HL Deb 16 June 1953 vol 182 cc993-1022

5.40 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a modest Bill, but I should like to commend it to your Lordships as one which I believe will serve a very useful purpose. I am sure there will be widespread agreement that any measure to reduce the number of accidents to children on our roads has a great deal to commend it, and it is the belief of the Government that the proposals embodied in this Bill ought to help in that direction. It is a shocking fact that in 1952 over 31,000 children of school age were injured, and 460 lost their fives, as the result of road accidents. Some of these accidents took place when children were crossing busy roads on their way to and from school, and it is in order to make improved provision for dealing with that particular problem that this Bill has been prepared.

The main proposals in this Bill, of course, are not novel. I emphasise that point, because these patrols have been in operation in various parts of the country for some considerable time. The Bill is rather concerned with improving and extending arrangements which are already in force in some areas. As your Lordships are probably aware, as long ago as 1936, an Inter-Departmental Committee on Road Safety among School Children recommended that the system of adult patrols to safeguard school children crossing roads near schools—a system which was then in an experimental stage in a few areas—should be extended. The Committee recommended that the patrols should carry a sign authorised by the Ministry of Transport, and that disregard of this sign should be made an offence. The use of patrols was gradually extended, following the Report of this Committee, and by 1952 some 83 education authorities outside London—that figure includes Scotland—were operating school crossing patrols in Great Britain. In view of the high casualty rate among children as a result of road accidents, to which I have already referred, Her Majesty's Government felt that it was desirable to extend these arrangements, if possible, over the country as a whole; and after consultation with representatives of local authorities, an appeal was made, in October, 1952, to the authorities of counties, county boroughs and large burghs where patrols were not yet in operation to provide such patrols in advance of legislation.

As I have said, these patrols were originally provided by education authorities; but when the matter was considered by the Government last year, it was felt, and I think rightly felt, that the Home Office and the Scottish Home Department were really the appropriate Departments to take general responsibility for this scheme. I think your Lordships will appreciate that it is not possible for the police force themselves, with all the other demands made upon them, to provide all the supervision needed for the purpose of looking after children on their way to and from school, but in many areas the chief officer of police has naturally been called in for advice and assistance in organising and training the patrols and deciding at which crossings they should be placed. When the appeal which I have already mentioned was made to counties and county boroughs to provide patrols, they were told that any expenditure so incurred with the Home Secretary's approval would receive an Exchequer grant of 50 per cent., administered by the Home Office. That was, of course, pending the enactment of legislation, and in the interim the Minister of Housing and Local Government sanctioned, under the proviso to Section 228 (1) of the Local Government Act, 1933, reasonable expenditure by local authorities on the provision of these patrols, where that expenditure was included in accounts subject to district audit. Corresponding arrangements were made in Scotland.

In view of the urgency of the problem, let me state emphatically that the Government make no apology for having made these interim arrangements in anticipation of legislation. We feel—I hope with justice—that there will be a general welcome for the present Bill, the main object of which is to regularise the action which, at the request of the Government, has already been taken by a number of local authorities.


Could the noble Lord tell us how many?


Does the noble Lord mean since the request was made in October, 1952, or how many altogether have taken action?


How many altogether.


I think I did mention that 83 authorities outside London have taken such action. I said that that figure included Scotland, where 10 authorities have so acted. That means there are 73 in England and Wales. If the noble Lord wants to know how many more have come in since October 1952, I will give him the figure afterwards.

As I was saying, the main object of the Bill is to regularise the action already taken, and it is also to encourage those authorities who do not at present organise school crossing patrols to do so. The Bill empowers the Common Council of the City of London, and county councils and county borough councils (except in the Metropolitan Police District), and the corresponding authorities in Scotland, to make arrangements for the patrolling of school-crossings. If noble Lords will look at the Bill, they will see that it also provides that county councils shall have regard, in making such arrangements, to any representations made to them by local authorities in the county. As your Lordships will be aware, and as laid down in the Bill, the persons to be employed as patrols are to be persons other than police constables; but it is contemplated that a good many local councils may, in fact, wish to pass to the police authority the responsibility for the provision of patrols. As I have told your Lordships, chief officers of police have already been very active in giving assistance with regard to the recruitment, training and disposition of patrols. In a county borough, the council can, if it wishes, delegate these responsibilities to the watch committee, without specific statutory authority; but in a county, or in a borough which forms part of an amalgamated police force, specific authority is necessary to enable this power to be transferred by the county council or the county borough council to the police authority; and the necessary provision is to be found in the rather complicated phraseology of subsection (4) of Clause 1 and in the Schedule of the Bill. Actually, I think, subsection (4), though it looks rather complicated, is not quite so bad as it looks when one studies it with the Schedule.

I do not want to weary your Lordships with a detailed explanation of the remaining provisions of the Bill, or to anticipate any discussions which may take place in Committee, but I think I ought to mention that the opportunity has been taken—and I feel it was right to take that opportunity—to gather together all the various provisions dealing with crossing patrols, such as the power of the Minister of Transport to authorise signs, and the power of the patrols to stop traffic, and to enact the whole lot in one Bill. The Bill also deals with the uniform to he worn by patrols, and makes it a specific offence to fail to comply with the order of a school crossing patrol to stop.

There is one further point on which I think I ought to offer a brief explanation—that is, the provisions in the Bill with regard to the Metropolitan Police District. The position there differs somewhat from that in the country as a whole, because in 1950 the local authorities in the Metropolitan Police District invited the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to take over the running and organising of school crossing patrols in the Metropolitan Police District. The representatives of all the local authorities in the Metropolitan Police Districts have indicated that they wish the present arrangements to be continued, and therefore, as your Lordships will see, the Bill provides that in the Metropolitan Police District the Commissioner of Police is to be responsible for the arrangements for the patrolling of school crossings. Under subsection (3) of Clause 1, he is required to have regard to any representations made to him about these arrangements by local authorities in the District. He is just in the same position as county councils. In London, as elsewhere, 50 per cent. of the expense will fall to be met by the Exchequer.

