§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
After the previous business of the House, when we had a majority of Scots backing a Bill to make the English language a common European language, I feel rather diffident about my ability to explain this Bill.
I feel particularly diffident because during the Berlin airlift, when I was coming back from Berlin to Frankfurt with an American sergeant, I spent twenty minutes explaining life in Berlin to him, I thought in my most eloquent manner; but in Frankfurt he slapped me heartily—much too heartily—between the shoulder blades and said, "Say, bud, for a German you speak good English". So, with the shy and timid manner with which the House associates me, I shall now do my best to explain the Clauses of the Bill.
I am told that many hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to speak, and as we have already had a considerable amount of time taken up with other matters, I shall confine my remarks to as short a time as possible in order to help them.
Although this is called a traffic Bill, that is purely out of deference to the precedents. Its main object is road safety. There is no difference between the parties in the normal sense about road safety. We often have our rows and quarrels, but on this occasion the rows will not be party rows, but because hon. Members do not think that provisions will do what they are supposed to do.
In introducing the provisions of the Bill, I am conscious that we should consider them in the context of the Government's road safety policy as a whole. The Bill is only part of it and it has 1357 many other facets. I should like to describe a few things which the Government are doing towards road safety and to make those remarks under three headings—engineering, education, and enforcement, what are called "the three E's."
The Bill is only a small contribution, but everything that makes a contribution to road safety is important. When we consider that, in 1960, 6,970 people were killed and 347,551 people were injured on the roads and the cost to the nation was estimated at £229 million, we can all agree that this is a most serious problem which has to be faced in this country.
I will begin with engineering and describe a couple of experiments which the Government are conducting. On the question of black spots, we find out where the accidents occur, and why, and then we put the matter right. We improve alignments at bends, stagger dangerous crossroads, resurface and re-camber our roads, thus cutting accidents down by as much as 70 or 80 per cent. I will quote some examples of what the Government have done in that respect.
A roundabout was built at Sawley crossroads, a four-road junction on the A.6, in Leicestershire. During the four years before it was built, there were 10 personal injury accidents, but in the following three years and four months there were no personal injury accidents. Another example is that of a four-road junction at Poddimore crossroads, near Langport and Yeovil. The junction was staggered in 1950. In the three years before that there were nine personal injury accidents, but in the same period afterwards there were only three.
I could quote examples ad infinitum, but I have arranged for some illustrations to be placed in the Library so that hon. Members can study the photographs and see what has been done. There is no doubt that we can do much on the engineering side.
The second example of engineering is on traffic management in the towns. I am convinced that the London Traffic Management Unit, which is now reshaping London traffic—possibly shaping London traffic to the internal combustion engine for the first time— 1358 can play a great part. One of the biggest schemes which we have introduced is that at Tottenham Court Road. It has three achievements to its credit. First, traffic moves twice as fast as it did, and that is something. Secondly, there is a 30 per cent. greater capacity for traffic because we made it one way, with Gower Street. Thirdly, pedestrian casualties in the first six months of its working were 30 per cent. less than in the six months before.
So we have achieved everything—traffic moves faster, pedestrians are safer, and more traffic can be accommodated. I hope to continue these measures both in the interests of the traffic and the interests of road safety. That is the Government's job and we will do it.
In all honesty, I am bound to say that the scheme inconveniences pedestrians, because a pedestrian dare not cross Tottenham Court Road at the wrong place because the traffic is moving so fast. Pedestrians are forced to cross at the right places, but I would rather inconvenience a pedestrian than kill or injure him. Therefore, when a pedestrian asks me to go back to the old system because it was more convenient, I reply that the old system was more dangerous. If we are now killing and injuring 70 instead of 100, I shall not go back to the old system even though pedestrians are inconvenienced. Although certain enforcements are applied to motorists, we must also have some enforcement for pedestrians.
We are to try a new experiment at three places in London. In this new experiment there will be a light signal of a new design. A pedestrian will be able to press a button and two things will then happen. First, the traffic will be completely halted for an all-red period. During that time, pedestrians should cross at the places appointed for them. Secondly, I propose to use my powers to require pedestrians to cross at those points and nowhere else. If these experiments at three selected places are successful, I propose to introduce them on a wider scale. In these matters I am a great believer in trying an experiment in a small way and then, if it is successful, trying it on a larger scale. So much for engineering. That is the background to my speech.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
Will my right hon. Friend say a word about what happens if, at the amber phase, somebody starts to cross from the edge of the crossing?
§ Mr. Marples
There will be an all-red period when the traffic cannot move at all. During that time, it will be so phased that the pedestrian can cross diagonally or in various ways and will be safeguarded during the all-red period. If we do that, as I think we should, for the pedestrian, we are entitled to ask him to use the crossing in that way.
§ Mr. Marples
If the amber is showing, the red will follow and there will be ample time for the pedestrian to cross. I think that my hon. Friend will be satisfied if he watches the experiment. I will go with him, if necessary, and argue it on the spot, which would be quicker than arguing it here.
§ Mr. Marples
Nobody obeys the signs like my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole). He is not as reckless as the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell).
I now come to the second E—education—engineering being the first. It has been curious what has happened in the education of people in traffic. It has been extremely successful with children, but not so successful with adults. Among children, education has had amazing results, as the figures covering the past thirty years show. In 1930, 1,685 children were killed. In 1960, with four times the amount of traffic, the number of children killed was not 1,685 but 700. That is a remarkable achievement in education. Not only do we save the lives of children, but when they grow older they are better citizens from the viewpoint of road traffic behaviour Those are two good points.
Great tribute should be paid to the teachers and the police. Their work, together with that of the local safety committees and voluntary workers, has obviously not been in vain. Therefore, we have been successful with children and we propose to continue with their 1360 cycling efficiency scheme and other measures.
In the case of adults, the problem is more difficult. Adults seem to think that they know everything about road safety. We hammer them with posters, we hurl films at them and we exhort them. The problem is difficult. Perhaps I may illustrate it this way. There is tremendous carelessness and a number of personal injury accidents at cross roads. I have gone into the figures carefully and the House will be interested to know of them.
There are about a quarter of a million personal injury road accidents each year. Half of those, or one-eighth of 1 million per annum, occur at road junctions. Suppose we decided that as half the personal injury accidents occur at road junctions, we would have a campaign to convince the motorist that he ought to be careful at road junctions. Immediatedly we come up against an awful fact. The drivers know in their hearts that their conduct at cross-roads is all right, and they have reason to think so. I have worked it out. If we take the statistics of all the drivers, cars and accidents we arrive at the calculation that at one out of every 3 million junctions over which a motorist drives, there is a personal injury accident. The task would be, by propaganda, to convince a motorist that although he goes over 3 million cross-roads successfully, he has to watch for the one after that. He would say, "I have been over 3 million. Why should I watch for that one?" That makes it difficult to convince the motorist.
Nevertheless, we will do our best. We have one or two ideas that we are discussing with the Road Research Laboratory to find out why adults will not take to education like the youngsters do. We find out what youngsters are doing wrong, and why, and then we can have corrective lessons. Adults are much more difficult, as any Minister of the Crown knows too well.
§ Mr. Marples
I must not be tempted away from my argument, because I want now to come to the provisions of the Bill, which represent the third E—enforcement.
1361 We must take steps to try to get discipline into those motorists who indulge in dangerous behaviour. There is no doubt about it. I speak as a motorist, a paid-up member of one of the motoring organisations. I have been paid-up for many years. I have never been in arrear with my subscription and always disagree with the organisation's advice.
The Bill can be divided into three parts. The first deals with drink and driving, the second with the revised new penalties and the third part with miscellaneous provisions. I should like, first, to deal with drink and driving. Clauses 1 and 2 deal with the important question of driving and drink. I admit at once that no absolutely reliable data exists to show beyond doubt precisely what contribution alcohol makes to the road accident total. The Ministry's official statistics show that in about one half of 1 per cent. of fatal and serious accidents, drivers are reported as being intoxicated. This, however, is far from being the whole story, and for this reason. It relates only to cases in which an arrest has been made, or would have been made, but for the death or serious injury of the person concerned.
The Road Research Laboratory examined a sample of 376 fatal road accidents and showed that in 17 per cent. of all these cases—and, curiously enough, in 62 per cent. of all the accidents occurring after ten o'clock at night—someone involved had been drinking alcohol shortly before. Again, we had a special investigation into road accidents at Christmas, 1959, which showed that in at least 56 per cent. of the accidents one or more of the persons involved had been drinking alcohol not long before. This does not mean—
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that that 56 per cent. included pedestrians as well as drivers?
§ Mr. Marples
No. It includes drivers and pedestrians. It does not mean that alcohol was the cause of the accident. 1362 That is much more difficult to determine.
I am quite satisfied that alcohol is a significant factor in a far greater number of road accidents than appears from my Ministry's official statistics, and I admit it frankly. In 1960, the report was published of the special Committee appointed by the British Medical Association on "The Relation of Alcohol to Road Accidents." The Committee examined the available knowledge about the relation of alcohol to road accidents. It examined the results obtained by Professor Drew and his colleagues in investigating what they called "The Effect of Small Doses of Alcohol on a Skill Resembling Driving."
That Committee concluded, among other things, thatrelatively low concentrations of alcohol in the tissues cause a deterioration in driving performance and increase appreciably the likelihood of accident.…The existing legislation does not come into effective operation until a very much higher concentration of alcohol in the tissues has been reached".The Committee said that the existing legislation was unsuccessful as a measure to prevent accidents caused by alcohol. It is against this background that the Government put forward their proposals for altering the law.
Clause 1 of the Bill therefore redefines the standard of unfitness to drive through drink. The present definition is not satisfactory, because it means being under the influence of drink to such an extentas to be incapable of having proper control of a motor vehicle".I believe that in the minds of juries—and there are many in this House who have had experience of this in the courts—the words "incapable of having proper control" are associated with what the ordinary man in the street regards as being drunk and incapable. But it is clear from the British Medical Association and Drew reports that "drunk and incapable" represents a degree of intoxication far higher than that which leads to deterioration in driving skill. I am quite certain that people do not have to be drunk and incapable in the terminology of the ordinary man before they can do damage with a motor car.
Clause 1 therefore alters the definition of unfitness to drive to cover cases where there is a definite impairment of 1363 the driver's ability to drive properly even though he may not show any of the generally accepted clinical symptoms of drunkenness. To supplement the changes of definition in Clause 1, there are two further provisions in Clause 2. The first requires the court to have regard to any evidence about the quantity of alcohol in the body of an accused person. The Clause does not make a chemical test compulsory, but, for the first time, it gives statutory recognition to such tests and it requires the court to have regard to the evidence of the test. The nature of the test is not defined and the reason for that is that if scientific advances are made it may be possible to bring in other methods of testing for alcohol.
It would be necessary for the prosecution to satisfy the court about the validity of the tests used. The words are drawn wide enough to cover blood, urine or breath. Clause 2 provides that refusal without reasonable cause to provide a specimen for tests may be treated as supporting any evidence given by the prosecution or rebutting any evidence given by the defence in respect of the condition of the accused at the material time. We think that the combined effect of Clauses 1 and 2 will be to reduce the number of accidents which can be attributed to alcohol.
I have no doubt that in the debate and in Committee we shall have a great deal of discussion on these two Clauses. Some people will say that we have not gone far enough and others that we have gone too far. We believe that the proposals in the two Clauses represent the best provision that can be made at present, and I shall listen with great care and interest to the views of hon. Members on both sides.
As to the second category in the Bill, which is the category of penalty provisions—
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
This is very important. Has the Minister anything in mind about the level of alcohol content for the purpose of information for the debate which will follow his speech? Is it expected that some standards for compulsory tests will be laid down and written into the Bill, or will it be left to the courts to decide this entirely for themselves?
§ Mr. Marples
The words in Clause 2 are wide enough to cover that. It was not the intention to include in the Bill at this stage a specific level of alcohol in the blood. We shall probably have a long discussion in Committee on this Clause, but we feel that if a level of alcohol in the blood were laid down it might be taken as a minimum to which everybody could go with safety.
In this part of the Bill there is a particular principle which we have in mind and which I should like to try to explain to the House. Whether the provisions in the Bill carry out that principle is another matter. We had in mind that there is a great deal of evidence that a very large number of accidents are caused not by lack of skill in driving, but by carelessness, impatience and discourtesy, by wanting to get on in a so-and-so hurry and never minding about anybody else. A man can press the accelerator and get an immense amount of power with small physical effort on his part. We want to try to stop this carelessness, especially among those people who persistently offend—not the man who makes a single mistake, but the man who goes on making mistakes.
These are the principles. We do not want to punish the man. I know the cry, "You are persecuting the motorist". I am a motorist, as I think most of us in the House are. I am quite prepared to accept these provisions. I do not think of persecution if I am asked to obey a reasonable law. We want to punish the persistent offender. We say that if a man commits three serious offences which affect safety on the road in three years the penalty should be automatic, but it should not be automatic for the first or second offence in the three years. It should be automatic when he goes on doing it.
The second principle that we have in mind is that if we have a penalty it must be effective. It is no good fining anybody who is very wealthy. What is the good of fining a man who has a lot of money £2 or £5? The thing that the motorist fears more than anything else is having his licence taken away. We have in mind, therefore, these two things—the persistent offender and the effective penalty.
1365 I am quite prepared to hear valid criticisms of these provisions either on Second Reading or in Committee. We have divided the penalties into three categories. The first category is in the first part of the First Schedule. The first offences are the most serious, and there are six offences in Part I of the First Schedule. This part includes manslaughter, causing death by dangerous driving, and so on, which I call the killer offence.
The second category is of offences which I consider involve dangerous behaviour, that is not just carelessness, recklessness or being inconsiderate or rude, but offences which make for danger to other people on the road. This is a different category from the third, which is a category of less serious offences by people who, for example, want to park somewhere which is inconvenient. The most serious are the first six offences and, for these, two things happen. First, there is obligatory disqualification. They must be disqualified if found guilty. The second thing is that there is obligatory endorsement of the licence for that offence.
The second category is that of dangerous behaviour, and here disqualification for that offence is at the discretion of the court. The court must decide whether to disqualify or not on that offence. Endorsement is compulsory, because that will chalk up against the driver the fact that he has been guilty of dangerous behaviour. In these two categories if there is a third conviction within three years there is obligatory disqualification for six months at least and for longer if the court wishes. This is provided for in Clause 3 (3).
When we catch the first and second-timer the case is dealt with on its merits. In the United States the third-timer is called "the third time loser", and under the criminal law there he is given a rather serious sentence. Under the Bill, on the third offence six months' disqualification is obligatory unless the court decides that there are special reasons for not disqualifying.
I ask hon. Members to put themselves in the position of the man who has committed two offences in two years, the first one being manslaughter, which comes in the first category, and on the second one he crosses the lights against 1366 the red. This very dangerous offence is often committed. If an hon. Member has two endorsements on his licence, I ask him whether he would drive more carefully if he knew that for the next offence he would be disqualified for at least six months, or whether he would drive more recklessly and impatiently. I think that he would try to drive carefully. That is the whole object of "totting up" the offences, because what we want to do is not to punish the driver, but to make him think and be careful.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
What would the Minister say to a man who happened to be one of the 3,000 drivers who was deprived of a licence because of manslaughter, and then applied for the restoration of their licence and had the application granted? Would that persuade the man to avoid a further offence?
§ Mr. Marples
I think that in Clause 4 of the Bill we have made provisions to deal with that. It is very difficult, but I shall come to it later.
Broadly, the point is not to punish the offender as much as to make him think that it is not worth while taking a chance. That is what we are after. We want him to bear in mind the risk of disqualification, especially on this part of the law, which deals primarily with the safety provisions. As the amount of traffic will double over the next ten or fifteen years, nobody is entitled to assume that he has a divine right to a licence. A licence is a privilege for having the skill to drive properly, and the patience to drive carefully and with consideration for other road users. The curious thing is that drivers seem not to be afraid of losing their lives, but very scared of losing their licences.
In Part II of the First Schedule, 19 offences are included. I know that there will be many views about them. Some hon. Members will say that more offences should be included, while others will say that some should be excluded. I realise that, but these offences are classed as dangerous behaviour. There is no single category dealt with in Part II that has not been the subject of very close research. Every single offence in Part II of the First Schedule has been responsible for accidents. I have gone into 1367 this very carefully, and I have a list of them here.
First, there is the offence of failing to comply with a specified traffic sign. There was a case of a young man driving a car past traffic lights with the signals at red at three o'clock in the morning. He knew the road well, could see his way quite easily and had often disregarded the lights when they were showing red. In this case, he caused an ambulance which was on an emergency call to swerve and hit a lamp post, so that it could not continue and go to help the person it was going to help.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
This is quite clearly—is it not?—dangerous driving in its own right? It is not the offence of disobeying the traffic signals. By ordinary common sense, this was dangerous driving, anyway.
§ Mr. Marples
No, I do not think so. So many people cross a junction when the lights are at red, and take a chance, because they think that they can get away with it. I do not want them to get away with it. That is what I am trying to stop. It is the innocent ones, like the people in the ambulance in this particular case, who get hurt. It is dangerous behaviour, and should be included in the "totting-up" offences. I disagree with my hon. Friend, for the first time since I have known him.
Then there is the offence of leaving a vehicle in a dangerous position. People often leave their cars and trucks round a bend, somewhere convenient for them, but which might be very dangerous to someone else. We had in my constituency of Wallasey the case of the 21-year-old son of an alderman, who, coming from Chester on a scooter, came round a left-hand bend and hit a truck which should not have been left there and was instantly killed. That was dangerous behaviour on the part of the man who left the vehicle there. It is no good anyone trying to tell me that this sort of thing is a trivial offence. It is not. It may be to a truck driver, but not to the man who hits the truck.
Another offence which I was very anxious to bring in was that of contravention of the construction and use 1368 regulations—offence No. 19 in the Schedule. A car had its near-side door kept shut by a piece of string. The string broke while the car was moving, and the door swung open and struck a pedal cyclist. That is more dangerous behaviour than anything I can think of, as a cyclist. It has happened to me many times. People do not look behind before getting out of their cars and very often hit a cyclist. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would not like me to be hurt in that way, not even my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). I am aware that there will be many offences which will be thought of as technical and trivial. Of course they are to the man who commits them, but not to the people who get hurt. That is the difference.
Now I come to another offence—speeding. I will not speak of all the other offences in Part II. Speeding was deliberately put into this category. I hear my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) say "Quite wrong." If he will listen to me, I will try to convert him, as I have converted him before. He never minds listening to reason, when he has made up his mind, because then it can do no harm.
Speeding has been put in because there is concrete evidence that higher speeds mean more accidents and more serious accidents. Let us look at the facts. In accidents occurring in built-up areas, more pedestrians are killed than any other users of the road: in 1960, 2,708 pedestrians, 1,351 motor cyclists and people driving scooters, and 680 people driving cars. Thus, there were four times as many pedestrians killed as car drivers. It is clear that when, in 1934, we introduced the speed limit, it was followed by the greatest improvement in the road accident figures in the history of this country.
I am certain that at the moment the speed limits are flouted, especially in London, and by a large margin. I know that they are flouted. I will take any hon. Member to the Great West Road or Western Avenue, where he will find that we shall be passed on the inside and outside by people going faster than 40 m.p.h. I never go above the speed 1369 limit—at any rate, not since I became Minister of Transport, because I am terrified of the deterrent penalty that would follow.
On Sunday, I went to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell), to Beaconsfield, quite near his house, and when driving on Western Avenue on the outside lane, at 40 m.p.h., we were repeatedly passed on the inside. Other people passed by, flashing their lights on and sounding their hooters when they passed on the inside, which they should not have done. I will take my hon. Friend there, so that he can see for himself. If there is to be a speed limit, it should be obeyed.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
By what right was the right hon. Gentleman going at 40 m.p.h. on the fast lane? He was asking for it. They had a right to pass him.
§ Mr. Marples
It happened to be the fast lane, and 40 m.p.h. is the legal speed limit there. I do not like to go beyond 40 m.p.h.
§ Mr. Marples
It does not make any difference. If 40 m.p.h. is the legal limit, nobody ought to go faster. However, they were passing me.
If we do have a speed limit, and Parliament has to make up its mind about this, two things should happen. First, it should be a realistic speed limit. There is no doubt about that at all. Secondly, it should be enforced, because if it is not enforced it brings the law into disrepute. All those people who were passing me on the inside should not have been travelling at more than 40 m.p.h.
§ Mr. Marples
I shall not give way. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South is bound to get in and make a contribution to this debate. I shall listen carefully to what he says, but I could write now what he will say. I know, because he represents my motoring association.
It is not right that the motorist himself should judge the speed limit, because he is only one of many road users What 1370 about the very young people, who have had it explained to them in school that they are entitled to expect cars to go at no more than 30 m.p.h. where there is that limit. What about the very old people, the feeble people and those with failing eyesight? They should be able to expect that cars will obey a speed limit; otherwise, they cannot hope to survive. The longer the stopping distance, the less margin of safety there is. If one goes at 50 or 60 miles an hour, one has not the margin of safety when a child runs into the road which one has at 30 miles an hour.
I hate to recommend it, but the Fabian pamphlet "Road Safety", by Barbara Preston, gave figures of stopping margins. It said that a speed of 30 miles an hour meant that the thinking distance was 30 feet and the overall stopping distance 90 feet; at 40 miles an hour the thinking distance rose from 30 to 40 feet and the stopping distance from 90 to 148 feet; at 50 miles an hour the thinking distance rose to 50 feet and the overall stopping distance to 218 feet.
The margin of error is less if one keeps speed low. Therefore, this provision has been put in purposely. But there must be a review of speed limits. It is intended to complete a review of speed limits on trunk roads by the beginning of April, and it should, therefore, be possible to have new limits in force by early summer. The local authorities have been asked to complete a review of the limits on their roads by the end of next December. It may take some time to consider and approve new proposals, but most should be in force by the early summer of 1963. We hope, by mid-1963, to have put all limits in built-up areas on a realistic basis. Then, I hope, enforcement will be effective.
§ Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)
My right hon. Friend has just said that speed limits are to be realistic. Will he have powers under the Bill to make local authorities comply with a reasonable speed limit? In some cases, 40 miles an hour is reasonable while a limit of 30 miles an hour is absurd.
