HL Deb 06 April 1949 vol 161 cc1023-38

2.40 p.m.

EARL HOWE rose to call attention to the present state of the law affecting pedestrian crossings; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, it so happens that by chance the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper has been called in what is Pedestrian Crossing Week, a week which, as noble Lords no doubt have noticed, has started in certain areas with the spirit of carnival, supported by elephants and other animals. No doubt this has attracted to the whole question of pedestrian crossings and their safe use a certain amount of momentary public interest; but what is required is a sustained interest. It is all very well to have these "stunts," if I may so call them, to attract attention for the moment, and focus the activities of a large number of policemen on crossings up and down the country, but something more than that is required. It is necessary to capture the real interest of the general public in the extreme importance, as a matter literally of life and death, of using pedestrian crossings and learning how to use them.

As I think everybody knows, a judgment has been given in the House of Lords on pedestrian crossings and the Minister of Transport has indicated that he proposes to take action in the matter. But Pedestrian Crossing Week is being observed under the old rules; and the old rules, I submit, are in a state of complete chaos. It is interesting to notice the reports of how Pedestrian Week is working out. In The Times yesterday there was a report containing one or two interesting points. For instance, we were told there that at a busy part of Harrow Road, out of one hundred pedestrians who crossed the road within fifty yards each side of the crossing only thirty used the authorised crossing place. Your Lordships can check this up for yourselves at any time if you go through Storey's Gate. I know of no more extraordinary place in the whole of London. There is a pedestrian crossing, with a refuge in the middle, so there is no excuse for not using it. Yet hardly anybody uses that crossing; the majority of people walk straight across by the gate, completely ignoring the crossing.

Another aspect of Pedestrian Crossing Week has been the coloured crossings. This is referred to in the same issue of The Times, where it is stated that these coloured crossings are more useful in attracting pedestrians to them. But even in places where coloured crossings exist, only half the pedestrians used them. It is further said in the same issue of The Times that, from the drivers' point of view, the striped crossings are much better than any others so far used. I can entirely subscribe to that view, as I am sure can many of your Lordships. At last, for the first time since pedestrian crossings were initiated, they can be seen by the drivers. Moreover, from casual observation I think the striped crossings are also appreciated by pedestrians.

The real point I want to make is this. Some time ago—I am not sure of the date, but it does not really matter—a London omnibus was approaching a controlled crossing and the lights were in favour of the driver; there was a taxicab drawn up close to the crossing on the near side. I have two copies of the Law Times containing the report of the case. The view of the driver of the bus at the pedestrian crossing was blanketed by the taxi standing close to it on the near side. Suddenly, a woman rushed out from behind the taxi, and before the bus driver could do anything about it she was knocked over by the bus and sustained injury. The bus ended up with its wheels actually on the crossing, so there can have been no suspicion that the driver was driving at an excessive speed. But the fact remained that he knocked this woman over on the crossing. The case, as your Lordships know, came to the House of Lords, and in delivering judgment Lord Porter said: The true position, under Regulation 3 of the regulations of 1941, was that the motorist must be able to see whether or not the crossing was clear up to the time when, going at the speed he was going, provided it was a reasonable speed, he would still be able to stop before reaching the crossing. There was no suggestion that the bus driver was driving at an excessive speed, or was in any way to blame. But that is the state of the law.

We get a different view, however, from the Minister of Transport. In another place on November 15, 1948, some questions were put to the Minister about the use of pedestrian crossings. One Member asked the following question: Can the Minister tell us whether, where there are lights on the crossings, the pedestrian has the right to pass whether those lights are green or red? In reply the Minister said: No, sir, the pedestrian has not that right when the lights are against him. Therefore, we have a complete conflict of view between the two authorities. There is the highest court in the country saying that the pedestrian may go on to the crossing and use it, notwithstanding the state of the traffic, and if he is knocked over on the crossing the driver of the vehicle which damages him is held to blame. Yet the Minister says that the pedestrian has not the right to do this.

