§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I make no apology for introducing this Bill because it is designed to reduce the number of road accidents, which now amounts to a grave public scandal. I have here remarkable figures of road accidents which have been kindly furnished to me by the Ministry of Transport. Throughout my negotiations with regard to this Bill—which I may say has been drafted by a man who is, I suppose, the most eminent living draftsman—the Ministry of Transport have shown me every consideration and kindness and have furnished me with every kind of statistic and advice. I know that this Bill will come as a bit of a shock to some people, but that is just what it is designed to do. We have got to make an entirely fresh start. We have got to do something quite drastic in order to reduce the casualties.
I will quote the figures of killed and injured in 1934, the last recorded year, and I shall contrast that with the total number of killed and wounded during the whole of the South African War, in which many of your Lordships, like myself, took part. I think you will be shocked when you look at the matter in that way. I well remember being summoned to see the late Queen Victoria before I went to South Africa, and while I was there a telegram was brought to her Majesty in very large print so that she could read it. I remember her Majesty saying: "How grievous it is; what a waste of life, what a waste of life." I also remember very well the number of casualties mentioned. They were nine officers and one hundred and fourteen 448 other ranks killed. Instructions were given that telegrams should be sent to the relatives of all of them. Well, in 1934 the casualties on the roads in this country were: Killed, 7,343; injured, 231,605; making a total of about 239,000. During the whole of the South African War, which lasted nearly three years, there were rather more than 5,000 killed and 23,000 wounded, and the figure of those killed includes those who died from wounds. It appears therefore that in one year—the last recorded year, 1934—just over 2,000 more persons were killed on the roads in England than were killed in the whole of the South African War, and almost ten times as many people were injured on the roads as were wounded in that somewhat formidable struggle, as we thought it then.
Yet many people acquiesce in these figures. I do not acquiesce and I am sure that your Lordships do not acquiesce. We have got to do something quite different from what we are doing now. It is not as if any one could say: "Well, alas! it is inevitable. This form of swift traffic must lead to these casualties." That is not at all true, as I shall endeavour to show. You can do that by comparison with what has been achieved in the last year, during the time of the present Minister of Transport, whose vigour and determination in this matter, and those of the officials who work so hard to carry it out, have for the first time since motor traffic under modern conditions began brought about a decrease in both killed and injured. As I have said, 7,343 was the figure of killed for the year before last, 1934. Although one cannot be quite certain of 1935, because the full figures are not yet available, yet the Ministry know the killed, and they have gone down to 6,550, a small reduction. The injured are estimated at 219,000. Thus a total reduction is shown in killed and injured of 13,000. That is something. Of course the total is still far above the number of casualties in the South African War, and is a scandal, but it shows that what has been, done with limited powers and a limited staff by the present Minister of Transport has effected a small reduction.
But now compare—and it is interesting to compare—this present scandalous position with that of the railways. They go very slightly faster and they carry 449 enormous numbers of passengers. When they began, Parliament in this country, unlike many others, decided that they would not have this holocaust. All kinds of regulations were therefore made by Parliament, which have resulted in this most remarkable fact that I can give your Lordships. In 1934 the railways of this country carried 1,639,000,000 passengers. It is very difficult to determine how many passengers were carried on the road; among the various estimates are 5,000,000 and 8,000,000. Of the passengers carried on the railway, how many were killed? It was an exceptional year, in that the figure was rather higher than usual. Ninety-one! Not 7,343, but 91. Indeed, if you do the sum you will find that it is not too much to say that the secret of eternal life is almost to be found by constantly travelling in a British railway train. You can hardly get yourself killed. I did the sum: it is 18,000,000 to 1 against death on a railway as a passenger. This shows, therefore, what can be clone by drastic regulation by Parliament. The railway companies, at the time and since, have often complained that the Board of Trade has been too severe in the imposition of safety devices, but the policy has had this happy result, that the odds are 18,000,000 to 1 against being killed on the railway if you are a passenger.
It is true, of course, that those who operate, the trains, and other persons in and about railways, make the figure up to the larger one of 371—more than 200 more. That is due to the coupling and uncoupling and things like that, which do not apply to roads. So I would suggest that the comparable figures are 91 on the railways and 7,000 on the roads. So it seems to me, taking the two things together—the slight reduction already made and the astonishing disparity between railway and road dangers—that if we took resolute action instead of fiddling about with it as we have done lately, and if this House were to insist upon resolute action—and none could do it better than this impartial House—we could bring these deaths down, not by 2, 3 or 4 per cent., but by a half. I am here to say, my Lords, that I do not think that whoever replies for the Government will find it wise to dispute the thesis that, if the Ministry carried out the provisions of this Bill, with the additional amendments which could be added, and, at the same 450 time, were given added powers and—what is, of course, badly needed—an inspection staff to enable them to carry them out, they could certainly reduce these casualties to a half. They would save 3,000 lives a year; they would save 100,000 of the injured. There is no doubt about it, and if you inquire at the Ministry of Transport I do not think they will dispute what I have said.
This Bill alone would not do it, but the central part of this Bill—I will come presently to the point which the Westminster City Council raise—is to make what is now an offence against morals—paragraph 10 of the Highway Code—an offence also against the law. That is exactly what it does. I see my noble friend shake his head, but, believe me, the draftsman of this Bill is a very eminent man. To make it quite clear, I will read out what I asked him to do. In the Highway Code, which I have here, the first statement on the inside page is that the Code is issued with the authority of Parliament, and then it says:A failure on the part of any person to observe any provision of the Highway Code shall not of itself render that person liable to criminal proceedings …Now I asked the eminent draftsman to put, in Parliamentary language—which is here—the result of omitting the words "not of itself," so that this should read:A failure on the part of any person to observe any provision of the Highway Code shall render that person liable to criminal proceedings.That is all this Bill does, and that is just what it does. If you were to do the same thing with all the provisions of the Highway Code you would reduce these accidents, I am sure, and I think the Ministry of Transport will agree, by a half, and you would save 3,000 lives a year.
Of course there are some people who may cynically say that there are too many officials already and it is not worth the expense, but there is nobody of that sort in this House. I think we ought to do it, and if there is any truth in what I have ventured to say, as I have said on the highest authority in this matter, I do not think it can be disregarded. This Bill makes a start and if paragraph 10 of the Highway Code, which is made an offence against the law, were to be 451 enacted as an offence, and if the Ministry of Transport got the necessary inspecting staff to see that it was observed, I have no doubt that you would save many hundreds of lives every year. I think every motorist would be of the same opinion. What is paragraph 10 of the Highway Code, which is the central thesis of the Bill? I should like to call it the Montagu of Beaulieu rule. The late Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, who was so well known to many of your Lordships and was a pioneer of motoring in this country, impressed upon all his friends and upon myself, who was a great friend of his and constantly drove with him, that the first rule must be that you shall drive slowly enough to enable you to pull up stone dead, as he used to put it, within half the distance for which you can see the road clear.
The Highway Code says "well within the distance." It is a very difficult thing to phrase grammatically. The Highway Code says:Always be able to pull up your vehicle well within the distance for which you can see the road to be clear, whether by night or by day.If that was observed throughout, without doubt you would save hundreds of lives. I suppose nearly all private motorists observe this rule consciously or unconsciously, but heavy vehicles do not, and they cannot because so many of them are bound to run to what the drivers themselves call a "skedule," which I suppose we call a schedule. If there is any delay, as there often must be in getting out of a town, they are bound to go so fast as to infringe this rule; the consequence is that, if there are children playing in the road round a bend, every so often they must run them down. If they were going slower they could pull up dead, as the private motorist can do with his lighter ear and relatively stronger brakes.
