§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (THE EARL OF SELKIRK)
My Lords, I think I can truthfully describe this Bill as old wine in new bottles, because we have already had the greater part of this Bill before us for discussion. I think I can say that the alterations which we made in it have come out almost unscathed during its passage through another place. If the Bill has not grown in stature, it has certainly grown in volume. We started eighteen months ago, in December, 1954, with twenty-five clauses; we handed the Bill on with thirty-four clauses and it now comes back with forty-seven clauses, and there are at least eleven entirely new subjects which have been brought up in it.
I do not propose to make any general review of Government policy in regard to Road Transport, but I should like to say that the object of this Bill is to make the roads safer and to make their use as economic as we possibly can. This is the first Road Traffic Bill that we have had for twenty years and during that time there has beer a vastly expanding transport industry. I think it is fair to remember that there already exists a fairly 842 substantial body of rules and regulations which can be drawn upon, and in this sense the Bill fills in some of the gaps and expands existing rules and regulations. Fortunately, this is not what is generally regarded as a controversial subject in a political sense, but I would not say that, in an individual sense, it is not indeed highly controversial, because there are different interests: there are pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and householders, many of whom may have quite different views as to the way the roads can best be used. What I think makes it even more controversial is that while we may agree fairly fully as to the objective to be attained, there will be a great deal of disagreement as to the method employed—in other words, how we can translate these purposes into law and how they can be made administratively most effective. I think that on the whole there will be a division between what is practicable and what is ideal, and I expect that, on behalf of the Government, generally we shall be seeking to show that what is practicable is much better than what may be superior theoretically. I think that that is a point which will arise fairly often.
There is one other element which I should like to emphasise at the beginning: namely, that a great deal of this Bill has to be administered by the police, and it is of the utmost importance that the task we put upon them, a body for whom we have the highest regard and who perform such a tremendous service in our community, should be well within their compass and that they should not feel that they are exacerbating the public against them in the exercise of their duties, but rather that they are working with the public. I suggest that that is a consideration that we must bear in mind all the way through this Bill. This is a miscellaneous Bill and there is really little of a general character which I can say about it, except that it raises generally the standard of discipline on the roads. When we consider the nature of the motor car, the damage it can do and the relatively limited facilities in which it has to operate, I do not think there can be any question that a higher standard is necessary, and I personally think that we are fortunate that the great body of users of the roads most readily accept the discipline which is imposed.
843 I will now turn to the clauses of the Bill. There are four clauses dealing with the mechanical condition of vehicles: namely, Clauses 1, 2, 3 and 7. This is something of an innovation to the motor car industry, so I will deal with the matter a little more fully. I say straight away that it is difficult statistically to show that mechanical defects have played a big part in contributing towards accidents. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that the 1954–55 list shows not more than about 7,000 cases in which vehicles are recorded as contributing to accidents. That is quite a substantial number, but it is still not big in the quarter of a million-odd accidents which are reportable. But what has been obvious from the earliest times is that if motoring is to be safe, cars must be mechanically efficient. Parliament has laid down conditions, but what has happened up to now is that Parliament has never enforced them.
Quite frankly, it is not possible to examine the causative and complex factors in the 250,000-odd reportable accidents which occurred in 1954–55 and to say with any accuracy how far mechanical causes have played a part. None the less since last year we have some most interesting statistics which have been drawn from the vehicle testing centre which has been set up at Hendon. I expect that some of your Lordships have taken your cars there and have had them tested. I confess that I have taken my own car and also my official car and put them through the test in order to see what checks are made. This station is, of course, voluntary and it is free. While the cars that go there may be held to be a fair cross-section of cars on the road, it is probable that the majority of people who go there are those who are more interested in the mechanical condition of their cars than the average person. These figures show that up to the end of April 14,500 cars had been tested, and of those 78 per cent. had one or more major defect. The major defects included those in footbrakes, steering, tyres and headlamps. I should like to give a number of figures which I think are striking. For instance, older cars clearly have a higher percentage of defects. Take footbrakes which required attention: 27 per cent. of the cars of 1945 "vintage" or older required attention; of those between 1945 844 and 1953 11 per cent., and of those after 1953, 4 per cent. When we come to headlights that required attention—of course, it may not be a very serious fault but I am given to understand that some of these defects were quite marked—in the cars older than the 1945 class 92 per cent. required attention; of those between 1945 and 1953, 75 per cent., and those after 1953, 59 per cent. No one can seriously argue that defects of this sort are unlikely to be a causative factor in accidents—in other words, it is clear that they must play a considerable part. What we are asking motorists to do is really no more than any good motorist does in the ordinary course of looking after his car.
The question with which I believe we shall be faced is how it should be done. Clause 7 which, if I may, I will call Lord Howe's Amendment, makes it an offence, except in certain circumstances, to sell a car which is not roadworthy. Clause 3 strengthens the position for spot-checking. We have always been in a position to do this, and this clause clarifies and extends the provisions relating to those powers. I believe, however, that there is a limit to which this clause can be carried and it would be extremely inconvenient and would only add to congestion if cars were constantly being stopped on the road. Whilst, therefore, this clause must play a part, I am bound to say that we attach rather more importance to the provisions of Clauses 1 and 2. These take powers to set up testing stations, and visualise tests of cars ten years old or more when sufficient testing establishments have been set up. This obligation will not apply to public service vehicles or to taxis where they are already being tested, or to certain other classes of vehicles.
The problem with which most of your Lordships will be concerned is how this can be done efficiently and with the least possible inconvenience to the motoring public. So far as the efficiency of the method is concerned, this depends to a large extent on the right equipment and on keeping the inspection to clearly laid down features. The Minister envisages that it will be confined to steering, lights and brakes, which are so obviously connected with safety. It is felt that this proposal has a psychological aspect because it will emphasise to the general public the importance of ensuring that motor vehicles are in proper and serviceable condition. The figures of countries 845 which have tried this experiment are not conclusive; none the less I believe it is true to say, from the United States figures, that there is a fairly consistent reduction in total accidents in those States where compulsory periodic testing has been introduced. The figures seem to vary from about 12 to 20 per cent. It is also interesting to note that the investigations of the Road Research Laboratory in this matter show that in about 20 per cent. of the accidents mechanical defects played some part in the causative factors which led to accidents. But whether the figure be 10 per cent., 20 per cent. or a lesser percentage, it is not in itself inconsiderable when one is dealing with an annual death rate exceeding 5,000 a year.
It is obviously necessary to take public opinion with us in this experiment and we are particularly anxious to carry it out in a way which is most convenient. The first necessity is to have an adequate number of stations, well spread out over the country. Excessive delays in this matter would be an intolerable burden on the motoring public. It is for this reason that we wish to enlist as widely as possible all authorities and organisations who are willing and competent to do this work. The Bill envisages that these will include Government stations and municipal and private stations. We are aware that some doubt has been felt about leaving this work in the hands of private stations; but if it is to be done within a reasonable time the plain fact is that it is impracticable unless the assistance of private garages is enlisted. We believe this can be done satisfactorily with proper supervision and investigation, which the Minister proposes to exercise. This will not be a question of selecting garages so much as of authorising any garages who have the necessary equipment and are willing and able to carry out the tests, and who satisfy the Minister that they will do so reliably and efficiently. It is not sufficient, of course, to have cars looked at only once a year; nevertheless, it does make clear that: Parliament expects every motorist to do that as an absolute minimum. As a start, the Bill makes it an obligation on motorists with cars which are ten years old or more. No doubt we shall examine that more fully, but I have given your Lordships a broad picture of what we have endeavoured to do in this matter.
846 May I now go through the other clauses more quickly. Clause 4 makes the 30 m.p.h. speed limit permanent; Clause 5 grants additional powers for the dissemination of information, propaganda and training in regard to road safety. Clause 6 gives the police power to remove cars which are causing obstruction. Clause 7 I have dealt with. All these are clauses which we have considered before. Clause 8 was intro6iced in this House last year and creates the new offence of causing death by reckless or dangerous driving. Clause 9, a new clause, seeks to resolve a problem with which we are very much concerned—to distinguish between "driving under the influence" and "drunk in charge". This point was brought very forcefully to our attention by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, and the discussions which we then had have laid the foundation for the proposals now in this clause. Broadly, the offence of being drunk in charge is now treated as a separate offence to which there is a statutory defence that the driver had not, in fact, driven the car and that there was no likelihood of his doing so. I very much hope that this solution will commend itself to the House. It has been very carefully examined.
Clause 10 is a new clause which enables the Minister to raise the minimum age at which motor-cycles can be driven from the present level of sixteen years. Your Lordships are familiar with Clause 11 which makes it an offence to ride a pedal cycle dangerously or carelessly; we have now added the offence of riding a pedal cycle under the influence of drink or drugs. Clause 12 is an old friend giving the police greater powers to control pedestrians. Clause 13 is another subject on which we have had a good deal of discussion—the control of dogs on the road. I hope that this clause, which enables local authorities to designate roads on which it will be an offence to take a dog without a lead, will be considered workable and, within limits, effective. Clause 14 gives power to local authorities to refuse provisional licences where the applicant seems reluctant to submit himself to a test. This applies particularly to motor cycles and was discussed by the House earlier.
Clauses 15 to 20 deal with parking meters; and let me say at once that no 847 one can say with any certainty how effective the introduction of parking meters is going to be. I have no doubt that it will not resolve our parking problems in all cases. At the same time I do not think that anyone would deny that if the introduction of meters materially helps in any place they are well worth trying as an experiment; and that is precisely what Her Majesty's Government are asking authorities to do. It is an urgent necessity to use to the maximum extent the roads we have in our cities, and there is no doubt that indiscriminate parking, particularly by the all-day parker, is materially reducing the free movement of road traffic in many parts of our towns. The principle on which these proposals work is to make rules for parking simpler, clearer and accordingly more easily enforceable by the police—which frankly is not the case at the present time. We envisage that in any district the experiment must be carried out over a fairly substantial area. It would not achieve its object if parking meters were applied to only one or two places without considering the whole parking space of the area in question, for in those circumstances the experiment would not have a fair chance.
This is not, after all, a wild experiment, because it has been extensively tried in a number of countries, though I admit that conditions are different—as they are in many parts of this country. We know that this system has been tried in New Zealand and Stockholm, and extensively in Canada and the United States. What is interesting is that a recent census in the United States shows that 96 per cent. of the people (and in America "the people" means very nearly "the motoring public") believe or approve of the use of parking meters.
There are three general points which I should like to make. First, unlike, I think, any scheme abroad, the proceeds of parking meters are directly and exclusively linked with the provision of off-street parking. This objective is pretty closely tied up by Statute. I know that some people will say that off-street parking should be provided before parking meters; but, frankly, this is a question of the egg and the chicken, and we must start somewhere. I hope that the two things, in fact, will proceed together. The second point is that any scheme which 848 has to be prepared can be prepared only after a full and extensive investigation has been carried out. If your Lordships will look at the Third Schedule, you will see the nature of the investigation which has to be carried out. This, of course, includes the opportunity for the making of objections by people who are on the fringe or on the edge of a parking scheme, and others. Third, the scheme has to be laid before Parliament, which will have full opportunity of making any representation or, indeed, of negativing the proposal.
The only new thing that is in these proposals since we last approved them is Clause 15 (5). This is really a reserve power which enables the Minister himself to carry out in the Metropolitan area an experiment or demonstration in the use of parking meters. It seems probable that local authorities will seek to use the powers so that the Minister may not then need to exercise the reserve powers here envisaged. But even then, it might be useful for him to fill a gap where a local authority has not originally put up a scheme. I can say that we should rather not use the powers unless we have to. Nevertheless we felt that if Parliament accorded the right to install parking meters on an experimental basis, we should at least have the power to de so if necessary.
Clause 21 deals with penalties. Since we last saw this clause speeding offences have been removed and the proposal for compulsory driving tests has also been excised for certain motoring offences. Otherwise, the clause stands as it was when it left this House. Clause 22 deals with obligations for removal of disqualification from driving. This clause is a new clause, and it makes it rather more difficult for the motorist to apply for the removal of such disqualification. Broadly speaking, he must serve at least half his sentence before asking for such removal. Clause 23 allows appeals against disqualification.
Clause 24 is a new clause which deals with persons charged with failing to maintain third-party insurance. The first subsection gives an employee, and only an employee, charged with this offence, the defence that he had no reason to believe that the third-party insurance was not in force. Subsection (2) removes, subject to special reasons, the automatic 849 disqualification on conviction for this offence, and replaces it by discretion of the courts in imposing disqualification. The reason for this is that it was felt that the special reasons it gave had been given too narrow an interpretation. Subsection (3) flows from the wider discretion given in subsection (2), and it now seems unnecessary to distinguish between classes and descriptions of vehicles when considering the need to impose driving disqualification. This means the power of the court to limit disqualification is abolished for this and for other offences. Clause 25 extends the offences for which warning of intended prosecution is unnecessary. Clause 26 enables the police to require the surrender of a licence in cases of disqualification, or where it has been obtained by a false statement.
Clause 27 extends the power of the police to obtain information regarding a person driving a vehicle at a time when the driver is alleged to have committed certain offences. These offences will now include parking offences. Clause 28 is a new clause which seeks to clarify the extent of the Minister's powers under Sections 48 and 49 of the 1930 Act, particularly the powers in regard to the erection, display and illumination of traffic signs. We very much hope that this clause will bring greater uniformity in traffic signs in general. Clause 29 is also a new clause and it enables the police in London to carry out in the London area, with the consent of the Minister, experimental traffic arrangements. This puts beyond a doubt, in fact, what they have already been doing under the old Act of 1839 which is rather out of date.
Clauses 30 and 31 deal with similar points. They are intended to put beyond all doubt the legal validity of police signs of a prescribed character. Clause 30 is a new clause and it clarifies the powers of the police to erect signs relating to special occasions. Clause 31 is also new and it enables temporary signs to be put up for what is described as extraordinary occasions—that is to say some unexpected event such as, for example, a gas main breaking. [...]th clauses are intended to be of[...]a temporary character. Clauses 3[...]3 really deal with a new definitio[...] of contract carriages. We discussed this matter at some length last time, and I can say that the 850 proposals which we agreed to then have hardly been altered during the passage of the Bill in another place. It is not an easy distinction between a stage coach and a contract carriage, but we have tried to draw the distinction as clearly as we can. Very roughly, we have said here that a contract carriage—that is, a charter bus—can run without a public service licence provided that the party is not gathered together by means of a public advertisement and that they all go to the same place but do not do it regularly. No doubt, we shall have discussions on this subject. I think that what I have said covers very briefly what the clause is intended to do.
Clause 34 is one which we examined carefully before. It is intended to deal with the situation created by the High Court in connection with the cases of Blenkin v. Bell and Wooley v. Moore. The proposals we agreed to here have not been altered in the other place. Clause 35 is a new clause which deals with A and B licences. This enables a licence to be revoked where the holder of a licence is running his vehicle below cost for the express purpose of "doing down" his competitors. To put it in its simplest form, it is intended to prevent a large organisation from grossly undercutting prices for the express purpose of putting a competitor out of business. It would be used only in flagrant cases. Clause 36 is a clause which we inserted in this House, and it ensures that the thirty miles per hour speed limit is not automatically extended as soon as a street lighting system is installed. Clause 37 deals with roundabouts. It is intended to clarify the powers of highway authorities to do certain obvious and essential works.
Clause 38 is a clause that we know. It enables the Minister to make special regulations applying to particular crossings. Clause 39 is a clause that we also know and it grants the right to appeal against refusal to vary the conditions of a licence. Clause 40 enables a motor car driving licence to be extended to a period of three years and raises the corresponding fee to fifteen shillings. Clause 41 is an amendment of the constitution of the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee. It is to have on it one additional person representing those using pedal cycles. Clause 42 is a familiar clause about grass cutters.
