§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This Bill has three purposes. They are, first, to help, so far as legislation can, to promote safety on the road; secondly, so far as legislation can, to deal with traffic congestion, particularly in big cities; and thirdly, to deal with certain anomalies or ambiguities in the law which have come to light in recent years.
A Bill of this sort necessarily, when one looks at it for the first time, seems rather piecemeal, and if, as certain critics have done, one looks at it in isolation from the background, it can be made to appear somewhat incomplete. However, I would stress the words which I used a moment ago in connection with the first two purposes, road safety and the relief of congestion. The words were "so far as legislation can help." I would emphasise to the House that the greater part of sensible policies on both those subjects does not depend on new legislation; a great deal can be effected either by the use of existing legislative powers under previous Acts or by measures which have nothing whatever to do with legislation.
The Bill, therefore, on these subjects, deals only with those broad and in some ways limited aspects of the subject for which new legislation is required. The significance of what is sought to be done by the new legislation can, I submit to the House, only be fairly and sensibly judged if one fits the precise legislative projects into the background of the general policies which are being pursued quite apart from legislation.
I think it is from this reason that certain sincere, but, I submit, wholly unsound criticisms of the Bill have sprung. Even the "Manchester Guardian," which is a newspaper for which, I think, hon. Members on both sides of the House have a very high regard, and which certainly stands in a very special position to us all at present, fell into this error in a recent leading article. It indicated that, though there was much good material in the Bill, 1014 it was to be criticised because—these were the words used in the leading article:It shies away from the question of speed limits, leaving the existing law to be mocked as it now is daily, and it dodges the growing problem of controlling the gigantic loads that are being transported by road more and more frequently.In fact, as I am sure hon. Members in the House will be aware, while the Bill does deal with certain subsidiary aspects of the speed limit, on the major part of that problem existing powers are adequate, and, therefore, legislation is not required. It is in the exercise of those powers that I have recently referred to the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee the task of reviewing the speed limits in the London area with a view, among other things, to considering the use of differing speed limits on different roads.
Similarly, I can tell the House that so far as abnormal indivisible loads are concerned existing powers are, in my judgment adequate, and I am now engaged in preliminary discussions with the police and other authorities about how better to control them.
The fact that a newspaper of the standing and intelligence of the "Manchester Guardian" can be led to believe that the fact that these issues are not dealt with in the Bill means that they are being avoided is an indication of the very real difficulty which faces both the House and critics outside in considering a Bill of this sort unless one constantly looks at other policy measures being taken outside on the same subject. I think it really is necessary to fit the legislative pieces into the general jigsaw of the policies if one is to form a fair and reasonable view of the measures proposed.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I will endeavour, at least so far as the rules of order and your kindliness permit, to deal with a good many parts of the Bill, with the aid of such references as may be in order, to the policies of which the proposals in the Bill are, in many cases, an ancillary part.
I must make, in opening my speech, one other general comment. Actually, the legislative steps which are taken in a matter of this sort are often, in the nature of things unpopular. Legislation on these subjects very often involves, as the Bill 1015 does, restrictions on the activities or liberties of different categories of road users, and it is very natural and human that those concerned, though they may themselves advocate more drastic measures in other directions, should not be particularly enthusiastic about those which affect them.
However, I think I can claim that the restrictions and penalties which the Bill, among other things, embodies are no more and no less than is required by a situation in which 5,000 people are killed annually on the roads and a quarter of a million injured, and in which congestion of traffic, particularly in great cities, does a serious hurt to the economy.
The theme of the Bill, as I see it, is the provision by legislation of that minimum provision of restriction and penalty and that minimum legal framework which is required to supplement and to support the other measures which we are taking on the subject of safety and congestion.
Opinions, naturally, differ so far as penalties and restrictions are concerned, and it is perhaps a little reassuring for the Minister in charge of the Bill to note that at earlier stages certain of the penalties and restrictions were simultaneously being criticised for being too lax and for being too severe. It is so much a matter of judgment and opinion whether one has reached the right mean in these matters. I should be the last to claim that on all proposals we have necessarily done so, but the House would want, I think, in considering the Measure to bear in mind that there is always a balance in these matters which it is sometimes very difficult to strike completely accurately.
Following the plan which I indicated I should like to follow in presenting the Bill to the House, I should like, first, to deal with the safety provisions against—I would stress it again—the other non-legislative safety measures which we are taking. I can very quickly summarise them: education in road safety, whose success in respect of the education of children is one of the most cheerful spots in the casualty figures; the abolition of black spots on the roads, some hundreds of which we hope to deal with in this year's instalment of the road programme; training schemes such as the excellent one sponsored by the R.A.C. and A.C.U. for motor cyclists; training schemes for 1016 pedal cyclists such as are sponsored by many local authorities and other public-spirited people; experiments in road safety such as that which I had the privilege to inaugurate at Slough on Saturday last; mobile police and the use of "courtesy cops"; and the Highway Code, which, I am glad to tell the House, has sold over three million copies and the free distribution of which is to follow. Those are the main body of the safety proposals to which the legislative provisions to which I am now going to refer are in a sense supplementary.
The first with which I should like to deal is the extension proposed in the Bill, which is dealt with in Clauses 4 and 5, of certain restrictions and liability to prosecution of both cyclists and pedestrians. The present position of the law affecting cyclists is that the only offence which a cyclist can commit is that of riding furiously contrary to the Highway Act, 1835, and to the Town Police Clauses Act, 1847. Clause 4 of the Bill proposes to apply to pedal cyclists liability to be charged with reckless, dangerous and careless riding; that is to say, with an offence similar to that committed by motorists under the same title. They will also be required to stop when required to do so by the police.
This provision does not, as has been stated outside, involve either registration of cyclists or licensing of cyclists—that is wholly unnecessary—but it does impose upon cyclists liability, if they offend, to be prosecuted for those offences. The great majority of cyclists ride in a law-abiding and sensible manner, but probably the experience of hon. Members would cause them to agree that it is proper that some control of this sort should be extended to the very small minority of cyclists, who, by doing silly things, may endanger their own lives or the lives of others.
Similarly, there is an extension of the law affecting the control of pedestrians. That is effected by Clause 5. At present the only offences which a pedestrian can commit are those of loitering on a crossing contrary to pedestrian regulations, or wilfully obstructing the highway under the Act of 1835. It is proposed to make it an offence for a pedestrian to proceed across the road in contravention of a direction given by a policeman in uniform directing traffic.
1017 That is a modest but, I think, not unimportant extension of the law, and in the overwhelming majority of cases it will be unnecessary. Those who have faced the problem of traffic and pedestrians in heavily crowded city streets will agree that at least some legal authority is needed to back the moral authority which is generally, but not always, sufficient in the case of perhaps one or two people.
Similarly, the penalties for motorists are increased by Clause 20. Increased use is made of the penalty of disqualification from driving. A great many people think we might have gone even further in that direction. If the House gives a Second Reading to the Bill that is just the sort of point which it might be convenient to discuss in Committee. In view of certain comments made outside it is important to notice that we extended the penalty of disqualification in respect of certain of these offences.
There is a difference of opinion as to the extent to which it is right to make disqualification automatic on conviction for certain offences. On the one hand, there is the proper and understandable desire to keep off the road those who are a danger and there is the deterrent effect. On the other hand, every extension of automatic penalties can have the effect of making it more difficult for convictions to be obtained. It is, therefore, necessary to look very carefully at this aspect of the matter before coming to any very dogmatic conclusions. I would point out to the House that there is some extension here of the penalty of disqualification. Fines are increased in line, largely, with the fall in the value of money since they were fixed by the Act of 1930 and there is some increase in the possibilities of imprisonment.
A very different question, on which I am anxious to have the views of the House, relates to the question of defective vehicles. That raises a problem of very great difficulty. Figures have been quoted which, on the face of them, would appear to indicate that defects in vehicles are a comparatively small cause of accidents. I believe that those figures do not give the whole story and that, on the contrary, a considerable number of accidents, primarily perhaps caused by something else, were contributed to, or could have been avoided, if one or more of the 1018 vehicles involved had not been in a defective condition.
It is clear that the three points on which a great deal of thought is needed relate to lights, from the point of view of dazzle, braking and steering. Those are points of very real, practical consequence to which great attention has been given in the United States of America. On the question of dazzle, the House will wish to have in mind the fact that international organisations have been trying to work out standards. It may be that before very long we shall have some agreed international recommendations on the subject. When we do, the question of what action we take to enforce them in this country will become urgent.
When the Bill was introduced in another place it made provision, among other things, for testing of vehicles to be undertaken in licensed, or authorised, garages. As the House will know, noble Lords, in their wisdom. deleted that provision, with the result that these tests can only be undertaken in Government establishments. On the other hand, the provisions have been reinforced by one which, speaking from memory, I think is in Clause 10, which deals with the sale of vehicles in bad condition.
The situation which arises on the Clause is not one, I think, of any politically controversial nature. but is a difficult practical problem. I do not think that any serious body of opinion, inside this House or outside, contemplates setting up throughout the country a vast network of Government-manned and Government-operated testing stations. Considerations of expense and manpower, and of the shortage of competent and qualified men required, would inhibit that.
The House knows that we are proceeding with an experimental pilot station in the London area, which, I hope, may be open in a few weeks' time, to get experience of what precisely is needed to operate a testing station of this sort—how many vehicles it can deal with, the staff needed, and so on. When that test has been undertaken we shall be in a better position than we are now to know the practical limitations of the matter.
As the Clause stands, limited as it is to Government testing stations, it is not in a practical form. It is clear that we shall have to give a great deal of thought and consideration to it in the light of advice and 1019 experience of hon. Members as to how we should proceed further. It is not a matter on which I would wish to be dogmatic. It is a difficult matter, but I hope the House will not underrate the seriousness of the problem we are seeking to tackle, nor the practical difficulties which loom up in face of every particular proposal put forward. This is eminently a matter on which the Government would wish to have the views of the House.
Clause 9—still in the safety group—deals with a possibly serious gap in the law with respect to the issue of provisional licences. It has been possible for an applicant to obtain a provisional licence and to continue to renew it without having any real intention of passing a driving test. In the case of motorists, that possibility is made less attractive by reason of the fact that he has to have a qualified driver with him, but, in the case of motor cyclists, for practical reasons, that does not arise. There is the possibility of someone who does not feel he would pass a test continuing to drive with a provisional licence.
The Clause proposes to give the authorities who issue licences power to refuse to issue one in the case of a driver who has had a licence in the previous 12 months and who does not appear to intend to take a driving test.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
That is a very fair and proper question. The answer, I think, is that the licensing authority must judge on the facts of the case. If a person can show, for example, that he has been ill, or abroad, no sensible authority would take the view that the fact that he had not made an appointment for a test was an indication to be taken against him. If, on the other hand, the driver had been fit and at home, but had not applied for a test, it would not be unreasonable to assume that he was not making an attempt to do so.
In any case, we do not propose to leave it to the unfettered discretion of the licensing authority. There is provision for appeal to the courts in the case of a refusal thought to be unfairly made. The refusal can only be for a maximum period of six months in view of the fact that the licences will be given for six months and this provision applies only to someone 1020 who has applied in the previous 12 months. I am discussing the exact working out of the provisions with the local authorities which issue licences. I think it should be probable to obtain an agreed form of words covering the general line to be followed in refusals. As the right hon. Gentleman says, it is a matter on which the operation of this arrangement very largely turns.
The provisions to which I have referred are a number of the main provisions of the Bill which relate to safety. I stress again that they are not put forward in the belief that, of themselves, they can make more than a partial contribution to road safety. They are put forward, however, as being the necessary changes in the law which can be taken in connection with the other Measures which, with the brevity imposed on me on that subject by the rules of order, I outlined at the beginning of my reference to safety measures.
I would approach the group of proposals that deal with the second main object of the Bill—the relief of congestion—in a somewhat similar manner. In the same way as in the case of safety, the legislative proposals to deal with congestion are supplementary to those which require no legislative steps. Those are, first, road and street works which are being undertaken under the expanded road programme, encouragement of the provision, either by local authorities or by private enterprise, of garages, improved traffic control, improved traffic light signals, such as that recently introduced in Oxford Street, better street lighting, the introduction of one-way streets and restrictions upon parking. Those are some of the background of other measures to which it is reasonable to relate these proposals, which are aimed primarily at the relief of congestion.
The most conspicuous proposal in this group and the one which has attracted most interest outside is that embodied in Clauses 14 to 19 and the First Schedule: that is, the provision with respect of parking meters. Here again, I would say, not that they by themselves are the answer to the problems of traffic congestion in big cities, but that they are, and their experimental use will be, an important part of the general policy, on which I should like to say a word or two.
1021 It is, I think, clear to anyone who has studied this matter that in big cities, particularly in London, increasing difficulty is being caused by the use of space on the streets for long-term or all-day parking. Since the war, in particular, in London there has been a considerable development in the habit of bringing a car into London, perhaps fairly early in the morning, and leaving it all day on the street, using space which is of considerable value and preventing other people who might wish to park or to make a business call for a shorter period from using that space.
It is not, I suggest, either reasonable or sensible to seek to deal with that situation simply by prohibition of parking. In the first place, purely negative and repressive steps of that sort are extremely difficult to enforce. As the House knows, the Metropolitan Police is considerably under strength and the police, in natural and very proper humanity, dislike enforcing restrictions of that sort on people who say, "But I have nowhere else to go. You must show me where I can park if you want me to move."
I do not, therefore, think that the use of valuable space, which is required for moving traffic, by traffic which is static all day, can be dealt with solely by restriction or by no-waiting or no-parking orders, though those measures must undoubtedly play their part in the general proposals for dealing with this matter.
The object of the experimental use of the parking meters is that it will provide a strong encouragement to the person who wants to park all day to put his car in a garage if he is going to park all day. In so doing, and in so far as he does that, it will release the space that that person would otherwise have occupied for a succession of people parking for a shorter time during the course of the day—that is, for precisely the type of person whom I indicated a moment or two ago, the person who is on business and wishes to park for an hour or, perhaps, slightly more or slightly less. In that way, I think, we will ease somewhat the pressure on the streets caused by parking.
But the matter goes a little deeper than that. We are anxious to encourage the provision of garages, but while the 1022 streets can be used free for long periods, the provision of garages does not appear, either to local authorities or to private enterprise, to be a particularly attractive proposition. If, however, the habit of using a garage for longer-term parking is restored to, at any rate, something like the pre-war standards, there is then much greater encouragement either to local authorities or to private enterprise to provide garages.
The House will be aware of the financial provisions with respect to parking meters, and of the restriction under Clause 18 to the use of the proceeds for the purposes of providing off-street parking facilities either by the local authority which collects or by grants by it to another local authority, if that is more convenient, or, further—though in this case only with the consent of the Minister—to a private person who is providing parking facilities.
The reason for the introduction of the consent of the Minister at this point is that it is desired that these moneys should be used only for the provision of genuine additional parking facilities and not for the provision of, say, a car park as ancillary to building a public house or sports ground. Therefore, the parking meter proposal, which requires legislative sanction, appears as an important component, though no more than that, in the general approach to the relief of congestion by the reduction in all-day parking on the streets. Although one could have an interesting argument on the questions of principle which are involved—and on that point I would commend to hon. Members two extremely interesting articles by Mr. George Schwartz in the "Sunday Times", in the last two issues which were printed—my approach is the practical one. I think it will be very difficult to get additional garages provided and very difficult to get reinforcement of no-parking restrictions unless the power is obtained to charge for parking in the streets. Parking meters are, obviously, the most convenient way of doing that.
The procedure, with which I do not need to weary the House, which it is proposed to follow is set out fairly clearly both in this group of Clauses and in the First Schedule. These provisions apply only to London. They can be extended to other areas by Order, which is subject 1023 to Parliamentary procedure. The actual parking meter schemes have to be put forward on the initiative of the local authority. There are proposals to safeguard the position of individuals affected, advertisement, and so on. The proposals would then come to the Minister and require to be made by Order, which is itself subject to Parliamentary procedure. I think, therefore, that there is clear protection for the interests of anyone who might be, or who might think he was, adversely affected.
In other countries, parking meters have had an interesting history. When they were first introduced in the United States, they were met with some of the suspicion with which they have been met in this country, but in the judgment of the American authorities they have certainly proved themselves inasmuch as their use has been extended and they are now being developed, not only in the United States, but in Canada, New Zealand and Switzerland. Therefore, although it is new to this country, this is not a wholly untried idea and it is one with which, I suggest, it is right for us to experiment.
In dealing with the problems of congestion, we ought not to neglect any practical and fair method of trying to solve it. That is why, because legislative powers are required, the Bill includes provision to give those powers.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
Is the basic reason for the introduction of the parking meters proposal a desire to relieve congestion or a desire to charge for the use of road space by vehicles that stand there for a long time?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
It is a desire to relieve congestion and to use the method of charging for the use of road space for vehicles which, as the hon. Member says, stand there a long time as a means of tackling the problem of congestion.
§ Mr. George Isaacs (Southwark)
Will the parking meters operate only during hours of daylight or will it be possible to park against them all night?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
It will depend on the nature of the scheme which is put up by a local authority and on the problems of the area. There are business 1024 areas where I would not contemplate the likelihood of their having to be operated at night. On the other hand, in places like the West End of London, that might be necessary.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The difficulty of dealing with individual houses and the problems of access are problems which we have very much in mind, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman has, and it is because we have them very much in mind that the various proposals for advertising and notification of frontagers have been inserted in the Bill.
On the subject of congestion, there are two other quite useful provisions. Clause 25 extends liability to the owner to give information concerning the driver of the vehicle. For certain offences that is already the law, but there is an important gap relating to parking offences in London. It is not possible in London for the police, having obtained identification of the owner from the number of the car, to obtain from the owner information as to who was driving it on a particular occasion. That accounts for the sight with which, I think, hon. Members are familiar, of a policeman, in the case of a car having been parked contrary to regulations, waiting patiently outside a building for the driver of the car to emerge. That involves a great waste of police time, and makes it much more difficult for the police to enforce no-parking restrictions.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)
Is there any suggestion of the owner of the vehicle, who may have been the driver, having to answer a question which might make himself guilty solely by answering that question?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
It would only tend to make him guilty by identifying him as the person in charge of the vehicle on that occasion. It does not compel him to admit that he has committed any offence. That is already the law in respect of a very large number of motoring offences, including—I speak subject to correction—parking restrictions outside London, but it certainly is not the law with respect to parking restrictions in London, and is, therefore, I should have thought, clearly anomalous.
§ Mr. Roberts
Is it not the fact that the offence is in leaving the vehicle there, and, therefore, if a person is asked that question, in answering it he admits the offence?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
No. He is identifying who is in charge of the vehicle on that particular occasion. He need not admit to leaving the vehicle in any particular place, but he does admit that if anybody has committed an offence it was he.
The other provision is in Clause 2, and it gives to the police power to remove vehicles which cause obstruction. They already have power to remove vehicles that cause danger, and any hon. Member who has seen the traffic difficulties which occur because of one carelessly parked vehicle in a crowded London street will, I think, take the view that a policeman should not be expected to wait patiently until the owner returns, but should have the right to let the traffic go by removing the vehicle.
I will pass on to one or two, I will not say smaller, but separate issues. First, speed limits. Since 1934 when the 30 miles per hour limit was enacted for built-up areas, it has been renewed annually, after the first five years, by the Expiring Laws (Continuance) Bill. It has now clearly become a part of our general system of traffic control, and, I would therefore suggest to the House, ought to be taken out of the Expiring Laws (Continuance) Bill and put in a permanent provision; but we propose, in the same Clause a change which I would commend to the House.
It has previously been the law, as I understand, that the introduction of street lighting, where the lamps are not less than 200 yards apart, has automatically caused the road to become restricted, although in many cases a derestriction order has subsequently been made. It is proposed, after this Bill becomes law, that the introduction of street lighting on trunk and classified roads should not have that automatic effect. I think that is right for this reason. In 1934, street lighting was mainly introduced for the benefit of pedestrians. In many cases, street lighting is now introduced largely for the benefit of the motorist, in order to make a road safer, and it is anomalous that when the road is made safer it should be subjected to a speed limit to which, previously, that road in its less safe state was not subjected.
1026 Therefore, it is proposed that the street lighting provision should leave open for deliberate decision, one way or the other, whether the speed limit should be applied to that particular trunk or classified road.
Another aspect of the law which has aroused a good deal of interest recently has been the old provision which those who used to practise in the appropriate courts will recall as that of the private party on a special occasion. Some of those who have practised in those courts have, I imagine, found the complexity of the interpretation of that law not wholly unremunerative. But the law has become confused, and people anxious to organise ordinary expeditions of one sort or another have found themselves genuinely not knowing what is the position.
We therefore propose in the Bill, first to tidy up the definition of the different types of vehicles, which is done in Clause 26, and, with the aid of Clause 27 and the Second Schedule, to do away, except in one limited context in respect of tax, with the conception of the special occasion, and to provide that it shall be possible to operate a truly private party without going to the licensing authority. That is in the nature of a compromise. The Thesiger Committee did, in fact, recommend that all these operations should be subject to licensing. We have not accepted that recommendation, which seemed to impose unnecessary work and restriction upon a number of small operators and organisers of small parties.
On the other hand, it is necessary not to provide too large a hole in the licensing provisions since it is particularly important for country services that the licensing of such services is not further undermined. I think we have arrived at a fair compromise in doing away, except in the one context which I have mentioned, with this restriction, and making provision for a private party, and also by somewhat modifying the law in respect of advertising these parties, in particular by permitting them to be advertised either in a church porch or church magazine.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
The right hon. Gentleman will recall that I have had with him, and with his predecessors, a very long correspondence about this difficult and complex matter. May I ask him why the recommendations of the Law Society for the amendment and clarification of the present Statute 1027 have not been followed, and why the compromise wording differs so widely from what the Law Society regarded as being a sound basis for amendment to guide determination in all future cases?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I always remember the correspondence of my hon. Friend, which provides me with one of my abiding pleasures. I do not recall the precise wording of the Law Society's proposals, and, therefore, it would be unfair to those proposals if I were to try to indicate now, although I will gladly attempt to do so a a later stage, why its precise wording has not been accepted. On the wording of our proposal, we have had advice which, as my hon. Friend knows, is available to the Government, and I think we have provided as clear a solution as is possible on a complex subject. I would rather reserve comments on the Law Society's proposals, which I have not before me at the moment, until a later stage of the Bill.
A further anomaly which it is desired to clear up is that which has arisen from the decision of the High Court in the case of Blenkin v. Bell. That decision indicated that the law as it then stood exempted from speed limits and from other restrictions, such as safety provisions, goods vehicles when they were not carrying goods—that is to say, when they were empty. It is clear that Parliament never intended that that should be so, and Clause 7 restores the position to what it was, but with different provisions in certain minor directions with which I need not trouble the House.
