Orders of the Day — ROAD TRAFFIC BILL [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th April 1955.

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Photo of Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite , Bristol North West 12:00 am, 5th April 1955

We have been reminded more than once since the Minister moved the Second Reading of the Bill that the Measure had a rough passage in another place. There is an idea that Tory Bills never get knocked about in their Lordships' House. However that may be, this Bill has emerged in a considerably emasculated condition. It may be that the usual channels there lack the authority which they carry here.

We are debarred by the rules of order from quoting extracts of speeches made by noble Lords, except, of course, Ministerial utterances. What might be more revealing to hon. Members would be if one were tactless enough to read extracts from certain entries made upon the driving licences of those noble Lords who were most vociferous in their opposition to the Bill. When I read the debates in another place, as I have done, I got the impression that there was something of an alliance between the speed merchants on both sides of the House.

Their Lordships have tried to turn this Bill into a motoring Measure.

This is a Road Traffic Bill, affecting each and all of us. During my brief tenure of office at the Ministry of Transport nothing burned itself into my mind more than the monthly figures of road casualties. It was not so much like being in a Ministerial chair as being at G.H.O. during the course of a battle, with the figures of killed and wounded constantly arriving. There was the lamentable difference that, in this battle of the roads, women and children, indeed children under the school age of five years, were brought into the fearful carnage. If hon. Members will bear with me, I shall concentrate my remarks on the road safety proposals in this Measure.

There is a saying, which I have always endorsed, that it is better to be 30 minutes late in this world than 30 years too early in the next. That is a simple formula which we should do well to bear in mind, particularly when attempts are made to introduce safety measures. Clause 1 has been under fire. It was under fire in another place. It has emerged from their Lordships' House in an unsatisfactory condition, as I think we all agree. I warmly support the intention of Clause 1 that there should be brake tests.

I well remember, when I was Parliamentary Secretary, broadcasting at the commencement of 1953 and appealing for a Coronation Year road-safety campaign which would reduce casualties by 10 per cent. We had got it in 1952, and we hoped to do it again in 1953; but no sooner had I left the microphone than the casualties began to rise. They were up again by 10 per cent. in the year in which we set that target.

One proposal put forward in that broadcast was that the motor trade itself might organise something like these tests of brakes which the Clause seeks to enact. Reading the debates in another place, one finds that those noble Lords who objected to this Clause on the grounds that it would necessitate the appointment of hordes of new officials became, by the same token, apostles of the spot check. Let us examine that point for a moment.

There is already great difficulty in obtaining the necessary inspectors and examiners of commercial vehicles under the spot check system. I understand there are only about 250, and that all the efforts of the Ministry have failed to recruit more examiners. There is also a shortage of examiners for the ordinary driving test. Spot checks of these vehicles, whether commercial vehicles or private cars, cannot be carried out by just anyone. They have to be done by qualified persons and, as I say, there is a shortage of them.

That is why I think that the Government are right in endeavouring to carry out this test. I say at once that I am not impressed by the argument—nor do I think that it was urged by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who opened the debate for the Opposition—that the number of accidents caused by defective brakes is infinitesimal. All these matters need attention. It is a very specious argument to say that only 500 people perished on the roads last year from one cause or another. It is our charge to stop all the accidents.

The Government are right in saying that the test shall be carried out by designated garages. The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling) said, with truth, that there are garages and garages; that there are standards of integrity to be found in some which are not to be found in others. As I understand the Government's plan, garages having the necessary apparatus and professional qualifications and attaining a proper standard would carry out the tests.

There seemed to be an impression in another place that there would be a sort of ratio of designated garages in each town. It was rightly said that in those circumstances there would be great jealously between those garages selected for the purpose and those that were not. That is not what I understand to be the Government's intention. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary will correct me if I am wrong. It would be possible to have a town in which every garage was qualified to carry out these tests; and in another town it might be that none would measure up to the required standards.