§ LORD ELTON had the following Notice on the Paper:—To ask His Majesty's Government on what principle the Minister of Transport is exercising his power to de-restrict roads in built up areas, sometimes in opposition to the expressed wishes of the local highway authorities; and also whether the Minister will consider issuing regulations to secure the more effective enforcement of the speed limit as at present imposed by Act of Parliament; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, you may have noticed that this Motion was originally down for discussion in the early part of last month. His Majesty's Government needed that day for affairs of more moment, and the Motion was naturally postponed. It so happened that almost immediately afterwards I had to sail for the United States, from which I returned only this week; hence the long postponement of the Motion and hence also the fact that I cannot pretend to be very familiar with what has happened in this country during the last five weeks. But so far as I know there has been nothing that could make this Motion irrelevant; indeed, owing to a coincidence for which I am in no way responsible, I noticed that only yesterday there was a 981 meeting of protest in the City of London addressed by three prominent members of another place, the Mayor of a great London borough, and the City Engineer of Glasgow. The meeting was held to protest against the de-restriction policy of the Minister of Transport. This Motion which I have put on the Paper, like Gaul and like so many Motions in your Lordships' House, consists of two parts. Very briefly, the effect of them is that in the first part I wish to ask by what right and for what motives the Minister of Transport is whittling away here and there, but I think with ever increasing momentum, the existing law as to speed; and in the second part I want to ask why, where the law is left unaltered, it is not more effectively enforced.
§ Since I am addressing His Majesty's Government I imagine that I need not argue that speed is a major factor in the holocaust and, therefore, the control of speed in reducing it. There are members of the public, and I am afraid there are some members of your Lordships' House, who hold that speed is irrelevant. For myself, I believe that that is what the Americans call "wishful thinking," and if I had now to argue with those who allow the wish thus to be father to the thought I should have to remind them how many yards sooner a car which is travelling at thirty miles an hour can draw up than a car which is travelling at forty miles an hour, and how very often those yards make for somebody's child the difference between life and death. But I am not arguing with those who hold that view. I am addressing myself to His Majesty's Government, and the Minister of Transport himself has publicly referred to what he calls the conclusive proof of the mercy of controlling speed. That Mr. Hore-Belisha said on the microphone with that solemnity which the microphone induces in all of us, but particularly, as anyone who has heard Mr. Hore-Belisha on the microphone will agree, in Mr. Hore-Belisha; so I hope that it is not necessary to argue further that speed is a highly relevant, if not the main factor in the holocaust on our roads.
§ In the first part of my Motion, with regard to the de-restriction, I hope to persuade the noble Lord who will reply to elucidate a little further the principles thanks to which the Minister of Transport is gradually whittling away such 982 safeguard as the speed limit as now administered does provide, and thanks to which he is finding himself in conflict all over the country with an increasing number of great municipalities—Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Cardiff. All these within recent months have expressed the gravest anxiety as to the risk to human life which is likely to result from some action taken by the Minister of Transport in their area, and in almost all cases I am afraid that the subsequent event has proved them right. Clearly it is a very startling paradox, this spectacle of the official protagonist of the drive for greater safety being repeatedly entreated in vain by great municipalities up and down the country to refrain from setting aside the law. That is a startling paradox, and it seems to me that the first, perhaps the most fundamental and, I am inclined to fear, the least noticed aspect of it is this. May it not be that the Minister is in fact assuming greater powers in this process of de-restriction than Parliament in fact intended to entrust him with?
§ There are many persons better qualified than I to judge who take the view that what Parliament intended when it passed the Road Traffic Act of 1934 was to lay down as a categorical principle that in a built up area there should be a speed limit. That, at any rate, was what I understood when I voted and spoke for the measure. A "built up area" is just a phrase and needs a definition. Your Lordships will probably recall that Mr. Oliver Stanley, who was then Minister of Transport, in introducing the Bill, offered what I think was a very excellent rough working definition. He said that he would propose to regard a built up area as a place where there was a system of street lighting by means of lamps placed not more than 200 yards apart. Clearly, though an excellent working definition, that is only a rough definition, and clearly it was bound from the very outset to need adjustment this way and that. Clearly there would be some lighted streets in areas which could in no real sense be called built up, and clearly there would be some unlighted streets in areas which properly could be considered as built up areas.
I would suggest to your Lordships that what was intended by the Act of 1934, in giving the Minister powers of de-restriction, was to make him, so to speak, the
last court of appeal in deciding what was and what was not a built up area, and that what that Act, at any rate as explained to your Lordships when it was introduced here, did not intend was to give the Minister of Transport the power which he is now increasingly exercising of deciding that in admittedly and undisputably built up areas the speed limit should be removed. I admit that the wording of the Bill, as the wording of Bills is so apt to be, is both non-committal and obscure. In subsection (5) of Clause 1 of the Act we find that:—
If the Minister is satisfied that the local authority have failed to give a direction"—
that is a direction with regard to de-restriction—
… in a case in which such a direction ought to have been given, … he may"—
and so forth and so forth.
§ I admit that the wording might cover either the interpretation which I and many of my friends believed in when we voted for the Bill or the interpretation which now seems to be placed upon it—it might mean that the Minister is entitled to override the local authority when the local authority makes a mistake as to what a built up area is, or it might mean, as far as the words go, that he is entitled to decide that even in a built up area, against the wishes of the local authority, there should be no speed limit; though I suggest even on the wording of the Bill that those words I read out are more appropriate to a local authority which has failed to give proper consideration to whether a certain street is really arid properly in a built up area than to some great municipal authority such as Glasgow or Liverpool which has refused in the interests of its own people to remove the safeguard afforded it by the law. But, although all I will press as regards the words of the Bill is that they do bear that implication, I would ask the attention of your Lordships for the words with which the Bill was actually introduced to your Lordships. It seems to me that they bear no other possible interpretation than that which my friends and I held them to bear when supporting the measure.
The noble Earl who introduced the measure, Lord Plymouth, is reported in column 402 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of July 10, 1934, in reference to the definition of a built up area as saying:
By adopting this definition we obviate cry need for a special survey of every road in the country, but we have provided for two large and important classes of exceptional cases. In the first place, there are roads … where but little building has taken place, but where continuous street-lighting is nevertheless in operation. In these cases—
these cases which are exceptional to the definition—
we pill provide for what is called de-restriction …
That is all he said in his introductory speech, and I have not been able to find anything else in any other speech by a Government spokesman. I therefore suggest that de-restriction was explained to us not as a new power to decide against the wishes of the local authority that an admittedly built up area shall be de-restricted, but as a power of being the final court of appeal as to what is, or is not, a built up area. The present position is not that we have enacted that there shall be a speed limit wherever there is a built up area, but practically that the Minister of Transport can decide whether or not there shall be a speed limit in a built up area.
§ I dare say that if anyone is to exercise dictatorial powers—as I cannot help thinking they are being exercised—there is no one we would like better to see exercising those dictatorial powers than Mr. Hore-Belisha, but we may not like his successor quite so well. Personally I would rather that Parliament should have enacted that in a built up area there should be a speed limit imposed. I cannot see the necessity for departing from that unless you take the view—a view which I can hardly think the present Minister of Transport has adopted—that unless you can prove that there is a really Extravagant risk to human life, then the greater the speed the better. I cannot believe that, in view of what Mr. Hore-Belisha himself has said about controlling speed and in view of what his Parliamentary Secretary, Mr. Hudson, said on November 5, 1935, that a speed limit actually increased the speed of the journey by making traffic more fluid. I cannot believe therefore the Minister has taken that view.
§ The anxiety which is felt about this apparent increase—this unexpected increase, unexpected at any rate by some of us—in the powers of the Minister of Transport is not diminished by finding a certain change in the procedure by which 985 de-restriction is imposed. The Act, as some of your Lordships will remember, says that before a de-restriction order can be imposed, the Minister has to inform the local authority concerned and fix a time within which he must receive the observations of the local authority. If observations are received within that period and an objection is laid, then there is to be a public inquiry. That is what the Act says. What actually seems to happen is that a motoring organisation, no doubt very properly, investigates the speed limit imposed here or there or somewhere else, thinks it is unnecessary and makes representations to that effect to the Ministry of Transport. Then the Ministry communicate with the local authority and ask, "Have you any objection to the removal of the speed limit?" If the local authority say they have objections then the Minister of Transport in almost every case, I believe, appoints one of the Ministry's own inspectors to hold a local inquiry, and without publishing the report of the inspector makes his decision. In more than 75 per cent. of the cases he proposes to de-restrict. At that point comes the opportunity for the local authority to object and ask for a public inquiry, but in no case, as far as I can ascertain, has a local authority asked for that public inquiry because it would be only a repetition of the earlier inquiry.
§ I am unable to argue before your Lordships what actually was intended to be the nature of that public inquiry because when I looked at the Act I found myself referred to the Act of 1933. I looked at that and found myself referred back to an Act of 1919, and after finding that with some difficulty I found very little that was worth while. The matter was left extremely vague. What I suggest is that de-restriction should follow a public inquiry, which I should have thought might have been held with some more impartial person in the chair than the Minister's own inspector, remembering that ex hypothesi he is in conflict with one of the great municipal authorities of Great Britain. It is not too much to say, I think, that a special obligation does rest on the Minister of Transport to respect the opinion of the local authority. What in fact we find is that up and down the country he is in conflict with almost all the great municipalities.
§ Only the other day he de-restricted eighteen roads in Southampton against 986 the express wishes of the local authority. That is a typical case. Greater speed was wanted, presumably, to get traffic out of the City, and the Minister de-restricted the roads. Another example is Watling Street at Gillingham. There, against the wishes of the local authority, de-restriction was tried for a period of nine months. Accidents increased by 60 per cent. and then the Minister re-imposed the restriction. What advantage, my Lords, did he obtain? Was it worth while that this increase in the number of deaths and injuries should be purchased by nine months of a little extra speed? Another case was at Swinton in East Lancashire. Against the wishes of the local authority, who argued that the speed limit had reduced accidents, de-restriction was imposed. At the end of 1935 accidents had jumped up to an alarming figure, the local authority protested, and in March, I believe, the Minister agreed that restriction should be re-imposed. Again I ask, what advantage was purchased by that unnecessary and excessive loss of human life? Incidentally, in announcing the decision interesting figures were given by trained observers from the Ministry of Transport which showed among other things that only 12 per cent. of observed motor traffic moved at a less speed than 30 miles after the speed limit was removed. We must imagine that sort of increased speed going on up and down the country.
