§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, the privilege of introducing legislation into your Lordships' House is one that ought not to be lightly exercised. I have availed myself of this opportunity more often than most of your Lordships, but, I would like to say that I have sought on every occasion to guide my actions by considering two things: first, that the matter was one of wide general importance; and, secondly, that there was good reason to hope that it might ultimately find its place upon the Statute Book. Nor have I been wholly disappointed. I think that every one of the many measures to which at one time or another I have asked your Lordships to agree have ultimately found their way safely to port in another place, with the one great exception of the Divorce Bill which, I grieve to say, seems stuck permanently upon the mud banks where it will remain until it can be lifted into deep water by the rising tide of popular opinion.
I have attempted to obey those principles in introducing this Bill, and I hope that in nothing I shall say I shall be thought to be taking a reactionary or a bitter view of either motor vehicles or the people who drive them. Indeed, the invention of the internal combustion engine is one of the greatest of the triumphs that have signalised man's victory over material things. To take a series of pieces of assorted metal and so to arrange them that by the addition of mineral oil and an electric spark you can drive the accumulated mass through the air, under or over the water, or along the roads, is an achievement of which I think we may all well be proud; and when we see the amazing and exquisite delicacy with which these machines are constructed, how they will respond to the 146 faintest touch, to even the feeblest hand, how their pace can be regulated so that at one time they may be out-distanced by a snail and at another they may out-soar an eagle, I think many will feel, as I do, that in looking at these instruments you can believe that the vision of the old Hebrew prophet has been realised, and that the spirit of the living Creator is within the wheels.
But none the less, no one can doubt that this invention has within it possibilities of greater evil and unhappiness for the human race than any invention that has ever been discovered. For 900 years the unbroken bulwarks of this country have been the sea. The last War showed that our ramparts had been breached, and for the first time in our history missiles were rained down upon and struck the heart of London. Nothing will stand between this unhappy world and the liberation of all the forces of hell during the next war except the heroic efforts of men like our noble friend Lord Cecil of Chelwood, whom I have pleasure in seeing here this afternoon. And remember that if that once takes place wars will no longer be fought between armed men upon the battle field, but against perfectly defenceless, perfectly offenceless people who are living in peace in their homes. And when you turn from the international view of this invention to the private use of it at home I think it is impossible to overlook all the mischief that it has caused. I realise to the full the great advantages. I see what enormous gains there have been in enabling people in country villages to have cheap and swift access to neighbouring towns, and everyone can see the obvious convenience that it affords; but when you come to look at the other side of the picture I think it is grave indeed.
No one will deny for a moment, in the first place, that wherever it has gone, it has completely destroyed all the beauty and the peace of life. I know I shall be told that beauty and peace are immaterial things, that you must not weigh them in the balance and try to test them in the scales against material gain. That may be right, but I have a strong feeling that the time will come when all the things which to-day we regard as non-utilitarian will be found to be the real things of life, and that the other things which seem so much a matter of sub- 147 stance will be found to be nothing but a show. It is not merely the beauty and peace of life that these instruments have destroyed. When we look at what has happened along our country roads, I cannot help thinking that there is a record disclosed of which we have every reason to be ashamed. I know one road—it is a most beautiful country road—which lies between two towns, and the other day I was walking along that road for a few moments, perhaps three minutes. No fewer than three cars passed me with their wheels almost touching the off fringe of the grass, one after the other, and within a hundred yards there was a village school. Your Lordships will not be surprised, though I trust you will be pained, to hear that when I mentioned this I was told: "Oh, yes, only two days ago a boy of nine years when crossing the road was killed by one of these cars."
Killed by one of these cars! No mention was made of it and nothing resulted. I will point out in a moment that nothing ever does result. The only thing that has happened has been something that has happened in the privacy of that child's home into the intimacies of which I will not venture to penetrate. I know that it can easily be said that children are careless creatures, and, not that they must expect to be run over but at any rate that they are a great nuisance to motorists. Well, yes; but are these machines going to kill all the gaiety of a child? Are children in future to creep as unwillingly out of school as they have for centuries crept unwillingly into it, and if so, for what reason? For this reason, and for this reason alone, that the people who drive these motor cars decline to pass those schools at a pace that would have been considered furious driving in the days of the horse. If they were only under regulation there would be no need whatever for these horrible things, and yet to-day I am quite satisfied, that we offer up year by year to the Moloch of speed more children than were ever sacrificed to the Moloch of fire in the days of Carthage.
Did your Lordships happen to see the other day—I am sure you could not have read it without emotion—a case of a woman who picked up a soiled and bleeding bundle in the road, and took it to 148 the hospital only to find when all the stains of filth were moved away, that she was carrying the broken body of her own dead child of six? Nobody punished; certainly not. No steps taken—why should they be? The child may have been guilty of negligence. If anybody is guilty of negligence of course he must sacrifice his life, but you must not expect motor cars to drive at a speed of less than 20 or 30 miles an hour down the road whether the children are there or whether they are not. What is the result? The result is to be found in a series of figures that are, I think, of amazing eloquence. During the last three years, and the last three years alone, there have been 20,691 people killed on our roads and more than half a million injured. And I want your Lordships to understand that at the present moment the classification of these incidents is no longer what it was as between accidents and non-accidents. It is between fatal and non-fatal injuries. These represent the injuries that have taken place during that period of time.
I never refer to figures without a feeling of my utter inadequacy to make them live. When once an incident of life has got reduced to a statistic it has lost its vitality and if once it gets into a Blue-book it is immured for ever in a sarcophagus. I wonder if any one of your Lordships has ever had the misfortune to see a man struck down and lying covered with dirt and blood in the road. If you have you have seen something you would gladly forget and the memory of which will haunt you and make you unhappy for some time. If it were only realised that these people who are killed and maimed have relations and friends it would be realised that for every one of these incidents in that list to which I have referred there are some four or five people who have been made profoundly wretched by the consequences of that occurrence. Half a million people injured! If you take only four times that number of people concerned it means that two million people have been hurt in three years. For what? For nothing that I can see. And if you take the other figure of 20,000 people killed and multiply that by four, you have 80,000 people in three years made desolate by death.
149 If this were something that we could not help, if this were the price we had to pay for our advance in mechanical knowledge, be it so. This country is always prepared to make sacrifices for something that is worth doing. But is this worth doing? What is it? It is simply to enable our roads to be turned into racing tracks and to prevent people who ought to know better from checking their speed. My Lords, for twenty years I had a motor car and it went everywhere—many times backwards and forwards to Scotland, over the countryside and everywhere—and never once did it touch or put in hazard a single living thing, neither man, nor beast, nor bird. I have asked many of my friends of their experiences, and they have all told me the same thing, with only one exception, and that was a man who said he had driven 50,000 miles and on one occasion he had injured a duck, but that was all. These things are not necessary. Do they happen to you? You know they do not. The reason why they are necessary is that, according to my statement to your Lordships, the law has been rendered impotent and contemptible to deal with the offences.
Let me deal now with some of the cases. The other day a man was driving a sports car. Now a sports car is a car that is designed for no purpose excepting pace. If I say that in my humble judgment they ought never to be driven anywhere except on the race track, that is merely an expression of my opinion. It is pace, and pace alone, for which these cars are designed. In addition, they have an arrangement by which the driver can cut off the silencer which prevents some of the worst features of noise in connection with a car. When that is done the thing bellows like a bull in pain. One of these cars, driven with the silencer cut out, comes round a corner in the suburb of a town. That is an indisputable fact. The man driving it knows so little where he has got to that he thinks he has struck the kerb when really he has run over and killed a policeman standing in the middle of the road. The man drives on. He says he did not know he had struck a policeman. Be it so. He is told at once. He drives on and says he then did not know where he was driving—which must have been comforting to people in the road.
150 Ultimately he is brought to trial. The facts are all explained, and then what does the Judge say? The Judge says: "You must not convict this man. Do you think he was negligent? That is not enough. You must find he was guilty of a grave crime against the State." That suggests of course, to anyone's mind, high treason, the Rye House conspiracy, or the Gunpowder Plot. It suggests nothing whatever in relation to running over and killing a policeman standing doing his duty. The necessary result is that the jury instantly acquits the accused, without leaving the box. Then we come to the final act of this elaborate trial. The Judge says to the man: "I advise you, as an older man than yourself, in your own interests not to drive the car again." Why? He had done nothing wrong. Why should he not drive the car again? Killing a man did not matter. Why should he be advised not to drive the car again? Was there ever a case which realised with greater dramatic force the truth that you should not first clench your fist and then wag your forefinger? That showed that if by your negligent act you do not commit a grave crime against the State, but kill a man on duty and then drive on, you need not trouble. You incur no greater penalty than that of a paternal admonition from the Bench.
