HL Deb 28 November 1950 vol 169 cc520-4

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask His Majesty's Government whether they have any statement to make regarding future policy in respect of pedestrian crossings.]


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity of making this statement. My right honourable friend the Minister of Transport proposes to revoke the existing regulations relating to pedestrian crossing places and to make new regulations. The most important change will be the omission of any reference in the regulations to the rights and duties of pedestrians and drivers respectively at crossings at road intersections where traffic is controlled by light signals or police officers. At these intersections the control in itself provides substantial protection for pedestrians, and it is pro-posed to deal with such crossings in the Highway Code rather than by regulation. The stud markings at these crossings will be retained.

Experiments carried out during the past two years by the Road Research Laboratory have shown that black and while stripes not only make crossings more conspicuous, but have a good effect on drivers' behaviour and on the use of the crossings by pedestrians. It is proposed therefore that all uncontrolled crossings, on which pedestrians will continue to have precedence over vehicular traffic, should be marked with black and white stripes. Crossings which are controlled by police officers intermittently or during certain hours of the day will also be striped, but pedestriars will not have precedence on such crossings when traffic there is being controlled by police.

My right honourable friend agrees with the view of the Committee on Road Safety that there are too many crossings and that many are in the wrong places. It is his aim to effect a substantial reduction in the number of uncontrolled crossings. We hope that by so reducing the number of crossings and improving the marking of those which are to re-main, and by applying to these crossings new and simplified regulations, road users will be inspired with a new respect for, and confidence in, pedestrian crossings, and in so far as behaviour still falls short of the ideal the police will be able to enforce the law more easily. This proposed new policy cannot be put into effect without the full co-operation of local authorities, and my right honourable friend proposes, therefore, as the next step, to consult their representative organisations. He will at the same time discuss with my right honourable friend the Home Secretary what can be done to see that the new and simplified regulations are effectively enforced on the reduced number of crossings to which they will apply.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for his reply, I should like to suggest that, in view of the widespread interest in this subject, some opportunity should be afforded for discussion of the matter be-fore the new regulations are issued.


I am grateful to my noble friend for that suggestion. If there is a widespread desire by noble Lords, I shall be only too happy to make arrangements for noble Lords to meet my right honourable friend for the purpose of c discussion before the regulations are issued. I feel certain that such a discussion would be most constructive and helpful to us.


My Lords, while welcoming the announcement the noble Lord has made on behalf of the Government, I should like to draw attention of the first paragraph of the announcement, he read out, which says: … it is proposed to deal with such crossings in the Highway Code rather than by regulation. Does not that mean that there will still be no law governing these pedestrian crossings, for there will be no penalty on pedestrians for disregarding the provisions of the Highway Code? There will still be one law governing the motorist and no law governing the pedestrian. Further, it is proposed to reduce the number of crossings. Does not the noble Lord agree that one of the principal dangers in our crowded streets to-day is pedestrians who fail to use pedestrian crossings where they are provided? If you reduce the existing number of crossings, will not the position be made much worse? Cannot something be done to try and persuade the pedestrian population to use the crossings where they are provided?


My Lords, may I answer the noble Earl's second question first? There are about 35,000 pedestrian crossings in this country. We hold the view that their number has brought them into contempt, and that it is far better to have a smaller number of crossings properly sited and marked in a conspicuous manner. We feel that this would induce pedestrians to make use of the crossings. With regard to the noble Earl's first question, the Highway Code gains its force from the Road Traffic Act. If the noble Earl will look at the last page of the Highway Code he will see set out the extract from the Act. At the present time a pedestrian has precedence over any traffic on a lighted crossing. That is the anomaly which has raised all the confusion. Now we say that the pedestrian will not have that precedence, and will have to conform to the same rules of the road as the traffic. Whether or not it will be advisable to enforce that, must remain in the hands of the police.


My Lords, I should like to ask two questions. Can the noble Lord say when it is likely that these new black and white crossings will be first introduced in London? Secondly, as regards the new and simplified regulations, in order that the rights and the legal position of pedestrians should be known as widely as possible, would it be possible to put up for a month, five weeks or six weeks after the crossings are first started, posters giving in simple language a summary of the position the pedestrian holds in respect of crossings?


My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord's first question, I would say that the time when these new crossings make their appearance will be contingent upon the progress my right honourable friend makes in his consultations with local authorities. We hope that they will be expedited. I will convey the noble Lord's second question to my right honourable friend, and perhaps the noble Lord will accept my thanks for what I consider to be a most useful suggestion.


May I ask a further question arising from the one the noble Lord. Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has just asked? Would the Minister also see that a summary of these regulations is sent round to schools?


My Lords. I will also convey that suggestion to my right honourable friend. May I again say that I think it is a useful one?


My Lords, I have a completely open mind on this matter, and I am sure that the whole House wishes to arrive at what is the right solution. There is a great deal of know-ledge in this House on this subject— perhaps more than in another place. After the Minister has had the preliminary consultations which I understand he must have with local authorities and others, can he give an undertaking that there will be a debate in this House before the regulations are promulgated or changes made in the Highway Code? I can assure him that it would be a completely impartial discussion, and one which might help him and his right honourable friend.


My Lords, it was with the object of obtaining the widespread knowledge which noble Lords have on this matter that I readily acquiesced in the suggestion of my noble friend to arrange an informal meeting between my right honourable friend and noble Lords. My noble friend the Leader of the House has intimated that the House will have an opportunity of debating this subject so that we may have an informative discussion.


My Lords, may I ask a question of the Minister, arising out of his answer? One of the recommendations of the Alness Report, if I remember correctly, is that the Highway Code should be given the force of law. I understood the noble Lord to say that that had taken place, and I confess that I was rather surprised. Could he say whether that is the position?


Section 45 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, says: A failure on the part of any person to observe any provision of the highway code shall not of itself render that person liable to criminal proceedings of any kind, but any such failure may in any proceedings (whether civil or criminal, and including proceedings for an offence under this Act) be relied upon by any party to the proceedings as tending to establish or to negative any liability which is in question in those proceedings. It is a matter of great regret to my right honourable friend that that has not had the support from the Judiciary which we hoped it would.