HL Deb 15 July 1936 vol 101 cc827-54

THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER rose to call attention to the great increase in recent years of road accidents among school children, and to ask His Majesty's Government what steps they have taken to carry out the recommendations of the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee (England and Wales) on road safety among school children; and to move for Papers.

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, some years ago I brought before the House this subject of road accidents among children, and I venture to bring the subject again before the House, because quite recently there has been published an extremely interesting Report by an Inter-Departmental Committee which was appointed to investigate the subject. The Report is a very valuable one and the Committee conducted an investigation much more thorough, I think, than anything of the kind before into this particular subject. Of course the whole question of road accidents among children has as its background the much larger subject of the general casualties on the road through motor traffic. I have only admiration for the vigour and perseverence of the Minister of Transport in his endeavour to reduce these casualties. But the position at the present time is far from satisfactory. In the figures given only a week ago of the previous week's casualties there were 137 deaths on the road and 5,092 injured, and in the same return it was stated that in the first twenty-seven weeks of this year there had been 2,999 deaths on the road and 106,000 injured, that is to say, a number rather larger than the population of Plymouth and not far short of the population of a great city like Croydon. One-fifth of those who are killed on the roads are children under the age of fifteen, and it is stated that for one child killed on the road there are thirty injured, some of them injured permanently for life.

At the beginning of this century there were rather over 400 children who were killed on the roads. In the year immediately after the War that figure was raised to 800, and the last reliable figure I have, a figure given in this Report for the year 1933, shows that 1,245 children were killed on the roads. That was a slight reduction on the previous year, but it shows how enormous the increase has been during this century in the casualties among children, and we must remember that, in addition to the deaths, there are probably between 30,000 and 40,000 children who are injured more or less seriously. Not only are the children killed or injured on the roads, but there is grief and sorrow in many a family and, quite apart from those who are directly affected, parents in many cases are filled with an almost morbid anxiety throughout the day as to whether their child will return in the evening in safety.

I am sometimes amazed at the indifference which as a nation we normally display to these casualties on the roads. If a dozen people are killed through an aeroplane accident or in a railway accident there are announcements on the newspaper placards, columns on the first pages of the newspapers, Questions asked in Parliament, Committees set up to inquire; while, if 130 people are killed in a week on the roads and 4,000 or 5,000 injured the news is probably put on a back page, and we simply say: "Thank God the numbers are not larger than they are." It is quite extraordinary how apathetic we are as a nation to this continuous loss of life on the roads. Let me quote one passage from this Report, dealing with this question: The loss to the nation of upwards of a thousand children who are killed every year in road accidents, and whose deaths bring sorrow and distress to so many homes, is a matter of the gravest concern to everyone, and is an appalling price to pay for the increased amenities which the motor vehicle has conferred upon the community. The Committee investigated the causes of the road accidents and it placed the causes in two groups. There are those which are due to circumstances external to the child, through no fault of the child. Such circumstances are to be found in the fact that the child has to use the roads, and in 70 per cent. of the roads of the country there are no footpaths. The child must use the roads to go to and from school. In our towns, very often the child has to use the pavement for its games. It is all very well for you to say children ought not to be allowed to play on the pavements or in the roads of our towns, but frequently in our larger towns there is nowhere else where they can play, and along these roads there goes a swift traffic. Sometimes the traffic is reckless and careless, and an injured child has to pay its contribution and make its sacrifice to our mania for speed.

The other causes of accidents which form the second group are to be found in the child's own temperament. It would not be fair to say that all these accidents, or anything like all these accidents, are due to the carelessness or recklessness of motorists. All of us, I suppose, know how frequently, with the utmost care in driving, it is difficult to avoid children who suddenly dart across the road. Children are naturally impulsive, impetuous, thoughtless, sometimes adventurous, and they fail to recognise the reality of the dangers of the road. Any measures intended to reduce the casualties among children on the road must take into consideration these two great groups of causes. The recommendations put forward by this Committee are very comprehensive and pay regard to these special difficulties. I have no intention of going in detail into these recommendations. There are no fewer than fifty-one of them. Some of them seem rather trivial, one or two seem to me rather impracticable, but most of them are quite excellent.

The Committee, speaking quite broadly, recognise four lines of advance. First of all, they recommend the appointment of local child safety committees. These committees are to represent various interests, and their one purpose is to consider how children may be protected from harm in the roads in that particular district. They would have no executive power, they would be advisory bodies only; but they would discover the dangerous places, they would consider and recommend how these places might be made safer, and they would see that propaganda was carried on among the parents and among the children. I attach very great importance to the recommendations of these local safety committees which are to guard the interests of children, and I should be very grateful if the noble Earl who is to reply could give us any information as to whether these committees have already been started or whether there is any intention of promoting them in the future.

The second line of advance is for the protection of the children going backwards and forwards to school. Under this heading are included measures such as more police to be placed at the spots where there is danger and where the children have to cross the roads. Where it is not possible to have police, they suggest there might be voluntary patrols helping the children to cross; there should be more crossings; there should be traffic light signals which might be used by children. The Committee also make the important suggestion—controversial, but into that I shall not go at this moment—that all cyclists—and there is a considerable number of fatalities among children who are cycling—should in future have a red lamp.

Then there is a third line—education among the children so that they may be trained to have a sense of the dangers of the road and how best they may use the roads with safety. I know this kind of education has been given for some years with success in London and I have no doubt in a large number of other centres. The education proposed here is, however, more thorough than is usually adopted. It is graded education, dealing with infants, with junior children, and with the children who have passed the junior stage. If, of course, this kind of education is given thoroughly, wisely, and systematically in the different schools the children will be trained to curtail their natural impulsiveness and thoughtlessness when they are near or crossing roads on which there is a large amount of traffic.

