HL Deb 02 July 1953 vol 183 cc147-54

4.46 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Lloyd.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair]

Clause 1 [Arrangements for patrolling school crossings]:

EARL HOWE moved, after subsection (2) to insert: (3) The functions of the appropriate authority for the purpose of arrangements under subsection (1) of this section shall include the duty to satisfy themselves of the adequate qualifications of persons appointed to patrol and to provide requisite training of persons to be appointed.

The noble Earl said: On behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, who has been detained and is unable to get to the House, I beg to move this Amendment which stands in his name. The purpose of the Amendment is to follow up something that was said in the Second Reading debate. It was made clear that some safeguards were needed with regard to the qualification and training of the personnel of school crossing patrols. This Amendment calls for the appropriate authority to take account of these needs. It is presumed that the local authorities concerned will consult with the central Government authorities who will be able to give advice and lay down common standards which the patrols will have to attain. I am afraid that I have not explained the Amendment very well, but it is not mine. I have given the best explanation I can, and with that I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 20, at end insert the said subsection.—(Earl Howe).


On the Second Reading of the Bill there was expressed in all parts of the House anxiety—and if I may say so quite proper anxiety—about the selection and training of the patrols who will operate under this Bill, and I said on that occasion that the Government themselves were concerned that those selected should be suitable people and that the training should be as good as we could make it. This Amendment, which I am pleased to accept, does something to indicate to all concerned the importance which the Government attach to the selection and training of the persons who will operate these controls. I can give my noble friend the further assurance that after the Bill has become law the Government will certainly draw the attention of local authorities to the best practice now obtaining so far as training is concerned. I have much pleasure in accepting my noble friend's Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

4.49 p.m.

LORD FAIRFAX OF CAMERON moved, after Clause 2, to insert the following new clause:

Agreements with respect to scholar patrols

".—(1) An appropriate authority and the education authority for any school in the area of that appropriate authority may enter into and carry into effect agreements with the object of encouraging the formation of a scholar patrol for the school by providing such instruction, equipment and other assistance as may be required for the purpose.

(2) In this section a scholar patrol means a body of senior scholars in a school selected by the headmaster of the school and suitably trained and appointed to guide the junior scholars of the school when crossing roads on the way to or from school and to protect them against the risk of harm by passing vehicles,"

The noble Lord said: The purpose of my Amendment is to give the appropriate authorities a permissive power to encourage the formation of scholar patrols. There is, in fact, as I realise, nothing in the Bill at the moment to prevent the formation of scholar patrols, but this Amendment is intended to draw more attention to these patrols, and to leave the Bill so far as they are concerned in rather a more positive condition. I should point out that there would be no duplication of the crossing patrols by scholar patrols. They are different systems; but I think they would be complementary to each other. The scholar patrol would be an alternative to the crossing patrol. It would operate where there were no police and where the local authority found it too expensive to set up a crossing patrol. The local authorities, education authorities and local police are the arbiters of whether a scholar patrol should come into action or not.

The purpose of this kind of patrol is not to stop traffic; it is for the purpose only of controlling children at a crossing. A senior pupil chosen for the purpose would be in charge of the crossing. He or she would be on duty not more than once a week, and only when the children were either going to school or leaving school; so the patrol would not miss any lessons. Probably the scholar patrol would wear an armband so that he would be easily recognisable by motorists. The advantage of the pupil-controlled crossing is that it teaches schoolchildren a sense of responsibility and of the dancers of the road, which children learn more readily from someone nearer their own age than from a grown-up.

