HL Deb 01 December 1932 vol 86 cc169-96

LORD BUCKMASTER rose to move to resolve, That in the opinion of this House no existing licence should be renewed and no new licence granted to any motor vehicle subject to a restriction on its speed except upon the terms that such vehicle is equipped with a trustworthy speedometer. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the Motion that stands in my name is directed to secure that motor vehicles that are now under statutory restriction as to the pace at which they are permitted to travel should be compelled to carry a trustworthy speedometer so that the driver of the vehicle may know when he is exceeding the limit. Your Lordships will remember the controversy that led to the passing of the Road Traffic Act of 1930, when one of the points of dispute was the definition of speed limit for ordinary motor cars. I do not propose for a moment to reopen that old and vexed controversy. It is sufficient to say that the reason why the speed limit was abolished was not that anybody thought the abolition would tend to the greater security of foot passengers, but that the existing speed limit was so universally disobeyed that its maintenance brought the law into contempt. For that reason I was prepared to support the removal of the restriction. Nothing can be worse than that the law of this country should be universally disregarded and that courts of law should find themselves unable to secure its maintenance.

While the law with regard to the ordinary motor vehicle was so altered a special series of limits of speed was imposed upon certain classes of vehicles. I do not propose to read them all—they are to be found in the First Schedule to the Act—but let me read one or two. Passenger vehicles, if the vehicle is a heavy motor car or is adapted to carry more than seven passengers, exclusive of the driver, were limited to thirty miles per hour, and a heavy motor car for that purpose is defined as a motor car of a greater weight than two and a-half tons unladen. For reasons I do not quite understand the Schedule goes on to state that in any other case, including invalid carriages, the limit is twenty miles per hour. With regard to goods vehicles there are provisions about heavy cars being restricted to thirty miles per hour; about heavy motor cars if all the wheels are fitted with pneumatic tyres being restricted to twenty miles per hour; and heavy motor cars, if all the wheels are not fitted with pneumatic tyres, are reduced to sixteen miles per hour. There are various other limitations with which I do not propose to trouble your Lordships, but I may mention that locomotives and motor tractors within any city, town or village were restricted to three miles per hour and elsewhere to five miles. I mention that because—it may be a human akness—when I introduced that very provision in a Bill I was told by members of your Lordships' House who had been in no little degree responsible for the Act that such a condition was ridiculous in the extreme.

Now what has happened has been this. Some of these motors— I cannot tell to what general extent, but indisputably some— are driven without their drivers having any speedometer, with which to check their pace, with the inevitable result that when a man is summoned for exceeding the speed limit he has no means whatever by which he can testify as to the limit of speed at which he was going, except to say that he did not think he was going at more than a pace which is generally, I find, fixed at about fifteen miles an hour, when the established speed is between forty and fifty miles. It really is of no use blaming the drivers too heavily for this, because if you have got a well constructed ear, with pneumatic tyres, driving over a smooth road, to tell from your own experience what pace it is that it is going is an absolute physical impossibility. The extent to which this mischief is spreading can be explained by referring to one or two short cases. I noticed quite by accident a case in a newspaper where a line of omnibuses, subject to the first restriction which I have mentioned, of thirty miles per hour, was summoned for exceeding the limit, and the driver said he did not think he was exceeding the limit, but it was clearly proved that he was going at from forty to forty-five miles an hour, and it was shown that he had no speedometer. Somebody then said this, as to the general practice of these cars: "I do not remember any case before this court in which they did carry a speedometer."

I am never prepared to indict even a large motor transport body upon a statement like that, and I was therefore astonished to find in a subsequent newspaper, The Times, of November 17 last, this statement: When Henry Dawson of Chiswick, driver of a Green Line motor-coach, was summoned for travelling at 45 miles an hour on September 21, and at 40 miles an hour on September 24, he said that he had no speedometer and could only estimate his speed. He knew of no Green Line coach having a speedometer. The defending solicitor said he had never had a case where the coach had a speedometer. How he thought that was a defence is a mystery which only lawyers in extremity may best be able to explain. He said it was "quite easy for drivers of these smooth-running vehicles with powerful engines to go faster than they thought they were travelling." That is precisely what I have told your Lordships, and this was the defending representative of a man charged with having exceeded the speed limit. The Chairman said a. speedometer was a protection for the driver, and he added something with which I am in entire sympathy. He said: "It is a pity we cannot get at the employers." I agree with him. I think myself it is a monstrous thing that a big line of motor omnibuses, subject to the law, which after a considerable examination has declared that their speed shall not exceed thirty miles an hour, should deliberately put their drivers on the road under conditions in which they know full well the men cannot tell at what speed they are travelling, and then leave their drivers to the mercy of the police and themselves go free.

My Motion, my Lords, is intended to remedy that wrong. It is not intended to apply only to passenger vehicles. It is intended to have universal application, and I have thought carefully to see what can be a possible answer to my complaint I can think of none. Why is it that when practicaly every motor car that is not subject to a speed limit has this speedometer, the ones that are bound by law— I had almost said as a condition of their licence—to have some check upon their speed, should systematically and deliberately avoid the only means by which that speed can properly be checked? I cannot help thinking, and I hope your Lordships will feel with me about this matter and realise, that what has taken place has been a most improper attempt to break the law which the Act of Parliament has laid down, and to throw the blame upon the people who, in the circumstances, are not responsible. Your Lordships may remember that recently I quoted shortly before you a ease in which a man was compelled to drive at a pace which his employers knew broke the law, and when he complained he was dismissed. Is this sort of thing to continue? Are we to allow these people, because they have got a licence to use the roads for mechanically propelled vehicles, to defy the law?

