HL Deb 30 July 1946 vol 142 cc1115-37

My Lords, before moving the Motion which stands in my name to approve the Special Order relating to the Highway Code, I would like to say that several noble Lords have approached me on the question of having a general debate on other questions affecting highway usage and the safety of the public. Those of us who have discussed the matter feel that it would be inadvisable to embark on a wide debate to-day, and also that it would be unfair to the noble Duke, the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, who has had a notice of Motion on the Order Paper for some time. That Motion has been deferred for the general convenience of the Departments concerned and is likely to be brought on early in the new Session. The noble Duke's Motion is in the widest terms in order to provide for general discussion on the whole question of road safety, highway arrangements, and so forth. I feel that we ought not to embark upon that to-day, but to restrict our consideration to the Motion to approve the new edition of the Highway Code, and I have much pleasure in moving accordingly.

The revision of the Highway Code has been made in accordance with the Road Traffic Act, 1930, which provided that a general Code should be printed and issued for the guidance of people using the roads. Provision was made in the Act for revision from time to time, and the first Code was revised in 1935. That is the one now in use. It would have been revised sooner but for the war. The revision has now been completed, and is before your Lordships. No doubt most of your Lordships have taken the opportunity of looking at it. The first edition of the Code was a small book of 24 pages, and the new one is rather larger, containing 32 pages. It covers more ground, and emphasizes subjects which, in the view of those who prepared the book, need further emphasis. The Code has been examined by the Special Orders Committee, and they have reported favourably upon it. They say that no further inquiry is necessary before the House considers the Resolution to approve the Code itself.

I may say that this new Code was prepared, in consultation with the Departments of State concerned, by the Committee on Road Safety which was appointed in 1943, and issued a very important Report in the year 1944. I may say that that Committee is still working continuously, and hopes to produce a further report in the near future. There are some difficulties through shortage of highly skilled labour in the Ministry, and of course some difficulty in getting things printed, but we hope that that report will be available before we debate the Motion of the noble Duke, the Duke of Richmond. Then we shall be right up to date and be able to deal with the subject in a competent way.

The draft of this new Code was circulated to all road-using interests as soon as it was prepared, and their comments were carefully considered. Such of their suggestions as were believed to be helpful were embodied in the draft, and the booklet now before your Lordships is more or less in its final form so far as the Code is concerned. The Foreword and the Appendices may, perhaps, be subject to amendment, but it is desired that the Cody itself should not be altered at this late date. I think those who have looked at it will agree that the new booklet shows considerable improvement as regards both typography and lay-out, and I have pleasure in acknowledging the assistance which we have had from Sir Francis Meynell, who is recognized as one of the greatest experts in typography in the country.

Many changes have been embodied in the contents of the Code. It is applicable to all road users, whether they use the roads as pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, lorry drivers or drivers of horse-drawn vehicles. All the different categories of road users are dealt with, and, for their convenience, the book has been divided into sections applicable to the respective groups. Many new precepts have been added to those which were in vogue before, more especially in regard to children. I think your Lordships will agree that it is very pleasing to find special attention given to the case of the children, for, as we know, the death-rate among children from road accidents has risen terribly in modern times. I have to acknowledge with great pleasure the assistance which the Ministry of Transport have received from the Ministry of Education, the Home Office and other Departments of State. I thank them for the assistance which they have given in regard to the Code as a whole. Additional advice is given in the new booklet to cyclists and to pedestrians, as it has been felt, as the result of past experience, that they need more guidance than they have hitherto had. More advice is also given to motorists of all kinds and there are twelve entirely new paragraphs in the booklet which give effect to special points of importance.

I would mention now one particular feature of the booklet which we hope will have a very good effect on motorists. That is the braking chart which appears on the inside of the back cover—what might be called Page 3 of the cover. This shows very clearly important scientific facts abort the possibilities of pulling-up. It gives important information relating to the use of brakes and indicates minimum distances for braking in relation to the speed of the vehicle concerned and the time available. It deals with five speeds—ten, twenty, thirty, forty and fifty miles an hour—and it shows plainly how much more difficult it is to pull up any vehicle going at a high speed as compared with a vehicle going at a speed of, say, ten or twenty miles an hour. We hope that this table will be studied very earnestly by all who drive motor vehicles, and that the lessons which it conveys will be borne in mind.