That is by no means the worst example of this class of case. Let us just look for a moment at one or two quite recent reports, reports of things that have happened within the last few weeks. There is one that can be told in these words. A woman was knocked down and killed by a motor car just by Park Lane, by a car that was said to be going at from 45 to 50 miles an hour in a crowded London street. The jury said that the woman lost her life through being knocked down by a car driven negligently at an excessive speed. That is why she died. But they added that the negligence was not of a gross and criminal nature. That is exactly what all these juries are doing to-day, and I am not surprised. It is no reflection on them. Remember that if you say to a jury, "This man is charged with negligence, but there are degrees of negligence, negligence in the sense of a crime against the State and negligence not of that description," then you must affect the minds of the jury and they will not return a conviction. No Judge has ever yet been able to define what is 151 criminal negligence. In consequence juries do what they have always done, and what I hope juries always will do, when a man is brought to trial. If they know the thing is neutral and they are given no direct guidance they will acquit, and so they do. It is true that by negligence this woman lost her life. It is true that no man ought ever to dream of driving at 50 miles an hour down Park Lane, but the negligence was not gross, and so there is nothing more whatever to be done.
Let me refer to one or two other cases. Here is a case where a man killed three people. The first person who saw the occurrence was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy. I do not suppose he would be too squeamish-minded on the matter of speed. He estimated the speed at 55 or 60 miles an hour. A chauffeur, who also could not be called a prejudiced witness, said the car approached at a terrific speed. Another person, who was a motor engineer, said the car was travelling at 50 miles an hour. In that car there was the man who was driving, and in the front seat there was another man and seated on his knee by the wheel was a woman who was the owner of the car. The car skidded, ran on the pavement, and killed a man and his two children. What is the result? The result is that it was a very naughty thing to do, but it was not a criminal act at all; it was merely accidental. Accidental! —although the man was in fact fined £15 for going at a reckless speed. You may go at a reckless speed, kill three people at £5 a piece, and there is nothing more to be done to you!
My Lords, you can multiply these cases. They go on and on and on in just the same way, and they all illustrate what I am saying—that a man may by his negligent act kill or maim upon the King's highway and be absolutely free of any liability for his act, either civil or criminal. He is not liable civilly because he is compulsorily insured and he is not liable criminally because you have to show that the negligence is of a class which has never been subject to definition. The consequence is that a man may go on doing it and these figures are the result. If you could have certain punishment for this—I do not say it should be necessarily severe, but it should be certain—there would be an end of this and we should not have this 152 shameful record of deaths on the highway. It may be said: "Oh, but manslaughter is a terrible crime." Yes, but the penalty is extremely elastic and it may vary from one day to any length of time the Judge thinks proper. The Judge can adjust the punishment to the degree of negligence and I say without hesitation, you may safely trust the administration of such a law to the Judges the quality of whom, I am glad to think on seeing two recent appointments, has not been affected by the most unjust and unwise attack made upon them by the Government.
So much for the clause which provides that if a man negligently kills another he shall be guilty of manslaughter. The next is that if he negligently maims he shall be guilty of unlawful wounding, and in both cases he shall be brought within the purview of the Criminal Law, which he is not now. The next provision is one which it appears to me must have been overlooked when the last Motor Act was passed. It is to provide that if a man knocks down and kills or injures another and drives on that shall be a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment without the option of a fine. I wonder is it possible to conceive a meaner, more cruel, more cowardly action than that of knowingly injuring a fellow-creature and leaving him to die, and driving on as fast as you can? You will ask what is the present position. If you look through the Act of Parliament you will find that if a man does this he is guilty of an offence. All through Acts of Parliament you find you may be guilty of offences—guilty if you cross the Menai bridge—and you hunt to find out what will happen when you have committed the offence. I have run it down here. The first time you knock down and kill a man, even by negligence, and drive on you are liable to a fine of £20 at the maximum and nothing more, and with luck you might get off with £5. That is the view our Legislature takes of this offence.
I hesitate to use words that may seem too strong, but I say that is a disgrace. If there is one thing this country prides itself on it is on the readiness of every one to risk life and limb to help others and this positively puts a premium on the man who has knocked down and injured another and drives on in the hope 153 that he will not be found out. What happened the other day? A man did such a thing, knocked down another, left him lying in the road, and drove on. The creature he had injured was left there only to be put out of suffering by another car that drove over him. I do not know the details relating to the second car, but if you cannot be expected to see a policeman standing at his duty in the road you can hardly be expected to see a bundle lying in the mud. It may be that the driver of the second car could not see, but the man who was responsible ought to have had something in the nature of years of imprisonment.
I cannot conceive anything so utterly un-English as this knocking a man over and driving on. Supposing you take it from the area and region of motor cars. Let me put what I believe to be exactly similar illustrations. Let me assume that a man either negligently or by accident set fire to a house and then ran away for the people inside to burn. What would you say? Supposing a man is rowing and tumbles one of his passengers into the water and rows on, what would happen? There would be mutterings of "murder!" and I should be surprised if that man did not take his stand on a criminal charge. To leave a man negligently on the road after knocking him down is the same thing as negligently to set fire to a house and leave the person inside to burn, only that it is done with a different instrument.
I hope I have not made the profound mistake of misunderstanding the feeling of your Lordships' House, but I cannot help believing that you must feel as I do and will be as anxious as I am to redeem our law from something which is to my mind a reproach, a disgrace, and a very terrible thing when contemplated in contrast with the deeds of a man who will go down a mine, a fireman who will scale ladders, and a man who will face storms at sea to save others. Do your Lordships know how many men were convicted of this offence last year? The number was 590, and when you know how wide are the meshes of the law in its dealing with motor offences you can understand how many more offences there must have been. I hope your Lordships will agree with me in saying that it is time this thing stopped and that 154 there ought to be a punishment which is punishment without the option of a fine. To many on the road a fine is nothing at all. It may be to some, but to many it is not; but imprisonment, I hope, is. I have done my very best to be as temperate as I could in framing the punishment under this clause. I have tried to look at it in every light and I admit that the only light in which I can see it is red, but I have made this sentence as mild as it can be. I have only provided that the man shall have some sentence of imprisonment and that it shall not exceed six months. I have not even added hard labour. I hope your Lordships will approve of my temperance in that respect.
Now I come to the last part of the Bill. The last part of the Bill deals with a totally different matter, and yet a very grave one. I have no interest in railway companies. Like everybody else who knows nothing whatever about the working of somebody else's business, I very often think they might do their work much better than they do, and I admit that I do not find their long list of directors imposing in the best sense of the word; but none the less these people have established one of the greatest industries in the kingdom. Not only that, they conduct it with greater skill and greater care than any railways, I believe, in any part of the world. The condition of their lines, their care of their passengers, and the courtesy of their officials, in my opinion exceed anything that I have ever met anywhere else.
Remember this. These railway companies have not only had to pay the market price of every inch of ground on which they lay their rails, but they have had to pay what a benevolent jury thinks is the market price plus 10 per cent. for having had it compulsorily acquired. In those circumstances they construct their rails, build their stations, and run their cars, and now suddenly they are faced with a competition which I think is on the whole the most unjust and most unwise I have ever known. I ask your Lordships to remember this. These heavy vans and motor lorries have turned the roads into railways. You cannot deny that. Only the other day I saw a terrific thing approaching smoking down the road. It was nothing but a liberated railway train, with two enormous trucks 155 behind it, and the smoke blinded everybody. Nobody could see where he was going, and the noise was such as would have been condemned on an ordinary railway. These things going along the road are subject to none of the restrictions to which railway companies are subjected. Railway companies have to fence their lines. If they left them unfenced and an accident happened they would be liable. If there is a level crossing they have to build a bridge over it and to put up gates, and yet I say without hesitation that I would rather cross the level crossings which I know blindfolded, than walk with my eyes open across some of the roads as I know them in the country.
This traffic has got on to the road and it seems to be increasing in volume and certainly in weight. The result is something which is extremely unpleasant to contemplate. In the first place the noise absolutely destroys all chance of peace for anybody who lives by the road along which it goes. Day and night the thing is incessantly going by, and the regulations which have been made are perfectly useless to check it. In the next place it does this. It shakes the foundations of the houses and destroys their stability, and I would ask your Lordships to think what that means. In every case where a tenant is under a repairing lease that tenant is bound to repair the damage done by these things out in the road, which have made his life a burden to him. Where the tenant is not under a repairing lease the landlord has to do the repairs himself. I want to know why property is to be destroyed in this manner, with practically no check upon it at all.
There is another thing which has happened. If all these heavy lorries were owned by one person they could be stopped at the instance of any person on the side of the road, on the ground that the thing was a nuisance. The law is quite capable of protecting rights when infringed by individuals. That I do not doubt. But the reason why you cannot stop these lorries now is that there is a conglomeration of them, and you cannot say that any one person has caused the nuisance, any more than the unhappy camel can say which part of the load it was that broke his back. This is a nuisance of which the law has cognisance but for which there is no remedy, 156 because you cannot concentrate it in one hand.
