HL Deb 08 November 1932 vol 85 cc1058-97

LORD BUCKMASTER had given Notice that he would move to resolve, That in the opinion of this House the recommendations of the Report of the Conference on Rail and Road Transport ought to be carried into effect without delay, and that it is essential for the safety of the public that further steps be taken to control motor traffic. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in the early part of this year I introduced a Bill into your Lordships' House for the purpose of securing better regulation of motor traffic. It dealt with two subjects: the one an attempt to provide better security for passengers upon the road, and the other to regulate any motor traffic. The first part of the Bill passed through your Lordships' House with a little amendment, the latter was rejected, and it was rejected, as I think, not a little because it was pointed out that the question it raised was only part of a larger question which was at that moment the subject of consideration by a Conference set up by the Government for the express purpose.

We all know this method of referring questions to Conferences and to Committees. It is a common defence of a Government in trouble, and without it they would often be left quite naked to their enemies, but when once the reference has been made, even when a Report has been carefully considered and produced it frequently happens that it is wholly ignored. The urgency of the matter has passed by, the immediate difficulty has been overcome, and the Reports are allowed to moulder amidst hundreds of other valuable Reports on the various shelves where these documents are to be found. It is in order to avoid that fate overtaking this Report that I have taken this as the earliest opportunity that I could find for calling your Lordships' attention to its terms.

It is, I think, essential that your Lordships should realise what was the nature of the Conference that was set up. It was a Conference of four general managers, representative of some of the biggest railways in this country, and four representatives of the transport of goods by road. I will read who these last representatives were. They were the Past President of the Commercial Motor Users' Association, the Vice-Presi- dent of the National Road Transport Employers' Federation, the Distribution Manager of Messrs. J. Lyons & Co., Ltd., and the President of the Scottish Commercial Motor Users' Association. The Conference was presided over by a man whose competence is so well known that it would be impertinence on my part to say anything in praise of his qualities. The terms of reference were these. The Conference was asked to consider three things: "the incidence of highway costs in relation to the contributions of the different classes of mechanically-propelled vehicles"; "the nature and extent of the regulation which, in view of modern economic developments, should be applied to goods transport by road and rail;" and, in general, to make such further recommendations as the members were able to frame "designed to assist the two sides of the industry to carry out their functions under equitable conditions."

The Report that was made was unanimous. There was no question, no division at all among them, and the Report recorded that, fairly examined, the heavy commercial vehicles were £2,500,000 short of the annual sum that they ought to pay as their fair contribution to the upkeep of the roads. That they propose to raise by increasing the licence duty on these vehicles in a continually ascending scale according to weight. The way in which that figure was arrived at was this. I fear I must burden you with these details or you may not be familiar with what is the foundation of the Report. They examined first of all what were the annual costs of maintaining the roads. These worked out at about £64,000,000. That figure was objected to by some of the people who object to this Report, but to my mind it is a perfectly trivial matter whether you take it as £64,000,000 or, as some of them suggest, as £50,000,000. Whatever it is, it is obviously a very heavy sum. The railway companies have had to pay for every inch of land on which their rails and their stations stand. They are rated on them at the present moment, and I believe the actual cost works out at something like £800,000,000. At the same time they are, as your Lordships all know, subject to restrictions with regard to rates and a variety of other things so that, although they have a monopoly of the use of their rails, it is sometimes made extremely difficult for them to carry on their work.

Let us turn to the other side of the picture. Of course, the first thing to ascertain was what was the cost annually of maintaining the roads. This Committee fixed it at £60,000,000 a year. I do not think that is excessive, and for this reason. If you take the actual cost of maintaining the roads apart from loan charges you will find it works out at £65,000,000, but there is included in that something like £14,000,000 for major improvements like widenings, and matters of that kind, and some £5,000,000 for new constructions. The loan charges are another £9,000,000. The result is that just upon £75,000,000 a year is the expenditure necessary for the upkeep and maintenance of the roads, and if you take away £15,000,000 as representing the money that will be saved owing to the desire to avoid unnecessary expenditure at the present time, you have the figure left which the Committee found—£60,000,000 a year for the upkeep of the roads. I may mention that in the early part of the century the cost was £12,000,000. The whole of that extra sum has been caused by the necessity of preparing these roads for motor traffic.

The Committee then proceeded to see how that sum ought to be divided between the various classes of motor car users. For that purpose they have worked out, in the most elaborate and careful calculations, the number of miles run, the number of tons carried and the amount of petrol used. They assume that the whole of the tax on petrol provided by the commercial vehicles should be used for the upkeep of the roads. It may be fair if you are going to consider what the commercial vehicle pays to consider what it pays in petrol tax. I am not so sure myself that it is not open to question, but it may be accepted. But to my mind it is perfectly unfair to suggest that pleasure motor traffic has any right whatever to have the petrol tax applied to the roads. It is a sumptuary tax. It is a tax that is imposed upon people in respect of an article which they could dispense with without any injury to their health or to the health of their wives or families. That is the reason for it, and if it were found necessary in future times to raise it, it might be justly raised without any regard what- ever to the roads. Pleasure motor users who claim this money as properly applicable to the roads have no more right to make such a claim than the person who smokes has a right to demand that the tobacco tax should be applied in providing him with pipes, or than the person who drinks wine has a right to require that the tax should provide him with decanters, or than the woman who rejoices in fine raiment has a right to demand that the tax on silk should provide her with a looking-glass. There is no reason for it at all.

But accept for the moment, and for the purpose of this afternoon's argument, this claim of the users of heavy motor vehicles in regard to their contribution through the medium of the petrol tax. The way in which the £60,000,000 is proposed to be divided as between these two classes of users at the present moment is £23,500,000 and £36,500,000. Investigations show that these heavy motor users only provide £21,000,000 and that leaves the £2,500,000 which this Report says they ought to find. The Committee propose to find it by taxing these vehicles on an ascending scale of weight. It is difficult to believe—and for those of your Lordships who are not thoroughly familiar with this Act and its workings it will be hard to credit—that at the present moment, although there is an ascending scale for the unladen weight of these heavy motor vehicles, it stops at five tons. You have only to pay just as much in duty for a lorry weighing ten tons or twenty tons. In the inscrutable wisdom of the people who control these things they have stopped short at five tons, although the unladen lorry up to five tons is a comparatively harmless thing. It is when you get higher and higher that both the danger and destruction grow faster and faster. It is that with which the Committee propose to deal.

At the same time, as you will realise quickly enough, if you are going to consider the petrol tax as a contribution to the roads, these miniature railway trains that are running all over the roads today pay none. They do not pay a penny of petrol tax. Nor do those heavy vehicles using heavy oil. All these are free. If, therefore, there is to be a contribution from those who use and destroy our roads comparable to their use, it is quite plain that something has to be added to the petrol tax. It is perfectly amazing that the people who demand—as many of the people who oppose this Report do demand—that practically there should be an unrestricted use of the road for anybody who likes to use it with any form of car, of any weight, and almost any size, and under unlimited conditions, seem to have overlooked the fact that by the law of this country people who put a road to a use that is not its normal use are liable for the damage done by the extraordinary traffic. Supposing that from the first, instead of fleecing the ratepayers and taxpayers, you had said: "You are smashing the roads and are under legal liability to make them good and you shall make them good." But there is not a word of any such liability in any of the objections that I have seen to this Report. They object, finally, to any form of restrictions—no need to restrict these people!

I have here a report from The Times newspaper of September 12. A man was summoned at Oxford for travelling at an excessive speed and he pleaded guilty. His speed was 20.4 miles per hour and the limit was 16 miles. The man said he was compelled to go faster in order to have a couple of hours' sleep. He had to do 230 miles in 16 hours, including time for unloading, and since he was stopped he had stuck to 16 miles an hour and was now under notice. A man came from the firm and admitted that his firm sent out men to cover 230 miles a day knowing that the speed limit was 16 miles per hour. Asked if he thought that was reasonable he replied: "I cannot say whether it was reasonable or not." The Chairman said: "According to this man's evidence, because he has tried to keep within the law he is being sacked." The witness replied: "That appears to be the case." The man was fined and the bench paid the money. Then the people who were responsible were themselves summoned. They were fined £10 and it is hardly believable that they said: "Oh yes, the man had to do this, but he never complained." Never complained! He could only complain once—that was clear.

