§ (1) Where a police constable in uniform is for the time being engaged in the regulation of traffic at any place in a street within the area of a local authority, any person driving or propelling any vehicle who wilfully neglects or refuses to stop the vehicle or make it proceed or keep to a particular line of traffic when directed so to do by such police constable in the execution of his duty, shall, on summary conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding five pounds.
§ (2) If any person rides or drives so as to endanger the life or limb of any person or to the common danger of the passengers in any thoroughfare, he may be arrested without warrant by any constable who witnesses the offence, and shall, on summary conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding five pounds.
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Lord Eustace Percy)
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
This new Clause is designed to assimilate the law in the provinces with regard to dangerous driving to the law in London under the London Traffic Act of last year. I apologise to the House for only putting down this Clause on the Report stage, but I have not been able to put it down earlier. I think it is non-contentious.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I wish the Noble Lord had explained a little further the 984 purport of this Amendment. I notice thatIf any person rides or drives so as to endanger the life or limb of any person or to the common danger of the passengers in any thoroughfare, he may be arrested without warrant.There is a Bill in Committee upstairs, the Criminal Justice Bill, where the problem of arrest without warrant has been discussed for days. I feel sure that the sense of the people of this country would not incline to the view that a constable should be entitled to arrest any person without warning. What he does now is to take the name and address of the person and afterwards proceed to deal with him by legal process. I wish to have explained whether the power of arrest without a warrant is now allowed in London and is intended to be extended to the provinces, and whether the Noble Lord has consulted the Home Office on this point? I would be the last person in the world to prevent the police securing power to deal with people who drive negligently, but we must have regard also to the possibility of giving the police too much power in some instances.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
My hon. Friend has made a remark which is made very often by the friends of a reckless type of motorist, though I do not say that he is one. They are always in favour of preventing reckless driving to the danger of the public, and then they proceed to object to anything being done to prevent this reckless driving. I hope that the Noble Lord—why the Minister of Education is in charge of this Bill I do not know, though I am sure that he will carry out his duties with his usual ability—will not listen to this plea against giving the constable power to arrest without warrant. I think that when a constable sees a man obviously reckless and inefficient, who does not carry out the instructions contained in this Clause, he should have the right to apprehend him on the spot and prevent him doing further damage. It is all very well talking about the liberty of the subject and limiting the power of the police, but we have to think of the safety of the subject as well.
The whole procedure of law and police as regards motorists—I am glad to see one of the Lords of the Treasury who is an expert in this matter on the Front 985 Bench—requires to be overhauled. We are in the comparatively early days of motoring. The development of the motor car took place only a very short time before the War, and during the War we were thinking of other things. Legislation is overdue to deal with the entirely new problems that have arisen. Our roads are not designed, except the very newest roads—and there we have made mistakes in regard to surface—for modern motor traffic. They are not straight enough, not wide enough, and are altogether not suitable. Still less so are the roads and streets in small villages in country towns, and to a less extent, but to a very considerable extent, this also applies to provincial cities.
In time this will be put right. The country roads will be straightened and widened to be made suitable for the ever-increasing motor traffic. In time perhaps the smaller towns and villages will have to straighten and widen their streets. But that means great expense. They are up against vested interests all the time and the delay is bound to be considerable. In this intervening period we have 2,000 new motor vehicles put on the road every week. The figure given by Sir Henry Maybury the other day, as reported in the press, was 1,000 a week, but some of us went to see the Home Secretary on certain aspects of this problem, and he kindly informed us that the number is 2,000 a week. In spite of the McKenna duties, the public are buying cheap motor cars at the rate of about 2,000 a week. They are paying in many cases by the hire purchase system, and creating a very serious problem
Many of these drivers buy these cars or hire them by the day. There are companies in London, Birmingham and other big cities who hire out cars for the day. As long as you have a driver's licence, which you can get for 5s., you can hire out one of these cars for £2 or £3 a day, and can drive them about whether you know the engine or not. The man is insured when the car is taken out. You have that type, and you have this new type of motor car owner who may not be efficient. Some of them never will be efficient because they have not the temperament to drive. Others have manners which are so atrocious that they become dangerous. They have no regard to anybody else on the road and these include some who technically are the most 986 efficient. They can go into any school which may be set up by the Board of Education, if that is going to be the policy of the Minister of Education in future, or into any school of motor driving and pass any test for driving and yet when they are let out into the traffic they are not only a nuisance but they are dangerous.