Here again I have attempted to be as moderate as I can. The main Act provides by Schedule that what are called locomotives and motor tractors shall not go at more than three miles an hour within any city, town or village, and five miles elsewhere. Nevertheless, in spite of these regulations I can get out for any five-mile walk and give you enough summonses to occupy the magistrates for a week. The regulations are not only not obeyed, but the disobedience is frequently advertised, in order that you may see what a wonderful car it is. Goods vehicles are not so restricted. Locomotives and motor tractors are different things, but a vehicle carrying heavy goods may be just as big a nuisance, and may do all the things these heavy locomotives do, and I only ask that in the city, town or village they may be restricted to a speed of five miles an hour. Who is hurt by such a provision as that? Five miles an hour is a very comfortable pace, and cities, town and villages are not spread all over the land. There is plenty of room in which these vehicles can exercise themselves outside of the cities, towns, and villages. It is in part these heavy cars that are responsible for many of the accidents, because the heavier a car the more difficult it is to check, and if within the city, town and village you check these cars, and enforce the law and make it to be respected, and not a laughing stock, then I think we shall have done a great deal to reduce this toll to which I have referred.
I have no wish to go on complaining of these things that have happened, and that may be part of the necessary and inevitable result of progressive civilisation. I dislike the attitude of always denying that things that are are good, and always saying that things that were were better, and yet one cannot wholly avoid the feeling, for it is one of the inescapable penalties of advancing years. But to one thing I have never shut my eyes. I have never thought that the chariot of progress was a triumphal car that scattered blessings all along its track. I have always known that it was a juggernaut, grinding men and nations alike beneath its wheels, and of the truth of that the whole world is to-day my witness. Notwithstanding that, there is something grown up in the last few years which to my mind out- 157 weighs a thousandfold every material advantage that we gain. It is that increasing regard for the comfort and happiness of other people. It is that feeling which prevents any man from being completely happy if he contemplates the undeserved unhappiness of other people. It is, to use a word which has been stained and soiled by over-use, the spirit of humanity; and it is because I feel that by certain people, who drive these cars that spirit has been mocked, derided, and set at nought that I ask your Lordships to strengthen the hands of the law against them and give a Second Reading to this Bill. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a —(Lord Buckmaster.)
THE EARL OF KINNOULL
My Lords, I have neither the eloquence nor the command of rhetoric of the noble and learned Lord to state as fully as I should like my reasons for opposing this Bill. From what the noble and learned Lord says you would suppose that you had on the one hand the motorist and on the other hand the pedestrian and that it is a sort of warfare and battlefield of the roads between them. But really this Bill is altogether too drastic. The laws are already perfectly adequate to deal with these things. The noble and learned Lord desires by Clause 1 to enact that any driver of a motor vehicle who kills a man owing to negligence shall be held to be guilty of manslaughter. Surely it has struck the noble and learned Lord that there is such a thing as contributory negligence. It has happened before now that a motorist has been driving at a speed which he should not have been on a wet road and therefore has been guilty of negligence; but if a pedestrian has stepped out in front of him, and he has put on the brakes and skidded, it is equally the pedestrian's fault. Has it occurred to the noble and learned Lord that the pedestrian should also be had up for causing grievous bodily harm to the motorist?
Clause 2 deals with a matter which, it seems to me, is already sufficiently covered by the law as it stands. No ordinary driver would dream of going on if he had knocked down or hurt anybody, and this can only apply in the case of thieves or people who are under the influence of drink, in which case the law is already adequate to deal with the 158 offence. In Clause 3 the noble and learned Lord would appear to me to want to go back to the days when one hired a man with a red flag to walk in front of the car to warn people that it was coming. I notice that the noble and learned Lord at the end of his remarks said that heavy vehicles could not possibly stop, that the heavier the vehicle the more difficult it was to pull up. I can personally assure the noble and learned Lord that that is not so, and that in many cases, especially of the larger type of motor coach, the brakes, which are of the hydraulic pattern, are very considerably better than the brakes on most private motor cars. Further, in the case of motor coaches plying for public hire, they are inspected every now and again by the police. The noble and learned Lord also referred to steam engines. If he brought in a Bill dealing only with steam engines on the road I might conceivably support him, because I suffer very much from the smoke and steam that these engines give out, but I do not suppose that that is a matter of such general interest as the rest of this Bill. The noble and learned Lord stated all sorts of hard cases which, the way he put them, almost make one weep. I really think his point of view is a little ridiculous. The law is perfectly adequate to deal with these things, and I hope that your Lordships will not give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT SANKEY)
My Lords, let me say at once that I sympathise very heartily indeed with many of the observations of my noble and learned friend, although, if he will permit me to say so, some of them were a little wide of the mark. For example, I entirely share his views of the terrible possibilities of future aeroplane war; I entirely share his views with regard to the heroism of miners; and I entirely share his views with regard to the repairing leases of those people who live on public highways. Perhaps I am even more unbiased than the noble and learned Lord himself, and for these reasons. He has told you that he once had a motor car. I have never been the owner of a motor car, and I never intend to be. For sixty-four and a-half years I have been a pedestrian, and a pedestrian I propose to remain, if I am 159 allowed to by the motoring community. In all these matters we must have some proportion, and while I sympathise with the object of the noble and learned Lord, I am not quite so sure whether one can go as far as he does, for one is rather of the opinion that the difficulty here is not with the law, but with the proper enforcement of the law.
Would you permit me to do a thing which I seldom do in this House, and that is to relate to you my experience, which is not perhaps useless in this matter, for I was for nearly fifteen years a Judge of the King's Bench Division before I came here, and I have tried hundreds of these cases, both civil and criminal? I do not like to use words of rhetoric, and I do not like to apply the word "appalling," but I quite admit that there is an appalling number of accidents—not only accidents to life, but people are maimed and incapacitated. In addition to that, the Law Courts are choked with cases of this character. Therefore one is rather tempted, when one sees the number of accidents, and sees the number of cases in the Courts, to lose one's sense of proportion.
I am afraid, too, that the terrors of the law do not act as a deterrent to the reckless motorist. Let me tell you why. It is extremely difficult at Assizes to get a conviction against a motorist and the reason is this. The jury at once say: "Oh well, this man never meant to kill a man." Of course that is absurd, because, if he meant to kill him, he would have been guilty of murder. Then they add: "And the widow is sure to be compensated. Do not let us put on the man the stigma of sending him to prison." Therefore they refuse to convict; and I am sorry to say, too, that that spirit has got into the Civil Courts. Inasmuch as a man was liable, as the result of an accident to pay £750 out of his own pocket, he thought twice before he was a reckless driver, but now it is a temptation to many people to say: "Well, even though there is an accident, it is covered by insurance"; and therefore both in the Criminal Courts and the Civil Courts there is a tendency for motorists not to pay the just penalties laid down.
Dealing now with another part of the Bill: no doubt the competition with railways has induced heavy motor traffic to 160 proceed along the roads at a very high rate of speed—in my opinion, far too high a speed, but unlike the noble and learned Lord who said he was not biased, there I am afraid I am biased because I am a railway shareholder. I am sorry to say that my interest is rapidly diminishing, but at the same time I have some small interest left in the ordinary shares of English railways. Now I think we must be careful in endeavouring to escape from one evil not to fall into another, and I am afraid that if your Lordships do give a Second Reading to this Bill you may be altering what has been the English law with regard to manslaughter for centuries, and rather by a side wind.
Let me give your Lordships an example. There has always been in our law a distinction between civil negligence which exposes a person to damages in a Law Court and criminal negligence which exposes him to conviction and, possibly, fine and imprisonment. In a civil action a plaintiff may urge many different sorts of negligence. He may say that the defendant did not sound his horn. He may say that the defendant was on the wrong side. He may say that the defendant was driving too fast. He may say that the defendant did not keep a proper look-out. Supposing a jury were to find that it was perfectly true that a defendant did not sound his horn and, therefore, was liable civilly in damages, the effect of this Bill, if passed, would be to make that man criminally responsible and to make him liable to a term of imprisonment, as my noble and learned friend said up to the term of his natural life though that would not happen. Are you prepared, therefore, to approximate the liability in criminal cases to the liability in civil cases and to make a motorist, who is guilty, perhaps, of some quite minor act of negligence, liable to a long term of imprisonment?
Let me give you another example. Supposing a man motoring along a high road takes his eye off the position in front of him for one moment, the jury may at once say in that case that he was negligent and ought to pay damages. But if this Bill passes, not only would he be civilly liable for taking his eye for one moment off the position in front of him, but he might be criminally liable and be sentenced to a long term of imprisonment.