Further, listening in to the B.B.C. two or three nights ago, I heard a similar opinion to that of the Minister given by a commentator. In effect, therefore, we have a combination of the Minister and the B.B.C. versus the House of Lords on this very important topic. Far be it from me to try and decide between them, but I submit that it is up to His Majesty's Government to take action in this matter. The Minister of Transport has already indicated that he proposes to take action shortly. In reply to another question on February 21, 1949, he said: I intend to lay before the House shortly certain Amendments of the existing regulations based on the Committee's recommendations.… That was on February 21. It is now April 6, and so far nothing has come out. All that has been given is an assurance by the Minister that he proposes to take action, for the most part on the lines of the Report of the Committee on Road Safety, of which I have a copy. If the Minister acts as indicated, he will in my view be taking very proper action. But the point is that this state of affairs has now existed for months; and there is complete chaos and uncertainty in the minds of drivers, and also, I think, in the minds of the general public, as to the real position. I submit that if the Minister is serious—as I am sure he is—action must be taken by the Government now to clear up this anomalous position.

The Minister has further indicated, in the course of speeches and announcements which he has made recently, that he proposes to conduct a number of experiments with guard rails on various routes. Chiswick High Road has been mentioned, and your Lordships know the very great length of that road. I do not know how many or what length of guard rails the Minister proposes to erect on that highway, but it must obviously take a considerable time. During the time it takes to conduct that experiment, report on it and consider it—it may take anything up to a year—it means that the delay will go on, and we have this position of uncertainty which may at any moment be translated into death and injury on the highway.

If the Government are serious about the question of safety on the roads—and I am sure they are—they must take more energetic action than they have taken up to now. It does not seem to me so much a question for experiment, because surely the time for experiment has gone. What have the Government been doing on this very important question during the last few years? They know perfectly well that action is required, and I submit that they should not delay any longer. If one looks abroad one sees that this question is dealt with differently in various countries. Before the war I was walking in the streets of Berlin, and inadvertently I crossed against the lights. A German policeman came up and made me understand that I was expected to give him a mark for having committed this offence, which I did, apologising as best I could in very bad German. If any of your Lordships went to Paris and tried to cross such a street as the Champs Elysées without using a pedestrian crossing—that is to say, if you were mad enough to do so—it would probably cost you a franc; and you would eventually have to attend at a court. It is not the amount of the fine, but the inconvenience of having to attend the court which is likely to impress the individual. I believe that in Sydney, in New South Wales, if you decide to cross the road you have to cross at right angles; and if you fail to do so you can be fined as much as £1.

Some penalties which are imposed upon people who use the highway negligently are more severe than others. I submit that if one is really concerned about public safety, the pedestrian must be regarded as a traffic unit; and if anybody uses the highway negligently—a pedestrian, a driver of a vehicle or a rider of a pedal cycle—he should be held responsible. It is all very well to talk about rights, but rights seem to me to carry responsibilities. I hope that the Government will be able to give us some indication that they are prepared to take action to clear up the muddle which exists. I hope the Minister will lay down that all pedestrian crossings, controlled and uncontrolled, will be treated in this new zebra fashion, which is a vast improvement on that incredible obelisk, the Belisha beacon. If they take action soon, I am sure that it will mean the actual saving of life on the highway. I beg to move for Papers.

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, when I listen to the noble Earl on road safety, I am instinctively reminded of Satan rebuking sin, especially as I remember the noble Earl in his summer days, when he was a colleague of mine in another place. He gave such great joy to the lay magistrates (before whom he so often appeared) by the ingenuity with which he made out a case that he, at any rate, was quite safe, at whatever speed he travelled.


May I ask whether the noble Lord has ever heard of the poacher who turned gamekeeper?


In quite a small way I have endeavoured on occasion to be a very temperate gamekeeper, having done a little poaching—also in my summer days. I agree with the noble Earl that the present Belisha beacon should be transformed, but I would remind the House that the Ministry of Transport, under the leadership of Mr. Hore-Belisha, did some remarkably good work. I agree that the Belisha beacon is now out of date. I do not agree with the noble Earl's suggestion regarding zebra crossings, but on my way from the North it occurred to me that the Minister could spend his money better than on poster propaganda if he would transform the beacon by having a foundation of bright scarlet, surmounted at the top by Oxford blue, with a narrow streak of daffodil or golden yellow in the middle. I offer that suggestion to the Minister of Transport.

