HL Deb 08 December 1937 vol 107 cc374-418

THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER had given Notice that he would call attention to the continued high rate of casualties on the roads and ask His Majesty's Government what further steps they propose to take to reduce the number of these accidents; and move for Papers. The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I feel I need hardly make an apology for bringing this problem once again before the House. It is quite true that certain aspects of it were debated about a fortnight ago, but the results then were negative, and the problem is so vast, touching the lives and happiness of every class of the community, that it is almost impossible for administrators and legislators to spend too much time and thought in trying to find a solution to it. This is indeed a major problem; it is one of the greatest of our domestic problems.

Let me remind you once again of the actual facts of the case. Every day on an average on the roads there are twenty who are killed and 600 injured. During the typhoid epidemic at Croydon—and we all have great sympathy with that town for the anxiety it is passing through—seventeen have died so far and there have been 267 cases. The Press has been full of this epidemic, but day by day twenty people are killed on the road and 600 injured with practically no notice in the Press or elsewhere. Annually there are 6,000 killed and over 200,000 injured—that is to say, in a year there are more killed than soldiers were killed in the whole of the Boer War. There is an interesting comment made by Trevelyan in his history of the reign of Queen Anne. He is talking of the outcry in England at the losses recorded—very heavy, 600, I think, killed—at the Battle of Malplaquet, and he comments on this: Our humane and enlightened generation slaughters ten times as many every year on its roads in time of peace. Take the official figures for ten years—the figures which were given in another place. These figures show that in ten years ending December last year 66,000 were killed and nearly 2,000,000 injured on the roads.

These figures are nothing less than appalling, and their horror is increased if we bear in mind two other facts. A large number of those who are killed on the roads are quite young. On an average every day two children are killed on the roads, and in the year something like 50,000 children are either killed or injured. Not quite 20 per cent. of the total number of casualties consist of children who are under the age of fifteen. Then there is another fact to remember. Quite apart from the actual deaths and injuries, there are the misery and unhappiness and anxiety caused by these casualties. There is the agony of the parents who have lost their children, and there is the ever-haunting anxiety which presses upon parents when they send their children off to school not knowing whether they will return whole and sound. It is, I think, somewhat ominous that we pay so little attention to these casualties of the road. In the Totalitarian State we know that the life of the individual is regarded as something of very little value, and a tendency to minimise the importance and value of the individual is, I think, affecting us in our own country in the widespread indifference which is shown to these appalling casualties on the road. It is almost an anticlimax to turn from these figures and to recall for the moment the financial losses to the nation. It has been estimated by Mr. Vernon, in his book on "Road Accidents and their Prevention," that the casualties annually cost the nation over£20,000,000, without including the cost of policing the roads, and it is estimated that the annual cost to the hospitals is something over£300,000.

I think these figures make it quite plain that we are not dealing with a matter merely of departmental interest. We are dealing with a gigantic national problem. Of course I recognise most fully that much already has been done in an attempt to educate people, especially children, in habits of safety first, and also that much has been done in the way of precautions on the roads and elsewhere. I am not for a moment making an attack on those who have held the office of Minister of Transport. They have shown energy, they have introduced a good deal of legislation, they have made a number of exhortations, and they have issued a number of regulations; and I think they can say, quite fairly, that if they had not taken these actions the present position would have been much worse. It is true, I think, to say that the casualty roll has not increased in proportion to the additional number of motor cars placed upon the roads. But that, after all, is small comfort. The figures for this year show that 200 more have been killed on the roads than in the corresponding period of last year, and in any case it is a poor consolation to feel that notwithstanding all these efforts there are still killed on the roads annually over 6,000 and that over 200,000 are injured.

I am therefore asking the Government to tell us what further steps they propose to take in dealing with this problem. I am genuinely asking a question to-day. A large number of people in the country are very anxious about the position and they are wondering whether the Ministry to-day have got a clear cut policy as to what they propose to do to reduce the casualties on the road. All of us recognise that the problem is extremely difficult and it is impossible to suggest any one clear-cut solution, but there is general anxiety to know what further steps the Government propose to take in this matter. I would especially ask for information on three matters. I would ask the Government what they propose to do about the roads. At one time the emphasis was very largely laid on the individual motorist. I think I at one time would have done that myself. But I believe that increasingly it is now felt that the key of the position is to be found in the roads. Our roads are still largely eighteenth century roads which were constructed for horse traffic, coaches, pedestrians, cattle, which were used for service between the different towns and villages. Roads which at one time carried twelve vehicles an hour now have to carry over two hundred and sometimes a very much higher figure. It is now recognised, and has been recognised for some time, that these roads are not equal to the tremendous demands made upon them by this new invention of the motor car.

Therefore for some time past a great deal has been done to improve the roads. Roads have been widened, very often footpaths have been made by the side, roundabouts have been constructed, and so on. But notwithstanding all this there is a good deal of anxiety as to whether this improvement of existing roads is really going to solve the problem. I think criticism comes from three directions. There are some who say that the present method of improving existing roads is very costly. Many county councils are anxious about the heavy financial burden which is placed upon them even with the assistance of the State. There are many who feel that this method of widening and improving existing roads is too costly. Of course I am dependent upon others for the accuracy of these figures, but I am told that to improve an existing road costs£100,000 a mile while it costs half that to make a new road. It is no wonder, if that is so, that there are questionings by local authorities as to whether our present method of improving roads is the best way of meeting the present situation.

Here, for instance, is a characteristic criticism. It comes from the finance committee of one of our county councils: It might be suggested for instance that the construction of a few new roads or the improvement of a few of the old ones in the right situations with some reasonable method of directing traffic along the lines intended might solve the problem at very much less cost than that involved in improving every road which is found to he overloaded under the haphazard conditions up to now permitted. And there are others who are very doubtful whether the improved roads in a few years time will be adequate to the increasing traffic. Traffic on our English roads is very great indeed. It is greater than it is in most other countries. While in the United States there are eight cars for every mile, and four in France and Germany, we have fifteen for each mile. The Minister of Transport, I notice, stated the other day that in fifteen years the traffic on our roads would be doubled. I think it would be a real disaster if, after all this money has been spent on the roads, after trees have been cut down, the beauty of the country lanes destroyed, the hedges levelled and cottages swept out of the way, in a few years time we should be told that this is all inadequate and that we must start afresh. It would be far better now to have a long-term policy as to what is to be done.

But the most serious criticism—and this is the criticism that I want to stress—is that the improvement of existing roads is not really reducing the casualities upon them. I think many of us must have been somewhat surprised when the Minister said the other day that only three out of every two hundred accidents on the roads were caused by faulty roads. That is a very striking statement. I wonder if he meant by that that all the roads were so perfect that nothing more could be done to make them safe, or whether the stress was on existing roads and that at the back of his mind was the thought of another system of roads. I notice that the County Engineer of Surrey says that only 1.2 per cent. of accidents is due to the faulty construction of the roads, and the Hampshire County Surveyor goes a good deal further. He says that just over two-thirds of the total accidents were due to careless driving, including overtaking on the straight and cutting-in across other vehicles, and that there was an increased proportion compared with that of the previous year, when it was just over half. This class of accident seems to increase as road conditions are improved, and in many cases it appears to be due to vehicles being driven beyond their proper and manageable speed. It looks as if the cause was this: the more you improve a road the faster is the traffic upon that road. Fast traffic by itself is not necessarily dangerous. It is dangerous when that road is used for all kinds of other traffic. When the road is used for pedestrians, cattle, horse-drawn traffic and slow motor cars and vans, it may be very dangerous if it is also used for fast traffic.

If that is the case it looks as if the Minister has certain alternatives. The first is to say that fast traffic is dangerous and therefore we must impose a universal speed limit. Personally I doubt whether that is within practical politics. I believe it would meet with great opposition and a whole army of additional police would have to attempt to see that it was enforced. The other alternative is to say: Create some new roads which are especially intended for fast through motor traffic; on those roads cars can go fast without a speed limit, while on the other roads for mixed traffic there must be a speed limit. This is, of course, the policy which has been adopted in Germany and Italy. I know that conditions in those countries are very different from those in our own country, and I am not advocating that the German or the Italian policy should be adopted wholesale. But here is a matter on which I am very anxious for information. What does the Minister propose to do? Is he satisfied with the policy of trying to improve existing roads? Does he believe that that will definitely reduce the rate of accidents upon them; or is he proposing to adopt a long-term policy of specially-constructed roads for fast through motor traffic?

Now I turn briefly to two other points. It will be noticed that the majority of the accidents take place in those areas where there is a speed limit. No doubt this is due to the fact that those are overcrowded areas in which the pavements are crammed with people, a large number of roads run one into the other, and children frequently cross them. It is, however, disconcerting to find that the thirty-mile speed limit is not as generally observed as it used to be at first. When the speed limit was first adopted, from all sides there came reports that there had been almost a sensational fall in the number of casualties. The Commissioner of Police for London said that the casualties had fallen by 50 per cent. compared with the casualties of the previous three months. This, however, is no longer true. The speed limit is very widely ignored. Every one of your Lordships knows that when you are driving through a place where there is a speed limit and you are observing it yourself, almost certainly you will be passed by some other person driving rapidly and hooting offensively. The other day one such car passed me, and had to pull up within a short time because the lights were against it. I asked the man why he was travelling so fast on this road where the speed limit was in force. He gave me the perfectly simple reply, "I suppose I was in a hurry." A number of people time after time quite deliberately ignore the thirty-mile speed limit. I do not know whether the Minister has any proposals to deal with this practice. I saw an account not long ago in one of the motor journals of a very simple device which can be switched on in any car so that when the car enters the thirty-mile speed limit it is prevented from exceeding that pace. I do not know whether the Minister is considering the enforcement of some such device on all cars, or at any rate upon some of the larger public cars.