161 In summing up a criminal case on a charge of manslaughter there is all the difference in the world between what you tell the jury as to civil liability and what you say in regard to criminal liability. I perfectly agree with my noble and learned friend that there has been no exact definition. Learned Judges—I have the cases here, but I will not trouble your Lordships with them—have endeavoured to distinguish between civil negligence and criminal negligence by using all sorts of adjectives. They have used the words "wicked," "reckless," "criminal" and so on about the latter. There has been that distinction in the English law for generation after generation. Let us see what the effect of the passing of this Bill is likely to be. Supposing a widow brings an action in the Civil Courts for the death of her husband and the allegation that she makes is that it was caused by the negligence of the defendant in not sounding his horn. I can imagine what counsel who appear for the defendant will say. They will at once say: "Members of the jury, are you going to find my client negligent for not sounding his horn? You know what the consequences are. He may be prosecuted and sent to prison. As a matter of fact this particular offence was a very venial one and will be amply compensated for by damages in a civil case." It is not necessary to amend the law, but one thing is necessary. It is necessary to enforce it.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Hear, hear.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am going, if I may, to tell your Lordships what the experience of the Home Office is upon the matter, and may I say that it is my own experience as a Judge of Assize for many years. As the law stands it is the common experience, for example, that a coroner's jury, while not exonerating a driver from blame, will find that his negligence was not of so culpable a nature as to constitute manslaughter. The effect of such a finding by a coroner's jury in practice is that it is much easier for the widow of the deceased man, if he leaves a widow, to recover under Lord Campbell's Act. There is, however, a real danger, which is spoken of by people who have had experience in trying these cases, that if a jury were faced with the alternative of finding a driver guilty of 162 manslaughter or of exonerating him altogether, they would in many cases adopt the latter course even though the law were altered as provided in the clause. Unfortunately—I say it with a full appreciation of what I am saying—experience has shown that magistrates, as a rule, are inclined to the same point of view as juries and even in cases where a serious degree of negligence is shown they are reluctant to commit on a charge of manslaughter. I would also ask your Lordships to pause before you say that that particular clause should go forward for Second Reading. It would defeat its object. Offences in this country will not be checked by enacting severity of punishment. They will be checked by a rigid administration of the law. The law is perfectly adequate at present and need not be amended.
Coming now to Clause 2, again I entirely agree with ray noble and learned friend when he says that there should be a penalty for failure to stop after knowingly causing damage or injury. Such a penalty is already in force under the Road Act although this section certainly adds to it "to render aid," which I can hardly think makes any difference. But I may point out to my noble and learned friend—possibly it has escaped his attention—that under Section 4 of the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1879, the Court may always impose a fine instead of imprisonment if they "think that the justice of the case would thereby be better met."
Turning to Clause 3, that clause proposes that no goods vehicles exceeding in total weight five tons shall exceed the speed of five miles per hour in any city, town or village. Enforce that in London and it means that the traffic in the Strand will be reduced to five miles per hour. If you have two or three motors or motor lorries which are not entitled to go at a speed of more than five miles an hour, it stands to reason that in a congested place every lorry, every omnibus, every taxi cab, and every motor car, will be reduced to the same speed. I cannot think that your Lordships wish that. May I suggest this to my noble and learned friend. Sympathising, as we do, with his object, sympathising as we do with the passionate appeal he made to us, this is not quite the remedy to put an end to the 163 evil which, undoubtedly, exists and to which we all desire to put an end. The matter, I think, ought to be more carefully thought out. I rather hope, therefore, that my noble and learned friend will see his way to withdraw the Bill. He has raised the point and has drawn public attention to it. I am exceedingly glad that he has done so. Public attention wanted drawing to it. I hope, whatever the result of this Bill, that magistrates and other authorities will see that the law in future is properly enforced.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I entirely agree with what the Lord Chancellor has said. Although I am aware of the appalling accidents which have been so adequately stated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, I think with the Lord Chancellor that it would be wrong in a Bill of this kind to change the whole law as regards manslaughter—a very important province of our law—in this particular case. As the proposal stands it means that, however slight the negligence might be, even of a merely formal character, if a person was killed a charge of manslaughter would be substantiated under Clause 1. The punishment, of course, is in the hands of the learned Judge. I do not quite agree, I think, with either of the former speakers that it is right to give a learned Judge, if you can avoid it, too large a discretion as regards the length of punishment in a matter of this kind.
I think the noble and learned Lord who moved this Bill did not sufficiently acknowledge the difference between a civil and a criminal liability, and I also agree with what the noble and learned Lord Chancellor said, that if you exaggerate into a new crime a death which happens from some minor form of negligence which at present would not constitute the crime of manslaughter at all, the result may not be favourable to the enforcement of law (in regard to which I also entirely agree with what the Lord Chancellor has said) but would tend, on the other hand, both in magistrates and juries, to exonerate the motorist altogether when under the civil law he ought certainly to incur a larger liability. I do not want at the present time to say too much of civil liability, because I think far more stringent regulations should be observed and made obligatory than are now in operation. 164 In fact, I would go to the length of saying that whether there be negligence or not there are cases in which undoubtedly the pedestrian ought to be more carefully safeguarded than he is at present. But that is not the question now. The question is, are we going to increase our Criminal Law by introducing for the first time under the category of manslaughter mere negligence, however trivial, however small it may be, however far from criminal intent may be the mind of the person convicted?
So far as Clause 2 is concerned I also agree with everything that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, said in derogation of the propriety of a person running over anyone on the road and then leaving the victim to die. I will not attempt to harass your Lordships again by adding to the appalling incidents that he gave, but is it right that under those circumstances you should apply criminal procedure of this kind? I think in many cases six months is perhaps far too lenient a sentence. I thought it would have been so regarded on the opinion expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, but it is a very wide extension of our Common Law and of our Criminal Law to introduce this penal and criminal procedure where it is not applicable at the present time.
As regards the last matter, I am bound to admit that I regret not the question of pace—I do not think that is the real difficulty—I regret that these heavy vehicles exceeding, in total weight five tons have been allowed upon the roads at all. Immense expense has been incurred so that this class of traffic can be dealt with by the railway companies. I do not want to say any special word in commendation of railways, but enormous expenditure has been incurred. The railways have ample equipment and ample premises, and I have often thought that it would be the greatest improvement of all if these heavy vehicles, which in fact are nothing less than large trains themselves, were not allowed upon our roads at all. Why should they be? Why should a road be provided for them at the public expense? At the present time, under statutory provision, this traffic is entitled to be carried by our existing railway companies. I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord is going to press the Second Reading after what the 165 LORD Chancellor has said. If he does, although I disagree with the Bill as it stands, I shall not vote against him, because I think it is a matter that does deserve and does require further elucidation and discussion than it has had up to the present time.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I agree very heartily with the last sentence which fell from the noble Lord who has just sat down to the effect that this is a matter which requires all the elucidation and all the remedy that we can possibly bring to it, because the evil is unquestionably a very serious one. I will not attempt to follow my noble friend Lord Buckmaster in the very eloquent but, I think, very accurate account of the evil that exists. The figures are appalling, and I really stand amazed at the comparatively little interest that is taken in these terrific figures. If any such figures of fatalities occurred in any industrial employment, if you could quote them as a result of some branch of manufacturing, why the whole country would be in a blaze. But because these figures affect passengers on the roads who have not willingly undertaken the risk but are forced to undertake it in the discharge of their ordinary vocations of life, apparently there is comparatively little interest taken in the matter.
I think your Lordships would be well advised to have that in view, and at any rate to give this Bill a Second Reading, so that the matter can be more thoroughly and fully probed. If there are provisions in it which ought to be modified they should be modified; but at any rate something might be done to meet this case, and, most of all, to let it go out to the country and to magistrates and administrators of the law that your Lordships take a very serious view of this matter, and that you do feel this is a very grave evil and ought to be stopped in some way. With all respect to my noble friend the Lord Chancellor, may I say that his appeal at the end of his observations to my noble friend Lord Buckmaster left me a little cold? I had heard it so often before—Do not proceed now; you have raised the question; the matter will be taken into consideration by those who have to administer the law, and no doubt they will take a different view. That was the burden of all our dis- 166 cussions on this subject over and over again last year and the year before, and in point of fact there is no improvement, no serious improvement at all, as I think the figures show. I doubt whether there is any improvement whatever, taking all things into consideration, in spite of the legislation that has been passed, and in spite of the perpetual assurances that motorists would behave better than they have behaved in the past.
As to this particular Bill, there are two parts of it, the criminal part and the civil part. I am not going to trouble your Lordships with any observations about the civil part. The proposal to limit to five miles an hour lorries over five tons in weight is a provision which. I admit, is pretty drastic when you consider what its effect might be on some of the traffic in the big towns, and I think probably in Committee it might be necessary to modify it in some way. I think we are all agreed, the Lord Chancellor as much as anybody, that this a great evil also, that the existence of these enormous trains on the public roads is a great evil and very hard on a number of people besides the people who were enumerated by my noble friend Lord Buckmaster. Something also ought to be done there, and surely the proper principle for your Lordships to act upon is that if a case is shown that there is an evil and that it ought to be met, that is a case for the Second Reading. If the particular provisions proposed are not the best provisions, that is a case for amendment in Committee. Therefore I should have thought, even on the civil side, the case for passing the Second Reading was a very strong one.
