I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 2nd July, 1951, entitled the Pedestrian Crossings (General) Regulations, 1951 (S.I., 1951, No. 1192), a copy of which was laid before this House on 3rd July, be annulled.
There is another Regulation to the same effect and perhaps it would be convenient to the House, Mr. Speaker. if the two were taken together.
We do not consider that these Regulations involve matters of very grave dispute and there is not any disposition on this side of the House to offer strong or marked antagonism to them, or even to divide the House. The object of the debate is to lay out the case, so that the right hon. Gentleman himself should have the opportunity of explaining them to the House and the country, as he claimed when he indicated originally—last November, I believe—that these Regulations were to be laid.
We find on these benches that the Regulations are, in general, satisfactory. The broad effect of them is twofold. First of all, they take away the legal right of a pedestrian to complete the crossing of a road once he has begun it, on controlled crossings, those which are regulated either by the police or by traffic lights, but only where the traffic flow has turned against him.
The second broad effect is to give the pedestrian precedence at all uncontrolled crossings provided that the pedestrian has started his journey before any vehicle has itself come on to the crossing. A consequential effect of the introduction of these Regulations is that the Minister—I understand by administrative action—intends very drastically to reduce the number of uncontrolled crossings in the country, I believe by as much as two-thirds. I shall say something about that later.
On the change which is to be made at the controlled crossings, the right hon. Gentleman appears to have rejected the advice of his own Road Safety Committee in their Report of February, 1949. that a pedestrian who has started over a crossing should continue to have precedence over vehicles on that crossing. That is to say, what the Road Safety Committee evidently wanted to do was to preserve the status quo as originally enacted in the provisional Regulations made in October, 1934, which gave the pedestrian a right of way at such controlled crossings.
I uphold the Minister in the decision that he has come to, and it is, of course, fundamental to the new Regulations. Those of us who drive along the roads know how irritating, and indeed dangerous, it can be when one or more pedestrians already on a crossing when the lights are turned to green continue to complete that crossing; and it is not only the initial one or two on the road who might have a right—and the motorist may be prepared to let them go forward—but the string of people who follow on behind them, even including those already on the pavement thinking that they themselves are in the right in going past. Many of us have noticed what con- siderable traffic congestion ensues when the lights are turned to green and the vehicles have the right of way because of that. Therefore, we on this side of the House are glad that the Minister should have made that change.
The second recommendation of the Road Safety Committee would appear to be—using general language—that if a vehicle is turning right or left at an intersection a driver shall give precedence to a pedestrian on the crossing in the road into which he is turning. By these Regulations the right hon. Gentleman has clearly rejected that piece of advice, too, and here, I think, he is on somewhat less safe grounds. If a pedestrian has no legal right to cross when the light is green for him because a vehicle opposite him has already turned left across his path, when has a pedestrian the legal right to cross? I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman or, indeed, any court of law could possibly give the answer.
This afternoon I submitted a diagram of that situation to the right hon. Gentleman and forewarned him, and I hope he will be prepared to say a word upon that subject, because it is a most crucial and difficult situation and nobody can now say, as a result of these Regulations, precisely what the law is. The Pedestrians' Association, who are very much concerned with this matter, have given considerable weight to this in the representations that they have made against the new Regulations, and their views ought certainly to be taken into account.
I suppose that the only true answer to that complex situation is the increasing provision of an all-red period for traffic lights. Where there are no traffic lights and a policeman is concerned, care should be exercised by him to see that there should be a period when no traffic is crossing at the intersection in order that the pedestrians may make their diagonal journey across one road and then cross the other road at right angles to it.
I should like to know from the right hon. Gentleman what the policy is about the provision of more all-red equipment for traffic lights. I have heard from one source that owing to re-armament, curiously enough, and the requirements of the Services from those firms who are accustomed to make this equipment, it is not so easy to get at present as it was a year or two ago. To make the position as safe as it may be, and to secure that busy intersections are given the maximum provision of safety, it is important to lay on this extra piece of electrical equipment necessary for the provision of an all-red period.
