HC Deb 29 July 1958 vol 592 cc1259-318

7.45 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

I beg to move, That the Special Roads (Classes of Traffic) Order, 1958, dated 22nd July, 1958, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd July, be approved. I think it would be for the convenience of the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if we also debated the Motor Vehicles (Speed Limit on Special Roads) Regulations, 1958. The Questions could then be put separately at the end.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

We have no objection.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think that that would be for the convenience of the House.

Mr. Nugent

The Order and Regulaions we are considering are the Instruments necessary to provide for the use of the new motorways, of which we shall see the first sample in this country in November on the Preston bypass. The Preston bypass is a short length of motorway of about eight miles, which is the forerunner of what I hope will be a network of major routes in this country, motorways which will provide the country with a first-class basic network of roads.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

Before he proceeds, will the Minister tell the House what lanes of traffic are provided for on this stretch of the road? I understand that there are to be two lanes only. Perhaps he will confirm that.

Mr. Nugent

I was intending to give a brief description of the motorway. I thought that that would be helpful, and, indeed, I should be very glad to do it forthwith if that would assist.

The design of all motorways is intended to provide a road which will be safe for large volumes of traffic to travel fast in safety. The design, therefore, provides for no intersections except in the service areas, which on full, complete motorways will occur roughly every twelve miles, where clover-leaf intersections will be provided. Otherwise, the two carriage-ways will be completely separate. There will be no direct intersections at all. There will be either bridges over existing roads or tunnels underneath. There will be cuttings through the hills and causeways through the valleys to eliminate any steep gradients, corners and so on, so that the roads really will be safe for fast travel.

On the Preston motorway, which is the one we are immediately considering, there are two carriageways each laid out with two lanes only, but provision has been made for adding a third lane if and when the volume of traffic justifies building it. The total width of the road can consist of three lanes, plus hard shoulders on each side sufficient for vehicles to drive on to in the event of breakdown or stoppage. It is an essential feature, of course, that nothing shall be allowed to stop on the road itself and that it shall be really safe for fast travel.

I believe that some hon. Members recently paid a visit to the London—Birmingham motorway now in course of construction, and there saw what a splendid conception a modern motorway is and what a wonderful contribution it can make to both the commercial and the recreational, personal traffic of the country. These motorways really will make a tremendous contribution to our traffic system as we proceed to build them.

Our policy in this matter is to try to keep both regulations and restrictions to a minimum. We feel that we are here providing roads where drivers can proceed at the safe speed of their vehicles, according to their own judgment, and that therefore the right approach in the first place is to make the minimum of regulations and restrictions, giving the hard-pressed driving community of the country, both commercial and private, an opportunity to drive in freedom and safety. But we realise that there is a good deal to be learned. We have no experience of motorways in this country. We have, of course, the benefit of a good deal of experience abroad, and some of us have seen motorways in other countries. We know what benefit they bring, but none of us knows just how our own drivers will react to them.

My right hon. Friend and I feel, therefore, that the right approach is to use the Preston bypass as a useful experiment before we come to the far more important London-Birmingham motorway which we expect to be opened in the autumn of next year.

The House will have noticed that the Statutory Instruments now before it are for short duration only and end in August of next year, our idea being that we shall then have had some nine months' practical experience of how traffic moves on the Preston bypass. With that experience, on top of the collective wisdom in the Department, which is embodied in these Instruments, we believe that we shall be in a position to make regulations for the future that will then cover the London-Birmingham motorway and others that are to come. I am sure that the House will see that in these regulations we have left ourselves full scope to learn by experience, and if experience teaches us that modifications should be made, my right hon. Friend will be the first to learn by it.

The Order deals with the classes of vehicles which are to be excluded from the motorway, and the thought behind it is to exclude from the motorway classes of vehicles which, by their nature, are unlikely to be able to conform to the average speed of the general flow of traffic on the motorway. We believe that if these slower vehicles were allowed on the motorway, they would inevitably interfere with the general flow of traffic, and therefore cause a danger. It is for these reasons that we have excluded such vehicles as the ordinary pedal cycle and the small moped of under 50 c.c., because they would not travel fast enough to be able to join in the general flow of traffic.