In these circumstances the whole question with regard to police powers and motorists should be overhauled. I know that I have the support, from a slightly different angle, of the Noble Lord on the Treasury Bench with regard to this matter. I doubt whether a private Bill on a Friday is the right occasion on which to deal with this matter, but this Clause is very valuable, and I have great pleasure in supporting the Minister of Education on this occasion as on so many others whenever he is moving in the right direction, and, if necessary, holding up the arms of Moses to see that he is not tired when battling with such opposition as he is receiving from the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. I do not like the amount of the fine being limited to £5. There are many people to whom a fine of £5 is not a deterrent.
I do not want to deal with the obvious case of the very wealthy man, but take the case of the driver of the commercial vehicle who has been ordered by his employer to perform a certain journey, to deliver goods and return within a certain time. The time prescribed often is insufficient. There may be some small delay on the road. There may be blocks in the traffic or the road may be up for repairs, and the man has to make up time. He is clearly going too fast, and he is hauled up and very properly punished. It is not that man who is really to blame, but his employer, who is an accessory before the fact, and when the law is altered I hope that the employer will be compelled to stand in the Court alongside hip driver. To a big firm with 200 or 300 heavy lorries on the roads a £5 fine is no deterrent. In any case the fine is not paid by the driver. Sub-section (2) of the Clause is even more astonishing. It says:If any person rides or drives so as to endanger the life or limb of any person or to the common danger of the passengers in any thoroughfare, he may be arrested without warrant by any constable who witnesses 987 the offence, and shall, on summary conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding five pounds.So far so good. It is a mistake to attempt to interfere with these added powers of the police. Take the ordinary man in the street. We are passing a Bill under which a person who drives to the common danger may be arrested and punished. How much should the maximum fine be? The ordinary man would say, "This is a bad case. There should be a fine up to £300, or imprisonment, or both." The ordinary layman would be astonished to find that the fine cannot exceed £5. The amount ought to be increased. I was not a member of the Standing Committee and have not had an opportunity before of drawing attention to this matter, but I say now that this is a weak spot in the Clause. Would it be possible in another place or in another Bill to increase this penalty? This is no party question. It is a matter affecting people all over the country. From the letters which I have received since I and others saw the Home Secretary on certain aspects of this question—the letters were from all over the country, and most of them from motorists in responsible positions—I gather that there is a widespread feeling that the Clause should be very much strengthened in order to deal with a certain type of careless or inefficient motorist. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to tell us that it is possible to increase the penalty, or in any case that he will stand absolutely firm on the proposal to give this right to the police of arresting a dangerous driver on the spot without a warrant.
Mr. W. M. ADAMSON
I want to add my word to that of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) with respect to the very grave danger of giving these powers to constables to arrest without a warrant. The last speaker has taken the opportunity of dealing with a very much larger question than that which is contained in this Clause. I would remind him that other deputations have been to the Home Secretary trying to limit what is in operation to-day. I am sure that no Member of this House desires to support reckless driving or the misuse of the road by traffic in any way. It is possible under this Clause for a policeman who is controlling the traffic to 988 take action by immediate arrest, not because a man is exceeding the speed limit, but probably for holding up traffic, which is an entirely different matter. Every motorist, whether a humble motor cyclist like myself or the owner of a Rolls Royce, has found at times that it is necessary to put on speed in order to avoid an accident, and that should not necessarily be an offence calling for immediate arrest.
Sub-section (2) refers to danger to the public, and speed is generally accepted as the cause of danger. It is very popular in these days to talk about the high speed of the motorist as being to a large extent the cause of accidents. We can agree to that to some extent. But slow traffic is also a cause of accidents.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I never said a word about high speed. I did not use the word "speed" at all. I was talking about dangerous driving, and the Clause mentions dangerous driving. In many cases it is not a question of speed at all.
Hon. Members will recollect what was stated to be the object of the deputation to the Home Secretary. It was confined almost entirely to accusations against high speed. I want to impress upon the President of the Board of Education that there should be some limitation of the powers of arrest in such cases. On the other hand, I am prepared to agree that the seriousness of an offence may be such that a higher fine than £5 should be allowed.
