§ Order of the Day for the Second Beading read.
THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOB INDIA (EARL RUSSELL)
My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill I fear I may have to detain your Lordships rather longer than usual. Your Lordships know, I think, that I endeavour never to inflict myself upon this House at unnecessary length. But this Bill is so long and deals with so many different subjects that I think it will be difficult to expound it properly to your Lordships without taking a certain amount of time. Your Lordships will appreciate, I hope, that this Government has treated the House with proper respect by initiating in this House two Bills of first-class importance instead of pressing them upon you at the end of the Session when they have to be rushed through. Although I am glad to think that this Bill is not controversial in the Party sense, that is about the only sense in which it is not controversial. I imagine it to be in the highest degree improbable that any of your Lordships will oppose the Second Beading, but when we come to the clauses in Committee, I look forward with great apprehension 932 to the activities of individual members of your Lordships' House in filling the Order Paper with Amendments.
Let me for one moment take a brief historical survey. The Locomotives on Highways Act was passed in 1896. It abolished the red flag and allowed a speed limit of fourteen miles an hour, which was reduced by regulation to twelve. I pause for a moment to observe that in that Bill as introduced there was no speed limit. After seven years' experience, when motor cars were beginning to travel on the road with more certainty and in larger numbers, the Motor Act of 1903 was passed. That Act imposed number plates and gave a speed limit of twenty miles per hour. It is under that Act and the numerous regulations made under it that the motor car industry has continued to this day. Subsequent Finance Bills imposed various scales of taxation, the present one being, as your Lordships know, £l per horse power and for commercial vehicles taxation according to weight or seating capacity. The Act of 1903 was only intended to be a temporary Act and was only passed for three years, its life being continued under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, that familiar device of a Government which desires to escape dealing with a thorny question. The last line of the Act says "This Act shall continue in force until 1906 and no longer."
I may therefore fairly claim that legislation is 23 years overdue. One year before the Act expired a Royal Commission was appointed to consider its amendment and reported in the following year. I must refer briefly to that Report because, although so long ago, it agrees in many respects with the most recent recommendations. For example, it points out that the speed limit is not consistently enforced and does not provide effective control, and it therefore recommends its abolition. A special penalty is recommended for being drunk in charge of a car. The taxes on motor cars, it says, should be increased. I regret to say that this last remommendation is the only one that has been carried into effect. So the matter slumbered for many years while motor car driving grew and expanded, the roads became better, higher speeds more usual, and the control of motor cars more perfect, 933 until at the present day we find Section 9 obsolete except in rare instances. That is the section dealing with the speed limit.
The position was felt to be so intolerable that the young and vigorous Ministry of Transport felt bound to deal with it, and finally, about two years ago, produced and circulated a draft Road Traffic Bill upon which the observations of all those interested were invited. But they did no more than to circulate it, or rather they did a little more, for on one occasion they put it in the King's Speech, but they never screwed up their courage to the point of presenting it to Parliament. Stung by their inaction the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, produced a Bill last Session for the purpose of dealing with what he considered the most urgent points. I joined with him in denouncing the Government for the delay in legislation, though I had to part company with him over the details of his Bill. The general feeling of your Lordships' House, when faced with an annual loss of life of six thousand and personal injuries amounting to 140,000, was so strong that the noble Marquess opposite, who was then leading the House, felt bound to refer the matter to another Royal Commission, which was then fortunately sitting, and to press for an early Report.
Faithful to their promise the Royal Commission presented a first interim Report at the end of July dealing with motor car traffic, and a second interim Report at the end of October dealing with the licensing of public service vehicles. The thanks of Parliament are due to Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen, the Chairman, and his fellow Commissioners for the care with which they have examined the matters referred to them and the despatch with which they have reported on them. The value of these Reports is much enhanced by the fact that in both cases they are unanimous. This Government has been sufficiently courageous, or perhaps some Parliamentarians may say foolhardy, as to act upon these Reports, and the Bill which I now present to your Lordships is founded upon the draft Bill circulated two years ago, the comments and observations received upon it, and the 934 two Reports of the Royal Commission to which I have alluded, moulded into one coherent whole after the most anxious and careful consideration of every point by the Minister, by myself and by our able officers. I think we may take some credit for having acted more promptly than has ever been done before upon the Report of a Royal Commission which is barely six weeks old. I wish my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, who chafed as I did at the delay of this long overdue legislation, were still among its to-day, though I have little doubt if he were that he would give me plenty of trouble in Committee. One clause which would otherwise have been in the Bill is the subject of a separate Bill in another place, dealing with the offence of stealing motor cars, but it is now proposed during the Committee Stage to incorporate it in this Bill, where I think it properly belongs.
I will now turn to the Bill itself which your Lordships will see is divided into six Parts; a fact in itself indicative of the variety of matters with which it deals. Part I is in substitution for the Act of 1903, and contains the general code of motor law. It is founded upon the draft Bill as modified by the Report of the Royal Commission. Part II deals with the obligation to make provisions against third-party risks in respect of death and personal injury, and is entirely new, and is in substitution for the clauses in the draft Bill providing for security in the case of public service vehicles only. Part III contains minor amendments of the highway law. Part IV contains entirely new provisions for the regulation of public service vehicles, following the second Report of the Royal Commission. Although I do not anticipate that these provisions will meet with much objection in your Lordships' House, I think it possible they may give rise to some acute differences of opinion in another place. Part V gives a general power to municipalities having statutory powers to run such omnibus services as they may be authorised to do by the Traffic Commissioners, and Part VI contains merely miscellaneous and general provisions.
Now to take the individual clauses. Clause 1 defines the vehicles to which the Act is intended to apply. Clause 2 935 divides motor vehicles into classes, and follows exactly the recommendations of the first Report of the Royal Commission, with one exception to which I should call your Lordships' attention. In subsection (2) the Minister is given power to vary by regulation the maximum or minimum weights in each class. The Royal Commission recommended that the weights should be finally fixed by Statute. This is an impracticable proposal and we are unable to accept it. Changes of construction, changes of equipment, developments in the industry all make it necessary that these matters should be flexible so that new regulations may be made to meet new conditions. If any exception is taken to this power in Committee I shall be prepared to develop that argument further. Clause 3 merely provides the penalty for using a vehicle which does not accord with the regulations. Clause 4 provides for the grant of licences to drive.
Clause 5 is new and follows the recommendations of the Royal Commission. In common with every person or body who has investigated the subject we are satisfied that driving tests have absolutely no value, but that the suggested statement as to the health of the applicant before a licence is granted may be of great value. In subsection (2) there are savings, first for an invalid carriage; secondly, for the unfortunate men, legacies of the War, who, owing to the loss of one or other limb, are only able to drive some specially constructed car; and, finally, for the existing driver who has been driving before this clause came into force. Subsection (3) provides for a learner's licence in the case of a man who is prima facie incapacitated. The last subsection gives an appeal to a magistrate in the case of the refusal of a licence. Clause 6 is only machinery in connection with disqualifications. Clause 7, in subsection (3), reproduces the right of a disqualified driver and it extends his right so that he may apply to the Court after three months to have his disqualification removed. I have always myself doubted the wisdom or the logic of this proviso, for it would seem that a Court should make up its mind what sentence it intends to give and stick to it. Since, however, it appears in the Criminal Justice Act, 1925—a recent Act—it has been reproduced 936 here. Clause 9 raises the ages of drivers to 16 for a motor cycle, 21 for a motor lorry or motor coach and 17 for any other vehicle. At present I think I am right in saying the age is 14 for a motor cycle. The Royal Commission recommended that increase in the ages.
In Clauses 10, 11 and 12 I come to what I may call the crux of the whole of Part I. Clause 10 is in substitution for Section 9 of the Motor Car Act and deals with the restriction on speed. In this case also the Royal Commission recommended that the speed should be fixed by Statute and be unalterable by regulation, and we have accepted their view. If your Lordships will turn to the First Schedule you will find there set out the exact schedule recommended by the Royal Commission with one exception. Under "heavy motor cars" in line 20, which refers to motor omnibuses and motor coaches, the maximum speed specified in the Bill is 30 as against the 35 recommended by the Royal Commission. As it is impracticable to enforce the exact speed and as time tables will really control this, the Minister thought on the whole that 30 would be a wiser limit to fix. As your Lordships probably know, these large vehicles do now in practice attain speeds of 40 or even 45 miles an hour, and have so far been singularly free from accident. At the same time, as the maximum laden weight may amount to 9 tons, or in some cases 12 tons, your Lordships will realise that the blow which might be struck at 40 miles an hour would be very considerable, and a bad smash will probably take place some day. Still, with the effectiveness of modern brakes, it is extremely unlikely the speed at the actual moment of impact will be very high.
To some of your Lordships who are not fully acquainted with the facts, the proposed limit may seem high, but, on the other hand, we shall undoubtedly receive many protests from motor coach proprietors that it is much too low. A passenger vehicle capable of 70 miles an hour was shown at Olympia, and I am told that in America there are passenger vehicles capable of doing 100 miles an hour, and actually doing 100 an hour upon public roads. We do not think that such a speed, or anything 937 approaching it, is necessary in the case of motor coaches. There are in this country two alternative methods of travelling. There is the motor coach and there is the railway, and it would seem unnecessary to allow upon the roads motor coaches going at excessive speeds when there exists an alternative form of transport to which any one who desires to travel fast can address himself, and passengers I think must choose whether they prefer the slower rate of the motor coach, with the view of the country and the lower fare, to the more rapid transit over long distances which is given by the railway. There would seem to be no reason why this should be duplicated upon the road. Therefore we have decided to fix the limit at 30 miles an hour and to retain it at that. The Royal Commission, in paragraph 29 of their Report, say:—We hold very strongly that these speed limits should be strictly and rigorously enforced.We are entirely in agreement with this view at the Ministry and the intention is that the law shall be a reality and not a dead letter as it has been hitherto.
This brings me to the only other part of the Schedule to which I desire to call attention, and that is the total abolition of the speed limit for the ordinary private, motor car. That is a point which no doubt will be hotly contested in Committee, and I think it therefore worth while to say a word about it at this stage. The existing speed limit is 20 miles an hour. No motorist observes this limit, not one of your Lordships observes it, no magistrate upon the bench observes it. Motor cars do in actual practice travel on the open road at speeds varying from 30 to 50 miles an hour according to the condition of the surface and the amount of traffic. Except in a few places the law is a dead letter. Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, the well-known President of Columbia University, said in a recent address:—The law whose infraction calls out the overwhelming disapproval of public opinion is a good law. The law that does not call out that disapproval is a bad law. When conduct and the law are at odds the fault may be with the law.In those words Dr. Butler, although dealing with a different subject, states the case against the existing speed limit. 938 Does public opinion visit with disapproval the motorist who exceeds the speed limit? We know it does not. I apprehend that not one of your Lordships would vote for retaining the present limit of 20 miles an hour. Some of your Lordships may say: "Why not a new limit of 35 miles an hour? That would be reasonable, and ought to be accepted by motorists." My Lords, it would not be reasonable and it would not be accepted. It would be exceeded in practice just as the present limit of 20 miles an hour is exceeded, and those who upon the open road disregarded it would not be considered worthy of moral reprobation. My first line of argument, therefore, is that it is unwise to make a law which will not be enforced by public opinion, and which will not be enforced precisely because it is unreasonable and because its infraction does not involve the disapproval of public opinion. There is no such thing as a fixed limit of speed applicable at all Limes and in all places.
The second reason is one which appeals to me more strongly. I mean the psychological reason. I am only saying again to-night what I have said for the last 25 years, when I say that the psychological effect of a fixed speed limit has been thoroughly bad. Ever since 1896 it has hypnotised the public and it has thereby diverted attention from what really matters—that is, dangerous driving. The police have had a difficult and almost an impossible task. We hope to give them under this Bill a possible one. Prosecutions under the speed limit were in the early days much resorted to because they were easy to prove. They have now almost disappeared because it was recognised that it was unreasonable, and the result of that was that the whole of public attention has been fixed merely upon an artificial limit of speed regardless of the road, regardless of conditions of driving, and has been diverted from dangerous driving, cutting in, taking corners on the wrong side and reckless driving in crowded places.
Let me say again there is no such thing as a limit of speed which is reasonable at all times and in all places—not even the earliest limit of 12 miles an hour. The only reasonable limit is not to exceed the speed at which you can pull up within the limits of danger, whether that danger be visible or only 939 apprehended. It covers cutting in without a sufficient margin, because in that case if you miscalculate your speed or the speed of the approaching car you have not got the margin you relied upon. It covers taking a corner on the wrong side, because there is no possible speed which can be justified in taking a corner on the wrong side. It covers children who run into the road from cottages, because the reasonable driver apprehends that probability and is ready to meet it whether the children are visible or not. Some of your Lordships may argue that all drivers are not reasonable. Your Lordships need not suppose that I dispute that proposition for a moment. As an habitual user of the roads I have the best reason to know it. But you do not cure them by your present speed limit of 20 miles an hour. You would not cure them by a new limit of 30 miles an hour. You can only cure them by a change of psychology which will lead the motorist himself, and his schoolmaster and friend, the police, to direct their minds and to concentrate upon that which really matters—namely, the sort of driving that causes danger to the public. No doubt I shall have to develop that argument further when we come to the clause itself.
