HL Deb 30 January 1951 vol 170 cc10-74

2.59 p.m.

EARL HOWE rose to call attention to the problem of road accidents as a whole, with special reference to road improvement and maintenance; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I wish to bring before your Lordships' House once again the problem of road accidents, with which not only this but every country is faced, and which has apparently baffied authority not only here but also abroad. It was only a relatively few days ago that the noble Lord. Lord Lucas, told us that ho was at his wits' end on the subject.

As those of us who follow this question know only too well, Committee after Committee have sat and reported. I have a young library of their Reports here, and if the noble Lord is still at his wits' end after this debate perhaps he may find a few hints and tips among them. One of the extraordinary features of these Reports is that they seem in the main to have been ignored. The police have done their best and have furnished statistics, and so has the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. I do not think any of us can ever be sufficiently grateful to that great Society for its magnificent and public-spirited campaign on behalf of road safety. Other bodies interested, such as the Pedestrians' Association, have all done their best and brought all their best counsel to bear, but still the problem seems to remain as intractable as ever.

When I was at school I was taught that all men are fallible, and it seems to me that we are perhaps up against nature in trying to deal with this problem. But whatever the problem may be, I person-ally refuse to despair or adopt a defeatist attitude. I think it is a problem for which there is possibly no single cause. It is a problem which obviously can be attacked from many different angles, and in order to get it into focus I want to mention to the House certain relevant factors as I see them. First of all, every country is affected by this problem of road accidents in greater or less degree. It is not exclusively a motor vehicle problem. All classes and types of road users are subject to accidents and cause them. No one uses the highway with the idea of causing or being concerned in an accident. About 80 per cent. of the accidents that occur are probably avoidable. My own view is that heedlessness, lack of imagination, lack of consideration for other road users, general bad manners, and bad judgment are probably the main causes. The law and its administration can have a great bearing upon this matter. Then, again, the design and lay-out of our highways is a powerful contributory factor. Road maintenance is another. There is the problem as I see it, and no doubt your Lordships would be able to add many other factors.

Now for the size of the problem. In 1938, with slightly over 3,000,000 vehicles on the roads of this country, 6,643 people were killed. In 1949, 4,473 people were killed—I am leaving out the numbers of the injured because these figures become too big to impress—at a time when there were over 4,000,000 vehicles on the road. Your Lordships will see. therefore, that slightly over 2,000 fewer people were killed when there were over 1,000,000 more vehicles on the road and an increase in the population over the intervening period of 2,500,000. When considering these figures, another point to remember is that since the war there has been practically no road construction, and the minimum of maintenance has been undertaken. Furthermore, the number of road users is increasing. One thing I always dread when I read about it in the Press, as one does sometimes, is the demand for a people's car. If a people's car became a real production success for the industry, I tremble to think what the state of the roads might be. We have been told by Mr. Jones in his most able Report on the actuarial side of road accidents and road safety generally that road accidents are costing the country over £100,000,000 a year on present figures. Can we possibly go on affording such a frightful loss, such a toll of accidents and suffering and all that goes with them? Can we afford to allow the problem to continue on present lines if there is anything that we can do which can reduce it?

One other circumstance has to be remembered when considering the problem of road accidents. It has always seemed to me to be a terrible disaster, that everyone considers this problem purely from his own point of view. The motorist argues against the cyclist; the cyclist argues against the motorist and the pedestrian; and the pedestrian argues against the motorist and the cyclist. Cannot we bury the hatchet? These arguments get us nowhere. Cannot we all try to join together and have one almighty push to see whether we can do something and bring some effective pressure to bear upon authority with the idea of making an impression on the terrible figures that come to us month by month? Whatever our situation may be, we can look only to the Government of the day to help, because they are the only people who can really do anything.

What I want to know is whether His Majesty's Government to-day are really in earnest on the subject of road safety? I have no doubt that the answer will be "Of course they are," and, "What a silly question to ask!" At the same time, if they are, why have most of the recommendations of the Alness Committee been ignored? Why have the recommendations of the Committee on Road Safety which reported so recently as 1947 been treated as they have? Why has not more been done to bring those recommendations into effect? I submit that so long as the Government delay giving effect to the recommendations of these expert Committees, so long do they put a premium on bad judgment and lack of consideration all round by all road users. Drivers of vehicles, pedal cyclists and pedestrians are all, as we know, to blame at times. But only the fellow who drives the motor vehicle is subject to the full rigour of the law. Ought we not to say for a start that all road users have rights but that all rights carry responsibilities, and whether one is a pedestrian— and we are all pedestrians at times—or a pedal cyclist, or a driver of a motor vehicle, one must be held responsible for one's actions and for what one does? If a pedal cyclist does something which creates a dangerous situation, he ought to hold the responsibility for it, and the same should go for a pedestrian or anybody else.

If that theory of equal rights and equal responsibilities is accepted, is it wise to allow pedestrians to wander about on the highway and ignore the various safety measures, such as warning signs, crossing places, guard rails, traffic signals and footpaths where they exist? I only ask a. question: I am not putting it down dogmatically that we should not. I say: Is it wise? In the same way, is it wise to ignore the recommendations of the Alness Committee, backed up as they were by the Committee on Road Safety, and not extend the provisions of Sections 11, 12 and 22 of the Highway Act of 1930 to include pedal cyclists? Those provisions to which I have referred have regard to dangerous driving, failure to report an accident, and so on. It has been recommended by perhaps two of the finest Committees that were ever set up, but nothing has been done. And every day the danger continues.

Is it wise to ignore the recommendation that a police constable in uniform should have the power to stop a pedal cycle if it becomes necessary? At present he has no Dower to do it. Ought we not to say that, where cycle tracks exist, pedal cyclists should be required to use them? All these things have been recommended by Committees but nothing has been done. Could not we do something to improve the administration of the law?—and here I speak with great diffidence, in the presence of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. I am wondering, and I have wondered for a very long time, whether the jury system is really adequate for road conditions. My reason for saying that is that one frequently reads reports in the newspapers of serious cases arising out of road accidents, and these cases appear to be so differently dealt with by courts in various parts of the country. There seems to be no sort of equality of administration.

In litigation connected with the sea, which perhaps I know a little better, cases are brought before maritime courts where the judge, or whoever is at the head of the court, is assisted by nautical assessors. Might there not be some advantage in sitting up some sort of system like that with reference to road accidents? I understand that the police frequently complain that they do not get support from the various benches. If that is true, surely that is a terrible indictment of our present legal system. The police say that it is almost no use their bringing serious offences before certain tribunals in this country, as they cannot have the cases adequately dealt with, with adequate penalties imposed. If that is so, I do submit that there might still be something to be said for the idea of traffic courts, where it would be possible to codify, and, I suppose, make more uniform, the administration of the law so far as road accidents are concerned.

I know that nobody agrees with me on this point. I know that the Committees to which I have referred do not agree, but at the same time I hope that we shall not altogether lose sight of the possible advantage of it. Another point, a suggestion of my own, not referred to by Committees, is whether we should strengthen the Highway Code, and give it a greater force. Such a course has been suggested many times in your Lordships' House, by many speakers, but could we not do something about it? We have a really magnificent Code for the use of the highway as a whole, and I feel that we could give the Highway Code a little more force than it has at present. I think that might be an advantage.

I now come to the question of roads, which is one with which I am particularly anxious to deal. The design and lay-out of our roads is a matter that is obviously of the first importance. Notwithstanding the view of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on the subject, it is a matter of very great importance. The fact is that we are trying to make the road system of a bygone age adequate to our modern needs. I could quote Ministers on the subject, but I do not want to weary your Lordships or take up your Lordships' time unnecessarily. I think it is really axiomatic, and I am sure that everybody agrees, that the question of making our roads adequate to deal with the volume of traffic that they now have to carry, in view of our vastly larger population, is of first importance. What has been the policy of the Government with regard to roads? For many years, in both Houses of Parliament, the policy of the Government has been criticised, because it appears to have been one of just tinkering and patching—a bypass here, leading to a bottleneck somewhere else— and trying to make the traffic fit the roads, instead of the roads fit the traffic. That policy goes a long way back, to a time long before His Majesty's present Government assumed office.

I feel that we need to tackle this problem to a far greater extent. Look at the condition of our roads to-day. With the possible exception of the road between Liverpool and Manchester, and the road between Edinburgh and Glasgow, there is no main road throughout the country, so far as I know, adequate to carry the traffic using it to-day. If anybody thinks that that is too sweeping a statement, let him ask any lorry driver of experience what he thinks of the conditions on A5, the Watling Street, particularly the stretch from Markyate to St. Albans. I am sure that many of your Lordships know this stretch of road as well as I do. To go along it by night is an absolute nightmare. It is the most fearful thing to try to do. There is no question of being able to use any headlights. There are lines of lights, like a great military convoy that never seems to come to an end, coming towards you in the opposite direction. You may see the vehicle in front of you, and you may want to pass it. It may be going very slowly, but to attempt to overtake it is almost certainly courting disaster. It is dangerous to make any attempt so to do. The same conditions apply to the Southampton Road, between Camberley and Basingstoke, to the Great North Road, and to another road that I know very well—the road from Bristol, through Worcester, to Kidderminster, Bridgnorth and beyond. On all those roads, which I am sure many of your Lordships know as well as I do, the state of affairs is perfectly appalling.

We know that two of the most potent factors in the causation of accidents are road intersections and traffic congestion. Traffic congestion I have referred to, and I now come to road intersections. So much could be done with such a very moderate expenditure in dealing with road intersections—for instance in the way in which they have been dealt with in the county of Oxford. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will support me in welcoming the magnificent way in which the road intersections have been dealt with by the county surveyor of Oxford, but I will come back to that in a minute. Traffic conditions on the roads that I have referred to are appalling by day, and are literally a nightmare by night. There is one problem that can be tackled. Motor-ways have been recommended by various Committees that have considered the problem. One authority after another, and one Committee after another, have recommended them, but the first motor-way has still to make its appearance. I know we shall be told that such things cannot be afforded, but remember that motor-ways have been found necessary by other countries—notably France, Denmark, Italy, Germany, Holland and the United States; we are almost the only country in the world that does not possess them. Many of these countries are no better off than we are, and they certainly do not raise the same huge amounts in taxation from motor vehicles that we do. I will come back in a minute to the actual figures with regard to taxation. In practically all these countries that I have mentioned, you will see fly-over bridges, fly-over systems in regard to the treatment of road intersections, and you will also see road tunnels, which are of enormous help in the relief of road traffic congestion, thereby reducing the chance of accidents. We have not one here.

What has been the contribution of the Government in regard to this matter? The Government have clamped down on road maintenance to the extent of 20 per cent., and the amounts that are now being allotted to the various highway authorities in the country for road maintenance are just absurd. Lancashire has been cut down to £6,000 a year, and 14,000 accidents are occurring each year there. In Warwickshire, the very heart of the motor industry, road maintenance has been cut to £5,000 a year. I know that in both those areas there is a feeling that the Government are not treating the problem seriously and that something must be done. I hope the Government will be able to explain to us why it has been possible to do only so little so far. We shall be told that the country cannot afford the expenditure. Is that really a convincing argument when one thinks of the millions of pounds that have been laid out on ground-nuts and similar enterprises, civil aviation, and such things as the Festival of Britain, about which we were talking just now? In practically every organ of the Press yesterday there was a paragraph that the Festival of Britain, both in Battersea Park and on the South Bank, is going to cost a great deal more than was ever anticipated. Money can be found for projects of that sort, but money does not seem to be forthcoming for the very important things that can save life and prevent injury on the roads.

The argument that we cannot afford it does not seem to me to be very convincing. Remember that in 1950 approximately £106,500,000 was raised in motor taxation, and in the three years 1946 to 1948 inclusive £252,612,000 was raised. Yet it is said that we cannot afford this expenditure. The road expenditure for the same period appears to have been something like £181,000,000, which leaves a balance of at least £70,000,000 which has gone elsewhere. Since then a further £206,000,000 has been raised. The argument that we cannot afford these things does not carry a great deal of weight. I know that we are on the threshold of a terrific rearmament scheme. We all know the possible implications of that in regard to money and all the rest of it, but it must be remembered that these enormous sums are being raised from the motor world, and motorists are being told that nothing can be done to make the roads adequate for traffic which is to use it. We have at present the second most heavily trafficked roads in the world—16.9 vehicles to the mile. What is going to be the position when and if the day dawns when the people's car arrives? My Lords, I submit that it is vital to look ahead. We are often told that ours is a Government of planners. No doubt they are planning well ahead. I am sure that the present Minister of Labour after his broadcast the other night would not deny the truth of the assertion that it is vital to look ahead. For heaven's sake, let us look and plan ahead in this business!

