HC Deb 04 March 1960 vol 618 cc1632-67

Order for Second Reading read.

2.18 p.m.

Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)

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

The broad intention behind the Bill is to save life; it is to halt and reverse the remorseless rise in accidents involving motor-cyclists. Last year, these accidents reached the shocking total of over 100,000, resulting in 1,379 deaths, plus no fewer than 22,311 people seriously injured.

More precisely, the Bill seeks to implement the recommendations in the Report of the Departmental Committee on Road Safety, entitled "Minimum Age for Motor-Cyclists," and dated July, 1957. The object behind the recommendations of that Report was to encourage boys to start their motorcycling careers on light machines, and to graduate to the more powerful types as they gained experience.

I must confess that the idea behind the Bill came to me about ten years ago, before I had entered politics, when I was an enthusiastic member of a motor-cycling club. I found then that the young men who formed the backbone of these motor-cycle clubs very seldom had accidents. I found that it was their general opinion that if one wants to become an expert, safe, reliable rider it is best to start on a light machine. I believe that that view is still widely held among experienced motor-cyclists. It was certainly held also by a number of hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee which considered the Road Traffic Act, 1956. It found expression in a number of Amendments, and as a result powers were written into the 1956 Act which authorised the Minister to raise the minimum age of motor-cyclists.

Moreover, as will be seen from a study of the proceedings of the Committee, and, indeed, from the wording of the Act, the idea behind these powers was that the age should specifically be raised for the heavier type of motor-cycle. In the event, these powers have never been exercised. Since the Bill derives particularly from the Committee on Road Safety Report on the Minimum Age for Motor Cyclists, which came after the Act—indeed, the Committee was asked to report on this subject as a result of a pledge giving during the Committee proceedings on the Act—I think that it might be convenient to recall to the House the recommendations of that Committee. They are to be found summarised on page 3 of the Committee's Report and briefly they are as follows:

  1. "(1) No justification is seen on present evidence for raising generally the minimum age of 16 years for riding motor cycles.
  2. (2) Surveys should be undertaken to obtain further data on accident rates for motor cyclists of different ages.
  3. (3) In order to encourage young persons to start riding on the smaller types of machines, the minimum age limit should he reduced to 15 years for mopeds (as defined in this report) and increased to 17 years for motor cycles (other than three-wheelers but including side car combinations) of over 250 c.c."
Later, the Report explained that the majority of the Committee believed that driving tests should be undertaken far mopeds, and recommended that a person passing the driving test on a moped should be granted a full licence restricted to that type of vehicle only, and should pass another test before being authorised to ride the larger types of machine.

I will now turn to the Bill itself and take it Clause by Clause. Clause 1 classifies motor-cycles under four heads: first, heavy motor-cycles, which are defined as machines having a cylinder capacity of 250 c. c.; secondly, light motor-cycles, which are defined as machines having a cylinder capacity of 250 c. c. or under. I would say at this stage that I recognise that this dividing limit is a matter for argument; it could be argued that it should be set either higher or lower. The reason why 250 c. c. has been written into the Bill is that that is the recommendation of the Road Safety Committee. However, if the Bill goes into Committee the sponsors would be open to consider any Amendments which might be moved on this point.

Thirdly, mopeds are defined as motorcycles which have an engine of 50 c.c. or under; are fitted with pedals by which the machine can be propelled if the engine is not working; and should be fitted with silencers which conform to such regulations, if any, as may be issued by the Minister.

I should like to say a word about the third requirement. I may say that it was written into the definition at my request and, I confess, rather against the advice of some of my hon. Friends. I did this before I knew that the Bill would be considered immediately after the Noise Abatement Bill. I did so because I recognise that the noise of a moped can be extraordinarily irritating. I understand, moreover, that the Government are at present carrying out tests at the Road Research Laboratory to try to get an agreed standardised regulation which will cover silencers. I understand that the manufacturers are prepared to co-operate and agree, if necessary, if the regulations are issued, to build machines fitted only with these standard silencers.

Should this happen, and should the Bill become law, the House will see that there will be a very simple way of enforcing this regulation, because if a proud owner of a moped messes about with the silencer so that it no longer conforms it will cease to be classified as a moped and he will have to relicense it at some inconvenience, and possibly expense, as a light motor-cycle.

Of course, the other two conditions—those appearing in subsection (3, a) and (b) in the Bill relating to the cylinder capacity and the pedal requirement—are, as I understand it, conditions agreed at the recent Geneva Convention on this subject. Moreover, the requirement that there should be pedals capable of propelling the machine is the key for keeping the speed of these machines down to a maximum of between 25 and 30 m. p. h. It would be possible, if there were no pedals, to make a very low machine which would "go like a bomb", and this requirement has been left in the Bill purposely, because when the Bill talks about a moped it refers specifically to a light machine, in some ways similar to a bicycle rather than to a motor-cycle which, with luck and if it is running well, will reach a top speed of between 25 and 30 m.p.h.

Fourthly, in Clause 1 are motor-tricycles, and these, with the caution that we associate with the legal profession, are defined as motor-cycles which have more than two wheels. In fact, it is possible to have as many as six wheels and still conform to the letter of the law. The House will observe that motor-cycles combinations will fall within this category. They will, therefore, be excluded from the restriction contained in Clause 2, about which I will speak in a minute. Here the Bill has departed on a point of detail from the recommendations of the Road Safety Committee and I will explain why later.

Clause 2 makes it an offence for anyone to ride a heavy motor-cycle without having first held a licence to ride a light motor-cycle for at least twelve months. It is here that the Bill departs most radically from the Report of the Committee on Road Safety, which recommended simply the raising of the minimum age for riding heavy machines to 17.

The idea behind the Clause as it has been printed in the Bill came from my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), and if he is fortunate enough to be called no doubt he will develop his reasons for this. I content myself by saying that we think that the principle of graduation will be very much more effectively enforced by this Clause than by merely changing the minimum age. I presume that the Government agree with this view, otherwise I do not know how they will explain never having taken advantage of the powers granted under the 1956 Act.

This Clause also contains a provision which would disregard periods during which a licence was endorsed from counting towards the qualifying period. Since the Bill was printed, it has been pointed out to me from several sources that this particular provision might act very unfairly. It seems that there is a far greater inconsistency in different parts of the country with regard to both the endorsing of licences and the period for which endorsement remains on the licence than I had imagined. If, therefore, the Bill reaches Committee, I shall move an Amendment which will simply leave it to the discretion of the courts to order an extension of the qualifying period after a conviction for dangerous or careless driving.

Finally, the Clause makes plain that the restriction with regard to the qualifying period will not apply to anyone who holds any form of licence, provisional or otherwise, up to the time that the Bill becomes law. In other words there will be nothing retrospective in this Measure as printed, should it reach the Statute Book.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

Before the hon. and gallant Gentleman leaves Clause 2, which is a very important Clause, will he answer this question? Let us suppose that someone 20 years of age applies for the first time for a licence to drive a motorcycle. Is it the hon. and gallant Gentleman's intention that such a person would have to drive the lighter type of motor-cycle before he could be allowed a licence for the heavier machine?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

That is right. The requirement to qualify and gain experience on a light machine will be quite independent of age. In passing, I will say that all the accident statistics show that the accident rate is certainly no higher for the young drivers than for the older drivers among the sort of ages which the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) has indicated. To put the matter more simply, perhaps, one of the effects of Clause 2 will be that an L-plate will never again be seen on a heavy machine. It will be impossible for a man or a young boy with a provisional licence to ride one of the heavy, powerful machines.