In spite of that, one appreciates that it is almost impossible to provide by law for all stages of the dangerous relationships of drivers and pedestrians at these busy intersections. I can only point out that even as a result of these Regulations, which go far to improve the general position, the courts will be involved in a great number of conflicting judgments on this matter. Whether after some period has elapsed it will be possible to amend the Highway Code again in the sense of the majority of judgments in the courts, I do not know.
I can only express the hope that to give publicity to the general situation, and to bring something forward in public which will act as a deterrent both to drivers and to pedestrians, the right hon. Gentleman will say either that important cases in the courts arising from this conclusion should be well publicised or else that he is prepared to amend the Highway Code appropriately.
So much for the controlled crossings. The provisions as to the uncontrolled crossings appear to us to be quite satisfactory in general, but there are one or two points which arise out of them which I should like to raise. First, there is the lighting of beacons. As a driver and as a pedestrian I have never been impressed with the value of the Belisha beacon. I know the right hon. Gentleman has taken considered advice upon this matter, and that it goes to show that they should be retained.
But when I approach a crossing as a driver or look for a crossing place as a pedestrian, I invariably look for the studs in the road and the zebra markings. When there are so many lamp-posts and tramway and electric light posts and other obstructions on the pavement, as well as so many coloured advertisements on the shop fronts as there are at present, it is impossible easily to mark a Belisha beacon.
I do not see that they need be retained. If they are to be retained they ought to be lit. The real value of a Belisha beacon is at night or in fog as something which clearly marks out, both to the driver and to the pedestrian, where the new uncontrolled crossing is. From now on the uncontrolled crossing will be a rather dangerous place. It must be readily observed by all who use the road.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would be good enough to tell us something about the programme, if any, of lighting these Belisha beacons, and some estimate of the cost involved. I understand that the new uncontrolled crossings will be lighted from above as soon as possible. Therefore, it should not be very difficult or expensive to carry the wires a little further and put them in the beacons themselves.
Secondly, I should be grateful for a little elucidation about the value of this 45 feet no parking distance which the right hon. Gentleman has introduced for the first time. I am a little concerned that, especially in London and in busy cities, where there are a large number of uncontrolled crossings a fair amount of valuable space for parking will be neutralised as a result of this no parking distance.
What is the real reason for it? We have not been told. The right hon. Gentleman has made no statement and we cannot discern what it is from the Regulations. One has to guess. I suppose the reason is to give motorists a clear sight of any pedestrian who may have started to cross at a crossing. Of course, there is some value in that, but I should like to know whether, in the Minister's view, it thoroughly outweighs the disadvantages.
Another small matter is that of the new sign, mentioned in the Second Schedule, which is to be put down upon the roads. It appears to be wrongly placed. If the purpose of the sign is to prevent the drawing up and parking of vehicles, the sign ought to be on the roadway at all times and not upon the pavement. The Regulations provide that it must be put on the pavement always unless there is no pavement or unless the pavement is of some rough material which cannot easily be painted upon. I should have thought that clearly it ought to have been put on the road at all times.
My final question is about the administrative arrangement of which I spoke earlier. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman intends to reduce the number of crossings by two-thirds. I think that there are now 30,000 crossings in the country. That means that if the work is done quickly, by the time these Regulations come into force there will be only 10,000 of these uncontrolled crossings by the end of the year as against 7,000 controlled crossings.
I understand that some local authorities are rather apprehensive about the speed at which this is to be done. They wonder whether it would not be better to carry the matter forward in stages and to reduce by, say, one-third by the end of this year and then see where we get. If that proves a success then, next year, we could reduce by another one-third.