Now I should like to come to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, himself. I was delighted when I heard that the noble Lord had received his important appointment. I have had the pleasure of knowing him for many years in the motor world and I thought we were going to have somebody who knew the thing from both ends. But on November 15 last the noble Lord made a speech in which he forecast that 5,000 people would be killed and 250,000 people were going to be injured in the next twelve months. He recommended more "courtesy cops," and I entirely agree with him there. He said that he was convinced that road conditions were not a major factor in road accidents. My Lords, what an astonishing statement to come from anybody who, as I know, has given such thought to the matter as has the noble Lord! It so happened that on the same day in another place a Member of Parliament was questioning the Minister on the subject of a fatal accident which occurred in Newcastle. The Member said that the authority was refused permission to install traffic lights, which might have helped. The Minister in reply said: I am advised that the best solution for conditions at this junction would he to improve the lay-out.

The Minister does not seem to agree on that subject with the noble Lord opposite. As everybody knows, if the lay-out of a road intersection is improved, the cause of accidents may well be removed. Surely that is worth considering.

The noble Lord went on to say that we could not afford motor-ways, fly-overs, pedestrian tunnels, and that sort of thing. I suggest that that argument is entirely unconvincing. Before the war a motorway between London and Birmingham was estimated by the chief engineer of the Ministry of Transport to cost about £6,000,000. Without turning a hair, we have laid out millions in regard to groundnuts in South Africa. Surely it is as important to provide for our people at home as it is to go into such enterprises overseas, especially when such huge sums as I have mentioned are being taken from the people concerned. Then the noble Lord went on to say that without doubt the carelessness of pedestrians was the principal factor in the road accident problem. I do not know about that. The noble Lord says that, but I am not sure that that is the case. I should say that the right way to look at it is that it is a lack of consideration amongst all road users towards one another, and if one could only get more harmonious conditions on the road that would help more than blaming one class of road user more than another.

If the noble Lord's forecast of the toll of the road is correct, why has he ignored so many of the recommendations of these great Committees which have been sitting? I have referred to Colonel Bennett, the County Surveyor of Oxfordshire. Before the war he obtained permission from the county council to improve four or live of the major roads going through his area, and the result was that he was able to reduce fatal accidents by 100 per cent., and the total of all accidents by 76 per cent. How can the noble Lord say that dealing with the roads does not reduce accidents? He knows the figures and he knows what happens just as well as or better than I do. The views of Colonel Bennett were lately put forward in a very notable correspondence that took place in The Times. Colonel Bennett was backed up by the President of the County Surveyors Association and by the County Surveyors of Warwick and Lancashire, and, still more notably, by the late Chief Engineer of the Highways Department of the Ministry of Transport. I should like to ask the noble Lord. Lord Lucas, when he comes to reply, to explain what he meant. I am sure his words do not really mean what they seem to mean, and I am sure he will be able to give us a very good explanation. But I hope that he will be able to remove the impression that his attitude with regard to this road question is one of complacency.

I want now to ask a number of specific questions. First: What have been the total grants to the Road Fund for the last five years? I may say that I have taken the precaution of notifying the noble Lord that I was going to raise these matters, so I expect he will have been able to obtain the information which I seek. My second question is: What have been the total receipts from all forms of motor taxation for the last five years? Third: What is the total mileage of trunk roads for which the Minister of Transport is responsible? Fourth: What has been the amount spent annually on their improvement and maintenance for the last five years? Fifth: What is the amount considered necessary by local authorities to carry out necessary road works in their area and the amount authorised by the Government in each case? Those are five specific questions which I should like to put.

Further, I should like to ask the noble Lord this: What have the Government done to implement the recommendations of the Alness Committee that an experi- mental motor way should be constructed, that cycle tracks should be constructed and their use made compulsory; that flyover bridges and tunnels should be provided and that level crossings should be bridged or tunnelled? With regard to the last recommendation, may I say that there are estimated to be some 4,500 level crossings in this country and 1,400 of them are on classified roads. That indicates the size of that particular problem. Again, what have the Government done to implement the recommendation of the Alness Committee that crossing beacons should be illuminated and guard rails provided? In this connection, I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell us something about the Hammersmith experiment, particularly in regard to guard rails. I did not give him notice that I was going to raise that point but no doubt he has the information in his Department and can obtain it for us. Yet another recommendation of the Alness Committee was that street lighting should be made uniform. I suggest that uniformity is most necessary. In the United States of America there has been a reduction of 75 per cent. of night accidents by the adoption of a scheme of uniform lighting. Everyone of experience in this country knows that few things connected with the roads vary more than street lighting. One frequently passes from pools of light to areas of total darkness. It is indeed difficult under all conditions at night to pick out the strolling pedestrian who only too often is wearing a dark costume or a dark overcoat. Does the noble Lord not think that we should make some effort to bring a little uniformity into our lighting system? I submit that this may be very well worth while.

Again, the Alness Committee recommended that wood blocks should be covered with non-skid material. This also is a step which is well worth while. Several local councils—all praise to them —have done this but, nevertheless, there are still far too many places where wood blocks remain unfaced with non-skid material and they constitute a constant danger to road users. I could take the noble Lord to many places in London where that applies. Yet again, the Alness Committee recommended that commercial vehicles should carry twin rear lights. There are many little points contained in those suggestions which the noble Lord could bring into effect without, I should imagine, too much difficulty. At any rate, can he tell us now if anything has been done to implement these recommendations of the Alness Committee?

Next as to the recommendations of the Committee on Read Safety. What has the Government done to implement the recommendations of that Committee that accident investigation and review should to undertaken by the police, engineers of the Ministry of Transport and highways authorities working together, that driving tests should be made compulsory following the suspension of licences for serious offences, and that certain actions by pedestrians should be made offences. No doubt the last recommendation probably referred to the use of crossing-places and the like. We are going to hear all about that tomorrow. What have the Government done about the other recommendations? What have the Government done to implement the recommendations of the Committee on Road Safety that police should have power to stop pedal cycles and that Sections 11, 12 and 22 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, should be extended to include them? Why has that suggestion apparently received no consideration at all? Another recommendation of this Committee was that vigorous action should be taken to remedy bad or inadequate road conditions. Look what has happened: reduction of the road maintenance and road improvement grant, in some cases literally to vanishing point.

Still another recommendation by the Committee on Road Safety was that those responsible for planning should have regard to the principle of segregation of traffic and classes of traffic. That reference used to concern cycle tracks for pedal cyclists and footpaths for pedestrians. But that was only in the first instance. It also relates to other road users. Could not something be done in that way to help? It has beer found to be beneficial in every other country where it has been tried. Another question is whether it would not be possible to extend the one-way system of traffic which now exists in many towns. Could the principle not be extended to some of the major roads where those roads run anything like parallel? There are roads parallel to A5, and anything that can be done to improve present conditions on A5 will be well worth doing.

To sum up what I have said, I would say that the Government do not appear to me to have their hearts in the treatment of this problem of road accidents. They do not seem to be going flat out to try to stop them. Recommendations of various authorities and various Committees appear to be largely ignored. Little or no regard appears to be paid to the experience of other countries. The money raised from taxation in the motor world seems to be taken for all sorts of other purposes, such as the Welfare State and the enterprises to which I have referred. May I finally venture to suggest that if the noble Lord is at his wits' end, many of us are at the end of our patience with regard to the whole matter and we do not intend to see it treated with the same complacency. I therefore propose to move: That the Minister of Transport should make a return to Parliament of the schemes for road improvement, and new roads recommended by him as considered necessary to meet present and future requirements, being either trunk roads or classified roads, and specifying in respect of each scheme

  1. (1) The approximate estimate of cost.
  2. (2) Whether any and if so how much progress has been made.
  3. (3) The name of the highway authority responsible, and
  4. (4) The time which will normally be required to complete the work.
I do not want to be dogmatic about this matter, and if the noble Lord is not able to accept that Motion as it stands I am ready to make any reasonable amendment in it. But I do want some assurance that we are going to get somewhere, and to get something done. I move.

Moved— That there be laid before the House a return of the schemes for road improvements, and new roads considered by the Minister of Transport to be necessary to meet present and future requirements, being either trunk roads or classified roads and specifying in respect of each scheme:

  1. (1) The approximate estimate of cost;
  2. (2) Whether any and if so how much progress has been made;
  3. (3) The name of the Highway Authority responsible; and
  4. (4) The time which will normally be required to complete the work.—(Earl Howe.)

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, we have listened to a very interesting and well-informed speech from the noble Earl. It began with a very moving recognition of the seriousness of the issue with which we are engaged, and repeated appeals that there should be an all-round effort. That is a very happy phrase, but what we really want is something practical done. And when it came to practical remedies my noble friend appeared to think that the main thing was reconstruction of the roads, and alteration of their layout and so on. I am afraid that I do not feel very much attracted by that programme, which is concerned principally with making the roads more useful for the traffic which uses them—that is to say, to make it possible for motorists to drive faster and faster on the roads which exist. I cannot help feeling that it is not the condition of the roads that is the real difficulty. It is the way in which the roads are used that causes the very serious conditions which we have to face at present. I was very much interested to hear the quotation which my noble friend made from some remarks of Lord Lucas of Chilworth, in which, as I understood, he said that he did not think it was the condition of the roads which was the main cause of road accidents.

There is no doubt that this is a very serious matter. Though I am not going to attempt to describe at any length, or to deplore, the evil we are discussing this afternoon, it is indeed a very serious one. It is nothing more or less than the death and mutilation of thousands of our fellow citizens, many of them being children innocently, even if in some cases it may be unwisely, using the highways of this country. Some of the victims are in cars or wagons, and a large number of them are on their feet. This evil, which was not unknown in my youth—a long time ago—has been enormously increased by the coming of the motor car, and that is something the noble Earl and his friends must recognise. There is no doubt that the numbers are prodigiously increased. In one way this is curious, because a motor car ought to be under the complete control of the driver, which was not always the case where horse carriages were concerned. Moreover, the brakes of a motor car are more easily applied and are more effective than were those of carriages or wagons in the past.

The one point, so far as I know, which produces the immensely greater danger with the motor car, both for the occupants and for other users of the highway, is the speed at which it travels, taken with its great weight. As I am not going to advocate the direct limitation of speed, I need not elaborate that proposition. I mention it merely because it is one of the elements in the problem before us. My noble friend described various plans which had been suggested for coping with this evil and asked, as he was entitled to do, why they had not been fully put into employment. One of these, from which much was hoped, as I remember very well, was the classification of roads, some being allotted to fast-moving traffic from which other traffic was excluded, very much after the precedent set by the railways. On the railways the line is a monopoly of the trains, all other members of the public being, in principle, excluded. From the point of view of saving the other traffic from the dangers of the railways, this has been very successful. It depends on the absolute exclusion of all except the railway traffic. Where there were level crossings, to which my noble friend made some reference, they were under strict control. Other traffic was allowed to use them, subject to that control, but in point of fact crossings have been very largely abolished. It seems doubtful, to put it mildly, whether any such plan could be rigidly applied to motor cars. Even if the fast roads were kept for them, there would still be other roads where all the difficulties of controlling traffic would arise.

One improvement, to which my noble friend referred and on which I desire to support him, might be extended. Sidewalks, like those in towns, might be much more generally insisted on wherever there is a considerable car traffic on the roads. I know that people say that pedestrians do not use them. I can only reply that, so far as my observation goes, that is not the case. At first, no doubt, there was a tendency for people to go on walking on the highway, but after people got used to the idea of sidewalks they will be increasingly used. After all, they nave the strongest motive to use them—people do not want to be killed. But this is a small remedy and leaves the evil largely unaffected.

As to that, the first thing is to restore supremacy of the law, and I venture to press this on my noble friend. That is the principal condition of our liberty and good government; and that means that there should be only enforceable traffic laws, which, when they have been broken, should be rigidly enforced. For this reason I personally have arrived at the conclusion that the thirty miles per hour limit is of doubtful advantage. In fact, as my noble friend knows perfectly well, it is very generally disregarded. If any of your Lordships doubts that statement, let him drive along any suburban road coming into London, tell his driver to stick absolutely to the thirty miles per hour limit and let him then notice how many cars overtake and pass him. That is a deplorable fact, though I do not pretend that it always increases the danger. As motorist speakers are constantly, and rightly, saying, the thirty miles per hour may be much too fast in certain cases, and may conceivably be safe in others. The right rule seems to be that one must not drive faster than is quite safe.

In any charge of careless or dangerous driving, no doubt the pace of the car may be very important. That is one of the reasons why I have always urged that it should be a rule for a speed indicator to be fitted on the back of every car, so that the world may see, and witnesses may swear to, how fast a car is going. I have heard it said that there are mechanical difficulties in the way of this; that an indicator could not easily be seen, and would be troublesome to keep in order. I venture to reply, with some confidence derived from experiments, that there is nothing in any of these objections and, if the Government wished, they could easily satisfy themselves on the subject. The real objection to the proposal is that it would make reckless driving more obvious and, therefore, more difficult. Therefore, I venture to suggest that the thirty miles per hour limit should be abolished, and that in its place notices should be erected warning motorists that they were approaching a part of the road which, owing to population or other similar circumstances, requires specially careful driving; I would add to the already existing prohibition of careless driving a phrase indicating that undue speed is, or may be, an element in that offence. I am sure that to maintain the thirty miles per hour limit as it is does no good, and tends only to bring the law into contempt, which, as I have said, is a serious matter.