The requirements of the law are made quite clear in five pages. They are, of course, for the guidance of all concerned in the use of the roads, whether as pedestrians, cyclists, or drivers of motor or horse-drawn vehicles. These requirements are set out very plainly and simply. I do not know whether all the language used is up to the best Oxford standard of English. This book has been drafted so that it may be easily understood by the people for whose use it is intended; that is to say, so that it may be as readily comprehended by the drayman as by the man who drives his own Rolls-Royce. All classes of road-users, it is believed, will be able to understand this book, even if the grammar may be deemed by some to be a little imperfect here and there. Grammar, after all, is to some extent a matter of opinion, and even grammarians occasionally disagree. I think your Lordships will be glad to know that this book will be used as a prime instrument in testing now motorists who want to take out driving licences, whether for purposes of recreation or of business. Testing is not taking place at the present time. It was carried out before the war, but it had to be suspended during the war period owing to the lack of a sufficient number of expert people to do the necessary examining. The experts are being gathered again and registered, and we hope very soon to have enough of them available to enable us to re-impose driving tests on all those who desire to go upon the roads as motorists in the future.

The contents of the Code will be better known in the future; they will most certainly be required to be sufficiently well known to make it a quite untenable argument for anyone to put forward by way of excuse that he does not know about the Code at all, or about the contents of it. A plea of ignorance of the Code will not be accepted as any excuse for carelessness. Anyone who is taken before the Courts and accused of remissness as a road-user will not be able to raise effectively any plea of that kind. Furthermore, everyone, I am sure, will agree that it is most desirable that the Code should have the widest possible circulation. The Ministry of Transport have made arrangements to have bulk supplies of the booklet produced in such numbers as will permit of one being sent to every household in the kingdom. The Postmaster-General has agreed to arrange for the distribution direct, through the postal service, to every home in the country. When that has been done and there is a copy of the Code in every home, available for motorists requiring licences, those people will be tested and examined on the Code. There will be no excuse for anyone to say that they do not know anything about the Code. I am pleased to be able to add that supplies will be sent to all local authorities and to any other bodies who are assisting in the road safety campaign. That campaign has been running for some months. The second stage of the campaign will be embarked upon as soon as the distribution of this booklet has been completed. It will be the basis of the second stage of the road safety campaign. I am sure that it will be very helpful indeed, and that the new Code will prove itself an improvement on the old one. It will. I believe, help further to promote good manners amongst all road-users and will assist in securing greater safety on our roads. If everyone acts on the advice contained in this book and carries its precepts and principles into practice, I am sure that there will be a distinct diminution in the numbers of road accidents. I beg to move that the Special Order be approved.

Moved, That the Special Order, as reported from the Special Orders Committee on Wednesday last, be approved.—(Lord Walkden.)

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord who has introduced this matter with such a careful speech, that we should not embark to-day on a general debate on road policy. This is an occasion for us to look into the Code and its exact phrases, but not an occasion for saying what we think future laws should be on this subject. We should all agree that it is much better that that should be deferred until my noble friend the Duke of Richmond and Gordon has an opportunity of raising the Motion which he has had on the Order Paper for some time. Indeed, I think that that Motion might better be discussed when the White Paper, to which the noble Lord has just referred, is issued.

I take some interest in this matter, not only because I was more or less in charge of road matters during the time that I was at the Ministry of War Transport, but because I have recently taken on the job of President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. I am glad to say that that organization is taking some part in this road safety campaign, and I hope that we shall get this Code approved as soon as possible, and that we shall not in the least hamper the campaign which is being conducted by the Ministry, by the police, by the education authorities, and also—I hope, helpfully—by the Royal Society. But I think one should look at the drafting of this Code before it is issued "with the Authority of Parliament," as is said on page 32.

Looking at the Foreword I notice a point there of which I believe the Minister is already well aware. The second paragraph says: … Each provision, whether it relates to a legal requirement or to discretionary behaviour, has been included because of its importance in preventing road accidents. That paragraph has been adversely commented upon in some organs of the Press, and I think—and I believe that the Ministry will think—that the wording might be improved. If we said "Each provision, whether it states what the law requires of you, or how you should exercise your discretion," it would be a considerable improvement. I understand from the noble Lord who has introduced this Code to us that an alteration to the Minister's Foreword can be made, although we may approve the main Code to-day. I should like to be equally clear that the Appendix is also not to be part of the Code, because I shah have quite a lot to say about some of the drafting there. I do not approach this Code from the point of view of whether it is perfect Oxford or any other English, but I want it to be easily understandable by the people. I like the English of the Bible, and the sooner we get a background of, good Bible English to our drafting, the better it will be understood in the ordinary home. May I mention in passing that when I went to one Ministry, and my private secretary was drafting letters for me, I tore up the lot the first day and told him to go and read a particular chapter of the Bible and to draft the letters in that kind of English, when I would probably be able to sign them.

