HL Deb 07 May 1953 vol 182 cc335-48

3.41 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I rise to move the Second Reading of this Bill, which does not deal with herrings, whether white or red, but with red rear lights on motor vehicles. Before dealing with what is in the Bill, perhaps I may say a sentence or two briefly with regard to the background. We had a very welcome reduction of road accidents during the course of last year. Unfortunately, that reduction in the rate of road accidents is not being maintained, and the figures for January, February and March of this year were all worse than for the respective months of last year, and I am told that April is coming out just as badly. The toll on the roads of people killed and injured each year is really quite appalling, although by now we seem to be getting far too used to it and not treating it as the frightful problem which it really is. In my submission to your Lordships, therefore, any step, especially if it is an agreed step, that Parliament can take to help solve this problem, in whole or even in part, should be welcomed by all.

The steps which the Bill seeks to take have been agreed to in another place. I have read the whole of the proceedings of what took place there, and there was not a single Division upon this Bill. On the other hand, this Bill, as indeed would be expected in the case of a Private Member's Bill, attempts to deal with only a small part of the road accident problem. Those of us who take an interest in accident prevention all hope that in the Government programme of legislation for next Session time may be found for a larger and more comprehensive Bill dealing with these matters. This Bill does not attempt to do that—it would not be fitting if a Private Member's Bill did, and if any private Member had attempted a comprehensive Bill in another place it would probably not have reached here. But when I tell your Lordships that research has shown that some 3,400 casualties a year are caused, in whole or in part, by inadequate tail lights or rear lighting of road vehicles, your Lordships may think it right to give your support to a measure which I do not say will eliminate all these accidents but certainly will tend to decrease them.

To come now to the Bill: what the clauses attempt to do is as follows. Clause 1 will require "two unobscured and efficient" red rear reflectors to be carried on all road vehicles which are what I may term of two-wheel width. In this, I except tricycles—there are not very many of them, and it is often an exception that makes the rule—but all motorcars, motor lorries and motor buses will have to carry these two red reflectors, and motorcycles without sidecar and pedal cycles will have to carry one. This will operate as from October 1, 1954, which will give ample time for owners to have the extra fittings added. At the same time, that part of the Road Transport Lighting (Cycles) Act, 1945, which requires pedal cycles and tricycles to have a white surface on their mudguards is to be repealed. The comparatively small areas of white surface involved now appear, after experiment, not to give any effective extra safeguard, and I am told that the technical advisers of the Ministry have come to the conclusion that that is an unnecessary provision. If it gives a false sense pf security, it is better repealed rather than that people should be put to the trouble of painting these surfaces white when, in effect, they do no good.

The main reason for providing for two red rear reflectors on motorcars and lorries, and one reflector on motorcycles and pedal cycles, is to provide a useful safeguard when the lights fail. This compulsory provision of two reflectors has been recommended by the Standing Joint Committee of the R.A.C., the A.A., and the Royal Scottish Automobile Club, and was laid down by the International Convention on Road Traffic of 1949. I myself inquired why it was necessary to have two reflectors as well as two red lights. It may occur to some noble Lords that it is rather like the man who holds his trousers up not only with a pair of braces but with a belt as well. I am told it is because of the International Convention of 1949. Any cars used internationally—that is, in more than one country; and this applies to lorries too—on going abroad may be subject to the provisions to which the late Government agreed when they signed that Convention, which I am told it is thought soon to ratify. If we sign a Convention, it is just as well that we should do something about it. That is the reason why, between the time when this Bill was originally introduced in another place and its coming here, the Ministry draftsmen have taken a hand and this extra provision has been Put in. In regard to the reflector on pedal cycles and tricycles, Parliament agreed in the Act of 1945 dealing with this problem that every bicycle and tricycle should have such a reflector from such time as the Minister of Transport, by Order, brought that provision into force. It has not been brought into force by Order in Council. I think that these reflectors and other materials were in short supply then. But if this Bill is passed into law in this form, it will take the matter out of the hands of the Minister and set a definite date when every bicycle and tricycle has to be so equipped.