Some few months ago a man wrote to the Press to say that he had driven a motor car for fifty years without serious accident, and that he had always ignored the laws as to speed. That is a statement that the writer did not intend to obey any law of which he did not approve—an attitude of pure anarchy. I do not suggest that other motorists would agree to this statement in its full extent, but I do say that it represents a point of view not uncommon with motorists. They hold that it is a desirable thing to drive a motor car as fast as they can; they love to recite how little time they have taken to drive a particular distance; and they explain with glee how they have raced and defeated some other cars on the road. I have heard them do it, and they contemn altogether the law on this subject. I do not mean that they consciously drive to the danger of other people—I do not think they do—but I do mean that many of them drive arrogantly and recklessly to the common danger, and persist in that course with knowledge of its effect.

I feel that this is a serious matter. Why has this attitude to the law been adopted? It is not common generally to English people. Most of us do not share Mr. Bumble's well-known opinion that "the law is a hass"—or, if we do, we nevertheless obey it. Why then this exception? So far as I can see, the reason, at any rate in part, is simple: the sanction to the law is practically non-existent. Not long ago a man was charged before a bench of magistrates with dangerous driving, and to their surprise he pleaded guilty. They, in fact, were disposed to regard it as a good joke —so, at least, I gathered from the report in the paper—as, indeed, from one point of view, it was. Here was a man who had admitted that he had driven in a dangerous manner a machine capable of inflicting death. But he treated it as a matter of no importance. What was the result? He was fined some small sum of money—probably not in itself a very great increase in the normal working cost of the car. In any case, it may have been, and probably was, paid by the insurance company. In effect, the case showed that there was no real penalty for dangerous or careless driving. The only penalty is a small money fine, which may be covered by insurance; and that is all, unless there be some specially outrageous features in any particular case. That is a result which can only bring the law into contempt.

Yet the remedy is not easy. To send all heedless or reckless drivers to prison is not a practical plan, nor one which I should recommend. The people concerned are not criminals, but they are unfit to drive a motor-car in a populous country. The proper remedy, surely, is to deprive them of their licence to drive. On a first offence the licence might be suspended for six months, and if the offence were repeated the suspension would be longer. It may be said that the courts already have this power. That is true, but they seldom exercise it. My contention is that suspension should follow conviction for reckless or dangerous driving as a matter of course, unless there are some very unusual or exceptional circumstances. People like the man who boasted that for fifty years he had habitually broken the law ought not to be allowed to drive a car; and he is only an extreme case of the consequences of the present position.

We have been told to-day that a step is being taken for the enforcement of the law by the creation of plain-clothes detectives. That is interesting as an acknowledgment that the law is now constantly broken. But the step will not be effective if it results only in the infliction of a small money penalty. Whether the change I recommend would require legislation I do not know. My noble friend seems to think that a good deal might be done by administration, and it is possible that we could proceed administratively in this matter. But, in any event, I submit that mere lamentation or adjuration is perfectly useless and rather offensive. Do not let us be like the Walrus, and deeply sympathise with the oysters whom we allow to be eaten; the matter is too serious for that. The present position tends to undermine that supremacy of the law on which all our freedom depends, besides causing deep grief and suffering to many innocent persons.

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is to be congratulated on bringing forward this Motion. We have had discussion on a number of similar Motions over the years in which he and I have sat in Parliament together, and I am sure that they all help, if for no other reason than that such publicity as his Motion will receive may assist in the education of the general public and do something to break down the apparent lawlessness which the friends of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, display. I have only a few simple suggestions to make. I assume that, when he comes to reply, my noble friend Lord Lucas will tell us whether it is intended to introduce legislation to carry out some of the recommendations of the Alness Report and the two departmental Reports which have come under consideration. I suppose that something will be done by intensified propaganda, something by local by-laws and the like. But I am sure that my noble friend will agree that action is needed, and I do not think that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has exaggerated the seriousness of the situation.

As I have said, the three suggestions I have to make are quite simple, but two of them do not appear in any of the Reports which I have seen. I have driven, not for fifty years, but for over forty years, and the only accident which I have had for many years, which was not serious, was caused by a dog running loose on the road. But I have seen a great number of narrowly averted accidents due to this same cause. In my view, the allowing of dogs to roam freely in built-up areas should be made an offence. It is a dangerous proceeding, and since it endangers the life of the dogs it is also cruel to animals. The natural instinct of the motorist is, of course, to avoid an animal on the road. If he has strong enough nerves and determination he will drive straight on, and perhaps avoid an accident. But in avoiding the animal he may be involved with a pedestrian or another vehicle. The carelessness of people, and their heartlessness in allowing their dogs to stray about in towns and villages where there is heavy traffic, is really extraordinary, and something should be done about it. There is no doubt that that is one cause of accidents. I have some admirable notes sent by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents which was referred to and, quite rightly, praised by the noble Earl. In the summary of the most recent statistics showing the causes of road accidents I see that in 1949 animals were responsible for no fewer than 3,431 serious accidents. And that a great many of those were caused by stray dogs in built-up and crowded areas, there is no doubt whatever.

The other matter is very controversial, but nevertheless I think it deserves consideration. I believe that the use of wireless receiving sets while cars are being driven is open to very grave doubts, on the grounds of safety. I do not see how they can do other than distract the driver. We did quite well without them during the war, and I should like to see them banned again. Drivers of cars which are fitted with radio sets might be allowed to use thorn when stationary, on picnics and that sort of thing, but when a car is being driven, and when all attention is needed, I think a radio receiving set is a distraction and a danger. I suppose the installation of television sets is not contemplated. That would be even worse.

The third proposal that I have to make is not really controversial, although it is bound to lead to a good deal of argument, as it has already done in the Alness and other Reports. That is with regard to the prohibition of the taking of alcohol by men who are driving, or who are about to drive, motor vehicles. This is a most serious matter, and I venture to agree with both the noble Earl and the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, that in a great many cases the penalties imposed by benches of magistrates for the offence of dangerous driving, or of driving under the influence of drink, are too low. This is a matter with which it is difficult for the Government to deal, but I should have thought that some good propaganda work could be done, and perhaps the Lord Chancellor, in his instructions, could draw attention to what is felt by many people as being a misuse of the law.

I suggest to your Lordships that the question of drinking while in charge of cars requires special treatment. I would draw your Lordships' attention, and the attention of my noble friend, to what has been done with great success for many years in Sweden. The Swedes are a convivial people, and their native drinks are potent. Many accidents there were caused through drivers being drunk or under the influence of drink—there is a great difference in the two, but it is important in considering this matter. Both are potential dangers. Anyone now involved in an accident in Sweden who is found to have been drinking alcohol the same day—for example with his last meal—is subject to the most severe penalties. Inquiries are made as to where he had his last meal; evidence is taken as to what was served in the way of alcoholic drinks, and I believe that blood tests are taken. The taking of blood tests is a controversial matter, I know, and I do not press that particular point. Anyway, the man has to prove that he has not had alcohol before the accident, and if he cannot the punishment is severe—nearly always imprisonment. Drivers in Sweden do not drink until they finish driving. When I was in command of a man-o'-war at sea, I made it a rule that once the anchor was up no drinks at all were to be taken by the officers—and we did not go at the speed the motorists do to-day. I think that is a very good rule for drivers of cars. Men in Sweden who go out at night to a dinner party take their wives with them. Of course, the wives do not drink, and they drive the cars home. At any rate, the statistics, which are quoted, I believe, in the Appendix to the Alness Report, have shown that the tightening of the law in Sweden has been followed by a very substantial reduction in accidents. We are a much more heavily "motorcaned" country than Sweden, and I do not think—though we understand the reasons—that we have spent as much on our roads recently, in comparison, as the Swedes have. But I commend that example of this Scandinavian country to your Lordships and to my noble friend. As I say, I presume that legislation will be introduced, but perhaps something could be done in the meantime by means of propaganda.

I agree with everything which was said by the noble Earl with regard to the neglect of the roads in this country. We know the reason for it, but it is most deplorable. I understand on very good authority that even the maintenance is not being continued to an extent which will prevent the roads from falling to pieces in a comparatively short time. That is most serious. It is not a matter of simply improving the roads, as the noble Viscount suggests, so that the motorist can go faster. It is a matter affecting the efficiency of the transport of the country, and also the safety of all users of the road. I hope the noble Earl's Motion will produce good results.


Before the noble Lord sits down, can he explain one point which was not quite clear to me? Does this ban on alcohol in Sweden come into force only if there is an accident, or can the police stop anybody and ask whether he has had any drink?


I do not think so. It is against the law in Sweden to drink any alcoholic liquors at all if you are driving or intend to drive a car.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Earl has brought this matter once again before the House. I think that the more we debate this problem the more we are likely to bring before the country as a whole the really ghastly tragedy of the roads. Far too often we accept the present position as something which cannot be avoided. Every month there are something like 20,000 people either killed or injured on the roads—that is to say, the population of a large market town is either killed or injured on the roads month by month. If one-tenth of those casualties had occurred in a month on the railways, in the air or in the mines, what an outcry there would be! Members of Parliament would be asking questions; special committees would be set up and there would be agitation throughout the whole of the country to try to bring the evil to an end. But during these last years, month after month these tragedies have been taking place on the roads. It has been calculated that in forty years over 200,000 people have been killed on the roads and 5,000,000 injured.

One of the accusations which we bring against a totalitarian State is that it disregards the life of the individual. Month by month in this kind of way we disregard the lives and the safety of the individual. The noble Earl who introduced this Motion said that 80 per cent. of these accidents were avoidable. He said that with a full knowledge of the subject, and I think there can be no stronger indictment of the present position than that it should be said that 80 per cent. of these deaths and mutilations on the road could be avoided. A horrible feature, of course, is the very large number of young children who are killed on the roads. It is not only the death of the children that we deplore but the anguish which is brought into home upon home by the killing of small children. The waste of human life in this way is terrible. I agree with the noble Earl that it is no good putting all the blame on one class or regarding one set of the users of the road as responsible for all the accidents. There are pedestrians who are responsible; there are cyclists who are selfish. But I cannot say I agree—I am not sure if this is what the noble Earl meant—that there is equal responsibility on all the users of the road. Surely the person who has a lethal weapon, a weapon which can kill people on the roads, has a far greater responsibility than the pedestrian or cyclist who is much more likely to injure only himself if there is an accident.

It is difficult to know what is to be done. Various suggestions have been made. I thought that some most interesting and original suggestions were made by the noble Lord who has just sat down. I find myself in agreement with most of the suggestions which were made by the noble Earl and I must say I felt considerable discomfort when he asked a large number of questions about why this and that recommendation of the Alness Report have not been carried out. I can quite understand the answer to the main recommendations—that the national difficulties and the need for economy make it almost impossible to carry out drastic changes in the roads. Here perhaps I might add that I am not quite certain that improved roads always mean safety. The noble Earl referred to the motor-ways on the Continent. I must say that when I have been travelling on one of those motor-ways and the surface has been damp, I have felt far from secure in the car. Sometimes I have felt much more secure travelling fast in a car over our much criticised roads than on those highly polished and sometimes very dangerous motor-ways. But, of course, it would make a great difference if the whole of the road system of this country were altered. That is a matter of time. It is a long-term policy and not one which can be carried out at once. What we really want to know is what can be done at once to reduce this appalling death roll on the road.

I am sure the noble Viscount who has recently spoken was right in saying that we need better footpaths. Often there are long tracts of road on which there are no footpaths at all, and it ought to be possible to make a number of footpaths to give safety to pedestrians without going to the expense of making new roads. I am doubtful about some of these great propaganda campaigns. I wonder very much if the pictorial advertisements which at one time looked at us from all the hoardings really did very much to reduce casualties on the road. There was the ghost woman, an interesting enough picture, but I wonder whether she reduced casualties by a single one. I must say that I felt it rather unnecessary to see her portrayed in the underground railways, the one place where I felt tolerably secure. I do think, however, that there is the greatest value in the education given to children in the schools. It is almost impossible to exaggerate the value of careful teaching about road safety given to children. Neither do I think it is possible to exaggerate the importance of the Press, the radio and the cinema again and again drawing attention to the dangers of the road.

Here I will touch on a controversial point. I am prepared to support the experiment of road controls with police not in their uniforms. We had a minor debate on that matter in this House before we came to the major debate, and I understood there were considerable differences of opinion on it. It is an experiment, but it is one worth trying. Like most English people, I dislike the idea of police being disguised to try to find out whether some petty regulation or other has been broken; but this is quite a different matter. Here we are dealing with human life, and on the one side of the balance one has the uneasy consciences of a number of people who are probably breaking or thinking of breaking the road laws, and on the other hand are the lives and safety of the users of the road. I hope, therefore, that this Oxford experiment will be given a really good chance. If it fails then let it be abandoned, but if the fact that it is known that there are police on the road not in their uniforms makes for greater safety in driving, then I hope that the experiment will be tried elsewhere.

