§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)
I am grateful for this opportunity of explaining to the House the measures on the roads that we propose during Whitsun. We have two objectives in mind—firstly, to increase road safety, and secondly—and this goes with it—to improve the flow of traffic.
After Easter we called a conference of the authorities concerned—the police, local highway authorities, some of the traffic authorities, the motoring organisations, and others. We held this conference in two stages. First, there was the main conference at national level, followed by a series of many conferences at local levels. It is not generally realised that many authorities are concerned with traffic. Enforcement is by the police; local traffic authorities have local knowledge; and the local highway authorities carry out improvements. It is not only the Ministry of Transport that is concerned.
We collected these bodies together, and I take this opportunity to say how grateful I am to all these authorities, both at national and local level, for the many hours of toil they have put in and for the benefit which we have had at the Ministry. Before I outline some of the proposals, I make two points. First, I would like these proposals to be seen in their right perspective. I would not wish either Parliament or the public to get the impression that the special measures we are proposing will cure all the many troubles in road safety. They will not. They are aids to safety. Legislation alone will never prevent accidents. We have clearways, speed limits, double white lines, road improvements and other measures, but these are not enough. Looking through the Institute of Advanced Motorists' booklet, I came across these words:Road accidents do not just happen—they are caused, and the basic cause is human errorAs long as we have human error, so long will we have accidents.
The measures which I shall outline will show what the Government are doing. I look at the reason for every single accident which results in a killing, 1450 and the test that I apply is: what could I have done, as Minister of Transport, to prevent it? The depressing thing is that in the majority of cases no Minister of Transport of any political party could possibly have done anything, for human error, folly, and, in many cases, human miscalculation are the causes.
That is the case not only in this country but also in Europe. I recently attended a Conference of Ministers of Transport of seventeen European countries, and they have precisely the same problems as we have here. They have people going at excessive speeds, colliding with trees, going off the roads with no other car in sight, and involving the deaths of several people. No Minister of Transport can do anything about that.
There was a case in the Press two days ago. Three men were killed on a perfectly good stretch of road near Brighton. Men travelling at between 70 and 80 m.p.h. said in evidence that the other car had passed them doing 20 to 30 m.p.h. more, which means that that car was travelling at about 100 m.p.h. That car crashed on a bend. The local surveyor said that it was an easy bend to get round at 65 m.p.h., and that the road was perfectly made and perfectly safe. Yet three men were killed and the car split in half.
§ Mr. Marples
There is no speed limit on that road. This was a human error. But merely putting on a speed limit does not mean that one can always enforce it. There is no point in having regulations if they are virtually unenforceable. I want to make it quite clear that we must put this very serious problem in perspective. There is no magic wand, or single dramatic step, or simple, easy remedy.
My second point is that in my speech I can only outline the principles of what we are doing. We have prepared for the Press a 20-page notice, with two maps. Twenty copies have been placed in the Library for hon. Members to see. This had to be done because a large number of the roads concerned affect the Provinces, and it is necessary for the Press to publish it by tomorrow morning 1451 if it is to be effective at Whitsun. All the details are there for hon. Members to read.
§ Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
The right hon. Gentleman has just quoted the brochure of the Institute of Advanced Motoring. May I, as a director of the Institute and as a founder, congratulate him on passing the test? Will he do all in his power to encourage other motorists to take the test?
§ Mr. Marples
I really am grateful for that intervention and I will tell the hon. Gentleman why. I am quite certain, from inquiries I have made in my Department, that if people would take that test it would prove the greatest single contribution to reducing accidents. There is no doubt about it at all. If everybody followed the instructions which are given there, it would do a great deal of good. I will go so far as to say to the hon. Gentleman that I will give all the help possible. I will make it easy for any hon. Member of this House to take the test, if hon. Members wish. I have asked the Parliamentary Secretary to take it, and I have asked my Parliamentary Private Secretary to take it.
§ Mr. Marples
I am hoping my wife will take it, but I dare not suggest it myself. I hope someone else will suggest it.
Now I will come to the arrangements which have been made. First of all, on certain trunk roads there is to be a 50 m.p.h. speed limit, on 150 miles of trunk roads, for four days commencing at 6 o'clock on Friday morning. I had better say why I have chosen those roads and why we propose it for that short period.
The area affected can be divided into two parts: London, and outside London. Inside the London Traffic Area the 50 m.p.h. speed limit will be prescribed in regulations made under Section 10 of the London Traffic Act, 1924, as amended by Section 63 of the London Passenger Transport Act, 1933, and by Section 51 and paragraph (4) of the Eighth Schedule to the Road Traffic Act, 1956. After 1st September, when the Road Traffic Act, 1960, comes into force, 1452 these powers will be reproduced as Section 34 of that Act. Regulations have been made and laid before Parliament, and are subject to negative Resolution. Before we made these regulations, we consulted the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee. We consulted it on Tuesday, 17th May, and it welcomed the proposal and hoped that it would be successful. The Secretary of State has also agreed to the making of the speed limit.
Outside London there is another procedure. The 50 m.p.h. speed limit will be imposed by order under powers in Section 46 (2) of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, as applied by Section 3 of and Part I of the Third Schedule to the Trunk Roads Act, 1936, and as amended by Section 33 of the Road Traffic Act, 1956. These powers are conveniently set out in Secton 26 of the 1960 Act, which does not come into force till later. There is no procedure for this order to be laid before Parliament.
I have mentioned all that because I wanted the House to know that there is a legal basis for this speed limit, and I wanted the country to know it, too.
First of all, this is an experiment on 150 miles of trunk roads. We have chosen the trunk roads because they are under the direct control of the Minister, whereas classified roads come under local highway authorities. We have chosen those portions of the trunk roads where there is a large volume of traffic at Bank Holidays— for example, the London-Maidstone-Folkestone trunk road, the A.20, and the London-Southend road, the A.12, and the A.127. We have chosen parts of the trunk roads which have a bad accident record. They have been very carefully selected on this ground and because comparison can be made with what 'happened during previous Bank Holidays, especially Easter and last Whit week.
As regards enforcement, which I know hon. Members regard as a key to the matter, as indeed it is, we had a meeting in London with most of the chief constables concerned, and I was present at that meeting, which took place through the kindness of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The chief constables agreed to get every man they could out on duty for the Whit weekend. They 1453 agreed to do their best about enforcement. I left to their judgment what measures were best according to local conditions. For instance, I read in the newspaper that there would be a radar check on speed at one point, and that there would be police motor cyclists on another road.
They are going to observe very carefully what happens on those roads and compare it with what happened previously. That will be a great help. We must be very careful to note whether the beneficial results are solely due to the speed limit. They may be due to the mere presence of a larger number of policemen, which can have a good effect. I have asked the chief constables to take into account haw many extra men they put on duty so that we can make a correct assesment of what happens.
We have 2,000 signs going out. They are of pretty large construction, 2 ft. 6 in. by 1 ft. 9 in.
I have been asked many times why I chose these roads. First, we could not have enforced this limit on all roads, so we picked out the busiest to try to make a job of it on those sections. I shall be very interested if hon. Members who go along those roads over the Whit weekend will let me have their personal experiences. I myself am going along them to see what happens.
The reason the speed limit of 50 m.p.h. was chosen was this. Most of the accidents do not take place during the middle of the day when there are pedestrians about. They take place later in the evening, when people are returning from the seaside. If there is congestion people may call at the "local", saying, "We will have a drink till the congestion is over". Then when they come out they start overtaking rapidly because then there is a chance to overtake. That is when accidents occur, and that is when the police are going to enforce the speed limit. I am hoping it will be effective. That is the first part of the scheme.
The second thing we are going to do is to initiate clearways—
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman would mind clarifying what he has just said. Was he indicating by any chance, in that last sentence of his, that the police are not going to enforce the 50 m.p.h, speed limit at certain 1454 periods of the day? The right hon. Gentleman rather gave that impression.
§ Mr. Marples
No; certainly not. They are going to enforce it, as I said, at the discretion of the chief constables. There may be certain times of the day when there is no need for enforcement because of congestion, when nobody can go at 50 m.p.h., but it will be enforced at times when people can exceed the limit, and then enforcement of the law will stand. I have said that it will be illegal to go over 50 m.p.h. I have made that wholly clear. If this helps to remove misunderstanding, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.
On the question of clearways, I have put in the Library two maps which show where the extensions of the clearways are. A clearway, as the House knows, is a road where stopping is prohibited at all times. There are various stretches of trunk roads where parked vehicles can create accidents, impede traffic and cause unnecessary hold-ups. A large number of accidents take place there because of stationary vehicles, which force other vehicles to pull out into the road. There are accidents caused in that way. I have been astonished by the statistics.
On the Southend trunk road, the A.127, in three years there were 1,155 accidents in which standing vehicles were involved. Eighty per cent. of the accidents involved moving vehicles; 20 per cent. of them involved standing vehicles—I was astonished at that figure—and they accounted for one-third of the deaths. This is very serious.
These clearways have been absolutely first-rate. The police are satisfied with them, and the motoring organisations like them. I have not heard any complaint from motorists about them. Of course, they can be adopted only on certain roads of considerable traffic importance. It is no use having them where there is not a great volume of traffic, in which case the restrictions could bear unreasonably. They are mostly where there are no traffic signals and no pedestrian crossings, on roads not subject to the 30 m.p.h. limit, and where there are comparatively few accesses to the main road. The fewer accesses there are, the better the scheme works. There must be provision for lay-byes and also, for instance, places where buses draw in. It 1455 is no use having them where buses stop suddenly on the road.
We have been at great pains to carry out improvements on trunk roads so as to be able to extend the clearways. The 50 m.p.h. speed limit on trunk roads is an experiment for four days, and we will watch it carefully. The clearways are a permanent feature of road safety, and I hope they will be extended. The initial experiment was over fourteen lengths on four trunk roads, and now we are having sixteen additional lengths, which I think will play a great part this Whit week in helping the police and in reducing accidents.
I want to say that the six chief constables concerned with the first experiment have made a report, which shows that the prohibition of waiting is being well observed, and that no problems of enforcement have arisen. Only two cases in which it has been necessary to take proceedings have been reported. I think that shows how generally it has been accepted by motorists. So far as accidents are concerned, the Chief Constable of Kent reports a substantial decrease on two clearways in his county, and what is very interesting as well is that he also noted a marked reduction in the severity of injuries, which again is a good thing.
This, of course, requires Parliamentary procedure. Regulations have already been laid before Parliament. They were made on 19th May, and will come into effect on 3rd June. I think that will make a great deal of difference over Whitsun, and we are hoping to increase the clearways as we make further surveys.
