§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I am going to ask your Lordships to read this Bill a second time, because I think I can show you that the evil which at present exists is of the most serious possible character, and is growing every year, and that therefore some step ought to be taken to abate that evil. Whether every proposal that I make in this Bill is right is a different matter altogether. I am not asking your Lordships on this occasion to approve of every proposal; I am asking your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading, so that it can be thoroughly discussed in a Committee of your Lordships' House, and I venture very respectfully to say that there is no body in the country which is more capable of discussing a Bill of this kind than a Committee of the House of Lords.
The evil really is of almost incredible seriousness. I am very anxious not to use extravagant language in this matter, but I have to point out that more than 5,000 people are killed every year by accidents on the road, of which the immense proportion of five-sixths or seven-eighths are due to motor vehicles; 150,000 are injured every year, and it is calculated in a very interesting paper by Colonel Pickard, which I happen to have read, that not less than 300,000 accidents to persons or property occur on the roads every year. I will not trouble your Lordships with the calculation, but it is based on serious figures and as far as I can see it is irrefutable. It is difficult to say 528 anything which will increase the gravity of those figures. It is worth while pointing out perhaps that four-fifths of these accidents occur during the daylight hours. Taking as an average all over the year twelve hours daylight per day, that gives you about ten people killed each day, or nearly one for every hour of daylight. Nearly one every two minutes is injured and every minute, or very nearly every minute within a fraction, there is an accident to person or property. So that in the few minutes that I have had the opportunity of addressing your Lordships on an average several more accidents have already occurred.
That is a very serious state of things. It is growing year by year. It gets worse every year, not because the proportion of accidents to motors is getting worse—that may not be so—but because the number of motors is growing and the accidents, the total toll of suffering and injury, are growing every year. It is very difficult to institute any comparison with railways or anything of that kind; but it is perhaps worth pointing out to your Lordships that even in really bad years on the railways 400 people killed by moving vehicles is the most, and 7,000 injured, a mere fraction, a twelfth of the people killed and a twentieth of the people injured by motors. That includes all sorts of operations, such as shunting and so on, which are really not comparable to anything that motors have to do. It is a very much smaller matter, but it is worth mentioning to your Lordships, that in addition to the number of human beings injured there is an enormous unknown tale of dogs and other animals killed. I do not say that the slaughter of a favourite dog is comparable to injury to a human being, but if it happens to have occurred to any of your Lordships' dogs, I think you will agree that it is not a negligible addition to the grievance which the people of this country feel.
It is not only the injuries, but in effect the free use of the road is denied now to a great section of the subjects of His Majesty the King. The infirm, the old, and children, if they use the roads at all, use them with miserable precautions. It is really almost pathetic to see the children cowering into ditches when a motor passes, no doubt continually warned by their parents of the grave danger which they are running. Not 529 only the pedestrians but all prudent motorists have an equal grievance, for a very large proportion of these accidents are not to pedestrians but to other motorists.
I hope I am not expressing myself too strongly for your Lordships, but it is astonishing that in this state of things so little has been done so far to remedy it. The facts are absolutely notorious. They are taken for the most part from official papers published by the Government. Little, or very little, or nothing has yet been done, certainly nothing effective has been done to diminish the evil. It is true that the Government have drafted a Bill and at a later stage I may have to refer to the clauses of that Bill. But the Bill has not yet been introduced into either House of Parliament. It has only been printed and published. It is true that a few speeches have been made by Ministers of the Crown; but as reported—of course I cannot tell whether they are accurately and completely reported—they consist for the most part of admonitions to pedestrians to be more careful. It is very much to be desired that pedestrians and everybody else should use the roads with care and caution; but, after all, the carelessness of pedestrians is no excuse for the motorist. The motorist knows the kind of people who use the roads and it is his business to take care that they are not injured or killed even if they are careless. After all, you have no right to kill a man because he walks across the road carelessly or confusedly, which is the phrase I see used in this matter.
It may be said that admitting that there is a grave evil—and I do not see how that can be denied—can it be cured? I venture to submit to your Lordships that it can without doubt be very greatly alleviated. I have seen figures, which I believe to be accurate, which show that the state of things in the United States and in Canada is far less serious than it is here. I do not know the number of motor cars in Canada, but it is very considerable. In the United States it is enormous. I believe that out of 27 million motor cars in the world 22 million are in the United States, yet the proportion of people killed to each thousand motors is far less.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I think the year is 1926 or 1927. I have the whole graph in this paper of Colonel Pickard. I am much obliged to my noble friend Lord Newton for having challenged it. Here is the graph. In the year 1914 the death rate per thousand motors was about the same as it is here. Since that date it has steadily gone down. It was then 2.5 persons killed per thousand motors. In England it is 2.44 now. It went steadily down since then and it is now one person killed per thousand motors. In Canada it is one person per two thousand motors, so that it is two and a half times as dangerous here as it in the United States, and it is five times as dangerous as it is in Canada. Those are the facts taken from the official reports of the Government of the United States and Canada, so I understand, though I cannot pretend to have verified the sources from which Colonel Pickard derives his information.
That is not the only thing. It may be said that conditions in different countries are different and you cannot compare one country with another. There is a very interesting fact about our own country, which I think calls for the attention of your Lordships' House. If you look at the returns from the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis—even my noble friend Lord Newton will not dispute this—you will see that one of the vehicles which is almost free from blame is the taxicab. The private motor car and the commercial motor car are the chief offenders. There are a good many accidents caused by public service vehicles, but the taxicab, though it does cause a certain number, causes very few indeed. I see that in one recent year actually there were fewer people killed by taxicabs than by pedal bicycles. That, to my mind, is a very striking fact.
What are the principal distinctions between the taxicab and the ordinary private car, the principal mechanical and other distinctions? In the first place it is a very light vehicle. In the second place it is not very fast. The engine power is generally low and it cannot go very fast. In the third place, it turns with great rapidity. No doubt that has some, but I do not think much influence. In the 531 fourth place, being light and not going very fast, and having strong brakes, it can be stopped with great rapidity. I believe that to be the most important single engineering factor in its relative safety. In addition to that, the driver of every taxicab is examined. Before he is allowed to drive he has to pass an examination as a competent driver. I do not know whether it is a strict examination, but I understand he has to pass an examination. He also, of course, has to know the ordinary rules of the road and things of that kind, and, above all, there is this peculiarity about his case—if he drives recklessly and that is brought home to him his licence will probably be taken away from him. That is a very important matter for him and one which I venture to commend very closely to your Lordships' attention. I believe it is the great reason why on the whole taxicabs are driven with caution and skill.
That is the broad case for the Bill—I do not say for every detail of the Bill, but for a Bill of this kind. It is right that I should explain to your Lordships the provisions which I have included in this Bill and which I am prepared to defend. In the first place, under Clause 1 no one is to be permitted to drive without a licence—that is of course the case now—and the licence is not to be issued until the road authority, which I have taken to be the county council, has been satisfied, first, as to the physical fitness of the driver. There is not a very large number of accidents due to want of physical fitness, but one does occur occasionally. Somebody who is quite unfit to drive does so and an accident occurs. A certain number of people have been killed in that way. Secondly, there is to be some test of his skill. As to the physical fitness it will probably be sufficient to have a statement from himself, or at any rate a statement from a doctor that he is physically fit. As to his skill, it is suggested in the Bill that the Government might be prepared to accept some certificate from authorised clubs and associations who might be prepared to say that they were satisfied the applicant has sufficient skill to drive a car. Of course, provisions are made with respect to people who are already driving.
Thirdly, he must show that he has adequate knowledge. I believe one of the causes of the accidents—it is difficult 532 to say how many of the accidents—is want of knowledge of and adherence to the ordinary rules of the road—driving on the wrong side, passing people going round curves, and things of that kind, which no person who knew anything about it would venture to do. I was speaking to an experienced motorist who told me that it constantly happened that cars of much less power than his would pass him under conditions which were highly dangerous and when he got into the open country where he could go faster—I do not know if I should agree with him as to this—he was able to outdistance them quite easily. That kind of thing is a very serious matter. It is due apparently to recklessness and partly, I am satisfied, simply to pure ignorance of people who do not know what they ought to do. I think a very short examination would be able to show them what they ought to do.
In connection with that, I suggest that the Ministry ought to lay down the principal rules for the guidance of people driving along the public road in very much the same way as the Board of Trade has laid down rules for the guidance of shipping at sea. Of course, they would be very different rules—I am not suggesting that the same rules would do—but I believe that the rules for preventing collisions at sea have been very useful for preventing them, and that a series of rules as to proper behaviour on roads would be very useful for preventing accidents on the roads. I have even gone so far as to suggest in the Schedule of the Bill the kind of rules I have in mind, not as complete—I do not pretend to be in a position to lay down complete rules of that kind—but as an illustration of the kind of things that I have in my mind, and to suggest that the Ministry should be given authority to extend and modify those rules as they should be advised is right. I believe an examination of that kind would be of positive and direct value, but I attach even more importance to its indirect value.
I think, owing to a variety of circumstances, we have got into this position. There are a number of people who drive cars who do not seem to have any sense of responsibility at all. They do not really recognise that they are under any duty to show prudence in command of a vehicle weighing—I do not know what 533 these cars run to—I imagine tons, and going at a tremendous speed, the speed of an express train. Of course, the least touch to any living person will inflict a fearful injury, if it does not kill him outright. Therefore, it requires the utmost care, the utmost sense of responsibility in driving these very dangerous vehicles—dangerous, that is, to others. I believe that if they had to go through an examination and the rules of the road were pointed out to them, the indirect psychological effect would be of immense value, quite apart from the indirect effect of greater competence for the drivers. That is the first provision.
Then I come to the extremely difficult question—I quite admit it is an extremely difficult question—about the speed limit. I believe every one of your Lordships will agree that the present position is most unsatisfactory. The present position with regard to the speed limit on roads is really a very serious scandal to this country, You have a law—technically, I suppose, a criminal law—which nobody who drives a motor car thinks of obeying. That is the literal truth. I doubt whether there is any driver of a private car who thinks of not going more than twenty miles an hour. I should be very much surprised to hear of one unless he had a very old and infirm car. Here is the law that no car shall go more than twenty miles an hour and you see advertised all over the country that particular cars will go forty, fifty, sixty, eighty, or even 100 miles an hour. I have even seen a car advertised to go 120 miles an hour. It is a supreme outrage that such a state of things should be allowed to continue for an hour.