They were, as I say, fined £10. They cannot do more under this Act than fine people, but I think there is a mistake in the unit of measurement I would not have measured their punishment in pounds, but in weeks. These people had been guilty of a desperate wrong. They had driven their man to drive vehicles at an excessive pace to the danger of other people; while the man was tired he was obliged to go on driving faster than he should have done, and directly he objected they dismissed him. It is a grievous pity that some of the people responsible are not made to feel what I regard as the real rod of the law, and that is imprisonment. Fines are no use; it is gaol they deserve and gaol they should have. And these people say there is no need for these regulations—"Let us go as we like, do not have these railway unions that have caused wages to go up. We want to drive where we please, when we please, how we please and with whomsoever we please." This Report, if it is carried out, will at least check that.

I do not propose to pursue that matter further because I have a great deal to say on the latter part of my Motion. In the Scotsman of September 18, a newspaper that I think I may justly say is well-known for accuracy and can be trusted anywhere, there is a report of the number of children killed on the road in the previous two months. The number was 200 and lest you might think that is unusual, I find in The Times in the following month a report giving, as a week's accidents, twenty-five children killed; so that it would appear as though this average of massacre is well maintained. I say you may search the pages of history, sacred and profane, and. you will find nothing to rival that since the days of Herod. It is the most terrible indictment; and everyone who drives cars and knows the road knows well that, subject to some perfectly small irreducible residue, those accidents need not occur. They occur because the cars are driven at a pace greater than the conditions require and by people who are either reckless or unskilful drivers. Are we to stand by and see this record unroll itself before our eyes like the scroll of Fate and do nothing?

I know that as soon as these accidents are reduced to figures they cease to move. There is nothing so intolerable as statistics, but supposing it was possible to realise what any man must have felt who had witnessed only one of these 200 accidents in two months, and whose duty it was to go and tell a woman that her child who had left her house that morning happy and gay was now a broken, shapeless, crushed and bloody bundle awaiting identification in the mortuary, do you not think we should begin to realise that there is something in the figures more than a mere number of casualties? If these things could be brought home to the Ministry I am satisfied we should soon have something done.

The Minister has said that he considers the Act we already have provides all that is wanted, and there is nothing necessary in the way of increased severity or change. Let me call attention to its terms, for they have not been very carefully discussed in this House. There are three main divisions for the protection of people on the road. The one is directed against reckless and dangerous driving. That provision provides that if a man does drive dangerously and recklessly he may be fined £50 or given four months' imprisonment, if dealt with summarily, or six months' imprisonment if dealt with at Assizes. At the end of the section there, is a most marvellous provision that if he does it twice he may have his licence suspended and that without any restriction as to what may happen if he does it once. If that provision means that you are to suspend when he has done it once, it is about the oddest thing I have seen. But what I want to emphasise is that neither that section nor any other throughout the Act makes it any offence or any aggravation of an offence to kill other people. A man may drive recklessly down a practically empty road, may get fined £5 or £10, or drive into children and kill them as a man did the other day—killed three and was fined £15—he would have been fined just the same if he had not killed anybody. Killing has nothing to do with this Act of Parliament, and, as I said before, you can kill them at £5 a piece and there is a reduction if you kill a quantity, because the price for your offence remains the same, and it has to be divided among the people you happen to kill. That is the main section upon which the whole of this Act depends.

The next section is a most astonishing section. It provides that you must not drive carelessly, and that if you do you are guilty of an offence. Do your Lordships know what is the punishment for that offence? It is exactly the same as if you had forgotten your certificate of insurance, and had left it on the library table. So this Act positively says that careless driving and leaving your certificate of insurance behind are the same offence. The same is true of another provision, which does not punish adequately a motorist if he knocks a man down and drives on. It really is hard to accept it, but under this Act of Parliament the offence of knocking down a man and leaving him to die in the road is exactly the same as if you had run over a pig. There is no difference whatever. A man drives over a sheep or a goat or a pig, or a human being, and leaves it or him in the road, and so far as the offence is concerned it is just the same thing. Yet the Minister of Transport says that he sees no reason why any alteration should be made in this Act, or any further strengthening given to its provisions.

On the last occasion there was a noble and learned member of this House, bearing a very honoured legal name, who said that he did not know the difference between one form of negligence and another, and all the distinction I had been attempting to make was a mistake, apparently. The distinction is peculiarly plain, and I think I can make it clear. A man the other day was walking with his wife and daughter along a country road on a fine evening. He was walking by the side of a wall, which bounded one of the big estates which often have their land separated from the road by a wall in the country. These people saw and heard a motor car coming behind them. They were on their proper side of the road. Directly they saw and heard the car they instantly got into single file, one behind another, but the driver of the car came along and knocked the whole of them down, killing the man in front of his wife and daughter and splashing his blood all over the wall and the car. The driver then availed himself of the facilities afforded under this Act, and drove on without stopping, but the evidence upon his car was too grim to allow him to escape.

The matter was enquired into at an inquest and the whole of the facts, as I have told them, were narrated at the inquest, and this was the verdict: that the man was guilty of negligence, but it certainly was not criminal negligence; and the man was free. He would have been free still, but that the police, encouraged as I hope by what has taken place in this House, prosecuted him at the Assizes, and at last justice was done. If, however, you have this loophole in the law the Assize jury might have taken the same view as the Coroner's jury, and this man, who deserved as much punishment as the law could provide, would have been perfectly free. Indeed, if it had not been that his car was smothered by blood he might not have been convicted at all, because if you kill three instead of only one it is only another £20 if you drive on and say nothing about it. The Act is an inducement to do that. And all that the Minister of Transport thinks needs no alteration. He says he sees no reason why that provision should be changed. I can only hope that in this hard materialistic century a miracle may be achieved, and sight may be restored to him.

What he cannot see has been very well seen by other people. The Australians are people whom no one would dare to charge with being niggardly of their own lives, but while they are quite prepared to risk their own lives they are not so prepared to see the lives of other people risked, and I have here an Act passed in 1927 for South Australia, for which I am greatly indebted to the courtesy of the Attorney-General for South Australia. This is what it says: Any person who drives a motor vehicle in a culpably negligent manner, or recklessly, or at a speed or in a manner which is dangerous to the public, and causes the death of any person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour and on conviction be liable to imprisonment for any term not exceeding seven years with hard labour, or a fine not exceeding £200 or both. That is a country where the roads are bare and spaces are vast, and this is a country where the motor traffic is denser than in any other country in the world. Yet in South Australia they have thought fit to protect their foot passengers, and here the Minister of Transport thinks it is impossible you can do it.

On the last occasion Lord Mount Temple, whom I see before me, said it was wrong to try to put motorists into a class. You cannot escape from it. They are a class, and just as the law is degraded and disgraced when any lawyer commits an offence, and every member of the profession feels it, so motorists are disgraced and discredited when a member of the motoring community does any of these acts, and they ought to be keen, just as lawyers are, to try and purge their ranks of those who bring this discredit upon them. Not only are they a class but a newspaper the other day had a large leading article headed "Another irritation to motorists." What do your Lordships think was the irritation to motorists?—that they had to stop at some place to pay a toll or something of that sort. Just because there was a gate which caused them to slacken speed this was an irritation which was to be removed at the expense of the railway company, who were to build a bridge or a tunnel for them to pass over or under!


May I interrupt? That is not a fact. The railway company never find more than a quarter of the cost.


I should have thought a quarter was enough in their present position.


They save a great deal on signalling.


