HC Deb 11 June 1903 vol 123 cc697-705
*MR. CATHCART WASON (Orkney and Shetland)

said the state of the highways, owing to the manner in which motor cars were driven, was a question of extreme urgency. It was common knowledge that the Local Government Board was not attempting to take the slightest interest in the great problem which was presented. Question after Question had been asked with regard to continual abuses of the law, and the necessity for fresh regulations had been urged, but they had been met with indifference. The question was of great importance to the whole country. In many places in Scotland, for instance, the children of the poor had been accustomed to play in the streets from time immemorial, having no other playground The right hon. Gentleman had the power of control—




said the Act passed a few years ago gave the right hon. Gentleman power to enforce a limit of speed.


said the Act passed a few years ago gave the right hon. Gentleman power to enforce a limit of speed. The present law, he contended, threw the whole responsibility on the right hon. Gentleman and his Department in this matter, and they did nothing, and attempted to do nothing. To those who took any interest in it, this was a most important matter, and they were justified in bringing this grievance before the Committee. If the right hon. Gentleman had, as he said, no information as to the casualties, it was his own fault, because he must have seen what a number of casualties there were if he took the slightest interest in his morning paper. The public looked to the right hon. Gentleman and to their own local authorities for protection in this matter; but, while the local authorities did everything they could, the action of the right hon. Gentleman impeded and hindered them in every way. The present position was that a few people claimed the right to build cars of enormous weight and speed and to monopolise the public roads for the running of those cars. They claimed the right to drive the public off the roads. Harmless men, women, and children, dogs, and cattle, had all got to fly for their lives at the bidding of one of these slaughtering, stinking engines of iniquity. He could not be accused of electioneering, as he believed there was not a motor-car in the whole of his constituency, but he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that a strong feeling of irritation was growing up in country districts at the fact that, owing to his inaction, apathy, and carelessness, these cars were monopolising the whole of their public roads. He did not complain that these persons sought to amuse themselves and to gratify a satiated and vitiated palate by trying to come into as close contact with death as possible, but he did complain most bitterly that they should seek to gratify their taste at the expense of the general public. If these people wished to race they should build tracks for themselves, and not use the public roads for that purpose. The law was on the side of those who protested against this practice, and all that they wanted was that the law should be faithfully and hon stly administered. He desired to move to reduce the salary of the right hon. Gentleman by £100, as a protest against his want of action in this matter.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A (Salaries) be reduced by £100, in respect of the Salary of the President of the Board."—(Mr. Cathcart Wason.)

MR. HARWOOD (Bolton)

said he supported the Motion of his hon. friend, though he did not enter into all his feelings on the subject. His experience had led him to the conclusion that something more ought to be done than was done to regulate the speed of motor-cars. He timed the speed of the car on which he was travelling the other day, and, though it was no business of his, he found it was going at over thirty miles an hour. Car after car was racing along the same road, palpitating, throbbing, and turning the whole of the thoroughfare into chaos and confusion. It was unjust. This was not a matter of motorists and non-motorists. It was a question of the common right of citizens. A man could not take his family for a walk along the roads within a distance of thirty or forty miles of London with either comfort or safety. The danger was a very real one, but quite apart from the danger the inconvenience arising from the existing state of things was extremely great. This thing must be stopped. It was not a matter of wild shrieking, but it must be remembered that, after all, a motor was the luxury of a few, who could take their pleasures in many other ways. To people in poorer circumstances the avenues of pleasure were limited, and the time had come when the rich should be pulled up. Two thousand years ago it became necessary to restrain Roman heroes from racing in the streets of Rome because it was a public nuisance, and this matter had become a public nuisance, not in one street of one great city, but in every road and lane in the country. The many ought not to be thrust on one side for the few. The law in this particular respect was being brought into complete contempt, and that in itself was a very dangerous thing. The right hon. Gentleman, although, as he understood, he had the power to do so, had not taken any precaution to identify motor-cars.


was understood to say that he had no power without legislation to require the numbering of motor-cars.


said he understood that under the Act the right hon. Gentleman had power to regulate the traffic, and somebody ought to have the power to identify the cars. It was simply absurd to expect the police to check the speed of the cars as they rushed along one after the other. Their roads were not meant for racing tracks, and if the owners of the motor-cars wanted racing tracks they ought to build them themselves. Perhaps the Government could do with motor-cars as was done with certain other conveyances, viz., restrict them to travelling between the hours of six o'clock in the evening and six o'clock in the morning. In his own business he had an instrument called a recorder, and he would suggest that motor-cars should be compelled to carry a certain machine by which would be recorded not only the number of miles they had travelled but also the distance covered in each hour. This could be inspected by an official, and if excessive speed were shown for any particular hour a penalty might be imposed. He believed that some such system would check the speed. In any case, a means of identifying motors ought to be devised.

