HL Deb 25 July 1907 vol 179 cc4-8


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I almost feel that some apology is due from me for the fact that I am in charge of this Bill, because it is practically a Government measure. The clauses in the Bill cover 103 lines, of which seventy-one, or over 70 per cent., represent Amendments introduced in another place on the Motion of Mr. Herbert Samuel, the representative of the Government. It is a Bill for which I hope I shall be able to show there is considerable necessity, and it will, I believe, be of considerable value in protecting the public. The present condition of affairs, as I understand it, is that whereas motorists and cyclists are under certain statutory obligations to provide themselves with and to use a lamp or lamps at certain times, other vehicles are merely subject to by-laws whenever they happen to be made. These by-laws differ very much in different parts of the country, as has been proved by Papers which have been laid before Parliament. This is not a motorists Bill—I am not the proud owner of a motor-car myself—but it arises from the enormous number of accidents that occur to all classes of vehicles through the absence of lights. I have here a shoal of cases, a great many of the Papers in my hand comprising records of accidents all over the country due entirely to the absence of lights on the public roads at night. There are accidents between motors and motors, between motors and other vehicles, between cycles and other vehicles, between traps and traps, and between carts and pedestrians, and as I have said they come from all over the country. In view of the important debate which is to come on in the course of this sitting, I will not go into the cases in detail, but I do not think it will be denied that accidents are frequently occurring through the absence of any provisions such as are ordained by this Bill. Everybody. complains of the fact. This Bill is supported by three or four very powerful associations, who obviously have based their support on wide experience. I have Papers which show that the Bill is supported by the Motor Union, by the Roads Improvement Association, which works in conjunction with the Motor Union, by the Cyclists Touring Club, representing 32,000 cyclists, by the Central Chamber of Agriculture, which thought it worth while to issue a whip in favour of the Bill when it was down for consideration on Second Reading in another place; it is also supported by several municipalities and by the Urban District Councils Association, whose only objection to it seems to be that it does not in their view go far enough. Therefore, I think I have not been exaggerating in saying that almost everybody— at any rate a very considerable section of the public—is in favour of the Bill.

I will go very briefly through the main provisions of the Bill. The first clause enacts that lights are to be carried by vehicles at night, which is more or less from one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise. That is the same provision as is necessary for motor-cars. It also makes it necessary for any vehicle the contents of which extend to any considerable length to carry a tail light, and it ordains that lights shall always be kept properly lighted and trimmed. Clause 2 provides for the provision of penalties. Clause 3 gives power to make exceptions. There are certain cases in which exceptions are necessary. Your Lordships will see that Sub-section 5 makes an exception in favour of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. The Liverpool Docks are very largely used by carriers of cotton, and cotton and other goods of that inflammable nature should receive special protection at all times. Therefore, power is given to except cases in which the use of a light continually would be dangerous. Clause 4 defines what a vehicle is and repeals existing by-laws, the object being to secure uniformity throughout the length and breadth of the country. That is practically the whole Bill; at any rate those are the main principles of the measure. As far as we know there are no opposing voices, the few objections that were made in another place having been, I think, generously met by the promoters. The Bill left the House of Commons with the unanimous recommendation of that body, no dissentient voice being raised against it. It is difficult to understand why legislation of this kind has been for so long delayed. I believe the Bill will result in very little hardship to individuals, and it will be a very great advantage to the public safety, and it is for these reasons I ask your Lordships to read it a second time.

Moved, "That the Bill be now re; 2a"—(The Earl of Donoughmore.)


Before this Bill is read a second time there is one small point to which I should like to call attention. The Bill provides for an exception being made from the provision that lights shall be necessary, in favour of farmers during what may be called the harvest months, when the road passes through a farm which the farmer occupies. It is quite necessary that there should be some such exception, for it would be absurd and even dangerous to require a farmer to put lights on a wagon carrying hay, or straw, or corn. Of course, such traffic should be exempt from any such provisions. But I do not think that in the Bill as it stands the exemption is quite wide enough. I think some provision should be inserted to extend it to other months, which will include the hay harvest, for example. I merely commend that point to the attention of my noble friend.


I have no desire to enter any opposition to this Bill, but I have had representations from the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and other bodies in Liverpool with reference to the particular area adjoining the Liverpool Docks. There are about seven miles of road there which are very brilliantly lighted, and these bodies submit that it is quite unnecessary for carts in that particular district to carry lights. They are very anxious that the local authority should have power to exempt that area from the provisions of the Bill. No doubt there is a provision enabling local authorities to exempt particular carts, but very often the carter in this instance really does not know whether his cart contains imflammable material or not, and the Liverpool bodies to which I refer think it extremely desirable in the interests of public safety and the trade of the port that there should be power to the local authority to exempt the seven miles of road along the Liverpool Docks. There may probably be other cases of the same character elsewhere, and I will ask y noble friend before we go into Committee to consider the representations which have been made in this respect.


My Lords, legislation of this important character has been long desired by a large number of people, and not only by those who are concerned with motors. This Bill has passed the other House, as was truly said by Lord Donoughmore, with general assent. Of course, at this period of the session it is not possible to amend a Bill of this kind to any extent, although I may say there are some Amendments which I should have liked to have seen made. For instance, the Bill does not provide that as a matter of course vehicles shall show a red light in the rear, but it does provide that if the lamp is constructed to show a light at the back that light shall be red. I think we may assume that in regard to all vehicles that use the roads regularly—not agricultural vehicles travelling from one field to another—they will be fitted with lamps, and it will probably be found just as cheap in practice to provide in the lamp a little circle of red glass at the back which will effect the object desired. There is one immense advantage in this legislation, and that is that it secures uniformity. Not only are all vehicles to be lighted, but the regulations are to be uniform. At present the various by-laws in force in different parts of the country vary among them- selves in many ways, and people who go from one district to another can hardly tell for certain whether they are observing the by-laws in force in that particular district or not. For instance, in a parish of Lincolnshire, I happen to know that a very serious accident was caused upon the Great North Road owing to the local regulation not requiring a vehicle to be lighted at all during the summer months. In consequence a vehicle was quite invisible to another and thereby a serious accident was caused. Your Lordships may be sure that the result of this legislation will be to save several lives and a great deal of property every year. Therefore, I hope the Bill will pass into law this session.


I rise on behalf of the Home Office merely to say that they will be very glad indeed to see this Bill pass into law, and to assist the noble Earl in achieving that result. I have very little doubt that as a result of negotiations arrangements will easily be made to meet the various points raised by the noble Viscount and the noble Lord opposite. Your Lordships will be able to deal satisfactorily with these matters in Committee. Perhaps the main benefit which this Bill will confer is that mentioned by the noble Earl behind me—that of securing uniformity throughout the country. It is really a curious study to see a map of the country with the various counties marked according to the different by-laws which they enforce. I have no doubt at all that the enforcement of uniformity in this direction will be a very great boon to all those who use the roads of the country.

On Question. Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.