HL Deb 08 July 1953 vol 183 cc378-427

4.2 p.m.

LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they propose to take to eliminate the conditions and reduce the factors which are the cause of road accidents, the number of which is rising and which in the national interest demand immediate attention; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, when I was at the Ministry of Transport as Parliamentary Secretary and Chairman of the National Safety First Committee, which is the responsibility of every Parliamentary Secretary, I remember once saying at a Press Conference that I was at my wits' end to know what to do with the road accident problem of this country. I will not tell your Lordships some of the nasty things that were said about that remark, but I can almost repeat it this afternoon, and tell your Lordships that I am nearly at my wits' end to find something fresh to say upon this particular problem. But I feel that the time has arrived when we have once again, if only on the principle that a constant drip of water eventually wears away the stone, to ask Her Majesty's Government what they are going to do about it. That, in very simple language, is the tone and tenor of the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

I hope that this afternoon we can at least deal with this Motion in a non-Party manner, because it is a non-Party subject. If any noble Lord is prompted to say to me, "Yah-boo! what did you do about it?, "I might be tempted to say that the arch-culprit, the man most responsible for the road accident problem of this country in 1953, was the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1926, who was going to have no nonsense about the Road Fund, who appropriated all the money, robbed the hen roost, and for ever afterwards deprived the Ministry of Transport of its principal means of doing its job. But I am not going to venture on that line, because, as I say, I want this to be a non-Party debate.


The noble Lord got it in all right.


No political Party comes out of this matter with clean hands. Indeed, the British nation does not come out of it with clean hands. The British public have never faced up to the problem as they should have done. One of our greatest troubles to-day is that casualties on the roads are regarded by the public as one of the penalties they have to pay for our so-called advance in civilisation. If there is one thing to-day for which I pay the Ministry of Transport and other bodies a tribute it is that we cannot say that we do not know almost everything about the problem. There is only one thing we do not know, and that is the solution to it. I do not think the Minister of Transport, or the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Co-ordination of Transport, Fuel and Power, can be told very much about the causes of road accidents. The Secretary of State has my sympathy— A fellow-feeling makes one wondrous kind. I have had to stand in his place and defend myself, and he is in that position now. I am sure the Secretary of State is a humane man. He must be shocked at the trend of things to-day, because if we utilise the information at our disposal with intelligence and not to find loopholes for excuses, we must be profoundly shocked.

The last published figures of the Ministry of Transport to the end of March, 1953, show an increase in road accidents of 13.3 per cent. over those of the corresponding month of the previous year. I do not know, but I believe I am right in saying that there was a slight diminution in the next month, April; but up it went again in May, up it will go in June—and we have not yet reached the period of road accident peak of June, July and August, the holiday season. My Lords, what are the facts? If the increase in the road accident rate continues as exemplified by the last published figures, we in this country will soon reach a total road casualty rate of 250,000 a year, of which 5,500 will be fatal accidents—5,500 men, women and children killed on the roads of this country every year. And what is to stop the increase, except a pious hope? What are the other figures forming a counterpart for any sensible appraisal of this problem? On the roads of this country to-day there are approximately five million motor vehicles of all kinds, over 50 per cent. more than were on the roads in 1938, and this after a period of home market starvation of motor vehicles. What is going to be the growth in the numbers of motor vehicles on the roads of this country in the next ten years, when the production plans of the British manufacturers reach a peak? I am not making a Party point, but when Her Majesty's Government introduced the Transport Bill they said quite definitely that they were planning to increase road transport. To-day we have double the number of commercial vehicles that were on the roads before the war, and the number will increase.

What are the other figures? Whilst we have increased the number of vehicles using our roads by over 50 per cent., from three million odd to approximately five million odd, the mileage of our roads of all classes in this country, all told has increased by approximately 2 per cent.; and on our trunk Class 1 and Class 2 roads, which carry the bulk of our traffic, the increase has been under 1 per cent. and is now, I think I am right in saying—though I speak from memory—about 184,000 miles, or something like that. If we look at the matter of expenditure upon improvements, such as widening and realignment, in terms of real money value we find that it has gone down—I am now talking about new construction, apart from maintenance. It has averaged under £1 million a year since the war at post-war values, as compared with £1,500,000 a year before the war at pre-war values. So the plain English of our road problem is this: that our road system to-day cannot carry the traffic that is put upon it. And while we may wish—I was almost going to say, "for political reasons," but I will not say that—to talk that problem away, it just cannot be done.

It is estimated that before the war we had in this country about fifteen vehicles per mile of road. To-day, it is estimated, we have tweny-six vehicles per mile of road. And the numbers of vehicles are increasing every year at a sizeable rate, whilst the miles of road to carry them are now practically stationary. One's own observation, as well as what one reads in the newspapers of the country about the counting of motor-cars, bears this out. We read of motor-cars leaving the Metropolis for the coast at the week-end at the rate of 10,000 to 15,000 an hour. I read that at one level crossing on a main road, when there was a hold-up to let a train go through, it immediately created a queue of cars three miles long. It does not require many statistics produced by a statistical department to enable one to arrive at the conclusion that the kernel of our problem is that our road system cannot carry the traffic which exists today, and that congestion and all the things that go with congestion, such as frustration and impatience and things like that, constitute one of the prime causes of road accidents at the present time.

It has been estimated by no less important a body than the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents that the economic cost to the country to-day of road accidents is over £146 million a year—or somewhere in the region of between £225 and £250 per accident. That is the cost economically every time an accident takes place on the road. But the cost in human suffering cannot be measured. Is there any noble Lord here who would like to assess the cost to the country of this alarming growth in accidents to young children? The Ministry's Bulletin sets out the facts stark and clear. It says that the increase in road accident casualties is particularly noticeable in the case of child pedestrians, which rose in the month of March from 1,917 to 2,273—or 18.6 per cent. Similarly, casualties to child pedal cyclists rose from 580 to 753—an increase of 30 per cent.

The Bulletin adds: A distressing feature of the casualties to child pedestrians is that the total of killed and seriously injured rose by nearly 25 per cent. This must shock our very souls, especially when we bear in mind that the official designation of a child is a person up to the age of fifteen years. I shall return to this particular point later on.

There is another factor which, in my view, leads us—at least it leads me—to the conclusion that congestion and over-trafficked roads are our main problem. I suppose that I am right—the Secretary of State will correct me if I am wrong, but I think I shall be approximately right—when I say that between 70 and 80 per cent. of the road accidents to-day take place in built-up areas. I think the noble Lord, the Secretary of State, will bear me out when I say that the tendency now is for the rate to rise in other than built-up areas. An interesting factor that has come to light as a result of researches made by people I will mention in a minute is that practically half the road accidents in this country occur at, or within fifty yards of, a road junction, and that there is approximately one road junction to each mile of road in this country. That, again, brings me back to my main point: that congestion and over-trafficked roads are the chief cause of accidents.

I am not concerned 30 much this afternoon with the effect of this toll of the roads upon the country's industrial efficiency. There was on the Order Paper a Motion by the noble Earl, Lord Elgin. I am grateful to him for removing his Motion to some other date later on. He consented to do this, not only to suit my convenience but also to suit the convenience of the noble Lord, the Secretary of State, who thought it rather hard that he should have to reply to two Motions, which are fundamentally the same, within a week. That is why I am moving this Motion this afternoon. But although I myself am not concerned primarily to-day with the effect of road accidents on industrial efficiency, other noble Lords may be. I am concerned—and I have striven to make the point—with the loss to the national economy by reason of road accidents. As I say, that has been assessed at an annual figure of about £146 million. It is also estimated that it will take £150 million to put right the black spots that are causing such a large proportion of the accidents on the roads. But black spots do not cause them all. So your Lordships can see the size of the problem which the noble Lord, the Secretary of State, is facing.

Now I want to make this point without detracting in any way from the argument, which I think is bound to be raised by noble Lords in all parts of the House, about the inadequacy of the money allocated to new road construction, and also to maintenance. My view is that, even if the Secretary of State had all the money he wanted, it would make only a long-term impression on this great problem, because one cannot spend £150 million in five minutes. Even if we were to hear from the noble Lord this after- noon that the Government were going to increase the amount of money available for roads there would remain the question: What are we going to do in the meantime? And that is the question to which I wish to address myself. First of all, I want to deal with the great problem of the killing of small children, the future citizens of this country. This problem has recently been shown up in its stark reality by the Report, The Child on the Road. This country owes, and has owed for a long time, a debt of gratitude to Professor Jones, of Leeds University, who in 1946 produced a valuable factual survey for the Minister of Transport. He headed a study group of the Economic Research Council which studied the problem of child accidents. This Report is presented to the National Federation of Women's Institutes, and I would commend it to your Lordships' especial study. It is one of the most constructive analyses I have ever seen, and deserves to rank alongside this other factual survey of road accidents, Road Accidents in 1950, by the Ministry of Transport.

These two Reports leave us in no doubt about where our first imprint has to be made. An 18.6 per cent. increase in child pedestrian accidents—the greatest number to the little toddler of four years of age essaying his first journey to school! Thirty per cent. of the accidents are to children on bicycles—to the "little wobbler," launched on the roads after father has laboriously run a few miles hanging on to the back to see whether the child can stay on in the saddle. In the majority of cases the bicycles are too big for the children, because father has had to buy with an eye to the future, in case "little Willie" gets too big for the machine in twelve months. No tuition, no education, no road sense—nothing! That is problem No. 1.

This Report suggests that no child of fifteen years of age or under should be allowed to ride a bicycle on the road unless he has passed a test as to his own fitness and the fitness of his machine. It is a sad commentary that there is no law in this country to-day to compel a bicycle to have brakes, whether ridden by a juvenile or an adult—a sad commentary, indeed. The stock excuse advanced ever since the First World War has been that we could not produce enough sets of brakes for all the machines that had none. What are we going to do? Where is the responsibility of the parents? It has been suggested that the Highway Code should be studied by parents before they allow children to go on the road on bicycles. I wonder what chance there is of getting the Highway Code studied in the average working-class family? Very little, I think. Would the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, undertake to look at this recommendation that children under fifteen should be subjected to a test before being allowed out on the road? I know the difficulties, but a 30 per cent. increase in the already high rate of killed and seriously injured should be a serious urge to overcome them. We do not want to stop children from riding bicycles: the "little wobbler" of to-day may be the "big wobbler "in a motor-car in twenty years' time. But I think the noble Lord has seized the point.