851 The only other point of detail to which I think I need draw your Lordships' attention is dealt with in paragraph 8 of the Sixth Schedule. There, it is provided that the Minister may, by order, permit the use on our roads of vehicles that do not comply with current regulations for construction and use if they are being used for tests and trials for export, or if they are fitted with "new or improved equipment." I think that this is a useful development to encourage new ideas and to encourage export.
Before I sit down, perhaps I may say a few words about one or two matters on which we propose to put down Amendments on the Committee stage. We propose to put down an Amendment about the power of highway authorities to trim the trees on country roads. We also propose to regulate rather more closely the conditions under which cycle racing can take place on highways, in particular, in regard to mass starts. We also propose to amend Section 46 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, so as to give local authorities a further degree of autonomy in regard to making traffic regulations. We also propose to clarify the present law in regard to restrictions on traffic when roads are under repair. Then we are considering withdrawing the exemption of driving tests of drivers who have held driving licences before 1934 in cases where they have not renewed their licence over a considerable number of years. Another point: there is an obvious anomaly in lighting-up time. We propose to bring the law in regard to lighting-up time more into line with what is good practice at the present time.
My Lords, this is largely an enabling Bill, and it is the administrative side that will follow which is of importance. However, I suggest that it will lay the foundation of what I hope will prove to be solid progress, both in the promotion of safety and in the reduction of congestion. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Selkirk.)
§ 3.11 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, before I venture to address your Lordships upon the Bill, so admirably and so fairly presented to the House by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, may I make a few general observations upon the 852 problem, in general? While we may quarrel about the means, there can be no division of opinion on any side of your Lordships' House about the end we all wish to achieve—that is, a reduction in the number of road accidents in this country. It is a social scourge and no one with any conscience can sit complacently whilst people are being killed or maimed on the roads in the numbers they are to-day. May I say straight away that we on this side of the House are at one with the Government in seeking to improve the position.
I think that in many ways this Bill will add to the effectiveness of road control. The Bill, however, is based largely upon American experience. We in this country are peculiar people: because we envy the Americans many of the things they do, we try to put them into operation in this country on a vastly modified scale, but still hoping to achieve the same results. It is a dangerous thing to compare America with this country. We ought to be careful, not only because there are so many States, with varying laws, but because the thing we consider priceless—the liberty of the subject—is not held in so high an esteem, where road offences are concerned, in America. During the winter I spent a long time in America, in California, and I had an opportunity of studying the methods used there. One thing impressed itself upon me at once: the American motorist is more competent than the British, more considerate of the needs of others on the roads, and the pedestrian is far better disciplined than the pedestrian in this country. The reason is that the law is enforced.
When I was in San Francisco my friends kindly provided me with a marvellous Cadillac—the latest model, 325 h.p.—and a chauffeur. We had only to get within yards of a pedestrian crossing and the chauffeur stopped, and if there was a pedestrian within yards, he waited for him to cross over. I said to him one day, "You are very careful about observing pedestrian crossings", and in that delightful Pacific Coast drawl he replied, "Yeh; you see our pedestrians are expensive." In San Francisco, pedestrians are controlled marvellously. At every intersection are red phase traffic lights with large electric signs—large ones, two feet square. "Walk", they say to the pedestrian; or 853 "Don't walk". And jay-walking in the centre of San Francisco is practically unknown. The people all congregate at the intersections and walk across the road, like the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. I was a "greenhorn" from Britain and did not take any notice of these signs; I never had done in London; why should I in San Francisco? I could not put a foot off the kerb without some kindly American gripping me by the arm and saying, "Say, you wanna ticket?" One seldom sees a policeman patrolling the streets in San Francisco, because nobody thinks of jay-walking. I do not know what would happen if we had that system in this country. I think we have added to the number of accidents through ignoring many of these elementary things.
I should like to give your Lordships this illustration. The roads of Oxford have been debated in your Lordships' House on many occasions. Right in the centre of Oxford there has been an all-red traffic phase for two or three years, but nobody save a few city officials knows of it. In consequence, the pedestrians scutter about like a lot of frightened hens and make up their minds to cross the road only when the traffic is starting again. Yet the local authority could have put up "Walk" and "Don't walk" signs, and there would have been orderliness. In America, pedestrians think nothing of walking fifty yards to the next intersection to cross the street. I wonder what would happen if in this country we asked anybody to walk fifty yards to a crossing before crossing the road. The truth is that road safety is a purchasable commodity, but in this country we are not prepared to pay the price by giving up these individual liberties of driving cars as we like, leaving them where we like, crossing roads when we like—in fact, doing just as we like. I cannot see that we shall get any further until we have greater enforcement of the law.
Many of the provisions in this Bill are admirable, but will they be enforced? When we were discussing the last Road Traffic Bill in December, 1954, I recited to your Lordships the average fine for all traffic offences as given in the Home Office returns for 1952. It was appalling. I am not going to delay your Lordships this afternoon by going through them; I shall do that on Committee stage. Through the courtesy of the Home Office 854 and of the Ministry of Transport, I have the latest returns for 1954, and they show no improvement whatsoever. I know that it is not a popular thing to criticise the police. Yet until we have enforcement of these traffic Jaws we shall never make any inroads upon the road traffic problem. Let us be fair to the police. If I go to them and say, "Why do you not enforce these laws? Why do you not bring prosecutions?", they say, "What is the good? We fill up the anterooms of magistrates' courts with our officers, wasting their time, and the average fine or penalty which the modern magistrate will impose is about 10 per cent. of the maximum. We are not going to waste our time in that way." Those are the facts.
Our trouble is that we have passed law upon law and regulation upon regulation until it is impossible to fight one's way through them. In this way they get into disrepute, and that is why the traffic laws of this country are held in contempt by everybody. I served for two years at the Ministry of Transport, and I tried to persuade them to do something. But "No," they say, "it is not the Ministry of Transport's responsibility to enforce the law." When one asks whose responsibility it is, the answer is that it is that of the Home Office. You go to the Home Office, and they say that they cannot tell chief constables to enforce the law. Well, who can? There is a never-ending "passing of the buck." Parliament must soon think of some way of enforcing these laws, because if we in this country—I have said this before, but I do not think it loses anything by repetition—hold that punishment is a deterrent to wrongdoing—and breaking the traffic law is wrongdoing—then the punishment must be a deterrent, which it has not proved to be in the past.
Let me now come to the Bill itself. I must confess that I am puzzled. The noble Earl said that the Bill produced to your Lordships' House on December 21, 1954, contained twenty-five clauses; in another place it had thirty-four clauses, and then, owing to the General Election, it fell into the "slaughter of the innocents". This Bill now comes to us with forty-seven clauses. And even now, as to the major part of it, I do not know what the policy of the Government is. Cannot the Government make up their minds about some of these things? They 855 change their minds so often, and every time they do so ten clauses get into a Bill. The most controversial, and I think the most important, are those dealing with vehicle inspection. It has been argued—I have argued it myself—that the police records show that only 2 per cent. of the accidents taking place on the roads of this country are due to mechanical failure, whereas the Road Research Laboratory put the proportion at 20 per cent. I do not care whether it is 2 per cent. or 20 per cent.—it is too many. And I am on the side of compulsory vehicle inspection and always have been.
I had better keep on saying this, because when this Bill goes back to another place I do not want to be misrepresented; and I do not want your Lordships' House to be so grossly misrepresented as it was in another place when the Minister tried to defend the removal from the Bill of the clause which your Lordships threw out. Your Lordships have never been against compulsory inspection; but you have been against the method which has been employed. Again I would ask your Lordships to look upon this matter with some reserve. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, with reserve, I grant, quoted the experience of a certain American State—I forget which State it was—and said that 20 per cent.—
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
I did not actually quote figures. I said it was a tendency which showed generally what was the case.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Yes, a tendency. I will not dispute that. But in the State that I believe the noble Earl has in mind all vehicles are tested twice a year under a comprehensive plan. What we propose in this Bill is that motor cars—not commercial vehicles, the most accident-prone vehicles on the road—shall be subjected to a very minor test once a year if they are ten years old and over. So your Lordships will not think that we are going to get spectacular results. I dispute, again in a friendly way, the noble Earl's figures of the Hendon experiment. According to the noble Earl, the testing station at Hendon has proved that four out of every five motor cars tested there are unroadworthy. As I say, I dispute that. Some of the cars at Hendon 856 have been faulted when they have not had faults. At a later stage I shall join issue with the noble Earl on equipment. I made it my business to find out about this matter, and some of the cars at Hendon have been faulted, by a brake-testing machine, for having defective brakes. They have then been taken to independent examiners and found to have no fault whatsoever with them.
The reason is that if there is one inaccurate machine in the engineering world it is a brake-testing machine. No good automobile engineer will ever trust a brake-testing machine. Is it not significant that the makers of the world's best car never test their brakes on a brake-testing machine? They test their brakes in the only place where brakes should be tested—on the road. If your Lordships will forgive a personal reference, more years ago than I care to remember, when I was right at the bottom of the ladder and learning my engineering the hard way, I was a vehicle tester in a manufacturing works. So this is a subject about which I should know something. Any mechanic can find out all the faults, except serious internal faults with brakes, and by testing a car on the road for fifty yards can report on the efficiency of brakes far better, than the brake-testing machine at Hendon, or anywhere else. Your Lordships will find, in point of fact, that for that reason, in the most up-to-date service stations to-day brake-testing machines have been abandoned.
I want to take Clauses 1, 2 and 3, and to ask the noble Lord who is to wind up the debate whether he thinks that the lack of policy displayed by those three clauses can be made up by regulations, some affirmative and some negative. Clause 1 provides for a motor car having a test in a testing station; and, as the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has rightly said, the testing stations can be Government testing stations, municipal testing stations or testing stations run by private enterprise. The Minister said in another place [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 553 (No. 159), col. 248] that the test proposed should bea very simple list—brakes, steering and lights. Subject to one overriding factor, only those three things would be tested. The overriding thing is, of course, that if in testing a car the experts found that it was in such a dangerous condition as to be unsafe for the owner to take on the road they would tell him so. 857 I have in mind such things as a tyre so badly slit that it might burst at any moment, a cracked chassis, or some other serious defect. The owner would then be told. But the purpose of the test would be to see that the brakes, steering and lights were of a sufficient standard to make that car reasonably roadworthy and not a danger to other users of the road.So I take it that if the brakes, steering and lights are satisfactory, the owner of the ear will be given a certificate of roadworthiness, in spite of the fact that there may be other factors, such as the Minister has enumerated, that would make the car a positive danger on the roads. Where is the policy? I have already quoted what the Minister has said. It means that the motorist will get a certificate that will be a passport for him to run that car on the roads of this country for twelve months. Clause 2 says that he must have mat certificate before he can get his excise licence. Now is that a contribution to road safety? It is a staggering thing, but this is what the Minister himself has said. The only thing that will happen is that the owner will be told if his car is unsafe—but he will still be issued with a certificate.
Clause 3 institutes the spot check. The spot check will be carried out on the road, under two Statutes. It will be a more severe test than that under Clause 1, because it will take care not only of brakes, lights and steering, but things such as windscreen-wipers and the other accessories that are enumerated in Regulation 75 of the Construction and Use Regulations brought into force under, I think, Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930. If a motorist does not go through station No. 1 but goes through station No. 2, the spot check, and secures a 100 per cent. credit, he does not get a certificate. Why not? Very likely he has a better motor car than the one who went through station No. 1. And what happens if the driver who takes his car and gets the certificate on the No. I check, under Clause 1, runs into a spot check and it is found that his car has a cracked chassis or a split tyre? Does he "cock a snook" at them, wave the certificate which he has been given to give him complete immunity for eleven months or so, and say, "You cannot stop me; here is my passport"? The Minister himself has said that nothing done on check No. 2 will be used to prosecute because a driver who allows a car to be run on the road with all these 858 defects can be prosecuted under the Construction and Use Regulations. What is the policeman to do? See a potential danger drive away? What is the policy? I ask that seriously. Really, these first three clauses do not add up to sense.
The Bill refers to "private garages". I want to make an appeal to the noble Earl. Would he try and find another nomenclature for this? "A garage" was all right in Victorian days, but "garage" is a French word meaning a place in which to house a motor car, and the up-to-date modern service station is no more a garage than is your Lordships' House. Do you not think we could try and lift this matter up? If the noble Earl has a spare moment, would he see if he cart think of a better term?
That is where we joined issue with the Government on the 1954 Bill, and that is where we shall join issue with them again. We hold this quite clearly: that where a certificate is to be issued which gives the right to obtain a licence to run a motor car on the road, it should be issued and the test should be carried out by an official of Her Majesty's Government. It is not fair and it is not right that you should place upon the repairing trade the responsibility of deciding who shall, and who shall not, have a licence to use a motor car, because that is what you are doing. If I am wrong, and the Government are right, why do they not hand over the whole of the driving tests to the motor trade? What is the difference between testing a driver and giving him a certificate which will enable him to get a licence to drive a motor car, and testing the vehicle that he is going to drive to see whether it is a fit vehicle for that person to drive? There is no difference between the two. Yet on the one hand you have an official tester, an official examiner, and on the other you want to put the onus upon the motor trade.
I do not give any credence whatsoever to the suggestion that the motor trade may be dishonest. It is not a fair imposition to place upon it. It is not a fair imposition that any garage or repair works proprietor should be faced with the duty of turning down one of his own customers, or turning down a man who is a customer of his rival. This provision will have to be altered, because I have proved to your Lordships, surely, without any argument whatsoever, that it is wrong for a motor car that will pass a standard 859 test with its brakes, steering and lights, but still has a serious mechanical defect, to have a certificate of road-worthiness. Where is the line going, to be drawn? Who is going to draw the line? It should be done only by an official.
May I put one other point to your Lordships? If you will read the Bill carefully, you will find that, as is usual when we do things in this country, we must have a mass of paper work. If the garage mechanic turns the car down and says, "I cannot give you a certificate," he has to write out a report; he has to state the reasons; he has to issue a notification of the refusal, stating the grounds thereof, and he may, upon appeal, have to repay part or the whole of the fee he has charged. He has to keep a register of test certificates in the prescribed form containing the prescribed particulars, and he has to keep records and fortify them by way of returns and information to the Minister. The clerical work that is going to be put upon a garage proprietor is even heavier and more expensive than the technical examination of the car. And if you think you are going to set away with 5s. for this you are greatly mistaken. It is going to cost £1 every time there is a test; and every time the man is turned down he has to pay another £1 to have the test made again. If the experience of some of my friends is right—that of taking a perfectly good motor-car and having it turned down because an inefficient brake-testing machine has said that the brakes were not up to standard—a great amount of money is going to be spent to get somebody to say they are.
On the Committee stage we shall try to make these three clauses work. At present they will not, for many reasons which I will not deploy in full to-day, because I shall only have to repeat them all on Committee stage. May I give the noble Earl this assurance: that we shall try to make them workable within the general principle of what we think the Minister wants. But we shall seek to take out of this Bill this great responsibility—and it is an increasing responsibility, because as the ten-year period shortens and commercial vehicles come in, those commercial vehicles, if the figures from Hendon mean anything, 860 have a greater accident potential, especially those which are ten years old and go along the roads, as we all know, grossly overladen. There, again, there is only one way to test a commercial vehicle for mechanical fitness for the road as regards brakes and steering, and that is by testing it on the road with the load which it habitually carries. But these vehicles cannot go into one of these stations carrying such a load. They will go in empty. The brakes of a ten years' old commercial vehicle when it is empty are a vastly different proposition from those brakes when the vehicle has a 25 per cent. overload. As I say, we shall try to make the clauses workable: but it is only fair to give the noble Earl the warning that we shall seek to remove from the Bill the employment of private repair stations with this responsibility.