§ In London, where a protest meeting was held yesterday, the position is a little different, because there the Minister acts on the advice and after consultation with the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee. The typical position in London is that there is a great arterial road leading out which has never been restricted since the Act came in force, and that the local authority is petitioning the Minister to have restriction imposed. There have been a terrible number of accidents on some of these roads. On the Ilford section of the Eastern Avenue, between May, 1935, and December, 1936, there were ten deaths and 512 cases of injury; on the Green-ford Road from October, 1935, to July, 1936, there were four killed and 126 injured, and on the Western Avenue there were six killed and 337 injured—and so forth. In some places, moreover, you get ulterior results. For example, on the Willesden section of the North Circular Road there is a playing-field which should 987 be extraordinarily useful to the children of that district, but a large percentage of parents will not allow their children to go there, because they need to cross this unrestricted road. The lack of the use of this playing-field must, of course, have a deleterious effect on the health of the children in that neighbourhood. In all these districts you will find that the beds in the hospitals are so largely filled up by accident cases that the proper needs of the districts themselves are not fully met. We sometimes have the local authorities petitioning, and at West Way recently we had the local parents taking matters into their own hands, and marching up and down across the road with banners and so forth.
§ On the whole I think it would be fair to say that, generally speaking, we have the Minister steadily declining to take action to enforce that mercy of the controlled speed which he has so proudly proclaimed. I ask myself, why should be refuse? When I remember that the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Transport has himself said that the control of speed does not reduce the speed of a journey because, as he put it, of the greater fluidity of the traffic; and when I remember, again, how outside New York City the great parkways which lead into the City through open country, sometimes without a house in sight, all have a 35 miles an hour speed limit with, as far as I can understand, the approbation of a people normally associated with hustle and most of them possessing motor cars doing 80 miles an hour—when I remember all that, my Lords, I cannot find an answer to the question: What does the Minister gain by this process of forcible de-restriction? And, as I suggested to your Lordships before, is he entitled to do it? Is he not exercising wider powers than Parliament intended to commit to him, and exercising them on the whole not in the public interest?
§ So much for de-restriction; and now, if I may, I will speak just for a moment or two on the simpler question of why the speed limit, where it has not been whittled away, is not more effectively enforced. I think that most of your Lordships who have observed these matters with interest, as I am sure most of you have, would agree that you have only got to drive your own car at a meticulous 988 29½ miles an hour, as I am sure all of your Lordships always do, in a built up area, and anywhere where there is not a traffic jam you will find yourself passed by 60 or 70 per cent. of the traffic. That is not only my own observation but it is more than borne out, as I shall mention in one moment, by such few official observations as have been vouchsafed us on the extent to which the public observes the speed limit. Why is that limit so ineffectively enforced? You see, if I may interpolate, we have at the moment what I would venture to call the worst of all possible situations with regard to speed. We have the motoring interests, the motor manufacturers and certain newspapers complaining of a constant increase of regulations which they, quite intelligibly, call "badgering the motorist." You have the general public reading about these regulations and complaints of "badgering" and falling into a disastrous mood of fatalism; "For," the public argue very naturally, "if all these regulations we are always reading about do not reduce the holocaust, then nothing will." And they are inclined to shrug their shoulders and give the matter up as hopeless. Whereas, as a matter of fact, what is happening is that we are piling up these regulations on paper but they are not being enforced.
§ Why this growing disrespect for the speed limit? Because it can be disregarded with impunity, as we all know. And why can it be disregarded with impunity? Because its enforcement is committed up and down the country to a handful of uniformed policemen. This means that when you wish to break the law—I do not, of course, refer to you, my Lords, but when a person wishes to break the law, all he needs to do is to look in his driving-mirror, assure himself that there is no uniformed "speed cop" in sight, and tread on the accelerator, Ninety-nine times out of a too he will get away with it and no one will be hurt, but the hundredth time one more child will be maimed or killed. Now, if we were really determined that this law should be enforced, there are two ways in which we could enforce it. One way would be to insist on the use of plain-clothes policemen. Of course, when the plain-clothes policeman has power to deal with the offender, the offender never knows whether or not he is under the eye of the law.989
§ May I draw your Lordships' attention to the very interesting experience of Cardiff? The City of Cardiff changed, unfortunately, on October 4 last from the use of plain-clothes policemen to the use of uniformed policemen. The instant result on the number of motoring convictions was startling. In the first nine months of 1936, when plain-clothes policemen were being used, there were 963 convictions; that is an average of 107 a month. In the last three months, when uniformed men were used, there were only thirty-eight convictions, an average of twelve a month. There was a reduction from the average of 107 a month to an average of twelve a month. Or if you care, perhaps more fairly, to compare the last three months of 1936 under uniformed policemen with the last three months of 1935 under plain-clothes policemen—the corresponding months, that is—you will find that in the last three months of 1935, with the plain-clothes policemen, there were 241 convictions, an average of eighty per month as against an average of twelve per month with the uniformed men.
May I read your Lordships the comment of the Chief Constable on that change? He said:
When the change from plain clothes to uniforms took place I placed plain-clothes observers on certain speed-restricted roads.
You notice, only observers, with no powers, who were merely there to observe what happened after the enforcement of the law had been handed over to their uniformed colleagues. He goes on:
They day after day reported to me"—
that means the plain-clothes observers—
that if no police were visible practically all motorists were guilty not only of driving at speeds ranging from 35 to 60 miles an hour, but that they were deliberately racing and overtaking. Drivers of certain goods vehicles which are limited to a speed of 20 miles an hour were equally glaring offenders in driving at speeds between 40 and 50 miles an hour.
That state of affairs reported by official police observers more than bears out, I hope your Lordships' will notice, the estimate I made of some 60 per cent. of drivers in a built up area, where there is no uniformed policeman is in sight, break-the law. That state of affairs one has to imagine as going on all over the country.
§ Why should we riot adopt that alternative, the alternative of using plain-clothes 990 policemen? We are at once told, of course, that it is un-English. Personally, if any racial epithets have to be used, I would rather keep them for the young owner of the sports car who imperils his fellow-citizens in order to save three minutes which he has no idea how to spend. After all, we use plain-clothes policemen in crowded places to protect us from the inconvenience of petty larceny. I have not the slightest doubt that the would-be pilferers regard it as a hopelessly un-English method of enforcing the law. But still we allow it to go on, and I fail to see the reason why, so far as being English or not English goes, we should not use the same method of protecting our children from death and mutilation. I know, of course, that the Minister cannot simply issue a regulation to this effect himself, but I suppose that if he were to get into consultation with the Home Secretary, with whom I imagine he has at least a nodding acquaintance, he might be able to procure a regulation, and I am sure that there are hundreds of thousands of citizens who would be grateful to him if he does take some steps towards the ultimate issue of a regulation, or does anything to suggest that he would like to see a regulation in use.
§ But although a plain-clothes policeman would be more effective than a uniformed policeman, there is another method open to less objection which would be infinitely more effective. There are now on the market a certain number of automatic mechanical controls which automatically control the speed at thirty miles an hour. I saw an impressive test of a device known as the Maxometer, which automatically controls the speed when it registers thirty miles, without affecting the power of acceleration within that limit. You switch it on at the dashboard, a light goes on at the tail of the car, and so the whole world knows that the law is being automatically enforced. The device can be sealed, so that it cannot be tampered with, and I should like to ask the noble Lord who will reply for the Government whether the Minister is not prepared to test exhaustively either this or other similar devices—there are several on the market—and tell us what reason there is against securing that there should be effective and automatic enforcement of the law which your Lordships have enacted.991
§ We see a great deal nowadays of a sort of soft option, which concentrates on educating motorists. The Minister of Transport recently presented a considerable sum of public money to a campaign for education, inaugurated by Mr. Gordon Stewart, a public spirited motor merchant, who has very generously spent a good deal of his own money for education—but education not of motorists, my Lords, but of their prospective victims, school children. I would suggest not only from the evidence of my own post-bag but from that of the post-bag of the Road Accidents Emergency Council, of whose Executive Committee I have the honour to be Chairman, that there is a steadily growing impatience in the country at circuitous palliatives and a steady demand for the maximum enforcement, without fear or favour, of the law as enacted. I beg to move.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I was not aware that it would be convenient for me to intervene so early in the debate, but I am sure it would be on the whole the best plan. I want to say in the first place that I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Elton for having raised this matter, and owing to the convenience of your Lordships' procedure it is not strictly necessary for any of us to confine ourselves to the exact points which he has raised. I think it very desirable that from time to time your Lordships should consider this question. I am still amazed that it is treated with such comparative indifference. I think it is incredibly shocking to the civilisation, and I will say to the Christianity, of this country that this kind of thing should go on without any effective measures being taken to stop it.
I have read the recent Paper published by the Government. I do not know whether it was presented to this House—I do not think it was—but it is an interesting Paper giving an analysis of 100,000 particular cases. There are circumstances which are brought to light by that Paper—I am not going to discuss the whole details of it—which seem to me quite incredible, at this stage of our civilisation. I see, for instance, this notice, that of the accidents for which the pedestrian is said to have been responsible in six months 8,000 were accidents in which children of under seven years of age were involved. What is the sense 992 of talking about children of under seven years of age being responsible for an accident? It has no sense at all. If you are going to allow children of that age to use your highways you must take care that the highways are safe for the use of those children. That is the elementary duty of civilisation, and it is to me infinitely shocking that that statement should be made in an official Paper.
We are not told in that Paper, so far as I can make out, what is the total number of children under seven years of age who have been injured in these accidents, or killed. It must evidently be considerably more than 8,000, but we are not told how many more, and I think if the Government are going to give us information of that kind it would be well to extend it to children above the age of seven years. Children of school age are not really capable of the same amount of care as fully grown people, and I would like to know how many of these accidents occurred to children under fourteen or fifteen years of age. I think there have been statements that much more than half the accidents have been to children under fifteen or old people of over sixty. That is an awful state of things in my view. It is a horrible state of things. I do not pretend to be an historian, but I do not remember anything in our history which is so bad as this. About a hundred years ago, as we know, children of those tender ages were allowed to be used in factories, and owing to the exertions of the great Lord Shaftesbury and others they were excluded. That was a far less evil than this. Here, these children are not sent by their parents. They are not voluntarily submitted to these dangers. They are using their ordinary Common Law rights, and in the course of that use they are killed or crippled. Just conceive what it means, the crippling of a child of under seven years for the rest of its life.
It is a fearful thing to happen, and I feel most deeply that we have not yet really realised the position. Even your Lordships, who have shown yourselves, if I may say so without impertinence, far more amenable in this matter than some other assemblies that we know, do not appear to have realised the horror of this situation. It is not only that it is horrible and wicked, but it is a great danger to allow that kind of thing to go on. It is a degradation of the whole moral standard of the people. We are bewailing now the horrors of Spain. I wonder how much 993 of what is occurring is due to the degradation of the people of Spain in tolerating bull-fights? I wonder if that is one of the causes of the indifference to human life which we see going on. Just remember the harm done to Imperial Rome by the gladiatorial displays.
I hope that this matter will be taken up in a far more serious way than it has been taken up yet. A great deal has been done in some districts to deal with the particular question of children. I am only using that question by way of illustration. It is not much less shocking that persons of my age should be treated in much the same way. Dotards are entitled to walk about the streets just as much as anybody else. A very interesting experiment has been tried by the Chief Constable of Salford. He has conducted a regular campaign, not for controlling the motorists but for teaching the children, and he has done a great deal. He has induced the authorities to put up guard rails outside the schools. He or his authorities have allotted certain streets as playing streets, and he has done many other things of that kind. In a little book he has published he gives an extremely vivid description of police lectures to children. It reads a little comically but still it is not really comic, it is very serious. A policeman comes in, apparently in full uniform, and lectures to the children about the proper precautions they ought to take, and the lecture concludes with the singing of a little song which apparently every child in Salford knows by heart—a song recommending prudence and care in dealing with these matters, and particularly urging the children to utilise the services of the police to protect them.
