HL Deb 05 May 1909 vol 1 cc765-806

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I do not wish to call attention to this matter in any spirit of old time prejudice to the motor car industry. I think your Lordships will agree that at this time of day any remarks of that sort would be wholly out of place. Probably I am right in saving that with the fall of the Sultan of Turkey we have seen the complete disappearance of the extreme anti-motor spirit. I will not say whether I wish motor cars had been introduced into this country twenty-five or thirty years later. My own views about them are that they appear to be singularly out of place in the hunting field. I could not help thinking yesterday that they had never been better employed than when I saw them carrying electors up to the poll to vote for Mr. Foster in the Stratford-on-Avon division.

I propose now, with your Lordships' permission, to address myself to one or two aspects of the matter which may, perhaps, be broached in connection with a Bill introduced by an unofficial member of the House. The Government, I am glad to see, intend to deal with this matter in their Budget. In fact, with the exception of one or two benevolent remarks about the agricultural landlords—which, by the way, were speedily discounted by looking at the increase in the income tax and the death duties—I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer's references to motor cars were the only part of the Budget in which I was able to find the slightest satisfaction. There is no doubt whatever that it would be very easy to make a long speech to prove the existence of grievances with regard to the way in which motor car traffic is conducted. I cannot help thinking that almost the chief grievance as regards the administration of the present law is the total failure to command obedience to one of its most important provisions.

I do not propose to argue as to whether it is, or is not, an offence against morality to disobey the law with regard to the speed limit. It would, I am sure, be impertinent to do so in your Lordships' House, because I daresay I may be in the presence of some who may at one time or another have travelled in a motor car a little faster than twenty miles an hour. Exceeding the speed limit has come to be regarded in much the same category as breaking a by-law, and no stigma attaches to a man for driving a motor car at a speed of more than twenty miles an hour. I think your Lordships will agree that one regrettable aspect of the matter is that the police, in the execution of their duty, have been obliged to resort to machinery which a great many people, because they consider it vexatious, have taken means to prevent. When you find an important body of people employing an agent to keep cave—as we used to call it at Eton—it looks rather as if they were contemplating some breach of the law, or, at any rate, doing something in contravention of the spirit of the Act of Parliament, which they would rather not be found out as having done. However that may be, the statute law, which was passed for the express purpose of protecting the public from an intolerable nuisance, has utterly broken down in one of its most important provisions. That is an unwholesome state of things, and I think your Lordships will agree that Parliament ought to pass an Act as speedily as possible which will have some prospect of being obeyed.

The three difficulties from which the general public have suffered most since motor cars were introduced arise from dust, danger, and damage. Of course, dust is by far the most fruitful source of the unpopularity of the motor car. It is not, in my humble opinion, such a serious matter as the danger, but you hear a great deal more about it, because the dust nuisance is ubiquitous. The disagreeable effects of dust are brought home to everybody, whereas a fatal accident only creates a sort of nine days' wonder in the particular locality in which it has happened. The dust nuisance, therefore, is the real reason why motor cars have become, at any rate in country districts, cordially detested by so many people. This is not in any sense due solely to the inconsiderate use of motor cars, but is absolutely an inherent result of the use of any motor car which is driven at a speed greater than ten miles an hour. It is not too much to say that nobody can go out on a dusty day and drive his car at anything like what he may consider a suitable speed without running the risk of causing very grave inconvenience to somebody or other on the highways.

There are those who think that the alleviation of the dust nuisance is to be found in the preparation of the roads. The Chancellor of the Exchequer alluded to this in his Budget speech the other day, and I am very glad that in proposing this alleviation he had in mind the dust nuisance. But I was rather sorry to see that he qualified his proposal with regard to the dust nuisance and his general project for dealing with this trouble by saying that he had consulted the Automobile Club. I daresay he was very well advised, but I hope he will not think that because any of his proposals have received the imprimatur of the Automobile Club they are necessarily going to be accepted by everybody else. May I also say that I hope his visits to the Automobile Club will be tempered by an occasional call on the Highways Protection League, where he will receive some useful and excellent advice about this important matter. There is not the slightest doubt that the treatment of the roads is a highly necessary step.

The condition of the highways in this country in a great many places is worse than it was eight years ago before the introduction of motor cars on anything like a large scale. I should think the highways of England had never been in such a good state as they were some eight or ten years ago. I am not aware that at present any invention has been adopted for the preparation of a dustless surface. I know that here and there an inventor has claimed a success, but it is necessary to ascertain whether his preparation is really durable and whether it is not extremely expensive. It is essential also to find out whether a preparation of this kind is going to withstand the constant wear and tear of the steel-shod tires which nowadays nearly everybody has on his motor car. I hope it is not too much to express the hope that the Government, in dealing with this matter, will keep in mind the steel-studded tire and its great disintegrating power on the surface of any road, examples of which your Lordships may see in plenty up and down the country.

Then there is another matter which ought not to be lost sight of. You cannot put the highways of this country into a condition which will make them suitable only for motor car traffic. Supposing that you can get your dustless surface, you will have to bear in mind that you must produce a road fit in all respects for public use—a road not only fitted for motorists, but which could be used at the same time for all kinds of horsed traffic. There are in the neighbourhood of certain country towns which I know one or two roads of a very hard and slippery kind which are becoming increasingly dangerous for horses. As years go on I find I take considerably more of my pleasure in the hunting field riding down the middle of the road. It is sincerely to be hoped that the roads of the country will be treated in such a way as to keep them in a suitable state for people to take their pleasure on them on horses at the same time as others use them for motoring.

Although I believe that the preparation of the roads will have a great deal of effect in laying the dust, there is no doubt that some part of the remedy for the present nuisance is to be found in the regulation of the speed limit. As a matter of fact, the universal treatment of the roads to prevent the dust plague will be expensive and will take a long time, and I cannot help thinking it is rather unfair to ask the general public to wait and be "dusted " day after day, week after week, and month after month until we have found time, and money, and brains to prepare our roads in a proper and suitable manner. There is no doubt that dust has a direct relation to speed. The findings of the Royal Com- mission prove that beyond the shadow of a doubt. You will remember that in the opinion of the Commissioners the quantity of dust raised at a speed of ten miles an hour is comparatively slight. It increases greatly when the speed is from ten to twenty miles an hour, and continues to increase, though not quite at a corresponding ratio, at greater speeds.

Then there is the question of the danger. I will not recite to your Lordships the number of accidents which occur every year in this country. That number, as you are aware, is great. The answer of motorists will be—at any rate it is the argument one usually hears—that there have probably been more accidents caused by horsed vehicles than by motors. If that point is raised my reply is that the Bill which I am asking you to consider deals with the question of horsed vehicles as well as motor vehicles. The most disastrous of all accidents which are caused are, undoubtedly, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, the accidents to children. It would of course, be very difficult to prevent children loitering on the road when returning from school. I do not propose in this Bill that children should have a right to play in the road and to use it for all and sundry purposes whenever they wish to do so. But the fact remains that you will not be able by running over them to bring the children of England into such a frame of mind that they will get out of the way speedily whenever they see a motor car coming.

It is impossible not to sympathise in a sort of way with those who have had the misfortune to run over children in the road, but somehow or other after an accident of that kind, by means of the Press accounts of the occurrence and letters which are written to the newspapers, the sympathy which in the natural order of things the parents of the child should enjoy is contrived to be shifted to those who have perpetrated the accident. I daresay your Lordships will remember the terrible tragedy which happened at Staines a few months ago. I am not calling attention to that sad occurrence now for the purpose of making capital out of it, though I think it would be quite possible to make a great deal of capital out of it. Neither do I wish to bring any charge whatever against the humanity of the owner or the of the motor car, nor find fault with or traverse in any way the judgment delivered in respect of that very disastrous accident. But I think you will agree with me that the parent who went from the graveside after burying one of his children to the bedside in the hospital of three more of them, finding one helpless with a broken thigh and the other two unable to speak or to recognise their father, was a more deserving object of sympathy than the gentleman who ran down the children. This undoubtedly is a state of things which must be remedied by nothing less than an Act of Parliament.

The Bill I am asking your Lordships to consider contains what I hope all parties concerned in the question may find to be a reasonable compromise in the matter of speed; because, after all, it is speed and nothing else but speed which has been at the bottom of nine-tenths of the trouble as regards the nuisance caused by motor cars to the general public. In dealing with this matter I have preferred to leave the condition of the large towns as it is at present. London, for instance, has a sufficient organisation of its own to make itself felt and to insure that its views shall be properly represented in Parliament. Not only that, but in London and other great cities the police are always at hand, whereas in country districts they are very often absent at the moment when they are most wanted. I therefore propose that in rural villages and other places which are dangerous according to the spirit of this Bill there shall be a speed limit of not more than ten miles an hour. The answer to this may be that in a great many places such a restriction has already been imposed; that the local authority has, in fact, already set up a speed limit where it is necessary. My reply is that the local authority is by no means to be depended upon to do this, and that in many places where local authorities have actually imposed a speed limit, observance of the regulation is not enforced by proper penalties. Also the signals are not taken proper notice of by motorists, who shoot past them without slackening speed, and go straight into the danger zone as if the signals were not there at all.