I want this extended not merely to these passenger omnibuses but to every one of these vehicles mentioned in the First Schedule of the Road Traffic Act, and I should like to see that no licence was granted unless that condition was complied with, and the licence forfeited if that condition was disobeyed. Unless we do something to check the way in which these heavy vehicles use our roads to-day, I think we are going to disregard the rights of a vast number of people, who, as I have said before, are quite unable to speak for themselves. The motor transport bodies, and all these bodies, can readily enough find their way to the Ministry of Transport. What is the use of a foot passenger going to the Ministry of Transport and saying that down his road a large number of these vehicles are coming at an unlawful rate? They will not pay any attention to him. But let these motor transport and other large bodies come to the Ministry and they are received as a deputation, and what they say is heeded.

That some steps should be taken, and taken quickly, to control this traffic, appears to me to be clear. Your Lordships may have seen a letter that was written by the Dean of Westminster, stating that the heavy traffic past Westminster Abbey, and the consequent vibration, disturbed devotions, and that a large mass of stone has fallen from the roof of Henry VII's Chapel. I am not prepared to say that cause and effect are clear. I only say that the continued effect of the vibration caused by these heavy vehicles passing that building must ultimately have that effect. Does any one care? Do you really think that the people who control and own these vehicles are going to stop because they might lay the Abbey in the dust if they went on? We know perfectly well that the Abbey represents something with which commerce has no concern. It has nothing to do with commerce. Their business is to drive their vehicles as fast and as heavily laden as they can past any building, whether devoted to religious services or not, without the least regard to whether they break the place to bits. That has been permitted by the Ministry of Transport, and it is being permitted to-day.

I do not say that my proposal goes far Enough. It certainly does not; far more is wanted. But it will at least give some assistance, and I am very much indebted to a suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Halsbury, who points out that it would be as well if there were added a provision that these speedometers should carry a chart so that they would automatically register the pace at which the vehicle had been travelling. He knows more of the mechanical side of this matter than I do, but the suggestion appears to me to be of the greatest possible value. I myself was going to suggest that there should be an arrangement by which directly the speed limit was exceeded there should be a light shown on the vehicle, so that you could see at a glance that it was breaking the law. It may be that what he suggests covers what I would have suggested, and carries out what I desire. Then, when you checked a vehicle, you would be able to see not only whether at that moment it was exceeding the speed limit but during what part of its journey it had already exceeded it, and that appears to me to be a matter of the highest possible value.

I cannot from past experience hope greatly for help from the Ministry of Transport. I do not say that in reference to my noble friend Lord Plymouth, because I have noticed that whenever these debates have been before this House he has been directed to reply for a Ministry for which he was not responsible, and the result is that there has never been any attempt to answer the real case that has been made against them— not owing to his fault, but because the Ministry has supplied him in the past with what has to be said without knowing what is the argument that is going to be urged. And whenever through the lattice bars of the typewritten manuscript the noble Earl himself peeps you find a most sympathetic and intelligent understanding of the whole position. But he has been imprisoned behind the Ministry of Transport, and we get nothing but an answer which establishes what the Ministry of Transport desires to say, but never attempts to reply to the case that has been made against it. To-day I sincerely hope that we shall receive something more satisfactory than that.

I cannot myself feel satisfied as to what the Ministry of Transport is doing. It appears to me to be paralysed in its action. It has waited and waited and waited, and has said it wants to see how this Act will operate. We have waited and we have seen; and we have seen that people are killed and injured on our roads by these vehicles to an extent that might stir the heart of anyone but a Government Department. The Minister of Transport appears to me exactly to answer the description that Matthew Arnold gave, as you may remember, in a passage which I quote, only altering two words in the whole sentence: The Minister he bowed his head in silent proud disdain, He heard the lorries thunder past, then turned to thought again. The purpose of my Motion is to make one more effort— and I can assure anybody who communicates with the Ministry of Transport it will not be my last— to secure that something may be done to check what I ask your Lordships to say is nothing but a public scandal and an open outrage upon the law.

Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House no existing licence should be renewed and no new licence granted to any motor vehicle subject to a restriction on its speed except upon the terms that such vehicle is equipped with a trustworthy speedometer.— (Lord Buck-master.)


My Lords, I never listen to the noble and learned Lord without being deeply moved, and I always feel that we are on the eve of some great catastrophe. But I do think that we owe him a debt of gratitude for the untiring way in which he comes to your Lordships. House and makes suggestion after suggestion. And I must say that to-day I am in complete agreement with every word he has said. I am assured that the greatest danger on the road to-day is the excessive speed of these heavy vehicles, and it is a well-known fact that these road service cars of considerable weight travel down the country lanes at an excessive speed, their excuse very often being that they may be delayed on the way and they have got to make up time. This shows that what was considered to be a check on them, that is to say a time-table, is no check whatsoever.

The noble and learned Viscount has made the proposal of a trustworthy speedometer, and he mentioned other devices, including a red light which might show the exact speed that such a vehicle was travelling at the moment it was stopped, or even at any moment during the journey. I regard that as insufficient. I do not think that by a device of that sort, a mechanism which is very liable not to be entirely reliable, you are going to stop these vehicles from charging through our lanes and streets as they are doing. I would suggest for the consideration of His Majesty's Government and the Ministry of Transport that these vehicles, being, as they are, subjected by law to a perfectly definite speed limit, should be fitted with a governor; that is to say, that they would be incapable of exceeding that speed limit, that the mechanism would not work beyond that speed limit. I believe the difficulty of the mechanical adjustment of such a governor is quite easily overcome, and the police or the Commissioners would be charged with seeing that none of these road service cars, trolleys or heavy vehicles should be allowed on the roads unless they were fitted with a governor.

