§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Lieut.-Colonel Kerr.)
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Montague
I wish to take advantage of the Motion for the Adjournment ill order to raise a question of very great public importance at this time. It is no exaggeration to say that the people of the country have been appalled by the recently-published figures showing an increase in road accidents largely because of the black-out. Those figures are indeed appalling, and they rather confirm, more than do other things, the legitimacy of the use of the words "home front"; for during last month, there were no fewer than 1,200 deaths on the roads of this country, 900 of them occurring during the black-out. It is unfortunate that there are not available the figures of those injured, but if we use the comparisons that are available, we find that the figure of deaths last month indicates that something like at least 30,000 people were injured, in addition to the fatalities. During the last four months of 1939, in spite of the vast decrease in traffic during three of those months, no fewer than 4,123 people met their death because of road accidents, and many of those accidents, certainly during the greater part of the period, occurred during the black-out. It is very desirable that the House should press for 474 further information on this subject, and that we should ask what is being done and what amount of thought has been devoted to this extremely urgent problem. It is, of course, useless to make comparisons between these terrible figures and the figures of casualties caused directly by war activities, for we do not know what these war casualties will amount to in the future, and such comparisons are rather out of place. Nevertheless, it is an appalling thought that, if the figure remains the same proportionately, the total in one year alone, quite apart from the whole course of the war, if it lasts a considerable time, will be something very much in the nature of the casualties of active warfare.
On examining the figures, I find that some parts of the country suffer more severely than others. For instance, in Birmingham there was an increase of no less than 81 per cent. in road casualties last month, and the figures in Glasgow nearly trebled. I know that the people of Glasgow, and hon. Members representing Glasgow divisions, are very much concerned about the way in which the authorities in that Scottish city are dealing, or not dealing as the case may be, with this problem. It is not sufficient to say that the black-out is the cause and that we have to put up with the consequences of measures that have to be taken to protect us in London and the big cities of the country; because it is a fact that there are other parts of the country where during the last three months, in spite of the black-out, the figures showed very much better results than in other parts of the country. There were quoted in the "Daily Herald "this morning figures which I thought were very significant. Those figures referred to the city of Salford, where the number of deaths was very small, being only nine killed during last month, and only five of them in the dark. But in Salford the police are specially dressed in white; they have white helmets, there are red electric bulbs in their helmets, and they use green and red torches to direct the traffic. A little later in my remarks I want to say something about the reduction of police activities in connection with the control of traffic in relation to this problem of road accidents. I do not want to raise seriously the question of motorists versus pedestrians, and if I am inclined to take the side of the pedestrians, it is only because I feel that their side of the matter should be stated in the House, 475 and because I know there will be hon. Members who will put the case for the motorists if it is considered desirable to elaborate that aspect of the question. I agree with what Mr. Max Beerbohm said on the wireless the other day:After all, pedestrians do not threaten motorists. Motorists threaten pedestrians".We are all entitled to the use of the roads even in war time, and as far as it may be necessary to use roads and highways, the pedestrian is equally entitled with the motorist to the utmost safety that can be maintained by means of the efforts of the authorities concerned. We are told that the greater number of deaths on the roads were of old people and very young people. I think it will be agreed that we cannot afford to lose the lives of the young people, but the old people, too, have as many rights as other sections of the community. We are all young and old, too, if we live long enough. Moreover, as the war goes on, we shall find that the elderly people of the country will be called upon to resume much greater responsibilities than they do normally in peace time, and will be more actively engaged in various departments of war work.
This raises a question to which I hope the Minister of Transport will give his very close attention this evening—namely, the use of the motor car upon the highways during the black-out. Should there be a more restricted speed limit in built-up areas in towns and cities and should those restrictions be enforced legally to a very much greater extent than is done at present? It has been suggested by certain people whose views are worth considering—by members of the various organisations dealing with road problems —that there should be enforced, for blackout purposes only, a speed limit of 15 miles an hour. I am not a motorist and I cannot speak with any great authority on the details as to whether 15 miles an hour is practicable. I know that 15 miles an hour in a motor car does not seem to be very fast, and as far as concerns public service vehicles, large motor lorries, and so on, I can quite understand that if such a restriction was maintained, those vehicles would have to keep on very low gears and expend a great amount of petrol. The problem cannot be solved in that way in any practicable measure. Nevertheless, that does not alter the fact 476 that the problem has to be solved, for we cannot go on with these figures month after month during the whole of the war. I think reasonable people will accept the proposition that the sole principle in considering the speed at which a motorist should travel in the conditions of a blackout should be whether he can pull up within the area of luminosity that is available to him. This is what an insurance official, who is a motorist, says in a letter to the "Manchester Guardian."
Already I have had reported hundreds of black-out accidents involving injury to pedestrians or pedal-cyclists. When one comes to study the claim forms completed by the motorists, one finds in a very large proportion of the cases that the motor vehicle has been driven at anything between 20 and 30 miles an hour. This is the motorist's own estimate of his speed, and he can be relied upon not to over-estimate.I think that agrees with the experience of people who use their powers of observation in built-up areas, as well as in the suburban areas of London and provincial cities. But the question whether a motorist is able to see within the limited amount of luminous space in front of him that is allowed by the lighting regulations for headlamps raises a matter that is not frequently mentioned—I have not seen it mentioned in any newspaper so far—and that is the small car, which represents, I suppose, the majority of cars on the road, whose driver is very often low-pitched, if that phrase explains what I mean. He is very low down in the car. There are also some high-powered big cars which are deliberately low-pitched, so that the driver cannot see immediately in front of the wheels. Many thousands of cars are so constructed that, under the conditions of the black-out, together with the restrictions imposed on lighting, the driver cannot see more than the fringe of that little circle of light which is allowed to him. That justifies either more and better lighting and better illumination of the streets by a modification of the present black-out arrangements, or else a reduction in the speed of motor-cars. I am aware that the Air Force people, who have carried out patrols in respect of London are opposed to any further modification of the black-out. They should know their own business and what is necessary to carry out their ideals of protection for our big cities, but to my mind it simply must be one thing or the other.
477 I do not wish to prejudice discussion because I know there are two sides, indeed many sides to a question of this character, but the facts seem to me to point to some requirement in the direction of lowering the speed limit in built-up areas during the black-out period. Cities and towns like Bristol, Oxford, Manchester and many others are calling for such a restriction. The Minister of Transport on 13th December, in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach) said he was not convinced that a reduction in road casualties would necessarily be achieved by the imposition of a reduced speed limit but that the Minister for Home Security and himself were taking steps to review this and any other measure which might be considered likely to lead to a reduction of road casualties during the blackout period. In reply to a Supplementary Question, the Minister also said that on the day when he became convinced that a proposal of that kind would achieve the object which they had in view he would be prepared to recommend it. I think the time has come to ask the Minister at what opinion he has arrived upon this question and I hope that this evening he will be able to say something very definite on the question of the speed limit during the black-out period in built-up areas.
There is one special point about which I wish to ask the Minister a question. I understand that the police of various municipalities have been advised to "go slow" about their duties in the control of traffic because of the waste of petrol. I think that is very unwise. If the police do not carry out the duties normally 'assigned to them for the protection of the civilian upon the high road, it gives the motorist who has no social conscience—and I know that he is in a small minority —a chance of doing what he pleases, not only in daylight but also during the black-out. It is possible to worship the idea of speed for the sake of speed, even under black-out conditions. I have seen speeds being maintained at such times which were appalling having regard to the circumstances. I read in a newspaper yesterday a comparison between the ordinary use of petrol and the use of petrol by the Royal Air Force in which the remarkable statement was made that a journey to the Heligoland Bight by 478 one of our high-speed bombers used up as much petrol as would be used by a small car in 20 years. It seems an extravagant statement but it was made by a journalist and I suppose a journalist writing in a reputable paper may be trusted even upon a technical matter of this kind. But if it is true that there has been an order to the police of local authorities to use less petrol at the expense of the safety of the public on the high roads, then that is something which simply cannot be justified.
There is another question to which I ask the Minister's attention, It relates to the London Passenger Transport Board but it applies also to other bodies of both a public and a private character. I refer to public service vehicles and to lorries which convey produce of various kinds. The London Passenger Transport Board seems to have lost all its old attitude of consideration for the public. I do not want to go into all the instances but I am sure that large numbers of people in London feel that they do not get anything like the consideration and courtesy which used to be extended to them in connection with London traffic. I could give a number of instances which would be out of place in a Debate of this character but here is a case in which the regulations of the Board definitely make for danger in the streets of London. The journeys made by the buses are scheduled. Private firms also make schedules for the journeys of their employes but in the case of the buses it is particularly dangerous for this reason. The London Passenger Transport Board has recently made changes, and as an illustration of these I give the case of a journey which was normally a 59-minute journey—when I say normally I mean taking the figures which existed before the war—and has now as a war measure been reduced to 55 minutes in the course of the day. [HON. MEMBERS: "In the black-out? "] I am coming to that.
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith
Can my hon. Friend indicate the nature of the journey. It might be on a country road or it might be on a congested road. It is important to know that.
§ Mr. Montague
It is, I believe, a route which goes rather out of London. It goes from the middle of London out of London. I cannot give the exact route but I can find it out if necessary. As I 479 was about to say, the time has been reduced to 55 minutes for the day and to make up for that, a 51 minute journey has been increased to 55 minutes during the black-out, so that you have—and this has been the purpose—an evening up of the times. Only four minutes grace is allowed on the schedule to the driver of the bus in the black-out and it was the driver himself who gave me the figures. When one realises that more time is taken in picking up passengers during the black-out and the fact that in such a journey, of practically an hour's duration, there would be 18 or 20 or more stops, the allowance of an extra four minutes during the black-out is out of the question. Anyone can see upon some of the roads of London that the drivers have to strain their eyes—and it is a strain. If the driver sees even a piece of paper on the road or the lighted end of a cigarette it has an effect upon his nerves but in spite of that they have to endeavour to keep up to those times. This seems to be a regulation which could, at least, be modified by the London Passenger Transport Board and I invite the Minister to make a special note of it.
The greatest danger is in the period "between the lights." I understand that the largest number of accidents occur during the hour after the beginning of the black-out and the hour before the end of the black-out. This is an interesting reflection upon the experiments that have been made in London with what is called "star lighting." It seems to me that the idea of allowing just a glimmer is more likely to lead to accidents than otherwise. It certainly does not help the motorist. It may give some sort of sense of direction to the pedestrian but it probably places the motorist in a more difficult position than ever, just because that kind of light is akin to the twilight which prevails at the beginning and end of the black-out. The pedestrian in those circumstances or even in the complete black-out has great difficulty in judging distances and speeds and this brings me again to the point about the control of traffic.
I am sorry that the automatic system of lights in London has led to so much unnecessary reduction in that traffic control which is really required in normal times, let alone during the black-out. I 480 give an illustration of what I mean, which every Member of the House can follow. There is a crossing at the end of the Strand by Trafalgar Square which I "make "every night, and on more than one occasion I have very nearly been the victim of a certain practice which ought to be stopped but which cannot be stopped unless at important places such as that a policeman remains on point duty with green and red torches as is done in Salford. I have noticed over and over again that when the traffic lights have changed, one or two cars—perhaps one car out of a number lined up ready to go on—will accelerate suddenly. There may be a little glimmer about. Perhaps there has not been a complete black-out at that point. There, as in other parts of London, because of various circumstances there may be a little glimmer here and there and where there is that little glimmer, a certain type of motorist will accelerate quickly and get off the mark as fast as he can.
I have seen people walking across the street and faced with that sudden acceleration when the lights changed, and they have been compelled to run to get out of the way. On one occasion I saw a person trip on the kerb and fall as a result. If that happens at important crossings in many parts of London, it may provide some explanation of what one has read in the newspapers about people being caught under buses and vehicles of various kinds and not being discovered until they had been carried miles away. I draw the Minister's attention to the desirability of some control at important crossings, apart from the automatic lights. I think also there should be a larger number of those lights known, I think, as St. Andrew's Cross lights. In my district they have been extremely useful, and I imagine that an extension of them would be valuable.
Then there is the question of whether we need so much black-out. Again, we have, of course, the view of the people who are most concerned and who are technically able to deal with the question better, I suppose, than any ordinary person, namely the Air Force and those who have gone up to examine from the air the actual results of the black-out. It seems to me that a great deal of nonsense is being talked about the impossibility of a master-switch which could be used to turn the lights of a town down when 481 there was an air-raid warning sounded, or a yellow warning given. We are told, or at any rate I have heard, that one of the difficulties is that if all the electricity is turned out at once there is a chance of accidents taking place in the power station. I should have thought that could have been got over. When a town is lighted I suppose it is done by sections, as is done when towns are lit by gas, and that technical people could easily get over the difficulty. There seems to me no reason why towns should not be partially lit by light better than starlight, and that the lighting should be controlled by the electrical authorities.
I should like to say a word or two from the point of view of the pedestrian. I have a number of notes from the bus driver to whom I referred earlier. He is a member of my own party and that is how I know him. I saw him, and he gave me a number of points which I think are very valuable, so valuable that if they were broadcast in some way or another, and given some kind of publicity, they would be very helpful indeed. He refers, for instance, to the question of torches, and says that the use of torches by pedestrians is one of the greatest difficulties with which motorists, and, especially, the public service vehicle motorists, have to deal, because the bus driver is higher than the ordinary driver. The pedestrian imagines that the thing to do is to illuminate somebody else when what he really should do is to illuminate himself. That is a point people should be allowed to know, and we might spend a little money, a few thousand pounds, or. really good publicity of this kind so that people would know what they ought to do. The bus driver says, and I quote this point, thatThe shining of torches in a uniform and proper manner is very effective when hailing a bus.There, again, T have seen people at request stop stations go out into the road with their torch-lights, risking being run over by other vehicles than the bus they wish to stop, and, do not forget, this is at a time when there are these restrictions on time in schedules and when there is a tendency for the bus driver, a little behind time, not to notice the request signal from somebody upon the pavement. Because of that, people go off the pavement into the road, hold up their torches to hail 482 buses and very often in consequence accidents occur. The bus driver suggests holding the torch chest-high, about 18 inches away from the body, and directing the beam on to the knees. He goes on to say:the torch nuisance is not confined to the highway. A passenger, on the lower deck of the bus, getting on to the bus will often shine his torch right into the cabin of the driver.A little point like that can be made public for the information of the pedestrian. Another suggestion that has been made, I believe in the Press, and which is also referred to by the bus driver, is the use by cyclists of a little white pennant attached to the front mudguard in front of his light. A pennant would not only give a signal to on-coming motorists, and motorists from behind who could see the cyclist when his bicycle swerved, but would also be useful in the case, where many accidents occur, where the driver of a car enters the road from a side street. That strikes me as a particularly good suggestion, because everyone knows that movement attracts attention more than anything else.