I ought to indicate to the House one or two Amendments which, if the House gives a Second Reading to the Bill, we shall feel it desirable to suggest in Committee on the Bill. The first of these will be a proposal to abolish the Road Fund. That, because it is in form a financial provision—I stress the words" in form" was not inserted in the Bill in another place. I think it is more appropriately done in this House. As the House knows, the Road Fund has been for a good many years merely what one may describe as an accommodation address; it has, in fact, meant no more than the provision made each year in the Estimates of my Department for road works.
It has become necessary, apart from clearing up what is really an anachronistic 1028 position, to deal with this by reason of the decision which was announced a short time ago to transfer to the Secretary of State for Scotland responsibility for the provision of highways in Scotland. It will not be possible, unless my right hon. Friend is to be left, as I understand, without any funds at all, to continue the Road Fund once that division of responsibility has taken place.
We shall also propose, in Committee, a provision for increasing the statutory maximum price of the Highway Code. That was fixed at 1d. a copy in 1930. The present cost of production of the present admittedly more elaborate edition is 2½. a copy. Its popularity as a best seller is almost a financial embarrassment, and, therefore, it would seem reasonable to bring the selling price more into line with the cost of production.
We shall seek also to put forward an Amendment to redefine, for the first time for over a century, the powers of the Metropolitan and City of London Police to control traffic in London. As the House will know, they rest at present on somewhat venerable statutory provisions.
The Bill contains many proposals, some of which have aroused, and are likely to continue to arouse, a certain amount of controversy, though not, I imagine, controversy on strictly party lines. Some, no doubt, as I have already indicated, will not be exceedingly popular with the sections of the people with whom they directly deal, but the House, I know, will appreciate that, though we are frequently urged to take drastic measures to deal with both road safety and congestion—and there is, indeed, a situation in which one can fully understand and sympathise with that pressure—when measures of a drastic nature are put forward they are not always regarded as wholly acceptable.
The House must face the fact that neither can safety be obtained nor congestion remedied without upsetting some people and causing some inconvenience to a certain number of people. That does not mean that one should indulge in panic legislation, or seek to take powers or to impose penalties greater than those required by the practical necessities of the situation, but it does mean that if we are to tackle some of these grave problems, which matter enormously to the great majority of our fellow countrymen, we ought not, in my submission, to be afraid 1029 to take measures which certain sections of people or certain individuals may dislike, if we believe they are a necessary part, though a part only, of sensible policies for promoting road safety and dealing with road congestion. Such proposals must necessarily rest on a balance of considerations, between—if hon. Members like—weakness and repression.
I would not claim that in this respect every provision of the Bill necessarily strikes the right balance. It is, in my view, essentially a Bill which can benefit from the consideration of hon. Members on both sides of the House, particularly during the Committee, raising, as it does, largely matters which turn so much on judgment and experienced opinion rather than on political predispositions, but I would commend the Bill to the House as being both in intention and in fact a substantial contribution to the saving of life and the increased facility of movement on our roads. It is because the Government believe that it is necessary to take measures to serve those great causes that I commend the Bill to the House for Second Reading.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
None of us will disagree with the objects of the Bill, which are to save life and to promote the free flow of traffic. Nor will many people disagree with the penultimate part of the Minister's peroration, in which he referred to the necessity for interfering, if necessary, in the private arrangements of persons in order to secure greater safety and greater public convenience. Those are sentiments which we ought to accept and which, I think, nearly all of us applauded.
My complaint about the Bill is that it does not achieve the object of promoting greater road safety—at any rate, it will not save many lives. Nor can I say that the Minister has given us any clear indication of where the Government stand in the major machinery proposals by which the right hon. Gentleman intends to carry out these measures. I think the House has a legitimate complaint against the Minister and the Government on this score.
It is many years since the Committee on Road Safety made its Report, the Report from which this legislation stems. That Report contained scores of pro- 1030 posals—50 or 60—numerous recommendations, many suggestions for research, most of which have been dealt with by the Road Safety Committee, of which the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite), whom I see here, was formerly chairman; and, of course, the present Joint Parliamentary Secretary is now the chairman. However, there were matters left which could be dealt with only by legislation, and it is really unworthy of the Government, some seven years after the Road Safety Committee reported, to come to the House and say, "We are in your hands. We still do not know what our views are about a number of the proposals, such as the testing of vehicles. We want to know what you think about parking meters. We have been dealt with very harshly in another place, and we have no final proposals to put before you or final views of our own." I do not think that that is an unfair way of summing up the Minister's speech.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Naturally, this Government always pay attention to what this House says, but the hon. Gentleman in referring to what I said about parking meters has put it opposite to the truth.
§ Mr. Callaghan
We shall read in HANSARD what the Minister said. I received the impression, from what he said, that he wanted to see an experiment along these lines; in other words, he had not come to a final conclusion on parking meters.
The right hon. Gentleman has had years in which to come to a final conclusion, years in which he could have made experiments. I notice that in his interruption he said nothing about the testing of cars. The provision in the Bill for the testing of the satisfactory condition of vehicles is a most important provision, and it has already been badly mauled in another place. The Minister comes here today, in the middle of 1955, to tell us that within a few weeks he hopes to have open a testing station for experimental purposes. Why were the experiments not done before? Why does he introduce a Bill before he knows the results of the experiments? By introducing a Bill which gives him powers over some 5 million or 6 million vehicles without having held experiments, he is not being fair to the House.
1031 The Minister is asking us by Clause 1 to give him power compulsorily to test every vehicle once every year before giving it a certificate of road worthiness without which it may not run on the roads, and is saying, "I am sorry I cannot tell you what is really the Government's view, but I can tell you that within a month or so we hope to set up an experimental station from which we shall obtain some very interesting results." My complaint against this part of the Bill is that we have not the data upon which the House should be asked to legislate. We feel that the Minister is giving us so much power of decision, either because he is unable to make up the Government's mind or because he does not know his own mind on the subject. It is for that reason we feel that the Bill should be considered on the Floor of the House and not in Committee upstairs.
There are many important matters in the Bill. We registered a view in connection with the progress of Government business and the Bill earlier this afternoon, and I have yet to learn that it is not within the option of any hon. Member to call a Division without asking anybody's leave, and especially without asking the leave of the Government Chief Whip. The Government confessedly have not made up their minds on some of the important issues with which the Bill is concerned.
No one will deny that the testing of vehicles is the kernel of the early part of the Bill. If that is so, the whole House should have an opportunity of considering these matters and of bringing our combined intelligence, such as it may be, to bear on the Government Front Bench to illuminate darkness and to arrive at a conclusion. The House may have an opportunity later of registering its view on whether the Bill should be considered upstairs, where few may consider it, or downstairs on the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I gather from my hon. Friend that no minds are completely made up on this matter. When he is considering whether it is better to take the Bill to a Committee upstairs as against a Committee of the whole House, will he bear in mind that against his proposition that upstairs only a few may consider it 1032 whereas on the Floor of the House many may consider it, there is the fact that this is not a matter on which division of opinion normally follows party lines? When there is a Committee decision in Standing Committee the vote may have a greater prospect of following the argument and being influenced by it than a vote on the Floor of the House, which is normally determined by a vast horde of people who do not even know what Question is being discussed.
§ Mr. Callaghan
As the Government do not know their own mind and we have to make up their minds for them on a number of these issues, I am hoping that hon. Gentlemen will be present in the Chamber to discuss the issues and record their opinions upon them. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). It may be considered both ways.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The Minister is entitled to get a little of his own back when he brings forward such a miserable Bill as this. I am still of the opinion that the Bill should be considered on the Floor of the House. Perhaps the Minister will indicate later whether or not he is prepared to follow that course.
The Minister realised at the start of his speech that he was on the defensive. He referred to the Bill as being criticised as a piecemeal Measure and he tried to place it in the context of other measures taken by the Government to improve road safety. He was, of course, right to do that. I return to what I said at the beginning—that most of the other measures which he is taking are much more likely to produce a measure of road safety than a number of the Clauses in the Bill.
If I had to make a brief summary of the way in which this matter could be best tackled to achieve the maximum safety, I would say that the real way to avoid trouble on the roads is to separate the traffic, whether pedestrian, cyclist or motor-cyclist. Separation of traffic is undoubtedly the key to road safety. I only wish that the Minister in his programme of road construction were more ready to agree to fly-overs and subways along which traffic can pass. When I go to 1033 Paris by air the earliest delight is always the trip in from the airport in which the motor coach travels over fly-overs and through subways unhindered by cross traffic. I mention that as showing that the separation of traffic is the key to a great deal of our troubles. Dual carriageways, standardised lighting and the like all help a great deal. I hope that the Minister will tread along those paths.
I return again to the question of testing. The Minister referred to the doubt that is being cast upon the number of vehicles in which mechanical defects are responsible for accidents. As I understand it, his argument is that not many of the statistics which are produced show accidents are caused by mechanical defects but that there are a great many other accidents of which mechanical defects may not be the prime cause, but to which they are a contributory cause. According to published figures, only a comparatively small number of mechanical defects are reported within the total number of accidents as a prime cause of accident. The rest is a matter of speculation.
As a generalisation, one can say that it is the man and not the machine that is usually guilty when there is an accident, and that misjudgment, carelessness and the taking of unnecessary risk are more the cause of accidents than the mechanical condition of the vehicles being used. It is in that context that we have to look at the power given to the Minister in Clause 1 to test every vehicle on the roads. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman should ask for a power of this nature at this stage of his knowledge. He is really trying to carry the House much too far. Although he may say, "I do not intend to go too far with this," he is in fact taking powers to do exactly what I have described.
There is much more to be said for the spot check of vehicles. The police have pretty acute powers of observation. They can form a rough idea of the sort of vehicle that might be dangerous on the roads. If it were known that the police at any time may call upon one's vehicle to be tested forthwith, and not in a matter of 48 hours or so after giving notice, as is at present the case, it might be a considerable incentive to getting vehicles mechanically up to date. It would also avoid the hordes of staff and the 1034 tremendous cost that would be involved in carrying out the provisions of the Clause.
The Minister gave no indication of the programme for carrying out the provisions of the Clause. Has he formed any estimate of the number of the staff that will be required? Estimates have been made, but I do not think that we have had a Government estimate. Has he estimated what it would be necessary to charge motorists for carrying out these provisions? I want to make it quite clear that we are not opposed to testing vehicles. We think that in many ways it would be a very good thing indeed and would improve road safety, but, in the absence of any more information than the Minister has been able to give us this afternoon, and knowing that his experiments are only just starting, we believe that this Clause goes much too far and would prefer to see him rely upon smaller powers than these.
I come now to the Clause dealing with pedal cyclists. Speaking for myself. I feel there is much to be said for the Government seeking to take powers to prosecute reckless or dangerous driving by cyclists, as well as by anybody else. We have all seen young men with their heads down over the handlebars pedalling away furiously who are a danger not only to themselves but also to pedestrians and the drivers of motor cars; and all sections of the population have to be protected against each other in this matter.
Again speaking for myself, I do not share the feelings, which I know some hon. Gentlemen have, that it is really rather wicked to prosecute pedal cyclists for behaving in an unsocial way if, in fact, they are doing so. That is why I would not dissent from the powers the Minister is seeking to take, although we shall need to look at them carefully in detail.
In connection with Clause 5 and pedestrians, I would add that in this House we have perhaps a larger proportion of motorists to the total population than exists outside, and therefore there may be a temptation on the part of the House to pay considerable attention to the position of the motorists in the community. Fortunately we also have here some very great champions of the pedestrian, including the chairman of the Pedestrians' Association, from whom 1035 I have no doubt we shall be hearing from time to time.
I hope I shall not be out of order in saying that on reading the debate in another place I was struck by the attention paid to the position of the motorists in this business of road safety—and we are all involved in it—and it is still true to say that there are far more pedestrians in this country than there are motorists. I therefore hope that the pedestrian will get a fair show in the debates that are coming along. I agree, of course, that at some time motorists are pedestrians, but I am not sure that all motorists are also pedestrians. If I may speak of the short period during which I owned a motor car, I must say that I rapidly ceased to be a pedestrian at all, even in the case of going to the pillar box to post a letter.
On Clause 5, concerning the regulation of pedestrians, I think we all agree that there is much to be said for a police constable having some measure of control over pedestrians in traffic; but I want to utter a word of caution. I think there are legitimate and traditional pursuits of pedestrians, with which certainly it would not be the intention of anybody to interfere and which ought to be safeguarded. I refer, for example, to the rights of procession.
As I read Clause 5, and no doubt all the lawyers will join in on this and will give us the benefit of their views, though I myself speak as a layman, it would be quite open to the police to stop the Durham Miners' Gala procession on the ground that it was obstructing traffic. Similarly, I imagine that the Welsh Miners' Gala, which marches through Cardiff very proudly every May or June, on a strict construction of this Clause, could be stopped, and there are many other processions of the same sort.
I am sure that it is not the Minister's intention, through some backstairs procedure under Clause 5, to do that sort of thing. He does not want to invite more trouble on his head than he has already in this Bill, but we ought to look at the Clause to see what safeguards can be put in for the pedestrian to cover the legal right of procession, which is a cherished and traditional right in this country, and to make sure that, in trying to stiffen up road safety and obtain a better and more 1036 orderly use of the roads, we do not clamp down on some of our traditional freedoms.
On the whole question of pedestrians and motorists, I should like to express the general view that the best way of ensuring adherence to any law which this House may make is by having a police force up to strength and on the spot. It was shown in this House last week during a debate which we had on the subject that the police force is still about 8,000 or 9,000 men under strength. This is bad from the point of view of traffic enforcement.
It has been shown by those who have made a statistical analysis of this problem, and I refer particularly to Dr. Smeed of the Road Research Laboratory, that the mere physical presence of a police. man standing at a pedestrian crossing and not doing anything else will do a great deal to ensure the observance by motorists of the rights of pedestrians on that crossing. Similarly, experiments have been tried on lengths of road on which signs have been posted indicating that the police were patrolling that road, and the observers who took measurements of the speed of motorists using the road found a perceptible fall in the speed of motorists after the signs were put up.
§ Mr. Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of putting up a large number of such notices, and perhaps dummy policemen, so as to encourage safety?
§ Mr. Callaghan
If I thought that that would ensure the rules being observed, I do not know that I would have any particular objection to it. I want to see the laws observed and the best methods that can be found of securing their observance. It is necessary that we should have a much stronger police force engaged in this task of regulating road traffic than we have at the present time.
The next point I want to make is in connection with the same problem, and it concerns the attitude of the public. In Clause 20, the Minister proposes to stiffen the penalties for a number of offences under the 1930 Act, such as speeding, reckless or dangerous driving, careless driving, driving while under the influence of drink, and so on. I think we can legitimately argue that increased penalties do no more than restore the 1037 original value of the fine, which has declined because of the fall in the value of money.
The significant feature, as I understand it from the statistics which have been produced, is that nothing like the present maximum penalties are imposed in any case at the present time, so that doubling or even trebling them will make no difference, or very little difference. I see that the Minister disagrees, and no doubt we shall have discussions on this in Committee, but that, at any rate, is my view. Stiffening the financial or monetary penalties is not likely to have any substantial effect on the number of offences that are committed as long as the penalties imposed by magistrates are so small.
This leads me to the point that it is quite clear that in a great many cases the law is held in lower repute by people outside the House than by those who made the original legislation, and that is why we get these small penalties. I take another example. I see that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) looks askance. It has been reported on reliable authority that the speed limit of 30 miles per hour is widely ignored in certain cases. If that is so, that shows that people outside do not regard the law with the same degree of respect as those who made it.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I was merely frowning at the hon. Gentleman's statement, not necessarily in disagreement, but may I ask if he is aware that, in the case of the 20 miles an hour speed limit for heavy goods vehicles, it has now been found that 95 per cent. of the drivers consistently travel at speeds higher than that? That is a far better example than the one the hon. Gentleman has given of those who contravene the 30 miles an hour speed limit.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am not arguing whether there should be a 20 miles per hour speed limit for heavy goods vehicles or not. What I am saying is that if we are to have respect for our law, public opinion must keep in step with the penalties imposed. I do not think we should take a step backwards in this direction. The Ministry's attention has got to be focused on bringing public respect and public condemnation on offences that are committed against the Road Traffic Acts 1038 more into line with the penalties. The Lord Chief Justice said there was no power on earth that can prevent a British jury from bringing in a perverse verdict.
§ Mr. Callaghan
My hon. Friend is right, as he usually is in matters of logic, to this extent, that the Lord Chief Justice disagreed with them, but what he meant more than that was that these verdicts flew in the face of all the evidence which was brought forward.
§ Mr. Silverman
Neither the Lord Chief Justice nor anybody else has any authority for saying any such thing. In our law the judges of fact are the juries and not the judges, not even the Lord Chief Justice, and if 12 men in a jury box come to a unanimous conclusion about the facts, then it is the judge and not the jury who is perverse, if he prefers his own ipse dixit to their verdict.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I should like in this connection to quote what was said by Sir Carleton Allen at a conference of which the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) was chairman. He said this, and I am with him in this matter:In a recent David-and-Goliath controversy in a newspaper with Sir Travers Humphreys I have been told by that eminent authority, with the support of other authorities equally distinguished, that the jury is 'always right.' It is gratifying to know that British jurymen and jurywomen are blessed with a degree of infallibility which is vouchsafed to no other mortal except the Pope. Anybody who can retain this sublime confidence after hearing some of the verdicts returned in manslaughter and dangerous and drunken driving cases achieves a degree of faith which leaves me in awed wonderment.I am bound to say that in this respect I agree wholly with Sir Carleton Allen, and it seems to me that the Parliamentary Secretary also agrees with me.
So I think the answer is that we must leave discretion in the hands of magistrates, recorders, and the like, but we must make the public more aware of the consequences of careless and selfish driving and the use of the roads by any member of the public. Then I believe there would not be so much difference between my hon. Friend and myself, even though we both share the same objective.
I should like to say this to the Parliamentary Secretary. Why not use the 1039 power of disqualification from driving much more freely? There is a feeling abroad that the reason juries return—in the words of the Lord Chief Justice which I propose to repeat—perverse verdicts is not that they are not convinced about the crime, but because they do not like the punishments. They feel a punishment is too severe for the crime, and that is the reason they show their abhorrence of the severity of the punishment by finding a man not guilty when they ought to have found him guilty.
Perhaps one should not say these things about British jury, but if we in this House cannot expose these things for which we are legislating we cannot say them at all, and I am saying what I believe to be the truth after studying a great many of these cases. If that is so, I should like to see the Minister making disqualification a much more potent weapon and putting it into the hands of magistrates and others who have to sentence people. After all, it is the use of this lethal weapon, the car, which is bringing about the danger, and I should like to see the use of that car removed from those in whose hand it was when they used it improperly. I do not see why in the case of smaller offences a man should not be disqualified for a week, a fortnight or a month. It is not necessary always to disqualify a man for nine months or 12 months, so let us teach these people a short, sharp lesson if they are transgressing.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not lose sight of the fact that disqualification is a very much greater punishment for that man who has to drive for his living, whereas a wealthy man who is disqualified can get somebody else to drive for him.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I quite agree that that argument has been advanced, and I think there is something in it. On the other hand, I do not think it ought to prevent us from approaching the subject in the manner I have tried to indicate.
Apart from parking meters, I have really covered the major provisions of the Bill, although we shall have a very long period in Committee in which we shall be considering the details. I must say that 1040 I am not very favourably struck by the provisions about parking meters. I asked the Minister what the object was, and it is contained in Clause 14. It is the need for maintaining a free movement of traffic; but is it going to attain that end? Shall we see a free movement of traffic, or shall we merely see reshuffling of cars every few hours with people having exhausted their right to stand at one parking meter driving round the block and finding another and doing exactly the same thing again? That is not going to relieve congestion, certainly not in the West End of London. It is only going to add to congestion.
The only solution to the problem is more garage facilities. I know it is the desire of the Minister to encourage them, but I cannot myself believe that the provision of parking meters is going to do much more than take a few more shillings out of the motorist's pocket. I am not saying that the motorist cannot afford to pay the extra shillings for the privilege of garaging on an expensive lot in the West End every day or, for that matter, in some of our other large cities. But we ought not to deceive ourselves by pretending—I do not use that word offensively—that it is going to result in a freer movement of traffic. After all, it may result only in the motorist paying more money and driving round the block when he has exhausted his right to stand in a particular place.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
Surely one of the objectives will be that, whereas at the moment the motorist can park free in the street but has to pay money to go into a garage, by charging for his use of the street through the meter he will be more likely to go to a garage, which is what we require.
§ Mr. Callaghan
That would be all right if the garages were there to drive into, but it is well known that in the centre of London there are no garages for him to park in, and I believe we have got to have a much more Draconian solution to the problem before many moons expire.
I have exhausted the House and certainly myself in my comments on this Bill. I cannot pretend it is a great Bill, even placed in the context of other measures that the Ministry of Transport have put forward. It seems to me to 1041 do very little to solve the problem with which we are all concerned, namely, how to prevent something like a quarter of a million casualties on the roads every year. I think this is a miserable Bill to have produced after so many years of cogitation, and I am bound to tell the Minister that there will be considerable criticism of the contents when we come to the Committee stage.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I confess that I feel somewhat new in rising to make my maiden speech. I do not suppose there are many hon. Members who remember the days before the motor age in which we live, which is the background to the Bill, because that age is now 60 years old. It has already given birth to three generations, that of the petrol engine in the motor vehicle, the aircraft engine, and now the gas turbine engine, which may come to be used for heavy commercial road transport in due time.
As well as the tremendous technical improvements which we have seen in this age, there has also been a considerable growth in mechanical excellence which has led to safety, but the difference, I think, between the time when the first Road Traffic Act was introduced in 1930 and today can be summed up in the difference between the old charabanc and the modern motor coach. This age, with all its inventiveness, has given rise to tremendous problems.
Fifty years ago there were only 32,000 vehicles in this country, running on 175,000 miles of road, so that if all the vehicles in 1905 were on the road together there would have been a distance of five miles between each one. Today, with motor traffic having increased many thousands of times, and the road mileage having increased by only about 10 per cent., if all the 6 million vehicles were out on a Sunday afternoon, we would find that there were only 50 yards between the rear bumper of one motor car and the front bumper of the next.
That is a measure of the increased possibility of collision between vehicles and persons as between 1905 and now. I do not think that our Victorian ancestors, having to their credit 20,000 miles of beautifully engineered, graded, banked and safe railway tracks, would 1042 have dealt with the road problem quite so lightheartedly as our own generation has done because, in addition to the motor traffic, there are 12 million cyclists and 1,500 new vehicles coming on to our roads every day of the year. Since the Road Traffic Act of 20 years ago, apart from the increased number of vehicles, there is a much greater use of the road. The population has increased, there are many more millions of people going to and from work and, in short, there is much greater activity on the road, which has gone up many more times than the mere weight of traffic.
