§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The House will remember that on Friday week the right hon. Gentleman the late Minister of Transport and myself came into some wordy conflict with regard to the Omnibuses Bill. This afternoon the relationship between the late Minister and myself is something in the nature of joint parentage of this Bill, and I hope we shall have a happier and more pleasant time during this Debate to-day. I have, in fact, to thank the right hon. Gentleman for a great deal of preparatory work which was done during the period of office of the late Government in connection with this Bill, particularly in connection with Parts I and III and a large part of Part IV. Further, the House will remember that the Roads Bill of the last Government was circulated in draft to the local authorities and various associations, with the result that many points which might have been troublesome in Committee on the consideration of the present Bill have been eliminated before that stage will be commenced. In addition, the passage of the Road Transport Lighting Act, 1927, has relieved the present Bill of some provisions that otherwise would have had to be included.
Therefore, I desire in this House to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the work which he did before I went to the Ministry of Transport, and to indicate to the House that my labours have been lightened to a considerable extent by the work which was already accomplished. I have also to thank my Noble Friend Lord Russell for the admirable way in which he conducted this Bill through the House of Lords, and for the great assistance which he rendered me in the preparation of this Bill. I have so often read the speeches of my Noble Friend and heard him in the House of Lords, that I am afraid I am in danger upstairs of following his example, and saying to the Committee. "My Lords, this Amendment will not do," in the confident expectation that 1204 the Committee will do what their Lordships did nearly every time, and withdraw the Amendment. No doubt at that stage I should be made to realise that I was in the House of Commons, and not in another place. We have also to express appreciation of the advice and assistance that we have received from various associations, local authorities, motoring bodies, and so on, who have contributed much to our knowledge of the problem which has formed the basis of this Bill, and we have, in particular, to express our indebtedness to the Royal Commission on Transport, under the able chairmanship of Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen, for the really excellent work they have done in the preparation of the two Reports constituting the Report of the Royal Commission on Transport so far. The Royal Commission acted with speed, and they dealt with the problem in a practical way. Perhaps the greatest compliment to the Royal Commission is the fact that practically the entire Bill is in accordance with the recommendations of the Royal Commission.
The Royal Commission itself and the House, perhaps, will appreciate the speed with which the Government have acted in respect of the Report of the Royal Commission. The first Report of the Royal Commission was dated 19th July, the second was dated 18th October, and we were able to get the First Reading of the Bill in the House of Lords on 28th November. I think, probably, we can claim that as a record of speedy action following the Report of a Royal Commission. Finally, I would like to express to the officers of the Ministry of Transport my own appreciation of the hard work they have put into the Bill, for the able advice they have given, and for the expert way in which they have handled the problem of drafting this Bill, together with the Parliamentary draftsmen, who were made to work very hard, I am afraid, in the final drafting of the Measure. I think that in connection with these Bills, it is perfectly proper, and the right thing, for a Minister to express his appreciation and thanks to the staff of his Department who are largely responsible for the preparation of these Measures.
We find that the existing law governing the control and regulation of road traffic is very much out-of-date. I think that this statement will be accepted in 1205 all quarters of the House. The Motor Car Act, which is one of the most important Acts in connection with the existing law, was passed in 1903. It was recognised at the time as a temporary Measure; in fact, in the original Act there was a provision that it should last only for three years. It was continued in various Expiring Laws Continuance Acts, until finally it was made permanent. So that, having regard to the fact that that Act was passed in 1903 for three years, it will be seen that, on the admission of the framers of that Act, the existing law in that respect is 24 years out-of-date, which should be a warning to the House of Commons in passing temporary Measures which tend to become permanent because of the lack of Parliamentary time.
The Bill which we now introduce is a consolidating as well as an amending Bill. There is, I am glad to say, in the last Schedule to the Bill, much existing legislation repealed. I always like Statutes which repeal legislation, as long as the legislation which existed could comfortably go away. In the Schedule, five Acts are entirely repealed. One Act is entirely repealed as regards Great Britain, and large numbers of provisions in other Acts are repealed or are consolidated. At any rate, we are now in the position, after these years of experience, of knowing the problem much better than we did, and of being able, I hope, to codify and bring up-to-date the legislation relating to road transport. The first part of the Bill deals with the regulation of motor vehicles. It classifies motor vehicles into seven classes, which are in accordance with the recommendations of the Royal Commission, namely, heavy locomotives, light locomotives, motor tractors, heavy motor cars, motor cars, motor cycles and invalid carriages. It is possible that, as time goes on, there may be technical changes in the construction of motor cars, and in the conditions of road transport, and it may be that the classifications contained in the Statute will become nonsense in a few years, owing to certain developments which are always possible in this rapidly-changing industry. Therefore, we take powers in Clause 2 to enable the Minister, by regulation, to vary the maximum and minimum weights fixed in the Clause for the various classes. It also gives the Minister power to make 1206 sub-divisions within the classes themselves. The Minister's existing powers to make regulations with regard to construction, weight, and use of motor vehicles will be continued by Clauses 3 and 30 of the Bill.
The principal changes indicated by the Bill are in the following directions: Clause 5 relates to the disqualification of certain persons as drivers. It is well known to the House that under the existing law anyone can obtain a driving licence if he is not legally disqualified, without regard to any physical defects from which he may suffer. The Clause which we submit to the House makes certain physical defects an absolute bar to the obtaining of a driver's licence, and provides for a declaration from the applicant for a licence whether or not he is suffering from any disease or disability which would be likely to cause the driving by him of a motor vehicle to be a source of danger to the general public. Provision is also made in the Clause that a person suffering from physical defects which are not an absolute bar to driving may obtain a general driving licence or a licence limited to the driving of invalid carriages or specially adapted vehicles if he shows to the satisfaction of the licensing authority that a general or limited licence can safely be issued to him.
There is, however—and it was thought that it was just—a saving in the case of those who already hold licences for the driving of motor vehicles, and suitable provision is made accordingly. Clause 9 deals with the ages of drivers, and there is a provision that nobody shall drive any class of motor vehicle under the age' of 16 years. That means that the minimum ago at which a young person can drive a. (motor cycle is to be increased from 14 to 16 years of age. That was a recommendation of the Royal Commission, and that recommendation has been adopted. It was felt that in the case of drivers of heavy locomotives, light locomotives, motor tractors, heavy motor cars, including public service vehicles, we had got to recognise the special responsibility of those drivers, and to increase the driving age. Therefore, the Clause provides a minimum of 21 years of age for those drivers, but in both cases an exception is made in the 1207 case of drivers who were driving six months before 1st January, 1930, and they may continue to drive.
I come to the Clause with which, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) is particularly concerned, and I think that is the only criticism that he has to make of any substance on the Bill, namely, Clause 10, which deals with speed limits. The Government had to take a very responsible decision as to the question of speed limits, and we have considered separately the problem of the light motor car, commonly known as the private car, and other motor ears of a heavier character, including the public service vehicle. We considered very carefully the Report of the Royal Commission on Transport, and it will be seen that, with very small modifications, we have adopted the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The Clause, together with the Schedule, proposes that the speed limit for light motor cars should be abolished, and, while this is a point which will doubtless have to be argued in Committee, I think it would be better that I should give to the House now the reasons which made myself and the Government come to that conclusion.
The fact has to be faced that the present speed limit is not being observed. That is where we have to begin. It is an exceptional thing in Great Britain for a law to be almost universally disregarded. One must take notice of the position in a law-abiding country of this kind, but, on the merits of the case, I am quite convinced that for light motor cars the fixing of an arbitrary speed limit to be observed in all circumstances is, in itself, unreasonable and indefensible. The retention of the speed limit must depend to some extent on the observation of the speed limit, and at the present time the speed limit is not observed and not respected and not supported by the general body of public opinion. As my Noble Friend told their Lordships' House, there was not one of their Lordships who observed the speed limit, it is probably true to say that there is not one Member of the House of Commons who observes the speed limit. I venture to say that as legislators we are not entitled to enforce and to continue 1208 speed limits which we ourselves have no intention of observing. That is playing with the subject, and it is quite improper conduct for legislators to engage in. But it is not observed; the motorist does not observe it and the general public does not expect the motorist to observe it.
§ Mr. MORRISON
There are exceptions, but I was speaking of the general body of the public. Certainly, there are always exceptions', and there are always minorities, but the fact is that the general public, as a body, has not insisted on the observance of the law. That has to be faced. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the coroner?"] The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to speak later on. I am expressing my views, and they are my views, as I have stated. The observance of the speed limit is not supported by general public opinion. In fact, if the 20-miles speed limit were universally enforced, the congestion on the streets would be much worse than it is at the present time. [An HON. MEMBER: "And accidents fewer!"] The waste would be considerable, and it should not be assumed that accidents would be fewer. It should not be assumed that that would be the case. Therefore, the police themselves are in an impossible position. Nominally, they have to enforce the law. In fact, they know that the law is not supported by the general body of public opinion, and they tolerate breaches of the law which they know exist. That is not a fair position in which to place the police. If the law is there, the police should be expected to enforce it, and the police should be given every support and every encouragement. If the public do not expect it to be enforced, if the general level of opinion is against it being enforced, well the British police have enough common sense not to be too meticulous in enforcing laws which are not in accordance with the general body of public opinion.
Further, I would say that a law must either be obeyed or it must be altered. If the House of Commons decided either that 20 miles an hour is a reasonable maximum in all circumstances, and that no motor transport shall go beyond 20 miles an hour, it must take steps to enlarge the numbers of the police force 1209 so that every person—whether he be a Member of this House who drives 22 miles an hour, or is riding on an omnibus and desirous of getting somewhere quickly and travels 22 miles an hour—guilty of that offence shall be convicted and mulcted in the penalty of the law. In fact, this is not being done, and general public opinion does not expect it to be done.
What are the arguments of the critics of the proposed abolition of the speed limit? Among them I have to include Viscount Cecil, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bermondsey and a Noble Friend of ours who used to sit in this House as Lord Curzon, who is in favour, to our extraordinary surprise, of the legal preservation of the speed limit. I understand that some Members of the House would agree that 20 miles an hour is not reasonable, but they would say that 30 miles an hour ought to be fixed, or that 35 miles an hour ought to be fixed. The Noble Lord—Earl Howe—is of opinion that the speed limit ought to be 40 miles an hour. Supposing we indicate that the speed limit should be increased to 30, 35 or even 40 miles an hour, what are we saying? We are saying that in the ordinary run of driving a motor car it is reasonable to run at 30, 35 or 40 miles an hour. I venture to say to the House that that is an exceedingly dangerous thing to say and that it is dangerous to get it into the motorist's head. I know that it is not meant in detail, but you would inevitably get into the motorist's head the idea that, generally speaking, 30, 35, or if Earl Howe is to be believed 40 miles an hour, is a reasonable speed at which to travel. The truth is that 40 miles an hour, 35 miles an hour, 30 miles an hour, and even 20 miles an hour are dangerous speeds in many circumstances for the driving of a motor car. Ten miles an hour, or even five miles an hour, with some fool going round the corner on the wrong side of the road and not looking to see what is coming along, is a dangerous speed.
I submit to the House, including my hon. Friends here, with every earnestness, that what we have to get is a new psychology of the road altogether. Speed must continue to be a factor in danger, and it must be insisted upon as a factor in danger, but that speed is the central factor in danger—and sometimes in 1210 peoples' heads the only factor in danger—is a bad and dangerous traffic psychology for us to encourage among the motoring community. Therefore, in those circumstances, we recommend the House that the speed limit should be terminated, and we propose to cover the point by other proposals which I will describe to the House.
It may be said that, if you abolish the speed limit for light motor cars, why in the world do you preserve it for other classes of motor vehicles? The answer is simple. With the heavy motor cars we have to face the fact that their weight and momentum in a smash are much more serious than in the case of the light motor car; that the heavy motor is therefore more dangerous and is more difficult to control. That is the case for imposing a speed limit upon them. There is also a practical point which will be familiar to the late Minister of Transport, namely, that a heavy motor going at a very high speed will do an undue amount of damage to the highway on which it is running, and from the point of view, particularly of the highway authorities, and incidentally the Road Fund, we must protect ourselves against undue speeds on the part of the heavy vehicles. Further, the safety of the passengers in public service vehicles must be meticulously safeguarded. Finally, it must be remembered that the drivers of most of the heavy motor cars are employed persons, and there would be a danger of them being speeded up unduly by their employers if we did not impose a speed limit in their case.
How do we propose to alter the existing position? In the first place, I venture to utter an appeal to the police authorities, who already co-operate with the Ministry of Transport with very great value on road traffic problems, to take notice of the passing of this Bill and to take all necessary steps to enforce the law with vigour as it will be when this law is passed. Secondly, I would draw the attention of the House, to Clauses 11 and 12, which deal with dangerous driving and which increase materially the penalties which exist for dangerous driving. It is provided that a person who is guilty of reckless or dangerous driving shall be liableon summary conviction to imprisonment "—1211 and I think we have to keep that point in view with regard to a certain number of drivers—for a term not exceeding four months or to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds, and in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, either to such imprisonment as aforesaid or to a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds, or to both such imprisonment and fine.That is a very great increase of the existing punishments. I do not think that it would be fair to say that the great bulk of the motorists are reckless, dangerous drivers. I think, on the contrary, that the majority of motorists are considerate and have regard to other users of the road, but there is a minority of motorists who are not good friends either to the pedestrians or to other motor drivers. The law must be tightened up, and, when the law is tightened up, I hope that the police will take the fullest advantage of it and enforce its observance and that magistrates will not be too lenient in the administration of the law in clear cases which may come before them.
Finally, to ensure good conduct on the road is in my judgment not in the end so much a matter of law and repression as of education, co-operation, and the encouragement of road sense. Therefore, we have included a provision which will enable us to spread the light of knowledge and to encourage good conduct, and I think that as time goes on we shall be able to make even the minority of motorists behave themselves reasonably well if we are backed by the necessary powers, but, chiefly, if we can educate them and make them understand the necessity and the reasonableness of good conduct on the roads. These are the reasons which have led the Government to adopt the proposals regarding the speed limit, and I hope that hon. Members will not judge of these proposals hastily, but will listen to the case both for and against. In the end, I really think that they will be convinced, as I have been convinced, coming to the matter with no prejudice, by the facts of the case, that the proposals which the Government make in this Bill are the best proposals from the point of view of securing the maximum of safety and the proper use of the roads. There is another Clause dealing with careless driving which establishes a lesser offence 1212 with regard to the careless driver who is not being wantonly dangerous and reckless.
Clause 13 will prohibit organised race or speed trials on the highways. They will be entirely prohibited. If people want to go in for speed trials they had better go to the places specially constructed for that purpose and get smashed up in their own way. [An HON. MEMBER: "To Ireland."] Wherever they are. I do not go to them myself. The Bang's Highway is no place for speed trials, and we have definitely prohibited them in this Clause. There is another useful provision which has been introduced. It is a common grievance against the minority and not the general body of motorists, who, I say again, are a fairly decent lot of people and are really, on the whole, as decent as we are, that some of them have been driving their cars a little wantonly and brutally over bridleways, pathways, commons and moorlands not forming part of a road. We propose in Clause 14 that it shall be an offence to drive a motor vehicle without lawful authority on to any such land, but they may drive on to land within 15 yards of a road for the purpose of parking. The Clause does not interfere in any way with the existing remedies for trespass, whether the vehicle is within a 15 yards margin along the road or not. Clause 16 deals with pillion riding. It is provided that a motor cycle shall not carry more than one pillion rider, that the pillion shall be properly constructed and that the person riding pillion shall ride astride. I think that for Miss 1930 that will present no great problem. She will be able to adapt herself to the new circumstances.
The House is familiar with those locomotives which draw trailers behind them. Sometimes, in numbers, they are a little monotonous. It has been urged by the Trades Union Congress for many years that additional attendants should be in attendance upon these locomotives with trailers, and we are providing that in the case of locomotives two persons shall be employed in driving or attending to the locomotive, with an additional person for each trailer in excess of one. The Royal Commission on Transport recommended that the number of attendants should be one person for every trailer in excess of two, but we did not 1213 think that was enough and we have provided that there shall be one person for each trailer in excess of one. I hope that that provision will commend itself to the House.
Clause 19 deals with a problem which has been ticklish to handle, but as to which we have got a substantially agreed solution. This Clause deals with the maximum hours for the drivers or heavy motor vehicles, including large public service vehicles. Cases have come to our notice where men, particularly on long-distance transport, have been working inhuman hours of labour. It is not right for the man and it is not fair to a useful body of public servants. Perhaps in this Bill we are more concerned in the matter so far as it constitutes a positive danger to the public. Accidents have occurred, and have been reported, in the Press, in cases where men have been driving for very long hours. It is very tempting, especially in night driving and after many hours of driving, for a driver even for a second to go to sleep. We know how tempting it is, even when we are not driving, and how we succumb to the temptation to go to sleep. Those of us who drive know that if we take our eye off the road for a second or even half a second we may get into trouble. This has been a scandalous state of affairs and one with which Parliament ought to deal. The Government are asking Parliament to deal with it.
I am not concerned as the person who is going to settle the hours of labour. Fortunately, that is not my job. It is the job of the trades union organisations and the employers, and if they are in trouble they can go to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. If I can help it, they are not coming to me. My job is transport, and I can get enough excitement out of that without being the arbitrator in wages disputes or hours of labour. The point that I am concerned with, and the point that concerns the House, is the public safety. The hours which we have fixed in the Bill are not hours which I should say are proper hours to be worked by a self-respecting trade unionist, but they are hours beyond which it is dangerous to the public safety for a driver to drive, and I ask the House to keep that point under consideration. The Clause provides that there shall not be a continuous 1214 period of driving beyond five and a-half hours and that there shall not be an aggregate of more than 11 hours in any period of 24 hours. The Clause also provides that the drivers of the vehicles referred to are to have an interval of at least 10 hours for rest in every consecutive 24 hours, except that the period of 10 hours may be reduced to nine hours to allow for shift changes, if the driver is allowed an interval of 12 hours for rest in the next period of 24 hours. Any two or more periods of time are to be deemed to be a continuous period unless they are separated by an interval of half an hour for rest and refreshment. Any time spent on work in connection with the vehicle or its load is to be reckoned for the purposes of the Clause as if they were spent in driving.
We have had considerable negotiations with the representatives of the employers' organisation and the representatives of the trade unions. I informed them that I was determined about the matter and that I was sure the House of Commons would want to meet the essential point, and that it was far better for the employers and the workmen to get together, with the representatives of the Ministry, to thrash out the practical difficulties which we knew existed and to get a Clause acceptable to the greatest extent to them, so long as it met the principle with which I was concerned when drafting the Measure. I have to thank the representatives of the employers' organisations and of the trade unions for the friendly co-operation which they have extended in this matter. At the end of several days they said: "The Clause that we have now agreed with you, altered from its original draft, goes a long way to meet our difficulties, but there will be difficulties that we cannot for case and difficulties which, if they are embedded in a Statute, will tie us up to some absurd position, if we cannot get elasticity." Therefore our old friend, administrative law, was introduced to get us out of the difficulty. I have agreed, with the concurrence of the Minister of Labour, thatThe Minister may, on the application of a joint industrial council, conciliation board, or other similar body, or on a joint application, by such organisations, representative of employers and workpeople in the industry, as the Minister of Labour may certify to be proper bodies to make such an application, and after referring the matter to the Industrial Court for advice, 1215 by order vary the periods of time prescribed in this section, provided that he is of opinion that such variation is not likely to be detrimental to the public safety.I hope that this Clause, which has been drafted in consultation with the employers' organisations and the workmens' organisations, will be accepted. There was a big conference, first of all. The conference appointed a drafting committee, which finally settled the Clause, in consultation with the Ministry, and I hope that the Clause will commend itself to the House as the best way to meet the point and the practical convenience of the industries concerned.
Clause 23 empowers the Minister to direct inquiries into all cases of accidents. We hope that we shall learn much from the inquiries that we conduct. Clause 28 introduces a penalty in regard to the taking and driving away of a motor car without lawful authority. The Home Secretary introduced a Bill dealing with that subject, but it was found convenient, after consideration, that it should be merged into the Road Traffic Bill. It is substantially agreed, and there should be no difficulty about it. Clause 30 deals with regulations which may be made by the Minister. Here, I may mention that a provision was inserted to the effect that before making regulations under this part of the Bill, the Minister should consult representative organisations of persons who would be affected by the regulations. That part, which was originally drafted under Part I, is now transferred to Clause 96, so that any provision requiring consultation is made generally applicable throughout the Statute, where associations or organisations may be concerned. The right hon. Gentleman the late Minister of Transport knows that that has always been the practice of the Ministry of Transport, and doubtless this provision will be appreciated by the organisations concerned.
I come now to Part II of the Bill. This involved the Government in a decision of some consequence, which was not taken lightly. It deals with compulsory third party insurance. There have been a large number of cases of persons, sometimes poor persons, killed or injured in a motor accident, where the driver was convicted of negligence or bad driving, but because the driver was not insured 1216 and was not a person of substance, the relatives of the person killed or the person injured were unable to get damages for the injury done. As against that, the Government had to face the great difficulties involved in compulsory third party insurance, but, on balance, we decided that we would face the difficulties and deal with an intolerable injustice which ought not to be allowed to exist. That, also, was the conclusion of the Royal Commission on Transport. The Clause will deal with death and injury only. We have not introduced property, largely because we want to reduce the complications to a reasonable minimum. We shall have enough complications before we have done with death and injury, without going further. The problem is one of difficulty, but we feel that it ought to be met.
I am not going to say that these Clauses are absolutely watertight. For example, if a person is injured and the motor driver has not been negligent, no compensation will be payable in the new circumstances any more than at the present time. If a car is stolen and driven by someone else, there will be no remedy, and there will be no remedy in the case of the use of an unauthorised car. These are points which one cannot possibly meet, much as we would desire to meet them. Although the majority of cases where the motorist is negligent and culpable will be covered, there will be a minority of cases which will not be covered. I do not see how we can find legislative provision to meet every possible ease. In Clause 35 we have gone on the basis of placing the onus upon the driver or owner, subject to severe maximum penalties, to satisfy himself that, whenever a motor vehicle is used on the road, he is covered against any legal claims that may be made against him by third parties in respect of death or personal injury. The cover, we have decided, should be obtained in one of two ways, first, a policy of insurance which covers any legal claims arising out of the death or personal injury of third parties—this provision is found in Clause 36 (1, b)—and, secondly, by a bond or some other similar security in the form of an undertaking on the part of the person or persons issuing the bond or security to make good—this provision is found in Clause 37 (1, b)—any failure by 1217 the owner of the vehicle to discharge his liability. Companies or underwriters will be required to specify certain conditions.
The reasons which led us to provide the alternative provisions were these: First, it gets rid of the difficulty, owing to insurance being made compulsory, of the insurance company having to decide whether a man shall or shall not drive a motor vehicle and, secondly, the bond provides a comparatively easy alternative for large companies who in the past have been able to carry their own risks.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
Supposing that it is a poor man who cannot enter into a bond, then it would be the insurance company who would say whether he was to drive on the road or not?
§ Mr. MORRISON
I am afraid it would. He is the one fly in my ointment, of whom I am fully conscious, but I do not see how I can help him if I am to stand by the principle of third party insurance. I anticipate that insurance companies will not be severe in their administration and we shall get along well. If difficulties arise we shall have to face them in due time. The provision will not apply to invalid carriages or to any vehicle owned by a local or a police authority or by the Government. The method of proof that the vehicle is covered will be by the owner or driver of the vehicle having a certificate of insurance or a certificate of security, and special provision is made accordingly. The proposals should provide a workable scheme with the least possible interference with the ordinary business of motor insurance. Negotiations have taken place with the representatives of the insurance interests and although they are opposed to compulsory insurance in principle they have expressed their willingness to co-operate in the working out of a reasonable scheme. They have also stated that they do not propose to raise premiums merely on account of the introduction of this legislation but will wait to see the actual effect of the legislation on claims before taking any steps in the matter. That is a general agreement upon which they have entered. I could not resist the point that if in fact the claims are increased they should be able to reconsider the situation, but I am not yet convinced that that will be the case. At the same time they express the opinion that the effect 1218 of this legislation will be to increase the magnitude and number of claims.
Those, roughly, are the provisions of this Part of the Bill. There remains the case of the person who is still not insured. There will not be many because the penalties against him will be very severe. While it may be no recompense to the injured party to find that he cannot get damages there may be some consolation in the fact that such a person is liable to be fined and imprisoned. In the House of Lords an Amendment was carried to this part of the Bill in regard to the admitted problem of the voluntary hospitals in relation to street accidents. I am sorry that I was unable to authorise Lord Ruseell to accept that Amendment on behalf of the Government. It is a somewhat technical matter which will have to be explained in Committee, but I think it fair to inform the House of the position which I felt should be taken in the House of Lords on the matter when it was under consideration there.
Dr. VERNON DAVIES
Is the Minister of Transport in sympathy with the idea that hospitals should be paid for the services they render?
§ Mr. MORRISON
I am entirely sympathetic to the ideal on the fact that hospitals experience considerable financial difficulty partly because of the accident problem, but I am not satisfied that this is the way to solve the financial difficulties of the hospitals. The House, when it examines the Clause, will find all sorts of inconsistencies and absurdities under the provision as it stands, but the question as to whether hospitals have a right to charge for their services is a matter within the control of the hospitals themselves. They can say that they will not treat anybody unless they are paid, but that if they are convinced that they cannot afford to pay they will let them off. That can be done; but with all the goodwill in the world, and I am a sincere friend of the voluntary hospitals, I assure the House that there will be considerable legal difficulties in trying to graft on to a Bill dealing with road traffic and compulsory insurance a matter which is not essentially related to the provisions of the Bill and which ought to be dealt with in connection with the general problem of voluntary hospitals.
Part III of the Bill deals with Amendments to the Highway Law. We propose 1219 to introduce a code of directions for the guidance of all persons, including pedestrians, using the highway, and I attach great importance to this new provision. We shall consult the various associations concerned with the use of the road and get the best code we can. It will not be effective until an affirmative Resolution has been passed in both Houses of Parliament approving the draft submitted by the Minister of Transport. The House will agree that it is time that we had an authoritative code. No offence will be involved by disregarding this code, but it should be known that in case of legal proceedings being taken the fact that the person did not observe the code will be part of the evidence in the case.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
In Clause 24 it says that the code will be laid before both Houses of Parliament. Does it mean that it will be put in the Library?
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
Is it the intention of the Minister of Transport to make any provisions with regard to orders to pedestrians? Has he considered the rule of the footpath in this connection? A large number of accidents occur because of the persistent, use of the footpath rule "keep to the right."
§ Mr. MORRISON
That is one of the points which will be taken into account when framing the code. On the merits of the case we agree that keep to the left—I do not mean politically—as far as the use of the pavement is concerned—is right. Unfortunately it is very difficult, as we experienced in London some years ago, for the mass of the British public to get a long established rule out of their heads, but that will be one of the things to be considered in the making of the code. There are provisions as to restrictions upon the use of streets and we have an important new provision that any road signs must be put up by the local authority, and by the local authority alone. The local authority in this matter is subject to the control in the last resort of the Minister of Transport, so that we shall get a national scheme of road signals and road signs. I am afraid the gentleman who puts up outside his front garden the signal "Concealed drive" will have to take care how he comes out 1220 on to the public road and perhaps to take my advice and reconstruct his drive. I attach great importance to this provision because it will enable us to do really big things. Another provision is in regard to ropes and wires drawn across the roads. Several accidents have been due to this practice, and we must have drastic powers. Clause 51 gives certain permissive powers in connection with tolls. There is now a Bill before the House on that subject and it may be possible for us to embody some of the provisions in that Bill if we make reasonable rapid progress with the present Measure. Clauses 53 and 54 deal with the construction and lighting of streets.
Part IV of the Bill is exceedingly important. It deals with the licensing of public service vehicles. When I approached the problem as to what was the proper machinery for the licensing of public vehicles I did so full of my local government bias and a desire to preserve it on a local government basis. I thought we could make the county boroughs and the county councils the licensing authorities, but nobody who reads the Report of the Royal Commission on Transport will be converted to that proposal. The areas would be too small and, secondly, there are great possibilities of friction between county boroughs and counties on licensing matters. The second expedient proposed by the smaller local authorities was a series of joint authorities of urban district councils and county borough councils setting up joint licensing authorities over areas of some substance. I have sat on joint authorities and my feeling is that there is too much "joint" and not enough "authority," and from the point of view of public control I do not believe that indirectly elected joint authorities are a satisfactory instrument of local government. Sometimes you have to put up with them, bur. I would never encourage them and I would avoid them whenever I could.