I do not want to delay your Lordships at any great length on this subject. Undoubtedly there will be points of detail in the Bill which will require further scrutiny at a later stage, and at the end of the debate I shall, of course, do my best to deal with any specific points which your Lordships may raise in the course of the debate. But I hope that the general principles of this measure, designed as it is to protect children from the dangers of the road, will command support from all sides of your Lordships' House. With that hope I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Lloyd.)

5.52 p.m.


My Lords, conciseness and clarity have always been a virtue of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, who has asked us this afternoon to give a Second Reading to this Bill, and this speech has been no exception. We are grateful to him for the small amount of time he has taken and for the information he has given us. I shall try to follow his excellent example. I think the noble Lord's last words were very appropriate. We on this side of the House will give every support to this Bill, because we hope that it will do something to militate against one of the greatest social scourges of the day, the appalling death on the roads of this country. Unfortunately, there is a growing number of accidents where young children are concerned. I am going to resist the temptation to go into the road accident problem too deeply to-day, because I shall be inviting your Lordships to discuss this in all its aspects in the near future.

Although we have some criticisms, we welcome this Bill. I suppose there is cause for congratulation to the Government for at last attempting to produce a Bill of their own, instead of leaving it to energetic Back-Benchers to produce one for them, though perhaps that comment has to be tempered somewhat, because this Bill only legislates, at long last, for what has been going on for a long time, as the noble Lord himself said. I am glad that the central authority have decided that this matter is of such importance that they should take it under their wing. I hope the noble Lord will not mind my saying that I think that in all matters of road safety the local authorities in this country have been sadly remiss. They certainly have been remiss with these school crossing patrols. The noble Lord said that about seventy local authorities have school crossing patrols.


In England and Wales.


In England and Wales: Scotland I hesitate ever to criticise, so I will leave it out of my point. I believe that I am right in saying that there are about 500 local authorities who have the power to put on school crossing patrols.


have not the figure by me, but I think that seventy local authorities in England and Wales is about 50 per cent. I think it is as good as that. I think 500 is a high figure.


It is a moot point which authorities have had the power to have school crossing patrols. It is one of my criticisms; that it is not clear who has the authority under this Bill. I will net generalise; I will come down to the Bill and start off with the point I have just made. Clause 1 talks of arrangements being made by "the appropriate authority." I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he will give me the definition of "appropriate authority" in this regard. Am I to understand, for example, that a rural district council has not the authority under this Bill to have a school crossing patrol unless it has the authority of the county council? To me that does not seem right. County councils and county borough councils are about the only authorities mentioned in the Schedule. Are the county councils the arbiters of the actions of all the lesser authorities, who, after all, are rate-collecting authorities, with the power of spending public money? Perhaps the noble Lord will answer that point when he comes to speak again.

Subsection (1) of Clause 1 says: Arrangements may be made by the appropriate authority for the patrolling of places where children cross roads.… The words are "may" be made. What happens if the authorities are as remiss in future as they have been in the past? Can the overriding authority force this upon them, or is "may" the operative word in this clause? Is there no sanction if a local authority refuses to operate this Bill? Subsection (1) goes on to say that the places where children cross roads may be patrolled by persons appointed by or on behalf of the appropriate authority, other than police constables. I hope there is going to be some standard. I do not particularly want a highly trained individual, but I certainly think that he should have some minimum physical standard and some mental standard. Is any guidance to be given to local authorities as to whom they appoint? I would stress my agreement with the principle of this Bill, because I think we shall soon have to turn our attention to having part-time traffic wardens to assist the police in traffic control at peak hours at very intricate crossings, like that at Parliament Square, Whitehall and Bridge Street. I am certain that we shall never get enough police to control traffic on our roads while the traffic continues to grow and the roads are not improved. But I certainly think we shall have to have some standard for those appointed as street crossing patrols.

Clause 1 (4) says that the local authority may make an arrangement with the police to carry on the duties of these school crossing patrols. The question I am about to ask may seem rather facetious, but it is not, as I will explain in a moment. If the police authority does take it over, does the policeman remain a policeman, or does he become a school patrol? I ask that, because in the next clause we have the contentious point that a school patrol can stop traffic only by exhibiting a prescribed sign.


It might be helpful if I were to deal with that point now, if the noble Lord is going on to other matters.


I have so many points, to which I am sure the noble Lord has all the answers, that perhaps it would be more helpful if he dealt with them all together. I was going to ask whether a policeman has to carry this prescribed sign. This is one point upon which I criticise this measure strongly. The Bill goes on to stipulate that these patrols shall wear uniform—and I agree with that provision. I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell us that it will be a uniform uniform, and that we shall not have different embellishments on the uniforms for different county councils or local authorities, such as we have in the Army with different regiments. We must get a uniform patrol so that it is easily recognised, like the A.A. scouts, who carry out invaluable work in regard to traffic control.

I am open to conviction, but at the moment I am opposed to the requirement that these patrols must carry this sign. It is an unwieldy object. Anybody who is conducting the operation of regulating traffic needs to have both hands free. In a high wind it is hardly manageable at all. As your Lordships will be aware, it has on the middle of it the word "Stop." The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, knows that when an experienced traffic policeman wishes to stop traffic to allow somebody to cross the road he is not foolish enough to rush out into the middle of the traffic and try to stop the first vehicle. He points to about the sixth vehicle down, and holds up his hand, and the driver of that vehicle knows that he is the one who has to stop. I would ask the noble Lord whether he will give your Lordships a demonstration of how a traffic patrol carrying a sign—some of these signs are about four feet by three feet in size—stops the sixth vehicle down the line. Does he wave the sign over his head; or does he, as they do to-day, walk out into the middle of the road, put up the sign, and try to stop the vehicle already only two feet from him? These are pertinent points. I believe that the policeman needs to have both hands free when controlling traffic, and that this is even more important in the case of the ordinary man or woman—and I take it that we shall have women as well as men patrols; I see no reason why we should not, because we have most efficient policewomen. If they are going to shepherd young children of tender age, who come out of school in their dozens or fifties, then they need both hands free after they have stopped the traffic, to attend to the children crossing the road, in case little Willie takes it into his head to dart somewhere where little Willie should not.