Now I come to another series of actions which have been taken largely as a result of great detailed work by the various local authorities. At the moment, most people in cars tend to take the same route to wherever they go. They rarely read maps and find an easy way. They do not seem to be inclined to read maps, and if one goes to one of the motoring organisations, one generally gets the same route. These organisations have been most helpful, and I should like to pay my tribute to them in this respect.
We have already got forty long-distance routes, that is, to the coast and different places, which are alternative routes to 1456 the main routes that are obvious. We set about seeing if we could increase them, and we have managed to increase them by another twelve, which means that twelve routes, important long-distance routes, will be signposted by Whit week by the A.A. and R.A.C., and the police have agreed to it. Again, I wish to pay tribute to those local authorities which have co-operated in allowing their classified roads to he used for this purpose.
I should like to tell the House that I have had the utmost co-operation, with one very sorry exception. I will not mention the local authority, because I am still hopeful of persuading it, but the chairman of the local authority will not allow his classified roads to be signposted as alternative routes, although they are perfectly good for light traffic. I have no power to compel him. This is on a trunk road where there is very often a queue eight miles long, but I am still hopeful of persuading him.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The right hon. Gentleman refers to "his classified roads". Is it not possible for the Minister to remind some local big-wig that this is a public highway?
§ Mr. Marples
I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman, but the local authority is the traffic authority, and not me. In other words, I cannot dictate to it, but I think that it is tragic that a man should allow parochial interests to override the national interest. I do not want to divulge who it is, because I am hopeful of persuading him, but I think I can take the House with me in saying that I hope to succeed in persuading him.
§ Mr. Pannell
Cannot the Minister tell him that if local interests are allowed to stand in the way, we will see that a little bit of local imperialism on our part will do him a world of good?
§ Mr. Marples
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, which will be recorded in HANSARD and will show that most hon. Members of the House agree with me in this respect.
§ Mr. Marples
Now I come to another point, which concerns the new white lines. Here we have gone over most of the trunk roads and they have been 1457 marked. I believe that these white lines are of great value to all motorists, and that the double white lines round bends are of great importance. We have to be careful that we do not have excessive or injudicious use of white lines or a proliferation of pedestrian crossings, because that leads to a lack of respect for them and also to the problem of enforcement.
On new white lines, we have done a great deal. We have worked overtime, so that by Whit week we shall be able to indicate on the roads what motorists should do. To give one example of what has taken place since Easter, in Oxfordshire there are twenty-six miles—sixteen miles on A.423 Oxford to Banbury and ten miles on A.34. We have other signs, such as the broken white lines on entering main roads. We have also signposted "No Overtaking" at different points where it is dangerous. These are entirely new signs since Easter. For example, we have "No Overtaking" signs at dangerous points. In West Sussex, there are two on A.24—Beaufort-Southwater—on hills; one on A.29 at Slynfold; one on A.286 at Singleton; and one on A.27 at Crocker Hill. We have been energetic on the question of lines.
Another question with which we have had to deal this Whitsun is that of traffic signals.
§ Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
May I ask whether my right hon. Friend has any policy regarding the application of "Halt" signs? I find that at crossroads there are "Halt" signs which do a tremendous amount of good, in my opinion, but in some counties they seem to have them only at "T" junctions. Why should they not be applied to all crossroads?
§ Mr. Marples
Again, the initiative there rests with the local traffic authority, which knows the local position, but if my hon. Friend has any case and will send particulars to me, I will ask the local authority concerned to direct its attention to it.
Traffic signals are normally set for ordinary traffic, but the balance of the traffic is radically altered on Bank Holidays. Although the signals are correctly phased for normal traffic, we find that they are inconveniently phased for holiday traffic, and we generally find a police- 1458 man struggling and trying to take charge of the situation. An engineer in the Ministry of Transport has invented a device which a policeman can turn on and which automatically for the next ten or fifteen minutes alters the setting of the signals and gives a longer phase on green to the main road. For example, sometimes the normal setting for the green light is fifteen to fifty seconds, according to the known traffic load, but the new device will enable between 90 and 120 seconds to be added to the green phase.
I think the House will be interested if I give a few examples of where this device will be operating during Whit week. On A.2, London-Dover, there will be two installations, at Chatham and Rochester. On roads from London westward, there will be installations at Camberley (2), Amesbury, Farnham, Maidenhead, and Haslemere. In the north of England, which often gets forgotten in our deliberations, on A.6, Manchester to the North-West, there will be five installations, at Clayton Green, Hillthorpe, Broughton, and two at Kendal. There will be two at Wellington in Shropshire and quite a number of others. They should help us very much towards making the best use of our roads, not only according to space but according to time.
On temporary diversions, we have had a real blitz. Remembering the old Army phrase that the time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted, I think that it is quite useless when there is a traffic jam for somebody to think of a temporary diversion at the last moment. It is then too late to be any good; and it should have been done earlier. Local A.A. and R.A.C. men, who have a great deal of knowledge of what happens, and the local police, have had many consultations, and have already decided on what diversions should be adopted, so that they are now in a position to know what they will do in any given circumstance. It is a very flexible thing. It will have to be applied locally on the spot.
Another item to which we have paid great attention is road works. Nothing is more irritating than seeing a hole in the road which causes a single line of traffic and nobody working on it. Some weeks ago we asked all statutory undertakers and highway authorities to phase the work so that there will be as few 1459 obstructions as possible over Whit week. I know of many instances where we have had co-operation.
At this stage I should like to explain to the House that I am trying not to take up too much time, because I want to listen to suggestions from hon. Members. However, I want to deal with two other points, the first being new roads. This factor is often forgotten in the House, and when supplementary questions are asked one often thinks that there is not a new road being built anywhere in England. There are quite a number of items coming along which will help enormously. For example, there is the eastern section of the Maidstone by-pass. There is an excellent article in the Daily Express this morning saying that it takes only a few minutes on the by-pass, whereas it took forty minutes on the old route. I am not quite certain of the time factors.
That sort of thing will be the permanent remedy in such situations, and I am the first to admit it. I am also the first to admit that we must press on as fast as we can. Many items, such as the Maidstone by-pass, have come into operation since last Whit week. Only recently there has been the Shere by-pass. What could be done in the little town of Shere with much traffic on narrow roads? The only thing was a by-pass. There is one at Harlow, and another at Lichfield. The details of these are in the statement which I have placed in the Library.
Then there are road improvements. For example, at Exeter a roundabout has been enlarged to a diameter of 190 feet. Many of these improvements will be open for Whit week. They are being opened continuously. I remind the House and the country that many more will flow. For example, there are the improvements between Chepstow and Newport on the London—Fishguard road, the A48. They are due to be completed within the next few weeks—just after Whit week, but in time for the next holiday. Many others, for example that at Norwich, will be coming into operation. We have tried to push on and speed up the work on items like the Maidstone by-pass so that they can be useful for Whit week. Those are some of the things which we are trying to do.
1460 I also want, to tell the House that we went into many ideas which have been suggested, but were not able to bring them to a successful conclusion. I will give one illustration. We had long consultations—my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary did a great deal of work on this—with the A.A., the R.A.C., the police and the B.B.C. The idea was that, if there was a traffic pileup anywhere, the B.B.C. could broadcast where it was on the Light Programme, as they do on the Continent and in America, and then motorists could be diverted elsewhere. They would have the necessary knowledge before it was too late. We ran into practical difficulties there on compiling the information accurately and sending it speedily to the B.B.C. It was with great reluctance and regret that unanimously the police, the motoring organisations, the B.B.C., and ourselves came to the conclusion that we would not do it; but we are to have another shot at it later.
I should like to end, as I began, by saying first how grateful we are to all the voluntary organisations which are doing all this work, to the police, to local highway authorities, and to all those people who have worked so hard in the Provinces and in London.
Secondly, this is a contribution and something the Government are doing, but we must never forget—we come back to this always—that it is the human factor which causes most accidents. We cannot get away from that. Unless we face fairly and squarely the causes of accidents, we shall never be able to find the remedy. I know of the criticism which takes place of my Ministry in general and of me in particular, and I should be surprised if it did not, just as a referee on a football field would be very surprised if everybody in the crowd was not a better referee than he. However, it is doing a disservice to keep asking what the Government are doing about it, unless we recognise that it is the human element which causes accidents. If we blind ourselves to the real causes of accidents, we shall prevent ourselves applying the correct remedy. That is the danger of such a criticism.
I hope that the House will approve of the suggestions, especially when hon. Members have read the details of what we propose to do. I should like to 1461 listen to the suggestions of hon. Members. Every one will be received with gratitude and examined carefully, and I hope that these suggestions commend themselves to the House.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I want to begin by paying a tribute to the Leader of the House for having arranged the debate in the form in which it is being taken today. Very often Ministers make important statements at half-past three, questions are put, and after a short period you, Mr. Speaker, have to remind the House that no Question is before it. The procedure for a short period on the Adjournment, with the Motion to be withdrawn at Six o'clock, is an excellent and flexible way of tackling the statement which the Minister has made this afternoon.
It is a very good thing that Parliament should take precedence over a Press conference when it comes to arrangements of the kind which have been announced today. On the other hand, I have one complaint to make. The Press release which has been in the Library for the last thirty-five minutes is a very long document containing much information which will affect hon. Members in their own constituencies. It would have been helpful if this had been made available twenty-our hours before the debate so that hon. Members could have discussed this subject in the light of detailed knowledge. Perhaps this is something which we can tackle on another occasion.
I wish to join the Minister in his appeal for road safety this Whitsun. Road safety is not in any sense a party matter, and we all wish that people would exercise the care, attention and thoughtfulness which are so necessary if we are to reduce the number of accidents.
Having said that, I must add in honesty to the House that there are no grounds for optimism that our appeals will have any effect. Public holidays are now well established as periods of ritual slaughter, and the numbers are predictable. In 1959, 370 people died on public holidays. Even the Minotaur of Minos called only for seven men and seven maidens every nine years, the Encyclopaedia Britannica tells me, but public holidays in this country cause a great number of deaths every year.
1462 There is something rather grim about the whole debate, with all the exhortations it will contain, because we are in a sense all involved as part of the preparation for the deaths there will be over Whitsun. Even as we talk this afternoon, the old car which should never be on the roads is being taken out of the garage, or the tarpaulin is being removed, and its owner is preparing to go to Southend with his family in it The new motor bicycle which should never be in the hands of someone without proper training will be driven on the roads for the first time.
§ Mr. Benn
With an L-plate on it, but no previous training. The hip-flask is being filled for the man to have a nip in case he is delayed in traffic when he comes home. The child is preparing to ride her mother's bicycle which is too big for her. The pram is being prepared for the Whitsun holiday, with its brake in such a condition that it may lead to the baby falling into the middle of the road.