We must have a national policy of road transport, a policy of national co-ordination, and you cannot settle a national policy on the basis of local licensing authorities. I had to choose between local government proper or national government proper; either that the local authorities should be responsible to their electors or that the Minister of Transport should be responsible to Parliament, and in view of the big national concern 1221 in this matter I went for a national policy, which is the policy embodied in the Bill and also the policy of the Royal Commission on Transport. The extraordinary thing is that the Report of the Royal Commission in its common sense view of the case has been so effective that there has been very little opposition to the scheme so far as I know. Although one may have been nervous at the beginning of the storm of trouble which would arise when it was proposed to sweep away powers which people have been exercising, I have been justified in my belief that in the end a Minister should be sure of what is right in the public interests and then, subject to Parliament, do it. In the end he will come through. That has been our experience in the case of Part IV of the Bill now before the House.
Let me give the figures of the existing licensing authorities. There are 79 county boroughs who are licensing authorities, 246 non-county boroughs, 721 urban district councils, and 51 rural district councils. In Scotland there are 201 licensing authorities, making a total of 1,298 in Great Britain. That is an impossible state of affairs, which must be cleared up if we are to have a national policy. And in a whole range of areas—with the majority of rural districts not licensing authorities, and the many urban districts that do not exercise their power—there is no licensing authority at all. If we had adopted counties and county boroughs we should have been involved in 139 authorities in England and Wales and 38 in Scotland, making 177 in all. I decided to take the true path of revolutionary conduct and to reduce the whole of the 1,298 to 12 authorities at one blow; and I hope that I shall have the support of the House in coming to that decision, because I am sure that it is the only way in which we can get a national and co-ordinated system of transport.
It is proposed that we shall have 12 traffic areas with 12 sets of commissioners. All of them will be appointed by the Minister of Transport. One of them will be a paid member who will be appointed for a period of seven years and may be re-appointed. He will be the chairman of the authority and will be a full-time member of the Traffic Commission. 1222 He will be assisted by two members, one appointed by the Minister from a panel constituted on the nominations of county councils, and another from a panel constituted on the nominations of county borough, non-county borough and urban district councils. So that although they will be national institutions they will have a connection with and an experience of local government, which will be valuable, and at the same time we shall be able to get a national scheme. Their duties will be mainly administrative. Their main task will be to co-ordinate and to organise transport.
Of course, it will be of the utmost importance that their tasks shall be discharged with fairness and equity to all the interests concerned, and every provision will be made to that effect. They will be appointed by the Minister of Transport, they will be subject to the directions which this House will incorporate in the Statute, and they will be subject in a general way to regulations which the Minister will have power to frame for the purpose. But, subject to that, they will be independent people, independent authorities, who must exercise individually their own judgment according to the evidence of the case which is before them. After they have done that, if the parties like to exercise their right, there will be an appeal to the Minister of Transport, as is provided in the existing law. Likewise, he will be concerned with the administrative problems of coordination, and I am certain that whoever is Minister of Transport, he will be fair and just in the administration of the law.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
Will not these commissioners require an enormous staff of officials? The Minister is going to divide the enormous area of Scotland into two areas. Will not that necessitate an enormous band of officials?
§ Mr. MORRISON
No, certainly not. There is no desire or intention to appoint an enormous band of officials. We have very carefully considered the case of Scotland and have come to the conclusion that two bodies of commissioners will be sufficient, taking into account population, geography and so on. It should not be assumed that the commissioners 1223 will always meet in the same place. They can go from place to place according to the convenience of the applicants concerned. Obviously they must be staffed. Clerical assistance will be needed, and there will have to be certifying and examining officers, but it would be an abuse of language to describe that as an army of officials. There are a large number of officials now existing in municipal service to deal with these matters. In fact this scheme will save the local authorities, in due time, a substantial expenditure upon the salaries of a number of officials.
The commissioners will have power to issue two forms of licence, one in respect of the vehicle and the second a road service licence, and they will be able to attach to a licence various conditions which will be very helpful in connection with co-ordination. The operators will have to deposit a schedule of times, and that will enable us to check the speed-limit in various ways. The commissioners will have to take into account traffic which is already upon the road, public service vehicles already on the road, and the alternative provision of transport provided by public service vehicles or by railway. I think that as time goes on we shall find that we have set up machinery not merely for licensing, but a great aid towards coordination, and machinery that can be used with advantage in any further alteration of the law that may come along. But, anyway, that part of the Bill is a part of very great importance and should he of considerable advantage as time goes on.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
When an application is made to them will the commissioners be entitled to consider, for a road service, say, from A to B, that there is already in existence efficient railway transport more or less parallel?
§ Mr. MORRISON
Yes, that in fact will be one of the statutory duties of the commissioners. They must take into account all other forms of passenger transport that exist, including transport by rail. It is a perfectly sensible direction for the commissioners to have, not for the purpose of compelling the public to travel by rail, but it is only proper that they should take into account the 1224 whole of the transport requirements of the area. That is the principle upon which we have gone.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
The Minister must be very careful what he says here. Is the railway company to have precedence in the requirements of an area? Is that the effect of what he has said?
§ Mr. MORRISON
My hon. Friend maybe sure that I am always careful in what I say. All I said was, not that anyone should have precedence, but that the commissioners would be directed by the Statute to take account of existing transport services, including transport, by rail. They take the matter into account, that is all; they must have regard to it. If we are to have a proper system of transport they will have to take into account all the various forms of transport that exist and not recklessly multiply them. The original Part V of the Bill is related to the Debate which we had in this House on Friday week. We felt that it was increasingly important, if we abolished the licensing powers of the local authorities, that they should have absolute equality before the licensing commissioners whom we propose to set up. They cannot have that equality if every time they want to operate an omnibus route they have to come to Parliament. Therefore, subject to suitable safeguards set out in the original Part V, we had made provision enabling the local authorities already possessing transport powers to appear before the commissioners and to make their case in the same way as private undertakers could do. In the Debate referred to we carried the Bill on Second Heading by a substantial majority, and on Thursday I hope we shall agree to an instruction to the Committee upstairs to amalgamate the two Bills. In the course proposed in the original Part V we have the concurrence of the Royal Commission.
We have been very gratified at the reception of this Bill by various political parties and by the Press. In my judgment, the Bill opens up a vast statutory and administrative opportunity to order and consolidate road traffic in Great Britain. It gives us an opportunity to encourage better conduct on our roads. It enables us to co-ordinate a great industry, namely, passenger transport by road and by rail; and it enables us to 1225 bring it into proper relations with other forms of transport. The machinery that the Bill will set up will be there if and when further co-ordination comes. This Bill is an anti-waste Bill. Why the anti-waste people did not do something of the kind in the Coalition days mystifies me. The Bill says now that the roads must be used in a proper manner for the purpose of carrying goods and persons, which is what transport is for. If we recklessly provide transport in excess of reasonable and legitimate requirements we are imposing a burden on industry, and to that extent are making transport inefficient. In the end the workpeople as well as capital suffer by that excess provision; traffic ceases to pay and the employers have the incentive to "take it out of wages." In the long run this Bill, in my judgment, will do much to elevate the economic status and security of the workpeople in this great industry, and that ought to be one of the objects of this House in considering the Bill.
Therefore, I hope that the House will consider the Bill as a big Bill, one of the great legislative milestones that we see from time to time, like the Municipal Corporations Act, the Public Health Act, the Local Government Act, and so on. I appeal to all parties to let us have effective consideration by the Committee, to let us have alertness in finding faults and bad things in the Bill, if such things there be, but to let us have reasonable consideration and speed in passing the Bill, in order that we may get on with our work and proceed with the administration of what I have claimed before and claim again now is a great charter for the ordered use of the King's highway.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I would like to congratulate him on his very clear exposition of this important Bill, and I would add that in my opinion he has achieved a very considerable triumph, because he has made the somewhat dry details of the Bill really interesting. It is difficult to imagine that it is one-and-a-quarter hours since he began to speak, so pleasant has been his description of the Bill and so witty his remarks. On behalf of those who sit on the Conservative benches I can assure him that, though we shall feel it our duty to 1226 examine fairly minutely the various proposals of the Bill, we shall do so in no party spirit. This is not a party Bill; it is a Bill which affects us all, whatever part of the House we may sit in; and we want to make it a national Bill and a useful Bill.
Indeed, I am naturally anxious that the Bill should receive a favourable reception, because, as the hon. Gentleman was good enough to say, I had certainly a substantial share in the fashioning of the Bill. In 1927 I circulated, for criticism and suggestion, a draft Traffic Bill to all local authorities and organisations of people who were legitimately interested. That Bill was not founded on my personal opinion, but on the reports of two Departmental Committees. It was not, if I may say so, a Government Bill. It was not an official Bill in the sense that we did not tie ourselves down to any of the details, and it was circulated solely for the purposes of gathering criticisms and remarks, so as to enable us to ascertain the real views of the people concerned. Surely it ought to be the wish of all Ministers to bring forward Bills which suit the needs of the country, and not only Bills which are conceived within the Ministry itself, without any relevance to outside opinion. There were hardly any general criticisms of that Bill. There were suggestions as to many of the details, but hardly any general criticism on the principles of the Measure was communicated to us.
Then came the Royal Commission, which gave two reports. The right hon. Gentleman has adopted their suggestions and has added one or two of his own—with one of which I strongly disagree, though that is a matter which can be gone into later—and now we have before us this Bill, which, I hope, will receive a Second Reading to-day without opposition from any part of the House. This Bill is long overdue, and I make a present of that remark to any hon. Member opposite who may wish to ask me why I did not introduce it when I had the honour to occupy the position of Minister of Transport. But the reason for that is well known. Every Government wishes to pass more legislation than there is time for, and if a Department has had one big Measure allotted to it in the course of a Parliament, it is considered to be lucky. We in the Ministry 1227 of Transport had the Electricity Act. Naturally, all the other Ministers make it their business to see that one Department does not get more than one Bill of that importance in order that their own Departments may have opportunities. That is the real explanation of why the Traffic Bill was kept over for two or three years. But it is necessary that it should be proceeded with, because our present legislation was passed in 1903 and, indeed, the law which governs our public service vehicles was passed in the last century before motor cars had been heard of. One of the advantages of this Bill is that it will sweep away a great deal of antiquated legislation and will simplify the work of magistrates, of counsel, and of others engaged in cases of this kind.
Before proceeding to examine some of the provisions of the Bill, I wish to ask the Minister what is his intention with regard to Part V. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to obtain copies of the Bill as it was introduced in another place, know that there was a provision in it then which enabled local authorities possessing omnibus, tram, or trolley-vehicle powers to run public service vehicles, that is to say omnibuses, outside their areas, without coming to Parliament. I would be out of order in attempting to argue now whether that was right or wrong, but at any rate it proposed a considerable departure from the present procedure. That Part V disappeared mysteriously in another place and is not in the Bill now before us. I would ask the Minister, or the Attorney-General if he is going to reply on this Debate, to give us some inkling or some information as to the intention of the Minister in regard to Part V and the Omnibuses Bill. When we have parted with this Bill and given it a Second Beading, we shall have assented in principle, more or less, to the incorporation of the Omnibuses Bill with this Bill. I should like to know what the Minister is going to advise us to do when we get into Committee in regard to this matter. Are we to have the Bill as it is? Are we to have the Omnibuses Bill incorporated with it; are we to have Part V reinserted—involving the possibility of a conflict with another place—or are we to have a modified form of the Omnibuses Bill or a modified form of Part V? Obviously it would make a 1228 considerable difference to the way in which we approach this Bill if we had some information later in the Debate as to the intention of the Government.
§ Mr. HERBERT MORRISON
May I deal with that point; straight away, because it is important that it should be made clear at once. Indeed, I thought it had been made perfectly clear in the Debate on the Omnibuses Bill itself. There will be an Instruction to the Committee, which I had intended to move to-night, but which, by arrangement, I will not move until Thursday, giving the Committee power to consolidate the Road Traffic Bill and the Omnibuses Bill. I am bound to proceed in that way because I cannot instruct the Committee to incorporate Part V which has disappeared at the other end of the corridor. I must therefore proceed on the basis—as far as procedure is concerned—of the Omnibuses Bill when we get to Committee upstairs. But, as I have told the House, my preference was for Part V as introduced, and that is still my preference. I do not wish it to be thought, however, that I would stand by every word of Part V either in my own direction or in the direction of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I am proceeding on this basis—that I want to reincorporate Part V as nearly as I can subject to the discussions which we shall have in Committee. I am advised that the only way I can do it is by getting an instruction to the Committee that they have power to incorporate the Omnibuses Bill, which contains the same principle as Part V.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I wish to thank the hon. Gentleman for so clearly and so promptly disclosing his intention. All I cay say is, in one sentence, that I think it a pity Part V was ever introduced at all. Here we had an absolutely non-contentious Bill apart from that provision. However, we shall endeavour to deal with the Bill, as far as possible, as a non-contentious Measure. Perhaps if Part V or something like it comes up in Committee, some little party differences will have to be brought into the arena, but I hope that they will not last long, and that we shall be able to go back to the non-contentious aspects of the Bill. One really cannot make a Second Reading speech on this Bill because there are no great matters of principle dividing the parties, and I think my best course is to follow the example of the right hon.
1229 Gentleman and deal with some of the Clauses putting forward certain criticisms which appear to me well-founded. I take first Clause 4, Sub-section (5). This may seem a small point, but it is a very irritating one. At present, quite rightly, a police constable may stop anybody and ask him for his driving licence. If he fails to produce it, then, as a concession to the motorist, he is allowed to name a police station where within five days' the licence has to be produced. Under the custom at the present time the motorist-is allowed to post the licence to the police station, or send somebody with it, but according to the provision in this Bill the licence will have to be produced in person. This may be a cause for inconvenience and annoyance to the motorist, but it cannot be of any advantage. I would ask the Attorney-General, in replying, to point out why it has been considered necessary to include this provision which does not appear to serve any useful purpose?
As regards Clause 5, I certainly support the proposal of the Bill in this respect, that a declaration of physical fitness and of the fact that an applicant is not suffering from any physical disabilities is quite sufficient in connection with the grant of a licence. Tests can very easily be passed, and road accidents are much more often caused by the skilful motorist taking a chance than by the beginner, who is fumbling about in a very frightened state, travelling slowly at the side of the road and not inclined to take risks. My friends who have had to go through these tests abroad tell me that they are very largely superficial and that the ease with which one goes through the test is in proportion to the size of the fee which one gives to the man who is conducting the test. I do not say that that would happen in this country, but I agree with the Royal Commission, and with the right hon. Gentleman, that tests are quite unnecessary and will not carry us any further.
Clause 9, Sub-section (3) prohibits a person under 21 years of age from driving a locomotive, motor tractor, or heavy car unless he has been regularly engaged for a specified period in driving a vehicle of that class. I know that this proposal is the result of a recommendation of the Royal Commission, but I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman why, if it is right and proper and is not dangerous 1230 for a boy of 17 to drive a private car up to a weight of 3 tons, it should be considered improper and dangerous for the same boy to drive a vehicle of the other kind weighing less. Why should it be necessary for him to wait until he is 21 before he is allowed to drive a 2½ ton goods wagon, whereas at the age of 17 he can drive a private car of 3 tons? It is quite right that there should be provision as to an age of 21 for drivers and 18 for conductors in the case of public service vehicles, where a large number of people are concerned, but in regard to the other matter, one of two things is wrong. Either it is wrong for the boy of 17 to drive a pleasure car of 3 tons, or else it is wrong to prevent him driving a goods vehicle of 2½ tons. This provision may be very hard on young men of the class who, I am informed, are often sent out from the workshops to take a turn at the wheel in order that they may learn to drive, and I would make this suggestion for the right hon. Gentleman's consideration. Why not compromise by adopting the practice of the armed forces of the Crown in this respect, and fixing the age at 18? I think if the experience of the armed forces in this respect is worth anything, that is a suggestion which the right hon. Gentleman should take into consideration.
As regards the speed limit, it is almost a work of supererogation for me to say anything about that subject after the able manner in which the Minister has dealt with it, but I cordially support him in his decision that for what are called private cars there should be no speed limit. The answers which came to my inquiries when I sent out the trial Bill in 1927 were overwhelmingly in favour of having no speed limit. I think I may say that, except for a very strong minority of chief constables in the county boroughs, everyone else outside the Metropolis was in favour of the abolition of the speed limit. Even in the Metropolis itself, the City police and the councils of the Metropolitan boroughs were in favour of the abolition of the speed limit. It may be that the Metropolitan boroughs took that line because the London County Council had taken the other line—that has been known to happen before—but the fact remains that only the Metropolitan police and the London County Council were in favour of the retention of the speed limit at all.
1231 Play has been made again with the fact that many other countries have a speed limit. So they have, but it does not follow that they are right. When I was in Sweden two or three months ago their Minister of Transport informed me that the present law there was that you could, with an ordinary light car, go at 30 miles an hour in the country and 20 miles an hour in the town, but that about a year ago he had appointed an expert committee to consider the whole question, and that committee had just reported to him that they were absolutely unanimously in favour of the abolition of the speed limit for light cars, but that they were also equally strong in coming down on the same side as the Schedule to this Bill, namely, that for heavier cars there should be a speed limit, on the grounds that the Minister gave for the retention of the speed limit in that case. It seems to me that in this matter we are on the horns of a dilemma. At present the Minister said that everybody, from the highest to the lowest, disregarded the speed limit. If you put a speed limit of 30 or even 35 miles an hour, everybody will equally disregard it, whereas if you put it up to 40 or 45 the people will say, "The law says you may go up to 40 or 45 miles," with the result that a large number of people under many circumstances will be travelling at speeds which are very dangerous, because even 30 miles is extremely dangerous in many cases and ought never to be allowed. I will go further, and say that I am quite convinced that, save under the most exceptional circumstances, 10 mile speed limits are useless. Though I had numerous applications while I was Minister and Parliamentary Secretary, extending over a period of four and a-half years, I do not think I ever assented to a new 10 miles limit anywhere, because I always said that dangerous driving alone could be the test in such cases.
The Minister was saying how hard it was on the police sometimes to carry out the law. I have known of incidents where the police not only did not carry out the law, but took the sensible step of absolutely disregarding the law. At the beginning of the last Parliament, when there was a large number of new Members, one Member, who sat on this side of the House, was much impressed with 1232 the dignity of his office and wanted to show everybody, now that he was a Member of Parliament, that he was going to obey the law to the very letter. He drove his motor car past Hyde Park Corner. Perhaps hon. Members do not know, but there is a 10 miles speed limit there, and this hon. Member was simply crawling by St. George's Hospital in order to show that he was obeying the law, when up rushed a police constable to him and said, "Hurry up, hurry up! We cannot have you holding up the traffic in this way." That just shows that the Metropolitan police, at any rate in that instance, interpreted the views of the nation better than did the obsolete law which we have at the present time. There is one observation I should like to make on Clause 11, which I think might be considered by the Minister. This is a Clause dealing with reckless or dangerous driving, and it begins:If any person drives a motor vehicle on a road recklessly, or at a speed or in a manner which is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, including the nature, condition, and use of the road, and the amount of traffic which is actually at the time, or which might reasonably he expected to be, on the road, he shall be liable.How on earth is a wretched motorist to know what amount of traffic might reasonably be expected to be on a read? I believe this part of the Clause is copied from the old 1903 Act, I think the first part is for the benefit of motorists, but I hope that, whatever else is left in the Clause, that last part will be taken out. Supposing I am going from Norfolk to Bristol on a Friday, and I suddenly go across the Newmarket Road after the races are over, and run into somebody. How can I know, unless I am a racing man, of the stream of cars that is returning from Newmarket on a Friday afternoon? I think this ought to be taken out, because it does operate against the motorist. This is a very serious offence. It is dangerous driving, and a motorist is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for four months. May I say one word on Clause 10 (3)? No man is to be convicted of going more than "x" miles an hour in a motor car or locomotive on the unsupported testimony of one person. There is that safeguard on the speed limit there, but I look with amazement at Clauses 11 and 12 dealing with the serious offences of 1233 dangerous and careless driving, for which the punishment starts at four months' imprisonment, but apparently in that case they can be convicted on the unsupported evidence of one person. I feel sure that that cannot be intended by the Minister. If it is right to have more than one witness in the case of an ordinary 20 or 25 miles an hour, a fortiori it is right and proper to have more than one witness in the case of dangerous or careless driving.
In regard to Clause 19, I am very glad indeed, speaking for myself and, I expect, for hon. Members behind me, that the Minister has put in this provision about the limitation of time for which certain drivers may remain on duty. I quite admit that one cannot look at it in this Bill in any other way than from the point of view of the safety of the road, and I do not think the hon. Gentleman has cut down the hours too much. They seem to be fairly long at the present moment, but, from the point of view of how long a man should work, I will take it from him that these are the proper hours which he has come to the conclusion can safely be worked without hurting anybody else on the road. It is certainly an improvement on my Bill, and I gladly acknowledge it now that it has been brought up by the hon. Gentleman.
With regard to Clause 21, if the learned Attorney-General will turn to that Clause, he will see that it is a very important one from the motorist's point of view, because it relatesto the maximum speed at which motor vehicles may be driven, to reckless or dangerous driving, and to careless driving.The punishments for these offences are either very heavy or somewhat heavy. It says a driver shall not be convicted unless, in one case,within twenty-one days of the commission of the offence a summons for the offence was served on him.A man is driving, we will say, through Salisbury. He does not see that he has done anything dangerous, because he has not been stopped. He drives on without anything happening so far as he knows, and 20 days afterwards he receives a summons, signed by the Chief Constable of Salisbury, saying that he did, on a certain day, at a certain hour, in a certain street, drive dangerously, 1234 and ordering him to appear at Salisbury Police Court. I submit that 21 days after, or 18 days after, the alleged offence one may have a very vague recollection of what happened. How, in the name of commonsense, is the wretched man to get any witnesses together for his defence? I think the Minister should consider whether that period could not be cut down to seven days. After all, the police can make up their minds in five minutes as to whether or not they are going to run a man in for an offence. They must know their witnesses within two or three days, and at any rate I think I must myself, if necessary, move a Very drastic Amendment in Committee on this point, because I think the motorists there have not been given a fair opportunity of dealing with a charge.
Then there is Clause 35, dealing with insurance against third party risks. In the draft Bill that I circulated we were less ambitious than the hon. Member. All that we said was that public service vehicles should have to show that they were insured before they got a licence, and that the insurance should cover, not only personal injuries, but material injuries to the vehicle or anything else on the road. That, I admit, was only a restricted proposal, but at any rate it was one with which the insurance companies were quite willing to grapple and were quite sure that they could take on without any increase in premiums, because they said that public service vehicles were not likely to be carelessly driven, that they had to have their licences, that the drivers had to be 21 years of age at least, and that they were run by responsible companies or corporations, and, therefore, they did not see that any additional risk was involved.
But this enlargement—I think the Minister is right to have done it—does make the difficulties of the situation, as far as the insurance companies are concerned, very much greater. It is true the hon. Gentleman has eliminated anything but third party risks to the licensed vehicles, but he is bringing in now everybody, all the people who either have not troubled to be insured or could not get insured, and he seems to be optimistic that insurance premiums will not be increased. I should be very doubtful about that. I believe that either the insurance companies will practically insure everybody that comes 1235 along, and make no exclusions at all, and then in order to recoup themselves increase premiums; or, alternatively, they may say, "We are not going to insure everybody; we shall only insure people who, we think, are entitled to have this insurance given to them, and nobody else."
Then you will have a most undesirable state of affairs, that a private individual or corporation in this country will be able to say to anybody, "You shall not use the King's highway." It may be said that lots of these people ought not to be allowed to do so—I admit it—but it is a very undesirable state of things that we in Parliament should agree to the power of prohibiting the use of the King's highway being exercised, not by a Court of Law, not by regulations made by this House, but by private individuals and corporations. Therefore, I will put this forward for the Minister's consideration—I suppose it is possible from the point of view of legislation—that just as the Act of 1903 was passed only for three years, this particular Clause dealing with motor insurance should have validity for only three years, so that Parliament would be able to revise it, and we should know at the end of three years whether increased premiums were necessary or not, and we should be able then to deal with the question more with inside knowledge than we can now.
With regard to hospitals, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do all he can to get the Sub-section retained in the Bill and to make it work, because there is a tremendous strain on the resources of many hospitals on the big roads, and it seems only fair that, if a man is receiving money for injuries which he has received, the hospital which treated him should be allowed to get back, up to £25, the money that they have expended on his nursing and doctoring.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
Certainly. The point I am making is that it is hard for a hospital to have to pay for this man's treatment when he is receiving money from an insurance company. This particular Clause seems to he worded in an 1236 extraordinary way. Sub-section (2) says that the money should be paid to the insured when an accident has occurred; that is all right, but it also says that an amount up to £25 should he paid to the hospital which treats him. It appears in the Sub-section that the insurance company will have to pay not only the full claims to the man who is insured but, in addition, have to pay £25 to the hospital. If that be so, obviously the insurance company will have to raise their premiums. Clause 44 deals with the highway code. I warmly support the code as a highway code. A great deal may be done to diminish accidents and to help careful drivers by a code, but there is something in this Clause to which I strongly object, and I hope that I shall receive the support of the learned Attorney-General in this matter. I am not learned in the law, but it does not seem quite fair to the motorists and the users of the road. It says that the Ministershall as soon as may be after the commencement of this Act prepare a code … comprising such directions as appear to him to he proper for the guidance of persons using roads.This code does not come into operation until both Houses have approved it by Resolution. Under Sub-section (2), will Parliament have power to revise the Code, or will they have to pass it or reject it? If they cannot revise it, a great deal of the control of Parliament will be eliminated. I specially draw the attention of the House to Sub-section (4), and to the fact that this is a code for the guidance of motorists and not a regulation. The Sub-section reads:A failure on the part of any person to observe any provision of the highway code shall-not of itself render that person liable to criminal proceedings of any kind, but any such failure any in any proceedings (whether civil or criminal, and including proceedings for an offence under this Act) be relied upon by any party to the proceedings as tending to establish or to negative any liability which is in question in those proceedings.I can understand a regulation which has the force of law, and which a prosecutor or a plaintiff in a court of law can say that a man has transgressed but can a code, which is to be made simply for the guidance of motorists, be used in a court of law at all? It has no real force in law; it is simply advice, and this code would have to be turned into regulations 1237 in order to have the force of law. If it is not, Sub-section (4) must be eliminated. I agree that the Traffic Commissioners are better than the 350 local authorities to which I was going to reduce the local authorities from the 1,300 which exist at the present time. Then I am surprised and glad to hear that the objections on the part of the local authorities are not to be strongly pressed; it shows that they are sensible people. I make only two points on that proposal. I pray the Minister to select with the very greatest care the 12 chairmen of these 12 area commissioners, because I see in the Rill that the commissioners are to come under the direction of the Minister. The hon. Gentleman will admit that the general direction is a very indefinite indication as to what is the control of the Minister over the commissioners.
The smooth working of this Bill between the Ministry and the Commissioners will depend a very great deal on the tactfulness and the common sense of the 12 chairmen. When I was Minister of Transport, the same general provision applied to the district commissioners, and, had it not been for the great tact of Sir John Snell, there would have been times when trouble would have developed between the Minister and these semi-independent bodies. Undoubtedly the commissioners and their staffs will be more efficient than under the proposal which I made, but they are going to cost money. In all these things efficiency, I am afraid, very often costs more money, but I am not going to discuss that now. The White Paper which was issued showed a gross estimate of £165,000 for these commissioners, and with possible savings on local authorities it might be reduced to £100,000. In these days of heavy taxation and calls for economy, £100,000 is a substantial extra sum of money to be found. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will do all that he can to keep down the staff, because, however small the staff with which you begin, it is sure to get bigger in a few years. If you start with a big staff, it becomes enormous, but if you start with a small staff, it becomes moderate.
