HL Deb 21 December 1954 vol 190 cc566-88

2.46 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I think the House is glad to have the opportunity of examining this Bill in the first place, because there are a number of noble Lords who take a real interest in these problems and have had considerable experience in dealing with them, and who, if I may say so, have never hesitated to press their views on successive Ministers of Transport, whoever they may be. In the rather narrow way in which we use the word in Parliament, this is a non-controversial Bill. But somebody has said it is the sort of Bill on which almost everybody holds a different view, and anywhere outside of Parliament that would be considered controversial. It is natural that that should be the case, because there is nobody who can be uninterested in this Bill, whether he is a pedestrian, a cyclist or a motorist. It is part of the Government's programme for dealing with what I am sure we all agree is an absolutely first-class problem in the organisation of the daily life of this country. If I may use an illustration used by my noble friend Lord Webb-Johnson, we are almost being throttled by over-circulation.

Let us face it: we have not had any substantial extension of our road system for twenty years. It is probably true to say that the extension of the Cromwell Road is the first large new road in inner London for fifty years. We are not to-day dealing with the question of capital investment in roads. That, I am sure all your Lordships will agree, is a matter of tremendous Importance, but I am not in a position to say anything about it. All we can do to-day is to recognise the importance that everybody in the country attaches to that matter. It is fair to say that there is already in existence a substantial body of law, and it includes a good many powers which have enabled us in recent years to do quite a number of things—such as providing for unilateral parking, one-way streets, zebra crossings, and other things, which to some extent do ease our problems. None the less, we have had no Road Traffic Act for twenty years, and, while I would not argue that the introduction of this Bill is an epoch-making step, I say—and I hope to persuade your Lordships—that there are a number of important developments which can be made here, in addition to those provided under the existing law.

Before coming to the Bill itself, I should like to make one general observation. Besides the question of vastly improved roads, I feel sure that everyone will agree that we require a higher standard of discipline on the roads. In this matter, however, I think it is important to keep a sense of balance between what I may describe as the discipline imposed by the law and the discipline which the driver imposes on himself. If we have too rigorous an external discipline, we run the risk, in some ways, of encouraging drivers to observe the letter rather than the spirit of the law. We may run the risk, also, of making the task of those who have to enforce the law—namely, the police—more difficult and reduce the standard of courtesy and consideration that is so essential.

In this country we have two great advantages on the road. The first is the good relations which exist between the police and the general public; and I feel that we are all indebted to the spirit of consideration and imperturbable resolution with which the police deal with the problems of the road. Secondly, the standard of courtesy which most drivers use on the road is extremely high. Here I should like personally to pay tribute to the standards which those drivers who have to take heavy lorries up and down the country display to other road users and the general public in their very exacting task, carried out on roads many of which are hardly adequate for their purpose. I think we are deeply indebted to the courtesy which these men show. In saying that, I am no more than echoing what my noble friend Lord Mancroft said a few days ago when speaking on heavy loads.

This Bill deals first of all with safety, secondly with congestion, coupled with the provision of parking places, and, thirdly, with a new basis on which to deal with the very complex problem of the carriage of private parties. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, will welcome most warmly the proposals which we make here. As I have said, this Bill is in supplementation of the existing law. It is therefore, I think, fair to say that there is no one theme running through it; it is merely adding to the existing powers.

If I may deal now with the individual clauses, I will explain them as shortly and as clearly as I can. Clause 1 deals with the testing of vehicles. As your Lordships know, from, I believe, the year 1896 and, of course, particularly from 1931, the law has laid down requirements for the mechanical condition of motor cars, particularly in reference to brakes, lights, steering and that kind of thing. Up to the present time, it has not been possible systematically to ensure that these conditions are enforced. In only a limited way is this done by the police, and also by the Ministry of Transport examiners. My right honourable friend thinks it essential that some step forward should be taken and, of course, this obviously is necessary, because the failure to maintain a vehicle in good roadworthy condition may lead to accidents. In this sphere, I should say that we are quite a long way behind the United States of America, although I do not want to make the comparison too close. I think it is true to say that in the United States half the States make testing compulsory and car owners are obliged to have their cars tested twice a year. These tests are carried out partly by State-owned organisations and partly by private organisations. I believe compulsory testing was started as long ago as 1927 in Massachusetts, and has now extended to such populous States as Texas and Pennsylvania, which have in them as many cars as we have in this country. None the less, there is, and we have to face it, a considerable practical problem.

