HC Deb 21 April 1959 vol 604 cc313-20
Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I beg to move, in page 57, line 16, to leave out "a highway authority may" and to insert: It shall be the duty of a highway authority to provide".

The Temporary Chairman

I think that this Amendment may be discussed together with the two following Amendments in the name of the hon. Gentleman; in line 18, after "carriageway" to insert, "and to", and in line 21 at the end to insert: in any case where they consider the provision thereof necessary or desirable for the safety or accommodation of pedestrians".

Mr. Page

I am obliged, Mr. MacColl; the three Amendments deal with the same subject.

This has been "gag day". We started with a Bill which we were told we could not speak about because we might embarrass a future Chancellor of the Exchequer. We then went on to deal with a Bill which we were told we could not speak about because it had been settled between the T.U.C. and the B.E.C. We have now come to a Bill which we are not to speak about because it is a consolidation Measure. I propose to take the opportunity to move this Amendment even though it may be an Amendment to something which is the law. I consider the grouping of Clauses 67 to 70 is cynical. Clause 67 says: It shall be the duty of a highway authority to provide… a proper and sufficient footway… Clause 70 states: It shall be the duty of a highway authority to provide… grass verges for ridden horses and driven livestock. In both those Clauses a duty is imposed on the highway authority, and elsewhere in the Bill duties are imposed regarding such things as cattle-grids in Clause 87 (2) and snow clearance in Clause 129 (1). But in Clause 68 relating to refuges and getting a pedestrian safely across the road it merely states that "a highway authority may" provide refuges. There is no obligation. My Amend-mend seeks to put refuges on the same basis as footpaths.

8.30 p.m.

I am not asking that local authorities should be compelled nor that an absolute duty should be imposed on them. Under the provisions of Clause 67, footpaths are to be provided when a highway authority considers, the provision thereof necessary or desirable for the safety or accommodation of pedestrians. I am proposing that the same consideration shall be given to the provision of refuges in the road. A highway authority could always say that it did not think it was necessary or desirable for the safety or accommodation of pedestrians to provide a refuge. But I suggest that the Amendment would show highway authorities that the Committee considers refuges as important as footpaths. A refuge in a road is valuable because it enables a pedestrian to concentrate on one stream of traffic at a time and not endeavour to concentrate or to judge the speeds of two streams of traffic or even six upon occasion—three going in one direction and three in the other. I have always considered that one needs a rubber neck, to be cross-eyed and to have a photographic mind and the mathematical mentality of an Einstein to be able to judge the speed of traffic in order to cross the road in safety. If that mental exercise is halved by the pedestrian having to negotiate half of the road at a time greater safety would result.

A motorist does not have the same difficulty. He merely puts out an indicator on his vehicle or flicks on a flashing light and then moves his car to the middle of the road and makes his vehicle into an island for himself. He has the protection of his car. He does not have to negotiate several streams of traffic going in different directions at different speeds. But on occasion we expect elderly people to judge the speeds of six lines of traffic in order to cross the road in safety. It is amazing that pedestrians are involved in only one-fifth of the accidents which occur. Because of the hazards to which they are exposed when crossing roads one might have thought that they would be involved in many more accidents.

There appears to be something of a conspiracy to remove these island refuges from our roads.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)


Mr. Page

My hon. Friend says, "No," but the motorists continually knock them down and the highway authorities do not replace them, which is a complete surrender to bad driving. I suppose it is cheaper for the highway authority that a motorist should knock down a pedestrian rather than a bollard. So the islands are not restored. I am not speaking theoretically. I refer hon. Members to the situation in Whitehall. There the traffic islands were removed at the time of the Coronation and they have never been replaced. Now there is a considerable stretch of Whitehall where it is quite impossible for pedestrians to cross the road. I ask my hon. Friend to consider this matter from the point of view of emphasising the importance of refuges in connection with safety and to put the same obligation upon highway authorities regarding refuges as the provision of footpaths. The Committee should express its belief in the contribution which refuges can make to the safety of pedestrians.

Mr. A. J. Irvine

If this matter had come before the Reading Committee, it would have been strongly arguable that it was within its terms of reference and, therefore, that the consideration which an earlier Amendment received from the Government Front Bench would not be appropriate to this Amendment. Having concluded that it might well have been within the terms of reference of that Committee, I think it right to say, as one who served upon it, that one of the factors which appeared as very relevant in connection with the issue raised by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) would be the circumstance that the provision in the existing law has a date as recent as 1956. As I understand it. this is a re-enactment of a provision in the Road Traffic Act, 1956.

In considering this whole matter, therefore, looking at it all always in the context of consolidation, which is our primary objective, one would hesitate to make a recommendation to alter a provision so recently determined by Parliament in legislation which went through in the ordinary way and not in this way. That would have been an important factor in our minds. After all, in the space of only three years to recommend changing what had been a discretionary power to a mandatory power is to propose something which obviously requires very careful thought.

For my part, I should be inclined, upon the merits of the issue, to share the view of the hon. Member for Crosby that, as the duties in this series of Clauses assume mandatory form, it may well be not appropriate that this discretionary power should take its place in the midst of them. Perhaps it is rather a narrow question, but I certainly should not feel confident to oppose the view expressed by the hon. Member for Crosby. Bearing in mind, as I say, that this may well have been within the terms of reference upon which the Reading Committee worked. which the Parliamentary Secretary indicated he regards as relevant to our consideration this evening, and with those other factors in mind also, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will carefully consider the proposal made.

Mr. Nugent

I have given very careful consideration to the views put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine), who has presented me with a fresh situation by pointing out that this did not come before the Reading Committee and might have had favourable consideration if it did, with the qualification that the presence of recent legislation might have caused the Committee to hesitate.