Finally there is the question of drink. I am not a fanatic upon that matter, not by any means, and perhaps one hon. Member who is not present at the moment might be exceedingly interested in this question. When I quoted Glasgow I had in mind that a great deal is being said about drunkenness being the cause of road accidents during black-outs, drunkenness perhaps on the part of some motorist, or on the part of pedestrians. I do not know whether it applies to Glasgow or whether it applies generally, but drink certainly causes some accidents. I am sometimes appalled when I see in the black-out cars parked in huge numbers outside road-houses on the outskirts of London. Everyone knows the effect of alcohol on the mind. I do not think it is a bad thing occasionally for people to have a little relaxation of the tension of the human body, but everyone knows that in handling a machine like a motor car, which is after all a ton or two of very deadly machinery, a man who is in the slightest degree under the influence of drink is not the man to be in charge of it. I feel that some attention ought to be given to that, especially when you see all over the country, and particularly at week-ends, people going to places where 483 drink is a great element of the entertainment. Often these people have come a long way and have to get back to London. Possibly they are the cause of a great number of the accidents that occur, I do not know, because we have not got any accurate figures on the subject, but I feel that every person who is convicted of being under the influence of drink when in charge of a motor car, and, particularly, if he has caused an accident, should have his licence taken away and should not be able to use a motor car for the whole period of the war. I mention that because it is an important problem in this connection.
To summarise, there is the question of re-lighting number plates, of licences in the case of people convicted of being under the influence of drink, the question of crossing-lights and of police control and speed. I invite the Minister to give us some precise information, and the results of the inquiries he has promised in the past, so that we shall know whether it is not possible to do away with, at least, the greater part of the deadly menace which is facing us to-day, almost as great as a minor war, represented by the heavy toll upon the road due to the black-out conditions, although not entirely.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Captain Wallace)
I think it will be for the convenience of the House if I intervene early in this important Debate in order that the House may be aware during the subsequent speeches of the views of His Majesty's Government upon the problem which, I need hardly assure hon. Members, has been engaging our earnest and anxious attention ever since the September figures of road accidents came out. We may all be grateful to the hon. Gentleman who has opened this Debate, and I have no reason to complain of the tone or manner in which he did so. In fact, he said one or two things which I was going to say, and with which I entirely agree. One of the first was that this was not a question of motorists versus pedestrians. It is a question of paramount concern to everybody in the country, for there are few people who do not occupy at different times the dual roles of motorist and pedestrian. Owing to various circumstances into which we need not enter in detail, there are this year fewer motorists and 484 more pedestrians. The hon. Gentleman put forward a question which is fundamental. He said it must be one thing or the other—either there must be an appreciable "let up" of the black-out, or the Government, if they decide that the black-out must remain in substantially the present form, must take such measures as are open to them to deal with the menace of road accidents. I do not think the House would wish me to go at any length into the merits of the blackout as such.
§ Captain Wallace
I am not really the appropriate Minister to deal with it, but I can say, as the Home Secretary said recently in a speech in Glasgow, that the black-out is not a bureaucratic invention, but is dictated solely by questions of air strategy and is an essential part of the national defence elaborated by the Air Staff. It seems to me, therefore, that until the day comes—and may it come soon—when we shall have destroyed a sufficient number of the German bomber striking force to make the menace of air raids on this country no longer real, we are bound to maintain the black-out in substantially its present form. The House will recognise that we have, during the currency of the black-out, made a considerable number of modifications, all in the direction of mitigating its horrors—and they are horrors—for the railway traveller, the pedestrian, and the driver of the motor vehicle. I think, therefore, that I should best serve the interests of hon. Members in the opening stages of this Debate if I asked the House to agree to the proposition that the black-out must be maintained substantially as at present and deal with the question of road fatalities on the assumption that this must be the case.
The hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate gave us the limits of the problem with which we so far are faced. During the period 1st September to 31st December last, that is, the first four months of the war, 4,133 persons died as a result of road accidents, compared with 2,494 in the corresponding period of 1938. I agree with the hon. Gentleman in deprecating any sensational comparisons between the numbers of fatal road accidents and the war casualties which have occurred up to date. We cannot 485 expect that the sacrifices which we shall have to make in the war will be restricted in future to anything like the present numbers. Moreover it is only right, in trying to achieve a balanced view of this problem, to recognise that even in peace-time modern mechanical transport continues to exact a toll of human life, not only in this country, but in every country where it is largely used. It is curious and rather tragic that, in spite of the laudable efforts of certain organs of the Press and private organisations like the National Safety First Association, which have aroused interest in this problem, the public has for a long time been apathetic. It is only when catastrophe comes and touches us personally as individuals that we realise the full horror and tragedy of death on the roads. I do not think it can be denied, and I do not think anybody will want to deny, that the black-out is the main cause of the increase in road casualties, which has averaged over the last four months 66 per cent. over the comparable pre-war period. If evidence is wanted in support of this fact, the weekly figures of deaths and injuries resulting from road accidents which are compiled for the Metropolitan Police district have shown that they are markedly at their lowest during the times of full moon. If graphs of the figures per week and the phases of the moon are made it will be found that they correspond very closely. To return to the conditions of normal road lighting is in present circumstances out of the question.
§ Captain Wallace
I wish I could. Any large scale programme of road works for the physical prevention of collisions is rendered equally impossible by considerations of labour, materials and money. We must, therefore, face this problem under war-time conditions from a new angle. The first measures which we adopted when the war broke out took the form of aids to movement. During the last few months a great deal has been done to make motoring in the black-out easier for the motorist. The chief aids to movement were white driving lines, symbols on the carriageway to indicate the approaches to road junctions or pedestrian crossings, the painting of kerbs at road junctions, the demarca- 486 tion of refuges and roundabouts, the illumination, lowering, and resiting of warning and direction signs. I should like to pay tribute to the action of the local authorities in this matter. We have laid down what our engineers think is best to be done, and the local authorities have acted as our agents. I acknowledge their energy in this respect, and I hope they will continue in well doing in the future.
But I think we must recognise that there comes a point where the provision of more definite aids to movement in the black-out becomes actually a contributory factor to more road accidents, because it permits a general acceleration of motor traffic. I think the experiences of the last four months have made that clear. To take drastic steps at any time to deal with motor traffic or the perambulations of pedestrians is not, in the view of the Government, in itself desirable. We felt that the very large increase in road accidents which shocked this House so much at the end of September might well be due to the novel conditions and that the public would adapt themselves to the black-out as time went on. When in October the increase over pre-war fell from 104 per cent. to 43 per cent. that gave considerable encouragement to this view, and when in November there was a rise in the death rate of only seven throughout the country I felt that that rise might well have been attributed to the shorter days and more unfavourable weather. I am sorry to say that the increase in December, even allowing for still shorter days and the Christmas traffic, has falsified our hopes that the situation was improving, and makes it clear that if we are to reduce the toll of road accidents some further restrictive measures are required.
As the hon. Member opposite has already mentioned, the pedestrian is the chief sufferer, and during these four months, September to December inclusive, 2,657 pedestrians died as the result of road accidents, an increase of 117 per cent. over the corresponding period of last year. If we take account only of adult pedestrians, the percentage figure rises to 148. I am glad to say that the number of children under 15 years of age who were killed during these four months was 293, against 270 in the corresponding four months of last year, representing an increase of only 8½ per cent. Heaven knows 487 it is nothing to be complacent about or to congratulate ourselves upon, but it is at any rate a good thing to know that the efforts that have been made to instil road sense into these children have evidently borne some fruit.
I have tried to describe very briefly the facts of the situation, and when we start to look round for remedies the position is best described in the words of the Alness Report. That eminent Select Committee of members of another place stated categorically that the human factor is of supreme importance, and I do not think anybody would deny that if all of us were unselfish and behaved with real care there would be very few road accidents. Human nature however being what it is the Government are bound, both by regulation and exhortation, to correct human frailty and to fortify human weakness, but any restrictive measures which we advocate must satisfy two essential conditions. They must be shown, first of all, to be necessary and, secondly, to be practicable. Among the most obvious measures of restriction is the reduction of the speed-limit in built-up areas during black-out hours, a proposal which has been advocated in the only speech which we have so far heard in this Debate.
As long ago as 15th September this proposal was put to me in a Parliamentary Question by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall). I felt then, and I feel now, that a maximum speed-limit of any kind is open to this objection, that the degree of risk on any particular occasion depends upon many other factors than speed, and it really is not possible for the Minister of Transport, or anybody else, to lay down that any given speed is safe on any given occasion. As I pointed out to the House in answering that question to which I have just referred, it seemed to me that to those people who drive with any regard to their own safety or the safety of others the black-out conditions themselves impose severe restrictions on speed, and in my view they ought to. The fact, however, remains that Parliament in its wisdom decided some time ago that both during daylight and in the conditions of night illumination which prevail in peace-time—very different conditions from those prevailing now—a 488 maximum speed of 30 miles an hour in built-up areas must be regarded as the general limit; and this decision was reaffirmed, not only without a single dissentient vote, but without a single criticism at all, during the passage of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill through this House only six weeks ago. The Government have, therefore, now come to the conclusion that, in view of the persistently high rate of fatal accident figures since the war, and particularly the figures of last month, if 30 miles an hour represents a proper maximum speed limit in built-up areas in peace-time, there is an overwhelming case for a slowing up to 20 miles an hour in the same areas during the black-out.
There are three main objections which, I imagine, can be advanced against this proposal—the effect upon trade and industry, the possible slowing-up of public road passenger transport, and the difficulty of enforcing the new regulation. There may be something in all those objections, but I do not think that any of them outweigh the arguments on the other side. Can it really be contended that 20 miles an hour is too slow for lorries to travel in the dark on those stretches of roads where all are at present restricted in daylight to a maximum speed of 30 miles an hour, and the heavier lorries already to 20?
§ Mr. Barnes
Do I understand from the Minister's remarks that the 20 miles an hour is to apply only in the built-up areas during the black-out?
§ Captain Wallace
Yes, only during the black-out hours and in built-up areas—that is, on stretches of roads where there is already a limit of 30 miles an hour applicable all through the 24 hours.
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith
I take it that the lorry already restricted to 20 miles an hour on a country road will still be restricted?
§ Captain Wallace
The lorry which is restricted to 20 miles an hour is so restricted because of its size and weight, and that applies all the time.
§ Captain Wallace
If my hon. and gallant Friend will allow me, I think it will be better if I make my speech. There will be a reply at the end of the Debate, either by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Home Security, or my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport according to how the Debate goes. [Laughter.] What I mean is, according to whether the speeches turn more upon the Home Security or the Ministry of Transport aspect of this problem. Will anybody who has considered the strain imposed on drivers of passenger transport vehicles suggest that, with the present lighting restrictions, a speed of 20 miles an hour is not sufficient? So far as London is concerned, I am glad to say that I have heard from the London Passenger Transport Board that, in regard to the central area, they do not think it will involve any material alteration in the schedules, although it may result in the retiming of certain of the country services. I still maintain that, in present conditions, in built-up areas, it is sufficient to ask the driver of a public service transport vehicle to drive at a 20-mile-an-hour maximum in the blackout.
In regard to enforcement, we all recognise the difficulty in enforcing the law in relation to all motoring offences in present conditions. I naturally regard the provision of illumination for the registration numbers of cars as an important object to be aimed at as soon as possible. Experiments are going on between my advisers and those of my right hon. Friend, and we are supervised and criticised by the Air Ministry. The result of our observations to date is to show that it is not possible to produce a light which will illuminate the back numbers of cars sufficiently for police purposes, and yet remain within the limits imposed by black-out regulation, at a cost of less than 45s. per fitting. I do not feel it would be justifiable for the Government to insist that every motorist, who feels in many cases that he is getting very nearly to the last straw, should provide himself with this fitting. The Home Secretary and I will keep on pursuing this matter, and I hone that we shall be able to provide some means of lighting these back numbers; but whether the back numbers are lit or whether they are not, it does not 490 seem to me to be any more difficult for the police to enforce a limit of 20 miles an hour maximum speed under the conditions which I have described than to enforce the existing 30-mile-an-hour limit; in fact, it would not be too much to say that it will be easier.
The principal arguments in favour of the reduced speed limit during black-out hours are, first of all, that the general public in this country is law-abiding. The great majority of motorists will, in the view of the Government, most certainly endeavour to keep within the limit. I believe that a very considerable number of them do not want to go any faster. The general slowing up of traffic which this regulation ought to produce in built-up areas will make things much more difficult for the law-breaker and make easier the detection of the reckless driver. I feel that it would not be too much to ask—and to ask with a considerable prospect of success—that the motoring fraternity as a whole, to which so many of us belong, should be on its honour to observe this 20-mile-an-hour speed limit in built-up areas during the black-out.
The second argument is that the reduced speed limit has the advantage that there is more time for motor driver and pedestrian to avoid an impending collision; and even when a collision does take place the force of the impact will be more than proportionately diminished. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen are no doubt thinking that it is better to be dead than to be seriously injured, but I might say, on the other hand, that it is better to be slightly injured than severely injured. I recognise that there may be people who drive powerful cars with exceptionally good brakes, whose eyesight is particularly keen, and whose reaction-time is exceptionally short, for whom the necessity of driving at no more than 20 miles an hour in built-up areas during the black-out will be irksome.
§ Captain Wallace
It will probably be better if I carry on. There will be a reply at the end of the Debate. I do not think that it is open to question that, for the vast majority of motorists, the new speed limit will represent no real hardship and that, to drivers of commercial vehicles, both passenger and 491 goods, a general slowing down of traffic in the black-out will come as a boon. The Government accordingly propose to introduce a 20-mile-an-hour speed limit during black-out hours in built-up areas. This cannot be done under the Road Traffic Acts, because they do not empower me to fix a different limit of speed at night from that which is in operation during the day. I propose, therefore, to make an Order under the Defence Regulations which will come into force on 1st February. In the light of something which I have to say later, that date will give everybody time to get ready. I am convinced that the imposition of this reduced speed limit in built-up areas during the black-out is an essential move in the campaign to reduce the very serious number of road accidents. I certainly do not claim that it will be a cure for all our ills, but I believe it will be effective in securing an appreciable reduction in road accident figures. I am well aware that there is room for difference of opinion in this matter and I am prepared to admit that the precise effect of the imposition of this speed limit remains to be seen. We shall carefully watch the situation in the light of the investigation of accident figures to which I am going to refer later, and I shall, of course, be ready to review the situation if the need should arise. The whole problem is not static, but requires constant investigation, with the object of finding out the remedy which will best meet the situation at the time.
Sir C. Granville Gibson
Will the limitation to 20 miles an hour apply during the whole of the night when most people are in bed?
§ Captain Wallace
Yes. I have very carefully considered whether it would be possible to take the limit off at midnight, but everybody is not then in bed, although it might be argued that they ought to be. Certainly, during the winter months, it would be necessary to put the restriction on again in the early hours of the morning when many workpeople are going to work. The result would be four changes of speed limit during the 24 hours, and the Government came to the conclusion that that was not a practical proposition.
Mr. V. Adams
May I ask a question at this point? What about the speed limit in areas which are not built-up? There 492 may be very serious danger because of motorists rushing along with dimmed headlights.
§ Captain Wallace
No, I want it to be perfectly clear, as I have said on more than one occasion, that this proposal is solely for built-up areas where the 30 mile an hour speed limit already exists.