As to the criminal side, if I followed any noble friend the Lord Chancellor rightly, he admitted in substance the whole of Lord Buckmaster's case. He said that he thought the evil was great. He said that undoubtedly there were crimes, or actions which ought to be treated as crimes, constantly committed, and, so far as I could make out, he went as far in every respect as the noble Lord, Lord Buckmaster, but his two answers to him were these. His first answer was that juries will not convict, and that is the real trouble. I should have thought that that was Lord Buckmaster's case. He says that in the present condition of the law, when you have to 167 establish to the satisfaction of the jury a criminal negligence—that is to say, something only just short of an intentional crime, a reckless and wicked proceeding—it is very difficult to produce evidence which would justify a jury in convicting in such a case. That is the whole case which my noble and learned friend puts forward and it seems to me, with all respect to the Lord Chancellor, that it is really admitted by him. The other great argument he used—and this was a point shared by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor—was that it was a dreadful thing to alter the law of manslaughter, that from time immemorial manslaughter had involved proof of criminal negligence and that here you have a proposal that in a particular class of case it should not involve the necessity of proving criminal negligence but only the necessity of proving ordinary negligence. I have a limited sympathy with that kind of traditional view, which I know is very common in my old profession, but if that is so may not a compromise be arrived at by calling it something else?
The point is that there are 20,000 people in three years killed on the roads, killed on the roads undoubtedly in a large number of cases by the negligence of the drivers of the vehicles that killed them, and we do not in fact see that diminishing. I will give figures in a moment. Surely that is a case for strengthening the law. The Lord Chancellor says that you cannot get a jury to convict. That is the point. You cannot, as the law is now. That is the reason why a change should be made so that it should be more easy to obtain convictions in these cases. That is the whole case, and if there is difficulty about calling it manslaughter—I do not know whether my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster attaches importance to it—certainly I should not object to calling it something else. I do think it ought to be in some way or another criminal. It really is an outrage and a scandal that these unhappy creatures, children very often and old people, are slaughtered literally in thousands every year and nobody is sent to prison in consequence. That is utterly repellent to my sense of justice. My noble friend asked: "How far are you going? Suppose the negligence was only just a failure to sound a horn?" If failure to sound a horn produces the death of a fellow creature some punishment 168 ought to be inflicted on the person who is responsible. I do not say that in such a case there should be very severe punishment—it might be met by two or three days imprisonment for aught I know—but some punishment ought to be imposed.
I have said that the position is not getting better. I know it is not very agreeable to listen to figures, but I should like to give a few figures as to the increase of danger at any rate for pedestrians. In the Metropolitan area alone I find that in 1931 there were 905 pedestrians killed as against 885 in the previous year. It is true that the total number of deaths caused by accidents to vehicles has diminished, but the number of pedestrians killed has increased. Let me take the figures in another way. I find that in 1921 there were thirty-five accidents per 1,000 drivers licensed. In 1930 there were forty-three accidents per 1,000 drivers licensed, and probably the figure was higher in 1931 but it has not yet been published. The increase in the general number of accidents, as my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster said, is very considerable. It has gone up to between 30,000 and 40,000. Therefore the evil is not only great but it is increasing, and it has not been diminished by the Road Traffic Act. Those are the actual facts and they seem to me to constitute a case for doing something further to protect the subjects of His Majesty on the highways.
One of the reasons why I support this Bill is to make the law more severe. My noble and learned friend gave some instances. I could give many other instances that have been supplied to me of cases where apparent negligence was treated very lightly by the magistrates. That means no doubt, as the Lord Chancellor says, that the law is not properly enforced. Be it so. What we have to do is to give some indication as one of the branches of the Legislature that we are not satisfied with the way the law is enforced, and the best way to do that is at any rate to give a Second Reading to this Bill so that it can be properly discussed in Committee. Here is one figure which I would like to give to your Lordships. In 1930 there were 19,694 persons convicted of dangerous driving but only eight were punished otherwise than by being fined. That shows the kind of way in which these offences are regarded at 169 present by the Courts. I think it is a very serious matter indeed. I have many more figures but I will not trouble your Lordships with them.
Before I sit down I want to call the attention of your Lordships to one other great evil in this matter, an evil which really does require very careful attention by the Government and by the Legislature. It is quite evident that there are a very large number of people in this country who do not regard it as any part of their business to conform to the law with regard to driving on the highway—a very large number indeed, reckoned, I have not the, slightest doubt, not by thousands but by millions. We were told that by the changes we made in the Road Traffic Act that would be corrected. I do not think it has been corrected. I doubt very much if it has even been improved. There are still millions of people disregarding the law. That is a serious evil. It is one of those evils which if unchecked will grow and spread through the whole body politic. I do not want to suggest that we are in imminent danger of seeing London in the same condition as Chicago, but it must be remembered that it was the consequence of having a law which was not enforced that has produced the great outbreaks of crime in Chicago and other American cities which are really a scandal to the civilised world. It is a matter which really wants consideration. For all these reasons I earnestly hope that, whatever may be done in Committee, whatever changes it may be thought right to make in this Bill in Committee, at any rate your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.
§ LORD DANESFORT
My Lords, like many members of your Lordships' House, I have been deeply impressed by the powerful and impressive speech of Lord Buckmaster. He brought before the attention of your Lordships a state of things which it is not too much to say is a disgrace to our civilisation, by which, as he well said, the spirit of humanity is to-day being outraged. If that be so—and I think the facts are undoubted—surely it is the business of this House, now that your Lordships have this opportunity, to find some remedy for that state of things. May I therefore make a most earnest appeal to His Majesty's Government to allow this Bill to have a Second Reading? If they think any of 170 the provisions of the Bill go too far then the Bill can be altered in Committee, but I venture to say that it would be a lamentable thing, when facts of this sort are brought before your Lordships' House and a remedy is proposed, if it were to go out to the world that your Lordships are too indifferent even to give a Second Reading to a Bill which aims at remedying some of these manifest evils.
There is only one other aspect of the question to which I wish to draw the attention of your Lordships. That is the question of compensation in civil cases for deaths or accidents which occur owing to the motor car. I should like to tell your Lordships that this afternoon I got a First Reading of a Bill to amend the law as to compensation in such cases. It would be out of order to refer to the Bill in any detail, but I may mention that the object of the Bill is to entitle persons injured on the road by a motor car, other than motorists themselves—my noble friend Lord Banbury, to whom I bow as a profound authority on all matters of order, has in effect called me to order. I used to bow to his decision in the House of Commons and I do so to-day. I will not, therefore, refer to the provisions of the Bill any further than to say that it makes a proposal which has been accepted by almost every Continental country. To-day we are dealing with the criminal aspect. I did not catch any words that fell from the Lord Chancellor objecting to Clause 2, which deals with the case of a man who in cowardly and scandalous manner injures some one on the road and then runs away. I do not think the Lord Chancellor objected to the clause and if it was for that clause alone I would ask your Lordships to allow this Bill to have a Second Reading.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene in a discussion of this nature, but I am grateful for an opportunity of saying one or two words. First, I am certain that nobody could have listened to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, without being profoundly impressed by the depth of sincerity which lay behind every word he said. I have the greatest possible sympathy with him in respect of the figures which he quoted and I do not 171 think the language he used about the offence of knocking a man down and going away afterwards, and that sort of thing, was in any way too strong. There is just one thing which I think might be considered both in regard to Clause 1 and Clause 2. The Lord Chancellor has explained to the House the difficulties connected with the Criminal Law. That is a matter I know nothing about, but abroad if a motor vehicle knocks over anybody or injures him—in certain countries at any rate; I know it is true in France, and I believe it is true in Italy—an act of arrestment is placed on the vehicle which prevents it being moved. If there are difficulties in connection with manslaughter under Clause 1 and also in connection with the penalties provided under Clause 2 it may be worth while considering whether it would not be a very good thing, if it could be incorporated in the law, to give power to a magistrate to order an act of arrestment on the car and to confirm it for a suitable period where negligence was proved. I believe that provision, by itself, would do a great deal to bring some people to their senses.
With regard to Clause 3 I was sorry that the noble Lord referred to the difficulties as between the railways and the roads. I cannot help thinking that other speakers have been entirely right when they pointed to the fact that if you impose a five-mile limit on heavy goods vehicles you would bring the traffic of great cities like London almost to a standstill. I think it is proved how difficult it is to enforce a law regarding speed. I believe it is almost impossible. Another point to be considered is that if you make it more difficult for heavy goods vehicles you might run into the danger of adding to the cost of transport and thereby of commodities in the country. We should be careful before placing undue restrictions on heavy traffic. I have every sympathy with the objects of the Bill, and particularly its first two clauses, and I hope the suggestion I have made may receive consideration.