In the case of the little toddler, the accidents do not happen while he is crossing the road. I think we have eliminated that by a sensible extension of school crossing patrols. The accidents are caused by the little chap or girl stepping off the kerb to run along the gutter. I am going to suggest, as I have suggested before, not only in the case of children but also in the case of adults—who sometimes are more ignorant, or behave in a more ignorant manner, than the children—that the use of guard rails must be extended. I know that this Report is receiving the careful attention of the Ministry. Perhaps the influence of the Women's Institutes will have more effect upon the Government than the male population have had in recent years.

The speed of traffic in towns is going down, and that is conducive to accidents. I should like the noble Lord to look again at this question of congestion in towns. The Road Research Laboratory have stated that the speed of traffic in London has gone down to eleven miles an hour, and in Glasgow to eight miles an hour. I should like the noble Lord to consider seriously whether by-passes are being used. Some two or three years ago I said in this House that they were not being used sufficiently, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, challenged me. But when going through such cities as Oxford and Winchester one cannot help seeing the dreadful congestion of traffic in the middle of these towns, and the relatively small number of vehicles on the by-passes which were specially built to relieve that congestion. This congestion is particularly bad in villages on the main roads to holiday resorts, especially those villages that spread along the main roads. I have had a letter from a clergyman, who tells me that one Sunday he had to hold up his service for a quarter of an hour as the people could not cross the road to get to church because of the queue of cars. There was a solid queue of motor cars, and that was on the way from London to an East Coast holiday resort. I suggest to the noble Lord that the way to cure that is by traffic lights that will stop traffic for certain periods so that people can cross the road.

My Lords, may I now say again what I have said so many times? We have to recognise one thing; that is, that exhortation has failed. Education of the young and impressionable mind may be of use, but I really think that the British public is punch-drunk with propaganda and that exhortation on the adult mind has no effect at all. So we have to think of something else. I can talk a little more freely now that I stand on this side of the House. I am convinced that one of the contributory causes of the growth of accidents in this country is the fact that the law dealing with traffic is absolutely in disrepute. I am not advocating that there should be any increase in penalties for road users who break the law. The penalties in the Statutes are high enough now. The real crux of the matter is that the Judiciary in this country, especially the lay magistrates, hold an entirely different view of the seriousness of the road accident problem from that taken by Parliament.

If we in this country believe that punishment for wrongdoing is meant to be a deterrent to wrongdoing, the penalties imposed on conviction are so absurd that they are no deterrent at all. I think I am right in saying that the maximum penalty on conviction for careless driving or driving to the danger of the public is a line of £50, and the licence can be suspended for three months. One has only to do a simple arithmetical calculation on the figures in the Home Office Report to find that the average penalty imposed on conviction by magistrates in this country works out at £2; and it is quite a novelty to have a licence suspended. I know that it is a canon of British justice that the Executive does not dictate to the Judiciary, and I know that even the noble Lord's right honourable friend the Home Secretary is very loath even to send out a circular on this matter. But if Parliament, in its wisdom, thinks that a sufficient deterrent is imposed by a maximum fine of £50 and suspension of licence—which is the greatest deterrent of all—it ill becomes lay magistrates to take a directly opposite view and rate it sometimes at twenty-five times lower.

I am speaking, of course, only about the wrongdoer who happens to be driving a motor vehicle. I do not know whether I am anticipating anything the noble Lord has to say, but I have heard that the Ministry of Transport have in preparation a Bill to amend the Road Traffic Act, 1930. Certainly that Act sadly needs amending, because it is one of the most antiquated Acts we have on the Statute Book to-day. I hope it is true that at last someone is going to do something to regulate the behaviour of the pedestrian. Freedom is a priceless thing—in the words used by the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, in regard to sponsored television, it is above price. But I suggest that 250,000 casualties a year on the roads of this country is too high a price to pay for giving people freedom to wander across the roads at will. I make that suggestion to the noble Lord as to what has to be done.

I have almost come to the end of what I have to say; in saying it, I have said nothing new at all, except perhaps, to underline that the Government really must take this matter seriously. The time has arrived when they must wake up to the fact that neither socially nor economically can we afford this dreadful toll. I think they must wake up to the fact that it will increase; that there is no chance on this earth of its decreasing. You cannot stop the growth of traffic. To stop the growth of traffic in this country would be to commit industrial suicide as an industrial nation. You have to make your roads fit your traffic; you cannot make your traffic fit your roads.

I ask the noble Lord to consider this matter seriously. I once asked a Cabinet Minister, who had been a member of Cabinets for a very long time, when, in his recollection, the Cabinet had ever had the question of road accidents upon their agenda. He replied that it was not within his recollection. I wonder whether the noble Lord will undertake to see that that situation is put right. I wonder whether the noble Lord will undertake to see that this problem in all its aspects will be considered at the highest level. I know that I am pushing at an open door so far as he is concerned, but it must be realised that, unless something is done upon the lines I have indicated, in 1954 and1955 the number of road accidents will be prodigious. We are to authorise the expenditure of £17 million to make safe just over 5,000 miles of the main railway lines of this country. We have been shocked into that by the dreadful catastrophe at Harrow, when so many people tragically lost their lives. My Lords, the same number of people lose their lives every ten days on the roads of this country—not once in a lifetime, but every ten days, year in, year out, with monotonous regularity. Does not that shock us into some sense of responsibility? I believe that the country must be shocked into doing something about this problem. That is why I have made a point of bringing this matter up on the child issue. If that does not shock the mothers of this country, then nothing will. Perhaps we may have some real pressure to back up the efforts of the noble Lord, that we may see some sensible and sane approach to the problem. With these words, my Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, as chairman of perhaps the largest motoring oranisation in the world, I have listened with great interest to what has been said by the noble Lord who has just sat down. When he himself was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, he made great efforts to improve the conditions on the roads, and he did all that could be done in that direction, but he was, no doubt, as all Ministers have been, hampered by lack of money. I certainly agree with the greater part of the arguments and the proposals he has put forward to-day, and especially his proposal for the extension of guard rails, which I am sure do a great deal towards preventing accidents. I also agree that we must seriously consider the control of pedestrians at crossings. I think it is true to say that informed opinion is in no doubt whatever that the road accident figures could be reduced if more money was made available for the long overdue highway improvements. I do not suggest for one moment that in many cases the human element is not largely to blame, but, on the other hand, bad roads are, and must be, a great contributory factor.

As many of your Lordships are aware, a special conference was recently convened by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, as Chairman of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and an important resolution was agreed to at that conference by representatives of no fewer than eighty national institutions and organisations. I believe that resolution to be so important that I propose to read the full text of it to the House. The resolution was as follows: That this road safety conference, comprising some eighty national institutions and organisations, brought together for the purpose of encouraging a greater measure of co-operation amongst those actively concerned with road safety, declares its strong conviction that more expenditure on road construction, maintenance and improvement is vital to the interests of road safety, and calls upon the Government to take more effective action to deal with this urgent problem. It is quite plain from that resolution that if more money could be spent on the roads we should be able to reduce accidents. I think your Lordships will agree that this resolution is not one that can be lightly brushed aside.

We all know the difficulty of meeting our commitments from the national income and spending as much money on the roads as I am sure Her Majesty's Government would like to do. But, surely, there is another way out which has not yet been tried. Last year Her Majesty's Government sponsored an issue of £120 million of British Transport 4 per cent. guaranteed stock, which, incidentally, was heavily oversubscribed. Why cannot we have a Roads Loan along somewhat similar lines? I think it should be a long-term loan, as posterity will benefit from new and improved roads, and I see no reason why the present generation should be saddled with all of it. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has pointed out that it is a long-term problem, and, of course, it is. I maintain that a situation has now been reached when we can no longer provide out of income for the necessary improvements and new road construction to carry the increased traffic.

It is extraordinary how easy it is to become complacent about road accidents. Yet with other forms of transport great strides are being made which, with the capital involved, will accomplish far less. For instance, the British Transport Commission are shortly to embark on a £17 million programme to install automatic train control systems to minimise rail accidents, which is no doubt a very right anti proper policy. This automatic train signalling will help to reduce accidents which have amounted to 399 lives in 41 years or something under 10 lives a year. Yet on the roads 5,000 lives are lost annually, largely owing to lack of sufficient capital expenditure on the roads. Our roads are the most densely populated in the world, and it is interesting to note that the average expenditure on them, per head of the population, is £1 9s. per year, compared with £10 12s. per head in the United States, and £4 8s. per head in a small country like Portugal.

There is no doubt that improved road design and layout can reduce accidents by a large percentage. Investigations were carried out in Oxfordshire over a three-year period, and it was shown that 58 per cent. of all road accidents could be prevented by removing ordinary road defects, and 78 per cent. by the realisation of an ideal scheme of modern layout. Again, recent improvements at six places in Lancashire at a cost of £53,000, which is a small sum, have reduced accidents at those places from 58 to 22 per annum. It all goes to show that if money is spent in the right direction and in the right way accidents can be reduced. At Liverpool the new East Lancaster trunk road has reduced personal injury, per million vehicle miles, to 1.81, as. compared with 4.67 on the old road. I suggest that these are startling figures.

