HL Deb 25 January 1962 vol 236 cc979-88

3.21 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to signify to the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Road Traffic Bill, has consented to place Her Majesty's interest, so far as it is concerned on behalf of the Crown, at the disposal of Parliament for the purpose of the Bill.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a. —(Lord Chesham.)


My Lords, before we pass the Bill I should like to ask your Lordships' permission to make just one or two very brief observations. The Bill, it seems to me, is very disappointing in that it has made things very complicated. In particular, Clause 21 has made no provision for strengthening the Minister's hand to deal with the growing paralysis of the London and other great city streets. As a result of the habit of drivers of parking motor cars on both sides of the street, reducing the carriageway to a single passage, vehicles enter the road from both ends, are unable to pass and one or other must then back out into the main traffic stream of a main road. It seems to me that if the Minister or other authorities (and which authorities it is very difficult to gather, even now, from this Bill) are responsible for maintaining a dual-carriage passage in the street, they should either maintain a road which has two passages, one up and one down, or mark it a one-way street. To do neither is to create a most appalling blockage. And the side-streets around this House in Westminster are among the worst congested streets in the town. I think that before we pass the Third Reading of this Bill we should ask the Minister to take immediate steps to strengthen his powers, if that is necessary; or if he already has powers to prevent this obstruction, or to mark the street a one-way street, to prevent vehicles entering it from both ends at the same time.


My Lords, owing to the technicality of the existence of a privilege Amendment I had intended to say a word or two when I moved, "That the Bill do now pass," but if your Lordships are with me I do not think it really makes the slightest difference whether it should be now or then. Since the noble Lord has already spoken, I think it might be convenient if I replied briefly to him and at the same time say now what I intended to say later.

If I may take the noble Lord's point first, I do not want to engage—and I am sure the noble Lord does not want to engage—in lengthy debate on this matter. because in principle, of course, he is perfectly right. It has been the aim and object of my right honourable friend ever since he got this particular job to unclutter the streets and I think your Lordships will all agree that that has been almost a cardinal point of his traffic policy—and quite unpopular it has sometimes proved! However, the streets are clearing.

We are, of course, very much aware of this matter, and I would only say to the noble Lord he is right to the extent that this Bill does not make some shattering contribution to what he considers should be done, but it does in certain respects further strengthen the Minister's hand, although he is quite reasonably well equipped with the necessary powers. It is a matter in which haste can only be made if not slowly at least steadily. If, instead of planning the routes of our one-way street system and the ways the cars are to go instead, we were in quite an unplanned manner to mark all streets one-way or unilateral parking or something like that, without the necessary amount of research, we might well end up with confusion worse confounded. We are trying to step up the various means of combating this obstruction, which in many cases it amounts to, in the streets, and I think it can be said that in London at least we have been able to make a promising start. But we do not want to relax on that start, and indeed we want to speed it up by any means that can be devised.

I fear there are one or two other remarks I want to make, now that we have reached this stage of the Bill, and I imagine that the most popular thing I can say to it, and which your Lordships will echo, is probably "Goodbye". On reflection, perhaps the better word would be "Farewell", and if your Lordships would bear with me for a few moments I should like just to say why I think it is a better word.


Would not my noble friend be more technically correct if he said "Au revoir"?


That may well be so; but whilst I think that that is inevitable in the course of democratic Parliamentary procedure I still prefer to stick to, "Farewell". I feel that we have made very considerable progress with the Bill in its two passages through your Lordships' House. In presenting it to your Lordships again in virtually the same form as it was in when it left only a few months earlier, we were very conscious that we were asking a great deal of your Lordships. But your Lordships are well known for the quality of thought that you always give to road safety matters, and this was not least evident during the debates which we had last Session on the Bill. The task of dealing with it again was not easy, though it was very necessary. I am particularly grateful for the courtesy and indeed the forbearance of the House in receiving it back again in the way you did. I especially welcomed the words of the noble Lord, Lord Latham, who said during the Second Reading that noble Lords opposite did not propose to resubmit their previous Amendments but only selected ones. I am sure that that was the most helpful attitude, and that it enabled our discussions to be a good deal more fruitful than some people might have expected.

We achieved, I think, three things. First, we were able to thresh out very thoroughly the major proposals of the Bill, and I am quite sure that the Bill is now very much the better for that. The second thing was that the issues which your Lordships decided to raise were such as to allow the Government to define more closely their attitude on certain important points. Here again I think there is now a better understanding of the Bill than there was in those respects, both inside the House and outside it.