I have mentioned that because I am told that in some localities where an application has been made by the educational authorities for the assistance of the police to protect their children, it has been refused. I can give my noble friend the names of two places where that is alleged to have happened, and I hope he will look into it and see whether anything can be done. I do not want to say anything frivolous, but I could not help, when reading this account of the lectures to children, thinking what an admirable plan it would be if there were lectures to Motorists. I think it ought to be a condition of granting a licence that the motorist should attend a certain number 994 of lectures, so that we may be quite certain that he really does understand what his duties are in driving a motor car; because you really must have a complete change of attitude of the public mind if you are going to put a stop to this scandal. I meet young friends of my own who treat this question as a matter of no importance, who openly jeer at the idea that pedestrians are entitled to any rights, who openly boast of the reckless things they have done. I remember hearing a young man boasting of how he had raced another motor car at night all down one of the main roads of this country and of all the devices he adopted until at last he pulled off the race. It is a perfect scandal that such a thing should be done. It ought to be regarded by the ordinary morality as as wicked and shameful as embezzling the funds of your employer. Not one motorist of that type thinks that there is any harm in doing that kind of thing, or regards himself as in any way bound to observe the law which has been enacted in order to preserve the safety of the other users of the highway.
I have dwelt rather more than I meant to dwell on that aspect of the case, because, although I think that is very shocking and people who behave like that ought to be punished very severely, yet I do not believe that the great mass of these accidents are due to the wickedness or carelessness either of the motorists or of the other users of the highway. I believe that we are trying to do at present a thing that is impracticable. We are trying to use the highways for traffic going at sixty, seventy or eighty miles an hour, for traffic going at three, four, five and six miles an hour, and also for pedestrian traffic. I do not believe it can be done. If they were all incredibly careful, if they greatly surpassed the ordinary standard of human carefulness I believe there would still be an appalling slaughter on the roads. I cannot help feeling that we have approached this thing from the wrong point of view altogether. We had another problem of a similar kind—how to make the railways safe—and we have succeeded in solving that problem with extraordinary completeness. The railways of this country are probably the safest in the world, and if our road traffic approached the safety of traffic on the railways we should put an end to the greater part of this scandal.
995 But in the case of the railways we proceeded on the lines that we must have such regulations as make it impossible, not for an exceptionally careful man but for an ordinarily careful man, to have an accident. I do not suggest that you can have exactly the same regulations for the roads. Obviously you cannot, but that is the line that ought to have been taken. Instead of that, we have proceeded on the kind of theory that a motor car is an improved kind of horse carriage. It is nothing of the kind. A horse carriage at the outside went at ten or twelve miles an hour. The danger is evidently quite different. A motor car goes at vast speeds, its weight is far greater than that of the ordinary horse carriage, and it is evident that the danger is of quite a different character. We ought to have approached it as a type of mechanically-driven vehicle similar to a railway train, and we ought to have dealt with it on those lines. It is very rare in this country now to see railway trains allowed on the streets, but you see it in some places and particularly on the Continent. I crossed the Channel to Dieppe the other day, and the train there comes down from the main line to the quayside, I suppose about a mile or something less. How do they force that train to behave? It is not allowed to go more than four or five miles an hour. I think they still have a man walking before it with a red flag, and that is right. It would be madness to allow a train to go through the streets of a town at forty, fifty or sixty miles an hour. Nobody would dream of doing such a thing. They would say it is plain that, however careful the other users of the highway may be, it is quite unsafe for a train to go at that speed.
I do not suggest that the same limits of speed are necessary for a motor car as are necessary for so heavy and cumbrous a thing as a train, but that is the principle, in my view. You have to recognise that the danger is the speed. I know that my noble friends who speak for the motor interests are reluctant to admit that, but the evidence is absolutely overwhelming. Even in this Paper which has just been published it is absolutely overwhelming. I know that something has been said in the Press about the fact that more accidents take place on speed-limit roads than on non-speed-limits roads 996 —of course, because the speed-limit roads have an infinitely larger amount of traffic; they are in the built up areas. But where you compare things which can be compared you see that, in the first place, the severity of the accidents is far greater in the non-controlled parts of the road than in the controlled parts of the road; and, in the second place—a fact which I think is almost conclusive—that a very large proportion of the accidents take p ace on straight, open roads, or at paces where the corners are of so obtuse a kind that the view is quite clear. Wherever there is a clear view in front, the motorist goes fast and the danger becomes greater and accidents more common. The evidence is overwhelming; and of course, when we come to consider it, it is perfectly clear that the higher the speed the greater the difficulty of stopping your machine and the less opportunity you give to others to avoid it, and the accidents must be commoner and more serious when they take place.
In my view, which I submit to your Lordships for consideration, the principle should be that no speed should be allowed on roads used by other traffic which is dangerous to that traffic. That is the principle on which we should proceed. You have to settle what that speed should be, and you have to settle how you are to deal with the demand for using these motor cars at great speed. In my view there is only one way of dealing with that. You have got to have two classes of roads. You have got to have roads on which very high speeds are permitted, on which there is no limit, and which are equipped with up and down tracks, with guard rails and proper pas-ages for people who want to cross. I believe that that sort of road exists elsewhere. Even then I do not believe you will get rid of the accidents, because a certain number of motor cars would run into one another—probably a large number; but it would be the motor cars and motor cars only which would suffer. As to the other roads, all the other roads, whether in built up areas or not, you ought to have a very strict speed limit. Thirty miles an hour is too high. You night to have a limit of, at any rate, twenty-five miles an hour, possibly with In understanding that unless the speed exceeded thirty miles an hour there would be no prosecution, though that is a matter for the experts to decide. In that way you would be dealing with the 997 matter on the same principle that you have applied so successfully to the railways. You would be creating a physical condition in which accidents, if not impossible, are extremely unlikely, and that is the only way in which you will deal with this situation.
I must honestly say that, though I recognise that the present Minister of Transport has done something. I cannot help feeling that the whole attitude of the Government and of previous Governments, in this matter, has been most unsatisfactory. They do not seem to me really to have acted on the principle that this is a frightful evil that must he stopped. What my noble friend said with regard to the de-restriction of these roads is an excellent example. There, to please some motoring interests or because of some question of traffic, they have de-restricted these roads against the earnest wishes of the local authorities, very often great and important local authorities, which speak for the people of these districts. That shows a totally wrong point of view. The Government's point of view ought to have been "No de-restriction unless you can show it will not add one-half of one per cent. or one-thousandth of one per cent. to the dangers of the other users of the roads."
I have already referred to the question of allowing police to watch over the children as a special case. I have another personal grievance, and that is the arrangement of the crossings in London. That position is fantastic at present. The so-called Belisha beacons in themselves are of no value. What is valuable is the actual existence of the marked crossings. If this system is to be of value, it ought to be on some principle whereby the motorist may know where he may expect to find a crossing. In Paris they have a crossing opposite every intersection of roads so that you know where there is always one. In the same way you have these crossings marked out sometimes by studs so far apart that the result is it is extremely difficult to see whether there is any line. If the studs were not so far apart it would be possible to see the line with comparative ease. This illustrates the totally wrong point of view with which these questions and difficulties are approached. But much more than a modification of these little details is needed, as I have said.
998 I am quite sure that until the Government make up their mind that this is really one of the chief evils with which they have to deal in domestic administration, the position will not improve. The present condition of affairs, after all the efforts of the present Minister of Transport, is that the actual number of accidents is no less than it was and the actual number of deaths, in fact, is a little greater, according to the Papers which have been published. I say that the question has never been properly dealt with. Nobody doubts of course that the Government disapprove of accidents. Of course they disapprove. The thing is that they have taken no serious steps to stop them. They have to proceed on the principle, in the first place, of punishing very severely anyone who acts recklessly and, secondly, of insisting that the roads shall be so constructed and so used that all people are reasonably safe upon them. If you must have this fast-going traffic it should be confined to certain roads which should be properly constructed and guarded so as to avoid any use of these roads except by fast-going traffic. I believe that some broad general policy of that kind is the only way of dealing with the matter. It is not possible for me, and I do not believe it is possible for your Lordships' House, to accept as really sincere any professions by the Government that they wish to have this settled unless they take adequate steps to carry this desire into effect.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, I am sure everyone who listened to the speech that fell from the noble Viscount must have realised the depth of seriousness with which he spoke and sympathised with him in the arguments which he put forward. I have said it before, and I have heard it said by other speakers in your Lordships' House, that we all must deplore the appalling casualty roll on the roads. Accidents happen which definitely should not happen, but there always seems to be a danger in the debates to which I have had the opportunity of listening in your Lordships' House that we get carried away with the idea that every accident that takes place is the responsibility of the motor driver. The Ministry of Transport have carried out a most careful investigation of 100,000 accidents, which has been alluded to by both the noble Lord who brought this 999 Motion forward and by the noble Viscount. I have got that analysis here. It is probably one of the most complete mathematical documents that have ever seen the light. I cannot pretend to have waded through every figure in it myself, but there are some tables contained in it which I have read with the greatest care.
There is one table which was referred to by the noble Viscount dealing with accidents in which pedestrians were involved and for which pedestrians were considered to be mainly to blame. The noble Viscount used words to the effect that the motorist did not seem to think enough about the rights of the pedestrian. Perhaps in some cases that may unfortunately be true, but I submit to your Lordships that rights carry responsibilities. Anybody of experience, any one of your Lordships' House of experience who has driven about the streets of our great cities and the roads of this country must, if he is honest with himself, know perfectly well that the recklessness of the pedestrian has really to be seen to be believed. Sometimes I have heard it urged that in this country we should have subways to help pedestrians to cross the streets. A very good example of subways, perhaps one of the best examples in the world, because it has shops all round it and is nice and warm when the weather is wet and cold outside, is to be found in Piccadilly Circus. Yet what do you find there? You find at rush hours when the traffic is absolutely at its worst, when the police are trying to control traffic and have an impossible task, that their work is complicated continually by the pedestrian who steps off the pavement and goes right into the very centre of the maelstrom of traffic in this place, which is the hub-hub of London, and perhaps the most crowded place in all the world. Into this traffic the pedestrian goes without any care, often without even looking at the traffic which may be coming at him from all directions. I do not say that this sort of action is necessarily confined to Piccadilly Circus. The same sort of thing happens elsewhere, and the people who do this are sometimes, unfortunately, knocked over. That is bound to happen sometimes, but is it to be said that that is the fault of the 1000 motorist, or that the motorist is really going too fast?
