HL Deb 11 July 1929 vol 75 cc69-88

VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD had given Notice to ask His Majesty's Government whether they intend to introduce legislation with the object of regulating road traffic and increasing the safety and comfort of those who use the highways of the country; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I rise to ask the Question standing in my name upon the Notice Paper. I am well aware that your Lordships will feel that I have already trespassed sufficiently long on your attention in connection with this subject. It is not the first time I have had the honour of addressing you about it. My only excuse for returning to it is that the evil is a continuing and an increasing one. The latest figures show that the deaths from traffic accidents have increased from 5,000 a year to 6,000 a year—a 20 per cent. increase in a year, or something very near that in round figures—and the accidents have increased in the same proportion. That seems to me to be a national evil of the first magnitude.

I may be entirely wrong, but I cannot help feeling that if it had been possible for the late Government to have passed into law some measure for improving the safety of the roads, many hundreds, possibly thousands of lives might have been saved, and many thousands of injuries might have been averted. I quite recognise that the difficulties were very great, and it is not for the purpose of recrimination that I make that observation. I do so merely for the purpose of pointing out to your Lordships that this evil goes on day by day, and that every day that a remedy is delayed more people are killed and more people are injured. I noticed in a newspaper the other day that the Coroner for West Middlesex said that he had held ten inquests in eight days on people killed in motor accidents. That seems to me a simply appalling figure. In the same paper there were accounts of many other accidents and protests by various persons in public positions, members of councils, members of benches of magistrates and so on.

I remember that one noble friend of mine when I had the honour of moving a Bill last Session on this subject, said that he thought I was wrong in trying to limit the speed of motor cars, that the danger of speed was greatly exaggerated, that the same kind of exaggeration had been made in reference to railways, and that it had been proved that railway speeds could be greatly exceeded from what they originally were without any increase of danger. Yes, my Lords, that is so, but what I want very much to press upon your Lordships is that that has been so because a great number of precautionary measures have been taken both administratively and legislatively, and that it is in consequence of those measures that a very high degree of safety for passengers on the railways has been attained. It has not been attained by leaving the matter alone and leaving everybody to do what they think right. It has been attained by regulations and restrictions. I am not at all in favour of regulations and restrictions unless there is a very grave and serious evil to be dealt with, but when there is a serious evil I do not think the Legislature should be afraid of applying the remedy.

It is for that reason that I venture to ask this Government whether they see their way—obviously not immediately but as soon as possible—to introduce legislation on the subject. I cannot help feeling that the matter is urgent, and I hope very much that they may be able to give me some assurance that they do intend to introduce such legislation. If that is the case, it is far better than any legislation promoted by a private individual. It would relieve us all of attempting to deal with the subject if the Government of the day were prepared to deal with it. I want to say one other thing to my noble friends on the opposite side of the House if they will be good enough to allow me to say it. It is not only by legislation that remedies can be applied. I cannot help thinking that a great deal might be done by way of administration and I would ask the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who I understand will reply for the Ministry of Transport in this House, whether he will not carefully consider what steps can be taken administratively and what things can be done immediately without waiting for legislation. For instance, he will remember that when the Committee which considered my Bill last Session was sitting, one of the difficulties we found was that we could not obtain an adequate amount of information on the subject. We had a most admirable witness from the Ministry of Transport, we had a large number of representatives of the motor industry and we had, I think, one witness from a cyclists' organisation, but there does not appear to be any association or institution for the protection of pedestrians or other road users and the result was that the case for safety was very inadequately represented.

After all, every accident of any importance is the subject of a report by the police. I know, of course, that the county police are not under the control of the Government, but still there is the actual report. A policeman writes down in his notebook that an accident has taken place and that inquiries made by him on the spot reveal this, that and the other. All that is filed, I presume, by the various police authorities. I cannot help thinking that if the Ministry of Transport circularised the county councils—I think I am right in saying it is the county council, or is it the Standing Joint Committee still?


