§ 10.2 p.m.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Bob Brown)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Paper entitled the Highway Code, a copy of which was laid before this House on 30th October, and approves the revised Highway Code contained in pages 4 to 44 thereof.First, I congratulate the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) on her appointment to her new assignment. I am sure that the House will agree that transport debates and Questions will have a new dimension of brightness with her arrival, and I am sure, also, that my right hon. Friend would wish me to say that he is delighted to have back his former shadow.
The White Paper, Road Safety—A Fresh Approach, published last year announced, among other things, the Government's intention to publish a new edition of the Highway Code. That promise is now being carried out. The last edition of the code was published in 1959, and a new version is, therefore, long overdue.
The House would expect this code to be very different from the last one, and it will not be disappointed. This difference is not only a matter of appearance—a taller, slimmer shape, a different typeface, and different illustrations. The code has been revised and rewritten from start to finish.
This thorough revision was badly needed. Since 1959, the number of vehicles on the roads has nearly doubled, and, even allowing for the effect of the breathalyser, casualties also, unfortunately, have increased. There have been many new ideas in road safety, and many new laws and regulations. For example, we now have annual testing for all cars three years or more old. We have a new overall speed limit of 70 m. p.h., and we have seen the introduction of lower, tailor-made speed limits on stretches of road where the accident record suggested they were needed. We have new regulations on the standards of safety for tyres and, in particular, on tread depth. We have regulations requiring seat belts to be fitted, as from the end of this year, in all cars first registered since the beginning of 1965. We have seen the introduction of the 1034 breathalyser and the impact it has made on casualties.
This is not all. There have been changes in the way we use the roads—the recent rules for roundabouts are a good example. Since 1959, there has been a much greater use of traffic engineering techniques, particularly in our towns. There has been much use of one-way streets and of other measures to help traffic, such as lane lines, direction arrows, and box junctions.
Since 1959, we have seen a great growth in parking controls, particularly by meters and yellow lines. There have been changes in the equipment in cars, particularly in signalling. Semaphore signals are almost a thing of the past. Now, almost everybody uses direction indicators and keeps his hand and arm snugly inside the car. Three years ago a new system of traffic signs, based on continental standards, was introduced.
These features are all part of the contemporary scene. The Highway Code is a basic source of information for all road users, and it is right that it should hold as much up-to-date information as possible. The revised code therefore takes account of all this new material; indeed, about one-third of the text, and all the illustrations, are new material.
A second reason for rewriting the code was that the Road Research Laboratory found that the present code could not be properly understood by some road users. It was too brief, and it used too many long words. In this revision we have, therefore, tried to spell things out and explain step by step; to explain technical terms whenever we cannot avoid them altogether; and generally to make the text even clearer and more easily understood.
The new code has been prepared by my Department. There were three main streams of contributions. First, we have had many suggestions from members of the public about how the 1959 Code might be improved. We have examined them all, and we are very grateful to those people who have shown their interest in road safety in this very practical way. The second main contribution came from my Department, many divisions of which have contribution to the new text at various times. Third, we have had a most valuable collection of ideas and 1035 views earlier this year from other Government Departments and, not least, about 60 independent organisations representing various road-user interests.
We are very grateful to everybody who took trouble to submit comments to the Department. We could possibly have produced a code without their help, but I am sure that, but for their comments, it would not have been the very satisfactory job which I consider I am submitting to the House.
I should like to say a few words about the future revision of the code. The House may feel, with me, that nine years is far too long between new editions of the code. Given the pace of change in road and traffic conditions now we need to keep the code up to date much more briskly. A Minister cannot, of course, bind his successors, but it seems to me that our aim in future should be a new code at least every five years.
Even this may not be fast enough for some desirable changes in the code which might well have to be made within this time. Ministers of Transport cannot make changes to it without bringing the whole code before the House, and when we do that the House has to accept or reject the code as a whole. It is not possible at present to make changes in individual rules if these are urgently needed.
§ Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)
I accept this point, and rather regret it. But will signs be dealt with in the same way? I am thinking of the automatic level crossing sign, which was condemned by the Hixon inquiry. Can such signs be amended, and not be taken as part of the text?
I take the point, and, clearly, the hon. Gentleman has seen it. We have it in mind. This is precisely why I am stressing that it may well be that we shall need to give urgent consideration to the question of the Highway Code and revisions. I shall be interested to hear what right hon. and hon. Members have to say on this topic tonight, or, after reflection, at a later date.
The House will see that the code is divided into six main sections which advise particular road users—for example, drivers or pedestrians—or deal with particular situations—for example, 1036 motorway driving or using railway level crossings. This is almost the same as the basic pattern of the 1959 code.
The advice for pedestrians in the present code is sound and well tested. Very little of it has been basically changed in the new code, although six new rules have been added. I would like to refer particularly to Rule 8—about crossing the road from behind a parked vehicle. This expands advice in the present code. About a quarter of the pedestrians who are killed or seriously injured have come out from behind a stationary vehicle. As the House might expect, we have had more casualties for this reason over the last few years because there are more cars parked at the side of the road. It is no longer realistic to advise people to cross the road where there are no parked vehicles. Rule 8 recognises this, and gives advice tailored to present-day conditions.
The part of the code which has been most changed is that for the road user on wheels. It is more than twice the size of the equivalent section in the old code—82 rules compared to 40. It has been almost entirely rewritten, and the rules have been grouped into a more logical and consistent pattern.
Some of the individual changes which have been made are important, and I will now let the House know more about them.
Rule 31 introduces the "routine mirror-signal-manoeuvre" which drivers should use when they are overtaking, or turning, or slowing down, or stopping. It may seem an obvious little drill. It is—and anyone who has been taught driving well will use it automatically. But there are still many people who do not know it, or use it, and we therefore thought it best to put it in the code.
Rule 35 deals with the distances which should be left between vehicles when they are travelling on the road. This is important. There would be far fewer multiple collisions, especially on motorways, if drivers kept safe distances apart. When the Ministry sought the views of outside bodies on the draft code we particularly asked for their advice on this rule. We wished to explore whether the separation distances should be shown in yards for each mile per hour of speed, or one car length for every 10 m.p.h., or in some other way.
1037 Opinions were fairly evenly divided. Since a yard is a standard length, and car lengths can vary, we concluded that it was better to advise a gap of one yard for each mile per hour of speed as a normal working rule. The House will notice, however, that the illustration of stopping distances on the back cover of the code show these distances in feet and in average car lengths. I hope, therefore, that the way we have done it will be able to suit both kinds of people—those who can reckon distance in yards and feet, and those who need something more vivid, like average car lengths on the road, to help them.
Rule 95, which says that the flashing of headlamps has the same meaning as sounding the horn—to let another road user know one is there—may be a disappointment to some people. The Ministry particularly asked interested organisations for their advice on this, because some manufacturers have fitted special headlamp flashers to their cars, and because there has been considerable discussion about the advantages of having an approved code of headlamp signals. I see that this is still going on in all kinds of quarters, some from which one hardly expects it, and different views are passionately held.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
Would it not be better to lay down a headlamp flashing rule that there are two methods of flashing, one showing, "I am coming through at speed" and the other showing, "I am pulling up and, therefore, you can pass me"?
I do not agree. How are we to determine when a flashing headlamp means, "I am coming through at speed" and when it means, "I am slowing up and you can come through"? That is precisely what the argument is about.
The general feeling of those we consulted was against having a special code. They came down for the proposition that the flashing of headlamps meant no more than to show other people that one was there. Rule 95, therefore, maintains that line. Motorway driving has special problems and some special rules are needed. The motorway section, therefore, particularly deals with only motorway points, but the heading to the section also shows that some rules for ordinary driving apply 1038 to motorways as well. Rules 121 to 123 explain the present warning amber light signals on motorways, and explain and illustrate the new signals which are being installed on urban and rural motorways.