I believe the objection is this. Say the governor checked the vehicle beyond thirty miles an hour. The owners of that vehicle may say that it must have the power to go from thirty-five to forty miles an hour in order to carry it up a steep incline. I am not perfectly certain that that is an adequate reply to my Suggestion. I do not think it is. In the first place, the vehicle that is allowed to travel at thirty miles an hour, and not more than thirty miles an hour, in a given journey is able to do from twenty to twenty-five miles an hour and get over the ground quite fast enough. It has in reserve five miles up to the thirty with which to do the incline, and there might be certain roads where a very steep incline might necessitate perhaps a slight extension of the speed limit. But as I think the noble and learned Viscount has really touched a point where we can get at the law-breakers, I think it would be a great mistake if we did not go further and see that these people are caught. Because I feel certain that the devices that the noble and learned Viscount has put forward will not really deal with the question adequately.

I would only mildly protest at his remarks about the Ministry of Transport, because I think the Ministry of Transport, bewildered as they well may be by this new and overwhelming method of locomotion which we are all trying to regulate and find it extremely difficult to do— I think the Ministry of Transport are quite ready to listen to any suggestions. I have had the experience in your Lordships' House of being behind the entanglement of a typewritten brief from the Ministry of Transport, and I know how one desires to go beyond it, and then one has to draw oneself up and be very careful to say precisely what is on the paper. But I do believe that the Ministry, with a large staff and exceedingly able officials, are ready to listen to all these suggestions, and we must encourage the noble and learned Lord to continue his attack upon the Ministry, because I am sure he is having an effect, and to-day I think he has had a great effect. I did desire to say just these few words in order to strengthen his hands in bringing before your Lordships' atten- tion a device which I think would adequately meet the ease he has so ably put before you.


My Lords, I do rather congratulate the noble Lord who leads the Opposition on having invented something that has beaten every engineer for the last fifty years. I have never hoard of any governor that could be put upon a motor vehicle that would adequately stop it at a particular stage. I think his suggest on would be welcomed by the trade. At the same time I can see the most appalling objections, even if you got such a thing. We must recognise that when a vehicle is on the road it must have a certain elasticity for the purpose of getting out of a sudden difficulty which is may find itself in through no fault of its own, and to say you can never have a. spare speed that would get you out of that difficulty would be hopeless. I entirely agree with the noble and learned Lord's object. The only thing I am a little doubtful about is whether his Motion as it at present stands will attain that object. Even if it does not fully attain it, it is, anyhow, a very excellent half-way house.

It is quite true that I did venture to make a suggestion to him, and it was a suggestion based on the fact that there are such instruments in actual existence. You can get a recording speedometer— they are not at present designed for a motor car; I will deal with that point in a moment— which records on a chart just like the ordinary recording barometer, and which will give you exactly what speed a particular machine has attained throughout a definite time. I took the trouble this morning to go down to one oil the leading instrument makers and ask him what the particular state of affairs was with regard to that. He told me there would be no difficulty whatever in adapting one which was well known to the needs of a motor car if it was wanted. I then said: "I am going to ask you something that is almost impossible for you to answer. I am going to ask you to give me an estimate of the cost of an instrument that you have not yet made." He told me that the cost of it ought to be about £5. That is not an excessive amount for something that is really going to help in this very great difficulty on the roads. Just see what you are going to get if you get. such a thing. People recognise perfectly well that some of these lines of motor omnibuses are exceeding the speed limit. There is no doubt about that at all. Ten days ago I was riding in one myself. I thought we were going a bit fast, and, as I generally have about me a stopwatch, I took the trouble to time it between milestone and milestone. We were going at fifty-three miles an hour. Of course that is far too fast for a vehicle of that kind.

If you have a recording speedometer, what happens? The police suspect that these omnibuses are inclined to go too fast. The local "Robert" comes along, puts up his arm, and says: "Stop, please. I want to see your chart." If he finds that it has gone over the red line, that driver is "for it." If that line of omnibuses find that every single one of their omnibuses is stopped regularly, and that their drivers are found to be constantly exceeding the speed limit, that is going to be what you might call a slight deterrent upon a service of that kind. Do not think for a moment that because I am suggesting that a recording speedometer would do a great deal of good, which I believe it would—I believe it would do a quick and practical good—I am putting that forward as the only possible solution. I dare say there may be a great many solutions that are better than this. I am only putting forward one which could be put into practical use quite quickly without any question of any further invention and without any very great cost to the people who use it.

Something was said about a trustworthy speedometer. Of course one must realise that something has got to be done to see that the speedometer is in a form which you can trust as a rule, but there is no very great difficulty in that. May I give one example? If I take up an aeroplane I have to take a compass, and I have also to take up a certificate from the N.P.L. that my compass is accurate. Here, if you have the Ministry of Transport saying that a particular type of speedometer is passed by them as proper, and is one made by a known and approved instrument maker, surely one could assume that prima facie it was accurate. If there was any question about it being inaccurate there would be no difficulty whatsoever in testing a particular speedometer to see if it had been accurate or not. For those reasons I do suggest that that is a practical way of putting an end to what really is a scandal in the country.