One obvious cure for this is more road space. To have made conditions as comfortable today as they were 20 years ago. we ought, I suppose, to have doubled the width or length of our road system. Therefore, in the short time I have been in this House, I have been pleased to hear the Minister of Transport introduce a big forward step in our own road programme. That policy, obviously, has to be pursued with much greater vigour than we have been able to do it since 1939.
I suggest, however, that it is a tribute to the improving road sense of the community, through the training of children, through the testing of drivers, through propaganda, and so on, that despite the much greater use of the road that there is today as compared with 20 years ago, the road accident position has been held and the number of accidents today is substantially the same as in 1934 and 1935.
Since the war Parliament has devoted a great deal of time to the problem of road transport, but the legislation resulting from that has revolved round the ownership of 40,000 commercial vehicles. That is an important problem, but in my submission the problem of the traffic that runs on the road is every bit as important and, therefore, I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister on bringing it forward. These problems of road traffic are not static. We are entering the era of democratic motoring. Households earning £20 a week are coming into the motoring field, and as we go on through the years we shall find the congestion, and even dangers, becoming more acute.
This House is, and should be, a microcosm of the country, reflecting every view and every activity. I have sometimes 1043 wondered, however, whether hon. Members are not somewhat insulated from the problem of driving as part of a trade or profession. A benevolent State allows us as Members of Parliament to go to our constituencies and to go home at the weekend, and so on, by public transport, so perhaps we are not entirely conscious of the difficulties facing those who have to earn their daily bread by transport.
Of the 7 million licence holders, representing one-fifth of the electorate, when we consider the lorry drivers, van drivers, bus drivers, motor cyclists, commercial travellers, doctors and business men who use a car for the purpose of their trade or profession, there are possibly 5 million drivers using vehicles for the purpose of earning their daily bread. In my own constituency of Twickenham there are about 20,000 licence holders, so the Bill affects a large part of the electorate in its work and the entire country in its ordinary life.
Turning to the Bill, Clause 1, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) has said, is probably the most controversial. It is intended to reduce the number of accidents caused by mechanical defects. Now, according to the police records, in 1952 there were 6,600 such accidents. About 2,300 of that number were caused by mechanical defects in cycles, which are not brought within the Bill, and 1,500 were due to goods vehicles, buses and coaches, which are already subject to examination. That leaves 2,500 defects in motor cars and motor cycles which are not examined at present.
I was glad to hear the Minister say that it was not his intention to set up large-scale Government testing stations. I have tried to estimate how many Government testing stations would be required if all vehicles were to be tested annually, My estimate is that we would need 500 or 600 fairly big stations—that is, about one for every constituency. To examine what that would mean on a practical basis, there are, in my own constituency, 15,000 vehicles. If there were a testing station consisting of five men and five boys under one foreman clerk, they might test 40 vehicles a day, 220 a week or 11,000 a year. so that one testing station would not quite cover the numbers in one constituency. And, of course, the capital cost would be substantial. I have heard 1044 various estimates of the cost, which might rise even as high as £15 million to set up that number of stations. Then there would be the wages bill and the overheads, which would come to about £4 million or £5 million a year, which would have to be found by somebody.
I therefore do not think that Clause 1 as it stands is practicable without enormous expense and I submit two alternative suggestions for incorporation in Clause 1 which, I hope, will be found to be constructive. The first has been made already by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, namely, the extension of spot checking by means of examiners under Section 17 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act. I understand that there are already 230 examiners who examine commercial vehicles. With the aid of a policeman, an examiner can pull in a vehicle to the side of the road if he thinks that is warranted, give the vehicle a rough and ready test and, if it is defective, instruct the driver to report to the nearest police garage in, say, a week's time. Or, if the driver is in too much of a hurry to be tested then and there, the examiner will tell the driver to present his vehicle for test a few days later at a convenient place.
The other suggestion that I have in place of Clause 1 is that the Minister might enlist the help of the insurance companies. In other words, he might instruct them—he would have to do it by statute—not to issue third-party insurance certificates unless they were satisfied by a certificate of the mechanical fitness of the vehicle to be insured. That scheme would, of course, mean that the local garage would have to give a certificate. The merit in it is that if there was a dispute between the owner of the car and the garage about the mechanical fitness of the vehicle—I can imagine many such disputes arising—it could be resolved by adjudication by the insurance company's own inspector or examiner.
It might be too big an undertaking—I think it would be—for all vehicles to be required to have a certificate of mechanical fitness in this way. Perhaps it might be possible for vehicles to be called up, as it were, in their age groups. The Minister might ask for the pre-1936 or pre-war vehicles to be tested or to have a certificate of fitness.
I may already have spoken too long, but I should like to comment briefly on 1045 one or two other Clauses. Clause 4 applies the provisions for dangerous and careless driving to cyclists. It was said in the report on the accidents in 1952 that no fewer than 34,000 were caused by cyclists. Incidentally, that is, strangely enough, more than those caused by the drivers of motor cars. As the Minister has said, the cyclist can only be prosecuted for furious driving under the Highway Act, 1835. Therefore, this Clause, in my view is long overdue. I should not like it to be thought that I am at all against cyclists. I occasionally use a cycle, and only two years ago I cycled with my family from Oxford to Cambridge.
Clauses 14 to 19 relate to the introduction of parking meters. I am sorry that the Minister has not adopted the suggestion of the Working Party on London Car Parking and the recommendation that at the same time as parking meters are put up, local authorities should provide more parking space off the roads. Under Clause 18 we have to wait until the local authority has made sufficient profit out of its parking meters to enable it to acquire parking space or build multi-storey garages.
Clause 20 provides for higher penalties. I agree that careless driving can cause a serious accident, costing several thousand pounds or serious injury or death, and I am rather ashamed to find that the average penalty imposed by our magistrates for an act of careless driving is £3 17s.
The field of national life covered by statute grows slowly each year. It takes in parts of our way of life covered by accepted custom or practice or by growing social consciousness or morality. In my humble opinion, the road traffic law has lagged behind the realities of the situation. Much of it is archaic and still in the charabanc age. Therefore, subject to improvements and alterations which, I hope, will be made in Committee, I welcome the Bill as a step forward in bringing the law into conformity with modern conditions.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
It is my pleasure to congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) on his maiden speech. We all of course deplore the fact that the seat which he represents became vacant 1046 through the unfortunate death of Sir Edward Keeling, who was a very highly respected Member of this House, but I am sure the House will share with me the view that we have a very able and competent Member to take his place. The hon. Member brings to this House considerable experience and knowledge of the motor industry, and I am certain that the House will look forward to his future contributions, particularly to our transport debates. I can assure him that many of us who have had rather our fill of transport during the present Parliament and an earlier one will welcome a new face and new contributions.
Although the objectives are sound and the intentions good, the Bill is rather a poor Measure. At the same time as it does too little in some ways it attempts to do too much in others by covering too wide and too diverse a field of transport matters. In the ultimate, it contributes little towards solving the very difficult transport problems which confront us.
The Minister stated that the Bill must be looked at in relation to the general transport policy which is being pursued by the Government in connection with the matters with which the Bill is concerned. I believe that is partly where the Bill falls down. There are a large number of omissions which result probably from the transport policy which the Government has pursued.
I am surprised in some ways that the Government are having the Second Reading today, not only for the obvious reason of which we are all conscious, possibilities developing in the political field, but because of the treatment the Bill received in another place. It certainly had a rough handling there. On Third Reading some very harsh things were said to the Ministers in charge of the Bill there. Lord Brabazon and Lord Lucas, one speaking from the Government benches and the other leading for the Opposition, both considered the Bill "deplorable," and Lord Howe described it as "a ramshackle Bill." In view of that, I am surprised that the Government have not taken it back to give it a little more consideration, to make good the defects which are obvious and were disclosed in another place, and to which reference has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). It 1047 should then fill up the gaps which are so wide open.
The problem which confronts us is a simple one, although there is no simple solution to it. The volume of traffic using the roads today is far greater than the roads can speedily, efficiently and safely carry. We cannot get away from that. The Minister said that the main objects of the Bill are to help to relieve congestion and to improve road safety. I wonder to what extent it will be found that the Bill will assist in achieving those objectives. As the hon. Member for Twickenham has pointed out, 1,500 new vehicles come on our roads every day. The position will certainly worsen with the great increase in traffic which will come on our already inadequate roads, which are being improved and expanded far too slowly to cope even with the increased traffic which presents itself.
As to the relief of congestion, the major contribution directed to that end concerns parking, which is dealt with in Clauses 14 to 19. I share the doubts expressed by my hon. Friend about the effectiveness of the Clauses. I wonder whether authorising local authorities to charge for parking on the highways will not increase the congestion rather than relieve it. I feel that it is very unlikely that it will decrease the number of vehicles parking upon the streets, whether it is long-term or short-term. In designating side streets as parking places where parking meters will be used, the Minister will only be adding to the traffic on the main arteries. If increased parking on the streets of lesser importance is permitted, they cannot be used for the flow of traffic for which they were intended, and vehicles are driven back on to the main arteries where it increases the congestion.
One of the deterrents to congestion on the roads at present is the difficulty about parking places. The easier it is made for vehicles to be parked—short or longterm parking—the greater the increase in the amount of traffic which will come into the congested areas. I am sure that many hon. Members do not use their cars in the West End occasionally because of the difficulty of parking there. I am not suggesting that parking should not be provided, nor that ways should not be found for the provision of off-street 1048 parking, but I very much doubt whether the suggestions will do more than lead to an increase of the number of vehicles using the streets and will in no way relieve the congestion with which we are now confronted.
There is a minor point about parking, and it may be necessary when we come to the Committee stage to see that provision is made for it. It is that some protection must be given to the recognised parking places for commercial vehicles, not necessarily designated parking places, but places that by custom are used by commercial vehicles when drivers and other transport workers leave their vehicles for their meal breaks and rest periods. That is something which we must closely watch, and during the Committee stage, we must see that the position is protected.
The objective of all road traffic legislation is to ensure or facilitate the freer and safer flow of traffic along the streets. In the long run that can be achieved only if the roads are made adequate for the traffic, or if the amount of traffic using the roads is restricted. In the past road traffic legislation has accepted the necessity of imposing a certain amount of restriction on the use of the roads by vehicles. There is nothing new in this restriction. It was the basis of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, for road passenger vehicles and the basis of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, for goods vehicles.
It might have been better if the Government, in bringing in a new traffic Bill, which in its long title covers a very wide field, including the topic of licensing, had taken the opportunity of reviewing the present licensing system for both passengers and goods and, if necessary of bringing the licensing procedure up to date. It is true that we had the Thesiger Committee and that it went pretty fully into the licensing procedure for road passenger vehicles. The Government in the present Bill are now tackling one of the matters to which the Thesiger Report drew attention, and that is the question of contract carriages.
I am not sure that I am convinced by the Minister's reasons for not accepting the recommendation of creating new licences for contract carriages, but I should have thought that the present proposals in the Bill were reasonably watertight and should be practicable. The 1049 Government should further consider the suggestions which were made in another place concerning the extending of the right, with protection, to advertise special outings. The Government have introduced in the Bill the right to advertise only in parish magazines and places of worship. I should have thought that it was possible to extend that power to advertise without opening wide the door to abuse to private parties for special occasions. It should be possible to allow any organisation to which the outing was exclusively confined to advertise in the places where it is customary for the people connected with the organisation to assemble or which they frequent. I hope that it will be possible to devise some formula to extend this provision beyond places of worship to cover such organisations as trade unions, women's institutes, political parties and so forth.
While the Government are tightening the 1930 Act, as it were, I wish they had followed two other recommendations in the Thesiger Report. The first is concerned with contract carriages for municipalities. During the Committee stage on a Private Member's Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short), we had some considerable debate on the extension of the right to run contract carriages to local authorities running their own transport undertakings. In turning that down, the Parliamentary Secretary stated, among other reasons, that this was not a matter to be introduced by a Private Member's Bill. We now have a road traffic Bill before the House which has been introduced by the Government, and surely if it could be accepted as Government policy, here is a means of having a discussion on the matter. In that connection, we might draw attention to the fact that in the Chamber's Report withdrawal of the power of the London Transport Executive to run contract carriages outside its own special transport area is criticised. It is suggested that it would be advantageous to London Transport if it had the right restored to it to run contract carriages outside its special area. Here again this Bill provides the means to right a wrong done to London Transport under the 1953 Act.
The second recommendation of the Thesiger Committee to which I suggest the Government should give further con- 1050 sideration is that Section 19 of the 1930 Act should apply to road service licences. That is to say that a condition of a road service licence should be fulfilment of Section 19, which applies to hours of work, rest periods and so forth, by transport workers on public service vehicles. It is true that the provisions of Section 19 have to be fulfilled by the operators of these vehicles, but under the 1933 Act it is a condition of the licence for goods vehicles. The Thesiger Committee recommended that it should be a similar condition for road service licences, and I should like to know why the Government have decided not to act on this recommendation.
The Bill provides an opportunity of considering and reviewing licensing procedure. I suggest to the Minister that one major change which has taken place in the road passenger industry which may call for action by the Government is that in road passenger services a severe curtailment of unremunerative services is taking place, especially in the rural areas. This arises from the high cost of transport and the necessity for raising fares to the level—it has been reached in many cases—of the point of diminishing returns.
Under the 1930 Act considerable protection is given to operators. Under it the licensing authorities give them a quasi-monopoly in many instances. In the past it has been possible for the licensing authorities to exercise persuasion on operators to operate unremunerative services, but that is becoming increasingly difficult because of the higher cost of operating vehicles, with the result that these services are being cut out to the detriment of rural communities.
I wonder whether the time has not come when it is necessary to amend the 1930 Act to give the licensing authorities specific powers to compel operators to run these unremunerative services. The position is purely permissive now, and I think the time has come when it will have to be mandatory. If so, assistance will have to be given indirectly to make it possible for these services to be operated. The matter is certainly in the hands of the Government for they could do it by way of a reduction in fuel tax, preferably giving a differential in favour of diesel oil. However, to discuss that would be outside the scope of the debate.
1051 I turn from road passenger transport to the licensing of goods vehicles. The Bill makes only one minor change, which arises out of a legal action. In the other place there was an Opposition Amendment, on which the Government were defeated, which removed an anomaly in connection with dual-purpose vehicles. Unquestionably the position in road goods transport has definitely worsened in the last 12 months. It cannot be denied that the reversal of the policy of the 1947 Act which was bringing about a concentration of the industry—with a smaller number of vehicles carrying a larger number of goods, thereby relieving congestion and at the same time increasing safety by having better vehicle maintenance and an increased amount of night running during the hours when there was no congestion—has brought about a fragmentation of the industry which is leading to an increase in the number of vehicles on the roads running with smaller loads, and so on.
I refer to this because it is bringing about a deterioration in the situation which is undermining the enforcement machinery of the 1933 Act. The Bill provides an opportunity for a tightening up of that procedure and the introduction of some further restrictions which may well be necessary. By a "tightening up" I mean better enforcement, which is certainly called for today.
The Thesiger Report drew attention to the inadequate number of enforcement officers. I am glad that the Minister decided to increase the number but, as the Report pointed out, these officers not only have to deal with infringement of the law in connection with public service vehicles but also with the breaking of statutory requirements by operators of goods vehicles and with the provision of driving tests. For these officers to carry out these functions which are steadily increasing, even the increased number is inadequate if they are to cope with the increasing infringements of the law which are experienced today.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East said, the objectives of the Bill are sound and we on this side of the House support them. However, the Bill falls very far short of what is required. Its first Clause will be quite inoperable as it stands and it will have to be considerably amended. Certain 1052 Clauses about road safety, those provisions bringing in cyclists and pedestrians and some other Clauses, will, we hope, make an increased contribution to road safety and better road behaviour, but there are many omissions. The Measure is not sufficiently related to overall transport policy. It may be that, because it reflects the deficiencies in the Government's transport policy, that the Bill does not meet the requirements of the major transport problems which confront us.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
Having regard to the toll of the roads and the undoubted congestion, no one could do other than welcome an attempt to deal with these problems, as this Bill seeks to do, but I confess that I am surprised that a Measure should emanate from the Ministry of Transport which involves such far-reaching delegated legislation in the setting up of the machinery and the rules and regulations affecting road safety. I am surprised because the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation was most critical, when in Opposition, in dealing with any Bill in which delegated legislation played a prominent part.
One might ask why there are so many omissions, and why the element of the Order in Council is such an important one in this situation, in view of my right hon. Friend's approach to this subject. One cannot escape the conclusion that because practical experiments, especially in the testing of cars, have not yet been held to a sufficient extent to enable the Government to form a judgment on the matter, there are serious gaps in that aspect of the Bill.
I want to come back to that point, but before I do I want to allude to two or three other aspects of the Bill. When the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) urged the Government to increase the number of instances in which disqualification of the licence holder would apply, one of my hon. Friends drew attention to the number of people dependent for their livelihood upon the right to drive and who in those circumstances might well find a disqualification more onerous than a substantial fine. There is substance in that point, and I want to ask the Minister to bear in mind that there ought not to be only 1053 a choice between disqualification, with or without fine, and no disqualification.
There would be some merit—bearing in mind the old game of snakes and ladders—in sending people back to the start and making them, for a period of time, hold an L licence. It would be a reminder that they had blotted their copy book and it would force them to carry a passenger with them, which would thereby provide a form of deterrent without the exacting penalty which disqualification entails.
§ Mr. Summers
I have never heard that "woman power" was not equally eligible to sit beside the L driver. That might be an attraction, in any event. However, it seems to me that many people should not only go back to L status but should be obliged to take a driving test again after certain offences.
I wish to comment on Clause 9 in which evidently an attempt is to be made by the local authorities to discover what is the true motive of a person who has not yet graduated from an L licence to an ordinary licence. If, in their view, the motive is not warranted, they can refuse a licence. I think that will give rise to all sorts of trouble, and I should regard any attempt to investigate motives with the utmost suspicion.
I do not see why, instead of attempting to tackle the problem in that way, the law should not provide that there be a limit to the number of L licences that a person can have. If a person fails to pass the test and to graduate from the L-driver status in a reasonable time after a reasonable number of attempts, there should be a very long period before they are allowed to try again.
I think there is a strong case for saying that if a person cannot pass the test after three or four attempts within a reasonable period, he is better off the road altogether. I should prefer to approach the matter in the way I have suggested rather than attempt to examine the question of motives, which I am sure will give rise to all sorts of difficulties.
I come back to the important question, inherent in Clause about the compulsory testing of vehicles for roadworthiness. I think it quite wrong to imagine 1054 that a great reduction of accidents will follow the provision of compulsory tests for vehicles. Reference has already been made to statistics of about 2 per cent. of the accidents being directly attibutable to defects in cars. But even when the Minister says that these may have been contributory factors and so not separately recorded, I do not think that they are as numerous as the intentions of this Bill suggest.
I read last week in the "Economist"—which is one of the few newspapers which we can still—read that the effect of Clause I would be restricted to secondhand vehicles. I do not know whether I misread the Clause, but if that be the true interpretation, I hope that we shall be told about it. So far as I can gather, there is no such restriction in the Clause as it stands.
I wish to draw attention to two reasons for challenging the wisdom of compulsory tests. It may be argued, "Well, if you limit them to only a certain number of vehicles, the cost of providing a reasonable number of stations for these tests would be nothing like as great as if you attempted to test all the cars." Ancient types of cars have been referred to and mention has been made of "calling up age groups."
To put the matter in a simple form, it would be a completely false argument to say that if we were proposing to test only 10 per cent. of the cars, that would cost only 10 per cent. of the outlay necessary to test all cars; because, unless we have the testing stations spread widely throughout the country, individual motorists will be put to considerable inconvenience and expense in driving to a centre, even though only a limited number of cars are to be tested.
So even if we limit the cars to be tested to a comparatively small number, it will still be necessary—if we are to avoid great inconvenience and expense to motorists—to provide a number of testing stations out of all proportion to the results provided by such a system. Reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), in his outstandingly good maiden speech, to the cost of providing one station in his constituency, and he found that one would not be enough. Again I say that if only 10 per cent. of the cars were tested, my hon. Friend would still require the same 1055 facilities to be created, and the cost per vehicle would be very considerable.
No doubt many adverse decisions would be challenged, if not all of them, and renewed attempts to pass the test would probably follow.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
I am interested in the argument of the hon. Member. Where these testing arrangements are in operation in various parts of the world, testing outside the big centres is always done by portable testing machinery. If that can be done in other parts of the world, could not it be done in this country, and what effect would that have on the argument which he is advancing?
§ Mr. Summers
I have no experience of these portable testing devices, but there are a limited number of hours in the day; and whether a portable device is taken to the car, or the car is brought to stationary device, there could be only a limited number of checks that a team of people could perform in a given time. If the portable testing machinery is to travel all over the country to suit the convenience of a limited number of people, I think it would still be such an expensive affair that the cost would be out of all proportion to the purpose which it was designed to fulfil.
Reference has been made to a figure of 10s. per test. Where an adverse decision was given, no doubt a second fee of 10s. would be charged for another test. I think that £1 a year in -such circumstances would be a considerable addition to the cost of motoring for people who use their cars on a comparatively few occasions, but who very often own cars which would need to be tested.
No one should interpret what I am saying as an attempt to ignore roadworthiness of vehicles as a contribution to reducing accident figures, but I consider that this method of endeavouring to make cars roadworthy is not the right one. Of the methods already referred to, both in previous speeches in this House and in another place, the method of increasing spot checks is to my mind likely to be far more effective than the method contemplated in Clause 1, with its immense expense in capital, maintenance, and technical manpower.
If someone had had his car checked, and shortly afterwards became involved 1056 in an accident, it might possibly be argued that the responsibility had to some extent been shifted from the driver of the car to the organisation which tested and passed the car as roadworthy. I am no lawyer, but I think that argument might be advanced in a court.
If, for example, it were alleged that the brakes of the vehicle were faulty, and marks on the road and other evidence demonstrated that the driver should have been able to stop in a shorter distance than in fact he did, he might say, "Oh, but my car was tested only a week ago." An opportunity might be afforded for such a driver to escape the responsibility which properly he should bear. The responsibility might be passed on to the person who tested the car a few days earlier. That is an aspect of the matter which should not be ignored.
If, in the last resort, despite the many protests which have been made—I hope there will be more—against this attempt to introduce compulsory testing, if the Government are determined to go on with it, I hope they will make certain that there is a link between the certificate obtained by the motorist from the testing place and the authority which issues a licence to him the next time that he applies for one. Reading the debates in another place, I did not detect any link between the certificate and the issuing of a licence which seems to me quite essential.