One of the greatest qualities of the motor vehicle, I suppose, is its speed, and if we are honest and say that its speed is the cause of accidents the best way of putting an end to those accidents would surely be to say, "Well, the motor car must not run at all." The same argument carried to its logical conclusion would arrive at that stage everywhere. We know perfectly well that the pedestrian is often, unfortunately, to blame. I do not gloat over it; I do not like it; I deplore the fact that it is so. But in other countries such conduct is not tolerated for a minute. Go to Soviet Russia. What happens there? I am told that militia men there patrol the centre of the street, and if a militia man sees a man step off the pavement and fail to use a pedestrian crossing place, he blows a whistle. I have not been to Soviet Russia myself, but I am told that is what happens. He blows a whistle and the notice of the pedestrian is attracted. The policeman then interviews the pedestrian and relieves him of one, two or three roubles. If he defies the policeman he is relieved of more than that. In Paris the same thing happens. If any of your Lordships try to cross the Champs Elysées where no crossing place exists, and a gendarme sees you, you will probably be invited to give your name and address, and you will be summoned to a Court of Correction next day and relieved of a franc. It is not a serious matter to pay the franc, but it is a nuisance to have to attend the Court. Ir. Australia you are not even allowed to cross the street diagonally.
Those are the ways in which other countries deal with these things. Here this terrible casualty roll is allowed to go on and the pedestrian is allowed to launch himself out into the thickest traffic without taking any sort of precaution, and nothing happens. He is given very little advice. It is true that from time to time we have a sort of campaign in the Press, when we become more accident conscious perhaps than at other times. The attention of the public is drawn to the matter for a moment, but the public is forgetful and little or nothing is done. Some time ago we were told that guard rails were going to be put up. I think Piccadilly Circus was one of the places where they were going to be put up, but I have not 1001 seen any sign of them there yet. The erection of these guard rails does not seem to proceed with great speed. I only mention these facts because of the remarks of the noble Viscount.
But there were some things that the noble Viscount suggested in the course of his speech which I venture to support most heartily. One of his great arguments was in regard to the mixed traffic on our roads. It is undoubtedly perfectly true that our roads are not properly designed. The noble Lord who has brought this Motion before your Lordships' House, Lord Elton, told us that he had been to America. I was interested to hear that. I also went to America fairly recently, and I was enormously impressed by the way in which the problem has been tackled in America. Lord Elton did not tell us very much about it. They have the most elaborate arrangements in America for maintaining the traffic flow. They believe in maintaining the traffic flow not at thirty miles an hour but at anything from thirty-five to forty miles an hour. They do not like you to go more than forty miles an hour, and if you do you will certainly find a "speed cop" after you. If you go at less than thirty miles an hour in certain places you will also find yourself chased by the police. Their object in the way they control their traffic is to keep up the traffic flow.
The noble Viscount suggested that mixed traffic caused great danger on the highways in this country. Of course it does. In consequence traffic is continually being pulled up. The roads are probably of inadequate width. The width of a number of these roads is thirty feet, and even the Ministry of Transport until recently was encouraging local authorities to put down thirty-foot roads. They are nothing but death-traps. I believe I am right in saying that the official view is that a line of traffic requires ten feet of width, and a thirty-foot road would allow three streams of traffic; but you get a slow vehicle going along one side of a thirty-foot road and another slow vehicle coming from the opposite direction, and a car coming each way wanting to pass. They meet in the middle of the road and somebody has to give way. If the vehicles are being driven properly somebody does give way, but occasionally they are not being driven properly and a 1002 deplorable accident happens—one of those accidents which should not happen. That is very largely the fault of the design of the road rather than necessarily the fault of the driver.
Sometimes the drivers can get into a regular trap through no fault of their own on these roads. I am sure members of your Lordships' House know that perfectly well. A little while ago the Chief Constable of Oxfordshire did not agree with the figures published in the official report and he took a lot of trouble to try and amplify the figures. He carried out an investigation and an analysis of 148 fatal accidents which had occurred in Oxfordshire in the last four years. The result of his investigation was published in the newspapers. I am at the moment quoting from the Daily Telegraph. This further investigation attributed 10 per cent. of the accidents to the absence of cycle tracks, 22 per cent. to the absence of dual carriageways, and 13 per cent. to the absence of by-passes. In only just over 24 per cent. of the cases was human error the sole cause. These are very valuable figures. Other Chief Constables have carried out similar investigations and I believe their figures show a similar result.
The noble Viscount suggested that our roads are unsuitable. It is perhaps now recognised by the Government that they are, and I suppose it is an appalling problem to have to deal with on the top of rearmament and everything else. But what we want in this country, as it seems to me from my experience of driving over the length and breadth of it, is an entirely new road system; not a modification of the existing road system because in many cases it is very difficult to modify the existing road system, but an entirely new road system. They were faced with a similar problem in Germany but Germany has tackled it. I believe that later on this year an opportunity is going to be given to members of both Houses of Parliament to go to Germany and see the new road system which has been constructed there. Germany also is rearming, unfortunately, which is one of our troubles, yet Germany has found it possible to construct this wonderful system of roads, one of the most wonderful perhaps that the world has ever known, and if we can only do something of the sort here, not necessarily on quite so ambitious a scale but something of the sort, I believe 1003 it would go a long way to reduce the number of accidents.
All this, as it seems to me, takes one rather a long way from the Motion before your Lordships, and though I am aware that the rules in your Lordships' House are very lenient, at the same time I think it is not well to travel too far away from the subject. There is, however, one other matter that I would like to refer to before I leave this point. It is the matter of pedestrian crossings. Again I entirely agree with the noble Viscount who spoke last. I have the greatest possible sympathy not only with the motor driver but with the pedestrian in London. I am sure the general public does not realise that there are two sorts of pedestrian crossings in London, one controlled and one not controlled. At the controlled crossing the average pedestrian has not the least idea that the motor car has to obey the light signals, and the directions of the man directing traffic and that he has not got a prior right on the crossing. At the uncontrolled crossing the pedestrian has a prior right and the motorist has to recognise it. It would be much to the advantage of motor traffic if pedestrians would use the crossings provided. But it seems to me to make the position extremely difficult when there are these two types of crossing.
What is to be done I do not know, because if the rules were enforced strictly and literally the whole traffic of London would come to a standstill within a week. The position would be completely hopeless. For instance, one rule which the motor driver would be compelled to observe is that he must drive at such a speed as to be able to stop his vehicle no matter what the condition of the road might be, whether slippery or not, when he came to a pedestrian crossing whether there was a pedestrian on it or not. As the noble Lord has rightly said, the crossings have been put down in London in an odd way, and not as in Paris at road intersections where one might expect a crossing. In London they are in odd places where it is difficult to see them, and the marking of the crossings is often unsatisfactory as a result in many cases of the fact that local authorities were not too anxious to accept the recommendations of the Minister of Transport on the subject of 1004 studs. I agree with what the noble Visa count said about pedestrian crossings, and I think that if some rule could be thought out which would govern all pedestrian crossings in London, it would make for greater speed.
I want to get back to the question of speed. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, said that speed was a major factor in the holocaust. Well, of course speed is a factor, and speed is, if you like, a major factor, but the difficulties of this question of the speed limit from the motor driver's point of view ought to be understood. Speed limits exist in all sorts of odd places. I could take your Lordships to many places where, if you do not happen to see the sign on entering the road, you would not have the least idea that you were in a restricted area. Some or your Lordships who play golf may hive played golf on Mitcham Common. I guarantee that if any of your Lord, ships drove across Mitcham Common without having happened to see the sign you would never know that it was a restricted area. Yet it is. There are no houses within a mile of the roadway, but it is a restricted area. I will take an other case of the road from Birkenhead to Chester, a magnificent road about forty to fifty feet broad. There are some public-houses and one or two cottages here and there, but there are very few other dwelling-houses and no one would imagine that it could be looked upon as a built up area. Yet it is. The difficulty is that unless you happen to notice tie sign when you enter the area there is nothing to tell you that you are in a restricted area. I would like to know whether it would be possible to have some intermediate marking between the markings at the commencement and end of the restricted area. In the days of the ten-mile limit there were bands round the lamp-posts, which were very useful. If something of that sort could be done in a restricted area it would make matters Easier for the motor driver to observe the speed limit.
Again, the speed limit does not proceed upon any sort of principle whatever, have a little house in Surrey and not far from it there is a road which has been recently reconstructed. It is now bout twenty-five to thirty feet broad, a beautiful road with no side openings and no houses. But there are two or three lamp-posts along it, so it is a built 1005 up area according to the Act. Not far off there is a little winding lane giving just room for one car to pass another. That lane is carefully de-restricted. A speed of thirty miles along that lane would be an absurd speed. Anyone trying to drive at a speed of thirty miles in that lane would be liable to prosecution under other sections of the Act. There seems so little principle about this business.
I will give another instance. Recently a nice by-pass has been constructed at Egham. There is a tremendous lot of traffic on it. It is one of the great main arteries. In the middle of that by-pass, for no apparent reason, there is a stretch of about 200 yards which is considered to be built up and there is a speed limit on it. Ordinary observation would never tell you that. You hardly ever see a motor car slow down because there is nothing in the character of that stretch of the road to make it different from other portions of the road. There is a road coming in from one side, but there is nothing else, and there are other side roads so that that does not seem to matter much. There is another similar case at Blindley Heath on the Eastbourne Road where it is restricted for about 150 to 200 yards. That also is not observed and the trouble is that, if one limit is not observed, it is easy to forget to observe others. I think if there could be a little more principle or method or obvious reason for restriction it would be easier to get the speed limit observed.
With regard to roads being de-restricted against the wishes of the local authority, I have always understood that this was never done unless most careful inquiry was first instituted. I do not believe the noble Lord who introduced the Motion could really have meant to accuse the officials of the Ministry of Transport of partiality. He said he would have preferred the inquiry to be carried out with a more impartial person in the chair. I am perfectly certain that whatever one may think of the Ministry of Transport or its officials, their impartiality in such matters cannot be challenged. I wish I could think it could be. The noble Lord talked about West Way. There a most extraordinary situation developed. I was not in the country at the time but I read all about it. The Ministry of Transport said of Western Avenue that "it is the most perfect road." Well, it is a very fine road in a way, but ribbon 1006 development has overtaken it. It is cluttered up with local traffic though it constitutes a main artery. There was unfortunately one fatal accident on that road, not necessarily due to speed, and we were not told whether that one fatal accident was the fault of the driver or the fault of the unfortunate little girl. But the fact was that considerable local agitation took place—one can quite understand how people would feel after such an accident—and as a result that road has now been restricted. But I do not gather that the restriction has had the desired effect. In fact, I believe that was the first accident that had ever happened on that road when in point of fact it was a de-restricted road, and I understand that since the restriction was placed on that road there have been two or three accidents, unfortunately—a fact which does not go to show that a speed limit is necessarily the way out.
