§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Buckmaster.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.595
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1:
§ Negligent driving resulting in death or bodily injury.
§ 1. Any driver of a motor vehicle who, owing to his negligence, kills any person shall be guilty of manslaughter; and any person driving a motor vehicle who, by his negligence, causes bodily injury to any person, shall be guilty of unlawfully wounding.
LORD DARLING moved, before the first "negligence," to insert "own," and after "negligence" to insert "alone." The noble and learned Lord said: I desire to move the insertion of two words, and the clause will then read:
Any driver of a motor vehicle who, owing to his own negligence alone, kills any person shall be guilty of manslaughter.…
§ My object in moving this Amendment is to introduce into the Criminal Courts what is known in the Civil Courts as the doctrine of contributory negligence. At present in a Civil Court, if it appear in evidence that the plaintiff may have so far contributed to the accident in such a way that he would not have suffered any injury had it not been for his own negligence, then he cannot recover damages; but in a Criminal Court that does not apply. However negligent he may have been, however careless, the accused may be convicted of manslaughter or of doing grievous bodily harm, or whatever the charge is, although the jury are satisfied that the person injured was guilty of contributory negligence, and that, if he had not been, he would not have been injured at all.
§ Now, what is the definition of manslaughter? I had not the pleasure of hearing the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster, but I read it through carefully, and a most eloquent and affecting speech it was. He refers in that speech to the definition of manslaughter. I have often myself had to tell a jury what amounts to manslaughter, and the Judge has to tell the jurymen that negligence which would justify a verdict for the plaintiff in a Civil Court will not justify a verdict of "guilty of manslaughter" in a Criminal Court. In order to be guilty of manslaughter the person charged must not only have been negligent, he must have been, some Judges say, reckless, some say, guilty of gross negligence, which a 596 jury must consider nothing short of criminal. That is what one must tell the jury, and the consequence is that in very many cases the jury will not convict when they ought to. Why? One reason, I think, is that the person at fault is bound to insure against risk. I must apologise to your Lordships if you find it difficult to hear because I myself not long ago was knocked down by a motor vehicle. Your Lordships will, I hope, forgive me.
And, besides, when, as often is the case, the defendant accused is not a member of the criminal classes, they will do a great deal rather than see him, however careless, sent to prison; and they do not give those verdicts which they might otherwise give. It may be that the person injured may be greatly to blame and would have received no verdict in the Civil Court, but it is the fact that in the Criminal Court the defendant may be guilty of breaking the law and yet escape punishment. The law, I am afraid, protects careless people. It is tender to drunken people. A man may be very drunk, reeling about the road, and if he is knocked down by a motor vehicle through his own negligence or drunkenness that is neither here or there. That is put as well as can be in a case which was decided by Chief Baron Pollock. He said this:
The prisoners are charged with contributing to the death of the deceased by their negligence and improper conduct and, if they did so, it matters not whether he was deaf, or drunk, or negligent, or in part contributed to his own death; for in this consists a great distinction between civil and criminal proceedings.
It may not be unworthy of the occasion to notice how this attitude towards the road rights of drunkards came about. The roads were originally used by people walking. They were then used by people riding horses or driving in vehicles and it was not until lately that they have been used by these motor machines. Mr. Chesterton, an ingenious writer, was well aware of this origin of the road for he has written:
Before the Roman came to Rye, or out of Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
But there is good news yet to hear, and fine things to be seen
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.
The law, too, has been long aware of that fact and the law has been very tender to
the "rolling English drunkard" when he gets in the way of a horse and cart or even, nowadays, of motor cars.
§ I desire to see this Bill, at all events Clause 1 of it, passed into law. I am very much afraid, however, that, left in the state in which it is drawn by my noble and learned friend it will not pass into law. He said in the speech to which I have alluded that there are mud banks between this House and another place on which one of his important Bills has already come to wreck. I am afraid that would happen in this case. But it seems to me that it is time that the law was strengthened against these motor vehicles and Clause 1 makes that a crime which, in the Civil Court, gives a remedy in money. That is exactly what is done. It leaves out all about those cases of wicked negligence, criminal negligence, and certain others. It appears to me that if that be done then it will be only just to enact at the same time that the defence which is a good defence in a Civil Court shall be a good defence in a Criminal Court. In fact, I should think it would be so a fortiori. The accused is charged with having done all that gives a right to a civil remedy, and I would say that if you are going to make it a crime, subject to imprisonment, to do what gives a right of action in a Civil Court, you ought at the same time to let him avail himself in the Criminal Court of that which is a defence in a Civil Court. I put the matter plainly, and that is why I suggest putting in these words.
§ I simply desire to entitle them to make use of the doctrine of contributory negligence. If this be not done I fear there will be no convictions. The counsel for the defence would always say "The facts here show conclusively that the prosecutor himself was to blame. In the Civil Court just across the passage, that would be a perfectly good defence. He could not recover one half-penny of damages in the circumstances which have been proved." That is the argument. I think I know enough of the Courts of Justice, and I have seen enough of juries, to know that that is an argument which would be very likely to prevail. You must remember that nearly everybody on the jury himself has a motor vehicle, or he has a near relation who has one and if only one man on the jury differs, you do not 598 get a verdict; the jury have to be discharged, and it would be almost impossible, after an argument of that kind, addressed to the jury, to expect a conviction. Therefore I shall move to have these words or words like them put in.
§ A good deal was said when the Second Reading of this Bill was carried about children; and possibly my noble and learned friend will say: "Well, but this will bear hardly in a case in which the defendants have killed or injured a child." I think that would not be so because it is the law that the negligence where children are concerned is not simply the kind of negligence which would entitle a grown-up to plead it successfully. The law does not expect, for a moment, the same care from a child as from a grownup. The law does not exact from the child the kind of care, the kind of intelligence and the taking of the same precautions which it thinks necessary in the case of grown-up people. They are expected by the law to show care in what they are doing. I might mention two cases to my noble and learned friend. There is the case of Lynch versus Nardin decided in the Queen's Bench Division in 1841, and there is the case decided in 1854 by Baron Parke a most eminent lawyer, perhaps the most eminent lawyer of his day and afterwards known as Lord Wensleydale. That case draws the strongest distinction between a grown-up adult person and a child. I think the difficulty present to my noble and learned friend's mind will not arise.
§ I apologise to your Lordships for having so imperfectly addressed you. As I say it is the fault of those who have allowed these dangerous things to be driven along our roads. It may not be the fault of a man who drives them. I do not know. It seems to me that we must deal with this matter by special legislation. The Legislature has licensed people to drive large, heavy and dangerous vehicles just as it allows other dangerous instruments to be used. The Legislature having allowed them to do this on the roads of England, it is inevitable that there will be great danger to a foot passenger. Therefore I think this does justify legislation of a distinctive character. I beg to move.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I can hardly think that the first part of the Amendment to insert "own" after "his" is one upon which the noble Lord will desire to insist. It seems to me quite impossible to make any distinction between the word "his" and the word "own" and I do not understand what qualification he thinks can be introduced by adding the word "own" after the word "his" in the first sentence of this Bill, which says that "the driver of a motor vehicle, who, owing to his negligence, kills a person." I do not really think he himself can attach any great importance to the word, and for myself I cannot see that it gives any qualification or any emphasis whatever to the word "his" which still remains.
§ LORD DARLING
If any words remain which would introduce the doctrine of contributory negligence I will not insist upon that part of the Amendment.
§ Amendment to insert after the word "his" the word "own," by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD DARLING
I shall insist on the other part of the Amendment, after "negligence" to insert "alone."