First of all, there is the problem of sheer numbers—there are 5 million vehicles to be tested—and, secondly, there is what I might describe as the technique of testing: that is to say, how it should be done, the speed with which it can be completed, and how frequently tests should be carried out. Therefore, we want to ascertain what sort of periodic test is the most efficient and practical. It is for this reason that my right honourable friend intends to start a pilot station by which he hopes to gain experience in this field. At this station tests will be voluntary and will be free. I think it is fair to say that the public and private interest is here identical. Most people will be glad to know, before it is too late, whether their steering gear is defective. Many of us are aware that the lights of other cars are perhaps not all they might be, whereas until we are told we may well be ignorant of defects in our own lights.

The question which will arise is: What is the next stage? My right honourable friend could proceed by extending his own stations or he could proceed, as your Lordships will observe, by using authorised examiners as prescribed under Clause 1 of the Bill. As he gains experience in the technique, he proposes to proceed either by one or other course or possibly by both. In this field we should welcome suggestions from your Lordships as to what you consider the most practical way in which testing can be carried out. I should say that we propose that this scheme should pay for itself, so that there will not be any charge, or at least any substantial charge, on the Exchequer. The sort of idea in my right honourable friend's mind is to start by testing the older cars, probably the pre-war cars—although I should say here that he keeps a kindly eye on those highly valued and remarkable conveyances known as "old crocks," though I believe that most of them would pass the test with flying colours.

Clause 2 is a small addition to the powers of the Minister to make regulations to enable the removal of cars from the road if they are causing obstruction. At the present time they can be removed only if they constitute a danger. It will now be possible for them to be removed if they cause obstruction. I think your Lordships will agree that such a course is necessary, particularly where an ambulance or a fire engine is obstructed, for one car can cause a hold-up over a wide area. Clause 3 deals with cyclists. The effect of the clause is to bring cyclists and tricyclists without any power-assisted drive more fully within the ambit of the Acts of 1930 and 1934–that is to say, they can be charged with driving carelessly, recklessly or dangerously. At the present time, I am given to understand, they can be proceeded against only under an Act of 1835 which deals with furious riding which, I suppose, is intended primarily to refer to riders of horses and to horse-driven vehicles. Subsection (2) of Clause 3 lays down the penalties for conviction on these offences which are, however, at a lower scale than those which apply to motorists. We are the greatest cycle-manufacturing country in the world, and one of the largest users of cycles. I think it behoves us to have a very high standard of road sense in the use of these essentially home-produced vehicles. It is important to emphasise to all who use the roads that, without necessarily involving themselves, they may cause danger to others. We want to make it clear to all road users that it is essential for them to maintain a high standard of discipline. I may add that there is no intention of requiring the registration of bicycles.

Clause 4 makes it an offence for a pedestrian to fail to comply with the instructions of a police constable in uniform who is engaged in controlling vehicular traffic. At the present time, the only two offences for which a pedestrian is liable are loitering on a pedestrian crossing or obstructing the free flow of traffic. As your Lordships will observe, it is a very limited power to control pedestrians which is here given, and in practice the instructions of the police are at the present time substantially observed as a matter of routine.

Clause 5 enables the Minister of Transport to carry out experiments at crossings to control pedestrians. At the present time, only regulations of a universal character can be made. It is felt that there might be considerable advantage in having regulations applicable to certain crossings, and experience thereby gained applied to controlling the more difficult crossings.


Will the noble Earl forgive me? Can he inform the House briefly precisely what the word "experiments" means in this context? Can he give the House some example?


I think what my right honourable friend has in mind is this. There are certain very complicated crossings. Take, for example, Hammersmith Broadway or a place of that sort. Without laying down a flat dogmatic way in which it should be done, my right honourable friend wants to put into force a certain method of controlling the traffic and the pedestrian. He will see how it works and try it out. If it does not work he will take it away. If it works well he may extend it somewhere else. That is what is meant by "experiments." Perhaps it is the antithesis of the zebra system. These crossings were laid out all over the country. This is a specialised ad hoc instruction to meet the requirements of some particular crossing, and my right honourable friend wants these powers. I think that in certain cases this power may be quite valuable.

Clause 6 is designed to rectify what we believe to be a defect in the law which arose from a Divisional Court decision in 1952 in Blenkin v. Bell. In that case, the owners and drivers of goods vehicles were released from the necessity of conforming with the statutory speed limit laid down for goods vehicles except when the vehicles were actually carrying goods. By analogy we think this may have the effect of making other safety requirements, such as the maintenance of vehicles, drivers' hours and the keeping of records, inapplicable or without force. The Bill intends to make quite sure that these requirements are enforceable, whether the vehicle is carrying goods or not.

