§ 2.45 p.m.
§ LORD ELTONrose to draw attention to the fact that 6,000 persons were killed and nearly 300,000 injured in road accidents in this country last year; to ask Her Majesty's Government what measures they propose to take, other than those which have demonstrably failed already, to curb the daily slaughter and mutilation on our roads; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am asking you to consider once more what is certainly one of the gravest, and as certainly one of the most neglected, social evils of to-day—an evil of whose present dimensions the general public is so completely unaware as to be almost, one might say, unaware of its very existence; for, with a very few exceptions, the Press has long ceased to treat the daily slaughter and mutilation on the roads as "hard news".
§ I myself had not realised how completely unconscious of the appalling facts the general public has been allowed to become until a few weeks ago, after I put down this Motion on your Lordships' Paper, I made the experiment of asking some forty friends and acquaintances, from a wide cross-section of society, how many persons they would guess—for, of course, none of them knew—had been killed and injured on British roads last year. My Lords, you have the figures, or the approximate figures, in front of you: approximately 6,000 killed; approximately 300,000 injured. The actual figures were: 5,970 killed and 299,767 injured. The results of that little experiment were most startling and, I think, most significant. Of the forty adult citizens whom I canvassed, only two put the grand total at over 50,000, and almost all the rest put it at well under 10,000. The managing director of a worldwide industry thought that perhaps 7,000 people had been killed and injured on the roads last year; the head of a famous Oxford College put it at 6,000; an executive in the motor industry at 10,000; and a lorry driver at 2,000. But, my Lords, the figures were over 300,000, of whom 50,000 were children—that is to say, on an average more than 16 people were killed and more than 820 injured every day of the year. If this debate lasts for three hours, 865 as it looks as if it might, two people will have been killed and 100 will have been injured while we have been talking.
§ I imagine few of us can take part in a debate of this kind without having poignantly in mind some friends or relations killed or maimed on the roads in the last few years, and it is right that we should be mindful of these as we try to make up our minds how much effort we are prepared to devote to ending this intolerable waste of life and limb. When I told that lorry driver who had conjectured 2,000 as the total casualties for the year what the true figures were, he exclaimed: "It makes you think, doesn't it?" If the Press, which draws very large revenues from the advertisements of the motor industry, would make a practice of featuring the monthly and annual totals, it would make many of us think, and it would undoubtedly save many lives and limbs.
§ I am inclined to think that there is a further significance about this extraordinary general unawareness of the present dimensions of this tragedy. Subconsciously, I suspect, we want to forget it because it is ugly and menacing and because, at one and the same time, we are conscious that we feel helpless to arrest the havoc and at the same time, we uneasily suspect that it could be arrested if only we were prepared to take measures—quite drastic measures; even if those measures might risk involving some inconvenience to motorists, which means, of course, to ourselves, because we are all motorists nowadays, and I speak as one who has been wholly dependent on a motor car for business and pleasure for more than forty years.
§ As I look back on the numerous occasions on which I have taken part in debates on road accidents in your Lordships' House in the last twenty-five years, one conclusion seems to me inescapable: we shall never reduce this annual tragedy—on the contrary, it will continue to increase—unless and until we can greatly diminish the number of murderous and suicidal drivers on the roads. That is the Rubicon which we have never yet made up our minds to cross. After all, as motorists, very naturally and properly, we all have an instinctive sympathy with each other, and when we hear of somebody who has misjudged a cutting-in or knocked down 866 a child, we are apt to say, "There but for the grace of God, go I"—and we are right: there but for the grace of God we do go. Nevertheless, unless and until we cross that Rubicon, the present casualties will continue, and so will the suffering and the sorrow and the economic loss which they entail.
§ By all means, let us continue with what I would call the fringe measures, those measures which involve no risk of inconvenience to ourselves and have already so manifestly failed to achieve their object. By all means, let us continue to construct new highways and improve existing roads and parking facilities. But do not let us wishfully persuade ourselves that these measures are going notably to reduce casualties, any more than similar measures have done in the United States. By all means, let us pursue the various road safety campaigns. But do not let us wishfully persuade ourselves that mere exhortations to caution are going notably to reduce the casualties any more than similar measures have done in the past. Some of your Lordships may have noticed that at the opening of the recent Road Safety Campaign the Minister of Transport recalled with satisfaction that short films prepared by his Ministry had been displayed on more than 1,000 occasions by the B.B.C. and commercial television. Yet it was precisely in the same twelve months that the total casualties on British roads rose to their new all-time record of more than 300,000.
§ It would surely be unworthy of a Christian country to resign ourselves to accept more than 300,000 casualties a year as the inevitable price of what we are pleased to call progress, which is what we appear to be doing now. It is time, I must press on your Lordships, to cross the Rubicon and ensure that there shall be a much smaller number of drunken, dangerous, reckless and careless drivers on the road.
§ After all, who would willingly entrust his family or himself to an aeroplane the pilot of which was known to be reckless, careless, incompetent or intoxicated? Yet there are hundreds, thousands, of such persons at large on the roads, holding in their hands the lives not only of their own passengers but also of who knows how many others whom they encounter on the roads. I 867 wish to ask Her Majesty's Government one or two simple questions—I hope, constructive questions, to which I trust they will be able to give some sort of positive answer.
I think that we are sometimes inclined to suppose that this is entirely a novel problem, but more than a hundred years ago, in the brief heyday of the stage coach, our roads used to carry our fast transport. It was the brief heyday of the high road before the invention of the railway engine, and instead of the highly-trained and carefully-selected drivers of railway engines, which were so soon to arrive, the roads were covered then, as they are now, but at that time to a much less lethal extent, of course, by a host of irresponsible amateurs. The celebrated sporting writer, Nimrod, with whose work some of your Lordships will be much more familiar, perhaps, than I am, commented bitterly and most pertinently on this situation in the New Sporting Magazine in 1837:
When I read of the numerous coach accidents that occur in England and Ireland, …
he begins, and goes on to typify a number of fatal and serious accidents. He continues:
I ask myself to what is all this attributable. I naturally satisfied myself that it arose from various causes but principally from furious and unskilful driving. This furious and unskilful driving the public has in great measure brought upon themselves, and of such, we may reckon half our coach loads consist; persons who are not satisfied if they do not drive at the rate of ten miles per hour.
The furious and unskilful driving which Nimrod was denouncing in 1837, when 10 miles per hour was regarded as a dangerously high speed, is precisely what we ought to be denouncing and seeking to curb in 1959, when 60 miles per hour is coming to be regarded as a comparatively moderate speed.
§ The Road Traffic Act, 1956, was designed to curb furious and unskilful driving—I stick to good old Nimrod's phrase—by the deterrent effect of fines and, more effectively, of disqualification. That the Act has so far signally failed to achieve its object is evident, I think, both from the unchecked increase in accidents and from the records of the courts themselves. This is a subject on which I do not propose to enlarge, because my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, 868 who played such a conspicuous and constructive part in the debates on the Act of 1956, proposes to concentrate on this point. I am also glad to know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, who speaks on this subject with unrivalled authority, is going to speak later in the debate. Nevertheless, I think that I must say a word or two, because this is the core of my case—that the measures so far taken have demonstrably failed to achieve their object.
§ Let me take the offence of driving under the influence of drink or drugs. It is surely a matter of common observation that outside any hotel or public-house about closing time there will be a cluster of cars, which will soon be moving off along dark and maybe dangerous roads, in charge of drivers, some few of whom may be technically drunk, but many of whom, though not technically drunk, will be nevertheless, thanks to the temporary euphoria induced by alcohol, much more accident-prone because their judgment is temporarily impaired. They will be much worse drivers who—and this is the real danger—are under the belief that they are much better drivers. A survey by the Road Research Laboratory not long ago found that, in the three police districts which it examined, in the accidents which occurred after 10 p.m. half the drivers and more than half the pedestrians had been drinking.
§ The Act of 1956 provided for a fine of up to £100 on a first conviction for driving under the influence of drink, and the average of fines imposed in 1957 was £22 4s. 7d. For dangerous driving the maximum fine is £100, and the average imposed in 1957 was £14 3s. 10d. For careless driving the maximum penalty is £40 on a first conviction and £80 on a second, and the average imposed in 1957 was £5 11s. 2d. Can anybody suppose that a fine of £5, or for that matter of £22, is a serious deterrent to the owner of a car? As to disqualification, which is far more important, because it is a major deterrent and also serves to keep the delinquent driver off the road for some time, it would be misleading to quote averages, because the statistics do not make that possible. But to give one example, the penalty for dangerous driving carries on a first conviction an optional disqualification, 869 and on a second conviction obligatory disqualification for at least nine months. Well, my Lords, of 4,889 convictions in 1957 (the last year for which we have figures) some disqualification was imposed in just under 2,000 cases, and only in 375 cases was disqualification for more than a year.
But impersonal statistics are often less convincing than individual cases, and I should like to quote one case which I chanced to read the other day in the Press. Obviously the Press did not report it because it considered the penalty inadequate, but because the defendant was a person of some social prominence. The defendant was convicted in Clerkenwell Court of careless driving which had resulted in a collision. It was his sixteenth motoring conviction. The magistrate told him that he had given false evidence in the witness box and was temperamentally unfitted to drive. He was, presumably, not a pauper, because this car was reported as being a large black Alvis. The penalty for careless driving is £40 on a first conviction, and £80 on a second. And though it seems likely that among the fifteen previous motoring convictions there was at least one for careless driving, the magistrate fined him £5. And although the magistrate told him that he was temperamentally unfitted to drive and would soon find himself up for manslaughter, he was not disqualified.
With that kind of case going on up and down the country, how can it be maintained that, despite the high hopes we had of it, the Act of 1956 is doing what we expected of it. I have no ready-made solution of how the courts can be made to do their duty. The only suggestion I can make, and it is a sweeping one, is that there should be established special road traffic courts, with special stipendiary magistrates, from whom I think we could expect a more adequate and, what is scarcely less important, a more uniform enforcement of the penalties of the existing law. I have been told by experts that though this would be a novel departure, it would, at least, be feasible. But during the debates on the Act of 1956 the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack appeared to hint that if that Act did not achieve its
object, then some further steps might have to be taken. He said:
If this effort fails, then not only the magistrates but we ourselves will have to think again.
I feel—and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, will press the noble and learned Viscount on this point—that we are entitled at this stage to ask the Lord Chancellor, than who nobody in public life weighs his words more carefully, what he had in mind; whether he does propose to think again, and, if so, to what purpose.
Whatever positive results may follow the Government's thinking again, I am afraid they are bound to be unpopular; for powerful commercial and industrial interests are always too ready to oppose any more adequate enforcement of the penalties, even on the most lethal motorists, and we all shrink instinctively from severer penalties to which we ourselves may so easily become liable—and I am only too conscious that in your Lordships' House no one is more likely to become liable to the more adequate enforcement of the law which I am advocating than myself. Nevertheless, this is the crossing of the Rubicon to which I referred; and it must be,I think, to this that the British Council of Churches was in great part referring in its recent pamphlet, Priority For Road Safety, when it wrote:
The existing road safety policy is inadequate to prevent increasingly dangerous roads now. In other words, it is questionable whether the existing limited degree of interference with convenience on road safety grounds can be tolerated much longer.
As I have mentioned the British Council of Churches, I should like to say how glad I am that the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Carlisle is to take part in this debate. Many of your Lordships will remember how frequently the late much-respected and much-loved Archbishop of York, Dr. Garbett, used to take part in our debates on this subject. And this surely is, if anything is, a great moral problem on which a lead from the Church is eminently to be desired.
My Lords, there is another suggestion I would make which perhaps in some ways is even more sweeping but which I hope may also be regarded as constructive. This tragic problem, I submit, has grown too grave, too far-reaching and
too complex for the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation any longer to be able to grapple with it. After all, in the first place, the Minister of Transport is a Minister of Transport and not a Minister of Road Safety. The Minister was reported last November as saying in an interview:
My whole policy is to put speeds up.
That is a reminder, I think, of the inevitable conflict of interests in which the Ministry must be involved. For anyone who has seriously considered this problem must realise that speed makes a major contribution to the number and to the seriousness of road accidents. So that putting speed up, though it may be a laudable enough policy for a Minister of Transport, is a tragic policy for a Minister of Road Safety.
Then, further, the Ministry as at present constituted has surely become dangerously overloaded. After all, the Minister is responsible not only for sea and air travel, but for roads, rail and canals as well. Some of your Lordships may have seen the letter in The Times on April 24 last in which the President of the Royal Aero Club, pleading the case of air pilots in his particular context, argued strongly for further devolution. After drawing attention to the multiplicity of the Ministry's conflicting interests, he ended his letter by saying:
As things stand, brilliant as the Minister undoubtedly is, he cannot but be simultaneously at sea, up in the clouds, off the rails and, judging by the constituency of some of our canals, in the soup.
I therefore wish to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider the establishment of a Ministry of Road Safety or, failing that, at least the appointment of a Minister of State especially responsible for road safety.
§ There is only one further question which I wish to ask Her Majesty's Government. It is not a drastic one, though I myself regard it as a test of the seriousness with which the Government regard their own responsibilities and this whole grisly problem. We all know that there is a speed limit already on the Statute Book. We all remember—or we all ought to remember—that during the first months after it was introduced it noticeably reduced accidents. That was when we all assumed that if we broke the law we ran a serious risk of being apprehended. We 872 all know that successive Ministers of Transport have testified that reduced speed saves lives and limbs. Unfortunately, the extent to which reduced speed saves life is not deducible from the statistics as at present presented since they record only one cause of any accident. It may be emerging incautiously from a crossing. But if the other car had not been proceeding so fast there would not have been an accident, or that it would have been a less serious one.
§ I hope that no noble Lords will argue this afternoon that speed is not a major contribution to these casualties. After all, to take the reductio ad absurdum, if no car travelled at over five miles per hour, there would be fewer accidents, and those that did occur would be much less serious. But as we all know, we all break the law. You and I break it, and justices of the peace break it. Learners under instruction break it; and, with all due respect, right reverend Prelates break it. Why? Because the temptation is overwhelming. One has only to glance at one's driving mirror and assure oneself that no uniformed speed cop is on one's tail to be perfectly and comfortably aware that one can use one's own judgment, good or bad, as to what speed to drive at. If local authorities would use plain-clothes police (as they use them to apprehend or forestall other law-breakers) to apprehend breakers of the road laws, then we should cease to enjoy this immunity and very many more of us would observe the law. Quite apart from the major contribution which this would make to the reduction of road casualties, one cannot forget—and I am sure the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack is most conscious of this—that this public and flagrant breaking of the law by respectable citizens brings the law itself into contempt. Why should not the Teddy boy say to the magistrate; "You break the law when it suits you—why should I be sentenced for breaking the law when it suits me?"
I wish to ask Her Majesty's Government—and this is my last question—whether they will not encourage, by any means possible, local authorities to enforce the existing speed limit more effectively. It would obviously be a waste of breath, in view of the existing lack of enforcement of the present law
(and whatever I have said about the speed limit in built-up areas applies almost equally to the speed limit of heavy vehicles on the open road), to advocate a speed limit on the open roads for all cars which it would be otherwise most desirable to have—a speed limit of a kind which is recently reported to have reduced casualties on the Frankfurt-Mannheim Autobahn by 50 per cent. Yet if we could reduce our casualties by anything like 50 per cent., what a toll of tragedy and suffering we should be spared! But though it is a waste of breath to ask for it, I think we should at least ask Her Majesty's Government what is their view of the recommendation made by the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee in 1956, which, after noting that cars were being manufactured to travel at over 100 miles an hour, went on:
The Minister and manufacturers should consider whether some voluntary limit could not be agreed which would ensure that the speed potential of new models of private cars for the home market did not exceed what was reasonable in relation to driving conditions in this country.
That seems to me to be a moderate and reasonable recommendation, and it would be interesting to have Her Majesty's Government's reactions to it.
§ I have no more to say. I have drawn attention to the appalling dimensions of the tragedy and to the startling ignorance of the public as to it. I have suggested that the time has come when we must cross the Rubicon by being prepared to take more drastic measures. As samples of what might be done, I have suggested the establishment of a Ministry of Road Safety or, at the least, the appointment of a Minister of State responsible for road safety; the establishment of road traffic courts; or, alternatively, that the Government should take whatever steps the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack had in mind in 1956 to ensure a more adequate enforcement of the present law. I have also asked Her Majesty's Government whether they would be prepared to encourage local authorities to enforce the existing speed laws.
§ What I have not suggested, my Lords, is a Royal Commission. Many wiser heads than mine are in favour of a Royal Commission. For myself, I am 874 impatient. I believe that there are remedial measures which can be taken now, without further discussion, and I should not like to wait another two or three years for the verdict of a Royal Commission while the present massacre proceeded unchecked. But if the Government are not prepared to act now, then there is much to be said for setting up a Royal Commission. I believe that what we need is courageous action now, and I entreat the noble Earl who is to reply, for the sake of more than 300,000 who are destined to be victims in the next twelve months, in the name of the two who will have been killed and the 100 who will have been injured while we are talking, and in the name of all those whom we personally remember as victims of the roads, not to reply that the Government intend to remain content with the measures which have, alas! already proved so ineffectual. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTHhad given Notice of his intention to call attention to various factors contributing to road accidents, in particular to the non-enforcement of the law, and to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose in connection therewith; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, as your Lordships will have noticed, I have a Motion on the Order Paper in parallel terms to that which has just been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I think it will be of convenience to your Lordships if the observations that I had intended to make upon my Motion I make upon the Motion which has just been moved, and then I need not trouble your Lordships, at the end of the debate on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, by moving mine.
§ There is one general observation that I should like to make. I do not dissent at all from what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has said, at any rate in his opening remarks. Some of the things he has said I do not agree with. I am not going to join issue on those, because I believe that we have to face this issue in the same courageous way that he has, if he will allow me respectfully to say so, and ask Her Majesty's Government what precisely they are going to do. Let us face this as a problem of 1959. At the present moment the Government are 875 engaged in a road programme. I find no major fault with it; I might perhaps have a few minor comments to make about it. But whatever this or any other Government do the roads of this country will always be congested. There are at the present time 5 million motor cars on the roads of this country. If they increase only at their present rate—and I believe that they will increase at a greater rate—there will be 7½ million motor cars in ten years time. There are about 7½ million mechanically propelled vehicles on the roads of this country, and if they go on multiplying only at the present rate, in ten years time there will be 12½ million.
§ You cannot stop this progress. The ownership of a motor car, whether we like it or whether we do not, is the modern symbol of our economic progress, in precisely the same way as one sees round the countryside the television aerials perched on the thatched roofs of the cottages. That is a modern sign of economic progress. Some of your Lordships would not call it progress, but the only effect of adopting the Canute attitude of trying to tell the waves to go back is to get your feet wet. We must judge this problem in the context that our roads—and I say this quite seriously to your Lordships—in the lifetime of any noble Lord in this House will not be very much less congested than they are to-day. Some of the roads we are building to-day and upon which we are spending millions of pounds will be out of date to handle the traffic volume before they are finished. I had intended to deal with this problem at length, but it is a serious one and I do not want to be diverted from my main point; but I would tell the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, that I intend to return to this very serious subject at some later date. The present formula for assessing the traffic demands of our roads and how they should be built is to take a 75 per cent. increase on the traffic volume of 1954; but in two years' time it will have got to 80 per cent. and so we shall be overcrowded. It is no use thinking that roads will make a major contribution to road safety; they will not, much as they are necessary for the economic progress of this country, because the better the 876 roads the more traffic will get upon them.
§ That, in my view, is the problem we have to think about to-day. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton: all the things we have done, the weak-kneed efforts of propaganda and education, have not made a measurable impact upon this problem. It is a sobering thought that the child of ten years ago, the subject of the painstaking education of the school teachers in kerb drill, is the boy sitting astride the 600 c.c. motor cycle, and on the pillion is his female counterpart, the teenager, forgetting every rule their schooldays taught them of road safety; and that will always be. I have come to the conclusion that we can do only one thing, and that is to find a method of influencing the behaviour of every road user, because as regards the road traffic laws we are to-day a lawless country—they are in contempt. And, what some of your Lordships might think more serious, we are getting to be an ill-mannered country; the manners of the average road user have deteriorated enormously.
§ How can we influence that? I am quite convinced, with the years of study I have given to this problem, that the greatest single contributory factor to road accidents to-day is the non-enforcement of the law. In that I hold the magistrates' courts of this country to be culpably negligent. Let me prove that by a few facts and figures. When we debated the 1956 Act this House and the other place showed their grave concern at the seriousness of this problem by doubling the fines in quite a number of cases and also increasing the opportunities for disqualification. I said from this Dispatch Box at that time that it would not do any good at all. I said that it was no good increasing the penalties; what required to be done was to enforce the existing penalties. I have been proved right. I am going to quote, perhaps in a little different manner, the figures quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I am greatly obliged to the right honourable friend of the noble Lord, the Minister of Transport, for his kindness in giving me these figures and doing the calculations for me—I was never very good at arithmetic.877
§ There are four major offences: exceeding the speed limit, driving without due care and attention, dangerous driving, and driving under the influence of drink or drugs. The speeding fines were left as they were. I take the year 1955, because that is the last full year before the 1956 Act, and I compare it with 1957, which is the first full year after the 1956 Act. As your Lordships know, the year of 1956 was broken into because the Act came into force in October after nine months of the year. The average fine, then, in 1955, was 6½ per cent. of the maximum allowed; and now, after all the exhortation, it is 8 per cent., £2 16s. With regard to careless driving in 1955 the average fine for driving carelessly was 11 per cent. of the permitted maximum. It has now gone down to 9½ per cent.; so that progress has been the wrong way.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (THE EARL OF SELKIRK)
My Lords, is this the new permitted maximum?