Moreover, this means that you must reduce your speed when your tyres get worn or the road surface gets greasy for any reason. In point of fact all of us who drive motor cars know full well that we have to go much slower when the roads are greasy or our tyres are worn. I do not know whether any of your Lordships do it, but Lord Montagu of Beaulieu constantly did it—he jammed on his brakes to see if he was conforming with his own 452 rule. It is an essential part of this Bill, though it is not put in the Bill, that the Minister of Transport must be given wider powers and must have a big inspection staff. It is all very well to say that we do not want a horde of officials, but unless you are going to acquiesce in the killing of 7,000 and the injuring of 200,000 you have to have this inspecting staff, and nobody in the Ministry of Transport will, I am sure, deny it. They cannot ask for it because they are civil servants, but they cannot deny the necessity, and I am sure the Minister of Transport will not deny it.
Given that, can you enforce the Montagu of Beaulieu rule—that is, paragraph 10? The answer is that it would be quite easy, if we observe this detail at the beginning, that every motor vehicle shall be fitted with a speedometer. The Minister of Transport has power to do it, I understand, under the existing law, but the occasion for doing it has not yet arisen. Under this Bill occasion would arise, because you could then prove quite easily whether motorists were going too fast. The procedure would be simple. An official would board a vehicle, and driving along with the man, when he saw the man infringing the code, after having warned him he would say "Stop!" and if in point of fact he could not stop he could say: "You have committed an offence, although you have not killed anybody, and that will not do." He would then go to the owners of the public service vehicle.
This provision would no doubt slow down very considerably these public service vehicles. It would not slow down the private motor car at all, because of their lighter character and relatively stronger brakes, but it would without doubt slow down these public service vehicles. I do not think that that would matter very much. In the ordinary kind of thing which goes on all over the country, where there are big and little towns with services of omnibuses, it would mean, I am advised by mathematically minded people, perhaps an additon of 10 per cent. to the time taken. Not much more, and probably less. But it would mean the saving of a number of lives, and if only people realised that by going a little slower they were saving the lives of many people, especially children, I am sure they would not mind this slight delay. Of course the effect would be that people would have to be more 453 careful of their tyres, and one consolation to the motor industry for being slowed down would be that the tyre industry would have to provide a great many more tyres.
Before I conclude this side of the matter, may I say that there is no doubt at all that, taking into consideration the state of the roads and the state of the tyres, this infringement of paragraph 10 is persistent, and is going on now. It is almost certain that even during this debate someone will be killed on the roads by reason of a failure to observe that paragraph. It is really a grave scandal, and this Bill sets out to remove a part of it. A speedometer is necessary in order to enable the inspecting staff to make sure that paragraph 10 is observed. The governing phrase in Clause 2 is:The driving of a motor vehicle on a road at such a speed or otherwise in such a manner as not to make it possible for the vehicle to be brought to a standstill within the distance for which the driver can see the road to be clear shall be deemed to be reckless driving within the meaning of Section eleven of the principal Act.Of course, if there is any noble Lord who considers that it would not be a good plan to make that the law of the land, I would like to hear his reasons for so thinking. If he says you cannot find it out, the answer is that it is the easiest thing in the world to find it out, and so I commend this clause to the House.
Another part of the Bill to which I think objection is taken by Lord Jessel and Lord Mersey—with regard to certain public authorities who do not like the suggestion—is that:Subject to the provisions of this section it shall not be lawful for a motor vehicle to be driven on any stretch of road where the width of the carriageway is not at least double the overall width of the vehicle.Then the clause goes on to say that the Minister of Transport can grant exemption in his discretion. I think it will surprise your Lordships to know that the idea of this provision comes from sixty, seventy or eighty years ago, when the old highway authorities sought to make this a rule, and some of them successfully did so. The roads were widened and broad vehicles were kept off certain roads. It is a common-sense idea, and not a new one. We got accustomed to 454 it, but now these things go so fast that it is very absurd to have vehicles charging along with no room to pass a vehicle at the same time. Of course when you come to towns where there are small alley-ways, or if you take the City of Westminster or the City of London, this could not apply, nor is it designed to apply, and if my noble friends take objection, and are not satisfied with the proviso which follows, giving power to grant exemption, if this Bill is givers a Second Reading I shall be glad to take steps to meet their objections in every way.
The taking of refuse carts down narrow alley-ways and backing them in is not within the scope or intention of this Bill at all. I am thinking of those country districts, and a great part of England also, where vehicles travel along roads in which there is no room for them to pass other vehicles of the same size. It is the cause of a great many accidents. It is also a cause of the very greatest inconvenience to pedestrians and cyclists, and there ought to be an end put to it. Whether you can do it in two years is extremely doubtful, but that you ought to have your roads broad enough to enable the vehicles that use them to pass is so self-evident that it would be a strange person who found fault with the suggestion. Whether these particular words are the best to carry out my intention I do not know, but at any rate they have been drafted by the most eminent living draftsman. The Bill is not inteded to apply to the narrow places which must exist in our towns and cities, and I would at once meet any objections that may be raised on that score.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
May I ask whether the noble Lord has considered whether he could modify this to some extent by providing that in thoroughfares such as he describes in the clause he is referring to, traffic should be limited to one-way traffic? Has the noble Lord considered that?
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
Yes, I have, but I am very grateful to my noble friend for giving me the chance to say that I thought of this when subsection (2) of Clause 3 was drafted, where it says:If it can be shown to the satisfaction of the Minister of Transport that grave 455 public inconvenience would be caused by the application of subsection (1) … he may, by order, exempt such stretch of road …He might also make regulations for the traffic to go slowly or for one-way traffic in such cases. I think that is a very valuable suggestion of my noble and learned friend, and except in the case of cities that would completely meet the objections raised by those who object to this law. We should be doing what is right in the interests of the public, without seriously inconveniencing that public during the time until the roads can be widened to the necessary width.
I would emphasise again that all that this Bill does in its governing part is to make what is already now a moral law which all should observe a statutory obligation. As the present Minister of Transport so well says, respect for the Code and for the spirit underlying it is so much a moral duty that its practice should become a habit, and its breach a reproach. I propose to go further and to say that it is not merely a duty not to disregard it, but an offence against the law. I hope that the Government may consider the question of giving widely extended powers to the Ministry of Transport, and that, whilst they are taking all kinds of measures to safeguard this country against external dangers, they will set aside a considerable sum for the proper regulation of the roads. There should be a great increase in the Ministry of Transports external staff, which might be the means of saving thousands of lives and sparing grief, pain and anxiety to tens of thousands of mothers and fathers of children. That there should be 7,000 persons killed and 220,000 injured on the roads in a year in this country is a scandal. It ought to be abated. I believe this Bill will do something to abate it and in that spirit I submit it to the judgment of your Lordships.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I understood the noble Lord to say this Bill would make any offence against the Highway Code a prima facie ground for a prosecution. I am not sure what clause of his Bill does that.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
This Bill applies that principle only to paragraph 456 10, which seems to be the most important, and if that were taken first it would reduce casualties the most. In order to get an agreed figure representing a halving of the casualties you would have to apply the same principle to all the paragraphs in the Code, many of which would cause a reduction, but I begin with paragraph 10, because that is the one the observance of which would reduce casualties the most.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Mottistone.)