Before I come to the Appendix—whether now is the time to consider it or not—I would ask your Lordships to look at paragraph 15: Before you cross the road, stop, look right, left, and right again; then cross at right-angles keeping a careful look-out all the time. Be specially alert on one-way traffic roads. I would rather have had a separate paragraph for one-way traffic roads, because although the advice to "stop" applies equally there, the direction "Look right, left, and right again" does not necessarily apply on the one-way traffic roads. I am not suggesting that we should hold up the Code to alter that, but I suggest that another time we should have an extra paragraph following this one and dealing with one-way traffic roads.

When we adopt in this country police-controlled crossings, or crossings controlled by traffic signs, I hope that we shall remember a very good rule which obtains in Washington, the capital of the United States of America. If you attempt there to cross against a policeman's arm or against a traffic light you are liable to be stopped by another policeman, who there and then takes five dollars off you, with the option that you may go before a court. When he takes the five dollars he gives you a receipt, and that is the end of the matter—except that you have lost the live dollars and are very sorry for the loss, and you do not do that kind of thing again. The number of people I have seen hesitate before they cross when a policeman's arm is up or the traffic light is against them, because of that sense of an immediate descent of some sanction, is quite extraordinary. As a matter of fact, it does lead to far more orderly behaviour on the road. I do not want to drive anybody off the roads, but where there are controlled crossings, whether by traffic lights or by a policeman's arm, I want to see that motorists or other drivers, and pedestrians, should all pay proper attention to the times when each should use the road. There might be some immediate sanction for the pedestrian and the motorist; you might make it five "bob" for one and ten "bob" for the other. Such a scheme, I think, would be generally acceptable in this country and you would not have all that business of having to go to court a week or a fortnight later. The sanction would be immediate, and when the policeman took your name there would always be the option of paving the money or going to court. This system seems to work extraordinarily well in America, and it seems to me that we might take lessons from our cousins across the Atlantic.

When we come to paragraph 30—I know this point has been raised at the Ministry—I do not like the double negative in sub-paragraph (a). It would be much better if after "Do not overtake" instead of the words "unless you can do so without forcing" we used the words "if you will thereby force the overtaken or approaching vehicles to swerve or reduce speed." There is no other "unless" in that paragraph. Those are a few points under the Highway Code proper. My comment on paragraph 46 is that I do not think that the ordinary person knows what is meant by "stopping distances." I very much doubt it. If it is desired to have a code that everybody understands, I think that we ought to have another phrase. Paragraph 46 says: The good driver knows how stopping distances increase with speed … I think it would be in improvement to have some such words as The good driver knows how the space within which he can stop increases with speed. I am quite aware that some matters of this sort are going to be raised in another place. I do not know whether at this stage it would be possible to incorporate an amendment in the Code, if it were done with the consent of both Houses of Parliament. I do not think that is a purely pedantic point. I am the last person who wants to hold up the printing of this Code, because I want to get on with this road safety campaign, and I hope these suggestions can be implemented now without postponing the Code.

When I turn to the Appendix I see first the picture of a policeman, then pictures of drivers, and on page 18 a picture of a gentleman on top of a bus or a coach. Whatever the vehicle may be he is a man with a whip who signals on other drivers. Two signals by this man are illustrated. The first is: "I am going to STOP." That is all right. The second is: "I am going to TURN," but the signal is shown for only a turn in one direction. Everybody knows that a well-trained driver of a cart gives one signal if he is going to turn in one direction and another signal if he is going turn in the other direction. It is a pity that there is not a third drawing so that both those signals could be depicted. It is much better if a man who is driving a cart indicates which way he is going to turn, as the motorist or the cyclist always has to do. I suggest that another little drawing should be included. Below the drawings are the words: After rotating the whip, incline it to the right or left to show the direction in which the turn is to be made. I much prefer the words "in which you are about to turn." That is more colloquial than the phrase "in which the turn is to be made," and a simple expression is very desirable in a code which everybody is expected to understand.