Further, I believe that they should have only elementary training, because these patrols will not be operated at intricate traffic junctions. Right outside the school there is generally a crossing, and the patrols do not have to perform the laborious task that we see performed every day just outside your Lordships' House. I believe that a distinctive uniform and slight, elementary training is far better than having this cumbersome board, to which I was always opposed when I was in the Ministry of Transport, but on which, unfortunately, I was overridden—as I was on a number of other things, incidentally. I can still see the senselessness of it, as I saw it only to-day in driving to your Lordships' House. In one place there was a man with a board about four foot square, and about a mile further on there was a woman with a board about the size of a blotting pad. That was in the Borough of Wandsworth. Perhaps the woman could not manage a big board. Are we going to have boards varying in size according to the different physical characteristics of the patrol? I would ask the noble Lord to give this question serious consideration, because on the Committee stage we may go into it further.

I should also like to know what is meant by "exhibiting a prescribed sign." What is "exhibiting"? If the noble Lord looks at Clause 2 (2) (b), he will see these words: The vehicle shall not be put in motion again so as to reach the place in question so long as the sign continues to be exhibited Exactly what does that mean? Suppose the patrol drops it: is it then being exhibited? Or if the wind blows the sign out of his hands and it falls on the road, has the traffic then the right to proceed over the crossing, irrespective of whether there are children there or not? What is the defence of the motorist? Can he say: "The sign was not exhibited"? If the patrol puts it across his shoulder and walks away with it, is it exhibited? I think that the question as to what is the definition of "exhibiting a sign" is one into which the noble Lord might well look between now and the next stage of the Bill

That is practically all the criticism I have of this Bill. I will not go into the financial side of it, because I am not particularly interested in finance when it comes to road safety. Road safety is a purchasable commodity. All we want to do is to try and convince a Government to spend the money. Any Government willing to spend enough money can overcome the road accident problem of this country to the extent of nearly 80 per cent. When we do get a Government—and I hope this is the sign of awakening—that will put human life arid the saving of human life before money, then we shall solve the road safety problem. I commend this Bill to your Lordships' House, because I believe that this is the first sign of that being done. I hope that there will be no quibble between the local authorities and the Treasury, or between the local authorities and the Home Office or the noble Lord's right honourable friend. The noble Lord is now speaking for the Home Office—the first time in my recollection that the Home Office have had the courage to come and stand at that Despatch Box and talk about road accidents. They generally have their stooge, the representative of the Ministry of Transport, there. If this is the awakening of the Government, we support them to the full on this Bill and we commend it to your Lordships' House for a Second Reading.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to follow the noble Lord who has just sat down and say, on behalf of noble Lords on these Benches, that we support this measure very strongly indeed. There are one or two minor points I wish to raise. One is with regard to the kind of person to be employed. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that what is wanted is someone with a certain amount of training. It appears to me to be a very good job for a person who has retired and is comparatively fit, because it is a job with very long holidays, not very long hours, and a great sense of power because you stop the traffic. I wonder whether it could be generally arranged that the crossings shall be made on the black and white zebra crossings which exist already. Talking as a motorist, and not as a pedestrian, one does not want too many crossings. Secondly, I trust that if this Bill becomes law it, will not mean that the schools will stop teaching children the principles of road safety, because that is more important than making safe crossings. I do not intend to take up your Lordships' time any further, beyond saying that I strongly support the Bill.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, I venture to make a few remarks on this Bill because I am sure your Lordships on all sides of the House will agree that though this is—to use the description of the Minister who introduced it—"a modest Bill," every Bill deserves careful consideration by your Lordships' House before it passes from us. Let me say at the outset that there is absolutely no conflict in my mind, or, I am sure, in the minds of any other noble Lords, about the desirability of cutting down this terrible toll on the roads, both of adults and children. Let me make that quite plain before I make any criticism of this Bill.

I am not clear as to the desirability of setting up a new uniformed force, new offences in law and new penalties at an unstated cost. We as a House have certain severe restrictions in financial matters, but before we pass the Second Reading of this Bill I think we may properly ask the Minister to give us some indication of the additional cost which will have to be borne by the Exchequer for the provisions included in this Bill. It would indeed be strange if we passed a Bill without one word from the Minister as to what is the burden upon the taxpayer of the country. Equally, I am not quite clear on this point. If the present system and the present position of enforcement of stopping motorists at school crossings is, broadly speaking, satisfactory, and is capable, to use the words of the Minister, "of improvement and extension," why should the present system be swept away, as it, is being swept away, and a new system put in its place? As I understand it, the motorist to-day is liable to prosecution under Section 49 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930. That says very clearly: …where any traffic sign being a sign for regulating the movement of traffic…has been lawfully placed on or near any road in accordance with the provisions of the last preceding section, any person driving or propelling any vehicle who…fails to conform to the indication given by the sign, shall be guilty of an offence. That, as I understand it, is the present sanction against the motorist. I think I am entitled to ask the Minister why it is necessary to have a new offence with new penalties. Apparently it is the view of Her Majesty's Government that there is need, not merely for strengthening the existing law but for creating a new offence in law. Since that is the view of the Government, I think we must accept it. But if we do accept that view, I submit that this Bill is not right in its provisions and needs certain amendment.