§ Mr. Marples
My hon. Friend will see such provisions in Clauses 8 to 11. They provide new procedures for establishing new limits which will be much more 1371 workable than the hotchpotch arrangements under existing legislation.
One characteristic of the new provisions is that they can be used to impose any kind of speed limits, whether 20, 30 or 40 miles an hour. But I do not intend to approve the introduction of a wide range of different limits. It is my intention that there should be a 30 miles an hour limit for most urban areas, and that this and the 40 miles an hour limit, where it is appropriate, shall remain as the chief permanent limits. There are special places where other limits may be appropriate, perhaps along sea fronts, but it is the intention to stick to existing types of limit in built-up areas.
I have spoken for longer than I wished, because of interruptions, but, in conclusion, I remind the House that, in 1960, 6,970 people were killed on the roads. In 1961, there was 8 per cent. more traffic on the roads, but fewer were killed—6,908. So, with 8 per cent. more traffic the deaths were 62 fewer than in 1960.
I do not claim that that is a great achievement, but it is a step in the right direction. It is the first occasion since 1954—apart from 1956, when we had petrol rationing and restrictions on motoring—that fatal road casualties in any year have been less than in the previous year. Looking back a little further, we find that this is only the third occasion since 1935 that there has been such a reduction while there has been no restriction on the use of cars.
When we turn to casualties as distinct from deaths, we find that, in 1961, with 8 per cent. more traffic, we had ½percent. more casualties, so all the work done by local authorities, the teachers, the police and the safety committees has borne fruit. Their work, together with the propaganda in the popular Press and elsewhere, has made an impact on the public mind. If the casualties in 1961 had shown the same relationship to traffic as in the previous four years, there would have been 700 more deaths than there were and nearly 30,000 more casualties. I would like to pay tribute to those who give up so much time voluntarily to do this sort of work.
We have all got to accept some sacrifices and some discipline. The 1372 motorists, the pedestrians, the professional drivers—all of us have to sacrifice some convenience in order to save lives. This is a very difficult and appalling problem. I must confess that I find it very saddening to see the figures of the casualties coming into the Ministry every month while knowing that there is very little I can do about it because of the element of a driver's personal responsibility when he gets behind a wheel.
We must press on and do all we can to try to segregate the pedestrian from the motor car, and also press on with our road engineering. The Bill will only be a part of the whole operation. There are many other things to do. It is because I think that the Bill will play its part that I ask the House to give it a Second Reading.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
It is a pleasant change to be able to welcome a Bill produced by the Minister of Transport. Normally his Bills provoke the most heated controversy and opposition. But, on this occasion, I am sure that we can all say that we give the Bill very warm approval. I welcome it particularly because, for two years, I was closely associated with the problem of road safety when I served at the Ministry of Supply and was chairman of the Departmental committee on road safety. I then took part in a great many activities dealing with this problem, and ever since then I have been very much interested in all its many aspects.
I say this to the right hon. Gentleman quite sincerely. He has paid tribute to the many people and organisations, the local authorities, the police and others, who, in the last few years, have helped to keep down the accident rate. I pay tribute, as well, to the right hon. Gentleman himself for his activities in these matters. I hope that remark will not be taken by my right hon. and hon. Friends as expressing my approval of the right hon. Gentleman generally, but in this respect I believe that he has shown great energy and has done a good job of work. If he only confined himself to this aspect of his Department's activities, it would be a good thing for every one concerned.
All our experience of measures to combat the road perils has shown that, although there is general support for 1373 action to be taken to stop the toll of deaths and injuries on the roads, every specific proposal put forward is highly controversial. The controversy is not usually on party lines but is fought with great vigour by a number of vested interests. I do not mean only commercial interests, who are often active in this matter, but also all sorts of associations of road users, who are up in arms at the prospect of some cherished freedom of their members being restricted, although it may in fact be the freedom to kill themselves.
Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman must expect that his proposals in the Bill, although they generally receive the support of the House, will be discussed in Committee and strongly criticised, and he must also expect a number of other proposals which are not in the Bill to be brought forward, and leading to pretty lengthy discussion. I wonder how he proposes to take this Bill in Committee and when he expects to do so. The last Road Traffic Act, I remember, took about six months in Committee, although everybody was most anxious to get it through at the first possible moment.
Time is getting on, and we are in the middle of another highly controversial Bill in which the Minister is engaged. Can he tell us later when he expects this Bill to be considered in Committee? We are at some advantage on this occasion. The Bill has been pre-digested. In fact, it has been twice pre-digested in another place. Moreover, the Bill has been improved as a result of its consideration in another place. I hope that no one will think that, by that remark, I am expressing support for the other place as at present constituted, as that would be entirely wrong. However, the Bill has been scrutinised in the other place and many of its defects have been eliminated.
I wish to make two very short general comments before I deal with the contents of the Bill. The incidence of death and injury on the roads, which is already appalling, is bound to increase. A calculation based on the number of vehicles on the road at present and on the rate of increase in accidents makes it pretty certain that during the 1960s about 1 million people will either be killed or seriously injured on the roads. 1374 That is a dreadful total, but it is a fact which is not appreciated by most people. The extent of road accidents does not arouse anything like the strong reaction among members of the public or even among members of local authorities that it should do.
I sometimes think that there might be a sharper national reaction if this dreadful toll of road injury and death took place in a small number of spectacular disasters. But it is made up of isolated incidents, spread throughout the country, which make no direct impact on the public or stir their imagination.
My other general point has been made by the Minister, but I should like to emphasise it. Ghastly as the total of road accidents is, we know positively that the extent of road accidents can be materially affected by action taken by the Government, by local authorities and by others. The Minister has quoted many examples of successful action being taken, but I hope that it is appreciated by everyone that the extent to which we succeed in reducing road accidents—we cannot eliminate them altogether—depends not only on the enthusiasm and keenness of local authorities and others interested in this matter, but on the amount of money spent on these activities.
I want to make only a few brief comments on some of the more controversial proposals in the Bill. These comments are entirely personal. My hon. Friends may disagree with me on many of the points that I wish to make. There is no general party agreement on these matters, and I hope that if we on this side express different points of view about the value of certain of the Bill's provisions we shall not be told that there is another split in the Labour Party. I trust that there will be a split on both sides of the House on these matters, which should be considered objectively free from party association.
The Minister spoke at some length about the automatic disqualification provisions in the Bill. I appreciate that there is a case for this when three offences are committed within three years. But there is also a case against it which should be considered, and it is this. In principle, automatic penalties are always questionable forms of penalty and should be avoided where possible. 1375 First, it is doubtful to what extent we should remove from magistrates and judges discretion in these matters. Secondly, it frequently happens that when an automatic and harsh punishment for a certain offence is laid down the accused person is acquitted instead of being found guilty because the jury, the magistrate or judge, is unwilling to impose for the offence the heavy penalty which the law says must automatically flow.
This provision that "special reasons" must be given by magistrates or judges when they do not think that the automatic application of the heavy penalty laid down is desirable is also doubtful and clumsy, and will lead to all sorts of arguments, disagreements and legal wrangles. It is almost certain that courts in one part of the country will apply it differently from courts in other parts of the country, which will create great unfairness. Unless the Minister makes a definite statement about this or perhaps puts something in the Bill to indicate what is meant by "special reasons", this provision will lead to confusion and uncertainty.
There is another reason why I think automatic punishments are questionable. The hardship placed by an automatic disqualification on a professional driver is so much more serious than it is on the ordinary driver, and, indeed, it is unfair. He is driving on the roads for perhaps eight or nine hours a day and his opportunity of infringing the law, although it may be to a minor extent, is far greater than it is in the case of the ordinary motorist. If he does infringe the law, the penalty is much greater. Whereas the penalty is only an inconvenience to the ordinary driver, it may be professional death to the man who drives for his living.
§ Mr. Strauss
I accept that. I have no hesitation in saying that when a professional driver commits one or more serious offences his driving licence should be taken away. The Minister has made out his case on the assumption 1376 that the three offences far which a driver can receive a six months' disqualification are in fact all serious ones.
In a way, almost every offence is serious, but let us consider what could happen to a man under the Bill as it stands. Suppose that he has left his vehicle in a position which he did not consider dangerous but which the police did consider dangerous. It may be a serious offence or it may not, but he is "had up" and fined. Within six months, he may exceed the speed limit of 30 miles per hour, which, as the Minister inferred, very many people do. Again, he is charged and convicted. Perhaps 2½ years later he drives a vehicle which is not properly loaded and which the magistrate may consider is dangerous, or perhaps some accessory on his vehicle is not in good condition. Those are offences which apply to the three year period. If he is found guilty of one of these offences, he is disqualified for six months.
For these reasons, I doubt the wisdom this matter of automatic disqualification. Although I realise that there is a case for it, I am not sure whether, as the Bill stands, it is not too comprehensive and whether the offences involving disqualification are not too wide.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed the evidence given by Brigadier Stoney of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents to the effect that any of the one-fifth of professional drivers who enter the National Safe Driving Competition would have on average to drive for 700 years before they were convicted three times?
§ Mr. Strauss
The House will be grateful for that intervention. I repeat that the views I express on this and other matters are my personal views, and I know that they are not shared by all my colleagues.
Another matter of principle which arises, and about which the right hon. Gentleman spoke, is the new provisions about drink and the alcohol tests to be applied under this Bill. I think that most of us—and certainly I do—fully support the use of the word "impaired" in the new definition of unfitness to drive.
1377 As regards tests, my view is that the right hon. Gentleman's suggestions are at least in the right direction. It seems to me wholly desirable that such tests should be made, and when a test is not made because the offender, or the alleged offender, refuses to allow it, it is right that this fact should be brought up in court as evidence against him, which, of course, he can refute if he so desires.
The argument some lawyers put forward—and I understand it—is that it is contrary to the principles of our law that an accused person should be penalised for not providing evidence which might incriminate him, and that this Bill offends that principle. I believe that this view is of secondary importance compared with the great social evil resulting from the extent to which drink causes accidents. I therefore think that the Minister is right in saying that refusal to submit to alcohol tests is something which can be brought up in court against the accused.
There are many people who go further and say that these alcohol tests should be compulsory and that instead of their being just used as supporting evidence in a case when a man is had up for driving where his ability to do so is impaired, the consumption of alcohol above a certain degree should itself be an offence, however well he may be driving at the time, as is the case in Scandinavia, Germany and Switzerland.
We should be moving in that directtion, and one of these days Parliament will, I believe, accept that principle. There are strong arguments for saying that anyone who drives on the roads should not have consumed more than a certain quantity of drink and that if he has he should, even if he is still driving perfectly well, be convicted for that offence. I think that this more than anything else, far more than the Minister's present provisions, would reduce the amount of alcohol drunk before driving. I think that the right hon. Gentleman's proposals in the Bill are in the right direction, and personally I would be prepared to go further.
I come now to a point on which I disagree with the Minister, and this is his blanket proposal to increase penalties 1378 all round. Every time a Minister introduces a Bill to reduce road accidents he seems to think it necessary to increase maximum penalties for every possible offence without discrimination and that this will have some effect. We know that it has no effect whatever and that the magistrates impose penalties which they think right and hardly ever impose the possible maximum.
I do not want to speak at length, so I will like to give one example to show how nonsensical are these proposals in the Bill. At present a man who is had up for careless driving is liable, on the first offence, to a penalty of £40. In only 1,000 of 1 per cent. of the cases which have been brought up in the last few years where a man has been accused of careless driving has the maximum penalty been imposed. Yet the Minister proposes that it should now be raised from £40 to £100. Such an empty gesture brings the law and Parliament into contempt.
I suggest, moreover, that such a step is indefensible, in that if a man commits an offence that warrants a fine of £100 it is no longer merely an offence of careless driving. I therefore suggest that we should carefully consider the increases in penalties proposed in the Bill. We should be more reasonable and not put up the penalties irrespective of their merits and irrespective of the attention which magistrates and judges have paid to them in the past.
I cannot understand why the Minister has reduced from 17 to 16 the age at which a person can drive a tractor. I know that this driving is confined to driving to or from a testing station, but the proposal seems pointless, and I am not aware of any explanation for it.
There are one or two other points I want to raise concerning matters which are not in the Bill but which, I think, the Committee will have to consider carefully. The first concerns motor cyclists. We know that there is a particularly high accident rate amongst motor cyclists. Not only do they kill and injure themselves, but they kill and injure pedestrians and other users of the road. We know that motor cyclists are far more prone to accidents than any other road users. 1379 The figures show that the chances of a motor cyclist being involved in an accident are twenty-three times greater than that of a motorist. This figure is calculated on the basis of vehicle miles. There are two other figures which are relevant to this point. First, one out of nineteen motor cyclists is injured every year, and one out of twelve motor cyclists under twenty was injured in 1958.
§ Mr. Strauss
Yes. Are we to do nothing about this? I suggest that we should. Motor cyclists will be angry if we restrict their freedom, but they should not have such unlimited freedom to kill or damage themselves and kill or damage other people. We know two things: first, that one of the reasons for this high rate of accidents among motor cyclists is excessive speed. We have police evidence of that. Secondly, that the younger the motor cyclist the higher the accident rate. There is a steep graph which shows this.
There is one other figure I want to quote to the House, which is that in 5.5 per cent. of all fatal and serious accidents a learner-driver on a motor cycle, or a scooter, or a moped was involved. They were responsible for one in twenty of all accidents on the road. I suggest that the House should seriously consider whether the time has not arrived when we should say that training centres should be set up—I know this will involve some expense, but it will save many lives—and that all motor cyclists should pass through a training centre before getting a licence.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I am entirely with the right hon. Gentleman, but would he agree that if a motor cyclist—not necessarily the moped cyclist—had to pass a more advanced test of motoring skill before he got a licence that would meet the case without the necessity of setting up specific training centres?
Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
Would it not be a good thing in addition to make certain that no motor cycle could go at more than a definite speed?
§ Mr. Strauss
I was coming to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall). It may be that the suggestion 1380 of the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) would meet the case, but I would prefer training centres where applicants for a licence would receive proper instruction and be taught good road behaviour. One or the other is necessary.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley that there is a strong case for saying that motor cycles, which are particularly dangerous—and we have proof that many of them go far too fast and are the cause of many accidents—should be restricted to a special overall speed limit, which I suggest should be about 70 miles per hour. This restriction would have to apply to the motorways as well, as the striking fact has emerged that whereas motor cycles represent only 2 per cent. of the total vehicles using the M.1, they are involved in 16 per cent. of the accidents there.
I now turn to the question of driving tests. Magistrates have power to disqualify a convicted offender until he has passed a test. Something more than that is necessary. Many people who have been driving for a long time develop bad habits, of which they are often totally unaware. It is, therefore, desirable that magistrates should have the power to order offenders to take a test without the more serious penalty of disqualification. As a result of some slight carelessness a person may have been involved in an accident, and a magistrate should be entitled to tell him, "I shall not disqualify you so long as you pass a test within the next three or four months, but if you do not pass the test within that period you will be disqualified."
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)
Perhaps I can prevent the right hon. Member going wrong on this point. I understand that provisions already exist under the present law which permit a magistrate to order a driving test to be taken.
§ Mr. Strauss
If that is so, I am very pleased, and I shall not pursue the point.
The other point is an old one, which has been raised on many occasions in 1381 the past. It is the question whether it is not desirable that every driver, upon reaching a certain age, should be asked to pass periodic tests. I suggest the age of 70. After that age it is surely not unreasonable to be asked to pass a test at certain intervals.
The Minister has told us that the Bill deals with only one aspect of his road safety activities, and I therefore ask him to provide us with any late information he has about compulsorily equipping new cars with safety belts. I am rather worried about this. He has been enthusiastic about these belts, and their usefulness has been proved. On many occasions he has exhorted the driving public to use them; and I have used such a belt for many years. Nevertheless, I remember that although a previous Minister of Transport, speaking at the Dispatch Box and elsewhere, had told us for many years how important it was that vehicles should be tested after they had reached a certain age—and provision for this was made in the 1956 Act—it took five years before anything happened, although everybody knew that such testing would materially reduce accidents.
In those circumstances I am concerned lest, in spite of the Minister's words and his obvious interest in the matter, a very long delay will occur, perhaps even as long as the delay that occurred in the case of vehicle testing, before it is made compulsory to equip all cars with safety belt devices. I should like an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary on that point.
As the Minister has said, this Bill is only one aspect of the road safety activities of the Government. He has mentioned others which I regard as being as important as, if not more important than, the legislative provisions of the Bill. I want to comment upon two of them.
The first is enforcement. This is not merely a question of providing strong penalties for offenders; an even more important factor is the supply of sufficient numbers of police on the roads—especially motor cycle patrols—to ensure that speed limits are observed. In many places speed limits are ignored by motorists because they believe that they will not be found out. It is not the fear 1382 of punishment which springs first to their minds. If there were a near-certainty of their being caught speed limits would have a much more deterrent effect upon motorists and motor cyclists.
There is evidence of the striking effect of motor cycle patrols on roads which carry a great deal of traffic. It has been demonstrated that they keep down accidents on those roads. Some remarkable experiments have been conducted. If more police could be provided to enforce speed limits—especially motor cycle patrols—we should see a dramatic reduction of accident rate. Although this is not a matter of direct Ministerial responsibility, I hope that he will regard it as a very important aspect of his general safety campaign.
My last point concerns education. Safety education in the schools is very well done, but there is also the form of education carried out by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in its yearly campaigns. The Society does good work, but I think it could be very much better. I have not been very impressed by the campaigns it has waged. Its slogans are not wisely chosen. The exhortation to "Be a Better Driver" does not impress itself on anybody. Everybody believes that he is a good driver, and such a campaign is pointless. Last year's slogan was "Keep Alive". [HON. MEMBERS: "Mind than Child."] That was a very good slogan, I agree.
These campaigns should be concentrated on special subjects, such as "Mind that child", instead of being diffused, as they normally are. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and the Society will consider the advisability of using such posters as the "Widow" poster, which was brought out when I was the responsible Minister. I chose that poster myself, on expert advice, and although all the Ministerial colleagues whom I consulted told me that I should not do it, they left the decision to me. I think that everybody agrees that that poster had a marked effect because of its shocking element.
It is no good having posters which merely bear general slogans or exhortations. The most effective posters are those which have an element of shock and which immediately bring home to 1383 the person seeing them the personal nature of danger on the roads, and the necessity for taking greater care.
I regard myself as a careful driver, but it is my experience—and it may be that of other hon. Members—that when I pass the scene of an accident I drive even more carefully for the next half hour than before. I have been brought up sharp against the perils of the road. I may have seen an ambulance dealing with the injured. Such an experience brings an immediate reaction of shock to the mind of the road user. That has a desirable effect, and it is a far greater deterrent than anodyne appeals or exhortations. The work of the Royal Society, and education generally, is exceedingly important, because it affects the behaviour of normally good drivers.
This Bill seeks to provide a stronger deterrent to people who often drive carelessly or badly. We want to get them off the roads, and in order to do this the Minister proposes new penalties. These are highly desirable, and although all the Bill's provisions will have to be considered very carefully and in great detail in Committee, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman—although it is probably unnecessary for me to do so—that we shall give the Bill the most sympathetic response and discuss it in Committee with the object of remedying any defects and passing it into law as quickly as possible.
A litle time ago the Minister of Health announced in the House a large programme of hospital construction. Let it not be said of this generation, as the historian Michelet said of the ancien régime before the revolution in France, "They built hospitals and filled them".
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Nugent (Guildford)
I am glad to have the opportunity to add my word of support for the Bill, and particularly do I join with the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), who has just given his support to the Bill so felicitously, in the tribute which he paid to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the very enterprising work which he is doing in this field. I should also like to express my gratitude to another place which deliberated so long and expertly 1384 on this matter. It has been most interesting to read the reports of their Lordships' debates.
The principal effect of the Bill is, of course, to stiffen road traffic discipline. There are two innovations of primary importance. The first is with regard to the consumption of drink and the taking of drugs. Clauses 1 and 2 give a new and closer definition of unfitness to drive through the taking of drink or drugs. The courts are now to have regard to the amount of alcohol in the body of the accused. I must confess that I have been a reluctant convert to the justification for this, but I am now convinced on the point. My right hon. Friend the Minister gave some facts and figures today as indications that drink does contribute to many more accidents than are officially reported as due to that cause.
I feel satisfied that the right approach to this matter is being adopted in that the blood test which is to be introduced is to be a piece of supporting evidence to the main evidence, which will be the behaviour of the driver of the car. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary replies to the debate he will re-emphasise that that is, in fact, the case and that we shall not be faced with a position—although the right hon. Gentleman thinks that we might move towards this situation—where drink traps are set up after closing hours at night with the police stopping cars and testing the drivers' blood for alcohol. That would be highly objectionable to us as a people. I am sure that it would not be acceptable.
The second innovation of great importance is, of course, in Clause 3, which will oblige courts to impose the penalty of disqualification much more often than they do at present. Once again, I think that this is right in principle. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Minister that fines are not particularly effective with some people, and I am sure that it is right for us to try to encourage the concept that the driving licence is a privilege and that we ought to cherish it as such. There will be a discussion in Committee on the Second Schedule, but, on the general principle, I support it.
I wish in the few minutes that I propose to detain the House to say a word or two about the broad philosophy of 1385 the Bill, which is, of course, to make stricter law and heavier penalties for driving offences. I think it right that we in the House should bear in mind that when we are considering a law of this kind, which is a law against the subject, for the purpose of strengthening it, we must keep in mind that government in this country is by consent and that this Bill cannot succeed without the general backing of the nation, both collectively and individually. We are, in fact, well on the way to becoming a nation of drivers, and no doubt in the next ten years or so everybody will be a driver. Therefore, we must be frank with ourselves on this issue.
We as Members of Parliament are far ahead of public opinion in our understanding and appreciation of this problem. I have debated this subject on many occasions with right hon. and hon. Members whom I see here this afternoon, and in terms of the general public outside we are pretty well experts. We can see the thing objectively, but the man in the street is really miles behind us. What we are going to do if we put the Bill on the Statute Book, which I hope we shall, is to make that gap even wider.