I was told—I admit this is gossip and it may not be true—that even the police recognise that there is no hope of getting the law as it stands enforced, and there is a standing order by many police authorities that the police are not to interfere with a car unless it goes more than thirty-five miles an hour, or, in a ten-mile an hour speed limit area, more than twenty-five miles an hour. I do not know whether that is true, but I was positively assured that it was so. At any rate it is perfectly notorious that the law is not obeyed. Again, I think that that state of things is psychologically simply disastrous. It makes the motorist despise the whole thing. He says: 534 "Here is a ridiculous law which nobody obeys, which nobody thinks of obeying, and which practically is never enforced. Why should I obey any of the laws? I do not care a brass farthing about the lot. I shall drive as I think right." And that is too often the temperament you meet among motorists, not all motorists of course but a large proportion, and the kind of people who produce the accidents.
I know we are accustomed sometimes to hear in this House and elsewhere expressions of regret that in the United States the Prohibition Laws are constantly evaded. I have heard observations to the effect that whatever may be thought about Prohibition nothing can be worse than having a law which is not obeyed. But we have, in this country, in the speed law a much more striking instance of a law which exists and which nobody thinks of obeying. I believe that it is an extremely bad thing, not only for motorists, not only for their victims, but for the whole conception of the sanctity of law in this country. If anything could make the thing worse it is the system, which I believe is being abandoned, of police traps. It is as bad a system as you could possibly devise when you select a section of road not remarkable because it is dangerous but often remarkable because it is safe, and arrest a certain number, selected haphazard, of the motorists who go along the road and who do not happen to have been warned of the police trap. It is the worst way of enforcing the law, purely arbitrary, fortuitous and uncertain, the very way to get the law despised and disobeyed.
I venture to think that if you are to maintain the speed limit at all you must devise some new system by which that speed limit will be observed. If your Lordships should be of opinion and Parliament should be of opinion that it is better not to have a speed limit I understand that, but if you are going to have one at all you must have one which can be enforced. It is in reference to that that I have ventured to bring these proposals before your Lordships. I propose in the first place that the speed limit of twenty miles an hour should be repealed, and that in its place there should be a speed limit enacted or decreed or regulated for each particular 535 class of motor by the Ministry, and that cars should be so constructed that they cannot exceed that limit from an engineering point of view. I am quite willing to admit that that proposal has objections. I am aware of them and if your Lordships should be good enough to read this Bill a second time and we get into Committee, it is a matter on which I should hope your Lordships would be able to make and discuss suggestions of a very valuable and important character. But I venture to submit it to your Lordships as the alternative to the present disgraceful state of things. Another possible method has been suggested to me—that you might have connected with the speedometer which you find on many cars, if not on all, a larger dial which would be visible from the outside and would show the actual pace at which the car was going. I think that would be better than the present state of things but I cannot pretend that I think it would be a very satisfactory solution.
In connection with this I come to another provision, which I notice my noble friend Lord Denman, who has put down a Motion for the rejection of the Bill, singles out for objection in an interview which he gave to the Press. Your Lordships will find the provision in Clause 6 of the Bill and perhaps I had better read it in order to avoid any misunderstanding:—Any highway authority may, with the approval of the Minister, make, across any section of a public highway which is in their opinion dangerous or upon which accidents to pedestrians or vehicles are in their opinion specially liable or likely to occur, such alteration in the level or surface of the road as will make it impossible for any vehicle to be driven over it at an excessive speed.Your Lordships will understand exactly what I have in mind. It is that some slight depression should be made in the road, not sufficient to interfere with cars going at a reasonable speed of ten or fifteen miles an hour, or whatever may be reasonable in the circumstances on that particular bit of road, but which would be a very serious inconvenience, to put it mildly, to cars going fast and perhaps even more than that if they were going very fast.
There is nothing new about that idea. I believe in France it is quite common 536 to find—for other purposes, I admit—ditches made across the road, and there is a well-known road sign which is erected by the sides of French roads warning motorists that they will come to such a ditch. That, of course, is rather a haphazard way of doing things, particularly as it is not designed to deal with particular road difficulties and also because it is not a standardised ditch so that motorists can know what they are going to meet. But it is the same kind of thing, and I do not believe it produces serious inconvenience. In our country you find something of the same kind of thing in level crossings, where every motorist who values his car will drive prudently or, if he does not, will find great inconvenience to himself and the springs of his car.
The conception that underlies these two clauses, the speed limit clause and this clause, is that there is a speed beyond which in a crowded country like this no car ought to go on any road. It may be not always the same speed from year to year. It certainly is difficult to lay down one speed which is applicable all over the country. But I think there is one, and I do not think that motorists ought to exceed that speed wherever they are or in whatever circumstances they may be. But, in addition, and this is the really important thing from the point of view of speed, it is of the utmost importance that there should be no speed which, in the circumstances of the particular road and the particular conditions, is excessive. It must evidently be a much lower speed than the maximum speed for the whole country. I do not believe any one who looks at the statistics will doubt that driving at an excessive speed in that sense, excessive in the circumstances, is the cause of an immense proportion of the accidents. In the paper to which I have referred I find that inquiries were addressed, I believe through the Safety First Association, to a large number of coroners throughout the country as to what they had found in reference to fatal motor accidents, and returns were obtained regarding some 600 cases. Of those 600 cases, 100 were thought to be due primarily to excessive speed in the circumstances—the very considerable proportion of 16 per cent. In addition, from 300 to 350 were said to be due to careless or confused crossing by the unhappy 537 pedestrian. I am not surprised that he is confused in the circumstances. At any rate, 300 or 350 of these unhappy, careless or confused persons, some of them children and some adults, were killed in consequence of their carelessness or confusion.
I am satisfied in my own mind, though I admit that I cannot prove it, that in a very large proportion of those cases, though from the point of view of the coroner the principal cause may have been the carelessness of the pedestrian, a contributory cause was that, when the accident became imminent, the motorist was going so fast that he could not pull up. I am satisfied that, if you examine the full history of a great number of other cases, you will find the same thing—that it is excessive speed, in the sense of speed excessive in the circumstances, that is probably the greatest single cause of fatal and other accidents in this country. This is very much borne out by an interesting little fact to be found in the same return. It is said that four-fifths of the accidents took place, not on roads that were very crowded with traffic, but on roads on which there was not very much traffic. What does that mean? It means that where the road is crowded motorists cannot go very fast and, if an accident becomes imminent, the car can be stopped before the accident occurs, while on roads on which there is not a great deal of traffic the driver can go at such a speed that he is unable to stop when an accident becomes imminent. I think that this is the explanation of a very striking fact, and probably it is for the same reason, partly if not altogether, that more than four-fifths of the accidents take place during the daytime, when high speeds are much easier than at night. It is for that reason that I attach enormous importance to the proposal that we should be able so to change the surface of the roads at particular places that it is impossible to drive faster than is reasonably safe at those places.
There are a number of other provisions with which I need not trouble your Lordships. The proposed licensing of cars, which is linked up with the proposal for the speed limit, would also, of course, enable other things to be in- 538 sisted upon with regard to those cars, but possibly a good deal of this could be done under existing legislation. But there are two points that I should like to mention to your Lordships. One is that, under Clause 4, it is proposed that any applicant for a licence shall show that he is insured against what are called third party risks, and he is not to drive unless he is so insured. That is to meet the very real hardship that constantly occurs when a wretched man is disabled or killed and those who are entitled to compensation find, when they sue the driver, that he is a man of no means and that they are unable to recover any compensation at all. This is a very serious evil, which I think calls for a. remedy. I know that there are objections to it on the ground that it would make people still more careless, knowing that they are insured, but I think this objection is met by the fact that insurance companies will take very good care not to insure people who are known to be careless and you will get greater control over them than you have at present, just as in marine insurance care is taken not to insure captains who are known to be reckless or criminal.
The other provision to which I wish to draw your Lordships' attention is that, in the case of any one who, to put it broadly, is found guilty of dangerous driving, the court shall suspend his licence for three months, unless in the particular circumstances of the case the court finds that for particular reasons the licence ought not to be suspended. I attach enormous importance to that provision, or to something like it. The details are capable of modification, but the principle is important, because to fine these people is usually useless. Many of them are wealthy, and in any case the imposition of a fine of a few pounds is not going to be a very serious deterrent. There is great difficulty in sending them to prison. I speak in the presence of those far more familiar with the administration of the law than I can pretend to lie as things now are, but I believe they will bear me out when I say that courts are very reluctant to send to prison motordrivers who have been guilty, as the vast majority of them are, not of wickedness but of carelessness. When it comes to the point, you may rage as much as you like against the motorist outside of the 539 court but, when the man is in whatever answers to the dock, it is proved that he is a very good fellow, a perfect character and all the rest of it, that he was careless, no doubt, on that particular occasion, even negligent, if you like, but not criminally negligent.
I took a little cutting from the charge of a learned Judge the other day. Mr. Justice Rowlatt said that a man was answerable civilly in damages for any neglect which caused injury to another, although it might be a mere error of judgment or want of skill, but to make a man criminally responsible there must be some moral delinquency. The occasion of this was a case of manslaughter, and I assume, of course, that the statement of the law was correct. The feeling that underlies the provisions of the law with regard to criminal negligence and manslaughter pervades all our ways of looking at the administration of criminal justice, and the result is that you cannot get Judges or jury to send motorists to prison. I am bound to admit that I share their views. I think that in the vast majority of cases it would be an improper penalty. You can easily imagine cases where the thing got so bad, that the man ought to go to prison, but in the majority of cases it is not so.
