HL Deb 03 May 1939 vol 112 cc862-934

3.18 p.m.


, who had given Notice that he would call attention on behalf of the Roads Group to the Report of the Select Committee on the Prevention of Road Accidents and urge His Majesty's Government to take immediate action thereon, said: My Lords, on a point of order: the House will observe that there are two Motions of a similar character on the Order Paper for discussion to-day. I suggest that it might be for the general convenience of the House if a way could be found of taking both these Motions together if that be possible. I have studied the Standing Orders and find some difficulty in knowing precisely what can be done in the matter. If it can be done, may I suggest that an Amendment be moved to the first Motion, standing in the name of Lord Newton, which would bring the two Motions into line? I understand that Lord Newton would be prepared to accept that method of dealing with the two Motions if it be found practicable.


My Lords, may I be permitted to point out that, strictly speaking, the second Notice, in the name of Lord Eltisley, is not a Motion, although the first, in the name of Lord Newton, is a Motion, and I am told that difficulty arises from that circumstance in calling the two matters together. I apprehend that Lord Eltisley, in the course of Lord Newton's Motion, can readily deal with the matter which stands in his name.


My Lords, do I understand that the second Motion will be moved and seconded in the ordinary way?


There are not two Motions; there is only one Motion. This is, of course, a technical difference.


My Lords, as the point of order has been raised, perhaps it would be convenient for me to mention another matter arising on the wording of the second Notice. I understand that the noble Lord proposes to call attention "on behalf of the Roads Group." That seems to me an entirely novel form of words in this House. I thought we all represented the country when we came here, and that we did not represent one group or another group. I venture to think that this is a very unfortunate form of words to use in the circumstances. Who knows what the Roads Group is? It may be anything.


My Lords, if I may reply to the point, it is a very simple reply. Several members of your Lordships' House have made a practice of meeting every week and studying road questions from various angles, as a matter of first-class importance to the average citizen of this country. Individually we put down a Motion on the Paper of this House; it was signed by nine or ten members of your Lordships' House, and only one name was published. There is therefore no means by which the public can know who was supporting that Motion, who was behind it or who had anything to do with it. We then made representations, and were told that we should put in words representative of a group, in order to convey that certain members of your Lordships' House were interested. We felt very strongly the expunging of names from the Notice, but that is the explanation of the matter.


My Lords, perhaps I might give some explanation as to why the names of noble Lords do not appear. I was approached, and I stated that it was entirely contrary to the traditions of your Lordships' House that any name except the name of one Peer should appear over any Motion. I care not at all what happens in another place. There, I believe, it is a different matter. In this House it has always been the custom that only one Peer's name should appear. It is perfectly easy for any member of the House to take part in the debate and make his views clear to the House and the public, or if the matter goes to a Division, to make it clear by registering a vote in the Division Lobby. But so far it has never been found necessary that a number of Peers' names should be on the Order Paper. I trust that such a practice will not come into force in this House.

With regard to the Motion and Question before us, as your Lordships know, it is very often our practice to telescope two similar Motions on the Paper and have a discussion on the two together, and I suggest it would be for your Lordships' convenience if that were done on this occasion. That will probably mean, I suppose, that the second Question will be raised formally, and that at any rate we shall not have on the second Question a repetition of the debate which takes place on the first Motion.

3.23 p.m.

LORD NEWTON had the following Notice on the Paper: To call attention to the Report of the Select Committee on the Prevention of Road Accidents and to move to resolve, That in the opinion of this House the Report of the Select Committee on the Prevention of Road Accidents should be taken into consideration as soon as is practicable.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is evidently not such a simple matter as I imagined. I thought that I was going to move an ordinary Motion, containing a Resolution. I propose to do so now, and if the House permits, I would like to be allowed to say what I propose to say and try to get general agreement on what it is that we want. Whatever may happen, I would like to say in the first place that I have no intention of detaining the House for a long time. There are many noble Lords here who are far greater authorities on the subject than I am. No doubt many of them will speak, and I will leave to them what I might term the solid examination of the Report. I am only animated by a desire to ascertain what portions of the Report the Government will accept, and to urge them to take early action. Whatever people may think about the Report (and I do not suppose everybody will agree with everything in it), I think I shall be expressing the general opinion when I say that it appears to me to be an admirable Report in every respect. I think it reflects enormous credit on the members of the Committee, and there is very little fault to find with it. I have waded through the volume of evidence, no light task in view of the abominable way in which these Reports are published, which renders it almost impossible to discover what is question and what is answer, and I hope that if this debate leads to nothing else it may possibly lead to an improvement in the reporting of evidence before Committees.

There is one thing upon which I think I can fairly congratulate myself. I have frequently expressed the opinion that if you want to get a rapid and sensible decision you had far better have recourse to an ordinary Select Committee of this House, than resort to the ponderous action of a Royal Commission, or a mixed Committee of both Houses. This Report has been issued in a comparatively short time, and I will undertake to say that if resort had been had to a Royal Commission, or a mixed Committee of the two Houses, you would not have had a Report for a couple of years; at least half a million casualties would have occurred meanwhile; and the Report at the end would not have been unanimous. If we have got nothing else, we have obtained a unanimous Report.

This Report divides itself naturally into three sections, which deal with the various users of the road:—motorists and motor cyclists, pedestrians and pedal cyclists. I will say a few words to begin with as to the portion of the Report dealing with motor cars and motor cycles. I should be inclined to describe the recommendations with regard to this particular section as being partly deterrent and partly hortatory. In using the expression "hortatory" I am referring to the fact that the Committee are apparently relying a great deal—more than I do myself—upon propaganda. I do not think anyone is likely to find much fault with the recommendations which I have described as being of a deterrent character. They are pretty much what everybody must have expected. They embody the advice which has been given on this subject from various quarters, and they amount shortly to this.

They recommend more stringent administration of the law; they recommend that the Highway Code should become law; and they very rightly advise not only that really serious offences should be more severely dealt with, but that the penalties imposed should be more or less of a common character, and that there should be a standard set up with regard to penalties. They further urge that grave offences, with which we are familiar, should be punished much more severely, and I observe with much satisfaction that they specially recommend that cases of drunkenness should be dealt with with great severity. So far as I am concerned, I think there are few crimes that are worse than those committed by reckless or drunken motorists. I cannot understand anyone feeling the smallest sympathy with those who commit these offences, and it was with great satisfaction that I noticed that the Committee appeared to be of the same opinion.

With regard to the other suggestions that appear in this portion of the Report there is only one of a novel and original character and that is the proposal that is made with regard to insurance. The Committee take the view that, to use their own phrase, no financial recompense should accrue to drivers who have committed grave offences in inexcusable circumstances. That seems to me common sense. At the present moment I suppose a man might almost make a profit out of an action which resulted in the death of somebody else. At all events he does not stand to lose anything by it, and that seems to me an absurd position. I am not clever enough to explain myself how this difficulty should be met, but I presume it could be done by altering in some respects the question of cover, and I take it that the chief objection to any action of the kind would proceed from the insurance companies, because their premiums would be lower. I hope that in the course of the discussion some noble Lord who was a member of the Committee will explain what they had in their minds, and I sincerely hope that this particular proposal will be carefully brought before the Minister of Transport because it seems to me to be a highly important one.

I pass from that to another point in this portion of the Report. I have myself always been interested in the question of walking on the left, and I observe that the Committee thought, as every other inquiry has thought, that pedestrians should walk on the left of the pavement or footpath, but they add in a somewhat pusillanimous manner that although they are strongly in favour of it they do not see how it can be enforced. I should have thought it could be enforced like anything else. If people are always wedded to the idea of walking on the right, I suggest that there is a very obvious alternative, and that is that vehicles in the future should proceed along the right of the road instead of the left. It may sound revolutionary to some minds, but I cannot see that there is much difficulty about it. It is merely a question of time and making the necessary alterations. If you did this you would derive three advantages. In the first place, you would assimilate the rule of the pavement to the rule of the road. In the second place, you would avoid an enormous number of accidents. In the third place, you would be only doing what other countries do, with very few exceptions. I do not know whether the House is aware of it, but at the present moment, since the disappearance of Austria and Czecho-Slovakia from the map of Europe, there are only two countries that now drive on the left. These two countries are Sweden and Hungary, and shortly there will only be one because Sweden is about to adopt the practice of driving on the right.

There is another point to which I desire to draw attention. There are various suggestions, all of them very useful. Many of them refer to the more careful examination of drivers, the make of cars, and rules of all kinds which may help us to escape the accidents which are continually taking place. But they make a suggestion which to my mind is one we ought not to entertain. They suggest, as an experiment, that a road should be constructed here in imitation of the German Autobahn. People go from this country to Germany and are impressed with what they see and they want to institute the same system over here. It is hardly necessary for me to point out that the circumstances are entirely different. Germany is a far bigger country than this and the population is far less dense. Moreover, the reasons for making these roads in Germany are entirely different. If you were able to obtain a confidential opinion from a German Nazi on this point he would perhaps say, "These motor-ways are an absolute necessity for us. We are encircled by dangerous and aggressive nations such as Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Latvia, and Denmark, and it is absolutely essential for our safety that we should have these huge motorways." At all events we need not entertain any fears on this point. We are not menaced in that way.

But there is an additional reason why we should spurn this idea and that is the enormous expense. I gather from the Report that the big German motorways cost £30,000 a mile to make, and that if you do the same thing here it would cost a great deal more. Now, if the German mile costs £30,000, and it would cost a great deal more here in view of this country being far more densely populated and the enormous number of houses that would have to be removed, the cost in this country might very well be £60,000 a mile. But I will not put it as high as that. I will be reasonable. I will put it at £50,000. You can make the calculation for yourselves. I suppose an experimental road ought to be 100 miles long. If my arithmetic is not at fault, that would cost at least £5,000,000, and at the present moment it seems to me that would be a perfectly reckless and useless expenditure. And not only useless, for we know perfectly well it would result in this track being covered with all sorts of vehicles, including very heavy lorries, which would destroy the road almost as soon as it was made, thereby necessitating our making a fresh one and diverting traffic which in ordinary circumstances ought to travel by road.

I will not pursue this subject further, but I will pass on at once to the second category, that of pedestrians. It is quite evident that the pedestrians do not like this Report. I am myself a member of the Pedestrians' Association and I sympathise very strongly with their point of view. What they say, and I think say with great truth, is that the Committee have not sufficiently appreciated the fact that the fundamental cause of these accidents is undoubtedly speed, and that point seems to have been evaded to some extent by the Committee. But while I have the strongest sympathy with pedestrians on this point I do not think they are entirely reasonable. If we are going to impose, as we are going to do now, rather onerous conditions on motor cars and motor cycles and upon pedal cyclists, then I do not think it is reasonable for the pedestrians to object to being placed under restrictions themselves. I do not at all sympathise with them when they protest against not being allowed to use the roadway in whatever way they choose. If you are going to make any scheme for general security a success, everybody must contribute his share, and I think pedestrians ought to contribute like anybody else.

But there is one other point upon which I sympathise very strongly with the pedestrian. As far as I can understand from the Report, the pedestrian's safety in the future is largely to depend on propaganda and propaganda does not convey much confidence to me. I was once responsible for an important propaganda position in this country, and I have never been able to understand why such magic value is attached to it. There are many people who think that propaganda is a cure for everything, a cure for peace, a cure for war, a cure for the depression—in fact there is nothing that they think cannot be done by propaganda. I can understand that in this particular case propaganda is very necessary for the younger generation; but I observe that they suggest that a special attack, so to speak, should be made upon people whom they call elderly pedestrians. I am a very elderly pedestrian myself, but I do not think this propaganda would have much effect on me. I suppose we may look forward to something of this kind. We may see announcements that aged pedestrians, some of whom may have reached second childhood, should receive propaganda, and that Uncle George or whatever he calls himself will deliver a lecture upon how we ought to walk and so forth. All I can say is that that would make no impression upon me. I do not want to be told the dangers: they are perfectly obvious. Why even a sheep, which is not an intelligent animal, does not require to be told by its parents that it is not safe to frequent the company of wolves, and people who have arrived at a respectable age or even an advanced age like myself certainly do not require anything of the kind. The only form of propaganda which would recommend itself to me would be a distinct announcement that any person who injured me by running me down would suffer severely in consequence.

I said that pedestrians, more especially elderly pedestrians, are to put their faith in propaganda as their chance of salvation. I see the greatest masters of propaganda are present here to-day in the persons of the right reverend Prelates. After all, it is their profession and I should like to know what they have got to say on the subject. I would ask the most reverend Primate, if I am fortunate enough to secure his attention, to let me ask him this plain question. If you are dealing with the repression of crime, which is the most efficacious—propaganda or the strict enforcement of the law? I hope that one of the occupants of that Bench will give me an answer before the debate concludes.

In the meanwhile I will pass on to the third section of persons affected by the Report, and that is the cyclists. I do not wish to say anything harsh about cyclists. I hope they will not take it in bad part, but they seem to me to be the chartered libertines of the road. They are not subject to any restraint at all. They are not taxed, they are not registered, they are not numbered and they are not obliged to insure, they are not even obliged to ride on the tracks which are specially provided for them, and they are not obliged to report accidents. They are not even obliged to carry bells or brakes. They are at complete liberty to do what they like. All that must come to an end. It is all nonsense to pretend that they are in a different position from anybody else. I suppose the people who object to any limitation being placed upon cyclists will contend that they are proletarians. No more ridiculous reason could be adduced. I am perfectly certain that everybody I am addressing this afternoon has ridden a bicycle at some time in his life, and therefore there is no claim to class them as proletarians. That is not the real reason at all. The reason why this claim is made is not on account of any particular virtues they possess: it is merely because they are so numerous. I do not know how many there are, but I imagine 14,000,000 or 15,000,000, and they form a very formidable body, of which all Party politicians are very much afraid. That is the sole reason why they have not been regulated up to now, and I hope sincerely that that state of things will come to an end.

I have dealt—I am afraid very superficially—with the three classes affected by the Report, and I only desire before I sit down to address an appeal to the Minister of Transport to lose no time in dealing with this question. It really increases in urgency every day. I read with feelings approaching almost stupefaction a statement by the Committee that motor cars are being turned out at the rate of a thousand a day. I also note from the Report that the roads of this country carry nearly double as many cars in proportion as any other country. In this country there are thirteen or fourteen motor cars to the mile, and in Germany, which comes next, the number is only seven to the mile. If you take a country like France or Italy the number is not more than six. Look what that means. What is going to be the state of things a few years hence? Imagine, if you can, the perfectly intolerable congestion that will take place unless some radical change is made.