Clause 2 requires all vehicles, except pedal cycles, tricycles and solo motor cycles, to carry two red rear lamps, in a clean and efficient condition. Motor cycles with sidecars will have to carry two also: at present the whole of this category need carry only one. Here, it is left to the Minister to say from what date this clause shall be effective, and he can make the timing different for various classes of vehicle. It will obviously take longer to bring this provision into effect because there is more work involved than in merely putting on reflectors; but I believe it is contemplated—as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry said in another place—that it will be made operative as from January 1, 1954, for new vehicles, and from October 1, 1957, for those already on the roads.

Clause 3 requires that loads projecting to the rear of a vehicle shall be indicated at night by a red rear lamp within three feet six inches of the rearmost part of the overhanging load. Up till now the distance has been six feet, but of course the nearer to the end the lamp is placed the less likelihood there is of an accident. This clause also provides that loads which overhang the sides by more than a distance to be laid down by the Minister have to be indicated by a red lamp, carried in a position which will also be prescribed. Under Section 7 of the 1927 Act laterally projecting loads of more than twelve inches beyond the centre of the nearest front side lamp have already to carry an extra or substituted white light pointing to the front. Of course, it is just as important to have an extra indication to the rear for approaching cars, and that is provided for by the clause with which I am now dealing. This is a new provision, but it follows a recommendation of a Working Party on the construction of road vehicles which met recently in Geneva, under the auspices of the Economic Commission for Europe.

Clause 4 legalises the use of white reversing lights to such an extent as may be specified by the Minister. Under Clause 2 (2) of the 1927 Act, it has previously been illegal for one to show a white light at the rear of a motor car, except in the exceptional cases which are allowed on passenger vehicles, such as buses, of a light indicating the destination of the bus. I am glad to think that this clause will become law—at least I hope it will—because I am one of those who try to observe the law, and I must frankly admit that since I bought my last car every time I have reversed at night on a public highway I have apparently been committing an offence, because the light automatically comes on as one goes into reverse. That is very convenient, and it is a great safeguard when one is backing, but at the present moment it is illegal to use it. I imagine that some of my colleagues in this House who have been able to buy new cars since these devices have been fitted have also been guilty of a technical offence, and I shall be glad if this Bill restores them as well as myself to the category of completely law-abiding citizens. Clause 5 is the normal clause providing for Negative Resolutions of each House. Clause 6 is purely formal.

Let me conclude by saying that this Bill has the backing of motor manufacturers as well as of other sections of the motoring industry. Of course, the Bill will impose some small new obligations on those who own any type of motor vehicle and on those who own pedal cycles and tricycles. But when one considers that all and every one of these people may cause damage to others by the lack of these appliances on their vehicles, and that all and every one of them may themselves find that they are among the casualties because of inadequate rear lighting on their vehicles, I cannot think that there will be much objection to taking these small additional safety precautions. In any case, I am sure that all your Lordships will be glad to help in taking this extra step towards road safety, and I hope will help this measure through. My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill.

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

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, any Bill that comes before your Lordships' House and which in any way tends to mitigate the dreadful tragedy of road accidents will receive the support of every noble Lord in this House. And when a Bill comes before your Lordships' House with the august god-parentage of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, I am sure that it commands the greatest possible respect. Speaking, as Lord Llewellin does, from his eminent position as the President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, I think the sponsor of this Bill in another place is fortunate to have the noble Lord as his advocate here. I am very conscious of the difficulties that beset private Members in producing Bills. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, will not mind if I ask him a few questions as I proceed to make a somewhat critical examination of the Bill. First and foremost, this Bill is just a mass of words. It is legislation by reference, legislation by delegation. I have spent some time trying to unravel the cross-references, the references to all the other multiplicity of Acts which concern the user of a motor-vehicle to-day, but I am afraid I have been lost in the maze.

Before I address myself to this Bill, I must say that I share with the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, the apprehension and, in fact, the dismay that is felt by everybody who has the slightest interest in what I have always considered to be the greatest social problem we have to-day—that is the death and injury accident rate on the roads—at the fact that, just when we felt we were making progress, we have had a setback. I am forced to the conclusion that one of the principal reasons for that setback is that the enforcement of the existing law has not, in recent months, been what it was some time ago. The Bill which the noble Lord has presented deals with a very great problem, but I cannot help thinking, supporter as I am of the measure—and noble Lords on this side of the House are going to support this Bill—that before we proceed to clutter up the Statute Book with more laws we should at least see that those now in existence are reasonably well enforced.