On the other hand, everybody will feel that it is right that a man who is incapable of managing a car with safety to other users of the highway ought not to go on driving a car. That is elementary justice and, unless there is some special circumstance, his licence ought to be suspended. I have put the suspension at three months in the first instance, and more later, but the details, of course, are a matter for discussion. I believe that suspension of the licence would be a very effective remedy, and the only effective remedy, against negligent and careless driving causing danger to the other users of the highway.
I am sorry to have detained your Lordships so long on this matter, to which I attach enormous importance. I was anxious to lay the full case, so far as I am capable of laying it, before your Lordships. I am not asking you for approval of every detail of this Bill, but I am asking you to approve its principle. That is the only thing that is in issue on the Second Reading. If your Lordships ap- 540 prove the principle, and the Bill goes to Committee and the details are modified or not modified, as the case may be, then, when it comes up for Third Reading, your Lordships will have to say whether the Bill as it stands ought to be put on to the Statute Book; but at this stage I venture to submit that the only issue is: Ought there to be a Bill of this kind, ought something of this nature to be put upon the Statute Book? What is the principle of the Bill? I submit that it rests on three broad propositions. The first is that there is a grave and growing evil. I do not think that anyone will doubt, after hearing the figures that I have ventured to lay before your Lordships, that this is a very serious matter—a matter far more serious than many that are dealt with by legislation in this House and the other House of Parliament. The question where 5,000 lives a year and 150,000 injuries are concerned, is a very serious matter. I need not labour that. The second proposition is that it is remediable. The figures to which I have ventured to call your Lordships' attention in reference to the United States and Canada, and the striking facts about taxicabs, do show that by proper regulation you can very greatly ameliorate the present evils of the road traffic. Thirdly, and I think this is involved in the second, the proposition is that that remedy can be applied by Act of Parliament.
Those are the principles—a growing evil remediable by Act of Parliament—and I venture to submit, if you are of opinion that that is so, that there are suggestions in this Bill (I will not put it higher than that) which are worthy of close and careful examination by your Lordships in Committee—then I submit your Lordships' proper course is to adopt the Second Reading and allow the Bill to be examined. I have tried, I do not know whether successfully, to state my case with moderation and to avoid any strong language. I think it is necessary to do that in debate in your Lordships' House, but I must be allowed to say in conclusion that it does seem to me that this is an evil which ought to be dealt with, and that it is, without exaggeration, at present an outrage on humanity and a disgrace to our civilisation. I do not think that those words are too strong. For those reasons I ask your Lordships 541 to read the Bill a second time. I beg to move accordingly.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Cecil of Chelwood.)
§ LORD DENMAN, who had given Notice to move, as an Amendment, That the Bill be read 2a this day six months, said: My Lords, the main idea that I understand runs through the clauses of the Bill of the noble Viscount is to diminish the number of accidents which take place on the road every day, and to make the road a safer place than it is to-day for pedestrians, motorists and other users of the King's highway. That is an object which will command general sympathy, but when we come to examine in detail the proposals whereby the noble Viscount seeks to achieve his purpose, we are bound to dissent from some of them and I think, perhaps, from the majority of them. I trust that the eloquence of the noble Viscount, and the air of sweet reasonableness with which he has explained the provisions of his Bill, will not disguise from your Lordships the very drastic nature of some of his proposals. So far as I have been able to ascertain, this Bill is certainly regarded with scant favour by the motoring public of this country, and I am authorised by certain motoring societies, notably, the Automobile Association, whose network of scouts all over the country has prevented so many accidents, the Motor Legislation Committee, the Society of Motor Manufacturers, and other societies in England and Scotland, to state that they are opposed to its main provisions. I particularly regret the absence this afternoon of my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, who is a recognised authority on the question of road transport. My noble friend has asked me to say that illness alone has prevented him from being in his place to oppose the provisions of the Bill.
§ Before I endeavour to state the main objection of the societies for which I speak to this Bill, I would like to indicate the points on which I find myself in agreement with the noble Viscount. In the first place, I agree with him that the penalties for dangerous driving should be far more severe than they are to-day, and I do not think you will find that the average motorist will dissent from that proposition. There should be 542 a drastic stiffening-up of the law with regard to dangerous driving on the roads of this country. Another point on which I am in agreement, at all events in principle, with the noble Viscount, is in Clause 1 of the Bill. I think it is desirable that some check should be placed on the issue of licences to people suffering from certain physical defects. The proposal in the Bill is, I think, for a medical examination. I think there is a simpler and better plan, and that is that every applicant for a licence should make a declaration as to whether or not he is suffering from certain physical disabilities. He would have to sign a form every year when he applies for his licence, and there should, I think, be severe penalties for making a false statement in this regard. I think I am right in saying that that is the proposal which the, Government placed in their last year's Traffic Bill. The objection which I see to a medical examination is the great expense that it would entail. I think over two million licences are issued yearly, and I assume that that would mean two million medical examinations. That, no doubt, would be welcomed by the medical profession, but I think the expense would bear hardly either upon the motorist or the public.
§ Now I come to another point, that of the driving test. At first sight it may seem desirable that every applicant for a licence should undergo a test as to his skill in driving. Of course, the object here is to reduce the number of accidents on the road, and I am not quite sure that this would do so. I do not think that the beginner is the cause of many accidents on the roads. I think far more accidents are caused by the skilful driver, who gets into a tight place and relies on his skill to get him out, and sometimes fails to do so. The noble Viscount alluded to two classes of driver in the London area who undergo tests in driving. They are the London omnibus driver and the taxicab driver. In my humble opinion the London omnibus driver is quite the best driver on the road to-day. He is skilful, courteous and considerate of other users of the road. The noble Viscount produced figures to prove that the taxicab driver is also a very cautious driver. I occasionally drive a car in London, and I cannot say that that is always my experience. Frequently I have been driving round the Queen Victoria Memorial 543 at Buckingham Palace at what I consider a moderate speed and have been passed by taxicab drivers driving at certainly twice the pace. I agree that taxicab drivers are very skilful, but I should not take them as good examples of considerate driving as a result of having passed the driving test.
§ In this connection, we are fortunate in having the experience which obtains in France. As you know, in France there is a test, and a fairly strict test, for every driver on the road, but I believe I am right in saying that there are more accidents per thousand cars on the French roads than there are on the English roads. I have driven in France myself, and I have seen far worse cases of dangerous driving there than I have in this country. I know that I feel less secure in this respect in driving on roads in France than I do in driving on the English roads. Then you have to consider the expense and the number of officials who will be required under this clause. I believe it to be the case that independent Committees appointed by the Government or some Department have inquired into this question and have reported against the proposal. I understand that the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, is going to reply for the Government, and perhaps he might be able to give the House some information on that point. Though, no doubt, there are advantages in this driving test, on the whole I think the balance of advantage is in favour of the law as it stands to-day.
§ Now I come to Clause 3, which I will say at once I regard as one of the worst provisions of the Bill. This clause seeks to place a mechanical check on motor vehicles, so that they cannot go beyond a certain maximum speed. I am advised by the technical adviser of the Automobile Association that it is impracticable to fit a petrol motor with a reliable device limiting the speed to a low maximum rate, but any such device, if practicable, could very easily be tampered with by any mechanic. Supposing that it were possible to fix such a device, what would happen? Let us take the case of a driver of a motor coach or char-a-bancs—and in my view there are some parts of England where this class of vehicle constitutes a very real danger on the road. They are sometimes tied down by a time- 544 table, and have to make up speed, and they do go far too fast on certain stretches of road. Supposing you have a control on the engine of such a vehicle: I see nothing to prevent the driver letting his clutch out at the top of a hill, putting his car out of gear and coasting down the hill, going down much faster than he ought to travel in order to make up time. That would be an almost certain cause of accidents.
I believe that motor manufacturers are entirely opposed to this particular provision of the Bill. I asked the opinion of a well-known manufacturer, Mr. Morris, who has built up a big industry in the last few years in light cars in this country. The point I particularly put to him was this: supposing this Bill were carried what would be the effect on the export trade, which we hope may one day be developed, from this country to the Dominions and to foreign countries? Mr. Morris writes me in these terms:—
Both I and other British manufacturers are struggling hard to create employment by building up in face of the difficulties of the horse-power tax and other burdens an export trade in motor vehicles, where throughout the Empire we are faced with the competition and resources of the United States.
And he adds this:—
I can imagine no better method of stifling our export trade in motor vehicles than to impose such a restriction as Viscount Cecil suggests, nor a better means of yet further aggravating the national problem of unemployment in one of the essential industries of the country.
That the Legislature, and especially this branch of the Legislature, should hamper British traders in an endeavour to develop an export trade to our Dominions is really an unthinkable proposition.
§ Now let me say a few words with regard to the question of speed. I think there is a fallacy underlying several of the clauses of this Bill, and it is this, that high speed is the main cause of accidents on the road. In my view traffic congestion is a more prolific cause. I think statistics show that in London, at all events, the highest percentage of accidents take place at from five to ten miles an hour. That is shown by a Return issued by the Ministry. Your Lordships, no doubt, realise what a very serious problem is presented by traffic congestion to-day. Those of you whose business takes you into the City on a 545 week-day know from experience what traffic congestion in the City is like, and at the week-end, on Saturdays and Sundays, when large numbers of cars go down to the coast in the South of England, the traffic congestion becomes a very serious matter indeed. There are few bridges—too few, I think, in proportion to the volume of the traffic with which they have to deal, and these are narrow. I will take Putney Bridge as an example. I think the roadway is ten yards wide and the approaches had at either end. Into this kind of bottle-neck thousands of motor vehicles pour during the week-end and go very slowly, because they have to cross the bridge and somehow disentangle themselves from the traffic block on the other side. I suggest that this is a very serious cause of accidents, and for my part I think it is really unfortunate that the life of this Parliament is coming to an end without, so far as I know, any attempt being made to deal with this matter, or to pass into law the Road Traffic Bill which was printed by the Government last year.
To go back to the provisions of the Bill, I hope I may have convinced some of your Lordships that the mechanical check proposed in Clause 3 is really an impossible suggestion, and, if that be so, I would ask you to refer to Clause 2 (3) which I will read:—
The Minister may make regulations prescribing the maximum rate of speed at which a mechanically propelled vehicle may be driven on a public highway, and may prescribe different maximum rates of speed in respect of different mechanically propelled vehicles or types of mechanically propelled vehicles, and may prescribe different maximum rates of speed beyond which any mechanically propelled vehicle may not be driven on different roads or portions of roads.