I have had a certain amount of experience of driving on the roads ever since I left school. I have driven every sort of carriage from a hansom cab to a four-in-hand for pleasure and hire, both in town and country. Therefore I believe I may humbly suggest that I have some right to speak about the dangers of the roads; and I say, without fear of contradiction, that ten miles an hour is quite fast enough for any motor car or horse-drawn vehicle to proceed through country villages, over cross roads, round corners, or through any tortuous places where a difficult situation is likely to arise at any moment, bringing with it considerable dangers. This restriction would be no hardship to motor car owners, but would be shared by them in common with the owners of other vehicles, and should not therefore be objected to in any way. I have no wish to say anything that could be at all construed as a threat, but unless this principle is accepted by those who represent what I may call the motor party I, for one, will be no party on this occasion or in the future to extending the speed limit in the open.

Now we come to the extension of the speed limit to thirty miles in strictly open country. That is a matter which has aroused considerable controversy. Some people say it is a great deal too much, while others say it is not nearly enough. I think on the whole, from letters I have received and other evidence which has reached me, that in my desire to effect a compromise between the two extreme parties I have met with the greater condemnation from those who think that a speed of thirty miles an hour in the open is too much. But although this may be thought by some to be a considerable concession, everybody at some time or another goes at nearly thirty miles an hour, and a great many go considerably faster. As far as I can see, the Legislature is entirely unable at the present moment to prevent people travelling at twenty-five or twenty-six miles an hour. It is a practice which is almost universally indulged in by motorists who go out on the country roads. Some people may say the fact that everybody breaks the law at the present moment is not a sufficient reason for pandering to this sort of thing, and that we ought to stiffen the penalties so as to compel them to keep within the twenty mile speed limit. But we are faced with the situation that at the present moment the attempt to enforce a speed limit of twenty miles an hour has collapsed altogether, and something must be done, in the interests of good government, to pass a law which has some chance of being obeyed by motorists. Thirty miles an hour seems to me the outside speed at which any vehicle, horse-drawn or otherwise, should be allowed to proceed along the roads of this country.

There is a certain school of motorists which wishes to do away with the speed limit altogether, but I hope your Lordships will agree that the abolition of a general speed limit of some kind or other would create a very serious lack of public confidence, and is not a thing which the vast majority of the electors of this country would find themselves in accord with for a single moment. As far as I am concerned, I must offer a most uncompromising opposition to the entire abolition of the speed limit. Some owners say, "Why don't you abolish it altogether and fine us heavily if we drive to the common danger?" A noble Lord says "hear. hear." That is, I admit, on the face of it an exceedingly fair way of dealing with the matter. I was going to use the word "plausible," and I hope noble Lords will not accuse me of any offence in the matter. It is, however, very difficult to prove that anybody is driving to the common danger, as frequent experience has shown. If you abolish the speed limit altogether a clever motorist will be able to spend most of his life travelling about the roads at a speed of forty, fifty, or even sixty miles an hour, and, if he has a bit of luck, and does not print the letters on the back of his car in large type, he may escape punishment altogether. Such a man might throughout his career as a motorist constantly cause intense inconvenience to other users of the public roads on which he travelled, and I think few people would say that he should be allowed to do this unchecked.

There are, however, those who say that there are quite a number of places in this country where it is possible to go at a considerably greater speed than thirty miles an hour with perfect safety. Salisbury Plain is usually the place instanced by this school of thought when they argue as to the extension of the speed limit. But there is only one Salisbury Plain in England, and although there are other places, like the fen country in Cambridgeshire, where you may travel at a speed of thirty miles an hour, or even a little more, for a few minutes without encountering serious danger, these are not the considerations which ought to be taken into account in dealing with the regulation of motor traffic. England is not big enough for that kind of thing. The country is intersected for the most part by rather narrow winding roads, and there are few places where the kind of enterprise I have described can be indulged in with absolute safety. I have in my possession a copy of an advertisement of a motor light which I have no doubt has been sent to some of your Lordships. It must be advertised, I suppose, to meet a demand for this sort of thing. One of the advanatges claimed for this light is that if you use it on your motor car you will be able to go at a speed of at least forty miles an hour on a dark night. This suggests a state of things which should not be allowed to continue, and I sincerely hope that the noble Earl opposite (Earl Russell) in considering the motor question, will take very serious note of it. I shall be only too pleased, if he wishes to know the name of the gentleman who advertises this light, to supply him with it on a suitable occasion.

The limit of speed to thirty miles an hour is not, I submit, in the nature of a restriction that will injure the motor car industry in any way whatever. It will be a concession to a class of motorists who, after all, form quite a small fraction of the motor community, and a still smaller fraction of the community at large. Those who use motor cars for pure pleasure in this country will not, I am convinced, find fault with me when I suggest that, after all, they are a very small minority of the whole community, and that others are entitled to consideration as well as themselves. In order further to secure the safety of the public I have caused a clause to be drafted in this Bill to the effect that the fact of a motorist being able to prove that he was driving at a speed below thirty miles an hour, or ten or twenty miles as the case may be, shall not necessarily be held to be a valid answer to the charge of driving to the public danger. In this way the public will receive a double protection.

I now come to the apportionment of the roads over which these various speed limits may be exercised. This is, I admit at once, a matter of very considerable difficulty. The first impulse. of course, is to say to the local authority that they ought to do it in response to the appeal of the inhabitants of any particular locality. But the county council are not always to be trusted in this matter. I do not like telling tales out of school about my own county council; but I am going to do so all the same. The Warwickshire County Council have been particularly unsatisfactory in this respect. It has frequently been memorialised by dwellers in the villages and elsewhere, but somehow or other the appeal has not been forwarded to the quarters where the memorialists hoped it would eventually be sent. I am not for a moment bringing any charge against the purity of intention of the county council. I have not the slightest doubt that they act with the greatest integrity, but if the proceedings had been controlled by the President of the Royal Automobile Club himself they could not possibly have played better into the hands of the motorists. I trust, however, that in accordance with the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the local authorities will be required to carry out the proposed duties under the control of the central Government.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer himself suggested that the management of the roads should become a part of the duties of the central Government. The scheme of the Bill is that the Local Government Board shall make regulations and prescribe the class of roads to come under the ten, twenty, and thirty mile speed limits respectively. Then the local authority is, within three months after the passing of the Act, to submit a draft scheme to the Local Government Board, showing the places and limits in their district within which, in accordance with the regulations, the respective speed limits should be fixed as the maximum speeds. The draft scheme is to be advertised, and any person will have a right to lodge an objection to it with the Local Government Board, who will determine whether the scheme is satisfactory or not. I will not, however, weary your Lordships with details of the machinery. I have set forth the main object of the Bill, which is that we should secure something like uniformity in the management of the roads of the country, and the general application of the speed limit and of motor car regulations. I contend that this can only be done by taking the power out of the hands of the local authority and having the whole matter controlled by the Local Government Board. There are one or two matters that will require a certain amount of attention.

There is a clause in the Bill that the owner of a car shall be guilty of an offence under the Act as well as his driver. This is a clause which I hope the noble Earl on the Front Bench opposite will give his very serious consideration to in framing any future regulations. It is only in accord with the recommendation of the Royal Commission. If your Lordships refer to paragraph 97 in the Blue-book containing the Report of the Royal Commission on this question, you will find there a recommendation to this effect. It is so easy to say that the owner of a car cannot control the driver if the owner is not himself in the car and if the driver is exceeding the speed limit. I believe, however, the owner is particeps criminis, and ought to suffer as well as his chauffeur. If anybody says that his chauffeur is constantly in the habit of exceeding the speed limit without him knowing about it, this means either that he cannot or will not issue proper orders to his own servants with regard to keeping the law. If I had a car, which I have not, I would see that the driver always restrained himself within the limits prescribed by law.

