HL Deb 06 December 1939 vol 115 cc140-62

3.50 p.m.

LORD ALNESS rose to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the increased number of road accidents in recent months; to inquire their policy for the abatement of casualties on the roads under the conditions imposed by war-time restrictions; and to move for Papers.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I make neither excuse nor apology for calling the attention of your Lordships' House and His Majesty's Government to a problem which was acute in peace-time but which is more acute in war-time: I mean the problem of road safety. Road casualties under normal conditions were of such a character and magnitude that, as your Lordships know, your Lordships' House appointed a Committee to probe the problem and to make recommendations for its solution. That Committee discharged its remit and made certain recommendations, but I want to make it quite clear, if I may, in limine that I am not speaking as chairman of that Committee, and that I am expressing views which bind no one but myself. What is the situation in which we find ourselves to-day? The figures are common property. In the month of September of this year 1,130 people were killed upon the roads of this country, and in the month of October of this year 919 persons were killed upon the roads. That is an increase of 71 per cent. over the figures for the corresponding two months of 1938, which were respectively 554 and 641 in those two months.

These unvarnished figures fall to be supplemented by three observations which I venture to think are significant. The first is that more than half of the casualties to which I have referred befell adult pedestrians; the second observation is that a very large proportion of these adult pedestrians were killed during the blackout period; and the third is that nowadays, as your Lordships know, we have no records of accidents which are not fatal. I fear very much that if those records had been kept the total would have been no less menacing than the totals to which I have referred. In these circumstances I think that the situation revealed by the figures and by the facts which I have recited are profoundly alarming, although I do not think that the public mind has been grievously moved by them. If you think of it in this way, you will get an impression of the real significance of these figures: it has been very well put by the National Safety First Association, that if the rate of casualties which now prevails continued, and if the war should last for three years, then the number of lives lost upon the roads would be 40,000, which is the equivalent of an entire Army Corps.

Surely, having regard to these facts and figures, one is entitled to ask His Majesty's Government what they propose to do about it. Associations of motorists, of pedestrians and of cyclists have their own views, and they have publicly expressed them, but I venture to think that it is for the Government to formulate and to declare their policy for the abatement of this evil. That the Government are fully acquainted with the existence of the evil and also of its magnitude I have no doubt at all. I know that two Ministers, the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Home Security, held a conference about a month ago at which were represented all the interests concerned, pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. In the course of that conference many useful and important suggestions for the abatement of this evil were made, and were so regarded by the Ministers who were present. They promised what is not unknown in Departmental circles as "consideration" of all these suggestions, but what we really want to know, I venture to think, is what has resulted from that consideration. We are still awaiting a declaration of the policy of the Government in this matter. I venture respectfully to think that it is overdue and I hope that it will be made this afternoon.

Now, while I do think that this is a matter for Government formulation and declaration, I venture very humbly to give some indication of the lines upon which it seems to me that Government policy should proceed. It seems to me that there are three directions from which the problem may be attacked—first, increased propaganda; secondly, increased lighting; and thirdly, increased restrictions imposed upon road users. May I say, with your. Lordships' permission, a few words about these three topics? First of all, increased propaganda. Personally, I dislike the word intensely and I also dislike what it stands for, but at the same time we must recognise that in this world of uncertainties there is nothing more certain that that propaganda, both national and international, has become an essential feature of our so-called present-day civilisation. Well, then, I suggest to the Government that by posters, by the issuing of a wartime Highway Code, by lectures, by films, by newspaper articles, and above all through the British Broadcasting Corporation, the public should be enjoined to take unremitting care, particularly during the black-out period, in crossing the street or crossing the road. If the public kept to the left on the pavement, if they wore light coloured attire, then the danger during the blackout period might be somewhat minimised. Some of your Lordships may think these are very rudimentary and obvious considerations. Perhaps they are rudimentary, but I think that they are essential in the present situation.

I said the second angle of attack was increased lighting. I should have thought that without detriment to the public safety or to national safety the existing system of lighting might be considerably bettered, and I am glad to think that that seems to be the view that has now been formed and expressed by the Minister of Home Security himself. I am not to-day interested in better lighting of railway trains. I am not to-day interested in better lighting of shop windows. No doubt these are important, and no doubt any improvement in them would be welcomed. But these two things sound respectively in inconvenience and in financial loss only. What I am interested in is the better lighting of streets and of the vehicles which use the streets, because that sounds in human life, which is much more important than inconvenience or even financial loss.