In the end were the motorists going to build this bridge or make this road? We know perfectly well that they were not. It was going to be done at the public expense somehow—probably arranged out of the £42,000,000 which comes annually out of the ratepayers' pockets for the maintenance of these roads. It is not only that that kind of thing is an irritation. Anything that checks the speed of these people, some of whom are as much subject to the lust of speed as other people are to the lust of gain or the lust of drink, is an irritation. A school is an obvious irritation, because you either have to slacken speed or kill a child. You may be fined £5. So, I gather, is a church, because the other day as a congregation scattered after evening service a car drove straight through them at 40 miles an hour and killed two women—killed them at the very door of the church—where in ancient days even a felon would have found sanctuary. And killed them —why? Because, of course, you cannot expect motorists to slacken speed on a Sunday evening, merely because the congregation is dispersing. These two women were killed because just for one brief moment their minds were fixed on something that was not a machine.

It is no use. Motorists, as a whole, must be treated as one class and, as I say, they should help to purge their ranks. For what other class of people is it that you can think of who, within the short period of three years, has incarnadined our roads with the blood of 20,000 slaughtered citizens, and sent 500,000 more to creep, maimed or injured, to the hospital or the grave? I know we have to live in the world as it is; I know that we can no longer enjoy what we once enjoyed. We can no longer walk along the country roads, watch the life in the hedges and refresh ourselves with the beauty of the fields. That which was once our oldest and our cherished privilege has been taken away from us, and it will never be given back. The motorists have usurped dominion over the road and we who were once its owners are now nothing but their subjects. But there is no reason why we should add servility to subjection. After all, our rates pay for the roads, and our taxes pay for the Ministry of Transport, and we are entitled to ask—not the restoration of our rights, we know they can never be given back, but protection against the peril to our lives; and that demand we intend to make and we shall repeat, hoping that at the last our claim may lift the heavy eyelids and pierce the muffled chambers of Whitehall.

Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House the recommendations of the Report of the Conference on Rail and Road Transport ought to be carried into effect without delay, and that it is essential for the safety of the public that further steps be taken to control motor traffic.—(Lord Buckmaster.)

LORD MOUNT TEMPLE, in whose name stood an Amendment, to leave out all the words after "House," and insert "in any action which may be taken as a result of the recommendations of the Salter Conference Report no extra financial burden should be placed on users of mechanical transport as a whole, and that the best way to diminish the dangers of the road is by a stricter enforcement of the present law," said: My Lords, I am naturally at considerable disadvantage in moving my Amendment as I have to follow the noble and learned Lord, who is such a skilled advocate and such a surprisingly clever speaker. But, though I have not the silver tongue of Lord Buck master, I shall venture to put before your Lordships, not that which appeals to sentiment, but that which appeals to facts; and I hope that your Lordships will give me that attentive hearing that you have given to the mover of the Resolution.

I will take the second part of the noble and learned Lord's Resolution first—namely, that part which says that there should be greater control over those who use the roads. That is the obvious part to take first, as the noble and learned Lord devoted nineteen-twentieths of his speech to that particular part, of his Resolution and practically ignored the Salter Conference altogether. Your Lordships will recollect that not longer ago than the summer of 1930 Parliament passed a great number of weeks in bringing the highway law up-to-date, and embodied in a very important Act the first and second recommendations of the Royal Commission on Transport which sat under the chairmanship of Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen. The noble and learned Lord may disagree with that legislation, but at any rate two short years ago Parliament decided that certain penalties were appropriate for certain offences; that certain regulations were fit and proper; and revised the whole code. Therefore the noble and learned Lord cannot say that the law is obsolete. All he can say is that the law, as he considers it, is too lenient to the motorist, and that it should be strengthened. But I do submit that you cannot dig up a plant like that after two years to see how it is getting on. You must allow the Act of two years ago to stand.

But, as a matter of practical politics, I think your Lordships will agree that the state of things on the roads is—I was going to say to a marked degree, but to a certain degree—better than it was six months or a year ago. We have had the Circular sent out by the Home Office to every bench of magistrates, urging them to be more strict in the application of the present law; and those of us who have followed the reports in The Times and other newspapers which deal with news on a matter of fact rather than a sensational basis, must have been struck by the reports of motorists being taken up and heavily fined by benches of magistrates. I am glad to say also that far greater recourse has been had to the power of suspending licences. Now, much more than in the past, the licences of offending motorists are suspended. And, personally, I think that where there has not been a serious bodily hurt to anybody, that is far the best way of dealing with motorists. Say that such a man is not fit to drive on the roads; suspend his licence for a considerable period, rather than put him in gaol or fine him.

There are statistics which support my contention. It is, of course, a very well known saying that statistics can prove anything: that there are lies, damned lies and statistics, but as the noble and learned Lord and his friends so often quote statistics I want to draw your Lordships' attention to the recent figures for fatal accidents in the London area. They show a distinct diminution in persons killed and persons injured. In the September quarter of 1931 there were 329 killed, this year there were only 304; in 1931 there were 15,424 injured, this year only 14,340. Therefore, I think it may be held that there is a distinct diminution in the number of accidents. I hope and trust it will continue, and, above all, that the benches of magistrates will continue to do their duty and see that those who misbehave on the roads are punished. I hope the noble and learned Lord will not think that those of us who do not see eye to eye with him about changes in the law are not just as anxious to diminish the number of accidents as he is. We have just the same sympathy for the pedestrian, but we think the improvement can be brought about under the present law rather than by making the penalty so very severe and so very outrageous.

Now I come to what I imagine most noble Lords consider to be really the backbone of this debate—namely, the Report of the Salter Conference. After all, we have discussed the dangers of the road ad nauseam in this House, but the Salter Conference is something which is quite new and the Report of that Conference has come out since we had our last debate in May. Lord Buckmaster says in his Resolution: the recommendations of the Report of the Conference on Rail and Road Transport ought to be carried into effect without delay. First of all, I think before we deal with that we ought to consider how that Conference came into being. We must remember that the final Report of the Royal Commission under Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen came out only in December, 1930. Up to now I think it has been quite obvious that no Minister could have legislated on the lines of the Third Report of the Royal Commission, which dealt with co-ordination and development of transport both by road and rail. There has been a General Election and a change of Ministers, and those of us who have been in Government Departments know how difficult it is to get time from any Government to pass what is called necessary legislation. Therefore I do not in the least blame the Ministers of Transport (because there have been two of them) for having delayed putting forward legislation to give effect to the Third Report of the Royal Commission. But the hands of the Minister have been forced; despite the serried ranks of the railway directors which I see before me, I say advisedly that the Minister has been forced into doing something foolish by the agitation engineered by the railway companies, and by those who are hostile to road transport because they think that road transport injures the railway interests.

What happened? In December, 1930, the Royal Commission reported. By the middle of last year there was a hot agitation in the Press that something should be done to diminish the competition between road and rail and to entrench the monopoly of the railway companies. Monopoly is always a bad thing and I think the railway companies are aiming now, not so much at diminishing their financial losses as at re-establishing that monopoly of transport which they held during the last fifty years of last century and the first ten years of this century. Most weakly, I think, the Minister of Transport gave way. He said: "I have got to do something; the agitation is becoming great; I am getting into trouble; let us have a Conference; let us have a Departmental Committee; let us have some investigation; let us do something foolish so that we may appear to be doing something." So he got together this Conference. The Conference, I admit, fairly represented the railway interests, because the four general managers of the four great lines were the representatives; but I do strongly dissent from the proposition that the four gentlemen, able gentlemen as they are, who were supposed to represent the road interests, did in fact represent the road interests. The stream of protests which are coming in to the Minister from all those connected with road transport show that those gentlemen were not really representative of the road interests. Therefore the contention that this Salter Conference gave a unanimous Report must be modified by the fact that those who represented the road interests represented only certain aspects of road transport and did not represent the whole.