The other classes of vehicles present no serious issue or problem until we come to the difficult problem of the abnormal indivisible load. We are all familiar with these horrifying vehicles travelling on the roads, and there is probably none of us who has not sat for hours behind one of them hoping to get a chance to pass, and none of us who would not be very glad indeed to see them travelling on some different road to that on which we are travelling ourselves. My right hon. Friend and I have given long and careful consideration to what was the right regulation to make for these motorways.

What we had to have in mind was that here we are building roads which will allow fast, safe travel, so that drivers can proceed along them in the confidence that they will not encounter other vehicles, except those travelling at similar speeds and in the same direction, will not have to meet intersections, sharp corners, sharp rises and so on. One has to use one's imagination about the effect of abnormal indivisible loads travelling along such a road—one of these vast loads perhaps occupying a whole lane, or as much as a lane and a half, which some could occupy, the largest traveling at a very low speed—only four or five miles an hour—which might constitute a really serious danger to the general flow of traffic.

Therefore, the eventual conclusion of my right hon. Friend and myself was that we should start by excluding these loads from the motorway. I say "start" because, as I said earlier, it is the wish of my right hon. Friend and myself that we should learn by experience on the Preston bypass, because my right hon. Friend has power, under the 1949 Act, to use his discretion to allow loads to proceed on the motorways despite this prohibition. Our intention is that we shall permit abnormal indivisible loads to proceed experimentally on the motorway and see how they get on, so that we shall learn by experience whether, in fact, they do cause serious impediment and danger to traffic, as we apprehend they may, or whether traffic sorts itself out better than we anticipate.

Mr. Sparks

May I ask the hon. Gentleman if he is relating his remarks to a situation in which there is a carriageway which provides for only two lanes of traffic? If, in fact, three lanes were provided, does he think that that would overcome his objection?

Mr. Nugent

It obviously does make a considerable difference. On this particular motorway, there are two lanes of traffic, and, obviously, all the objections to the large abnormal indivisible load moving along it are intensified where there are only two lanes, as opposed to three. On the other hand, were there three lanes, these objections might be less, but we have felt that the right approach to this problem is to start with a general prohibition and to use this opportunity to experiment by allowing certain loads to use the Preston bypass, by observing them closely and seeing how they get on.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, would he say what is the procedure for abrogating these Instruments now laid on the Table of the House? He talks about exceptional loads going on the Preston motorway. Would he use a special movement order for that purpose, and, if so, is my right hon. Friend referring to very large vehicles, say, of 30 feet or more?

Mr. Nugent

Of course, we shall have to deal with what applications come to us. As my hon. Friend knows, when manufacturers wish to move these loads, they apply to the police. Where they are of very large size, which come into a special category, they need special permission from my right hon. Friend, while the smaller size loads only have to be notified to the local police. I should hope that we may have experience of both, but clearly we cannot have these loads moving up specially to the Preston bypass. We shall have to make use of such experience as comes our way and allow, in special circumstances, experiments to take place on the Preston bypass.

Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)

I do not understand the point which the hon. Gentleman is making. I understand that extremely wide and long roads can be dealt with already under the present Regulations by the police and the Minister. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that heavy vehicles with very large loads will be allowed on these motorways, or is he barring altogether what are called abnormal indivisible loads?

Mr. Nugent

What we are doing here is to allow the ordinary commercial load—naturally, that is the main purpose and justification of building motorways—but to prohibit all loads beyond the size of the normal commercial vehicle and coming into the category of the abnormal indivisible load. There are two categories of these vehicles, one which could be dealt with by the police themselves, and a second category which, in any event, would require the permission of my right hon. Friend. Our intention is, as far as we have applications during the next nine to twelve months, to allow some of these to go on the Preston bypass under observation, as an experiment and to see how they get on.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Would the hon. Gentleman tell us what is the demarcation line between the normal commercial load and the abnormal indivisible load? I think there is some confusion as to the actual tonnage involved, or the length and width of the vehicle. If he could enlighten the House in this regard it would be very helpful.

Mr. Nugent

I will make myself better informed. My recollection is that for most vehicles the dimensions are 8 ft. in width as the standard width. [An HON. MEMBER: "8 ft. 6 ins."] In certain circumstances, the overhang is taken into consideration. I will make myself better informed as to the exact dimensions which cover the ordinary commercial load and at what stage they come into the abnormal indivisible load category and require special treatment.

