Orders of the Day — Road Transport Lighting Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31st May 1967.

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Order for Second Reading read.

10.12 a.m.

Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members will be aware that this Bill stems from support in the House for a proposal that permission should be given for the use of reflective number plates on motor vehicles as an additional road safety measure. Many hon. Members have from time to time raised this question, but I pay a personal tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hudders-field, West (Mr. Lomas), whose persistence and initiative on the matter, including the speech he made a short time ago proposing to introduce a Private Member's Bill on the subject, has spurred us on to the introduction of this Measure this morning.

The reflective materials which are used in the manufacture of these plates are of a comparatively recent design, and they were not in sufficient general use in this country for them to be taken into account when the Road Transport Lighting Act, 1957 was passed.

It now seems that there may be some doubt in law as to whether reflective materials which are neither lights, lamps, nor reflectors as such come within the scope of the 1957 Act. I am sure that the hon. Members will agree that it is essential that the status under the law of reflecting materials, which for all practical purposes might be said to show a light when another light is shone upon them, should be clarified; and this is done in Clause 1. Clause 1 may seem very simple—almost naive—to many hon. Members, but I am advised that it is a necessary step forward to clarify the law on the subject and to indicate what we are talking about when introducing the power of the Minister to make regulations regarding the use of reflective materials.

Those of us who have witnessed demonstrations of the effectiveness of reflecting material at night will agree, I am sure, that good use can be made of it, subject, however, to a degree of control. At the same time we must exercise the greatest care in defining the types of reflective materials which we are trying to control. I would certainly not wish to create a situation wherein one of my hon. Friends might leave this Chamber one evening, climb into his motor car, and find himself summonsed because, over the weekend he, or his wife, had found time to clean it and polish it and thus restore to it a reflective surface. We are not concerned with that. Yet what could be more reflective than a highly-polished chromium-plated rear bumper or the cellulose finish on a newly polished motor car?

It is, obviously, not our wish to interfere in any way with such standard characteristics of modern vehicles but only to control those materials which are specifically designed to act as a form of reflector in the commonly accepted sense of the word.

The powers we are seeking would not prohibit altogether the use of these new materials but would enable us to permit their use where we consider that this would be beneficial to road safety or make the task of identification easier for the police.

As hon. Members no doubt know, the present terms of the 1957 Lighting Act are such that, once it was established beyond doubt that reflective materials must be treated as showing a light when another light is shone upon them, it would be illegal to use any reflective material on the back of a vehicle except a red one. It has been the policy of all Governments, and will remain so as far as we are concerned, that a red light or reflector on a vehicle denotes the back of that vehicle. Therefore, any permission to use reflective materials will not include the use of red on the front of a vehicle.

Where, however, it is proved to our satisfaction that the use of a colour other than red on the back would be beneficial for road safety without confusing other motorists on the road—trials which have been carried out at the Road Research Laboratory indicate that red is not always the colour most easily distinguished—we wish to have the powers to permit it.

In order to guard against possible confusion, it is necessary for us also to be able to control the quality and quantity of the material which is used. These are the powers which we seek under Clause 2.

One of the major developments in this field relates to the use of reflective number plates. I shall not deal with them in much detail because I expect that my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West will wish to speak about them. I just say, that although doubts have been expressed to us as to their value in aiding road safety, we think that there is sufficient evidence that they do make a vehicle using them more conspicuous and, consequently, lessen the chances of its being involved in a rear-end collision. For this reason, we think that we should allow reflective number plates to be tried out.

Our belief is based on trials which have been carried out at the Road Research Laboratory and also on the experience of other countries where the use of reflective plates is permitted. There can be no doubt that their legibility is such as to make the enforcement task of the police much easier.

I can tell the House now that when my right hon. Friend has the necessary powers, if Parliament grants them under this Bill, it will be her intention to make the use of reflective number plates permissive. We do not at this stage intend to make their use compulsory, but we shall watch with interest their effect on our road accident figures. There is also the possibility that we shall require certain vehicles which we think constitute a special hazard on the roads to carry a distinctive marking, involving the use of reflective materials. Again, the trials which have been carried out indicate that the most conspicuous marking, both for day and night, requires the use of a combination of red reflective and fluorescent materials with those of other colours. But until we have the powers of the Bill, any marking which we could legally require could only be fourth or fifth best.

There is another aspect of rear lighting which has caused us some concern. When the Road Transport Lighting Act, 1927, replaced by the 1957 Act, was drafted, it was appreciated that certain signalling devices such as direction indicators were necessary on the backs of vehicles. For these to be really effec- tive, it was necessary to distinguish them from the normal rear lighting of the vehicle and this could best be done by using a different colour from the red of the obligatory rear lamps and reflectors.