Thirdly, your Lordships brought to attention some important matters which the Government have either accepted or promised to look into. Although the main provisions of the Bill remain unchanged, your Lordships have been much concerned to make sure that they did not contain any factor which would (or, on the other hand, did not leave out any factor whose omission would) either damage their value or bear unfairly on the public or on the police and the Courts. Following the persuasive advocacy of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and my noble friend Lord Teynham, we have introduced in Clause 2 the requirement that the police, when they request a person to provide a specimen for the purpose of an alcohol test, shall offer to supply him with part of the specimen, or, in the case of blood, with a second specimen. We have, in fact, had a most thorough discussion on that aspect of Clause 2. It was one of the most controversial clauses in the Bill, and I think that the majority of your Lordships are generally satisfied with the form in which we now have it.

After the five or six months which were available for reflection, your Lord- ships decided that the new penalty provisions contained in Clause 3 and the First Schedule should remain in the form which you finally approved last Session. We had an Amendment from my noble friend Lord Derwent, which enabled us to have a further discussion on the principles on which the list of offences in Part II of the First Schedule was drawn up. Some of your Lordships at the time were once again anxious that drivers should be protected from being disqualified for speeding offences of what is called a technical nature. Most of your Lordships shared the Government's view that the density of traffic, which is greater in this country than in any other country in the world, and the number of accidents on the road, have now both reached such levels that stringent measures have become an absolute necessity. We cannot afford any longer a situation where some people—or perhaps I should say too many people—regard road conduct as a kind of game where they can interpret the rules liberally, and usually to their own selfish advantage. The responsible road user has nothing to fear from the provisions of this Bill. It is the irresponsible person, of whom your Lordships have recounted many personal and general experiences, at whom the provisions of Clause 3 of this Bill are aimed.

At the same time, the Government are conscious that in relation to speeding the new code will have the best chance of success if we have the right speed limits in the right places. As was announced during our discussions, my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport is conducting a review of road speed limits for this purpose. I can now tell your Lordships that he expects to complete the review of speed limits on trunk roads by Easter and that the local authorities have been asked to do the same for other roads between now and the end of the year. My noble and learned Leader also informed your Lordships, in Committee, that we are making progress with the proposal to raise the maximum speed outside built-up areas of ordinary commercial vehicles without trailers from 30 to 40 miles per hour.

My Lords, on the remainder of the Bill we had a number of useful Amendments, the substance of which the Government were able to accept or undertook to look into. And, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth (now, I hope, satisfactorily in the sun), with his custoamarily well-documented presentation, moved two Amendments on Report, one to require a court to notify the licensing authority of any disease or physical disability disclosed in evidence about a licence-holder and one to press for a revision of the Statutes dealing with the permitted loads of goods-carrying vehicles. Your Lordships will remember that I was able to accept the first in principle and promised to have an Amendment put down in another place. On the second, I said that we would look at it most carefully again; and this we are now doing.

We had also a most helpful discussion on the provisions in the Bill about minimum speed limits. Your Lordships were anxious about the exceptions which the Minister would, under the Bill, be empowered to specify by order, and I accepted the principle of the Amendment moved by my noble and learned friend Lord Conesford, that Parliament should be able to debate the first order providing for such limits. I sincerely wish to thank the House for their concern in the matter. It is a completely new venture in road safety in this country, and your Lordships have shown great concern that, if it is to work, it shall work properly and fairly. This must be only right; and for our part, we shall do our utmost to put down a suitable Amendment in another place. Does the noble Viscount opposite wish to say something?


My Lords, I want to say a few words. When would the Minister prefer that I say them: before he moves his privilege Amendment, or not?


My Lords, I suppose that technically, as I am moving, That this Bill be now read a third time, I am, in a sense, winding up, so I had better suggest that the noble Viscount speaks now.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, may I say first of all That I am quite sure that supporters of the Minister will have been most gratified by the tributes that he has paid to the House and, of course, especially to them. I should Like to join with the "golden syrup brigade" for the time being, and say how much I appreciate the manner in which the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, always addresses the House and his general consideration.

As to saying farewell to the Bill—I wonder. It is perfectly true that all Parties—the Government and the Opposition—are concerned by the extraordinary dangers on the roads to-day, and much of our general effort has been to try to bring at least some of the worst of the offences to an end. But we are bound to say as a parting shot, on the Third Reading of this Bill, that in the circumstances the Government might have been more urgent about it than to treat the House of Lords with a certain lack of courtesy after all their labours last year to get through the first Bill that was submitted on a decent basis. Twelve months have been wasted in this urgent fight that we are waging. Now the Bill is going away from us with at least one of the Amendments to Clause 2 which we put into the original Bill taken away from us. I say that just in passing, and I think that might be remembered when the Bill arrives at another place.