I entirely sympathise with Lord Elton and with the noble Viscount who spoke last in this matter. I have already tried to explain my view, and I do beg your Lordships, while we are becoming accident-conscious and devoting a lot of attention to this matter, not to take the view that every accident that happens is necessarily the fault of the motor-driver. I hope that your Lordships will also remember—and here I know, and I am certain I am right—that the great majority of the drivers on our roads today earnestly want to observe the law. Occasionally they find themselves guilty of breaches of it, for it is a very easy thing, unless you are actually watching the speedometer the whole time, to exceed thirty miles an hour without noticing it. I hope that you will not take too drastic a view but will try to take a long one. I am perfectly certain that the problem of reducing accidents really lies in getting a road system going in this country which will be designed for the traffic which actually has to use it, designed with the latest ideas that you can find now in Germany and America: "flyover" bridges to avoid dangerous intersections, divided lines of traffic and all that sort of thing. I hope that we shall proceed on that line rather than by increasing the enormous number of regulations under which the motorist has to work to-day. I believe that with this enormous number of regulations it is 1007 simply impossible for the ordinary individual to observe all of them, and that this is perhaps, in a way, somewhat responsible for the psychology of the driver who forgets to observe the thirty miles an hour limit.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I have listened in the course of my time to many debates on this subject and I notice that certain features are invariably recurrent. Everybody, for instance, agrees in deploring the slaughter, mutilation and so forth on the roads, and it is not surprising that considerable despondency should be shown, because as far as I am concerned I cannot see the smallest prospect in present circumstances of these fatalities and accidents diminishing in number. It is perfectly obvious that things will get much worse. I am under the impression, and the noble Earl beside me will no doubt correct me if I am wrong, that several hundred fresh motorists are put upon the road every week, and it stands to reason that, this being so, the number of accidents must automatically increase. One of the previous speakers referred, with an astonishment in which I participate, to the apathy with which this state of things is regarded in the country generally. I sometimes wonder whether a large proportion of the public has been doped and bribed into tolerating this state of things in consequence of their being able to travel almost fabulous distances in motor omnibuses at a very low charge.
But there is another thing which strikes me about these debates, and that is that I do not think that we motorists (I say "we" because I am a motor owner like anybody else) realise—in fact I am sure the majority do not realise—what a nuisance we are to the non-motoring inhabitants of this country. We have not only in some instances threatened their lives, but we have altered their outlook upon life altogether. In former days, not more than twenty years ago, a man could leave his house even in a populous neighbourhood with no sort of fear that anything was likely to happen to him. But who can say that now? A man living in a big city can never feel any absolute certainty that he will return to his home without having been mutilated or injured in some way. I do not think that anybody could be more careful than I am in attempting to 1008 avoid accidents, but only a few days ago I was knocked down by an enormous motor-lorry. Strange to say, I escaped practically without any harm being done, but, as I am a resident of London, I feel a melancholy conviction that one of these days my life will in all probability be ended by my being run over. I hope it will not be by the noble Earl beside me, on his way back from some festive occasion! I know perfectly well what will happen: the coroner will announce tersely that this gentleman evidently had no road sense and that in any case he h id lived quite long enough, and that therefore there was no necessity to waste any tears upon him!
Now, another feature which is recurrent in these debates is the wail of the motorists themselves. I am bound, however, to admit that in the speech recently made by the noble Earl there were not so many complaints as it is usual to give us. It always seems to me that the motoring interests are very strongly affected by w hat I may call the "persecution complex." They complain—I do not say that the noble Earl did so this afternoon, but they do complain—that they are persecuted by Chancellors of the Exchequer, by the police, and finally by pedestrians. I think my noble friend is rather under the impression that pedestrians commit suicide in order to inconvenience him and his friends. I should like to assure him that no pedestrian desires to be injured at all; his anxiety is to be allowed to walk without being run over. But I have never been able to take these complaints seriously. It seems to me that, far from being a persecuted race, motorists, speaking generally, are people who enjoy greater freedom from responsibility and punishment than anybody else. My information, I admit, is taken from the newspapers, but the impression which I gather is that, putting it shortly, if a motorist gets into trouble it is quite likely that the magistrates, or whoever they are, will dismiss the case even if the offender pleads guilty.
I also gather that you can severely, perhaps fatally, injure anybody and get off with a small fine or possibly scot-free. You can be taken up on a charge of being drunk; you may smell of drink, you can eyen admit that you have taken several "pink gins," or whatever beverage is generally made use of, and yet doctors will be found to come and say that on 1009 the whole alcohol is a very good thing for the nerves and that the man could not possibly have been drunk because he was able to walk across the room to the door without tumbling down. These are the kind of excuses which are accepted. Then you may have been on the wrong side of the road and nothing may happen to you. If you have the misfortune to kill a human being, the Judge will condole with you upon the number of objectionable letters you may have received; and if you are a super-scorcher—a very eminent super-scorcher, like my noble friend—the Minister of Transport himself will pay your fine for you. It does not seem to me, on the whole, that motorists have any cause for complaint.
I might add that in the contest which is practically always going on between motorists and pedestrians the motorists appear to have clearly established their superiority, and are winning all along the line. At the present moment the Minister of Transport is, I believe, engaged in making every provision that he can to suit their tastes. He is constructing enormous roads at vast expense—roads which are made as near as possible to resemble racing tracks. He demolishes corners and hedges, and cuts down trees, in order that the motorists may travel at arty speed they think fit. In these circumstances, considering the advantages enjoyed by motorists not only in the Law Courts but on the roads, it seems to me that they are very ungenerous in making so much trouble about the speed limit.
The speed limit, we all know, amounts to restricting you to spending two minutes over a mile. Thirty miles an hour seems to me a very reasonable pace. I should not complain if I were sentenced not to exceed thirty miles an hour for the rest of my life. I admit that my time is of no value, but I do not think that the time of many of the people who have been convicted is of more value than my own, and therefore I do not see that they have any legitimate cause for complaint. I think that motorists might gracefully submit to this restriction in view of the advantages that they have obtained. I confess I absolutely fail to understand the attitude of the Ministry on this particular subject, and I await with interest the reply which will be delivered at the close of this debate. I cannot imagine how a man who has shown so much solicitude in order to protect the public 1010 should consent to the motorists' demands. What does it amount to? It amounts to this. Which is preferable—to protect the public, or to relax the regulations in order that certain people may arrive at their destinations a few minutes earlier? That is the whole question before us, and I cannot imagine how the Minister can be persuaded to make the concession. Who are the people who ask for it? They are certainly not the residents. I do not think my noble friend if he lived on a road which was restricted would be in favour of removing the restriction. Who are the people who want it? They are not the residents, and I presume they are the motoring associations, but I see no reason whatever why the modification should be made in favour of these people.
I do not wish to be accused of making an indiscriminate attack upon motorists as a body. I recognise, as anybody in his senses ought to recognise, that the majority of motorists are perfectly reasonable and considerate people, but the people we have to complain of constitute a very large minority, and they are the people who are not dealt with properly. Noble Lords must have noticed innumerable cases which have appeared in the Press, recording very bad cases of injury and so forth to human beings, which are practically unpunished or punished so lightly that the punishment is no deterrent at all. I am not going to worry the House with a number of cases. I will cite one only, which is typical of the state of mind in which justice is administered where motorists are concerned. The other day a lady, described in the Press as a "speed queen," was summoned for exceeding the speed limit. She had been convicted four times before for motoring offences, chiefly, I believe, concerned with exceeding the speed limit, and her legal adviser pleaded that she ought to be dealt with lightly because she was a "speed queen." Apparently this argument impressed itself so much upon the magistrate that he reluctantly fined her £1, and sent her a message—he called it a friendly message—saying that if this thing occurred again her licence might possibly be endorsed. To my mind that is the maximum of absurdity. It hurts just as much to be run over by a "speed queen," or even by a beauty queen, as by a taxicab or a lorry. You might just as well say that a man who committed forgery ought to be let off because 1011 he had made a century in a test match, or had swum the Channel. It would be no consolation to me to be run over by a "speed queen" or a Press favourite, such as, shall I say, "Potato" Jones, or somebody of that sort. The public ought to be protected from anybody, however eminent in other spheres.
The point is that none of these people, or very few of them, are properly treated. Take the case of the "speed queen." In view of the fact that she had been five times convicted, surely it is perfectly obvious that she ought to be kept off the road as long as possible. At all events, she might have been prevented from driving for a time, even if nothing worse happened to her. I think that these cases of incorrigible people, who are perpetually exceeding the speed limit, ought to be dealt with as suggested by a well known magistrate, and ought to suffer the confiscation, if necessary, of their cars. A high-speed motor car is really a lethal machine, and a person in charge of a high-powered car in a crowded neighbourhood is in exactly the same position, to my mind, as a person who walks about carrying a loaded revolver, or who takes with him a savage dog. So long as the revolver and the dog are under control nothing happens, but if unfortunately there is carelessness the revolver certainly would be confiscated, the man would be imprisoned, and the dog would be destroyed. But although there is a strong analogy between the cases, in the case of the motorist nothing of the kind happens. It very seldom happens that anybody is sent to prison, and imprisonment would be a real deterrent.
The noble Lord beside me made various suggestions by which improvement might be effected, but what is really required is stricter administration of the law. If every motorist, male or female, was made to feel that he or she really would suffer if responsible for an accident, then I believe that the situation would rapidly improve. If, however, we are going on as we are now, merely making suggestions of detail and talking about being reasonable and so forth, no progress will be made at all. Fatalities and accidents will continue to increase until we are faced with a perfectly intolerable scandal quite out of place in a civilised country.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, my experience of these debates is that they generally stretch a good deal beyond the Motion that is on the Paper. Your Lordships will remember that on one occasion we abolished the Ministry of Transport, but that did not seem to have any effect in improving matters. To-day I see that the debate has been very much stretched, and, as I wanted to stretch it still further, I thought I would wait before addressing your Lordships. But I should like to say at the outset that I do heartily support the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in the main part of his argument, and it seems to me that the noble Earl who will respond for the Government will have some difficulty in meeting the case that Lord Elton put forward. Because the gravamen of his charge is that the Ministry of Transport are not acting with any consistency, but are acting in a purely arbitrary way, and are in a great many cases overruling the local authority, apparently without good reason. And I agree with the noble Lord that that matter ought to be cleared up, and that either the Act of Parliament should be carried out as was originally intended, or some alteration should be made which will be intelligible to the local authorities and the general public.
On the second point that Lord Elton raised, the question of the speed limit being exceeded, I think he gave some very notable arguments. In regard to the vehicles on which a speed limit is imposed, I would remark that they often exceed that speed limit. I think any noble Lord who has sat on a magisterial bench will know the number of cases that come up in which lorries, vans or omnibuses have been caught exceeding the thirty-mile limit. In that connection I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that there are a good many cases where the time-schedule of the omnibus is not sufficient to allow it to get to its destination at the right hour, and the driver is more or less obliged, if he is to be punctual, to exceed the particular limit imposed on the omnibus. I think there are cases also in which employers, in order to cover the ground of their business with greater rapidity, impose on the lorry drivers the task of covering a number of miles in a time which necessitates exceeding the speed limit. I think in these cases it is the 1013 employers and not the unfortunate drivers who should suffer.