There is no doubt that major improvements to the highways would not only result in large savings in terms of human life, but also result in a considerable economic gain to the country. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that accidents cost the country £146 million a year, and I believe that to be a fact. I do not think it is generally realised that the road transport industry employs more people than industries such as mining, textiles, or even agriculture. Yet though this enormous industry is completely dependent on the roads, only £33 million was invested in the roads in 1952, compared with £50 million invested by the area gas boards and £150 million by the electricity authority. I mention those figures merely to give a comparison as to how the money is being spent. It is true that Her Majesty's Government contemplate an additional expenditure on the roads of £1,500,000 over the next two years, to wipe out the bad black spots on the roads, but I believe this sum is quite inadequate to cover major reconstruction.

It has been said in some quarters that there should be a Royal Commission to investigate the cause of road accidents. I suggest that this is quite unnecessary and would only delay action. We have the extensive Report of the Select Committee of the House of Lords of 1939, followed by the Interim and Final Reports of the Committee on Road Safety in 1944 and 1947, and finally the report of Lord Llewellin's Conference; and, in addition, there is the Minister of Transport's permanent committee. The facts are there for all to see. But some co-ordinating authority is perhaps necessary. Why cannot we have a Working Party? Working Parties have had considerable success in other industries; for instance, there was the Working Party which investigated the turn-round of shipping. I suggest that a Working Party should prepare a five-year or, better still, a ten-year plan based on a Road Loan, and submit it to the ministry of Transport for action. The terms of the Road Loan would also be a subject matter for the Working Party. Unless something of this nature is done, I feel sure that nothing substantial will be accomplished, and the accident figures will increase day by day. I beg the Government to give my suggestions serious consideration.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to intervene in this debate for only a short time. It is rather a strange coincidence that it will be exactly a year ago tomorrow that your Lordships' House was discussing a similar Motion brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. We listened to exactly the same arguments, and exactly the same speeches have been made, but nothing has been done. When I say "exactly the same speeches," I am wrong, because the debate a year ago was remarkable for a wonderful speech by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. I have here a copy of Hansard which contains the report. This is what the noble Lord said, speaking, presumably, with full responsibility as the President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 177, Col. 944): In regard to the main question before us to-day, I am one of those who think that the roads of this country are pretty well maintained at this time. The noble Lord went on to say further (Col. 947): I do not believe that this is the moment at which any Government should deflect a large amount of manpower and national effort to a vast scheme of improving the roads of this country. In spite of that speech, the noble Lord convened a conference, which has been referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Teynham and Lord Lucas, representing over eighty of the bodies in this country who take an interest in the roads and road development. The noble Lord, Lord Teynham has already reminded your Lordships of a resolution passed by that conference—that …more expenditure on road construction, maintenance and improvement is vital to the interests of road safety, and calls upon the Government to take more effective action to deal with this most urgent problem. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, agreed with that resolution, in view of the speech that he made to your Lordships in this House. I only wish that the noble Lord had been in his place to tell us, because I cannot understand how anybody could carry on as President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents having delivered such an astonishing dictum.

One can quote statistics by the yard, but one gets completely lost in statistics. The essential question that I wish to ask the noble Lord who is to answer for the Government is this: What is the road policy of Her Majesty's Government? Have they got any policy? It is not evident that there is any road policy whatever. Secondly, how long do Her Majesty's Government propose to mulct the motor world of some £300 million to £350 million a year in taxation and do nothing to improve the roads of the country? There is not a single trunk road in the country which is adequate for the traffic which is using it. I have put a series of Questions during the past year to Her Majesty's Government, asking what sort of census has been carried out. I am appalled to find that, so far as I can make out, there is no twenty-four hour census at any point on our roads. The best we can do is a sixteen-hour census, I think, at Markyate; and there was a sixteen-hour census at Staines. The traffic which goes through Markyate, on A.5, the direct road from the Midlands to the docks, is terrific. If any of your Lordships would like to see what it consists of, may I suggest that you go there at between three and four in the morning, as I have. You will meet a continual stream of lorries coming from the Midlands to the docks, cars for export and that sort of thing. The conditions are quite indescribable. There is a little street—I doubt whether it is twenty feetwide—with a special limit of, I think, eighteen or ten miles per hour for traffic going through Markyate; and the congestion in that place is simply incredible. At Staines, on the road to Southampton and the West Country, there are traffic blocks miles long. It can take any of your Lordships on occasions from half to three-quarters of an hour to get through Staines, and even longer.

How long do the Government propose to take all this money from the motor world in taxation and give them nothing back? The motor world has the remedy in its own hands. If the motor world were to say, "We are not going to pay our taxes next year," that might be a good way of making the Government realise what is involved. Of course, you will never get a position like that. The motor world is a public-spirited world, the same as any other section of the community. But if nothing else will bring the Government to a sense of realisation of what is going on, some remedy of that sort might have to be tried. There is not a single trunk road adequate to the traffic now trying to use it. Take, for example, the Southampton road. It is a complete nightmare. From Camberley to Basingstoke it is a twin-track road—one track in each direction. On occasions, it is used by an enormous number of army vehicles, huge convoys of motor lorries and others, in addition to the ordinary normal traffic; and conditions are getting steadily worse.

Even worse than that, at the present time new motor vehicles are coming on to the roads at the rate of 300,000 a year. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, told us that there were 5 million vehicles on the roads, and that number is increasing by a steady 300,000 a year. The answer is inevitable—unless something is done, there will be complete stagnation. I want to know what the Government are going to do if, by chance, the export market dries up on us. We all know that the motor industry is one of the most important industries in the country. Up to now, it has been possible to sell large quantities of British cars overseas. But those conditions are passing, and we are now meeting severe competition from Germany, and from other countries. That competition will grow, and it may conceivably become much more difficult to sell our vehicles overseas. What is the British motor industry going to do if it cannot export and sell its vehicles? It is bound to try to sell them at home. If it does, what will conditions be like on our roads? I believe that the Government should pay serious thought to the fact that the welfare of one of our greatest industries is at stake.

With regard to road conditions generally, I want to know how long the Government are going to maintain the pleasant fiction that road conditions are not responsible for accidents. Road conditions as they are to-day are responsible for scores of thousands of accidents. Every day that any member of the Government sits on the Front Bench in this House and does nothing about the problem, it means that more people are being killed or injured up and down the country. If they really cared, would they sit there and do nothing? I beg the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government to tell us what is the policy of the Government with regard to this question. It is no use their going on doing nothing. It is no use their going on telling us that nothing can be done. Something must be done, and appeal to Her Majesty's Government to take action of some sort. The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has brought forward a suggestion which I was going to submit to your Lordships, and that is the idea of a Road Loan. None of us wants to see money wasted in these difficult times. We all know how difficult things are, but are the Government not getting enough money to provide for the repayment of principal and interest out of motor taxation? H it will give us an improved road system, why cannot we have a road loan? Take any of the trunk roads of this country, A.1, A.5, A.30 or any you like to mention. Conditions on those roads to-day are appalling, and they will get worse unless something is done about the problem. It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has thrown out a very valuable suggestion, and I believe that it is something which might be done.

I have another suggestion to make. One of the most remarkable things that has happened in the United States is the provision of turnpikes. Now why cannot we have a limited system or experiment, if you like, of turnpikes? The experiment in America has been quite remarkable. They provide for the repayment of the principal and interest on the undertakings in a limited period of years—I think five years; but as a matter of fact, the whole thing, has been paid off in about two and a half years. There are many people in this country who will say, "Why should we pay for the use of the roads when we are paying heavy enough taxation already?" The answer is, of course, that if you do not want to use the toll roads you do not pay anything towards them. On the other hand, a system of toll roads in this country, not an overgrown system, but a system laid out on carefully selected roads so as to enable traffic to get tong better than it can along the ordinary trunk road, might well be the best way, and at the same time it would free the existing roads from a great deal of the congestion to which they are now subjected.

I earnestly hope that if anything can be done on these lines, the Minister will see to it that the most modern methods of design and construction are used. It has been alleged—it was alleged, I think, in the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, which I have quoted—that it is an extravagance to have a better road system and wrong even to ask for it. I submit, however, that if the most modern methods of machinery and design are used, road making is not such an expensive business, nor need it take the enormous amount of time that it would have taken in former days. It is possible now to make a road very much more rapidly than it ever was in the old days. The Germans were able to make their autobahnen at the rate of 1,000 yards a day, and in some cases even more than that. I suggest that by the use of modern methods of construction and design it can be done very economically and, on the whole, very quickly.

But let us get back to the point with which I began. Unless something is done, I am perfectly certain that we shall reach complete stagnation point on the roads of this country. We all read recently of the many complaints of congestion in London. We all know how, when there is a hold up in traffic, the congestion spreads and travels around, so that one finds miles of vehicles held up at points well away from the scene of the actual hold-up. This is what we shall get on the roads; and I submit that the Government must be prepared to do something to improve our road system. To do so will pay a handsome dividend in the reduction of accidents and also in reducing delays to traffic.

5.4 p.m.


My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for raising this very important point of road safety to-day. I rise for only a few moments to support the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, in endeavouring to put before your Lordships a few details concerning finances of road development. I have been going into the question whether we could possibly finance some new roads which, in my opinion, are absolutely necessary within ten years, on a loan basis. I hope that the Secretary of State will give this matter his serious consideration. I have been a member of the Road Group of your Lordships' House for many years. Your Lordships will be aware that this is a non-Party organisation, and that it did some useful work between the two wars. Under the chairmanship of the late Lord Eltisley, it met regularly to examine this question of trying to make the roads safer. We have, however, always been up against this trouble of finance. How were these things to be financed? Between the wars finance was much easier, and many new roads were opened up, to the greater safety of the motoring public. Then, during the war, maintenance became more difficult, and after the war we had a tremendous amount of maintenance to catch up. We had also to try to cut out the worst black spots.