I will not deal now with the rules for cyclists. I understand that some hon. Members may wish to raise points on the cycling section and, if so, I will, with the leave of the House, deal with them towards the close of the debate.
I refer now to the section on the road user and animals, in which there are very few changes. The advice to horse riders has been amplified to include those leading a horse while riding another. We understood that some horse riders were in doubt about the correct procedure, and to help remove this doubt Rule 138 now advises them to keep to the left.
The section about the road user and railway level crossings is completely new. Because there are many kinds of railway level crossings in this country, this section now gives advice on how to use all types of crossings—crossings with gates or full barriers, open level crossings with or without warning lights, and automatic half-barrier level crossings. The advice on automatic half-barriers in Rules 147 to 150 adopts recommendations of the court of inquiry into the accident at Hixon. My right hon. Friend has announced that work is going ahead on the design of a new model of automatic half-barrier crossing, and this will include changes in the wording of the notice shown in the illustration on pages 32 and 33. Some other work is going ahead on modifications of existing crossings, for example, box junction markings and double white lines are being introduced.
We carefully considered whether the code should show a new crossing, but to wait for this would have held up the introduction of the code, which has already been too long in appearing, for at least some months more. In any case, there are 200 crossings of the present design in use daily. On balance, it seemed best to show existing crossings, as this is the situation which drivers have to face, and get the code out for the benefit of the millions of drivers who need to use the other advice in it.
The section on the law's demands has also been revised and brought up to date. 1039 It is not part of the code proper which the House is asked to approve, but is included so that the road user can see the most important parts of the law which affect him on the road.
If the House approves the code tonight, and if it is similarly approved in another place next week, we will be going ahead with arrangements for bulk printing and distribution. I say "bulk" advisedly, for about 10 million of the last edition were sold, and 14 million issued free. We expect that at least 6 million copies of the code will be needed during 1969. The code must have just about the largest distribution of any publication after the Bible—which is appropriate enough for the road users' "bible". It will not, therefore, be possible to have the code on sale for some weeks. But we expect that it can be available in the first half of next February.
In presenting the code I thank everybody who has helped to produce it. I now commend the code to the House. We have seen over the last year that road accidents and casualties can be significantly reduced. The breathalyser has been a success. The problem now is to keep up the momentum. We can do this by studying and learning the code, and following its advice every time we use the roads. If we do this life will be immeasurably safer for us all.
As my right hon. Friend's introduction on page 2 says:The Code is not theory. It's a mine of practical down-to-earth advice. It's a pocket life-saver.
§ Mr. Speaker
May I remind the House that no fewer than 20 hon. Members wish to speak. The debate ends in one hour and 40 minutes' time.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)
May I say to the Parliamentary Secretary that this side of the House takes note of his kind remarks to my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), and very much appreciates them. She will deal with him and the Minister in due course.
May I also say that, although there is very little party politics in tonight's discussion, there is, I think he will find, intense feeling. One aspect of this is the 1040 feeling by the British Road Federation and cyclists that they have not been adequately consulted. I appreciate that they have received a copy of what the Minister has referred to as "the bible"—the "new translation", but so far no adequate consultation has taken place between the Minister and them.
In 1959, it cost 6d. for a very slim document produced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples). It contained 94 sections. This edition costs Is. 3d. and contains 150 sections. I wonder what Mr. Aubrey Jones would think of the justification for the price increase. We have the road signs at the back, but there were a considerable number of such signs at the back of the previous code. I would not think that there is any justification for a 150 per cent. increase, making a 250 per cent. increase on the previous cost.
I agree that we have either to accept the whole of this code or to reject it in toto. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to assure us that, at least, the signs can be put right or amended, may be in another place and thereby amended in the code. I am particularly thinking of the low-flying tintacks which represent a level crossing of the half-barrier type. They look like a lot of tintacks and do not give any indication that it is a level crossing. I hope that that can be put right, particularly as the Hixon court of inquiry recommended a change of that sign.
When the Minister says that this is a streamlined code, I wonder. A lot of the increase has been in verbosity, and many people, particularly the young, will be very reluctant to read a great deal of it.
On the subject of the young, can the Minister say that free copies will be issued to schools or to people going in for the cyclist's proficiency test, which is very important? It is essential that free copies should be given in such cases. Perhaps he can tell us that there will be a subsidy given to local authorities to assist here.
To return to verbosity, the new code says, in Section 29, under the heading of "Driving along":Keep to the left, except when you intend to overtake, or turn right, or when you have to pass stationary vehicles or pedestrians in the road. Allow others to overtake you if they want to.1041 The old version is:When driving along, keep well to the left except when you intend to overtake or turn right. Do not hug the middle of the road".It seems that in the new version there are many extra words, but not a very great improvement in meaning. Brevity would have been splendid, and I wish that a first-class editor had worked on the subject.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) is a keen pedestrian, as I believe my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) is, and they will probably wish to address the House about pedestrians. Some sections of the code deal with using the left side of the road and other sections deal with using the right side. If one is marching troops along the road, one marches them on the left. According to Rule 138, when riding a horse, one keeps to the left. However according to Rule 139, if one is leading animals, one leads them on the right. There is a good deal of unhappiness among the British Horse Society on this matter. However, I think that the code as drafted is correct and that the person leading the animal should be between it and the movement of traffic. But that is a personal view and no doubt some of my hon. Friends will think it incorrect.
There is a nice illustration at the bottom of page 4 of the new code. If one is leading a lady in the dark, one leads her on the right. If she should suddenly kick, she kicks the hedge and not the traffic. That may be humane. I do not see the philosophy of this matter.
Looking at the various rules in the code and saying that this one is good or that one is bad is like looking at a wine list. Page 5 deals with the right of pedestrians to use zebra crossings. There is no reference to the studs. Would it not have been helpful to say, as I have always been taught, that one should not step on the pedestrian crossing if a vehicle has crossed the studs? I do not disagree about the legal liability.
Then we come to the subject of flashing lamps on top of vehicles—and I do not mean flashing lights, to which I shall refer later. There is reference to this matter in Rule 36. I think that all hon. Members who frequently drive to their constituencies have seen abuses of these lights. Often drivers of breakdown 1042 vehicles do not know that they are not allowed to use these lights except when at the site of an accident. When going to an accident, they are not supposed to use them. If it is a police car or an ambulance, the situation is different. Enforcement of the law relating to flashing lights should be tightened up. Any garage which is breaking the law should be so informed and warned.
Rule 38 refers to stationary mobile shops. I should have thought that stationary buses are equally dangerous. There is no mention of something which the bus driver who taught me to drive always insisted on, namely, that when a person passes one of these vehicles he should try to look underneath to see whether there are feet on the other side because pedestrians, particularly young pedestrians, have a very high rate of acceleration and this is the only way of being sure that there is no one there.
I agree that when turning at road junctions one should give way to pedestrians who are crossing. But this part of the code is more regarded in its abuse than in its observation. This is a matter which should be brought home more often in the driving test. I have two young people in my family in the middle of having driving tests, so I should declare an interest. I should like them to be told about this.
Rule 54 deals with diagonal white lines. I do not disagree with what is in the code, but I wonder whether it would be possible to have a code for highway engineers so that there is not an excessive amount of pyjama stripes up and down the main road? Much greater use is being made of the pyjama stripe and people will probably begin to abuse it once they have got used to it.
Rule 59 deals with overtaking in a three-lane road. This is not a dual carriageway. An overtaking vehicle using the trafficator, particularly in what in Scotland is called the gloaming, in half light or fog, can be useful in indicating the way in which it is going. I would wish that it were possible for these things to be taken into account before there is a reprint. It may be that some of these points are obnoxious to the Ministry, but I hope that it is possible for the Department to have an open mind on the subject.