I should have thought that that was a reasonable idea. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us the details of his programme for reducing the number of uncontrolled crossings. The more the uncontrolled crossings are reduced, the more danger there is of jay walking. If people on the footpath want to cross the road to a house opposite, and the crossing is 100 yards away, they will have nothing to do with it. It is quite clear that they will cross the road as it is. I am afraid that, if the number is reduced, it will mean that the motorist, who will be trained to take account of the places of these crossings in the road and to slow down for them, may fail to notice that many pedestrians are crossing the road.
With these words, I think we can broadly accept the Regulations, and express our gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman for doing something to advance the interests of road safety in the country.
I beg to second the Motion.
This is one of those happy occasions on which a debate is taking place on nonparty lines. I think we can all welcome the Regulations, because hon. Members on all sides of the House will deplore the very heavy road casualties which are taking place at present, and, presumably, one of the purposes of these Regulations is to reduce the appalling number of casualties on the roads.
I think it was the right hon. Gentleman's Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Lucas, who recently, in an interview with the Press, drew attention to the fact that more than a million people had been killed or injured on our roads during the six years of peace. In the last issue of "Safety News," the journal of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, it was observed that, in the first four months of this year, the total deaths on the road were 1,489, which was an increase of 7 per cent. on 1950, and only 26 per cent. less than 1938, and that the total non-fatal accidents was 57,546 during the same period, which was an increase of 14 per cent. of last year, and only 10 per cent. less than pre-war.
The interesting point about these figures was that the figures of pedestrians killed and injured during those four months were 7,440 children, an increase of 409, and 10,738 adults, an increase of 1,386. All these facts and figures are well enough known to those persons who take an interest in road safety, but they are not sufficiently appreciated by the public, and, as the majority of the pedestrian casualties occurred in built-up areas, I think we should look at these pedestrian crossing regulations in relation to these casualties. In so far as they do assist in reducing them, on all sides of the House we will welcome the Regulations, and it is only in order to examine them and to see that they really are the best possible to be devised that we are having this debate tonight.
The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) has raised a number of points in connection with the Regulations, and I should like to mention just a few more. First, it would appear that these Regulations—I am referring both to the London ones and the general ones, which are identical—give a definite precedence to pedestrians on uncontrolled crossings, but they do not specifically state that a vehicle has precedence on a controlled crossing when the police or light signals are in their favour. They merely state that the precedence is the other way round on the uncontrolled one. I am wondering why that is so, and whether it may not lead to some misunderstanding.
The noble Lord referred to "jay walkers," an American term which we have adopted and which we all understand, but what happens with a jay walker if he starts off on a crossing and then takes a short cut, which happens so frequently on these crossings? What is the legal position in such a case? If the pedestrian starts off on the stripes and then goes off at an angle, presumably he is not observing the Regulations
I have one other point with regard to paragraph 7. The noble Lord the Member for Dorset has referred to the setting up of a closed area where there should be no parking. I am not sure what is the purpose of 7 (a) and (b). It states:
A vehicle shall not by Regulation 6 of these Regulations he prevented from stopping in any length of road on any side thereof, if the driver is prevented from proceeding by circumstances beyond his control or it is necessary for him to stop in order to avoid accident, or for so long as may he necessary—
That is an exception in favour of a vehicle which might enable a delivery van to be parked almost on a crossing and unloaded over a prolonged period in such a position that a pedestrian could get on to the crossing and come out blind from behind the vehicle.
That might be dangerous for motorists approaching the crossing and the person on it. On the other hand, we have to consider the amenities of the buildings alongside the road where the crossing is situated. I wonder how this provision will work. It seems to me to depend largely on timing. Most of the other points have already been referred to, and I would reiterate that we welcome the Regulations in so far as they will assist in preventing the high rate of casualties on the roads.
I only want to ask the Minister one or two questions. Hon. Members have said that these Regulations are designed in the interests of road safety. I wonder who they have in mind, because it seems to me these Regulations will make it much more difficult for pedestrians to keep alive. First of all, the number of controlled crossings is going to be reduced by two-thirds. On these crossings there is an element of safety for pedestrians, and that is to be seriously reduced. A pedestrian will have to walk a considerable distance to find a crossing and in many cases he will consider it too far to walk and will get across the road without a crossing.