My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate, and I will certainly not detain your Lordships more than a few minutes. It is not often that I find myself in agreement with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, but in this matter he has my complete sympathy. He mentioned the question of recording the speed limit, and said that it was quite impossible for any driver of a heavy vehicle to tell the speed at which he was travelling. That may be an excellent excuse in the police court as a defence, but, personally, I should know certainly within four or five miles an hour the speed at which I was travelling. The second point I would like to make with regard to speedometers is this. I entirely agree that these vehicles should have speedometers, but I should like to point out to the noble and learned Lord that it is perfectly easy to make a speedometer read whatever you want it to read. It only requires two or three minutes with a little bit of insulation tape or something of that kind.

The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, said that you could have a reputable instrument maker to make the speedometer just as you have for making an aeroplane compass. I entirely agree, but there is a vast difference between an aeroplane compass and a motor car speedometer, because an aeroplane each time, before it goes up, has to be inspected by various inspectors. I owned an aeroplane myself some years ago, and know a little about it. You cannot expect every time a motor vehicle comes into a garage to have an inspector there to see whether the speedometer is in proper working order or not. I certainly think, with regard to the speedometer that works out the average mileage, that that would be a very excellent suggestion.


I was not talking about average mileage at all.


The average speed.


No, nor the average speed. I was talking about the ordinary recording speedometer. That gives you at once the actual speed you are doing the whole time. That is not average speed; it is actual speed.


I beg the noble Earl's pardon. I rather misunderstood him. There is a speedometer that records average speed and I thought he was referring to that. Even so, I think that with the speedometer he means it would be perfectly possible to "wangle" it if you tried. There is one other point with which I would like to deal. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby suggested that a governor should be fitted. Probably most of your Lordships know that a governor is fitted on nearly every new car. A washer is put in the carburettor which prevents the car exceeding twenty-five miles per hour. If you were to fix such a device in these big lorries I think you would find that everybody would immediately tell you that it was impossible to get up hills. The driver would have to change down too early and the petrol consumption would go up. I do not see, however, why something should not be worked out in the ratios of the gear box so that if the car exceeded a definite speed—say thirty miles an hour—some form of cut-out would operate and the engine would merely race. I do not think it is beyond the capacity of engineering to discover some such method. In fact, I feel sure that even I, if I thought about it long enough, would be able to devise some means of cutting out the engine. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, spoke about vibration, and I entirely agree with him on that point. Personally, I would like to make it compulsory for every heavy vehicle to have pneumatic tyres, because without pneumatic tyres you get enormous vibration, while if they are fitted you certainly do not get that vibration. On this occasion I warmly support the noble and learned Lord.


My Lords, I also wish to support the noble and learned Lord who introduced this Motion sympathise with him in every word he said in asking that this Motion should be carried in defence of the other users of the road. There is, however, another reason which has not yet been mentioned but which I think is also important. At the present time the Government are sending to local authorities very urgent requests— perhaps I might use a stronger word than requests— that expenses should be diminished in every possible way. If you look through the accounts of local authorities you will find that the two great sources of expense are education and the roads. You may cut down other things in a trifling manner, but if you want to make large reductions the roads form one of the principal sources from which those reductions can come. There is nothing which causes so much expense en the roads as fast traffic on the part of very heavy vehicles. I think that that reason ought to be added to the other very forcible reasons which my noble friend put forward in support of the Motion, which I am, sure we are all indebted to him for bringing before this House.


My Lords, I listened with great attention to the remarks which have fallen from previous speakers. Of course, everybody must have the greatest possible sympathy with those who wish to see obedience to the law in respect of heavy road vehicles. The noble and learned Lord mentioned the case of the Green Line coaches, and said he wished he could get at those who sent out Green Line coaches not equipped with speedometers. There is nothing to prevent a certain number of your Lordships coming down here and having it out with the noble and learned Lord, probably in a peaceful way, in the Lobby outside. The noble and learned Lord said he wished to see the universal application of speedometers to heavy motor vehicles. I wonder whether he and other people who take that view have considered what that would mean. Included amongst the vehicles subject to speed limits are motor tractors and agricultural tractors. I understand that there are no fewer that 350,000 vehicles which would be subject to what the noble and learned Lord is asking us to insist upon, and I believe that if you add to that figure tractors and other vehicles which would have to he included the number would he 500,000. The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, told us that it was possible to get a recording speedometer for a sum under £4.


Under £5.


Under £5. You will see, therefore, that it is proposed to ask the motor transport industry of the country to incur a very large expenditure. The noble Lord who leads the Opposition suggested that a governor should be fitted to these heavy motor vehicles. That suggestion has often been made and has as often been turned down for the reason that it has always been considered likely to give rise to very great dangers on the road. The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, pleaded for elasticity in speed. Suppose you get a motor vehicle passing a slower vehicle and just at that moment the engine cuts out so that he cannot get past, while something else is coming towards him. A position of infinite danger to everybody-instantly arises. If a governor was fitted I suppose it would be fitted on the engine to control the speed when revolutions reached a certain point. Suppose the car was going up hill, the driver would have to change speed so that the engine would have to turn over very fast to get the vehicle up the hill at all. One often sees lorries and other heavy vehicles labouring up a hill with the engine turning over very fast. If you had a governor the engine would be cutting out, and the result would be in some cases that the vehicle would not be able to get up the hill with the load it was attempting to move.

The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, suggested an alteration of gear ratios. I would like to submit that there are powerful arguments against that. A motor lorry must have a very powerful engine, and if you have a very powerful engine turning over at high speed compared with the speed of the vehicle and the engine is subject to over-heating—


I only intended to suggest that the top gear ratio should be altered, not any other.