Then there are the crossings. Where there are lights, these crossings are generally scrupulously observed, but they are generally not observed when there are neither lights nor police. Sometimes these crossings seem to be like death-traps and are really dangerous to cross. If any of your Lordships doubts that statement, I would suggest that at a busy time of the day he should use that crossing beside the Victoria Tower. He will need speed, agility and nerve to get to the other side safely. Here again we need more information about the enforcement of the law. A number of towns are anxious to have a speed limit lower than thirty miles an hour. It is generally reported that the Minister has discouraged such proposals. Here again, however, I am simply asking what steps the Minister proposes to take to enforce the existing restriction on speed in these various districts and towns.

My third question concerns action against the deliberate and persistent offender. I am not making any general attack on motorists. Most motorists are skilful, careful and considerate, but there is a small minority who simply are intolerable cads on the road; who, regardless of the safety of man or child, dash on their way, cutting round corners on the wrong side, cutting in at dangerous places, and driving utterly recklessly. What can be done to enforce penalties against people who misuse the roads in this kind of way? The road-hog is an obnoxious and dangerous animal and ought to be treated as such. People are generally deterred from crime because they know that they will probably be detected and probably be convicted if they are guilty, and they have a good idea of what the sentence will be. That is not true of offenders on the road. They will probably escape detection. If they are summoned, in one place they will possibly get off altogether, perhaps with a few words of warning or exhortation. In another place they will be sentenced. Then, in one place they will have a trivial sentence, in another place it may be quite disproportionate. There is no kind of certainty that a grievous offender will be convicted, and no kind of certainty of the punishment he will receive.

This is a serious matter. I do not want to weary your Lordships' House, but I could give you many instances of glaring discrepancies in the kind of sentence which has been passed on men who are apparently the same kind of offenders. I am not in the least pressing for penalties against the motorist who makes a genuine error of judgment. The most careful motorist may make an error of judgment. There are, however, men on the road, as we all know, who are perpetual, persistent and dangerous offenders. I believe that it would make the roads much safer if some of them could be dealt with sternly. Of course, I know that behind such measures there must be public opinion. A stiff sentence is only valuable when it is an expression of public opinion. Public opinion must itself condemn those who in this way misuse the road, and then a stiff sentence helps to educate others who cannot be educated by moral opinion.

These, then, are the main questions which I want to put to the Government. But I conic back to my central question. I am not so anxious for answers to any details I may have raised, but my central question is: What further steps are the Government going to take? Here we have a tragic position, and we want to know what further steps the Government propose to take in attempting to improve it. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, has an Amendment on the Paper. It is not of course a hostile Amendment in any kind of way. It asks for a Select Committee. I had at one time thought of drafting a Resolution asking for a Royal Commission, but it was pointed out to me by others who have much more experience than I have that even if a Royal Commission were appointed, that might mean that for the next two or three years, whenever we proposed anything in this House or elsewhere, we should he told that the matter was under consideration by the Royal Commission. I am told that a Select Committee can act quickly and in a most businesslike way. Therefore I hope the Government may see their way to accept Lord Newton's Amendment. But, whether it is accepted or not, I hope that the Government spokesman will now be able to give us a clear, full and comprehensive statement of what the Gov- ernment propose to do to reduce this unnecessary slaughter on the roads with all the unhappiness, misery and suffering which follow from it. I beg to move.

Moved, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the continued high rate of casualties on the roads. —(The Lord Bishop of Winchester.)

LORD NEWTON, in whose name stood an Amendment to the Motion—to leave out all the words after "That" and insert "a Select Committee be appointed to consider what steps should be taken to reduce the number of casualties on the roads"—said: My Lords, I have on the Paper an Amendment to the Motion of the right reverend Prelate, and I need hardly assure the House that it was intended in no hostile spirit. I am in complete agreement with what has fallen from the right reverend Prelate, as I expect is everybody here present to-clay. The only point upon which I may perhaps disagree with him is with regard to the form the inquiry should take. No doubt there is a difference of opinion upon that subject. I venture to express the view already alluded to by the right reverend Prelate with regard to the setting up of a Royal Commission. I have no extreme reverence for a Royal Commission. It sounds very important, but as a matter of fact a Royal Commission often turns out to be little better than a hollow sham. The method of constituting a Royal Commission is in itself self-destructive. The Government hunt about for some eminent person to act as Chairman. They then select members from among their supporters, and then find a certain number of make-weights in the shape of persons who are supposed to be impartial. The result is that you almost invariably have a Report which is not unanimous. There is nearly always a Minority Report, and if there is not the conclusion arrived at has been so watered down to suit different parties that the recommendations are of no great value.

Another objection to a Royal Commission is that it lasts such an interminable time, as a rule, that all interest in it has ceased when the time comes for it to report, and possibly its recommendations are already out of date. At a rough estimate I should say that at least 500 casualties would have occurred before it reported. I think that almost the same criticism applies to a Joint Committee. A Joint Committee, after all, is merely a Royal Commission on a smaller scale. But when you come to the other method, the method which I recommend, the circumstances are quite different. Everybody, however much he may dislike this House in principle, recognises that the Committees of this House are extremely efficient bodies, and they have this great recommendation, that they are composed of people who are quite independent, who are not worried by constituents, who do not represent any particular interest, and who vote according to their own judgment. Somehow or other—I do not know how it is done—they nearly always arrive at a correct solution with which very few people find fault.

Another great advantage of a Select Committee is that the members work very quickly, with no blaze of notoriety about them. They stick to their work, they are few in number, and therefore you can expect a sensible decision within a reasonable time. I venture to make this suggestion, that if my Amendment is accepted and a Select Committee is set up no person, such as myself, who has taken part in these numerous discussions, should be a member of the Committee. I cannot help thinking that my noble friend Lord Cecil of Chelwood will share my opinion. I do not think those who entertain our view ought to be represented. Neither do I think the motor industry ought to be represented in any prominent capacity. It ought not to be difficult, I think, to discover a suitable selection of people for this Committee. This House now numbers some 700 members, and it ought to be possible to arrive at half-adozen sensible people. If that is done I think we shall have taken a step of which everyone will approve. The recommendations of such a Committee will be satisfactory, and we shall have this advantage, that from the point of view of this country we do take a real and practical interest in a national scandal.

Amendment moved— Leave out all words after ("That") and insert ("a Select Committee be appointed to consider what steps should be taken to reduce the number of casualties on the roads.").—(Lord Newton.)


My Lords, I rise to support very cordially the two members of your Lordships' House who have spoken. We are greatly indebted to the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Winchester, for having raised this question. What strikes one most is the extraordinary public indifference to this terrible casualty list, and the reluctance that people seem to have to protest. Therefore I think it comes very well from your Lordships' House, that has the time and opportunity to discuss this matter, that it should be fully gone into as it is being gone into to-day. I was very glad that the right reverend Prelate made no reference whatever to the weight of responsibility for this heavy list of deaths and accidents which rests on one side with the motorists and on the other side with the pedestrians. It is a mistake, in my opinion, that any controversy should arise between these two sections of the community. That pedestrians are the greater number of victims there can be no question at all, but I do not think we shall advance very much towards anything like a solution of this question if we indulge in charges of blame on one side or on the other.

I would like to take the subjects raised by the right reverend Prelate in the order in which he introduced them. First of all the roads. I think he suggested that that was the key of the position, and I am afraid that in that I differ from him. I am perfectly sure that the key of this position is the human factor, and that that is what we have eventually to try to deal with. I have in my hand the official Report on the Causes of Fatal Accidents, which is not quite up to date, but I think it is the last that has been officially issued, and although the figures may be smaller than those in the Report which is going to be issued, I think the proportions and the findings of this Report are likely to be approximately the same. I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that it is clear on page 6 of this Report that the wider the road the more the accidents, and that it is in clear weather, not in foggy weather, that accidents occur. And therefore I doubt, with the right reverend Prelate, whether the road policy of His Majesty's Government at the present time is really a wise one. Is widening roads going to help if the wider road produces more accidents? Why are our country lanes being treated as the right reverend Prelate described them if by this means you are increasing accidents and destroying beauty?

There are comparatively few accidents in our country lanes. It is on these broad roads 20 to 30 feet in width that the accidents occur, and, if I may say so, the worship of speed is encouraged very much by the Government and by the Ministry of Transport. On the one hand they deplore the accidents, and on the other hand they invent means of increasing them, and it seems to me a contradictory policy and one that ought to be abandoned. Leave us our country lanes. Do not let us destroy our villages. Do not let us be so eager to pull down cottages and corners in villages in order to allow the motorist a quicker passage. I know myself a very difficult, rather perilous hill into a village which was supposed to be dangerous; it has now been widened, with a large open approach into the village. Before there were no accidents, because people were very careful going clown that hill. Since it has been reconstructed there have been several accidents. Actually in one village it was proposed to pull down the town hall in order to make a roundabout for motors!The town hall is a safeguard against accidents as it stands; a roundabout would be an invitation for cars to go whirling about destroying the villagers.