I am afraid there can be very little doubt that there will be a good deal of opposition to certain parts of the Committee's recommendations. There will be a section—not I hope a large one—of motor owners who will complain of persecution. When a motorist complains of persecution I never understand what he means. I have owned motor cars probably as long as anybody in this House. I have even driven one until I had the sense to get someone else to do it and I have never got into trouble of any kind. I have never been summoned for anything; neither has anybody in my employment. Therefore I look upon the statement that motorists suffer from persecution as a pure figment of the imagination. I am not more virtuous than other people, but if I have been able to escape scatheless up to now it must be perfectly easy for anybody else to do so.

What I would venture to do is to urge upon the Minister of Transport that he should act immediately. I am afraid not much attention is likely to be paid to what I say because the Ministry of Transport is not even represented in this House. There is no Peer who represents the Department. It is true that every now and then somebody is imported to speak for them, but you cannot expect a Minister of Transport to attach as much importance to what an outsider says as to what is reported to him by his own officials. I have no doubt that the noble Earl who is going to reply for the Department will do his best, and I dare say he will agree to make the recommendations which we suggest, but I do not feel very confident as to the result. In addition, to discontented motorists and discontented pedestrians, there seem to be the furious cyclists. In addition to competing with all these people, the Minister will have to deal with the Whips. I rather think the present Minister of Transport was a Whip himself once and, therefore, he is more likely to pay attention to them than to other people. What no doubt will happen will be this. When he is drawing up measures which he proposes to bring forward, he will have the Whip at his elbow all the time telling him to be very careful what he does. I would implore him—although I do not think it is much use to do so—to pay no attention to complaints from vested interests or from other interests, but to go straight ahead. If he has the courage to do so, and if he will undertake to put into force the recommendations made by this Committee, I believe a great change will be made in the situation, and that before long we shall find that this national disgrace—I can call it nothing else—so aptly described by the Committee as the holocaust of the roads, may be mitigated. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House the Report of the Select Committee on the Prevention of Road Accidents should be taken into consideration as soon as is practicable.—(Lord Newton.)

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, as I am obliged to leave soon and cannot be here much longer, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Eltisley, will be gracious enough to allow me to intervene for a few minutes only. I am sure the House will then be very glad to hear what he has to say. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that I have been described as a master of propaganda. I am usually regarded as singularly lacking in the qualifications needed for such a post, but, so far as propaganda is desirable in this matter, I should just like to remind your Lordships that those to whom the noble Lord referred have already made an effort to bring about an improvement in this matter. No doubt some propaganda in this connection is necessary. No doubt the noble Lord himself is wholly impervious to it, and I should be very sorry myself to attempt any form of exhortation upon the noble Lord. I believe it would be entirely unsuccessful. But there is a wider and perhaps less obstinate opinion, and to that I would address myself.

I think it is necessary to make the reminder that this is, in one sense, a moral question and that there must lie some decency in the hearts and consciences of road users. Believing that, I should just like to remind your Lordships that in the Church Assembly, a body with which your Lordships' House is constitutionally associated, in February, 1935, a Motion was unanimously passed: That this Assembly regards with grave concern the fact that more than 7,000 people lose their lives in a year on the roads of this country, and calls upon the members of the Church to set an example of courtesy, care and consideration for others on the public highways. We alluded to members of the Church lest it should seem that the Assembly was censorious and self-righteous, and we asked them to set an example on this matter. The then Minister of Transport, Mr. Hore-Belisha, wrote at once warmly to appreciate the action that had been taken and some words that I myself had used, and particularly a speech by the Bishop of Ely which, I think, is the very best speech on this matter that I have ever heard or read. I have it here, and I think that any noble Lords who are interested in this matter and who have not seen it might fitly peruse it.

In consequence of that debate, Mr. Hore-Belisha asked me to do what I could to help him to do what he at least regarded as a very important part of his duty—namely, the moving of the public conscience on this matter—and at his request I wrote an open letter of which he was permitted to make any use that he pleased. Your Lordships will perhaps allow me in a sentence to quote a part of that letter because it expresses what is still strongly in my own mind: I share your belief that a real remedy lies in a quickening of the conscience of the whole community and in the impression upon that conscience of the truth that to show in this matter 'due care and consideration for others' is a moral duty. This to my mind is a clear and direct application of the divine maxim—Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself—of the principle that a man ought to do to others what he would wish others to do to him. Doubtless the noble Lord would feel that these remarks are entirely inapplicable to him, and not likely to move him, but the Minister of Transport thought they would be of great value. I went further and called the attention of all the Bishops of the Church of England to the importance of this matter, and I have every reason to believe they did what they could. I am well aware—no one more so than myself—of the danger of repeating these moral exhortations, but I am always ready to do what I can to emphasize the point that behind all administration there is this moral basis, and that it is a matter of moral duty for all Christian citizens to be decently courteous to one another.

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, it is a long time since the House has received such an important Report as that which is now submitted for its consideration and attention, and if the House will permit me to do so, and if the noble Lord, Lord Alness, and his colleagues will not consider it impertinent of me to do so, I would like to say that they have rendered splendid service to the rest of humanity and to our country as a whole. The Report is a brilliant example of a really useful piece of work. It is logical in its arrangement, it seems to show a complete grasp of the subject, it is clear, definite and concise, and it also has a most excellent summary of the Committee's recommendations. Many of us are glad to know that the Committee have taken a wide view of the questions they have had under consideration. They realised the magnitude of the problem they were up against once they had opened the inquiry, and they saw its many ramifications. That is why there has been covered such a vast field in their investigations. That is also the reason why the Committee's Report has been delayed some eighteen months.

I am happy to see that the Committee are very courageous in the way they have shown that they have no fear of facing up to the problem and of dealing with a Government Department. They say that the Ministry of Transport has shown lack of vision, lack of initiative and lack of driving force in dealing with road construction and in dealing with matters affecting accidents. Those are very strong words to come from any Committee which this House sets up. Their Report occupies nearly eight hundred printed pages—796 to be precise. At their numerous sittings 75 witnesses were heard and over 200 recommendations have been made. I think perhaps that this is an auspicious time for this question to come up for consideration, because we have just got a new Minister of Transport and we are more or less entering upon a new era so far as road questions are concerned. I am sure at any rate, so far as the little group is concerned who make it their special business to meet weekly and discuss road difficulties, that they will be only too happy to co-operate with the new Minister and do what they can to render him whole-hearted assistance.

Road users have many grievances. The Report emphasizes the necessity for the construction of new highways and new roads in the interests of public safety as well as in the interests of those who use the roads. I think, as the Committee point out, that there is no one in this country who is not vitally affected by the safety of the roads. The major remedy lies, the Committee say, in making the roads as fool proof as may be practicable. Certain conditions should be attended to and should be ameliorated—conditions such as varying surfaces from one section of a road to another, dangerous cross roads and abrupt bends, just to mention a few matters. It is interesting to note that on 750 miles of main road the overall width between hedges, not the width of the road, is less than 30 feet. We find from the Road Fund Report for 1937–38 that there are only 189 miles of dual carriageways, although I believe there are now an additional 90 miles under construction. There are only 38 miles of cycle tracks in the whole country, although some 55 miles are being added. There are 4,000 level crossings over railways, which are a great nuisance and a not inconsiderable danger to traffic. No fewer than 200 of them are within the radius of Greater London. At the present rate at which these level crossings are being dealt with it will be 200 years before they are all done away with.

Thousands of danger signs litter and clutter our roadways, and each danger sign is really a condemnation of the road. It means that the road is unfit to carry traffic. Surely where danger signs abound steps should be taken to improve the road. Yet we find that only £1,327,000 was spent by the Minister of Transport upon improving major roads. I venture to think that it is distressing to feel that so little money is devoted to the roads when so much is expected of the roads. It is a distressing fact, too, that it is quicker to drive 23 miles round London—and safer, probably—than to drive 12½ miles across London. Then there is the question of road exits. Who knows when they may be wanted at short notice to cope with enormous unprecedented traffic? But road exits remain as they were in 1888. Continental experience shows that great weight is attached in other countries to an adequate system of road exits for all big cities.

Two principal facts emerge from the Report. One is that the Committee very rightly emphasize the standard of decency in road conduct that should be exercised by road users. The second is the condition of the roads. When the Committee speak of road users they include pedestrians, pedal cyclists and motor drivers, and they hold the view after close investigation of the subject that education is more valuable than punishment for offences. In that respect I differ from the previous speaker in feeling that hard and cruel and fierce penalties are not going to be of as much value as education so that a decent standard of conduct on the roads may be observed. It is necessary to stimulate road sense, starting not with second childhood but with extreme youth. The Metropolitan Police Report, issued I think yesterday, states that children from five to ten years of age are the greatest sufferers from road accidents. They should be taught the dangers of the road and how to avoid those dangers. They should have pointed out to them the difficulties which are bound to confront them. The same Report refers to the fact that the most dangerous hours are from 12 to 2 p.m. and from 4 to 8 p.m. I take it that that is because those are the busy hours when roads are carrying the heaviest traffic. Education should be followed by reminders and warnings and safety-first notices.

All this really means administrative work which can be carried through without Acts of Parliament or even rules and regulations. I venture to urge that this is a form of activity which should proceed immediately, and that new regulations and laws which may be found necessary—many are suggested by the Committee—for pedal cyclists and pedestrians should follow at no very distant date. So far as motor drivers are concerned, I think they have been amply regulated and legislated for as conditions exist at the present time. The plain fact is that the condition of the roads is responsible for a good many of the accidents. Traffic has far outgrown the capacity of the roads. Mention has been made of one thousand new cars a day. I believe five hundred additional cars running on the roads is the net daily increase. Segregation of traffic is of great importance. Dual carriageways, cycle tracks, service roads and motorways should all receive attention. Tinkering with widenings and by-passes is not a sufficient policy in the existing state of the roads. New through roads are urgently wanted to divert the traffic which is spoiling villages, rendering some far from peaceful, and congesting our smaller towns. It is urgently necessary that new roads should be planned, and it is even more important that land which could be used as soon as opportunity offers should be acquired or at any rate sterilised from buildings. Tracks should at any rate be reserved for development where it is already abundantly clear that land is required for the purpose.

I would also like to urge the recommendation that an experimental motorway should be laid down. Many of us believe that it is far cheaper to make one of these new motorways which you find in other countries, and that in that way you will help to preserve the amenities of the countryside. It is cheaper to make a brand new road just where we want it, and to make it to suit modern traffic, than to try and widen an existing highway, perhaps cutting down a choice village tree, disturbing the village green and generally upsetting the amenities of the countryside. Further I would suggest that it is unfair, when over £100,000,000 is raised annually by licence and petrol duties, that something under £25,000,000—less than threepence in the shilling—is returned by way of betterment of the roads. I regret the setting aside of the Bressey Report. Three major schemes have been turned down because of insufficient grants. The Ministry of Transport, although they approved the schemes, refused to budge beyond a 60 per cent. grant from the Exchequer. There are precedents for 75 per cent. and even 100 per cent. grants for trunk roads. I hope the door has not been finally closed and that it will be possible for the Ministry to reconsider this decision.

It is suggested that new motorways are not of value, and in that connection may I quote figures relating to accidents in another country? In 1935 there were 2,158,000 vehicles in that country, and the figure rose to 2,848,000 in 1937. That means a 32 per cent. increase in traffic. Road deaths in 1935 numbered 8,764 and fell to 7,635 in 1937, a decrease of 13 per cent. in spite of a 32 per cent. increase in the number of vehicles. Road deaths per vehicle—perhaps a convenient measure—which were 4.06 in 1935, dropped to 2.68 in 1937, a decrease of 34 per cent. in proportion to the amount of traffic.


Not per vehicle?


No, per thousand. I am glad to say they did not reach that alarming figure per vehicle.


In what country was that?


That was in Germany. I hope I have given all the information desired by noble Lords opposite. I venture to suggest that that shows the value of building roads suitable to modern traffic conditions. I hope that this debate will do something to shake what I regard as departmental apathy and self-complacency, and that the do-little or the do-nothing departmental policy which we have seen will be replaced by an energetic and forceful attempt to carry out the many excellent recommendations in the Alness Report. We shall thus, I hope, reduce the awful toll of 6,000 road deaths and thousands and thousands of road accidents, which we now deplore every year. So far as the group of members—I hardly dare make any allusion to the group now, in view of the discussion that took place!—is concerned, we shall continue to use every endeavour we can to prevent the Alness Report, which is a most helpful Report, from being put into a departmental pigeon-hole. The Report is full of valuable recommendations, many of which can and should be implemented without legislation. We therefore press that at any rate that section of the Report be given effect to without delay.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, my first and most obvious duty is, on behalf of the Select Committee, to express our high appreciation of the generous welcome which has been given to their Report by my noble friends who have preceded me. I should also like to take the opportunity, if I may, of expressing our gratitude to the witnesses, representing every interest and drawn from all quarters, who were good enough to give the Committee the benefit of their experience and advice. Above all I should like, if I may, to express my deep indebtedness to each member of the Committee for the unflagging zeal and the invaluable assistance which he proffered in the course of a protracted and difficult inquiry. The inquiry was protracted and it was difficult. The Committee met on thirty-two occasions and heard seventy witnesses; 8,000 questions and more were put and answered, and a precious year of time was spent on the enterprise.

The point which I desire, with your Lordships' permission, to stress has been alluded to already: it is that the Report is unanimous. Your Lordships will look in vain within its four corners for any reservation or dissent. As your Lordships know well from previous experience, a Report which is honeycombed with reservations and with dissents is devoid of authority and stillborn. The reproach of lack of unanimity, at any rate, can certainly not be levelled against the Report of this Committee. Despite its unanimity, I cannot conceal from myself the danger of an untoward fate awaiting the Report of the Committee, due largely to the international situation and the menace of war. I hope your Lordships will allow me to say that it seems to me that the casualties upon the roads, in their tragedy—and, I had almost added, in their volume—may be assimilated to the casualties of the battlefield. I most earnestly hope, therefore, that the Government will see to it that the solution of this major domestic problem—I know of none more pressing, none more exigent—shall not be allowed to suffer, shall not be shelved and put on one side, because of the pressure of external affairs.

I said a moment ago that the problem was a pressing and an exigent one, and that was emphasized by my noble friend below me also. May I document that proposition by two simple figures? There were in 1936–37 very nearly 200,000 accidents involving personal injury upon the roads of Great Britain. Of these accidents no fewer than 6,300 were fatal. These are staggering and, I venture to say, disgraceful figures, and I do not envy the position of anyone who can listlessly contemplate that, as I think, avoidable massacre. That is one reason why I venture to say that this is a pressing problem. The other has been alluded to already: there are no fewer than 1,000 new cars put on the roads every day. That is the statement of the ex-Minister of Transport himself. I set against that unquestioned figure the fact that during the last seven years only 280 miles of new important roads have been constructed in this country; that is to say, an average of 40 miles a year. It does not require very much imagination in those circumstances to foresee that, unless there be a vastly accelerated programme of road improvement in this country, complete strangulation of traffic will result, and that in a very short time.