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that if there are too many crossings, then they come to be disregarded by motorists and do not help, and that fewer crossings, better marked, may be safer?
That may be so, if there were too many, but there are only 30,000 throughout the whole country.
I wonder how the Minister has come to the conclusion that 30,000 are too many and why they are to be reduced to the number of 10,000. That, at least, seems to me to be far too small a number. Apparently, pedestrians have no right at all on other crossings. If a pedestrian gets half-way across, even if the vehicles on one side are considerate enough to stop, the vehicles on the other side may start forward, and he is going to be in the middle with no island or any other form of protection.
These Regulations are most wicked from the point of view of the pedestrian, and they ought to be looked at again, especially in the light of the alarming figures of casualties on the roads.
I have only just heard about the Regulations but, having listened to the speeches from the other side of the House and having heard hon. Members say that they are in the interests of road safety, I should like to know whether they mean that they are in the interests of the pedestrian and what rights are to be left to the pedestrian at all. Consider the intersections of two roads. The pedestrian, obviously, has the right to cross when the lights are in his favour. But if a vehicle is coming in from the left the pedestrian has no right at all; the vehicle has the right to proceed. Presumably, the pedestrian has to dodge back again or dash forward and give way to the motorist.
I am sorry that I do not understand this matter as well as I might, because I have not had a chance to read the Regulations, but I hope the Minister will explain to me how he thinks they will help the pedestrian from the point of view of his safety.
I am very glad of this opportunity, even at this late hour, to say a word or two on this question of pedestrian crossings. As my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) said, we are not opposing these Regulations but have merely put down the Prayer in order to raise this debate.
The reason I want to say a word or two on this subject is that I happened to be Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport just after the pedestrian crossings—the Belisha beacons, as they were called—were first installed, and that during the four years I was there I had the responsibility of trying to make the pedestrian crossing system work. I think it should be said in the House that Oliver Stanley, whose recent death we deplore, was the person who, as Minister of Transport, really got going with pedestrian crossings. Mr. Hore-Belisha who followed him had his name attached to the Belisha beacon which was the symbol of the pedestrian crossing.
In the four years that I was at the Ministry I always regretted that the pedestrian crossings, the Belisha beacons, were, on the whole a failure. People did not use them enough. As I used to say at the time, the great use for them was that children could be trained to cross the roads at the Belisha beacons—those yellow-topped striped posts—because a child could be taught that those were the places where he should cross and at no other place.
On the whole, however, I think they have been a failure, and the reason, in my view, is that we shall never reduce accidents unless we can persuade people —pedestrians and others—to think a little less of their rights and a little more of their duties to their fellow men. If we could persuade people that it is their duty to cross at pedestrian crossings as far as possible and not at other places, and for other road users to give way at those crossings, instead of being selfish and insisting on their rights, we should get on very much better.
I should like to give an example of what I mean. We all know that certain of our roads out of this great centre of London have cycle tracks. We always see a number of cyclists who will cycle on the road because they have the right to cycle there and because they wish to demonstrate that right, even if they are preventing the rest of the traffic from free passage along that road.
Another example, which is the sort of thing we should be discussing tonight, is the pedestrian—we have all seen him—who crosses as slowly as possible in order to demonstrate his right to be there. We also know the chap who goes across as quickly as possible and says, "Thank you, very much." If they all did that, how much better things would be.
These Regulations may be a step towards bringing order out of chaos. The police are over-worked, and also undermanned in London. but I wish they could impress on all road users—not only motorists—a sense of their responsibilities All who have been to the United States of America know that the pedestrian does not cross the road except at the lights and when the lights are in his favour. That is especially the case in New York. The police see that it is so. If we could persuade people in this country to do the same thing, that would be an advantage.