I will give the House two examples from the courts which I think will drive home my point. In 1958, the last year for which we have the figures, in only 55 per cent. of cases where people were prosecuted for driving under the influence of drink did juries convict. On the other hand, magistrates convicted in 93 per cent. of such cases. That is a straight indication that public opinion just does not view with the same gravity this offence which more enlightened and expert minds do.
The other piece of court statistics which I should like to give the House is in respect of the 1960 figures for disqualification. In only 56 per cent. of the cases charging dangerous driving were the offenders disqualified. In one category of dangerous driving the Bill makes disqualification automatic and in another discretionary. In cases of careless driving in 1960, only 6 per cent. had disqualification imposed. As the House knows, this Bill will make disqualification discretionary in cases of careless driving, but where there have been three endorsements it will be automatic.
1386 Apart from what we know, I think that this gives us direct evidence of how very far public opinion is behind the minds of those of us here not only in the Government but in Parliament generally in dealing with this desperate problem of road safety. If the gap is widened, all that will happen, in practice, is that the police will be even more reluctant to prosecute and the courts, as the right hon. Gentleman so rightly said, even more reluctant to convict. Therefore, we shall not be making any progress at all.
1 am sure that hon. Members have in mind the fact that eventually we here, as practical men, are obliged to face the reality that the law must, broadly, conform with the behaviour of the people. Last year we put on the Statute Book the Betting and Licensing Act which relaxed the law in regard to these matters in order to make it conform with the lives of the people. Many of us may have been reluctant to see it go that way.
I would remind the House that these are the realities of life. Here is a case where we do not intend to see that happen. It would be intolerable to have to relax the law on road traffic when we are faced with the loss of life and limb which is now going on. Therefore, the House is faced, and my right hon. Friend in particular is faced, with a very special responsibility to find some way of getting public opinion to catch up with the relatively expert opinion of Parliamentarians and Ministers if we are to make the law effective.
Exhortation, of course, to which reference was made by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall and by my right hon. Friend the Minister, has a part to play and is very valuable. On the right hon. Gentleman's point about the widow picture, I would say that these shock tactics have a value but that they can only be used occasionally for very soon they lose their force. As a humble Vice-President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents I know how difficult it is to pick a winner every year. "Mind that Child" was, of course, a winner. The experts and the honorary workers there try their utmost to make their campaign effective, and, overall, they do a great deal of valuable work. But exhortation alone will not do the 1387 job. What is wanted is a fresh scientific approach, and my right hon. Friend is already doing a good deal in that direction.
There are one or two points that I should like to make in that connection. There are three stages in connection with any law or regulation concerned with road traffic. The first need is to carry out an accurate survey and to get the facts so that one knows what one is dealing with. The second is to have a scientific study in order to design the correct solution. The third is to have an imaginative campaign, to put it over and to get it into the minds of the people generally.
My right hon. Friend gave us some figures about his work in London, and very good they are. He has been doing a splendid job there, and I think he is absolutely right about it. First of all, one must have an origin and destination survey, and then one must apply the best possible practices of traffic engineering to give one fresh patterns of traffic. This sort of thing is already beginning to show great advantages in smoother and safer traffic flows. All that is absolutely right.
The provision in Clause 3 and the Second Schedule for three endorsements to lead to disqualification is also psychologically right. There we are dealing with drivers who are potentially dangerous and keep on committing certain offences. I agree absolutely with my right hon. Friend that after a man has two endorsements chalked up in his driving licence he will be very much more cautious for the next two or three years. I think that this is the kind of psychological approach which is absolutely right in practice in order to get the mind of the motorist moving in the same direction as we are trying to move ourselves.
I will illustrate my point by reference to speed limits. Clauses 8–11 give the Minister fresh power with regard to speed limits. My right hon. Friend has already told us that he has now initiated a complete review of speed limits and that local authorities will be doing the same. I am certain that this is right. To start with, I am absolutely convinced that a speed limit is a very valuable road safety device—I am entirely in favour of it—but at the present time we are all aware 1388 that our roads are smothered with 30 m.p.h. speed limits, the great majority of which are simply not being observed at all. Far from doing good, this is doing positive harm, because it "debases the currency". So it is right to review the whole matter in order to get the speed limits right and to remove the impression now in the mind of the average driver that all speed limits are restrictive to him. There is no need for them to be. Many of them are, of course, based on old-fashioned prejudices and the idea that speed is a crime, and so on. We require an objective review.
I would remind the House what the right hon. Member for Vauxhall and his hon. Friends did when they were in power with regard to the pedestrian crossings. They were very brave about it, for it must have been a very difficult thing to do. They recognised that there were so many pedestrian crossings in the 1940s that they simply were not being observed by anybody. So they reviewed the situation and drastically cut them down—by about two-thirds if my memory serves me correctly. They said, "We will make the third that remain really safe and effective." That was the beginning of making pedestrian crossings really safe. The same kind of drastic treatment must be applied to speed limits if we are to get from them the value that we ought to have. I am not suggesting that they should be cut by two-thirds. I mean that they should be made realistic.
There must again be a three-stage operation. First of all, we must survey the speed limits and get the facts. In my judgment, a survey in this context means that we should send out our experts to find out the average speed of the vehicles on the road—the average speed of 85 per cent. of the traffic. That is the figure normally applied; the 15 per cent. higher speed vehicles are ignored. When we have discovered the average speed of the main body of traffic—the 85 per cent.—we should then set that as the speed limit for the road. In the middle of towns the speed limit will continue to be 30 m.p.h., as my right hon. Friend said; outside towns and as one gets towards the open country it will be 40 m.p.h., and in some cases, possibly, 50 m.p.h. would be justified or we might remove the limit altogether.
1389 Having done this, it is then right that we should have—I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman—enough uniformed police, either mobile or stationary, on the road so that drivers generally realise that if they keep on breaking the speed limit they will be caught and will be in trouble. An essential part of this is to remove speed limits which are not really wanted and bring them up to a realistic level.
The third thing that we have to do is to go to the driving public, whether private or commercial drivers, and tell them that the speed limits have been scientifically set at the average speed for the road and that they are reasonable speed limits, and ask them to co-operate with us. The drivers should be told that the limits are set not to restrict them but for their benefit and that they will restrict only those who want to go unreasonably fast. I am certain that both the private and the commercial motoring organisations would then be willing to use all their influence to ensure that the speed limits were complied with. At the present time we do not get co-operation about speed limits because they are regarded almost universally as being restrictive.
Traffic engineers have a big, essential part to play in this. I use the illustration of speed limits to show the absolute necessity for a dispassionate, scientific approach to make these things realistic in three stages. Then we shall have something which will enable us to say to the public, "It is up to you to co-operate", and I believe that we shall get that co-operation.
Perhaps I might mention here that last month I joined the committee of the R.A.C., and I shall certainly use my best influence there—I see my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport looking at me rather doubtfully—to ensure that what I am referring to is adopted by that body.
On the question of putting over the Minister's story to the public and making plain to the public what his regulations mean and what they are for, whether they concern speed limits, one-way traffic or waiting regulations, I suggest that, just as he has a traffic engineering unit now to redesign traffic movement 1390 and to get it on a scientific basis, he also needs experts who will find new and better methods of getting over to the public the fact that these things are being done for their benefit and are not done restrictively. This may mean personal consultation with shopkeepers, motoring organisations, and so on. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the great ingenuity which the traffic commissioners in the United States use to get their story over. They spare no effort to make it clear in the minds of the public that what is being done is for the benefit of everybody. This is done with the object of getting the co-operation of all.
My right hon. Friend said how well the schools have done with the help of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and I was glad to hear him say it. They started by teaching the children kerb drill. That has been very good. The children have become safe pedestrians—better than most adults. Now we have the child cyclists' scheme. I had something to do with introducing it, and I am glad to say that it is a very good scheme. Now we have safe child cyclists.
But we must go one further than that. I have said that before ten years are out practically all the nation will be drivers. We ought to be thinking now of traffic training in the schools. That is the stage at which children learn, and learn for good. If they could be taught driving in the schools they would be good. I appreciate that it is not easy to put something else into the curriculum, but, after all, school training for children equips them for life. If we could in the schools teach them to drive so that we could equip them to live we should have given them something worth while.
Consequently, I urge my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to talk to his right hon. Friend about this. I urge them to have another go at the schools. I tried to do something about it when I was at the Ministry, but I did not get anywhere with it. I am sure that we ought to have another go. Ministers ought to put their heads together and say, "We must find a means whereby all children have a chance while they are at school to learn the rudiments of safe driving, for then we shall have taught them something worth while."
1391 These are my thoughts on this very valuable Measure which will make a useful contribution to road safety. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is right in bringing it before the House. There is a number of details that we shall want to discuss. I want to leave the thought with the House that there is a dangerous gap between us, the experts here, and public opinion. It is a gap that is tending to widen, and it throws enormous responsibility on my right hon. Friend to find fresh methods with which to educate and inform the public that what is being done is for their benefit and safety so that they will co-operate. Unless we succeed in doing that, this Measure will not help road traffic and road safety in the way that we want, and we shall to a large extent be frustrated. With this thought, I have much pleasure in supporting the Bill.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
Like other hon. Members present, I have followed the remarks of the right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) with the utmost interest. As I do not want to occupy the time of the House for very long, as I know many other hon. Members wish to speak, I shall not follow him point by point, but I hope that I shall be able to comment in the course of my speech on one or two of the things he said with which I agree and one or two on which I differ from him.
The purpose of the Bill is to save life. As the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport said it might more reasonably be called a road safety Bill than the Road Traffic Bill, a statement which I am sure will find an echo in the hearts of everyone of us here. There will be no party politics, or at least I hope not, in the debates on the Bill. If we differ on some of the provisions in it and on some of the things which it is hoped may be put in it when it reaches Committee, that will be due not to political feeling but to other considerations.
The only criticism that I would offer is that the Bill has been a long time reaching us. I know—and the right hon. Baronet made the point—that when it was in another place it received a good deal of attention and was there improved. That undoubtedly may be the 1392 case, but if the Bill is designed to save life on the roads we should have had it much earlier than this. I deprecate very much that the House was not permitted to deal with this Bill when it passed through another place last year because, had it done so, the Bill would now be in operation, and I believe that many lives would have been saved. I do not include the Minister of Transport in that criticism. I am, if I may say so in this connection, one of his fans. I think that since he has been at the Ministry of Transport he has been very well aware of the problem which accidents on the road create and has done everything he could within the powers vested in him to lessen them.
One of the reasons why we now have this Bill is that the right hon. Gentleman has obviously found—we are all aware of it—that the powers which he has and the powers which the courts have are insufficient to deal adequately with the terrible slaughter on the roads. At the present time, about 1,000 people are killed or injured on our roads every day of the year. My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) said that within the next ten years at least 1 million people would have been killed or injured.
§ Mr. Hall
Yes, seriously injured. If we take the total of those seriously injured and of those not quite so seriously injured—the seriousness of the injury is a matter of opinion—within the next ten years over 3 million people, if the present slaughter goes on, will have been killed or injured on our roads. That is something which this House cannot contemplate with equanimity. Whether the ordinary man in the street likes it or not, we must, at the earliest possible moment educate him to a very different frame of mind.
One of the great reasons for the Bill is that everything else has been tried. We have had our campaigns—our poster campaigns, our television appeals, and at Christmas time the Minister himself has gone on television more than once in order to appeal to the public to be careful. But we all know that although the appeals have had some effect, it has not been great and that the figures go on mounting year by year. It has therefore become necessary—this is my first 1393 point—that statute law should now make it obligatory and mandatory on all individuals on the roads to follow certain rules.
I hops that we shall pass the Bill in more or less the shape in which we now have it because it seems to me that a great deal of thought has been given to it and that some of its provisions are clearly essential for dealing adequately with what is happening at the present time on our motorways and roads.
Like other hon. Members, I have followed fairly closely the debates that have taken place over the last eighteen months in another place. I was interested to hear the various reasons given by speakers there for road accidents. Impatience, speed, bad roads, drinking, faulty vehicles, bad driving, selfishness—all these were mentioned, and obviously they all have been the cause of accidents. They are all human factors. I suppose that most of us have been guilty of one or other of these faults. They are all failures of the human machine.
A short while ago I read with interest a survey on road accidents by Dr. Spriggs who was a police surgeon for many years and who has had great experience in these matters. He reviewed 254 fatal accidents and found that in only one case was a bad road responsible for the accident. In twelve or so cases the accidents were due to faulty vehicles or the illness of the individual concerned. In all the others the accident was caused by a personal factor, carelessness or selfishness, or some other reason entirely due to the individual concerned. Dr. Spriggs came to the conclusion that although other personal factors play a part, there was no doubt that alcohol played a much greater part than had been previously admitted.
The hon. Baronet the Member for Guildford has slightly changed his views since we discussed the matter of road safety two years ago at the time when a Bill was introduced by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). I think that the right hon. Gentleman would now agree with the conclusion reached by Dr. Spriggs and others. I note that the Economist, in an article on this Bill, stated:It has been increasingly recognised in the past five years that intoxication, as a contri 1394 butary factor in road accidents, has been seriously underestimated in official statistics: Mr. Marples's own appeals over the Christmas holidays have contributed to this view.To be brief, I wish to concentrate almost entirely on those parts of the Bill relating to unfitness to drive due to drinking, partly because the provisions in them are new, and partly because recent surveys undertaken by various organisations have, in my view, proved beyond doubt that alcohol plays a much greater part in causing road accidents than has previously been supposed.
We have had surveys by the Road Research Laboratory, including the one which was carried out for the Minister when the Christmas figures for 1959 shocked the country. The Medical Research Council, under the chairmanship of Professor Drew has also carried out surveys. The results of these surveys point in one direction. At Christmas, 1959, there were 161 deaths and in 1961 there were 113. It is true that there was a drop in the total, between these two years, but the 1960 figures startled the country because they were published as a total and not as figures, included in the monthly totals. In fact, apart from Christmas Day, they are not much greater than the average daily figures for the first eleven months of last year, when just over 20 people were killed on average every day.
On Christmas Eve in 1959 69 people lost their lives. In 1960 the figure was 40. On the following day in 1959 the figure was 37 and in 1960 it was 29. In 1961, 40 people lost their lives on Christmas Eve and the next day the figure was 27. One is bound to infer from these figures that the ordinary jollifications which take place on Christmas Eve led materially to these deaths, and that conclusion is reinforced by the fact that many of the deaths occurred in the late evening after the public houses were closed.
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the number of deaths among child pedestrians had decreased. I may have misread the figures which were issued by his Ministry, but from them I gathered that 7,908 children were killed or seriously injured from January to November in 1961. In comparison with the previous year the total was up by 8 per cent. These are shocking figures. 1395 Although the poster campaign obviously had some effect on motorists, there was, according to these figures—the Minister will correct me if I have quoted them wrongly—a rise of 8 per cent. in the number of child pedestrians killed or seriously injured. We must bear in mind that these children, in the nature of things, cannot have the same road sense as adults. Either they were killed, or, as a result of the accident, they lost one or more of their limbs. These facts help to bring home to us the need to do something drastic to deal with this problem.
The Minister has remarked on the cost, which is colossal. People injured in accidents are unable to work and contribute to the national economy. They occupy bed space in hospitals which might be used for other patients. It has been stated that the cost is about £100 million, but from figures which have been given to me it would appear to be much more than that—more like £200 million or £250 million—and much of this money could be saved.
§ Mr. Hall
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. That figure is not far from the estimate given to me.
I hope that when we reach the Committee stage discussions the Minister will be willing to consider including in Clause 2 a limit on the amount of alcohol which may be consumed by a driver. When this Bill was discussed in another place the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning thought that these tests of sobriety should be made compulsory and not, as in the Bill, permissive, and that, in addition, a limit of the amount of alcohol consumed should be put into the Bill. It is all very well to argue, as many people do, that if a percentage figure of alcohol in the blood is included in the Bill, that would be taken as a permissive limit, and people would feel that they could drink up to that amount and be safe. In spite of this, I think, however that it would be much better and more in accord with British justice, if we put a percentage figure in the Bill. Then we should all know where we were.
I hope that this percentage figure will not be too high. In the Bill introduced 1396 two years ago by the hon. Member for Crosby the figure was .5 per cent.; which is rather high. I forget how many double whiskies it amounts to—[HON. MEMBERS: "Three."] I think that it is more than that, but I am not sure, because I have never tried to find out, I think that in Sweden the percentage is .05, which amounts to about one-and-a-half pints of beer or from three to four single whiskies. I should have thought that sufficient for anybody to carry who might find himself behind the driving wheel of a vehicle.
We know from what the Minister has said that in other countries, particularly in Europe, the breathalyser and other chemical blood tests are used with great effect. I remember that a few years ago the Minister himself made a speech in which he said that he found when in Chicago that tests of that kind had made a great deal of difference. The Chicago police informed him that there had been a considerable drop in the incidence of drunkenness because of the introduction of these tests. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will not close his mind to the possibility of making a test obligatory and to putting a permissible percentage figure in the Bill.
With other hon. Members I welcome the Bill. I hope that the Minister will not give way regarding its main provisions. I was startled when my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall indicated that it might take anything up to six months to discuss this Measure in Committee. I sincerely hope that it will not. I know that the last legislation on this subject took that length of time, but I sincerely hope that there is a sufficient amount of agreement among hon. Members to ensure that this Bill will have a much quicker passage. There is not the slightest doubt that it is needed. The sooner, therefore, that it is on the Statute Book, the sooner can this country begin to save the lives which it is designed to save.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
Like all hon. Members who have preceded me in this debate, I very much welcome the Bill. I feel sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister wishes that we had had it at least a year ago, if not two years ago. The Bill is one more milestone on the path to enable us 1397 to live with the motor car rather than to die by it. We shall all welcome it for that reason.
I want to address a few brief remarks to the House on Clauses 2 and 3 and the subject of drunkenness. I do not know how authentic it is, but I have heard that one of the reasons why there are not more stringent conditions in the Bill, particularly in these Clauses, is concern about incursion into people's personal freedom. I said in the House some years ago that the greatest incursion into a person's freedom was to maim or kill him. I do not regard anything which is trying to stop that as restricting a person's freedom. After all, we enhance the freedom which we all enjoy by stopping practices which are not freedom but selfishness, and that is what drinking amounts to in this respect.
It is quite apparent to everyone that we shall need to form some new habits. The populace as a whole—including ourselves, for most of us are drivers—must have new habits, especially after what the Minister has said, and I agree with him very much about the doubling of the numbers of all vehicles on the roads in the next ten years. Many of us will have seen a statement in The Times which said:There is no point…in pretending that the innovation…"—referring, in general, to these Clauses—whatever the details, will be popular, or that habits will not have to be sacrificed or trimmed.That applies to each and every one of us in the House and each and every adult and adolescent in the country.
The right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) referred to the inclusion in the Bill of a percentage figure of alcoholic consumption. I have given a lot of thought to this matter. I realise that there are drawbacks to stating a certain figure. With great respect to the Minister, I do not accept that because one lays down a minimum people will think that they are free to imbibe up to that minimum. We must not overlook the fact that many drivers do not drink at all because they are abstainers. I should have thought that it would be possible in the interests of British justice to give some kind of guidance to magistrates, judges and 1398 juries about what is regarded as a dangerous amount. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) mentioned .15 per cent. in his Bill, and .05 per cent. has been mentioned. I wonder if it is realised that .1 per cent. is 10 per cent. of alcohol in the blood for this test.
§ Mr. Cole
I stand corrected. It is still a very great figure. It is an appreciable percentage and I do not see any reason why it should not be mentioned in the Bill. If it were not necessarily mandatory it would be a guide to those who have to administer the Measure. If one thing is more certain than another it is that there may well be a different atmosphere in courts where juries operate and in magistrates' courts on the question of the imposition of the law of the land.
I agree with my right hon. Friend about increasing the penalty from £40 to £100. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) thought it derisory and that it would not make a difference, but I do not think that that is so. I believe that the more we put up the maximum penalty, the more we can bring home to magistrates and others who settle this kind of thing the seriousness with which we regard the offence, and that is what we want to do.
The Minister mentioned that many of the statistics regarding drunkenness are not available to his Ministry. In other words, the figures he had were not complete. He could not have spoken truer words. I was reading yesterday about the number of cases in which the culprit has been seriously injured and taken to hospital and where, before he was available to be questioned by the police, his degree of drunkenness was no longer apparent. None of these cloaked figures—cloaked by the humanitarian work done in hospitals—can be available to the Ministry. That is only one aspect of many cases. I do not know how to get over that problem. I would not wish that compassionate treatment to be brought to an end, but very often the person who finds himself in hospital after an accident is the one whose selfishness has been the cause of the accident.
1399 Two extreme cases will be within the knowledge of all hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) has referred in the Press to the interpretation of the law of drunkenness in these two cases which have been settled in the last week or two. In one case a man was so drunk as to be unable—indeed, that is why he was acquitted—to deal with his car, although he was draped over the bonnet. Another man who had left his car and had gone to bed was considered culpable and found guilty. I do not know which of those interpretations is correct, but I know that they cannot both be correct. This question was covered in a previous Bill, but I think it time that someone gave a ruling on the interpretation.
I want to make special mention of a serious problem, the question of drinking by juveniles and those who have just left school. This ties up with what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) about training children in driving while they are still at school. It is a well known fact that many juveniles are drinking more heavily than has been the case in previous history. Those same juveniles from the age of 16 or 17 will be able to obtain licences to drive motor vehicles. Those two facts raise a very dramatic and tragic possibility, as is borne out by the figures.
I want to say a word or two about the penalties to which the Minister referred. I was glad that he said that—particularly the third offence disqualification—they were to be regarded rather from the deterrent point of view than necessarily from that of punishment. We seem to live in a world where we maintain peace and safety by means of deterrence rather than any other much more satisfactory means, but I am glad that this is the purpose behind this provision. It is not very much good, if this is to be a road safety Bill, punishing a man after he has killed someone. We want to deter him from taking action which will cause the death of someone. Deterrence seems to be the right attitude.
