§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
My Lords, I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, give his support to this Bill. I, too, give it my support, though I am afraid that I am not very impressed by some of the proposals in it. This Bill has no doubt been introduced to promote road safety, and to relieve the congestion of traffic on our roads; and in so far as it is an attempt to meet these twin problems I, of course, welcome it. But I would point out that some of the clauses which may be likely to require amendment are merely enabling clauses, and without further details of the intention of the Government it is difficult to appreciate their full meaning.
May I draw your Lordships' attention for a moment to Clause 1 of the Bill. I think it is true to say that the motoring organisations in the country are entirely in sympathy with the object of this clause—as I am—which is to establish a system for testing the roadworthiness of vehicles. On the other hand, I should be strongly against any compulsory system, which would be most expensive to operate. Surely, there are other alternatives that might be considered. So far as I am aware, no serious effort has been made to encourage owners to submit their vehicles to a test, and I was interested to hear from the Minister to-day that a voluntary pilot station would be instituted as a first step. That, of course, is all to the good; but I cannot help feeling that advantage could be taken of the fact that owners are required to produce an insurance certificate before a licence is issued.
At the present time, it is the practice of a number of insurance companies, before a policy is issued, to require evidence of roadworthiness in respect of old cars. Incidentally, is quite common, as many of your Lordships know, for the motoring organisations to carry out examinations of vehicles on behalf of the owner. I think it should also be remembered, as 591 was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that the police already have power to stop and examine vehicles upon the road. I am afraid that I cannot give him any figures of instances where that has been done. I know that there have been cases, but they have been comparatively infrequent. I suggest that a link-up with the insurance companies, allied to a system of voluntary examination, would go a long way to achieve the results desired.
In these days we cannot contemplate the establishment of another large Civil Service to control the examination and issue of certificates for motor cars and maintain a vast number of State-controlled testing stations. We simply cannot visualise such a thing. According to the Report of the Committee on Road Safety in 1947, the cost of establishing a sufficient number of testing, stations would be in the region of £15 million, and no doubt at the present time would be upwards of some £20 million. The proposals in this clause envisage the testing of all motor vehicles. I wonder whether it is fully realised that if the inspections were carried out every twelve months, over five million would be involved. I have little doubt that, in introducing these proposals, the Minister of Transport, as he has mentioned through his Minister acting for him to-day, has been influenced by the reports which he has received from America. It is certainly not true that vehicle inspection is universal in the United States, as I have seen stated in the Press. Only thirteen States out of the forty-three have, in fact, adopted it, and some of them have already abandoned it because they were not satisfied with the results it set out to achieve. It is interesting to note that in some States the inspection station is State-owned, while in others certain vehicle repair stations have been appointed. Neither of these two courses has proved very satisfactory. The appointment of garages and private repair stations, in particular, has been found, for obvious reasons, to be open to abuse. I can assure Her Majesty's Government that the motoring organisations would be opposed to the appointment of privately owned testing stations because of the possibility of abuse at the expense of the motorist.
May I ask Her Majesty's Government whether it really is their intention to in 592 clued goods vehicles? I am not clear on that point, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has pointed out, under Sections 17 and 18 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, statutory requirements are already in force for the maintenance of goods vehicles in a serviceable condition. It may be that Clause 4 (b) of Clause 1 of this Bill is to apply. I do not know, and I hope that we may have some information on this point. Another type of vehicle which does not require further provision for examination is the hackney carriage and the good old taxicab, which are licensed by the local authority. I do ask Her Majesty's Government to look at this clause again, and to consult with the motoring and insurance organisations before the next stage of the Bill, to see what can be done to arrive at a workable plan, as I believe can be done.
I would now turn to Clause 2 of the Bill, which makes provision for the removal of vehicles from the road if they are causing obstruction. I say at once that if the intention of this clause is to enable the police to remove vehicles which are causing actual obstruction, I give it my full support. On the other hand, I suggest that the word "obstruction," if construed with the existing law, is capable of a very wide meaning indeed. It would, in fact, enable the police to remove vehicles which might be causing no serious obstacle to other traffic. I would therefore ask Her Majesty's Government to look at this clause again.
Clause 6, which has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, appears to nullify a decision of a Divisional Court, which ruled that a utility vehicle was not restricted to the 30 m.p.h. speed limit when not carrying goods. There may be the difficulty of definition, but surely it is not impossible to find a proper definition distinguishing utility cars from goods vehicles. That may not be the reason for the Divisional Court decision, but I rather suspect that it is. In view of the popularity of this type of vehicle, I think something must be done in this direction, and that the decision of the Divisional Court should not be reversed. Clause 7 has the primary object of preventing holders of provisional licences from continuing to drive under them without making any serious attempt to pass the driving test. This practice has, I think, been most common among 593 motor-cyclists, for obvious reasons. No doubt, it should be modified, but the provisions of this clause are very vague. How, for instance, is the licensing authority to be satisfied whether or not the applicant intends to submit himself for a test? Also, is the applicant to have no right of appeal when an authority has decided that he had no intention of carrying out a test? Surely there should be a right of appeal to a court of summary jurisdiction.
Turning to Clause 9, I understand that the intention of this clause is to make permanent a general speed limit of 30 m.p.h. in all built-up areas, instead of having them renewed annually by Parliament. I will not deal with that particular point, but I feel that the time has now come when all further extensions of the 30 m.p.h. limit on trunk and classified roads, when justified by the creation of new built-up areas, should be by order subject to confirmation by the Minister of Transport. I also suggest that the installation of new street lighting systems should no longer carry with it the automatic restriction of a trunk and classified road. In some cases roads to which the 30 m.p.h. speed limit has never applied have become restricted by the installation of street lamps, although the character of the road may not have changed at all.
I come next to Clauses 10–14, which deal with parking on the highway and the installation of the parking meter. I suggest that we should be quite clear in our minds that the installation of parking meters, or the making of a charge for parking on the highway, will not increase the space available for parking. On the other hand, if the intention of Clause 14 (3) (b) is that local authorities are to use funds received from parking charges for the provision of underground and aboveground car parks, then I personally am prepared to accept parking meters for experimental purposes.
I would remind your Lordships that in the Report of the recent Working Party on Parking, published in 1953, it was clearly laid down that parking meters should be used experimentally when, but only when, provision was made for additional parking space. This additional space has not yet been provided. So far as I am aware, no start has yet been made to provide the additional space for these cars. It appears that the proposals 594 in this Bill for a charge for parking on the highway are not restricted to the central areas of large towns where congestion is acute, but could be applied to the highway where congestion is not acute. There is a real danger that seaside resorts, for instance, may obtain powers by local legislation to secure the revenue from parking meters for general rate purposes. That might well happen. I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether these provisions apply to commercial road users. Those users will certainly not welcome the suggestion that they must carry further substantial financial burdens in order to obtain parking places on the highways merely to uplift or deliver goods and passengers.
Your Lordships have noted that Clause 15 increases the penalties for certain driving offences. I agree with a good deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has said concerning these provisions. We all know that there is a school of thought which cries out for heavier penalties. But what are the facts? How often is the present maximum penalty imposed, as the noble Lord has said? I notice that it is intended to increase the maximum penalty for a first offender exceeding the speed limit from £20 to £30. I think the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, gave some figures in connection with dangerous driving. I wonder whether it is realised that the average penalty imposed for the offence of speeding at the present time is something less than 50s. I cannot see how an increase in the maximum penalty can benefit the position in any way whatsoever. I cannot help feeling that in some ways it is another little "dig" at the motorist. If it is intended that the average penalty should be increased, surely this is a matter for the magistrates and the Home Office. It is also proposed in Clause 15 that, on a second conviction for exceeding the speed limit, disqualification from driving can be imposed. I should have no objection to this provision if it were limited to cases where the driver had on his record a current endorsement, but, as the clause is drawn at present, it would mean that a man, say, fifty years old, who thirty years ago was convicted of exceeding the speed limit, might find himself punished for the sins of his youth. That does not make sense to me. I hope that Her Majesty's 595 Government will look a little more closely at the drafting of this clause.
There is yet another inconsistency in this Clause 15. There is a provision that if a driver is convicted for driving under the influence of drink he shall automatically be obliged to face a driving test. A driving test, I would say, is a test of competence to drive, and not a form of punishment; and I am very surprised that such an inconsistency should have crept into this Bill. I think it is a pity that the Minister of Transport did not take the great motoring organisations, through their Joint Standing Committee (of which I have the honour to be Chairman) and the National Road Transport Federation (of which I am President) more into his confidence before drafting this Bill. I must say that I do not think it has been very well thought out; it could have been greatly improved if experts in these matters had been consulted. I certainly welcome the Bill as an attempt to promote road safety and solve the problems of traffic congestion on our highways, but I hope that Her Majesty's Government will be willing to consider a number of Amendments which I feel it will be necessary to make to this Bill in order to make it a workable measure.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I wonder whether your Lordships will allow me now to give the House the figures which I could not find earlier. It is estimated that there were 9,150,000 cyclists of sixteen years of age and over and 12 million cyclists of all ages. That was the figure that I could not find when I wanted to give it to your Lordships in the middle of my speech.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
It is estimated that there were 9,150,000 cyclists sixteen years old and over.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
And the total number is 12 million. So there are quite a number of cyclists of sixteen and under.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ LORD GISBOROUGH
My Lords, I crave your Lordships' indulgence on this occasion, the first time that it has been my privilege and honour to address your 596 Lordships. I believe that in the main the Bill which is now before your Lordships' House is an extremely good and constructive Road Traffic Bill, but I feel that it does not go nearly far enough towards tackling the problem of the vast number of accidents that happen nowadays. I should like to mention, first of all, one or two criticisms that I have of the Bill. Clause 2 deals with the removal from the highway of vehicles that are causing an obstruction or are a danger. Any vehicle, whether a lorry or even a hand dust-cart, when parked on a main road is a cause of grave danger. I feel strongly that this clause should be extended to prohibit any vehicle whatsoever from being parked on a main road outside the 30 miles per hour limit. I often nearly come to grief through stationary vehicles, and I am informed that in fact they are a frequent cause of accidents.
It is almost always possible for a driver to get his vehicle off the road when he wants to stop, unless he is stopping to obey a signal; and if his vehicle breaks down it is usually possible for him to push it off the road through a gateway or on to a verge. It is at any rate possible for the driver of a lorry to get his co-driver to go about a hundred yards along the road to warn oncoming vehicles, particularly if he has broken down round a corner. I am convinced that such an extension to the clause would not only be workable but would reduce the number of accidents, particularly on the faster roads. An exception could possibly be made for delivery vans in cases where they are unable to deliver other than directly from the main road; but this would be the case only where houses are immediately on the road, which in itself would give warning to oncoming motorists to expect vans and other vehicles of that type to be parked on the road.