The Bill creates new specific offences. It imposes, in one direction, higher penalties. But the powers given under the Bill are to be administered by a new uniformed force, and there is not one word in the Bill as to the qualifications which those who make up this force are to have nor is there one word as to the training or standard of training which those administering this force have to attain. I ask the Minister this question: What assurance have we that those who are going to exercise these powers will have the training or the administrative ability to use the power, let us say, of halting a motorist? The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, said that he thought it would be a nice job for somebody in his retiring years. I have taken the trouble, as no doubt your Lordships have, of looking at some of these worthy folk, many of them of considerable age, who are at present carrying these signs across the roads. One I met was a very old gentleman, whose eyesight was admittedly deficient. Lord Nelson, with one eye, commanded a fleet with great success, but I do not think that somebody with two weak eyes is necessarily capable of stopping motor cars in a proper and authoritative manner. Another gentleman I met—a splendid man, and a retired ex-Serviceman—had one leg, and he hobbled across the road holding the sign. I believe that the Government should give some indication of the standards of physical fitness required for these patrols. I submit to your Lordships that a physical condition such as that which I have just mentioned is not suitable for a man who is to be in charge of children crossing the road.

Again, what experience have these people of judging the speed of motor cars? To use not a very good word, but one coined by one of Her Majesty's Ministers, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. Mr. Gurney Braithwaite: What knowledge of "roads-manship" have the members of this new uniformed force to have? Why do we have traffic police? It is because the technical problems of motoring, and seeing that motorists conform to the law, are matters which those who understand cars and who deal with motor cars and motorists are particularly qualified to look after. It will be very different in future if a motorist is to be reported by a member of this new force, and brought before the courts on the complaint that he has not stopped properly. It seems to me that it will create a difficult position in the courts if a motorist is to be told that he has not stopped properly. If his defence is that he was not given proper time to stop, it seems to me that it will be a very difficult thing if evidence is given for the prosecution by one or more of these uniformed officers. I believe that these people should have some training, however elementary, "roadsmanship" and should have some reasonable physical qualifications.

The Minister, in introducing this Bill, said there were points of detail to be dealt with on Committee stage. I agree. But I submit to your Lordships that these are points of principle and not points of detail. The qualifications and training of those who are to administer the new powers which will be given to this new force is surely a matter of Second Reading principle. I ask the Minister if, in his reply, he will give an undertaking that Her Majesty's Government will study this Bill before it comes before your Lordships again, and see whether the matters which I have dealt with—qualifications and fitness—cannot be incorporated in the Bill. Alternatively, I make this suggestion. This is not a great political measure, and there is no Party issue in it. If he is unable to do what I have suggested, would he consider adjourning the Second Reading? We do not want to lose the Bill, but it might perhaps be adjourned to another date if he is not able to give the pledge for which I have asked. I submit (it will be for the House to say whether they agree with me or not) that the principles of the Bill are inadequate, and that it would be wrong to give these unspecified powers to an untrained and unqualified force at an unspecified cost to the taxpayer.

6.23 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened with great attention to what the Minister has told us about this Bill, but he made no reference to the vital point which has just been touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. The constitution of the new force which it is proposed to set up is, as Lord Balfour said, a matter of absolute principle. Here is an entirely new force; but there is no word, as Lord Balfour pointed out, with regard to the training of that force or the experience and qualifications which are going to be asked of those who compose it. This is not a matter for amateurs. The control of traffic to-day is far too complicated a thing to be entrusted to amateurs; and I submit that if we are to have a strange species of officer—an officer who is not a policeman and not a traffic warden but is altogether a new kind of man—we must pay attention to the importance of training.

I think that such an official must be expected to be reasonably bright mentally, he must have a reasonable standard of physical fitness, and he must have a certain amount of proper training. As I have said, and indeed as Lord Lucas pointed out so ably, the traffic policeman of to-day is not just an ordinary policeman sent out on duty; he is a man who has had and must have a certain amount of training. For example, when a road is slippery and conditions are bad it is not easy to pull up a great, heavy lorry. It is certainly not as easy as when the road is dry. There is; no assurance that the people who are to compose this force are going to pay much regard to considerations of that sort. We all know the extraordinary difficulties of driving large lorries and buses, let alone smaller vehicles such as motor cars and the like, in modern traffic conditions.

I think the noble Lord must really tell us much more about how these people are going to be selected and trained and what sort of equipment they are going to use. It is essential that people who are going to join this force should have standardised equipment. Motor vehicles to-day go from one end of the country to the other, and it is no use a driver expecting to find a man having the same equipment as is used in his own area if local authorities all over the country are going to use different kinds of equipment. It is essential that the driver of a vehicle, when he sees one of these men, should know exactly what he is and what his functions are. If the noble Lord wants suggestions as regard equipment, I would suggest that a white Sam Browne belt, as worn in some countries abroad, is as good a thing as anything else. In any event, it is most important that the driver should know at what sort of officer he is looking.

There are many points of a similar character in this Bill to which I should like to refer, but I do not want to enlarge upon them. There is, however, one matter that I wish to mention, and that is the question of scholar patrols. Two years ago I was in Copenhagen at a big conference. We were invited to go out one morning and see what the police and authorities of Copenhagen were doing in order to reduce child casualties near schools. I was very busy at the moment and was unwilling to go, thinking that it might be a waste of time—but I have never been more wrong. We were taken to various schools in Copenhagen. The schools there are of much the same size as and very much like the London County Council schools. Each of us had attached to him a policeman who spoke the language of his country, for we all came from different countries. I had an English-speaking policeman attached to me. He took me to an enormous school and there I saw a very wonderful thing.