I would remind your Lordships that many of the provincial branches of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents are in disagreement with the Minister with regard to the recent editions of that cautionary poster "The Jimp." The average child thought it was an incentive to be impish, whilst the grownup has become so bored with the sequence of nine years' poster propaganda that he takes very little notice of it. But the noble Earl is under a sad delusion, and is living in his wicked past, if he thinks that His Majesty's Government have done nothing at all. I regret the absence of my revered leader, Lord Llewellin—I allow him to lead me on this issue alone, because he is the President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and I esteem it an honour to be one of his lieutenants in the West Riding. I would ask the noble Earl to reflect that there are seventy-one authorities, large and small, in the West Riding, and that of their own volition seventy of them have affiliated to serve under Lord Llewellin's leadership.

I would remind the noble Earl, also, that in the last two years 93,000 children were given illustrated talks in the schools of one county borough alone. I myself, as President of the West Riding branch of the Society, enjoy going round to the various townships—the smaller the better. And, while I feel that the noble Earl (I regret to say) is almost past praying for, I must say that I have found the children the real missionaries. If the noble Earl wants testimony to what has been done for road safety during the last three or four years, he will find it in the fact that there has been a steady decline in accidents—for which every one of us is profoundly thankful. When I speak to these children, the citizens of the future, I tell them that we who are over fifty—some of us over sixty: I will not go further than that—are past redemption and should be written off as bad debts—


Oh no!


When I hear interjections from the noble and gallant Earl, I am reminded, although he is an Admiral, of Peter Pan; and I feel that for some of us at least there is, as the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, might say, hope for redemption. … joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. I hope the Minister of Transport and the President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents will take notice of what has been said with regard to beacons, and I hope that the beacons will be made as bright as they possibly can be. I appeal also to the Government not to begrudge the money that local authorities are spending in having meetings all over the country. On Sunday evenings, I regularly address meetings which are attended by the local clergy. We speak to a number of persons, representing probably a tenth of the population of the very active township of Barnoldswick. There is very great interest in these meetings; not only children attend, but their parents also. In another part of the Riding we had 2,000 persons present at a meeting a week or so ago. We are rather proud of this work. I suggest to the noble Earl that instead of taking the rôle of a minor prophet, and having the word Ichabod inscribed over his doorway, he should adopt as his motto a slogan which has been adopted over the whole countryside, and that is, "Better be safe than sorry."

The work ought not to be interrupted on account of any financial considerations. It is a pity that the present Minister of Transport cannot recover some of the money taken from the Road Fund many years ago by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Winston Churchill, and use it for an active campaign for better roads. That would be a step in the right direction. I am sure we are all agreed that we do not want a police State here, or conditions in which a police constable would be empowered to fine a citizen the equivalent of a mark or a franc for transgressing the law The policemen, like the teachers, are doing a great work in giving guidance to the children and, through the children, to the parents. That is as it should be. We certainly do not want a situation to arise in which a magistrate is called upon to try a case in which an officious policeman has perhaps taken the name and address of a citizen, or even arrested him, because he has not traversed a hundred yards before crossing the road. At the same time, I am sure that whatever powers were given to the police would be used in such a way as not to imperil the liberty of the subject. I am sorry to have detained your Lordships, but after listening to the speech of the noble Earl I felt that these few points ought to be made.

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, I came here this afternoon without any intention of saying a word, but I have been moved by the wonderfully religious speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down. Indeed, I had no conception that pedestrian crossings could lead to a speech of such beauty and such religious concern! But there was one reference which the noble Lord made to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, which perhaps needs a little clarification or explanation. I believe I am right in saying that the noble Lord referred to the noble Earl as being in the likeness of Satan. I think that that is perhaps going a little too far! With great respect, I should like to make this point: that amongst the members of your Lordships' House who have done more than most to assist in matters relative to the roads, the noble Earl must rank as Number 1. I wish to make that point, more especially because reference was made to the fact that the noble Earl has in past years suffered certain misfortunes from the road. Maybe he has; and maybe some of us who are here to-day have not been any more fortunate. But surely the very fact that the noble Earl has suffered proves that he has experience of road conditions.