In examining this problem closely, it does not seem possible, at any rate for a number of years, that the money which another place allocates out of the Consolidated Fund—that is to say, £33 million a year, plus what is put up by local authorities, totalling something like £80 million a year—will be enough to start the new roads which are so badly needed. There is another point too, which must be carefully considered. There are a large number of uncompleted schemes. I think there are still uncompleted schemes which were started before the war, in connection with certain by-passes and the improvement of bridges, totalling about £3½ million. It is vitally important that the public should get the full advantage of these schemes at the earliest possible date. At present costs, it would probably cost another £7 million to complete these schemes. If I may, without boring your Lordships, put forward one or two figures—although I know it has always been said that one kills a speech by putting forward too many figures—I should like to submit one or two figures concerning what is in my mind and in the minds of my friends—the right line, as we understand it, on which to work.

There are, roughly, 1,000 miles of roads projected under the Trunk Roads Act of 1946. I think it was estimated at that time that this 1,000 miles of new roads might require an expenditure of about £150 million. Well, my Lords, we think that that might be financed over a ten-year period, spending something in the neighbourhood of £15 million a year. It would not be possible to find labour and Material for more than approximately that amount of work. If that were done over a ten-year period, you might issue, say, five loans each of £30 million at 4 per cent. You would arrive at the ninth year, with a total interest payment at 4 per cent., at a sum of £6,000,000 of interest. A sinking fund would cost from £5,000,000 to £5,037,500 at the ninth year, making £11,037,500,altogether. We feel, in view of the immense importance of making these new roads, that that is not an enormous sum of money, and that it should be made a first charge on whatever money Parliament votes. If that were possible, it would mean that the loans would run for about twenty-eight years, on the twenty-year loans, at something, I suggest, in the neighbourhood of 4 per cent. interest. But I do not see how, unless the Secretary of State thinks it possible to obtain bigger allocations than £ 33 million, it will be possible to start any of these new road works.

I think many of us will agree that the ever-increasing congestion of the roads makes it necessary to tackle this problem now, and that the building of some of these roads should start at once, as should the doubling up of some of these by-pass roads. There are many such schemes Which were started after the war but which remain uncompleted and derelict We still have to keep up the maintenance. I hope that the Secretary of State will give serious consideration to our suggestions. Lord Lucas really was at his wit's end to know what further to suggest to try to improve the very serious problem of these ever-growing accidents on the roads of our country to-day. With those few words. I should like to support the motion of the noble Lord.

5 10 p.m.


My Lords, I. thought, and I still think, that almost everything it is possible to say about road safety had been said again and again in this House in the last few years. I was even a little surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, producing this year something that, frankly, I produced as a plagiarism twenty-one years ago, when I said that the roads must be made to fit the traffic and not the traffic to fit the roads. It is going back rather a long time, but it is a frightful indictment that that should still be true. There is no doubt that, until the roads are made to fit the traffic, our casualty list will go on increasing year by year. The Ministry have said There is no doubt, and the Ministry have never disputed, that road accidents could be substantially reduced if the highway system could be improved. What has been done as a result of that knowledge and admission? A sum of £2¼ million has been allotted for the two years ending March, 1954, for the removal of black spots, but this year there that is the suggestion of the noble Lord, has been a compensating cut, on an average, of over 4 per cent. on the allowance for maintenance throughout the whole country. In other words, what we give with one hand we take back with the other, which strikes me as being almost the worst form of "double crossing" that could take place, because one figure is highly advertised and the other one is completely suppressed.

We have to remember, when we think of that figure of 4 per cent. reduction in maintenance, that only a year ago to-morrow, as has already been pointed out, the noble Lord the Secretary of State, Lord Leathers, said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 17, Col. 959): …in the matter of road maintenance we are just about at rock bottom, and that any economy below the present level is a delusion. I wonder how this afternoon the noble Lord is going to work on his 4 per cent. delusion. The answer, surely, is this. We spend money on removing black spots in others. Our roads are to-day getting in a bad state of repair. There is a heavy fall of rain at night; there are cyclists riding down that road; and suddenly, in front of them, they see something almost in the nature of a lake. They swing out to avoid it, quite regardless of the car which is coming along a hundred yards behind them; and before they know what has happened, and before the car driver knows what has happened, there is a fatal accident. That fatal accident is the result of bad road maintenance and nothing else. In our part of the country we have had three of them within the last three weeks.

We get back, and we are bound to get back, to the question of finance which has been admirably dealt with by the noble Lords, Lord Teynham and Lord Wolverton We have to realise that our road system depends on the force of character of the Minister of State and what he can squeeze out of the Treasury—and that, I am afraid, is obvious. The Treasury will not realise that the blood of the inhabitants of this county is flowing because they will not allow the blood to be themselves—and that too, is obvious. One new proposal has emerged from this debate to-day, and Lord Teynham, the most constructive suggestion I have heard in this House for many years, that a Road Loan should be floated to meet the immediate problem. I hope that most serious and sympathetic consideration will be given to that suggestion. I can see no other way in which we shall get the roads built and used that have to be built and used, if our transport is to be properly employed and if the lives of our people are to be saved.

I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Earl, Lord Howe, on the subject of toll roads. We are not dealing with the same problem as that which faces America. We are dealing with tens of miles where they are dealing with hundreds, and in the long run the number of toll roads that can be built and worked economically in this country would not be worth the candle. I believe most sincerely that the taxation we are paying at the present moment is more than enough to meet the interest and sinking fund on a Road Loan that could provide the roads we need. If we rely on our present roads and have none of these new roads, it means that every year we are trying to put more into a pint pot than it will hold, and spilling more over the top, in the form of casualties.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on once more bringing this problem to this House. It will relieve your Lordships' minds and particularly the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, who is going to reply, if I say at once that I am not going to mention roads. I have just three points which I should like to touch on, the first of which concerns children. Of course, that is more a point to be dealt with by the Ministry of Education than by the noble Lord but I did give him advance notice of it, and perhaps he will be able to help me in regard to what I want to know.

I have read the excellent Report that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, mentioned, in regard to children on the road, and I should like to add my suggestion to his that it should be read by all your Lordships. It is most illuminating and extremely well explained and set out. The Report stresses that the education in road sense of the children in our schools is fairly general. That is encouraging, but I should like to know whether the noble Lord can inform us what "fairly general" means, because to my mind it is vital that the children in our schools—and by "our schools" I mean in all schools in the country, not only council schools—should have some instruction in road sense, so that they may go out into the world prepared, at least to some extent, for what they have to face on our roads. It is true, of course, that such instruction should in the first place be given in the home; but very few working-class homes or, indeed, other homes have copies of the Highway Code, and they certainly do not know it.

I should here like to put a question to the noble Lord, Lord Leathers—namely, whether it might not be a good thing to get some clever designer to design a pleasant little card or text, or whatever you like to call it: I am thinking rather of those nice little posters about security that we saw in railway carriages during the war. I should like to see in every nursery, or in every house in the land where there are children, something nicely illustrated which would show them in a simple way how to behave on the roads, for their own safety and for the safety of others. I throw out that suggestion. It may not be practical. But there is no doubt to my mind, that it is extremely important that we should have this education in all schools throughout the country. When I first saw the light of day—indeed, for long before that unimportant occasion—the basis of our education was said to be founded on the three R's. I am not certain that the time has not come when we ought to extend that famous trio into a quartet, and in future to talk about "Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmetic and Road sense" as the basis of our education.

I hope that your Lordships will not think I am making too much of this particular point, but I am afraid we have to look forward to the time, say ten years hence, when there will be ten million instead of five million motor vehicles on the roads. There is no reason why there should not be. As one noble Lord said, since the end of the War we in this country have been going through a period when the acquiring of a car has been difficult. As yet, what we may call the "people's car," the little, cheap, low-consumption car, though we see a few of them about on the roads, has not really come into full circulation. We hope they will in the course of time. Therefore in ten years' time we may see the present mad congestion doubled. That is why I think it is more than important that young people, especially young cyclists—I am glad the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, raised the issue of young cyclists wobbling in front of one's car—should go out into the world with real instruction in how to behave and how to look after themselves.

My second point is concerned with quite another subject. We never have a debate on this subject in your Lordships' House, without some noble Lord telling us about, and interesting us in, his experiences overseas and what he has seen of the way in which other people manage their motoring difficulties. For instance, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, told us in the last debate a few days ago about school road patrols in Copenhagen. I believe they have them operating very successfully in Washington, too. I remember that in the debate which I had the privilege of initiating in October last one noble Lord told us how entranced he was on a visit to Stockholm at seeing every cyclist with a little twinkling "cat's eye" on the back of his pedals. He said one could not mistake a cyclist even if one wanted to. We collect all these ideas here but they never go any further.

I want to ask the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, whether it has ever occurred to the Government to set up what might be called a fact-finding mission of experts in street lighting, parking, car lighting and every sort of thing in connection with the roads and the safety of pedestrians, to tour a selected number of countries, to watch the experiments that are going on and, on their return, to make a report. Some of these experiments might be adaptable to this country. After all, this country has sent many brilliant ideas out into the world; we are not the sole repository for them. One has only to travel a short way overseas to see many excellent experiments working which might be adopted over here.

I have only one further point, and that I have stressed before in your Lordships'House—it is the question of crash helmets for motor cyclists. I dare say many of your Lordships have noticed with pleasure, as I have, the gradual increase in the wearing of these helmets by motor cyclists. I hope that that has been due partly to the debates we have had on the subject in this House and in another place. Crash helmets are gradually coming in. As a matter of fact, a motor cyclist leaned his motor cycle against the kerb outside my house only last week, and I noticed he had on a crash helmet. He was doing something to the back tyre, and I said: "I am glad to see you are wearing one of these crash helmets." He said: "Well, I had an almighty bump on the head two years ago and I have taken to one ever since. "That is the sensible way to look at it.