On page 23 there is a list called "The Law's Demands." Here I must say that I do not like the general set-out of the injunctions "You must" and "You must not." Despite what Sir Francis Meynell may have advised, I should have liked those words printed in heavier type instead of italics. It would bring them more effectively to people's attention. I am quite certain my suggestion would result in an improvement in the book. The words "You must" and "You must not" would be indicated in more emphatic form. Towards the end of page 23 there are the words: A certificate of insurance must be obtained from an authorized insurer, and must be produced to a police constable on demand. If it is not so produced, it must be produced in person within five days … I should like to substitute for the first "must" the word "should." If you have not got your insurance certificate with you, you are given five days to produce it to the police. So it would be better to have the word "should" on the first occasion, and the word "must" on the second occasion. That would be an accurate statement of the law. Although it necessitates another line of print, I should like to see repeated at the top of page 24 the words "Before driving make sure that—." That would give continuity in the setting out, and I think would be a great improvement because it would be a reminder of what people must not do.

The noble Lord, Lord Walkden, said that he wanted words which would be understood by the ordinary person. I think that cannot apply to the words, "warning instrument must be in working order." It would be better to say: "Your horn" or "Your bell" must be in working order. The booklet states that the warning instrument "must not be sounded in built-up areas at night … not on any road when the vehicle is stationary." If the last nine words imply that that is a statutory rule and order I think the rule ought to be changed. On two occasions in the last week or so I have been in my car when a lorry started backing on to me. My vehicle was stationary, and I sounded my horn as loudly as I could. The lorry driver stopped, and there was not an accident. If what I did is an offence against the law, then I say the old adage applies—the law is a bit of an ass. There are certainly occasions when it is quite right and proper for a person in a stationary car to blow his horn to give somebody warning.

I should like, again on the question of lay-out, to refer to the bottom of page 25, where there are printed in this way the words:


You must (i) Stop;

I hope it may be possible to transfer those words to the top of the next page so that the three paragraphs (i), (ii),(iii) can be read together.

Towards the bottom of page 26 I find the injunction:


You must hold the reins, unless your horse is conducted by someone else. Has anyone ever heard a farm worker say to another, "Why are you late home?" and the reply, "I was conducting my horse." The farm worker would say nothing of the sort. He would say, "I was leading my horse home." Let us get rid of the word "conducting" and put in the words "unless your horse is led," led being a much more common word, at any rate for the man who has not been educated at Oxford.

When I turn to "Hints on Driving," on page 29, I find it stated: A front or rear burst is dangerous, but the former is the more disastrous. I do not think it is necessary to over-state the case. I should like to see the words "may be," so that the sentence would read "The former may be the more disastrous." The bursting of a tyre is not necessarily disastrous, but it is desirable to give a warning. I suggest the words "may he" should be used.

The next point is on the fifth paragraph, which begins "Keep a sharp look-out for changes in road condition." Looking a little further down I find that you have also to "keep a look-out on both sides of the road as well as to your front." It is necessary to keep a sharp look-out in order to see pedestrians or things coming on to the road. It does not need so sharp a look-out to know that it is raining. Therefore I certainly suggest that we delete "sharp" from its earlier place, and leave just the simple words "Keep a look-out," because if we want "sharp" to appear anywhere it is in the sentence further down. Turning to paragraph 6 of "Hints on driving," one reads: "Unless compelled by traffic conditions, avoid driving closely behind the vehicle in front of you. If you do" (that is, I suppose, avoid driving closely) "your vision is restricted." That is not what is meant, and the English, as it is printed, reads exactly the opposite to what is intended. Therefore that phrase certainly wants changing round.

Now I come to the bottom of that page, and I find "Never brake or accelerate violently at a corner: it may induce skidding." Well, I suppose that phrase is conditioned by the word "violently," but it is a fact, of course, that in all the police schools at the present moment they are instructing people to accelerate as they go round a corner. You go slowly to your corner, and accelerate as you go round it. The racing motorist has known for years that this, method helps him to keep all his four wheels on the road and to get round the corner without skidding or swinging out. It is often of great advantage, as the police driving schools are teaching, to accelerate slightly round a corner—I do not say violently—and I think that this bald statement may well be looked into to see whether it conflicts with what the police are, in fact, teaching in the very good schools up and down the country.