The noble Earl is probably one of the most experienced motorists in this House and, in consequence, is best qualified—whatever misfortunes he may or may not have suffered—to speak on this subject. I understand that the noble Earl made the point merely that there are two conflicting opinions: one school of thought says that the pedestrian has the right of way to negotiate a crossing against the lights, and the other says he has not. I submit that before we paint the one-time Belisha beacons and make them more glorious, like Christmas trees, in blue, pink and green with white spots, it would be best to decide who is to pay homage to them. Who is to have the right of way? Is it to be the pedestrian or the motorist? I do not think we are debating any other issue.

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that I shall have your Lordships' sympathy in speaking after the oratory to which we have just listened. I am sure that every one of your Lordships, except possibly myself, is deeply indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for raising this important topic. Although the theme of his speech has been pedestrian crossings, if I may be permitted to say so, his treatment of it has been in no sense pedestrian. As the Committee on Road Safety pointed out, these regulations raise questions of difficulty and complexty. Therefore, I approach this topic with a good deal of diffidence. Indeed, I wish I had a pedestrian crossing by which I could escape from the high-powered criticism of the noble Earl, delivered with all that velocity for which he is so famous and which has been referred to by my noble friend behind me. Of course, this problem of the pedestrian crossings and the regulations is part of the wider problem of road safety. A succession of Governments, your Lordships' House, and indeed the country as a whole, have watched with great anxiety the mounting lists of casualties on the roads and, although of recent months there has indeed been some improvement, nevertheless the situation is still altogether unsatisfactory. His Majesty's Government are determined to take all reasonable steps to bring down the number of these terrible accidents which cause not only so much pain and misery to the victims themselves, but also suffering and loss to their families in so many cases. On the other hand, one has to remember that transport provides the arteries of industry and commerce in the modern world, that the whole thing is a question of balance, and that one must bear in mind the need for keeping traffic flowing along the roads.

The noble Earl has drawn attention to this question of pedestrian crossings. The Government's view of the pedestrian crossings is that they are a very useful method of securing safety. It has been suggested that it would be a good thing to get rid of them altogether, but the Government do not accept that view. As the noble Earl has pointed out, they have instituted the present National Pedestrian Crossing Week, which is not—I hope the noble Earl will allow me perhaps to criticise a word he used—a "stunt," but is definitely an educational attempt to secure the very thing which he asked us to secure: namely, that pedestrians shall use those crossings instead of crossing all over the roads, and that the motorist shall have a due regard to the rights of the pedestrians on those crossings. So far as one is able to judge, Pedestrian Crossing Week has been going rather successfully. It may well be that it will have some permanent effect on the users of the roads. But, obviously, propaganda cannot be altogether successful so long as the regulations themselves which govern, or purport to govern, the situation are somewhat ambiguous. Of course, the situation depends on the Pedestrian Crossing Places (Traffic) Regulations, 1941. I quite agree with the view of the noble Earl that they are not altogether satisfactory. Indeed, they have been criticised on more than one occasion in the courts, and recently, as the noble Earl has just pointed out, in the important decision of your Lordships' House in the case of The London Transport Executive v. Upson, in which one of the regulations in particular was severely criticised by a learned and distinguished member of your Lordships' House.

This difficulty has been realised for some time, and the Minister of Transport referred the whole question of these regulations to the Committee on Road Safety, which not very long ago became a permanent Committee for the purpose of advising him on problems of this kind. This Committee, to whom I am sure your Lordships will agree we all owe a considerable debt for the care with which they have gone into the problem, published as recently as February last their Report, which has been referred to by the noble Earl in the course of his remarks. The difficulty is set out very clearly in paragraph 4 of that Report. With your Lordships' permission, I propose to outline as summarily as possible the main points which are made and to indicate the line which, with the advice of his Committee, the Minister proposes to take in order to approach the task of amending the regulations and making them clear and unambiguous. The difficulties centre round Regulations 3, 4, and 5, which go together, and in particular round Regulation 3, which is the one which has been criticised so much. This says: The driver of every vehicle approaching a crossing shall, unless he can see that there is no foot passenger thereon, proceed at such a speed as to be able if necessary to stop before reaching such crossing. This Regulation 3 applies both to controlled and uncontrolled crossings. By a "controlled crossing," following the view of the Committee, I mean a crossing which is controlled either by a light or by a policeman; and by an "uncontrolled crossing," one which is not so governed.