The Joint Committee.


If the Ministry of Transport asked them to supply information on the subject, they could collect it. Similarly, every fatal accident is the subject of an inquiry before a coroner. I know that some attempt has been made, partly by a private organisation and to a lesser extent by the Ministry of Transport, to obtain information from the coroners. I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but my impression is that only a limited number of coroners were asked to give any information on the subject. I should think they might all be asked to give information. It is true that we cannot compel them to give information—it is one of the blots on our legislation—but my impression is that if a Government Department, whether the Home Office or the Ministry of Transport, were to make such an appeal to the public authorities throughout the country, it would be responded to by a very large percentage of those concerned and an immense amount of valuable information might be obtained. That would be only a preliminary measure and would not do anything to increase safety by itself; but there is another way in which I should very much like to know whether something could not be done to help. I believe that everyone who has looked into the subject is agreed that to fine motorists—or many of them at any rate—for reckless driving is a very useless form of remedy. A man rich enough to have a car, or a firm if it is a business car, minds very little whether a £5 or a £10 fine in inflicted, more especially as the motorist is usually insured and does not have to pay the fine himself.

EARL RUSSELL indicated dissent.


My noble friend rejects that. If it is inaccurate I will withdraw it. But in any case the infliction of a fine is an unsuitable remedy. I would venture to suggest that a circular might be sent out by the Home Office calling the attention of all tribunals to the fact that they are empowered not only to fine but to suspend the licences of those brought before them and convicted of these offences. I am sure that the suspension of licences is a far more appropriate and effective remedy in these cases. Unless the case is a very bad one you will not get a tribunal to send a motorist to prison. I do not complain of that: I think prison should be kept for those guilty of serious moral as well as serious legal offences, and many of these cases, though one deeply deplores them, are the result of thoughtlessness and carelessness rather than anything which the ordinary man would regard as criminal intention or criminal recklessness. The suspension of licences is an absolutely appropriate remedy. Here is a person who has been in charge of a frightfully dangerous machine—as a motor car is—and has shown that he is incapable of conducting it safely. His licence ought therefore to be suspended, unless there is a very strong reason to the contrary, the moment he has been convicted of dangerous driving or, indeed, of any offence against the Motor Car Acts which implies danger to the public.

There is another direction in which I should like to know whether something could not be done. One of the grave sources of accidents at the present time is the absence of footpaths at the side of roads that are used a great deal, particularly by children going to school. I have in mind a particular road which goes from the little hamlet near which I live down to the village where the school is. It is two miles long and is the main road from London to Lewes. The children have to go down this road in order to go to school. There is no footpath, and I have seen the unhappy little folk constantly cowering in the ditches the moment a motor car passes them—even a motor car driven with full attention to the speed limit. They have evidently been instructed by their parents and guardians that motors are terribly dangerous—as indeed they are—and that their business is to cower into the ditches the moment a car comes into sight, so that they shall not be killed. That is a perfectly outrageous thing. There is no reason in the world why children should be driven off the highway. Quite apart from the invasion of their rights as citizens, which appeals to me as an old lawyer—though I am sorry to say that I cannot claim to be a lawyer now—this does indicate that it is almost impossible for children to be really safe so long as they are on the road.

In these cases I suggest that footpaths ought to be provided, and one of the suggestions that I want to make to the Government is this. I do not know quite what control they have over the Road Board, but why cannot the Road Board make it a condition of giving assistance in respect of any road that a proper footpath should be provided in every case? Where a road is of sufficient importance for the Road Board to be asked to give financial assistance for its improvement, it is surely of sufficient importance to have a footpath provided as well. I venture to ask whether something of that land cannot he done. Possibly it is being done, but I am not aware of it. I think that something should he done in that way, not only by providing footpaths for the roads actually assisted by the Road Board, but also by setting a kind of standard to the various road authorities, and calling their attention prominently to the necessity of providing footpaths, even before they spend a great sum in making the roads more convenient for rapid motor travelling.

