§ 2.49 p.m.
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON rose to call attention to the urgent need, in the interests of road safety, for taking immediate steps to implement the Report of the Select Committee of the House of Lords on the Prevention of Road Accidents (Session 1938–1939) and in particular those parts subsequently endorsed by the Committee on Road Safety in their interim Report of December, 1944; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Duke said: My Lords, the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper to-day has been there for a very considerable time. I trust that in spite of the delay, inevitable as that has been, the usefulness of a debate on this subject will not be considered to have diminished in any way. Indeed, it is possible that the mere fact of this Motion's monotonous and daily appearance upon the Order Paper may have spurred into 146 action some of the authorities vitally concerned with this terrible subject—perhaps spurred them into activity even greater than that which is their normal. It would not be right for me to proceed with this Motion without recalling to your Lordships for a few moments the previous history of the subject in your Lordships' House. I know that this must be, necessarily, stale news to a great number, but as one must deal with all those who have not heard, as well as those who have, it is perhaps wise that we should look back for a moment to 1938. Most of your Lordships will recall that arising out of a Motion at that time in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, a Select Committee of your Lordships' House was set up. That Committee is known—almost famously—as the Alness Committee. And may I say that I have to-day received a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Alness, expressing his great regret that owing to illness he cannot be here, and saying how pleased he is to know that the subject has not been forgotten.
§ The purpose of that Committee was to delve into, and diagnose, the causes of the then steadily increasing and most terrible number of accidents upon the roads. The accident rate at that time—that is in 1938—had reached the figure of 600 a day. These figures represented approximately twenty people killed every day and about 500 injured. In view of that, this expert Committee sat at great length under the Chairmanship, as I say again, of the noble Lord, Lord Alness. At this juncture I do not want to refer in any great detail to the findings of that Committee; but as one not altogether inexperienced in matters to do with the roads, I might say that the Report produced what I would deem to be an exceedingly fair and very shrewd insight into this terrible problem. Every aspect of the case was dealt with in that Report. I have with me this book which is well known to so many of your Lordships. In it there were some 230 recommendations. Naturally, amongst those 230 recommendations, some of them were short-term suggestions, some were long-term; some were remarkably easy to put into operation and some not so easy. When we allude to the "not so easy," we can, generally speaking, say that those suggestions were not so easy to put into effect either because of money or because of vested interests.147
At all events, in this Report all aspects of the problem were dealt with. Propaganda was dealt with; education; the police force; matters dealing with insurance; speed limits; tests for vehicle drivers; pedestrian control; cyclists and the organization of cyclists on the road. Road construction—itself an enormous problem—was dealt with and there were numerous generalities. Immediately after the publication of the Report the war came. That forced upon us a state of inactivity. But if Hitler was responsible for inactivity in this instance, inactivity in the matter of road reconstruction, deaths on the road, and road congestion in this country was nothing very new. It did not take Hitler to create inaction. Voices had been crying out for years, both in your Lordships' House and in another place, ever since the days of the red flag. Successive Governments—indeed, this is no Party matter—had done nothing. Many of them had not even tried. The efforts of those that had tried were futile. After years of frustration, a sort of state of apathy developed to such an extent that in this book the Alness Committee felt bound to refer to it. On page 67 of their Report they said:
Finally the Committee venture to express the hope that this Report will not share the fate of the Reports of several Departmental Committees of which they heard in evidence, and merely find a resting place in the pigeon-holes of Whitehall.
In a recent debate in your Lordships' House the noble Lord, Lord Walkden, stated that the Alness Report was seldom off the Minister's desk—a most encouraging statement; but at the time he did not tell us whether it was in the "In" tray, or where it was on the desk. We hope for the best.
§ Then we come to the second stage of Government action in this matter. In December, 1943, there was formed by the Ministry of War Transport a Committee on Road Safety. The purpose of that Committee was to study the recommendations of the Alness Committee and to follow them up, having regard to the development or not after the war of those recommendations and suggestions—a very reasonable way of handling a Report which had been pigeon-holed for five years and more. I am not blaming Whitehall on this occasion. Perhaps I should run through the constitution of this Committee. It was under the Chairmanship of Mr. 148 Noel-Baker, then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport. It consisted of seventeen members covering a great number of institutions and Government Departments. There were the Ministry of War Transport; the Home Office; the Ministry of Education; the Ministry of Information and the Scottish 'Home Department. The Police were represented; so also was the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. That Committee produced this book which I have in my hand, and which is nearly as long as the Alness Report.
§ I have spent a great number of hours digesting and comparing the one book with the other. It is not very easy. The reason is that there is a lack of conformity in lay-out as between the two documents; that is all. The Interim Report—it is only an Interim Report—of this Committee on Road Safety contains about sixty recommendations. Your Lordships will remember that the Alness Report had about 230 recommendations. This Report contains about 60, nearly all of which confirm the findings of the Committee under the Chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Alness. There are very few if indeed any that do not conform but there are a great number which emphasize those findings and amplify everything which that Committee said. Getting down more nearly to the purpose of my Motion, there are thirty recommendations in this Interim Report—and naturally are also in the Alness Report—which involve neither expense nor inconvenience to the public, and, so far as one can see, there is no reason why they should not be proceeded with. What I am asking is: When do we start? When do we begin to see the results of some of those twice-hatched recommendations? I do not think that it can serve any useful purpose whatever at this stage to involve ourselves [...] a lengthy debate on how to stop road accidents. I do not think that there is the slightest use in doing that. It is in these books. But the time for fiddling with the books is surely over.
§ I believe that the noble Lord who is to reply to these observations of mine, will say—and I believe he is able to say—"There is a lot more going on than you know" to which my answer must be: "I could not be more pleased, but please let us know what is going on." There is one thing which I want to know particularly 149 in regard to the Alness Report, and it is this. Is that Report the accepted doctrine of the Government, or is it merely a lot of suggestions which must be further gone into? I think the noble Lord has told us already that it has been accepted as a Bible upon the Minister's desk, but I am not clear whether it is the set plan upon which the Government is working. At all events, there is no doubt that we are tired of fiddling.
§ Both the Alness Committee and the Committee on Road Safety have in their Reports long-term and short-term headings. There are such things as the standardization of traffic signs. It is so simple to make them all the same. There is the standardization of road surfaces; that is to say, that you do not have a non-skid surface at one end of the street and an ice-like surface at the other. It costs no more to have either; you can have whichever you like as they are the same price, but we know which is the better. Another typical suggestion involving no expense is that footpaths should be unobstructed. There must have been a good reason for the Alness Committee and the Road Safety Committee even to have got on to such a subject as that. There must have been something to get them on to what one would almost term a footling point. But has that been done? And are pedestrian crossings better marked? Here again is another instance involving practically no expense. I venture to suggest that they are not better marked; I think that they are rather worse. Without wearying your Lordships with details there is the further matter of the control of distracting advertisements. That is not going to cost anyone any money; in fact, it will probably save the gentleman who is anxious to advertise his wares quite a lot of money if he is told that he cannot do it where he wants to do it. I instance these as types of recommendations which are virtually pawns in the game, but as pawns they can be moved out now whilst we can get busy with the big gambit in their wake.
§ True it is that a certain amount is happening, because there can be no doubt that we are witnessing all sorts of very interesting propaganda. At the inception of this propaganda drive it became a bit distracting to the great number of people in this country who have their being in and around the roads that the inference was somewhat one-sided. I do not know 150 to what extent your Lordships will have taken an interest in this display propaganda, particularly the newspaper propaganda, but I call to mind a series of advertisements showing some wretched lorry-driver standing in front of his lorry with a man under the front wheel and a policeman close by. There was the lorry driver appealing in an impassioned tone: "But surely I could not have killed him." So it went on for a considerable time. All drivers have at moments driven dangerously, and I am sure it is wrong to settle it upon one section of the community, even over a short period of time, as was the case with that propaganda. I am sure that any form of propaganda which centres the blame for a sin or misdemeanour upon one section of the populace only defeats its own object, for the simple reason that it lets out all the others who say: "We are all right. You see who is causing all this trouble." But I will say that I see an improvement at the moment in the advertised propaganda.
§ I would like to say more on the subject, because I regard the display propaganda as not being of the best; it is not attractive. I would question, more particularly in regard to the poster series, whether the country's money has been altogether wisely spent. I refer in particular to one pathetic placard which most of your Lordships will have seen portraying the picture of an exceedingly bilious woman. That is a bad poster. It is highly confusing, and a great number of the children think it is a parson. At all events, its message is highly obscure and it invites ridicule, and anything which invites ridicule about so serious a matter must be wrong. I have heard this poster referred to as a prize butt for comedians on the music-hall, and you cannot blame the comedians. I understand that steps are either being or have been taken not only to remove this rather ludicrous picture but to see that such a thing does not occur again. I do sincerely hope that when the noble Lord opposite comes to reply I shall receive a little encouragement on that point.
§ We now have a new Highway Code which most of your Lordships will have received. I wonder how many of your Lordships have read it. There can be no doubt that what it says is excellent, but I am afraid that it will not endear itself to the public. It is too confusing. It is 151 a great shame that that should be so, but I do not think I am wrong in saying that. My own feeling is that in this campaign, vital as it is, we could have employed brains and talent of the quality we have come to associate with some of our great commercial companies. I cannot see why, in a national matter of this sort, we should put up with something which is inferior to something else we have known for so long. People are going to look at that thing and say, "I cannot read that; it is too muddling and too fiddling; I do not care anyway ". And you cannot blame them.
I suggest that, if it is possible, the organizers of this propaganda should be told to simplify it, to put punch into it and to preach what they have to preach to all sections of road users rather than to any one section at any time. It is in that way alone that the findings of these two great Committees can be truly interpreted. In the Report of the Alness Committee and in the Interim Report of the Road Safety Committee we find this sort of remark. On page 10 of the Interim Report it is said:
Responsibility for the prevention of road accidents must rest with the nation as a whole.
Then on page II of the same Report there is this passage:
… but unfortunately each individual does not yet realize his own responsibility, nor does he appreciate the part that he himself should play in the prevention of accidents.
§ While I am on the subject I would like, if I may, to refer to another weighty matter. I see it is said in the Interim Report of the Road Safety Committee that they reserve for further consideration the amendment of the law concerning the rights and duties of road users. I do not doubt that the Committee reserved it because it is a thorny problem. The study of this vital aspect of the situation in the past has been far from easy, and it has been made more difficult because, as I understand it, certain organizations which have been called in to give assistance and advice have, generally speaking, been inclined to take rather more interest in what they term their own rights than in making any constructive contribution to the common cause. The Alness Committee felt so strongly about this matter that they felt bound actually to refer to an individual association, of which I know 152 little. They remarked of the Pedestrians' Association that they appeared to fear, when called in to assist, that the exercise of more caution on their part and the cession of reasonably free passage to fast-moving traffic would involve some sacrifice of their fundamental rights. It is very hard to believe that such thinking can take place. That attitude of mind must go before we can get any safety on the roads at all. As I have said, I know little about the Pedestrians' Association and I do not know to what extent it is representative of the population of this country, but I must confess that on the face of it I find it very hard to believe that the ability to walk is something so exclusive as to necessitate a specific organization. If we were to reduce this to absurdity, we might be faced with a Hearers' Association, though I doubt very much whether the B.B.C. would care for that any more than they cared for the other suggestion which was recently put to them.
§ However, the situation to-day is perfectly clear. While walking (and a pedestrian is supposed to be somebody who walks) or, to take it a stage further, until he boards a vehicle, a citizen is virtually without any obligations; he can do whatever he likes. He need not, look where he is going, he need not keep on a particular side of the road, he certainly need not illuminate himself at night; nor indeed is he bound to keep sober. Even where railings are erected to keep him out of danger, he is perfectly free, if he wants to do so, to hop over them into the front of a vehicle travelling along the road. I suggest that that is going too far if we are to solve this problem on reasonable lines. Surely we have reached the stage where contemporary life puts a little responsibility upon the individual. The townsman who pays a rate for the support of his local government is not any longer free to throw his garbage out of the window. When therefore it comes—as I suppose it will when we get the follow-up of this Interim Report—-to define the rights and duties of road users, I trust that the Road Safety Committee in its Report will regard road users as one association, and not as a lot of different people fighting each other, with each individual owing a great duty not to one but to all.
§ We have been talking about this matter now for some fifty years, and we continue 153 to talk. When I say "we" I do not include myself. The assurance for which I ask to-day is that His Majesty's Government really do agree that the time for talking is past. All the results of the talking—I am, I fear, repeating myself—are set out in these Reports. Everything has been diagnosed. The assurance I want is that steps will immediately be taken to implement those findings which it is possible to implement without a lot of expenditure and upheaval. That is the first thing. Further than that, I would very much like to hear an early assurance of some much more sweeping plan of progressive development involving all the long-term recommendations in both Reports. At the present moment, in regard to road development generally and traffic handling, we are treated to what seems to me to be little short of haphazard pronouncements—you never know what is going to be said next.
§ I would instance in this case a statement made by the Minister of Transport in another place on May 6. He announced a ten-year plan, and somewhat pathetically one was forced to read between the lines that there was not very much in it. It was a case, in fact, of the inevitable jam to-morrow. The plan, so I gathered, has no date set for its beginning and it is divided into three stages. But the implementation of this plan depends on innumerable factors, to say nothing of an Act of Parliament. In the next two years, we are told, there is hope of overtaking war-time arrears and improving dangerous places. Stage two, which will cover from three to five years, completes this first stage and takes us on to the other enlightening moment when we eliminate black spots. The final five years concerns comprehensive reconstruction; but, as I have said before, only if an Act of Parliament makes such a circumstance possible will any beginning be made with this reconstruction which involves, as indeed it should, highways suitable for the vast amount of fast-moving traffic which must be anticipated within the next twenty-five or fifty years. The whole plan is vague. There is nothing that you can pick on which gives you any great hope that a serious effort is going to be made to do anything. It sounds like talk rather than action.
§ I would not like it to be thought that in saying what I have I cast any reflection whatever upon the Minister of 154 Transport. Indeed, as I have said previously, this is far from being a Party matter. I can think of past Ministers who tore their hair and became very depressed men. Even with the biggest of ideas they have been thwarted by the inevitable man holding the money bags, and I fear very much that that may happen again. There is one other matter in regard to this road reconstruction which I think we should not overlook. Fundamentally I see that this Report depends to a very great extent on the co-operation of the local authorities. That, I think, is a worn-out system. It is well known that local views differ very widely, and that work undertaken under local rule is often undertaken grudgingly. It is said, "Do we have to spend this money on that?" The roads of this country should be a national matter. If ever there was a case for nationalization it is this one.