All the victims of these road deaths would agree with us about the necessity for safety, but none of them believes at this moment, even those who are to be killed, that it could possibly affect them, even less that they are likely to be the cause of a death.
It is in this light that we have to examine the Minister's proposals. I should like to explain to him that, although I propose to be very critical of what he has brought forward, we are grateful for what is being done. We are grateful that there is to be a 50 m.p.h. speed limit, although it will be over only 150 miles. We are grateful that there is to be a no-parking rule over 65 extra miles of trunk road to provide clear roads. We are grateful for the alternatives routes. We are grateful for the double white lines. We are grateful for the device which will be fitted on to a couple of dozen traffic lights to make it a little easier. We are grateful that road works are to be minimised.
Measuring what is being done against the magnitude of the problem leads one to only one conclusion, namely, that the Minister's plans are bitterly disappointing. We are entitled to expect a great deal more. What I find most 1463 irritating of all is that in the list of road improvements given in the Press statement, seventeen road improvements are listed, of which only five are complete. Nine are unfinished and another three are being discussed in the hope that contracts will be issued soon. These plans are not sufficient grounds for leading us to believe that this Whitsun will be any better than any past Whitsun.
I want to put forward three ideas which it is still, perhaps, not too late to consider, but which I had very much hoped the Minister would bring forward. The first relates to tidal flow. Anyone who has visited the United States knows that tidal flow control of traffic is one of the basic principles of sensible traffic engineering. On his visit to America, the Minister came across tidal flow and spoke about it, and we admired him for doing so. This Whit-sun holiday is a good possibility to begin tidal flow studies. The Whitsuntide flood of traffic is entirely tidal. It goes out of the cities in the morning and it comes back at night. I had very much hoped that when the roads were being marked for Whitsun, tidal methods would be used, if only experimentally, to see how well they worked.
I do not go so far as to say that a whole trunk road could be made tidal over Whitsun, but there are certain stretches of road, particularly three-lane highways, where it would be possible to have a tidal flow out and back. All that would be required would be police cars going along the road dropping little flags, as in the United States, to indicate that the road is more readily available each way when it is most needed. After all that the Minister has said about tidal flow, I am disappointed that he appears not even to have thought of its application to the Whitsun problem.
Secondly, roads are not the only method of transport. There are many motorists—I am not sure that I am not one—who would much rather go away for the Whitsun holiday by train than by road. The Minister is, after all, the Minister of Transport. His responsibility does not end with roads. One of the solutions to the problem of congestion and safety at Whitsun is to make better use of the railways, but there is no mention in the Minister's speech that he has consulted the railways.
1464 What form of help can be given? The railways are running special trains and doing all that they can, but if we want people to go by train we must make it easy for a man to get to a railway station, leave his car and go by train for his holiday. What I had hoped we would to told today was that around the big termini in big cities there would be special car-parking facilities to encourage people to use their cars to go on holiday, but to take their family to the station, where their cars could be accommodated in special car parks, and continue their journey by train. This is the Minister's responsibility. He covers the whole of transport, but he has said nothing about that.
My third proposal, to which the Minister referred casually but inadequately, is that, for the first time this Whitsun, we should use radio to control traffic movement. The police and the A.A. already use radio to control the controllers of traffic. We are now in a position where we could, for the first time, contemplate devoting the whole of the Light Programme over Whitsun—let us take it at the highest level—to bring the public into co-operation with the management and control of traffic.
There are now 430,000 car radios in operation. Eight per cent. of all the cars have radios. Therefore, one out of ten of all cars, and possibly more, at Whitsun would be within radio communication with the B.B.C. I have discovered also that 4 million portable radio sets have been sold in the last few years. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to say that most people who go on holiday could be brought within some sort of elementary control, at least experimental control, to see whether they could not be guided in their use of the roads.
I should like to see the Light Programme entirely cancelled and to have substituted for it a continuous programme of traffic information, with news of jams, where they occur and how they develop; alternative routes, even simply reading the alternative routes that have already been laid down; road safety hints; reminders of road safety requirements; weather information and other information of use to motorists. If this were done, it would prevent the jams from developing, because a man would rather 1465 spend an extra hour at the seaside if he knew that, as a result of waiting, he would be likely to get home more rapidly. The excuse given by the Minister that this is technically difficult is no reason for not experimenting with it. If we ask the public to co-operate in a project as grand as this, they will understand if it does not altogether succeed, but we should at least get the basic information about how to use this technique at the August Bank Holiday.
Those are three concrete ideas, not one of which involves special legislation or anything difficult. First, we should try to experiment with tidal flow at Bank Holidays. Secondly, we should co-ordinate with the railways so that parking is available for oars near railway stations. Thirdly, we should experiment with the radio control of all traffic over the holiday period.
Although these are methods to help the motorist for his convenience and to encourage him to drive more safely, they do not solve the problem. Although this is not in any sense a party argument, the Minister and I are on totally different sides of the question. Could the Government do more? We all realise that laziness, forgetfulness and human error account for many accidents. As the Minister said, there is not one easy way of reducing the number of accidents on the roads; but although there may not be one easy way, there are 100 different ways in which minor improvement could be made.
I do not take the Minister seriously on road traffic and road safety, because I do not believe that he is doing what he could to make use of the other methods that could produce a serious reduction in road accidents. When the Minister says that everything is attributable to human nature, he flies against the experience of many other countries which have produced sensational reductions in road accidents by the use of Government measures. To put it plainly to the House, Britain trails far behind other countries in its road safety measures.
At Easter, my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish)—who regrets that he is not able to be here today and has asked me to say so—and I wrote to the Minister proposing ten definite things that could be done.
1466 We received a reply, which was rapid and courteous, but the Minister said that panic measures were not right. Later in the House, the Minister said that we had done a disservice in drawing attention to this matter and describing it as a national disaster. When one realises that the figures for Easter have now been upgraded to 97 instead of 87, I consider that the Minister himself has done a disservice in criticising those of us who have tried to get something done.
I want now to go through ten reasons why I do not believe that Britain takes road safety seriously, even today. I begin by saying that there is in Britain today no control over the standards of safety built into new vehicles. There is, of course, consultation. If the British Motor Corporation makes a car, it tries to make it safe, but there is no law by which a prototype of a vehicle is submitted to the Government for a roadworthiness certificate in the way that an aircraft is submitted to the Ministry of Aviation.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
There are, of course, a whole lot of construction and use regulations in accordance with which any manufacturer, whether a large corporation or a small firm, must build a car before it is allowed on the road.
§ Mr. Benn
Yes, but there is not a road worthiness certificate for prototype vehicles. They have to fulfil certain conditions, but there is no overall testing and approval of prototypes before mass production. I think that there should be. In matters of visibility, safety belts, doors that should not fly open, trying to protect the panel so that what is called the second collision between the head and the panel does not lead to death, standardisation of signals and greater safety for handbrakes, there is no overall testing when there should be, before a vehicle is approved for manufacture.
Secondly, there is in Britain no control of the maintenance of a vehicle. For four years, we have waited for vehicle testing, which we have argued many times in the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) has done more than anybody to bring it to the attention of the Minister. Now we are told that it is to begin in July, but it will be only for old vehicles. In 1467 New Zealand, vehicles are tested every six months, because brakes and other apparatus can get defective in a much shorter period than ten years. In West Germany and other countries, there is testing of this kind. Why not have it in this country? Until the Government show signs of taking this matter seriously, we are not entitled to take them seriously.
The third point is that there is inadequate control of the use of vehicles. A man came to see me the other day who said that he had been running a road haulage business for many years. What worried him was the overloading of vehicles, over which there is no control. He said that he did not want to overload, but that competitive overloading was practised, and there was no statutory authority to impose the safety load laid down by the manufacturer. His suggestion was that there should be a Plimsoll line, as it were, for road vehicles and that the overloading of any vehicle above the original specification of the manufacturer should be an offence.
The fourth item is the question of drunken driving. The Government get out of this easily—at least, they 'have done in the past, although the present Minister has done more to publicise the problem—by saying that figures are not available but without proper tests for drunkenness one never knows how big a part drunkenness plays in road accidents. There has been a great delay in doing anything about this. Again, we have fallen behind many other countries, including the Scandinavian countries and many American States. Not only are we slow in diagnosing drunkenness, but we are very slow in punishing it. When we have asked the Minister to say that there should be a mandatory prison sentence for people convicted of drunken driving, which is the minimum protection to which the public are entitled, he tells us that the powers exist if the courts want to use them. We do not accept that the courts should have the right not to sentence a man to gaol when he is convicted of drunken driving.
This does not call for any breathalyser. I am speaking now of the motorists who are convicted of drunkenness even under 1468 our existing inadequate laws. Lord Goddard pointed out in the House of Lords in 1957 that of 3,025 cases of convicted drunken driving, only 153 men went to gaol. Here again, we are far behind other countries which have taken drunken driving much more seriously.
I read in the paper the other day a report about the Hammonds United Breweries, who held a three-day course for public house landlords. Part of the course, it was said,would be devoted to the preparation of Scotch eggs, sausages, pies and pickled eggsbecausea last snack can be a great help to car drivers. It acts like blotting paper… We are great believers that a snack before leaving a public house at closing time is a good thing.It was said that a snack tended to waken people up and could be a great help to car drivers by helping them to sober up. The acceptance by a group of breweries that the drunken driver is such a problem that if his custom is to be attracted in the future and he is to be made safe, he had better be given sandwiches to act as blotting paper for his drink, is absolutely contrary to the public interest. We call upon the Government to do something about it and not to say that this is human error about which the Government can do nothing. What the Government can do is to have a standard test, as many other countries have, and a mandatory gaol sentence.
Indeed, Canada has road blocks at night. Drivers are made to get out of cars and are given tests. If they are found to be drunk, they go to gaol. This is not an anti-motorist device but is in the protection of passengers, police, pedestrians and everybody. It is based on the belief, which I hold, that the road is different from simply the old idea of the highway. Today, the road is a heap of land where dangerous activities go on and where, as with the pilot of an aircraft, in the interests of safety one expects certain clear requirements to be fulfilled.
§ Sir G. Nicholson
Has the hon. Member considered that very often it is not the drunken driver who is the main danger, but the driver who has taken just a little drink? Has the hon. Member considered that whenever there is an accident, the police should find out confidentially, not for publication, 1469 whether the person in question has been drinking even though no charge of drunkenness is brought?