Having regard to these figures, I venture to think that my proposition is documented: that this is an urgent and a pressing problem which cannot be set on one side. But when one comes to the solution of that problem, there is the difficulty. The Select Committee of your Lordships' House at a very early stage reached the conclusion, which the Report expresses, that for this holocaust of the roads there is no single, no sovereign remedy. To that conclusion we were driven by the evidence and by force of circumstances. On the other hand, if I may use an unconventional expression which was used by one of the witnesses who appeared before the Committee, two major alleviations "stick out a mile."

What are they? The first is the segregation of road traffic, and the second is the education of all road users. To achieve these ends the Committee have made something like 200 recommendations. Some of these recommendations are self-evident. Some of them are not new; they have already been made by Committees whose Reports have been pigeon-holed and whose recommendations have been ignored. A third class of recommendation, however, is new. I want to say of our recommendations that your Lordships may take it that each recommendation made by the Committee was documented by evidence, that the evidence of each witness was carefully weighed, and that the conclusion with regard to the reliability and the weight of that evidence was unanimously reached and is echoed in the recommendation we made. I quite appreciate that many of these recommendations may be challenged, and some of them reasonably challenged. At the same time I would ask your Lordships to bear in mind the circumstances, which I have mentioned, in which the generation of these recommendations took place.

I am deeply indebted, as I have already said, to my noble friends who have already spoken. I should like, if I may, to say just a few words in reply to one or two points which my noble friend Lord Newton made in opening this debate. He asked a question, with regard to the recommendation which the Committee made in connection with insurance. That recommendation, your Lordships will recollect, was the affirmation of the principle that no man should earn a recompense from his own crime. Such is the principle which the Committee affirmed. My noble friend is in agreement, as I understand, with that principle, but he expressed some little doubt as to the means of carrying it out. What was in the mind of the Committee, if I may speak for them, was that it should be made the law of the land that such recompense was contrary to public policy, and that such a defence would be open to any insurance company against whom a claim was made. I think that is perfectly simple procedure, but, if anything further is required, I have little doubt that it is a suitable subject for consideration by the Road Safety Research Committee which the Report suggests should be set up.

The second point to which the noble Lord referred was with regard to the Autobahnen of Germany. He has been answered on that point by Lord Eltisley, but I would like to say this to the House. In the first place your Lordships will remember the limited character of that recommendation. The recommendation of the delegation which went to Germany was that there should be a national network of these roads constructed forthwith in Great Britain. The recommendation of the Committee is much more guarded than that. It is that an experimental motorway should be constructed on the German lines, that its progress should be vigilantly watched and any diminution in the accidents which resulted noted, and that on whether or not it proved a success or a failure would depend the question whether further roads of that type should be constructed in this country. I submit that that is a modest proposal. In making it the Committee had two things in mind. They had first in mind the fact that that delegation, I think I am right in saying, was the most numerous that ever left these shores. It consisted of 225 persons, representative of both Houses of Parliament, of borough and county councils, and so forth, and they were unanimous in making the recommendation for the introduction of these roads in this country. That was an impressive fact, and one which the Committee were bound to note; but still more impressive and important was the fact that the contruction of these roads in Germany had resulted in a startling decrease of fatalities in that country. It was because they were moved by these considerations that the Committee came to the conclusion that they might safely and properly recommend the construction of an experimental motorway in this country.

The last point to which Lord Newton referred, and to which my noble friend opposite (Lord Cecil) will no doubt refer later in the debate, was the question of speed. My noble friend may take it from me that the bearing of the question of speed on road accidents was very carefully considered by the Committee. Your Lordships will bear in mind that this is a Report based upon evidence, and the Committee reached the conclusion that the most serious cause of road accidents is not, as is frequently contended, the speed of the motor vehicle. We bore in mind two facts which are not generally recognised, or at least accepted, but which were proved before us. The first was this, that after the 20-mile speed limit was removed, the toll of the roads, in the matter of accidents, was less than it had been for a number of years preceding it. That was one thing. Another, and I venture to think much more conclusive fact, was that it is proved beyond all posibility of doubt that the great majority of accidents on the roads in this country take place within the restricted areas, where there is a speed limit of 30 miles. I think I am right in saying that 60 per cent. of fatal accidents, and 76 per cent. of non-fatal accidents take place in areas which are subject to the 30-mile speed limit. In these circumstances it seems to me very difficult to reach the conclusion that the major cause of accident, which we are all anxious to see abated, can be attributed to the speed of the vehicle.

There is one other topic to which allusion has been made. I must apologise for detaining your Lordships so long, but this is an extensive subject. That other topic is the way in which the Report deals with cyclists. It has been my lot to read nearly 600 Press extracts in reference to this Report, and the only criticism of substance which I find running through them is criticism of the Report in so far as it dealt with cyclists. It was suggested that the Committee had dealt harshly with the cycling community. Will your Lordships forgive me if I say that, so far as I personally am concerned, I am not likely to be out of sympathy with the cycling community? I rode for many years the contraption which came to be known as the penny-farthing machine, and for many years afterwards I rode a safety machine. I am therefore fully cognisant of all the joys and utilities of cycling, and nothing could be further from my mind, and I think I can speak for my colleagues, than to do anything which would discourage that form of recreation.

But one has to bear in mind certain facts. In the years 1936–37, 133 accidents occurred by collision with the rear of cycles. The point of the Committee's Report is this: we have recommended that after dark, every cycle should be equipped not only with the present reflector and white patch, but also with a red lamp. For that proposition most conclusive evidence was forthcoming. I think I am right in saying that there are seven other countries to-day in which that is the law of the land, without the slightest inconvenience or hardship occuring to the cycling community. In the second place it is without doubt that motor cars and motor cycles are equipped with red lights, and it seems a little difficult for another and more vulnerable section of the road user community to claim exemption from the requirement. Furthermore, it is not a new suggestion. According to my information it was universal in war time in this country and I have been quite unable to discover why it was discontinued. I appeal to your Lordships, as road users or observers of the roads, to judge of the reasonableness of the proposal. If it receives effect it will not only be in the interest of all other road users, but also in the interest of cyclists themselves. I very much hope that that recommendation will receive effect. Now I have done, and I desire to end as I began. I desire once more to implore the Government to give early and earnest consideration to this Report and to translate its recommendations into statutory form, where that is necessary, and that without any avoidable delay.

4.31 p.m.


My Lords, I think our thanks are due in the first place to the noble Lord, Lord Newton, for having been the initiator, not only of the debate we have had, but of the setting up of the Select Committee, and while we congratulate him on having done this, I hope that his future services will be available, because he knows as well as I do that the matter does not end here. In the next place I think we must congratulate the Select Committee on having chosen such a Chairman. I do not suppose that they could have found anyone with a clearer head or more businesslike methods than the noble Lord, Lord Alness. I congratulate them also on the Report, which has brought to the attention of the whole country this very grave problem.

If I intervene myself it is because I am an ex-Secretary of the Ministry of Transport, I have driven a motor car for twenty-five years, I am an ex-cyclist, and I have been a pedestrian for about sixty-six years. If I may make a general comment, I should like to have seen a more drastic proposal in the Report. The danger, as my noble friend Lord Alness said, is that there is practical unanimity on this question, and anybody who has been in Parliamentary life some years knows that when people are unanimous, you get nothing done, whereas when a matter is highly controversial you get effective action taken. It is unfortunate, but I should like to make a drastic suggestion to start with, and I do so hoping for your Lordships' consent, and asking your Lordships to remember that about six years' ago you abolished the Ministry of Transport on the Motion of the late noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, who so often eloquently pleaded for a change which might bring about an improvement in this terrible matter of motor accidents. Well, nothing was done. Now I want to support what the Committee says with regard to far more expert knowledge and study in the Ministry, but my proposition is that the Ministry of Transport should cease to be a political office.

There have been seven Ministers of Transport in the last fifteen years. The post of Minister of Transport is regarded as a stepping stone to the Cabinet. No- body has time really to master his job or devote his whole energies to it. The result is that the highly skilled officials in the Ministry have to be more or less interpreters of the policy initiated by the Minister, and they very often find themselves thwarted in trying to deal with the very great difficulties in an expert manner. I think that the Ministry of Transport ought to be transformed into one of those Commissions, like the Forestry Commission or the many Commissions under the Treasury and the Home Office, manned solely by experts, although naturally the Home Secretary or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with an Under-Secretary, would have to be responsible for Questions in Parliament.

But this is not a political controversy. It is a matter in which we all want to help, and it is far better than it should be removed from the political sphere. I need not remind your Lordships of the various Ministers of Transport we have had. I was very fortunate in serving under my right honourable friend Mr. Herbert Morrison, who, I think, must be regarded as one of the very best we have had. He devoted his whole attention to the matter, and when there was a question of his going into the Cabinet he refused to relax his efforts in the Ministry of Transport and remained there so long as the Government lasted. There have been other Ministers who have begun to do good work and been interrupted by being transferred to other offices. This matter is far too serious to be treated in a sort of in-and-out way like this, and my proposal is that the Ministry of Transport should henceforth be a Commission of experts with a Chairman, dealing with this matter directly, although in some way subordinate to a big Government office.

Now let me take the question of the Highway Code. I was instrumental in helping to draft the original edition of the Highway Code. We had considerable difficulty in knowing what tone should be adopted for that Code—whether we should take the Litany as our model, that is to say, "We beseech thee," or the Ten Commandments—"Thou shalt not." On the whole we decided that it would be better not to create a number of new indictable offences, and that, anyhow to start with, it was better to be on the cautious side. And I think that if the suggestion of the Committee is carried out of giving the Highway Code the force of law there should be a section of it which should be retained merely for advice. There are a lot of people who respond to advice more than they do to commands. But here again I make a small criticism in regard to this idea that sections of the Highway Code should be separated and given to motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. I am against this use of the word "pedestrian." Pedestrians are suggested to be peculiar bipeds who use their legs and are rather a nuisance. We are all of us—the millions of people in this country are all pedestrians. Even the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for instance, is a pedestrian and perhaps he is a very bad pedestrian. It is quite possible that when he is crossing the streets of London he commits all the errors which are condemned in the Report. But this idea of treating a pedestrian as if he were somebody strange ought to be done away with, and therefore if the Highway Code is divided into sections with a view to distributing it more wholesale, it ought to be for motorists and pedestrians and for cyclists and pedestrians. The pedestrian section should not be omitted for any road user.

I do not want to detain the House by going through what I consider to be the very good suggestions that are made. Notably the idea that an accident-prone motorist should be refused a licence is a good one. It is very difficult to know, psychologically, where the fault lies. I would humbly suggest that the faults for the three sections always referred to are, for the motorists, impatience—nothing more criminal than impatience. They get accustomed to a certain speed, and they get impatient if they are not able to cover the ground as they have planned for themselves, with very often, perhaps, risk of accidents. In the case of cyclists, I would say their fault is conversation, generally. Noble Lords have seen cyclists on the road, and almost invariably, when there are more than one, they will find them in conversation and not attending to where they are going. Of course, we know what is the fault of the pedestrians, and it is difficult to get over it because we all have it. When you are walking along a street or road you are not thinking of where you are going, you are not thinking of where you are, you are not thinking of how to avoid other pedestrians. You are absorbed in other thoughts—we all are. That is why in our absence of mind we do these foolish things. It is very difficult to get people to learn this new road sense. It is very difficult to get all pedestrians to realise that when they are crossing a street it is a matter of complete attention and of freeing the mind of all other thoughts. Education is very necessary, and I believe we are making great efforts in schools to meet the needs.

The various suggestions put down by the Committee, to which I do not intend to refer, may be small, each of them, but their cumulative effect would have an extraordinary influence in preventing the disastrous state of affairs that exists to-day. But we debate this here. A few people will read our debate, but I should say that the pigeon-hole is being prepared in the Ministry of Transport for this Report, and we shall hear no more of it. The late Lord Buckmaster's eloquence was insufficient. The debates that we have had here have been insufficient. What they have had in another place has also been insufficient. The question is whether by propaganda you can rouse the country. I am afraid the newspapers no longer think the report of an accident is news. We are in a dilemma in this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, who has been so very public-spirited in insisting on bringing this matter before the House, must help us along to the next stage. He must batter at the door of the Ministry of Transport and, if need be, lead deputations to the Prime Minister and to the Government in order that the matter may not rest here, but may be brought to a further stage where we can really feel some pride in having reduced this terrible massacre on the roads.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, it would be regrettable if this debate were to degenerate into an internal exchange of floral tributes between members of the Committee and the Chairman, but, as the first ordinary member of the Committee who has taken part, I desire to express on behalf of the other members of the Committee our infinite debt to the industry, tact, patience, and courtesy of the Chairman whom we were wise enough to select from amongst our members. In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has said, there is some virtue in these circumstances in a unanimous Report. But if we were enabled, ranging over a very wide field of subjects, approaching the question from a number of different points of view, to arrive at unanimous conclusions, it was not in any sense because our individual opinions were over-borne by the Chairman, but simply on account of the skill with which he welded the different opinions into a harmonious whole.

This is one of those fortunately non-Party matters on which this House can express opinions with a clear conscience. I do not, and cannot, purport to be pledging those noble Lords who sit on these Benches to agreement with all or, indeed, even the majority of the recommendations contained in our Report. These must be matters for individual judgment. But I am perhaps not committing them too far if I say that we hope that at least some attention, and prompt attention, will be given to the recommendations, and that those which seem to be acceptable and feasible will be put into operation by the Department without unnecessary delay. It is a non-Party question, and therefore one would have hoped it would have been possible to have obtained a large measure of approval from all sections of the population; but we seem to have outraged the feelings of some representative pedestrians and all representative cyclists. One of the most impressive features of the Report—if I may be allowed the expression—and one which certainly enhances its value, is that we have endeavoured to approach the question and to frame our recommendations so that it shall be brought home to all users of the road, irrespective of the type of progression in which they indulge, that they have not only a several responsibility in regard to their particular form of locomotion, but a joint responsibility with all other users of the road to see that so far as possible they work in harmony one with the other.