I still think that there are certain problems remaining before the nation and for Parliament to face. Even with Amendments which had the specific, beneficent object of reducing death and injury being put down and carried, I think the greatest handicap of all is the lack of enforcement. Any of us who has been motoring for decades must know that the standard of conduct upon the roads has not improved in the last 40 years; it has deteriorated. In driving home at night at a steady 30 miles per hour, right in the built-up areas of London, one has people passing one at 50 and 55 miles per hour when the vision is not too good. But there is no attempt at all to enforce the speed limit.

There are other things that really worry motorists into accidents. I feel that, for people of different temperaments and different ages, one thing that ought to be seen to is the enforcement of the law against unnecessary noise from motor cycles and cars. The powers are there. The noble Lord mentioned just now, quite truly, that they had them for other purposes, but the noise and the sudden acceleration of vehicles which have their silencers removed is a disturbing nervous factor to many people who want to enjoy the ordinary and common-sense use of the roads.

The other point I want to make upon the Bill is that we are by no means unanimous that it is a wise thing for the Government now to have legislation raising the speed limit for commercial vehicles, apparently without any very Wong limitation of size and weight, to 40 miles an hour. It is very upsetting for the ordinary motorist who is driving along at a reasonable rate to be passed by vehicles whose drivers' attitude is "Well, we can pass at 40 miles an hour even with all our weight"—and very often they very much exceed that speed. It is extremely difficult for the average driver to be able to pass at all a commercial vehicle moving at 40 miles an hour. When the Members of another place come to consider this Bill perhaps they will give further attention to it.

I have nothing more to say. These are only comments en passant as the Bill goes through its final stage, and I would only repeat what I said at the beginning, our thanks to the Minister for his courtesy and his general attention to the wishes of the House, so far as he could give it within his instructions. But to say we are saying farewell to this Bill—well we have our doubts about that; and I hope that when it comes back for our final approval it will be rather better than it is now.


My Lords, I have given way to the noble Viscount for what must technically, I suppose, be an interruption of what I was saying, though I hope he will not take that word amiss, as I welcome the interruption as a whole. The noble Viscount will know I do not always entirely welcome his interruptions, but on this occasion I most wholeheartedly do, particularly for what he said in the first part of his remarks. If I did not perhaps welcome the middle part quite as much as the beginning and the end, I do not think we need say any more about that at the moment, because I should like to say that, while I may not agree 100 per cent. with all he said in the latter part of his remarks, at least his remarks were constructive. There is, as he said, no Party business between us on this matter. We are all trying to do exactly the same thing for the same reason, with perhaps varying opinions as to what exactly is the best method; and that, my Lords, will ever be so. All I want to say is that my right honourable friend, the Minister of Transport, and other colleagues directly concerned, I am perfectly certain, have taken very close account of what has been said in your Lordships' House, as they will do, no doubt, of what the noble Viscount has said to-day.

It seems to me that in the circumstances we have had a remarkably successful series of discussions, and I am most grateful to all the noble Lords who have responded to the return of the Bill in this way; in their various ways they have been very constructive about it. I am particularly grateful to the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, and my noble and learned Leader for all the work they have done on some of the more important aspects. My noble and learned Leader asked me particularly to apologise to your Lordships for his not being in his place to-day, but it is unavoidable as he is attending upon Her Majesty. As I say, he asked me to say that, because of the interest he has taken in the way your Lordships have worked with him.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord. It is good of the noble Lord to have expressed appreciation of the attitude of the Opposition on the second consideration of the Bill in this House. But does he not think he ought to say some word of apology on behalf of the Government for having troubled your Lordships on two occasions with this Bill, and give us some sort of undertaking that they will try very hard not to do it again?


I will indeed, if the noble Lord wishes me to do so. I thought that when this Bill was originally introduced my noble Leader had dealt with that matter quite extensively and revealed the Government's attitude. He explained at the time exactly what it is the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, wants me to explain now. I think the matter was fairly fully discussed, with the aid of the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. I agree that it is not a desirable way to handle this matter, and we would not have chosen to have done it that way. I have very little hesitation in saying to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, that I certainly hope it will not happen this way again.

My Lords, I am now going to end on a note of only the slightest controversy, because I wish to say that I am quite sure that if they receive this Bill in another place in the same way that your Lordships have received it, then I think the Bill will fare well. What is more important is that in due course many people on the roads of this country will fare better.

On Question, Bill read 3a.


I beg to move that the privilege Amendment be agreed to.

On Question, an Amendment (privilege) made; Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.