This Clause deals with lights to the rear of vehicles for the purpose of illuminating any device for giving signals to overtaking traffic. I hope that I am in order in asking the Parliamentary Secretary about the signs which the House approved some time ago and which have been in use for three or four months when breakdowns have occurred on motorways. Are these signs operating in a satisfactory manner? I am concerned particularly about the Chiswick flyover and the raised part of that motorway, which are extremely hazardous places when there are breakdowns. I take it that such signs are approved of by this Measure, but is the Minister satisfied that people understand what they mean? Are there any figures available to show that they have been successful on motorways? Can the Minister give us any good news at this stage?
The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) loves to range far and wide. We are supposed to be considering devices to give signals to overtaking traffic. I take it that he is referring to the special fog signals on motorways, which are not attached to vehicles and do not give signals to overtaking traffic, but are erected on the shoulders of motorways. I have not to hand the information which he desires. So far as I know, they are working well. However, I undertake to get information about the current position of these signals, and I will give him any data which we have about accidents. I think that he will be aware that, according to a recent report, some improvement has been achieved in the way of a reduction in the number of accidents on our motorways and the casualties resulting from them. The extent to which that is attributable to the signalling system which we have devised is a matter about which I have no information to hand, but I will let the hon. Gentleman have it as soon as possible.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I welcome the support which the Bill has received from all parts of the House. Whatever differences of opinion there may be, I know that we are united in our determination to tackle the problems of accidents on our roads in a variety of ways. I am sorry that it is not possible to deal with all the problems in one omnibus Bill per session. However, even though the present Measure is more in the nature of a mini than an omnibus, hon. Members should not underestimate its importance, nor the extent to which it has resulted from genuine back bench effort and agitation, drawing our attention to the subject with which it deals.
We all agree that we must take full advantage of new techniques to combat accidents. To do this, sometimes our existing laws have to be altered, because, when they were drafted some years ago, it was quite outside the powers of foresight of any of our legislators to predict the technical advances which have been made over the past few years.
This is the situation with which the first two Clauses are intended to deal. We wish to be able to permit the wider use of reflective material for the rear lighting of vehicles, while still retaining some powers of control.
First, we had to deal with the dubiety about the legal status of these materials. If they are to be used as an adjunct to lights on vehicles, it must be clear to all concerned what the position is about the law governing the lighting of vehicles. That is why it is necessary to clarify the legal status of reflective materials in the first Clause.
Having defined that position, my right hon. Friend is advised that, with the law as it stands at the moment, it would be illegal to use anything except red reflective material to give out light to the rear of a vehicle.
We do not intend that there should be a multiplicity of colours on the rears of vehicles. That would only lead to confusion. It would also go against the basic principle that the back of a vehicle is denoted by a red light or reflector. However, as long as we control carefully the colours used, we have every reason to believe that we can avoid confusion and, at the same time, make it very much easier for vehicles to be seen at night. That is almost as important as making certain that the driver can see properly.
Similarly, there is little point in saying that a reflective material may or shall be used unless, at the same time, we can say what the optical qualities of the material ought to be. If its reflective properties are inadequate, insufficient light is reflected to serve any useful purpose. At the same time, if they are too efficient, the drivers of other vehicles may be dazzled. It is necessary, therefore, that my right hon. Friend should have the powers contained in Clause 2 to lay down technical details. These will enable her, by means of regulations, to control the colour, optical qualities, positioning and amount of any reflective material which should be used on the back of any vehicle. At the same time, they will enable her to make provisions for special types of vehicles if she so wishes.
Mr. Gresham Cooke:
The hon. Gentleman has told us twice that his right hon. Friend will have power, by means of regulations, to lay down the size, colour, positioning, and so on, of any reflective material. He has not mentioned the problem of rivetting and sticking on the digits, which is most important.
I promise to go into that. I admit that I have not covered all the details with which we will have to be concerned, and I hope shortly to reply to the hon. Gentleman.
As I said on Second Reading, I confidently expect my right hon. Friend to use these powers to permit the use of reflective number plates by those drivers who wish to fit them to their cars, and that regulations on the subject will be made before the onset of the long winter nights.
Finally, there is the question of controlling the devices intended to give signals to overtaking traffic. Signals which are misunderstood, or not well understood, are a potential danger on the roads. When most drivers signalled by hand there could be, and were, misunderstandings. It was sometimes difficult to know whether a driver was intending to turn right, or was merely showing the passengers in the rear of his car the Palace of Westminster as he drove by.
Mechanical devices for direction signalling are replacing hand signals, and illuminated devices may be more readily distinguishable than hand signals. This is particularly true at night, and so long as everybody knows what the signals mean no danger should arise. It is when signals are not understood that accidents are likely to occur. It is therefore extremely important, when new devices are invented, to try to clarify and standardise the position with regard to their use. Since it seems that there may be a loophole in the present Act which could be taken as permitting the use of any signal, provided it was intended as a signal to overtaking traffic, we feel that this should be stopped, and this is why Clause 3 is in the Bill.
Perhaps I might stress one point which arose during the Second Reading debate. None of these powers will in any way prevent or inhibit developments in vehicle lighting. All that we are doing is ensuring that control can be exercised over the development of new systems, and that new ideas are properly tested and assessed before being tried out on the roads. Perhaps most important of all, we want to ensure that they are properly publicised so that, before they are put into general use on the roads, everybody knows what they mean.