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
The whole lot, I have purposely refrained from dealing with the subject of road reconstruction in any detailed form. It is a vast subject, and it occupies thirty pages in the Report of the Alness Committee, even without being technical, and it occupies twenty pages in the Interim Road Safety Report. I will not weary your Lordships at all with that, but I do hope that His Majesty's Government will do its utmost to go the whole hog on road reconstruction, and not merely talk of a scheme but plan the means of putting it into operation. I am so frightened as I have said before, that the great arm of the Treasury will extend itself and frighten someone once more into doing nothing. Unless something is done, and done now, conditions on roads in this country and the accidents will cause a state of Bedlam, And not only will it be a state of Bedlam, but it will be a shaming sort of Bedlam, because of the very high vehicle per mile scale in this country, which other countries have not. Consequently, any mistakes which we make are magnified. The Americans and our Continental friends can afford to neglect things some-what where we cannot.
As I have said before, I have satisfied myself that the time for nibbling at the problem is completely over. We have got to tear it up by the roots and deal with 155 it. Cannot we do something on the sort of D-Day scale? Think what a terrible plight there would have been if our planners at that time had been content to talk behind the scenes and had been halfhearted. What a frightful affair would have resulted. Cannot we face this problem with the same sort of determination, both technically and financially, as that with which we faced Normandy? I understand that the motor cars upon our roads are still something like seventy-five per cent. less than they were in 1939, and one imagines that the continuation of petrol rationing probably accounts for that. But it is no news that the congestion, not only in London but in our big cities, is terrible. I am talking of congestion as well as of accidents, because the two things are inseparable. When the restrictions on petrol are removed, and when other restrictions upon manufacture are removed, which will enable the flood gates of our big factories to open, I tremble to think what our main roads, let alone our city roads, are going to look like.
I have heard it said that in pre-war days delays on the road cost us £50,000,000 a year. I do not know who assessed that figure, and I do not know how he assessed it, but I rather believe that it is a reasonable assumption. Therefore I put it to His Majesty's Government to tackle the problem, and tackle it with that view in mind. It is a great economic problem. It is a terrible thing to pour £50,000,000 down the drain because you have a lot of things on wheels that cannot go forward. It seems childish. Also pre-eminently there is the question of 70,000 killed and 2,250,000 injured in ten years. You may wonder what I am talking about. I am really forecasting and, I think, not without some accuracy. If we go on just as we are at the moment, if it is going to cost us £50,000,000 a year to have nothing moving, at the same time in ten years 70,000 people will be dead, and two and a quarter million people are going to be injured. It sounds unbelievable but it is a fact. Would it not be a sensible thing for His Majesty's Government to say to themselves: "This is fearful, this thing is vital"? It is more vital, if we face up to it, than the nationalization of road transport. How about devoting some of the energy, some of the money, that must be spent on this terrific scheme 156 —it may be right and it may be wrong, I am not arguing that point—how about devoting some of the bottled-up energy that is going to be spent on the nationalization of road transport into the overhauling of the roads? Then we shall have this wonderful nationalized transport running on a safe and economic system. Surely the other thing is putting the cart before the horse.
I would conclude by saying for the third time, lest I should be asked how you are going to do this, that it is in the book. It was in the book in 1938, and in a revision of that book very recently. The thinking has been done; what is necessary now is the action. I cannot see how anyone can be apathetic to the fact that you are going to have 70,000 people killed and two and a quarter million injured. On top of that, even if you were so base as not to care, you are going to have a transport system in the country which is going to drive the whole of the rest of the population crazy. All I ask therefore is, in the terms of my Motion, what is happening to implement the findings of these two Committees? I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.32 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, the gratitude not only of your Lordships' House but of a far larger public is due to the noble Duke for having succeeded at last, in spite of a considerable number of disappointments and delays, in bringing to your Lordships' attention once more a subject which this House has, in the past, made peculiarly its own. I speak to-day not only to support, on behalf of the noble Lords who sit on these Benches, the general thesis which the noble Duke has advanced but also in a more personal capacity as a member of the Alness Committee. In any work on the sports and pastimes of the British people there would have to be a considerable section devoted to sitting upon committees. To some it is a sport, to others it is a pastime, and to others it is indeed an addiction like morphia or Bridge. But perhaps, without sounding too loud a fanfare of trumpets on our behalf, I may say for the Alness Committee that its work was seriously undertaken, zealously pursued, and reasonably promptly concluded.
We tried to set about our very considerable task objectively and to arrive at 157 constructive conclusions. These conclusions were published in, I think, March, 1939, and though, unfortunately, within a few months of that date war commenced and endured for a number of years, that war has now been at an end for eighteen months. The time has surely come when we might expect that at least some of the obstacles which, during the war years, prevented the Government from implementing any of the recommendations of our Report might be at an end, and that the time for action has not only arrived but been passed. Inquiries have been made on quite a number of occasions since the end of the war as to what was happening to this Alness Report. The greatest assurance we have ever obtained so far was the one to which the noble Duke has already referred. I think the noble Lord, Lord Walkden, on finding himself in a some-what similar position in a previous debate, said the Report was constantly upon the Minister's table. The Minister's table may be very dusty for all I know, but you will remember that in a moment of inspired pessimism at the end of our Report we did put in a sentence saying we hoped it would not be allowed to languish in the pigeon-holes of Whitehall. I dare say it has been carefully taken out and carefully dusted, but it is always put back again before anything is done about it. Time passes, dust accumulates, and deaths accumulate, and that is the real onus behind the charge we make to-day that something must be done to implement the recommendations which do not require a whole series of investigations to bring them into being, but which are ready to the hand of the Minister if he will move in this matter.
It is an astonishing thing, however dispassionately one regards it, that the people of the country have come within the past years to look upon this terrifying problem with so much apparent apathy and callousness. I seem to remember reading a book only a little while ago in which there was a reference to the battle of Majuba Hill, which we used to think of as a very serious defeat of British arms. If my recollection is right, the total casualties in the battle on both sides was something like three hundred, yet that was regarded as a major disaster. Now, all these years later, we have the people of this country apparently cold-bloodedly regarding the figures which the noble Duke has given of six hundred casualties a day 158 in 1938 as nothing out of the ordinary. Some of the discredit for that state of affairs must go to the successive Governments which have handled these problems in not bringing home more to the people the duty which was upon every individual to try his best to reduce this appalling figure, and, at the same time, not taking such steps as were indicated in order, from the official angle, to reduce the casualties to less appalling proportions.
There has been a Report, and because I was a member of that Committee I am not putting forward that Report as a sacrosanct document. It has subsequently been overhauled by the Committee on Road Safety who have advocated at least a considerable number of its recommendations. But still the dust accumulates, and it will be interesting to see how far the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Walkden, at the conclusion of this debate, is going to be able to purify the atmosphere from the dust which has accumulated during the past year by telling us what really is being done. I would like to know from the noble Lord how many of the recommendations of the Alness Committee, which reported seven and a half years ago, have up to now been put into force, what is the programme for the coming year, and how far is there a programme in regard at least to those recommendations of the Report which can be implemented merely by administrative action and require no legislative action to follow them up. There may be difficulty in finding time, in what is apparently a reasonably full programme, for the introduction of legislation, but that can be no excuse for not putting into force these other recommendations which, as I say, require nothing but administrative reorganization and rearrangement in order to make them effective.
Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to tell us which of that type of recommendation the Minister has in hand and we may expect to see functioning in the early future. If I may say so, I entirely agree with what the noble Duke said when he was dealing with the other question—that of the nationalization of roads. Whatever may be the rights and wrongs of that policy—which we, certainly are not going to discuss today—surely amid all the great expenditure that, from any point of view, must be involved 159 in a measure of that kind, it is worth while to make the comparatively small expenditure which would be required in order to carry out these reforms which are so immensely necessary if this rate of casualties is to be in any way seriously reduced.
It is no reflection on the noble Lord, Lord Walkden, if I say that I had rather hoped that the noble Viscount who leads the House would have been present during part of this debate, and that he might even have replied for the Government. The noble Lord has the support of the Minister of Civil Aviation who is one of the few Ministers not even indirectly connected with this problem—much to his own satisfaction. But my particular point about the presence of the noble Viscount who leads the House is that he, like myself, had the privilege of being a member of the Alness Committee, and I should have hoped, bearing in mind his co-operative labours with the rest of the Committee at that time, that in the light of the experience and knowledge he then gained and the hopes he entertained that the recommendations might really bear fruit in the course of time, he would have been able to undertake the burden of answering for His Majesty's Government on this extremely important and vital (for "vital" is the right word; it is the lives of people that depend upon this) subject to-day. Even in his absence, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Walkden, when he does reply, will not, if I may say so, again put us off by telling us that all sorts of measures are being considered and all sorts of things are going on of which we do not know, for that only makes me suspect that he and the Government do not know either. I hope that we shall be told of a really concrete programme designed to reduce in the near future these horrifying figures.
§ 3.45 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to add my support to the Motion which has been moved by the noble Duke. This Motion is similar to many others on the same subject that have been before your Lordships, and which have been fully debated and have received support from both sides of the House. Are we any nearer now to the fulfilment of the promises which we have received from His Majesty's Government in the past? Some months ago, His Majesty's Government 160 gave an assurance that they would accept the Interim Report of the Committee on Road Safety, and I have had the privilege of discussing plans for road improvement, based on recommendations in the Report, with the permanent officials of the Ministry. I realize that they have done quite well, but I feel that there is a great lack of driving force from the top on all these matters. We are, of course, still faced with the difficulties of allocation of labour, but roads designed to suit the traffic and free of the black spots must be built if we are to reduce the appalling number of accidents on the roads at the present time. Even apart from the accident factor, the roads are one of the main arteries through which the lifeblood of this country flows, and if we stop them up or allow them to become congested the patient will get weaker and one day will die. It is no use building up great export undertakings if we are not going to be able to get goods carried along the roads to the ports for shipment. Roads must have a high degree of priority in the labour market, and I implore the Government to take active steps to implement the recommendations of the Alness Report and the Committee on Road Safety.
The noble Duke gave us some statistics about accidents, and I am going to ask you to bear with me for a few moments while I submit some statistics to you in rather another light. At the end of May this year there were 1,000,000 more civilian motor vehicles licensed than in May last year. That number is within one per cent. of the total in 1938, and the casualties were 117,588 as against 172,000 in 1938. There was, of course, a reduction during the war—a considerable reduction. For instance, in the first nine months of 1944 there were 96,911 casualties—and now we are back almost to the pre-war figure. Fifty per cent. of the victims are children, one-fifth are pedal cyclists, and one-fifth motor cyclists. The majority of the pedestrian deaths are among children from three to seven years of age. These are very terrible figures which can and must be reduced.
I think it is universally accepted that a higher standard of safety should be founded on three main activities. I will call them education, engineering and enforcement. By education, I mean the training of the individual, from the earliest age, in road sense. There is, of course, the National Publicity Campaign 161 undertaken by the Government with the object of stirring the public conscience, and I think it is having a very good effect, but it has not been going on long enough for us to see what it can really do. I believe also that there are over 1,300 highway authorities who have set up local road safety organizations, and I understand that the Ministry have agreed to provide fifty per cent, of the cost. When we come to engineering, this, of course, implies all that is best in road design and vehicle design. Roads should be designed so that the chance of human error is reduced to a minimum. We have had white lines on the roads for some time past. These are undoubtedly a great asset in road safety, but there are many other improvements which could be carried out, such as better street lighting and the provision of non-skid surfaces. There is also plenty of room for improvement in vehicle design in regard to such matters as anti-dazzle and braking efficiency.
Then we come to the question of enforcement—the third activity I mentioned—and when we talk about this we are on slightly more difficult ground. I cannot help feeling, however, that the time has arrived when it is necessary to make it a punishable offence for a pedestrian to make a crossing against the lights. But to assist the pedestrian, pedestrian signals should be provided at road crossings. They do exist at some crossings in London but they are not by any means universal.
In some countries, such as America, Germany and, I believe, parts of Russia, pedestrians are fined on the spot for contravening the regulations at street crossings. I am not in favour of this particular method, as it would give the power of the judiciary to the executive, which is not our form of Government. The matter might be dealt with by the usual courts, or by special traffic courts set up to deal with this class of offence. There are other matters of enforcement, not so controversial: subways, guard-rails and bridge crossings, and I do hope that it may be possible to reintroduce the "Courtesy Cop" system which was operating before the war, and which was very successful in some parts of Scotland and in Lancashire. It was, of course, the production of results by persuasion, rather than by prosecution, and 162 I feel that it is one of the best remedies for the road accident problem.
There is also the question of advertising. This has been mentioned by the noble Duke, who referred to the advertisement of the widow in the weeds. I am rather inclined to agree with what the noble Duke said about that poster. I have seen one or two comments written below it. One, during election time, said "She voted Socialist." Another said: "Wot, no coffin?" All these methods can play their part in road safety but, above all other suggestions and recommendations, better roads will have a lasting effect on these appalling road casualty figures. A delegation of the British Road Federation recently visited Sweden to study modern methods of construction and design of roads. The delegation has reported that accidents have declined there since the introduction of such methods as clover leaf crossings, fly-over bridges, and depressed and elevated highways. A systematic improvement of the roads, by the most modern methods of construction, has been a major factor in reducing road accidents. Surely, we can do likewise.
May I now turn to another aspect of the problem, one which is closely connected with the problem as a whole? I refer to the facilities for parking in our great cities. His Majesty's Government recently produced a Memorandum on Parking Places. In many ways, it is an excellent document, and was produced to help municipalities and others in their planning of car parks. I would draw your attention to page 5, which sets out in diagrammatic form a basic plan for car parks. It gives full dimensions, and shows a recommended layout for cars, but I venture to point out that this plan is radically wrong in one important particular. A trial was carried out by one London public garage proprietor, using the dimensions of the plan. He used a 12 h.p. car, which is typical of the average car seen on the roads to-day. It was found impossible to park the car in the space indicated on the plan, without overlapping into the position allowed for the next car. The reason for this was that full allowance had not been made in the drawing for the turning circle of the car.