They choose at each of these schools the senior girls and the senior boys in the school. They receive a certain amount of training from the police force; lectures and so forth are given them. Then they take turn and turn about—the girls one week and the boys another. They arrive at the school five minutes before lessons are due to begin and they leave school five minutes before lessons are due to end. They man all the crossings within half a mile of the school. This is going on all over Copenhagen—some of your Lordships may have seen it. There is one at the dispatch end and one at the receiving end of each crossing. They are intended not to control the traffic but to watch it, and when it is safe for the children to cross, they let them cross. They hold out their arms until it is safe; when they drop their arms it means that the children can go across.

The effect of this system in Copenhagen was that the police admitted that whereas there had been thirty-two casualties in the city among children going to and from school, there were only two casualties in the first year after this system was put in force. The police were quite disappointed with that figure and hoped that it would be less still in the next year. I am afraid, however, that it was not less—it rose by two, in fact, making four in all—but that represented a wonderful reduction in the casualty rate in that particular city. I had the opportunity of talking to the boys and the girls who were doing this duty, and I found that they took enormous interest in it; they loved it. They were given a certain amount of real responsibility and they treated this duty as children will treat things like this, half as a jolly good game and half with great seriousness, because they were so impressed with the responsibility and were keen upon it. It is of interest to know that this scholar patrol system has also been adopted in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Denmark, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland and the United States.

I should like to give one or two figures which illustrate the value of this system in the United States, because that is where the idea originated. For example, in Cincinnati, which is a big city, not a single child has been injured on a school crossing since the patrol system was instituted there twenty-six years ago. Equally, in Chicago in 1921, 205 grade school children were killed going to and from school. School patrols were instituted and the figure came down to 35. Again, in New York, since 1926, when the patrols were organised, the traffic fatalities to children under sixteen years of age have decreased by 80 per cent. through the entire city, notwithstanding an increase of over 100 per cent. in the number of motor vehicles in the city during the same period. There must be some value in a system which produces results like that, and I think it is a matter that we ought to explore here. I believe one school in this country is actually running the scholar patrol system. I think it is at Chesham, and that it is able to show wonderful results. I believe that they have had not a single casualty since they started the system, and there has been improvement all round.

If the various countries to which I have referred can produce these results, we ought to try these methods here; and if we are not to try them I want to know exactly why. I know that police experts in Copenhagen met with a lot of resistance from the school teachers before they were able to start this system there, but they were able to secure the teachers' consent to try it on an experimental basis. We ought to try something of the sort here. But, whatever we do—and this was impressed upon me in Copenhagen—the whole system depends on training. That was reinforced by the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Lucas of Chilworth and Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I submit: to the noble Lord in charge of the Bill that, when he comes here again for a further stage of the Bill, he should tell us a good deal more than he has been able to do so far about this patrol force, the conditions that are going to govern it and how it is to be equipped and trained.

6.32 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry to inflict myself upon you a second time in one afternoon. On this occasion, however, I feel no need to be tactful, conciliatory or statesmanlike and I can be brief, because I am glad to say I have been anticipated in what I was going to say by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. The scholar patrol system was going strongly in Philadelphia when I was there twenty-nine years ago. I have obtained since then, and I think not many years ago I communicated my researches to the House, further information about the system. It is an enormous success in America and there are many people in this country, including a large number of school teachers who have been in America on exchange jobs, who can tell the Ministry of Transport and their colleagues in the National Union of Teachers what an amazing success the scholar patrol system is.

There is one most important point in connection with the scholar patrol system: the scholars are not given any authority whatever to control traffic. That is vital. Their sole job is to control children and to keep the children back until it is safe for them to cross. Morally, of course, they do control traffic, because any reasonably courteous motorist coming up and seeing the scholar patrol on the edge of the pavement slows down and makes way for it. The relations between motorists and the scholar patrols in the United States are singularly happy and satisfactory.

What are the objections to adopting that system here? It has been represented that it is dangerous for the children. Can anybody tell me that English traffic is worse than the traffic of New York? Then we are told that it is bad for the children's nerves. I have myself taught American children and I can assure your Lordships that their nervous systems are no better than the English child's nervous system. Then what other objections there can be towards the adoption of the scholar patrol system in our secondary schools, I cannot imagine. It is no trouble for the teachers to arrange, and the children enjoy doing, it. Admittedly, that system would not serve in the primary schools, the schools where the children attend only up to the age of eleven plus. There I admit at once the necessity to employ adult patrols. But I still doubt very much whether it is advisable to give those adult patrols power to control traffic, as is done under Clause 2of the Bill. I believe, with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that that is a most dangerous expedient and one which we should do well to think about many times before adopting. I beg that the House will adopt the advice of the noble Lord. Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and secure that the Second Reading of this Bill be postponed until the Minister has had time to reconsider the matter: and I hope that that further consideration will include a trip to New York.


My Lords, I shall intervene for only one moment to say that, before this debate and still more since this debate and the facts which have been brought before your Lordships' House, the subject has seemed to me of such importance and so vital in the interests of the children themselves that I, for one, would warmly endorse the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that it should receive far fuller consideration than clearly has been given to it already. Therefore I would join him in appealing to Her Majesty's Government to give the consideration that has been asked for, reinforced by the arguments and the facts that have been brought before your Lordships' House.


My Lords, I had intended to inflict myself upon your Lordships at some length this afternoon, but I am glad to say that, thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and the noble Earls, Lord Howe and Lord Iddesleigh, I am going to let you off. All I want to say now is that I agree with every word that they have said, and particularly with the words that fell from the noble Lord. Lord Balfour. He expressed the hope that he could have the support of the House. I want him to know that at any rate, am slap behind him.

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, had come to this House not expecting that a Bill like this would have any doubts raised about it. We hear of the road casualties to children, and here is one method which promises some limited amount of success in reducing the toll of casualties. The opposition that has been expressed by a number of noble Lords seems to me, with great respect, to be based largely on a misconception. In the first place, if I understand it aright, this Bill does not introduce any new system—it gives legal sanction to a practice that has been going on for three years and more. Noble Lords must have seen school crossing patrols in operation for two or three years past. We know that a number of local authorities have had them in operation, and, speaking for myself, I have heard of no complaints, no casualties, no accidents caused by errors of judgment on the part of the patrols: in fact there is nothing to get frightened about. This Bill merely endorses and gives legal power to an experiment which has been going on for a number of years—long enough to give a good idea of its success and practicability.