The voluntary organisations in this country can do a great deal to educate people to what I would call the right point of view. I do not refer only to the Royal Automobile Club and the Automobile Association, but also to the Pedestrians' Association and the cyclists' organisations. If they would preach the idea that we have to work together to prevent accidents I am sure the number of accidents would diminish.
Londoners are very difficult to change in their habits, and it seems to be firmly believed by them that they can cross the road at any place. When a motorist nearly runs into them they swear at the motorist. If we could get it into their heads that they should use the pedestrian crossings I am sure we should avoid many of the accidents which take place these days.
What I am trying to say is that many accidents could be prevented if we could educate everybody to be less selfish than they are at present. This is not a party matter. There are more pedestrians and cyclists than there are motorists, and any organisation which sets out to protect that section of road users against another will have a greater number of people supporting it than those who support the other section. But I am sure the House will agree that what we want is a change of mind rather than legislation. We are praying against these Regulations, but not, as I have said, with the intention of dividing. If they draw attention to what is happening and to the duties of pedestrians and, by so doing, prevent accidents, the result would be greatly to the advantage of human happiness.
I want to take up the time of the House for a few moments, first of all to say that I was a little sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Burke) cast some doubt on the intentions of the Minister. I believe the Minister has given a considerable amount of thought to this important question. It will be accepted, I know, by all sides that he has been extremely anxious to consult with those who have the interests of pedestrians and others at heart and who have desired that we should have something definite instead of the anomalous position which hitherto has existed in connection with pedestrian crossings.
The position has been very uncertain. Different courts have given different rulings with regard to the rights of people on pedestrian crossings, and few, if any, have understood what their actual position was from a legal standpoint in relation to use of the crossings. One could expect that, because the courts were not at all sure about what was happening, and how they ought to decide matters. Consequently, one had one court giving a different decision from that given by another court about practically the same set of circumstances. I agree that there are points which require elucidation. No one can possibly devise a set of regulations which, in the first instance can be said to be 100 per cent, perfect.
It has to be a case of trial and error. It is unfortunate that a matter of this description should become a matter of trial and error, since accidents may be involved, and, unfortunately, lives lost. But I do not think one can devise straight away—attempts have been made before, one must be fair and frank about that—a set of regulations which is 100 per cent, fool-proof.
So far as these Regulations go they at least clarify the position regarding the crossings. They adopt certain tried methods which have been found effective in saving accidents and saving lives. Take, for example, the zebra crossing. which was tried in my constituency and found to be very useful for marking the crossings and preventing accidents. Many other methods have been incorporated in these Regulations, and I believe that, as an attempt to deal with the position, they are as good as one could possibly expect without putting the whole of them to the test and finding out their deficiencies.
I agree that there ought to be a sufficient number of crossings to enable pedestrians to go safely across the roads. On the other hand, there is the possibility that if there are too many of them they will be ignored, and people will not use them. Provision of crossings can be overdone. If one can get pedestrians to be crossing-minded, as it were, to realise that they have protection somewhere and have a definite right there. which is in priority and has precedence over any vehicle, one would be able to give them an opportunity of crossing the road without the fear of being run down, except in so far as there is negligent driving, which cannot be prevented by any regulations. That can only be prevented by stiff sentences in the courts.
I think the House ought to express gratitude to the Minister for the time which he has given to this matter, for the manner in which he has received recommendations and the applications made to him from time to time and for his realisation of the fact that this is a tremendous problem. Accidents and deaths on the roads must be reduced and prevented as far as possible. I think that these Regulations will to some extent clarify the situation.
I only wish to intervene for a few moments to put a question to the Minister. Why has it been considered necessary to provide in the London Regulations that no new crossing which shall be established on any road by the local authority unless the establishment of that crossing has been approved by the Minister? So far as I can see, there is no corresponding provision in the General Regulations. Why has it been considered necessary that the Minister's approval should be obtained for the siting of a crossing in London when his approval is not considered necessary in the provinces?