May I suggest to the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government that when technical matters such as this are included in these publications, it would be better to consult experts in the trade, who 163 understand these matters, and not allow documents to be produced by, perhaps, a Civil Service enthusiast in sketching? There is a fundamental difference between garaging and parking, which seems to have been forgotten. Garaging is simply the stacking of vehicles so that as many as possible can be placed in a given area. Parking is the stacking of the vehicles in a given area in a manner designed to give quick entry and exit. Unless you have this last, it is not parking. In Section 32 of this document it is indicated that an area of 200 sq. ft. is sufficient to give parking for the average car and sufficient 100m for manoeuvring it. The space required for the average car, however, is about 100 sq. ft., which means that this document allows only 100 sq. ft. for manoeuvring. Let us look a little further. The City of Manchester, with plans for car parks, allows an area of 300 sq. ft. for every car. That is a little on the generous side, but certainly a safe minimum would be 250 sq. ft. If we look at Section 33 of this document, we see another curious statement: that 90 per cent. of cars could be fitted into a bay, 15 ft. in length. Actually the majority of cars require 16 ft., so that the figure given is 1 ft. short. I hope the Minister of Transport will think again and will produce an amended document.
I should like to take this opportunity of impressing upon His Majesty's Government the vital importance of providing car parking space to relieve congestion on the roads, and to increase the safety factor. We are not the only country to have car parking difficulties, and with your Lordships' permission I propose to read one paragraph of a letter published in the New York Times on September 5 this year. The letter was written by the director of the Bureau of Highway Traffic at Yale University, who said:If automobile and truck use may be considered as indispensable in a modern city … attention is first turned to motor vehicle terminals and parking. In this connexion it must be remembered that movement alone cannot accomplish the ends of transportation. Indeed, what form of transportation can exist without its terminals? Just as the ship needs its dock, the plane its airport, the train its depot and yards, the subway its station, the street car its loading zone, and the bus its kerb stop, so does the auto require its parking space, and the truck its loading dock.The simple fact remains that our cities have too long considered the kerb the only 164 place suited to or needed for motor vehicle parking.I do commend this letter to the Minister of Transport, because I feel that it is excellent reading, and gives a very clear statement of the problem of car parking.
Surface car parks alone cannot really solve the problem in these congested areas, and I would impress upon the Government, again, that underground car parks must be built in the near future and must not be considered merely a plan for a long way ahead. Only recently I saw in the Press that four miles of underground railway were extended into Essex. Surely the provision of underground car parks is equally important; and they would require far less skilled labour than underground tunnels. I hope the noble Lord who replies for the Government will be able to give your Lordships not only a résumé of the plans for the improvement of the roads and the prevention of road accidents, but also the actual work which is to be carried out during the next twelve months. I strongly support this Motion.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I join very heartily with those who have thanked the noble Duke for raising this question again, and those who have said, very truly, that this is a question of vital importance, and one which must be dealt with, if we are to maintain our reputation as a civilized community. I noticed that all three speakers preceding me paid a great deal of attention—rightly, no doubt—to the Reports of the two Committees which have been considering the subject. I do not propose to follow the speakers in any detailed examination of those Reports, but I think the Reports both proceeded mainly on this hypothesis, that if you could persuade everybody who uses the roads to be good and kind to one another, there would not be anything like the same number of accidents. I think that is only partially true. May I ask your Lordships just to consider the origin of the difficulty in which we find ourselves? It has not always been the case that there has been this gigantic slaughter on the roads. It began with the introduction of motors. There is no doubt about that; that is a mere historical fact. The primary and main difference between the motor and the previous vehicle was that the motor went much faster and was much heavier, so that a blow struck by 165 the motor was a much more serious matter than the blow struck by a horse-carriage.
I can remember—as no doubt many of your Lordships can—the time when there was practically nothing but horse-carriages in the streets of London. I remember that I drove in a hansom cab very frequently and had quite a large number of accidents. It fairly frequently happened that the horse came down and that was an unpleasant experience, but, if you kept your head and did not allow yourself to be thrown out of the cab, you were not seriously hurt. That happened to me on two or three occasions, and I have no doubt it happened to other members of your Lordships' House. The speed was, of course, extremely moderate. Eight to ten miles an hour was the very utmost at which one went. The vehicle was a relatively very light affair compared with the modern motor-car, and, therefore, a blow that struck you, in one form or another, was a comparatively slight one. That was what happened. It was not only that there were proportionately to the traffic so many fewer accidents in the old days, but that they were far less serious.
That is the first thing I wish to press upon your Lordships' consideration. This great slaughter, of which the noble Duke has spoken so impressively this afternoon—this slaughter of 7,000 people a year, or something like it, and the injuring of hundreds of thousands every year—is entirely new. It did not exist in the old days at all. Few accidents happened then. Every now and then a horse ran away, and somebody in the carriage was injured, or somebody who got in the way of the horse was injured and, occasionally, killed, but it was a very rare event. Now the thing is common and has become a very, very serious danger to our whole civilization. Do not let us underrate it. It is a very serious matter indeed, and far more serious than the questions to which my noble friend, who has just sat down, devoted his attention. I do not deny that they have their importance; but the question of congestion on the roads and things of that kind, important though they may be, are quite insignificant compared with the slaughter and maiming and injury of vast numbers of our fellow-subjects.
I am not going to suggest to your Lordships that anyone is specially to blame in this matter. I do not think that is a 166 very useful contribution to the discussion, and, at any rate, I am not going to make it. All I want to say is that, if nobody is to blame, then it must be the fault of the conditions under which the traffic is conducted. It is the one thing or the other. Either it must be that the people who are using the facilities of the traffic use them in such a way as to cause accidents, or it must be that the conditions under which the traffic is carried on are such as to cause accidents. A great deal is said about the want of skill and the recklessness and so on of the drivers, and the very improper behaviour of the pedestrians about which we so often hear in these debates. I am quite sure that in both cases there is some truth in the charges, but they do not really account for the kind of thing we have got to deal with. Therefore, I have a good deal of doubt as to whether the favoured remedy advocated by these Committees, and which has been supported in this House—namely, that of having a Highway Code in which we lay down an ideal set of rules for the conduct of those who use the roads—is really going to do very much. It may do something, but it will not do very much. The one thing that I do say with great emphasis is that it is not a bit of use just saving: "It would be very good and kind of you if you would do these things." You must say: "If you do not do these things, you will commit an offence." That is the only way of dealing with a matter of this seriousness.
Therefore, I should like to say that though I do not personally think that the Highway Code by itself, even if it is completely obeyed, would solve the difficulty of this situation, yet I do say that, as it exists and as it has been approved by this House and elsewhere, as a proper code of rules for those using the roads to obey, it ought to be a condition of such use that those rules are obeyed. That applies, of course, particularly and especially to the drivers and owners of motors. My noble friend, the noble Duke, said something which we often hear in these debates about the wickedness of pedestrians, but the short point really about that is that, if a pedestrian runs into a motor car, he may injure himself, but he will not do much harm to the motor car, whereas if a motor car runs into a pedestrian it is going to be very serious indeed for the pedestrian, and will not necessarily do much harm 167 to the motor car. Therefore the people whom we must consider are the people who are responsible for the use of the motor cars. To them I would say: "You are licensed by the Government to drive these machines, which, if improperly driven, are very dangerous, on the highways of this kingdom. It is a condition that you should drive these machines with every possible regard to the safety of everybody, including yourself. We have drawn up a list of rules which we call a Highway Code, which embodies, at any rate, the greater part of these conditions. We say, therefore, if you do not obey these conditions, you are commiting an offence, and you must be deprived, either altogether or for a period, of your licence to drive them on the highway. "That seems to me a perfectly logical, a perfectly reasonable, and a perfectly just conclusion.
I am not bloodthirsty and I certainly do not favour severe punishments. These should be reserved for cases where there is a severe or gross breach of the ordinary claims of morality. I do not think that that is a proper kind of way of dealing with these particular offences. I do not think that these offences are usually committed by wicked people. I do say that they are committed by people who are not taking sufficient care of the machines which have been entrusted to them, and they are, therefore, guilty of causing danger and injury to other people. Therefore, I say, if they are shown to be that kind of people, deprive them of their licences, but do not believe that merely making adjurations to them is going to alter their nature, or going to make them so anxious to obey these rules for the use of the highway, when they are driving along, probably under conditions of considerable excitement and interest in the actual working of their machines. Therefore that is the first thing I venture to say. By all means, have a Highway Code for what it is worth, but, having it, enforce it.
The second thing I want to say is this. I do not believe, as I have already suggested, that merely the enforcement of the Highway Code will do the job you are anxious to accomplish. I believe it is fundamentally wrong that the same track should be used by traffic moving very slowly and traffic moving very fast. As 168 long as that is the case you will be presented time after time with conditions in which an accident is almost inevitable. I therefore most heartily agree with the findings of the Committees, that you ought to classify roads and have some roads for fast-moving traffic and some for slow-moving traffic. To say a road is equally fit for traffic going at four or five miles an hour and traffic going at thirty, forty or fifty miles an hour is manifestly untrue, and unless you get rid of that difficulty you will never get real safety on the roads. I am entirely in favour of separate tracks for different kinds of traffic.
I did not quite catch what was said by the noble Duke about footpaths, but I most heartily agree with him if he advocated the use of footpaths. I think that is most important. But footpaths must be real footpaths and not just a bit of grass by the side of the road. It is useless to expect people in wet and muddy weather to walk on that latter kind of footpath. I am speaking now of the country. They must be good footpaths—what the Americans call sidewalks—where people can walk in comfort by the side of the road. I trust that your Lordships will pardon me for giving briefly two instances of the kind of thing which ought not to be done which have come to my notice in the part of the country in which I live. An arterial road goes through that district, and out of it runs a small side road curving away to the left and going down hill. It is evident that a driver coming along to that road is very much tempted to turn that corner much too fast for safety. There is no sidewalk at all. A considerable agitation was raised in the village. The highway authority agreed to consider a bit of grass by the side of the road as a sidewalk; and later they put down a few stones here and there as a kind of fragmentary kerb. I regard that as a perfect insult in meeting a demand for a sidewalk. How can you expect people to use a bit of grass like that? This year it is overgrown with grass almost to your knees. It is ridiculous. You must have a real sidewalk.
Let me give your Lordships one other instance. There is another road which cuts across the country, a secondary road but one of some importance. It happens to cross a widish, flat valley through which run two, three or four streams—I forget the exact number. There are bridges to cross the streams, of course. The highway 169 authority a few years ago very properly decided that the bridges were not strong enough and rebuilt them with stone and iron in the proper way; and, also very properly, they said that they would have to make them sufficiently wide. They made them sufficiently wide, but they did nothing more. So between these bridges the road was left in the position in which it was. How can you expect a man to pay much attention to a sidewalk if it is only for about one tenth of the journey he is making across the valley? Those things seem to me essential if you are going to have sidewalks as a real relief so that the foot passengers will genuinely use them rather than walk in the road. You must have decent sidewalks, and people will use them if they are adequate.
In towns we hear a good deal about the recklessness of foot passengers, but in point of fact they do walk on the pavements unless they are going to cross the road. They do not normally walk down the middle of the road in the towns because they have adequate sidewalks. All we could manage in the last Bill, I think in 1936, was a permission to the highway authorities to make sidewalks; there was no obligation on them to make them. I think that ought to be changed into an obligation, and I think there ought to be power given to the Ministry to insist on the making of sidewalks where it is necessary for the public safety. I am quite sure that on all the arterial roads there ought to be sidewalks in the normal course, and if you are going to adopt one other reform which I am going to suggest to your Lordships, it is essential that there should be sidewalks on each side of the arterial roads. A great deal was said by the noble Duke about pedestrians being free from any responsibility. It is said that they need not obey any rules. I think there is an element of truth in that charge against pedestrians. I would certainly say that if you provide a proper sidewalk for the pedestrians, it ought to be an offence if they insist on walking in the middle of the road. I know there are some people who say they have a right to the road. So they have under the existing law. But you cannot get rid of motors. Some of us might be prepared to say, "I wish we could," but you cannot. Motors are there and they are going to use the roads. Therefore pedestrians must be content to abandon at any rate some part of their theoretical 170 rights in order to contribute to the safety of the community. But unless you provide the sidewalks it is useless to object to pedestrians walking in the road. That is the second thing I wanted to say.
I come now to what I am conscious will not be at all well received by certain members of your Lordships' House. I do feel, in spite of all that is said to the contrary, that it is speed coupled with the weight of the motor vehicle that makes the real danger which is upon us. I do not care to examine conditions that do not apply here, but taking the conditions that apply to most parts of this island, I am satisfied in my own mind that to drive a motor car at forty or fifty miles an hour along one of these main roads is to incur a certain amount of risk, and if an accident occurs almost certainly there are serious consequences for the people who are affected by that accident. Therefore I am very strongly of opinion that there ought to be speed roads on which all those people who want to drive at more than twenty-five or thirty miles an hour should travel. On those roads you would have no speed limit, except in so far as they went through urban districts, or something of that kind, and they would be quite free for the motorist to travel as fast as he liked. And there should be adequate steps taken to prevent other people going on to those roads; that is to say, foot passengers or slow-moving traffic. I would be in favour of very strong measures to see that that was done. The difficulty is that in order to have speed roads you must undertake the construction of new roads—a certain number have been constructed—and that is a very long-term policy; it must take a long time.
Therefore I should like to see the question examined of whether we could not turn all our arterial roads into speed roads with special regulations applying to them and to say that all other roads—minor and secondary roads—should be subject to a very strict speed limit, enforced rigorously and ruthlessly. It is said that it is very difficult to enforce a speed limit. This is an old controversy and I will only speak very shortly about it because I must not repeat myself more than is reasonable and decent. I do not think there is any difficulty in enforcing a speed limit if you adopt the proper measures for the purpose. If you are going to have police officers hiding behind hedges at a distance of a measured quarter of a mile 171 with synchronized watches and all that sort of thing, of course it will be difficult, and it will be defeated, as it was defeated in the early days of motoring, very simply. I need not go into the old controversy about that. But if you had on the vehicle itself a speed indicator which anyone can see as the vehicle passes and know with absolute certainty that it is going at more than thirty miles per hour, if that be the limit—an indicator about eight or ten inches in diameter with a single hand going round it—I am sure there would be no difficulty whatever.