If one were to take a strict interpretation of this regulation, it would appear to indicate that a motorist must approach a crossing at such a pace that, if at any time before he actually gets to the crossing a pedestrian steps on to it, he must be able to stop absolutely at once, which, as the Committee point out, if one took such a strict view of it, would bring practically all traffic on the roads to a standstill. Indeed, in your Lordships' House in its judicial capacity that view was not taken. I think it was the noble and learned Lord, Lord du Parcq, who in the course of his judgment in another case in which he took part before we had the pleasure and advantage of his company here, said that the regulation must be construed in a reasonable sort of way and various other factors, such as speed and things of that kind, must be looked at.

But, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe says, the average motorist who is governed by this regulation cannot be expected to understand the niceties of the law as laid down in your Lordships' House, notwithstanding the well-known maxim that every citizen is supposed to know the law. Moreover, in connection with this regulation there is the difficulty that apparently it means, as your Lordships' House at any rate has held, that although a motorist approaching a crossing may see that the light is signalling him on, nevertheless if at any time before he gets on to the crossing a pedestrian steps on to it, then, notwithstanding the fact that the light is signalling him on, he still must give way to the pedestrian. Obviously, that is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs and, as has been pointed out by the Committee in their Report, has lead to what is in effect a disregard of this regulation by motorists. The Committee therefore suggest that this particular regulation should be revoked, and the Minister of Transport is very much inclined to accept that advice and to make an order revoking it. I will explain the situation, so far as that goes, in rather more detail to your Lordships in a moment.

With regard to the other two regulations to which I have referred, Regulation 4 deals only with uncontrolled crossings, and the Committee consider that it should be retained. They suggest, however, that words should be inserted requiring drivers to approach such crossings at a speed and in a manner that will enable them to respect pedestrians' rights of free and uninterrupted passage. They suggest that, with the addition of words of that kind, Regulation 4 should be retained.

Regulation 5 deals with controlled crossings, and the discussion about that is of some moment, so perhaps your Lordships will allow me to read the Regulation as it stands. The driver of every vehicle at or approaching a crossing at a road intersection where traffic is for the time being controlled by a police constable or by signals shall allow free and uninterrupted passage to every foot passenger who has started to go over the crossing before the driver receives a signal that he may proceed over the crossing. The Committee think that in substance that Regulation is a good one, but they point out that it raises two main difficulties. One is this conflict with Regulation 3. As this House has held, these two Regulations have to be read together and, reading them together, it means that although the motorist may from the lights or from the policeman have had the signal to proceed, nevertheless if the pedestrian is on the crossing the pedestrian has the prior right. That is the first difficulty, and the second relates to the respective rights and duties of pedestrians and motorists on what have been called "controlled crossings round the corner."

As your Lordships appreciate, the motorist is not necessarily intending to go straight across where there is an intersection; he may wish to turn off to the left or to the right, and there there may be another controlled crossing on which there may be a pedestrian. The Regulation as it stands does not deal with the situation in respect of that pedestrian, and that raises the difficulty as to who should have priority in circumstances of that sort. The Committee propose that, except in two sorts of cases, vehicles going over controlled crossings in accordance with the signals should have precedence over the pedestrian. Regulation 3 having been abolished, Regulation 5 will in effect stand, giving the motorist the right of precedence over the pedestrian—except, as I have said, in two cases. The first of those cases is where the pedestrian has already started to cross when the light goes green. In that case, the pedestrian, having already started to cross, will continue to have the right of precedence. The other case is similar. It relates to the "round the corner" foot passenger. If he is already on the crossing round the corner, then there also the Committee think he should have precedence. Your Lordships will find all this set out in greater detail on page 6 of the Report.