1043 Then we have motorways. In the list of forbidden vehicles, I do not see learner drivers. I wonder whether there has been a change in the law, possibly a regulation which slipped through without our spotting it. I know, however, that on the motorways which I use one sees a tremendous number of cars with "L" plates. This is wrong. They should be stopped. In my opinion, there is not enough visible patrolling by the police in special cars. This practice should be stopped and completely curbed.
Lane discipline is a very grave matter. There is not adequate lane discipline, and the Ministry is right to do everything it can to enforce it. I wonder whether it was right suddenly to change the wording in Rule 112 toAfter joining the motorway, stay in the inside lane".In that context it is all right, but the inside lane of a motorway is surely the high-speed lane. The wording in the 1958–59 edition was "left-hand lane". Why have we suddenly caused ambiguity when the aim is to give clarity? I beg the Minister to consider a simple change of printing here, because I understand that the drafts that were discussed right up to the end had the wording "left-hand lane" or, on occasion, possibly "nearside lane", but "inside lane" simply creates ambiguity. I hope that this can be changed.
On Rule 117, the Minister has referred, rightly, to the heavy print: "Mirror—Signal—Manoeuvre". I beg him, in Rule 114—we certainly have no problems with formalities here—to put the last sentence into the heaviest print possible:The outside"—I would like that to be changed to "right-hand" or "offside"—lane is for overtaking only. If you use it, move back into the middle lane and then into the left-hand lane as soon as you can, but without cutting in.This is critical. Many of us who use motorways know of the modern road hog who sits in the fast lane travelling at 65 or 70 m.p.h. This surely should be an offence. I know of friends who have overtaken in their impatience. They were wrong. But to create impatience is also an offence. I hope that this can be included in the heaviest print possible.
1044 Then we come to the horn and the headlight. Where we should all hang on the words of judges, I am a bit worried about what judges have been saying recently in courts of law. I stand for what is given in Rule 95:The flashing of headlamps has the same meaning as sounding your horn—to let another road user know you are there.That is right. If one drives in the middle of the night, the heavy lorry people have a wonderfully recherché system of informing one whether it is safe to pass, whether not to pass, or whether the lorry driver's girl friend lives in the house on the left—all sorts of extraordinary things. That is all right. Let them give the information, but let it be clear that the information can be received and is acted upon only on the responsibility of the driver receiving the information. On a personal view, I stand by paragraph 95 as it appears at present.
So much for the horn and headlamps. I think that what is said about the horn is correct, too.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
Is my hon. Friend happy that the horn must not be used between 23.30 and 07.00 hours in any circumstances? I would have thought that it should particularly state that it can be used in case of emergency.
§ Mr. Webster
I agree with what my hon. Friend says. It is a little rigid. I am in some difficulty, in that I have said that the code is already too long and my hon. Friend is suggesting adding more words. But I accept what he says.
All the time we are driven back to a consideration of the dangers of too many words. Paragraph 124 says that we should not stop our car except when it breaks down. I asked an expert from one of our motoring organisations about this and he said, "The trouble is that the Ministry is seeking to go intercontinental and trying to fit in with the European Highway Code."
In that case, I must congratulate the Ministry on leaving out the European Highway Code rule that every motor vehicle must have a driver. I think that we are slipping too much into the Continental habit of putting in too many words, with the result that impact is lost, especially on the young learner.
Then we come to level crossings. We have read the findings of the court of 1045 inquiry into the disaster at Hixon. It is a considerable time since the report of that inquiry was published, and I would have thought that this Highway Code should have been brought up to date and amended in the light of its findings, so that the flashing lights were cut out and a constant red light shown in their place as an indication that vehicles should stop. Let us be as simple as we can and leave out the level crossing sign depicting low-flying tintacks, which are horrible and frightening. Rule 145 contains advice which I fully commend, namely, that one should always give way to trains. I wonder whether it is necessary to put in such platitudinous expressions.
Now we come to the extra ninepenny-worth, about signs. I agree that signs should be grouped into circular—mandatory—and triangular—warning—sometimes with the base at the top, in which we conform with international practice. I wonder whether it would not be better to have them circular as well. Among the circular signs we have that depicting low-flying motor bicycles and motor vehicles. There is no red line across them, although in the case of other prohibitions there is a red diagonal line. Further, why have a sign for a "Play Street" when a simple "No Entry" sign would suffice?
A young member of my family said, "Why do we have signs for 'Stop Children' and 'Stop Police'"? Why should we not simply have the word "Stop"?
Mr. Bob Brown
A straightforward "No Entry" sign would debar residents who live in the play street. If any of the hon. Member's constituents live in play streets I do not think that they will support him in that argument.
§ Mr. Webster
I have never lived in a play street, although on occasions I have thought that I did. I am grateful to the Minister for pointing that out. He interrupted me just when I had finished.
We all have our grumbles, and in opposition we have to put forward as many grumbles as we can. I hope that some of my grumbles will be noted. Perhaps something can be done to make the cods more concise. The Minister said that he has streamlined it, but it could be made much more clear and brief. That would be a much greater service.
1046 I wish the Highway Code as much success as its predecessor has had, and I hope that it will have the maximum effect in saving life and preventing misery.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lomas (Huddersfield, West)
I welcome the new Highway Code. Although I could point to faults in it by going through it with a tooth-comb, but it must be said that it is high time that we had a new code giving a sense of purpose and direction to road users.
I want to draw special attention to Rule 132, which concerns cyclists. I have received a tremendous amount of correspondence from such organisations as the Huddersfield Star Wheelers, the president of which is a former national hill climbing champion, the National Cyclists' Association, and the Hoime Valley Wheelers, not to mention representations from individuals and from the Cycling Council of Great Britain.
Rule 132 states badly that cyclists should not ride more than two abreast and should ride in single file on busy or narrow roads. But who is to define what is a busy or narrow road? It is left wide open to interpretation. I accept that the Highway Code is not a law, but, when I have been sitting as a magistrate people have said to me that this or that person did not act in accordance with the code and notice has been taken of the fact. We are placing the onus of responsibility on a cyclist to decide whether a road is busy or narrow. That is quite wrong, in my opinion.
In the old Highway Code, cyclists were told to ride in single file when road or traffic conditions required it. That was straightforward and sensible, and, if anyone transgressed that rule, he was at fault. But it is no longer a matter for a cyclist's judgment when the code tells him that, when cycling, he must himself define what is a busy or narrow road.
I understand that the Cycling Council of Great Britain made representations to the Ministry some time ago, reflecting the feelings of a tremendous number of people. It would appear that they were virtually ignored. The Cycling Council represents such bodies as the Cycling Tourists' Council, the Road Time Trials Council and the British Cycling Federation. When it received the first draft 1047 of the new Highway Code on 24th January, 1968, it was asked for its comments. As a consequence, special attention was drawn to the section headed "Extra Rules for Cyclists".
No reply was received, and the council wrote again to the Ministry on 19th July, and then again on 15th August. The Ministry remained silent. During the Summer Recess, presumably the Ministry was able to get down to the task of replying to letters dating back to January, and it wrote on 22nd August saying:As far as possible, the amendments and suggestions have been included.But it is clear that the council's representations have been ignored.
The following day, 23rd August, the council wrote to the Ministry asking for a further interview and for a copy of the new draft. Although an urgent answer was expected, no reply came from the Ministry until 7th October, when the council was informed that the Ministry wished to discuss the text "as it stands"—which meant that it was in print and that the council could either take it or leave it. A discussion took place on 28th October, by which time it was too late for anything to be done. This means that scanty attention was paid to the views of the organisation which represents many cyclists.
It is obvious, from the representations made to me—from all manner of cyclists; those who use their machines for enjoyment and pleasure and the more hardy riders who go in for time trials—that cyclists are being placed in an invidious position. Why cannot the Ministry retain the original words used in the former Highway Code—which said that cyclists should not ride more than two abreast if road conditions do not allow—instead of placing the onus on cyclists to decide whether or not a road is too busy or too narrow? This could mean that a policeman or interested party could claim that a road was too busy or too narrow, and the cyclist could be prosecuted.