Provision was, therefore, made to permit the fitting of such devices, but experience has shown that the words in which this was done might be interpreted in such a way that it would be legally permissible to fit any device which is described as intended for use as a signal to overtaking traffic and which is illuminated by a lamp of any colour on the back of any vehicle. I do not think I need to stress the confusion which this might create on our roads. I think that the House will agree that it is essential that when a driver gives any signal it must be clearly understood by all other road users. Otherwise chaos will ensue and the best of intentions may result in serious accidents.

Some of the devices which may be developed by ingenious designers who are working on this subject may, in fact, prove to be very beneficial so we do not want to take any action which would be a bar to further progress; but we do want to have the powers to control such devices and to permit the use only of those which my right hon. Friend is advised will make a worth while countribution to road safety. In such cases the Department would be responsible for ensuring that the meaning of the signal was clearly understood by all road users and not just by a few who might adopt some device of their own.

The Bill which is now before the House will make a worth-while contribution towards road safety and help us to alleviate the individual suffering and loss to our national economy which stem from the appalling toll of casualties which are suffered on our roads every year.

I therefore ask for the support of the House for the Bill.

10.22 a.m.

Photo of Mr Raymond Mawby Mr Raymond Mawby , Totnes

I wish to associate myself with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's congratulations to the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas), because no one has done more in this House towards furthering the great development in reflector materials and drawing attention to the experience gained elsewhere, where the use of reflective number plates has reduced considerably rear-end accidents.

This is an all-party matter. Hon. members on both sides are tremendously interested in the subject. That is why we joined together originally in putting a Motion on the Order Paper, which was followed by the presentation of a Ten Minute Rule Bill by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West. This Bill is designed to resolve doubt and to establish the status of this material, particularly where it is used as a safety device, for its status must be clarified.

The Parliamentary Secretary made the important point that, with the amount of chromium plating modern cars carry, it seems ludicrous that the law is such that chromium plate, which could act like a mirror and have dangerous effects, is permissible whereas material which is only capable of reflecting an image could be considered to be outside the law.

When the earlier Acts were introduced, there was not sufficient development or enough known about reflective materials to make them part of the law but the important thing is that one could now, I understand, use a reflective material on a number plate at the rear, provided it was red. But that would conflict with the normal test plate used by garages for moving vehicles from point to point and therefore could lead to more confusion if used on cars.

As the hon. Gentleman has said, the main thing is to prove whether these new devices are beneficial to road safety and that the Ministry should be able to control their quantity and quality. Experience elsewhere has shown a great reduction in the number of rear-end collisions by the use of these devices and that is of great importance.

Another point which impresses me is that with the use of reflective number plates, even on the front of a vehicle, one is capable of reading the number even with the headlights shining at one. This should surely be more helpful to the police. They will be able to read a number plate whether the car is approaching or departing.

I believe that this is a good Bill because it seeks to resolve doubt and makes certain that any motorist can adopt these number plates in future. As the hon. Gentleman has said, they will not be compulsory. Obviously, one hopes that many people will use them and that we shall then be able to start compiling some figures of accident rates to see whether there is any change. In the light of those figures, no doubt we can decide in future whether stricter measures are or are not needed. I believe that it is right that there should not be compulsion at present.

The hon. Gentleman also commented on certain types of vehicles on which a reflective material might be helpful to road safety. This point has been raised by a number of hon. Members before in relation to very long vehicles turning. There is no requirement under the law to show a light on the side or even to have a reflective material for use when such a vehicle is turning. This has led to accidents. I hope that the Minister, in making orders under the Bill, will take into account the long articulated vehicle and require a reflective material at some point along the side of the vehicle. This would reduce the danger of accidents in situations where a car approaches a long vehicle which makes a turn.

I fully support the Bill because it clarifies a doubt. I believe that, once it is passed, many people will supply themselves with these plates and that, as a result, we shall find that the Bill is helping to reduce the appalling accident rate.

10.30 a.m.

Photo of Mr Ken Lomas Mr Ken Lomas , Huddersfield West

I should, first, like to express my very sincere thanks to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for his extremely kind words about the part which I played in helping to bring the Bill forward. In return, may I express my personal thanks both to him and to his Department for the help and guidance which I have received over the last few weeks. I couple with those thanks the name of the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) who, on an all-party basis, has joined in stimulating and creating interest about the concept of reflective number plates.

I am extremely glad to have the opportunity of speaking in support of the Bill, because it deals not only with reflective number plates but with the whole question of the lighting of vehicles in general. It is customary for a Member to declare his interest. I will declare mine: road safety, and the saving of lives and of suffering by people who sustain accidents on the road.