*MR. SCOTT MONTAGU (Hampshire, New Forest)

said he condemned reckless driving and motor-racing on roads except where authorised by special Act of Parliament. He did not object to identification, which, he thought, was a practical remedy. Last year he introduced a Bill on behalf of the motoring community which provided for identification, and gave the Local Government Board power to make regulations for the control of motor-cars. He proposed to bring in another Bill of a similar character on an early day. He understood that the President of the Local Government Board was also having a Bill prepared. A great deal of the legislation which had been passed on this subject had been legislation passed in a hurry. He therefore asked the Committee not to be carried away by what he admitted was the strong feeling of the public at present against motoring in general. He thought the speed now authorised in towns was too great in some cases, but in his opinion the present hard and fast limit of twelve miles an hour in town and country alike was ridiculous. If they could trust people not to use their speed where it would be an annoyance, there would be very little outcry on behalf of the public. Unfortunately a good many people with powerful machines did not use them wisely, and he hoped they would be caught and properly dealt with. The fact that children played in the roads in villages should not, however, be used as an argument against motoring in general, because, primarily, the roads were intended for vehicles. It was not fair also to say that motor-cars were only the luxury of the rich. A great number of cars were being constructed at prices ranging from £100 to £150, and they eventually would be used by the class of people who now used small pony carts or dogcarts. A few years hence the motor-car would be the best friend of the poor man, because in towns it would greatly assist in the solution of the housing problem, and in the country it would provide a means of communication between villages and railway stations. He hoped that the Government would give facilities for the passing of the Bill which he proposed to introduce. If the right hon. Gentleman brought in a Bill he hoped it would provide for identification, and would at the same time remove the twelve miles an hour speed limit. That limit led to reckless driving, because when a motorist could break the law by travelling fourteen miles an hour he thought he might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb and went at a far higher speed. Possibly the difficulty might be met by having safe spheres and dangerous spheres with a speed limit for the latter.

*SIR H. MEYSEY-THOMPSON (Staffordshire, Handsworth)

could not agree that identification was all that was necessary. He had spent the Whitsuntide recess in the country, and there he found in the minds of most people a feeling of great exasperation against motor-cars. This feeling was not confined to farmers, but extended to solicitors, doctors, and business men generally. The cars were driven in the most reckless manner, and frequently by women. Some of them might be experienced drivers, but many of them were not, and to see dangerous engines, for as such he regarded them, driven at high speed by beginners was too trying for the nerves of ordinary people. Identification was not enough; the speed must be limited. They desired not only to punish the people who did damage, but to protect persons who used the roads in the ordinary way. Cars were being built which could easily be run at the rate of sixty miles an hour: probably few Members realised what the speed of a train going sixty miles an hour was like when looked at from outside the train. He had himself taken great interest in the speed of trains, and had often stood to watch the passage of trains at high speed. Anyone who would take the trouble to do that would realise at once that, if motor-cars were allowed to be driven at anything like that rate, they must have a monopoly of the road. Motor-cars might very likely be driven properly when the responsible owners were in them, but, as in the case of horses and carriages, the trouble arose when they were empty, and the driver had no one to interfere with recklessness consequent on his desire to get home quickly. Was there to be no restraint on chauffeurs who went thirty, fifty, or even sixty miles an hour, except the fear of penalty if they did any actual damage? They would very likely do no damage because, if these speeds were allowed, no one else would dare to use the road, except in fear and trembling, and everything would have to get out of their way. Did the public wish that the roads should be given up entirely to motors, or did they wish that motors were to be allowed to take their place among the ordinary traffic, on the condition that they were not driven at rates of speed which must inevitably interfere with the ordinary use of the road by ordinary people? It had been said that motor-cars would eventually drive horses and carriages off the roads altogether, but meanwhile he thought they were entitled to use the roads in decent comfort and safety.