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Yes. I am comparing the percentage of the maximum in 1955 with the percentage of the maximum in 1957, that is, the present maximum.
Then we come to dangerous driving, for which the maximum penalty was doubled. The average penalty imposed by fine in 1955 was 15 per cent. of the permitted maximum. In 1957 it was only 14 per cent. So that also has gone down. When we take driving under the influence of drink or drugs, we find that the average penalty in 1955 was 24 per cent. of the maximum, and in 1957 it was 22½ per cent. Those are the facts. During the passage of the Road Traffic Act I begged and pleaded with the House to bring in an alteration by instituting a minimum penalty, with certain reservations. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, with his usual courtesy, patience and kindness, persuaded me not to press my Amendment because he said—I will paraphrase his words, "I do not want to do anything that will take the magistrates' minds off the major punishment, which is disqualification." We will see what has happened to that.
With regard to exceeding the speed limit, for which disqualification can be 878 imposed only after the second offence, the proportion of offences for which this penalty has been applied is a fraction of 1 per cent.; and it has not varied from 1955 to 1957. For driving without due care the number of disqualifications has gone up from 3½ to 4½ per cent. of the convictions; and the number of disqualifications following convictions for dangerous driving has gone up from 34 to 40 per cent.—still under half the number of convictions for dangerous driving. Those concerned have thought fit to impose disqualification in only 40 per cent. of the cases. But these figures are fictitious, because we all know very well that a convicted person who has his licence suspended can go, and invariably does go, back to the court in a few months and has the disqualification removed—and by the same bench.
Let me come to the significant figure. For driving under the influence of drink the penalty of disqualification is practicaly 100 pet cent. It is the only crime—if crime I can call it, using a loose expression—where we have made any impact at all upon this problem. The prosecutions are down and the convictions are down. That shows some progress All the others are up. That is the one offence in regard to which the Houses of Parliament had the sense to take away the discretion of the magistrates. In that case disqualification is compulsory. Those are the facts.
I am quite aware—I have been reminded of it so many times—that it is not for the Executive to dictate to the Judiciary. But the magistrates' benches of this country have not the right to flout the rule of Parliament. They are not the sovereign body; Parliament is the sovereign body. We come to this. What are we going to do? As I have said, during the passage of the 1956 Act through your Lordships' House, I tried hard to get into the penalty clauses the same penalty as is contained in the disqualification clause for driving under the influence of drink or drugs—that there should be a minimum penalty of 50 per cent. of the maximum, because my simple arithmetic led me to think that the average fine should be halfway between the maximum and zero; and that magistrates should be able to vary this only if they stated their reasons for so doing. Again the noble and learned 879 Viscount thought that I should not press the Amendment because of the difficulties involved.
My Lords, there are difficulties. But our social system in this country has been built up upon respect for the law. It has been built up upon the principle that punishment is and should be a deterrent to wrongdoing. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and these facts manifestly prove, there is not that deterrent. How long can a Government and how long can a Lord Chancellor—I say this with great respect to the noble and learned Viscount—whose prime responsibility to the State is to uphold the majesty of the law, see it, day in and day out, brought into complete contempt? That has a serious repercussion throughout the whole of the administration of the law.
I have asked some magistrates why they adopt what I would call this perverse attitude, and the reasons given are many and varied. The most popular one is, "Of course, I agree with you. It is not me; it is the other fellow on the bench"; or, "It is the other bench. It is not me. I agree with you". Then they say "Well, don't forget that we have to judge the means to pay before we can fine him." My reply is "Did not Parliament give that consideration? Did Parliament just think of a figure out of the sky and put it in?" Then the next reason given is: "If we disqualify, very likely we may be taking away the man's job." That is punishment. If I engage in a trade or occupation in regard to which conformity with the law is a prerequisite, I must stand the consequences of breaking the law. It is no part of a magistrate's job to do anything but enforce the law. The last reason given—and your Lordships would be amazed at the dozens of occasions on which this has been said to me—is "Because we do not agree with the law. We think is is silly. It is unenforceable." Magistrates have not the right to say that.
Lord du Parcq had something to say on that subject, and I should like to quote his words when he was Mr. Justice du Parcq and sat on a case with the "Lord Chief", Lord Goddard. Perhaps I should ask His Lordship's pardon for calling him the "Lord Chief," 880 though I must confess that, after my experience when I was in the Ministry of Tranport of his efforts to persuade magistrates to do their duty he will always be know to me, as he will be known to so many of your Lordships, as the "Lord Chief." This is what Mr. Justice du Parcq said:If the law leads to absurdities they should be made apparent by the enforcement of the law, and Parliament should deal with them. Nothing is worse than for authorities entrusted with the enforcement of an Act of Parliament to enforce it or not according to the dictates of common sense.He went on:The worst way of dealing with legislation of that kind is that any authority or any judge should give sanction to the view that laws which the public do not like ought to be disregarded or improperly evaded.I know that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, while he appoints the justices and can dismiss them, cannot tell them how to do their job. But I say that the action of flouting the expressed will of Parliament is a perverse action and should be dealt with as such; and before I leave this Box I want to ask the noble and learned Viscount whether he does not seriously think that the time has come for him, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, to implement the undertaking he gave to your Lordships' House in his measured words that the 1956 Act, and the discretionary powers contained in that Act, might well be the last chance the magistrates had to use their discretion. I ask, does he not think so?
I have dealt with the magistrates—rather severely—but what of the Government? Just before the Whitsun Recess I put down a Question [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 216, col. 482] asking:How many prosecutions have been brought and how many penalties imposed in connection with offences by cyclists and pedestrians against the provisions of the Road Traffic Acts during the year ending 31st December, 1957?The Answer I received, given me by the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, was:I regret that the figures for which the noble Lord asks are not available and could not be obtained without considerable labour.In other words, we do not know whether the law is being enforced and it is too much trouble to find out. How can we go on like this? Why do your Lordships go on, as Parliament does, making Statute 881 upon Statute and regulation upon regulation, without any chance of their ever being enforced? I beg the noble and learned Viscount to try enforcing the existing law before we add to the penalties, misdemeanours and crimes that road users can commit. Within a few weeks from now your Lordships will be asked to pass all the regulations that make it compulsory to have old cars—those ten years old or over—examined. Those responsible for making regulations of the Ministry of Transport have been months drawing up these regulations. There will be so many inspectors to inspect the examiners, and so many examiners to inspect the cars, and all their attendant regulations will be absolutely inoperative. Why pile on all these regulations and see the law brought into further disrepute?
The one Cabinet Minister who did more than any other to solve the problem of the ten-year old car was the right honourable gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because when he reduced the purchase tax on new cars he made it practically impossible to sell a ten-year old motor car; and on the day he takes purchase tax off all motor cars the ten-year old car will go off the road. But may I come hack to the question of enforcing the law? It is a serious matter. My sympathies are with the noble and learned Viscount who has to grapple with this problem, arid I am going to make a suggestion which follows upon a speech of the noble Earl, Lord Winterton, to which I listened, and to ask whether or not the time has arrived to have some kind of an inquiry into the penal code. I do not believe that the man who exceeds the speed limit or is a careless driver is a criminal. He is ill-behaved and it may be that automatic fines would save a lot of trouble and provide a salutary lesson. I put this forward tentatively. I do not know, but I understand—and perhaps the noble and learned Viscount can tell me if I am wrong—that the Magistrates' Courts Act, in which there was a provision in regard to an automatic plea of guilty, has already been a boon not only to the courts but to the police, and it may well be that we have either to shift some of the load or find some other way—
§ EARL WINTERTON
My Lords, as the noble Lord has made a friendly reference to me, might I, with the greatest respect, suggest that he should 882 also examine another point I made and a point made, I believe, by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, namely, that these wholly inadequate penalties for people who endanger life and limb encourage other members of the community, who do not own a motor car, to say, "What is the harm of stealing if magistrates give only a mild penalty for endangering life and limb?".
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I agree with the noble Earl. I have come to the conclusion—and it is an unfortunate conclusion to come to—that there are far too many magistrates in this country who are more enamoured of the honour that is theirs in being a judge of their fellow men than they are of the terrific responsibility to the rest of the community which rests upon their shoulders. The suggestion that I have made and I repeat, of minimum fines, with discretion, but with reasons to be stated, is the way to start upon this problem. If the noble and learned Viscount does not think so, if none of the suggestions that have been made appeals to him, what does he propose to do—to let the matter drift on in a terrible state? Road accidents are bound to go up unless we can make the people behave properly; and if they will not behave properly on the roads of this country they should not be allowed on the roads of this country. When we have got that, we are going to cut down road accidents.
§ 3.51 p.m.
My Lords, we have already had two brilliant speeches on this extremely difficult and extremely necessary subject. I think that although the Ministry already have been under heavy fire we must say at the start that, apart from what they think, we cannot right this position without the full co-operation of every driver and every pedestrian in the country. That, of course, is in fact an impossibility, because there is always going to be a small percentage of people who are selfish drivers and think only of themselves and never put themselves into the position of the other person. This proportion, though very loud in its behaviour, is, I think, quite small in comparison, far smaller in fact than is generally realised, and the majority of 883 drivers keep to the rules of the road where those rules are reasonable.
We have heard a great deal already about breaking the rules of the road and whether one should be allowed to go on doing so, but we must ensure that these rules are reasonable. We get a 30 m.p.h. limit in one area which is perfectly fair and we get a 30 m.p.h. limit in another area which is quite ridiculous. We must have a fair set of rules for the roads throughout the country and not just in particular places. A great many of the accidents that occur to-day occur purely through ignorance rather than through deliberate action. I feel, therefore, that there is every incentive for us to attempt in any way we possibly can to improve matters, even though we know before we start that a small minority of drivers are going to continue to break the rules and are going to continue to endanger, not their own lives but the lives of very many other people, and only the most drastic action can possibly put an end to their misbehaviour.
For drivers who now break the rules of the road there are four main actions that can be taken: fines; endorsement of licence; suspension of licence and prison sentence. The first two of these penalties have now become almost insignificant. It is regrettably true to say that the amount of fines imposed is almost laughable and in view of the amount of money they have, there are very few people who are fined now who are in any way worried about what has happened If you can afford to buy a car, even on hire purchase. you can afford to pay the amount of fine that is imposed in present circumstances. Endorsement of licence used to be a serious matter. Now it is nothing of the kind. It has completely lost its value as a threat and is now given for breaking the 30 m.p.h. limit when there is no question of danger in the case at all. A prison sentence must, of course, be inflicted only in the most serious of cases, which simply leaves suspension of licence as the only genuine deterrent.
I should like to support what has already been said about this problem. The magistrates seem timid to use this final deterrent. If only this sanction of suspension of licence were used more often in cases of dangerous driving and 884 with equal strictness by all magistrates, then I think it might well have a startling effect for the betterment of safety on the roads. But for this punishment to be effective, the rules of the road themselves must be fair in every case, and I do not think they are at the moment. A lot of examples can be given, and if I choose one that I know very well it is not because it is any worse than any others; it is simply that of a place that has these problems, and I think they show up many of the things that are wrong.
Ashtead, in Surrey, is a small village off a main road, the A.24 road running straight through it. On either side of the village there is a 30 m.p.h. limit, one from Ashtead to Epsom, the other from Ashtead to Leatherhead. Neither of the areas is a built-up area and the only reason why, apparently, there is a 30 m.p.h. limit is that there are a few rather old-fashioned and quite useless lamps. The areas seem perfect examples of places where there should be 40 m.p.h. limits. As it is, no one (and when I say no one I mean practically no one) sticks to the 30 m.p.h. limit on either side of Ashtead. Motorists travel at well over 40 m.p.h. on an average, with the result that when they go into the village and when they get to a dangerous part they are going far too fast and the result is very dangerous for pedestrians and other drivers who are there. On the other hand, if there were 40 m.p.h. limits the 30 m.p.h. warning would come before the village and motorists would travel through the village at a more reasonable speed.
In the village itself is the ordinary white centre line, and yet parking is allowed on both sides of the road, with the obvious double parking when a van draws up for the delivery of goods. A complete dislocation of traffic is then started. A lot of other things could be brought up regarding this village. At one end there is a completely blind crossroad which cries out for traffic lights. One can go on giving examples like this in places throughout the country, and I do not intend to dwell on these points, except to say that I would ask the Ministry to reconsider traffic lights at these crossroads. It is a main road from Ashtead to the local station, a big suburban line. It is also the main road to Lower Ashtead, which has a 885 population which is increasing considerably. All those instances can be repeated time and time again in regard to other places in the country, and unless those things are put right we are going to find people breaking rules which probably should not be as they are to-day.
There is also, I am afraid, a considerable body of opinion that feels that unless there has been an accident in a particular area that area is not dangerous and therefore nothing need be done about it. It appears that there are two reasons for the present position where things are left as they are instead of being improved. One is a lack of funds—a point we have to consider whenever we debate practically any subject in your Lordships' House; but, surely, to attempt to save money by risking lives is not good politics at any time. The other reason is lack of understanding by those who are directly responsible for the day-to-day running of these matters. I wonder what training, if any, Ministry officials or local government officials have who tackle these problems. It is no good thinking we can remedy the position unless the people who are directly responsible for dealing with the day-to-day problems are competent and know what is really wanted and at least a percentage of them are drivers with the highest qualifications; and I very much doubt whether this is in fact the case. Perhaps this afternoon it is enough to say that to save 6,000 lives and 300,000 injuries no money is too much to spend, and no amount of training too onerous to undertake.
My Lords, so far I have looked at the problem of punishments, and at the weaknesses of some of the rules of the road. Now may I look for a moment at this problem of the small minority of selfish drivers who, out of all proportion to their numbers, endanger not only their own lives but the lives of other road users? Some of the worst offenders, of course, are those who drive motor-cycles. Of the many forms of dangerous driving, two seem to stand out. One is the turn to the right, often without any warning sign, and often from the left-hand verge of the road; and the other is cutting in from one lane of traffic to another. Surely it is time to make this kind of offence really serious. It is here of course that the selfish driver is in his element; he 886 is completely oblivious either to good manners or to good driving: and it is due, to a great extent, to defiance of these rules that our hospitals are so full of what I might term "deflated motorcyclists."
My Lords, I hope that no one will think that I am against motor-cycles. To drive one is the most exhilarating experience: but, because of their size, and their speed, drivers of these machines are open to far greater temptations than even a motor car driver; and, therefore, they should be made to discipline themselves even more than other people. It is surely time that, despite the appalling road conditions which still exist in parts of the country, we should be more strict in the observation of the rules the breaking of which cause danger, rather than attack people for parking offences and speeding when danger is at a minimum.
I can see only one way of answering all these problems, and that is by having a far greater number of mobile police. I believe that in France—and, I think, in other countries also—they divide their police force into two: those who look after the everyday work of the police as we know it in this country, and those who really tackle the traffic problems and the dangerous drivers. With mobile police and mobile motor-cyclists one can find out these people who are actually doing dangerous things at the time when they are doing them. As with so many other problems in this country, it seems to me that it has been left mainly to volunteers and voluntary societies to set the best examples and to improve conditions. Two societies, particularly, have done very great work in this field: the Institute of Advanced Motorists, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
It seems strange that, with the number of accidents we have, it has been left to a voluntary society to attempt to improve the standard of driving by starting their own advanced tests. The Institute of Advanced Motorists has already done very great work, and although it is still only on the fringe, it has set a standard of which I think it can be very proud. At least now there are a certain number of drivers who, by passing that test and by following their rules, have raised their own standard and have increased the safety of the roads. 887 I believe that in the two or three years that the Institute has been working, over 17,000 tests have been taken and over 10,000 people have passed. That is a small proportion out of about 8 million drivers, but it is a start. I believe that the Ministry have recently taken an active interest in this Society, and I do sincerely hope that they will do a great deal more to encourage it in the future. If the accident rate keeps at the present level, or goes even higher, a test of this kind might well be the only way of ensuring good driving on the roads.
The other day I spent a most interesting afternoon at the offices of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, in their branch which deals purely with road accidents. Here again, magnificent work is being done, particularly in the training of children about road safety, and all the drill. I think that they should be encouraged in every way to expand, and I hope the Ministry will do what they can towards this end.
Much more, my Lords, could still be done to remove the appalling ignorance of the rules of the road that exists among road users; because whereas the proportion of selfish drivers, although obvious, is small, the proportion of the drivers ignorant of the rules of the road is very considerable—and that, I believe, is one of the most important things that we have got to correct. When you apply for another driving licence—which, incidentally, you do now only every three years—the Ministry ask, through a form, the question: "Have you read your Highway Code?" That seems to be the only question they ask, and I am afraid that it can be answered by a mere "Yes" every three years. That does not seem a very good or active way to encourage better driving.
I do not think that this is the right time to talk about the condition of the roads, except so far as it directly affects the accident rate. I think we should praise the Ministry for what has already been done to improve the roads in this country. One or two of the big roads—the A.1, for instance—are infinitely better than they were a few years ago; and one can see a considerable number of other improvements that are being made. But I am quite certain that the Ministry are no more satisfied with 888 the position than are your Lordships to-day, and that the only answer to the problem is more money—and particularly more money for minor roads, some of which have such death-traps on them. I do not know how much it costs the State every year to deal with the hospital service for the injured, but the amount must be very considerable. A great deal of this could be saved if more money were spent on road improvements and on helping those Societies which are doing so much in trying to save lives.
My Lords, one could spend a long time giving suggestions on how to help, but may I merely mention two points this afternoon? One is the improvement in street lighting. I believe that there is a Commission dealing with that matter at the moment. But one of the things that I think is very dangerous is that even when there is good street lighting one still sees cars with their headlights on—sometimes not even dipped. Could not drivers be definitely prohibited from using headlights when the street lighting is satisfactory? The other point is that a great deal of trouble occurs at crossroads. Surely at every crossroads in the country one road should be the major road and one should be the minor road; and it should be the responsibility of those on the minor road to make quite sure that the major road is clear. That would not be an expensive thing to do and it would, I think, be helpful in making the position on the roads a little safer.
In conclusion, I would say that by advertising in every way, in the Press and on radio and television, we have the best means of instilling into road users that their vehicles can be lethal weapons and that they should be used with the care with which any other such weapon would be used. I am one of those who can never understand why advertising works, because the fact that Guinness have the best advertisements in the world does not make me like Guinness. Nevertheless, there is more encouragement done through advertising than in any other way. The users of vehicles must be made to understand that they are responsible for any results which, through their negligence, involve other people. To break the rules of the road is a crime. The rules must be fair, and then the punishment must be severe.
§ 4.11 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CARLISLE
My Lords, I am assured that I am expressing the mind of all in your Lordships' House in saying that we are grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for bringing this subject so clearly and so forcibly before your Lordships. I am indeed grateful, and as an indication of my interest and appreciation I have travelled all the way from Carlisle so that I may give some measure of support to what they have been putting before the House.
I am one of those who see something of the consequences of injuries to people on the roads, and they are really appalling. The conscience of the whole nation needs to be stirred as it has never been stirred before over a social problem. The discussion of the subject in your Lordships' House is but one of the many ways by which I hope the tragedy of the death and suffering as a consequence of accidents on the roads will be kept continually before the minds of the people. There is a very real danger that people will become so accustomed to the casualty figures that they merely shrug their shoulders and say, "Well, it is too bad", and go their way. That attitude prevails far more widely than we think. It is certainly an extraordinary thing to find that many of the most law-abiding and respectable citizens have not yet allowed the real tragedy of road casualties to sink into their minds and hearts.
I had intended saying some things which have been much better said by the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Lucas of Chilworth, but I would underline what has been said about better roads. I know that we need better roads, and I am glad to see that these are being proceeded with and that vast sums of money are being made available. I want to encourage the improvement of roads at all costs. But I would underline what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said: that even when we have so improved the roads, we shall not have gone very far towards solving this problem.
As for the enforcing of the law, I am in full agreement, and I am glad that that has been so strongly emphasised to-day, because far too many people are getting accustomed to assuming that the law may be broken easily and with impunity, if they can get away with it. 890 It is affecting our whole outlook on social questions, not only among motorists but in the community in general, and it is largely behind that term which is used openly, with a certain understanding, as if it were quite legitimate, "fiddling", which has become too common in all departments of life and nearly always consists in breaking the law to some extent. While on the subject, I do not know if I read correctly the report in the newspapers yesterday or whether they gave a correct account of the proposals, but as I read it, in some districts the police are now under instructions not to take much notice of speeding unless there is an accident or unless, in their judgment, the speeding is likely to produce an accident. I think that that is very shocking. No instruction should go out that suggests that the law may be ignored—perhaps "ignored" is too strong a term, but may be broken, if you do not see any risk in breaking it. The majesty of the law is of prime importance in the social life of this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, gave figures of the licensed vehicles on the roads. The figures I have are almost exactly the same—7,900,000. And if the number goes on increasing at the same rate as it increased during the past two or three years, it will be doubled in nine years. These may be rough figures, but they suggest a question to me. Is it morally right for the State to allow, by licence, more traffic on the roads than they are designed to carry? It seems to me that there is something here that requires looking at carefully. I know how difficult it will be to limit licences, but is it right to issue licences for vehicles in number too great for the roads, and many of them far too large and carrying too much weight for some of the roads on which they travel? I see vehicles on narrow roads on which it is possible to meet and pass safely only if one of the wheels goes on the grass verge. I think that in some way such vehicles ought to be restricted to roads that are wide enough for them to travel safely.