Clause 3 gives the Minister power to lower the minimum age for moped riders to 15. The House will recall that the Committee was quite clear that this age should be so reduced, and, of course, such reduction is plainly necessary if the principle of graduation is to be fully carried out. The Clause in the Bill is no more than an enabling one. I will be quite frank with the House. The reason is that it was made clear to me in conversations with my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that the Government would not accept the Bill in any other form, and, since the art of politics is the art of the practical, I thought it prudent to draw the Bill in this form.

Quite seriously, I fully understand the nervousness of the Government about making this change at once. I certainly should not expect them to take advantage of the Clause immediately the Bill became law, should it finally reach the Statute Book. On the other hand, I should expect the Government to take this action if it were found from experience that the application of Clause 2 providing for graduation from the light machine to the heavy machine resulted, in practice, in a marked reduction in accidents.

Of course, the difficulty in this matter is the absence of convincing statistical proof. There is no real evidence to show that the change would or would not immediately be prudent. I have a feeling that my hon. Friend will produce some new statistics when he speaks—a well-known device of Governments on these occasions—which it will not be possible to examine in any detail. I do, however, defy anyone at the moment to prove the case by statistics.

All that is really known is, first, that the moped accident rate is still very low compared with that for other powered vehicles. Notwithstanding the fact that moped accidents nearly doubled in 1959 compared with 1958, the rate was still only one in 54.5 for mopeds in comparison with one in 14.1 for other kinds of motor-cycles, and, as a matter of interest and comparison, one in 30.7 for motor cars. Moreover, the fatal and serious casualty rate for moped riders is now only one quarter of that for other categories of motor-cycle.

It is perfectly true—I dare say that my hon. Friend will say this as a word of caution—that the accident rate for mopeds rose in 1959; in other words, the number of people killed and injured went up proportionately more than the number of licensed mopeds; but I must point out that, at this moment, mopeds are not, on the whole, a young man's vehicle. I am informed by the insurance world that 85 per cent. of moped riders are over 21, and 68 per cent., as far as the insurance companies can estimate from the policies they write, are over 30. A surprising proportion of accidents to moped riders appear to occur to people whom the Church would describe as being "of riper years", usually while they still have a provisional licence. That really is the second known fact, that most of the moped accidents occur among older people.

Perhaps the best evidence on which to form an opinion about whether it is wise to lower the age for moped riders or not would be provided if it were possible to compare the accident rates for pedal cyclists of 15 years of age and of 16 years of age. Unfortunately, it is quite impossible to have this information, because there are no accurate statistics for the number of pedal cyclists in the different age groups. I can only say that the opinion of the insurance companies is that the 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds are certainly no more dangerous than the 16 and 17-year-olds. Indeed, one striking fact has been the fall in the accident rate among cyclists under 15—the total number is known; it is about 3 million—since the Government's training scheme was introduced a few years ago.

Clause 4 does two things. It limits a person who passes the moped test to the riding of a moped. As the House will know, this follows the recommendation of the Committee. One rather disgraceful feature of the present law as it works in practice is that a boy who can pass a test on a moped is immediately qualified to mount a 1,000 c.c. racer. Secondly, the Clause exempts those who have passed the test for other classes of vehicle from having to take the moped test. The argument in favour of doing that is that, of course, nobody can ride a moped unless he can ride a pedal cycle; he must learn to keep his balance before he can do it. Secondly, anyone who drives a car, presumably, has a certain amount of traffic sense and, presumably, is reasonably familiar with the Highway Code.

I do not know whether my hon. Friend will oppose this relaxation. If he does, I put this question to him. Do we know how many people who are already holders of car licences fail to pass the test on a moped? Only the Government can supply those figures. My understanding of the matter is that probably nobody does. So far as moped riders do have accidents, unfortunately, they usually occur before people halve passed any test at all.

Perhaps I should anticipate very briefly one or two arguments which may be advanced against the Bill. First, it may be said that this is not the time to introduce road traffic legislation, since there is a consolidation. Bill before Parliament. If the Government visualised a standstill of road traffic legislation, there would be great force in this argument. However, I expect that many hon. Members saw and heard my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport on television telling people in New York that it was his intention to bring in some far-reaching traffic legislation. I do not think that there is anything in this argument. Moreover, this Bill, however fortunate it may be, will get through Parliament too late for the necessary drafting Amendments to be made to it in its later stages to bring it into conformity with the consolidation Measure, if by that time it is on the Statute Book.

It may be argued that the licensing of these machines may be made more complex. That is true, but there is no means of avoiding that if the principle of graduation is to be cried at all. Surely a little more complexity is acceptable if it results in reduction in the terrible accident rate. Surely it is also rubbish to continue pretending; that there is very much resemblance between a 700 c. c. Meteor and a Raleigh moped. It is argued that 250 c.c. machines can be, what the young men call "souped up" to make them go at 100 m. p. h. This can be done by exports, but it would be a mistake to suppose that the greatest danger in riding a heavy machine is purely a matter of its top speed. Its weight in the hands of a young boy, and its tremendous acceleration, are very material considerations in its danger.

There is no time this afternoon for a full debate on this Bill. I hope that the House will forgive me for doing it, but purposely I have been rather perfunctory in introducing the Bill as I know that other hon. Members may wish to put different views. Owing to the late hour that our debate started, I fully realise that it open to any hon. Member to stop the Bill getting a Second Reading, but I appeal to the House to let it go to Committee. It is a modest Measure which has been purposely drawn very narrowly. It enjoys the general support of the motor-cycling fraternity, including, I may say, the manufacturers.

Among the large number of letters which I have received on the subject, only one has been in opposition to the Bill. As it is always fair to give the opposing case, I will tell the House what it was. One young man wrote to me stating that he was rather nervous about my Bill. He had been riding a heavy machine for three years. He said that he had never had an accident and that only "mugs" had accidents anyway, except occasionally when a pedestrian was not paying attention or a car driver was asleep.

The writer went on to say that the official testing organisation was so "dozey" that it had not yet caught up with him and that he had never undergone an examination. He was afraid that if the Bill became law he would have to get a lighter motor-cycle because he would not be allowed to ride the heavy one any more. He wanted to know whether I was going to help him. I was able to reassure him that the Bill would not be retrospective.

I should like to make it clear on behalf of the sponsors of the Bill that we undertake to approach the Committee and Report stages with absolutely flexible minds. I shall certainly be willing to consider any Amendments which may be moved on their merits.

In conclusion, in view of the dreadful daily sacrifice of young lives, surely hon. Members will think very carefully before blocking a Measure which is, after all, based on the proposal of a very respected Committee and which offers some amelioration, however slight, of this continuing tragedy.