MR. NUSSEY (Pontefract)

said he wished to protest against the great speed at which motor-cars were driven. He thought the danger would be increased and not decreased when motor-cars came more generally into use, and he urged the right hon. Gentleman to meet this danger in time. It had been suggested that there should be a sphere of danger and another sphere of comparative safety, but he thought those in the danger sphere would have a very bad time indeed. It was no use being able to recognise the number of a motor-car after they had been nearly killed, and the only effective way to deal with the question was to make cars illegal which ran at more than about fifteen or twenty miles an hour, or whatever speed was fixed as reasonable. He hoped something of this kind would be done, otherwise what was now a great nuisance might become a great danger.

SIR FREDERICK BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

said he did not propose to vote for the reduction of the right hon. Gentleman's salary, because he did not believe that he had omitted to do anything which he could have done in this matter. He thought, however, that something should be done to stop what he believed was a growing evil. He did not object to motor-cars because they belonged to rich people. The real question was that the roads of England were made for the people, and they should not be monopolised by a certain section, no matter whether they belonged to the poor or the rich. It appeared that no sooner did a motor-car cause an accident than, instead of stopping to assist, the car drove off just as if nothing had happened. An hon. Member told him that his servant was driving a dogcart along the road when a motor-car passed, and the horse shied and got nearly over the hedge. Although there were five men in the motor-car it never stopped to give the slightest assistance to the man in charge of the dogcart, although there was no one else with him. Some means ought to be taken to stop that kind of thing. He also agreed that excess of speed should also be stopped. They should not allow anything to run at express speed along a road which was meant for people walking and driving. They could not take even a dog out without the danger of its being run over. If a reasonable speed of, say, fifteen miles an hour was in force he did not think there would be any interference with the motor-car industry. If people continued to use the roads like railway lines, to travel at sixty miles an hour, then the Government should do something to stop what was a very serious matter.

MR. SEELY (Lincoln)

said that although he agreed that there should be some means of identification, he could not agree with some of the proposals which had been made with regard to speed. He thought three-quarters of their difficulties were due to having fixed the speed, because whenever they fixed a maximum it had a tendency to become the minimum. Twelve miles an hour might be too quick to travel in some parts of the country, but there were some roads where they could see seven or eight miles ahead, and he thought everybody would acknowledge that twelve miles an hour was a ridiculous speed upon such a road. He did not think anybody with a fast pair of horses would drive along a road like that without exceeding that speed. He had every confidence in the magistrates and authorities in country districts, and it should be left to them to decide in regard to furious driving. If this were done, the motor-car industry and the safety of the public would be in a much better position. They did not want to check the motor-car industry; and any one who noticed how motor-cars were going, and how convenient they were as a means of intercommunication away from main lines of railway, and how very much they added to the power of getting from place to place, could not doubt that they would be a very great addition to the power of production in this country. If this attack on the motor-car industry led to legislation which would check that industry, it would only cause it to increase in other countries, and in that way very serious harm would be done to this country.

MR. PIRIE (Aberdeen, N.)

expressed the hope that in any legislation the Government introduced the right hon. Gentleman would be fully cognisant of the enormous importance this industry was likely to assume. Motor-cars had come to stay, and would develop into an enormous industry in this country. Nevertheless, he thought motor-car drivers should be licensed, and they ought to be examined and obtain a certificate before being entrusted with the driving of a motor-car. He thought if a certificate had been insisted on in the past, many of the accidents which had taken place never would have occurred. He hoped the Local Government Board would take that important matter into consideration in any Bill they might introduce.

MR. SPEAR (Devonshire, Tavistock)

said that feeling in his constituency was very strong. The hon. Member below him had appealed to the House not to do anything that would check the motor-car industry, but he wished to remind the Committee that motor-cars were checking another great industry, and that was the production of horses. What they felt in country districts was, that if a man drove a horse furiously he was at once punished for it, and the same law ought to apply to motor cars.

And, it being half-past Seven of the Clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again this evening.