Without seeking to dramatise an already dramatic situation, may I say that I think that everyone in the House should be appalled that during the time that the House has been in recess—from Friday, 12th May, until today, 31st May—400 people have been killed on our roads, 5,000 have been seriously injured and 15,000 have been slightly injured—20,000 people involved in accidents in the short space of two and a half weeks. Some of those who died would have been alive today and some of those who were injured would have been fit and well if motorists had obeyed the simple road safety slogan "See and be seen".

To me, it is ludicrous that as the law stands a vehicle can be on the road, day or night, without either headlamps or stoplights. I therefore warmly welcome the recently published Report of the Home Office and Metropolitan Police on the compulsory fitting of dim-dip headlights on all vehicles. I hope that the Minister will give urgent consideration to the recommendations made in that Report, for this is literally a matter of life and death. I hope the Bill will give the Minister power to do something about this matter.

As hon. Members know, my main interest in the Bill is the power which the Minister will be given under it to lay regulations to allow the use of reflective number plates on all road vehicles. Before I deal with that matter, I should like to say a few general words about the rest of the Bill.

It may come as a surprise to some hon. Members to know that Britain is second only to Italy in the number of road vehicles in the country per road mile. In Belgium, there are 34; in Canada 14; in France 17; in the German Federal Republic 49; in the Irish Republic 6; in New Zealand 15; in Spain 24; in Switzerland 44; in America only 24. In this country we have no fewer than 57 vehicles per road mile. Faced with that appalling density on our roads, it is obvious that any measure designed to assist motorists to see and be seen, especially at night, should be warmly welcomed.

I was glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that a measure is being contemplated to standardise the lighting of vehicles at the rear. It is time that this was done, and the Bill gives the Minister power to do it. The assortment of colours which sometimes appear on the backs of vehicles needs to be standardised. The gimmicks and gadgets which we sometimes see should be outlawed. In many instances, only the person driving the car knows what those gimmicks and gadgets mean; the person following has no clue. I have no objection to having a "tiger" in my tank, but I object to having one in the rear window of a motor car which flashes its eyes at me. This is a matter on which the Minister should take action.

I hope that under the Bill the Minister will have power to introduce, and will introduce regulations stipulating that every vehicle should be equipped with stop lights. It is ridiculous that stop lights are not obligatory at present. Few drivers use hand signals to denote that they are slowing down or stopping. Stop lights are a great help in warning approaching vehicles that the one in front is coming to a halt.

I was glad to hear the Minister say that regulations would be laid before the House to require certain commercial vehicles to carry a distinctive rear marking to show that they constitute a special road hazard. I am thinking of those types of vehicle, the heavy lorries, which carry equipment longer than the vehicle or those which are so long that to overtake would be highly dangerous unless one had a warning signal that the vehicle was over a given length. If the rear lights of these vehicles fail, vehicles which can be under-run can cause the worst possible kind of accident, especially to motor cyclists and the baby and mini cars. Whatever form these markings take, they must be visible at night in the light of the lamps of a following car. It was very heartening to hear the Minister say that the Ministry has in mind that there should be a reflective triangle in the centre of the tail board and reflective and fluorescent zebra stripes on either side.

I turn to the specific question of reflective number plates. I should like to say why I believe that they should be introduced at the very earliest opportunity. I first raised this question in the House in November, 1965, and I have been pressing for their introduction since. During that time, I have met no one who has argued a case, let alone a convincing case, against them. They are designed to stop accidents. Other safety measures which the Ministry of Transport has introduced—for example, the compulsory fitting of seat belts—are designed to reduce the severity of accidents. Reflective plates are designed to stop accidents.

Clause 2 gives the Minister power to permit the use of reflective number plates. I am sure that this will make a great contribution to road safety because it will allow motorists to fulfil the second part of the slogan "See and be seen", even if all the lights on the vehicle should fail or if it is left parked or abandoned on the roadside at night without lights. It is no use denying that this happens. We all know that it happens. Many serious accidents occur because a vehicle has been left with no lights showing and an oncoming motorist has no indication that there is a hazard in front of him and there is a rear-end collision with sometimes appalling results.

The Bill is obviously necessary, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, because under the Road Transport Lighting Act, 1957, the fitting of reflective number plates would be illegal, because they could be held to be showing a light to the rear, unless the colour was red. The Road Research Laboratory and the Lighting Working Party of the Ministry and the experience which has been obtained from other countries where these plates are now in use point to the fact that the most effective colour combinations are black and white at the front and black and amber at the rear.