Let me leave Clauses 1, 2 and 3 and come to Clause 6, which is interesting. The amplification of Clause 6 contains the American answer to congestion, because one of the greatest deterrents in America to long-term parking is what is known there as the "tow away zone". If you leave your car in a no parking area and come back and find it has gone, you find a notice telling you where you can get it. To retrieve it "out of pawn" you have to pay so many dollars, 50 per cent. of which goes to the highway authority as a fine and the rest to the tow away people who have towed the car away. As I say, there is this ruthlessness about the American system: once they make up their minds that they are going to do away with this kind of thing, they do away with it. But the limited power under Clause 6 to tow cars away will not get us very far.
I think that Clause 7 is useful—this is what the noble Earl calls "Lord Howe's Amendment"—but there are no "teeth" in it. It is admirable so far as it goes, but I think that what we and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, will have to consider is this question: why not have a certificate issued? How are we going to find out that a vehicle is sold according to the terms of the Statute? It is an excellent clause, and I think that with a little amplification it should go a long way towards making a major contribution to the solution of the problem which the Government want to solve. But it is no good having a pious hope that anything will be done unless there is a real 861 sanction against it and the sanction is appliable.
I come now to Clause 8. I am unhappy about this clause. It imposes a maximum penalty of two years where a driver is convicted of dangerous or reckless driving; but if death ensues the maximum is five years. Your Lordships will remember the clause. I should like to hear other views about it. In the other place there appeared to be a division of opinion. I myself think that we could achieve the end in another way. This is a desperately serious matter, and I want to ask the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who is to wind up the debate, whether the Government themselves have any further thoughts upon this subject. If he will tell us that, it may guide us in the action we shall take upon the Committee stage.
I shall perhaps seek to put down an Amendment to Clause 12. Here again the Bill gives a little nibble. It says that the police constable who is on point or traffic duty can have authority to prevent a pedestrian from doing something foolish, but the policeman who is walking along the pavement cannot. I may seek to alter that. With regard to Clause 13, I suppose I should be a very happy man, because I remember trying to get acceptance of this clause which took notice of the fact that dogs every year contribute to 2,600 accidents in which personal injury is involved. The net result of my efforts was a rasher strict admonition from the noble Marquess who leads your Lordships' House, who told me that I was the only one in the entire House who thought that this law could be enforced. How happy am I now to have his conversion to my point of view! It is a very sensible clause, but during the Committee stage I may seek to move out the proviso that the local authority cannot put this into operation without—I will not say the consent of the police, but almost the consent of the police; because if dogs cause 2,600 accidents involving personal injury, surely the police will have to see that the clause is enforced. We cannot afford to say that 2,600 accidents involving personal injury are not worth bothering about.
We come now to Clauses 15 to 20, dealing with parking places and meters. I am not going to argue this matter at any great length. I listened intently to 862 what the noble Earl said. He said that the Government's view is—and would he correct me if I am wrong, because this is very important?—that the installation of parking meters will prevent congestion and ease the flow of traffic through the streets. I think that is what he said.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
I think the noble Lord had better read what I said. I did not put it ms definitely as that. I said that anyone could see how it would work.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I will read in Hansard what the noble Earl said. The American experience is directly to the contrary, and so will the noble Earl's be, because the proof of whether the noble Earl's object has been achieved is whether or not the parking-by-meters places are empty. That will be the proof of whether he has succeeded in relieving congestion. When I asked people, from the police chiefs downwards, in all the places I went to in California, what their experience of parking meters was, they would confine themselves to one observation. They said, "Well, they collect a lot of money"—and that is a fact; they collect a lot of money. But to the relief of congestion they contribute nothing at all, because the streets are always full up with them. The noble Earl did not say this, but the Parliamentary Secretary in another place said that what the Government seek to do is to bring what they call the price mechanism to work: for the first two hours parking may cost 1s. or 2s. and thereafter 7s. 6d. When "price mechanism" is mentioned I have a shrewd suspicion that what it means is that the rich will benefit and the less rich will suffer.
A new approach is needed to the whole of this parking question. For years and years off-street parking has been neglected by local authorities. That must come first. It is no good saying that the provision of off-street parking is another sop to the motorist. Off-street parking is an amenity which every local authority should provide, because the poor shopkeeper, who has to pay increasingly heavy rates, will never get customers into his shop if motorists are frightened out of these towns and cities. It is a local authority responsibility, and for years the local authorities have been dilatory. I doubt very much whether by putting these parking meters over the country, enough 863 money will be collected to pay for the off-street parking. I see no reason whatsoever why the Government cannot give guarantees to loans for local authorities. Local authorities have to face this problem and face it very quickly.
My Lords, when we deal with Clause 21 on the Committee stage I shall try to see whether we cannot get over this anomaly of the low average penalty which is inflicted for wrongdoing. I am not going to spend any time on the point now, but we have got to do something to see that the penalties are higher. I cannot think for one moment that increasing the maximum penalty will do any good at all. With regard to traffic signs, I hope that the Minister will see that my suggestion about all-red phases and traffic control at intersections will be followed. I shall try to do something about that.
The last clause upon which I shall comment this afternoon is one of the most humorous that I have ever seen in any Bill. By Clause 35 it is now proposed, in contra-distinction to the President of the Board of Trade, to stop competition in the road haulage industry. Clause 35 sets up the twelve licensing authorities in this country as arbiters as to whether the British Transport Commission and other hauliers are undercutting each other in their rates—and this at a time when Her Majesty's Government are doing their best to convince industry and trade that their prices and charges should come down! They are encouraging a haulier who thinks his competitor is being unfair—and when I have been in business I have always thought that all competition was unfair—to say that another haulier is cutting his price, although he may be more efficient, and that that should be a reason for taking him before the licensing authority traffic courts and having his accounts and his business methods dissected. I have never heard anything so silly as that. On the Committee stage I shall seek to have that clause deleted from the Bill. Before that time arrives perhaps the noble Earl will have a conversation with the President of the Board of Trade to see how this clause lines up with the policy outlined in the Restrictive Trade Practices Bill which is now going through another place.
My Lords, I have detained your Lordships too long, and I apologise. This is 864 one of the most important Bills that we have had to deal with, and I thought it only fair that I should try to make some constructive criticism—I hope that the noble Earl will not think I have been too destructive. I repeat, that on Committee stage I shall try to be helpful, within the scope of what I know he wants, by making suggestions which I believe will make effective the three clauses which I have proved, without any argument, are just unworkable at the present moment.
§ 3.55 p.m.
My Lords, I have been most intrigued and interested in the argument put forward by the noble Lord who has just sat down—in fact, I think he has thrown a new light on certain parts of the Bill, especially on dealing with spot checking and the certificate which the motorist will get every year to show that his car is roadworthy. I hope to deal with those points a little later. In the first place, however, I should like to offer my congratulations to the Minister of Transport who has done so much work on this Bill to make it a workable measure. He took it over when it was already halfway through Committee in another place. I think he has done very well, and I should like to add my congratulations to him.
It has been said in some quarters that the motoring organisations are in opposition to all the main proposals in this Bill. I can assure your Lordships that that is quite untrue. Speaking for my own organisation, I can say that we felt it our duty to point out the practical difficulties in the implementation of some of the proposals in this Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has said that there is a division between the practical and the ideal. I quite agree, but I am not quite sure which side the Minister is on. My organisation has been in close touch with the Department and we put before them our views, many of which we feel have been helpful.
As regards the question of parking meters, I have always said that we do not object to the experiment at all—in fact in many ways we welcome it, although I am not yet convinced that it will be a success. On the other hand, I would say that it is much better to try something to relieve the congestion in London than nothing at all, even if it fails. I do not 865 want to weary your Lordships by repeating again all the arguments for and against the use of parking meters, but I should like to have an assurance from the Minister in charge of the Bill that right of access to private and business premises will be safeguarded. I think this is a most important point. I wonder whether it has been fully realised that one of the effects of parking meters will be to pour more traffic into the streets adjoining those in which cars have been parked. Owing to the two-hour period or the one-hour period—whatever it may be—allowed, there will be a constant movement of traffic. I cannot help feeling that owners will be looking for a place to park for the next two hours, so that there will be a great increase in the flow of traffic along the main arteries. The parking meter may well increase the congestion, rather than diminish it, until such time as adequate off-the-street parking has been provided. I appreciate the simile of the chicken and the egg, but I still think that something must be done quickly to provide off-street parking facilities. Surely it ought to be the law that any new building now put up should have adequate parking arrangements beneath it for as many cars as is possible.
I hope that the Minister of Transport will be a big enough man to remove the parking meters, if they are found not to be effective, either in the London area or elsewhere. It may well happen that traffic meters will encourage motorists to bring their cars to London. I hope that everything will be done to induce motorists to leave their cars on the outskirts. I appreciate that certain steps are already being taken in that direction. I need hardly add that if motorists do leave their cars in the suburbs and come into the centre by public transport, public transport will itself have to be much improved to carry the additional traffic, because at present, as your Lordships know, at certain times of the day it becomes completely overburdened.
It has been said that the parked car is the cause of the London traffic problem. I believe this to be untrue. The real trouble, I think, is the inadequate capacity of the main arteries, and especially the incapacity of the main traffic intersections. It is the hold-ups at such places as the Strand, at the Waterloo Bridge intersection, at Piccadilly Circus, at Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch and so on which cause 866 the trouble. If one looks around for parked cars at these intersections which are supposed to be causing congestion they will not be found, because the cars are not there.
Then it has been argued that if the side streets were not so restricted by a number of parked cars more traffic would use them, thereby relieving the main arteries and the main intersections. I suggest that this argument is wrong, because it ignores the facts that the carrying capacity of a major traffic artery decreases in ratio to the number of points of intersection with it, and use of the side roads must inevitably involve crossing main arteries at some point. We must face up to the fact that the London traffic problem will be solved only when really positive measures of reconstruction are carried out. In other great cities, such as Paris, for example, great efforts are being made, by tunnelling and otherwise, to relieve traffic routes at important intersections. I hope that we shall speed up our own schemes and also try to think of something new.
I should like now to turn to the vexed question of compulsory tests which has been raised so fully by the noble Lord opposite. It is true that in the past I have criticised this proposal, because I feel that it is almost impossible to carry it out efficiently. The Bill as now drafted is, of course, to cover only the testing of brakes, lights and steering; but I would say that it may be difficult to carry out even those tests owing to the number of vehicles involved. I was most interested to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that brake-testing machines have already been given up in a large number of modern garages. I understand from the Minister of Transport that brake-testing machines are one of the basic items in this testing outfit. I believe that at the present time there are something like 2 million cars and motor-cycles over ten years old, and if the testing is carried out in anything like the way it is carried out at Hendon, I reckon that it would take 700 examiners at seventy testing stations one year to test them all. I cannot help feeling fiat unless the testing organisation is a large one, with stations all over the country, owners of cars will be put to very great inconvenience, owing to the distance they may have to go in order to have their test carried out, and also because of the time they may have 867 to waste in a queue waiting for the certificate to be given. I suggest that even if private garages are used there is bound to be considerable delay, because garages will still have their own work to do.
I am still more in favour of spot checks for which provision is already embodied in the Bill. I believe that, on the whole, these would be more effective than compulsory testing for every car over ten years old—or later on, perhaps, for cars very much less than ten years old. Incidentally, it has not by any means been proved that the old car is a danger on the roads, or more dangerous than the new car. The old family car is usually driven very carefully, not only to preserve a hard-won conveyance but also to economise on petrol, and certainly it cannot be driven at the high speeds of the modern light car. I should like to support what has been said about spot checks by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth; I am sure he is right in that respect. It must be borne in mind that spot checks will tend to deter motorists from bringing unsuitable vehicles on to the roads at any time, whereas compulsory inspection will ensure safety only once a year. In fact, compulsory inspection will tend to cause adequate maintenance only at the time when the test is actually carried out.
With regard to Clause 8, I am rather doubtful about the creation of this new offence of causing death by reckless driving. Surely it is wrong that punishment should be dependent on the results of a wrongful act and not on the nature of the act. If, for example, through bad driving, a motorist is involved in a collision with a motor-cyclist and the motorcyclist receives head injuries, these may be fatal or otherwise, according to whether or not he is wearing a crash helmet. Surely it is illogical that the absence of a crash helmet should make the accused liable to five years' imprisonment under this clause, instead of to two years on a charge of reckless or dangerous driving. I shall certainly be most interested to hear the legal arguments on this matter which might help me to revise my opinion of this clause. I am a little doubtful about Clause 13, which contains provision for the control of dogs on certain roads, a matter forcefully rut forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, when we last 868 dealt with a similar Bill. I welcome this clause as an attempt to tackle the problem of road accidents caused by dogs—and I see, from figures I have, that the proportion of such accidents is as high as one in eight. On the other hand, the practical difficulties of enforcement are very great. Might it not be better to confine the offence to straying dogs which actually cause accidents?
I should like next to refer to Clause 24, which deals with offences against Section 35 of the 1930 Act. May I give your Lordships the example of a farm labourer who may drive an agricultural tractor only on roads between different parts of a particular farm? If he is convicted of an offence while driving his motor-cycle, the court, at the present time, I understand, may consider that a disqualification to prevent him from riding a motor-cycle is sufficient; but under Clause 24 of the Bill, the court will have no power to limit the disqualification, so that the farm labourer would automatically be prevented from driving his tractor to earn his livelihood. I cannot believe that this result is the intention of the clause. I noticed that the Minister of Transport implied, perhaps inadvertently, in his speech in another place that as this Bill had been considered so carefully already, and a great deal of time had been spent on it, this House would be unlikely to change it very much. I am sure your Lordships will wish to consider this Bill on its merits and amend it fully, if that is considered necessary. I support the Bill, as a whole, as yet another contribution to relieving our traffic difficulties, and I pray that it will be a success.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ LORD BRABAZON OF TARA
My Lords, it is always pleasant to see an old friend again, and we have spent many hours on a similar measure. It is interesting to see the reverse process being adopted—trying it on the Lower House first and then giving it to this House. But the Lower House had a great advantage, because in its early stages this measure had a most gruelling examination here and emerged very much improved; and it was the improvement which was put before the Lower House. Looking at it from the Second Reading point of view, I feel one cannot but say that the measure will pass unchallenged, at any rate in its broad sense.
869 I do not think it is right to argue at any length on many points of detail on Second Reading, because those will all emerge and be debated when we come to the Committee stage; but I should like to say a word about parking schemes. I may be very old-fashioned, but I was always brought up on the idea that the road was for the circulation of traffic, and that when one was not circulating one put the horses in the stable and the vehicle in the coach-house. That is the word my noble friend wants—coach-house. With the advent of the motor car, people imagine that they can leave vehicles all over the place, wherever they like and at any time they like. I believe we have to get rid of that idea. If there is obstruction, I do not see how that can be got over by charging a fee or doing anything else. The only course is to get the vehicle away from the road. References have been made to American practices. One of the most stringent regulations in America is that no car must be stopped on a high road; it must go off the road. Otherwise you are liable to be charged with one of the most serious offences—leaving a car upon the high road—even if it stays there for only five minutes. We might well adopt that sort of system here.
On the question of inspection, I say broadly: "Yes". But I can see a tremendous amount of time being spent on these three clauses. They are a little contradictory. Though we should all like to see a system of inspection in operation, I do not think we are all agreed as to what is the best way of doing it. With regard to the clause relating to causing death by reckless driving, I suppose that that was founded on some remarks made by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice. If your Lordships will remember, he said here that it was difficult to get a jury to convict. With the greatest respect to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice, I have much more confidence in the juries of this country than I have in the opinions of disappointed lawyers. If juries do not want to convict, they will not convict, and God bless them for not doing it! But I do not think that that is a justification for making tie offence dependent, as Lord Teynham said, on the result of the accident.
