examined to ensure that vehicles on the road are in a thoroughly safe condition. I believe that that would have a marked effect, as it is said to have in America.
§ Mr. Strauss
Unless they get a certificate from a service station no licence would be granted.
Although this cannot be done immediately, I see no reason why preliminary steps should not be taken to set up an organisation of this sort, first in the more populated centres where there is a great amount of traffic and later over the whole country. This would not cost very much. It could be done reasonably cheaply. We went into the figures at the time and decided that for the amount of benefit which would result this would be a comparatively cheap remedy.
The other proposal is the desirability of ensuring that children should be encouraged or even forced to pass the cycle test under the auspices of the local representative of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. Headmasters of schools should be asked to insist that boys and girls should not be allowed to cycle to school unless they present a certificate showing that they have passed the appropriate test. That could be done quickly and it would be helpful.
The remedy for road accidents does not lie in one specific. The only way to get results is by applying vigorously and actively a variety of different remedies. That is what has been happening in the last few years. That is why the rate of accidents today is much lower than it was before the war. Many different pressures have been applied; many different devices have been considered and put into operation.
Above all, I believe that today the added impetus of a national campaign for road safety would bring about striking and immediate results. If it prevented the accident rate rising it would be remarkable indeed, because unless something of this sort is done the figures are bound to increase. We must bear in mind that the fundamental cause of accidents is somebody's carelessness. A bend in a road, a bad surface and other factors of that kind are contributory causes which can be eliminated. But the most difficult factor to eliminate is carelessness.
If we can inculcate, by exhortation, shock tactics, tedious repetition or whatever method is most effective, the permanent consciousness in the minds of all 1211 people that danger is lurking round the corner whenever they go on the road, we can get results. We should inculcate into the minds of people the consciousness that unless they are careful something may happen to them next week or the week after—that they may be one of the 14 people killed on the roads every day. It is only if we succeed in diminishing careless road behaviour that our casualty figures and the number of road deaths will be brought down.
I therefore ask the Minister of Transport to consider all the solutions which have been put before him today by my hon. Friends on this side and by hon. Members opposite—and if ever there was a cause which was uncontroversial, it is this one of road safety. Because of the personal experience which I had in connection with the national safety campaign, and in seeing the results of that campaign, I ask him to consider specially with his colleagues the launching at the first practicable moment of a similar large-scale campaign as I am confident that it would, under present circumstances, be equally successful.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)
I think this debate will, at any rate, have good propaganda value, and the powerful speech which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) has just made will form a useful part of it. He spoke of a propaganda campaign involving the use of shock tactics. Of course, shock tactics need careful timing, and, although my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport says he will certainly consider what the right hon. Gentleman has said, it must be remembered that timing of these matters is of the greatest importance.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the improvement which followed the campaign in 1946, but the cause of improvements in road accident figures is, to say the least, obscure. It is difficult to say what was the reason for that sudden improvement in 1952, which has been apparently reversed by the trend this year. All these matters need very carefully to be considered.
1212 I am very happy indeed to be able to stand-in this evening for my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, not least because he is a constituent of mine and I think it is a proper service for an hon. Member to render to his constituent. When I tell the House that my constituency is traversed by the Hendon Way, the Watford Way, the Great North Way and the North Circular Road, and that a very high proportion of my constituents have to come into the middle of London to their jobs and businesses every day, I think that I can claim to have some firsthand knowledge of the problems involved in this debate.
It is also appropriate that a Minister of the Home Office should be speaking on this occasion. We have a close connection with the police, and the police are responsible for enforcing the law and the regulations which are made by my right hon. Friend.
The administrative machinery for dealing with road traffic is necessarily somewhat complex. As is quite clear from the course of this debate, there is a great complexity of interests involved, and, although the prime responsibility rests with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and it is for him to make the plans and the regulations, nevertheless those regulations have to be carried out by the police. There is therefore necessarily a fairly elaborate machinery of consultation between the police and the Ministry of Transport.
One thing that is clear from what has been said in this debate is that hon. Members in all parts of the House are very familiar with that machinery. It appears therefore that it has made a due impression. The machinery comprises the Road Safety Committee, over which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport presides and which includes an Assistant Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, three chief constables and representatives of the Home Office and Scottish Home Department; the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee; and, finally, the Traffic Sub-Committee of the Central Conference of Chief Constables, which is a Home Office committee. On the whole, I think that that machinery has worked well, and that my right hon. Friend is not short of all the advice he needs on this matter.
1213 To some extent, this problem is a clash of two conflicting interests. On the one hand, there is the demand to limit the speed of vehicles in the interest of road safety, and, on the other, there is the demand to increase the speed of traffic in the interest of the national economy. There are only two ways of reconciling these two conflicting interests, and they were mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. In order completely to reconcile them we would have to carry out all the necessary improvement of the roads and make all the necessary improvement in the discipline, not only of those who drive vehicles, but of cyclists, pedestrians and every other class of road user. My right hon. Friend has dealt with the first of those necessities and has explained, I think to the satisfaction of the House, the present position and why it is that everything cannot be done to meet it.