I am appalled at Clause 98 (2), and the penalties which are to be imposed upon such motorists as transgress the law. This Sub-section says: 1238A person guilty of an offence under this Act for which no special penalty is provided shall be liable in the case of the first offence to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds, and in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months.I can quite understand that there must be heavy penalties for dangerous driving or for careless driving, but, as far as I can see, the heavy penalties in this Subsection would be applicable to anyone who failed to renew a driver's licence. You would be liable to that penalty if you drove along a restricted road, for instance, with a char-a-banc on restricted Hampshire lanes. They would be applicable to a man who drove the wrong way up the Haymarket, although I submit that he would receive sufficient punishment by encountering such a stream of traffic that he would be knocked over. I ask the Minister whether it is really necessary to keep such heavy penalties, because they generally defeat their own object. Justices are inclined to say that the penalties are heavy and to impose less penalties than they would otherwise do. I wish the Bill all good luck and a safe passage, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will realise that, if we discuss some of the Clauses in Committee somewhat minutely, it is not because of hostility, but because we want to make it a good Bill.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. RUSSELL
Everyone wishes to congratulate the Minister on the very able and lucid statement which he made in introducing this Bill. It is a comfort to come to a Bill where there is so much agreement. The Government in this Bill are dealing with what is one of the great problems that has to be faced at the present day, and we shall do well in carrying through this Bill. At the same time, there are one or two things that ought to be said. As a motorist and driver continuously for 20 years, and as a magistrate dealing with many of these cases for an even longer period, I have one or two points which I should like to make, especially having regard to the fact that this is a Departmental Bill. We have come in these days to look with a certain degree of suspicion on Bills that come from Departments, because we know that they generally mean that the Departments are reaching out after certain powers of administrative action, and it 1239 needs a little caution on the part of those who have to look after the public weal and the public rights. The first point on which I wish to make any comment is the speed limit, and here again I would like to express complete agreement with the sentiments of the Minister himself. It is time we abolished once and for all the humbug of a speed limit which is never enforced. Everyone knows that it is not rapid driving which is the menace of our highways; it is slow driving and nervous driving. If we were to examine into accidents it would be found that even when one of the motorists concerned was driving fast, the accident was due, very often, to someone in front who was driving irregularly and slowly, or to someone coming from the opposite direction. It is careless driving and not rapid driving which is the cause of many of the accidents which occur. Therefore, it is all to the good that the emphasis should be placed not upon the speed, but upon the manner of the driving. There is one other point with regard to speed. We ought to see that justice is done as between the private motorist and the driver of a commercial vehicle, for example, a light van. It is not necessary that drivers of light commercial vehicles should be restricted if private vehicles of a much heavier type are left free to go at higher speeds. Very many of our private motor cars run up to a couple of tons in weight. Whereas a light van will be very much under that weight. In Committee we must see that fair justice is meted out on both sides, and not make out a special case for private motorists as against the drivers of commercial vehicles.
There is one point made by the late Minister of Transport with regard to the age at which drivers may be employed on commercial vehicles which I should like to re-enforce. We must remember that young men have to learn, and if they cannot start to drive until they are 21, or six months beforehand, I am afraid we shall have some difficulty in keeping up the supply of drivers. I do not see why there should not be a second hand, an assistant, on a heavy vehicle who, if there is a breakdown, or if something goes wrong with the driver, should be able to take the vehicle through to its destination. If there is to be only one 1240 driver on a vehicle and he must be 21 or over, occasions may arise when something has gone wrong with the driver and his assistant is prevented from carrying on because of the age limit. Something might be done in Committee to secure an improvement in that direction.
When we come to the restriction of drivers' hours of work, we must to a large extent agree with the statements made by the Minister of Transport. I was interested in his suggestion that it is possible for a motor driver to go to sleep at the wheel. All who have driven motor cars know of this tendency when one has been driving for many hours, and even if one has not been driving for many hours, because driving has a soporific tendency. I have a friend who a few weeks ago obviously went to sleep for a moment or two when driving, and suddenly found himself in collision with a, post, and with his car badly smashed. He admitted to me a day or two afterwards that he had gone to sleep in the act of driving. There is a necessity, therefore, for a stern restriction of hours, but there ought to be some discrimination as to how the hours should be spread over the 24 hours. Some criticism on that point may arise in Committee.
Next we come to the powers of the transport officials. Extraordinary powers are to be given to them. Among the privileges which it is sought to give them is the surprising right to enter premises, including private premises, without a warrant. Such a right is not enjoyed even by a police constable, who may not force an entrance into a private dwelling to arrest a criminal unless he has a warrant. Under the terms of this Bill, however, one of these officials may go after someone—someone who has committed an offence, I agree—and follow him on to private premises practically without a warrant. That Clause will need a little investigation, because that is a very wide power to bestow. Regarding the restrictions on passenger transport, there is one point which I hope we shall examine more carefully in Committee in order to provide for cases like this. The Boy Scouts, for example, when going to their annual camp, get some friendly owner of a commercial vehicle to take them there in his vehicle. Under this Bill, as far as I read it, the man will be prevented from rendering that 1241 little service to the boys, although I cannot see that any great harm is being caused to anyone.
On the question of areas and commissioners, I must say that we on these benches, at all events, look with considerable suspicion on all this bureaucratic control. I spoke yesterday for a minute or two on the Mental Treatment Bill from the same standpoint. All the time we find this steady encroachment of departmental government upon the work of the local authorities. Here again we have swept out the local authority and are to put in commissioners to carry out this legislation. I am glad to find, however, that Clause 87 does retain for a local authority the power of control over its own streets. For years there has been discussion going on among local authorities, which I have no doubt has had something to do with the provisions of this Bill in regard to commissioners, as to who should and who should not be licensed by local authorities to drive in the streets of those authorities. Though the commissioners may grant the licences, the local authorities will still retain the power to say which street shall be used and how they shall be used.
Regarding the general tendency of the Bill, if we are not careful we shall have the dead hand of vested interests, the railway companies, strangling our road traffic We have to watch that point. We must see to it that too much power is not used in the direction of strangling road traffic, which is a great public service, in the interest of the railways, which are somewhat feeling the pinch at the present time. From that aspect we must be very cautious and scrutinise points very closely when the Bill gets into Committee.
There is one point on which I wish to lay a little additional emphasis. Neither the present Minister of Transport nor the late Minister has said anything about the very important Clause, Clause 15, which deals with what is, perhaps, the greatest source of accidents on our roads. I am not satisfied that that Clause is adequate for the protection of the public. I can quite understand the Minister of Transport not wanting to touch this question, because immediately anyone touches it prejudice is aroused; but I am not looking at it with any of the prejudice of the temperance 1242 standpoint. The condition of things on our roads to-day is serious in the extreme. More than 5,000 persons are killed on our roads every year, and 150,000 are injured in road accidents, and many of those are brought about by the condition of drivers. We need to be careful to put every impediment in the way of those conditions arising. In no fewer than six cases in the last two or three years where death has resulted from motoring accidents, I have known definitely and clearly that the individual who was driving the car at the time of the accident was either drunk or very deeply under the influence of drink, and yet in not one of those cases was it possible to prove that the individual was in that state. I think none of us desires to see that state of affairs continued. I would go so far as to say that we ought to make it an offence not necessarily to be so far under the influence of drink as for it to be capable of proof demonstratively that a man either could not walk along a line or could not repeat certain words; if it were clearly proved that the man was under the influence of drink at all, the public ought to he protected from that danger. I do not wish to go into the scientific aspect of the matter, of which we hear so much, but I would like to quote a statement made by one of our Judges in summing up a case at an Assize:There would be the usual conflict of evidence regarding the two defendants, as to whether they could he described as drunk. Much time was wasted on that controversy, people overlooking the fact that a man under the influence of drink might be more likely to drive recklessly, even though he was not drunk in what was sometimes called a Police Court sense.I think that Judge fairly summed up the position, and we have a right to expect that any man driving a motor car on the public highway to-day should so control himself as to be sure that there is nothing to interfere with his nervous condition while he is at the wheel. This is too important a matter to be treated lightly. I myself drive many hundreds of miles every week, and have been doing so for perhaps the last 20 years, and I know how important it is that we should so control our appetites, if I may put it that way, as not to be a menace to the general public; and it 1243 is the business of this House to frame legislation which will help in that direction.
There is also the question of cyclists on the highway. Every motorist must realise how frequently a cyclist becomes as much a danger to himself as to the motorist who is coming up from behind. There is a law requiring cyclists to carry something of a rear light, but we all know perfectly well that many, if not the majority, of those little reflectors on the rear wheel are absolutely useless, and if it were not for the light stockings of the ladies there would be a great many more accidents than there are. It is their duty to protect not only themselves, but motorists and the general public at the same time.
The other question which I desire to raise is in regard to foot passengers. Sometimes people are extremely careless in the use of the road. I have no brief here or anywhere else for the careless motorist, and the only way in which we can arrive at a satisfactory use of our roads is that all those who use them should use common sense. I hope when we come to the Committee stage that we shall face all these points with great care, so as to put through a Bill which will be a great boon to the community as a whole.
§ Mr. HALL-CAINE
I think the majority of the Members of this House will be ready to congratulate the Minister of Transport upon having introduced a Bill which is 23 years overdue. In this country we have, I believe, the oldest motor traffic law in the world, and I think it will be fairly well agreed that there are few industries which during the last 20 years have progressed so rapidly as the motor industry. In this country we have been caught up, passed, and left behind by the motor industry of the United States of America. I think hon. Members will agree with me when I say that a certain percentage of the blame for this result must rest upon what I may call the obsolete motor traffic rules and laws of this country. It is quite obvious from the speeches which have been delivered by the Minister of Transport and the right hon. and gallant Member for New Forest and Christchurch (Colonel Ashley) that this Bill is in no 1244 sense of the word a party Measure. I think I might say that I have never before seen the Minister of Transport and the late Minister of Transport in such complete agreement, and there almost seems to be a coalition on this question between the Treasury Bench and the Front Opposition Bench. I can assure the Minister of Transport that if this is not a party Bill, at least it will have, unless I am very much mistaken, a very rough passage during the Committee stage.
There are a large number of people who, directly motor-cars are mentioned, paint a mental picture of well-to-do business men lounging back in a luxurious automobile, smoking a large cigar, or, alternatively, some young undergraduate speeding along at 80 or 90 miles an hour. I am sure hon. Members of this House will agree that this Bill affects far more the weekly wage-earner and the poor man rather than the rich man, because there are far more men earning their daily bread by driving motor cars, motor lorries, motor omnibuses, and taxicabs than there are well-to-do people driving about in motor cars. One could not represent a division like the great transport City of Liverpool without keeping well in mind that there is hardly a family in that great city of nearly 1,000,000 population which is not connected, in some way, with the motor transport industry.
This Bill is a very long one containing 103 Clauses. I shall make no attempt whatever to weary the House by speaking upon the whole of this Bill, because if I were to attempt that I should be speaking well after 11 o'clock to-night. I will, therefore, confine myself to speaking on three or four of the most important Clauses which we may find in Committee will be discussed, and to which objection will be raised. I wish to refer, in the first place, to the Clause dealing with the abolition of the speed limit for light vehicles, and then I will refer to the dangerous driving Clause and the compulsory insurance Clause. The Minister of Transport said that the primary object of this Bill was public safety; in fact, he said that was the sole consideration of this Bill. It seems to me that if public safety is the sole consideration of this Bill, it is a very curious way of going about securing public safety to take off 1245 the speed limit, and to say that half the motor vehicles in this country will be allowed to go at any speed they choose. What does that mean? It means that it will put into the mind of the motor driver that he is free to go at any speed he chooses. What did the Minister of Transport say in introducing this Measure? He said that speed was the main factor in danger —
§ Mr. HALL-CAINE
As a matter of fact, it will not alter my argument, be cause I have documentary evidence to prove that if the Minister of Transport did not say that, there are 20 or 30 Ministers of Transport of other countries in the world who do say it. Therefore, I think the majority is certainly in favour of the argument which I propose to put forward, and it cannot be claimed that in these matters we are super-human and the rest of the nations are fools. I will not be drawn off my argument by hon. Members opposite, and I will deal with France in a moment or two. I think this is a very dangerous proposal, because in this country we have the worst drivers of motor vehicles in the world. I know hon. Members opposite disagree with that statement. [Interruption.] If hon. Members wish to interrupt me, I do not object. They disagree with what I have said, but I will try to show by facts and figures that I am able to substantiate my statement.
There is no provision in this Bill to make motor driving any better than it is at the present time. Here we are with bad driving, and no provision to make it better with the exception of a Clause introduced to do away with the speed limit, so that we may possibly have more accidents in the future than we are having at the present time. If the Minister of Transport had said, "I will abolish the speed limit, but, at the same time, I will try to improve the standard of driving in this country, and therefore I propose, in order to safeguard the lives not only of the people in the motor vehicles, but particularly pedestrians on the road, to make the standard of driving better by introducing a test," that would have been a more sensible proposal. There is a driving test in force in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States of America, France, 1246 Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Rumania, Switzerland, and other countries. I know that the Royal Commission opposed the adoption of a driving test, but I am not in the least convinced by their finding, and I think if all the witnesses and all the people who gave evidence on this particular subject before the Royal Commission had had some experience of driving in 38 different countries of the world, as I have had, they would probably have changed their views about the necessity for a driving test.
I have heard some speakers in another place and the right hon. Gentleman opposite refer to driving tests, and nearly all of them have one particular country in mind, and that is France. They are always thinking of France, because it is nearest to us, and because there are certain people in this country who can test you for a driving licence in France. Those tests are made in order to ensure that the people who drive on the roads know how to drive, and are not a danger to themselves and to other motorists. I will not weary the House by giving details of all the driving tests adopted in the countries I have mentioned. I think the House will agree that some of the finest drivers in the world are to be found in Italy, where they have to pass a test, and where every applicant has to prove that he is not suffering from any physical disability which would render it dangerous for him to drive a car. There is also a test of proficiency, theoretical and practical. The practical test consists of hard driving for three hours, one hour in a thoroughfare, one hour in the country and one hour on a particularly hard and difficult road.
§ Mr. HALL-CAINE
No, I have not that particular figure, but I will give the figure for France in 1928. I myself have passed that test, as well as the test in Italy, and I should not consider the test in France anything like so severe as the test in Italy. In France, in 1928, 46.6 per cent. of the women who were submitted to this test were unable to pass. Under this Bill, the applicant for a driving licence has not, as in Italy, to 1247 prove that he is not suffering from any physical disability; he has merely to state that he is not suffering from any physical disability. He signs a form saying that he is not suffering from any of the particular diseases or complaints prescribed under the Bill. But I submit that there will be thousands of people who will sign that form and still be suffering from the disabilities stated on the form. Take the case of a man who suffers from fits. He drives along, he has a fit, knocks someone down, and possibly injures them for life. What happens'? He is brought up and charged with dangerous driving, and he is also charged with making a false declaration. That is poor consolation for—
§ Mr. HALL-CAINE
It is poor consolation for the family of the injured person, or for children whose father, perhaps, has been killed by someone who has made a false declaration. I submit that not only ought there to be a test, but that a doctor's certificate also ought to be presented before a man can get a licence. I have no sympathy with people who object to driving tests merely on the ground that they cost a lot of money, or that they would involve a great deal of administrative work. In France, where they have these tests and where the standard of driving has been made better than it is in this country, how do we find the number of accidents and the number of deaths? We find that in France, in 1928, 2,000 people were killed, while in this country, where we have no test, we find that 6,000 people were killed. Is that the way to make our roads safe? I submit to the House that that is a very good argument in favour of a driving test. The Minister may say that there are more vehicles in this country than there are in France. Let us see. Excluding motor bicycles, but including private cars, lorries, taxicabs, and so on, there is one motor vehicle to every 37 people in France, while in this country there is one to every 34. The numbers, therefore, are very nearly the same, but the difference in the deaths is as between 2,000 and 6,000.
Another argument which is put forward is that, because there are more vehicles in this country than there are in 1248 France, it would not be practicable to introduce a test, but I would ask, what about the United States of America? I think it will be agreed that in the United States of America there are just a few more cars than we have—a few million more. [An HON. MEMBERS "And more acres."] I will give the hon. Member an instance of a place where there are a few less acres. The latest figures that I have for the whole of New York State are those for 1926. They show that there were 57,000 accidents, that 2,143 people were killed, and that 67,821 were injured. The total number of automobiles in New York State in 1926 was 1,826,000, as against a total in this country, excluding motor bicycles, of 1,330,000. There were, therefore, nearly 500,000 fewer automobiles in this country than there were in New York State, and yet we find that 6,000 people were killed in this country and 2,143 in New York State, while 164,000 were injured in this country as against 67,000 in New York State. There were, therefore, 100,000 more people injured in this country than in New York State, although we have 500,000 fewer automobiles in this country. The point I am stressing is that, if this Bill is introduced, as the Minister has said, for the sake of the safety of our roads, we ought to be logical. Let us go for safety on the road, and let us see that we introduce such legislation as will make for that safety, and not legislation that will simply mean more accidents and more people killed.
With regard to New York City, I have some rather more recent figures. The hon. Member who interrupted me a moment ago, to point out that the United States has more acres than we have, will no doubt agree that the acreage of Manhattan Island is a little less than the acreage of London. Let us take the figures for Manhattan Island, New York City. The figures that I have are for January, 1929—the latest official figures issued; but I have been told unofficially that the figures are now considerably higher in New York as regards the number of motor vehicles registered. Taking the figures for January, 1929, there were 671,000 motor vehicles, excluding motor bicycles, registered in New York City—
§ Mr. HALL-CAINE
Because I want to give the benefit to this country. I am going to put all the odds against the United States, and then to show what bad drivers we are.
§ Mr. HALL-CAINE
Yes. These figures are taken from a publication of the American Chamber of Commerce, "Facts and Figures of the Automobile Industry."
§ Mr. HALL-CAINE
The World's Almanack, 1928, page 504. I was saying that in New York City last year there were 671,000 motor vehicles registered. In London there are, roughly, 200,000 motor vehicles registered, including motor bicycles, and yet we find that, in 1929, 1,282 people were killed in London, as against 1,291 in New York. There were nine more people killed in New York, but the difference in the number of vehicles was as between 200,000 and 671,000, in a much more congested area. If London ever has as many motor vehicles as New York City, the number of people killed in London will rise to 4,500 per annum. These are very alarming figures. I will give one more instance to prove that driving tests do make for the safety of the roads, for better driving, and for more proficiency in driving. Detroit, Michigan, has 392,000 motor vehicles, and the number of deaths last year in Detroit was 356. Although Detroit has nearly twice as many motor vehicles as we have in London the deaths there were 356, as against 1,282 in London.
I would ask hon. and right hon. Members whether it is possible to get away from these figures. We must face up to them. We must realise that, whether driving tests be disliked or not, we are, as I have said before, the worst drivers in the world. An hon. Member shakes his head. If he is able to prove that my figures are wrong, I shall be very pleased; if he is able to prove that driving tests have nothing to do with good driving I shall be very pleased; but I submit that the kind of test that has to be gone through in New York is such as to make for good driving. A man 1250 applies for his licence, and he is then sent on to a driving inspection school. There he goes through a test on street signs and reading, to see that his eyes are all right, that he is not shortsighted, and so on. After that, he is put through a cross-examination on the road code. If he passes all these tests, he is taken out in a car with a driving inspector sitting beside him. He drives about a mile through the streets of Manhattan, and, if any hon. Members have driven through the streets of Manhattan Island, they will know that you have to be able to drive properly in order to avoid an accident there.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Is there no provision for having these applicants examined by a couple of psychologists to see if they are of a reckless disposition?
§ Mr. HALL-CAINE
The hon. and learned Member has made a very useful suggestion, which he might put to the Minister. When the applicant goes out on this test, he drives about a mile through the streets of Manhattan Island, and is then asked to turn right and left at the direction of the examiner. Then he is told to pull up at the side of the street close to an island, and, if he pulls up directly opposite the island, or within 20 feet of it, he stands a chance of not being passed for his licence, because it is against the law to pull up a ear within 20 feet on either side of an island. Then he is watched by the inspector to see that he sounds the horn or warning signal on the car 50 yards before a crossing. He is then told to drive into a narrow street, and there he is told to back the car and to turn it round in this narrow street. If he is able to pass all these tests, and is able to drive back to the place where he started, he will in all probability be given his licence. [An HON. MEMBER: "He deserves it!"] I agree that, if a man can pass a test of this sort, he is entitled to a licence. There are 25,000,000 motor cars in the United States, and if they can do that with 25,000,000 people, or probably more, who wish to drive those cars. I submit that it can be done with a paltry number like the 2,000,000 that we have in this country. Can any reasoned argument be put up against that? Not only ought the applicant to be examined but the car itself ought to be examined. If we are going to make the roads safer we must look at all the picture. The Department 1251 of Commerce have set up a committee at Washington to examine motor vehicles, and they found on inspection of 5,000,000 cars, roughly two and a half times as many as we have, that 1,694,758 required brake adjustments, that 230,546 had defective lamps, 77,643 had defective steerings, and 200,000 more were defective in some mechanical part or other. There should be some provision in the Bill for the examining of motor vehicles. A man may have defective steering, and defective brakes and he can go on ad lib driving about the country and running people down.
I come to the dangerous driving Clause. It has been in existence for 26 years. It is an old friend which has been taken out of the 1903 Act and which has admittedly worked badly ever since cars got out of their infancy of being able to go at roughly 20 miles an hour. The Minister said he hoped the police would enforce the law with vigour, and yet he serves up a Clause 26 years old. I think it is the oldest dangerous driving Clause in Europe. It does not define dangerous driving. The hon. Gentleman might have made some effort to define it. He might at least have tried to do it and not merely lifted the 1903 Clause and put it bodily into the Bill. I would suggest that he should examine some of the dangerous driving Clauses of other countries. He might have made it a little clearer. He might have said such and such a thing will be definitely classed as dangerous driving. For instance, no vehicle should pass a stationary tramcar while people are getting on it or alighting from it. This is a by-law in certain parts of the country. Why should it not be put into the Bill? It may be said everyone knows that who drives a motor car, but it is not everyone who knows it. No vehicle should pass schools or factories while the people are coming out or going in except at the very slow speed of 12 miles an hour. No vehicle should round bends on the wrong side. That might be defined as dangerous driving. Cutting in under certain circumstances might be defined as dangerous driving. I have taken each of these things out of dangerous driving Clauses in different countries, and they are worthy of the Minister's consideration instead of taking one of the oldest dangerous driving Clauses in existence and 1252 saying, "This is good enough for England." I have a complete Clause to suggest which I hope to bring forward in Committee and which has worked well in another country in which I have driven thousands of miles.
The Bill leaves it open to anyone to accuse a driver of what in his opinion is dangerous driving. The right hon. Gentleman opposite referred to one part of the Bill which said two witnesses should be produced and to another which says one witness should be produced. I entirely agree that there ought to be two witnesses if a driver is charged. The man might be informed three weeks afterwards that he was going to be summoned for dangerous driving and he would not be able to find any witnesses. But the Bill goes from bad to worse.' A man convicted of dangerous driving must pay £50 or serve four months in prison or, on a second offence. £100 or four months. I am surprised that a Minister on these benches should have introduced a Clause like that which will affect only one type of people, namely the poor, because a rich man will be able to day the £50 or £100 and the poor man will not and he will have to go to gad. The Clause ought to be modified. Why should we lend colour to the idea that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor, and my hon. Friend is lending colour to that by introducing fines and imprisonments in this way. The point about being drunk in charge of a car is a very important one and I hope to raise it in Committee.
With regard to compulsory insurance, there is no provision if the insured person contributes to the accident by his own neglect where the conditions of the policy are violated in the use of the car at the time of the accident, where the car has been stolen, or where the accident is shown to be unavoidable. The Minister has admitted that a poor man may be prevented by an insurance company from driving. Under this Clause one of two things should happen. Either we should take the whole matter of insurance as a State obligation and nationalise it, and thereby see that there is no injustice done in the raising of the premiums, or the matter should be brought under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, so that the House can review it. I have waited for nine months to speak on this Bill, because I did not wish to 1253 occupy the time of the House on a matter to which I had not given a great deal of thought and in which I had not had some little experience. I hope hon. Members will forgive me for the extra long time I have taken on a maiden speech and will understand that I have not troubled them before. My last word is that I hope the Minister will very seriously consider these various Clauses and not try to steam roller them through the Committee but will give the most careful consideration to all points that may be raised.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Lord ERSKINE
I should like to add ray congratulations to the Minister on his very lucid speech. For modern motor transport to be running under the Highways Act of 1896 and the Motor Car Act of 1903 is really one of the reasons why there are so many accidents on our roads. I believe this Bill will go a long way to minimise the number of fatal accidents that occur. I am glad the hon. Gentleman has not held to his original intention of pushing not only this Bill but also the Instruction to the Committee through on the same evening, because it is obvious that a great deal of interest is taken in the Bill and a great many people desire to speak. I am glad we have been able to get a little more time to discuss it. This is not a party Measure. It is founded very largely or the draft Bill that was brought forward by the late Minister of Transport, although there are some slight changes. Although it is non-party, I do not think anyone, after hearing the speeches to-day, could say it is non-contentious, because it is obvious that those who will be on the Committee upstairs are going to hear prolonged arguments which will, no doubt, result in a better Bill coming back to the House. When I went away last week-end I had intended to try to get called in this Debate and, not having spoken in this House for some time, I thought I had better know a little about the subject I was to talk about, so I took away the two Reports of the Royal Commission on Road Transport, the Debates in another place on this Bill, and a great deal of the evidence given before that Commission. It was indeed a mountain of literature, and when I got half-way through I was reminded of the remark 1254 of the rather worldly writer in Ecclesiastes:Of making many books there is no end and much study is a weariness of the flesh.I desire to deal with some of the general considerations of the Bill and to leave the detailed points to the Committee stage. I would, first, like to deal with the question of the licensing of drivers. The hon. Member opposite has given us a great mass of figures from nearly every country in the world in order to prove his case. I congratulate him on the industry he has shown in collecting that large number of figures. Figures and statistics are all very well, but many different deductions can be drawn from them. One set of statisticians will draw one deduction and another set will produce a totally different result from the same set of figures. Personally, I have never been in New York, but I understand there is in that city and in the rest of the American Continent a person known as a jay walker. We do not have him here. The pedestrian in this country, and I hope he will long continue to do so—has exactly the same rights on the road as the motorist. I have been given to understand that in New York the control by the police, not only of the motor traffic, but also of the pedestrian, is extremely severe, and that may go a long way towards explaining the great difference between the number of accidents in New York and in London in spite of the difference in the number of vehicles running on the streets of the two cities.
In my view, driver's tests are no use. I read the Report of the Royal Commission in regard to these Sections, and I am bound to agree with it. I passed a driver's test myself; it is true it was a driver's test for France. Unfortunately, it is not the learner who is really dangerous on the roads. It is the man who can drive a motor car, and perhaps can drive it well, but who does not observe the rules of the road. Perhaps he always passes on bends, drives past tram-cars too fast when people are getting out, drives past schools without realising it is the time of day when the children are about to come out. No driving test, however severe, will enable you to get over that particular difficulty. For those reasons, I consider the Government are right in following the recommendations of the Royal Commission and in omitting 1255 driving tests from the Bill. I thoroughly agree with Clause 5. I believe that that declaration will be most useful. The existing state of the law to-day is ridiculous. A man may be totally blind and yet may go to the office of a local authority and by paying five shillings, although the clerk who gives him a licence knows he is blind, can get a licence and the clerk cannot refuse to give it to him.
§ Lord ERSKINE
The safeguards which have been put into the Bill are sufficient because there are a good many men today who owing to the War or to some accident lost their legs or lost one leg or one arm, yet have been for the past few years driving motor cars perfectly satisfactorily. In such a case, if the local authorities take the view that the law does not entitle the man to drive, he can ask for a driving test, and, if he does not pass it, he can go to a court of summary jurisdiction as a last resort. These declarations of physical fitness will go a long way towards removing a certain class of dangerous drivers from our roads. We want to stop people driving who are really not fit to drive. We want to stop people being in charge of a vehicle, whether public or private, who are a danger to other people on the road, and by this declaration and the punishment attached you will get on the road a lessening number of people who are dangerous to others.
Then there is the very vexed question of the speed limit. I have read the Royal Commission's Report upon that, and in my view the arguments of the Minister of Transport are perfectly correct. I do not believe that you can maintain the speed limit under present conditions. Nobody observes it, nobody believes in it, and the police are engaged in looking on at an illegal proceeding which they cannot in decency stop. I am not one of those people who believe that speed per se is really going to make for dangerous driving on our roads to-day. I would far rather rely upon the dangerous driving Clauses. In my view, on the open road, if there is nothing upon it and if there are no cross-roads or corners, speed as such to a reasonable amount is not dangerous. It depends 1256 entirely upon the nature of the car, type of brakes, the driver, and many other factors. The imposition of a rigid limit is not going to make the roads safer for pedestrians to-day, and I am glad, therefore, that the Government have decided to remove the speed limit for light cars. The hon. Member for Everton (Mr. Hall-Caine) said that he thought that of all the races in the world the English were the worst drivers. Not many of us will agree with that statement. I do not think we are worse drivers than some of the Latin races, who have the reputation of being rather reckless. I have seen on foreign roads far worse driving than I have seen here. I do not believe the retention of the speed limit will really have any effect in helping to reduce the number of accidents, and that, after all, is what we desire to do by this legislation.
