HL Deb 25 July 1934 vol 93 cc1122-32

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That this Bill be now read 3a.—(The Earl of Plymouth.)


My Lords, before we part with this Bill I desire on behalf of my noble friends around me, and I think I may say on behalf of the whole House, to express our thanks to the noble Earl who has conducted this Bill through the Committee stage and the Report stage with such unfailing courtesy and patience. I only want to mention three small points which I should like to bring to his notice. The Bill is concerned with them, of course, but they do not refer to any particular Amendment. They are points which I should like him to bring to the notice of the Minister of Transport.

The first point arises on an Amendment which was passed, as the noble Earl will remember, with regard to the necessity of preventing noise. It was passed by general consent of the House, and the noble Earl told us that there was going to be a scientific inquiry into the matter in order that they might have some knowledge of the quantitative measurement of noise. I think he used that expression twice. I want to point out to the noble Earl very respectfully that that would seem to me to be the wrong way for the scientists to go to work. It really is not quantitative noise that we want to get at. Nobody minds a clap of thunder, or even an explosion, but what we all mind is this constant raucous throbbing, which disturbs people night and day, from the exhausts of motor cars and motor cycles. I think therefore if they concentrate on quantitative noise they will really not arrive at any satisfactory conclusions. Scientific people are rather apt in their eagerness to make very intense investigations into matters which do not very much signify.

Another point which I mentioned, I think, during the Second Reading debate, and to which I should like the noble Earl to give rather more attention, is the question of fines on the spot. I sincerely believe that that method, after careful investigation, might be adopted for minor offences where there can be no question of the offences having been perpetrated, like the absence, of a reflector on the back of a bicycle, or a car being drawn up in a spot whore parking is quite clearly forbidden such as within the white lines at the corner of a road. In cases of that sort I feel that the method which is being adopted abroad for these smaller offences is rapid, is not likely to inflict any injustice and, at the same time, enables the police to deal with these minor offences instead of, as now, going through the wrong procedure of allowing these culprits to escape.

The third point is the Highway Code. I listened very carefully to the remarks of the noble Earl on that point, and I did not hear anything really in the way of an assurance that some plan has been thought out as to how this new edition of the Highway Code could be distributed. It is not sufficient just to distribute it to motorists. We want as many people as possible throughout the country to get it; and without entering into various ideas which have occurred to me, I hope the noble Earl will press the Minister of Transport to think out some method of broadcasting this little pamphlet in such a way that it may be available in all public places without the least possible difficulty. Except for that I only want once more to thank the noble Earl for his courtesy.


My Lords, I would like, if I may be allowed to do so, to associate myself most sincerely with what the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition has said with regard to the noble Earl who is in charge of this Bill. As one who has been, I am afraid, a rather hostile critic, I may say that I have been treated by him with the most extraordinary courtesy and kindness on every occasion. Before we finally part with this Bill I want to say a few things with regard to it. Yesterday the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, referring to some remarks of mine, said: This Bill has been brought in to try to decrease the lamentable number of deaths, but I am afraid that the noble Earl, who has been one of the leaders of those who put down Amendments on behalf of the motorist, is one who has overcome that feeling about accidents and deaths. The whole object of those noble Lords who support him is to increase the pace of motor cars. He then cited another Amendment of mine and said "It was simply designed to enable cars to go a little faster."

The noble Earl said I misrepresented him. If I did so I am indeed sorry, but in those few remarks he entirely misrepresented my attitude and the attitude of those with whom I have acted in respect of this Bill. For years past I have been drawing attention to the appalling casualty roll on the roads. I did it in 1930, when the Road Traffic Act was being passed, and I did it before then, and I could get little support from anybody. It did not seem possible to attract the serious attention of any one in this House. Ever since then I have been referring to the matter. My object has not been to increase the speed of motor cars. That is entirely wrong. What I and we say is that this present Road Traffic Bill will do nothing to increase public safety. It pro- poses to have a speed limit of thirty miles an hour. What does that speed limit represent? It certainly does not represent a safe speed. What may be a safe speed for one car is entirely unsafe for another. What is safe for one driver is unsafe for another. We say that it encourages a wrong mentality in drivers, policemen and magistrates, and that it will do a great deal to side-track attention from what really matters. What we want on the roads is an improvement in manners and road sense. If we can get those two things we shall do something actively effective to reduce the casualty roll.

This Bill also sets up the most appalling multiplicity of signs. Under this Bill, with reference to the thirty miles an hour speed limit alone, we are going to set up no fewer than five distinct new signs which the motorist has got to keep an eye on. If he disregards any of those signs he may be landed in gaol, and if he is a paid worker it may be a very serious matter to him. Then, again, nothing is going to be done under this Bill, so far as I can make out, with regard to the coloured background behind traffic light signals—a most important matter. The speed limit is going to depend upon lamp posts, a most thoroughly unsatisfactory matter from the point of view of the motorist. Lamp posts are not put up so as to be easily visible, nor are they painted a colour which is easily seen, and no provision is made for colour blindness, although I believe there are a large number of colour-blind people.