In my youth I was interested in cycling and took part in time trial cycling, and when one considers that a country lane is safe, one is obviously tempted to ride alongside your cycling companion. For 1048 the sake of the many people who cycle—who wish to get away from the fumes of traffic and the towns at weekends—I urge the Ministry to think again about this part of the code, which will penalise cyclists and treat them as a class apart. People cycle for enjoyment, sport, companionship and to get out into the country. Many cycling clubs, such as the C.T.C. and the Clarion, have "run leaders" who check the run and report which roads are too busy for two abreast cycling.
The Ministry should think again about Rule 132, which does not reflect the views of the Cycling Council of Great Britain and the tremendous number of cyclists in Britain.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
I hope that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) will forgive me if I do not follow him either in single file or abreast in talking of cyclists, but what he said, and his description of the representations that were made to the cycling bodies, is to my mind an indication of a very unsatisfactory way of dealing with the matter.
It is not right for the Government to demand that the House should approve the Highway Code exactly as it stands, without any opportunity of amendment. It is all very well for us to say that we have taken note of the code, as the Motion asks us to do, but to say that we approve it, without an opportunity of disagreeing with any part or suggesting, without any hope of amendment, that something should be put in, is thoroughly unsatisfactory.
It would have been far better if the Government had laid the document in the form of a draft, asking us to take note of it, and, having done that, to have revised it in the light of the comments made by right hon. and hon. Members and, in due course, to have published it and, if need be, again brought it to the House for the simple formality of approval.
As things now stand, whatever we may now say will not have the slightest effect. The document is printed, and although no doubt the order has still to be given to roll off the millions of copies that will be on sale, nothing we can say tonight—unless the Parliamentary Secretary is 1049 prepared to assure us otherwise—will have any effect on the document. All we can do is to express opinions and views, and those who, outside the House, have come to believe in recent years that the House is becoming a rubber stamp will have one more opportunity of thinking that this is so.
Within those limitations, I want to make one or two comments. I want to refer to one rule in the code, and to three matters that are not in it.
Rule 91 states:Use dipped headlights at night in built-up areas unless the street lighting is so good that they are not needed.The Parliamentary Secretary knows that there is a long history in this matter of using dipped headlights in urban areas at night. About three years there was the Birmingham experiment, and there have been a number of others. I was profoundly depressed on reading this wording, because I had hoped that now the code has come to be reprinted we would at least have a clear indication of what is the sensible rule, which is that one uses dipped headlights at night in all circumstances in all streets—even urban carriageways. I do not know why it is, but British motorists seem to have an impression, which does not exist anywhere else in the world that I have been able to find, that by using one's headlights at night one puts a drain on the battery, and it may run down. One does not need dipped headlights at night in well-lit streets so that one can see a driver: the important thing is that other people can see oneself.
Here, again, as in the case of the cyclists, the driver is asked to make a subjective decision. It is for him to say whether or not the street lighting is so good that dipped headlights are not needed. Every driver will come to a different opinion. I confess that I always drive with dipped headlights everywhere in urban areas, and I hope that I am not breaking the law in so doing.
There are three matters on which there are no rules at all, and I hope that, since it is now too late to do anything to this code, when it is next revised something will be done. The first matter is the use of flashing headlights on motorways. There is a slight reference to this in Rule 95. Any hon. Member who has driven on the motorway—as I suppose most of us 1050 have—will be well acquainted with the man who comes along, usually far in excess of 70 m.p.h., drives up behind when one is driving well within what is called, in the vernacular, the "fast" lane, comes up within a few feet and flashes his headlamps as if to say, "Get out of my way. I want to pass."
If one is driving at 70 miles an hour one is almost irresistibly tempted to go on at that speed and let the man continue behind one. But it is dangerous, and I wish we had had some indication that this practice of driving close behind and flashing headlamps is very dangerous. A nervous driver could easily panic, and an accident could easily be caused.
There is another matter on which there is no rule. If one is in a vehicle travelling towards a "T" junction and wishes to stop and turn right, often another vehicle comes up on the left and also wishes to turn. Then there is some doubt about which vehicle has the right of way. Often the vehicle on the left pulls right across one's bows and one has difficulty in stopping. I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would say something about this.
Finally, there is the priority rule. For a long time I have been a convinced believer that we need a priority rule in this country either that we should give way to traffic on the right or from the left according to which decision is made. We have the priority rule at roundabouts where one gives way to traffic on the right, but an extraordinary situation exists in a number of places at different roundabouts where road markings do exactly the opposite.
If ever the Parliamentary Secretary is in the vicinity of Oxford, I hope that he will look at the southern and western by-passes, where he will find that the road markings at roundabouts require traffic coming from the right to stop. A driver approaching one of those roundabouts, and not knowing that there are road markings there, would automatically expect that traffic on the right would have priority, and then he would discover that the road markings say the opposite. As a consequence, there have been a number of accidents at these roundabouts, and I expect there have been a number at similar junctions in other parts of the country.
1051 The Ministry must make up its mind on this issue and instruct county surveyors accordingly. When the code is again revised something should be done to make this matter clear beyond doubt.
§ 10.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) about cyclists. I also underline a point made by the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay). It is regrettable that tonight we are faced with the proposition of approving the code. We should discuss it and take note of it and not have to approve of it at this stage. It seems that everyone has been consulted except Members of Parliament until the matter has become a fait accompli. Even at this stage the Government should be prepared to take it back and to take note of the important points of criticism and the suggestions made in this debate.
Opening the debate, the Parliamentary Secretary said that 60 independent bodies of road users had been consulted. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West has made the point that the cyclists' organisation has not been very much consulted. I have received a lengthy document from the national body of cyclists, but I was thinking of raising this matter on a local basis. I shall not recite the points made by my hon. Friend, but one important point should be brought out. When, on 28th October, Mr. W. H. Townsend and Mr. L. C. Warner, respectively chairman and secretary of the Cycling Council of Great Britain, attended at the Ministry, they saw an officer of the Ministry. Did my hon. Friends see the letters from the cyclists written as long ago as February, 1968? Or were they, too, seen by officers? Did my hon. Friends know that such representation was being made and that cyclists were making efforts to present their case?
It is not good enough to treat cyclists' organisations in this way. There are many thousands of cyclists. Cyclists are badly treated here. In France and elsewhere in Europe the cyclist is somebody of importance. The Europeans hold international events in cycling. But not here; in Britain the cyclist is somebody we do not care much about.
1052 I quote a letter from the chairman of the East Liverpool Wheelers, who is also chairman of Liverpool District Council, Road Time Trials Council:I was most disturbed to read that the new Highway Code now before Parliament contains the following recommendation among those directed especially to cyclists:'Do not ride more than two abreast. Ride in single file on busy or narrow roads.'It is the second part of this recommendation that I consider to be unfair and unjustified. There can be no really valid complaint against the first sentence. The wording in the current code should be retained which recommends that cyclists should 'Ride in single file when road and traffic conditions require it'.I realise that whilst the Highway Code is not law it is the accepted standard by which authority judges road behaviour, and therefore may fix responsibility in the event of an accident.If this new recommendation remains in the Highway Code it will seriously affect the activities of cyclists, particularly those who cycle for health and pleasure.A tourist trial on a quiet country lane, or a minor road race, will encounter a motorist who feels it an intrusion on his picnic and who may complain to the police.A cyclist touring with a friend in the quiet lanes will be intimidated by motorists who will try to run them off the road. This happens now. It will be worse with the Highway Code on their side.I write as one who have been (and still am) an active cyclist for 37 years and also a motorist for the past 16 years. I consider what will be virtually a ban on two-abreast cycling completely unjustified, and I hope you will most strenuously oppose this section of this recommendation.That is a very reasonable letter. I do not think my constituent can be accused of failing to understand the need for a new code and of not being reasonable about it.