Then we come to dangerous driving. The Royal Commission reported that, if you abolish the speed limit, the enforcement of the dangerous driving Clauses would be even more important than it is to-day. I thoroughly agree, and I agree, too, with my right hon. and gallant Friend when he said that he hoped an Amendment would be put in in Committee which would not allow a man to be convicted for dangerous driving on the unsupported testimony of merely one witness. The punishment for this offence is extremely serious and the unsupported testimony of one police constable in a village should not be sufficient to convict a man of dangerous driving.
§ Dr. SALTER
Would the evidence of one constable supported by the evidence of a dead pedestrian be sufficient?
§ Lord ERSKINE
I imagine that if the pedestrian was dead the man would be liable to be tried for manslaughter.
§ Lord ERSKINE
I am not a lawyer, but no doubt some of my hon. Friends who are will give the hon. Member the real state of the law on this matter when they come to speak. I would draw attention to the penalty for a first offence of dangerous driving which is four months' imprisonment or £50 fine. I suggest that imprisonment is a very heavy penalty for the first offence. Take the case of a boy of 19 or 20 who drives a newspaper van across the cross roads at a speed which 1257 two police constables think is an improper speed and who is therefore charged with dangerous driving. Although he has injured no one, he may be brought before a harsh and ferocious bench of magistrates who may sentence him for that first offence to imprisonment. That is too heavy a punishment. I am all for having imprisonment as part of the punishment for a second or a subsequent offence, but, for the first offence, when a man has done no damage to any-once, imprisonment is a vicious punishment. With regard to hours of work, it may be said that, if there were no bad employers, there would not need to be any Factory Acts. That is almost an axiom of legislation, but unfortunately there are bad employers just as there are bad people in every other class of life, and, therefore, the workman has to be protected in certain cases. I understand that Clause 19 is founded on a really deplorable case quoted in another place of a man who had driven 300 miles from Newcastle to London and who was required, because his relief did not turn up, after only three-quarters of an hour's rest, to drive back another 300 miles to Newcastle. Obviously, that sort of thing should not be allowed at all, not only from the point of view of the employé but also from the point of view of safety on the roads. I agree that some limitation is essential. Whether the actual words of the Clause are the best may be another matter, but that can be discussed in Committee. Some words of this sort are certainly necessary, and personally, I shall support them when the time comes.
Compulsory insurance is a very controversial point, and there are many arguments for and against. The arguments against are these: First, that it may create another burden on the motor industry, which is a small argument against it. A more important one, in my view, is that you are allowing a private company to say who shall drive upon the roads. The only people who should say who shall or who shall not drive a motor car on the King's highway are the Courts of this land. That is a serious objection to this form of compulsory insurance with these black lists that exist. There is not only the black list of the people who go out and smash up their car by driving dangerously, and, after smashing up several cars, are refused insurance. There is another type 1258 of black list covering the man who frequently has inexplicable fires in his garage, the man who destroys a good many cars somehow or other by fire without any damage to himself or anybody else. That really is fraud. If it can be proved, the man is liable to a very heavy penalty, but I do not know whether you should really say that, because a man is trying to defraud an insurance company, he should therefore be stopped from driving a motor car on the roads of this country.
Those are the arguments against, and I think that they are fairly strong ones, but the arguments for in my view are really even stronger. There are a great many people going about—we have not been told the number; perhaps the Minister does not know—who have got a judgment for £700 or £800 from somebody who has injured them or killed the breadwinner of the family, and because that man is a man of straw and has been quite unable to pay, they are totally deprived of any compensation whatever. That seems to be an overriding argument for some kind of compulsory insurance.
I very much regretted to hear the Minister say that he did not like the Clause with regard to hospitals. When I read the Bill, I thought that it was one of the best Clauses in the Measure. It may be that the words which are actually in mind are not the best words, but I hope that, when we go into Committee to discuss this matter, we shall be able to put a Clause into the Measure which will enable the hospitals to get money for the many cases which they treat. After all, the voluntary hospitals are supported by people in local areas, and they are intended for the treatment of people in those areas. In modern motoring, you have people coming from all over the country, and they must in common humanity take them in if they have an accident. Therefore, I think that some sort of Clause, if it is possible to put it in administratively, should be placed in the Bill in Committee.
There is only one other thing which I desire to say, and it is with regard to wire ropes. I am very glad to say that this provision about wire ropes—Clause 49—has been placed in the Bill. I have no doubt that it is founded on the very deplorable accident which occurred to an 1259 old lady and her chauffeur and her maid who happened to be my constituents. The accident happened to them last year when there was a wire rope drawn across the road. There was no sound or warning and the chauffeur did not see it. It was just as high as their heads. The car ran into it, and these three persons were instantly killed. There did not appear to be any provision whereby the man who had authorised the placing of that rope across the road could be prosecuted, and therefore the authorities prosecuted for manslaughter two wretched individuals who were under orders and were looking after that particular traffic. The jury took a merciful view, no doubt very properly, and acquitted them. This method of placing wire ropes across the road has become very common, and I have met with it a great many times. During the General Election I very nearly ran into one of these obstructions. I hope that this Clause will do something to make the roads safer. Captain Marryat—I think it was in Peter Simple—makes Mr. Chucks, who was the boatswain of one of the frigates, report to his astonished captain that the position of the main topmast of that ship was precarious and not at all permanent. That, fortunately or unfortunately, may be the position of His Majesty's Government to-day, and though I say quite frankly to hon. Members opposite that I for one would be glad to see them go to-morrow, nevertheless I hope that before they do go, this useful Bill may be placed on the Statute Book, because I believe that it will render far safer and pleasanter the highways of this kingdom for His Majesty's subjects.
§ Dr. SALTER
I had originally intended to move the rejection of this Bill, but, in view of all the circumstances, my hon. Friends and I propose to content ourselves at this stage with calling attention to certain Clauses in the Bill to which we feel a very strong objection. We, of course, welcome the Bill as a whole, and particularly such features as the limitation of the hours of work of drivers of commercial vehicles and the insistence on proper rest intervals. We are very glad indeed of the Clause which was inserted in another place at the instance of Viscount Cecil to prevent motoring on commons and village greens and so on, which is going on at the present time.
1260 The Clause relating to the abolition of the speed limit for ordinary private cars is, in our opinion, so dangerous that a considerable number of us will feel obliged to vote against the Third Reading of the Bill unless there is some modification of that Clause in the Committee stage or on the Report stage. Up to the present, I have heard scarcely a word about the terrible toll of human life which is going on at the present time on the roads. Certainly, neither the Minister of Transport nor the ex-Minister said a word about that particular subject. It is that attitude to the Bill, as far as it makes for or against greater safety of life on roads, with which my hon. Friends and I are mainly concerned to-night. At present, it is more hazardous to journey on the high roads in Great Britain than it is to travel anywhere in the world either by rail or by aeroplane or by sea. It is not only dangerous to walk on the roads or to cross the roads to-day; it has even become dangerous to walk upon the footpath, as I shall show in a few minutes.
§ Dr. SALTER
When railways were first introduced it was said that the railway would annihilate space. To-day, it is the motor car which is annihilating human beings. We have a large number of voluntary bodies in this country, the Pedestrians' Association, National Cyclists' Union, the Cyclists' Touring Club, the Federation of Rambling Clubs, the Holiday Fellowship Union and a number of local authorities who are today clamouring for protection from the ordinary motor car. The fact has been referred to incidentally that last year in this country some 6,000 people lost their lives through the impact of motors. The figures for 1929 have not yet been published, but I imagine, from all the information which has been published in the Press up to the present time, that in all probability the number will exceed 7,000, and the total number of injured will certainly exceed 170,000. I want to point out, as tar as injured people are concerned, that a very large proportion are suffering from more or less serious concussion it is estimated that 20,000 people, owing to motor accidents, suffer each year from more or less severe concussion. One of the after consequences 1261 of concussion, unfortunately, very frequently, is permanent impairment of the mental faculties. To me this is one of the gravest aspects of the whole of the problem of injury on the road. It is the growing up of an army of people who are, I will not say mentally deficient, but whose mental faculties have been considerably deteriorated so that they are never the same people again as a result of accident and have more or less, to depend on their friends or relatives or the community afterwards for their livelihood. The problem is not a small one. It is a problem which is mounting by hundreds of thousands, and it is one which is almost as grave as the total loss of life which is going on.
I want to call attention to the fact that at the present time the number of deaths in this country from motor accidents is greater than from almost any other single cause arising from negligence. The Minister of Health and the local authorities of the country are spending money at the present time in order to prevent deaths from infectious diseases the number of people killed on the road last year was greater than the total number of people who lost their lives from all the notifiable infectious diseases put together, including scarlet fever, diphtheria, small-pox, typhoid fever, encephalitis, poliomyelitis and puerperal fever. Not only that but we have the Minister of Health and the local authorities being urged and spurred to greater effort to spend more and more money for the prevention of maternal mortality. More than twice as many people were killed on the roads last year as perished in childbirth. My hon. Friends who represent the organised workpeople of this country are naturally and rightly very concerned about the accidents which take place in the factories and workshops in the country. As a matter of fact, again, more people are killed on the roads than are killed at their places of occupation and work throughout the whole of the land. We have a most elaborate system of inspection and injury prevention work in factories and so on. It seems to me that it is about time that this House really applied itself to the problem of saving human life on the roads.
Our fear is that, if the speed limit is abolished, the number of fatalities will go up by leaps and bounds. There are 1262 many of us here who believe that there will be practically a 50 per cent. increase if the speed limit is abolished. The numbers at the present moment, under the existing law and as things are to-day, are increasing to such an extent that within four or five years we shall have 10,000 a year killed and a quarter of a million injured. If our fears are justified with regard to the increased loss of life which will take place as a result of the abolition of the speed limit, a very terrible responsibility will rest upon my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Transport and upon Members of this House. In this great holocaust which goes on to-day, it is the pedestrian who comes off worst every time. More than two-thirds of the people who were killed in London last year, namely, 833 out of 1,237, were pedestrians, and only 264 were occupants of vehicles, the balance being almost entirely pedal cyclists who were run down by vehicles.
The serious thing from our point of view is that deaths are increasing by 15 percent. each year, though the increase in the total number of motor vehicles is barely 7 per cent. That seems to indicate certainly that there is either growing recklessness or some comparable cause which is leading to this increased number of deaths. I cannot understand the callousness and the indifference on this matter which is really exhibited by a great many Members of this House. During the last few days while the Bill has been in prospect we have been having discussions in the smoke room and the tea rooms and elsewhere, and again and again I have heard members of all parties say, "Well, what about it? Supposing these people are killed, why do not they get out of the way?" That is the usual retort. If 7,000 people were killed on the railways every year by accidents, this House would very soon intervene and take steps to prevent a recurrence of that sort of thing. If a medical man introduced some new vaccine which led to 7,000 deaths in one year, very prompt measures would be introduced to put a stop to his activities. Here we have the number of deaths increasing, and steps are being taken which in our view will lead to a further increase.
I would ask the House to contemplate what is happening to-day in regard to speed. There is a 20 miles speed limit 1263 of which no account is taken by anybody at the present time. The other day I saw a full page and a half-page advertisement in the "Times" and other newspapers offering for sale cars guaranteed to do 50, 55 and up to 65 miles per hour. A few days ago in the "Evening Standard" there was a half-page advertisement offering a car for £595, with a guaranteed speed of 85 miles per hour. In the "Daily Mail" a few days ago there was a whole page advertisement recommending for sale a car which was guaranteed to do 95 miles per hour, while another car of the same make, it was stated, had beaten the Blue Train in a race from the Mediterranean to Calais.
In a paper known as the "Autocar," on the 31st January, there was a report, which reveals a scandalous state of things, of a gathering of a number of cars for what was called the Monte Carlo Rally. They came from all parts of the kingdom and assembled at Folkestone, and we were informed, and this is apparently an official report, that many of them came across England at 90 miles an hour, that a number of accidents occurred on the route and that on one particular car, when some damage resulted, the brakes were uncoupled and discarded as being useless. Then, it is stated, "the driver came through London regardless of checks," and a member of the "Autocar" staff, who was seated in the car, stated that he was in fear and trembling the whole time, because the speed attained was 95 miles per hour. I would ask the House and I would ask the Minister of Transport whether that kind of thing is to be tolerated.
§ Mr. HERBERT MORRISON
My answer is, that I am not going to do that. All this stream of grievances is happening under the 20 miles legal speed.
§ Dr. SALTER
To deal with these things the Minister proposes to re-enact a Clause which is not put into operation at the present time, and which the Minister has no guarantee will be put into operation in the future. If people buy cars guaranteed to do 90 or 95 miles per hour they do not buy them except with the intention of using them. They do not use them on racing tracks, because they are not built for that purpose; they intend to use them on the roads of 1264 this country and they are using them on the roads of this country at the present time. In the future, if there is to be no speed limit, the man who has purchased one of these super-powered cars will run it, irrespective of the results, unless the law steps in and takes very effective measures to prevent him. I fail to see anything in the Bill which is going to deal with this evil. The dangerous driving Clause will be as ineffective in the future as it has been in the past. From questions which I have put to the Home Secretary, it has been revealed that scarcely ever are prosecutions for dangerous driving undertaken by the police unless and until there has been a grave accident. The prosecution is after the event. Up to now the penalty has been quite insufficient to deter the offenders from subsequent offences.
The motoring papers are looking forward to the day when the normal cars—these are the exact words—will be able to do 100 miles per hour. The present tendency of the motor body builders is to design cars for speed, and a speed very much greater than that which obtains at the present time. Everyone must have seen in the daily and evening newspapers those exceedingly clever rhyming phrases relating to certain kinds of petrol spirit, where the motorist is encouraged to believe that if he will only use that particular spirit he will be able, these are the exact words, "to make her go like the wind." Humorous pictures are inserted, indicating to the motorist that if he uses this particular petrol he will be able to travel so rapidly that he will become invisible in a second or two. All these advertisements are incitements to lawlessness and recklessness. I have heard nothing from the Minister to show that he deprecates the present lawlessness. I have a very shrewd suspicion that he is guilty of some recklessness himself.
There is a great deal of talk about speed not being dangerous on clear roads. I have heard the Minister say that everything must depend upon circumstances. I want to know where these clear roads are. There may be a few moorland roads in the extreme north or in Scotland or, possibly, in Devonshire, but except for those remote districts the clear road, in the motoring sense, does not exist in this country, whatever may be the case 1265 abroad. Several Members of this House said to me last evening that motorists had no right to go as fast as they very often do in London and in crowded urban district", but that it was all right on the country roads. It is exactly on the country roads outside the crowded areas where the greatest number of fatalities are occurring. That stands out as the most remarkable circumstance. I have a letter from a correspondent, a well-known man, who lives near Bromley, in Kent, and he says:Living close to the Bromley Road, as I do, which is practically the first stretch of clear road after the London congestion has been passed, it is a positive adventure to cross the road now, for the motorists let her go as fast as they think fit, and there is an average of about two a week killed in this three-mile stretch of clear road.I have taken steps to verify these facts, and it is the case that there are two people a week being killed on that three to four miles stretch of open road just outside the county of London.
§ Dr. SALTER
Mostly pedestrians. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is there a footpath along the road?"] Yes, there is a footpath, but these fatal accidents are caused to pedestrians in their endeavours to cross the road. Obviously, they must cross the road. On wide roads at the present time, where you have four or six lines of traffic, it becomes a positive adventure to attempt to cross the main arterial roads leading in and out of London. In the "Spectator," a few weeks ago, there was a leaderette drawing attention to the growing number of casualties in the outer parts of London and in suburban and rural areas, and stating that 65 per cent. of the victims of automobile accidents in these areas are found to be pedestrians. In remote rural areas the position is becoming almost intolerable for the villagers. People are almost afraid to put their noses outside their own doors for fear of being run down, and mothers are afraid to let their children venture to school because they never know whether they will see them alive again.
There was a letter by a well-known publicist in the Press a few weeks ago in which he stated that he was doing a walking tour in a remote country area, and came to a little village where there 1266 was a war memorial in the centre of the village green. On the war memorial were the names of six men who had given their lives in the Great War. While he was standing there a villager came up and entered into conversation with him, and, pointing to the six names on the memorial, he said: "Those are the names of the six people we lost in the War, but we are losing six people every year through motor accidents in this village." While that may be an exceptional circumstance for one small village, there is hardly a village in the land that does not mourn someone dead as a result of a pedestrian being run down in the village street by passing motorists.
I cannot understand the Minister's theory of the psychological effect of the speed limit. He suggests that the motorist thinks that he is at all times safe so long as he does not exceed the limit. On the contrary, I feel that to abolish the speed limit will have the psychological effect of suggesting to the motorist that he can almost go as fast as he likes, and that it is the duty of the pedestrian and everyone else to cleat-out of his way. Accidents are due to many causes. They may be due to careless pedestrians, to drunken drivers, to incompetent drivers, to a defective car, and sometimes they may be due to unavoidable causes. In our view, the high and growing percentage of fatalities is due to excessive speed. I should like to summarise the 10 reasons why I hold that opinion. In the first place, I have here a page from a picture paper showing the Birmingham Corporation yard, with an enormous heap of broken lamp-posts piled up in the yard. The letterpress under the picture says:Collection of lamp posts, broken by motor vehicles in Birmingham,and goes on to state that the weekly average of crushed lamp-posts is about 20. It is no good accusing the lampposts of jazz walking or suddenly stepping into the road in the way of the motorist. In Bermondsey we have planted some 10,000 trees in the streets, and every year 600 are knocked down by motor cars. When I made this statement my right hon. Friend doubted its accuracy and took some pains to make inquiries from the local borough council. I have the exact details of every tree destroyed in Bermondsey. We have made observations as to why they were 1267 knocked down, and we found that it was due to vehicles mounting the pavement. In practically every case this was owing to the excessive speed. Being obliged to apply the brakes suddenly in order to prevent a catastrophe, they mounted the pavement and knocked down the trees.
§ Dr. SALTER
I am talking about my own borough of Bermondsey. I have witnessed three of these accidents, and in every case the destruction was wrought by private cars not by omnibuses or lorries. In almost every case where evidence is obtainable it has been found that the damage is the consequence of excessive speed. My second reason is that the percentage of fatal to non-fatal accidents is double in the country to what it is in the towns. Motoring on what is called the open road is now becoming increasingly dangerous, and that can only be due to one reason; the increase in speed. I take that statement from the Home Office Report of 1929 in regard to 12 towns in England compared with the counties. More fatal accidents occur on wide straight roads, or uncongested roads, where cars have a clear run and where the driver accordingly increases his speed. In this connection I call attention to the increasingly heavy death roll on the London and Southend arterial road, on the Great North Road and on the Great West Road. Clearly the increase in the number of accidents can only be due to the fact of speed. My third reason is that the number of accidents in London and the big centres is not increasing in proportion to the number of accidents in the country generally. As the congestion in London and the big towns and cities becomes greater so, necessarily, the average pace of vehicles is reduced, and consequently the death rate goes down. The converse is also true. My fourth reason. The figures of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company of the United States of America show that—Excessive speed was found to be the principal cause of road accidents throughout the United States.I was present at a traffic conference summoned by the Minister of Transport a little while back and held in a hall not far from this building. The representative 1268 of the London Coroners' Association definitely stated that in their view the majority of the fatal accidents into which they held inquests were caused by the excessive speed on the part of the cars concerned. My fifth reason is that private cars and light motors are responsible for most of the deaths, and that the number of the deaths is out of proportion to their numbers in relation to other kinds of cars. Again, I suggest that it is because they travel faster. My sixth reason—this is a simple physical fact—that the greater the speed, the greater the momentum of the car, and, therefore, the greater the difficulty in stopping or pulling up within short distances. My seventh point is this. If a pedestrian is looking straight at an oncoming car it is almost impossible for him to gauge whether it is coming at 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60 miles an hour, and of course the higher the speed the greater is the risk of the pedestrian misjudging when he attempts to cross the road. However cautious and careful he may be an error of that sort on his part is inevitable.
My eighth reason is this The Pedestrians' Association has had this particular point tested by careful experiments, and it takes an ordinary pedestrian 20 to 25 seconds to cross a road 50 or 60 feet wide. It takes longer, of course, for elderly and infirm people, and women with children and perambulators, or for any person carrying a package. If a car is going at 50 miles an hour, which is apparently the pace favoured by many hon. Members, that car in 25 seconds will travel over one-third of a mile. The pedestrian, therefore, has to estimate if he is to cross safely when that car is one-third of a mile away, and if he attempts to cross when it is less than that distance then, obviously, he runs a grave risk. The crossing of these wide main roads, with four and six lines of traffic going at 50 miles an hour, becomes a positively dangerous feat. On the great main roads leading out of London to the South Coast resorts, particularly the road leading to Tankerton, on Saturdays and Sunday evening? it is practically impossible for a pedestrian to get across without waiting for a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes. Last summer I was walking in Kent on a Sunday evening and I came upon a man with his wife and family on the roadside. He 1269 told me that he had been waiting 55 minutes to cross the road. I had to wait for another quarter of an hour or 20 minutes before I was able finally to dive across, and when I got to the other side I saw the man and his wife and family still waiting for a break in the traffic in order to cross the road.
§ Dr. SALTER
The hon. Member knows perfectly well that these cars returning from and going to the South Coast do not travel at 20 miles an hour but at 50 miles an hour, and sometimes more. Sometimes it is possible for a pedestrian to indicate that he wants to cross the road and to induce the car on the near side to slow down, but when that occurs, and there are four cars in line all going at 50 miles an hour, it only means that the people on the off-side begin to cut in and get ahead of the car on the near side, and by so doing the pedestrian is in danger of being knocked down.
§ Sir B. CHADWICK
If that is the case with a speed limit of 20 miles per hour, how are you going to remove that, difficulty by putting in a speed limit of 40 miles per hour? How will that give the pedestrian a better chance.
§ Dr. SALTER
My ninth reason: In the Royal Commission's statement in Table D by far the largest item in the cause of accidents attributable to the driver is under the head "travelling at excessive speed having regard to all the circumstances." Thirty-seven per cent. of the road accidents in 1928 were officially described as due to excessive speed. The number of accidents due to this cause has largely increased between 1926 and 192S. That is obviously due to the fact that cars of a new make are being put upon the road which are guaranteed to do these high speeds. My tenth reason: I make this suggestion very seriously to the Minister of Transport and to the House. There is something about speed which goes to the head almost like champagne. There is the exhilaration of rushing along at 60 and 70 miles an hour. The sense of power 1270 which the driver possesses, the sense that he has a swift, smooth-running car, docile to his will and under his hand, creates a kind of hypnotism in which he disregards everything in the world except to get ahead. If all speed limits were abolished for private cars there are hundreds and thousands of drivers who will give way quite unreservedly to this kind of intoxication, but a knowledge that it is unlawful will have a restraining influence on some, and a knowledge that it is punishable will probably have greater influence still on many others. It is absolutely essential that the law should put a proper restraint on people of that type.
My last point is that practically all the disinterested experts are in favour of a retention of a speed limit. The evidence tendered to the Royal Commission and to the Ministry has been mostly from highly interested parties. The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, a large number of chief constables of our big towns, the London County Council, the Tramways Committee of the London County Council, the Conference of Metropolitan Magistrates and the Magistrates Association, the London Coroners' Association, and the Conference recently summoned by the Minister of Transport on 14th January have all decided in favour of a retention of a speed limit. The conference of local authorities and interested parties, road users, the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Association, and every conceivable body including very numerous organisations that are pecuniarily interested in motor traffic, by 72 to 40 decided in favour of a retention of a speed limit for London. I do not know why the Minister of Transport called that conference together unless he is going to take some notice of its decision. After that another vote was taken on the retention of the speed limit in Greater London. Among others present were the representatives of all the great urban districts on the fringe of London. When the vote was taken the numbers were not counted, but there was a show of hands, and, as far as I could see, practically the whole of the representatives present voted in favour of the retention of the speed limit.
1271 It is not right for this House to disregard the view of people so intimately concerned with the question. It is sometimes urged, and the Minister has urged, that it is very difficult to administer a speed limit law. I suggest that it is easier to administer such a law than it is to administer a law relating to dangerous driving, because in the case of dangerous driving the decision is based on matters of opinion, whereas the question of speed is a matter of fact. What is more, no action has been taken up to the present time, except in a negligible number of cases, until after someone has been killed or some serious accident has taken place. In practice almost all the dangerous driving prosecutions are brought after accidents have occurred.
The argument that drivers will drive up to the limit, if there is a limit, is not valid, because a speed limit will be in addition to and not in substitution of the dangerous driving Clause. Legislation is urgently needed to make it plain to the motorist that he has no exclusive use of the highway, and that everyone is not required to jump and scurry off the road to get out of his way. We do not wish for extreme measures. Our only desire is to help the ordinary citizen, particularly the aged and infirm and the children, and to protect them from the peril of excessive speed which, in our opinion makes a motor car a dangerous and lethal weapon, now more deadly than any plague or pestilence with which the country has been confronted.
§ Mr. LLEWELLYN-JONES
It must be a satisfaction to those of us who have followed the Debate that so much attention has been paid to the question of speed on the roads. The Bill covers a very large number of matters connected with road traffic, but it is perfectly clear from the Debate that what has interested the House to the greatest extent is the question of the maintenance and improvement of the safety of the road. It has fallen to my lot, practically during the whole period that motor cars have been on the roads, to be called upon as His Majesty's coroner for a Welsh county to investigate a very large number, and, I regret to say, an increasing number, of fatal accidents. My appointment to that office practically dated from the time when cars first came on the road. At first 1272 the accidents were few, but year by year there has been an increase in the accidents arising from motor traffic. There is no doubt about the great alarm amongst the people of the country as to the situation at the moment.
I would like to refer to some of the points that have been raised in the Debate, and to indicate my experience in connection with them. First, there is the question of drivers' tests. There may be some advantages in having a test for drivers, but on the whole I say that, at any rate so far as fatal accidents are concerned, there is nothing to indicate that the greater number of accidents, or even a large proportion of them, are due to inexperienced drivers. At every inquiry I have held I have invariably asked the driver of the motor vehicle concerned for the production of his licence. I have asked him the length of time he has driven a car, and in the great majority of cases the accidents have occurred in the case of vehicles that have been driven by a man of long experience. It is a very rare thing to find a novice involved in an accident, except in those cases where the novice himself is the victim of the accident.
§ Mr. LLEWELLYN-JONES
It would be very difficult to produce them at the moment, but I am absolutely certain that in 75 or 80 per cent. of those cases the man was a man of long experience. Next there is the question of the speed limit. Before I came to the House this afternoon I attended a meeting of the Council of the Coroners' Society. There was a large attendance, and the question of the speed limit was discussed at length. One of the members present, a coroner who was formerly one of the Members for Portsmouth in this House, expressed himself very forcibly, from his experience, that the rate of speed was a factor in a very large number of the fatal accidents that he had investigated. So far as statistics are concerned, for the past three years attempts have been made to inquire into the causes of fatal accidents that take place during the summer months. From an analysis which has been made of a return furnished by 250 coroners in the country I find that excessive speed, having regard to all the 1273 circumstances, in 1926 accounted for 10.0 percent. of the fatal cases; in 1927 it accounted for 12.9 per cent.; and in 1928 it accounted for 15.1 per cent.
Having regard to the experience which His Majesty's coroners have had, there need be no surprise that the body which is entitled to speak on behalf of these officials came this afternoon to the unanimous decision that the speed limit should not be abolished. Figures prove that speed is one of the main factors in fatal and other accidents. Anyone who has followed the reports either of inquest or of Police Court proceedings must have realised that the learned advocates who appear for persons involved in a charge of driving to the danger of the public, are almost invariably concerned to prove that the rate of speed was as low as possible. Curiously enough, some years ago I was engaged in a County Court the Judge of which was formerly a Member of this House. A witness came forward, and in reply to his advocate said, "I was driving somewhere between nine and 12 miles an hour." "Ah," replied the Judge, "the most dangerous speed on the road. Most of the accidents which come into Court are cases where the speed is said to have been from nine to 12 miles an hour." My point is that that is an indication that the motorist, when he is in trouble, realises that the speed at which he was driving is a material factor. It is the important factor at the critical moment.