2.44 p.m.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

I have such pleasure in supporting what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) has said, and in congratulating him on bringing forward the Bill and having had good fortune in the Ballot. I should also like to congratulate him on the time and trouble which he has obviously taken over the Bill and to reinforce what he said about the sponsors of the Bill having sympathy with motor-cyclists.

I started riding a motor-cycle at the age of 14. In those years, in the 'twenties, my first pride and joy was a two-stroke motor-cycle. I then had a flat twin of 2¾ h.p. and it was not until 1921, when I was lucky enough to be given a motor car, that I got on to four wheels. As one of the supporters of the Bill, I can claim that I know the thrill of riding a motorcycle and the joy of tinkering with it, of being independent, of looking after it and the thrill of feeling the wind whistling in ones' ears and having the power and urge of an engine beneath one's knees. Equally, I know how difficult and dangerous it is for a young man who is not fully grown to handle a heavy machine. Recently, I was reinforced in that knowledge, because my daughter bought a motor cycle and I realised how difficult it was for a young person to manage a heavy machine.

Yesterday, as I was going up to Oxford to vote for a new Chancellor in a certain election, I picked up a young man who was a keen motorcyclist. He was an owner of a 500 c.c. motor-cycle. He was 25 years of age. I put to him the merits of the Bill. He at once said that it was splendid and perfectly right, because a 500 c.c. machine is more difficult to handle not only because of its weight, but because of its great power and acceleration, and that a young lad of 16 should not have the opportunity of acquiring one.

I was very much impressed by the evidence in the Report on the Minimum Age for Motor-Cyclists, to which my hon. and gallant Friend has referred. Table 4 of the Report shows that the accident rate among riders of motorcycles with engines up to 60 c. c. is much lower than that among riders of other motor-cycles. The table also shows that the death rate in respect of riders of motor-cycles of over 60 c.c. is 10 per 10,000, but that that in respect of riders of motor-cycles of under 60 c.c. is only two per 10,000. Injuries among riders of the lighter machines are only 124 per 10,000 as against 452 among riders of machines of over 600 c.c. There is no doubt that the heavier machines bring about the more casualties.

Table 8 of the Report, which sets out the relative casualty data in more detail, reinforces the same point, but takes the matter a stage further. It shows that the accident rate in respect of riders of motor-cycles of over 250 c.c. is three times the rate in respect of riders of motor-cycles of under 250 c.c. Table 9 shows that the rate of the number of people killed per 10,000 motor-cyclists is as follows: mopeds, 2.8 up to 150 c.c., 4.6; up to 250 c.c., 7.7; and over 250 c.c., 19.4. These figures show the graduation. I am fully aware that they are three years old and that, to some extent, they may be a little out of date, but I think that it is the unanimous opinion of insurance companies that heavy machines are more dangerous and that young and inexperienced riders are more accident prone.

I have had some sad cases brought to my notice of young men who, without any previous experience, have bought machines of 500 c.c. or over and have killed themselves in a very short time. There are boys of 16 whose one ambition is to, what is called, "do the 'ton'"—to travel at 100 m.p.h. I think that these machines should be restricted to persons who are a little older.

The principle of graduation is correct. I do not mean this in the Oxford sense, but in the sense of progressive experience before handling heavier machines. Being impressed by the Report of the Committee, I drafted a Clause similar to Clause 2 of the Bill in the hope that I would be fortunate in the Ballot. My hon. and gallant Friend, however, has been fortunate and he has been very kind in incorporating the substance of the Clause into the Bill. Indeed, he has greatly improved the Bill and expanded it far beyond anything that I had in mind.

In practice, however, it seems to me that Clause 2 will mean that a boy must be 17½ or 18 before he gets on to a heavy machine, because he will require six months or more to pass a provisional test and then he must have a clean licence for a light motor-cycle for a year.

We did not follow exactly the 1957 Committee's recommendation of 17 as the age to begin on a heavy machine, because we took the view that a boy of 17 was not sufficiently experienced to get on to a heavy machine—not even a boy of 18 might be sufficiently experienced—and that it would be right to specify a full year's experience before anybody drives a heavy machine. That is why we have gone a little further in this respect than the Bill suggests.

The only other Clause to which I would draw attention is Clause 4, which would allow a person who now has a licence to drive any vehicle, whether commercial, passenger or anything else, to drive a moped without a further test. I regard a moped as little more than a bicycle. It is, in fact, a motorised pedal bicycle. It is absurd, for instance, that a bus or truck driver who wants to buy a moped to travel to work should have to put up L-plates on his moped before he can get a licence to drive such a lightweight two-wheel vehicle. That is an absurd requirement of the existing law.

Strangely enough, as my hon. and gallant Friend has said, the great majority of buyers of mopeds are over the age of 21 or middle-aged. If fully implemented, however, I think that the Bill will encourage the young to start on mopeds and thereby lead them up to the heavier machines. I am convinced that the Bill will lead to road safety. For that reason alone, I have pleasure in commending it to the House, particularly as I believe that motor-cyclists themselves will see the force of it.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will not in any way show resistance to this little Measure, because in is we have tried to carry out the conclusions and recommendations of my right hon. Friend's powerful Committee, which was widely representative of every type of person connected with motor-cycling and road safety and by whom the recommendations were made in 1957.

2.53 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

The list of hon. Members who are sponsoring the Bill indicates that there is, apparently, no party principle involved, except to the extent that the Liberal Party does not seem to be associated with it. I rise to speak only briefly, because we have been inundated with a mass of statistics which even the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) said were inconclusive.

Before we are completely submerged, I should like to say that the only doubt in my mind about the Bill, which, on the face of it, seems desirable, is whether it will be practicable of enforcement. I suggest, therefore, that it would be for the convenience of hon. Members if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary were now to indicate the Government's attitude towards this Measure. That would put some of us out of our suspense and enable us all the more quickly to make up our minds whether the Bill should be supported in the Division Lobby.

2.55 p.m.

Major W. Hicks Beach (Cheltenham)

I must confess that I have grave doubts about the objects of the Bill, although, clearly, we all want to ensure road safety. As one who is closely connected with one of the large insurance companies, I am afraid that I do not accept the figures which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) said he had obtained from the insurance world. There is probably a great deal of confusion in this matter, because the figures of which I am aware in the insurance world show that the vast number of accidents—I would say 75 per cent. of them—involving motorcycles, cars and any class of vehicle, including mopeds, are caused by excessive speed. That is certainly the evidence which has been brought to my attention.

What worries me more than anything else about the Bill is Clause 2, which states that A person shall not drive a heavy motorcycle on a road unless he has held a licence (other than a provisional licence) to drive a light motor-cycle for not less than twelve months. Then it contains certain provisos.

A great number of people during their National Service have driven tanks and other heavy vehicles after skilful training and instruction. When they leave the Services, they may want to drive heavy vehicles. As I understand it, however, when a skilled driver of this nature completes his National Service, or his ordinary service as a Regular in the Army, he must then qualify for a licence to get a job driving a heavy goods vehicle, for which he is obviously suited. He would have to get a licence to drive a motor-cycle. Have I understood the Bill correctly?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

My hon. and gallant Friend has understood the Bill correctly. Such a driver, however, already has to qualify to drive a motor-cycle. The only difference under the Bill is that he would have to start on a small motor-cycle before going to a more powerful one.