There is one other point on which I know I have the sympathy of my noble friend. I do not know how far anything can be done, and I do not know how far the trouble is serious, but I have heard it alleged to be serious. I refer to the great want of uniformity in practice with regard to road signs. I think it would be a very good thing if they could be made more uniform. I do not refer to the shape, in which, so far as I know, there is a fair amount of uniformity. What is needed is uniformity in practice, so that those who are driving may know what the road sign actually means, and so that we shall not have one road authority putting up signs very frequently, and perhaps unnecessarily, while the next authority puts up far too few for the needs of safety on the roads. There again I should have thought that a circular might be issued by the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Transport or, it may be, the Home Office. It is impossible for any one who has not made a complete study of the subject to know what is the jurisdiction of the various Departments in this country, but, whatever is the appropriate authority, I should have thought that it might draw the attention of the road authorities to these and other matters connected with the safety of the roads. I venture very respectfully to press upon my noble friend that, even without legislation, a great deal can be done by administration. I hope and trust that, now that we have a new Government, which ought, at any rate, to have the qualities of a new broom, there may be a quickening up of the Ministry of Transport in connection with the promotion of safety on the roads in this country. I beg to ask my Question and to move for Papers in accordance with my Notice.


My Lords, I want to support the noble Viscount in the appeal that he has made to the Government. It is nothing less than appalling to read every Monday and after any Bank Holiday the list of fatal accidents, of people killed, sometimes, in conditions of really appalling suffering. The figures themselves are terrible to comtemplate. In 1928, in Great Britain, 6,138 people were killed in road accidents, and some 164,000 people were injured. That is to say, something like a whole army was put out of action in a single year. I am specially concerned with a matter which I brought before this House some two or three years ago—namely, the casualties that befall children through motor traffic. The latest figures that I have been able to obtain show that the position still remains very serious. In the Metropolitan Police Area, in 1928, 259 children under the age of fifteen were killed. I have no figures showing how many children were injured, but in proportion to the total figures for the country the number cannot be less than 10,000. In the first quarter of this year the figures showed some diminution. There were 47 children under fifteen killed in London, and I suppose a large number were injured. These figures are simply dreadful. They show that large numbers of children year after year are cut down under the age of fifteen and larger numbers still enter life injured and maimed. Even if there is no permanent physical injury, the mental effects of the shock of the accident must often remain for years and possibly for life.

The causes of these accidents among children in London are mainly two. There are not sufficient playgrounds in the poorer parts, and the children are forced to play in the streets. There is no room for them in their homes, there are no gardens for them, and open spaces are often a considerable distance from their homes. I venture to repeat the suggestion that I made some time ago. Would it not be possible to shut off, for certain hours and on certain days, some of the streets and squares in London so that children could play in them uninterrupted by motor traffic? Children will play in the streets, and it is quite impossible to prevent it. I suggest that we should do what, I understand, is done in the United States, and reserve certain streets at certain times for this purpose.

A good deal of the trouble is caused, no doubt, through the recklessness of some motorists, but it would be unfair to say that all these accidents are due to careless driving. However careful a motorist may be, it is almost impossible in some cases to avoid an accident that occurs through the heedlessness of some small child, or possibly of some careless pedestrian. But undoubtedly a number of accidents in London are due to really reckless driving. I think the newspaper vans are specially to blame in this respect. You see them driving at terrific speed through the street, quite careless of the lives or safety of any persons who happen to be using the road. I believe that much could be done if the noble Viscount's suggestion were carried out of inflicting a severer penalty on those who are convicted of this kind of reckless driving in London. It is true that swift driving is not the same as reckless driving. Swift driving in the country is often perfectly safe; but in London, in the hours of traffic, it is nearly always extremely dangerous.