There is another rather subtle point about this. Many of those who pass traffic lights when they are showing red and are picked up and found guilty regard 1400 that as a technical offence, and consider that it is just bad luck that they have been caught. I should like to see a social stigma applied to this offence. In the old days of petrol rationing one was not considered guilty if one broke the regulations but was regarded as unlucky. It would be a healthy sign if there were a certain social obloquy attached to this kind of a case. If the penalties envisaged by my right hon. Friend become law, motoring offences will carry greater stigma.
My right hon. Friend said that about 50 per cent. of road accidents still take place near road junctions. In the past the figure has been higher. Perhaps people now take more care at junctions. I do not believe that motorists are sufficiently aware of this figure. It may be in the minds of pedestrians, especially if they have had to run for their lives. Much more emphasis should be laid on this figure.
Perhaps I am a "square" in this respect, but I remain convinced that speed in the wrong place is a major cause of many accidents. I am sorry that the circular my right hon. Friend has issued merely asks local authorities to review the question of retaining the speed limits they have. The emphasis is on whether they can be increased from 30 to 40 or more miles an hour. I am concerned about the cases where a speed limit should be in operation or where, if there is one, it should be lowered. There must be such places. I hope that the fact that motorists tend to ignore many speed limits will not be taken as a criterion of their value. Speed limits should not be abolished because motorists ignore them. If the authorities are satisfied that a speed limit is justified, it should be retained and motorists should obey the law.
I am sorry that local authorities are to have less power in relation to speed limits. In the case of an argument between the Ministry and local authorities, public inquiries are to be abolished. The local authority knows best about local speed limits. In my view, it is a better judge than the district officer of the Ministry. I hope that local authorities' powers in these matters will not be taken away when they have completed the survey. They should have a good deal to say in this matter.
1401 There are many kinds of anomalies in road transport. I do not apologise for mentioning two matters to which I have drawn the Minister's attention in the past. The first anomaly is where there are two roads with speed limits, both authoritative and necessary, but between them 300 yards of derestricted road. It would not matter so much about that piece of road being derestricted, if it were not that the second speed limit is not obeyed because motorists think that the derestriction is continuous, unless they notice the sign. I know that ignorance of the law is no excuse, but this state of affairs is a danger and a hazard.
Because of derision on the part of motorists. my right hon. Friend is not so keen on imposing speed limits as he might be. The second anomaly I want to mention is where five or six roads converge in a fairly populous village. Speed limits may operate in the back roads, but they are not imposed in the centre, on the ground that it is open and everybody can see what is involved. The standards applied in a place like Piccadilly Circus, where people can see everything and expect hazards, should not be applied to places in the country, where conditions are very different.
My right hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Vauxhall had much to say about general provisions. As we are in the atmosphere of revolution and innovation, I cannot understand why we do not have schools, where attendance would not be obligatory, for people to brush up their driving. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall talked about people having a further test. Why should not someone with a conscience who feels he may have got into bad habits be allowed to take a refresher course, with no penalties attached and not necessarily at the risk of losing his licence?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
A motorist can submit himself to the test of the Institute of Advanced Motorists.
§ Mr. Cole
I am aware of that, but I should like to see a scheme operated by the State. The advanced driver's test is perhaps not available in every part of the country, as a general State scheme would be.
My next suggestion may be a little revolutionary, but I do not think that it would be unpopular. I do not see why 1402 people who have just passed the driving test and ceased to be learner-drivers should be exposed to all the rigours, dangers and hazards of the road. Other road users do not know how long these people have been driving. A person driving a car and holding a full licence may have been driving for only six or seven months from the day he took his first lesson. Motorists passing him or driving in cohort with him will not know that he has not been driving for years. A sign should be devised, to be displayed by drivers who have recently passed the test, so as to give guidance to others on the road. This would be for the protection of newly licensed drivers and help to increase road safety in general It would help to prevent many of the incidents which occur because an experienced driver assumes that everybody knows as much as he does.
I am not certain that this is the law, but I am informed by someone who has knowledge of these things that a licence to drive an ordinary motor car carries with it the permission to drive a goods vehicle of a much larger size—in fact of a very considerable size. I was shocked when I heard this recently. If this is so, we should find a way of controlling it.
This is the time when general suggestions should be made. Therefore, I suggest to my right hon. Friend that much more use should be made of the Highway Code. It should be reissued much more frequently and should be given away. I know the old adage that people attach more value to something they pay for. I do not care about that. I am concerned that this booklet, or specialised portions of it, should get into as many hands as possible. Excerpts from it should be displayed. Pictures of bad parking should be issued. The average motorist takes far more care about throwing away his cigarette end than he does about parking his car. He is still committed to the idea that where he stops his car is where he parks it. He is also committed to the idea that if he wants to go from point A to point B the direct route is the one for him. He would learn a lot if he visited America, where the average motorist puts his car into a parking lot and takes a taxi for the remainder of his journey.
1403 I commend the extension of the scheme for publicity on television. At the right time of the day up to 10 million people see it. This is easily the best form of publicity—I do not intend to show any leaning either towards the B.B.C. or I.T.V.—to get publicity on faulty driving over to the public. There should be more propaganda and education all the time. It should be repetitive. This was the only way to make school children understand kerb drill. It was done all the time, not just two or three times a year. It was part of their daily routine. It got home to them and stayed there.
I do not think that there is such a thing as a shocking poster in connection with the shocking state of affairs existing on our roads. As the right hon. Member for Colne Valley said, between 3 million and 4 million people are killed or injured in the course of ten years. I do not object to the widow poster. It may cause a great deal of heartburning amongst those who have lost their wives or husbands, but it will have a salutary effect on others.
In that connection I commend the recent Daily Mirror series of photographs showing the results of accidents, and descriptions of the circumstances in a home after an accident had taken away a member of the family. The series shocked me—I liked neither looking at it, nor reading it—but it had a very salutary effect. As the right hon. Member for Vauxhall said, the most salutary experience a motorist gets is to pass the scene of an accident. He drives very carefully for some time afterwards.
This Bill is not the end of the story—in a year or two we shall need to do other things—but it is the first and perhaps unpopular step towards adopting a realistic method of living with the motor car and the conditions that go with it. It is said that the number of vehicles will double in the next few years, but as the number of roads will not double, it means that the hazards will be doubled. I commend the Bill as a first step on the way to living with the motor car.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)
I join in congratulating the Minister on a delightful and informative speech. I hope that the enthusiasm he showed will 1404 be reflected in more vigorous action by the Ministry and the Government in dealing with our road traffic problems.
This Bill is designed to deal with some—some—aspects of our vast and varied road difficulties, and to that extent it is to be welcomed. If it is the forerunner of a wider and more comprehensive Measures, that will be all to the good, but it is only right to say that it touches only the fringe of the problem. Although stiffer penalties may be necessary because of the tremendous slaughter on our roads, they are not, in themselves, the complete solution. The solution lies in dealing more effectively with road congestion and in accelerating our road building programme.
Road congestion is due to inadequate roads and the increased number of vehicles using them. If we could get off the roads the heavy commercial loads that prevent a speedier flow of traffic we should be taking a very big step forward. It is high time that the Federation of British Industries, the railway authorities and the Ministry got together to see whether the railways could, by common agreement, be used more fully for the transportation of our manufactured goods.
It is the very height of folly to allow our roads to be dangerously congested in that way while the railways are allowed to lapse into disuse. There is something radically wrong with our thinking in relation to the use of all our national resources for the development and improvement of our economic life If we could more wisely use both rail and road transport and get some proper co-ordination between industry and the railways we would probably make a great contribution not only to removing the present congestion, but to the drive for national prosperity.
It is vitally important, too, that our road construction programme should be developed with the greatest possible speed. I admit quite frankly that during the last few years the Ministry has at least moved towards the construction of more motor roads and the improvement of other roads, but Parliament itself must face the facts squarely. We must spend more money, as quickly as possible, to make our roads more suitable for the traffic that must use them. 1405 If we decide to go into the Common Market, transport costs will be a vital factor in our ability to tackle our European competitors. It is not just a matter of providing better roads for motorists and motor traffic generally, but of providing the means by which our industrial products can be more competitive in price than the present wasteful delays caused by road obstruction allows them to be. Unless we are wise enough to get more co-ordination between road and rail—if necessary, making the railways a kind of financial or economic support for industry—we shall miss a very great opportunity to serve the nation in the way necessary for its survival.
Although the Parliamentary Secretary appeared to be somewhat amused at the time, I felt that it was not wrong for me to emphasise the question of congestion on the roads on a Bill which deals with the whole aspect of this problem. Whatever penalties we may place on people who drive recklessly we shall not, merely by the imposition of those penalties, solve the problem of the quicker transportation of our commodities.
While I realise that a detailed examination of the Bill can be better carried out in Committee, I must refer to one or two specific items in it. I have reservations about Clause 2, which introduces the principle of testing for the content of alcohol or drugs in the body. It is important that the results of these tests should be considered by the courts only along with the rest of the evidence, for if a permissible level of alcoholic content should gradually become accepted it would inevitably lead to injustice. The safety level of alcoholic drinking depends largely on the individual and cannot, under any circumstances, be assessed by a rigid standard.
Clause 2 (1) lays down that a refusal to undergo such a test can be counted as evidence against the accused. It is suggested in many quarters that this goes against the cardinal principle of British law. I understand the present practice of the courts to be that a person giving evidence need not necessarily answer a question if, by so doing, he would incriminate himself. It seems unwise to assume that a person who refuses to undergo this test may have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the offence.
1406 If the Government are now satisfied that such tests are necessary in the public interest they should have the courage of their convictions and make them compulsory. It should be a condition of the driving licence that the holder will submit to a test when requested to do so by the police and a refusal to undergo it should result in the automatic withdrawal of the licence.
Subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 3 and Part II of the First Schedule extends the use of discretionary disqualification and introduces a new principle of obligatory disqualification. As this may bear with excessive and unjustified severity on a professional driver, we shall have to examine these provisions with care in Committee. We should remember that the professional public service vehicle driver is subjected to tests to obtain his licence under Section 144 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, in addition to the test for obtaining his ordinary driving licence.
A driver's public service vehicle licence may be suspended or revoked by the traffic commissioner if he ceases to be a fit person to hold such a licence. Therefore, the risk of losing his livelihood by really dangerous road behaviour is a more powerful deterrent than the disqualification system suggested in the Bill.
I trust that the Minister of Transport—since this is an important Bill which represents a departure from some of our established and recognised customs—will, between now and the Committee stage, take the fullest opportunity of having further consultations with the T.U.C., the motoring organisations, the pedestrians' associations and other interested bodies so that when we come to examine the Bill in Committee he will not only be able to make any necessary Amendments, but will be able to answer the queries of hon. Members with certainty.
Since the principle of the Bill has the full support of all hon. Members, I hope that this will be one occasion when—and it seems almost absurd that I should have to make this plea—we might put the Whips on both sides in "cold storage" and approach our examination of the Measure in a way that will enable all hon. Members to make up their 1407 minds on any particular part of it in a way which is based on their true feelings and beliefs. I hope that the Minister of Transport will say that, at least on this matter, he will give back benchers their freedom. In any case, it is high time, when we are considering a Bill about which there is not a political controversy, that the Minister concerned should be able to take advantage of the advice tendered by all hon. Members.
If this were done we would be able to co-operate in moving Amendments which would improve the Bill. I hope that we shall not be landed in the position which often occurs in Committee, when the Minister simply digs in both his heels, will not depart from his brief, and, however sensible, important or desirable an Opposition proposal may be, will not budge an inch. It happens so often that because a Minister has been advised by his officials that the Bill, as drafted, is absolutely correct, he will not budge, and we get to the position where a Committee stage becomes a farce. Although the Minister often says, "I will certainly reconsider the position, in view of the speeches which have been made by hon. Members opposite", the result is that no changes are made.
This Bill can only be made worth while if every hon. Member is able to speak and vote as he likes. I ask the Minister to set a new example in respect of the Committee stage of Bills and to let back benchers have some freedom on this occasion. I believe that that would reflect itself in a much better Bill and, certainly, a Bill which would be more acceptable to the public than one which is forced through by the power of the Whips against the common sense of hon. Members.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I feel sure that all back bench Members will echo the eloquent plea made by the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) that they should be able to speak and vote uninfluenced by the Whips, although I must confess that without those much maligned people our legislative progress would be a bit of a shambles from time to time.
Returning to the subject of road safety and leaving the matter of Parliamentary procedure, I am bound to say that if 1408 18 people died from smallpox every day of the year in this country there would be a scream of terror throughout the country. Every school would be closed. Every port and harbour would be closed and life would almost come to a standstill. Yet 18 people die on our roads every day. We regard that as part of the price that we have to pay in the community for the swift transport of persons and goods. We accept it without undue worry.
As a member of the Council of the Institute of Advanced Motorists—we have had some experience of this matter—I am fully aware that the standard of driving in this country is not good enough either in skill or in responsibility. The Minister asked, earlier, why this should be. The reason is that adults are not under discipline as are children. Fifty per cent. of the persons who go in for the advanced test cannot pass it at the first attempt, although it is not a very difficult one.
Our experience leads us to believe that there must be hundreds of thousands of people driving on the roads who could not pass the elementary test at the first attempt. We must accept a tightening up of driving standards, and in principle, therefore, I accept this Bill as a contribution to road safety.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport thinks from time to time that he is the most unpopular man in this country and that everything he does for road safety is attacked. But if it is any consolation to him—and perhaps my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary could pass it on—
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
The greater includes the less.
If it is some consolation to my right hon. Friend, I was looking through the memorandum on the Bill prepared by the motoring organisations and I observe that out of 39 Clauses they accept 23—or, rather, they do not object in any way to 23—and they feel that four or five Clauses should be modified.
Obviously, such Clauses as that which provides for the setting up of a register 1409 of persons approved to give driving instruction must command approval everywhere. A lad helps me in the garden from time to time at home. I taught him how to drive. To finish off the instruction, I sent him to the local driving school to complete his driving education. He came back full of bad driving habits. When I made further inquiries I discovered that the local driving school was run by a retired taxi driver, who was a repository of every bad trick there was to be known on the road.
Of the controversial Clauses I think that there are some modifications which would make them rather fairer for everyone. For instance, in Clause 1, after the word "impaired", I should like to see the adoption of the words "so as likely to cause danger on the roads". It seems to me that impairment of driving could technically be proved if one had consumed one light ale. That would be an intolerable situation. There must be some prima facie evidence that the driver is incapable of having proper control of the car.
May I say, in connection with alcoholic drink, that recently there was an extraordinary case at the Surrey Quarter Sessions—it was referred to today. A Mr. Henry Crichton was seen by a neighbour to park his car outside his flat, at an angle of 35 or 40 degrees to the kerb. His neighbour reported him to the police, and forty minutes later the police arrived at his flat, when he was in his night-clothes, in bed. He was taken to the police station and found to be unfit to be in charge of a car, although he never actually drove it.
I cannot understand why he was considered to be technically in charge of the car when he was in bed. If he had been prosecuted for driving the car When in an alcoholic state as reported by his neighbour, I could have understood it, but, according to a newspaper report, the deputy chairman of the sessions said, "There is no doubt that you were technically in charge of the car." If the deputy chairman was basing himself on the Haines case of 1931, in which it was said that a man was still in charge of a car until he passed it over to the control of someone else, I do not see how a bachelor, living in a bachelor flat, who takes his car home, is ever to get rid of the control of his motor car.
§ Mr. Hay
I apologise for interrupting my horn. Friend a second time. I promise that I will not do it a third time and, therefore, be disqualified. I think that it is very important to understand in connection with the case that my hon. Friend quoted that the newspaper reports say that this gentleman pleaded guilty. The issue of whether or not he was in Charge technically or otherwise was apparently never tested by evidence in the court.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
That is so, although I think that it was referred to. Anyway, that is a point that we ought further to examine in Committee.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I believe that I was on the Committee that considered the 1956 Measure and dealt with this point. I read of this case over the weekend and thought about it rather deeply. I thought that the point was that this man left his car outside at an angle of 30 degrees from the kerb and in a dangerous position, thus giving the police some right to bring him back to move the car into a proper position. To that extent, he was in charge.
§ Mr. Pannell
He was responsible. I am aware that he was not sufficiently sober to be aware of his right to stay in bed, where no policeman could have thrown him out.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
That may well be so. Anyway, my point—and I am sure my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will agree—is that we ought to re-examine this matter, because I thought that we had settled it in the 1956 Act.
A test for drunkenness should be made either at a police station or in hospital. If a breathalyser is to be used, the Home Secretary ought to produce regulations to be laid before Parliament prescribing the type of breathalyser to be used and the method of testing.
I was interested to see reported in the Press of 24th February that the West German Minister of Justice has been conducting tests on journalists to find out how much effect drink had on them. I read in the Daily Telegraph:The normal police test of breathing into a chemically treated bag was completely discredited. One journalist whose bloodstream at 1411 the start of the test should have been alcohol-free, judged by when he last drank, was shown by the 'blow bag' to have 0.2 per 1,000. Another 'guinea-pig' who should have registered 0.8 per 1,000 midway in the test was 'proved' by the bag to have 2.3 per 1,000.That indicates that the breathalyser is not yet a scientifically correct method of testing.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
My hon. Friend will distinguish between the balloon with colours in it, which is a very crude way of testing the breath, and the breathalyser, which is a scientific instrument which does not fail.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
We can pursue the matter in Committee. I think that a good deal of doubt has been cast on the accuracy of the breathalyser, and I do not think that it should be used without being passed by Parliament in regulations.
We must all admit that Saturday night is danger night on the roads. Judged by the number of vehicles overturned and the accidents one sees, that is clearly so. Nor must we forget the number of drunken pedestrians involved. Dr. A. B. Cassie, of Wythington Hospital, Manchester, in a paper he contributed to the British Medical Journal in December, said that during the period of his research all the pedestrians brought to the hospital who had been involved in road accidents after midnight were "intoxicated".
The research at Christmas, 1959, as I pointed out to my right hon. Friend earlier, revealed that in the drink cases both drivers and pedestrians were involved. Two or three summers ago, I was driving through a market town at two o'clock on a Saturday afternoon when a pedestrian standing on the kerb just ahead of me fell flat on his face in front of my motor car. Fortunately, I was driving a light car in third gear and I was able to pull up in about 20 feet. Everyone in the road rushed forward to this fellow, lying there, and said what a terrible thing it was for him, and so on, quite without sympathy for me, who had had a great shock as a result of nearly killing someone, and who, by 1412 having a little presence of mind, had been able to avoid running over him.
Drink is one factor. The weather is another. The ordinary motorist cannot compete with the weather in this country. On Monday morning last, I drove 40 miles in conditions which were not very serious, but in that distance I saw three accidents and one overturned car.
Clause 3 provides for obligatory automatic disqualification. There is no doubt that for three fairly minor offences a man could lose his licence for six months, perhaps for leaving his lorry over the studs 45 ft. before a pedestrian crossing, for a small offence against the Construction and Use Regulations, and so on. By the Clause some discretion is given to magistrates. They may find "special reasons", but, as I understand, the special reasons refer only to the last offence committed and not to the offender. If one were speeding to fetch a doctor in an emergency, that might be a special reason.
On the other hand, the fact that a doctor drives a very great mileage, or a lorry driver drives 40,000 or 50,000 miles a year and, therefore, exposes himself to four or five times the risk to which the ordinary motorist is exposed is not a special reason to be taken into account. I think that we should bear this matter in mind when we examine the Clause.
I am putting to my right hon. Friend certain suggestions for improving the Bill. Two have been suggested to me by the Institute of Advanced Motorists. For instance, a person making application for a driving licence may answer "Yes" on the form to questions Nos. 12, 14 or 15 which relate to disabilities, epileptic fits, and so on. Does the local authority have to do anything about it? It is believed that it need not and in many cases does not in fact take further action.
There was the sad case of a foreman recently charged at Stafford Assizes who was said to be suffering from epileptic fits. He had run down and killed two grooms. In that case, it was a pity that he did not have a medical examination earlier. In my view, the penalties for false statements in filling up these forms of application for a licence should be stiffened.
1413 I agree with the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) when he says that we should consider whether people over 75 years of age should have to take the learner driver's test. There was recently the sad case of a man of 81 who ran down some cyclists and killed them.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
No, there is no test at any time unless the person concerned is involved in a case and the magistrates call upon him to take it.
Another suggestion from the Institute of Advanced Motorists is that a young driver who has just passed his test should show on his vehicle a plate carrying the letter R, meaning "restricted", during the first year after passing the test and should be limited to a speed of 50 m.p.h. the object being that he should not be tempted to rush out and buy a very powerful sports car or motor cycle and try to do the "ton" in the first year of his driving career.
I have been supplied with evidence of an extraordinary trade going on today in rebuilding motor cars which have been written off by insurance companies. These cars are built up again and sold as normal second-hand cars. I suggest that we should provide, by a simple Clause in the Bill, that any person who sells a motor car, whether privately or through the trade, should be required to declare to the buyer the name of the insurer of the vehicle. This would enable the insurance company of the buyer to check the history of the vehicle.
I have some personal interest in this, because I bought a second-hand car for my son, two or three years ago. It was a bona fide purchase from a motor trader. Six months later, I was told by someone, "I see that your son is running round in my mother's old car". I said that I was pleased about that, supposing that it had been very well driven. "No", was the reply, "My mother drove it into the back of a lorry, smashing it completely, and she has never driven since". I should have been very glad to know that before purchasing the car for my boy.
Last, but by no means least, there is one peculiar facet of our driving law which requires attention. I hope that I shall have the support of hon. Members on both sides in this matter. The 1414 driver of a car, a lorry or a bus who holds a licence for any of those purposes is precluded from driving a simple moped without passing another test. By "moped" I mean a bicycle equipped with pedals and an engine of a capacity not exceeding 50 c.c. These mopeds cannot do more than about 20 or 25 m.p.h. They are just as simple to drive as a bicycle, as I have proved in my own experience.
Surely, if a bus driver wants to buy a moped so that he may motor to work, he should not have to put L plates up before he takes it on the road. This is an anomaly which should be removed, and I shall in due course put down a new Clause for the purpose which, I hope, will be accepted so that our law in this respect may be brought into line with that of the rest of Europe.