I welcome Clause 5, which deals with pedestrian crossings. Many pedestrians in towns are knocked down by reason of their walking out from parked vehicles into the path of oncoming traffic. Railings along the middle of the roads have proved extremely effective in reducing the number of accidents, by channelling pedestrians into proper crossing places. I should like to see a far more liberal use of this device, particularly in busy streets. 597 An alternative is to have railings along the side of the pavements. Though successful to a degree, they have their own dangers in allowing people to run outside them to catch their buses. In narrow streets motorists are also discouraged from parking their cars alongside the railings. Some streets—I am thinking of one in particular—have so many accidents that, starting with a clean sheet at the beginning of the year, after only six months there is no room on the police map of the streets to stick in another accident flag. I wonder whether the painting on the roadway of these worst streets of a red circle at the scene of every accident would make pedestrians realise how many accidents there had been, would make them choose much more carefully the moment at which to step off the pavement and would reduce the number of casualties.
Clause 8 is a good clause. It is remarkable how few people know the procedure for crossing a zebra crossing, in spite of the publicity given to the matter comparatively recently in the Press. I am sure that money spent on road safety publicity would be well spent. I should like to see short films made which would illustrate one or two different features of bad road craft and which could be shown regularly in cinemas throughout the country. I can find no enthusiasm for that part of Clause 10 which deals with parking meters. The motorist already pays far more in tax than he gets back, and I do not see why he should have to pay to park in the street in order to reimburse the local authorities for the cost of providing alternative parking spaces which could well pay for themselves. I foresee what has already been mentioned—namely, parking meters reaching out into the provinces, and eventually the profits from them not being used any longer to pay for new parking spaces. I hope, however, that if parking meters are introduced they will be directed against the long-term parker, and that the person who parks just to carry out some shopping will not be charged; otherwise it will get to a stage where one would have to put sixpence in a meter in order to stop just to buy a packet of cigarettes.
My Lords, a policeman spends a large part of his time in court. I understand that it was no exception when, the other day, I and the policeman concerned as witnesses to an accident spent from ten 598 in the morning to four in the afternoon waiting for our case to be called. Could not the system of "on the spot" fining be introduced for certain offences, to reduce the number of police man-hours spent in court? I understand that that has proved a very successful method in many other countries. My final point is that many drivers who have had accidents have been driving badly for years but have just "got away with it" up to now. Would not a compulsory driving test for all drivers who have been involved in an accident find out those bad drivers, many of whom have never taken a test in their lives, and would it not help to maintain a higher standard of driving on the roads? I have no doubt that in a very short time there would be many fewer vehicles on the roads, and I should not object to the use by local authorities of any surplus from the charge for these tests towards providing new parking spaces instead of parking meters.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I am sure that I am only saying what we all feel, that the noble Lord who has just spoken has made an extremely good maiden speech. He has put forward some constructive and novel ideas, ideas to which I feel sure noble Lords on the Front Bench will pay attention and do all that they clan to bring into force. If I may, I would just give the noble Lord, whom I wish to congratulate most sincerely on his very able speech, a word of warning for the future. With the best spirit in the world, he will find that, whenever he feels the urge to speak in this House, some people will come to him and say, "Do you really want to speak? Are you so sure that you must speak?" I will not say where these people come from, but it is a practice that is carried out; and I suffer a great deal from it. I would say to the noble Lord that, if he really feels that he must speak, and wants to speak, let him pay no attention to these people.
As your Lordships heard me speak only two days ago for over half an hour, I propose to let you off to-day with a very short speech. So far nobody has touched on the subject of the lights on cars. I have ventured on this matter before in your Lordships' House. Why do we not adopt what the French do, and have our car headlights covered with yellow paint or yellow paper, which 599 entirely does away with dazzle? Admittedly, it may mean that the traffic cannot go quite so fast, because drivers do not see so far in front of them, but it makes a considerable difference to traffic coming in the opposite direction. So much has been said in regard to Clause 2 that I do not propose to weary your Lordships any more with it. Clause 3 deals with cyclists. How often have your Lordships driven along the roads and found cyclists (who, I understand, are not supposed to ride more than two abreast) riding three or four abreast? One can hoot as much as one likes, but they will not pay the slightest attention. I think some rather serious punishment could be provided in regard to that matter, which might have the effect of making cyclists adhere to the rules.
Now I come to Clause 8, in regard to which my feelings are very much like those of my noble friend who has just sat down. How many people read the rules? How many people know about the Highway Code? Do they know where to get it? I should like to see some money spent in ensuring that a pamphlet of some sort, a comprehensive document, is issued and distributed to every house and to every family, because I believe that there are thousands of people now driving cars who have never seen the Code at all. I hope that that may be done, because I believe that it would help people to understand the dangers they are running in some of the things they do. On Clause 9, I only hope that the present speed limit will be enforced. Every day when one drives within the 30 m.p.h. limit one finds another driver hooting from behind and going past at 50 m.p.h. That happened to me this morning and happens nearly every morning when I drive to my station. At some "Halt" signs, too, people pay no attention, and I should like some really severe penalty for those who ignore the regulations in this respect.
In regard to Clause 15 I would say (not for the first time) that it is useless merely to fine people. Many people do not mind paying fines. Let people pay the first time, but the second time give them hard labour. That is the only way to stop offences. A noble Lord looks horrified at the idea, but if he had been caught driving to the danger of the public, or driving 600 under the influence of drink (although of course I do not suggest such a thing), and had been fined for that offence, he would, if he repeated it, show that he had either forgotten the fine or that he did not mind paying a fine. I believe that no one would like a prison sentence, and I would give these people three months' hard labour, irrespective of who they were. Although I have never yet done it, I am told that hard labour is pretty tough.
§ A NOBLE LORD: It has been abolished.
§ LORD TEVIOT
Oh, has it been abolished? Then I would ask the noble Earl who speaks for Her Majesty's Government immediately to put it back for these offences.
I come now to the question of speed on the roads. I very much doubt whether it is a good thing to improve the roads so that motorists may drive faster. It appears to me that the cause of many road accidents is that people are going too fast in places where they ought to be going a great deal slower. There are even within the 30 m.p.h. limit, places where one ought not to drive at more than ten miles an hour. There should be grave thought over the wisdom of altering and strengthening roads to enable people to travel faster. I do a fair amount of motoring and find the roads extraordinarily good. Admittedly, there are blind corners, but if one takes them at a reasonable pace, taking care to keep well over to the proper side of the road, there is no danger. If such bends are made less difficult, people will only take them much faster. As I promised, I will detain your Lordships no longer but will congratulate my noble friend on his magnificent speech and will relieve your Lordships from listening to me further.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I should like very warmly to associate noble Lords on this side of the House with what the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, said in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, on his admirable maiden speech, admirable both in subject matter and brevity. Speeches by younger Members of your Lordships' House are all the more welcome because they are rare, and we very much hope that the noble Lord may be able to help us again on future occasions. I believe that all noble Lords 601 would like this Bill to be made the most effective instrument possible for dealing with the two great national problems to which the noble Earl, Lork Selkirk, referred in his opening speech—road safety and traffic congestion. I will try to keep to an assurance that I have already given to a certain noble Lord and speak extremely briefly on one aspect of the second of these problems, traffic congestion.
The aspect with which I wish particularly to deal is traffic congestion in the streets of London. I think noble Lords will agree that, although this may be a local problem, from the point of view of expense, inconvenience and delay there is no place anywhere in the country where the problem is more serious, or where traffic congestion is worse, than in London. I believe that this Bill offers an opportunity of proceeding a step further towards the solution of this problem. I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government to make sure that this step is taken, and that the appalling congestion in Central London at the present time is not prolonged by any unnecessary delay in seeking a more effective remedy.
Noble Lords will remember that the Working Party on Car Parking in London, which reported in 1953, recommended a threefold plan to reduce the number of cars waiting in the London streets and thereby free the flow of traffic. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords of the three parts of the plan which make the whole: an improved system of waiting restrictions, the introduction of charges, by means of parking meters, for street parking, and the building of garages below and above the street level. Those three parts of the original plan Her Majesty's Government have accepted in principle. The Minister has already tightened up waiting restrictions in London and the Bill will give him power to authorise local authorities to make charges for parking in the streets. Action has, therefore, already been taken, or shortly will be taken, to implement the first two recommendations in the Working Party's Report. The third part of the plan (which must be taken as a whole if substantial relief is to be afforded), the building of new garages in or near he centre of London, is not directly referred to in the Bill as it stands. The noble Earl did not mention this important subject in his opening speech, but I hope that the 602 noble Lord who is to wind up this debate may refer to it.
I do not for one moment blame Her Majesty's Government for this omission. I know as well as the noble Earl opposite does how long any negotiations with local authorities are apt to take. I am not making any reproach at all so far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned, but I believe that there will be no great improvement in London until we have the additional parking space off the streets which these garages will provide. I know that the noble Earl opposite agrees with me on that. I am afraid we shall not get this additional parking space unless Her Majesty's Government are prepared to give London authorities the powers and assistance they will require in order to build these new garages, whether above or below ground. Careful consideration has been given to the possibility of allowing private enterprise to do the job, but it has been shown that this work cannot be done on a commercial basis, and the experience of a big firm like Lex Garages has already proved this point in London. I believe that I am speaking for local authorities in London in expressing the hope that this operation of constructing many-storeyed garages above the ground and, if necessary—and probably later on—other garages under the surface of London, will be carried out in close and friendly co-operation between the Ministry and the local authorities in all the areas affected. I am sure Her Majesty's Government will share that hope. That is an essential condition of success.
So far as the London County Council are concerned—and I should like to make this plain now, because I believe that it may be useful for Her Majesty's Government to take this matter into consideration at the earliest possible moment—there is no unwillingness at all on their part to take their fair share of responsibility in this joint enterprise. The London County Council accept in principle the proposal that they should undertake the construction and operation of multi-storey garages; but their acceptance in principle must be subject to certain conditions, without which this work cannot be successfully carried out. I hope that the Government will agree that these conditions which the Council have in mind are fair and reasonable. Perhaps 603 I may be allowed to mention them, because they have a direct bearing not only on the broad problem but on the Bill.
In the first place, it is obviously desirable that there should be agreement between the metropolitan boroughs of London and the London County Council about the exercise of their concurrent powers. At the moment, these powers in relation to garages are exercised only by the metropolitan boroughs, but there is no reason to suppose that the boroughs would object if the Minister were to give similar powers to the London County Council. It is clearly desirable that this should be done with the consent and agreement of all local authorities concerned, and this particular matter is one that can be settled without reference to the Bill. But the other matters, to which I shall briefly refer, and which the London County Council regard as vital to the success of the scheme in London, are all matters which will require fresh legislation. That is why I wish to direct the attention of the Government to them at this early stage in the consideration of the Bill.
The first is procedural; I mention it only briefly. The complexity and dilatoriness of the procedure now involved when the Council wish to acquire or use land as parking space would be a very serious obstacle to the provision of these garages. The existing procedure is the same whether the land is in or off the streets. That, I think, is in itself a reason for reconsideration of this particular procedure. The Council take the view that if this scheme is to be carried out—as it will be carried out—by the local authorities in the London area, with the assistance of the Government, there must be some measure of simplification of this complicated statutory procedure.