Before I leave this matter I should like to refer to an article by Mr. A. P. Herbert in Punch of November 20. He emphasises again and again the holocaust of slaughter and maiming which goes on on our roads, and he says it must stop. I profoundly agree with him, and I agree with almost the whole of his article except that he puts the blame in the wrong place—speed itself. I am convinced that if there had never been a speed limit and if attention had been directed to the real matter from the first, the tale of killed and injured would have been far smaller than it is. Statistics collected by the Safety First Association show that 64 per cent. of the accidents are not the fault of motorists, and yet I have sometimes felt that an angry public would wish to do as Mr. Herbert suggests and send every motorist who killed a fellow creature to prison whether he deserved it or not. That is not a practical proposal. We are aiming at what we believe to be the real cure. Statistics show that the majority of accidents take place at low speed.
940 While on the subject, I ought to refer to the excellent work done by the Safety First Association in educating the public and particularly the children in our schools. A short set of rules issued by them is sent to every driver with his licence, and definite warnings are given in elementary schools by which I have no doubt many lives have been saved. It may be that part of their work will be done in future by the Ministry of Transport, but we all feel at the Ministry that there is still scope for private enterprise and that the work of the association deserves the support of local authorities and others.
Clause 11 reproduces Section 1 of the existing Act—that is the dangerous driving clause—except that the penalty for a first offence is now made the same as that for the second offence under the old Act. Subsection (3) of that clause is new, and provides that on a second conviction the Court shall make an order for disqualification—shall make—unless for special reasons it determines otherwise. It is special activity under this clause of the Bill by the police, with adequate support from the bench, to which we look for a decrease in the large amount of reckless and dangerous driving that exists. Here let me say that the expression of public opinion in some quarters suggests that in many cases inadequate penalties are inflicted even under the present law. It is partly the had psychology of the speed limit which is responsible for that. Motoring offences have come to be looked upon as venial, and the £2 or £3 fine inflicted for a technical breach of the speed limit has been transferred as a suitable penalty to the worst cases of dangerous driving. It is to be hoped that in future adequate penalties, including long periods of disqualification, and even, in suitable cases, imprisonment, will be inflicted, so that a real sense of his anti-social conduct may be brought home to the reckless and careless driver who imperils life or limb.
The vast majority of motorists drive well and carefully and with due regard for other users of the road, and they would be the first to welcome the weeding out or improvement of the small minority whose conduct brings public disfavour upon motorists as a class. I hope that the police will show activity in watching corners, cross-roads, villages 941 and other suitable places for the purpose of checking the thoughtless and the hooligan driver, and so of enforcing a standard of conduct which will diminish the number of accidents. I am not without hope of persuading my right hon friend the Home Secretary, if he issues any circular when this Bill becomes law calling attention to these provisions, to call attention also perhaps to these matters. Clause 12 deals with careless driving and creates quite a minor offence, in some cases, perhaps scarcely exceeding a breach of good manners and carrying with it no disqualification. It may also be used for a conviction where the facts would not justify conviction under the severer clause which precedes it. The Royal Commission disliked this clause on account of its vagueness and recommended a new offence of failing to observe a road sign. This recommendation has been embodied in Clause 45.
Clause 20 provides for notice of prosecution within twenty-one days. This period is considered too long by the motoring associations, but the police authorities would have preferred a longer period and the figure in the Bill is a compromise. The motoring associations say, with perfect truth, that it may be very hard indeed for a man who is being charged with dangerous driving in connection with something which happened over a fortnight ago to recall the circumstances if it is first brought to his attention after the lapse of fourteen days. It is quite true that there may be a hardship; but, on the other hand, it would be quite unfair if, as sometimes happens, the driver could not readily be followed up or got in touch with, or if he had gone abroad for a short time or, for some reason or other, the police could not trace him, and as a consequence a case of dangerous driving escaped punishment. We had to take the balance of advantage and to hope that the police will give as long a notice as possible, or rather will advise the motorist either at the time or as soon after as possible. But they must have latitude.
Clause 13 prohibits racing. Clause 14 is a very valuable clause dealing with drunkenness. Magistrates have found difficulty in convicting under the existing law, and we have adopted the words suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, in this House— 942Under the influence of drink or drugs to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control.As he is the true father of this clause, I shall look to the noble and learned Lord for support in Committee. There is a ease, which was noted in The Times only this week where a doctor had taken a drug whose symptoms were described as "very familiar as the result of alcohol," but because he had got drunk on cannabis indica instead of on alcohol the bench had to dismiss the charge, but took the opportunity of expressing the opinion that the law in respect of drink and of drugs that have the same effect as alcohol should be dealt with. Clause 15 restricts pillion riding on motor cycles to one person riding astride—a direction that will be less embarrassing to the modern young woman than it would have been in the Victorian days.
Clause 18 has no connection with trade union requirements or the conditions of labour. It merely provides an outside maximum of hours to be worked, in the interests of public safety. Experience has shown that some such provision is necessary. A case has actually been brought to our notice in which a driver who had brought a motor coach from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to London in one continuous journey of some 300 miles was required to drive the motor coach back to Newcastle after a rest of three quarters of an hour. It is perfectly obvious that public safety must be endangered by anything of that kind. Clause 21 reproduces the provision of the Act of 1903, but with the difference that the animal which was then a horse has now become—horse, cattle, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or dog.The motorist may console himself, however, with the fact that these animals have to be in the charge of somebody before he has to report the offence.
Clause 22 is new and gives the Minister power to make inquiries into accidents—a power which he already possesses in the London traffic area. This is a very useful power, although it does not go so far as the recommendations of the Royal Commission, which was that inquiries should be compulsory in every case of the death of a passenger in a public service vehicle. It is thought by the Minister of Transport that to adopt this 943 would add very considerably to the expenses of his Department without in most cases eliciting any further information than is to be obtained at the coroner's inquest, but the power of holding an inquiry, on oath if necessary, in all cases where he thinks it desirable is, we think, a very useful power which will tend to the public safety. Clause 27 is new and prohibits tampering with a stationary vehicle. As your Lordships know, many serious accidents have arisen from that cause. This completes all the clauses of Part I of the Bill to which I need call special attention.
Part II deals with the provision against third-party risks which motorists are to be compelled to make and, although it consists of nine clauses, some of them long, I think I can summarise it to your Lordships quite briefly. The drafting of this Part of the Bill was very troublesome and it was not until we gave up the attempt to tie up the necessary insurance with the vehicle licence that we were able to evolve a workable-scheme. We do not profess that the scheme now in the Bill is completely watertight or that it may not be open to theoretical objection, but it is sufficiently comprehensive for a first experiment, and after, say, five years experience it may be possible usefully to tighten up the machinery in certain respects. Clause 33 imposes the duty to make this provision, with a heavy penalty for disobedience, and this is the clause upon which we rely. The duty is imposed, and if that duty is neglected there is a very heavy penalty for disobedience. Clause 34 defines the class of person who may issue insurance policies and the liability which must be assumed—that is, death or bodily injury. That is in accordance with the recommendation of the Royal Commission. Clause 35 defines the security which may be given in place of a policy of insurance—a method which is suitable for the big railway companies, the London General Omnibus Company and other concerns which habitually carry their own insurance. Clause 37 prevents a policy failing to be effective on account of something done after the accident. Clause 38 will ensure that once a year at least the certificate of insurance or the certificate of security shall be produced when the 944 licence is applied for, and Clause 39 enables a constable to require its production at any time.
That is the whole effect of Part II and, as there has been so much misapprehension as to the whole of this insurance business and the possibility of making it work, I think I ought to tell your Lordships that I have had several conferences with representatives of the leading insurance companies, that we have talked freely with them from the beginning of our difficulties and carried them with us stage by stage. It is due to them to say that, once they recognised that we had no intention of interfering with the conduct of their business or of prohibiting them from making such bargains with the insured person as might suit the circumstances of each case, they have been most helpful, and I have to thank them for their assistance. The discussions have been full and frank, and they have promised me that they will not raise their premiums in consequence of the passage of this Bill. At the same time, they have not disguised from me that, in their view, these new provisions are likely to lead not only to a larger number of claims but possibly to larger payments as the result of claims—effects which may, of course, have to be actuarially reflected in their premiums.
Part III effects various amendments of the law relating to highways, and the first clause, Clause 42, contains a new provision for the issue of a highway code by the Minister. The code is to have no statutory force, but any breach of the code may be given in evidence before any Court, and it will be for the Court to attach what weight it thinks proper to such evidence. For my own part I think this code will be more effective in preventing accidents than any of the statutory enactments or regulations. Clause 43 gives power to restrict the use of certain highways, and the principle is not new. Clause 44 is new and is important. There are so many signs on the highway now that they have lost their value. Automatic signals have been erected in various cities with different coloured lights. Special signs for major and minor roads at crossings are contemplated. None of these things are of much use unless they are standardised both as to character and as to the positions in which they are erected, and experience 945 shows that standardisation cannot be obtained unless ultimate control is in some central authority. The clause therefore gives power to the Minister to supervise the whole of the signalling on every highway. Clause 45 contains penalties for non-observance of such signals. The other clauses in this Part of the Bill contain provisions as to extraordinary traffic, as to the transfer of toll bridges, leaving vehicles in dangerous positions, which is quite a frequent cause of accidents, and other minor matters. They speak for themselves.
I come now to Part IV of the Bill, which we regard as of at least as great importance as Part I. As your Lordships will see from the heading, it deals with the regulation of public service vehicles, and perhaps it will be convenient that I should first explain the present position. Where a public service vehicle plies for hire in a borough or in an urban district, it has to obtain a licence from the local authority. This licensing system is founded on an Act of 1847, when the only vehicles to which it applied were the horse cabs for journeys to the station or similar short journeys. It is obvious that legislation of that character cannot possibly be adequate to deal with the present position, in which besides the ordinary taxicab you have the motor omnibus with a comparatively short radius and the char-a-bancs travelling for long distances. It is only by the exercise of a great deal of common sense and the straining to some extent of the legal powers vested in them, that the local authorities have been able to apply that Act to modern traffic conditions. Moreover, where a public service vehicle passed through two or, as is the case in Lancashire, five or six licensing areas, each of these authorities had to be asked for their licence and could impose conditions, sometimes inconsistent. Again, in the purely rural areas no licence at all was required, and an omnibus service could be started by any one without any time table, without any regard to the character of the vehicle, either as to its construction or the safety of the passengers. Evidence given before the Joint Committee on the Railway (Road Traffic) Bills disclosed a most chaotic state of administration, and it was only effective in some cities where by general consent control greater than the law conferred was exercised.
946 In common with everyone who had enquired into the condition of affairs the Royal Commission was so struck by the chaotic state of things that they desired to adopt a bold course and sweep it away, dividing the country into large areas, each area presided over by a few competent people exercising not only the semi-judicial discretion in administration previously exercised by local authorities, but also controlling and adjusting the traffic under new powers. This Part of the Bill follows very closely the recommendations of the Royal Commission and I will take your Lordships shortly through the clauses. Clause 54 defines the vehicles to which this Part of the Bill applies. It does not apply to tram cars or to trolley vehicles or to contract carriages carrying less than nine passengers, so that the local taxicab will continue to be licensed by the local authority. It does, however, apply to all other public service vehicles carrying passengers for hire or reward. These are divided into three categories: (1) stage carriages, that is to say, motor vehicles carrying passengers for hire or reward at separate fares; (2) express carriages, carrying passengers at separate fares to some one or other common destination and corresponding to the long distance char-a-bancs; and (3) contract carriages where the vehicle is hired as a whole for a special journey, such as a beanfeast or other outing.
Clause 55, coupled with the Third Schedule, defines the traffic areas, and your Lordships will observe that there are twelve areas for Great Britain and that London is excluded. The special position of London and the special enactments applicable to it make it difficult to include it in the scheme at this stage, but the Minister agrees with the Royal Commission in seeing no valid reason for its permanent exclusion. Clause 56 provides for the appointment of the three Traffic Commissioners, who are to exercise jurisdiction in each area. The Chairman is to be appointed by the Minister for seven years and is to be a whole-time official properly remunerated. The two other Commissioners are to be appointed by the Minister from a panel of persons nominated in the one case by the county councils and in the other by the boroughs and urban districts, and 947 these two Commissioners are to hold office for only three years. Office accommodation; and the staffing of the Commissioners' office will be provided by the Minister. Clause 57 merely indicates the necessary machinery for the conduct of business and Clause 58 provides for an annual report on their proceedings.