§ Mr. Benn
The breathalyser was developed in this country by Dr. Gorsky in the 1920s, and, as in the case of many other things, we shall be the last country to apply it. If we had something like the breathalyser it would give the police all the proof they needed. They would not have to snoop around the "Cock and Bottle" to see whether somebody had "one for the road" before leaving. This is the first requirement in the effort to tackle the problem of drunken driving.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
With the automatic drunkenness test, and with automatic gaol afterwards, would it be with or without a trial? Is it simply a matter of police action? Secondly, if there were a trial, does my hon. Friend realise how appallingly difficult it might be to persuade a jury to convict? Juries nowadays are composed mainly of motorists, and it will be difficult to get them or magistrates to convict.
§ Mr. Benn
I am coming to my hon. and learned Friend's point. He knows much more about this than I do, but the great case for the application of a standard test is that it enables us to get away from the jury that will not convict. If we could prove medically, by expert evidence, that a man had a higher percentage of alcohol in his blood than was laid down by Statute, I believe that a jury would have no option but to convict, and a magistrate no option but to sentence. Although this proposal does not entirely deal with the soft-headed jury and the inexperienced magistrate, it goes as far as we can now go towards overcoming the difficulty.
§ Mr. Paget
My hon. Friend says that if medical evidence proves the case the jury will have no option. I would remind him that in the days when it was a hanging offence to steal more than £2, juries found that men stole five sovereigns to the value of £1 19s., and they will go on acting in that way.
§ Mr. Benn
My hon. and learned Friend is making merry with a very grave matter. I know that he does not mean it. I believe that, although it is not perfect, what I have suggested is the best answer to the problem.
1470 I now turn to another matter which has not even been tackled by the Government. There is no medical test for people who drive automobiles. A person merely has to fill in an application form which asks him three questions: "Do you suffer from epilepsy?" "Can you read?" "Are you suffering from any other disease?" Note F says that if a person is in doubt he can get professional advice, but it does not say that if that professional advice is to the effect that the person concerned is suffering from a disease there is anything to prevent him from completing the form. There is no statutory power to say that a man must produce a certificate to say that he is fit, although nowhere is that more important than in the case of vision.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, not long ago an article was published in the British Medical Journal about a routine examination of the vision of 1,000 motorists in Sheffield, which established that 7½ per cent. did not fulfil the safety requirements of normal vision. If that investigation was accurately carried out, it indicates that about seven out of every 100 drivers on the road today cannot read a licence plate at the statutory distance. I understand that in Canada—and no doubt the same practice is carried out in other countries—the question of wider medical tests is seriously tackled. Not long ago I was told that in Canada one of the anxieties as one approaches old age is that when one goes for one's medical test one's driving licence may be finally taken away because of medical infirmity. But if that is not done it means that an infirm man is left to drive on the roads. Unfortunately, nothing is done in this country on those lines.
Another point which is of tremendous importance is enforcement. The Minister makes the excuse that he cannot do much because we do not have the requisite number of police to enforce legislation. I have carried out some research into this question, and I want to put before the House the results of my investigations. First, the police are under strength almost all over the country. I believe that in the Metropolitan area they are 15 per cent. under strength and in the City, 28 per cent. under strength. The overall figures give 1471 a misleading impression. What we must consider is not the overall number of police but the number of motorised police. I have made some inquiries on this point. It has been rather difficult, because Scotland Yard is very cagey about revealing its figures, but I was staggered by what I found. The number of patrol cars and motor-cycle police in London today is almost the same as it was ten years ago, although the number of motor vehicles has risen since then by 50 per cent.
Does the House know—and do you know Mr. Speaker, because it is your constituency—that the number of police cars in London for traffic patrol purposes is only 100, and that there are only 145 motor cycle police in the Metropolitan area, although in that area there are 1⅓ million cars on the road? This means that there is only one police car for every 13,000 private vehicles in London. I had thought of saying that the London police force was a one-horse outfit, until I discovered that it has 195 horses on the strength, although it has only 100 motor cars. If horses could help to increase road safety the Metropolitan Police would be the best equipped force in the land in that respect. If the Government do not tackle the problem of police strength seriously, we cannot take them seriously in connection with the matter of safety.
I now turn to the question of the courts. One reason why the courts are inadequate for their purpose is that they are not technically equipped to investigate the accidents brought before them and to obtain proper vehicle reports. The Road Research Laboratory is available to study police findings, but what is needed to tackle this problem is technical facilities put at the disposal of the courts so that they can investigate an accident, put the man concerned on remand for a medical report and also send him for rehabilitation and further training at a police training school. The Chief Constable of Southend has produced a plan for further training which is of tremendous importance.
Next comes the question of roads. Whenever we mention roads the Minister says that his Government have built more roads than the Labour Government did. It is a very good political 1472 point, and it always gets a cheer from hon. Members opposite. But it is a much more serious problem than he seems to think. In any case, it was only right that in the years after the war road building was given a low priority. In the first four years of the Conservative Government there was no more road building than there was in the first six years of the Labour Government. But I have some much more telling figures on this question than merely figures of road construction.
What matters is the ratio between road expenditure and two other factors, namely, national income and the number of vehicles. Taking the percentage of national income spent in Britain per million road vehicles, we find that the present Government are spending half as much on road construction as was spent by the Labour Government in the post-war years. After the war very few vehicles were on the road, and there was a lower total of expenditure generally. At that time 0.2 per cent, of the national income was spent on the roads generally per million vehicles. Now it is only 0.1 per cent.—just half as much as was spent by the Government and local authorities in post-war years. When the Minister says that the Government are doing their job properly in this matter, I would invite him to look at these figures, covering not merely Government expenditure but the expenditure of local authorities.
I do not take seriously the Ministry of Transport's claim to be interested in road safety, and I shall not do so until I see some evidence that all the deficiencies in the law are being tackled. The Minister is new to this job. He has taken over a neglected Department, and it is a very tough job, which causes hostility among his colleagues when it involves taking over some of their responsibilities. It also involves getting far more money from the Treasury than any Chancellor has seemed willing to give. But even with those disabilities we are disappointed with what the Minister hopes to do, or claims he hopes to do.
Nobody likes a new idea. Everybody thinks that the problem arises out of temporary causes, and that it is a temporary crisis. But it is not. Road traffic will increase at a predictable rate from now until we reach saturation point, 1473 whatever that may be—probably one vehicle per adult—in the next twenty-five years. Road accidents are the scourge of this century, just as tuberculosis, squalor and ill-health were in previous generations. What is required to tackle the problem is leadership from the Government. I do not think any Minister has ever had as many offers of help from the Opposition as the right hon. Gentleman has had from us. We are prepared to give him all the help we can in any legislation designed to reduce the number of road accidents. If I may adapt a famous war-time phrase of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill)—We will give him the tools if only—for goodness' sake—he will get on with the job.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I am very pleased at the way this debate has started. All too often when we discuss questions of road safety and road improvement the argument becomes blurred by an atmosphere of emotionalism or rhetoric, but both my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) kept very strictly to a practical approach and confined themselves to making practical suggestions. The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East was a little unfair in some ways. Many of his proposals would involve legislation, and it is clear that they could not be included in any immediate measures in time for Whitsun. We very much hope that there will be a Road Safety Bill in the coming Session. It has been indicated that this may be so, and I support the idea of a much more comprehensive Bill than has so far come before the House. We could not deal with that before Whitsun.
The proposals made to us today could make a practical contribution towards solving this very serious problem—
§ Mr. George Darling (Hillsborough)
The hon. Member will recollect that four years ago, in the then Road Traffic Bill, some of us tried to put forward many of the suggestions canvassed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) today, but the Government turned them down.
§ Mr. Wilson
Things like the breathalyser could not be introduced without legislation, nor could my right hon. 1474 Friend do anything about deciding how much time should be spent by the B.B.C. in broadcasting road safety programmes. He might be able to make suggestions, but any action would be entirely outside his scope.
§ Mr. Benn
The Postmaster-General has absolute powers under the Charter to give a direction to the B.B.C.—not that I think that it would be necessary for a moment—to broadcast any material he desires. Nobody knows that better than the Minister, who was such a distinguished Postmaster-General for many years.
§ Mr. Wilson
The hon. Member was suggesting that the whole of the B.B.C.'s programmes for a day should be taken up with road safety. If my right hon. Friend directed that that should be done, there would be repercussions from the public.
I was glad when my right hon. Friend referred to the fact, which is so often overlooked, that a large proportion of road accidents are due to causes which the Minister has no power to prevent. This point was forcibly brought out some years ago in a pamphlet published by the Travellers' Insurance Company of Hartford, Connecticut, entitled "Who, Me?" It consisted of a number of satirical drawings illustrating the dangerous practices in which motorists might indulge, and it was accompanied by a detailed analysis of many accidents in America in 1951–52. Our motoring organisations, or the Minister, might consider issuing such a document, because it catches the eye and draws attention to a number of points which are well worth looking into.
Some of the figures contained in the pamplet were rather astonishing. In dealing with 32,000 fatal accidents in America in that year it stated that 81 per cent. happened when the weather was clear; 75 per cent. on roads which were dry and in good condition; 96 per cent. with vehicles that were in good condition, and 81 per cent. with cars which were travelling straight. I made inquiry at the time as to what was meant by "travelling straight" and was informed by the insurance company that it was not while making a turn in either direction or coming in contact at right angles at an intersection. It was either piling up 1475 on the car in front or coming in contact with a car while overtaking.
Those percentages do not mean much now because they are out of date, but they emphasise one point which is true in this country. Many accidents are caused by drivers driving at a greater speed than they can control their car. That is by a combination of a lack of skill and, perhaps, over-boldness.
I know that many hon. Members wish to speak in this short debate, so I shall not prolong the proceedings. I conclude by saying that the Minister has made a useful contribution by putting forward these suggestions. I am glad that they include a diversion on the A.38 at Exeter, and on the A.303 at Honiton, because I am sure that crowding on roads during long journeys is a very fruitful source of accidents.
If one is driving from London to Cornwall, by the time one gets to Honiton one becomes impatient if one finds oneself held up by a stream of vehicles. and it often happens that somewhere about that point drivers begin to try to weave in and out and to try to steal an advantage over their neighbours. That is when the trouble starts.
If one can find a diversionary route, especially if it is a considerable distance from London, that will prove of great benefit to drivers who have already driven long distances. I congratulate the Minister on having brought forward these measures.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I agree with the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) about the value of the information the Minister gave about these diversionary or alternative routes. For years I have done careful map reading before setting out on a long journey to find suitable B roads to keep me off the main roads. I find motoring on B roads more comfortable than on A roads and, surprisingly enough, there is not much difference in the time taken to complete the journey if one takes a succession of B roads rather than the congested A roads where one gets so frustrated and bad-tempered by hold-ups, especially at holiday times. The Minister has given us a mixed bag of proposals, some of which are very good but some of which ought to be 1476 severely questioned. The first question I want to ask concerns the number of new road schemes about which he told us. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) told us, we have not had this hand-out he referred to. We do not know the schemes to which the Minister referred, but unless I am mistaken there are few schemes indeed which are anywhere near completion. I hope that the Minister will stop giving the impression to the House and to the public that a great deal of road building is going on. We know the difficulties about planning, about getting hold of the land, about surveying, about compensation and all the rest of it, and we appreciate the Minister's difficulties. So do the public, and it is wrong to give a misleading impression, as the Minister sometimes does, by saying that a great deal of road building is being done, when it is not.