I must thank the Minister very much for the time and thought he must have given to the clause about drunkenness. 870 Your Lordships will remember that we debated that subject at some length. Everyone said it was quite impossible to introduce a clause which satisfied everyone. At any rate, a very good attempt has been made. I think it is quite satisfactory. I believe it will have a most salutary effect in stopping what I think is one of the most terrible offences that anyone can possibly commit upon the roads—that is, driving while drunk. And it is pleasant to sec that the Minister has introduced some other clauses which will be welcome, no doubt, from the motorists' point of view, and which show great understanding of the position. The point I want to stress is that the ordinary man in the street does not come up against the law in any other of his activities apart from motoring. He drives too fast, he drives recklessly, he disobeys a constable's instructions or he parks wrongly. That is the sort of thing in which the ordinary man in the street goes against the law more than in any other walk of life. Clearly, when we have a Bill like this it is most important that it should be crystal clear to everyone. I do not think we have really achieved that in all respects.
This, your Lordships will bear in mind, is the third Bill to come before Parliament on this subject. It amends an Act which amended an Act previous to that. If you really want to understand the situation to-day—and I submit that the ordinary man in the street is incapable of doing so—you must have the three Acts in hand in order to find out what you have done wrong. I think that that is a great mistake; it is most undesirable. I know that Parliamentary draftsmen will have their little joke. But I should like your Lordships to look at Clause 28 (2) on page 24 of the Bill. You will get a hearty laugh out of Clause 28 (2). I agree that it does not affect the ordinary man in the street, but it is entirely and completely incomprehensible to anyone. I will not read it. There it is; have a look at it sometime. I agree that it affects local authorities and not us as individuals, but it is absolutely a joke.
Could we not indulge in this? If we are going to amend a section in a past Act, could we not take the section out of the old Act and put in a fresh clause in the new Bill, so that we should all know exactly where we were? I am sure 871 that that would be very welcome to the ordinary man in the street. We could easily do it. The Minister is extremely capable, and so are the Ministry officials. It is only a matter of Parliamentary procedure. As I say, I am sure that it would be welcome.
I have now reached an age when I can look back a very long time, to the time, indeed, when motorists were regarded as low. That was a horsey age. The motor car was looked upon as an innovation. Sometimes we were hit with whips and had to endure other things of that sort. But that really was not because we were riding in motor cars; it was because we were unsociable by reason of the dust we raised. One great thing that has happened in this country in the last sixty years is the disappearance of the dust. The abolition of dust is one great thing we have done well. But I think that that old tradition of the motorist being a separate rich class still remains, to a small extent. And we have to remember that over sixty years all that, in fact, has changed. We are all motorists to-day—every one of us. It is quite ridiculous to say, as was said in another place, that some of us motorists are anti-social. It is not true. If you are anti-motorist you are anti-society, because we are all motorists to-day.
What we have to remember, I think, is this. During our days we may be several things. We may be cyclists early in the morning, then motorists, then pedestrians—all within an hour or two. And there is no class of one and class of another. That was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. There is no discipline for some of us in one of these classes. We know that when we are on the road we have to keep to the left. Do we know any rule of the pavement as to where we ought to go? None at all. If we consider this Bill, bearing in mind that under the new civilisation as it exists to-day we have all to obey certain rules, if we in this House remember that we are at one time one thing and at another time something else, if we look at it in that broad sense, and try to work out something which will diminish accidents and bring discipline upon the roads, then I think we shall have created a measure which it will be good to see upon the Statute Book.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ LORD MATHERS
My Lords, noble Lords who have preceded me have all, I think, been motor users and motor owners. I am in the position of not being the owner of a motor car, and perhaps I look at things from a somewhat different point of view, although I agree with the noble Lord who has just preceded me that, so far as this Bill is concerned, there is no question of distinction of interests. We all want what the Minister declared was the purpose of the Bill—to make the roads safer. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, speaking about the way in which motor cars used to be detested, caused me to recall the days of my youth and a veterinary surgeon I knew who, on seeing one of the new machines on the road, used to say "Here comes another of those sparrow-starvers". I hope the reference is not too obscure for your Lordships.
The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, said that the desire of the Government is to make the roads safer. That is my wish, and I am sure it is the wish of all of us. The noble Earl also said that the task put upon our police must be simplified. I want to help in that direction as well. He paid a tribute to the public by saying that the great body of road users accept the standard of discipline applied on the roads as a proper imposition, and with that I agree. I want to see the position made easier for the police, who have to impose the discipline that is applied to those who disregard a proper code of manners, courtesy and usage of the road.
I am not going over the whole of the Bill, because I look at it from a particular point of view. My first impression is that it is regrettable that, in this renewed attempt to legislate for a road code, the opportunity has not been taken to apply certain measures for the use of the roads. My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth showed that the penalties imposed have not proved adequate to achieve their intended purpose. For instance, he talked about the provision in the Bill for making a spot check on road vehicles and claimed that the spot check is the only method that can be effective. I will make another claim: that there should be a spot check on motorists who are involved in accidents, 873 especially on drivers of vehicles that have caused serious accidents.
So far as penalties are concerned, I think there is a great deal to be said for the change made in Clause 9 of the Bill, which, instead of tightening up the penalties, gives some relief to motorists who are found under the influence of drink in charge of cars. Under the clause a motorist will not be convicted if he can show that he was not driving the car, even though he was in charge of it. I think there is a great deal to be said for that improvement, if it can be proved to full satisfaction that there was no likelihood of the person concerned driving the vehicle away. I regret that the Bill ignores the large question of accidents which may be caused by "small quantities of alcohol," as the Highway Code prescribes—quantities much less than are necessary to produce drunkenness. I have previously urged in your Lordships' House that consideration should be given to the imposition of a test to ascertain the alcoholic content in the blood of any driver of a motor vehicle involved in an accident. Such a test is imposed, for example, in Sweden, and the information I have is that it has resulted in a great improvement in the position on the roads in Sweden.
The Government have claimed to be interested in this matter of tests for at least two years. Previous answers that I have received when I posed the question in your Lordships' House with regard to the Medical Research Council's Report on this matter show that the Report has not been considered. I would ask: what is the position now with regard to that Report? I do not think it has been published: why is there no declaration, as it seems to me time that it was published? Why is there this apparent complacency on the part of the Government, if I may judge by the contents of the Bill we are discussing, with regard to the appalling toll that takes place on the roads as the result of drunken drivers. That may not be proved by the statistics to the extent that I think it could be, owing to the fact that unless it can be proved up to the hilt that drunkenness was the cause of an accident, it is difficult for the police to obtain a conviction on that ground. That is why I want to put the police in the position of applying a test about which there can be no argument—the quantity of alcohol 874 in the bloodstream of anyone who is involved in a road accident.
I am not going to labour this point—my point of view has been sufficiently stated. But I would put this question to the noble Earl: will the Minister give consideration to an Amendment on this point if I put one down for Committee stage? I think there is full justification for that being done, and I should like some indication that the point of view I hold, which is also held by many thousands of people throughout this country, will receive proper consideration at the hands of the Government.
I have tried to put the human side of the problem, as contrasted to the mechanical side which has been so much emphasised, especially by my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I do not want to appear to be in any way insulting, but when he speaks of his long connection with the motor industry one might think he had petrol in his veins, as well as the lively blood that enables him to talk so eloquently from this Box when dealing with matters connected with the motor industry. As I say, I have tried to put the human side, which I think is very important. I hope to have from the noble Earl, when he conics to reply, a reasonable answer to the point I raised.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, I should like to go on record at once as saying how disappointed I am that throughout this Bill there has not been a single Bishop on these two Front Benches. We all remember the leading part which the late, much revered Archbishop of York played in the road safety campaign; and with road accidents at their present total, surely this is a matter on which the Church and, indeed, the Churches, ought to speak; and to do them justice, they have spoken, at other times and in other places. I feel it is a pity that no Bishop has found it possible to be present here this afternoon.
In spite of the absence of the Bishops, or possibly because of it, this discussion, compared with our previous debates on earlier versions of the Road Traffic Bill, has been practically a love feast, and I am only sorry that I shall have to strike a discordant note by making, quite briefly I hope, the sort of speech which most of your Lordships will think the crank's speech inevitable on a subject 875 of this kind, and which I am sure the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk (I am sorry to see he is not here), will undoubtedly say, to judge from his inaugural remarks, is too much preoccupied with the ideal and too little founded on practical politics. But I should have liked, had he been here, to remind the noble Earl that successive Governments have been applying practical politics to road casualties for about thirty years. And where are we now? More than 200,000 citizens killed or injured on the roads every year. And what are practical politics? Practical politics, I should have thought, are what public opinion permits you to do. And I should like to remind the Government that a courageous Government—which, in this respect at least, we have not got—can give a lead to public opinion. It can form public opinion, and thereby enormously extend the range of these practical politics of which cautious Ministers forever remind us when they are introducing inadequate Bills.
I do not want to break in upon the love feast too discordantly or at too great length, but I must say that I feel that the truth about this Bill is that if road accidents had been standing at a total of 1,000 a year, it would have been a moderately good Bill; but with road accidents standing at over 200,000, it is merely a lost opportunity. Of course, there are all sorts of standards by which it is possible to judge a measure of this kind, and we have heard some of them brought into play this afternoon. It is possible to judge the Bill by its success in easing the traffic congestion, or in solving the parking problem, or even in promoting the prosperity of the motor industry. But, surely, there is only one standard which we ought to apply. With more than 200,000 men, women and children killed or injured every year, the one question, surely, which we must first ask of any Road Traffic Bill is: what is it going to do to diminish that barbarous annual massacre? I am afraid that, in respect of this particular Bill, the answer must be: remarkably little. Compared with previous Road Traffic Bills, it is moderately good; but by the standard of what is needed, it is surely, extraordinarly inadequate.
The tragedy is that, as the late Archbishop used so often to remind us, we 876 have allowed ourselves to grow accustomed to this annual slaughter and to take it for granted. We have allowed ourselves to be content year after year with ameliorative measures which may or may not save a few score, or a few hundred, lives; and we have assumed that the price, in inconvenience to ourselves, of the more drastic measures which might save tens of thousands of lives is too high to pay. Supposing that some enemy had inflicted 200,000 casualties on us last year, how eager we should be to spend tens of millions of pounds, how ready to impose the severest restrictions on individual liberty, in order to bring the bloodshed to an end! But as it is, and because it is British citizens who are mutually slaughtering themselves on the roads, the Government have not even the energy or the courage to see that the existing speed limit in built-up areas is effectively enforced.
I sometimes think that the only hope of effective legislation is that we should by some miracle contrive to see this problem with fresh eyes, as it were, for the first time. Suppose that the House of Lords of fifty years ago, in 1906, by some prophetic pre-vision, could have been aware that fifty years later, in 1956, 200,000-odd of our citizens would be being killed and mangled on the roads every year, they would, of course, have been incredulous and appalled. And if, in response to their not unnatural curiosity as to how their successors would cope with so unprecedented and monstrous a social problem, they had been allowed a pre-view of this Bill, I believe they would have been equally incredulous and appalled at seeing so puny a measure brandished in the face of so monstrous a menace as this annual massacre.
Of course, I am a crank on this subject, and it is easy to get carried away; but I do not want to produce the impression that I am not aware that there are clauses in the Bill for which we must be grateful. Many of the clauses, perhaps most of them, will do something to stay the massacre. The tragedy is that, add them all up together, and multiply them by ten, and they will not do nearly enough. If only we could persuade ourselves that it is possible to put an end to this perpetual slaughter, and that it is not beyond the bounds of human possibility. For the 877 sake of argument, take the extreme instance. If we abolished all motor vehicles, the road casualties would drop at once from 200,000 to about 20 a year. Admittedly, that is not practical politics, and as a motorist myself of over forty years' standing even I should regard that as an excessive price to pay—although it may well be that the 2½ million who, at the present rate of slaughter, will be killed or wounded on the roads in the next ten years, or their relatives, if they could foresee the future, might be prepared to pay even that price. But, surely, it is only a question of degree, and somewhere between that extreme of total prohibition and this half-hearted Bill there is the point at which, without an impossible degree of self-sacrifice or self-discipline, we might contrive to stay the slaughter.
For example—and here I am admittedly indulging in a flight of individual imagination—suppose that we were effectively to enforce the speed limit in built-up areas—and it could easily be done; suppose that, in addition, we were to impose a 50 m.p.h. speed limit on the open road; suppose that every driver who was convicted of killing or injuring through dangerous, incompetent or drunken driving knew that on the first offence he would have his licence suspended, and on the second it would be terminated for good; suppose that every pedestrian and cyclist who caused death or injury through selfish or undisciplined conduct knew that he would be subject to severe penalties; and, if you will, suppose, further, that we set out to transform our main roads into dual carriageways carrying one-way streams of traffic. That programme, of course, is not practical politics; but it would not require an unimaginable effort of self-discipline or self-sacrifice, and it would certainly make a prodigious reduction in the annual road casualties.
For those who believe that a Christian community ought not to tolerate the situation which we have now tolerated for so many years, and would be prepared, therefore, for measures scarcely less drastic than those I have just imagined, possibly the most ironic and depressing clause in this Bill is the clause which renders permanent that speed limit which no Government have had the courage as yet to enforce—a speed limit which is everywhere disregarded with impunity.
878 I should like to add one word upon that matter, because I remember the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, saying in a recent debate that statistics showed that speed was not a very important contributor to accidents. Of course, in a limited sense that is true. The percentage of accidents recorded as clue to excessive speed is not a large percentage, but why is that? It is because it is quite impossible statistically, at any rate by our present statistical methods, to represent the contribution of speed to accidents. In the first place, the policeman who fills up the forms has rarely seen the accident, and in many instances he is compelled to take the evidence of the only witnesses, who may be the driver and occupants of the car which has killed or injured a pedestrian or cyclist, who is not in a position to give evidence. We all know that, from the most impartial witnesses, evidence as to speed is highly chancy, to say the least of it. A man is driving at 50 m.p.h. and a child steps off the pavement ten yards in front of him. He brakes at once, and by the time the moment of impact conies, he may be going at 15 or 20 m.p.h., and at what speed he estimates the accident to have taken place one does not know.
Or, again, the police have a choice of thirty-eight different circumstances, as they are called, which they have to report and which eventually go into the return of statistics. Of those thirty-eight, one is excessive speed; but ten others are causes, or circumstances, such as improperly overtaking or cutting in, in which speed is almost invariably present. Yet if the accident is reported as due to cutting in, or to improperly overtaking, the word "speed" is not fed into the statistical machine, and therefore it does not emerge at the other end. In any case, we all know without statistics that accidents are clue to the fact that a car is driven at a speed at which it is impossible to arrest it before it has collided with somebody, or something, else on the road. Anybody who has seen a boy of seventeen on a motor-cycle weaving in and out of traffic at 70 m.p.h. will have no doubt that speed contributes to accidents.
I should have liked to ask the noble Lord, Lord Hore-Belisha, whether I am not right in remembering that he, as 879 Minister of Transport, used a phrase I have never forgotten: "the crowning mercy of the control of speed". When the speed limit was introduced in 1935 it was effectively enforced at first, and in the first twenty-eight weeks of its enforcement 22 per cent. fewer people were killed on the roads in towns. An even more striking instance is that of the comparatively small town of Providence, in the United States, which in 1935 imposed its own speed limit. That is a town with narrow winding lanes and a population of 250,000. They decided that they had had enough slaughter, and they imposed a speed limit of 25 m.p.h. which was rigorously enforced. In the first six months they reduced deaths by 50 per cent. and injuries by 60 per cent. If those figures were applied to our totals, it would mean reducing our annual massacre by something approaching 100,000 a year. Surely that is worth paying a price for. The only question is: how much price are we prepared to pay?