On this question of vehicles on the roads, I want to ask a question that perturbs my own mind. I know that this question has some political significance, but I am not approaching it from that side. I ask whether the time has 891 not come when there should be a fresh approach to the consideration of the whole transport system, road, rail and water, to see whether there are not ways by which the traffic of the country could be better distributed. It seems to me that there is something radically wrong when the roads are being smothered through congestion of traffic and the railways are languishing through lack of freight.
I now turn to another aspect of this matter which, so far, has not been particularly well brought out. It is one emphasised in the report I have here, Priority For Road Safety, which has been put forward by the British Council of Churches; and I may say that I am indebted to that report for some of the ideas that I propose to put before your Lordships. One of the headlines in this report is, "Accidents do not happen—they are caused"—and they are caused by people. Whatever improved roads there may be, there is the great factor of the human element in all accidents. There is the failure of human judgment; there is lack of caution; there is lack of courtesy; there is the effect of alcoholic drink, and of drugs; there is the effect of excessive speed or unsuitable speed.
In considering the human factor, it needs to be emphasised that there are limits to the amount of care that most people can give. I should like to try to bring out this point. Too many people are driving at a time when they are not fresh enough and alive enough to exercise all the care that is needed by those who are coming along the public roads with a dangerous weapon in their hands. The trouble is not that so many people are careless, but that millions are for hours on end each day engaged in motoring which requires constant care and judgment. There is a limit to the amount of intense concentration that is needed for safe driving on the roads: fatigue, mental pre-occupation, worry, emotional strain, elation and many other psychological conditions all tend to produce a state where the necessary care and skill are diminished. This is a basic factor in human nature which is not enough recognised in the cause of accidents; and that is why, even in spite of improved roads, which will probably mean more vehicles on them, this 892 question of accidents will always largely be conditioned by the human factor.
Attention has been drawn to the effect of drink on drivers, and I only emphasise how much I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has said, and how what he said agrees with informed and scientific opinion, the result of experiments which have been carried out in recent years. In considering the human factor in accidents, we are faced with perplexity. If a person is ill, for example, no amount of care and skill and expense is spared to save his life; and we should all be shocked were that not so. We have demanded a State medical system to ensure that such person receives all the treatment he needs. Why have we not demanded more for the cause of road safety, when so many people's lives are threatened on the roads? Is it because we fear that if we asked for more regulations and greater limitations on our freedom we ourselves would feel restricted, either in our pleasure or in our business? Self-interest, selfishness, is a tremendous factor in this problem.
We sometimes blame the Government, but I should like to ask the following questions. Are we prepared for stricter regulations? Are we prepared, for example, for more frequent driving tests? Should we be in favour of a driving test every twenty years or every ten years? Do we want to see greater observance of the Highway Code and stricter legislation covering the driving of cars when under the influence of drink? Are we prepared to say that we shall not give ourselves the pleasure of a drink while we are in charge of a car? Unless we can build up a strong public opinion, I do not believe that the Government can carry out the laws that exist in the way in which we should like, for Parliament is dependent on a public opinion that is prepared to advocate sacrifices and to promote self-denial in the interests of road safety. Selfishness and self-interest, as I say, contribute greatly to the conditions prevailing on our roads. We are being driven back to the question of the values by which we live, and I am afraid that at the present moment public opinion is not sufficiently strong to enable us to introduce and carry out the measures that are necessary for the promotion of 893 road safety. A man with a motor car is a man with a dangerous weapon in his hands and he needs to be severely restricted, not only by his own conscience, but also by the laws of the land.
There is one note I should like to sound as I finish. We in the Christian Church are concerned about this great problem, because we believe in the sanctity of human life—a belief which is not so strong as it used to be. I am one of those who maintain that until we regain a strong belief, expressed in all kinds of public ways, that the sanctity of human life is fundamental, we shall never be able to persuade the consciences of people to exercise the self-denial and the self-sacrifice that is needed to ensure that this monster which is bringing so much death and destruction to our land is dealt with. We need a new spirit born out of a sense of fellowship one with another in our land; we need a far greater sensitiveness to our social responsibilities; and we need to realise that each has a duty of being considerate to his neighbour, and especially his neighbour on the road.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, the House always enjoys hearing a speech from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, not only because of the manner in which he delivers it, but because of the care with which he presents his case. I should like to say at the outset that I personally do not believe that the country is complacent about road accidents. It may not know the figures, but I believe that the country is deeply worried about what is happening at the present time. It is for that reason, I think, that a great deal is being done by schools, by local authorities and, indeed, by the Government; and I think it is fair to say that my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation is devoting a great deal of time to this problem.
I should also like to make the point that we must recognise that to a large extent travelling by car is to-day part of the fabric of life of this country. It is no good pretending that it is not. There are to-day something like two motor cars for every three houses, and, as has been said, it is quite probable that that number will continue to increase. We are not the only country in 894 the world suffering from this problem. It is probably not unfair to say that in many ways we are dealing with it as well as most countries. I do not like to make comparisons, but I think perhaps the United States may be said to have a slightly better accident rate than ours, but with that exception I should doubt whether any country could say it was in a better position.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, suggested that we were being held up from what he called crossing the Rubicon because it would inconvenience some people. He even went so far as to say that there were powerful forces preventing us from doing something which we would otherwise do. I must deny that, I do not think it is true. I do not think it is a fair presentation either of what this Government or its predecessors have tried to do.
§ LORD ELTON
I do not think I said, or at least I did not intend to say, that powerful forces were preventing the Government from doing what they ought to do. I said that if they did what they ought to do it would be unpopular with powerful interests which are ready to oppose any severe penalties on lethal motoring.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I misunderstood him, and I withdraw my remark without condition. I was going to quote from the British Council of Churches, which says quite simply that no simple solution can be given. I am afraid we must face up to that fact. There is no simple solution, because the majority of people who are killed on the roads to-day are not pedestrians—they are the people who ride on the roads the motor-car drivers, motor-cyclists and cyclists. It is therefore in everybody's interest that we should put the roads in a condition in which they are the greatest possible convenience to road users. That is a matter upon which we have an absolutely common interest, no matter what part of the road we use. I think it is proper to say that there has been a great deal of legislation which has more closely controlled traffic moving on the road. I know some people would say that we should have controlled pedestrians more than we do. We have discussed that matter extensively, and we 895 imposed restrictions but decided not to go beyond a certain point. I know that motorists say we ought to have better roads in this country. We are indeed getting on with that matter, and, I think it is fair to say, with a certain amount of visible progress at the present time.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, in discussing the Road Traffic Act, 1956, said that magistrates have not fulfilled their task in raising the penalties. My information is that when the figures come out for the next year it will be shown that the penalties for the more serious offences are higher. I was not quite certain, in this rather curious system of percentages, whether he was taking the percentage of maximum offences for the year 1956 or after 1956.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
That is the percentage of the law as it stood then, after it had been doubled?
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
I think that is rather a statistical point. The magistrates have reflected roughly the same percentage of the maximum they had before.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
No. The percentage in two or three cases is lower. The percentage of the total maximum sum is lower in 1957 than it was in 1956.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
Frankly, I should not expect magistrates to work mathematically. I do not want to say much about this matter, because perhaps the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor will deal with it. We must remember that magistrates have a tremendous task. Even the greatest judges make mistakes from time to time, and it is a pity to condemn the whole system as such.
896 I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, on what they have said on the subject of disqualification. It passes my understanding why that penalty is not far more widely indulged in. If ever there was a case of making the punishment fit the crime, it is that someone who is driving badly should be forbidden from going on the roads. I feel it is a great pity that that power is not sufficiently used at the present time. Parliament has on previous occasions given every possible encouragement to the use of that penalty. There is one point that has not been mentioned, and that is the power to order drivers to undergo an additional test. We put that in the last Traffic Act of 1956. I have not been able to find out how much it has been used, but it is not a great deal. I think this is a power which could properly be used a great deal more than it is at the present time.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, suggested special courts. I do not want to say much on that point. It has been examined by a Royal Commission, and was not accepted. I do not say that that view should be final. But such a step would mean the setting up of a large number of courts all over the country; and that, of course, would be expensive—although I do not say that is in itself a reason for not doing it. Unless there were a large number of courts the police would be put to considerable inconvenience in going there. If you had this large number, I wonder whether it would produce the uniformity which the noble Lord has in mind. I glanced at the figures for Scotland, where a great many of these offences are dealt with by the sheriff, who is something in the nature of a stipendiary magistrate, and I could not find a great deal of difference, though the figures were not comparable. There seemed to me to be a higher percentage of people sent to prison compared with the number of summonses issued; but by and large the variation was not very sharp.
If one makes a speech of this sort one is always accused of being complacent. I think it is wrong of the noble Lord to say that we made no measurable impact on this problem at all, because the fact is that fewer people were killed in 1958 than twenty years ago. In fact there where fewer people killed last year than 897 thirty years ago. When we consider that in twenty years the number of cars on the road has doubled—and it may be that in thirty years it will have trebled—I think it is fair to say that Parliament has made some impact on this problem. The number of deaths is even lower when we come to the statistics in regard to children. I believe that the number of children killed is about half those killed twenty years ago, in spite of the considerable increase of cars on the road. I want merely to relate that the action which Parliament has taken has not been entirely unreflected in the country, even though we all wish that it had had a bigger and more powerful impact.
One of the problems raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, a very proper one, was the question of speed. I will say only a word on this matter, because I think it is a difficult question of principle as to what emphasis we should place on the question of speed as such. In 1957 (these are the latest figures I have) there were nearly 80,000 prosecutions in which the vast majority of people were found guilty. It is perfectly true that many people do exceed the speed limit, but I personally should doubt whether that number is increasing, I should have said that, on the whole, the speed limit in built-up areas plays a valuable part in maintaining both the evenness of flow and the speed in those areas. If I may go a step further in regard to extending that, may I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Elton? It is, of course, one thing to say—and I would agree with him—that speeding plays a big part in accidents; but it is quite a different thing to argue that therefore by regulating speed we should exercise a decisive influence on the number of accidents. I think those propositions are separate.
I must also say this: the present figures which are published by the Ministry of Transport perhaps do not bring out very clearly just what part the factor of speed plays. I am hoping that with the new procedure we are adopting this year it may be made rather clearer. If we consider speed the dominating factor, may I make this point? First of all there is a clear obligation at law (Section 2 of the 1934 Act) to drive at a speed safe in the prevailing road conditions. If you do not you are in fact in breach of the law; it is fully 898 recognised as a crime. I think there is this danger in deciding for the motorist what the speed is and putting up a board telling him what it should be: he may think that if he does not exceed that speed he is driving safely. It may to some extent undermine his own personal responsibility for safety. The roads are infinitely variable in this country.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, I beg the noble Earl's pardon, but I am not sure whether I have followed his argument. Is he now saying that he thinks the speed limit in built-up areas is a bad thing because it may lead people to drive faster than they should and cause them to drive up to 30 miles an hour when perhaps they should not?
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
No, my Lords, I am not saying that. I think the noble Lord suggested the imposition of a universal speed limit outside built up areas. I was saying that while not excluding that as a possibility, I think one has to be careful in diverting too much attention to the question of speed rather than care. I would hesitate to say that it is as important as perhaps it is sometimes made out to be. I remember personally being fined in about 1930 for going at 20 miles an hour on the Great West Road. I was stopped by the police and I said to the officer in charge, "I had no difficulty in stopping?"; and he said "No". I said "Was there any danger?"; he said, "No". I said "Are all these cars going at over 20 miles an hour?" He said, "Yes". To my mind it is putting the emphasis on the wrong side. I am not making any suggestion that in the built up areas it is not of the greatest importance that the speed limit should be maintained.
The right reverend Prelate, to whose speech I listened with great attention, made some remarks on the recent statement made by the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police. The Commissioner emphasised the importance of good relations between the police and the driving public. I am sure the House would agree that that is of the utmost importance. In addition he reminded the motor patrols that the original purposes of that branch of the force, set up twenty-five years ago, were, and still are, first to prevent accidents, second to assist the free circulation of traffic, third to 899 enforce the traffic law. The right reverend Prelate rather suggested that they would not have as the first priority the enforcement of law, and I believe that that is right. I think the first priority should be prevention of accidents; enforcement of law, to my mind, in this sense is a secondary consideration to prevention of accidents. I believe, for that reason, that the presentation of the problem by the Commissioner of the Police is right. I think it would be quite wrong to say that he is ignoring the law; what he is doing is putting the first duty first.
On the general question of enforcement, which the House has emphasised and with which I entirely agree, I would say that one of the important factors is the strength of the police force. That has improved in recent years and it is now I am told, over the whole country only about 8 per cent. below the establishment. I think my right honourable friend is quite willing, if any local authorities make suggestions, that the number should be increased. At the present time I believe there are few establishments entirely full throughout the country. We have had a number of different opinions expressed on the subject of propaganda. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, spoke of "mere exhortation"; the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, talked of "knock-kneed propaganda".
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
I apologise; that is what I understood. I was glad to see the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, attach great importance to and refer to the work of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. I am sure that propaganda is of the utmost importance. I do not believe that the great body of accidents are in fact caused by reckless, drunken or dangerous drivers; the great body of accidents, to my mind, are caused by a relatively minor degree of carelessness, and it is to that that we must direct our attention and which constitutes the real difficulty of this problem, The right 900 reverend Prelate said that there was a limit to the amount of care anyone could be expected to exercise. But if a man feels he is careless, just as if he feels he has been drinking, he should stop driving.
I do not pretend that this is a final analysis, but when one comes to examine the Annual Report of the Ministry of Transport on Accidents one finds the causes are given thus. This is the assessment which the police put on them. First in number of accidents comes turning right without care. That is a silly, naughty thing to do, but you could not call it necessarily a recklessly careless thing to do; that accounts for 19,000 cases. The second cause is pedestrians, heedlessness of traffic in crossing the road when not masked by traffic—that is, walking across an absolutely open road—that accounts for 19,000 accidents. The third cause is crossing without due care at a junction or cross roads; that accounts for 17,000. The fourth is mis-judging clearance, distance or speed, accounting for 13,000. That, quite clearly, in many cases has an element of speed. The fifth is inattentive driving and here the figure is 11,000.
I suggest that this shows very much the same case as I remember seeing described by one of the Accident Reports, I think it was in 1952. Accidents are caused by the degree of risks which individual drivers take. Many of us perhaps take a risk of one in 1,000 driving or using a road. When we think of the thousands or of millions of movements on the road every day, for every 1,000 of these movements one accident takes place. If we can persuade people to make their margin that much wider, instead of one in 1,000, one in 5,000, I believe we shall make a material impact. When we look at the statistics for prosecutions we find that the police—who I am perfectly certain are doing their duty in this regard—have prosecuted only 6,000 people for reckless or dangerous driving. That means that a very large number of accidents are not accounted for and cannot be explained in terms of reckless or dangerous driving. I feel quite certain that the great majority are cases of a different character which have to be dealt with.
There has been a suggestion of mobile police; I think it was made by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. That is a matter 901 which we are very happy to consider. But let it be clear that this is not a cheap way of getting police. Mobile police would have to be, if anything, better trained than the others. My own feeling is that it is better to start the other way round; perhaps have a different class of policeman on stationary offences to relieve the ordinary policeman to deal with the difficult task of moving offences. The other wardens or policemen would deal with stationary offences, parking offences, maybe in association with parking meters; but in principle they would mean a lightening of the task of the policeman, which is, I am sure, a desirable course.
I want to add only one word on that side in assessing the problems. If I may venture to express a purely personal opinion, I believe that our opinions about our own driving are rather higher than those of other people. I am rarely frightened of myself when I am driving, but I am frequently frightened by other people. I am quite certain that it is not that I am a better driver, but merely that we have a different asessment of our own ability from that of other people. If we can persuade other people to have a greater modesty in regard to their own driving, I believe that it would in fact help to lower the number of accidents which take place. It is a curious fact that few people like being told that they are bad motor car drivers. They feel that it is a personal reflection upon their character, and they greatly resent it.
My noble friend is dealing with various other problems, but perhaps I may say this in regard to enforcement. I think it is right to recognise that, considering the size of the problem, the police are doing a tremendous amount. In the year 1958, over one million written warnings and summonses, were served. That is an increase of some 25 per cent. over the year before. That means that something like one in ten motorists received a written warning of some character from the police.
In regard to propaganda, particularly on the "Be A Better Driver!" campaign, I leave that matter to my noble friend, Lord Gosford, to say a word. What I should like to add is that children are being taught at school, symtematically and extensively, not only how to use the 902 roads but also in regard to the use of pedal cycles, which we hope will in fact give them a better road sense. I believe that improved engineering on the roads will help a great deal. A number of accidents will be avoided when we can eliminate such things as awkward turns and double-lane traffic. I think the House knows that to-day we are spending something like twenty times as much on new roads as we were six years ago.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, raised the question of another Department taking on this subject instead of the Ministry of Transport. It is always rather an easy solution that someone else should do the job instead of those who are doing it at present, but I think it is true to say that it would be wrong to separate road safety from other factors connected with the road. For instance, my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport must, I think, be responsible for roads; he must be responsible for road signs, and he must be responsible for the general control of traffic. He is also responsible for the condition of vehicles and how they should go on the road; and he is, moreover, responsible for testing drivers. It would be very odd that with all these inevitable responsibilities he should have taken away from him road safety, which must form an integral part of all the other factors.
I think the noble Lord was a little unfair in quoting a little out of context what my right honourable friend said—namely, "My policy is to put speeds up". As I think the noble Lord is aware, he was talking of specialised circumstances which did not apply to the whole field of road traffic. It is his task, of course, to find a compromise between the varying factors in relation to people who use the roads. I think his duty of doing that makes him a more valuable Minister in regard to the various ways in which we use our roads. I do not believe that there is an easy way of crossing the Rubicon—something which we can do which would make a startling difference. I think we have to advance over a very wide field in which propaganda, education, road control are different facets. But I am quite sire it would he quite wrong to think that we can get it without using new forms of traffic movement which we are developing in this country.
903 I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth that drivers are not careful or courteous. I believe the great majority of them are.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I did not say that. I said that discourtesy and the bad behaviour of drivers were getting worse and worse. I did not say that everyone was discourteous.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
All I was about to say was that I personally think that the great majority of drivers are careful and courteous—and particularly would I refer to the drivers of big heavy lorries whom I have met from time to time; in my opinion they set an exceptionally high example in many respects. I would add only this: that I think we have got to advance over the whole field, and above all, as the right reverend Prelate has said, to rouse the public conscience as to what the problem is. I do not think that people are conversant with it, and I do not think that they realise adequately the personal responsibility which they have in this matter. Without this realisation, I do not believe that we are going to make the progress which I know is the wish of Parliament.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, like, I am sure, all your Lordships, I was immensely impressed by the speeches of the two noble Lords who introduced their Motions this afternoon. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, will allow me to say to him what a great pleasure it is to see him back again. He has been sorely missed. I am also glad to notice (it may have been due to the fact that Lord Lucas of Chilworth was to speak this afternoon) that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft has been drawn from his retreat. One of the great pleasures in this House were the frequent occasions upon which the noble Lords, Lord Lucas of Chilworth and Lord Mancroft were debating some point. Their mutual courtesies and compliments were a delight to listen to. They used to remind me of a verse which I am sure university men will recognise—namely,Ladling the butter from alternate tubs,Stubbs butters Freeman,Freeman butters Stubbs.904 Very delightful it was to hear them engaging in this practice!
The result of my experiences over some years on the bench, leads me to the opinion, which not all may share, that the prime cause of road accidents is speed and not, as is often suggested, either the inadequacy of our road system or the mechanical failure of cars. The finest roads will not prevent accidents; in fact, road improvements may encourage speeding. A return issued by the American insurance companies shows that 96.7 per cent. of cars involved in fatal accidents were in good condition—they were not "old crocks." But unless we can find a remedy for speeding, which certainly will not be easy, our road accidents will persist; in fact, road accidents are expected to increase by 40 per cent, in the course of the coming ten years. I think that what I will call the "speed merchants" display a most appalling selfishness. I quote briefly two extracts from the recent Press.
One was from a gentleman who complained about our roads, saying, "What is the use of being able to do 70 to 80 miles per hour, if the roads never allow you to do these speeds? "Another gentleman wrote to the Press—he wrote to the Daily Telegraph from an address in Carshalton in Surrey—saying, "I drive at 80 to 90 miles an hour." I hope that the Carshalton police noticed that letter and the writer's address. I had before me the wife of a prominent, important public man, charged with driving at a perfectly outrageous speed in a London suburb. When asked the reason, she said: "I wanted to get home to my children". Apparently it had not occurred to her that other mothers want their children to get home safely to them.