Then the charges are to be brought before tribunals which will often be very inexpert and even prejudiced. As in former years, in the case of the twenty miles an hour speed limit, and even since, conspicuous offenders will often be let off with practically no penalty at all, whereas others in far less serious cases will receive savage sentences. We know from the experience we have had in connection with motor legislation in the past, that the Surrey courts of summary jurisdiction will be able to revive the species of public competition that they seemed to run in connection with fines for technical offences. I say this advisedly, because they actually did publish figures, and there seemed to be a sort of competition between the various courts of justice.

Another grave defect in the Bill from the point of view of the motorist is the fact that a man may be convicted on the evidence of a single policeman. No one has greater admiration for the magnificent uprightness of our Police force, but it is always possible for people to make mistakes, and it is not satisfactory that a man should be convicted, as he can be under this Bill, on the evidence of a single policeman, of a very serious charge indeed. I can only hope for your Lordships' sake that it does not happen to be any member of this House who so suffers. The effect of the Bill has already been to send up motor cycle insurance by 50 per cent., and motor cyclists are not the most affluent section of the community. The Bill also perpetrates what the motor community looks upon as a grave injustice—namely, the motorist having to pay the doctor's fees although he may be not in the least responsible for the accident. It must be obvious that the principle embodied in that provision is one which is quite foreign to our laws as a whole, and one which will be bitterly resented.

There are good things in the Bill. The first good thing I can see in it is that there are to be tests for drivers. I can assure your Lordships it will be very carefully watched by the motoring community to see that the tests are real tests. If it should happen that the tests imposed become too easy to pass, instead of some real knowledge of the Highway Code being required, then the tests will mean but little and they will become more or less perfunctory. So long as they are real tests I am convinced that they will do good and will do something to reduce the number of accidents. But they will only operate slowly, because only those who took out licences after April of this year will be subject to the tests. Therefore it will take a long time before we get an improved standard of driving under these tests.

Another good thing about the Bill is that it at last gives the Minister power to regulate pedestrian traffic. I regard this as being possibly the greatest thing that could be done to reduce the number of casualties. I sincerely hope that the Minister will do everything he can to extend the use of pedestrian crossings, and further that steps will be taken to prevent pedestrians from launching off into the middle of roundabout systems of traffic. That is the sort of thing that causes accidents. Those are, to my mind, the great points about the Bill.

There are four questions I should like to ask the Minister. Your Lordships will appreciate that the Report stage only finished yesterday and there has not been much time to consider the questions arising from it. The first question is: Will the Minister say that the thirty miles an hour speed limit will not come into operation until the speed-limit signs—the five separate signs which he has to set up under the Bill—are in position? I do not mean every single sign throughout the country, but I hope that broadly speaking the signs will be in position before the thirty-mile speed limit is brought into operation. I think it is only fair that one should ask that, in view of the very serious effects that may follow charges brought under the Act. With regard to the Highway Code I am indeed glad to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said on that subject, and I entirely share his anxiety. I hope everything will be done to bring the Highway Code before all the schools of the country—public, private and elementary. I hope that every use will be made of the cinema and of broadcasting, and I hope that in the four holiday periods special sections of the Highway Code will be textually reproduced in the public Press, and that no fee will be charged for reproducing them.

With regard to the causation of accidents, an important letter appeared in to-day's Times, signed by Sir Auckland Geddes, in which he pleads for a scientific inquiry into the causation and prevention of accidents. We have had a police inquiry and a compilation of statistics very carefully gathered and collated by the Ministry of Transport, but that does not go far enough. I entirely agree with the point made by Sir Auckland Geddes, and I hope very much that the Minister will be able to give it his consideration. Would it not be a good thing to set up a really scientific inquiry into the real causation of accidents, and to put all sorts of people on that inquiry, provided they are real experts? Then with regard to road construction, what is the Minister really going to do to try to get better road surfaces throughout the country? We have all seen the circular letter which the Minister sent round in February, but every one of us who has experience knows that the road surfaces still leave much to be desired. There is too much variation, and the roads are far too slippery. They are often unsuitable from the point of view of horse drivers and cyclists, and equally unsuitable for the motorist. They are very dark in colour where they should be light. That is going to be an important point in relation to the picking up of these signs under the Bill. The dark background at night, with headlights on, will make it extraordinarily difficult to pick up the signs.

I hope the Minister will be able to do a little more to improve road construction. By that I mean road construction at corners, super-elevation at corners. That is not done in order to enable the motorist to go faster. It is done simply and solely to enable traffic to keep on its own side of the road at corners. You often see slow traffic keeping too much on the inside of corners, solely because of the camber on the road, and the drivers are afraid they will slip if they go too far over. I sincerely hope that the Bill will do good. I trust that my forecast that it will not do good will be wrong, but I am perfectly certain that the mere imposition of a speed limit, with the technical offences following in its train, will do nothing at all to reduce casualties on the road.


My Lords, in view of what the noble Earl has said I should like to point out that I did not in my speech last night accuse him of wishing to increase accidents. I said that the cause he was pleading was that of increased speed, and I quoted the words of the Commission that speed is the cause of all these dreadful accidents. The noble Earl assures me that his object is to reduce the number of accidents and I accept what he says, but I must say that, as regards speed, appearances are rather against him. In the first place, he did all he could to support the absence of the speed limit between twelve o'clock at night and five o'clock in the morning, and I am glad to say that there the sense of the House was against him.