Major Hicks Beach

If a skilled driver who completes his National Service wants to become a road haulage driver, he must, therefore, spend the period specified in the Bill to get a motor-cycle licence?

Mr. Mellish

If he drives a heavy goods vehicle, it has nothing whatever to do with a motor-cycle.

Major Hicks Beach

I thought my hon. and gallant Friend agreed with me.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

It has never been recognised at any time since the introduction of tests that a test to qualify a person to drive a four-wheeled vehicle would qualify him for riding a motor bicycle. That is the existing law. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) and I probably qualified before the tests began. We have never been bothered with the test. The categories of vehicles have always separated the two-wheeled vehicles from the four-wheeled and it is not recognised by the Government, and certainly not by the sponsors of the Bill, that the driving of a tank or motor-bus is any preparation for riding a powerful motor-cycle.

Major Hicks Beach

Well, perhaps I misunderstood the position, but I would have thought from studying the Clause that I was right.

However, if the Bill is to go through on Second Reading, I hope it will be given very careful consideration in Committee, for otherwise I think that great hardship may arise for people who want to get jobs driving heavy road haulage vehicles. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If I have misunderstood the position, I accept what my hon. and gallant Friend says.

The other matter I would say a word about is that of statistics. It is very difficult to make comparisons with the records of mopeds, because it is only during the last few years that mopeds have come upon the roads in any great numbers. Therefore, I do not think it can be seriously suggested that the records available at the moment about mopeds are of any great help.

Of course, I am all for doing everything we can for road safety, and, indeed, for making quite certain that everyone who gets a licence is properly trained in order to have it, but I, personally, should have thought that our present system was on the whole an extremely good one and that no change in the law was required.

3.0 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

Hon. Members will know that I usually approach any matter connected with road traffic from the pedestrian's point of view and with concern for the safety of the walker. I am, therefore, particularly interested in this Bill which deals with motor-cycles, because motor-cycles kill about two or three times as many pedestrians as private cars do. They are, in fact, extremely dangerous vehicles on the road compared with other vehicles.

Our difficulty in considering the terms of this Bill is the absence of statistics, dividing as this Bill divides the motorcycles and the mopeds. We have not got the statistics to show the accidents which occur to the different types of vehicles, the age groups riding them, the age groups involved in the accidents, and so on. It would be of great value to us if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can, when he answers the debate, give us some further statistics on that. Perhaps, if he cannot give us all the statistics, he could assure us that a real survey will be carried out of this subject as soon as possible.

I am not quite sure whether this is a road safety Bill or a moped manufacturers' Bill, but I will give it the benefit of the doubt and treat it from the safety point of view. I think I may bring my remarks within part at least of the long Title of the Bill, which mentions the conditions subject to which persons may drive motor cycles". As to safety, one has to consider the subject from two angles, first the prevention of accidents, and secondly, the prevention of injury to the rider of the vehicle or his pillion passenger. It is perhaps unfortunate that the safer we make a vehicle for the driver of it the more we are encouraging him to take risks with it, and perhaps the more accident-prone we are staking the vehicle and the driver.

Setting aside that consideration for the moment, I would remind the House that we have been struggling for years to make the motor car a safer vehicle constructionally. Gradually more things have been introduced into the motor car which will make it less of a dangerous instrument to the driver and the passenger, and yet we permit the motor-cycle to continue on the roads in really the most dangerous form. The injuries to the motor-cyclist's leg and his head are the main injuries if he crashes. We make no protection against this. We do not insist on his having a helmet, we not insist on his having leg protection, although the motor-cycle is the most unstable vehicle on the road. I say this not merely out of concern for the protection of the individual who is riding the motor-cycle. We have to remember that each time he injures himself he clutters up our hospitals, and from the general public's point of view one would wish he took more care of himself.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) has quoted some figures to show how much more dangerous the motor-cycle is on the road than other vehicles. I think he gave the figure of one in every fourteen motorcycles are involved it accidents—which is a really rather frightening figure—

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

I hope my hon. Friend will be accurate. Motorcycles over certain sizes.

Mr. Page

I am very grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend. That is, I take it, motor-cycles over 250 c. c.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

No. Motor-cycles.

Mr. Page

That is, excluding mopeds then, every one mote r-cycle in fourteen has an accident. At any rate the number of accidents which occur to motorcycles is very much greater than those that occur to any other class of vehicle on the road, and the results are far more severe. The fatalities are in a greater proportion to the accidents than is the case with other vehicles.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

I do not think the proportion of one in four- teen is right. I believe it is more like one in nineteen. My hon. Friend will see that Table 9 on page 12 of the Report of the Committee on Road Safety refers to 586 total casualties per 10,000 motor-cycles. That is not one in fourteen.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

I made it clear that I was referring not to figures in the Report for 1956 but to those in the 1959 Report.

Mr. Page

We shall be able to refer to the Report and satisfy ourselves about the figures. Heavy motor-cycles are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) has said, three times as dangerous as others. I would like to see the provision in the Bill for the minimum age for riding a heavy motor-cycle increased to at least 18 years. If the principle of graduation or gradation—I do not know which to call it—is to be applied, I would start at 16 for mopeds, 17 for light motorcycles and 18 for heavy motor-cycles, and not a year younger as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East suggests in the Bill. Frankly, I would put the ages up in order to keep as many motor-cycles off the roads as possible.

What is the purpose of the heavy motor-cycle on the road? Except on certain stretches of road, I doubt whether it can go any faster than the 250 c.c. cycle. I am not a motor-cyclist, but I would have thought that one could tune up a 250 c.c. cycle to go as fast as a heavy one. What is the purpose of allowing these lethal weapons on the road at all, or allowing them to travel at excessive speeds?

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) said that motor-cycle accidents are caused by the excessive speeds of these vehicles. We have a speed limit for heavy vehicles and for commercial vans, but we have no speed limit for motor-cycles, which are far more dangerous on the road. To bring myself into line with the Long Title of the Bill, I would like it made "a condition subject to which persons may drive motor-cycles" that drivers would not be allowed to exceed a certain speed limit—in other words, I would put a speed limit on all motor-cycles.

Mr. Lipton

Whilst not disagreeing with the hon. Member, may I point out that his argument on excessive speed would apply to private motor cars as well, many of which are manufactured to go at speeds of 100 m. p. h., which is quite ridiculous on English roads?

Mr. Page

I would not disagree with the hon. Member to that extent, but these motor-cycles are dangerous vehicles. We apply speed limits to things which are far less dangerous on the roads, and we should apply speed limits to motor-cycles. We accept the dangers of the roads because the motor car and other vehicles bring amenities, commercial and social, with them. Certainly the private motor car and the commercial vehicle do. Therefore, in our modern progress, if we can call it such, we accept those dangers and risks on the roads, but what amenity is there out of the motor-cycle, particularly out of the heavy motor-cycle?

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

Riding pillion.