There is one other point that I should like to raise. I do not know if it would be possible for the noble Earl who is going to reply to tell us, if not now on some other occasion, how many of these accidents are accidents to motor cycles, and how many are accidents which happen in cases when there is pillion riding. Pillion riding in traffic must always be dangerous. Usually the pillion rider is a girl, sitting behind a man, clasping him by the waist or even by the neck, perhaps talking excitedly. The balance of the driver is easily lost, and very often a fatal accident occurs. I do not know if it would be possible for the noble Earl to give us figures showing what number, or what proportion, of these accidents can be attributed to those who are riding motor bicycles. I believe that the whole matter is of such urgency and importance to the happiness and health of so many that His Majesty's Government cannot take too much trouble in trying to find some solution which will reduce this loss of life and the large number of injuries which now occur.


My Lords, you will, I am sure, feel grateful to the noble Viscount who has raised this question, and to the right rev. Prelate who has just sat down. There is undoubtedly very real need for legislation upon the matter. It is a large question, which one cannot easily cover in the course of a few moments, but I should like to say how heartily I associate myself with what was said by the right rev. Prelate in regard to the children, and not only the children in large towns, which he had particularly in mind, but also in many of our villages, where the amenities of the countryside are almost destroyed by the streams of motor cars passing through on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. The only alternative seems to me to be a series of by-passes, which will enable these villagers to enjoy the amenities of their villages and to use them for the purposes for which they were originally meant.

That, of course, is a large subject. For my own part I venture to say that some legislation is really overdue, and I hope that the Government will be able to promise that before long some legislation will be introduced. It is not always easy to make sure what is the cause of an accident. It is not always the obvious cause. If your Lordships will pardon me a personal reminiscence, I remember seeing a horrible and fatal accident to a young man on a bicycle, riding along in a normal way. He was killed by a motor omnibus. The motor omnibus driver was in no way to blame, nor was the rider of the bicycle. The motor omnibus skidded badly. Upon whom lies some of the blame for the skidding of the motor omnibus? Upon some one or other of the local authorities responsible for the building of the roads, in not taking sufficient care to see that the surface does not easily allow skidding in bad weather. If the surface does lend itself to skidding, they ought to take steps to reduce the danger. In the unfortunate accident to which I have referred no one was to blame, except perhaps those responsible for the dangerous condition of the road. Normally the road would be quite safe, but the moment any rain or moisture fell it became a very dangerous road indeed.

Although I support the Motion of the noble Viscount, I hope that no one will imagine that I wish to associate myself with the Bill which he introduced last Session—a Bill which seemed to me to go a great deal further than was at all necessary, and which when referred to a Select Committee of this House received very short shrift from the members of that Committee. Indeed, all through the stages of that Bill it was barely welcomed by any member of the House. Originally the idea was that it should be referred to a Royal Commission. That, however, I think, was not acceptable to the noble Viscount below the Gangway, and the noble Marquess who then led the House, owing to the pressure of fraternal affection, allowed the Bill to go before a Select Committee, where, as I have said, it received very short shrift indeed. A large number of things need to be taken into consideration by the Government. Those large lorries, for instance, conveying tons of bricks, are very dangerous in the present condition of our roads. On the question of punishment I associate myself with the noble Viscount in saying that prison is not always the appropriate punishment. Take, for instance, the ease of the newspaper vans to which the right rev. Prelate referred. The responsibility for fast driving does not rest entirely upon the driver, but upon his employer, who makes it a condition, spoken or unspoken, that the goods should be conveyed much too quickly. If you send the driver to prison you are merely punishing the instrument and not the person who is really responsible, and the instrument is unfairly punished.

There is one final thing which I wish to ask the noble Earl, and it is with regard to the difficult question of lights. We are still in search of the perfect light. Some lights are much too strong, and obviously lead to danger and to accidents. We have not yet discovered the ideal form of light in fog. Would it be possible for one or other of the scientific committees working under the Government to be asked to consider whether they can investigate this question of lamps, and to see whether some more perfect lamp can be discovered for general adoption throughout the country? The prospects of another General Election—and I will not attempt to forecast when that will be—fought during the months of winter, is not at all a reassuring one under present conditions. That, however, is only a side issue, and I venture to repeat that I hope His Majesty's Government will see their way to deal with these matters, and to introduce legislation at no very distant date.