I believe that those instances do illustrate the selfishness of what I have described, I hope not unkindly, as "speed merchants." And really, my Lords, when we come to the question of how we are to stop this insane speeding I am tempted to advocate a method which has been tried in Connecticut, where the police arrested a motorist for reckless driving. He had covered 35 miles in 17 minutes, including a stop. They took him to a mental hospital and kept him under observation for thirty days. I 905 thought that an extremely practical step to take.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, was severe in speaking about justices of the peace, but I agree with him to some extent, although I do not agree that there are many J.P.s who are more occupied with a sense of their own importance and prestige than with their duty to the public. There may be some, but they are a very small fraction of the 16,000 J.P.s who give their time and efforts in the service of the public. But I am not quite sure whether all magistrates are fully aware of the extent of the powers which they enjoy in these matters. I warmly agree with the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and I am quite sure that the disqualification penalty should be much more frequently employed, and especially that it should be more frequently accompanied by an order to take another driving test. In these days a fine is often no real deterrent, especially if, as is so frequently the case, the fine is accompanied by time to pay at the rate of a few shillings a week; but I am sure that a disqualification is, because it is a reminder every morning when the offender gets up and goes out. It is something he thinks about.
I am not enthusiastic about the proposal to turn traffic offences over to stipendiary magistrates. I have made some inquiries about this matter. My own court inflicts a minimum penalty of £3 for speeding, but endorsements on licences show that fines in the Metropolitan magistrates' courts are in the neighbourhood of 25s. to £2. If there are other courts like my own, the effect of handing those cases over to the stipendiary magistrates would not make for more severe penalties. I am sure that disqualification in all cases of dangerous or careless driving, or of driving a motor-car while under the influence of drink, would lessen road casualties. That is something which could be done by Parliament: to make disqualification compulsory, sweeping away the "special reasons" for not disqualifying, with which I thoroughly disagree. There should be no special reasons whatever in these cases.
After all, it was only in 1956 that Parliament did away with compulsory disqualification, as provided by Section 15 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, for 906 being in charge of a motor-car whilst under the influence of drink, or for driving a car while uninsured. At one time J.P.s had to disqualify for driving an uninsured vehicle, but in 1956 Parliament altered this from "must" to "may," so that nowadays justices of the peace may, and no longer must, disqualify. I believe that that was a mistake. Parliament has eased up in these measures instead of tightening up, as one would have liked to see it do. On the question of deterrents, on which there has been much talk this afternoon, I myself feel that posters are almost entirely a waste of time—posters like "Be a better driver!" "Mind how you go!" and a perfectly fatuous sign that I see every time I drive through Southborough, "Southborough welcomes careful motorists". What earthly good does that kind of thing do?
In my opinion very little attention is paid to this type of publicity. The posters hang there, year in and year out, disfigured and tattered. Familiarity breeds conempt. I much prefer the system which the French have of an annual "Day without accidents". There, such posters and signs are in position for only three weeks and are then taken down. In France familiarity does not lead to indifference, if not to contempt; because I am sure the continual use of these posters will not produce permanent results. In any case, I do not think posters prevent accidents, which are due, as the noble Earl has said, to the individual behind the wheel; they are due to the man and not to the machine; to the mind and not to the motor; to the reflexes and not to the road. The economic side of these accidents, at the rate at which they are running at present, has not been mentioned very much, if at all, this afternoon. In 1956, the last year for which I have figures, the cost of these accidents was put at £110 million, £40 million of which was attributable to absence from work due to injury, which must of course have affected production; and as things are going, this cost must increase as traffic goes on increasing and casualties to drivers and passengers increase also.
Just one more word about disqualification. It is said that magistrates are reluctant to impose this penalty because they do not like the idea of affecting the living of a man. I do not take that 907 view. I am more interested in the danger of depriving people of life than in depriving them of making a living. That is the important thing—that people should not be deprived of life. I am not going to repeat figures which have been given this afternoon. It is, however, quite wrong that out of so many convictions for reckless or dangerous driving there should be so few—perhaps something like one-third—where disqualification sentences are imposed. I am also opposed to the remission of sentence of disqualification. If a man drives badly enough to deserve disqualification, then the less he drives and the more he is kept off the road, the better, I think, for the public.
With regard to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, about magistrates, the general charge made against them is that they are too lenient; and certainly it seems that the maximum penalty is rarely imposed for speeding or, especially, for drunken driving. But my impression is that juries are apt to be even more lenient than magistrates. Juries reflect public opinion and severe penalties are not imposed except where there is injury to life or limb. I must say that, if I were asked, I should advise anyone charged with drunken or dangerous driving to elect to go for trial at quarter sessions. Of course he would receive a heavier penalty if convicted, but I think his chance of getting away with it would be very much better. My impression is confirmed by a recorder who has had considerable experience in trying these cases. He says:Where someone has been injured the jury will probably have little sympathy with the accused, but in the commoner and often more dangerous case, in which the motorist has been swerving about the street or has run into a lamp-post, that man is almost certain to be acquitted whatever the evidence of the police or doctor about the state of his inebriation.He is a man who should know, and magistrates certainly are reluctant to commit to prison except as a last resort. It is so easy for them to find themselves, as recently happened to Mr. Rose, charged by members of the public with excessive severity. It makes them reluctant to impose severe sentences of imprisonment.
There is another thing magistrates might do. I am often asked: are the 908 young or the old the more dangerous drivers? Certainly the young man accompanied on a motor-cycle by his girl friend is terribly dangerous. The elderly have got past girls—or if they have not, they should have done—but they often go on driving for too long after they have lost the required acuteness of their faculties; and I think magistrates would do a very useful service if they imposed a driving test on some of them.
As regards drunken driving, the same facts emerge: the sentences are insufficient. Moreover, I doubt whether anyone is satisfied to-day with the drink tests. They are not satisfactory, and undoubtedly drunken drivers somehow contrive to "wangle" through them. Moreover, my Lords, a half-drunk driver may be even more dangerous than one who is completely drunk. And that lends point to the fact that the accident rate goes up between 10 p.m. and midnight, when the public-houses have closed; and it also goes up at Christmas time. Many drivers are only half, or even a quarter, drunk, but they are not really safe at the wheel of a motor-car. I would remind your Lordships that if the prosecution feel doubtful about establishing drunkenness in terms of law—not of fact but of law—they will elect instead to proceed on a charge of dangerous or careless driving; and in that case no evidence about drinking can be given. I would ask my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth to have a little sympathy with magistrates, who I know are a miserable class of men, very low down in the social scale. But they deserve some sympathy, because we so frequently have, in Lord Hewart's words, to decide who was responsible for a collision between two stationary motor-cars. I can assure your Lordships that the cases are extremely difficult to decide.
I must also say that it is not the fact, as many people seem to think, that the justices automatically accept police evidence. They do not. They sift that evidence just as carefully as they sift any other evidence brought before them. But the task is not easy. The law is there, and plenty of it—too much of it, I think, very often. The simple fact is that there are not enough police, without whom we cannot enforce the law. I noticed that the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said something about an 909 improvement which has taken place in the strength of the police in many forces. Perhaps in the majority of cases police forces are now only a little, a few per cent., below strength, and there has been an improvement. But the question I would put to him is this: supposing those police forces were up to strength, and even over strength, does he think they would be able to enforce the traffic laws as they exist at the moment? Lawbreaking is the usual thing to-day in traffic matters, simply because the law cannot be enforced. That laws remain on the Statute Book although they cannot be enforced, and that breaches of the law are general and are not considered in any way shameful, calls for investigation, because it points to the fact that something is wrong. If these laws are to be enforced I think the forces of law and order must be reinforced. With the present number of police we cannot get enforcement, and we shall not do so. As things are, the "road hogs" have beaten us; and we have to admit the fact; the "road hogs" are on top.
It is also necessary to educate public opinion in these matters, and here the Press can help. I do not think the Press are so bad as some noble Lords have said this afternoon. I see quite a number of leading articles and paragraphs in the newspapers calling attention to the shocking state of road accidents. The law will never be enforced until public opinion changes in regard to those who endanger our children and ourselves. An effective deterrent for the "road hog" would be to get him branded as a public pest. This country relies for the enforcement of its laws not upon swollen police forces—at any time there is only one policeman on duty to every 4,000 inhabitants of the country—but upon the public's loyal co-operation. Unfortunately, there is no sense of shame attached to breaking speed laws. The motorist who is guilty of outrageous driving is not regarded as criminal. If a man is caught cheating at cards, he will probably never live that down as long as he lives: the stigma will remain for ever. But if a motorist has killed a man on the road it is regarded as rather bad luck—you know, "Bad luck about old Snooks", and so on—and no stigma whatever attaches to that.
The great thing is to educate public opinion, and in that connection the two 910 great motoring organisations, the R.A.C. and the A.A., can be of great help. I remember that when the 30 m.p.h. limit was imposed in 1934 Oliver Stanley, who was then Minister of Transport, asked the R.A.C. and the A.A. for their co-operation in enforcing the new law. Instead, those two organisations, at great expense, organised obstruction to the police. I think that in that way they helped to create a mistaken opinion, and it is that opinion which leads juries to-day to acquit. Public opinion is not behind the traffic laws, and so they do not co-operate with the law in that respect as they do in other matters. But we must face the fact that, as things are to-day, we cannot hope that the traffic laws will be observed.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, on my way down to your Lordships' House to-day—a journey which, unfortunately, I do not make now as often as I would wish—I took the opportunity of examining your Lordships' car park. Sixtyone cars were occupying it, of which twelve were, if their manufacturers are to be believed, capable of speeds of 100 miles an hour and over. I realise, of course, that not all those cars belong to your Lordships: some may belong to guests or prosperous lobby correspondents, or even "the firm". But I cannot help wondering how many owners of cars capable of 100 miles an hour are themselves capable of driving at that speed. I certainly am not, owing to deficiencies both of eye-sight and of courage. I ask this question because we are now building roads which are capable of taking cars driving at that speed; and we remember the disastrous figures for accidents at high speeds on the Autobahnen in Germany and the Autostrade in Italy.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, rightly drew attention to the virtues of the advanced motoring tests, but sheer skill did not prevent poor Mike Hawthorn from losing his life on a big modern road; and I feel that we face the risk of a serious rise in accidents of this class unless we are prepared to tackle this problem now. Some countries have imposed a top speed limit. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Winster, who has just delivered an interesting speech, that 911 speed in itself is a prime factor in accidents, though I would not say the prime factor. The little family "buggy", chugging along at 20 miles an hour in the middle of the Great West Road on a Saturday afternoon, is just as much a "road hog", and just as much a danger to its neighbours, as the fast, well-driven car moving at 70 miles an hour. I ask all this because of a theme which has been running through this debate and which ran through all the debates of a similar nature that I can remember on this subject in the seventeen years that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, went back to Nimrod for a parallel. He need not have gone so far afield; he need only have gone to a debate held in your Lordships' House 152 years ago—a debate about reckless driving of post-chaises in Piccadilly, and danger to life and limb of their Lordships proceeding about their business. It is not likely that a horse is going to be driven to the danger of life and limb in Piccadilly to-day: there is so much stagnation of traffic there that the poor brute would die of starvation before it could do any harm. But that debate brought out one point that I want to make. In the course of that debate, as to-day, everybody blamed everybody else. It is never our fault: it is always the fault of somebody else.
The motorists blame the pedestrians—and the way pedestrians break the rules of traffic lights in the rush hour is, I agree, deplorable; the pedestrians blame the motorists; and all blame the police. Consequently, there are very bad relations between motorists and police; and I am delighted to see the recent step taken by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in an attempt to revive the good relations which should exist between the police and motorists. Everybody blames the courts; the local authorities; and, of course, Her Majesty's Government. But, my Lords, surely the fact is that it is no good our trying to "pass the buck" to somebody else. This is a matter of individual responsibility. The blunt fact is that too many road users to-day are simply potential accidents looking for somewhere to happen.
912 Of course, my Lords, the authorities have their responsibility. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, had some pretty stiff things to say about the courts. In one respect he is perfectly right. During the debates on both the Road Traffic Bill which met its death at the General Election and the 1956 Bill (which became the 1956 Act) in both Houses of Parliament, and on both sides of both Houses, the view was expressed that stiffer penalties were required; and, so far as I can understand the figures, that has not been done. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack—who is President, I believe, of the Magistrates' Association—has made his views known in public; and I suspect, though I have no authority for saying this, that the Chairman of the Magistrates' Association, my noble friend Lord Merthyr, has probably made his views known in private. However, we well appreciate the difficulties of magistrates. After all, magistrates and juries do not commit murder or bigamy or arson in a Royal Dockyard, but they are motorists; and one can only draw the obvious conclusions. Further, my Lords, magistrates are not necessarily rich men, and to them a fine of £50 may be a pretty stiff fine. I agree with my noble friend Lord Selkirk that a greater use of disqualification and additional driving tests would be all to the good.
The noble Lord, Lord Winster, just now used the word "branded". Very well; let us take that idea a bit further—and I wish we had done so at the time of the 1956 Bill. Your Lordships are well aware how useful the letter "L" is on the back of a car. It encourages and reinforces the morale of the driver, because he knows that, as a learner, he is not going to be hustled by others on the road; and it warns those round about to be extra careful. If you have a kicking horse you put a red ribbon around its tail, and your friends keep clear of it. Why should we not brand the careless, the dangerous, or the drunken driver until he has purged his offence? Why not make him carry on his car some kind of notice so that his neighbours know that they have to be careful of him, in the same way as—though for a much more respectable reason—they have to keep clear of the learner driver? What the sign should be I must leave to others. You could 913 not have "C.D." for "careless driver", because that would offend the Corps Diplomatique and the 20,000 other people who use the sign without any authority. You could not have "D.D." for "Drunken Driver", because that would annoy the Bishops.
I must say that I think the noble Lord, Lord Elton, was a little unfair to Her Majesty's Government in suggesting that they had not been active or vigorous enough in this matter, and I was pleased to hear my noble friend, Lord Selkirk, repeat some of the things the Government are doing or will do. I was pleased also to note the way in which he again emphasised that this is not a buck that can just be passed to the Government; it is ultimately an individual responsibility. May I suggest, however, for the consideration of my noble friend Lord Gosford, one or two additional means, whereby the Government can increase their help and reinforce the action they have already wisely taken?
There is one example that occurs to me which is a frequent cause of accidents, though not one that can be seen in the statistics. That is the confusion caused in the motorist's mind by the multiplicity of signs which confront him all over the roads. Yellow lines, and now white lines with broken dashes; coloured lamp-posts and beacons; notices by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation; by the local authority; by the police; by the A.A.; by the R.A.C.; by Tom, Dick—and possibly even Harry. My Lords, notices telling us of diversions, to keep to the left and to keep to the right; "New laid eggs"; "Vote for Buggins"; "End of World at Hand"—the lot. I know that we are told in the Bible:An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; there shall be no sign given unto it.In the unlikely event of any of your Lordships feeling evil or adulterous, all he has to do is to go to Wanstead Underground Station, at the junction of Eastern Avenue, and there he will see no fewer than 62 signs. I am sure the Government are aware of this problem, and I would beg of them to press on with the simplification and codification of signs; because I am certain that the confusion that some signs cause in motorists' minds is one of the causes of accidents, though unrecorded in the statistics.
914 Another cause of accidents, unrecorded in the statistics, to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention, is that of sheer exasperation. I believe that sheer exasperation and bad temper are more often the cause of accidents than the statistics can show. You are stuck in a street block with cars parked on either side, or stuck behind a lorry on a trunk route. The road is too narrow to allow the string of cars to pull by the lorry, and there is no lay-by for it. What happens? You forget all the good lessons you ever learned, and in exasperation tread on the accelerator; and then where are you?—in Leatherhead Cottage Hospital. This only accentuates the need for the Minister to press on with his policy of road widening.
I do not entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that by increasing the roads there are simply going to be more cars on them, and therefore more accidents. I believe that argument cuts both ways. I think that the Government will be praised widely for its road programme, among many other things. My right honourable friend the Minister of Transport can say with justifiable pride that at the moment more work is being done on the roads of this country than at any time since the Romans. I would beg him to press on with his good work, because I believe that as the compression of traffic on the roads is relieved, the risk of accidents is far less.
The parking-meter scheme marches with it. It is a scheme on which I am sure the Government are right, and about which I believe the motoring associations have not been very wise. But if he increases the extent of parking meter areas, so must he press on with the provision of off-street parking, because these two also march together. I was looking the other day at the Selfridge's new garage (and I think we owe a debt of gratitude to Selfridge's for building it) and I found it only half full. Why? I live in the next street. Who is going to pay good money to put his car in Selfridge's garage when he can park it outside my house "for free"? Therefore, I beg the Minister to press on with meters and off-street parking together.
In some ways, my Lords, these are irreconcilable problems. The interests of the various people who use the roads are often irreconcilable, and something 915 has to go. My right honourable friend the Minister of Transport cannot please everybody. If he tries to adopt a policy which offends nobody, he will produce a wishy-washy compromise which will do no good whatever. A politician trying to please everybody, is like a puppy trying to follow four children at once. My right honourable friend will have to ignore the advice which St. Paul gave to the Corinthians in the Second Epistle he wrote to that rather disorderly body of disciples. The Apostle talks ofgiving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed:That must not be the policy of Her Majesty's Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, is right when he says that cars are increasing so rapidly that we cannot build roads quickly enough to take them. One has only to stand near Marble Arch and watch the stream of cars coming in between half-past eight and half-past nine in the morning going to the City, one person in every car, each firmly of the opinion that he has the inalienable right to come and the inalienable right to park his car somewhere on the Queen's highway in the middle of the City for eight hours of the day, and then raise murder if anybody criticises him for doing it. Something has to go, if we are to reduce these appalling road accidents. We have become slaves to our cars. It is time for a slaves' revolt.
§ 5.34 p.m.
My Lords, I must commence by declaring an interest in this matter, because I am Chairman of the Magistrates' Association. I am sure that on that account I shall be duly suspect, but I must acquaint your Lordships of the fact. This afternoon I express my own personal views only, and carry no brief from anybody or from any organisation. I deal only with those parts of the speeches already delivered which made some criticism of justices of the peace. I feel that your Lordships may think me justified in attempting to do so, and I shall not trespass into other matters.
The first point I would make is to ask your Lordships to beware of some of the figures which have been quoted. I am not suggesting for a moment that those figures are inaccurate, either deliberately or accidentally. It is the 916 deductions which we draw from those figures that I think must cause us to be careful. Although the accident figures are undeniably going up, the figures of vehicles on the roads are going up more rapidly, and maybe it is permissible to draw from that fact that, relatively, the accident figures are improving, rather than the reverse. Again, it may not necessarily be the case that because there are more prosecutions and more convictions, more offences are committed. There are many possibilities contained in the figures. One of them only is that the passing of the Magistrates Courts Act, 1952, may well have resulted—and I think probably did—in more prosecutions of persons who would, but for that Act, have been cautioned or let off altogether and never prosecuted, the reason simply being that that Act has undeniably effected a great saving of time for the police, as it was intended to do. Naturally, the police are more likely to prosecute than they were before the Act, and there is no harm in that. In passing, I would say that, since this is a necessary measure, in my view this Act has been a great success. I would mention another fact in connection with it which I read the other day in the Report of the Justices' Clerk to the City of Liverpool. In the year 1958, the Chief Constable of Liverpool prosecuted in the summary courts, in rough figures, 14,000 people. Out of that number, 11,000 appeared in court under that Act, and that must have effected an immense saving of time.
In this debate there has been no little criticism of justices of the peace, but no more than I expected. May I say at once that I have no objection whatsoever to the criticism which has been made? Whether it is right or wrong, it has been perfectly fair. May I say also at once that in some degree, and in part. I think the criticism is justified? From that it follows that in some degree, and in part, it is not justified. But I would ask your Lordships to consider the mitigating circumstances which may be put forward on behalf of the justices of the peace. Not even the most optimistic of magistrates thinks that justices are perfect. They are human; they make mistakes. But I would say, with the greatest respect, that sometimes the magistrates may reflect that if there were a higher court than your Lordships' House. the decision of your Lordships 917 would sometimes be reversed. I hope that I am not guilty of any offence in saying that.
I should like to say a few words on the question of fines, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. He started off rather hastily, I thought, and raised too hastily the point that Parliament have ordained that, in fixing a fine, the court must take into account the means of the defendant—that is, under Section 31 of the Magistrates' Courts Act, 1952. But that has been the law since 1914, and is mandatory. I would remind your Lordships that many people who now own motor cars are not very rich people, judged by modern standards. Any number of agricultural labourers now drive to work in their own cars. And why should they not? I do not in the least object to that; but it does make a difference when one comes to impose a suitable fine upon them. I would ask the House to agree with this proposition: that the maximum fine laid down by Parliament, at whatever date it was laid down, was intended to be for the worst case committed by the richest man. That may be an exaggeration, but I hope that it is not an unfair deduction to draw. If it is an exaggeration, then shall I say instead a bad case committed by a rich man?—I do not think that is going too far. If that be so, I ask your Lordships to consider the vast number of cases which cannot be called bad committed by men who cannot be called rich.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, complained, not at all without reason, of the small percentages of the fines imposed expressed in terms of the maximum. But I would say that that argument can be carried too far, and it certainly would be carried too far if it were applied to the penalties for all the crimes known to the law. I would ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, what he would say if all the courts in the land, assize courts included, imposed the maximum penalty for every crime. There would be such an uproar in your Lordships' House that we should never hear the last of it.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I do not think that I mistakenly, purposely or inadvertently gave the impression that I wanted the maximum fines imposed in every case.