Clause 60 places the obligation upon the owners of public service vehicles to obtain the proper vehicle licence showing that the vehicle is fit to be used, and Clauses 61, 67 and 68 provide for inspection. The effect of these very long clauses is that before a vehicle is put upon the road a certifying officer has to give a certificate of fitness, and that after it is on the road the public service vehicle examiner makes sure that it remains fit and for this purpose is entrusted with the necessary powers of inspection. The Minister attaches very great importance to these clauses, providing as they do for a national standard of safety which hitherto has been limited to the largest boroughs. Had they been in force the Reading disaster, which claimed seven victims, would not have occurred. Clause 61 provides for the necessary technical examination as to construction, seating accommodation and the like.
Clause 62 provides for the road service licence, a crucial document under and by means of which road services may be regulated, and your Lordships will observe that the application must be accompanied either by a regular time table or by a special time table. These time tables will of course be adjusted to accord with the limits of speed. Subsection (4) gives power to impose conditions as to the safety of the public, the route to be followed, the fares and their relation to competitive services. Subsection (6) indicates the matters to which the Commissioners are to direct their attention in granting or refusing a road service licence—matters to which many town councils do now direct their attention, although it has been held by the Courts that they have no power to do so in some cases. The remainder of the subsections deal with the necessary machinery. It is to this clause that the Minister of Transport looks for that co-ordination of service which has already been partly achieved in London by the 948 London Traffic Act, for preventing unnecessary or wasteful competition, and the overloading of any particular route, and at the same time encouraging the giving of a service where a service is required, although of course there is no power to make any such order upon an omnibus company. By the regulation of the frequency of services, of fares, of the stopping places, and of the route, we believe that everything can be done that requires to be done in order to secure that the motor services of this country are properly co-ordinated.
Clause 63 deals with the licensing of drivers and conductors, a duty which in London is performed by the Commissioner of Police. Clause 69 provides the penalty by which the orders of the Commissioners can be enforced, that is, the suspension of a road service licence, or in extreme cases its revocation if the licensee has disregarded the conditions of the grant. It may be news to some of your Lordships that this system is already in force in London with the public omnibuses, and is working satisfactorily.
The next clause to which I wish to draw attention is Clause 75, which provides for appeals to the Minister. The Traffic Commissioners, once appointed, will be an independent body, exercising in a judicial spirit those administrative functions which have hitherto been exercised by local authorities. But it may happen that an applicant may find himself aggrieved by the refusal of a licence or by one of the conditions imposed upon him, or it may be that two adjoining Traffic Commissioners may differ about the desirability of some suggested route running in both areas. In those circumstances there must be an appeal to somebody, and, as the Minister now deals with similar appeals from local authorities, it is thought proper that the appeal should continue to lie to him. In the case of the licence for a driver or conductor, the matter being a purely personal and local one, the appeal given is to a court of summary jurisdiction. Clause 80 leaves to the local authority the regulation of traffic within their own area so far as routes, stands, and stopping places are concerned. Clauses 87 and 88 are very long, but your Lordships need not trouble to read them if you will 949 take it from me that the draftsman has, with great skill, in those clauses adjusted the peculiarities of the London area to the new Traffic Commissioners' areas so as to make it possible that vehicles may run in both areas. There is nothing special in the other clauses to which I need at this stage call your attention.
Your Lordships will see that, subject to the extremely detailed clauses which are necessary to carry the scheme into effect, the net result is simply that these Traffic Commissioners will be in each area the controlling authority whose duty it will be both to co-ordinate traffic and to provide for the safety and convenience of the public. Provision is, of course, made in the public interests that the annual road service licence shall not be taken to confer any franchise or vested interest upon the operator, but no doubt in practice they will be renewed from year to year if the service given remains satisfactory.
I am told that the provisions of this Part of the Bill are likely to be hotly opposed by some of the local authorities on the ground that it takes away from them powers which they at present possess. Even the county councils, which do not possess such powers, have already, I think, passed a hostile resolution. It is true that in the case of the boroughs and the urban district councils they will be deprived of powers which they already possess, but that is a sacrifice which they are called upon to make in the public interest. We feel satisfied that no new composite authority, composed of a heterogeneous collection of persons from various local authorities, could possibly compare in efficiency or uniformity of administration with the new bodies we propose to set up. The element of local government, it seems to us, is sufficiently preserved by the fact that two out of the three Commissioners do represent local interests and local knowledge. If objection is taken on the ground of expense, the answer is that the expense falls on the Road Fund, and not on the National Exchequer, that it will be largely met by the fees properly chargeable to those who are making a profit out of the public roads, that expense will be saved by the local authorities who at present have to 950 employ people, almost whole-time in the large areas, on these inspection duties, and that in any case the cost is one that will be well and wisely incurred to achieve the safety of the travelling public and the control of our streets and highways which the growth of motor traffic renders imperative.
It has long been felt that the state of things all over the country requires regulation on something like the lines of the London Traffic Act, and we have taken this opportunity of providing, with behind us the unanimous recommendation of the Royal Commission, a solution which it seems to us is simple and satisfactory. I trust that the municipalities concerned, after giving full consideration to the question, will realise that a change such as this has really become necessary in the national interest, and that they will take a wider view than the merely parochial one of the loss of some powers. Moreover, there is the incidental advantage that it will put an end to the comment, frequently made, that a municipality which owns a tramway is to some extent a judge in its own case when application is made to it for an omnibus licence to compete with those tramways.
Now I turn to Part V, and here I think both the local authorities and Parliament will have reason to be grateful to us for this legislation. In the first place your Lordships will observe that it applies only to a local authority which already has statutory powers. These statutory powers, which have been conferred by Parliament in respect to running omnibuses, are of great variety. In some cases they are limited to the borough, in some cases to a radius of five miles, sometimes to ten miles, and I think in at least three cases unlimited. In March, 1927, I was presiding over a Committee of your Lordships' House dealing with an application by the Bury Corporation for tramway powers, and Mr. Macmillan addressed the Committee on behalf of the railway companies. His observations are so relevant to this Part of the Bill that I propose to quote them to your Lordships. He said:—When Parliament sees that in consequence of the promotions by a large number of local authorities and other persons, the Statute Book is becoming encumbered with a great mass of divergent legislation, causing constant conflict not only in these rooms but also in the Courts and before Inquiries, both local and central, it has been the practice 951 of Parliament in such circumstances to say: ' This matter must be brought to a halt, and the time has now come when, profiting by the experience of what one may call the tentative period of legislation, where it has been left to the ingenuity and the enterprise of a great many different persons to promote what they thought right—the time has now come to reconsider the whole position and to devise means which will remedy the chaos which this congeries of local legislative effort has brought about.'Later on he pointed out that sixty Private Acts have been passed in seven years and thatthe variations and divergencies which resulted from those measures coming before Parliament, incorporating in some cases agreed clauses, instances of which you have heard to-day, in other cases contested clauses, have brought about the most extraordinary series of different provisions dealing with this matter.I had on that occasion to point out to Mr. Macmillan that his admirable speech, with which I entirely agreed, should properly be addressed to Parliament and not to a Private Bill Committee; that it was not for us to alter the general law when considering a particular promotion. To-day I am speaking to Parliament and I am happy in having the opportunity of repeating Mr. Macmillan's words where they can be made effective.
This hopeless state of confusion we propose to remove and to remedy. Under the provisions of this Part of the Bill any corporation which has statutory powers will have those powers limited not by any varying boundary but by the discretion of the Traffic Commissioners for that area. All the modern Acts require, in any event, the consent of the Minister of Transport for a route outside a borough boundary, and there is therefore nothing very new in leaving the decision to the Traffic Commissioner, subject always to a final appeal to the Minister. The only difference is that the Traffic Commissioner will not be bound either to grant or to refuse a licence for an omnibus service on account of any particular geographical limit. He need only have regard to the requirements of the public and to the propriety of the municipal activity proposed. There are many cases, particularly in Lancashire, where large boroughs are closely adjacent, and it would be quite proper that they should be linked up by a joint municipal service instead of the necessity 952 for a change being forced upon the passengers. Moreover, as omnibus companies run by private enterprise are not statutory, and are not subject to any special restrictions, it puts the municipalities more upon an equality in any competition between them and private enterprise before the Traffic Commissioners. Clause 94 expressly gives power to make such agreements as I have indicated.
Now, my Lords, my task is nearly done. Part VI deals only with general provisions, to which I need not call attention at this stage, and which are unlikely to give rise to any discussion in Committee. We submit this measure to your Lordships with confidence as a bold attempt to solve and deal with many of the most thorny questions of the day in connection with motor traffic and the use of the roads. We hope that it will reduce accidents and eliminate reckless driving. We are satisfied that it is an efficient and workable measure, and I invite your Lordships' assistance to pass it through this House with as little delay as possible in order that it may run no risk of not becoming law this Session. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Eussell.)
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
My Lords, I desire to make some observations, not altogether in a critical spirit and certainly with no idea of suggesting to your Lordships' House that you should reject this Bill. I should like to congratulate the noble Earl on its having fallen to his lot to introduce a Bill which has been on the stocks for some time. He rather scorned the efforts of his predecessor in office in that he had not the courage to produce the Bill two years ago. On the other hand, a debt of gratitude is due to my friend and colleague Colonel Ashley, the late Minister of Transport, for having first of all drafted the original Bill and then taken the very wise course indeed of submitting it for consideration to all the authorities who might be interested in the matter, and, secondly, in appointing the Royal Commission which has provided such useful and admirable Reports.
It is only fair in dealing with this Bill that I should tell your Lordships—the 953 other House knows it—that I have been largely connected for a great part of my life with motor traffic. I had the privilege of being Chairman of the Automobile Association for fifteen years and I now enjoy the honour of being Vice-President with the noble Lord the Chairman of the House. I do not wish to sail under any false colours, and I add that my firm has acted for several of the large motor-bus and carrying companies for several years past. My experience has been so varied, both in being friendly with the ordinary private motorist and with some of the large concerns, and being also President of large bodies including associations of steam locomotive users of the highway, the most unpopular bodies of all, that I may fairly claim that my interests may be considered as cancelling one another out, and that I come to this Bill with an open mind.
The reason for this Bill is the increase in accidents in the last few years. As the noble Earl has said, there were 6,138 killed last year and the total number of killed and injured was 171,000. No one can wonder that Viscount Cecil was impelled to bring in a Bill last year in order to try to stem this great loss of human life. It is difficult to way we have to face loss, but it is quite true that this great loss of life and injury have corresponded proportionately with the increase in the numbers of motor vehicles on the street. There are now something like 2,000,000 motor cars running in Great Britain of various kinds. Their number has doubled in the last few years. My experience leads me to believe that they will go on increasing in something like the same proportion, and it is high time that a Bill of this kind was passed in order, as it were, to get ahead of the increase and to impose the necessary control over them. It is interesting to see where those deaths have occurred. Fifty-three per cent. were pedestrians. Twenty-three per cent. were the riders of motor cycles; 11 per cent. the riders of pedal cycles; 8 per cent. riders in taxi-cabs and drivers of lorries, and so forth; 2½ per cent. riders in horse drawn vehicles, and only 2½ per cent. were those who rode in motor coaches, omnibuses and suchlike vehicles, making 100 per cent. in all.
The noble Earl referred to the Safety First Association. In addition to the 954 figures at the disposal of the Safety First Association, of which I have had the honour of being President for some years—I add my thanks to the work of that association, which is purely voluntary—we have had access to the figures published by the Home Office. In addition, during July and August of this year we made a special series of inquiries of all coroners, who most kindly gave us the fullest possible information, in regard to deaths arising from motor cars. This is what we have found, and these figures are referred to by the Royal Commission on page 49 of their Report. Roughly 40 per cent. of the deaths are due to the mistake of the driver of the motor vehicle. That, of course, is a very serious factor in dealing with this problem. It is only right that the House should be in full possession of the facts. Excessive speed accounted during that time for 15.1 of the cases. Unfortunately, I find from the Home Office figures, which again are referred to in the Royal Commission's Report, that injuries by excessive speed have risen by 2 per cent. during each of the last two or three years. There are, of course, other things like lack of judgment, failure to exercise care at road junctions, which account for 5.8 per cent., and cutting in or cutting out which account for 4 per cent.