The other matters relate to the financing of this operation. If it is impossible—and experience indicates that it will be—for garages of this type to pay their own way, the most difficult problem will be that of finding the means for dealing with the financial loss involved. One way of reducing the deficit, of course, would be through the provision of ancillary services, such as shops, showrooms, petrol stations and repair facilities, in addition to the parking spaces and new garages. But the powers in relation to garages which are already available, 604 under existing legislation, to local authorities do not cover the provision of these ancillary services which I have just mentioned. The Council would therefore like additional powers for this purpose to be included in the Bill, so that they are made available at the time the garages are constructed. Of course, such powers would be equally desirable if the metropolitan boroughs were to undertake this work in addition to, or in place of, the London County Council.
But even if the income from the running of these multi-storey garages was increased by these ancillary services, and, in addition, there was a slight surplus—which is hinted at in the Bill—from the use of parking meters and the charges made for parking in the streets, even if all these factors on the credit side were added together, the Council are of opinion that these garages would still not be self-supporting. It has been calculated that charges ranging from 6s. 6d. to 12s. 6d. a day would have to be made for each car if a loss was to be avoided. Such charges, obviously, would be unreasonable from the point of view of motorists, and would have the effect of making the long-term man—the man waiting for a day or for a large part of a day—leave his car in the street, which is the reverse of what we want. But if such charges as the Working Party recommend in their Report were made (they mention charges of from 2s. 6d. to 3s. 6d. a day for each parked car), it would mean a loss on each garage of about £25,000 a year.
While the council are not averse to making some contribution towards this loss from the London rates, they feel that the main bulk of it should be borne by the Exchequer. It will be generally agreed that the London traffic problem is a national, rather than a local, problem. London is the metropolis of the Commonwealth, as well as the capital of the country. It is the shop window of the country for visiting foreigners. The London traffic problem is a matter that is much larger than a local problem; and, if that is the case, the main responsibility for its solution must rest with the Government. Indeed, this principle is already recognised in the 75 per cent. grant paid by the Exchequer towards street improvements in London. The London County Council hope (they do not hope for anything fresh) that the 605 same principle will be applied in dealing with any deficit that may result from the construction and use of these garages, as they are an essential part in the complete plan. I very much hope that the Government will be willing to co-operate, and in conclusion I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply two questions. The first is whether the Government would be willing to enter into negotiations with the London County Council on the basis of what I have just said, and the second is whether, if these negotiations reach the stage of agreement—which is what we all hope—the Government will be willing to introduce an appropriate Amendment into the Bill.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ LORD BRABAZON OF TARA
My Lords, I quite agree that the time has come for another Road Traffic Bill, but I do not think very much of this one. Of course, it is the Government's Bill. It is a poor thing, but their own, and they have got to carry it through. I am glad I am not at the Box in charge of it. I consider that, the Bill lacks imagination, and that it is rather reactionary and wholly unintelligible. With a Bill of this sort, it is very important that everyone should understand exactly what is in it. Certainly no one can do that in the case of this Bill. I say that for this reason. When you come to the matter of offences, it is about the only side of life in which the ordinary man in the street comes into contact with the police. Therefore he should know exactly what he must do and what he must avoid. At the present time, the complexity of the regulations and the difficulties of knowing what one has to do and what one has not to do are immense, and the courts are crowded. I can speak only from my own experience. I was up before a stipendiary magistrate, and there were thirty-four cases before mine. The only thing the magistrate was interested in doing was in getting through the cases. I was not even allowed to question witnesses. That is against the fundamental idea of English justice. And that sort of thing is going on up and down the country. What is so dangerous is this. The poor man, who has probably parked or done something quite insignificant but against the regulations, goes into court and comes away and says to himself: "If that is the way a burglar is convicted, well I think very little of the police and 606 of the justice of this country." That is why we should be very careful what we do in a Bill of this sort.
§ LORD CALVERLEY
My Lords, I dislike interrupting the noble Lord but I wish to ask him this. When he was before the magistrate, did he plead "Guilty" or "Not guilty"?
§ LORD CALVERLEY
My Lords, the noble Lord is perfectly aware that he could have cross-examined every witness there until the cows came home.
§ LORD BRABAZON OF TARA
That is what I am trying to convey to your Lordships. I thought I had the right to ask questions of witnesses but I was not allowed to do it because the magistrate was in a hurry. That is the sort of thing that is going on to-day.
Would your Lordships turn to Clause 16. I will try to read it as intelligently as I can. It says:In calculating the period for which under the Act of 1930 or the Act of 1934 a person is disqualified on a conviction or by an order made in consequence of a conviction or the time after which under section seven of the Act of 1930 a person may apply for the removal of such a disqualification, any time after the conviction during which he was not disqualified shall be disregarded.It is pure Greek, except to the lawyer. I agree that it is explained in the preamble, but if it were not for the explanation in the preamble, nobody could possibly understand what it meant. I ask that this sort of thing should be redrafted. It is a drafter's dream, but to the ordinary citizen it is a nightmare. I object to the Government's putting themselves in the position of the cricketer who complained because he was sent in in the middle of a hat trick. They rather take the view that all the blame is on the motorist and not on them. Of course, an enormous amount of blame is upon Government, never mind of what Party, for not improving our roads up and down the country. The Government, so to speak, turn upon the motorist and now try to increase the penalties, for no reason at all that I can discover. Is it really the opinion of the Ministry of Transport that somebody is going to start at nine o'clock in the morning in his car, resolved to drive more carefully 607 because the penalties have gone up from £20 to £30? Is that really the idea? Because it is absolutely false psychologically. It is basically wrong.
I quite agree that offences such as those the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, spoke about, like reckless driving, cannot be punished severely enough. I entirely agree with that. But your Lordships have to remember that the offence of speeding, of going over 30 miles an hour, is nothing else but a technical offence. A motorist is caught doing over 30 miles an hour only on roads where it does not matter. That is one of the reasons why almost all speed limits are invariably wrong. There are many cases of dangerous driving under 30 miles an hour, but the motorist has justification for going over 30 miles an hour because he is told he can do so. The Labour Government were very sound when they did away with the speed limit altogether in the 1930 Act and relied upon prohibition of dangerous driving, A motorist can drive just as dangerously at 20 miles an hour as at 70; yet we have given the motorist the idea that he can go at 30 miles an hour and, so long as he is within that limit, it is almost impossible to prosecute him for dangerous driving.
I must say that I am very annoyed with Clause 15. It is quite unintelligible. One has to go to the 1930 Act to know what it is all about. It refers to the offence of driving "without care and attention"—that is rather a good offence, because I remember I introduced it myself. It is half way between dangerous driving and exceeding the speed limit. A motorist is usually summoned under that clause when he misinterprets the directions of a policeman. I am not saying that policemen are not crystal clear generally, but often they are not, and people are prosecuted under that clause when they are perfectly good, honest citizens. Now I see that for a second offence of that kind a motorist can be put into gaol. It seems to me exceedingly severe.
What I should like to see in this Bill are some amendments of the old Acts. Some of the clauses and penalties have been tightened up, but in the old Act of the Labour Party there was no speed limit, as noble Lords will remember. Then the Government brought in the 1934 608 Bill, and I should like to remind your Lordships of what many people forget, the opening words of that Bill. They were:Subject to the provisions of this Act it shall not be lawful for any person to drive a motor vehicle on a road in a built up area at a speed exceeding thirty miles per hour between the hours of five in the morning and midnight.In other words, it was the Government policy of the day that there should be no speed limit between midnight and five in the morning. Your Lordships threw out that arrangement, which was made in another place, but I never can see the reason why it was thrown out. There are no accidents at that time of the night. If your Lordships will look at the records you will see that the accident curve goes down absolutely to zero, and if a driver is summoned for going over thirty miles an hour during that time, I say plainly that he was caught only by way of a trick. There are times of the day when it is very important that motorists should go slowly—when people are going to work and when children are on the road going to school. Speed should be varied according to conditions pertaining at the time. But it is absolutely absurd that on a broad road in a suburb of London a motorist can be trapped at three o'clock in the morning for going at thirty-five miles an hour. I should like to see us going back to what was decided in another place on the 1934 Bill.
I wish to say a word about that very difficult subject, drunkenness. If noble Lords will look at the 1930 Act they will see that the question of drunkenness comes up in Section 15. It says there:Any person who when driving or attempting to drive, or when in charge of, a motor vehicle on a road or other public place is under the influence of drink or a drug …I could not be more enthusiastic on the severest penalties in the world for people who go upon the road intoxicated. Everybody agrees with that. But these words "or when in charge of" are causing great injustices up and down the country. The sort of thing which has occurred is this. A man goes out to a party, perfectly sober. At the party he may drink too much, and he comes to the conclusion that he is not fit to drive back. He sits in the back of his car and gives his ignition key to somebody else. He is prosecuted for being in charge of that motor car. That is a travesty of justice; 609 and, what is more, it is an encouragement to the man to drive when he has made the sound resolution in his mind that he is not capable of driving. This Act, as it is worded, encourages a man to get into a motor car and try to drive when he knows perfectly well that he should not. At some stage I should like to see the words "or when in charge of" deleted from the Act, because it is a definite encouragement to people to drive when they should not.
There is one other point which I should like very much to see amended. In Section 10 of the 1930 Act, which deals with a speed limit, it is laid down—and it has never been questioned—thatA person charged under this section with the offence of driving a motor vehicle of any class or description on a road at a speed greater than the maximum speed allowed in the case of a vehicle of that class or description, shall not be liable to be convicted of the offence solely on the evidence of one witness to the effect that in the opinion of the witness the person charged was driving the vehicle at such greater speed.Nothing was clearer than that: you were not to be prosecuted or convicted on the opinion of one person as to the speed of the vehicle. Then a curious case occurred. A policeman in a motor car followed a car for one and a half miles—and it is true to say that if he followed it for one and a half miles he must have been going at the same speed as the other vehicle, or he would have overtaken it, or been left behind. It was held in the courts that that was not an opinion of speed, but it was evidence. From that date every magistrate up and down the country has interpreted that case as allowing a motorcyclist policeman to pop in behind a motor car, go for 200 yards and estimate the speed; and that is meant to, be evidence, and you are convicted. You are convicted against what I consider was the definite decision of Parliament in Section 10 (3) of that Act. If you are followed for a mile, I can quite see that it is perfectly right; but what is happening to-day is that many motor-cycle police patrols pop out from a side corner to chase the motor car for 300 yards—and naturally they are going faster than the motor car, because they are going to catch it up. You are put into court, and you have no defence at all. I should like to see that particular section regularised to express what was the wish of Parliament at that time.
610 As to parking meters, I am not at all happy about the situation. I do not admit for a moment that anybody has a right to sit on the road anywhere. Do you want money out of the parking meters, or what? I do not understand what it is for. I do not admit that anybody has a right to park anywhere. I know that it is a nuisance for all of us, but I do not admit the right. Finally, I should have liked to see a little more imagination in this Bill. I should have liked to see powers given to the Ministry and to the Government to close roads for motor racing. What a dreadful thing it is to say now! But we are all motorists. Your Lordships may think that the Derby is a big race, but it is nothing to a Grande Prix motor race for popularity. If we had a Grand Prix on our roads, stimulating as it must be to one of our greatest industries, it would be a great thing for this country and for the industry; and it would not incommode anybody to close four or five miles of road for two or three days. I should have liked to see that in the Bill. I shall give this Bill moderate support, and I hope that some of the suggestions I have made will be adopted.
§ 5.3 p.m.