I quite accept that contention; but I certainly had the impression that the noble Lord placed a great reliance upon the maximum fine and on the fact that the justices were not imposing it enough.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Not that they are not imposing the maximum fine enough, but that they are not taking into consideration the fact that Parliament has shown its regard for the seriousness of road accidents by doubling the fines, and that magistrates had only increased them in some cases by a few per cent. and in some cases by less.
I do not dispute what the noble Lord has just said. But when one remembers that there are approximately 16,000 magistrates working in something like 1,000 separate courts, one appreciates that the problem of getting this information right down to all the magistrates from the top, from your Lordships' House, from Parliament, from the Ministry, takes a little time and is not so easy. I admit that the response has not been all that it might be; but I ask for patience. I believe the figures show that there has been some response, and, as the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said, the tendency to increase the fines is going on all the time.
I should like to say a word or two on a subject which has not, so far as I know, been mentioned this afternoon, and that is the question of costs. I submit that it is relevant, in considering the question of fines, to consider also the amount of costs which the court orders the defendant to pay. More recently than hitherto, I have no doubt, there is an increasing tendency to order a greater degree of costs. The reason—let us be quite frank about this—why local justices order costs rather than fines may not be a very praiseworthy one, but I think it is a true one and a permissible one—namely, that the payment of costs benefits the rates to a greater extent than does the payment of fines. Your Lordships may not approve of that motive, but I think we must realise that it exists, and there is nothing to stop it.
I consider it quite proper, upon conviction, for a court to ask itself what is the total amount that the defendant ought to pay; then to decide how much 919 it is proper and reasonable for him to pay in costs; and finally to say that he shall pay the balance by way of fine. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, may not agree with that method of procedure; but again it is certainly permissible and, I think, not at all unreasonable. Whatever the case that method is being adopted to an increasing degree. I think it would be absurd, having decided on a suitable fine, and having in mind what the noble Lord has said in your Lordships' House, lastly to say: "And, of course, in addition you will pay the costs," whatever they may be and however many witnesses happen to have come to court to testify. So, my Lords, I would say that some of these figures are misleading. I do not say that they are untrue, but I think we must be careful how we look at them and how we use them.
Now I want to say a few words about the question of minimum penalties. This is a difficult question, because although it originates as a very good idea, if it is carried too far—and I am sure it has been in the past—it acts as a boomerang and has unfortunate results. In my view, minimum penalties are undesirable per se; in other words, they ought to be avoided, if possible. I must face the fact that it is not possible in all cases to avoid them. I am grateful to Parliament for having reduced them in the 1956 Act and given more discretion to justices in one or two cases. The reason why, in my view, minimum penalties are undesirable—and once again, let us be frank about this—is that if they are imposed by Parliament there is a temptation, which I am afraid will not be resisted by all the justices of the peace, and certainly not by all juries, not to convict in cases where they ought to convict. It may be unfortunate that that should be so, but I think we must face the fact that it is. I have actually known cases of justices of the peace who have been reluctant to convict entirely because of the consequences that must inevitably follow. So I think we ought to reflect seriously before we extend the system of minimum penalties.
In that connection, I should like to touch on the question of prosecutions for driving under the influence of drink—a matter mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Winster. In those cases, as your 920 Lordships know, the defendant has the option of trial by jury, and often he exercises that option. The figures show that in those cases where there have been prosecutions 91 per cent. of the cases tried by the justices in petty sessions have resulted in convictions, and 48 per cent. of the cases tried by jury. That is a striking difference. I must add, in all fairness, that those figures, too, must be taken with caution, because, for obvious reasons, almost all the pleas of guilty are tried by the justices and it is only—or mainly—in cases where there is a chance of the defendant getting away with it that he elects to go for trial by jury. Nevertheless, those figures are striking.
The question is: Are minimum penalties necessary? That is answered by another question: Can Parliament trust the justices of the peace? If Parliament says it cannot, I must admit that there is some justification for saying so. I cannot in fairness deny that; it would be idle for me to do so. I am absolutely prepared to agree with the many speakers who have said that there are not enough disqualifications, and for a not sufficiently long period. I agree also with the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, when he said that in this matter the courts were improving. I am sure they are improving, and I am sure they will go on improving. I am sure the improvement cannot be a very quick one, for the reason I have already stated—namely, that it takes time for this news to get around. Your Lordships heard at the beginning of the Sitting this afternoon, a question relating to the dissemination of information to justices about the First Offenders' Act, and from the Answer your Lordships will have deduced that it is not easy to get this information to justices very quickly.
On the question of disqualification, the matter is governed by the Fourth Schedule to the Act of 1956, and I, for one, rather regret in some ways the change in the law that was then effected. As I understand it, the old law of 1930 was that you could disqualify a motorist for any offence in connection with the driving of a motor car, although I am bound to add that a number of justices did not realise that fact. But the 1956 Act imposed restrictions on disqualification and, in a few instances, in my opinion, it is not so good as it was. I 921 regret, in particular, that Parliament saw fit to prevent justices from disqualifying in cases of not stopping after an accident, and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, will give a measure of praise to the justices who, in the year 1957, according to the figures, in seven cases disqualified for that offence, although it was illegal to do so.
May I give one more example? About a month ago I had a case in my own court of a man charged with obtaining a driving licence by fraud. It was a particularly bad case. On the other hand, the man was very poor and had never been to prison, and we were reluctant to send him there. In my view, the ideal punishment for that offence would be to prevent him from having a driving licence for about two years. We were unable to do anything of the kind because it was unlawful. I wonder whether at some appropriate moment the authorities would look again at the Fourth Schedule of the 1956 Act to see whether it requires any amendment.
May I say, with all due deference, that there is a danger in criticising the decisions of justices without having been in court for the whole of the case and hearing the whole of the evidence. That is not to say that I resent or object to criticism; I merely say that it may lead one astray. May I give another example from my own experience, if the House will forgive me? About a month ago, on the agenda in my court was a charge of taking away and driving a motor car without the owner's consent. I regard that as a particularly bad class of case, one commonly to be meted out with severe penalties. I came away, after completely agreeing with my colleagues, having convicted the man, and having given him an absolute discharge. I could not have believed, before I went to court, that such a possibility would occur, and yet I am satisfied that it was a right decision. I mention that just to show how careful we have to be in criticising other people, because in that case I believe there was so much to be said in mitigation, surprisingly enough, that there were very good reasons for that result.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, has suggested—and he is not the only one to have done so—special courts for motoring offences. Would they really be better 922 than the present courts? Would they be manned by professionals, or laymen? The noble Lord thought by professionals, but a few sentences later in his speech he complained of a Metropolitan magistrate who imposed upon a motorist a fine which the noble Lord thought was far too small. From other speeches, I gather that the House is not entirely satisfied that professional magistrates would cure this evil. It is a matter for public opinion and Parliament, and public opinion and Parliament has, in the past, rightly or wrongly, been against having professional justices to man the courts, as was most clearly expressed by a Royal Commission and by your Lordships' House and Parliament only ten years ago. Is it really the case that opinion has changed? I see no signs of that having happened.
I must confess that I can see no immediate benefit to be found in having special courts for motorists. I think the case is not made out. But I would ask the House to consider the cost. If you suddenly appointed these courts all over the country you would take away, at my guess, about 75 per cent. of the work of the ordinary justices in petty sessional divisions. But they would have to continue sitting, and the added cost of the duplication of the courts would be considerable. It may be that the cost would be justified—cost often is—but I would ask the House to weigh the cost before coming to a decision. It would certainly make for a great deal of inconvenience, as well as expense. If the motoring cases are moved from the petty sessions, what really is left? In the old days it used to be nothing but drunks and poachers. Even those two classes of offences have almost disappeared to-day. I have attempted to deal with only a few of the points which have been raised. I thought that I ought to do so in case I was able to help in some way towards the solution of this great problem.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ LORD GODDARD
My Lords, after the full discussion—exhaustive discussion, I may say—that has already taken place, I feel that I should be justified in delaying your Lordships for only a very few minutes. It is on only one aspect of this subject that I have any claim to speak, and that is with regard to what I may call the law enforcement. 923 I do not like to approach this subject in a spirit of defeatism, but sometimes when I was Chief Justice I felt very frustrated in this respect. During the time when I held my office, I addressed either 69 or 70 magistrates' meetings, and at all of them a great deal of time was taken up by dealing with this subject of motoring penalties. Of course, I emphasised as much as I could how desirable it was in proper cases—and in most cases where it was possible to do so—that they should impose disqualification.
Another thing that I tried to impress upon magistrates was what an essentially wicked and criminal case it is for a man to be driving a car under the influence of drink. It is like having a mad dog on the road—a man who is using a dangerous thing like a motor car when he is under the influence of drink. I notice that although in the year 1957 there were 3,025 convictions for driving under the influence of drink, in only 153 was a sentence of imprisonment passed. As I believe, if motorists knew that if they drove under the influence of drink they would run a very good chance of a prison sentence, there would be a great deal less drunken driving than there is.
A good many hard things have been said about magistrates, and I agree that benches of magistrates do not inflict the fines or penalties they ought to. But there is this to be said: they are not the only people who have to take responsibility in this matter. Of all the people concerned I would put at the head the Quarter Sessions juries. We must remember that in all cases of dangerous driving and drunken driving defendants have the right to go to trial by jury, and a great number claim the right because they know that the chances of acquittal are much greater before a jury than before the magistrates. No one has ever yet found a way of preventing a jury from returning a perverse verdict. If magistrates return a perverse verdict, their verdict can be challenged on a special case, if the prosecution demand it, and from time to time the High Court has reversed verdicts on the grounds that the findings were perverse—not often, but it has been done. But if a jury acquits, there is the end of it.
The astonishing way in which juries acquit in these motoring cases is remarkable. I often think of one that took 924 place in a Southern county of England. I do not think any magistrate in court or any onlooker except the jury could have had any doubt about the guilt of the accused, who in broad daylight drove his car bang into a railway crossing gate and then fought like a madman when he was taken out of his car. The first jury disagreed; the second jury acquitted him. He got straight into his car and went off to Bournemouth and was picked up for being drunk in charge of a car. That is what sometimes does happen in these cases. It has to be remembered of course—and this is one of the difficulties—that if a bench gets a reputation of being severe in these cases or passing severe sentences, the number of people who claim to go for trial at once increases.
That is one of the objections I feel to having these special courts, so often urged for motoring offences. I agree with everything the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, said about it; it would not have the effect the advocates of that course desire. In the first place, as he pointed out, they would have to try 60 or 70 per cent. of the cases now dealt with by the ordinary lay benches. That means that a very large number of professional justices would have to be appointed, and the salaries could not be tempting for that reason. These courts, it has always seemed to me, would be presided over by the failures in either branch of the profession, which would not be at all desirable. Furthermore, the appointing of professionally qualified justices is not a panacea. If some small prize were given for the most frivolous sentences of the year, I know two or three stipendiary magistrates whose claims should not be overlooked.
I do not want to sit down without trying to make some contribution to this debate in the way of some suggestion of what possibly might be done. There are two suggestions that I am going to make; I do not know whether they will commend themselves to your Lordships. The first is this. In its anxiety to see that the injured get proper compensation, Parliament has insisted, rightly I am sure everyone would think, on compulsory insurance for motorists. One of the serious offences in the Road Traffic Act is if a man drives a car without insurance. If motorists knew that they would have to take a part of the damages 925 in any circumstances, I believe that that might have a very strong effect in producing careful driving.
No one would want the unfortunate injured person to be deprived of his damages. It might be that not more than 25 per cent. would be put on the motorist; I do not know; I am not suggesting a figure. But I do believe that if every motorist knew that if there was an accident for which his careless driving was responsible he would have to put his hand in his pocket and pay damages, it would make a great many drivers a great deal more careful than they are, and especially for this reason: that the tariff, if I may use the expression, has gone up very much in the last few years; thousands are given now, quite rightly, where only hundreds were given a few years ago. A director of one of the large insurance companies told me only last week that his company found that they were paying out approximately £50,000 more in damages than they received in premiums. That is a pretty serious state of affairs. It is a matter that I think might be thought about; as to whether, when there is a claim for damages—and the number of claims in the courts for damages is enormous—the motorist himself would have to bear a certain proportion of the damages awarded as a result of his driving.
The other suggestion, I know, is a more debatable point, but it is one which I think is worthy of consideration, and it is this. Many cases have been mentioned of inadequate penalties provided. It might be that a remedy would be found in giving an appeal to the prosecution to Quarter Sessions—probably to Quarter Sessions—on the ground that the penalty imposed was inadequate. That, of course, would mean a very considerable departure from anything that has hitherto existed in English law, except that the Court of Criminal Appeal has the power, which it sometimes exercises—not as often as thought, but occasionally—of increasing the sentence. They can do that only if the convicted person himself appeals against the penalty, and then he takes his chance of the court increasing it. In some of those cases where for reasons which one cannot understand the magistrates did not disqualify, it would perhaps be a useful provision that the 926 prosecution should be entitled to go to Quarter Sessions and say, "We ask that disqualification should be imposed". It is a debatable point and one which may not commend itself to your Lordships, or at any rate to all of you, but I think it is a matter worth considering. Those are the only two things I can think of which at the present time would assist. We have perfectly satisfactory Acts; the Road Traffic Acts are perfectly strong enough and perfectly satisfactory enough if they are properly applied.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ LORD MATHERS
My Lords, I happen to be the half-way man in this debate; I am half-way in the list of speakers, so you know what is awaiting you if the debate lasts the same time as it has lasted up to now. I have no wish at the half-way stage to make extensive remarks about the speeches that have already taken place, but I just mention how greatly impressed I was with the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Carlisle and how I agreed with his dictum that one of the greatest means of preventing accidents is mutual consideration on the part of those who are driving motor cars. I think we can all readily agree with that.
Then I must say I was greatly impressed by the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty. I thought he made a number of useful points. One that struck me most was his emphasis of the fact that care is the first necessity on the part of the motorist. I agree with that most heartily, because it seems to me that under good conditions, if proper care is exercised there need be no mishap even at very high speeds. I feel perfectly safe driving with one chauffeur who has frequently touched the 90 miles per hour mark. I have not been a bit nervous about his driving because, notwithstanding the speed at which he travels, he is the most careful driver that could possibly be found.
I was impressed by the points made by Lord Merthyr about the justices, and especially I noted—because I had not the figures myself, and I intend to say a word about the matter—that he said that 91 per cent. of convictions were made by justices, whereas there were only 48 per cent. of convictions in cases tried before a jury. That illustrates a 927 point which I will make later. I feel now that I have not a very important statement to make, and having been preceded by such eminent people makes me realise that all the more.
The two noble Lords who initiated this debate have, I believe, done something that is very much required, and they are entitled to be thanked for performing a great public service by raising this subject, in showing its urgency and the tragedy with which it deals. I believe that the matter is seriously disturbing an increasing number of people who, rightly in my opinion, think that Government action is called for because only the Government has the power to initiate and carry into effect measures calculated to reduce greatly the heavy toll on life and limb which is represented in the figures quoted.
I have been pressing Her Majesty's Government for a considerable time to recognise and deal with the problem of drink in relation to road accidents. I look upon the Motions of the two noble Lords as an opportunity to jolt the Government out of its apparent complacency. I am prepared to be met with a denial of the existence of complacency, and I am ready to admit with gratitude that the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation has called the attention of motorists and other road users to the danger of even small amounts of alcohol. This is emphasised in the road code and in the special leaflet issued for users of the new fast roads. But much more than this is needed. The Government must prove that they are alive to the need.
I have put on record my lack of success in endeavouring to get information from Her Majesty's Government regarding tests conducted by the British Medical Association and dealt with in the Drew Report. My first Question on July 30, 1956, was replied to by the then Leader of the House, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who said that no conclusive evidence had emerged and it was not possible to give a date for publication. That was at the time at which I was asking. On June 26, 1957, eleven months later, I had a reply from Lord Mancroft to the effect that part of the experimental work had been completed anda report is being prepared for publication.928 He agreed with me that the matter was important, and said—again I quote:The Report will be published.I was not pressing in any way, but on November 30, 1957, I had a reply from Lord Mancroft saying that the Report was:in the course of preparation and will be published as soon as possible.In reply to a supplementary question he said that it wasnot possible to confine research within a rigid timetable.Naturally I accepted that answer. I raised the matter again on January 29, 1958, and had a reply from the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, who said that he hoped that the Report would be available within a very few weeks. But on November 4, 1958, in replies by the Lord President of the Council to Lord Ammon and myself, it was said that the Report had not yet been received but only a paper giving results of experimental work.
Unfortunately, there has still been no appearance of the Report promised by the Government. That is a most disappointing result after years of effort. I find a growing feeling, among temperance workers particularly, that the Government are not treating this important matter with any sense of urgency, notwithstanding the tragically heavy toll of death upon the roads. This long delay must be most irritating to the Members of another place who dealt with the Road Traffic Bill in Standing Committee B in 1955. Here is a note which I have on that particular matter. I am quoting from a memorandum by Dr. Spriggs, who has been greatly interested in the question of tests in connection with road accidents. It says:When the Road Traffic Act was being discussed in Standing Committee B in 1955, a new clause was proposed by Mr. Graham Page advocating urine alcohol tests, and making it illegal for anyone to drive with an unsafe amount of alcohol in the system. Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (then Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department) referred to research which was being carried on by Professor Drew and said: 'It is probable that the results will be available next month.' He also said, speaking for the Government: 'The results … will certainly be widely discussed, and the discussion will do much to clarify not only the minds of those responsible, but also public opinion. 'Also he said: In these circumstances it is premature to legislate now' and that 'the matter 929 is being deal with at the direct instance of the Government.'On this understanding the new clause was withdrawn by Mr. Page.One can only conclude, after reading the full discussion of this subject nearly three years ago, that the Government then contemplated legislation on the subject of the drinking driver, when the results of Professor Drew's researches had been considered. Owing to unforeseen delays the Road Traffic Act of 1956 left this important subject for practical purposes untouched, and the toll on the road still increases and will probably reach 6,000 fatalities this year.This Memorandum is not quite up to date. There are many more comments by Dr. Spriggs, whom I am quoting, but I will not continue to quote that Memorandum.
The glaring fact to be noted is the failure of Her Majesty's Government to publish the Report which is under consideration, even if it is not in final form. The Report has been reprinted from the Medical Press for October 1 and October 8, 1958, but that is not what is called for. The Report should be published by the Government and an indication given as to when and how it is proposed to deal with it. It would be futile to try to summarise the Report, but the diagrams showing the peak hours for fatal accidents in Great Britain in 1956 are terribly eloquent. It is clearly shown that on Saturdays the fatal accidents between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. numbered 45: from 9 to 10 p.m. they numbered 51; but from 10 to 11 p.m., when the actual amount of traffic was considerably less, the figures of fatal accidents rose to 141 within that hour, and from 11 p.m. to 12 midnight the number was 115. There never could be a more striking evidence of the case made by the Temperance Movement and others regarding the drink menace in this matter.
If it is only the question of scientific tests that is troubling Her Majesty's Government, I suggest that the General Secretary of the United Kingdom Alliance points the way in his letter, quoted from Rally which appears in a recent issue of Scotia Quarterly which I will read:The Scandinavian countries have set a fine example which could profitably be followed everywhere. Norway is the country where the legislation on this subject is of the most progressive character. It is an offence there for a professional driver to consume any alcohol at all within eight hours of taking the wheel of his car. The amateur driver commits an offence if he has more than .05 per cent. of 930 alcohol in his bloodstream. It is also an offence for a vendor of intoxicating liquor knowingly to supply intoxicants to any person in charge of a motorcar.If legislation of this kind existed in this country, the scandal of cars parked outside licensed premises would soon disappear, for the police would have power to enter the premises to identify the driver of the car, and to prosecute the licensee if the driver were consuming any alcoholic drink.Here is another letter that I also beg leave to quote. It is from the Western Temperance League of Bristol and it says:Dr. A. L. Goodhart, when speaking on 'Alcohol and the Road User from the Legal Standpoint', said that with an alcohol concentration in the blood of .15 per cent. (one and a half parts alcohol in a thousand parts of blood), a driver is 55 times more likely to have an accident than are those free from alcohol. In Sweden it is now an offence to have more than half of one part per thousand—a third of that quoted by Dr. Goodhart!Road users should realise that the test is equally helpful to the innocent driver, for it proves that his blood is free from alcohol.Where the scientific test has been adopted there has followed a reduction in the number of road accidents and deaths, for the test acts as a deterrent as well as convicting the guilty.I consider the case for making a scientific test to ascertain the alcohol content of blood, breath or urine is completely proved by the experience of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Germany, France, Turkey, Switzerland and thirty-six American States; and this opinion is also held by a large number of people in this country. The latest proof of this is to be found in the Deliverance passed unanimously by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, only a fortnight ago, upon the report of its Temperance Committee. It reads as follows:The General Assembly favour the introduction into the United Kingdom of appropriate scientific tests including the blood test, for drivers stopped by the police for questioning on the suspicion of being under the influence of alcohol, and call upon Her Majesty's Government to pass the legislation authorising the same.The Government must be aware of the steep rise in drunkenness convictions, especially among young people, but there is little evidence of that awareness if it exists. The position is so notorious that a well-known temperance advocate has been moved to write an open letter to the Minister of Education. Here is part of a letter from Mr. Wilfrid Winterton to Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd, which 931 I quote from Alliance News, the organ of the United Kingdom Alliance:Much dust has accumulated in the pigeonhole where the Government has hidden the Report of the 1931 Royal Commission on Licensing. But take it down and turn to the section on 'Education'. You will find that paragraph 695 reads as follows:'We accept the view that every child ought to receive specific and systematic instruction as to the properties of alcohol, as in all, other matters which may affect future health, so that the child may at least be in possession of sound material on which to form a personal judgment when years of discretion are reached.'Paragraph 697 has a special word for you:'We recommend that the Board of Education should put forth further and intensive effort to bring home to public education authorities and others in charge of educational establishments the paramount importance of including in every curriculum a course of instruction founded on one or other of the syllabi.'Your research will lead you to an astounding discovery.The Health Education Syllabus to which the Commissioners referred contained at that time over fifteen pages concernng the proved effects of alcohol upon the human organism. Under the regime of your predecessor, Lord Hailsham, this section was selected for basic mutilation and cut down to a page and a half! The conscientious teacher is now deliberately deprived of adequate official guidance and instruction, although the present generation of young people stands in far greater peril, and needs, not less, but more alcohol education. This reactionary procedure should be reversed. That is the very least you can do.I think in the present circumstances I should have your Lordships with me in regretting the Government attitude as disclosed by Mr. Winterton, and I beg most earnestly that what he has written should be given attention.