Noble Lords who speak, possibly, from the motorists' angle surely misjudge or under-estimate the common sense, reinforced by the instinct for self-preservation, of the average citizen of this country. It would not be a very wild statement to say that anybody who has reached middle age now, and has survived, and is sound in all his limbs, has a pretty good road sense. To suggest that elderly people, one-legged people or people who do not drive cars themselves are not fit persons to be given the power to stop traffic seems to me to be giving a completely false idea of this system and what is intended by it. I know one or two of the patrols and I think that the fears expressed by noble Lords are greatly exaggerated. Broadly speaking these patrols do exercise common sense. Above all, they exercise a sense of responsibility for the lives of the children under their charge. They have a standardised uniform and equipment, which must be well known to your Lordships—namely, a blue cap and a white mackintosh and white sign. To suggest that there is any danger in this project is, I suggest with great respect, most misguided. We cannot afford to overlook or to neglect any method which promises to reduce road casualties. I hope that the Government will be firm and that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading to-day. Any Committee details can be dealt with in the usual way.

6.44 p.m.


My Lords, I rise only to say a word or two about this matter. I hope that the Government will secure the Second Reading to-day and proceed with the Bill as rapidly as possible. I have listened to the objections to this Bill. I do not say for a moment that they are not worthy of consideration. For instance, I appreciate that it is necessary to have suitable people to carry out these duties; and I appreciate also that it may be desirable to try an experiment with school children carrying out these duties. But there is nothing in this Bill to prevent that. On the question of getting suitable people to act as school crossing patrols, I would point out that this Bill is permissive: it does not compel local authorities to appoint patrols. But where they do, surely local authorities who are accustomed to employing people (sometimes we think that they are over-employing people) will employ people who are suitable for the purpose. You do not normally put into a measure giving powers to a local authority to carry out their duties a clause that they must employ suitable people and must ensure that these people are properly trained. We take that for granted in the case of responsible bodies like local authorities, and I think we may assume that if they exercise these powers, they will employ the right kind of people. Moreover, there is nothing in this Bill which would prevent the experiment which the noble Earl, Lord Howe, would wish to introduce into this country. What he has told us is very impressive, and one would like to see an experiment carried out somewhere. But I do not think that that is a reason for holding up this Bill. I regard it as urgent, and I think any noble Lord who seeks to hold up the passage of the Bill is not rendering a service in the interests of the safety of our school children.

6.47 p.m.


My Lords, as I promised at the beginning, I shall do my best to deal with lie not inconsiderable number of points which have been raised by various noble Lords. I had hoped at the beginning that the general wish would be to support this Bill in principle and, in purpose. But various noble Lords have dealt with it in detail and there seems very little of the principle left. Nevertheless, when I come to reply to the speech of my noble friend Lord Balfour, I hope that I may be able to put his mind at rest about one or two items in regard to which I think he is under a misapprehension. Perhaps I may he able to make a suggestion to him which he may find himself able to accept.

I should like to begin with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who said that he supported the principle of the Bill and that he was glad that at last (I hope I use his words) the central authority was taking this matter under its wing. He did not think much, I gather, of what local authorities had done in this matter in the past. Well, whatever they may have done in the past, I can say this to the noble Lord: I hope that in the future this Bill will make them more conscious of this problem. I do not say this with certainty, but to the best of my knowledge there are indications that a further sixty authorities will now consider running the patrol system. The noble Lord mentioned a figure of 500 authorities. I do not know quite what figure he has in mind. The total number of local authorities affected in England and Wales is 155. Seventy-three already operate the patrol system, and if this further sixty also operate it, as we hope they may, the noble Lord will see that we shall be making very satisfactory progress in this matter.


In mentioning the figure of 500, I was including all the rural district councils and urban district councils—the whole of the local authorities of the country.


I hope the noble Lord will agree that this Bill will have achieved something useful if we make that progress. The noble Lord then went on to deal with the first clause of the Bill. He questioned the use of the words "may appoint." He asked, did that mean "may appoint" or "shall appoint"; and if so, was there a sanction? The answer is that the clause means exactly what it says—it means "may appoint." The Government's feeling about this matter, quite frankly, is this—indeed, this is the thought behind the whole conception of this Bill—that, on the whole, despite what the noble Lord has said, we do treat the local authorities as responsible people and people who have this matter just as much at heart as we have. And we believe that it is better to treat them in that way instead of using the big stick, and saying, "You must do this: you must do that. You must run your affairs this way; you must run your affairs that way." We believe it is better to do it by persuasion. To that extent this is an enabling Bill. As I have explained there are already indications that a further sixty authorities are going to undertake to establish school patrols. Therefore, I claim that that is a certain justification for the method we have adopted.

The noble Lord referred to the question of standards in the selection of patrols. That is a matter which I think I will deal with at the same time as I deal with the remarks on the subject by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe. Both those noble Lords dealt with the same point. Of course, we all appreciate that this is a very important matter. But I must remind your Lordships that some speeches which have been made here this afternoon would tend to give anyone the impression that this was an entirely new system which is being introduced. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye—and I took his words down—asked: "Why is the present system being swept away; why are we going to have this new system?"


And these new offences.


The present system is not being swept away under this Bill. When the Bill has become an Act, your Lordships will probably find precisely the same people doing precisely the same job. Perhaps the noble Lord's friend with the dim vision will not be doing it, and it may be that he ought not o be doing it; but as to his friend with the wooden leg, woo probably carries out this duty very well, I have no doubt that the noble Lord will still find him there. This is not the introduction of a new code, and a new system.