My Lords, I propose to deal almost exclusively with one clause in the Bill—that is, Clause 9–because the others have been dealt with by other and more experienced speakers much more effectively than I could hope to deal with them. I am relieved, I must say, to have a great many of my opinions confirmed by the noble Lord who has just sat down. Your Lordships may remember that we had a debate last January on the Motion by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that the 30 m.p.h. speed limit in built-up areas should be more strictly enforced. At the end of the debate the noble Lord agreed to withdraw his Motion. I think it was sufficiently brought out during the course of the debate that speed in itself is not a danger factor, provided that it is wisely used. You may say that naturally it is not wisely used in a built-up area. But speed may be unwisely used on any piece of road, built-up or not. If we are going try to reduce accidents by reducing speed, then let us have a speed limit over the whole country—but that, of course, we cannot do. Can one say with any truth that it is always unwise, at any hour of the day or night, to exceed 30 m.p.h. in 611 a restricted area? When one considers how these areas vary, both in their nature and in the conditions at different times of the day or night, one can realise how absurd it is to lay down a hard and fast law as to what is a safe speed.
I can give your Lordships an example of the sort of injustice that arises from the present regulations. A young friend of mine was driving through a restricted area at one o'clock in the morning, when I do not suppose there could have been a vehicle or person on the road in front of him. Suddenly he was overtaken and stopped by a police car, and he was told that he was exceeding the 30 m.p.h. limit. For that offence he was fined £3, and had his licence endorsed. One can say truly that both the police and the magistrates were to blame for such an abuse of justice: the first for having done more than just warn him, and the second for having imposed a penalty which was out of all proportion to the offence. But we must remember that, with the general tightening up of discipline and the increase of penalties provided for in the present Bill, that sort of thing will become commonplace. Yet every day one sees motorists who, though not breaking the actual letter of the law, are a real source of danger on the roads, either through ignorance or through lack of consideration for others—and I am afraid that I would put the latter as in the majority.
What earthly use is a speed limit in a restricted area with such a man, who, the moment he is free of it, is going to forget all sense of responsibility. Even within it, he can be a definite source of danger, through such things as turning or pulling up suddenly without giving a signal. It is possible to drive very dangerously at even ten miles per hour, I drive 150 miles a week during the term at my teaching work alone, apart from any private driving I do, and I have become more and more convinced that one of the chief sources of danger is lack of wisdom in overtaking, particularly on bends. It is certainly irritating on a winding road to get behind a slow-moving lorry, and I think there are too many drivers who allow their impatience to overcome their good judgment.
There is another aspect of this matter. The employment of police to stop motorists who are exceeding the limit, even 612 though without danger, as in the case to which I have referred, makes for bad feeling between the two. Motorists naturally feel resentful against the police at being convicted for an arbitrary offence; and the police, I cannot help feeling, too often look upon motorists as fair game by which to secure a few more convictions. This is the last thing to make for greater road safety. What we want is a mutual feeling of confidence and co-operation between the two. Clause 9 of the Bill proposes to make these restricted areas permanent. I should like to see them abolished altogether. In their place I should like to see what one might call controlled areas, indicated by a recognised sign, inside which the police should be empowered to warn a driver—but no more—that he is going too fast. Incidentally, there are many Stretches of road outside so-called built-up areas where that would be most useful. I feel convinced that the majority would respect such a warning, and the few who would not would be those extremely selfish drivers of whom I have spoken, who, I feel, can be eliminated only by a gradual process of education and training the young.
The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, spoke of the question of self-discipline, and that, rather than discipline by the police, is something which will make for road safety. For such selfish drivers as those I have mentioned, driving tests, as they exist now, are nothing short of a farce. Naturally, a man is going to be on his best behaviour when he is given his test. The moment he has passed it he is free to do as he pleases; and, unfortunately, very often does. I should like to emphasise one thing. If this clause is passed as it stands, I feel very strongly that all restricted areas should be justifiable, and that a general re-inspection of them should take place. The mere existence of lamp posts is not a sufficient justification for the imposition of a speed limit. One thing is certain: whatever form this Bill may take, in the end we are all united in one thing, the desire to increase the safety of the roads, even though we may not be united in our ideas as to how to do it.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, I could not agree more with the last few words that fell from the noble Lord who preceded 613 me. It is on that basis that we must consider this Bill. We must also consider the background to this Bill, and it is a depressing one. We have the worst and most inadequate roads of any major country in the world; we have the greatest concentration of traffic of any country in the world, and the people who use our roads have to pay the highest taxation of any country in the world. The motor world is at the moment paying upwards of £400 million a year for the privilege of driving on these roads. For years many of us have tried to warn successive Governments that motor traffic was increasing, both in number and importance, up and down the country, and that unless something really constructive was done, and some real planning undertaken, stagnation was just round the corner. Now I think everybody realises how true that is.
Delays to traffic under present conditions on our roads (I am sorry the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, is not in his place, because he seemed to wonder why anyone should want to go any faster) are estimated to be costing the country from £140 million to £150 million a year. Another background to all this is that the Government seem able to authorise large public corporations like the British Electricity Authority, the railways and so on, to raise large sums of money, either to improve their plant, their lay-out or rolling stock, and yet relatively nothing is done for the roads. Not only this Government, but the last Government and all Governments going right back for a very long way, seem to have no real road, policy at all. It has been a policy of desperate expedients, rushing from one little idea to the next; and there have never been better examples of that than what, we find in this Bill. This Bill seems to me to do exactly nothing. It proposes new restrictions; it proposes fresh charges, and stiffens up the penalties and that sort of thing. But notwithstanding all this, it seems to me that the Government are tackling the problem at the wrong end.
Whether Ministers realise it or not, the fact is that there are millions of people up and down the country who are getting more infuriated and more frustrated every day by the conditions under which motor traffic has to carry on in this country. The attitude of the Government on occasion appears to be absolutely supine. They do not seem to understand—whether they do 614 understand or not I do not know; I hope they do, but they do not give that impression to the public—the magnitude of the problem. The other day it was announced by the Foreign Secretary in another place that more money was to be spent on the roads. This Government have decided to spend more money, but it may well be that, in the not too far distant future, some other Government will come into being. Will that Government take the same view? If, on the other hand, we had a Road Authority, with powers to borrow, the moneys that they had would not be subject to the needs of a Chancellor of the Exchequer on the look-out to raise more money.
I mention all these facts because they provide the real background against which this Bill is brought forward. It seems to me that it would have been far better if the Government could have tackled the road question in a realistic way in the first instance, and brought in this measure as a result afterwards. It has been done the other way, and so I suppose we must put up with it. I listened with great attention to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, when he was introducing the Bill. He introduced it to us as a Bill to deal with a first-class problem. Of course, we all agree with that. There has been no Road Traffic Act for twenty years. Great play was made on the experience of the United States. I think that the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk (I am sorry he is not in his place now), has not been properly briefed, because while it is true that they have examinations for vehicles in parts of the United States, as the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, pointed out, these examinations have been given up in a number of States there because they have been found to be unworkable.
The present idea is admirable, but the trouble is that everything is to be done by regulation. For instance, take the examination and testing of cars. It is an admirable idea, but we have not been told how the scheme will work. It seems to me that the scheme has been launched at the country in almost a haphazard way. We are told that the Minister is to have a pilot testing station somewhere—presumably that is to find out some of the problems which will face him. One of the immediate problems with which he will be faced is the fact that to have a realistic test of a motor-car requires a fairly superior type of man to carry it 615 out. He would be a man more or less of the calibre of a garage foreman. The ordinary garage hand would be no good for this, and competent garage foremen are not easily found in these days of full employment. Moreover, this will be an entirely new requirement. There are upwards of six million vehicles on the roads of this country to-day. In 1953 there were about 5,250,000. We have gone on since then, and motor vehicles are increasing at the rate of about 500,000 a year. How in the world will it be possible to examine and test the brakes, steering and lights of cars when there are these colossal numbers to deal with? It is not to be done once and for all; it will have to be done again the following year, and always at an ever-increasing tempo. It seems to me that this point has hardly been considered.
I could have understood it if the Minister had said, "We are going, first of all, to say that before a car can be sold second-hand, it must have a certificate of roadworthiness provided by the owner." That would be a limiting factor on the problem. If the Minister had said that the police would institute "spot" checks of vehicles up and down the country, then, as the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has pointed out, the police already have power to do that, though I do not think they use the power. I do know of one police force that has carried out "spot" checks, not of the mechanical condition of cars but of the lighting. It has been a huge success. I refer to the County Constabulary of Oxford, where they have stopped cars at night, made them pull into lay-bys, tested their lights and shown the drivers of the cars how hopelessly badly focused and badly aligned their headlights were. That has been a huge success. More of that type of thing could be done up and down the country. But for the Government to say that it is possible to test six million cars effectively seems to me to be just moonshine.
Then the Bill does not say whether the testers are to be private citizens. Are they to be Government controlled? Are they to be civil servants, or are they going to be just garage hands? Then, of course, charges will be made for the services. Suppose each test takes five minutes—and five minutes is little enough time in which to test any particular vehicle. Imagine the time that it will 616 take to test 6 million vehicles. To me, the provision does not make sense. So much for that provision. The Bill contains many more which I think are extraordinary. Clause 2 has been referred to by many noble Lords. One has sympathy with the police in their difficulties in the matter of the removal of cars. The way in which an obstruction arises in law, so far as I understand it—which probably is not very far—is that there can be actual obstruction or theoretical obstruction. I believe I am right in saying that the driver of any motor vehicle that stops anywhere on a road for any length of time can be charged by the police with causing an obstruction. Under this Bill, if a motorist stops for a few minutes in a street or on a road anywhere, he is liable to have his car hauled off by the police. It is going to be rather a strange affair. I do not think it is a very satisfactory way of dealing with what is admittedly a difficult situation.
Clause 7 enables a local licensing authority to refuse a provisional driving licence to anyone who has had one within the preceding twelve months and does not seem to intend to take a driving test within a reasonable time. It also increases the fee, and so on. It seems that here there should be (I think the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, again mentioned this point) a right of appeal. There is a right of appeal to the Minister, but the Minister is made judge and jury of his own business. That I do not think is quite fair.
§ EARL HOWE
Yes. Then we come to the very important question of parking. Parking is not the only cause of traffic delays in towns like London. It is certainly one of the main causes, but I believe there are other things which the Government could do to deal with parking. One of the difficulties, of course, is the narrowness of streets and the lack of parking facilities. Has it ever occurred to authority, and is it at all a feasible suggestion (I do not know whether it is, but I should like to know), to allow higher buildings and to require, as a condition, that the frontages should be set back, the extra height being a compensation for setting back the frontage? I do not know whether anything like that could be done. But look at what 617 authority has done, and our planners are doing, with traffic congestion.
One of the busiest intersections, as every noble Lord in this House knows, is the junction of Bond Street, Bruton Street and Conduit Street. The authority—it may be the London County Council; it may be the Government: I do not know—have allowed an enormous hotel to be built right at that intersection. I am perfectly certain that, when that hotel gets into operation, we shall see there a traffic block such as has never been seen in the West End of London yet. It will very likely spread back into Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly, in fact, all over the West End of London. I think it is an amazing thing to have done. The street is narrow there.