The Minister mentioned a number of schemes in the south of England and in the Midlands, but I come from Yorkshire and all the representations that have been made to the Minister by the West Riding of Yorkshire County Council, and others, for new urban motorways in Yorkshire—which, heaven knows, are urgently needed—have been to no avail.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that there has been considerable improvement on the A.1—the Retford by-pass, the forthcoming Doncaster by-pass, the Wetherby bypass, and so on?
§ Mr. Darling
It is true that roads through Yorkshire are being improved, but I am talking about urban motorways into the cities of Yorkshire. It is no use improving the long-distance motorways serving the country if one gets into a bottleneck as soon as one leaves them. Representations by the West Riding County Council and others have got us nowhere.
The important point to me is the 50 m.p.h. speed limit experiment. A short while ago we got the impression from the newspapers—after a Written Answer by the right hon. Gentleman—that long stretches of quite a number of roads in this country would be subject to the 50 m.p.h. speed limit during the Whitsuntide holiday. It now transpires that the 50 m.p.h. speed limit will apply only to short stretches of a few roads.
1477 I do not want to talk about them all. I know most of them as I have travelled on them. I want to talk about one in particular, the A.40, and the three-mile stretch between Gerrard's Cross and Beaconsfield where I live. It is no use putting a speed limit of 50 m.p.h. on that road if the intention is to reduce accidents. Admittedly some accidents are caused by over-speeding, but a large number of accidents on this stretch of the road occur because this is a murderous three-lane highway instead of being a dual carriageway.
It is a curving three-lane highway, and what happens? A motorist gets in the middle lane. He passes a motorist an the inside lane and keeps straight on at whatever speed he is travelling without knowing whether it is safe to remain in the middle lane. When he approaches a bend in the road he has no idea whether traffic is coming from the opposite direction. He does not slacken speed, but goes on, and a crash occurs round the corner. It is because it is a three-lane highway that these accidents occur, and it does not matter whether the motorist travels at 50, 40 or 30 m.p.h. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the garages along this stretch of road he will find broken and damaged vehicles that have been towed off the highway because of accidents caused by this being a three-lane highway.
One question which I have raised, and I will go on raising it, not only in regard to this 50 m.p.h. speed limit experiment but in respect of all road regulations, is that of enforcement. I repeat what I tried to say at Question Time, that if the police authorities have given the right hon. Gentleman an assurance that they will properly police these short stretches of highway and enforce the 50 m.p.h. speed limit, we have the right to raise the question of enforcement of other regulations and other speed limits.
In the case of the A.40, there are speed limits on both sides of the experimental stretch of 30 m.p.h. I mentioned during Question Time that I use this road almost daily. Very often I drive into High Wycombe, and when I come to the 30 m.p.h. speed limit on the boundary I drop down to 30 m.p.h. because I obey the regulations laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, but all the trucks and vans behind me immediately sweep past at 35, 40 or 1478 50 m.p.h. This is in an area in which apparently the right hon. Gentleman has had an assurance that the new speed limit will be enforced. Why are not the existing speed limits enforced? Why is there no enforcement in this area of any of the other road traffic regulations? Perhaps that is an exaggeration, but I know from my experience in this district that parking signs are ignored, and other parking regulations like not parking outside schools and maximum speed limits are also ignored.
The local police cannot enforce the present regulations because there are not enough of them. I talked to a local inspector of police about this matter. The police are desperately understaffed, and I beg the right hon. Gentleman not to produce any more speed limit regulations until we have the traffic wardens. whose introduction some of us suggested four or five years ago, to assist the police to enforce regulations and to make sure that traffic is properly controlled and is kept flowing.
I do not want to take up too much time, but it is up to us who criticise the right hon. Gentleman and his regulations to make suggestions of our own. I confine myself to the stretch of road which I know very well, but I know that my suggestion applies to other stretches. Accidents are caused on this stretch not by speed alone, but by the fact that there is a three-lane highway. Several states in the United States have three-lane highways on which there is a double line marking places where cars cannot cross over, first on one side of the road and then the other; with a single lane highway on one side and a double lane on the other, and then alternating. Each section lasts for about a mile.
Those of use who travel around the country know from experience how traffic piles up on each side of the road when there are two lanes, one each way, because there is a slow car or truck in front, but as soon as one reaches a double carriageway, the piled-up traffic immediately sorts itself out and spreads out over a long distance. The traffic flow becomes easier and everything goes along much better.
I am confident that these alternate stretches of double track single track, single track double track would help to solve the problem and would get away 1479 from the murderous character of the three-lane highway. The traffic would be strung out and easier to handle, and everything would be made safer. But such a proposal could not be applied simply to a three-mile stretch of road. It would have to go over the whole of the three-lane highway from Western Avenue to High Wycombe. However, it should be operated for the entire stretch, for it is wrong to pick out little stretches and say that they are dangerous and that a speed limit will have to be applied. Traffic piles up over the whole road.
This proposal also raises the problem of enforcement, and here, again, I make another suggestion. I have said that my experience is that there is very little enforcement along this stretch of road because there are very few policemen. Traffic signs and signals and regulations are generally ignored. My proposal for running a double and single track along the present three-lane highway—I do not know whether it has a technical name—can be enforced by having police patrols going up and down with the traffic. At the beginning of the stretch of road, and at appropriate points along the road, there should be three big notices one after the other with some yards in between, the first to say, "There is a police patrol operating on this road", the second to say, "Any driver going over the double line will be arrested" and the third to say, "We mean arrested".
I believe that the police have that power of arrest, but I would be glad to be told whether I am correct. The police have authority to pick up drunks and to put them in the cells for the night so that they come in court the next morning to be charged with drunkenness. If the police have the authority which I think they have to pick up drivers who go over the double line and put them in the cells for the night, they should do so and those drivers should be charged with the offence the next morning.
Let us get hold of these bad drivers who spoil other people's holidays by causing accidents and spoil their holidays by putting them in the cell for the night, their car being parked outside the police station, or in the police yard for them to pick it up the next day. If 1480 they are travelling on business, they are spoiling other people's business by causing accidents, and if they are interfering with the considerate and careful drivers going on their own trading activities, let us spoil their trading activities by this simple device of arresting and putting them in the police station cells for the night to be charged the next morning. A few cases of that kind, well advertised, would have the most pleasing deterrent effect on the bad behaviour of motorists of this type.
I regret to say that I think the right hon. Gentleman's proposals for a 50 m.p.h. speed limit on stretches of this kind will not reduce the number of accidents and will certainly not reduce them on the stretch of road which I know well. Proposals such as those I have suggested should be considered. I do not suggest that any of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals should be opposed. We have to undertake a great deal of experimenting until we find the right way to deal with these problems. I sincerely hope that I am wrong and that the number of accidents at Whitsuntide will be reduced. If there is no reduction, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider some of the far better suggestions which we have been making and will study, far more carefully than he appears to have done, the question of enforcement to make sure that we have a traffic force in this country which can enforce existing regulations before we bring in more which cannot be enforced.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
I welcome my right hon. Friend's suggestions, first and foremost, because the A.20 runs straight through and is the backbone of my constituency. In my part of Kent we have been acutely aware at each holiday season for the last few years of the dangers and perils which beset every motorist and every parent who lets his child out on the roads.
The A.20 was a fine road as it began, but there are great requirements today for steps forward beyond the Maidstone by-pass. The Maidstone by-pass is a start, but many of my constituents deplore the slow start which was made on the Medway bridge. We all know the reason for that—the wet weather and 1481 the contractors having technical difficulties and so on, but many of my constituents would like to know why an earlier start on that bridge was not made.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend has stressed the co-operative and helpful attitude of the Chief Constable of Kent, because in Kent we are very proud of our police force and we think that in the difficult times which they have at holiday times our police do a splendid job. The special constables, whom we have at practically every crossroads helping holiday traffic, also do a splendid job. I am sure that they do in other counties, too, but their work in Kent is very noticeable.
To consider the gloomy side of road accidents; I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the deplorable state of the streets immediately adjoining the West Kent General Hospital. He may think that this is a small and trivial matter, but if we were to have a road accident, a major pile-up, or a rail accident comparable to the Lewisham train disaster, when many ambulances might be needed to rush to the general hospital, which is the only accident hospital in the area, we could have the most appalling difficulties and congestion. I should like to pay tribute to the first-aid teams and the hospital staff.
Another aspect of the A.20 which should be borne in mind, although we are strictly debating the Whitsun holiday arrangements, is that the A.20 is the gateway to England. We are very proud of the attractive layout of part of it, but it is the first impression that the foreign tourist gets of our country and, for that reason, more attention should be paid to the amenity aspect of the A.20.
I have said something already about the disappointment over the Medway bridge. There is another matter which is causing a certain amount of local dissatisfaction, and that is the eastern end of the Maidstone by-pass where it goes back on to the main A.20. It is felt that the curve in is very bad. I have already written to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on the subject. We welcome the by-pass and we hope that it will save life and congestion.
There are many alternative routes throughout Kent which are widely known to Londoners. I am sorry they 1482 are not included in the Press handout, because they would have had greater publicity. There is the road commonly known as the seven-mile lane from Wrotham Heath, which goes near the village of Mereworth. Again there is another road known as the West Farleigh-Cox Heath road. I introduced that road to my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), who has been able to knock off many minutes in his journey to his constituency by using that back way.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I passed the information on to my constituents and many of them are also using it, but now that the Maidstone by-pass is open it is not such a good trip.
§ Mr. Wells
There is one point on this alternative road to which I should like to draw attention. The West Farleigh—Cox Heath alternative route passes straight through the middle of Linton Hospital. There must be many alternative roads through the back streets of towns of this country passing through zones of particular danger. Although we want to encourage motorists to use these alternative roads, we must also safeguard the local inhabitants. Linton Hospital provides largely for old people, and they and the staff have to cross this main road. It is normally an unclassified road, but when we get the holiday traffic it becomes as full as a classified road. I would ask my right hon. Friend when advocating these alternative routes to make sure that adequate danger signs are put up to draw the attention of motorists to hospitals. The ordinary hospital sign is too small for the passing holiday motorist.