My Lords, my only qualification to speak on this matter is that I habitually drive a car, and I think it is possible even for a motorist, in the course of his experience, to come to some conclusions which may be useful in considering the object which the noble Viscount has in view of increasing the safety of our roads. There are really only two points to which I would like to refer. I cannot help feeling that considering the enormous amount of money that is spent in making our roads straight and their surfaces smooth we might do more to those surfaces and reduce the danger of skidding in bad weather. That point has been brought out by the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, with whom I absolutely agree. My experience at least is that whatever the dangers may be of driving too fast on dry roads, those dangers are at least doubled after the smallest shower of rain. With the modern system of front-wheel braking the slightest inaccuracy of adjustment which may develop during a journey is quite sufficient to render it difficult to control a car on smooth roads, particularly when tram lines have to be taken into consideration. It is obvious that there are technical difficulties in the way of producing an ideal surface, or else it would have been already produced; but I cannot believe that it is impossible to devise some means of rendering less slippery than they are at present various corners and cross-roads, which are usually well known to be dangerous, and I believe that some experiments to that effect have already taken place in Berlin.

I agree entirely with what the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, said with regard to uniformity of the law affecting motoring offences. I cannot really believe that any law is likely to be obeyed which is enforced with such different degrees of severity as the present law relating to the speed limit. I recently heard of a case in which a man was summoned for motoring at 40 miles an hour on a perfectly open road in the middle of the night, whereas many long-distance motor coaches are allowed to travel at higher speeds than that during the day. Again, it is well known that the ten-mile limit is imposed and enforced very differently in different parts of the country. I am aware, of course, that these are only two items out of the many that have to be considered before any Traffic Bill which would be really suitable to modern conditions could be produced. The late Government had very good reasons for not producing a Bill last Session, and it is possible that the present Government may have similar reasons. If that is so and it is impossible to produce a Bill at once, I would suggest that the two points to which I have referred might be considered with a view of their forming the subject of some circular letter such as the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, suggested.


My Lords, I hardly think it quite fair to lay any blame on the Government for delay in introducing legislation, because they have not been very long in office. The previous Government had already laid plans for meeting the difficulties of the present situation in several important ways. They had, as I understand, already initiated a scheme for roughening the surface of roads, which will prevent skidding. That is one item of complaint from this side of the House. We all know that they made very extensive plans for building and widening roads with the vast sums of money which are in the hands of the Government for that purpose. It naturally takes a long time for that work to be carried out, and we must wait to see the result of the action already taken by the Party on this side of the House.

I rise rather to give a warning to the Government in this matter. Please remember that the Bill introduced by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, was such an extreme measure that it defeated itself. Let us take a lesson from that. There is a very important lesson which I have learnt in my Parliamentary experience of thirty years which has taught me the value of remembering what has gone before. There was a celebrated individual, whom you will all remember, called Mr. Joseph Chamberlain. He began his political career as a Socialist; then He became a Radical, then a Liberal, then a Unionist and afterwards a Conservative; and, as his mind broadened by the experience that he gained, he became gradually a great Imperialist. That was the career of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain. This is the warning which I would give to the Government. Being a Socialist but also a business man Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, when at the Board of Trade, thought he would provide the country with such a measure as would be of great benefit to the people. We were at that time on the point of introducing electric traction and electricity in this country, and he inserted in a Bill which, as President of the Board of Trade, he introduced, a provision that any persons starting any works or any buildings in connection with electrical development must hand over their buildings to the Government at a valuation within twenty-five years after they were erected.