With regard to the penalties, I propose that under the Bill they shall be increased as compared with the penalties we are already accustomed to in the case of offending motorists. A great many fancy penalties have been suggested at one time or another, such, for instance, as the impounding of the car. I believe the impounding of the owner himself will in the end be found to be more effective than anything else. I propose, therefore, to rely for punishment on the old-fashioned methods of fine and imprisonment. These are, I believe, the best method's of stigmatising those who have committed an offence against society. They are set forth in the Bill. There is an increased power given to magistrates to fine motorists, and a second offence can be punished, if thought desirable, by imprisonment. At the present moment the fine which magistrates are allowed to inflict is hopelessly inadequate, because it is no punishment for a rich man to be fined on ten or twenty occasions in a year the trifling sum of £5 or so. I also thought, in order to help insure that everybody should know what he was doing, that a speedometer should be carried in every motor car. This, I think, might help to provide a check upon speed.

Then there comes the question of the abolition of the horn or loud instrument of warning. I can hardly find any one to support me in my desire to do away with the motor car horn. I cannot understand why. The provision, however, is not vital to this important measure, though I do think that if you take away the power of a motorist to clear all the traffic when a considerable distance away you will tend to lessen the speed at which he goes. Not only that, but the constant blowing of horns in villages and populous places is becoming a very grave nuisance indeed, and I have received a great number of complaints from those who live near street corners. It seems to me that motor car owners and drivers wish to arrogate to themselves the privileges of the fire engine, and to be enabled to order everybody out of the way for a considerable distance ahead of them. This is very much objected to by almost everybody. The general public think it is far better to sacrifice their personal dignity to their personal safety. Drivers of motor cars do not wish to be put to the trouble that drivers of horse carriages are occasionally put to of having to stand up and shout to drivers of vans to get out of the way. The policy to which I have tried to give effect in this Bill is that of treating horse carriages and motor cars in the same way. I have endeavoured to explain, as briefly as possible, the few proposals I have ventured to lay before your Lordships' House, and I desire to thank you for the kind way in which you have listened to me.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Willoughby de Broke.)


moved to leave out all the words after the word "That," for the purpose of inserting the following resolution— In the opinion of this House, the public safety will not be promoted by any legislation dealing with the speed of vehicles apart from the surrounding circumstances, and failing to distinguish between questions of speed and questions of danger, or to recognise the superior control of mechanically propelled as compared with horse-drawn traffic.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, since the noble Lord gave notice of the Second Reading of this Bill the situation has become slightly changed, and I think there will not be so many motor cars to annoy him after the various taxes we have heard of in another place are imposed. But I think a word of thanks is due from motorists to the noble Lord for the courtesy and moderation with which he stated his case against the motor car, and for not repeating a great many of the arguments I am sure he hears at the Highways Protection League when he presides over its meetings. We have seen in the papers extremely intolerant and violent utterances directed against motorists which have been inspired purely and simply by prejudice. The noble Lord did not, of course, repeat those accusations here.

There is one merit in this Bill—I will not say its only merit, but a preeminent merit—and that is that for the first time motor cars and carriages are treated on the same basis. If that view had been adopted almost from the beginning—as I believe your Lordships' House was at one time ready to do, or, at any rate, to go very far in that direction—I think we should have had very little of the trouble which has arisen. The Bill in that respect does not go so far as it might. If the noble Lord had carried it a little further and included the licensing of those who have charge of horses and the other provisions of the Motor Car Act, I am not sure he would not have induced me to refrain from moving anything against his measure, because we who use the roads, not always behind horses, suffer from the vagaries of those who are put in charge of horses on the highways. We also have our grievances, but they are not much listened to, and therefore we do not trouble to make them.

The particular proposals of this Bill, I think, are worth examining for a moment. The first part of the first clause deals with speeds of ten, twenty, and thirty miles an hour. At first sight it appears to be a very curious provision to make the speed limit in towns twenty miles an hour, while in rural villages, with their open streets, it is only ten miles an hour. There is one reason which may have been in the mind of the noble Lord—namely, that the towns can make or apply for their own regulations. So far as that goes, so can rural villages under the present Act. The noble Lord shakes his head; but I would direct his attention to Handcross on the London and Brighton road, where the Local Government Board—why, I cannot say—have granted a speed limit of ten miles on a perfectly open road with no houses on it. There is a small populous district in the middle, but at either end there is a perfectly open and safe road. That is a case where a rural village has managed to obtain a regulation. But there is another reason which has occurred to me, and may have something possibly to do with the noble Lord's proposal, which is that in a rural village people shall be free to wander about the streets, and even, perhaps, play in the streets, without paying any attention to the traffic. I am sure your Lordships are acquainted with many of these villages round London, but I should like to give one or two examples.

Take, for instance, Colnbrook on the Bath Road, which your Lordships who are acquainted with the road will probably agree would not be at all an unsuitable place for a ten-mile limit. It is a very dangerous and narrow street, and is entered by a corner at either end. Then there is a village known to most of us—Ripley, on the Portsmouth Road—which has a very wide road running through it bordered on either side by a very wide margin. It is quite impossible for any sane individual to reach the road through Ripley without being seen for a long way in advance, and I defy the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this measure to give any adequate reason connected with the public safety which would justify a limit of ten miles in that village. There are similar cases all over the country, and I venture to suggest to your Lordships that an artificial limit laid down in an artificial manner will never meet the necessities of the case.

If you look at paragraph (a) in subsection (1) of Clause 1, among other things mentioned are cross-roads. There, again, I think, those of us who use the roads. whether with horses or motors, know that there are cross-roads and cross-roads. There are some cross-roads with walls right up to the corner on each side, with the result that many will round them at four or five miles an hour with fear and trembling. There are other cross-roads on open heaths and commons where you can see either side for 200 yards. No two cross-roads are alike in their characteristics, and it is quite impossible that the same hard and fast limit should apply to cross-roads in a town and cross-roads in the country without distinction. The provisions of Section 1 of the Motor Car Act are reproduced in subsection (2), and to that, I think, there is no objection on the part of any motorist. Motorists have always held that that section is the one to be relied upon. Subsection (3) deals with competitions on the public highway, and I am not quite sure how much the noble Lord means to include. To drive a vehicle on a public highway in competition with any other vehicle for the purpose of racing is, as I think everyone would agree, improper; but "for the purpose of racing or for any wager " would raise another question. It seems to me that if two people agree to drive their vehicles at ten miles an hour for a bet of five shillings to see who should use the lesser quantity of petrol, that would come under the noble Lord's clause. I do not know whether that is intended.

I now come to Clause 3, under which it is proposed that the local authority shall make a draft scheme, in default of which it shall be made by the Local Government Board. This matter is to rest upon the local authority, but not entirely, because the noble Lord is not satisfied apparently with what the local authorities have done. From the motorist's point of view some of the local authorities have a reasonable sense of their duty, while others take an unreasonable view. Hertfordshire has applied for a ten-mile limit for a large number of places which I think most motorists would consider perfectly safe, and, rather to my surprise, the noble Lord gave as an example the County of Warwickshire. It may be that the County Council of Warwickshire has not applied for the ten-mile limit in all the places to which he would like to see it applied; but, so far as unreasonableness goes in enforcing the speed limit, Warwickshire has gone very far, because I understand that all the roads leading to Coventry are trapped by long distance traps. The noble Lord probably knows his own county, but it is stated that 100 stop-watches have been purchased for the express purpose of timing motorists. If the noble Lord in these circumstances is not satisfied with the action of the local authorities in Warwickshire, I think I am entitled to view with some apprehension any legislation which will carry it further. With regard to the road between Warwick and Leamington, it is stated that only recently there has been a large number of prosecutions of motorists for travelling at a speed not exceeding sixteen or seventeen miles an hour. That road is one of the widest and straightest roads in the Kingdom as regards a large part of its length, and I believe that the trams which run along the middle of the road habitually go faster than the speed allowed to motor cars. Perhaps the noble Lord is satisfied with what has happened upon that particular road, at any rate.

Then we come to Clause 5, which deals with the use of the horn. I was not surprised to hear the noble Lord say that he had not much support for that section. I have a friend who habitually walks, and he tells me that the one vehicle to which he objects is the bicycle, on account of its silence. He dislikes to find himself suddenly in danger of being run down without any warning, and I think, from the point of view of those who walk on the roads, there is no objection to the use of the horn to warn them. The noble Lord has certain complaints to make at the way in which the horn is used, and to that extent I am with him. If it is used to clear the road, as in the case of a fire engine, it is quite a different thing. It is not the fault of the motorist but of the law, which requires the motorist to use the horn to give warning of his position or approach. I have been in cases even before a London stipendiary magistrate in which the driver of a motor car has been convicted for not sounding his horn at a cross-road, even although no traffic was there and he could not tell whether there was anything to warn. The result of the law and of these rules is that a motorist who does not sound his horn on every occasion on which there can possibly be something to warn, exposes himself to conviction, and he is between the devil and the deep sea. He is between his desire not to be offensive to other users of the road and the chance of finding himself held up by some officious constable. Therefore the horn is used more often than is necessary. As to the process of standing up and shouting, that may be all very well in a drive of reasonable length, but if you are to cover 100 miles in a day and you stand up and shout at every vehicle that obstructs you, you will not have much voice left at the end of the day, and many people, I think, who did not start with a good voice would not care to drive a car at all without somebody to run in front. If the noble Lord has ever tried to pass a traction engine with three trucks behind it on a country road he will know that very often shouting does not attract the driver, and for such occasions most of us, I believe, carry a dog whistle.