Mr. Page

I have before now heard my hon. and gallant Friend develop the argument that, if we desired to do so, we could reduce accidents on the roads by the application of certain restrictions. Certainly we could reduce accidents on the roads by heavy restrictions on motor-cycles.

Now may I refer to Clause 3, to what I would call the school boy driving licence, or indeed the school girl driving licence. This would permit the Minister to allow children of 15 years of age to ride mopeds, no doubt to and from school. I wonder what the head teachers will think about this suggestion? It presents a really grave danger. It is dangerous enough for school children to ride bicycles, and the schools have gone to immense trouble in organising their safety. I think I am right in saying that the accident rate has come down considerably since those great efforts by the schools and by the police within the schools. If we throw further responsibility on the authorities while children are on powered vehicles, there will be a grave danger, especially since the accident rate of mopeds has increased so much.

Although I have been critical of the Bill, I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend sincerely on bringing it forward. I would support any Bill on road traffic with a title long enough for me to get in some Amendments on road safety Therefore, whatever may be the contents of his Bill, I will suport it because its long title gives me that opportunity.

3.12 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

It may be for the convenience of the House if I intervene to say that we on this side welcome the fact that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) has been lucky in the Ballot and, as a result, has been able to produce a Bill of this character, to which we hope the Government will give a Second Reading.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)

The Government cannot give the Bill a Second Reading; that is for the House to do.

Mr. Mellish

With great respect, knowing what goes on in Committee upstairs and on the Floor of the House, I know that the Government have only to say that they do not like a Bill, or that they do not think that it should be given a Second Reading, to be quite sure that it would not be given a Second Reading. Do not let us bandy words. I will put it this way: I hope that the Government will give the Bill their blessing and that it will get a Second Reading, so that, in Committee, we can argue about it in detail.

As I understand the Bill, it is based on the main recommendations of the Report of the Committee on Road Safety on the Minimum Age for Motor Cyclists. That Committee met for a year and a half and produced its Report in November, 1957. It was a high-powered Committee, whose chairman was the hon. Gentleman the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), former Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. On it were some of the most important people in the transport world. Almost every interest had somebody there to express its point of view.

The Bill is a genuine effort to try to meet the main recommendations of that high-powered Committee, where it was argued that the minimum age limit for the driver of a moped should be reduced to 15. This was not a unanimous conclusion, but there were objections by only three bodies, the rest of the representatives endorsing the point of view that it was essential to give people experience in driving heavier motor-cycles.

It was felt that it might be beneficial if we introduced a system by which young people could be encouraged to ride, first, a pedal cycle and then go on to a moped, which is, in fact, an ordinary bicycle with an engine attachment, and thus get a sense of balance and traffic. It was felt that they would later come forward and qualify to drive a heavy motor-cycle. It was believed that this would be in the interests of safety.

Speaking purely for myself, that idea has great appeal. When I was in the Army I was instruced—I was never "encouraged"—to learn to ride a motor cycle at Wrotham, Kent. I was told how to start it and how to accelerate. I remember getting on the wretched thing. Before I knew what had happened, I had shot away. I landed in a hedge, fortunately, and suffered only a fractured arm. I had a nice, log time in hospital as a result.

The Report refers to the large number of people who meet with accidents as a result of getting merely a provisional licence and going to a shop and purchasing a very high-powered machine. For only a few pounds down, one can these days, by hire purchase, get a machine of tremendous power, even up to 500 c. c. All one then needs is a provisional licence, a off one goes—in some cases, I gather, into the first vehicle that one meets.

I hope that the joint Parliamentary Secretary will deal with other aspects of the Report which are embodied in the Bill. I would remind hon. Members that the Report was produced in July, 1957. In paragraph 53 it states: We recommend that the Ministry"— that is, the Ministry of Transport— should consult the organisations representing manufacturers and dealers, to see what steps can be taken to ensure that dealers warn purchasers who are inexperienced against riding in unsuitable conditions at the outset, and make suitable arrangements for delivery. It then says some nice things about dealers.

Has anything been done by the Ministry to co-operate with manufac turers and dealers generally to ascertain whether they have been able to help in a matter which was of great concern to the Committee, that of a young man who, at 16, can buy a motor vehicle of any cubic capacity and drive it straight out on to the roads without any questions being asked? I emphasise that the Committee asked that the Ministry should take some action. What has the Ministry done since 1957?

In the next paragraph the Committee talks about the need for special motorcycle training for young people and recommends that something should be done about this. I should have thought that this was a matter in which the Ministry would have been vitally interested. It is two and a half years since the Report was issued. Has anything been done about it since? It has taken a Private Member's Bill to enable us to discuss this very important Report on the Floor of the House. We are grateful to the promoter and supporters of the Bill for enabling us to discuss not only the Bill, but, in effect, the Report.

There are one or two understandable difficulties about the Bill. The hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East was aware of the Government's intentions. We on this side of the House were not, of course. I gather that he learnt that there would be some objections about the age limit. As the Bill is now drafted, it allows the Minister to introduce regulations to bring the age limit down to 15. There is nothing compulsory about that, but that good intention is certainly backed by the overwhelming opinion of the Committee.

I am interested in what appears in Clause 4, which is concerned with licences to drive mopeds. It says that a licence to drive a moped will be given to anyone who has a licence to drive a motor car, and so on. It seems to some of us that there may be some ambiguity about that. If one drives a car, one can automatically drive a moped. Thus, if one has a licence to drive a moped for eighteen months, one will automatically be given—

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

No. The fact of a person being allowed to drive a moped, no matter how long he has held the appropriate licence, does not entitle him to drive a motor-cycle of higher power. To do that would require a separate test.

Mr. Mellish

That is an important point. It should be indicated in the Bill in such a way as would make perfectly clear that when a person comes to ride a motorcycle of greater power he would still have to undergo another test, irrespective of the fact that he had ridden a moped, because that would not automatically qualify him to drive a motorcycle of greater power.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

I am assured by the legal experts that Clause 4 (2) makes that quite clear.

Mr. Mellish

The trouble is that only a few hon. Members are lawyers, and Bills are drafted in such way that only lawyers can interpret them. I wish to have an assurance from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that that is how he has been advised.

Mr. Hay

I can give that assurance straight away to the hon. Gentleman. Clause 4 (2) is quite clear. It states: A licence which authorises a person to drive a moped and which is granted to a person who has passed a test of competence, shall not authorise that person to drive a vehicle of any other class or description. I should have thought that that was clear.

Mr. Mellish

The whole point about the Bill is that we want the young man of 15 to start by riding a moped. Then he will gain sufficient experience to qualify him to ride a motor-cycle of greater power. I was concerned with the definition of this Clause in the case of a young man who has a licence to drive a car, which automatically would give him the right to ride a moped even though he may not possess one. We want an assurance that what the promoters of the Bill have in mind will be accepted.

Mention was made of young men in the Army and how the provisions would apply to them. I think it fair to ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to clear up that point. I gather that a young man who is a despatch rider in the Army has a special driving licence because he is in the Armed Forces. There will be a special problem in his case if, when he leaves the Services, this Bill has become law. It may be that he would be unable to ride a more powerful motor-cycle because he had not ridden a moped. However, we can discuss these matters in detail in Committee. I ask hon. Members, therefore, not to obstruct the passage of the Bill now, but to ensure that it will be given a Committee stage, when these questions can be considered.