Finally—I have said this before, but I cannot refrain from saying it again—the speed limit can be quite easily enforced, and it is a mockery to enact the permanence of a regulation which is notoriously left unenforced and which 99 respectable citizens out of 100 disregard with impunity. There are many ways of enforcing the speed limit. Some of them require mechanical gadgets, such as visible speed indicators; but without any mechanical gadgets, if we motorists—and I speak as a man who drives at least 250 miles a week on an average—knew that there were plain clothes police patrols observing our speed, and even concealed plain clothes police (that odious police trap which we have all been brought up to hate), I am sure we should observe the law far more constantly than we do at present, and should thereby, if figures mean anything, effect a startling reduction in the annual slaughter. We are told of course that such methods are un-English. It is English to protect property with plain clothes police, but un-English to protect life with plain clothes police. There is much substance in what my noble friend Lord Selkirk said in his opening speech about the desirability of not bringing the police into any sort of bad relations with the public. Neverthe- 880 less, let us never forget that we are talking about the saving of life, and if we are going to have this speed limit permanently on the Statute Book, for God's sake! let us enforce it and see whether it will not once more, as it did in the past, when it was enforced, save life.
Finally, I must end with a compliment, after having said so many rude things. Among other clauses I am most grateful for Clause 8, which has been somewhat pulled to pieces by the last two speakers but which does seek, by creating a new form of crime or misdemeanour, to put an end to the present culpable leniency in respect of killing on the roads. I agree that there is a lot in what my noble friend Lord Teynham and the previous speaker said, about the illogicality of punishing a man because the boy on the motor-cycle he has just killed was not wearing a crash helmet. But allowing for all that, for goodness' sake do not let us whittle down this attempt to see that certain kinds of murderous driving are effectively punished! Only yesterday, I read the account of a man who was convicted last September of careless driving and who has this month been convicted of dangerous driving which resulted in the killing of a pedestrian. What was the penalty? A fine of £20, with 7s. costs and suspension of the licence for three months, by the Huntingdon Magistrates. I hope that this clause will put an end to that sort of culpable leniency by the benches. I end by repeating what I said at the beginning, that if this Bill had been put before your Lordships when the road casualties were running at 1,000 a year it would have been a pretty good Bill, but since they are to-day running at over 200.000, it is a tragic lost opportunity.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will not think the worse of me if I do not follow the previous speaker in all the things he has said. I am sure every one of us must realise the absolute sincerity with which we have heard him speak, not only to-day, but so often in the past. There are three main points in this Bill. There is vehicle inspection, parking meters and, in Clause 8, to which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has just referred, the new offence. There is the examination and testing of vehicles, founded on the theory that old cars are 881 mainly responsible for accidents. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, gave us a few figures to-day. I wrote them down and tried to check them, but all the figures that have been given on these points are variable. The official figures stated 2 per cent., the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, gave us to-day 12 per cent., and the Road Research Board have given us 20 per cent. What the real and correct figure is I do not know, and I am not sure that anybody knows.
The Bill proposes to tackle brakes, silencers, steering, tyres, lighting and reflectors, in that order. Why silencers? What has that to do with road safety? Surely any of these tests must be thorough to be adequate. Let us look for a moment at brakes. I want to find out how thorough this Bill is going to be in its inspection of vehicles. Can anybody tell me how one can possibly ascertain the condition of the brakes of a car unless one takes off the drums? It is quite absurd to suggest that one can jack up a car, put on the brakes and try to move it, or that one can put the vehicle on to some sort of roller arrangement and test the brakes in that way. What is essential is to find out how much lining is left on the drums. Are the linings worn down to the rivets? The brakes may hold on a test, but it may well be that within a week of the test the car will have no brakes at all. Is that the sort of test that is proposed for vehicles? I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who is to reply to this debate, will be able to deal with that point, because it is of vital importance and will indicate whether or not the test is going to be thorough.
If we assume that a car is inspected to-day, it probably will not be inspected again for another year, unless it is subjected to a spot check. As other speakers before me have said, in deciding whether a vehicle is roadworthy or not does not everything depend on how it has been maintained? I submit to your Lordships that this brief inspection will not give any sort of clue as to how the vehicle has been maintained; but the spot check will. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, suggested, would it not be practical and useful, in any case of accident, that there should inevitably be a spot check or examination of the vehicle concerned? Would that not be a practical suggestion? Again, would it 882 not be much better if we could have tests and examinations of vehicles on resale? If the tests were thorough and really adequate, I believe that the motoring community would welcome such a proposal. It would be a great protection to the man who was contemplating purchasing a second-hand car. It might even help the seller. I believe that the motoring world would accept tests on resale, provided that they were thorough and really worth-while, The Minister seems to have been very much impressed by the results of the Hendon station. I should like to ask your Lordships: are we really sure that we can depend upon any deductions drawn from so limited an experiment? Would it be necessary to apply all these things to tests carried out in a garage exactly as has been done at Hendon? It seems to me that it is a little dangerous to draw quite so much of an inference from the tests at Hendon.
With regard to bringing private and commercial garages and the like into the scheme, does not this open the door wide (I think the last time we considered this matter we all decided that it did) to every sort of obvious malpractice? The Times in a leading article on May 30, said this:Garages have an interest in repairs. Authority to require a motorist to undertake them should be divorced from the service of carrying them out.Those are very wise words coming from so important a source. I hope that the Government will take due note of them. It is true that we are told garages will be carefully supervised, but what many of us would like to know is, how many garages will be selected? The noble Earl said something about that in his opening speech, but it seemed to me that it was going to be a sort of "free for all," that any garage which wanted to come into the scheme could do so. These garages, we are told, are to be inspected. The more garages under the scheme, if the inspection is to be worth anything at all, the more inspectors will be needed. What sort of people will these inspectors be? Who is going to select them? What sort of experience and qualifications, and so on, will be laid down?
Another question is this. What will the cost be, first of all to the country, and secondly to the individual? I apologise to your Lordships for asking so many questions, but there are many more to come. How far will the motorist have 883 to go to undergo a test? Will it be ten miles, fifty miles or a hundred miles? I think that, when the Minister is appointing garages right throughout the country, it is most important to bear in mind that the motorist should not have to go an undue distance and sacrifice a lot of time in order to undergo his test. When he gets to the garage, will he have to join a queue, or can he fix a time by appointment? I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a clue in that respect. During what hours will the motorist have to go to have his car inspected? What about the staff of the garages up and down the country? As many of us know, garages are very shorthanded and find it almost impossible to get adequate staff with sufficient skill. Presumably, if any garage applies to carry out tests of vehicles, that will be in addition to its normal work. I suppose that point has been thought of. I wonder whether the Minister has inquired into these points and, if so, what the results of his inquiries have been. I am sure he must have done, because the whole success of this examination depends upon its being a competent examination. I should be grateful if we could be told something about the Minister's inquiries with regard to that.
Then again, if a garage is appointed to the scheme what extra machinery will it have to provide in order to carry out tests? Who is to pay for this machinery? What remuneration will there be for the garage owner? This is a most important question, and I hope the noble Earl will be able to give us some information. Then, will all the tests carried out throughout the country be identical? That is most important. If there are differences in machinery and equipment and that sort of thing as between various garages, differentials will appear in the results of the tests, which will obviously be most undesirable.
The tests are to apply to cars over ten years old. If your Lordships visit any large factory you will see large car parks for the workers' cars. You will see that the majority of those cars are old cars—probably over ten years old, and possibly third, fourth or fifth hand. The owner of one of those cars takes his car to the testing station. When he gets there he is told, let us say, for the sake of argument, that his steering is not good 884 enough and that he must have some new parts. So he gets in touch with the maker and says, "Please can I have some new parts for my car?" The maker says, "I am sorry, but the car is no longer in production." So what happens? The owner has either to accept the fact that his car is unroadworthy and can no longer be used for him to get to work, or for the little relaxation that he is able to get, or he has to "scrounge round" to see if he can find some old car of a similar make and model that he can "cannibalise" in order to get the parts he wants. If he is lucky and finds the parts, he will probably have to pay a great deal more for them than they are worth. Otherwise, he will have to have the parts specially made. It is easy to lay down stringent requirements such as would meet the approval of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, but they would make it quite impossible for the more humble members of the motoring world to get their cars on the road at all. I think that is a point that should be borne in mind.
Another question which is of great importance and which I hope the noble Earl will be able to answer, is this: Will there be any appeal from the judgment of a testing station? That is a most important point. I do not know whether that is provided for in the Bill.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
Perhaps I may answer that straight away. The noble Earl will see that in Clause 1 (4).
§ EARL HOWE
That is provided for? I am glad. Can the Minister tell us what sort of test there is to be in the case of motor-cycles? As your Lordships know, there are all sorts of variants of motorcycle. There is the ordinary motor-cycle, which we all know; there is the motor scooter and the motor-assisted pedal cycle. What sort of tests will be laid down for them? There are more motorcyclists in this country than in America, so I think we ought to be told about that. There is one further question I should like to ask the noble Earl. At an approved garage will testing have priority over repair work for hours and facilities? That is an important aspect of the scheme. If it is at all possible, I think we should be told that now.
With regard to the Hendon station, the noble Earl gave us some figures which I heard for the first time. The figures that I have are not necessarily up to date, but 885 so far as I can ascertain, Hendon tested 6,000 cars in ten weeks, with a staff of ten men. That would appear to be the equivalent of about 30,000 cars per year. That would mean, taking 2,000,000 as being the number of cars to be tested in a year (I think the noble Earl mentioned that figure this afternoon), it would require 700 men at about 70 stations to compete with the work. That gives some idea of the magnitude of the problem. I have not been to Hendon, but the motoring organisations have. The motoring organisations have been subjected to a considerable amour t of hostile criticism in another place, but they sent sixteen cars of post-war construction to Hendon to be tested—they were all staff cars, subject to regular maintenance. Only the oldest car passed without criticism. The main criticism in regard to these sixteen cars was that the headlamp beams were too low. One car was faulted at Hendon because it WAS said to have a one-eighth of an inch "toe-in"—your Lordships will know what that expression means—on the front wheels. The makers were consulted, and they said that this was the correct setting for the car. So it would seem that everything at Hendon cannot he taken for granted as being absolutely correct.
What is going to be the cost of all this to the country and to the individual? A figure of "ten bob" has been mentioned from the point of view of the car owner. Well, "ten bob" per car, and 2,000,000 cars a year means that another £1 million will go on to the expenses of the motoring world. We are already paying over £400 million in taxation, in one way or another, and by comparison I suppose £1 million is mere chicken feed. But the motorist is conscious, and is becoming more conscious, of the fact that for this £400 million a year he gets the worst and most congested roads in Europe. I suggest to the Government that they will get far better co-operation from the motor world if they do something really effective to improve the roads. I hope that, when they do, they will be fortunate enough to secure the support of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, as a contributor to road safety. Unless the Government can really give satisfactory answers to the questions that I have ventured to submit, I shall be forced to the conclusion that the whole of these proposals embodied in the testing and examination of vehicles 886 are just "half-baked" proposals which have not been thought out properly; that they should not form a part of our legislation and that, for the second time, we should say so.
We now come to parking meters. I believe that this idea came from the United States, where it has been adopted in some States but has been given up in others. I wonder whether the Minister can give us some figures in regard to parking meters. It is true that they have been adopted in some, but certainly not all, the States of America. Only the other day it was stated that three States had given them up. I think it must also be remembered that the layout of cities in the United States is different from that here, and that although the parking meter may suit the cities of the United States, if will not necessarily suit the cities of this country, particularly London. Where cars can be parked diagonally, or at right angles to the kerb, the experiment of parking meters may be possible; but I submit that where cars must be parked longitudinally along the street, parking meters will be no good at all, because they cannot make allowance for the varying sizes of vehicles parked there. I suggest that the wholesale adoption of parking meters will be subject to every kind of snag, and that they will not solve the problem of congestion. If anyone doubts this, let him look at Oxford Street, Piccadilly or Regent Street You will not find parked cars in any of these big arteries but at certain hours you will find there congestion quite as impossible as it can be anywhere.
There is another point: some time ago the Minister set up a Working Party, representing the police, local authorities and all who could contribute anything to consideration of the question. That Working Party was absolutely unanimous that the parking meter experiment should be tried, but that it should on no account be done until off-street parking accommodation was available. In going ahead with parking meters without adequate garage accommodation (which we know is the situation all over London), the Minister is going directly against the advice of the Working Party which he set up to consider this very question. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will be able to deal with that particular point. What are parking meters going to cost, and who is to supervise them, by clay and by night? 887 I understand that in the United States a new industry is growing up. In the City of New York, 305 parking meters were broken into and looted in one month; so they require supervision. Who is going to look after them? And what are the proposed charges going to be?
Experimenting with parking meters is, in my view, tackling the problem of congestion at the wrong end. I believe, as I have suggested to the House before, that in order effectively to deal with congestion, London must be zoned: a person should not be allowed to come into the central zone unless he had on his windscreen a badge obtainable only by proving to the satisfaction of the police that he had off-street parking accommodation available to him in the central area. That badge would give a motorist a right of way into the central zone; without it he would have to stay outside. Site values in the central area of London are such that we cannot possibly expect adequate garage accommodation in central London to spring up overnight. It would be quite impossible for anything, effective to be done in that direction. Outside the central area, the position is much more hopeful. There are many bombed sites in various areas that have not been used, and the site value of such properties is such as not to rule out their use as an economic proposition. If we could do that, we should be tackling the problem in the right way. The real problem is the commuter who rushes up to London each day, arriving about nine or half past nine in the morning, and rushes away again in the evening at half past five or six o'clock. He leaves his car anywhere during the day. I do not much like the zoning idea, but something effective must be done or the traffic of London will come to a full stop. That is not just a figure of speech.
There are many more things the Minister might do, but I suppose they could not be dealt with in this Bill. The principal thing would be to have vehicle tunnels. Noble Lords who have been to Paris will have seen the enormous improvement which has been achieved in Paris traffic by making traffic tunnels at various places. Overhead roads might also be tried. I am afraid all these proposals would cost money, and they will not be popular with Her Majesty's Government, particularly at the present time; 888 but if we do not do something like this what are we to do? We cannot contemplate the traffic of London coming to a complete and absolute stop, and that is what it nearly does already.
I should like, finally, to say a few words on this new offence of "causing death by dangerous or reckless driving." Various members of your Lordships' House have already touched upon this subject and therefore I will say only a few words about it. The Times, when talking of this, referred to it as a "questionable proposal" and "a piece of psychological legislation." It is a piece of psychological legislation if it is dealt with in this way, because the whole idea behind it is that jurors have a psychological objection to bringing in a verdict of manslaughter. I am unable to say whether or not that is founded on fact. I accept it as a fact because so eminent a parson as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice said so in this House, but I cannot with satisfaction contemplate legislation which deals with the question simply by results. Surely that cannot be the right thing to do. I submit that whether one causes death as a result of an accident or not is a pure fluke, and the pains and penalties to be suffered by a driver should not depend on a matter of chance. It should he dealt with as a matter of fact. There may be an analogy for it in law, and if there is I should be delighted to hear it; but I cannot think of anything which would resemble that. We naturally have to accept the Bill as a whole, but I am sure that your Lordships will want to consider many of the details of this Bill in Committee, and in particular its three main proposals, one of which we dealt with last time. I cannot see that the position has changed since that episode.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HUDSON
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, started by suggesting that one of the reasons for the comparatively low accident figures in America was the enforcement of the law. I most profoundly agree with him. That the law is not at present enforced is not the fault of the police, for they are understaffed and have many other things to do; and I hope that I am not hurting their feelings in any way. It is a fact that the law at present does not contain the powers which 889 it ought to have. It is, to all intents and purposes, completely unenforced. If anyone wants an example he need only go down the Great West Road, where he will see lines of traffic, vehicles of all kinds, which are supposed to keep within the marked lines. It is the rarest possible thing to find vehicles keeping within the lines. If one asks a mobile policeman or senior official who is looking after the traffic why he tolerates that, why he does not report those people, he says: "What is the good? They will not suffer any adequate fine. I have to bring some kind of person along to back up what I say before a magistrate will convict. What chance is there of getting an ordinary individual who has been driving along the road to come to court and support my words?" So the law is not enforced at all.