I have seen experiments which prove there is not the slightest difficulty from an engineering point of view in doing that, and it would be unquestionably within the power of the Minister of Transport to require that such a device should be fitted to all motor cars forthwith. I believe that in that way you could have an absolute control over the speed at which cars drive. If that were done, then you could have speed roads and secondary roads, and I believe that a very considerable addition to the safety of the population would be thereby secured. I do not say that those things I have ventured to suggest to your Lordships are the only things that can be done, but I do say that something of that kind is the minimum of what is really essential. If you really mean business, then you must tackle this question of speed, because, however much those engaged in the motor industry dislike it being said, it is unquestionably true that without the speed of the motor car there would be fewer accidents than occur at the present moment.
My submissions to your Lordships are those three. If you have a Code of behaviour on the roads, that Code must be enforced, and enforced by adequate measures. You must have segregation, as it is called in the Reports of the Committees; you must have, that is to say, classification of traffic by reference to the speed at which it travels. The first step towards that classification is the provision of proper footpaths and the second step is the provision of proper speed roads. I venture to ask the Government very seriously whether it will now consider whether measures of that kind could be put into force immediately without any legislation being necessary, and, if that be so, whether they will consider the adoption of a policy on those lines.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, no one could have listened to the noble Duke who placed this Motion before your Lordships' House without realizing that we are this afternoon debating one of this country's most pressing problems. It could not be otherwise when it involves the toll of life and limb to which the noble Duke and other noble Lords have drawn attention and costs, in terms of national wealth, about £100,000,000 per annum. But we shall not move in the direction of a solution with that rapidity which the noble Duke desires until there is an entirely new attitude of mind and a fundamentally new approach to the whole subject, by every section of the community. For too long has the safety of our roads been the battleground of class warfare, one section of road users battling against another, and ever drawn has been the line between those who ride in motor cars and those who curse. If blame must be apportioned, as the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, said, then it must fall fairly and squarely upon the shoulders of every section of the community; past Governments cannot escape their fair share. But if blame is to be apportioned equally, so must the responsibility for finding a solution. That is why I would plead, and plead strongly, for a new concept of the road vehicle and the place it must needs occupy in the industrial, social and economic life of this country.
We are the most industrialized country in the world. It is by industry that we live and have our being, and at the very heart and root of our industrial efficiency lies a rapid, reliable and safe road transport system. It cannot be otherwise with our relatively small network of short distances between our factories and workshops. It is universally agreed that our industrial efficiency—our productivity per head—must show a sharp increase. Comparisons are made between the output per head of our people and that of the American citizen. When I ponder such comparisons I am forced to the conclusion that a major factor in American industrial efficiency is the high percentage of automobile usage in that country. Until we can increase the number of motor vehicles using the roads of this country in the region of five times—and I estimate that given the most favourable conditions it would taken ten years to accomplish that—our industrial efficiency 173 will lag behind that of our chief competitor and the standard of living of our people will never reach that level which we all desire. If we can in ten years increase the number of motorcars on our roads five times we shall then only have the same number of motorcars per head of population as the United States of America had in the years 1938 and 1939. That is the size of the road safety problem of the future. It is not going to be solved by suppressing the development and use of the motor vehicle; it is going to be solved by the imaginative planning of our road transport system, the wide extension of our roads, and the examination, and if necessary elimination, of every factor which goes to make up this dreadful problem of road safety.
I welcome the proposals of the Minister of Transport for the wide extension of our road system. The proposals will in no way meet the needs of the future, but they are a start and a start in the right direction. I can only share the hope of other noble Lords that they do not suffer the same fate as similar proposals by successive Governments over the last twenty-five years. In the past, exhortation has had too much prominence in the activities towards road safety. But I will not for one moment belittle the value of education and road safety propaganda. Indeed, I would pay tribute to the great work of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and may I congratulate that body upon having persuaded the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, to undertake the onerous duties of its Presidency? Perhaps my good wishes will be conveyed to the noble Lord. I feel sure that under his virile leadership the Royal Society will go from strength to strength.
Time does not allow me to range over the whole field of road safety, but I would venture to address your Lordships on two specific points, both of which relate to the mechanical fitness of vehicles. In the Report of the Select Committee of your Lordships' House, presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Alness, consideration was given to the question of the defective vehicle. I think I am interpretating the findings of that Committee fairly when I say that it considered that particular problem largely solved by the highly competitive nature of the motor trade. I respect- 174 fully dissent from that view, and I would join with the Committee on Road Safety in regretting that the Alness Committee did not give greater and more detailed consideration to the question of proper maintenance of road vehicles, which must be in the future on a far higher plane than it has been in the past.
It has always been a matter of grave concern to me that anyone without qualification, experience or equipment could set up in business and purport to repair and maintain road vehicles. From 1941 to the early part of this year I had the honour of being the President of the Employers' Organization in the Motor Track, and for three years Chairman of its National Joint industrial Council. During that period I addressed myself sternly to the task of lifting the technical competence of the trade, with the enthusiastic support of the trade unions and the help of the then Minister of Labour—now the Foreign Secretary—and the Minister of Education. An educational plan was evolved whereby, after theoretical and practical training and examination, a national craftsman's certificate was awarded to all those who reached the required standard. That national craftsman's certificate bears the seal of the Ministry of Education and the endorsement of the National Joint Industrial Council. I look forward to the day when it will be compulsory for everybody who sets up in the business of repairing and maintaining road vehicles to employ a percentage of certificated mechanics. I do not object to the wide extension of vehicle examination, but in this I hold strongly to the view that an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure, and no one should be allowed to practise the business of repairing and maintaining road vehicles without the necessary qualification.
My next point deals with the effects of the present system of motor vehicle taxation upon the safety factor in respect of some classes of vehicle. I do not intend to embark upon a discussion of road vehicle taxation. That would, in a debate of this, nature, be inappropriate and perhaps improper. Sufficient to say that I hope in the not too distant future I shall have the opportunity of addressing your Lordships upon that sorry subject. But I would like your Lordships to consider the effect which taxing goods carrying vehicles on the basis of their unladen weight has 175 upon various safety factors. While goods-carrying vehicles are taxed by that method the first consideration of the designer must be to get his vehicle within a specific weight class and not, as should be the case, the suitability of the vehicle for carrying loads under conditions which call for strength and sturdiness in design. I could bring a wealth of detail in support of that argument, but consideration of your Lordships' time restrains me, as it also does from mentioning many other important factors in this terribly urgent and vital subject. May I content myself with thanking the noble Duke for introducing this subject? It was particularly interesting to me, as the noble Duke is a fellow practitioner in a great industry. I would add that I very much support his Motion and hope that he will have better luck with His Majesty's Government than past protagonists have had over this last twenty-five years.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, we are now having another debate upon road accidents, and a particularly important one, because we are trying to follow the debate which took place in 1939, the Hansard of which I have by my side in order to fortify my recollection. I came into the House with a little library. I have the Bressey Report, and I have the Alness Report, which we are discussing this afternoon. I have the Interim Report of the Committee on Road Safety of 1944, and a charming document on the design and layout of roads in built-up areas. There is a publication about road accidents and there is another Report of the Departmental Committee on Road Signs. There is also a memorandum on the layout and construction of roads. All these documents, with all the hours of labour and work which have gone into producing them, are all really directed to one end—to try to produce a reasonably safe road system in this country which will reduce the appalling toll of accidents. Those volumes have all gone the same way. They have all been published, they are looked at and everybody agrees with them—or most people do—and that is the last we hear of them
Now we have the Alness Report. Of all the documents that I have with me here the Alness Report is easily the best and easily the most important. It is 176 most important for this reason: the members of that Committee collected more skilled evidence before producing their report than any of these other documents. The Alness Committee was composed entirely of members of this House, and there is no political issue. There is nothing to divide us at all; it is an entirely non-Party effort. The Socialist Party have not really had enough time since the war, with all their other manifold problems that assail them from day to day, to get down to this, but I think we really ought to beg the Socialist Party, and the noble Lord who is going to reply, to realize that here is something on which we can get together. There is no political issue involved; it is simply a question of saving lives and it has got to be tackled.
The noble Duke this afternoon has told us that in the next ten years there will in all probability he 70,000 people killed and 2,250,000 injured. When he gave us these astronomical figures I could not help thinking of the atom bomb and Hiroshima. There is not very much difference. There were, I believe, 100,000 people killed at Hiroshima and 200,000 to 300,000 injured, many of whom probably died later. But here is a problem very much the same. There are probably rather fewer people insured, but that is all. Will the noble Lord who is going to reply take steps to see that he and his Government are not going to let loose the equivalent of an atomic bomb on the road-faring population of this country? I do submit that that is one of the ways in which the Government might look at it. The other important factor about the Alness Committee was that the findings were completely unanimous. That was rather derided by one or two noble Lords during the debate in 1939, but I think it is the most striking fact that you get the noble Lords taking all the evidence they did, and then drawing up a completely unanimous Report. With all that, nothing has been done. While we all know that the war has interrupted it, and that probably something material would have been done, very little has been done up to now.
Now we come to very much the same sort of debate. I am sorry to see that the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, has gone out. It has happened in these debates before; he makes 177 a speech and then disappears. He told us this afternoon that accidents on the road are caused by motors. I was hoping he would have stayed here because I would have liked to remind him that all the available accidents returns show that thousands of people were killed or injured in which no motor vehicle was concerned at all. There are one or two noble Lords here who know all about Scotland. In the city of Edinburgh in 1943 some 15 people lost their lives through trams. It is not always the motor vehicle in the ordinary, accepted sense of the term that is responsible for accidents. It was a great thing to hear from the noble Viscount, speaking, as no doubt he did, on behalf of the Pedestrians' Association, that now he will agree that where there is a side-walk the pedestrian should be compelled to use it. That is something that could be done. That may require legislation, I do not know. I forget which noble Lord—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Teynham—who this afternoon said he did not recommend policemen being empowered to fine pedestrians on the spot. He did not agree with that; neither do I, although it happens abroad. What I do think might happen is that the policeman might be empowered to give the pedestrian a ticket which would necessitate him going somewhere to interview someone. If he fails to go then he might be fined, and when he went to interview that somebody that somebody might talk to him like a father. I think that might be done. It would be a nuisance to the pedestrian, and the very fact that it was a nuisance might ensure that he would observe reasonable safety rules another time.
Another thing that might be done is on the question of cycle tracks. The Alness Committee recommended cycle tracks, and everybody has paid tribute to the value of cycle tracks with the exception of those cycle tracks which were badly laid and unsuitable for the purpose. I think on the whole the population welcomes them, and where there is a cycle track I submit that it should be an obligation upon the cyclists to use that cycle track. May I appeal to the noble Lord for his attention for one moment? I want to represent the case of a cycle track where, if he will only send his inspectors to have a look at it, he will see what I have seen. That is the cycle track upon the Western Avenue, one of 178 the most densely trafficked and one of the most dangerous roads within the metropolitan area. It is one of those 30-feet roads divided by a white line where there is a continual battle in the middle of the road with people who want to pass the slower-moving traffic. Into this appalling maelstrom of traffic goes the cyclist, though there is a perfectly good cycle track for him to use. Many of them absolutely refuse to use it. If there is some good reason why they should not use it, if the cycle track is not good enough, then something can be done to get them off the road and make that section of the road a little more safe. I do not know whether the accidents records of Scotland Yard reinforce what I say, but I do suggest, from ordinary powers of observation, that Western Avenue is quite one of the most dangerous roads leading out of the metropolitan area, and that it is one of the places upon which we must concentrate.
To get back to the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, he comes back here and he tells us that speed is the main cause of accidents. Has he not read the Alness Report? Why does he make a remark like that when paragraph 82 will tell him that in the year 1936–1937 just under 70,000 pedestrians were killed in the built-up areas as against 8,094 in areas not built up? In other words, although the mileage of restricted roads is only about a quarter of the unrestricted, more than eight times the number of casualties occurred on the restricted roads. What is the good of the noble Viscount coming here and telling us that speed is the main cause of accidents? It is one of the causes, but to concentrate upon speed is, I submit, a mistake because speed is only one factor, and there are many others.
One of the main recommendations of the Alness Report was that more work should be undertaken on the roads. The road question in this country is really a very difficult one indeed. Much could be done to reduce accidents by improving our road system, but are we sure that the present proposals of the Government, so far as they go, are really going to be adequate to that end? There are hundreds of miles of main roads that are less than 20 feet in width, and there are hundreds of miles more that are less than 30 feet in width. Roads of both sort, I think, might be concentrated upon. 179 There are, for instance—or there were in 1937–751 miles of traffic roads over 30 feet in width. There were 3,000 roads that were over thirty feet but not over sixty feet in width. These widths, I think, are measured from hedge to hedge.
I do plead with the Government to press ahead with schemes for road improvement so far as they possibly can, having regard to the labour and money available. His Majesty's Government have just announced their proposals for nationalizing road transport. That is an issue which divides us in this House, and divides us, politically, in the country. But I do not believe that there would be nearly so much division between us if His Majesty's Government were to bring forward a measure to nationalize all the roads of this country. I believe that that is a thing about which there might be a considerable measure of agreement. Be that as it may, the Government have assumed entire responsibility for several thousands of miles of main roads in this country, and I plead with them to press on, on the lines of the recommendations in these poor unfortunate documents which have been reposing in the Minister's pigeon-holes for so long. I urge them to get on with the work, and I am sure that if there is anything which we in this House can do to support and further it, we shall gladly do it.
§ 4.53 p.m.
My Lords, I wish to raise only one or two points, but I am afraid that I may be a little time in doing so. Both the Alness Committee and the Committee on Road Safety agree that Ministry of Transport examiners should be put through an advanced course and test. Now it will be within the memory of your Lordships that as recently as the fifth of this month my noble friend Earl Howe asked a question of the Minister about that course and test. The noble Lord, Lord Walkden, in his reply, stated definitely that, although the examiners had been put through a course, there had been no test and no marks for any test had been awarded. The reason for that, apparently, was that the men who were put through the course were men who were already appointed and who had been acting as examiners.