But why should these helmets be subject to purchase tax? I am told that such things as lifebelts, "Mae West's" and miners' safety lamps are free from purchase tax because they are designed to save life and serious accident. By no stretch of the imagination can one think of a crash helmet on a motor cyclist as an article of adornment, or merely as a good means of keeping the cold from the back of his neck. Surely, it is something which may save a motor cyclist's life or save him from serious injury. I ask the noble Lord to make an effort with the Exchequer to see that this purchase tax is taken oft. We want to encourage these young fellows to wear helmets. I am told by two or three firms which have written to me since I last spoke on the subject that they can supply all the crash helmets that are wanted. There is no question of shortage. We need to encourage the use of these well-proved life saving helmets, and I think that one of the best ways in which we can do it at present is to take off the purchase tax. After all, it will not cost the Exchequer very much. All we can do at the moment is to beg of these young fellows to buy helmets and say: "Just think, you will be adding to the general wealth of the country by so doing, as well as perhaps saving your life." It does not seem to me to be very logical somehow.

On the general issue, I cannot help feeling that, after all the debates we have had in this House and, no doubt, in another place, and the conferences that have been held on this vital subject, we are still rather living up to our reputation of trying to muddle through to some solution. Nothing seems to be well planned. We have no real road plan in front of us. There does not seem to be anything definite that one can get hold of which is going to bring about any improvement. Meanwhile, valuable lives are being lost, endless misery is being caused, and enormous expenditure is being entailed. We should like to see some of that expenditure go to the promotion of better road conditions in this country.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, the greater part of what I had intended to put before your Lordships this afternoon, has already been said, and it has been said with an ability and an eloquence which I am afraid that I shall probably never command. Also, to my way of thinking, it has been said with a sincerity which is admirable and which must be impressive to any hearer. I shall not, therefore, keep your Lordships any longer than I have to. I want to go on from a point of extreme agreement which I have with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. He said forcefully that exhortation has failed. How very right he is! Going on from that point, I think that, most regrettably, we are forced to something which will be most unwelcome to noble Lords on all sides of the House, as it is to me. That is the question of the creation of more offences, more rules, more regulations and more bother for the general public to get into. We do not want that, but we have come, I believe and fear, to the stage when we must have it.

The problem as a whole, as expressed by all noble Lords who have spoken today, is a very large one. We have, as one might say, only a moderate-sized axe with which to fell a big tree. In no case can such a tree be felled by one great stroke with such an axe. None the less, if only we could have some of the proposals of Her Majesty's Government for dealing with some of the evils which have been mentioned, to make a start, then—and I feel that your Lordships will agree with me—a number of small chops might be made as a beginning. Even if they succeeded in reducing only by a comparatively small amount the annual casualty figures, that would be all to the good. I hope that, at any rate in due course, we may have that.

Meanwhile, while I am no expert—I am a very ordinary motorist—I have some points to which I propose briefly to call the attention of Her Majesty's Government, in the hope that it may be possible to find some way of enforcing them. It will naturally be by law that they will have to be enforced, and this will mean the creation of a set of unpleasant extra offences. But I think that if they can be tackled and if, as the result, casualties are reduced by even as much as fifty deaths a year, the effort will be well worth while. As I have said, I will be as brief as I can.

My first point has already been touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth—it relates to the question of jay-walking pedestrians. Guard rails certainly are essential, but I would go further and say that pedestrians must somehow be kept where they are supposed to be when such safeguards exist. Why should they leave the pavement and run all over the road? Cars, when there is no room for them upon their appointed road, are not allowed to go upon the pavement. I see no justification for pedestrians doing this sort of thing, nor for pedestrians streaming indiscriminately across roads at all sorts of places when pedestrian crossings are provided at appointed spots. The same thing applies, to a certain extent, to cyclists. It hurts me, when driving along our inadequate trunk roads, to note the expensive cycle tracks which have been provided and which cyclists for some reason fail to use. Cyclists will ride on the main road, thus adding to the difficult problem already created by the weight of the traffic. And the way far too many people ride makes one bicycle as great an obstacle on the road as a lorry—which is ridiculous. I should like to see that particular point dealt with, and some action taken to impress upon the cyclists that they must realise that traffic laws apply to them, as well as to other road users.

The next matter I should like to touch upon concerns "Halt" signs, pedestrian crossings and traffic lights. There seems to be some sort of a feeling among cyclists that even if traffic lights are against them they can push their cycle across on the road. I have never been quite so stupid as to try to push my car across with a dead engine—I can imagine what view the local police would take if I did. In my view, it is just as dangerous to push a bicycle in front of an oncoming bus as to ride it. Dealing with this, of course, means only a tightening up of existing laws or an enforcement of them. Turning for a moment to the heavy commercial vehicle, the public service vehicle, I have not a great deal of criticism to make. I think that the drivers of these vehicles are predominantly among the gentlemen of the road. I receive the greatest of courtesy from heavy lorry drivers. I should, however, be glad if they would not sometimes drive their vehicles so close together. Whether anything can be done about that, I do not know. In conditions such as those which the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has described. it is perhaps inevitable that this should occur. But some way of splitting up heavy traffic and preventing large vehicles from proceeding nose to tail is essential.

That applies particularly to motor-coaches proceeding to the seaside at weekends. Speeding by motor-coaches, too, has got to be stopped. They are very large and powerful vehicles. Should the lives of, perhaps, forty-six passengers be risked at a speed of say fifty to fifty-five miles an hour, with possibly as many as twelve coaches trundling down the road, one after another, like a herd of elephants? I have never seen a herd of elephants, but I imagine that they must look something like that. These coaches, at times, go far too fast, and the risk involved is far too great. And there is a point at which action can be taken, because it is only a question of getting the police—the poor, harassed, overworked police, as usual—to enforce the existing law. But that must somehow be done.

I have a final point or two to put with regard to ordinary traffic, private cars. Something has got to be done about what I call "birdy watchers." Your Lordships will have seen those little birds made of rubber which wobble to and fro, and bob up arid down. Some motorists hang them in the rear windows of their cars, and they are a menace. I do not wish to stop anyone decorating his car in arty manner he may wish to, but I do require him to fit a traffic mirror and ask him to use it. He should not be allowed to block up the view with little rubber birds which bob about. It is quite ridiculous; and, more than that, it is extremely dangerous. It has now become axiomatic, I think, to give a wide berth to anyone with two or three of these on the back window, because one knows that such a motorist does not look into his mirror. If he did, it would soon drive him crazy and he would take them down. If he must have such things, let him put them en the side windows, on the roof—anywhere he likes, but not in view of the mirror. Nor do I wish to see any more flags, however patriotic, fluttering largely from the radiator straight in the driver's line of vision. I think we must ask for some kind of ruling; to prevent obstructions from being placed wilfully, almost certainly ignorantly, in the line of sight of drivers.

I should like to see indicators used only to indicate that a motorist is going to turn to the left or to the right. At the present time, the use, of traffic indicators may mean anything. It may mean, "I am going to turn to the right," or," I am going to pull out to pass the car in front, but I may change my mind"; or it may mean, "I am going to pass the car in front and then turn to the right"; or, again, it may mean simply, "I have raised the indicator and forgotten about it until I turn to the left." I feel most strongly about this matter. Many times have I been confused by this improper use of these traffic indicators. Their use should be restricted to right and left turns only, and all other signals should be given by hand as recommended by the Highway Code.

My final point is one that I do not remember having heard mentioned before, but no doubt it has been mentioned—that is, overloading. If a commercial vehicle is overloaded, the driver, and possibly his employer, is prosecuted. The police have power to check overloading, but that is not so in the case of motor-cars. Again, I do not wish to interfere with anybody's right to enjoy himself by using transport, but a small car with four or five people in it, plus several trunks, a pram and the kitchen stove strap bed all over it, so that the front wheels are practically off the ground and the car is swaying about, is not safe. And this hind of thing is on the increase. If one goes down any of the coast roads, particularly at the week-end, one finds streams of cars that are overloaded. I am convinced that is the reason why so many people drive very slowly in the middle of the road. I think that the overloading of motor-cars will require careful attention in the near future. Her Majesty's Government showed themselves capable of splendid effective, prompt and generous action in the case of the flood disaster. I do not minimise that disaster in the least, yet it represented about two weeks of road casualties, and I believe that the loss of production and the misery caused to people could not have been any greater than that caused by road accidents. I can only hope that we may expect, and confidently expect, the same type of prompt and effective action in this matter.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, I am in some difficulty in rising to say a few words on this subject this afternoon, because, as your Lordships know, Her Majesty's Government are pledged to reduce capital expenditure, so far as they are able, in every possible way. I do not doubt that this is necessary; nevertheless, like many other noble Lords, I am convinced that there will be and can be no great reduction in the number of road accidents until large sums of money are spent to make the roads safe for the volume, speed and weight of modern traffic. Having said that, I would emphasise that it is the individual responsibility of everybody, be he pedestrian, cyclist or driver, to take every possible care not to be involved in a road accident.

Education has done, and is doing, a great deal to reduce accidents, but human beings are fallible creatures, and education alone is not enough. May I give an example of what I mean? We see notices saying, "Keep off the grass," "Do not litter the ground," "Drive carefully," "Look before you cross the road"—but, human nature being what it is, these exhortations are not always complied with. It is sometimes suggested that the laws should be tightened up and heavy penalties should be imposed for infringements of the traffic regulations. That is a purely negative solution and in any event the police are already short of men to carry out their normal duties. Again, it is sometimes said that if everyone showed good manners and courtesy, there would be no accident problem. That is very nice in theory, but in practice it does not work; and it does not work because the speed of modern life does not allow it to work. If I may draw a parallel, which I am afraid is not a good one, I would liken the traffic on the roads to the corridors in the London tube stations at the rush hour—a great press of people travelling in different directions in a confined space at different speeds. Who in such circumstances has not collided with another person, unintentionally and unavoidably?