What was the result? No one ever started electricity works at all in this country, and I can remember in the first year of my career in Parliament, in 1900, I happened to journey back from Cairo through Alexandria, in both of which places they had electric trams. As my wife insisted upon sleeping every night on the journey home, I had opportunities of seeing the electric trams at Brindisi, Pisa, Naples, Rome, Berne, Lyons, Paris and Calais; but when I arrived in England I could not find an electric tramway anywhere. It was then I made inquiry to find out why England was so far behind in electric traction development, and I found the cause in the Bill introduced by Mr. Joseph Chamberlain under a Radical Government, which had made this very careful provision for the protection of the British public. I do hope that whoever may initiate a Bill with regard to motor travel on our roads, he will take care that it is not a Bill conceived in that very extreme spirit.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has warned me not to follow the career of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, and I rather gathered from the account he gave that, having now reached the stage of Socialism, I was to proceed through these various other stages until I ended as an Imperialist. I am afraid I shall perhaps not have time to do that. The noble Viscount who put down this Question will, I am sure, not have surprised your Lordships by raising the subject. We remember quite well the very acute interest that he took in this matter in the last Parliament and the steps he took to put his Bill forward, and I can assure the noble Lord who has just sat down that we are not proposing to take the exact provisions of that Bill as our model. Indeed, I am sure that the noble Viscount did not expect us to do so. But I shall be able, I hope, to-day to give him an answer which will satisfy him that the matter is at any rate as far forward as could be expected.

The noble Viscount will remember that, as has been mentioned in the course of the debate, when his Bill was before your Lordships' House, a promise was given that the Royal Commission should be asked to make a special Report on these points. Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen, who has been working with his colleagues on that matter, informs us that a Report may be expected by the end of this month which I think was always the date mentioned, on those points which were mentioned, on which they have taken a great deal of evidence. Your Lordships of course realise, and so will the noble Viscount, that we naturally could not introduce a Bill, or finally frame a Bill, until we had very carefully studied that Report; and we propose to do that during the time when the rest of your Lordships will, I hope, be taking your holidays. I think I may say that it will not be impossible—it ought not to be impossible—to have a Bill ready for introduction in November, if the Government should see their way to allow one to be introduced then. What the further fate of that Bill would be in another place and whether time could be found for it are points on which, as your Lordships know, no one in this House ever likes to promise, and I think very few people in the other House ever like to promise. Your Lord ships read the King's speech, and saw that there is a full programme of work. Whether a Bill of this sort could be regarded as non-contentious—it is not a Party Bill, but it involves a great many contentious matters—and what would be the opportunity of passing it into law, I am not in a position to tell your Lord ships. Certainly, if the Government think fit to authorise it, a Bill could, I think, be ready to be introduced in the autumn perhaps in your Lordships' House, which might be a very good place for its first consideration. More than that I do not feel that I could say with any certainty. No doubt His Majesty's Government will be influenced by the views which have been expressed by noble Lords who have spoken to-day as to the urgency of this matter.

I ought, I think, to say that I have not quite the same optimism as the noble Viscount regarding the effects of legislation in reducing accidents. I hope that legislation will do something to reduce accidents, but I am very much afraid that it will stop a long way from doing all that is necessary to prevent accidents. The evidence that was given before the Select Committee on the noble Viscount's Bill, and the evidence which has been given before the Royal Commission on Transport, goes to show, I think, that legislation never plays the major part, but that what is far more necessary is the education of the pedestrian public and the improvement of the manners of the driving motorist. Those are matters really of instruction and education in which a great deal of work has been done, to which the noble Viscount referred, by the Association called "Safety First." I think your Lordships need no assurance that the instruction that has been given to children in elementary schools and the warnings in this matter, have done a great deal to diminish the loss of child life. It seems to me that it is really in that direction that we must look for the effective diminution of the large number of accidents and that a good deal can be done. That something can be done by legislation, I agree.