I wonder if it is any news to the Minister to be told that one of these examiners 180 had to admit that he did not know the Highway Code. When he was asked: "How on earth can you get on with your job?", he said: "When I am asking a man a question upon it I have the Highway Code on my knee." That man is supposed to test a driver in order to see that he drives a motor car in conformity with the Highway Code. If he does not himself know the Highway Code, how can he perform this duty? I am going to ask the Government to give me an assurance that the Ministry will go back to the various police forces which conducted these courses and ask them to furnish a report on each individual who went through the course. I am also asking that the Government will take adequate steps to remove from the position of examiners any men who, in the opinion of the police officers who conducted the course, are unsuitable for the job.
It was stressed in both Reports that bad road conditions and certain inadequacies in connexion with them were contributory factors in the accident problem. I was fortunate enough to be a member of the party mentioned by Lord Teynham which went to Sweden to look at the roads there. I would like, in your Lordships' House, first of all, to express my own personal gratitude and that of the other members of the party for the infinite trouble that the Swedish road authorities took to see that we were shown everything that could be of interest to us, to see that every question we asked was answered, and to provide us with people who could talk to us and lecture us in English on what is being done in these matters in Sweden. I would also like to pay tribute to the Ministry of Transport. The Minister very kindly gave permission for one of his officials to be a member of the party. I may say, incidentally, that that did not cost the taxpayer a single penny. On the contrary, I believe that the taxpayer in the end made a very slight profit, because the official bought some silk stockings for his wife on which he had to pay duty when he returned to this country.
Now what did we find in Sweden? We found that where we possibly are planning, they are already acting. They are tackling the job and tackling it very objectively. In Stockholm there is already one "clover leaf" crossing. The effect of that crossing has been entirely to eliminate congestion at the worst point in the area, and, much more important, it has 181 reduced accidents by seventy per cent. They have only one of these crossings at the moment, but in other places, in order partly to reduce costs but mainly to save delay, they have built a form of two-level roundabout, which can be converted at any time into "clover leaf" crossings. They are making very large use of the fly-over junction. I wonder if the noble Lord in his reply will be able to tell us how many fly-over junctions already exist in this country? I can give him the answer, if he does not know it. I would further like to ask him how many are planned, and how many it is hoped to have in the course of the next five years.
We found, further, that, in order to get over the congestion problem in Sweden, the authorities are making extensive use of what I might call the elevated road. It is somewhat astonishing to discover that that road is not in the least unsightly, and it is even a profitable investment. The space underneath the road is used for business premises, and the money produced in this way is sufficient to pay for the cost of the road in about ten years. The effect of going along one road at one level and suddenly finding a motor car moving along on the roof-top next door, as it were, is really rather amazing. But, as I said, this arrangement is not in the least unsightly. In addition, they have in Sweden, sub-level roads, so that what has been the basement of the shop suddenly becomes the front window. All this is made somewhat easy for the Swedish authorities, to a certain extent, by reason of the rocky nature of their country; but the important point to bear in mind is that they are looking years ahead. At one place to which they took us I was astounded by one thing I saw. I could not make out, when we got to the end, why the road down which I had been travelling was a magnificent dual carriage-way with cycle tracks laid in places. I will explain what I mean by "in places." I discovered that what was at the moment only a small hamlet at the end of the carriage-way was expected in the next five years to become a large and thriving town. They had the road ready ahead of requirements.
They also have a system by which they carry out a census of the origin and destination of traffic. At one end they hand the driver a card, on which he enters particulars, and it is collected from him 182 at the other end. It is interesting to note that any road which in the course of a day of twenty-four hours carries 3,000 vehicles is regarded as a road that should have a dual carriage-way. I wonder how many of the roads round London which are carrying 3,000 vehicles a day have dual carriage-ways? I think we should find that it is a very small percentage. Even more interesting was the fact that a flow of 500 cyclists a day is considered enough to warrant a cycle track. And, incidentally, those cycle tracks are built with imagination, to attract cyclists. One of the bugbears of cycle tracks in this country, and one of the things that keep cyclists off them, is that tracks are continually crossing drives into houses. The track suddenly dips, almost bumping the cyclist out of his seat; then it rises on the other side, and throws him into the air. When the Swedes come across a thing like that, they take the cycle track, away from the road altogether, to the back of the house. When they come to a steep hill they run the cycle track round it, and do not ask the cyclist to sweat and push his way to the top. If the road is going through dull country, and there is a nice bit of woodland beside the road, not too far away, they take the track by the side of the wood, so that the cyclist gets the protection of the wood against the weather—and also the sun, if it happens to be on the appropriate side of the road.
There is one point which strikes me as being extraordinarily interesting. Like ourselves, the Swedes drive on the left-hand side of the road, yet I do not think I should be far out if I say that 95 per cent. of their vehicles have left-hand drives. That means, automatically, that there can be no signal given to oncoming traffic by the driver of the vehicle. Very few of the vehicles are fitted with traffic indicators, and the result is that you get no signals at all. That has a most salutory effect. It means, first, that drivers use their mirrors, and that before they take any action they make sure they can do it without inconveniencing oncoming traffic. Secondly, it means that having made sure they can do it without inconveniencing oncoming traffic the drivers place themselves in the right part of the road to do what they want to do, and oncoming traffic knows by their position exactly what they are going to do.
183 Finally, my Lords, it should be borne in mind that the Swedish road authorities are given all the money raised by car licences and petrol tax, so that they know roughly in advance how much they have to spend in any one year. They can decide what roads they can afford to build that year, and they do not have to go cap in hand to the Treasury for leave to do it. I wonder if it is hoping too much that the Government will go to the Ministry of Transport and say: "In future we propose that you shall have (say) 75 per cent. of all the money raised by motor car taxation and petrol, and you may spend it as you consider necessary." I believe that that would give the Ministry of Transport a chance to decide what is wanted, and a chance to get on with the jobs in the order of their importance. Above all, they would have the incentive of knowing that the better they made the roads the more money they would have to spend on them, because the more they would be getting from taxation as a result. For years and years the roads have been milked. To-day we are suffering from that, and if we do not spend the money on the roads to-day, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, then to-morrow trade will be brought to a standstill.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF IDDESLEIGH
My Lords, as a humble member of the Alness Committee I should like to refer to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in his exceedingly forceful and interesting speech. The Alness Committee were not content to leave improvements in the design of vehicles entirely to the competition of various motor manufacturing firms. It should be remembered that we devoted two pages of our Report to specific recommendations regarding brakes, doors, the driver's seat and steering wheel, horns and lights. We did something which is more important; we remitted these highly technical but extremely important questions to the Road Safety Research Board, established on the recommendation of our Committee. I understand that that Board has not yet published a Report, and I think it would be indiscreet to ask whether this question of design of vehicles has yet been tackled by them. I hope, however, that we shall receive an assurance from the noble Lord, Lord Walkden, that the Reports of that Board will ultimately be published, and, 184 when they are published, I shall hope to see the question of vehicle design dealt with.
I will trouble your Lordships for as short a time as possible with the question of road accidents to children. Let me begin by saying with what great pleasure I learnt that the number of fatal accidents involving children has decreased in the first nine months of the current year, as compared with the first nine months of 1945, although there has been a great increase in the number of vehicles upon the roads. That, at least, is a hopeful sign and perhaps your Lordships will not object to one little sign of hope being brought into the somewhat gloomy atmosphere of this debate. At the same time, the figures for child casualties remain terribly high. They always will be high. You cannot put old heads on young shoulders, and we certainly do not want to do so. All that we can do is to seek to mitigate the great severity of the penalty which young children, especially young pedestrians under eight years old and cyclists in their early teens, pay for the privileges of childhood.
With regard to child cyclists, the Alness Committee made a strong and specific recommendation that no child under the age of ten should be allowed to cycle on the public roads. The Report of the Alness Committee is sometimes described as the Bible on road safety, but, as one of the authors of that Report, I would not claim plenary inspiration for every single one of its paragraphs. I myself would now doubt the wisdom of so strong a recommendation. It is my practice to allow my children to begin to cycle on the roads about the age of eight, provided that they are accompanied in the first year or so by a responsible adult, who can control them, and ensure that they observe the proper precautions which should be taken by cyclists. That suggestion is one which I would venture to commend to His Majesty's Government; that children should be allowed to cycle at eight or even seven years old, provided that they are accompanied by a responsible adult or young person, but that they should be prohibited from solitary cycling.
That has not commended itself to the authors of the Report on Road Safety, who do, however, recognize that the problem is one which needs close attention. They recommend that a scheme 185 should be instituted for the training of young cyclists, a scheme to be undertaken, I understand, by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in conjunction with the cyclists' unions. They recommend that child cyclists should be tested and a proficiency badge issued in certain circumstances. I want to ask the noble Lord who is to reply a question of which I have given him notice. When is that scheme going to be instituted? I do not myself understand that there is any good reason for delaying its institution. I think that all noble Lords will agree that increased instruction and training of young cyclists, and the keeping off the roads of any cyclist who cannot pass a simple test in road safety, are a factor that is likely to reduce the mounting toll of casualties of such cyclists and also contribute to the safety of other roads users.
I do not feel that officials in general are sufficiently conscious of the danger of young children cycling on the roads. A number of months ago I applied for petrol coupons, in order that my daughter, a girl barely eight years old—indeed, I think she had not attained the age of eight at the time—should be taken to, and fetched from, her school, a distance of some two miles. I received a reply that the coupons could not be granted unless I supplied a certificate that this little girl of seven was not medically fit to cycle two miles in the morning and two miles in the evening. The officials who drafted the regulations under which that letter was written could not, I think, have been very conscious of the dangers to young child cyclists.
With regard to children's safety in general, training must begin in the home. It is the parent who must teach the child almost as soon as he or she can toddle to observe the simple rules of kerb drill. In that connexion, I want to mention a document which seems to have slipped out of the library brought in by my noble friend Lord Howe; he will find it in the Library of your Lordships' House. It is the first social survey undertaken by the Ministry of Transport. It is an exceedingly interesting document, embodying the report of persons who tested how much interest the public were taking in road safety matters and the extent of the public's knowledge or ignorance. The most shocking fact revealed by that first 186 social survey was that almost exactly fifty per cent. of the parents of children under fifteen years of age had never heard of kerb drill. Kerb drill is, I believe, the term invented by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents for the simple rules, "Look to the right! Look to the left!" and the simple hand signs which a child should make before he or she crosses the road. It may be that parents were giving children some instruction, but, as far as I can read from the Report I have mentioned, many parents did no more than say, "Be careful of the traffic, dear." Well that is certainly not enough.
I understand that another social survey has been taken. I should be greatly interested to hear whether that is so, whether a report has been issued and whether copies of that report will be placed in your Lordships' Library. I look forward with keen interest to learning that more parents have been impressed with the necessity of teaching kerb drill to their children. But, if the second survey which may or may not have taken place, does not reveal an improvement in this respect, I would claim for the parents a very big and important part in the poster campaign. I fully appreciate the argument of noble Lords who have urged that the poster campaign should not be aimed at particular classes, but I would claim that an exception be made in the case of parents, and also in the case of children—because children read these posters and learn from them. I believe that a poster campaign specifically aimed at teaching kerb drill to more and more people would be of inestimable value.
After the home comes the school for the instruction of little children, and as a place in which they acquire good habits. Here I think the House should give unstinted praise to the teachers. At the time when the Alness Report was published only eighteen local education authorities were co-operating with the police in teaching road safety. By co-operation I mean that the police were invited into the schools about once a month to lecture to the children and to test the brakes of the children's bicycles. At other times the teachers taught road safety precautions, by games, films and action songs. To-day I am quite sure a very much larger number of local education authorities are co-operating with the police in this matter. If the noble Lord 187 will give figures of the number of authorities so co-operating, and also the figures of authorities that are not co-operating, we should be very much interested to hear them.
I used a wrong phrase just now. I said that I would give unstinted praise to the teachers. I would give very great praise indeed, but not quite unstinted praise, because I am now coming to a matter on which I am going, with great respect, to disagree with that very useful and eminent body the National Union of Teachers. Those of your Lordships who have been in the United States and have passed through the streets of American cities about the time of the opening and closing of the primary school will have observed in action a system that is there called the "safety patrol system," and which here, I gather, is known as the "schoolboy patrol system"; and they will have seen a number of little boys wearing a decorative piece of equipment. In Washington, D.C., it consists of a white belt and shoulder strap. This equipment denotes that the children in question are members of the safety patrol. The safety patrol stations himself at the street crossings used by his school-fellows on the way to school. He does not step off the pavement; he does not—and this is very important to note—attempt to control traffic. But his school-fellows are instructed to gather round him and await his permission to cross the road. The safety patrol looks into the road at the streams of traffic and waits until there is a clear opportunity for the children to cross before giving permission. If he is at a lighted crossing he goes, of course, by the red and green lights. When a safe opportunity occurs for the children to cross the road, he holds out his hand in the ordinary manner that every pedestrian ought to do, and allows the children to cross.
This is a very simple scheme, and it is one about which I happen to know something. I have seen it in action in the United States, and I have also received a vast amount of documents on the subject through the great courtesy and kindness of the American Embassy, which I should like to take this opportunity of acknowledging. First of all, I would stress that the schoolboy patrol system has been in operation in the United States for over twenty years. It has spread throughout the United States and is now used in over 3,000 communities 188 there. It is enthusiastically welcomed by motorists, and I have been unable to discover any reluctance on the part of teachers to implement the system. I inquired whether it made the patrols late at school, and I was told that they were allowed to be five minutes late for class and five minutes early in leaving class, and as they take it in turn to do the job they do not suffer in education. The system has two very great advantages. First of all, it is an unrivalled method of teaching the children themselves; in the second place, it is an enormous saving in man-power. I remember when I came back during the war from attachment to British Army Staff at Washington how amazed I was to see the immense numbers of policemen who were turned out to ensure the safety of children on their way to school. At that time there was a great crime wave in London, and it seemed to me a lamentable thing that the police force should be doing what in America was successfully done by children.
What I have been saying is well known to the Ministry of Transport. On the advice of the Road Safety Committee two experiments have been tried in a typical urban area of Ealing and in a typical rural area of Buckinghamshire. I want to ask the noble Lord whether he can indicate that in the opinion of the Ministry those experiments have been successful. I understand that they have given very great satisfaction to those concerned, and not least to the children and their parents. It is a regrettable fact that the National Union of Teachers has set its face against this system of schoolboy control. I think that they misconceive the object of the scheme. Their main criticism appears to be that it imposes too great a strain upon the children. That would certainly be true if the children were allowed to become young police constables; it would certainly be most unwise to allow them to control road traffic in any way whatever. But in all the literature that I have read on this subject it is emphatically stressed that that is no part of the functions of the children. I have explained the reasons that make me deplore the use of the police for this job. It is true that adults might do the work even better than the children. There are certain places where the work is done voluntarily by adult patrols. I should be glad if the noble Lord could tell me whether adult patrols are considered 189 successful, and whether volunteers are still being found in adequate numbers. As I have explained, I would very much rather it were entrusted to the children, because it is proved in America as well as in Ealing and Buckinghamshire, that the children can do it and do it well.