§ LORD JESSEL, who had given Notice that on the Motion for the Second Reading he would move, That the Bill be read 2a this day six months, said: My Lords, I am sure we must all be very grateful to the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill for once more calling attention to the lamentable loss of life in this country through casualties caused by motor cars. He has also given us a very useful comparison between the loss of life on railways and that occasioned by accidents on the roads. We seem to go to sleep a great deal over these matters. We have had Bills and Bills year after year, Acts have been passed, and yet this awful slaughter goes on. At the same time, I do not think the noble Lord, though he praised the efforts of the Ministry, and especially of the Minister of Transport., sufficiently recognised what they have done to reduce accidents. They are really very substantial figures, because there were 7,343 persons killed in 1934 and the number has now come down to 6,550. That is a very substantial reduction of 793 persons in one year. One cannot say that the Minister's plans have been carried out everywhere—it is not very long since the Bill was passed into law; nor has the Highway Code received the attention that it should have done. I think we want more time, though I fully acknowledge that the noble Lord has done good service in calling attention to this dreadful state of affairs.
§ When I first looked at this Bill, my attention was called to it primarily by the City of Westminster authorities, who pointed out that if it were passed we should be unable to carry out our sanitary services at all. I do not want to impinge upon the ground of the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, who is going to 457 follow and deal with details, but I may say that most of our big motor vehicles are 7 feet 4½ inches in width, and we have got, I think, 89 streets under fifteen feet wide. Therefore we could not, if the Bill were passed unaltered, carry out cur services. As regards one-way streets, there are so many considerations affecting one-way streets that I do not think that proposal would be satisfactory. And what applies to Westminster applies to almost all big towns, including even Winchester, in a county of which I believe the noble Lord is Lord Lieutenant.
I am no motorist. I motored during the War, but when the tests came in for motoring I thought I had better not compete. But I have been furnished with some remarks made by the Association of Motor Users. As regards Clause 1 they say:
The purpose of requiring the speedometer as stated by the clause is to enable the driver of the vehicle to be at all times aware of the speed at which it is travelling.'
What they say about that may hurt the noble Lord's feelings, but I will go on:
This slaws the absurdity of the Bill. It is no safeguard to the public against road accidents to require a driver to watch the speedometer; he ought to watch the road and adjust his speed to what he sees upon the road. The speedometer may help the driver to avoid being caught by the police for exceeding the speed limit, but if a man is a dangerous driver a speedometer will not make him a safe one.
They go on to say:
Nearly every private car is fitted with a speedometer, but no driver can honestly say that the speedometer has helped him to be a safe driver.
When we come to Clause 2 the Association state:
The objection to this clause is that it is practically unworkable. It is an attempt to state in the form of an Act of Parliament a particular kind of unsafe driving and to label it as 'reckless driving.'
The statement goes on to say:
It is very sound advice to drivers to remind them that they ought not to drive at a faster pace than will permit them to pull up when they see that the road is not clear in front of them, but such advice cannot be translated into a definition of reckless driving.
Continuing, the Association express this view:
The clause could not be enforced in practice. Nobody but the driver of a
vehicle can say what distance he sees to be clear in front of him.
§ We all agree with the noble Lord as to the scandal of this terrible loss of life on the roads and the number of accidents, but I do not think from the expert advice which has been sent to me that this Bill is practicable. We all sympathise with the noble Lord in his endeavours to help in this matter, but I do not believe this is going to help in the least, and I am sure that the representative of the Ministry of Transport, when he comes to reply, will not say that it is likely to diminish the loss of life on the roads. I do not expect that the Minister will say this Bill is going to help, and for these reasons I hope your Lordships will not pass this Bill. I beg to move.
Leave out ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day six months").—(Lord Jessel.)
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I agree with what my noble friend Lord Jessel has said with reference to the mover of this Bill. I think the House is indebted to the noble Lord for having raised this question again, and I am quite sure he did not overstate the case for some legislation, some really drastic and effective legislation, to diminish the shocking toll of slaughter and suffering which at present results from the use of the roads. Both my noble friends said, and said quite truly, that owing to the very admirable efforts of the present Minister of Transport some improvement had taken place. Undoubtedly, seine improvement has taken place, but I am not quite sure that we are entitled to believe that the whole of that diminution of deaths and casualties can be attributed to better conditions of driving on the roads, because your Lordships will remember that this is a comparison with 1934. The year 1934 was a remarkably dry and fine year, and there was consequently a very large number of vehicles on the roads. The year 1935 was not a very favourable year, and I have not the least doubt that, at any rate in the so-called pleasure traffic, there was a very remarkable diminution of the actual numbers of vehicles on the roads. These things, of course; are matters of speculation, and it is difficult to attach any kind of figure to that consideration, but still I think it ought to be borne in mind.
459 While being grateful for any diminution, for any reason, I am quite sure that unless something much more is done, not only will the accident rate not be reduced in the current year, but it is quite likely to be increased. One great thing seems to me to have resulted from the efforts of the Minister of Transport. He seems to have established quite definitely and clearly that an essential cause of these accidents is the speed at which the cars are driven. That has often been denied in this House, but I do not think, after the facts which have come to light and the official statement of the Minister himself, that can be maintained any longer even with the minimum of plausibility. It was always, to my mind, of the nature of a paradox. It seems to me so clear that the driver of a car going fast will have less time to avoid an accident once the danger of accident accrues, and it is equally clear that if an accident does take place, the faster a car is going the more serious will the accident be.
I observe that the Minister of Transport himself remarked on that point in a broadcast in which he reviewed the results of his efforts. He said:Accidents have not only diminished, but they have become less severe. This is shown by the fact that the percentage reduction in deaths is twice as great as the percentage reduction in injuries. Is this not conclusive proof of the mercy of controlling speed? Obviously, a fast-moving vehicle, hitting its human victim with greater force, is more likely than a slow-moving vehicle to deal a fatal blow.It does not stand there. There is a whole heap of facts which show that it is speed which causes the greater number of accidents. For instance—and this is a point which I will ask my noble friend to consider—70 per cent. of the accidents, it appears, occur on straight roads or open roads with good sight line. That is a rather important fact in reference to his second clause. Beyond that, it is clear—this is in reference to the accidents in 1933—out of nearly 7,000 fatal accidents, 4,200 occurred on roads carrying only very light traffic; of course, roads on which the speed is greater. Again, more than 85 per cent. of the accidents occurred in clear weather, which is also a condition of fast driving. There is one little fact which, perhaps, will interest my noble friend if he is not already aware of it. The Isle of Wight a little time ago—I have not seen the 460 figures for last year—was one of the safest places to drive in in the whole country.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
That is because there are so few motor cars there. That strip of sea is a blessed thing to us in the Isle of Wight. I passed three motor cars in forty minutes last Easter Monday when in the same time 2,700 vehicles passed a given point on the Portsmouth Road.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
No doubt that is a very important factor, but still it is true there are very few accidents there. One of the reasons may be that there are very few straight roads in the Isle of Wight, and consequently very few places where there is a possibility of going fast. There is another fact which is interesting in this connection, and that is that women drivers are safer proportionately than men drivers. There is a universal concurrence of opinion among my male motoring friends that women drive much worse than men. I do not know whether that is true or not, but they drive much more slowly, really, and that is the reason why they are safer. It is not that they are more skilful. I do not believe they are more skilful. I think it most unlikely that they are more skilful, but they are proportionately considerably safer. Twelve per cent. of the drivers are women and only 4 per cent. of the drivers involved in fatal accidents are women. Those facts seem to me to indicate as clearly as you can get anything indicated that speed is—I will not say the only cause but the chief cause of these accidents. If it is necessary to give one other fact I may add that in the City of London there are extremely few accidents because motorists cannot go fast there. Traffic is so considerable that it is impossible to do so. I think that is a great advantage, and I hope we shall hear no more of the doctrine that speed is not a danger on the roads.