Again on the subject of the Maidstone by-pass, I understand that my right hon. Friend has for the time being shelved any proposal of aid for the proposed new street in Maidstone. It is an unfortunate decision. It is no good his saying, "We will wait and see what the by-pass brings". The new street at Maidstone is for the north—south flow of traffic and not the east-west flow of traffic. I invite my right hon. Friend to come to Maidstone on any market day when it is not dealing with the holiday traffic but when the ordinary congestion of traffic is very great indeed. We are very anxious to have his support for 1483 our very go-ahead and capable local authority.
In mentioning the local authorities in Kent, I think tribute should be paid to them for providing the new lay-bys on unclassified roads which are not only convenient for courting couples but are passing places on roads which did not have passing places provided. The Kent County Council are doing extremely well in that direction and in the maintenance and improvement of the Maidstone-Tonbridge road.
Can we not have more "no-waiting" areas on greater stretches of the Old Kent Road, the main gateway to southeast England. When I come along the Old Kent Road in the morning I often find vans parked on either side of the road with the result that there is a single flow of traffic each way which is a deplorable state of affairs. Surely during the business rush and at holiday times we might have a clear way in the Old Kent Road.
The abolition of traffic lights at Wrotham Hill and the substitution of a roundabout has proved a great safety factor, and local motorists have welcomed it, because now when one is driving down hill fairly fast one does not suddenly find oneself confronted with changing traffic lights. There is a similar traffic light at the point where people are first released from the conventional speed limit and enter the County of Kent. A driver comes over a hill, whose name, unfortunately, I do not know, and comes on this first traffic light on the open road in the County of Kent on the A.20. This light is unfortunately situated, and if the road surface is wet or one strikes an oil patch it could be dangerous. I should like my right hon. Friend to look at that matter.
Many hon. Members were disturbed to see in last Saturday's Financial Times a motoring article informing us that it is possible to buy a hotted-up engine for a mini-car at the cost of a few £s. That engine enables one to drive a minicar at a speed of 87 m.p.h. That is ridiculously fast. These small cars are the kind of vehicle which young people might buy as their first car. The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) has said something about a young driver starting off on a motor cycle and 1484 having no instruction. I am sure that we all agree with the hon. Member. But these young people may well buy a minicar with this hotted-up engine at a price which is little more than the cost of a motor-cycle and take as passengers a young wife or perhaps children or granny or grandfather, and heaven knows who else besides, and the presence of these vehicles on the road might cause considerable danger to other people. I should like to know from my right hon. Friend whether there is any method of controlling the manufacture of these hotted-up engines and their sale at a low price and their use in small vehicles primarily not intended to travel at great speed.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
Why does the hon. Gentleman refer only to cars at a low price? Is he suggesting that the only people who can travel at speed are those who are rich and can afford to buy expensive cars?
§ Mr. Wells
Not at all. When I used the expression "low priced" it was because I thought that this type of car may be bought by many young people who for the expenditure of another £5 or £10 would like a car with a bit of zip in it which they would then feel they could drive with the fastest in the land. But, with the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), I deplore the fact that any small car, whatever the cost, should be driven at excessive speeds.
Another unfortunate factor is the mentality of some young men and women whom we see on the A.20 who may be described as having the "Brand's Hatch mentality." In the neighbourhood of the A.20 there is the excellent circuit at Brand's Hatch. Frequently when I go home from this House at night I do not say to myself as I leave New Palace Yard, "I wonder if I shall see an accident tonight"; but, "I wonder where tonight's accident will be." It is as serious as that. There are a number of very good cafes in the vicinity of Brand's Hatch and as I travel home driving a modest car at what I hope is a modest speed I come across shoals of motor cyclists who are overtaking each other as they race along the road. I do not say that these young people have drink in them. The hon. Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson) made some reference to drink, but I think that these 1485 young people are out to impress their girl friends. This "Brand's Hatch mentality" ought to be curbed. I fully realise the difficulties. Hon. Members have spoken about the difficulty of enforcing the regulations and the necessity to recruit more policemen. I should like to see a better scale of pay for our policemen which I am sure would assist recruiting. I appreciate that that is a matter which is beyond the province of my right hon. Friend, but if we are to insist on a more strict enforcement of the regulations we must have more police, and if we are to get more police they must be paid more.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)
Much of the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) was a condemnation of the policy of the Government in not allocating adequate moneys towards road construction. A justifiable complaint from the motoring industry generally is that a very small proportion of the approximate amount of £400 million raised in taxation is used for the construction of bypasses and roads and for the improvement of existing roads. Many of the problems which today confront the motoring industry and the travelling public arise from the fact that Governments and Parliaments have not tackled with sufficient vigour this question of motorway construction and the improvement of existing roads. I think that the motoring industry is entitled to complain of the tremendous burden of taxation, on the one hand, and the inadequacy of the road construction programme on the other.
We must not lose sight of the fact that the problem of road safety is allied to the problem of how far the Government may be persuaded to improve and extend road facilities. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) in congratulating the Minister on the Regulations which he has placed before the House, although I agree that in themselves they are totally inadequate to meet the needs of transport. However, I welcome them as an indication that the Minister is at least trying, as no other Conservative Minister of Transport has done during the last eight or ten years, to grapple with this great problem.
1486 During the Whitsuntide holiday the two objectives of the Minister should be to improve road safety and the flow of traffic. They are desirable objectives. I was not very impressed by the emphasis placed by the Minister on the human factor in relation to accidents. I do not think that the term "human error" can be attributed to a person who drives a vehicle at an excessive speed or who drives when he is under the influence of drink. The Minister is wrong in trying to plaster over this serious problem of death and injury on the road by saying that it is impossible to deal with human error. If we are not prepared to bring in the necessary Regulations and to pass the necessary legislation to deal with these offending motorists we shall never solve this difficult problem.
In fairness I must say that the vast majority of motorists try to behave on the roads, and, as far as possible, they pay heed to the pleadings of the Minister. They drive carefully with due regard to the interests of others. They do not present the Minister with a problem. The problem is posed by those few motorists who are not prepared to drive carefully or to pay due regard to the need to keep within a reasonable speed limit. They are not prepared to give up calling at the "pub" during the evening and getting soaked up with liquor and then driving on the roads and becoming a menace. I criticise the Minister for not having the courage to produce a remedy to deal with this type of person.
I agree that the enforcement of Regulations is an important factor in ensuring that they are respected by the motoring community. I am sorry that the Home Secretary just popped into the Chamber to have a look round and then went out again. I should have thought that either the right hon. Gentleman or someone else from the Home Office ought to be present during this debate to listen to the suggestions which have been and which will be made about the inadequacy of our police forces. As was said by the hon. Member for Maidstone, there is no doubt that unless we are prepared to pay the price, which means unless we are prepared to provide a proper salary and attractive conditions of service, we shall not recruit the increased number of policemen required. It is not just a question of the failure of the Ministry of Transport; it is also a question of the 1487 failure of the Home Office to ensure that opportunities are provided for the police forces of the country to recruit a growing number of people to their ranks.
I believe that the Minister of Transport should bring pressure to bear upon his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and persuade him to tackle the question of increasing the number of our policemen in order that there may be a stricter enforcement of these Regulations. I was surprised at the limited area to which the Regulations are intended to apply. I should have thought that the Minister of Transport would have imposed a 50 m.p.h. speed limit throughout the country, except on the motorways.
The Minister tried to explain this afternoon why he had not applied the speed limit beyond 150 miles of roadway. He said that the trouble was the difficulty of enforcement. I should have thought that it would be infinitely better to apply the speed limit throughout the whole country and to ask the police forces to implement that measure of enforcement which is humanly possible in the circumstances.
I believe that had the speed limit been applied throughout the country the Minister would have been better able to judge whether, in point of fact, a speed limit was the remedy for averting some of the accidents and deaths on the road. It seems to me that because of the limited nature of the experiment it will not provide the Minister with the right type of information on which to form a judgment in the matter.
As hon. Members know, I have for years pleaded in the House for the imposition of a universal speed limit. I know that some hon. Members on both sides of the House have been urging the Minister to decontrol road after road. I am not blaming the present Minister of Transport. In many cases his predecessors in office gave way to the pressure brought to bear on them, and therefore they must take their share of responsibility for the ever-increasing rate of accidents and deaths on the road.
I do not think that the average motorist objects to a reasonable speed limit. Indeed, I think that, generally, he drives at a speed consonant with public safety. For the life of me, I cannot visualise any objection at all by the motoring com- 1488 munity to a universal speed limit—leaving aside, of course, motorways which are specially built for speed—which would still allow them to travel at a reasonable speed and which would mean that those who exceeded the speed limit would be liable to prosecution.
On the question of prosecution, there has from time to time been criticism in the House of magistrates' decisions and of quarter sessions. I can speak as one Who has done quite a lot of magisterial work, and I say quite frankly that if we are looking for the reason why adequate penalties are not being imposed we should not look to the magisterial bench for it. The bench does all it can to protect the interests of the community. The person who is guilty of a serious motoring offence usually elects to be tried before a jury and one often finds that he appears before a jury composed of fellow motorists.
I know that a lot of lawyers are always criticising the lay magistrates, but I would point out that they are doing a tremendous job. They interpret the law in a commonsense way. The difficulty in this question of motoring offences is not the failure of the magistrates properly to carry out their duties but the failure of the system which allows a person to elect to go for trial at quarter sessions. As I say, he usually appears before a jury of honest to goodness motorists and, somehow or other, the miscarriage of justice occurs.
Can the Minister say whether it is now possible not only to publish monthly statistics about the number of accidents and deaths on the road but also whether the Ministry will make available the most detailed information that is humanly possible, giving the nature of the accidents, the type of vehicles involved and any other statistics which would be of value in order to ascertain for certain what is the division of responsibility as between motor cycles, small cars, large cars, and so on? Such information would be of tremendous value to those Members of the House of Commons who are particularly interested in these matters.
In conclusion, I wish to repeat what I said at the beginning of my speech. I welcome what the Minister is doing. We wish him well and we hope that this experiment will result in a reduction of 1489 the number of accidents and deaths during the holiday period. We also hope that if it does the Minister will not hesitate to come to the House and say, "Because of the success of this experiment we propose to extend it over a wider field throughout the country." I do not believe that there is any hon. Member who is not sorely worried about the great tragedy of injury and death on the roads. I am sure that all hon. Members and the general public are waiting for a courageous lead by the Minister of Transport in this attempt to cut down the terrible toll.
