§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I am indebted to my honourable friend in another place, the Member for Wolver Hampton South West. I think this is a Bill which is absolutely straightforward and one which is wanted by all users of the Queen's highway. The Bill, I feel, needs little explanation from me. The Title is self-explanatory, which is a very good thing, because I regret to say that on many occasions I have been rather bewildered by the Title of a Bill—as perhaps your Lordships have been. This Bill has had a straightforward passage in another place. Nevertheless, my honourable friend hopes that it will have the close scrutiny of your Lordships, not only in detail but in principle. The Bill has the support of the motoring organisations; it has, I think, the support of all users of mechanically propelled vehicles and, I think I am justified in saying, the support of the Pedestrians' Association and the National Cyclists' Union, because it is a very sensible amending Bill.
I will be very brief in dealing with the details. Clause 1 seeks to amend the Road Transport Lighting Act, 1927, so as to extend the circumstances under which the Minister may, by regulation, exempt vehicles, when parked, from the full lighting requirements of the Act. The effect of Section 1 (2) of the 1927 Act is that vehicles at present may be parked on roads at night only if they show their obligatory side and rear lamps. The curious thing is that the obligatory rear lamp requires a motorist to illuminate his number plate when the vehicle is parked, which seems a rather senseless thing, because when the vehicle is at the side of the road anyone can go and look at its number. The principal objects of the amendment now proposed are to empower the Minister to authorise the parking of vehicles at night, illuminated by what are termed parking lamps, in streets where there is a system of street lighting, or unlit on road verges. The form adopted here has been to extend the powers provided by the 1927 Act rather more widely. In common 1188 parlance, the parking lamp means a single lamp of small wattage, on the side of the vehicle, showing a white light to the front and a red light to the rear of the vehicle. It is very useful, because battery drain in the hours of darkness can cause a great deal of trouble. It is even possible, if a car—or indeed any vehicle—is used in the winter months with the consequent heavy drain on the battery from starting under cold conditions, that the lights may go out completely if all the three lights are put on during the hours of darkness.
These parking lamps that I have mentioned are in common use now in London and other cities, as well as in many countries outside these Islands, and the provision that parking without full lights should be permitted within 100 yards of a street lamp is related to the definition in Section 1 of the Road Traffic Act, 1934, which defines for the purpose of the speed limit what is a built-up area. I think I had better read the provision to your Lordships. It says:… a length of road shall be deemed to be a road in a built-up area—It was felt that the words now proposed in this amending Bill would be clearer and simpler as a definition, for instance, in a street with a single lamp; but in fact except in streets where a direction has been issued exempting them from the speed limit (this, I am afraid, is very technical) it would generally come to much the same thing. The definition of streets where parking lamps would be permissible in terms of the existence or the contrary of street lamps would, we feel, lead to administration or enforcement difficulties, especially in border-line cases.
- (a) if a system of street lighting furnished by means of lamps placed not more than two hundred yards apart is provided thereon, …"
Clause 2 seeks to apply the Road Transport Lighting Act of 1927 to trolley vehicles. At the present time, lighting regulations on trolley vehicles are laid down in safety regulations; they are very similar to those of the ordinary public service vehicle, but there are some differences. Without going into a great deal of detail, I would say that it is felt logical and reasonable that, in the matter of lighting, trolley services should be made subject to the same regulations as 1189 other public service vehicles. The practical advantages, of course, of having central lighting regulations for trolley buses would be that any amendment could more conveniently be effected. The present arrangement would mean amendment of individual regulations for each undertaking. The third clause is purely formal. If I can explain anything further I shall be happy to do so. I commend this Bill to your Lordships and I beg to move that it be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Waleran.)
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, on behalf of noble Lords on these Benches I should like to say that we offer no opposition to this Bill. There will be opportunities at a later stage to go into detail, and in view of that I will say no more than that we on these Benches support this Bill.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, I am glad to say that the Government welcome this Bill which is now presented to your Lordships for Second Reading. As the noble Lord, Lord Waleran, has explained with great lucidity, it falls into two parts, and I should like to express the Government's attitude to these two parts in turn. Clause 1 of the Bill, as my noble friend has explained, seeks to give the Minister of Transport wide powers to exempt vehicles from the full lighting requirements of the Road Vehicles Lighting Acts when these vehicles are parked. My right honourable friend the Minister is not in a position now to say what use he would make of these powers; more particularly he is not prepared to argue in detail the case for or against the use of parking lamps. I am quite sure noble Lords will appreciate that many consultations are necessary with those concerned, and especially, of course, with the Home Office and the police, before the Minister will be in a position to declare whether or how he is ready to give effect by regulation to the permissive power which is here proposed. Until this is done the Government must reserve its final position. Nevertheless, without at this stage giving any undertaking, the Government do not wish to resist the grant of the power proposed.
1190 It is fully recognised that in some circumstances, and subject to a number of conditions, the use of parking lamps may prove to be a useful contribution to road safety. It is in line with a growing practice on the part of the public, of course not legal, and it has been successfully tried abroad. The possibility of legalising these lamps has been under examination from time to time in the Ministry of Transport for several years and opinion has not been unfavourable, subject again to a number of safeguards. These would cover such matters as limitation of the classes of vehicles to which the relaxation might apply, the place in which vehicles might be parked, and perhaps also the times at which they might be so parked. The clause as now proposed would permit the Minister to lay down safeguards of this kind, if on consideration he decided to use the power.
Noble Lords will, I am sure, realise that there are many difficulties to be overcome; for instance, by defining parking places in relation to street lamps, the Bill might automatically open the door to the parking of vehicles on trunk roads or other places where the single parking lamp would be inadequate. Moreover it would clearly be quite impossible to mark all streets throughout the length and breadth of the country where parking within 100 yards of a street lamp was not to be permitted. This is an example of the kind of difficulty which in our opinion inspires caution on this matter, but these difficulties are not necessarily insurmountable. As was stated in another place, if this power is granted, we shall be glad to promise an early and thorough re-examination of the whole question of parking lamps; but until that is done I cannot state to noble Lords what use, if any, would be made of the proposed additional powers.
I should, however, add—and I feel this is important—that it is not the intention of the Government to use these powers to permit any extension of the all-too-prevalent practice of parking vehicles on the roads unlit. An exception might be made in the case of vehicles parked on road verges, to which reference is made in Clause 1. While reserving the Government's final position, I can promise that this question also will be examined, together with the question of parking lamps.
1191 As regards Clause 2, to which my noble friend has referred, the Government welcome the proposed change which is logical and will help simplify procedure over trolley buses. I see no need for me to discuss the merits of this clause in detail, since they have already been put before you clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Waleran. I will content myself, therefore, by making one point. Under the present system, the individual regulations for each trolley bus undertaking have to be amended separately, if there is any change in the law with regard to vehicle lighting. As noble Lords will be aware, very substantial changes in the law on this subject are now being made under the Bill which the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, recently introduced into your Lordships' House, and which is now awaiting the Royal Assent. The clause now before your Lordships will save a great deal of trouble which would otherwise have resulted from that Bill, and in my opinion the Bill comes at a very fortunate time. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will feel able to give this Bill a Second Reading.
My Lords, may I thank your Lordships for your attention, for your silence, which I understand connotes consent, and for the speech by the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, saying that they look upon the Bill with favour, if with reservations.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.