In the meantime, to complete what I was saying, we feel that it would be dangerous to allow the abnormal indivisible load to travel on this motorway, at least until we have practical experience of it. We feel that it would be dangerous to the other traffic which is moving on the road and, therefore, we prefer to do it only experimentally so that we may learn by experience.

The size of load which requires a special order with the permission of my right hon. Friend is a width exceeding 20 ft. and a weight exceeding 150 tons. These are the loads of which we are particularly apprehensive, because, usually, they travel very slowly and, obviously, could be a serious danger. During the course of my speech, I will give the House details of the other demarcation line between normal and special loads.

Turning to the question of speed limits, once again we gave careful thought to whether there should be a general speed limit on vehicles. We concluded that it would be wise to start without a speed limit. These roads are built for safe, fast travel and the right plan seems to us to be to allow drivers to use their own judgment as to the safe speed for their vehicles and to let traffic move smoothly and rapidly along the road.

The only vehicle on which we thought there should be a specific speed limit is the vehicle which is towing either a two-wheel trailer or a close-coupled four-wheel trailer. We thought it advisable to make this regulation, because normally this class of trailer tends to sway about when reaching a higher speed, and usually its braking system is only on the overrun principle and it does not have the hydraulic brakes of the four-wheel commercial vehicle. Therefore, these trailers are not too safe at high speed. Other than that, we thought that the right plan was to start without speed limits in the hope and belief that the average driver is careful and responsible and that drivers generally will respond to the freedom that we propose to give.

Once again, however, we shall have to learn by experience and I hope that our faith in the good sense of drivers will be justified. Obviously, if people use these roads as race tracks, they will make them a danger, not only to themselves, but to everybody else. It is right to put on record that we are doing this with our eyes open but feeling that here is an opportunity for people to travel faster in safety. We hope and believe that they will have the good sense to do this in a responsible way. I feel sure that all the motoring organisations will use their best influence to get over to the motoring public their responsibilities in travelling on this road.

In that context, I should like to refer to another aspect which is not covered in the Regulations. Obviously, there are many other matters which could be covered in Regulations, but we felt that the right approach was to keep them to a minimum and to cover the remainder of the driving behaviour on these roads by a supplement to the Highway Code defining the mode of conduct which drivers should follow when using motor ways. That would cover such matters as maximum safe speed and, what is very important, lane discipline.

One of the weak spots in the driving conduct of our countrymen is that they are not good at lane discipline. It is of vital importance that they should observe lane discipline and should observe the good conduct of driving in such matters as overtaking. All these matters we propose to cover in a supplement to the Highway Code. We propose to deal with this in the first instance by publishing what may be described as a schedule of advice, which we shall have ready in the next month or so, covering all these paints. We then propose, again, to learn by experience on the road and at a suitable time during the experimental period we will codify this advice. Then, we must bring it before Parliament before it can become a supplement to the Highway Code itself.

Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)

The hon. Gentleman said that it is the Minister's intention to issue a supplement to the Highway Code in which the maximum speed on these roads will be incorporated. If that be the case, one of the arguments which will be advanced will concern speed. Does the Joint Parliamentary Secretary not think that he should have laid the supplement before the House at the same time as we are considering these Regulations? It is the most important issue of the whole lot.

Mr. Nugent

No. I am sorry if I misled the hon. Member. I was intending to say that this advice, as it will be in the first place, and, later, a supplement to the Highway Code, will give general advice on speed and that drivers should have regard to the nature, weight, and so on, of their vehicles, but that it will not attempt to lay down what should be the maximum speed. Our whole approach is that we should not have a speed limit and that we should leave it to the individual judgment of drivers to decide the safe maximum speed at which they can drive. We hope that that will prove to be right.

My right hon. Friend and I make this experiment conscious that it contains an element of danger. We shall watch it extremely closely. We are doing it because we believe that having no speed limit will give vehicles the opportunity to find their own speed limit and that drivers will do it in safety and in a responsible manner. If, on the other hand, we are wrong and experience proves that drivers do not do this, we shall have no alternative but to consider imposing a maximum speed limit. In the first place, however, we feel that we should try to proceed without it.