Take another point. Anyone who has followed the proceedings either at Coroners' Courts or before the justices will have noted what importance is attached to the extent that a vehicle has travelled after an impact. That is an indication of the speed at which the car was travelling before the impact took place. I appreciate the fact that there are roads, and that in future there will probably be more roads constructed, upon which it is not necessary to have any speed limit whatever. That is quite conceivable. We may have great arterial roads between our great cities, and that these will not call for any speed limit. What I suggest is that, having regard to the safety of all the users of the road at the present time, no case has been made out for doing away entirely with the speed limit. Raise it if you wish to 35 or 40 miles an hour. Give the 1274 Ministry power, in suitable cases, either to lower the limit—it certainly ought to be lowered in a large number of towns and villages in all parts of the country—or, if they think fit, after careful investigation to increase the limit, or even abolish it in regard to many of the larger and more important arterial roads which have been constructed or are in course of construction.
Clause 19 endeavours to prevent the drivers of public vehicles being engaged for too long periods. With a view to protecting the public against the risks which arise in cases where drivers of motor vehicles are suffering from excessive fatigue the Clause enacts that no driver of a public service vehicle or heavy motor shall be employed for any continuous period of more than five and a-half hours or for continuous periods amounting in the aggregate to more than 11 hours in any period of 29 hours. I assure the House that as far as the safety of the public is concerned—and I am not looking at the matter from any other point of view—it is essential in the interests of the other users of the road to have such a provision. Only a few weeks ago I had occasion to inquire into a case in which I found that a driver had started out from the garage at 7 o'clock in the morning and had been engaged, practically without interruption, for 12 hours, the only break being a few minutes for a midday meal. This man ran down a pedestrian. He did not see the pedestrian because the windscreen of the vehicle was not clear, but I had not the slightest doubt, on the evidence, that his neglect to observe the precautions which he ought to have observed, was due to fatigue.
In a number of country districts the drivers of public motor vehicles are engaged particularly on Saturdays, from early in the morning until late at night without intermission. It is not fair to those who travel by these vehicles, and it is not fair to the general public who use the roads, that this practice should be tolerated and I am only sorry that the Minister of Transport has not suggested that the Clause should again take the form in which it was presented to the House of Lords when it referred to a continuous period of five hours or to continuous periods amounting in the aggregate to 10 hours. I am quite certain that a continuous period of five hours or a 1275 total of 10 hours in the 24, is enough for drivers of heavy vehicles and public service vehicles.
Clause 23 deals with inquiries. I feel certain that nothing would be so productive of good as a public inquiry in the case of many of the accidents which occur nowadays. In a great many of these cases the police make full investigation, but it may be found that there has been no criminal neglect, that no driving to the danger of the public has resulted in the accident, and it would be a distinct advantage to have a public inquiry into many of these accidents. There are many factors to be considered in connection with accidents of this class, and I venture the suggestion that in any case where two persons are fatally injured as the result of an accident the Ministry should be represented at the inquest by an inspector. Hon. Members opposite who are associated with trade unions know the great assistance given by mines inspectors and factory inspectors at inquests in investigating fatal accidents at collieries or in factories. The attendance at an inquest in connection with any road accident which resulted, at any rate, in two deaths of an inspector possessed of technical knowledge would enable the inquiry to be conducted with a thoroughness which is not always possible at present.
I now come to the Clauses which relate to compulsory insurance. Whatever difficulties there may be in connection with the compulsory insurance of the owners and users of motor vehicles, it will be agreed that unless something is done in this connection we shall continue throughout the country a state of affairs which means gross injustice and hardship to many people who have themselves been injured or have suffered the loss of relatives through road accidents. I take it that Clause 35 as it stands does not go any further than to cover the common law liability of the owner or driver of the car. The common law liability in this connection, unfortunately, is in some respects rather limited. Let me mention a case which recently came to my knowledge. There was a collision between a motorist and a motor cyclist. There was no doubt whatever that the motorist was at fault. The motor cyclist consulted me, and I made a claim against the motorist. 1276 The responsibility for the accident was clear, but, unfortunately, the motorist died before the matter was settled. It will be seen that the common law liability in that case had practically gone. There was no liability whatever on the estate of the deceased motorist to pay the injured motor cyclist.
I trust that this Clause can be amended so as to make it cover a case of that kind. It is obviously unfair that if anything happens to the person responsible for the accident, before the matter is settled, his estate should not be liable. Fortunately in the particular case to which I refer the injuries were not very serious, but similar circumstances might arise in connection with a very substantial claim. Again it would be obviously unfair if an insurance company were called upon to pay a claim where a person's motor car had been taken away without his knowledge or authority. Take also the case of the owner of a motor car who sends his servant or agent with it, to undertake a particular transaction, and the servant or agent while in control of the car but without notifying his employer and without any authority from his employer goes on his own business. I am disposed to think that in a large number of such cases there would be no legal liability on the employer. Those are cases which, I think the House will agree, ought if possible to be embraced in the policy of insurance. They are not likely to be numerous cases, but at the same time they are cases where great hardship occurs and where something should be done so that the person who has sustained damage should be able to get some compensation. The next point is on Clause 44, dealing with the highway code. It states:The Minister shall …. prepare a code (in this Section referred to as the 'highway code') comprising such directions as appear to him to he proper for the guidance of persons using roads.I trust that when this code is prepared, it will be a code for the guidance not only of motorists and drivers of motor vehicles, but of cyclists and pedestrians. I am rather disposed to think that in many of the accidents where pedestrians are injured or killed there is a certain amount of blame attributable to the pedestrians themselves. If the pedestrian were always to walk facing the driver, so that he would see the oncoming traffic, it would be very much safer.
1277 This is a simple precaution which might be incorporated in the code. I would suggest that instead of the code being sold at a price not exceeding one penny per copy, every motor driver, upon applying for a driver's licence, should be handed a copy of the code and told how important it was that he should make himself acquainted with it. I am certain that if this were done, many of the accidents which occur could be obviated.
There is another point to which I would like to refer, and that is on Clause 55, dealing with footpaths. This Clause states:It is hereby declared to be the duty of a highway authority to provide wherever they shall deem it necessary or desirable for the safety or accommodation of foot passengers proper and sufficient footpaths by the side of roads under their control.I am rather sorry that the Minister should not have drafted a Clause very much stronger than that. It is a Clause without any sanctions whatever; it is simply a declaration of a duty which everyone to-day knows is incumbent upon a local authority, and I should certainly think that we might go a great deal further in connection with this matter. One knows what the common law is in connection with the non-repair of footpaths and roads, that the local authority is not liable for accidents due to their non-repair. The decision of the Courts, given at a time when highway law first came before them, may have been quite a sound one, but I am sure hon. Members will realise that to-day, with the large amount of traffic on the roads and the entirely different kind of traffic dangers to which pedestrians are exposed, local authorities ought not to be allowed to ride away from their liability in respect to accidents because they have not kept a road in repair.
With regard to footpaths, local authorities in all parts of the country have not done for the footpaths what they have done for the macadamised parts of the roads. Some few weeks ago I put a question to the Minister of Transport, asking whether he would consider the propriety of attaching a condition to all grants to local authorities in respect of new roads, and that was that a suitable footpath of equally good character with the surface of the road should be placed by the local authority on the side of the road. Pedestrians are entitled to very 1278 much better treatment at the hands of local authorities and of the Ministry of Transport than they have hitherto received. It is all very well for motorists and others to say it is pedestrians' own fault if they do not walk on the footpath. How can you expect them to walk upon a footpath if it is kept in a condition which is very much worse than the road over which the motorists travel? I trust that the time is not far distant when it will become, not merely a declaration in this form, but an absolute statutory duty incumbent on a local authority, before the local authority is entitled to receive a penny grant from the Ministry of Transport, to provide proper footpaths and to keep them in a reasonable state of repair.
I refer to these points because they are points to which I think further consideration might be given in Committee. I must say that, on the whole, I feel, with those who have spoken before me, that the Bill is a comprehensive Bill, covering a very large number of aspects of road traffic. It is practically a code for the users of the roads and for the local authorities which are concerned with the maintenance of the roads, and I feel quite certain that when this Bill gets on to the Statute Book, modified and amended in certain directions, it will be of immense benefit to the people of this country.
§ Sir GERVAIS RENTOUL
As there are many hon. Members who still desire to address the House, I shall not trespass on the time of the House for more than a few minutes, because whatever our views may be with regard to the speed limit, I feel certain that there must be many hon. Members on all sides of the House who share my desire that there might be some limit that could be rigorously enforced with regard to the length of speeches, and never has the need for that, I would suggest, been move exemplified than in the course of this discussion to-day. I am sorry that the Minister of Transport is not in his place, because I should like to have added one more -bouquet to the many which he has received during the course of the Debate for the lucidity and comprehensiveness of his speech. We all know that it is by no means an easy matter to outline to the House a Bill containing 106 Clauses in the concise way which he did, and I congratulate him upon it. I think 1279 he is also to be congratulated on finding himself in the fortunate position of introducing a Bill which cuts clean across the ordinary party divisions; and, therefore, he will be spared those irritating secret conferences which we understand have taken place between a colleague of his and hon. Members below the Gangway in regard to another Measure that is before the House.
This Bill, as we know, is largely the same Bill that was prepared under the instructions of the late Minister of Transport, except for a portion of Part IV and for Part V as originally drafted. Therefore, I think the Minister can hardly be surprised if he finds that it is to those particular parts that some of us on this side take the greatest amount of exception. A good deal of the discussion today has concentrated upon the question of the speed limit. The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) made a very gloomy speech against the abolition of the limit, and, after listening to his remarks, I have a shrewd suspicion that he would really like to abolish the motor car altogether. His arguments in favour of the retention of the speed limit left me entirely unconvinced. We all recognise the appalling total of casualties that take place on the roads at the present time, but they all take place while we nominally have a speed limit in force, and I fail to recognise that any evidence has yet been forthcoming to show that that appalling total would be in any way increased by the suggested abolition of the speed limit. I see no evidence, either in the speeches that have been delivered this afternoon, or in the Report of the Royal Commission, to support such a view.
There are other features of this Bill which require very careful examination. Many of them, it is true, can best be dealt with during the Committee stage, and I do not propose to refer to them at this juncture, but there are others which undoubtedly raise broad and important questions of principle. We must examine this Bill from the point of view of the liberty of the subject, for I am a little apprehensive as to the number of new offences under the law which are created by it, I have not added them up, but I would make bold to suggest that at least 20 to 30 new offences are created 1280 by this Bill which are not known to the law at the present time. Where that is the position, it is the obligation of this House to scrutinise the proposals with the utmost care. I wish to call attention to the Title of the Bill, which is described as a Road Traffic Bill "to make provision for the regulation of traffic on roads." If that be so, I ask the learned Attorney-General to explain why this Bill is not drafted in a manner to carry out the Title, and why it does not affect all traffic on the roads instead of being strictly confined to motor traffic. It is not a Road Traffic Bill, but a Motor Traffic Bill, and we should be told why this limited view has been taken. Particularly do I say that when I study the schedule of accidents on the roads, which is printed at the end of the first Report of the Royal Commission.
In 1928, according to the figures given there, no less than 29,683 of the accidents on the roads in this country were caused by non-mechanical vehicles or by pedestrians. One-eighth of the whole of the fatal accidents and one-quarter of the non-fatal accidents were due to non-mechanical vehicles or to pedestrians. If we look at this matter from the point of view of pedestrians alone, in whom, quite rightly, the hon. Member for Bermondsey takes such a keen interest, 23 per cent. of the total accidents are found to be due to the fault of pedestrians. Surely these figures bring us to the conclusion that there is a case for suggesting that some control is needed, not merely in regard to mechanical vehicles, but in regard to horse-drawn vehicles and pedestrians. This is to some extent recognised by the fact that in Clause 42 the Minister is empowered to issue a Highway Code. In the Report of the Royal Commission suggestions are put forward as to the kind of matters that should be dealt with in that Code, and pedestrians are specifically included.
If this is to be a co-ordinating and consolidating Bill, as the Minister assured us was his intention, I suggest that its scope should be wider in order accurately to fulfil its Title. There are many Clauses in the Bill in which it is essential that other forms of traffic should be included. Why should Clauses 11 and 12, with regard to dangerous and careless driving, and Clause 14, with regard to the penalties to be inflicted on 1281 a driver who is incapacitated through drunkenness, be restricted to the driving of motor vehicles'? Why should not the drivers of horse-drawn vehicles, who may happen to be intoxicated, and who may cause an accident equally as bad as a motor accident, be subject to similar penalties? I strongly approve and support what I conceive to be the four main provisions of this Bill. I strongly support the abolition of the speed limit, because everyone realises that it is not obeyed to-day by any single motorist who goes on the road. I venture to say that there is no motorist who drives regularly on the road who never exceeds the legal speed limit under any circumstances. It is suggested that if the speed limit were abolished for small motor vehicles, it should be retained for commercial vehicles. We should be interested to hear from the Government whether they have any suggestions to put before the House as to the manner in which that speed limit for commercial vehicles can be enforced. One of the arguments in favour of the abolition of the speed limit is that it is impossible to enforce it. If it be impossible to enforce it for ordinary motor car traffic, how do the Government suggest that it can be enforced for heavier vehicles? I would like to call the attention of the Government, incidentally, to the excessive number of speed limits of different kinds which are contained in the Bill, even though, broadly speaking, they have abolished the speed limit. In different provisions there are speed limits of 30, 20, 16, 8, 5 and 3 miles per hour. I also strongly support the proposals for restrictions on the age of drivers and for a declaration of physical fitness, third-party insurance and a reduction in the number of licensing authorities and the setting up of traffic commissioners.
To return for a moment to the number of new offences created by this Bill, I suggest that this question will need careful scrutiny, particularly when we come to Clauses 11 and 12, which deal with dangerous driving and the altogether new offence which is described as "careless driving." May I call attention to the wording of Clause 12?If any person drives a motor vehicle on a road without due care and attention.Surely if any person drives a motor car on a road without due care and attention he is guilty of dangerous driving?
§ Sir G. RENTOUL
Of course, it will be a matter for interpretation by the Court as to what is meant by "due care and attention." I imagine that due care would be the proper and due care which in the view of the Court ought to be exercised under all circumstances, and if it found that a person has driven a car without due care and attention, I suggest that he ought to be convicted of the offence of dangerous driving. Then the Clause goes on to say,or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road.I suggest that those words are far too wide. They are words which are practically incapable of proper interpretation. They leave far too much to the discretion of the individual magistrate before whom the case will come. Whilst on this point it is interesting to note that the Royal Commission, which went very carefully into the whole matter, and heard evidence with regard to it, took exactly the same view. On page 12 of their report they say:The Ministry proposed in the draft Bill that a legal distinction should be drawn between dangerous and careless driving, the penalty for the latter offence being smaller and not involving the suspension of the licence. We cannot understand the object of this, nor how any real distinction can be drawn between the two. How are the police to discriminate between 'dangerous' and 'careless' driving? We believe it would be impracticable. Moreover, careless driving can only be held to be an offence if it has resulted in danger and if it did this it would clearly be dangerous driving. We feel that if this proposal becomes law it would have the effect of rendering nugatory the severe penalties which can be imposed for dangerous driving. We think this proposal should be deleted from the Bill.That was the view of the Royal Commission, and it is the view which I, for one, strongly support. It was suggested that the justification for this new offence of "careless driving" was the necessity for some alternative to the severe penalties under Clause 11 for dangerous driving. That brings me to suggest that the penalties for dangerous driving, particularly on a first offence, are for too severe. I do not like to see imprisonment laid down 1283 as a penalty for a first offence, and there should be some loophole with respect to that, although I should be very sorry to minimise the gravity which rightly ought to be attached to the serious offence of dangerous driving. To make careless driving a separate offence is certainly not enough.
I must say a word on Clause 28, which I do not think has been referred to, and in which I take a sort of paternal interest, because it is a Clause which, to put it shortly, prevents "joy riding," prevents vehicles being taken without the owner's consent or authority. At an early stage of this Session I introduced a very good Bill in order to deal with this specific matter. The Home Secretary felt that it was of such importance that he stymied me, if I may use that expression, by introducing a Bill of his own, though it was nothing like such a good Bill as mine, and now I find that a further stymie has been laid by this Bill, which apparently blocks both mine and the Home Secretary's. I would ask the learned Attorney-General whether he can also make it an instruction to the Committee that they should consider my Bill as well as the Omnibuses Bill, when the matter reaches Committee. [Interruption.] I am told that no such instruction is needed, and that makes me happy.
Clause 44 gives power to issue a highway code. My hon. Friend the late Minister of Transport has already called attention to Sub-section (4) of that Clause, but the matter is of such gravity that it ought to be emphasised. The House, I am sure, would be interested to hear the opinion of the learned Attorney-General on this Sub-section. I respectfully suggest that it alters the ordinary common law with regard to contributory negligence. Here is a code which is not to have the force of law and is issued merely, we are told, for the guidance of traffic on the road; and yet the infringement of any provision in this code—and what it contains may vary very much from time to time—is to be taken into account in any proceedings, either civil or criminal, in order to negative or establish liability. I cannot help feeling that that is a very grave extension of the law.
1284 We understand that Part V is to be reinserted in the Bill. Many of us take the very strongest objection to that Part, but I do not want to take up time by dealing with it. There are many other points which will have to be considered in Committee, and I will not waste time by even referring to them now. The Minister said he was very gratified by the reception given to this Bill, and I hope he will give sympathetic consideration to any Amendments we desire to bring forward. As the late Minister of Transport said, they will be submitted not for the purposes of obstruction but solely with the desire to try to improve the Bill, so that on this Bill at all events, if on no other, we may respond to the invitation issued to us some time ago by the Prime Minister to approach all these matters not as differing parties but in the spirit of a council of State. Subject to the remarks I have made, I would like to support the Second Reading of the Bill, and to offer my congratulations to the Minister on having introduced it.
§ Mr. ARNOTT
I have listened with some attention to the case which hon. Members have tried to make out for the retention of the speed limit. We have had speeches advocating the extension of the speed limit. It has also been said that speed is a big factor in accidents, and that is obviously true. If we had no speed there would be no accidents, because two motor cars standing still could not injure anybody, and obviously speed must be an important factor in accidents. It is also obviously true that it is much more difficult to pull up a car running at 50 miles an hour than one running at 20 miles an hour. No one disputes that. But it is necessary in order to make out a case for increasing the speed limit to prove that the person who habitually drives a car at 60 miles an hour is less likely to cause an accident than the person who travels at 30 miles an hour. There has not been the slightest attempt to prove that during this Debate. It used to be held that persons who rode bicycles at 15 miles an hour were a danger to the public. Riders of bicycles who were summoned for riding at 15 miles, an hour never attempted to defend themselves, because they were rather proud of travelling at that rate and they usually paid up. 1285 Nevertheless, it was held that 15 miles an hour was far too dangerous for bicycles to be allowed to run on the public road.
We have a speed limit for motor cars at the present time, but we are told that nobody observes it. It is rather a remarkable thing that it seems to be accepted by everyone that a speed of 20 miles an hour for a motor car is much too low, but no one has suggested what the maximum speed limit should be. The Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) referred to motor cars running more than 50 miles an hour on the road from London to Brighton. We have some important main roads in Yorkshire and one running to Blackpool, but I am not aware that the cars on those roads run at 50 miles an hour. I never go 50 miles an hour on my ramshackle car, and even when I go at lower speeds up to 30 miles an hour every other car passes me. Driving at 40 miles, I pass most of the other cars. My experience is that the average speed of these cars is about 32 or 33 miles an hour. I am not convinced that a person who travels at 33 miles an hour is a safer driver and causes fewer accidents even than the highly skilled professional driver who drives at 40 or 50 miles an hour and slows down to 10 miles an hour when he comes to a corner. What you should aim to secure is to reduce the speed under certain dangerous conditions, but you must do it in such a way that it will not be ridiculous when you come to a congested thoroughfare. I confess that I do not know how that object is going to be accomplished. I think the proposals of the Bill are satisfactory if it can be shown that there is a reasonable prospect of a maximum speed of 30 miles an hour reducing the number of accidents. I think every Member of this House would be ready to vote for a proposal of that description.
Although we have in this House a great number of hon. Members who are very much in favour of individual liberty and who have some regard for the right of localities, we have not heard much about the proposal to create 12 areas and to establish a licensing body consisting of three commissioners charged with the duty of issuing licences, and that is a very serious limitation of the powers. The amazing 1286 thing is that no central local authority has protested against that provision. I would like hon. Members to give some consideration to this point, because it is rather remarkable. I mentioned in the discussion a week ago on Friday our experience with regard to the tramways and omnibuses and the powers enjoyed by some local authorities. The city of Leeds, for example, although it is restricted as regards the running of omnibuses outside its own area, can run as many omnibuses as it likes inside its area without any licence at all. Under this Bill, the city of Leeds will lose that power when the Bill becomes law, and that city will be unable to run a single omnibus, either inside or outside its own boundary, without the sanction of the official appointed by the Ministry of Transport. I do not think that any member of either the Leeds City Council, the Manchester City Council, the Hull City Council, or any municipal body throughout the country will complain about that, for the simple reason that the preference which they were alleged to have over other competitors is an illusion.
The cities that have been running these undertakings have not been specially favoured by the licensing authorities, even their own licensing authorities. There is often a good deal of rivalry between the committee of a council that is responsible for licensing and the committee that is responsible for operating, and there is even a greater rivalry—one might sometimes put it as high as hostility—between the local authorities outside who, under present conditions, grant the licences and the local authorities that are responsible for running the vehicles. I think, therefore, that local authorities, on the whole, will welcome the opportunity of putting their case fully before an impartial tribunal without being accused of trying to get a biased judgment in their favour.
Another thing which is even more important with regard to licensing is that for the first time, as the Minister pointed out, we shall have one authority planning out the country as a whole. Co-ordination, instead of being based on a number of authorities, will be carried out on a national scale, and it will be possible in the near future to link up the railway system with systems of omnibuses throughout the country, and to get a really national system and save a great 1287 deal of waste. That, after, all, is the biggest thing in the whole Bill. All the other proposals group round this proposal as to licensing, and, in addition' to its effect upon traffic, I think it will have a very beneficial effect in another direction—it will check the growth of vested interests in transport, which at the present time threatens to become quite as big a problem in the future as the licensing problem in regard to intoxicating liquors. I hope, therefore, that the Bill will have a good passage through this House on the occasion of its Second Reading, and that it will come back to the House, not exactly as it exists now, but in an even better form than that in which it was introduced in the House of Lords. I would point out that the local authorities, who have yielded up freely their present local rights of issuing licences, have yielded them up in the anticipation that they will be able to come before this tribunal and ask for powers on the same basis as other bodies, and I hope that provisions to that effect will be incorporated in the Bill before it becomes law. In that event, I am certain that it will put transport in this country into a much more efficient state than ever before.
§ Mr. ROY BIRD
Many speakers in this Debate have addressed themselves freely to the Bill with the exception of Part II, and I am desirous for a few moments—because I think it is fair that in a Debate of this character a Member should only speak for a short time, and not, as some hon. Members have done, for as long as three-quarters of an hour, when the time at our disposal is so short and so many Members want to speak—of drawing attention to one or two points with regard to Part II of the Bill. I have to approach it in two different capacities. I approach it as a solicitor, and I approach it as a director of an insurance company.
As a solicitor, I say frankly that I welcome compulsory insurance, because in my professional capacity I have come across many instances where, owing to there being no insurance, and owing to the person responsible for the accident having no money of his own, the parties injured or their dependants have found it impossible to recover any money on account of the accident. One can imagine 1288 no more pathetic case than one in which the breadwinner of a family, who is quite innocent, is taken from them through the negligent driving of a motor car owner, and in which the solicitor who has to deal with the matter finds that there is no insurance and that the driver of the car himself has no money. In my experience as a solicitor, I have come across many cases of that kind, not only connected with the driving of motor cars, but connected also with the driving or riding of bicycles and the driving of horsed vehicles, and I personally should have liked to see some provision in the Bill dealing, not merely with motor cars, but with bicycles and horsed vehicles as well. Here I speak as a solicitor, and I am bound to agree with the Minister of Transport when he said that, although he saw many difficulties in the way of compulsory insurance, yet, on balance, he thought that it was a provision which ought to go into the Bill, and he was going to try it.
There are several provisions in Part II which need very careful consideration, and I should like to mention, as a director of an insurance company, that the Minister of Transport, while thanking various bodies and various Members who had helped him with his Bill, omitted, I am sure quite unintentionally, to refer to the insurance companies, who, as I am sure he would be the first to acknowledge, have given him every assistance in drafting the provisions of this Bill and have given him the benefit of their experience. Sub-section (2) of Clause 36 deals with payments to hospitals. Everyone will acknowledge that hospitals do a wonderful service to the community, and that their subscription list at times is very small, but it is not a fair provision to put into this Bill that insurance companies, without extra premium, should pay up to £25 to a hospital provided that they have to pay anything on the policy. As I dare say most hon. Members know, there are thousands of claims during the course of the year in regard to which the insurance companies say that there is no liability upon them, but the conditions of the insured may be hard and there may be certain circumstances which touch the heart even of a corporation. It may be that they think that, if they fight an action and win it, the other side may not be able to pay the costs. It may be for that reason, and not only because they 1289 have a kind heart, that they make an ex gratia payment. Under this Sub-section, however, once they make an ex gratia payment to the insured, they are also liable to pay up to £25 to the hospital. I was pleased to hear the Minister of Transport say that he did not think that this was a provision which ought to be in the Bill, and that the Government did not feel that they could support it in the House of Lords; and I am certain that, when the Bill gets before a Committee and when this Clause is considered carefully, hon. Members who are serving on the Committee will come to the conclusion that it is not a proper provision to be in the Bill.
There is another provision to which I would like to draw the particular attention of the Attorney-General. I think it is a good provision, although probably it is not quite clear to hon. Members. I am not sure that it is clear to me, and I should like to have the Attorney-General's assistance in regard to it. It is in Sub-section (4) of Clause 35. I hope that it is intended to cover a case of the following description. I was interested professionally in a case in which a man had been injured, and my clients were a company who were not in a very good financial position. They had debentures, and they had a policy of insurance which included a limitation of the insurance company's liability in respect of any one accident to £2,000. The accident was a very bad one, and the insurance company, having looked into it, said that, they thought that the damages would be far more than £2,000, but that, that being the limit of their liability, they were prepared to pay that amount; and, without prejudice, as the lawyers say, that was the amount which was offered to the other side. They turned the offer down, and the insurance company went to the insured and said, "We have done our best to settle at the limit of our liability; here is the £2,000; take it and fight the action yourself." The £2,000 was paid over, and the action went on. Eventually, overtures were made to the man who had been injured, and the position was put to him that the insurance company had paid the £2,000, but that there were debentures on the company, and, if he went on, while he would probably get a verdict, the debenture holders would put in a receiver. That man was persuaded to take £1,000, so 1290 that the company which had actually insured the man made a profit on the transaction. If I am correct in my reading, that is the type of case that Clause 36 (4), which seems rather involved, is intended to cover.Notwithstanding anything in any enactment, a person issuing a policy of insurance under this section shall be liable to indemnify the persons or classes of persons specified in the policy in respect of any liability which the policy purports to cover in the case of those persons or classes of persons.I take it that if there was a bankruptcy or liquidation, the insurance company that had issued the policy would be liable to pay the injured party. I hope the Attorney-General will explain the Subsection, because it does not seem to me to be very clear what type of case it is intended to cover.
Having been lucky enough to get in and say one or two words, I should like, as a director of an insurance company, to say that we do not think compulsory insurance is a good thing for this country. The insurance companies are desirous of assisting and making the Bill a success, but there is no guarantee that the Bill, if passed into law, will not result in increases in premiums, as the Minister said. The insurance companies have given a promise that they will not increase the insurance premiums simply because of this Bill. At present, it is not given in evidence as a rule that an insurance company is behind the defendant in an action for personal injury. If the jury get the idea that an insurance company is behind him, the damages invariably go up. At present, it is only a question of conjecture; there is no certainty. But after the Bill is passed every juryman will know that an insurance company is behind the defendant and the jury will say to themselves, "After all, though the defendant is a poor man, he has not got to pay. It is the insurance company," and they will give excessive damages. Although insurance companies do not want to put up premiums, if their experience of the Bill, if it becomes an Act, is that it costs them more—and the profits on this class of insurance are very small; in many cases almost a minus quantity—the premium is bound to go up. I am glad to have had an opportunity as a solicitor of saying, on the one hand, that I think compulsory insurance is a good thing and will remove many injustices 1291 that exist at present, but, on the other hand, as an insurance director, I am bound to say that I feel it is not a good thing for the country, though the companies will do their best to help the Minister.