The reception of the recommendations in those two quarters to which I have referred does not seem to indicate at the moment that we have altogether succeeded in that particular object, but I still hope that more reflection and more detachment, and the very great weight of public opinion which is behind these recommendations, will persuade the cyclists and the pedestrians that in what we are recommending we are endeavouring not to oppress but to protect them. I confess that, approaching it with all possible detachment, I find it extremely difficult to accept the doctrine put forward on behalf of the cyclists that in some peculiar way segregation and degradation are synonymous words. You have a highway, and the cyclist says, "It is my right to use that highway." Does the highway consist only of that part of the road upon which motor cars proceed, or does it include that part of such roads as may be reserved for cyclists and that part reserved for pedestrians? Does any sane pedestrian expect—certainly he does not expect for long—that he should be allowed to walk upon the middle of the Great West Road on Sunday morning, and say that unless he is allowed to do so he is being deprived of the right to use the King's highway? One wonders what would be the attitude of cyclists if, in a place where there was a cycling track, a motorist suddenly took it into his head to proceed along that cycle track. Yet, if the cyclists have a right on the motorists' road, why, on similar terms, have not the motorists a right on the cyclists' road?

It must be that in all these things, in the interests not of one section but of all sections of users of the roads, persons using them shall submit in their own interests and in the interests of others to the reasonable regulation of traffic in order to preserve life and limb from further disaster. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, in his capacity as a member of the Pedestrians' Association, was inclined to think we had been a little severe on the pedestrian. When I look at the recommendations I find that the only one which imposes any liability upon the pedestrian is one which suggests that it should be made an offence for him to enter a carriageway heedlessly. I think the members of the Committee were all impressed in particular by the evidence of a London Coroner of great experience who said that, during an experience I think of some twenty-five years, he was satisfied that the great majority of accidents in his particular area were due to pedestrians stepping off the kerb without looking where they were going or at what was coming behind.

It really is not a very severe affliction on a pedestrian to ask that he should learn the habit of looking where he is going before he goes there, especially if he is stepping into a public road in which he is liable to be exterminated in the course of the next second. It is only this precaution that he is asked to take—a necessary precaution—before he steps into the roadway, and in order to impress upon him the necessity for taking that extra precaution we have recommended that it should be made an offence to disregard it. That is the only restriction that we have proposed upon the complete liberty of pedestrians, and surely in order to bring all classes of road users into harmony and to protect pedestrians from their own carelessness as well as to diminish the casualties, we have not suggested so outrageous a device.

I want to refer to only one other matter—I certainly do not propose to plough through the whole field of our numerous and various recommendations—and that is the question of speed. Whatever any of us, approaching this question with open minds, thought as to the proportion of accidents which was due to speed, we all must have been impressed by the evidence from police sources, as well as from other sources, that in fact what has come to be called the "road hog" was responsible for an extremely small percentage of the accidents. A good deal of evidence was given to us as to the advisability of insisting, by the imposition of some mechanical device, upon keeping within the 30-mile speed limit in places where the 30-mile speed limit existed. That suggestion is perhaps superficially attractive, but it has also difficulties and dangers which, speaking for myself as an individual, I think far outweigh the possible advantages that it might have. The danger of insisting upon the use of any limiting device of that kind, even if a practicable one was upon the market—and as to that I express no opinion—is that in the case of any sudden emergency you have so serious a loss of flexibility in the car that it would be made impossible for you to avoid a serious accident which, if you had complete liberty of movement, you would never be involved in at all.

The only other matter which I may perhaps be allowed to touch upon for one moment is the question of special Traffic Courts, which was strongly impressed upon us by more than one witness. That suggestion, too, has perhaps a superficial attraction, but it is made prohibitive by two overriding factors. The first is the colossal expense. The only estimate we had was a figure of something like £10,000,000. The other factor would be the immense army of members of a very estimable profession—some 22,500 was the estimate—members of the Bar who would be required at short notice to be recruited from a not very wide field in order to perform the duties, or most of the duties, which are under present regulations performed by some twenty extremely expert and experienced High Court Judges. Those two difficulties seem to me to eliminate the proposal from serious consideration, but I confess that as a matter of principle I am always a little suspicious of technical knowledge in the seat of judgment. I have a preference for people approaching a question without the complications of technical knowledge which sometimes occur, viewing it upon its merits, judging it upon the evidence and coming to their conclusions upon the evidence put before them. After all, in these cases of motor car collisions, the number of them in which any technical knowledge would be of particular assistance is exceedingly few, and in those cases it is always open to either party to put before the tribunal such information of a technical character as it thinks necessary by way of evidence.

We have covered in the Report a large area of ground, we have willingly and readily given a considerable amount of time to it, and I think we shall all feel ourselves amply repaid for any effort we have made in this connection if we are enabled to feel in the future that our recommendations have had the effect of reducing, in however small a degree, this appalling toll of casualties on the road. But we shall indeed feel that our time has been wasted if this Report is allowed to lie in a pigeon-hole to accumulate the dust of official oblivion and no action is taken upon it.

4.59 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support the Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Newton. I should also like to join with other noble Lords in their expressions of admiration of the monumental work which has been carried out by the Select Committee and of the very helpful Report which they have produced. As one of the witnesses who appeared before this Committee, I fully realise that they were set no mean task and, in the words of the Committee themselves: They realised the surpassing importance as well as the extreme difficulty of the problem with which they were confronted. The Committee appear to be of the opinion—and that opinion has already been disclosed by my noble friend Lord Alness—that perhaps the most important factor which may lead to a diminution of road accidents is education. On that point I beg to differ from my noble friend Lord Newton. The other important point mentioned by my noble friend Lord Alness was segregation of road users, that is, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.

I cannot help feeling that education and propaganda offer one of the greatest hopes of reducing the appalling accidents on our roads. Education of public opinion allied with suitable propaganda would undoubtedly achieve very great results if properly conducted. The art of propaganda in this country has not been given the full attention that it deserves. I think it is true to say that it is still looked upon in certain quarters with a certain amount of suspicion. But the sooner we learn in this country how to use the art of propaganda, not only in the sphere of road accidents but in many other spheres which your Lordships can no doubt call to mind, the better it will be for the country. The Report suggests that the Highway Code should be revised and should form the basis of propaganda, and it goes on to make the further suggestion that the principles of the Highway Code should be encouraged and amplified from the pulpit, cinemas, advertisement posters, and above all by broadcasting. I propose to make a reasonable challenge to my noble friend Lord Alness on one point of the Highway Code which is mentioned in the Report. The Report suggests that the department of propaganda should revise the Highway Code. I would like to suggest that the Highway Code should be revised by a highly technical body of experts as it is a highly technical matter.

At the present time, as was pointed out by my noble friend the Marquess of Reading, all road users have an equal right to the King's highway, but many obligations are laid upon the driver of a vehicle. It certainly appears from the Report that the pedestrian is apparently unwilling to sacrifice any of his rights for the common cause of safety. Surely it can be accepted that where pavements or footpaths exist the vehicle should have a prior right to the carriage-way, provided that reasonable and safe facilities are given to pedestrians to cross it. I think the same reasoning should apply to cyclists, and I feel sure that many of your Lordships are glad to see that the Committee recommend the compulsory use of cycle tracks. On this point I would again like to make a reasonable challenge to my noble friend Lord Alness. In the Report of the Committee, in a section headed "Right of the Road," it is suggested that drivers of vehicles other than cyclists—I would like to stress the words "other than cyclists"—should as far as possible overtake other vehicles on the right-hand side of the road. In my opinion, and I believe it is the opinion of the House of Lords Roads Group, cyclists should conform to the rule of overtaking and passing on the right-hand side in the same way as other vehicles.

As the law stands at present, it is not only the cyclist who can commit only one offence on the highway; that also applies to the pedestrian. The offence that cyclists can commit is that of reckless riding. A pedestrian commits an offence if he fails to cross the road with due despatch, but I cannot help feeling that, as suggested by the Committee, it is time that pedestrians as road users should share in responsibility for road safety. I am glad to see that the Committee feel they have no alternative but to propose that it should be an offence for a pedestrian to enter a carriageway heedlessly, just as it is an offence for a motorist or cyclist to drive or ride heedlessly or recklessly. I should like again to add my congratulations to the Committee for their far-reaching Report, and I hope that the Ministry of Transport and Parliament will take steps as soon as possible to have their recommendations given the force of law. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby has suggested that the pigeon-hole for the reception of the Select Committee's Report has already been prepared. But even a pigeon must come out some time and I hope that my noble friend Lord Newton will use all his wiles to tempt the Report out into the open and into the light of day.

5.7 p.m.


My Lords, I am anxious at the outset to join with those of your Lordships who have paid tribute to the really wonderful work of this Committee. We have had an account of their proceedings from their noble Chairman and from the noble Marquess on the other side, and speaking as one who was privileged to appear before the Committee I may say that I was struck with the extraordinary kindness and courtesy with which they put questions and treated the witnesses. You could not have had a finer Committee from any point of view from which you could possibly judge them. They have produced a really remarkable Report. This Report, I submit, is literally a matter of life and death. That is not just a metaphorical expression but a literal description of the state of affairs. It has been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and it has been referred to also by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, and other speakers, that there is a possibility that the Report may be overlooked. I do not believe the country is long going to continue to watch the proceedings of the Government in patience if they set up Committee after Committee and then proceed to ignore their recommendations. It simply will not work, certainly not when we are dealing with questions of life and death.

The noble Lord, Lord Alness, told us in his speech that in one year—1936–37 I think he said—road accidents involving personal injury numbered 200,000. Think of the loss entailed, not only in life and limb, but in all sorts of financial directions. The loss to insurance companies alone is estimated to amount to £20,000,000 a year. Something has got to be done, and I am perfectly certain the country, however grave the international situation may be, will expect the Government to take action following on the Report of so magnificent a Committee. As the noble Chairman of the Committee and the noble Marquess have reminded us, that Report was practically unanimous. The Report cannot be pigeon-holed. Your Lordships will all remember the Bressey Report, a most able document which came out a short time ago. It has been put away, and I suppose is going through the curious process of being put into a pigeon-hole and left there. Practically nothing has been done with regard to it, although the Report has been out now for a month or six weeks, or perhaps a little longer. I should be interested to hear, when the noble Lord comes to reply, if he is able to tell us whether any steps whatever have been taken in connection with this Report.

There is another matter to which I should like to direct our Lordships' attention. There are some very serious criticisms of the Ministry of Transport in this Report. For many years I have been trying to keep track of the Ministry of Transport in its proceedings. I happen to be connected with a very important body which represents the whole of the commercial motor vehicle world outside, and they, like me, are intensely interested in the Ministry of Transport and what it does. And what do we find stated in paragraph 4 of this Report?: The Committee were not impressed by the evidence which they heard from its representatives regarding the organisation and working of the Department so far as road accidents and road construction are concerned. The Committee formed an impression that there is, in these matters, a lack of vision, of initiative, and of driving force in the Department. What more serious view could be taken by the Committee? Remember that the Committee were absolutely unanimous in that view. That was the view of all the members, and there is no dissent from it.

In this Report there are no less than thirteen paragraphs which level criticism of one sort or another, in some cases serious, in others perhaps not so serious, against the Ministry of Transport. There are five other paragraphs that criticise the Ministry by implication. The plain fact of the matter is that there is a great deal to be said for the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, this afternoon: that the direction of affairs of the Ministry of Transport should be taken away from the political field and put more under the experts. Of course you will have to have a Minister responsible to Parliament in some shape or form. But when you get thirteen clauses of a Report such as this criticising the Ministry directly and five by implication, I submit that it shows a very serious state of affairs. I entirely agree, from such knowledge as I have of these matters, with the view taken by the Select Committee. I have never been impressed with a feeling that the Ministry really took sufficient heed of this question of loss of life and limb on the highway. There is far too great a tendency, not only in the country as a whole but in the Ministry, to take a very complacent view of all this and to be content to apportion the blame among other people.

There are some most serious criticisms of the Ministry. There is a further one in paragraph 16: … the Committee are unable to accept the conclusions of the Ministry regarding the causes to which these accidents are attributed. And then they give reasons. I quite agree with that. Take the question of road construction: the Ministry have told us that they have worked out from statistics that only 1.2 per cent. of the accidents are due to defects of road design, whereas one of the most eminent road surveyors of this country, the road surveyor of Oxfordshire, carried out a most elaborate analysis of the area for which he was responsible and analysed all the accidents which took place in his area. He came to the conclusion that 75 per cent. of the accidents were directly or indirectly caused by defects of road design, and that if the Ministry's own specification with regard to the design and the improvement of roads had been carried out, those accidents would have been avoided. The Committee mention that fact and suggest, quite rightly and reasonably, that the truth probably lies somewhere between the two. It probably does; but you would have thought that when Mr. Bennett published his exhaustive analysis of the accidents in the area for which he was responsible—namely, in Oxfordshire—the Ministry would have carried out a fresh analysis—in fact, would have had inspectors there to see and cause inquiry to be held into how far the statements which he had made were justified.

I appeared, as I told your Lordships, before the Committee and had to give evidence on behalf of the great organisation for which I am responsible. The evidence we placed before the Committee was this: It seems clear to us that the Ministry have never conducted an investigation which would indicate to them and the public the proportion of accidents that might be saved if the national road system were comprehensively improved on the lines indicated in the Memorandum on the Lay-out and Construction struction of Roads. If this is so, then it appears to us that they have not attempted to assess the effect of road conditions on accident numbers. That was what we stated before the Select Committee, and, from all I can gather from the Report, I do not see that they really differed from it.

There are one or two recommendations in the Select Committee's Report to which I would like to refer. One is the question of the Highway Code. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, I also was one of those who took a part in the drafting of the Highway Code. I was called in—the only occasion on which I have ever been called in on such a matter—and asked to sit on a Committee under the Ministry of Transport which was concerned with the drafting of the Highway Code. What Lord Ponsonby says is quite true: we had to consider whether to invite or to compel. As the Highway Code was not to be given the force of law, we thought that it was much better to invite, to ask and to urge. But the Select Committee now recommend that the Highway Code should be given the force of law. I should like to submit to your Lordships and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Alness, that if you have to give the existing Highway Code the force of law it will have to be very considerably redrafted and remodelled. I quite agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has said, that when that redrafting and revision comes along, not only the Road Research Committee, which has got to be set up and is not yet in existence, should be concerned, but, as no doubt would be done, experts should be called in to help.

A few remarks have been made about speed, and of course the Select Committee have a paragraph on it: paragraph 26 deals with the subject of speed limits. There is one thing that I am sorry the Select Committee did not see their way to recommend. I speak for the commercial motor vehicle industry in this country, and one thing which we are most anxious to see take place, if it can be done at some time or another, is that there should only be one speed limit for commercial motor vehicles. As your Lordships no doubt know, it is a question of weight at the present moment. Vehicles of a certain weight are only allowed to go at 20 miles an hour, but vehicles below that weight are allowed to go at 30 miles an hour. One of the things that create difficulty and danger on the highway is varying speeds. Your Lordships have probably seen a heavier commercial vehicle going along and a rather lighter commercial vehicle trying to pass it. The margin of speed between the two is very small: the lighter vehicle has very little more speed than the heavier one, and the result is that they travel alongside one another for very considerable lengths of the highway, and there is often the chance, on our inadequate highway system, that a vehicle will be approaching from the other direction. It is difficult to see how that can be avoided. It would also be very much easier from the point of view of the driver of a light motor-car overtaking heavy traffic if he knew that any commercial vehicle which he saw could be expected to be proceeding at the same speed. Not all drivers have great experience. I think it would have helped them a good deal if the Committee had been able to make that recommendation.