I want to put one question to the Government in that connection. Under the Road Traffic Act they have a power of derestricting roads after inquiry, and the Minister of Transport has exercised that power in a number of cases against the strong protests of the municipalities involved. Some of those municipalities may possibly be prejudiced and obscurantist, but when I look at the list 461 of the municipalities involved that seems to me very unlikely to be the explanation. I find that among the municipalities who have protested vehemently against this are Edinburgh, Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham and Glasgow. I should be surprised if the Minister is prepared to say that it is all due to perversity on their part when they declare, as they do very strongly, that it is quite wrong to derestrict these roads, and they protest most earnestly against its being done. In the ease of Bristol Road, Birmingham, there is a striking fact. They say this is one of the roads which it is proposed to derestrict and that it is the main exit from the south of Birmingham. On that road there have been thirty fatal accidents in five and a quarter years, and since the date when the safety limit applied there has been no fatal accident on this road. Therefore it does appear very odd—I do know what moved the Minister to do it—to derestrict a road of that kind.
Quite apart from the details, which I admit it is impossible to discuss in this House, it does seem to me, I must say, a very strong order. Where a respectable and powerful municipality, in which you may assume that the people are not unenlightened, protests against derestriction, I really think it ought not to be done. It seems to me a scandal that it should be done in such a case. I remember in connection with one of the Road Traffic Acts venturing to move an Amendment that footpaths should be provided on the roads. I made my Amendment read that it should be compulsory to provide those footpaths wherever there was a need for doing so. My noble friend Lord Jessel supported me up to a certain point, but vehement protests from the Government Bench unfortunately changed his mind at the last moment.
§ LORD JESSEL
That was because we had an assurance from the Government that they would advise the local authorities to do it where there was a need.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I only said that because I caught the noble Lord's eye at the moment. But on the first occasion on which T made that proposal I remember very well the violent protests that were raised on the ground that you must not override the 462 discretion of the local authorities, and that, therefore, it would be quite wrong to make the provision of these footpaths compulsory. I thought that was carrying the discretion of the local authorities perhaps rather far, but here, where they say the population under them is in great danger and when they protest earnestly against that danger being increased by the derestriction of a road, I do earnestly ask the Minister to consider very carefully whether in those circumstances he cannot abandon his attitude and allow the municipalities to have their way.
The few observations that I have ventured to make I hope my noble friend will agree are in support of the principle of his Bill. I agree with him that speed is the thing that we have to consider. I am not quite sure—though it would not make me oppose this Bill—that his proposal under Clause 2 will really work. I have already given him some reasons for doubting whether it is the open clear roads that are the safest. I think that is not so. I think it is just on those roads where you have the gravest danger of reckless driving. An instance has been given to me from the United States, where they have made some magnificent motor roads going quite straight. The Governor of New Jersey writes about one of those roads:It is fifty miles long, four lanes wide—I suppose lanes means the width of a vehicle—virtually as straight as a die and complete with every modern traffic facility, yet seventy-five persons were killed on it in a single year, most of them in clear daylight on a dry surface.That is why I am afraid myself that this provision, which would only make it compulsory to drive slowly on roads which were not straight, will not really meet the main difficulty of the case.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
It is rarely I am in such complete agreement with my noble friend but he has misunderstood me in saying that a straight road would be clear under paragraph 10 the infringement of which I propose to make an offence. Of course it involves the numerous cases of accidents where you cannot see round the vehicle in front of you even if the road is perfectly straight. You must see that the road is clear in front on a straight road just as much as on a road with bends and corners.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
It may be so but I doubt whether that is the full explanation. I think the real explanation is that cars do go at a very great speed, sixty or seventy miles an hour, along such roads; then something unexpected happens, they cannot stop, and the accident takes place. That is what I believe is the normal cause of these accidents. There is another difficulty that I have about by noble friend's Bill. He said repeatedly that it would not affect the light cars—what are ordinarily called the private cars. On the figures those cars are just as great offenders as the commercial vehicles. I have not the figures with me at the moment but my recollection is they come to just about the same, and, indeed, if I may be allowed to speak quite frankly on the matter, I regard them as by far the worst offenders. They are the people who have set the standard of reckless speed far more than the commercial vehicles. Commercial vehicles have followed suit, and it is really the thoughtless selfishness of the owners of these cars which is responsible for the great evils that take place on these roads. I feel that very strongly, and I do not think that you will really deal with this case if you assume that these private cars are practically blameless in the matter. I will not go into the various suggestions which I have made from time to time for dealing with that, but I desired to say that word.
One thing which is continually being brought up is not touched by my noble friend's Bill, and I do not know how it can be touched, but it is worth mentioning it whenever we get the chance, because public opinion alone can put this thing right. I refer to the extreme leniency of the sentences passed on motor drivers. That is really a very serious matter and the Judges have over and over again called attention to it. Mr. Justice Goddard, dealing with a case last December in the Court of Criminal Appeal, is reported as saying:The appellant had been convicted of motoring offences on twenty occasions, and the sentences imposed were, for the most part, wholly inadequate. If such sentences were to be passed on road ruffians, such as the appellant, it was almost hopeless to suppose that there would be any safety on the roads.He added that the defendant had been convicted of other offences. In another 464 case, also dealt with last December, Mr. Justice du Parcq said that if he had not thought that the prisoner was drunk he would say that the case was almost as black as murder. He added that he considered that the prisoner—he was sending him to penal servitude—had been treated in regard to certain other motoring offences with deplorable leniency.
In another case, a London Stipendiary Magistrate said:Here we are fining people 10s., 20s., and the rest, for going over the speed limit, passing pedestrian crossings, etc., but nothing happens. They keep coming here. At the same time, week by week near upon 200 people are losing their lives on the roads. Motorists seem to be saying: We don't care tuppence for your silly fines.'He added that his experience at the Court was that motorists were entirely disregarding the law. They seemed to have a complete contempt for it. That is strong language, perhaps too strong, but it is language used by an experienced Stipendiary Magistrate in London. I venture to call attention to these things because I remember when I was young a paper, which still exists, Truth, made it its business to comment on what it regarded as the improper sentences imposed by certain magistrates, and I believe that the effect of that paper doing that was wholly admirable and greatly corrected the action of those magistrates.