I agree with what the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, said about the enforcement of law. It is no good having a large number of laws which are neglected. By neglect the law itself is brought into contempt. I would not urge that those who have been convicted of dangerous driving should necessarily be sent to prison, but I am certain that such a conviction ought to be treated very much more seriously than it is at the present time. In 1949 3,955 drivers were found guilty of reckless and dangerous driving, but in that year only 233 were disqualified. More of those probably ought to have been disqualified. If the offence seems to be a minor one, let there be merely a suspension of the licence for a few months; but if the offence was a serious one leading to the loss of life, or if there has been a repeated suspension of the licence, then disqualification ought to follow for a very much longer period. A local paper (I think it was a Norfolk paper) reported mat it came out in court that a man who had been convicted of some rather minor offence—not having a light, or something of that sort—had 115 previous convictions for road offences. That just brings the whole law into contempt, and it makes those who are inclined to be reckless on the roads think that it does not matter very much and that probably they will get off with a warning or some slight fine. The whole subject ought to be treated much more seriously than it is at the present time. Public feeling, I believe, is gradually rising, and when the extent of the horror of the slaughter on the roads is once realised, public opinion will, I am certain, be prepared to support various changes in the law and a much more drastic application of the existing law against road offences.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will feel indebted to the noble Earl who set down this Motion to call attention to this matter which is undoubtedly causing great concern in the country generally to-day. There is no doubt that a tremendous effort to reduce road accidents has been made by many public bodies during the last few years, and I would say not least by His Majesty's Government. The fact remains, however, that we are still a long way from making any substantial reduction in the appalling figures which are reported year by year. Many ideas have been put forward and tried out from time to time and probably most of them have contributed in some measure to preventing the number of accidents from being even greater than at present. I suggest, however, that we have not really got down to the fundamental basis of the cause of accidents.

First there is the failure of the human element and the different reactions of different people in an emergency; and, secondly, there is the state and condition of the track on which road vehicles run. The human element is, of course, the most difficult to deal with, but we can and do place a certain check on this element by driving tests, speed limits, education and so on. However, this appears to have comparatively little effect. Of course, we might try the method employed in Brazil. There is a road in Brazil from San Paulo to Santos which descends a long steep hill with a number of hair-pin bends, and at the bottom there is a big notice with a skull and crossbones and a warning in Portuguese: At the bottom of this hill is a cemetery specially reserved for motorists who are too rash. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, suggested that a wireless set might interfere with the driver and distract his attention. I should rather think it might be the other way round, and wireless might help to keep the driver awake. I know it does with me.

It can be argued that inconsiderate driving is responsible for many accidents, but that is certainly not the whole story, because it applies to only a small and reckless section of the community. Other members of the community undoubtedly contribute their share to accidents. As was suggested by the noble Earl who introduced this Motion, all sections of the community should get together and sink their differences to see what can be done. There is little doubt that if it were possible to fence in our roads like railway tracks, the accident figures would become almost negligible; but that, of course, cannot be fully carried out. On the other hand, fencing or the erecting of guard rails in limited areas has been carried out with great success, and I cannot help feeling that this system of guard rails and fencing could be extended much more than has been done at present, especially at dangerous corners and, what is more important, at comparatively limited expense.


Would the noble Lord explain that? Does he mean to fence the roads in the rural districts, or only the roads in built-up areas?


I was referring only to the built-up areas which are, I think, the only parts where it would be at all practicable. In the built-up areas and the shopping streets it would be quite impracticable to cordon off large sections of streets with iron fencing, but I see no reason why this should not be done in certain areas where the accident figure is shown to be high. Surely it would be possible to arrange means of access to shops, and so on, by a removable bar, which could be removed for purposes of trade vans, the stocking up of trade premises and so on. The pedestrian public would, of course, be able to cross the road with convenience only at certain places where gaps had been made available. That would prevent the possible necessity of compulsion which, as we know, is envisaged in certain quarters at present.

I would point out that an excellent modified example of fencing with galvanized piping is to be found outside South Kensington underground station, where I believe the number of accidents has been greatly reduced. In this case there is no removable bar, and I do not suggest that a removable bar is necessary in that particular area. In other areas, however, where the road is straight and there are many shops, a removable bar would be necessary. I do not think it can be denied that the condition of the roads in the built-up areas and outside must have a material effect on road accidents, and that improved road conditions would increase road safety. I believe we are all agreed on that. I do not think it is generally realised that in this country there are more vehicles per mile of road than anywhere else in the world. I think the noble Earl who introduced this motion said the figure was 16.9. I have a figure given me of as many as 22 per mile. No wonder our out-of-date roads are congested and accidents reach such terrible figures.

Through the good offices of the Ministry of Transport, I was recently able to visit the Government Road Research Laboratory and was much struck by the excellent work which is being carried out down there. I believe it is the opinion of the workers there that nearly 50 per cent. of all accidents could in fact be prevented by the removal of ordinary road defects, and a figure as high as 70 per cent. by modernising road lay-out. Those figures give one a great deal about which to think. During the last few years, I believe improvements have been carried out on five major roads, with the result that at certain points fatal accidents have been almost entirely eliminated and accidents involving serious injury reduced by about 76 per cent. Cannot we have more of those improvements and save life and injury by a propressive plan of reconstruction and modernisation of the roads? In these days of financial stringency and rearmament, it is obviously impossible to expend all the money we should like to on the roads; but I feel that His Majesty's Government should have a plan for improving bit by bit all the dangerous road sections which must be well-known to them. I am convinced that then we should certainly have an improvement in the accident figures.

It is vitally important that we should keep our roads in good condition, not only to prevent accidents, but because in the event of war our roads will be of the utmost importance. If they are allowed to deteriorate too far, immense sums will be required to bring them back to their proper condition. It is false economy to spend too little on our roads. The expenditure is a premium which we mast pay for saving life and keeping the industrial activity of the country at its highest pitch. There is no doubt that road safety education is also having a considerable, beneficial effect, and the Royal Society, for the Prevention of Accidents has been doing and is doing excellent work in that direction. A children's safety campaign was carried out last year and I believe that for the first ten months of last year child deaths were considerably reduced. I am sure the most reverend Primate will be glad to hear that this figure was a record low total of 766, and showed a reduction of 9 per cent. over the figures for 1949. Of course, this is all to the good, but it does not go far enough. I understand that this year a campaign for road courtesy has been introduced. I am sure that road courtesy is of the utmost importance and, if really carried out by all the road users. would reduce the accident figures to a negligible quantity.

To sum up, I should like to put forward briefly these suggestions. First, there should be a real combination of the work of the road engineer, the police, the propagandist and the educationist, and. a start should be made on the modernisation of our roads, as recommended in the various Government Committee Reports, with special reference to the Alness Report. We all realise that everything cannot be cone at once, but we should like to be assured that road defects will be progressively eliminated. Also, I should like to see a further development of the system of mobile police patrols, or "courtesy cops" as we have known them in the past. Moreover, I think encouragement should be given for the establishment of more school patrols. I am afraid I cannot agree with the most reverend Primate with regard to the employment of plain clothes police in cars, because I think such a practice is alien to our way of life in this country. In fact, such a scheme was rejected by the Alness Committee, and it certainly is not employed in America. I was glad to hear from His Majesty's Government at Question Time that this proposal is under consideration by the Minister of Transport, and I trust it will not be supported.


If the noble Lord understood that, he was quite in error. It is nothing whatsoever to do with the Ministry of Transport.


I am sorry if I misunderstood the noble Lord, but I thought that the matter was under discussion.


With the Home Office.


With the Home Office: I am much obliged. I also hope that the Ministry of Transport will give careful consideration to the fencing of dangerous streets, as is already carried out in certain areas, together with provision for trade loading and unloading at those protected spots. I am convinced that if this fencing is well thought out and put up in the right places, it will have a tremendous effect. I hope His Majesty's Government will consider that this debate as far as it has gone has been most useful, and that they will feel able to accept this Motion.

4.31 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, made a very comprehensive speech, and I am sure that we shall all have agreed with a great deal of it. Personally, I was particularly interested in his appeal for a more comprehensive and impartial view of this desperate problem—the end of the tradition of the pedestrian always blaming the motorist, the motorist blaming the cyclist, and the cyclist the motorist. Lord Howe will not remember the probably never knew) that before (he war there was formed a body with precisely that purpose —namely, the Road Accidents Emergency Council, of which I had the honour to be chairman, and which included representatives of a great many national organisations and a number of great trade unions who were concerned about this matter and anxious that it should be viewed from a citizen's rather than a propaganda, standpoint. I am afraid that we did not succeed in effecting very much, and I recall the name of that now defunct body at this moment only because one of the chief reforms for which we pressed the Alness Committee was the use of plain-clothes police patrols, about which I hope to say a word in a moment.

Apart from that, I am afraid I cannot say that I agreed with what I took to be the general bias of the speech made by the noble Earl, with his usual geniality and eloquence, or with his views as to the first and most urgent steps to be taken to mitigate this appalling tragedy. But at least we are, I think, all agreed that there is a tragedy. I myself feel compelled to use even harsher terms; for I suppose that the conscience of every age has a blind spot in respect of the scandals and abuses to which it has grown accustomed by long usage. We look back with incredulity and horror at the complacency with which our ancestors tolerated the climbing boy chimney sweeps, the children of eight working twelve hours a day underground in the mines, or even the early Victorian slums. Each of them was a scandal, a tragedy and an abuse, which was, nevertheless, defended by contemporary opinion as the inevitable price which had to be paid for progress. In fifty years' time I have little doubt that posterity will look back with even greater incredulity and horror on the comparative complacency with which over the last forty years public opinion has accepted a total of casualties on the road which now reaches 200,000 killed and 5,000,000 injured. I do not suppose there is a single member of your Lordships' House sitting in the Chamber at this moment who cannot think of some relation, friend or acquaintance slaughtered on the roads.

My Lords, if we can rid ourselves of the myopia which fails to see fully and plainly the abuse to which it has grown accustomed, surely we must realise that the time has come for more drastic measures. We can all admit that better roads, as to which Lord Howe spoke as persuasively as he always does, must mean safer motoring up to a point—but only up to a point, because drunken or reckless driving will mean death even on the best roads. The railways have admirably laid out tracks, but if there were a sufficient minority of drunken engine drivers or engine drivers who regularly ignored the official regulations, then surely we should see the death-roll on the railways very soon beginning to rival the death-roll on the roads. Even if better roads alone could be relied on to reduce the casualty list to civilised proportions, in our present financial straits, and with all the rival claims of rearmament, how can we expect a sufficiency of better roads in the foreseeable future? By all means let us get what we can; let us get such minor safety improvements as are possible. But, meanwhile, let us not forget the undeniable fact that adequately careful driving can eliminate accidents even on inferior roads.

Up to a few weeks ago, there was a bend on a road down which I drive each way three or four times every week in the year. One could drive round that bend with complete safety if one took the elementary precaution of reducing one's speed for about one hundred yards to forty miles an hour. Not long ago a driver attempting to negotiate the corner at upwards of sixty miles an hour, was involved in a fatal collision. Since then the corner has been "ironed out" at considerable expense, and all is well— until somebody tries to negotiate the corner at eighty miles an hour. But all would have been well even while the corner was there if drivers had taken the precaution of reducing their speed to forty miles an hour. We cannot expect to be able to perfect every stretch of road on which a reckless driver may come to grief. What we can and must do is to try to eliminate the reckless driver himself. For there can be no shadow of doubt that the prime contribution to road accidents is the reckless driver. To take a reductio ad absurdum, if every car proceeded at the pace of a tortoise there would be no slaughter on the roads. But of course it is not necessary to argue from a reductio ad absurdum. If every driver drove like the highly trained police patrols, at extremely high speeds where high speeds are safe, but with extreme caution where caution is necessary, then too the roads would be safe.

With all due respect, it is not difficult to avoid accidents. I imagine that sitting in this Chamber at this moment there must be a dozen or more of us who have been driving for thirty or perhaps forty years, upwards of 20,000 miles a year, often at pretty high speeds—and at this point perhaps your Lordships would wish me to touch wood—but without an accident. To point to one obvious contrast to what the ordinary respectable citizen can manage in the way of road safety, every year a number of persons are killed by undergraduate drivers at the Universities. I remember one young man, the speed of whose driving was notorious amongst his friends, who during his three years at the university killed two different people, on two separate occasions. I must say that it passes my comprehension how anyone can doubt that the first task of anyone seriously determined to reduce the present slaughter is to take effective steps to eliminate reckless driving. I am thankful to say that one county authority, my own home county of Oxford, has begun on a modest scale to attack the problem with the determination and the vigour which it needs

The county authorities had been shocked, as well they might have been, by the rapid increase in road casualties in their area—680 in 1949, 978 in 1950. Last October the casualties on the most lethal stretch of road, that between Oxford and Thame, were so formidable that the chief constable decided to try the experiment of placing a uniformed policeman every 50C yards along that stretch of road. While the road was so patrolled, there was not one accident. And mark this, my Lords: there had been no road improvements. If there were awkward corners before, there were awkward corners still. If there were greasy surfaces before, they were still there. If there were bad road junctions, the bad road junctions were the same. But drivers knew that they were under observation. They drove with caution, and there was not a single accident. Of course one cannot have a uniformed policeman every 500 yards all over the county, still less all over the country, and so, most wisely, the county authority decided to begin to use a few— I am afraid a very few—plain-clothes police patrols, briefed to ignore minor irregularities, and even minor infractions of the law, by the great respectable majority of motorists, and to concentrate on what the chief constable very properly called "wicked driving."