With regard to restricted areas, the Committee urge that restricted areas should be reduced in number and extent. I also support that view. I am most anxious that roads should only be restricted where Parliament obviously meant them to be restricted: where they are in obviously built-up areas. There are many stretches of roads to-day which are restricted roads but which are really out in the country, and there is no possible reason for having any speed restriction upon them except that there may be an isolated lamp-post or something of the sort. I could easily give your Lordships the sort of case that I have in mind. You probably all know Mitcham Common. There is a road which goes across the Common from Mitcham to Croydon, and there is scarcely a house within half a mile of the road. There is, I believe, one house the whole way across the Common, and there is no obvious reason why there should be a speed restriction there. Yet that is where the police are most active in order to get convictions for vehicles exceeding 30 miles an hour. I am most anxious that the law should be observed in this matter, but I do not believe in it, and do not like it, because I think it standardises the speed of vehicles, and concentrates the attention of the police far too much on one factor alone, to the neglect of other matters.

There are one or two other matters to which I would like to refer. There is very serious criticism in paragraph 91 of the Report of the statistics of the Ministry of Transport. I have already referred to the statistics of the Ministry of Transport, and I do hope that something can be done to improve those statistics. They really are most important. Then, if your Lordships will direct your attention particularly to paragraph 92, I would say that I do not think a more important paragraph, from the point of view of road safety, ever figured in any Report presented to this House. Really it contains almost the kernel of the whole thing from the road construction point of view. It says: If more vigorous action is not taken in the future than in the past, there will be a complete strangulation of traffic, for saturation point has almost been reached. The figures of accidents have been quoted in this Report by the Select Committee, and it was pointed out by Lord Alness that 60 per cent. of the fatal accidents occurred in built-up areas. The reason, I would suggest, for that state of affairs is probably that that is where the maximum congestion takes place. The more the roads of this country get congested, the more our accident figures are likely to increase. I entirely endorse what the Committee have said.

Every one of your Lordships must know that it is perfectly true, from some points of view, that the saturation point has been reached. If any of your Lordships happen to try to return to London along any of the main roads leading into London, on a fine Sunday evening, you will find colossal blocks of traffic, which stick for hours together, and it is quite impossible to move in any direction. That state of affairs is getting much worse. Motor vehicles, your Lordships have been told, are increasing at a net rate of 500 a day, and yet there is practically no new motor road construction, and such as is undertaken proceeds with the slowest possible speed. Take, for instance, the Western Avenue. It was started in 1921, and it will not be completed for another two or three years. Examples of that kind can be multiplied. Even the Western Avenue will require improvement in a short time. It is one of the most dangerous roads in London to-day, and it is used by an enormous amount of industrial traffic, as well as by light motor car traffic. One would have thought that the Ministry would have gone ahead and tried to get that road improved.

There are many other points in the Report which I would have liked to bring to your Lordships' notice, but I feel that I have probably taken up too much of your Lordships' time already. There is, however, one matter to which I would like to refer, and that is the question of a motorway. The British Road Federation, of which I happen to be Chairman, organised the visit of the German Roads Delegation, who included members of both Houses of Parliament, road surveyors, representatives of county and borough councils, etc. I am not one of those who are prepared to dogmatise, that we should have exactly the German Autobahnen over here—I think probably we shall have to have something a little different—but I entirely support the Report of the Select Committee on this particular matter. They have suggested that an experimental motorway should be constructed. I was surprised to hear Lord Newton tell us that he was against motorways because in Germany the population was less dense than in this country. I should have thought that that was a good reason for having a motorway in this country.

With regard to a motorway the Committee in their Report give the approximate idea, which is a motorway from the London area to the Birmingham area, along an entirely new alignment, avoiding existing towns and villages. Evidence was given by a representative of the Ministry of Transport that the cost would be about £6,000,000. It so happens that that is the precise figure which the Ministry of Transport has authorised to be spent in improving roads in the crofter counties of the north-western Highlands. At a time like this, when money is hard to come by, it is difficult to understand why it is necessary to spend £6,000,000 on any such purpose, but I would ask your Lordships to contrast it with this proposed motorway, and to ask yourselves which is really likely to be more valuable to the country. These are not times when we want to spend a farthing more than is necessary, but it seems to me that here you have one of the most important industries in this country entirely dependent upon the roads.

Take it also from the point of view of national defence. Can we say that our roads are adequate for the purpose if the need comes? This country can exist without its railway system, but it certainly cannot exist without its road system. The railways are more vulnerable than the roads, and we may have to depend upon our roads to keep the country going. It is a matter which concerns us from every point of view, and I wish strongly to support the recommendations of the Select Committee. I only wish I could pay adequate tribute to the labours and wonderful work of that Committee. But I want to say this before I sit down, that I personally—and I am perfectly certain that I am only speaking for thousands and perhaps millions more—will never forgive the Government if they put this Report into a pigeon-hole and do nothing about it. It is a matter of life and death. I want that never to be forgotten.

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Newton, I have the honour to be connected with the Pedestrians' Association, but I do not ask your Lordships to think that I am speaking on behalf of that association. Nor am I able to assure your Lordships that everything that I am about to say would be agreed to by that body. At the same time there are just one or two things I would like to say about pedestrians. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, objects altogether to the word or the classification "pedestrian," but of course he is wrong, as I would ask him to believe if he were here; because it is perfectly plain that when you are a pedestrian you have certain rights and certain duties and a certain position, which may indeed be changed, by your taking a cab for instance, but while you are a pedestrian you are a pedestrian, and provision must be made for your safety.

There is one other observation I want to make about pedestrians. One or two noble Lords who have spoken have suggested that the attitude of pedestrians, admitting that they exist, is wholly selfish and unpatriotic, that they are prepared to regulate everybody else's user of the road, but not their own. I think that is a very one-sided and unfair representation of the attitude of those pedestrians that I know. I believe that many of them at any rate would be prepared to make very great concessions as to their rights and duties if they were satisfied that by so doing they would really produce a considerable improvement in the fearful conditions in which we find ourselves. I think I ought to remind noble Lords, if they do not know it, that quite recently this association—compared to the great motorist associations a very poor and almost indigent association—has taken a considerable part in advocating the better use of road crossings by pedestrians, and quite recently issued, I am told, half a million leaflets entirely concerned with that subject. It is quite untrue to say that they are not prepared to do what they can to meet the great difficulties we are in.

In that very brilliant speech delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Alness, he a little understated, if he will allow me to say so—although he said it very fairly—the figures of the road slaughter. He gave the figures for 1936. The year 1937 was a good deal worse. There were in that year 6,590 people killed and 226,355 people injured; and in 1938 there was no improvement—6,595 people were killed and 226,854 were injured. I do not know that that makes a very great deal of difference when you come to these figures. They are all, in the current phrase, almost astronomical in their extent, and they do undoubtedly present, as he very truly and forcibly said, a tremendous problem which, I agree with other speakers, has been far too long neglected by the governors of this country.

I have made one or two notes about the details of the Report, but I do not think I should be occupying your Lordships' time usefully by going into those. Some day, I hope soon, we shall have a Bill founded on the recommendations of the Report. I hope perhaps we may even get other things into it besides those included in the Report, and then will be the time to make detailed criticism. I am not therefore going to attempt any detailed criticism of the Report now. I take from the noble Lord's statement, and accept it, his view that the two great reforms they recommend are propaganda and segregation. As to propaganda, I am all for trying it to the utmost. It cannot do any harm, it may do a great deal of good. It has done a great deal of good—and the Report is founded on that largely—in Lancashire, as we know. The figures are extremely interesting and striking. Whether they can be maintained I am not quite so sure. Propaganda, as the Report recognises, loses its force very rapidly when it becomes familiar, and there is a considerable difficulty in keeping it always fresh. But still let us try it.

As to segregation, I also humbly entirely agree with the general principle of the paragraphs of the Report which recommend segregation. I believe it is the only way out. I believe it must be carried very far indeed. I am perfectly certain that, human beings being as they are, and being capable of a certain amount of care, it is trying them much too high to ask traffic going at four, five, six or seven miles an hour to use and occupy the same roads as traffic going at forty, fifty, sixty or seventy miles an hour. It has nothing to do with exceptional wickedness on the part either of the motorist or the pedestrian. It is simply that you are putting them under conditions in which safety is impossible. My only criticism there is that I think the Committee might perhaps have gone a little further than they have gone in that direction. They do recommend an experiment in what we may call the German cement roads—they call them Autobahnen, I think, but I am not a German scholar. I am all for the experiment because I am for all experiments. I should like to see several different experiments tried in connection with various safety devices under various conditions. Then we should have real facts to go upon instead of, necessarily at the present time, a great deal of theory.

But the only thing that I desire to press upon the House is that I do think, with all respect to the Committee—and I have the deepest respect for the Committee—that they have underrated the factor of speed. I cannot believe that they are right in thinking it has so little force, and I venture to enter my protest against the attitude adopted, not so much by the Committee but generally, in regard to speed. It is regarded as a kind of positive good, a kind of fetish, a thing to be admired in itself. Some people even apply to it the ordinary language applied to sport. I can see nothing sporting whatever in driving a machine very fast along a road to the danger of the other users of the road. It does not appear to me to be at all a sporting proceeding. But it is regarded as a kind of fetish, and the moment you get up against that feeling held by a great many motorists, you are conscious that you are up against a perfectly impenetrable wall of prejudice. They think that anything that is going to interfere with the general speed of motor cars is a retrograde step.

I would not suggest that that was the attitude of the Committee, but I cannot help feeling that even they were a little infected by this impression. I notice that they say they would be very sorry if restriction of speed went any further. On the contrary, they look forward to the time when it can be greatly removed. In passing, I must say that that seems to me a matter on which the local authorities of the district through which a road passes ought to be consulted very much more than they are consulted at the present time. They say, on page 11 of the Report, that there is too much restriction. I cannot conceive on what ground they put that statement forward unless they regard it as a serious matter if the speed of motor cars is reduced. They do not say restriction is unnecessary. They do not say restriction is not desirable. On the contrary, they say it is essential, and, if it is essential, then I cannot imagine why they think it desirable that it should be reduced to any extent.

I observe another of their phrases with reference to this question of speed is that if you re-impose a speed limit that would unreasonably retard progress. They will forgive me for saying that I regret that attitude. I deny that speed and progress are convertible terms. I cannot bring myself to doubt that speed is, in the end, the most important element of danger on the road. After all, we are dealing with a new problem in this great slaughter of people on the roads. What is the fundamental distinction between driving now and driving before this slaughter began? It is the advent of the motor car, and the only difference between the motor car and the horse-drawn carriage is that the motor car goes much faster. In all respects the horse-drawn carriage was less manageable than the motor car, but in the one respect of going faster the motor car has increased the danger.

That is not the only thing. I will not ask your Lordships to listen to a long argument on the subject, but the mere fact that the central areas of towns are very nearly free from accidents, though they are the most crowded, is impliedly admitted in the Report, and the reason given is perfectly true—namely, the traffic is so great that speed is very severely limited. No doubt that is the reason. There was an experiment tried in the American town of Providence, where the speed limit was introduced for the first time and was fixed at 25 miles an hour, with an immense reduction in the casualties in the street. That, of course, is not conclusive. You may say, and with truth, that other circumstances may have induced the improvement, but it is a fact that must be borne in mind. Quite apart from these reasonings as to facts—I will deal with what the noble Lord had to say about it in a moment—surely it stands to reason that a car going, let us say, at 60 miles an hour is much more likely in unforeseen circumstances to cause an accident than a car going at 30 miles an hour. Just conceive 60 miles an hour—I make it that that means 30 yards a second, roughly, or 15 yards in half a second. Suppose a child runs out into the road 20 yards in front of the car, it is most incredible that the car can be stopped in half a second if it is going at 60 miles an hour. There is not sufficient time even to apply the brakes, much less stop the car. If you compare that with a car travelling at 30 miles an hour you have at least a second to act, and a second is a great deal longer than half a second in such circumstances and makes a great deal of difference.

There is this further consideration, that if you can apply the brakes you reduce the speed from 30 miles an hour to something very much less. Far less reduction can take place in the case of a car travelling at 60 miles an hour, so that when the collision takes place it is much more serious in the case of a fast-going car than in the case of a slow-going car. That argument seems to me impossible to refute. It seems to me quite clear that, once there is danger of an accident, the faster a car is going the more likely is an accident to occur, and the more serious it will be if it does occur. My noble friend said, with much force, that accidents diminished after the abolition of the 20 miles an hour limit. But the noble Lord will remember that the 20 miles an hour limit was never observed, and that was indeed the main ground on which it was removed. It had become simply a defiance of the law. Then he said that most accidents occurred in restricted areas. I cannot pretend to have examined the figures, but my information is that that is not true. I am informed that as far as vehicles are concerned there are more accidents in the non-restricted areas than in the restricted areas. However that may be, as far as pedestrians are concerned no doubt there are far more accidents. There must be, because there are far more pedestrians. You can drive through the countryside and see a pedestrian every half mile perhaps. You cannot kill many on a road of that kind. But if you have them all crowded in the streets, as you do in the restricted, built-up areas, of course there must be many more accidents even in spite of restriction.

I must add that those who have watched the actual working of the speed limit assure me that it is very often disregarded even at the present time. I do not know whether that is true or not, but that seems to me the first thing to do—to see that the speed limit is effectively applied. I am sorry to trouble your Lordships on this point, but it is really so vital that I must just say a few more words upon it. What is the practical material advantage you gain by this speed? I think it is very small. I believe that the cases where you can say that being able to drive a car at more than 25 or 30 miles an hour produces any actual good to anybody are very few. There are of course cases. There is the celebrated case, of which we hear so much, of the doctor speeding to a patient who is in great danger. But these cases are extremely few, and in these cases, very properly, it is not considered necessary to enforce the penalties. I do not believe there are many such cases, nor do I believe that the speed limit diminishes speed over a long distance to anything like the extent some people imagine.