There is one other matter with which I wish to deal before I sit down. I do not believe that the incompetence of the accused persons or even their wickedness is the main cause of the difficulty, not by any means. I am all for stopping incompetence and wickedness in a matter of this kind, but I do not believe that they account for more than a small percentage of the trouble. I believe the real cause is that we have made a fundamental mistake in our present organisation of traffic. We are trying to use one and the same road for traffic going forty, or fifty, or sixty miles an hour and traffic going, in the case of horse vehicles, I suppose, at six or eight miles an hour, and pedestrians walking two, or three, or four miles an hour. I do not believe it is possible to use safely the same road for traffic going at these very different rates, and I am quite sure we have made a profound mistake in dealing with this problem. Motor cars have been treated as a kind of improved horse-carriage. They are nothing of the kind. They are 465 something fundamentally different, much more like a small railway train, and that is the real comparison which ought to be made.
My noble friend was quite right in alluding to legislation dealing with railways as the real example we ought to have in mind. Safety has been achieved on the railways to a most extraordinary extent. In this country it has been almost amazing, arid even in foreign countries it is very considerable when compared with safety on the roads. I am sure that in this matter we must imitate the legislation dealing with railways. And observe this for a moment, although perhaps my noble friend may regard it as a contradiction of what I have already said: there has been no attempt to restrict speed on railways. What they have done is to say that nothing shall go on the railway except a railway train. That is what has brought about relative safety. If you get up-lines and down-lines so that the risk of collision between two trains is remote, and if you do not allow any one to cross the line except under very special conditions, then you get rid of the great mass of danger on the railways even though trains go at great speeds and increasing speeds.
I wish the Government would take their courage in both hands and set out to bring about a really great reform on those lines. I think there is a case for fast travelling on roads if you are going a long distance. If you are only going a short distance, to travel fast makes a difference of only two or three minutes in the time of your arrival and there is no reason for it. But when you are going a long distance, whether by coach or private car, there is a case for going as fast as the car will permit. Therefore I hope the Minister of Transport will carry much further than he has done at present the reservation of his arterial roads, roads going long distances, for fast traffic, and that only cars, and ears going fast, will be allowed on them. I went recently through the Mersey Tunnel. There you have four lanes, as Americans call them, and on the inside lane you are not allowed to travel more slowly than thirty or thirty-five miles an hour—I am not sure of the exact figure. Even on the outside lanes, you have to go at a good speed. But nothing else is allowed 466 on the road at all except cars. I believe that is the right way. There ought to be footpaths on every road of that kind without exception. No road ought to be allowed to be used for fast traffic unless there is a footpath, and the footpath ought to be fenced from the road so that there should be no casual influx of foot passengers into the road. That is a great concession of pedestrian rights, but I think it is time we made it.
On other roads, by-roads in the country and the smaller streets in London and other towns, you must have a very strict speed limit. I think probably even thirty miles an hour is too much, and I should be inclined to say twenty-five with a kind of five miles grace so that no prosecution should be brought if any one was travelling less than thirty miles an hour. Then I think you must have an improved means of ascertaining speed, but I will not argue again to-day the case which I have often argued in your Lordships' House for speed indicators which can be seen from the outside. I very earnestly hope that your Lordships and the Government will treat this matter as a matter of the very first importance. I am not going to repeat what my noble friend has said so well, about the suffering and grief and misery involved in these accidents, but I do say that it is a shocking moral state of things that these thousands of people should be killed and injured on the roads year in and year out. It is not right. It is a horrible thing which ought not to be allowed in a Christian and moral country. I earnestly hope that the Government will do their utmost and will spend sufficient money to make a really effective cure on the lines I have indicated, or on some other lines, because I do not think we ought to allow this state of things to go on.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, I hope my noble friend opposite will be successful in getting his Bill, or at any rate the main features of it, on the Statute Book. He gave figures contrasting the number of accidents that occur on railways and on roads. But he did not make the point which I think is of very great importance as regards pedestrians. That is that on the railways every care is taken to secure the safety of the general public. Everything possible is done to prevent injury not only to people in the train 467 but to people outside the train. In earlier days pedestrians could use the roads in comparative safety, but then comes this inrush of motor vehicles, and the pedestrians, who have the sole right to these roads, are suddenly subject to this invasion and to all the pains and penalties resulting from it. I believe that the Association presided over by my noble friend on the Cross Bench, Viscount Cecil of Chelwood—the Pedestrians' Association—has done a great deal to safeguard pedestrians in their use of the road.
I will just quote the remarks of an Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mr. Tripp, in a lecture he gave last November:Motor traffic will never, and can never, mix safely with pedestrians and pedal cycles.I believe that is perfectly true. All you can do by a Bill of this character is to reduce the number of accidents, just as, according to the figures quoted by my noble friend when he contrasted the casualties of 1935 with those of the previous year, the greater efforts made to reduce the rate of speed on the roads were of some benefit. Speed is the absolute author and origin of this terrible evil, and I think this Bill, very modest as it is, may do something in that respect.
I would ask the noble Lord whether he would not allow a clause to be inserted to say that any motor vehicle subjected to a speed limit should be provided with a device indicating, both to the driver and to other road-users, when its maximum statutory speed is being exceeded. The clause would, of course, only apply to those vehicles which, like lorries, omnibuses and so on, have a limit fixed for them by Statute. We know from practical experience that these limits of speed are very frequently departed from. I think that might be a very useful improvement, to let the public know when the speed is being exceeded and also to let the driver himself realise that he is breaking the law. The other suggestion that I would make is that in Clause 3 it should be the road authority, and not the Minister of Transport, who would say whether a road is of sufficient breadth to allow vehicles exceeding eight feet, or whatever it may be, to use it. The local authority is far better than the Ministry of Transport as 468 a determining opinon on what is practicable. I make these remarks because I believe that this Bill will do something to promote the safety of those using the roads, and particularly the unfortunate pedestrians, who are at present subjected to such terrible risks.
My Lords, I feel compelled to say something on this Bill, because, to start with, the title of the Bill is so extraordinarily misleading. It is a "Road Traffic (Safeguarding of the Public) Bill"; it has three clauses that really matter, and each one of those clauses introduces a new danger on the road. Take the first clause. Until they introduce a talking speedometer, the driver of a vehicle, in order to see the speed at which he is travelling, has to take his eyes off the road. We have already got far too many things to look at while we are driving, and if you insist upon my keeping my eyes on the speedometer, I have no time to look at anything else. The second clause is tantamount to giving me leave to drive as fast as I like past every cross-road, provided I can see that the road in front of me is clear. The third clause will close an enormous number of roads, thereby putting on to the roads that are already full much traffic which there is no need for them to carry at all, thereby increasing congestion and increasing danger.
Those are very rough remarks about each clause, but if you start to analyse these clauses a little more closely you will see how totally impracticable this Bill is. As the noble Lord who moved its postponement said, a speedometer never made anybody a safe driver. I know many cases in which, for the first month or so after the introduction of the thirty-mile limit, the speedometer turned an ordinary safe driver into a positively dangerous one. Drivers kept on taking their eyes off the road and looking at the speedometer. On top of that, the Bill uses the word "efficient" in relation to a speedometer. What is an efficient speedometer, and when is a speedometer efficient? Presumably when it is accurate. I do not know whether the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill has ever taken the trouble to ask the manufacturer of a speedometer to give him a certificate of accuracy. I have asked three different manufacturers to give me certificates of the accuracy of 469 their speedometers. They have each refused, on the ground that it is an impossible thing to produce a speedometer that shall be accurate at all times. It might be accurate the day my tyres were new; it would cease to be accurate after I had done about 200 miles. Moreover, it, might be accurate on one road surface and totally inaccurate on another. In other words, an accurate speedometer is an impossibility.