What ought to happen, of course, is not to give the go-by to the Royal Commission on Transport, but to legislate on the lines of the Third Report of that Commission, and not to press the conclusions of a more or less chance body who were sitting in the Ministry of Transport, taking no evidence and simply picking the brains of the permanent officials. That you should legislate on the lines laid down by that Conference and give the go-by to a Royal Commission seems to me to be against all constitutional propriety. What is the use of having a Royal Commission? What is the use of these distinguished gentlemen on the Royal Commission under Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen spending months and months in taking evidence on oath as to what should be done in regard to further legislation with reference to the roads, if you absolutely wash out all their recommendations and pin your faith upon a Conference, as I say, held in the Ministry of Transport and consisting of people who have been asked by the Minister of Transport kindly to give him some advice and to help him out of a mess? Surely the thing to do would be for the Minister of Transport to press the Government all he can to give time for legislation on this important subject, but on the lines of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Transport.

May I put this point to your Lordships' House? We have had Royal Commissions on road transport; we have had Departmental Committees on road transport; we have had Conferences on road transport. There is, I believe, a Committee now sitting at the Ministry of Transport, unless I have been misinformed, dealing with some aspect of road transport. But why have we not had any investigations about the railways? Are the railways so perfect that no investigation is required as to the way in which they carry on their business? Surely, if road and rail are to be coordinated, if road and rail are to work together, if neither one nor the other is to be favoured, and you have had all these investigations into how road business is carried on, it is only right and proper that some investigation should be made as to how the railways carry on their business. If you had such an investigation I think you would find that some very extraordinary facts would come to light. You would find that some of the great railway companies, at any rate, have not carried on, and are not carrying on, their business with that efficiency and that economy which we would like to see. Economy does not consist only in dismissing employees. Economy does not consist only in not replacing employees when their time is up. Efficiency and economy mean working your business in the most efficient manner.

The railways complain that owing to road competition they are bankrupt, or words to that effect. They do not say that. They say that their profits are cut to the bone. In the first place, I entirely demur to the proposition that all the ills from which the railways are suffering come from road competition. If you read the Third Report of the Royal Commission on Transport you will see that it is there stated that the major portion of the troubles of the railways comes from trade depression. If you will read the famous Salter Conference Report you will see that it says that part of their troubles is due to bad trade. Therefore we reach this position, that half at least of the troubles of the railways are not due to these wicked road users but to trade depression, which I hope will be removed when trade revives.

Now I ask another question. I should like some information on this point from the noble Lords who will deal with this matter from the railway point of view. Are the railways in such a bad position as they imagine themselves to be and as the public imagine them to be? I have some figures taken from the Ministry of Transport's Report and anything taken from a Ministry of Transport Report naturally must be absolutely accurate and up-to-date. I speak from experience in saying that. The figures which I have make me doubt whether the railways are really in the bad position which is stated. I think it is a fact, if you look at the matter dispassionately, that the railway companies have, as a matter of practical politics, suffered less during the last ten years than any other industry in this country. I would ask noble Lords to note these figures. Up to December 31 last the railways' average loss of turn-over did not exceed 7 per cent.; their dividend and interest distribution was maintained at £38,500,000, representing 3.17 per cent. of their total capital, as against their best figure—that is for the year 1923—of 4.33 per cent.

May I ask the railway representatives whether they agree with this? Why should not the railways cut down some of the capital which now stands in their books? All other trading businesses have had to cut down their capital. Why should the railways alone be immune from that, and have to earn interest on the swollen capital which they have carried for so many years? Are your Lordships aware that in the last eighteen years the capital of the railways has increased by £82,000,000. These are all prior charges. Therefore the ordinary shareholders suffer, because the interest upon these prior charges has to be met. Is not that perhaps an explanation of why the ordinary shareholders are suffering such loss? The interest on this increased capital of £82,000,000 has to be found before the ordinary shareholders get anything at all. Obviously, apart from good trade or bad trade, the ordinary shareholders will suffer very severely. I read in The Times two days ago that as regards road and rail other countries, indeed most countries, had passed very severe legislation against carrying goods on the roads with a view to getting the traffic back upon the railways—Australia was given as a classic instance—and it was asked: "If they have done this, why should not we do the same?" I think I am right in saying that though the railways, unfortunately, in this country have suffered a great deal during the last few years, yet relatively they have suffered less than the railways in other countries. May it not be that our railways have suffered less because we have so far had common sense legislation as regards the roads? We have not had this penal and savage legislation as regards the roads that many other countries have had, and, therefore, the railways have not suffered as much as they have in other countries.

After all, what we ought to try and do—what I am sure the railway representatives really want to try and do in their hearts—is to reach some real working agreement between road and rail. If you hurt the railways you hurt the roads, and if you hurt the roads you hurt the railways. Road transport is the natural feeder of the railways. The railways undoubtedly can, and must, perform certain functions in this country which no road transport can do. On the other hand, it is obvious that road transport, by enabling goods to be distributed from the railway stations over a wide area, must improve the railways. At the same time I hope and trust that shortly the stupid —it is stupid, and both sides are to blame—the stupid warfare between the road interests and the rail interests will cease, and that some conference can be called—a conference not to see what penal things can be put on road traffic, but a conference of railway interests and road interests meeting at the Ministry of Transport to see if they cannot hammer out some agreed plan. I am sure that would be for the great benefit of the country as a whole.

Finally, may I deal in one or two sentences with the other part of my Amendment—namely, that if the Salter Report is carried out, then the aggregate amount of money which should be found by the other users of mechanically-propelled vehicles should not be increased because extra taxation is to be put upon the heaviest vehicles. What I mean is this. It is agreed—the noble Lord, Lord Buck-master, gave the figures—that the annual cost of the roads is now £60,000,000 as near as can be. It is also agreed that the contributions made by the users of the roads are as near £60,000,000 as may be. If the Salter Report is carried out it would mean that £2,500,000 extra is placed upon what is called heavy goods vehicles and other vehicles of that sort, and, therefore, if you leave the private motor vehicles and the light commercial vans taxed as at present, the road users would be finding £2,500,000 more than the roads cost. I will not subscribe to the doctrine that road users should find more than the cost of the roads. It is right that they should find the cost of the roads, but they should not be obliged to find more than the cost of the upkeep, maintenance and improvement of our roads. Therefore, what I would ask your Lordships' House to assent to in agreeing to my Amendment is that if, as a result of the Salter Conference, the extra taxation demanded of £2,500,000 is placed upon heavy vehicles using the roads, a corresponding amount should be taken off private motor cars and light commercial vans. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Leave out all the words after ("House,") and insert ("in any action which may be taken as a result of the recommendations of the Salter Conference Report no extra financial burden should be placed on users of mechanical transport as a whole, and that the best way to diminish the dangers of the road is by a stricter enforcement of the present law").—(Lord Mount Temple.)

LORD LOVAT had an Amendment on the Paper to leave out all the words after "House" and insert "before any action is taken on the Report of the Conference on Rail and Road Transport, the Minister of Transport should convene a conference with the highway local authorities for the purpose of making a full inquiry into the facts relating to the total costs of the highways system (including regulation of traffic) and the incidence thereof."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall not speak to my Amendment at any length. It is simply the Resolution in favour of which the Scottish county councils have voted unanimously. Your Lordships will remember that I raised this point six months ago when the question of road and rail transport was brought up, and asked why the local authorities, who paid two-thirds of the Bill, should not be consulted and have something to say in the matter. As your Lordships will also perhaps remember, the local authorities were very strongly represented in this House on that occasion, and after considerable whispering with Ministers outside and inside the House, it was agreed that the local authorities should be definitely consulted before any action was taken by the Government. All that has happened up to date is that about eighteen days' notice, or perhaps rather less, was given to local authorities to send in their opinions on the recommendations of the Report. I need hardly remind your Lordships that before local authorities can be called together fourteen days' notice is required by the Standing Orders, and so it is perfectly impossible to give this answer. Therefore the Scottish county councils have recommended that before any action is taken they should have an opportunity of stating their case at a conference at the Ministry of Transport.