I plead with my hon. Friend to take this section back. I know that it is now in print and the consequent difficulties. I know that tomorrow he wants to be able to pick up the telephone and say, "The code has gone through the House of Commons. You can go ahead with printing." However, the code should be taken back and these points considered. Changes should be made. We shall not force a vote on it tonight, but I appeal to my hon. Friend to look at it again. Many of my hon. Friends and I are so often put in the difficult position of having to come up against our own party and our own Government when it is not necessary, when we could have discussed the whole 1053 matter beforehand, had another look at the question and then finalised it. I appeal to my hon. Friend to take the code away in this form, reconsider it, and bring it back to Parliament again.
§ 11.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)
I am very sorry that the code is not subject to alteration. The proper course would have been to hear the views of Parliament first and then draw up the code. It is one of the functions of Parliament to give the maximum expression of opinion, and it is then for the Department to draw things up in the light of that opinion. This is even more desirable when it is a matter of a code rather than of law; when it is something which one ought to do, Parliament should have its say first. However, I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) that that is not so, and all we can do is draw attention to various points, hoping that amendments will be made in due course.
I draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary, first, to paragraph 8 of the new code—Try not to cross the road between, or in front of, parked vehicles, because drivers on the road may not be able to see you.Why does it not say "or behind parked vehicles" as well? I feel particularly strongly about this because only this afternoon, but for the grace of God, I should have killed two children in Northamptonshire who, after getting off the school bus, ran from behind the bus straight in front of my car. Only after swerving, skidding and finishing up broadside on in the road was I able to miss them. I went to the house where they live and told their mother that I thought they should be better instructed, and I intend to write to the director of education and the police to draw their attention to the matter.
The code should say that people getting off buses or the like and passing behind should be particularly careful to look to the left to see whether anything is coming. No such advice is given in the new code. It does not even say that they should look when passing behind. The only reference is to "in front of" and "between". I regard that as a serious omission from Rule 8.
Now, Rule 138, about which there is a good deal of controversy and on which 1054 horse owners and riders are not agreed among themselves. I myself do not agree with the view of the British Horse Society, that everything should go on the left-hand side of the road. It is impossible to be dogmatic about it. One has to go by the nature of the animal itself. For instance, some horses will not lead on both sides; they will lead only on the right-hand side, so that one must pass down the right-hand side of the road if one is to get them along at all.
I have had this sort of problem a good many times, having ridden horses all my life. With a horse of a certain temperament, it is much better to face the traffic on the right-hand side of the road than have it coming up behind. It is impossible to dogmatise about it.
I draw particular attention to the change which has been made from the old Highway Code, Rule 64, which read:Go slowly when driving past animals, and give them plenty of room. Stop if necessary or if signalled to do so. Be prepared to meet led animals coming towards you on your side of the road, especially on a left-hand bend.That is a very sensible rule, and it should have been in the present code. Much confusion will ensue upon the introduction of the new rule. It is a mistake to word it as it has been worded.
Those are the two points I particularly wished to make. Many other hon. Members want to speak, and so I shall content myself with them.
§ 11.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
I share the concern of other hon. Members about the form of our debate. I do not think that it is the best way to decide a long, complicated document such as the new Highway Code, nor do I think that we should do much better to adopt the suggestion of hon. Members opposite that we should have a different type of debate in which we would make our comments and could amend the draft. This is a matter that could be referred to a Select Committee on transport, having the code discussed by Members and experts from outside, and then later having the draft returned for approval.
I have noted the comments of the R.A.C., sent to us today. I do not see that because this particular car has a flat tyre we should throw away the car. The 1055 R.A.C. would not call itself the best supporter of the present or previous Ministers of Transport. Its document says:There would seem to be no reason to suggest that the new edition should be rejected in order to secure alteration of any of its contents, particularly bearing in mind that this would delay provision of urgently required advice to the public concerning many new developments since that previous edition was issued.The Ministry of Transport is as good as any Ministry—if not better—at noting comments made by Members in debates, replying to them, and, in many cases, acting on them.
I dubbed the 1961 version of the code the Wallasey version. The fashions on that cover show that the circle has gone all the way round from maxi skirts back to maxi skirts. The car at the bottom of the cover is a Ford Zodiac Mark I, and we have gone on to three different versions since then.
It has been fascinating tonight to see more than 50 Members here studiously reading the Highway Code. We should all be safer drivers for it. But it is not only the Highway Code or road safety that have attracted so many Members. It may be in part because that old banger, the Worcester Mark I, has been traded in in part exchange for the super version, the Finchley Mark IV.
As compared with the Wallasey 61 Code, we now have the Greenwich 68. Only the present Minister could produce a document with a device on the front cover urging the Conservatives to "keep left". That seems a particularly "Greenwich" touch.
The print is clearer than the old. It is larger, and the type is more readable. The message is clearer, and its illustrations are much better. It is an interesting booklet, if at times over-optimistic. Rule 33 says,Never break the speed limits for the road…".That is a doctrine of super-excellence. Some figures produced a little while ago showed that almost every driver broke the limits at some time, inadvertently or advertently. It may be that the proposals for revising the speed limits are long overdue, and perhaps some of the duty of deciding whether a road shall have a 30 or 40 m.p.h. limit should 1056 be taken out of the jurisdiction of the local authority, because we all know how limits can vary between one stretch of road and the next, just as the colour of street lights can vary. The limits should be under the control of a regional authority giving a much broader view.
The code is informative; there is always something to learn. I always thought that a box junction sign meant quite clearly that one must keep off the box junction, unless one's exit was clear. But Rule 74 says:But you may enter the junction when you want to turn right and are prevented from doing so only by oncoming traffic.So it is possible to enter a box junction. There is a lot to learn. There is a great deal of defence to offer an enquiring policeman if one has read the code.
There are omissions, but that is not surprising in a booklet of this kind. I am concerned about Rules 70 to 78, dealing with road junctions and turning right. The procedure there seems to cover almost every situation except where one is approaching cross-roads, whether controlled by lights or not. One comes to the middle of the lane, wishing to turn right. The only advice given in Rule 78 is at the end:…but do not cut the corner.I have checked the situation during driving recently, and I have found that about one in ten drivers coming from the opposite direction and wishing to turn to their right almost inevitably cut in front of one instead of coming from offside to offside, which would be the correct procedure so that I may turn to the right, offside to offside. Some of the illustrations on page 19 could well have been used on the turning right procedure to show the correct and safe way when someone coming from the opposite direction also wants to turn right.
Rule 95 deals with flashing headlamps. I have always used my own simplified version of what I think has been the heavy transport code, although no one from heavy transport has ever tried to explain to the ordinary driver what that is. But I think that if I flash my headlamps it is an invitation to someone coming from opposite or passing on the offside to come on—that I would stand by while he came through—whereas, if I put on full beam I am, as it were, 1057 putting a bar across the road and asking to go forward myself.
However, the recent judgment by Lord Justice Russell has made confusion even worse confounded. If my right hon. Friend and his predecessors going back a long way are right in their interpretation, then Lord Justice Russell is wrong, and it must be decided just what the law is. If the Ministers over a long period are right, then it seems that at least one person has been penalised who should not have been and that there should be some redress of that grievance.
I come now to the comments made by the cycling organisations, for which I have a great deal of sympathy and admiration. When I am trying to get up a one-in-four incline in bottom gear and see a cyclist with a twelve-speed gear box going past, nothing but admiration suffices. But I wish that long columns of cyclists would break up into smaller groups. It is one thing to pass two, four or even six cyclists together—they take up the length of a good size car—and go in ahead again but quite another to pass a very long column of cyclists.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
Is my hon. Friend referring to the organised Cyclists' Union? If he is, it has been my experience as a car driver that the ordinary cyclists' organisations are the best disciplined cyclists in the country.