Finally, I would mention a few points on the subject of pedestrians in general. I would like to congratulate the authorities on the increasing number of guard rails that I see about the streets of London. That was a recommendation of the Alness Committee, and I think also of the Committee on Road Safety, and I am very glad to see that, at least, implemented. At the same time, very little seems to have been done about altering the law regarding pedestrians. I am not quite certain how far the Minister has power to prescribe the conduct of pedestrians by Order, but I know he has very great powers. The one piece of control which is imposed on the pedestrian is imposed by Order. As some of your Lordships know, the only offence that a pedestrian can commit is that of loitering on a Belisha crossing. That was imposed by Order of the Minister and did not require legislation. With other noble Lords I would plead that heedless walking by a pedestrian should be made an offence. As noble Lords have said, it is a most chaotic situation. If I step heedlessly off the kerb, I may be killed, but legally I die an innocent man, although that may not comfort me. I may, however, cause the death of the driver who swerves to avoid me. Is it to be considered as satisfactory that I do not bear a share of the legal responsibility for an action which may have such terrible consequences?
I would ask His Majesty's Government when they propose to institute those experiments in pedestrian control which are recommended in the Interim Report of the Committee on Road Safety. There were, I think, to be experiments on typical stretches of road, with and without guard rails, to test the possibility of the compulsory use of pedestrian crossings, and experiments with a central barrier down the road over which pedestrians could not climb. Those experiments, according to the Report of the Road Safety Committee, were to take place as soon as conditions returned to normal. Conditions appear to me to be in that stage now. I suppose the answer will be that there is a lack of the 190 man-power necessary for the conduct of these experiments. If so, I deplore it, but I would urge His Majesty's Government to make every effort to obtain data on these very important questions as soon as possible.
When the Minister of Transport reads the report of this debate he will be reminded of the very great interest which this House has taken in road safety matters for something like twenty years. We should remember that we owe that interest to the pertinacity of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, who was among the first to put down Motions on this subject. I know that the Minister is going to have an exceedingly busy Session; he is in charge of a highly complicated and controversial Bill. I fear that the existence of the Inter-Departmental Committee may tempt him to shelve responsibility for road traffic problems. I know committees are very valuable institutions. But without the drive and energy of an individual Minister behind them I have little faith in their capacity to secure results.
§ 5.34 p.m.
My Lords, I am sure we are all indebted to the noble Duke for tabling this Motion, which at long last we are able to discuss. I certainly hope that, having regard to the time which has elapsed since this Motion was first put down, the noble Lord who is going to reply will be able to tell us of concrete things which have been done and are being done, and not of what he hopes will be done at some future date. There is no doubt that on all sides of the House we are in complete agreement in deploring the terrible loss of life on our roads. I listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, when he referred to the petty disagreements between the cyclists, the motorists and the pedestrians as to who owns the roads. Surely a road is a line—not necessarily straight, unfortunately—between two places. At the moment there are in this country four classes of people who have to use the roads—namely, the motorists, the motor cyclists, the pedestrians and the cyclists. That state of things must go on for some considerable period, and therefore there must be co-operation between those four classes. The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, I think had the answer. He said the first thing that was needed was education. 191 We must endeavour to educate each and every person who uses the roads to realize that there are three other potential road users. He must be taught to stop and think, "Am I at any time in anything I do endangering anybody else?"
I was very pleased to see that the Highway Code was distributed to every home, but I am afraid it is not read in every home. At the moment, the only people who have to sign a declaration that they have read and understood that Code are those people who apply for driving licences. I do not know whether it is possible, but I would suggest that in the event of a pedestrian or a cyclist being called in to give evidence, after taking the oath he should be made to sign a document saying, "I have read and understood the Highway Code." As many noble Lords have said, pedestrians can do what they like; they can step off a pavement and cause an accident, but there is no redress. I believe that in the case of some insurance policies the unfortunate motorist or motor cyclist does not get a penny of compensation in respect of an accident caused in that way, even though it may not have been his fault.
In Hansard on November 5 last I read with great interest a speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, who had been in America for some considerable time. I, too, have just returned from America. Unfortunately, owing to the dollar situation, I was only able to stay there for a few days, but that did not prevent me having a few words with one of the New York traffic controllers about their problems. New York has a much greater volume of traffic than we have in London. In addition to private motor cars, there are at the moment 9,862 taxis registered there. As many of your Lordships know, New York is designed on the chess board principle, with all right-angled streets. They have there a system of what they call "express streets." That does not mean an unrestricted speed limit; it means that at the beginning of those streets there is a police sign saying "No parking between the hours of eight a.m. and six p.m." Believe me, when they put that notice up, it means there is to be no parking and nobody parks. Cars are allowed to set down passengers but they may not stop for more than about two minutes. I think that is the actual regulation. In that way they get a 192 clear run of traffic through every third street.
I asked this traffic controller "How do you manage that when you have got more traffic than we have?" He replied "The New York public are disciplined. If we say there is to be no parking, we mean it, and they know that if they do park it is going to cost them a fine of fifteen bucks on the spot." He went on to ask: "Why cannot you do that in England?" As many of your Lordships have said, I do not think the English mentality would accept that, but they do obey signs and they do obey the police. In England if you want to park your motor car you are far too prone to drive along, and when you find a little gap slip in and hope that you will not be picked up. That is all very well, but one can cause colossal inconvenience in creating a bottle-neck. I regret to say that I was guilty of that offence the other day. If we were more disciplined and tried to assist rather than take a chance, we should got rid of our traffic problems in London. We must have more car parks, and we must have them soon. We have heard a lot about these new satellite towns, Stevenage and Crawley. What I am interested to know—and I hope the noble Lord will be able to give me an answer—is whether we are going to have up-to-date car parks, whether we are going to have proper cycle tracks, and in fact are we going to have the dream town from everybody's point of view?
There is one other point upon which I would like some further information from the noble Lord. In the Alness Report at page 43, Section 111, it was recommended that an experimental motor-way be constructed. Can the noble Lord give us any indication as to what has happened to this, and if it is likely to be constructed, or has the idea been dropped? Finally, I am sure that if everybody, all road users, just got together and remembered the slogan that death is so permanent, we should go a long way towards reducing the number of road accidents.
§ 5.43 p.m.
My Lords, I would very much like to associate myself with the noble Duke and all he has said, and also with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I happened in the past to be 193 a co-practitioner with him in the motor trade. I propose very briefly to make four points to which I hope the noble Lord who is going to answer for the Government will be able to give me an answer, as I have given private notice of them. My first point is that a little while ago—and I am sure it is in your Lordships' recollection—I had four questions on the Order Paper not for oral answer. The first was to ask His Majesty's Government whether a list could be provided of the principal accident black-spots on the highways of this country. The answer I received—and some of your Lordships may have read it—was, if I may say so, no answer at all. The letter was signed by the noble Lord, Lord Walkden, and all I was told was that the principal accident black-spots on the highways of the country are shown on police accident maps, and that certain Departments get these maps. I asked if these maps could be provided at least to your Lordships' House and to another place, if not to the public. I would ask the noble Lord again to-day: Can these accident black-spot maps be provided to your Lordships' House and, as I hope, to the public? If the public are aware of the black-spots it may encourage them to take special care at those points.
My second point arises from an answer to another question which I asked. If I may just paraphrase the question, I asked His Majesty's Government if any road development work was being delayed for a lack of legal powers for acquisition of the land. I got, if I may say so, a satisfactory answer in that His Majesty's Government considered that the machinery described by the Acquisition of Land (Authorization Procedure) Act, 1946, would enable expeditious entry to be secured in suitable cases, and so on. Arising out of that answer I would like to ask the noble Lord if a list could be provided indicating which of the trunk road improvement schemes which were put into abeyance during the war have been recommenced, and which of these are to be recommenced during this financial year.
My remarks may seem somewhat disjointed, as my other questions are on different subjects. The third point I want to make is about parking. We had it on the authority of Sir Alker Tripp that a parked vehicle—and I use the word "vehicle" and not "motor car" because 194 I wish to include lorries, omnibuses and drays—is a considerable source of danger. Until we have underground car parks I am afraid we have to have parked vehicles. We cannot stop the movement of road transport for the reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, put so well. If we could at least have unilateral parking on roads which are under forty feet we would not only ease the congestion, but we would halve the danger, because we would only have one kerb of the road on which there are parked vehicles.
Added to this, I wish to make a very strong plea against allowing vehicles to pull across the oncoming stream of the traffic and parking against the kerb, facing the wrong way of the traffic. Under the Defence Regulations it is an offence to park your motor car at night facing the wrong way. Obviously in fog, if you are coming towards two side-lights, you go to the left and you find you are on the wrong side of the road. But by day it is equally bad. To my mind it is one of the biggest causes of congestion in our cities that we have any motor car or vehicle pulling across the traffic. It muddles that traffic up twice: once when it comes into the kerb and once when it leaves the kerb to go back on its own side of the road. So far as I know, we are now the only country in the world which allows this practice, and that is stopped at night. I ask His Majesty's Government whether they will not make an order that no vehicle may pull across the stream of traffic facing the wrong way, but that it must go round the block and come in on its own side of the road.
My last point, and it is a very simple one, is that where we have subways why do we have pedestrian crossings? We have notices put up "Use the subway", but at the same time we put up Belisha beacons and pedestrian crossings with studs. Surely you encourage the pedestrians to use the crossing and not to go under the subway. I would ask the noble Lord if, with any new construction that comes along, they would consider that no pedestrian crossing should be laid down at subways. Finally, I would like to support the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, in what he has just said about co-operation on the road. There must be co-operation and there must be a sharing of responsibility. There must equally be a responsibility on all road users, and the more we can do to that end the better. 195 Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, made the remark that "Death is so permanent." Maybe your Lordships know a little rhyme:Here lies the body of Johnathan Day,Who died maintaining his right of way.He was right, dead right, as he went along,But he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, I do not intend to keep the House long because I appreciate that the noble Lord who is going to reply has a very large number of points with which to deal, and most noble Lords wish, quite properly, to hear what he has to say rather than any small contribution which I might make to this discussion. I have, however, some justification for saying a word or two. First, I would like to thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Richmond, for putting down this Motion. It is a very good thing that the House continues to take the interest it does in this terrible problem. I remember one of the occasions on which this House did so in the past. I was then Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of War Transport, and the Minister, my noble friend Lord Leathers, was in this House. The Road Accident Committee, as a matter of fact, did not start as the noble Lord said, in 1943, but in 1941, under my Chairmanship. I remember quite well that this House demanded Papers and put such pressure upon my noble friend Lord Leathers that he agreed to make Papers forthcoming. We sent a number of Papers that we had for the Committee over which I was then presiding. I think it is a good thing this House should continue to take the interest it does, and should hear such very valuable contributions as we have had in the debate to-day.
Just before I get to the one or two things I want to say, I must refer to the Highway Code. I am glad that this document has gone into every household. I do not think that it would be a wise thing, if I may say so to the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, to make all its advice obligatory and all offenders liable to be prosecuted in the Courts. There is a great deal of very good advice that appears in that book which quite obviously could not be put in if it were obligatory. This Code can form a kind of Bible of instruction in a school to the person who is being taught to drive and 196 so on. If you had to make it a penal offence a whole lot of this very good advice and instruction would obviously have to be taken out of that book.
The point I want to make on the Highway Code, and I have given notice of this to the noble Lord opposite, is about what happened the last time we were debating these matters in this House. We were then generally agreed that the Highway Code might be improved in its drafting and on that occasion the noble Lord, Lord Winster, told us what improvements the Government were prepared to adopt. I happened to know that he was not just speaking largely off his own bat, but was speaking entirely for the Department and after agreement with the political heads of that Department. However, the next day the Code was discussed in another place and there the Speaker ruled that it was the whole Code, without a word altered or a comma changed. As a result I had some correspondence from the noble Lord, Lord Winster, saying that the Government, in the circumstances, could not live up to the undertakings that he, on their behalf, had given to this House. There it was. It was just before the Recess, and everybody wanted a new Highway Code to go out into the peoples' homes as quickly as possible, and nobody more than I. I happen to be President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. That body, which is taking some part in trying to reduce the number of accidents on the road, was relying on having the Highway Code in every home this autumn.
My point is that I think that the Government in future should give more time to discuss a document of that sort. If a document goes out as approved by both Houses of Parliament it ought not to be just up to us to put a rubber stamp on it; yet as the Code was before us on practically the last day of the Session that was the position that each House of Parliament was in. I know it was not intentionally done that way, but we must guard our democracy. Things were too often done that way under the Nazi and Fascist régime. I do ask for an undertaking from the Government that in future, except in emergency, they will see that documents such as the Highway Code—if there is a new one—which need the approval of each House of Parliament, come before us in sufficient 197 time for the incorporation of any improvement that we might suggest, and which the Government think are reasonable. I hope the noble Lord will be able to give me that undertaking because it is all important in our democracy that the Houses of Parliament should not be treated as places where a rubber stamp is automatically placed on whatever the Executive may submit.
Now I come to one or two other things which, quite shortly, I would like to say. I believe that one of the most valuable ways in which we can help to reduce road accidents is the education of all road users, starting with the children in the schools. I happen to have had the honour of opening two or three exhibitions that are taking place up and down the country, and I hope that these exhibitions are doing something towards educating everybody in the more careful use of the roads. Education by the police, especially by what are known as "Courtesy Cops," is one of the most valuable forms of education that we can possibly have for road users. I do not know whether any of your Lordships have seen the film that has been produced in which the viewer seems the whole time to be sitting behind a very good driver—as it happens a driver of the County Police of Lancashire. That county has been in the forefront of the counties adopting methods of this kind. I pride myself on not being a careless car driver, in any way, but really it does have quite a good effect even on a good driver (as I hope I am) to see one of these films. When he drives afterwards, there comes to the mind of even the best of drivers a number of little points which might not previously have occurred to him. I think the Ministry is putting a real effort behind this educational programme at the present time, and I believe that they have given quite a lot of financial support to those who are helping them in it. I hope that the campaign will produce results.