I would ask the Government to grant local authorities money to remove some of the hazards on our roads which allow mistakes to be made. I refer to such things as hump-back bridges, bottlencks on main roads, slippery road surfaces, and the like: I will not weary your Lordships with the list of dangerous features. In conclusion, I should like to describe to your Lordships an accident which I happened to witness not so long ago. I think it bears out what I have been saying. This accident occurred on the A 6 road from London to Carlisle, on a stretch of road near Beetham, Milnthorpe, in Westmorland. A motorcyclist drove up at a moderate speed behind a car, which was already in motion and travelling in the same direction. The motor-cyclist applied his brakes, wobbled, skidded, fell off and was taken to hospital. Now that particular two-mile stretch of road has been very much worn and has become shiny and extremely slippery through constant heavy traffic. Much rubber and oil has been left on the road by passing vehicles; and that combined with the state of wear of the road, makes the road in wet weather extremely greasy and treacherous. What I think is so disturbing about that accident is not the fact that the motorcyclist fell off or went to hospital, regrettable though that is, but the fact that the road has been in that condition, to my certain knowledge, for at least a whole year.

I do not single out Westmorland for special criticism in this direction, because the roads of Westmorland are quite as well maintained as those anywhere else; but I understand that the reason that road is so slippery is that funds are not available for all-important maintenance. On the same stretch of road I saw the result of another accident. A motor coach skidded and the windows were smashed. There may well have been other accidents there—I do not know. I also do not know whether the injured motor cyclist has any right of action in law against the local authority. If he has, my sympathies would certainly be with him. Her Majesty's Government have a great opportuity of saving lives and of preventing much suffering. I ask them to seize that opportunity and to spend money on the roads, and make them safe for all who use them.

5.52 p.m.


My Lords, my only regret on this Motion this afternoon is that it was not more widely framed, so as to cover the general question of the efficiency of the roads and the effect upon our national economy and industry. I do not believe we can discuss accidents without discussing the general, efficiency of the roads, because the question of paying for improvements comes in, and also the return that is going to be obtained by the country and by industry. There is no question but that increasing accidents are a distinct mark of the decreasing efficiency of the roads. Expenditure will prevent accidents, and it will also help the production drive and enable us to produce more cheaply goods which we all so badly need to-day. By improving the roads I believe you more than just stop accidents. You kill two birds with one stone. Quite definitely, you directly help industry. For years every Government has fought shy of spending money on the roads, I suppose because they thought it was money spent which they would never see again—"gone down the drain," so to speak. But I am convinced that money spent on the roads pays big dividends to the country.

In 1950 10 per cent. of the national income was spent on road transport. The figure was something like £1,200 million and it was three times what was spent on any other form of internal transport. If one were able, through improving efficiency, to reduce that expenditure by as little as 5 per cent., there would be a gain to the country of £60 million, and if by 10 per cent. the gain would be £120 million a year, and that is not to be "sneezed at." As has already been pointed out by noble Lords, accidents on the roads each year cost the country something like £146 million. I believe the 1950 cost was only just over £100 million, but even at that figure if these accidents could be reduced by 30 per cent. the total saving to the country from that and from the total expenditure on road transport would be very nearly £100 million.

It is very interesting to find that these figures have been corroborated by an estimate that has been worked out, based on the 1949 volume of traffic. If there were a plan to improve the roads, costing £550 million, the saving to the country would be £95 million a year. In other words, the plan would pay for itself in six years and, put in stockbrokers' language, it would mean that the country would get a yield approaching 20 per cent., a yield which it is very Lard to get nowadays. About a year ago I read in one of the newspapers that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he would not permit what he called "milk bar development." I think it is a great mistake to regard expenditure on the roads as "milk bar development." It is not pouring money into a bottomless sink or throwing it down the drain. You will see it again, and it will help production, which is just what is wanted to-day. I know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the statement he made at that time, was authorising only capital expenditure which would help production. My Lords, I submit that expenditure on the roads does just that.

Now the main defects—two of them have already been mentioned this afternoon—are, first, traffic congestion, and, second, the failure of the roads to take care of modern traffic conditions. I believe there is an additional major defect; that is, mixing different kinds of traffic—heavy lorries, private motor cars, fast and slow, and so on. It is the clash of different kinds of traffic on one road that I believe is one of the biggest accident producers. It gives rise to dangerous overtaking. How many times does one drive along the roads and find people jockeying for position to overtake each other, and overtaking on both sides of the road? It is something that is particularly bad in this country, as we do not keep to any regular traffic lanes. One does not see it in the United States of America. People there keep to their traffic lanes on their part of the road. They stick in their position and they do not go zig-zagging across the road. I have spoken to Americans who have come here and they all say they are absolutely put out and alarmed by this zig-zagging and by the conditions of the roads with which they have to contend.

If money is one day to be spent on the roads, as I most sincerely hope it will be, I believe we should build motorways which segregate the different kinds of traffic, keeping heavy, slow moving traffic on different roads from lighter and faster traffic. That will stimulate faster commercial transport—that is, if the law relating to the speed limit is amended—and it will reduce costs by enabling goods to be moved more quickly. It will prevent accidents arising from the intermingling of different traffic, and, most important, it will relieve congestion on other roads, the minor roads which take all kinds of traffic. I have heard it estimated that a proper system of segregation of motor roads throughout the country would effect a saving in industry of something like 40 per cent. on fuel; 30 per cent. on tyres; 50 per cent. on running time, if the speed limit is altered; and 30 per cent. on operating costs. It is reckoned that the system could save four out of five accidents, and this is the consideration which should be most important of all. I believe that some of the congestion, hold-ups, and so on, on the roads may very well get worse; but would ask Her Majesty's Government to remember that it is never too late to act.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to detain your Lordships for only a few minutes. While we have this totally inadequate system of roads in this country we shall always have accidents. I believe that if we were to extend a scheme operated before the war with a great deal of success in Lancashire, that of the "courtesy cop" on his motorcycle, we might get somewhere. A police car is of the same width as any other motor car, and if the police see anybody driving dangerously in a narrow road, it may well be that the police car itself has to be driven dangerously to contact the offender. If, however, there were more motor-cycle police, they could get through a much smaller area and advise the motor-car driver that he had been holding too much to the middle of the road, or driving in a manner which was liable to cause an accident. I feel that an increase in the number of motor-cycle police on the road, not necessarily to catch motorists, but to advise them of their errors, and act as "courtesy cops," is a matter deserving of serious consideration.

I was interested in what was said earlier about crash hats, or, as I believe they are called, "skid lids." Apparently there has been some discussion in another place about purchase tax on a corkscrew, and it makes a difference as to where you have the operative part. If it is in the tail, I believe there is no purchase tax; but if it is in the middle, then there is purchase tax. There is only one possible place for a crash hat—on the head: it cannot be worn on the tail. I put it to Her Majesty's Government that, if they are serious about reducing road accidents, they should make this small gesture of removing purchase tax from crash hats. As the noble Lord said, it would not cost much. I have a friend who, in the recent twenty-four hours' race at Le Mans, owed his life to his crash helmet. The cockpit of his car, travelling at well over eighty miles an hour, suddenly became a blaze of flame, and he had to bale out. If he had not been wearing a crash helmet he would have been killed. As it was, he survived with a few burns and a dislocated shoulder. Surely it is not too much to ask that these motor-cyclists should be given the chance to remain alive if they do have a crash.

The noble Earl, Lord Howe, referred to the main Southampton Road. On the morning of the Fleet Review I was going down to watch it, together with some Americans. We got to the other side of Winchester, and there was a queue, I should think, about eight miles long. I asked one of the policemen in a police car the cause of this, and he said, "There is a 'Queen Mary' lorry carrying a propeller which must belong to the 'Queen Mary' "That lorry was taking up two-thirds of the road, and nothing could get past it in either direction. The Americans just laughed, and said, "This is your main road to one of your main ports." It was farcical. I do not think the Government can allow something like that to continue without doing anything about it.

I have one final point, on the question of children. I believe that the noble Lord opposite is absolutely right. I could cite many instances of children in America—I have said this before in your Lordships'House—who value the sashes they are given for escorting other children across the road equally with their baseball or football colours. I want to see that sort of thing happen in this country. In conclusion, I sincerely hope that it may be possible, in the years to come, to refer to this Government as the Government which did something for road safety.

6.6 p.m.


My Lords, first of all, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for having moved the Motion. It is one of those hardy annuals that returns each year, always with a great crop of new ideas; bat still some say that it never really begins to grow. I do not agree. We learn a lot each time we have these discussions. I think it may be said that we have had more ideas put forward to-day even than have been put forward on previous occasions. Some of them are not worth a great deal, but others are worthy of quite a lot of consideration; and some are in a yet higher category. If I do not touch upon all of them in my speech, because there are so many, I assure your Lordships that not one will be lost sight of. Those that are really worth pursuing and having consultations about will be dealt with on those lines.

I would say, too, that it is in sad circumstances that we have this debate to-day, because although we seemed to be getting some improvement, we have now had this unfortunate setback; and the tendency still, I am afraid, is for accidents to increase. However, I hope that this is only temporary, for we did achieve some improvement, by a great deal of effort. I do not desire to be too forlorn about the setback of the moment, as there may be reasons for it: we have been through difficult times in various ways, although I do not propose to describe them. We must fight all we know so that we can get on the downward trend again at the first opportunity.

When I spoke in your Lordships' House last October, in reply to a Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, I was able to say that the number of deaths and of those injured was significantly down, compared with that in the previous year, and that the trend of accidents, which had been steadily rising since the end of the war, had actually been reversed. In saying that, I was careful to avoid any note of complacency. But at last there seemed to be signs that the terrible toll of road accidents was being tackled with some success. To-day, I regret to say that the signs look blacker again. Altogether, road accidents are about 9 per cent. up on the same period of last year, but it is perhaps some consolation that these figures are not as bad as those just before the war—and this in spite of the marked increase in the number of vehicles on the road. That is, perhaps, taking consolation by going a little far back, but we did have a larger number of accidents before the war, when there was so much less traffic on the roads. We must now aim at getting still further with the success that we were achieving.