Another line of advance which is suggested concerns playing fields. We all recognise how important it is that children should have the opportunity of convenient and sufficiently large fields and places in which they can play. If playing fields are not provided they are bound, as I have already said, to play on the pavements and in the roads, with danger to themselves and to others. The Committee recommend not only the provision of playing fields—not always an easy matter—but the provision of playing places for younger children nearer their homes. They also recommend that certain streets should be closed for so many hours in the week to all traffic so that in those streets the children may play. I remember making that suggestion in this House some years ago and stating that the experiment had been tried with success in America. At that time it was regarded as a somewhat impracticable suggestion. I had many letters pointing out how absurd the suggestion was, and I certainly had no encouragement from any responsible speaker in favour of it; but this has been tried in the Borough of Salford with great success and I believe also it has been tried elsewhere. Of course it is not popular among the inhabitants of the streets which are chosen, but the children play in those streets whether the inhabitants like it or not. If it is unpopular for that reason, it may be better to have some rotation of streets in which the children can play in safety.

These are the main lines on which the Committee recommend that action should be taken, and I should be grateful if the noble Earl will tell us how far any of these proposals have been acted on. I am not asking for a detailed reply, but I should like to know how far action has been taken to bring into existence the safety committees recommended. Also I should like to ask how far this Report has been brought to the notice of the education authorities. Directly the Report was issued the Minister of Transport sent it to the various highway authorities but I am not sure that the same was done to the education authorities. It is quite essential, if anything is to be done on these lines, that we should have the full co-operation of the teachers. The teachers are most deeply concerned in this matter, most anxious to safeguard the children committed to their care, and it is a matter of supreme importance that the teachers should have this Report brought before them. I think it would be advisable for the headmaster of every school to be asked by the proper authority to make his own observations as to how best the proposals can be carried out in regard to his school.

There is one other matter to which I desire to refer. As I said at the beginning, it is impossible to treat this subject entirely apart from the wider subject of the general casualties on the road. I feel quite certain that the recommendations of which I have spoken will not succeed to any large extent until much more drastic steps are taken to deal with reckless and selfish driving. I suppose my own experience is that of most of your Lordships. I am always travelling on the roads, in country lanes and towns, and also on the main high roads between London and the South coast; the only part of my diocese I cannot reach by car is the Channel Islands. My own experience is that the majority of drivers on the road are skilful, considerate, and cautious. I have no complaint to make against the great majority of those who drive on the roads, but there is a small minority of utterly reckless and selfish drivers who make the roads a menace to old and young alike. It is quite useless to appeal to their common sense. They have no common sense. It is useless to appeal to their courtesy. They have no good manners. It is useless to appeal to their conscience. That has been atrophied on this matter long ago. The only way to deal with them is by much more drastic penalties. For the sake of speed, for the sake of getting to their destination a moment or two earlier, they are willing to kill any man, woman, or child, or to risk the killing of any man, woman or child, who happens to be in their way. We shall never deal with this evil until the authorities who are responsible for administering the law take a much firmer, stronger and more consistent attitude in this matter.

There is one more quotation bearing on this which I should like to read to the House. The Report states: …we are strongly of the opinion that more consistent and vigorous action on the part of the authorities responsible for enforcing the laws relating to the use of the roads will materially assist in reducing the number of road accidents…in serious cases, or in other cases where repeated fines have proved ineffective, imprisonment is called for. Furthermore, we would emphasise the desirability of a more general use by the Courts of their power to disqualify drivers from holding or obtaining a licence. To remove from the road, either permanently or for a period, drivers who have been found guilty of dangerous or inconsiderate conduct, appears to us to be a peculiarly appropriate method of reducing the risk of accident. This is a question which concerns the whole of the community, and I am sure that the more thoughtful members of the community would welcome it if the Government, the administrative authorities, and the judicial authorities took a much stronger line on this matter than they have in the past. I beg to move.


My Lords, I hope you will allow me to detain you for two or three minutes while I speak in hearty support of the right reverend Prelate's Motion. I have read the whole of the Report of the Committee from which he has quoted. I liked it so much and considered it so extraordinarily interesting that I was able to increase the Government revenue to the amount of 6s. by selling twelve copies of it yesterday to the National Playing Fields Committee. Everyone ought to read it. I would like to draw attention if I may to three inexpensive ways by which I think this urgent problem can perhaps be mitigated. The first is in relation to the slum cleared areas. We are now engaged in clearing slums throughout the country. There are some perfectly excellent examples of what can be done in these slum cleared areas. I would first quote the Tabard Street site in Southwark, which is a magnificent example of what can be done for children in a crowded area. And Manchester is now proceeding with some excellent schemes. It is quite possible, I think, during the period between the clearing of the slums and the re-erection of other buildings to allot a certain portion of the area to children.

The second suggestion, which also I think is not expensive, is this. It is quite obvious to all your Lordships that the modern tendency in architecture is to build flat roofs. A great deal more use can be made of these roofs both on public buildings and certain buildings erected for organisations like the Y.M.C.A. The latter's building in Hornsey has an admirable flat roof which has been adapted to its needs. I would ask the Ministry of Health not to overlook that possibility. Thirdly, little corners. I am rather distressed in our work for the National Playing Fields Society to find, on approaching local authorities to obtain playing fields for children, that we are so often met with the response that it is quite impossible to find an area large enough in size. But there are in almost every city little corners which can be adapted very cheaply. A small chestnut fence can be put round the corner, two cartloads of sand poured into it, and, if possible, an old log added. There is nothing so delightful to children as an old log on to which they can climb and from which they can jump. That can be done even if it is not possible to erect a swing or roundabout or anything of that sort.