One of the laws of this country that has fallen into contempt, almost as much as the 20 miles an hour limit on commercial vehicles, is that relating to rear lighting, particularly as it applies to some of the older vehicles on the roads of this country. I will hazard a guess that if the present law were enforced more rigidly the diminution of the accident rate—and the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has quoted the figures—would be substantial. One has only to travel on the main trunk routes of this country at night time to see some of these old, dilapidated commercial vehicles, of pre-war vintage, with practically no rear lights at all. I stopped at a certain place in this country only a month ago, after I had been following a commercial vehicle that had no rear lights at all. I stopped at the same country town where this vehicle had pulled up in the market place, and I went up and examined its rear lamp. I could see that the connection of that rear lamp had not been in operation for months. It was coated with mud and rust and the wire was hanging down like a piece of string.

I know what great difficulties the police have to contend with at the present time: they have my admiration as well as my sympathy—and here my sympathies go out also to the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, who has to answer for the Ministry of Transport. The Ministry have no authority in this matter. They can take steps which result in the Statute Book being cluttered up with more laws and more regulations, but they have no power to enforce them. If the existing law were enforced to a greater degree, I do not think it would be necessary to add so greatly to the multiplicity of Acts and regulations governing the lighting of road vehicles. I mist also say that if there is one piece of legislation that is quite out of date it is the Road Traffic Act, 1934. And while I commend the assiduity of the private Member in another place who brought this Bill forward, in my view, it is only piecemeal legislation, and piecemeal legislation by reference and by delegation. What is wanted is a comprehensive survey and re-enactment of the legislation which controls the use of vehicles on the roads of this country.

As I have said, this Bill will receive the support of noble Lords on this side of the House. But I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell us why the whole of the recommendations of the Joint Committee on the Lighting of Vehicles, and the Standing Committee of the R.A.C. and the Convention he mentioned have not been accepted. Good though this Bill is, it touches only the fringe of the problem. The Bill, as originally presented in another place, while it provided that motor cars had to carry two rear lights, did not provide that they were to carry two red reflectors. During the passage of the Bill through another place, that clause was taken out and a new clause put in. I understand from the noble Lord that the modern motor car will now have to carry two rear lights and two red reflectors. Far be it from me to criticise the manufacturer of the modern motor vehicle, or those who make its lighting equipment; but when we go along the roads of this country at night, motor cars with their multiplicity of lights wink at us and blink at us. They pass us, and they pull up; and the present design of motor cars being what it is, when anyone gets out it is like someone emerging from the belly of a whale—like Jonah, as it were, getting out by a side exit. The modern car has lights on the front and lights on the back. We shall soon get into a condition of things so that when driving along the Great West Road the dazzle of lights from the rear of motor cars will be almost as had as the dazzle of white lights from the front of them.

If I read this Bill correctly—the noble Lord must forgive me if I have got lost in the maze—the very vehicles which have been a positive danger on the road at night seem to escape. Would the noble Lord tell your Lordships how and where the two rear lights and the two red reflectors are to be fitted on a timber-carrying vehicle, where the trunks of the timber stretch out for perhaps 10 or 12 feet beyond the end of the vehicle? If that vehicle turns a corner the swing of the overhang demands—if this problem is going to be solved—not only rear reflectors but side reflectors as well. The noble Lord from his own experience, and his experience as President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, knows that in the case of these trailers it is not enough to have rear lighting and rear reflectors within 3 feet 6 inches of the end of the load. But if there is a showman's vehicle with two trailers, 20-odd feet behind the propelling vehicle, it reeds red reflectors studded all along the sides of these vehicles. I understand that a Standing Committee of the R.A.C. and the A.A. made recommendations on this matter, but they have not been included in the Bill. The Committee also recommended that there should be reflectors at the top of abnormally high loads.

I hope that I shall not be accused of damning this measure by faint praise. So far as it goes, it is good. But, if we are going to make a serious attempt to legislate for the rear lighting of vehicles, I suggest to the Government that it is no part of the duty of a private Member to introduce such legislation: it is the duty of the Minister of Transport to bring before Parliament comprehensive legislation, dealing not only with the rear lighting of vehicles but with the front lighting as well. I hope that will be done in the, not too distant future. I notice that the, noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, said that we are to have new legislation in the next Session.