After all, the lethal drivers are a very small minority of motorists. By the lethal driver, I mean not the man who has an occasional aberration, but the drunken driver or the man who will take his risk and gets away with it, maybe, fifty times in succession (often he is a very skilful driver), and on the fifty-first kills his man. At present, that type of driver, the lethal driver, knows that if no uniformed "speed cop" is reflected in his driving mirror he can drive as he pleases, and with complete impunity place the respectable majority of motorists and his fellow citizens in general in peril of their lives. But in Oxfordshire at present, so long as, and in so far as, it is known that plainclothes police patrols are abroad, the potentially murderous driver is likely to drive with greater caution. So far, I understand on the best authority, the experiment has proved a startling success. It is reducing accidents, and I earnestly beg the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate to tell us that His Majesty's Government are going to watch this experiment with the closest attention.

It is to be remembered that the experiment is both partial and local. Not many patrols can be about, and it may well be, therefore, that the wicked driver, knowing that there are not many patrols about will feel that it is worth taking a risk. It is also a local experiment. It was understood at one time that it was to be extended to Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, but I am sorry to say that the chief constables of those counties seem temporarily to have cold feet. At the moment, apart from Birkenhead, this experiment is going on only in Oxfordshire. And so it may well be that long distance drivers passing through the county may be quite unaware that such an experiment is in progress and, therefore, may not know that there is any new motive for caution on their part. Finally, of course, it is clear that the experiment cannot possibly be a success unless it is supported by genuinely deterrent sentences in the courts—at least substantial suspensions of licences for dangerous driving, and at least substantial sentences of imprisonment for drunken driving and manslaughter.

For myself, with many others. I have no shadow of doubt that if it could be known all over the country that plainclothes police patrols were about, and that all over the country the courts were determined to impose serious sentences for serious offences, then in the space of twelve months we could halve the casualty list and subsequently halve it, and halve it again. For those of us— and our numbers are increasing—who are so convinced, it is agonising year after year to see time go by and nothing effective done to prevent the shadow of bereavement reaching home after home which might so well have been spared. I know, for there has been plenty of indication of it in your Lordships' discussion this evening, that the Oxfordshire experiment will be met with opposition and criticism, just as the reforms which put an end to nineteenth century abuses to which we now look back with incredulity all met with criticism and opposition at first.

I should like to say, apropos of what the noble Earl said at the very beginning of this debate, that he astonished me by saying there was opposition to this experiment in Oxford. He may be right. But I spend a lot of time in Oxford, I read the Oxfordshire news-papers, I meet a good many Oxford people, and that is not my impression. However, that is not an important point. What is more important is that a great deal of opposition will, I am afraid, come from the two great motoring organisations, which incidentally have not canvassed their members, and which ought surely to be the first to support any measure to curb reckless driving, which naturally brings discredit on the great majority of respectable drivers.

It is also said—it has been said two or three times this evening—that the Alness Committee reported against the use of plain-clothes police patrols. As I said just now, plain-clothes police patrols were urged upon them by the Road Accident Emergency Council, and we thought at the time that the reason why the Committee came down against them was that just at that time there had been the so-called "Lancashire Experiment," which had met with startling success. There, as your Lordships may remember, the chief constable had flooded with large numbers of uniformed police some of the Lancashire roads where the accident rate had been highest, and this had resulted in a rapid decrease in accidents. The Alness Committee recommended the extension of that use of uniformed police. Of course, with the present shortage of man-power it is quite impossible to flood all the danger areas of the country with uniformed police, and the great merit of the use of plain-clothes police patrols is that, owing to the knowledge that somewhere the invisible policeman is about, the deterrent effect of one non-uniformed policeman is about twenty times as great as that of one uniformed policeman, whether in a car or on a bicycle.

I remember hearing a famous motor manufacturer say that the use of plain-clothes police patrols was un-English. Lord Teynham, who has just sat down, said that it was contrary to the English way of life. I suppose that in the last resort it depends to some extent on how seriously one expects these patrols to diminish this terrible casualty rate. But the police could never cope with crime without plain-clothes police. No one calls it un-English when a plain-clothes policeman is used to curb the activities of the burglar and the murderer. Yet in terms of human suffering all the burglaries and murders of the year rolled into one are a mere bagatelle compared with the casualties on the roads. Any one of us may go home this evening and find that wife or child has been killed or mangled in a road accident. And if the taking of steps to mitigate by means of plain-clothes police this ubiquitous tragedy is un-English, then I can only say that English history, with its long and splendid tradition of humanitarianism, is something which I at least have grievously misunderstood.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he has read the letter in The Times, from the Chief Constable of Oxford, dated October 19? if he has not seen it, I have a copy here which he can see.


I have not seen that letter; but I was referring to public opinion at the moment, not in October.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question about something of which I am not sure? How are these plain-clothes policemen mounted, on motor-cycles or in cars?


I understand that they are in cars. If there is occasion to stop anyone, they take off the mackintoshes they are wearing, and are then seen wearing uniform when they stop motorists.

4.51 p.m.


My Lords, when I first took part in a debate on road safety in your Lordships' House, it was as long ago as December, 1937. It seems to me that since then, with the exception of the war years, we have returned to the fray at least once a year, and sometimes more often. We are confronted to-day with the sad circumstance that, in spite of the work of the Alness Committee, and of the subsequent Committee in 1947, we are back to where we were thirteen years ago, with the same number of killed and injured—6,000 killed, and 200,000 injured —on the roads. Furthermore, it seems to me that the situation is likely to get worse. This problem, intricate as it is, is obviously interwoven with that of the whole road system. It is all nice and fine to sit down and to get wise out of books, to sit surrounded by a mass of statistics, and then to arrive at one or two illuminating conclusions, such as that the accident rate for children goes up from January to May, or that three-quarters of the casualties happen in daylight, or that the police should be in plain clothes.

We have had an interesting speech from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on the subject of plain clothes or uniformed police. I have no comment to make about that matter, other than to say this: that one glimpse of a "copper" in uniform must have a more salutary effect than seeing one without, whatever anybody may say. The noble Lord contended that if everything went at a crawling pace there would be no accidents. That is an interesting thought, but I am not at all sure that it is quite logical. An interesting piece of information, if we can believe it, was given in a letter which recently appeared in the newspapers, signed by someone who called himself "A well-known K.C." He wrote that in 1870 nearly 300 people were killed in London by cabs and carts. Now there are 140 deaths in three months, which is about 500 a year. Allowing for the increase in area and population of London in the last eighty years, I wonder whether the streets are much more dangerous than they were in Victorian times. I make this point not to be complacent in any way but in order to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that if no one would be killed if everything went at a crawling pace it is surprising that, when the maximum speed was that of the horse. 300 people were killed in the streets of London every year.

I do not propose to deal with the details. We who have lived so closely with the problem for so many years are conscious of the fact that it is a big one. All the details have been sifted, time and time again, by the Alness Committee and by the subsequent Government Committee. I do not think it is the slightest use anybody attempting to attach blame in any one direction. It has already been said this afternoon that all users of the road, whether on feet or set upon wheels of any number or description, must accept responsibility. I am prepared to confess that my inclination.; to take a risk are infinitely greater when I am on my feet than when I am in charge of any vehicle. Words by the million have been spoken and written about this matter, and I implore your Lordships this afternoon to join me in vowing not to become fogged by the mass of detail with which we are surrounded. Whenever a discussion takes place on road accidents, so great is the temptation to quote the last incident that happened to you on your little bit of road, or to suggest the latest brain-wave you have for curing some detail or which will contribute to the cure of the problem, that we emerge at the end of the debate in nothing more than that despair which comes from confusion. I have by me the book which was mentioned by Lord Howe, containing the reprint of some fifty letters which appeared in The Times between June and November last year. All are interesting and contain a mass of details which are helpful, but I do not think that they get us very far.

The fundamental thing about the whole road question is apathy; not the apathy of the citizen, because he is not apathetic, but the apathy which has existed in high Government circles for years and years. Our leaders have robbed the Road Fund in such a way that the two words are little more than a mockery. Members of the present Government can sit back and say "I told you so," because the leaders to whom I refer are those of years long past. One can imagine, the eyes of a succession of Chancellors of the Exchequer gleaming as they contemplate these perennial windfalls. When the first debate on road accidents took place before the war, in 1937, I think, the Chancellor in that year took something like £50,000,000, or three-quarters of the Road Fund. That sort of attitude is infectious. It is the sort of attitude that must go. If we do not want this state of affairs on the roads to continue, there is only one way to cure it—a real upheaval, starting at the high level I have mentioned. The first effort that must be made is one which comes from the quarters where the funds are disbursed.

I should like to put my point a little more lucidly, and in plainer English, by simply asking this question: How much money do the Cabinet consider should be spent on not killing 6,000 people, and not wounding 200,000 people, every year? It is a terrible thing to have to contemplate a question of this sort, but there must be some sum of money that is applicable. Admittedly—and we know it only too well in these days—funds are not available for all the things for which one would like them, but I suggest that this is a matter of the greatest importance, and even if we are now rearming we are still killing 6,000 people every year. So I come to the rather gloomy thought that, if we are told that what we are asking is quite impossible, we then have to resign ourselves more or less to the continuation of what is happening now. And, in addition to the appalling death roll, we have to resign ourselves to increasing paralysis of the road system on account of the congestion which goes hand in hand with the accidents, and also the ever-worsening condition of the roads themselves, which was rightly described by my noble friend Lord Teynham as a terrible contemplation, having regard to the importance of the road system in the defence of the nation. It seems to me that those are the simple facts that we have to face. I should like to elaborate my point even a stage further by saying this. Supposing that a vast tract of land, perhaps in the Midlands, had become devastatingly infected in such a way that it threatened the health and lives of 250,000 people living there: I wonder what sort of upheaval there would be in Cabinet circles, and to what lengths the Cabinet would be prepared to go to purge the land and rid it of that danger?

The truth is that the rot has been going on for too long, and everyone has become used to it. The other day I asked a friend what he suggested, and his prescription was: Reduce the percentage of fools using the road, and cause the remainder to have all their accidents in Downing Street. At the risk of being thought somewhat flippant, I feel that he was thinking more or less on the right lines. All I would say, in conclusion, is that the prescription is known. I believe that the time has passed for trying to deal with the details. Let those in command make up their minds once and for all how high on the list of "must be dones" this subject comes, and how high a priority it should be given. At the present moment the whole matter is being trifled with, and so long as the Minister of Transport is the perpetual "poor relation" I cannot see how we shall ever get to the root of the trouble.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, I should first like to express my apologies to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in that owing to a board meeting I was unable to be present when he made his opening speech in this debate. I shall keep your Lordships for only a few minutes, and I intend to raise only one specific point. It is one that I have considered putting down as a special Question, but I feel it is appropriate to include it in this debate. I understand that it has been touched upon by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, but I should like to elaborate it a little further. The specific point I have in mind is the rear lighting of heavy vehicles. Like the noble Lord, Lord Elton, I travel many thousands of miles a year on business, both in this country and on the Continent, and sometimes—I hope only when conditions permit it—I travel fairly fast. I believe that the greatest anxiety felt by any driver in this country is of the danger of suddenly seeing in front of him a heavy vehicle, either stationary or moving quite slowly, which is improperly lighted. That danger does not exist to anything like the same extent in France and other Continental countries, or in America. In those countries it is regarded as a great danger, which causes a large number of fatal and serious accidents, and the backs of their heavy vehicles are fully illuminated. Low down, indicating the width of the vehicle, are two lights, and the top of the load is also illuminated on either side so that the whole of the vehicle is outlined in a frame of four red lights—and some have lights additional to those. Therefore, you have a complete outline of the back of the vehicle, and you see at once if it is a large monster in front of you, and take the necessary precautions.

What have we in this country? The regulations state that the vehicle shall have one light, either in the centre or on the offside of the vehicle, and that the light must be visible for a reasonable distance. To begin with, it is very difficult to define what is "a reasonable distance." Even supposing that the one light is of reasonable power, as often as not it is very low down—in fact, I think the regulations say that it must not be more than three feet six inches from the ground—and often it is covered in mud. On a crowded road, with vehicles moving perhaps in convoy, it is almost impossible to keep the rear light clear of mud. I feel that the regulations should be altered to something on the lines of the Continental and American regulations to which I have referred. That would mean that a trailer of a vehicle would also have to be illuminated in the same way.

Another frequent cause of accidents is that a heavy vehicle has stopped by the roadside in order that the load may be secured or shifted; the driver has opened the rear doors or dropped the tailboard, and the one red rear light is obscured. The regulations should be so framed that that one rear light should not be obscured in those circumstances, and, if necessary, additional lights should be provided which should be alight and visible when that light is obscured. I mentioned just now that the only thing stated about the single light is that it must be visible at a reasonable distance. I believe that experiments have been carried out in this matter, and that it is considered that the glass of these lights should cover at least four square inches and that the power of the bulb should be somewhere between five and seven watts. There must be some positive regulation about the light; it must not just be said that it shall be visible at a reasonable distance.