I take it that the meaning of that subsection is that there is to be a different rate of speed for different kinds of vehicles—for the motor omnibus, the motor lorry, the motor chars-a-bancs, the large car, the two-seater car and other kinds of car. If that is so, I confess that I am sorry for the men in a garage who have to bear in mind all these different rates of speed.
§ The noble Viscount has said that he is not in favour of the system of police traps. If a mechanical check is im- 546 possible, I do not know how you are to regulate all these different rates of speed except by police traps. With regard to those traps I should like to say that motorists owe it to the Minister that the law is interpreted in a more reasonable way than was the case only a short time ago. The rates in localities along main roads are no longer paid out of fines inflicted upon motorists, but the ratepayers pay the rates themselves. If I read this clause correctly, the result would be enormously to increase the number or the setting up of a new system of motor traps all over the country. That, I think, would be the inevitable result of this particular provision in the Bill.
§ Clause 4 deals with insurance against third party risks, and the noble Viscount spoke in favour of such insurance. Everybody agrees, I think, that there is certainly a strong case to be made for that. But there is an objection, and I do not think it is met in the clause as it stands. It is easy to say that all motorists shall be insured against third party risks. Most prudent motorists are, I think, already so insured; but I see this objection to the clause as it stands. There is nothing in the law to compel insurance companies to insure risks which they do not want. Under this provision insurance companies might be placed in a position almost of monopoly and might be able to demand unduly high premiums from the motorist. There is, of course, the further possibility that the Government should step in behind the insurance companies; but that would be a form of national insurance which would raise very large questions and it is not the proposal in the Bill. It is, I think, a very real objection to the clause, but I do not see how you can compel insurance companies to take risks. There are whole classes of cases, like motor cyclists for example, that insurance companies do not like to take, and I do not see how you can compel them to take such cases if they do not wish to do so.
§ I would say only a few words about Clause 6, which is, I think, a very unusual proposal. The noble Viscount seeks to break up the really excellent surface of our roads and to make depressions in order to slow up the speed of traffic at those points. That, I think, might be 547 very hard on horse-drawn traffic in frost or snow; I do not know whether the noble Viscount has considered that. I think, too, it would be within the bounds of possibility that some means could be devised by motor mechanics, some patent shock absorber, which would enable the car to ride faster over these depressions in the roads. The noble Viscount says in the Memorandum to the Bill that in other countries, I presume he means in France, these depressions are placed in the roads without serious inconvenience to the users of the roads. If the noble Viscount had heard, as I have heard, the observations of English motorists whose back axles have been smashed by these particular devices I do not think he would have committed himself to that exact statement. And I think I am right in saying that the policy of the French Government is to do away with these channels upon their main roads.
§ I would summarize in a sentence my main objections to this Bill. I believe that it would increase rather than decrease the accidents on the roads; that it would do nothing to remedy traffic congestion; that it would set up a new Army of officials and thereby involve great expenditure; that it would not clarify the law as the noble Viscount desires but would add to the already existing complication and confusion; and that it would hamper manufacturers at home and possibly cripple them in their endeavour to develop an export trade abroad. For those reasons I ask your Lordships to reject this Bill. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
§ Leave out ("now") and at end of the Motion insert ("this day six months).—(Lord Denman.)
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I regret to say that I dissent from my noble friend Lord Denman. I should have concealed my disagreement were it not for the fact that I feel very strongly about the value of the service which the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, has rendered in bringing this matter before your Lordships' House. The main purpose of this Bill is to secure as far as possible the comfort and the safety of pedestrians. I suppose there is hardly a member of your Lordships' House who does not own a motor car. Surely, therefore, this of all assemblies ought to be 548 the body most anxious to secure the comfort of those who do not. There can be no doubt that there has been a growing tendency seriously to interfere with established common law rights possessed by people who use the King's highway. I would beg your Lordships to bear in mind that for the ordinary man there is only one place, apart from public spaces, where by law he is entitled to be. That is the King's highway, and along that every one has an equal right to travel. Everyone has an equal right to use it. The idea which seems to have possessed motor car people, that they are entitled to a monopoly of the road and that all pedestrians have to scurry out of their way like black beetles avoiding a broom, is a complete perversion of the law.
The motor car driver is exactly as much bound to consider the comfort and convenience of the person on foot as the person on foot is bound to consider the convenience of the motor car driver. A noble friend behind me says "Hear, hear." Go into any one of our London roads and see if that consideration is given! Cross the road on foot and see how many of the cars will expect you to get out of their way instead of you expecting them to get out of yours. Yet that is what you are entitled to demand. I can tell you one or two instances in my own experience. I nearly always travel on foot, because I prefer that form of locomotion to any that has ever been devised, and when I travel in a motor car I do it for the same reason for which I travel in the Tube, not because I like it, but because I want to get from one spot to another. If I want to enjoy myself I walk, and I walk a great deal about London. Naturally, I am anxious as far as I can not to impede motor traffic. It is the rarest thing in the world to find a motor car that pays the least consideration to the passenger on foot.
I remember a time when it was very difficult for me to move and my infirmity was obvious to everybody. I was walking across the road just outside here and there was a block of motor cars held up by a policeman. He had not seen me or he would have held up the cars longer, but he thought he had held them up long enough and took down his arm. Did any one of the cars stop? Certainly not; they all advanced in a solid 549 phalanx without the least regard for me. I had to get out of their way as best I could. Had I liked I could have been run over and then explained that they had flagrantly defied my common law right to use the road. That is what they had done; that is what they do every hour and every minute of the day. I think this is a matter that needs very careful attention and that, whether by the express means the noble Viscount has proposed—and no one could be more fair and generous than he in saying they were all open to revision—or some other means, we ought to show that we are not going to permit the motor cars to take charge of this country and, having cut ugly black scars right through the whole face of a most beautiful country, which they call their new motor roads, to prevent us either from using those roads or any other road when they choose to drive down it.
The noble Viscount's Bill really depends upon four principles, any one of which can be accepted and considered without really offending any one of the arguments put forward by the noble Lord [Lord Denman]. He says there should be some qualification for the grant of a licence. He says there should be some regulation with regard to safety. He says there should be some provision with regard to insurance, and some regulation as to the character of the vehicle and the use of the road. Take those four broad general propositions: what can be the objection to them? Take the first. To-day any person can have a licence who likes to ask for it. He cannot ask for one if he is dumb, but he can get it if he is deaf, and I believe he can get one if he is blind. He may be subject to any form of infirmity, mental or physical, yet he is entitled to a licence which puts him in charge of a machine that, unless carefully controlled, moves at the hazard of the life and limb of other people. The extent of that hazard was well shown by the figures the noble Viscount quoted. Is it not only right that you should take some steps to see that the person to whom you grant a licence to do a dangerous thing is qualified to have charge of a dangerous vehicle? That is all the first provision asks; and, indeed, I did not gather from the noble Lord, Lord Denman, that he has any very real objection to that.
550 How the licence should be dealt with is another matter. I do not think these licences are suspended with nearly sufficient severity. I should make quite a different rule if a man were found drunk in charge of a motor car, an offence which I myself would punish unhesitatingly with imprisonment, subject only to this one thing; if it were shown that the man's weakness was due to some trouble that he had received during the War I would make that a special exception, but subject to that the man should go to gaol. What does happen? Let me again give you an illustration. At the back of my motor car, which I do not examine very carefully myself, a policeman, who must have had eyes like those referred to by Sam Weller in the celebrated trial, observed that the plate was a quarter of an inch or half an inch too small. Nobody had noticed it for two years, but that did not matter. I agree it was a technical breach and I make no complaint when I have broken the law, however innocently, of having to pay the penalty, and I paid the penalty for having a plate that served all the purposes which any plate ever could be devised to serve yet which none the less had not satisfied the mathematical measurements required. Be it so. I have forgotten whether it was the same day, but if it were not it was two or three days afterwards, a man was found guilty of having, while drunk, driven a motor car down the Edgware Road. What was the fine? Two pounds. Those are the facts.
It really is time that there should be established something which will prevent what I regard as a flagrant travesty of justice, and, I think also, a cruel indifference to the lives and safety or the people. If a man had gone down the Edgware Road firing off a pistol he would probably have been sent to gaol for six months, but the danger caused by driving while drunk down the Edgware Road in a motor car is far greater than merely firing off a pistol, and yet you can do that, apparently, for two pounds. As far as I can see there is nothing that enables the magistrate to interfere with you if, instead of being drunk, you are merely under the influence of drugs. You are much more dangerous, but you are not drunk. Nor can he touch you if 551 you are under the influence of drink and are not drunk. As everybody knows the definition of what is being drunk is an astonishingly difficult thing to establish. If a man can once prove he is not drunk, then, on the charge of being drunk in charge of a motor car, he is entitled to be acquitted. Surely that is a thing that ought to be put right. Those are the things covered by the regulations referred to by the noble Viscount.
Let us consider another matter. If any of you have driven down a road, say the Brighton Road, in the evening, you have been met by car after car with dazzling lights, absolutely unveiled, which leave you completely blinded and paralysed for seconds after they have passed. They can lower their lights if they please, but do they? You know they do not. I know they do not. I was only the other day in this condition. It happened to be the day of that very violent gale when travelling was difficult. I can assure your Lordships that there were only two cars—I counted them—of the numbers we passed that ever thought of veiling their lights when we went by. What is the result? The result is to be seen in what happened quite recently, as reported in the newspapers. A man driving a car at no greater speed than ten miles an hour was passed by one of these vehicles with blinding lamps. He was blinded and he drove into a man who was just in front of him and killed him. Whose fault was that? It was the fault of the man with the lights. I would beg your Lordships to remember that the men with those lights know the danger well enough. They are simply indifferent to the safety of the people who are using the road and a Bill like this is necessary to bring them to some knowledge of the duty they owe to the public.