No, my Lords, I did not say that. I said that many of us are hopeful that we shall have legislation. It is not for me to say what the Government's programme will be.


I would suggest that it is not for the noble Lord to say whether the Government will ever have another Session.


I do not mind saying that with a great deal of confidence.


That is an arguable point.

I am glad to see, if we can believe the Press, that the Ministry of Transport are at last to introduce legislation to control the pedestrian. I commend their courage. In season and out, over a number of years, I have said that we shall never effectively tackle this question of road accidents until we control the pedestrian and, also, the cyclist. I have been waiting for a Government to have sufficient courage to do so. No Government in the history of this country over the last thirty years have treated the question of road accidents seriously. There is no question of political Party about this—noble Lords opposite need not laugh: their record is as bad as that of any other Government. I have been waiting for the Government to put money second to human life, and to show courage in place of political expediency. Only when they have the courage to court political disfavour, by regulating all those who use the roads shall we cease to have such disappointments as the noble Lord and I have to-day, the disappointment of seeing, after all the efforts that have been made, that road accidents are beating us. Perhaps the noble Lord will consider whether or not on Committee stage we should try to give the Bill a few more "teeth." I am perfectly prepared to accept his advice on this matter. As it is, the Bill is good; but it is good only in a very minor way. I should like to say, on behalf of noble Lords on this side of the House, that we shall support the Motion for Second Reading.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords in rising to support this Bill I should like to say that is it very necessary, especially the obligation in Clause 2 that vehicles should have a second rear light. There are one or two points that I should like to ask my noble friend. Subsection (2) of Clause 2 says: The Minister may by regulations prescribe the conditions to be complied with by lamps carried on vehicles… I hope one of the conditions laid down will be that the second rear lamp is suffi- ciently big. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has said, one of the dangers to-day is that under present regulations these lamps are extremely small. I should like to see, as in America and on the Continent, rear lamps of a much larger minimum size. I hope that it will also be possible to lay down that the second light should be wired on a separate circuit. That is very important, because it may cause trouble if it is wired in the same circuit as the other lamps.

One danger in travelling at night is the fact that timber lorries have to use only one small light at the end of a big tree which they may be dragging along. I hope that it will also be made compulsory for these timber lorries to carry two rear lights at the end of their load. I know that these are Committee points, but I should like my noble friend Lord Llewellin to consider them before Committee stage. He may be able to get some assurance from the Minister that these matters will be included in any regulations that he makes. I strongly support the Bill because it is legislation which is long overdue in this country and will make the roads much safer.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, when I arrived at the House this afternoon my noble friend Lord Llewellin was somewhat in despair, because there seemed to be only two of us to take part in this debate. It looked like turning into a duet. If so, it would have been one less tuneful than the famous duet of Melba and Caruso, though our relations would undoubtedly have been more harmonious. But at last the deus ex machina came, in the stately figure of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who has added a certain verve to our discussion. In my opinion, he made a specially petulant speech in which he appeared to say that, as the old regulations had not been observed, it was foolish to make new ones. He went on to say that we were touching only the fringe of the problem. But it was made perfectly plain by my noble friend Lord Llewellin that this Bill does not seek to deal with the whole of the outstanding matters regarding the lighting of vehicles. As I think I told the noble Lord before the debate, when we were discussing this matter, the Government have very much in mind this ghastly problem of headlight dazzle, which is worse in its destructive effects, I imagine, than bad rear lighting. The Government have under consideration a report on this subject from the Road Research Laboratory, and hope to be in a position to proceed with legislation and the other outstanding matters connected with vehicle lighting as soon as a convenient opportunity occurs.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, attacked us because, apparently, we take no interest in road accidents and then, by some fantastic contradiction, said that his Party have not done so, either. I should like to know why it was, when the noble Lord was in a prominent position in the Ministry, his own Party, according to his own account, were so hopelessly inept as he makes out.


If the noble Earl wants a reply—for exactly the same reason that the noble Earl's Party were completely inept before.