I have read with interest of the experiments which are being made in the direc- tion of better lighting, but I think these are somewhat belated. It has been suggested to me from an authoritative quarter that even at the outbreak of hostilities, a standardised device for masking the headlights of motors should have been adopted and made available in sufficient quantities at that date. Surely such a device is an obvious corollary to the blackout which was contemplated, and it should have been foreseen, I should have thought, if I may respectfully say so, by any man or body of men of ordinary foresight. I am not going to discuss better lighting in detail: it is a technical question which I am not competent to discuss. But I do know this: that the Government are well equipped with competent advisers in this matter, and what I do feel entitled to ask is that the Government should consult their advisers, obtain their advice and act upon it promptly. So much for lighting.

Then I come to the other point: further restrictions upon road users. These, of course, are divided into three classes. Pedestrians, I venture to think, should be enjoined, unless imperative duty requires it, to stay at home during the black-out period and leave the streets for those who have no option but to be there in the course of their duty. I am not suggesting that a regulation to that effect should here and now be made, although, if counsel and injunction to that effect go unheeded, it may be necessary to consider that at a later stage. At any rate, propaganda should be particularly directed to pedestrians, who, after all, are the chief sufferers in this matter.

Then one comes to cyclists. The last thing that I desire at a time like this is to be controversial, and yet I cannot refrain from saying that it took a war to compel cyclists to carry red rear lights upon their cycles. That is the law to-day. Many of us thought it should have been the law in peace-time, others thought differently; but let that pass. It is the law now, and what I plead for is that that law should be observed and enforced. I speak from observation, apart altogether from information, when I say that to-day, in spite of the fact that that is the law, many cyclists are riding through the black-out period without red rear lights on their machines—many of them. I venture to press upon the Government the necessity not only of having adequate law in time of war, but also of enforcing that law, and seeing that those who disregard it should be properly penalised for their omission.

I come lastly, in connection with further restrictions upon road users, to the case of motorists. I do not know how many of your Lordships I shall carry with me when I say that I humbly think that the speed limit of thirty miles an hour is far too high during the black-out period. I think it should be reconsidered in the light of new conditions and reduced to twenty miles an hour and even—I do not rule that out—fifteen miles an hour. But I go further than that. I say this—and I do not think I shall be contradicted in what I say by His Majesty's Government—that the speed limit, even outside the black-out period, in the daytime, may also fall to be reconsidered under new conditions. It must have been within your Lordships' observation, as it certainly has been within mine, that many motorists—I am not indicting motorists as a class—are to-day driving in the more or less empty streets at a far higher speed than they ever drove before and driving at a higher speed than the public interest requires. Therefore, so far as that class of road user is concerned, I suggest to the Government that the existing law urgently requires reconsideration and re-enactment in a new sense.

May I say to the Government that I think that they will carry the country with them in their imposition of road restrictions during war-time which are necessary, if they make it clear to the public mind that the so-called bureaucratic mind is not always deaf to intelligent suggestion or deaf to informed advice? Personally, I should like to see the Government adopt a more mobile and elastic policy in this matter than they have done in the past, by which I mean that if a restriction is no longer necessary in the public interest or for the protection of private lives, then it ought to disappear, or at any rate it should be modified until it has regained the quality to which I have just referred.

I would close by making one suggestion which has come to me from an authoritative quarter. It is well worthy of the consideration of the Government. When you are imposing restrictions in one direction, may it not be possible to counterbalance these restrictions by making re- laxations in another direction? Motorists are to-day restricted in speed, in lighting and in petrol. Might it not be possible to compensate these restrictions reasonably by freeing them from certain other restrictions which were necessary in crowded streets in peace-time but which it seems to me are not now required? For example, personally I should like to see one-way streets restored to their normal and useful condition. Personally I should like to see those tedious and unnecessary roundabouts, such as we have in Trafalgar Square, in Aldwych, and in many other quarters, disappear altogether. However, that is for the Government to decide. I put the idea forward and I suggest to them that it is worthy of their consideration. I apologise to your Lordships for speaking so long upon this topic, but I feel very strongly about it. I have endeavoured to state the case fairly, I hope, and dispassionately, although one is tempted by strong feeling to overstate it. Having done that, and having humbly made one or two suggestions of ways and means whereby this frightful carnage of the roads might be abated, I shall await, after the debate has run its course, with interest and with a measure of hope, the Government's reply. I beg to move.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, I feel I must rise to support Lord Alness in this Motion, for the reason, if for no other, that I was and am still Vice-Chairman of the House of Lords Roads Group. That group, as may well be within the memory of a good many of your Lordships, had no fewer than four different Motions down last Session; and had the war not intervened, no less than four different sides of the Report of the Select Committee would have been brought forward before the Government's notice by the House of Lords Roads Group. Owing to the war, that idea has had to be dropped. The members of our group were mostly younger men: we had very few here much over sixty. The result is that they are now nearly all engaged on work of some sort of national importance, and I am afraid most of them are in the same position as myself in that they find the very greatest difficulty in getting a spare minute to themselves or time to attend your Lordships' House.