Now let us turn to one sentence on page 30. This point, I should think, has arisen from the fact that everybody concerned has been consulted. I should think everybody has put a little bit into this sentence, as so often happens when that kind of thing occurs. It states: A good driver, though he may use different controls in quick succession, should be very observant and never allow himself to be placed in such a position that he must try to do too many things at the same time. The words "though he may use different controls in quick succession" add nothing to the intention of the paragraph but only make it far more complicated. It continues: "His whole method of driving should be mapped out. It should be deliberate and thoughtful." I would rather like to leave out the words "mapped out," so that it should read: "His whole method of driving should be deliberate and thoughtful." That is all a driver need be told, and I think the whole of this sentence might well be looked at again, split up into rather shorter sentences and made less complicated than it is.

Now I have come almost to the end, as your Lordships, I expect, will be delighted to hear, but I hope I have made some contribution towards improving this booklet. I should like now to ask one other question. What is the "reaction time"? I think it is admirable to have this particular page on the inside of the back cover showing the time it takes to pull up at different speeds, but I should like to ask the noble Lord who is going to reply what is the reaction time on which the thinking distances are based? Thinking distance varies with different people; it is the reaction time from the moment a person sees something and realizes he ought to put on his brake. Some people take a fifth of a second, some two-fifths of a second, and so on, whatever the reaction time is. With a feeling of dread, I allowed myself, at one of these road safety exhibitions, to be tested for reaction time. I do not know if there was any cheating, but I pulled up more quickly than the average, which really rather delighted me. But I really would like to know what the time is on which these thinking distances are based.

Moreover, I would have liked to include somewhere in the hints to pedestrians that they should take more care in crossing the road when the roads are slippery. It is quite safe on a dry road to try to cross the road with a car coming at thirty miles an hour, leaving only forty or fifty yards between you and the car. A lot of people do not realize, however, that if you suddenly step off the kerb and think you have time to do that when it is a skiddy road, then an accident will occur. I should have liked to see somewhere in the hints to pedestrians a particular warning. Because, after all, this booklet is going to be the Bible of instruction for teachers and people in all classes. There should be some warning that they ought to be particularly careful about crossing the road on days when the surface of the roads is slippery.


May I call the noble Lord's attention to paragraph 18? I think he will find the point there.


Yes, it states: "A slippery road is dangerous; watch your step." I do not know, and I hope I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but I thought that meant you are more likely to slip down in front of a motor car and you should watch your step. I should have liked that reference to be more definite—that it is more difficult for motorists to pull up. The phrase to which the noble Lord has drawn my attention does not adequately convey that meaning. I conclude by saying that I am very glad to see that in this Code special attention has been paid to the children. Most of these exhibitions are trying to do that. I believe the greatest chance is to get hold of the people young and inculcate in them an instinctive knowledge of how to cross the road, whether they are pedestrians, whether they are cyclists, or whether they are motorists, as some of them in a few years' time may be.

I am glad the Code pays particular attention to the children, and that the road safety campaign is setting out to start on the children. We older people may be too much ingrained in our old habits and prejudices, but with children there is a perfect field on which to work, and I am very glad to think that this Highway Code is going into every home. Previous editions went only to every motorist, but now we realize that everybody who uses the road ought to take care. That is really the only way of eliminating the vast toll of accidents which unfortunately we still get on our roads. I have made these comments, and I hope that on some of them the Government will be able to meet me. As I say, I do not for one moment want to stop this Code coming into operation at the earliest possible time, nor do I wish to prevent this from being the second phase of the road safety campaign. I think as a whole this Code is an improvement on the last one, and I wish the Ministry and everybody concerned with it success in their campaign for road safety.

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome this little book on the Highway Code very much indeed. My friends and I gave considerable study to it, and we put forward certain amendments to the Minister, some of which I am glad to see have been put in, although some have been left out. The noble Lord who has just sat down seems to have found even more. I should dike to draw your Lordships' attention to the question of illustrations. I do feel that the Ministry might have made the Code a little more colourful and had rather brighter illustrations. There were many examples of that during the war in certain Battle Orders, and so on, which were very dull reading but which had rather interesting cartoons. These helped people to read them quickly and made them anxious to see more. On the whole, I think this is a very good little book, and it will go a long way towards reducing road accidents. I do hope the Ministry will consider bringing back the examination of drivers before granting licences. I feel this is most important. There are thousands of provisional driving licences now being issued, and there is no doubt that the driving on the roads to-day is very poor indeed. There is just one illustration to which I would like to draw attention; it is on the front cover of the book. The illustration shows a lorry overtaking a private car. As we all know, it is nearly always the other way round. That is only a small matter, and I merely mention it in passing. Otherwise I think this is a very good book indeed.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, I find myself in considerable difficulty in this case, because I do not quite know what will be the result of approving this Motion. Does it mean that this Code will then be definitely established until a new Motion is passed altering it? I suppose it does mean that. If it does, what is to happen to all the various suggestions and amendments put forward by my noble friend Lord Llewellin? Are they to have no effect at all? Are they to be merely pious expressions of his hopes for the future? I imagine it is unlike my noble friend, if he will forgive me for saying so, to put forward pious expressions. I feel sure he would wish his suggestions to be properly considered and properly dealt with, and in that case I do not see why we should not deal with the matter now. The only question that will be put, as I understand it, is that this Code be approved. If it is approved, there is no possibility of amending it except by a fresh Motion to make further alterations in the Code.