Clause 7 deals with the learner drivers. It is, I believe, strongly supported by the police. There is believed to be a fairly widespread evasion of driving test requirements. As the law stands at present, if a man is prepared to accept the inconvenience of being a learner driver—that is to say, of carrying "L" plates, having a qualified driver beside him and paying 5s. a quarter—he can continue in this way indefinitely. Of course, the temptation is much greater with the solo motor cyclist, who is not required to have someone with him. The purpose of this clause is to enable local authorities to refuse to grant a further provisional licence if they think that the applicant does not intend to submit himself to a test. Clause 8 enables the Ministry of Transport and local authorities to spend money on road safety propaganda. Some doubt was expressed recently in regard to these powers. If I may now come to Clauses 10, 11, 12 and 14–


Would the noble Earl forgive me for interrupting him?




Would the noble Earl mind dealing with Clause 9 before he passes on to Clause 10? I want to ask him one question. Does the repeal of subsection (10) of Section 1 of the Road Traffic Act, 1934, which imposes the 30 m.p.h. speed limit, go further than making the 30 m.p.h. speed limit permanent? I assume the noble Earl will tell the House that it does not invalidate the Minister's powers under subsection (3) of Section 1 of the 1930 Act to vary the speed limit of 30 m.p.h., and to do away with it on certain roads, as the Minister may think fit? I just wanted that point cleared up before the noble Earl left this particular point.


This is a question of law on which I am afraid I must get advice before I answer it. The position is simply this, and no more: that it takes this provision out of the Expiry Laws Continuance Bill.


That is what I thought.


Clause 9 in no way changes the law. My noble friend Lord Mancroft will deal with that point more authoritatively when he speaks at the end of the debate.

We now come to deal with Clauses 10, 11, 12 and 14, which deal with parking. I think your Lordships will agree with me that in certain places this problem has become so bad that we should be delighted to see anything tried which had any chance of making this problem rather less pressing. That is precisely what my right honourable friend wants to do. He has therefore suggested certain experiments in regard to the control of parking, and particularly the charging for parking on the road. I do not even suggest that what we are proposing here will necessarily become a permanent part of the organisation. What we want to do is to try it out, to see whether it will bring some improvement in the very congested and complicated situation which exists in our big urban centres. As a matter of fact, as far back as 1925, when the Public Health Bill was under discussion, charges for supervision of cars were agreed to by your Lordships' House but were refused in another place. The proposal, therefore, is not entirely new. Charging for parking, particularly with parking meters, is fairly common in the United States of America, and also in other countries. One should be careful about making comparisons but it does, broadly, seem to serve a useful purpose there.

If I may explain the purpose, it is, first of all, to drive away the long-term parker. Secondly, it is to attract the short-term parker. Thirdly, it is to encourage parking in garages or, alternatively, the use of public transport. This is done by giving the short-term parker at least an assurance that he is allowed to stay there for a specific period. Moreover, it provides some money for the local authorities which must be used exclusively for providing better parking facilities. I should add that it is the first time that there has been what may be called a fund in the hands of the public which can be used for this purpose. Finally, it will, of course, generally encourage the use of the roads for circulation rather than for parking.

The recent Report on Car Parking in Inner London—and I believe that the situation is much the same in other centres—shows that rather under half the cars are parked for long periods. The actual figures show that in September, 1951, 44 per cent. of the cars were parked for from four to eight hours. The second thing that this Report shows is that the garages and off-street car parks were not by any means used to capacity. I know, of course, that these garages and parks are not always in the most convenient places but I think we must encourage their use so far as we possibly can. One important point I should like to make is that this must be done systematically and on a fairly wide scale in the areas selected; otherwise, the cars will simply be driven from one street to another. As I have said, this is going to be done on an experimental basis and will be done only after very careful examination. Indeed, that examination will be conducted at four stages. First, the local authority will make a recommendation after consulting the chief officer of police. Secondly, the proposal will be advertised—and I may add that in London the advice of the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee will be taken. Thirdly, if there are objections, an inquiry will be held. Fourthly, the Minister will make up his mind in view of the report submitted to him. It is quite clear from this that every case will be examined very carefully and that it will be done essentially on an experimental basis. I feel sure that everyone will welcome an experiment which can give a hope of relief to this most burdensome problem.

Clause 15 increases the penalties for driving offences. It also makes a driving test compulsory for a driver who has been disqualified for reckless, dangerous or careless driving or driving under the influence of alcohol. This is the first time that, where a licence is taken away, a test is made compulsory before it is restored. Clause 16 removes an anomaly which was brought to our attention—and we are most grateful to him for it—by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Goddard. I hope that what we propose to do here will meet the point that he had in mind.


What is the point?


The point is this: that when a man has his licence suspended and gives notice of appeal, the suspension of his licence is deferred until the appeal is heard; yet the period of suspension, if that appeal is dismissed, runs from the time of conviction. Therefore, during the period between conviction and appeal the man is allowed to drive. In other words, the period of suspension becomes automatically reduced. It is a small point but I think it is a sensible solution. I hope that we meet the point of the noble and learned Lord here.