§ LORD MANCROFT
The street is being widened. I think I informed the noble Earl of that when he asked me a supplementary question about it in this House eighteen months ago.
§ EARL HOWE
How will the traffic that will be using that hotel be dealt with? To allow that sort of thing to happen is quite childish in these days.
To get back to the actual question of parking and parking meters, parking meters may work very well in other countries—they may work perfectly well in America, for all I know. But it seems to me that the parking meter is not necessarily a cure for parking problems in London. In fact, it may make them worse, because of the difference in the size of vehicles. If you are going to have parking meters to deal with vehicles parked longitudinally along a street, you have to allow enough space for the biggest ears that may want to park. Only a small car or a motor-cycle may be there, but the same amount of space has to be allotted. On the other hand, in such places as Portland Place, St. James's Square, Grosvenor Square, or anywhere where cars may be parked with their backs to the kerb, or diagonally, then a parking meter may help.
Parking meters, however, will require supervision. I do not see any provision in this Bill for supervising them. I think it is a most dangerous thing to allow the revenue from parking meters to be appropriated by local authorities. It seems to me like the thin end of the wedge. In fact, when the motor world is paying £400 million a year, is it really fair or 618 necessary to impose a further charge in any shape or form for the use of the King's highway or the Queen's highway? I think that the motor world, which already pays so much in taxation, has a perfect right to say that the Government must tackle this question, or at least the cost of it, in some other way. I could not follow the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who wants to extend that enormous octopus, the London County Council, by giving it control of garages. I thought we had had the last of all that when we had civic restaurants; heaven help us if we have L.C.C. garages all over the place! Perhaps I am a little prejudiced in the matter—I hope your Lordships will forgive me. I am sure the intention of this Bill is excellent, but it is a most miserable affair. I wish that it could be taken away, recast and entirely redrafted. Then I believe that a very much better Bill would result.
§ 5.30 p.m.
My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for very long, but I should like to say at the outset that I, personally, look upon this Bill as a very bold effort on the part of Her Majesty's Government to deal with a condition of near chaos. There is no doubt that in producing the Bill they were calling down a load of trouble upon their heads, but I hope that the load of trouble will be translated into a large number of really constructive criticisms, because there is no doubt that something has to be done, and done quickly. That has been said quite often, but I think it bears repetition.
I want to touch upon Clause 1 because, like the noble Earl who has just spoken, as it at present reads I cannot imagine how it is going to be worked. Owing to the colossal numbers that have to be dealt with, and the fact that these fairly frequent tests have to be performed every year, a great deal of loss of time will be caused, especially to those who use their cars for business, purposes. I do not know how it is going to be done. We hear of the idea of a pilot testing station. I think it would be a good idea to set up perhaps more than one on an important road. I have never yet found out—I suppose it is entirely my own fault—how to get my car tested if I felt it necessary. I should like to see this pioneer station on the Great North Road 619 or the Great West Road, or at some other important point where the road is fairly straight. There should be a big notice to the effect that it is a Government testing station. I should like to see it used in two ways: partly for what is called a "spot" test—that is to say, where officials would have the right, if they were doubtful or curious, to pull up a car and give it a test—and also for voluntary tests, so that people like myself, who would like to know what the official, expert opinion of their car was, could go in and pay a fee, have a test, and perhaps receive a certificate for a period. I do not know whether that sort of test is in the Minister's mind, but I believe it would give a pointer as to whether or not these tests were going to be successful.
There is only one other clause upon which I want to touch, and it is one over which the noble Earl who introduced the Bill slid lightly. I see the reason why he did so. I am referring to Clause 8 and the question of education. As to adults, I think they ought by now to be able to educate themselves on road safety; but, to my mind, the education of children is extremely important. It has been proved that they can be taught and that they can be properly trained in road sense. In a previous debate on this question, I ventured to suggest to your Lordships that to the old traditional basis of our education—namely, the "three R's"—should be added "road sense." However, I see the difficulties, because it is a question of a tripartite arrangement between three Ministries: the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Education and, so far as the police enter into it, the Home Office.
We all know what valuable voluntary work the police all over the country have been doing; but what I have not been able to find out is whether education of this kind in Government schools is general throughout the country. Can it be said that in every village school in the country, or in every school within our built-up areas, there is somebody who is able to instruct the children on this vital matter? I do not believe so. I asked a question on that matter some time ago, and I received the reply from the then Minister that he thought it was fairly general. I do not believe that is good enough, and I hope that, if Clause 620 8 means anything, it will mean that the education of our children in road sense is made more general and more effective. We owe a great tribute to the large number of people who give voluntary help in this matter. I have seen a private, not a Government, school where there was a most wonderful and attractive large-scale model in plasticine laid out on the floor, with every sort of road difficulty illustrated, with lamps and motor cars and so on. It was there some time ago, but I do not know whether it is still there. It can be made extremely attractive for children, who can be trained to a great extent by it. It is being done; but is it being done enough? That is all I want to know. That is all I propose to say on this Bill, which is bristling with difficulties. I can only hope that between us we shall be able to turn it into a much better Bill than it is at present.
§ 5.36 p.m.
My Lords, I will follow the example of my noble friend who has just sat down and submit my points to your Lordships as briefly as possible. I suggest that Clause 7 should be strengthened, to impose a definite time limit during which a provisional licence can be used without taking a Government test, and I suggest that twelve months should be that limit. As your Lordships know, at the present time many persons are driving motor vehicles whilst in possession of only a provisional licence and an "L" plate. Having failed on one or more occasions to satisfy the requirements of the Government examiner for a full licence, they are able to carry on indefinitely with a provisional licence, without any obligation to present themselves again for a test during the rest of their driving career. I suggest that that is an abuse of the intentions of the Act of 1934 which, so far as I see it, the present Bill will not entirely remove.
With regard to penalties and disqualifications—two matters which have already been mentioned by noble Lords who have spoken previously—wide experience in the testing of commercial drivers on behalf of those operating large fleets of vehicles shows that a considerable number of drivers, despite their having satisfied a Government examiner in the past, have subsequently acquired careless and even dangerous habits which contribute substantially towards the present incidence of road accidents. I suggest that 621 the Bill should be so amended that any person convicted under Sections 10, 11 or 12 of the 1930 Act, which deal with dangerous and careless driving, should automatically be disqualified from holding a licence until another test has been taken. I suggest that in the circumstances such disqualification, combined with the necessity to submit to a further driving test, would be a most useful deterrent and would have a real effect upon road accident figures. Might I also suggest that the heavy goods vehicle driving test, which was suspended at the outbreak of war in 1939, should be reinstated? As your Lordships are aware, in present circumstances a young man on his twenty-first birthday, can pass a Government driving test with a pre-war 8-horse power car of any type you like, and the following day be entrusted with a vehicle with a laden weight of as much as twenty tons. That is obviously absurd.
The suggestions I submit to your Lordships arise from the fact that for a long period of time I have been associated as a patron with The British School of Motoring, which noble Lords may remember was established over forty years ago. It has trained some two million drivers, one million before the Act and one million since. It has therefore amassed much useful information. It is on the basis of that information that I have submitted these points to your Lordships, and I would suggest to the noble Earl who is in charge of the Bill that the statistics obtained in the work done by the British School of Motoring (which are available to the noble Earl) would be extremely useful in the consideration of the modifications which have been suggested in your Lordships' House this evening.
§ 5.41 p.m.
My Lords, I have heard it said that when there is a debate on roads in your Lordships' House there is always a long list of speakers. I make no apology for speaking tonight, because I want to bring out one or two points. I think it is a good thing that so many noble Lords are interested in this vast problem. Recently one of the leading Sunday newspapers ran a competition on the lines of introducing a Bill into Parliament, and I believe that, of some 500 entries, no fewer than eighty dealt with matters of road safety. There are not 622 eighty noble Lords wishing to speak on this Bill however, and that is probably a good thing. In general terms, I welcome this Bill and will give it as much support as I possibly can. It has received tonight a certain amount of criticism with which I do not entirely agree, because this is the first time since 1934 that any Government have dared to bring in a Bill at all; and it might well be suggested that a Road Traffic Bill could easily have been introduced during certain other Parliamentary time. I am going to praise Her Majesty's Government for the fact that we have at least an effort. It may not be quite right, but at least it is a very good try to get something done; and when your Lordships' House has dealt with the Bill in the Committee stage it will probably be a much better Bill than it is now. We have seen that happen several times before in this House.
If I may be a little topical, with the approach of the festive season, during the time that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House, which is some twenty-two years, I have always had the impression that the Ministry of Transport was the Cinderella of all Government Departments. Now it seems that the Ministry has found her Prince Charming in my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport, ably assisted by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, whom I might be so bold and impertinent as to call Buttons. Of course the Ministry have always suffered from the presence of the Wicked Stepmother, for which rôle I would pick the Chancellor of the Exchequer, assisted by Ministers in two Government Departments which took all the money that was available. I suggest that they are represented here by my noble friend Lord Mancroft at the Home Office and my noble friend Lord Carrington (who I am sorry is not here at the moment), at the Ministry of Defence. Perhaps I might be so impertinent as to call them the Ugly Sisters.
Having given the Bill some welcome, and possibly damned it with faint praise, I will turn to Clause 1, which seems to have been heavily attacked. I must admit that I do not see how the Ministry propose to operate that clause. I hope it does not mean many more civil servants, and I sincerely hope that it will not incur a further charge on the motorist, because the motorist pays a very heavy tax on 623 petrol, and also his Excise licence. Turning to subsection (2) of Clause 1, I notice there some words of which I am not very fond: that if a person is aggrieved he "may appeal to the Minister." That is typical of post-war legislation. I wish we could go back to the words frequently used in pre-war legislation. Glancing at the Public Health Act, 1936, recently, I saw there that a person who was aggrieved could appeal to a court of summary jurisdiction. If the same principle could work in this particular clause I propose to put down an Amendment to that effect. I do not like this idea of an appeal to the Minister. The Minister is both judge and jury. I have had some experience of these cases. A very able gentleman comes does and holds a public local inquiry and hears all the evidence. He is most impartial and very fair. He then closes the inquiry and goes away; and very often weeks and months pass before the result is known. Let me give an instance. I attended a local inquiry, and at the end of five months there was no news of the result. I wrote to the Minister myself and the answer came through in four days. We do not want delays of that kind, which can so easily happen when a decision cannot be given and the matter has to go back to the Ministry for the decision.
May I now turn to Clause 3, dealing with pedal cyclists? There is often much criticism that pedal cyclists will not use cycle tracks where these are provided. I find that the reason generally is that the surface of the cycle track is greatly inferior to the surface of the main highway. I should like Her Majesty's Government to insist that, where the cycle tracks are provided, their surface should be as adequate as that of the main road. Many of our main road surfaces to-day are thoroughly adequate. Clause 7 has been mentioned briefly. I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government, on the question of the driving licence, whether there is not a loophole Whereby a licence can be obtained in Northern Ireland without any test whatsoever and that licence then used in this country. If that is the case, that loophole should be closed or the position tightened up. My noble friend Lord Hampton has spoken on Clause 8, and I will add little to what he so ably said. There are, all over the country, 624 local road safety committees, and I have been trying to gather from members some information as to whether their suggestions are carried out or are appreciated. I am afraid the news I have gathered is that their suggestions get to a certain level and there get stuck; they get no higher. I am afraid that that does happen. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, would at some time ask the Minister whether that is so.