The noble Viscount then went on to say a great deal that was interesting but about which, unfortunately, he did not give me notice beforehand and I may not be able to deal fully with it. He said that a great deal could be done by administrative action. He knows that I entirely agree with him in that view. I think that if magistrates more sternly exercised their powers, if they more readily suspended the licences of people who show that they have driven without any consideration for their fellow-creatures, and if, perhaps, in extreme cases they passed sentence of imprisonment instead of fines, then they in their turn would be helping to make motor traffic safer. I do not know that it would come within the province of my Department to issue any circulars to magistrates, and the noble Viscount knows that it is a thing which the Home Office are always rather reluctant to do; but I will see that the matter is reported in the proper quarter. More than that I cannot say.

The noble Viscount asked whether there were any statistics about accidents. There are some statistics. Unfortunately, as I have had no notice I cannot tell him how far they extend. But I can tell him this, which I hope will be of great interest to him and to your Lordships. About eighteen months ago the late Minister of Transport asked the London Traffic Advisory Committee to prepare a report examining in detail the fatal accidents of London. I am not quite sure, but I think it was only in reference to children. The Advisory Committee have given an immense amount of work entirely voluntarily to the preparation of that report which, as your Lordships will see, was outside the natural scope of their duties. I am told that the report is in a position to be presented to the Minister almost immediately, when of course it will be available for the public. I think it will be found that it gives very useful and interesting information from which, no doubt, some conclusions may be drawn.

Among other things, I know that it mentions the point raised by the right rev. Prelate about the difficulty of children finding places to play in, and it considers the question of opening further playgrounds. I do not think it deals with the suggestion that has been made to close streets. I do not quite know how that can be dealt with, because, without legislation, there is the difficulty that there is no power in anybody to close a public street so as to enable children to play in it. Large as are the powers of the Minister under the London Traffic Act, they do not extend to that, and it would be necessary to have fresh legislation to make it possible. I am not quite sure prima facie whether it is desirable in itself that a public highway should be closed to the purpose for which it was constructed in order to be used as a playground. I think it would be far more desirable to insist on having existing playgrounds open when possible and, if necessary, perhaps enlarged, and possibly to make some of the squares available for some of the children to play in.

The noble Viscount hinted at one matter which, I confess, surprised me very much. He said that motorists did not mind fines because they were insured against them. I have never heard of it, and I should be inclined to think that to attempt to insure against the results of the criminal law would be to try to enter into an illegal contract. I do not think any such contracts ever are entered into in fact. I do not know whether the noble Viscount has any evidence upon that. He then said something about the Road Board. May I remind him that the Road Board has been dead for a good many years? There is no such body as the Road Board now. All those powers are now administered by the Ministry of Transport. The Road Fund, of course, is in existence. It is to that Fund that the Ministry looks, and it is by the use of that Fund that the Ministry has such control as it possesses over the highways of this country. The highways, of course, are not vested in the Ministry but in the local authority. The local authority maintains and controls them; but no doubt the advice of the Minister, in view of the very generous gifts by which that advice is accompanied, is listened to by local authorities. I think the Ministry have done and will do in the future what they can to make the roads safer. In the case of nearly all new roads—I am not sure that it is not all roads—footpaths are constructed at the sides of them in order to lessen the dangers referred to. With regard to uniformity of signs frequent circulars have been addressed to local authorities and the matter is continually being watched. If the noble Viscount can give me any particular instance of want of uniformity. I would have that looked into.

Then I was asked, I forget by which noble Lord, if I could give the ratio of motor cycle accidents and pillion riders. I do not know whether those statistics exist. I certainly cannot give them to-day. I have not seen any such statistics; but I will make inquiry to find out whether any such statistics are available. The noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, asked if we could not come to some conclusion or make some further experiments with regard to lights which would not dazzle the public. As the noble Earl knows, that has been the subject of a great deal of inquiry, and very expert brains have been employed upon it. They have tried all sorts of experiments, but I am afraid that the only answer at the moment is that no light has been devised that can be regarded as altogether satisfactory. The noble Earl need not take it that because that is all that has been done it is all that will be done. The matter is still being investigated and considered, and I hope that some solution of the question may be arrived at. The best brains that we could get hold of were devoted to making research and experiment in this matter, without any result so final that one could feel justified in imposing it by legislation on all motorists. Until that stage is reached all you have is a pious recommendation. But every one of your Lordships will appreciate that before you come to that stage you must be satisfied that the device is a satisfactory one—so satisfactory that it will be proper to impose it.