To take again this Providence experiment, they tried two cars. One was instructed to go as fast as it could without any regard to speed limits or traffic lights from one end of the town to the other, a distance of five miles, and the other was instructed never to exceed 25 miles an hour and to obey all traffic regulations. The non-regulated car arrived a minute and a half quicker than the regulated car. I believe that, broadly speaking, the truth is that restriction, though it does prevent exceptional speed, does not prevent rapid transit over any important distance. I am afraid I am bound to conclude from this that the real case for speed is not the importance or value of it to the community, but because it gives pleasure to a certain number of rich people. That is the real case for speed, and in that they are supported, I think rather foolishly, by the great motorist organisations which have, unfortunately, very great advantages in any form of agitation in this country. I cannot help thinking that a fair consideration of the matter would lead to the conclusion that it is not safe to allow cars to be driven at great speeds along roads which are used by other members of the public—pedestrians if you like, or even cyclists, for after all they are entitled to consideration—and, so far as they exist, horse-driven vehicles. I do not believe it can be done with safety, and I am sure it is a scandal if that be true that something should not be done to limit these speeds.

I believe future ages will regard with consternation the complacency, the indifference with which this slaughter and mutilation on the roads is now regarded. I observe with great interest that in the final paragraph of the Report the members of the Committee themselves say that they are puzzled and shocked—I do not think I am exaggerating what they say—by the complacency with which this matter is regarded. I agree most heartily with them. There is no need to attribute blame to those who have assisted in this complacency. You have on the one side a great unorganised body of pedestrians and others, not rich enough and not having the power of making their views felt because they are not organised, and on the other hand you have the great motorist organisations, immensely wealthy, immensely vigorous. I will not say they are unscrupulous, but their agents certainly serve their companies with great devotion, and they carry on the battle against the unhappy pedestrian with great advantages. Your Lordships are entirely free from those influences. You do not depend upon votes. You can do justice if you will, irrespective of what the consequences may be to the Government of the day. I ask you for justice in this matter. I ask you, when you come to enact this law, to consider very carefully whether it is really true that a reduction of speed would not make for a considerable degree of safety on the roads. If you arrive at that conclusion then I venture to ask that in any future legislation all public roads which are used by all members of the public should be subjected to a really effective speed limit, and that if motorists want to go at great speeds they should go upon such motor roads as have been suggested, where the conditions would be analagous to those which prevail on railways and not to those which prevail on roads.

5.54 p.m.


My Lords, I think your Lordships will agree that at least the members of your Lordships' House have reported, and the Report which we are discussing to-day has not in any way come under malign influences.


I did not suggest that. I am sure the noble Lord did not think I was making any such suggestion. So far as that part of my observations is concerned what I meant was that in point of fact the members of the Committee had the benefit of being able to judge from the evidence submitted to them, and I know, because I have been on a Committee, that the evidence submitted by the motorists' interests was always extremely well prepared, and extremely well delivered, and every detail and every fact was extremely well organised. Under those circumstances, it is not surprising that the Committee took a rather more favourable view than I did on the problem of speed.


I am sure the noble and learned Lord will accept that explanation. I do not know that I can do so to the same extent, because I consider that the Report is one of the fairest reports that has ever been issued by a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. It takes into account all the various points of view which were represented before it. I want to join with those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Newton, on having moved this Motion. I supported the Motion when he moved for the appointment of a Select Committee originally in this House, and I am very glad I did so. I wish to pay a tribute to the Report itself, and to the work which has been done by the Committee on behalf of all the interests represented. I think we ought to take note here to-day that the late Minister of Transport, Mr. Leslie Burgin, also welcomed this Select Committee. He told me personally that he did so. That this Report should have appeared at the moment when a new Minister of Transport, Captain Euan Wallace, has been appointed, ought, I think, to be a very happy omen for it. That the new Minister of Transport should have presented to him on his entry into his office a Report of this nature must be a matter of great satisfaction to him.

So far as the Report itself is concerned, I cannot agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Newton that propaganda and education would not be a very useful measure in reducing the death toll on the roads. I happen to be Chairman of an organisation of veteran motorists, who are 36,000 strong in this country. Its aim is careful driving and its motto is "Care and courtesy." In May of last year it inaugurated for a few days, with the consent and the blessing of the then Minister of Transport, a campaign with the object of bringing before the motoring public, cyclists and pedestrians, the advantages of driving and walking carefully. This organisation was in touch with different Chief Constables in the country. The campaign lasted through Whitsuntide, and after it was over we received information which proved that the casualty lists in the particular areas where the campaign had taken place were less in comparison with those of the year before. Another campaign of a similar nature is being carried through this month, also with the blessing and support of the present Minister of Transport, and I believe we shall find that very similar results will have been obtained.

From the experiment which was made in Lancashire by the Chief Constable by an intensive use of motor patrols whose object was courtesy and not prosecution, we learned that the casualties were reduced by 46 per cent. during that period compared with the same period of last year. There is definite proof that education and propaganda is of the greatest use and I wish to support very strongly indeed the recommendations made in paragraphs 25 to 31 which deal with education and propaganda for the use of care and courtesy on the road. I do not think a campaign of that nature can be too widely spread, and I believe that all our people, whether they be motorists or cyclists or pedestrians, will respond to it if it is brought universally to their notice. Motorists as a body are not more cruel in nature than pedestrians or cyclists. They do not wish to go out and create a death roll on the roads, as was almost suggested by my noble friend Viscount Cecil. To-day they are so hedged round with regulations and laws that if any law is capable of preventing people carrying out something of that kind they would be prevented.

With regard to pedestrians, we are all pedestrians most of the time and probably motorists for a very short part of our daily lives. I do not think any noble Lord can get up here and talk as from the pedestrian's point of view alone, and look at other noble Lords and say, "You are motorists and not pedestrians." We all have the same knowledge of walking. There are a number of things one observes as one walks along which could very well be adjusted by imposing certain regulations on pedestrians which would be of advantage to the pedestrians themselves. There was a suggestion that a pedestrian walking in a town who happens to be near a crossing should be made to cross the road at that crossing, and not do a sort of jay walk about twenty-five yards from it, zig-zagging across the road in the path of motorists driving legitimately at a legitimate pace. It has been suggested that in those cases the onus of any accident should be placed upon the pedestrian. I think that is perfectly fair. Again, where there are footpaths pedestrians should use those footpaths, and not walk in the middle of roads when motorists are travelling along. That surely is perfectly fair. That applies also to cyclists, where tracks are provided for them. I agree with my noble friend Earl Howe, that the Highway Code should be brought into law, although probably it would require certain adjustments to give it a better aspect from the legal point of view.

Now with regard to roads. I believe that to-day there must certainly be some limitation on the roads that are built. It is perfectly true that additional roads are required to carry all the motors that are being used now and will be used in the future. In these days, when there is immense expenditure on armaments and defence, I feel quite sure that the Government must have some difficulty in finding funds for the construction of roads along the lines proposed by my noble friend Lord Eltisley in his speech. I venture to suggest that if any roads are to be built, at least they should be roads of tactical or strategical advantage, and that they should be roads which would enable people to be evacuated from the large towns, roads which would fit in with the measures of defence which are being taken.

Within the last week a new Budget has been introduced under which motorists will pay an additional large sum. The horse-power tax is to be increased by nearly 75 per cent. This is not the moment, I agree, to debate whether that is the right way to impose a tax, or whether it would not have been better to have put a penny or twopence on petrol and so let everybody share the burden and not interfere with the manufacturing or export trade in motors. The reason I raise the point is that this large sum is to be raised not for the purpose of making roads but for the purpose of defence. Consequently the Government cannot count on anything more from this taxation in order to carry out a programme which is very necessary for the safety of the roads. I do not believe, however, that that should interfere altogether with this programme. Over £100,000,000 per annum is being taken in taxation from the motorists to-day. If it is necessary to curtail expenditure somewhere else in order that a fair proportion of that money could be spent on the needs of motorists—which, after all, are also the needs of pedestrians and cyclists—I venture to suggest that the Government should do so. There are many points in this very admirable and long Report which one could comment upon, but I only wish to end on this note, that I venture to hope that the Minister of Transport will take this Report into very early consideration and bring as much of it into law as he possibly can.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, it is with great diffidence that I rise to address your Lordships for the first time, and I crave that indulgence which you extend to a speaker making his maiden speech. I would like first of all to call attention to one point which does not occur in this very excellent Report. It is already the subject of an Act, but sufficient attention is not paid to it, and that is the question of tyres. Smooth tyres constitute one of the greatest menaces on our roads to-day. I have seen just recently a number of public vehicles—lorries, and some private 'buses—running about the roads with their tyres through not only to the breaker-strip but right down to the canvas. That is a serious criminal offence, for a burst tyre may throw a car out of control and cause unlimited damage. It ought to be punishable very severely.

Secondly, I come to the subject of roads. I heartily endorse what the noble Earl said about roads on a fine Saturday or Sunday evening. I will give your Lordships one example. Last Easter Monday I was coming back from Devon on a main road, A30. From the junction of the Farnborough and Camberley roads to the bridge by the Cricketers Hotel, a distance of perhaps two miles, took me forty-eight minutes to cover—on a main road. The railways have an admirable slogan, "Clear the lines," and that could equally well be adopted by the Ministry of Transport. Clear the lines with large, wide bridges, and clear the roads of old-fashioned and out-of-date level crossings. As Autobahnen have been discussed, I submit that such a road exists or is in process of being finished in this country. That is the admirable stretch of road between Leatherhead and Dorking. One section of the old road has been converted into a one-way street, and a fine new section with super-elevated corners has been built. There is a marked contrast between the two; the narrow old road with its reverse camber, and the new road, on which it is possible to go round the corner, keeping on the outside of the road, within about six inches of the kerb.

Road surfaces, particularly in London, seem to consist largely of a very dangerous material: wood blocks. It is impossible to stop from twenty miles an hour in less than sixty-seven feet on a wet wood-block road. A child runs out; you put your brakes on, and what happens? The car slides forward, and all the more so because the authorities have the habit of throwing sand or small stones on the roads; they make it worse. A bad example of a wood-block road is the Haymarket. There is a 'bus stop on the left-hand side of the road about halfway down, just before Panton Street. When it is wet the 'buses stopping there slide forward five or six feet; they cannot do anything about it. To watch them go round the corner at the bottom is quite funny and sometimes pathetic.

Recently an article appeared in a paper called Timber and Plywood in which they took my noble friend Lord Sandhurst to task for creating and talking about woodblock roads. They said that they must attend to his education: that he must remember that his old school tie was in these days woven from wood. Lord Sandhurst told me to-day that he was very upset about it and has taken immediate steps to see that the next old school tie he buys shall be woven from glass, as he does not believe in having anything that is out of date!

6.16 p.m.


My Lords, like the last speaker, this is the first time that I have ventured to address you, and I am sure you will extend to me the indulgence that is necessary, particularly after what happened this afternoon, and forgive me if I make any infractions of the conventions of the House and its usual methods of behaviour. We are discussing the Report on the Prevention of Road Accidents, and I find myself, having read it very thoroughly, in perfect agreement with all its recommendations and in great admiration of the way in which its conclusions and recommendations have been arrived at. But in the debate this afternoon I am impressed by the almost unanimous fear of every speaker that nothing will happen in consequence of this Report, and that it will be pigeon-holed or sent into oblivion. I wonder, therefore, what has been the use of the Report and all the work involved in preparing, publishing and discussing it, in view of the unanimous opinion regarding its fate.

For example, the Committee reported: The present road system is inadequate and out of date. It does not meet the traffic needs, the convenience, or the safety of road users. The Committee were impressed throughout their inquiry by the fact that the Ministry appeared to be out of touch with the practical problems. Another refer- ference was that the Ministry of Transport had shown lack of vision and initiative. A real knowledge of the facts brings out clearly that we have been let down by the Ministry of Transport. Lord Howe said that there were thirteen similar references in the Report directly and a number of others by implication. The Report is being considered by the House now with a view to having action taken concerning it, and yet your Lordships seem unanimously to be afraid that nothing is going to be done. Certainly if any action is taken, apparently what must be taken is action by this very severely criticised Department of the Government. It is not the present Government that is exclusively to blame; it has been every successive Government since the Ministry of Transport was first created which has been blameworthy for the conditions of to-day.

The Ministry was created soon after the Great War. It had many duties, among which the control of road traffic was perhaps the least, because the first Minister of Transport was obviously a railway-man. The Ministry was created in an atmosphere of protection for the railway and that atmosphere has permeated it and its actions ever since. The Ministers immediately succeeding the first Minister were considered by the Governments of the day to be of so little importance that no remuneration attached to their office. The appointment of other Ministers, I am sorry to say, has been used either as a means of reward for services elsewhere or as a stepping stone to higher things, as witness examples in the last three Ministers. Nothing in fact has been done by the Ministry of Transport during its existence but what may be described as eye-wash. There has for many years among motoring organisations been great agitation for central authority in respect of road control. Three years ago 4,500 miles of road were handed over to the Minister of Transport. I do not know if that was the result of that agitation. I rather fear that there was an ulterior motive. Whatever the reason the roads were handed over and the Report which we are now discussing says this: Since the Act came into operation"— that is the Act by which these 4,500 miles of road were put under the control of the Ministry of Transport— there has been less work done on trunk roads than during the preceding five years. So having achieved our central authority, we have a great deal more procrastination and a good deal more eye-wash than ever before.

I am sure it will interest your Lordships to recall, respecting the indication of pedestrian crossings, whether by steel studs or other disfigurements of the highway or by barbers' poles and oranges, that similar devices had been used and discarded abroad many years before the particular Minister with whose name they are associated adopted them in this country, indeed long before his name was even hyphenated. It is such a Department which is to receive this Report and take the necessary action to carry into effect its recommendations. It was certainly a very happy condition to have a Minister who could speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but unless he has also the knowledge such speaking is as sounding brass and tinkling cymbal. Unless he has some further qualification than mere eloquence, he is as nothing, and we shall get nowhere with our roads which are so vitally necessary. I agree with Lord Howe that this is a matter of life and death and yet, although almost unanimously every speaker this afternoon has without reservation, except perhaps in the case of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, supported the Report and recommended its immediate adoption, the implication in every case has been "Oh, well, we are merely hoping for the impossible." I do not know sufficient of the procedure of this House, but I think it is a scandal that we should receive so wonderful a Report in such a spirit and seem to be so impotent to insist that something should be done in carrying out its recommendations.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, I will deal very briefly with this vexed question. May I say first of all that the suggestions made by the Select Committee have been put forward from time to time by the Pedestrians' Association, with which I am connected? Many of these proposals, such as those for the exemplary punishment of motorists convicted of driving under the influence of drink or drugs, have been advocated by that association for many years past. Lord Newton ought to be very pleased to think that the proposal which he has made so persistently year after year, that pedestrians on the pavement should keep to the left and not to the right, is endorsed by the Committee. I also made one recommendation—namely, that maps or charts should be prepared and published showing dangerous spots where accidents are likely to occur or have occurred. These could be on sale and be made use of by both motorists and pedestrians.