Clause 17 deals with a small point on licences which was recommended by the Committee on Road Safety. First, it enables the police to seize a driving licence if there are reasonable grounds for believing that it has been improperly obtained; and, secondly, failure to surrender a licence becomes an offence. Clause 18 deals with the question of revealing the identity of a driver: it is not much more than a technical amendment of the existing law. It enables the police to require the owners of vehicles, or any other person, to give any information in their power about the identity of the driver of a vehicle alleged to be guilty of an offence. That power already exists over a fairly wide sphere. All this clause really does is to supplement the existing law by putting all offences in all places on the same basis.

Clauses 19 and 20, with the Second Schedule, seek to clarify the law in regard to the conveyance of private parties. I think it is inevitable that a distinction between a bus carrying a private party and one providing a regular public service must often be difficult to define clearly and fairly. I think we all agree, moreover, that the position at the present time is profoundly unsatisfactory. What we have done here is to repeal all former legislation and to start entirely fresh. At the same time, we have sought to keep as near as possible to the old forms of legislation, subject to the necessary amendments. First of all, the "special occasion" reference, which was the main cause of the bother, has been completely removed. The drafting is perhaps not very easy to understand but, if I may speak very roughly, what we seek to do is to say that a private party in which those travelling pay separate fares must be privately organised. By that, I mean that the trip must not be publicly advertised or organised by a travel agency or anybody else for financial considerations; nor must the journey take place regularly. Whilst your Lordships will wish to examine this provision very carefully, I hope, without going into it in detail, that what we have done here will effectively carry out the intentions of Parliament in this matter.

My Lords, I have gone through the Bill in detail. I would add just this. This is, as I have said, only part of the Government's approach to this matter, and, if I may say so, perhaps a relatively small part. Nevertheless, we think that there are a number of important points which are included in the Bill. We shall welcome your Lordships' comments and criticisms, so that the Bill may be put in the best form possible. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Selkirk.)

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, the Bill which your Lordships have before you this afternoon will eventually be the fourth Road Traffic Act since 1930–there have been the 1930 Act, the Acts of 1934 and 1937, and now this Bill. The noble Earl, who has introduced this Bill with the thoroughness and charm of manner which he always displays, has said that when it comes to Party alignments this Bill is non-controvercial. In saying that he is perfectly correct. We on this side of the House will give this Bill a Second Reading; we shall give Her Majesty's Government every possible help to make it a better Bill than it is now. There is no division of opinion—nor could there possibly be—upon any side of your Lordships' House as to the necessity for doing something to rescue the road traffic law from the deplorable state into which it has fallen over the years. If there is on the Statute Book legislation which requires radical overhaul, it is certainly the road traffic legislation. The 1930 Act is archaic; it goes back into an era that has for long past made no effective contribution towards dealing with modern conditions. I would appeal to noble Lords in all parts of the House to lend their experience and their wisdom towards seeing whether by this Bill we can make a substantial contribution.

I do not think there are many noble Lords who would quarrel with what this Bill tries to do—except in one respect—but I am certain that there will be violent criticism of the methods employed. I do not think I am putting it too highly when I say that, as the Bill now stands, I am afraid we shall end up with another mass of regulations piled upon those already in existence, and that this Bill will have an infinitesimal effect upon the two great national problems which we are trying to solve—namely, road accidents and road congestion, the one leading to the other. I would also appeal, with the greatest respect, to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. Much of this Bill is of a complex legal character, and I hope that we shall receive the valuable help of his noble and learned colleagues upon some of its aspects. There is one particular provision in this Bill which, since 1930, Parliamentary draftsmen have twice tried to put into force as the will of Parliament, and upon each occasion the courts have ruled that they have done no such thing. That concerns the point which the noble Earl mentioned, in regard to the anomaly of the private party on a special occasion.

May I get the nice part of my speech over first. May I sincerely thank the noble Earl and the Government for putting so quickly into operation the undertaking which was given me by the noble Earl only a few weeks ago: that at least he would attempt to do something to clear up this very unfortunate legal interpretation of the 1930 and 1934 Acts, which deprived so many people in the rural districts of this country of the amenities of the town.

Having said that I will proceed to the Bill. What the Bill does is to set out four major advances in road traffic law. First of all, by Clause 1 it proposes to give the Minister power to set up testing stations and to issue certificates as regards vehicle fitness; secondly, it brings cyclists within the law of driving offences; thirdly, it applies the principle of the control of pedestrians; and, fourthly, it legalises parking upon the Queen's highway and charges for such parking. Taking the first of those four points, the setting up of public examination stations for vehicles, may I say straight away that there is no difference of opinion as to the desirability of seeing that every vehicle using the roads is in a fit mechanical condition to do so with safety to other users of the roads. But, whilst there can be no difference of opinion about that, I question very seriously whether this is the Way to do it.