§ Lord E. PERCY
I must apologise to the House for not having explained this Clause more fully. The fact is that there is no alteration of the existing law, except in points which I will mention. Subsection (1) of this Clause is a provision which now exists in the London Traffic Act of last year. The effect of this Subsection is merely to apply the provision to the provinces as well as to London, and to it no objection has been taken. Sub-section (2) is the present law throughout the country. This power to arrest is in the Act of 1907 already, and all we are doing in Sub-section (2) of the 989 new Clause is to raise the limit of the penalty from 40s. to £5. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) says that is too low. I am not going to argue that particular point, but I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that a Private Member's Bill on a Friday afternoon is not the occasion for a large Amendment of the existing law with regard to motor traffic. All we are trying to do here is to assimilate and consolidate the existing laws which govern motorists, and I do not think we ought to go further in this Measure. The penalty of £5 is, as I say, in the London Traffic Act of last year, and beyond that I do not think we ought to go into this Bill. I entirely agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that this is a matter which will have to be dealt with in any future legislation as regards motoring offences as a whole, but in a Bill of this kind I think this Clause is about as far as we can fairly go at the moment.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
On a point of Order. I understand this Clause is a part of the Criminal Justice Bill now under discussion in Committee upstairs. Is it in Order that one Clause should be considered in two Bills simultaneously?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
No point of Order arises there. It is quite competent for the House to deal with the matter now. We do not know what will happen to the other Bill.
Lieut.-Colonel DALRYMPLE WHITE
While to a certain extent I appreciate the view just expressed by the President of the Board of Education, I support strongly the contention of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) that the penalty under Sub-section (2) of the new Clause, even if it has been raised, is still far too low. It is absurd that the same penalty should be inflicted upon a person who, possibly in error, fails to stop when the constable on point duty holds up his hand, as that which is inflicted on the person who deliberately drives to the danger of the public. That the two penalties should be identical seems to be quite ridiculous. The Noble Lord has said quite rightly that a private Member's Bill on a Friday is not the ordinary medium for dealing with matters of this sort. But in view of the fact that this is a very serious problem which brooks no delay, and as we 990 are parting with this Bill, I do not see why, while we still have it before us, we should not take steps to increase the penalty for dangerous driving to a figure more adequate to the offence. The penalty is already being raised from £2 to £5 in a private Member's Bill, and I do not see why we should not raise it to something more commensurate with the offence. Of course I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull that in some cases £300 would not be adequate to the offence, but we have to try to make it certain that it is not worth a person's while to risk committing the offence. The hon. and gallant Member gave one case in point, and I will give another. It is conceivable that a person who has taken his ticket in a sleeping car finds himself pressed for time to catch the train, and it would probably be more expensive to risk losing his sleeping car than to risk being held up and fined £5. If it were in order, I should like to move that this penalty in Sub-section 2 be further increased.
§ Colonel GRETTON
The President of the Board of Trade has stated that the provision of the first Sub-section of this new Clause is already in the London Traffic Act, and I should like to know how this interesting regulation has worked, and whether there are any improvements called for by experience in order to make it more perfect. The second Sub-section is a matter of much greater consequence as it involves the power to make arrests. The Noble Lord has not told us anything about the working of this provision in the previous Act of 1907. We ought to examine this matter very carefully before we continue this power of summary arrest. I look with the greatest suspicion on these powers, and I think we should be very reluctant to continue them unless we have a full explanation as to how they have been exercised up to now. We should know whether the accused person has a full and fair hearing, and whether an opportunity is given for an investigation into the facts for which the summary arrest is made. The dangerous driving of motor cars is a serious thing, and strenuous measures should be taken to suppress all tendency to drive to the danger of the public, but I do not think this Clause is going to be very effective for that purpose, and I can see that in certain cases it may lead to 991 great injustice and great hardship. I think there should be an opportunity of examining the details of the Clause.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
While I do not think any Member of the House will object very strongly to the Noble Lord being in charge of this Public Health Bill, I think it remains to be explained why this Bill should deal with the question of traffic safety. Had many hon. Members thought for a moment that this Bill was to be made a vehicle for the reform of the traffic laws, there would have been a greater number of new Clauses put down dealing with this subject The Noble Lord said the Bill was intended to consolidate the existing traffic regulations, but it is a very feeble attempt, and I fear if we are to tackle this gigantic problem piecemeal a large number of reforms will be left out altogether. I understood that the Minister of Transport contemplated the introduction of a Bill to deal with these matters on a large scale, and I appeal to the Noble Lord to postpone the consideration of these questions—however necessary that consideration may be—until a time when a Bill has been brought in dealing with the whole question of traffic reform and regulation.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
I would point out to the hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones) that this Bill, in Clause 72, deals with matters like persons waiting to enter public vehicles, and in Clause 73 with public vehicles at railway stations, while there is another Clause dealing with streets. The suggestion, therefore, that this question of motor cars is not a proper subject for this Bill, which deals with so many traffic matters and with streets seems an unnecessary comment.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
I was fully aware that these points were in the Bill, but they are in a different category altogether from this proposed Clause. These matters deal with the parking of vehicles and with pedestrians about to get into vehicles, which is very different from regulating motor cars in transit.