The noble Lord stated that Section 9 of the Motor Car Act was passed for the express purpose of protecting the public, but Section 9 is not used for protecting the public. The counties against which motorists have most ground of complaint are the home counties. The state of things in Surrey is a disgrace to the administration of the law. Surrey has many narrow and dangerous lanes, with populous villages. But the police are not stationed at the dangerous corners, but on the most open and straight pieces of road that can be found in the county. They are not stationed there to protect the public. They are not in the view of the public or of the motorist. They are concealed behind hedges, and they appear only if the motorist is exceeding the twenty-mile limit and for the purpose of securing a prosecution and a conviction. That is a way of enforcing the law which really brings the law into contempt. What is surely desired by all of us is the safety of the public, which is in no way secured by setting police traps on the Cobham fair-mile. Probably your Lordships are aware that there have been fatal accidents at a very dangerous corner in Esher. I daresay all of your Lordships are not aware that on one of these occasions, when an unfortunate fatal accident occurred at that corner, no policeman was there on duty to regulate the traffic, but three policemen were hiding behind a hedge half a mile away on a straight piece of road. These are the things which have made motorists feel that Section 9 is not used for the safety of the public, but for undesirable reasons, and on that ground motorists have often urged that reliance should be placed on Section 1.

The noble Lord says, in regard to Section 1, that it is difficult to obtain a conviction under that section. If the noble Lord means it would be difficult to obtain a conviction for driving to the public danger on the Cobham fair-mile because you are going at twenty-five miles an hour, surely that is a very right and proper thing, because in ordinary cases there would be no danger to the public. I think from this very county of Surrey I can draw an instance as to the supposed necessity for an invariable ten-mile limit from a case which occurred not very long ago at Godalming, where at a very dangerous corner a car was driven round at a speed which was proved to be twenty-two miles an hour. The driver was summoned before a bench of Surrey magistrates, who are not particularly favourable to motorists. The speed was admitted, but evidence was given which so completely satisfied the magistrates of the absolute control under which the car was, and of the fact that at any moment the car could be pulled up within the range of the driver's view, that they dismissed the case, though with reluctance. I know I should not care to go round that corner at twenty-two miles an hour, but I can conceive that this particular car, in good order, might be driven at that rate without involving danger to the public.

Many of us regard not only danger to the public but consideration for the feelings of the public. We do not desire to go round a corner in such a way that we can stop in safety only with a skid. We desire to drive in a way that does not alarm the public. Those who have to pass through Surrey get no consideration for this line of conduct. The only places where you can drive fast are the towns and the villages. On the open roads the motorist has to spend his whole time watching the speedometer and thinking about the police and the law. The noble Lord said that the power to enforce Section 1 would collapse because the letters on the car would be of small size. Surely the noble Lord knows that there is a standard size prescribed by regulation, and it is impossible for the owner of the car to alter that size. It has been shown that there is no real difficulty in stopping a car or getting at a car, if not in the place of the offence, at any rate in the next village. It is for those reasons I venture to submit the Amendment standing in my name, to the effect that legislation which deals with speed, apart from the surrounding circumstances, does not conduce to the public safety.

The noble Lord talked of Salisbury Plain as an instance where you can exceed twenty or thirty miles an hour. I can give dozens of other instances upon downs in Wiltshire and Hampshire, a large portion of the Holyhead road, the Great North road, and the Bath road. There are many places where these speeds are perfectly safe—that is to say, where you can drive and no human being can come within a quarter of a mile without your knowledge. The noble Lord said he had had long experience in driving every kind of horsed vehicle. That is exactly the difficulty in this discussion. Experience, however prolonged, in driving horsed vehicles, does not bring to the driver a knowledge of the control of a motor car, which can only be obtained by driving it himself in all circumstances and in all conditions. With the best will in the world the noble Lord could not, and does not, appreciate the control which is possessed by the driver of a modern motor car when he is handling that vehicle on the road. That makes discussion of this sort so extremely difficult, because one has not common ground to go upon. We who do drive motor cars have realised that control of the car is the great thing. We know very well that the other user of the road does behave in a very unexpected and disconcerting manner, and you have to be prepared for that.

I will not follow the argument as to the dust nuisance, which seems to be quite a separate question, and has nothing to do with the safety of the public. It may or may not be right to limit the speed to ten miles an hour because the roads are dusty; but that is a different question from the one put forward in this Bill. It is for these reasons that I ask your Lordships to express what was your opinion before, and I hope is still, that regulations of this sort, applying whether the streets are crowded or not, whether the surface of the road is greasy or not, whether you are driving in the busy part of the day when a market is going on, or at 5 a.m. when there is not a soul in the street—that restrictions of this sort, which lay down an artificial limit, cannot tend to the safety of the public.

Amendment moved— To leave out all the words after the word 'That' for the purpose of inserting the following resolution, 'In the opinion of this House, the public safety will not be promoted by any legislation dealing with the speed of vehicles apart from the surrounding circumstances, and failing to distinguish between questions of speed and questions of danger, or to recognise the superior control of mechanically propelled as compared with horse-drawn traffic.'"—(Earl Russell.)


My Lords, the House, I am quite sure, will have listened with considerable interest to the debate initiated by my noble friend opposite. It is not the first time that the noble Lord has raised the question of motor traffic in your Lordships' House, and before I go on to other questions with which this Bill deals I should like to say how glad I was to hear the expression of satisfaction made by the noble Lord at the financial aspect of the case as foreshadowed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer a few days ago. I can only hope that it will equally give satisfaction to my noble friend Lord Montagu, who last year, I rather think, advocated the course now proposed. Last year, as I need hardly remind your Lordships, the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill, raised a debate on motor traffic by way of a Question to His Majesty's Government and referred generally to matters connected with motor traffic, and more especially to the dust nuisance and speed Limit to which he has specially addressed himself to-day. It was my duty to tell the noble Lord that it was not the intention of His Majesty's Government at that time to introduce fresh legislation on the subject, although the Local Government Board was, and is, carefully following the operation of the existing Acts which govern locomotives on highways and motor traffic, with a view of dealing with the matter when the occasion arises. No doubt it was my inability to satisfy my noble friend last year on this subject that induced him to bring forward this Bill to-day.

The Bill, as has already been pointed out, deals with various subjects, probably the most important of which, and certainly the most controversial, as we have already seen to-day, is the question of speed limit. Your Lordships, of course, are all familiar with the provisions of the existing Motor Car Act passed in 1903. Under that Act the Local Government Board, on the application of the local authority, can impose a lower maximum speed of ten miles an hour in certain places and under certain conditions. The Bill before us provides for considerable alterations in the matter of maximum speed. It proposes three different maximum speed limits, namely, ten miles when near any rural village, dangerous corner, or cross-road; twenty miles in or near any town; and thirty miles in the open country. The expression "open country" is very vague, but the thirty mile maximum is, no doubt, proposed as a compromise for the more universal lower speed limit. It is not easy to say precisely what is intended by the term "open country." Salisbury Plain has already been alluded to, as it generally is when the question of open country is mentioned. Possibly, too, some moorland roads in the north of England, although, perhaps, not very inviting to motor traffic, may be included in the term "open country." Many stretches of highway, such as the Great North road, to which reference has been made, and other main roads on which dwellings are few and villages far apart, but which are fenced generally on either side, in some cases by high fences, and are intersected by cross-roads can, I think, hardly be called "open country." A more precise definition than that laid down in the Bill would certainly be necessary.

The noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill also raised the question, to some extent, of the wear and tear of the road and the dust nuisance, but these particular points he also brought to the notice of the House last year. I think those subjects were the main burden of his speech on that occasion, when he denounced, as I thought, motor traffic generally. I was surprised, therefore, that the noble Lord, holding the views he does, should propose to extend the speed limit to thirty miles an hour; and I very much doubt whether he will carry public opinion with him in this proposal even in regard to open country or on such roads as I have described. Then the Bill attempts to classify speed limits in what I may call a somewhat anomalous manner. There are cases where ten miles an hour in or near any rural village may be unduly low, and cases where in the open country thirty miles may be unduly high. At any rate, attempts to differentiate between the speeds in certain areas would be very difficult.