§ Sir W. BRASS
I have been rather interested in motoring affairs ever since I have been a Member of this august assembly. I have sat through the Debate and I was especially interested in the Minister's speech. I have seldom heard a better exposition of a Bill, and I am sure everyone will congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the very lucid way in which he expounded its provisions. We heard a rather interesting speech from the hon. Member for Everton (Mr. Hall-Caine), who asserted that the drivers of this country were the worst in the world. A few remarks in that speech might show the House that, as far as the hon. Member himself was concerned, it was not correct. He said that he had driven in 38 countries, and I presume he had passed the necessary tests to enable him to do so. I do not think it was a very good argument for tests as a means for avoiding negligent driving when we find that, I think it was last week, the hon. Member, who apparently has been driving in 38 countries and passed their tests, was himself fined £7 for driving negligently in London. It seems to me that is a complete answer to his whole argument. I welcome many things in the Bill and I particularly welcome the fact that we have abolished the speed limit. I have always contended, and shall continue to contend, that speed in itself is not essentially dangerous. It is only dangerous in certain localities. It does not matter really at what speed one travels on the open road when there is no one there. The only danger then is to oneself. Clause 11 says:If any person drives a motor vehicle on a road recklessly, or at a speed or in a manner which is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, including the nature, condition, and use of the road, and the amount of traffic which is actually at the time, or which might reasonably be expected to be, on the road.I think that is far too wide. What is a speed that is assumed to be dangerous? The penalties for dangerous driving in this Bill are very much greater than in the old Act from which this is taken, and 1292 I think this Clause, with its very severe penalties, will lead to the old police trap being operated once again. To illustrate what I mean, I want to quote Mr. Mead in the case concerning the hon. Member for Everton (Mr. Hall-Caine). It was a question of driving negligently, and the hon. Member for Everton pointed out that he had never been accused previously of driving negligently but that he had been fined for exceeding the limit. Mr. Mead, who is a very experienced magistrate, made; this remark:But exceeding the speed limit is dangerous driving.That is the point which I want to make. In the opinion of some magistrates, merely exceeding the limit or driving at a fast speed is actually driving dangerously. If we are going to increase the penalties under this Bill, surely we want to make it quite clear that we do not want anybody who is merely driving at a certain speed to be prosecuted for driving to the public danger, and as a result of that to be sent to prison for possibly four months.
If we pass this Bill as it is drafted at the present time, quite a few of the Members of this House may quite easily find themselves absent for a few months, including even myself and possibly some hon. Members on the other side of the House who happen to have motor cars. That is one point which I wanted to bring to the attention of the House, because I think it is an important one.
There is another point about the Bill which is a very good one indeed, and that is the Clause which deals with the prosecution for dangerous parking. There is a Clause about the parking of motor vehicles which provides that anybody who parks in a dangerous place is to be summoned and can be prosecuted. I think that is certainly a very excellent Clause. I have often driven round corners and found the cars parked at the corner or parked at the top of a donkey-back bridge where one cannot see over the top. That is the sort of thing which ought to be altered if we are really going to do what we want to do, which is to try to make the roads safer than they are at the present moment.
There was one thing which the hon. Member for Everton said with which I do agree, and with which I think quite a large number of hon. Members do not 1293 agree. I do think some sort of test ought to be made before a man is allowed to have a driving licence. The tests are very severe in the United States and in quite a number of other countries. I do not agree that the result is that we are the worst drivers in the world, but I do think that we might possibly have a test, for instance, by giving a man or woman a temporary licence for three months as they do in the United States. They are allowed to have a temporary licence for that period, and they are only allowed to drive on condition that a driver is with them who has a permanent licence, and who has passed all the tests. At the end of that time, they go through the necessary tests and they are passed. I do not think that is at all an impracticable proposition. It is one which could be quite easily brought about in this country and it would reassure the public. The public do feel that it is rather a farce that anybody can go to a local council and can ask for a licence and receive one on payment of 5s., whether they can drive or not.
Personally, I am very much in favour of a test of some sort. If we could not have a test of the actual ability to drive, I would make this suggestion, that before the granting of a licence, the applicant should have to pass an oral examination as to the rules of the road. The applicant could be asked what he would do under certain conditions—what he would do if he wanted to turn to the right; the answer would be that he would put out his hand. Then he could be asked what he would do if he wanted to stop on a corner, and the answer would be that he should never stop on a corner. Questions like that could be put so that by the time the applicant had passed that examination he would have some idea of the rules of the road. It would not be a difficult test anyway, or nearly so difficult or expensive as a real driving test.
There are only one or two other remarks I wish to make, because I know a large number of other Members wish to speak. There is one point which was made by the late Minister of Transport, namely, the question of the production of a licence. Under the Bill, apparently, a licence has to be produced at the time, as under the present law, but, if a licence is not produced—either the licence to drive or the permit as far as insurance is concerned—then the individual has to go 1294 within five days to the police station in the area where he was stopped. It is a very difficult thing possibly, if you are touring about the country and have to go back say 100 or 200 miles to give your licence in to the particular police station which was nearest to the place where you were stopped. I think one might just as well wash that particular part out of the Bill and allow the driver to send his licence to the police station.
There is a Clause on the point of the endorsement of licences which is interesting, and which I think is the same as the law stands to-day. I would ask the attention of the Minister to this particular point, because I think it is important, in this Bill, if a man has had an endorsement of his licence and has been a good boy for a period of three years, at the end of that period the endorsement is removed. I believe that is the present law. Assuming that the endorsement has been removed from a licence because the driver has not had any conviction for three years, I want to know whether, if a man is summoned after the endorsement has been moved, the old convictions are going to be brought up against him just as if they were endorsed on his licence, because it seems to me it is quite useless to take away the endorsement if they are going to be recorded and brought up in Court against the individual.
I make this point, because it was put to me in my constituency not very long ago by a man who was summoned and who had a clean licence and whose livelihood was earned by driving a trade vehicle. He said, "I have a clean licence, and yet, when I was brought up in the Court, all my previous convictions, which had been absolutely washed off because my endorsements had been removed, were brought up against me." I do think, if we are going to say in this Bill that at the end of three years of good behaviour the endorsements are to be washed out, that all these convictions should be washed out at the same time. I myself, as a matter of fact have driven far 25 years. I might have had quite a lot of convictions, and endorsements. As a matter of fact, I have a clean licence, and the reason for that is because I have been a good boy for three years. I only mention it because it is really a serious point, especially for 1295 people who earn their livelihood by driving cars.
There is one other point to which I should like to refer, and that is the suggestion concerning paths on the main roads. I think that it is an excellent suggestion. It is most important that we should have good paths on our main roads. I think also that pedestrians, in this code, or whatever it is going to be called, should be advised (1) to walk on the path, and (2), if they are not walking on the path they should walk, not on the left of the road with their backs to the traffic but on the right of the road. It would be very much better if they walked on the left of the path, because when they walked out on to the road they would meet the traffic instead of having their backs to it. When the hon. Gentleman is dealing with this code for pedestrians, I hope that he will consider the advisability of suggesting that when persons are walking on ordinary roads they shall be asked to walk on the right of the road, so as to meet the approaching traffic instead of walking with their backs to the traffic, as is the practice at the present time. I think that the adoption of that suggestion would obviate a large number of accidents.
As to the question of the crossing of roads, I do not know whether hon. Members are aware of the fact, but in Paris a pedestrian has a special place allotted to him for crossing some of the big main roads. It is a sort of path laid out with metal studs. These paths save a great number of accidents. The reason is, that the driver who happens to be involved in an accident on one of these pedestrian paths across the highway is perforce guilty at once, without any question. He is to blame if he happens to knock anybody down or touch anybody on these pedestrians' paths. If the pedestrian walks across the road at any point where these paths do not exist it may be that he is to blame. The Minister of Transport might consider the possibility of starting that sort of thing in London. It would help very considerably, and would save a great number of accidents which take place at crossings at the present time. I think that this Bill is a good Bill. It ought to have been introduced many years ago; at 1296 the same time, we are very glad to receive it now. It will require Amendment, but when it is passed it will help very materially to the safety not only of the pedestrians but of the motorists and everybody else in the country.
§ Mr. TINKER
I am glad to have an opportunity of saying a few words on this Bill, and I want to follow primarily the remarks which were made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Skipton (Mr. Bird) who defended and tried to protect the insurance companies because he told us he was a director of one of them. I am going to speak of the insurance companies under this Bill, with the object of trying to protect the motorists and get a little more out of them. With regard to the question of the hospitals, the hon. Member did not like the idea of the insurance companies having to pay anything for the treatment of patients who could make claims in respect of accidents. In this Bill the amount is given as £25. The amount should not be limited to £25. Whatever might be the actual cost to the infirmary or hospital, they should be entitled to receive such amount before any money was paid to the patient at all. The first cost should apply to the hospitals, because they have to look after the patients. I hope that the Attorney-General, when he comes to reply, will state that he will try to strengthen the Bill in this respect.
The second point upon which I want to touch has reference to the amount of premium. The Minister of Transport told us that the insurance companies had come to an understanding with him not to charge more than they were charging at the present time. This matter is, therefore, left open. I would call the attention of the Minister of Transport to the agreement which was arrived at with the insurance companies with reference to the Workmen's Compensation Acts. I should like him to take note of this, because I think that more protection should be given to the motorists. There can be no question at all that later on the insurance companies will use the full weight of their power in order to try and get all they can out of the motorists. Motorists will have to be compulsorily insured, and the insurance companies will be able to do this when the motorists become insured. This agreement reads as follows: 1297It should be noted that in the case of the companies belonging to the Accident Offices' Association (which includes almost all the big Accident Insurance Companies) the proportion of income to be allocated to payment of compensation is subject to the operation of the formal arrangement which was negotiated in 1923 between the Home Office and the Accident Offices' Association for the purpose of limiting the charges to employers in respect of employers' liability insurance.Under this insurance they have to pay 62½ per cent. of their premiums as direct compensation, leaving 37½ per cent. by way of expenses. That is the agreement which has been arrived at. I hope that the Attorney-General will try to get an understanding with the insurance companies so that they will not be allowed to take more than that amount out of the premiums. If we can get such an understanding, the motorists will, in some ways, be protected.
I take strong exception to this Bill, because it removes the speed limit in certain cases. The question which I want to put to the promoters of the Bill is: Why should they take off the speed limit from some vehicles and keep it on in respect of other vehicles? If it is necessary in one case, surely it is necessary in the other? I think there are 15 speed limits contained in this Bill covering different kinds of vehicles, yet there is one class of vehicle, that is, the privately-owned car, which is not to have any speed limit. I am very fond of walking, and I have cause for a grievance against the motorists. I also claim to walk on the better part of the roadway, and the better part of the roadway is where the motor vehicles run. There has been some talk about the footpaths being repaired, but one knows very well that that is a difficult proposition. Take the ordinary roads. There has been a frost during the night. The sun shines on the footpath and the path becomes "cut-up." Who is going to walk on the footpath when there is a good road where the vehicles run? With the present legal speed, you have a chance of getting out of the way, but if we are to have a speed of 50, 60 or 70 miles, such as this Bill will allow, what chance has an ordinary mortal like myself of getting out of the way? I want to have that opportunity, and I am speaking for a good number of people who like walking.
1298 I feel very strongly in regard to this matter, and I trust that the Attorney-General and the Minister of Transport will recognise that on this side of the House there is a strong feeling of resentment against the taking away of the speed limit for certain vehicles. I am not going so far as to say that I shall vote against my party, if they stick to this proposal, because I am a loyal supporter of it, and I will go a long way before I will go into the Lobby against them; but I hope that they will take note of a loyal supporter, and try to put in a speed limit. We have been asked what the speed limit might be. I would suggest 35 miles per hour. That is five miles higher than other vehicles are allowed. If the Government would agree to that suggestion, they would get the unanimous assent of the House of Commons.
The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has given us some very interesting views on the subject of pedestrians. I, also, am very fond of walking, but not wishing to lose my life it is not my habit to walk in the road when there is a footway provided. I will return to that point later. It is obvious that in the discussion upon this Bill we do not proceed on ordinary party lines. I think it is true to say that, on the whole, the Bill is welcomed, but it is a very complicated Measure, containing over 100 Clauses, and it seems to me that the absence of organised opposition which, in the case of a Bill which is opposed, finds out the weak spots, makes it the more necessary for us to give appropriate consideration to this Bill.
While I make no complaint of the fact that we are disposing of this Bill in one single sitting, so far as the Second Reading is concerned, because the Government have met us to some extent by agreeing to allow the very important Instruction to the Committee which they propose to move on Thursday, to be discussed on another day, still, speaking as one who has been for a long time in this House, and as one of its oldest Members, I would point out the great change that has come over our procedure in the last 20 years, and even in the last 10 years. A Bill of this magnitude, although no party issues are involved, which has so many points of conflict, apart from party controversy, as evidenced by the last speech, would in the old days have been considered one of the principle Measures 1299 of the Session, whereas on this occasion it is considered feasible to take it in a single sitting, and then to send it to a Committee upstairs. The fact that it is going to a Committee upstairs, makes it the more important for us to raise on the occasion of the Second Beading many points which occur to us and which ordinarily would be better dealt with in Committee. I would ask the Attorney-General, if he would be good enough to do so, to answer several points which I wish to put to him, and which have also been put in the Debate by my hon. Friends behind me. My task is made the easier by the fact of there being no party question at issue. It will probably be easier for the Attorney-General to choose the points which seem to him to be important and to leave the lesser important points. It is the habit of a Government on Party issues, to choose the least important points that have been made in the Debate, and to ignore those that are important. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, with his legal acumen, will be able to choose those points which he thinks are important.
It is clear that this Bill makes fundamental changes in the law regarding the use of self-propelled vehicles. It is obvious that those changes are necessary, because the alterations in conditions since the law of 1903 was established are profound. What is the situation? We have one of the densest populations in the world in these islands, and we have few very straight, wide roads, compared with Continental countries, whilst the number of vehicles is high in proportion to the population, compared with continental centres. Admittedly, the problem with which we are concerned in considering this matter is the usage of the road, the best use to which the road can be put, the manner in which this Act will affect the future of road development in this country, and how, having regard to our physical and geographical conditions, we can use the roads with the maximum of comfort and efficiency for economic ends, with the minimum of risk and disturbance to natural amenities. Obviously that is a problem not only of motor vehicles but of other classes of traffic, including pedestrians.
I wish to make a point on the question of pedestrians. I differ from those who 1300 have spoken on the other side, as do most of my hon. Friends on this side, in thinking that the pedestrians have not obligations as well as rights At the risk of repetition, I would point, out that we have these densely-populated islands, and we have roads which, owing to the geographical and physical conditions of these islands and our past history, are not as straight as the roads in many continental countries. We have very congested areas, and it is obvious that in order that motor traffic and all traffic may proceed with the maximum of efficiency—I am not talking of speed but of the maximum of efficiency—all users of the roads must do their part in trying to bring about that ideal.
Except in Clause 44, no code is laid down for pedestrians either in regard to their rights or obligations. Under Clause 44 I hope that the Minister will, when he obtains the power that the Bill will give him of preparing what is described in the Clause as a highway code, consider laying down regulations for pedestrians. I understood from what he said, in reply to an interruption, that he would consider the question of the existing code of custom in regard to pedestrians as to whether they should keep to the footpaths and walk on the right side of those footpaths. I would ask him whether he will not consider going a step further. I know of the difficulty there is in imposing by Statute regulations for the use of roads by pedestrians in this country, although it has been done in America. In most of the States of the Union it is an offence for pedestrians in large towns to cross the road except at certain points, and in some States in certain congested traffic areas it is an offence to cross the road without the permission of the police. This is an important point because there are many congested areas, from a traffic point of view, in this country, If we spent the whole of one year's interest on our War Debt it would still be almost impossible to get rid of the areas which from a traffic point of view are congested. Is it therefore unreasonable in such areas to say that pedestrians shall keep on the pavements which are provided for their use, and that they shall cross the road only when the traffic is held up by the police instead of darting through it.
1301 10.0 p.m.
Hon. Members opposite rather assume that this is a matter which only affects the rich and private motorist. Surely, we have all seen the man who is a comparatively inexperienced driver but otherwise a good one driving a heavy lorry through the streets of London. In passing I should like to say that there is no class of His Majesty's subjects whose skill and courtesy I admire more than the ordinary omnibus driver in the streets of London. They are the one set of drivers in London who seem to me to always observe the courtesy of the road. Everyone knows that it is difficult to drive these heavy sweeping vehicles through the traffic, and that when the police signals the traffic to advance some half witted person chooses to rush across the road. Think of the anxiety of omnibus drivers and lorry drivers at every hour of the day caused through the utter carelessness and lack of thought on the part of pedestrians. Too much regard has been shown in this Debate to the rights of the pedestrians. I am all against their being run down and jeopardised by cars using the roads for speed purposes, but in congested areas, with great heavy lorries and omnibuses about, pedestrians should use reasonable care in the use of the road. In the United States people must not attempt to cross the road except by the aid of the police, otherwise they are committing an offence, and in Paris the police can turn people back who attempt to cross the road when the traffic is not held up. It would be, perhaps, difficult and unpopular to put this into' an Act of Parliament. The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) talked about the terrible toll of life taken by motor vehicles, and in doing so he was rather unfair from the point of view of the drivers of motor vehicles, and he totally failed to mention the important evidence which comes from more than one official source of the number of accidents caused by the heedlessness of pedestrians. I do not ask the Attorney-General to give me any definite assurance on this point when he replies, but I hope the Minister will consider, when the Bill becomes law and he is issuing instructions for the guidance of the users of the highway under Clause 44, laying down some stringent code for pedestrians. I rather regret that the Bill omits to deal with 1302 tramcars and trolley cars. To some extent this spoils its symmetry. I know the difficulties. I know that the late Minister of Transport would probably not have included it. I know there are great difficulties from the point of view of political pressure. A large number of municipalities own tramways, and for some reason or other they are regarded in a peculiar degree as being an assistance to the poor man. I think the omnibus is of much greater assistance to the poor man, and looking at it from the point of view of efficiency, which is the only point of view from which this question should be regarded, then the least efficient things on our roads are tramways. If you could scrap the tramways to-morrow without doing injury to the money invested and the people who are employed and start afresh nobody would lay a single line of new tramways. Every traffic expert will tell you that. It is a pity they are excluded from the Bill, for they should be subject to the same pains and penalties to which other users of the roads are liable.
I come to the question of the speed limit. I sincerely hope that the Minister and the Government will stand firm against the desire of some of their supporters to see a speed limit for light motor vehicles put in the Bill. Let me pay the Minister a compliment. Nobody pretends that the abolition of a speed' limit is going to gain him votes. Probably it will not be popular at first but from the point of view of the right usage of the roads it should be done. It should be abolished and no sensible or reasonable person can really have any doubt about it. What is the situation to-day? The Minister was not exaggerating when he said that the 20 mile speed limit imposed on motor vehicles is a law which nobody obeys. Judges, magistrates, police, all sections of the public, who own, drive or use a motor vehicle, break it every day. The police themselves break it. I saw the other day a statement in the newspapers referring to a police ear owned by the Metropolitan police which was not only capable of doing 100 miles an hour but had actually done 90 or 95 miles an hour in London. There is no droit administritif for the police in this respect. If they drive a car over 20 miles an hour in pursuit of a murderer or burglar they are breaking 1303 the law and the common informer, if he chooses to bring a case and get evidence against them, can obtain a conviction. It certainly is so. [Interruption.] The police have no more right than anyone else to drive a police car at over 20 miles an hour.
I appreciate the joke, but if the hon. Member thinks that burglars are quite as green as that he cannot have had much experience of burglars. In connection with that matter I would refer to Sub-section (4) of Clause 10, which gives to motor vehicles used for ambulance or police purposes certain rights, and gives the Minister power to vary the ordinary regulations. In so far as police vehicles are concerned this provision ought to be confined to their use for police purposes. It would be very undesirable for the police to have any rights other than those possessed by the ordinary driver, except for police purposes. But let me turn to the speed limit, which some hon. Gentlemen opposite desire. We all know the enthusiasm for a cause, and the sincerity with which he puts his point of view, of the hon. Member for Bermondsey. He is anxious to see not only a speed limit retained, but to see it lowered to 10 or 15 miles an hour.
Then let us consider the matter again. I say that nothing could be worse than the present almost universal defiance of what, after all, is an important law. It is antagonistic to the general tendencies of the British character to disobey the law. The speed limit has created an entirely new class of offence; it has brought before the Courts of the country people 1304 who in the ordinary way never break the law; it has choked the Courts with these cases to the detriment of the ordinary business. To those who say that the remedy is to enforce the law, there is a very simple answer, and it was given today by the Minister, though none of the hon. Gentlemen who sat behind him may have noticed it. The answer is that if you were really to enforce the law relating to the 20 miles an hour limit you would reduce the traffic in every urban centre to complete and absolute chaos. If the hon. Member for Bermondsey doubts my word, let him go to any street in London to-day, say Piccadilly, not when the traffic is actually blocked, but at other times, and let him take between stated points what is the pace of different motor vehicles. He will find that they all exceed 20 miles an hour. He will find also that the police themselves very frequently, when trying to deal with a traffic tangle, encourage motor drivers to exceed the 20 miles an hour. That is the answer.
There is another thing. It has been said that a speed limit is some sort of guarantee of safety. How can it be a guarantee of safety? Why is it that we have in this country, as has been stated already, such a very high percentage of road accidents? If the speed limit is efficacious, instead of having one of the highest percentages for accidents of any country, we should have one of the lowest. In France there is no speed limit, and yet on the showing of the hon. Member for Everton (Mr. Hall-Caine), who evidently has paid much attention to the subject, the number of accidents in France is less than in this country. Of course, the proposal of the Bill will not be popular with those people who still stick to the idea that a speed limit in some way gives some sort of security to the public. It will not be popular either with the older type of police officer, who, fortunately, is rapidly becoming extinct. I can imagine some worthy rural sergeant, now retired, who will say: "Thank heaven, I left the force while it was still possible to charge a man with driving at 21 miles an hour on a perfectly open road with no one about." I am a magistrate, and I say that if hon. Members opposite had heard, in motor cases, the amount of hard swearing that I have heard, both on the part of the police and civilian witnesses, on the subject of the speed limit, and the obvious perjury 1305 which is committed by the one side or the other, they would say that it is very desirable that the speed limit should be abolished and that the ordinary petty sessional courts of the country should not have to deal with matters with which they were never intended to deal.
I want also to refer to something that some of my right hon. Friends mentioned, in connection with the penalties for dangerous driving. They are rather too drastic and the Clause will need amending. I think this provision was put in as a sop to those who dislike the deletion of the speed limit. I was rather amused, earlier in the evening, to hear one or two hon. Gentlemen opposite cheer almost deliriously a proposal made by one of their number that the penalty should be maintained and possibly be increased. That seemed to me to be a very odd view to take. I think it was the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) who interrupted that the penalties should be made heavier. I was rather astonished to hear those repressionist views come from hon. Gentlemen, because I seem to remember that they have been in favour of making the way of the transgressor easier. At the time of the General Strike certain persons' lives were endangered when attempts were made to upset lorries and 'buses, and hon. Gentlemen opposite then appealed for lesser sentences where convictions had been obtained. Surely it is just as bad to endanger life in that way as to do so by dangerous driving. However that may be, I think that for a first offence to give a man four months' imprisonment is far too stiff a provision.
The hon. Member for Everton made a point with which I am not in entire agreement, but which is worth considering. He said that the effect of these drastic provisions for dangerous driving would be really to penalise the poor man rather than the rich man. The hon. Member said that some benches of magistrates might impose the full penalty of 50, and that a poor man might have to go to prison. I put that point to the Attorney-General. I am most strongly of opinion that these penalties should not be put into the Bill as a sort of sop to Cerberus because the speed limit is being abolished. I suggest that these penalties ought to be considered purely on their merits.
I turn to another matter which is I think of some importance. It concerns 1306 the highway code dealt with in Clause 43—and this is a point of substance, and not merely a Committee point. I have already expressed the hope that the Minister will consider laying down a code for pedestrians in the use of the roads and footpaths. I go a step further, and suggest that either under this Clause or under Clause 47 a code should be made obligatory upon the police as well as upon users of the road. I will explain what I mean. It is I think within the knowledge of everyone in this House that, in the case of the Metropolitan Police, the signals given by the men on traffic duty are admirably clear and decisive. It is interesting to note that foreign observers coming to this country, though seldom impressed by our climate and sometimes not even impressed by our Prime Ministers, are invariably impressed by our police. In fact as a rule the only tribute which foreign visitors pay to the British, is in regard to the excellence of the police arrangements here in London and they have every reason for paying such a tribute. The control exercised by the Metropolitan Police in London is excellent though I venture to think that to-day it is not as far in advance of the traffic control in certain Continental cities, notably Paris, as it used to be. The control by the Paris police to-day is admirable.
The police control in London is something of which we have every reason to be proud, but very different is the method of traffic control which prevails in some other parts of the country. In some of the smaller boroughs, with borough police forces, the control of traffic by the police is very bad. Their signals are indefinite. They do not always appear to make up their minds as to what they want to do and which line of traffic they wish to hold up. Unquestionably not only is hardship caused by the fact that motorists are frequently stopped because they have not understood the signals given, but it is also the case that accidents are caused thereby. I may say that I myself have never been summoned for any breach of the highway law and I am quite unbiased, but I am familiar with one road in particular to which I wish to refer. It is a main road, and in one town through which it passes, where admittedly the difficulties of traffic control are very great, there is a borough police force. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where 1307 is it?"] I am not going to give away the name or the locality, but it is not in my constituency. In this town there is a very narrow and difficult road, and I must say that it is the general experience of motorists passing through that town, that the police direction leaves a great deal to be desired. Far too many of the policemen on point duty are contemplating their toes or talking to their colleagues rather than looking after the traffic.
It would be quite simple for the Minister to lay it down in some part of the Bill—or take power to make an order to this effect—that the police signals throughout the country should be uniform. They are not so to-day, and if they were made uniform that would give to any member of the public who had been charged unfairly through mistaking a police signal, the right and the opportunity of attempting to prove that the signal given was not the correct signal. I may say, as we are discussing this matter, that I think it would be well if the chief constables, both of counties and of towns, who have to provide men for point duty would consider sending such men for a short time to study the admirable methods of the Metropolitan Police and of certain other large borough and county police forces in this country.
I should like to refer to Clause 14, which deals with the question of motorists driving their cars on to common land, and I should like to express my entire approval of the Clause. I think there will be general assent to it, though I understand that some of the motoring associations object to it, but if that be so, all I can is that they have brought it on their own heads. In my constituency in Sussex recently motorists have taken to driving their cars over bridle roads, footpaths, and on to downland, jeopardising, in some cases, the safety of the people who live there, and in all cases utterly spoiling the amenities of the countryside. There has been very great thoughtlessness on the part of motorists in this regard, and I congratulate the Minister on that Clause, which is, I think, very well worded, and does not impose in the slightest degree too harsh a restriction upon these people. My right hon. and gallant Friend referred 1308 to Clause 19, which deals with the question of the hours of driving, and, as he said, we on this side offer no opposition to the principle of the Clause, but I think that in Committee there will probably have to be some flight Amendment of it. I do not think the Clause as it stands is quite workable, but I do not wish to take up time now in giving my reasons for that view.
There is what I think is rather a valuable provision in the present motoring law which enables a person riding a horse or driving cattle and sheep along a road, by holding up his hand, to compel a motorist to stop. In the present state of affairs that may be hardly practicable, but consideration should. I think, be given to the question whether something of the kind ought not to be put into this Bill. I will take the case of cattle or sheep being driven on a road. I have heard the extreme exponent of the motor industry suggest that sheep or cattle ought not to be allowed on the road at all, but that is ridiculous. Cattle have to be driven to market, and in many cases, particularly where there is a big dairy industry, cattle have to be driven twice a day either down or across a main road from their pasturage to their sheds.