Subject to qualifications of the kind I have indicated, I have pleasure in commending this new and thoughtful Road Traffic Bill as representing a step forward in our search for road safety.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) because, although I do not always agree with him, there is no doubt that he has had great experience in the motor car industry. There is nothing worse than beginning one's speech by saying, "I hope that the hon. Gentleman will excuse me if I do not follow him," because it usually means that the standard of debate is going down. However, if I do not follow the hon. Gentleman this evening, it will not be for that reason but because he seemed to be a master of all the elementary virtues and said for the most part the things with which I very much agree. I did not know about the problem in regard to driving a moped. I have never wanted to drive one. I shall refer to other and probably more acrimonious questions.
I think I shall carry the House with me if I remark now, though I appreciate that it is not usually in order to do so, that tonight we miss one figure under the Gallery who used to be here for all the road traffic debates which I can remember. I refer to the late James Hudson, who represented Ealing and Huddersfield constituencies for many years. Much of what appears in this 1415 Bill is due to his pioneer work. He was, I should say, the outstanding propagandist for road safety, certainly on the temperance side. He was a man of great nobility, and there was very great regret at his death, and the hon. Gentleman who defeated him at the time he lost his seat in 1955 said that there was no man he would have less wanted to defeat in a Parliamentary struggle. I thought it might be considered appropriate if, since this is part of the background to this Bill, somebody should refer tonight to one of the great pioneer figures.
There is another point. When an accident has occurred in a certain place somebody usually puts the question, "Is there a doctor in the house?" I would ask the question: "Is there anybody in the House who walked to Aldermaston?" Obviously there is not, but I have always understood that the demonstrations at Aldermaston were demonstrations against the wrath to come—the unpredictable death that may come upon us. I have always thought that that is an essay amongst these one-idea people who tend always to think in terms of the end of the world, just as people have been thinking about it almost ever since the world began.
Tonight, however, we are dealing, in the absence of these devoted people, with something which we know, predictably and probably, may cause either loss of life, ruin of life or injury, to probably 350,000 or 400,000 people in the next year. It seems to me we have our sense of values wrong when people are permitted to demonstrate about something which may never happen and fail altogether to take any interest in something which is happening under their very noses, and which, if it does come, means death and destruction to their constituents and to many other people up and down the land. It seems to me that this is a reflection upon their scale of values.
I want to deal with the question of the breathalyser test as a matter of principle, and I, too, have spent a lifetime motoring. A few years ago, we pressed very hard on this side of the House, and it was accepted with some reluctance on the other, for all vehicles being tested. We are in favour of the testing of motor 1416 cars from one year old onwards. We are having them tested at ten years, and the term has been reduced to seven years. If we accept that, I do not see how we can object to the idea that the motorist himself should be tested and found fit to drive. One might well argue that the one is complementary to the other. Good driving means the integration of a road-worthy vehicle and a road-worthy driver, and I can see no objection in principle to these tests, any more than I can to finger prints being taken and a man having to undergo certain tests if there is any suspicion that he has had either the one over or the one under, as the case may be.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that if that is so, quite clearly there ought to be the same test applied if somebody is fit to drive? If is not only drink that makes people unfit. It could be epilepsy or one of a million causes. Should not that be the only logical outcome of that argument?
§ Mr. Pannell
As one who happens to have a disease liable to that sort of interpretation, I can say that that argument does not stand up at all. Most people who are diabetics are highly controlled; drunks are not controlled. I have to live under discipline day by day, and the penalties for my not doing so are pretty severe. Let us not try to make an alibi for the drunks and compare them with people having diseases, because the latter are conscious of the fact every minute, and if they drive for two hours must have sugar or something like that. It is a completely false comparison. Only those who have lived with this sort of thing can know how false it is. Of course, we have to ensure that the man who has a driving licence is fit. When a man applies for a licence he has to say whether he has any medical history and is under penalty. Alcohol is a great hoaxer and "kidder", and it is probably true that a man who has had a single whisky and soda kids himself into thinking that he is driving better when in fact he is driving worse. All the tests show that men who drink suffer to a degree from delusions, and I have had charge of men and know that if I drive I do not drink. I cannot see for the life of me why there should be any objection in principle to tests when a man does take drink himself.
1417 When I was in the United States, I took a great deal of trouble to look into the activities of the breathalyser, and the "drunkometer" as well. I remember the great traffic court in Detroit, seeing this sort of thing and hearing the evidence from the forensic laboratory brought out. There was a master sergeant who was a veteran of the Korean war with the Order of the Purple Heart and the Military Medal, but that did not sway the judge at all. It was mandatory. There was the proof, and the man had to accept the ultimate penalty.
This is a very serious thing indeed. When we are speaking of this matter, I want to say that I was rather arrested by a suggestion made by Baroness Wootton in another place that it would probably be a good idea for hostesses to invite their guests to try the breathalyser before going home after a party. It is quite an idea, and it occurred to me, and I think many will agree when seeing these enormous car parks outside public houses with people 'being turned out, that it might be a good idea to make it obligatory to have breathalyser tests at public houses. Might it not also be a good idea to take that sort of thing a little bit further? It is a question whether it would not be quite a good thing, in exactly the same way as we have concentrated attention on some aspects of the traffic problem, if we had, say, a fortnightly test at public house car parks, with the police taking part in it. That is what we want to do. There is far too much association in social life in public houses, and, in my experience, people sometimes drive home after drinking in a condition in which they should not drive at all.
§ Mr. Pannell
The hon. Gentleman speaks from far closer association with these things than I do.
The idea was put in my mind by what my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said about prosecutions for serving people in public houses who are almost under the influence of drink. This kind of prosecution appears almost to have disappeared. Obviously, many people must be served when they are really not fit to drive. I 1418 do not think that we can lay all these penalties on the motorist, who may slip up and have an accident. It is obvious that motorists have to make their contributions towards solving the problem.
I want to refer to another point about the Bill. I was associated with the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) concerning compulsory insurance for motor cycles. We should bear in mind that one out of twelve motor cyclists under 20 years of age was injured in 1958, and that, from 1955 to 1959, teen-age fatal and serious accidents rose by about 150 per cent.
Why was that Bill killed? It was killed by—and I use the word carefully—an unscrupulous lobby, through a pile of correspondence to hon. Members about the great hardships that would fall upon young people if it were passed. There was talk about whether hon. Members would like their sons to be stopped from riding their motor cycles, and sentimentality of that kind. The other day I was reading the report of a case in which a young woman was awarded £17,863. She was a pillion rider. She is completely crippled for life. The report was in the Eastern Daily Press and said:A 20-year-old Norfolk girl, paralysed from the chest down after a motor cycle accident. was awarded…£17,863 at Norfolk Assizes yesterday.…In May, 1960, she travelled back to Norwich from Yarmouth on the pillion of a motor cycle driven by S.A.C. David John Jupe, then stationed at R.A.F. Marham.The report told how she now had reduced earning capacity, although she was a bright girl. Probably the question of marriage would be out for her. It said that she was facing her future with great bravery.
Two considerations arise from this. If the motor cyclist in that case was adequately insured to sustain such damages, then I am only too glad for both him and the girl. The argument against the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough, however, was from those people who would not have had that cyclist insured. He would have been a man of straw in those circumstances. What would have become of these heavy damages for this girl then?
The Minister has some duty in this. One can read the old debates in Parliament which resulted in it being made 1419 necessary to have third-party insurance in the normal way, but pillion passengers were not included. The Minister discussed the possibility of getting over this when we considered my hon. Friend's Bill in Committee. With the country facing this degree of danger in the casualty figures among motor cyclists, the House cannot allow such a thing to go on much longer.
§ Mr. Pannell
That is a fair point. My hon. Friend had risen to withdraw the Bill. I talked it out in protest against its being withdrawn. If the Parliamentary Secretary will do me the credit of reading the debate, he will see that the Bill was in a hopeless position. I make no secret of the fact that I rebuked my hon. Friend for withdrawing the Bill without permission from one of his sponsors. I was one of the sponsors and I gave technical help. I protested against the Bill being withdrawn. I think that I come clean out of that one.
The motor cycle industry, of course, has a lobby. I commended to the Minister the Fabian pamphlet by Barbara Preston which he referred to today. It is the most comprehensive pamphlet on road safety I have read. It says:The motor cycle industry are very concerned that fewer of the more powerful (more lethal) machines are being sold. This is partly as a result of propaganda (any article or TV talk giving the facts concerning the danger of these machines draws forth a spate of protest), but largely because the insurance premiums are so heavy.If these machines have become so lethal, and if people are considering special speed limits, it seems to me that we will have to deal with the problem of pillion passengers. Medical men in the House consider this problem to be terrible. I remember an hon. and learned Member opposite speaking to me privately about this. He said that, if people only knew the extent of the problem, they would never have defeated my hon. Friend's Bill.
I do not want to accuse the motor industry generally of social irresponsibility, but I think that it should be responsible to the extent of keeping up with new 1420 techniques. One of the great difficulties involved in safety harness in cars is presented by the fixtures. This is a point on which most harnesses fail. One cannot really strap a harness to car seats. Just as the Minister has insisted on a double rear light and other such things, somewhere in the not too far distant future he should persuade the industry to install the brackets needed to hold car harness effectively. Speaking as an engineer, I do not think it should be too difficult. Perhaps the brackets could be welded into the chassis itself.
One can buy harness as an extra, but in many cars it is almost physically impossible to fit the best forms of harness. I believe that harness brackets should be put into all new models. There is far too much tendency in the industry to harp on speed. There is an impression that the question of safety is rather dull. I invite hon. Gentlemen to read the January issue of Which? which brings out the facts about harness and tells how a number of makes break down at the attachments.
I have often said that we can do two practical things about accidents. One is to deal with drunks and the other is to deal with dogs. I am in favour of the Bill's provisions to deal with drunks. But the question of dogs on the road also has a history. When the Road Traffic Act, 1956, was in Committee, I pressed this point on the then Minister of Transport, the present Minister of Pensions and National Insurace. His Department was then reluctant to include control of dogs in that Act. It was forced through in Committee, however.
The present Minister of Defence was appointed Minister of Transport during the passage of that Act and he finally agreed to a provision about dogs. Under that Act, a local authority has to ask permission of the Minister to go ahead with schemes for specifying certain roads on which dogs without leads are prohibited. I understand that a local authority will be able to make its own scheme under this Bill and need not consult the Ministry of Transport.
That is how I understand it, but I think that the Minister could go a little further. He should ask the local authorities what they have done about controlling dogs, for statistics indicate that in Leeds, for instance, such control has had some effect.
I have told this story before—in 1951 or 1952, soon after I came to this House. The Chief Constable of Leeds wrote to me then and said that there was a dog element in one in four accidents in the city. I was staggered. Nevertheless I did find many cases where the dog element played a large part in the accidents. I have secured no figures for this speech, but at that time 60,000 dogs had been maimed or injured on the roads in that year. An uncontrolled dog is a menace and contributes to road accidents. It is time we stopped being sentimental about this. I cannot understand why the Minister insists, in this Bill, upon saying to local authorities, "You can carry on in the old sweet way and decide whether or not to make an order." He should ask them what they have done about this matter. If he collected a few statistics, I feel fairly sure that they would prove my point.
I am not happy about the obligatory disqualification in respect of the three offences in the Bill. I can well imagine the sort of bad luck which may overtake a man and in which automatic disqualification would be monstrous. If I could see any test by which magistrates judged this, I might be happier. But I have been a magistrate and I have sat on a bench of magistrates which dealt with matters rather curiously. The sort of things which benches do are patchy and they are not uniform. I think that this provision in the Bill might be changed.
Of course, there is a case for what the Minister said that to park a vehicle in the hypothetical place which he mentioned might cause an accident. But I can think of instances in which I might consider it safe to park a vehicle in a place but a policeman might not consider it safe because he was not a motorist. I might park in a town and some local "bigwig" might complain to the police about where I have parked and the social relationship between them might be such that the police would accept his opinion. This is one reason 1422 why I agree with the Bill that local authorities should not be the judge of speed limits in their own districts. A more objective view is needed in these cases. But I cannot see that an objective view has been applied to the three offences mentioned in the Bill. Of course, I have not closed my mind on the matter, but I merely say that this is one of the things which cause me some unhappiness.
The right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) referred to the need for more education in the schools about road safety. The best road safety lesson that I had concerned the Taylor Allardyce High School in Pittsburg. There were 367 cars used by the children in the school on the car park. It was no wonder that this enormous school of 3,500 pupils had five orchestras, including harps. They needed them.
The Ministry of Education might reasonably consider whether some of the things taught in school are as important as road safety. I remember looking at some of my daughter's papers when she was taking her G.C.E. at "O" level. I helped her with some research on falconry in the Elizabethan era. This took her all the evening. I could not help wondering whether this was germane to today's problems and whether it was likely to do her as much good as some education about road safety in 1961. Although the schools have done much in this matter, they ought to consider, particularly the high schools and grammar schools from which drivers are likely to come in a year or two's time, whether they should introduce advanced courses of road safety or even courses of driving for children who leave school at 16 and 17 years of age.
Of course, I will do my best in dealing with the Bill. I think that I have served on every Committee considering Road Traffic Bills since I have been a Member of the House because I am interested in this matter. However, I hope that the Minister of Transport will not be too wedded to the Bill.
I wish to finish by reinforcing the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavey) with a lesson about the history of the 1956 Bill, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) will remember. When we started consideration of 1423 that Bill, the present Minister of Pensions and National Insurance was the then Minister of Transport in charge of it. I think that Lord Molson was Parliamentary Secretary. We made no progress, or very little progress, on the Bill for three months. The Minister kept on saying that he would consider this suggestion and put that matter back, and so on. He seemed to be obstinate on the smallest points. But what really broke him in the end—I do not know whether it got him out of the job—was back benchers of the Conservative Party who refused to treat the Bill as a party political Bill. They dug their heels in at a fortuitous time during the Committee stage so that there was no question of loss of face. The present Minister of Defence took over the Bill and we finished consideration of it in about a fortnight.
No one wants to consider this Bill as a party political Bill. The Ministry of Transport is already jammed upstairs with a Bill which I believe arouses the strongest passions. I am not a member of the Committee considering it, thank goodness. The Bill which we are considering today is not such a Bill as that. I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to tell the Minister that there is a great fund of good will towards the Bill. He will make the greatest progress towards the end that he desires if he will consider it in that way and not take too much notice of what has been said in the other place. I hope that he will consider the Bill on its merits as it appears to the House of Commons and will bear in mind the wise words of the hon. Member for Guildford, who made it clear that we are so much ahead of the public in these matters and can bring a far more critical judgment to bear.
We have seen plenty of sorrow which resulted from road accidents, and I have witnessed road accident cases from the professional aspect of the matter. We wish the Minister well with the Bill, and hope that he will take advantage of the good will that there is for it in the spirit in which it is offered.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)
This is the third Road Traffic Bill since 1955. I was attracted by what the hon. Members for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) and Bradford, East (Mr. 1424 McLeavy) said, namely, that at this third attempt the Whips should be automatically disqualified at the discretion of the Government.
It would be a bold man who followed the hon. Member for Leeds, West but did not attempt to deal with at least some of the points which he made. I was particularly interested in that part of his speech dealing with safety straps. I consider that one of the great omissions from the Bill and from our road safety regulations is that there is no compulsion about the use of safety straps. I can well understand why it may be thought impossible to make use of such things compulsory.
I have here the Report of the Road Research Council for 1960, from which I should like to quote one sentence. In referring to safety belts, it states:This specification can be regarded as a preliminary one because a good deal of research remains to be done to establish the most desirable requirements".I urge my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to consider it as a matter of the very greatest importance that we should press on with research to discover not only the most suitable form of road safety harness but the most suitable fixtures for it and whether safety straps are being adequately put in cars. Like the hon. Member for Leeds, West, I read the article in Which?, and it bears out my belief that a great deal more must be done before we get this matter of safety belts and safety harness right. I hope that at some time in the future they will be compulsory for motorists.
With regard to the question of disqualification, the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) said that there was no point in increasing fines because magistrates would not award the maximum fine. In those circumstances, one is almost compelled to make disqualification automatic. That is one of the important reasons why there should be automatic disqualification, as proposed in the Bill.
I am, however, a little unhappy about Clause 4. If the disqualification is for less than four years, it is impossible to try to get the disqualification removed by the courts. I think that this is right. If wider use is to be made of disqualification by the courts, admirable and right though that is, it is hard that there 1425 should be a period during which one cannot apply to the courts to have it removed. To make disqualification automatic and at the same time to make it harder to have the disqualification removed is a little harsh.
I was once challenged by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport in an unguarded moment, which, no doubt, he has long since forgotten, to make a speech on speed limits. I expressed to him some unorthodox views after he gave me an excellent lunch and, incidentally, after which we were both driven to the House of Commons.
I should like my right hon. Friend to say clearly what he intends to do about Clauses 9, 10 and 11. Is it my right hon. Friend's intention that these restrictions should be experimental and imposed for only a short period? That appears to be the intention, but if one reads the Clauses carefully—and I am sure that we shall do so in Committee—it seems that he can prolong the period during which a temporary speed limit is imposed merely by bringing in a Statutory Instrument, and there is also the fact that he has power to impose speed limits on all roads in the country. If that is his intention, he ought to make it clear to the House. If, however, that is not his intention, we ought to know where we stand.
I was also interested to read in the Report of the Road Research Council that, in general, when speed limits were increased from 30 to 40 m.p.h. the number of accidents increased only very slightly. This is important, because many speakers have pointed out that one of the great difficulties about the present speed limits is that, rightly or wrongly, they are regarded with a certain amount of derision by the average motorist. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend proposes to institute a great drive to discover which limits can be raised so that we may have a workable and sensible system.
I may be in a minority of one, but I do not think that the experimental 50 m.p.h. speed limit has worked out satisfactorily. I frequently drive to Southend at times when the experimental 50 m.p.h. speed limit is in force. I speak with authority when I say that with the best will in the world it is impossible to drive at that speed on some stretches of the Southend road. The only time 1426 when it is possible to do so at a weekend in the summer is in the middle of the night when there is very little traffic on the road. I recognise that many people believe in restricting speed limits, but I am one of those who think that the case for them has yet to be made out. I do not think that in all cases the clamping on of a speed limit is the way to solve our problems.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will say something about driving instructors, because one Clause in the Bill empowers him to appoint them. This is an excellent idea, and I come back to the point made by some of my hon. Friends. One of the loopholes in our road traffic regulations is that it is possible to pass the driving test in a Mini-Minor one day, and the next evening to drive a Ferrari up the M.1 at 140 m.p.h. I know that this proposal must bristle with difficulties, but I think that there should be some additional tests for people who wish to drive cars capable of speeds higher than a certain limit which my right hon. Friend may think suitable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) is connected with the Institute of Advanced Motorists. I think that there may be a case for saying that people should not drive cars that can travel faster than a certain limit unless they have passed the test laid down for the advanced motorist, or any other test that my right hon. Friend sees fit to introduce. I think that one of our present troubles is that inexperienced drivers drive fast cars without the necessary experience to enable them to do so. This is why the drivers of fast cars get into disrepute.
I notice that my right hon. Friend can now lay down certain minimum, as well as maximum, speed limits on certain roads. It is proposed to lay down that those who drive at a speed below the minimum limit cannot be convicted merely on the evidence of one person. As no mention has been made of this, presumably those who drive at a speed above the maximum limit can be convicted on the evidence of one person.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Channon
I will, however, check this point and discuss it with my hon. Friend.
Every speaker has referred to the seriousness of traffic accidents, but we 1427 must not allow this question to get out of proportion. Some hon. Members have said that the more vehicles there are on the road, the greater will be the problem, and the greater the number of accidents. This, however, is contrary to our experience. In 1934 there were 2½million vehicles on the road and accidents resulted in 7,350 deaths. In 1939, five years later, there were 3 million vehicles on the road and 8,300 people were killed. Today there are about 10 million vehicles on the road and I think that the number of deaths for the first eleven months last year amounted to 6,234.
A great deal of credit is due to successive Ministers of Transport of both parties during the last twenty years for the way in which they have managed to improve the situation.
§ Mr. Channon
Yes, certainly credit is due to the drivers, and I was going to deal with them. I do not accept the strictures of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham. I think that drivers in this country are far better than those in any other country. This is a world-wide problem, and I think that British drivers, with a few irritating exceptions, are better than Continental drivers, and better even than drivers in the United States of America. It is extraordinary that although the number of vehicles has increased by 7 million, the number of deaths has decreased by 2,000.
Apart from the minor points that I have raised, and the omission of the major point about safety belts, I think that this Bill is to be widely commended, whether the Whips are on or not. Knowing the deep interest of the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) in legislation of this sort, I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House were grateful to him for his assurance that when the Bill is considered in Committee it will be dealt with expeditiously and efficiently. It should be the desire of us all to get this Measure on to the Statute Book as soon as possible.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
It is impossible to debate a subject with people with whom one agrees. I therefore 1428 do not find it any easier than other hon. Members have done to follow the previous speaker, because there is obviously a great deal of common ground on this Bill, I, too, welcome it.
The Bill is one small facet of the road safety problem. I very much regret, as I have said on previous occasions, that the Government's road building programme does not keep pace with our requirements. It is all right for the Minister to grimace, but I intend to say more later about the failure of the Government to produce a road building programme which the circumstances demand. All the good that may be done by this Bill and other safety measures will be neutralised because we already have a higher number of vehicles per mile than any other country, and this figure will be doubled by 1970. The road building programme just does not measure up to requirements.
Some hon. Members have referred to shock posters. I suspect that although they may shock the conscientious driver who, for a moment, may have been driving a little faster than he should have been, they have little material effect upon the accident-prone, or the customary careless or thoughtless driver. In this respect, the road safety problem really consists of two parts. We want to achieve the best reaction from people who are conscientious, but who may have a lapse occasionally and have an accident, and also from those who act almost continuously in an irresponsible manner. Only better enforcement and fiercer penalties will bring those people to heel.
Although the number of road accidents to children has decreased since the war—the Minister told us that in 1930 no fewer than 1,685 children were killed, whereas the figure is now down to 700—accidents on the road still account for more deaths of children between the ages of 5 and 15 than any other single cause. In fact, no less than half the accidents to children are road accidents.