§ Mr. MARCH
As one who has had something to do with road work for very many years, it seems to me that this is rather a peculiar place in which to insert police requirements for the control of 992 traffic, whether in the provinces or in London, but, after hearing the explanation given by the Minister that it is not particularly to refer to London, I will now take the question of the provinces. If this is to apply in the provinces, it will also apply to all sorts of vehicles. We find in the first Sub-section of this new Clause that it does not matter what kind of vehicle it is. It might be even a servant girl with a perambulator, and if she did not absolutely follow the line that the police told her to follow, and keep to that particular line, the policeman is given power there to summon or arrest. It seems to me that he would have a decent job in hand if he started to arrest a servant girl for leaving a perambulator and children in the roadway. I am not particularly anxious to give more powers to the police than they have got already, because they are not always correct.
§ Lord E. PERCY
I would point out to the hon. Member that there is no power of arrest in Sub-section (1) at all.
§ Mr. MARCH
That takes that away then, but she could be summoned and have to appear in Court, and on summary conviction she would be liable to a fine not exceeding £5. One hon. Member has talked about £5, but it would not matter whether it was £5 or £100, as it is always in the discretion of the Court as to what the amount of the fine shall be. Again, we have heard from the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) about commercial vehicles. The commercial vehicle driver, it is true, is tightened up and has to keep time as much as he possibly can, but even though he may be tightened up to keep time, if he is coming home and exceeds the speed limit, or is driving to the common danger, and gets stopped by the police, I have yet to find the generous employer who is willing to go out of his way to pay that fine. An hon. Member said that it was a mere nothing for commercial men, with perhaps 100 vehicles, and that the employers paid the fines and could pay £5 or £10 or £50; but will they? It does not happen. At all events, it never happened in my cases. You can be told that you are driving to the common danger if you pull out to pass another vehicle and cannot get by it. That is supposed to be driving to the common danger. You have 993 not struck anyone, or hit anyone, or stopped anybody else, but you have gone too near the policeman.
What I am mostly concerned about is the question of arrest without warrant. I have known many instances of men who have been stopped by the police for being drunk while in charge of a horse and vehicle or of a motor car, and then the policeman has walked alongside and made the driver drive perhaps a mile back to the police station. If he is drunk while he is driving by himself, is he not also drunk while he is driving by the police? Then, when the case comes before the Court, the circumstances are explained, and frequently the man is let off with a nominal fine or probably discharged. Therefore, he has proved that he was not drunk, but you have left it in the power of the policeman, who is supposed to be infallible, but is not, to arrest a person without warrant if he is driving or supposed to be driving to the common danger or does not carry out the instructions of the police.
§ Mr. MARCH
I know that, or else I should not have known of these cases. Therefore, I say I do not think it is necessary to have this power here. I think the regulations that the police have are quite strong enough already, and what we want is a little more care on the part of the people who are crossing the roads. It is the passengers who want looking after, and very often they want a guide. They may have rights, but so have drivers got rights, and if we were prepared to give way a little to each other, I think we should get along in this world a bit better, and I am quite sure that we should get about our streets better than we do at the present time. It is because some people are so covetous and greedy that they want to be over the top of everybody else, and not give others a chance, that there is so much trouble. We have heard from one hon. Member about the bicycle rider who is in trouble with the slow-going traffic. Well, we cannot all fly yet, and it is necessary sometimes to have a little slow-going traffic. If it were not for the slow-going traffic, I do not know how some of us would get across the road at all, but we can just manage to hop across with the slow-going traffic, where we could not with the fast. I claim that 994 a policeman should not have the power to arrest because he thinks a man is driving to the common danger. To take a man's name and address and make him appear before the Court, is, to my mind, quite sufficient.
§ Mr. NAYLOR
I cannot speak with the experience of my hon. Friend the Member for South Poplar (Mr. March) in regard to driving through the streets of London, but I can claim to speak with experience of trying to avoid the dangers that men with his past experience have set up in the streets of London and other towns. I am anxious that this particular Clause should be modified. I think that the fixing of the penalties at a maximum of £5 is not consistent with the offences in the different Sub-sections. Merely for disobeying the instructions of the police, a fine not exceeding £5 may be imposed, but another driver, who is imperilling the safety of pedestrians by his dangerous driving, is to be subjected to no higher penalty. I do not share the apprehensions of my hon. Friend as to the number of working drivers of commercial vehicles who will come within the provisions of this Clause. The greatest and most frequent dangers in the streets are not from the commercial vehicle drivers, but from inexperienced and reckless drivers of motor cars, and very often happening after the theatres or clubs have closed, and they are the kind of drivers who will possibly be held in check by Sub-section 2.