But the stretching of the subject to which I want to draw attention, and which has not been touched on, is the Minister of Transport's recent pronouncements with regard to parking. I have given notice to the noble Earl who is in charge of this Motion that I would raise this question, because I think it is a serious one. It was at first thought that the Minister of Transport wanted to abolish parking in the streets altogether. He subsequently made clear exactly what his intention was, and I think everybody must feel sympathy with the idea that streets should not be blocked up by standing cars, because the question of congestion means delay and loss, and also endangers safety. And there is another aspect, in addition to that, to which I will call your Lordship' attention a little later on. It is all very well to say to the motorist that he has got to move away, and must not park his car in a certain street, but we must give him somewhere to go to, and the inadequacy of parking places in our cities, notably in London, is really a very serious matter that ought to be tackled.
I have called attention to this several times, but one has to repeat oneself very often in these matters before people even realise that you have said a thing at all. The next stage is that they begin to understand it after you have repeated it a, good deal, and the last stage is that they come up to you and say: "I have always thought—" and then repeat your ideas. I raised this matter six or seven years ago when I was at the Ministry of Transport, and I am perfectly certain that the solution is a very large, widespread, enterprising, expensive project for underground parking places. Unless the matter is tackled we shall find the streets of our big cities being congested and much greater trouble will result, considering the rate at which motor cars ale increasing. I want to enter into this matter for a few minutes, because I conceive that it is important. There has been enterprise in this respect in the provinces, and notably at Hastings. Hastings has two underground parks, and they can accommodate 800 cars. They are expecting a revenue from them, because they have a scale of charges which they hope, judging from experience, will bring in about £2,750. There has been a great 1014 relief of congestion. They are thinking of adding another underground park, and they are getting numerous communications, not only from other parts of England but from abroad, and from visitors who desire to see how these places are managed. I have seen one of them, and it is quite admirable.
I give another case, which is not that of an underground park, and that is at Windsor. Windsor is a great tourist centre. The congestion in the streets became perfectly impossible. The municipality of Windsor undertook a large slum clearance, and they have got a large parking ground. It has turned out that the fees they receive exceed the expenses and the loan charges on the original construction. But still they find it inadequate, and they want to add to it. Another case, showing the enormous increase in traffic, is Kingston. Kingston had a by-pass. Of course that was an experimental by-pass, and it turned out to be an extraordinarily bad one and is now one of the great eye-sores in the country. But that has not relieved things. They then opened two parking-places, and they have moderate charges, but they find they will have to have another as the provision is still inadequate.
In our cathedral cities the practice varies. At Winchester a parking ground was recently opened, but it is almost inaccessible. The congestion in the streets may in the case of Winchester be relieved by the new by-pass, but it is still very severe. At Exeter, until recently—I do not know whether it is changed now—cars were parked near the west door of the cathedral, destroying the amenities of the close, although I believe the Dean and Chapter get about £500 a year from the fees. There ought to be uniformity. In Chichester the cathedral railings have been taken away, so that the cars are jambed close up to the cathedral, again spoiling the amenities. There is a very large, free parking ground in Chichester, but unfortunately it is a little away from the centre of the town and nobody will go there. In Birmingham they have a municipal car park, yet in 1935 there were 2,249 prosecutions for obstruction. There the municipality has been sufficiently enterprising to make a large underground park which will accommodate 1,280 cars under some gardens. There have been prosecutions for obstruction in Manchester and other 1015 places, showing how serious the matter is. I am perfectly certain that the only way to deal with it is to go underground. We are going underground a great deal with our transport, and this is a great opportunity because these great parking places could be made to pay. A small fee would have to be charged, but there is no doubt it ought to be done.
The other consideration to which I would draw your Lordships' attention, and I feel sure it will impress you, is the destruction of amenities. I will only take three places close by—the Horse Guards Parade, Waterloo Place, and St. James's Square. Were these open spaces intended to be covered with vehicles the whole day? This afternoon there were over 500 cars on the Horse Guards Parade. The Horse Guards Parade is really a beautiful bit of London as an open space, but anybody looking at it with the buildings growing out of hideous rows of cars would be at once struck with the desecration. Waterloo Place is intended for an open space. There are always between seventy and eighty cars parked there, so that the taxicab stand has to go alongside the pavement and there is really only just the pavement left for the pedestrian to walk on. St. James's Square has still a few beautiful buildings and was, at any rate, not meant ever to present the aspect that it does to-day with cars radiating out from the gardens—something like eighty to one hundred cars—all day long. There ought to be large, spacious, underground parks constructed by the local authorities with the assistance and the encouragement of the Ministry of Transport. In a very short time it would be a paying proposition. In all our large cities what the Minister of Transport should say is not "You may do this," but "You must do it, and you must have street reconstruction as well." It would give an enormous amount of employment and would be in every way advantageous to the motorist and to the pedestrian and also to the towns in question.
I went very fully into this when I was at the Ministry of Transport, and my suggestions were treated with amiable indifference and relegated to a remote pigeon hole. I dare say, with the aid of the charwoman, the noble Earl has been able to discover that pigeon hole, and I maintain all the arguments I brought forward then. I am glad to see 1016 the matter is being taken up. There is a project for an underground car park in Leicester Square. It could be done in other squares provided the park was deep enough not to interfere with the roots of trees. The entry and exit should be made in such a way as not to form any obstruction for ordinary traffic, and if there were sufficient lighting and space underneath, these parks would be in every way an advantage to motorists and others. I apologise for stretching this subject still farther, but I felt it was an opportunity which might not arise again. I do press on the noble Earl who will reply that he will put this project before the Minister of Transport to free the streets from standing cars and, more especially, to free the small squares from standing cars, because I feel that some of these small squares are absolutely desecrated at present by the cars and by the system under which it is done by the police. That, I think, is very wrong. The police allow certain guardians with a "P" on their arms, and these men look after the cars. I am told that in St. James's Square they get tips to the extent of about £10 a week and in the smaller squares £6 or £7 a week. That is a very bad system. It is very much better to go to a place where you can buy your ticket or a season ticket and pay your sixpence; but in these smaller squares it is done in this way with the connivance of the police. I believe the Ministry of Transport find the police very difficult to deal with, because the police eventually have the whip hand and they pretend there is no place to park except in these secluded spots.
I hope the noble Earl will bring these remarks to the notice of the Minister of Transport, who is extremely enterprising. I do not join in any criticism against him, because I think he is always experimenting and seeing in what way he can improve this deplorable state of affairs caused by the position of traffic on the roads and the congestion of cars in the streets. I always feel on occasions like this that we miss very much the presence of the late noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, who used to bring matters forward with such force, vehemence and persuasion to your Lordships that it had a great effect on the country. The public conscience wants rousing, but people do want to bring forward practical proposals
1017 that will assist the Minister in his very difficult work.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, before putting two questions which I have notified to the Minister of Transport, I would like to express my full association with the terms of the Motion put forward by the noble Lord behind me. Last night I attended a public meeting of protest against the policy of de-restriction as carried out by the Minister of Transport. Very strong speeches indeed were made at that meeting, and it does seem extraordinary that the Minister of Transport should refuse to carry out the wishes of not only small localities but of great public bodies like the Corporations of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Swindon, and so on. I would like to refer to a remark made by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, who mentioned the casualties among children and old people. In this connection it ought to be remembered that nowadays many infirm and aged people are driven or forced to go into the streets. Before, they could go by tube when there were means of going down without having to resort to escalators. That was a very convenient way for the old and infirm, but many of them do not venture to go down on the escalators. It is particularly hard on this class of people, of whom I count myself one, to be forced to encounter the dangers of the roads and streets to a greater degree than before.
I now come to the questions of which I have notified the Minister of Transport. One is as to whether there are any statistics to show the number of accidents that occur in one-way streets. I imagine your Lordships must have felt some uncertainty in crossing these one-way streets. You get half way across the street, and do not remember that you have the same amount of traffic coming the same way on the other half of the street. Crossing these one-way streets is contrary to all one's habits when one has become accustomed to the ordinary rule of the road. If an accident occurs it is said to be due to the carelessness of the pedestrian, yet it is difficult always to remember that you have a new rule of the road in the case of these one-way streets. You have become accustomed to the ordinary rule and you obey it successfully; you forget that the rule is different in the case of the oneway street. I have given notice of this question to the Minister because I think 1018 it rather important to know whether there has been a great number of accidents in these one-way streets. If there are no figures available in regard to this particular matter perhaps we shall be given some idea as to whether the authorities think that the one-way street does cause more accidents than the normal thoroughfare.
Another question that I desire to ask is whether there are any statistics of the number of pedestrians who have been injured in some way or other in crossing a street when the lights were against them, and also whether there are any figures of those accidents which occur when the lights are in favour of the pedestrian. This has special reference of course to what is called turning traffic. A person crosses a street with the lights in his favour and then he is met with turning traffic. This must occur, of course, at a junction of roads. Traffic comes up on the inside and causes a casualty to the perhaps rather careless pedestrian. I would like to know whether there are any statistics in regard to accidents due to turning traffic. Certainly the Pedestrians' Association, of which the noble Viscount (Lord Cecil) is Chairman, have had numerous complaints and representations from people who have been caused anxiety by reason of this turning traffic and it is rather important to know whether any additional steps can be taken to deal with this source of danger to the public by means of a cycle of lights. At the present time there is no period when the pedestrian is quite free from danger from this turning traffic. I think these two questions have a possible bearing upon the casualties occurring, and I should like to hear what the representative of the Ministry has to say about them.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, I want to intervene for a moment only in order to emphasise the point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. He advocated the clearance of many of our squares and open spaces and the construction of underground garages. In the event of such underground garages being constructed they would afford a very definite refuge in the event of bombing raids, and it is very important for the public to realise that there would be places of security for them in the event of a bombing raid occurring in this country.
§ LORD NOEL-BUXTON
My Lords, in supporting the Motion of my noble friend Lord Elton, I would like to add two or three suggestions to those which have been already made, wandering perhaps somewhat beyond the strictly relevant subject raised by the Motion. We have heard the attack on the pedestrian and we have heard his defence. There is one proposal which I think the Ministry of Transport might study further, and that is the question of teaching the public the right rule of the road and pavement. There was a letter in The Times a day or two ago from Sir Francis Fremantle which put the case very concisely. The rule which is laid down in the Highway Code for the pedestrian is, to the right of the road, to the left of the pavement, and it is habitually honoured in the breach. There seems to be a deep-rooted idea in the mind of the man in the street that the rule for the pavement is to walk to the right, and innumerable accidents have occurred from the pedestrian walking on the pavement in the same direction as the traffic is going. I cannot help thinking that the Minister could, as some corporations have tried to do, instil into the public mind the right way to walk. If they could succeed in doing that I think it would have an enormous effect on the accident rate, according to the analysis of the Ministry.