But we have felt as a group that the Select Committee over which Lord Alness presided produced a very wonderful Report, which showed a wonderful grasp of its subject and contained some magnificent suggestions. It took a war to get the first of those introduced, and that was a rear light on cycles; the rest of them apparently have not been started. One has come in which was not included in the Report, but was mentioned in this House in the discussion of the Report, and that is the prohibition of vehicles drawing up on the wrong side of the road after dark. Why it is restricted to darkness I cannot imagine; but still there is an advance in that direction.

There are other suggestions in that Report which can be carried out without any legislation—without anything more than a regulation from the Ministry of Transport. One of them relates to pedestrians. The Minister of Transport has the power to restrict pedestrians to crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing when there is such a crossing within 100 yards of where they are. Is there any conceivable reason why in black-out hours—and I am quite prepared to have it restricted to black-out hours—the pedestrian should not be compelled to use the pedestrian crossing? Is there any reason why there should not be a small blue or orange light, or any light you like, on the beacons, with an illuminated orange globe, instead of an unilluminated one, so that when the motorist comes along he sees where a crossing is and he looks for pedestrians?

I do not know how much any of your Lordships have driven at night since the black-out started. Personally I have driven over 5,000 miles during the last two months, and a great deal of it has been in the dark. I can assure you that in going round a corner, with the modern contraption on the front of your headlight, the side to which you are turning, whether left or right, is a complete blank. You can see nothing beyond ten or fifteen yards of the car, simply because the lights do not show round the corner. It is the best anti-dazzle light that has ever been produced from the motorist's point of view; it is equally the most dangerous from the pedestrian's and the motorist's point of view. You go round the corner turning to your left, and if there is an unlighted obstruction there you are bound to hit it, because you certainly will not see it. If there is a pedestrian moving there, you are bound to hit him. The only way you can save yourself in going round these corners—and I invariably do it—is to go round at about five miles an hour. Then if a pedestrian is there he has got a chance of jumping out of your light, and you have got a chance of stopping when he comes within your very limited vision. But if you set back your pedestrian crossing ten yards from any corner and make it compulsory for people to cross at that crossing, they will be in sight by the time the car gets round the corner. It will make for safe walking—and I think most of us walk a great deal more to-day than we did a few months ago.

There is another aspect of this matter and that concerns the criminal motorist. I am afraid I must say that in these days there are a great many criminal motorists on the road, and by far the worst offenders are the Services, the Air Force in particular. The Army are very bad, but not quite so bad as the Air Force, and the civilians are not a bad third, particularly the lorry drivers. The other day I was driving back from Lincolnshire in the black-out down a country road, wide enough for two vehicles certainly, but not wide enough for two vehicles and a push-cyclist. I was driving somewhere about thirty miles an hour, it may have been thirty-two or thirty-three, or only about twenty-seven or twenty-eight. I heard a row behind me. I did not pull into the side of the road, because I was already there, and I waited for the row to pass. It was an R.A.F. lorry with tender, and when I accelerated to see what speed it was travelling at—and this, mark you, after dark on a country road—I was doing fifty miles an hour, and the lorry and tender were still drawing away from me. Well, I call that criminal.

I was coming back two nights ago from Shepherds Bush. I turned at Holland Road with a lorry behind me, and as I pulled away the lorry went past me. I sat on that lorry's tail until I was doing over forty miles an hour, and then I let it go. It was quite impossible for me to catch him without risking my own neck, and I was not going to do that. The fault of that lies with the police force, you would think, but I am inclined to put it on the petrol control. Chief Constables have been told that they are not to use petrol. They have shut down on the use of their police cars. The number of police patrols has been reduced to a negligible figure, and the result is that these drivers have no fear of being caught. To take London alone, you had, when the war broke out, in addition to your ordinary mobile police, a transport section of the Special Constabulary some 150 strong. I believe six of that section—it may be seven—are now being used by the police. A large number have gone off to other jobs because they were not used at all. The sole reason was that there was no petrol available for them to use their cars. But those men could have done invaluable work in controlling the traffic on the roads.