One thing I rather missed from the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, if I may say sc with respect, was the fact that under the Bill a great number of things have to be done by regulation. For example, there is the question of keeping within the white lines. That is bound to be dealt with by legislation by reference, so as to enable the police to deal with a man who goes over the white line as an offender. This sort of thing is to be found all along the Great West Road, especially on the way out to Heath Row.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, has a long connection, I gather, with Oxford, which I think one might describe as the home of lost causes. His speech certainly was largely the speech of a man who regretted the lost causes of a period. Incidentally, he spoke of an experiment carried out by the chief constable of Oxfordshire in the course of which, I gather, he has gone to the extent of putting policemen in plain clothes to patrol the roads in order to try to improve the general conduct of road users. I can tell him that it just does not work. There is nothing those men can do to enforce the law. If the House will forgive a personal reminiscence, I should like to tell them of this experience of mine. I came back from Oxford Show last year, and just after passing the roundabout at Cowley, and from then until I had passed Wheatley, there were two lorries in front of me. One was slightly further from the kerb than the other. I could not pass, and people 890 behind me were entirely held up, because those two lorries travelled at about 20 m.p.h. and kept far enough away from the kerb to prevent anyone from passing. That means that, instead of traffic being facilitated—which is the task of the police—in this instance something was being done which had the reverse effect.
That is true all through our road system. Except that I do not wish to bore your Lordships, I could tell you a good deal derived from my experience of riding on London's buses. Time after time we have seen buses driving in London and holding up traffic because they refuse to give way, and obstruct the passage of other vehicles by not leaving sufficient room for those other vehicles to pass. The ordinary policeman has no sanction at all in such cases: he has just got to put up with it. If one makes a personal protest to the driver concerned, the only result, in the majority of cases, is a volley of abuse.
One of the main causes of bad driving of buses in London is, I think, the instructions that are issued. Lord Latham told me that drivers were extremely well trained at Chiswick, and if one goes there one can see that that is true. One can see a bus being driven at 20 m.p.h. stop suddenly and swing round, under perfect control. But drivers are taught to keep five feet away from the pavement. But five feet away front the pavement means, in the majority of cases, continual obstruction of other traffic which wants to pass. I had a long talk with the chief of the bus transport, Mr. Burnell. I finally said that I had a most fantastic letter written by Sir John Elliot, and that if he was going to be so stupid I should read that letter in your Lordships' House. He said: "For Heaven's sake, Lord Hudson, don't do that!" As a result, he has changed the rule. But it is quite intolerable that one has to bring pressure of that kind to bear to get a cause of nuisance abolished. I think that since that has been done the traffic control of buses is slightly better—but only slightly better—than it was.
I am sure that we shall not solve these problems until we get laid down a system of traffic lanes which a man will cross at his peril. It is quite easy to prove that a man has been across a lane without having to go through the rigmarole of getting some other man to come for- 891 ward and give supporting evidence. I hope that the noble Lord who is going to reply will say that these things are being considered. I am sure it is a very difficult matter to ensure that speed "cops" are used to make people conform to the ordinary rules of good driving—and it is much more a question of driving properly than of driving carefully or driving safely. If we could get that done, I am sure that most of the difficulties with which we are faced would disappear.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I support this measure. Indeed, I think that that has been the conclusion of all noble Lords who have spoken, and if I intervene it will be mainly on Committee points. But it may be useful to Her Majesty's Government to have some advance information of some of the matters that are troubling some of us. My noble friend who has just spoken said that Lord Elton appeared to be a supporter of lost causes. I should like to say that I agree with Lord Elton completely in what he said about the magnitude of the problem and the scandal of the slaughter on the roads. I also agree about the importance of enforcement. I must say that when I drive, as often I have to drive at week-ends, on, say A40 or the Henley Road, I am astonished not at the number of accidents but at the fact that there are not more, because I think the standard of driving is so scandalous. Anyone who wishes to test that has only to go on any main road against the general stream of traffic and see how often he is obliged to slow down or go right into the side in order to save the life of some lunatic driving in the opposite direction who has pulled out in order to overtake something and then cut in. I believe that many of these problems can be dealt with only by enforcement by police on the road.
But that belief is no argument at all against the provisions Her Majesty's Government are seeking to enact in this Bill, most of which I believe to be useful, or potentially useful. The noble Earl in moving the Second Reading mentioned Clause 7 of the Bill which amends Section 8 of the Act of 1934. He referred to the Amendment as the work of the noble Earl, Lord Howe. He may perhaps be interested to know that Section 8 892 of the Act of 1934 was my work. I will tell him the rather interesting circumstances in which that particular section got in the Statute Book. I was only an ordinary member of the public at that time—not a Member of the House of Commons—but I was very much outraged by a matter which does not seem much to trouble Lord Howe—inadequately silenced cars. I found that the scandal of inadequately silenced cars was accounted for by what I considered a defect in the law. Under the Construction and Use Regulations there had to be a proper silencer, and anyone who used a car on the road that had not a proper silencer committed an offence. Unfortunately, no offence was committed by the manufacturer, the original vendor of the car, if he had not fitted an adequate silencer, and some of the makers of sports cars deliberately put on an inadequate silencer because inadequate silencing was very popular with the young lunatics who drove their cars.
Struck by this fact, I thought that what now is embodied in Section 8 of the Road Traffic Act of 1934 would be very useful. I will tell the House what I did. I drafted two Amendments with the aid of some of my learned colleagues in the Temple and gave them to two friends of mine in another place. I think I chose very well, because those two friends are now the Minister of Health and the Home Secretary. The Minister of Health moved my Amendments in Committee, where they were resisted by His Majesty's Government, as it was then, and defeated. On Report stage, the present Home Secretary moved my Amendments. They were again opposed by the Government and were either negatived or not pressed to a Division.
But I did not despair. I remembered your Lordships' House. I handed these two Amendments to my noble friend, Lord Elton, and gave him ammunition which I thought in a reasonable assembly would cause my Amendments to be accepted. They were again resisted by the Government, which I might remind your Lordships was a Conservative Government; but your Lordships' House showed its natural independence by pressing them to a Division and defeating the Government. On Report stage in this House my two Amendments were combined by a Government Amendment into what is now Section 8 of the Road Traffic 893 Act, 1934. If I am reasonably proud of that achievement, I am reduced to modesty by the thought that, though I was for twenty years in another place, I never once succeeded there in carrying anything against the Government of the day.
I agree with my noble friend, Lord Elton, about the importance of every step we take to diminish the casualties on the roads, and when we get to Committee stage I think we ought carefully to consider whether disqualification from driving should not be the automatic result even of a first conviction for certain offences. May I come now to the question of parking meters and parking dealt with in Clauses 15 to 20 of the present Bill. I agree heartily with my noble friend, Lord Selkirk, who commended the Second Reading of this Bill, that these experiments are well worth trying. In my opinion it is quite right to bring the price mechanism into play in order to encourage the provision of garages. I do not agree with noble Lords who have said that we must first supply garages before we restrain the parking. I do not believe that even existing garages are or will be fully used so long as people are permitted to park in the streets for nothing.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, would the noble Lord apply that to London? I am very interested in the use of the money factor in parking in order to support the development of garages. But if we have to pay 4s. 6d. or 5s. to go into a garage, what sort of fee for parking is now contemplated? I am not quite sure about it.
§ LORD CONESFORD
I am going to say some more on this subject of parking, and I am not taking the view—nor would my noble friend, Lord Selkirk—that all parking problems in Central London are going to be solved; but I suggest to the noble Viscount who just intervened that we shall never start to solve the problem so long as we permit people to park in the streets of Central London for nothing. There are two possible methods of preventing that. These methods do not exclude each other: in fact, I believe strongly that we have to use both. One is the method of parking meters new suggested by Her Majesty's Government. The other is to enforce the law against obstruction. While it is arguable that to 894 enforce the law against obstruction could succeed even without the parking meters, it is not arguable that parking meters can succeed without the enforcement of the law against obstruction. So long as people are permitted to obstruct the streets of London, the problem is absolutely insoluble.
Nothing could be more preposterous, both in fact and in law, than the argument sometimes put forward by motorists, and I believe sometimes by motoring organisations, that there is some claim by a member of the public to free parking on the highway. I was glad to hear what my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara said about that. In discussion of the proposed parking meters, it is often assumed that the only interests concerned are the interests of free movement in the streets and the interests of motorists. That is not so. There are also the important interests of the owners and occupiers of private houses and flats and of professional and business premises. What I sometimes wonder is whether Her Majesty's Government have fully considered the injury done to private householders at the present time by the habit of some people of leaving cars in front of other people's houses. I would say to my noble friend, Lord Howe, who has just indicated his approval of what I am saying, and I am grateful to him, that it is not simply the problem of the commuters, as he said. There are many people living in Chelsea, I know, who never garage the monstrously large American cars which they use and leave out in the streets twenty-four hours a day. Incidentally, I cannot imagine why Her Majesty's Government permit these monstrously large cars under the Construction and Use Regulations at all. They are utterly unsuited for bringing on to the roads in this crowded Island, and ought to be prohibited under the Construction and Use Regulations.
Apart altogether from that, the problem is one that very much affects the householder. I have mentioned Chelsea, which I happen to know from personal experience; but let me give an example which I believe is known to noble Lords in all quarters of the House. Let them look at Harley Street and Wimpole Street, which are often filled with -the cars of people, very often commuters, who have just left them there; and the unfortunate doctor, who may have to go out in an emergency, 895 often has no place whatever in front of his house for his car or for the cars of patients who may be visiting him. It will be quite useless to provide these parking meters unless there is also strict enforcement of the law against obstruction. I suggest to your Lordships that an ordinary householder who is paying rent, rates and taxes for his premises in London has some right to approach his own front door or to have visitors to his house able to do so. It is monstrous that a number of people living in the area park their cars in front of their neighbours' houses for nothing. It is not merely a question of speeding the traffic in the road; it is also a question of doing justice to the owners and occupiers of the premises concerned.
Let me tell the noble Lord exactly why I think this is directly relevant. At pr, sent a person injured in the way of which I have spoken has always the possibility to look forward to that one day the police may do something about obstruction. I may say that there are recent decisions of the courts which make it comparatively easy to prove obstruction merely when a car is left on the highway. So long as there is no parking meter, there is, at least, that chance that the law will one day be enforced. But if a parking meter should be put in front of a dwelling house, then parking there will be legitimate and there will be no remedy whatever to be derived from the law of obstruction.
I know that it is the desire of Her Majesty's Government that these parking meters should not be put in an unsuitable place where they would do the sort of damage that I have mentioned. But the question is: have they, under the clauses of the Bill as they now stand, sufficiently provided against this danger? I am aware that in Clause 15 (2) of the Bill it says:The matters to which the Minister shall have regard in determining what parking places are to be designated under this section shall include—(b) the need for maintaining reasonable access to premises …That looks comforting, so far as it goes, but I am bound to mention two things. First of all, that provision was not in the Bill as it was originally produced, but was introduced by way of Amendment in another place. Secondly, what is meant by "the need for maintaining reasonable 896 access to premises"? Let me tell the Government one of my grounds for some doubt as to whether the Minister has in his mind what I think most of us hope he has. In his terms of reference for the new Parking Survey, which he recently instituted, he said:The overriding need for a coherent parking plan may well involve some degree of interference with existing doctrines in regard to access.I very much wonder what he means by that.
There are, I know, under the Bill as it stands—indeed, my noble friend who moved the Second Reading drew attention to the Third Schedule—certain safe-guarding provisions to ensure that people concerned get prior knowledge of the sites proposed for these parking meters in order that they may make representations, and no doubt they will be able to make known their objections to the local authority or to the Minister. But I doubt whether those provisions are strong enough; and I doubt, too, whether we are right not to provide for any possibility of compensating either private or professional men, or the owners of business premises, if the value of their property, or the possibility of carrying on their business, is detrimentally affected by the placing of these parking meters near their premises. I think that we shall have to consider Amendments to meet these dangers: indeed, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will themselves see whether the dangers I have mentioned do not warrant their consulting their most able draftsmen to see whether it is not possible to meet some of them.
I should like to add a word or two about the design of the parking meters. I admit that I have always been keen on questions of design, and I am horrified with some of the street furniture that has been erected, both in town and country, which has damaged amenities quite unnecessarily. I do not necessarily demand that the provision shall be in the Bill, but I hope that we shall have, at least, the assurance of the Government that the design of these parking meters will be decided only after consultation with the Council of Industrial Design, which is, after all, a body set up by the Government.
The only other matter I would mention is Clause 8, which has been referred to by several previous speakers and which 897 creates the new offence of causing death by reckless or dangerous driving of motor vehicles. I certainly am not going to attack that clause without studying the considered argument of my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney General in another place, or what the Lord Chancellor or others may have to say to us in this House, but I think it is true that this clause, though it may possibly be wise or necessary, is in some ways illogical, and it does worry many people for some of the reasons that previous speakers have given. In answer to my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara, I think there are substantial reasons against relying wholly on the law of manslaughter. It is not that juries, for proper reasons, will not convict. I think the difficulty is that the summing up to a jury on the exact degree of negligence in the driving of a motor car which would constitute manslaughter is so complicated that the jury has great difficulty in following it. Therefore, I think there is a case for the amendment of the law.
Nevertheless, I would ask Her Majesty's Government to consider, if they have not already done so, whether the same object which is now met by Clause 8 of the Bill, to which objection has been taken in various quarters, could not be fulfilled by increasing the penalty for dangerous driving, so that bad cases could be punished by a far higher penalty than can at present be meted out for that offence. I say at once that this is a matter which strikes me at first sight on looking at the clause, but it is possible that the Government have good reasons for it. If they have not fully considered the alternative, I would ask them to do so.
§ 5.48 p.m.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, I rise with diffidence at this hour, but there are a few points that I should like to make. No one so far has mentioned Clause 5 and its companion, the Second Schedule. This is largely a road safety Bill, and I think it is admirable that Her Majesty's Government should have put down so clearly the encouragement and assistance they are prepared to give, both moral and financial, to the various road safety committees and organisations throughout the country. On the disputed question of vehicle inspections and spot checks, I have one small 898 point on which, if possible, I should like some reassurance from the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, when he replies. Under Clause 3 (3) a deferred test for a spot check is allowed, and the details of this are given in the First Schedule. That Schedule says that there will be a duty on the owner of the vehicle to produce it at the time and place fixed for the deferred test. In Clause 2 there are penalties for driving a car without a certificate, if it needs one, hut I should be glad to know that in the case of deferred tests there are suitable methods of enforcing that the owner of the car who has had his test deferred does, in fact, bring it into the station when he has arranged to do so.