If you are not to arrest a man who is, in the opinion of a constable, driving to the danger of the public, what does that mean? Is the man to be allowed to continue to drive? Are his name and address merely to be taken by the constable, and is he to mount his car again, and continue driving to the public danger? That would be the effect. If he is to be allowed to continue to drive, the danger continues, and because he has been allowed to go scot-free on that occasion, some human life may be sacrificed, in consequence of his being free to continue his reckless career on the road. While we all wish to preserve the liberty of the subject in these matters, I do not mind if the constable has got the power of arrest in a case like that. The administration of the law has been too lenient in this respect. Even now, as the law stands, and as it is proposed to consolidate it in these Clauses, it is in the 995 option of the constable whether he arrests a man for reckless driving or not. He is not bound to arrest him. He may be of opinion that reckless driving is going on, but he is not compelled to arrest him. He can take the name and address of the man if he thinks he is incapable of continuing his driving, and when he wants to secure the safety of the public by making it impossible for the driver to continue on his journey, it seems to me the only thing to do is to arrest the man, and put him in a place where he will be no longer a danger to the public.
I do hope the Noble Lord will consider that question of the penalty. It is not right that the two amounts should be the same. I think, for reckless driving, the fine imposed should be much more than the maximum of £5. I am inclined to join with the hon. and gallant Gentleman for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) in saying that nothing short of imprisonment is a just penalty for men who are reckless when driving through the streets. We in London, especially in the crowded thoroughfares, know how reckless some drivers are. It is not always the unskilled driver who does the most damage. A skilled driver, over-confident of his skill, and probably exceeding the legal speed limit, does not hesitate to proceed in a manner that very often results in the loss of life. Therefore, I hope that the Noble Lord will make it possible for this penalty to be increased, in order to bring about some modification in the conduct of drivers of this sort.
§ Lord E. PERCY
I understand an Amendment to that effect is going to be moved when the Clause has been read a Second time.
§ Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Clause read a Second time.
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed new Clause, in line 10, to leave out the word "five," and to insert instead thereof the word "ten."
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I beg to second the Amendment.
I would have liked to have seen a heavier penalty, but it will be something if we get £10 inserted, as it differentiates 996 between the man arrested for dangerous driving and the man who does not stop. Perhaps I may say a word with reference to what was said by the hon. Gentlemen who has had such experience in driving in the streets. He seems to think a great deal of trouble is caused by people walking across the roads or in the gutters. There are certain people who seem to think that passengers should be punished for dangerous walking. I want to see drivers punished for dangerous driving.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Anyhow, I think the penalty should be increased, if only as a warning, and the magistrates may be entrusted not to impose a greater fine than the offence warrants.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member can only now deal with the Amendment. The opportunity to discuss the Clause will come later.
§ Mr. TAYLOR
I will confine what I have to say to opposing the Amendment. If a motorist commits a sufficiently serious offence to justify his arrest by a police constable without a warrant, it is quite clear that a penalty of £10 is altogether inadequate, and I think if powers are to be conferred upon the police permitting them to arrest a motorist for an offence, of this kind, the magistrates ought to have a far wider discretion. Therefore, I hope the House will oppose the Amendment, on the ground that it is altogether inadequate.
§ Lord E. PERCY
There seems to be a misconception as to the relation of this Clause to motor cars. It does apply to motor cars, as to every other kind of vehicle; but the fines imposed on motorists are rarely imposed under this law. They are imposed under the Motor Car Act of 1903. The motorist is subject to a much higher penalty than £5 or £10. On the first conviction under that Act, he is subject to a £20 penalty, and, for a second offence, £50 or imprisonment. Therefore, we are not really dealing with the motorist under this proposed new Clause. He can be dealt with under this 997 Clause, but there are other powers far more generally used. We are dealing here with every other form of traffic. Clearly the people who are likely to contravene the Public Health Act, 1907, generally speaking, are people of very much smaller means. The rich man does not often drive a gig, or even a horse or a bicycle, and, therefore, we are dealing more or less with the poorer class of the population.
I am perfectly ready to consider the raising of the penalty from £5 to £10. I think there is some force in the argument that the offence in Sub-section (2) is much more serious than that in Sub-section (1). That is one of the reasons why we have taken the opportunity to raise the amount from 40s. to £5. I do not think it would be quite fair to ask the Government to assent to a figure of £10 without further notice, but I will undertake, if that will suit my hon. and gallant Friend, to have this matter considered between now and when the Bill is dealt with in another place, and if the appropriate authority decides it is desirable to have an increase in the fine, we shall be prepared to put an Amendment down to that effect in another place.
§ Amendment to proposed new Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause added to the Bill.