The next matter which I wish to mention has already been dealt with by my noble friend Lord Sempill—it is the question of the heavy goods vehicle licence. I strongly support every word that the noble Lord said about that. I know what it is to drive an ordinary motor car, and then, suddenly, to get into the cab of a lorry with a load of about twenty tons behind. Driving such a vehicle is entirely different from driving a car—as I say, I have done it myself. Naturally, the issue of the heavy goods vehicle licence was suspended in 1939, owing to the war, but I think that it should be reintroduced.
One of my reasons for so saying is this. You may well get a young man, or a young woman, who has obtained a licence at the age of eighteen, and who has a clean record after working for three years in the service of a good employer. Then, suddenly, when that young person has attained the age of twenty-one, he or she is told: "You must drive this vehicle with this load, because the regular driver has been taken ill." So that individual goes out on the congested road with a vehicle carrying a load of twenty tons. He or she cannot have had previous experience of driving such a loaded vehicle, because, under the terms of the existing licence, a person may not drive a heavy goods vehicle until he or she is twenty-one years of age. I am afraid that I have detained your Lordships for a little time. I must frankly congratulate the Government on bringing in this Bill. As I said earlier, it is the first time for many years that such a Bill has been introduced, and I do not doubt that this is an experiment on their part. Probably, in a future Session, we shall yet see a further Bill. I hope that we shall.
§ 5.53 p.m.
My Lords, I think that a striking feature of this debate has been that every noble Lord who has spoken has welcomed the Bill. I am glad 625 to add my note of welcome. It has also been striking, in my opinion, that a good many people have criticised, the Bill rather heavily. A remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, impressed me as being very much to the point. He said that he was connected with two big societies—the British Road Federation and another—and that neither of them had been consulted before the Bill was brought in. I have noticed the same thing with regard to other Bills. Big societies are concerned with subjects which are dealt with in legislation, and very often they are not consulted. I think that what Lord Teynham said in this connection ought to be underlined. When there are people who really have specialised knowledge of subjects, it would save the time of your Lordships' House if they wore consulted, before a Bill is brought out, more often than they are.
The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, made a good point with regard to which I agree some action might be taken. He asked how many people know of or have had brought to their notice that excellent little, pamphlet a copy of which I obtained in your Lordships' House the other day. I am not sure what is its title—I think it is Rules of the Road. It contains guidance, for motorists in a small compact form. There ape illustrations showing the correct signs to make and, generally speaking, there are a number of simple rules for helping motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. All of us, I think, could benefit from a study of such a production. On this subject of safety, there are large numbers of people who go out in small cars, particularly at week-ends, and who have not read the rules of the road. If something could be done to spread the knowledge of the rules and to get that book, which has been brought out by the Ministry of Transport, into the hands of a great number of people, I am sure it would be valuable.
The reason I am taking up a few minutes of your Lordships' time today is not that I am an authority on motors. I happen to be a member of a county council, and seeing what a lot of reference to county councils there is in the Bill I asked our converter. "What about it?" He happens also to be the convener of the Association of County Councils in Scotland. He said to me: "Go to Edinburgh and ask the Secretary of the 626 Association of County Councils in Scotland what they think about it." The Association is one that guides county councils with respect to such matters as Bills, so I thought the advice was sound. I should like to make it clear that, though I am proposing to quote a letter from that Association, I do not speak for it. I have not been asked by the Association to speak on their behalf.
A Clause to which I should like to draw attention—it is one that interested me most when I first read the Bill, apart from the provisions as to safety which probably constitute the most important part of the Bill—is Clause 10, which has come in for a good deal of criticism. I should like to ask this question. Is it fair, is it reasonable, to put an additional charge on the motorists? They already pay enormous sums, in taxes and for petrol, and so on. Here, it seems to me, is provision for what amounts to additional taxation with no additional benefit. There is nothing in the Bill at all to say that the person who pays the licence fee for parking on the road will get any additional benefit. And I think one is apt to forget the great numbers of people—there are thousands of them—using small cars, who cannot afford to pay more taxation. Just look around Smith Square and see the vehicles parked there. In the main they are small cars, the property of men who come up to London for their daily work. They are vehicles of low horse-power. I do not think that in the case of people such as those who own these cars it is right or fair to charge them more. They will get no benefit from underground garages. I understood from the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, that the money would be spent on such things as underground garages and so on. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the men of whom I am speaking will not get any benefit from such places. This means that many of the people who pay will not get the benefit.
If I may, I will now read to your Lordships the letter which I have received from the Secretary of the Association of County Councils in Scotland. It is dated December 17 and it is very short. It states:As promised, I write to say that the appropriate Executive Committee of the Association at its meeting yesterday approved of the view expressed by a sub-committee against charges being made for parking on highways as it is considered that the burden 627 of taxation on motorists is already so severe as to make such additional charges for parking quite unfair. The provisions regarding parking places are set out in Clauses 10 to 14 of the Bill.I thought that I would report that letter to Her Majesty's Government, because the Association of County Councils in Scotland is a cross-section of the public of the whole of Scotland. I think it is a serious thing that in their opinion these clauses of the Bill which has been brought out by the Government should be regarded as unfair. They do not make any other comment. I expect they approve of a good deal of the Bill.
I should be sorry to feel that this Bill went out in such a form that such an important section of the country felt it was unfair. They give the reason for thinking it unfair that there is too heavy a burden of taxation on the motorist. I have not been able to see them since and I do not know whether there are any other criticisms, but I thought it worth passing on to the Government that comment. I can only strongly express the hope, as others have done, that the Government themselves will see their way to pay special attention to the clauses mention and draw them up in such a way that it will not be possible for a large part of Her Majesty's subjects to say they think they are unfair.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, the hour is late and I shall not be long. The noble Earl who introduced the Bill said that it was not controversial, and in the sense in which he used the word, I agree; it is not a Party controversial Bill. We have no Party policy with regard to these matters as yet, and as I see it the function of this debate is merely to have a general discussion and to indicate certain points which the Government may consider, in order that they may meet us with their considered views about them on Third Reading. To that extent, and to that extent only, I propose to say one or two words about a few points. They are only preliminary views, and it may be that on further consideration I shall resile from them altogether. I give merely my own personal impressions at the present time.
I start with the inspection of cars. It seems to me that that will be a most expensive and laborious business. I do not like the idea of having authorised 628 people to carry out this inspection. In my own town we have two garages—I will call them A and B. I take it that to avoid the vast expense of setting up their own establishments for testing all these vehicles, the Government will authorise either A or B. Then A would have to inspect the cars provided by B, or vice versa. The experience of America has shown that that has proved most undesirable and leads to all sorts of abuses; and I am not at all happy about it. Is it really worth while?
I speak without any special knowledge about this matter, but I have here Road Accidents, 1952, in which I have looked to see to what extent accidents on the roads are due to the fact that cars are in a defective state. In 1952, there were 171,757 accidents, and if noble Lords look at page 55, they will see that, so far as private cars were concerned, the police attributed the accident to a defect of the car in only 1,059 cases. That is only a little more than one-half of one per cent. of the total number of accidents. It is nothing like so important a factor as dogs in the road. That being so, I ask myself: is this inspection really worth while? What shall we gain by setting up this very, expensive machinery—because it will be expensive and elaborate? At the most, we might avoid 1,059 accidents out of a total of 171,000-odd.
The next thing I want to ask about—and here the noble Lords, Lord Howe and Lord Brabazon of Tara, know vastly more than I do—is: how far would an inspection once a year prove any good at all? I do not drive now, though I still take out a driving licence. I have had one for over forty years, but I have given up driving. I thought, as Lord Chancellor, that the risk of having an accident and being "had up" before a magistrate was too great to run, so I decided to give up driving. I do not know what the present Lord Chancellor is doing—very likely we shall find that he has followed the same course. If a motorist has his car inspected, say, on January 1 and gets a certificate to say that his car is all right, it does not in the least follow that it will be all right on February 1 or March 1. I send my car periodically to the garage to have the brakes tightened up. Defective brakes are one of the most important of the defects causing accidents. Another defeat is worn tyres, which sometimes burst 629 and cause an accident. Tyres may be examined on January 1, but what will they be like on April 1? It does not follow in the least that we are going to gain anything by having a certificate saying that a car is all right on a particular day. It does not in the least follow that it will remain all right all that year.
On page 55 of this report on road accidents contributory factors are listed as follows: mechanical defects, failure of brakes, 131; tyres and wheels, 200; steering, 95; and other causes, 335. I am making these observations only so that they can be considered—I do not expect any answer to-day. Defective vehicles are only a very small cause of accidents, and I do not see that this inspection will be in the least effective, because the fact that a vehicle is examined at stated intervals does not ensure that it remains in a good condition. Therefore, I am not at all enthusiastic about this provision, though I am perfectly open to persuasion, and may be there is a much better case for it than I at present realise.
With regard to the provision of parking meters, I confess that I am quite unenthusiastic about that proposal. I am afraid that I begin to regard people who park their cars as a great nuisance. As I say, I do not drive, but I am driven about occasionally, and I see roads which ought to be wide enough for three or four rows of traffic reduced to a miserable lane by cars parked on both sides. I do not like to encourage the idea that people should park, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has said. If this is a scheme for raising money, it may be a good scheme; but I do not think we want to raise any more money from the motorist. If it is a scheme to try to deal with the unutterable nuisance of the parking of cars, I do not like it at all. The only way is to use the Parks to the fullest extent. I sympathise with what the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, said yesterday about using Rotten Row for parking. There are, unfortunately, very few people who ride nowadays. I should like to see people parking their cars in the Park, and, in return, I should want then not to park their cars in the streets in the way they do to-day.
Then I should like it to be considered whether or not people who live in a particular street cannot be given priority in parking. For instance, we all have had 630 occasion to go to a doctor or dentist. A motorist who drives up in a car to any house in the Harley Street—Wimpole Street area, finds it impossible to find any place to put the car, as your Lordships know. I am told by doctors, who feel rather bitter about this matter—whether they are right or wrong I do not know—that there are people who come up from the country in the morning, park their cars in Harley Street and leave them all day long, though they have nothing whatever to do with Harley Street. They go and do their business in the City and elsewhere, and simply use Harley Street as a convenience for parking. It would be much better, if a scheme could be worked out, rather than having parking meters, or allowing these people, who are really foreigners, to park there, to give the doctors, or people calling on the doctors, some kind of facility. I am not enthusiastic about this parking meter plan. However, it may be useful to try it as an experiment—and that is all that is suggested here—and we may learn much more after the experiment has been tried.