In other words, a licence should not be issued for the type of car for which a test is to be made compulsory—if it is so made—unless the certificate is produced at the time of the application for a licence. That appears to me to be an indispensable safeguard against people applying for licences and getting them notwithstanding the fact that their vehicles have been recently tested and found to be not roadworthy.
I say that only if the Government are determined to try out this method. The limit to which I would go would be to put some form of compulsion on the owner of a car to ensure that his vehicle had passed a test for roadworthiness before he sold it. I should prefer to rely upon spot checks, which have a far more deterrent effect.
Once a motorist has had his car examined in the manner provided for in the Bill he can say, "I am all right until 1057 this time next year," and he can ignore such matters as defective lights and brakes. If, however, his car is a little wobbly in some respect or another, and he knows that he is in a county where the police employ people to go about making spot checks, he is never free from anxiety, and that provides an incentive for him to go back home and have something done about his car. That is a compelling reason for relying upon spot checks—but spot checks must be carried out far more frequently than has been the case in recent months.
I should reinforce the other provisions of the Bill by imposing some form of test upon the seller of a second-hand car, which would be much more convenient and more satisfactory to the buyer—but that would be the limit to which I should go in the sphere of compulsory testing. I should prefer the money which the Government feel justified in spending in carrying out this method of testing to be spent in carrying out spot checks, so that that method could be built up in order to provide a real deterrent, and so improve road safety.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) has voiced a number of criticisms of the Bill with which I thoroughly agree—especially in regard to Clause 1. I quarrel with him, however, about the disqualification penalty. My view is that a really dangerous driver, even though he may depend upon driving a car for his livelihood, should be compelled to get a fresh job rather than be allowed to endanger not only himself but other people upon the roads. It is the endangering of others that we must take seriously into consideration all the time.
§ Mr. Summers
I should not object to disqualification, even of a person who was dependent upon driving a car for his livelihood, if he was definitely a menace on the road. What I want to do is to provide a penalty which juries will be willing to inflict. At present they are unwilling to inflict the most serious penalty.
§ Mr. Darling
I appreciate that point, which will have to be thrashed out during the Committee stage, but if we become too gentle about this question, or allow juries to become too gentle about it, we may fail in our purpose.
1058 I agree with the hon. Member about the value of the spot check. I also prefer it to compulsory inspection. One aspect which worries me considerably. however, is that the spot check has to be carried out by an inspector of some kind, and there must be police officers in the vicinity to deal with the consequences of such a spot check if the vehicle concerned is proved to be unroadworthy.
Going through the Bill one finds that it is quite obvious that the duties and responsibilities of the police in the matter of road safety will be greatly increased. I do not believe that the terms of the Bill can be carried out in the way we would wish unless we make some big alteration in the respect of the traffic police. There are not enough police available for traffic duties, for instance, to make sure that a satisfactory spot check of road vehicles can be carried out throughout the country. It is no use arranging to have spot checks if those checks are to be carried out haphazardly, and are to be applied only to a small proportion of vehicles, or, because of the arrangements of local police forces and inspectors of cars, are to take place only in certain parts of the country.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
No doubt the hon. Member knows that under Section 30 of the 1930 Road Traffic Act the Minister has power to appoint examiners to carry out spot checks of this sort, quite apart from the police.
§ Mr. Darling
Yes; I was leading up to that point.
Rather than add to the staff of examiners in that way, however, I think that we should consider whether we should not set up a special traffic police force, divorced from the general police force, to carry out the duties which will be imposed by the Bill. Last week we had a debate which showed that our police forces are undermanned. The police force which I have in mind might be recruited in part from existing police officers, in small numbers, but mainly from men who are not engaged in police work at present.
The people whom I have in mind are ex-officers and ex-Service men, and people who have been rejected from recruitment to the police force because they do not reach the high standards imposed at present. By these means we could recruit a large enough traffic police force 1059 to carry through the duties which will be imposed by the Bill. This special traffic police force would be responsible for carrying out spot checks; patrolling the roads; breaking up traffic blocks which they come across in the course of their duties; making sure that the traffic is moving all the time; dealing more quickly with accidents than is the case at present; clearing the roads after accidents; being on point duty at crossings, dealing with special arrangements for traffic as a result of road repairs. and so on.
I do not see how the terms of the Bill can be carried out unless we have a traffic force of that kind. In a matter so important as this, such a traffic force is really necessary in order to save life on the roads, prevent accidents, keep traffic moving, and remove congestion.
I hope that the Government will drop Clause 1 in its present form. I do not think that it will work, even if my suggestion about a traffic force is carried out. If owners of cars are to be compelled to go to their garages to obtain certificates of roadworthiness a great deal of what might be called "under the counter" activities will begin. In some garages the standards of conduct in repair work and the integrity of the people concerned are very high indeed, but those of us who are motorists have all come across garages which do not reach that standard, and I am very much afraid that from that point of view alone Clause 1 would be unworkable.
We must also pay far more attention to standards of driving which must be imposed if we are to have a reasonable degree of road safety. My bugbear is the driver of the private lorry, who seems to flash about the country breaking speed limits. My experience may not be shared by other hon. Members, but the most dangerous persons I come across are owner-drivers of private lorries or drivers of lorries owned by a small man. They drive around breaking speed limits, driving carelessly, and endangering their lives and those of others.
If spot checks were carried out on those vehicles many of them would be taken off the roads. We must return to a far stricter testing of these and other drivers. I hope that we shall be able to deal with this point during the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Page
Is not spot checking of just the type of vehicle to which the hon. Member has referred provided for under Section 17 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933?
§ Mr. Darling
I know that that spot checking goes on. What I am trying to say as briefly and as quickly as I can is that it is insufficient, and that we must have a new traffic police force to do it more satisfactorily.
One way of dealing with drivers who are prone to accident—if that is the way it is described—is through their insurance premiums. It would call for some arrangement with the insurance companies, but I see no reason why the insurance premium of a driver who has been involved in an accident for which he is shown to have been responsible should not be substantially increased for a period of time. If he has had several accidents, a really severe financial penalty could be imposed upon him by an increase in his insurance premium.
Another contributory factor to road accidents is the smoke emitted by heavy diesel commercial vehicles. I do not know how to deal with the matter under the Bill. I was driving over the Sheffield-Manchester-Woodhead Road some time ago. It is not a very good road in certain periods of the day, and on that occasion it was just about twilight, when lighting conditions are difficult. As I went round a bend of the hill, I saw seven or eight heavy commercial vehicles coming towards me from Manchester. They were being driven up the hill and each was turning out a cloud of smoke, which meant that I was driving through a thick fog, and that the risk of accident was grave. If we are to make the roads safe we must have more control over vehicles that throw out smoke in that way.
We have to lay down a new rule governing parking, and road congestion as a result of parking, in our towns and cities. No building licence should be given for any large edifice of any kind unless the plans contain a basement for the parking of cars. Over the last few years, buildings have been approved in the centre of London and in the City of London which did not provide parking space in their basements. The more buildings of that kind we put up the greater becomes the congestion, because 1061 people who work in the buildings come into the City with cars and have nowhere to park them. Parking space should be provided in the buildings in which they work. The time has come when a rule ought to be laid down for all new buildings to have basements for the parking of cars.
Finally, I hope that the Minister will look again at Clauses 26 and 27. I raise a small point on those Clauses on behalf of some co-operative societies who have written to me. It concerns the licensing of passenger outings on special occasions. If the members of a women's co-operative guild want to have an outing to the seaside by coach, they are not allowed to advertise it in the local co-op. shop, which is the obvious place to do so. It is desirable that women in a co-operative society who want to have a pleasant day at the seaside should be able to advertise it at the local co-operative stores.
I hope that the Minister can make some arrangement for the proper advertising of social outings which are not run on a commercial basis, and from which nobody is making a profit. It seems a senseless and unnecessary interference in the affairs of a genuine social organisation to prevent it from advertising its social activities in this way.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Sir Gurney Braithwaite (Bristol, North-West)
We have been reminded more than once since the Minister moved the Second Reading of the Bill that the Measure had a rough passage in another place. There is an idea that Tory Bills never get knocked about in their Lordships' House. However that may be, this Bill has emerged in a considerably emasculated condition. It may be that the usual channels there lack the authority which they carry here.
We are debarred by the rules of order from quoting extracts of speeches made by noble Lords, except, of course, Ministerial utterances. What might be more revealing to hon. Members would be if one were tactless enough to read extracts from certain entries made upon the driving licences of those noble Lords who were most vociferous in their opposition to the Bill. When I read the debates in another place, as I have done, I got the impression that there was something of an alliance between the speed merchants on both sides of the House.
1062 Their Lordships have tried to turn this Bill into a motoring Measure.
This is a Road Traffic Bill, affecting each and all of us. During my brief tenure of office at the Ministry of Transport nothing burned itself into my mind more than the monthly figures of road casualties. It was not so much like being in a Ministerial chair as being at G.H.O. during the course of a battle, with the figures of killed and wounded constantly arriving. There was the lamentable difference that, in this battle of the roads, women and children, indeed children under the school age of five years, were brought into the fearful carnage. If hon. Members will bear with me, I shall concentrate my remarks on the road safety proposals in this Measure.
There is a saying, which I have always endorsed, that it is better to be 30 minutes late in this world than 30 years too early in the next. That is a simple formula which we should do well to bear in mind, particularly when attempts are made to introduce safety measures. Clause 1 has been under fire. It was under fire in another place. It has emerged from their Lordships' House in an unsatisfactory condition, as I think we all agree. I warmly support the intention of Clause 1 that there should be brake tests.
I well remember, when I was Parliamentary Secretary, broadcasting at the commencement of 1953 and appealing for a Coronation Year road-safety campaign which would reduce casualties by 10 per cent. We had got it in 1952, and we hoped to do it again in 1953; but no sooner had I left the microphone than the casualties began to rise. They were up again by 10 per cent. in the year in which we set that target.
One proposal put forward in that broadcast was that the motor trade itself might organise something like these tests of brakes which the Clause seeks to enact. Reading the debates in another place, one finds that those noble Lords who objected to this Clause on the grounds that it would necessitate the appointment of hordes of new officials became, by the same token, apostles of the spot check. Let us examine that point for a moment.
There is already great difficulty in obtaining the necessary inspectors and examiners of commercial vehicles under the spot check system. I understand there 1063 are only about 250, and that all the efforts of the Ministry have failed to recruit more examiners. There is also a shortage of examiners for the ordinary driving test. Spot checks of these vehicles, whether commercial vehicles or private cars, cannot be carried out by just anyone. They have to be done by qualified persons and, as I say, there is a shortage of them.
That is why I think that the Government are right in endeavouring to carry out this test. I say at once that I am not impressed by the argument—nor do I think that it was urged by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who opened the debate for the Opposition—that the number of accidents caused by defective brakes is infinitesimal. All these matters need attention. It is a very specious argument to say that only 500 people perished on the roads last year from one cause or another. It is our charge to stop all the accidents.
The Government are right in saying that the test shall be carried out by designated garages. The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling) said, with truth, that there are garages and garages; that there are standards of integrity to be found in some which are not to be found in others. As I understand the Government's plan, garages having the necessary apparatus and professional qualifications and attaining a proper standard would carry out the tests.
There seemed to be an impression in another place that there would be a sort of ratio of designated garages in each town. It was rightly said that in those circumstances there would be great jealously between those garages selected for the purpose and those that were not. That is not what I understand to be the Government's intention. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary will correct me if I am wrong. It would be possible to have a town in which every garage was qualified to carry out these tests; and in another town it might be that none would measure up to the required standards.
§ Mr. Darling
The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite) would agree that the standards of integrity will not be determined by the size of the garage or by its equipment, but by something that obviously cannot be defined 1064 in a Bill—the people who are engaged on the job.
§ Sir G. Braithwaite
But the hon. Member will also know—we are not without a certain experience in this field—that the motoring organisations themselves designate garages. One can see their signs outside the buildings which they have recommended. I see no reason why it should be impossible for the Government to designate garages possessing these qualifications. The R.A.C. and the A.A. already designate garages—and indeed, hotels—and it is up to their members to advise them if they find the service inadequate.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
I am in general agreement with the hon. Member's argument on this part of the Bill, but has he considered that in many cases the garage appointed might not be in a position to give a completely disinterested verdict on a vehicle because it might be in an important commercial relationship with the person submitting the vehicle for examination? That could give rise to a lot of corruption.
§ Sir G. Braithwaite
If that argument were extended sufficiently, no National Health doctors would be able to practise.
It has been argued against that Clause that whatever the method of the check-up—and it is obvious that there will be differences of opinion in Committee about this—the vehicle itself may be tested on 1st January and the brakes may not be efficient by 10th January. The same is true, of course, of a doctor's check-up. Someone who goes to the doctor once a year and is found to be sound in wind and limb may be dead a week later from an attack of pneumonia.
I believe the Government's aim is that all vehicles will have to undergo these tests and that, even if it is only on one day in the year, there are to be brought within the purview of inspection a number of aged vehicles which now are not tested at all. It is a step, a short one possibly, but one which I support, and I hope that the machinery will be tidied up in Committee.
Clause 11 contains a much-needed reform. It resolves a legal doubt amongst local authorities about the cost of their road safety propaganda. A great deal of this has been carried out in the past under 1065 the fear that the district auditor may disallow such expenditure. I saw something of the work of road safety committees during my time in office, and I cannot pay too high a tribute to the voluntary work they do. It must be a very great relief to them to know that once this Bill is on the Statute Book their fear, and that legal doubt, will be removed.
I am glad to see the 30 miles-an-hour limit about to be embodied in permanent legislation, together with the revision of the qualification in regard to street lamps. That badly needed doing.
Clause 13 removes the particularly fatuous anomaly about motor lawn mowers going on the streets, and the necessity of driving tests for those mowing their own grass verges outside the house. That used to cause a certain amount of difficulty. I favour also the experiment of parking meters. We must see how it works, and there is no harm in trying something which has proved successful in other countries.
I do not know if I shall carry the House with me in my remarks about Clause 20. For many years I have felt that the courts do not treat sufficiently seriously what I shall call the crime—selecting that word with care—of driving a motor vehicle of any kind when the driver is under the influence of drink. Penalties exist now, but the courts are apt to treat with astonishing leniency those guilty of this very grave offence. When I had the opportunity, as Joint Parliamentary Secretary, of visiting about 50 road safety committees, I found more anxiety about this than about any other point. Almost invariably some lady or gentleman would ask, "Why do you not put people who are convicted of being drunk in charge of cars into gaol without an option of any kind?"
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
Does my hon. Friend appreciate that in a great many of these cases where people are convicted of this offence they are not always aware, because of mitigating circumstances, that they are under influence of drinks or drugs at the time, and that the person imposing the penalty is either a highly qualified member of the bench or a chairman of sessions? If the sentence is light may it not be that the reason is a valid one?
§ Sir G. Braithwaite
No doubt in some cases the reason is valid, but I repeat 1066 that my impression, gained over many years, is that there is an undue tendency to leniency in dealing with these cases.
As my hon. Friend knows, there is in the Act a loophole for qualifying circumstances. He knows that. When he interrupted me, I was about to make the point that there are people who say, "Why do you not put them all in gaol without the option of any other form of penalty?" Of course, those who are acquainted with these matters know that the answer is simple—that when the sole penalty for an offence is to put someone in prison, the courts always hesitate to convict. Disqualification is a far better sanction, I feel, in this case. I think the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East referred to this. I should like to see wider use made of disqualification. We do not get anywhere by putting people in prison.
On the legislative side—and here I shall probably have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies)—I am glad that we are tidying up the anomalous position of the definition of "in charge" of a car. I read of a case of a gentleman who was brought to the door of his house in his pyjamas because his car had been left outside. He had been having a cheerful evening at home and had gone to bed to sleep it off. He was brought down, prosecuted for being in charge of the car, and convicted for being drunk in charge. That is going too far, and I am glad that we are tidying up that anomaly.
I have always thought it a dangerous state of the law where, if a man starts to drive home after a festive evening, realises that he has had a drink too much and decides to pull up by the side of the road and to get into the back of the car to sleep, nevertheless he can be prosecuted for being drunk in charge of the vehicle. Surely that is an encouragement to him to proceed on his way and take a chance. That is one of the things which I am glad to see is tidied up by the Bill.
Clauses 26 and 27 were referred to a moment ago by the hon. Member for Hillsborough. In spite of these Clauses, there are still certain hard cases. It is difficult for a draftsman to deal with them all. I understand that the Clauses, as 1067 drafted, have the support of the operators' organisations, but I feel that there are still certain loopholes with which we should like to deal. The hon. Member referred to an outing of a women's cooperative guild. It might well have been some other organisation.
For example, when a cup-tie results in a draw on a Saturday and the game is to be re-played many miles away on the Wednesday, it is a little hard if the supporters' association of the club cannot broadcast, as the crowd is leaving the ground, that certain coaches will be running on Wednesday to Newcastle or Southampton or wherever it may be. I should have thought that that was one problem with which we might try to deal. I do not think it will impinge on the general system of licensing, nor will it impinge too much on the regular services. It is something with which we might try to deal in Committee.
Of course, the Bill must go hand in hand with the Government's road development plans, which I hope will be brought forward with ever-increasing momentum. But I would endorse something which the Minister said in introducing the Bill—something which is quite true. He said that we can never solve this problem of road safety by legislation. Legislation can make its contribution, and the Bill makes a useful contribution, but of course it is essentially a matter of education; and it was a great comfort to me, when I was dealing with the problem, to see emerging from our schools a new generation, road-conscious and able to teach their parents how to behave on the roads and, particularly, how to use pedestrian crossings. I should like to pay tribute to the teachers in the schools and the police, among others, who have played so excellent a part in the education of this new road-conscious generation.
The Bill could have done a great deal more. I imagine that many Clauses were jettisoned in order that we might have a Bill of reasonable size which had a chance of getting through in reasonable time. But I say to my right hon. Friend, through his Joint Parliamentary Secretary, if I may, that this is an all-party Measure, and a non-party Measure, and that it is peculiarly a Bill which Parliament, rather than the Executive, should 1068 shape. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend will not be too rigid in his attitude to the Bill in Standing Committee, if that is where the Bill is to be sent, or on the Floor of the House. I hope that he will be prepared to be receptive to constructive ideas and criticisms.
Of course, a road safety Bill is the easiest Bill in the world in which to pick holes. Nothing is simpler than to exaggerate some point and to produce some case where, if the elastic is stretched far enough, we reach absurdity. Destructive criticism is easy. It is said of the late Sir Frederick Banbury, although I have been unable to find a reference to it in the Library, that on one occasion when a private Member introduced a road safety Bill he talked it out by arguing whether poultry should carry rear-lights.
It is easy to point to a Clause and to find some anomaly or absurdity in it. I hope that we shall do better than that. Frankly, I thought that their Lordships were unduly rough with the Bill. I think that they tried to turn it into a motoring Measure. I hope that we shall do better, and that, with the co-operation of all parties, we shall make a valuable attack on one of the most distressing social problems which concerns all of us today.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. William Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
This is a unique opportunity for the Government to remedy some of the defects of which I have frequently complained in our road traffic arrangements. In the last 18 months I have had two Adjournment debates on safety measures with the idea of stimulating the Government into doing more than had been done previously, and I want to join the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite) in saying that if we can prevent this from being solely a motorists' Bill we shall have done much good.
Whatever the criticism—we have had a good deal in the House today, and there was criticism in the other place—I hope that the Government will retain Clause 1, if possible even in a stronger form. If they do not, then in my judgment half the value of the Bill will disappear, because in my opinion the lack of roadworthiness of vehicles contributes as much to the disasters and accidents on the roads as anything else. I believe that if we had 1069 had a traffic force, as has been suggested, or a police force in sufficient numbers, there would have been fewer accidents. I ask the Government not to be deterred by the criticism but to retain the Clause.
I realise that it is a difficult problem and that it is not easy to find staff to undertake the examinations, but although spot checking, which is carried out to some extent already, is useful, I do not think it is as effective as the test suggested in the Clause.
I understand that it is the Government's intention to permit changes in the Bill, if reasonable suggestions are made, and I suggest that the age of a car might be borne in mind in determining the priority of examinations. After all, it will be a difficult task to examine 5 million cars a year. To me it seems an impossible task. It would be better if the Government could do something on the lines suggested to make vehicles more roadworthy.
I am a little concerned about the position of pedal cyclists under Clause 3. I cannot disagree with hon. Members who have suggested that a pedal cyclist, like a motor cyclist, who rushes about to the danger of himself and everyone else ought to be dealt with. Often when speaking on road safety I have been asked if I would agree to pedestrians being penalised for any blunders they make. We have as much right to expect them to have road sense and to act reasonably and decently as any other citizens. I admit that, but this Bill does not give me any hope of dealing with the matters to which I have recently referred.
In an Adjournment debate recently I pointed out the difficulties of pedestrians. I know something about the importance of this matter. Last Friday I watched a policeman directing traffic in Lime Street, Liverpool. He did not look at the pedestrians at all. Apparently pedestrians can please themselves how they act until they do something wrong, and then they may be penalised. That is something we have to be careful about. I want pedestrians to co-operate, as I believe any reasonable person does, but we should not penalise them unnecessarily or wrongly.
I want again to draw the attention of the Minister to the provision of zebra crossings. I hope that something may be done about this during the Committee 1070 stage. In the Liverpool district, as I have proved, there are only three zebra crossings to every mile of main road. I have never been told where the pedestrian is to cross the road, other than at a zebra crossing, without causing trouble, being in danger, or breaking the traffic laws. There ought to be more zebra crossings. An hon. Member has said that they are dangerous. I know they are—everything is dangerous on the roads—but zebra crossings were designed to protect pedestrians. Yet 80 were killed on them last year and, I think, 79 the year before. It was not a case of pedestrians committing suicide. Some may be a little stupid, but there were 80 accidents. I hope we shall deal with some aspects of that matter during the Committee stage and that we shall make local authorities in some measure responsible for dealing with the problem.
Reference to this question appeared in today's "Liverpool Daily Post." It may be that I had my attention drawn to that more particularly because of the limitations on newspapers nowadays, but I do read the "Liverpool Post." Like other hon. Members, I hope that when I make a beautiful gesture or a brilliant speech the local paper will not forget to mention it. I often think that some hon. Members talk in this House so that local papers will report what they say. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] We have waited a long time for this Bill and we want to make it a good Bill. If the Minister continues to consider this question in the way that he indicated today, I am prepared to take every opportunity to get the best out of the Bill.