I would also like to suggest, though I know it is a very revolutionary proposal, that the age limit for driving should be altered. Boys begin to drive at an earlier age than they ought to do. Everyone admits that to be an efficient and safe driver requires a high sense of responsibility, and you cannot expect in boys of seventeen a very high sense of responsibility. As has been done in many countries, I think we ought to consider raising the age from seventeen, which is after all an extraordinarily early age at which to put a boy in charge of a lethal machine. There is one other suggestion in connection with enforcing the law. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, I think suggested that the car should be confiscated for an offence. It will take time for the British public to swallow that idea, and as a half-way house I hope the Minister will consider the German method, which I gather is working quite well—namely, the fairly new plan by which for certain offences the driver is limited to the driving 1020 of his own car and on that car he is obliged to carry an automatic limiter of speed, so that he is as it were all the time on a restricted road.
I support my noble friend Lord Elton with the utmost cordiality, because this subject is not debated too often in this House. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, that you cannot exaggerate its importance. Not only is it a disastrous thing that there should be such great slaughter and so much maiming, but the effect on the public mind is extraordinarily bad. It is a very serious thing that we are getting accustomed to the idea that we have got to put up with slaughter as great as that of the whole Boer War year after year and feel that it is an inevitable feature of our social life. It is intolerable. I think that these debates are particularly valuable, because public interest in this matter is much greater than is represented in the newspapers or in Parliamentary debates. Therefore we are greatly indebted to my noble friend for raising it again.
I think it cannot be denied that those who opposed the restriction plan were wrong. There was great opposition to it, and now we can see that without it the increase of accidents would have been much greater than it has been. There has been an immense increase in the number of curs, but practically no increase last year in the number of fatal accidents. It seems to me, prima facie, therefore, that opposition to further stringency in the enforcement of the law is wrong too. Of course, we know that opposition on the part of all of us who drive cars is natural. It is extremely annoying to be obliged to drive slowly when there seems no practical reason for it, and particularly when the cars in use to-day seem to go naturally at forty-five or fifty or more miles per hour It seems a waste of your car to drive very slowly, the car does not like it and it is very annoying indeed. On the other hand, indifference to life seems to come naturally with the pleasure of driving because your imagination is obscured to a great extent by your road sense. Therefore it seems to me that it is up to those of us who drive cars to support the stringent enforcement of the law, which is none too rigid as it is.
The success of the restrictive system has been great. It would be much greater if the law was enforced. My noble friend 1021 gave a very good illustration of that. Enforcement is very difficult, and we are all conscious of the difficulty of keeping within the limit when we try. I rather hope myself to find an invention elaborated by which, when you get within the speed limit, you switch on a mechanism which will remind you by a little bell when you are driving over thirty miles. Many of us, I take it, would be glad to have that, because it is very difficult to watch the speedometer adequately. If restraining oneself is difficult for the careful person, all the more is it difficult for the unwilling and careless. Therefore I think my noble friend's suggestion of an automatic limit on speed with a pilot light which could be seen all the time you are within the restricted area is a very good one, and I hope the Minister is studying that suggestion very carefully. At this hour I will not take more of your Lordships time. I think that public interest in placing a higher value on human life has been considerably impaired by this continued holocaust. We are getting used to it, and the attitude of the public now is a great deal more fitting to a pagan philosophy than to a Christian philosophy. I hope that the Minister will feel that this debate has given him every possible encouragement in his admirable efforts, to which I, for one, would like to bear testimony, and that he will feel encouraged to go on with them with even greater vigour.
My Lords, I am sure we all deplore the great toll of deaths and accidents from motor vehicles in the country to-day, but at the same time I feel that in the debates that take place in your Lordships' House the general tendency is to put the whole onus of these accidents upon the motoring community and on no one else. The noble Lord who moved this Motion made what I might almost call a broadside attack on motorists. In no part of his speech, to which I listened with great attention, did he attempt to make any suggestion as to how the situation might be met by considering it from the other side, that is, from the side of the pedestrians and, I might add, of the pedal cyclists. I feel that my noble friend Viscount Cecil was far fairer, if I may say so, and far more generous in his speech. From his various utterances we know how deeply he feels 1022 on this subject, and the depth of his feelings might have led him to say far more severe things about motorists than he actually did to-day. At least he did make suggestions as to how this question might be dealt with. He suggested, for instance, that pedestrian crossings might be set up in London in the way they have been set up in Paris, and he made certain references, if I remember aright, to a scheme which is being tried by the Chief Constable of Salford.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, with his great experience of motoring, supported these suggestions and went on to express, on behalf of motorists—and he can well speak for them—their great desire to do what they can to alleviate the position. At the same time he pointed out that, motorists to-day are subject to a very large number of regulations and laws which it is really difficult to follow in their entirely. I feel quite sure that the imposition of new regulations and new restrictions is not going to solve this question. Take, for instance, the question of these restricted areas. I myself motor a great deal in the country, and up and down to Scotland. I have noticed that one of the great difficulties which the motorist has to contend with is that he may come suddenly upon a restricted area just round a corner, and he has not time to retard his speed before he is within the restricted area. I would suggest that it would be a great help if some warning sign could be put up at a convenient distance to tell the motorist that he was approaching a restricted area. Another point mentioned by my noble friend Lord Howe is that sometimes when motoring in a restricted area you get out of it, but have hardly picked up your speed again when you find yourself in another one. Surely that sort of condition ought to be dealt with by the local authority and ought to be made easier for the motorist.
My noble friend Lord Newton—and I am sure that after his experience of two days ago, of which he told us, we all congratulate him on being here sound and well and able to speak to us in his usual Interesting style—suggested that motorists objected to the speed limit in restricted areas. At the beginning, I think, there was a certain amount of objection to the speed limit being imposed in these restricted areas, but 1023 good deal of that objection has disappeared. The objections that remain are to the way in which those restricted areas are laid down or the conditions under which they are conducted. For instance, the area of the West Way, which my noble friend mentioned, was first of all decontrolled and was then restricted, and before any sign was put up seventy or eighty motorists were called to account for exceeding the speed limit in it and were fined. That is not the way to obtain the assistance and the good will of the people who are said to be causing—and we all know are causing—a great deal of trouble on the roads.
Not only that, but the subsection which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, wishes to strengthen, says:The court before which a person is convicted of driving a motor vehicle on a road at a speed exceeding a speed limit imposed by or under any enactment, or of an offence under Section twelve of the principal Act (which relates to careless driving), shall, unless for any special reason the court thinks fit to order otherwise, order particulars of the conviction to be endorsed on any licence to drive a motor vehicle granted under Part I of the principal Act held by the person convicted.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, I do not think I said anything about a desire to strengthen that subsection. I do not think I referred to it.
I think the noble Lord did refer to that section. At any rate, he does suggest here that restrictions should be strengthened, and I want to point to this particular subsection and suggest that it ought to be altered. What is the condition to-day? A motorist who is travelling in a restricted area perhaps exceeds the speed limit by two or three miles an hour. He is caught, summoned and fined, and not only is he fined but the magistrate is compelled under this subsection to endorse his licence.
The motorist has a particular pride in his licence, and even to-day every motorist desires to avoid an endorsement of his licence, but as the law is to-day a motorist may quite inadvertently exceed the speed limit. He may have to do it if he is overtaking another car which is going well below the speed limit, and he finds himself with his 1024 licence endorsed and a black mark against his name for the rest of his motoring experience. That sort of thing is causing a great deal of irritation amongst motorists and is causing the position that, when restrictions or regulations are passed by the Ministry of Transport, all motorists look at these regulations and restrictions with great suspicion and say, "Oh, well, here's another one of them." I should like to refer to what was said by a magistrate last year in one of the London police courts. The magistrate was being asked by a solicitor on behalf of one of the defendants before the court not to order a licence to be endorsed. He replied: "What does it matter? So far as I can see, every motorist will have an endorsement before long." I believe that if that subsection were altered so as to bring back the Common-Law practice by which the magistrate has a discretion to endorse licences for exceeding the speed limit in these restricted areas, and if magistrates endorsed licences in those cases where there was real careless driving or danger attached to the driving, it would have a far greater effect upon the motoring public than the present law as it stands to-day and as it has to be administered by the magistrate.
Only two days ago I engaged a new chauffeur. I asked him for his licence, which he gave me, and I saw that it had been endorsed twice, once for exceeding the speed limit in the Park by three miles an hour and once for exceeding the speed limit by four or five miles in some part of the country. I thought no more about it; I engaged him at once, because I knew that it was not a question of dangerous or careless driving. He had had his licence endorsed merely because he was going two or three miles faster than he ought to have gone, possibly for reasons over which he had no control; or he may have teen caught by some trap that was not taking the time properly, as has been known before now. This is really the principal reason why I rose to speak this afternoon, and I would ask the Minister of Transport in all seriousness to consider whether it would not be of the greatest advantage, in connection with this speed 1imit in the restricted areas, to amend Section 5 of the Act so as to give the magistrate the discretion of endorsement, as happens in every other case, whether as be for careless or dangerous driving or anything else.
THE EARL OF ERNE
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will agree that we are all most indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for initiating this long and interesting debate. It is not the first time that the noble Lord has brought to the public notice the serious question of loss of life on our roads. I may say at the outset of my remarks that this subject has been one of the greatest concerns of my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport ever since he assumed his present office. The noble Lord, Lord Lamington, asked for figures of the accidents on oneway streets and crossings where there are traffic lights. An analysis of 100,000 road accidents resulting in personal injury which occurred during the months April to September, 1936, shows that there were thirteen fatal and 886 non-fatal accidents in streets where one-way working was normally in operation. In addition, there were five fatal and 385 non-fatal accidents in streets where one-way traffic was temporarily in operation, making totals of eighteen fatal and 1,271 non-fatal accidents which occurred in these conditions. The same analysis also shows that there were eighteen fatal and 1,311 non-fatal accidents in which a moving vehicle and a pedestrian were involved at junctions controlled by light signals. No recent figures are available as to the number of accidents to pedestrians crossing the road against or in conformity with the indications given by light signals, but in 1933 one pedestrian was killed while crossing the road in compliance with traffic signal indications and twelve while crossing against traffic signal indications. Further information on this subject will be available when the analysis of all accidents involving personal injury or death which occurred during the twelve months ended March 31, 1937, has been completed.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, referred to parking. I cannot express the views of the Minister in any better way than to quote his own words in another place on this subject:Parking, as the House will appreciate, constitutes leaving a car for a defined time, generally of two hours maximum, in a selected space—within the London Traffic Area to be appointed by me under the London Traffic Act, 1924, and outside this area by the local authority concerned under the Public Health Act, 1925. Apart from such waiting as is necessary for the immediate purposes of taking up and setting down at houses or shops, the question of whether and for how long leaving 1026 a car on a public highway not appointed as a parking place constitutes an obstruction is, under long-established law, to be determined with reference to the particular circumstances of each individual case, and there is no proposal to amend the general law in this matter.In regard to the provision of additional garage and parking space, Parliament in the Ribbon Development Act of 1935 gave to local authorities power to provide two additional facilities, the development of which it becomes a Ministerial duty to encourage. The first facility is that in considering building plans the authority now has power to require that accommodation shall be provided for the traffic which the building is likely to attract. The second facility is that local authorities now have power to provide permanent parking places above or below the ground which can replace the present use of the streets for a purpose for which they are not adequate and for which they were not intended. I am sure the House will concur with me in the desire that these powers, deliberately given to meet a situation of increasing difficulty, under which between 400 and 500 cars net continue to be added to the roads every day, should be used to the full and at the earliest possible moment. Until they are so used it will not be possible to give any relief to those residential ratepayers whose petitions continually reach me against the conversion of their frontages and approaches into what they describe as public garages. Nor will it be possible to facilitate the flow of traffic in the manner legitimately desired by all users of the road.Accordingly, I trust that this means of giving effect to the powers conferred by Parliament may be taken by a reasonable date, and measurably as action is so taken will it be possible to substitute permanent accommodation for the present temporary arrangements.I hope the noble Lord will be satisfied with that statement.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, asked me for the figures as to the number of children of school age killed on the roads. I have noted that question, and I will consult with my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport. Lord Howe referred to guard rails in London. For his information, there are thirty junctions in London now with guard rails, and negotiations for forty-five other junctions are now proceeding.