I may, perhaps, now refer to the Amendment of the noble Earl, the purport of which was not quite clear to me before he made his speech. If the intention of the noble Lord is to abolish the speed limit altogether, I am afraid it will be as impossible for the Government to accept his Amendment as it will be for them to accept the Second Reading of the Bill. I am quite sure that the Government could not carry public opinion with them were they ready now to extend the speed limit beyond what the present law provides for. The present speed limit, although, perhaps, rather arbitrary and artificial, has been imposed with a view to public safety, and although I certainly have some sympathy with the contention of the noble Earl that speed in itself, apart from surrounding circumstances, is not the only consideration, we do not think public opinion would tolerate any great extension of the speed limit.

Under Clause 2 of the Bill the Local Government Board are to make regulations, which are to describe generally classes of places and limits within which respective speeds shall not be exceeded, and the Local Government Board can proceed to make special regulations of a local nature in regard to particular places. This is, I take it, in order to remedy the somewhat vague definition of areas and localities, which the noble Lord or his draftsman has not felt able to deal with in the Bill. If any clearer definition is to be made I would certainly suggest that it should be done in the Bill and not left to a Government Department. As has already been explained, draft schemes are to be submitted by the local authority in the form to be prescribed by the Local Government Board, and are to be submitted to that Department. Those draft schemes are to be submitted by all county councils and by the councils of boroughs whose population was over 10,000 at the last census, and the draft schemes are to show the places and limits in their districts within which, in the opinion of the local authority, the respective speeds mentioned in the Bill should be fixed as the maximum speeds. I think your Lordships will see that that would be a very difficult matter. The case of boroughs would be, perhaps, somewhat simple, but innumerable difficulties would be presented in county areas. As I read the proposals in the Bill, the county council are to make a scheme for all public highways in their own area, distinguishing such of them as are in or near rural villages or come within the expression "dangerous corner," "cross-road," "precipitous place," and so on; in or near any town; and in the open country. Then, if the local authority do not submit a draft scheme to the Local Government Board within a certain period, further time is to be given, and if they then fail, they are to be compelled by mandamus to submit one. I venture to say that this is almost impossible to carry out. How are you going to deal with county councils if they refuse to draw up a scheme? It would be a work of great magnitude for some county councils to carry out a scheme of this sort at all, and it would entail a great addition to their staff as well as to the staff of the Local Government Board. I shudder to think what the increase of the staff would be. There would have to be an army of inspectors of the Local Government Board going all over the country to examine the schemes proposed and to report upon them.

The sub-division of the country, as proposed by Clause 1, is both unsatisfactory and quite unworkable. No regulation which the Board could issue under Clause 2 could make it otherwise, and there would be the greatest difficulty in insuring that the local authorities would act under the clause. The question of dust has been alluded to by the noble Lord, and knowing the opinion which he holds, I am very much surprised at his proposal to increase the speed. I am sure that on a day like this, for instance, with a strong East wind blowing, dust would be a great nuisance if you were going only ten miles an hour, but I think there is no denying that the dust becomes a much greater nuisance as the speed increases. The noble Lord makes no provision in the Bill, and I do not see how he could, for dealing with the construction of roads, and I quite agree with what has fallen from him that roads which could be made partially dustless by the expenditure of a great deal of money would be very unpleasant for horse traffic. I know certain portions of roads which have been laid down in Northumberland with a view partly to abate the dust nuisance. They are very unpleasant and slippery if you happen to be riding along them when hunting.

I now come to the question of horns, which also was discussed last year. As I pointed out then, there are two sides to the question. No doubt the use of the horn is sometimes very much abused, and I, for one—and I am sure most of your Lordships—will not accept the theory that, because a man chooses to blow his horn continuously, every other kind of traffic is to make way for him. But, on the other hand, if the speed limit is to be extended, as Lord Willoughby proposes, to thirty miles an hour, I think he would find the use of the horn to be far more necessary than it is at a lower speed. It is not only with motor cars that horns, bells, and so on are a nuisance. I do not know whether the noble Lord has ever stayed in Brussels. I once stayed there for two or three nights and was kept awake by the ringing of tram bells, which is a far greater nuisance than any motor horn I have ever heard. As pointed out last year, in cases of accidents where police proceedings follow, one of the first questions put is, "Did the man blow his horn? " and an irate person who has just had a narrow escape always asks the driver why he did not do so. Although I admit that unreasonable use is made of the horn at times, on the whole the balance of advantage is on the side of the use of the horn as an instrument of warning. I need hardly go into the question of speedometers. Their accuracy cannot, I believe, be guaranteed. When one has been invented which can be certified as correct. and which is not capable of being tampered with, then I think will be the time for the compulsory use of speedometers.

I should like to refer for a moment to what fell from the noble Lord with regard to the Report of the Royal Commission on Motor Cars. I think the noble Lord takes the Commissioners rather further than they intended to go upon this question of responsibility of the owner of the car for offences under the Bill. No doubt, if the owner of a car is in the car and connives at any offence committed by his driver, he ought to be held equally liable, but on many occasions the owner of the car knows nothing about driving, although he makes use of the car a good deal. He may not be a judge of speed and may not know in what way the law is being broken by the driver. Paragraph 97, to which the noble Lord referred, in the Report of the Royal Commission on Motor Cars, after drawing attention to the liability of the owner at common law, says:— To impose a further criminal responsibility appears to us undesirable, but we think that when the owner or hirer or any person in the car can be shown to have been abetting the driver in offences under Section 1 of the Motor Car Act, 1903, he should be equally liable to fine or imprisonment, to withdrawal of licence, and to suspension of registration of his car. I think most people will agree with the view expressed by the Royal Commission, and that the clause proposed by the noble Lord goes too far. I have referred to the main provisions of the Bill, and to the objections which His Majesty's Government entertain with regard to them. Whilst the Act of 1903 cannot be considered in any way as final, and no doubt in many particulars requires amendment, yet the Bill which your Lordships are asked to read a second time to-day is, in the opinion of the Local Government Board, who have carefully gone into the matter, much too drastic, and would not improve the existing state of affairs as regards motoring. I venture, therefore, to ask your Lordships not to read it a second time.


My Lords, there is not very much more to be said on the subject after the able speeches to which we have listened. While I agree to a great extent with what Lord Russell said, I do recognise that the noble Lord who brought in this Bill wishes to hold out an olive branch to motorists generally, and by extending the speed limit to thirty miles an hour he has made a distinct advance upon any previous position he has taken up. But the whole matter of motor car speed and regulation must, and probably before long will, be dealt with by the Government as a Government; and I do not think the noble Lord's Bill really covers anything like the points which will have to be dealt with. In addition, in my opinion, it raises the penalties unduly in many cases, and leaves the motor community suffering under grievances the removal of which we should wish to make part of a bargain or an arrangement with anyone who brought in a Bill by which we were submitted to higher penalties.

As regards the three speed limits, I am not in the least opposed to them in principle. I have always said that a speed limit of some kind was necessary for populous places, and a higher speed limit for those which were less populous. I think a thirty-mile limit on the open road, provided it was fairly fixed, not by any local highway authority but by responsible people appointed by the Local Government Board, would have a great deal to be said for it. The Bill to-day, as the noble Lord who last spoke said, is extremely crude, and though I and a great many motorists who agree with me have no objection to the Second Reading, I do not think the noble Lord who introduced it would like the Amendments we should wish to introduce in Committee. I think in the end he would hardly find the Bill in accordance with the views of those on whose behalf he has brought it in. It is a very dangerous thing, indeed, to give small local bodies large powers with regard to motors. You have only to carry your mind back a very few years to recall the fact that any invention or improvement of locomotion has been opposed by small local bodies, who are almost always in the frame of mind to oppose anything new, especially anything which tends to upset their preconceived notions. That being so, I have very little trust in the small local bodies, and although the noble Lord in charge of the Bill spoke ether slightingly of county councils in general, I think on the whole they have dealt with the matter impartially and sensibly. So far as my county council in Hampshire is concerned, they have looked at the matter from a perfectly impartial and common-sense point of view, and I think on the whole have given satisfaction to all classes in the community.

But if you are going to allow every little authority to set up its own speed limit the position will be intolerable. In France you see the most ridiculous notices in villages telling drivers not to exceed four miles an hour on a perfectly wide road; but as no one is there to enforce the requirement, it is merely a pious opinion on the part of the local authority. Such special notices as "Please drive slowly through the village," is, in my opinion, a far more effective way of getting people to drive through a certain locality slowly. Another reason why I am rather inclined to think the House should pause before giving this Bill a Second Reading, or should, at any rate, alter it very seriously in Committee, is that since the Budget was introduced it is obvious that a large amount of money to be raised from motorists will be applied in widening dangerous places, in cutting off corners, and doing various things which will increase the safety of the public. Therefore I think that the clause about cross-roads and precipitous places will become quite obsolete in the course of a few years.