§ LORD ATKIN
My Lords, in a few remarks may I say what a pleasure it has been to the friends of my noble and learned friend (Lord Buckmaster) to see him in his place after his accident and to find that he has lost none of his vigour 172 and powers of expression? In reference to this particular Bill I should like to add a word or two to what has been said by the Lord Chancellor as to the existing law, because I am bound to say that I view with considerable apprehension the notion that the law of manslaughter and the law as to unlawful wounding should be altered by special exceptions introduced merely in respect of persons who drive motor cars. It is the fact that for hundreds of years there has been a law relating to the driving of vehicles on the highway. That law was enforced long before motor cars came into existence and the same law has been enforced ever since they did come into existence, and the law has always drawn a distinction between the simple negligence that gives rise to civil action and the culpable negligence that gives rise to a charge of manslaughter.
As far as I know there has been no difficulty in explaining to a jury what the distinction is. The real difficulty in these cases is that juries decline unfortunately in many cases to find a verdict which imposes on a person guilty of negligence in driving a car the heavy penalties of manslaughter which, as you have been reminded, amount to anything up to penal servitude for life. If that is the difficulty now I venture to submit that the difficulty will be still greater if juries are told that a simple act of negligence—a man driving at ten miles an hour who has made a wrong steering action or driven over the centre of the road or taken a corner too much on one side and has caused injury or even death—exposes a man to the penalties of manslaughter. So far from attaining his purpose I think the noble Lord would weaken the case for enforcing the rule of ordinary care.
As to the second part of his first clause, which introduces a completely new crime, at present unlawful wounding is confined to cases, first of all where there is a case of wounding, and secondly where a person has wounded by some deliberate act. There never has been a case yet of unlawful wounding or, what I think my learned friend must really mean, doing grievous bodily harm, where there has not been an intent of that kind. I venture to think it would introduce a very serious anomaly into the administration of the law if a special exception were 173 made in this class of case. It would expose the law to contempt, for it appears to me to be ridiculous. A motor car drives across a level crossing and the motor driver runs down a person and kills him by an act of simple negligence. He will, under the new proposal, be guilty of manslaughter. A train is coming along the railway and runs into a person. The driver of the railway train will not be liable to punishment unless he is guilty of culpable negligence. A motor car driving along a road runs into a person and by simple negligence injures him; the driver is guilty of a crime. The driver of a two-horse dray, driving at a furious speed, does the same thing and is not guilty of a crime. That sort of anomaly brings the law into contempt. The real source of the difficulty is not the weakness of the law but the weakness of the way in which the law is administered. The law is strong enough.
Lord Cecil of Chelwood said we need not bother about words—about calling it manslaughter. He said let us make it some other offence and call it by some other name. It seems to have escaped the attention of the supporters of the Bill that there is a provision at the present moment which will meet all the cases dealt with. It is the provision dealing with dangerous and reckless driving. That is an offence already, and one that can be tried before the magistrates and upon indictment. The punishment at the present moment extends to four months imprisonment, and also to this, that the magistrates or court trying the case have power to deprive the offender of his licence—to suspend it for a year, or longer. That is the punishment which was referred to by Lord Howe. It is almost the exact equivalent of the arrestment of the vehicle. It is a punishment which ought to be brought into force more often. People may drive dangerously and recklessly along the roads and at present not be punished sufficiently by the magistrates. You could do an immense amount of good if the Home Office were really to address, not a remonstrance but a memorandum to the justices generally, pointing out the appalling toll of life and the extreme importance of administering the law firmly in this respect.
I myself am surprised at some of the penalties that are imposed. Lord Cecil 174 of Chelwood quoted figures showing that there were 19,000 convictions for dangerous driving. I consider dangerous driving to be a most serious offence, and I know of benches of magistrates who think that the right punishment for it is 40s. or £5. So you can endanger the lives of citizens for 40s. per time. I think that that is a complete misapprehension of the duties of the magistrates. I think they should consider seriously, in every case of a private driver, whether he should not be punished by the suspension of his licence, for a time at any rate. I believe it would have a valuable effect. I go further and I think that if a man is convicted twice of dangerous driving he ought to be off the road altogether. He has disregarded the lives and interests of people on the road, and in those circumstances I venture to think he might be punished in that way, which is a much more satisfactory punishment than sending a man to prison. Those are the penalties at the present moment for reckless and dangerous driving—four months imprisonment and the possible suspension of the licence. I think if that law were firmly administered it would serve the whole purpose for which my noble friend is contending, and render unnecessary anomalous encroachments upon the existing law.
As to Clause 2, dealing with failure to give notice, I agree that there may be cases of a man driving recklessly and killing a person and driving off, but this clause deals with the much milder case of a man driving without negligence at all, and by an accident and without fault injuring a person, and then leaving him by the roadside, surrounded by friends and everybody else. That man must under this clause have his licence suspended for twelve months if he drives on, whatever may be the circumstances of or the motive for driving on. That appears to me to be quite unreasonable, and I think the present law and the present punishment are quite sufficient. Let it be remembered that if a person drives negligently and injures a person he is liable to imprisonment. I say nothing about the speed limit, because I think that can very well be left to the Minister of Transport and to regulations made in that respect. We have to remember that only two years ago this House was engaged for days in considering this very question of the Speed limit 175 and the penalties to be imposed. I venture to think that no case has been made out for any alteration. Full consideration was given in this House and the Lower House to these very questions, and the true remedy is strictly and properly to enforce the present law.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, the supporters of the Bill were glad to hear the sympathetic opinion expressed by Lord Howe as to the value of the Bill, coming as that opinion did from so ardent and experienced a motorist. I think the only real constructive criticism of the Bill has come from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. He did not say that he was not in sympathy with the object of the Bill, but he said he would rather trust to the administration of the existing law than to any alteration. He did not particularise in what respects he thought the law could be improved to carry out the objects of this Bill. My own view is that the removal of the speed limit has increased the number of accidents, and I also think the number would be very much larger but for the fact that many people nowadays refuse to cross the streets. For myself, I should have thought the right thing was to have a speed limit and to provide that anybody infringing the speed limit, and having an accident, should have cast upon him the burden of proving that he had not been negligent. I hope that Lord Buckmaster intends to press this Bill through. It will be a very valuable indication of the views of your Lordships' House. As for the five-mile an hour limit for five-ton lorries in London, to which Lord Howe referred, why should you have a five-ton lorry in London at all? Why not have three tons, or something less bulky and less obstructive to traffic in London than a lorry of five tons? That seems to me an answer to the objections to Clause 3 in the Bill.
§ EARL BUXTON
My Lords, I speak here simply as a layman. We have had the legal side ably put by the Lord Chancellor and by my noble and learned friend behind me (Lord Atkin). Into that I cannot enter. But I came here this afternoon as one of those who, having paid careful attention to this subject, both as a pedestrian and a motorist, have come to the conclusion 176 that something requires to be done. What that particular step may be is for the lawyers to decide. My noble and learned friend, in his extraordinarily powerful speech, put first the case for something to be done, and the Lord Chancellor says that we must not alter the law, as the law is effective at the present moment, though it is not fully enforced. I think your Lordships were impressed by the figures given by my noble and learned friend. Is it not appalling that there should have been at least 20,000 people killed in the last three years and half a million injured by these motor cars? Does it not show that an entirely new development has taken place among us, and that something has to be done by legislation to meet that difficulty?
Motor cars are increasing day by day both in numbers and in size. In old days we spoke and thought of the King's highway. That meant that it was accessible for everyone to use. At the present moment it is the most dangerous place in the Kingdom. And though it may be said that these reckless motorists are few in number, I think that everybody who goes motoring will agree that any day you go out you come across a certain number of persons who are driving recklessly and without any consideration for the comfort, the convenience, or the safety of others. It is with those persons that we want to deal. My noble and learned friend proposes to deal with them in a very drastic way—whether it is too drastic I am not competent to say. But I do feel strongly that it would be an advantage if your Lordships were to give this Bill a Second Reading by a large majority, or even unanimously. I do not suppose that my noble and learned friend thinks his Bill is perfect. I am sure he would be willing to agree to any Amendments that are necessary to make the Bill workable. As a layman I shall vote for the Bill because I think it is a step in the right direction.
§ LORD JOICEY
My Lords, I am very glad indeed that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, has brought this important question before your Lordships' House, for it is a question which is thought about and talked about throughout the whole country, and it does seem an extraordinary thing if Parliament is unable to devise some scheme 177 which will put an end to some of those terrible things which we have heard of from the noble and learned Lord. I am afraid that after the important speeches which have been made by distinguished lawyers in this House, dealing with the civil and criminal law of this matter, I am hardly disposed to vote for the Second Reading, because I think that such an important change in the law, if it is to be made, ought to be made by a special Bill; but I do hope that His Majesty's Government will take this matter up. It is a thing for the Government to do. It can be dealt with properly if the Government really are sincere about it, and I cannot, but think that they must be sincere.