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
This, of course, is a more important and a more formidable Amendment. Let me just see if I can state to your Lordships what I understand to be the argument by which the noble Lord desires to support it. He says that at present, in criminal charges of negligence, contributory negligence is no defence, but that none the less in the Civil Courts it is, and he desires to assimilate civil negligence with criminal negligence and at the same time introduce provisions which are applicable only to civil negligence in the Civil Courts. I do not think, with great respect to the noble and learned Lord, that he has stated the position exactly as it is. At the present moment it is not an answer to an action of negligence that the plaintiff has been guilty of negligence too, if it can be shown that notwithstanding the plaintiff's negligence it was in fact the defendant's negligence that was responsible for the accident. It is not enough merely to show that someone was guilty of negligence. You have to show 600 something more than that, and to introduce that into the Criminal Law under the words proposed would I think destroy the whole effect of the clause. It would mean that whatever might be the degree of negligence on the part of a foot passenger, however slight or however trivial, yet none the less the negligence of the motor driver would not render him responsible to the criminal proceedings which I desire to see introduced by this clause.
Further, when he says that I need not say more of the negligence of children, I most certainly am going to do so. If his words were introduced there is nothing to exempt children.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
But the Common Law doctrine will not help you when you are dealing with a Statute. You have to deal with the Act of Parliament and its words, and if this Act of Parliament is going to provide that this punishment which I desire to see inflicted is only to be inflicted where there is nothing at all excepting the negligence of the motor driver, then the negligence of a child would be as perfect a defence to the proceedings as the negligence of a grown-up man. There are further Amendments to be moved on this clause mitigating the effect of these penalties. These will be discussed in due time. I may say in advance that I am not prepared to raise any strenuous opposition to them, but I think it is essential that we should retain in the foreground of this clause the fact that if a man by his negligent act kills or maims another person he Should be guilty of a criminal action. Therefore I am unable to accept this Amendment.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT SANKEY)
With regard to this Amendment, although I have great sympathy with what my noble and learned friend Lord Darling said, and although where a person has been killed and he himself has been partially negligent I see difficulties in saying that the man who caused the injury—that is the motor driver—should be liable for manslaughter, or whatever the offence is, yet I agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster in thinking that the Amendment would materially weaken the clause. May I put this case without expressing any opinion as to the 601 desirability of the clause? Suppose two motorists came into collision, that both the drivers were negligent and that, as a result of the collision, a pedestrian was killed. Is it to be a defence open to one motorist to say: "Oh well, the other man was negligent and therefore I am not liable."? Then when action is brought against the second motorist, is he to say: "Well, the first motorist was negligent and so I am not liable"? I do think we must consider where the third person's negligence comes in. Therefore I should be sorry to see a great inroad made upon this particular clause because I think it would enable many people to escape.
§ LORD DARLING
As I said when I moved this Amendment I do not insist upon these particular words. I desire to introduce the doctrine of contributory negligence. If any form of words can be found which will without objection introduce that doctrine into this particular new crime in the Criminal Courts then I would gladly see those words put into this clause. I quite see the objection to these words and I see the puzzles that may arise in such a case as that put by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor. I therefore will not insist upon this Amendment, but I will try with such help as I can get, possibly from the Lord Chancellor, to find words which will introduce the doctrine of contributory negligence without being open to the objections to which these words have been exposed. In these circumstances I will not press the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
LORD DANESFORT moved to leave out "guilty of manslaughter" and to insert "liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years." The noble Lord said: On the Second Reading of this Bill objection was taken in several quarters, and it seems to me with considerable force, to introducing the law of manslaughter with its very severe penalties into the First Clause of this Bill. I do, however, venture to urge upon your Lordships that the law does require amendment in this direction, and indeed several speakers on the Second Reading admitted the necessity of it. My noble friend the Earl of Plymouth admitted the necessity for further legislation although he did not like the particular form of the Bill. My noble friend shakes his head, so may I quote
the passage I refer to in his speech? It appears in column 183 of the OFFICIAL REPORT. This is what he said:
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.
That appears to me to bear out my statement of his views—that he did not like the legislation proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, but that he thought there ought to be more comprehensive legislation; in other words, that the problem does require legislation.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hanworth, said in the course of the same debate—his words are reported in column 185 of the OFFICIAL REPORT—
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.
The Government have not given an assurance to that effect. Therefore, as they are not going to do anything this Session, and as it is admitted by, I understand, Lord Hanworth and many others that further legislation is necessary, I suggest to your Lordships that the words which I propose will meet the case.
I do not propose to refer again to the appalling cases quoted by my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster in his speech on the Second Reading, when he showed that deaths had occurred over and over again which were caused by the negligence of motor drivers and that under the existing law acquittal followed and nothing was done. My Amendment is founded upon what I think your Lordships will agree is a somewhat striking precedent. That precedent is Section 304A of the Indian Penal Code. That section is in these terms:
Whoever causes the death of a person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide shall be punished with imprisonment of either description.…
§ I presume that means—
§ LORD DANESFORT
He shall be punished with imprisonment—.…for a term which may extend to two years or with a fine or both.603 That is not verbatim my Amendment, but it is the same thing in substance. A man who causes death by his rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide shall be liable to imprisonment.
§ LORD DANESFORT
If it is desired, certainly I should have no objection to putting it in and leaving it to the discretion of the Judge whether there should or should not be hard labour. There is only one other thing I desire to mention in connection with my Amendment and it is this. It may be said that the case is sufficiently met by the dangerous driving clause contained in the Road Traffic Act of 1930. I have some figures which show how that clause works. In the year 1930 there were 19,694 persons convicted of dangerous driving and it may perhaps surprise your Lordships to hear that of those thousands of persons only eight were punished otherwise than by fine. To many a fine is absolutely useless for preventing dangerous driving; they smile at it and go on to do practically the same thing next day. In the circumstances I think I have met the objections of Lord Atkin and others who were opposed to treating this as a case of manslaughter, but I have provided an appropriate remedy for an offence which is, undoubtedly, a most serious one and which is not adequately met by the existing law. I beg to move.
Clause 1, page 1, line 7, leave out ("guilty of manslaughter") and insert ("liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years").—(Lord Danesfort.)
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
In the course of the debate on the Second Reading of this Bill fear was expressed lest the use of the word manslaughter, drawing with it its consequential penalties, might cause juries to hesitate in convicting and might lead people to think that the sentence would be unduly severe. I think it is possible that the fact would be used, and rightly and properly used, by counsel for 604 the defence who was attempting to get off a man brought up on this charge. I realise that and as my object is to secure that these men should be convicted I can understand that there is an advantage to be gained by withdrawing the word "manslaughter" from the Bill.
With regard to the question of punishment it was also said that the punishment of manslaughter extends indefinitely and so it does. And although I pointed out that it lay within the discretion of the Judge, who could give one day or a lifetime as he thought fit, and my personal fear was and is that the sentence would err on the side of being too light instead of being too heavy, none the less the fact that there was such a range of punishment might to some extent blunt the effect of the clause. As the Amendment which has been put down by the noble Lord provides that this negligent killing or maiming shall be criminal, which is the first thing I want to secure, and, secondly, that there shall be a substantial term of imprisonment for its commission, I am not prepared to quarrel with the Amendment and am willing to see it introduced into my Bill.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT (THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH)
Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to take this opportunity to re-state very briefly the views of the Government with regard to this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Danes-fort, has quoted certain words I used during the Second Reading debate. I admit that perhaps I did not express myself very carefully but I think, taking my words in their complete context, it it not quite fair to put the interpretation on them which the noble Lord has done. At the time I think I was stressing the point that the Road Traffic Act, after very careful consideration in both Houses of Parliament, had been passed less than two years and that I thought it was undesirable to start tinkering with this measure so soon after. In fact I stressed the point that I thought it undesirable to deal with such a vast question by piecemeal legislation and I meant to say that if there were a case for dealing with it at all it should be done on a comprehensive scale. I was also stressing the point that at this moment this question ought to be dealt with by administrative 605 action rather than by legislation. It is in fact the view of the Government that legislation of this character is not necessary at the present moment, and I must make it clear once again that the Government can assume no responsibility for this actual Bill. I can only repeat what I said on the Second Reading, but naturally the Government are anxious, out of respect to your Lordships' House and the Committee, to give what assistance they can during its passage through the Committee stage.