On Clauses 15 to 20 with regard to parking meters, I hope I may be allowed to run through the method which, so far as I can make out, will be employed at these parking places where meters are provided. When one first drives in one's car, there will be a small charge of 1s. or 2s. for an initial two-hour period. After that time, I gather, the meter will put up some sort of red card or plate in the glass window provided, with the word, "Obstruction" written upon it. From that moment, a heavy excess parking charge will be imposed for a further two hours. This excess charge cannot be put into the meter itself, because it is adapted only to take the two-hour initial charge which is much smaller, and therefore it must be paid in to the local authority concerned. At the end of the excess period the police step in and can issue a summons for obstruction.
I wonder whether this is an enforceable method. I have had some experience of the parking meter system, and I have grave doubts as to whether it will work. In the first place, there is little to prevent a motorist, at the end of his initial period, from going back and putting another 2s. into the meter. The meter, of course, would have to be adapted for this, because if the original car is taken away and a new one brought in a new initial charge will be paid. Therefore, there is no mechanical reason why the original motorist should not put in another 2s. The answer may be that the parking meter attendant ought to stop this practice. But if he has to look after a whole row of cars in the street, and the motorist comes back at the far end and puts in the extra 2s.—and 899 quickly at that!—it will be very difficult to tell exactly which was the meter. The alternative, of course, is for each parking attendant to have a log in which he puts down the number of each car, the time it arrived and the amount its owner has paid. But this is a highly complicated system, and would require a great deal of work and intelligence on the part of the parking meter attendant. This method of feeding the meter is not just a speculation. I have seen schemes of this kind in operation, and this sort of thing occurs all the time. And of course, it would completely ruin the whole system of an excess charge after the first two hours. I wonder, therefore, whether this is the right attitude. Parking in congested areas is, of course, an obstruction to the traffic, but will parking meters prove an answer at all? If there is one car there all day, it causes an obstruction. If there is a parking meter and a permanent turnover of cars, there will still be cars there all day, and the obstruction will be just the same.
I wonder, too, about the police. Presumably there will have to be a permanent patrol going round all these cars in the parking area, checking up after the excess period, when and to whom they are to issue a summons. Here again, are the police patrols going to wait until the owner comes back before they can issue a summons, or are they going to take the car away on their special removal vehicle, as laid down by Clause 6 of this Bill?
The amount of time, trouble and paper work that will be involved on both sides—by the motorist and by the local authorities, in handing in these excess charges, acknowledging them and generally organising the thing—will be enormous and will cause a great deal of aggravation among the motoring public and, presumably, among the local authorities. I wonder whether this system is not too complicated. At the same time, it is a contributory scheme and a preventive one. It is contributory, of course, in an admirable way to the essential feature of providing off street parking. Any money that can be provided for that is very welcome. It is obviously right that the motorist should pay a small rent for a piece of public highway that he occupies temporarily while his car is parked there, and if this money can be used in due 900 course for providing proper parking places and garages well and good.
Can this system be justified as a preventive measure? I doubt it. I would suggest rather that if parking meters have to be provided at all—and I would not say that they have not—the system could be made much simpler if it were merely a contributory scheme. That would work as follows. The motorist drives his car in; he puts in his small initial charge, and it is then up to him to see that his red flag does not go up in the meter. All the parking attendants or the police have to do is to check up on meters which have the red obstruction flags up. The money will come in just the same, and it will cut out an enormous amount of time, trouble and manpower in the process.
The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, made a plea for clarity and comprehensibility in this Bill on the ground that it was of enormous importance to so many people up and down the country who use the roads all the time. I agree most heartily with that, and in addition to the example that he gave I should like to quote Clause 36, which has to do with the provision of street lighting and its effect on making the road one in a built-up area, with the result that, automatically, it becomes restricted. This matter is very complicated, and I do not want to go into details because it ties up with both the 1930 and the 1934 Acts. The point is this. The clause itself says that it wishes to be a "guidance," and I imagine that means both to motorists and also to the courts when it comes to a case of prosecution for speeding. I submit that the effect it should have is this. When a road has a system of street lighting on it, a motorist, as he goes along, should be able to assume, unless there are de-restriction signs on the street lights, as there are in many cases to-day, that it is a road in a built-up area. If a road has no system of street lighting, however, it should be assumed, unless there are built-up signs on it, that it is an unrestricted road. Unless I have my facts wrong, that is not in the least the effect of Clause 36.
That clause lays down for the motorist two requirements of knowledge with regard to street lighting. In the first place, he has to know when the system of lighting was put up. If it 901 was after the coming into operation of this Act, it may not mean that it is a built-up area. Therefore, he must know when the lighting was put up. In the second place, he has to know whether the lamp-posts are 200 yards apart, or more. Without those two pieces of knowledge, he still cannot be certain whether he is in a built-up area or not. I maintain, with all humility, that in a clause like this it would be no bad thing to lay down in black and white that when a road has street lighting on it it is built-up, and that, when it has not, it is not built-up unless contrary signs are clearly shown at frequent intervals. 'That would make driving a great deal easier, and would simplify matters enormously. With those few observations, I welcome this Bill and wish it good progress in its belated journey.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, my noble friend who has just sat down said one or two things to which I want to refer again in a moment, and with which I am in complete agreement. One was the emphasis on the road safety aspect of this Bill and the other was the effect of this Bill on the work of the police. I will say a little more in a minute about that. I hope the noble Lord will forgive me for not following him into the details of parking meters and such things, about which he and the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, know a great deal more than I do. I should like to echo what my noble friend hoped, that parking meters will be of a satisfactory design, although I am sure that, if they do come, we shall have to take the risk of yet another hurdle and another point of controversy surrounding the parking meters when the artistic people get busy.
I was going to spend the few minutes for which I wish to detain the House in trying to light two small amber lights which I hope will be seen later on by those Departments who have to administer the Bill when it becomes an Act. The first one is this. Noble Lords will have noticed during this debate that nearly all the instances taken of things which were wrong and needed to be put right came from the London area. That is not at all surprising, because the London problem, as the Bill recognises by devoting certain clauses 902 and Schedules to the London problem, is something totally different in size and in almost every other way from the traffic problem in England outside the Metropolitan Police Area. The danger, therefore, is in trying to deal with the country as a whole as if it were all London; because a great many of the regulations which will be necessary in London, unless I am very wrong, will turn out to be unnecessary, restrictive and onerous in parts of the country where the traffic problem is lighter. In a great many things that we talk about in this House the London problem is different from the problem outside London. All I would say now is that I hope that those who have to make regulations under this Act will take care to remember that a regulation which is right for London is unlikely to apply to the rest of the country. Even such big centres as Birmingham and Manchester have problems which are trivial compared with those of London; and, vice versa, the regulation which is designed for places outside London is not likely to fill the bill in the Metropolitan Police Area.
Mention of the Metropolitan Police Area brings me for a moment to this question of the police. In this debate it is about time that we had a short look at this problem from the police point of view rather than from the point of view of transport and motoring. We all know that this problem is much in the minds of the police and those who have to administer the police, and also those who are concerned with magistrates' courts. I have here a recent annual Report of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary which has just come out. It says rather plaintively:Many chief constables continue to grapple with road safety with depleted numbers of men available for road patrol duties.It mentions how greatly motoring offences have increased, and says, at page 15:The main increases were in the number of persons found guilty of traffic offences (393,148 in 1954, compared with 374,856 in 1953, an increase of … 4.9 per cent.).It goes on in the same strain. We are, I think, within measurable distance of finding that if we place any more burdens on the police in administering the Road 'Traffic Acts we shall have no police time available for dealing with other things for which the police are responsible, such as 903 the arrests of burglars, housebreakers and criminals of that sort.
Last year, in the county from which I come, in the course of a magistrates' conference I had figures showing the percentage of the total number of prosecutions brought in magistrates' courts which were concerned with motoring offences. Of the prosecutions which were brought by the police—that is, leaving out prosecutions under clean milk, failing to pay rates, et cetera—75 per cent. were concerned with motoring in some form or another; and, taking the whole of the prosecutions, including clean milk and everything of that sort, the figure was about 60 per cent. So it is apparent that we have to bear in mind the effect which any further load on the police, with their present depleted establishments, will have on the police work as a whole and on the community who expect to benefit from police protection in other walks of life besides motoring.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I am grateful to the noble Viscount for his interesting figures. He tells us that in Shropshire 60 per cent. of the total prosecutions brought by the police were in regard to offences against the Road Traffic Acts.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Connected with road traffic. But did the noble Viscount go still further in his researches? How many of the prosecutions that the police brought to the local benches in Shropshire were turned into convictions by the magistrates? Has he got that figure? What I am interested in is this: was the effort of the police, of which I think the 60 per cent. of the prosecutions he has just cited was a fine example, supported by the magistrates in returning convictions?
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising that point. I hope he will forgive my not giving a figure now. As I have not that figure in my mind, I prefer not to give it in the House. I can comfort him by saying that I feel certain—I will not say that the magistrates supported the police cases, but that the magistrates found in the large majority of cases brought that the police prosecutions were well founded. 904 There is a slight difference in the approach to the question, as the noble Lord will appreciate.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Yes. The gilt was taken off the police gingerbread throughout the country by the imposing of parsimonious fines which provided no deterrent to wrongdoing.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
That may be so. I was hoping to come back to that point in a moment. As I say, it will leave little time for dealing with indictable offences. We also come to this problem: that, unless there are enough police to enforce these laws, the whole thing will break down under its own weight. That is a very serious matter when we think not merely of the Road Traffic Acts but also of the administration of the whole law of the land. It is particularly serious because, as some noble Lords said in the course of this debate, the type of offender who conies into court on a motoring offence is usually a much more respectable and responsible citizen than the people who are charged with offences of other kinds. It is important that when we come to administer this Act we should find a way of making its enforcement effective. I wish I thought that the mere provisions of this measure would go more than a very little way to do amt. but I am afraid I do not think so.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has referred to the question of penalties. I am glad that the noble and learned Viscount has just returned to the Woolsack at the opportune moment, because this is a matter which exercises often magistrates in many different parts of the country. They are concerned, amongst other matters, with these two things. First of all, I am sure that all good magistrates want to give the offender the benefit of any doubt that there may be. That is a practice which goes far beyond motoring offences. The second thing is that in regard to cases which are committed all over the country, such as motoring offences, it would be an excellent thing if each bench considered the offence with the same degree of severity. These things are by their nature hard to regulate, and that can be done from time to time only by advice which is given to benches by my noble and learned friend or perhaps by his right 905 honourable friend the Home Secretary, or sometimes by other people of that kind.
But what we really conic hack to is this: that it is going to be much easier for magistrates to give more severe penalties when they feel, perhaps more than they do now, that it is more reasonable to expect motorists not to commit the offence. All sorts of things contribute towards offences because of the lack of steps which we in this country have taken to improve the conditions of motoring in past years. A lot of accidents may be inexcusable, but, none the less, they are due to the fact that the road is not wide enough. A lot of parking offences may be inexcusable, but we all know that they would not happen if local authorities made proper provision for people to park.
So we go on, and so we conic back to the point that my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross raised in regard to road safety, which is another form of crime prevention. Those are the kind of points which I feel we ought to raise on this Bill equally with the more detailed points about parking meters and suchlike, because they affect the administration of the law generally, and because we all know that if we want to prevent crime we must remove some of the causes of it. For example, we all know that the problem of the black market and the enforcement of anti-black market legislation disappeared as soon as we had got rid of scarcity after the war. We all imagine—I most certainly do, and probably many noble Lords share my view—that we shall get rid of a great deal of the trouble in regard to tax evasion when taxes are not so heavy and when people think that they are more equally distributed among the community. In exactly the same way we shall get rid of a lot of motoring offences when it is more reasonable to suppose that the ordinary citizen has a better chance of getting from one place to another on good roads, and a reasonable chance when he gets to the other place of being able to park his car in a place that is provided for it.
My Lords, if we give a fair wind to this Bill, as I am sure we are all going to do, I think we shall do it bearing in mind that there are other things outside the scope of the Bill which will have a great effect, for better or worse, on the 906 success of the Bill as a contribution to better motoring and to road safety. That is why I have ventured to take up a little time in going rather outside the strict provisions of the Bill to mention some of them to your Lordships.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, we have had an interesting debate to-day on a Bill which is generally supported in principle, in that its aim is to reduce the awful carnage upon the roads of this country. At the same time, we have heard a certain amount of criticism because of the nature of the construction of the Bill itself in facing this great task. I must say that in 1954, when my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth was devoting a great deal of attention to the Bill and I was unable to do so, I did not pay anything like the attention to this matter that I ought to have done. However, now that I look at the Bill that has come before the House, I feel that, in view of the great problem the Government and the local authorities have to face in this matter, it is a Bill which I would describe as one of "bits and pieces."
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, made art exceedingly good point to-day in regard to the difficulties with which motorists are faced, of having within a short time to consult at least three Acts of Parliament before they know whether or not they are within the law. He did not add what I think is of almost greater importance—namely, the books of regulations which have been issued by the Ministry from time to time, and which often carry, for their nonobservance, very heavy penalties indeed. In such a major campaign as any Government have to face in trying to cure this evil, it is about time that we had a constructive policy as a whole, and that the law was revised in such a way that the things which are really uppermost in the minds of different sections of the community, all of whom have been mentioned by one or another speaker to-day, are embodied in one complete policy, and so that we have comprehensive legislation in the matter.
I admit that no Government could be expected to hold up for a moment what must be regarded as urgent reforms in order to bring in legislation of this kind. But I think my point has been proved 907 by the comment of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk—who, as I have said before, always charms this House when he introduces a measure which is not too controversial—that the Bill left this House in its initial form with twenty-five clauses and has now arrived back with forty-seven clauses. He was very quiet about the Schedules—I notice that there are eighteen pages of those as well. So this Bill of bits and pieces, as I call it, becomes most difficult for the public hereafter to understand.
I believe the whole nation has a great responsibility at the present to back up both Government and local authorities in campaigning against the frightful massacre upon the roads. I am quite sure of this, too: that in meeting the various claims of sections of motorists and road users we ought to keep in mind that dreadful carnage, rather than be led into the sometimes specious argument that greater freedom for the motorist is going to lead to fewer accidents. I am quite sure that the Pedestrians' Association has from time to time sent its literature to the noble Earl and to all those who deal with this matter. At any rate, I do not regard it from that point of view.
As a motorist for more than thirty years, the more I look at the problem the more I hope the Government will not continue in the way in which a former Minister progressed in dealing with the size of heavy vehicles which are sanctioned on the road—or, in any future decision he may make, the speed at which they may be allowed to travel. I believe that this is fundamental. I do not believe that any noble Lord who has taken part in, or listened to, this debate to-day can have failed, from his own observation on the roads, to notice the difference that has occurred in the general atmosphere of ordinary car drivers on the road since the last amendment took place in regard to the permitted size of vehicles, especially heavy ones. So far as I can see now, although they have already increased greatly in size, there is now a proposal that their size should be even greater, and that the overall width of the load on the vehicle, which may he up to 30 ft. in length, may he as much as 9ft. 6ins. Until the general body of motorists, who for a great many years have paid "through the nose," both in 908 direct taxation and in indirect taxation on petrol, get a system of roads adequate to take such loads, that sort of change ought not to be made.
It is true that the point I am making is not covered or in any way referred to in this Bill: it is a matter covered by regulations issued by the Minister of Transport under previous Statutes dealing with road transport; but as a driver I am very concerned. I should not regard myself as an especially good driver, even though I have been driving for thirty years. Very often, when I am on the verge of doing something wrong and see other people's licences being endorsed while I still have a clean licence, I feel like the person who said, "There, but for the grace of God, goes Bradford." I have no doubt that a great many fellow-motorists also feel like that from time to time.