We give this Bill our general support and I ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary not only to support it, but to endeavour to bring it into law as soon as possible. We are awaiting a great number of things from the Ministry of Transport, as the hon. Gentleman knows. The Government have not been in power very long—to my mind, of course, they have been in power much too long, but that is another matter—but the Minister of Transport has only himself to blame if he is the target of criticism, because he has made a number of statements about what he intends to do and we should like to see something done.

The Minister of Transport went to America and there, in television interviews, he told of the great things which he proposed to do in Britain. He cannot blame us, therefore, if we, the humble British people, ask to see some results. We expect that something will be done speedily. I have been referring to the Report of a powerful Committee which made a number of recommendations, including one about the minimum age of motor-cyclists, but we have had to await a Private Member's Bill before we could discuss it. I hope that the Minister will now see to it that we get some results, because it is about time that we had some.

3.25 p.m.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

I open the few remarks I wish to make this afternoon by referring to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). I do not think it true to deduce from the Report which is the basis of the Bill we are considering that necessarily accidents cause damage to motor-cyclists' legs and heads.

For instance, since the figures were published in the Report, which refers to the year 1953, there has been a considerable drive to encourage all motorcyclists to wear crash helmets. I think that hon. Members would agree that the majority of motor-cyclists now wear that form of headgear. If we had up-to-date figures I think that we should find that injuries to the heads of most motorcyclists have been considerably reduced in the last seven years. The same could be said to a considerable extent about leg injuries, because of the substantial metal pillars with which motor-cycles are now equipped as a standard fitting.

No one can quarrel with the desire of any hon. Member to do what he can in this House to ensue; that we should have some relief from the number of accidents suffered on the roads, especially among the motor-cycling fraternity, but I find a lumber of points in the Bill which are difficult to accept. I am not sure that they can be dealt with entirely in the Committee stage of the Bill.

A small point, which perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), who introduced the Bill, might be able to Explain, is that in Clause 1 (3, c), an earlier subsection having said that a moped shall have a certain cylinder capacity and be equipped with pedals, paragraph (c) says that it shall be fitted with a silencer which complies with such requirements (if any) zs may be prescribed by regulations; I cannot see why it is necessary for this particular item about the silencer to be included in this Clause. It seems that silencers must also be provided for heavy motor-cycles as described in subsection (1) and also for light motor-cycles described in subsection (2).

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

I thought that I explained that when I introduced the Bill. I must confess that it was my idea that this; should be added because some people find the high-pitched whine of mopeds when not fitted with silencers very tiresome. The reason for including this subsection is that it is a simple method of enforcing the silencer regulation. As one knows, when a motorcycle makes an excessive noise it usually is because the owner has fiddled with the silencer. If he fiddles with the silencer of a moped the machine is no longer a moped, but is classified as a motor-cycle.

Mr. Williams

I am not a lawyer and have not the benefit of the knowledge of some hon. and learned Members, but I should have thought that while mopeds fitted with silencers would come within the Clause mopeds without silencers would still be mopeds although they were outside the Clause.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

They become motor-cycles under subsection (2).

Mr. Williams

I understand the position now and I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend for explaining.

In the Report to which reference has been made in earlier speeches about the minimum age for motor-cyclists, the important part is on page 12, which refers to the fact that riders in the age group 18–25 are most prone to accidents, compared with older riders. In Table 9 figures are quoted for accidents with the various classes of motor-cycle showing that the heavier motor-cycle is more accident prone than the lighter vehicle.

A young man, when he gets a motorcycle, is probably very careful of it to begin with, because it is new, but as in other means of locomotion, such as an aeroplane, there comes a danger period after one has done a certain amount of driving. About 200 hours in an aeroplane is looked upon as a danger period when pilots very often have accidents. I think that a young man is careful for the first year or eighteen months and that as he gets more confident he takes chances which he should not take.

I think that to a great extent this state is aggravated by the comparatively low age at which people are allowed to drive these vehicles. Although I appreciate the point made by my hon. and gallant Friend that the first year one spends in the motor-cycle world should be on a moped, I think that a young man at the age of 17, getting on a heavy motor-cycle which can travel at a most prodigious speed and going on to a road like the Ml, would be having a heavy responsibility placed upon his shoulders.

Mr. Mellish

The age is 16 now.

Mr. Williams

But my hon and gallant Friend is suggesting that a young man should be allowed to do this at 17. That is too young. The Report states on page 14, paragraph 34, that the Committee reached the conclusion that … the information available does not justify a recommendation to raise generally the age limit of 16 years. … I cannot say that I am an experienced motor-cyclist. I have ridden a motor-cycle only three times in my life, and on each occasion I had an accident. I found that it was far safer to travel by aeroplane than to choose this form of locomotion. I should have thought that a young man of 16 is still very much in the growing-up stage. He has not a good balance and I think that it is undesirable that he should be encouraged to drive a motor-cycle at that age. For that reason, I oppose very strongly the proposal made by my hon. and gallant Friend, under Clause 3, to reduce the age at which a motor-cycle can be driven from 16 to 15. I think that that is a step in the wrong direction. I should be very much more inclined to support his Bill if he suggested that the age should be raised from 16 to 17, whatever the Committee in its Report on the Minimum Age for Motor Cyclists had in mind when it wrote the Report.

Another thing which is not provided for in the Bill, but which, I think, should be provided for at an early stage, is that before anyone drives a motor-cycle he should have a rigorous medical examination. I think that we all agree that a motor-cycle is far more dangerous than a motor car. There is a case for saying that not only should people before they drive a motor car be medically examined, but that when they reach a certain age—I must declare a personal interest in this, in view of my passing years—they should be medically examined again.

It is very undesirable that anyone with a weak heart should drive a motor car or a motor-cycle. There is no regulation that I know of at the moment which stops anyone doing it. A person is prevented from driving on the highway if he suffers from epilepsy or fainting attacks, but there is nothing to stop a young man from riding a motor-cycle although he has the most appalling eyesight and there is very little chance of his glasses being much good to him when he is hurtling through the air at very high speeds. If my hon. and gallant Friend had consulted me before drawing up the Bill I should have advised him to insert in the Bill a paragraph to the effect that the applicant for a motor-cycle licence should have a medical examination.

Clause 2 (1) says that A person shall not drive a heavy motorcycle on a road unless he has held a licence … to drive a light motor-cycle for not less than twelve months". I do not think that such regulations can be sufficiently tightly drawn. A young man could have a licence for a light motor-cycle without using it very often. The fact that he has held a licence does not mean that he has had experience with a light motor-cycle; he may have had only one hour on it in the whole year, and that would qualify him, having had a year's experience on the lighter vehicle, for a licence to drive a heavy motor-cycle. I do not think that such a qualification is of any value. I suggest that when my hon. Friend has his Bill in Committee, and it may well reach Committee in view of the number of people who disagree with me about it, it would be a good idea drastically to amend that Clause.