§ Mr. Ogden
Their discipline may well be excellent and their stamina is certainly formidable. But I would not have referred to long columns of cyclists had it not been my experience that, on occasion, there are long columns of cyclists. They may be rare but, on occasion, there are such long columns.
§ Mr. Ogden
I am grateful. I believe that the longest vehicle is the R.A.F.'s "Queen Mary", as I understand it is called. I believe other types were used previously, including the "Princess Margaret". The length is about 33 ft. That is a long vehicle to overtake in any circumstances, but there are times when I have met on country roads columns of cyclists longer than that. They may be well organised and have their usual techniques but it is better if they do 1058 break up. Perhaps I have been a little unfortunate in meeting them.
Quite apart from the breaking up of columns of cyclists into smaller groups and difficulties in overtaking them, I wanted to ask whether it will be easier for the leader of a group of cyclists to decide whether the group is riding on a busy or narrow road, as in the proposed code, or whether, as in the previous code, he should decide to ride in single file when road or traffic conditions require it. He has to make a judgment of the one thing or the other and, in the view of someone else, the judgment may be wrong. He is asked to decide whether road or traffic conditions require it, or whether the roads are busy or narrow, and it is a toss-up one way or the other. The letters of hon. Members on this subject seem to have been treated in a cavalier fashion and, if they had not been, perhaps this criticism could have been avoided.
I am pleased to see that on page 34 the flashing indicators, direction indicators, have now been given official recognition. I wonder what effect that will have on the driving test.
Page 37 stands out in awful majesty with the strange complexity of two different kinds of signs saying, "You must not". There is the red circle on the white ground with a turn right in black which has been crossed out with a red line. That is perfectly understandable and clearly says that the driver must not turn to the right, or must not turn to the left with a corresponding sign for that direction, or must not do a U-turn, with that sign. But what is meant by the sign which shows two cars, one in black and one in red? If there were two cars, one of which had been crossed out, that would be clear, as would a comparable sign showing a motor cyclist jumping over a car which would mean, "Beware of flying motor cyclists". But if the sign of a man on a white background with a line drawn through him means that pedestrians are prohibited, why should not that theme be carried through on the sign forbidding overtaking?
This is a serious book and a big improvement on the earlier document. It is a matter for serious study, and I commend it and those who have played their part in producing it.
§ 11.22 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
I want to deal entirely with the problem of horses, and my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) has saved me a good deal of what I intended to say. However, in all humility I have to say that I disagree with my hon. Friend. I share the view of the British Horse Society that in today's traffic conditions to have someone on foot leading a horse on the right-hand side of the road is out of date. Whether led or ridden, horses should be on the same side of the road, the correct side, and should get used to this and road users should get used to finding them on the correct side.
I appreciate the difficulty that some horses are trained to go on the wrong side, but in time it ought not to be impossible to get all horses trained to go on the correct side. Although that may be impossible with some horses now alive, nevertheless, it is something to aim at. That is the view of the British Horse Society and, I understand, the A.A. as well.
I understand that the British Horse Society was not consulted about the revision of the code before it was revised. If that is correct, it is to be regretted. Every interested organisation should have been asked for its views. Why has the code been revised when important organisations, representing sections of the community, have not been consulted?
With the increase in the popularity of riding, a little more attention should be paid to horses instead of merely covering them in Rule 49, by the term "animals". I know that the word includes cattle and sheep as well as horses, and that the rule warns drivers not to frighten animals, but the only animals likely to be frightened are horses.
After all, for cattle and sheep, one has almost to stop, particularly if one is going in the opposite direction. For horses, drivers do not stop. Speaking from my own experience, one sometimes gets "whizzed by" very close, even riding on a grass verge, by someone going at 60 miles an hour. The driver does not realise that if the horse gets scared, not necessarily by traffic, by a piece of paper, or cloth or a leaf, blown by the wind, and suddenly jumps sideways without any warning, the driver of the car will have 1060 no chance of pulling up. I suggest that the words "especially horses" should be inserted after "animals" in at least one place in Rule 49.
I am not sure whether it is possible to change the code, but I suggest that if only a small number of copies have been printed, and there are millions yet to be printed, it should be possible to change it. It is only a question of resetting some type. What is the use of putting a document like this before the House if we cannot alter it in any way whatever? I hope that that point will be reconsidered.
§ 11.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
I want to add my support to my hon. Friend who raised the case of the cyclists' organisations, the representatives of which visited the Ministry of Transport, but have had no reply to their communications. I want to put it on record that it is deplorable to treat members of responsible organisations like this. It is not good enough, and we Members of Parliament are not prepared to stand for it. We are prepared to take this matter further.
I also want to raise the case of the "No Parking" signs, and the double lines. In a number of towns, the police enforce this throughout the 24 hours, yet in others a strange driver may find cars parking after the evening mealtime right along the double lines after the shops have closed. In some towns one can do it and in others one risks being prosecuted. I should like my hon. Friend to look at this, and give a reply to the correspondence handed in to the officials of the Ministry of Transport by the cyclists' representatives.
§ 11.28 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
To be fair, the Ministry of Transport should be congratulated on producing a document that is better than the last. The language and the pictures are clearer. That does not mean to say that it is perfect by any means. I was very glad to hear that 60 organisations were consulted before this document was printed; but, most important of all, the 61st organisation, namely, the House of Commons, was not consulted before the code was finalised.
I notice from the Order Paper—Order No. 3 "Road Traffic "—that a Mr. Richard Marsh was to move this Order. 1061 I was sorry that the Minister of Transport has not come here to do so. He has been dodging in and out, but he has not been listening to what we have been saying.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
He has been dodging in and out, but has not really heard the debate. I hope that he will read it tomorrow. The main point about the code is that the most important person on the road, from the point of view of causing an accident, is the driver. Therefore, the drivers' section should have come first. In addition, the driver has to read 107 different rules. Knowing human nature he will get tired before he is half-way through.
I would suggest that the thing to do would be to pick out the half dozen, or seven most important rules for driving and highlight them at the beginning of the section of the road user on wheels. For instance, pick out "Drive at a safe speed in the circumstances", "Look out for pedestrian crossings and pedestrians on the road", "Do not drive too close to the vehicle in front", "Obey the 'Halt' signs and 'Give Way' notices", "Give a clear signal before turning right", "Look in the mirror before changing direction or speed or slowing down", "Keep out of trouble when you see it in front of you". Those are the rules which ought to have been emphasised in heavy print at the beginning. We all know that of the 16 million drivers only a handful will wade on through the 107 rules. A number of details in the code are not absolutely accurate, but I will not go into that aspect, because a number of my hon. Friends have mentioned it.
I am sorry that the Minister has not seen fit to clarify Rule 95 about flashing headlights. As Lord Justice Russell said in Clark v. Winchurch, there are one or two well accepted conventions. One is that that when a man is putting his headlight up and flashing it means that he is coming right through. The other is that when he is waiting and gives a little flash it means that one can pass in front of him, turn right and so on.
1062 The debate has shown that there are a large number of minor improvements that could have been made to the code, and had the House been consulted about it when it was in draft it would have been very much better.
§ 11.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)
I join my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite who have united in regretting the way in which the new code has come before us. The Minister in his message on page 2 says that the new code has been completely revised and rewritten It should not have been rewritten until the House of Commons had approved the re-writing.
A few points occur to me that have not yet been mentioned. First, the 1960 code advised pedestrians in shopping centres "always" to use zebra crossings. The word "always" does not appear in the new code. I wonder whether there is any significance in this. I should have thought that those who drive through shopping areas would wish to see stronger emphasis on pedestrians using zebra crossings and never passing over the road between them. In such areas there are plenty of pedestrian crossings.
Something else is missing that was in the 1960 code, and that is advice to pedestrians not to stand at a crossing if they are not proposing to go across the road. Many of us have hesitated and slowed down almost to a stop when we have seen a pedestrian standing by a crossing, only to find that he has been waiting for someone shopping on the other side of the road to come across later and join him. I am sorry that that line has been omitted.