The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack spoke about civil compensation. There is some difficulty in getting civil compensation. I know more than one case in which people have not been able to get civil compensation because the difficulty was to obtain evidence about the accident. A system has sprung up by which, whenever a chauffeur has any serious accident, he goes round among those who have seen it with a view, if possible, to gather up evidence in order to clear himself. A lady friend of mine saw an accident; the other day, and she was immediately approached by the chauffeur, who said, "Now didn't you see that accident I was not to blame." She said, "You were entirely to blame." The result, of course, was that she was not brought; up to give any evidence. With regard to civil compensation. I think that in any Bill of this kind any one who causes an accident ought to be compelled to pay compensation. That compensation can easily be insured against, and we have a system in connection with the miners' permanent relief fund by which, if an accident takes place, even in cases where the man himself brings it about by wilfully disregarding rules, he still receives compensation. I think the same principle should apply to compensation for motor accidents. How many accidents there are in which poor people cannot afford to bring a lawsuit! I think we could easily make everyone who causes an accident, whether he is to blame or not, responsible for reasonable compensation, and I feel sure it would have a beneficial effect in preventing accidents.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT (THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH)
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord in introducing this Bill spoke with great eloquence, with great passion, and with great sincerity in commending it to your Lordships. We all feel that nobody could have done it more eloquently than he did. But I would ask your Lordships to look at this very great and serious problem with cool heads and clear minds. The noble and learned Lord made it plain that the primary object of this Bill was to take action by one means or another to reduce the alarming number of accidents of all kinds which take place upon our roads, and with that object, I venture to say, every single one of your Lordships whole-heartedly sympathises. Nobody could fail to do so. The Government are fully alive to the gravity of the position that exists in this respect. The appalling toll of deaths on the road is recorded day by day in the newspapers, and the Government are determined to do everything in their power to reduce to a minimum the risks incurred by users of roads of every kind. But I am convinced that the Bill which the noble and learned Lord has brought forward to-day will not attain the object which he has in view.
May I examine for a few moments what this Bill does? One of the first things the Bill does is to provide, as has already been pointed out this afternoon, that in the case of a motor driver, and a motor driver alone, the common legal interpretations which for generations have been attached to the terms "manslaughter" and "unlawful wounding" shall be fundamentally changed. Up to the present a culpable degree of negligence or deliberate intention has been implied 'by the use of those terms. The Bill proposes, on the other hand, that proof of mere negligence shall be sufficient to secure a conviction for manslaughter. That is to say. if the Bill is passed the terms "manslaughter" and "unlawful wounding" will mean something entirely different, where the driver of a motor vehicle is concerned, from what they will mean in any other circumstances. I naturally speak with very great diffidence indeed in your Lordships' House on matters which are essentially of a legal character, but speaking as a layman I must confess I am a little surprised that the noble and 179 learned Lord should have brought forward these proposals. The objections from a legal point of view have already been very clearly stated and I think are obvious. One of the chief impediments, which I think has been emphasised already this afternoon, to a substantial reduction in the terrible toll of deaths and injury on the road, lies in the reluctance of magistrates and juries to convict or impose adequate penalties in really serious cases of dangerous driving. In my view it is no remedy merely to increase the maximum penalties to which offenders are liable. Indeed, the effect of drastic penal legislation may be exactly opposite to that intended and serve to increase rather than diminish the reluctance of juries and magistrates to convict.
It has been suggested by the Pedestrians' Association, amongst others, that juries are unwilling to return a verdict of manslaughter because of the associations of the word, and that some other term should be used to describe the offence of a motor driver who through culpable negligence causes the death of a fellow creature. I think there is a great deal to be said for the psychology underlying this argument, although I hesitate here and now to express an opinion as to the practicability of the suggestion. What I want to point out is that this Bill proceeds in a precisely opposite direction. Instead of doing away with the term "manslaughter" altogether in these cases this Bill, if put into operation, will widen the scope of manslaughter. In my opinion, therefore, there will be a greater reluctance still on the part of juries to convict. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, stated that as the law stood now it was difficult for juries to be satisfied that the evidence was strong enough for them to convict. I venture to think that these proposals will have no effect in remedying that difficulty. On the other hand, I believe they will increase that difficulty, because if you widen the scope of the terms "manslaughter" and "unlawful wounding," it will make juries even more reluctant and more chary than they are at present to convict people of those offences for fear that they will be convicting them without real justice.
Several of your Lordships have dealt with the figures regarding the accidents within the past year. As I have said before, the Minister of Transport is fully 180 aware of the gravity and the meaning of those figures. The actual figures for the year 1931 have not yet been published, but in a reply given in another place the Home Secretary stated that the number of deaths resulting from road accidents had decreased during the year 1931 by something like six hundred. This is the first occasion on which there has been a drop in the number of deaths on the road. That in itself must be some source of satisfaction, though I am afraid it has to be discounted to a certain extent by the fact that there were fewer vehicles on the road in that year than there were in the previous year, 1930. It is also unfortunately true, as has been pointed out, that the number of accidents has increased very considerably, though that, I think, can also be attributed to the fact that under the Road Traffic Act of 1930 every accident of such a nature as may result in damage or bodily injury has now to be reported to the police. As your Lordships are already aware the Minister of Transport is in consultation with the Home Secretary regarding the better enforcement of the law against motoring offences and, in particular, the enforcement of the legal speed limit for heavy vehicles on which many of your Lordships have dwelt considerably this afternoon. Action has recently been taken in this direction which it is hoped will have a beneficial effect.
With regard to the motor coaches I should like to say that the effect of the control of the Traffic Commissioners resulting from the passing of the Act of 1930 is only now beginning to show itself. Up to now vehicles have been worked on their former schedules. I should explain to your Lordships the reason for that is that a great many applications for services under the Road Traffic Act are under appeal or have been under appeal during the past year. So long as those appeals were not settled applicants in each case were entitled to carry on their services as previously according to their old schedules. Therefore, it is hoped that the decisions of the Traffic Commissioners will have increasingly marked results during the course of the next year.
Recurring to the clauses of this Bill a little more specifically, may I say that with regard to Clause 1 I do not think there is anything further I can add. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and others have dealt with that 181 clause in considerable detail, and I think have shown the very serious objections which can be taken against it. Personally I very much fear that if we were to put it into operation it would have precisely the opposite result to that for which the noble and learned Lord hopes. With regard to Clause 2, I would like to say only this. This clause has been dealt with perhaps not so fully, but the effect of Clause 2 is merely to increase the penalties and to make disqualification, in circumstances such as are prescribed, compulsory. I should like to remind the House that under the Criminal Justice Act of 1925 a person who was convicted of being drunk while in charge of a motor car was automatically disqualified from holding a licence. It was found in practice that wherever this disqualification would have serious results to the offender, as for example depriving him of his livelihood, the Courts declined to convict, and in the course of the debates on the Road Traffic Bill the view in all eases was that some measure of discretion should be left to the Court in the matter of disqualification, and the Act of 1925 was amended accordingly. It is quite clear that the fixing of a minimum penalty nearly always defeats its own object to an even greater extent than the fixing of a maximum penalty which is not likely to be imposed.
I should like to pass on to Clause 3 and say a word or two about it. This clause proposes that all goods vehicles exceeding five tons of laden weight shall be limited to a speed of five miles per hour in any city, town or village. I was not quite clear before the noble and learned Lord spoke what precise object he had in view in bringing this suggestion forward. I did not know whether it was with a view to minimising accidents or whether it was due to other reasons. It appears, however, that the main object he has in view is to reduce the damage which is done to property by the heavy vehicles moving speedily along the streets. If that is so, I must say I am somewhat at a loss to know why he has differentiated between goods vehicles and passenger vehicles. There are many passenger vehicles upon the roads which exceed the weight of five tons laden, and they would in the circumstances, I presume, do as much damage as the goods vehicles. But I think I ought to make it clear to the House that if such a provision were desirable effect could be given to it by the 182 Minister of Transport under Section 10 of the Road Traffic Act of 1930 by a regulation amending the First Schedule of that Act. Under that provision any speed limit can be imposed by regulation other than a speed limit in respect of light cars. Such a regulation would require an affirmative Resolution in each House.