With these sad reminders, I cannot complain that to-day's debate is in any way premature, and I share to the full the views of all of your Lordships who have urged that this must be regarded as one of the gravest social problems of our time. I think that the steps which can be taken to eliminate the conditions and reduce the factors which are the cause of road accidents to use the wording of the noble Lord's Motion—can most conveniently be divided into two distinct groups. On the one hand, there is the engineering side of the problem—the country's physical equipment, of roads, pavements, bridges and the like, on which virtually everyone in the country at different times walks, rides; or drives. On the other hand, there are all those other steps, which are not concerned with the roads themselves but with our behaviour as we use them. And this group embraces the whole question of education and propaganda, enforcement of the highway law and so on.

Looking first at the roads themselves, I should like to take this opportunity to correct, in so far as it has not already been corrected, an impression which, it seemed to me, had got abroad in some quarters outside this House, the impression that my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport, or his Ministry, are indifferent to road improvements as a means of reducing road accidents. This certainly does not represent the position of the present Government, or of the Ministry of Transport. Our position on this matter is illustrated by the fact that, at a time of great financial difficulty and of general restriction of road works, an expenditure of £3 million for the sole purpose of dealing with accident black spots has been approved. This covers a period of two financial years, of which we are now in the second. Your Lordships may say that this is a trivial sum in relation to the need, and I agree that we could usefully spend a much larger amount. But it is at least a sensible concentrated effort, for the most part deliberately confined to small and inexpensive, but none the less valuable, schemes. Indeed, well over 1,000 schemes have been approved in this special £3 million effort. Some 40 per cent. of them are now complete, another 40 per cent. are proceeding, and work on the remainder will be put in hand shortly What I will say, however, is that road improvements, however extensive they may be, will never by themselves eliminate accidents. With occasional exceptions, an accident is caused by human beings, and not by things. However good they become, roads are never foolproof. Accidents can happen on the great highways constructed in the United States, for example, or in Germany, just as they happen here, through fatigue, inattention, bad judgment, lack of consideration or any of many other human failings.

By the very nature of the subject, debates in your Lordships' House about the roads tend to follow a rather stereotyped pattern. Your Lordships rise and ask, with the utmost clarity and vigour, why more is not being done, either to improve the roads or to maintain them in better condition. And the Government spokesman—whether he be myself or the noble Lord opposite or anyone else—explains in lengthy detail how the Government, of course, recognise the importance of improving the roads, both from an economic and from a social point of view; and how they would like to spend very much more on the roads, were it not that the economic resources of the country were limited and imposed a strict check on the level of expenditure on the highways. My Lords, all of this is absolutely true, and I would willingly recite it at length if there were any general desire that I should. But your Lordships have heard it all so often before that I thought perhaps I might take it as a generally accepted but regrettable fact that, in the circumstances of our economy to-day, our balance of payments difficulties, the heavy demands of our defence programme, and the competing claims of many other forms of civil expenditure, we must hold the level both of investment in the roads and of Exchequer expenditure on the roads, down to a level much lower than we should like to see.


No matter how many people are killed or injured?


I am mindful of all that, but still it adds up to the position as we must apply it to-day.

So far as maintenance of the highways is concerned, although I said on the last occasion when we debated the subject in this House that I thought we were almost down to the safety limit, I am by no means prepared to share in the most extreme cries of alarm which one sometimes hears. I see that I am supported in this view to a great extent by the Select Committee on Estimates which recently considered this subject in another place.


Their evidence was very faulty.


I had a more personal confirmation of this quite recently when, during the Coronation period, a very eminent Minister from another country was with me for two week-ends. We went over a great many of our roads, and I asked him to tell me, quite frankly, what he thought of the condition of our roads. I asked him generally about them. His immediate reply was, "They are absolutely wonderful. They are in a much better condition than the roads at home." I have also put this question to other eminent people from abroad who have been over here, and it is surprising to me, after all that one hears, to find that they regard the conditions of our roads as really excellent.


May I ask the noble Lord a question? He has explained how the people he was with thought our roads were in excellent condition. What did they think about the traffic conditions on them?


As a matter of fact, I think I told your Lordships it was a week-end, and the traffic conditions were not at their worst. Probably the visitors were not able to see the roads in those conditions. Notwithstanding that, the roads themselves—and many American friends have been over here, and have said this time and time again—were in a better condition, as roads, than those in their own country. That is largely explained, I think, by the fact that their winter is rather more severe than ours, and the roads undergo a fairly severe strain during those very cold months, In the process of the debate, noble Lords who have spoken have all ventured to give their views. I hope that I may be forgiven for quoting these instances, which may not quite tally with what has been said by others. At the same time, it is a useful expression of opinion from people who are experienced in the very matters about which we are talking.

While I am on the subject of maintenance, I think it only right that I should pay tribute to the way in which our road engineers and surveyors throughout the country, who for so many years have had less to spend on the roads than they would regard as desirable, have nevertheless contrived to make the restricted provision such as they have been given go such a long way and have preserved our roads in such good state. They have contributed to find the cheapest, but by no means always the least satisfactory, ways of maintaining our roads. And they have been assisted in this by the constant progress of research, not only by the Road Research Laboratory of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, but also by the highway authorities themselves, and by bodies such as the associations of manufacturers of road materials. This technical and scientific progress, and this ingenuity for making money spin out as far as possible, will always be needed—even in days to come—when the highways engineers may not be squeezed quite as hard as they are to-day.

Turning from maintenance to new road works, I am afraid that there is not as much to mention as I should like. I have already referred to the programme for dealing with the black spots, and this is perhaps the most important part of the road improvement programme to-day. But for the rest, the score, sheet is not completely blank. I mentioned in the debate last year our difficulty in authorising the building of a new bridge to replace the transporter bridge between Runcorn and Widnes. As some of your Lordships may know, it has now been possible to overcome these difficulties, and I very much hope that work on the new bridge will begin this year.

One matter of interest to all parts of the country I am glad to be able to announce to your Lordships this afternoon. After earnest consultation which my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and I have had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Chancellor has quite recently agreed that payments from the Road Fund may be allowed to increase during this financial year above the level provided for in the Estimates. This increase is agreed at £1 million. This £1 million will be divided between maintenance and minor improvements, on the one hand, and major improvements, on the other. It will go some way to restoring the cut on maintenance and minor improvements funds which had to be made in the Estimates for the current financial year, and will enable some much-needed road and bridge improvements to be put in hand at once. In distributing this money we shall have due regard to both economies and road safety, and to those of your Lordships who are specially concerned I can say at once that neither Scotland nor Wales will be forgotten. Your Lordships will not expect anything very spectacular, but I am sure you will agree that an extra £1 million is not to be "sneezed at."


Is not that just a return of the cut of £1 million that took place on last year's Estimates?


It is possible to make all kinds of calculations of that sort. It is an extra amount over and above that which was authorised for this year, and we ought to take it in that sense. Moreover, it must be remembered that this £1 million means additional money actually to be paid out this year, partly on schemes on which further expenditure will be incurred net year and thereafter.

I am also glad to be able to tell your Lordships that some slight easement is now permissible in the very restrictive policy in the field of capital investment in roads, which is controlled by the Minister of Transport under Defence Regulation 56A, although no Exchequer expenditure is involved. This applies to work on unclassified roads, and to some works on classified roads in county boroughs, which highway authorities are paying for out of their own money. This means that, among other schemes, we have been able to authorise the scheme presented by the Westminster City Council and the Corporation of London for relaying Victoria Embankment, consequent upon the removal of the tram tracks.

I think I had better turn now to the other side, that is to say, from the engineering side to the education and enforcement side. I have made a note of the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, in the matter of the posterity scheme, of spending money now and and getting it on loan, letting the capital be paid off at some distant date. This, of course, is something that will have to be considered. At first, I was not greatly attracted to the idea, because I felt that in thinking about putting this business to posterity rather than financing it ourselves, we were doing so at a time when our roads had been deprived of road expenditure assigned them for some years. I think, nevertheless, that all this will have to be looked into with great care, and I am obliged to Lord Teynham for making the suggestion. Full consideration will be given to it. Another suggestion was that a Working Party should be set up. I am a little unwilling to subscribe at the moment to more Working Parties. The Minister has his responsibility. He has all the expert advice available to him as to how and in what order the money should be spent; and while I say again that I shall be happy to consider this with the Minister, I feel that it is just adding something which is perhaps a little superfluous, since the Minister has available to him to-day all that the Working Party could provide for him. We do not want to add to the machinery; we want rather to make the machinery we have go, if it is the right kind of machinery.

With regard to this education and enforcement side, an important part of our equipment for road education is the Highway Code. The Minister is bound by Statute to publish this after approval by Parliament. Motorists are enjoined to study it, and drivers undergoing tests may be questioned on it. But let me emphasise that it is not to motorists only that the Code is addressed. It closely concerns all road users, including pedestrians. In last year's debate I admitted that the present document is a bit out of date, and not, perhaps quite as happily drawn and arranged as it might be. Therefore, it is being re-written and reissued. The Committee on Road Safety, under the Chairmanship of the Parliamentary Secretary, has been working hard on this, and I hope that before long it will be out. Meantime the old Code holds the field, and it is the duty of all who use the roads to be familiar with it. After all, the new Code will be changed more in layout than in substance.


Will the Code be brought before Parliament at all?


It must be.

On Road Safety propaganda generally the Government are spending about £200,000 this year, and we regard it as money well spent. Little is spent directly by the Government. Most of the money goes to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, so ably presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, and to more than 1,000 local authorities all over the country who have set up road safety committees. To the work of the Society and to the committees I should like to take this opportunity of paying a well-deserved tribute. I am sorry that this year they have not had the satisfaction of seeing a continued fall in the number of accidents. But without their efforts who knows how much higher accidents might have risen? We are now concentrating on selective rather than on general propaganda. This means that we have turned away from general exhortations, and are basing road safety education on practical hints directed to particular aspects of the road accident problem. We vary this from time to time in style and position, in order that it will catch on.