I need hardly say that the Government welcome the opportunities provided by debates in this House of drawing public attention once again to the very serious danger of the roads and of exploring further any possible remedies. Since the Second Reading debate both the Minister of Transport and the Home Secretary have issued grave public warnings on the subject of road accidents, and I think your Lordships will agree that there are very definite signs that public opinion is becoming more alive to the urgency of the problem; and it is an enlightened public opinion which is more necessary in these matters than almost anything else. The Minister of Transport and the Home Secretary are continuously in consultation as to the best means of securing a substantial reduction in the number of accidents, and I am able to tell the Committee that following on certain suggestions made during the Second Reading debate in this House—particularly by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin—the Home Secretary is about to issue a circular to justices of the peace in England and Wales drawing attention to the gravity of the situation in the light of the published statistics.
These discussions between the Minister of Transport and the Home Secretary have covered other matters bearing on the prevention of accidents, such as the more extended use of automatic light signals, the extension of the practice of indicating crossing places by means of special signs and markings, the functions of motor police patrols, the possibility of widespread propaganda for the education of the public and other such-like matters. I may add that the Home Office issued a further circular last month to the chief officers of police on the subject of the enforcement of speed limits for heavy vehicles. I hope the Committee 606 will think that what I have been able to tell them shows that the Government have not been inactive but are fully alive to the situation and the seriousness of it. As far as this particular Amendment is concerned, I certainly say that it is less objectionable than the proposal in the Bill as it stands at present and the Government would be prepared to support it.
§ VISCOUNT SUMNER
I think the Committee ought to be grateful to the noble Earl for the speech he has just made as it relieves us from so many of the complications into which it was obvious we were rapidly getting. He has told us with authority, first, that the Government is not prepared to take any responsibility for assisting the passage of the Bill. He also added that the Government is fully alive to the situation. Then he said that the Government always was glad that this House should engage itself in discussion upon subjects of general importance because, after all, discussion could do no harm and might even do some good. In those circumstances your Lordships will see that it really does not matter twopence, if I may be permitted to use a common expression, what you do with this Amendment: the Bill is not going to become law and whether you insert a new crime and call it manslaughter or insert a new crime and say that it is negligent killing, punishable with imprisonment, with or without hard labour, will not make any difference to the motor traffic or to the manslaughter which does take place and is unpunished.
I suppose, having given this Bill a Second Reading—not a First Reading, for the purpose of promoting discussion—which is supposed to deal with the principle, I may take it that your Lordships' opinion is in favour of making it criminal to kill or wound a person by driving a motor vehicle. One of the most eminent supporters of this Bill, and other Bills devoted to a similar object, said "Hear hear!" when I intimated that, and I see very little use in prosecuting any discussion myself upon the question whether it is to be a crime or not. Your Lordships were told on the Second Reading, by a number of members of this House very well qualified to express an opinion, that they did not believe any jury would convict anybody of manslaughter, and I think they would have added of unlawful 607 wounding, or any other kind of wounding, upon indictment for a criminal offence. Yet, full of hope, inspired by the usual British notion that something must be done, your Lordships have at any rate taken one step and said that it is in principle sound to make this form of bad driving, with its deplorable results, criminal, although you very well knew that for years and years the law had been brought into contempt because the Courts, which ought to have convicted people for exceeding the speed limit, would insist upon treating the whole thing as a joke.
Your Lordships know very well that the only form of punishment which is likely to be effective is dealing with people's licences and that is a form of punishment to which those in authority are most reluctant to resort, but with a still new hope, undeterred by these deplorable failures, your Lordships have adopted the principle that we should try what the effect of imprisonment will be upon people who will not be deterred otherwise. Therefore I will not trouble your Lordships with an inquiry, upon my own part, whether to call it manslaughter and face the consequences—the consequences being acquittal—or not to call it manslaughter but simply accept that without troubling what kind of negligence it is, or giving the Judges the trouble of explaining the inexplicable and telling what gross negligence is, if by your negligence you kill anybody you shall go to prison for a certain length of time. I do not believe that in any considerable proportion of cases you will get the justices to commit for trial, and I still less believe you will get juries, after they have been addressed sympathetically and emotionally by a properly qualified advocate, to send a well-meaning young person just entering upon life, perhaps an undergraduate who has only just matriculated, or perhaps a lady who has only just learnt, if at all, to drive a car—I do not believe you will get them to send such a person to the cruel stigma of gaol because, after all, if the victim is dead he is dead, or if his relatives have a claim for his death there is the insurance policy. If he is not dead, there is also the insurance policy.
There is another Bill before your Lordships directed to that aspect of providing plaster for the wounded in the shape 608 of sufficient Treasury notes. I think this House should consider which line is the most promising—that which provides new crimes in the doubtful hope that the law will ever be enforced, or that which is the line of insurance, providing that somebody shall pay something and thus secure that some solid solatium shall be obtained. If I may say so, anticipating a further Amendment, the one real hope which there is before us is by automatically dealing with the licence. That is what drivers think of. If they were deterred by the fear of manslaughter, they would be deterred by the fear of breaking their own necks, for they cannot always be sure that the other person and not they will be injured. They take the risk of those things because in the immense majority of cases they do not kill anybody, but they have well in their minds the risk of having their licences dealt with, and I believe that it is by inexorably dealing with the licence of everybody who gets into a collision and only restoring it when the driver has cleared himself of any blame by proper application to the proper authority, that you will ever begin to deal with this crying evil.
Will your Lordships remember this? If you had been told before Gottlieb Daimler invented the explosion engine, that the common roads of this country, open to everybody, for himself, his goods and his cattle, which came down to us from our fathers in a state adapted only partially even to the conditions existing at the end of last century, were to be turned into common highways for vehicles comparable only to railway trains, operated without any system of signals and without time schedules and with no responsibility except that of Tom, Dick or Harry, to whom licences have been given and who, in the fraction of a second, have to decide whether to do one thing or another, and if you had been told that such roads were to be carried on as highways common to anybody and you could take any engine which Parliament would allow you to take upon them, and to run them at any speed which Parliament authorised, and if you were told that Parliament, undeterred by the increasing slaughter had got rid of the speed limit and increased the authority to use those roads for huge vehicles which were very difficult to control, and 609 that the ordinary user of the road, whichever side he was on, had just got to take the consequences, you would have said that it was all a dream. That is where we have got to. Parliament has with its eyes open taken various steps which have led us to it, and we cannot hope now to get out of it by any short cut and by inventing new crimes to prevent that which arises from conditions imposed upon the road traffic, the cure for which can only come slowly and, as I believe, only by dealing with the licences. Therefore I can only say that I will vote on this Amendment with whatever part of the House seems likely to have a majority, reconciling myself to what we have been told, that we shall hear no more about this Bill here or anywhere else.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, I did not intervene on the Second Reading of this Bill, but I was very much impressed by what the noble Lord who is responsible for it said. I have followed the debates carefully and I agree with the noble Earl who represents the Government on this occasion in thinking that piecemeal legislation is really not advisable at the present time. There is no question that we are being faced with a very vast problem. I came into your Lordships' House to assist my noble friend the late Lord Russell in the passage of the Road Traffic Bill through this House, and I also assisted in the production of what is known as the Highway Code. I am sure that the Ministry of Transport are anxious to do everything in their power to mitigate what is growing into a tragedy on the roads. I am not at all sure that the Government will not be forced before long to take very drastic steps in the way of fresh legislation; I am not at all sure that it will not have to follow the lines which have been foreshadowed by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner, who has just spoken; that is to say, that the roads will have to be in certain parts reserved for motor cars and for motor cars alone, and that they must have their own tracks, and not be allowed to interfere with other forms of locomotion.