Now I want to come to the question of lighting. I am afraid I cannot entirely agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Alness. He seemed to think that we could not really improve our street lighting very much. I suggest that if you are killing people at the rate of an air-raid every week, you may just as well save their lives and wait till the air-raid comes and does it for you. Let us light the streets properly and switch the lights off when we hear there is going to be an air raid. We get five or ten minutes' warning—we may get an hour, we may get two hours; but what is the sense in killing people one way to prevent their being possibly killed in another? I have said precisely the same thing before in another way, and I must repeat it, that when it comes to air raids it is not a bit of good killing people on the roads to prevent their being killed by a possible air raid.

Next with regard to the speed limit. I quite agree that the thirty mile limit is much too high, but I do suggest that the answer is not to put on a limit of twenty, or even fifteen, miles an hour; it is to take the limit off altogether and restore to the police the power, of which the speed limit has practically deprived them, of getting a conviction on a charge of dangerous driving. At the present moment, after dark you cannot illuminate the speedometer in your car because if you do so the light makes it still more impossible to see what is in front of you, with the existing light. In other words, everyone has to go entirely by guess. To guess a speed of fifteen or twenty miles an hour after dark is really asking too much of the motorist. On the other hand, there is no need to guess what is a safe speed. If you do not know a safe speed instinctively, you have no right to drive. And if you have sufficient police cars on the road they will know what is safe driving, and the police must be told to stop dangerous driving and to prosecute.

I speak rather feelingly when I say "and to prosecute," because last night, as I was going home, I went from Gloucester Road tube station and reached Cromwell Road, which I was just going to cross, the lights being in my favour, when a car came up and went straight across the lights without stopping. It turned round and, still against the lights, proceeded to come back. There was a policeman standing on the corner just beside me, and I said to him: "Why the deuce do you not stop that car?" In a very leisurely manner, when I repeated my question, he went over and waved a light at the car and stopped it. Then, in a very gentle tone, he said: "Do you realise that you crossed against the lights?" The fellow said: "Oh, did I? There are so many things to look at that I did not see them." I am afraid I then lost my temper with both of them and I said to the constable: "Do you realise that this gentleman has just committed an extremely serious offence? Do you not think it is your job to point it out to him?" I said to the driver of the car: "Personally, my own view is that you ought net to be allowed to drive a car and I hope you will not be." The constable took no further action, except to say to the driver: "The gentleman is quite right; it was most dangerous." If the police are not going to prosecute motorists for dangerous driving we are not going to stop that sort of thing.


The noble Lord himself could have prosecuted the driver.


I could have prosecuted him myself, but it is rather difficult, when one is working twelve or fourteen hours a day, to go to a police court and prosecute, particularly when there is a policeman there who can do it for one. I think that the speed limit should be done away with and that the police should be instructed to deal really firmly with dangerous driving.

One final word in support of Lord Alness's suggestion about pedestrians. I do hope that the Press will hammer at the carrying or wearing of something white, not on the arm, because the modern light does not show up as high as that, but below the waist. Tie a white rag round yourself if you are wearing dark clothes—a white apron or anything you like—or wear a white coat or a light coat: but it is not a bit of good having a white arm band, because it comes above the level of the modern light. Even a policeman standing in the street with white arm bands on is absolutely invisible to the motorist. He must have a white coat. I will say this also, that the Commissioner of Police has no right to allow a single man to stand on point duty who has not a white coat.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has spoken last has just taken a point from me which I was going to make about light clothing. I think it is most important that white clothing for pedestrians should be enforced. I know there is a certain diffidence on the part of the authorities about enforcing that, but rear lights have just been enforced on bicycles. I drive a good many miles in a year and I cannot see the difference between enforcing lights on bicycles going slowly and enforcing white clothing for pedestrians. A bicycle may take up slightly more room than a pedestrian; a bicycle is going rather faster than a pedestrian; therefore it is just as difficult to see a bicycle as a pedestrian. Indeed, I think in many cases it is more difficult to see a pedestrian, and therefore it is more important to enforce some sort of white band or reflector for the pedestrian to wear. There has always been, I think, a certain tendency to blame motorists as against pedestrians, and not only as against pedestrians but as against cyclists. It was a long time before the cycle rear light was introduced; and I remember that a few years ago, whenever a motorist had an accident, it was maintained that he must have been driving too fast or he would not have run over the pedestrian. If the pedestrian got in his way that did not matter. It is only recently that that tendency has changed. So I should put in a very strong plea for the enforcement of a white belt or light clothing. Obviously some sort of belt would be cheaper and easier, but that should be compulsory.

I do not want to labour a point which I made the last time I spoke, about street lighting, but I do feel that there is no advantage to be gained by lighting the streets without giving the full amount of light that is obtained in normal conditions. If only a slight or an obscured light is given, the pedestrian will find it more difficult to see the motorist, because the street lighting to a certain extent obscures the sidelights of a car. Equally, the motorist will not be able to see the pedestrian. There are various technical objections against giving full lighting. I do not pretend to be an expert on that subject, but I think I am correct in saying that the streets lights are not wired from a central point. Therefore, if you are going to turn off the complete circuit, it means cutting off the lighting in houses as well. I think that would tend to a great deal of panic in an air raid.