That would also affect the question of over-heating considerably, and over-heating is one of the great troubles which the drivers of heavy motor vehicles have to contend against. I have the greatest possible sympathy with the idea of the noble and learned Lord, which is to ensure enforcement of the law, but I really feel that he is "barking up the wrong tree." I feel that enforcement of the law is not so much a matter for the Minister of Transport. It is for the police to take action if they find the law is being disregarded. I do not think we have had any evidence to show that the police are really neglecting their duty as far as this is concerned. If you read the newspapers you will find that the police are constantly taking action and are bringing home to the drivers of heavy motor vehicles that they must not proceed at speeds higher than those fixed by law.

I agree entirely with what has been said with regard to pneumatic tyres. The noble Lord, Lord Bayford, and the noble Lord, Lord Buckmaster, himself alluded to the terrible problem—and it is a terrible problem—caused by vehicles with solid tyres in the villages of the country, where small cottages and even more important buildings, and in great cities like this, buildings like Westminster Abbey itself, are shaken to their foundations by the passage of modern transport. Everybody must sympathise with those who are affected by that state of affairs; and if only we can secure that vehicles are put on the roads with pneumatic tyres and not with solid tyres, we shall have gone a long way to remedy that state of affairs. It will make a tremendous difference, as any one of your Lordships must know. I myself on one occasion purposely went out on to one of our busiest highways, where there is a very large lorry traffic, leading into and out of Manchester, in order to test the amount of vibration caused to the road crust by the passage of heavy vehicles, and the way in which the vehicles fitted with solid tyres caused a regular sort of young earthquake during their passage was really quite remarkable. In fact it was so great that one found oneself wondering how it was that the fabric of small cottages and so on could possibly stand the vibration.

There is also another factor which comes in here, and that is the disposition of loads. I think the Ministry of Transport might well give a little attention to weight distribution on many of the heavy motor vehicles, which is a most important factor in this matter. At the same time, my Lords, I should like to come back to the question of speedometers. I think that we should be asking the Ministry of Transport to saddle the transport industry with an enormous expenditure if we were to insist on speedometers being fitted on vehicles subject to a speed limit. We should not thereby secure the enforcement of the speed limit. The speed limit, if it were going to be exceeded, would still be exceeded as before. The instruments, if fitted, could not be guaranteed for reliability. It would be the easiest thing in the world for a split pin to he taken out here, or for a nut to be slackened back there, which would affect the working of the instrument if one wanted to do so. If you have a light fitted to a vehicle, it is the easiest thing in the world to cause a short-circuit if you want to do so, or in other ways to tamper with it so as to prevent it working with reliability. Therefore, I hope that we shall not urge the Ministry of Transport to insist on this regulation. At the same time, I think that the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Buckmaster, to-day, will be most helpful to those in authority, and I am quite certain that the police themselves will be grateful for the support which he has given them by bringing the subject forward.


My Lords, I should like to make one observation about the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster. The impression left on my mind was that he thought that the big motor passenger omnibuses were the chief culprits; at any rate it was to them that he devoted most of his speech. The big Green Line omnibuses are not the only offenders in this matter, and it is no good saying that you are going to apply automatic recording speedometers to these vehicles alone; you have got to apply them all round.


My Motion proposes that.


I say that you have to apply the speedometer all round, to any vehicle which can break a regulation about speed—any vehicle down to ten miles an hour, or even down to five miles an hour.


Or three miles an hour.


Actually three miles an hour, is it? Therefore all vehicles, including farm tractors, will have to have automatic recording speedometers upon them; and every motor cycle, too.




Yes, in a speed limit area.




Indeed, yes.


The noble Earl has mistaken me. I am not proposing that this Motion should apply to anything except to the classes of vehicles which are restricted by Statute to speeds set out in the Schedule to the Road Traffic Act.


If you have got to have an automatic recording speedometer on a vehicle, it can be called for whenever the driver of any vehicle is charged with exceeding a statutory speed limit; is that the point?




When he is in a three-mile limit lie may exceed it. I say, therefore, that every vehicle which can break the law must accordingly have an automatic recording speedometer upon it— every vehicle, including motor cycles— and I do not see why horse-drawn vehicles should not have the same law applied to them as mechanical vehicles. There would be a sum of ten or fifteen millions of money put by this resolution, if it became law, on to the motor industry to-morrow. The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, said that you can get one for a five pound note. I dare say you can get one, to last for a month; but if you have to have an automatic recording speedometer upon a heavily laden car which passes over a series of bad roads, you have to have au extremely delicate and well-poised instrument, and that instrument will be shaken to bits in the ordinary, normal, respectful user of the road, within a few weeks. It is not a matter of £5, it is not a matter of £10, and it is not even a matter of.£10,000,000; you are going to put an immense sum of money upon this industry—and, into the bargain, think of the army of inspectors who would be required, to look at, to check, to record, and to preserve the schedules of the vehicles fitted with this instrument.

It has been suggested: why not have a governor in the engine? It seems to me that your Lordships are extemporising remedies for one of the most difficult and delicate problems which you have to face—extemporising mechanical remedies without considering their feasibility, or still less their cost. I do not believe that this is the way to approach the problem at all. I do not think that by the multiplication of appliances we are going to deal with what is a very grave, and I am afraid a very growing, abuse. I think we ought to divert our attention from these mechanical remedies, and approach it from quite a different psychological point of view. It is in another direction, and an entirely different direction from the mechanical direction, that I think the solution is going to be found.


My Lords, I did not intend to say a word, but I cannot allow my noble friend's speech to pass without sonic attempt at a reply.


I shall be very glad to hear it.