But I have been struck in the course of the debate by the insistence that there has been in the arguments brought forward by various noble Lords on the criminality of the motorist and the entire 610 innocence of the pedestrian, and I think that has really been over-stressed. Those who have driven cars—I have driven cars for a good many years—can compare their state of mind in driving a car with their state of mind in walking the street, and they will see then exactly what very often happens. In driving car a man must keep his attention fully stretched the whole time. In walking the streets we walk and we think of other things. It is unfortunate that day-dreaming as one walks along, very pleasant as it has been, is now no longer possible. But the behaviour of pedestrians is really nothing short of suicidal, and I think that will be borne out by many motorists who go along country lanes and through country villages. Pedestrians do not take advantage of footpaths, they do not take advantage of subways, they do not take advantage of crossing-places. Therefore I think a great deal can be done still by the process of education, and I wish that the Pedestrians' Association, of which the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, is a leading personality, would undertake the education of pedestrians. It has been done in the schools, and I think I am right in saying that, in the statistics of accidents that have been collected by the Safety First Association, the accidents to younger people are much fewer than the accidents to older people. The younger people are growing up with what is called a road sense, a new road sense. They are more alert, they are more on the look-out, they do not turn their backs to traffic coming along and cross roads diagonally, they do not come out from behind stationary vehicles: they are taught that they have got to be alert; and I think the new generation that is growing up will be more alert than we are.
But all these are very small mitigations, compared to the greater problem of the great loss of life and the enormous number of accidents, and I think a great debt of gratitude is due to the noble and learned Lord for bringing this matter up, because in the course of ventilation a cure may be found. With regard to the particular Amendment before the House, I am glad that the noble and learned Lord will accept it because I think it gives a better chance to the Bill, if it ever did become law, of being worked 611 and being productive of good results. I think the introduction of manslaughter gave it an undue severity which might have made it defeat its own object. But, on the whole, the attitude adopted by the Government in this matter is, I think, one which I, anyhow, feel inclined to support.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHEWOOD
When I was in the House of Commons I used to be told that when the two Front Benches agreed then it was quite certain that the course they recommended should be avoided, and I always acted on that—until I got on to the Front Bench. I believe it to be sound, because I believe that they are speaking the opinions only of their officials, and their officials, though admirable people, are not generally very good judges of what is desirable in the matter of legislation. My noble friend who has just sat down has said that he objects to piecemeal legislation, but really, if he will allow me to say so, that is a most reactionary doctrine. You cannot hope to deal with the immense complexities of every question always by omnibus measures. The only way you will really get improvements is by dealing with some particular point which has been shown to be in want of legislative change. If you have to wait until you can reconsider the whole thing you will never get on for years and years and years.
Just look—Lord Mount Temple will bear me out in this—how long we had to wait till everybody was agreed that something ought to be done with regard to road traffic, how long we had to wait for the Road Traffic Bill. He, I know, constantly pressed it on the Conservative Government when he was a member of that Government. And the reason was that it was such a big thing, it wanted such a lot of Parliamentary time, that it was impossible to do it; whereas, if it were possible to proceed by little steps of legislation which one would hope would be relatively noncontentious—at any rate we could try that—then you could get the thing gradually built up until at the end you would get your consolidating Act, dealing with all these little measures that had been passed. That, is the way in which unless my history is at fault, all the great advances, in public health for instance, 612 have been made. They have not been made entirely by epoch-making changes, but by a number of small changes which have ultimately been consolidated into one big Act. One other observation. My noble and learned friend said he thought that the younger people were suffering less than the older from the dangers of the streets. I am sorry I have not got the figures—they were given on the Second Reading—and they showed that, on the contrary, one of the most alarming features of the situation was that the young were suffering very severely, and a very large number of children and young persons were killed every year. As I have not got the figures I cannot tell whether they are increasing or decreasing, but the number is certainly very large.
May I say a word about what fell from the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner? He says the Government have said that they are not going to let this Bill go through the House of Commons, or are not going to give it any facilities for going through the House of Commons, and that therefore it does not matter what we do. I think that is rather a counsel of despair. It means that the House of Lords is never to do anything unless it is assured beforehand that the Government will see that its legislation, or its proposed legislation, is passed through the House of Commons. I cannot think that is the sound view for a member of your Lordships' House to take. We must do the best we can. It is quite true we have not got as much power as the House of Commons; quite true that in the House of Commons, as at present constituted, the Government of the day is all-powerful; quite true, therefore, that, unless the Government choose, no legislation that your Lordships pass will become law. But I do not think it would be a sound conclusion from those facts to say that therefore your Lordships should never attempt any legislation except with the approval of the Government, which seems to be the logical conclusion of my noble friend's argument.
I think there is another great advantage which legislation by your Lordships' House has—namely, it helps to form public opinion. That is what we are continually told by the Government and others is the great thing to do. We are 613 told we have to form public opinion. I think if we could show that your Lordships were clearly of opinion that if a motorist killed somebody on the road by his negligence it was not merely a deplorable accident but was an act of a criminal character—if that was once made clear to the whole public opinion of the country, that would be a very large step towards a proper state of things on the roads. That is really the purpose of this Bill. No doubt, we who are supporting it would be glad to see it law, but I should be very glad even if we could show that we thought it worth while to pass it through your Lordships' House. It would be the most formidable and expressive statement we could make that such acts as we condemn in this Bill are, in our judgment, criminal, and ought to be so treated.
I know very well that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner, is quite right in saying that when it comes to prosecuting a motorist in a Criminal Court there is a certain sympathy for him, because it is thought, however negligent he was, that it is, after all, very hard to send him to prison, or indeed to convict him. It is that frame of mind that ought to be destroyed. If it is a criminal act negligently to kill somebody on the highway then you ought to make it quite clear that sympathy is misplaced in that case if it goes so far as to prevent a conviction of the person who is guilty. I agree that it would be undesirable to say that in such a case he must always be imprisoned. But the Bill does not say that; it merely gives power to the Court to imprison up to two years. What it does say is exactly what my noble friend desires. It says that on conviction in any case his licence shall be suspended. Whether he is sent to prison or not is a different matter, but in any case his licence should be suspended. For that reason it seems to me that this Bill, with the Amendment proposed, really does enact what ought to be enacted—namely, that these acts are criminal, that they ought to be punishable, though they ought not to be punishable as manslaughter because manslaughter does involve very serious consequences indeed, and ought to be reserved for more serious crimes than these, but that these offences ought to involve a conviction and ought to involve 614 the suspension of the licence. For that reason I hope your Lordships will accept this Amendment, which seems to me to be reasonable.
§ LORD MOUNT TEMPLE
I am afraid I cannot enrol myself as a supporter of this measure, not because I am out of sympathy with what I imagine to be the majority of your Lordships' House, or out of sympathy with the terrible distress resulting from the fatalities and injuries on the roads caused by the negligent, almost criminally negligently, driving of a small minority of drivers. It is not because I have not great sympathy for this measure that I am not supporting it. It is because I am quite sure it will not accomplish what the noble and learned Lord who moved this Bill has in view. The trouble, in my humble opinion, is not that the law at present is inadequate, but that the law is not carried out, because in the first place the police do not pay enough attention to the transgressors, on the road; and in the second place—it is an unpleasant thing to say—because the majority of benches of magistrates in this country do not carry out their duty, and also, I think, because juries are absurdly soft-hearted to the wicked motorist—the small minority who come before them.