I think it is generally agreed that this is a good Bill, and again I express my thanks to the many hon. Members on both sides of the House who have contributed to its provisions and considered it with such speed. I commend it as a Measure which will make a further contribution to road safety.
I do not want to detain the House for more than a few moments. I was very pleased to hear the Joint Parliamentary Secretary say that he hoped the regulations would come into operation by the time the dark nights arrived.
The hon. Gentleman said that there must not be a multiplicity of colours, and that the regulations would permit the use of certain colours other than red. I hope that these will be made known as soon as possible because manufacturers will want to distribute the appropriate number plates throughout the country as soon as possible so that those who wish to use them can do so.
The use of reflective number plates is to be permissive, and only permissive, which means that a motorist will be able to fit them if he wants to. I hope it will be laid down quite clearly that those who purport to produce these plates will have to conform to a certain standard before they can put a British Standards stamp on them. This will ensure that those who purchase them are buying plates with good reflective surfaces, and are not buying a pig in a poke. There would be no difficulty if the use of these plates was obligatory because there would then be some check on whether they were up to the required standard. I hope, therefore, that steps will he taken to ensure that those who purport to sell reflective number plates will make them of the standard which the customer will expect. I hope that they will be made of proper reflective material, and will be up to a proper optical standard.
The speed with which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and his Department have handled the Bill almost makes them guilty of exceeding the speed limit. I say that because an early-day Motion on the subject was signed by a large number of hon. Members in January and February. my ten-minute rule Bill was given a First Reading on 19th April, this Measure received its Second Reading on 31st May, and today, 12th June, we are seeing it through its final stages here. This is a truly remarkable performance and it shows that my hon. Friend and his Department, and indeed all hon. Members, realise that this Measure can save a number of lives.
I am greatly indebted to my hon. Friend and his Department, and indeed to all hon. Members, for the help which I have received with my Bill. It was in October, 1965, when I read an article in a Sunday newspaper that this matter was first brought to my attention. Since then I have come to realise the tremendous advantages which can be obtained from using reflective material for number plates, and it is good to know that before the winter nights arrive these plates will be in use.
When I spoke on 19th April and 31st May I said all that I wanted to about the position and dimension of these plates. I hope that it will not be long before we get the regulations which will enable us to give effect to the slogan which I coined on an earlier occasion, namely, that all motorists should be able to see and be seen. If we can achieve this, I am sure that we shall reduce the number of appalling tragedies on our roads.
Even though it may have been a little inconvenient to the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) and to other hon. Members to come here on a Wednesday and Monday morning to consider this Measure, I am sure that everyone will think the effort will have been worthwhile if by it we save a certain amount of suffering on our roads and bring back a little sanity into our road lighting regulations. Without further ado I conclude by thanking by hon. Friend, his Department, and all hon. Members for the tremendous help which they have given me, and I hope that this Measure will very soon become law.
I, too, thank the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for what he said, and wish the Bill every success in the other place. We have dealt with the Bill extremely speedily. It has taken only ten days to get it through this House.
I am glad that the Government decided to support the ten-minute rule Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas). Had they decided to do so earlier instead of getting involved with the controversial Measure dealing with the abolition of live hare coursing, this Bill might by now have completed its stages in the other place. This is something on which the hon. Gentleman can reflect, but I shall not sour a happy morning by pursuing that any further.
The hon. Gentleman said that this was a mini-Bill. This is reasonable, because we have to get it through before the autumn evenings are with us. It is probably best not just to travel hopefully, but to arrive, but I regret that my new Clause was not considered to be in order. I have discovered the word for the disposal units to which I referred. I understand that they are called—
I regret that it is not, Mr. Speaker, but I shall leave it there.
I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that we do not want a multiplicity of colours on the backs of vehicles. I am glad—although I do not very much like it for political reasons—that we shall stick to the colour red at the rear of vehicles. It is probably basically right. The signs that motorists have to deal with are baffling enough now without making them more difficult, and the same thing applies to signals.
It is also right that people should know what signals are for. I sometimes wonder whether they do, and whether motorists should not be subjected to a thorough examination, on a snap basis, in order to see how many of these signals are known by them. I believe that the answer would be disappointing, to say the least.
Having said that, however, I congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on his celerity in getting the Bill through and wish it success in another place. I hope that no Amendments are made in another place, except to do what we have failed to do here. I hope that the Bill will turn out to be a successful Act and that the regulations will do something to mitigate the loss of life on our roads.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) and to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and his Ministry on the progress made by the Bill in such a short time. We are now left with roughly 36 days for the Bill to go through another place and for any regulations to be made. Remarkable progress will have to be made by the Bill if the Minister is to be able to make regulations before we rise, so we may have to wait until the beginning of September before they are made, if there is to be sufficient time for us to discuss them when we come back in the middle of October.
Reference has been made to the fact that permission would be given before the onset of the dark nights of the coming winter, but we can have some dark nights in June, July and August. I suggest that the Minister might follow the precedent set by the Home Secretary on the Murder (Abolition of Capital Punishment) Bill, which suspended capital punishment. If this Bill has gone through the other place and has become law by the end of June it could be indicated to people outside that it would be rather foolish to prosecute someone for using these number plates, in view of the fact that their use would be made lawful by regulation very shortly. This would be as useful a piece of legislation in June, July and August as it would be in September and later.