May we first look at the problem that we are trying to solve. I shall base quite a number of my arguments upon the statistics issued by the Ministry of Transport. The latest statistics regarding accidents on the roads are the road accident figures for 1952. In 1952 there were approximately 4½ million motor vehicles on the roads of this country, some of which, such as public service vehicles, had imposed upon them a statutory requirement of inspection. If any of your Lordships happens to have the Tables of accident statistics before him, he will see in Table 38 the total number of pedal cycles, motor cycles, private cars and goods vehicles which were considered by the police as contributing to accidents. In the statistics the definition of an accident is one from which personal injury resulted; accidents where no personal, injury was involved are not enumerated. Out of 4½ million vehicles, there were 3,991 vehicles involved in accidents which the police regarded as having been caused, or contributed to, by mechanical defect or failure.

Strangely enough the pedal cycle, which was not included among these 4½ million vehicles, contributed to more accidents than did, the motor car. The pedal cycle was responsible for 1,490 accidents, the motor cycle for 761, the private motor car for 1,059 and the goods vehicle for 681. All were accidents involving mechanical failures or defects of brakes, tyres, wheels, steering and other causes. Many accidents are caused by failures other than those. But the Construction and Use Regulations, as the noble Earl has rightly said, already empower police officers in uniform or Ministry of Transport inspectors and enforcement officers to take action. They can stop a vehicle on the road at any time and test it under the conditions under which it is operating. Will the noble Earl bear that point in mind, because it is very important? Such inspections are frequently made in regard to goods vehicles, but although this regulation has been in force for years I cannot recall one case where an authorised officer has ever stopped a private motor car Why not? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, with the organisation which he has behind him, knows of cases. I do not.


They are not entitled to.


Yes they are, under the Construction and Use Regulations which I will read to the noble Lord. Regulation 103 of the Construction and Use Regulations, 1951/201, states: (1) Any police constable in uniform, and any person for the time being appointed by the Minister of Transport as a Certifying Officer or Public Service Vehicle Examiner under the Act, or as an Examiner under the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933(h), who shall produce his authority if required, is hereby empowered to test and inspect either on a road or, subject to the consent of the owner of the premises, on any premises where the vehicle is, any brakes, silencers or steering gear fitted to a motor vehicle or trailer. So these officers have plenty of power already to inspect vehicles under the condition which is the only possible condition for inspection—the condition in which they are being driven on the roads. It is no good testing a commercial vehicle for its fitness to be on the road unless it is tested with the load that is being carried upon the vehicle. Are you going to say that all commercial vehicles must go into your pilot station or any other station fully loaded? If not, then you are not testing those vehicles under the conditions which apply when they are on the road.

One of the contributory factors to the accident-proneness of commercial vehicles is the method by which commercial vehicles are taxed—not the amount; I am not interested in that at the moment—because they are taxed upon their unladen weight. That tempts a vehicle manufacturer to produce a vehicle as light as he can make it in order to get it below a taxation level. A purchaser is induced to buy the cheaper kind of vehicle and the lower tax vehicle; but once he has it he grossly overloads it. The 20 miles per hour limit for commercial vehicles of over three tons unladen weight offers precisely the same inducement. The manufacturer is induced to build a vehicle under three tons weight so that the operator may have the benefit of a speed of 30 miles an hour; and again, after he has bought the lighter vehicle, the operator grossly overloads it. Until the whole system of taxation of commercial vehicles is altered and imposed upon their gross weight on the road—either laden or gross weight—we shall never solve this problem of the overloading of commercial vehicles the brakes and steering of which are then inadequate for the job.

I am at one with the noble Earl in wanting to see mechanical fitness enforced as much as may be possible, but I believe that all we are doing here is to set up another horde of officials and pilot stations to do something for which adequate and better regulations are already in existence. Personally, I should be firmly against placing the task of testing vehicles for public safety in the hands of private motor traders, for that would be putting them in a ridiculous and unfair position. I do not for a moment question the end which the noble Earl seeks to achieve, but I doubt the wisdom of what he is doing here. Why put into these road traffic Acts still more regulations when no serious attempt has been made to carry out regulations already in existence? I do not know whether any of your Lordships have had a different experience. Can any noble Lord give an instance of the testing of motor cars on the road by an examiner of the Ministry of Transport? What is this certificate, and what validity has it? Does it mean that a certificate is prima facie or conclusive evidence of mechanical fitness in case of an accident? Does it mean that no excise licence can be granted or renewed for a motor vehicle until the owner has produced a certificate? Over 5 million cars and commercial vehicles have to be licensed every year. Then what of the almost brand new motor car? If the noble Earl would ensure that the present law is enforced in regard to the fitness of vehicles on the road he need go no further whatsoever. And on my statistics I think that proves my case.