This Bill of course cannot become law. We all know that Parliamentary time makes it impossible. But supposing it could become law, and you saw these manslaughters, penal servitudes for life, imprisonments, suspensions of driving licences enacted in an Act, you would find magistrates and juries much less inclined to convict than they are now. I may be wrong, but I feel if you make the penalty so savage and severe you are inducing the magistrates and juries to do even less than they are doing at the present time. It is for that reason and for no other that I think, although I do not say I am opposed to the Bill, that it is useless and may do harm. While I quite see it may be a good thing to ventilate the subject as the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, suggested and to form public opinion, I am sure if this Bill became law it would do nothing to diminish the terrible toll of life and injury to limb on the roads.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I do not wish to trouble your Lordships with another speech. I merely wish to point out that 615 the question before your Lordships is not whether the Bill is a good one or a bad one but whether or not the Amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Danesfort shall be accepted or not.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
LORD DANESFORT moved to leave out "guilty of unlawful wounding" and to insert "liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or to a fine not exceeding £100, or to both." The noble Lord said: If this Amendment is accepted by your Lordships Clause 1 will run:
…and any person driving a motor vehicle who, by his negligence, causes bodily injury to any person, shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or to a fine not exceeding £100, or to both.
On the Second Reading of the Bill it was pointed out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, and I think also by the noble Viscount the Lord Chancellor and others, that it was very undesirable to introduce the law of unlawful wounding into a Bill of this character, and for several reasons which I need not enumerate, amongst others that the penalties for unlawful wounding as existing to-day are extremely heavy, so heavy that in many cases magistrates and juries refuse to convict. Consequently I will ask your Lordships to omit the words "unlawful wounding," and to impose a penalty upon a person driving a motor car "who, by his negligence, causes bodily injury." That, I venture to think, is certainly not more than the offence deserves. The arguments upon this Amendment are to a large extent somewhat similar to the arguments upon the last Amendment and I will therefore move without saying anything further.
Page 1, line 10, leave out ("guilty of unlawful wounding") and insert ("liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or to a fine not exceeding £100, or to both").—(Lord Danesfort.)
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
This is what might be called a consequential Amendment and I am willing to accept it.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
LORD DANESFORT moved to add to the clause:
And in both of the cases referred to in this section the person driving the motor
vehicle shall on conviction as mentioned above be disqualified from holding or obtaining a licence for such period as the court thinks fit, but not less than twelve months from the expiration of his term of imprisonment.
The noble Lord said: My object in moving this Amendment is to secure that the person who is convicted of either of the offences mentioned in the previous part of the clause shall be disqualified from holding or obtaining a licence for such period as the Court thinks fit but not less than twelve months from the expiry of the term of imprisonment. I do not want to repeat myself. We all know how little effect a fine has upon the worst class of offender, but the suspension of the licence, as my noble friend Lord Sumner says, has a great deterrent effect. Therefore I suggest that in addition to the previous provision of this clause we should add this deterrent.
§ After all, what is the object of this clause? The object is to prevent people from driving recklessly and seriously wounding people, and I think the addition that I venture to propose will make the case stronger. I will only add that in the case of killing persons by negligence, few of your Lordships will be found to say that a man should not have his licence suspended for a period. It is obvious that he ought. In the case of causing bodily injury by negligence the Judge, instead of imprisoning a man under the previous part of the clause, could impose a fine; and what would be the use of that?
Page 1, line 10, at the end insert the said words.—(Lord Danesfort.)
§ LORD ATKIN
In reference to this Amendment I should like to say a word about the question of suspending a driver's licence. I have taken the view, and I have expressed it in this House, that that is the real way of dealing with motor offences. I am quite sure that a substantial penalty is likely to prove a deterrent, but I am also quite satisfied that if justices and Courts generally exercised the powers they now possess of suspending licences there would be a very considerable reform in driving. The trouble is that they do not. If they did, I think it would be quite possible within a short time to clear off the roads altogether that very small minority of selfish drivers who are causing these accidents.
617 But in order to do that this power ought to be exercised rigorously and for that purpose there must be convictions. When the Road Traffic Bill was before the House I suggested that it was a mistake to have automatic punishments—compulsory punishments which the magistrates must impose. I was very much influenced in that by the opinions which I obtained from a great many justices and by my own small experience as a magistrate. There is difficulty in getting convictions for drunkenness on the road when the offender is a man whose occupation is that of driving. Magistrates and juries will not take the responsibility of such a heavy punishment as depriving a man entirely of a means of living for a year or two years. They would rather refuse to convict.
It must be remembered that cases vary in gravity. I quite agree that in cases where a man has, by reckless driving, killed a person, such a man ought to have his licence suspended, and I hope that magistrates will be alive to their duty and will do that. On the other hand you have to remember that it is now proposed for the first time that a driver who by negligence, however slight, inflicts any bodily injury, however slight, upon a person, shall be held to have committed a criminal offence, and upon this proposal if he is convicted the magistrate must suspend his licence for twelve months. I venture to think that that is too much. These rigid punishments, I think, are contrary to the principle of punishment, which ought to be left to the discretion of the Judge, and I also think that they are likely to prevent conviction where conviction otherwise might be secured. I am not moving any Amendment, but I hope this proposal will be brought into line with other provisions in the Road Traffic Act. In that Act it is provided that a person's licence may be suspended "unless the court for special reasons think fit to order otherwise." I venture to hope that on the Report stage the noble Lord who has proposed the Amendment will adopt that suggestion. There really seems to be no reason why in this particular case we should go contrary to the general rules laid down in the Road Traffic Act.
May I make one other suggestion? Perhaps this ought to be addressed to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buck- 618 master. A new offence is being created. It is very important, I think, that it should be made clear whether Quarter Sessions are to be given jurisdiction in such cases. Unless it is given to them these cases can only be tried at Assizes. Certainly in the case of minor offences they should be within the jurisdiction of Quarter Sessions. There is another point which might be considered. At the present moment unlawful wounding, for which this offence is to be substituted, is a matter which can be tried summarily, according to my recollection, on the consent of the accused. My noble and learned friend will find it is very much easier to get people to prosecute and to get convictions in cases where it is not necessary to incur the expense of proceeding on an indictable offence and going to Quarter Sessions or Assizes.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
May I add my testimony to the recommendations of my noble and learned friend Lord Atkin? Those of us who have had experience in trying cases know the difficulty there is where the punishment is automatic. I do not want to go into disagreeable cases, but there was one very disagreeable class of case known to the law where, if a man was found guilty, he had to be given a very long term of penal servitude. The result was that a man was never found guilty of that offence. He was found guilty of attempting to commit that offence and so he could be given a much smaller punishment. May I cite my own personal experience? Not very long ago I had to try a taxi-cab driver—not in London—for an offence. I think it was unlawful wounding. It was suggested then that the man's licence should be suspended for a considerable time. I do not suppose it would affect the pockets of any of us here very much to have our licences suspended, but it would have affected this man's living and the sustenance of his wife and children. To have suspended his licence for a long time would have meant inflicting punishment on perfectly innocent people.
I am not saying that there may not be cases where you ought to stop a man having a licence, even if he is a taxi-cab driver, but surely it is better to leave that to the discretion of the Judge who has to impose sentence. You can trust the Judges to do the right thing. Perhaps the noble Lord on the Report stage will consider this matter before making this 619 punishment automatic. It means that you may inflict injustice on many people. As I have said, there may be cases where it is right and necessary, but I think you should leave it to the man who hears the case and knows all the facts. The result of that would be to revive the discretion given to the Court in Section 15 (2) of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, to which my noble and learned friend Lord Atkin has referred, of dispensing with or reducing the period of disqualification for special reasons if the Court thinks fit. I commend that to your Lordships' careful consideration. I hope that some amelioration will be made and that this automatic punishment will not be enacted.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I cannot help thinking that there is a very great deal of force in what has been urged by the noble and learned Lords, the Lord Chancellor and Lord Atkin. I was not so greatly impressed by the statement that if you take away a man's licence you injure innocent people because you do that whenever you send a man to prison. It is a necessary result, and it ought to be one of the things a man should remember. There is, however, something to be said for the view that if punishment follows automatically convictions will be more difficult to obtain. On the other hand, when you say "Leave it to the Judges," throughout this debate and the debate on Second Reading there has re-echoed the charge that everybody who administers this law lets people off. It does not seem much use to leave it to them. Possibly the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, will see whether on Report stage he can produce a form of words which to some extent will meet the difficulties and will not press this Amendment to a Division.