Of all these errors of judgment and mistakes of all kinds, including the errors on the part of pedestrians amounting to 44 per cent., very many could have been modified by a greater exercise of the principle of "safety first." I believe that a great deal can be done by inculcating that principle throughout the land. After all, in its present enormous character, this form of traffic is new to our land. Nothing like two million vehicles were here ten years ago. This enormous increase is new to the people and they have not got accustomed to the very large motor traffic throughout the country. It is interesting to notice that, in those towns and districts where "safety first" is actively propagated, there has been a decrease in the number of accidents during the last two years. Where there is no Safety First organisation of any kind there has been an increase. The increase throughout the country of accidents in which a motor car is involved is something like 10 per cent. If you take a place like 955 Edinburgh, which is very active in the propagation of "safety first" and in encouraging the training of the children in the schools and so forth, there has been no increase, but a decrease of 18 per cent. In Southampton and Folkestone there has been a decrease of 13 per cent. and you come slowly down to towns and cities like Plymouth, Birmingham, Huddersfield and Bradford, where it is more or less level. Then you go to the other extreme of places like Dundee and Bristol with a percentage increase of 26 per cent., up to Ipswich with 56 per cent. and Burnley, in Lancashire, with 81 per cent. It is remarkable that, in those towns where there has been a great increase of motor accidents, there has been no effort, so far as I have been able to ascertain, on the part of the municipality, the education authority or even on the part of volunteers, to try to impress the elemental need for caution and observance of the rules of the road on the people of those towns.
May I say a word in regard to the speed limit which is the main point of the Bill. As the noble Earl said, the main points are the speed limit, the third-party risk, the amendments of the highway law, the entirely new licensing scheme, and the proposals in Part V for extending the powers of the local authorities. With regard to the speed limit, I think the noble Earl is right that from many points of view it is desirable to get rid of a law which cannot be enforced. At the same time, I do want all my motor friends to realise that if the speed limit is revoked by this Bill it does not and cannot mean that undue speeds are to be permitted on the roads of this land.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
When I held office as Home Secretary I actually had a case reported to me by the police in which a young man was caught driving, I agree on one of the new roads, at a speed of 71 miles an hour and five minutes afterwards he was caught again doing 69 miles an hour. Within five minutes of his getting into trouble he was caught again in a trap doing 69 miles an hour.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
As a matter of fact he came before the local bench in 956 my constituency and suffered severely. I will give another instance. A friend of mine, I will not say boasted but incidentally mentioned that in the summer of this year, in driving from London to Southampton, he had actually touched 104 miles an hour. He is a well-known man and a very brilliant driver, I admit; at the same time I think we must make a quite definite announcement to the motorists of the country that while we are removing the speed limit they must drive with absolute care and consideration for the rest of His Majesty's subjects. It is all very well to say that any speed is permissible on an open and empty road. There is no such thing as a road which is invariably open or upon which somebody may not come either through a hedge or through a gate or out of a cottage. A man must be held responsible for not driving at a speed in accordance not merely with his own safety but in accordance with the needs and necessities of the people who are or are likely to come upon the road in question. It is quite true the speed limit was abolished two years ago in Northern Ireland, and, though there has been a slight increase in accidents, I think I am right in saying that the increase has only been in proportion to the increase in the number of motor cars. If the noble Earl makes inquiry from the authorities in Northern Ireland I think he will get the information that the abolition of the speed limit has done no harm in that country.
I am glad the noble Earl has included in the Bill the declaration of physical fitness before obtaining a licence, and I am equally glad he has not attempted to impose a test for driving. Those of us who know anything about driving know it is the easiest thing in the world if you can drive at all to pass any test, and, moreover, the serious accidents which take place are not those brought about by the unskilled driver, who as a rule drives very carefully and quietly, but by the skilled driver, who takes at times unnecessary risks and causes damage to His Majesty's subjects. There is one point I would like to make in regard to Clause 14. I notice from the words included there, which, I agree, are the words Lord Buckmaster suggested, that a man who is drunk in charge of a motor car is liable to the penalties as if he were drunk when driving a motor car. Again, 957 if the noble Earl will permit me, I will mention a case which came under my personal notice in my own constituency. A man came to the conclusion that he had had too much to drink and was not in a fit condition to drive his ear. He got his car round into a side street, shut off the engine, left on the side lights, got into the ear and went to sleep. But the police found him in that condition, and he was charged with being drunk in charge of a motor car. I am not at all sure that that was right. He really did his very best, I think. He was not driving to the common danger, and there was no likelihood of any person being killed owing to his drunkenness. I hope the noble Earl will consider the exclusion of those words from the clause. I hear my noble friend behind me say "He was a sensible fellow," and it was because he was a sensible fellow that I think it hard lines he should have been given the extreme penalties included under Clause 14 of this Bill.
If I may come to one or two more controversial portions of the Bill, I will say a few words on commercial vehicles. Power is given to the Minister to make regulations as to varying types and altering weights and so forth. I have received a very large number of protestations since this Bill was issued from various organisations—from the Mansion House Association and from various commercial motor organisations. The noble Earl must, I think, provide for the existing commercial cars which are on the streets to-day. He cannot make any alteration, I submit, that would affect them. I think in future he ought, in making any regulations which he desires to make altering the size or weight or formation of these cars, to give at least twelve months notice, As the noble Earl knows, their manufacture is a very important industry in this country, and any sudden change of type or style would be exceedingly harmful to manufacturers and owners.
I am troubled now about the question of speed limit for these commercial motors. As a motorist myself I cannot pretend to like the heavy char-a-bancs which gets in front of the road and prevents me passing and goes at any speed it likes, or the char-a-bancs which even passes me at a high and sometimes 958 dangerous speed. On the other hand, we have to consider the commercial interests of the country. One of the great and most prosperous industries of to-day is the building of motor cars, including commercial motor vehicles. The noble Earl mentioned a motor vehicle in the United States. There was one over here at the last show, an 8-ton lorry capable of doing 50 miles an hour which, as a matter of fact, it did successfully on the roads of this country where it was tried out, whether legally or not it is not for me to say. If you are to put too tight a limit upon the efficiency in speed of these cars you may force your manufacturers to make two kinds of ear, one for the limited speed in this country, and one for the unlimited speed in other countries. The result is of course incompatible with successful manufacture. The same difficulty has arisen, as your Lordships know, owing to the Motor Tax in this country being on the size of the cylinder, which results in the kind of car that is required for England not being the one most suitable for the Dominions. That puts a great difficulty in the way of our export of cars. It is something to know that our export of commercial vehicles in the first six months of this year was 4, 932 as against 3,072 for the corresponding period of last year. It is very important for the commerce of our country not to stop that great export trade. I will say nothing more than to ask the noble Earl to take that into consideration, and see what he can possibly do to prevent any harm in that direction.
I know the char-a-bancs may not have many friends in this country, but I want your Lordships to realise the very great importance of this traffic. There are now 1,600 motor coaches running about the country whether you like it or not, and they employ some 5,000 people, and they are of course the motor car of the poor person. We have to face that fact. In dealing with our new regulations, and in allowing 2½ ton private cars to go at any speed they like, we must be very careful that we do not injure the commercial prosperity both of the passenger-carrying and goods-carrying part of that business. I do not know whether your Lordships are aware of the fact that there are certain goods that cannot go by rail. Large castings which are used in building 959 a great new liner, and certain electrical machinery cannot go by rail because the tunnels are not large enough. These things have to be carried, if the commerce and industry of our country is to continue, upon the roads of this land.
I have also had very serious letters from two organisations in regard to the operation of the Bill where it deals with the limitation of hours. The noble Earl made a fair statement with regard to that, to-day. He told us of one dreadful case of a man driving from Newcastle to London and back again. I agree, a perfectly outrageous case. On the other hand we must realise that there is such a case as that of a motor coach which is driven down to the seaside perhaps in three hours and back again in three hours in the evening. It remains there perhaps six or seven hours in order that people from the East End of London or from Manchester or from anywhere else may have a long day at the seaside. That driver will be there with his car. He will be on duty. He may be resting inside the car, but he will be in charge of the car to prevent it being stolen or damaged. He will be on duty perhaps for a consecutive period of twelve or fourteen hours, although he has only driven for six hours. I think your Lordships will agree that a case of that kind must be provided for. I mention this matter now in order that the noble Earl before the Committee stage may consider whether some Amendment is not necessary to prevent difficulties in regard to cases of that kind. I know also that some of the omnibus services in London run something like 5½ hours at a time.
There is not the slightest objection from the men. My inquiries show that these services are run with the full assent of the men and of their trade unions. In many cases I find men prefer to work a very long day in order to get home again at night. Take the case of a man who drives, let us say, from Liverpool to Newcastle with a commercial load. Under the provisions of this Bill he would have to stay away the night and come back the next day, because he could not complete the double journey within the ten hours allowed by the Bill. In addition to that, you would be enormously increasing the cost of transport. Those of us who are interested 960 in railways may say that we do not want this kind of transport, but I am afraid that we have got to put up with it. It has undoubtedly inured to the benefit of the people of the country in getting both goods and human beings transported more quickly and cheaply. There are instances of foodstuffs brought to London—the meat traffic, the milk traffic, and things of that kind which must be rushed through, if I may use the expression, at high speed in order to get things into the London markets or away from London to the country towns. That all has to be provided for.
I am sure the noble Earl has not intended in this Bill to do anything to injure the commercial interests of the country, but these matters will want consideration. I have had a letter sent to me from one of the large contractors in Manchester, who points out that he has frequently to deliver some large electrical machinery from the works to the docks and that that involves men working, on occasion, twelve to sixteen hours. But there is no means of getting the things through in certain cases unless they do that. Of course they get well paid and do not mind.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
If that is the noble Earl's answer we will discuss it on the Committee stage. I am merely putting these facts, which are probably known to him, in order to show that a hard and fast rule such as is proposed in the Bill may do great harm to the commercial interests of the country as a whole. Then, in reference to the speed of commercial vehicles, I do not know whether the noble Earl realises that a one-ton Morris van may not run, even though fitted with pneumatic tyres, at more than 30 miles an hour, whereas a Rolls Royce weighing 2½ tons can travel at any speed.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
Well, I have not the privilege of driving Rolls Royce cars. Perhaps the noble Earl knows more about them. I am content with the humble Morris. But the noble Earl will realise that a feeling of hardship may arise. I hate speed myself, but I am trying to put before the noble Earl and the House the view that is taken by some interests. The Royal Commission suggested 35 miles an hour, and he has cut it down. More than that, does he realise that in his Bill there are no fewer that five speeds for commercial vehicles—30 miles, 20 miles, 16 miles, 12 miles and 5 miles?
Perhaps it might be convenient if I interrupted the noble Viscount for a moment to say that I do indeed realise it, and that I very much hope that we may be able to run some of these schedules together at the Committee stage. It is at present a terrible list.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
That is what I was going to ask the noble Earl to do, but in view of what he has said I will not labour the point. I think he will realise the difficulty of the police if they have to calculate the speed of these different moving vehicles. In regard to another point, the inquiry into accidents, I think that ought to be looked into. Power to a Minister to order 150,000 inquiries a year is really beyond a joke, beyond the powers of any Minister, beyond the powers of his staff. In the case of fatal accidents there is always a coroner's inquiry. May I suggest that if he wants inquiry he could take power in cases of fatal accidents to appoint one of his officers to sit with the coroner? After all, you cannot put the owner of the vehicle and the relatives of the killed person to all the trouble and expense of two inquiries, one before the coroner, which is the old legal inquiry existing for many centuries, and a new one before the Ministry. I think they might be joined together. I doubt very much whether it is necessary to take power to order an inquiry in regard to accidents that are non-fatal. As the noble Earl knows, under the present law accidents have to be reported in the case of railways and tramways to his Department, 962 but only if there is a serious kind of mechanical breakdown, such as the breaking of an axle or anything of that kind, not in ordinary simple accidents due to an error of judgment on the part of a driver or passenger. I think he might limit inquiries somewhat on the same lines as the precedent I have given of railways and tramways.
I am very glad to be able to support the proposal made in regard to insurance against accidents. It has long been a crying scandal that a man or woman should be killed or injured for life and unable to get any compensation owing to the fact that the driver of the car is penniless. Of course I know that it may create one little difficulty. There are certain cases in the country which are said to be uninsurable: the drivers are so bad. Well, if a man is such a bad, such a reckless, or even indeed such an unlucky driver, that his accident record is such that he cannot get insured either at an ordinary insurance office or a non-tariff office or even at Lloyds—which I believe will even insure against the advent of twins; they are very active in all forms of insurance—then I am not at all sure that he should be allowed to drive. I have had discussions with insurance officers. I believe, as the noble Earl said, that they will be very helpful in regard to the matter, but I think we must face the possibility in very extreme cases of a man not being able to get insurance at all.