There is a widespread opinion that the Government are not sufficiently alert to the public menace represented by the drink traffic in its effect upon health, industrial efficiency, morals and crime, on all of which it makes a serious impact. To remedy this neglect a pamphlet has been prepared by the Temperance Group of the Two Houses of Parliament, entitled "Alcohol and Health Education". This is intended for the consideration of teachers and others concerned for the health, efficiency and welfare of youth and the nation. I dare not venture to quote at 932 any length from this valuable pamphlet, but on this subject of road accidents it is shown by Doctor N. I. Spriggs, a former police surgeon, that he had analysed all the fatal accidents on the roads in Leicestershire and Rutland occurring after 10 p.m. in 1953, and had reached the conclusion that at least half of them were due to drink in motor drivers, cyclists or pedestrians. That is some confirmation of what many believe—namely, that the recorded statistics do not fully disclose the extent of the responsibility of drink for the fatal and other accidents that take place on the roads.
I have concentrated almost entirely upon the drink problem in connection with road safety, though I realise that there are other causes of accidents, but I contend that the mishaps I have in mind are preventable with proper care, and that is why I wish the Government to take action by propaganda and by applying suitable deterrents where necessary. Some of the penalties are too light to be effective, and more should be done in the way of forbidding persons convicted of driving under the influence from having charge of a car. A second offence of this nature should result in a permanent ban. And there should be no trial by jury in motoring offences. A jury is not a suitable tribunal for such cases. The blood test is the most accurate way to ascertain whether a motorist has had regard to the fact that he was in charge of a car and must not impair his faculties by taking any drink within some hours of driving.
Generally speaking, it seems to me that drinking facilities are too easy of access, and one of the great menaces is the prevalence of clubs, which in the main are provided simply for the purpose of selling drink under conditions which are not under police supervision in the way which is applicable to normal public-houses. I think there is a great for the club position to be inquired into. But when I think of the harmful effects of drink over the whole range, I realise I am witnessing much more than mounting road accidents, which continue while the Chancellor of the Exchequer seeks to secure increased beer consumption by taking 2d. off each pint to "fortify the Revenue", as he describes it. I heartily support the Motion that we are discussing to-day.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT KILMUIR)
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive me for intervening. I have an inescapable engagement shortly, and I am not going to inflict a speech on your Lordships' House. But in view of what my noble friend Lord Elton said, and his reference to myself, and also what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has said, I want to assure them before I go that I will give my personal reconsideration to the problems raised in their speeches. Obviously, many other suggestions have been put forward which I should like to reflect on and discuss with my colleagues, but I thought it would be discourteous if I left without giving that assurance. I hope that my noble friends will take it in the spirit in which I give it.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, we have had so far a most interesting debate, but I think there are one or two matters which have been overstressed in the debate and we should keep them in perspective. The first thing that I should like to submit to your Lordships is this. In 1932 there were 2¼ million vehicles; there were 6,667 people killed. But in 1958, with just under 8 million vehicles, there were 5,970 people killed, a reduction of almost 1,000 against the figure for 1932.
I think there is another point that should be remembered. At the National Safety Congress of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents held in 1957 the President, in his presidential address, stated:We in Great Britain can be proud of the fact that ours is the only country in the world that has reduced road deaths over the last 25 years.That does not mean to say we can look with equanimity upon the figures we have before us—far from it. It should be, I think, the endeavour of every organisation, be it a motoring organisation, be it a political organisation or any other, to try to find out whether something more cannot be done in order to improve the state of affairs.
The noble Lord, Lord Mathers, gave us a long speech, as I understood it, about the influence of drink and that sort of thing. No one is going to defend driving when under the influence of 934 drink; we all condemn it. But again we must not get it out of perspective. I have with me an advance copy of the statistics for 1958 which deal with the matter. These are statistics compiled by the police, and they show that last year, 1958, there were 820 cases of drivers who were convicted of driving under the influence of drink; 117 cases of motor-cyclists; and 122 cases of pedal cyclists—the total number of cases of driving under the influence of drink being 1,059. Do not let us overemphasise the drink question. I hope, as has been suggested by so many speakers this afternoon, that it will always be treated with great seriousness; and if it be that the penalties should be increased, I hope they will be. I myself can never see any real excuse for driving under the influence of drink.
There is another point that I want to submit to your Lordships. We are now on the threshold of opening motorways in this country. As we all know, the London-Birmingham motorway is well under construction, and may be completed by the end of this year. I am very nervous indeed about these motorways. I am nervous because I have considerable experience of driving on roads up and down the length and breadth of this country, and I know the way in which all too many drivers drive. They do not look in their mirrors; and they have very little appreciation, if any,of The Code of the Motorway, which the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation has produced. Unless certain steps are taken, I am very nervous indeed that we may see some very bad accidents if conditions are anything like those in Germany and other countries which have motorways.
My submission to the Government would be this: that the chief constables of the areas through which the motorways pass should select the most experienced traffic "cops" that they have serving under them. These men should be given really fast machines—500 c.c. Nortons—which could catch anything likely to be found on the motorways; and they should be sent out to patrol, not necessarily with the idea of getting cases for prosecution, but, where they see a driver who is doing something very stupid, to stop him and advise him. I believe that a lot of good 935 could be done in that way. I quote again from the statistics from which I quoted just now. There were last year 2,857 fatal cases concerning drivers who failed to keep to the nearside or to their proper traffic lane. That is a rather serious matter, and I feel that there is a factor there which, in view of the higher speeds likely to be found on the motorways, may well result in very serious accidents.
Another point that I want to refer to is this: only a short time ago the Government made hire purchase available to people wanting to buy cars. The result has been an enormous increase in the car population of the roads of the country. The roads of the country are, as we know, inadequate in many respects. The present Government, more than any other, have made desperate efforts to improve them, and they are likely to achieve results in the not too distant future. However, I am afraid that there are certain areas of the country that no Government could possibly improve. I refer particularly, of course, to Devon, Cornwall, and counties like those. It seems to me that to take the brake off the car-owning population and to allow hire purchase for the purchase of cars has increased the road population at a most unfortunate time. I only hope that nothing untoward will result. But when we are discussing road accidents I do not think we ought to forget that particular fact. There is another thing that we should always remember when we discuss road accidents—I do not think we pay half enough attention to it. That is that we have in this country a higher traffic density than any country in the world. There are more cars to the mile in this country than in any other country in the world; and, therefore, the problem is really a very serious one.
The question of traffic courts has been mentioned. I should like to see traffic courts if it were a feasible proposition, but I gather from what fell from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, and from others who preceded me in the debate, that probably it is not possible to have them. But would it not be possible for road accidents to be investigated to a far better extent than they are now? What I mean is this: could not the Road Research Board be asked 936 to undertake an investigation of all serious road accidents? At any rate they could come in with the local authorities when an investigation is held; the local authorities could invite someone from the Road Research Board to take part in the investigation which presumably takes place periodically. If more were known about road accidents and what causes them I think it would be a great advantage. I have known of cases of rather serious accidents where very little has been known with regard to the antecedents. There is one other point in that connection. The lamentable death of Mr. Hawthorn has been mentioned by another speaker this afternoon. I think it was a great pity that that accident was not further investigated. It is quite possible that that accident was not at all due to speed, but may have been due to some other cause—some medical cause, perhaps.
§ 6.48 p.m.
My Lords, I think we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for having introduced this debate: I am sorry he is not still here. However, I must confess that while I do not for a moment wish to belittle the importance of the subject that he has raised. I was a little surprised when he started off by describing dangerous driving and carelessness on the road as "one of the gravest social evils of the day". Does he seriously put the carelessness of a driver, or perhaps the ignorance or lack of due attention of a driver, as a greater evil than the growing tendency of young people to attack with violence defenceless women and children? I know the results in numbers are certainly greater in the case of motoring offences, but quantity is not the only standard by which we judge these things. One is deliberate; the other is merely careless.
However, having said that, I repeat that I do not for a moment want to belittle the importance of this subject. In view of the figures before us, we certainly want to reduce our road casualties; but in view of the publicity which has been given them in the Press and in various other places, I think that possibly they have given a more exaggerated picture than is really deserved. When one thinks of the number of mechanically propelled vehicles on the road and of the 937 fact that the roads are in no way fitted to take that number, I do not think that the number of accidents is really so enormous. I should like to quote one or two figures from a Paper which was lent to me entitled Road Accidents and the Law. During the period from 1941 to 1955 fatal accidents caused by motor vehicles were 66,077. Road accidents which were not caused by motor vehicles were a mere 5,770, but other accidents which did not concern roads at all amounted to 174,082. So in view of the enormous traffic passing over the roads during every hour, I do not think that we can say that the situation is quite so serious as is sometimes painted. For the third time I would say that that does not in the least mean that I feel that strenuous measures have not to be taken.
But I am not altogether in agreement with those who have quoted speed as the chief source of danger. That is frequently said nowadays. As I have said before in your Lordships' House, speed in itself, or, shall I say, speed wisely used, is not necessarily a source of danger. To that I hold firmly. It is speed when unwisely used that is dangerous. Of course, only the well-trained motorist can know when it is wise to use speed and when it is not. That is one reason why I think it would be a good thing to have graded tests. When a motorist passes his preliminary test, he should be allowed to use a car of, say, up to 800 c.c., which would enable him to drive between 45 and 50 m.p.h. but not more; and not until he has held the licence for ten years without having committed any serious motoring offence should he be qualified to pass the second test, which I think should be on the lines of the present test held by the Institute of Advanced Motorists. I have the great honour of being a member of the Institute, and I am sorry that the noble Lord the Lord Chairman is no longer here because I should like to say that I owe an enormous debt to it. The mere passing of that test and the discussion of certain points has raised my own consciousness and alertness about my own driving 100 per cent., and I think it would have the same effect on those who passed an advanced test after ten years of driving.
It is generally held that there are two main methods for the prevention 938 of accidents: higher penalties and stricter enforcement of the law. As to higher penalties, I am in absolute agreement with those who hold that disqualification is the ideal one. I think that the man who has been convicted of knowingly driving carelessly should be disqualified for a longer or shorter period according to the seriousness of his offence. But I would point out that all motoring offences are not deliberate or even careless. Accidents are caused often merely by ignorance, by a slight lack of self-assurance on the part of the driver, by hesitation or a sudden change of mind. These are not what one could call criminal acts. As to exceeding the 30 m.p.h. limit, that subject has been discussed too often to need any further enlargement upon it. If the 30 m.p.h. limit is to be imposed it must be made just.
There is no doubt that motoring law as it exists to-day is in places very unjust to the motorist. I hesitate to say anything about our law since I am not a lawyer and many noble Lords are, and I still hold that our law is the finest in the world, but there is no doubt that it has a few injustices. I can quote one or two cases. For instance, a bus driver who was involved in an accident and was convicted of dangerous driving, though no damage was caused, was given three months' imprisonment anddisqualified for two years. A train driver who was convicted for driving with "sheer recklessness", as it was described, so that three were killed and forty injured, was given no penalty. In another case a motorist was fined £10 for careless driving although he was the only one concerned in the accident and nobody else was injured. The same man was assaulted and kicked in the face while held down by others, and the assailant was fined in the same court and on the same day £5. A fine of £10 for careless driving which hurt nobody except the motorist and £5 for assault—is that justice?
There is too wide an opinion to-day that the motorist is a criminally-minded man who is out only for himself and has no interest in anybody else. Most of us are motorists nowadays and as a nation we are not criminally-minded. We have a due consideration for others. And there is nothing mysterious in the steering wheel of a car which, when you sit 939 behind it, suddenly makes you a criminal person with homicidal tendencies. I would say that almost 90 per cent. of those who use the road drive with consideration for others. They may not drive extremely well; they may be slightly ignorant at times; but at least they have consideration for others. Therefore, I do not think the motorist is the terrible criminal he has been painted in so many articles which have given publicity to this point.
As I say, if the law is to be more strictly enforced it must be made just. In this country, when you see a law constantly disregarded you know that the only reason for it is that the law in itself is not worthy of respect, because, as I say, as a nation we are a law-abiding people. While the 30 m.p.h. limit in strictly built-up areas—and by that I do not mean open roads with lamp-posts at the side of them, but really built-up areas—is a good thing and has no doubt greatly reduced fatalities, I think it: should be made impossible for local councils to extend their lamp-posts for a mile, or even two miles, simply for the sake of making a speed limit. Built-up areas should be defined in some other way than merely by lamp-posts.
There are other injustices in the road law and other confusing things, too, which make it difficult for the motorist really to know what he is doing. A great many experiments have been made on new devices for safety. Take, for instance, the new double white line. In theory I suppose it sounds a very good idea. But I wonder whether your Lordships have ever travelled along a two-lane road, which most of our main roads are, with a double white line. When the sign comes which shows that it is possible for you to overtake, do you automatically assume that you can overtake? Of course not. You have still to look ahead, and if the road is clear, you can then overtake. I think that where the double white line would be far more important would be on three-lane roads, where the centre lane should be made for traffic going in one direction only. On two-lane roads I hold that it is absolutely useless; it does nothing except rather confuse those who are not quite sure what it means.
I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, speak so strongly about 940 this question of the diversity of signs. I remember that when I initiated a debate on that very subject I was not quite so sure that the noble Lord agreed with me, but I am glad to hear that he does. The number of signs that we have is bewildering; and, incidentally, many of them are not particularly conspicuous. I have just come back from four weeks' driving on the Continent, and I only wish we could adopt the Continental code, which is clear and understandable to everyone. That really covers everything I have to say. I feel, however, that the question of graded licences is one that is worth a good deal of thought. At the moment, the position is that the young learner, possibly of the age of only eighteen, who has just managed to scrape through his driving test—and a very elementary test it may have been—is at once qualified to drive a car that can travel at perhaps 120 m.p.h. He has not had the experience to do that sort of thing. Therefore I hold that he should not be qualified to drive a fast car until he has had some experience. I sincerely hope that all that noble Lords have said during this debate will be taken note of by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation and will result in something being done, because it is essential that something should be done.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ LORD SALTER
My Lords, I propose to confine myself to a few brief comments upon suggestions that have already been made in this debate. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Elton that the first obstacle to overcome is the failure of the public, and indeed, I think, Parliament, too, to understand and realise the significance of the actual figures. Perhaps their significance is better understood if they are thought of in terms of days rather than years: 16 people killed a day; 820 people injured a day. That means that every child now born has nearly an even chance of figuring in the road casualty lists in the course of a normal human span. This fact is not realised. I remember, for example, that over the Whitsuntide holidays I heard on the wireless: "A tragic aspect of this holiday period "—and they were dealing with at least two days—" is that 23 people have been killed"; that figure was actually less than the average 941 for two days. I notice the same complete fallacy in the great emphasis placed on holiday accidents in America, where also the statistics for the holiday period are usually very little above the average throughout the year.
Secondly, I think that, whether or not there are special traffic courts—and I will not pursue that argument in view of the great authority of some of those who have spoken against them—it is at least essential that the courts which do deal with motoring offences should look at them differently and with different objectives from ordinary criminal offences. The differences are great. In the first place, in dealing with a criminal offence a court naturally tries to make the punishment fit the crime and the degree of guilt; it trys to deter and to reform. It cannot eliminate the danger of the criminal repeating his action by isolating him from the community, except by the grave measure of long-term, or perhaps life, imprisonment. In all those respects motoring offences are different.
The noble Lord, Lord So[...]ers, said that the motorist who was guilty was not, after all, so guilty or such a criminal as, for example, teenage criminals. But from the point of view of the effect on the community and the risks to the ordinary citizen, the consequences of his bad or reckless driving are more serious than those from the more guilty criminals. I think we want, whether by new courts or by changing the traditions of the ordinary courts, to concentrate attention less on punishing and more on saving the future potential victim of motor accidents. In dealing with motoring offences you have an advantage that you have not in dealing with ordinary offences. It should not he regarded as a natural human right, similar to the natural right we all have to freedom, unless we forfeit it by a severe criminal offence, to be able to drive a dangerous vehicle upon the Queen's highway. I agree with many noble Lords who have said this afternoon that the measure of disqualification, not primarily as a penalty, but as a method of saving the future victim, is not utilised to anything like the extent that it should be.
§ LORD SOMERS
I hope the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting him. Would he agree with me that not by any means all accidents, or perhaps 942 even the major part of them, are due to the motorists' bad driving? Many of them are due to pedestrians' foolishness in stepping off the kerb.
§ LORD SALTER
Of course. But I am thinking of the mass of motor car collisions throughout the country. It is of the greatest importance that people who have shown by their record (and, if possible, I would say by detection beforehand, by improved tests before driving licences are given) that they quite clearly represent an altogether exceptional risk, should not be allowed to drive cars on the Queen's highway.
Looking at it from the point of view of dealing with a criminal offence, a court is naturally reluctant to impose what may be regarded as a severe penalty upon somebody who is perhaps innocent, in the ordinary sense, altogether. He may be naturally so constituted as to be slow in his reactions and to be incapable of keeping his head in a crisis. But if you think of the future victims, it is of the greatest importance that what I will call accident-prone drivers—who I believe are not a very big fraction of drivers, as a fraction, but are responsible for a considerable fraction of the total serious accidents on the roadway—should be denied the right, not as a penalty, but as a measure of safeguard for the ordinary citizen, to drive vehicles on the highway.
The reason why the courts are reluctant is partly because of their traditions in dealing with ordinary criminal offences, and partly because they feel it is hard luck to deprive a man, it may be, of his job. I believe that only a comparatively small number of people who would be disqualified are people professionally engaged in their job. But even so, if you measure the loss of a job which, after all, can be replaced, and still more if you measure your proposed action against the deprivation of a source of pleasure and convenience which nobody enjoyed 100 years ago, against the great extra risk to the citizen on the roads, I think the balance would be struck very differently from what it now is. All of us are much less inclined to act because of a statistical abstraction or prospect than in consideration of the actual human being we see before us. But in any great matter you have to administer on the basis of statistical 943 prospects, as any great insurance company, for example, has to. I suggest that this change in attitude towards dealing with motoring offences, and the much greater use of disqualification, would do more than anything else to reduce this really terrible rate of accidents that we observe at present.
I should like to make one concluding remark, on a proposal made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, who suggested that up to a certain amount there should be no insurance of the driver and that he should be liable directly himself. I agree that if that could be done it would have a salutary psychological effect upon many, or perhaps most, drivers. I believe there are precedents for it in Continental countries. If the measure were adopted I should like to suggest this slight variation: that it should be prescribed that up to either a prescribed percentage of the damage, or up to a prescribed maximum of amount, whichever was less, the driver should be uninsured and should have to find the money—even, if necessary, by selling his car to meet a part of the damage he has been found to have caused by careless or incompetent driving.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ LORD WISE
My Lords, during the course of the arguments which have been raised in this House this afternoon the Press has been mentioned, and I hope that the importance of the debate will find full publication in the Press. Many speeches have been made in this debate which must be of interest outside this House, and the matter is of such a serious and important nature that I hope the Press will give it full coverage.
We are all involved in trying to find a solution. This is not only a Government matter. Every adult citizen has an obligation to his neighbour—and we are all neighbours, one of another—to exercise all means within his power to safeguard the lives of all road users, including his own. His own tragedy may involve others. His own life is at stake, as well as the lives of others. A proper realisation of this fact among drivers and users of the road may bring about a curtailment of accidents. Road casualties have become the yardstick 944 with which we now measure the risks in other walks of life. We are told that the hazards of the sea, air, rail and racing of all descriptions are incomparable with the lurking dangers of road travel. Only death by enemy action, if such is ever allowed to happen, can exceed the appalling rate of death on the roads.