I think I can say without fear of contradiction, even after listening to this debate, that the people of this country are second to none in the way they behave on the roads, whether as drivers, pedestrians, or in any other way. As has been said, we have 18 vehicles for every mile of road in the country. That is the highest proportion in the world, higher even than in the United States of America.
It is, of course, as has been recognised in all parts of the House, the crowding on the roads which is the main cause of accidents. The most significant fact which emerges is that very nearly 80 per cent. of all accidents take place in built-up areas. I think it would be entirely wrong to set about trying to reduce the number of accidents by slowing up traffic. Certainly the purpose of the Ministry of Transport and of the police is to keep traffic moving, because we believe that that is the right way to deal with both aspects of this problem.
Were we to seek to put a speed limit on the arterial roads, and there is a very considerable demand for that—a demand which reaches me daily from my constituents, and, I have no doubt, many other hon. Members also—the only effect would be to drive the vehicles off these new unlimited highways back on to the old courses through the thickly populated areas. The result would be that we should have not only slower traffic but 1214 more accidents, because it is in the thickly populated areas that the accidents occur.
In 1952 there were 206,000 accidents involving death or injury—not all serious injury, about 150,000 of those were not classified as serious. That is an appalling total. Certainly no one in the Government is going to be complacent about it. The suggestion has been made that the proper remedy for dealing with the matter lies in imposing more drastic penalties than at present exist, but not many accidents are due to what may be conveniently called "accident repeaters." It is not very often that the same person is involved in an accident twice. In the 206,000 accidents last year, 264,000 vehicles were involved, out of a total of some 5 million vehicles on the road. Approximately there was an accident involving injury to the person to one vehicle in 20 last year. Perhaps I could put it in another way. Roughly speaking, every vehicle driver is concerned in an accident involving injury once in 20 years.
I draw attention to those figures to show that the cause of accidents is not so much the constant reckless driving of individuals as the occasional careless lapse of a person who has never been involved in an accident before. Those are the cases with which we really have to deal if we are to tackle this problem thoroughly. There are of course some reckless drivers, just as there are drivers who never become involved in an accident in the whole course of their lives.
As regards reckless drivers, it is for the courts to determine what the proper punishment should be. I see the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in his place and I am certain that his experience as Home Secretary was that it is for the courts to determine punishment and not for the Government or the Home Secretary to give directions to the magistrates or to anyone what penalties they should impose.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that there is an unfortunate disparity between the sentences which different magistrates give?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Our view of these cases is usually formed from extremely condensed newspaper reports. I am not saying that there are not disparities, but it is impossible to judge the 1215 merits of a penalty from the abbreviated reports that we see in the newspapers.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I entirely agree, and I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Perhaps it will be of some interest to the House if I give figures in this connection. In 1951 there were 612,000 motoring cases in which fines were imposed. In 1952 that had increased to 687,000, so it looks as if, on the whole, courts were imposing more fines. Sentences of imprisonment in 1951 were 1,433 and in 1952 1,609, a very substantial increase. The number of cases of disqualification fell very slightly from 17,687 to 17,155. The number of endorsements of licences rose from 96,000 to 110,000.
I think it is clear from those figures that on the whole the courts have tended, comparing 1951 with 1952, to take a rather sterner view of motoring offences. I think, too, that if any hon. Member will study the Acts and see what can be done he will agree that the penalties provided are quite adequate to deal with any offences which may be committed. Perhaps I may give the House a few further figures quickly. The number of prosecutions in 1952 as compared with 1951 rose by roughly 8 per cent. The number of warnings given by the police also rose by about 8 per cent., and the number of prosecutions in speed limit cases rose by some 35 per cent. It is quite clear, I think, that the police have been concentrating a good deal of attention on this matter.
Now let me deal with a number of individual points raised in the debate. One hon. Member opposite asked about the use of women police in traffic duties. The position is that there are about 1,800 women police, including 388 in the Metropolitan Police, at the present time. The number of women employed on this duty is necessarily limited by the total number of women in the force, but they are being used and they are proving very satisfactory. The number cannot be expanded 1216 too fast because, obviously, if we try to do that we interfere with the efficiency and destroy the balance and experience of the force.
My hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) and others raised the question of the standardisation of signs. The position is that types of signs are already made standard by Regulations. The last Regulations were made in 1950 and dealt with size, colour and type.
§ Mr. Nicholson
Would my hon. Friend allow me to correct him? I did not mean the actual signs qua signs. I meant the use made of them.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I do not know that it would be possible to standardise that. There are some signs that can be put up at the discretion of the highway authorities, and there is, therefore, to that extent some lack of uniformity.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I should have thought that it was most important that there should be standard use of the "Halt" sign. Some highway authorities use it in one way, and some in another. I recommended its standardised use.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I want to say a word about these "Halt" and "Slow" signs now. The "Halt" sign should be used in those cases where visibility is so restricted on the main road that it is essential to stop altogether in order to see whether there is anything coming. There are other cases where it is undesirable to use the "Halt" sign. I think my hon. Friend will agree that if the "Halt" sign were used in every case we should find that motorists tended to think, "Oh, there is another 'Halt' sign," and to ignore them, so that their value was cheapened. That is what happens in all cases where we over-use a useful thing.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
That is exactly the trouble. If we create offences the prevention or punishment of which cannot be enforced, or which public opinion as a whole regards as merely silly, the result is that the creation of the offence ceases to be effective. That is the position.