I do not believe that the proposals in the Bill are the correct way of dealing with the accident rates. The correct step, in particular, is to raise the minimum age, not to lower it, as the Bill proposes. I therefore hope that the House will not give the Bill a Second Reading.

3.37 p.m.

Mr. Walter Edwards (Stepney)

I have listened to almost all the discussion on the Bill, and I definitely come down on the side of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) and the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams). Indeed, I would go further than them and say that the Bill does not deserve a Committee stage. It does not deserve to be given a Second Reading, because in my view it contains nothing which will assist the authorities to reduce road accidents and fatalities. On the contrary, I think it will increase them.

I would be horrified by any proposal to make it possible for boys and girls at the age of fifteen to drive these fast vehicles, with all the attendant danger to their own limbs and to those of other people who have to use the streets. It would be a most retrograde step for the House to take to allow a Bill of this description to have a Second Reading.

In my constituency, in the East End of London, I am often filled with dread and horror when I see children at the age of fifteen even riding bicycles, with the huge lorries and many cars filling the whole of the streets of my division and, indeed, of all London. There can be no justification for enabling boys or girls of fifteen to drive mopeds and cause possible distress and worry to others not connected with them.

I do not know what the Bill will do. It has been suggested that it may make youngsters traffic-minded. Why start at 15? Why not start at 10? Why not make it younger if it will make youngsters traffic-minded? The proposal is extremely dangerous, and all the road safety propaganda which we have in this country at present will be adversely affected if the Bill receives a Second Reading. I can see no purpose in it. If the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) had introduced a Bill designed to reduce the number of road accidents, I would have given him my full support. This Bill will achieve no such object, and for that reason I strongly oppose its Second Reading.

3.41 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)

I hope that the House will acquit me of any discourtesy for not succumbing to the blandishments of the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) when, at an earlier stage, he asked me to rise and give the views of the Government on the Bill. I wanted to have the opportunity of hearing the views of hon. Gentlemen on the rather novel propositions contained in the Bill. We have had an extremely interesting and useful debate.

I sincerely welcome the intention behind the Bill, promoted by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett). With respect to the hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards), I think that my hon. and gallant Friend's intention is to assist road safety, but there are many points—not the least of which are some the hon. Member for Stepney mientioned—which must be taken into account before we decide whether we should give the Bill a Second Reading and seek to deal with it in Committee.

I should like to tell the House, to begin with, something of the background, as we see it. As several hon. Gentlemen have said, in recent years there has been a constant rise in the number of road accidents in which various categories of motor-cycles have been involved. The report of the Departmental Committee on Road Safety has been mentioned a number of times in the debate. For the figures, and an analysis of them, which were pertinent at the time when the Report was prepared in 1957, I need only refer hon. Gentlemen to paragraphs 10 to 29.

I wish at this point to pay a sincere tribute to the members of the Committee, of which at the moment I have the honour to be Chairman, in succession to my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), who was Chairman when the Report was produced, for the very hard and very conscientious work which they do. As the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said, this is a galaxy of talent in the road safety field. Most of the people on the Committee have long experience in road safety matters and they give of their time and effort without any stint.

The second thing I should like to say about the road accident position, against which the provisions of the Bill must be judged, is that only yesterday we obtained some recent figures for the whole of 1959. I promise my hon. and gallant Friend that these are the only new statistics which I shall quote. He thought that I might try to baffle him at a late stage with some new statistics, but all I shall quote are the latest accident figures involving mopeds and all categories of motor-cycles.

The position, as we now know it, is that in 1959 the number of riders of mopeds who lost their lives in road accidents was no less than 88; that is over twice as many as the 1958 figure of 42. The killed and injured together totalled 5,431, which represented 2,433 more moped casualties than in the previous year. The number of riders and passengers of motor scooters and motorcycles killed in 1959 numbered 1,592, which was 213 more than in 1958. Riders of motor scooters and motor-cycles injured and killed together totalled 91,239, an increase of 16,856, or nearly 23 per cent. more than in the previous year. Adding together those who were killed and injured riding motor-cycles or mopeds, one reaches a total of 5,431 killed and 91,239 injured, a total of 96,670—

Mr. Mellish

Can the hon. Gentleman give the House any idea of the age breakdown?

Mr. Hay

No—I wish I could. As I have said, these figures came out only yesterday. I have been trying today to get just that sort of information. It is not easy to obtain, but I shall say more about that in a few moments.

Next, we have the numbers of vehicles involved in accidents, apart from the casualties. This information is important, as it forms the background of the Bill. In 1958, just over 3,500 mopeds were involved in accidents. In 1959, the figure had risen to 6,365—an increase, in fact, of 2,783, or 77¾ per cent. Accidents involving motor scooters and motor-cycles—excluding motor-cycles with sidecars—rose by 15,067 last year as compared with 1958—a rise of 20¾ per cent. These are staggering and disastrous figures and, obviously, we have to do something, if we can, to put things right. As I said earlier, my hon. and gallant Friend's Bill is a sincere attempt to do something about this situation.

I do not propose in the time available to me to quote again the various recommendations in the Report of the Departmental Committee on Road Safety, but I shall mention some as I go along. One recommendation to which I should like particularly to refer—because, with respect, my hon. and gallant Friend did not say much about it—is summary recommendation No. 2; that surveys should be undertaken to obtain further data, in ages, on accident rates for motor-cyclists—the point made by the hon. Member for Bermondsey just a moment ago.

The position is that, having received the Report in 1957, my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Defence, then Minister of Transport, undertook, on 18th November, to set this survey in hand. The actual start on the survey was announced by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford, my predecessor, on 5th February, 1958. It was made clear at that time that the survey should proceed, and that we should obtain the figures produced by it before we started to find the views of interested organisations on the recommendations in the Report. For that reason, we have not so far been able to bring forward proposals.

The hon. Member for Bermondsey was a little critical because we had not started acting earlier on the Report—he remarked that it took a Private Member's Bill to bring the matter before the House—but I hope that I have made it clear that it was my right hon. Friend's view that we should obtain the results of the survey, and so have a clearer statistical picture in our minds, before we decided which recommendations to implement, and how to do it.

The House may like to know that the Social Survey Division of the Central Office of Information is carrying out the survey. It has sent a questionnaire to no fewer than 10,000 motor-cyclists of all ages, and has been collecting reports of 5,000 accidents involving motorcyclists under the age of 21. These results are now being collated, and I am informed today that the preliminary results of the survey, in a reasonably final form, should be ready later this month, when we shall, of course, decide whether they can be published and, if so, in what form.

So far as indications go, I can tell the House that the information coming to us about the survey has advanced far enough to suggest that it may lead to some new and rather important conclusions about the effect of age, the size of machine and riding experience upon the proneness to accidents of motorcyclists aged under 21 years. The provisional figures that have so far been obtained suggest that experience rather than age may be the outstanding factor. It may be so. But when the final figures have been considered, we may come to the conclusion that the provisions in this Bill would not deal with the various problems of accidents to young motor-cyclists as effectively as some different provisions might. But until the final figures have been obtained and until we are in a position to assess the situation, I do not think we should draw any hard and fast conclusions.