The problem which faces us is no easy one, but it is one of our own making. This age of ours seems to be married to speed and an ever-increasing desire for speed in all kinds of travel. We are not now content, as we were a few years ago, to move along at a comparatively slow, steady and certainly more safe rate of progress. The desire for speed seems to be in the bones of so many people. As a result, the bones of so many innocent people are broken and lives are sacrificed. For it often happens that the man responsible for an incident or an accident on the road is not himself the victim of his own error of judgment, miscalculation, wanton foolhardiness or whatever else may be the cause. We must apply our minds to the search for remedies, however small they may seem at the time; and if any suggestion of ours which comes into operation saves even one life in the near or distant future, we can be happy in the knowledge that we have taken a small part in trying to establish more efficient methods of safety on our roads.
Many suggestions have been made to-day, some of a legal nature and others. I want to confine my few remarks to rural motoring. The Government have many opportunities to excel in improving safety road methods. I hope that I can visualise in the very near future the spending of more money on the improvement and widening of many rural main and secondary roads. I noticed a few days ago that the Minister was very enthusiastic upon the new Midlands motorway and he stressed the point that there might be an earlier completion of that particular scheme than was envisaged at the beginning. He suggested that if that happened more money would be available. I personally, and I think those of us who live in country districts, do not want the Minister to acquire a complex for great road schemes, to the disadvantage of the requirements of country areas. We experience the same heavy traffic. 945 It has to come—not in such numbers—but it has to come to deliver goods and receive goods in our towns and cities and villages. My noble friend, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, spoke of the future number of vehicles which may be, within ten years, upon our roads. The roads in rural areas are already out of date so far as modern traffic is concerned. If the present policy of limiting comparatively the allocation of money for county and district requirements is not amended, our rural roads will become even more dangerous than they are at the moment, and more out of date.
I want to give one or two personal instances which may be of interest and which I want to bring into what I have to say. Only this morning, when I left home, the workmen of the county highway authority had started widening a road bounded on both sides by my own land. I have already given the necessary land to improve an awkward bend on this particular road, but when I suggested I should give the authority more land I was met with the reply that money was limited and that they could not at the moment deal with a greater widening scheme. This small scheme certainly makes for some improvement in the road, but it is a piecemeal scheme and will not be completed, because of lack of money to the local authority. A few days ago the question of a by-pass for King's Lynn was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Albemarle, and we were then told that this scheme could not be brought into operation for a certain period. In fact, there was no money available for it, and it had to take its place in position with other schemes. By reason of the fact, partly, of the closing of a local railway, the need for this scheme has become more urgent. There is already great congestion on certain roads in this particular area, and as time goes on the congestion will become greater. Congestion sometimes brings about accidents. The drivers of cars or vehicles who find themselves in a long, long queue of several miles become restless and are subject to lack of concentration; and that, naturally, is not only detrimental to themselves but may be detrimental to other road users.
The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, mentioned, I think, in his speech that the number of deaths among pedestrians on 946 the roads, although amounting to several thousands, was lower than that of other users. I want to say how much I hope that some means will be found to impress, certainly upon country road walkers, the necessity of walking to meet the traffic. I find that so many pedestrians walk with the traffic, and at night that is particularly dangerous. They cannot be seen. I know from information that many deaths which need not have occurred have been caused by people walking with the traffic and not being seen by the mortorists. Another thing which has caused many deaths is stepping from behind stationary vehicles. Those are matters which I think should be publicised, and people should know that it is safer to walk to meet the traffic than to walk with the traffic.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, also spoke of the education of children. It is within my experience that nearly forty years ago, in an education committee of which I was a member, I recommended that the schoolchildren in that area should be educated in road sense. I was told by the chairman of the committee at that time that it was not a matter for the education committee; it was a matter for their parents. I am extremely glad that to-day the education of children in road sense is becoming more and more real throughout the country. There is one point I would mention with regard to children on the road, and that is in regard to the youngsters who cycle to and from school. The traffic is becoming greater, and so the risk to these children is also becoming greater. The children seem to me to have the habit of turning round when they hear a car or a vehicle coming behind them. They invariably turn to the right into the road, and in turning they pull their front wheel round with their hand. It may be that no deaths have occurred from that particular trouble but it is a serious matter which I think should be brought to the attention of children in the schools.
In regard to motor-cycles and pillion riding, it appears to me that many deaths which occur are not so much of the motor-cyclist himself but of his pillion passenger. I suggest that we might be able, by the co-operation of the Government and the manufacturers of motor-cycles, to devise some sort of 947 safety method to ensure greater safety for the pillion passengers. At the moment it seems to me that if an accident happens to the motor-cycle the girl or the boy who sits on the seat behind is invariably thrown off. Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to devise some cage arrangement, or some other means that would ensure the greater safety of the rider on the pillion seat.
Another point is that many accidents appear to be the result of head-on collisions—some of them not understandable. Whenever a head-on collision occurs, or whenever one sees a photograph of such a collision, the vehicle concerned is invariably badly smashed in the front. Therefore, I would suggest to our manufacturers that it might be possible to devise some greater strength for the front of a car, so that greater protection is given to those riding in it. Whether one could find the necessary material, I do not know; but if some greater strength could be brought into the front half of the body of the car it might be possible to save the lives of quite a number of people.
My Lords, I want to close by expressing the hope that there will be the greatest co-operation between the Government, the manufacturers of road vehicles, the users of all cars, lorries and heavy vehicles, and ordinary road users, whether they be pedestrians, motorcyclists, or cyclists, in trying to assist in bringing about a serious limitation of the number of deaths which occur on our roads.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, my excuse for intervening in this debate at this hour is that for more than a quarter of a century I have made some study of this subject and have always been most anxious to promote road safety. It is almost exactly a quarter of a century ago that I made my first impact on the Statute Book in this connection, and I did it in collaboration with my noble friend Lord Elton, who initiated this debate. I was not then a Member of Parliament at all, but I drafted an Amendment to what afterwards became the Road Traffic Act, 1934. After defeat in the House of Commons, I gave it to my noble friend Lord Elton, who carried it in this House against the Government 948 of the day. That Amendment has been used to promote road safety. It is Section 8 of the Act of 1934, and it has now been strengthened and amended by Section 7 of the Act of 1956. The effect was to make it illegal to sell a motor vehicle for use on the road in such a condition that its use on the road would be illegal. It is also, in eleven days' time, exactly twenty-one years since, being then a Member of another place, I came, by the consent of the House of Commons, to give evidence on a matter of road safety that greatly interested me before a Select Committee of your Lordships' House then sitting under the chairmanship of Lord Alness.
To-day, I do not wish to quote any statistics or to put forward any reasoning except from my practical experiences as a motorist. Every example that I shall quote will, I believe, be familiar to every noble Lord in this House who drives a car. I have driven a car for some thirty-six years and, I suppose, for something over 200,000 miles. I expect I have had some luck, because my licence has always remained without endorsement. But let me cite two things that I experience every time I travel from London into the country or return—an experience on the road which I believe will be shared by every motorist. I am now speaking of an ordinary road where there is no segregated traffic—an ordinary road such as is known to all of us where the traffic is not going on dual carriage ways. Where such a road is curving so that you cannot see far ahead, how often have I been behind perhaps a lorry, a slow-moving vehicle which I wish to pass, and know that I can pass as soon as it is safe to do so but that it is not safe to do so until I can see the road ahead beyond that lorry, to make certain that there is nothing coming in the opposite direction. What happens? I am going slowly behind that lorry, waiting for a safe occasion to pass, and immediately I am passed by a lot of vehicles from behind, all taking a recklessly dangerous chance, and some of them narrowly escaping an accident.
Another universal experience is this. Travelling on the same sort of road, with a continuous stream of traffic coming towards me, I have frequently had to save the life of a reckless lunatic who has 949 come out of that stream and endeavoured to pass those in front of him, driving at full speed on the wrong side of the road. If, relying on the fact that I was going at a reasonable speed on my proper side of the road, I had continued at that speed, he would have been killed; and probably I should have been killed as well. Certainly he would have been involved in an accident.
It is quite idle to say that these reckless, selfish and dangerous drivers are not the causes of a considerable number of accidents on the roads. As was said, I think, by, among others, my noble friend Lord Selkirk—with so much of whose speech I find myself in agreement—of course such motorists are in the minority, but they are the minority who cause the greater part of the accidents.
§ LORD CONESFORD
Well, I think they do. The type of motorist who does that is dangerous the whole time. However that may be, undoubtedly he causes a great number of accidents. He certainly causes the accident described by the noble Lord who last spoke, arising from a head-on collision. A head-on collision does not occur without some negligence. Whatever else we do by way of reforming the law, the one thing that is quite obvious is that people who indulge in this reckless, selfish and dangerous practice should be removed from the roads. Whatever else one thinks about it, that must be obvious and indisputable. How do we discover them? It may be very difficult to discover all of them, but we discover some of them because they are convicted of reckless and dangerous driving; and that is quite an important offence, and they are an important class.
I would suggest, in all seriousness, that a conviction for reckless and dangerous driving should carry with it automatic disqualification. I do not think there is any real objection to that on the ground that it is a minimum penalty—at least I do not think it has the usual objection. On the subject of minimum penalties in general, I found myself in much agreement with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr. I suggest that a conviction for reckless and dangerous driving should carry automatic 950 disqualification. If, however, Her Majesty's Government see great objection to that, I hope that they will most seriously consider the second of the proposals made by my noble and learned friend Lord Goddard—in fact, I am certain they will, having regard to the source from which that advice came—that is, the possibility of giving a right of appeal to the prosecution against the inadequacy of the sentence in the magistrates' court.
I wish to say very little more, but in passing I should like to express my delight, which I know the whole House shared, at the most entertaining as well as wise speech of my noble friend Lord Mancroft. I may say that he was able from the Back Benches to convey considerably more sense than he was allowed to do from the Front Bench at the time he was answering an earlier debate, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord So[...]ers. The noble Lord talked to-day very sensibly about the removal of the clutter of signs. When I made the same point in an earlier speech, to which it was his duty to reply, he gave a brilliant and witty explanation of the need for the clutter.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, it may have been placed differently, but it was the same clutter. Nevertheless, everything the noble Lord said to-day gave us the greatest delight.
My noble friend Lord Selkirk spoke with a respect for rough police statistics of the causes of accidents which I am afraid I hardly feel. He talked about the accidents caused by pedestrians. It is a little difficult to see how constables can be quite so confident that accidents are caused by pedestrians when they do not see those accidents. In the old days the statistics said that such accidents were caused by people who were "apparently heedless of the traffic." In more recent years the word "apparently" has been dropped, and the expression now used is simply "heedless of traffic" which was the expression quoted by my noble friend the Minister in speaking earlier in this debate. I should like to remind the House that the vast majority of these "reckless" pedestrians were over 50 years of age; so, just as the noble Lord, Lord Winster, explained how dangerous 951 a motorist could be when he became old, in the opinion of the police, apparently, one becomes a very dangerous pedestrian when one passes the age of 50. It may be so, but I rather doubt it.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton is completely right, in my submission, and I believe in the view of the House, in thinking that the number of the dead and injured on the roads has reached a figure that is perfectly intolerable in a civilised community. It is not true that nothing can be done about it. I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Selkirk that there is no simple and single answer, but there are a number of things that can be done. The chief of them—and here I believe that there is virtually unanimity in this House this evening—is a great extension of the use of disqualification. Disqualification would be justified in the case of these dangerous motorists, quite apart from the question of penalty; but it is also the most valuable of all deterrents. It is the penalty that is really feared.
Every word said by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, this afternoon about the effectiveness of that deterrent will be borne out, I believe, by anybody who has had any experience of the courts. It is the most effective deterrent. It is also the most useful step, quite apart from any question of punishment. Whatever else arises from this debate, I hope that, by some means or other, disqualification will be used in many more cases of careless driving and in all cases of dangerous and reckless driving.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, may I make just one point? I believe the reason we did not make disqualification automatic in 1956 was that we thought that if we did so magistrates would be more reluctant to convict of dangerous or reckless driving.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I believe that probably was the reason, and I think that at that time I may have supported the Government of the day in that view, but I think that, in the light of experience, we should either reconsider the matter or adopt the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ LORD UVEDALE OF NORTH END
My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships for many minutes because many of the points that I was going to bring up have already been adequately dealt with, but in the first place I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in that he has brought forward this Motion, and on the very clear and eloquent way in which he put his case. A little while ago I was talking to a Member of another place and he told me that he had a solution to this problem of injuries on the road. When I asked him what it was, he said, "Bring traffic to a standstill". That, of course, would be an effective solution but I am afraid an impossible one. But the noble Lord, Lord Elton, pointed out that if all traffic were brought down to a speed of 5 m.p.h. we should get a vast reduction in these accidents.
Most people who have studied these matters would agree that the main cause of these accidents is speeding. The motorist usually travels at about 40 m.p.h. That means that he covers 19½yards in 1 second; and if any individual sees a car approaching him at this speed 20 yards away he has only one second in which to save himself. In other words, he cannot possibly save himself in those circumstances. If he needs ten seconds in which to get out of the way it means that he has to start moving when the car is 200 yards away. These accidents occur not only on the roads but also on the footpaths, and a man quietly walking along the footpath may suddenly find that he is in acute danger from a motor vehicle that has mounted the pavement. Your Lordships have already been given the number of accidents. You have learnt this afternoon that accidents are much more frequent among men than among women, and much more frequent among adults than among children. The actual injuries that occur from these serious accidents are concussion and laceration of the brain, contusions and laceration of the viscera, surface wounds and severe general shock. Accidents are brought about by faulty driving and jay-walking, by defective cars and by dangerous roads.
On faulty driving, I find that practically all Englishmen feel that they are quite capable of driving a motor car, but a good proportion of Englishmen are 953 accident prone and it is the man with the licence but who is really unfit to hold that licence who meets with serious accidents. A man may be temperamentally unfit to hold a licence. Eccentric, impulsive people are unfit to have a driving licence; people maladjusted to their environment are unfit to have a motor licence; mild psychopaths are unfit to have a motor licence; individuals suffering from emotional states or fatigue are unfit to drive; people with a naturally slow reaction time are, again, unfit to have a motor licence. A man driving a car may have a defect that is serious in that position. His vision may be defective; he may be colour blind; he may be suffering from night blindness; his hearing may be defective; he may be suffering from Wénière's disease of the ears, which entails sudden attacks of giddiness. He may be driving a motor car when suffering from a rise in temperature. There are many men with partial paralysis who are driving motor cars; there are men with loss of limbs, and men suffering from diabetes, who are driving motor cars. There are men suffering from alcoholism, and drug addicts, who drive motor cars; there are men suffering from heart disease and hypertension who drive motor cars and there are also men suffering from convulsive attacks and neurasthenia who are at the wheel.
Now if your Lordships come to ask yourselves how it is that these accidents occur, there is one answer. An accident occurs because the gentleman who was at fault was an eccentric, impulsive person; he was maladjusted to his environment; he could be regarded as a mild psychopath, or he was at the time suffering from emotional strain or fatigue and his reactions were not true. Another gentleman is suffering from defective vision, from loss of hearing, from attacks of giddiness, from partial paralysis, from loss of limbs, from diabetes, from alcoholism or drug habits, from heart disease, hypertension, convulsive attacks or neurasthenia. That is the explanation of many of the accidents that are occurring to-day on the road.
But how can they be avoided? I venture to think that as these are medical matters we must bring in the medical profession. I think we require a change of attitude to this problem. A motor licence is not a thing that any man is 954 entitled to; to hold one is a privilege. We may by increasing penalties and so forth reduce accidents to some extent, but I think we want to go further than that and make up our minds that, whatever the cost, we are going to reduce these accidents to a large extent. My suggestion is this. I think that motorists who have a licence should be tested, some of them every two years, some of them every five years. Any of those motorists who shows a defect when he is tested should be sent to some medical man for a medical report before any further licence is granted.
Another cause of accidents is the car. It may be that there are alterations in cars that would be useful in preventing accidents. They should have a good buffer. The dashboard should be padded. The steering column should be made so that it will yield to a sudden blow. Many accidents are caused by the driver being thrown violently against his steering wheel. The rear mirror, or mirrors, should be arranged so as to give a good view of the road behind, and the car should be constructed so that it will roll over without disintegrating. It is found that where people are ejected from a car in a motor accident, if they are actually thrown out of the car, the mortality rate is about five times that for those who remain inside the car. These are just brief suggestions with regard to the construction of cars, which the noble Lords who sit in front of me will note.
Then, of course, there is the question of roads. We want improvements to the roads, and one improvement, I think, is the raising of the footpath. Raise the footpath, fence the road, then no man can step from the footpath into the road without being conscious of his action. I have spent a good deal of my life in attending to motor accidents; and when I have not been actually engaged in that process I have frequently been in the courts, and I have seen so much of the terrible effects of motor crashes, and of the misery and suffering they have caused, that I do feel that, however drastic may be the steps that are necessary, they should be taken in order to reduce these tragedies.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
My Lords, at this late hour I shall not presume on the indulgence of the House 955 to keep your Lordships long, particularly in view of the fact that we are all looking forward to hearing from the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, who has made a recent study of the subject under discussion.
We have heard several noble Lords complain, probably quite rightly, of the enormous ignorance about the high rate of casualties in this country: but I think equal ignorance has been shown about the actual statistics. It has been said by some noble Lords, and I think it is worth repeating, that in fact the so-called appalling high rate of traffic accidents has not changed one iota in the last 30 years. In 1929, with only 2 million vehicles on the road, there were more deaths on the road than there were last year. In fact, if I may go back a little further (because so many times the motorist is blamed for accidents on the road) just over 50 years ago there were 200 deaths in London alone from horse-drawn traffic. It makes one think.
In this country we have the most congested roads in the world, and yet somehow, in spite of that, in the last 30 years the rate of accidents per vehicle has gone down by over a quarter. In other words, if you had presumed in 1929 with over 6,000 deaths on the road, that the number of deaths would rise in proportion to the number of vehicles on the road, you could have said that when there were 8 million vehicles, as there are now, we should have 28,000 deaths. We can, I think, count ourselves fortunate that, for one reason or another, the rise in the rate of accidents has not gone on as it might have been expected to do. This is due to many reasons, and one of them is the excellent work that has now started on the roads.
Another reason, one which I think ought to be mentioned, is the ever-increasing mechanical efficiency of vehicles on the roads. The death of Mike Hawthorn has been mentioned to-night. Nobody can explain how that accident happened; but I think it should be said that one of the greatest improvements in the mechanical efficiency of a car has been the introduction of the disc brake, which in a few years' time will have an enormous effect on safety on the roads. Mike Hawthorn risked his life many times over in the early stages of the 956 development of this brake in order to perfect it, and I think it ought to be said to-night, to his credit, that, although he lost his life on the road, he had risked it many times before in the improvement of this great brake.
It is up to every motorist to take a constructive attitude towards the problem of the roads to-day; and, therefore, very shortly, I should like to mention one or two things which have not been mentioned so far. I am of the opinion—and many people agree with me—that one of the greatest causes of accidents on the roads to-day could be cured without spending any money at all—simply by forbidding the parking of cars on main roads. It has been done in America; and it has been done in France. It is extraordinary that the Minister of Transport, who has, very rightly, banned any stopping on the Preston motorway, cannot ban similar stopping on all the main, by-pass double carriageways in the country. One of the worst things any motorist can do is to stop on a main road. As I say, this is something which would cost no money to put into effect.
It seems a great pity that such an amount of money has been spent making high kerbs on the sides of roads. I think this is a most dangerous thing—though the last speaker suggested that an even higher kerb should be built. While in a way it is a good idea, there must be a part of the land between the footpath and the road where vehicles can quickly get off if they are stopped. There is another step which could be taken and which would cost no money. There should be no place in this country where two roads cross and where traffic on one road does not have the right of way. It does not matter where it is; it does not matter how they are placed; traffic on one road or the other should have the right of way. By simply painting a large white line on one road or the other, one could be given the right of way. There should never be any cross roads in this country where both have equal right of way.
I should like to support the idea put forward by my noble friend Lord So[...]ers as to a graduated scheme in the driving of vehicles. The Association of Cycle and Motor Cycle Manufacturers put out a very good suggestion last year. 957 That was that one should start with driving a Moped before coming on to more powerful motor-cycles. I should like Her Majesty's Government to give more thought to this matter. It does seem ridiculous that, at the age of 16, a boy can get on a 500 c.c. motor-cycle and roar away at 100 miles an hour. Why not make him drive Mopeds and smaller cubic-capacity machines before he can get on to bigger ones? The same thing may apply to cars, although I think that ten years is too long a time. After all, we should still have Stirling Moss driving a Morris Minor if that were the case. But I do suggest that there should be something along those lines, or on the lines of the tests by the Institute of Advanced Motorists.
I should also like to see it made compulsory that any car capable of over 80 miles an hour should be fitted with safety straps. We all fly in aeroplanes nowadays, and we all have compulsory safety straps. A Member of your Lordships' House, the Duke of Richmond, and his wife, both had their lives saved by safety straps. I myself use them, and I think everybody who drives a fast car should be made to use them, in the same way as crash helmets should be compulsory for motor cyclists.