The noble Lord who spoke on behalf of the Government said he hoped I found the proposals of Mr. Lloyd-George to my liking. That is a question rather hard to answer at first, because none of us exactly know how the impositions are going to fall; but those who are not violent partisans on this question have always asked for some fund for the maintenance of the roads, and I for one will cheerfully pay the tax. On the whole, I think, that it will be of advantage to motorists and the public, and that with slight modifications the principle is not bad. This discussion, however, seems to be more or less academic. After what the noble Lord opposite said the Bill is evidently defunct. The Government will have little time to discuss measures of this kind in the present year, and therefore we may regard this as more the discussion of a principle than actual progress towards passing a measure. Speaking purely for myself. I would be glad to see the Bill read a second time and amended seriously in Committee, though I do not think the noble Lord would be in favour of reading it a third time after the process of Committee. On the whole, therefore, it is hardly worth while wasting any more time, and in that, I think, I shall carry the majority of the House with me.


My Lords, I own that I am inclined to support the Second Reading. When the original Bill was first under discussion in your Lordships' House I ventured to propose an Amendment which suggested that no car should be registered capable of going more than thirty miles an hour. That Amendment was not a very popular one, and was eventually withdrawn; but I should like to say now that if my noble friend goes to a Division I shall support him. One thing my noble friend behind me said was that the Government would have no time to consider measures of this kind in the present session. What I would suggest to him is that while we are waiting for more important measures it would be a very excellent thing for your Lordships to occupy the time in discussing provisions of this kind.

There are one or two points in connection with this measure on which I should like to say a word. With regard to a speed limit, I quite agree that you cannot lay down any speed that is always safe. I know many roads in my own county where a speed of ten miles an hour would be dangerous, and therefore I should be inclined to leave it to the local authorities to regulate the speed limit over the various roads in the counties. With regard to the question of the sounding of horns, my noble friend said he could not understand why horns were necessary. I will tell him. It is because a horsedrawn vehicle gives notice of its approach by the hoof-beat of the horses. If you are driving a sleigh over snow you have bells. It is absolutely necessary in the interests of pedestrians that the driver of motor cars should blow horns to give warning of their approach.

My noble friend asked whether the preparation that is to be put on the roads will be of any value. I do not suppose anybody can tell him that until it has been tried. The whole question of motor driving hangs on the questions of consideration. It is obvious that you cannot drive that quality into people by Act of Parliament; hut consideration does make it far more pleasant for everybody concerned. The instructions I give to my own driver are these. I endeavour to introduce into the "rule of the road " on land what I understand to be the "rule of the road " at sea. It is that the more powerful vessel must give way to the weaker, and therefore the pedestrian, being the weakest vessel of all, has the privilege of the road, and the motor car, being the most powerful, has to give way to all.

I have often seen it stated that one of the disadvantages of driving motor cars is that when you go round a blind corner you find drawn up on the wrong side the road some old lady in a governess car. I instruct my driver to drive round every corner with a full expectation of finding that old lady. If she is there we greet her as an old friend; if she is not there we are quite disappointed. I believe that every man has the right to the full use and enjoyment of his senses. With regard to the dust that offends the eye, with regard to the petrol that is offensive to the nose, and with regard to the horn that is offensive to the ear I give full instructions to my driver that they shall be used with the greatest care and reduced to an absolute minimum.


My Lords, in listening to the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill I found I was not in agreement with very much that he said. At the same time, with regard to the groundwork of his Bill I confess to having a great deal of sympathy. It does seem to me that he put the question in the main on the right lines. He did not put his proposal for a speed limit chiefly on the ground of public safety although he touched upon that a little; he put it mainly on the ground of dust. There is an undoubted grievance at the present time in the villages on the main roads with regard to dust. On the ground of its doing something in the matter of dust, and almost on that ground alone, I have sympathy with the Bill. The £600,000 which the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes to take from motors and devote to main roads will undoubtedly, with local assistance, do much, in from three to five years, to do away with the grievance of villagers. Had the noble Lord taken that as the foundation of his Bill and, as a sort of compromise, put a limit of from three to five years on the provisions so as to extend over the interval before the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have taken effect on the main roads of the country, there would have been a very fair case for giving his Bill a Second Reading.

This very real grievance of dust is not a new grievance. For the past seventy years, since railways were built and stage coaches disappeared, the main roads of England have not been used. Everybody who has driven across England knows perfectly well that you may meet a few carriages in the towns and a few bicyclists in the villages, but that over long distances from town to town the roads are not used at all. There are a few pedestrians, a few bicyclists, and a few carts, but, speaking broadly, the main roads of the country are deserted. But that was not the case always.

I have got out a few particulars which may be of interest as regards this question of dust. The noble Lord has laid down in this Bill ter miles an hour in villages as a fair speed for all time; he has not got any proposals for a time-limit of three or five years. I will give him a few instances of the times in which coaches did their journeys to London in the old days. There was a coach called the "Wonder," which used to go from Shrewsbury to London at an average of ten miles an hour for the whole distance, and it kept it up from day to day throughout the year. But what does it really work out at. Shrewsbury to London is 158 miles, and they took sixteen hours over it. They spent sixty-five minutes in stops for food, and fifteen minutes in changing horses. That is eighty minutes off the time; and if you work that out you will find the actual running time of this coach, which was a slow coach, was eleven and a half miles an hour all the way from Shrewsbury to London. They were not going only ten miles an hour through the villages. Coaches make dust—


The answer to that is that the coach only came through the village once a day, and everybody knew the exact hour to expect it. After all, I do not suppose a speed of twelve miles an hour was exceeded.


I had already gathered that the opponents of motor cars were a little vague in their ideas about these coaches. Somebody had a coach called the "Nimrod," which was to "knock the 'Wonder ' into a cocked hat." The owner of the "Wonder " did not desire to increase the pace of the "Wonder " more than he was obliged to, so he got a coach called the "Stag." The moment the "Nimrod " started, the "Stag " went off and the "Wonder" came behind. They shepherded it all the way to London, so that it should not get any passengers; and they came along at such a pace that often all three arrived as Islington two hours before the scheduled time. In that case the villagers could hardly tell the exact hour when the coach was to pass. But that was not the fastest time.

From Birmingham there were two coaches, the "Tally-Ho" and the "Independent Tally-Ho," running in competition. At certain stages they were doing eighteen and three-quarter miles an hour, and only on one stage did they drop as low as twelve miles an hour. When they raced, as they often did, they came all the way from Birmingham to London, including stops, at a rate of fourteen and a quarter miles an hour. The road from Oxford to London was not a road that could be described as "quick," but the coach that journeyed from Oxford to London did it in three hours and forty minutes, or at the rate of fourteen miles an hour, including stoppages. Birmingham was fairly well up to date. They had four fast coaches running, all in competition with one another. They were the "Tally-Ho," the "Independent Tally-Ho," the "Real Tally-Ho," and the "Patent Tally-Ho." They left Birmingham at ten miles an hour. The moment they were out of sight of the police they started racing, and they did the distance from Birmingham to London, 108 miles, in seven hours, which works out at fifteen miles an hour, after allowing for necessary stoppages.

The noble Lord says the coach only passed once a day. Has the noble Lord the slightest notion of the number of coaches running to London on the road between Oxford and London in the coaching days? There were ninety-seven coaches a day! Spreading it over the miles, there was roughly a coach to every half mile. But these coaches were run in competition, and if one started at seven o'clock the competitor across the road started at the same hour, and they were racing head to head all the way down the road; and great fun it must have been at the bridges for the old ladies inside. The Oxford road was not an exceptional case. The great road was the Holyhead road. Between London and Barnet there were 194 coaches running a day. There must have been a coach nearly every 100 yards.

But the coaches were not the whole of the business. It was the middle-classes who rode in coaches. Noblemen did not use them; it was below their dignity. The great man went in his own chariot, with relays of his own horses, and people not quite so rich went in post-chaises. Poor people who could not afford these went in stage wagons, which, after all, carried the great bulk of the traffic. Just fancy what the state of the road was! Picture the road from London to Barnet with these coaches, private chariots and stage wagons! It was a perfect pandemonium of danger and dust. The road most used by the motor-car to-day is a quiet, secluded, and safe spot compared with the average coaching road in the olden days. I am perfectly willing to vote for any legislation that will lessen the dust in the country villages, which I am sure we all deplore. I am glad to think that the present Budget does present a chance of doing something. I am willing to vote with the noble Lord, until some other remedy is offered, for a speed limit of ten miles an hour in villages. But do not let it be supposed that there never has been dust on the roads of England before.