I know there has been a lot of criticism of the picture of the bilious-looking woman to whom reference has been made. I never knew before that she had been taken for a parson. Of course, she is meant to be a rather desolate-looking person. I do not know just what bereavement she is supposed to have suffered, but one can well imagine that 198 she has lost a husband or a son as the result of an accident on the roads. I was horrified at that poster when I saw it first, but I must say that, from one point of view it has not been such a bad poster. Very few people whom I have met have not seen it, have not said how much they dislike it, and have not associated it with accidents on the road. That means that the poster has achieved something that every poster ought to achieve by attracting attention to a particular problem. I hope that in the future, as I believe will be the case, steps will be taken to emphasize different points in the new Highway Code.
I think it is a matter for rejoicing that out of the 1,300 highway authorities which have been asked to form local road safety committees, no fewer than 1,000 have already done so. That means that in most road authority areas committees of people have been got together who will really take an interest locally in these very vital problems. I am glad, too, to think that driving tests are being re-instituted. I must say that I have very great sympathy wtih the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, when he says that those who take these tests must be thoroughly qualified. I do not see in the least why reports on their efficiency should not be obtained from the police schools where they do their training, so that if the officials of a police school report unfavourably on a man he will not be put into that all-important position where he will have the responsibility of testing others. You cannot test the driving of others properly until you are adequately qualified yourself.
I forget whether it was the noble Duke who introduced this Motion or some other member of your Lordships' House who said that he wanted the Minister to go "the whole hog" on road reconstruction. I think that that idea goes right to the root of our problem. It not only goes to the root of the problem from the accident prevention point of view but also from the point of view expressed by my noble friends Lord Lucas and Lord Teynham. The very life of the commerce of this country will be most frightfully held up if nothing should be done in this connexion. I should like the Minister to be what I might describe in the words of a previous speaker as a "super road-hog" in making new roads and in improving existing roads. Really, if the Government have 199 enough millions to be able to take over the vast organizations of the railways there should be money to use on this. I do not quite know who will be any happier when they have taken over the railways. The noble Lord, Lord Walkden, may be able to say whether the railway men are likely to be very much happier. I am rather inclined to doubt it. I am quite certain that the trains will not be very much better than they have been, and certainly, in view of the compensation which I see is going to be paid, I should say that the taxpayer will probably be a great deal worse off. But if we could only spend some of these millions (for the figure for compensation will run into many millions) on improving our roads and so really helping the commerce of this country, how much better that would be.
The Treasury, perhaps, will say that we shall not get any dividends back but the country as a whole will get a dividend because of the number of working hours now lost that Will be saved—the time of doctors and nurses, for example, taken up in dealing with the victims of road accidents and the time that drivers are held up by congestion on the roads. If you take into account what all this costs the country, I think you would find that it runs into millions of pounds a year, and the saving of that will be a direct return to the Treasury for spending money upon our road system. So I do hope that something in this connexion will be done. I, myself, really do not believe that you will get very much improvement in the accident rate merely by trying to increase the number of offences of which people can be found to be guilty when using the roads. I would in fact add only one. This, of course, is my old hobby horse which I have ridden in this House before but I must trot it out once again.
I would not go so far as to say that I think a pedestrian should be fined for "reckless walking" because I do not quite know what that would be. It would be very difficult to define such an offence. But when a pedestrian definitely walks or runs across the road against a traffic light or against the signal given by the arm of a policeman, I think that is really quite intolerable. At these crossings, the motorist has to watch the policeman's arm and watch the traffic light. The traffic light goes green and the policeman's arm signals him on, and he ought then to have 200 a free road. If he is placed under the necessity of having to watch out for stupid pedestrians trying to cross, then that is asking for trouble. I should be inclined to have the same system in force here as is employed in the United States. That is that in such cases a policeman should have the power to fine a person a stated amount on the spot. I would have it that the person fined need not pay on the spot, but that he would be required to give his name and address. He would, of course, if he wished, have the option or going before a court of law where the offence would be proved against him or he might, perhaps, be found not guilty. The pedestrian should always have that right. If he does not avail himself of that option then a fine of a stated amount should be imposed upon him on the spot. I would not care how little that amount was. It might be as low as half a crown, but the point is that the policeman should be able to impose a fine straight away on the spot.
I have hesitated on sidewalks (as they call them over there) in the United States before crossing roads because I thought that, although there was no traffic coming along the other way, if I were to cross against the traffic lights I would be committing an offence, and I did not want to lose a couple of dollars out of my pocket straight away.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
The great point is that there is an immediate bringing home to you that you are doing wrong, and it does make you think twice before doing what might seem a lesser wrong if there were no traffic coming. At any rate, I believe it is a very effective way of stopping rash action at these two particular points. I hope that the noble Lord will tell us to-day something of what the Ministry are doing to get on with the improvement of our road system. I would not mind who was employed on it. I think that we could well use on that job a number of these Poles, for whom I am so sorry. They fought well in the war, and they are now waiting about in the Reconstruction Corps or whatever it is called.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I am much obliged to the noble Lord. They might 201 well be helping with this great problem, until they get into their permanent jobs. There are also a large number of people, such as the Letts and Esthonians (who are quite good people), in our area in Germany. Why should not some of those come and help, if we are short of labour? I do hope that we shall, get on with this. It is one of the most urgent problems, not only for the prevention of death and the saving of life, but also to make certain that, with the vast influx of additional motor vehicles which we are likely to have in this country following what has happened in the United States, we shall have some kind of movement of traffic. I beg the Government to get on as fast as they possibly can with action in improving our roads. We are very anxious to hear the noble Lord who is to reply, but may I just say that although the propaganda on this matter of road safety is being well done by the Ministry, we want to see the road improvement side tackled with equal vigour.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ LORD WALKDEN
My Lords, once more we have had a good debate on this very important subject. Before I attempt to reply to the many noble Lords who have urged their points with great earnestness and exceptional ability, I would like to say how glad I am that the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has been able to stay as long as he has. I would like the noble Marquess to convey to the noble Lord, Lord Alness, our sympathy that he is unable to be with us. I gathered from what the noble Marquess said that he would have liked to be here, and I am sure that it would have given him pleasure to hear the careful discussion in which we have dealt with that great Report in his name.
I am not at all sure that I can reply to everything that has been said, to every question that has been raised. I have a great sheaf of notes here which I tried to make as noble Lords spoke, but obviously I cannot give a progress report on all the work that is going on all over the country. Work on new traffic roads, to some extent, is being done by all sorts of authorities—highway authorities, local councils, and the Ministry of Transport. Neither can I give your Lordships a wholesale and clear estimate of all the work which is being planned, and which will be carried out as and when we can get on with it. I cannot alone give your 202 Lordships all that you have asked for in that regard, but I can say that in any specific questions of fact as to what is being done here and there, if your Lordships care to put down questions for written answers we will do our best to give answers, between now and the next discussion, which will help you.
I was very refreshed by the noble Duke who opened this debate stating how whole-heartedly he was prepared to see the Government take action to deal with things in a thoroughly drastic way. It was delightful to hear that spirit expressed, after coming from another place, where whenever you wanted to turn a wheel some local authority wanted to stop you from doing so. Where local authorities have their own rights and powers they do not want any super-authority coming along and taking away those rights. The noble Duke will appreciate that it is rather a thorny job to take away all those powers in respect of roads, and to administer them from Whitehall. I am sure he will pardon me if I do not attempt to deal with those matters with any degree of thoroughness. Many lesser matter would require new legislation and new Regulations, which do not seem very much in favour now. Regulations are useful in times of emergency. I think that they can still be of use, and that that archaic institution, which is as lively as any other institution, His Majesty's Privy Council, is a most useful body, which ought to be utilized, within reason, whenever necessary.
It is gratifying that this House takes such a close and continuous interest and concern in this tragic subject of road accidents. Your Lordships have treated it very seriously this afternoon, and that is the spirit in which the subject should be treated. I have witnessed prior discussions. We had a debate similar to this, lasting until late into the night, just a year ago. We also had a good debate on car parks, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham. Then we had a debate on the new Highway Code, about which I will say nothing at the moment. We also had two or three days' discussion on the new Trunk Roads Bill, which authorized the Minister to take over an additional 3,000 miles of traffic roads, making a total of 8,000 miles altogether. All these discussions have been very helpful, and have helped to keep the subject alive in the public mind. They have, moreover, 203 helped the Minister and the Government of the day—whatever Government may have been in office—by the sensible pressure kept up by this House on important questions of this kind.
I want to assure the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, that he may tell Lord Alness that his Report is not shelved. It never will be. It is having a very lively existence indeed, and all the year round it is the basis of all our considerations and all our actions. It is a volume of guidance and advice which is most helpful. Its recommendations have been largely approved—I will not say wholly approved—by the Minister, although the Report is not obligatory and does not carry with it the force of law. No Commissions or Committees appointed to inquire into anything produce a Report which immediately becomes the law of the land—although the Report may be implemented in parts. It is a question of legislation. The Reports themselves are not binding. I mention that for the noble Duke, the Duke of Richmond.
As has been said, these recommendations might be bunched together, one bunch being short-term recommendations and another bunch long-term recommendations. Another way of looking at it might be one set of recommendations for educational propaganda and the other for constructive and better road development. We have been working along both lines, as far as we possibly can, to help to carry out the Alness Report. We set up a strong working committee initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. That committee has been working more or less all the year round and has produced one very helpful Report supplementing the Alness Report. It will produce a further report within a few more months or weeks. I dare not give your Lordships anything like a specific date, because the difficulties with regard to paper and printing are such that one cannot be very firm in giving a date. We experienced that difficulty with the Highway Code. It is no use saying that we have too many words on this matter. The whole work of government is a matter of discussion. It is the English way to have plenty of information and to discuss the matter thoroughly before coming to a decision and enacting a law. The more light that we can get on these great subjects by this report, the better we can do our work to 204 make enactments that will stand the test of time and be sensible when they are dealt with in the Law Courts. The Ministry has accepted nearly all the recommendations of the Road Accidents Committee. They are continuously active in considering what they can do to implement them.
We now come to the first section of the work. The Alness Committee recommended continuous propaganda. That was taken up as soon as the war was over. The war has now been over for many months, but we do not as yet enjoy permanent conditions of peace. Things are by no means easy. We are all bitterly disappointed that there are so many difficulties to contend with when the war has been over for more than a year. But, as soon as the shooting had stopped, steps were definitely taken to act upon the first section of the Alness Committee's recommendations. I will give your Lordships a little information as to the results. A new educational campaign was addressed to all classes of road users. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, stressed the fact that this matter should apply to all classes equally. Let us have no nasty distinctions between one section of the community and another. We have used the Press, posters, films and the wireless, and all the agencies we have employed have been very helpful.
The first phase of the campaign, which started approximately a year ago, came to a close more or less towards the end of May. It cannot, however, be expected that 1,000 people can be set to work and that they should all finish simultaneously at a given date. Some have dragged out a bit longer, and their work ran into the summer. The second phase of the campaign has quite recently been introduced. That has as its primary object the publicizing of the new Highway Code and the education of the public in its precepts. It has been suggested that some people will not read the Highway Code, but, whatever one does, one gets all those difficulties. In such spare week-ends and evenings as I have had, I have taken part in the second phase of this educational campaign. I am pleased to say that many people have come up to me and spoken in high appreciation of the new book. They have said how it helped them to get to know something about the rules of the road and gave them guidance as to what their actions on the roads should be. 205 Young men going out into the world and doing fairly well hope to become motorists. Many are already cyclists, and the most experienced motorist is sometimes a pedestrian. The book is so drafted that it applies to all road users.
With regard to the national effort, the general organization from headquarters has been supplemented by local efforts. Of course, in this country one always has to look for help to the enormous number of voluntary institutions which we have. It is a splendid feature of our public life in England that there are so many voluntary organizations composed of knowledgeable people who are ready to co-operate with any Government to do any good work in which they can take part. I want to acknowledge the help that they have given. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents; local authorities of all kinds—county, borough, rural district, and parish councils, too; the school teachers; the clergy and the police have all helped in this campaign.
The local authorities have been allowed 50 per cent. of any expenses they incur. I am glad to see that almost everywhere they have set up local safety committees and those bodies are going on with their work. They are not going to dissolve because the summer or the autumn campaign is pretty well through. They are going to carry on and do anything further that we call upon them to do. They are being assisted by a most excellent propaganda pamphlet. I hold up this pamphlet for your Lordships' inspection. Some of your Lordships may have already seen it. It is most ably produced, and it has helped those people very much indeed. It is a sort of handy guide to anyone who wants to know how to help in this campaign. My experience locally where I live—and indeed all over Surrey—is that people have come forward in a splendid way to help in this work, and they want to continue with it. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, and I think one or two noble Lords, made reference to this matter.
The response of the local authorities has been most satisfactory. Between November, 1945, and March 31, 1946, 154 local authorities carried out approved schemes estimated to cost £10,996. Since then 700 local authorities have submitted estimates to a total cost running up to about a quarter of a million pounds—they will find half the money and the 206 Government will find the other half; they are quite willing to find their half, knowing that we shall find our half—in respect of schemes to be undertaken in the current financial year, and many other local authorities have expressed their intention of preparing and submitting local schemes. They are, so to speak, the last bunch, coming up, as it were, in the rear. It is very gratifying to know that all are getting on the march and going to maintain their efforts throughout this campaign. I am sure that results are maturing very well. Of course, the main object is to get a better sense of road behaviour by all road users. Whether the individual be a motorist, a cyclist, a pedestrian or what you will, it is desired that consideration be shown by him for other road users.
To assist the consideration of the continuance of the central campaign, arrangements were made for investigations to assess the effect of the first phase of the campaign on the public consciousness. These investigations showed that the public have been found to be more road-conscious and have become more aware of the road problem and the way in which they can assist in its solution. I will give your Lordships some figures. It cannot be expected, of course, that short-term propaganda can have an immediate and startling effect on the road accident figures, but having regard to the increased traffic on the roads—and it is increasing very considerably indeed—and other factors, the increase in the figures does not appear to have been so serious as might have been expected. The following comparative figures; may be of interest. In September, 1946, 373 persons were killed and 14,543 injured. These are the latest figures. In September, 1945, the figures were 452 persons killed and 13,425 injured. In September, 1938, there were 555 persons killed and 20,105 injured. The September position shows an improvement. The general trend in recent times has been for figures of fatalities to remain fairly constant and the figures for injuries to increase. That is the immediate tendency. I would point out, however, that the police are able to gather more information about the mounting accidents, and that swells the figure of non-fatal accidents.