I will not keep your Lordships any longer, but the basic fact is that for the last fifty years we have neglected our roads, and we are now paying the price in lives. This matter cannot be put right at once, but it is not an insoluble problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton. said, the improvement of the roads is an absolute priority, and until that is done there cannot be a further reduction in the number of deaths. Any reasonable motorist will accept such things as extra penalties; but the fact is that, though we were heroes at the time of the bus strike, the moment that was over the motorist again became a pseudo-criminal. I make one last suggestion. This problem of roads is such a big one that has not the time come for a separate Minister of Roads? This has been suggested time and time again. The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation deals with aircraft, canals, and railways. Can he really be a superhuman being, big enough to deal with a problem which, after all, concerns the main way by which all transport in this country travels—by road?
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER
My Lords, I should like to join in the chorus of congratulations to the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for having raised this very important subject this afternoon, particularly as this afternoon's debate will, I am sure, have done much to create a fresh public attitude on this important question. I am going to argue that what is needed more than anything else is a change in public attitude—more even, as I shall argue presently, than a change in the severity of the penalties.
If we were to put 6,000 persons together in some place and they were to lose their lives all at once on a single occasion—say, by an explosion—the public would be horrified; and I think we should be still more horrified if there were regular explosions each year in some part of this country, each one of which was responsible for deaths on that scale. It is indeed encouraging to learn, as the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, has pointed out, that this disastrous process has not kept pace with the use of lethal weapons on the roads. But, after all, the repeated death of so many thousands of persons year by year is no small thing, and there cannot be any Member of this House who does not know intimately somebody who has suffered a loss by a road death.
I think that the first thing that we have to do is to recognise that serious motoring offences—which are, after all, dealt with in the criminal courts—are crimes. It is very unfortunate that we maintain that there are crimes on the one hand and motoring offences on the other. Even the smaller motoring offences are technically crimes. That attitude, however, has still to be created. And that is why I am particularly glad of this debate because I think that it will help to change the present view. It is an attitude which is still to be created even in quite important places. It is very much to be deplored when we read—I quote what I hope is a reputable authority, namely, the Daily Express for September 18, 1957, although it might have been reported in other papers of a different standard, perhaps candidates for nationalisation, as we hear from another place—that the wife of a former Minister of the Crown was fined for aiding and abetting her young son of 959 fifteen in driving a motor vehicle upon the roads.
Surely it is also very much to be regretted when we read in the Press—I quote the Evening Standard, another authority of like standing—that the chairman of a bench of magistrates, when dealing with offences against the speed limit which were detected by speed traps and stop watches, said:The police have had a good name and always have had, but this will help them to lose it. Three men, newspapers, stop-watches, plain clothes. I don't like it. I wonder the motorists who have written to us apologising can contain themselves in such polite language.Again, there was the report of an ex-headmaster, who should be a responsible person but who, after being convicted of violating the speed limit complained that he had been trapped by the police "in an un-British and unsportsmanlike manner."
Finally, I very much regret that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, is not here this evening, as I mentioned to him that I wanted to refer with regret to a passage in his book The Road to Justice, where he lays great emphasis, on which we should agree, on the fact that Her Majesty's Judges should have unblemished records, and specifically excludes in this passageadministrative offences like exceeding the speed limit".Most of us recall cases where the reputation of responsible people has been completely ruined by some single conviction, either under the Sexual Offences Act or for some minor act of dishonesty, and to me it is very surprising that responsible and public men have run up not one, but more than one, conviction for offences which are a grave threat to public safety, and this has not the least reaction upon their public reputation. One is tempted sometimes to think that this is a case—I quote the well known poem, in which we are told of those whoCompound the sins they are inclined to By damning those they have no mind to.I should like to refer to a few of the facts—I think that they have been extensively quoted. I regret that I could not hear the whole of the debate because I was obliged to be in court dealing with, among others, this particular kind of offence. May I remind your Lordships 960 of one fact, which I think I have quoted in your Lordships' House before to-day? The number of motorists who are convicted of driving offences (by which I do not mean parking; I mean offences of actual driving), is now about four times as great as the number of adults who are convicted of breaking and entering. If we are going to think only of serious motoring offences—and I do not want to speak of trivial ones—I think we may pick out four: causing death by dangerous driving, which has for practical purposes replaced manslaughter; dangerous or reckless driving as distinct from careless driving; driving under the influence of drink or drugs, and failing to stop after an accident or to report an accident. If the convictions for these four serious offences in 1957 are totalled, they are more than twice as numerous as all the convictions for offences of violence against the person.
Reference has been made to the attitude of the courts. It can be shown that in many respects the penalties that are imposed for this grave threat to life and property are not commensurate with the dangers, but if your Lordships will spare me a few more minutes I want to say a little about that shortly. In the case of these serious offences, in 1957, in the higher courts, there were 217 cases of persons convicted of driving under the influence of drink or drugs, and of these 19 were sent to prison. There were 131 persons convicted of dangerous or reckless driving, and of these 10 were sent to prison. There were 133 persons convicted of the serious offence of causing death by dangerous driving, and of these approximately half were sent to prison and half were fined.
In the magistrates' courts, the proportion of motoring offenders who are sent to prison is much smaller still. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, pointed out, 3,000-odd offenders were found guilty in the magistrates' courts of driving under the influence of drink and of these 153 were sent to prison. Nearly 5,000 were found guilty of dangerous driving as distinct from careless driving, and of these 107 were sent to prison. The attitude of the courts to offences of dishonesty is, of course, entirely different. In the higher courts, 3,000 cases were convicted of offences 961 against property without violence, and over half were sent to prison; and of those convicted of offences against property with violence nearly 40 per cent. were sent to prison. It can be said that the penalties are inadequate. The number of disqualifications is extremely small; in the magistrates' courts, under 2,000 for dangerous driving, and under 2,000 in over 30,000 cases of careless driving.
I speak now as a magistrate. I think that there are some very real difficulties in the intensification of penalties, for which many speakers to-day pleaded. Motoring offences are particularly difficult to try. If [ may quote a famous dictum, nearly every motoring case is a case of two stationary vehicles, each on its own side of the road, each of which sounded the horn and which came into collision. They are notoriously difficult to try. In a high proportion of these cases it is not clear who is really responsible, if it is one, or who is mainly responsible if the responsibility is shared. Contrast this with the ordinary case of theft or breaking and entering. In a breaking case, it is clear that somebody has broken into a house, that certain things have been stolen and certain damage has been done. The only point at issue is to be sure that the person accused is the right man. It is very unlikely that there has been contributory action on the part of the owner of the house. It is a clear case in which one has to to try an offender for a perfectly well-defined offence, the extent and nature of which can be proved after the event. In motoring cases, it is not so.
Take the common case of "shooting the lights". In such a case, it is nearly always said that one party is gravely to blame, but it is frequently quite impossible to determine which of the two parties is really responsible for an accident which may have occurred or which of the two parties is to blame even in the absence of an accident, Hence, I think we have to explain the high proportion of acquittals not only by the reluctance of juries and benches to convict but by the very real difficulty of proof beyond reasonable doubt; and we often—and I speak from experience—have to explain the relatively low scale of penalties by the circumstance that, though one is convinced which 962 party is to blame, it is impossible to discover the degree and gravity of the offence, which could turn upon speed, the extent to which the accused departed from his right side of the road, and other things on which we cannot get precise and reliable evidence, even if we are lucky enough to get an independent witness.
For those reasons, I come back to the answer that the real clue to this problem lies not in the courts but with the public, and that it is a change of public attitude which alone can reduce these figures. For this reason, largely, even apart from the legal objection, I should very much deprecate the institution of special courts. Special courts for motorists foster the belief, which is already sufficiently widespread, that motoring offences are not really crimes and are, therefore, to be dealt with by some procedure other than that applied to offences of other character.
Again, we often hear complaints that the time of the police is wasted in chasing up motorists for illegal parking and other minor offences of that kind; and motorists are often indignant about this. But the answer is in their own hands. If they wish the time of the police to be spent on dealing with crimes of a more serious or different character, it is for them to refrain from breaking the law. Surely it is deplorable that in this House we should hear excuses made for law breaking. We may not agree with all the laws that Parliament has made, but if Parliament has imposed a speed limit, even if that speed limit is in places where we consider it is unnecessary, it is a breach of the law to exceed it. I come back, therefore, to the change in public attitude, but I should like, in conclusion, to put one further small suggestion: that is, that in some few places, since the public attitude is so difficult to change, we might perhaps use physical means to prevent some of the causes of accidents.
Let me cite the instance of a main road near to where I live which has a steep hill and many curves. If there is a slow-moving vehicle going up that hill motorists behind are tempted to pass on a blind curve, and they do pass on a blind curve; and in the three and a half years I have lived there many accidents have taken place, some of them fatal. 963 The notices in and at the side of the road become increasingly hysterical: "Dangerous Bends"; larger and larger arrows in the road; but nothing happens and the same scene is repeated. I drive practically every day, and I see this every time. In a place like that it is criminal to pass in any circumstances, whatever your vehicle, and a very small kerb in the middle of the road, or an elegant little row of fir trees, would make it completely and demonstrably impossible. The only reason I can see why we do not do this is that we consider the impatience of motorists of more value than the lives that they destroy.
§ 8.25 p.m.
THE EARL OF GOSFORD
My Lords, I should like to start by saying how much I enjoyed listening to the practical, sensible and unprejudiced speech which we have just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger. It certainly, in a way, cooled off a certain amount of—well, as I have used the word "unprejudiced", what I might call prejudiced speeches or remarks that have fallen from one or two noble Lords. I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me if at this late hour, in view of the fact that my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack and my noble friend Lord Selkirk have already spoken about much of what she mentioned. I do not comment on her speech. There are still many other points that have not been mentioned by either of the two Government speakers to fill up what time I propose to inflict on our Lordships, and I promise that I will make it as short as I can.
Like other noble Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth; and I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Winster (and he has asked me to apologise to your Lordships for his inability to be present) in saying how glad we are to see the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, back with us again. I am afraid that as a swordsman I am not of the calibre of my noble friend Lord Mancroft, but I will do my best on this occasion and on any future occasions on which we may have reason, if not to cross swords, at least to swop reminiscences or ideas.
964 My noble friend, Lord Selkirk, in a comprehensive speech, has put before your Lordships what, in the main, Her Majesty's Government are doing and thinking on this urgent and grave subject. In view of the fact that my noble friend has already quoted figures to your Lordships, and many statistics have been quoted back, I do not propose to refer to any other figures. The Government fully recognise the gravity of the road situation. There were one or two of your Lordships who, probably without meaning to, implied a little to the contrary. But, as your Lordships will have realised from the varying views and suggestions that have been made to-day, there is no facile answer to this problem. No amount of legislation by itself can solve it. Indeed, to the extent that full use is not at present being made of the penalties provided for in existing road Traffic Acts—and many of your Lordships have already spoken on this point—careful consideration would need to be given to the question of further legislation of a restrictive nature, since this, I think, would only defeat its object if the measure provided for did not command universal support.
The Government and the local authorities have taken, and are taking, certain steps to which I will come in a moment. But whatever steps are taken, by whatever authorities, I think there can be no dispute that road accidents arise primarily on account of some failure on the part of the road user, whether he be motorist, motor-cyclist, cyclist or pedestrian: the risk heedlessly taken; the momentary lack of concentration, and even failure to observe the simple rules in the Highway Code. These are the errors which seem to me to lead to accidents. I should like at this point to say how grateful I am to my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, who seemed to me in his speech to bring a real sense of proportion to the matter.
The Government are attacking this problem in two ways. One is by education and propaganda (I think that one or two of your Lordships rather despised this method, while others, I was happy to hear, seemed to think it would have, and has had, some effect), and the other is the designing or redesigning of roads to make them safer for those who use them. With your Lordships' permission 965 I will take education and propaganda first.
What we are trying to do, and what we must do, is to educate all road users, from the pedestrian to the motorist, that the use of the roads is perfectly safe, provided that everyone takes ordinary, normal care in what they do when on the road. What always surprises me is the different attitude which people take if they come to cross a railway line. If they have to do that, other than at an open level crosing gate, nobody dashes across without looking both ways, and probably listening hard. Psychologically they are frightened of the naked railway line. The road would seem to me to be potentially a greater danger, yet somehow or other it produces a sense of unreality, in that pedestrians walk off the sidewalk without looking, and drivers do things equally unpredictable. It is an extraordinary psychology. If only we could inject what I would call the railway-line crossing psychology into all road users, I am sure the accident rate would fall considerably.
Secondly, we are trying to educate all road users to be continuously assessing possible sources of danger as they drive along the roads. To do this, the Central Government are producing, and have produced, films, which are shown from time to time on the B.B.C. and on Independent Television networks—and I should like to take this opportunity of thanking those two organisations for their co-operation and generosity. The local authorities also receive support from central funds for the campaigns which they conduct in their own areas, and these are further assisted by the work of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents which, in turn, is supported from Central Government funds.
My noble friend Lord Moynihan—who I am sorry not to see in his seat—was not quite accurate in his remarks about the Institute of Advanced Motorists. He blamed the Government for not having thought of it first. But in fact the Institute of Advanced Motorists was first suggested by a former Minister of Transport, Mr. Boyd-Carpenter. The Ministry have always followed the affairs of the Institute closely. They have helped it to set up its tests, and a senior Ministry official sits on the Council of 966 the Institute. I mention that to get the record straight, and I hope your Lordships will forgive me.
As my noble friend Lord Selkirk has already foreshadowed, I should like to give your Lordships a short explanation of the "Be a Better Driver!" campaign, sponsored by the Minister. My right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation decided earlier in this year that there should be a special road safety campaign on the theme, "Be a Better Driver!" This campaign is operating from April to September of this year in two separate places. The first, from April to mid-July, will concentrate on telling the motorist how to be a more skilful and more considerate driver. This will be done both by the police and by propaganda, such as posters and rallies. The second phase will be from mid-July to September, during the school holidays, when the emphasis will be particularly on the care of children. We are hoping to achieve the same co-operation from motorists as produced the excellent results during the "Mind that Child!" campaign in 1956.
This new campaign was inaugurated by the Lord Mayor of London on April 20, when the lord mayors and mayors of over 200 towns, and the chairmen of nearly 20 county councils, heard speeches in support of the campaign made by various prominent people, including the Lord Mayor and my right honourable friend. On their return, these civic leaders have launched, or will launch, local campaigns in their own boroughs. This campaign has the full support of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, and is being organised by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. But the ultimate success, of course, must depend largely upon the efforts of more than 1,000 local authorities with active road safety committees throughout the country, and the co-operation of all road users.
I will not go into a list of the type of activities which are being organised, but if any of your Lordships is interested I will gladly give him details afterwards. It should be borne in mind that, side by side with this special effort which will be made during the spring and summer in this campaign, the current road safety activities of the 1,100 or so local safety committees continue. In addition, such 967 specialised schemes as the National Child Cyclist Proficiency Scheme and the R.A.C./A.C.U. scheme for training motor-cyclists are being pressed forward vigorously.
My Lords, I think the fact that this education and propaganda does get results, certainly where children are concerned, is shown by the fact that the number of children killed on the roads is half what it was 15 years ago. It is still a great deal too high, and no cause for complacency; but one cannot say that no results have been achieved. I might mention again here the recently launched National Child Cyclist Proficiency Scheme, which we hope will drastically reduce the number of accidents to child cyclists, whose accident rate is, I regret to say, all too high.
Now I come to the second leg in the Government's campaign, and that is road building and road modification. At this late hour, I will not weary your Lordships with the details of the road programme, with which many of your Lordships are already familiar. I think with every mile of double-track motorway that opens, the roads will become safer. But as my noble friend Lord Selkirk has already said, 75 per cent. of the road accidents take place in built-up areas. This, alas! is a problem of no easy solution. It is naturally possible to take certain immediate steps. They have, in fact, already been taken in some places—for instance, eliminating or redesigning dangerous intersections, widening bottlenecks and so on. But this, of course, is only patchwork.
The real solution to this problem is to design the flow of all forms of traffic in built-up areas, including pedestrian traffic, in such a way that a smooth, steady flow is produced. Before this design can be carried out people must be educated in a new science which has been called Traffic Engineering. I am not talking about the engineering of building roads, but traffic engineering, of designing in towns a traffic pattern which will iron out these bottlenecks and produce a steady flow of traffic, and which we hope will result in a considerable drop in the accidents, the bulk of which take place in urban districts.
A Chair for the study of this subject and for the training of people in Traffic 968 Engineering, as your Lordships already know, has been established at Birmingham University, by the kind generosity of many firms and many private individuals, and the people who are trained there will, I hope, be taken on by local councils and local authorities to study the problems in the towns and to think in the future not how to carry out improvements in those towns piecemeal but as part of a big plan, which my right honourable friend feels will have almost the biggest effect of anything in the way of easing the growing problem of motoring in urban districts, and to stop what might eventually end in stagnation.
There are one or two points that have been made by your Lordships. For instance, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned the subject of the limitation of engine power. I will not weary your Lordships with any details of this matter but there are many technical problems here. Although the idea in itself on the surface sounds feasible, when one looks into the technical details it is far from being so. If the noble Lord, Lord Elton, would like at some time or other to have a discussion with me, I will gladly try to "put him wise", as they say.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, mentioned the subject of a 40 m.p.h. speed limit in villages. I mention this only because I think many of your Lordships do not quite appreciate the fact that the present situation is that as the law stands the 40 m.p.h. limit is for London only. It will have to be on the result of the working of the scheme in the selected places where the 40 m.p.h. limit is in force that the Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee will suggest to the Minister that it be extended or otherwise. But Parliamentary approval and legislation will be required before it is extended outside the London area. I mention that just to put the record straight.
Other of your Lordships have mentioned speed as the main cause of accidents. One can, as we have already heard, use that argument in all sorts of ways, from almost the sublime to the ridiculous; but I feel that those of your Lordships who followed my noble friend Lord Selkirk cannot possibly have heard him aright when he read out the statistics. He said that the biggest 969 single cause of accidents is, in fact, the simple manœuvre of turning right without due care at crossroads. However, limitation of speed on the open road has already been dealt with, and I will not deal with it again. But I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that there are two forms of "road hog". I think that most people think of the "road hog" as a speed merchant, but in fact I believe that statistically the more dangerous animal, as the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said, is the "road hog" who hogs the centre of the road, will not let anybody pass and creeps along at 30 m.p.h.
THE EARL OF GOSFORD
The road tortoise. I hope that what I have said, even if not entirely satisfactory to your Lordships, has at least made your Lordships aware of what the Government and the local authorities are doing to reduce road accidents. This is not a problem confined to one country. In fact statistically the position in this country is better than in most. Your Lordships have made various suggestions, interesting suggestions most of them, and I promise you that they will be looked into to see whether any of them can be incorporated into the various schemes which are afoot at the moment. I am particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, for his two very interesting suggestions.
As I said at the beginning, however perfect or imperfect the facilities provided for road users are, it is still up to the individual road user to realise his responsibility in the use of the road and his responsibility to other road users. Selfishness and carelessness—not necessarily criminal intent—as the noble Lord, Lord So[...]ers, mentioned, are two things which I consider are the main causes of accidents. Until we have the co-operation of all classes of road users no schemes, however good, will or can possibly be effective. There must be the same feeling in the minds of all classes of road users as there is in the mind of that person crossing the open, naked railway line. Until this sense of possible danger is inculcated in each and every road user, and until, as the noble 970 Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, and others of your Lordships have said, the public conscience is really aroused, then whatever physical measures are taken by all authorities these accidents cannot but continue. But, my Lords, the Government will continue to do all that they can and will look into any suggestions made to try to reduce this toll.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, I shall take only a moment, first to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in what has been certainly an interesting, and I hope will prove also to have been a useful, debate. I should also like to thank the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor for the courteous way in which he left the Chamber, and for saying that he will at any rate consider carefully some of the observations made about the inadequacy of penalties; and also to thank the two noble Earls who replied for the Government and have both afflicted me with that acute depression with which Government replies on this subject always afflict me. Though I am left with a very genuine feeling that both noble Earls feel keenly on this subject, I must say that I am also left with the feeling that the Government do not treat this question as seriously as many of your Lordships who have spoken to-day would wish to see it treated.
Take what is really the minor question of the speed limit. When one points out that successive Ministers of Transport have said that it is a major contribution to the reduction of accidents; when one asks why, if that is so, it is not worth while enforcing it far more efficiently through plain-clothes police, and whether the Government will encourage that—as always when one asks such a question one receives no answer. Taking a step of that kind, encouraging the local authorities effectively to enforce the speed limit, is what I meant by "crossing the Rubicon", because it would have inconvenienced ourselves. We can go on building roads and getting out films while accident figures have been steadily rising, year after year, until we are blue in the face; but without inconveniencing ourselves. If we really enforced this speed limit, that would be inconveniencing you 971 and me. That is what I meant by crossing the Rubicon. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, spoke as if my phrase implied that I supposed there was one magic formula to cure these tragic evils. That is not so.
I cannot say that I am encouraged by the Government's reply. I agree with what many noble Lords have said: that what fundamentally we need most is a change in the attitude of the general public. I hope, and to some extent believe, that this debate will have done something towards helping the public to change its attitude to this terrible problem. I thank all noble Lords and the noble Baroness for taking part in this debate, and I ask whether I may have leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8:53 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, as I have already indicated, it is not my intention to move my Motion. May I just add my thanks to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, and to the noble Earls, Lord Selkirk and Lord Gosford, for their courtesy and their kindness. Whether or 972 not I agree with the content of their replies is one thing, but at least I am most grateful to them for the method with which they gave them to the House.