Another point made by the noble Lord who spoke last was that of the man who over-ran a traffic light. All of us have made mistakes at times, and I do not think it is necessarily criminal to run over a traffic light. If it is done intentionally through careless driving it should be punished with the very highest possible penalty: but I myself have run over traffic lights and I think all of us are liable to make errors. I do not think it is fair to come down too heavily on a man who may have been looking at the side to see a pedestrian crossing on the right and who may have failed to see the traffic light. I remember, when I started working in a firm, a motto was displayed which stated, "The man who never made a mistake has never made anything worth while"; and it is only human to err. Therefore I think that we want to try to prosecute the driver who drives in an intentionally dangerous way, rather than the driver who just makes some slight mistake. It may be fatal, but all of us make mistakes.

4.27 p.m.


My Lords, I so very heartily agree with what fell from Lord Alness that I do not propose to trouble your Lordships with more than a very few observations. I think, if I may say so, in reference to the speech which has just been made, our business is not to consider whether motorists are fairly treated or not fairly treated. That is really a secondary consideration. By all means let them be fairly treated.


I thought I was replying to the speech of the noble Lord who spoke last. I was not making any reflection on the administration of justice in this country.


I do not think that the motorists have any cause to complain of the administration of justice in this country. My experience of them is that they are always let off very lightly, even when they have committed the most horrible offences; but that only just shows how the same facts produce different opinions on, I hope, perfectly honest observers. But the point I was going to make is rather different. We are faced with the fact that a great number of our fellow countrymen are being killed, and killed unnecessarily. There is no doubt about that. They are killed unnecessarily. That is a terrific fact. The figures mentioned by Lord Alness are astounding, that if the slaughter goes on at this rate we shall have killed 40,00o people in three years. Just consider: Suppose a battle took place, even under modern conditions, and we were told that 40,000 of our soldiers had been killed, we should say, "That is a very terrific slaughter." But this slaughter is in pure peace-time, under conditions which ought to be so arranged as to give a reasonable degree of safety to all people using the highway. Therefore, that is the terrific point that we have to consider.

It really is not the consideration, if I may be allowed to say so to the noble Lord, whether it is right or not right to punish a motorist for having failed to observe a traffic light. He may be right or wrong. That is not a matter of any very great importance. But it is of the utmost importance that we should save the lives of people on the highway. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, is quite right in saying that the armlet is insufficient protection for the pedestrian. At the same time we must be reasonable. You cannot put all the pedestrians into white cloaks. That is out of the question. That just simply cannot be done. Many of them could not possibly afford such a luxury. That is not a practical proposal.


They could carry white newspapers or a white piece of paper.


The noble Lord knows much more about this, tactically, than I do. If that would do, it might answer, but it is no use for us talking here about what would be a good plan. It is for the Government, with their skilled advisers, to say what would be the right practical precautions—not unpractical—for pedestrians to take. It is most important, most desirable, that that should be laid down. I entirely agree. I am all for propaganda within limits, as it has been shown to have done a great deal of good in certain cases, but I confess that to my mind the central proposition is this. It is plain that the cause of the great increase in accidents is that the motorist is driving under conditions of light which do not enable him to see the pedestrian or whatever it may be—an obstruction—in time to stop before running into him or it. That is the plain fact. There can be no doubt about it. If that is so, it is absolutely essential to lay down, as a rule, that the motorist must not drive at such a speed that he cannot stop within the limits of the distance he can see. If you can get a greater range of vision by a fresh system of lighting, then let him go rather faster, but until that is done, he must be able to stop his car within the limits that he can light the road. How that would work out, practically, is again a matter for the skilled advisers of the Government, but I am sure that is the principle on which we ought to insist.

It really is essential that we should establish the principle that these great engines, weighing some of them more than one ton, must not be driven along the streets under conditions which imperil those who use the streets with reasonable care. That is the principle which ought to be established absolutely. When my noble friend opposite talks about the motorist not having a fair hearing, or some phrase to that effect, he must remember that it is the motorists who kill the pedestrians, not the pedestrians who kill the motorists. That makes a very important difference. It is for this principle which I contend very strongly, not because I hate motorists at all, but because I wish to see this great blot on our civilisation abolished. I hope the Government will make any regulations they consider essential and that, at any rate, they will put out in some intelligible form the precautions that are necessary for those using the highways under present conditions, as long as these conditions last.