I have seen some very bad cases of careless and even cruel driving on the part of motorists. The other day I saw a man driving a herd of dairy cattle, heavy with milk, down a road, and some of them were slipping on the road, when a motorist with a powerful car drove through them, scattering them in all directions and nearly colliding with several of them. That is a bad use of the road, and I am not sure that there ought not to be some reference to that matter in this Bill. Then there is the question not only of driving horses or cattle, but of riding horses. I can assure the House that there are few more terrifying things than to ride a nervous horse along a tarred road, with a motor car attempting to pass at 50 or 60 miles an hour. It is one of the most unpleasant things you can experience. Under the present law you have the right, by holding up your hand—which, it is true, motorists often ignore—to compel motorists to slow down in such circumstances.
I do not know if the Attorney-General will feel inclined, in his reply, to refer to what seems to me rather a drastic 1309 proposal in Clause 60, which relates to the Traffic Commission. Sub-section (11) of that Clause reads:The Minister may remove any commissioner from his office for inability or misbehaviour.That seems to me to be rather drastic, and capable of rather a wide interpretation. In what respect would it be held that a commissioner showed inability? I should have thought that it would have been better to have appointed these commissioners for a definite period, and to put in a provision saying that the Minister may remove a commissioner for misconduct. I do not suggest that these wide powers would be taken advantage of by the present Minister, and I hope that none of his successors would take advantage of them, but it would place wide powers into a Minister's hands to remove a commissioner who adopted a policy that was obnoxious to him. I do not like the phrase, and I am surprised that nobody has noticed it in the course of the Debate. Another wide power is given in Clause 87 (1). Following upon the recital of the powers which are given to the Traffic Commissioners, Subsection (1) says:A local authority may make orders for determining the highways which may or may not be used by public service vehicles in the area or in any part of the area of the authority and for fixing thereon stands and stopping places for public service vehicles and as to the manner of using such stands and stopping places.It seems to me that that Sub-section will deviate to a great extent the power which the Traffic Commissioners will have of licensing public service vehicles. A situation might arise like this: The commissioners might decide to license an omnibus route in a particular area. The local authorities might have their own reasons for objecting to the licensing of that route, and they might make it impossible, not only for the omnibuses to proceed from one place to another, as they had been licensed to do by the commissioners, but to pass through their area at all, by saying that every highway over which they wished to pass was not a highway on which the local authority desired them to pass. While I realise that the local authorities must continue to be given some say in the matter, I think that this power goes too far.
Those who have made a study of the Bill will see that, subject to the proviso 1310 which I have just mentioned, most of the power is taken out of the hands of local authorities, that is to say, the corporations, urban district councils and the like, in regard to the licensing of public service vehicles; but, under Clause 93, a considerable exception is made in the case of the Metropolitan Police area. I wonder whether it is really necessary to retain the ancient and almost Feudal powers of the Secretary of State for Home Affairs in this matter. I am aware how tenaciously successive Secretaries of the State have stuck to their prorogatives in this matter of the Metropolitan Police area. I suppose that, apart from the Corporation of the City of London, no authority in this country has shown such an unchangeable attitude towards change as have successive Secretaries of State. From my experience in the House, they always wish to retain certain powers which they had long before some recent Government offices were created. I have known it in dozens of cases. I suggest that in this Clause, which is rather an important one, it really is not necessary that the Secretary of State in the Metropolitan Police area and the Corporation in the City have the power which they now retain.
Having made these desultory remarks with regard to the miscellaneous provisions, I have nothing more to say except to echo the praise which my right hon. Friend beside me bestowed upon the Minister for the manner in which he introduced this Bill. I would like, if I may do so without being regarded either as impertinent or patronising, to praise him on several grounds. In the first place, I think it is creditable to him that he has brought in a Bill which is obviously not in any sense of the word a popular Bill, from an electoral point of view—I am not saying that it is an unpopular Bill, but it is not a Bill with which one would seek popularity—and I hope he will resist any attempt on the part of any of his supporters to prevent the passing of this Bill because it does not do certain things which they want to see done or does certain things which they do not want to have done.
In the second place, I would like to congratulate him because he gave an extraordinarily interesting and lucid exposition of his Bill when he introduced it. I have seldom listened to a more interesting 1311 exposition of a Bill, and though he spoke for something like an hour and a quarter, every one in the House must have thought the time passed very rapidly. The right hon. Gentleman also created rather a precedent in one respect. I am not suggesting that this is not a good precedent, but I do not ever remember hearing a Minister lavish praise on his Under-Secretary, who is in another place, and upon his Department for the assistance they had rendered in the preparation of the Bill. I think I am right in saying that it is an unwritten law of this House that no Minister should praise his own Department, and I may say, quite frankly, that I have always thought it was a very foolish idea. In view of the devoted work which the Civil Service must do in the preparation of a Bill of this kind, the negotiations which have to be carried through and the consideration which has to be given to it, I think the praise which the right hon. Gentleman gave to his official advisers was very well merited, and I hope that he and they will have their reward in the passage of this Bill into law.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL (Sir William Jowitt)
The Minister of Transport said to me a short time ago that, as there were many topics of a more or less legal nature in this Bill, he would be glad of some assistance from me in winding up the Debate. I am bound to say that when I offered assistance I did not realise that this was a Bill of over 100 Clauses, nor did I realise that it dealt with such an immensity and complexity of subjects. I have been present during almost the whole of this Debate to-day, and I have been asked by hon. Members on all sides of the House a variety of conundrums on almost every one of the 106 Clauses. I should bore the House and find it necessary to keep hon. Members for a very long time were I even to endeavour to answer all the questions, but I shall deal with them, so far as I can, in a reasonable space of time, and if I fail to answer any question which any hon. Member has put, I hope he will realise that I do not so fail out of any lack of courtesy. So far as the main issues of the Bill are concerned, I think they really stand as follows. First of all, we have had a most interesting discussion as to the 1312 advisability of doing away with the speed limit. It is material to remember here that we are following the course laid down for us by the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission consisted of a number of very well known and sensible persons, and presented a unanimous Report, and on this topic of the speed limit they made some observations which I think are well worth bearing in mind. First of all, they say this—and though it has been said before, I regard it as of such importance that I do not hesitate to quote it:Flagrant and universal I reaches of the law tend to bring the whole law of the country into contempt.What we are proposing with regard to the abolition of the speed limit certainly involves an alteration in the law of the land, but it does not involve an alteration with regard to the pace at which vehicles go on the road, for it has been said that most cars are driven at speeds far in excess of 24 miles an hour. Evidence in favour of the abolition of the speed limit was given by the organising secretary of the Safety First organisation, the Cyclists' Touring Club, the County Councils' Association, the Urban District- Councils' Association, and the Association of Municipal Corporations, and all these bodies were unanimously in favour of the abolition of the speed limit.
It is perfectly true that there was a division of opinion among the police, but 37 out of 55 chief constables gave evidence to the effect that the policy of the speed limit was not advisable. When you have such a great body of opinion as that supporting the unanimous recommendations of the Royal Commission, I think the Government are clearly taking a right and courageous course in putting an end to what has become really a farce in this country.
May I just add that, if you are going to have traps and that sort of thing, it is deplorable that three policemen should waste their time on a comparatively straight stretch of road, upon which vehicles can run in perfect safety, in order to catch somebody who is exceeding the speed limit when, if those policemen were at the corners and saw motorists swinging carelessly round ignoring the white lines, they would be serving the public better by dealing with such offenders. The Noble Lord the 1313 Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) referred to Clause 11 of this Bill as being a kind of sop to Cerberus. I should say that the maximum penalties are quite fair, and I hope we shall retain them. I think we should abolish the technical offences about which everybody jokes, such as the 20 miles an hour limit, but let us make it quite plain that to be guilty of dangerous driving is to be guilty of anti-social conduct. Let that be an offence which carries with it the disapprobation of public opinion, and a sort of offence of which we should make people ashamed. I think, if we can do that, we shall do very much more good.
The next question which has loomed largely in this Debate is the question whether there should be tests for drivers. When I come to the detailed questions which have been put, I will say a word or two about that, but here again we cannot get away from the fact that we have the unanimous Report of the Royal Commission, who have heard a great body of evidence on this topic. I do not pretend to be in the least qualified to express an opinion upon it, as I have never driven in any country except this, and but little in this country, but let me point out that the cause of accidents, really, is not inability to drive the vehicle, but is much more often the fact that, an experienced driver disregards precautions which he ought to take, or, perhaps, a lack of what is termed "road sense." You cannot see whether a man has "road sense" in a test of half an hour or an hour, and there are some people who, even if they drive all their lives, never seem to get "road sense." On the other hand, when driving behind some drivers, you realise—or, at least, I have realised—that, however fast they go, they have "road sense," and one knows that, when they get to a corner, they will go much more slowly than other drivers.
As I have said, my own experience is very limited. I drive one car, and one car only. I drive a baby Austin, sometimes with four up. I say frankly that I do not drive very fast, but I do not think that I am at all a dangerous driver. On the day when I first took that ear out on the road, I did not know very much about it, and I could not possibly have been a source of danger to anyone. I did not go at more than about 10 miles an 1314 hour as a maximum; I blew the hooter nearly all the time; I hugged the kerb on the left-hand side. In fact, had I been in a crowded thoroughfare, I should have been an obstruction to the traffic. I do not believe that inexperienced drivers do much harm. Statistics show that the number of accidents caused by inexperienced drivers is very small. It is the driver who is more experienced, but who neglects precautions which he ought to take.
The next big question is the question of compulsory insurance. I am bound to say that I anticipated a great deal more criticism of this scheme than we have had. I think I am right in saying that almost without exception the scheme has commended itself, in its broad outlines, in all quarters of the House. Another very important topic is the reorganisation of the whole system of licensing public service vehicles, which at the present moment is in an absolutely chaotic state. Our proposals with regard to this question also have commended themselves in almost all quarters of the House. One hon. Member used a phrase which appeared to me at the time to be rather striking. Referring to the fact that we are doing away with the present 1,300 licensing authorities and reducing the number to 10 or 12, he talked about the danger of departmentalism, and, when he dealt with the question of the railways competing with the roads, he said that the road traffic was in danger of being strangled by the dead hand of the railways. The metaphor is somewhat mixed, but I do not think there is any danger of the road traffic being strangled by a dead hand, or any other hand. At the same time, I think it is desirable that the Traffic Commissioners should have the power to take into consideration all the circumstances, and one of the circumstances is quite clearly the existence of the railways.
I now come to the details of the various questions which have been put, and to the best of my ability I will answer them. The former Minister of Transport asked, among other questions, about Sub-section (5) of Clause 4, and called attention to the fact that, under the proviso, the licensee was required to produce the licence in person. I may say, by the way, with regard to these points generally, that, of course, all the observations 1315 which have been made to-night will be most carefully considered. We by no means think that this Bill is so perfect that it cannot be improved. The type of Debate that we have had, and the type of criticism that we have had, will be very helpful in improving the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman will understand, therefore, that I am explaining why we have put in the provisions that the Bill contains, without prejudice, as it were, to the possibility of considering further alterations.
At present, the law is that a motorist must carry his licence with him. We are in this proviso giving him a relaxation of the rigour of that rule, and we say that if he has not his licence with him—it is a very easy thing to carry it in the pocket of his car—he may produce it, not as the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) said, at the particular police station where he was stopped, but at such police station as may be specified by him. He is entitled to select his own police station and to be given time in which to produce the licence there. The reason why the Bill is drawn in a form requiring the person producing the licence to be present in person is because questions may very easily arise as to identification. The Minister has power to make regulations with regard to licences and possibly one of them would be that the licensee should sign the licence. If, therefore, he has to produce his licence in person, a natural precaution would be for the police officer to ask him to sign his name on a piece of paper, and in that way he might get valuable evidence with regard to identification.
The next question was with regard to Clause 9 (3). Attention was called to the invidious distinction that here you require the driver of a heavy motor car to reach the age of 21, whereas the driver of a private car, which may weigh more than the heavy motor oar, may drive at the age of 17. That is an unladen heavy motor car. You may easily have a load of three tons, and, therefore, a total weight of five and a-half to six, tons, which would far exceed the weight of any private car in normal circumstances. You are dealing with a class of persons who are almost always employed drivers. A private motorist would not trust a 1316 heavy car weighing three tons to a boy under 21. The whole matter will be reconsidered in the light of everything that has been said, but it was considered desirable that there should be an age limit of 21.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
In drawing up the Traffic Bill, we were advised by experts that 17 was not an unreasonable age. I should like to know why the Royal Commission raised it to 21.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I am unable to say what actuated the Royal Commission. Now I come to Clause 11. The right hon. Gentleman criticised the wordswhich might reasonably be expected to be on the road.I very much hope those words will remain, and I think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will realise that they must remain. The position is dangeroushaving regard to all the circumstances of the case, including the nature, condition and use of the road and the amount of traffic which is actually at the time, or which might reasonably be expected to be, on the road.That is to deal with this case. Suppose that a driver goes round a blind corner at a very fast rate on the wrong side of the road. He is manifestly guilty of dangerous driving. It would be, surely, no answer for that man to say it happened that there was nothing round the corner. Though there was no traffic on the road, his conduct in coming round a blind corner on the wrong side of the road at a fast rate is obviously dangerous, and why? It is dangerous because it is a mere chance that there was not somebody there, and consequently we must have in these words:which might reasonably be expected to be on the road.Then as regards Clauses 11 and 12, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that whereas in Clause 10, Sub-section (3), we provided that for a comparatively minor offence there cannot be a conviction on the evidence of one person alone, in Clauses 11 and 12 we do not put that in. That obviously again is a matter to be considered, but I would suggest that you cannot conduct your cases in courts of law on, as it were, the principle of counting heads. There have been in the experience of all of us many cases which have been more fully and more conclusively proved by one really good witness 1317 than by a procession of half-a-dozen doubtful witnesses. Where you are dealing, as with Clause 10, with the opinion of a witness as to speed—an opinion upon which it is extraordinarily difficult to form a judgment, however careful, accurate and honest the witness may be—we have put in more than one witness but when we come to the matters dealt with in Clauses 11 and 12, which are not matters about speed at all, there we have not put it in.
May I interrupt only for a moment. Do I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman to say that under Clause 10 the speed shall be judged by the opinion of the witnesses.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will look at what the Clause says. Clause 10, Subsection (3) says:Shall not be liable to be convicted of the offence solely on the evidence of one witness to the effect that in the opinion of the witness the person charged was driving a vehicle at much greater speed.That is a very different thing and that is why in that case we have said that there must be two witnesses, but in Clauses 11 and 12 we are dealing with very different matters which are questions of fact and not mere questions of opinion, and that accounts for the difference. Then I am asked about Clause 21. That, obviously, is a matter which must be looked into very carefully. I think I am right in saying that the existing law provides for 20 or 21. I think we are following exactly the same line. Without in any way indicating any view at all, I do not wish to mislead the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I will take an opportunity of discussing the matter with the Minister and going into the details. It is pointed out by way of criticism, I presume, that Clause 35, in the second part of the Bill, dealing with insurance, as drawn, may have this result, that, if all the insurance companies were to refuse to insure any individual so that he could not get a policy, he would not be able to drive a car. It is pointed out that it is very undesirable that private companies should be able to prevent a man driving. Broadly speaking, I agree. I think it is a very undesirable thing. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will support us in putting the whole of the insurance under public control; but, as 1318 long as things are as they are—and I am sure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will give me his support in this—if some individual has such a character as a driver that there is no insurance company in this country which will touch him, then, for my part, I say the sooner he is cleared off the road the better.
Then we have had a discussion about Clause 36, Sub-section (2), about this £25 for the hospital. I am bound to say, speaking for myself, that I see very considerable difficulties in the Clause as it is at present. I think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman himself pointed to one difficulty, namely, that this £25 seems to be in addition to the other matter, and the Minister himself dealt with this in opening his case for the Bill. It is manifestly a matter for consideration.
I now come to Clause 44, and it is right that I should explain that my understanding of this Clause is that, as it is drawn, the code will be placed before both Houses of Parliament. I would point out that the Minister, who will naturally be anxious to facilitate, as far as he can, the position under these circumstances, will no doubt be most anxious to meet any representations in order that he can obtain a code which as nearly as possible meets with the approval of the House. The right hon. Gentleman criticised Sub-section 4, and the hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul), to my surprise, rather criticised this Sub-section. I say to my surprise, because I venture to think that this is one of the most useful portions of the Bill, and really there is nothing uncommon to a lawyer in it at all. Take, for instance, what we call the rules of the road—the convention that if you turn to the right you put out your hand. What are these? They are not the laws of the land. You are not liable merely because you fail to put out your hand; you are not liable because you drive on the wrong side of the road. What you are liable for is negligence, and in cases of negligence one of the elements considered is, did he or did he not depart from these conventions which are commonly understood? One of the facts which you strongly rely upon is that the man drove on the wrong aide of the road, 1319 not because that by itself makes him liable, but because that disregard of a common custom is an element which any Court would take into consideration in saying whether a man was negligent. We are proposing, by the publication of this code, to try as it were to standardise these conventions.
The Noble Lord called attention to the fact that considerable difficulty exists by reason of the fact that conventions are not always the same. Speaking for myself, and if I may say so without impertinence, he made a most valuable suggestion with regard to the desirability of standardising the police signal. I am entirely at one with him. One of the things which drivers do is to wave people on, and so on. Let us have all these things clear, crystallised, and set down upon paper. Let us try and have them standardised. What we do here is to say that if you have these things standardised and the driver fails to carry out these obligations, that in itself does not make him liable at all. But if you are considering the question of negligence or non-negligence, dangerous driving or non-dangerous driving, the fact that he disregarded these conventions is an element to be taken into consideration in determining the case. I venture to think that that is a very useful piece of work, and I hope that in all quarters of the House there is a desire that this code should apply, not only to motorists but to pedestrians, and to pedal cyclists. I sincerely hope that we shall be able to organise, when the code has been agreed upon and passed by this House, something of a Press campaign in order, for instance, to try and make people walk on the appropriate side of the footpath, and so on. I thoroughly agree that, if we do that, a great many preventable accidents may be avoided in the future. I think that the last question asked by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was in relation to Clause 98. He pointed out that this was a thoroughly bad Clause:
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
He says "Hear, hear." This Clause is taken textually from Clause 86 of his own Bill. We thought that we were following a thoroughly good precedent.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The right hon. Gentleman will observe that we are dealing here with a variety of offences, some of them serious and some of them trivial. You are imposing maxima, and maxima only, and in these circumstances you must have some penalty which fits all these offences. For instance, take the stretching of wire across the road. There have been two or three important instances where unfortunate people have been decapacitated. A penalty of £20 even for a first offence might not be excessive.
The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. R. J. Russell) criticised the language of Clause 15 with regard to a person drunk in charge of a car. I think that we ought to make this Clause as drastic as possible. I am afraid that I take a rather strong view. I think that it is a monstrous thing that people who are found guilty of being drunk in charge of a car should have anything done to them except be sent to prison. If the hon. Member for Eddisbury will suggest any words, we shall be most anxious to consider them. The words have been very carefully considered; they were suggested by Lord Buckmaster and so far as I know, until the hon. Member for Eddisbury spoke nobody has suggested that he could do any better. Let me come to Clause 66. He criticised the power of entry to a garage to inspect a vehicle. It is the proud boast of the Englishman that his home is his castle, but I am not sure that that should apply to his garage, if you seek to inspect a car at a reasonable hour. The hon. Member for Everton (Mr. Hall-Caine), in a most interesting maiden speech, discussed various topics. He suggested that we should have various types of tests, and criticised us because there was no test with regard to the inspection of cars to see if they were free from mechanical defects. Under Clause 30 (g) he will find that power is expressly given. The Minister may make regulationsfor empowering persons…. to test and inspect, whether on a road or elsewhere, any such brakes, silencers or steering gear.We have taken power to see that cars are properly inspected.
§ Mr. HALL-CAINE
That is not a thing which will be done every year or every six months. It may be done, or it may not be done.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL
The Minister has taken powers to deal with it and the regulations will be carried out. The hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) criticised the Bill on the ground that it contained too many offences. I rather sympathise with him. You are not solving any problem by the multiplication of offences, but the hon. and learned Member did not tell us which of these offences he wanted to omit. Indeed he went on to say what a pity it was that we had not brought horses into the Bill. To do that would create more offences. But he was wrong in considering that we had left out horse-drawn vehicles. If he will look at Clauses 47 and 48 he will find that they are drawn in such a way as to apply to drivers of horse-drawn vehicles. He will remember that the furious driver of a horse-drawn vehicle is dealt with under regulations under the Highways Act, 1835. I was asked a somewhat complicated question by the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Bird) but I do not think I need bother the House with it, and I should prefer to discuss the matter with the hon. Member later. The hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) asked about endorsements. As I read the Bill the position is this: You cannot give evidence of a man's previous convictions in a criminal case. You cannot prejudice him by bringing out the fact that he has a black record, but his licence has to be produced, and there it is. The endorsements can be seen.
§ Sir W. BRASS
Do I understand that the record is taken off the licence and not from the records of the courts?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
As far as I know that is the case. I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for raising the matter because it is obviously a point which needs consideration, and that it shall have. My difficulty in dealing with these points is that almost all of them are Committee points, and speaking not only for the Minister of Transport, but for myself, I should like to thank hon. Members for the suggestions which hon. Members have been good enough to make. The hour is rather late and we 1322 have had an interesting Debate. I have answered the questions I have been asked to the best of my ability, and I hope the House will now take a vote on the matter, if that is necessary, or give us the Second Reading in order that we may improve the Bill in Committee upstairs.
§ Sir CHARLES OMAN
At this late hour of the night I do not propose to follow the example of certain hon. Members and, like Tennyson's Brook, go on for ever. I am only going to speak for five minutes, and on one point—a point which has not been touched upon during the Debate. One's views of this Bill, I suppose, are generally covered by one's personal experience. There are parts of it that I cannot too much praise; for example, the part about dangerous passing. It having been my misfortune to see two young people killed this summer through reckless and dangerous passing, I approve of anything prohibiting the least approach to that dreadful practice. On the other hand, when I hear people talking of the enormous easiness and pleasure and safety of going at great speed, on arterial roads, for example, in Scotland and other remote places— [Interruption]. The only- collision I was in in my life was when a small commercial vehicle charged straight into the middle of a great arterial road. That filled me with a new conception of the safety of travelling at high speed on great arterial roads in rather remote districts.
The point I wish to put is this: I am out to-night on behalf of my constituency to speak against the misuse of heavy lorries, and to a certain extent heavy motor coaches, which run at a great pace in regions where they should not be used. I speak on behalf of the two universities, for I have had communications from the secretaries of the bursars both of Oxford and Cambridge. Their complaint is that enormous commercial vehicles, not fitted with proper silencers, career down the main streets of the university towns, and not only, in some cases, make lecture-rooms opening on those streets impossible for use—in the case of my own college one room has had to be shut up—but, worse than that, have begun to shake down historic buildings through vibration. Three bay windows of mediaeval date have had to be taken down and rebuilt in my own college, because the traffic of heavy vehicles all 1323 day vibrates right through the pavement to the college buildings that are built close up to the road. The misfortune of Oxford High Street is that there is no bridge across the Thames for six miles north or seven miles south.
I see nothing in the Bill to protect -ancient buildings or places where study is being carried on, from heavy, in considerately-driven commercial vehicles. Could not the Government suggest scone way of dealing with this difficulty? It means putting out of use for all practical purposes buildings of the greatest importance if you cannot silence or make to travel very slow elephant-like things, as big as three or four railway carriages, which go puffing and groaning and clanking through the streets. I have seen an engine dragging two or three trailers laden with bricks or something of that kind. It was never intended that colleges should have trailers carrying bricks or enormous boilers, or three long trees lashed to a series of lorries, parading under their windows continuously. I wish to ask the Minister whether he will see if an Amendment cannot be inserted to provide that heavy traffic should go extremely slowly and should be forced to go silently in streets where it is highly inappropriate that there should be interminable noise and abominable vibration.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I wish to make some observations regarding the abolition of the speed limit. I am sorry that there are not more of the Labour party to speak on behalf of the pedestrian. I thought that the Labour party would have strongly supported the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) who delivered such a magnificent indictment against this Clause. The fact that 7,000 people were killed in the past year and something like 200,000 seriously injured, owing to the marvellous development of motor traffic on our public thoroughfares, calls for the consideration of every public representative. We see quite frequently in the daily Press two or three lines, announcing without comment, that some man, woman or child has been sent to eternity, and that is an indication of an appalling state of affairs. My view of the situation is that the speed limit is only being removed from those who are fortunate enough to be able to procure a 1324 motor car and who find it serviceable when they want to have a joyful time. As regards business concerns there is a speed limit, graduated for different classes of vehicles, but for those who want to pass speedily over the thoroughfares in private cars there is to be in open field, and men, women and children are expected to clear out of the way, like hens on a country road. I decidedly object to anything of the kind. Who ever heard of people on the ordinary pavement of the city, who happened to be in a hurry to catch a train, dashing forward and making indications to everybody to get out of their way? What operates ordinarily is consideration for every man, woman and child using the pavement, but people do not take one step now in case they meet their doom.
Contrast that with the situation on the railways. To-day in my own constituency we have a place where an engine with wagons passes along a public thoroughfare and a man with a red flag goes in front as a warning to people about this slow-moving train, while motors sweep past at 30, 40 and even 50 miles an hour. It is the specially influential people who are concerned with this matter, and we find it very notably in this House that a Bill of this kind gets substantial support. It is a Coalition Bill prepared partly by one Government and partly by another, and has the substantial support of those people who are concerned about having a thoroughfare all to themselves.
I want most emphatically to protest, and I earnestly hope that those who are on that Committee will do something to grapple with the situation. People are not being able to move quite freely across our public thoroughfares unless under very specially safeguarded circumstances, and they are being kept from joining the cars which London in particular cannot do without, because of that vehicular traffic sweeping between the cars and the ordinary side path. The situation has become so diabolical that it is a cutting-down of human life, and there was a remarkable evidence of pleasantry among several of the Members when the hon. Member for West Bermondsey was presenting those amazing figures, which are steadily rising. The point that he made was that the larger percentage of these serious accidents, fatalities, and injuries was due to 1325 excessive speed, according to official figures. Then he presented decisions of large representative bodies brought together by the Minister of Transport himself, in which substantial, and in one case, overwhelming votes were given in favour of the retention of the speed limit.
There is undoubtedly serious need for the defence of the general mass of our people. The work-a-day people are not provided with motor cars, and they are not able to sweep over the thoroughfares. They have to look as though apologetic to cross a thoroughfare. The Attorney-General said there was no law, but merely a conventional recognition of a sign when one motorist is wanting to cross into a side thoroughfare, but let the ordinary pedestrian take the risk of holding out his hand that he is coming, and God help him! There are only two elements on our public thoroughfares to-day—the quick and the dead. It is an astonishing situation in which a Labour Minister, the Minister of Transport, cited all Members of the Upper House as having no regard for the speed limit. He said there is not one of them who recognises it; and he went further and said that there was practically not a Member of this House who recognises it. Does he approve of that? He speaks of the police as unable to deal with the situation. If that is so the Labour Government in this country are getting somewhat into the predicament of the American Government regarding some of their laws.
If that is the position, I should expect the Labour Government to have some special regard for those who do not have motor cars. There is no doubt there are Labour Members in this House who are moving along in wonderful society circles now, and that is why you find such regular acceptance of this idea that we are all going the same road home. I, for one, if I am a member of the Committee, shall certainly support the hon. Member for West Bermondsey. I go all the way with the hon. Member in the splendid speech which he made, and I hope that there will be others who will rally to his standard.
§ Mr. COLMAN
There are three sections of the community which are vitally interested in this Bill: first, the motor manufacturers and users of motor vehicles; second, the pedestrians; and third,—
§ Mr. COLMAN
—the horse-breeders and users of horses. I desire to intervene on behalf of the horse-breeders and users. I take note of the fact that the Attorney-General mentioned that the Bill to some extent dealt with the question of horses, but I am bound to say that the Bill has been drafted in such a way that no great attention has been given to that particularly important question. It is well to keep in mind the Title of the Bill. It is a Road Traffic Bill, but how often have we heard it mentioned outside the House as a Motor Bill. It has come to be looked upon in the minds of the public as a Bill solely for the motor car, but, seeing that it is a Traffic Bill, it is essential that its provisions should deal with the questions affecting the interests of the people who use the highway. Let me remind the House how many horses there are in the country. The most recent statistics were taken in 1926, and they reveal the fact that there were then 1,782,056 horses. I cannot believe that in the few intervening years that number has greatly diminished. To-day a great number of young people are learning to ride, and the horse still holds its own under certain conditions for a certain class of work in circumscribed areas for short distance haulage; and it is far and away the cheapest form of road transport. Yet we find that this Bill is unfortunately most indefinite in regard to use of the public roads by horses.