Still, I am disappointed that so little attention is paid in the Report of the Select Committee to the reduction of accidents at the present time. Education, no doubt, particularly of children, is an excellent proposal, but a long-term policy means that you can hardly apply the advantages of improvements of roads to built-up areas. They will only apply to the district outside the towns and therefore there will be a very great number of casualties continuing to occur in built-up areas. The Select Committee's Report lays stress on the fact that there are a greater number of accidents in built-up areas than in the unrestricted parts. Of course, because the greater number of people are in built-up areas. In this connection I would just read a part of a report which has been prepared for me by my association with regard to figures for the Metropolitan Police area. It says that in 1934, before the speed limit in built-up areas, 1,434 persons were killed. In 1935 (the speed limit came into operation on March 18) 1,103 persons were killed, a reduction of 331. The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis also commented in his report that in the first three months after the operation of a speed limit the number of fatal accidents in which vehicles not previously subject to the speed limit were involved was reduced by a half, whereas the number of accidents involving vehicles which were always subject to a speed limit—namely, public service and commercial vehicles—remained the same.

That shows that the restriction of speed had a very great effect in relation to the safety of pedestrians. I regret that in such a very excellent Report as that of the Select Committee so little regard is paid to the reduction of the number of accidents at the present time. This long-term policy which they advocate would take many years to carry out, and during that period the slaughter would continue. Lord Cecil dealt with the experience of the town of Providence in the United States of America, showing the great benefit which had been obtained by motorists and the general public from a speed limit. I think the death rate fell in that case by half. Then, I think, there was put before the Committee evidence in regard to vehicles fitted with a device which limited the speed of the vehicle, but the Committee, I regret to say, did not see fit to put this into their Report.

I wish to mention two points of which I gave private notice to the Minister of Transport. One was as to whether any further information than that contained in the Report is available with regard to the effect of one-way streets on pedestrians and the number of deaths and accidents caused thereby. The Report says that they are only about.08 per cent. of the whole. It is very difficult in crossing these one-way streets to remember that they are one-way streets, and I imagine there must be a considerable number of casualties occurring through this fact. I do not know whether any further information can be given on this point by the noble Earl who will reply.

The other point was whether in making new tube stations or remodelling old ones lifts should not be installed, in addition to escalators. The statistics have shown that about 68 per cent. of the people killed are either below eleven years of age or over sixty, that is, children or elderly and infirm people. They dare not go on the escalators. I am sure the experience of your Lordships will be that they object to venturing on an escalator. It is not safe for very old people and for young children. Therefore I hope that it will be insisted upon that lifts are put in, in addition to escalators, when in future any new tube station is built or any old one remodelled.

6.32 p.m.


My Lords, I regret to intervene at this stage, but I understand it will meet the convenience of the noble Earl who is to reply. I think that the House will have been impressed by the fact that it would be an enhancement of our debates if the noble Lord, Lord Perry, were able to intervene somewhat more frequently than in times past in our discussions. There is one matter which I think should be mentioned, or rather summarised, before the noble Earl replies, and that arises out of a good many of the comments which have been made in the House and out of the very fact that something like two hundred recommendations have been made by the Committee. If a Committee appointed by this House, addressing its mind to these problems as this Committee did, coming to them fresh without prejudice, arrives at the conclusion that this considerable number of recommendations should be made, and should be given effect to, is it not clear that we have not hitherto been provided with a proper thinking department in this matter? Otherwise it would not be the case that a Select Committee, set up as this was and working as this has done, would have produced a Report of this character.

And that compels me to make one or two observations, to which I hope the noble Earl will reply, upon the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Perry, and that is as to the evidence put before us about the general character of the work of the Ministry of Transport itself. Of course it is true that the Ministry has been used as, so to say, a transfer platform to other posts, but I do not accept that at all as a sufficient reason for a Minister, and more particularly a Ministry, failing to deal in a constructive deliberate and continued fashion with the problems with which they are paid to deal. The fact that you had passenger Ministers is really not sufficient explanation of the strange phenomenon with which we are confronted to-day. I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Ponsonby that the Ministry of Transport should be a Commission with a Chairman, and not perhaps very amenable to Parliamentary pressure. I think the present Report goes to show that we ought to have a Ministry that is more susceptible to public pressure, and I sincerely hope that this will not mark the end of the efforts of this House to get something done about this Report, but will mark the beginning of a sustained endeavour.

There are two aspects of the Ministry's work which appear to me to emerge very prominently from this Report, and to which I would ask the noble Earl to turn his mind. After all, when accidents occur obviously the right course to take is to ascertain the conditions in which they occur, so far as you can, to find out why they occur, and then take the necessary steps so far as you can to prevent their recurrence. That is just the common sense of the situation. Now what do we find in fact so far as the Ministry is concerned? I have taken the trouble to look up the evidence, and it will be found on page 577 of the Minutes of Evidence. The fact is that, although there were 200,000 or more injuries on the roads in 1937 the Ministry themselves have no machinery for being informed about those accidents unless they happen to occur on trunk roads. It was brought out in evidence that it appears never to have occurred to the Ministry that they ought to establish machinery to inform themselves as to the character of those accidents.

We had before us a very remarkable example of the necessity of informing yourself precisely of the circumstances of the different accidents in the Report of the surveyor for the county of Oxford-shire. This man took the trouble to go into the different accidents and find out as well as he could what they were due to, and, where they were due to something in the road which ought to be attended to, he had it attended to and effected a very remarkable improvement. The fact is, as is shown in our Report, that the Ministry are possessed of eight accident officers. I did a little sum in arithmetic and perhaps the House will be interested in knowing what was the result. There were 200,000 or more accidents, and that meant that there were about 500 a day, and each of these accident officers, if he had attended to them, would have had about three minutes per accident. Well, of course, you only have to state a fact of that kind to display the absurdity of the present position. That was one of the reasons which lay behind the recommendation of the Committee that there should be a road safety research body, using the whole of the organisation, vastly augmented, which will be able to inquire in a sensible and practical way into the different accidents—why they occur, what road improvements they call for, and so on. It is not enough simply to blame the folly or carelessness or thoughtlessness of the pedestrian because it is quite clear that, just as we have a handrail to our own staircases to prevent our falling over them, so a large number of safeguards or improvements will reduce the number of accidents by preventing the possibility of thoughless acts. It was proved in Oxfordshire and in other evidence before the Committee that where the cases are properly inquired into, with proper machinery created for making the inquiries, then you will be able to plan your provisions so as to prevent accidents occurring.

That brings me to the next big difficulty to which the noble Earl should attend. There is no planning machinery, so far as we can see, in the Ministry at all. There is this authority over a limited number of main roads which does not appear to have galvanised them into much activity so far as the records put before us are concerned. In fact, they have done much less than the local authorities whom they have superseded. We have been told that they are still thinking about a programme and that there has been a road improvement programme on paper for three years, but nothing has been done about it. I suppose it will remain on paper, this programme of necessary road improvements recommended by the Ministry to the Treasury. In the first place, the Ministry are not able to draw up a programme of road improvements at all except in so far as they concern trunk roads. There is no machinery, as far as I can see—in fact it was admitted in evidence—for informing the Ministry as to defects in the roads at all, outside trunk roads, unless they learn of them by accident. There is no machinery for automatically informing the Ministry what is required in the roads.

When road defects are revealed either by accident or in some other way on the small mileage of trunk roads, they are referred, in so far as they are referred to anybody, to the road engineers; but there are only eight engineers for 20,000 miles of roads. You only have to state that fact. There is no machinery, therefore, in the Ministry, and, so far as I can elicit, it never seems to have occurred to anybody that there should be machinery—that is the significant and sad fact—for informing the Ministry as to the distribution of accidents, the causes of accidents, and what ought to be done to prevent them on the one hand, or the extent of deficiencies in the roads, what ought to be done to improve the roads, what ingredients should enter into a national road programme, or anything of that kind.

In my opinion—I am speaking only for myself—the central reason why after this length of time you have a Select Committee which produces this great body of recommendations, unanimously supported, is that we have not had a proper Governmental machine put together for dealing with this problem at all. We have not got one now, and if anybody wants to be convinced of the fact all he has to do is to read the Report or, better still, the evidence supporting it. I am hopeful that the noble Earl will decline to allow this Report to be pigeon-holed. I am more hopeful than the noble Lord, Lord Newton. I think public life shows us that if you make yourself sufficiently a nuisance long enough and often enough you will get something done. Therefore I hope the noble Lord will take note of that fact in respect of this matter. I do hope the noble Earl will not forget in his reply, or perhaps afterwards, if he does not see fit to reply on the point now, that the most important fact of all and the main cause of our continued impotence in this matter is that we have not yet created a proper and efficient central State Department to deal with it. Might I, in conclusion, without impertinence, on behalf of my fellow members of the Committee, say that I am quite sure the reason why the work was done so harmoniously and so unanimously was due largely to the fact that we were presided over by a Chairman of eminent clarity and fairness throughout the whole length of our deliberations?

6.47 p.m.


My Lords, we shall be all agreed that this has been not merely a very useful but a very important debate. Not least amongst its uses is that it has shown us that we have two very good and useful new members who are going to take part in our discussions—the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, and the noble Lord, Lord Perry, who obviously have great knowledge of their subject and can also add not only wisdom but considerable cheerfulness to our proceedings. Another point on which we are quite unanimous is that we owe to the noble Lord, Lord Alness, who took the chair of this Committee, and also to the members of the Committee, a debt of gratitude. They have produced a most compendious document taking into account all the evidence they had. That evidence we have been told takes up over 600 pages and the Report has taken fifteen or sixteen months to produce. We can safely say that almost every proposal that has been made lately or in the last two years with regard to this vital problem has been carefully examined by the Committee. After all that, as your Lordships have been reminded, the Report is unanimous.

It has produced a very interesting debate and one in which a certain number of points of view have been expressed. These points of view have been quite unanimous in one respect, and that is that very few of your Lordships seem to like the unfortunate Ministry of Transport. If I may say so, a number of points and useful bits of work that that Ministry has done have not been accorded the notice that your Lordships in common fairness would have wanted to accord if you had had them put before you. What is the extent of this subject? At the present time its extent is shown by the fact that we are discussing the actual death of 6,500 people during the last twelve months and injury to more than 200,000. I do not know how much comfort we can really take from statistics. After all, what is the difference between 6,500 and something over 7,000? But I think that if we are looking at this as a continuous problem, one that has to be dealt with on a long-term basis, we should take at least some comfort from the fact that whereas in 1930 one person was being killed for every 315 vehicles, to-day it is one person for every 460 vehicles. That is a decrease of just over 33 per cent., a figure that should not give us any sense of complacency, but nevertheless a figure which shows that some progress is possibly being made.

If I may say so, I thought the contribution made by the most reverend Primate was a very useful and important one. He drew attention to the fact that a great portion of this problem is not one of machinery at all. That is where I venture to say that some of your Lordships' unanimity in criticism of the Ministry of Transport is perhaps a little unfair. This is not an entirely new problem. How many realise that in the year 1900 there were nearly 2,000 deaths from traffic other than railways, and that with a population of nearly 10,000,000 less? I say that simply in order to help us to remind ourselves that we are dealing with what is largely a psychological problem, and that there are some of us who are what is called "accident prone" and that whatever form of transport we use we are somehow going to get hurt, just as there are some people whom we ask to dinner in fear and trembling knowing always that there will be a spill on our tablecloth. I think that is a fact we have got to face when we are dealing with what is essentially a human and psychological problem.

That is a point which is referred to in the Report. In paragraph 31 the Report refers to the importance—and I do not think we can overrate it—of good relations between all road users, and it is said that it should be fostered by propaganda. Again, in paragraph 44, the Report refers to the possibilities that might arise out of a round-table conference, or series of round-table conferences, between representatives of road users. I personally believe that a considerable amount of good might result from action of that kind by removing the sense of grievance that does undoubtedly exist in so many people's minds, in the minds of motorists against pedestrians, in the minds of pedestrians against motorists, and in the minds of cyclists against pedestrians. This, when in a moment, in a flash, it has to be decided whether there is to be an accident or not, frequently influences, perhaps unconsciously, the act of a man or woman.

If I may say so, it seems to me one of the most hopeful features of this debate that there has been so extraordinarily little of that spirit of blaming one section or another. There has been very little reference to the actual figures of responsibility. The figures show that, according to the police—I do not know whether the figures are correct or not, but they are the best evidence we have—twice as many accidents are in fact caused by pedestrians as by cyclists or by motorists. I think those figures are important. On the other hand we should be pleased that there has not been a great deal of reference to them, because I do not believe we are going to solve the problem in that spirit. With those few remarks I think I have made it clear that I, at any rate, am a believer in propaganda. I think that propaganda properly used is going to be one of the most potent methods of dealing with this problem, and no regula- tions, no prosecutions, however important in certain cases they and the right punishment of the offenders may be, are going to be a substitute for a right feeling.

A very great number of points have been put before us by the Report, and a very great number of points have been put before us in this debate. I hope that your Lordships will agree with me that it would not be possible for me during the present debate to deal with all those points, particularly in view of the fact that the Report has only been out for just over a month and that my right honourable friend the new Minister has only been in his office for a fortnight. Naturally he wants to give consideration to all the points that have been put before him. But there are a certain number of categorical criticisms that have been made, some of which have been referred to by my noble friend Lord Howe. I think it might be helpful to the discussion if I ventured to say one or two things with regard to those criticisms.

The first, and I think one of the main points that was made against the Government, was with regard to the inadequacy of our road system. I do not think anybody who travels the country would venture for a moment to say we have an ideal road system in this country, but it may perhaps be of interest to your Lordships to know that during the last twenty years we have spent no less than £1,000,000,000 on the improvement of that system, and I do not think anybody would say that is a small figure. The Report refers, and noble Lords in their speeches have referred, to the small length of new roads constructed during the last few years. That is perfectly true, but against that we have the fact that at the present moment we have a greater mileage of roads in this country, compared to our surface, than anywhere else in the world. Rightly or wrongly we have taken as our first problem the widening of existing roads rather than the making of new ones. I know that is a point on which there is not entire agreement, but I do not think there can be entire agreement because you have to deal with different problems in different ways.