I understand—and I shall be corrected if I am wrong—that there is some kind of sanctity about the numbered paragraphs in the middle of the booklet. The Minister's Foreword, however, and particularly the Appendix, to which my criticism was mainly directed, do not form part of the Statutory Code and can be altered, and I hope we shall get an assurance from the noble Lord who replies that in some points they will be amended.


That makes it a little easier, I agree, but it still seems to me a very unsatisfactory way of proceeding. It means that we are now to approve a Code with the. Appendices, and the Appendices are thereafter to be altered without any opportunity being given to this House of expressing any opinion about the alterations that have been made. I think that is a very unfortunate method of procedure. Until I came to this House to-day I understood that this was to be in the nature of a purely formal Motion; that there was to be an opportunity given to the Government to circulate this Code, but it was not to be taken, for a moment, that your Lordships were going to approve of the whole of the provisions of this Code without further consideration. I observe it says in the notice—which I think is the report of the Special Orders Committee—that the Committee thinks that the Code cannot be passed by this House without special attention, but that no further inquiry is necessary before the House proceeds to a decision. It seems to be rather an exaggerated way of describing our proceedings this afternoon.

No doubt I ought to have made myself fully acquainted with the provisions of the Code, but I understood we were not going to discuss them at all, and therefore I did not do so. That is an unfortunate position, particularly for a person like myself, because I have the greatest doubts as to the whole policy of proceeding by giving this kind of good advice. I do not think it has produced the slightest effect on the roads so far. The Code has been in operation for some years. I am sure that many motorists never think of looking at it, and I am also sure that the great mass of the pedestrians have never even glanced ref it and do not know anything whatever about it. Personally, I think that to deliver mere general advice, without any sanctions to be applied in respect of that advice, is really playing with the serious question with which we are faced, namely, the slaughter on the roads. It is quite plain that if there is to be a Code, there ought to be definite rules which must be obeyed, and there must be a penalty, whether there is an accident or not, if you disobey those rules. That is what I should like to see. Even if that was thought to be going too far, I still chink it ought to be made quite plain on the face of the Code that if one disregards any of the provisions of the Code, and in consequence thereof there is an accident, that would be prima facie evidence of negligence. Something a little better than general advice seems to me to be required in a case of this importance and this seriousness.

I cannot help feeling that we are dealing with this matter in a very unsatisfactory way. We are now asked to pass this Code, many of the provisions of which are, in spite of the skill with which the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, criticized them, part of the general law as to accidents on the roads. We are then to have a debate in eight or nine weeks' time, in which we are going to review the whole position, but too late to make any variation in the Code which we have now to approve. It seems to me that that is not a business-like arrangement. If it is decided that there is nothing further to be done, and we have only to deal with the Code, I agree; but even then I should have preferred a rather more formal way of dealing with it than has been adopted. The position is that there is a Motion on our Paper under which the whole question of the slaughter on the roads will come up for consideration. We are told that we cannot deal with the matter now, and the reasons have been explained to us. That Motion is a very important one, and it is to be dealt with as soon as we come back from the Recess. We are now asked to deal in a preliminary way with a small section of the questions which we will have to deal with then. This will make it quite impossible to deal practically with those questions again when we come to consider the whole subject of road safety. I cannot believe that that is the best way of dealing with the matter, and I venture to appeal to the Government as to whether it is not possible to postpone the final decision in some way or other until your Lordships have had an opportunity of considering the whole problem of the slaughter on the roads.