I think that the suggestions I have outlined are the minimum compatible with safety, but there are. of course, other things which can be done. During the war the Royal Air Force adopted one small palliative. They had painted on the back of all their vehicles a white disc, with a red reflector in the middle. That is a good thing, but it does not go far enough. I understand that the motoring organisations are preparing a report on the subject of vehicle lighting, and I am sure that their views will be awaited with interest and that the Minister will, in due course, give full consideration to them. Apart from that, I believe I am right in saying that the Minister of Transport himself is considering revised regulations for the lighting of vehicles. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, could say something about that matter and indicate when any proposals on the subject are likely to be laid before Parliament. That is the one point I wish to make to-day. I will end by repeating that I am quite sure that a great number of people are killed and injured because the regulations in this country do not make adequate provision for the rear lighting of heavy vehicles.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, in a very few moments I think we and the road users at large hope to hear when the new Highway Code will be completed. May we hope that the Minister has it completed in time for the many visitors we expect for the Festival of Britain? The further question which we expect and hope to be answered to-night is: Does he propose to put legal liability on pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists alike? A point which was touched upon by all speakers, and which I can repeat on behalf of many professional commercial drivers, is to pay a great compliment to the teachers in the schools. Could this work be carried on? I am of the opinion that the children are the least dangerous users of the roads. I think the able-bodied man is probably the second safest, but no statistics tell us how the housewife comes out of this matter. I cannot but believe that the present day rations of those who have to feed entirely at home is not conducive to mental alertness. Further, I entirely approve of the "courtesy cop"—the motor-cycle police—so I wonder whether further sums could be spent on having more of them, as opposed to these detectives to prevent crime on the roads.

From the motor industry's point of view,. we feel very strongly that more cars should be diverted to the home market and some of the old cars swept off the road. As the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, has said, if only one life can be saved by a constructive suggestion it is all to the good. I cannot believe that our present Minister of Transport and those in authority cannot at once rule against turning against traffic in big cities. It is not allowed in any other big capital, so why should it be allowed here? As was mentioned in another place, there is also the crawling taxi-cab driver who need not stop if he is summoned. The taxi-cab driver is a great driver, but there are two points against him: first, that he is continually turning out against traffic, and, secondly, that when he is going home he need not pick up a fare when he is crawling. Surely he could put a glove over his flag, as they do in other capitals. Accidents have been caused through these faults. The Minister of Transport seems to lay great stress upon running his buses on schedule. He will run a train from London to Coventry which, for some inexplicable reason, on a perfectly clear day will run twenty minutes late. The buses, however, have to run on schedule, irrespective of the traffic, the density of the fog or anything else. Therefore, either one misses one's appointment through a crawling bus, or some poor old lady breaks a leg getting on or off when not enough time is given to stopping. Surely that state of affairs could be altered with the stroke of a pen. I should like to know whether filtering by cyclists and coming up on the near side of stationary traffic is to be legally forbidden in future.

Further, there is the question of car parking. Anything that takes a driver's eye off the road tends to cause accidents, and parking signs all tend to cause accidents. The car-parking rules are now so difficult to understand that the visitor to London has to look around for places to park. For instance, in the West End one sees notices: "Car parking forbidden from 11.30 to 7 p.m." I wonder how many of your Lordships are aware that you can still be summoned for obstruction if you want to buy a shirt before 9.30 in the morning and you park your car outside the shop. I hope all these matters will be properly explained in the new Highway Code. One is not allowed to park a car in certain places—for instance, Finsbury Circus, where twelve places must be reserved for taxi-cabs and where no taxicab has been seen parked since 1938. I believe there are many smaller points which could be remedied at once. The Government car parking spaces in London are rapidly becoming permanent daylight garages. They have their regular users, and the visitor to London has little chance, especially in the height of the London season, of getting into such parks. The estimate of taxation due from the motorist as a whole in 1951 is, I believe, £218,000,000, and the sum which it is estimated will be spent on the roads is £60,000,000. Last year 75,000 men were employed on the roads, and that number has been reduced to 55,000. Finally, since 1928 161,500 people have been killed on the roads and 3,700,000 injured. In the last five years we have had one Minister of Transport. Surely he can help us to remedy these awful facts.

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords who have already spoken in this debate in congratulating my noble friend Lord Howe on the way be has introduced this very important matter. I beg to support all the steps he has recommended to lessen fatal accidents—all accidents in fact—and may I stress one point which will help towards the desired end of greater safety?

It is that all motor vehicles and people on foot on adjacent pavements, footways or crossings should always drive or walk on the left—and not only when another car or passenger approaches from the opposite direction. I suggest that the dreadful harvest of fatalities is the result of our failure over all the years since we have had motor vehicles accurately to assess their great potential and to plan to use them efficiently and with safety.

The main solution of this trouble, of which so much has rightly been said to-day in your Lordships' House, I suggest lies in the laying down of motor-ways. My noble friend Lord Howe in his interesting speech stressed the need for these long recommended motor-ways which, as he pointed out, we have not yet seen. My suggestion is that the roads of to-day should be left substantially as they are, being, of course, efficiently maintained, and that an immediate programme for the construction of motor-ways should be put in hand at once. We should, I suggest, ultimately need some 2,000 miles to serve Britain—a point which has come out in different statistics that have been reported to your Lordships' House from time to time. If we put in hand such a programme, there is yet time to save the amenities of our attractive countryside from more ribbon development, our lovely villages from noise and peril, and our townsfolk from slaughter and interminable delay.

The motor-way, as your Lordships will remember, is for mechanically propelled vehicles only. It avoids all towns and villages, being connected thereto by service roads open to all forms of traffic. It absorbs twelve acres to the mile, providing two 25-foot concrete roads separated by a grass verge. They can be laid over the least valuable land. Would the noble Lord he Minister in his reply tell your Lordships when the construction of such motor-ways may be envisaged? As one of the speakers, I should like to say how much I appreciate the patient hearing the noble Lord has given to all that has been said in this debate. I hope he will be able to give us some hope for the future, in view of the fact that the cost of the average article we buy is to some 70 per cent a transport charge.

5.23 p.m.


My Lords, I am afraid that I have not given notice that I wish to speak in this debate, but I intervene for only one moment as ore who spoke on this matter several times before the war. And as one who has taken a great interest in this problem, I should like to congratulate Lord Howe on moving this Motion to-day. Much as I should like to see motor-ways provided, I think it is quite impossible to do that at this juncture. We have so much to do in the rearmament programme that we simply cannot spare the labour or material. So whatever we do now, our short-term policy must be one of trying to cut down the number of accidents. I think much more could be done fairly reasonably, and that it should be done at once.

One of the reasons why I have risen to speak is to enlarge on a point made by Lord Gifford about the inadequacy of lighting on heavy vehicles in this; country. I think that we ought to provide better lighting on heavy vehicles, The other day I very nearly had a bad accident when I just avoided a big lorry that was drawn up at the side of the road, with its lights completely smeared over. I saw it in time and managed to swerve. 1 think these vehicles ought to have at least two lights on them, though some hold the view that, if there were one light on either side of the vehicle, drivers following might think there were two vehicles and drive into the middle of the lorry. I think there ought to be two or three lights grouped together in the middle, as they have in the United States of America.

The other point I wish to mention is that most of these accidents happen in built-up areas, and I should like to see more uniform lighting there. A good deal has been done since the war to provide better lighting, but it is a question also of adequate grants to local authorities. If I am not mistaken, local authorities are given for trunk roads a 75 per cent. capital grant and maintenance grant, but some local authorities have very long stretches of these main roads through their territories, and they cannot afford to find the other 25 per cent. I think in those cases where big arterial built-up roads are concerned local authorities ought to be granted 100 per cent. of the cost of lighting. In my view, a great deal more could be done at the intersections of roads, because, as Lord Howe has rightly said, that is where a great many accidents occur. Many more guard-rails could be put up, and probably fly-overs or tunnels could be constructed. If that cannot be done, at any rate we ought to have many more traffic lights at intersections. About three months ago on the Great Cambridge Bypass I saw an awful accident. The sun was very low, and at a crossing where, so far as I could see there were no traffic lights, a bus and a small car had come into collision. Things such as I have suggested do not cost a great deal of money, and they ought to be done as soon as possible.

In some cases, land has been bought in built-up areas and I think a start ought to be made to widen some of those roads, especially those like the Great Cambridge By-pass, where all the land was bought and where in many cases there was enough land to enable the necessary widening to be done. So far as I can see, no attempt has been made in the last five years, even where the land was available, to widen these roads. Take for instance, the Great North Road, between Baldock and Biggleswade. There are many places there where the land was bought before the war, but no attempt was made to widen the road, even before this rearmament programme was on top of us. That road, being the Great North Road, takes a tremendous amount of traffic. I should like to see much more drive applied to this problem. We could do more in these ways which would not cost too much money; and where land is already available the making of a start in widening the roads would be encouraging. We need better illumination at dangerous cross-roads and in built-up areas.

5.28 p.m.


My Lords, I gave notice that I was going to speak and, as usual, most of the notes that I made about what I wanted to say have had to be torn up, because the points have been adequately dealt with by other noble Lords. There is one point which has not been mentioned, and which ought not to be new to the Government, though I have never heard one word about it when I have been talking to others. I think it is generally admitted that traffic on the roads is one of the main causes of accidents. If one removed traffic one would not have any accidents. Traffic conditions, frustration of drivers, congestion, those conditions very largely produce acci- dents, because they make people accident prone. People get into bad tempers, and do things they would not otherwise do. They sit behind a lorry for a long time, and eventually they get fed up and go past it just at the one moment when they ought to be sitting tighter behind it than ever. That problem is dealt with in America scientifically.

I should like to refer the noble Lord who is to reply to the Report of sessions at the Road Safety Organisers' Course of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents held last May. In that Report is a most interesting article by an American. If I take one short quotation from it I think it may be helpful. He makes this categorical statement: Saving lives in traffic is already almost an exact science, and is becoming more of one every day. Its principles are now so well known that traffic engineers can go into any city and tell, with startling accuracy, just what percentage of reduction can be made in traffic fatalities if the engineers are given a free hand. They made such a prediction about five years ago when they went to work in Los Angeles, then one of the most dangerous cities in the country in which to use the streets, as it is now one of the safest. They predicted that they would be able to cut the fatalities 40 or 45 per cent.; the figure for the first year was 41.7. They made a similar prediction about a year ago when they went to work in Chicago. It was said that traffic accidents would come down about 50 per cent., and a year later almost exactly that figure had been achieved. They have accomplished the same thing in Detroit and many other places. That is something that has been done, and I should be interested to know how many trained traffic engineers, men who have gone through a course in traffic engineering, as apart from road surveying, there are in this country; and, more particularly, how many there are at the Ministry. I think it is obvious, if one reads the whole of that Report, that we should get the trained traffic engineer on the job, first of all to examine the particular problem and then to examine the district to see how he can divert unnecessary traffic from a bad area and so reduce the traffic strain. That is something that could be done fairly economically.

The noble Earl, Lord Howe, said that there were roads parallel to the A5. I admit that all the way through the last war, when I was working up at Fenny Stratford, I never dreamed of coming down A5. I came down by Leighton Buzzard and Hemel Hempstead. In that way, admittedly, I was using a narrow road, but I was avoiding the appalling amount of traffic that was running up and down A5 at a tremendous rate. There is another minor item to which I should like to draw attention, and that is this. Whereas we cannot segregate traffic in this country, we can do something to get it running at more regulated speeds than it is at the present moment. I am sure that one of the troubles on the road to-day is the existence of a dual speed limit for heavy vehicles. Some are allowed to go at 20 miles per hour, and others are allowed to go at 30 miles per hour. I remember that a good many years ago, when Mr. Hore-Belisha was Minister of Transport, he went for a ride up A5 in a lorry at night, and he said: "One thing I noticed about the driver was that he was exactly like Jack Hobbs: he wanted to get out of the 20's as soon as possible."

It is undoubtedly a fact that the 20 miles-per-hour limit vehicles are practically never driven at that speed. Personally, I am thankful for it, but it does have this effect. The 30 miles-per-hour fellow comes along behind, he sees the 20 miles-per-hour fellow doing 30 miles an hour and says: "I ought to be going faster," and up he goes to 40 or 50 miles per hour. If there were a level 30 miles-per-hour limit for all that traffic, it would greatly simplify the job of the police. If they had only one speed limit to work on, they would not have to look at the tail end of a lorry and make up their minds whether it had a 20 miles-per-hour sign there or not They could get on with their job, and the incentive to higher speed among the lighter vehicle drivers would be abolished. Such a step would obviate a vehicle which is capable of doing only 40 miles per hour "flat out" crawling past the man who is doing 32 or 33 miles per hour, thereby blocking the road for Heaven knows how long. And in the end it would save a great deal of irritation among lorry drivers, as well as among ordinary drivers. If I may make those two suggestions: that we should get trained traffic engineers and use them and bring lorries down to one speed limit instead of two. I hope that I shall have achieved something.