To begin with, I think my noble friend was in error in saying that there was a speed limit applicable to all cycles and all cars. The great mass of speed limits was destroyed by the Road Traffic Act, and speed limits are applicable only to those particular and special cars and special vehicles which were exempted from the general law. Quite apart from that, we are now really back in exactly the same difficulty as that in which we were at the time when the Road Traffic Act was passed. What actually happened in the history of that matter? There was a speed limit enacted. By a conspiracy of all the motor users in the country, that speed limit was habitually disregarded. Every attempt was made for years to enforce the law; certain authorities took the most elaborate measures for the purpose. They had speed traps, they had all sorts of dodges, in order to catch the motorists. It was all a complete and total failure. The people who intended to break the law went on breaking the law, and rejoiced in breaking the law; and there are many of your Lordships present who can, from personal experience, certify that that is so.

That is what happened. Led by the richest and the most educated class in the country, there was a conspiracy to-disobey the laws of the country. I thought it a very serious matter at the time; I still think it a very serious matter, and I believe that it did infinite harm to the law-abiding nature of this country; but that is what happened. The thing was a complete failure; the speed limit was disregarded and then down came the Ministry of Transport who said to the House "We cannot enforce this law; the only thing is to abolish it." That example which was given by those motor users will certainly be imitated by the motor users who now own vehicles which are subject to a speed limit, and your Lordships and the other House of Parliament have to make up your minds whether you are going through the same experience of continual breaches of the law universally amongst these motor users until the law has become positively a laughing stock and a Minister comes down and says: "We cannot enforce the law; we must abolish it." That will certainly happen unless you are prepared to take some effective measures to see that the law is enforced. The idea that you can enforce it by the police has already been proved illusory. My noble friend has some psychological plan. Psychology is a very fashionable word nowadays, but what it means in this instance I do not know.


I only meant, do not try to solve it on mechanical lines, but let the magistracy do their duty.


Psychology therefore means sending people to prison; but that has been tried.


That is what the speedometer is intended to do.


It has been tried, but you cannot watch the roads sufficiently by any number of police or traffic officers for the purpose of suppressing breaches of the law, and I am certain that if you try that plan it will fail. Now the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, comes with a different plan. He says: "Let us have some clear unmistakable evidence always available as to what these people are doing." I think that is worth trying. You can have a speedometer fixed in the same way as it is fixed on a large number of cars already. Almost every private car has a speedometer which works perfectly well and does not get out of order more than any other machinery. There is no difficulty in adapting machinery which works well for the ordinary speedometer to such an instrument as will make it plain to the world at large what pace the car is really doing, and I believe there are inventions on the market by which it can be done. As for its being tampered with, I do not pretend to have the mechanical knowledge of some of your Lordships, but I believe you can so lock up and seal a bit of machinery as to make it impossible for anyone to tamper with it except under exceptional circumstances which can easily be discovered. I fancy that the taximeters in the cabs are not, in fact, ordinarily tampered with, and there is no reason why a speedometer of a different sort should not be equally protected.

One word upon the question of governors. When I had the honour of introducing legislation which was not accepted by your Lordships' House, I proposed the governor and I believe it is possible to have it. The noble Lord on the Labour Benches said that almost every new car is provided with a device which prevents the driver at certain times from driving at more than a certain speed, and if that can be done in the case of new cars it can equally he done with other cars. I should be prepared to see governors applied, but the suggestion of my noble and learned friend is a speedometer, which is less extreme, and I hope that will be tried. But if you are not prepared to take adequate measures to see that the law is enforced it would be better to repeal the law before it is brought into contempt by perpetual breach.


My Lords, I wonder what the noble Viscount understands by a "conspiracy." When a speed limit was in force I broke the law, as I have no doubt some other noble Lords did, but I never conspired with anybody and I do not believe for a moment anybody else did. I think the police evidence in these cases is nearly always on the same lines. The police say that they stopped a man and asked him why he drove his car at so many miles an hour and the reply, always the same, was: "I did not know I was going as fast as that." We seem to have a large number of persons in this country who are perpetually in the state of not knowing whether they are breaking the law or not. The noble and learned Lord expressed his sympathy with the motor driver. I rather think it is misplaced. I understand there is an organisation which for a small weekly sum insures the driver against being fined, and I understand that most, if not all, of the drivers belong to that organisation. That fact, if it is a fact, rather strengthens the case made by the noble and learned Lord.


My Lords, the noble and learned Lord at the end of his speech paid me a tribute that I do not think I have fully earned. He said that when occasionally my personality peeped out through the lines of the Ministry of Transport's brief I showed a good deal of human sympathy. I hope that is true, but I must point out that until two months ago I was very closely connected with the Ministry of Transport as Parliamentary Secretary, and I do not wish to disclaim responsibility for anything I said on the many occasions on which I replied on behalf of the Ministry in your Lordships' House. The noble and learned Lord said that I never gave him any reply to his complaint. I suppose that is a matter of opinion. At any rate I was not able to satisfy the noble and learned Lord, and I can only plead as an excuse that he is not a very easy person to satisfy. That at any rate has been my experience.

There are quite definitely two sides to these questions. The more I study them the more absolutely certain I am of that. This was shown by what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Crawford. I do not think the noble and learned Lord sees more than one side. This debate has once again, as transport debates usually do in your Lordships' House, ranged over a very wide field. It has covered a great deal more than the somewhat restricted scope of the Motion standing in the name of the noble and learned Lord, and if your Lordships will allow me I. should like to limit myself mainly to the terms of the Motion. But before I deal with it I should like to refer to one or two matters which have been dealt with by various noble Lords, because they are obviously important in the general discussion we have been having. For instance, the noble Lord, Lord Bayford, referred to the fact that one of the very serious aspects of the situation was the enormous sum of money spent in the aggregate on the roads and the great damage done to the roads by these heavy vehicles travelling at excessive speeds. I quite agree with what the noble Lord said. It is a very serious aspect of the situation and everything should be done to mitigate the damage they do to the roads. I would like to point out that solid tyres are rapidly being superseded and a regulation has now been made by which they will entirely disappear by 1940. All new vehicles except locomotives will have now to be fitted with pneumatic tyres. As I have said, the vehicles without pneumatic tyres are very rapidly disappearing, and I think that will do a very great deal towards lessening the damage done to the roads.