The most rev. Prelate, the Bishop of Southwark, brought before your Lordships' House a little time back a Question with regard to the wholesale maiming of children in his area by the use of these cars. Anything done? You know perfectly well, unless you can establish severe regulations and have them severely enforced, the children in our streets are bound to be injured. Only the other day I heard of one man who had had two of his children run over by cars in the street. I know quite 552 well you say that they have no business to be there. Well, my Lords, the Government in its wisdom thinks it is not right to tell women how to control their families, and therefore they have to have babies, and when they have the babies in a little house fronting the street I ask you where are the children to play? Where are they to go? To what other place can they go except the street? And when they are in the street they are liable to be run over by cars. I know perfectly well that the noble Viscount does not agree with my views of what should be done in the case of these families, but that does not make my support of the Bill less sincere.
The complaint of the noble Lord, Lord Denman, really is that you are going to attempt to interfere with the mechanical construction of vehicles, but if you look at Clause 3 you will find that that provision is nothing but a subsection and could be excluded without affecting in the least degree the whole structure of this Bill. If you thought, and I am bound to say I think, that that is an undesirable proposal, it would be easy enough to take it out. It does not affect the main purpose of the Bill. It is ridiculous to wreck the Bill merely because there is a provision like that with which you disagree. So also as regards speed. I do not agree with the provisions as regards speed. What I think is that you should abolish speed limits altogether and substitute a strict provision against driving to the public danger, and one of the first and most important pieces of evidence should be the pace at which a man was travelling. That really seems to me to be the way in which the pace of motor cars should be regulated.
I do not quite agree either with making these depressions in the road, although I am bound to say I should be very glad to take some steps to bring home to these people who so flagrantly defy, not only the law but the safety and comfort of their fellow subjects, that if they drive at too great a pace it might lead to greater disadvantage than merely being shaken up. I agree that there is a great deal to be said also against the system of insurance. The system of insurance now protects a man against his own wrongful act. It is not a thing I like. If you are not to blame in an accident the insurance does not cover the result. It is 553 only if a man who is injured can recover from you that insurance may indemnify you against loss. I am not sure that I entirely approve of that, but that again is essentially a matter that should be discussed. So also with regard to the regulations with regard to noise, which I think of great importance. There really is no reason why cars should be allowed, very often in the early hours of the morning, to go racing down a road with all their exhausts cut out, making a din which wakes everyone whose room is adjacent to the main road. This is a Bill which I feel is full of really good and valuable provisions to do a thing which all of us must above all things desire to do, that is to avoid the use by rich people of their comforts and conveniences so as to interfere with the comforts and conveniences of the people who are poor.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, I intend to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill although I do not approve of all the things in it. I would point out to the noble Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill that his speech really was a Committee speech dealing with Committee points, and that it did not really touch the question which is before us at the present moment, whether or not we should accept the principle that something must be done to prevent the enormous loss of life and injury to people which are occurring at the present time. I can bear out the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Buckmaster, as to the danger of walking in London streets at the present time. Like him, though perhaps for different reasons, I have been accustomed for some years to walk a good deal about London and I do it at the peril of my life. If there is one thing which adds to the danger it is one-way traffic. You get to a refuge when you wish to cross a street, you look round and you see cars coming up on one side but nothing on the other. You begin to cross and immediately somebody cuts in in front of the car you have seen, comes on the wrong side of his road and unless you are very active, which I unfortunately am not now owing to old age, you are knocked over and possibly killed.
What is the reason for these accidents? I have driven myself, I suppose for more than fifty years, with horses about London and about the country. Pedestrians are careless. Pedestrians will step 554 off the pavement without looking round. I saw that over and over again in days long before motors were invented or thought of. Why was it that they were not killed? It was because you were going then at such a pace that even if you did knock a man over the result would be probably that he would not be injured severely. It is the pace which is the cause of these accidents. You get a motor car weighing a ton or a ton-and-a half and going at thirty or forty miles an hour: it runs into something and what is the result? What you get is a very bad injury. And is there any necessity to go at thirty or forty miles an hour?
If you want to do that, why not patronise the Great Western Railway or some other excellent railway which will carry you at an excessive speed in very much greater comfort than going in a motor car. The real reason is that people have got into the habit of saying: "I want to go, say, thirty miles. To do it comfortably, without risk to myself and without any risk to other people, I ought to take an hour and a half." But for some reason, because they want to write a letter or to read a book or to look at a newspaper, they keep on waiting and waiting until they have only got about forty-five minutes. Then they say: "Very well, we must go at a greater pace."
As the noble Viscount said, manufacturers make motor cars which can go up to sixty miles an hour, and a man, having bought one of these cars at an enhanced price because it goes so fast, thinks he has a right to go at that pace. My own hope is that there may be some regulation which will prevent motor manufacturers making these cars. The noble Lord, Lord Denman, said that would interfere with the export trade. Are we going to sacrifice human life in order to gain a certain amount of money for certain people who want to export cars? I say that if it is necessary to export cars there is no reason why you should not make cars for exportation only. They could be exported, the maker would not lose his money and we should not suffer in following our legitimate business of walking to this House or going home after listening to the noble Lord this afternoon.
555 There is no reason why we should not vote for a Bill because we do not accept all the clauses of it. Personally, I believe the most dangerous motorist is the skilled driver. I have been myself, because I did not like to refuse, with a very skilled driver in London. It very nearly finished my life—perhaps I ought not to use the word—from fright. He was an extraordinarily skilled man, and knowing how well he could drive and what a fine car he had he ran the most extraordinary risks. I agree with an examination for physical fitness, but I do not believe that an examination for skill will have very much effect in decreasing accidents. The noble Lord said something about rules of the road. I used to have to learn something of the rules of the road in the days when I drove horses. One of the things that you have to learn is distance in passing—can you pass something that is going a little slower than you in time to avoid a collision with something coming the other way? You have to learn that. No examination will teach you that, and one of the causes of these accidents is that people do not understand distance. They want to pass and they pass when they ought not to do so. That is one of the reasons for the great number of accidents. Even then, if they were going slowly, nothing very much would happen. I sincerely hope that something will be done. When one comes to consider that 5,000 people were killed last year and 150,000 people injured—in round figures, 160,000 people killed and injured in one year—what would noble Lords opposite say if two countries went to war and they were told that 160,000 people had been killed and wounded? We should hear all sorts of stories about Geneva and the League of Nations and a variety of other things of that sort, and they would hold up their hands in horror at 160,000 people being killed and wounded. Yet they think nothing of it when it is happening in this country, and when we can stop it by some such Bill as that of the noble Viscount.
My Lords, I hold no brief for the motor manufacturer, and still less, as I think your Lordships know, do I hold a brief for the reckless motorist, a person whom I have always consistently opposed. I listened, as did all your Lordships, with very great in- 556 terest to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster. With very large portions of it I found myself, as usual, in complete agreement, but with other portions, as is less usual when the noble and learned Lord speaks, I found myself in some disagreement. I should like to deal with one or two of those points.
First of all the noble and learned Lord made a great point about dimming headlights when you approach other cars. I think probably the noble Lord is not aware that this has been the subject of discussion for very many years, and that the conclusion at which those whom I think I may call experts in the subject have arrived is that it is far more dangerous to dim your headlights and then switch them on again than to keep your headlights on and to pass very slowly, watching your own side of the road. Of course it is perfectly true that the moment these dreadful headlights meet you you are dazzled. I sometimes drive at night, though as seldom as I can, and I have that experience. But it is really better than that you should be suddenly plunged into unexpected darkness in which you can see nothing at all. In the case which was quoted in which a pedestrian was run down because the driver had been passed by a car and had been dazzled, if he had kept sufficient illumination he would still have seen the pedestrian in spite of the headlights, provided he had slowed down when he was passing. I must say that for my own part, when I am met by these headlights, I always take what I think is the only safe course, get as close as I can to my own side of the road and go as slowly as possible until the glare has passed. I am sorry that this course is not universally adopted, but on the whole I believe that both the bodies that now advise motorists are convinced that it is a greater danger to dim your headlights than to keep them on in those circumstances. That, however, is a comparatively small point.
Then the noble and learned Lord, and I think also the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill, spoke about the necessity of stiffening the law. The true fact is, not so much that the law requires stiffening as that it requires administering. The law is quite sufficiently stiff now, if only the magistrates would administer it. The 557 noble Lord himself gave the instance of the drunken man driving down the Edgware Road. Your Lordships know that I took part some time ago in dealing with the question of the drunken driver and succeeded in getting an automatic penalty inflicted upon him, though this did not altogether meet with favour in all quarters. But what happens is that the majority of the London magistrates, very properly as I think, invariably give a man a month's hard labour for being drunk in charge of a motor car. That seems to me an eminently proper thing to do. What happens? If the man is able to appeal, he goes to Quarter Sessions and, almost without exception, they reduce the penalty to a fine of £5 or £10. Can you wonder that the magistrates get tired, as one of them has said publicly, of doing what they consider to be their duty, when they are corrected time after time by Quarter Sessions on appeal? It is not the law that is at fault, but the administration of the law. The penalties for dangerous driving are now very high. I am not sure that they do not even include imprisonment, as the law stands. But they are seldom sufficiently enforced.
Let me say on that point that I agreed entirely with the noble Lord who said that the licences of dangerous drivers ought to be suspended. That is in the noble Viscount's Bill. There is nothing which I think will more bring home to a man the fact that he has driven improperly than to be forbidden to go on the road with a car again. The noble Viscount suggests an automatic disqualification, a method as to which your Lordships were good enough by a small majority to agree with me in the case of the drunken driver. But there are great objections to this automatic disqualification. I think it is not too much to say that nearly all lawyers disagree on principle with not leaving the whole thing to the discretion of the magistrate, but I confess that I think that the penalties are now so much too small that I should be willing to see it adopted. I shall congratulate the noble Viscount if he succeeds in persuading the Home Office that it is the proper thing to do.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
May I be allowed to point out to my noble friend that I say that the magistrate, if he is quite sure that it ought not to be 558 done, will be entitled not to do it, but that he must then give his reasons?