I will read what the Venerable Archdeacon H. S. Wilkinson of Liverpool wrote in the "Daily Post." This was on the question of wide roads where there is no provision for pedestrians to cross. We cannot expect children and old people to run across them. I want to see refuges established in the centre of such roads and local authorities made to provide them. I hope the Minister will find some way of doing that. The former Parliamentary Secretary, when chairman of the Road Safety Committee, must have gained enough knowledge on this subject to enable him to speak so feelingly as he did today. Of the 5,000 killed on the roads three out of every 10 were children under 15. Those kiddies 1071 cannot cross the roads quickly, nor can old people. Something should be done to protect them. Archdeacon Wilkinson wrote:A century ago little children died in large numbers from diphtheria, scarlet fever, whooping cough and measles. Today this is no longer the case, and, so far as these diseases are concerned, parents may breathe freely. Instead, of all children who die between the ages of five and ten, one quarter perish on our roads. Neglect in immunising children against diphtheria would cause an instant outcry, but slaughter upon our roads is accepted as something about which little can be done.I have not seen a great deal of disturbance in this House at any time about the 5,000 killed on the roads, one-third of whom are children under 15. This Bill enables us to do something more about that problem, but I have heard more about the point of view of the motorist and more concern about parking spaces, better roads so that motorists may travel faster than about road safety.
On one occasion a junior Minister asked what could be done about those who exceeded the speed limit, and how they could be controlled. I know we have not sufficient police to control them, but I think we should pay more attention to the question. In many areas in towns and cities the 30 miles an hour speed limit is too fast. It should be 20 miles an hour. I suggest to the Minister that he might reasonably consider giving local authorities—not an opportunity to have an inquiry and the whole question turned down; I know how reluctant local authorities are to have that—but power to give the matter the attention it deserves. There are many places in which the speed limit ought to be 20 miles an hour. We have to remember that the average motor cyclist never travels at less than 30 miles an hour. Motor cycles are the most dangerous things on the roads. I know we cannot legislate separately for motor cyclists, but we ought to keep an eye on that problem.
Among the other things to which I want to refer is the present-day standard of road conduct. Nearly all of the many motorists whom I know, whether pleasure drivers or drivers of commercial vehicles, complain of the conduct on the roads. The standard is not high, and drivers complain of the lack of consideration which is shown by many road users.
1072 Generally speaking, the heavy commercial vehicle is probably the best driven. The drivers of heavy lorries are quite prepared to give way and their road conduct is higher than anybody else's.
This is what I want to ask the Minister. Can he, in Committee, impose a penalty with a view to preventing drivers from going over the white line in narrow roads or on concealed turns? In places of that sort, drivers do not travel at simply 10 or 20 miles an hour, but even faster, even on concealed bends. We ought to make it an offence to cross the white line on concealed turns or narrow roads.
I challenge anyone who is motor-minded to dispute the desirability of an island or refuge in the centre of the road. It is a fine means of dividing the traffic. Years ago at Bootle, when I was on the council, we resisted the proposal to move the lamp standards from the middle of the road because of their great value in separating the two streams of traffic and preventing it from going all over the road.
I want the Minister to take notice of what I say regarding licences. When people have failed the driving test two or three times, I have been inclined to suggest that the best thing for them to do was to go to a motoring school, which would teach them properly and get them through the test. We all know there is a lot to be said for that.
I know a lady who told me some months ago that she had held a licence in 1934, before it was necessary to pass a driving test. She had never driven a car or been trained as a driver, but simply because she obtained a licence in 1934 she was able six or eight months ago to obtain another licence. On making inquiry I was told that that was permitted by the Act, whereas people who had had to pass the test and had not held a licence for six, seven or more years could not get one without passing another test. But I have found that that was wrong.
A man who had held a licence abroad for a limited period in 1936, and who had driven little, if at all, since then, recently paid his 5s. or 7s. 6d. and got his licence. That is not the way to get proper driving on the roads. If people who have never undergone the test, or even those who had a test 10 or 15 years ago, are not fitted to drive, they have no right to be given a licence which allows them to drive a vehicle to the danger of the public.
1073 The Minister needs to resist some of the attempts to ease what might be regarded as difficulties for the motorist. After all, it is the children and the adults whom we have to consider, and at least half of those who are killed on the roads are pedestrians. I wish the Bill success, and I hope that the Minister will be able to make it a much stronger and better Bill to fulfil the functions which many of us have been awaiting for a long time.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Higgs (Bromsgrove)
I appreciate the difficulty of speaking about the Bill, in a debate in which a large number of hon. Members want to take part, without making a succession of Committee points. It is a difficulty which one is bound to find when dealing with a Bill which, as was said in a rather derogatory way in another place, is a Departmental Bill with a number of Clauses coming from different pigeonholes.
The hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan), as I understood him, propounded the theory that a driving test is of limited value because in many cases people took their tests long ago, while others began driving before driving tests were necessary; and that others, even if they did take the test, had had a long absence from driving since taking the test; and that for these reasons the test was not of much significance today.
§ Mr. Keenan
Perhaps I did not make myself clear. What I was complaining about was the opportunity for the lady who had never taken the test and had never driven a car to be able now to obtain a licence to drive simply because she had taken out a licence 20 years ago. That is wrong. On the other question, I stand by what I said. I think that after five, six or seven years another test is necessary.
§ Mr. Higgs
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member into an argument about driving tests for drivers, but there is in that proposal a principle which applies also to the proposal in Clause 1 for the testing of vehicles. One of the difficulties of the proposal to establish testing stations must be that they have effect over a narrow area. Vehicles would have to go to the testing station in turn. The 1074 station must operate for the whole year and could not be employed only in December because licences are taken out in January.
As I see it, it must follow that if a certificate of fitness is to be a condition for the issue of an Excise licence for a vehicle, if a vehicle is tested in February, 1955, and a certificate is obtained, it authorises the issue of a licence in January, 1956; and the licence which is then obtained would operate until 31st December, 1956. I think that one is covering a very narrow area if one says that because a vehicle which is eight or 10 years old was tested and passed in February, 1955, that is a sound reason why it should be on the road in December, 1956.
On the other hand, my experience—I confess to having some experience of investigating motoring cases in the courts—is that hon. Members generally in this House, as happened in another place in the course of their debates, under-estimate the effect of the condition of vehicles upon accidents.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has ever gone to the root of accident statistics. I wonder whether he has ever called for, and had on the desk in front of him, a selection of the different kinds of police pro forma which the constable who arrives on the scene of an accident has to fill up. I wonder whether he has considered the number of specimens that have been filled up by police constables, and whether the statistics which can be extracted from that sort of pro forma provide a useful guide.
A policeman in one county which I know has a list on which he has to state whether an accident was caused by road conditions, the weather, dangerous driving, the condition of the vehicle, a dog, traffic lights, and many other things. The police officer has to put a tick against the one which he thinks caused the accident and cross out the ones which do not apply. Statistics obtained in that way are, in my opinion, out of date.
We have now reduced the matter of sampling to something of a science. I believe that on this question of finding out the causes of road accidents, whether it be how far the conditions of the vehicle affect them or the particular kinds of mistakes that drivers are making, we could do a lot more by a thorough and 1075 careful sampling than by trying to consider universal statistics which are compulsory in the case of every accident. One hundred per cent. coverage of the causes of road accidents is as likely to mislead as it is to provide the truth.
I do not know to what extent the Road Research Laboratory or the advisers of my right hon. Friend have studied carefully from beginning to end a comparatively few accidents. I believe that if one listened to perhaps a dozen inquests in the coroners' courts arising out of motor accidents, heard a dozen motoring cases before the justices, and picked out the files of a dozen cases in which no proceedings were taken because no one was considered to be blameworthy, one could, by considering cases in that way—say 100—studying them carefully, going to the scene of the accident, looking at the vehicles and seeing the people concerned, learn far more than one learns from the study of statistics of hundreds and thousands of accidents that occur in the course of a year. I throw out that suggestion for what it is worth.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he might learn a great deal more by sampling thoroughly a comparatively few cases than by trying to get 100 per cent. coverage, including even accidents in which stationary cycles at the kerbside are knocked down by passing vehicles, which are dealt with by pro forma procedure and perhaps filled in with more zeal than accuracy.
I go on from that to argue whether we might not learn a great deal more about the effect of vehicle conditions on road accidents if we applied the same kind of principles to the question of testing. I do not regard the testing of vehicles at this stage as being nothing but a question of improving the condition of vehicles. That, of course, is an ultimate aim, but we need to learn two things. First, how to test vehicles, how long it takes and what apparatus is needed, and then to what extent vehicles are efficient on the road and to what extent vehicles are a risk. It is not only that we want to prevent accidents happening; we want to reduce the consequences of accidents. It may be that in certain circumstances the driving of one driver was so bad that anything that the other driver did would not have prevented an accident. It may be also that 1076 if the other driver had had perfect steering and perfect brakes he could have reduced a fatality to an injury or an injury to a bash with no one hurt.
This would be an achievement, if we could do it. In cases where a police constable arrives on the scene of an accident and says that the mechanical condition of the vehicle did not cause the accident and had nothing to do with it, it might nevertheless well be that if the vehicles concerned had been in perfect condition, the consequences of the accident would have been minimised.
Therefore, I support this Bill and the principle underlying Clause I of the Bill, in which it is suggested that there should be testing. At the moment, however, I regard it as more important to learn how to test and what sort of defects we are likely to find than it is to achieve 100 per cent. coverage of all motor vehicles A static station to which vehicles are compelled to come may be the worst way of getting the greatest benefit from man-hours, effort and materials. I find myself very much attracted to a scheme of spot checking by chance and surprise all over the country.
I have some knowledge of the effect upon motorists of a motor patrol car which goes about so labelled so that all can see what it is. I have heard and read with interest of the effects of an announcement that a B.B.C. detector van is going to a district. My right hon. Friend can go to his noble Friend and get more information on that than I can give him. I believe that if he did get these facts and figures he would be very much surprised at the effect which such an announcement has in a district.
I believe that with a comparatively small amount of effort, and with a couple of dozen teams of two or three men going about the country, we could achieve a very considerable effect by having them at places where there was a suitable length of road surface or a traffic lay-by or some place where they could test brakes and where they could stop vehicles by chance, picking them out as they went by. It might be possible to check only 20 or 30 vehicles but 200 or 300 other drivers would go by and see this happening, and they would spread the information to 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000 other drivers at hotels, lorry drivers' cafes and other places, that this test was going on. I 1077 believe that by a scheme of that kind one would get a snowball effect which would do more good than one could do with a static station, with all the limitations there imposed.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
In the case of public service vehicles, the idea of spot checking on the road would be completely useless. The modern examination of all motor cars is done by apparatus, recording gauges and such things. As one who has spent a lifetime in this sort of business, I think that, generally speaking, the hon. Member's suggestion may have a nuisance value but not much else.
Examinations would not be done in wet weather. Examiners would not go out in wet weather when vehicles are most prone to accidents. Wet weather conditions which cause accidents can be ascertained in a testing station. I think that there may be some psychological value in what the hon. Member has suggested, but there can be no degree of accuracy.
§ Mr. Higgs
I agree that there are limitations, but since we have not yet sufficient knowledge to go in for full-scale tests in practice, and since we need to gain more knowledge of the subject, I do not think we should start to try to set up such a series of stations as would be necessary to achieve universal testing.
There is one other subject I want to say a word about. This may be a little more controversial. In the debates on the Bill in another place, and in discussion of it throughout the country, a lot has been said about enforcement. It is a matter of general concern because the Bill proposes to increase penalties, and there will be room under it for more disqualifications of drivers or vehicles than heretofore.
If the general complaint is that the penalties now authorised are not being imposed, then it seems to me that the one way of not doing anything about correcting that is to increase the maximum. If the courts will not impose the present maximum penalties, we certainly shall not make them do so by increasing the maximum. We cannot maintain that this 1078 is the way in which Parliament expresses its will.
Every Member of Parliament and every judge of the High Court has expressed his will, urging magistrates to impose heavier penalties. One right way of achieving our object is that of a slow process of education. I must say that it is not stimulated by the daily placing on probation for short periods of people convicted for offences against honesty and other morals, which will surely seem to magistrates to be offences of much the same degree of seriousness as those with which we are dealing here.
The argument which I find the most distressing of all is one which is put in a number of ways. Sometimes it is put in this way:" Parliament is trying to tie the hands of juries and magistrates." Sometimes it is put in this way: "How on earth are judges to impose penalties if they have first to persuade juries to convict?" I dislike that argument. Parliament has its job to do. The juries have a job to do. If we want to persuade juries to refuse to convict, one way of doing it is to tell them, "If you do convict, disqualification is the automatic penalty." The penalty ought to be left to the court, and the jury ought to do its job.
Neither Parliament nor the judicial bench will encourage or sustain respect for justice, which must be a part of respect for law, if they are heard to express regrets that the judges have to carry juries with them, or if Parliament is suspected of trying to tie the hands of justices, so that the courts feel that, whatever may be the merits of cases, they have been prejudged by Parliament, which cannot know the facts in those cases, and usurps the functions of the courts by thus prescribing advice to them.
I hope that in Committee we shall find means of showing our trust in our courts of justice, and that we shall not try to do their job for them in advance by prejudging cases the facts of which we cannot know. The right use of the law courts. and our trust in them, including our trust in them to impose exemplary penalties in the appropriate cases, are ways towards reaching the very desirable object of road safety.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
The House will want to congratulate the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) on his speech, particularly on the first part of it, which contained a very valuable suggestion. I was impressed by his argument all the way through, except in one particular, on the spot checking. A difficulty arises from spot checking. What happens if an hon. Member of this House, who is in a hurry to get somewhere, is held up by a spot check? What happens if there is some emergency? What happens if he is going to an election or wants to get back to the House for a Division, or something of the sort?
§ Mr. Hannan
Personally, I have an open mind on the question. If we have appointed stations they could give rise to grave abuses, not only at any one garage but at two or three in an area working in collusion.
I had not intended to deal with Clause 1 but, strangely enough, with the matter my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) spoke about it in the latter part of his speech. I join with him in asking the Minister to pay attention to it. The hon. Member for Bromsgrove misunderstood my hon. Friend's point, which is that a person who held a full driving licence prior to 1st April, 1934, can on producing that licence as evidence, even though not having had one since, be provided with a full—
§ Mr. Hannan
Yes—with a full driving licence. There is no doubt about that. I have checked up on it only this week.
Twenty years is far too long a period, in my view, to allow to elapse without a further test, if in that time the person concerned has not been driving. Conditions on the roads have altered since 1934; the feel of a car has altered since then; the degrees of speed and congestion have increased. The Minister should consider this matter. There is far too much laxity in the issuing of these licences. I was not a driver myself 20 years ago, but I understand from those who were and who are still driving that motoring is now completely different.
1080 The problem goes further, because people who want to dodge the responsibility of undergoing a learner's test hear from those who have successfully cheated the authorities that the local authorities' records prior to 1929 or 1930 have been destroyed. When they go for their licence they are asked, "Did you have a licence?" They reply, "Yes." Then they are asked, "Have you evidence of that?" They say, "No." However, if they complete an affidavit before a justice of the peace the licensing officer may in his discretion issue a licence. Information about this process is passed on to others, and unless the licensing authorities are very careful they will be flooded with such applications.
The noble Lord who introduced the Bill in another place expressed the view that there was fairly widespread evasion of the driver's test. In conjunction with my hon. Friend I seriously suggest to the Minister that there is this other way of evading it. Licensing officers are competent people, and they use their discretion fairly well, but they need the support of such a Measure as this.
Clause 24 deals with additional provisions concerning the production and surrender of driving licences. I understand that there is a growing practice in Glasgow, whereby drivers who have been disqualified for offences are prepared to run grave risks by borrowing and using other people's licences. Such an individual knows that if he is caught driving while disqualified it means prison.
The practice seems to be that he borrows a clean licence from a member of the same household or a relative. When the case comes to court the person who has a clean record turns up and. having the clean record, only receives the penalty imposed upon a first offender and the other person goes scot-free. How are we to deal with this problem? The police are handicapped in that their powers are limited. I agree with the hon. Member for Bromsgrove that these are Committee points but, owing to the kind of debate which we are having, it is almost a necessity that these matters should be mentioned.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
The hon. Member will remember that there is a space at the bottom of the driving licence for the proper holder to sign his name. It is open to the police 1081 to ask him to sign his name so that they may see whether the signature is identical with that on the licence.
§ Mr. Hannan
I was coming to that point.
We can do three things. As the hon. Member has just suggested, there is, first, the signature at the bottom of the licence, but I am informed that the police have no power to demand a signature from the person concerned at the scene of the accident. Therefore, something more is needed. I ask for the sympathy of the House, because the suggestion that has been made to me is very controversial and certainly will not be welcomed by a vast number of motorists.
The second proposal that one could make to deal with this kind of thing would be for the constable at the scene of the offence to take some particulars of identity, such as the colour of the hair. At present he has no power to do that. Those details might then be checked with the appearance of the person in court.
I hesitate to make the third suggestion, and my mind is quite open about it. It is that, as in some other countries, a photograph should be incorporated in the driving licence. I know the difficulties, and I know that the motoring associations would probably strongly object, but how else can the police deal with this kind of offence? No doubt it will be asked whether it is worth while going to all this trouble, since the number of delinquents in this category is small. The same argument might be applied to cases of defects in mechanically propelled vehicles. It might be said that the number is so small that we ought not to trouble about them but, as the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite) has said, all these categories go to make the deplorable total of accidents with which the House must deal.
If the argument that the number of offenders is small were accepted much of our legislation would be quite unnecessary, because it is precisely directed towards protecting the vast majority of good citizens from the minority who are willing to take a chance. The question here is one of identity and I hope that it can be looked at. The argument that many of these categories are very small reminds one of the maid servant who had a baby of unknown paternity born to her, and 1082 who, when her mistress chided her, tried to minimise her failing by saying that it was only a very small one.
Clause 20 deals with penalties. I agree with those who say that the existing penalties for the various offences are already sufficient if only the powers were exercised. There is, however, one offence about which all of us feel more strongly than about any other, judging by the general assent of the House to the remarks of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West about the greater use of disqualification for the offence of driving while under the influence of drink or drugs.
Hon. Members will remember that on Second Reading in another place the noble Lord, Lord Chilworth, provided some striking figure of various offences in illustration of the fact that the penalties were not being fully used. I have succeeded in obtaining some figures in respect of Scotland. I am sorry that at the moment there is not a representative of the Scottish Office on the Front Bench opposite, though it is true that the Lord Advocate looked in on the debate earlier today and then had to leave.
In Scotland the maximum penalty for a first offence of exceeding the speed limit is £20, but recent statistics show that the average penalty imposed is only £2 10s. Under a system which works out like that there is no justification for or logic in increasing the penalty under the Bill from £20 to £30 for a first offence. The same thing applies to careless driving. The average penalty exacted is under £4, although a person can be fined £20 for a first offence. It is part of the Minister's case that averages can be deceptive. If these figures contain some very heavy penalties, I can agree, but are fines to be imposed according to the degree of culpability or not? I understand that a certain sheriff in Scotland exacts penalties according to the speed at which the vehicle travelled. That seems to me a deplorable variation of the otherwise good slogan of "payment by results."
As to driving under the influence of drink, it is easy for some of us who know that we shall never be found in that situation to stand in white sheets and to moralise. The present Clause provides that upon conviction on this charge and where there is an order for disqualification the convicted person shall be automatically 1083 obliged to undergo a driving test when his period of suspension is over. I do not think that that goes far enough. After all, the driving test is a test of competence to drive. It is not a punishment and it is usually because the person who is involved in this type of charge is confident of his competence to drive that he takes the risk of consuming alcohol. The real punishment in these cases is the disqualification. I am wholeheartedly in agreement with those who feel that that punishment rather than any other should be applied in these cases.
Scottish Members as well as the Minister have received representations from the Scottish Temperance Alliance in respect of this very problem. The Alliance is made up of various church organisations and religious youth organisations in Scotland. Their resolution asks that this matter be looked into, affirming with the Minister of Transport,that the question of alcohol must be regarded as one of the most serious difficulties in the problem of road accidents, and deploring, therefore, the inexcusable and shameful fact that alluring advertisements and seductive roadhouses, which press on motorists the consumption of alcohol, are still permitted by the laws of our country, commends the new Highway Code which was approved last November by the House of Commons without a division and which clearly stating that 'Alcohol, even in quite small amounts, makes you less safe on the roads' placed the use of alcohol by motorists as one of the five special dangers listed in its first page.I am aware, as are other hon. Members of this House, that there is a growing section of the public becoming not only uneasy but alarmed at the increase which has taken place in this category, and motorists themselves are angered at this section of the motoring public who are bringing disrepute on their own good road sense and courtesy. They are asking for some further action to be taken, because they recognise the dangers, not merely to themselves, but to their own passengers and those in public conveyances. We would all welcome self-discipline in this matter, but there is a minority that needs to be watched.
I should like to get my next point on record, in order that the Secretary of State for Scotland may look into it, because in my researches I have come across the Scottish figures of the number of offences of being drunk in charge, and 1084 they are an increasing menace. I asked a Question in May, 1954, about the number of such cases of persons drunk in charge in 1953, and the number that was given to me was 1,392, which was the highest figure ever. That information is confirmed on page 6 of the Criminal Statistics for Scotland for 1953, but much worse is to follow. In 1954, the figures were even higher. The number of cases made known to the police was 1,494, and the number of cases in which the person was apprehended, cited, warned or traced was 1,476. Here is something which the Secretary of State must look at.
Finally, I want to put a point in regard to the transfer of functions in respect of the Ministry of Transport which is to take place in April next year. We should have liked to have heard something from some representative of the Scottish Office today with regard to this matter, as well as on the points I have already endeavoured to make. We should like to know, for example, whether the timetable is likely to be kept. We know that the responsibility for roads and bridges is to go to the Secretary of State for Scotland, but what other powers will he have? For example, this Bill gives local authorities powers with regard to parking and parking meters on an application made by them. It gives the local authorities power to spend a certain amount on safety propaganda. Will these matters go to the Secretary of State for Scotland? Can a broad indication be given now of how the responsibility in respect of vehicles and roads is to be divided between the Ministry of Transport and the Scottish Office?
I am glad to have had the opportunity of making these points, and I hope that the Minister will pay particular attention to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale, which I have tried to underline. I hope the Bill will have a successful and rapid passage, that it will receive the earnest attention of most hon. Members of this House in an endeavour to cut down the deplorable number of accidents which are taking place in our country.
§ 7.35 p.m.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, East)
I find myself in very general agreement with many of the points made by the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Hannan), particularly in 1085 connection with licences, but I do not propose to follow the hon. Gentleman in those points of detail, as I wish to say a word or two about some of the more general aspects which lie behind a Road Traffic Bill of this sort, and to make one or two suggestions on points which I should like to see in the Bill.