The right reverend Prelate then talked about the speed limit. I think that is a very difficult question. Hurry is undoubtedly the cause of accidents. Actual miles per hour may not be the cause of accidents. The enforcement of a speed limit is extremely difficult. There is a very instructive table in this Report showing that while 2,513 motor cars were involved in fatal accidents, if you add together the public conveyances and the vans and lorries you find that 2,730 of these were involved in accidents. And they have a speed limit imposed upon them automatically. What the right reverend Prelate says with regard to cars overtaking one on the roads when one is going at thirty miles an hour is very true, and I think your Lordships will have found that lorries and vans very often pass one, though their speed limit is thirty miles an hour. What always presents a very great difficulty for magistrates when these frequent cases of exceeding the speed limit are brought up before them, is that in so many cases the livelihood of the lorry driver is involved, and the fine or suspension of licence for him is a very much more severe punishment than it is for the private motor car owner. As to whether this device which was mentioned could be put permanently on these cars and lorries which in no case ought to exceed thirty miles an hour I do not venture to decide; but I do think that the roads are blocked very often by these very large vehicles, which act not only as obstructions but often as a danger in themselves.

The lights at crossings, where they exist, are a very great benefit. There is no question about that, and I think more should be put up in order to obviate the difficulty that still exists in places where these lights have not been set up. If I were to select a road which might be given as the best example of how motor traffic should not be controlled, I should take the Kingston By-pass. I think it is a magnificent example. People from abroad ought to come and see it to learn how not to construct a by-pass. It is one of the ugliest districts in the whole country, it is one of the most dangerous roads in the whole country, and its surface has in time past had to be continually altered. It is an encouragement to speeding, and yet there are danger points on it, and I believe that the percentage of accidents on it has increased. I myself always prefer to go through the town of Kingston. I think the third point that the right reverend Prelate brought out is one of very great importance, that is, the habitual offender. I feel that something might be done in that connection. They are a small minority, but I think they are responsible for a very great deal of the tragedy which we are discussing to-day. Some of them are known to the police, but they ought to be watched and followed on whatever road they go, their numbers should be taken, and they should not only have warnings but they should be restricted in one way or another.

There is one other point to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention, and that is the number of drivers of motor cycles given in this Report who were involved in accidents. Now the breadth of a road does not concern the motor cyclist at all—he can go along the narrowest road—and in this Report for 1935 923 motor cyclists are stated to have been involved in accidents. I still believe that we have not devised the right machine in the modern motor cycle. Its noisiness, its encouragement to speed, and the aptness of the driver to thread his way in dangerous traffic all make our roads very much more perilous. The motor cycle driver with his young lady behind may be inclined rather to show off, but he is careful, and the motor cyclist with sidecar with his wife and child no doubt is very careful, but the motor cyclist by himself is a danger to the public. I should like to ask the Minister who will reply whether he can give us statistics from foreign countries. It will be interesting for us to know more especially about Germany and France rather than about America, where they do everything on such a large scale that one feels that any comparison is impossible. In Germany and France, for instance, we should like very much to know what the proportion of fatal accidents and disablement injuries is during, say, the last few years in comparison with our own.

I do not feel that we are in measure-able distance of a solution of this problem. It is so easy to make these criticisms; it is so difficult to suggest a remedy. And that always happens in these debates. But I think the noble Lord, Lord Newton, is on very sound ground when he asks that some body should be set up, of complete impartiality, before which experts of every kind—associations of every kind and officials from the Ministry of Transport—can come and give evidence; a disinterested Committee which might be set up in the way the noble Lord has suggested. I consider that officials in the Ministry of Transport, labouring as they are day by day with the work of trying to solve these problems, are too near the picture to be able to give a really good judgment. You want impartiality. Of course, whoever serves on the Select Committee will probably be a motorist, and must be a pedestrian, so that that degree of impartiality cannot he expected; but I believe there are many of your Lordships who could serve on a Committee of that sort who are fully cognisant of the difficulties which would be set before them, and at the same time, with greater determination than the Government themselves seem to show at the present time, would really tackle this question in a way that would reduce the appalling number of accidents from which we now suffer.


My Lords, I rise to support the right reverend Prelate and also the noble Lord, Lord Newton, who has moved an Amendment. I am afraid I have troubled your Lordships very often on this subject, on which I feel very acutely, but I will only add this to this debate. Rightly did the right reverend Prelate point out that we ought to take an entirely new view of this road-deaths business from that which we have hitherto taken, for it is indeed shocking. He mentioned the South African War. The precise figures I have in my pocket. During the whole of that war, in which many of those I see around me took part, of officers and men 7,492 were killed in two and three-quarter years. During a similar period to-day we know that not fewer than 16,000 people are killed on the roads. It may be said that people now hold human life less sacred. They ought not to do that; but even if they do, without doubt the grief of parents is just the same as it was in the days of the South African War. All of us who know about these things know that these casualties are to be deplored because of the shattering blows to the homes of the people involved; mostly young people, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out.

I remember being summoned by Queen Victoria to see her at Osborne during the South African War in the early stages just before I went to that war. At the moment when I was there, a list of casualties was brought in, and I could not help seeing that the number was 23. That great lady turned, her eyes filled with tears, and said: "How sad. Let a telegram be sent to every one of their parents giving my personal condolence, grief, and sympathy with them." Yet it is worse now than it was then. The King and Queen of to-day, if they were to send telegrams to the parents of all the people killed on the roads, would have no time for anything else. Are we altogether bereft of any sense of balance? I see the most reverend Primate in his place, watching, as he always does, with wisdom over our proceedings. He has tried to call the hearts and conscience of the people to a return to religion. I submit to him, with deep respect, that he, who has an unrivalled power to speak, should appeal to the people of this country and say: "We will not have this killing on the roads any more. We can stop it, and we will stop it." For, be it observed, we know now we could, by a stroke of the pen, stop, not all, but a great proportion of these accidents on the roads. If they were inevitable, it would be no good talking, but we know they are not. For one thing, when the thirty-mile limit was imposed, almost at once the casualties dropped by 50 per cent. I have little doubt, and people who know more about it than I do agree, that if we adopted a twenty-mile limit for villages and towns, we would reduce the casualties by 60 or 70 per cent.

We know we can reduce these casualties, and yet nothing is done. This is no Party matter. I am anxious to support His Majesty's Government, but I do say that the Ministry of Transport are greatly to blame. Their whole policy is wrong. They say: "We have got to keep the traffic moving." I have heard that said again and again. There has been case after case, I can tell the noble Earl who will reply, where the local people have begged for a speed limit, which we now know would stop the accidents, and where the Ministry of Transport have refused. That is all wrong. I mentioned the last time I spoke a case where the Roads Committee of the place where I lived begged the Ministry of Transport to forbid double-decked omnibuses on the ground that they would be a danger in that particular area. The Ministry of Transport over-rode that Roads Committee, and I ask whoever is going to reply, when we have got these 6,000 or 7,000 people killed every year and nearly 250,000 injured, what possible justification can there be for the Government Department in charge of transport deliberately increasing the casualties by refusing to listen to the very proposals which would undoubtedly reduce them? Forgive me, my Lords, if I talk with some vehemence, because I have been brought into contact with so many accidents quite recently. I have seen families shattered by grief. It so happens that the noble Lord beside me, Lord Gainford, tells me that there were two fatal accidents only the other day close to his home, caused by people who were going too fast.

Finally, I submit this consideration In the days of fathers and grandfathers of all noble Lords present, it was a generally understood rule, which highway authorities laid down and on which magistrates acted throughout the country, that no one ought to drive—and these were horse-drawn vehicles—at a speed in excess of that which would enable him to pull up within the distance he could see. It was a well-known rule. That is why there were so few accidents then. Why not enforce that now? It is quite easy to do. The Ministry of Transport themselves have figures to show how quickly you can pull up a vehicle of a given weight going at a given speed. Yet, see the folly of the whole thing!Anybody can go to a shop to-day and buy for£10 or£15 a fast car that can do a good seventy miles an hour on the road; in fact that is why it is bought. But this "old thing" now has brakes which make it safe to drive at not more than thirty miles an hour.

Here is a suggestion to the Ministry of Transport. Let them go on to the Portsmouth Road—that is where the right reverend Prelate comes from—and stop, as they have the power to do, all the cars going at speed, say, over a period of an hour, and then see what brake power those cars have. Unless I am much mistaken they will find that in almost every case these cars going at forty, fifty and sixty miles an hour are oldish cars that do not comply with the old rule of not going faster than a speed at which they can be stopped within the distance that the driver can see. I believe 90 per cent. of them would be found in that condition. That, as we all know, is the most frequent cause of these accidents. You have to slow down this traffic to a point at which it can pull up in time when either a child or a cyclist or someone else unexpectedly gets in the way. I beg your Lordships very respectfully to support the Amendment. It would be a fine gesture if from this House there came a decision to stop this cruel slaughter on the roads.