I did not quite understand what the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) said about the total number of deaths and injuries from road accidents; he semed to have got hold of the wrong figures. I am told that the likelihood is that between now and 1970 as many 1429 people as now live in the London County Council area will be killed or injured on the road. That is just short of 3 million people. That is a colossal figure, but it is the rate at which people have been killed and injured on the road in the last eight or nine years. It is difficult to appreciate the real horror of this fact and to get over to the ordinary people the magnitude of the disaster.
During the next few years we must demand from motorists a continually rising standard of fitness and skill. A person who is being driven in a coach may get out if he discovers that the coach driver has been drinking, but the same person who is being driven in a friend's car may stay in that car even when he knows that the driver has had as much to drink as the coach driver had had. Whereas he would have written to the coach driver's firm, saying, "This is monstrous; you should not allow this person to drive a coach on the roads," he would not say anything to the friend who was driving him.
We have all been accepting this situation for too long, and we must not continue to accept it. We must accustom ourselves to the idea that anyone who drives a motor car must possess such a standard of fitness and skill that the danger of having an accident is reduced to a minimum.
I listened with interest to the intervention made by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) during the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) on the subject of medical fitness. My view is that these things may come later, but that we must first tackle the question of drink. We need to go further than the Bill goes. We must impose a limit on the amount of drink taken. Unless we do so we shall place the courts in a very difficult situation. Many legal wrangles will arise, and we shall not achieve the desired object.
This country may not have much experience or knowledge of the relationship between alcohol and road accidents, but the problem has been tackled in the Scandinavian countries and in the United States of America, and none of those countries has gone back on its legislation on this matter. Norway has had blood tests since 1926, and even in 1430 this country, as long ago as 1939 a committee set up by the Minister of Transport, under the chairmanship of Lord Alness, advocated tests for alcohol in the blood.
In Norway, a driver with a blood alcohol level of more than 0.05 per cent. is considered to be under the influence of drink, and the punishment is a prison sentence unless there are exceptional extenuating circumstances. The usual sentence for a first offence is three or four weeks' imprisonment. In Sweden, if a driver has a blood alcohol level between 0.05 per cent. and 0.15 per cent. the normal punishment is a fine, related to his income. If the blood alcohol concentration is over 0.15 per cent—which is roughly equivalent to three double whiskies—a prison sentence is imposed unless there are extenuating circumstances.
We shall not achieve the object of the Government and the Minister in relation to Clauses 1 and 2 unless we decide quickly what percentage of alcohol is considered safe for a person to consume before driving. We should not leave the decision to the courts. If we do there is likely to be unfairness of treatment as between one driver and another. We shall not create the required feeling that it is wrong to be in charge of a car if one has been drinking.
I repeat that it is no use taking the steps provided in the Bill, and many similar steps, to improve driving by encouraging people to take advanced driving tests, and so forth, unless the road building programme is dramatically stepped up. This year we are subsidising the railways to the tune of £150 million, although it is a form of transport which fewer and fewer people are using. About 13 people are using road transport to every one using the railways, at the moment, and the motorists are paying taxes amounting to £700 million a year. But the amount to be spent on road construction is only about £100 million a year—or £540 million over the next five years.
By 1970, we shall have 17 million cars on the road—nearly double the present number. Already, we have the most congested roads in Europe. I do not see how we shall be able to reduce the number of accidents, never mind the 1431 percentage—which may have been falling all the time—unless something much more drastic is done. The present programme is totally insufficient. For instance, only the other day I noticed, from an Answer given by the Minister, that when the M.36—through Lancashire and down to Staffordshire—is built there will still be a gap of about 50 miles between its southern end and the beginning of the M.1.
The legal processes are not completed yet, I understand, for the linking up of the M.1 with the road going up from Staffordshire to Lancashire, which should be completed next year. Therefore, all the traffic from around London which wants to go up to Lancashire will pile up the M.1 and then go on a narrow neck of, presumably, the old A.5 until it gets off it again just south of Staffordshire. I cannot imagine the chaos and accidents that that will cause.
We have the same kind of thing in Lancashire in respect of the Preston—Lancaster bypass—a horrible stretch of road. It is not the Minister's fault if he is not given the money. Until the money is provided, he cannot get on with the job and build an adequate system.
It is not only a question of motorways. Segregation of traffic is required where-ever it can possibly be done—between different forms of traffic, between people and traffic, and between traffic going in opposite directions. Until many more trunk roads are divided into dual carriageways we shall still have head-on crashes, with disastrous loss of life. This is all part of the business of road safety.
I am sure that I do not need to convince the Minister that this is desirable, but it is absurd that, in spite of endless debates in the House, often arising from Private Members' Motions which demand a bigger and bigger road programme, we still have a programme which, all the experts agree, is going forward at only half the rate at which it should be.
In commending the Bill, I would just add that at the same time as we press on with it, and increase safety, we must speed up the road-building programme until it is much faster than at the moment.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
The figures of road casualties which have been referred to today have emphasised the importance of the subject of road safety. Several hon. Members on both sides have rightly pointed out that our record in road casualties, computed in terms of vehicle miles, has improved steadily since before the war. I am not sure, though, whether it has been pointed out that the road casualty figures are substantially lower in Great Britain than in almost any other crowded industrial country. That is an extraordinarily fine record to have achieved on our roads, particularly since they are probably the most crowded in the world.
I mention that at the outset, because it is a picture which is not sufficiently painted. The fact is that, given the conditions on our roads, our record has been quite remarkable—something of which we should be proud. Not only do Ministers of Transport share the entitlement to praise but, I think, the motorists have, plainly, not been the mad dogs which they are sometimes alleged to be. Rather, they have been responsible citizens, making mistakes just as people do, but comparing very favourably indeed with motorists in any other country.
In particular, we have a remarkable achievement in the way in which we have reduced the numbers of children killed on the roads. Figures in that respect have been given. However, I think that my right hon. Friend was perhaps a little unfair to adults in his speech. Although it is perfectly true that it is more difficult to train adults in road safety, it is also true that the middle of life—the period of vigour of life—is an almost accident-free period.
Pedestrian accidents are particularly a danger of old age. It is people over 60, more than any others, who suffer from road accidents. Formerly, it was true that the children were almost as bad, but we have done a great deal for them. It is much more difficult to do anything very helpful for the old people. One can appreciate why they constitute so large a proportion of the number of people killed and injured on the roads.
I give emphasis to these facts because I am always a little mistrustful of anything which looks like the browbeating 1433 of motorists in the interest of getting even better figures. I think that we can perhaps do better, and I welcome some of the proposals in the Bill, but I agreed very much with what was said just now by the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt), that the main contribution to improving our figures still further must come from the development of our road programme. It is the separation of motor traffic from pedestrians, increasing the provision of dual-carriageways—
§ Mr. Bell
I merely emphasise that a contribution to road safety will come from those measures of road development which are in hand but which I should like to see going forward even more quickly than they are. [Interruption.] I do not want to interrupt any conversations which are taking place in the House at the moment, and I hope that I shall not be guilty of doing so. As I have said, I think that that is where the main contribution will come from. I agree that some will come from other aspects.
I have some doubts about certain points in the Bill. First of all, I would refer to the two Clauses about drink. I am sure that drink causes a great many road accidents, and I want to see that sort of thing stopped as far as possible. Nevertheless, I am not happy about the definition in Clause 1. After all, my right hon. Friend said that information coming to him from his expert advisers was to the effect that any alcoholic drinking before driving impaired the standard of driving. I can well believe that to be true.
However, if the definition which we put in Clause 1 is that a criminal offence shall be committed if the ability to drive properly has been impaired, I feel that courts will be faced with a very difficult problem. Does that mean that any drinking will be a criminal offence? I speak without any personal interest about this because I have been a non-drinker 1434 for very many years and am not likely to be faced with this problem. But I really think that one has to be careful to be fair to a large section of the community who, unlike myself, like to take alcoholic drink. Magistrates have a difficult job in administering the law, and if they are to hear expert evidence that any consumption of alcohol impairs the ability to drive, will they not ask themselves just what test they are to apply?
This is a difficult matter. Speaking from such professional experience as I have had of motoring cases, I honestly do not think that my right hon. Friend has been correctly informed that courts or juries are troubled by confusing the word "incapable", which appears in the present definition, with the phrase "drunk and incapable". The present phrase is "incapable of having proper control". If one has to have a definition in words which have to be interpreted by fallible human beings, I should have thought that was as good as any.
We shall have to look into this in Committee. I will not take up more time on it now, except just to make the comment that I think there is a great temptation on the part of those who take a great interest in motoring law and motoring matters generally to feel that they must get ever more convictions. That may be in some way a defect in the administration of justice. [Interruption.] I may have exaggerated a little, but I certainly know that in the debates on the 1956 Bill, particularly those in another place where Lord Goddard played a part, there was much reference to the number of people who slipped through the courts because of the unwillingness of juries to convict. [Interruption.] I am not saying anything against the Minister. I am saying that Lord Goddard said that in the debates on the 1956 Bill in another place, and I have no doubt that it has been said again on this Bill.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Lord Goddard is not the only one. Sir Gerald Dodson, the former Recorder of London, has gone on record as having expressed the view that juries are very often incapable of really judging in these matters because they feel that they themselves might be in the position of the defendant.
§ Mr. Bell
I am glad to have that confirmation from the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall). I think that it is true that many people have said this and that there is the approach to the subject that we must stop up the escape holes for people who are charged. That is all right if one decides in a sober and relaxed way—
§ Mr. Bell
—that people who are guilty are not being convicted. I merely say that one has to be extremely careful that one does not set out to make sure that almost everybody who is charged is convicted by making the definiton of the offence all-embracing. That is my point on the drunkenness aspect.
On the question of automatic disqualification, again I am not happy about it for the reasons given by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I share the dislike which has been expressed for automatic minimum penalties. They are to be resorted to only if they cannot be avoided, and resorted to with the utmost discretion. Here we are saying that when a man has been convicted of three of the offences stated in Part II of the First Schedule within a period of three years, he must be disqualified. My hon. Friend says that they could all be on the same day.
§ Mr. Bell
If one looks at the offences stated in Part II of the First Schedule, they are the less serious ones. The more serious ones are in Part I of the First Schedule, and three offences under either Part will lead to automatic disqualification. Hon. Members have referred to the case of a professional driver who in three years will normally drive as much as or more than an amateur driver will drive in ten years, so it is already a great hardship for the professional driver to have the same test of time applied to him as that applied to the casual driver.
When one looks at the nature of the offences many of them will be for speed 1436 ing. I remember that in the 1956 Bill it was proposed at first, until the House altered it, that two offences of speeding should lead to automatic disqualification. I am afraid that the pressure from the Department is always for greater strictness. That was cut out of the Bill in Committee. It was also resisted in another place where even Lord Goddard, who is really quite the flail of the motorists, said that he thought it absurd and that everyone else would think it absurd that a man should be disqualified for two offences of what he called "mere speeding". The noble Lord went on to say—he was at that time Lord Chief Justice—that he drove to the courts every morning through the Royal Parks, in which at that time the speed limit was 20 m.p.h., that his chauffeur always drove at 25 m.p.h. and was passed by everyone else on the road. I mentioned this to my right hon. Friend because there we had the Lord Chief Justice of England at the time saying that his car every morning exceeded the speed limit by 5 m.p.h. and was passed by every other car on the road, and saying also, in debate in another place, that it was really preposterous to disqualify people automatically for two offences of mere speeding. My right hon. Friend proposes in the Bill to disqualify automatically everyone who has three offences of speeding in three years. I say to him that that does not make sense even to the ordinary driver, and it certainly does not to the professional driver.
I have no axe to grind. I have been extremely lucky in that I have driven for twenty-five years and have never been charged with a driving offence, but which of us can say that he always observes the speed limit? I notice that when my right hon. Friend was making his opening speech he said that since he had become Minister of Transport he had always observed the speed limit. The inference is that before he became Minister of Transport he did not. It is true of all of us. Whether one gets caught or not on occasions when driving at 35 or 36 m.p.h. is partly a matter of luck, partly a matter of vigilance, but not a matter of virtue. I say to my right hon. Friend that one has to be a little practical about this in trying to get the good will of the motoring community as well as in trying to make a 1437 contribution to reducing accidents on the roads. I hope that in Committee we can improve this.
"Special reasons" have also been referred to by a number of hon. Members. I hope that we can undo the harm done by judicial decisions in the past, which have virtually said that "special reasons" in practice do not exist. I am certain that that was not what Parliament meant when it put them into the road traffic legislation in the 'thirties. What Parliament meant, I am sure, was that in certain cases a person might be disqualified unless the court for special reasons thought otherwise, and that it used "special reasons" as just a convenient phrase to indicate what it meant. It has since been held by the courts that what Parliament really meant was that a person must be disqualified unless some quite fantastic state of affairs was shown to have existed. I think it a great pity that that sensible and practical discretion should be taken away from the courts in that way.
I hope that during the Committee stage discussions we shall be able to consider a new Clause, designed to get rid of the offence of killing by dangerous driving. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and I opposed the introduction of such an offence vigorously during the Committee stage proceedings on the 1956 Measure. There were some splendid debates at that time, but we were beaten by a short head. I hope that I shall have the support of the right hon. Gentleman when we renew the battle during the discussions on this Bill. The creation of such an offence is absurd and illogical. It has no merit and was designed simply to try to catch out a motorist whom a jury would not convict because it did not think him guilty.
I was glad that the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) mentioned dogs. I supported the hon. Member on that matter during the debates in 1956. We feel strongly about accidents which are caused by the consumption of alcohol, but far more accidents are caused by dogs running loose on the road. People may argue which way they like about statistics and about the hidden cases of accidents caused by alcohol which do not appear in the figures of prosecutions, but, whatever people do with statistics, the fact is that there are 1438 more accidents resulting from dogs on the road than from drivers having taken drink.
I looked up the statistics for my own County of Bucks and I found that, according to the police records, one accident in every eleven was caused because a dog was running loose on the road. It is a very serious matter. People do not feel so strongly about this reason for accidents as they do about accidents caused by drink and this is because in this country the dog is the "golden calf", and pet animals can do no wrong. If we were more sensible we should apply to dog-owners—who allow their animals to run about on the roads where they may be the cause of one of the fantastic number of accidents due to dogs—the same sort of penalties which we talk about imposing on people who drive while they are drunk.
The hon. Member for Leeds, West and the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) both referred to the Committee stage proceedings on this Bill and hoped that the Whips would be off. I cannot remember that during the Committee stage proceedings in 1956 there was much trouble with the Whips. I do not know whether they were on or off, but I do know that it is the only Committee on a Government Bill on which I have served where I was told by the Whips after the first few meetings that I need not turn up unless I wanted to. I think, therefore, that we can look forward to happy and friendly discussions during the Committee stage, where all views will be widely canvassed and where my right hon. Friend will be listening to them in a friendly and eager way, anxious to meet the reasonable desires of hon. Members and to excise the faults in his own Bill.
Having said all these quite critical things, may I end by saying that when making a speech on Second Reading one does say such things, and that during the Committee stage discussions one picks out those things with which one does not agree, and that we shall do. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this Bill and also upon all that he has done during his tenure of office as Minister. He has made a great contribution not only to road safety but to the general convenience of all traffic. I think that this is a valuable Measure. It will have 1439 my support. But before I vote for its Third Reading I shall give my right hon. Friend a lot of trouble during the Committee stage, and I look forward to doing so.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. A. V. Hilton (Norfolk, Southwest)
Like other hon. Members, I give a general welcome to this most important Bill. During the past year or so the Minister of Transport has been "under fire" perhaps more than any other member of the Government, and it is pleasant that for once the right hon. Gentleman should have some nice things said about him.
This is a Bill over which hon. Members on both side of the House may be united, because we are all concerned about the tremendous number of road accidents which leave a trail of dead and injured in their wake. Anything which can be done to reduce this alarming number of accidents will be welcomed, not only by hon. Members but by people all over the country.
I wish to follow up the point made by the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt), although I am not interested in "Lib-Lab" pacts. The hon. Member said that in a way the Minister was responsible for the tremendous number of road accidents because he had not been provided with sufficient money to enable the roads to be brought up to the required standard. I can speak with authority on this matter, as I am a member of the Highways Committee of the Norfolk County Council. There is no doubt that many of the roads in Norfolk are not up to the standard required to carry the traffic which uses them. I refer to the minor roads. We continue to ask the Minister to give us more money to spend on them, but we do not often get any extra help from him.
The trunk roads are under the control of the Minister, and the county councils act as his agents. There are a number of accident "black spots" on the trunk roads in Norfolk, and again we have pleaded with the Minister for the money which is necessary to eradicate these black spots. We are prepared to do the work if the right hon Gentleman will supply the "lolly". I hope that 1440 the Minister will appreciate that this is not a criticism, but a plea to him to bear this matter in mind. "Give us the money; we will do the work".
While on the subject of roads, there is another point which I should like to put to the Minister; and upon which I am sure that all hon. Members will agree with me. Much of the new road construction is of a very high quality, but the surface, when finished, is shiny and slippery, so that when there is a frost these roads become veritable "skating rinks". This has been the cause of numerous "pile-ups" during frosty weather. Have the Minister and his advisers given sufficient thought to this matter? The right hon. Gentleman will know as well as anyone of the tremendous number of accidents which may result from this sort of road surface at certain times of the year.
§ Mr. Marples
If the hon. Member will give me particulars of any road which has recently been resurfaced in the wrong manner, I shall look into the question I can assure him that we are closely in touch with the Road Research Laboratory on the specifications for road surfacing.
§ Mr. Hilton
I am obliged to the Minister for that assurance. I will send him some information. I hope that he will be able to deal with it.
I notice that my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) has just left the Chamber after sitting here for a long time during the debate. He, in particular, raised the question of the danger of driving while drinking. For the past couple of years, especially at Christmas time, the Minister has made special appeals to the public, such as, "If you drink, don't drive; if you drive, don't drink." I believe that those appeals were very successful, although we are still much concerned at the high rate of accidents at Christmas time.
I am sure that, as my right hon. Friend said, drink is the cause of far too many road accidents. I am pleased to see that provision is made in the Bill to deal with those who drink to excess and become involved in accidents. As a magistrate, I welcome the provision dealing with disqualification. I am the last person in the world to wish to 1441 deprive anyone of personal freedom, but I believe that people who drive whilst under the influence of drink are not only a danger to the public, but also a danger to themselves. They ought to be saved from this folly. Therefore, I am glad that more stringent measures are to be taken and I welcome this provision for disqualification.
In these days, for many people who drive when it is not safe for them to do so, a fine is not a big punishment. Many people can pay a fine of £50 or £100 and it makes no difference to them. Imprisonment is a worse punishment, but to disqualify them from holding a licence is perhaps the greatest deterrent of all. Therefore, I welcome this provision in the Bill.
Something else in the Bill which I welcome is the Clause which says that the age for a driver driving a vehicle with a trailer behind it shall be raised from 17 to 21. I do not have to remind the House of the great danger of that sort of conveyance, especially in the summer in seaside areas where we see people with not very powerful cars towing big caravans. That can be very dangerous. This change is a move in the right direction. In the summer particularly, when caravans abound on the roads, the roads are full of other traffic. This suggestion made by the Minister is a wise one.
Although welcoming that, I am convinced that the Minister has made a mistake in his proposal to reduce from 17 to 16 the age at which a person can drive a tractor on the road. It does not make sense that the same Minister who, quite rightly, decides that a youngster of 17 is too young to drive a car drawing a trailer, should say that a youngster of 16 is old enough to drive a tractor on the road drawing a trailer. A tractor can be an extremely dangerous vehicle on the road if the wrong person is at the wheel. I cannot understand why the Minister has made this change, which does not seem logical.
I shall remind the House of some of the dangers of tractor driving. The official figures of accidents on farms during the past year have just been reported. There were 141 people killed on farms last year. That is 32 more than in the previous year, although there was a reduction in the labour force of nearly 20,000, 1442 I quote those figures to give some idea of the danger that a tractor can be. Of those accidents, the major hazard was caused by overturned tractors. If boys of 16 are to be allowed to drive tractors on the road, often with trailers, laden combines and other heavy equipment behind them, it seems only common sense to say that the danger on the roads will be increased.
It has been suggested that this could be a form of cheap labour. I do not agree with that, because at the most there could be only 12s. a week difference in the wage rate for a boy of 16 and for a boy of 17. I am not complaining about a 16-year-old boy driving while on the farm—I should be out of order to discuss that; I do not want to pursue that question—but I am positive that a 16-year-old boy should not be allowed to drive on the roads. The present age limit should remain. We have all been young. We know the temptation one has when young to put one's foot down a little harder. If the Minister shelved this proposal, and allowed the age limit to remain at 17, he would do a good thing for the farming industry.
Apart from the few criticisms I have made, I regard the Bill, generally speaking, as a very good one, spoiled only in this one respect. I appeal to the Minister to think again about this. If, by allowing the age limit to remain at 17, he can prevent a few accidents and save only one life, it will be well worth doing.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. R. W. Elliott (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)
I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton). I agree with much of what he said. He finished on a farming point. As a farmer, I am inclined to agree that nowadays there is considerable danger on our roads with tractors—not, as the hon. Member reasonably said, because of the tractors themselves, but mainly because of the enormous implements they draw. I wonder if there is much difference between the proficiency of a boy of 16 and that of a boy of 17. Nevertheless, I have some sympathy for the hon. Member's point of view. I also have much sympathy with his point about drivers drawing trailers behind cars. These, especially in summer, seem to be very dangerous vehicles. The hon. Member's 1443 point about the unequal effect of fines on certain sections of society was also reasonable.
I may be the last speaker on this side of the House in this interesting debate. I very much want to commend, not only this Government, but previous Governments, for all that has been done to improve our roads so that motorists and pedestrians can proceed in reasonable safety. Although a number of hon. Members have been mildly critical of my right hon. Friend, I heartily commend his efforts on road safety since he has been in office. I commend his Christmas party campaign, which did a lot of good. I hope he will go on with it. I am sure that it succeeded in making the public understand the grave and extra danger of festive periods like Christmas.