The use and customs affecting horse traffic are not altogether governed by Regulations and laws, but they are rather subject to what is known as the law of the highway. That law and custom of the highway has grown up through the ages, and, so far as I have been able to ascertain, they have never been set out in any written Regulations. To-day, we have a very different state of affairs, because now, for the first time, the Minister of Transport is going to draft a highway code. Let me heartily congratulate him upon that intention, but, in doing so, I cannot help expressing a certain amount of regret that it has not been found possible for the highway code to be before the House at the same time as the Bill. The drafting of that Code is going to be a matter of the greatest importance. I am glad to be able to tell the House that the Minister recently replied 1327 to an inquiry from the National Horse Association of Great Britain, which is the only organisation in this country that is entitled to speak with one voice for the whole of the horse-breeding industry. The Minister expressed the view that he would naturally be 10th to interfere with any customs which already received general acceptance. That is a very satisfactory reply from our point of view, but I understood the Attorney- General to say that when the highway code is brought before both Houses of Parliament we shall be able to accept it or reject it, but not to amend it. If that be so, it is of the greatest importance that the Minister should seek the advice and the assistance of all the bodies best able to give him technical and expert advice in the drafting of that code. Therefore, I am going to ask the Minister of Transport to approach not only the Horse Association of Great Britain, but the great national horse-breeding societies, on questions affecting the use of horses.
Under Clause 55, it is the duty of a highway authority to provide footpaths wherever they may be necessary for pedestrians. That is a most excellent provision, and I would like to see it extended so that pressure may be brought to bear on highway authorities to provide wherever possible grass margins or verges at the side of the road for the safety of riders and the use of those driving livestock to market. I have reason to believe that the Minister is sympathetic, but I want a little more than his sympathy. I want him to put something into the Bill which will give us some guarantee that that happy state of affairs will be brought about. It is very important to have these grass verges. As has been said during the Debate tonight, it is a hazardous proceeding to ride a young horse, or, indeed, any horse on the road under certain conditions. With a grass verge the horse has a chance of getting a foothold and the farmer can use it to get his stock to market—and we all want to see our farmers with more livestock than they have at the present time. I hope, too, that the Clause which restricts the use of certain vehicles in certain specified roads will never be used to the disadvantage of horse owners; and it is the same with regard to one-way traffic. In 1328 many cases one-way traffic has proved a success, but it should include all classes of traffic and not horsed vehicles only. In conclusion, I want to say a word on a subject which is of the utmost importance to the horse-breeding industry, and it has reference to the use of motor horseboxes. In the past railway companies have, if desired, always carried horses by fast passenger train, indicating that they regarded this traffic as different from ordinary goods traffic. A change has come over the scene with the electrification of the railways; there is not the service for carrying horses by rail there used to be, because you cannot attach a horse-box to an electric train, and the service will be still more diminished in the future. The difficulty has been met to some extent. All over the country we find motor horse-boxes conveying horses direct to the stables, to racecourses, to agricultural shows, or to horse shows.
In this connection, there is an important point, and I hope the Attorney-General will correct me if I am wrong. Under this Bill, the Minister of Transport appears to regard horse traffic in motor horse boxes as goods traffic. The vast majority of horse motor boxes weigh over 2½ tons and do not come under passenger-carrying vehicles, with the result that they are to be restricted to what has been described as the snail pace of 20 miles an hour. Those vehicles are being fitted to-day with four-wheel brakes and pneumatic tyres. I ask hon. Members to realise what effect this restriction is going to have on small horseboxes containing two horses proceeding along a road to a destination where a large crowd is gathered while a motor coach carrying 30 passengers is allowed to pass at 30 miles an hour. That will cause additional danger on the highway, and it will inevitably cause a considerable amount of congestion. It cannot be argued that that provision is on the lines of safety, because a modern motor horsebox is quite as safe as some of the enormous motor coaches running about the country at the present time. I appeal to the Minister of Transport to give special attention to this important question during the Committee stage of the Bill, and I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman has looked into these questions he will realise that they really do affect the horse-breeding industry. If 1329 the hon. Gentleman leaves this question as it stands, he will be striking a blow at the horse-breeding industry, and at the same time he will be striking a blow at agriculture. Our success in connection with horse-breeding is one of the reasons why this country has been looked upon with so much pride. For these reasons, I hope the hon. Gentleman will make an exception in the case of motor horse boxes, for the modern motor horse box with pneumatic tyres not weighing more than the ordinary motor coach and grant them a speed of not less than 30 miles per hour.
I have had the pleasure of sitting for three years with the Minister of Transport on the London County Council, and I know from experience that he holds some terrible political views, but I have always paid tribute to his great eloquence. The hon. Gentleman brought his exceptionally fine speech in this Debate to a close by saying that he hoped that this Bill would become a great charter for the use of the King's highway. I hope the Minister of Transport and his successors in office will remember that the King's highway is for the use of the King's subjects and that those who ride or drive horses on the King's highway are as much entitled to the consideration of the House when we are drafting legislation affecting our interests as those who use motor cars. I hope the hon. Gentleman and hon. Members on both sides of the House will see to it that, when this great Bill is placed on the Statute Book and becomes the law of the land, it will contain nothing that will rob this country of the supremacy and position we now enjoy of being the greatest horse-breeding country in the world.
§ Sir GEORGE PENNY
I should like to join in the chorus of praise of the Minister of Transport for the comprehensive Bill that he has brought in. It is a Bill which has been long overdue, and its excellence is due in a great measure to the fact that it was our party that initiated it. I desire to refer to the damage to house property which is caused by the excessive vibration of heavy vehicles using thoroughfares which are not constructed to carry this heavy traffic. I have brought this matter to the attention of the Minister of Transport on many occasions, and I had to go 1330 through a kind of course of circumlocution. I was sent from one Department to another, each in turn wishing to have a little control but accepting no responsibility whatsoever, while those who own property have to go through the trouble and annoyance of having their property almost shaken to pieces. The present Minister says that it is very difficult if not impossible to legislate for this problem, and that the only thing to do is to see that the roads are put into better condition or that the vehicles are better controlled. I should like to see him take powers to compel the use of pneumatic tyres on all heavy vehicles using thoroughfares in towns where vibration is liable to cause damage. He seems to be taking any amount of powers in this Bill, and I do not think it would be too much to ask that he should take a little more in the direction mentioned, and also that he should compel local authorities to put their roads into such a condition that they are suitable for carrying this heavy traffic. The police, if they are referred to, say that they are giving attention to the speed at which these vehicles travel, but how often during the night or early morning are the police patrolling the streets? It is at that time that the great damage is done. I see that my right hon. Friend the former Minister of Transport is smiling, as he has done for the past year when I have brought this matter to his notice. He has always been courteous and said he was sympathetic, but further than that, I regret to say, he has never gone.
There is another question that I would like to put before the Minister, and that is the question of trees bordering the highways which are in a dangerous condition or position. I was motoring not long ago at night during the recent gales, and went bang into an elm tree which had fallen right across the road. In Sussex, particularly, the highways are bordered by very lofty elms, which have no deep roots—they are all lateral roots—and a great many were swept right across the road by the high winds, causing many accidents and considerable inconvenience to traffic. I trust that the Minister, during the Committee stage, will see that some Amendment is made to provide, if local authorities do not look after this matter, that he has the power to compel them to do so.
1331 Again, with regard to signposts and direction posts, I think that these should be standardised, and should be made shorter than they are at present. If they were about six feet high, the driver in a car could read them much more easily than is the case now. Often at night, in the country, you will see a car drawn up beside a signpost, with the driver outside trying to discern what is on the post. If you have no swivel lamp and the thing is so high, it is almost impossible to do it. I suggest that there should be a standardisation of signposts and that they should be printed black with white lettering, which would show up far more plainly. If suitable signs were put up in every village, giving its name, it would save motorists a terrific amount of time and avoid the necessity of pulling up. Reference has been made to the large charabancs that use the second-class roads. I hope the Minister is taking power to restrict their measurements. They take up nearly the whole of the road and make it impossible for any vehicle to pass. I have seen people scuttling off the road like rabbits to get away from these great juggernauts as they come pounding down the road. I have referred to this before, hut it seems to me that nothing has been done. I am wondering whether the Minister will be able to take action against the cars that are already in existence, because some compensation possibly would have to be paid to them. The only consideration they seem to have in mind is the seating accommodation and the number of fares they can take about the country, to the discomfort and danger of the travelling public. I hope the Minister will give these points consideration, because I bring them forward in order to help him to make this good Bill better. He has taken great powers, and I consider he could easily take the additional powers for which I am asking.
§ Colonel HOWARD - BURY
I, too, should like to congratulate the Minister on the extraordinarily able way in which he put his case. I look upon the Bill on the whole as a very good Bill, even better than the curate's egg. I think it might be made an egg suitable for a Bishop, but let me warn him that if he adds to it another egg which is hot equally palatable, the omnibus egg, the 1332 omelette that results from it may not be equally palatable to this side of the-House. I have looked into the Bill most carefully, hoping it was a real Road Traffic Bill. It is only by consolidating all forms of traffic and making laws for all forms of traffic that we shall eventually avoid the enormous number of accidents that are taking place on the roads to-day. To a certain extent, the hon. Gentleman is beginning to make regulations. A code is to be enforced which will, no doubt, follow the lines of the Royal Commission. It makes regulations for pedestrians, for cyclists and for horse-drawn traffic. I should like to see something of this in the Bill. Clause 47 is the only place in the Bill where I can see horses referred to. We shall move a good many Amendments to substitute "vehicles" for "motor vehicles." A horse-drawn vehicle pulling out of a side road into a main road at an excessive speed can be as dangerous as a motor vehicle.
I look upon the code as being of very great value and would like to see it in the possession of every elementary school in the country, so that the children may be taught exactly what it is. Wherever the Safety First organisations have been active there have been far fewer casualties. If this were made part of our education, it would develop some idea of road sense and make the children realise what is dangerous on the roads and where it is dangerous. I should like the Minister to consider this matter. We are all out for better and safer conditions on the roads.
Some hon. Members on the other side think it better to regulate speed and to say that you shall only drive at 30 or 35 miles an hour. There is no speed whatever which is safe. You might go at five miles an hour past a school and yet be driving dangerously. It might be said that the only safe speed is when you are at a standstill, but even then, if you are at a standstill on a corner or with your lights on on the wrong side of the road, you are dangerous. Therefore, a speed limit is of no use at all in that way, and there is no safe speed. If you have a speed limit of 35 miles an hour, then people will say that if they are driving at 30 miles an hour it is a safe speed, whereas it may be dangerous. In this Bill, the driver and the motorist generally is singled out for penalties. The 1333 pedestrian who steps off the pavement suddenly is equally dangerous, but he does not come into it, although the motorist has to pull up suddenly and may run into another car. Neither does the cyclist come into it, though often he comes out of a side street into the main road at far too fast a speed and is equally dangerous. I should like to see all such cases brought under the head of reckless driving.
I can fully understand both the Minister and the Attorney-General being in full agreement regarding the regulations in this Bill. There are no less than 14 different paragraphs where the Minister has power to make regulations of every sort and description. It is really the enthronement of bureaucracy. In Part II, where it deals with the classification of motor vehicles, the Minister has full power to alter that classification. It has to be remembered that in all these regulations there is a penalty for infringement of £20 for the first offence and £50 or three months' imprisonment for the second. In Clause 19, again, the Minister can make regulations for limiting the period for which drivers of certain vehicles may remain continuously on duty. In Clause 30, he can make regulations to deal with the whole of Part I. In Clause 41, he can make regulations dealing with the whole of Part II. Then, under Clause 44, with regard to the high way code, I am not quite certain as to how far Parliament is going to have control. I think the Clause was a far better one in the form in which it came up for Third Reading in the other place. Before the Clause was amended it ran:Before such directions are issued under this Section, they shall be laid in draft before both Houses of Parliament and such directions shall not be issued unless both Houses of Parliament by resolution approve the draft, either without modifications or additions, or with modifications or additions to which both Houses agree, and upon such approval being given the Minister may issue the directions in the form in which they have been so approved.The Attorney-General has said that we can either accept or reject them, but we are not allowed to amend them. I think it is very important that we should be able to discuss these regulations and amend them if necessary. I would earnestly ask the Minister of Transport to look into the matter. I know it may 1334 mean that the Minister may have a late night or two, but there is the method of a Joint Committee of both Houses which could go into the question of these regulations. Several noble Lords in another place suggested that method would be a very good one. It would bring the Minister rather more under the control of the House. By these regulations he is enabled to do a great deal more than possibly is good for the public. The regulations to be made under the provisions of Clause 96 are supposed to be laid before both Houses of Parliament as soon as they have been made. An Address has to be presented to His Majesty by either House of Parliament within the next subsequent 28 days. Papers are laid on the Table and are put in the Library, but people are not aware of what is happening at all. Unless someone presents a petition to have them annulled, we do not know what they are at all. They become law and pass through the House without anyone really being aware of what has happened. Persons are liable in respect of any infringement of these rules and regulations to a penalty of £20. We shall move Amendments from this side of the House to reduce the amount of the penalty, for many of these offences are small technical offences. A penalty of £5 or £10 would be ample, and certainly there should not be imprisonment for a second offence. The whole trouble today in regard to motoring legislation is that so many of the police are spending their time dealing with mere technical offences. They have to have regard to the speed limit of 20 miles an hour. Three of them are occupied in catching people. They look out for small technical offences. That is a matter from which we want to get away; we want our people to get a decent road sense. I would like to ask the Minister one question. There is not a single word in this Bill about the registration books. The registration books are a very tiresome form of book, and I cannot make out their usefulness. One is apt to lose them and it is troublesome to get them renewed. I would ask the hon. Gentleman whether he does not think that the time has come to do away with these registration books altogether?
I agree that there are too many speed limits, and I shall be very glad if Amendments are made by which the number of 1335 these speed limits is reduced. It is very difficult indeed for a police constable to be able to say that a motor car is over 2½ tons, and is therefore exceeding the speed limit. It may be 2 tons, 2½ tons, or 3 tons, but how is a policeman to be able to distinguish? We have to look to the future. Within the next 10 years we may have 5,000,000 cars on the roads, and therefore we ought to make Regulations in view of the possible developments of the next 10, 15, or 20 years. The present law was brought in in 1903, and it is completely out-of-date. We want to legislate ahead and increase the speed of traffic in order to prevent congestion on the roads. An hon. Member opposite seems rather to disagree, but the whole trouble is that we must, with our roads as they exist to-day, keep the traffic going faster and faster; otherwise, there will be such appalling congestion that there will be a vast loss of money, and traffic will become impossible. Therefore, I ask the Minister, when he comes with this Bill before the Committee, to do all he possibly can by looking ahead to relieve congestion as far as it may be possible to do so in this country. I realise that this Bill is a very complicated one indeed, and we shall do our best to help him through with it in the interests of motoring and of all the users of the King's highway.
§ 12.0 m.
§ Captain HAROLD BALFOUR
My reason for troubling the House at this late hour is contained in the words of the Attorney-General when he said that public opinion must be with the Bill. If the representatives of constituencies which this Bill affects very much are not to be allowed to express their views freely, then public opinion, so far as those constituencies go, will not be with the Bill. I am glad to be able to support the Bill, as representing a constituency which probably has more traffic in and out per day during the summer months than any other constituency in the country. [An HON. MEMBER: "What constituency?"] I recommend the hon. Member to go to the Isle of Thanet and enjoy himself. It is particularly appropriate that this Bill should be brought in at the present time, as the whole country realises that it is very much overdue, and has been overdue for many years. One can only hope 1336 that 20 years hence we shall not be facing the same situation with regard to overdue Bills for the newer form of aerial transport, and that the House will not have to be sitting late at night discussing air transport. In my constituency the Bill will fulfil its primary object, which is public safety. There is a secondary effect which may not have occurred to hon. Members opposite when they have been considering the effect of the Bill upon the poorest section of the motoring community. I refer to those who motor just to the very bare limit that they can afford—who perhaps own a Baby Austin, such as the Attorney-General uses—and who cannot pay much for their motoring. The first question of penalisation arises in connection with the age limit of 21. A young man if he has the means will be able to buy his Bentley or his 100 miles an hour car, referred to by the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter), but the young man under 21 who wants to pursue his living by commercial transport and to drive a commercial vehicle, is going to be prohibited from following it, because he is a paid driver of a heavy commercial lorry. I suggest that a Bentley going at 60 or 70 miles an hour can do just as much damage as the poor man who is trying to earn his living by driving a three-ton Leyland lorry. We allow a young man of 19 to drive a private motor car and we allow a young man of 19 to take up an aeroplane in which he can kill himself and other people. Surely it is reasonable that we should give the same degree of responsibility to the young man of 19 in commercial life.
Another question is that of road trials. There is in this Bill a definite prohibition of all road trials. Anyone associated with motoring must know that there are organised meetings which do not interfere with the ordinary amenities of the roads for the use of normal transport. They are well organised, they attract people and trade to the district and they give employment. As I understand it, there would have to be a special Bill to allow the Kop Hill trials to take place. Will the Minister of Transport consider introducing some Amendment which would allow him to license trials or, alternatively, to allow local authorities in whose districts the particular tests are to be held, to act as licensing authorities?
1337 In connection with the question of third party insurance, I want to ask whether it is necessary that local authorities should be exempted, and also whether it is desirable. The reason they are exempted is because they are supposed to be substantial people, but sometimes prejudice arises in a particular case and feeling may arise on the part of the ratepayers if they have to pay compensation to a person in a doubtful case. It would be much better to insert a clause enforcing local authorities to insure under the third party insurance scheme. We have heard from the hon. Member who is a director of an insurance company that premiums are not to be increased. We are glad to hear that, but I hope the Minister of Transport will see his way to introduce an Amendment in Committee which will make it obligatory on insurance companies to issue quarterly and half-yearly third party insurance policies as well as yearly policies, on the basis of an interest charge, which is not greater than the annual charge, or the 16 per cent. which the Minister of Transport extracts from the poor person who cannot pay his licence except by quarterly instalments. That would ease the burden on motorists who are not at present insured, and would go a long way to prevent the friction which this proposal is likely to cause.
As regards the question of public service vehicles, I can only say that the proposals are indeed likely to please the hearts of the bureaucrats. Under Clause 67 no one is allowed to change any part of the equipment of his motor car without a licence from the local authority. That is taking bureaucracy a little too far. As long as these provisions are interpreted in a reasonable and wide spirit, as I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will, no harm will be done, but nevertheless you are putting into the hands of Government Departments enormous powers which through political pressure might be exerted in such a way as to concentrate on a particular section of a locality, drive the trade right away from that district and absolutely stop people earning their living in a reasonable way by private enterprise. While these regulations exist that danger will exist. As I see it the law should conform and exist for the benefit of the whole community and the transport system in 1338 particular. Conversely, the community in general and the transport system in particular must not be held in by Government regulations in such a way as to kill trade the Minister remembers the days of the red flag, when the red flag was carried in front of the motor car—not in front of the politicians. The red flag was lowered for the motorist some time ago. The Minister has now lowered the red flag once again. May he continue lowering it in future and allow motor transport to go unrestricted and developed on the best lines along the finest system of roads the world has seen.
§ Mr. TURTON
I wish to draw attention to one or two points in the Bill. What is the reason for the speed limit in the case of passenger-carrying vehicles with pneumatic tyres? My constituency borders on the Great North Road. It is the sincere desire of every one on the Great North Road to reduce the danger from these heavy vehicles, which are passing by from day to day at 50 miles an hour. If you have a speed limit of 30 miles an hour it will not be observed, and the Minister in this respect will be producing as stillborn an Act as that of 1896, which indicated a speed limit of four miles an hour, or that of 1903, which laid down a limit of 20 miles an hour. I ask the Minister to reconsider the change from the considered opinion of the Royal Commission that the speed limit should be 35 miles an hour.
I want also to draw attention to the nature of the Bill. The Minister asked us to commend him on the swiftness of the Bill's birth. But he has admitted that as to the major portion of the Bill the parentage is that of the late Minister of Transport and not of himself. Then I quarrel with the Minister on the title of the Bill. This is a Road Traffic Bill. There was a Commission to inquire into the alarming number of accidents, and figures were given which showed that 39 per cent. of the accidents last year were attributable to motor vehicles, and 43 per cent. attributable to pedestrians or pedal cyclists. There is no provision in the Bill to deal with the 43 per cent. I hope that hon. Members will support the Amendments which I and others intend to move in Committee for dealing with this matter. Until we get pedestrians' lives safeguarded from their own 1339 carelessness, we shall never get a successful Bill and never get a satisfactory state of affairs on the roads of the country. The learned Attorney-General drew attention to the Highways Act, and to furious riding of a horse. At the present time a person who rides a pedal bicycle dangerously breaks the law only if he brings some one else into danger of life and limb. If a pedal cyclist kills someone he is chargeable with the crime of manslaughter. The Royal Commission has said that 7 per cent. of accidents are due to reckless riding of pedal cycles, but there is no legal penalty enforceable in such cases, under this Bill or any existing Act. I hope that at a later stage the Minister will see his way to make some provision for dealing with reckless riding on bicycles and also to meet the objections which have been put forward earlier in the Debate in reference to reckless walking.
There are two points to which, in conclusion, I would draw attention. One of these is in regard to headlights. The Report of the Royal Commission dealt with this matter, and it has been pointed out that more people have been killed, as a result of being dazzled by headlights, than have been killed through pillion-riding. The Minister, in this Bill, has quite rightly made provision against dangerous pillion-riding. I suggest that he should also introduce some method of dealing with the danger arising from dazzling headlights. The other point to which I wish to refer has already been raised in the course of the Debate, but the Attorney General did not deal with it in his reply. I think that in this Bill there ought to be some alteration of the existing law in reference to the question of defective roads. Defective roads cause a great many accidents year after year, and as long as it is impossible to get any redress in the Courts of this country, as against local authorities, for keeping roads in a defective condition, we shall not be able to diminish the number of accidents to the extent that we would wish. Finally, may I say that I give the Bill my whole-hearted support, because I believe that it will go some small way towards decreasing the number of accidents on our roads and, again, I express the hope that in the Committee stage Amendments will be adopted to ensure that some penalties shall attach 1340 to reckless riding on bicycles and reckless walking by pedestrians;.
Mr. R. W. SMITH
I am very sorry to have to detain the House with any remarks at this late hour, but these occasions seem to be the only opportunities which back-benches have of stating their views in this House. This is a very important Bill and hon. Members of the party opposite do not seem to realise how important it is. [Interruption.] I have already expressed my regret at having to make these remarks at this time of night, but it seems to be the practice of the Government to have these discussions, as far as possible, at these hours. That is the way in which the Socialist Government works. The points which I desire to raise are of importance, and although it may be said that they are not Second Reading points and ought to be reserved until the Committee stage, I may remind hon. Members that if this Bill is sent to a Committee upstairs, as I understand it will, a great many of us will not be able to bring up, at that stage of the Bill, the matters in which we are interested, and we must, therefore, avail ourselves of this opportunity. The Minister of Transport has already received bouquets from all sides on his presentation of the case for this Bill and I may be permitted, as a humble back-bencher, to add my little posy of snowdrops to those tributes, but there are some points on which I think further discussion and explanation may be required. Reference was made earlier in the Debate to the number of offences created under the Bill, and the Attorney-General has said that we cannot help creating offences under a Bill of this sort, and that if its provisions were extended in the way suggested by some hon. Members there would be more offences still. My point, however, concerns not the offences but the penalties prescribed for them under the Bill. Clause 98 of the Bill provides thatA person guilty of an offence under this Act for which no special penalty is provided, shall be liable a the case of the first offence to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds and in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months.1341 Then, if we turn to Clause 11 of the Bill, we find that the penalty prescribed there is even higher. Under it a person is liableon summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding four months or to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds.I take exception to that provision and to the fact that it makes imprisonment, rather than fine, the penalty in such cases. I quite agree with the Minister in sweeping away the speed limit, and I think that the general opinion of the House is in favour of that course, but I very much disapprove of the proposal that, for a first offence under Clause 11—which relates to reckless or dangerous driving—the penalty should be imprisonment. There is no doubt that in this country people look upon imprisonment as a very serious penalty and one which is derogatory not only to the person directly concerned but to his family, and if we are going to impose such a penalty merely for reckless driving, even though the man may actually have done no harm, and even when it is a first offence, that will be a serious state of affairs. This proposal introduces a penalty which is contrary to the general principles of law in this country. I hope, therefore, the Minister will very carefully consider this question of the penalties imposed under the Bill. In no fewer than 20 cases a sentence of three months' imprisonment can be imposed, and under Clause 11 it may be four months. I go further and draw attention to the fact that under the terms of this Clause the Court is practically advised that imprisonment is to be the penalty and not a fine. The hon. Member for Everton (Mr. Hall-Caine) has evidently not read the Royal Commission's Report on this point, because he argued that imprisonment would be for the unfortunate poor man and that the wealthy motorist would escape with a fine. I refer him to page 6 of the Royal Commission's Report, which states:Since in many cases the offenders are persons of means, fines are of little use as a deterrent. The only effective remedies are suspension of licences for long periods, or imprisonment, or both.I think it very unfortunate that the recommendation of the Commission has not been followed in Clause 11 and suspension of the licence for a long period made the penalty for a first offence. It would 1342 have been much fairer. I agree that for a second conviction for reckless and careless driving, imprisonment is necessary, but is it fair to the ordinary working man with a wife and family that, if he is hauled up for the first time, he should be sent to prison for possibly four months? It is a very hard penalty to impose on a man without his having first been warned. I hope the Minister will consider these points. It is a good thing that there should be a higher age for licences, but I want to draw attention to the provision with regard to invalid carriages. These are mechanically-propelled vehicles which do not exceed five cwt. unladen, andare specially designed and constructed, and not merely adapted, for the use of persons suffering from some physical defect or disability.Under the First Schedule these carriages are to be allowed to go up to 20 miles per hour. That is very unnecessary. People who use these carriages are not to be allowed to have a licence until they are 16, and that is very hard on the unfortunate child who has not the normal use of his limbs and must have some sort of mechanically-propelled vehicle in which to get about. I ask the Minister to consider whether it would not be possible in the case of these carriages, which move at a very slow pace, to issue licences at as low an age as 12. Where the speed of an ordinary vehicle is limited, the Bill provides only a fine for a first offence, and I cannot see why the punishment should not be the same for a person who goes over the limit as for a person who drives recklessly and dangerously.
§ Major NATHAN
I intervene to raise a single point arising out of the provisions of this admirable and welcome Bill. It relates to the highway code. I suppose that it was inevitable that this Debate should largely have centred round the motor car, but there is also horse traffic and users of bicycles to be considered, to say nothing of the 42,000,000 pedestrians. The interests of these various classes of road users are not rival but divergent, and it is important, in framing the highway code, that regard should be had to making the highways free and safe for all the King's lieges, however they may use the roads. I hope, and, indeed, I understand, that the Minister will not seek to evolve out of his own 1343 inner conscience this highway code, but will evolve it by taking into consultation, as I believe is his intention, all the interests concerned. It is merely to this point of the interests concerned that I desire to direct attention.
There is rather an inclination to consider motor cars to the exclusion of other users of the road, and I hope that the Minister will bear in mind, in addition to the Royal Automobile Club and the Automobile Association, the Cyclists' Touring Club, which represents 7,000,000 users of bicycles, and the recently formed Pedestrians Association, which represents the great bulk of the population using the roads. That is quite apart from the association dealing with horses which has been referred to by on hon. Member above the Gangway. I hope the Minister will also consult the Road Improvements Association and the National Safety First Council, to say nothing of the Federation of Ramblers, which also has an interest in this matter. I only rise in connection with this one point and to express the hope that the Minister will not be misled by the weight of discussion that has been given to motor cars to the exclusion of other interests.
§ Mr. HERBERT MORRISON
With the indulgence of the House, might I point out that this is a Road Traffic Bill and that road transport in London is about to cease. The House was very late last night, and we have had a long Debate. I should be very much obliged if the House would now be good enough to give us the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.