Then the question of governors has been referred to. I do not think that I need say any more on that subject. I am not of a mechanical turn of mind, and cannot speak with authority on the subject; but there are two diametrically opposed points of view with regard to the question of governors, and I can only say, speaking personally, from what I have heard, that there would seem to be very grave difficulties in the way of applying such a piece of machinery at the present moment. I think probably there will always be difficulty.

Some noble Lords have also been referring to what are called recording speedometers. Of course, recording speedometers are not specifically referred to in Lord Buckmaster's Resolution at all. He speaks of ordinary speedometers, and I am therefore not in a position to deal very fully with the question of recording speedometers. I would like now to apply myself to the actual proposals of the Resolution. I can assure the noble and learned Lord that I want to deal with the matter as sympathetically as I possibly can, because we all have the same object in view, and that is, first, to see that the law is not disregarded, and, in the second place, to try to make the roads safer for everybody who uses them. The position with regard to speedometers is this: At the beginning of the year the Minister made a regulation to this effect that: As from the 1st January, 1933, in or upon every public service vehicle which is for the time being used as an express carriage there shall be fitted an efficient speedometer so placed as to be easily read by the driver of the vehicle. Then again: Every speedometer provided in compliance with the requirements of Regulation 3A hereof shall, at all material times, he maintained in good working order and kept free from any obstruction which might prevent its being easily read by the driver of the vehicle. It will be seen from that that the regulation applies only to public service vehicles which are, for the time being, used as express carriages, and it therefore does not apply to vehicles which are exclusively used as short-stage omnibuses, such as the omnibuses in London.

As I see it, there are two main arguments in favour of applying regulations of this kind, requiring that speedometers should be fitted to all vehicles subject to a speed limit. The first is this. When a driver is summoned for exceeding the speed limit it will no longer be possible for him to have recourse to the defence that he did not know he was doing so. The second argument is that it is hoped it will have some effect in the direction of making drivers drive more carefully. With regard to the first argument, I agree that there is clearly something in that, but I do not think it can possibly be looked upon as an over-riding consideration or as a matter of very great importance. It is true, I believe, that on several occasions magistrates have been influenced in dismissing cases in which proceedings have been brought against drivers, on the ground that the driver had no opportunity of knowing at what speed he was actually travelling, but I do not know why this should have been so.

I have never understood that it is a defence, in law at any rate, for having broken the law, to say that you did not know you were doing so. Anyhow, the number of cases involved is very small, indeed, and as a matter of fact I understand that proceedings are usually only taken against people when they have exceeded the speed limit by a substantial margin. In practice that is what happens, and I think the drivers in their heart of hearts, though they never admit it, know perfectly well that they have exceeded the speed limit.

With regard to the second argument, which I imagine is the more important argument and, at any rate, the more important part of the subject—namely, that it is hoped by insisting upon speedometers to have some effect in making drivers drive more carefully— I can only say that I think the effect of this regulation is very problematical. I think experience alone can tell us whether it is going to have any beneficial effect, and that is why we want to try the experiment of speedometers upon express carriages, which are clearly the most suitable carriages on which to try them. We want to try this experiment before coming to any decision as to whether the regulation should be extended to cover any other kind of vehicle subject to the speed limit.

There are various considerations which have to be taken into account in examining the possibility of applying these regulations to goods vehicles. To begin with, I understand that on commercial vehicles generally the tendency has been to reduce the number of accessories and fittings carried to a minimum, as in the rough use to which such vehicles are subjected they are liable to be damaged. Moreover, there has been a natural tendency to concentrate on keeping the vehicle in good running order, and often not much attention is paid to non-essentials. In the case of old vehicles already on the road the fitting of speedometers would frequently be a difficult and expensive matter, especially as there is little doubt that the most satisfactory drive for a speedometer is afforded by the provision of a gear drive incorporated in the gear box. It would be impracticable, without the considerable expense of a new gear box or extensive alterations, to fit such drives to a very large proportion of existing vehicles.

I am told that it would mean a very considerable expense indeed, in fact, a prohibitive one in a considerable number of cases. I said before that I am no mechanic, but I am told again that the older methods of driving speedometers by means of belts fitted to the transmission, or by gear rings fitted to the front wheels, are not at all satisfactory. This pattern of speedometer is very liable to get out of order, especially on vehicles used for rough work, and it would only probably be of any use on lorries of the most modern type. In these circumstances the Minister takes the view that this is not the time to call upon anyone to spend money unless there is some very solid justification for doing it. I venture to say that in requiring that express carriages shall be fitted with speedometers from January 1 next he has taken a very important step indeed. In the first place, public service vehicles such as these are regularly overhauled and are subject to regular inspection, whereas goods vehicles are not subject to inspection in the same kind of way. In the second place, it is generally agreed in your Lordships' House that it was this kind of vehicle that used most often to travel at excessive speeds. Therefore it seemed the obvious thing to do to select this type of vehicle to start on.