If the Minister, without regard to vested interest on one side or the other, whether it be the brewers or the motoring industry, comes forward with proposals to enable us to grapple with the problem, I am sure that the mass of people in the country will be behind him. I am also perfectly sure that the House of Commons will give him every support. Therefore, we wish him good luck in his experiment and we hope that his expectations will be fulfilled. If they are, we want him to make sure that the improvement brought about by the experiment is maintained in the future.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) is not in his pi ace at the moment, although no doubt the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) will tell him what I have had to say. The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East was a little less than fair to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. It is quite easy to write letters to the Minister making a dozen suggestions, and it is easy to make them in the House, but it is much more difficult to carry them out. I was impressed by the fact that my right hon. Friend made seven positive suggestions in his speech which he will carry out over Whitsun.
It is all very well to say that Britain trails behind the rest of the world in safety measures, as the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East suggested, but it must not be forgotten that, despite all that, we have a better safety record than has France or Germany in the matter of deaths and injuries on the road. In spite of our faults we are not at the bottom of the league by any means. We are certainly a good way up it.
1490 I want to refer to four of the steps which the Minister mentioned today, and incidentally four of the things which I hope will give my right hon. Friend his reward at Whitsun by reducing the number of deaths to below the seventy-three during the similar period last year. First, there are the alternative routes which he is providing for traffic to the coast. I was shocked to hear that the chairman of one local authority had refused to adopt an alternative route.
As it happens, there is an alternative route to the coast past my house in Berkshire. There were two or three accidents there last summer practically outside my garden gate. Pressure has been put on me to try to use my influence to have the alternative route cancelled because of these accidents, but I refuse to yield to that pressure because I find that the congestion on the old road is less and the safety record is slightly better taking the two roads together in spite of the fact that there have been accidents at one or two places where there was none before. I hope, therefore, that what has been said in the House will induce this chairman of a local authority to open the alternative route to the coast.
I was interested to hear that the police are to introduce a traffic device to provide for a quicker flow of traffic past traffic signals on some of our main roads. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is not in his place, because it has been said many times in London that whenever the police interfere with traffic lights, as they often do during the rush hours, they slow down the traffic. There is a certain amount of truth in that. I do not believe that the police control the traffic at these cross-roads by hand as well as the traffic signals do. If the police use this automatic device to speed up traffic on one road they can take advantage of the traffic signalling system without interfering with its operation to the detriment of certain people.
§ Mr. Darling
The trouble is not so much the time interval as the fact that so much of the traffic wants to turn to the right.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
There is something in that, but I have felt that the police have interfered with the timing of the signals when they have taken 1491 over at places like the Cromwell Road extension.
I was also pleased to hear that the Minister has persuaded local authorities to get rid of minor obstructions on trunk roads at Whitsun. I asked a Question about this two or three weeks ago and I am glad that action is being taken. The other suggestion which I should like to make relates to double white lines. I feel that in many cases they are too short. I motored the other day on the A4 through Hungerford which has about three hundred yards of the main trunk road. In that distance there are two sets of double white lines with an intervening gap, the implication being that it is safe to overtake where there is no double white line. It is, of course, not safe. The road is narrow and there is a great deal of traffic on it. Those lines could be lengthened with advantage. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) intervened a little earlier to congratulate the Minister on passing his advanced motoring test.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
This fraternity, of which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) is also one of the founder members, has learned a great deal in the last two or three years. About 36,000 people have taken the advanced test, which is not very difficult, and half have failed. If that is the cream of the motoring fraternity in this country, I shudder to think what the standard is like among the rest.
One of the things we have learned is that a factor in accidents is undoubtedly lack of skill. There is a lack of skill and training on the part of many people which causes them to place themselves in the wrong position in the road and thereby have accidents. Another 1492 fact is that the aggressive, selfish driver is the cause of many accidents. Our motoring examiners, all of whom are ex-policemen and first-class drivers, are able in the 1½ hours during which they examine candidates to determine lack of skill or to discover that the candidate suffers from such an aggressive character that he is not worthy of passing the advanced test.
I suggest that hon. Members should submit themselves to the test, because even if one fails one can have a chat with the examiner to find out one's faults. It would be a splendid example if hon. Members submitted themselves to the test, whether they think they are advanced motorists or not. The test is taken in private and there need be no publicity if they fail.
We know for certain that the worst two hours, during which the greatest number of deaths will occur at Whitsun, will be between 10 o'clock and midnight on Saturday. That is the time when the young men are showing off to their girl friends how fast they can go, and their girl friends are egging them on, either in a motor car or on a motor cycle, to go faster. There will be a large number of accidents. I drive about on Saturday nights and see many people, both young and old, driving at 60 m.p.h. in built-up areas where they should be travelling at 30 m.p.h.
I have four children all of whom drive a motor car. My wife always says to them before they go out, "Drive carefully". This matter of Saturday night driving is one for the parents. If every parent on this coming Saturday night were to say to the children before they go out either in a motor car or on a motor cycle "Drive carefully", we should have a much better record in these dangerous and horrible two hours.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I understand that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport wants some time in which to reply to the debate. Therefore, I will not follow the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) too far in his remarks, though I would say that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) has suggested that before any hon. Member puts a House of Commons badge on his car windscreen he 1493 ought to pass the test of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, which seems to me an idea.
The Minister had something to say today about holes in the road and the fact that local authorities ought to show more consideration. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has looked at Westminster Bridge where it was decided yesterday morning to do a small job which could have been done by a nightshift in a couple of hours and which held up all the traffic right on the corner and created a complete bottleneck. I should have thought that that was a mistake in timing, and it adds point to a theory that I have had for some time that this Parliament ought to be able to control its precincts and the access thereto.
There is another matter about which the Minister will know. Whatever the legal difficulties, it seems unfortunate that his Department should have asked the Finchley Borough Council to take down its notices about dogs. The hon. Gentleman knows the difficulties which have arisen in Finchley under the Road Traffic Act, 1956, because a stretch of road runs through the area of two local authorities. I moved an Amendment, following the drafting of his own Ministry, and it is his Department's own drafting, which has gone wrong. I think that the Association of Municipal Corporations has called attention to this matter, and I should have thought, in any event, since he is attempting to put the matter right in another place, that the notices might just as well have remained. It is unfortunate that this ridiculous situation should have been created, with the notices which the local authority put there being ordered down, presumably pending some judgment from their Lordships' House.
I am all in favour of putting the greatest possible, Parliamentary, nonpolitical pressure on the Minister, not because the Minister so much needs pressure but because he needs support. Continual pressure by this House indicating that we are behind him and we want him to move even faster can be of great advantage to him.
One or two opinions ought to go out from this House not only about what juries and courts do but, sometimes, about judicial opinions which are delivered. I see the hon. Member for 1494 Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) in his place; he will corroborate what I am about to say. The Leeds Stipendiary Magistrate recently, when imposing what some people thought was a rather low penalty on a drunken driver, delivered himself of an opinion to the effect that he was not so much concerned with drivers who were drunk as with drivers who were sober and ought to know what they were doing. That seems to me to be standing reason on its head. One wonders how silly a stipendiary can get. As I know him personally, I have no doubt that he will take this up with me when I meet him. However, considering that stipendiaries do sometimes deliver themselves of such opinions, I think that Parliamentarians might well deliver themselves of opinions sometimes on the statements of stipendiaries.
When it began, the debate was contrated principally on the 50 m.p.h. limit. Whatever may be said about the reservations which hon. Members have, I welcome anything the Minister does to call attention to the fact that he intends to take an aggressive line. The hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) is not in the Chamber at the moment. His theory—he is a nice man himself—seems to be that, if everyone behaved well at all times, road accidents would be reduced. Quite frankly, I do not regard that as good enough. It reminds me of the little girl who prayed to God to make all bad people good and all good people nice. Such an approach is really not sufficient in this world.
In my view, following the 50 m.p.h. restriction during the holiday period, we should from time to time make other experiments. I am in no position to judge whether the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough about traffic flow in Beaconsfield is a good one or not, but all these things should be looked at. There is no short and simple answer to the problem of road accidents. It is an amalgamation of many factors each one of which we must get down to. Although it may appear that some proposals impinge upon the liberty of the individual, the carnage on our roads today is so awful that any Minister doing anything in an aggressive way should receive the blessing and good will of the House.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)
The purpose of this debate on the Adjournment was to give my right hon. Friend the opportunity to outline to the House the plans we have for dealing with the traffic situation at Whitsun and to take the sense of the House upon these measures. It is not surprising, therefore, bearing in mind that we are discussing the matter on the Adjournment, that the debate has been an extremely far-ranging one.
Several suggestions have been made, particularly in regard to road safety, which would require legislation. Although the rules covering the scope of debate on the Adjournment have been somewhat relaxed, I think that it would probably be outside the general scope of our discussion if I were to comment in detail upon all of them. I should, moreover, far exceed the amount of time we have allotted for this debate if I were to attempt to do so. I can, however, give hon. Members the assurance that we hope to be able to introduce legislation on road safety matters and we shall certainly take very careful account of everything which has been said this afternoon and of the suggestions which have been made about improvements in our road safety legislation.
§ Mr. Hay
I thought that the hon. Gentleman might ask that question. I regret that I cannot tell him when. I think he will understand that it is still a little too early to say, but I have high hopes that we shall be able to legislate on this matter in the next Session. I beg the hon. Gentleman and the House not to tie me to that because these things sometimes go astray. I certainly hope that we shall be able to do something next Session.
I wish to direct my remarks to the proposals which we have put forward for dealing with the Whitsun traffic situation and to the questions which have been put during the debate. The first speech made from the benches opposite came from the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) who raised several points. He complained a little that the 1496 Press notice, which, I admit, is voluminous and requires some study, was not issued to hon. Members at least twenty-four hours ago. He will, on reflection, I am sure, realise that we were, if I may say so, on the horns of several dilemmas in dealing with this matter. First, we had to remember that to make any impact upon the public, whose cooperation in all these traffic measures we need, it was essential that our announcements should be made not too long before Whitsun, on the one hand, and not too close to Whitsun on the other. The timing was rather difficult, and it had to be adjusted just right.
The second difficulty was that since we were to have a debate it would have been improper for us to release the details to the Press a considerable time before the debate took place. The House has frequently been somewhat jealous of its rights and has complained of Ministers who chose to give information to the Press which, rightly, was appropriate to a debate about to take place. We have done the best we can. We gave instructions that the Press notice, a copy of which the hon. Gentleman had in advance from me as a matter of courtesy, was not to be issued until the debate began. I have seen the early editions of the evening papers, and I hope that the Press will co-operate with us in giving the maximum publicity to what I feel sure will be useful, though perhaps not dramatic, measures in dealing with the flow of traffic at Whitsun.