§ Mr. Snow
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that practice varies considerably as between counties. In Staffordshire, although they do not use signs on 1217 posts at the side of the road, they always put a stop sign on the road itself. I do not remember having seen a standard of driving better than it is in Staffordshire, and people do adhere to that instruction. This is much too important a matter to be described as just a constituency argument.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I think that what I have said is clear and lays down a principle which is followed.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I believe it to be the right approach, and I think that, on the whole, it is one which commends itself to the people of this country.
The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) raised the question of speed limits in villages where there is no lighting system. The position there is that a speed limit can be placed on roads without street lighting. The Minister has power under the Road Traffic Act to enable that to be done in those cases where it is necessary. The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth also raised the question of the Education Act, 1944. In paragraph 5 of Circular 242 of the Ministry of Education, to which he referred, the Minister said that in present circumstances she did not regard it as justifiable to provide free transport over shorter distances than those laid down, but she added that she would be prepared to consider quite exceptional cases where the authority could satisfy her that special justification existed, for example, cases of serious traffic dangers and the special needs of handicapped children.
The hon. Member asked if it were possible to give the number of applications for such exceptional treatment. I have discussed this with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education, and he tells me that he cannot possibly get the figures now, and he very much doubts whether it would be possible to get them, but there have been cases where an exception has been allowed. I cannot go further than that; that is all the information which I have. The kind of case is where children have to cross, for example, the Great North Road or where they have to walk down a length of busy arterial road where there is great danger.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I can only tell the hon. Member that serious efforts have been made to procure this information and I understand that it would mean a great deal of inquiry from a very large number of authorities.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The hon. Member also asked a question about stocks of brakes for bicycles. I can only tell him that the advice that there was insufficient of these brakes to enable the Regulation announced by my right hon. Friend to be made came to him from the trade itself, through the representative association. That is the information he received, and it was upon that information that he took the action referred to.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) produced a very handsome bicycle pedal with reflectors upon it. I understand that these are probably not illegal. The Ministry will be interested to see how they work out in practice. It is understood that they have been used overseas, particularly in Germany, and such information as is now available indicates that they are useful.
The subject of the compulsory examination of vehicles was raised by various hon. Members. The evidence does not show that a large number of accidents is due to defective vehicles. It would cost a very great deal of money to set up compulsory testing stations as suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, who was the chairman of the former Committee on Road Safety, and the Government do not see their way at present to do that. The setting up of such testing stations would compete with other necessary improvements, and, on the whole, they do not appear to have first priority.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) raised the subject of one-way streets. Perhaps I can say, without going out of order, that the Minister contemplates, when the next opportunity for legislation occurs, giving the principal local authorities power to 1219 make orders, without need for confirmation by the Minister, for certain matters including one-way streets.
§ Mr. Blackburn
That would not meet the point I had in mind. I said "not the county councils." When the hon. Gentleman refers to "the principal local authorities" be means the county boroughs and the county councils. I should prefer the non-county boroughs and the urban districts to have the power.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I hope, at any rate, that the hon. Gentleman will regard half a loaf as being better than no bread. The power would be subject to general directions from the Minister and some right of appeal.
The hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach) asked about the Kingsway Subway. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes), when Minister of Transport, appointed a technical committee under his chief engineer to inquire into the possibility of using that subway for vehicles. The committee was representative of highway authorities and the British Transport Commission. I am told that it was unanimous that the subway could not economically be used for vehicles, and a copy of the report has been placed in the Library in case hon. Members are interested in it. The hon. Member also asked about the giving of instruction to drivers particularly women, about the mechanism of the car. This is included in a draft manual on driving the publication of which is being considered.
The proposed Forth Bridge Road was mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan). The position is that the Forth Bridge Act already provides for the charging of tolls for 30 years at levels approved by the Minister, so, if the Forth Bridge Road becomes a possibility, the matter can be considered without further legislation.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
I was hoping that the fact that this large income would be available from tolls would encourage the Ministry to engage in the actual provision of the bridge.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
That is no doubt one of the matters which my right hon. Friend is taking into consideration in this connection.
§ It being Half-past Nine o'clock, Mr. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16 (Business of Supply) to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of the Resolution under consideration.
§ Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.
§ Mr. SPEAKER then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the outstanding Resolutions reported in respect of Classes I to X of the Civil Estimates and of the Revenue Departments Estimates, the Ministry of Defence Estimate, the Navy Estimates, the Army Estimates and the Air Estimates.