There is one other part on which I fear I must somewhat criticise the noble Earl. That is in regard to his new code—the Minister's penny code of law. I wish that the Lord Chief Justice were here. I do not know whether your Lordships fully realise what this code is. The Minister takes power, under Clause 42 of this Bill, to make a new code. Of course he can make a new code without this Bill if he likes. There is no law to prevent his doing so, and publishing it and selling it at the price of a penny. But the essence of Clause 42 is in subsection (4), which says:—A failure on the part of any person to observe any provision of the highway code "—a code not passed by Parliament, a code enunciated by the noble Earl himself or by the Minister—shall not of itself render that person liable to criminal proceedings of any kind, 963 but any such failure may in any proceedings (whether civil or criminal, and including proceedings for an offence under this Act) be relied upon by any party to the proceedings as tending to establish or to negative any liability which is in question in those proceedings.That is the force behind the code. The code is given the force of law to that extent, and if anybody neglects to carry out this code (which is issued by the Minister, not by Parliament, revoking and altering the highway laws of the country), and there is an accident, the fact that a person did not carry out the Minister's code may be given in evidence against him and may affect his liability one way or the other.
What is the code? You will find it, or suggestions for it, on page 40 of the Report of the Royal Commission. I will not deal with it so far as it affects motor vehicles or horse-drawn vehicles, but if your Lordships will look at page 42 you will see suggestions made by the Royal Commission in regard to pedestrians. Many of them, I admit, are very good. I do not dispute that. But if the noble Earl's Bill passes in its present form and if you do not obey the code it may be given in evidence against you in any question of liability. Here is one sentence:—Always walk on the pavement or footpath if there is one.That is a very good idea. The next recommendation is most important—Walk on the left side of the pavement or footpath.I say at once that I think it is highly desirable to do that. I have striven, as President of the Safety First organisation, to get that carried out. We wrote it on the pavements, we put it in the newspapers, we did every possible thing to get the people of this country to keep to the left on the pavements. I believe it is very desirable. But we could not do it.
You cannot alter the habits, not of a generation but of centuries. The people of this country have always kept to the right on the pavement, and this is an attempt to make it, in effect, criminal to do so, to the extent that, if a man steps off the pavement on the right instead of on the left, and there is an accident and he seeks to get compensation, he is met by this code. The company that owns the omnibus or char-a-bancs, or whatever it may be, will say: "You 964 did not carry out the Minister's code, which has the force of law." The Royal Commission says that the code may be added to almost indefinitely. I agree. If we let the Minister loose in this respect, the code may be added to almost indefinitely. I think that this clause ought to come out. Let the noble Earl make his code. I will help him so far as I can. A code of suggestions for pedestrians, a code of manners or, if he likes, of morals for the motorist, would be excellent. But I submit that he should not make it part of the law of the land in that way.
I wanted, if I had time, to say one or two words in regard to the new licensing system, because, from what I have heard, there will be objections from the local authorities; but on the whole I am satisfied that some such reform as this is long overdue. The noble Earl mentioned cases where people who wanted to run chars-a-bancs or motor coaches have to get two or three licences. I asked in my office to-day, and one of my partners told me that they have had cases where seventeen different licences had to be obtained to enable a motor coach to run on its journey. That, I think, is carrying the matter to a ludicrous point, and I am bound to say that, while we are admittedly giving very great powers to these Commissioners, some such scheme as is outlined by the noble Earl would in the long run be for the benefit not only of motorists but of the community as a whole. I do not know whether a fourth Commissioner should not be appointed who has experience of motor matters. Perhaps I shall suggest that to the noble Earl when we come to this part of the Bill in Committee.
There are one or two smaller points that he might also consider between now and Committee, as I understand that he wants to take the Committee stage rather early. Under Clause 67 the driver has to give notice of failure or damage in a public service vehicle. I think that this might be done by the employer, particularly if he employs a large number of drivers. The driver will finish his day's work and go home, leaving the vehicle to be cleaned and looked after by other servants of the company. I think that, in the case of a reputable concern, that kind of thing should be a burden upon the company rather than upon the individual driver.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
Railway companies and other big omnibus companies have to put up with a good deal, but I think the noble Earl, if he enquires, will find that they would prefer to have this responsibility on their shoulders and that it is more likely to be duly carried out in that way than if it were left to the driver at the end of the day.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
Clause 68, which provides for the suspension of vehicles, seems rather arbitrary, and I think that the power of suspension might be found to be exercisable on account of dirty windows or something of that kind.
Surely in that case anybody fit to be a, public service vehicle examiner would not suspend the licence.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
I do not know what would be the code of fitness for public service vehicle examiners. It depends on who is appointed by the noble Earl. In regard to Part V of the Bill, I am bound to say that I am not at all sure whether it is wise and right, in this stage of our national life, to give these additional powers to local authorities. It appears that, under this Bill, every local authority which has power to run municipal services will in the future have power to run services, subject to the assent of the Commissioners, in all parts of the country. Take, if you like, Derby or Leicester or some other central city. The authorities will have power to run motor services to Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, London, Yarmouth and so forth. If you are going to allow that, you are going to allow a very great extension of the power of municipal trading. Powers given to local authorities to run their own services are already considerable, but they will be able to run services which will compete, not only with private organisations, but also, perhaps, with corresponding services run by rival municipalities. I think these powers are too great, and I suggest to the noble Earl that if he wants—as I am sure he does, and I want it too—to get this Bill through both this House and the other House without undue extension of time, he would be wise 966 to lighten it by removing at least some of Part V. I had meant to say more, but I do not want to detain your Lordships further.
I will say in conclusion—and I desire to put this to the noble Earl and to the House—that, when you have passed this Bill, when you have all these new regulations, you have not really dealt with the great problem that is before the country at the present time. As I have said, we have 2,000,000 motor cars, which have doubled themselves in six years. I see no reason why by 1939, ten years hence, there will not be 5,000,000 motor oars on the roads and streets of this country. I think it is more than probable, indeed, I personally regard it as an absolute certainty, that this will be the case. I am allowing a little longer for the doubling process than was taken during the last six years. You cannot get all these vehicles on our present roads and, above all, over our present bridges. I should like to appeal to the noble Earl on that point. I think he probably knows as much as I do of the tremendous difficulty of regulating motor traffic in many parts of the country on account of insecure bridges—bridges which, I admit, at the time when they were erected by railway and canal companies many years ago were strong enough to meet the traffic of that day, and with regard to which there is no legal liability upon those companies to bring them up to meet the traffic of to-day. At the same time they must be brought up to date by some organisation, and the organisation which I foresee as the right one is the noble Lord opposite.
The motoring community pays into the Road Fund many millions of pounds a year, and in a few years time I sec no reason why there should not be collected £40,000,000 or £50,000,000 a year without any increase of taxation. The Fund is raised for the maintenance of the roads and bridges, and I want the noble Earl to consider with the Minister whether, having passed this Bill, and having got all these new powers and regulations, they should not take this matter of improving the roads and bridges in hand and make a real effort in the matter during the next few years. It would provide much new work for the unemployed, both in manual labour and in the production of steel work, and I would ask the noble Earl to consider whether this improvement 967 of the roads and bridges will not be absolutely essential if the Ministry of Transport is to remain. I take it that after the passing of this Bill there is no chance of the Ministry being beheaded, as was considered by the Government of which I was a member a few years ago. I thought at that time that the Ministry would be too strong for the Treasury, and that that economy would not be effected; but they have now to justify themselves, and the needs of the country require that a great proportion of this money should be spent upon improving and widening the roads and bridges of the country and bringing them up to the necessities of to-day. If they do that I believe that they will do more than anything else to prevent the deplorable number of accidents which are now taking place.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, I am glad that I am an old man and that I shall not, probably, live for another ten years to see five million motor-cars on the road.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
I thank the noble Viscount for his good wishes, but I do not think life would be worth living if five million motorcars were on the roads. I think everyone will admit that there is necessity for a Bill of this sort, when one considers that last year over 6,000 persons were killed and 170,000 persons injured. It is necessary that there should be a Bill of this sort, and there are a number of very good proposals in it; but on the other hand there are a certain number which do not commend themselves at any rate to me. I understood from the noble Earl that in his opinion it was not advisable to pass a law which could not be enforced. May I draw attention to subsection (6) of Clause 4, which says that if a person is convicted under this part of the Act for an offence he cannot obtain a licence while that conviction is in force? I presume the noble Earl thinks that he can enforce that subsection, but does he remember what he said earlier in the year, when I brought in a Bill providing that a Court might order that a man who was cruel to a dog should not be able to obtain a licence? The noble Earl, who voted with me when in opposition and 968 against me when in power, informed me that it was the opinion of the Home Office—and I believe of my noble friend below me (Lord Brentford)—that it was quite impossible to enforce such a provision. Yet here is a practically identical provision in this Bill.
Then, when we come to Clause 9, I see that a young person under 16 years of age shall not drive a motor vehicle on the road, and that a person under 17 years of age shall not drive a motor vehicle other than a motor cycle on the road. Why are motor cycles to have that privilege? If there is a dangerous vehicle it is a motor cycle, and if there are dangerous and reckless drivers they are the drivers of motor cycles. Further, Clause 11 provides a penalty if anybody drives a motor vehicle on the road recklessly or at a speed and in a manner dangerous to the public, having regard to the nature, condition and use of the road and the amount of traffic which is actually at the time, or which might reasonably be expected to be, on the road. How are you going to enforce that? Let me give an example of what might easily take place. I will not say that the motor car which is in my mind is going at 100 miles an hour, which the noble Earl said might be the case in America, but I will assume that it is going at sixty miles an hour, on an open road without even a cross-road in sight, and no traffic except another car coming in the opposite direction. It begins slightly to rain, and as the noble Earl knows the time when those abominable asphalte roads are most dangerous is not when they are very wet but when it is beginning to rain. As the cars pass, owing to the rain there is a skid and the car going at sixty miles an hour runs into the other car. The persons in the other car are killed. What satisfaction is it to them that the man may be punished under Clause 11? They have lost their lives because the man was going at the speed of an express train on a road which was never built for people to go at that express speed. In my humble opinion a speed limit ought to be enforced, because I do not believe it is possible to prove whether or not a person who happened to be going very fast was going at a dangerous speed if there did not happen to be much traffic on the road.
969 As to insurance, I think the provision of the Bill is good, but on the other hand I think it might encourage reckless people. The noble Earl shakes his head, but perhaps he takes the same view of the human race as does Lord Cecil, who thinks they are all good. I take a different view and I think the motorists might be inclined to say: "The insurance company would pay if there was an accident, and therefore I do not care how fast I go." Then there is another thing. There are sure to be certain people whom the insurance companies will not insure. Is the noble Earl going to say that they must insure them? I hope not; but I am afraid that something of the sort may occur. Clause 42 is a horrible clause which sets up a Minister instead of Parliament to decide how people are to conduct their lives and whether they are to be liable to hard labour or to fines. It is all in the hands of a Minister. Parliament, which fought Kings and prevented them having that power, now, under the Socialist Government and to a certain extent under the previous Government, has given power to a Minister to do these things.
The only other question is the question of municipal trading. During the whole of my life I have endeavoured to oppose municipal trading. I believe it is wrong. I believe municipalities do their business badly, and they take the money of the taxpayer in order to compete with private enterprise. Under this Bill there is nothing to prevent the municipality of Bristol running a service of omnibuses from Bristol to London, or the municipality of York running a service of omnibuses from York to London. And they go at a very considerable pace. The noble Earl said that if you go in an omnibus instead of on the railway you see the country. I may observe that you see the country out of a railway train—at least I do; but if you are going very fast you do not see much of the country, whether you are on the railway or in an omnibus. But why should the money of the ratepayer of Bristol be used to compete with the railway of my noble friend now sitting opposite (Lord Churchill) who runs such a very effective service? For these reasons, I hope that when we come to the Committee stage there will be considerable alterations in the Bill.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, my noble friend who has just sat down complained that I thought that all the human race was good. If I have fallen into that error I can only attribute it to the fact that during the early part of my Parliamentary life I had the honour of sitting next to him in the House of Commons. I do think that the country is indebted to the Government for having acted so promptly as they have done in this matter. It is, I should think, a record for a Government to have taken the advice of a Royal Commission with the rapidity with which the Government have done so in this case. My only fear is that this Bill should prove to be too elaborate. In view of the urgency of the matter I would rather have seen a shorter Bill, dealing only with the dangers of the roads. I do not know whether it is possible to correct that now, but it really would probably have been better from the Government's point of view to have had two Bills than one. As it is they will run the risk of concentrating, in resisting and delaying this measure, all the interests affected, and it may be that it will prove that the delays in another place will be so great that a little later on in the Session the Whips will tell the Leader of that House that it is impossible for him to persist with a Bill of this magnitude in the face of the opposition that has been stirred up. I hope that it will not be so, but I am a little afraid of the present situation, and I should have been glad if a shorter and more definitely emergency measure had been produced.