I realise that this is a comparatively new idea in the United Kingdom and, like all novelties, may cause a certain amount of suspicion about its efficiency and the possible danger involved; but, as my noble friend Lord Howe said on Second Reading, it is already widely adopted in other countries—in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Switzerland, Finland and the United States of America. This kind of patrol is already in operation in this country, at Chesham, Buckinghamshire, where I understand those concerned with it are very Pleased with the way it has been working but other noble Lords may say more about that patrol later on. I believe that local authorities need encouragement to start up scholar patrols and that encouragement must come from Her Majesty's Government. It may be that as there is no power in the Bill to prevent the setting up of these patrols, in ether words, without his Amendment they could still legally be organised—the Government may decide that my Amendment is unnecessary. If so, I hope they will realise that it is their duty to encourage local authorities to set up these patrols. Anything that can help to cut down accidents on the road, particularly accidents to children, should not be neglected.

Amendment moved— After Clause 2 insert the said new clause.—(Lord Fairfax of Cameron.)


I should like to tell your Lordships something about a scholar patrol that is now in action in this country. The other day I had an opportunity of visiting Chesham, close to my home, and of contacting the officers of the Automobile Association for the purpose of seeing this patrol work. I can assure your Lordships that I have never seen an area more suitable for a demonstration of this sort. Imagine a very-steep hill, of, say, 1 in 7, with two acute S-bends; two entrance from the school, one towards the top of the hill and one down hill; a railway station, goods yard and brewery, with heavy traffic coming in and out all the time; and at the bottom of the hill, a turning into the Chesham-Buckingham road, along which heavy traffic comes all the time. The scholar patrol has been at work for nine years, and not one single accident has been recorded during that time. I had a long talk with the local police officers and with the very open-minded schoolmistress who initiated this patrol. I was pleased to see that there was a simplicity and unhurried method of approach to this problem which I never thought possible in younger children. The police admitted that it would have caused them an enormous amount of trouble to go into this problem thoroughly, and they reckon that the headmistress has done something for which the local authority owe her a deep debt of gratitude. I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, to ask the Minister of Transport to consider sending a representative to see this patrol at work. I should be only too pleased, if a date could be arranged, to take somebody from the Ministry ever to meet Miss Dyer and see the whole thing in operation. I feel that this is something which should be included in the school curriculum. It would add greatly to children's sense of self-preservation. It would save lives, time and local expense if this matter could be taken up thoroughly. I hope the Government will give this matter the deepest attention.


The Amendment which has been moved by my noble friend Lord Fairfax of Cameron was, I think, almost killed by the noble Lord himself, when he said that it was irrelevant to the Bill.


I did not say "irrelevant"; I said that it added to the powers already in the Bill.


I think my noble friend and I mean the same thing. As my noble friend said in moving his Amendment, there is no question of scholar patrols controlling traffic, and there is nothing which prevents any local authority from organising a scholar patrol should they so desire. This is borne out by the fact that a scholar patrol is already in existence at Chesham. I do not feel that I can accept this Amendment, because it seeks to do something which is unnecessary. The power is already there.

In regard to the principle which the noble Lord has advanced, we are all interested in anything which is conducive to the preservation of the lives of children on the roads. I believe that in a number of foreign countries this system has proved successful, but the measure of this success depends on the conditions existing in the country concerned. It would be difficult to measure the success achieved in a country like Holland, where the traffic conditions are so different from conditions over here. But I think it will be generally conceded that this is an interesting experiment, which might well produce useful results in this country. The last thing that I should like to be understood in this House is that the Government are in any way opposed to this system of scholar patrols. On the other hand, I must be frank with my noble friend and tell him that I feel that this is something which ought not to be imposed on local authorities from the centre. He said that the only people concerned in this matter were the local authority, the education authority and the police. In fact, he has left out a most important category of people who are concerned—namely, the parents. It would be quite improper to put into a Bill powers which enabled a local authority to compel children to do something against the wishes of their parents. That is another angle which must be considered.