§ LORD DANESFORT
I think there is considerable force—how could I think otherwise?—in the appeal that the discretion of the Judge who tries the case should be allowed to fix the period of 620 suspension of the licence, and if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, will produce on Report some such words as he indicated I for my part will be inclined to give them the most favourable consideration and I am sure your Lordships will do the same; but at present, I suggest, we can pass the Amendment as it stands.
§ THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
Before the Amendment is finally disposed of, may I say that if it is passed the words ought to be added at the end: "if any, or where no term of imprisonment is imposed from the date of the conviction."
§ Original Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 1, line 10, at end insert:
("And in both of the cases referred to in this section the person driving the motor vehicles shall on conviction as mentioned above be disqualified from holding or obtaining a licence for such period as the court thinks fit, but not less than twelve months from the expiration of his term of imprisonment, if any, or where no term of imprisonment is imposed from the date of conviction.")—(Lord Danesfort.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 2:
§ Penalty for failure to stop, &c., after knowingly causing damage or injury.
§ 2. Any driver of a motor vehicle who has to his knowledge caused damage or injury to any person and who does not stop to render aid and give information, shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months, and shall be disqualified from holding or obtaining a licence for such period as the court thinks fit, but not less than twelve months.
§ LORD DANESFORT had given Notice to move, at the end, to insert "from the expiration of his term of imprisonment." The noble Lord said: As your Lordships see, the previous part of the clause says that where a man, having caused damage or injury, does not stop and give information, he shall be liable to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months and shall be disqualified from holding or obtaining a licence for such period as the court thinks fit, but not less than twelve months. If he was dis- 621 qualified from holding the licence for only three months it might be that the moment he got out of prison he would be able to resume his licence. I therefore suggest that it ought to be not less than twelve months from the expiration of his term of imprisonment.
§ LORD DANESFORT
If the noble Earl thinks his words will improve the Amendment I shall be prepared to move it in that form.
§ Amendment moved—
Clause 2, page 1, line 18, at end insert:
("from the expiration of his term of imprisonment, if any, or where no term of imprisonment is imposed from the date of conviction.")—[Lord Danesfort.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 3:
§ Rate of speed for certain goods vehicles.
§ 3. No goods vehicles exceeding in total weight five tons, shall exceed the speed of five miles per hour in any city, town, or village.
§ LORD MOUNT TEMPLE
This Clause 3 has nothing to do with Clauses 1 and 2 which your Lordships have passed. Clauses 1 and 2 deal with offences of motor drivers and give them not an inappropriate punishment. Clause 3, however, deals not with offences, but with the class of vehicles which shall be allowed to use the road and with their weight. I have read a good many extraordinary clauses in various Bills, but this is the most wonderful clause I have ever seen.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
May I point out that the clause is well within the title of the Bill which says: "An Act to amend the Road Traffic Act, 1930, and for purposes connected therewith."?
§ LORD MOUNT TEMPLE
I was not questioning that it was within the title of the Bill. I was trying to point out that it was dealing with entirely different aspects of the question from Clauses 1 and 2. What does it say?No goods vehicles exceeding in total weight five tons, shall exceed the speed of five miles per hour in any city, town or village.622 My noble friend Lord Danesfort means to move later on that in no case shall vehicles exceeding in total weight five tons be permitted to be driven except by licence to be granted in special circumstances by the Minister of Transport. Now, about eighteen months ago Parliament passed a very comprehensive Road Traffic Act. It was debated ad nauseam in another place. I remember sitting for weeks and weeks in Committee on the Bill, and it was debated on Second Reading and even on Third Reading. If my information is correct it was also subjected in your Lordships' House to severe scrutiny and criticism. But at any rate after these two processes the King's Assent was given to a Bill which inter alia restricted very considerably the use of goods traffic on the roads, set down in the Schedule the speed at which vehicles should go, inserted in the Schedule the weights they could carry, and at any rate regulated for what was hoped would be a considerable number of years the legislation which should be passed to deal with these goods vehicles.
I would ask your Lordships what has happened in the last eighteen months to justify a measure such as this, which absolutely tears up the Act of 1930 and in effect prevents any road transport of goods at all. It may be necessary in the near future—I think it will be necessary —to have a Bill to co-ordinate railway traffic and road traffic, and to put them both in their proper spheres and prevent the railways from fading out of the picture, and for putting possibly some greater burdens upon the goods vehicles than they bear to-day; but to say, as you do in this clause, that no goods vehicle exceeding in total weight five tons shall exceed the speed of five miles per hour in any city, town or village, means in effect that all road transportation of goods must cease, except possibly the light motor carrying the washing to the country town or a basket of strawberries to a sick friend. Otherwise all road transport of goods must cease, because if you slow down the speed which is now allowed to a speed of five miles on one-third or one-fourth of the roads of this country, then in present circumstances it will not be an economic proposition to send goods by road, because it will involve a considerable increase in the cost of transportation, the cost to the consumer will rise to a marked extent, and 623 we shall lose all the economic benefit derived from the carriage of goods by road.
I ask your Lordships to hesitate many times before you set the seal to so outrageous, so unfair, unpractical and uneconomic a proposal as this. Then I would ask how you are going to enforce this clause. How can you tell where the city ends and the city begins, or where the town or village begins and the town or village ends? With this ribbon development all along our highways at the present moment, every road, except perhaps on the moor, seems to be through a village or town, and this clause means that you would sterilise the economic transport of goods over at least a quarter of the roads of the country. How would you enforce it at night? Are you going to the expense at the beginning of each control of having a big lighted signal stating "Here you are in—city or—town, and you must not go more than five miles an hour"? When I was at the Ministry of Transport we considered these questions ad nauseam, and we came to the conclusion that it was physically impossible to enforce such a regulation as this. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will hesitate before passing such a clause, which cannot be carried into effect, would damage the transport of goods by road to an incalculable degree, and injure the economic life of the country to such a great extent.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
It is to my mind unfortunate that the noble Lord who has just sat down was not here on the Second Reading of the Bill because otherwise he might then have advanced the various arguments which he has advanced on this occasion.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Then I am astonished that the noble Lord should have been so silent, because I do not remember his arguing anything about it, and this question of goods vehicles was discussed at considerable length, and I gave what I thought were sound reasons for adopting this clause. One of the reasons which he now suggests why the clause should not be adopted strikes me as peculiarly strange. He says: How can you define a city or town or village? 624 How can you enforce such a clause? Why, these very words are taken from the Schedule of the Bill for which he himself was responsible.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I thought the noble Lord claimed credit for it, and said he had to discuss it ad nauseam in another place. These are the very limits applied by the Schedule of that Act to another and heavier class of traffic than these goods vehicles, and all I have done is to adopt the phraseology of that Act and make it applicable to another class of vehicle. I could understand it being said that I had not made my load heavy enough, and ought to have made it ten tons; but that something should be done in the interests of plain justice to stop these heavy loaded motor vehicles from passing through the streets of our towns, I think no one can doubt. The reasons why I urged this, to which the noble Lord has not done me the honour of referring, were, firstly, that the intolerable noise which these vehicles caused rendered the peaceful habitation of houses by the sides of the roads an impossibility, and secondly, what I regard as a very great injustice indeed, their vibration threatened the stability of all the houses that they passed by, with the result that the lessees—not always wealthy lessees, but sometimes small shopkeepers—who were under repairing leases, were bound to repair the houses damaged by these vehicles which made their lives intolerable.