Now we come to Clause 4, because this is where the next principle comes into force. I am not going to say anything about Clause 3 because I absolutely agree with the noble Earl; I think it embodies a very wise step. But it would be only fair to point out to your Lordships the gigantic task which the Government are going to place upon the police force. There are, I believe I am right in saying, somewhere in the region of nine million to twelve million cycles on the roads of this country—I had the figure here a minute or two ago but unfortunately I have mislaid it. And into which category, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who is going to reply, does the motor-assisted pedal cycle come?


I referred to any cycle which was not assisted by any power-driven unit.


I have not finished my question. I ask the noble Lord into which category does the motor-assisted pedal cycle fall? Obviously, it is not a cycle. Is it a motor cycle? The noble Lord indicates that it is. So it comes into the category of a motor cycle. That is what I wanted to know. Therefore we can take the motor-assisted cycle right out of the cycle class. But there are, I believe, somewhere in the region of 9 million to 12 million cycles. Look at the gigantic job the police will have—and already we have a depleted police force. We cannot enforce the law with regard to dangerous driving, careless driving and reckless driving in respect of motor cars, let alone do so in the case of the number of cycles we are now going to bring within the scope of police jurisdiction.

As I said, Clause 4 embodies the next principle. Again, I applaud the Government for at last thinking of controlling pedestrians. But how are they doing it? What they are really doing is not even playing with the problem. The Clause starts with the words: Where a police constable in uniform is for the time being engaged in the regulation of vehicular traffic in a road. … That police constable is the only constable to whom this power is given. If a half-witted individual, male or female, wants to dash across a road, at danger to himself or herself and the traffic, and a policeman who is not controlling vehicular traffic but is walking along the pavement puts out a hand to stop him, that individual can tell the policeman to mind his own business.

Let us look at the statistics again. There were 44,750 cases in which the police say the pedestrian was a contributory factor to the accident—that is in Table 40. Just look at Table 40 and see how the 44,750 accidents were caused. We see listed: "crossing road masked by stationary vehicle," "crossing road not masked by stationary vehicle," "walking or standing in road," "heedless of traffic—playing in road," "stepping, walking or running off footpath or verge into road." Not one of those cases would come within the scope of the police constable engaged in regulating vehicular traffic. But just realise that out of the 44,750 accidents which I have mentioned, no fewer than 41,703 were accounted for by those causes. Why not give this power to all police in uniform? Why stop at the officer who is controlling traffic? So perhaps one thing we shall try to do on the Committee stage is to widen the power of the police in this respect. As I haw said, we quite agree with the principle.

On Clause 6, I want to ask a question of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, and I hope that he will answer it when he speaks at the end of this debate. I quite agree with the necessity of this amendment on safety conditions. I have no quarrel about that, but I want to ask the noble Lord whether I am right in my assumption that that reverses a decision of Parliament whereby utility vehicles—estate wagons, or other vehicles of that type—were relieved of the 30 miles an hour speed limit. That was done. I believe, in 1950. The instrument was the Motor Vehicles Variation of Speed Limit Regulation, 1950. We did that because of the anomaly which arose; we agreed that when an estate wagon was used as a motor car and not for the carriage of the goods of the owner, it should come out of the 30 miles an hour limit. I believe that what this clause does is to put it back within that limit. It really means that every estate wagon to-day—and they are becoming one of the most popular types of motor vehicle for the private owner—will now be classified under a C licence as a goods-carrying vehicle and go back within the 30 miles an hour limit. I do not think that that is what the Government intend, and we may have something mere to say about that matter later.

There is another anomaly here. If the noble Lord will be kind enough to look at subsection 1 (b), he will see that it relates to: limits of speed and weight, laden and unladen, and the loading of goods vehicles. … I am very apprehensive about this matter, because not one commercial vehicle in a hundred—I am speaking in general terms—once it leaves the weighbridge after being weighed for the purpose of its Excise licence, is the same weight afterwards as when it went on the weighing machine. That, again, is one of the anomalies caused by our archaic method of taxation. Does the clause mean that when one of these vehicles is stopped to have its examination or on the grounds under which it can be inspected under this clause, it may be reclassified? If so, the result may be that we shall have practically every commercial vehicle in this country reclassified for taxation purposes every year. Perhaps the noble Lord will deal with that point when he speaks later on.