Those things can be done, and are being done in various places. It is the increased use of these small areas that may help to solve this problem of giving the children somewhere to play. My chief point is that these recommendations are not expensive but they are urgent, and I think, however petty and small they may seem to your Lordships, that they will help a little till something better can be done to reduce the ghastly total of 18,500 children killed and 300,000 injured in the last fifteen years. But larger schemes must instantly be put in hand, even if it puts a half-penny or a penny on the rates. I cannot believe that any single British citizen would begrudge that penny to obtain the desired mitigation of the awful state of affairs as to which the right reverend Prelate has so eloquently appealed in his Motion.


My Lords, I have only one adverse criticism to make upon the Motion of the right reverend Prelate, and that is that it is not sufficiently wide. We ought not to be considering simply the case of school children. Every class, every age, and every section of society is affected, and I think the right reverend Prelate might well have considered the case of those persons who, consciously or unconsciously, like myself, are approaching the age of second childhood themselves. The Report is one of a very moderate and temperate nature, and there is nothing sensational about the recommendations. They are recommendations to which I cannot imagine any reasonable person objecting. There is also a good deal of useful information which one can acquire. I learned, for instance—I did not know it before—that the number of mechanically-propelled vehicles in this country now reaches 2,500,000 and there are apparently 7,000,000 cyclists. That makes altogether a total of 10,000,000 possible dangerous objects which the pedestrian is likely to encounter in the course of a walk. And this does not exhaust the category, because fresh cars, if I am not mistaken, are being produced at the rate of 500 a day.

Your Lordships can imagine what the result will be. At present the casualties are roughly near 2,250,000, and an average of 7,000 people are killed. Your Lordships can imagine for yourselves what the position will be with this continuous increase going on. It does almost stagger one's imagination. The cause of all this trouble is really defined in one sentence in the Report. This carnage and mutilation on the roads is entirely due, in the opinion of the Committee, to what they euphemistically describe as inconsiderate driving—in other words, driving much too fast and too carelessly. As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, the obvious explanation of this behaviour on the part of a section of motorists is that they are never, or very seldom, adequately punished. If the law were properly enforced and if they realised that they were going to be treated according to their deserts, these casualties would instantaneously diminish. I have before now commented on the extraordinary laxity with which the law with regard to motoring offences is administered and the extraordinary leniency which seems to prevail all over the country with reference to motoring offences. Every day one sees instances of this. Only a few days ago I noticed a report of two cases in which the magistrates who tried them were so anxious not to injure the offenders that, although both of them pleaded guilty, both cases were dismissed.

You can still, as far as I know, kill a person or mutilate him for life for a penalty of 40s., or possibly less than that. You can still smell of drink and find a doctor who will say that upon the whole alcohol is a great advantage for people who are in the habit of motoring. Every sort of excuse is found. What is perhaps more remarkable than almost anything else is the fact that in the case of convictions every opportunity seems to be taken not to endorse licences. I gathered from a statement made not long ago by, I think, the Home Secretary that out of 100,000 convictions for exceeding the speed limit, less than half of the licences were endorsed. There was a very remarkable case in London this month to which I think my noble friend Viscount Cecil intends to draw attention. On July 2, before a magistrate whose name I think deserves to be commemorated, Alderman Colonel Eaton, a number of motor drivers were brought up for exceeding the speed limit in the City. They were fined small sums, but the Alderman declined to endorse the licences. When the Clerk of the Court, who presumably knows his business, told him that the endorsement, of licences was not conditional but was automatic, he still refused to do it. I suggest that action of this kind ought to be taken notice of by the legal authorities because it seems to me to be an impudent contravention of the law.

In these circumstances, how can you possibly expect any diminution in the number of casualties? There is no reason why they should stop at all. I sometimes wonder whether motorists—amongst whom I include myself—realise what an almost intolerable nuisance they are to the rest of the community. Motorists, amongst whom as I say I include myself, have I suppose killed and mutilated at least 1,000,000 people during the last ten years, although I am happy to say that, so far as I am aware, I have never injured any one in that period nor has any one in my service. But motorists not only shorten people's lives, they have made a considerable difference in their lives. They not only inflict appalling injuries upon them, but they alter the method of people's lives. Take the case we are discussing this afternoon. In former days when roads were really roads and were not unfenced railway tracks, children used habitually to play in them. To-day it is far safer for children to play upon a railway, especially on a railway that has been ruined by road transport, than in the streets.

On that particular point I would like to make a suggestion of my own to the Minister. I have not the least expectation that it will be adopted, because although it is simple it is drastic. What I suggest is that where there is no footpath—and there are no footpaths on 70 per cent. of the roads—the motorist really does not know where to expect to come across a pedestrian. He may be on the left, or he may be on the right, or he may be in the middle of the road. The suggestion I make is that where there is no footpath pedestrians should be compelled always to keep on the left. It would have the effect that the motorist would always be behind him, and therefore fore it would ensure the motorist having to drive much more carefully, and in particular to be much more careful in going round corners. It would have the simple advantage that if the pedestrian was on the wrong side of the road the onus would be upon him, while if he was on the proper side of the road the onus would be on the motorist.

Of course that does not cover the case mentioned by the right reverend Prelate of children who dart across the road. I do not know how that matter can be dealt with, but I am sure this simple practical suggestion would have a considerable effect. I am emboldened to think so because I have done a good deal of motoring on the Continent and the casualties on the road on the Continent are far fewer than in this country. I believe that to be due to the fact that on the Continent they have the same rule for vehicles as for pedestrians, whereas we have one rule for pedestrians and another for vehicles.