I pointed out again—which nobody seems to have properly considered—that the nuisance created by these vehicles was of such a character that the law would stop it instantly if the vehicles were all owned by one person, but that you cannot stop it now because they are owned by a large number of persons and you cannot say that any one person is responsible for the nuisance which collectively they commit. Something ought to be done. There is no reason why people living alongside the roads should have their lives made intolerable and their houses shaken down; and although your Lordships might think that there is reason for an alteration as to 625 the weight of the load, it ought to be one of the first duties of the Minister of Transport to take steps without delay to deal with this matter. The people who drive these vehicles do not seem to realise that until the roads were made fit for them any damage done to the roads fell on those who caused that damage. Any person who was guilty of extraordinary use of the road was liable to make good any damage. Part of the burden of maintaining these roads has now been thrown upon the, very people whose houses these vehicles shake down and whose lives they make intolerable. But for the lateness of the hour I should have liked to have gone on to point out the injustice done to the railway companies, which has resulted in throwing people out of employment and endangering that industry, without much benefit except that of enabling the retailers of goods to get their goods a little more quickly from one place to another.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
This clause has nothing to do with the load of the vehicles, but deals only with the weight of the vehicle itself.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I think it covers both vehicle and load, but I will look into the matter and if necessary words shall be inserted.
§ THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
This clause and the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, which follows, are very closely connected, and I would ask your Lordships, after having considered this question from every point of view, not to press that this clause should stand. May I point out, to begin with, that if it were desirable to impose restrictions of this kind there is power now left to the Minister under the Road Traffic Act, as it at present stands, to impose such restrictions? One point on which a considerable amount of uncertainty has been definitely cleared up is that the vehicle to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, intended to refer was a vehicle of five tons total weight, including the load. I do ask your Lordships with all sincerity not to press this clause, because I believe that if we attempted to put it into operation it would prove to be quite impracticable. You have only to consider what would be the results in London. In any street which was at all narrow you would have complete chaos, 626 and the rate of traffic of every description would be brought down to five miles an hour. You would have one complete block throughout the West End of London.
Lord Buckmaster referred once again to the terrible noise which these vehicles make going along the street. I venture to say that they would make a very great deal more noise if their rate were restricted to five miles an hour. I am advised that if you were to impose this restriction on heavy goods vehicles, as the result of the modern construction of those vehicles it would be quite impossible for them to travel except in second or even third gear. You can well imagine the devastating noise that there would be in any street where we had a number of heavy goods vehicles travelling one after another in second or third gear.
There is another difficulty, too, and that is the administrative difficulty. I am bringing this argument forward now because the noble and learned Viscount has made it clear that he intends vehicles of five tons total weight, including the load, to come within the scope of this clause. It is extraordinarily difficult to distinguish vehicles by their laden weight, and the enforcement of a provision of this nature in consequence would be extremely difficult. All existing speed limits imposed by the Road Traffic Act have been based upon unladen weight. The last appeal I should like to make to the Committee is on this ground—that this is the very kind of question which at the moment is the subject of discussion by the Road and Rail Conference, which has recently been set up. Reference has been made this afternoon to the question of competition between road and rail. Far be it from me to express any kind of opinion upon it now, but this is the very kind of question which is being discussed by that Conference at the present moment, and I think that in the circumstances it would be highly undesirable for your Lordships' House to prejudge the case and to come to a definite decision until this very great problem has been approached and looked at from every angle, and until every interest concerned has been taken into consultation in regard to it.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
The noble Earl has made an appeal to me, and I am so 627 unfortunately constituted that I always find it difficult to resist an appeal. But the trouble about the matter to my mind is this. When he tells me that the Ministry of Transport is considering this thing I suppose they have been considering it for years.
§ THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
The Road Traffic Act was passed less than two years ago, after very full and careful discussion by both Houses of Parliament. We have hardly had time to see how it works.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Surely they have had two years, and the faintest consideration must have shown you that what the noble Earl does not quite appear to realise is the profound dissatisfaction which is felt with the administration of the Act—that, inasmuch as the Ministry are not exercising the powers that they have to restrict this traffic, it grows apparently worse and worse week after week. If the noble Earl could assure me that they were contemplating doing something—not merely thinking, but acting—I would consent to withdraw the clause, for I understand the force of some of the arguments that he uses. But if I am to be told that nothing whatever is to be done, and that you are just going on as you are, and, whenever a question arises you are going to say, "Look at the Act, it is a wonderful Act, passed only two years ago; that should satisfy you," I reply that the fact is that the Act does not satisfy us. And unless something is done very quickly in regard to this heavy motor traffic there will, I fear, be a very serious question as to how our traffic is to be carried on in our streets at all, and certainly how the peaceable enjoyment of our houses is to be procured. If the noble Earl is not able to satisfy me at all I must take the hazard of leaving the matter to your Lordships. I am quite willing to consider questions of weight and so on, but if he tells me to ignore the clause altogether I am not prepared to do that unless he tells me what is to be done.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
When the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buck-master, says that the situation is becoming worse and it is going to be impossible to carry on owing to this extension of heavy motor traffic, surely he misapprehends what the noble Earl has just 628 said. The more you impose slowness upon these vehicles the greater will be the congestion of traffic. The one thing to accentuate the difficulty of these heavy vehicles is to slow them down. He complains of their noise. Their noise is very offensive, I admit, but it is far less objectionable than the noise of the Klaxon horns of the "smart set" cars; and when you have a heavy girder being brought into London, or into any town or village, you will have these infernal vehicles behind the big loaded vehicle blowing their Klaxon horns and making life perfectly unbearable so far as noise is concerned. Lord Buckmaster is increasing it. As far as vibration is concerned, I am told by those who have studied these questions that if you slow down a very heavy car the driver has to work his engine in a way that is not only noisier, but very often produces more vibration as well—the constant checking and so on. So that on both those points I think the noble and learned Lord is perhaps exaggerating a little bit the value of this clause.
The final point is what my noble and learned friend below the gangway mentioned—how are you going to enforce it? These words come into the existing Act, but that does not mean that they can be enforced. It is only an argumentum ad hominem on the part of the noble and learned Lord, who ought to know better. It cannot be enforced. Each of these vehicles is taken to a weighbridge and weighed. We know well that is impossible; it cannot be done; it will not be done. The law will be disregarded, and this clause together with the other savage clauses in Lord Buckmaster's Bill will not be put into operation. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Atkin, who is a trained observer in these matters, and the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, made the same point that if too excessive a view is taken of the frailties of the motorist, whatever be his nature or character, you will find convictions will not ensue. I am quite confident, if this very violent Clause 3 is inserted in the Bill, it will not be enforced properly and the state of things will be worse than ever.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
I think my noble friend has made a mistake about the difficulties of enforcing it, because the weight will be known. 629 Unless I am mistaken the weight of every heavy motor lorry has to be stated upon it.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
It has been stated so in cases coming before me, and I know it is so in many cases.
§ THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
I should like to say that I fully appreciate the feelings of the noble and learned Lord (Lord Buckmaster) in regard to this matter, but I do not think he can expect me to give him a definite pledge of any kind this afternoon. What I do say is that this question of goods traffic by
§ Resolved in the negative, and Clause 3 disagreed to accordingly:
LORD DANESFORT had given Notice to move to insert the following new clause after Clause 3:
( ) No goods vehicle exceeding in total weight five tons shall be permitted to be driven on the roads except by licence to be granted in special circumstances by the Minister of Transport.
The noble Lord said: I propose to move the clause standing in my name in a slightly different form—a better form—than that on the Paper. The form in which I propose to move it is this:
After the first of January nineteen hundred and thirty-three—
that is to give time to adopt this—
no goods vehicle exceeding in total weight ten tons when loaded shall be permitted to be driven on the roads except by licence to be granted in special circumstances by the Minister of Transport.