The proposition of the noble Viscount does impose an extra duty of care upon the magistrate because, instead of the magistrate having to declare that the licence shall be suspended, he has to apply his mind and ask whether there is any reason why the licence should not be suspended. That is the effect of the Bill and I think it is so far to the good.
I should like to give your Lordships two examples of which I have personal knowledge. I took upon myself to report to the police a man against whom they took action. In a crowded street in London he was driving very fast and very well—the noble Lord opposite spoke of the skilled driver—and dodging in and out of the traffic, coming sometimes on one side and sometimes on the other, trying to get through where there was no room to pass. The police were good enough to take action against him, and the magistrate said—I do net blame him for it—that as there was only oath against oath he felt that it was not right to convict, and so the man escaped. There was another ease which perhaps may surprise your Lordships still more. I reported to the police a case of a motor lorry whose official speed was twelve miles an hour, which I followed on the road for two miles. It was going at forty miles an hour, swinging from side to side. This lorry weighed, I suppose, two tons, and I ask your Lordships to consider the sort of danger that it constituted to other users of the road. After the matter was laid before the Chief Constable, your Lordships may be surprised to hear that I received a reply that in the circumstances he did not think that an offence had been committed.
Your Lordships will agree that it is not the law that is at fault but the administration of the law. I have frequently said before—and I think it is only right to say it again, because it cannot be said too often—that in my view the whole reason for this is that attention from the beginning has been paid to speed limits and speed limits only, that the attention of the police has been concentrated on something which was comparatively unimportant and has been diverted from 559 that which was really important—namely, the manner of driving. Incidentally I should like to say that I do not agree with the noble Viscount that there is no road in this country upon which there ought not to be a limit of speed. There are roads upon Salisbury Plain and upon the Wiltshire Downs where you can see the road for half a mile ahead, where there are no hedges and you can see what is beside the road for a quarter of a mile on each side. The only danger that you can possibly cause with such a clear road is danger to yourself. There could be no danger there, at whatever speed the car goes, when there are no cross-roads, no hedges and nothing can possibly appear upon the road.
Much as I sympathise with the objects of the noble Viscount, I think that in this Bill he has gone rather too far. I think that he has proposed some provisions which will not be very successful. As to satisfying the licensing authority as to your fitness, I think it will be found a very difficult question for it is rather hard to know what they would require to be satisfied with. I think I am right in saying that your Lordships know, as I do, of one case of a man absolutely deaf who has been driving a car for years with perfect safety, because he is a very careful driver and uses reflecting mirrors. He has driven thousands of miles with perfect safety. I think I am also right in saying that more than one man, wounded in the War and deficient in either a leg or an arm, is able in a special car to drive with safety, although you can hardly say that he is physically fit. I doubt whether a prior examination will do any good—certainly not an examination as to skill. I believe that it is the reckless and over-confident driver, very often with a good deal of practice, who causes accidents.
Then I come to the remarkable provision about a mechanical device. Apparently the answer to that objection is that it can be left out of the Bill, but there it is, and so long as it remains in the Bill it seems to me that it is a quite unworkable Bill. It will cost a great deal to fit the device, and it will not be of any real safety because it can be easily tampered with. The same clause gives the Minister power to approve a type of vehicle. That will necessarily impose a considerable burden upon manu- 560 facturers. They want to make their own designs and to alter them from time to time, and if they are to be subjected to a kind of Scotland Yard inquiry, with all the official inquiry and delay which will be involved, it means that they must end by increasing the price of the car by a very considerable amount. In Clause 4 the noble Viscount has adopted a very favourite scheme of my own, as to compulsory insurance. I brought that before your Lordships two years, if not three years, ago, and I introduced a Bill for that purpose, and I am still of the opinion that every motorist ought to be compulsorily insured against third party risks.
I think it is really ridiculous to say that if a motorist is insured it is going to make him a reckless driver. If he has an accident he will lose the use of his car, and will have the discredit of having been in an accident, and will also have a certain amount of legal costs to pay; but the effect upon an innocent person who may be injured is really most disgraceful. A man takes one of these dangerous machines upon the road, drives recklessly, wad injures some third party, and then when he is cast in damages he cannot pay. When I brought this matter before your Lordships it was suggested that these cases were few in number. In fact the cases in which this happens are very large in number, but the interest which I took then in the subject, and the discussions which I had about it with those who are informed, satisfied me, as also apparently the noble Viscount, that there are difficulties which are quite considerable difficulties. I withdrew from any further attempt to carry out a scheme upon my own because I received an assurance that the Government were going to apply it to commercial vehicles. That was at least two years ago and the Government have done nothing.
The Roads Bill was first drafted and printed nearly three years ago, and really it is because the Government have neglected their duty of introducing the Roads Bill that we are having this discussion to-day. The situation is becoming increasingly acute, and it is obvious that individual members of this House have felt that they cannot wait for something to be done by the Government. One knows that it is impossible to hope 561 for anything to be done during the remainder of this Session, but I think the Government have been to blame for not having dealt with the matter in the time which they have had.
In Clause 5 we come to the regulations which may be made, and I think these are the regulations in the Schedule. These are all matters of detail, and I do not propose to go into them very much, but one of them, I think, concerns the white line. Your Lordships may remember that I suggested to the Minister of Transport some time ago that it would be of advantage if the official white line could be given statutory sanction, so that a man who disregarded it could be punished for dangerous driving. I am bound to say that, so far as my observations go, motorists do on the whole regard the white line, but not entirely, and at present there is no legal compulsion upon them to do so. I think it would be desirable if these white lines were made statutory, and that that would do a good deal to prevent accidents.
I do not know whether I really need discuss the noble Lord's suggestion of a dos ďâne such as they have in France though the noble Lord really proposes something more in the nature of a saucer trap. There are many objections, and one is that the condition of the traffic might vary at different times of the day. Take for instance the village of Stevening upon the great North Road. There is a very wide street there, and to drive through that street, say, at one a.m. at thirty-five miles an hour would not be a dangerous thing to do, but to drive through that same street at twenty-five miles an hour in the day time, when children might be coming out of school, would be an extremely dangerous thing to do. Yet you would have your saucer trap there all the time. I think it is impracticable, and I think your Lordships must recognise that here again attention requires to be diverted from the speed limit, and that if you station your policeman, or even two policemen, in the village, to summon any one who drives dangerously there, instead of hiding him behind hedges in the country—a practice which is dying out in nearly all the counties—you would do much more good than by this artificial means.
562 I do not like to have a law upon the Statute Book which is not enforced. The law says that twenty miles is the maximum speed at which a car shall go at any time, anywhere. I do not suppose that there is any noble Lord, or any magistrate sitting upon the bench, who has not broken, and does not continually break, that law. I should not like this country to get into the habit of having laws upon the Statute Rook and having them habitually disregarded. The time is long passed when the Government ought to have dealt with it, when our laws ought to be amended or enforced. With the penalties in the Bill I have already dealt, and I cannot help saying that I am in sympathy with nearly everything which the noble Viscount and Lord Denman have said, but I do not think really you ought to allow this Bill to go forward in this or anything like this form. Also, it is not a complete solution of the question. Many of the questions involved are difficult and in any case want thrashing out in Select Committee. This amendment of the law which is long overdue ought to be dealt with by the Government. It is perfectly obvious that even if we pass this Bill here nothing can be done this Session, and if we do not pass this Bill and the Government do not give facilities, then I think the Government must bear the responsibility for introducing some legislation, because the time is overdue by at least two years when this ought to have been done.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY)
My Lords, I feel that at this stage of the debate you will wish to hear the views of the Government with reference to this Bill. I am not quite sure, after the speech which the noble Earl has just delivered, that there really is left much more for me to say, because I would urge upon the noble Viscount not to proceed with his Bill. The noble Earl, while he has supported the noble Viscount, has, I think, more or less torn the provisions of the Bill to shreds and tatters. My noble friend introduced his Bill with his usual eloquence, and it is a matter of great regret to me, because I have been associated with him for many years, that, although the occasions when I have had the opportunity of addressing your Lordships are comparatively few, I 563 have more than once found myself in opposition to him.
I do not disagree with him on principle, but rather on the practical method of carrying out the suggestions which he has put forward. If he had brought forward this question merely for the purpose of discussion I should have been fully in agreement with him, because I think it has been of great advantage to your Lordships to hear all the arguments which have been put forward on a problem which is so acutely exercising all our minds. I should like to say, in case any of your Lordships are not aware of it, that this is a matter to which the Government are fully alive and to which they are directing their attention very much at the present moment.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
Well, if the Government were to endeavour to pass all the measures which the noble Earl thinks we ought to pass we should reach the end of our lives before we could satisfy him. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, put forward his views in his usual forcible manner, and I think most of your Lordships must have agreed with him. We all know the motorists to whom he refers, and all of us would wish to see some regulations brought forward for controlling the activities of those who contribute very little to the good of the community. The noble Lord, Lord Denman, is fully qualified to speak on this question. He speaks for the various associations throughout the country which have considered this question, and which feel that this measure is not one which is really necessary, nor one which will carry out the objects which we desire. We all agree that a Bill dealing with motor traffic is necessary, but the view of the Government is that this particular Bill is not the one which is likely to conduce to the objects which we all have in view.