Merely to give an illustration of what is in my mind, I saw a case in the papers the other day where a man and his wife, crossing the road, very foolishly crossed just past a stationary vehicle, and the moment they emerged from behind the stationary vehicle a motor car struck them and killed the man. I do not know in the least whether that motorist was to blame. I can conceive circumstances in which he was not in any way to blame, but that is the kind of case regarding which the Government might issue special instructions. They ought to say it is very essential that pedestrians should not cross just behind a stationary vehicle, and it is equally necessary that motorists coming towards a stationary vehicle should be extremely careful of someone emerging at the last moment. I am afraid I have made a rather ragged contribution to the debate, but I hope the Government will really try to make some effort to put a stop to this very serious state of affairs.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies, I have a practical suggestion to make. Two years ago I introduced a Bill into your Lordships' House, asking the Government to accept the simple proposition which has been very well stated by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil. That Bill proposed that it should be the duty of every motorist to go at such a speed that he could pull up within the distance he could see. I consulted the Ministry of Transport before introducing the Bill and they said, of course, it was common sense, but there were various considerations which prevented them from adopting it. That was very wrong, because it has always been the rule of law, so I understand—I had to go into it with some care at the time—that you ought to take this precaution in order to avoid damaging your fellow subjects. That has been the law for centuries. But at that time, whether it was due to the motor industry or whether it was that some other reason prevailed, this elementary principle of law was rejected by His Majesty's Government. I would ask the noble Earl, before he replies, to consider whether he could not just take up my Bill which was carefully drafted by, I suppose—the noble Viscount on the Woolsack will not dispute it—almost the ablest living lawyer in the country, and get it passed into law. It could be proved by mathematicians of repute that it would probably reduce the casualties described by Lord Alness by at least a quarter, and probably more, just by establishing the age-old rule that everybody must only drive so fast, whatever vehicle he is using, that he can pull up within the distance he can see. If the noble Earl says "No," then I feel I should introduce my Bill again.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I shall keep the noble Earl only a minute or two from his reply, which we are all awaiting with great interest, while I comment on two points brought out by Lord Alness. The first is propaganda. I agree with him entirely that a great deal more could be done, particularly through the B.B.C. I do not think the ordinary man in the street nowadays, having so much else to think about, with the war foremost in his mind, is inclined to care very much about reading in the newspapers about this holocaust on the roads. If on a special evening, at an opportune time in the evening, every week, a B.B.C. commentator were to thrust down his ears the facts of what had happened during the week in the way of accidents, and perhaps put some of the salient points in regard to these accidents, adding a word as to any safety measures which might have prevented them, something might get home to the road user's mind. I feel a great deal more should be done in the way of propaganda and I believe the B.B.C. is the way to do it.

My second point relates to extra lighting in the streets. I have to mention this because I happened to be talking to a flying friend of mine the other day. He told me that recently he had flown over London once or twice, and he said the effect of the black-out was perfectly astounding. He could not believe it possible that such a result could have been brought about. In fact, he said, he had the greatest difficulty in finding his way back to his own aerodrome, though he is an accomplished night flyer. I am told that the danger of increasing street lighting is not so much that there will perhaps be a difficulty in putting out the lights in time of an air raid, but that the area of London is so vast that if you increase the lighting only to a small degree in the streets you will set up such a glare in the sky as can be seen a great many miles out at sea. That, I imagine, would be a very useful guide to people wanting to bomb London, or would give them a very useful line of direction to the Medway or Thames Estuary. I feel certain that if any arrangements can be made for mitigating this terrible loss of life on the roads very full consideration will be given by His Majesty's Government before any large increase in our street lighting is even thought of.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, before I deal with the general subject of the debate perhaps I might make specific mention of the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. I certainly will undertake to put his proposal before my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport, but it does occur to me, as one who has not made a profound study of this problem, that thinking of it on general lines it would be extremely dangerous to specify just one thing in an Act of Parliament, because there are so many forms of dangerous driving. That would be evident to those who have read the Report of the noble Lord, Lord Alness. His Committee decided that the problem was many-sided. I think from the debate it is quite clear that the noble Lord, Lord Alness, need not for a moment have felt it was necessary to apologise to your Lordships' House for raising this subject again; indeed there is no one more competent than the noble Lord to do so. He reminded us that he has presided over a Committee in peace-time which heard evidence showing how acute this problem was then. Your Lordships may remember that it was only in May last that I promised your Lordships, on behalf of the Minister of Transport, that the Report was not going to be pigeon-holed. In fact the Minister was then in the position of being very near to having his full statement prepared in answer to the Report. To-day the specific subject that is in our minds is the condition of the problem in war-time.