Then you come to Clause 2. I submit that this would be totally impossible to operate. Does the noble Lord who moved this Bill really think that the driver of a commercial vehicle who has a Government inspector sitting beside him will drive in the same manner as when there is no Government inspector sitting beside him? Does he think that the Government inspector sitting inside the car can have the same vision of the road, the same knowledge of how long it takes to stop the vehicle, or anything else, as the driver of the vehicle concerned? It is absolutely impossible, and no Government inspector could give truthful evidence on oath concerning any question of the sort. There is another little thing I should like to remark on this clause, and that is the wording of it. Why is it necessary to use four words when you mean to say "stopped"? It is this sort of thing that upsets the layman who is trying to understand our laws.
Next you come to Clause 3. To start, with, this simply reverses the existing law. The Minister now has full power to close any road to any type of vehicle. This is merely saying that he has got to open hundreds of thousands of roads throughout the country. I am a taxpayer, and the amount we spend on these things is already appalling. I see no point in having to enrol an enormous body of officials for the purpose of decontrolling roads. Apart from that, it is not practical politics. There are any number of little cross-roads, in some cases connected up to more or less main roads and in other cases leading to a small bunch of houses. The Bill would put a great many hamlets off the map; no vehicle could get down to them.
You would also cause an immense amount of trouble and 470 delay to doctors. Is the doctor to take a five-mile detour, when he is called to deal with a serious accident, because a road will not stand two widths of his car? In addition to that, has every motorist got to travel with a yard stick, so that he may measure the road and see before he enters it whether it is wide enough; and what is he to do if the road suddenly narrows? The whole Bill, I submit, is absolutely impossible and really absurd.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, with the object of the Bill which the noble Lord has introduced no one can possibly have any quarrel, but I venture to agree with my noble friend who preceded me, that this Bill, so far from bringing new safety to our roads, is only likely to make confusion worse confounded. I am not going to deal with Clause 1, because I think it has been adequately dealt with already. When we come to Clause 2, I understand from the noble Lord's speech that he proposes that Government inspectors should be empowered at their own sweet will to board public service vehicles, and at a favourable opportunity to call upon the driver to stop at the proper distance; that is to say, within the distance for which the driver can see the road to be clear. As my noble friend has said the drivers of such vehicles are going to take very good care that when the inspectors board them they shall have no difficulty in stopping at the proper distance, and so the value of the test is reduced to practically nothing.
Suppose, however, the driver puts on the brakes hard, and as a result of his so doing either some person sitting inside the vehicle is thrown off the seat and injured, or another car following immediately behind the public vehicle runs into the back of the public service vehicle. Who is to be responsible for the resultant damage? Is it to be the driver, or the inspector, or the owner of the car, or the owner of the public service vehicle, or His Majesty's Government? Nor is it going to be so easy in many modern vehicles for the inspector to make his wishes known to the driver, because it was formerly complained that where seats were provided beside the driver the driver's attention was often diverted from the road by conversation with the passengers sitting beside him, 471 and the majority of modern public service vehicles have no room beside the driver for anyone. The driver is in a small enclosed cabin, and I suggest it would not be very effective if the Ministry of Transport inspector, sitting behind, had to tap frantically with a mallet on the glass behind the driver, as a signal to the driver to put on the brakes.
Now we come to Clause 3. Not only would that clause make chaos all over the country, but it would also inflict a great deal of hardship on people in rural communities, many of which are approached only by roads which are certainly not wide enough for a great deal of their length, for two motor vehicles to pass. I have in my mind certain farms and cottages of my own. There is no shop where they can purchase meat, bread and other provisions within many miles. All these things have to be brought by tradesmen's vans. Should Clause 3 come into operation it would be necessary, owing to the character of the approach roads, either for the district to revert to horse transport, or else the unfortunate farmers and farm workers would have to carry their provisions on their own backs. The suggestion is too ludicrous to be contemplated. Then when one leaves the small local side-roads and considers some of the main roads, let us take the picturesque County of Cornwall. In Cornwall, if Clause 3 were passed, whole districts would, for all time, be closed to motor traffic. Moreover, many Cornish roads are sunk some feet deep in the ground, and the widening of them to make it practicable for two motor vehicles to pass would involve an expenditure altogether out of the question. There are also many main roads, especially in Scotland—for instance, the road from Lairg to Altnaharra in Sutherlandshire, which is over twenty miles long, very straight and broad, with every few hundred yards adequate passing places. It may be that provision will be made that where such adequate passing places are provided this clause shall not apply, but that is not in the Bill now, and to widen such a road would involve an expenditure of hundreds of thousands of pounds. Although all your Lordships must have every sympathy with the objects of the Bill, I think even to give it a Second Reading would be to 472 encourage a line of thought which, however well-intentioned, is misleading. Therefore I hope your Lordships will not give it a Second Reading.
My Lords, I will not detain you many minutes, but as I have been referred to both by the noble Lord who introduced the Bill and the noble Lord who opposed it, and as the City Council of Westminster have asked me to say a few words, perhaps you will allow me to do so. I do not propose to say anything in detail in regard to Clause 3, the objections to which have been stated by other noble Lords. In the main they are Committee points; but your Lordships will readily appreciate that if the sanitary services in the City of Westminster are to be restrained by rules not allowing dustcarts to go clown narrow lanes, the effect would be very damaging; and the dustcarts which were to take the hand-carted refuse would have to be parked in the wider streets.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, alluded to the difference between men and women drivers, I cannot resist repeating a tale which I heard this morning of a man who was driving his car along a road and in front of whom was a lady driving a smaller car. The lady gave him a great deal of trouble and he was driven nearly out of his mind. First, she put her hand out to the right end turned to the left; then she put it out to the left and turned to the right; then she stopped; and at last he ran into her. He was promptly arrested by the local constable and charged at the court of summary jurisdiction. The magistrate in the chair said to him: "Can you explain this accident? What happened?" The unfortunate man said: "Yes, I followed her along the road and she did all these things and at last she put her hand out to the right and turned to the right; so I ran into her."
My Lords, I intend to vote for this Bill, although there are certain Committee alterations required, but I want to take the opportunity of bringing to the attention of the House certain matters which I represented to the Ministry of Transport last year. I got a very helpful and sympathetic reply, and I agree with the compliments which have been showered on the Minister of Transport in this debate. I was in Sweden last year and I made 473 it my business to study the reasons why in Sweden the accidents, in proportion to the population, are only about one-third what they are in this country. I find that two of the contributory reasons there are laws which could be enforced here, which would cost nothing, and which are perfectly practicable.