This must be a matter for agreement locally between the authorities concerned and the police. I do not think it is something which can be imposed from the centre. Noble Lords, on Second Reading and this afternoon, have drawn attention to the benefits of this system, and I hope that what they have said will be widely read by local authorities, and that it may have a persuasive effect on them. My noble friend Lord Portman talked about the scholar patrol operating at Chesham, and asked whether I would draw the attention of my right honourable friend the Minister of Education to it. I can assure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend is fully aware of that experiment, and knows all about it. The facts about scholar patrols are familiar to most education authorities in this country, but whether or not they will adopt them must be a matter of time and persuasion; I do not think it is something which can be imposed from the centre. For all those reasons, I am sorry, but I do not feel able to accept the Amendment of my noble friend.


I have listened with great interest to what the noble Lord has said, and with much of it it is difficult to disagree—as, for instance, the fact that scholar patrols can be organised under the Bill as drafted. However, I feel that the answer given by the noble Lord is most disappointing. Wherever scholar patrols have been instituted, not only in this country—the one at Chesham has been referred to—but in countries abroad, and particularly in the great cities in America, they have been an outstanding success. In nearly every case they were received at first with the wholehearted opposition of the teachers and of the parents, but patient advocacy has led to their adoption in such cities as Cincinnati in America. I have seen them working in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the traffic is dense and very much akin to what we have in London, and where the size of the schools is almost identical with that of an ordinary London County Council school.

The great advantage of these scholar patrols is that they offer a wonderful opportunity for training the children: they learn to observe traffic conditions in a way they would never learn otherwise. As I say, I have seen them in operation in Copenhagen. The results are wonderful. The children are very keen and quick at learning; they make no mistake about it. I hope the noble Lord will exercise the great influence which we all know he has, and his own powerful advocacy, to see whether something cannot be done to get other local authorities in this country to take up this matter. The noble Lord did not tell us whether he had seen scholar patrols in operation. If not, I hope he will take an early opportunity of doing so, not only in this country but elsewhere. They can make a great contribution to road safety, and may reduce road casualties amongst children to a great extent. Can we afford to disregard anything that produces positive results of that character? I submit that the reply of the noble Lord is disappointing, and that he might have given us a little more encouragement.


I am going to venture to ask my noble friend Lord Lloyd to make a further suggestion to the right honourable lady the Minister of Education. There is in operation a most benevolent and successful teachers' exchange scheme between this country and America. I suppose that by this time a considerable number of British teachers have had the opportunity of teaching in American schools and seeing this system of scholar patrols at work. I believe that it would be of great interest if the Ministry of Education could call on those British teachers, who have seen the system working, for a report of what they have seen, which should be communicated to the Ministry of Transport.


I am sorry that have not satisfied my noble friend Lord Howe, but I hardly felt before I started that I should. However, I do not think that even he would feel it right to impose this kind of action on the local authorities. I do not think that is the right way to deal with it. I was interested in what the noble Earl had to say: it was quite impressive. I was also interested in the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Iddesleigh, and I can promise him that I will draw the attention of my right honourable friend to it. As my noble friend Lord Howe said, the success of these scholar patrols has beer achieved elsewhere only by a system of patient advocacy. I believe that this is the sort of thing which can be achieved only by patient advocacy. The more the teachers can go and see these patrols working, the better chance there is that they will go, back and report to their local education authorities that it is an admirable system. We must hope that by these methods, if the system is as good as it is said to be—and I have no doubt that it is—it will percolate to this country. I do not think it can be forced; it must be done by persuasion. I will certainly draw the attention of my right honourable friend to what has been said this afternoon, and I hope that what noble Lords have said will be read, both abroad and in this country. However, I cannot go further than that.


I like the noble Lord's second reply better than his first.


I should like to thank my noble friend for both his replies. I agree with him that it is not possible to impose a system like this from the centre on the local authorities. Nevertheless, that is a different thing from encouraging the adoption or trial of this system. I hope that Her Majesty's Government may be able to do something in that direction, I also hope that local authorities will read the debate that has taken place this afternoon, and that what has been said will arouse their curiosity and interest. I realise that this Amendment is not the right way of dealing with the matter, and, therefore, I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Remaining clauses and Schedule agreed to.

House resumed.