This subject, like everything else, has been much clouded and obscured by a mass of propaganda. There are three kinds of propaganda. One proceeds from the motorists themselves, and the motorists themselves always try to convince the rest of the world that there is no danger in speed. I have even known them go so far as to say sometimes that the quicker you go the safer it is. They also try to convince us that the ordinary pedestrian is a person of suicidal inclination, who takes a perverse delight in causing his own destruction, and actually wishes to destroy the motorist. I do not believe that the ordinary pedestrian is animated by anything of the kind. The only class of people who seem to have suicidal inclination are the cyclists. I think that accusation might he brought against cyclists who do not ride on the tracks provided for them, who will not carry lamps and therefore run the risk of being run down by vehicles, and who thrust themselves into the most dangerous situations. It is a wonder to me that more of them are not killed than is the case.

The second kind of propaganda is on the part of the pedestrians. They are always claiming to be protected and are sometimes unreasonable in asking for a greater share of the surface of the road than that to which they are really entitled. The third form of propaganda is that conducted by the Government, which consists of offering advice which shortly comes to this. They adjure the motorist to drive considerately. That to my mind is perfectly futile when applied to the class of persons described by the right reverend Prelate. You might as well advise the young, high-spirited, enterprising youth or maiden who has become the proprietor of a sports car to exercise moderation, as appeal to an alligator or a boa-constrictor to moderate his appetite. It is perfectly useless to appeal to people of that sort at all. The danger, I might almost say the ignominy, of being run over by one of these machines is, I always think, very much worse—at all events I feel that it is very much worse—than that of being run over by a commercial vehicle. At any rate in the latter case the man is earning his livelihood, whereas in the former case the people are out for their own amusement at the cost of human life. A sports car in the possession of a high-spirited youth or maiden is just as dangerous as a loaded revolver, and from that class of person we ought to be protected as carefully as we are protected from the vendors of poisons.

The moral is that it is no good relying upon propaganda. What, for instance, is the use of telling a pedestrian to be careful when he is walking? No pedestrian wants to be killed, and there is nothing in the Highway Code that any person of average common sense would not do of his own accord without looking at it at all. If you learnt the whole of the Highway Code by heart you would not be any safer than you were before; it would have about as much effect upon your conduct as learning the Thirty-nine Articles has upon an undergraduate's progress in the study of divinity. The remedy is perfectly obvious and perfectly simple. What you want is more drastic legislation. You want to make the motorist feel that if, by accident or by his own fault, he causes serious bodily injury he really will suffer; that he will not be let off with a nominal fine, but that he may be sent to prison, and that at all events he will be suspended from driving. When you do that you will really achieve some result.

We have a great deal for which to thank the present Minister of Transport, for he is the first Minister, as far as I know, who has taken any really serious steps to protect the public from this danger, and I would suggest to him that there is really very little danger in embarking upon drastic legislation with regard to motoring offences. Of course there would be considerable opposition from one section, but on the other hand I am convinced that this would be one of the most popular measures a Government could bring in. After all, a great majority of people do not own motor-cars at all, and they would all welcome a change of this nature with enthusiasm. It would be equally welcomed by the great majority of motorists themselves. If you do this then we really shall see some change, but if we merely go on advising, recommending and deploring, nothing whatever will happen; the tide of slaughter and mutilation will continue to rise until it reaches a level which ought to make us ashamed of ourselves as a civilised country.


My Lords, the House owes a great debt of gratitude to the right reverend Prelate for bringing this matter once again to its notice. I could have wished that he had extended his Motion to cover the whole evil, but undoubtedly the point he raises is typical of the great scandal which now exists in the administration of this country. He referred to the apathy of the people, but that is nothing to equal the apathy of the Government—not of this Government only, but of all Governments. I cannot understand why, but they do not really take the slightest interest in the subject. They may, of course, do so in their own minds, but they do not really make any serious effort to cope with the evil. After all, the evil is terrific. I cannot understand why there has not been a greater outburst of indignation on the subject. Here are these thousands of children, hundreds of thousands of children, being killed and injured by perfectly preventable causes. That is the fact, there cannot be any dispute about it. We go on and allow it to happen year after year; and not only children but a number of other citizens are killed and injured. I never can remember figures, but I think the right reverend Prelate said that the children numbered about one-fifth of the whole. That means that you must multiply the totals by five to see what is the total of the deaths and suffering that are being caused by this state of things.

My only criticism of the right reverend Prelate's speech is that I doubt very much whether, if all the remedies which he proposes were adopted, as perhaps they will be, there would be a very great deal of difference. The remedy has got to be much more drastic and complete if we are really to deal with this matter. I know it is said that the main cause of these accidents, or one of the main causes, is the carelessness of the pedestrian. In the first place there are the children. It is fantastic to talk about the carelessness of children; that is one of the facts of human nature. You have to face the fact that children will not be very careful, and you cannot devise any penalty half as severe as that of which they run the risk if they are careless. Nothing can really be done to improve that side of the problem. You may try to persuade them to be more careful and you may have a result—nothing very much. Then it is said, as my noble friend Lord Newton said in his interesting speech, that you ought to have much more severe and drastic penalties for the motorist. I think that on the whole, particularly in some courts, the motorist is let off too lightly. There is undoubtedly a kind of fellow-feeling in certain tribunals, because they are conscious that they are owner-drivers themselves and they therefore have a certain sympathy with any driver who is brought before them. But I doubt very much whether a mere increase of penalties is going to produce a real remedy.