There are many ways in which danger on the roads can be overcome. Engineering has been mentioned. I recently had a very good illustration of the great part engineering can play in road safety when I was shown an accident map of the Preston area. It was very distressing to look at, because every red headed pin indicated a fatal accident over the past two years. But there was not one red headed pin on the Preston by-pass. This is a first class example of the part engineering has played in road safety. New roads and improvements to roads do much to help.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West spoke of black spots in Norfolk. We all have them, but this Government and this Minister have done much to eliminate black spots. There is much more to be done, but a great deal is now going on and has gone on during the past few years. If we could measure the effect of this on road safety it would be proved that it is considerable.
A reasonable tribute has been paid to the part education authorities have played. The police in many counties by their courteous approach have done much to make the roads safer.
Much has been said about the shock effect of signs, and about the fact that the shock of a certain poster soon wears off. As I approach the City of Newcastle-upon-Tyne I never fail to notice a large sign just outside the city which reads: "We love our children; drive carefully" 1444 I think that it is a good sign—probably because I have four children—and I am sure that signs like mat play an important part in our safety provisions.
The modern motorist has many privileges. The motor car is a remarkably efficient means of getting from one place to another, and the improvement of roads and road surfaces in the last few years has made driving much more pleasant, I believe that they also increase safety. The modern motorist, having all these new roads and these better driving conditions, must now accept a strengthening of road discipline. Life is a game of chance, and one sometimes wonders whether it will be possible to survive its many hazards. I can think of no more irritating thought than that my life might be prematurely ended by a drunken driver.
It is, therefore, reasonable that the Government should now introduce legislation to deal with drunken driving. That legislation has not been quickly introduced; we have thought of it for years. A great deal has been said about the social habits of the nation, but the increasing death rate on the roads and the obvious fact that drink plays its part in it makes it quite plain that we must do something about it. Clause 2 is necessary and desirable, and I welcome it.
It is easy to pick out human weaknesses, but one that is fairly common to most motorists is that we all believe we can hold our liquor. We vary, of course, in our "safe" capacity. Age, size, weight and many other factors produce many variations in judgment and behaviour, but in the face of our own peculiar optimism that we are all right in our cups, that we know our own capacity, there must be some means of measuring the quantity of alcohol in the human body and having that measurement used as evidence against us. At the same time, it is desirable to have that evidence influencing rather than in itself leading to conviction, and I should like to see Clause 1 somewhat modified. There should also be the need to produce evidence of inability to drive.
There has been some hesitation in determining the type of test of the amount of alcohol in the human body, and it is quite right that the Medical Research Council and the Home Office should have got together to decide what 1445 test would be reasonably accurate and could contribute to justice being done, even if not ensuring it. I should like my right hon. Friend to look again at the test methods, especially the breathalyser, about which I still have certain doubts as to its efficiency.
We should recognise that this very intricate machine will be in the hands of policemen rather than trained chemists. I would hesitate, too, to commend entirely the blood and urine tests, unless they are made, as my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) suggested, in hospitals or police stations. Another reasonable suggestion is that a defendant should be provided with a certificate from the public analyst.
In the ranks of the professional drivers there is considerable concern about Clause 3. I am wondering whether offences may occur under Part II of the First Schedule which might lead to unjust disqualification. There can be no doubt that the fear of the loss of one's licence is the strongest incentive towards safety, but road haulage workers, bus drivers, commercial travellers and many others are concerned at the possibility of the loss of their livelihood by the proposed Measure.
Of the convictions covered by this part of the Bill some consideration should be given in Committee to the circumstances of the offender in relation to the actual offence. This part of the Bill seems drastically to limit the discretion of the courts. I have a great deal of confidence in the judiciary and the days are past—and one learns this from the various cases that have taken place—when one need say, "There but for the grace of God go I." In the face of the existing toll on the roads juries have become more responsible, and I know of magistrates who are very severe—and reasonably so—when they have before them a driver who has been drunk in charge. Nevertheless, I should like to see special reasons being applied to the person concerned as well as to the facts surrounding the case.
The Bill is designed to make our roads safer, and some useful additions might have been made to it. For instance, unsafe vehicles must represent a tremendous danger. I welcome, as must 1446 other hon. Members, the fact that old vehicles are to be tested when they reach the age of seven rather than ten years, and I hope that we will make even further progress in this direction in the years to come. An interesting point was made by the hon. Member for Twickenham concerning vehicles which have been involved in accidents. My hon. Friend referred to these vehicles having been written off and later reappearing once again on the roads, and he referred to a vehicle owned by his son. Perhaps some form of control in this direction might be applied by the insurance companies.
Advanced driving tests are considerably effective towards improving driving standards. Public service vehicle drivers must pass an advanced test, but what about the heavy road haulage vehicle drivers? I cannot help feeling that it would be desirable for drivers of very heavy vehicles which carry great loads to pass an additional test. I sometimes wonder when I see cattle trucks how many more layers of sheep can be piled on their vehicles. It used to be that an average load of cattle from, say, Northumberland was about 100 sheep. I am told that about 500 sheep can be carried in present-day vehicles.
There is a vast difference between between driving a lorry laden with 500 sheep and driving an 8 h.p. car, and I would therefore like the Minister to consider the possibilitiy of an extra test for the heavy vehicle driver. After all, increased overhead costs in the road haulage industry have meant bigger loads, but still in the charge of one man.
A reasonable suggestion was made during a recent meeting of the North-Eastern Accident Prevention Federation which might have applied in the case mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) when he expressed fear about the motor cycle being a potential instrument of danger. We all agree about this; that the motor cycle is dangerous, for it is the chosen vehicle, for economic and other reasons, of the young driver. The view expressed at this federation meeting was that when people pass their driving tests the Ministry of Transport should make their names available to local authorities which might then write to the new 1447 licence holders and, while congratulating them, mention that they are entering a period of extreme danger as very new drivers. I thought that was a very reasonable suggestion which ought to be followed.
I conclude by commending this Bill which I believe is a substantial step forward in the enormous battle against death on the road. I am sure that it will receive during the Committee stage, as it has had during the Second Reading debate, the commendation of both sides of the House. I look forward to its reaching the Statute Book.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I intend to speak very briefly. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) wishes to wind up for the Opposition at about five minutes past nine, and the short time that I shall occupy will probably enable another hon. Member to speak before my hon. Friend does.
I agree with every word that the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott) has said, and I shall not, therefore, follow him in any of the matters which he raised. I wish to refer to commercial vehicles. We require much stricter control over the repair and maintenance of commercial vehicles. The Chief Constable of Sheffield has recently made a statement as a result of the spot checks that have been made in the city of all types of vehicles during the past twelve months. He found that one vehicle in every six is defective in some way or another, and this includes commercial vehicles as well as private motor cars.
We have all seen in the newspapers in recent months reports of appalling accidents which have been caused by heavy commercial vehicles. We must have a much stricter code of repair and maintenance of these vehicles. Some of them are operated by small firms that have no garages or facilities for repair and maintenance. They are parked in streets or on parking lots, and many of them are a complete menace to the community because they are not kept in a proper state of repair. Some of them are parked outside terrace houses in my constituency, and they are not only a menace when they are being moved about 1448 but are a nuisance when they are parked. Some are parked on pavements, thus cutting off light from the houses. In many cases repairs are carried out on the streets and the revving of engines, noise, fumes and dirt cause an intolerable nuisance to the residents who live nearby. It seems to me that there are omissions from this Bill, and that this is one of them.
I understand from the Chief Constable of Sheffield that he is allowed to ban parking in a street but that the ban must apply to all vehicles. He cannot discriminate between heavy commercial vehicles and cars. Some of the residents have their own motor cars, and, as these terrace houses have no garages, the residents are allowed to park their cars in the streets. If the chief constable wants to ban the parking of heavy lorries he also has to stop the residents parking their cars, which he does not want to do for it would be very unfair. Therefore, provision should be made in the Bill to prevent the parking of heavy vehicles in residential streets.
I wish to make two suggestions to the Parliamentary Secretary for his consideration. First, licences should not be granted for commercial vehicles which do not operate from garages where repairs and maintenance can be carried out. In other words, no licence should be granted to commercial operators—this applies to coach operators too—who have not got bases from which to work where repairs and maintenance can be carried out.
Secondly, the Bill should provide authority to the police to ban this parking of heavy vehicles, particularly vehicles owned by firms which have no proper garage accommodation. It is an intolerable nuisance and ought to be stopped.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
I think that I am the only speaker in the debate today who is not really happy about the Bill, for several reasons. I spend my working life dealing with accidents. The House may recall that, about six years ago, I set up a national council which was concerned with safety, and it was only with great personal regret that, two years ago, I felt that I had not time to carry on my work with it I have given a 1449 great many radio and television broadcasts and lectures on industrial safety, home safety and road safety, and it is no exaggeration to say that not a week of my working life passes without my having to deal professionally with at least two or three cases involving safety. Last year, when I thought that this Bill was coming before the House, I personally analysed 200 of my own cases.
The real issue before the House is not one on which we can afford sentiment. It is a scientific issue in the first place, and thereafter it is a legal issue. The question confronting the House can be stated simply. Will the Bill reduce accidents? That is the test. If it will not, how best can we reduce accidents? Further, as a separate question, how far can we reduce the extent of injury arising from accidents?
In my opinion, Clause 1 will not lead to the prevention of a single accident. The existing test at law is perfectly satisfactory. Most of the judges and chairmen of quarter sessions in and around the London area prefer the existing test. I have seen hundreds of cases in the course of my experience and I have no reason to think that the change which we seek to enact by Clause 1, to impose a test of impairment, will improve the administration of the law.
Until about 1955 or 1956, it was quite plain that juries tended to acquit in motor cases. There was no doubt about it. In past years, in cases involving dangerous driving or driving while being to some extent under the influence of alcohol, the tendency was for juries to acquit. The experience today of those who, as I do, spend their life in this work is to the contrary.
The general view now of the great majority of members of the Bar engaged in these cases is that magistrates, chairmen and juries have quite rightly toughened up. Why?—very largely because of the admirable work done by my right hon. Friend and previous Ministers in bringing to the public mind a realisation of the inherent dangers on the roads.
How best should we deal with the problem? First, I believe that it is vital to have a really good propaganda campaign. If I may say so, I can think of no one better qualified for the task than my right hon. Friend. I sincerely 1450 mean that. I can think of no organisation less fitted for the task than Ro.S.P.A. It was very largely because of that organisation's inability to understand public relations that I started the safety council to which I have referred. All the best posters have been those produced by that safety council, the picture of the widow and all the rest. It is necessary to use a very wide range of posters and advertisements of that kind.
It is necessary also to bring home to the public the dangers at Christmas time and other times and do everything we can in that rspect. It is necessary to have good schools of instruction, not only because they teach drivers well but because they are seen at work throughout the country. There is work to be done in regard to the construction of motor vehicles, the bumpers and other attachments, which may reduce the extent of injuries. All these things should be looked at.
Turning to the provisions in the Bill, from about Clause 6 to the end they are all admirable, although there may be a few Committee points to be dealt with. As for the other Clauses, the purport of the Bill is to say that we in the House of Commons no longer trust our judges, no longer trust our magistrates and no longer trust our juries. That is what this Bill is saying. It is saying that in terms in this way. It is saying that we insist upon an automatic disqualification, because we do not think that the courts will be sufficiently severe in the punishments they are likely to mete out.
In 1930, when we introduced the automatic disqualification, for driving under the influence of drink, for a period of twelve months, I always thought that that was very unfortunate, because it would become the automatic maximum. We made it a twelve months' disqualification, and, automatically, that became the period which was accepted. I always thought that it should be abolished. I should like to see a complete discretion to disqualify by the magistrates and by the judge at quarter sessions in all cases where there is any dangerous driving, or where, on a second offence, there is careless driving.
May I deal with one more important point? In Clause 3 (1), instead of the 1451 word "shall", I would apply a discretion. I should like to develop that argument, but I will leave it for the moment. Under Clause 3 (2), where we have a discretion given to the magistrate, two of these offences do not involve safety at all in many cases. They are offences Nos. 10 and 12. Failure to comply with traffic directions may have no element of road safety involved in the circumstances of the case.
If, for example, a motorist is waiting at a "Halt" sign at a given time, if he is waiting at a red light at a given time, if he looks both ways and sees that the road is clear and then crosses, notwithstanding the fact that he is crossing against the red light and he is breaching a statutory duty, it may not, of necessity, involve road safety at all. It is put there to guide and assist him. It may be that if he goes across he may do it at his peril, but he does it quite deliberately. Therefore, it does not necessarily involve an offence which is against road safety.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I see, it is No. 13.
At any rate, in that part, there are jostled up together dangerous driving and careless driving, two perfectly clear offences which are mixed up with speeding and traffic directions, which are not in themselves necessarily matters of road safety. We legislate for them to protect the public, but they are not of necessity so.
I now turn to another aspect—the provisions of Clause 2 (3). This subsection is, I believe, a complete waste of time. It provides that for a third offence a motorist must be disqualified for six months. This is something which juries 1452 will not stomach. They will acquit, and magistrates will acquit, because they will not let somebody be disqualified for six months because he has been found guilty of two trivial offences before.
I will give an example from my own experience. One night, I was stopped when driving along the Mall. I was exceeding the 20-mile-an-hour speed limit, but I had already stopped at the light at Trafalgar Square going into the Mall. Admittedly, I started on the amber light. There was a police constable there, but I did not notice his hand stretched out, so that I did not comply with his signal to stop. The policeman called out and, finally, I did stop. I was guilty of three offences on that occasion—crossing the light, driving at over 20 m.p.h. and not complying with the policeman's traffic direction.
Under the provisions of the Bill, if a motorist were charged with three technical offences which were committed on the same day, and if the first two offences were proved, he could be disqualified for six months on the third. We must look at this matter carefully. When we come to consider it in Committee, we must try to ensure a just balance between the needs of road safety and fairness to the driver.
We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole), who—and I say this with no discourtesy—has put the case of the temperance lobby, as he is fully entitled to do. I am putting forward the purely professional view of someone who has had to study accidents. There are parts of the Bill which are unfortunate and which can be remedied in Committee. I hope that they will be. In 1956, we spent a long time on the Road Traffic Act of that year. Now we must deal with the subject again. If the matters to which I have referred can be put right in dispassionate debate, this will be a good Bill.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
The Minister can be a proud and happy man at the reception which the Bill has received. This must be one of the few occasions when he can honestly feel that way about a Bill that he has introduced. It would be churlish of me if I did not join right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on 1453 both sides of the House who have said that we recognise that this is a genuine and sincere attempt to try to deal with some—and I emphasise the word "some"—of these problems.
None of us can ignore the value of some of the remarks which have been put forward by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). We are fortunate that the Bill has been before the House of Lords on two occasions—a very rare occurrence. Those of us who have done our homework have read some of the debates in another place, and what the hon. Gentleman has just said reflects remarks made by Lord Denning, who threw grave doubts on Clause 1. To an ordinary layman like myself, these comments of Lord Denning were worth reading and trying to understand. In Committee the Minister will have legal advice with him and we shall hear more about this matter.
The Bill shows the Minister at his best—as a man who is keen about roads and road safety. Whatever critical remarks I have made about him in the past—they have been many and there will be plenty more—in dealing with roads he has tried hard to match the problems of the 1960s. If he has not been able to match them sufficiently, it is because he is so limited in his money resources. With what he has been given, however, he has tried to have a go.
I should like to make the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Roads—no more and no less. In dealing with that problem alone, there is probably more than enough for one man and one Department. I would include, of course, not only road safety but also planning and traffic. Such a Minister would have to be almost all-powerful. We live in a democracy which has so many checks and balances in order to ensure that the individual can be heard that, as a consequence, any Minister in charge of road development, planning and safety, is given so many reasons why he should do nothing in certain matters by so many people who try to stop him in the good old name of democracy that nothing gets done.
I said in a debate last week on the reorganisation of London's local government, when I spoke from this Front Bench, that I believed that traffic and traffic planning ought to cover a much 1454 wider area than is proposed by the Government. I would make the area as big as the Abercrombie area of about 3,400 miles, and I would make the Minister chairman of the committee with overall powers. I do not say that he should deal with the matter entirely on his own with no checks—Parliament should have certain rights to discuss some of his schemes—but at the end of the day, I would give him the right to do the job.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) said, we on this side speak for ourselves in this debate. Road safety and associated matters cut across parties. No one party can claim to have a special prerogative about safety on the roads. I speak for myself, and I am one of those who believe in giving the Minister more power to enable him to do a better job.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt). It is good to hear the Liberal Party's voice now and again on these matters. When one considers the future, this is one of the frightening things. In a few years' time, when there will be twice the present number of vehicles on the roads, there will be twice the number of heartaches.
The other Monday, when we had an unofficial strike in London, I was driving a car. I must have been mad to be doing so on a day like that, but there it was. There was so much traffic on the roads that everything went wrong. Everything devised by traffic engineering was not worth the paper that it was written on. Every roundabout was blocked. Every bridge was blocked. Every road worth calling a road was blocked, and cars were delayed in traffic jams for three or four hours. People in vehicles coming from the north over the bridges were told that they would have to be diverted. That is the sort of thing which could happen unless we have real planning and a Minister responsible for roads in the coming years. Therefore, I say in my opening remarks to the Minister that I think that we should give him more power to his elbow.
However, the Bill only just starts to touch the fringe of the problem. The one big question which has been posed in this debate is whether the Bill will cut down the number of casualties on our 1455 roads. If it cuts the number by only one it will have been justified. I am one of those who believe that it is at least a genuine attempt to try to reduce the number. I do not belong to any temperance lobby [Laughter.] I hope that hon. Members will not get too excited by that. I belong to a very moderate lobby. However, when one analyses the figures produced by organisations with no special vested interest in the matter, such as the Road Research Laboratory and bodies of that kind, which have considered this matter objectively, it cannot be denied that drink plays an enormous part in accidents. There can be no doubt about that.
The Minister quoted a Fabian pamphlet. I was glad that he did so. It only goes to show how non-partisan this debate has been. However, I believe that he was in the Labour Party at one time, and perhaps that accounts for it. This pamphlet says that nineteen people are being killed every day, that 230 are being injured every day and that 700 are being slightly injured every day. It goes on to give percentages relating to the number of cases in which people were killed and in which it was known that alcohol was consumed. I commend anyone who has doubts about this matter to read this pamphlet.
The pamphlet shows that out of 161 people killed on the road, 90 had been drinking, 55 had been driven by drivers who had been drinking and 14 had been driving. Reference has been made time and time again to the large number of accidents which occur after ten o'clock on Saturday night. The Minister is right in saying that, in considering a Bill which is called a Road Traffic Bill but which, to a large extent concerns road safety, the question of drink cannot be ignored. It is against that background that I support the increased penalties proposed by the Bill. I also support the Bill because of the principle in Clause 2 with regard to tests for alcohol in the blood.
I should like to make one or two general comments before dealing with the details of the Bill. The Minister talked about this three E's—engineering, education and enforcement. I pay credit to the traffic engineers in the right hon. Gentleman's Department. They have done a magnificent job in the last few 1456 years. They have proved that with a little ingenuity, by introducing one-way traffic, by preventing right-hand turns, by the removal of some of the stupid bollards one sees on the roads and by the diversion of traffic, it is possible even on the worst roads to improve conditions. By turning traffic on to minor roads and then at a suitable point bringing it back on to the main roads, his engineers have achieved an enormous speed up in traffic. This work has considerably improved our existing road system, but we must have a road-building programme far in excess of anything that the Minister is contemplating at the moment.
Many factors which contribute to accidents today are not referred to in the Bill. For example, no mention is made of the parking of vehicles at night. The situation is becoming impossible in many towns. Cars are allowed to park at night without showing any lights. If a motorist turns off the main road into a minor one, he finds it particularly hazardous to continue his journey because cars are parked without lights on both sides of the road.
This problem must be dealt with somehow. The problem in my constituency is that at night about 400 lorries are parked on the roads, and sometimes on the pavements. Apparently the police can do nothing about this because, they say, there is no alternative to parking in the streets. It seems to me, therefore, that this Minister and this House must deal with this problem of the parking of cars at night.
How right the Minister was to talk about education. Those who are motorists must sometimes wonder whether they are sufficiently educated to cope with the problems with which they are faced every day. I am scared of going out in my car, because I am a Member of Parliament and I know that if I commit an offence and am caught the story will probably make headlines. The Minister talked about being careful when driving because he is the Minister. This is perfectly true. I am not suggesting that Members drive better than anybody else, but I think that being a Member makes one even more careful. Some people do not seem to care or worry about how they drive. It is a truism to say that if people drove 1457 with a little care and thought for others the situation would be eased considerably.
I deal now with pedestrians. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) did not get an opportunity to take part in the debate. I wish that he had, because he is Chairman of the Pedestrians' Association and has an important part to play in road safety. There is nothing in the Bill dealing with pedestrians, though some appalling accidents are caused by their stupidity. There is no other word for it. I am delighted to hear that the Minister intends to set up an experimental system of lights whereby pedestrians will cross the road only when the lights are in their favour. I am not sure whether the Minister intends to introduce penalties for pedestrians who cross against the lights. If motorists are penalised for crossing against the lights, I think that a similar law must be applied to pedestrians. I think that pedestrians ought to be penalised if their flagrant disregard of traffic conditions leads to accidents.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I am sure that all pedestrians will welcome an all-red period. I am sure that they will be only too pleased to be disciplined so that they might escape danger from motorists. I am sure that they will be delighted if they are given the facility of crossing during an all-red period.
§ Mr. Mellish
I do not see how we canask pedestrians to assist unless we give them a chance to cross the road in safety. But if they do not take that chance and cross the road when the lights are green for cars and red for them, they ought to be prosecuted. I do not see any reason why pedestrians should get away with doing just what they like. The action of one pedestrian can cause death to the driver of a car, and in certain circumstances cause terrible damage to the car, and he then tries to vanish in the crowd because he is ashamed of what has happened. I want it to go out from this House that this is not an anti-motorist Bill, but since it is the driver of the vehicle who possesses this lethal weapon it is inevitable that the Government must first concern themselves with him.