There is one point calling for particular attention, and that is the terrible vulnerability of cyclists in their teens. There has recently been published by the Economic Research Council a noteworthy Report called The Child On The Road. This gives some striking figures about the frightful rate of accidents to teen-age cyclists, particularly boys, during the summer week-ends. May I suggest that everyone interested in road safety, particularly the parents—and may I say even the indulgent grandparents?—of teen-age cyclists should read this Report? Moreover, it is absolutely essential that child cyclists, before they take to the road, should have a thorough knowledge of the Highway Code and should realise the importance of observing it without fail. For safety's sake, if not for any other reason, they should also keep their cycles in first-class condition. An important responsibility rests on parents here. I hope, too, that increasing use will be made of the cycling proficiency scheme organized by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. So far, only 40,000 children have obtained the badge under this scheme. I should like to see that number multiplied by at least ten.

At this point, in dealing with cyclists, I should like to refer to the point which the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, raised. He mentioned child cyclists, arid was kind enough to give me notice of the points he intended to raise. He asked about the teaching of road safety in the schools. Your Lordships will know that the curriculum in State-aided schools is largely a matter within the discretion of the school authorities, and my right honourable friend the Minister of Education has from time to time urged education authorities and schools to see that adequate and suitable instruction in the principles of road safety is given regularly in every type of school. And, in fact, I understand that this teaching is to all intents and purposes universal. I think that everyone concerned with road safety acknowledges the tremendous job which the teachers have done, and are doing, and which is reinforced in many areas by frequent visits to schools by selected police officers who give their own talks on road safety to the children. Moreover, it is the fact that accidents to children between the ages of six and fifteen are remarkably low by comparison with those in other age groups. This in itself reflects, I think, on the effectiveness of the school teaching.

The noble Lord also asked whether Her Majesty's Government had ever contemplated the setting up of a fact-finding commission to tour a selected number of countries to observe and report on any measure to reduce accidents which might be incorporated into our own system. I must say, in answer to this, that I do not think we need a body of persons to go around formally in this manner. As things are, by the interchange of information between countries and by occasional visits of officials and highway engineers between countries, we do in fact know the techniques practised elsewhere. Moreover the special Working Party on Road Traffic Accidents which meets from time to time at Geneva under the auspices of the Economic Commission for Europe is a means whereby a great deal of international information is spread about. The difficulties arise when you think of putting into practice here some of the ways of other countries.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, urged that crash helmets should be freed from purchase tax. The difficulties here have been set out in your Lordships' House before. The fact is that crash helmets could hardly be exempt without freeing a large number of other articles of protective clothing. I have an imposing list of such items here arid the noble Lord might be interested to look at it and see what repercussions would inevitably follow if we freed crash helmets. I regret, therefore, that I cannot hold out any hope of exemption at the moment. At the same time I might just remind the noble Lord that the sale of these articles has already gone up by leaps and bounds. There are many articles of this kind which have to bear purchase tax, such as lifebuoys and that kind of thing. If once the purchase tax on one of these articles is reduced or removed, I am afraid we shall have an extensive situation to meet.


May I ask one question? Is it not a fact that the purchase tax is not levied on miners' protective helmets? I cannot see the difference between the two. They are both protective articles.


The miner's helmet has always been free. I must confess it is the only instance of that sort I have been able to find, and the noble Lord has hit on that very one. But, there are many other articles involved. I have seen a huge list. After all, the miners are provided with these helmets by the country; it is the Notional Coal Board's job to supply them. No doubt many other articles to which purchase tax applies are supplied to the men by their various industries. A crash helmet, however, is something that a man wants for going round the country on his motorcycle, which is not quite the same thing. If we remove the purchase tax in this instance, we shall meet much trouble. We can always keep this question under review, in the hope that something can be done; but it is definitely felt now that this tax must remain on these helmets.

I should now like to mention a measure to which I referred last October and which stands mid-way between education and enforcement—police motor-cycle patrols. There have been some difficulties in developing this measure but my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport has been in close touch throughout with the Home Secretary and we hope that local authorities and local police forces, with whose representatives we are also in touch, will realise the importance of co-operating as fully as possible on this front. These "courtesy cops" did most useful work just before the war, particularly in Lancashire, and I have no doubt that, if the police could put more of these patrols on the road, it would produce a great improvement in road behaviour. I am told there is a difficulty in getting policemen who will do that particular duty. It is not easy to get sufficient men. But all those matters are being examined, because these "courtesy cops" are really one of the best helps we can hope for on the road.

The National Road Safety Week will take place this year from October 17 to October 26, and the theme will be "Better Roadmanship" We are sparing no effort to enlist the services of the various media of propaganda and education, and have not overlooked the cinema, the wireless or television. "Roadmanship" is, I think, a good catch word for this purpose. By "Roadmanship" we mean an amalgam of three elements—a knowledge of good road conduct as set out in the Highway Code, intelligent anticipation and good road manners. I want to stress these three elements. Courtesy by itself, though it goes a long way, is not enough. It must be accompanied by trained intelligence and acquired knowledge.

Drivers of motor cars and motor-cycles absolutely must acquire a really comprehensive technique before they drive on the roads. There is nothing clever in driving fast, especially when one's technique is inadequate. As for learner drivers, the Ministry leaflet D.L.68, which can be obtained from any local taxation office, sets out clearly and concisely what our driving examiners want at the test. Motor-cyclists have in the past presented particular difficulties because of the dangers which arise from lack of supervision in training. I therefore wholeheartedly welcome the recent extension of the training scheme which the Royal Automobile Club and the Auto Cycle Union are running jointly. I wish that every intending motor-cyclist were aware of the inexpensive facilities offered by this scheme. It is already, I think, bearing fruit. Although the number of personal injury accidents has gone up, casualties to motor-cyclists have not gone up in such a high proportion. This may be due partly to the improved training and partly to the more widespread use of crash helmets to which your Lordships in a recent debate gave valuable publicity.

The need for roadmanship as a science in our modern world is most pressing. I think that if we were to regard it seriously as a science we should get results. People do not seem to object to Civil Defence instruction or to instruction in the Territorial Army or in the Fire Service. These are special techniques, regarded as such and studied dispassionately. But training for the roads, which claim more victims than the battlefield, is, for some perverse reason, regarded differently. Very few accept roadmanship as a technique to be learned coolly and applied smoothly and sensibly. The moral is plain. Each one of us should examine his own road conduct and see how far he falls from the highest principles of roadmanship. Let us take immediate steps to improve our own road behaviour as individuals. By this means, the Government and people together can reduce the fearful scourge of accidents which leaves so much tragedy and disfigurement in its wake.

6.39 p.m.


My Lords, when I opened this debate I likened it to a drop of water wearing away the stone. I can only hope that that, in the event, is what it will be; because while I do not think I have heard in this House, for many a long day, such a constructive and well-informed debate on road accidents, I cannot remember a reply out of which we derived such little satisfaction. However, I think the cumulative effect of a debate like this is felt afterwards. I must confess, also, that the opening of the noble Lord's brief had, to me, a familiar ring. I could almost see it being brought out of the pigeon-holes at the Ministry of Transport, the thumb marks being rubbed off and the cobwebs being removed. I have seen it so many times myself.

I should be despondent about this if I did not know the noble Lord, the Secretary of State, because I believe—in fact I know—that he feels as intensively as any noble Lord in this House the problem of the roads, not only from the human point of view but from the point of view of economy. He would not have risen to his height in the industry in this country if he did not. That is my consolation and, I hope he will not mind my saying, the only one I have. It is said that a country's civilisation is measured by the speed and the safety at which it can transport goods and people. If that be true, our civilisation is declining, because it is no longer safe and the speed is lessening. I am sorry the noble Lord had to bring to his aid the American who said that he thought our roads were as good as any in his country. Of course he was looking at the surface. As I have said before, the surface of our roads is like the surface of many a pretty female face—it hides a lot of cracks and the ravages of age. That is what is wrong with our roads.

I am sorry that the noble Lord did not say anything about enforcement. I know that it is not the province of the Ministry of Transport. There is one thing about which I can agree with him wholeheartedly. About six or seven months ago., perhaps nearly twelve months ago, we were all congratulating ourselves on the fact that he had found, as we thought, at least one solution. Road accidents in congested areas were falling, due to the advent of the zebra pedestrian crossing. Quite frankly, I believe that, unless something is done to enforce the regulations in regard to these zebra crossings, they will fall into the same disrepute as the pedestrian crossings of old. I am going to ask the noble Lord to go outside your Lordships' House, on any morning he likes, before your Lordships' House is sitting, and see the wild game that goes on with pedestrians trying to cross on the pedestrian crossing arid the motorists and vehicle drivers trying to beat them to it. When your Lordships' House is sitting, the crossings are controlled by police. The other day I stood there and watched for a quarter of an hour, and opposite the pedestrian crossing outside St. Margaret's Church were two police officers talking to each other. Neither one of them moved a little finger to prevent the pedestrians from being marooned in the middle of the crossing while the traffic was chasing up and down St. Margaret Street.

The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, if he will allow me to say so with respect, made an admirable speech. Unless somebody can exercise some influence in regard to the enforcement of the existing law, we shall find that pedestrian crossings will fall into disrepute and be dishonoured, That, I believe, is one of the main contributory factors in the increase of road accidents. The law governing the behaviour of everybody who uses the roads is absolutely in disrepute. The noble Lord mentioned motor coaches. You have to do seventy miles an hour in a car to pass a long-distance coach. I wonder how many people in this country know that the speed limit of every coach in this country is thirty miles an hour. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, has down for answer next week a Question which I shall not anticipate. But if every traffic law in this country were rigidly enforced, and no vehicle except a motor-car travelled at over thirty miles an hour, I think the economy of this country would come to a standstill. That is the measure of the antiquity of the law of this country governing conduct on the roads. I hope fiat at some time or another that matter will be given serious attention.

I am grateful to all noble Lords for the interest they have taken in this debate. I am also grateful to the noble Lord the Secretary of State, because I believe that when he comes seriously to consider the views expressed in this debate, and the tenor of the whole feeling of the House, it will perhaps spur him on to make his weight felt in this direction in the secret recesses of the highest authority. With those words, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.