There are a lot of points about the code that I support, and I hope that the Minister will accept them. I mention only a few because of the shortness of time. For instance, I should like there to be more warning of filter lights to the left at traffic crossings. Often one sees a car on the left come to a stop when the driver, who intends to go straight on, does not realise that there is a filter light to the left. Then people behind get angry and start hooting and everybody gets bad-tempered.
There should be a clearer definition of signs on the road as to whether one should turn to the left, go straight on or turn 1063 to the right. One sees an arrow to the right and thinks that traffic going to the right must only go that side. One pulls up in the middle of the road with three or four cars in front, and then just before the lights change the car in front on the left moves and turns right. This causes further bad temper and further bad driving in the long run.
Another change relates to the parking of cars opposite or nearly opposite each other. Paragraph 97 of the code states that cars should not be parked opposite each other if this would narrow the road to less than the width of two vehicles. In the previous code the word "nearby" was included. It is important to emphasise that if cars are parked not merely opposite but near each other on opposite sides of the road there is just as much danger, and this should be prevented.
With regard to motorways, I endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) about learner drivers. I am concerned about the instruction to pull into the left-hand lane when not overtaking. Because of the amount of traffic on motorways these days, one should not have to pull in to the left at speeds of 60–70 m.p.h. The middle lane is the furthest that one needs to pull in. If one is advised to pull into the left lane all the time, it will encourage swerving and bad driving.
I should like to have further comment or information from the Government concerning advanced warning signs such as are used on the Continent.
According to the previous Highway Code, drivers could be stopped only by policemen in uniform. According to the new code, they can be stopped by policemen who are not in uniform if certain offences are thought to have been committed. I should like to know the reason for this.
I should like to have seen something in the code about leaving cars in gear when parked on a hill, and whether both sidelights or only one need be used when cars are parked in certain areas. I hesitate to suggest that the code should be longer than it is, but the former code contained a section towards the end concerning the countryside code and first aid. Both of these have vanished, even though the new code is larger.
1064 In spite of all I have said, I assure the House that my comments are expressed in the hope that the code will make the roads even safer.
§ 11.36 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)
I should like from the back benches to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) on being present for the whole of this debate on her new subject of transport. I have watched carefully because I thought that the Minister himself would be present to introduce something as important as the new Highway Code, which will go to almost every driver in the country. I intend no disrespect to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. Even though the Minister did not introduce the code, he did not come into the debate until five minutes to eleven and went out two minutes later. He has now come in again because he realises, at last, how the House of Commons feels about this, not only on this side, but on all sides. He has, no doubt, come with the expectation that we would act as a rubber stamp for him.
I invite the Minister, here and now, to say whether he will withdraw the code to incorporate the amendments which hon. Members have suggested and then come back with it for approval. Will he do that? I have accused him of being arrogant before and he is being arrogant again. He must learn that he cannot treat the House of Commons in this way. Therefore, I shall continue with my speech because, even though the debate must close at midnight tonight, it can be continued on another day.
It is particularly important to have the new Highway Code at the present time when new signs have been introduced and are going up on the roads. There are certain parts of the code to which I wish to draw the attention of the House. I refer first to Rule 88. I was the sponsor of the Bill which became the Road Transport Lighting Act, 1953, which made two rear lights and two reflectors compulsory on each vehicle. There is no doubt, as the figures prove, that this has greatly reduced accidents because, even if the lights fail, the reflectors help to show up the vehicle.
I know that many manufacturers incorporate the reflector in the rear lamp, but I believe that something should have 1065 been said in Rule 88 that, in addition to ensuring that all the lamps work, the reflectors should be clean. No mention is made of reflectors.
Rule 93 deals with the dipping of headlamps. I do not want to go over what other hon. Members have said, but I should like to draw the Minister's attention to the instructions concerning dual carriageways. Sometimes headlamps are dipped and sometimes they are not. Nothing is clearly stated in the code about dual carriageways.
Rule 94, concerning fog, is of tremendous importance because, whenever there is a bad fog, there is a pile-up of vehicles and accidents. First, I should have thought that it was entitled to a headline in red—"Fog". When my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) was Minister of Transport I drafted—with his help—a Bill to make it compulsory to have lights on in fog or bad mist. At that time we could not persuade the Home Office that it would be wise. The Home Office thought that it would be difficult to enforce, so I had to drop the Bill.
I do not like the drawing illustrating a fog. I do not know whether the Minister has studied it, but as I see it a vehicle without lights is overtaking one with lights. It might have been better to have had the vehicle without lights nearer and the other one further away. If the Minister will look at the drawing he will see that the lights are so wide apart that they really represent sidelights and not headlights. There should have been four white dots, but the picture shows only two tiny ones.
Mr. Bob Brown
The hon. Member should realise that that is why we say,Use your headlamps in daytime mist or fog…because sidelights would not show up—and they would not show up on the illustration, either.
§ Sir H. Harrison
To most people the lights shown in the drawing would represent sidelights. Very often people look at illustrations without reading what they illustrate.
I now turn to the illustrations on pages 34 and 35. I have had a letter about them from a Mr. Russell—not a constituent but a person living in Southampton, who runs a driving school, with 1066 registered driving instructors. In his letter—a copy of which has gone to the Ministry—he says that he is very unhappy with the second illustration on page 34, showing the nearside indicator flashing, and the words,I intend to move in to the left or turn left or stop on the left.This should be taken with the third illustration on page 35, the slowing down signal. I know that this is a hand signal which is used if the electrical indicators are not working, but the caption says,I intend to slow down or stop. This signal should be used when slowing down or stopping at zebra crossings".This does not mean that the driver was deviating out of his line or moving to the left, and Mr. Russell rightly says that there is no problem in the practical, common sense application of these two signals, but he goes on to say that they conflict completely with the Ministry of Transport Approved Driving School instructions on previous occasions.
As the rule for the test stands at the moment literally anyone who uses the left-hand indicator as indicated in the new Highway Code could easily fail the M.O.T. test. There have been many examples of this.
Could this point be looked at, and all approved driving instructors be given fresh guides on the matter? We do not want one instruction for the test and another for use later.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
The other day on the radio, in the motoring half-hour, this very point was raised, and the Ministry official on the programme said that what was shown in this book was very bad practice, and was against the Highway Code.
§ Sir H. Harrison
That reinforces my plea and shows how important it is for hon. Members to speak in this debate and express their views. The important thing is to get the Highway Code—when amended—known and practised by established drivers. Experienced drivers read the Highway Code much less frequently than new drivers. I suppose that it would be too much to ask the Minister to make it compulsory for a copy to be carried in every car. Next Friday, we are to debate the Second Reading of a Bill about vehicle registrations. Perhaps this is a point which could be considered then.
1067 I endorse all that my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) said. I believe that this new Highway Code should be withdrawn, so that the Minister can look into the points which have been made in the debate and make the necessary alterations. I urge that special attention should be given to that section of it dealing with fog conditions.
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Sir Clive Bossom (Leominster)
We cannot alter the code tonight, and I deplore that fact, like others of my hon. Friends. But, leaving that on one side, how are we to get its contents over to our 14 million motorists? It is regrettable that the price has been increased by 150 per cent., because it will be more difficult to sell, and it will not be bought automatically by all motorists. Too many will say, "I know it all", when in fact there is much new material in it. The motoring organisations will do all that they can by means of their own free distributions of literature, but that cannot be enough. The Government's propaganda machine has been a formidable and powerful one over the past two years. Now the Ministry must switch it on full blast to publicise the code to 14 million motorists.
I should like to see the free distribution of it widened to include teen-agers who are about to leave school. In addition, it should be taught to them in their last two terms at school. After all, most of them will be learning to drive soon afterwards and, just as younger children are taught kerb drill, teen-agers about to leave school should be taught the full code. Perhaps the Minister could consult his right hon. Friend the Minister of Education with this in view. I should like to suggest that we should have national quiz competitions on it on television, so as to get it known and talked about. It cannot be given too much publicity.