I should have thought, and I suggest it to the Minister, that the siting of a pedestrian crossing is essentially a local matter, and one which might well have been left to the good sense and discretion of the local authority. In the London traffic area the Minister is not dealing with small local authorities; many of the authorities are very big indeed, able to command the services of experienced road engineers to assist them in the siting of pedestrian crossings. That is precisely the sort of thing a local authority might have been trusted to do. Outside the London traffic area, that is the case; why, then, is there this distinction for London?
I say this in no partisan sense, but here we have precisely that sort of bureaucratic interference with the discretion of a local authority which adds a great deal to the cost of local administration, and involves the employment of a large number of officials in the Minister's Department whose services might be dispensed with if more was left to the good sense and discretion of the local authorities. Is not this a matter which the right hon. Gentleman could safely entrust to the local authorities in London?
My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Burke) put a very direct question, and a very vital one, whether I approached this problem from the standpoint of the pedestrian or the motorist. My answer, as direct as his question, is that my main concern is that of the pedestrian. In this grave and grim problem of road accidents, he is the most vulnerable element, but we must keep in mind, in considering road accidents today, that every citizen is a motorist.
We have this prejudice developed against motorists, but today every citizen rides in motor buses, or cars, as well as trains, as the case may be; goods are conveyed by motor lorry and van, and we do not contribute to the solution of this problem—which is a most serious and perplexing one—if we approach it from the point of view of the pedestrian or the motorist.
The purpose of these Regulations is to try to clarify a situation which is becoming increasingly difficult.
That is very true; but. from whatever angle one approaches this problem, one should try to get at it from the point of view of realities, and not from the point of prejudices.
I think I can pick up many of the points raised tonight if I recall the circumstances which have led to the submission of these new Regulations. As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, North (Sir Austin Hudson), pointed out, it was the late Mr. Oliver Stanley, when he was Minister of Transport, who first began to popularise the idea of pedestrian crossings in this country, and, in the 1934 Act, they were given legal basis. They went on for a considerable number of years, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester. North-west (Mr. Janner), pointed out, with different legal decisions being made, until we had the decision of Lord Porter in 1949, given in a House of Lords judgment.
He levelled very severe criticism against the existing Regulations. He stated that they were ill-conceived and ill-drafted and could not be defended. As the result of that judgment, the legal validity of the whole of the existing Regulations was more or less undermined. My Road Safety Committee immediately gave their attention to the problem and submitted a number of recommendations to me. At that stage, I made it clear to the House—because Hon. Members were pressing me to put these recommendations into new draft regulations—that we were having considerable difficulty in giving them a clear legal definition.
There were points to be considered like that raised by the noble Lord the Member for Dorset. South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), about the vehicle which has turned left or right, as the case may be. It was on such matters that we were giving considerable attention, and I could not get a legal draft which satisfied me that it would stand up in any court of law or which would be clear and simple. When one came to the right of the pedestrian on the light-controlled crossing, we had again a conflict of rights.
Obviously, the motorist considered he had the right-of-way when the light was green and the pedestrian on the crossing considered he had the right of the crossing. As the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South, pointed out, after that one had a flow of other pedestrians probably not on the crossing when the lights were changing. It became impossible at that stage to be able to define in clear, simple, and understandable terms the rights involved. Some of these crossings, like those at Hammersmith, are particularly complex and difficult and, in endeavouring to frame new regulations, it was no use dealing with one type of legal criticism and plunging into a series of other difficulties.
After the most exhaustive examination of this problem, in which I had. the assistance of a number of well-informed people, legal and otherwise, I came to the conclusion—and I make not the slightest pretence that we covered all aspects of this matter—that if we were to start on it, it was desirable to get at least a clear and unchallengable definition of the right of the pedestrian, anyway on some types of crossings. The decisions that were made were to the effect that the uncontrolled crossings should be the ones upon which we should give the pedestrian the legal preference.