To my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), I will say that, whatever may have happened on previous legislation this evening, "gag" day has not followed for him on this Bill. Knowing as I do his very warm feelings about the safety of pedestrians on the road, I congratulate him on finding an opportunity to express his views about improving their safety on this particular Measure.

I must advise the Committee that this would be an Amendment of substance. I am certain that local authorities which had to find a significant part of the cost of these islands would have a view to express on an Amendment of this nature. Of course, they have had no opportunity to do so. The balance is about right as to whether there should be a direct obligation or whether it should be permissive to place refuges in the middle of the road.

Let me assure my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby that I know of no local authorities which prefer to see pedestrians knocked down in the middle of the road rather than bollards and which therefore remove the bollards. Neither does the Ministry of Transport prefer that. Certainly it has been one of my interests since I have been at the Ministry of Transport to promote the fixing of a number of these refuges in busy thoroughfares, because I have long recognised the great measure of safety which they give to pedestrians on roads carrying heavy traffic.

In many cases where, for one good reason or another—and because of the great caution that must be exercised before adding to the existing number of pedestrian crossings, if there is to be any prospect of their observance—I have felt it my duty to refuse requests of hon. Members for pedestrian crossings I have been able to bring about the fixing of an island refuge in the middle of the road, which in my opinion has given a far greater measure of road safety for pedestrians than a safety crossing would.

I am warmly in favour of refuges. I believe that they do just what the hon. Member says, that is to enable pedestrians to negotiate one stream of traffic at a time. They certainly reduce accidents very greatly. One of the difficulties is that one needs a certain width of road in order to place them. Therefore, in many cases it is simply impossible to place them without substantial road widening. We sometimes manage to do even that.

I feel that the hon. Member is safe in leaving this as a permissive power—safe in the confidence that we at the Ministry of Transport will always consider very sympathetically any suggestions to place fresh refuges where some further measure of safety is needed to help pedestrians crossing busy roads. Hon. Members have plenty of opportunity to see that their views will be heard in this respect. The Committee can safely leave it in its present form in the knowledge that any reasonable application on these lines will be sympathetically considered.

Mr. Ernest Davies

The Parliamentary Secretary has once again shown us the difficulty we are in with the Bill, the procedure under which we are working and how ridiculous it is. He made a speech strongly in support of the Amendments tabled by his hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). He stressed that the installation of these refuges would increase the safety of pedestrians. He later repeated that it would provide a greater measure of safety. He argued strongly in favour of erecting refuges wherever it was considered that greater safety would be provided.

These Amendments simply make it the duty of highway authorities to provide them in any case where they consider their provision necessary or desirable for the safety or accommodation of pedestrians. Therefore, the discretion is still left in the hands of highway authorities. It seems unfortunate that though both sides of the Committee, including the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, appear to favour the idea of this additional safety measure being incorporated in the Bill, because of the procedure under which we are working the Committee is advised not to do so.

After all, the road safety record of this country causes us all very grave concern at this time. The figures, which are so well known to us, are appalling. Through the ingenuity of an hon. Member, an Amendment is proposed which my hon.

and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) said was within the terms of reference of the Reading Committee, with the one qualification that it would involve a change in recent legislation. That qualification is not one which was always abided by by the Reading Committee or the Joint Committee which followed it. I think—

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;

House counted, and 40 Members being present—

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Davies

After that interlude I feel tempted to make a long speech, having a larger congregation than normally. I was saying that here we have Amendments which admittedly would improve road safety, and the Parliamentary Secretary has advised us to reject them. I regret that and consider that it does reflect once more the rather unusual and unfortunate procedure we are working on.

Mr. Page

I must press my hon. Friend yet again on this. Surely it is not necessary always to have the consent of the local authority associations before any amendment is made to the duties and obligations of local authorities. In this case it is a very small alteration. As the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) said, this leaves a discretion in the hands of local authorities. They are only asked to provide refuges where they consider them necessary or desirable for the safety or accommodation of pedestrians.

As the Bill stands, there is an invidious distinction between refuges and footpaths. In the case of footpaths there is a limited obligation on the local authority. In the case of refuges there is a rather vague statement that the local authority may provide the refuges. We are now on the Committee stage. As there is the Report stage to come, will my hon. Friend consider this Amendment, not merely from the point of view of an Amendment to a Bill which he wants to keep intact as a consolidation Measure, but from the point of view that, apart from the Amendments which the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) has tabled and one other in my name on the Order Paper, it is the only Amendment and will not open the floodgates. If he gives an assurance that he will consider the wording and put down an Amendment on Report stage, in which case I shall be happy to withdraw my Amendment.

Mr. Nugent

I would be glad to assist my hon. Friend in any way I can, but I cannot go further than I have already said. For me to accept an Amendment which is certainly a substantial one would be to destroy the whole form in which I have asked the Committee to consider the Bill. I quite accept the weight of the complaint of the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) that the procedure is peculiar and rather frustrating to us, but hon. Members who have spoken suggesting Amendments are not alone in thinking of ways to improve the Bill. I can think of many that would greatly improve it. In this procedure, however, this is the only way of proceeding if we are to achieve our purpose to get this valuable Measure of consolidation.

I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) that at the moment, with traffic coming from both sides of me, I should be very happy to find a refuge on which I could put my own foot with safety. The fact is that in these matters my hon. Friend must continue to rely on the sympathetic consideration of my right hon. Friend and myself, which has been readily forthcoming for refuges, and, I am certain, always would be forthcoming, because these are one of the most practicable measures. I hope that in these circumstances, my hon. Friend will be prepared to withdraw his Amendment.

Mr. Page

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 69 to 81 ordered to stand part of the Bill.