Forty million vehicles in the world out of a vehicle population of 160 million, or 25 per cent, of the total, will by the end of 1967 be equipped with these retro-reflective number plates. I am all in favour of some form of standardisation of lighting on the rear of vehicles, and I hope that we shall not seek to emulate certain States in America where these plates are in use which have chosen a colour combination which sometimes has very little to do with the most effective road safety combination but has more to do with the colours of the local State baseball team or the State college or university or the personal whim of the governor. One State has chosen the combination of white on green merely because the Governor happens to be an Irishman. There could be worse reasons than that, but it seems odd that there should be this lack of standardisation. I hope that we shall not allow this but that we shall seek to standardise colour schemes.

However, I appreciate that a convincing case could well be argued for the police or doctors or Government officials having a distinctive marking so that people know who they are. An argument could be advanced—in fact, I have heard it advanced—that in the period when these plates are made permissive, provided the Minister gets power to do that, and until they are in general use, some confusion could arise in the minds of members of the public. But this is an argument which I reject completely. It is not an argument against retro-reflective number plates; it is an argument against change.

I am certain that, once these plates are allowed under the Bill, motorists will soon see the benefit and more and more will come to adopt them for their own use. It would be logical to argue that, once the case for these retro-plates has been accepted, it would be right for the Minister to introduce compulsory regulations. However, at this stage I am content to see the introduction of permissive legislation in the firm belief that the value to road safety will become obvious within 18 months, and I give notice that at that time I shall begin to press the Ministry for the compulsory fitting of these plates to all new vehicles and to all vehicles coming up for Ministry of Transport tests, which, I hope, will be down to two years by 1969.

When in the process of preparing my Private Member's Bill for presentation to the House on 19th April, a Bill designed to allow the use of reflective number plates on all road vehicles, I wrote to a number of organisations for their views, including the R.A.C. and the A.A. The R.A.C. replied on 18th April saying: I am pleased to confirm that the Club is sympathetic to the objective of your Bill which will enable further experience to be obtained concerning the advantages of reflective number plates which have been revealed by the limited experiment in this country and the use of such equipment in other countries. It is the Club's view that it is desirable to encourage the use of devices which may help to reduce the risk of accidents at night, especially when vehicles have broken down on the highway and when their lights are not operative. The Automobile Association replied on 12th April saying: We would certainly be in favour of permissive legislation as this would enable more experience to be gained of the practical value of these number plates. Thereafter, the possibility of making reflectorisation a standard requirement might well be considered". Those two organisations represent a considerable body of motorists and their opinions should be noted.

Clause 2(b), says that the provisions which may be made by regulations include: where any such light is required or authorised by the regulations to be so shown by means of reflecting or fluorescent material, provision imposing conditions with respect to the material, its position and dimensions … I assume that the Minister's decision about the material to be used will be taken after consultation not only with her technical advisers, but with the motoring organisations and other interested bodies. Without seeking to delude the House into believing that I am a technical expert—which I am not—I hope that the Minister will not think in terms of British Standard 873, of 1959, which is the material now used for road bollards and road signs, but more in terms of the superior British Standard AU47 of 1965.

The Minister will have power to specify the position of these plates. I appreciate the difficulties of obtaining uniformity at once on all road vehicles, but I trust that the Minister will bear in mind the advantages which would be obtained if these plates were to be centralised on the rear of vehicles, because that would be a further indication to motorists that there was something on either side of the reflected light.

I assume that the area of the plates will be roughly the same whether the plates are oblong or square, but at some date perhaps the Minister can think in terms of introducing regulations to standardise the shape of the plates on all vehicles.

I am well aware of the efforts of the present Minister and her Ministry to promote road safety and to overhaul the Lighting Acts. The Ministry is doing great service. We know that, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the cost in monetary terms of road accidents in this country in 1966 was no less than £267 million, a factor of which we must take careful note. Lighting regulations are crucial. Almost 50 per cent, of all road deaths occur at night and more than one-third of road accidents occur during the hours of darkness, and this is at a time when traffic is much less when measured in vehicle miles travelled.

Motorists pay too little attention to ensuring that their vehicles have adequate lighting. According to a recent survey conducted by the A.A. one-third of all vehicles on the road today are inadequately lit at light, which means that 5 million vehicles constitute a potential source of a road accident at night.

The previous Government—and I am grateful for the efforts which they made—in April, 1964, asked the Road Research Laboratory to conduct a trial with reflective number plates and I am glad that the present Government are acting so rapidly on the conclusions obtained from those trials and the investigations of the Lighting Working Party.