The noble Lord has given us some appalling figures which are perfectly accurate. He told us that in September the deaths on the road were no fewer than 1,130, which is just more than double what they were in peace-time. In the following month there were over 900 which, although representing a reduction of over 200, still leaves us with an appalling toll of death. Notwithstanding, it does perhaps suggest to us that people are becoming a little more accustomed to dealing with black-out conditions. The only small comfort to be derived from those figures is that they do not appear to include any substantial increase in the number of children under fifteen. I think that is partly explained by evacuation and partly by the fact that the parents and those responsible for children are definitely taking more care. The education authorities are endeavouring to make quite sure that the children get home before darkness. One outstanding feature in debates in your Lordships' House upon this problem is that there is very little attempt made to lay the blame on any particular party. Rather is the problem dealt with as one constituted of certain factors that have to be faced. Perhaps the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, has a very good idea in the back of his mind as to where he places most of the blame, but I think the majority of your Lordships regard the problem rather objectively. We all realise that when we are ourselves pedestrians, we do sometimes forget the problems and difficulties of motorists, and, equally, motorists, certainly under present conditions, are inclined to forget the appalling difficulties under the black-out for pedestrians.

Your Lordships will want to know what steps the Government have actually taken to lessen the risk of road accidents during the black-out and also what steps they intend to take. I think we are all agreed that there is no one solution for this problem. It is really a matter of dealing with a great number of detailed needs, and if, therefore, my speech takes a little the form of a catalogue attempting to deal with the points that have been brought up in the debate, I hope your Lordships will forgive me. One point that has received great attention this afternoon is the question of pedestrians wearing or carrying something white at night. If I may say so, one or two extremely interesting remarks have been made upon that matter. I particularly took note of one point put by the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst. There is no doubt that those of us who have been driving lately have realised that our lights do not reflect as high as the arm band. I will certainly put that point to my right honourable friend. As your Lordships know, the Minister of Transport has made repeated appeals to the public to do something on this matter, but one of the most difficult problems of government to-day is the number of times that you have to repeat anything before you can get it through to the public. There is so much said and so much to read that it is extraordinarily difficult to do that. The public are using torches. To that device they have taken, although I am not sure it is so much because of advice as simply because they found for themselves that it was a good thing to do.

Two or three noble Lords have referred to the fact that cyclists now have to have a rear light, and they have remarked upon the folly of mankind which makes it necessary for us to wait till we have a war until we do something which is obviously only common sense. At least let us be pleased that it has now happened. One noble Lord—I think it was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Alness—referred to the fact that there are still some cyclists going about without rear lights. Up till very lately it was rather difficult for them to obtain them, but I am informed that that difficulty is disappearing and any excuse for not having rear lights is being rapidly removed. Then there is the question of the type of headlights that motorists may use on cars. Although it has not been specifically mentioned, I think it will be generally agreed that the latest type of mask for headlights is definitely an immense advance on anything that has hitherto been devised. We hope in the near future to find ourselves in a position to make the use of these masks compulsory, but of course we must be completely satisfied on the question of supplies before we can do so.

Another point that has not been mentioned in this debate is the painting of white guide lines on the roads. That I think really has been of very considerable use. It has been immensely extended, and I can say that Divisional Officers of the Ministry of Transport are impressing upon all highway authorities the importance of maintaining these white lines at a high standard of visibility. I think your Lordships will agree that the St. Andrew's Cross which has replaced the red light on islands and pedestrian refuges is an improvement. I know myself that at the beginning of the black-out it was very difficult to know whether you were aiming for an island or the back of a taxicab, and as they are of very different widths the uncertainty was liable sometimes to have rather unfortunate results. In rural areas we are taking steps to see that signs are lowered so that they catch the headlights of cars. I think that will be of considerable use. Noble Lords have already referred to the practice of leaving cars at night with the lights facing the wrong way. There again we have learned wisdom during war-time.

No one here this afternoon has criticised the omnibus drivers, but I have seen certain criticisms of them, although I think the schedules of the omnibus companies receive the blame. Steps have been taken to modify these time schedules so that omnibus drivers need not drive at an excessive rate in order to maintain their schedules. I think all your Lordships would be willing to join with me in a tribute to the omnibus drivers, who have been going through a period of the most appalling strain during the last few weeks and months. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst who referred to the lack of use of the police patrols owing to shortage of petrol. It is perfectly true that many of them have been laid up for that reason, but I can assure the noble Lord that they are being brought out in increasing numbers at the present time.