MY Lords, those are the most important points raised by the Committee in their Report. There are a number of other quite important suggestions made in respect of the amendment of the Regulations, to which the noble Lord has not referred and with which perhaps your Lordships would prefer me not to deal this afternoon. On the whole, the Minister feels that these proposed amendments are reasonable, and such as he is minded to put into effect. But under the Road Traffic Act of 1930 he is under an obligation to make certain consultations before he brings Regulations before Parliament, and it would be wrong for him finally to make up his mind to accept these recommendations before these consultations have been held. Draft Regulations are accordingly being prepared for circulation to the various interested bodies, in accordance with Section 111 of the 1930 Act. As soon as the comments of these bodies have been received, they will immediately be considered and the draft regulations, which will if necessary be amended, will be laid before Parliament, and will be brought into force as quickly as possible.

I ought to say that the Minister does not expect that the new regulations will completely solve the problem. Your Lordships will agree that this is not a problem which can be completely solved by regulations; in fact the regulations are merely machinery which may enable us to bring about a better situation than that which exists at the present time. The Committee make valuable suggestions for further research, and that sort of research is already being initiated by the Minister—indeed, considerable research is going on this week in connection with the National Pedestrian Safety Week. The Minister is confident that with the propaganda, publicity and education which is going on, and with the revised regulations, which may indeed have to be further amended when we see how they work in practice, a substantial improvement will be effected, and that the value of the crossings will be enhanced.

When all is said, however, we shall come back to the necessity for much greater co-operation on the part of both pedestrians and drivers of motor vehicles. Only if there is greater co-operation and greater readiness to exercise common sense and courtesy shall we be able appreciably to bring down this heavy roll of casualties which continually shocks us. The Minister is confident that the new regulations will make a substantial contribution towards that effect and if, with the regulations and with education, we can persuade the public to make greater and more sensible use of the crossings, and the motorist to give attention to the rights of the pedestrian, then I am sure your Lordships will agree that we shall have made some progress towards the removal of this terrible casualty list from the roads.


My Lords, before the noble Lord resumes his seat, may I ask him to make quite clear what opportunity this House will have of dealing with these regulations before they become law? For the moment I do not recall the exact provision that is made about this matter. It is of the very greatest possible importance, and certainly it ought not to be left entirely to administrative action. There ought to be full control over it by the branches of the Legislature.


I very much regret that I did not make myself clear. These regulations have to be laid and at such a time there will be an opportunity to discuss them, if your Lordships wish to do so.


They have to be laid, but there is a considerable ambiguity about even that phrase, because in some cases they are laid and then automatically they become law; but in other cases there has to be a definite Resolution approving the regulations before they can become law.


My Lords, this is a case where it must be a negative Resolution: that is to say, if a noble Lord wishes to challenge a regulation, he must move a negative Resolution, otherwise it becomes law.


May I ask my noble friend if that means a Prayer?




May I ask the noble Lord whether the experiments in pedestrian traffic shortly to be conducted in Aberdeen are based on the recommendations in the Report to which he has been referring?


I very much regret that I am not in a position to give the noble Marquess any information with regard to what is being done in Aberdeen. If he will communicate with me, I will obtain the necessary information for him.


May I ask the noble Lord this question? Standing on one of these crossings, how is one to know whether the driver of a motor vehicle which is coming at one has seen these regulations?


My Lords, I would like to thank the noble Lord very much indeed for the reply which he has given. All I hope is that he will see to it that there is no undue delay. I quite agree with what the Minister proposes to do—namely, to revoke Article 3. I think that revocation is very necessary indeed, and I believe that his action in this connection will go a long way towards clearing up the position. We are all—notwithstanding the Satanic records of some of us—most desirous of doing all that we can to contribute to public safety on the roads. That is the great thing. Anything that drivers of vehicles can do to promote co-operation they should do, and the same applies equally to pedestrians. I am certain that, with good sense and give and take all round, this problem can be solved. I am sorry that I used the expression "stunt" in connection with Pedestrian Crossing Week. It was an unfortunate expression and it did not quite convey what I meant. I am very anxious that the public interest aroused by Pedestrian Crossing Week should not be allowed to die away but should be maintained, if that is at all possible. Having regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has said, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.