I am very sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but this is not an enabling Bill. It is a conferring Bill. It confers new powers on a body of men; it creates new offences and new powers.


The noble Lord and I can only disagree on that. With great respect, I do not think that what he says is quite true. Perhaps if I go on for a little longer I shall be able to prove that to him. Your Lordships must remember that this is a system which, on the whole, has proved itself. We are not embarking on a new experiment; it has been in operation for a number of years in some parts of the country. Of course, you can always pick out one individual patrol here and there for criticism. I am not saying that there are no bad ones. But, speaking as one who motors a considerable number of miles over the roads of this country every year, I am surprised how efficient these patrols are, generally speaking. I do not believe that the system, so far, has worked badly.


It has worked very well.


Having said that, I agree that it is important that the people for this work should be selected with some care. And I think they have been so selected in the past. Several noble Lords have said, "Why is not this in the Bill?" Here again, I should like to make the Government's attitude perfectly clear. We have, as I said, treated the local authorities as responsible bodies; and they are responsible bodies, elected by democratic methods. They can be removed after three years if the people do not think they are doing their job properly. Normally, when you impose a responsibility on a person or a corporation you do not, in a Bill, tell him or them exactly how to do the job and exactly who is to be consulted. To do so would be slightly derogatory to them. We are confident that they can be trusted to do the job properly, and we consider that they have done it properly up to now. Our main complaint is that not enough of them have done it. Those who have been doing it have been doing it admirably.


Might I ask the noble Lord whether he does not think that the people to be employed on this duty should have a standardised system of training?


If the noble Earl will forgive me, I am coming to that matter. I think there is a certain difficulty about standardised training. As I have intimated, I do not think you will get ready co-operation and help from local authorities if you are going to tell them the whole time exactly what they have to do and how they are to do it. I think you have to give them a certain latitude. It is a fact, to which I should like to draw the noble Earl's attention, that in the great majority of cases where patrols are being operated the local authorities do, in point of fact, go to the chief of police and get him to decide where these crossings should be and the best way of training the patrols. And in a great many instances the police actually train these patrols. But I think it would be a mistake to force that on local authorities. It may be that some local authorities employ a retired police officer as an instructor, and in such cases they probably do not wish to get rid of him. If you force them to go to the police for their instruction, they would be obliged to get rid of him, and it might well be that he was a man who was doing his job very efficiently indeed. So I do not think we want to make this too rigid. I have sufficient respect for local authorities to believe that if we leave them with this responsibility they will carry it out. Though I yield to none in my recognition of the importance of picking and selecting people for this work with care, I feel that, on the whole, the results which have so far been achieved are a justification for what we are proposing to do now.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, further asked me what is the position of patrols if the police run them. The position is exactly the same as in other cases. The patrols will not be policemen. All that it really means is that the organisation and administration will be carried out by the police, instead of by the local authorities.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for making that clear. I am afraid that I misread this completely. The clause says that: Any arrangements…may include an agreement between the council and the police authority…for the performance by the police authority, on such terms as may be specified in the agreement, of such functions for the purposes of the arrangements as may be so specified. I thought that meant that police officers would act as patrols. I am grateful to the noble Lord for making the matter clear.


It means that the police take over the whole matter, pick the people to act as patrols and train them. But the patrols are not police officers; they are exactly the same sort of people as if the local authorities were operating the system.

The noble Lord also dealt with the matter of uniform. In reply to that, I might perhaps deal with what the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said on the subject of standardisation. I thoroughly agree fiat the whole object of the uniform is Oat there should be what the noble Lord called a "uniform uniform"—that is to say, you want a dress for these patrols which is recognisable by all motorists. This system is for the convenience of motorists.


Including foreign motorists. Perhaps I may be allowed to explain my point. Large numbers of foreign motorists come over to this country every year, bringing their own cars, as we all know, and we want to encourage them, in the interests of touring and the hotel industry and so on. It is important that these patrols should wear a uniform which these foreign motorists also will recognise.


I hardly think we can be expected to have a uniform which foreigners may be accustomed to see in their own country. The noble Earl has suggested that the uniform should include white Sam Brownes, because they are worn in some countries abroad. I am not sure that I would concede that we must follow completely the example of foreigners, for we still have our own ways in this country, but I do not see any reason why we could not have a uniform which all foreigners would recognise. I was interested in my noble friend's suggestion about white Sam Brownes, and I will certainly bring it to the attention of my right honourable friend. The idea is that uniform and equipment should be standardised.

I come, finally, to this vexed question of signs. I suppose that the noble Lord would regard me as an evil and adulterous generation seeking after a sign, and he would not give me one. I am in favour of the sign and not of the noble Lord's system. I think there are good reasons for preferring the sign. If there is anything in the criticisms of my noble friends, that there is a risk of not having sufficiently skilled people on this job, I think the simpler we make the operation the safer it will be for everybody. If we have a standard sign that everybody knows carried by all school crossing patrols, that is the better idea. I think there is a danger in having patrols to control traffic manually. The present system has been a success and I would rather follow up the system that we have. I cannot guarantee to demonstrate to your Lordships how to control traffic with a sign—I think that would be out of order—but a new sign is now being designed which will be lighter and a good deal more portable than the existing one. That, I think, may go some way to meet the noble Lord's point of the unwieldiness of the sign.


Surely it would be in order, subject to the authorities of the House, for the noble Lord to undertake to produce a prototype at the next stage of the Bill. It would be most interesting and instructive for noble Lords to see what this part of the equipment actually is.


I hesitate to give your Lordships an undertaking that the new sign can be produced in time for the next stage of this Bill: it may be too soon. All I can say is that I will do my best; and if the sign is available at that stage, I will see what arrangements can be made to meet the noble Lord's convenience. Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked me for a definition of the word "exhibiting." I think "holding prominently where people can see it" is a good definition: I know of no other. But I will look into the legal side of this to see whether there is any mystery about the word "exhibiting," and I hope that I shall be able on Committee stage to satisfy him about that.