In the light of that, we would frankly have preferred to await the detailed results of the survey before seeking to legislate upon this matter, but my hon. and gallant Friend has won a place in the Ballot; he has spent a good deal of time and effort in drafting and producing the Bill, and we have had the opportunity today to take the sense of the House upon it. I must tell the House at once that although we do not oppose the Bill, in the circumstances that I have mentioned, we must not be said to recommend the Bill. Frankly, we would have preferred to wait a little longer. But if the House were to decide—and it is a matter entirely for the House—that the Bill should receive a Second Reading, we would naturally be willing to do what we could to examine it properly in Committee. In that event, we would have to propose a number of rather far-reaching Amendments which I would prefer not to discuss in great detail this afternoon but which will emerge from some of the further observations that I now want to make.

First of all, on the general question of the age limit, as the House knows, the present minimum age for a motorcycle rider is 16. The Report of the Committee recommended that for a moped rider the minimum age should be 15 but that for a driver of a motorcycle of over 250 c.c. the minimum age should be 17. The House will recall that in the Road Traffic Act, 1956, the Minister of Transport was given power by regulation to adjust the minimum ages for various types of motor vehicles, but only in an upward direction. He was not given the power, which my hon. and gallant Friend now seeks to give him in the Bill, to lower the age. That was the conclusion of the Report.

My hon. and gallant Friend's Bill introduces a rather different principle. By Clause 4 he accepts that the minimum age for moped riders should be 15, but then he introduces not the age limit that the Committee suggested of 17 for the heavy motor-cycle but a sort of step ladder provision whereby the driver of a light motor-cycle can drive, as I understand it, from 16 until 17 and thereafter, but he cannot drive a heavy motor-cycle until he has reached the age of 17, introducing this intermediate stage.

This applies irrespective of the age of the person. The provision of the Bill is that until the person applying for a licence to drive a heavy motor-cycle has had one year's experience of driving a light motor-cycle, his application cannot be considered, and that applies whether the person is 16 or 60. For that reason, we have to be a little careful how we proceed if we are to consider this in Committee.

I am advised, moreover, that there are a few difficulties which we may have to look into over the provision in the Bill relating to endorsements. In calculating the period of one year, my hon. and gallant Friend's Bill proposes that any period during which the licence which a person holds is endorsed is to be disregarded. I am told that this may cause some difficulties, but, in view of the shortness of time, I will not go into them all now.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

When I was introducing the Bill I said that I fully recognised this, and that it was in my mind to move an Amendment leaving this matter to the discretion of the courts after conviction.

Mr. Hay

My hon. and gallant Friend has jumped in. My next note was to say that he had, in the course of his opening speech, said that he would consider an Amendment.

Generally, on Clause 3 concerning moped riders, I must tell the House frankly that we could not accept a position wherein, as a result of our approving, or not opposing, the Clause in a Second Reading debate, my right hon. Friend was thought to be accepting that he must make regulations to reduce the age to 15 for moped riders immediately. We should certainly wish to await the results of the survey, and we should certainly have to take several other factors into consideration. If the Bill receives a Second Reading, and even if it is put on the Statute Book with this provision intact, I must reserve the position of the Government upon this particular Clause.

I come now to the classification of vehicles. The Report of the Committee recommended that steps should be taken to define very light motor-cycles or mopeds so as to retain their existing characteristics and, especially, the characteristic that they are so constructed as not to do more than 25 m.p.h. My hon. and gallant Friend's Bill classifies as a moped a vehicle which has a cylinder cubic capacity of not more than 50 c.c. and is equipped with pedals and a silencer. There is no mention in the Bill of any maximum speed for a vehicle classified as a moped, and it is not beyond possibility that technical developments may take place in respect of this increasingly popular type of motor-cycle so that it would have an engine of under 50 c.c. capacity but be capable of a speed of more than 25 m.p.h.

One of the great claims of the moped manufacturers is, rightly, that on the whole it seems that to ride a moped is a reasonably safe exercise, although some of the figures I have quoted begin to throw a slightly different light on that claim. But it is quite clear that, if a moped were developed which was capable of more than 25 m. p. h., it would no longer be so safe as the manufacturers sometimes claim.

Finally, I come to the provision concerning licences to drive mopeds, namely, Clause 4. If I may say so, Clause 4 gives us some misgivings, as Clauses 4 do in other contexts. We are not altogether happy about this.

Mr. Mellish

Is the hon. Gentleman worried about it?

Mr. Hay

It does not give us misgivings, I can assure the hon. Gentleman. We thoroughly enjoy the debates on Clause 4 which take place elsewhere.

The suggestion of the Committee was that driving tests for mopeds should be retained and that the holder of a full licence for motor-cycles should also have a licence to drive mopeds. However, the Bill says that the possession of a licence to drive any type of motor vehicle, except the three categories mentioned, should authorise the holder also

to drive a moped, but it does not suggest that the converse should be the case. I must say frankly that this is contrary to all our practice and experience in this matter and we should, therefore, have some misgivings about it.

Mr. W. Edwards

Why not oppose the Second Reading then?

Mr. Hay

Principally, because we think that this is an honest and constructive attempt to do something about road safety. The hon. Gentleman may disagree. I cannot pretend, and I do not think that my hon. and gallant Friend would pretend, that this is a complete answer. But I think it is worthy of examination. If the House is prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading, we should accept that and should certainly do what we could to improve it in Committee. One thing is clear. We must collectively—no politics really come into this—do all we can to improve road safety wherever possible. I welcome the Bill in that spirit, but with the misgivings—

Mr. Dudley Williams

Will my hon. Friend allow me to intervene for one moment? I did raise in the course of my speech a point which I do not think he has covered at all in the course of his remarks. I pointed out that one of the most important factors in ensuring that we do reduce the number of accidents which take place as a result of the use of fast motor-cycles is that we should examine the problem—I thought the Bill would be a convenient instrument through which to do it—as to whether—

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact that my hon. Friend has already spoken, I beg to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 39. Noes 5.

Division No. 49.] AYES [3.59 p.m.
Bell, Ronald (S. Bucks.) Dodds, Norman Janner, Barnett
Benn, Hn. A. Wedgwood (Brist'l, S. E.) Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Johnson Smith, Geoffrey
Bishop, F. P. Harris, Reader (Heston) Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.)
Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan) Hiley, Joseph Lipton, Marcus
Channon, H. P. G. Hobson, John Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.
Collard, Richard Holman, Percy Mellish, R. J.
Courtney, Cdr. Anthony Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)
Deer, George Hunter, A. E. Page, Graham
Parker, John (Dagenham) Russell, Ronald Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)
Pott, Percivall Skeffington, Arthur Wells, John (Maidstone)
Prentice, R. E. Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'rd & Chiswick) Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Proctor, W. T. Stonehouse, John
Rankin, John Summerskill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Edith TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Redhead, E. C. Warbey, William Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett and
Mr. Gresham Cooke.
Ede, Rt. Hon. Chuter Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hicks Beach, Maj. W. Williams, W. R. (Openshaw) Mr. W. Edwards and
Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech (Wakefield) Mr. Dudley Williams.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the Affirmative, because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 30 (Majority for Closure).

It being after Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned

Debate to be resumed upon Friday, 13th May.