§ Mr. Holt
Does the hon. Member really mean what he has just said about pedestrians? If he has the opportunity of enforcing such action, I can assure him he will have a lot of trouble. Pedestrians must be physically segregated by fences of the type we now have at the bottom of Parliament Street. That is a very desirable arrangement. That is the way to cope with the problem. We should get into awful trouble if, on every occasion when a pedestrian stepped off the pavement because it had no fence, he was liable to be fined.
§ Mr. Mellish
I am sorry if I conveyed the wrong impression. I want pedestrians to be assisted to cross the roads, but I support the principle behind the Minister's experiment. I hope that it will succeed, and that it will be developed throughout the country. But if it is developed, penalties must be imposed for the pedestrians who abuse the rules. It is as simple as that.
It has already been said that certain vested interests have taken part in the debate, and I must declare that I have been asked to put the point of view of the union with which I am associated. It is right that its view should be expressed. It represents 1 million people—without doubt the vast majority of those who drive motor vehicles. It strongly objects to and is horrified at the prospects arising from Clause 3, which disqualifies for six months automatically after the third offence.
My case has already been put very well by other hon. Members, and I do not want to bore the House by stating it again, except to point out that those who drive these vehicles—especially passenger service vehicles—are already subjected to a very special test before they can obtain a licence to drive those vehicles. They are, therefore, specially qualified, and it would be monstrous if the courts were not given a discretion not to apply this penalty after the third offence. I am not trying to defend the more serious offence of dangerous or reckless driving. I agree that in such cases licences should be taken away after the third offence.
The union for which I am speaking, which has a great interest in the Bill, has asked me to say that it welcomes most of its provisions. The Minister 1459 thus has another friend in court—a very rare friend—the Transport and General Workers' Union. It supports the Bill, and does not oppose a general tightening up the law concerning dangerous driving and the imposition of severer penalties for serious offences.
I now turn to Clause 2, which deals with the question of the amount of alcohol in the blood. I do not know what other hon. Members feel, but I am convinced that drink is a major contributory factor in many accidents. If that is so, it is a good reason for supporting the proposal to introduce urine tests, breathalyser tests and the taking of blood samples, for use as evidence in court. In my humble way I have tried to ascertain the views of more qualified people, including medical people. I commend all hon. Members to read the speech made by Lord Taylor in another place. It is a fascinating speech. I had the chance of having a long chat with him, besides speaking to other doctors.
I am advised that the breathalyser is a first-class machine, which should be used in this country. But the equipment must be standard throughout the country. Lord Taylor was right to emphasise that the machines will be operated by experts and not ordinary policemen. They will also be maintained by experts. I should like some general assurances from the Parliamentary Secretary tonight—or he can give them in Committee—about the reactions of the Government to the introduction of a machine of this character, which is brand-new to this country. The Minister talked about education. We must educate the public in this matter and sell them the idea that this test will be scrupulously fair. I am told that the breathalyser can give two samples—one for the defence and one for the prosecution.
The effect of what Lord Taylor said is that the introduction of these tests would mean that any man who drank more than two pints of beer or two whiskies would be subject to the charge of having alcohol in his blood to such an extent as to impair his driving. I believe that the time is fast coming when we had better settle for that. I speak as one who very much likes to go into a pub on the right occasion and drink beer. I put it on record that I do not 1460 drink whisky because I do not like it. In that respect, I am sorry for my Scottish hon. Friends.
I think it is absolutely essential for us to face this. I believe that in the light of the figures which I gave earlier, we have no alternative but to adopt this measure in view of what Lord Taylor said. Lord Taylor put it in very fair, simple and non-technical terms which I can understand. He said that the alcoholic content produced by the amounts of alcohol which I have just mentioned would be 50 milligrammes in every 100 millilitres of blood, and that that content alone was enough to impair the ability of a person to drive. Consequently, I put on record my view that if these tests axe worth while they should be made compulsory.
That is my personal view. I say that speaking entirely for myself. In this, I am in conflict with my own organisation, the Transport and General Workers' Union. The union is worried, and I am sure that the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies), as a lawyer, will be intrigued by the argument. It says that it objects to the possibility of what was called an unofficial permissible alcohol level being applied throughout the courts and people being prosecuted on that basis, and that basis alone. However, as a layman I hold the view that if these tests are to work and if they are to do the sort of job which I and, I think, the Government want them to do, we cannot avoid that level sometimes being introduced. It will be accepted that there will be a certain standard and that if a person goes over it he will be liable to prosecution. As to the amount of the fine and so on, that is, naturally, a matter for the decision of the courts, but in respect of ascertaining the stress of alcohol, if that is the way to put it, I think that we shall have to have this at the end of the day.
I end on a rather sombre note. I feel very strongly about road safety at the moment. In the humble road of small terrace houses in Lewisham where I live we have just had an experience of what this can mean. The Minister of State, Home Office, will be interested in this. In that small road there was a young policeman living very happily with his wife and two children. He has just lost 1461 his life in the execution of his duty—in a car accident. It happened only a short time ago. I have never known a road so unhappy and distressed. That sort of thing suddenly brings home to one the heartache that road accidents can cause. The young policeman went off at half-past twelve one night to go on duty, and by half-past one he was dead. It brought home to me more than ever before what is going on all over the country. Every hour of the day someone is being hurt.
Against that background we have to answer the vested interests of drink, of trade unions and of people like myself who may have special points of view to put. If we can show that by action that we have taken in this House we have tried to prevent that sort of thing being perpetuated, I think the House of Commons will have achieved what it was established to do.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)
The House has given a general welcome to the Bill, and I can assure hon. Members that those of us who have been concerned with it find that welcome very gratifying indeed. My right hon. Friend in particular is, I am sure, most grateful for the tributes that have been paid not only to the Bill but to him personally, so much so that I think he was rather doubtful whether his ears were working properly when he heard hon. Members complimenting him for a change.
If I may say this without embarrassing my right hon. Friend, those of us who have the privilege of working with him know how seriously he has taken this aspect of the duties which fall to him and how very much he feels that the Government should play an active rôle in trying to do something about the constantly rising toll of road accidents.
We all know—it has been made perfectly clear by every speech to which we have listened today—that there is little that can be done by physical means Ultimately, it all comes down to the person who is behind the driving wheel of the car, sitting on the seat of the motor cycle or cycle, or even on his own feet walking across the road. It is that lack of care, that impatience, that feeling that perhaps he is a better driver than anyone else—all these things contribute to road 1462 accidents. There is no person in the country who, if he were Minister of Transport, could automatically ensure that in every single case persons on the roads would always drive in accordance with the precepts of the Highway Code. It is just not possible.
The plain fact, as we all know, is that if every person who used the roads obeyed every rule in the Highway Code we should have no accidents. We should not have this appalling total of deaths and injuries every year. It is a problem which, as my right hon. Friend said, is extremely difficult to solve, and there is no one single thing that can be done. One has to approach the problem of road safety and road accidents from a number of different directions, and one must try to make what advance one can in each of those directions, and this Bill is an attempt to make a further advance.
This afternoon my right hon. Friend spent a good deal of time discussing some of the things we are doing apart from the Bill now before us. He referred to the engineering work which is being done, the educational work, and the question of enforcement. There is a part to be played by this Bill in the latter. Several hon. Members referred to engineering, and they pointed out the urgent need for more work to be done to improve our roads. Hon. Members have called for larger road programmes. The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) claimed that because the Ministry was limited in the amount of money afforded it by the Treasury, the job of the Minister was extremely difficult. The hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) called for a larger road programme. I recall that yesterday the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) called for Government expenditure to be reduced, but that is the sort of situation which we often find in that political party.
§ Mr. Holt
The hon. Gentleman must not make that silly kind of point. When there is a Budget running into £7,000 million, no one can stand at the Government Dispatch Box and say that it is not possible to alter the Government priorities in expenditure so that more than £100 million may be spent on the roads.
§ Mr. Hay
I quite understand if the hon. Gentleman is feeling rather touchy on this point. But I wish to give him 1463 the figures of what we are to spend on the roads. This is not a debate on the road programme but on this Bill. But let me say what we shall be spending on the roads, because road improvement, as we have all admitted, can pay enormous dividends from the point of view of road safety.
In the coming financial year—the Vote on Account was published yesterday and the Estimates are available—we shall be spending £133.5 million on roads in England and Wales and a further £18.2 million in Scotland, which is a total of £151.7 million to be spent in the coming year. That is the largest amount we have ever spent in this country. Over the next five years—the long-term programmes have been announced—the Government will spend £605 million, the local authorities £80 million and a further £300 million will be coming forward for what we call maintenance and minor improvements to our roads. That makes a total of £985 million to be spent on the roads of this country in the next five years. It is not far short of £200 million a year, and so I do not think that it can be claimed that we are neglecting the element of road improvement when dealing with road safety.
There are other things which I should like to mention before coming to the details of the Bill. I was struck particularly by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), who was my predecessor in this office, and who speaks with a long and detailed experience and knowledge of the subject. One thing in particular interested me. It was that my right hon. Friend had come to the conclusion that we need a little more information and knowledge about a number of aspects of road safety. The fact is that we do not yet know enough about why road users, whether drivers, riders or pedestrians, behave in the way they do. We want to know more about the reasons for the behaviour of road users, and the human factors which lead to accident situations. I think that this knowledge would enable us to improve driving instruction, driver testing and the education of road users generally.
As was said by my right hon. Friend, the current methods of education in the 1464 case of children, who are susceptible to straightforward instruction, are very good. But we do not know whether the methods by which we try to influence adult behaviour are as effective as they could be. The fundamental difficulty about adult road user education is that the habits of adults are already formed and their attitudes are set. We propose to tackle this problem by appointing a special research team, composed of technical experts and including some people who have experience in psychology and related matters.
The task of the team will be twofold. First, to study the human factors involved in road user behaviour and accident situations and, secondly, to explore the means of influencing this behaviour most effectively. In short, its job will be to discover—if I may use a slang expression—what makes the road user "tick", and to see whether there is anything we can learn which will enable us to ensure that he "ticks" safely. The details of this proposal are being explored by the Ministry of Transport and the Road Research Laboratory. It is a little too early for me to comment in detail on the composition of the team or its terms of reference, or when it will begin to work. But we are anxious that it shall get going at the earliest opportunity. This will be a useful new body, but it is not the only new body about which I wish to tell the House.
§ Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
When an inquiry is made into accidents, will any account be taken of the date at which the drivers obtained a licence in the first case? I know that when cases are heard in courts there is no knowledge of the length of time in which a person involved in an accident has been driving, and I am certain that it would be of the greatest assistance if records were kept showing how long these people had been driving.
§ Mr. Hay
That sounds to me like a very valuable point, and I am obliged to the hon. Lady. I imagine that to be exactly the sort of thing which the special research team would look into. Its job will be to find out what causes accidents and to examine the matter from a personal point of view. We want the team to try to understand the personal situation of people involved in accidents in order to ascertain whether there are some 1465 factors which repeat themselves over and over again and therefore give us a guide as to how to provide remedial action.
This is not the only body which we propose to set up. At present responsibility for road safety is in a state of fragmentation throughout the country. Local authorities, police forces and the Ministry of Transport are all involved. What we need is an instrument to coordinate in the different areas whatever action may be necessary, and that action may possibly—and probably will—involve several agencies. We therefore propose to set up two or three experimental road safety teams in selected areas.
These teams would be able to take an overall view of road accidents and propose combinations of road safety measures in their areas. The road safety measures they might propose would include, if necessary, less orthodox and unconventional ones which might, nevertheless, pay a good dividend. We have in mind that each team would consist of a leader and small supporting staff of two or three people. They will familiarise themselves with the accident pattern of their areas and put forward specific proposals to the authorities concerned. Then they will collate the results, and throughout they will work in the closest touch with my Ministry. This is an additional piece of machinery which I hope will give us some help in this field.
§ Mr. Mellish
I am delighted to hear that. Will these teams also take into account the possibility of having courtesy policemen, not exactly under the Home Office but under the Ministry of Transport, who will not have to conform to all the regulations of the police forces, but who will be a corps of motor cyclists looking after the public?
§ Mr. Hay
I am not saying that that might not be a possible recommendation of some of these teams. I do not know. The second type of team, of which we envisage there will be two or three in selected areas, will not be executive bodies in the sense that they will run their own force of policemen or anything of that kind. Their job will be to take an overall view of the situation which is leading to accidents and 1466 to make recommendations to the local authorities, the police, the Ministry, or anyone. I am distinguishing them from the team of experts trained in psychology to which I referred earlier because the job of that team will be nation-wide and dealing more with the human side of accidents. No doubt we shall be able to give further information as these ideas proceed.
I now turn to the Bill. I think it true to say that there is no single theme running through the Bill except that of the prevention of accidents and the promotion of road safety. As hon. Members have quite properly and rightly said, it is not a Bill on which there are party political differences. There may well be controversy, argument and heated discussion as we proceed. Nevertheless, our overall objective in this House is perfectly clear. It is to try to save lives and to prevent accidents. About that there is no party difference at all. It is a Committee Bill, and therefore I had better deal with the various points made in this debate largely by reference to the individual Clauses.
I say something. first, about Clause 1. The House will remember that this is a Clause which alters to a significant degree the definition of unfitness to drive through the influence of drink. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies)—who apologised to me for having to leave the Chamber and not to be here to listen to my speech—and my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) were both critical of this Clause and the change we propose. What we say is that we need to change the definition to make it clear that a court can convict someone of driving under the influence of alcohol and therefore, as my right hon. Friend said earlier, driving in an extremely dangerous way in any event if his ability to drive is impaired because he has taken alcohol.
We have studied the available data and information on the relationship between alcohol and road accidents. There is a good deal of evidence from all sort of countries, much of which is difficult to reconcile. The one theme which emerges from studying all of it is that the taking of alcohol, in a moderate quantity, or even a very small quantity. 1467 has an immediate effect on the mental and physical capabilities and capacities of any normal individual. It is not relevant to this argument to say that a man may be able to drink half a bottle of whisky and appear perfectly sober while another can take half a glass and be "blind" drunk. That is not the point. The point is that the ingestion of even a moderate degree of alcohol immediately has an effect.
I should like to quote from what was said by the British Medical Association in a booklet it published in 1960 entitled, "The Relation of Alcohol to Road Accidents". Its conclusions are summarised on pages 33 and 34. I want to quote two of them:Relatively low concentrations of alcohol in the tissues cause a deterioration in driving performance and increase appreciably the likelihood of accident.The existing legislation does not come into effective operation until a very much higher concentration of alcohol in the tissues has been reached, and is unsuccessful as a measure to prevent accidents caused by alcohol.In the light of this very authoritative and careful view, we were obliged to do something about this situation. I can understand that it may be represented by some people, who perhaps have not understood our motives, as an indication that we do not trust the judges or the courts. My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet said as much. This just is not true. We say that, if the figures of convictions which have been obtained over the years for this offence are set against the rising volume of traffic on our roads, there appears to be a long-term trend of convictions going down. This appears to us not to tally with the road safety object which is in our minds.
For example, in 1960 6,328 people were dealt with in the courts of England and Wales for the offences of driving while drunk or being drunk in charge of a motor vehicle. Seven hundred and thirty-five were tried at assizes and quarter sessions and 63 per cent. of them were convicted by juries. Five thousand, five hundred and ninety-three were tried in magistrates' courts and 96 per cent. of these were convicted. It might be said that these figures prove the case that people stand a much better chance of getting off, to use a colloquialism, before a jury than they do before magistrates. 1468 But to put the picture clearly one must remember that many people charged with this offence may well plead guilty before the magistrates because they know they have been caught and must make a clean breast of it straight away. Nevertheless, these figures to some extent tend to support the view which is widely held that juries are reluctant to convict for these offences.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
I hate to interrupt my hon. Friend in a closing speech, because I know how difficult it is, but do not the figures tend to show that, if a man is charged with this rather serious offence and believes he is innocent, he chooses to go for trial and is always advised to go for trial? Therefore, the cases heard by juries are those in which there seems to be a good defence.
§ Mr. Hay
That may be true. In any event, whether it be true or false, there is nothing in the Bill which disturbs that situation. It will still be open to anyone to choose either to be tried before magistrates or to go for trial by jury at assizes or quarter sessions. All that we have done in Clause 1 is to change the definition of "unfit to drive" by referring specifically to the impairment of the faculties which, as I have tried to demonstrate, we know from the medical research results from the ingestion of even a small amount of alcohol.
I pass to Clause 2. There was a certain amount of complaint by hon. Members that we are here producing for the first time in a Statute a bad principle of self-incrimination. It is alleged that we are saying that a man must have a test and that, if he does not have a test, the fact that he refuses is to be held against him. It is true that there is no precedent in statute law for the proposition that a refusal without reasonable cause to do something should be treated as evidence in support of the case against an accused person.
The reason may be the better understood if I explain the situation a little further. In other Statutes—and the Food and Drugs Acts are very good examples—samples may be taken for analysis with a view to the results being given in evidence against the accused. When that happens, the law requires that the sample shall be provided and, if it is not provided, that itself is a seperate offence 1469 and a penalty is attached to it. In such cases, there is no logical need for a provision that specifies adverse consequences if the sample is refused. We have decided that in relation to a charge of drunken driving we should not require the giving by an accused person of a sample from his own body, so there is the logical need to specify the adverse consequences of an unreasonable refusal; that is to say, not in terms of a penalty but in terms of the adverse inference that can be drawn from the refusal.
We must, however, bear two points in mind. First, while under the existing law evidence of the results of a test is admissible to show the condition of an accused person charged with drunken driving, evidence of refusal to submit to such a test is not admissible. Subsection (1) of Clause 2 gives statutory recognition of the existing admissibility of evidence of the result of a test, but it makes a new provision as to the admissibility of the refusal to submit to a test.
Secondly, evidence as to refusal is not, by itself, sufficient proof of the accused being drunk, and I want to emphasise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford and others who have asked about this that the refusal and the test may be treated only as supporting other evidence given by the prosecution that the accused was drunk.
In practice, what will happen is that, as happens now, the prosecution will call evidence as to the clinical condition of the person charged; that he was staggering, that his eyes were glassy, that his breath smelt, that he could not touch the tip of his nose—all the things about which we have heard and of which I hope none of us has experience. But, in addition, and to support its evidence, the prosecution will be able to put in evidence the results of any chemical tests it has had conducted—
§ Mr. Hay
Yes, or the defence, but I will come to that in a moment.
If the accused has refused to have a test, I presume that a police officer will testify that the man was asked to submit to a test and refused. That is how it will work in practice. 1470 I do not believe that that is necessarily very wrong. I agree that it is a new principle in our law, but I think we have to tighten the law here a little. The way we have designed the Clause is fair to the accused. There are a number of safeguards for him which I shall not go into in detail, but the Clause is intended to give him a fair deal. Nevertheless, we feel that there should be some provision whereby the results of the test can be got before the courts and given statutory recognition. At present, although tests take place and evidence of them is given in the courts, there is no statutory basis for making them and producing the evidence. If we pass the Clause, there will be.
That brings me to the point about whether alcohol tests should be made compulsory, as the hon. Member for Bermondsey and other hon. Members have asked that they should be. In fact, when the Bill was in another place, several Amendments relating to chemical tests were considered, but all were finally rejected for two very good reasons. The first is the purely practical reason. It is quite impossible to insist upon an accused person providing a sample of urine which he may be physically unable to provide. There may also be religious objections to a blood test.
As for breath tests, about which the hon. Member for Bermondsey asked me specifically—the breathalyser and so on—the fact is that no sufficiently accurate instrument has yet been developed, although I believe that it may well be developed fairly soon. In any case, it may not be possible to apply breath tests at all police stations, particularly those in the rural areas. Those are the practical reasons for our thinking that we could not make the tests compulsory. Either one must have the apparatus ready in the case of the breathalyser or, as I have said, people may refuse or be unable to provide the samples which a statutory test would demand.
§ Mr. Mellish
This has not been said before in another place. I had no idea of this. I understood that the breathalyser was available and generally perfect.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Quite a large number of countries already use this machine. Are we to understand that they are using something which is either not efficient or is not truthful in its results?
§ Mr. Hay
I have no idea. It would be wrong of me to make a comment about that. Those who advise my right hon. Friend and myself, including medical and scientific advisers, agree that at the moment the breathalyser is not in such a sufficiently developed state to enable it to be used with 100 per cent. accuracy in every case.
Of course, if we were to make tests compulsory the immediate consequence would be that the results of the tests would be conclusive as to whether or not the person had alcohol in his body to such a degree as to make him incapable of having control of the vehicle or to impair that control. Therefore, the tests would have to be 100 per cent. perfect and, as I have said, they could not be in this case.
The second reason why we cannot agree to make the tests compulsory is that it is quite inappropriate to create a new offence of refusing to agree to the test. The penalties for this would have to be at least as high as the penalties for the principal offence and I think that the words now in Clause 2 are already sufficient to ensure that the courts can draw the right inference from any unreasonable refusal.
I turn to Clause 3, about which we have been criticised for bringing in automatic disqualifications when three serious offences under Parts I or II of the Schedule have been committed within three years. I know that there are a number of objections and that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), in his opening speech today, deployed these. No doubt we can go into them in greater detail in Committee.
In the moments remaining to me I will take up one point which was raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bermondsey concerning the position of 1472 professional drivers. We should clear our minds of cant about this. It seems that there is a fundamental confusion of thought, for the object of our concern is road safety and that is a paramount consideration. If what we are considering was the career of an airline pilot who, as a result of misbehaviour, negligence or dangerous conduct was convicted of an offence, we would not for a moment say that he should not be disqualified from piloting an aircraft because it would mean that he would lose his livelihood. I cannot see any logical difference between that situation of an airline pilot and the situation of a professional driver of a lorry or public service vehicle on our roads.
The fact is that we are, in both cases, dealing with dangerous or negligent conduct and if the consequences of either of those means disqualification we should not allow the fact that he may lose his living as a result to be prayed in aid. We can go into this in detail in Committee, but I honestly believe that it would be unwise for us to make an alteration of that kind.
I realise that a number of other points have been raised and that time prevents me from dealing with them. We shall have an opportunity of reviewing all of these in Committee. I thank the House, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, for the support that has been given in the speeches made today and I commend the Bill to the House for Second Reading in the hope that we may get it in and out of Committee—and I emphasise "out"—in time for it to be put on the Statute Book before the Summer Recess.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).