5.36 p.m.


My Lords, may I commence my attempt to reply to the noble Earl by adding my congratulations and gratitude to all the expressions of that nature which he has received for moving this Motion? He has done it in his characteristically pungent manner, with courtesy and fairness, except in one particular case to which I will refer in a moment. I think I could also say, if I may, with respect, that the contributions to this debate by other noble Lords have been on such a high level that it is about the best debate upon this terrible subject that I have heard since I have had the honour of being a member of your Lordships' House. I am sorry that the noble Earl had to drag in the one hackneyed expression—that is, when he accused me of complacency. My worst enemy has never accused me of that.


My Lords, I am quite ready to withdraw my remark.


The noble Earl took me to task very severely —I make no complaint; I am very glad he did—because when I was speaking to the Press I expressed the opinion that road conditions were not a major factor in causing road accidents. I repeat it— they are not. It is a fact; it is the truth; but perhaps I had better make sure that the noble Earl and I are talking about the same thing, because I make a very sharp distinction between road conditions and traffic conditions. The statistics which we have at the Ministry of Transport to-day are compiled in the most scientific manner which we can devise from reports by the police. When they dissected 146,736 accidents in 1949, they came to the definite conclusion that road defects were the primary factor in 1,226 cases, which is less than one per cent. There is a great difference between road conditions and traffic conditions. Eighty per cent. of road accidents happen in built-up areas, and all the panaceas that I have heard suggested, desirable as they would be, such as building huge new roads, would not affect that to such a large degree. It would affect it, I agree, because it would relieve congestion, as the noble Earl wishes to impress upon us. When my right honourable friend the Minister was talking about the case of Newcastle, which the noble Earl cited, my right honourable friend was not contradicting me. He was referring to traffic conditions.

The only other point on which the noble Earl was, I think, slightly unfair, was when he said, or implied—I do not think he quite means it—that in the same remarks which I made to the Press, in quoting figures as to how many pedestrians were involved in accidents, I sought to lay blame for all the road accidents upon the pedestrian class. In every public utterance I have made I have tried to say very plainly that this problem will never be solved if it is turned into a class struggle between one type of road user and another. It never will. I remember saying in a debate in your Lordships' House that unfortunately there is still a dividing line between those who ride in motor cars and those who curse. Unfortunately, that is true. We shall never solve the problem while the pedestrian blames the motorist and the motorist blames the cyclist. Do not despise police figures; they are unbiased, and after investigating somewhere in the region of 200,000 accidents a year for many years the police must have gained some experience. I would rather have their figures than those of the special pleaders for this or that form of road construction.


Can the noble Lord say how he reconciles that statement with the experience of the county surveyors, and particularly Colonel Bennett?


I am coming to the county surveyors. It is on the tip of my tongue because I happen to have been browsing through the Alness Report, and I saw a statement given in evidence before the Alness Committee by a certain county surveyor as to what he thought was the cause of certain accidents—road conditions. There was a head-on collision on a single carriage way, and of course in his opinion road conditions were to blame for that. Had there been a second carriage-way there would not have been an accident, as the other vehicle would have been travelling on the other road. So road conditions were to be blamed for that accident. Such is the exaggeration of some special pleaders! I am not going to argue that if we could relieve congestion it would not reduce accidents. Of course it would. I was very interested to listen this afternoon to what I thought was one of the most balanced speeches I have heard upon this problem, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I thought it was a realist's speech. I was rather amused that the one county which is always held up by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, as being so up-to-date in its road works for reducing accidents, is the very county where the chief constable has now to try this experiment to reduce the appalling number of accidents. His Majesty's Government are watching that experiment with a great deal of interest. Although I may have some personal views about it, there is one thing I am quite prepared to do— to condone this experiment if it will contribute one per cent. to the alleviation of one of the greatest social scourges we are facing to-day. I am afraid that whatever principles I might have about plain clothes policemen would fade into insignificance if their use proved to be a major contribution to solving the problem.

My Lords, if we could carry out all the plans we have, if we could modernise our road system and make it fit to carry the traffic as we should like to see it carried and as we think we should have to do if we had an ideal world in which to plan our road system for the next thirty years, the cost would be astronomical. There are not many people who realise the cost of modern road construction. To construct a 22-feet single carriage-way would cost anything from £50,000 to £100,000 per mile; a dual carriage-way would cost anything from £100,000 to £250,000 per mile, and where substantial bridge works and fly-overs are concerned it can cost £300,000 per mile. May I give your Lordships an example? The Swanley by-pass, 1¾ miles in length, will cost £250,000 per mile, because there are three bridges and two roundabouts. Our new motor roads, to which the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, referred, are estimated to cost from £150,000 to £160,000 per mile. The approximate total cost would be £120,000,000 for 809 miles of road—and the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, asked me when they are going to be started. My reply to him (and it is not meant to be facetious) can only be that the last thing I am is a crystal gazer. I do not know when they will be started, but I doubt whether it will be within such a number of years as really makes it worth while my talking about it this afternoon. Since the war we have spent £300,000,000 upon the roads of this country. Sixty-one bridges have been completed, at a cost of £345,000, and the effect upon our roads has not been very great; they have absorbed that money like so much blotting paper.


Could the noble Lord break down that figure into arrears of maintenance and new works?


I am coming to that point in a moment. Please do not read into anything I say a claim that road improvement is unnecessary. I do not deny for one moment that we should improve our roads in the interests of the country. Our industrial and commercial future demands it. A pilot census that we took last year shows that the traffic on our roads has increased by about 7 per cent. over pre-war levels. Some of it has increased substantially, and in some cases there has been a decrease. For instance, commercial traffic has increased by 60 per cent.; buses and coaches by 35 per cent., and, as a point of interest, horsedrawn vehicles have decreased by 71 per cent. I shall be very grateful when the decrease is one of 100 per cent. But although these figures have altered by the percentages I have given, the weight of vehicles and the weight of loads has increased enormously. One of the great problems that has also confronted us is the shifting of traffic. In the case of some roads, the number of vehicles has increased by over 50 per cent. as against pre-war figures. On Road A 50, near Shrewsbury traffic has gone up by 55 per cent. Between Edinburgh and Leith, it has gone up by 56 per cent., and along Western Avenue, just outside London, it has gone up by 66 per cent.

My Lords, the principal roads are not so strong as they used to be, and to-day the good surfaces of our roads are rather deceptive, because since 1938 the foundations of some main routes have not had the attention that we think is desirable. But what of the future? What are the chances of securing major road construction? What are the chances of our doing some of the things we had planned to do—the construction of the 809 miles of new motor roads; the conversion of some 2,900 miles of the 8,200 miles of trunk roads to dual carriageways; the widening and realignment of single carriageways; various bridges and tunnel works —I quote as an example the Lower Thames Tunnel to cost £6,000,000? What of the replacement of the Conway suspension bridge, at a cost of more than £500,000? If we could have the finance to do that, or to start on those schemes, within three months we could start new works and improvements to the value of £17,000,000; in twelve months another £34,000,000 worth; and within two years another £64,000,000 worth. That is a total of £115,000,000. And those are mostly trunk road works. In addition, there are special roads, sanctioned under the Special Roads Act which went through your Lordships' House last year, for which the figure is £120,000,000. Then there is the Severn Bridge, with the largest span in Europe—3,300 feet—and for this with its immediate approaches the figure is between £10,000,000 and £12,000,000. For its Scottish counterpart the Forth Bridge, the probable cost is in the region of £7,000,000. This all adds, up to £260,000,000. That is what is desirable.

But what is the other side of the story? If noble Lords will look at the Civil Estimates—Class VI for the current year, page 152—they will see that the money made available to my right honourable friend for roads is some £26,000,000. Expenditure by highway authorities will be of approximately the same amount. As my noble friend knows, in respect of trunk roads my right honourable friend is responsible for 100 per cent. of the cost. On Class I roads he gives a grant of 75 per cent.; on Class II roads, of 60 per cent., and on Class III roads of 50 per cent. There are 8,236 miles of trunk roads—the noble Earl asked me for that figure. There are 19,545 miles of Class I roads, 17,705 miles of Class II roads, and 48,582 miles of Class III roads. And so we have £50,000,000 for our trunk and classified roads for the current year. Therefore the expenditure, if it works out fifty-fifty, if the local highway authorities' expenditure is the same as the Ministry's expenditure, totals some £50,000,000. Incidentally, noble Lords may like to know, also, that there are 90,000 miles of unclassified roads, so it means that the total road mileage of our country is 184,000 miles. And we have £50,000,000 for all this for the current year. Of this total, £43,000,000 will be spent on maintenance and £4,000,000 on work in progress, leaving £3,000,000 for new works, research and experiment, including police patrol vehicles, which cost us about £330,000. Of this £3,000,000—if I may make a further dissection—we shall spend £1,000,000 on trunk roads, and £2,000,000 will go on grant-aided works of highway authorities. And that will be the expenditure on new works, when we have, at a most conservative estimate, £17,000,000 of work on which we could start in three months.


May I interrupt for a moment to ask the noble Lord what the contribution from the motorist was during the same period, and why he should have to pay both as a motorist and as a ratepayer?


I will deal faithfully with that point when I come to it. What I have just given your Lordships, is the bare, hard arithmetic of this problem. It is no good burking that issue. Out of the capital investment programme my right honourable friend has, for the current financial year, £26,000,000 to do all the work that he can on his trunk roads and give grants to local highway authorities. The noble Earl asked me the same question as that which has just been put by Lord Sandhurst—what were the total receipts from motor taxation over the last five years? The total vehicle taxation—and this includes vehicle taxation and driving licences—amounted to £250,300,000. Purchase Tax brought in some £86,000,000, but that figure is only an estimate. I cannot give an actual figure which can be guaranteed as accurate. Hydrocarbon oil duty amounted in all to £299,100,000. So the total for the five years, if you take all these things together, is £635,900,000. Many noble Lords have made the point that, since all that money has been contributed by the motor vehicle user, why is it not all spent on the roads? That idea cannot hold. It is an unrealistic approach to this problem. You might just as well argue to-day that all the money raised from smokers by tobacco duty should go towards the improvement of tobacco. That proposition would be just as realistic.



All right, noble Lords say: "No." Borrowing from the Road Fund started during the 1914–18 war and it was in 1926 that the —if I may so describe him without offence —arch robber of hen roosts, who is the present leader of His Majesty's Opposition in another place, threw over all idea of having a Road Fund. And others have plundered it since. Finally, such a pass was reached that before the last war the Road Fund did not exist at all. By Section 33 of the Finance Act of 1936, specific revenues ceased to be allotted to the Road Fund. Revenue from motor vehicle taxation has, in fact, been paid into the General Exchequer since April 1, 1937. The Road Fund exists only in the Civil Estimates, and by passing the Civil Estimates Parliament allocates a specific sum for the current financial year for road expenditure. As I have told your Lordships, the Road Fund stood for this year at some £26,000,000. All the facts are given in an admirable document—I got some of mine from it—published by the organisation presided over with such distinction by the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst. I would counsel the British Road Federation to stop talking the nonsense they do about "raiding the Road Fund." There is not one to raid and they know it, because they have with great detail explained why there is not a Road Fund.


The noble Lord has just referred to the Road Fund being robbed by another person.


Because it was robbed until the poor, wretched thing did not exist at all. It consists only of grants for road purposes made once a year by Parliament in the Civil Estimates. I hope the noble Lord will persuade his friends not to spoil the otherwise admirable work they do by repeating this fiction. I do not know why they waste time and paper on it.

The next question the noble Earl asked was: what have been the total grants to the Road Fund over the same period? The amount is £102,400,000. He also asked whether a return can be furnished showing the amounts asked for by each local authority for carrying out necessary road works in its area, and the amount approved in each case. I have no reliable figures, and I hesitate to give the noble Earl figures which are not reliable. Over this period many local authorities have asked for what they thought they would get, while others have asked for more than they needed in the hope that they would get at least some of it, so that estimates of the total amount do not mean anything at all. The noble Earl asked what is the estimated figure for arrears of road maintenance covering the country as a whole since 1939. It is impossible to give a figure, because the amount is cumulative. Perhaps I can answer by saying that the volume of maintenance work per mile carried out during the last year has been at about 60 to 70 per cent. of the pre-war standard. That is not a good guide, because modern machines, such as the Barber Greene machine, can do a greater volume of work with a lower man-power, and if I try to give him a figure it would not serve the noble Earl's purpose.

The noble Earl then asked what is the mileage of trunk roads for which the Ministry are now responsible. I have already given that figure. Then he asked what is the amount which has been spent annually on trunk road improvement and maintenance during the last five years, and how do these figures compare with those for the period 1934–39. Improvement and maintenance of trunk roads have taken £36,300,000. I cannot compare that with the period 1934–39, because, until the Trunk Roads Act of 1936, there was not such a thing as a trunk road, and under the Act of 1946 the trunk road mileage was nearly doubled. So there is no comparable figure. The noble Earl also asked: What steps have the Government taken to implement certain recommendations of the Alness Committee? We have taken every practicable step to implement those recommendations. We have not been able to implement them in any way which called for increased expenditure, nor which meant the imposition of any more regulations.