I intervene as a road user, as one who until quite recently travelled a great deal by motor cycle, and a certain amount by car, and who still travels largely by pedal cycle and on foot. Like other hon. Members, I have been for many years deeply concerned over the road accident problem. Therefore, in so far as this Measure is a contribution towards road safety, I welcome it.
I wonder whether even today the scale and, more particularly, the significance of the road accidents in this country are fully appreciated. If we regard 1925 as the year in which the mass production of cars really got going, then, during the 30 years that followed, over 184,000 people have been killed on the roads and the number injured cannot be less than 4¾ million. These are terrible figures, and perhaps their most shocking feature is their consistency, taking one year with another.
We speak of road accidents, and of, course, taken individually they are accidents, although an element of criminal negligence may enter into some of them. Taken collectively and viewed from the point of view of the Executive, of the Legislature and of the judiciary, it is not entirely truthful to regard them as wholly accidental. They are not accidental in the sense that it lies within the power of the Executive to vary them by varying the stringency with which the laws are enforced. It lies in the power of Parliament to vary them by changing the law, as we are doing now, and it lies within the power of the courts to vary them according to the lenience or severity with which traffic offences are punished.
On the other hand, if things are allowed to go on as at present, the number of killings and maimings which can be expected during the coming financial year can be forecast with as much accuracy as the Chancellor of the Exchequer forecasts his surplus or deficit. I submit that neither the Government nor Parliament can evade their responsibilities in this matter, because it is really a question 1086 of policy to decide how far they are willing to go in the way of restrictions and penalties in order to reduce these accidents.
I believe that we should go very much further than we are now doing. The evil has grown so great and has lasted so long that a tremendous conscious national effort is needed to end it, and I believe that this Bill is one of the opportunities that have come to us for making that effort. Yet it is not about offences that I have risen to speak. I certainly shall not presume to join issue with the lawyers. Firstly, I should like to say a word on the question of investigating offences, which was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs).
It has been suggested that the police might achieve more if they concentrated entirely on serious accidents. I am not entirely convinced that that would be right. It is certainly remarkable that in 1953 over 300,000 people were convicted of traffic offences, of whom less than one in 180 had their licences suspended, and of whom, as far as I know, only two spent more than six months in prison. These figures show two things: first, that the police and the magistrates are being swamped by this type of case, and secondly, that the initial investigation does not inspire that confidence in the higher courts which is necessary if the type of penalty which the case otherwise merits is to be imposed.
I should like therefore to see a Clause added to the Bill establishing some kind of special traffic court analogous to a marine court to inquire into every accident in which there has been homicide. I believe that the knowledge that such courts existed and the possibility of one having to appear before them would prove a great incentive to careful driving.
May I now turn to a wholly different matter and say a word on the need for the undivided attention of everyone who uses our roads today. Probably the greatest single case of accidents is the failure of someone or other to pay undivided attention to what is going on around him. This applies every bit as much to pedestrians as it does to car drivers, but at the same time it is the vehicle which does the killing and it is this fact, together with its great speed, 1087 which places a very special obligation on the drivers of motor vehicles. Perhaps the chief incentive to concentration on the part of those who drive four-wheeled vehicles is the fear of punishment if they are found to be at fault. On that, I will say no more.
But there is also the fear of death and injury, the supreme sanction in the case of the motor cyclist, and one which gives the lie to the cruel and heartless libels one so often hears on them, because, taken as a whole and as a class, there are no more skilful people on our roads than these young men. Their most common error is to assume that other road users are equally on the alert as themselves, a mistake which quite often costs them their lives.
But there are certain things which tend to distract the attention of even the most conscientious driver. There is bad sign-posting. Everyone has had experience of areas in which the signposting is so misleading that one feels at the time it is almost malicious. I am never quite clear about the precise legal responsibility for signposting, but in so far as we have a uniform system of signposting at all, it is the work of the Royal Automobile Club, and that is sufficient evidence of the failure of public authorities.
There are few things which are more distracting to a driver of a car or a motor cycle than the lurking fear that he has missed a vital turn, and few things more tiring than driving for a long time along an unfamiliar road. I believe that this question of signposting is a much bigger factor in accidents than is commonly realised. I regret, therefore, that this Bill contains no Clause or power to enable the Minister to set up a national signposting authority charged with the task of introducing a system of signposting which should be at once exclusive, uniform and universal.
Yet even if a driver is concentrating his attention on the road and even if he is driving as he supposes with the greatest possible caution, he may still be a menace unless he is physically fit. As I understand it, the Minister already possesses wide powers in this matter, and it may be unnecessary to suggest that any extension of the present Bill should be made, but, however that may be, I beg 1088 my right hon. Friend to turn the almost farcical procedure at present in force into a reality. I beg him to override administrative obstruction and to insist upon some simple medical test before a licence is issued or renewed.
By all means lengthen the periods between renewals if that will help, but under modern conditions I suggest that a person's eyesight ought really to be checked before he drives a powerful vehicle, and in particular there should be a test of night vision. Some people have defective night vision. This is not their fault because they are perfectly healthy in other ways, but it is madness to let them drive at night. They can only be a danger to themselves and to others and they should be licensed to drive only by day. Again, there are people whose reflexes are too slow. That may be through illness; it may be through advancing years; but for their own sakes and for the public safety they should not be allowed to drive.
I am aware that many people will think that these suggestions are too severe. It may be said that there is no popular demand for such restrictions. Perhaps that is true, yet I cannot help thinking that this is the sort of issue by which our modern democracy is going to be judged by history. What does it matter whether the measures are popular or unpopular if they are necessary to end an evil. Does anyone deny these killings are an evil? Does anyone deny that the failure of successive Governments to check them has brought the law and to some extent magistrates' courts into a measure of contempt. There is a danger, I think, that the traffic problem may become to this country what Prohibition became to America. How, for example, can we expect the "Teddy" boys to be law-abiding when they see their elders and betters getting away with it on the roads every day?
So the question is this: are we prepared to grapple with this problem? Are we prepared to pass this Bill, strengthened wherever practicable? Are we prepared to back this or any other Government in enforcing it, or shall we continue to watch while year after year thousands of innocent people are "appointed"—to quote from the old Liturgy—appointed as sheep for the slaughter"?
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I am sure that the House has listened with close attention to the speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), and he has put some challenging suggestions to the House and to the Minister. When he gave us the grand total of fatal road casualties through the years, I am sure it came as a shock to us to know that death on the roads has mounted to such a colossal total. And the numbers of maimed and injured are, of course, so much bigger still.
When the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that the numbers are so static that we can forecast the number of casualties curing the next financial year with the same accuracy as the Chancellor of the Exchequer can forecast his Budget surplus, I recall that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is only £400 million out in this financial year, so perhaps we should not take that analogy, though I am sure the House does take the point that these figures are remarkably and shockingly steady.
We have heard something in the debate so far—and I have listened to most of it—about the dangers of taking drink while driving. My hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) underlined yet again the growing menace to road safety of those who will drink, and drink too much, when they are going to drive There are two menaces on the road today, neither of which, I think, is fully realised: one is the "drunk," and the other, dogs. I shall say something about dogs in a moment. I do not think that matter has been mentioned by any hon. Member.
It should go out from this House on every possible occasion that there is always serious danger to drivers, pedestrians, passengers, and all who may be involved in an accident attendant upon the taking of alcoholic liquor when one is about to drive. I regret that the Minister did not accept the several suggestions made to him when the Highway Code was under discussion to strengthen the reference to this matter on the inside cover of the Code. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman considered it, and decided against using stronger alternative language.
The Highway Code is now published, and we are glad to hear from the Minister 1090 that it has such a large sale. I understand that it is one of the Stationery Office best-sellers, and that reprinting is going on. We hope that it will be read by even more people. But I still think that the reference in the Code to alcohol is, as I said once before, too milk-and-watery. It states:Alcohol, even in small amounts, makes you less safe on the roads. Be sure you are fit to use them.I will not repeat the criticism which I made of those words before, but I still think that the Minister might have made them stronger.
We have heard of the difficulty of getting juries and benches of magistrates to convict on this and other road offences, and, when convictions are secured, of getting substantial penalties imposed. It has been said that magistrates are not imposing the present maximum penalties, and how, then, can one expect them to impose heavier penalties merely by raising the maximum penalty which can be imposed?
I think that there is something in autosuggestion, and that benches of magistrates may become used to a higher scale of penalties. They may not come up to a new maximum, any more than they did to the old in a number of cases. But they may say, "Well, now the maximum is higher, our financial penalties will be correspondingly increased." So I do not think it is quite as useless to increase the penalties as several hon. Members have suggested.
Another point has been referred to regarding the ultimate penalty between a driver who is driving perhaps for pleasure—at least he is not earning his living by driving—and a driver of a commercial vehicle for whom a penalty imposed by a court, especially if his licence is suspended, extends perhaps to some interruption in his earning capacity, or drives him to accept another job at a lower wage. It would seem to me that those who earn their living by driving motor vehicles should be the more careful and avoid transgression because the ultimate penalty may be more severe in their case.
After all, they use the roads more frequently than other people, and there is a greater mathematical risk attaching to their activities than in the case of the occasional driver. I know that it is irksome to our sense of justice that the driver 1091 of a commercial vehicle whose licence is suspended may be put out of a job or have to find another job; while a company director, for example, who is convicted of an equally serious offence and has his license suspended, immediately employs a chauffeur to drive him.
I heard of one case of a company director who even asked the local Income Tax office to treat the expense of his chauffeur as a deduction from his director's fees for taxation purposes. There is no end to the impudence of some people. The man evidently thought that if he could get tax relief on the additional expense, it would lessen the financial burden of his penalty.
Those on the road must do all that is necessary to observe the law. There may be varying degrees of severity in the total penalty, according to the personal circumstances of individual offenders. But we cannot do anything about that. They must calculate the risk for themselves.
That is all I wish to say about drink, except to comment on how dreadful it seems to see, at about closing time, an accumulation of motor cars standing outside public houses. One knows that people are drinking and that they will later be driving, and one wonders what the public would say if bus drivers were to come out of the "pubs" in shoals, climb into their buses, and drive off with passengers aboard. Yet private motorists, apparently, feel free to indulge themselves in that way, and then launch themselves on the road, when very frequently they are not in a fit state to cope with any emergency which may arise, and when, in some cases, they are not even in a fit state to drive a car properly.
The way in which people allow dogs to wander about the road creates a constant risk for motorists. That, I think, is a matter which requires greater attention. The way in which many people in this country keep their domestic pets is no credit whatever to Britain as an animal-loving nation. They just turn a pet out of the house to risk its own life and the lives of motorists and others—even pedestrians.
When a dog shoots across the road there is little chance for the motorist. He has an impulse to apply his brakes which it is almost impossible to resist. It is very difficult to steel oneself and say," I drive 1092 on. If the dog is under the car, so much the worse for the dog, but I am going on. I will not swerve, I will not brake suddenly."
We have all had that kind of experience, and we know the great difficulty of controlling the car, because we are so solicitous for the well-being of the animal. Sometimes, when both dog and owner have had a narrow escape, the owner comes up with a reproachful look for the motorist and a pat and a smile for the dog, as though on the whole he thinks the world very unkind to dogs—even when they run across the road. I consider that we should be more severe in our attitude to wandering dogs and to dog owners, especially those gentlemen who emerge from their homes at about dusk, placidly smoking a pipe and taking the dog for a walk, and who are not very careful about where the dog goes.
§ Mr. Houghton
It is the worst time of day upon the roads, yet it is just about that time that, so frequently, more dogs are let loose.
I was astonished to learn recently that while an owner of animals must fence them in so as to prevent damage to the property of neighbours, no such legal obligation is placed upon him to prevent them straying upon the highway. I do not know whether I am right or wrong about this, but it was stated to me to be one of the legal antiquities of this country that an owner of land is not bound to fence his animals in so as to prevent them from getting on to the road, that being based upon the ancient right of animals to have the free use of the Queen's highway.
I am not suggesting that we should enforce the erection of fences right across the moors in my constituency, or right through the New Forest, because plain warnings are erected in those places about the risk of animals being upon the road. In areas where motorists may not expect to meet any danger of that kind, and yet where animals may be left to graze, however, it seems strange that no obligation is placed upon the owner of such animals to keep them from straying on to the roads, where they can be a danger to pedestrians and motorists. That point may be worth considering.
1093 I now turn to the distractions to motorists which were mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, East. If there were as many distractions to the drivers of railway engines as there are to motorists, our railways would not be as safe as they are. There seem to be even more and more winking lights, neon signs and brilliantly lit shop windows and the lighting of such windows—is often more distracting than the dazzle of an approaching car. As one approaches our larger towns and cities today one encounters myriads of lights of various kinds, which make it extremely difficult to pick out traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, and so on.
I do not know whether any statutory power is placed in anybody's hands to prevent shop windows from acting as searchlights, as some of them literally do. It is extremely difficult for the motorist to drive along such roads, especially at night, when he may encounter a patch of road which is dark and then another stretch which is brilliantly lighted by shop windows, the owners of which naturally want passers-by to look in after shopping hours.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
Before my hon. Friend leaves the question of distractions, would he care to say a word about possible distractions inside the vehicle?
§ Mr. Houghton
When I saw my hon. Friend take his seat upon the Front Bench below the Gangway I thought that he was up to some mischief. I do not know whether he is inviting me to talk about girl friends and other distractions inside the car, but if he is, there is no doubt—one sees these things for oneself—that drivers sometimes think that they can drive with one arm, especially when they have a pleasant use for the other. That is just as dangerous as any other monkey tricks that motorists get up to.
We are bound to deal with these matters in a rather odd assortment, because that is how they appear in the Bill. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have probably received representations from organisations of commercial travellers, expressing the fear that in the ordinary course of their work of calling upon customers they may be compelled to make use of parking meters, or parking places where meters are installed, as a consequence of which their expenses will increase.
1094 I understood the Minister to state that such parking places would not be sited in business centres, or where he expected people to leave their cars only for a short time. I mention this point only because commercial travellers have expressed some fear about it. I understand from the Bill that local authorities will have to make proposals in relation to the siting of these parking places, and all relevant factors will no doubt be taken into account in arriving at an ultimate decision.
This is a welcome Bill, as far as it goes. It does a lot. Had it tried to do much more it probably would have achieved less. We have to legislate by instalments on this difficult matter, about which emotions are aroused and many interests are brought to bear upon our work in this House. We have to deal piecemeal with this sort of legislation. We deal with the Highway Code at one time, a Road Traffic Bill at another time, a road building and reconstruction programme at another time, and, at yet another time, the kind of roads which we shall have. It is sometimes difficult to bring all these matters together and say, "This is the grand panorama of our policy upon road transport, road safety and road construction." The Bill is an important factor in the total work, and I am sure that it will receive the favourable consideration of the House.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Major Sir Roger Conant (Rutland and Stamford)
I fully agree with the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) about the danger of dogs on the highway. According to my reading of the accident statistics, about three times as many accidents were caused by dogs as by inebriated drivers. That is an interesting fact, but I am not sure what we can do about it. I do not think that we can send the owners of loose dogs to prison. Probably all that we can do is to commend them to keep their dogs more under control than they do at present.
Every hon. Member to whom I have listened this afternoon has expressed a qualified approval for the Bill, and I do so myself. It makes a contribution—though not a large one—towards solving the problem of road safety and the relief of congestion. I do not think that anybody feels that we can expect any substantial lowering of the accident figures 1095 by any one Measure which we can take. Probably the greatest single act which would contribute to the reduction of the number of accidents would be the spending of several more million pounds upon our roads. I am glad that my right hon. Friend has made a beginning with that, and I hope that he will soon be able to let me know his decision about the borough of Stamford, in my constituency, upon which we have had a very lengthy correspondence.
Probably the most controversial of all the proposals in the Bill is that which relates to testing stations. We should all agree about the very great importance of ensuring that our roads are reserved for roadworthy vehicles, and the importance of that requirement is not at all diminished by the fact that the number of accidents which have been caused by vehicles which were mechanically deficient forms a very small proportion of the total; it is about 11 per cent. We must take every possible step to see that only roadworthy vehicles are allowed upon the roads, but I am quite sure that a solution of this problem will not be achieved by setting up a chain of testing stations throughout the country.
I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend express that view this afternoon—if I did hear him so express it. If that is so, however, I cannot quite see the object of the experiments which he is going to carry out in connection with testing. There is no need to experiment in order to find out whether the necessity for drivers to produce certificates of roadworthiness will reduce accidents, because it obviously will. One cannot test motor vehicles like atom bombs to see whether they go off, or like groundnuts to see if they grow, so what is the purpose of setting up a testing station upon a voluntary basis, to see whether people will use it? I am sure we should be wise to try to solve the problem of unroadworthy vehicles either through the insurance companies or by extending the powers which already exist for stopping vehicles and checking them on the road. I doubt if the proposal for designated garages is practicable, though it ought to be considered.
We depend to a large extent upon statistics in everything we do in connection with road safety. Would it not be possible to have statistics a little less 1096 elaborate and a little more up to date than those which are at present available and which relate to road accidents in 1952. They relate to three years ago and are extraordinarily interesting historically, but they have not much relevance to the position last year. I suggest that we might have a very much shortened form of statistics to ensure that we know what is happening on the roads.
I was opposed to putting parking meters on the roads when first I heard of the proposal, but after listening to my right hon. Friend's explanation I think the experiment will be worth while. I hope he will go slowly and will not try to impose parking meters in too many parts of the country. Parking meters will not of themselves create parking space, but it is possible, as the Minister suggested, that people who park their cars all day will be persuaded by the existence of the parking meter to put their cars in a garage.
There is the chance that the institution of parking meters will lead to a sort of musical chairs. The long-term parker will be replaced by the short-term parker moving from another street. It will be an interesting experiment in finding out whether we can persuade the long-term parker to put his car into a garage and whether more garages will appear as the result of this proposal.
I want now to refer to a matter which has not much relevance to road safety but which should, I think, find a place in the Bill. It concerns the minimum age-limit for driving motor vehicles. I think I am right in saying that it is 17 years for motor cars and 16 for motor cycles. In my part of the world, Lincolnshire and Rutland, many young men of 16 and even younger are extremely efficient at driving farm tractors. They carry out the most difficult evolutions on the farm with tractors during the day, but when it is time to go home an older man has to take over to take the tractor home. The lads then get on their motor bicycle, if they have one, and are allowed to travel around the country roads at any pace they like. It would be a great convenience both to drivers and to farmers if this anomaly could be adjusted, and the age for driving a farm tractor be put down to that for driving a motor cycle. There may be difficulties, but they should not prove insoluble.
1097 Finally I want to say a word about penalties: I do not think that financial penalties have much effect on the commission of offences. I do not think that a driver would travel more slowly if he is told that he can be fined £30 for going at 31 miles an hour after this Bill is law instead of £20 as now. He probably knows that the average penalty inflicted in 1952 was about 43s. The question arises whether Parliament ought to lay down a minimum penalty for some motoring offences. It would not be a revolutionary step to take. We impose a minimum in the sense that we impose disqualification and insist that for certain offences the licences can be taken away, except where special circumstances exist, and no one quite knows what that means.
I am not in favour of Parliament imposing a minimum punishment. In the case of speeding there may be a great variety of mitigating circumstances. Almost every built-up area may be driven through in perfect safety at more than 30 miles an hour for three parts of the 24 hours and for the rest of the time it may well be dangerous to drive at more than 15 miles an hour. A bench considering what penalty to impose should therefore have a wide discretion in considering what punishment to inflict. That is not the same as saying that the fines now imposed are sufficient to restrict the commission of offences. I do not think they are.
I believe the Bill will, on the whole, do something to increase road safety, but it is capable of improvement and I hope it will receive considerable improvement when it goes to Committee.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)
The Bill might better have been entitled the" Road Safety Bill "instead of the" Road Traffic Bill. "We could have confined ourselves precisely to questions of road safety. How far will the present Bill achieve that objective?
Many Clauses are far too sketchy for us to say whether they will be effective or not. The fact that the Bill contains an element of compulsion for all road users, including cyclists and pedestrians, is good. Every person using the roads must do so with a sense of responsibility. For far too long the motorist has had to accept responsibility while others were 1098 not expected to do so. Not infrequently, accidents are caused by the carelessness not of motorists but of other road users. The Bill will seek to bring some measure of compulsion upon them all, not unreasonably but in a reasonable way, which is a good thing to do.
I have every sympathy with the proposal for inspection of motor vehicles. I speak as an engineer in saying I am somewhat concerned how effect will be given to that proposal. What is the test for an efficient brake? Motor manufacturers have been asking the Ministry that question for years, and all they can get is the answer that a vehicle must stop in a reasonable distance on a given road surface. That is all we get, something that is "reasonable." When we ask what is meant by "reasonable" we get no answer. We must deal sooner or later with this question of the efficiency of vehicles.
The main element that will be tested will be the efficiency of the braking system. Next will be steering, to a less extent. Let me relate a little story, which the Parliamentary Secretary will recollect. He and I underwent a voluntary road test in my constituency. He had a Ministerial car, and the result in his case was good. I went on immediately afterwards, and the result of the test showed that my motor car was much better than his. That car had every appearance of having efficient brakes. What follows is a little technical, but I hope the House will forgive me because it is very important and I have to pinpoint the difficulties in the testing of the efficiency of brakes.
I had been concerned for some time because my brake linings seemed to be wearing for a very long time indeed. As a matter of interest very soon after the test I told the garage people to remove the brake drums to discover how good the linings really were. They found that there were no brake linings on the shoes at all; just the bare shoe rubbing on the inside of the drum—something which the motor manufacturers said was not possible. There was an apparently good brake, which had given better results than the brakes of the Ministerial car, yet anyone examining it would say that it was hopelessly inefficient.
That means that in order to test the efficiency of a braking system the 1099 examiner will need to test not only the pulling-up distance and so on, but the condition of the brakes themselves. He will have to remove the wheels, examine the brake drums and look at the condition of the linings on the shoes. It will take him quite a long time. I am not at all deprecating the idea of tests. I merely want to show what is involved.
Quite apart from motor-cycles, we shall shortly have five million motor vehicles on the roads. They will all have to be examined each year. Nothing less than a yearly inspection would be worth the trouble—I am not sure that even a yearly inspection is necessarily the answer. Each vehicle will occupy the examiner for from two to four hours if it is to be examined properly. That will involve the employment of between 10,000 and 15,000 persons. Those figures can be worked out mathematically; a 40-hour week, 50 weeks in a year—by taking the number of vehicles the Minister can easily work out how many people he will need for that job.
Where are they to come from? The examiners we now have for public service vehicles are relatively limited in number. They are very highly skilled, highly qualified and highly responsible people. From my experience in the industry I cannot speak too highly of their work. But the demands of the engineering industry cannot at present be supplied from the labour market, and where we shall find 10,000 to 15,000 qualified people to do this work I do not know.