Reference has been made to trunk roads, to the fact that something in the realm of 4,000 miles of trunk roads have been handed over to the Ministry and that since then there has not been very great activity. Actually there are at the present moment schemes for 885 miles of new road in existence. I think your Lordships may know that just about the time when these trunk roads were handed over to the Ministry of Transport we started having to bear very heavy financial burdens in other directions. I think it would only be fair to take that as in part an explanation of why progress has not been so swift during the last few years as noble Lords would have wished. At the present moment we cannot have everything. His Majesty's Government have to make a choice with regard to new expenditure. If I am not going off the point, I should have thought it one of the most amazing achievements of any Government that, at a time when we are spending over £2,000,000,000 on armaments in a very short period, there has been no talk as yet either in Government circles or in Parliament, of a cut in any of the existing social or public services. But that does not mean that we do not have to look with the greatest care at new undertakings.

The Report complains of disregard by His Majesty's Government of other Reports, and it mentions particularly—I think in paragraph 6—the Report with regard to safety among school children. I am not quite sure what evidence can have been taken on that point, because in fact local authorities are doing a very great deal in regard to that particular matter. They were at once told that they could have a grant of 50 per cent. of necessary expenditure, and they are taking considerable action with regard to putting up barriers and signs. We do not leave this question merely to local authorities, but our inspectors definitely regard it as part of their business to keep a good look-out and take up cases which the local people may appear to be neglecting.

As regards instruction in the schools, which was recommended, arrangements vary very considerably and it is difficult to give satisfactory statistics, but over 92 per cent. of the local education authorities in England and Wales are taking action with regard to instruction in schools. That instruction is given both by teachers and by police officers who go to the schools and lecture. Teachers are putting in a considerable amount of work with individual children. They watch children arriving at and leaving school, they pick up cases of bad traffic behaviour and discuss them with the children, and give considerable assistance in that way. I noticed a report in the Press—I think on April 19—with regard to special investigations that have been carried out by certain large insurance firms quite lately. They said that children are now traffic-conscious and that this is due to the thorough grounding in road behaviour given in both elementary and secondary schools to pupils of every age. Of course initiative rests primarily with the local authorities, but I think your Lordships will agree that very considerable activity is taking place. What are the figures that result from this? I think your Lordships will consider them not only a very good defence of the Board of Education and the Ministry of Transport, but also very encouraging from the point of view of what propaganda and instruction can do. In 1934 the total number of deaths of children between five and fifteen years of age was 1,218. In 1937, the last year for which I have information, it was 928, a reduction of nearly 300, or 25 per cent.

In regard to matters such as lighting, where it is suggested the Government have taken no action, we can now make grants of 50 per cent. to local authorities for carrying out new schemes on trunk roads. In paragraph 173 reference is made to noise, a very important point, and again it is suggested that the Government have taken no action with regard to the recommendations of the Committee which dealt with that subject. In fact we have now come to an agreement with the manufacturers both of horns and of motor cars, which will operate as from July 1, to put into operation on a voluntary basis the recommendations of that Report. With regard to traffic signs, standardisation was immediately adopted and put into regulations. No grants are given for signs that are not approved, and a great number of unauthorised signs have been removed. There are other subjects with which I need not trouble your Lordships at length, such as tram and omnibus stops, which although seemingly trivial are really of importance. Considerable action has been taken there, and it includes in the Metropolitan Traffic Area 1,700 tram and 'bus stops.

Those are a few of the criticisms made, and I think your Lordships will agree from the few remarks I have addressed to you that the Government have not been entirely inactive in regard to a number of recommendations that have been made. Take the case of the Road Safety Research Board. It is an important recommendation, and one that will have to be considered very carefully. The proposals with regard to Autobahnen, too, whatever we think of their merits, will have to be considered in the light of the financial position. A great deal has been said, and I thought that perhaps more would have been said, about the very important experiment that has been carried on in Lancashire and in other areas in the use of a mobile police force. The resulting figures have been very impressive, and it has been decided to continue the experiment for another six months to September, and from then onwards local authorities will receive the 50 per cent. grant on their expenditure for carrying on that work.

Many other recommendations have also been made with regard to cyclists, pedestrians, driving tests, insurance, construction and design of vehicles, playgrounds, methods of road construction, and the Highway Code. On none of these points at the present moment am I in a position to give your Lordships a full answer. I hear your Lordships laugh, but this Report has taken fifteen months to prepare, and I do not think I am treating it with undue respect if I say that we want something more than three or four weeks for its proper consideration. I can say this, however: that it is receiving the really serious consideration of my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport. I know there is a fear that it is going to find its way into a pigeon-hole from which it will not re-appear, at any rate until dragged forth by one of your Lordships in a further debate. I am in a position to assure your Lordships that that fear is ungrounded. If I venture to mention a number of points in defence of His Majesty's Government showing that considerable action has already taken place that has given results and has largely decreased the accident figures, that certainly does not mean complacency. The Report, and equally with the Report the debate, will, I hope, be a real stimulus to the Government Departments concerned, and not only to the Government Departments but also to those highway authorities and other bodies and persons who are the partners of the Government in dealing with this vital and most important problem. With regard to the Motion on the Paper, I can only say that the matter is under the serious consideration of the Government and that the Government are certainly prepared to accept the Motion.

7.13 p.m.


My Lords, while I am sure that the House is very grateful to the noble Earl for the speech which he has just made, I must say that I should not be quite truthful if I said I was satisfied altogether with the reply which has been given on behalf of His Majesty's Government this evening. I feel that I am justified in suggesting that, because, as the noble Earl will, I am sure, admit, the House has not been given, perhaps for good reasons, any real indication of the effect upon the programme of His Majesty's Government which the publication of this Report is likely to have, or of the reactions of the Ministry of Transport which are probable as a result of the recommendations made in this Report. I certainly do not wish to be unfair in any way or to be too hasty, and it may be that insufficient time has elapsed for the digestion of this very weighty Report.

That, however, does not alter the fact that those of us here who are particularly interested in this subject could not honestly say that they were satisfied with the programme that has been outlined this evening. The noble Earl touched upon the somewhat debatable question of whether the right policy was to build entirely new roads over virgin country or to widen existing roads. I am no engineer and do not feel qualified to decide that point. I do, however, urge that some further consideration should be given to it to-day before the Ministry allow themselves to be finally committed to the policy of widening existing roads. I am advised, and it seems to be the fact, that the cost of widening roads is, by reason of the higher burden of acquiring land, considerably more per mile of road than the cost of building a new road.

The noble Earl said, and we of course quite appreciate, that the expenditure which is undoubtedly necessary on rearmament has hindered the development of the trunk roads. One is, however. tempted to ask whether, if the trunk roads had not been taken over by the Ministry and had been left in the hands of the county councils during the last two years, more money would not in fact have been spent on them than has been spent. It may be that the answer to that question is that the Ministry have been spending their time and resources on the preparation of long-range road planning, and I very much hope that that indeed is the case, as I think the noble Earl suggested it was. But there is the additional fact that the motorist has recently been called upon to pay a very largely increased taxation by a method which was at any rate at one time, years ago, designed, I believe, especially to provide the wherewithal for the construction and repair of roads. I was very glad to hear the noble Lord's statement that the Government have found that the Lancashire experiment has proved so successful that it will be continued and that the 50 per cent. grant will be paid to local authorities who institute and continue this experiment. I am not quite sure whether I am right, but it occurred to me that the local authorities already receive a grant of, I think, 50 per cent. of their expenditure on mobile police. This grant therefore will not be, if I am correct, a new grant but merely a continuation of a grant in respect of added expenditure.

I do not wish to detain the House at this moment, but may I utter a plea that the provisions of the Report which deal in particular with the administration of the law shall receive very close consideration, and that the putting into effect of this Report when it does take place shall be drastic and even ruthless? Accidents will never be reduced except by these methods, and we must realise that these methods would be unpopular in many quarters. I believe that this problem is somewhat akin to the problem of unemployment. Nobody wants it. Nobody wants to seem to be able drastically to diminish it, because there is a certain reluctance to put into effect the inevitably unpopular methods which alone will have the desired effect. I refer of course to the attitude of members of certain organisations, who, for the sake of preserving their ancient rights to the liberties of the King's highway, insist upon using the whole of the highway, or are disinclined to allow themselves to be re- stricted to cycle tracks and pavements and so forth.

I was disappointed to hear nothing from the noble Earl as to whether it was the intention to adopt the recommendation that the Highway Code, in a new form, should be converted into the law of the land. I do hope that that will prove to be the result. I think that the provisions in this Report dealing with this particular subject do, if I may say so, deal with it so successfully that it is strange to think that some of them were not put into effect a great number of years ago. I refer now to the clauses which deal with the procedure in courts of law, before even motor cars themselves were invented, and I particularly refer to the paragraphs which suggest, for example, that a man who desires to plead guilty to a road offence should be enabled to save much time and trouble both to the prosecution and himself by writing his plea, and by its being unnecessary on that account to call witnesses for the prosecution. There is also the suggestion that it should be possible to act upon previous convictions of a defendant, although he may be absent from the Court and although they have not been strictly and formally proved in accordance with the existing law. Those are some of the provisions, and there are others, which might well have been adopted many years ago, and I do plead that the time will not be long before they are put into practice. I would like to conclude by adding one more tribute to the excellence of this Report, and to the Committee who framed it.

7.23 p.m.


My Lords, I have the greatest admiration for the gentle tones in which Lord Merthyr referred to the reply of the Government. I, personally, was more profoundly disappointed with it than I even anticipated, and that is saying a great deal. I did think that when the Government replied they would give us some hope that not only were they going to act on the Report fully, but that they were going to act on it quickly as well. What do I find? I find that it is going to be turned into a long-term policy. Accidents in this country have been a long-term policy for twenty years, and if we are going to continue at the present rate for another-twenty years, then I believe that the people of this country are going to have something to say to the Ministry of Transport and the Government for permitting it.

I find myself to a certain extent in a difficult position. There have been, I think, seventeen speakers before me, and it is a little difficult after that to find something new to say, but when you have a Report such as this before you, which is such a wonderful example of how members of this House can do a great work when a great work is put in front of them, I do feel, late though the hour is, that one has a right to say one's say and to pay one's tribute to those men who prepared that Report. I had the great privilege and honour of appearing before the Committee, and I was struck with the amazing grip, if I may be allowed to say so, that Lord Alness had of the problem in front of him. When one came to read their Report, and, still more important, to do what it was quite evident, I am afraid, that the noble Earl who replied for the Government had not done—namely, to read the evidence—one did realise the extraordinary thoroughness with which the whole question had been gone into. Every single suggestion was based not upon one man's evidence but on the evidence of several people.

At the same time I do feel, because I hope that this debate is going to be read in the Ministry of Transport, and that it may act as a stimulus, that certain criticisms should be made, because even the wisest men in the world are apt to be led astray when they have the biased evidence of different sets of people in front of them. When you have the biased opinion of motorist, pedestrian and cyclist, it is very difficult to sort out what is the best and the wisest thing, but there is one hope I want to express, although after what has been already said by the Government I fear it is a forlorn hope. I cannot help saying that I hope the Home Office and the Treasury will not lay themselves open to the same merited criticism of lack of vision, initiative, and driving force as has been levelled at the Ministry of Transport, and will not have a six months experiment before adopting the mobile police system as already tried out in Lancashire. If you have had a thing tried out, as this has been tried out, and it has proved a success, why do you want to try it out for another six months? That scheme has already saved in its experimental period a tremendous number of lives. It should be adopted throughout the whole country, and without an experimental period.


I have already said that it was to be adopted in the sense that the Government were prepared to pay the whole rate for another six months.


In the areas where it is already in operation. I want to see it everywhere. I find it a little difficult to agree to one or two suggestions in the Report itself. One is extolled by the Government, and that is the suggestion for a round-table conference. I quite agree that that is a beautiful idea, but I do not know if any of you ever see Cycling. If you do, you will realise how much hope there is of success. Talking of the Report, the editor of Cycling finds it necessary to invent a new body of your Lordships' House, which he calls the Peers Road Council. Having invented it, he then elects four members of the Select Committee to it—the noble Lords, Lord Reading, Lord Iddesleigh, Lord Birkenhead, and Lord Brocket—and then, having described them as keen motorists, he says, "Let us see what this Committee recommends for cyclists." What is the idea? Obviously they are trying to get at their not too well educated public and suggest that this is such a biased Committee that no attention need be paid to their recommendations. If you get that coming along from the cyclists at the start, what hope have you of getting any straight thinking from them at a round-table conference?

Then, one rather more important item, and that is the question of driving licences. There are a good many suggestions in that respect with nearly all of which I agree, but there is one—the issue of a second learner's licence—which is a little bit hard. A period of twelve months is suggested during which he should have to wait for the issue of an additional licence. I quite agree that it is desirable that he should have to wait. I think six months would be a sufficient penalty for failing to pass his first test, but having failed a second time he should never be allowed to try again. Then there is one point about the suspension of licences. It is recommended that restraint in suspending licences should be exercised where the future livelihood of a driver is concerned. That is a very dangerous recommendation. Restraint should always be exercised in the administration of the law; it should be always levied justly; but the man who is a professional driver, who is dependent for his livelihood on his licence, is the one man to whom no extra consideration should be given, because he is the one man who is spending most of his time on the road driving, and who has the greatest opportunity of doing damage and causing casualties which we all deplore so much.

Finally, with regard to brakes. There is a suggestion that the efficiency of brakes should be 30 per cent. I suggest that that is too low a figure. It should be made 50 per cent., and an additional obligation should be put on the local authority to provide a road surface which will provide tyre adhesion capable of holding a brake with a 50 per cent. efficiency mark. There is not a wood block in London that will do it, and I hope the Ministry will really take action to see that the road surfaces are made safe for every type of user from the man who walks in the rubber-soled shoe to the man who drives a high-speed car. In conclusion, may I impress on the Ministry that the greatest part of the recommendations in the Report can be carried out by regulation? If they really get down to it there is no reason why these regulations should not be before this House in the space of the next month. If they are prepared to make a long-term policy of it, I suppose members of the Select Committee as well as myself will be members of another House before anything happens.

7.35 p.m.


My Lords, it is only by the indulgence of the House that I can say a word, but I cannot refrain from expressing my extreme disappointment at the statement made by the representative of the Department. He has, of course, nothing whatever to do with the Department. It may be my stupidity, but I did not gather that he was prepared to answer any of the questions of importance put to him. Neither was there any indication that any recommendation would be carried out without delay. The only additional fact I gathered from the noble Earl was that they would have to take several weeks to consider the recommendations before they could deal with them. Let me remind him that the Report has already been out a month. They have already had five weeks to consider it. I cannot help being reminded of a fact which everybody has forgotten that, years ago, the Prime Minister of the day promised to abolish the Ministry of Transport. If anybody who heard that statement made had been here to-day I do not think very much surprise would have been felt at this decision. I consider the reply made by the noble Earl to be thoroughly unsatisfactory, and I can safely promise that he has not heard the last of the matter.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at twenty-three minutes before eight o'clock.