It is really quite astonishing how frightened the Ministry of Transport appears to be of hearing the local authorities' point of view. After all, we pay, and it is admitted that we pay, £40,000,000 out of the £60,000,000 which the roads cost. I can give your Lordships the figures for Scotland. In 1903—I am not going into hundreds of thousands—the roads cost well over £1,000,000; ten years later the cost had more than doubled; and to-day the cost of the roads in Scotland is just over £7,000,000, of which from the rates plus the proportion of the grant under the 1929 Act the local authorities have to pay practically two-thirds. That is to say, that from the road grants, other than directly earmarked grants, there is paid only one-third and the local ratepayers pay two-thirds. The cost in Scotland has gone up from just over ls. in the pound to well over 3s. in the pound at the present day. The whole of this has been added to the cost of the roads by the advent of motor transport. The Scottish local authorities—especially the county councils, I have no authority to speak for the burghs—feel it only just that before any action is taken such as that advised by the noble and learned Lord opposite, the Government's pledge—for it was a pledge—should be implemented and the local authorities should be taken into their confidence at a full conference where we can express our point of view.

I do not intend to traverse any remarks made by the noble Lord who last spoke; but he seemed to have the idea that the Road Fund paid the whole cost of the roads to-day, and that if you added £2,500,000 to the burdens of heavy transport you should take it off the light cars. That is not the case. The Road Fund only contributes just over one-third of the cost of the roads to-day. If such figures are believed by such responsible people as the noble Lord it is obviously quite necessary that full investigation should be made. The burdens of the local authorities have very nearly reached breaking point at the present date and, as your Lordships know, Committees have been set up in Scotland and in England to report to the Government how they can be reduced. I submit that before the Department makes any decision on the subject local authorities have every claim to be heard on this matter. As I propose to raise the point very much more fully at another date I do not intend to press my Amendment on this occasion.


My Lords, I would like to take the opportunity of saying a few words in support of the Resolution moved by the noble and learned Lord opposite. Everyone must realise the very unfortunate position of the railways and the great controversy there is between road and rail, but I do not think the words spoken by the former Minister of Transport, the noble Lord, Lord Mount Temple, will help the situation to any great extent. I am not in a position to know whether the members of the Salter Committee were really representative of the motor industry or not, but it is a very remarkable fact that that Committee's Report was unanimous, and that when they were appointed people did not seem to think there was any real cause for making any objection to their appointment. It was only after the road users had reported unanimously with the representatives of the railway companies that a question arose with regard to their being qualified to represent the road transport industry.

I should like to refer for a moment to the position of the railways. Everyone knows that when the War was over the railways were handed back in a deteriorated condition to the railway companies to manage. I dare say your Lordships remember that there was a good deal of controversy as to what amount of money should be paid to the railway companies, and that in the end the amount was fixed at £60,000,000 under certain conditions. Everyone also knows, I suppose, that the railways are the creation of the State, that they are common carriers and therefore are on a different plane to the motor industry. I do not intend to refer to the Railway Rates Tribunal or questions of that kind, but I would like to point out that it seems hardly fair to the railway companies that the Government should have allowed £500,000,000 or £600,000,000 to be spent on the roads in the way in which it has been done. It really is a very serious matter. We have now in this country, I suppose, the best speedway in the whole world, and it is rather like this parallel which I would put before your Lordships. Suppose the Government were to allow under statutory arrangement a bridge to be put across a river and then made arrangements for someone else almost directly afterwards to put a tunnel underneath. That I think is a fair way of illustrating the position.

Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen, to whom I think we are under a great obligation for all the work he did on the Royal Commission on Transport, has stated that the loss to the railways was partly due to road transport but was far more due to lack of trade in this country. I dare say it is difficult for many people to realise what that lack of trade really means to the railway companies. As was pointed out not very long ago, if a million tons of steel comes into this country which otherwise might have been made from, say, Cleveland iron, using coal and coke from the North of England, the loss in railway rates alone amounts to about £800,000. If your Lordships realise the position to-day of many big trades in this country you will realise what is the loss to the railways.

I do not know whether it is possible to find some means of co-ordination between the railways of this country and the road services, but there are many angles from which the matter may be considered. I should like to take the opportunity of making, very humbly, one suggestion to your Lordships' House as to the way in which the railways might be benefited. A recent debate in your Lordships' House showed very plainly the terrible position of agriculture in this country. It was made perfectly plain also that if any change is to take place the Government must subsidise agriculture in some way. I want to make the suggestion that the Government might be the means of providing fertilisers at a very cheap rate for a large amount of land. If they would carry lime, basic slag, and sulphate of ammonia at comparatively low rates or no rates at all this would benefit to a considerable extent the farmers who require their land to be fertilised; it would help the railway companies; and at the same time it would provide work for a large number of extra people.

It is hardly fair to suggest that at the present time the railway companies take up an unfair position in regard to motor transport, and I should like to quote what was said yesterday in The Times in regard to this. The Times has done yeoman service in regard to transport and especially in regard to the position in which the railways are placed. The Times article states:— In almost every country in the world, with the notable exception of India and of France (where the railways are continuing to incur enormous deficits), Governments have found it necessary to restrict by various means the operation of road passenger services, and in many cases to apply similar measures to the road goods services as well. The article goes on to refer to the legislative provisions in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, and adds: But that, after all, is only one more reason why the Government should lose no time in dealing with it in the interests of the community as a whole. With the experience of so many other countries to guide them, Mr. Pybus and his colleagues have an admirable opportunity of evolving for the first time a really scientific policy of correlation between road and railway, and thus of solving satisfactorily a transport problem which has long vexed Governments all over the world. I think the Government has allowed this question to a certain extent to drift, and that it is not unreasonable of me to ask that some answer should be given as to what they intend with reference both to the Report of the Royal Commission on Transport and the Conference which only recently reported. I believe the whole country wants to know what is going to be done in this matter. I also feel that many of the critics in the news-papers are rather callous regarding the position of the ordinary shareholder. As I have said the railways are the creation of the State, and it was in very good faith that many of the hardest workers of the country put into them the whole of their savings. In the circumstances I appeal to the House and to the Government to consider whether it is not possible to find some co-ordination between road and rail and thereby do away with many of the difficulties that exist to-day.


My Lords, in order to clarify the debate I rise to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment. I do not think it matters very much whether I have my Amendment or not. Obviously the Minister cannot make any statement to-day in view of the terms of reference in the Report. Therefore, I ask leave to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, I do not rise to enter upon a discussion between railway and road interests, because I am not qualified to express an opinion as to which is right upon that point. All I would say is, and this seems to me the point that is worth at any rate some consideration, that the railways are unquestionably far more careful of human life than the users of the roads. I do want to say a word in support of the latter part of the Motion before your Lordships' House. I agree profoundly with what fell from my noble and learned friend Lord Buck-master, and I confess I was a good deal surprised at the way in which my noble friend Lord Mount Temple thought it right to meet the case made out. He really did not attempt to deny it. He said nothing to excuse or to palliate the deaths of the 25 children, or the 20,000 individuals in three years, or the 400,000 or 500,000 people—I forget the exact figure—injured in that period. He said he regretted it very much, but he did not suggest any method by which it could be improved except the enforcement of the existing law. I confess that I think we have seen from the experience of the Act that, though it may have done some good, it has been far from sufficient to wipe out this terrible disgrace which now weighs upon the civilisation of this country.

I was not very much impressed by the statistics which the noble Lord produced with, I am bound to say, a good deal of hesitation. He says that the deaths have gone down in a quarter in London by twenty-five. But he did not tell us, and I do not know whether the information is available, whether there were more or fewer motors on the roads in that period. My experience, watching the traffic from outside, is that the motor traffic is decidedly less than it was and I have seen figures and statements in the Press that that is so. If that is the case the reduction of twenty-five may in fact show a real increase in percentage in relation to motor traffic. The noble Lord's only other contribution to this part of the discussion was to refer to the outrageous penalties which he thought had been advocated by my noble and learned friend and to the penal and savage legislation which he feared. Your Lordships have heard the case made out by my noble and learned friend, and I confess that some improvement and increase of the penalties he described does not seem to me to justify a charge that he was in favour of outrageous penalties.