I was disappointed with the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in one respect. I am sorry he does not like the idea of the provision of garages by the London County Council. I do not mind who provides garages; so far as I am concerned, "Old Nick" can provide garages; it is better than having no garages at all. If the Government are going to provide garages, that is excellent. If private enterprise will provide them, that is better still; and if the borough councils will provide them, that is all right. But if one of those who seem to be willing to provide garages, given State assistance, is the London County Council, I should have thought that the noble Earl would welcome the scheme, as I do. I feel that this is one of the things that we must try to do. Private people will not do it, because it does not pay. We considered this matter at the Temple, and the charge that would be required to pay the costs of underground garages is one that people would never pay. It has got to be done as some kind of service. I should have thought that if the London County Council were willing to take on the job, they should be encouraged in every way.
I want to say a word or two about this question of offences. Here again, I do 631 not expect any answer, and I am merely making a few observations so that it may be considered whether they have any merit or none at all. First of all, do let me remind your Lordships of this fact. It is a profound mistake to think that you necessarily prevent a thing from being done by making the penalties severe. May I give a simple and homely illustration of that? There was a time when to steal goods of the value of 5s. from a dwelling-house was a capital offence; and in the nineteenth century the judges protested when there was a question of doing away with the capital penalty. Where the judges failed to realise they were so wrong in those days was in this respect: that juries were not convicting; they were bringing in absolutely perverse verdicts, because they were not going to expose an unfortunate defendant to the risk of being hanged for the theft of some trumpery article. And even if it was not a trumpery article, they used to find that it was not of the value of 5s., in order to prevent those consequences. Always remember that if a jury get it into their heads that a man has done a particular act but about which they might say: "But for the Grace of God, I might have been in the dock myself," they will certainly find that man not guilty. That has been the experience of nearly all judges.
There went out a suggestion, not long ago, that everybody convicted of driving a car under the influence of drink ought to be sent to prison. That is a sentiment with which I personally agree. The result was that juries got it into their heads that if they found a man guilty of that offence he would go to prison. We found people of exemplary character appearing before juries, and juries from that day onwards nearly always found those people not guilty. It is with the greatest difficulty that any judge can get a jury to convict a man of driving while under the influence of drink. I do not in the least object to an increase of the penalties, but do bear in mind that what matters is that people should be convicted, not that they should be sent to prison. I mention that by way of a word of caution.
I now want to deal with a class of case in which I never had a considerable practice, and in which it is many years since I practised at all—the noble Lord, 632 Lord Mancroft, will know much more about this than I do. Take, first, the offence of manslaughter. The courts require degrees of negligence for these various offences. Manslaughter must be through criminal negligence, of course, because all the offences we are now talking about are crimes. It must not only be criminal negligence, but negligence of a very, very, very—there are three "verys"—bad kind indeed. I think I am right in saying that the sort of negligence which would support the lesser charge of dangerous driving is not the sufficiently high degree of negligence required to support a charge of manslaughter. If you are doing that which would constitute dangerous driving, and as a result of that dangerous driving you have the misfortune to kill somebody, then I believe I am right in saying that it would not constitute manslaughter. But the relevant section of the 1930 Act contains also the word "reckless." I do not know why, but I think the words are, "dangerous or reckless driving." I should have thought that reckless driving would have supported a charge of manslaughter. The unfortunate judges, in dealing with these cases, have to try to convey to juries the varying degrees of negligence which are required.
There is the type of negligence which is required to support and sustain a charge of manslaughter. Then the next stage down the list is the type and degree of negligence which, though not enough for a charge of manslaughter, will support one of dangerous driving. Next down the list is the type of negligence which will support a charge of driving without due care and attention. When you finish all those, you then get into a different class of negligence, which would not be sufficient to constitute any criminal offence but is yet sufficient to constitute a civil offence and render you liable in an action for damages, if you do any damage. It is quite impossible really to indicate to a jury clearly the differentia between these varying types of negligence. At the present time, on a charge of manslaughter, a jury is by Statute entitled to bring in a verdict of dangerous driving, and they sometimes do. They are not entitled to bring in a verdict of driving the car under the influence of drink. I should like the noble Lord to consider—I do not mean now, but between now and the next stage of the Bill—whether or not it would be 633 right (either by having a separate count, or by treating it as dangerous driving is treated to-day, where it can be done by a provision of the Statute) to leave it open to a jury not only to bring in a verdict of dangerous driving on a charge of manslaughter, but also to bring in a verdict of driving while under the influence of drink.
We then come to the next stage in the category, that of dangerous driving—and I have already said that I think the word "reckless" needs to be looked at. On a charge of dangerous driving that is tried on indictment by a jury, because the defendants desire that to be done, what you hear counsel say is this: "Members of the jury, no doubt you may think that my client was negligent, but the negligence of which he was guilty was not really that high degree of negligence which is required to constitute dangerous driving. It was no doubt careless driving, and you may think it was careless driving, but that has nothing to do with you; that is not a thing you can try. Careless driving is a summary offence to be tried before the magistrates." Therefore, when the whole case is tried out on indictment at Quarter Sessions, Assizes, or wherever it may be, and the man is charged with dangerous driving, it is not open to a jury to find that he was guilty of careless driving. I suggest that that matter might be looked at to see whether or not a reform is desirable. I have already referred to the offence of driving "without due care and attention," which needs, as I say, the lowest degree of negligence required in any of these offences to support a criminal charge.
Now I come to the offence of "drunk in charge," as it is commonly called. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, made rather a good point here which has rather worried me sometimes. I heard of a case of a man who left his car on the road outside his house and did not turn on his lights. He proceeded to dine at his own house, not wisely but too well, and was rather drunk after dinner. He was wearing his pyjamas when the police came along and wanted to know who was the owner of the car. They wanted to have the lights turned on. Down went the gentleman in his pyjamas to turn the lights on, the police saw he was drunk and they prosecuted him for being drunk in charge of a car. I cannot think that 634 that kind of thing is desirable. On the other hand, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, put the case of a man wise enough to realise his condition and sensible enough to stop the car and get into the back seat. I take it that the answer might be that the man might start driving again; therefore the matter needs consideration. I am not expressing any final opinion on these points; I am saying merely that it is a matter to which I hope the noble Lord will pay particular attention.
Let us keep a sense of proportion about this matter. I look at page 576 of this Table, and find there that the police list the factors which they think are important as contributing to accidents. The grand total of accidents where the driver is under the influence of drink or drug is 870, and this number includes 166 pedal cyclists. As I told your Lordships before, we are dealing with a total of 171,000 accidents. Now I turn on to the next page, and I see that they attribute to the dog in the carriageway 2,635 accidents. I never realised before that, according to the opinion of the police, three times as many accidents are caused by dogs in the highway as are caused by people being under the influence of drink. The number of cases of accidents caused by people under the influence of drink is really a negligible proportion of the total number of accidents—870 out of 171,000. I cannot do the sum, but it is a very small fraction indeed.
I do not know whether or not my noble friend, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, mentioned the point about dogs in the highway. That is a matter which I think the Government might consider. If this is really a serious cause of accidents perhaps it would be worth while trying to do something about that problem, although one would hate doing so. Those are points which occur to me. We will certainly co-operate with the Government in giving this Bill close attention. We, with them, desire to do everything we can to contribute to lessening the appalling toll of accidents. I hope that the few observations I have made and which other noble Lords have made may assist the Government between now and the Committee stage to see whether or not the Bill can be altered, perhaps in some respects tightened up and in other respects loosened.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, in the course of one of the most interesting speeches in this interesting debate my noble friend Lord Hindlip drew our attention to the competition, the results of which were announced in last week's Sunday Times. This competition required readers to give the Short Title, the Long Title and the Explanatory Memorandum of any Bill they would like to see introduced by a Back Bencher into Parliament. The noble Lord was not quite right when he gave the number of Bills suggested—it was actually 148; but he was quite right when he said that 83 of those were on the very subject of the Bill we are discussing this afternoon. I think it shows yet one further example of the prescience and farsightedness of Her Majesty's present Administration that this Bill should be introduced for First Reading in between the setting and the judging of that competition, and that three of the subjects which were included in most of those draft Private Members' Bills find their place in the measure before your Lordships for Second Reading to-day.
The other provisions of these draft Bills were as varied, as conflicting and as complex as has been the multitude of suggestions which we have had put forward in this most interesting debate this afternoon. I have listened carefully to every speech that has been made, and I have counted all the suggestions that have been put forward. In all, 79 concrete suggestions have been offered to Her Majesty's Government this afternoon, and material for twelve or possibly thirteen new clauses has been put forward. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and I, if at this late hour we were offered sufficient liquid inducement, could perfectly well produce twelve or thirteen more of our own.
Whilst thanking your Lordships warmly for your concrete and practical help, and at the same time assuring you that the most serious consideration will be given to all the proposals which have been put forward, I should be holding out false hopes if I suggested that all the proposals could be incorporated in the Bill as we shall finally see it. That, of course, would mean the risk of blowing the Bill up until it exploded and then not getting the Bill at all. I should like to thank your Lordships very warmly 636 indeed for the very friendly reception this Bill has been accorded—friendly, but reserved, and in regard to practical suggestions very reserved indeed. I can assure in Lordships that those reservations, n so far as they escape my meagre intelligence—and they do it frequently—will be most carefully examined by the experts to the satisfaction of your Lordships.
What has been the main criticism of this Bill? There has been hardly a speaker who has not said: "This is an excellent idea; this is a most useful little Bill as far as it goes; but it does not go far enough. It is tackling the problem at the wrong end. What we want are sweeping proposals and radical proposals and you must really get down to it." There most have come to a full stop. They have not been very helpful in saying what these broad, sweeping and radical suggestions can be. Perhaps I can be of some assistance, because whilst these speeches to which I listened with such attentive interest were being made, I drafted the ideal Bill. This Bill, I am certain, would have your Lordships' complete approval. It has only three clauses. It would please the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and I think it might even please my noble friend, Lord Brabazon of Tara. I see that he is now sitting on the Conservative Benches. He made his speech from the Cross-Benches. He told us that he once appeared in a court where the magistrate had refused to allow him to ask the witness questions. Having listened to the noble Lord for many years, I should dearly love to meet that magistrate.
This is the Bill I have drafted. It consists of three principal clauses. The first clause lays down that all main roads in the country are to be dual carriageways, with fly-overs throughout the entire length, and all towns shall be by-passed. The second clause enjoins Her Majesty's Government to build garages forthwith for at least two million cars. The third clause makes it imperative that all drivers should exercise not only the skill of Jehu, who, as students of the Second Book of Kings among your Lordships will remember, drove furiously, but also the divine skill of Archangel Gabriel without the assistance of his horn.
§ EARL JOWITT
I have listened to a great many of the speeches but I have not heard any single noble Lord make any such foolish suggestion.
§ LORD MANCROFT
I am making these "foolish" suggestions because I am trying to show your Lordships what we really want. Every noble Lord who has emphasised the difficulties has told us that our real trouble is that for twenty years we have not built sufficient roads; that we should have tackled the garage problem years ago; and that we should have done something a long time ago to combat the causes of congestion. Of course we should. That is part of the Government's programme. This Bill must be read in conjunction with the rest of the Government's programme. It is not really practical to ask that the Bill should contain what it does not, or criticise the Bill for what it is not, rather than criticise it for what it seeks and sets out to be; and what it seeks and sets out to be is a much more modest Bill than many noble Lords have assumed in their criticisms.