There is one other general observation I want to make, and that is as to the great difficulty in which this House must find itself owing to, I will not say the impossibility, but the considerable difficulties of pedestrians making their views known. It is quite true that recently a society has been formed which is to represent the interests of pedestrians. That society is very, very young, and, although it has lasted long enough to find out how deep and strong the feeling is in the country on the subject, yet at present it commands very little influence, and cannot expect to command a great influence until it has grown to a much larger size. With that exception there are no protecting societies or interests for the pedestrians at all. I do not suggest that that would consciously affect your Lordships' House, but it does mean 971 that the interests of pedestrians are not presented and pressed with the same energy and vigour and knowledge as are at the disposal of every motor-manufacturing and motor-using interest in this country. I was very much struck in listening to the interesting speech made by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, just now. He had evidently received a number of representations about the injury or danger to this or that interest in the country which would accrue from the provisions of this Bill. He had been furnished with full information, and, as was indeed his duty, he brought that information before your Lordships' House. There is no such protection for pedestrians, and I want to press that upon your Lordships' attention, because I think it gives to your Lordships a special duty to protect that particular class, since they are not really at present able to protect themselves.
The Bill deals with a problem which is perfectly obvious, the great dangers of the road. Without that this Bill would not have been produced. It is caused by the great dangers of the road, and it is meant to remedy those dangers. I want to present to your Lordships the way it strikes me from a general point of view. I take it that there are really three main causes of those dangers. There is actual incompetence. I agree that that is not a very fruitful danger. It is not generally pure incompetence that causes the worst accidents. But there are such cases—not only physical incompetence, but incompetence of character and nature. I confess I do not feel that the proposals of the Bill are adequate in dealing with that matter. A mere declaration as to the physical fitness of the driver does not seem to me to be a sufficient way of coping with the general question of the driver's incompetence. I heard both the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, say that they were satisfied that no kind of test for drivers was of any use. I am not myself a very great believer in tests for drivers, but I think some examination of his knowledge, not only of driving but of the rules of the road, might well be instituted before a driver is allowed to go on the road.
I say that not only because I think it is important that he should know these things, but because it is very important 972 that he should realise the great dangers and the great responsibility he has in driving such an instrument as a modern motor car along the roads of this country. For that reason I hope that, when we come to the Committee stage, your Lordships will be ready to consider a strengthening of those provisions so as to secure some kind of guarantee of competence on the part of the driver. I would remind your Lordships that in all the public service vehicles—in every railway train, in every ship that goes to sea—elaborate precautions are taken to see that those in charge of those vehicles are really competent to discharge the duties which they have undertaken. And it seems to me that, considering the conditions which we have now reached, to say that any boy of seventeen can go into any post office, and present 5s., and take out a licence, and go off and drive a car of any size and any power down the road immediately is really a fantastic condition of the law, and ought not to be allowed to continue.
Then the next, and in some respects a much more fruitful, cause of accident is recklessness, dangerous driving. Here I quite admit that the Government Bill has done a great deal. I welcome the increase of penalties very much, particularly the provision that on a second offence there shall be an automatic suspension of the licence. I think that is very important—the most important thing that can be done; but I hope that it will be possible for your Lordships to consider whether that ought not to be done in the case of a first offence. I do not quite see why everybody should be allowed to kill one person. It is said that every dog may have one bite, but I do not think that everyone should be allowed to have one accident, and I should have thought that it ought to be the rule that if anyone was guilty of dangerous driving—it is a very serious offence indeed—the licence should be suspended unless the Court specially decides for special circumstances, as is provided in the Bill, that that penalty ought not to be incurred. I trust your Lordships will be prepared to consider that strengthening of the Bill when we come to that clause. My noble friend Lord Brentford—and I was amazed that my noble friend Lord Banbury to some extent supported him—objected to the code clause, Clause 42.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
I do not object to the code if it is imposed by Parliament. I objected to its being imposed by a Minister.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
That may have been Lord Brentford's objection also. I think the idea of a code is an excellent one. I have always felt that the great difficulty in the charge of dangerous driving is that it must always in the end be a matter of opinion and, unless an accident has taken place, it will always be a little difficult to convince a Court that what the policeman saw was dangerous driving when the motorist, who may often speak with great experience, says it was not dangerous driving. It is very difficult to be sure that the Court will arrive at the right conclusion in a case like this. I would like to see a condition of law of this kind, that Parliament should lay down the broad general rules of reasonable, careful driving, and that, unless you conform with those, then you are prima facie guilty of dangerous driving. To have a definite standard I should have thought would be much fairer to the motorist and much more satisfactory to everybody else, because it throws upon the motorist the burden of showing, if he has broken those rules, that, in fact, he was not guilty of conduct that was likely to endanger the public. I should like to see that change made and I think it would be the most important change that could be made in this Bill if you could get that principle established, that there are certain rules that you must comply with, very obvious rules, the kind of rules that everybody agrees with, and unless you do this you are prima facie guilty of dangerous driving. That would be an immense security to the public. When I say a word about the speed limit, it may also be that that is the best way of dealing with the very difficult question of the speed limit.
I have said there are two great causes of accidents, incompetence and recklessness. There is another cause which is really in my judgment the most fruitful. That is the nature of the case, the fact that it is a very difficult and hazardous thing to drive a vehicle weighing three tons—if it is a private car it may weigh anything up to three tons and if a public service vehicle much more than that—along crowded roads in the country on which an obstacle may develop at any 974 moment. To drive a vehicle of that weight at a speed of thirty, forty, fifty or sixty miles an hour is a very hazardous proceeding. I do not say that it cannot be done safely. It can be done safely very often, but it is in itself a dangerous thing, and in my judgment you have to try to take precautions to lessen the danger of the operation quite apart from incompetence and recklessness. I do not know whether your Lordships realise what thirty miles on hour means. It means you travel fifteen yards in a second, so that, if an obstacle arises fifteen yards in front of you, you have only a second in which to make up your mind what is the best thing to be done and to carry that determination out. If you are going at sixty miles an hour you have only half a second. That shows the kind of difficulty there is in this operation and it ought to be very carefully considered.
The difficulties are more or less increased if you consider, comparing it with railways, what immensely fewer precautions you take to diminish the nature of the case, to diminish the essential dangers of the operation. Why, in a railway to begin with, you fence the whole track and do not allow anybody to go on the track at all except under certain very definite precautions. You do not allow one vehicle or Drain to come within one or two miles—I am not sure what distance the block system provides for because it is different in different places—of another train. You have an elaborate system of signalling to prevent it. All these things go to lessen the inevitable dangers and, apart from incompetence and recklessness, you take an immense number of precautions to prevent the thing being as dangerous as it would be otherwise. You cannot take these precautions on the road. You cannot clear the road in front of the motor. It would be monstrous to try and prevent people from using it. Therefore, you have a dangerous condition of affairs quite apart from recklessness and incompetence.
That is why I look with some anxiety on the proposed removal of the speed limit. Of course, I recognise, and no one recognises it more than I do, that a law which is not observed is thoroughly bad, docs harm and does not do good. I quite agree with that. On the other hand, I am afraid of the psychological 975 effect of removing the speed limit without any qualification. I think it will be treated by the kind of person who is likely to be dangerous as a recognition that there is no danger in going ever so fast. I am afraid it will have that effect and I am extremely nervous. I observe that the Government themselves are doubtful about it because they do not propose to remove the speed limit in every case. They propose to keep it for the heavier vehicles and for the commercial vehicles. Why? What is the reason? How can you distinguish? I can see no distinction at all, except one of degree. My noble friend Earl Russell, in the very admirable speech he made in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, gave two reasons why he disliked the speed limit. One was that it is unenforceable. How is it going to become more enforceable in the case of a lorry than a motor car? I do not see how you are going to enforce it in one case more than another. It is said you are going to enforce it in the easel of omnibuses and chars-a-bancs by a timetable. That is going to be a very ineffective method of enforcing it. That will only mean an average speed. You will have an average speed according to your time-table of twenty-five or twenty miles an hour. Evidently that will not prevent them from going a great deal above that speed at times. In fact, they will without a doubt, and you will not achieve your object in that way. You will have cases of cars getting a little behind their time schedule and making up time on the roads. The other reason my noble friend gave was what he regards, differing from me in that respect, as the psychological argument in favour of it. He says: "concentrate the mind on dangerous driving and ignore speed."
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
"Do not allow it to hamper private drivers too much." If that is so you are going to create a wrong psychological atmosphere for all the heavy cars and all the lorries, and they are more dangerous in themselves than the private cars. If the existence of a speed limit creates a wrong psychological atmosphere for the private owner, I cannot conceive why it should 976 not equally create a wrong psychological atmosphere for the driver of an omnibus or lorry. I observed that my noble friend Lord Brentford, whose logical mind we all recognise and admire, immediately seized that point. Speaking from suggestions made to him by other kinds of motor users, he said there should not be a speed limit for these heavier vehicles, and I do not see what the answer is going to be.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
I am sure my noble friend will forgive me interrupting him. I do not think I suggested that there should not be a speed limit. I said, if I remember aright, that there would be clearly a demand from many of these users for an extension of the speed limit to the figure fixed by the Royal Commission.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I am sorry to have misrepresented my noble friend. I did not mean to do so. I am sure he will agree that what he has said now is sufficient for the argument I am presenting to the House. It is that you will have immediately a demand for the relaxation of the speed limit, and you will have no kind of logical ground on which you are going to refuse it. I am confident, if you are to sweep away all speed limits and have nothing at all, no standard of speed of any sort or kind on these roads, you are going to create a state of things which will be worse and not better than it is at the present time. I admit the difficulties of the question. I admit you are in a very serious difficulty owing to the unfortunate fixing of a speed limit which has not commanded any kind of confidence from the silly way in which it was tried to be enforced by certain authorities in the country, who deliberately selected bits of the road where it was least dangerous to go faster in order to set police traps and things of that kind. Nothing could have been more fatuous and foolish than that method of enforcing the law.
I do hope your Lordships will consider very carefully whether some compromise between the two ideas is not possible. It is quite true that there is a considerable weight of authority in favour of abolishing the speed limit. I will concede that, as far as I have been able to study it, there is a greater weight of authority in favour of abolishing than 977 in favour of retaining it; but no one will deny that there is a considerable minority of very respectable authorities who are in favour of maintaining it, including the Metropolitan Police. Therefore it is not a perfectly clear case. In those circumstances I suggest to your Lordships that the true path is to try to arrive at some compromise which, while removing the great evil of a perfectly hard and fast speed limit which nobody obeys, will yet preserve a standard of speed as the reasonable average speed which can be safely used on the roads of the country, in exactly the same way as you propose to do with the heavier vehicles and on the same principle. I suggest to your Lordships that perhaps the proper plan would be to make a rule that you ought not to exceed this limit unless you can show that in the circumstances of the case it was perfectly safe to do so, putting speed in exactly the same position as the other standards of dangerous driving, which I should like to see established as a part of the legislation.
I do not wish to detain your Lordships any longer. There are several other matters in this Bill many of which seem to me admirable. The road sign provisions are excellent. I am delighted that my noble friend has found it possible to make it an offence not to comply with road signs. That is a step in the direction of the kind of legislation I desire. There is one small matter which I should like to press very much upon the noble Earl's attention, and to ask whether it is not possible to include it in this Bill. I am struck tremendously with the great hardships, particularly on the children in the country districts, in not having any paths to go upon by the side of many of the roads. It is really a very serious hardship and a very undeserved usurpation of the road by the other users to the detriment of those who are quite as much entitled to the use of the road as they are. I suggest, as a possible palliation, that it should be laid down by Parliament as a rule that before any advance is made from the Road Fund towards the creation of a new road, or the improvement of an old one, the first thing that should be done should be the provision of an adequate footpath for pedestrians. I hope my noble friend will consider whether it is possible to introduce that into his Bill. I am sure it would be a 978 boon, and would be very greatly appreciated in many of the country districts in this country. The only other thing I have to say is that, though I recognise the importance of getting on with this Bill as soon as possible, I trust sufficient time will be allowed between the Second Reading and Committee stages to enable us to consider carefully the Amendments we should desire to move.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, in another place it is customary for any one addressing that Assembly for the first time to plead for the indulgence of the House, and I hope, therefore, in addressing your Lordships for the first time, that I shall be similarly generously treated. I would like at once to congratulate the Government on the effort which they are making to deal with the question. Any criticisms I have to make I hope they will take in the spirit in which, they are submitted, and will believe me when I say they are not put forward in any sort of Party spirit, but merely in the light of experience gained over a period which lasts almost as long as that of the noble Earl himself who moved the Second Reading of this Bill this afternoon. I shall try to make any criticisms I have as constructive as possible.