How many copies of the 6 million needed for next year have been printed so far? In the next edition, I hope that it will be amended, with special attention being given to signs on automatic half-barrier level crossings. There have been 18 near-misses on the Leominster crossing, and there is a great deal of ignorance about it. Greater publicity is required to get it over to people, so that they 1068 know and understand the new procedure. It has been recommended that the present sign be scrapped, and we cannot afford to wait another five years with an out-of-date sign shown in the code.
Turning to Rules 138 and 139, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) when he says that they could be confusing to a motorist. Surely it would be far better for motorists to get used to expecting to find horses and ponies always going on the same side of the road—the left-hand side.
To sum up, this is a good code. But, no matter how good, it is of no use unless it is read and understood by every one of our 14 million motorists. A full-scale campaign must be started to publicise it as widely as possible.
§ 11.49 p.m.
Mr. Bob Brown
I want to comment first on the criticism about the presentation of the Highway Code. This procedure has been followed for 38 years—
§ Mr. Webster
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not certain that the Parliamentary Secretary sought the leave of the House to speak again.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. On a Motion of this kind, he does not need the leave of the House.
I concede freely that it is time for a change, but, if hon. Gentlemen opposite had listened to my opening remarks, they would have heard me make special reference to the need for revision of the code. I particularly stressed that my right hon. Friend would be interested to hear the comments of hon. Members, since we recognise the need for a change in future presentation. However, it is not fair for hon. Gentlemen opposite to criticise us when we are following the procedure which has been adopted since the first Highway Code was published.
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
In any revision, could the code be altered so that we are clear about the meaning of the word "road"? The code refers 1069 to roads, highways, carriageways and motorways. We know what a motorway is. What is the difference between a road and a highway, a highway and a carriageway and a road and a carriageway?
If my hon. Friend had been in his place at the beginning of the debate he would be aware of the various definitions. I do not have time now to answer his question.
§ Mr. Hay
The hon. Gentleman was complaining about our having complained about the procedure which has been followed. If he will refer to the 1959 debate, when the last code was approved, he will see that the then Government provided a whole day for its discussion. Had I had the opportunity, I would have suggested earlier that that would have been a better procedure on this occasion, rather than the two hours which the Government have provided at this hour of the night.
That is a debatable point which can be kept in mind for future Highway Code debates.
The hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) questioned the rôle of the Department in connection with signs for moving to the left. The publication of the new code will make it necessary for the present instructions which are given to approved instructors to be changed, but this cannot be done until the House approves the code tonight.
Several hon. Members referred to the price of the code and compared its cost of 1s. 3d. with that of the former code, which was 6d. There is ample justification for the increase. [Interruption.] The new code combines the traffic signs booklet and the Highway Code, making it two publications in one. There have been large increases in the cost of printing, distribution and so on since 1959, when the last code was produced. For example, at 1959 prices, the cost of printing 1 million copies each of the code and the traffic signs booklet would be just over £10,000. At 1968 prices it would be £17,500, an increase of more than 70 per cent. I need say no more on the question of cost.
The possibility of a Highway Code for children was mentioned. The Royal National Institute for the Deaf produced a special code for deaf children 1070 some years ago. This has been brought up to date and, because of its quality, it is felt that it would be ideal for all children, up to the age when they are better able to understand the adult Highway Code.
The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) and others asked many questions which had nothing to do with the code but which were more concerned with the technique of driving. The driving manual, which the Department proposes to publish in the second half of next year and which will, I hope, be a best seller, will deal at length with matters such as driving technique and will fully answer many of the points raised in this connection.
The hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) referred to his experiences with school buses. These vehicles are covered by Rule 40. The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) mentioned the depressing habit of some drivers on motorways of flashing their headlights at motorists ahead of them to indicate that though travelling at the speed limit, they want to overtake and exceed it. I could not agree more—it really is a desperate practice, and should cease. Nevertheless, the code stresses that the separation distance is a very important matter. This aspect of the subject of flashing headlamps is a valid point about which we might well think in the future.
I have noted the hon. Gentleman's suggestion about a priority ruling. Again, the question of who has the prior right at a "T" junction is more a matter of driving technique, and will be mentioned in more detail in the driving manual that we intend to publish next year.
The hon. Member for Henley criticised the presentation of the document, and suggested that we should have laid a draft in the first place. I again stress that it is not clear whether the present powers would allow us to do this. But his suggestion is very valuable, and one to which we shall give consideration when next presenting the code.
I am sorry to have had to leave to the last the subject of cyclists, which has raised the greatest interest in the debate. Here, I must apologise to other hon. Members whose many and varied points I must clearly leave unanswered tonight, but the subject of the cyclist must be dealt with before this debate ends. The 1071 Cycling Council of Great Britain, which represents some 22,000 members, has objected to the new rule and has asked for it to be changed. The Council maintains that the general rule to ride in single file on busy and narrow roads is unnecessary and unfair, but it stretches a point when it suggests that it will completely undermine cycling as a recreation.
It is true that the Department has had more than one communication from the Cycling Council, but the Department's main consideration in the preparation of this new Rule 132 has clearly been the safety of the cyclist. It is worth stating that in 1959 some 11,300 cyclists were killed or seriously injured, and last year there were some 6,700. The number of cyclists is declining steadily each year and this partly accounts for the fewer casualties, but even though there are fewer casualties on the road the cyclist casualty rate has steadily increased, and so, in fact, has the involvement of cyclists in injury accidents.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the Affirmative, because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 32 (Majority for Closure).1072
§ In 1959 the casualty rate for cyclists was 616 per 100 million vehicle miles. In 1967 it was 771 per 100 million vehicle miles. In 1959, the number of cyclists involved in injury accidents was 696 per 100 million vehicle miles, and the corresponding figure in 1967 was 827. Those figures suffice to show that the new rule for cyclists is necessary, but if in the light of experience it proves to be otherwise, when the more ready bringing up to date of the code which I have mentioned earlier comes about we shall have another look at this aspect.
§ Mr. Ernest Armstrong (Durham, North-West)
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 45, Noes 14.1071
|Division No. 7.]||AYES||[12 m.|
|Alldritt, Walter||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Marsh, Rt. Hon. Richard|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Heffer, Eric S.||Millan, Bruce|
|Bishop, E. S.||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Ogden, Eric|
|Booth, Albert||Hoy, James||O'Malley, Brian|
|Brown, Bob (Newcastle, W.)||Hynd, John||Peart, Rt. Hon. Fred|
|Carmichael, Neil||Judd, Frank||Perry, George H. (Notts, S.)|
|Coleman, Donald||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Roebuck, Roy|
|Concannon, J. D.||Lomas, Kenneth||Silkin, Rt. Hon. John (Deptford)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. G. P. (Exeter)||Loughlin, Charles||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Dunwoody, Or. John (Falm'th)||McNamara, Kevin||Urwin, T. W.|
|Ellis, John||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Varley, Eric G.|
|English, Michael||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Whitlock, William|
|Grey, Charles (Durham)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (H'dd'rsfi'ld, E.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hannan, William||Manuel, Archie||Mr. Ernest Armstrong and|
|Harper, Joseph||Marks, Kenneth||Mr. Neil McBride.|
|Berry, Hon. Anthony||Gresham Cooke, R.||Waddington, David|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Harrison, Sir Harwood (Eye)||Webster, David|
|Buchanan-Smith, A. (Angus, N.)||Mills, Peter (Torrington)|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Page, Graham (Crosby)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Russell, Sir Ronald||Mr. Timothy Kitson and|
|Grant-Ferris, R.||Steel, David (Roxburgh)||Mr. Hector Monro.|
§ It being after two hours after Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed this day.