I can only say that I hope time may be found for the introduction of this Bill and that your Lordships, when it is produced, will give it that careful consideration which I know you are anxious to give to this matter, and will believe that everything will be done by the Ministry, with the assistance of that valuable Report of the Royal Commission for which we are looking, to make it the best Bill possible in the circumstances.


My Lords, I shall not, of course, pursue my Motion for Papers, particularly in view of the very courteous reply which the noble Earl has made to me. I thank him very warmly. I am sure he went as far as he could. I wish he had been able to go a little further in the promise of the introduction of legislation, but, of course, I recognise that the Government must have time to consider the Report of the Royal Commission. I admit that the power of legislation is by no means universal, and I agree that if everybody always behaved reasonably in all circumstances no legislation of this kind would be necessary. That is obvious, and I trust my noble friend's colleagues will take note of the great limits which the usefulness of legislation really has in all respects. I have never been much of a believer in it myself, and I am not now, but I think this is the kind of case in which legislation may be of use.

It is a case where, I venture to think, with great respect to my noble friends in this House, public opinion is much in advance of the kind of views which I hear expressed around me. I believe that the feeling is very strong owing to the circumstance that it mainly prevails among the poorer classes of this country. They have no means of corporate expression. Nowadays, if you want to get anything done, you can only do it by combining and making some kind of society, or league, or association, in order to press it in some way or other upon the people. The motor trade has an immense number of these associations. I was amazed at the number of them who came before the Committee. Motor manufacturers, automobile clubs, automobile associations one after another came in a kind of procession, all saying pretty much the same thing; all saying: "Whatever you do don't touch the motor trade." That was, in fact, the burden of their evidence. "It is far more important that we should make our money than that the people should be safe!"—that was the burden of their argument. I trust that will not appeal to any Government in this country too much, least of all, perhaps, to a Government of the character which we now have the great privilege of possessing. I earnestly hope that they will produce legislation.

A good many severe things have been said, particularly by my noble friend Lord Beauchamp, who went out of his way, if I may respectfully say so, to give me a good bang on the head for my Bill of last Session—a good many things of severity have been said about that Bill. I am far from saying the Bill was perfect. It was a Bill produced by a private member of this House without the assistance of a Department, without any great association at his back to tell him exactly what could and could not be done. It was necessarily a Bill mainly for the purpose of calling attention to the subject, and inducing, as I hoped, the Government to take the matter up and produce a more acceptable measure. But all the same I believe that the great mass of the provisions in that Bill were sound and right, and ought to form part of the legislation of this country. I do not for a moment say that every provision ought to be enacted. As to the provisions which caused so much anxiety amongst certain people—the provisions for altering the surface of the roads, compulsory insurance and so on—there were about three provisions which, I admit, might be postponed at any rate, and we might see whether we could get on without them; but the other provisions were in the main founded on official precedents, and I believe should stand.

In any case I hope the Government will not be afraid to produce an effective measure. I am sure it is a case in which they will have great support from public opinion if they can really do something to stop this terrible evil. I quite agree you cannot do much by legislation directly, but you can do this. You can stop gross outrages, and you can educate the public and motor drivers and motor users to a great extent. If they know that Parliament, which they still respect as the great repository of the sovereign power of this country, does think that something ought to be done that will produce a very considerable educative effect on every one concerned. I am quite satisfied it will. Public opinion will harden and strengthen and gain courage to enforce its views. I earnestly hope the Government will press this matter forward. After all, it is a very, very serious matter, and not one which can be brushed aside and put behind all sorts of measures which, though perhaps politically more exciting, will, I am quite sure, have much less to do with the welfare of the people of this country. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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