§ Captain Wallace
I would remind my hon. Friend that there will be a reply from another Minister. Now we must turn from the driver of the motor vehicle to the pedestrian and consider whether it would be advisable or wise to couple this restriction which we are going to place upon motorists with some measure of limitation on the movement of pedestrians during the black-out. I hope the House will believe me when I tell them that I think every single proposal which human ingenuity could invent has been brought to my notice during the past four months and has I hope received the amount of attention which it merits. The most obvious measure which will spring to the thoughts of many hon. Gentlemen is to make it an offence to cross any road which is provided with a pedestrian crossing at any place except where the pedestrian crossing happens to be. This presents obvious practical difficulties, not the least of which is the fact that so far it has not been found possible to devise a satisfactory method of distinguishing pedestrian crossings at night so that they can be easily seen by motorists and pedestrians, while at the same time maintaining a satisfactory standard of invisibility from the air. My technical advisers are still working on this problem, but it is one in which I see very great difficulties. The use of pedestrian crossings is, of course, compulsory in Germany and, I think, in some other countries, and the method of enforcement in Germany, which is by the collection of fines on the spot by the police, is not one which would be regarded with favour here.
Another suggestion is that pedestrians should be made to obey traffic lights. At first blush, a rule of that kind has some attraction, but it must be remembered that traffic lights are intended primarily for the control of vehicles, and as a rule allowance has to be made for turning traffic. It is true that at certain 493 large installations we do provide an "all-red" period, but in the vast majority of cases it is essential, as I think most of us as pedestrians have learnt to our cost, to watch the traffic and not rely too much on the light. Even if it were made a statutory offence 10 cross on the red, that would involve a risk that pedestrians might assume they could safely proceed when the lights changed and might be caught by turning traffic. I do not think we should give them any false sense of security.
Other suggestions which, while excellent in theory, appear to me to have grave practical difficulties, are that it should be an offence to walk on the carriageway where there is a footpath and that penalties should be provided for what in America is called "jay-walking." While the dangers of these practices of walking on the road and of jay-walking cannot be too strongly emphasised, I believe that even the risk of being fined will not deter people from doing it until they can be convinced that it is a very foolhardy action on their part. The same considerations apply to the advice in the Highway Code about walking to the left on pavements. There is something very remarkable about the British public in walking to the left or, rather, in not walking to the left. Tremendous efforts were made before the war in the form of propaganda to try and induce the public to walk on the left. It has great advantages if everybody will walk on the same side, but it is very difficult to persuade the British pedestrian to change his habits. In fact, I was informed by a high official of the London Passenger Transport Board that they have found in some circumstances that the only way to persuade the public to use certain passages as entrances is to label them "Exit only." Anybody who has tried, as a conscientious Minister of Transport should, to walk on the left, even if he is a fairly substantial body, knows that it is a difficult proceeding. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is its virtue?"] The virtue is very simple. If you walk on the left, you face oncoming traffic.
§ Captain Wallace
I was talking about the footpath. There is no doubt that the main cause of accidents to pedestrians is that in the present circumstances they are 494 the only unlighted objects on the road, and pedestrians do not realise how difficult it is for them to judge accurately the distance and speed of vehicles at night or how difficult drivers sometimes find it to see them. While I certainly do not suggest to the House to-night that the black-out in any way frees drivers from the obligation of driving within the limit of their lights and of being able to pull up within the distance in which they can see the road to be clear, all the same, I am confident that there would be fewer accidents if pedestrians would bear in mind the difficulties which drivers of vehicles have in seeing them in the black-out, and try to avoid crossing a road when vehicles are approaching. I should be the last person, speaking with the great responsibility that I have in this matter, to wish to abrogate the proper rights of pedestrians on crossings or anywhere else, but if we really get down to hard facts, the consciousness of having been in the right is a rather poor sort of consolation when one is dead or in hospital, and I would remind all road users whose carelessness causes accidents that the victim is not the only sufferer. To kill a human being, even if it happens to be the fault of that human being, is a terrible thing, and it often leaves its effect on the minds of completely blameless drivers of motor vehicles for years.
Another suggestion concerns the compulsory carrying of torches or wearing something white. There are obvious objections to making these matters compulsory by law. There is the case of the man who cannot afford a torch and the man whose torch goes out a couple of miles from home.
§ Captain Wallace
And at the moment he cannot get the battery. As far as white clothing is concerned, we can take it as practical men and women that we could not do more than insist by law on the wearing of a white armlet. The idea of everyone being dressed in white after dark is fantastic, and I do not think the wearing of a white arm band would be a complete solution to the problem. Therefore, we have come to the conclusion that no single one of these proposals regarding 495 pedestrians appears to be a suitable subject for legislation, and I should certainly deprecate the creation of a large number of new offences, the sum total of which would smack very strongly of a Hitlerian regime, always repugnant to this people and peculiarly so at the present moment.
Another factor is that it is obvious that the penalties could not in any individual case be severe, and they certainly could not be commensurate with the risk which the pedestrian runs to-day by ignoring these elementary precautions. Therefore, I cannot emphasise too strongly the fact that while we do not want to make the use of pedestrian crossings, the carrying of torches, the wearing of something white, attention to the traffic lights, and the prohibition of walking on the road new statutory offences, we do still believe that they represent rules of conduct which every pedestrian would be well advised to observe as much in his own interest as in the interest of other people.
A number of Members, in all parts of the House, have expressed regret that the detailed analyses of road accidents which have been made from time to time, and which for the year 1937 provided us with extremely valuable data, have not become a permanent feature of our study of the road accident problem. The diversion of staffs—particularly police, and in a secondary degree my own staff—to other work makes it quite impossible for us to attempt a nation-wide analysis on the same scale as was done in 1937; but I am very glad to be able to tell the House that, with the co-operation of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, we propose to get the police to undertake a special investigation into the causation of road accidents in several selected areas which have not yet been determined, and I hope that the data which we shall receive from those areas will do something to help us towards a solution of the problem.
The hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate expressed himself as being in favour of propaganda. I believe, myself, that practically all the imprudences and indiscretions which road users can and do commit are the result of carelessness, and not of malice aforethought; and I have always held the view that the toll of road casualties, in peace or in war, can be reduced by the use of judicious propa- 496 ganda. I am particularly glad to be able to tell the House that the Minister of Information, whom I have consulted on the subject, has agreed to undertake immediately a road-safety campaign, which I hope will include the use of the Press, broadcasting, and the cinemas. I should like to pay my tribute to the very energetic way in which the new Minister of Information has, so to speak, "snapped into" his job. The use of propaganda for the purpose of reducing road casualties has not hitherto been tried by the Government on a large scale, and I think it needs something of an optimist to start a campaign in a field where complaints of the apathy of the public have so often been voiced—and, indeed, where I have just voiced them myself; but I believe that the black-out has now begun to awaken the country to a realisation of the responsibilities of all road users. At any rate, the Minister of Information and I, being both Scots and both optimists, are looking forward to the campaign with intense interest, and considerable hopes of success. I should like to pay a tribute to the private bodies which have undertaken this work in the past, and more particularly to our very good friends the National Safety First Association, with whom my Department will continue to work in close harmony. The Association have told the Government that they are going to inaugurate, in addition to their well-known National Safe Driving Competition, a special scheme of awards for safe driving among drivers in Civil Defence units. We welcome this news, and shall give it our warmest support; and the Minister for Home Security has decided that expenditure by local authorities in entering their drivers for the award will rank for A.R.P. grant.
The hon. Gentleman opposite raised in his speech a number of specific points—the use, or rather lack of use, of petrol by the police, certain schedules of the London Passenger Transport Board, and other matters. I hope that he will allow me to leave a reply to them until they are all picked up together at the end of the Debate. In conclusion, I only want to say this: In commenting on the Parliamentary programme for this week, at least one organ of the Press, of wide circulation, pointed out that our Debates touched very closely on the lives of all of us as individuals—road accidents to-day, shop hours to- 497 morrow, agriculture and food on Thursday. This, indeed, is a very great human problem; and, in accordance with the answer which I gave just before the Christmas holidays, I have devoted a great deal of thought to it, because I know that while the Minister of Transport cannot exactly be held responsible for road accidents, he is, at any rate, answerable to this House of Commons that every reasonable measure is taken that will reduce them. I do not pretend that what I have been able to say to the House to-night represents a conclusive and permanent answer to the problem. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I do not put this forward in any spirit of complacency, but I hope that those hon. Gentlemen opposite who appear, by their "Hear, hears," rather to deride our effort will succeed in coming forward this evening themselves with some bigger, better, and more practicable suggestions. At any rate, what we are proposing to do now will, I am absolutely certain, save some lives; and if at the end of four months this tragic toll of road accidents is reduced by 100, by 10, or even by one, I do not think this House will have sat this evening in vain.
§ 7.58 p.m.
Mr. Graham White
I had proposed to devote such time as the House would allow me, and any arguments that I might have, to appealing to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to take some immediate step to put an end to the continuing and increasing scandal of the war on the roads. After the statement of the Minister and the two comprehensive speeches which have been made, and which have covered the ground, I propose to intervene only for a few moments. Speaking for myself, and, I think, for my friends, I can say that we have heard with great satisfaction that the Minister has decided to impose a speed limit of 20 miles an hour during black-out hours in built-up areas. He says that this and the other steps that he has indicated are not a final and permanent solution of all these problems, but I hope that his ambitions are a little higher than the reduction in four months of road accident deaths by 100, by 10, or by one. His ambitions seem to be decreasing.
At all events, we welcome this proposal as a positive and practical step, which, we feel confident, will have some effect upon this disastrous situation. Some observations have been made of a somewhat speculative character during the evening as to the apathy which prevails, and has prevailed in the past, with regard to road accidents. One or two things have been said which establish a common ground for this Debate, and that is, that this question ought not to be discussed and considered as a question of motorists versus pedestrians. That seems to be important. If I may dwell for a moment on the general question of the attitude of the public towards this appalling death-rate upon the roads, I have been driven reluctantly to the conclusion that, in general, people are not very much concerned with other people who are killed provided it does not come too near to themselves. Probably the reason for the attitude of the public is that, whether we are motorists or pedestrians, we are inclined to regard ourselves as exceptions to the rule both as regards risk and, perhaps to some extent, responsibility.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that he proposed this step, with which, I think, the House approves, and he went on to say something with regard to enforcement. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman put his finger on the spot when he said that a mere fine is not sufficient to prevent either pedestrians or motorists from breaking the law. Of course it is not enough. If the fear of death and accident is not enough to make them observe the law, surely a fine of a pound or two is no good at all. Success depends upon motorists and pedestrians realising that there is a common right in the use of the road, and a common responsibility upon everyone to see that the regulations are in fact carried out.
I pass straight away to couple with that observation what the Minister said with regard to propaganda. I am certain, from my own observations, that pedestrians on the road at this time, taking them by and large, are unaware of the fact that they cannot be seen until they are actually within the beam of a very attenuated lamp. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman might confer with his friend the Minister of Information on this point. I think that much good could be obtained if he were to arrange for a 499 few short and snappy sentences to be interpolated in broadcasting programmes from time to time, pointing out to pedestrians the exact position which prevails and the risks they run from the fact that they are not visible, and pointing out that in present conditions it is extraordinarily difficult to judge how far a car is away and at what speed it is travelling. I hope that that suggestion may receive some consideration in the various steps of propaganda which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has in view.
I want to refer to a subject raised by the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), which is always received in this House with some hilarity, and the Minister, in the course of his long, comprehensive, and valuable survey of the whole of this subject did not refer to it. Perhaps it is a tit-bit to be left over to his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, or his right hon. Friend, whichever of them replies. I refer to the subject of the influence of intoxicants upon road accidents. That is not a matter to be dismissed lightly at all. In 1936 the subject came before this House, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's predecessor appointed a committee of the British Medical Association, when various eminent authorities considered the matter in all its aspects and made some practical suggestions, and important deductions were made from the evidence which they had considered. I do not think that that is a matter which, although it is generally received with some mild hilarity in this House, ought to escape very serious attention during the consideration of this problem.
I hope and believe that the step which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has taken will have the important effect of bringing increased sense of responsibility to motorists and will lead to a general tightening-up of caution in driving through the black-out hours, and will also lead to a general slowing-down of traffic and greater care in the whole of the urban areas in this country. That is probably the most important effect which will come from it, and I certainly hope that that will be the case. May I make a suggestion? I do not know whether it will be considered outrageous, but some of the worst offenders now speeding on the roads, and who show 500 little consideration for anybody at all, are people who have some priority sign upon their windscreen. They appear to go "hell for leather" without regard to safety or anything else. Some of these priority signs seem to be entitled to very little consideration at all. But there it is. That is an observation which, I hope, may receive some consideration, and I trust that it may find sonic place in a word of warning and caution in whatever propaganda steps are taken or any information which the Minister may give.
There is one other point which might receive a little more consideration. Could there not be a more careful distribution of police in actual danger spots? One often sees a constable or an officer on duty in some place where there appears to be little necessity for him. To those who have not studied the matter specially and have no special knowledge, the opinion may not be worth very much, but one often sees a dangerous spot in one's locality. It may be known generally as "Crash corner," or something of that kind, and if there was a careful watch made or special attention given at such points, it would lead to a diminution in the number of accidents. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, in speaking of the terrible increase in the casualties since the black-out, referred to the 4,123 deaths which had occurred since the war began. It is a terrible thing, but it is not enough to blame this on to the black-out, as my hon. Friend has said. There were over 6,500 deaths on the roads in 1938, which indeed is appalling. I wish to approve of the positive steps which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman proposes to take to-night, and I hope that he will keep this matter under daily observation. If it is not enough, I feel that the opinion of the country will insist upon something more. The creating of a public consciousness against what is happening on the roads ought to be more successful even than formal regulations.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Sir W. Brass
I am very disappointed with the speech which has been made by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Transport. He disappointed me, to start with, by saying that he did not consider any alteration in the black-out was necessary. He is faced with a very difficult problem indeed when 1,155 people were killed in December, and he feels that he cannot come down 501 to the House of Commons without saying something, and he has taken what I consider to be the easiest course. I do not think it will do the slightest good. Not only that, but it is going to be a real danger. I do not know whether my right hon. and gallant Friend drives very much at night, but if he does, I am going to ask him whether he ever turns on his dash-lamp light in order to see his speedometer. If he does, he cannot see anything else. That is why I say that the new rule that he is going to bring in will not be a public benefit but a public menace and danger. If he is going to keep to the 20-mile limit, as he suggests DOW, he will have to have his speedometer light on in order to see that he is keeping to the 20 miles an hour. When one drives at night, as I do very often, I always have my dash-lamp out because when the light is on I cannot see ahead. If I have to look at the speedometer, in future I shall not be able to see the road. But I shall not do that; I shall drive as I do to-day.