I can only point out that so far the campaign for safety on the roads has been a complete failure. There is no improvement that I can see from the figures published of the slaughter on the roads. This morning I saw some figures about the accidents in June in the Metropolitan district, and in every respect they were worse than they were last year. In view of that, I do think it is very important that your Lordships' House should carefully consider what is to be its policy. I think that consideration ought to include consideration of this Code, and I very respectfully venture to ask the Government whether they cannot find some means of postponing the effective consideration of the Code until we have the whole subject of safety on the roads before us, as we shall have when the House reassembles after the Recess.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, there are only two points to which I should like to direct my noble friend's attention. One concerns road signs, which are dealt with on page 21. The majority of these road signs are a kind of rough map of the road in front of one, with the exception of the "Z" sign. Roads may have a "Z" curve or an "S" curve. On a bad night I have known a very nasty accident nearly happen because of a wrong sign of that kind having been placed on the road. If the "Z" sign is fixed on an "S" curve, then I think it ought to be mentioned in the Code that it is only a symbol, and not, like the sign for the crossroads and the "T" junction, an indication of the road in front. I think, however, it would be much preferable if both kinds of bend could be illustrated.

I am sorry that I cannot find in the Code anything about led horses. As your Lordships know, when a man is leading a horse, or riding one horse and leading another, he always travels on the right-hand side of the road facing the oncoming traffic in order that if the led horse plays up he can keep the stern of the horse off the road and so avoid an accident. There is nothing about that in this Code, and I think that for the sake of completeness something should be said about it. There is one small point on which I differ from my noble friend Lord Llewellin, concerning the driver and his whip. When I was learning to drive, I was taught when I was going to turn right or left I should make a circle with my whip and bring it down in the direction in which I proposed to turn. But I was taught in Scotland, and, as your Lordships know, the law in Scotland is in many respects different from the law in England.

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, this is an excellent Highway Code, but I should like to support my noble friend Lord Llewellin on the question of pedestrian crossings. I happened also to be working in Washington during the war, and I know from my own experience that you have to be very careful in crossing the road there if the light is against you. As the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, has said, there has been a large increase in accidents in London lately, mostly in the West End of London. I think that pedestrians, as well as motorists, are careless at these crossing places, and that is where a lot of the accidents occur. If more of the lamps showing "Cross now" and "Do not cross" were put up, it would help a good deal.

There are many things in this Highway Code which are excellent, and I think it ought to be issued as soon as possible. The one which was issued before the war was very good indeed, but it needs to be brought up to date. The precautions it advocated had a great deal of effect and the mobile courtesy police did a great deal of good work. It is only because of the lack of man-power that a lot of these safety precautions have not been again put into force. I think the sooner this new Highway Code is issued, even if it has to be revised, the better it will be.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport will on the whole be able to feel well satisfied with the reception which your Lordships have been kind enough to give to the Highway Code this afternoon. Personally, I think my right honourable friend will find, as time goes on, that he has produced a "best seller." I noticed with great interest all the valuable points which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, many of which were directed to the drafting of the Code. I have found that no man is really a good judge of his own grammar, and I am sure that my right honourable friend will profit greatly by the points of drafting to which the noble Lord, Lord Lleweliin, has called attention. I expect we shall find that the Foreword is not my right honourable friend's last word, and that there will be amendments there. I share the noble Lord's admiration for good Biblical language, and I think that Departments other than that over which the noble Lord once presided would do well to instruct their secretaries and civil servants to adopt some of the good, robust, direct and simple language which distinguishes the Bible.

As to what the noble Lord said about police-controlled crossings—a point which was also touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton—and the Washington rule of being fined on the spot if you cross against the traffic lights, we have got "pay as you earn" and perhaps we may have "pay as you err". I dare say it has much to commend it. I sympathize with what the noble Lord said about pedestrians who will cross against the lights, because, although I have the greatest sympathy with pedestrians and endeavour to take care of them to the best of my ability, I must confess that the pedestrian who does cross against the lights is extremely trying; in fact so trying that it once led me to remark in a speech on this subject that felt I saved the life of a pedestrian every time I drove in London. Although I note what was said about stopping distances, I think it is a phrase well understood by motorists. There are few motorists who would not interpret the words "stopping distance" in their right sense.

To deal with other particular points raised by the noble Lord, I think we can agree with the amendment which he proposed to paragraph 2 of the Foreword. In paragraph 15 of tie Code, the second sentence deals, as does the first, with crossing the road, but we can, however, consider re-arrangement in any future edition. Certainly we agree that at any crossing all road-users should behave reasonably one to another. As to paragraph 30, I think the wording as it stands is more colloquial, but that is again a matter which can be considered for the future. The drawings of the drivers of the horse-drawn vehicles are as in the original Code. They seem to me, I must say, to be efficient, but a change could be made, as suggested by the noble Lord, in the last line. The layout can be considered again, and I am sure my right honourable friend will be quite prepared to do so. The paragraph relating to insurance sets out what is required by the Act, and is accurate. In this part we have felt it necessary to use the appropriate words of the various Acts and Orders, but that again is a matter which can be reconsidered.