The first is this. No one in Sweden is allowed to drink intoxicating liquors if he is going to drive a car, or if he is on his journey. That is enforced. If there is an accident the first thing that the police and the Courts find out, by all the means in their power, is whether the driver had taken intoxicating drink. They trace the man's journey and they make the hotels where he stopped for his meals give evidence, and so on; and if he has had alcoholic drink that is a serious offence, and he is severely punished. The Swedes are just as fond of strong drink as are certain people in this country; and if that can be done in Sweden it can be done here. What, in fact, happens is that when men go out to dinner, driving their own cars, they take care that they are driven back by their wives, and the wives do not touch drink. That could be done here, and if only the magistrates could be brought into line to enforce such a law I am sure it would reduce accidents very considerably. We had a rule in my Service that when the anchor was up no alcohol should be served. The same rule could be applied to drivers of vehicles.
The other rule is this. In the towns in Sweden, and particularly Stockholm, no sound of the horn is allowed at all under any circumstances. The result is this. In the first place the drivers of motor cars go so slowly that if a pedestrian, as frequently happens, steps off the pavement in front of them, they cannot rely on their horns to frighten him off the road, and they therefore must be able to pull up in time. The other result is that the pedestrians, not relying on hearing the horn, keep their wits about them, and do not step on to the roadway indiscriminately, as they do here and frequently come to grief. I suggest that these two rules could be applied here. They work in Sweden, and the second rule about the sounding of the horn has worked here, in spite of all the prophecies of disaster. And it has worked in Rome, where one of the few things that the Duce has done has been to stop the 474 hideous hooting of horns, and nobody is any the worse.
I have made these suggestions to the Ministry of Transport. I know they are being considered, but I want to make them publicly, because I think the experience of recent years shows that the Minister of Transport can really only act in so far as he is supported by public opinion. And public opinion, I believe, can only be built up by education and propaganda, and we in this House can play our part. Because this Bill goes some way in the direction we want, if it goes to a Division I shall support my noble friend.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH)
My Lords, I am sure that all of your Lordships warmly sympathise with the objects which the noble Lord has in view in introducing this Bill. There cannot be any doubt about that. Although some improvement in the number of road accidents has taken place—as a matter of fact last year, 1935, was the first year since the War in which there has been shown an over-all reduction in the number of casualties—yet the number of accidents on the roads remains alarmingly large. Every effort must clearly be made therefore in older still further to reduce those numbers. I may say on behalf of His Majesty's Government that we welcome any suggestions, from whatever quarter they may come, which are designed to attain the object which we all have in view, and we are certainly most grateful to the noble Lord for making his contribution in the shape of this Bill. But as I see it, the provisions of this Bill are as nearly as possible covered by powers which the Minister now possesses as a result of Acts which are upon the Statute Book and regulations which have been made under those Acts.
May I shortly try to explain the position? This Bill has three substantive clauses. Clause 1 provides that it shall be an offence for any person to use on a road a motor vehicle which is not fitted with an efficient speedometer visible at all times to the driver. Clause 2 provides that if any vehicle is driven on a road at such a speed that it cannot be stopped within the distance that the driver can see to be clear he shall be deemed to be guilty of dangerous driving. Clause 3 475 provides that no motor vehicle may be driven on any stretch of road of which the carriageway is not at least twice as wide as the vehicle. Provision is made in the clause, I agree, for the Minister to exempt from its operation any specified stretch of road where its enforcement would lead to grave public inconvenience.
As far as Clause 1 is concerned, it is perfectly true that at present only "express" carriages—that is a class of carriage which roughly corresponds to motor coaches—are required to carry speedometers. It is not necessary for me to specify under what regulation that obligation has been imposed, but the important point is that the Minister has power under Section 30 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, to make regulations with regard to the equipment of motor vehicles generally. He is advised as a matter of fact that he can make a regulation requiring speedometers to be carried by motor vehicles of all kinds. The position actually is that the Minister has referred the question of the extent to which this should be done to the Transport Advisory Council, and their recommendations will, I understand, be available almost immediately. The Minister has, very naturally, had this matter under consideration ever since the speed limit was imposed. It is quite clear that a proposal of this kind would occur to anybody as being likely to be of some use, and I can tell the House that the Minister intends to extend the obligation which is now limited to "express" carriages, and all that he is waiting for before taking action is the recommendation of the Transport Advisory Council. I hope that that explanation will be satisfatory to the noble Lord.
I now pass to Clause 2, which deals with the Highway Code, or rather with a particular paragraph in that Code. I have explained the effect of this clause if it became law. It is based, as the able Lord has explained, upon paragraph 10 of the Highway Code, which says:Always be able to pull up your vehicle well within the distance for which you can see the road to be clear whether by night or by day.It is Section 45 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, which is the authority for the issue of the Code, and which provides in subsection (4) as follows: 476A failure on the part of any person to observe any provision of the Highway Code shall not of itself render that person liable to criminal proceedings of any kind, but any such failure may in any proceedings (whether civil or criminal, and including proceedings for an offence under this Act) be relied upon by any party to the proceedings as tending to establish or to negative any liability which is in question in those proceedings.It is therefore clear that in any proceedings for dangerous driving under Section 11 or careless driving under Section 12 of the Act, the fact that the driver was not obeying paragraph 10 of the Code can consequently be relied upon as tending to establish his guilt.
I would like to point out, therefore, that this is not merely a moral injunction as suggested by the noble Lord. The result of the combination of this particular paragraph in the Code with this subsection of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, would go some way towards meeting the object which the noble Lord has in view in Clause 2. It is quite obvious that in coming to a decision on an accident the question of whether the driver has obeyed this particular paragraph or not may be an essential fact. But what I think must be apparent to everybody is that it would be extremely difficult in any circumstances to prove a contravention of this paragraph 10, or Clause 2 in the noble Lord's Bill. It is extremely difficult to prove it where an accident has actually occurred, but where an accident has not taken place I honestly think it would be almost impossible. In ordinary circumstances I cannot imagine anything more difficult on which to bring or base a case. Evidence would be necessary as to the position and speed of the offending car; as to the length of clear road which was ahead of the driver at the material moment; as to the gradient and condition of the road and the effectiveness of the brakes of the car, and a number of other points. I think it is quite clear that there is room for every kind of difference of opinion on the numerous points to which I have referred.
I entirely agree with the noble Lord that the advice contained in paragraph 10 is very sound indeed. I do not think anybody denies that, but I think your Lordships will see how extremely difficult it would be to prove a contravention of it. The noble Lord has suggested that it would be an admirable thing if the 477 Highway Code were incorporated in an Act of Parliament. He has suggested that if that were done the number of accidents on our roads would probably be halved. I am not going to enter into argument on that point. It is very difficult to prove whether that would be the case or not, but I must point out certain facts in connection with the Highway Code. It must be remembered that it is essentially a Code of good manners on the road. The whole idea of the Highway Code was that it should be more elastic than anything that could be incorporated in an Act of Parliament. It contains a very great deal of excellent advice, but it definitely was not designed or drawn up in such a way as to be capable of being incorporated in an Act of Parliament. I have looked through the Code, and may I ask your Lordships to take as an example paragraph 60, which reads as follows:Remember that you cannot be certain of the movements of pedestrians. Be ready for children who may run suddenly on to the road and for people who may step from a refuge or footpath. Make allowance for the hesitation of the aged and infirm and for the blind.That is very excellent advice, but honestly I cannot quite see how that can be converted into the provisions of an Act of Parliament. If the Highway Code were to be converted into law it would not only require very complete remodelling, but I am afraid that much of it would have to be left out.