There is another reason why I object to what my right hon. and gallant Friend has said and proposed. The speed limit is absolutely unenforceable in the dark. I want to explain to him—though perhaps he knows—how speed limits are enforced in this country. There are two ways which are generally practised by the Metropolitan Police. One way is to tail a vehicle and look at the speedometer of the following vehicle. This is impossible in the dark because the light of the vehicle behind will not shine on the vehicle in front, and therefore it cannot get close enough to see whether the speed limit is being exceeded. There is another way of doing it, and that is to set three people on the path, two in plain clothes and one in uniform. The two in plain clothes stand 220 yards apart, and when a vehicle plsses the first man flashes a torch and starts his watch. The second man also starts his watch, and when the car gets 220 yards beyond him he flashes his torch for the third policeman, in uniform, to stop his watch and the car. That is impossible in the dark, because the flashing of torches is not allowed. Consequently it is impossible to enforce a speed limit. My right hon. and gallant Friend said that this speed limit was going to be enforced only in built-up areas. As the lamps are out in these areas, how can anybody who is driving know whether 502 it is a built-up area or not? In that way my right hon. and gallant Friend will find it extremely difficult to apply the suggestions that he has made. I will tell you how the police can try to enforce the limit, and how we know they will if they get the opportunity. It will be by trying to enforce the 20 miles an hour limit in a built-up area on a moonlit night, when it is perfectly safe to go more than 20 miles an hour.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill
It is not safe on a moonlit night to go 30 miles an hour in a built-up area?
§ Sir W. Brass
It is in some places. The real reason that I object to what my right hon. and gallant Friend has done, and what is going to have no effect at all on road accidents, is this: I think there is a great opportunity of really looking at this problem from a wide angle. Every time there is an accident the driver is asked how it happened, and almost invariably he says that he did not see the man or the woman. The real reason, however, that accidents occur is because of the darkness, and my right hon. and gallant Friend was perfectly right when he said that it varied with the phases of the moon. I want to ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to consider whether this intense black-out in London and our other big cities is necessary. Why are we doing it? I saw in a newspaper the other day a list of towns in Germany, Austria, and Czecho-Slovakia which had been visited by our aeroplanes. Everybody in the House no doubt read about that wonderful exploit of our men and the description of the different towns. Some had bright lighting, some dimmed, and some were completely blacked out. If our bombers can go over these different places and can describe what they saw, there is no reason to suppose that German bombers should not be able to come to London, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, or any other of the towns which have been blacked out. Are we going to keep this complete blackout and allow 1455 people to be killed in a month in order to be able to prevent, as we think, the bombing of London and various other big cities? I do not believe that will stop it, if that kind of bombing is to take place.
There are two kinds of bombing. One, which up to the present has never been attempted during the whole of the war in 503 any other country, is indiscriminate bombing at night of the civil population. Practically all the bombing which has been done up to the present in the war has been done in daylight, and the reason for it is quite simple. It is because you cannot bomb accurately at night. If bombing takes place at night, it will be indiscriminate, in order to create chaos and affect the morale of the people, and I do not believe that is going to happen. If we can divide it into these two categories, we shall see the relative value of the black-out as such, and I suggest that what we should do is to realise that this whole problem is a question of light. The light at present allowed us is not sufficient for getting about in built-up areas and other parts of the country. I would suggest that my right hon. and gallant Friend should look at it from another angle and consider whether he cannot give better lights to the road vehicles themselves. I am not suggesting an increase in the ordinary lights of a town, because I understand from the Air Force that if you have a higher intensity of light, it makes a glow in the sky which can be seen from far away. As we cannot switch off the lights, as in some countries, we must have a certain low intensity of light as a permanency. I suggest to my right hon. and gallant Friend that if he wants to reduce the number of accidents, he should increase the amount of light available for vehicles themselves. We shall soon know whether there is a big air raid or not. It is not a question of one or two machines. If we are to have a big air raid in which hundreds of machines will take part, we shall know it fast enough, and then all these lights would be put out; no one would be allowed to drive after an air-raid warning had been given. That is a much better way of doing it than the silly 20 miles speed limit.
I want my right hon. and gallant Friend to understand one thing. At the present time the regulations say that you can have your mask on one side or the other. I think that is silly. You should have it decided which side, or preferably I think it should be on both sides. There can be no reason why a motorist should not be allowed to have two masks. If anybody says that there would be too much light, I would point out that as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has in- 504 creased the horse-power tax to 25s. and the Secretary for Mines has restricted the amount of petrol, this year and last year are going to be quite different. There is about a quarter the number of vehicles on the roads now, and if you allow two lights, we shall only have half the amount of light that we had last year. I think you must have two lights on vehicles, because it is very deceptive to pedestrians if you have only one. You want a bright light which can be turned out when an air-raid warning comes along. That is an important point.
The question which has to be decided is the question of bombing, whether we are going to play Hitler's game by having a complete black-out the whole of the time in order to prevent something which, if he decided upon it, he could do perfectly well whether you have a black-out or not, and that is to bomb the big cities of this country by night indiscriminately. We have to decide whether we are going to continue the black-out and continue the number of deaths on the roads, or whether we are going to allow vehicles a little more light and in that way save a large number of deaths on the roads. That is an important angle from which I suggest this problem should be viewed. If the Germans are coming over to this country to bomb any particular objective, I believe they will come in the day time, because they will not be able to hit their objective at night. If they want to bomb big towns, they will come either in the day or in the night, and the black-out will not make the slightest difference. If my right hon. and gallant Friend thinks that by keeping the blackout he is going to prevent promiscuous bombing, he is mistaken, and we shall continue to have a large number of accidents on the roads.
In Holland there has been an invention of what is called the Bikker light. It is a controlled beam projected from a vehicle, and you can see an ordinary pedestrian at about 50paces. The present Home Office mask will show only a pedestrian's feet at 19 paces. I think experiment should be made with this light. I would also ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to make experiments with it on pedestrian crossings. This particular light is being used in Holland a great deal, on the canals and in the streets. It is an invisible beam from the air, but it lights up the object upon which 505 it is trained. Some experiments have been made with it at Oxford, and they have been very pleased with them. They have Bikker beacons on the roads which give direction to the traffic. I suggest that they might be put upon some pedestrian crossings and possibly fitted to cars in place of the mask. But before I give my blessing to it, I want to see experiments to find out whether this particular invention is better than the masks. Before putting on the speed limit, I think all these things should be taken into account by my right hon. and gallant Friend.
§ 8.27 p.m.
Mr. Creech Jones
The hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) has made a very interesting speech and has also made a vigorous attack upon his right hon. and gallant Friend. I do not share his point of view. I think that the problem now before the House is larger than the question of lighting. The announcement which the Minister of Transport has made is an important one and will be widely welcomed in all parts of the country to-night. It would be a mistake if we thought that the problem we are considering is one which is merely concerned with the conditions on the roads created by the war. This problem has been discussed in this House from time to time for a long period, and when we recollect that during the past 20 years no fewer than 100,000 men, women and children have lost their lives on our roads and that the casualties in terms of injured have been between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000, it is obvious that this is a much bigger problem than accidents arising from the black-out.
It is astonishing the complacency, both public and official, in regard to this heavy sacrifice of life. It may be that the accidents are not dramatic enough. We make a great deal of fuss when we hear of a railway or mining accident. Here we have a continuous sacrifice, which does demand the urgent attention not only of the public but of the Government also. Much as one is tempted this evening to discuss only the problem of the black-out, I cannot help recalling the importance of there being some long-term programme and policy in regard to this road accident problem. In the "Times" certain correspondents have been urging that there should be a road policy and that not only 506 should roads be improved, but that we should also construct, even during the war, big motor highways. I doubt very much whether, in the conditions of war, a programme of that kind could be embarked upon, but it seems to me that certain of the proposals which were being urged before the war began are still important in present circumstances. Among those proposals are that there should be a more even administration of the law in regard to motoring offences, that there should be severer penalties for recklessness and drunkenness on the road, and that there should be a stringent control over speed in built-up areas.
It is not my intention to refer at any length to the figures that were given by my hon. Friend the Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) and the Minister of Transport, but it is obvious that this problem is increasing and not diminishing in perplexity, and that something of a far-reaching character must be done if this tragedy is to be lessened. An analysis of the figures reveals that the safety of pedestrians is very much involved. Analysis reveals also that the greater number of accidents happen in darkness and that in daylight the figures are relatively small. I agree with my hon. Friend that the black-out is not the only explanation, because in certain districts where the black-out operates the number of deaths has not increased because of the precautions that have been taken locally. We should note, moreover, the vast number of accidents which have involved terrible injuries to pedestrians. The figures are appalling. My hon. Friend estimated that for December the figures of those injured were as high as 30,000. It has been calculated that during the first two months of the blackout, if the statistics were in the same proportions as last year, no fewer than 80,000 persons were injured, of whom 18,000 seriously. The horror of those figures will be appreciated if we remember that there are many fewer vehicles on the roads.
I must confess that I had feared that Government Departments were getting a little complacent about this problem. It is true that since the war began many experiments and practical suggestions have been made by Government Departments, and the Minister of Transport has indicated a number of things which his Department has done. During the last 507 two months, I have at Question time drawn attention to one or two things, and the replies I have received have indicated no inclination by the Government to take particularly vigorous action. I have asked, for instance, about the very treacherous condition of the roads in certain industrial towns in the North. In those towns there are in Winter streets that are icy, and sometimes covered with snow; the workers there go out in the darkness in the early morning and return from the mills at night in darkness also. I have asked that for safety of workers, the industrial towns should be particularly considered in the matter of lighting. There has seemed to be no urgency on the part of the Home Office to find a solution of that difficulty, but at last some form of lighting has been found, although we are told that many of the local authorities cannot face the financial problem involved in installing this new lighting.
In a number of Questions I have urged that a greater supply of torches and batteries should be made available to the general public. There is still a considerable shortage of batteries. It is useless to pretend that torches are not of importance to pedestrians during the black-out. Torches are of great importance in avoiding obstacles, maintaining one's place on the footway, and keeping off the roads; and it seems a most elementary precaution that, in view of the exceptional conditions of the streets, large numbers of torches should be available. I asked that the Government should see that such a supply exists, but even to this day, in great parts of the country, batteries can scarcely be purchased.
As a lay person, I do not pretend to be able to pass judgment as to whether the degree of blackness which exists in our streets at the present time is or is not essential to national security. It may be that we are to some extent expert-ridden in this matter. Certainly, there are many who feel that, in view of experiments elsewhere, a better balance might be struck in order to meet the needs of the roads. Possibly the present degree of blackness is a necessity of defence, but in many of the towns of belligerent countries on the Continent they are able to meet the conditions of black-out with less extreme measures than operate in this country.
508 I welcome the Minister's announcement regarding the reduction of the speed limit in built-up areas during the black-out hours. Of course, numerous reasons can be advanced as to why the speed limit should remain what it is now, and there are always practical difficulties in any proposal that may be made from time to time for dealing with this problem; but I think the Minister's proposal has the merit of bringing this question under the tighter control of the police. It will facilitate the use of the roads by pedestrians. It will help in securing that the driver of a car will be able to pull up within the range of his own light vision. It will help the police to detect the reckless driver more easily than is possible at present. Too much, I think, has been made of the argument that street accidents are a matter for the education of the pedestrian only. It must be recognised that the conditions under which the roads are used by the pedestrian have been made immensely more difficult as a result of the black-out.
I should like to add that there ought to be a stricter enforcement of the law by the police and magistrates in respect of road offences. Reference has been made to cases of drunkenness on the part of some persons driving cars, and the easy way in which such people are frequently allowed to escape punishment. Such irresponsibility and recklessness on the road ought to be severely punished. One welcomes the suggestions which have been made about a wider "safety first" propaganda. I hope too, that the experiments which are being made regarding the illumination of number plates will speedily result in a simple and cheap method of making the identity of cars more obvious than is the case at present.
There are one or two other small suggestions which I hope the Minister will examine. For instance, even if some good method of lighting crossways has not yet been discovered, at least the crossway posts should be painted with luminous paint. I also suggest that, as far as possible, at cross-roads there should be all-red periods to enable pedestrians to cross. Greater use might also be made of the St. Andrew's Cross light and of "cat's eyes" lamps to help drivers in particularly dark sections of the roads. I am glad that the Minister is not taking a complacent view of the situation. It is 509 not enough for us to hope that, with the lengthening clays and the smaller number of cars on the road, this slaughter will be reduced. Rather, it seems to me, should we make up our minds that something must be done at once to end this fearful tragedy and I sincerely hope the Government will persevere in their efforts to bring this dreadful scandal of the slaughter of the roads to an end.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I do not wish to take up much of the time of the House, for this question is a matter of urgent public importance, and many Members who have far more practical knowledge of it than I have wish to take part in the Debate. I intervene to ask one question which is, I suggest, fundamental, and I hope it will be possible for the Minister who replies to answer it. The Minister of Transport, in his most charming and persuasive speech, seemed to me to have completely hamstrung this Debate by one of his earlier sentences. He said, as I understood, that it had been decided by the Government's expert advisers that the black-out was essential, and, therefore, he thought the House would wish to proceed on that assumption. I cannot accept that limitation of the Debate. We are always being told nowadays that experts say this or that and that we in the House of Commons must be good boys and accept their views. I have no confidence in experts at all. I think that frequently they are entirely wrong. I give one example. In the last war, so I have read, it was the view of the Admiralty experts that convoys were a mistake and would increase the submarine danger. The Government at first accepted the view of the experts and decided against convoys. But more and more ships were sunk. Eventually, they decided to override the experts, arid they found, not that the danger was Increased by the convoy system, but that it was the solution of the problem.
On this occasion I suggest that the House has a right to know why the experts think the black-out essential. I do not see why we should not be told. Presumably the Germans know these facts already. Their aeroplanes have flown here, and they know what the position is. As I understand it, there are two possibilities. One is that the black-out entirely conceals all towns and industrial districts so that enemy aircraft do not 510 know, when they come over at night, whether they are over a city or over the open countryside. That assumption is, in an extreme degree, improbable. We all know how our own aeroplanes have flown at night over Germany—magnificent flights which have earned all our admiration—and I notice that in the reports it is always stated that they reached their objectives though very often they have been flying at night through hail, snow, and fog. Presumably, that is also true of the Germans. Therefore, I think we may conclude that the black-out does not entirely conceal the great cities. On the other hand, there is another, and I think, more probable suggestion, that the blackout, while it does not conceal those places, makes it impossible for airmen to aim at definite objectives. That is very probable. If that is true, however, while it is a strong argument for maintaining the black-out in built-up areas and great cities, it is no argument for having a black-out in country districts where there are no definite objectives. If it were possible to limit the black-out to purely urban districts and places where there are real reasons for it in order to protect the population, it would make an enormous difference not only to the safety of the people but to their general convenience at this very difficult time. As one who lives a certain amount in the country, some way from London, I cannot help thinking that it is ludicrous that we should be expected to crawl like snails along country roads and lanes which are far from any military objective. I cannot believe that to be necessary.
§ Mr. George Griffiths
Is it not a fact that people who live in the country can see as well in the dark as with the light? When I was a lad I used to be able to go for miles in the dark.