My Lords, there is one small matter I desire to mention. It is not exactly germane to this subject, but has arisen in the course of the discussion. The noble Earl who moved the rejection of this Bill dwelt in rather severe terms on the county of Surrey, to which I have the honour to belong. He dwelt in severe terms on the police and also on the magistrates of the county, and the impression left on my mind was that in their judgment on, and dealings with, these cases they had been, in the opinion; of the noble Earl, not strictly fair.


The only thing I did was to refer to a case before the Godalming Bench, and to say that I did not think the Surrey magistrates might be thought to be favourably disposed towards motorists.


I am a member of a bench of which the noble Earl would probably have severe things to say—namely, the Guildford Bench. I wish to point out that Surrey is in an exceptional position. It is one of the home counties; therefore it is beset by motorists, and I do not think you can look upon Surrey in the same light as you could a distant county.


My Lords, it is only fair to the noble Lord who introduced the Bill that I should indicate some of the objections to its minor provisions which it would be incumbent to raise in Committee if the Bill were given a Second Reading. The clause to which I particularly refer is Clause 7, which says— If an offence under this Act is committed by any person who is the servant or subject to the control of another person who is in the vehicle when such offence is committed that other person also shall be guilty of an offence under this Act. The noble Lord who introduced the Bill was under an entire misconception as to what is recommended in the Report of the Royal Commission. The Commission never recommended any such provision as this. There is not, so far as I know, any such provision in the whole criminal law. What the Report of the Commission did recommend was a very different thing. It was simply this, that where an owner either orders or commands or abets his servant in breaking the law, he is, of course, responsible, because the breach of the law is his act done through the hand of another. In such case, as in every other case, a man who procures another man to commit a crime is as responsible as the person who commits it. The master is always civilly responsible for the act of a servant done within the scope of the master's knowledge, but the idea that one man should be criminally responsible and liable to be sent to gaol for the act of another, which he may not even have observed, is absurd. That, too, not merely in reference to acts against public order but in reference to exceeding the speed limit. Take this case. A lady owns a motor car and employs a driver to take her to the theatre or to a friend's house, and has told him to be particularly careful. If he should drive round a corner to the public danger, not only is he convicted but the lady, under this clause, is criminally guilty and can be convicted. There is nothing in the public law, save possibly in some statutes dealing with the Customs, approaching in any way to this. A man can only be made responsible for acts committed by himself, either directly or through the instrumentality of others. I do not know if the noble Lord said he had introduced this Bill in a spirit of compromise, but if this is what is done in a spirit of compromise, I am very glad indeed that no Bill is introduced in a spirit of downright animus, because then one might almost expect capital punishment to be inflicted.

Every motorist knows that there is a great grievance with regard to motor traffic; that grievance is dust. Danger to the public is a thing rapidly decreasing. I believe that as men drive better, as cars are better constructed, as people are learning to be more considerate, that grievance will decrease. The grievance of dust can only be remedied in one way, and that is by providing funds out of the Imperial Exchequer to bring about a better construction of the roads; and as far as I am concerned as a motorist, I will heartily and gladly pay any reasonable increased tax that may be imposed for the purpose of carrying out that improvement. I do not think any motorist really objects to that. I will tell you what they may object to. It is that having paid the penalty and the road authorities having obtained it, the roads should not be properly constructed for motor cars, that the dust should be allowed to lie upon them, and that these authorities should make complaints against the men whose money they have. To that motorists would object, but not to increased duties upon motor-cars, for the purpose of having money to devote to the improvements of roads. So far as driving to the public danger is concerned no person is a stronger advocate than I am for people who thus offend being punished, whether the speed be three miles an hour or thirty miles an hour. If they drive to the public danger they should be punished. That is an elastic restriction, and I cannot help regretting that ever a speed limit was put in, because the elastic restriction would have dealt with all the evils.

I had something to do with the passing of the Act of 1903, and I am perfectly aware that the speed limit was put into that Act in order to protect the public. Speed was not illegal in itself; speed was not to be punished because it was speed, but because a high speed was supposed to be injurious to the public. I regret that the Act, I am afraid in too many cases, has been administered as if the great object of the law was not to protect the public, but to entrap the motorists. I do not make that statement upon my own experience, or upon my own knowledge. It is dealt with at full length in the Report of the Royal Commission; because of all the extraordinary reasons ever given for the unjust administration of the criminal law it is the reason given in the eighth or ninth page of that Report. It is embodied in the explanation as to why the police do not prosecute for driving to the public danger. The explanation given is this. The only persons to carry out prosecutions are the police. If the police prosecute for driving to the public danger, the magistrate might be in this dilemma. He might have on one side the motorist who said "I did not drive to the public danger," and on the other side the constable who said "You did drive to the public danger," and the magistrate might have to make up his mind between them. That is a perfectly paralysing circumstance. The explanation goes on to say that it is much easier for the constable to convince a magistrate that the speed limit has been exceeded, and consequently he leaves dangerous villages and goes out to where there is an inviting piece of road so free from any public danger that the motorist will be entrapped into going at a high speed. The constable goes there with a stop watch and discovers that the motorist is driving at forty or fifty miles an hour, but without any public danger. But law and justice are vindicated, the magistrate is relieved from all difficulty, the policeman is patronised and lauded, and the public, who were never in danger at all, are protected. That is a summary of the statement in the Report of the Commission as to the way in which this Act is administered. In corroboration I may mention that a month ago I went on three successive days through Colnbrook village. Three roads meet at the centre, and it is, I think, most dangerous There was not a policeman or scout or anybody to give persons warning as they came to the centre of the village. But when you were out on the road at the other end, between Hounslow on one side and Slough upon the other, when you could have gone forty miles an hour without any danger to any individual, the police traps were all ready and prepared. It is lost sight of in the administration of the Act that the object of putting a speed limit was to protect the public, and not merely to punish, as a criminal offence, going at any particular speed where the public are not in danger.

As far as I am myself concerned, I should like to see the noble Lord's Bill read a second time, mainly because I disagree with the greater portion of it, and because I should hope to put down Amendments on which I should be able to establish to my mind almost resistless reasons for striking out most of the provisions; and the more there were struck out the better, in my judgment, would the Bill be. The only part, which I think might be retained and which could be improved is that which fixes the limits for the speeds in the three different classes of places indicated. The objection that occurs to me is that the regulation is too rigid. It cannot be supposed that in the fixing of those limits the particular differences of the various localities would be as well kept into account as if the limiting authority were the local authority, although I know that the Bill makes provision for the local authority being taken into consultation with the Local Government Board. The noble Lord altogether omitted to mention that the Royal Commission, whilst desiring to strengthen clauses dealing with driving to the public danger in the way my noble friend suggests, also recommend that the speed limit should be abolished, as it has been in three or four continental countries. I know there is a prejudice against motor cars. Many people have an almost insuperable objection to them. I think possibly that is dying out. I see that in America a gentleman has brought in a Bill which provides that when any motor car meets a timid horse on the road the driver shall descend and cover his motor car with a tarpauling. I assure my noble friend that, whatever Amendment to his Bill I should propose, I should not propose an Amendment to that effect.


My Lords, I rise for the purpose of saying a word as to the course which might be taken with regard to the Bill. But before I do that I hope I may be allowed to congratulate the noble Lord, not only upon having made a very excellent statement to the House, but also upon having initiated one of the most interesting and instructive debates to which we have listened for a long time past. There was one speech which I confess rather disappointed me. It was the speech of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. I think your Lordships will recollect that not many weeks ago he gave us a most admirable address on the subject of aëroplanes, and he then made a confident prediction that before five years were over your Lordships would have the pleasure of seeing him arrive at this House on one of those admirable machines, and when my noble friend rose 1 fully expected that he was going to tell us that this motor question was really only a passing difficulty and would be surmounted by the adoption of a very different mode of progression.

The speech of Lord Willoughby de Broke seemed to me particularly commendable for this, that it showed his great consciousness of what I feel your Lordships ought not to forget—namely, that there is a very serious question arising out of the regulation of motor traffic. The introduction of motors has really revolutionised the conditions of country life in many parts of these islands, and I confess that I really marvel at the patience and good humour with which the village population have accepted this new, and to many of them, I am afraid, intolerable, incident in their daily lives. I feel very strongly that Parliament owes it to them to do everything in its power to mitigate the suffering and inconvenience which the introduction of motor traffic has produced. I listened, as did the whole House, with much appreciation to the speech delivered by Lord St. David's, whose wonderful researches into the history of stage-coach driving in this country seemed to me to be most creditable to his industry. He told us that in the old coaching days there was on many of the roads leading to London what he described as a pandemonium of dust and danger, fully equal to anything of the kind that we now encounter. But I am not convinced even by the statistics of the noble Lord, and I cannot help believing that some of the roads in and out of London upon certain days of the week do present a condition of dust and of danger and of discomfort, to all persons using those roads, for a counterpart of which you might search in vain during the times when those roads were travelled by coaches instead of by motors. I have been told since I came into the House that it is not only private owners of motors who are answerable for these occurrences. I am told that the Secretary of State for War has lately boasted that on the occasion when a considerable number of troops were transported from the Crystal Palace to Hastings, the whole distance was traversed at a uniform rate of twenty miles an hour. As the road in question passes through a great many villages I think that 300 or 400 cars must have come as rather a distinct surprise to the local population.