The first thing to do in considering this Bill is to ask, what is the object of the Bill? I think it is summed up by saying it is an attempt to make the road safer for all. If that is so, it seems to me rather extraordinary that this Bill should single out only one form of road user and not all. More particularly is that so when it is remembered that the code of customs drawn up by the Royal Commission, which no doubt is the code referred to in this Bill, is a code of customs that refers also to forms of driving other than driving motor cars. I think it ought also to be remembered that in the tables published by the Royal Commission on Transport not less than one eighth of the fatal accidents were put down as being caused by other forms of traffic than motor vehicles, and one-quarter of the non-fatal accidents. No mention whatever is made in this Bill of the pedestrian, and I am certain that unless some attempt is made, not perhaps at the present moment but in the not too-distant future, to regularise the movements of pedestrians when they use the roads, we shall only have dealt with 979 one form of the problem and shall not really have got to the heart of it. If you examine Table "D" of the Report of the Royal Commission on page 53 you will find that 23.5 per cent. of the faults of people using the road set out in that Table are caused by pedestrians, and I am very much afraid, unless pedestrians submit to the same sort of regulations as those already in force in other countries, we shall not really have done very much to make the roads safer.
The first thing that is dealt with in this Bill is the licensing of drivers. In approaching this I would like your Lordships to consider again Table "D" of the Report of the Royal Commission. You will there see, in the first analysis of the causes of accidents in which motor cars are concerned, that in the first six headings these things appear:—Excessive speed having regard to all circumstances, inattentive, confused or lacking in judgment, failed to exercise care at road junction, improperly overtaking, cutting in or out, failed to keep to near side of road, inexperience. That is the order in which they are stated. I think it is the experience of anybody who uses the roads of this country a great deal to-day that the standard of driving is deplorably bad—deplorable, moreover, as compared with the standard of driving which is encountered on the roads of other countries. I submit to your Lordships that at the present moment there is no sort of incentive to anybody really to improve his standard of driving. I believe that unless we can get an improvement in the standard of driving we shall not really have done anything to reduce the deplorable roll of accidents which is before us to-day. In practically every other country they have tests for driving. The countries are set forth in this Report of the Royal Commission on Transport which actually says that we are practically alone in the world—with the exception of Belgium and, I think, one other country—in not insisting on tests for drivers.
I never expected that when I spoke this afternoon I should find myself so very cordially in agreement with the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, who spoke last, but I am not in the least convinced either by the reasons given in the Report of the Royal Commission or by what the noble Earl has said that tests for drivers are 980 not good and should not be instituted. I do not want to make tests for drivers necessarily compulsory. I think it might be done on a voluntary basis and I think possibly it might be more effective if done on a voluntary basis than on a compulsory basis. My suggestion for what it is worth is that examination panels or boards might be set up under Government aegis, and that on payment of a charge anybody might undergo examination and be granted a certificate, perhaps a graded one. Inevitably, supposing a motorist subsequently became a defendant in a Court, having infringed the Motor Car Act or having been involved in some accident, the very first question asked would be: "Have you a certificate or have you not?" Then again, I think that it would be very likely that insurance companies would give a slight reduction in premiums to people who had passed the test. I merely put forward that suggestion for what it is worth, but I am not in the least convinced by what the noble Earl said that it is impossible or inadvisable to set up road tests. I am firmly convinced that nothing else will induce many of the drivers on the roads to-day to try to improve their standard of driving, and that is what we want to bring about.
With regard to dangerous driving, here again I must say that I find myself in a very large measure of agreement with the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil. He said, as I understood him, that it would be much fairer if we could have some sort of definition of dangerous driving. I quite agree that it would be very much fairer from the point of view of the motorist to have some better definition. The definition in this Bill is the same as in the Motor Car Act, which it is to supersede, and it is a very indefinite one. I will not read the whole of it, but only the vital passage. It says:—If any person drives a motor vehicle on a road recklessly, or at a speed or in a manner which is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, including the nature, condition, and use of the road, and the amount of traffic which is actually at the time, or which might reasonably be expected to be, on the road, he shall be liableand so forth. Now the penalties proposed under the Bill are very serious indeed. They involve imprisonment. I am quite sure that Parliament would never wish that a man should be wrongfully 981 imprisoned or that injustice should be done to anybody. If anybody has driven in a dangerous manner I am perfectly certain that everbody would agree that he ought to suffer for that offence, but remember that the courts before which these cases are taken in the first instance are courts of summary jurisdiction, not courts specially constituted or specially fitted to consider such cases. These cases of dangerous driving very often turn upon technical points, and I submit that in such cases there is a grave danger that injustice may be done before the local bench.
There is another thing that I would like your Lordships to remember, and that is that in these cases of dangerous driving the evidence of only one witness is sufficient. Therefore, it comes to this, that on the unsupported evidence of one witness alone a man may eventually find himself in prison. I do not think that can be held to be generally satisfactory. I hope that when we come to discuss this in Committee the noble Earl will consider whether it cannot be laid down that there must be at least two independent witnesses in order to secure a conviction. And one other point arises. At present cases of dangerous driving come in the first instance, as I have said, before a court of summary jurisdiction. Suppose there is a conviction: there is an appeal to Quarter Sessions. But suppose the case is tried there and again a conviction is recorded and again the defendant is not satisfied, he is not allowed to appeal to any higher Court at present. I would submit to His Majesty's Government that they might consider giving the motorist a right to apply for trial by jury. I may be wrong in suggesting that he has not that right at present, but I think it might be made quite clear that the motorist has a right to apply for trial by jury and that there should be a subsequent appeal to a higher Court. That I think is very important in view of the very stringent penalties imposed by the Bill. In regard to the actual definition of dangerous driving, I have here a suggested definition of dangerous driving which, I think, defines it much more clearly than is done in the Bill, but I will not weary your Lordships by reading it at this stage. I should like to embody it in the form of an Amendment to be brought forward during the Committee stage.
982 Now I come to the question of the speed limit. I have considered this question very carefully and I am surprised to find myself again in almost cordial agreement with the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, on this matter. I hold that if you remove the speed limit in this country you will get into the minds of a number of people the idea that they really can go a bit faster than they do to-day. To the standard of driving on the roads of this country I have already referred. It is deplorably bad, and I think that if you allow people to go any faster—that is the ordinary motor traffic on the road, I do not mean exceptional traffic—if you put it into the minds of drivers that they really can go faster, then you will be running a grave risk of having a much larger casualty roll than you have to-day. I hope that it is not yet too late, for example, to consider whether we should not do better to revise the existing speed limit in the light of experience and of common sense. With regard to heavy vehicles, I entirely agree with what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, in regard to there being too many differentiations of speed. I think that this is going to cause a great deal of complication in traffic control for those who are charged with the duty of regulating traffic.
With regard to the regulation of the hours of labour proposed for drivers of heavy vehicles, I suggest to His Majesty's Government that, if you are going to limit the hours of labour, it might have been very much better to have a weekly rather than a daily limit. Would not this provide more elasticity in the working out of the schedules? The noble Earl in charge of the Bill stated, as I understood him, in reply to one noble Lord that relief drivers would be employed, but relief drivers would equally come under the definition while they were on duty, or at least it is not specifically stated to the contrary. Accordingly I should like to submit to the noble Earl that, if it is legal to employ relief drivers, that fact should be stated in the Bill.
I hope also that the noble Earl will not lose sight of the effect of the restrictions of speed upon design. The recommendations of the Royal Commission on Transport of a thirty-five miles per hour limit for heavy vehicles has been turned down and a lower limit has been imposed. 983 These limits are not enforced in any other country than this—or at least such low limits—and I rather feel that, if we are not very careful, it will be necessary for the designers and constructors to build special vehicles in order to proceed at these lower speeds, which may have the effect of making them almost unsaleable overseas. At any rate I hope that the point will not be lost sight of.
In regard to the licensing boards which the Minister is going to set up under the Bill, I should like first of all to draw attention to the fact that this means an increase in the number of paid officials who are going to live upon the proceeds of motor taxation, as against the services of those voluntary officials who have discharged those duties previously. It is to a certain extent an addition to the paid bureaucracy of the country. But the real point of objection that I have with regard to this clause is that the appeal is to the Minister himself. I submit that this really is not sufficient. I hope that the Minister will be able to consider an Amendment substituting for the appeal to the Minister an appeal to an impartial body upon which all interests might be reasonably represented. With regard to third-party insurance, there appears to be no provision in the Bill as it stands giving certainty that the person who is injured will actually receive the compensation due to him. Again, take the case of a stolen car. What is to happen to anybody who is the victim of an accident in which a stolen car is concerned under the third-party insurance? As it stands in the Bill, I rather fancy that the person injured or maimed for life would get nothing, or, if he were killed, his dependents would get nothing.
In regard to the code of the road—and this is the last part of the Bill upon which I wish to comment—I hope that the Minister will lay considerable stress upon the observance of the existing unwritten laws of the road, that is to say, the very great importance of slow traffic keeping to the left. I am perfectly certain that you can do much to eliminate a frequent cause of accidents in which motor cars are concerned if only something can be done to induce slow traffic to keep to the left. Slow traffic keeping to the crown of the road is a most fruitful 984 source of accidents. This was alluded to in the Report of the Royal Commission. To come to another point, I should like to know from the Minister what has happened with regard to the Committee set up under the Ministry of Transport and primarily constituted in order to deal with the excessive noise made by motor vehicles. That Committee also considered the question of the priority of traffic at road junctions. The same question was before the Royal Commission on Transport. I certainly feel that the code should decide, or that at least the Government should have it embodied in some official publication, what the custom of the road is to be at road junctions. Is the main road traffic to have priority over traffic on secondary roads, or is it not?
I also hope that the Minister will deal in his code with the question of the lights of motor vehicles. This has been a most fruitful cause of accidents—lights improperly used, cars turning on headlights in well lighted urban centres where they are quite unnecessary, cars drawn up on the wrong side of the road with headlights on. A very bad accident occurred not far from London the other day through that last cause. If the Minister would include some of these things in his code I think it would be to the general good. I hope that this Bill will receive the consideration of Parliament and that it will become the law of the land; but there are several things in it of which I am extremely critical and I very much hope that the Minister will not be too adamant when we come to move a few Amendments in Committee.
§ THE EARL OF DENBIGH
My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House for more than two or three minutes. I only want to express a certain amount of disappointment at not seeing any reference in the Bill to a matter to which I called attention in this House two or three years ago. I refer to the great danger from the smoke and steam of traction engines on the roads. Your Lordships must often have found yourselves following behind a traction engine of some sort on a damp day when both smoke and steam have constituted an impenetrable fog which makes it almost impossible to see any oncoming traffic. I have had my own car smashed up from that cause, and it was that which moved me to bring the matter 985 before the House and to ask a Question at that time. Judging from the correspondence that I received then and the remarks made in the newspapers, I know that there is very widespread complaint. I was assured at the time chat it was going to be dealt with in the Transport Bill which was being prepared by the late Government. We know that this Bill never saw the light, but I sincerely hoped that something would be done about the matter in the present Bill. I am quite aware of the difficulty which arises from the fact that engines are supposed to consume their own smoke. In many cases they do not do so. They are supposed to burn smokeless fuel, but they do not do so. Is it absolutely necessary that steam wagons should be allowed upon the roads at all, except perhaps in the case of engines moving agricultural machinery, which are a necessity? Is there any reason why these big lorries that we see about the roads, driven by a steam engine, should not be driven by a petrol engine? Is there not sufficient power to be had in that way? I should like very much to know whether the Government will consider that question and do something towards mitigating what I regard as a very serious evil.
In regard to the very useful remarks of the noble Earl who has just spoken, he mentioned the non-observance of the rules of the road. I hoped he was going to say something about the prevalent evils of cutting-in, but he confined himself rather to the question of slow-moving traffic keeping to the left. If only motor drivers would realise the fact that oncoming traffic has got the right of way, and avoid the dangerous practice of cutting in—which is the cause of many accidents—something might be done. Therefore I hope that in making these regulations something stringent will be done with regard to cutting in, and that very serious punishment will be meted out to those who do it wantonly. If that is done, I believe it will be of great advantage to the public.
My Lords, the noble Earl who spoke last asked a good many questions which I think I cannot answer fully now, but I will consider them. Lord Howe supported tests for drivers. I do not quite understand why, unless probably it was because he would pass them himself with flying colours. I rather 986 gather, however, that that capacity has not entirely saved him from collision with the authorities on the road, and I think it rather bears out the suggestion which I made, that it is not always the competent driver who is the cause of accidents, although I believe that expert drivers give him a character for being a safe driver, though fast. That again bears out my contention that it is the manner of driving and not the speed at a given moment which is important
Then the noble Earl raised the question of conviction on the testimony of one witness. If he cares to bring forward an Amendment in Committee it can be considered, but I would point out that convictions take place on far more serious matters on the evidence of one witness, if it is evidence which in the opinion of the court can be believed, and I think we might have difficulty if we insisted upon two witnesses. There are magistrates who naturally will not convict if there is only one witness on each side, and unless the magistrate is of opinion that the evidence of one witness is so clear that he ought to accept it he naturally is inclined to take the safe course and dismiss the information. Then he raised the question of the stolen car and asked whether an injured man would be compensated by its being insured. Obviously we cannot provide for the exceptional case, and we cannot provide insurance for a stolen car driven by a thief. If, however, the noble Earl takes a different view he will shortly have an opportunity of moving to include burglars in the Unemployment Insurance Bill. As to the question of road junctions, the matter is very forward and I think a full circular on the subject will shortly be available to the public. The noble Earl need not be afraid that the matter has been lost sight of. It has been considered, and attempts are being made to deal with it which I think are satisfactory.