The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, made two points. On his first point about zebra crossings, I agree will him in principle, but I would make the qualification that obviously there would have to be zebra crossings somewhere near the schools, and there may happen not to be crossings at convenient points. I think the more we keep these crossings down the better, but I will draw the attention of my right honourable friend to this point. I agree equally with what the noble Lord said about teaching road safety in schools. The schools must not think that because we are producing an improved system, the need for teaching road safety has ceased, because that is not so.

I should like to say a word or two in reply to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I know the noble Lord does not agree with me about this, but while he is correct in the letter about the new uniformed force, he is not right in spirit. Even if we were to get rid of the uniform the patrols would still be the same people. The reasons why we are giving them uniform are for the greater protection of the motorists and for standardisation. I do not think it is true to say that their powers are increased. The situation is that to-day any citizen can report any motorist to the police if he sees a motorist doing something contrary to the existing law. If, for example, my noble friend drives up to a "Halt" sign at a major road and does not halt but drives straight across, any member of the public standing by can take his number and report the offence to the local police. The local police will then decide whether or not to summon the noble Lord. The patrols have no more power than that. If an offence occurs at a patrolled crossing, all the patrol himself can do is to take the car number and report it to the police. The only difference there may be is that in the case of the "Halt" sign which I mentioned there may not be a witness, but at school crossings there will always be a witness, and the danger to motorists of being apprehended is that much more serious. I do not think the noble Lord's apprehensions about this uniformed force are as serious as he makes out. The existing patrols will be carrying on, and, though I admit they will now have uniforms, they will have exactly the same powers as before.

My noble friend asked me why the Government thought it necessary to create a new offence in this Bill. It is already an offence under the Road Traffic Act, 1930, as amended by the 1934 Act, and all we are doing is to take the offence out of that Act and put it into this Bill, because we hope that in due course we shall have in one Act all the legislation as regards school crossing patrols. I think that is simpler and tidier. The penalty has been increased, but only in London. Under the present Acts the existing penalties in London are £5 for a first offence and, outside London, £20 for a first offence and £50 for a second. Under the Bill the penalties will be £20 for a first offence and £20 for a second offence. So that the offenders inside London will have to pay the same as those outside on the first offence and on the second offence people outside London will be better off, in having to pay only £20 instead of £50. This is such a serious offence that I think it right that the penalty should be fairly stiff, and I hope that my noble friend will not differ from me there.

My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye also said that this new uniformed body would make the position of motorists in the courts quite different. I do not know how the noble Lord works that out, because I think our courts are still conducted in accordance with the laws of evidence and justice. I do not believe that the fact that a man appears in a white mackintosh when he gives his evidence, will make a great deal of difference. I hope not. I am sure the courts will deal with these matters with their customary justice, and I do not believe the noble Lord's fears are really justified.

Finally, my noble friend asked me if I would give an undertaking to put in the Bill itself specific provisions about the training and selecting of personnel. I appreciate his anxiety on this point, but it would not be right if I were to give an undertaking which I could not be certain of carrying out. I do not think he would wish me to do that and certainly I do not wish to do it. What I can say to the noble Lord, as his anxieties have been shared by other noble Lords, is that we will certainly look at the matter. I have told him why, on the whole, I do not wish to fetter local authorities unduly; it is because I do not think it will work best if we do that. But I will draw the attention of my right honourable friend to what he has said. We will look at it, and see whether any provision which would satisfy the noble Lord could be inserted to give him greater guarantees about the question of training and selection, which I gather was the point he had in mind. Of course, that is not an undertaking to put anything in the Bill, but I will undertake to see what can be done.


Would the noble Lord enlarge the undertaking to this extent: that he will give us time between now and the further stages of the Bill, so that, supposing the Government intimate that they are unable to comply with the requests which have come from all quarters of the House, those of us who feel troubled about the matter may have a chance of putting down Amendments? Perhaps he will undertake to give us, through the usual channels, some indication of the deliberations of the Government.


I can certainly give that undertaking to the noble Lord; in fact, if it is of any assistance, I shall be only too glad to consult with him between now and the next stage of the Bill. He asked how much money this will cost. I cannot give him an exact estimate, but the full cost to the Exchequer has been estimated at £80,000 a year—that is, excluding the equalisation grant—and a further £80,000 will have to be met from the rates.

I have dealt with most of the points raised by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, but not the question of scholar patrols, a matter on which he was supported by the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh. The figures which the noble Earl gave were rather impressive, and I hope that what he has said will be studied by local authorities and others concerned with this matter. I would say this to him: that there is nothing in this Bill which would prevent scholar patrols from being organised. The patrols themselves could be school crossing patrols within the meaning of the Bill.


Perhaps it could be harnessed to the Bill.


I am advised that it is possible to have scholar patrols within the framework of the Bill without amending the Bill. The scholar patrol would merely become a school crossing patrol within the meaning of the Bill. Therefore, I do not think anything prevents local authorities from adopting scholar patrols if they desire to do so. I am afraid that I have spoken at some length, but I have done my best to answer all the points raised.


Before the noble Lord concludes, there is one point of importance which I raised and which he has not answered. What is the position of rural district councils, vis-à-vis county councils, as to their authority in this matter?


I beg the noble Lord's pardon. The situation fulfils his worst fears. The county councils are the authorities here. I do not think it would be practicable, on financial and other grounds, to make rural district councils responsible for this particular service.


Perhaps the noble Lord would look at Clause 1 (2).


Also, if the noble Lord locks at Clause 1 (3) he will see that, although they have not power in this matter, rural district councils and others can make representation to the county councils on their particular problems. I trust that that satisfies the noble Lord. I hope that your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.