My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Newton, remarked, I sincerely hope that the members on any special Committee set up would indeed be unbiased, because, as I listened to the speeches this afternoon, I have become more and more convinced that there is a great deal of bias and prejudice against the motorist. That is not fair, as is well borne out by figures given by the Commissioner of Police in his report on road accidents and their causes in 1936. He reported that vehicle drivers, excluding cyclists, involved in accidents were 34.9 per cent.; pedestrians 31.5 per cent., and cyclists 19 per cent. The casualty figures showed that 76 per cent. of the casualties were due to the fault of the pedestrian. A further statistic—I do not think this is from the Commissioner—is that the accident rate per 10,000 cars was lower during 1936 than it has been in any of the preceding ten years, and that there were twenty-three accidents per 10,000 motor cars in 1936 as opposed to thirty-three in 1934. It goes without saying that the increase of motor cars upon the roads during this period was phenomenal. That being so, it becomes fairly evident that the motorist is approximately one-third responsible for this trouble, and, in spite of the greater congestion on the roads, it also seems that the individual motorist is becoming less and less to blame, which is at least satisfactory.

There is no man or woman in the country who is not gravely concerned about this death roll, and no one wishes it put right more than the motorist. Tremendous efforts have been made but with very poor success. I think that partly the trouble has been due to the timorous and very half-hearted manner in which the problem has been tackled. Speed limits have been imposed, with a story of results that we all know too well. Like, perhaps, many of the provisions of the Defence of the Realm Act, these provisions are made to be broken not only by criminals but by innocent and law-abiding citizens. Furthermore, these safety limits are very largely falsely conceived, for, contrary to some of the expressions of your Lordships, speed is not necessarily synonymous with danger. To restrict speed is without question to stem scientific progress, and that, I think, is something which no Government has ever yet been able to achieve. It would be a national disaster if any Government did achieve it, but I do not think any Government ever could achieve it.

The right reverend Prelate suggested that some form of gadget might be fitted to a motor car which might be put into operation when that car came into a thirty-mile limit area to restrict its speed while in that area to thirty miles an hour. I am afraid there would be very serious drawbacks to such an instrument. The first, an interesting one, would be that it would so reduce the power of the vehicle that should there happen to be a hill within the thirty-mile limit area the car would almost certainly come to a standstill, and the driver would, presumably, be prosecuted for obstruction. The second point about it is that it would in a way be similar to the existing lighting regulations which compel us to have some form of dimming device, but no one can make a man use it, and I do not see who is going to compel the driver to turn on the switch or press the button that would be necessary if the suggestion of the right reverend Prelate were to be adopted.

Instead of listening to schemes which depend upon the impossible for their success and, therefore, must be doomed to failure, I suggest that the problem should be tackled from the larger and basic point of view. If there must be a special Commission, which there should be, let it confine its attention to the road system. The total revenue from motor taxation is£75,000,000. Of this£25,000,000 goes to the roads. The road expenditure is approximately£55,000,000, so that the unfortunate ratepayers have to provide the balance of£30,000,000. If the Road Fund as it was originally intended was in reality a road fund, would it not be possible to use the money which the road users pay in order to make better roads, which would be synonymous with more safety? An enormous road development scheme is the only certain way of securing safety on our roads, and it should be tackled by the Ministry of Transport under the leadership of a Minister who would, perhaps, be a non-Party Minister, and who would not be removed from his job, or run the risk of being removed from his job, just so soon as he has got his teeth into it. He should also have large powers, almost dictatorial powers, because the expenditure which the Minister would have to undertake in repairing the roads for this increased traffic, and for the safety which we are aiming at, would be enormous.


My Lords, I think your Lordships' House and the country as a whole will welcome a debate of this character, and if it is not impertinent I should like to thank both the mover of the Motion and the mover of the Amendment and to congratulate them on the very moderate terms in which they expressed themselves. The debate reflects, I think, the desire in your Lordships' House for some constructive action without further delay. Something should be done to deal with this terrible toll of casualties which is taking place almost hourly in the country. At present the road system of this country fails lamentably to provide that margin of safety which is the right of the pedestrian, the cyclist and the motorist, which is in fact the right of the public generally, a right to which they are justly entitled. Substantial amelioration of the present position is necessary, because a reduction can be and should be made in the number of road accidents. Just as we have learned to build motor cars as the safest, speediest, handiest and smoothest modern vehicles, so must the country's energy be directed to the construction of roads suitable for this new twentieth century wonder form of travel.

Some countries are boldly facing the difficulties of this new invention. It fell to my lot to be a member of a delegation from this country which visited Germany to inspect the roads in that country. We were shown everything there. Special guides were appointed to go with us, and experts were there to explain the system of road construction. No fewer than fifty-seven members of your Lordships' House and another place were included in that delegation, and amongst the delegates there were also representatives of, I think, every county council in this country as well as surveyors and others connected with various phases of road construction and management. I would like, if I may be permitted to do so, to thank the authorities of Germany for the trouble which they took to furnish us with information which undoubtedly will be of much value to us in this country. Moreover, I welcome the hospitality which was shown us. The visit will no doubt help to bring about understanding between the two countries and promote good will, which is not bounded by territorial frontiers or even by political sovereignties. I think from that aspect the visit was a very good thing for us as well as for our German neighbours.

It would appear from speeches which have been made in this debate that some noble Lords seem to feel that restrictions and hampering methods in regard to the use of motor vehicles, and the infliction of harsh penalties even in cases perhaps of pure accidents, would help to improve the situation. I think that history shows that hampering or endeavouring to restrict the development of anything new has never worked satisfactorily. Reference has been made to the idea that the better the road the more accidents there are. I venture to disagree entirely with that assertion. Hitherto when roads have been widened in this country there have been two lines of traffic moving in opposite directions. Under the new system of road construction it should be impossible to have a head-on collision. The only kind of accident which should be possible on new roads with suitable fly-overs and crossings is the overtaking accident which will become more and more rare as the skill of road users increases. In early times we had pack horses and panniers with no roads and few paths. Then we developed the creaking and rumbling wheel, and with that came rough tracks and roads. When the steam engine came we immediately made it our business to provide tracks solely for that form of traffic. What has been done with regard to the motor car? Practically nothing has been done that is adequate. There has been merely a development and expansion of old methods.

It is time to branch out on new lines to meet the needs of new traffic. Simply on humanitarian grounds—and they should he very strong grounds—it is necessary that definite and immediate action should be taken. I cannot see how we can contemplate with complacency a policy of laisser faire, or perhaps I should say laisser mourir. It is really impossible to allow present conditions to continue. Striking figures have been quoted to your Lordships, and I do not want to repeat them. It is clear, I think, that a large number of accidents do arise from lack of courtesy, from impatience, and because one driver declines to give way to another. Exhortations, restrictions and punitive methods are not, in my judgment, enough to deal with that situation. Many different methods must be employed to remedy the difficulty. Undoubtedly one of the things which most needs atten- tion is the question of road starvation. As the noble Duke who has just sat down pointed out, some£75,000,000 a year is raised by motor taxation and petrol duties, but only£25,000,000 of that sum reaches the roads and improvement of roads. It is a great complaint on the part of county councils—I have the honour to represent the County Councils' Association—that sufficient money is not made available to them from central sources. I believe there is a kind of cat-and-dog struggle now for the money taken from motorists in order that some reasonable amount may be made available to the Ministry of Transport. This struggle between the Treasury and the Ministry of Transport continues more or less all the time. I would urge that a larger proportion of the money directly taken from the pockets of motorists and road users should be made available for improvements on the roads in this country.

There is no single source of action which will provide a remedy to get rid of these fatalities and casualties, but I would like to suggest that education and propaganda can do much, especially among the young, to create road sense. Again, certain improvements on the roads are unquestionably required. Complaint is made of telegraph poles by the roadside, and in reply it is said that a telegraph pole cannot possibly hit anyone. Nevertheless in many places telegraph poles are a great cause of danger and are directly responsible for accidents that have taken place. Then there is the question of footpaths and of insisting on the use of footpaths wherever suitable footpaths exist. But these are really minor palliatives. What we want to do is to deal with the matter on altogether bolder lines. The world, we know, has to pay, and always has had to pay, an enormous price for progress. We have seen that not only in regard to transport by road but equally in regard to aviation.

It is necessary to face the fact that construction of highways should be taken in hand. Vehicle density in this country is very high. I believe there are on the roads in this country 15½vehicles—if you can have half a vehicle—per mile and that 63.1 per cent. of those vehicles are on Class r roads, while in Germany there are 91 vehicles per mile on all the roads. That does seem to show, if those figures are correct, that we have a very special problem in that already our roads are carrying a far greater density of traffic per mile than is the case in other countries. Dual carriageways, I venture to suggest, are very important, and so also is the segregation of traffic, in the reduction of accidents. The great new highways which have been built more or less experimentally have resulted in Germany in general accidents being reduced by six-sevenths or 80 per cent. approximately. The motorist also gains in other ways. His costs per mile are reduced owing to the smoothness of the road and the absence of steep hills, and in other ways, such as the relief of congestion on all the old highroads which have been used hitherto. Something like 50 per cent. of the traffic of the old main roads has been taken by the new main through roads—which, as I have pointed out, are only "through" in that they go from one end of the country to another; they do not go through the town or bring traffic into the neighbourhood of the town.