In my own view the great cause of this state of things is that we have never realised what is the problem with which we have to deal. Motors have always been treated as a kind of improved horse-carriage. All the legislation, all the way of looking at the subject, has been that to which we were accustomed when the wheeled traffic on the road went at something between five or ten or at the outside, twelve miles an hour. Once you introduce these machines which can go at up to sixty, seventy or eighty miles an hour and which commonly go at forty or fifty miles an hour on the road, you have an entirely different problem. It is a different state of things altogether. You have to deal with the same kind of problem as that with which you had to deal on the railways, and if the motor had been treated as a kind of railway train and the same kind of precautions had been taken against accidents as were taken on the railways, we should have had a very different state of things. After all, the railways when they began did cause a number—nothing like this, but still a certain number—of accidents, and it was gradually found that the only way to prevent accidents was to confine the railways to certain tracks which should be fenced off. Nobody was allowed to cross the railway on the level except under very strict conditions. Bridges were more and more made over the railways, so as to prevent any common use of the road by railway trains and other traffic. You have by that legislation, coupled of course with very elaborate compulsory provisions for the safety of the trains themselves, achieved a very remarkable degree of safety, not only in this country but all over the world. This country, perhaps, is the safest of all, but all railways are comparatively safe things. You do drive trains of heavy weight, and going at enormous speeds, and you drive them with safety.

I believe that that is the true example of what we ought to aim at. As long as we insist upon using our roads for traffic which goes at forty, fifty or sixty miles an hour and, at the same time, for traffic going at four or five miles an hour, and allow children and cyclists and others to use the road in the same way as motors, I do not believe that any legislation which you can devise will materially or greatly diminish the slaughter by accidents on the roads. I have become myself convinced that the only remedy is to divide the roads of the country into speed roads and roads which are not speed roads. The speed roads you should treat exactly on the same lines as you treat railway traffic. You should provide up and down roads, and fences at the side to prevent unauthorised or dangerous intrusion on the road. On the other roads, which must exist for ordinary traffic, you should have a very strict and very severe speed limit, and as large a penalty even as Lord Newton would desire for any breach of the rules. Of course you would have to provide some kind of speed indicator, such as I have advocated, on each motor car. I believe that a remedy on those lines is possible, and likely to be of good effect, and I do not believe that any other remedy will be permanently effective.

I recognise that it is not a thing which can be done in a moment. It has got to be done gradually, but I would like to hear from the Government that they have some plan which they can put before the country showing that at some future date they would be able to have some scheme of that kind for road traffic. You could, for instance, say that no road should be without footpaths, and that if a road has footpaths there must be some speed limit, because you cannot allow roads to be used by machines going at this speed. I think you could have a provisional measure of that kind. I understand that they are trying experiments in the shape of fencing off the roadway from the footpaths. These would be preliminary measures which you could try and set going. In that way you might gradually improve matters. But in the meantime I entirely agree with Lord Newton that the law as it stands must be enforced, and enforced strictly.

I have put down the case to which he alluded, but I will not say anything more about it until I hear what the Government reply is going to be. I think, however, there is ground for saying that there ought to be a temporary and provisional measure before you can bring forward the reform for which I have briefly and perhaps inadequately pleaded. I think also there should be a way of trying these offences so that there can be a regular and ascertained penalty, and you will not have the scandal of seeing some offending motorists get off without penalty while others may be severely punished. These are the conclusions to which I have been led by consideration of this matter. My conclusions may be wrong, but I hope the Government will look at this problem from that point of view.

The present Minister of Transport began his term of office in a way which led many of us to hope that something effective was going to be done. He has done some good, and has I believe produced some diminution in the number of accidents in some parts of the country, but no one who has followed the frequent and proper statements as to the accidents on the road can help feeling grave disappointment that so little has been done. It is quite true that the number of accidents to motorists has diminished, but as to the total number of accidents, although there is a slight downward tendency, it is very slight, and the latest figures published would indicate that that tendency has stopped. Until the Government realise that this is really one of the most important matters of administration in this country, and really take measures which are adequate to deal with it, not minding all sorts of little difficulties raised by the curiously selfish interests which are affected, they will fail to remedy this matter, and whether they suffer from it at the polls or not, they will certainly suffer for it from the verdict of history.


My Lords, I would, too, like briefly to express my gratitude to the right reverend Prelate for introducing this Motion, and my sense that the annual slaughter on the roads, and the public indifference to it, to which more than one noble Lord has referred, combine to present one of the most shocking features of modem civilisation. It does not present itself, as we have been reminded, in votes, but I venture to say, and I myself believe, that this problem, morally and socially, is as formidable and important as the problem of unemployment or the problem of the slums. The slaughter of children is of course the most pathetic, and probably the most wasteful, aspect of this most complex of problems. I believe it is a fact that the age group ten to fifteen provides the greater proportion of victims until you come to the group sixty-five to seventy. I must say that reading through this Report, I am left very strongly with the impression, which has been reported by at any rate one other speaker, that you cannot isolate the problem of the children from the problem of the roads as a whole.

About forty-five of the recommendations contained in the Report are recommendations which apply solely to school children—they are things which you can do specially for school children—but I am afraid that, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, has said, even if all are put into effect, they will be but mere minor palliatives. The only really hopeful proposals in my view are the first four or five in the Report, contained under the heading "General," which envisage, and assail, the problem as a whole. I understand that it is the noble Earl who represents the Ministry for Education who is to reply, and I take it that for the purposes of this debate the Government envisage this as an educational problem to be tackled in the schools, but as we also see the noble Earl who speaks for the Ministry of Transport present, I trust it will not be thought out of place if I draw attention to one or two of the wider recommendations contained in the Report.