Further, if the job is to be done efficiently it will involve a division and an allocation of labour—and unless the job is done efficiently it had better be left alone. It must not be left to chance. That is the sort of thing which I hope the Minister will be able to say he has in mind when bringing this testing into operation. I would welcome it. I believe that those who really look after their cars deserve to have the fact stated; those who do not look after them should not be on the road.
Testing of vehicles will not be the only thing. It is probably a good thing to establish a 30-m.p.h. speed limit in built-up areas, but even there I am not sure that the French system is not better. In France there is a speed limit which varies according to the conditions of the 1100 areas through which one travels. In Britain there are some areas where the limit should be 30 m.p.h.—in some built-up areas it could even be 40 m.p.h. In others it should come down to 15 or 20 m.p.h., and it should be an offence in that area to drive above that speed.
A vital point is that in an area there should be a universal speed limit. What is the greatest cause of accidents in a built-up area? It is the driver of a vehicle entitled to travel at 30 m.p.h. trying to pass one entitled to travel at only 20 m.p.h. He is legally entitled to do so, but he has to have regard to oncoming traffic, and he does not always have sufficient regard to that.
There should be a universal speed limit in built-up areas so that the traffic is all travelling at the same speed—when the road is clear—and there is not the invitation to the faster-travelling vehicle to overtake the slower one. Such a universal road speed would considerably lessen the accident rates in built-up areas.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
I am sorry to interrupt, but I thought that my hon. Friend was speaking at cross-purposes with himself. He first speaks of a practice where the maximum speed in built-up areas varies between 20 m.p.h. and 40 m.p.h., and then advocates some kind of universal balance between the heavy vehicle permitted to travel at 20 m.p.h. and the other types of vehicle which can travel at 30 m.p.h. Surely, if the driver does not know at which speed he can travel he will be in difficulty?
§ Mr. Pargiter
I found that in France, which has the variable speed limit, the speed which was permitted in an area was prominently displayed and that as long as one was driving properly the sign could not be missed. Obviously there must be a sign which is readily seen by passing traffic. In this country it is relatively easy because we have so many road refuges. By having a sign on each side of the road and one on a refuge in the middle there would be adequate opportunity for drivers to see the permitted speed. I am quite satisfied that, within those limits, there could be a universal limit. It would be generally applied and there would not be the encouragement of one vehicle to try to pass another which was travelling at its proper maximum speed.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I should be happy, as a matter of fact, if the limit were brought down to 20 m.p.h., because that would raise such an outcry that people would say that something must be done about it. But I am not arguing that point. What I am saying is that the cause of accidents is the fact that we have two sets of vehicles, one allowed to move faster than the other and therefore wishing to pass the slower-moving vehicles. That is a principal cause of accidents in our built-up areas.
Another question mentioned in another place was that of increased penalties for offences on the roads, particularly speeding offences. It was said in another place that the law must be made effective. The position at the moment is that the law is not effective, and merely to increase the fines which could be inflicted for speeding would not necessarily make it effective.
I understand that the Lord Chancellor gave a specific promise that he would investigate the question that the law should be brought into proper repute and should no longer be in disrepute, as it is on the majority of our main roads today. If we are to have an effective speed limit, it ought to be one which we feel should be properly observed. No one today attempts to see that the law is observed on the main roads of this country. I am referring to the speed of heavy vehicles in de-restricted areas. I am not arguing the question whether they should be travelling at 20 m.p.h. or 40 m.p.h. This is a question of the speed at which they are in fact travelling, and the police have said that it is quite impossible for them to enforce the present law in this respect on the open roads of Britain.
That in itself is an admission which, I should have thought, warrants more serious consideration in the Bill than the mere increase of penalties which in any case are not inflicted. First of all, we have to catch the offender before we inflict the penalty, and if he is not being caught, or if these offences are being permitted—as they are at present—then there is little point in merely increasing the penalties.
1102 It seems to me that at some stage someone should bring the law into repute. Either the present law must be properly enforced or the law must be altered in such a way that it can be properly enforced. I am not arguing one way or the other, but—
§ Mr. Pargiter
If my hon. Friend wants the argument, I will say that the average heavy vehicle driver finds it more convenient, less fatiguing and no less safe to drive at 30 m.p.h. on the open road than at 20 m.p.h.
§ Mr. Keenan
My hon. Friend has switched his argument. Previously he was advocating 20 m.p.h. and now he is suggesting 30 m.p.h. for heavy goods vehicles. This is another argument.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I did not refer to any type of vehicle. Earlier I referred to vehicles en masse, and I was dealing then with the question of what speed ought to be allowed. I next came to the entirely separate question of inflicting penalties on people who exceed the speed limit, and I dealt with the fact that the law is being flagrantly broken and will continue to be broken and that the law must pay regard to modern conditions. That is the cause of the trouble.
When I say that the average heavy vehicle driver finds it less fatiguing to drive at 30 m.p.h. on the open roads than at 20 m.p.h., that is true. He has far less fatigue, for instance, in gear changing. The vehicle travels with more momentum and at an easier speed. Incidentally, the braking power of the average heavy vehicle, even fully laden, is very much better than that of the average motor car. From every point of view, therefore, there is something to be said for my argument. The law ought to be enforced and penalties ought to be applied, but they must be applied in a realistic manner. We shall be interested to see what the Minister has to say later in the Bill following the promises made on this point by the Lord Chancellor in another place.
I do not believe that, with the increasing number of vehicles on the road, we shall materially improve road safety unless we proceed with great speed with the new road programme which has been promised. Frankly, I think that the implementation of the Government's 1103 promises will be far too slow. This is fairly well established: if we have a good road system, then without travelling at a very high speed we can maintain fairly high average speeds—and that, after all, is the important factor.
If one has a clear road which is properly constructed for the traffic it has to carry, one does not need to travel at 70 or 80 m.p.h.—one frequently does not have to exceed 50 m.p.h.—to maintain an average speed of 35 miles an hour, or even more. That is the experience in regard to American highways constructed for the purpose. One can achieve high average speeds without relatively very high dangerous speed in sections of the road. Hon. Members, from their own experience of travel from London to Manchester, or London to York—any long distance—know that to maintain an average of even 30 m.p.h. one has to travel at more than 60 m.p.h. on long stretches of the route. There is something wrong with a road system which creates those conditions.
I hope the Minister will look at the problem not only from the point of view of the Road Traffic Bill but also of road safety and get on with the programme for the roads, because I am satisfied that whatever we do under this Bill is largely a question of palliatives compared with what could be done if a proper road system were established.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
My right hon. Friend, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, made it clear that the Government would especially welcome the wisdom and experience of hon. Members in dealing with it through its various stages. I am sure that that is a viewpoint we all welcome. Quite irrespective of our otherwise party political differences, we can all join in doing our best to further something which, we all hope, will help the cause of road safety.
My right hon. Friend also said he was not introducing panic legislation but, to use his words, was bringing forward legislation to deal with the practical necessities of the situation. What I call the practical necessities of the situation are 5,000 people every year killed on the roads and 250,000 injured in one degree or another. It is difficult to assess figures in one's 1104 mind because in this House we are always dealing with figures and get so used to them. Perhaps we should look at these casualties as the population of a town of a quarter of a million inhabitants, and visualise that at the end of one year every person in that town had been injured in one way or another. That is an appalling prospect, but it is what happens in this country each year. That fact cannot be repeated too often. If I am in order in mentioning it, it is interesting to note that whilst we deplore the fact that 5,000 people are killed on our roads, 1,000 more—6,000 a year—are killed in their homes through accidents at home. That is a matter to which perhaps attention may be given in this House some time in the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), in a maiden speech which I am sure we all found interesting and enjoyed very much. drew attention to the fact that, thanks be, casualty figures have not got any worse since before the war, despite the large increase in the number of vehicles using the roads and the larger number of holders of driving licences. That is a matter for thankfulness, but not a matter for complacency. Five thousand is still 5,000 too many. I am one who believes we can still reduce that figure very considerably and that we do not have to accept it, either in its present comparison with the number of vehicles on the roads, or any future number. It is an indication of the fact that we have not yet solved this problem; but, as in the case of many other recalcitrant problems, we can solve it.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
Is my hon. Friend correct in saying that there has not been an improvement? In 1932, with 2,227,000 vehicles on the roads, there were 6,000 casualties, and in 1953, with 5,282,000 vehicles, there were 5,000 casualties. Actually the figures are a little less, although the number of cars has doubled. The number of deaths is almost the same. Therefore, in proportion to the number of vehicles, the number of deaths must have been halved.
§ Mr. Cole
That is just the point I was making.
It is a cause for thankfulness that present-day casualties have not risen to the same extent as the number of 1105 vehicles; I am glad to hear it. But the figure of 5,000 has remained undesirably static for the last few years. It is not getting any better. With great respect to my hon. Friend, I would say that comparisons are odious when people are dead.
One point which stems from Clause 1 and which has not been referred to very much in the debate is the matter of lighting and dazzle. It is one of the three points which are to be considered in testing—braking, steering and lighting. While there might be two opinions about braking, there are not two opinions in one's mind if one is dazzled when driving at night. If one is dazzled and an accident is caused, the result is there.
§ Mr. Cole
I hope, therefore, that we shall retain the powers, irrespective of how they may be defined, which are implicit in Clause 1, to help us to deal with the problem of dazzle in particular, and to help us, when the report of the International Committee on the question of lighting is available, to implement its recommendations, so far as the House wishes, by virtue of the powers in Clause 1.
Dazzle is very insidious. It frequently causes accidents. One of the difficulties is that it is not possible to assess it afterwards. Most motorists, when they stop after being involved in an accident, turn off their headlights. If one is an unfortunate party in an accident, the chances are that the focus of the lights will have been moved or changed, and it is impossible to test them afterwards. if there is doubt as to whether the lights of a car, even though the focus has not been moved, has caused dazzle, it is necessary to go hundreds of yards along the road to test for dazzle and it is of no use simply to stand beside the lights.
I doubt very much whether there is any real way, apart from the experience of the motorist on the road, of proving subsequently by evidence whether dazzle was caused by another motorist and that he ought to have done something to prevent it. I wonder in how many cases it has proved that motorists did not dip their headlights, apart from any question of the 1106 absence of dipping mechanism, or that dazzle was caused.
Any hon. Member who has driven 40 or 50 miles along an arterial road at night will know that when driving hour after hour on a long journey, the continual strain of headlights coming from the opposite direction means that sooner or later, if one is faced with an emergency after driving for several hours under the stress of being dazzled by approaching cars, the possibility of falling short of what is required is much greater than in daylight.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend that when the recommendations from the International Committee, or from any other source, are available, we should try to do something about this matter of dazzle. For seven months of every year we have more darkness than daylight, and people use the roads in those months as well as in the lighter summer months. The problem of lighting and dazzle has been too much neglected in the past, and there is much that we can do to solve our problems in that connection.
I should like to repeat something which I have said before and which, I hope, I shall continue to say, because I believe it is very true. My right hon. Friend the Minister, in introducing the Bill, said that legislation could only go so far. That is very true. The real foundation of the solution to the whole problem is education and more education all the time, not only of the schoolchildren but also adults. After all, grown-ups have a right to live out the rest of their natural lives, and they too must be educated. That is why I am so pleased to see a Clause in the Bill making it clear that local authorities can spend money on safety propaganda.
By spending money on safety propaganda we may produce much better results with regard to accidents than by spending money in any other direction. I am glad to notice that 3 million copies of the Highway Code have been sold. Apart from that success, which means that people are willing to buy the Code, it means that by taking the trouble to acquire it the public want to find out what is the right way to exercise good manners on the road. I believe that we are getting some of this education, but like so much in education, we have a long way yet to go.
1107 I should like to endorse—and in one way I am sorry that the hon. Member beat me to it—what the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) said about the Title of the Bill. It is a small point, but it is all part of the same campaign of educating the public. I should like to see the Bill called, the Road Safety Bill, and I think I should be right in saying that it would be the first Bill on the Statute Book with such a title. I think that this would be part of the propaganda for the public. Instead of talking to one's constituents about the Road Traffic Bill, which might mean anything in the world, we should be talking about the Road Safety Bill, which would at least show them that we in this House were taking a great interest in this matter.
There is one final point on the question of education which I wish to make. Most of the accidents, involving either pedestrians or motorists, occur from one cause, which I shall describe as the unguarded moment. When I was driving recently in my constituency, I saw a man run along the road to catch a bus stopping on the other side. I knew what he wanted to do, and so I slowed down and waited for him. That was his unguarded moment. His whole fixation was on catching that bus, and he was not guarding against the danger of encountering any car on the road.
If we can, by education, inculcate unconscious good manners, unconscious good habits, into all users of our roads, whether pedestrians or motorists, if we can show them the need to behave properly and sensibly on the roads, in their own interests and those of other people, we shall achieve more for safety on the roads than we can achieve by all the legislation in the world.
We shall have to look at many points of this Bill in Committee, but I commend my right hon. Friend for bringing it forward. I wish the Bill well, and I hope that it will assist the cause with which we are here concerned.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) for bringing to the attention of the House, in a very graphic illustration, the magnitude of this problem which is still facing us. The tremendous number of 1108 people killed and maimed on our roads is a continuous problem, and it is right that we should devote a fair amount of our time to the consideration of it.
As a railwayman, I cannot help thinking what would be the outcry if anything like this number of people were killed or maimed on the railways. There would be scores of Questions on the Order Paper. We should have to contend in this House with something entirely different from what is done in connection with this awful loss which we are experiencing on the roads of this country.
This is undoubtedly a hotchpotch of a Bill, but I can understand that from time to time it is necessary for a Government Department to produce such a Bill. So I am not going to criticise the Bill on the grounds of its being a hotchpotch of a Bill. If I have any criticism to make of the Minister it is that in having it presented in another place he did not think it out beforehand. He did not give sufficient time to considering some of the problems involved, and he has not presented to this House, or enabled another place to be presented, with facts and figures to justify some of the Clauses of the Bill. I support what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedfordshire, South said about its being the job of everyone in this House to do everything in his power to make this a better Bill, having regard to the necessity for a greater degree of road safety.
When the Minister was moving the Motion for Second Reading, I was particularly struck by the timing of his announcement of the abolition of the Road Fund. He made that announcement today. I wondered whether he waited until the time or about the time of the resignation of the Prime Minister before making it. Did the Prime Minister want to retain the Road Fund in case he might want to make another raid on it? Now the Prime Minister has gone, and apparently no such raid is now necessary. The Prime Minister has gone and the Road Fund looks like going. I am certain we all regret the fact that the Prime Minister has decided to resign. I do, at any rate. However, I do not regret the passing of the Road Fund. It is a fiction, and it is right that it should disappear.
I give general support to the idea of the examination of motor vehicles used on the roads, and I do so especially from 1109 the pedestrians' point of view. After all, each and every one of those vehicles is a dangerous man-killing weapon, and there is a considerable increase in the lethal power of that weapon if it is not in an efficient condition to be driven. There are drivers who do take the chance of taking on to the roads unfit vehicles. There is no doubt at all about that. Many of them, too many of them, as we all know, are taking that risk. They are doing what they would call "chancing their arm," but chancing their arm is chancing other people's lives, and that is what matters.
I agree with those who have said that the spot check is very valuable. I regard the spot check as a very valuable power for the authorities, but my experience as a magistrate shows that the risk of a spot check is not sufficient to cause people to keep their vehicles in a reasonable state of road worthiness. In far too many of the cases I have seen in the courts the bad conditions of vehicles were found not as the result of spot checks, but as the result of accidents in which the vehicles had been involved. There is far too little use made of the existing spot check. Nevertheless, whatever spot check we have we shall always have the crazy driver who will chance his arm and other people's lives at the same time. Therefore, I think that the spot check should be additional to and not in substitution of regular examination of vehicles.
It is necessary for some further light to be thrown upon the manpower and equipment necessary for the task of examination. There is a great body of experience of this type of checking in the United States of America and elsewhere from which we could learn. Two States of the United States, it is true, have dropped it, but there must be in America a good deal of information about this business of checking vehicles, about the problems involved in checking, about the kind of equipment necessary for the job, and so on.
I should have thought that before bringing the Bill to this House the Minister would have been able to obtain some information on this point from his own experts and that he certainly would have been able to obtain the valuable amount of information that exists abroad. I understand that there are testing stations in this country in private hands. If that 1110 is so, I should have thought that it would have been possible to have secured from those who have been running them some information about their experience.
I am particularly anxious that the Minister should do something about this before we come to the Committee stage. We have had a tremendous variety of suggestions about the number of men that would be involved in these tests. One estimate made in another place of the number of men required for examination of all vehicles was 100,000, but my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) has said that he thought the number would be between 10,000 and 15,000. There is a wide disparity between those two sets of figures. I should have thought that, by obtaining some idea of existing experience, it would have been possible to obtain a figure on which we could work and come to a decision in Committee.
As to what has been said about dazzle, I am quite a new car driver and owner and I find it very disconcerting when I have dipped my headlights that motor drivers approaching me dip their lights and then flash them up as though my lights were not dipped. It seems quite obvious that motor car headlights are not standardised in respect of dipping. My lights seem to me to be fairly good and are comfortable to me when they are dipped but there must be some element of dazzle in them which other people approaching me find very disconcerting. We should try to have some standard applied first to vehicles leaving the factory and subsequently to vehicles leaving an examination bench before they actually go on the roads.
We really must try to obtain data in connection with the provisions of Clause 1. I certainly do not agree with the statistics which have been produced to the effect that only about 2,500 accidents are caused through vehicles being in an unroadworthy condition. I have sat in court and have listened for hour after hour to evidence given in cases involving accidents on the road. One often finds tremendous difficulty in deciding what caused the accident. I wonder whether some of the doubtful decisions eventually given are used in the statistics which are produced on this subject. I have said before in this House that sometimes the only conclusion that I have come to after 1111 hearing all the evidence given in cases where two vehicles have been in collision has been that the collision must have taken place between stationary vehicles.
I support very strongly the proposed amendment of the law concerning provisional driving licences. In that connection I take the opportunity of saying a few words in praise of the examiners who conduct driving tests. I have listened on previous occasions in the House to a lot of nonsense talked about the tests and to stories of trick questions and trick driving manoeuvres. Outside this House I have usually found that to have been an explanation of failure to pass the test. It is harmless, I suppose, but it really is undermining the necessary part that these people play in producing high driving standards.
In regard to my own recent experience in passing the test—the first time I failed miserably, and the next time I passed—I must say that on both occasions I had questions put to me which I regarded as absolutely fair. I was put through driving manoeuvres which, in my opinion, tested my ability to handle that car on the road in a reasonable way. If I had passed the first time, I would have regarded the examiner as being a nincompoop who did not know his job, and, if I had failed the second time, I should have regarded myself as a nincompoop and incapable of learning. The tests were absolutely fair, and I should like to pay my tribute to these people, whom I regard as doing a first-class job of work.
I end in very much the same way as I started, in having some doubts about the Bill and many things connected with it, except the fact that we can improve it during the Committee stage, and I am sure that, on both sides of the House, hon. Members will devote their energies to that end.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
I think everyone will agree that we have had today one of those valuable debates which we often enjoy when we are discussing something which is non-party, without the basic controversial ideological differences between us. We have had a number of extraordinarily interesting speeches on every aspect of road safety, far more on topics which are outside the Bill than in it.
1112 Nevertheless, we have had a general discussion on all the most important aspects of road safety and accidents, and if I emphasise the contribution of one particular hon. Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), it is only because he expressed my own views so adequately and so well that I wondered whether it was worth while my speaking in the debate at all. However, I desire to say a few things which I think ought to be said, and some things which I think the Minister ought to have said but has not said, and to express a few general observations about this Bill.
I agree with the criticism of the Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East. I have read it carefully and all the debates in the House of Lords, and I think it is perfectly true to say that this Bill is a jumble of unrelated ideas, ill-digested by the processes of thought, and strung together in a haphazard way. Nothing like enough thought has been given to many of these problems. The Minister seemed to be coming before us and saying, particularly in regard to the proposals in Clause 1, "Here is an idea which is good. I am not clear how it is going to work out. I am not going to tell you how much it will cost, or how we will proceed, but it is a good idea, and I leave it to the two Houses of Parliament to decide what the Government should do about it."
That really is a most irresponsible way of acting, and I think that both the Government and the Minister are worthy of severe censure for the manner in which they have handled this very important topic. It is not good enough. That view was expressed on all sides of the other House when the matter was debated there.
I want to confine my remarks largely to this particular problem which has been thrown before the House of Commons in such an unsatisfactory form—the problem of the inspection of cars—because I think it is extraordinarily important, and it is the one which raised the most controversy during the discussion today. We know that the Government themselves are unhappy about the Clause.
We were told on Third Reading in the other place by the noble Lord who was responsible for introducing and guiding 1113 the Bill through, that the Government were unhappy about it and proposed to do various things about it. They did not tell us what, and I hoped when we came to discuss the matter in this House that we would be told what the Government's intentions were. We have not been told, and all we know today is that we have a Clause in the Bill before us which the Government do not like and we do not know what the Government are going to do about it. It is unfair to the House, and I hope the Government, when we come to the Committee stage, will tell us in considerable detail what they propose to do and how they propose to carry out the provisions of this Clause.
One of my chief indictments of the right hon. Gentleman in regard to this Clause is that there is a strong case for a general inspection of vehicles on the road which he has not made here, nor was it made in the other place. I know this subject exceedingly well, because it so happens that I was chair man of a Departmental committee on which everybody concerned with road safety sat for weeks, and months and indeed years. We came to the conclusion on the evidence before us—and it was printed in our published report—that if there were a general inspection of vehicles in this country that might, and probably would, lead to a considerable reduction in our accident rate. That was our view in 1947.
It may be that conditions have changed and that as a result of experience in the United States and elsewhere, where a general inspection takes place, we may find it is not necessary today. I want to put before the House—and I hope the House will excuse me for doing so—some extracts from our report which shows that there is almost a conclusive case for a general inspection of vehicles and that it can be carried out without difficulty on a large scale.
