HL Deb 09 November 1954 vol 189 cc1227-32

3.52 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, it is generally recognised that there must be certain legislation which is not regarded as permanently necessary, and it is customary to ask for the renewal of this legislation in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. I hope your Lordships will accept the principle that such renewal is necessary and thus give this Bill a Second Reading. The Schedule contains the list of legislation we wish to have renewed for another year. It is the same as last year, except that we have dropped the Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Act. Naturally, I will do my best, if the House will allow me to speak again, to answer any question that any noble Lord may have on this collection of legislation. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

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

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that I may be forgiven for departing somewhat from precedent in debating this Bill upon its Second Reading. I am doing so after consultation through the usual channels with Her Majesty's Government, and it seems that it would be more convenient for them to answer my questions this afternoon than on the Committee stage. I am not going to oppose the passage of this Bill at all, but there are one or two questions that I should like to ask regarding the provisions in the Schedule. The first one is with reference to the Cotton Manufacturing Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1934, Sections 1 and 2 of which are continued under the Expiring Laws Continuance (No. 2) Bill. The Cotton Manufacturing Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act was passed in 1934, and it was continued for three years. Sections 1 and 2 give statutory enforcement to wages agreements voluntarily entered into by both the unions and the employers. This worked well up to 1937, but then the Act was allowed to lapse. Sections 1 and 2, which carry these provisions of statutory enforcement to voluntary wage agreements, were carried on. The first question I wish to ask the noble Lord (I have given him notice of it) is: Why cannot this be enacted in permanent legislation? Both sides of the weaving industry are quite happy about it. They want it to go on, and it seems to me to be an unnecessary procedure—and I expect the noble Lord has a very good answer to it—that every year your Lordships should be bothered with having to pass this Bill which authorises the continuance for another twelve months.

The other point is a little more serious: it is with reference to the Road Traffic Act, 1934, Section 1. That section of that Act brought into being the 30 m.p.h. speed limit. It was then laid down that it should go on for an experimental period of five years. Every year after 1938 we have had in the Schedule which appears in the Bill now before your Lordships this section of the 1934 Act, so that the 30 m.p.h. speed limit can continue. I was going to suggest to the noble Lord that it would be better if this section also were embodied in permanent legislation. I can quite understand the reason for it, because the whole of the speed limit provisions in the Road Traffic Act, 1930–I do not think I am using an extravagant phrase—are really chaotic. There are no fewer than fifteen speed limits in this country, all perhaps applicable in 1930, covering all sorts of road transport from traction engines onwards. Your Lordships will agree, I think, that one of the big social problems of our age is the congestion upon our roads. That congestion is due in some substantial measure—I will not say wholly—to the fact that we in this country cannot move our traffic quickly enough or safely enough. I couple safety with quickness. We are conniving at congestion through having still on the Statute Book an out-of-date and outmoded form of speed limit which was enacted in 1930.

This is a very long Schedule, and I will not read it to your Lordships. I will give your Lordships an illustration. One section of the Road Traffic Act stipulates the number of trailers that a tractor unit can draw along roads, and the First Schedule lays down the speed at which it shall travel. A showman's tractor can draw three huge trailers, and the whole of that unit can take up 100 ft. in length. It has to travel in any city, town or village at 3 m.p.h. and elsewhere at 5 m.p.h. I am not advocating that it should be allowed to travel at 30 or 40 m.p.h., but the mere fact that it is legal to-day for a tractor to draw such a huge load as that makes for the congestion of our roads. I have cited that as one instance. I could say, as I have said in your Lordships' House before, that so archaic are the speed limit laws of this country that if all the limits under the 1930 Act were enforced the entire traffic on the roads of this country would come to a standstill. It is not usually known that under this Statute no motor coach or motor bus is allowed to travel at over 30 m.p.h. on the roads of this country. Yet they all travel at over 30 m.p.h. I am not complaining about that, because the mechanical advances in road vehicles, in the way of braking systems, construction and control ability, especially of the vehicles which have to undergo a statutory examination, are so great that for this 30 m.p.h. limit still to be imposed on some of the fast passenger traffic on the roads of this country is ridiculous and brings the law into disrepute.