The noble Earl has completely misrepresented me. I was one of those who supported the Amendment that there should be a speed limit all round the clock.


I beg the noble Earl's pardon. I did not realise that.


Furthermore, if the noble Earl will cast his mind back to 1930 he will remember that I resisted the removal of the twenty miles an hour speed limit.


I must apologise for making that mistake. But there was also the case of the by-pass roads—the removal of the speed limit in the case of by-passes. I think the noble Earl supported that Amendment, and that is decidedly one which increases speed in built-up areas, because all those by-passes will be built up some time. I think the noble Earl can hardly say that that was not with the object of increasing speed.


My Lords, I only rise to refer to something that fell from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. I may have misunderstood him, but I certainly understood him to encourage the Ministry to deal, so far as noise is concerned, almost entirely with silencers. I hope that is not his intention nor that of the Minister, because if he will go and sit in my office he will realise that noise in London is not mainly the noise of exhausts. It is gear box noises, back-axle noises, and chassis rattle noises, and almost; the last thing you notice is the exhaust.


Perhaps I may be allowed to correct the impression I gave. I did not mean that every sort of noise ought not to be dealt with. I only felt it would be unwise to concentrate merely on what is called quantitative noise, that is the intensity of noise like a clap of thunder. I said there were many other things besides that which might not be registered very highly on one of these machines for registering noises.


I am very glad to have the noble Lord's assurance, because I certainly gathered that he was going on the point of the noise of the exhaust only. I hope they will concentrate particularly on tyre noise. I do not know whether the Government are aware that one of the best non-skid tyres on the market is almost dead silent; and they have only got to listen to the omnibuses going along the street to realise where a tremendous lot of the noise of London comes from.


My Lords, first of all I desire to thank the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Earl who sits behind me for the terms in which they referred to my conduct of the Bill through your Lordships' House, which I need hardly say I greatly appreciate. I have been asked a, certain number of specific questions. I am afraid I am not in a position to answer them all, but I should like briefly to reply to the noble Lord opposite. He mentioned the question of noise, and put forward the view that he did not think a scientific investigation of this matter was the proper way of dealing with the subject. I am not at all sure that I agree with him. After all, so long as there is no scientific investigation of the matter you will always get the difficulty of saying what is excessive noise and what is not excessive noise, and I imagine this investigation of the question was precisely with a view to seeing if a way could be found of estimating the amount of noise being made. I do not think anybody would deny that if a way of achieving that were found it would be of very great value in this matter.

Then he also mentioned once again the possibility of allowing policemen to fine offenders on the spot for minor offences. I expressed the views of the Government on this matter during the Committee stage, or perhaps it may have been on the Second Reading of the Bill. This question has been considered, and I am afraid I cannot add anything to what I said then—namely, that at the present time the Government do not view the proposal with favour. Both the noble Lord and the noble Earl once again referred to the Highway Code, and expressed a very strong feeling that steps should be taken to make this Code available to the public far more easily than it is at the present moment. I know that attention will be paid by the Minister to what has been said in this House and to the strongly-expressed feelings on this matter. I know it will be the object of the Minister to make the Code available to the public as easy as possible, and to give facilities to all respectable publishers to reproduce it. I feel certain close attention will be given to this matter, and I quite realise the importance of it.


Can the noble Earl say whether the new edition of the Code is ready?


I am afraid I cannot say definitely, but I think not. Turning for a moment to the words of the noble Earl, he delivered a strong attack on certain features of this Bill, and discussed at some length many of the basic principles of it. I am sure your Lordships will not wish me to go into these matters further at this stage. We have given them very full consideration, and your Lordships have come to the conclusions you have reached after having been thoroughly into these matters. The noble Earl asked me four questions to which I shall attempt to give him some sort of reply. Firstly, he asked whether the thirty miles an hour speed limit would not be brought into operation until the signs which the Minister and the highway authorities are to put up as the result of Clause 1 have been placed in position. I cannot give him a definite assurance that every sign will be put up before the speed limit operates, but I cannot imagine that the speed limit will be put into operation until, generally speaking at any rate, all these necessary signs are in position. Then he referred to the Highway Code, which I have already dealt with, and to the question of road construction.

The question of road construction is a matter to which the Minister is giving the very closest attention. The importance of it is fully realised, and the divisional road engineers are, of course, giving this particular matter their very closest consideration. Every kind of influence is being brought to bear on the highway authorities to improve their roads in this respect, and I think I am right in saying that the Minister is in a position to withhold the grant for any road improvement unless the surface approved by the Minister has been made use of. Lastly the noble Earl referred to the letter written by Sir Auckland Geddes to The Times, suggesting that we should have a scientific inquiry into the causation of accidents. I have not had time to go into that matter or consider it fully, but I will certainly bring the noble Earl's remarks in this respect to the attention of the Minister. I hope your Lordships will now give this Bill a Third Reading.

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.