THE EARL OF ERNE
I am afraid I cannot answer now, but I will find out and let the noble Earl know. Other points raised by noble Lords are, I think, covered by the very full notes that I have in regard to Lord Elton's speech, to which speech I would now like to refer. 1027 Before I do so I would like to remind your Lordships, quite briefly, of some of the provisions of Section I of the Road Traffic Act, 1934, which embodies the Minister's powers in relation to this subject. The section provides that except in the case of certain vehicles which are specifically exempted by the Act, no vehicle shall exceed a speed of thirty miles an hour on a road in a built up area. A road is deemed prima facie to be in a built up area for the purposes of the Act if a system of street lighting, furnished by means of lamps placed not more than 200 yards apart, is provided thereon unless a direction is in force that it shall be deemed not to be a road in a built up area. Such a direction may be given by an order made (a) as respects any road outside the London Traffic Area, by the appropriate local authority, after giving public notice of their intention and after consultation with the chief officer of police; (b) as respects any length of road in the London Traffic Area by the Minister, after giving public notice of his intention and after consultation with the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee. Orders may similarly be made to provide that a length of road not provided with such a system of street lighting shall be deemed to be a road in a built up area. Orders made by local authorities are not effective without the Minister's consent.
Outside the London Traffic Area the Minister, if he is satisfied that the local authority have failed to de-restrict a lighted road or to revoke an order restricting an unlit road in cases where in his view such action should have been taken, may himself make an order derestricting the road, but before doing so he is required by subsection (5) to give the local authority notice of his intention, and if they consider that his proposed action is unjustified he is required to hold a local inquiry. Outside the London Traffic Area the Minister has no power to take the initiative in imposing the speed limit on a road which would otherwise be de-restricted. Therefore, it is clear from these provisions that it was the intention of Parliament that the Minister should, if he considered it necessary, de-restrict a road in opposition to the wishes of a local authority. Naturally he has been reluctant to take such a course, but it was clearly indicated 1028 in the course of the debate on the Bill in another place that there were numbers of roads which, although lit, were quite safe for speeds greater than thirty miles an hour, and that such roads would be de-restricted under the section normally by local authorities themselves.
The noble Lord who has moved the Motion states that the Minister has some-times de-restricted roads in opposition to the express wishes of local authorities. Parliament by giving him express powers in the section for this very purpose clearly imposed upon him an obligation to do so in those cases where he thought that refusal by a local authority to de-restrict a it road, or an unlit road which had previously been restricted by an order, was unreasonable. It cannot be contended, therefore, that the action of the Minister in over-riding the views of local authorities in a certain number of cases was wrong in principle. The question whether his decision in individual cases was right must be a matter of opinion. In such a matter as this it is not possible to lay down any hard-and-fast rules which will satisfactorily determine in disputed cases whether a road should or should not be subject to the speed limit. The general principle which the Minister has adopted is to make the section effective for its purpose consistently with the intentions of Parliament. In considering whether an unlighted road should be deemed to be a road in a built up area, the Minister has had regard to the actual fact of building development, including the proximity of schools, the other physical characteristics of the road, the volume of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, and the accident record.
The Minister has not felt himself bound by any rigid standard of building development, but has in some cases consented to restrictions where, although but sparsely developed, a road had the characteristics of a road in a built up area by reason of the proximity of schools or institutions attracting a volume of pedestrian traffic. Their loyal observance must depend to a large extent upon their acceptance by drivers as being reasonably applied. On the whole, although there have been numerous individual transgressors, the limit has achieved its purpose in areas which would be generally recognised as built up and the reasonable driver has now acquired the habit of observing this moderate maximum on restricted roads. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, rather bore 1029 out what I am going to say in my following remarks. If roads are restricted which are not built up, or which are specially constructed for fast traffic with dual carriageways, wide verges, adequate footpaths and a long range of visibility, this habit of observance, which is of such value to the community, may be weakened, and the driver may be tempted to rely upon his own judgment as to the roads on which he will observe the speed limit and those on which he will not. By-passes are frequently longer and narrower than the more congested routes which they circumvent, and the main inducement to the motorist to use them is that they afford him a safer and more comfortable journey without loss of time. If such roads are subjected to the speed limit motorists will no doubt have a tendency to revert to the shorter routes with the increased risk of accidents both to vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
I am sure your Lordships will agree that in the long run unjustifiable restrictions are likely 1o be difficult, if not impracticable, to enforce. The general limit of twenty miles per hour for motor cars which was imposed by the Motor Car Act of 1903 and terminated by the Road Traffic Act, 1930, was an instance of the impossibility of enforcing unreasonable restriction. Sporadic prosecutions of those who exceeded it did no more than leave the individual offender with a sense of injustice. It would have been difficult to find any driver of a motor car or motor cycle who habitually observed that restriction. It would be a grave misfortune if a similar fate overtook the speed limit of thirty miles per hour. Every road which is restricted without reasonable cause is bound to weaken the general tendency of drivers to regard the limit as, one which must be strictly observed in all circumstances. Local authorities have on the whole exercised a wise discretion in making the adjustments envisaged by the section in consequence of the necessarily imperfect definition of a road in a built up area in the Statute. But there have been a considerable number of cases where orders have been submitted in respect of roads on which no building development has taken place or is projected. Some urban authorities have indeed submitted orders restricting every unlit road within their areas, again without reference to the existence of buildings on outlying roads 1030 towards their boundaries. The Minister would not have been justified under the section in consenting to such orders in the form submitted.
The effect of orders made under the section has been that approximately 1,050 miles of road have been derestricted while approximately 1,400 miles have been restricted. It could not be expected, in view of these figures, that contentious cases could be entirely avoided, but they have been comparatively few in number. Only twenty-five orders have been made by the Minister on local authorities who refused to accept his decision. These orders involve 134 lengths of road as against the total of 1,750 lengths of road de-restricted. In some cases the arguments for and against restriction have been very evenly balanced, and where in such cases the Minister has come to the conclusion that a road should be de-restricted, he has in many cases intimated to the local authority concerned that he would be prepared to review his decision in the light of experience. The Minister in discharging the duties laid upon him by Parliament under the section has endeavoured to come to fair and just decisions based upon adequate information. In all cases where orders have been submitted for his consent he has obtained reports on the conditions affecting the roads concerned from his divisional road engineers.
No one could have two views on the sincerity and energy with which the present Minister of Transport has pursued every practicable means of reducing road accidents. He has kept this objective prominently before him in the exercise of his functions under the section. He has shown by his efforts to induce local authorities to lay down pedestrian crossings, by his advocacy of guard rails, by his encouragement of local authorities to follow an active policy in removing every potential source of danger from their roads, that his aim is in the first place the safety and in the second the convenience of traffic of all classes. Since 1934, notwithstanding an increase of 350,000 vehicles on the road, the number of road accidents involving personal injury has declined. During that period the number of persons killed or injured for every one thousand motor vehicles has fallen from ninety-nine to eighty-five. In these circumstances any charge that the Minister 1031 has disregarded the safety of the public in the interests of the motorist is not to be lightly brought.
In the concluding part of his Motion the noble Lord asks whether the Minister will consider issuing regulations to secure the more effective enforcement of the speed limit. The Minister has already included in the new Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations, which come into force on the 31st May next, two Regulations designed to secure both more effective enforcement of speed limits and more facility for drivers to observe them. On every vehicle new after 1st October next, except those permanently restricted to a speed limit of twelve miles per hour or less, there must be fitted an instrument, not necessarily a speedometer, which will indicate to the driver within a margin of accuracy of plus or minus 10 per cent. when he is exceeding a speed of thirty miles per hour, or twenty miles per hour in the case of vehicles permanently restricted to that maximum speed. Further, from 1st October next heavy goods vehicles, articulated vehicles, goods motor cars exceeding one ton without pneumatic tyres, and motor tractors must carry at the rear a disc showing the figure "20" to indicate that they belong to the classes of vehicles permanently restricted to a maximum speed of twenty miles per hour.
The noble Lord refers to the adoption of a mechanical control which would prevent a motor car from exceeding the limit of thirty miles an hour. Such a mechanism would presumably have to be brought into operation by the driver himself as soon as he enters a built up area, and some means such as a tell-tale light would have to be provided to show he had done so. If the light failed it might be wrongly concluded that he had not put the mechanism into operation. Deliberate tampering with the apparatus would be difficult to detect. There is moreover the consideration that any sudden cutting-off of power of the engine might cause danger by limiting the driver's power of manœuvre in emergency. As regards plain-clothes police, discretion as to whether these or uniformed police should be employed in detecting breaches of the speed limit really rests with the chief constable concerned. I would just like to say, in conclusion, that the Minister welcomes any 1032 suggestion for reducing danger on the roads, and I can assure your Lordships that he will thoroughly examine the various interesting points which have been raised in the debate. I therefore wish to thank the noble Lord for initiating this debate, and in view of what I have said I hope he will not press his Motion.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, if I may be allowed to make two remarks about this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, apologised for what he called stretching the Motion. Certainly this interesting debate has by no means followed the lines of the Motion on the Order Paper, but who am I to say it has not gained by its Vagaries? Certainly I feel I have profited very much by listening to it, and the only regret I wish to express is that the hoary old issue, "Is the pedestrian or the m motorist responsible?" was again brought into the arena. It was, I think, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, who tossed the apple of discord, and it was dexterously caught by Lord Newton and passed on from hand to hand. It seems to me almost entirely irrelevant. We need a speed limit whether it is the fault of the child or of the motorist, and I should like to place it on record that I was very much surprised to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, charge me with having delivered a broadside attack on motorists. It was the last thing I intended to do, and I can only suppose that the impression was produced because of the fact that I was, after all, talking about a speed limit, and a speed limit is something imposed on motorists. I perfectly agree of course that the responsibility for accidents is shared by all classes of road users. I wish to thank the noble Earl for his long and painstaking reply, although I cannot pretend that I am entirely satisfied with it. I do not agree with all of it, and one of the main points as to the powers of the Minister he did not meet at all. But he dealt admirably with a number of points, and I am grateful to him for his assurance that the Minister will consider all the points which have been raised in the debate. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at three minutes before seven o'clock.