Are we not taking away, by these Regulations, the pedestrian's rights on light-controlled and police crossings? How is the pedestrian, particularly the aged and slow, to differentiate between a police or light-controlled crossing and an uncontrolled crossing? We are destroying a right and habit which has been built up over a great many years. The ordinary pedestrian is not able to make this differentiation.
The hon. Gentleman le making a speech rather than trying to elicit information. I think he is quite wrong. What we are dealing with here is the legal right of the individual. The position on controlled crossings will be dealt with by directions in the Highway Code which the court can take into consideration. It is a great advantage, in my view, to establish beyond any doubt the right of the pedestrian on the uncontrolled. crossing.
In the time we were coming to this decision the Road Research Laboratory was carrying on experiments with 1,000 crossings which we had striped. These are the zig-zag crossings. Their observations indicated quite clearly that the behaviour of the pedestrian and the motorist improved considerably in relation to the striped crossings. It was on the evidence submitted to me by the Laboratory that I came to the decision that the crossings, including the uncontrolled crossings giving legal preference to the pedestrian, should be striped.
I have experience of a road along which I have travelled frequently for years. There are a number of crossings on that road, but I have never seen a person crossing on them. In time, some 30,000 crossings have been built up by local authorities, and that has undermined the respect, authority and the behaviour of pedestrians towards these crossings. in the new policy we are laying down I want to make it quite clear that 10,000 is not an arbitrary limit, but that it does involve—and this applies to what the hon. and learned member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson) said—roughly only about one-third of the present crossings of local authorities.
A strong and justifiable case in future must be made out for additional crossings. That will compel greater attention locally to the build up of crossings in the future. Furthermore, the plastic material that will be used at these crossings is now very scarce, and to get this done effectively we must have the whole of these 10,000 new crossings put into operation in a relatively short time. Nevertheless, that is not an arbitrary figure; it is a commencing figure and we shall build up on that basis. The tests whether a crossing should be added or not will be much more severe.
No, that is not so. All these matters will be taken into consideration in arriving at the eventual figure.
On the point raised by the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South about the red phases, these will be introduced when we consider that they represent an advantage, but each case must be treated on its merits. His contention that the spacing of 45 ft. from the crossing would reduce parking space is quite true, although we shall take the circumstances into consideration. We want this reservation because it is most undesirable that these crossings should be masked by vehicles. One of the most prolific causes of accidents is that the pedestrian steps out into the highway when his presence has been masked. With the limited facilities for parking there is a problem here, but it is essential that parking on the highway should not be encouraged.
I agree that it is an issue of controversy whether it should be 20 ft., 25 ft., or 30 ft. The argument appeared to be in favour of a reasonable distance. If we are to define these matters clearly, we ought to give pedestrian and motorist ample opportunity to see each other. But I emphasize that these are not arbitrary matters. They represent decisions at the moment to deal with a very vexed and difficult problem, but we shall build on experience and there will be no particular difficulty in introducing a modification if that is necessary.
I must express my gratitude to all hon. Members for facilitating the passing of these Regulations. The full support I have received from Parliament and organisations throughout the country will enable me and my associates to get the maximum publicity in the Press, and I hope, in broadcasts and in other ways, to emphasize to pedestrians their new rights.
In view of the contribution we make the necessity to see that there is no repetition of the undue number of crossings and the fact that in London there are a great variety of authorities that could be encouraged to extend these crossings extensively, we must keep London in the same proportion as the rest of the country.
In my view the House should have given more time to the consideration of these Regulations than it is now able to do, and the somewhat vague answer given by the Minister confirms that view. I am not certain how the reduction in the number of these crossings is to be achieved, or how it is to be done in a way which will give safety in many places. I am more concerned with the rights of pedestrians on light-controlled crossings.