The point has already been emphasised by several speakers this afternoon that if effect were given to this clause by legislation, and if its provisions could be enforced, which I think is rather doubtful, the practical result would be to reduce the speed of all traffic in busy streets and congested areas to five miles per hour. Take, for instance, the Strand. A few vehicles there going in either direction and limited in their speed to five miles an hour would have the effect of reducing the speed of all traffic to that limit, and would bring about a most appalling state of congestion. There is another point which I do not think has been alluded to this afternoon, and that is that the modern motor lorry could not proceed at five miles per hour except on second or even on third gear, and your Lordships can well imagine the noise which a large number of heavy lorries travelling in urban areas on low gear would make. It would be absolutely appalling. The only means of avoiding this would be to evolve a special type of vehicle, probably steam driven, and clearly the effect of that upon the motor industry generally, and upon the export of heavy motor vehicles, would be very disastrous.
A further point that I should like to bring to your Lordships' attention is this. Administratively it would be very difficult to distinguish between vehicles by their laden weight. The enforcement of a provision of this nature would be almost impossible, except in extreme cases. I think your Lordships are aware that existing speed limits are in every case based on the unladen weight of a vehicle, which in the case of a lorry is marked on the vehicle itself. Reference has been made this evening to the road and the railway problem. It would be wrong for me, in view of the fact that this subject is now being investigated by a Committee, to express any opinion this afternoon, but several of your Lordships have said that in their view goods vehicles of any considerable weight ought not to be allowed upon the roads at all. I do not 183 express any opinion about that now. That is the kind of question which is to be investigated, and which this Committee is investigating, and I venture to say that a very great and important matter of this kind, which affects two of the very greatest industries in the country, ought not to be dealt with in a Bill like this which is comparatively limited in its scope.
I do not think there is very much that I can add to what has already been said. I can only repeat what I have said, that the Government have the warmest sympathy for the object which the noble and learned Lord has in view, but they are convinced that this Bill will do nothing whatever to attain that object. I really do not think that piecemeal legislation of this kind can do any good. In my view it is much more likely to do harm than good. The Road Traffic Act of 1930 has not been in operation two years. It has not been possible to gauge what its effects are going to be, and I venture to say that an enormous problem of this kind ought to be dealt with more comprehensively than it can be by legislation such as is proposed by the noble and learned Lord. I am fortified in this view by the fact that my noble friend behind me, Lord Danesfort, as I think he has already told your Lordships, introduced another Bill this afternoon which is intended to amend the Road Traffic Act of 1930. I do not think that this is the right way of dealing with the question. I should like in conclusion to assure the noble and learned Lord, and the House in general, that the Minister of Transport is naturally giving constant and anxious attention to this grave problem, to see what further can be done from time to time to reduce the terrible number of road accidents that occur at the present time.
Speaking for myself, my Lords, I am convinced that the most important factor and influence with regard to this problem is public opinion, and until the public insists that those who drive about the country dangerously and recklessly, causing death and injury, should be adequately punished, I doubt very much whether there will be any very large diminution in the number of accidents. That to my mind is the real point, and in my opinion this Bill will not achieve 184 the object which all of us have in view. I do not think I can add anything more except to express doubt as to whether your Lordships would be wise in the circumstances in giving this Bill a Second Reading.
§ LORD HANWORTH
My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord replies and before the Lord Chancellor puts the question may I address to the noble and learned Lord a suggestion? That is that after the observations that have been made he should not press the Bill to a Division. I came here as one who from experience is strongly in favour of something being done to enforce the law as it at present stands and if necessary to reinforce the law. The noble and learned Lord's speech added force and weight to the opinion I had already formed, and I was very anxious indeed to cast my vote in favour of the measure if the measure would reinforce the existing law in a manner which would be effective. But like many of your Lordships I am placed in great difficulty. It is quite impossible for me as a lawyer to vote for Clause 1. I am quite satisfied, after what the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has said and after what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, has said, that the effect of that clause would be distinctly bad. You would not get convictions. You would fail in your purpose. The probability would be that you would relieve a great number of persons, by the verdicts of juries, from the punishment that they deserve. You would prevent the effect of the existing law and you would imperil any enforcement of the law as it stands to-day, because juries will not take the responsibility of fastening upon persons who undoubtedly have been negligent the guilt of manslaughter with its consequential results. What we really need is the strong enforcement of the law as it stands. Whatever clause you pass, please do not pass this Clause 1 which, for reasons already given by other lawyers, is bad and ineffective and will be harmful in its effects.
I believe also that it will be impossible to get convictions under Clause 2, because it all depends upon the person having done something "to his knowledge" and it will always be possible 185 for juries to find that he had not that knowledge. I could not vote for Clause 2. Then I come to Clause 3. I should like to include in that those very dangerous vehicles, the huge omnibuses which come round corners suddenly and are quite unsuited to the roads over which they travel. But something depends on the hour at which those vehicles are travelling. At five o'clock or six o'clock in the morning it might be possible for those heavy vehicles to be driven at a higher speed, but this clause would prevent them from being driven at a higher speed than five miles an hour in any city, or town or village. That clause obviously requires an immense amount of amendment, although we might desire most earnestly to put some limitation on the speed at which these heavy vehicles are driven.
Clause 4 says:This Act may be cited as the Road Traffic Act, 1932, and shall be construed as one with the Road Traffic Act, 1930.My recollection is that that Act occupied several days in Committee before your lordships. It is a most complicated Act. I should most certainly like to reconsider that Act in the light of these proposed additional clauses. Therefore I find myself in an unhappy predicament. I want to vote for this Bill. I want something to be done, but I cannot vote for any one of these four clauses. I find myself in the predicament which I think was stated by Lord Melbourne years ago, when he said that whenever he heard somebody say that something ought to be done he always knew that somebody was going to do something stupid. If we all want something done do not let us pass these four clauses. We ought to pass something different. We all do want something done and I think the proper solution might be, after the undertaking given by the Government that the matter will be considered, to ask for a still further assurance that something will be done in this Session. I think we might ask the noble and learned Lord not to place us in the difficulty of saying that we want this Bill and at the same time find ourselves compelled to vote against his Motion, which I for one cordially desire to support. I hope that he will withdraw the Bill after the assurance given by the Government.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, as no assurance whatever was given by the Government and as no undertaking whatever was entered into your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that I do not intend to withdraw my Bill. I was not reassured by what the noble Earl said. I hope he will forgive me for saying that I have heard before that the Government Departments are anxiously considering what they should do, that the problem is before them night and day and that they want to determine what is the best step. If that really is the fact, why have they not done something? The real fact is that they have done nothing at all, and they will do nothing unless this House compels them. The speech of the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down has filled me with amazement, but he at least—he is the only one—has discovered Clause 4. I congratulate him on that discovery. But for the rest he says that this will is bad and ineffective, that it will have the opposite effect of what it was intended to have, that although it is aimed at the very thing which is his heart and soul's desire, he is yet unable to support it. I am not surprised. More than one noble and learned Lord said the same thing.
They do not appear to have realised what is the true position. They do not appear to have realised that in licensing people to use these vehicles you are granting a special licence to a special class of persons to use what is in careless hands a lethal weapon. There is nothing comparable to it in the whole history of transport. That is the reason why I want special legislation affecting it. If it can be shown that there is anything comparable between a waggoner and a motor car driver with a car capable of travelling ninety miles an hour, then I will agree that there is no reason why we should have a special law for a special class of people. It is because there is that special class with a special privilege that special legislation is required. We are told: "Oh, be careful. Juries will not convict if you do this." Do they convict to-day? You know they do not. Everybody has been saying they do not. Yet we are told that if we pass this measure juries will not convict. It is only a few days ago that a man who in two years had killed two people, who was held to have been guilty of reckless driving, who was found by the jury to have 187 driven dangerously, was acquitted. What more do you want? Do you think my Bill is going to render acquittal easier for that man than before? Do you not think it possible, if you pass this Bill, that a man like that would be convicted, as he should have been and sent to prison? The idea that the law is now being administered with firmness and that my Bill will render conviction insecure is one of the most amazing imaginations that ever afflicted the mind even of a lawyer.
As for the second part of the Bill the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack said, "You forget there is a punishment." I have never forgotten it, but I have said and I repeat that that punishment is little short of a disgrace to the law. It is a £20 fine for a man who knowingly kills another and drives on, or leaves him dying in the road. If your Lordships think that is a sufficient punishment for such a crime then to my great and deep regret I have misunderstood your Lordships' feelings. I cannot believe it possible that when such a set of circumstances is placed before a body like your Lordships you will approve it. With regard to the speech of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack I felt that the first part was his own, and that nothing but a Government Department could have produced the latter part, that it was better not to interfere because now a woman might go to Court and get damages for her husband's death whereas under this Bill it might be that she could not. The point of this Bill is to prevent the man being killed and to make these people fear that unless they do take care punishment lies behind. We believe that fear is the only thing that will give security to passengers on the road. It is said that the great thing is public opinion. How will public opinion be expressed if not in this House, and where is it to rise if your Lordships reject the Bill saying that public opinion is against it? I ask your Lordships to express that public opinion now by voting for this Bill and I will add that my friends must have misunderstood me if they thought that I should contemplate withdrawing it.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the whole House.