Quickly to summarise the advantages of these reflective plates for the benefit of those hon. Members who were not present on 19th April when my Bill was introduced and for those who are not yet convinced; they are not dependent on their own lighting system; they have no battery and no bulb and no wiring is required; their brightness is at least 100 times that of white paint; after 80,000 miles of motoring—this was the rigorous test to which the Road Research Laboratory submitted these plates—they were still 60 times brighter than white paint and could be restored to about 80 or 90 per cent, of their original power by the use of a simple polish.

There are those who argue that it is just as efficient to have simply effective or enlarged ordinary reflectors, but I point out that there are no red reflectors on the front of a vehicle and that in any case reflectors are brittle and can easily be damaged and that a reflective plate means that a vehicle can be identified even if all the rest of its lights are out, and that is something to be welcomed as a contribution to law enforcement.

I will not weary the House with them, but statistics can be produced to show that in America, where tests have been carried out in Minnesota, Maine, Illinois and Iowa, night-time accidents, especially rear-end collisions, have been greatly reduced by the use of these plates. At the Fifth World Meeting of the International Road Federation in London in September, last year, Mr. Kare Rumar, who is well known in road safety circles and who comes from the Department of Psychology at the University of Upsala in Sweden, said: The retro-reflective materials that industry is now able to produce are capable of giving the registration plate … a sizeable increase in the night-time visibilty of the vehicle. With reflectorisation there is also a considerable improvement in the legibility of the number at night as well as increased difficulty for those who might attempt to fabricate counterfeit plates. When reflectorised. therefore, the-registration plate becomes a definite safety element. He concluded by saying: In the beams of headlights they make the vehicles carrying them visible from long distances and almost any angle, a fact which contributes to greater road safety.The four plates as well as the rear plate are more legible to law enforcement patrols—and from a greater distance. This is a factor of order and discipline on the roads. At the Fifth International Congress of Traffic Police in Paris in 1965 a resolution was adopted recommending the use of reflectorised registration plates as a contribution to road safety and to assisting in law enforcement.

If these plates are introduced, they will do much to reduce the number of accidents involving parked cars, because the plates reflect at an angle regardless of the position of the vehicle. I understand that some time ago a comparison was made of the number of fatal and serious accidents involving parked cars in an 18-month period before and after the coming into force of regulations allowing parking without lights in certain areas of London. Serious accidents involving heavy vehicles parked without lights increased by 50 per cent. This would not have happened if the parked cars had been fitted with reflective plates. Once again, it is a simple question of seeing and being seen.

The Pedestrians' Association, which is concerned with road safety, was in touch with me and was concerned that reflective number plates might take the place of the light which must be shown over the rear number plate. That, however, is not the intention either of myself or the Bill, because the light which is required over or under the number plate would still remain to assist pedestrians and when vehicles are parked.

It is wise to dot the i's and cross the t's when one has the opportunity, and perhaps I may correct a slight mistake which I made on the subject of reflective plates when presenting my Private Member's Bill last month, when I mentioned that the cost of the plates would be about £2 a pair. I should have made it clear that that was the manufacturers' price.

Road Research Laboratory Report No. 44 states, in paragraph 7: Ordinary registration plates are sold by manufacturers to garages at a cost of £2 a pair and upwards and fitted to cars by garages at a cost of £3 10s. It is estimated, after consulting with the firm making plates of the type used in the experiment, that the price would be about £2 a pair. Even if the price increased slightly, this would be well worth paying to save life.

A number of organisations which have been in touch with me would like to see, for example, raised digits and numbers above the surface, of the reflective material. With that I do not quarrel. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister can consider it at a later stage. I am, however, glad again to assure the House and the Ministry that I have received a number of letters from the Number Plate Manufacturers' Association, one of which, dated 5th May, states: We do not wish to resist the reflectorisation of vehicle number plates for the purpose covered in your Bill. As a result of further correspondence, a letter dated 26th May signed by the chairman of the Association, states: I am of the opinion that all the points raised have been satisfactorily covered and can therefore assure you of my co-operation when the Bill is finally passed. We therefore have the support of a tremendous number of bodies which are interested in the project.

I am also informed that the plates can be produced in this country. No dollar expenditure is involved, no balance of payments crisis is threatened as a result. The purpose of the plates is, however, to help to save life. They have been tested and tried in over 30 American States and many other nations have accepted them, including France, where they are now compulsory on all heavy road vehicles.

I have a report which I obtained from the Tasmanian Government from a 1965 Committee on Road Safety and Traffic Accidents, in which all the advantages of reflective number plates are given. I quote merely two short paragraphs: Whilst they are obviously not a complete answer for the following too closely or improper signals accidents, we believe that the reports which we have read show that they materially reduce night-time accidents. The Committee recommended to the Tasmanian Government that reflectorised number plates be issued to all vehicles at the earliest opportunity. It is the same story in Australia as well.