If, then, the prophecies which some of the gloomy Jeremiahs are beginning to make about a trade slump and more unemployment mature—as I certainly hope they will not—then road building will be one method of keeping men in employment, not only in the making of embankments and the manufacture of cement but also in giving employment to unskilled labour. In my judgment it would not be necessary to build great labour camps, because distances are relatively so short in this country that labour could be taken to the points at which the roads are being constructed. I would urge that as soon as possible a survey be made of our needs so that we may see what the problem really is and try to bring about a greater measure of coordination. I do not know the attitude of the Government towards the appointment of a Select Committee. I hope very much that this will not be a way of sidetracking the problem or shutting the door towards action. Judging from the correspondence which has reached me, every kind of inquiry has been held that can usefully be held and every kind of statistic is more or less available, either in police reports or in other forms, and any sort of Select Committee would be more a side-tracking of the difficulties or a failure to face them than a real service to the community. Many of your Lord- ships in this House are, I think, profoundly dissatisfied with the present position, and we shall continue to press for every reasonable and practicable step to provide a greater measure of safety for all classes of the travelling public.


My Lords, I should like to emphasise what the noble Lord who has just sat down said about the dangers of delay. If I were convinced that the noble Lord, Lord Newton, had stirred the Government and that his Select Committee would not in any way give them a chance of hiding behind it or waiting to see what the Committee said before doing anything, I should certainly welcome it. One of the things which I am sure the Select Committee would do, however, would be to prove the truth of what noble Lords have said this afternoon: that the motorist is not the only nigger in the wood-pile. I was particularly sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, after saying how fortunate it was that no attack had been made on any class of road user, made at the end of his remarks a grossly unfair attack on motor cyclists. He quoted figures which I have no doubt were accurate but which, if they are, merely show that the accident percentage of motor cyclists is lower than the accident percentage of motor car drivers. He emphasised the danger of the sports motor cycle. I have heard here emphasised the danger of the sports car driver, and I am quite convinced that the sports car driver is the more dangerous of the two. The motor cyclist is essentially more mobile, he comes to a stop much more easily, and the manufacturers have not yet made motor cycles capable of the speeds that motor cars can and do attain. I cannot help feeling that that attack was most unfortunate.

Quite another question is also disturbing me. The late Minister of Transport recognised' the inadequacy and danger of the present roads. The present Minister apparently does not. He has expressed himself as satisfied with the present conditions. His whole attitude is indeed somewhat contradictory, because he is going on with the division of roads into two tracks and thereby making them safer, whereas I gather that they are already in his estimation as safe as they can be. I am not, therefore, quite sure what his real policy is. But he makes curious statements. He apparently bases his belief on a calculation that only three in every two hundred accidents, as the right reverend Prelate said, were caused by faulty road construction. That, to my mind, is a manifestly inaccurate figure, and I cannot help wondering where he gets it from. I believe it comes from reports made by local police constables, who are asked to fill in the answers to three questions about road conditions. To start with, the local police constable, although he is reasonably intelligent, cannot be expected to have the training and knowledge to say whether the condition of the road for a quarter of a mile or possibly half a mile on either side of the accident had anything to do with the accident or not. The only thing to do is to take the report made by someone who is really qualified to talk.

The only real investigation of which I know was made by the County Surveyor of Oxford, to whom we ought to be much indebted for his figures. He bases them on 148 fatal accidents that took place in four years, and says that three out of every four accidents would not have taken place had the roads been designed and constructed in accordance with a reasonable interpretation of the Minister of Transport's Memorandum on the lay-out and construction of roads. I am quite sure that the present Minister of Transport would not have the nerve to suggest that the roads are already laid out in accordance with that Memorandum. It is also a curious fact, reported by the same gentleman, that when one road was altered to conform with the instructions of that Memorandum, the accident ratio was reduced by 44 per cent. That just shows what can be done by getting the roads into the right state.

We have, however, to go rather further than that. We have to realise that, now that the motorist has been ordered and regulated until there are so many offences that he can commit that it is almost impossible for him to go through the day without committing one, it is time that other road users consented of their own free will to regulation as well. The pedestrian in busy thoroughfares should cross at the places supplied for him and respect the light signals which the motorists has to respect. Similarly, the cyclist should use the special tracks provided for him. Before, however, he can be expected to do that, those tracks must be made reasonable. At the present moment they are too, narrow. There is room for two cyclists to ride abreast, and if a third one wants to pass he cannot do so unless one of the other two moves up. When you get large cycling clubs, thirty or forty in number, riding two abreast, it means that anybody who gets behind has got to stay there until the cycling club moves off or comes to the end of its journey. It is not playing the game by cyclists to expect them to go on the track under those conditions.

Teaching could also do a lot, and should be adopted not only for children but for grown-ups. I wonder when we shall succeed in teaching the pedestrian that the rule for safety on the road is the very simple one of the ordinary order of marching. When a soldier marches he starts off—left, right. When you start off walking you should start off in the same way, and if you walk on the right side of the road and on the left side of the pavement, then you will never put yourself in jeopardy, nor put somebody else in jeopardy. You will walk farthest away from the traffic when you have got your back to it, and when you are facing it you will be nearest to it. Whether it is in the power of the Government to face up to the fact that one or two votes may be lost by compelling people to adopt a reasonable attitude I do not know, but after all they risk losing the votes of some hundreds of thousands of motorists, and I do not think they will lose the votes of many more cyclists or pedestrians by making them act reasonably too.


My Lords, it is with the greatest deference that I address you for the first time, but I would like to say one or two things on this subject, and I would like to align myself with the noble Lord who has just spoken, and also with my noble friend the Duke of Richmond. I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, is not in the House, because I was going to refer to one or two statements that he made with which I entirely disagree. To start with Lord Mottistone laid great emphasis upon the dangers created by motorists. I am quite certain that if he were the driver of a public utility vehicle he would be terrified at his responsibility to his passengers, when the most extraordinary things happen in front of him, owing to the action of a pedestrian or of a silly young man on a bicycle, and so on. If your Lordships have ever driven with a lot of passengers, and somebody has walked in front of you when you are going upon your lawful occasion on the highway, at a speed well within the legal maximum, you will understand what I mean. You have to be responsible not only to somebody who suddenly walks off the pavement without looking, but also to your passengers. You instinctively swerve and are pushed into another car coming the other way, while the pedestrian just walks back on to the pavement and disappears in the crowd. I suggest that the whole responsibility is in the first place on somebody who walks off and gets away with it.

I think the suggestion of a Select Committee is a very good thing, but I do hope that it will be unbiased—not only unbiased from the point of view of the motorist or the pedestrian, but also, I would venture to suggest, without any influence from the railways, because, to-day, after listening to debates in this House and also reading the debates in another place, I feel that there is a great antipathy to motorists coming from railway sources. I am a motorist, and I am also, perforce, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, a pedestrian. I also use the railways, and I feel that a lot ought to be done for the railways, for it would help the motorists if the railways took over much of the heavy traffic now on the roads, and they, the railway interests, did not always try to stop road development. I do not wish to take up your Lordships' time, but I hope the House will support a Select Committee, so long as it is completely unbiased and fair play is given to all sections of road users, and its work is on the basis of endeavouring to secure the best equality for all road users.


My Lords, I would like to support the Motion of the right reverend Prelate, and to congratulate the noble Duke upon his very constructive and maiden speech. We had a debate last week on a similar subject, and after listening to it I had to feel that perhaps not everything had been done that could be done in this very serious matter. In fact I think it was Lord Newton who said that he had listened to a great number of debates in this House, and that in almost every case he had gone away with a profound feeling of depression. I am glad to say that I cannot subscribe to those views in every respect, but I must say that after last week's debate I was left with a sense of depression. After listening to the debate to-day, however, I feel that there is some hope.

The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, in the debate last week and again in the debate to-day, has mentioned a case in which the Roads Committee of the Isle of Wight has been overruled by the Ministry of Transport in regard to a case in which an omnibus was going down certain roads. It seemed to me that the attitude of the Ministry was quite correct. Surely we must build our roads to take the traffic, and not try to build our traffic to take the roads. I suggest that we have got to look at the facts. We are living in an age of speed, and whatever may be said we cannot put the clock back, but must legislate not only for the speeds of to-day but for the speeds of to-morrow. We must build our roads so that high speeds and rapid communication can be assured with the utmost safety.

I regret that I was not fortunate enough to he a member of the Parliamentary group which visited Germany recently to study the road system of that country, but I have seen sonic of the results, having had an opportunity last year of looking at the roads themselves, and in my opinion they are far in advance of anything which we have in this country. I think these new German motor ways can best be described as resembling the highest class of main line railway engineering, differing only in having a somewhat steeper gradient, but well within the capacity of any motor vehicle now manufactured. As is no doubt well known to your Lordships, pedestrians, pedal cyclists and animals are excluded from these roads, but there is no hardship, because the existing public roads remain available for such traffic and are carried over or under the new motor ways. In short, these roads are designed on a similar system to our main line railway tracks, and I can assure your Lordships, from practical experience as a driver of an express train from London to Manchester during the General Strike, that I felt far safer on the footplate of an engine than I do at the wheel of a car on the main roads to-day. I should like to suggest that this principle of motorways should be adopted in Great Britain and that a plan be prepared forthwith for a national scheme of motorways.