I feel very strongly that this question is one which really must be dealt with by the Government of the day and on their responsibility. The Government of the day has, as has been pointed out this evening, already made a beginning, and I join with other noble Lords who have spoken in hoping that the measures announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have the effect of affording a considerable relief in those cases where roads used by motorists pass through villages or over cross-roads and other dangerous thoroughfares. I cannot, moreover, help thinking that in some of the proposals embodied in his Bill my noble friend is not going exactly on the right track. I think it is true, as the noble Earl who moved the Amendment pointed out, that we have to deal, not with the question of speed alone, but with speed in reference to surrounding circumstances, and I am rather alarmed at the classification of maximum limits contained in the Bill. As I understand the Bill, it accepts a time limit of thirty miles an hour in the open country. I say, unhesitatingly, that there are many parts of the open country—that is, country not immediately close to a town—where thirty miles might be an excessive limit. The twenty miles permitted in or near towns seems to me also to be a very considerable pace, and in spite of the precedent of the stage coaches, there may be many villages in which a pace of ten miles is excessive, if the place is crowded and there are many people in and about the road. I am afraid that these hard-and-fast classifications will break down in practice, and, personally, I should be much more inclined to depend upon the general question of danger to the public than upon any precise limits of pace.

Then, with regard to horns, I feel pretty sure that my noble friend is mistaken in trying to get rid of horns. It is quite true that the sound of these unmusical instruments is very distressing to our ears, but if you were no longer to use them would not the result be that you would find on your high road a procession headed by the covered van which does not hear or pretends not to hear or to know what is happening behind it, or perhaps headed by that old lady in the governess car whom Lord Dartmouth spoke of with so much affection, and followed by a string of motor cars unable to make any progress with their journey? That would be a condition of things very detrimental to the convenience, not only of the owners of motor-cars, but to the travelling public generally.

I gather that it is the intention of the Government not immediately, but at some future time, to deal with this question themselves. I therefore ask myself whether the House would really gain anything by reading this Bill a second time. I am afraid that if the Bill went to Committee it would encounter a great deal of adverse criticism, and, upon the whole, if my noble friend who moved the Second Reading asks me for my advice, I would venture to suggest to him that he should be content with the useful and certainly sympathetic discussion which has taken place, and that he should not ask the House to undertake the task of going through this Bill clause by clause in Committee, with the result which I am afraid would be inevitable, that we should produce a Bill which would not be my noble friend's Bill at all, and which, when we had produced it, would have very little chance of becoming law.


My Lords, I find myself in the position of being in some sympathy both with the noble Lord who introduced the Bill and with the noble Earl who moved the Amendment, without being able to agree entirely with either. The noble Lord who introduced this Bill in a speech which led me to regret that he does not oftener take part in he deliberations of the House seemed to me to proceed on lines which, in themselves, are deserving of sympathy. I think his object was to translate into the form of a Bill the practices which a reasonable and considerate motorist might be expected to pursue in travelling on the roads of this country; that is to say, he endeavours, by splitting up the country into zones in which certain speeds may be permissible, to, roughly speaking, enable the motorist to proceed at a pace which the reasonable motorist might take when driving. The question is, Is it possible by a system of zones of this kind to achieve that result? I confess I very much doubt whether it is. As the noble Marquess said, these authorised speeds are very likely to be quite unreasonable speeds in a great many zones in which by the Bill they are allowed, and therefore the scheme to be drawn up in pursuance of the Bill must, if it is to be a real guide to safety in speed, include a vast number of changes within those zones. It may be perfectly safe to go for a few hundred yards at thirty miles an hour, whilst the next few hundred yards a careful driver would not go over at, perhaps, more than fifteen. Therefore, these arbitrary limits will, I am afraid, be found of very little more use in practice than the present general limit of twenty miles—though I quite agree that that is by no means always observed—and the occasional limitation to ten.

The noble Earl who moved the Amendment also, I think, proceeds on lines which in the abstract are common sense lines. What really has to be considered is not the speed at which the car travels so much as the danger which is caused to human beings, to animals, or to property by the pace at which it moves. But as the noble Earl made it clear in the course of his speech that he would like to see the speed limit altogether abolished, I am bound to say that in my opinion that course is an altogether impossible one to take. I do not believe that the country would stand for one moment the complete abolition of the speed limit, for two reasons. One is the existence of cars which go at racing speed. So long as there are cars which go at sixty or eighty miles an hour, I am quite certain that these cars ought not to be allowed on the road at all. But if you abolish the speed limit it would be very hard to warn a particular class of car off the road.

The relation of speed to dust is undoubtedly clearly understood—namely, that the higher speeds, speaking generally, produce a great deal more offensive dust than the lower speeds. As has been mentioned more than once in the course of the debate, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has devised a plan, which I am glad to say meets with a general meed of public approval, for doing something to improve the roads of the country, and that fact seems to me a sound reason for allowing legislation of this kind to stand over for a time until we see what results are produced by that plan. I do not think it is possible, in the present state of public opinion, to deal with the speed question until the question of the surface of the road has been decided one way or the other. I should not altogether dismiss the possibility that when a large sum of money has been laid out on roads the question of increasing the speed in certain places up to thirty miles an hour might be favourably considered. But it is not a proposal which I, for one, should think of putting forward at this time, and I hope the House will agree that it is not unreasonable to postpone a consideration of a Bill of this kind until the road question has received, as I hope it will receive, a solution from the action of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I will not dwell on the minor points raised by the Bill. I am afraid the noble Lord has found no supporter for abolishing the use of the horn. By common agreement the use of motors would be made almost impossible, without serious danger to pedestrians, if the horns were abolished. I think the noble Lord has forgotten this, that it is the law of the land that slow traffic must make way for fast traffic. Under the Highways Acts any vehicle has to draw to the left to allow another vehicle to pass, and it does seem very reasonable that there should be some means for a comparatively silent vehicle of drawing attention to the fact that it wishes to pass. At the same time I entirely agree that the use of the horn is sometimes sadly abused. It is used in a manner that conveys something in the nature of a vocal threat, particularly to the unhappy pedestrian, and I should be very glad if its improper use could be made an offence, although, of course, it could not be treated as a very serious offence. As to the question of vicarious punishment imposed by the Bill, I will only say that, if the noble Lord had quite the logic of his opinion on this subject, when a driver is convicted of manslaughter and sent to penal servitude the owner ought to accompany his wretched servant to Dartmoor for the whole period.

I think we may congratulate ourselves on the fact that this question, although I admit still acute, is not so burning a question as it was a year or two ago. I believe that the users of motors as a class are becoming more considerate, and I hope that the very strong feeling against the use of motor cars at all in some parts of the country has tended to die out. The Secretary for Scotland tells me that there the administration of the present law has been carried out, as he believes, to the satisfaction of the public. There have been few cases of complete prohibition of motor traffic on certain roads, and I often wonder whether that principle could not be introduced to a greater extent than it is in England. I have often thought that if certain lanes, for instance, were barred altogether to motor cars, those who wish to take country walks and so on would feel in a more secure and safe position than they do at present. But, as a matter of fact, I think that has been very little done, if at all, in England. Then my noble friend tells me that the restrictions of the speed of motors in Scotland have met with general acceptance in districts in which they have been introduced.

The noble Lord who is responsible for this measure seemed to think it desirable that the matter should be to some extent taken out of the hands of the county coun- cils. We have got into trouble lately from noble Lords opposite for suggesting that there are matters in which central authorities may have to put pressure upon county councils and local authorities. We are told we are interfering with the great principles that ought to regulate local government in this country. And I am bound to say in this case that it is a matter which may very fairly be left to the discretion of the local authorities, unless, of course, it can be shown that in particular cases or number of eases they have failed to carry out their duty in this respect. I conclude by saying that I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that there would be no real advantage in reading this Bill a second time. We have had a most informing discussion, and I do not think that by going into Committee and discussing a number of Amendments we should add very greatly to our knowledge of the subject. I therefore hope the noble Lord will be content with the degree of discussion his Bill has raised, and that both the Bill and the Amendment may be withdrawn.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, I do not propose to press the Bill to a Second Reading.

The original Motion, by leave, withdrawn.