Police forces throughout the country have expressed themselves, and have being doing so since 1959, in favour of these plates. A sub-committee of the United Nations has gone on record as giving its support. As the hon. Member for Totnes said, Members of all three political parties have urged their introduction. I hope, therefore, that it will not be long before we have the appropriate regulations.

I express once again my appreciation to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the speed with which the Bill has been brought forward by his Department and I hope that it will have a speedy and successful passage through its various stages to the Statute Book.

I conclude with the words of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, who, when speaking at Brighton in October, said that coming to terms with the motor age means developing a new sense of urgency about road safety. In the last 10 years, 3< million people have been injured on our roads, and if accidents continue to increase at the present rate the figures will have risen to nearly 1 million a year by the 1980s. We can no longer tolerate this terrible toll. I entirely agree with those sentiments.

Let us make sure that when we drive, all of us can see and be seen. To do that we must act, and act now, and give the Bill our full support and ensure that the Minister is in a position to lay the appropriate regulations to allow the permissive use of retro-reflective number plates, certainly before the dark nights come upon us again.

10.55 a.m.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfriesshire

I should like briefly to add my general support to the Bill. Very often it is the simple things which are the most effective, and this is a simple Measure to have reflective number plates. Therefore, I am certain that in the long run we shall all feel the benefit of it.

My view is that the Minister is right at this stage to make the use of these plates permissive. It would be wrong to go ahead to compulsion without a little more practical experience. So often a little soap and water are necessary if something is to become effective, because even a reflective number plate, while admittedly better than a normal one, would be almost valueless if caked with mud, as can often be seen on our trunk roads.

In talking of simple remedies, I often wonder why we do not advance lighting-up time by, perhaps, an hour or half an hour. All of us who are interested in road safety know that very often when we are travelling along at about dusk, we see enormous vehicles without their side lights on when it costs absolutely nothing to turn them on except the effort of reaching forward and turning a knob. I hope that this is something to which the Ministry gives constant thought.

The Bill is brought forward not only because of the excellent efforts of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas), but also because of the increasing use of reflective substances on the rear of motor cars. I hope that during the Committee stage of the Bill, if a regulation governing their use is not presently in force, consideration will be given to the use of rotating beacons on cars.

For the very reason that we have found a sudden increase in the use of reflective material, so, too, we are finding a rapid increase in the use of beacons, frequently without genuine reason. We rightly accept that police, fire and ambulance services and roads staff when working on the highways should use reflecting beacons, but we now find them on all sorts of heavy vehicles and loads. I have even seen their use reported on airport buses going in and out of London airport. This debases their use. We must maintain them for essential purposes and only when their use is essential.

I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to give his views on the sudden and rapid increase in the use of rotating beacons which is getting out of hand. If there are not regulations which he can make more effective, perhaps he can give the matter early consideration. In general, however, I am warmly in support of the Bill and I hope that it becomes an Act in the very near future.

10.58 a.m.

Photo of Mr John Binns Mr John Binns , Keighley

I do not want to take up too much time. It is no use my going again into the arguments in favour of reflectorisation. They have been put exceptionally well by my hon. Friend the Member for Hudders-field, West (Mr. Lomas) and by the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby). It is sufficient for me to say that I, too, have seen reflectorised number plates in use and, like everyone else who saw them that day, I came away convinced that they were an absolute necessity, particularly on our motorways.

I had the unfortunate experience a few weeks ago of travelling on one of the motorways and seeing one of the pile-ups from a rear-end collision. Anyone who saw the chaos caused and the number of people standing in the middle of the motorway flashing torches to warn oncoming motorists of what had happened would agree that reflective number plates are an absolute necessity.

While I welcome the Bill and feel that it would be almost churlish to find fault with it, Clause 3 worries me a little. It says: Section 2 (2,b) of the principal Act … shall not authorise a vehicle of any description to carry a lamp showing a light to the rear for the purpose of illuminating any device for giving signals to overtaking traffic … I hope that does not mean that the Minister will not look at the possibility of some rear light warning on very large vehicles for overtaking purposes. During the Whitsun Recess, I travelled on the Continent and, for part of the time, I was driving on dark winding mountain roads crossing the Pyrenees. When following very large vehicles, I was greatly helped by the presence on the back of most of them of two flashing signal lights. One is a flashing red light which tells a motorist not to pass and, as my driving wheel was on the near side, it was difficult to see to pass such a large vehicle. As soon as the road is clear, the driver changes the red light to a flashing green light, and the motorist behind knows that it is safe to pass. I hope that the wording of the Bill does not mean that the Minister has closed her mind to the advantages of such a system.