I want to add one or two words relating to the small experience I have had in the last few months of some of the sidelights of this question. I happened to be in a distant part of the country and was requested to go into the village hospital. There I asked whether they had many motor cases and they said: "Oh, yes, the whole hospital is absolutely crowded out with accidents from the motors." I said: "Do you receive any payment in respect of the treatment of these accidents?" They replied: "Never." That seems to be a striking fact which ought to be borne in mind. The truth is that motorists—I do not say all, but many—have got into the state of mind when they think that the whole road absolutely belongs to them—that if an accident is caused it is nothing to do with them, they are not responsible, they are not to be blamed whatever happens, and they are not even to pay towards the expenses of the person who has been injured by the accident. An incident is perhaps worth mentioning which occurred only last Sunday. I attended a memorial service for those who fell in the Great War. The memorial is placed necessarily in a most public position in the parish abutting on one of the roads. During the service, which lasted but a quarter of an hour at the outside, several motors passed. Did one stop? Not one. Did they show the slightest interest in the service? Not one, except that there was one lorry where I observed that those in the lorry did think it right to raise their hats. But the ordinary motorist did not pay the slightest attention. That is the thing which is creating this indignation against a certain class of motorists, and I do not think it will be diminished by a speech of the kind that we have heard from Lord Mount Temple.

There is just one other instance. In a road which I know very well there have been carried out by the local authority very large alterations and improvements, I have no doubt at very large expense. In the ordinary way the road has been widened, and those hideous kerb stones have been put on each side of it, in spite of the fact that it happens to go through one of the most beautiful parts of England. I observed when the work was completed that not only was no footpath put by the side of the road but a good part of the grass verge, which formerly existed, had been thrown into the road. I ventured to write a letter to the local authority pointing this out, and asking why it was done. I also pointed out that I had been assured in this House, by the representative of the Ministry of Transport, when the last Road Traffic Bill was under consideration, that no money was ever given from the Road Fund towards the improvement of a road unless precautions were taken that a footpath should be made by the side of the road. I had to wait some weeks for a reply, which was perhaps due to its being the holiday season. The reply when it came was in substance this: "No, we have not done that at all. We have to consider the traffic on the roads, and the roads costs so much money to build them that we have really no money to provide a footpath." That is the attitude that is always coming back again and again, that the only people having any right on the road are the motorists, and pedestrians may be absolutely disregarded. For that reason I very much hope your Lordships will pass this Resolution.


My Lords, I hope you will allow me to make a few observations. I am sure we all listened with great sympathy to what has fallen from Lord Buckmaster, but there are one or two things which Lord Buckmaster said in the course of his speech, which I personally regret. First of all he said that motorists are a class, and his argument from that seemed to me to endeavour to introduce something very much like class prejudice into his speech. I hope that no member of this House will have got the idea from the noble and learned Lord's speech that the average motorist in this country—at least as I understand it, and I am connected with most of the big motoring organisations in the country, and am on the Committee of the R.A.C. —does not share with him to the full the horror which he feels at the appalling numbers of people who are killed, maimed or otherwise injured on the roads of the country to-day. It is an appalling problem, but it is not a new problem. It is one which we, on the big motoring organisations, have been watching with the greatest anxiety. During 1930, when the present Road Act was passing through this House, I endeavoured to call attention to the figures as they then stood. In the interval they have gone on increasing, unfortunately. One or two of us endeavoured in 1930 to get Amendments passed which I still feel would have done something to improve matters.

There was, for instance, an Amendment moved by Viscount Cecil and rejected by your Lordships' House, to the effect that nobody should be allowed to go on the roads until he had satisfied a competent authority that he was qualified to drive on the roads. Unfortunately, as I think, your Lordships were not able to accept that Amendment. I regretted it because I personally am acquainted with the conditions, as no doubt many of your Lordships are, which exist on the roads in other countries. We in this country are almost alone in refusing to have any sort of examination for driving. It may be said that examinations are no good, and that only the expert or most reckless man will pass examinations, and that the other fellows, those who are more careful, will not. I submit that examinations are always exactly what you make them. You can make them efficient or the reverse, and I am a firm believer that in this country, when we set up machinery for carrying out examinations, we usually do it with our characteristic British thoroughness. There are other things which I think might be done. When Lord Buckmaster brought this question before the House during the summer I advocated the arrestment of the vehicle. It is done in other countries, and it is a very salutary provision. It means that the vehicle may be arrested and detained at the pleasure of the court or other tribunal inquiring into the case.

Do not let us look upon the terrible record of accidents as being entirely due to the motor vehicle. No one regrets the incidents which Lord Buckmaster has quoted, of people being killed and injured, more than I do. When a frightful accident occurs like that, in cold blood, there is no excuse whatever, but when a driver has committed a hideous thing like that and acts on the spur of the moment, being perhaps frightened, in going on he does a thing which he regrets for the rest of his life. Do not, however, let us regard all these things as due to the motor driver. Every accident in which a motor ear is concerned, although the accident is in no way due to the fault of the motor driver, is classified as a motor accident. I think we want to take a calm view of this question. It may be necessary to strengthen the existing law eventually, but before we do anything I feel we ought to have a little more experience of the present Act. I would plead with your Lordships to allow the efforts which are undoubtedly being made by the Minister of Transport and the Ministry to try and get the Act thoroughly enforced, to continue. I would like to see a little more time elapse before we say that it is necessary to reconsider it all. As Lord Mount Temple pointed out, the matter was considered only two years ago and it may be that it will not be necessary to strengthen it when the Act is more stringently enforced; but if it is necessary to strengthen it I hope you will not forget the Amendment proposed by Viscount Cecil, providing for the examination of drivers. I also hope that you will not forget the suggestion which I have made, that in the case of personal injury there should be arrestment of the vehicle itself.

With regard to the question of road versus rail, this appears to me to be only indirectly connected with the question which we have been discussing to-day. I personally thought when I came to your Lordships' House this afternoon that this debate was going largely to turn upon the Salter Conference. I have been watching the development of this controversy of road versus rail very carefully because I am in touch with many of the great motor organisations. I think it is somewhat too hastily assumed by those who support the case of the railways that the interests of the two are antagonistic. I think that they are complementary to one another, and I very much hope that further efforts will be made by the Ministry and the Government to draw the two sides together.

There is a sort of feeling in the public mind that we have had the representatives of the railways, we have had the representatives of the roads, but where do the general public come in? They also are concerned. Where do the coastwise shipping interests come in? They also are concerned. I feel that there is a great field for inquiry in all this, and I fear that the Salter Conference, brilliant as it no doubt was, and able as is its Report, hardly carries with it the public confidence to an extent which will enable the Minister to take effective action. I think that if some renewed effort could be made to draw the two sides together and to see that the public are adequately represented we should be on safer ground. I do not think it is a sound principle that in order to enable one system of transport to pay you should place heavy taxation on the other and so force up its costs. That surely may make it more difficult for certain sections of our industry to-day.

There is one other factor which ought to be remembered, and that is that in these difficult times the motor industry has been one of the industries which has very largely been able to hold its head up. Do not let us do anything, either directly by taxation or indirectly by legislation, which will make things more difficult for one of our few fairly prosperous industries in this country. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, when he replies will be able to tell us that the Government will take a note of everything that has passed in your Lordships' House this afternoon, and that at any rate they are not going to adopt at the present moment the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord, that further motor legislation of a penal character should be passed. Give more chance to the existing Act. I also hope that the Government will go very slow before they act upon the recommendations of the Salter Conference as they stand to-day.