Is the noble Lord really right? You have not got to produce your insurance certificate at the time; you are given five days in which to do it if you have not got it with you. Surely the word "must" is not absolutely correct. You should do it, but if you have not got it, you are given five days in which to collect it from your house. Surely "should" is the word.


I agree with the noble Lord that that is how the thing works, but, as I say, my information is that the words used are the words in the Act. Certainly the drafting of the hints on driving on page 29 can be reconsidered. Some of the points have already been noticed and it has been agreed to make certain amendments. The police have approved the passages dealing with the hints on driving. The last hint on driving is being redrafted on the lines suggested by the noble Lord. The chart on the inside of the back cover deals with braking. That is a police chart and it is based on an average reaction time of three-fifths of a second. I am sure that we were all very interested to hear what the noble Lord said about the test of his own reaction time; it only goes to show that the opinions of his many friends have got a scientific basis. It is in fact extremely rapid. As regards pedestrians on slippery roads, an important point, I ask the noble Lord to look at paragraph 18 of the Code.


That is the one to which the noble Lord, Lord Hankey referred me. To me it implies that the pedestrian ought to be careful about crossing. The motorist has got to watch lest the pedestrian may slip down in front of the car. I want to see something in this Code—perhaps in the hints—to the effect that he ought to remember that the car takes longer to stop under certain conditions.


That will certainly be considered. I might refer to what the noble Lord said about "You must." I was surprised, after what he said about beautiful language, that he did not suggest it should be "Thou shalt." I assure the noble Lord that all the very valuable points which he has raised will be most carefully studied. There is no doubt whatever that it will be possible to make certain amendments and improvements as a result of what he has said.


. There is one further point I would like to make, if I am not interrupting too much. Whether it is "thou shalt" or "you must," I do ask that it be put in heavy type. I think that will be a great improvement.


I will certainly bring that point to the notice of my right honourable friend. The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, said he would like some coloured illustrations. I hope that may be possible, because I quite agree that a little colour in a Code of this sort does improve the effect. As regards what the noble Lord said about bringing back the examination for driving licences, those tests will be reinstituted soon and the tests will include a very close examination on the textbook which we are considering this afternoon. May I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, that we all know of his deep interest in this matter, what a tower of strength he is, and what great assistance he has given to those who have this matter at heart and are seeking to promote safety on the road. We listened therefore with particular attention to what he said. The noble Viscount asked what would be the result of passing this Code and what will become of the amendments suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. I think a second edition of this Code is certain to make its appearance, but even at this moment it is possible to make amendments in the Foreword and in the Appendices, and I have no doubt whatever that as a result of what has been said this afternoon amendments will be made. May I point out to the noble Viscount that a Code is an Order and it can be related with amendments. Neither House can amend a Code; they can approve it or disapprove it, but also a Code can be related with amendments. I hope that meets the noble Viscount's point.


I do not wish to delay matters, but the point is that this Code is now going to be circulated through the post to vast numbers of people. Even if you make amendments you cannot be sure that they will reach the same people unless you have a second circular, which will be very awkward.


I appreciate that point but really it would not be advisable to postpone the issuing of this Code. It is important to get this Code printed because it does form an essential part of the road safety campaign which the Government have instituted. I may say that many eminent authorities have approved the Code in its present form. Therefore I fear that the Government could not agree to postpone the issuing of this Code, but at the same time may I tell the noble Viscount that the Government regard this matter of safety on the roads as one of the very greatest urgency. I Could not agree that the campaign has so far been a failure. If all the factors are considered I think there are good reasons for believing that the campaign has indeed met with a considerable measure of success. We shall press forward in every way with this urgent problem of promoting safety on the roads, and we shall be glad of the opportunity for a debate on this subject after the Recess.

The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, raised a point about horses and the method of giving signs with the whip. Those points will all be considered with the other points which have been put forward this afternoon. We shall consider all the alterations, but I cannot say they will all he accepted. They will all be most carefully considered by my right honourable friend. I think my right honourable friend will be well satisfied with the reception which this Code has received, and I believe it will play a valuable part in the campaign at present in progress to promote safety on the roads.

On Question, Motion agreed to.