First of all, may I say something on the question of severer penalties, which has been dealt with from various angles by more than one noble Lord this afternoon? I am very glad to see that the Report refers to penalties being such as "to act as a real deterrent." There can be no possible shadow of doubt that in nine cases out of ten they do not act as a deterrent now. May I give one instance, and it is by no means abnormal? You could pick one yourselves out of every other issue almost of your daily newspaper. In Bradford a driver who was convicted of driving without a licence, without a third-party insurance, and of killing a woman on a pedestrian crossing, was cumulatively sentenced to a fine of three pounds, with ten shillings costs. Now Chicago is not a city to which we are accustomed to look for tenderness for human life, but some of your Lordships may have noticed in the Press lately a reference to a certain Judge Gorman in Chicago, who claims in three weeks to have reduced deaths by dangerous driving in Chicago by 50 per cent. And how did he do it? Every conviction for dangerous driving, or driving under the influence of drink, meant imprisonment, ten days at least in the county gaol, and Judge Gorman, I see, states that in his belief in six months there will not be a problem of dangerous driving and road casualties left in Chicago.

Well, I will not say we want more Judge Gormans in Great Britain, but I am coming reluctantly to the belief that it is no good going on appealing to magistrates and the rest to enforce adequately and uniformly the existing law. Appeals have been made in your Lordships' House and in another place and in the Press, and, I think I am right in saying, by the Lord Chancellor, and virtually no results have accrued. I am being driven myself—and I know others are also being driven—to the conclusion that the only ultimate solution will be special Courts for motoring offences, where such offences, when convictions take place, will be dealt with adequately, and above all, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil says, uniformly—that is the essence of it.

Another general recommendation I am glad to see is with regard to the speed limit. The speed limit, there is no doubt, has done a great deal of good, but I myself feel quite confident—and I think most of your Lordships who have watched it up and down the country, probably feel much the same—that somewhere about 60 or 70 per cent. of motorists now break the speed limit. What it has done has been to put an end to the old murderous driving at speeds of sixty or seventy miles an hour. That, in built-up areas, has virtually disappeared. But something like 65 per cent. of motorists do drive up to thirty-five and forty miles per hour in built-up areas, when they have first assured themselves that there is no "speed-cop" at their heels. It is a fact—I have a diagram here illustrating it, published by the Transport Committee of the City of Edinburgh—that the difference between driving at thirty miles an hour (that is, legally) and forty miles an hour is a difference represented by the fact that it takes you fifty feet longer to pull up in case of emergency. That fifty feet may well represent the life of a child, and that, I think, is the relevance of the fact to this debate this afternoon. I hope that His Majesty's Government will continue to try to find some way of encouraging local authorities to enforce the speed limit more effectively than they are doing at present. They do not seem to like "speed-cops," as they are vulgarly called, and once more I find myself being reluctantly driven to the conclusion that the more drastic proposal of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, which he moved as an Amendment to the Road Traffic Bill last year, that is, the compulsory enforcement of the carrying of a speed indicator, is the only ultimate and effective solution.

Your Lordships have been reminded by two noble Lords this afternoon that the law does actually require children who live, I think it is less than three miles from their schools, to walk to school along these high roads, these speedways which carry no footpaths. As an example of the deterioration of our standards in this matter of human life, may I ask your Lordships to imagine what would have been the public outcry if, when compulsory attendance was first enforced by law, the children had been required to go to school along the railway tracks? Imagine the outcry! Politically an impossible thing to suggest, and yet far more safe than to go along the road to-day! The railway train goes along a predictable, regular track, and it is in reliable hands. The motor car goes along an irregular, unpredictable track, at the mercy of temperament and road surface, and, it may be, in the hands of a young gentleman who has just drunk three cocktails and is trying out a car which its makers advertise as possessing a cruising speed of seventy miles an hour. And those are the roads along which children are asked to go to school on foot, without footpaths. I do suggest to His Majesty's Government that the provision of more footpaths on the 70 per cent. of the high roads which do not possess them is an absolutely urgent necessity.

And if I may finally give three suggestions within the narrower sphere—that is, what I call palliatives, the measures which apply only to school children, which may do some good to school children, though, as I have suggested, what I believe is really necessary is the assault on the problem on the whole—firstly, there is this question of escorts. In the City in which I live—Oxford—there is a reasonably effective method which is referred to, I am glad to see in this Report, by which an adult escort is retained, who comes out in the middle of the road with a pole on which are the words "Stop! Children crossing." That, at any rate, is effective just at the point where the children cross the road to go to school. But I think it is obvious that, as the principle of the central school is developed, and as, therefore, the elder child is separated from the younger child, no longer going to the same school, the problem of escorting the young children to school will become increasingly serious. The elder children cannot do this, and the policemen, I suppose, cannot be spared, though that would be the most satisfactory method. I believe that in Croydon and Manchester the pedestrian-operated crossing signal has worked very well, and has not been abused by children, and I believe that in some areas it would be possible to establish rotas of parents who would take their turns in escorting, on a more organised basis than they do, the children of their neighbours to school.

Secondly, one very small point, but one which is, I think, worth mentioning. I believe that some of the local education authorities are actually encouraging children attending their schools to do so on bicycles. It is cheaper for them than providing motor omnibuses, and I believe that they either sell them cheap or even give them to the children. All I wish to suggest is that this ought to be a matter for the parent to decide. There should be no pressure whatever by a local education authority to encourage a child to bicycle along high roads of the nature which I have described. The parent knows the temperament of the child and the local conditions and whether or not it is safe; and I suggest that the local authority should not put on any pressure in that direction. I hope that, as the school expansion goes on, the siting of schools may be deliberately controlled, so that they are not placed, as so many are at present, at danger points. We cannot change the present sites, but at any rate we can see that the future sites are better placed.