I want to go back for a moment to the noble Lord's contentions with regard to the actual provisions of Clause 2 of this Bill. He has stated that it is very largely public service vehicles which would be affected by this clause, vehicles which, he suggests, at the present time are contravening the speed limits. He says that contravention is necessary or inevitable because of the schedules to which the drivers have to keep when running over various distances which they have to cover. He has suggested that the way to deal with that is to have an inspector or a member of some inspecting staff on the vehicle who will see whether the speed limit is exceeded or not. Noble Lords have contended that ii that were done the driver would naturally keep within his limits, and therefore any inspection of that kind would be of very little use. I do not 478 think that is quite a sound argument. What an inspector would be able to find out, at any rate, would be whether the driver could cover his distance without exceeding the limit. That he would be able to find out, and no doubt that is the object which the noble Lord has in mind. But I venture to say that this clause is hardly the best way of attaining the end which the noble Lord has in view. I should like to point out that the Traffic Commissioners have at present power to withhold a licence for a public service vehicle if they are satisfied that its schedule is drawn up in such a way that the distance cannot be covered without exceeding the speed limit. I can, if your Lordships wish, quote the actual section of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, which specifies this, but I do not think it is necessary; I feel certain your Lordships will accept it from me.
I pass on for a moment to Clause 3, which deals with narrow roads, and which has been referred to by more than one speaker this afternoon. The complications which would result if the provisions of this clause became law have been emphasised and are self-evident, as the noble Lord himself no doubt recognises. A very large number of notices would be necessary to give the widths of minor roads, as otherwise drivers would frequently be in doubt as to whether they could use a particular road or not. Furthermore, one narrow section of a road might, and indeed would, under the terms of the clause, have the effect of imposing restrictions on a considerable length of that road. A great many exemption Orders would be required if the Bill became law, and indeed a very complete survey of the minor roads would be necessary before any such measure could be brought into operation. I think it will be agreed that, unless there were wholesale exemptions, large tracts of country would be demobilised as far as motor traffic was concerned. I think of Devonshire, and indeed there are considerable parts of my own County of Worcestershire which I think would come under the ban. The difficulties of such authorities as the City of Westminster have been pointed out, and I do not wish to dwell upon that point because it has been recognised by the noble Lord.
What I do want to emphasise is that really the objects of this clause are very 479 well covered by existing legislation. Section 46 of the Road Traffic Act of 1930, as amended later by the Road Traffic Act of 1933, empowers appropriate local authorities, with the consent of the Minister, to prohibit or restrict the use of specified roads by vehicles for which they are unsuitable, but initiative, except in London, is certainly with the local authorities. I think your Lordships will agree that they are the right bodies with which the initiative ought to rest. Then I would like to point out that a large number of these Orders have in fact been made, and applications for the Minister's consent to Orders of this character are continuing to be made. Besides that, Section 29 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act of 1933 gives the Minister wide powers of controlling, by means of prohibition or restriction, the use of all classes of roads by any particular type of vehicle. I think that it is better to deal with the problem that the noble Lord has in mind through these powers rather than by a clause of this kind which would lead to many complications, and to a great amount of time and money being spent in order to complete a very comprehensive survey of the minor roads of this country without, I venture to say, any very great results.
I hope I have shown that the objects of this Bill are, to a very large extent indeed, already covered by existing legislation and regulation. The Minister, to whom tributes have been paid from every side of the House, has generally pursued with the greatest energy all and every measure which was thought likely to lead to a reduction in the number of accidents. May I just enumerate a few of the things which have recently been done with that object in view? There is, first of all, the general speed limit of thirty miles an hour. That only came into operation on the 18th of March, and its full effect has certainly not been felt yet. Then there are the questions of pedestrian crossing places, tests for drivers, prohibition of hooting—it is true that only applies between 11.30 p.m. and 7 in the morning, but I assure the noble Lord opposite that his representations on this matter will be brought to the attention of the Minister—the extension of pedestrian barriers to a limited extent, the extension of traffic light signal systems, the new "Halt: major road 480 ahead" signs, cycle tracks, dual carriage ways and so on.
I could go on enumerating what has already been done by the Minister and point out that some result has already been achieved. Last year for the first time showed a reduction in the total number of casualties on the roads. The figures have already been given to us and it is not necessary for me to repeat them. But, of course, we are not satisfied, and the Minister is determined to continue exploring every avenue towards attaining the object which we all have in view. Perhaps I may here refer to the five-year programme which has been inaugurated, and which is designed to enable the highway authorities to plan ahead for a certain period of time and to take action which will tend to reduce accidents. The record to which I have referred is not an empty one, as is generally agreed, and as has been generally admitted.
The objects of this Bill have received great sympathy from the whole House, and, in the circumstances which I have attempted to explain, I hope that the noble Lord will not wish to press the Second Reading of the Bill. At the same time, I want to give him this assurance, that not only do we warmly welcome and appreciate any suggestions and contributions towards the solution of the problem, but that everything that has been said during the course of this debate not only by him but by my noble friend Viscount Cecil, and by the noble Lord opposite, such as the question of the numbers of the inspecting staff, the question of extending the powers of the Minister and the noble Viscount's suggestions with regard to the restrictions of certain roads and some other matter he mentioned—
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
The provision of fast roads and slow roads. I think that has really been begun, but I want to see it pressed forward.
§ THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
That was the point I had in mind. As I say, the suggestions that have been made will, I can assure the House, be brought to the attention of the Minister, and I am sure they will receive his very careful consideration.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, it would only be proper for me to reply in 481 a few words. First of all I wish to thank my noble friend the Earl of Plymouth for the very courteous reply he has given to me. I must confess that a rare thing has happened with regard to Clause 3 of the Bill. I now agree that the Minister has already so much power in regard to the width of the roads that it is unnecessary to make a formal statutory provision in respect of Clause 3. I knew something of this from the officials of the Ministry whom I had seen, but I had not realised until the noble Earl made his speech how completely the matter is covered by the existing law. Therefore, should the Bill be given a Second Reading, I would undertake to drop that clause, which I now consider to be unnecessary.
With regard to the rest, I acknowledge most gratefully the very great courtesy of the reply, but I should have thought it would be better to give the Bill a Second Reading. I am not yet so conversant with procedure in your Lordships' House as I am with that in the House of Commons. Certainly in the House of Commons, if there were so much unanimity as to the objects of a measure as has been shown by this House to-night, it would be customary to give the Bill a Second Reading and then see what happened in Committee. The critics of the Bill have been answered by the Minister.
482 The supposed wickedness of firms to which two noble Lords referred has been ably countered by my noble friend Lord Plymouth. He has pointed out that the Minister has already insisted upon speedometers being provided in large classes of vehicles, and that the Traffic Advisory Committee is considering the matter and will very likely recommend that they shall be universal. But the clause for making paragraph 10 of the Highway Code the law of the land instead of being voluntary seems to me to be so important that I think it would be a good thing for this House to record its opinion that it ought to be an offence to infringe that paragraph. Therefore, if my noble friend Viscount Cecil, with his wider experience of this House, takes my view that we should ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading, I would certainly do that. While acknowledging the courtesy of the Minister I would not agree that it would be wiser to withdraw the Motion for Second Reading. I myself should have thought it better to give the Bill a Second Reading and amend it if your Lordships so wished in Committee.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to; Bill to be read 2a this day six months accordingly.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past six o'clock.