This is a Bill which both sides of the House will support. Road safety is not political. Anything which adds to safety on our roads is desirable. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West on all the hard work which he has done, and I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for the sympathetic way in which he has listened to my hon. Friend.

11.3 a.m.

Photo of Mr David Webster Mr David Webster , Weston-Super-Mare

We are glad to see the Joint Parliamentary Secretary here in the morning. Often he is here late at night tidying up the affairs of the day, sometimes in a dinner jacket, though not always.

I join with him in congratulating the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) on the valuable work which he has done in attempting to pioneer activity in this respect by earlier legislation which has now been taken over by the Government. It is a better use of Government time than the Live Hare Coursing (Abolition) Bill which has been taken over in a similar way. I want also to join in the tribute which has been paid to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) for what he has done to help. If nothing else, it proves that there is peace and harmony on all sides of the House.

It is right that the powers in the Bill in respect of reflective number plates should be permissive at first to see how they work out. However, we have had information from the Road Research Laboratory, and I should like to know whether there has been any recommendation by the National Road Safety Advisory Council, what advice that Council has given the Minister, and if there were any restrictions on that advice.

There are many councils and groups which advise the Minister of Transport on a wide variety of matters. Indeed, there might almost be an advisory council to count how many there are. We know that recently the Chairman of the Road Safety Advisory Council, Sir Alfred Owen, was replaced by a Parliamentary Secretary. On these occasions, one always wants to know if independent advice is still given. That is why, on this non-controversial matter, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell the House whether the Road Safety Advisory Council approved of this Measure freely and without inhibition. Was a vote taken, and what other advice was sought from outside bodies? I think that the hon. Gentleman covered the latter point, but I am sure that the House would wish to know what rôle the Advisory Council has played.

This is not the first time that the independent chairman of an advisory body has been removed by the Minister of Transport and replaced by someone who is much more dependent upon her. When considering road safety matters, this is to be regretted, and one would like to know whether there is a definite reason for it.

When the White Paper is published, I hope that we shall have further details about points raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House which could possibly be incorporated into the Bill but which would probably require an amendment to the Long Title. Hon. Members on all sides have said that they approve of the Bill. However, we all think that it should be more comprehensive. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes made a point about the long vehicle coming out of a side road, having to turn or having been involved in a jack-knifing accident. Such a vehicle is at an angle with the main road and completely unlit, presenting a terrific hazard to other traffic. I know many cases of people who have been killed by running into these vehicles at great speeds. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will find it acceptable, by way of an amendment to the Long Title of the Bill, to bring such a desirable and urgent matter before the House at a time when we see more and more trailers on our roads, in line with Continental practice, and an increasing number of large articulated vehicles. This is an urgent matter, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that the Bill would be improved by the addition of some provision in this respect.

We welcome the Bill, and we know what has led to it. However, we should like to know a little more about the legal side. The hon. Gentleman talked about the principle of red at the rear and white at the front, which would make side lighting a problem. Is there any evidence that accidents would be reduced, because it appears that they have been in foreign countries? Is there much evidence of accidents being caused by the unlit sides of heavy commercial vehicles?

We all know that we can amend the law as much as we like, but that, without enforcement, it is worthless. Those of us who drive to town from our constituencies know how under-policed our roads are. I wish that there could be more police in evidence, because I know that I behave with greater circumspection when a member of the police force is not far away. A conspicuous police vehicle helps to improve driving standards. Any officer on road patrol finds that driving standards are excellent when he is driving his patrol car. However, they are very different when he is driving home in his own car.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) talked about the increasing use of rotating beacons on vehicles of all types. I agree that we should have better control of them. On ambulances, vehicles doing maintenance work on motorways and police cars, they are essential, but we must prevent their indiscriminate use. A rotating beacon on a vehicle represents something important, often an accident, and their indiscriminate use creates yet another hazard.

We can see evidence of another matter near to this House. I am thinking of what I call a portable container dustbin which is used when a house is being demolished. It is left at the side of the road and loaded with rubbish. When it is full, it is hoisted on to a vehicle, and in fact becomes part of it. I do not know what it is called, but what concerns me is that it is not properly lit at night, and I think that regulations ought to be introduced to deal with this hazard. As far as I can see, the common practice is for the local authority concerned, which apparently supervises these things, to place on the container a road lamp of the very oldest kind, which any hooligan returning from a party at night can remove, thus leaving an unlighted obstruction in the road. This is an extreme hazard, and if we were able to extend the scope of the Bill, perhaps something could be done to deal with it.