And, lastly, one suggestion to the noble Earl who represents the Ministry of Transport. If he agrees with what I am sure is the sense of your Lordships' House, that this is really an urgent moral problem, might it not be desirable for the Ministry of Transport for a short period, say the next six months or the next year, to take steps to be represented at every inquest on a child under fourteen, so that it may at first hand form its own impressions of the problem? It might even be desirable for the Ministry to make its own inquiries as is already done in the case of railway accidents. At any rate, I suggest it might be desirable for the Ministry to make that special inquiry in order to acquaint itself fully with the nature of this problem. I hope that the noble Earl who will reply, even though ho cannot speak for the Ministry of Transport and is not really responsible for the dimensions of this problem in any sense, will be able to assure us that the Government as a whole are determined to take this question seriously and to take every possible step to meet it.


My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships more than a minute or two because there is other business on the Paper still to be dealt with, but I should like to call attention to one particular matter. In the first place, I was glad to hear the noble Lord who has just spoken advocating the desirability of instituting special Courts. I have always felt that that was really the only way in which you could properly deal with this matter, but the last time I made the suggestion my noble friend Lord Cecil thought it would not be possible to carry it out. The noble Lord who spoke last told us that in Chicago, by making imprisonment the penalty, a great improvement had been effected in the number of accidents occurring in that city. No doubt if similar drastic steps were taken in this country an approximately equal improvement might take place, but to inflict imprisonment is a very severe measure, and undoubtedly it would raise an outcry in this country. I do not think our people would stand the infliction of such a penalty with as much equanimity as appears to have been the case in Chicago.

There is another means which has not really been utilised sufficiently and that relates to endorsement and suspension. One point in regard to suspension and endorsement is this, that at present the bench which has suspended a man's licence for careless driving or whatever it may be, is allowed to revoke that suspension after a certain time. For instance, if a man is suspended for six months, and he appeals for a reduction of this suspension to the petty sessional bench after six weeks or two months, this is what happens, as I know from experience. The man comes before the bench and says: "I am out of work; I have a wife and six children; my employer is ready to give me a job again; I have had my lesson, and I shall not do this sort of thing again." The employer speaks for him too, and says he is very sorry but if the man does not get his licence back he will have to give the job to another man. That is what is put to the bench and, being soft-hearted people, they very likely agree to the request and give the man back his licence.

But as your Lordships are aware, the same bench does not sit on every occasion. You may get a totally different set of magistrates sitting on the bench to which the appeal is made, compared with the bench which made the conviction. That amounts to an appeal from one court, which has heard all the evidence and given judgment, to a second court which has not heard any evidence and yet reverses the judgment of the first. I consider that is a very unsuitable method of carrying on business. I submit there ought to be a proper hearing of the case again. Either it ought to go to Quarter Sessions—though I hardly think that is necessary—or it ought to come before the petty sessional bench which should hear evidence again before granting the appeal. But just to allow the case to come before the bench in this way and have the judgment of the first court reversed without hearing any evidence, is, I think, a very casual way of doing things, with the result that this suspension is not so serious a form of punishment as it perhaps ought to be. I think that is a matter which requires very careful consideration by His Majesty's Government.


My Lords, it is quite clear that the House and the Government are under a great debt of gratitude to the right reverend Prelate for bringing up this most vital—I use the word in a literal sense—and important problem. There are some points which have been mentioned to-day that are not strictly relevant to the Question which the right reverend Prelate has put on the Order Paper. One of the advantages of your Lordships' House is that it has very few rules of order, though perhaps that is a greater advantage to the House generally than to the unfortunate Minister who has to try and reply to the debate.

I could not help regretting some of the points that were made by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, who made the discussion of a Report of a Committee appointed by His Majesty's Government as an earnest of their interest in this subject the occasion for a most violent attack on the Government for doing nothing whatsoever. Admittedly, at the end of three or four years of hard work, there is a vast amount of the problem still to be solved, but nevertheless the Government have reduced the number of fatal accidents. The noble Viscount talked with contempt of the figures, but they show a reduction of something over 12 per cent., and that during a period when there has been an increase in the number of cars on the road amounting to between 10 per cent. and 15 per cent. To suggest that we have done nothing is totally untrue and grossly unfair. I am sorry the point has been raised in this way, because I did not want to deal with that side of the matter at all. But in saying that 12 per cent. fewer have been killed than in the past, I do not want for a moment to be driven into the position of saying that the mere fact that fewer people are being killed in any way makes the position satisfactory. That is very far from the attitude of His Majesty's Government.

Perhaps I might now turn to the Question which is actually before the House. The reason why I am answering this Question and not the representative of the Ministry of Transport is that this Committee was, in conjunction with the Minister of Transport, first appointed by my noble friend Lord Halifax when he was President of the Board of Education, and the Report deals specifically with the question as it relates to children. It was recognised in that Report, as indeed it was recognised from the beginning by my noble friend who appointed the Committee, that there are questions connected with children that inevitably bear on the whole problem of road deaths and injuries. The right reverend Prelate gave your Lordships certain figures. In every case those figures are absolutely accurate, and in no way did he exaggerate the appalling gravity of the situation. For what it is worth I can tell the right reverend Prelate that last year the figures showed a reduction of just over 100, bringing the total down to 1,146. Again I do not think those figures can afford us any degree of satisfaction with the situation. The only interest of the reduction is that the figures give us some slight indication of the efficiency of the methods by which we are attempting to deal with this problem, and whether those methods are in any way satisfactory or are related to the facts and needs of the situation. Although a reduction has been brought about, it is clear that what has been done in the past is not satisfactory and is not sufficient.