§ Viscount Cranborne
That has not been my experience. I would like the hon. Member to try to drive a car through the black-out in the country. He will not find it so easy. The Air Ministry, who, presumably, are mainly responsible for these regulations, are clearly right to put forward the most complete scheme they can devise. But surely it is for us in this House to weigh the considerations for or against that scheme and to reach a balanced conclusion. That, I think, is the issue with which we are faced in this important Debate to-night.
511 The proposals put forward by the Minister of Transport will, I think, he generally welcomed. I am certain that a 20-mile limit in built-up areas during the black-out is a very good plan. It is a fast enough speed for any person to drive at in such circumstances. Surely, no one should want to go faster. But surely the Minister will be the first to recognise that such a proposal will not seriously dinimish the number of casualties. It may make some difference, but not an essential difference. I believe that the only way that that can be done is by the relaxation of the black-out, and I suggest this should be considered by the Government and this House, at any rate for the country districts.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith
I think there has been too much of an endeavour to antagonise one section of the public against another. Whatever our views are regarding the responsibility of accidents, and the practical steps to be taken for their elimination, everyone is bound to admit that the problem is one of first-rate importance. No one can look at the accident figures without feeling that every possible step not only should, but must, be taken to make roads safer for all sections of the public. If one looks at the figures—and many figures have been bandied about to-night in the course of this Debate—I think it is fair to say that the black-out has been responsible for the addition of 1,639 deaths which have taken place during the months of darkness, in the four months of the war. One cannot look at these figures with complacency, and while one does not wish to draw any deductions in comparison between the losses up to now in the war, nevertheless it is as well because the Ministry of Transport, since the war, has dropped any form of investigation into the number of injured people and only looked at the fatal accidents.
If we take the percentage increase of these accidents in that four months and relate it by the same percentage to injuries, we get no less than a figure of 133,430, and if we take the Government's estimate that this war is going to last for three years, the killed and injured during that period, if these figures remain, will equal a total of no less than 427,000 people. That is a stupendous figure, for 512 the deaths alone will exceed 40,000 persons, or more than a total army corps. That, I think, represents a very serious problem for the Government. And what concrete proposals are being made for dealing with this question? The Minister has told us to-night, in spite of the verbiage with which he surrounded his statement, that in fact the only thing the Government contemplate doing was on 1st February to institute a speed limit of 20 miles per hour. I venture to say that that will be no cure for the accidents taking place in the urban areas to-day.
The experienced person who has any knowledge of traffic movement will see that the general tendency of fixing a speed limit of 20 miles per hour will result in what is called "bunching" traffic on the roads. There will be congestion and the pedestrian will not get across the road. He will take risks far more than to-day and in my opinion the accidents will be higher. I suggest that the fixing of a speed limit is ill-founded. The fact is that at road junctions, and in congested districts, the speed to-day is far less than 20 miles per hour, and that the very exigency of traffic limits the speed of vehicles. I venture to say that if we have a debate in four months' time the Minister will get up and say that the fatal accidents have fallen, and he will attribute this to the speed limit instituted by the Government, whereas in fact, after November and December in particular, the black-out period has coincided with the "knocking-off" of the work-people. That is an important point. It is the Deity who gives us the length of light. It is no use the Minister coming to us with this suggestion because it will be the light period which will contribute to the reduction in road accidents.
I had intended raising many points, but since leaving this House for a few minutes I have had the advantage of talking to a gentleman who lives most: of his life in the air. One of the most constructive points I would suggest to the Government is an easement of the black-out conditions. In discussing this question with that very gallant gentleman, when I suggested to him some system of a central switch which could put out the lights immediately as a solution of the problem, he said, "I hope you visualise that if people are out in a light period with a sudden black-out, and bombs falling, 513 what is going to be the result for five minutes with people more or less blind? "I saw the force of that argument put to me by a practical person. The Minister for Home Security has been telling us that he has agreed to a system which I believe is called "comfort lighting." I do not know what it means, but some call it "star-lighting." We have had it tried, here and there, but there is no general uniformity.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir John Anderson)
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith
But I am sure I am right. Can the right hon. Gentleman say that his system is general in the country?
§ Mr. Smith
I am not saying that, but in fact it is not uniform, and I think the House will be with me when I make that statement. What I want the right hon. Gentleman to do is to cut out of his vocabulary the word "may" and substitute the word "shall." There is too much of the permissive with the local authorities to-day, and not enough of the obligatory. The right hon. Gentleman has agreed to a system of lighting, and it should be instituted without delay. It should be compulsory upon all local authorities to institute it, and an arbitrary date should be fixed in which all lighting should come into being. It seems to me that that is a proper way to get some system of uniformity of lighting in the country as a whole.
Another point is with regard to the Heath Robinson lamp. I give the right hon. Gentleman full credit for meeting the views of a deputation and to agreeing to public service vehicles carrying two headlamps. Why cannot this be applied to the commercial driver as well? He is on the road day and night hauling goods from one end of the country to the other with a system of lighting that is chaotic. Why should these lights be limited to omnibuses? They are not of the Heath Robinson type but of the type which show a downward as well as a lateral light. Most hon. Members who have spoken have talked about the luminosity of the light and the possibility of seeing a pedes- 514 trian at the end of it. Under the present system of lighting there is a black area right in front of the vehicle, and I suggest that if investigations were made, it would be found that that is where the accidents occur and not in the area of the light itself. If the right hon. Gentleman will consult the traffic authorities of Birmingham, for instance, he will no doubt be told that many of the accidents there are due to a pedestrian stepping off the kerb too early or trying to cross in the black portion of the car's light and to the motorist striking him without seeing him. In addition to a lateral light, there ought to be a downward light at the foot of the reflector which will illuminate the area immediately in front of the car. That will be one of the most effective things to eliminate accidents.
I would ask again as a constructive suggestion that all kerbs and corners should be painted white and kept white; it is all very well painting them to-day and leaving them, for a little shower of rain or snow covers them up and they are useless. The tendency, indeed, the regulation, when the first Heath Robinson light was instituted, was to carry the light on the off-side, with the result that cars going both ways search for the centre white line, the vehicles are brought towards the crown of the road, and many accidents result. If the right hon. Gentleman would not only leave the centre white line, but see that the corners and kerbs are properly painted and kept painted, he would leave a fair way in the road between two sets of lines, the kerb and the central white line. Then again, with regard to trailers, why should not both the trailer and the drawing vehicle be painted fore and aft as a solo vehicle has to be, and why should not the second vehicle be compelled to carry white lights? I have stood on an island and seen a vehicle go by drawing a trailer, but not knowing the trailer was there, I have stepped off into it. That could have been avoided if the trailer had been carrying position lights.
Many hon. Members seem to take the view that the pedestrian is never wrong and that the motorist is always wrong. If we have to deal with the pedestrian, why must we deal with him from the point of view of penalties we ought to impose upon him if he does or does not 515 do certain things? A simple way of dealing with this aspect of the problem is to make pedestrian crossings a continuation of the footpath. That would give the pedestrian the right that he has on the footpath. Instead of the steel studs on the crossings, which are obliterated with the first mud, I suggest that the crossings should be marked with "cat's-eye" studs which take up the reflected light of vehicles. I suggest also that the beacons should be illuminated. I appreciate that some are metal, because when they were glass all sorts of things happened to them, but surely it is not beyond the ingenuity of the so-called experts to see that a small amber traffic light is placed somewhere near the bulb. That will indicate to the pedestrian where the crossings are and to the driver that there are likely to be pedestrians on them. If the crossings are not sufficient in number, others should be put in. These things having been done, the pedestrian should be notified that if he has an accident at any other place than on a crossing, he will have no right in law to compensation. That will deal with the question in a simple way without causing injustice to the pedestrian. In this way the pedestrian will have the full rights of the extended footpath in crossing the road, and if he will only take the trouble to walk a few yards to the crossing instead of walking obliquely across the road, he will get to his destination safely.
It is a remarkable fact that accidents to cyclists have been reduced. I attribute that to this House taking its courage in its hands and insisting on rear lights for bicycles. Bicycles can now be seen from the rear as well as from the front. All I suggest now is that the rear lights should be in a fixed position on one side or the other of the rear wheel or at the rear of the wheel, and that it should be a regulation height from the ground. That would help not only the cyclists, but road users as a whole. The right hon. Gentleman will remember the deputation that I took to him in September regarding the white St. Andrew's cross. I give the right hon. Gentleman full measure of praise for adopting the white St. Andrew's cross. The argument was that in a blackout a driver was apt to take the red light, a foot off the ground, which was displayed on every road obstruction for the rear light of another car, but that if there was a white St. Andrew's cross he would, know- 516 ing that he must keep to the left of a white light, automatically keep to the left. But the white St. Andrew's cross is not in general use. The regulation was issued in either September or October, but with the permissive "may" instead of "shall," and the local authorities or the Minister himself ought to institute the white St. Andrew's cross as a traffic sign, so that all drivers will know that it is their business to keep to the left at those points.
I have another suggestion to make to which I attach a good deal of importance. If Summer-time could be reintroduced as early as possible, it would give us another hour of daylight at a time when work-people are "knocking off" and when there is the peak load of traffic. Six o'clock immediately becomes seven o'clock, and we get the extra hour's daylight. It is no answer to say that we shall lose the hour's daylight next morning, because there are not the number of people on the roads in the morning that there are at six o'clock in the evening. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said that the Ministry of Transport really are going to consider the question of propaganda. What does that postulate? That in the past they have not considered it. In 1937 every type of road accident came under investigation. Everybody must have known that with the institution of the black-out after war had started the tendency would be for accidents to go on, and yet the Minister thinks this is a good time to drop the investigation into nonfatal accidents. Surely we ought to continue the investigation now to find out what are the real causes of accidents during the black-out.
Have the Ministry of Transport looked at the figures of the vehicles on the road which are responsible for accidents, because they are very remarkable? On 30th November, 1939, there were 254,675 fewer vehicles on the road than there were prior to that date. The number of motor cars decreased by 65,800; tramcars and hackney carriages by 9,631; goods vehicles by 12,877 but the remarkable thing is that in the case of those that were trade licensed—that trade licence is exempted—the figures rose from 94,552 to 119,528, an increase of 24,976. How many of the accidents are revealed there? A certain hundred—or thousand, as the case may be—of taxi cabs were taken off the road and would no longer be registered. They 517 would be in those figures. They took away the driver, the old man who had been getting his living with his cab and whom they could have employed for £3 a week, and put him on public assistance, and put volunteer women drivers on to the cabs. I say that is wrong—though I am not saying that because they are women. I should like to know what is the proportion of accidents that have taken place in connection with that figure.
If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the figures of accidents he will see that in the case of public-service vehicles they were 9 per cent. pre-black-out and that they have risen to 14 per cent. In the case of lorries and vans they were 20.7 per cent., and they have fallen to 18 per cent.; motor cars, 30.8 per cent., and they have gone up to 36; motor cycles, 16, and the figure is still 16—no change; and pedal cycles 20.6, and they have fallen to 16 per cent. The astounding thing is that in the case of the London Passenger Transport Board they have had fewer accidents in the black-out because, I suggest, their vehicles have had somewhat better lighting than the ordinary vehicles, but that the fatal accidents have gone up. I suggest that that rise in fatal accidents has come about through that zone of black immediately in front of an omnibus. People are stepping into that zone of blackness, in which the driver cannot see the person and in which that person cannot see the omnibus.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his decision to have two headlights instead of the one headlight. People have been used to seeing two headlights on a vehicle. I wonder how many accidents have taken place through people stepping into the side of an omnibus on a dark night because the lamp has been on the other side. I believe there will be a reduction of accidents following the institution of the two headlights, and I beg the right lion. Gentleman to see that the two headlights shall be carried by all commercial vehicles, indeed, by all vehicles if it comes to, hat. As one who has driven a car for 40 years, I confess that the black-out conditions have beaten me. I have sold the car and am now a pedestrian. I feel that it is not safe for me to drive with the type of lighting which is allowed, and I say that as one who has a knowledge of almost every street in the Greater London area. If I have had to give up driving, the House 518 may get some idea of the feelings of the men who have to drive for a living day in and day out, men who understand their business, men who are told that if there is an air-raid warning, their first business must be to switch out all additional lights and who will do it.
I beg the right hon. Gentleman to do away with the chaotic system of lighting on country roads, especially the lighting of commercial vehicles. It is not for me to tell the House the tricks that are tried to get better lighting. If the right hon. Gentleman will allow a downward glare in the immediate front of a vehicle, and two headlights, that will allow of some vision ahead, and he will be doing a good turn to all drivers, who, after all, have a pretty rotten job at this time to get a living and to carry goods about the country. Let the House remember that if anything does happen to the railways, the second line of defence is the transport system of the roads, and we ought to look at it from that angle.
I make a plea for more propaganda. There are certain organisations which would be ready to assist. I am senior vice-chairman of the National Safety First Association, and have been so for some years, and I have made one or two constructive suggestions, but always there seems to have been an attitude on the part of the Ministry that the Association were a more or less interfering body, not the sort of organisation which the Ministry would wish to associate with, and yet I venture to suggest that that Association has done as much work by propaganda, in the shops and on the roads, as any voluntary body in this country. Consider what the Royal Commission on Transport said in 1929—thatthe most hopeful method of inducing pedestrians to exercise greater caution is by means of educational propaganda. This is being carried out with marked success by the National Safety First Association. In our opinion the Association should receive much greater recognition and support. Its educational work in the schools has been particularly valuable.I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) contributed to that recommendation as a member of that commission. Then the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee, on which I have had the honour to sit since 1924, has expressed itself in this matter. May I say just here that I could never understand why, on the advent of war, this committee should 519 be put out of being. It has sat since 1924, but the view is now taken that it can perform no useful function. It seems unwise to act in that way in regard to this committee, and to shut down its work. In this committee, we say:Our consideration of the problem of street accidents leads us to believe that the principal means of reducing their number lies in educating the public, that is, drivers as well as pedestrians. What is wanted, in our opinion, is extensive and sustained propaganda work, such as is done for political purposes or the sale of commodities, and funds should be provided to enable the intensive campaign which the gravity of the present position calls for to be conducted for education and warning to all classes of road user.I make a special plea to the right hon. Gentleman, that he should be seized of that recommendation, which was made by people who are representative of all types of traffic user and of the people who supply the needs of traffic users. Finally, I would mention the Departmental Committee on Road Safety among Schoolchildren. It said:The National Safety First Association has been prominent in bringing to the notice of local education authorities, teachers and also the general public not only the facts of the situation in regard to road accidents, but also means and suggestions for dealing with the problem. In our opinion the association should receive the fullest possible recognition and support.They are three important bodies that have been set up by the Government to go into the question. All are unanimous, yet the Minister to-night has told us that, from now onwards, we are to make a serious investigation, and that we are to take two or three simple cases. On the face of it that is not good enough. Are you to go to Cardiganshire where accidents have fallen, or to Birmingham where they have gone up by 81 per cent., or to Glasgow where they have trebled themselves? Are you coming to London? How are you going to make this investigation general? There is only one way, and that is to take a general survey of all accidents and to find the degree of culpability, whether in regard to the driver, the road, the system of traffic lighting, the system of road lighting or the pedestrians, as well as all that goes to make up the total of accidents in any place in Great Britain. That is the only feasible way of dealing with the problem.