I believe that the extraordinary outpouring of extra traffic in enormous loads on the roads in the last ten years, most of which ought to be carried by rail, canal or coastal transport, is adding hand over fist to the difficulties of the individual motorist and, generally, to the list of casualties. The mere profit-making desires of people in the industries concerned ought not to be allowed to take precedence over our great national campaign for road safety and the sanctity of human life. It is not only a question of people on the lunatic fringe—I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cones-ford, that they can cause innocent drivers to be mixed up in accidents—but it is to a large part the deliberate policy of transferring to the roads traffic that ought to be carried by other means of transport.
Unless all these huge reserves of money (at least. they ought to be reserves) resulting from the taxation on motorists can be used in providing roads to meet the changed situation which has been brought about in the ordering of transport in industry, Her Majesty's Government should stop issuing regulations that will increase the size of these vehicles and thus make transport on our trunk roads system even more congested—roads which, in many parts of the country, are not more than 20 ft. wide and, in the case of some special bottlenecks, even narrower. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will pay some attention to that matter. More especially, arising out 909 of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, I would plead that we should have drawn up a general policy, to be submitted to Parliament and the country, containing and consolidating all legislation so far as it is retained after Her Majesty's Government have, by their policy, amended the existing law, so that for some years ahead we may have comprehensive and understandable legislation in the hands of those who come within this industry.
When the noble Lord. Lord Conesford, was talking about the use to be made of revenue from parking meters, I wondered what would become of that revenue. From what has been said. I gather that local authorities will be able, if they wish, to run meters at a loss. They will be able to take revenue in the future and will not be called to account if they are still paying off deficits which they have incurred in the past. Probably the revenue from these parking meters will be lost in an ocean of administration, just as so much of the revenue from the tax on motorists by way of licensing and fuel has been lost.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for permitting me to interrupt, but in fact I did not mention revenue from parking meters. I used the argument that doing away with free parking on the highway might induce motorists to go to a garage where they would have to pay.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I found that exceedingly difficult to follow, unless what was whispered in my ear when I asked for guidance is true. There was a suggestion that parking meters might start with a charge of 1s. for the first hour, and 1s. for the second hour, and then, for the third hour, might run up to 7s. or 8s. One would be able to get into a garage for a charge which perhaps might not be so great as the accumulated meter charge for three hours. I am rot sure about that, but the other argument remains. I very much doubt whether there will be much improvement in the provision of parking places which are required to safeguard the interests of the individual citizen, and his own household and his own user2 by the meter system. I have very grave suspicion of it.
With those comments, and those made by my noble friend who takes such in- 910 terest in these matters, we wish Her Majesty's Government success in their campaign against the awful slaughter on the roads, and on those points we back them at any time. But I do hope that, if Her Majesty's Government are to continue in office for any length of time after such a shock as Tonbridge has brought them, they will put That time to a useful purpose and will give us a comprehensive policy in transport and one which would he understandable and usable. I listened with great interest to the speech of one of the youngest noble Lords in the House, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. Though I was so busy thinking what I should say that I did not hear all he said, I was diverted and listened to some of his unusual suggestions. I shall read the noble Lord's speech with very great interest tomorrow, and I should like to congratulate him upon it.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (LORD MANCROFT)
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Selkirk and I are grateful to your Lordships for the guarded approval with which you have welcomed this Bill. My noble friend Lord Selkirk described the Bill as old wine in new bottles. The bottle has now circulated to no fewer than thirteen noble Lords and there is not a great deal left in it. At this hour I doubt whether your Lordships wish me to embark on a detailed examination of its cork and label, because you are by now thoroughly familiar with the vintages—'53, '54 and '55 and now the '56 vintage. I am afraid noble Lords will also be familiar with the two vintners, the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, and myself.
The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, in a rather cavalier but not wholly inaccurate way, described the Bill as a matter of bits and pieces. Up to a point it is of necessity a large number of detailed proposals put together under one heading, which makes it a little difficult for me, at this stage of the proceedings, to deal with the sixty-six specific points and questions which have been raised in the course of this long and interesting debate. Without being in any way disrespectful or unwilling to help if I can possibly do so. I would, say that most of them tend to be Committee points, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said in his interesting 911 speech, there is only one slight theme, but a most important one, running through this collection, as the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander, called it, of bits and pieces, and that is the all important one of keeping death off the roads without actually bringing traffic to a standstill.
I was therefore very glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, concentrating on this question of the appalling carnage on the roads in opening his speech. He called it a social scourge and many of your Lordships took up and emphasised that point. I was glad because I believe that that aspect tends occasionally to become lost in some of the arguments concerning the details of the Bill and in what we are actually trying to do: 267,000 people were killed and wounded on the roads of Great Britain last year, 1955–267,000, which is almost exactly the same as the number of subjects of The King who were killed and wounded in the Battle of the Somme. And, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, says, we take it far too casually. Therefore, I was very glad to hear many noble Lords return to this point time and again to-day. That is what we are trying to do: to reduce these figures.
With regard to the second point, keeping death off the roads without actually bringing traffic to a standstill—and, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, pointed out, we have almost got traffic brought to a standstill—I believe that the constant frustration of the traffic jams on the road contributes to accidents by causing irritation and bad temper, thus encouraging rash and careless driving. In this country there are eighteen vehicles to the mile compared with seven to the mile in a country like France. That indicates a problem which is not going to grow any less. Let me say at once, in answer to several noble Lords who have raised the point, that I naturally agree that the question of parking meters and many of the other matters dealt with in the Bill are inextricably linked with the questions of off-street parking, garages, street widening, and, indeed, the road programme of the Government as a whole. But there is a limit to off-street parking, there is a limit to the garages that can be provided, there is a limit to street widening in London, and there is a limit to our road programme. Everywhere we can effect 912 improvement in these matters we must try to do so, but a line has to be drawn somewhere.
Let me point out this to the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, in answer to the interesting intervention he made during the speech of Lord Conesford concerning parking meters, as to why the movement of cars should be controlled by parking meters. If lie were to go with me this evening—I hope the noble Viscount will forgive my introducing a personal note—to Portman House, the home of my noble landlord, Lord Portman, he would see there a very large garage, but I am certain that he would find it a quarter, if not a half, empty. And the reason is that people can park outside my house next door in Montagu Square without having to pay any fee. We certainly hope that parking meters will contribute their share to the solution of the problem. I say "contribute" only; I do not pretend they are going to cure, or anything like cure, the whole of the evil. But it is something we must try out and I was glad to hear the noble Lord. Lord Teynham—who speaks with such authority by reason of his position with the Automobile Association—say that he was not opposed to the proposal and that he did not think the Government was "anti" anyone. There has been an idea in some quarters that this Bill is "anti motorist. Nothing of the sort. It merely is this: we have got to the position where, in the words of the popular song, "Something has got to give". At the moment it looks as if the man who has to give way is the man who brings a car up day by day and parks it all day in the centre of London. I think that this long-term parker is starting to realise that, and more and more commuters are coming up four or more in one car rather than individually in separate cars.
British Railways are trying to contribute to tackling this problem by making more parking spaces at peripheral stations. Probably many of the people who come into London by car are in a group which come in later than the earlier workers, and when the rush hours are past the situation tends to become a little easier. We hope that this tendency will continue. The Government do not, for one moment, suggest that parking meters will cure everything; but they have been a success up to a point in other countries. The noble Earl, Lord 913 Howe, suggested, that there is some tailing off in enthusiasm in America. Well, they have there 1,500,000 parking meters in 3,400 cities and that number is increasing at the rate of 100,000 a year. I think the experiment has also proved successful in other countries like Switzerland, Sweden and New Zealand, where the ways of life of the people are perhaps even closer to ours than is that of the Americans. Therefore, I think that this experiment has to be given a trial.
I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Colville of Culross, said in his interesting speech, that there may be things to be changed here or experimented with there. It will be a process, to some extent, of trial and error. But I think it is well worth doing, despite the obvious difficulties and objections which your Lordships have raised in considerable profusion this afternoon. We will consider those most carefully, as indeed all other suggestions, on the Committee stage. Let us give this experiment a trial and see whether we cannot make it contribute in some way to the solution of the problem of congestion on the roads.
The next point made by many noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon related to the creation of new offences. I would most certainly agree that it is undesirable to create new offences unless you cannot possibly avoid it. I would heartily endorse what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and other Peers, concerning good will between police and motorists and how essential it is that that good will which, at the moment, is in some ways endangered, should be restored. I think it is endangered as much as anything else by the possibility of police, motorists and pedestrians alike regarding some of our laws as either futile or unenforceable. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, touched upon this point very strongly.
If there is one thing the police hate, it is having some motorist, when approached by an officer after committing an offence of a minor nature, say (and I am sure many of your Lordships have heard something of the kind): "Why aren't you chaps catching burglars instead of wasting time talking about my parking on the wrong side of the road?" That sort of thing is bad for the relationship between police and public. I can assure your Lordships that we are trying 914 to get away from this in some ways by accepting the major recommendation of the Sharpe Committee. Your Lordships will remember that that was designed to prevent people from having to go miles to plead guilty to some minor motoring charge, and ten or fifteen constables from having to spend most of the day hanging about in court. We are attempting to do away with that in order to get more police on important jobs.
But even if new offences are being created, as several noble Lords have indicated, all we are trying to do is to bring dangerous or thoughtless drivers up to the normal standard of the good driver. As a matter of fact, very few drivers behave in the way which so many of these offences indicate. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, talked about "tow-away" zones in America. He was not so bold as to suggest that we should adopt that drastic system in this country, though it would solve many of the problems which he touched upon. As your Lordships will remember, we had at the Committee stage of the last Bill a great deal of discussion on a provision authorising the removal of a vehicle causing obstruction. That, I agree, is a very small second cousin of the proposal which the noble Lord was discussing. I have discovered that in Paris, where they have a similar provision, only ten vehicles a day are so removed. I agree that if the new laws are reasonable, and appear to be reasonable, they will be accepted, albeit grudgingly, by the public. That is the aim of this Bill.
I have been asked to say a word on the question connected with the new Clause 8—the dangerous driving and manslaughter point. This is a very vexed point which, as the House knows, was strenuously debated last time. Many experts gave us their opinions about it. This is a matter not of black and white, but of shades of grey: there is room for opinions on both sides. The Government feel that they are putting forward the best solution they can offer, and they hope that your Lordships, though perhaps with misgivings, which are very understandable, will be prepared to accept it, I think it will certainly help a great deal towards dealing with this difficult problem.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Would the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting? I feel certain that I shall 915 have an answer in the affirmative, but I should just like to put this point. Her Majesty's Government will not, I feel sure, shut their minds to an alternative which might be even more in the direction aimed at than the provision in the present Clause 8.
§ LORD MANCROFT
I give that assurance straight away. But as things are, before an alternative is produced, we feel that we have the best solution of the problem that we can get.
I was talking of the relationship between police and public. I would strongly endorse in this connection the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson. The police wish more than anything else to be helpers and guiders, and not to be thought of as constantly on the look out for grounds to bring prosecutions. I remember that this point came up on the Committee stage of the last Bill. Far too many drivers are potential accidents looking for somewhere to happen. And it is not prosecutions that the police want: they want to give help and guidance in order to stop these accidents from happening.
I turn now to the other major point upon which nearly every other noble Lord who has taken part in this debate has spoken—that is the question of vehicle testing. The speakers were a little critical of the details, but accepted the general principles. May I say here that we are in real danger of letting the best be the enemy of the good. It is easy to find fault with the details of a complicated and novel scheme like this: I myself could probably find a few faults to add to those which have already been found. But let us give it a trial. We shall probably have to change one or two of our preconceived ideas in the course of the experiment, and the Bill is so drawn, and the regulations will be so drawn, as to give the Minister the widest latitude in working out this scheme. I do not say that it will have an immediate and striking effect upon casualties on the roads, and I will not quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, about the Hendon figures or the American figures. But a reduction of between 12 and 20 per cent. in the number of accidents in this type of vehicle should not be ignored. It gives some encourage- 916 ment, I think for proceeding with this experiment.
It is an experiment; a pilot scheme—or, rather, the extension of a pilot scheme. I think we may well have to consider the psychological effects, as well as the practical effects, and I readily admit that in the early stages the practical effects will necessarily be small. Some noble Lords have argued that we are not going far enough; but we should like to start off cautiously. We should like to see this working well from the word, "Go." I admit to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that there is no guarantee, merely because a motorist gets a certificate on January 1, that his car will be in first-class working order on July 1.
§ LORD MANCROFT
Or on January 2; there is no guarantee. But if the noble Lord goes to his dentist for a thorough check on January 1, there is a sporting chance that he will not have a roaring toothache on January 2.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I do not get a licence from the Government in order to wear my teeth, but I must to have my car on the road.
§ LORD MANCROFT
The noble Lord cannot kill people with his teeth. My noble friend Lord Howe has asked: why pick on the ten-year-olds? There is nothing sacrosanct about the ten years period; it is merely an obvious way in which to start. There are 2,000,000 ye-hides over ten years old, and the Americans found a large number of defects in their cars as old as this—so it seems a good way to start. We do not want the noble Lord to queue or to have to go more than twenty miles, but we shall have to work this out carefully. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that we do not want to make an excessive demand on manpower or upon our economic resources.
The garages must participate if this scheme is going to work. I thought that the noble Lord made rather heavy weather with the difficulties of paper administration for the garage proprietor. The Bill says that he need not volunteer to participate in the scheme. We do not think that it will be so cumbersome, and if it turns out to be, it must be simplified.
917 I was glad to hear the noble Lord defend the morality of garage owners, which I think has been criticised unfairly, not in your Lordships' House this afternoon but outside. It has been suggested, not to put too fine an edge on it, that the garage owners are not to be trusted to carry out this scheme without committing dishonesty of some kind. I do not see what right anyone has to suggest that. There are black sheep in all professions, of course, but I am quite certain that this scheme will be carried out honestly, probably if only for the rather cynical reason that there is not much gain to be had out of it otherwise. But I would put it more highly than that. I am quite certain that this will work well and with the good will of the garage proprietors. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, would like to find another word for them between now and Report stage.
My Lords, it is easy to criticise the Bill, but I hope that the objections which can be so easily raised will not allow its obvious merits and purpose to be overlooked. It represents a genuine attempt to cope with one or two appalling social evils. No doubt it is not wholly perfect, but we shall try to perfect it in Committee stage, as we have tried with previous Bills of this nature. Every soldier is supposed to carry a field marshal's baton in his knapsack. I believe that every Member of your Lordships' House has a Road Traffic Bill somewhere in his briefcase. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Elton is not in his place. He produced a Road Traffic Bill and if he had been here, I should have liked to have some words with him about it. It is no good running down the Bill we have produced, unless the critics have something better to put in its place. What the noble Lord had to put in its place was wholly impractical, I am afraid. We are trying to do something which we hope is practical and will work. There are objections to every provision in this Bill, and I have no doubt that in some of the Private Members' Bills introduced by your Lordships we could find something more to criticise; but I believe that the objectives the Bill sets out to achieve are sound. Accordingly, I commend the Bill as a solid attempt to get traffic moving more smoothly, more swiftly and more safely.
§ LORD MATHERS
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I remind him that I put a specific question to him? I know that it is really a Committee point, but it seems to me that it would be unnecessary to put down an Amendment for Committee if there were no hope at all of having the point examined by the Government. I should like to know what is the situation with regard to the Medical Research Committee's Report on the question of road safety.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, I must apologise for inflicting myself on your Lordships again. I am afraid that I cannot promise to answer every one of the noble Earl's questions, but I will certainly have them looked at carefully. I would tell the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, that I cannot hold out much hope that the Amendment he suggested will have a successful outcome, but I will look again carefully at the point he made about the B.M.A. Report.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.