May I be permitted to remind your Lordships that in the General Election of 1935 a five-year plan for the roads was proposed and the amount that was to be made available was£100,000,000, and on May 6 in another place the Minister of Transport stated that in the two years since that plan was started approximately£10,000,000 had been expended. It seems to me therefore that there is the very large sum of£90,000,000 yet to be expended on the five-year plan. I trust that His Majesty's Government intend to honour that pledge, and that a portion of the money will be devoted to the construction of motorways. I fully appreciate that it may be necessary to modify somewhat the plan and the amount of money for this purpose, in view of our very large rearmament expenditure, but I hope that every effort will be made to form perhaps an advisory committee in order to arrive at the best plan of producing the new motorways in this country.


My Lords, I rise for a few minutes only to try to emphasise one or two points. I think it may fairly be said that the roads in Great Britain as a whole to-day are in first-class condition. A great deal of work has been done during the last ten years to improve them, but with the ever-increasing motor transport I feel strongly that a large number of the main roads are not now large enough to accommodate the modern traffic. During the last two years we have been faced with a very large bill for rearmament which, I fully agree, must come first; but as funds permit I hope that the Government will push ahead with this important work on the arterial roads and that they will consider the making of subways, overhead bridges, or time-operated traffic lights for pedestrians to get across.


My Lords, I wish to tender my thanks to the right reverend Prelate for introducing this subject and introducing it in such an all-embracing and moderate statement of the case. I have another reason why I wish to thank him, because I think it is time the Bishops took rather more active steps in this matter, if they will allow me to say so without impertinence. This is a great national evil. It really is a shocking state of things, whoever is to blame, that we should look on and see thousands of people killed and hundreds of thousands injured every year, and nobody seems to care about it. I think it is a case where the leaders of the Church might perhaps be of great assistance in order to wake up the nation to the fact of this great evil. I do not quite agree, though it has been said very often, that the public are indifferent. I have some ground for thinking that in the country districts at any rate—I cannot speak of the towns from personal knowledge—there is very great indignation. They feel that it is a shocking thing that people they have known intimately should be killed or injured in this way on the roads through no fault of theirs. It is not a question of pedestrians and motorists—I agree with the noble Lords who regretted the opposition between the two—but it is the fact of people going on the roads in their ordinary business being cut down and slaughtered without any fault of theirs. I am sure it creates great indignation. But they do not know what to do about it.

It is not a political question—they cannot say "We will not vote for this or that candidate because he is not sound on the question of roads." I wish it was; perhaps it will be, and then no doubt we shall have something done; but at present there is no vote value in it because neither of the Parties has made it a Party question, has written it into its programme. Therefore the people, however indignant, have no remedy. It is quite true there are societies—I am connected with one myself—but they are very small in numbers, they are not very rich; all the rich people have motors, therefore it is not easy to collect funds to restrict the use of motors. I believe these things are quite true and the reason is very largely that there is not a sufficient appreciation of the seriousness of this problem. The noble Earl who is going to reply for the Government will no doubt be very sympathetic: I have never heard a speech from the Front Bench which was not sympathetic on this question; but sympathy does not do very much good. What we want is action. We want something serious and real to be done, and I cannot help feeling that at present there is not anything serious or real even in contemplation.

There is a great difficulty, we are told, in enforcing the law. I see it stated—I am not able to check the statement, but no doubt the Government are—that the thirty-mile speed limit is not now being observed; that it was observed at first but now it is not observed. It is said with great truth that it is very difficult to do that unless you adopt some mechanical means enabling you to spot the offender more easily than you can do at present. You cannot enforce it except by some scheme of police traps or something like that, which would be ineffective, and not very agreeable to the ordinary views of the people of this country. But why is it difficult? It is because there is not a general appreciation of the wickedness of driving too fast. I hear young friends of mine talking about this matter, and they do not think there is any harm in it at all. On the contrary, they constantly boast of the speed at which they have driven from one point to another. They never consider the injury they are doing—not only the risk of doing injury to some pedestrian or other motorist, but the fact that by setting up that standard they are creating an atmosphere of recklessness which is really at the bottom of the whole trouble. I should be very glad if the Government saw their way to make a law forbidding anybody under twenty-five to drive a motor car unless he could show that it was necessary in order to earn his living. I believe that provision alone would do more than anything else to create a proper sense of responsibility in motor drivers.

It is not only the motor drivers, it is the local authorities. In the part of the country where I live they are spending a great deal of money on roads—I do not complain of that—but very little on making them safe. They are making them better for motorists, so that motorists can drive more quickly, but doing very little to increase the safety of the roads. If they do provide a footpath it is under conditions which make it of very little use to anybody, and they very often do not provide a footpath. If they can possibly avoid providing a footpath they will. I remember very well in the Bill of the last Government but one I tried to get inserted a provision making it the duty of the local authority to provide for pedestrian traffic as well as wheeled traffic. I was told that was a most iniquitous proposal, shackling the independence and discretion of the local authority, and could not be entertained. The result was that a perfectly colourless phrase was put in, simply empowering them to do that, but of course they had the power already. Nothing has resulted in consequence.

I do not think that local authorities are wicked, but they do not in fact do their utmost to make the roads safer. That is true in the towns to some extent. Take the question of crossings in this town. Personally, I think the whole conception of the beacons is a mistake. It is suggesting that at some particular spot there is particular safety for pedestrians which does not exist at other places. I prefer the French plan where there is a crossing at every junction of the roads. I speak of those parts of Paris which most of us know. I am not sure the system extends over the whole of Paris, but that is the case in central Paris. That is not so in London. Sometimes there is a sign where there is no crossing. More than that, you find this absurdity: the theory of the crossing is that pedestrians shall use it, but you will find cases where there is a refuge and no crossing marked, and other cases where there is a crossing and no refuge. It shows a total want of interest in the problem when these things occur. That is really what we have got to have—a change of attitude on the part of the Government, not of sympathy, but of action.

I want very much to say once again—I am afraid I have said it before—that it does seem to me that, fundamentally, we are approaching this problem from the wrong point of view. I agree with noble Lords who have said that nothing much is gained by attributing wickedness to this or that user of the road. I believe if you wiped out to-morrow all the roadhogs—all the people who behave really badly in the use of the roads—you would not reduce the accidents by more than 5 per cent. In the great mass of accidents tried in the Courts, the Courts feel compelled to say no one was to blame, that they cannot attribute the blame to one party more than to the other. You are doing something that is impracticable. You are trying to use the same road for traffic going at fifty miles an hour as for traffic going at five miles an hour. If everyone was supremely careful, you still would have a great number of accidents under conditions of that kind. The fundamental mistake seems to me to have been that owing to historical reasons the whole motor problem has been approached as if motors were an improved kind of horse carriage. That is quite untrue. Some of them do the same kind of work that the old horse carriage did, but some are in the nature of small railway trains, and the matter should be approached from that point of view. After all, we have succeeded in solving the problem of making trains safe. The safety of the trains in this country is quite astounding. The number of passengers injured is infinitesimal compared with the number carried, and though it is unfortunately true that a certain number of railway servants—much too many—are injured, yet even there enormous progress has been made in safety, no doubt at great cost to the railway companies.

The fundamental principle has been, "You must make the railways safe. You may drive your train at any speed you like up to 100 miles an hour, but you cannot have anything but trains on the track." You have got to apply that principle to fast motor traffic. You have got to have special tracks for fast motor vehicles on which no one would be allowed unless travelling at, say, more than thirty miles an hour. You have got that rule in the Mersey Tunnel. No one, I understand, is allowed to go down unless—I forget the minimum speed, but you have got to keep up a certain speed in order to avoid congestion in the Tunnel. You would have to do that on speed roads. Two noble Lords have told us how these roads are constructed in Germany, and I have no doubt something similar can be done here. On the other roads, the roads which deal mainly with local requirements, you must have a very strict speed limit—I would certainly say not more than 25 miles an hour—enforced properly by mechanical devices, some kind of speed indicators, whichever the Government are advised is the proper way of doing it; not by the fantastic system of police traps, but something that is common sense and effective. If you do these two things. I believe you will get rid of the great mass of this problem. You cannot say to motorists as a whole, "You are never to use this power of going fast." But you can say, "You are only to use it under conditions where it is perfectly safe for every one else." The only conditions under which it is safe for every one else are on speed tracks confined to motors going at that high speed.

May I just say one word in conclusion to the Government, if they will forgive my impertinence in doing so? It is not merely rhetoric to say we want action, not sympathy. It is true we want action. I am quite sure that under the conditions of Parliamentary legislation that prevail in this country we shall not get action unless the Government make this one of the primary problems with which they have to deal, until they have made it as important as the question of controlling the population of this country, or even of buying up royalties on coal. If they put it in the rank of first-class measures, I cannot believe that they have not at their command sufficient intelligence and knowledge to enable them to devise a really effective measure in order to get rid of this great evil. It will cost money, of course, but I do not think the money will be thrown away. I am quite satisfied that in order to get rid of this evil the Government and the country ought to be, and I trust will be, ready to spend whatever is necessary.