The Minister said he was in some legal difficulty: I think the answer he has given has put the pedestrian in some difficulty. I am one who hardly walks anywhere; I travel by car. I am terrified when I cross the road, and I am amazed at the ingenuity and bravery of those who do. I cannot imagine that in this case the right hon. Gentleman has done the right thing by pedestrians, or that the reasons he has given to the House are adequate.
If a pedestrian gets half-way across when the light is in his favour, and it then changes, he has now no legal right on the crossing at all. If he had a legal right he would do one thing—he would go across to the other side. If he has no legal right he may do one of two things—he may try to get back, or he may bolt to the far side in the hope that that is the better thing to do. The Regulations, as they stand, cannot conceivably make the position clearer for either the motorist or the pedestrian. Most motorists, when such a situation occurs, give the pedestrian an opportunity to get across. But these Regulations confuse the issue, and put the unfortunate pedestrian in a most difficult position.
I understand that the Pedestrians' Association is opposing the Regulations. I feel instinctively against anything the Association does, because it tries to introduce a bitter animosity that is better kept out; but I think that in this case the Association is right. Another case where confusion is caused is when traffic is filtering to the right or left. To say that the vehicle should have precedence over the pedestrian when clearly the light is favourable to the pedestrian cannot help road safety.
I am sorry the Regulations have been introduced in this form, and I am convinced that this is a retrograde step. The Minister has indicated that to some extent these are experimental Regulations. I hope that after he has seen the confusion that will arise, as I think, he will lose no time—if he is still Minister of Transport, which we hope he will not be—in bringing in new Regulations to give the pedestrian a sporting chance of existence.
It is the duty of the pedestrian not to step out into the flow of traffic. Under these Regulations he would have a right to do so, and there might be the possibility of an accident through a vehicle stopping suddenly. It is a question of reasonable interpretation of what a pedestrian may do, and it would probably work out all right. It seems to me that too much emphasis should not be placed on the absolute right of the pedestrian to do something ridiculous, to step on to a crossing and expect every motorist to stop. I hope that this will be covered by an explanation in the Highway Code that the pedestrian has to be reasonable and not expect to exercise this right if there is a flow of traffic passing.
I was rather disappointed about what the Minister had to say about the reduction in the number of crossings. It did not entirely agree with what I have been told about local conditions in my division. There has been considerable concern in Barnet about these Regulations and I have had a letter from the local authority expressing this concern and asking me to raise the matter in the House, if at all possible.
Barnet has a particular problem because the Great North Road, which carries a lot of heavy lorry traffic, passes through a relatively narrow High Street which is used by many pedestrians, especially during shopping hours. There are 14 pedestrian crossings in the whole Barnet Urban District Council area, not by any means an excessive number, and the Council have been instructed to reduce that number to five. They have protested that this is inadequate and they have made the point that up to now they have been moderate in the number of crossings and, therefore, the same pro- portion should not be applied to them as apply to other authorities who may have adopted a different policy in the past.
The response they have had so far has been disappointing. They have been informed, as have other local authorities. that discussions can take place with the divisional road engineer and proper adjustment can be made. I am informed that the discussions which have taken place so far have been disappointing and that the chances of being able to advance above this arbitrary figure of five are very small. It is my firm belief, and I have had experience of driving in the district, that the reduction will be far too severe.
I know there is the argument that too many crossings can reduce the respect for crossings. Equally, if there are too few, then people do not use them and dart across the road. We must strike a balance. I do not think the Minister should impose an arbitrary figure. I hope he will be able to give us some sort of assurance that greater latitude will be given by the divisional engineers to local authorities.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman exactly how the administrative arrangements decide how many pedestrian crossings there shall be in each area? Has he divided the country into a number of areas and decided that each will have so many crossings? I find it difficult to understand how the reduction is to come about and how the number will be fixed for each area.
There does not seem to be anything in the Regulations about the number of crossings. There are certain definitions. it is true, but nothing dealing with the number of crossings.