Therefore we turn to the Report which is now before your Lordships and the country and look at its recommendations. First of all we have the general question of the more drastic treatment of motorists. I think that noble Lords generally have shown a very clear appreciation of the fact that there are people on the roads at the moment who simply cannot be treated as responsible people. This matter has been before His Majesty's Government before, and it must continue to be before them. The question I am referring to is whether the treatment that is at present meted out, not by His Majesty's Government but by the Courts in the country, is sufficiently severe, and whether the machinery of the particular Courts is the most suitable for dealing with this problem. That is a question which must be considered by the Government when they review the matter as a whole and not merely the aspects of it which are dealt with in this particular Report.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, and I think the right reverend Prelate also, made the point that certain people say and think that in many cases it is the children's fault. As the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, said, that is an utterly ridiculous remark. We know perfectly well what children are. The right reverend Prelate used the word "impulsive" in reference to children. Which of your Lordships does not want the children of England to be impulsive? Of course they are impulsive, and we all hope that they will continue to be so. But, for that reason I was very glad that tremendous stress was placed on the importance of the proper and adequate provision of playgrounds. There is no doubt that a great number of children receive their injuries while playing in the streets. Where else can many of them play at present? A good deal has been done quite lately to increase the number of playgrounds, and I can tell your Lordships that my right honourable friend, the President of the Board of Education, has notified local authorities, particularly in congested areas, that he is prepared to give very special consideration in the matter of assisting them to make proper provision of playgrounds.

Then there is the question of existing playgrounds, as to whether they are fully used, and whether it might be possible, as has been done in some areas, to keep the playgrounds open in the evenings. There is also the general question of play centres in the existing playgrounds which, I think, demands very careful consideration. There is further the question of whether we cannot increase the actual protection to children in the neighbourhood of schools. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who mentioned the new power that has been given by local authorities to adults to carry a notice with the words "Stop! Children crossing" and to operate that notice with the local authorities behind them. In addition to that there is the question of barriers along the side of footpaths. Again, my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Education has notified authorities that he is prepared to consider special assistance for them.

One noble Lord mentioned the question of bicycles. It may be rather a trivial matter, but undoubtedly some accidents are caused as the result of bicycles being in a defective condition. Therefore steps are being taken to see that bicycles are kept in proper order, and are subjected to overhaul. Those are comparatively small points, I know. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, apparently has not much faith in the power of adults to impress the importance of this problem on the children themselves, but I do not think that is quite borne out by the experience that we have already had in certain areas where teachers and authorities and parents have acted in this matter. I think some good has been done in that way. We are taking every step possible to bring this question to the notice of teachers, parents and authorities. No fewer than 55,000 copies of this Report have already been circulated free—50,000 to teachers, and the other 5,000 to chief constables and highway authorities.

I think the right reverend Prelate also asked what was being done with regard to the setting up of children's safety committees. The Report is only just out but already local authorities have been circularised by the Minister of Transport. I do not think any committees have actually been set up, but the setting up of a great number is at present under discussion between the county councils and the local authorities, and steps are being taken to encourage local authorities to do that. I can also tell your Lordships that the County Councils' Association has already officially taken the matter up, and is urging all its constituent bodies to adopt the Report, One particularly interesting and valuable thing about these committees which gives me very great pleasure is their constitution. It is quite natural that highway authorities, the education authorities, the police and the teachers should be represented, but in addition to that it is proposed that those concerned with parks and open spaces should also be represented, and in my own view those people will be an important and valuable addition to the composition of these safety committees.

There is only one more point I would mention. If your Lordships have the Report and will turn to page 36 you will see a diagram showing the time of day at which road accidents take place. There are approximately three accident peaks. One is between the hours of eight and nine, another between twelve and two, and a third between four and five. It is pretty high until seven o'clock. It is quite clear that the highest incidence of accidents is between twelve o'clock and one o'clock and between four o'clock and five o'clock. In both cases the figure is thirty-nine. Those are the times when children come bursting out of school on to the streets. It is very high at mid-day, and I am rather surprised therefore not to find in the Report any suggestion of the importance of local authorities endeavouring to encourage children to stay at school by providing canteens for mid-day meals. In the thirteen day period you have thirty-nine children killed during the dinner hour. That teems to me a very relevant point, and one which most certainly should be considered and will be considered by my Department.

I think I have covered the main points raised during this debate. This is a problem which no one in this country, not even the Government—although I know my noble friend Viscount Cecil suspects us of it—can for a moment think of with complacency. It is a problem that has got to be tackled. It is a problem that has been tackled and is being tackled, but I want to give an assurance that if there are any further suggestions which your Lordships or anyone else can make, His Majesty's Government will consider them, not merely in the spirit of the old-fashioned Governmental consideration, but with a real intention and desire to find if there is, in fact, anything more that can be done to deal with what has properly been described as the appalling slaughter on the roads.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Earl for his reply, not only because of the information he has given, but because he has made it plain that the Government do regard the problem as an important one. The figures he has given us show that there has been some reduction in the numbers of children killed on the roads, but, as he himself said, the reduction is so small that we cannot regard it with much satisfaction. There are still 1,100 children killed year by year on the roads. I hope that the Government will try every kind of experiment to reduce this appalling, useless and pathetic slaughter of children on the roads. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.