§ road and by rail is the subject of discussion by a Conference at the present time, which desires to report before the end of July. The Report will then be given to the Minister who will at once take into consultation all the other interests concerned. That is all I am able to tell him.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Will the noble Earl tell me that this Conference is considering the question of noise or vibration, or merely considering the question of competition between road and rail?
§ On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 15; Not-Content, 27.629
|Buxton, E.||Ullswater, V.||Danesfort, L.|
|Morton, E.||Farrer, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Balfour of Burleigh, L. [Teller.]||Lamington, L.|
|Bertie of Thame, V.||Banbury of Southam, L.||St. Levan, L.|
|Hereford, V.||Buckmaster, L. [Teller.]||Wharton, L.|
|Sankey, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Esher, V.||Hardinge of Penshurst, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Hay, L. (E. Kinnoull.)|
|Salisbury, M.||Luke, L.|
|Askwith, L.||Mount Temple, L. [Teller.]|
|Bradford, E.||Atkin, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Chaworth, L. (E. Meath.)||Selsdon, L.|
|Munster, E. [Teller.]||Darling, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Plymouth, E.||Desart, L. (E. Desart.)||Stonehaven, L.|
|Radnor, E.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Gage, L. (V. Gage.)||Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)|
§ I think it is probably the view of your Lordships that the motor lorries which are now travelling on the roads are almost a scandal by reason of the astonishing weights which they carry. I understand that under the Act of 1930 there is no restriction imposed upon the weight of a loaded vehicle. There are certain restrictions as to the weight of unloaded vehicles, but I do not think there is any restriction on the weight of vehicles when loaded.
§ I need not repeat what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, said as to the appalling nuisance that arises from these very heavy lorries driven along the road. In regard to what the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, said about the noise of a heavy lorry perpetually going along the road, I am inclined to say that the noise of these heavy lorries perambulating the country roads is a serious nuisance. 631 Then there is the vibration, which is also a most serious matter. I did not understand the noble Lord to say that the vibration is not increased by the speed of the vehicle. It is common knowledge, if you have a heavy body moving along the road, the greater the speed necessarily the greater the vibration it causes, and consequently the greater injury to the houses and their stability by the side of the road. But that is not all the objection to the present situation. There is also the damage to the road by these motor vehicles. The ordinary private motor car wears out the road to a certain extent, but nothing like the same extent as these heavy lorries carrying loads up to 20, 30 and 50 tons.
§ Upon that may I refer very shortly to a letter which I have just received from the chairman of the highways committee of a very important northern county council. He says that the weight and the speed of these heavy vehicles affect the cost of maintenance very seriously. That cost of maintenance falls on the ratepayers—partly, I dare say, helped out by the taxpayers, but that does not benefit very much. The cost of road maintenance is seriously increased. He goes on to say that the materials which six or seven years ago were sufficient for keeping the roads in good order will not stand the heavy weight now put upon them. He tells me further that the weight of these vehicles is continually getting heavier and heavier. Then he goes on to tell me of a certain rather interesting conversation which the surveyor of his county had with the driver of one of these heavy lorries. The surveyor commented to this lorry driver on the weight carried by his lorry, which was something like 47 tons. The answer of the lorry driver was: "Oh, this is nothing. My firm is going to put a hundred tons on the road before long." I have no doubt the firm will do it, unless they are stopped by legislation. Therefore I ask your Lordships to say that the time has come when these really grave nuisances, involving not only offence to the ear and the eye but grave damage to property and grave increase of cost to the ratepayer, should be stopped.
§ I may be told, and I dare say it is true, that there are cases in which it is necessary to have a greater weight than 10 tons on a lorry, as, for instance, when a heavy girder is being carried from the 632 works or from the railway station to the place where it is to be put up, but I have provided for that by making the exception that in special circumstances a licence for that purpose may be granted by the Ministry of Transport. I venture to think that this is a reasonable Amendment, and I hope that the Government will not put me off by saying that at some future time when the Ministry of Transport have had time to consider this question and proceed with some comprehensive legislation this will be done. I say that the present time is the proper time and that these great evils which now result from these exceedingly heavy lorries ought to be ended.
After Clause 3 insert the said new clause. —(Lord Danesfort.)
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
There is nobody who dislikes defeat more than I do, but I can at least recognise it and, I hope, accept it with as good grace as possible. I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, has said about the uncertainty of relying upon action on the part of the Ministry of Transport. I do not rely on it. I do not think that this Conference is going to make any report that will help us. Therefore it does not appear to be worth while to argue this matter upon its merits.
§ THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
I was not aware until a little while ago of the alteration which the noble Lord intended to make in the new clause which he has proposed, but it does not make any material difference. I will appeal to the noble Lord not to press for the insertion of this new clause on the same ground on which I opposed the inclusion of Clause 3 of the Bill. I can only repeat what I said, that the whole of this question is the subject of discussion by a Conference at the present moment. That Conference has been asked to report by the end of July and it is the intention of the Minister of Transport to take into consultation then on this enormous subject of the transport of goods traffic by road and rail, all the various interests concerned, including the local authorities. I cannot of course give a definite pledge as to exactly when any result from that Report will be forthcoming, but I do honestly think that it will be most undesirable to prejudge this question and to come to a definite decision 633 until it has been examined from every angle. It would be unfortunate if your Lordships by passing a clause of this kind were to prejudge the case. There are difficulties to which I have referred already in imposing a restriction of this kind. It would probably entail a good deal more expenditure of money. Probably there would have to be a considerable inspectorate if the Minister of Transport is entrusted with the duty of making special exemptions where he thinks it necessary or desirable. I repeat that it would be very unfortunate to come to a final decision on the question until we have before us the Report of this Conference which is now sitting and until we are able, as we have not been able up to now, to consult the many interests concerned.
§ LORD DANESFORT
I understand from my noble friend that the Conference which is considering this matter will probably report in July. If that is so I should like to get an assurance—possibly he may not be able to give it in absolutely final form—that when that Report is received there will be legislation brought in at the earliest possible time to deal with the undoubtedly great evils which he does not dispute. I do not know how far the noble Earl can go, but perhaps he will promise to represent to the Minister of Transport with all the power he can the importance of dealing with this matter as soon as possible, and that when the Report of the Conference is received he will see what can be done in the Autumn Session. If he can give that assurance I will not press the Amendment.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
Because the clause as drafted is a bad clause. I hope that no assurance that the clause will receive any sympathetic consideration will be given on the part of the Ministry of Transport or the Government. The noble Lord is complaining that the size of these vehicles increases. Of course it increases; it increases every month and every year.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
My noble friend wants to live small; he wants to live in the eighteenth or perhaps the nineteenth century, and he is opposed to all modern developments of science which involve greater stature of buildings, of locomotives, of ships and of everything else. He would like to get back to his constituency in a stage coach. The whole trend of modern construction and engineering is changing and we may as well recognise it. To say that every time anyone wants to move a girder he has to go to the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, for a special dispensation is really an absurdity. I hope the noble Earl who represents the Ministry of Transport will be careful in indicating anything that is going to hinder the progress of engineering and architecture.
§ LORD DANESFORT
Can the noble Earl who represents the Ministry make any statement as to the introduction of any legislation after the Report is received?
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I would suggest to the noble Lord that he cannot ask the Earl of Plymouth to give any undertaking in advance as to legislation. That is really out of the question. While I wholly disagree with everything said by the noble Earl who has just sat down, I would beg the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, to withdraw the clause.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
I was rather astonished to hear the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, make the speech to which we have just listened. The noble Earl is a great authority on art, but I am not aware that there is any art in any of the huge lorries which I unfortunately see about the roads. It is true that lorries have increased in size, but is that artistic, and do we not as ratepayers probably have to pay larger rates because of these heavy vehicles? In these circumstances I think my noble friend's artistic temperament, which I have admired for many years, has for once led him astray.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Remaining clause agreed to.