I come to Clause 10, and this is where we really have, in some degree, to part company. May I say again that we are at one with the noble Earl in our desire to ease congestion. I quarrel with hardly a word he said when speaking upon this clause, but I hold fundamentally the principle that the Queen's highway ought never to be used for the parking of vehicles. That is a first principle. The Queen's highway should be used for the free flow of traffic. Secondly, I am fundamentally opposed to hiring out the Queen's highway for the parking and garaging of vehicles. But even if, in the cause of expediency, I have to sink both those principles—and I admit the position is so desperately serious that we have to sink some of our principles—I say that this is fundamentally the wrong way to do it.

Perhaps I may put it this way to the noble Lord: what has happened is that the Ministry have wanted to copy America without having the courage to "go the whole hog." It is no good taking one little thing out of the American system without the others. The use of parking meters on highways in America goes alongside on-the-spot fines—what was once called "pay as you err." What happens there is that when a motorist leaves his vehicle by a parking meter and it flashes a light, or squeaks, or rings a bell (I do not know the sort of parking meter the noble Earl envisages), the "cop" (I think that is the technical expression in America) comes up and says, "Five dollars," and has almost punched the receipt before he tells the motorist what it is for. This Bill will strew our roads with meters, but will do nothing to ease the position.

Clause 10 gives local authorities power to have parking meters or not, as they desire—though either way they make charges. Local authorities who have any sense will not waste their money on parking meters, because they have only one advantage (perhaps I should not say this, but we have to be truthful): the meter is more honest than a car park attendant. The time a motorist may leave his car on the average car park is measured by the amount of tip he gives the attendant. One cannot tip an automatic meter, but we can have the same trouble. This Bill gives local authorities power to institute proceedings which to-day only the police can do. But who is going to collect the evidence about the offence?—the police. Who is going to prove the offence? Suppose the noble Earl's wife is driving his car and leaves it on a parking lot, puts the money in the slot and gets a ticket, and then outstays her welcome. The owner of the car is responsible, and ownership must be proved; and the only people who are allowed to collect evidence and present it in court to-day are the police. The police will therefore have just as big a job as they have to-day with parking attendants. The only thing the Bill is doing is to strew the kerbs with a lot of ridiculous devices to collect money.

Where are we going to put them? On the main highways, in Pall Mall, in Regent Street or Oxford Street, or in residential areas? Would the noble Earl like the front of his house adorned with a parking meter? If cars are parked in echelon, there will be a meter every seven feet; and if they are parked end to end there will be one every six to eight yards. If we are to have cars parked radiator to tail, we are going to waste a great deal of space. They will, therefore, have to be parked in echelon, and along the streets and residential neighbourhoods at every seven feet there will be one of these wretched meters. It is not necessary unless the Government are going to adopt the whole of the American system. If the Government have made up their minds that they are going to have on-street parking, and are going to charge for on-street parking, what I would say is: put people in charge of it, and pay them a wage to be honest. Do not let them be at the mercy of having to pick up tips. But certainly there is no need for parking meters.

The noble Earl says the charge imposed for these parking lots will be paid into a special fund. That is "where we came in." As the noble Earl was speaking about this matter, I saw the ghost of Lloyd George stalk through your Lordships' House. That is what he thought. He thought he was going to have a special tax on motorists to provide the roads; but that was not proof against impecunious Chancellors of the Exchequer, the first being the gentleman who happened to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1926. If the Government are going to use this as a revenue-earning fund which is supposed to be earmarked for a special purpose I would ask noble Lords for how long in the fiscal history of this country has any fund ever escaped the clutches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, eventually to find its way into the national revenue. If noble Lords are bent on this scheme, I would say: do not try it in London. I suggest that that is about the worst place in which to try it. Go to a town or city in the provinces where they have at least some off-street parking.

A NOBLE LORD: Abingdon.


No, I should not say that; I should say a town of about 100,000 inhabitants, where the experiment can be given a good test. I very much hope, however, that the Government will have second thoughts about this clause, because all it does is to provide an excuse for indolent local authorities, whose duty is should be to provide off-street parking but who will go in for parking meters and hire the streets out, so that the traffic situation will be more confused and worse confounded. I ask the Government seriously to look at this matter again. We will give the noble Earl what help we can. We admit that this problem has to be solved, and we admit that we may have to have street parking and have to charge for it; but I think we may be able to suggest that there are certain streets, right the way through the country, which should never be subjected to parking.

I am afraid that I am detaining your Lordships, but this is such an important subject that there is a great deal to be discussed. I have mentioned the four main principles, and I should like now to deal with some minor ones. I would ask the noble Earl by what process of reasoning he comes to the conclusion that increasing the maximum penalties will make the roads safer. I should like to know that, because I say, here and now, that if the existing maximum penalties for speeding, for driving without due care and attention, for dangerous driving and for driving under the influence of liquor were imposed, there wood be no reed for any increase in the penalties. When I was at the Ministry of Transport I lived through the era of the agitation for the increase of maximum penalties and for fixing minimum, as well as maximum, penalties. I personally did not want to increase maximum penalties, and I always wonder why they should be increased when the penalties which Parliament has already fixed are nowhere reached.