Having said that, I commend the Bill to the House. I thank the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for what he said. I hope that he can tell us a bit more about some of the points which have been raised, and I conclude by congratulating the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes on this issue.

11.11 a.m.

Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, perhaps I might make a few comments in reply to the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster).

First, I am pleased that the Bill has been welcomed by both sides of the House. I think that all hon. Members have found that the Bill is a valuable clarification of the existing law. The first point to get clear is about the state of the law with regard to the use of reflecting material.

Secondly, I think that it is generally accepted—certainly by hon. Members who have studied the experience in the United States and the evidence which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) and which was laid before the International Road Congress in London, namely the results of trials at the Road Research Laboratory—that we have sufficient evidence of the safety value of the use of reflecting material in relation to number plates and other devices, and of its value as a means of identifying the vehicle for the purpose of enforcing the law, to say that we must come to the point of making it permissive for these things to be used.

Thirdly—and here I deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Binns)—part of the Bill is simply and solely for the purpose of establishing control over signalling devices. I remind my hon. Friend of what I said in opening, namely, Some of the devices which may be developed by ingenious designers who are working on this subject may prove to be very beneficial, so we do not want to take any action which would be a bar to further progress; but we do want to have the powers to control such devices and to permit the use only of those which my right hon. Friend is advised will make a worth while contribution to road safety. Our purpose is to bring about standardisation and also a standard of compre- hension by all road users of the signalling devices used, but certainly not in any way to count out further technical progress which undoubtedly may be made in the development of such signalling devices.

The hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) mentioned the importance of distinctive markings on lorries. I should like to emphasise this. I hope that the Bill will make a contribution by enabling my right hon. Friend to make further regulations about this. We have very much in mind the point about distinctive markings on heavy, long, or wide loads. This has frequently been mentioned in the House, and it has been the subject of criticism from many sides. Many hon. Members have referred to the dangers caused by wide, heavy, and long loads, and we have it in mind that the regulations which my right hon. Friend will be able to make under the Bill will be useful in dealing with this.

As one would expect, my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West made an important contribution to the debate. He and a number of other hon. Members raised a number of important points, and the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare, not for the first time this Session, suggested that we might consider extending the Long Tide of the Bill so that hon. Members could range further and wider in their consideration of road safety measures. There has been no lack of opportunity during this Session for considering these things. I think that some matters were raised when we were considering what is now the Road Safety Act. We have also had before us the Measure introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Randall), and another Measure dealing with off-street parking. During discussions on all these Measures suggestions have been made that their scope should be extended so that the House can discuss other matters. I am sure that during each Session hon. Members would like to produce an omnibus Bill to enable them to discuss all these wider issues of road safety, but we must take these things as they come from the working parties and from the technical reports which we receive and from data of that kind.

My hon. Friend mentioned headlamps and, I think, stop lamps. These are being considered with a great deal of urgency. We have draft regulations about the compulsory fitting of headlamps. It might come as a surprise to many citizens, and indeed to hon. Members to know that although it is generally assumed that vehicles must be fitted with headlamps, this is not obligatory, and we are about to make regulations to deal with this.

Nor is the fitting of stop lamps compulsory. This is something about which my hon. Friend is concerned, and we intend to take action to deal with the matter. We are being held up by a lack of international agreement on the standard to be adopted. We are trying, as in so many of these spheres, to get international standardisation of the type of device to be fitted. We intend to make the fitting of stop lights compulsory, and to take similar action about direction indicators. We are proposing to take action in many respects which I hope the House will agree will raise the standard of safety on the roads—working on the basis of my hon. Friend's slogan, "See and be seen on the highway."

The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) raised the question of rotating beacons. The use of these beacons is at present controlled by Regulations, but if hon. Members feel that their use is being permitted too widely, perhaps they will let me have evidence of this. The Regulations deal principally with the use of these beacons by the police and the fire, ambulance, and breakdown services, especially on motorways. If hon. Members have evidence of the use of rotating beacons spreading unnecessarily, I hope that they will let me have it, because we want to ensure that they are used only for essential purposes.

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare asked whether the principles of the Bill had been considered by the National Road Safety Advisory Council which advises my right hon. Friend. The Council has from time to time considered whether the law should be changed to permit the use of reflective materials, and it has given its blessing in principle to the provisions of the Bill. It was a result of the Council's deliberations that the technical matters involved were referred to the Lighting Working Party, which recently reported to my right hon. Friend in favour of the permissive use of reflec- tive number plates and other changes for the control of the rear lighting of vehicles.

The Bill is supported by a wide consensus of opinion, and I hope that hon. Members will ensure that it receives a speedy passage through the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Walter Harrison.]

Committee Tomorrow.