As the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, pointed out in his opening remarks, there is no clear-cut theme running through the Bill. That is true But through many of the clauses, as certain noble Lords have pointed out, there runs the old and ever-pressing theme of keeping death off the road. That is not an abject over which any noble Lord would argue. The need for keeping that theme in the forefront in as many of these clauses as possible has been accentuated by the sharp increase—18 per cent. was the figure, if I remember aright—in casualty figures announced only a few days ago.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, gave a figure for the cost to the country each year of casualties of (I think it was) £150 million—and it may be more. For my part, I include the problem of congestion in the problem of safety. I believe that the troubles caused by congestion, particularly in the big cities, and on the highways as well, lead to irritation, carelessness and bad driving. I believe that the two are part and parcel of each other. This Bill, let me make it perfectly clear, is not anti-anybody. It is not anti- any particular class of road users, but it does face the fact that there is a problem which we must tackle. Far too many road users of all types to-day are still just potential 638 accidents looking for somewhere to happen. This Bill really emphasises, for the first time, the fact that pedestrians and, cyclists must be included as part of the traffic.
That brings me to the second criticism made by several noble Lords, the criticism that there are too many restrictions and negative provisions in this Bill—legislation which says: "You must not do this" and "You must not do that." I am afraid that that is inherent in the problem of traffic: it always has been. It is inherent, surely, in the actual nature of the vehicle itself. Here is a potentially dangerous weapon put into the hands of a man who, unless guided by certain instructions, which must be restrictive in certain measures, will use it wrongly. There is no getting away from that fact. The figures which have been quoted freely to your Lordships to-day unfortunately go to prove it. As I think Oliver Wendell Holmes pointed out on more than one occasion, there is no need to be particularly angry with these restrictions because they are negative in content: after all, over 50 per cent. of the Ten Commandments were strictly negative in their content, and they have not been criticised particularly on those grounds.
The next point is parking, which has caused criticism. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, and I think practically every other speaker in the debate, has made mention of the parking meters provisions. I entirely agree with the noble and learned Earl that the real nuisance which we are trying to combat is the man who comes up to town, five days a week, driving his car, with no other passenger in it, and who leaves his car the whole day outside, or very near to, his place of business. Whilst not going so far as to agree with the Lord Mayor of London in his recent strictures, or with Sir John Elliott, I would suggest that the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, is right when he emphasises the nuisance that this type of driver is becoming. I would even go so far as to say that I believe that that type of driver has a sort of motor drug: he cannot move a yard without his car. When I look at those cars parked round Berkeley Square, of which just under half come into the class which we are discussing, I seriously wonder how many of their owners would suffer, in their person or in their business, if they were not allowed to come up by 639 car and had to go by public transport, always bearing in mind that this class of driver tends to travel outside the rush hours, when the traffic and public transport is getting considerably easier.
This sort of scheme was criticised when it was introduced in every other country. It was criticised in America; it was criticised in Sweden very much; it was criticised in New Zealand, where their problem is quite like ours, in some respects. It was also criticised in Switzerland. But all users of these parking meters have now come to regard them as useful and to seek them more. We are seeking power in this Bill to introduce them on only a very small scale. I agree that asking people to pay for using the highway is an innovation, but are they, within the ordinary sense of the word, "using" the highway? Are they not really adopting "squatters' rights" on the highway? Are they not obstructing ordinary circulating traffic? Take the case of a motorist who wants to park for an hour's shopping: he has to go round and round and round looking for parking accommodation.
We have been criticised from the point of view of the Road Fund. The money received from parking meters is not coming back to the central Exchequer; it is going to local authorities, as an instigation and encouragement to them to provide alternative parking facilities. I will, of course, look carefully at the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about the London County Council, but I cannot go so far as to agree with the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, about civic restaurants. I would warn the noble Earl that I think that at the moment there are one or two central features in that idea quite contrary to the scheme as Her Majesty's Government see it. I should like to look at his proposal more carefully to see whether negotiations along the lines he suggested might be fruitful.
I quite agree that this scheme should not be rushed. It may possibly be advantageous to spread it to another city, to another small town, such as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth suggested. I think these proposals may prove a useful contribution towards easing this intolerable problem. When your Lordships bear in mind that we have 18.1 vehicles to 640 every mile of road in this country, compared with, say, 6.7 vehicles in France, the contrast shows how much greater is our problem than that of many countries, and how much more necessary it is for us to try any scheme, particularly one like this, which has proved satisfactory in the past, to see whether it will not do something to ease our troubles.
The same defence can be put up—and I am now going to put it up on— the next most controversial point raised by many noble Lords, the inspection of vehicles. This is a pilot scheme. We are not going to launch a scheme straight away with millions of civil servants, or millions of engineers, inspecting cars extensively from the day the scheme is launched. We are going to try only a very small scheme at first and then, if it proves successful, extend it possibly to a new but very small class of vehicles. In this country, over half our cars are over fifteen years old. Two million are over seven years old, and by 1960 we shall have seven million cars. I would not suggest for one moment that maintenance is a leading factor in our accident rate (the figures, of course, disprove that), but it is one factor. I believe that it may be a bigger factor than these figures suggest; because it may be indirectly responsible for quite a number of accidents. Is there any disagreement about that? Those of us who come within the scheme as volunteers are being asked to submit ourselves to a scheme which I am certain nearly every reliable and reputable driver in the country voluntarily undergoes at least twice a year without any objection. I think one or two noble Lords are making a little heavy weather of the trouble which we are likely to encounter in the working of this pilot scheme, and even when it is extended to a wider class.
I have been asked why the appeal should be to the Minister and not to the courts. That is an old and vexed question. The question to be decided in such cases would be purely one of fact. To which court would the appellant go: the divisional court or the county court? The question at issue would, for example, be whether one's brake were actually in alignment, as one claimed, and not out of alignment, as the inspector alleged. I see great difficulty over that.
641 The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and many other noble Lords spoke on the question of fines. That point was also male by the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, in his most interesting maiden speech. Lord Lucas of Chilworth went so far as to say that he thought in some cases magistrates were being a little perverse in fining at such a low rate. It is not for me to make any comments on that suggestion, save to say that by increasing the fines we are hoping to emphasise the seriousness which at least Her Majesty's Government feel should be directed at this matter. Let me mot it no more highly than that. As to fines on the spot—the American custom which several noble Lords, among them Lord Teviot and Lord Lucas of Chilworth, mentioned—I have two things I want to say. One is that it is quite alien to anything we have ever had in this country. I do not mean that it is wrong for that reason, but it would be a most radical change. The other practical point to make is that the matter is now the subject of an inquiry by an Official Committee who have not yet reported, and I think we should keep silent on it until we see what they have to say about it.
I turn now to the question of obstruction, dealt with in Clause 2, which several noble Lords, including Lord Teynham and Lord Howe, have mentioned. The point there is to enable the police to deal with the genuine obstruction that they occasionally encounter such as cars parked carelessly and heedlessly outside, the main ambulance exits to hospitals—a problem all too common in London. The head of the London Fire Brigade has expressed considerable anxiety about his ability to get his fire appliances through particularly crowded areas—for instance, in and around Soho, where one car wrongly placed can block the traffic for hundreds of yards either side. Since the police must themselves take the cars away, exercising their power under this clause, I should have thought that that fact alone was sufficient reason to think that they would exercise their power only when they found a genuine obstruction. I hope that that will be a sufficient guarantee to your Lordships that the power will be used only when it is really needed.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, and two or three other noble Lords, mentioned the 642 question of the right of appeal when the issue of a driving licence had been refused. I have not checked this point in detail, because I have not the Act in my hand at the moment, but I think I am right in saying that the right of appeal to the courts, not to the Minister, already exists in the 1930 Act. I will check that, but I am pretty certain that it is so. I have answered Lord Listowel's point about the L.C.C. I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, when he made his point about Grand Prix motor racing. I will certainly look at that point. Obviously, it is a complex matter, involving several new and difficult principles; but I would not turn down his suggestion straight away, because I see the point of the arguments he advanced.
The noble Lords, Lord Hampton and Lord Hindlip, both talked about the education of young children—an important point and I am grateful that they directed attention to it. I am not able to tell them that it is 100 per cent. covered in the elementary schools of this country, but road safety and the need for road safety is widely taught. The most efficient teacher of all is the village policeman, and I am glad to say that he is called in on a large number of occasions to teach the children—most of whom he knows personally by name—the matters which we have been discussing this afternoon. I only wish that more local authorities would make greater use of the police; I can assure them that the police are only too happy to make their services available for instruction in road safety. The noble Lords, Lord Sempill and Lord Hindlip, both asked me about the reinstatement of the test for the drivers of heavy road vehicles. There have been frequent requests for that. The reason why reinstatement has been put off is not only that it would cost a great deal of money, and a great deal of time and effort, but also that there seems at the present moment to be no great deterioration in the standard of long-distance heavy road haulage driving; indeed, the standard seems to be very good indeed. At the moment, I cannot say that the evidence points to a need for its reinstatement, though we will bear it in mind if the need should arise. If the standard of driving of drivers of heavy road vehicles deteriorates we will certainly think about it again, but, as I say, 643 at the moment the evidence does not point towards a need.
My Lords, I am afraid that the time at my disposal does not enable me to answer more than a tithe of the questions that noble Lords have asked. I have answered, I think, the most important ones that have been put to me, and I will do my level best to have correct answers given to all the questions which I have been unable to answer. The trouble with this Bill is that it is easier to deal with it on the Committee stage, when one is considering individual points, rather than on Second Reading, when there is no main theme running through it. My noble friend Lord Fortescue tells me that the Committee stage will be on Tuesday, February 15, and that is sufficiently far ahead to enable most of us to think again on the matters that have been raised this afternoon. But I hope that this Bill, when it is considered in Committee and on Third Reading, will be considered in conjunction with Her Majesty's Government's road plan, as briefly outlined by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary.
I hope it will be realised that this Bill is an experimental Bill; that we must go slowly with it and take it step by step, whilst both users of the road and the police learn to understand its provisions, and, in so doing, remain on good terms with each other. In my opinion, it would be absolutely disastrous if the relationship between the police and road users were to deteriorate through the harsh administration of any provision in this Bill. That is why we should go slowly with it. There is, surely, one question we should ask ourselves—namely, will this Bill make the roads safer for all users, not just for the various classes of road user? We have heard this afternoon (I hope I may say this without offence) rather predominantly about the motorist's point of view. I am interested as a motorist and as a pedestrian, but more so as a pedestrian. We must think of all road users. It is perfectly easy to take this Bill in one hand, to go through every clause and, if you have the wish, to make nonsense of every clause by referring to any ridiculous situation which might conceivably arise. You can do that particularly easily with such a Bill. But a Bill like this, which deals with everyday problems, has surely to 644 be administered with common sense. That is what the police will do. That is what I am quite certain the people for whose benefit the Bill is intended, namely, the road users, will also do.
My Lords, my noble friend Lora Selkirk, in introducing this Bill, said that there are no political implications in it. Let me add that there is very little political advantage to be gained from introducing it; but I sincerely hope that there is a great advantage to be derived by, and to accrue to, the users of the roads, and to all classes of Her Majesty's liege subjects for whose benefit this Bill is introduced. I hope that your Lordships will now give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.