I am going to give your Lordships some staggering figures. What I am about to say I say with a full sense of responsibility. If there is one single factor which has added to the road accident casualty list in this country it is the dilatoriness of the magistrates who have failed utterly and completely to carry out the will of Parliament. I will tell your Lordships why I say that. In the present legislation the maximum penalty for exceeding the speed limit on a first offence is £20, and on a second offence £50. Out of 4½ million motor vehicles in 1952 there were only 87,345 convictions for speeding, and the average fine was £2 3s.—noble Lords can get these figures from the Home Office statistics. For driving without due care and attention, again the maximum penalty on a first offence is £20 and on a second offence £50. There were 22,305 convictions, and the average fine was £3 17s. For dangerous driving, on a first offence the maximum penalty is £50 or four months' imprisonment, and on a second offence £100 or four months' imprisonment and disqualification. There were only 3,237 convictions treated by fine, and the average fine was £10 10s. For driving under the influence of drink or drugs, the penalty for a first offence is £50 or four months, or both, and on a second offence £100 or four months, or both. There were only 2,099 convictions in the year 1952, and the average fine was £19 15s.

When we come to disqualifications, we find that less than one-third of those convicted of dangerous driving had their licences suspended, and some of those were second offenders, where the suspension was automatic. Of those found guilty of careless driving, totalling 23,201, only 678, or 3 per cent., had their licences suspended; and the suspension of a licence for that type of offence was solely in the jurisdiction and at the consent of the magistrates. These are farcical figure. When Parliament in their wisdom have said that these should be the maximum fines that can be enforced, surely a process of arithmetical reasoning would demand that the average fine should be half-way between the two—zero and maximum.


Perhaps I might ask the noble Lord a question, not because I criticise what he is saying. He has given the figures for convictions, and he has given the figures for cars upon the road. He did not give the figures of prosecutions. He will see what I mean, and I think it is important. Suppose it turned out that there were a large number of prosecutions and few convictions, then that would be a strengthening of his case. But if it were found that there were few prosecutions, it might mean merely that those applied to speeding offences, and it might mean that people kept within the speed limit.


I speak from memory, but I do not think it gives that figure. It gives only convictions, either where a fine or a prison sentence is imposed. I quote these from official figures. I thought they were the best figures to give to your Lordships, because these are the cases where the magistrates convicted and said that an offence had been committed. If we in this country have built up our social system and our legal system upon the firm principle that punishment for wrongdoing is a deterrent to wrongdoing, then the punishment imposed should be a deterrent; and nobody can say that the average fines that I have given to your Lordships have proved to be any deterrent. They have proved to be a deterrent to the police to bring cases, because up and down the country, on speaking to chief constables, one hears: "What is the good of trying to enforce the law when your officers kick their heels in the waiting rooms of police courts, and after the case has been heard the offenders go away with a small fine? That is no deterrent at all."

I hope the noble Lord will tell us what has been the argument for increasing the maximum fines. I will agree that the case is made out for a greater suspension of licences, but I expect that noble and learned Lords will argue that if you try to put any minimum penalty you will fail to get convictions. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack is powerless in this matter: he has power to appoint magistrates and he has power to dismiss magistrates; but he has no power whatsoever to tell a magistrate how he shall administer the law, unless the magistrate is perverse. On these figures, I would say that many magistrates are perverse. Be that as it may, I want to know why we are increasing the maximum fines. Will it prove any greater deterrent?

Those are the major points that I wish to make. Noble Lords on this side will, of course, try to help in this legislation. We are considering a number of suggestions that could be covered by this Bill. I know that the Minister of Transport is anxious to see whether something cannot be done about abnormal loads, and it may well be that it can be done within the compass of this Bill. Possibly we can do something about straying dogs that cause over 2,000 accidents a year; and we may be able to do quite a good deal on the clause about the contract carriage, which I think needs careful consideration. I hope the noble Earl will rest assured of this: that we are at one with him in trying to do these things. It is not as to the end, but perhaps as to the means to that end where we may have some slight difference of opinion. I began by giving the Bill a welcome. I have wearied your Lordships for longer than I intended, but I wanted to put the facts as I see them to your Lordships, so that each and every one of you can help to improve the Bill. I take it as a great compliment to the legislative abilities of your Lordships' House that this Bill should be introduced here. Let it go from this House a credit to us and an earnest of our intention to do something to ease a terrific problem which has been forced upon the Government by existing conditions, and in which they have my sympathy.

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