The reason why I raise this matter this afternoon is that I should like the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, if he will, to ask his right honourable friend the Minister of Transport whether he will refer the whole matter of speed and speed limits to that excellent Committee which successive Ministers have always set up—the Safety First Committee of the Ministry of Transport. It is a Committee of which every Parliamentary Secretary has to be Chairman. I have had some personal experience of it. It is composed of the best brains in the country on this problem. No other tribunal to which one could refer the matter would be as good. Expressing a personal opinion, I hope (though it is a very faint hope) that there will be a revised Road Traffic Act in the not too distant future. I want the noble Lord to ask his right honourable friend whether he will give this Committee the task of overhauling the provisions with regard to speed limits, loads, capacity of trailers in relation to speed limits, and all those matters that are pertinent to this problem. If he will refer these matters to this Committee for their expert advice, then, when that is done, I can see good sense in asking the Government not to bring forward the provision which appears every year in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill by which every year both Houses of Parliament have to authorise the continuance of the 30 m.p.h. limit. I am not arguing this afternoon for or against the 30 m.p.h. limit. That is not my argument. My argument is that that limit and all the other speed limit provisions which require radical overhaul—because this has a great effect upon the safety of the roads of this country—should be in permanent legislation. This is a serious matter. We are coming to a state of congestion in this country that I think will defy the best brains of the Ministry of Transport and anybody else.

I saw in The Times to-day a suggestion by a well-known gentleman that we should bar motor cars from coming into the centres of cities. What are the tradespeople going to do to earn the money to pay their rates? That is one of the first points that crop up in one's mind. There are many things to be considered. Congestion is caused by archaic provisions such as these, tied up with the speed limit and these outsize loads, an example of which I gave your Lordships earlier this afternoon. If the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, will give me his assurance that he will convey my request to his right honourable friend, I shall be perfectly happy on the second point I raised. Regarding the first, I feel certain that the noble Lord has a very good and simple answer.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, if I may speak again by leave of the House and deal with the noble Lord's second point first, while it is fresh in our memories, I would point out that he is raising issues very wide of those actually before the House at the moment. We are considering Section 1 of the Act of 1934, which is the machinery by which we impose the 30 m.p.h. limit in a built up area. The noble Lord is referring to that, I must admit, somewhat obsolete, Schedule to the Act of 1930 which tells us precisely at what pace we can go in an invalid carriage or a traction engine with rubber tyres, and so on. I agree with the noble Lord on that paint. But whilst the Act probably needs revising, the noble Lord's speech was directed rather to the repeal of the Act of 1930 than to the renewal of the section of the Act of 1934 that we desire. I shall certainly refer his remarks to my right honourable friend the Minister. I cannot answer that the Minister will refer them for consideration to any particular Committee—naturally I could not commit him to do any such thing. I have little doubt, however, that if the Minister thinks that that is indeed the best Committee to consider these matters, he will send them to that Committee for consideration.

The noble Lord also led me to believe that he would like to see the legislation made permanent. Of course, there are arguments both for and against such a course. It is something to be able to be flexible. To-day we have a 30 m.p.h limit in built up areas. We probably think that that is about the right speed, but one can visualise a set of circumstances when 25 miles per hour or 35 miles per hour, or even more, might be correct.


If I conveyed to the noble Lord the impression that I wanted the 30 m.p.h. limit to be made permanent, then I must apologise to him. A speed limit in a built-up area I think must always be necessary. What the speed limit shall be, as the noble Lord rightly says, varies with different conditions and times.


Yes. I think that rather reinforces my argument that there are definite reasons for dealing with the matter in this particular way, so that, if any change should be necessary in the built-up area limit, it would be quite easy to effect it. Otherwise, the noble Lord began talking of outsize loads which is a little far away from the legislation with which we are dealing at the moment.

I will turn now, if I may, to the question of the Cotton Manufacturing Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1934. Your Lordships will remember, as some of us do, the appalling recession there was in the cotton industry in the 1930's, and how there was a great excess of machinery capacity and tremendous price-cutting going on the whole time. Wherever a majority of both sides could agree on wages, the provisions of this Act of 1934 meant that the weaving section, where price-cutting was liable to be particularly rife because there were many small establishments, could go to the Minister and say, "Please make it statutory on the whole industry." Various legislative and other arrangements brought about at that time gradually lifted the industry out of its rut—capacity was reduced by agreement, and so on. As the noble Lord said, this particular provision has not been used since 1937, because since then both sides of the industry have always been able to come to a voluntary agreement; there were no bad people on either side who were liable to break the agreement, and therefore it was unnecessary for them to come to the Minister for statutory powers to enforce it.

A question one might ask is: why has the provision not applied to other sections of the industry beside the weaving section? The answer is simply that it was particularly apposite to the weaving section; the other sections have always been able to agree without it, and they have never had recourse to it. Then, why is it not made permanent? That is the question the noble Lord particularly asks. I understand that in another place in 1952 a suggestion was made that some people would like to see this Act made permanent. The Minister of the day expressed willingness to receive representations; but in practice there have not been representations, presumably because nobody felt strong enough to wish the thing to be permanent. If the noble Lord feels strongly about the matter, and can persuade the industry that the Act should be permanent, it is up to the industry to make representations to my right honourable friend. I have no doubt that he will receive them with great sympathy. I hope I have answered the noble Lord's points.


I thank the noble Lord very much.

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

House adjourned at fourteen minutes past four o'clock.