The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East, his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) and other hon. Members asked why we had not included in our plan provision for the tidal flow of traffic. I have myself looked very closely into this matter and spent a good deal of time on it. Tidal flow experiments in this country are not very easy because our roads are of such configuration and shape, with sometimes wide stretches and sometimes narrow stretches, that it is not by any means easy to do the kind of thing which can be done in America.
If our roads were of uniform width and if their design characteristics were better over the major part of their length, it would be far easier to carry out tidal flow experiments at both busy periods and holiday periods than it is. It is 1497 not much good trying to organise a tidal flow experiment, let us say, on the London-Brighton road, much of which is dual carriageway now anyhow, if one finds that there is a three-lane road suddenly narrowing to a two-lane road and then, perhaps, widening again, because the whole purpose of the tidal flow experiment is to achieve what the name implies, a flow with the tide. We examined the idea very carefully, but it could not be done. We shall nevertheless persevere and, as our road system improves, of course, the scope for tidal flow experiments of that kind will be much greater than it has been in the past.
The next suggestion that the hon. Gentleman made referred to the possible use of radio to advise motorists while in their cars or when about to start on a journey of the state of traffic congestion or what it is likely to be on the roads that they will be using. This is an idea that I had as a result of listening to French radio programmes. "Paris Inter", which is the French equivalent of the Light Programme, has for some years been operating a programme for motorists which gives half-hourly bulletins on the state of congestion or otherwise of traffic on the outskirts of Paris. Motoring to my constituency on Saturdays, I frequently listen to this programme.
I therefore went into the possibility of organising something along those lines in this country. I discussed it with officials of my right hon. Friend's Department, then with officials of the motoring organisations and finally with the B.B.C., and we had a number of joint meetings to see whether anything could be done. Although there was enormous good will on all sides, because it was considered that it was an experiment that would be well worth trying if it were practicable. the fact was that there were so many difficulties, which I will briefly outline in a moment, that it was not a practical proposition.
To begin with, if information is to be of any value to the motorist while in his car listening to the radio, it must be up to the minute or as near up to the minute as we can make it. It is not the slightest good giving motorists information about the state of traffic half an hour or an hour before. The problem 1498 resolves itself straight away into a technical one—how could the information be collected as quickly as possible, and, when that had been done, how could it be got to the announcer and out on the air as quickly as possible?
Although, as I say, there was every good will and people made great efforts to see what could be done to shorten the time, it became obvious at an early stage that the time taken for the motoring organisation patrols to get to the reporting point with their messages to be passed on, the time required for those messages to be collated and put into a form in which they could be broadcast at the headquarters of the motoring organisations, for that information to be fed to the B.B.C. and for it to be subedited into a form suitable for announcement, and then to get the announcement to the microphone, was such that it was not a practicable proposition.
§ Mr. Hay
The Automobile Association and the police have aircraft which they use at holiday times. I saw them at Easter time. They were perfectly willing to help us in this way, but I am afraid that again it would not have worked. In the nature of things, an aircraft can cover at a certain moment only a particular area. What we were trying to do was to deal with the entire Metropolitan and south-east England area. Two aircraft would not have been sufficient to deal with that. Moreover, the people who know about these things at the A.A. tell me that it is often difficult for people in the air to be so clear about the state of congestion on the ground as their own patrols can be when they are actually on the ground.
I do not want to spend a lot of time on this subject because there are many other matters on which I ought to speak, but I can assure the House that we went very carefully into this question. It was, I hoped, an imaginative scheme which would have interested the motorist and would have been of some help as an experiment. We have not despaired and will go on and see if there is anything 1499 we can do. I doubt, however, whether we shall be able to find a solution in the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman that the Light Programme should completely stop providing programmes of entertainment during holiday periods and be devoted entirely to traffic bulletins. I do not think that would be popular in the House or in the country.
The next suggestion by the hon. Gentleman was that greater use should be made of railways. He pointed to the fact that my right hon. Friend has responsibility not only for road traffic but also for railways. I ought to remind him that this summer for the first time British Railways are running many more services whereby motorists can take their cars with them by rail. Certainly I know that the members of the Commission are well aware of the desirability of doing something along these lines and trying to make people use railways rather than crawl along the roads in their cars. I am sure that they will go on doing whatever they can in that respect.
As the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) said, the problem that we are facing at Whitsun and throughout the summer is one of a mounting volume of traffic trying to get along a road system which is out of date and which badly needs vast modernisation. The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East was a little off-key in some of the comparisons that he drew. He produced some statistics and calculations as to the extent of expenditure under the Government of which he was not a member, but provided by the party to which he belongs, between 1945 and 1951.
§ Mr. Hay
After the war, as the hon. Gentleman says. It is worth recalling that our road programme is running at the rate of £105 million in this current year. It is £11.4 million over last year. To get the matter into perspective, whether the proportions are different from what they were under a Labour Government or not, it is worth remembering that this year we shall be spending twenty-five times as much money on our road programme as the yearly average throughout the years between 1945 and 1951.
§ Mr. Hay
After the war, as the hon. Gentleman says. We ought not to be criticised too much by the party opposite which could have done more than it did—though I realise its difficulties—and which is far too apt to criticise us for lack of progress when progress is, in fact, being made. A great many holiday motorists when they go away this year will notice the differences. They will see the improvements that have been made in the last twelve months and will welcome them.
May I come to the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Hillsborough? He criticised the fact that the 50 m.p.h. speed limit experiment was to be extended for only 150 miles. In his view this is insufficient. I hope that, on reflection, and when he reads what my right hon. Friend said, the hon. Gentleman will realise that this is a somewhat limited experiment. It is not intended to be a permanent arrangement; nor is it intended to be country-wide. Our main desire is to conduct an experiment, as my right hon. Friend said, on certain selected lengths of trunk roads which could have a high accident record at holiday times. This we are going to try to monitor as best we can, and we hope that as a result we shall be able to draw some useful lessons from the experiment.
We have to limit it to trunk roads for a number of reasons. First, the widely different standards of roads in this country would make it virtually impossible to select an arbitrary limit which would not be much too fast for safety on some roads and unreasonably restrictive on others. Second, this is an experiment, and, to achieve the degree of control and observation necessary to see how the experiment goes, it has to have a limited field. Third, the Minister is able to arrange a much more coherent experiment on trunk roads, for which he is the traffic authority, than could be done on other roads, because those other roads involve a large number of authorities with perhaps conflicting ideas. Finally, the trunk roads are the most important roads in the country, and that is why we have selected these.
Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Hillsborough, asked what was happening about enforcement. 1501 They asked what was the use of applying a 50 m.p.h. limit if it was not to be enforced. As my right hon. Friend said, discussions have taken place with the police forces and the Home Office—and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for his help in this matter—with the object of seeing what enforcement can be applied. I think that we must, however, appeal to the public to observe the 50 m.p.h. limit. We are going to put up the signs and we shall give as much publicity as we can to the fact that the 50 m.p.h. experiment is being carried out. There will be enforcement at certain times of the day and perhaps the evening, and the enforcement will be quite intensive.
Ultimately, however, we come back to the issue that has been dominating this debate—it is the human factor that is important. We shall, therefore, be obliged to rely on the public, in their own interests and in the interests of traffic flow, as well as of safety, to observe this limit. Then we shall see how we get on.
§ Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)
Could the Ministry advertise this 50 m.p.h. limit in the national Press and on the radio and television?
§ Mr. Hay
I am sorry that the hon. Member has not been able to be present throughout our discussion. Had he been present earlier he would have heard that we have issued a very full Press notice this afternoon, copies of which are available in the Library, and that the early editions of the evening newspapers have already published the information.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
The Minister spoke of using the public. Has he and his right hon. Friend used that section of the public that has the greatest know-how of any in London? Have they had a conference with the taxi drivers? I am sure that the taxi drivers could provide a wealth of information about byways in London and elsewhere.
§ Mr. Hay
We know quite a lot of the taxi drivers. Both my right hon. Friend and I had quite hectic negotiations with them a few weeks ago over the U-turns. However, I think that I can meet the hon. Gentleman's point by saying that Mr. Alex Samuels. Chairman of the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory 1502 Committee, who has been a practical taxi man for years and who is in touch with all his friends in the trade, is always there to help us. He is helping us now, and I am sure that we shall get continuing good advice from him and from his colleagues.
Next, I should like to refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells). He asked whether he would consider the problem of crowded streets around the West Kent General Hospital, and I can assure him that we will certainly look into that matter. My hon. Friend made other suggestions, particularly about roads in Kent and the approaches to London, and we will look into those, too.
He raised one issue that had not until then been fully discussed. He referred to the problem that we are up against in providing alternative routes. As my right hon. Friend said earlier, we have in this scheme tried to produce a large number of alternative routes to the popular holiday resorts. Our difficulty, of course, is that if we do find an alternative route then, in no time at all, that route, if the public patronises it, becomes just as congested as the main road to which it is intended to be an alternative. We therefore have to be rather careful in our selection of these routes, but if my hon. Friend has up his sleeve details of any route that we have never heard of, and if he has no copyright in it—and, apparently, he has not, because he has told others of my hon. Friends—I should be grateful if he would let us know.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) spoke about the double white line. We realise perfectly that, provided it is uniform, the double white line is a valuable safety measure and also contributes something to traffic flow. It is a comparatively new idea in this country, and we believe that highway authorities must be given a little time to settle down and to realise how the thing should properly be done. We have given them a good deal of advice. We have issued circulars. Our divisional road engineers are in constant touch with highway authorities, and we try to inform them as to the way in which they should use the double white line, at which places 1503 it is suitable, at which places it is unsuitable. We advise them about the necessity of avoiding, if possible, breaks in the double white line such as those to which my hon. Friend referred. Here, again, we have to wait for experience to accumulate, and for local highway authorities to make the best use they can, in the light of their local circumstances, of this very valuable Measure.
I hope that the House appreciates that this plan is not intended to be, nor is it put forward as being, a panacea for all our Whitsun holiday problems. We have had plenty of experience of the growing volume of traffic on our road system, and I had some personal experience of it at Easter. I am quite certain that something of this nature is needed. Frankly, it is intended to be an experimental plan. It is not intended to—and I do not suppose that it will completely—solve the problems of every single individual wanting to travel to the country or to the seaside, but I am quite certain that it will help to speed up the flow of traffic and make travel easier during the Whitsun holiday period and during the summer months. I am equally certain that if people play the game, observe the rules, and try to take advantage of what we are doing for their benefit, we shall, after the Whitsun Holiday period is over, be able to point to a reduction in this appalling total of casualities which, as hon. Gentlemen have quite rightly said, is becoming so ghastly a feature of our popular holidays in this twentieth century.
§ Mr. R. Brooman-White (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.