One of the recommendations of the Report to which noble Lords have referred this afternoon is that there should be a central authority for street lighting. We have every sympathy with that recommendation. At the present time the Ministry of Transport are the central authority, but their responsibility extends only to the approval of expenditure on street lighting schemes. Where these schemes are carried out on trunk roads to the Ministry's standard, the Ministry contribute 50 per cent. of the cost, but this comes out of the £3,000,000 to which I have already referred. I agree that uniform street lighting will never be a fact until we have an effective central authority, but that needs legislation and, I would suggest, somewhat controversial legislation. Above all, it means money.

A further question asked by the noble Earl was whether the Government would say what steps towards improvements and improved maintenance have been carried out on Al, A5 and the Southampton Road since they came into power. The day-to-day maintenance of the 374 miles of Al trunk road between London and Edinburgh has cost £1,823,343, a cost per mile per annum of £975. The A5 trunk road, with 255 miles between London and Holyhead, has cost £1,193,996, or £936 per mile per annum. The London—Southampton road, trunk roads A30 and A33—it is only 63 miles, because it starts outside London and, as in the other cases, does not include the county borough stretches—has cost £405,706, which is £1,288 per mile per annum. Capital expenditure over the same period has been on Al, £847,918; on A5, £173,475; and on the Southampton road, £90,010. The noble Earl's final question was what steps the Government have taken to eliminate "black spots." We have done everything we can out of the total expenditure of £3,000,000. Of course, we can, and do, progressively eliminate "black spots" when we can deal with them in maintenance schemes, but the majority have to come out of capital expenditure.

The alternative Motion suggested by the noble Earl was: That the Minister of Transport should make a return to Parliament of the schemes for road improvements and new roads recommended by him as considered necessary to meet present and future requirements, being either trunk roads or classified roads, specifying in each case or scheme: (1) the approximate estimate of cost; (2) the time which would normally be required to complete the work; (3) whether any and, if so, how much progress has been made, and (4) the name of the highway authority responsible. I should be only too happy to do this exercise, but the noble Earl does not give me any basis on which to work. What does he mean? Does he want me to go on the assumption that money is plentiful and that there is no capital investment programme; on the assumption that the labour is there and we have no rearmament programme, and that steel will be available? Or does he want me to go on the assumption that I shall get next year the same amount as I received this year? If the noble Earl wants all this, he must tell me his conditions. When I have finished it will be totally unrealistic. At the present time the resources of this country in man-power, money and materials are used to a high percentage of their potential, and there is no large reservoir from which further demands can be met. To-day all the resources of the nation are deployed—so far as it is in the power of the Government to deploy them—in what the Government feel are the best interests of the country. Am I to assume that I can have all the steel I want taken out of the rearmament programme? Am I to assume that I can have all the man-power I want to do what the noble Earl wishes, and need pay no attention to the requirements of the Armed Forces? Am I to assume that I can have all the money I want from the capital investment programme? If so, who is going without?

To-day we are faced with this hard, incontrovertible fact: that in the wisdom of His Majesty's Government the amount that can be spent upon the roads of this country is decided by Parliament every year for the ensuing financial year, and any exercise that I could do, interesting though it might be, and waste of my officials' time though it would be, would mean nothing. If it would mean that we could get the money, materials, manpower and everything else, I would not mind doing it; but it would not mean a thing. Therefore, I am forced to the conclusion—I say this most seriously to your Lordships—that, so far as I can see, for some years to come we cannot expect any great road improvement and in making any assessment of what we can and must do to eat into this dreadful problem of road accidents we must accept the pattern of our road system, by and large, as it is now. We will do the best we can.

I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, and the most reverend Primate, that we must get this problem in proportion. Desirable though these highways, trunk roads and motor roads are, and road enthusiast though I be, I cannot feel that they are going materially to diminish the road casualty lists. As the noble Earl said when he opened this debate, 80 per cent. of the accidents in this country could be avoided by greater care, courtesy and consideration for other people. Therefore, I have been driven to the conclusion that for any major reduction of road accidents in the future we must look to influencing the conduct of road users. How are we going to do that? I have given this problem intense study while I have held the position of Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, and I have come to some firm conclusions. The greatest single deterrent to road accidents would be a greater enforcement of the existing law. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, was quite right in saying that the law of this country as it affects road usage has been brought into contempt. The reason is simple. Owing to post-war man-power conditions, the police force has been under-manned. If I asked many noble Lords in this House, and people outside, whether they could tell me what vehicles are allowed to travel on the roads of this country to-day at over thirty miles per hour, I wonder how many could answer correctly. I put the question to one of the highest legal luminaries in the land the other day, and he could not answer correctly. Only a vehicle constructed solely for the use of passengers, carrying no more than seven, including a driver, with pneumatic tyres, and not having a trailer, can travel at over thirty miles per hour—in other words, what we regard as a private motor car. As the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil said, going about our roads to-day one would think there was no such thing as a speed limit.

I am in a difficult position. There is an old axiom that the Executive does not dictate to the Judiciary. I have no authority—I am glad that I have not— to tell magistrates how to do their job But there is one thing I feel that I can say: that if we in this country believe that punishment for wrongdoing should be a deterrent to wrongdoing, then the punishment must be severe enough to be a real deterrent. All the facts show that it is not. One has only to study the Home Office returns to be appalled at the contempt with which the law is being treated. It is no good cluttering up the Statute Book with more regulations when those that are already there cannot be enforced. There is no law or rule to deter the pedestrian from crossing a highway; a pedestrian can even ignore the policeman's hand. The cyclist can hardly be touched by the law. However, we are hoping in the course of time by amendment to various Statutes to be able to get over that difficulty. Another great factor, in my view, is the need for more police on the road. But it is no good putting more police on the road to bring offenders to the courts of justice unless when they are brought there justice is done. I am all in favour of the "courtesy cop." I do not want the average man treated as a criminal. There is a great difference between driving without due care and attention and driving dangerously. The lapse, the occasional carelessness, I would treat far differently from the case of the habitual offender who drives dangerously, negligently and recklessly all the time— and there are some. I am reluctantly forced to the conclusion that propaganda for adults is no good. Propaganda and education for children has had a very good effect, but I do not think the money spent on poster advertising, and so on, is well spent, because it has no effect on adults.

Many other points have been raised, but I know that noble Lords will forgive me if at this late hour I do not go into them all. I will promise to have them studied. I was interested in Lord Gifford's suggestion that the solution to one of the dangers was to bespatter rear lights round vehicles. Does he realise what the cost would be? It is an easy thing to do with new construction, but it is not so easy to get every existing vehicle which is on the road fitted with the lights that he suggests. I hope that he will turn his attention to how he can bespatter some of the pedestrians with rear lights. I do not know exactly where he would put them, but pedestrians are some of the most difficult road users to pick out on country roads at night time.


I accept what the noble Lord says, but why could we not have a regulation that every vehicle built after a certain date should have this lighting?


That would not solve the problem.


It would solve it gradually.


What we are looking for is a short-term solution. As your Lordships have said, this threatens to be such a problem; it is going to cause so much public resentment that we shall have to do something about it. I cannot expect the noble Earl to be satisfied with my answer, but perhaps he will have some sympathy with me in the battle we have to fight without very much powder and shot. He can rest assured that we shall do everything we can, within the limited resources allowed us by the country's requirements to-day. I hope that we shall have everybody's support, on the lines which I believe the House will accept: the establishment of greater deterrents to those who will not give courtesy and consideration to others.

6.22 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened with great interest to everything which has fallen from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. He has given me a reply which, in effect, is a negative reply to every suggestion that has been made, either by myself or other speakers in the debate. He has used the argument which I confidently expected him to use: "Of course we cannot expect to spend more money on the roads at the present time, and we have just got to put up with it." Up to a point that argument is, of course, devastating and complete, but only up to a point. When we are told that over £600,000,000 is being taken from the motoring world, the people from whom you are taking the money are quite naturally going to ask: "What are you doing with it?" They also know that road conditions and road design—notwithstanding anything the noble Lord has said—play a great part. We realise perfectly well that we cannot expect to have a motor-way from London to Birmingham. Though it would cost, on pre-war figures, £6,000,000, it would cost to-day as much as a Brabazon aeroplane, in which no member of the public will ever fly. The Government will cheerfully lose large amounts of money on all sorts of schemes, but, of course, they cannot give us a motor-way. Up to that point we quite understand it. But when you are taking £600,000,000 from the users of motor vehicles, is it really a sufficient answer to tell them that they cannot have more than £26,000,000 a year back? I want to see the figures the noble Lord has given us, because however quickly one may try and write them down, one cannot be sure they are right.

Short of the construction of motor-ways, the most reverend Primate asked this afternoon, "What can be done at once?" Short of motor-ways a great deal can be done at once, at any rate in the country, and I am talking mainly about country roads. There is the question of road intersections. I asked the noble Lord to say something about Colonel Bennett, and what he has done in Oxfordshire. I think the noble Lord said that it was a notable fact that this experiment in plain-clothed police was going to take place in that very county where road intersections had been made so very efficient. But the noble Lord did not seem to me to pay sufficient attention to the point that when Colonel Bennett was allowed to improve the road intersections in the area for which he was responsible, he reduced fatal accidents by 100 per cent. and all other accidents by 76 per cent. Those figures were given in a letter which he wrote to The Times about last October. The Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Transport did not spring to life when that letter was written, so I suppose we can presume that the statement was reasonably accurate. Colonel Bennett is supported by others of his colleagues, notably in Warwickshire and Lancashire. Therefore, I suggest that there are things which can be done which will not cost what a motor-way would cost, but which may have a considerable effect on road casualties, observing that 60 per cent. of road accidents take place at road intersections. If the sight line at these road intersections can only be improved, the accident referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will be avoided.

With regard to pedestrians, what the noble Lord said on November 15 was followed up by a further statement in a Press conference which he gave on December 13. He is reported to have said that the vast majority of road accidents were due to lack of courtesy, lack of consideration and impatience, and that the greatest offender was the pedestrian. In November he made a more or less similar statement. As to this experiment in plain-clothed patrols in Oxfordshire, will the noble Lord give us a comparison between the results of what is being achieved or otherwise in Oxfordshire and what was achieved by the institution of "courtesy cops" in Lancashire? The resultant reduction of accidents in the area for which the late Sir Archibald Hordern was responsible was most striking, and in order to be able to judge of the present experiment in Oxfordshire one would like to know how it compares with the experiment which was started in Lancashire.

With regard to the figures the noble Lord gave us relating to the Road Fund, and things of that sort, he said that the Road Fund no longer exists. Of course, we know that; but the fact remains that the Government are taking £635,000,000 and are spending £102,000,000 on the roads. Therefore, I suppose the answer to the motoring world is: "You cannot have more than £26,000,000 a year because the rest of it is required for experiments."


Perhaps some of that might go to rearming the country.


It might, it is perfectly true; but when we read in the papers that our Festival of Britain is going to cost more, and it comes out of the general pool of cash, we realise that, notwithstanding the need to reduce casualties, the Government are losing a great deal of money in other directions, and the motoring world must try and put up with it. As to the return for which I asked at the start of our proceedings, the noble Lord asks if I will tell him on what basis. I thought my questions were fairly direct. I wanted to know whether he would give a return to Parliament of his schemes for road improvement and new roads recommended by him. That is all we ask for. We want to know what things he considers necessary to meet present and new requirements for either trunk roads or classified roads. Surely that question was a simple one to answer. We merely want to know what the noble Lord thinks is necessary.


Supposing we did that; supposing we said that we want £250,000,000, which is the figure that I gave to the noble Lord just now for all those things, that would not get us the £250,000,000.


Oh, no.


What is the good of going through a laborious exercise like that for no good? It is not realistic when you have done it.


We want to know just what is the leeway on the road system at the present time. That was the object of all this inquiry.


If the noble Lord would be good enough to read my speech, he will see that I have told him. It is in my reply.


As I have tried to explain to the noble Lord, it is very difficult to hoist in astronomical figures at the pace at which the noble Lord had to read them, and it is impossible to write them down. I cannot follow the precise implications of all those figures until I have had an opportunity of studying them. The object of my Motion was simply to try to find out how much is wanted; how much, in the opinion of the Minister, is necessary for our roads; and how long it would take to do all this work, leaving out reference to the rearmament programme. We fully realise —naturally, every sensible person does— that in these days one cannot expect to spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of pounds on improvements of this sort, but one can expect that a little more will be spared than is being spared now. We know perfectly well that the whole road system of the country is deteriorating, and that eventually our successors, or somebody, will have to spend a very much larger sum of money than they would have had to spend if it had been possible to maintain the roads up to the condition in which they were. I do not think we can take this matter very much further, this evening, and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty-eight minutes before seven o'clock.