One very important point has been discussed by many of your Lordships this afternoon. I refer to the general principle of the black-out. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, reminded us of what in fact the black-out is protecting us against. He also gave us an extraordinarily good and interesting example of how important and how effective a protection it is. Actually I am informed that when London is fully lighted up the glow can be seen for something between thirty and forty miles. Even some weeks ago, when we were experimenting with systems of modified lighting, the best system we were able to devise could be seen something like sixteen miles away at a height of a few thousand feet. The Government have been a little criticised by one noble Lord for not making earlier experiments with lighting. I think the answer is perfectly clear. Experiments could only be made under conditions of complete black-out and it was not possible to obtain those conditions until we came to war itself. As soon as the complete black-out of war-time was instituted experiments were begun with various forms of lighting. One noble Lord said he hoped that we would call in all the advice that was at our disposal. I can assure the noble Lord that we are certainly doing so. While one experiment to which I had referred was not successful, I think your Lordships will be pleased to hear that different methods are now being tried and that these new experiments have reached a very advanced stage. If, in fact, they do prove to be successful, then indeed they will make a most profound difference in the whole of the problem we are discussing to-day.

There is one other point which I have not yet mentioned, one which was referred to I think by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Alness. He proposed that we should reduce the speed limit in built-up areas from thirty to twenty miles per hour. The trouble in regard to that proposal is that it would be very difficult to lay down a limit that could be regarded as applicable generally in all conditions. On a moonlight night conditions are completely different from those on a wet and rainy or foggy night. The view of my right honourable friend is that it is much better to rely on the general law and to institute prosecutions for dangerous driving. The noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, said that that power of prosecution had rather fallen into disuse as the result of the speed limit. I will certainly bring the point to the notice of my right honourable friend, although I am not sure that it would be found so difficult to bring a successful prosecution. The noble Lord referred to a certain personal experience of his own. I cannot help feeling that he was extraordinarily lenient in the whole matter. I am very surprised that he did not take the number of the policeman and of the car and report them both.


I quite admit I ought to have, but I was very tired.


Noble Lords have referred to the need of more propaganda. I quite agree that every attempt should be made to bring the facts and the seriousness of the situation before the public. I have already mentioned one difficulty: how difficult it is to get the public to listen or to appreciate things; but I can tell your Lordships that the Minister of Transport, in consultation with the Minister for Home Security, is making arrangements for further broadcasts on the subject of road safety in the black-out. While other proposals such as posters and so on have been put forward, I think that most of your Lordships will agree with me that the wireless is the best way of getting at the public to-day.

I hope that these remarks of mine, admittedly, as I said at the beginning, rather of a cataloguing character, will convince your Lordships that the Government, and particularly my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport, are endeavouring to tackle these problems. Many of them are new, some of them are not new, but even those that are not new have to be looked at with a fresh eye in the light of new conditions. I hope your Lordships will feel, from this list of what has already been done, that my right honourable friend is really looking into this problem and seeing it in its extremely serious aspect. I think you must all feel that, whatever the Government can do, ultimately the solution must come from the action of individuals, whether they are pedestrians, cyclists or motorists. The Government can do everything in their power to lay down the conditions under which those individuals can best operate, and can do everything in their power, as they intend to do, by broadcast and other methods to make individuals realise what is the position; but, in the words of the Highway Code, accidents are inevitable unless due allowance is made for possible errors on the part of others.

5.4 p.m.


My Lords, my words shall be few. I want in the first place to thank the noble Earl very cordially for his most courteous reply. I said that I looked forward to it with a measure of hope, and I trust that he will not think me ungrateful if I say that I have listened to it with a measure of disappointment. The Minister of Transport is face to face with this damning fact, that in the first three months of the war 3,000 people have lost their lives upon the roads of Great Britain. I am not at all satisfied, if I may say so, that the plans which the noble Earl has described as being in contemplation by the right honourable gentleman are commensurate with or adequate to deal with a situation so tremendously serious as that disclosed by that simple figure. However, I am glad the matter has been aired, if I may say so, this afternoon, and I thank your Lordships who have spoken in support of the Motion. With the permission of the House, I should now seek to withdraw the Motion which I originally moved.


My Lords, before the Motion is withdrawn, may I by leave of the House ask one question of the noble Earl? He said he did not propose to vary the speed limit. Does he propose to abolish speed limits altogether? If not, since they were fixed under one condition, surely it is right to vary them now that the conditions have changed?


My Lords, I said that it was not proposed to vary them, nor was it proposed to abolish them; but it is not merely conceivable but quite likely sometimes that someone who is driving within the limits of the speed limit may still be driving to the danger of the public. We therefore have a second line to fall back on, and that is prosecution for dangerous driving.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at six minutes past five o'clock.