I make another plea to the right hon. Gentleman. He has only to leave this 520 House and go to the Vauxhall crossing by Vauxhall Bridge, or, in fact, to any of the great junctions in London, and he will find that the important work of traffic regulation has, in general, been taken out of the hands of the police and put in charge of the "specials." These men are doing wonderful work, but they have not the knowledge and experience, or, frankly, the authority, that is possessed by the regular policemen. No one will deny that, in the country as a whole, the regular police are one of the most respected bodies by all users of the road, and more so probably than in any other country in the world. While it may be necessary to withdraw some policemen for more important work I would point out that saving life is very important and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, at least on heavily congested junctions, traffic work should be in the hands of the regular and more efficient policemen.
I have another simple suggestion, relating to the stopping places for passenger vehicles. Here is where difficulty arises in the use of torches. There may be an omnibus or tramcar request stop. What happens? When the would-be passenger comes to one of these stops his torch automatically goes up to the sign, and in coming down it automatically blinds some poor driver. That is all wrong. Instead of the sign being 12 feet, or whatever it may be, in the air, there ought to be some sign painted on the kerb, indicating, "This is a trolley bus stop," and consisting, if you like, of a white diamond, or of half a white diamond to say: "This is an omnibus stop." By using such signs people would know the kind of stop they were waiting at, and they would stop there. This suggestion would prevent something which is very bad. Continuous waiting is brought about because of the lack of petrol and services being more or less a muddle because of the black-out. You will see whole crowds of people queueing up for a bus, rushing across to a tram, if the tram is going the same way, missing it and then going back to the stop again. That kind of thing is a serious danger to the road user and to the pedestrian. I suggest that the Minister might think of bringing down to the kerb the signs which are now so high in the air. I believe that by so doing he would be making another contribution to the reduction of accidents.
521 My hon. Friend the Member for West Islington cited the case of schedules that had been reduced by four minutes on the 59 road. If he were a practical driver he would see that that alteration means a great easement to a person on that road, because he has four additional minutes to play with. Taking it by and large, the London Passenger Transport Board have adopted lengthened periods for their schedules and longer stand times for the men. In some places they have actually educed the number of hours driving for the men. In other cases, employers are riot so nationally minded. They have said: "There is the schedule, and to that you will drive." I say to my hon. Friend and to the right hon. Gentleman that no driver has ever got into trouble for running late. The driver always gets into trouble if he runs early. One of the reasons for the driver running to time is that he might lose his stand time by running late. It is necessary to be fully seized of that point. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might consider a general easement all over the country of the schedules and of the times fixed for those schedules. If he will look into that matter I think he will make a great contribution to the comfort of the driver and conductor and, I believe, to the wellbeing of the passenger. Another simple point is in relation to the passing of a tramcar. It is said that, in some places, highway committees say that no vehicle shall pass a tramcar on the off-side. That provision is not in the general body of the law. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman in his regulations would say that no vehicle shall pass a standing tramcar on the nearside while people are alighting or boarding the said tramcar. This is a potent factor in causing accidents, and if the right hon. Gentleman will face it he will be doing a useful service.
The regulations that have been issued are out to-day. The thing that strikes me as remarkable about them is that in almost every paragraph there is the permissive word "may." Why does not the right hon. Gentleman say "shall" and be done with it, and then insist that the thing be done? It is this permissiveness that allows local authorities who are not too mindful of the requests of Parliament to dodge the column—to use a military phrase. If the right hon. Gentleman would say in these regulations that authorities shall do these things, 522 they would be done. I would go further and say: "Not only shall you do them, but they shall be done by a certain date." That would give some semblance of order and proper regulation, under which everybody would know that they were expected to do these things as a right and a duty, and would not have the opportunity of avoiding their obligations. I know that the right hon. Gentleman may point to my own constituency. I do not mind. I will give him the full benefit of the point. Whatever he may say, it is easy for him to say that my local council have refused to put any traffic lights at the crossings, but my answer is that even if they have not it is the lowest recorded accident borough in Great Britain and I will save him the smile and save him telling me. Nevertheless, under some pressure from myself they have agreed, subject to certain conditions, that certain traffic lights will be put in.
I hope it will not be thought that I have brought this discussion in any carping spirit but with a real genuine desire to assist in eliminating this very serious condition that we are in, and I believe that in some of the suggestions which I have submitted—in fact I say all of them —there may be something which will help, if only to save one life as the Minister said, and in my view I think they will save many lives. Experience only will tell that so far as London is concerned in the black-out period the 20 mile an hour speed limit will give more congestion and, therefore, more danger.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Simmonds
I am sure there is not a single hon. Member who is not sickened by the history of this carnage, nor is there an hon. Member who would not suffer much privation and dislocation if by that means it could be eased. But, as many hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, I cannot believe that this reduction in the speed limit from 30 to 20 miles an hour will give us the answer that we all desire.
May I first of all look at the solid objections to that change? Surely, even when we are dealing with the question of the sacrifice of the lives of the civil population we have still to observe some proportion as to what is the overwhelming demand upon this country to-day. It is to win this war. I believe that in two respects this alteration from 30 to 20 523 miles an hour will hamper the winning of the war. Perhaps I may properly speak of my own city of Birmingham. Birmingham in these days is almost as alive industrially at night as it is in the day, and I wonder what will be the effect when all those tens of thousands of workers who go to work at night and leave before the dawn and all those transport vehicles that are working in the war effort up and down the country find this paralytic hand upon them. I wonder what will be the result of that?
Secondly, although I do not quote any fixed figure, from such knowledge as I possess of the internal combustion engine I calculate that this 20 miles an hour speed limit will mean a 10 per cent. increase in petrol consumption. Both those two points may possibly be justified if we obtain the result in return. But I doubt if we shall. In any case, I do not believe the Government should have come to what after all is a facile solution by merely reducing the speed limit from 30 to 20 miles an hour until they have tried out a suggestion which has been made by a number of hon. Members before me —the use of two masked headlamps. I have driven a certain amount in the black-out, but I wanted to try and make some careful examination of what this driving with one mask headlight meant, and I fancy that the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), who opened this Debate, hit on the basis of this problem when he said, if I heard him aright, that a vehicle must be able to pull up within the area of luminosity. But as I make my check upon any car, I find that on the side on which you have your masked headlight your area of luminosity extends possibly 20 feet in front of you, whereas on the side where you have not got it it extends perhaps five or six feet. But the side of a car which is not illuminated is just as lethal as the side which is illuminated; and it simply means that the pedestrian, or other object, flashes up in front of the car, giving you six feet within which to pull up if it happens to be on the one side, and 20 feet if it is on the other. By what canons of sanity can that be allowed to continue?
I feel that, seeing that the Government have given way with regard to public service vehicles, they should now, particularly in view of the fact that there are so many fewer vehicles on the road, 524 allow all vehicles—at any rate during a test period, in which the Royal Air Force could carefully examine any change on the roads—to carry the twin masked headlights. Do not let us misunderstand this decision. There is no technical information that anybody can lay down in a numerical form which will show clearly from one set of data that you must have one headlight, or from some other set of data that you may have two: it is very largely a matter of opinion. I think I shall be giving away nothing when I say that some of the pilots who have been examining the roads from the air have been of very different opinions, one from the other, as they look down. I believe that the Government should allow all vehicles to have the twin headlights.
We may properly bear in mind the attitude that our great and gallant Ally takes in these matters. France has studied war, has been involved in war, and, I believe, thinks practically upon war problems. I wonder how many hon. Members realise that when you motor in France, as I have to do frequently, when you go out towards the west or the south from Paris you are allowed, directly you are 30 miles out, to put on your full peace-time headlights—that is, possibly, within 100 or 150 miles of the German front line. By what canons may the French have full peace-time headlights while we may not have the second masked headlight? There seems to be some inconsistency between the military points of view of the two countries, and it may be summed up in a rather apt observation which a high French officer made to a friend of mine. My friend said to him, "How is it that you can have so much light in France, particularly on your vehicles, and we can have none?" The French officer replied, with a twinkle in his eye, "Dans les affaires de guerre vous êtes des amateurs."
§ Mr. Simmonds
For those who do not speak the French tongue fluently, he indicated that in matters of war the English are somewhat amateurs. There may be something in that. The French have had to make compromises between different extremities. I fancy we have been too ready to take the service point 525 of view that "We must have the blackout." What are the social, economic and personal problems that arise from the institution of the black-out? I do not want it to be thought that I would blame the Royal Air Force attitude at all. The Service Department must say what in its opinion will satisfy all Service requirements. Where I think the fault lies is that the Ministers who have to look after the economic life of the country have not sufficiently toned down the Service point of view in order to get a solution commendable both to the military and to the civil mind. I sincerely hope that, as a result of the protests that have been made from all sides of the House, the Government will even now reconsider this question of the double masked lamp, but above all it seemed to me that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Transport was acting somewhat cavalierly when he said, "No, we cannot change after eleven o'clock because we would have to have three or four changes." But there is a great deal of activity of transport and personal vehicles and of staffs on night shifts using the roads of the country after eleven o'clock at night, and I most sincerely appeal to him not to have the 20 mile limit after eleven o'clock at night. I do hope that he will reconsider this aspect of the matter.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I am one of those on this side of the House who claim to be experienced drivers, with excellent eyesight, and I welcome the 20 miles per hour limit. I had intended to-night to add my appeal to that of others and to ask the Minister to consider reducing the speed limit further. I cannot understand how hon. Members like the hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds), the hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) and others, who are experienced motorists, could advance the view that the 20 miles limit will not to a great extent reduce the casualties on the road. Surely, the motorist who is accustomed to driving in the black-out, if he is honest with himself, will admit that when driving at over 20 miles an hour he loses the sense of security. I am sure that the hon. Member for Duddeston, who says he has experimented with different kinds of lamps, must have driven along a built-up area night after night and have said to himself, "At what speed do I feel sure that I could pull up 526 within two yards, if necessary?" That is a simple experiment which can be proved by everybody who is doubtful about this matter. I have tried it on roads with which I am completely familiar and on which I have driven—I hate to think how long-20 years. [HON. MEMBERS "0h!"] Add 17 on to that, and you will know where you are. I have actually experimented during the last week-end while the moon was up, and I find, even when the moon is up, that I am driving at a risk to pedestrians if I go at over 20 miles an hour.
We have heard an expert too. I feel that my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith) has made an excellent contribution to-night. I cannot say whether the traffic will bunch or will riot bunch. I only know that, whether you are a driver of a private car or of an omnibus, you must at some time experience the sensation that I experience when I drive at over 20 miles an hour. Therefore, I welcome the introduction of this new scheme.
The other point I wish to mention has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White). I join with him—and I am pleased to see the Home Secretary and the Minister of Transport here—in saying that I cannot understand why this House and even Ministers on the Front Bench should be provoked to mirth at the mention of alcohol. I am not intolerant like the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor); as a matter of fact I believe it is a very bad habit to be intolerant of anything. You can even become intolerant of political institutions, and tolerance is a very important virtue to practise. Therefore I am not intolerant so far as alcohol is concerned. But I am conscious of the fact that we are discussing to-night a very serious problem. The hon. Member for Rotherhithe has told us that if the war goes on for three years and people are killed on the roads at the present rate we shall have lost nearly half a million people at the end of that time. The Government should consider any suggestion which is made to reduce road casualties, and when I see what has been mentioned in many places, and recommended by many cornmittees—that some kind of severe penalty should be imposed upon those who are convicted of dangerous driving as a result 527 of drinking—surely the time has come when the Government should mention the matter. Yet the Minister of Transport surveyed the whole position without mentioning this very important question.
Sitting here I have come to the conclusion that Members of this House treat this question in this flippant manner because they do not believe that alcohol can depress and, particularly, do not believe it can depress the critical faculties of any one because many of them find they need a certain little stimulant in order to make a speech. Actually nervous persons about to make a speech can, perhaps, make a better speech, not because they are more brilliant, but because alcohol has affected the nervous system in such a way that the critical faculties are depressed and they are under the impression that they are infinitely more brilliant and their arguments are more forceful, which is completely wrong. It only means that their faculty for self-criticism has gone and later on they take more and more alcohol and become perfect fools. I am aware that politicians are intolerant of these discussions and I believe that that, in part, is some reason why they say, "Consider how I feel after having a glass of whisky."
When it comes to a motor driver the same process takes place. His critical faculties are depressed and his reactions delayed, and I believe that delay accounts for hundreds of deaths on the road every year. The rapidity with which a driver can brake will save many lives. What I am saying is a scientific fact, and the Minister of Transport knows it. He has heard to-night from the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) about road houses, outside which cars are parked while men are drinking inside. If the time comes for them to brake suddenly when they are driving from these road houses their reactions are delayed. Surely the time has come when we must ignore vested interests, when, if we are going to tackle this matter, we must face it bravely and constructively, and I hope that when the Home Secretary comes to reply he will make some constructive suggestions.
§ 9.51 p.m.
I know exactly what the House was thinking when the hon. Lady opposite spoke on the question of 528 drink. It was thinking that I am a bit of a crank, a lunatic, a Pussyfoot, or a Prohibitionist. I may be a bit of a crank and perhaps a bit of a lunatic, but I am not a Pussyfoot or a Prohibitionist. A Pussyfoot, it seems to me, is a person who springs in the dark, who sneaks up silently behind, and nobody can ever accuse me of doing that. I have never been a Prohibitionist. But leaving all this aside, I want to ask hon. Members, and particularly Members of the Government, whether they are going to look into this appalling number of accidents, these deaths which have occurred on our roads, and why it is that the Minister of Transport has not paid attention to two reports, one, oddly enough, of a committee set up by the late Minister for War when he was Minister of Transport. He was full of vigour then and was going to do all sorts of things. So many questions were asked about drink that he set up a medical committee in 1935, and they made a report, but nothing has happened. He forgot all about it, and, as far as I can make out, the present Minister of Transport has never read that report.
Here we are with these thousands of people being killed, over 1,000 children were killed last year and 42,000 injured, over 8,000 of them seriously, and the Minister of Transport does not think it worth while to mention the question of drink. I know why—vested interests. That is the reason. Everybody is terrified at the mention of drink. I can understand the conspiracy of silence about the drink problem, and I can well understand why the Government at this time are not going into the question seriously. Even the House of Lords went into it, and Heaven knows that the House of Lords is full of brewers. I have watched brewers who have gone in a steady march to the other House to become our betters, and even the House of Lords set up a committee which reported upon the matter, yet nothing has been done. The Minister says that there is no proof. I can give some proof, some facts which are perfectly appalling. A committee of the British Medical Association reported that the adverse effect, even if alcohol is taken in moderate quantities some hours before driving, leads many people to take risks and to take rapid decisions which may involve risks; and that anyone who drives a car after taking alcohol may 529 believe himself to be driving well, when in fact he is driving badly.