Ineptitude appears to be rife in that respect. When the noble Lord was in a position to do so, why did he not correct that situation? That is what this Bill is intended to do. As your Lordships know, the Bill before the House requires both red lights and red reflectors to be carried at the rear of road vehicles. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that there has been a great deal of chaos in our road legislation, but that seems to me to be no reason for not trying to improve it. That is what we are now attempting to do. With regard to obligatory reflectors, it is the Minister's intention to lay down conditions requiring a much better performance than is called for under the existing regulations, which have been in force for many years. In respect of these rear lamps the Bill proposes to give the Minister, for the first time, powers to lay down conditions with which such lamps must comply. In this case, also, the Minister proposes to prescribe conditions requiring a standard of performance considerably better than that achieved by many of the rear lights at present in use. The nature of the conditions to be prescribed for both reflectors and rear lights in relation to character, performance and positioning is at present under active consideration, and the Minister hopes that such regulations will be ready before the present Bill is enacted.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, have referred to the slaughter on the roads. I think the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that it was one of the worst of our social evils. I wholeheartedly agree with that. Furthermore, I should like—I think for the second time, but one cannot say it too often—to remind your Lordships of a truly grim statistic, which I have reason to believe to be approximately true—namely, that during the last war there were more people killed on the roads of Great Britain than in the whole of the Royal Navy. That is why we feel that this measure, imperfect as it may be, is at least a step forward.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the House for the reception they have given to this Bill. I am glad the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, came along to take part in the debate. I did not feel so much that his speech was a petulant one, but I thought he showed considerable courage, having occupied the position in the Ministry of Transport that he did, in saying that he had been waiting years for a Government which had the courage to tackle the traffic problem. There are many noble Lords in the House who might have said that, but it struck me as slightly odd, coming from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.


The noble Lord will not have lost sight of the fact that he was my predecessor.


I was not there so long; nor was I there at a time when it was so easy to get things done. We had a good deal more to do in 1941, and a great deal of attention at that time was focused on winning the war, rather than on these problems, which are essentially problems of peace. Certainly it was less easy in those days to draw attention to road problems than in days of peace. The noble Lord seemed rather to deplore that we were doing anything before all existing regulations and laws were enforced. There is one good reason why we should do something about these road reflectors now. It is that the Government in 1949, of which I believe the noble Lord was a member—if not, he was at the Ministry of Transport—agreed to an international Convention to have these two red reflectors. Somebody on behalf of the then Government put their name to this Convention, and I think it is good of us, as private Members, to bring forward a measure to give effect to what the late Government, of which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was so effective a member, did in this matter in their time.

There may well be some criticism that this Bill does not go further. It does not attempt to. With regard to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, about timber lorries, this Bill does make the position a little better. It means that there cannot now be a 6-foot overhang of the log of timber, as there used to be; there will have to be a lamp within 3 feet 6 inches of the end, which at any rate will make the load much safer. It is difficult to provide exactly for the timber lorry turning round a corner, when for a moment the light gets obscured. But I should have thought that it is not beyond the wit of man to have a kind of semi-circular light, so that some of it is visible, even when the vehicle goes round a corner.

I am afraid that I cannot answer the other two questions put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton. I do not know what the intention of the Minister will be in regard to these regulations, but I have not the slightest doubt—the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, can no doubt confirm this—that the Ministry and the Minister will look into the two points raised. I am reluctant to "fall for" the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, to put a few more "teeth"(as he called it) into this Bill. There is limited time in another place for this Bill to be reconsidered, and I do not think we should be justified in extending it beyond its title. Of course, if there are Amendments which have the effect of improving the Bill, naturally they will be considered, and we can work them out between us. But overall, I suppose it may be said that—although we did not think we were doing it—we put a few more "teeth" into the last Transport Bill that came before us. It had the effect of ensuring that those "teeth" were pretty well ground in another place when the Bill was returned to them. Therefore I should be reluctant to put more "teeth" into this measure. I am grateful for the way your Lordships have accepted the Bill, and I hope that we shall be able to give speedy decisions on all stages of the Bill so that, although we are not being comprehensive, and do not pretend comprehensively to be dealing with all road matters, we may at any rate effectively deal with one of them.

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