I will be as brief as I possibly can, but I should like to read a paragraph or two from this interim report of 1944. This is what was said:The value of regular testing of motor vehicles has been widely recognised in the United States. We understand that up to 1940 seventeen States and fifteen Cities had set up compulsory testing stations in which more than eight and a half million motor vehicles"—1114 that is far more than exist in this country—were inspected from one to four times a year. The reduction of accidents which appears to have resulted in the States concerned is impressive. In New Jersey, for example, we understand that the pedestrian accident figures for the first 10 months of the year 1938 were down as compared with a similar period in 1937 and showed a reduction in the total number of accidents of 35 per cent.; 10 per cent. during daylight and 44 per cent. during hours of darkness. For the same period in 1938, of 1,699,155 rejections of vehicles presented for examination, about 800,000 were due to lighting faults and about 400,000 to brake faults: the probable connection between these particular rejections and the reduction in accidents during hours of darkness is clearly of considerable importance.Then later on there is a short description of a testing station which is set up officially, where there are about 20,000 vehicles for inspection. Travelling testing stations are sent out to country areas. The Report goes on:The stations are divided into lanes according to the size of the station and the number of vehicles with which the station is intended to deal; a one-lane station is sufficient for the inspection of 20,000 vehicles every six months, together with such re-inspection as may be necessary. Each lane is equipped with one or more machines for testing headlights, brakes, and wheel alignment, and a special corridor at the side of the lane is sometimes provided for the greater safety of pedestrians. Inspections are exhaustive, comprising examination and test of rear lights, horns, driving mirrors, etc., in addition to those items which can be properly tested by the use of special equipment. Two tests are compulsory each year, the fee for each test being 50 cents, and we understand that this basis of charge is usually sufficient to cover all current expenditure and to recoup initial outlay at a reasonable rate.Later on we quote an authoritative statement from the Motor Vehicle Inspection Manual, and adds:The same publication refers to the fact that whereas some statistics show that from three to five per cent. of accidents are caused by defective vehicle equipment, statistical analysis of vehicles with defective equipment by the State of Washington in 1938 indicated that defective vehicles were involved in 13.5 per cent. of accidents.Finally, I would like to quote this:The American authorities stress the need for obtaining public support for the system of compulsory tests and recommend that wide publicity should be given to the improved safety which results to the car owner and his family; the economies effected due to the early discovery of mechanical defects; the value of vehicle inspection in reducing accidents, etc.On that evidence we came to the conclusion that this would be a good thing to do here.
1115 I do not know whether meanwhile, since the war, there has been any contrary evidence to suggest that the system should be modified. I am told that two States which previously tested cars yearly no longer do so. I would like to know why. It may be that they had an economy campaign, or it may be that there were other good reasons. But we should like to know.
Unless we have good arguments and the country understands that they are good, up-to-date arguments for doing this, people will resent it. If we are convinced that such a system would tend to have a worthwhile and impressive effect in reducing road accidents, this House and the country would accept it, but not otherwise. My complaint is that the Government have not put the case before us, or given us all the available facts and figures sufficient to convince this House and the country that it is desirable. We wait for further evidence and arguments from the Government before accepting their point of view. If the Government can convince us, let them do so, but they have made little effort to do so up to the present.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East, that there is a great deal to be said for spot checking. But in my view it is useless by itself, unless it is done on such a large scale that we may as well deal with every vehicle on the road. Which vehicles are to be spotted? Is it to be one in ten, or one in a hundred? Who is to carry out the check? Are we to leave it to a policeman to decide? I believe that the public would have a feeling of resentment if they discovered that their own cars had been spotted and would ask, "Why my car? I keep it in perfectly good condition. Why not check my neighbour's car, he is not half as careful as I am."
We are told that according to statistics only 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. of the accidents are due to defective equipment. But what has not been mentioned by anyone, except the Government spokesman in another place, is that in the majority of cases where accidents occur there is no inspection, or practically no inspection, of the car equipment. Therefore, all the evidence in that regard is utterly useless.
1116 Indeed, such an inspection obviously would be difficult. After a serious accident a car is damaged. The steel-work is thrown out of alignment; lights may be turned round, and it is impossible to tell whether there was dazzle or whether this, that or the other occurred. It may be that we have not adequate facilities to carry out such inspections, but the fact is that there is practically no investigation after an accident. I suggest that we ought to consider this matter further and very carefully.
It would probably be undesirable, and even impossible, to try to check the efficiency of the equipment of every car, every year, straight away. That would be trying to do too much, and I would not support such a proposal, although it has been done upon a huge scale in the United States, at a cost equivalent to 10s. here. If every motorist paid 10s. the cost of this scheme would be covered—at least that was the calculation of the Ministry of Transport when I was in office. We could start by testing every car over a certain age, and could give such cars a yearly inspection.
Once the public is convinced that this is a really desirable scheme, which will save lives, it will welcome it. It will raise the general consciousness of the desirability of having good and efficient equipment. People do not bother to have their equipment checked—not because they are careless or criminal, but because they do not realise that it is inefficient. They do not realise that their lamps are causing dazzle, that their brakes are not all that they should be, or that their wheel alignment is not quite right.
This matter needs to be far more carefully considered than it has been up to now. During the Committee stage we should be given many more facts, so that we can consider objectively what is the need for such a general test, as well as for spot checks. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to bring to the Committee all the up-to-date information which is available to his Department. If he does that I am perfectly certain that the Committee will be prepared to consider the question with an open mind, and will agree with him if he makes out his case, which, so far, I honestly do not think he has done.
During the course of today's discussion much controversy has been aroused 1117 over the proposal for parking spaces and parking meters. I was at first prejudiced against the proposal, but I discovered that in every country where it had been tried there had always been a general reaction against it to begin with. People said, "It will not work; it is silly," and thought of every good argument for showing it would have harmful effects. When it was tried, however, in every case it was found not only to be successful but to be popular, and it has not been rejected anywhere; indeed, it has spread.
I have no idea whether it would be a success here, but it would be worth making the experiment. Conditions upon our roads are no different from those in other parts of the world; our cars are no different, and we have exactly the same parking problems. It has been found to be a convenience and, especially, to have prevented that great abuse of the highway, all-day parking—by somebody leaving his car in a certain place, going away to do his job, and not coming back until the evening—by making it an offence to park for more than one hour. I should therefore welcome an experiment, in a limited area, to see if it is a success. If it is not, we can give it up. I do not think that cars should be allowed to park for more than one hour, which is the period allowed in New York.
Controversy has also been aroused about the increased penalties for motoring offences. I share the view which has been generally expressed; I am doubtful whether this step will have any effect upon our road accident rate, or will indeed prevent a single accident. I feel that the Minister has said, "There is an outcry from people who see these accident figures that the penalties are not sufficient, and who complain that magistrates do not impose sufficient penalties, so let us show that we are doing something about it." He has therefore inserted a Clause increasing the penalties for exceeding the speed limit from £20 for the first offence to £30, and so on; but bearing in mind that the average penalty imposed for that offence is 50s., what is the use of increasing the maximum from £20 to £30?
§ Mr. Strauss
That is another matter—and I should not agree to that in any case. In how many cases during the past year was the £20 penalty imposed? We 1118 should probably find that there were hardly any. If that is so, what is the use of putting up the penalty from £20 to £30? If we think this will have an effect upon the number of accidents, why not put up the maximum penalties higher and higher?
In my view, the accident rate does not depend upon the degree of the maximum fine which the statute says can be imposed upon an offender. A careless driver might be slightly influenced by the normal fine which the offender knows he is likely to incur, but I doubt even that. Accidents are caused by somebody driving carelessly and dangerously because he is a bad citizen, or a careless driver. It is a different matter when we come to somebody driving when drunk.
What affects road accidents above everything else is the general consciousness among all users of the roads—motorists, cyclists and pedestrians—that the road is a dangerous place and that they must be on the look out at every moment on the road for possible accidents because accidents may occur if they do not do so. That is why I have always taken the view that the greatest contribution to road safety and to bringing down the awful accident rate is continuous and effective propaganda by Government, local authorities, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and everyone else in a position of influence.
That type of propaganda has had a remarkable effect on the minds of road users and has resulted in the accident figures today which, appalling as they are, are lower than they were in the year before the war. That is the main way to achieve our common objective. I am sure that the Minister agrees with it.
Small things will help. If they can save a few hundred or a few thousand lives in a year they are worth while. It may be that some of the proposals of the Bill, particularly the one about vehicle inspection, may have that effect, but do not let us think that machinery changes or changes in penalties are the most important. Most important is education, or propaganda—call it what we will—which must be effective and continuous, while varying in tone and emphasis.
When the Bill comes to Committee—if in the Parliamentary circumstances it 1119 ever gets there—there will be a large number of Amendments moved from all parts of the House, irrespective of party and obviously there will be a large number of new Clauses which hon. Members will try to insert in the Bill. We are as anxious on this side of the House as anybody to welcome any measure likely to diminish road accidents, and to help it to succeed quickly.
We will examine the Bill, contribute our views and criticisms, and do our utmost to make it a success. We hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that the Bill will be taken on the Floor of the House. We believe that it is a matter to which not necessarily a limited but a large number of hon. Members may have something to contribute. Whether or not that is so, the Minister can rely on the co-operation of Members on this side to do their utmost to make the Bill efficient and workable, and to ensure that it will really make a contribution in improving road conditions and reducing the frightful toll of road injuries and road deaths.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)
The speech to which we have just listened from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) showed his usual independence and vigorous approach to these problems. He speaks with a great knowledge gained as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, and I am not without hope that before I sit down I shall have convinced him that the Bill has been based very largely upon the conclusions at which he and his right hon. Friend arrived when they were at the Ministry of Transport.
The matters with which he dealt were just the matters with which I had intended to deal in my speech. I hope that hon. Members will excuse me if I do not deal with many points that have been raised. They may take it that everything that has been said will be most carefully considered. A number of those points can more appropriately be dealt with in Committee, but there are undoubtedly three or four issues raised by the Bill upon which the House will require some reassurance.
1120 In opening the debate for the Opposition, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) complained that my right hon. Friend did not know his own mind. He based that upon my right hon. Friend's statement that in his approach to this problem in general, and especially with regard to Clause 1, he was prepared to hearken to the views expressed by hon. Members. The hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan)—who has not always been entirely in sympathy with the views that I have expressed—went out of his way to say that on such a matter he thought my right hon. Friend was right not to present the House with a Bill in set form but to be prepared to listen to what hon. Members may say.
I am sure that he was right—and for this reason. It is impossible for any Minister of Transport to give general satisfaction by anything that he does. The members of the public approach these matters from such entirely different angles. There is, first, the general division of opinion between those who are primarily concerned with safety and those who are primarily concerned with mobility and speed. It would, of course, be possible to reduce road accidents, and indeed transport accidents, almost to nil if we were prepared to do away with motor cars and civil aviation. That is taking a very extreme line, but in point of fact in the administration of the Ministry of Transport in almost every issue that arises it is necessary to try to strike a balance between two views.
We are constantly being urged to improve the roads in order to facilitate the movement of traffic. That is a view with which I have the utmost sympathy. I have said on a number of occasions that hon. Members who argue for the improvement of roads in order both to speed traffic and to promote road safety are generally arguing for two incompatible things. There is a classic case in Belgium where a cobbled road was modernised and, as a result of its modernisation, the number of accidents rose by 300 per cent. Perhaps the only hon. Member who will accept those figures readily is the hon. Member for Kirkdale.
We have to try to strike a balance between the two, and in a matter of that kind it is entirely appropriate that Parliament should be asked to decide. It is 1121 not a political issue, it is not one of the matters on which the Government need commit themselves as to exactly where the balance is to be struck between the two.
It has been said in several speeches on both sides of the House that in another place it appeared as though the interests of the motorist were predominant. Now that the Bill has reached the House, I have no doubt that a fair balance will be struck between those who are chiefly concerned with the mobility of traffic and those who are concerned with the reduction of road accidents.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I do not want to be unduly contentious, but if this is not just an excuse for lack of leadership, can the hon. Gentleman say why the Government have been so long in producing the Bill? Why could we not have had it two or three years ago?
§ Mr. Molson
I gave way because I thought the hon. Member wanted to make a point on something which I had said on a matter of fact, but I will try to state the case generally.
§ Mr. Molson
I will try to explain the position about Clause 1. When Clause I was first published, it was interesting to see the reactions of the newspapers. The "Liverpool Daily Post," the "Star," the "Daily Telegraph," and the "Birmingham Post" all expressed the opinion that this provision for the compulsory testing of motor vehicles was very valuable. One paper, the "Sunday Express," took the contrary view. It is interesting to see that when the Bill was first introduced a very large majority of the newspapers felt that something ought to be done in this respect.
We took the matter up very largely for the reasons given by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall. We are quite convinced that a large number of accidents are either caused or at any rate partly caused by defects in vehicles. So 1122 far from a figure of 2 per cent. being a fair representation of the number of those accidents, on the advice of the Road Research Laboratory we believe that the figure is about 10 times that and amounts to about 20 per cent.
I want to say something about the way in which statistics are collected, especially in view of the very interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs). It is not possible to produce statistics speedily and at the same time to produce an accurate analysis of them. We have just produced the rough figures for the accidents of 1954, and we hope within the next fortnight or so to produce a detailed analysis of the accidents of 1953.
It arises out of the very nature of road accidents that when something unexpected happens a crowd collects and a policeman arrives, and it is quite impossible to arrive at any accurate explanation as to exactly how the accident occurred. The figure of 2 per cent. which is given is where, on a first impression, the sole, or main, or obvious, cause was a defect in the vehicle, and is very far from being the full story.
The Road Research Laboratory has conducted some tests. I think hon. Members, and certainly people outside, were surprised to find, when we published the Highway Code, that when a vehicle is travelling at 30 miles per hour on dry roads and the brakes are in good condition it takes 45 feet to draw up the vehicle. The Road Research Laboratory did not take that high standard, but took the standard for drawing up as 70 feet. Of the number of vehicles tested it was found that only 50 per cent. reached that lower standard, 10 per cent. could not stop within 100 feet, and 1 per cent. could not stop within 200 feet. We may take it that that is the general standard of the maintenance of brakes.
Several hon. Members, especially the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), spoke of the seriousness of dazzle as a contributory cause to accidents. Eighty per cent. of the vehicles tested had mis-aimed headlights. The hon. Member will forgive me asking a perhaps slightly playful question. He said that when driving his car he found oncoming vehicles flashed their lights at him. I suggest that perhaps he might be well advised to have his own headlights tested. That may be the explanation.
§ Mr. Champion
What caused me to say that was that my car was a new one, which had just come from the manufacturer, and I would take it for granted that the lights are in a reasonable condition and dip properly.
§ Mr. Molson
I hope that the hon. Member will have his headlights tested. If the lights on his brand new car are not correctly focused, he will have a complaint against the firm which sold the car to him.
§ Mr. Molson
Testing which is taking place in the United States of America at present appears to be serving a very useful purpose. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall asked for up-to-date figures. Fifteen States are now testing, 12 more have taken powers to do so in their cities, and two, including Maryland, stopped during the war because of manpower difficulties and have not resumed. The latest important State to start testing is Texas, which did so in 1952 with 3 million vehicles.
All told, about 14 million vehicles are subject to test in the United States of America. In the States where testing is compulsory the deaths per 100 million vehicle miles are substantially fewer. In all States without inspection the figure is 8 and in all States with vehicle testing it is only 6.4. With the knowledge of those figures, after careful thought, the Government decided to provide, in Clause 1 of the Bill, that there should be compulsory vehicle testing.
§ Mr. Molson
I should prefer to get on, because I have a lot to say.
When the Bill was introduced in another place, it was intended that that testing could be done in approved garages. That provision was taken out of the Bill. Therefore, if the Clause were to be worked as it is at present, it would involve the setting up of a large number of Government-owned, managed, and controlled, testing stations all over the country. My right hon. Friend made it quite plain that we are not prepared to work a scheme of that kind.
What is the alternative? My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), in a maiden speech 1124 which, I think, the whole House enjoyed, brought to our deliberations his long experience as a responsible official of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. He made two constructive suggestions. He asked whether we could not bring in the insurance companies in order that, as part of the third-party insurance scheme, there should be a requirement about the state of a vehicle. We have discussed it with the companies and so far we have not been successful in obtaining their co-operation.
My hon. Friend's second suggestion was that we should develop the spot check. In that he was taking the same line as a number of hon. Members who have spoken from all parts of the House. We certainly do not reject the idea of a spot check. We have it in operation at present for commercial vehicles, but we feel that many great difficulties are involved in the development of that idea.
The first difficulty is the exasperation which is caused to someone who is driving a vehicle and is suddenly held up when he is in a hurry and going on an urgent mission. The second is the lack of suitable personnel. It is necessary not only to have someone with considerable mechanical knowledge, but to have someone who is morally reliable. The hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) referred to this. We have the problem very much in mind, but we do not know how it can be solved.
Let me illustrate the kind of difficulties with which the Ministry of Transport is confronted. Take the case of driving tests. I am constantly receiving letters from hon. Members complaining that constituents have failed to pass the driving test. Not only the unsuccessful candidate, but his Member of Parliament, always seems to feel convinced that it was the person under test who was right and the examiner who was wrong.
At present, the failures are about 40 per cent. of those who take the tests. I am convinced—and I think it will be the view of most hon. Members who are concerned with road safety—that the standard of testing is not at the present time too high; and yet there is that perpetual political agitation against even the imposition of this test.
In the second place, despite all that we are doing, we are finding it difficult—impossible indeed—to recruit the neces- 1125 sary number of examiners of sufficiently high standard; and we are not prepared to drop the standard, because it is essential in a matter of that kind to have people upon whom we can rely. If that is the position with regard to examiners for driving tests, how are we to find the vastly increased number of people with greater mechanical knowledge who would be able to carry out these check tests upon the roads?
Thirdly, the spot checks obviously cannot be carried out in towns. There is complaint enough about traffic congestion at the present time, and if we begin to have a whole lot of check tests in towns, the position, which is difficult now, would become impossible. Fourthly, there is the difficulty of carrying out a satisfactory test upon the roads. It is necessary to have equipment, and it is extremely desirable that vehicles should go into a garage for the test.
I have said that the Government are anxious to arrive at a way of carrying out tests in order to improve the general standard of maintenance of cars upon the roads. I frankly recognise the difficulties which would be created by the proposal which we originally put forward. I have also put forward the difficulties that we see in the way of the spot check which has been advocated on both sides of the House.
I am anxious to secure the co-operation of the House and its help in these matters, and it occurs to me—without committing the Government in any way—that what might prove to be the best solution of this difficult problem is to combine something of all three ideas. These are, first, that the spot check should be carried out as best it can be, in order that there may be perpetual uncertainty and a driver may feel that at any time he may be asked to allow his vehicle to be tested. The second is the addition to the Bill which has already been made in another place, that a check be made upon the sale of second-hand cars, so that the purchaser can be assured that the car, when he buys it, is in roadworthy condition.
The third idea is the reintroduction into the Bill of what we originally put in, attaching to the renewal of the licence—and what I wish we had put in originally—the requirement of a test which should only apply to cars of a certain age, say, seven or 10 years old. What we actually 1126 had in mind was to apply the test in the first instance to pre-war cars, which at the present time would be 15 or 16 years old.
When I say that we have an open mind on all these matters, that does not mean that we have a vacant mind, and I have frankly stated what I believe to be the difficulties which we have to overcome. Unlike the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East, I believe that hon. Members can help us in the Committee stage by contributing their wisdom and experience.
In the matter of heavier penalties about which some hon. Members have spoken, I would say this. I think that feeling is widespread in the country that the penalties imposed by the courts for dangerous driving and driving by persons under the influence of drink are not in accordance with the gravity of the offences.
The liberty of the subject depends upon the Legislature keeping in its own sphere and upon the Executive keeping in its sphere, and the judicature is always free to impose such sentences as it thinks appropriate. There have been occasions in the past when the judicature was much more in line with enlightened humane feeling than opinion in the House of Commons. I refer to cases when the courts refused to convict when the penalty for some venial offence of stealing was capital. Nevertheless, I think it is proper, having regard to this feeling that these are serious offences, to increase the amount of the penalty.
We have, of course, listened carefully to what has been said in the House today, and a number of speeches have emphasised the desirability of imposing more freely the penalty of disqualification on drivers who are convicted. My right hon. Friend will give careful consideration to that.
The Clauses which impose penalties upon pedestrians and cyclists appear to have received the general approval of the House, and I am sure that it is only fair that something of the kind should be done. When increased penalties are being imposed upon motorists it is only right that other users of the roads should be required to exercise reasonable caution. Pedestrians and cyclists who are reckless and careless do not hazard only their own lives. They often cause accidents which involve the lives of other people.
1127 Apart from the provisions of the Bill which are intended to promote road safety, there are also those which are intended to deal with traffic congestion. I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall say that, despite his prejudice originally against parking meters, after hearing the case stated, and after reading what has happened in other countries where such meters were criticised at first but have now come to be regarded as fitting and useful, he has changed his view. We believe that parking meters are essential to a solution, or a partial solution, of London's traffic problem.
We have been asked to take the line that if only we spent enough money upon improving the roads there would be no need to have provision for parking meters. We accept the need for a great improvement in the road system of this country. We accept also the need for the provision of additional garage accommodation in London for those who wish to leave their cars for long periods of time.
It is not correct to say that it is impossible for long-term parkers to find accommodation in garages in the middle of the day. It is a surprising fact that at the present time garages in central London are one-third empty during the greater part of the day. It is because it is cheaper and easier to use the Queen's high road for parking cars from early in the morning until late at night that people choose to leave their cars in the roads. It is, therefore, essential, if we are to bring about any relief of the present congestion, to make sure that some of those cars are driven off the roads.
If we have parking meters it will be possible for the short-term parker, whom I regard as being the legitimate user of a car in London, and who parks while he goes from one job to another, to have a place, for a comparatively moderate payment, where he is able legally to park his car for a limited period of time. We believe that those who are coming to London and are going to park their cars for the whole day should park them in garages. We recognise that there may be need for the provision of additional garage space. The whole of the proceeds of the parking meters will have to be 1128 used, under the Bill, for the provision of additional parking space.
The time will never come when it will be possible for everybody who comes to London to drive to London in his own private car and then expect to find parking space in the middle of London. If a person comes in his own car he occupies, as he comes, about 12 times the space he would occupy if he used public transport, and whatever was done in providing underground or above-ground garages in the centre of London it would still be impossible to provide space for the influx in the morning and the efflux in the evening of those people.
The value of the parking meter, therefore, will be threefold. In the first place, it will provide accommodation for the short-term parker. Secondly, it will help to subsidise the provision of garage accommodation for those who park their cars for the whole of the day. Thirdly, it will discourage the unnecessary bringing into the middle of London of cars by people who could travel by other means. We believe, therefore, that the provision of parking meters is essential to the solution of the parking problem in London, and the solution of the parking problem is essential to the solution of the problem of traffic congestion. Clause 2 enables the obstructing cars to be removed, and we believe that that will be of the utmost value.
We had from the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) a speech that was both constructive and helpful in every way. As to the matter which was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), we have been able, under existing law, to provide signposts on a rational system throughout the whole of London.
I thank my hon. Friend and predecessor the Member for Bristol, North-West (Sir G. Braithwaite) for what he said about the origin of the Bill. What he said about the casualty list is very much in my mind at present. I hope that the House will accept the Bill as a constructive effort to deal with road safety and the problem of traffic congestion.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).