My Lords, I shall detain the House not more than five minutes at the outside in order to say a word on a topic which has not yet been mentioned. When I was in the Court of Appeal I had occasion to try, on appeal, a considerable number of accident cases arising out of collisions. I have taken great interest in this subject of accidents from motor cars, and I may say I have often discussed it with the late Lord Buckmaster, who, as your Lordships know, was one of the most eloquent speakers in favour of something substantial being done to try and diminish this annual holocaust. Having spent a lifetime at the Bar and on the Bench, I well know that not everything can be done by legislation, but I did think it might be useful for me to say that I am personally convinced that a stiffening of the law in certain particular respects would tend substantially to reduce the number of acci- dents on the roads. Not, as I say, that everything can be done by legislation; but if we only managed to reduce these accidents by legislative efforts to the extent of 5 or To per cent., it is well worth doing. It is one of the things which a Select Committee, if the Government will appoint one, would go into and consider, and on these grounds I heartily support the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Newton.


My Lords, there are just two questions I would like to put at this late hour. The first is rather off the beaten track of the debate up to this point. Is there any prospect that His Majesty's Government will let us have the Minister of Transport or his immediate subordinate in your Lordships' House? After all, as has already been pointed out by more than one of your Lordships, this is not a Party question and is, therefore, more likely, I think, to be frequently and usefully ventilated in your Lordships' House than in another place where they are naturally preoccupied with questions—usually much less important questions—on which votes can be lost or won. I do not think we can have entirely profitable discussions on this great question if we are never to have a responsible Minister in charge of the reply.

The noble Earl who discharges this duty does admirably; he is the soul of courtesy and, I am afraid, discretion, and we are all extremely grateful to him; but even he cannot surmount the obstacle that he does not bear direct responsibility, and in the scholarly briefs which are supplied to him by the Ministry of Transport, the familiar evasions of the Ministry reach us muffled, as it were, by a twofold remove from reality. Moreover the impatience which, I am afraid, one increasingly finds oneself tempted to express with the Ministry of Transport finds itself instinctively stifled when one has to address a wholly innocent representative. One draws one's bead on the target, and one is about to discharge the rifle, when lo and behold a trap door opens in the ground, the legitimate objective disappears, and there arises in its place the disarming countenance of the noble Earl. Under those conditions it is very difficult to make a case.

That is my first question, and my second, I am afraid, takes me to the vexed issue of the speed limit. As more than one noble Lord already has deprecated an attack on any one section of road users, I would like to say that it is only this necessarily selective treatment, forced on one by the lateness of the hour, that makes one seem to attack the motorist. I myself, like most of your Lordships, have been driving cars over great distances for a quarter of a century, and, with the right reverend Prelate who introduced this Motion, I am closely connected with the Road Accidents Emergency Council, which was expressly founded to focus the view not of any one section of road users—for any one section of road users is bound to be prejudiced—but of British citizens in general upon this great tragedy. If I may take the simple and familiar problem of the speed limit, it seems to me that the Minister has salved the public conscience maybe, and his own conscience maybe, by passing legislation, but that legislation he is conspicuously omitting to enforce. As the right reverend Prelate said, you only have to go on the road to see that often as much as 60 per cent. of the traffic is in fact exceeding, not by very much but exceeding, the speed limit. It is not by any means only, as possibly the right reverend Prelate suggested, the young and irresponsible, I am sorry to say, who exceed the speed limit. I do not know whether it often happens to your Lordships, as it sometimes happens to me, to journey to a distant town to support some worthy cause. One is met at the railway station with a car by a local pillar of society, and I am sorry to say that I constantly find that in the car, while discussing the worthy object which we are about jointly to support, the pillar of society does in fact commit frequent breaches of the traffic law.

I have been driven at forty and fifty miles an hour in a controlled area in the cars of doctors, lawyers, merchants, yes, and of Ministers of the Crown, and I have heard representatives of all those distinguished professions saying, in effect, that the speed limit is a tedious piece of red tape which persons with such judgment and skill as themselves are surely entitled to ignore. In fact it n as only the other day that my noble friend Lord Sandhurst actually said—my noble friend was pleading for a relaxation of the strictness of the law with regard to endorsement of licences for speed offences—that at present they (that is the motorists) "just go at whatever speed they think is safe regardless of the thirty-mile limit." My noble friend explained that that was for the curious reason that all motorists nowadays felt that sooner or later they were bound to have their licences endorsed, and that therefore they might as well get them endorsed as soon as possible; and, as he put it, they have given up worrying whether they are endorsed or not. The noble Lord's remedy was to restore complete freedom to the magistrate to endorse or not as lie pleased. As your Lordships are all aware, the present state of the law is that a magistrate is expected to endorse a licence for a speed limit offence unless there are special reasons to the contrary. Actually at present in only just over 50 per cent. of the convictions for speeding are the licences in fact endorsed, and that is only among the tiny minority of those who are caught breaking the law. That is the present state of affairs, which my noble friend Lord Sandhurst wishes to improve by relaxing the law, and as to which he expressed the view that motorists are so goaded by this oppression that they feel they may as well regularly break the law because they are bound to be punished sooner or later anyhow.

That does seem to me to be a very dangerous state of affairs, and I would like to ask this one question. Is it not possible that the whole of the trouble about enforcing the speed limit might be avoided by that simple device to which the right reverend Prelate referred—an automatic speed control? That device has been referred to, I am sorry to say in my view inaccurately, by one or two later speakers among your Lordships. I would like to explain that there is actually a device ready for the market, I understand, by which you simply turn a switch on your dashboard and, as you do so, in the first place a light goes on at the tail of your car, thereby telling the whole world, and incidentally the police, that the device is in operation. That answers one of the objections of the noble Duke: the police can tell. At the same time this turning of the switch brings into operation a device in the carburetter which makes it perfectly possible for you to travel up to thirty miles an hour but physically impossible for you to travel at more than thirty miles an hour. There, it seems to me, you have at a stroke somewhere near zoo per cent. enforcement of the law. The only criticism brought against it in this debate was brought by the noble Duke, who asked what would happen on a hill. I can tell him. I have been up the steepest hill in my neighbourhood in a car fitted with one of these devices, and the answer is that nothing happens on a hill. You just go up normally, because the device does not come into operation until you are going thirty miles an hour, and it does not impede the speed of the car until that point.

In a former debate I did ask the Minister, or his representative here, what were the reasons for not adopting this apparently extremely simple and extremely cheap device, for it would only cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of 20s., I am told, if made compulsory. His predecessor has several times in public referred to what he called the mercy of controlling speed, so that it is not necessary to argue that controlling speed does save life. I asked the Minister the reason and the reply I received from the noble Earl was that there were three reasons. I cannot bring myself to believe that these three reasons were sufficient to have determined a Department of State on any course of policy. The first was that the light at the tail of the car might fail and you might be pulled up and told that you had not switched on the device when you really had done so. Once in a hundred or a thousand times it might fail, but if it did the worst that could possibly happen would be that such and such a car was stopped and if it was found that the device had got out of order the driver would not be falsely accused of speeding. The second argument was that the device might be tampered with. The device would be under the bonnet and would be sealed, and I think if severe penalties were imposed, and enforced, for tampering with it, it would be extremely unlikely that there would be many such cases.

Thirdly, the Minister's representative said that it would be dangerous because it would not allow liberty of manœuvre. That is to say, a man might need his speed in order to get out of some difficulty even though he was in a controlled area. I do not entirely understand that, and I do not know whether the Minister really understood it when he instructed that that reply should be given. If he did understand and yet gave that reply, I suppose he meant expressly to give his benediction to the idea that you may break the speed limit regulation provided you are able to say that you were in a tight corner. That is apparently what is meant by saying it would be dangerous to have 100 per cent. enforcement of this speed limit. I should have thought that the whole meaning of a speed limit was that you wanted to repress the kind of driving which makes it necessary to drive at forty miles an hour in order to get out of a tight corner. I should have thought that hundreds of thousands of careful drivers never put themselves in a position in which they have to break the speed limit in order to get out of a tight corner.

I ask the Minister, finally, whether he is prepared to say that the danger, if any, of any form of mechanical control could ever be anything like the present danger. I dare say there may be other reasons against this device, and if so no doubt the Minister will impart them, but at present I at any rate feel bound to say that I have never heard a Minister charged with grave responsibilities advance such flimsy reasons for not fully discharging them. As to the question of a Select Committee or no Select Committee, that is, of course, not a very important dilemma. It largely rests on whether we conceive that the Minister will use the Select Committee as a shelter or as a stimulus. I would suggest that what is really more important than a Select Committee or no Select Committee is a really decisive expression of opinion by your Lordships' House that you are not prepared to assume, or to allow the Ministry to assume, that all that can be done has been done to end this shameful state of affairs.


My Lords, my noble friend the Earl of Erne, who usually replies to debates in this House on matters connected with the Ministry of Transport, is unfortunately ill and ft therefore falls to my lot to reply to the Motion by the right reverend Prelate and the Amendment to that Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Newton. I am only too well aware of the knowledge that the right reverend Prelate possesses of all matters connected with this Ministry. He has to-day repeated to your Lordships the anxiety that he feels about this continual mortality on the roads. This high rate of accidents has for a considerable time been of very deep concern to His Majesty's Government, and they quite realise that they have not yet achieved their object of bringing about a major reduction in casualties. As is generally customary in debates on this subject in your Lordships' House, the discussion for the most part has travelled remarkably wide of the Motion which the right reverend Prelate put on the Paper. However, I do not object to that, and l will endeavour in the course of my remarks to answer those particular points which have been addressed to me, although perhaps I might at the beginning of my speech refer to the steps that the Government propose to take or are taking to reduce the number of accidents.