I would infinitely prefer to ask the noble Viscount to withdraw his Bill, and I will venture to put forward the reasons which I hope will persuade him that all that can be done at the present moment is being done. I think we must all agree that the regulation of motor traffic must be sympathetic rather than oppressive, and must not hinder the development of 564 a comparatively young and certainly a flourishing industry. The noble Lord who moved the rejection of the measure spoke of the export trade. That is a matter of considerable importance. We certainly wish to hold our own in this country in the motor industry, and we should be very wrong if we put on one side any endeavour on our part to develop that industry to the fullest extent, and in accordance with the necessary evolution of that industry. But I will put before your Lordships the reasons why the Government cannot accept this Bill. The first difficulty, which I know the noble Viscount will appreciate, is that unfortunately there is no time available to pass such a Bill. The Government have been far from inactive in this matter, and the draft Road Traffic Bill, to which the noble Earl opposite referred, has been in existence for some time.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
It has been considered by various authorities throughout the country. It is a very comprehensive Bill, and I believe my noble friend rather favours a small Bill in preference to a comprehensive Bill. But the subject is a wide and complicated one, and I feel that none of your Lordships would desire that we should have hurried or piecemeal legislation on this question. I am not sure whether your Lordships are aware that there is a Royal Commission sitting at the present time, considering all the points which have been put forward in this debate. They are investigating the whole problem of the regulation of motor vehicles and the co-ordination of all forms of road transport. They are fully considering all those measures dealt with in the Bill of my noble friend. A vast amount of evidence has already been taken on the many points which have been put forward in this debate, and the Government feel that it is undesirable to promote a Bill pending at least an Interim Report.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I cannot say that for the moment, but that is the intention of the Ministry of 565 Transport. Perhaps I might be allowed to go through the provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 indicates a very elaborate, machinery for testing applicants for drivers' licences, for the provision of medical certificates, and for imposing tests of skill and of knowledge of the machine The noble. Viscount also speaks of instructors' licences, and adumbrates a provision for interim licences for persons learning to drive. All that involves most expensive machinery, and it also postulates an enormous body of officials. It is also very questionable whether examination of licences is ever very effective. But that whole matter is being considered very closely by the Royal Commission.
In Clause 2 the noble Viscount deals with speed limits. This is, of course, a very debatable point. Speed in itself, within reason, is not dangerous; speed at improper times is very dangerous. But speed, in so far as it makes a motor vehicle more handy, is also a considerable factor of safety. In Clause 3 the noble Viscount; deals with the examination of vehicles before they can be licensed. The cost of the machinery to examine 2,000,000 motor cars—and continually to examine the 2,000,000 motor cars—would be so great that this is a proposal which the Government cannot possibly favour. Your Lordships this afternoon have heard a good deal about mechanical governors for the speed of motor cars, and I am inclined to think that there is hardly any necessity for me to go very deeply into that matter. It seems to me to be a completely impracticable idea, besides being very expensive. Really it is a retrograde measure, and one which your Lordships, if you consider it carefully, will see could not be adopted. Speed is by no means the greatest factor in motor street accidents, and I will venture to trespass upon your Lordships' indulgence by quoting some figures which show conclusively that these accidents which we all deplore are not the result of excessive speed. In 1926, 20 per cent of the accidents occurred at a speed of from one to five miles per hour; 22 per cent of the accidents occurred at speeds ranging from ten to fifteen miles an hour, and the percentage of accidents at over twenty miles per hour was 4½. That shows that the bulk of the accidents are caused by 566 vehicles in traffic moving at a slow rate of speed.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
When the accident actually occurs the car is not, of course going very fast.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
Might I ask whether those are the statements of the motorists? It is my experience as, a magistrate that nobody ever does travel at more than fifteen or twenty miles an hour.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
The noble Viscount can see them for himself in the Report on Street Accidents in Greater London, 1927. The great danger to pedestrians lies in crossing a line of traffic which is moving at an irregular rate of speed. As your Lordships are aware, it is impossible with horse-drawn, heavy and light motor vehicles in one stream to keep a uniform pace. One of the greatest factors for safety is the possibility of acceleration and I am sure your Lordships will see that if there was a mechanical governor for the purpose of arresting an acceleration which might obviate an accident that mechanical governor could not be looked upon as an advanced form of motoring in this or any other country.
Clause 4 deals with compulsory third party risk. The noble Earl opposite referred to this, which is not at all a simple matter. The Bill avoids the difficulty by imposing upon the Minister the necessity of making regulations. Your Lordships will agree, I think, that this is not really a subject for Ministerial regulation. It is a matter which should be dealt with by Parliament, and the provisions should be laid down by Parliament. In New Zealand an Act dealing with this particular matter has been passed, containing no fewer than eighteen clauses, which shows that it is a most complicated question indeed. State insurance is included in that measure. The whole subject requires most earnest and most 567 searching consideration. Compulsory insurance probably involves State control of the insurance company, and the insurance must cover the vehicle rather than the driver, otherwise a person would require a very comprehensive policy to cover himself while he is driving any and every form of road motor vehicle.
Clause 6 is one into which I think there is hardly any need for me to go and to which I hardly think the noble Viscount would adhere. It has a relation to what are called the caniveaux on many roads at the entrance to villages in France. These were not destined as traps for the over-speedy motorists; they were destined for other purposes altogether and most of them are being filled up. When the noble Viscount considers the proposal which he has put forward, I am sure he will see that it involves a far greater danger from the fact that the driver in most cases would probably lose control of his car and it would go in any direction to the danger of any pedestrian who is at the side of the road and of any other car which may be passing at the moment.
Those are the provisions contained in the noble Viscount's Bill, and I think I have touched upon all the operative clauses. But the general objection I would venture to make to the provisions of the Bill is the enormous powers which are given to the Minister of Transport. The Bill is necessarily a very bureaucratic measure. Parliament is practically asked in this Bill to hand over motor transport bound hand and foot to the mercies of the Minister of Transport. I feel sure that your Lordships will agree that that is what I might call a very unfair responsibility to place upon any Minister.
In conclusion, I would draw the attention of your Lordships to the enormous increase in the use of roads. That is the reason why the noble Viscount has brought in this Bill, why the Government have set up a Royal Commission and why they hope at no distant date to introduce legislation. I do not feel that I should be entitled to-day to give your Lordships figures on that point, but there is one correction I should like to make, if the noble Viscount will allow me, in his comparison of the figures in England and the figures in the United States. He will find that in the year 1920 the fatal accidents in the United States were 14.4 568 per 100,000 of the population and that in Great Britain they were 7.24. I can give him the figure for 1923. In the United States the fatal accidents were 18.4 per 100,000 of the population and in Great Britain they were 7½. I will certainly give the noble Viscount this, that for 1924 and 1925 the figures are higher than 7½. That is a sinister feature which I hope the regulations which may be brought out will be able to overcome.
I have not got the American figures, but if I may say so—I know quite well that the noble Viscount would have no intention of making an unfair point on any occasion—the figures which he took per car are very misleading, because there is a far greater number of cars in the United States. It is true that a far larger number of cars belong to individual owners in the United States than in Great Britain. Americans as a rule own more cars individually than are owned individually in Great Britain; so that the figure which the noble Viscount gave is, if I may say so, very misleading. But the figures which I have given to your Lordships per 100,000 of the population are very conclusive that the fatal accidents in this country as compared with America are a great deal fewer. For those reasons I hope that the noble Viscount will see his way to withdraw the Bill which he has introduced.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, I cannot see why we should not give a Second Reading to this Bill as a sign that we recognise the importance of the matter, although, as other speakers have aid, the Bill will go no further and will not have any practical effect in the present condition of Parliamentary time. But that does not affect the question and we ought to emphasise the point that something ought to be done to remedy this frightful slaughter which is going on. One person every two hours in each day of twenty-four hours is killed by a, motor vehicle. My noble friend the Marquess of Londonderry said that one objection to the Bill was that it would give such tremendous power to the Minister of Transport. Surely tremendous power was given to the Board of Trade or the Government Department concerned when railways first came into operation. The most 569 stringent precautions were taken then for the safety of the people using the roads alongside the rails and so on. Therefore, anything that could be done by this Bill or any such measure to give greater safety ought to be done.
One point made by my noble friend Lord Denman in his objection to the Bill was, as he stated, that most accidents took place in the congested or crowded areas rather than in the more open streets and thoroughfares. I repeatedly have drawn attention to this subject in your Lordships' House as regards the Metropolis, and I remember quite distinctly that of the total of 1,000 fatal accidents last year in the City of London the number in the most congested part of that area was only something like twenty-one, which is infinitesimal compared to the total number of accidents. Upon another occasion it was clearly brought out that most of the fatal accidents occurred in the less crowded areas where high rates of speed obtain. I asked the noble Viscount, Lord Peel, to issue a chart by the Government showing where the most fatal accidents took place. I do not know whether that suggestion has been considered, but I think it desirable that such a thing should be done, and I do not see why it should not be extended to the whole country, so that people could realise where are the dangerous points. I do not want at this hour to delay your Lordships from saying what you wish to do with this measure, but I think it ought to be given a Second Reading. Whatever may be its future form, or even if it should never be passed at all, I think the noble Viscount has done good service by framing the measure.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I would like to say a few words in reply. I will make them as short as I can. The principal opponent of this Bill, apart from my noble friend Lord Londonderry, was my noble friend Lord Denman. I think his speech lacked, if I may say so—and I am not saying it in any kind of impertinent way—precision. There were almost no figures given as to what was in his opinion the least dangerous form of driving. He expressed au opinion which no doubt is of extreme value—we know he has great knowledge of these 570 matters—but after all you must go to the figures, and here I have the record of the reports of 617 cases before coroners, and they show quite distinctly that 22 per cent. Only of the accidents happened where there was much traffic on the road; and 77 per cent. Where there was little traffic on the road. That does seem to be almost conclusive that it is not the crowded, congested traffic that causes the great mass of the accidents, but that most accidents occur where there is a certain amount of traffic and undue speed prevails in consideration of the traffic.
One other observation about my noble friend's remarks about Mr. Morris. I do not believe for a moment that this Bill would interfere with the motor trade in the least. I believe there are far more safe and prudent motor drivers than there are reckless motor drivers, and anything that makes it easier and safer for the respectable motor drivers would help the motor trade and not injure it. I will say a word about. speed limit in a moment, but as to the suggestion that it is impracticable to have a mechanical deice to limit speed, I am informed—the noble Lord [Lord Denman] will probably be able to tell me if I am correctly informed—that Mr. Morris himself sends out his cars with a check on the speed in order to prevent them being driven for the first 500 miles beyond twenty or twenty-five miles an hour. If that can be done for 500 miles it can be done altogether. Therefore it cannot be true that there is any mechanical impracticability with regard to it.