That was in 1935, and since then nothing has been done in the matter. Instead, we have watched the building on our great roads of the most prominent houses, the road houses. You have only to look outside of them and see the number of buses and vehicles there are. I-lave we to sit still and see thousands of people murdered and not look into what is a very serious question? I am not saying it is only the drink. It is the darkness as well, but in considering this question you have to take into account, not only the car and the darkness, but the condition of the driver. It is scientifically proved that even the smallest amount of alcohol stops the coordination between brain and hand. After I had once made a speech on this matter in the House, a former Admiral came up to me and said, "I think you go a little too far in this matter, but I must confess that in one of our gun factories we tried an experiment by giving the men just a very small amount of alcohol, and immediately their sight became affected." Can we at this time afford not to look into the question of the effect of alcohol on road accidents? Last year 2,500 people were arrested for drunkenness while driving a car. They are arrested, some of them get off easily and some do not—it depends on the judge. If you kill a person when you are sober, you probably get a life sentence, but if you kill a person when you are drunk and driving a car, probably you get nine months. It is absurd. I am talking about the effects of a small amount of alcohol on drivers of cars. I do not want the House to take my word; I want it to take the word of people such as Mr. Dummett, of Bow Street, who said:People are being destroyed, or even worse—maimed, perhaps, for life. A very large part of it is due to bad driving by drunken or semi-drunken drivers. That is a weekly occurrence. You have only to look at the accident figures for last week to see that when I talk about the numbers of casualties, I am not exaggerating in the least. What is to be done?The Chief Constable of Wallasey wrote in his annual report:If there is no improvement I can foresee the self-indulgent section of motorists forcing along legislation to definitely control the supply of intoxicants to drivers of motor vehicles. The provision of motor parks adjoining licensed premises has not contributed to a better state of affairs in this respect.530 From all over the country these reports are coming in. Mr. Cole, the Chief Constable of Leicester, said:It is not the drunkard who causes accidents, but the man who has had a few drinks thinks himself a wonderful driver and takes unnecessary risks when his judgment has been impaired through alcohol.Reference has been made to the enormous number of accidents in Birmingham; a great many of them occurred to people coming from public houses. It is really a tragic thing, and I beg the Government to do something about it_ As the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith) said, there is too much permissiveness. I wish to goodness they would get the hon. Member at the Ministry of Transport. I do not believe we have had any vigour at the Ministry of Transport for 10 years. I go back as far as that. During the time the late Secretary of State for War was at the Ministry of Transport and talking about all the wonderful things he was doing, I was told by a road expert that at that time the City of New York had dealt with its traffic problem, which is far more difficult than that of London, in a remarkably up-to-date and modern way. I cannot see that we have had very much up-to-dateness here. I am all for getting new blood at the Ministry of Transport. Take the hon. Member for Rotherhithe—he is vigorous; the hon. Member says he is a bit of a Fascist, but I have not noticed that.
I want at the Ministry of Transport more vigour, more imagination, and more action, and people who will face every aspect of the road question. I want to remind the House that during the last war the reason we got on so vigorously was that we had a Prime Minister who was perfectly ruthless against Ministers when they were not "delivering the goods." I shall always be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) for that ruthlessness During the last war steps had to be taken by the Government to deal with drinking. It was not a very popular thing to do. It was not done because they were teetotallers, but because they found that drink was impairing the efficiency of the country. The Home Secretary, I am 531 sure, knows, because he is a good Scotsman, what happened in Glasgow. In Glasgow they had voluntary closing of public houses at eight o'clock instead of 10, with the result that there was a 50 per cent. reduction in arrests for drunkenness and in the numbers of injured and killed in one month.
The Home Secretary, I am sure, has no prejudices in this matter, and he is quite fearless. That is one of the things that I like most about him. Will he look into this question, and if he sees that drink is one of the causes of these accidents and deaths, will he do something about it? I do ask hon. Members to think of those maimed children and of the homes which have been desolated by deaths on the road. As the hon. Lady opposite said, there is no joke about drunkenness. There is no joke about these accidents and about the appalling state of the roads. Whatever should be done must be done. I greatly regret that there are not more Members present at this Debate. Just think, if the I.R.A. had killed 1, 000 people or 500 people in a month, how this House would be filled to debate it. But here you have this enormous number of accidents on the road, and yet nothing is done. But I hope the Government will remember that although Members of the House of Commons may not be anxious about this question, the country is deeply anxious about it and desires that whatever measures are taken to deal with it should not be made permissive, but should be compulsory on the local authorities.
Many suggestions have been made. I do not say that the motorist only is to blame. I think that pedestrians are in many cases to blame. I know that is not a popular thing to say, but I remember that when the question of having lamps on bicycles was raised in this House that was not popular either and there was an outcry from all sections. We were told that the bicycle was the working man's only vehicle and all the rest of it, and that these conditions could not be imposed. But we had to do it, and we have done it, and as a result many lives have been saved. Before the war is over it will be necessary to face the question of whether the consumption of alcohol is helping to win the war and to save lives on the road, or whether it is doing harm. If it is doing harm, it is the Government's 532 duty to control it more vigorously. Why should they not have a little more propaganda? Every time that an advertisement is put up saying "Guinness is good for you," why not put up another advertisement saying, "Guinness is good for very few"? Why not ask Guinness themselves to do that? They are very patriotic. Why not ask Guinness to do it, and let that be their war contribution? Heaven knows, they will make enough money before the war is over, and instead of letting them give it to hospitals, why should they not be asked to put up, along with every one of their signs, a notice warning people against the dangers of drink?
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
The Minister of Transport, in concluding his eloquent speech in favour of the reduction of the speed limit, said that, if the deaths were reduced by 100, or 10, or even one, his conduct would be justified. I do not think that the Minister of Transport, or indeed any other Minister, is going to have his conduct justified merely by the reduction of a death roll. I think we are looking at this matter which we are discussing today altogether from the wrong angle. There is only one question which every Minister has to put to himself to-day, and that is, "Will what I am doing help to win the war, or not?" That is the only test which should apply to every measure. I am not sufficiently acquainted with the problem to know whether the reduction of the speed limit to 20 miles per hour is likely to help win the war. I should not consider for one moment the private driver, because I think we have only to consider the transport of munitions, of goods, and necessary manufactures by road, and the question of getting the workers to the factories in the buses. I think, probably, a speed for buses of 20 miles an hour, if they do not go slower will probably enable them to do valuable work as now.
I think both the Minister of Transport, and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Home Security are too inclined to look at their jobs from the narrow point of view of "How can I best do the particular job to which I am concerned? How can I secure the best black-out? How can I best prevent casualties?" That is not the only point of view that has to be applied to these problems, for the problem is much wider. The black-out and 533 the evacuation must be judged not solely from the point of view of which may be ultimately safest, but whether it is best for winning the war and carrying on production in this country.
I want to put before the right hon. Gentleman to-night a plea for the relaxation of the black-out in the country districts and in the safe districts. I say that, not because I want to be more comfortable in walking home, or to be able to drive a motor car at 40 miles per hour, but simply because I think the more the black-out is limited, the sooner we shall be able to increase the production of this country, pay for the war, and beat Germany. I received a letter the other day from a tenant farmer of mine. The property is miles from anywhere, and I do not think there is a house within a quarter of a mile. I have just put up a new hay barn, and he wrote to me telling me that the A.R.P. warden said that the new hay barn roof shone too brightly on moonlight nights, arid would I, therefore, paint the roof? I sent back to say that I would paint it with pleasure, but I would paint it luminous white paint in order that the bombers might mistake it for Crewe junction. I said we had to consider this war in the spirit of self-sacrifice, and possibly with a sense of humour.
The original object of the black-out was that the bombers might not find the populous centres and the factories, and that they might waste their bombs on the open country instead of dropping them on the centre of London, Manchester, or Stoke-on-Trent. I would light up the country and encourage people to drive motor cars with powerful headlights in order that the enemy might drop bombs on the country in the mistaken belief that they were doing some harm. If I am right in my belief that the black-out was to prevent their finding the towns, I cannot see any argument for blacking-out the country and preventing their finding open places upon which to direct their bombs. I would go further than that. Take my own district in the Potteries. We are blacked-out. We are not an evacuation area. There is no chance of the Germans selecting Stoke-on-Trent to bomb. They would certainly prefer everybody else. The black-out means that all the factories in winter time have to work short hours. We are engaged in that district mostly in the export trade, the life-blood of the 534 country, a fact which will sooner or later be realised as more vital to this country than the fighting Services, because we are providing the only sinews of war for the fighting Services. If these factories are told that they can work in winter time only six hours a day and cannot work double shifts even in summer, it certainly handicaps the country in the effort that it is making to hold out against the siege warfare, a siege enforced not by the German Navy, but by the mere fact that we cannot buy goods anywhere unless we pay for them by our exports.
In these circumstances I think the right hon. Gentleman might reconsider the case of black-outs in those parts of the country where production is required and which are very far from the centres of German bombers. I would ask him to reconsider from the beginning the whole question of the evacuation of London and the blackout here. They go together; everything that can be said against one can be said against the other. When the evacuation and the black-out were decided on, everybody thought we were going to be bombed immediately, and not merely bombed as we were in the last war, but bombed so destructively that the whole centre of the Empire would be untenable. The estimates that were made of the results of one bombing raid were, I am told, in the nature of 200,000 casualties. That was the estimate made by, I believe, the Air Ministry. They made a mistake; I think everybody agrees that they made a mistake. I do not believe they repeat that estimate now. Everybody is liable to make mistakes, but in these matters they tend to exaggerate the importance of their Departments. I think that they genuinely mistook the power of the German Air Force. We have since seen the bombing of Helsinki by the Russian planes going on continuously for six weeks, yet only the other day we had it reported that 200 people in all had been killed in this series of raids, such as we could never have in this country owing to our better defensive arrangements.
We might have learned the same lesson from Spain. We read of all the tales of destruction in Barcelona, and then discovered how small was the death-roll there —in Barcelona, entirely undefended by anti-aircraft guns, where the bombing planes could come right down on top of the houses. We can judge from that 535 that the death-roll here will not be 200,000. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that if he had been able to believe in September last that for six months no bomb would drop on London he would certainly not have evacuated all those people, would not have gone to the enormous expense of A.R.P., would not have insisted on the black-out, which is hamstringing industry. Has the probability of a raid increased or decreased in the last six months? I think everybody must be conscious that it is extremely unlikely now that the Germans will bomb us before we bomb them, unlikely because they are beginning to get the hang of the idea that it is much easier for us to bomb Germany than for Germany to bomb us. It is easier for two overwhelming reasons. One is that we can start immediately from the German frontier, whereas they have to come 400 miles over the sea to get at us. The second is that the Germans are rather short of petrol, and that we have as much as we want. Every one of their raids is going to cost them four times as much in petrol, and anybody who has had any dealings with those heavy bombing machines knows that a bombing raid of 500 bombers over London would exhaust pretty well all the petrol the Germans have. The difficulty of the Germans is not in producing planes or the pilots for them but in providing petrol. They used up so much petrol in Poland that they have come to the conclusion that they had better play for safety until they have built up their reserves again. When our planes are going over Germany they do not go up to fight them because they do not want to waste petrol.
Our reprisals on Germany would be infinitely worse than their raids on us, because our machines could be accompanied by fighters, the range being so small. We could hit them much harder than they could hit us. Further, our expenditure of petrol would be only one-fourth of theirs, and we have the petrol and they have not. Also, Hitler has said in so many words that he is not going to bomb us unless we bomb them. And why should they bomb us? He has more to gain by a waiting policy than we have. We are involved in all this expenditure, which they are more or less avoiding.
536 For these reasons I think the right hon. Gentleman must reconsider the whole question of the evacuation and the blackout. The expense is too great for the amount of security obtained. He said the other day that it was safer to go on with the black-out. I think it is safer, but there are degrees of safety. In war there is no absolute safety. You cannot be safe. You must cut your coat according to your cloth. You must realise that you cannot buy everything, because you have not got the money. If you are going in for victory you must be prepared for a long war, and you must not spend on things which are not essential the money which may be required for things which are essential. Suppose it were conceivable—conceivable—that one bombing raid by Germany could kill 200,000 in London. How many less will be killed if they raid us (a) in daylight, when they can see, or (b) in moonlight, when they can see, or (c) when all they can see is a subdued light which, by following the course of the Thames, they will know is London? We are not purchasing absolute security but only a certain reduction of risk, how much I do not know. If unprotected Helsinki loses only zoo people in a month all I can say is that I shall be immensely surprised if London, with its balloons, with its antiaircraft guns and its fighting planes all round, is even damaged more effectively by any bombing raid than it is being damaged by the evacuation of so many people and its business being allowed to go bankrupt.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I had hoped that it might not be necessary for me to intervene in this Debate, but my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Transport gave the House fair warning that the Debate might take a course which would involve my having to wind-up. The speeches in the Debate have been so largely concerned with the black-out that I think I must undertake the task of replying. I am told that my Noble Friend the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Cranborne), in the course of a speech which, unfortunately, I did not hear, said that the Minister of Transport had hamstrung the Debate by starting it off on the basis that the black-out would have to continue. I think that so far as hamstringing the Debate was concerned, it is perfectly obvious that my Noble 537 Friend has been guilty of some exaggeration. He went on to say that the House and the public have a right to know why the black-out is considered to be essential. I shall take up the challenge which he and a number of other hon. Members who have taken part in the Debate have thrown out this evening.
This is a most important matter, and I think the Debate has shown how widespread are the misunderstandings which still exist in regard to certain aspects of this question of the black-out. My right hon. and gallant Friend repeated a Statement that I have made more than once, that the black-out is not something devised by civil servants or civilian Ministers but is based on strategic considerations, and in the view of the Air Staff is an essential part of the apparatus of civil defence. But that does not mean that the Air Staff have had things all their own way. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) talked about the Minister of Transport and myself taking too narrow a view of our responsibilities. He suggested that my main consideration had been to see how good a black-out I could provide. I assure the House that the facts are very different. I have, from the beginning, regarded it as my duty to put before the Air Staff any considerations which it seemed to me ought to be taken into account, in order that the consequences of the complete black-out, which considerations of air strategy might prima facie require, and the inconveniences involved, might be alleviated, particularly in the matter of transport, safety of life and limb, and production, particularly for war purposes.
I have always found the members of the Air Staff most receptive of any suggestions that have been made to them, and willing to consider any arguments put forward. In war, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said, you cannot get safety. There is no absolute ideal of perfection that you can secure. You must constantly be prepared to accept compromise. I have not yet found a case where the Air Ministry have refused to accept suggestions put to them, in the interests of the civilian population and of the civil life of the country, on grounds which, after I had studied the arguments, I considered insufficient. I want to make that point clear.
538 I would remind the House that there have been many alleviations since the first days of the war. We have had the development of aids to movement, the improved motor car lighting, the greatly improved lighting in public service vehicles—trams, buses, and trains—and we have recently had this glimmer lighting. Someone called it, speaking to me the other day, "pin-prick lighting." He really meant pin-point lighting. I will take up the point made by the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith) that we have not introduced this glimmer lighting universally. Well, we could not do so. It is a tremendous business to get the lamps and fittings that are required; but they are being installed as rapidly as the manufacturers can produce them. I have no evidence at all of any hold-up in the extension of the lighting, which, I believe, will be found a source of great comfort to pedestrians. It is intended primarily for pedestrians. It cannot be criticised—it ought not to be criticised—on the ground that it does not help motorists. It is not intended to do so.