My Lords, I think your Lordships owe a debt of gratitude to the noble and learned Lord for the persistent way in which he raises this question from time to time, and calls not only our attention but the attention of the country to the perilous state of the roads. I was deeply impressed by his very moving speech, and I do feel that some of us ought to give some contribution and suggestion to the Ministry of Transport with a view to seeing whether some mitigation of this peril cannot be found. I still think that the noble and learned Lord weakens his case by assuming rather too much that the motorist is in all cases to blame. But, be that as it may, wherever the blame rests there is no doubt that he is right in demanding that something in the way either of new legislation or better regulations should be found in order to prevent the recurrence of this annual massacre.

The noble Earl who has just sat down referred to the driving test, and said that it was a great pity that in the Act of two years ago the Amendment to insist on a test should not have been accepted. The idea of a test sounds superficially a good one, it sounds as if it would keep bad drivers off the roads and therefore prevent accidents. But I think that the noble Earl will agree with me that if a still more careful analysis of accidents were made it would be found that the timid and inexperienced driver was very seldom the cause of an accident; it is much more often the very skilful and reckless driver who is to blame. And therefore I do not think that the test that he insists on would do very much to mitigate the figures which are before us.

Those of your Lordships who have had experience on the bench and have had motor cases brought before you, can sometimes form some opinion of how much motorists are to blame, and there can be no question that on a great many occasions they are to blame. I would throw out this suggestion for the consideration of the Ministry of Transport. At present the motorist who is culpably negligent, the motorist who is convicted of dangerous driving, receives his penalty because of the accident that has occurred on account of his negligence or his dangerous driving. I think that by police regulation that man might be caught even if no accident occurred. Take two cases. The motorist who goes round a corner on the wrong side of the road, if he has an accident, is to blame and gets punished. But I want him to be punished for going round on the wrong side of the road when there is no accident at all. If a motorist comes out from a small turning—and this act is the cause of many accidents—at far too rapid a pace on to a main road and comes into collision with another car and there is an accident, he is to blame and is punished. I want him to be punished if there is no car on the road at all and there is no accident.

The question is whether this can be done. I do not think it would be very difficult. If certain corners and certain by-lanes were watched by the police—not always the same ones—and from time to time they were able to show that motorists without any dire consequences did break the regulations necessary for safety, they could charge them and have them fined. I think it might be done in a very simple manner, because, after all, the white lines are down on the road, and if a motorist, going round a blind corner, goes over the white line, he cannot pretend that he was not over the white line, and I think the police would be able to charge him and bring him before the bench. This would be a nuisance to motorists, I quite admit, but it would encourage very much more careful driving if, when they came to a blind corner, there was the risk not only of meeting another car but of finding that there was a constable round the corner who was watching them. I think the result would be to ensure more careful driving. After all, that is the essence of the whole question—careful driving, the driving of a decent driver, and not of a man who recklessly uses the road is if it were a racing track. In order to ensure that, I feel that more regulations ought to be drawn up and these careless and dangerous drivers ought to be caught, even though they are not the cause of any fatal accidents.

I do not want to enter into the larger question of road and rail, but I must say that I agree with the noble Earl who has just sat down that a great mistake is made in talking about "road versus rail" and until we get into a frame of mind in which we want to co-ordinate the two services we shall not make any very great improvement in either.


My Lords, I feel in a rather difficult position this evening because the various speeches which I am called upon to answer have approached this big question from different angles and very often from entirely different points of view. The noble and learned Lord's Motion deals with two subjects: firstly, with the Report of the Road-Rail Conference, which concerns itself mainly with the economic regulation of goods transport; and secondly, with the need for taking further steps to control motor traffic generally in the interests of safety. The Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mount Temple (which he has now withdrawn), suggests that the best way to diminish the dangers of the road is by the stricter enforcement of the existing law. I am sure that everyone will agree with the noble and learned Lord that no reasonable steps should be neglected which would tend to reduce the present number of fatal and other accidents upon the road. I think everyone will also agree with Lord Mount Temple that one very important means of achieving that end is the strict enforcement of the existing law. There is urdoubtedly a great mass of opinion in the country which holds that the existing law is, generally speaking, adequate to deal with the situation, if it is properly enforced. I am quite prepared to admit that there are particular directions in which improvements are possible and desirable. I think they are mainly of an administrative character. For example, there is no doubt that the improvement of the surface and the layout of the roads themselves and more uniform signalling are matters of real Importance from the point of view of the security of the pedestrian. There is a Departmental Committee on Road Signs which is going to report, I understand, by the end of this year, and I feel certain that that report will be of great assistance on this particular subject.

After all, it must rest in the main with the courts, and particularly with the magistrates, to enforce the existing law by the imposition of the adequate and appropriate penalties which it is within their power to impose in cases where they are satisfied that due care and consideration have not been exercised by drivers of motor vehicles. It is equally within their power to deal drastically with those cases which come before them where the drivers of motor vehicles are required to work excessive hours in breach of the Road Traffic Act. It must also be remembered that there is power under the existing law in such cases to prosecute the employer as the real offender for aiding and abetting, though I have much sympathy with the view taken by the noble and learned Lord that the penalities which it is possible to inflict may not be heavy enough. The Minister of Transport recently had an opportunity of addressing the Magistrates' Association on this particular subject and of bringing once again to their attention the circular letter which was issued by the Home Office a few months ago. This circular letter was issued very largely as a result of debates which took place in your Lordships' House and which drew attention to the grave seriousness of the situation. I think I am in a position to say that there are indications that this circular has not been entirely without effect.

It is of course desirable that everything possible should be done to make the enforcement of the law easier, and the Road-Rail Conference itself recognised the fact and made various recommendations to attain this object, including, as your Lordships know, a proposal that the records of journeys of goods vehicles should be carried by the driver, which would help to secure due observance of the prescribed conditions of maximum weight and hours of work. It also made other suggestions for the control of goods traffic on roads, which your Lordships have no doubt also noted, such as the extended use of the power to exclude certain vehicles from certain roads. I wish to assure your Lordships that by constantly bringing the need for careful driving and behaviour on the road before all concerned, by the improvement of roads and of traffic signs and by all other means in his power the Minister will continue to do everything he can to promote the public safety.

I would like to tell your Lordships, and I think you will be interested to know, that a special investigation into the causation of accidents over a substantial period is now being embarked upon and, from this, valuable results ought to be obtained which should serve as a guide for future legislation. But I do suggest that, in view of the great divergence of opinion that there is as to what is the best method to deal with this difficulty, it would be unwise to introduce further legislation until we have the results of this inquiry before us and are able to make some satisfactory deductions from it.

I should like to say a word or two about the actual Report of the Road-Rail Conference. To begin with, we are very greatly indebted to Sir Arthur Salter and his colleagues, whether we agree with their conclusions or not, for the very lucid and extremely clear Report which they have produced. The fact that the Report was unanimous is, I think, a great tribute to the skill and tact of the Chairman of the Conference and also to the spirit of co-operation with which all members must have entered upon their task. Owing to the fact that it is a unanimous Report, this Report must carry very great weight. There has been some criticism this evening, I think from my noble friend Lord Mount Temple, with regard to the constitution of the Conference, particularly as regards the representatives of the road side. All I can say is that those who were chosen to represent the road side on the Conference were men of great influence and were nominated by a body which is representative of a very large number of important organisations. I have the list here. I could read out all the names but I do not intend to weary your Lordships by doing that. However, it is interesting to note that the protests mostly came after the Report had actually been published, not beforehand.

There is one claim which I think I can safely make this evening and that is that the Government cannot be charged with any delay in regard to this matter. As your Lordships know, this Conference was set up in March and it was put under a time limit which required it to report by the 31st July. This was done. Then, as had originally been promised, a large number of representative organisations, local authorities, and trading interests were invited to submit their observations upon it. Here again a time limit was imposed, and the answers were requested by the 30th September. Unfortunately certain of the larger organisations requested further time, and the Minister of Transport reluctantly agreed to extend the period till the end of last month. Some of these replies have only just been received; as a matter of fact, I believe they are still coming in. Most of them are detailed contributions to the problem, and contain comments and arguments directed to the various paragraphs of the Report. Many organisations have submitted alternative figures and calculations which they desire to have regarded. The Minister gave an undertaking that before coming to any conclusion the Government would give full opportunities to the interests concerned to submit their observations on any recommendations made to him by the Conference, and I suggest to your Lordships that the Government must have reasonable time to study the great mass of material which has now been presented to them.