I want to impress upon your Lordships how gigantic is this task of obtaining a reduction in the number of accidents on the road. Perhaps I may be permitted quite briefly to bring some figures to your Lordships' attention. There are to-day no fewer than two and three-quarter million motor vehicles in this country. There are three million licensed drivers. There are 178,000 miles of road. There are an indefinite number of bicyclists, probably in the neighbourhood of eight millions. In addition, there are many millions of pedestrians. These figures, I think, will give some slight indication of the vast daily movement of traffic of all kinds throughout the country. I mention these figures not for the purpose of suggesting that the present total of accidents must be regarded as quite irreducible, but rather to show how very difficult it is to provide effective and absolute protection against accidents. The total accident figures for the last three years in this country have shown a remarkable tendency to remain steadier, although there has been a very large increase in the number of vehicles on the road. I think it is only fair to assume that the measures taken by the Government have succeeded at any rate in keeping this figure down to a more ordinary level.

I pass from that to the question raised by the right reverend Prelate concerning roads. Your Lordships will, I think, recollect that on the 1st April this year the Minister of Transport became the highway authority for some 4,50o miles of trunk roads. His policy was set out in a Memorandum which was published early this year. It makes recommendations with regard to such matters as these: the lay-out of curves and junctions, segregation of traffic, provision of bicycle tracks, traffic lanes, guard rails for pedestrians, pedestrian crossings, and non-skid surfacing of roads. All these are of importance in some way or other as causes of a certain number of accidents. My right honourable friend informs me that it is his intention to continue vigorously the improvement of the existing system of roads. The case for special roads which has been mentioned by some noble Lords in the course of this afternoon's debate is still sub judice, but whatever may be said for them it is clear that in this country they can only supplement and not supersede the existing highway system. Works costing£7,000,000 are already in hand or have been drafted for the improvement of trunk roads. A start is shortly going to be made on important schemes in or near London which will take some years to carry out and are estimated to cost£11,000,000. In 1935 a five-year programme was inaugurated for the improvement of roads. I mention these few figures here just to give your Lordships some indication of what is happening. Highway authorities have since submitted schemes involving a total expenditure of£129,000,000, of which some£81,000,000 had been approved by the end of October this year. The Restriction of Ribbon Development Act, which your Lordships passed two years ago, must also be taken into account: it has armed the highway authorities with a powerful weapon to stop that type of roadside development which has been the indirect cause of so many accidents.

From there I turn to the drivers of these motor vehicles. Since the scheme was put in hand by which every driver of a motor vehicle must be tested and have some knowledge of the elementary principles of safe driving as set out in the Highway Code, some 850,000 drivers have applied for test and 26.75 per cent. have failed. I mention that fact also to show your Lordships that the course of all the Government's legislation has been towards that one ideal object of reducing accidents on the road. On the question of fines and Courts, the conduct of drivers of motor vehicles on the road is governed mainly by the Statute law, and I can say with confidence that Parliament has armed the Courts with sufficient powers to impose adequate penalties on offenders. I turn from that to mention quite briefly one other matter which I think has not been discussed in this debate. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has been in consultation with my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and has arranged for an experiment involving a substantial increase in the number of mobile police patrols, to be carried out for a limited period. I am advised that some 800 extra men will be put on the roads in the course of this experiment. This scheme is designed primarily to assist and educate the road user rather than to increase the number of prosecutions. There is, however—and let me state this most emphatically—no intention whatever of relaxing the enforcement of the law. The effect of this scheme upon accidents will he very closely watched.

Next I will turn briefly to another matter which I think was not discussed in your Lordships' House to-day but has been discussed on other occasions—namely, the comparative immunity of the bicyclist from regulation. My right honourable friend has asked the Transport Advisory Council, in view of the large number of accidents to bicyclists, to consider and report upon any further practicable measures which might be adopted for the better protection of bicyclists and other road users. The Council will be asked to consider such suggestions as the registration of pedal cyclists; that they should be required to pass a test; legislation to make careless riding an offence; and the compulsory carriage of rear lights. Lastly, perhaps, I may refer to the safety of children. Copies of the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on road safety among school children were sent last year to the appropriate local education and police authorities. My right honourable friend has indicated his readiness to give every possible form of assistance to the provision of such safety precautions as pedestrian signals, crossings, speed limits, footpaths, and portable crossing signs for children in appropriate cases. I further understand that my noble friend the President of the Board of Education has circularised local education authorities in England and Wales asking for full information on the progress made in setting up Child Safety Committees and in carrying out the other recommendations of that Committee. On these points he proposes to exert active pressure.

I am sorry I have had to weary your Lordships at some length with a very long brief, but I have, I hope, dealt with some of the principal answers to the question what action the Government have taken, what they are now taking, and what they are about to take in the future. From all the points I have mentioned I think it will be observed that the Government's measures are all in one direction—namely, that of an effort to reduce the casualties on the roads. I pass to answer one or two of the individual questions which were addressed to me. First, may I refer to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby. I understand that in France, with a population of 42,000,000, the number killed in 1935 was 4,415, but this was from motor vehicle accidents only. In Germany, with a population of 67,000,000, I understand that 8,381 persons were killed in 1936, and that figure includes all road accidents. In the United States, with a population of 128,000,000, I understand that in 1935 there were 37,000 deaths due to motor vehicles alone. The majority of the other questions which were addressed to me I hope I have answered in the course of my remarks. Perhaps, therefore, I may now turn to the points made by my noble friend Lord Elton, and I can assure him that I wish far more than he does that my right honourable friend were standing at this box to-day answering this question. On the question of automatic speed control I really have no knowledge which would be of any assistance to the noble Lord or to your Lordships. Perhaps in those circumstances he would let me convey that point, and the point about having a representative in this House from the Ministry, to my right honourable friend for his consideration and report.

Lastly I turn to the Amendment which stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Newton, asking your Lordships to approve the appointment of a Select Committee. While the Government feel that they have not neglected any practicable measure for reducing danger on the roads, they freely admit, as I have said before, that they have not yet solved that problem. We are more than ready to consider any further steps which human ingenuity or experience can suggest. For this reason we are fully prepared to accept the proposal put forward by my noble friend Lord Newton—that is to say, to appoint a Select Committee to review the whole subject and to suggest, if possible, further measures to reduce the number of casualties on the roads. If your Lordships this evening decide to appoint that Committee, my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport will render it every assistance that stands in his power. I hope that from these remarks your Lordships will be satisfied with the action that the Government are taking, and that this matter of deaths and injuries on the roads is never absent from the mind of His Majesty's Government.


My Lords, I should like to say that personally I am not very well satisfied with the speech to which we have just listened. Of course I am satisfied that the Government have acceded to Lord Newton's request, and I do think that something may be done as a result of investigation by a Committee of that kind. What I wanted the Government to say was that they were prepared rather to change the policy, which hitherto they have adopted, of merely facilitating speed. They have in the speech of the noble Earl said that they are going on in exactly the same way as formerly, spending enormous sums of money on public roads, but not doing anything thereby to diminish the number of accidents, and it is the reduction of accidents which is so essential. My own view is that wherever you have corners you have safety, and that wherever you have corners removed and expedite speed you increase the danger of accidents. I am quite certain that in many cases speed is the main factor where the fault is put down to the pedestrian. I admit that the pedestrian is often at fault, and often seems to be "asking for it" when he refuses either to get out of the way of the traffic or to expedite his own movements. At the same time, I believe that the pedestrian gets a great deal of blame where, if the speed at which the car overtook the pedestrian had been less, fault could no longer be put upon the pedestrian. I am satisfied that much more can be done by reducing the speed at dangerous points upon our roads than by any other course. I think the debate has been of value, and I am quite sure that the Select Committee will be able to make satisfactory recommendations.


My Lords, I have great respect always for what my noble friend says on this or any other matter, but surely he does not by his words intend to convey to the country that the whole of the cause of the accidents which take place in this country is due to motorists alone?


I said quite the contrary. I said that I had seen pedestrians asking for trouble and refusing to get out of the way, but I said also that in many cases I am sure that the fault would not rest with the pedestrian if the speed of the car was limited at certain dangerous places.


I accept what the noble Lord has said, and I am glad that he has made that further explanation, because, as one who is glad to acknowledge the Government's action in accepting Lord Newton's Amendment to set up a Select Committee, I do feel that at last we are going to have a fair hearing, not only for the pedestrians and bicyclists but for the motorists, for the first time in this country. I have listened to speeches in this House over and over again, and very seldom does one hear anything said on behalf of the motorist; but, as Lord Newton has said this afternoon, we do know that a Select Committee of this House is always fair, listens to all sides and all representations, and in my experience always comes to fair conclusions. I am very glad indeed, as a motorist, to think that we are going to have such an impartial tribunal to listen to all sides of this important issue, to form a fair judgment, and to tell the country as a whole what really ought to he done on this question.

On Question, Amendment agreed to, and the Motion, as amended, agreed to.