But I can only repeat what I said earlier, that before coming to any decision as to whether these regulations should be extended or not, the Minister naturally wants to have the results of this experiment before him. I am sure your Lordships will understand that I am in no way pronouncing judgment on the subject one way or the other, but in the circumstances, and in view of the fact that it would be extremely difficult from the practical point of view to require that all vehicles that are on the roads now should in future be fitted with speedometers, and in view of the fact that the Minister has already taken the course of requiring that this special type of vehicle, these express carriages, should be fitted with these speedometers in order to see what practical effect that may have, I do venture to say that we are dealing with the matter in a practical manner, and in such a manner as I think will appeal to common-sense and right-minded people. I want to be as sympathetic as I can with regard to the noble and learned Lord's Resolution, but I cannot accept it in full as it stands. I only want to express the hope that the explanation I have been able to give this afternoon will go some way at any rate towards satisfying him.


My Lords, before I deal in any detail with the speech of the noble Earl, let me get rid of one or two incidental matters that appear to have arisen in the course of this debate. In the first place let me assure the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, that what the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, meant by a conspiracy was this, that by tacit and universal consent the speed limit was disregarded, and that was exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, said was his own experience. He did not mean that the people had all got together in a room and said: "We won't obey the speed limit." What he meant was that, testing their conduct by results, there was a complete and wholesale disregard of the law. And I agree with him that I am not at all satisfied that the far-reaching, deep-rooted mischief of such a course has even yet been extirpated. I have great fears that it still obtains in regard to this traffic that is subject to speed restriction.

May I say a word to the noble Earl, Lord Crawford? I have no doubt that his mind is filled with matters far more interesting than clauses in Acts of Parliament, but perhaps he will permit me to refresh his memory with regard to what the Act, in fact, did. It provides in Clause 10 that: It shall not be lawful to drive a motor vehicle … at a speed greater than the speed specified in the First Schedule to the Act… of which I read to your Lordships some illustrations. And then by subsection (4) (a): no speed limit shall be imposed on any vehicle in the case of which no speed limit is provided by the said Schedule. So that the noble Earl can career happily on a motor bicycle, if that is his desire, without being compelled to carry a speedometer which would be required if this Motion were carried.

Now, with regard to what the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, has just said, let me first ask this: Why was it that these passenger omnibuses did not carry speedometers? Why were they deliberately omitted? There is only one answer. Because they did not desire the people who were driving these omnibuses to know the pace at which they were going. There can be no other explanation. The noble Earl says that the Ministry of Transport have recognised that that may be a danger, and have accordingly taken steps to secure in the future that that shall not go on. The extent of the mischief is something that I do not think is quite realised. These coaches represent, so far as I can see—and I have the figures here—2½ per cent. of the total licensed vehicles, but, in the course of an examination of two months' accidents, it was found that they were responsible for 9½per cent. of the accidents. So 2½ per cent. of the vehicles were responsible for 9½per cent. of the accidents. Why? There is only one conceivable reason. Because they exceeded the pace at which they were by Act of Parliament under obligation to drive.

"Well then," the noble Earl says, "we will try an experiment." He does not really think that I am suggesting that you restrict the speed ipso facto by putting on this speedometer, or that I enable a man to escape conviction at the police court. Nothing of the kind. What I do is that I secure that the man knows he is breaking the law; and, though at the moment it is perfectly true that the fact that he does not know that he is breaking the law, if, in fact, he breaks it, is no answer to the charge, it is something to be taken into consideration when you assess the penalty. Those magistrates—it was not I who said it—but those magistrates who said they wished that they could get at the men who have put these drivers in to drive these vehicles, without enabling them to know at what pace they were going, said that because they were compelled to convict the men, and they did not think that they were really responsible for the mischief. It is accepted, as I understand now, that this scheme is going to be applied in a modified form to these omnibuses, but not to other vehicles. Why not? Are not precisely the same conditions applicable to the other cars? They are absolutely identical. There is exactly the same risk from over-driving. There is exactly the same difficulty of knowing the pace at which you are travelling. Every single one of the circumstances that apply to one of these omnibuses will apply to these other cars. I can see no reason whatever why they should not be subject to this control.

The noble Earl, Lord Howe, made a speech which, if he will permit me to say so, interested me greatly, as the speeches that he makes always do. He said a thing that absolutely startled me. He said he himself had made experiments to see the extent to which the vibration of these heavy vehicles affected the houses which they went past, and his words were stronger than any I have used. These houses are in jeopardy, and you say: "Oh! well, we will try in 1940," when the wretched owners have been compelled to pay for repairing their houses that have been broken down by this traffic, which for some reason or another the Ministry of Transport decline adequately to control. I think it is the most terrible indictment of a Government Department that I have ever heard, more particularly when you bear in mind what I said, and to which, if the noble Earl will forgive me, he did not reply. I mentioned that by the law of this country these heavy vehicles were obliged to make good the damage they did to the roads and the bridges by the use of extraordinary and unusual traffic, and they have been relieved from that obligation at the cost of the ratepayers whose houses are shaken down by these heavy cars. It appears to me one of the most unjust things of which I have ever heard. As your Lordships know, £42,000,000 a year is taken from the pockets of the ratepayers to pay for the roads for this traffic, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, will tell you the effect it has upon the probably less well constructed houses by which it passes.

I have heard nothing in answer to my proposal, excepting, it may be, that it is inconvenient or that it may cost them a little more money. Are the public to have no protection? Is it to be assumed that these people have got the complete franchise of the roads and that they are at liberty to go on driving these cars without any control, excepting the control in this Statute, put upon them, and that that control shall not be effectively enforced because there is no exact means of knowing whether the regulations are available or not? I sincerely hope your Lordships will accept my Motion.

On Question, Motion agreed to.