Whereas in September, 1945, there were 452 persons killed, in September, 1946, 207 there were only 373 killed. That is a reduction of 79, quite an appreciable figure. It does show that the campaign has had some effect, although I agree not enough. The figures are more encouraging when one considers them against September, 1938. There were 555 killed in the month of September before the war, and this year 373. That is a reduction of 182 in the number of people killed. So far as the child fatalities are concerned, we all, of course, grieve over those even more than over the others. The figures for this September were 83, and despite the exceptionally high figure of 126 for May the number of child deaths for the first nine months of the current year was decreased by thirteen per cent., which again I suggest is gratifying.
§ LORD WALKDEN
I have not the detailed figures for children. The figure for September, 1946, is 83. I have not the pre-war figures for children.
§ LORD WALKDEN
I cannot say with certainty, but from what information I have of the registered vehicles I think we have now pretty well reached parity with what we had before the war—round about two million registrations. While figures, of course, cannot tell the whole story, they are the only means of measuring the relative position, and I suggest that the relative position is less bad than it was. I do not say it is better or even good, but it is less bad. Therefore we are on the way to recovery.
May I suggest that it is a question of the mileage done by vehicles? The number of vehicles may be the same, but they cannot do the same mileage; therefore the comparison is entirely false.
§ LORD WALKDEN
This is a matter on which we want a lot more statistical information; that is where research would come in. I could not say off-hand what 208 was the mileage done in September, 1938, September, 1945, or September of this year, but we do know there are round about two million vehicles moving now, as in 1938. Therefore I suggest the comparison is valid.
We now come to the question of the Highway Code. Your Lordships will all remember that the Alness Committee recommended that there should be a Code, and that it should be revised and reissued, keeping pace with the times when and where necessary. They did agree that it should be given the force of law. That is a very strong point for those who wish to see that made operative. But when you come to consider what would be necessary in the way of a large compulsory measure, you realize that it is something that would take a lot of very contentious time probably in both Houses of Parliament, and it is not a matter upon which to start in a year when we are just emerging from the horrors, the terrors and stupendous labours of the war into the immediate post-war years. As has been truly said by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, a little handbook for the instruction of people, simply written, would not be suitable. You would have to have a very carefully drawn schedule, with a new Act of Parliament and careful specifications for the guidance of Courts of Law and magistrates. That is a big job and I cannot give any assurance that it is likely to be undertaken at the present moment.
With regard to the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, we have looked into that matter and we cannot find that there is much substance in the point raised when the Highway Code was put before both Houses of Parliament. It was raised in rather a peculiar manner in each House, and very similar expressions were used. We have searched into it most thoroughly and we cannot find that there are any practical suggestions in the criticism, if I may say so with great respect. It is hypercritical of drafting, which is a subject about which anyone can argue. Even the words complained of have come forward from the two previous editions of the Code. Mr. Herbert Morrison was the then Minister of Transport, and a member of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord the late Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, one of the most able masters of English of his time, wrote the text of the Code. No complaints were 209 raised then at all, but suddenly up flared a lot of criticism about the accuracy or commonsense of the wording of the book. However, it is perhaps a lesson.
I do not know that time was skimped for considering the Code, but I have no doubt that every effort will be made to provide whatever time for discussion may be desired. We in this House thought, and were advised, that reasonable alterations might be included, at any rate in the earlier part of the book; but in the other House the Speaker ruled, and when the Speaker rules his word goes. This House is more like a drawing-room; the noble Viscount the Leader of the House does not rule us. Mr. Speaker in the other place, however, does rule, although he may not speak in debates as our own Speaker the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, does. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack takes a most active part in our debates and assists us, but he cannot rule us. The Speaker does rule, and when the Speaker rules you cannot make any alterations.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
The noble Lord has not fully met my point. First of all, the amendments suggested were to a new part of the Code. I have not verified this, but I think they were very largely to a new part of the Code that had only arisen then for the first time. If the noble Lord looks that up, I think he will find I am right. I have not checked it, because I did not know that the point was going to be raised in the noble Lord's reply, but I think he will find the amendments were to the new parts. The noble Lord, Lord Winster, speaking on behalf of the Government, gave certain undertakings that it would be altered. I am not now seeking to hold the Government to those undertakings; I put it in a much milder way. I think it was the last day or the last day but one before the Recess when we were asked to consider this matter. The Ministry of Transport quite rightly wanted to get the book out this autumn and did not want to wait until after the long Recess for the approval of Parliament.
I make this very simple proposition, and I am very glad the noble Leader of the House is here now that I make it. If a document says on it that it goes out with the approval of both Houses of Parliament, we ought not to be treated just like a rubber stamp; we ought to be given time 210 to discuss the matter if objections are raised, even if only to the wording; and if the Government say they will accept amendments, which is what happened in this case, the matter ought not to be rushed so much that the Government cannot bring back a revised edition incorporating the suggestions which have been adopted as a result of discussions in both Houses. I am not in the least blaming the Government for what took place in this case. They acted with complete bona fides, and so did the noble Lord, Lord Winster. All I am asking is that we should not be put into that position again. Enough time should be given and the matter should not be brought forward on almost the final day of the Session.
§ LORD WALKDEN
We quite accept the plea which the noble Lord has put forward. Perhaps I might remind the House that at that time we were working under abnormal conditions. There had been no indication through that mystic institution called the "usual channels" that a debate was desired. Otherwise arrangements might have been made. I can assure my noble friend in regard to future matters that if he and his friends will co-operate in letting us know, the necessary arrangements will be made.
The Committee on Road Safety did not deal in their Interim Report with all the recommendations made by the Alness Committee in relation to driving tests and licences. In particular they deferred consideration of the need for amendment of the law in relation to the endorsement and/or revocation of drivers' licences for certain offences. These matters will be dealt with in their later Report which we expect will be coming along at no very distant date. The resumption of driving tests, as your Lordships know, was brought in on the first of this month. The driving test organization has been set up and we have enlisted quite a good staff of examiners. Whether they need to be examined, I am not quite sure, but we have got to get them at work. If faults are found, they will of course be investigated and unsatisfactory men will be suitably dealt with.
May I interrupt to repeat my question as to whether the police will be asked to report on those to whom they have already given a course?
The point is that the police have, I believe, found that some of them are quite unsuitable and I think they ought to be given a chance to say so.
§ LORD WALKDEN
The arrangement really is that all the men are men who were testers before the war. They belong to the Ministry and they have gone to the police for refresher courses so that they may become acquainted, in contact with the police, with all the latest and up-to-date information which should be utilized in testing a man who wants a licence. They have not gone there for a certificate. I think I explained that a few days ago. That is how the matter now stands. Of course when we come to engage further staff for testing we shall need to have them tested and certified as fit and proper persons to do so.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Obviously it makes a great deal of difference. If a person is an established civil servant with contractual rights then it would be a very difficult thing to remove him, even if he were unsuitable. I do not say he ought not to be removed, but if he is not a civil servant, then my noble friend's point seems to be one of extreme relevance.
§ LORD WALKDEN
I should say that in every case where an established civil servant was found to be unsatisfactory he would be taken from that work and his services utilized elsewhere. In the case of an unestablished man, of course even more drastic action might be taken, although even then he might be found some other employment. I am informed that new officers appointed will be on probation and that they will not be entered into the service permanently unless their probationary period shows that they are satisfactory people.
§ EARL HOWE
Can the noble Lord say quite definitely whether, in the case of a pre-war examiner who has gone for a refresher course, if the police find that on the whole he is unsuitable as an 212 examiner, this sort of report from the police will be considered before he is again confirmed as an examiner?
Are the police allowed to report? In the noble Lord's statement in the House the other day, he precluded that. He said no test was made and the police were not asked for a report.
§ LORD WALKDEN
While it may not be the case that reports are made in every instance, if the police have a man through their hands who has deteriorated badly and who is plainly unfitted to resume this work, it is their duty—and I am sure they will act upon it—to let the Ministry know. I do not think I can add anything very much to that at the present time except this. It was found that a little further legislation—this is a small matter—was necessary to obtain adequate powers for the work to be carried through completely and thoroughly. There is a little Bill, the Road Traffic (Driving Licences) Bill, now in another place. It was introduced last Session, it has been reintroduced this Session, and it will be coming along to your Lordships in due course. Any of your Lordships who wish to see what it provides for can obtain a copy from the Printed Paper Office. It is, we think, non-contentious and we hope it will be made law so that the work can be done completely and not in respect only of a minority or even a majority of the applicants for licences.
I now come to the matter of the police, which is of course a very important one indeed. The Alness Committee strongly recommended that mobile police patrols should be more extensively used. In present circumstances the police are below their normal strength, but it is hoped that, where one does not already exist, there will be a special traffic department in each Chief Constable's office. All the ideas about the provision of mobile patrols by responsible police officers have been accepted by the Ministry and everything possible will be done to get them carried into operation. But, as in many other branches of the public service—indeed, all, I think—there is a grave shortage of staff, and especially of qualified staff. So far as the police 213 service is concerned, a report was issued by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis which proved that up to the hilt so far as London was concerned. It is very distressing to find the difficulties under which the police are working at the present moment, but they can be overcome and substantial steps are being taken to improve the inducements to good men to join the police force. We hope that the response will be sufficient to enable the provision of an adequate number of road motor patrols, or "Courtesy Cops" as the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, called them, throughout the country.
§ LORD WALKDEN
This method of keeping a check on careless motoring was initiated by the authorities in the North of England, and we want to emulate it throughout the country. So far as the question of statistics is concerned, I have mentioned the sheer necessity, apart from the desirability, of having more statistical information. Steps are being taken to comply with that need and the engineers of the highway authorities, the divisional road engineers of the Ministry of Transport, and the police will gather more and more information. That will be placed in the hands of the Road Research Board, which has been newly arranged for. Its terms of reference have recently been extended to include considerations of road safety. It is a big body, part of a big State institution for research, and will be able, I am sure, to help us in the future very appreciably by dealing with all the statistics in a more scientific way, and to give us better guidance than we have had in the past.
Now I come to the subject of roads. A good deal of forcible argument has been put forward in this regard. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, drew attention to this excellent brochure on the design and layout of roads and built-up areas. That shows how the Ministry has been working, with expert assistance, to prepare for the provision of more and better roads. Of course, as in most other things, the difficulty is not in getting plans or technical advice, and it is not even in getting the tackle or machinery to do the work; the most serious difficulty is in getting labour to carry out the work. As your Lordships all know, the housing problem, in which I am quite sure your Lordships take an 214 equally keen interest, demands and devours all the men who are available. We cannot get that type of labour, which is the same type of labour which is utilized in road making. Certainly note will be taken of the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, and we will see if we can utilize Polish labour and, if possible, even displaced persons brought over here from Europe, to help us in our road making work. That will be followed up as speedily as possible.
As to vehicles being tested to see that they too are fit to run, as are the persons fit to drive them, all that is under consideration, and as soon as we get the personnel arrangements will be made to carry out the plans in that regard. The Committee on Road Safety is continuing its work. I was going to say that it is a permanent committee, but I think it will be made permanent. I think your Lordships will agree that it ought to continue its work now and henceforth.
§ EARL HOWE
Does that refer to the Committee on Road Safety established in 1944? What I was going to ask is this. The noble Lord will recollect that that Committee is merely representative of the police and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. If it is intended to make that Committee a permanency, will the noble Lord give consideration to including on that Committee representatives of other bodies as in the Road Safety Committee of 1933?
§ LORD WALKDEN
Special arrangements will have to be made to make the Committee permanent. I am sure consideration will be given to the noble Earl's suggestion that its personnel should be widened so as to bring more experience on the Board than has been the case in the past. I cannot speak absolutely of course, but I assure him that the matter will be given favourable consideration.
With regard to the terms of the noble Duke's Motion, I can say that His Majesty's Government have no objection to the spirit which has animated it, and His Majesty's Government recognize the urgent necessity for taking those steps advocated by the Alness Committee and endorsed by the Committee on Road Safety in their Interim Report in September, 1944, to which the Motion refers. We are taking all the measures we can towards this end. Some are naturally more immediate than others, but in 215 general terms we are doing everything possible in this direction as quickly as we can, and I assure the noble Duke that we are not less anxious than he is in this respect. I hope, therefore, that he will be satisfied with the information I have given to the House and with this assurance that he will see his way not to press for Papers.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
My Lords, while wishing to express appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Walkden, who has given a reply upon a long and very involved matter which I know has probably entailed a great amount of work, I must nevertheless say that until hearing the last paragraph I was very gloomy, because an enormous number of questions, big and small, have been asked this afternoon and the only answer that we really got was: We are doing our best in very difficult circumstances. That, I have no doubt, is so. My reason for tabling this Motion was that I knew that already but it does not in the least alter the circumstance that this thing is too serious to put up with. I think I asked why could not the thing be regarded as somewhat the occasion of a D Day. Well, one knows that that might, taken literally, be going a little far, but I do really mean what I say. I feel that this problem does need more pushing and driving than that which at the present moment has been indicated. I am very grateful for the statement that the findings of the Alness Committee and the Interim Report on the Committee of Road Safety are being tackled, and that it is the Government's desire and intention to tackle them. But what I do not like so well is the proviso, "as and when it is possible." Of course there are labour difficulties and the housing problem, but when looked at in its true light I do not believe that vast numbers of people are going to be killed by the loss of a few houses. I do not mean to say that we should stop building houses and to get down to tarmac and steam rollers, but I do think the time has gone when we should regard this as a sort of "also ran" in the way in which it has always been considered in the past.
Far be it from me to occupy your Lordships' time at any further length this evening. I would just add that I am not 216 pleased at all with this answer. I know the desire is there, but I do not believe the drive is there. I am going to watch this, as indeed, I feel strongly, are a great number of my noble friends. We shall focus our attention upon the practical progress, not the things we are told are going to happen to-morrow. If in the course of time—and I am afraid it will be so—one is overcome once more by this sense of frustration in regard to the matter, then I am afraid your Lordships will have to bear with me all over again. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.58 p.m.