The Government naturally fully appreciate the desire of the industry, including the manufacturers, to know what, if any, changes either in taxation or in the regulation of the industry the Government propose, but it is quite impossible for me this evening, for the reason I have given, to make any definite statement at the present moment. In these circumstances I do not intend to enter into a discussion of the merits of any particular paragraphs in the Report, but this assurance I very gladly give the House. The Government will approach the problem from the point of view that there is a real problem to be solved. It is no good to brush aside the formidable problems that exist, or to suggest that their solution can be relegated to the distant future. The fundamental question at issue is whether or not the existing conditions under which road and rail compete with one another are fair and equitable. The Conference itself has pointed out that nothing could be more undesirable than to attempt by taxation beyond what represents a fair share of road costs, or by regulation beyond what is in the public interest, to divert traffic back from the roads and deprive trade and industry of the convenience of this new form of transport. But the Conference has indicated that neither in the distribution of the incidence of highway costs, nor in the conditions under which goods are carried, is there at present a fair and equal basis of competition. That is what the Government has to consider, with the observa- tions which it has now received from so very many different quarters.

I should like whilst I am on this point to refer for a moment to the Third Report of the Royal Commission on Transport which was presided over by Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen. The Government look on this as an extremely valuable and important document, and I need hardly say that full weight will be given to its recommendations. The Report covered much of the ground embraced by the Salter Conference, and in many directions made similar recommendations, though perhaps the Royal Commission did not go quite so far as the Report of the Salter Conference. But I do want to emphasise this point, that the Commission and the Conference are in agreement on a number of different points. They both recommend a system of licensing of goods vehicles which would make licences conditional on the payment of fair wages, the observance of reasonable conditions of employment, and the maintenance of the vehicles in an efficient state of repair. They both also recommend a substantial increase in taxation on the heavier vehicles. The noble Lord, Lord Mount Temple, moved an Amendment, which I am grateful to him for having withdrawn, to the effect that as a result of the Salter Report no extra financial burden should be placed upon the users of mechanical transport as a whole. Clearly it would not have been possible for the Government at this stage to tie themselves down by accepting such an Amendment.

As I have pointed out, the Minister has just received a large number of representations from various interests which deal with the Salter Report in very great detail, and he must have ample time to examine the Report in the light of the observations which he has received. As a matter of fact, the Report of the Royal Commission and the Salter Report both recommend an increase in taxation of heavy goods vehicles, but I do not want to go into any questions of detail at the present moment for the season that I have already given to your Lordships—namely, that the Minister is not in a position to enable him to make a definite statement, because he has undertaken that before coming to any conclusion he will receive the representations of these various people and take them into the very fullest consideration.

I must refer before I finish to the proposal which was made by my noble friend Lord Lovat. He had an Amendment down which he did not move, but which I know was of interest to many of your Lordships, that a Conference of local authorities should be convened by the Minister to make a further inquiry. It is hardly necessary for me to point out to the House that another Conference of that kind is bound to entail some very considerable delay. Let me explain, if I can, the position as far as the local authorities are concerned. The different local authorities have already greatly assisted the Minister by submitting their observations. These observations have been very full and are extremely valuable, and will, of course, be given the very fullest consideration. It is quite true that the Scottish County Councils Association have adopted the same line as the noble Lord, Lord. Lovat, but that is not the position which has been adopted by the other great organisations of local authorities in Scotland or in England and Wales.

I want to emphasise that the immediate problem is whether heavy vehicles should be required to contribute more than they do now to the cost of the roads. That is the only financial issue which arises directly out of the Report. In considering this question it is necessary to estimate the cost of the roads. The Government will have before them shortly the Reports of the Committees on Local Expenditure, and I should like to remind your Lordships that these Committees were Committees composed entirely of local authority representatives, and I think that Scotland had separate Committees, which went into different questions of local expenditure. These Reports will shortly be before the Government, who will naturally keep these Reports in mind in considering what the estimate of highway costs should be in the future. It is, therefore, the view of the Government that a further conference of local authorities on this particular part of the subject does not really appear to be necessary. I believe the noble Lord said something about a breach of faith in regard to the matter. I must repudiate any accusation of that kind most emphatically.


I did not say so.


No, it was the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, who said, or indicated, that there might be a breach of faith in regard to the matter. That really is not so. I remember perfectly well what I said on the last occasion. That was that the local authorities, before any definite conclusion was come to, would certainly be taken into consultation. They have been consulted and they have sent in their representations. I certainly never intended to suggest that a further conference would be called.

As I said before, it has been difficult to reply to this debate because the subject has been approached from different angles by different speakers. I can really only repeat on behalf of the Government that I am unable at the moment to give a more definite reply than I have done. Time must be allowed for the Minister to consider the numerous observations which have been submitted to him. This I want to say, however: that the Government do realise that here is a great and pressing problem which must be tackled and must be dealt with at the earliest practicable moment. I do not know exactly what the noble and learned Lord is going to do, or whether he intends to press his Motion. If he does I can only repeat that for the reasons I have given it is quite premature for the Government to announce their conclusions on the Report of the Road-Rail Conference. The Government do not intend to divide against the Resolution, because it might be deduced from that that they had definitely come to the conclusion that they were not going to do anything with regard to the Report. At the same time I want to make it clear that the fact that they do not divide against the Resolution must not be taken as indicating that they have reached any decision, or even that they have had time to consider the matter fully. If the noble and learned Viscount presses his Resolution I want to make it clear once again that the Government cannot in any way be considered to be committed to its particular terms.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether he can give on behalf of the Government any assurance that a Bill dealing with this question will be introduced at the earliest possible moment next Session?


I am very sorry, but I am obviously not in a position to give that undertaking.


My Lords, I will not detain you long. The terms of my Resolution are "That in the opinion of this House" certain recommendations ought to be carried into effect. It is not that in the opinion of the Government but that in the opinion of this House this action ought to be taken. I have heard nothing whatever in the course of this debate to shift my opinion from the belief that those recommendations ought to be carried out. I must say that I heard with some astonishment the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Mount Temple, because I find that a few days ago—omitting a few unnecessary words—he said: It surely must make it a very thankless task…to go into these rather dry subjects, and to spend hours in investigating these matters…to find in the end that their recommendations are flouted by a Government Department.


Where did I say that?




In what debate?


The point of the noble Lord's remark was quite sound. I have always said that you cannot do anything more discouraging than to appoint competent men to undertake a thankless, dry and distasteful task and then when they report say: "Let us go and ask someone else." This Report only asks that £2,500,000 more should be imposed on the heavy motor users. There is no reason why that Report should not be accepted. I was astonished—I had almost said pained—to hear the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, speak about the interests of road traffic and the interests of the railways, but not one single word or whisper about the rights of the people. Are they not going to be considered? I know quite well that we have no organisation. There are formidable organisations against us, and I know that they will use every effort they can to resist anything being done that will interfere with them. They will put pressure on Members of Parliament or even—they have done it in the past—put paid agents in the Lobby; but the interests of the other side, of the vast mass of the people of this country, people whose safety is affected, whose comfortable enjoyment of their homes is in some cases being ruined, whose very houses are being shaken about their heads, have no one to say a word for them. Not for the first time I ask your Lordships to speak and act on behalf of people who can neither speak nor act for themselves.


My Lords, I would not ask the leave of the House to speak again had it not been that the noble and learned Lord appealed to me.




What did you do then?


Read part of a speech which you made the other day.


The noble and learned Lord quoted me then. May I put this to your Lordships that if your Lordships pass the Resolution of the noble and learned Lord—


Order, order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.