Before I come to the speech of Lord Cecil, I should like to deal with the speech made by Lord Brentford. I thought that the statement he made at the beginning of his observations, about the 10 per cent. decrease in accidents where Safety First propaganda had been enforced, and the considerable increase in accidents where there was no Safety First propaganda, did remarkably hear out my suggestion that it was not legislation 987 which primarily could stop accidents, but that it was primarily the education both of the pedestrian and the motorist. I agree with Lord Howe that there is a good deal of bad driving, and that there are a good many people without a road sense. I agree that it is a skilled art to drive a car safely upon the roads, and that it has to be acquired. I think you have to improve the driving of motorists, and also to improve the road sense of pedestrians, who will continue to treat what are, rightly or wrongly, almost railway tracks as if they were the grass-grown tracks of our childhood.
Then the noble Viscount said something about a reasonable speed. How are you to say that a speed was reasonable? What is a reasonable speed? It must depend upon circumstances in each case. There is hardly a speed which can be said to be reasonable at any given moment. He seemed to think that it was an argument for imposing a speed limit on lighter cars because we fix a maximum speed for the heavier vehicles. We do not announce this as a reasonable speed, but as a maximum speed, and everything above that is probably dangerous and should not be allowed. I would ask your Lordships to reflect upon the difference between those heavier vehicles and the private motor car. I would ask you to reflect that a vast char-a-bancs 7 feet 6 inches wide, with 6 wheels, weighing 12 tons, and perhaps carrying 60 passengers, is a very different object on the road from a private motor car carrying from one to five passengers, and I think it requires to be dealt with separately.
Then the noble Viscount called attention to the fact that in the clause relating to drunkenness we had the words "drunk in charge." If he will put down an Amendment for the Committee stage we will of course consider it, but I may tell him that the view of the Home Secretary is that in the absence of these words a good many people will escape conviction who ought to be convicted. He gave an instance with which I sympathise. I think I read in the papers a similar instance a short time ago in which a young lady going home from a party shortly afterwards found that she was not quite sober and pulled to the side of the road and went to sleep, and she was there found by a policeman. You will, I 988 think, have to leave it to the magistrates to be reasonable in these cases. You have to allow for both kinds of case, and no doubt the noble Viscount will consider the matter before Committee stage. He also spoke about consideration required for the trade when you make new regulations, and about the long notice which should be given of any change. I doubt if any one would complain in this regard of the Ministry of Transport, either under the present or the late Minister. The Ministry of Transport has always had great regard for the requirements of the trade, and has never been anxious to embarrass the trade. Regulations have had to be altered to meet changes in the trade, and when changes have been made in the regulations long notice has always been given. I doubt whether the noble Viscount will find on enquiry that there is any great complaint. It has always been the policy of the Department to be reasonable, and it is still the policy. He spoke, too, about the export trade and the difference in speed. One regrets that, of course, but it is a matter for the public of this country to consider at what speed they wish cars to go upon the roads of this country, and if they decide that a speed is a reasonable speed for heavy cars, manufacturers will have to meet that specification.
With regard to hours of duty, I think he misapprehended what we intended when he gave the example of a man who drove for three hours down to a south coast watering place, stopped there six hours, and came back. I hardly regard that as being on duty during the six hours, if during that time he was able to recline and be at rest, and even, if he liked, take a sleep. I should not consider him on duty from the point of view from which we have drawn the clause, which is fatigue. We call attention to the fact that from fatigue driving may become dangerous, and from that point of view I think you could hardly consider him on duty. But if the matter is not clear it can be considered; it is not our intention to be unreasonable. The suggestion which the noble Earl, Lord Howe, made that we should lump together all the hours in a week would be quite impossible, because that would not prevent a man being on duty for twenty-four hours at a stretch. It would not conduce in any sense to public safety.
989 I was surprised by what the noble Viscount said about inquiries into accidents, and there being no necessity to make inquiries into all the accidents there are. The noble Viscount cannot have appreciated that, although the Minister has taken power to enquire into accidents, he has very much limited the number of accidents into which the Royal Commission suggested he should enquire. The Royal Commission suggested that there should be a compulsory inquiry into all accidents in public service vehicles. The Minister has taken the view that the number of accidents in which a formal, separate inquiry is likely to be necessary is comparatively small, and he has left the power permissive, and he has not had put upon himself the duty of making inquiry into every case of death. I think that is a perfectly reasonable view. And it is not a case of death necessarily that may be the most interesting subject of inquiry. There may be an inquiry which it is very desirable that the Minister should make by means of experts, to deal with faulty construction and material; that may be far more important than an inquiry into death. Therefore, I think it is desirable that the Minister should have this general power, but the very thing that the Minister has tried to avoid, by limiting it, is overburdening his Department with unnecessary inquiries and overstaffing it with unnecessary personnel. I do not think, perhaps, that the noble Viscount had quite appreciated that.
When you come to the uninsurable person, that, of course, is one of the questions which is always put up when you are considering a scheme of compulsory insurance. There are several answers to it. First of all, I am not sure how many people there are who are actually uninsurable, or cannot obtain insurance at some reasonable special premium, but I think the number is extremely small. We were not given any instances from the insurance companies when we enquired into it. I think that is one of the matters which we must accept—I said it was not a perfectly watertight scheme—and which we must leave over for the present and see whether any injustice results. I do not myself think it will. I was rather sorry to hear what was said by the noble Viscount about 990 the highway code. He deprecated it, and thought it ought not be issued by the Minister.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
No, I said let him issue it. It is very desirable that he should issue a highway code of suggestions, but not that he should make a code of his own part of the law of the land under the last subsection of the particular clause relating to it.
Perhaps I misrepresented the noble Viscount. I thought there was some suggestion—perhaps it was Lord Banbury who suggested—that it should be issued by Parliament. I do not think any one would think it a reasonable suggestion that it should emanate from a Joint Committee, which is the only way that Parliament could issue it. The Minister would set up a Committee of his own to consider very carefully what he should put into the code. But I would submit this as to the force of the code. Suppose there was one great authority like the M.C.C. in cricket. Suppose the Royal Automobile Club were amalgamated with the Automobile Association, and that was the one authority for this country. Then a code of manners for motorists issued by them would, of course, have considerable force and weight. I do not know that it is suggested that the code issued by the Minister should have more weight than that. But, of course, this code is intended to apply partly to pedestrians too. It need not necessarily follow the recommendations of the Royal Commission. But I do think that a code that is issued by some authority, so that at any rate there may be a view which is supposed to be the right view, and another view that is supposed to be the wrong view, would be a useful guide. I see no reason why it should have any legal force, and it was not really the intention that it should have. But if there was such a code, whether: in the Bill or not, questions in Court would certainly be asked as to whether a man followed the code or not. The idea of the noble Viscount apparently is that it is issued by authority, like the Prayer Book.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
No, my objection is to giving the noble Earl power without the authority of Parliament to make an alteration in the law of the land. Let him make a code, as the 991 Safety First Association has made a code, but do not impose it as part and parcel of the law of the land and give it legal sanction.
Well, I am not quite sure that I follow the difference between us, but anyhow I do not think it is a great difference. I think we are agreed that a code would be useful, and no doubt it can be constructed in some way which would meet the objection of the noble Viscount. Between now and a further stage we may have an opportunity of discussing it.
I regret very much that he should object to the provisions relating to municipal services. It does not in the least follow that there will be an extended use of these powers of running motor coaches all over the country. That would not be a reasonable thing for the local authorities to ask, nor for the Area Commissioner to grant, unless they can show that for some special reason, relating to their special body, there was a reasonable cause for doing this—running to some particular distance, or to some particular place. That would be to show the same kind of thing as is shown before a Private Bill Committee of Parliament in order to get the statutory powers. I do not know that there is any great harm in that. They will not get these general powers unless there is some good reason. Then the noble Viscount will remember quite well that these things cannot be done without money, and they would have to get permission to raise loans and that sort of thing, and when those permissions are asked for there will then be another Department—I am not quite sure whether it is our Department or another—but anyhow there will be an inquiry as to whether it is proper that they should have a loan for this purpose, and they will not be allowed to spend the ratepayers' money without showing very good reason.
The noble Viscount spoke about bridges and, I think, perhaps did not quite appreciate what is going on. He said there had been a Bridges Act, which was permissive. It is true it was permissive, but it gave very useful permissions, and the Ministry of Transport have been very active under that Act, and have been inviting applications from local authorities. I ventured to make some remarks myself at a function the other night 992 which were fairly widely reported—a function attended by local authorities—inviting them to send in their schemes to the Ministry of Transport, where they will receive, and have received, extremely favourable consideration and very good terms.
Now I come to the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood. He wished it had been a shorter Bill. From the point of view of being in charge of it, perhaps so do I, but from the point of view of taking this opportunity of making a complete and proper Bill of it I should very-much regret to see anything cut out of this Bill which is in it. While we are about it we may as well make a good job of it. The noble Viscount suggested that an emergency measure would have been enough. I have the profoundest dislike for emergency measures. I like a measure to be considered not as a measure to meet some temporary need of the moment, but as a measure which is a reasonable one, and which will continue. This is not intended to be an emergency measure. I do not say it will last as long as the Act of 1903 has lasted. Conditions may change more quickly, but it ought to last for some time and we have tried to introduce a comprehensive measure.
The noble Viscount also spoke of the interests of the pedestrians not being re-presented. Well, is that quite true? Does not every police officer, does not every chief constable, does not every magistrate, does not really every Minister in a Department represent the interests of the pedestrians? It is the duty of all of them to consider the interests of all road users, and he cannot say that the interests of the pedestrians go unrepresented. I am not sure that we do not take more care of the pedestrian than he shows any desire to do himself and it may be we shall have to encourage him a little. He went on to speak about the penalty for the first offence being increased and said he did not see why a person should have one accident before he suffers severer penalties. The words I pounce upon are the words "one accident." I very much hope that prosecutions for dangerous driving are not going to be limited to cases where there have been accidents. I want prosecutions for dangerous driving to be undertaken where there has been real 993 dangerous driving, without waiting for an accident but to prevent an accident occurring. They must not be restricted to those who have had accidents. There is plenty of dangerous driving which escapes causing an accident by the skill of the driver or one or other of the people involved. Do not let us wait until there has been an accident. Let us stop this dangerous driving in time and so save lives.
The noble Viscount made a mistake about speed. He said that thirty miles an hour means that you travel fifteen yards in a second. That is true. He went on to say that if an obstacle arises when you are going at that speed you have only a second in which to make up your mind what to do. That is not true. It is true that the driver takes a quarter of a second to put his brake on. He then begins immediately to decelerate and, if he has good brakes, if he does not stop altogether at the end of the fifteen yards he will have taken twenty seconds to cover it, and probably avoided the accident. That people travel faster than circumstances warrant is perfectly true. I do not see why he says that speed is not recognised as an offence in this Bill. In Section 1 of the old Act of 1903, which is reproduced in this Bill, the first offence is driving "at a speed." "In a manner" is the second offence, and "recklessly" is the third offence. Those three offences are contained in the section and "at a speed" is recognised as an offence. Let no one say that speed is not going to be dealt with.
He then spoke about a reasonable speed limit. I do not know what he meant. He also spoke about my having said that a speed limit of twenty miles an hour was unenforceable and that therefore it is no use discussing it. It depends what you mean by unenforceable. A speed limit of twenty miles an hour is perfectly possible if you have an army of police and traps all over the country so that people would be compelled to go at twenty miles an hour. The reason why it was not enforceable was not because of any natural or physical impossibility, but simply because it had not got public opinion behind it and the police would not have been supported and in fact were not supported in their efforts to enforce it. A speed limit of thirty miles an hour for lorries will, I hope, 994 be enforceable. Finally, he spoke about footpaths. He obviously has not kept himself so much in touch as he should have with what is being done at the Ministry of Transport. We have a rule now that no new road is constructed without a footpath. The noble Marquess (Lord Salisbury) shakes his head. If he will call my attention to any such case I will look into it.
THE MARQUEHS OF SALISBURY
The noble Earl says there are paths along all the new roads. There are paths, but some of them are quite unusable.
I do not know why they are quite unusable. If he will call our attention to it, I will have the matter looked into. It is a rule that new roads now have to have paths alongside them. That is a thing we keep in mind constantly. We definitely recognise that a path should be made when a road is widened or improved. It does not require any new legislation to induce the Ministry of Transport to consider that duty. I am much obliged to your Lordships for the way you have received the Bill and for the very valuable discussion we have had upon it.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.