One of the advantages of this lighting is that it does not affect the intensity of the light provided by the headlamps of motor cars. If the lighting was brighter, if, from the point of view of air strategy, brighter lighting could be allowed, headlamps would have to be made more intense to serve their purpose, because all these things are relative.
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith
An arbitrary date was fixed for the headlamp lighting to come into force; but no such date has been fixed for the "comfort lighting."
§ Sir J. Anderson
That may come. The arbitrary date for headlights was not fixed until I was satisfied that I could reasonably expect general observance of the regulation. It is no use laying down a regulation if it is not possible to carry it out.
The next point—in my view an exceedingly important point—is that the House should realise that the value of the black-out, and its merits and demerits, are not to be measured primarily in terms of damage to life and limb; they are not to be measured in terms of casualties. I want to make that absolutely clear. The aim of the black-out is three-fold: first, it is designed to prevent accurate navigation, and so to prevent the bomber 539 from finding his target; second, it is intended to prevent aimed bombing if and when the bomber finds his target; and, third, it is designed to render, as far as possible, unaimed bombing so haphazard and random that it has little effect.
I am going to make a statement which I think goes beyond anything that has yet been said on this subject. There are many aspects of the problem of air strategy which could not, in the public interest, be dealt with in a public debate, but I want to say this about the blackout. Whatever we may think about its effect in producing casualties on the roads, which may be contrasted with war casualties and so on, there are in this country—and presumably in all countries engaged in modern warfare—certain vital targets, the destruction of which might produce consequences of the gravest character, and the preservation of those vital military targets, securing them against damage, must be a primary consideration. It is true that we shall also secure a greater degree of safety for the population of these islands—and I would be the last to undervalue that consideration—but I say to the House very emphatically that the other consideration is, from the point of view of our war effort, which we must always keep in the forefront of our minds, the dominant consideration. Hon. Members, if they reflect, will easily understand that lighting which produces recognisable patterns on the ground which could be identified by aircraft, coming perhaps singly, perhaps without being detected, taking careful observation, might provide the enemy with the means of launching an attack unexpectedly on this country the consequences of which would be little short of disastrous. We have, we believe, by our black-out arrangements effectively protected the country against that major risk, and that is the main point that I want to make this evening. There has, I think, been a fundamental misapprehension in this matter; and, because of that misapprehension, I have felt justified in going beyond anything that had yet been said publicly in that connection.
If I may go on to considerations of a more detailed character, the basic necessities which, from a pilot's point of view, the black-out has produced are these: first, we cut down the lights in large towns so that the outlines of the towns 540 are obscured and made difficult to recognise; second, we cut down the lights in small towns, so that they look like villages; and we cut down the lights of villages so that they do not appear at all, or appear only like single cottages. We cut down the lights on the main roads and railways, so that we do not give navigational aids to the enemy bomber who passes over the country, so that we do not give him the recognisable pattern that I referred to a moment ago. In order to do this, all lights other than those essential to undertakings of national importance have to be dimmed, and are in fact dimmed, to very low intensities or are entirely obscured. Where work of national importance cannot be carried on without some measure of lighting going beyond what on general considerations would be regarded as safe, we have always recognised that the case is one for compromise, and we have to resort to various devices to diminish the risks that might be involved. It is well-known that in shipyards, docks. quarries, cement works, railway marshalling yards, where work has to be carried on night and day in the national interests, we have allowed lighting which is far brighter than would normally be regarded as safe. Similarly, with regard to steel works; that is a question of obscuring glare, and very special consideration has been given to the problem which arises in steel works and coke ovens, and everything relevant has, as far as possible, been taken into account. Where lighting is allowed which goes beyond the general level that would be considered safe, as I have said, we resort to special devices to minimise the danger which might be involved.
There is certain lighting which has to be switched off on the giving of the air-raid warning. It might be said, and it has been said, "Why do not you have for your ordinary street lighting a system which will enable you to switch the light off when the yellow warning is given?" There are very good reasons, as we think, against doing it. It is not a question of being impracticable. The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) said that a lot of nonsense had been talked about the difficulty of devising some system of mass switching which would enable street lighting to be cut off on warning of an air raid. The Government 541 have realised from the beginning that there are well recognised systems in existence of central control of, at any rate, electric street lighting. The same thing does not hold in gas lighting, which represents even to-day more than 50 per cent. of the public street lighting of this country. Certainly a system of central switches could have been introduced in regard to electric lighting, but it would have been vastly expensive. It would have involved providing entirely new circuits and would have taken a very long time to instal, and it is doubtful whether the labour and materials could have been provided. Still, it was a possibility; we examined it, and we rejected it.
§ Sir J. Anderson
It would involve the employment of a very large number of people who would have to be kept constantly standing by if we relied upon switching off the lighting on the occurrence of a sudden emergency. That is the point. We considered that, and we deliberately rejected it. The cost would have been very great, but the major consideration was one which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Rotherhithe, who said that an experienced airman with whom he had discussed the matter had pointed out the serious consequences of suddenly switching off the lights.
§ Sir J. Anderson
Yes, at the moment when air raids might be about to take place. Apart from that consideration there is also this fact which is very important: Hon. Members may not realise how many yellow warnings there will be in comparison with red warnings. There have been periods during the last few months when large areas of the country have been almost continuously under yellow warnings. If the yellow warning, which is confidential and private, were converted to a public warning as, in fact, it would be if the lights were suddenly switched off, think of the effect it would have on the morale and psychology of the people, on production.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that the people of this country are so apt to panic?
§ Sir J. Anderson
It is not a question of people being apt to panic; but, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has intervened, I would like to utter a word of serious warning against the acceptance of the assumptions he presented in his speech a few moments ago. I would not accept them for one moment, and I think it most dangerous that the public should be led to suppose that because we have not had air raids yet there are not going to be any air raids, and that because of certain experiences which have been undergone in Finland, air raids here, if they came, would not produce any considerable number of casualties. Incidentally the right hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned a figure, which I am not going to repeat, as though it represented an estimate of deaths. The figure on which his calculations were based was one arising out of an estimate of persons likely to be injured and having to be treated in hospital—quite a different thing from an estimate of the number of deaths.
I was explaining, however, that we had rejected any general arrangement of lights to be switched off on the receipt of a yellow warning, but that certain special lighting had been allowed, in the public interest, in industrial establishments. We have considered, also, allowing a higher intensity of lighting which could be switched off on receipt of a red warning. We have rejected that on somewhat different grounds, having regard to the speed at which aircraft can move to-day and the length of time necessarily taken in communicating the red warning to all persons to whom it goes. It would, in fact, be too late if lights were switched off when the red warning was received. We have rejected, after full consideration with the Air Staff, these two possibilities and we have fallen back, inevitably, on the third course of low intensity lighting. After careful experiment and investigation we have felt able to allow increased use of lighting of intensities which have been tested and found to be safe in the sense in which I have defined safety. Taking the safety of the country from the point of view of our ability to maintain our war effort as our primary consideration, we have to proceed on the line of gradually giving more relaxation of light where, in view of experience, we are satisfied that that can safely be done.
Various speakers have dealt with the subject of motor car lights. I want to 543 say a word about that, but before I do may I express my appreciation of the practical approach to this subject which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rotherhithe made in his interesting speech. I think some of the suggestions he made may not prove to be capable of adoption, but he speaks from great experience, and as I have had the advantage of his assistance in some of these matters in the past I know he will realise that I shall always be ready to consider any suggestion he or his friends put forward on the basis of their practical experience.
In regard to motor car lights, the mask which has become compulsory this week was the result of a great deal of experiment. We have been urged to allow the use of two masks. At first sight that seems a practicable suggestion. We have in fact allowed it for public service vehicles, which present special problems. The driver is perched up high and the black area immediately in front of the vehicle presents greater difficulties and greater dangers than in the case of the ordinary motor car. For the time being we have decided against allowing two masked headlamps for other vehicles, and for this reason. If the light is to conform to the requirements of the Air Ministry, that it should not provide in the closely populated areas a pattern of the roads or the layout of the streets clearly visible from the air, the intensity of the light as measured by the amount of light spread on the road in front of the vehicle must be cut down to a certain level. We have allowed for the single light the maximum that is considered safe. If we allowed two lights we should have to cut down the intensity of each light by half. That is an arithmetical calculation which no one can challenge.
§ Sir W. Brass
The number of vehicles has been cut down and the amount of light you have now on the roads, even if you allowed two headlights, would not be as much as you got for one headlight last year.
§ Sir J. Anderson
We are willing to proceed by experience and we have been making careful experiments and tests The. House may take it from me that the masked headlight which is now prescribed gives the maximum light which in the opinion of those who have studied these things can safely be allowed from 544 a single vehicle and it follows that if you allow two lights the intensity of each of these lights must be reduced by half.
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith
Having regard to his suggestion that this double lighting would reveal the pattern of the roads in congested areas, would the right hon. Gentleman consider allowing a double light for commercial vehicles on country roads at night?
§ Sir J. Anderson
We must proceed by stages. The real difficulty is that it becomes more difficult to enforce the regulations if you allow a variation in the intensity of the light. The hon. Member said that you want to be able to deal authoritatively with people to whom the regulations apply, and I can promise the hon. Member that I will give careful consideration to the eloquent plea he made for the exercise of more authority and greater severity in these matters. But so far as the public service vehicle is concerned, the question of control so far as the police are involved can to a large extent be disregarded, because you are dealing with a responsible public authority, and you can rely on their good sense and willingness to co-operate, supplemented perhaps by occasional tests; but with the individual motorist it is a different matter.
One of the great difficulties in connection with the question of street lighting up to the present time has been that, with the best will in the world—and most people are anxious to do what those in authority tell them they should do—we have had a state of extraordinary confusion, with lights of all kinds and all intensities, and even the new masks for headlamps have in many cases been improperly adjusted. We hope to get that right, and we want to make the requirements as simple as possible. For the time being, we are not going to allow two masked headlights, although we have allowed what we did not at first allow, an option as to whether the one mask should be put on the near or off headlamp. As regards the heavier goods vehicles, we shall have to judge by experience how far it is safe to go. I ask hon. Members to realise that in dealing with this matter throughout we have recognised that our knowledge is limited, that we have had to get experience as we went along; and I am not going to say—and no one concerned in the 545 matter is going to say—that we have reached finality yet. We are prepared to go further in the light of experience if we think that advantage would be gained.
I had intended to deal with one or two other points of detail, some of which I have already picked up. The hon. Member for Rotherhithe spoke about propaganda, and complained that we had not undertaken propaganda soon enough. I am sure the House will realise the difficulties that we have been in, to which I have already alluded. Frankly, we were not sure of our ground. People may say, "Why were not all the necessary experiments carried out before the war? There were months of intensive preparation—why wait until war before making these experiments?" The plain truth is that until the war made it possible to secure the background of the black-out, no experiments involving observation from the air could be of the slightest use, and therefore, we had to start from the war, and in the weather that we have had it has been very difficult sometimes to get the necessary data from air observation. We have had to consider all kinds of atmospheric conditions—the moonlight night, the misty night, the conditions in which the surface of the ground is dry and the conditions in which it is wet, where there are quite different degrees of reflection. All this has involved the expenditure of a great and surprising amount of time in experiment and investigation, and until we were sore of the kind of advice that we ought to give to people we could not fairly or properly or safely engage in active and vigorous propaganda. But we have got data now. We have definite advice that we want to give to the public, and I am sure the hon. Member for Rotherhithe will realise, even though he may not agree with what I have said, that it is better late than never; and we are going ahead and hope that, as a result of the measures we are taking, we shall get many improvements in the observance of the Regulations that have been laid down.
The hon. Member suggested that we should go further than we have agreed to go in an investigation of the actual causes of road accidents. My right hon. and gallant Friend said we were going to take sample cases. We are not going to revert to the practice, which obtained before the war, of detailed analyses of all cases throughout the country, for the simple reason that to do so would involve 546 an expenditure of man-power which we feel we cannot afford. We shall take a sufficient number of cases—and by cases I mean areas—to give us a proper representative sample for the whole country, and in that way we shall learn a great deal more than we know now as to the precise cases in which the greater number of the accidents occur.
On the question of man-power the hon. Gentleman criticised the police authorities for employing so frequently, as they do, special constables on traffic duty instead of regular police. There are good reasons for that. It is not merely that the regular police are not at the moment available. They have certain additional duties to discharge, it is true, but the main consideration is that the special constables and members of the Police War Reserve have to be available to supplement the regular police in time of great emergency. If they are to be of value they have to be trained in their duties and gain experience. That is why we are employing special constables and members of the Police War Reserve on those duties of which one can say, without any reflection on the "specials" or the reservists, that the regular police could probably with their experience do the work, at the moment, better. But we have to give the special constables and reservists opportunities of gaining this experience.
The hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) had certain criticisms to offer. I have dealt with the question of masked headlamps on which he laid stress. There is one point he made to which I would refer. He drew a comparison between conditions in this country and conditions in France. I should not care to involve myself in any discussion of the relative merits of precautions taken in this country and those taken—in what may be different circumstances—by our gallant Allies. But there is this to be borne in mind. Paris is 150 miles from the Luxemburg frontier, which is for this purpose the front line. In this country the coast has to be taken as our front line, and there are very few parts of the country as far from the coast as Paris is from that frontier. That is in itself a consideration. But I would like to say that we have not by any means closed our minds to the possibility of having a system of zones and, for example, allowing, if not in regard to general street lighting, at any rate in 547 regard to industrial lighting, a higher standard of lighting beyond a certain line so many miles—I will not specify the Lumber—from the East Coast.
We have not by any means closed our minds to that, and we are, in fact, at this moment working on that basis. I have made a special arrangement by which lighting experts and practical men will go to any industrial establishment, shipyard or dock or whatever it may be, where difficulty is being experienced in securing the necessary industrial output on account of the black-out, and will settle on the spot what rearrangement of lighting or what relaxation of lighting restrictions should be allowed in order that our war effort should not be unduly impeded.
§ Viscount Cranborne
Will that relaxation apply also to car lights, as well as industrial plant, and things of that kind? It does seem an important point.
§ Sir J, Anderson
It might in the course of time. We have not excluded that. As I said before, we are fully alive to the fact that we have gained experience as we have gone along. We have been able to 548 produce relaxation which at the beginning we felt could not be safely allowed.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock the Motion for the Adjournment lapsed, without Question put.
§ Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Captain Margesson.)
§ Sir J. Anderson
One final word. Consider the position in Germany. All the evidence goes to show that the black-out in Germany is even more complete than in this country, even in parts of Germany far removed from the frontier. The Germans are a methodical, systematic, careful people. They have not imposed on themselves the self-denial that is involved in a complete black-out for reasons which they do not regard as fully justified. That is a consideration to which we can rightly attach some importance, especially when we are invited to consider the different state of things obtaining in France.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned according at Two Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.