As I said in moving the Second Reading, I am not wedded to the provision about speed. I think it is a thing which ought to be discussed carefully in Committee, but, in my judgment, the Bill does not depend on that provision at all. It is only one or many provisions which I think would be of value, but not of chief value, in the prevention of accidents. I will not trouble your Lordships by attempting to review everything that has been said, and I am not going to deal with all the criticisms made by my noble friend Lord Londonderry as to details. He will agree they do not touch the principle of the Bill. If the Second Reading is passed we shall have, 571 of course, to discuss the details. I come to the main arguments which he adduced against the Second Reading. What were they? First that there was not time to pass this Bill. Why is there no time? I believe that a Bill of this kind, possibly simplified as a result of discussions in Committee, would not take more than two or three days to pass through the House of Commons. That is my own belief at least, and I was in that House for a considerable time. My own belief is that, with the support of the Government, a Bill of this kind would have behind it such a vast mass of popular opinion that nobody would venture to obstruct it. That is my belief, but if there is no time, who is to blame for that? If we are to go into that question, the Government for not introducing this Bill much earlier.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I was not in charge of that particular branch. There were a great many things happening when I was a member of the Government of which I was not altogether approving.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
You cannot resign for everything. Then my noble friend, with what I thought extraordinary skill and persuasiveness considering the argument he was using, submitted that we ought to have a comprehensive method of dealing with this matter. That is what the Government always say: "You must not have this Bill because it is too small; it does not deal with the whole subject." But if you bring in a big Bill they say: "It is too big; we will never be able to get it through." Therefore no legislation results at the suggestion of anybody except the Government. I beg your Lordships to consider what this question is. It is a very serious question indeed. Five thousand people are being killed every year—the number is increasing every year—and the Government say: "We cannot deal with it now; we must have a comprehensive Bill." I turn to the Road Traffic Bill, never actually introduced. It has 92 clauses, 66 pages and 3 schedules. What chance is there of a measure of that description being passed in the next five years? Twenty- 572 five thousand more people killed before the Bill is passed !
This is an emergency Bill. I dare say it will turn out that it requires amendment on examination and further experiment, but I do say: "Here is a tremendous evil; you ought to deal with it now, and not put it off for the Report of a Royal Commission and then have a Bill which deals not with road dangers only but with a hundred other things." Why, it is equivalent to saying you are not going to deal with it for years and years. Everybody knows in this House that is what it means. I venture to say with the greatest respect this is not a case of hurried legislation. We have waited for years for something to be done. I hoped very much that the Government, after the debates which have taken place in this House, would have taken the matter up and produced a very simple Bill, not longer than the one I have had the honour of moving before your Lordships to-day. That I firmly believe could have been done. They have not done it, and it is only because they have not done it that I have introduced the Bill which is now before your Lordships.
There is one final argument which my noble friend used against the Second Beading. It was that this would give too much power to the Ministry of Transport. That is a novel objection from a Minister of the Crown. I have never heard it made before—that too much power was going to be given to a Ministry. But really if I had time, and it would not weary your Lordships to go; all through the Bill, I am sure you would agree that it does not give any great power to the Ministry of Transport. It lays down exactly what you want to do and leaves the Ministry to carry out the details. If there is a clause here and there which goes too far I should be most anxious that it should be modified in Committee, but I do not believe there is such a clause. I honestly believe that any reasonably competent official would know what had to be done under the Bill and would do it. That is why I think it very desirable that the Second Reading should be agreed to. After all, your Lordships, if I may say so respectfully, have a duty to the country. Here is a great evil brought before you according to the rules of the House and I ask 573 your Lordships to deal with it as far as you can by reading this Bill and considering it in Committee after the Recess, so that we shall have plenty of time to consider what clauses ought to be put in and what not. It is not always impossible for a Chamber of the Legislature to act without the direction and leading of the Government, and in this case I think the evil is so great that we ought to take action. I am sorry I cannot agree to withdraw, and I venture very respectfully to ask your Lordships to read the Bill a second time.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, my noble friend has intimated his wish that the Bill should be read a second time. On every ground I should have the greatest reluctance in resisting a Bill which is designed for such a purpose as lie has explained. I am equally sure that there is no member of your Lordships' House who does not agree with the main attitude which my noble friend takes up, and which I think every speaker has taken up, whether he has spoken in favour of the Bill or against it. But the Bill is evidently very contentious in its details. There is no noble Lord who has addressed us who has not found fault with one or other of the clauses. We had a very eloquent speech from the noble and learned Lord opposite. He did not approve of several of the clauses in the Bill. I am not sure that he approved of any individual clause, but he approved of the principle of the Bill. I am not quarrelling with the noble and learned Lord for a moment. His speech was a most candid speech and he carried great weight with the House, as he always does.
But that was the case with nearly every speaker. They found fault with each provision of the Bill. I have not the least doubt what, in normal circumstances, would be done with a Bill of that description—a Bill dealing with a very difficult subject, upon which the House was anxious that if possible something should be carried into effect, but upon which there was the greatest doubt as to many of the clauses. Indeed, even the facts upon which the argument depended were very gravely called in question. Take the question of headlights. I do not know how far they are dealt with in the Bill, but supposing they are, it is clear from the speech of the noble 574 and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, and from the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who is a great authority on the subject, that there is profound difference of opinion as to whether headlights should be dimmed or not in passing. But it is perfectly evident that no Bill of this kind could ever be allowed by the Government to go through without inquiry.
The normal course would be to send it to a Select Committee. I am quite sure that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred when we had before us a Bill the principle of which was unexceptionable, the need for which was very great., but the clauses of which were extremely contentious and the facts of which were in dispute, the course taken would be to send it to a Select Committee, and I should have been inclined to make that suggestion but for one circumstance. That is, that there is a Royal Commission actually sitting on this subject. It does seem to me rather astonishing, when a Royal Commission has been appointed and is actually sitting for the very purpose of inquiring into a subject, that a Bill should be carried through Parliament dealing with that very subject. It. is like our old friend "Alice in Wonderland"—verdict first, trial afterwards. I suggest that would not be a very wise course. I need not say—my noble friend knows as well as I do—that I have no personal knowledge of this particular Department of the Government. These matters only come before me at a very late stage of the proceedings. But any one who listened to my noble friend the Marquess of Londonderry must realise that the Government act with a very great sense of responsibility in this matter. We cannot advise Parliament to pass a Bill unless we are really satisfied that its provisions are such as would be workable, and such as would really do good.
These being the facts I would make this suggestion. I do not know whether my noble friend will accept it. I am sure he has immense support in the House at this moment, and not only in the House but in the country, I suggest that we should advise your Lordships, instead of rejecting the Second Reading, to read the Bill a second time upon the condition that my noble friend does not press the matter further but that the Bill is sent before the Royal Commission. The actual Bill, with his own proposals, 575 should be submitted by the action of the Government to the Royal Commission now sitting. Then the Royal Commission would be able to deal with it. They are in a position to go into the matter, they are in a position to estimate whether my noble friend's proposals are workable and whether the statistics which he has brought forward can be sustained. They have the machinery for doing this. A Committee of your Lordships' whole House could not do it. I agree that a Select Committee could do it, and that would be the normal procedure, but it would be absurd to appoint a Select Committee when a Royal Commission is sitting. I submit that that is the most workmanlike method of doing it. I am sure that after the expressions of opinion in the House to-night, and the eloquence with which those opinions have been sustained, a considerable advance will take place in opinion—I do not mean in public opinion but in official opinion, which is, after all, what my noble friend and those who support him must appeal to—and that they will not lose by bringing forward this Bill, but it may ultimately result in something really useful for the country being carried into effect.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I need not say I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for the suggestion he has made. As he knows, and as I trust all your Lordships know, I have only one object in introducing this Bill—namely, to diminish a very great evil which now affects us. If the course he recommends can be shown to me to be one which will conduce to that object being realised in a reasonable time I should be very ready to accept it, but at present I feel this difficulty about it. Here is a Royal Commission which is appointed, not to consider road dangers. Indeed, I should not have thought on the actual wording of the reference that road dangers were within the province of the Commission, but I understand they have taken evidence which seems to affect the question. I should have thought they had nothing whatever to do with road dangers. They were appointed to consider co-ordination of traffic on the road. That is my recollection. What I feel is that the inquiry may go on for months and months, and then perhaps the Commission will recommend legislation of the 576 most elaborate kind dealing with every kind of problem.
I venture to suggest to my noble friends on the Treasury Bench that if they will amend their offer in one respect I think your Lordships might be prepared to consider it. I ask whether they will ascertain from the Chairman of the Royal Commission whether he will present in a very brief period an Interim Report dealing with this question of road dangers. That would be a reasonable and workmanlike solution. I realise that my noble friend cannot answer that on the spur of the moment, and I suggest that your Lordships should agree to read the Bill a second time now and defer further consideration at any rate for some weeks, until the noble Lords on the Treasury Bench have had an opportunity of ascertaining whether the suggestion that I have made is a practicable one. Then it would be for your Lordships to decide, in view of that decision, whether you would desire to proceed with the Bill pending the Report of the Royal Commission on this question. For myself I entirely agree that it would be very much more satisfactory to have the Report of such a body as that before the details of the Bill were considered, if that is practicable. If that could be arranged, I think it would be a most reasonable course. In the meantime I venture respectfully to suggest to my noble friend that the proper course is to give the Bill a Second Reading this afternoon and then to consider whether some other step, such as is suggested by my noble friend, is practicable or not.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, it is only by leave of the House that I can address your Lordships again, but as my noble friend has appealed to me I will say this to him. We will do our best to carry out the suggestion that he makes, to see how far it is possible for the Royal Commission to produce an Interim Report dealing with this subject. Supposing we find a difficulty in the way, that will not relieve us of the responsibility of allowing a Bill of this kind, which is so much in dispute, to go through without examination, and therefore, if I take that course, my noble friend must not complain if at a later stage, when he desires to proceed with the. Bill, we find that we cannot do as he suggests and I move to refer the Bill to 577 a Select Committee in order to have the matter properly considered in that way before the Bill is carried through. I do not think that any great difference ought to exist between my noble friend and ourselves so long as it is well understood—I do not want there to be any difference of opinion—that either this matter will be referred to the Royal Commission with a view to an early Report or, if that fails, it will go to a Select Committee.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a.