I am now better able to answer the question I was asked earlier about the dimensions of a normal load and the point at which it becomes an abnormal indivisible load. The normal maximum width is 8 ft. with an allowance for overhang of, I believe, 9 in. on either side, or 18 in. altogether. The maximum normal weight is different for each class of vehicle, varying from 3 tons for a private car up to a considerable weight. The load varies according to the class of vehicle. The significant dimension is the 9 ft. 6 in. width including the overhang. When a vehicle exceeds that width with its load, it gets into the class of the abnormal indivisible load. There is then the intermediate stage at which application to the police will be necessary and, after that, application to my right hon. Friend. In the first place, however, for experimental purposes, we shall allow no indivisible loads whatever on the motorway except by permission of my right hon. Friend.

To conclude my remarks about the supplement to the Highway Code, this document will be comprehensive in dealing with all aspects of driving conduct which we think are necessary. It will, I hope, have not only the support of this House, but the active support of the motoring organisations, so that drivers generally will give it close attention. Incidentally, the existing Highway Code, which is an admirable document—if everybody did what it said, the roads would be very different—is today paid too little attention. I hope that we shall be able to take the opportunity of the supplement to give a new boost and authority to the existing Highway Code.

I think I have said enough to indicate to the House our general approach to this matter. We feel that we should keep Regulations to a minimum and that we should use this first experience with the Preston bypass as an experimental period during which we can learn whether our first thoughts are right. If they are not, we can modify them before we come to the far more important London to Birmingham motorway. If at the end of that time we find it necessary to make modifications, we shall certainly make them. In the meantime, we propose that there shall be no speed limit, that we should not allow the abnormal indivisible load and that we should proceed in the light of the general advice that our forerunner of the supplement to the Highway Code will give. We believe that that is the best basis for starting this very important development. I hope that the House will feel that the Statutory Instruments are soundly based and that it will give its support to what is a very important road development.

8.12 p.m.

Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)

I think that we are quickly approaching the time when we shall make history with regard to the roads. We are all looking forward to the opening of the Preston motor road and to it being followed by the opening of the major motor roads which are now in course of construction.

In debating these Statutory Instruments it is important that we should consider whether there has been adequate time for consultation and discussion with the parties who are usually consulted upon matters such as these. It is common knowledge that it is the practice of all Ministries to take the fullest advantage of consultation with the various industries and trade unions affected so that the Minister may be apprised of their viewpoint and will be able not only to enter into further discussion with them upon the points that they raise, but so that he can get a better balanced picture of the views of both sides of industry.

The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Harold Watkinson)

I thought that a number of hon. Members might have views on this matter and would raise specific points. If there is time and if it is the will of the House, I propose to answer them at the end of the debate.

Mr. McLeavy

I should like to deal with the time-table of discussion with the industries and trade unions which are concerned with the conditions laid down in these Statutory Instruments. So far as my information goes, my own trade union, the Transport and General Workers Union—I assume that other sections of industry were advised at the same time—received a letter from the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation on 7th July intimating that he intended to lay these two Statutory Instruments before the House. The Minister requested a reply not later than 21st July. I understand that the union sent a reply on 18th July setting out its considered opinion upon the provisions contained in the two Statutory Instruments. We were rather surprised that four days later, on 22nd July, the Minister found himself able to lay the Statutory Instruments. I submit to the Minister and to the House that it was hardly possible to give adequate consideration to the points raised by the trade union and by industry in such a short period.

I know that the Minister is anxious to get these Statutory Instruments through because of the opening of the Preston bypass before reassembling after the summer Recess. But I cannot understand why communications could not have been sent by the Minister long before 7th July to get the views of the trade unions and other organisations upon the Statutory Instrument in order to allow for opportunities of representation and discussion with the Minister. He still would have had time to lay the Statutory Instruments before the House tonight.

I believe that it is vitally important that the utmost consultation should be held with the trade union movement and with the employers' side of industry, and that the Minister and Parliament should err upon the side of allowing too long rather than too short a time for these discussions. We in the Transport and General Workers Union feel that it was hardly possible for the Minister to consider the points raised by our union in reply to his letter of 7th July. Certainly there was not time for further correspondence between the Minister and the union on the points raised. We think it is unfortunate because of the special circumstances of these two Statutory Instruments.

I agree with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that these are temporary provisions. Be that as it may, they are provisions which may well set the type of conditions and regulations which may be applied to the whole of our motorways in the years to come. We should have started with moderation rather than give the motoring industry absolute freedom, and say, "All of you be good boys or we might have to do something". It would have been far better if the Minister had taken the view with regard to this experimental eight-mile motor road that he could give some slight relaxation of the existing speed limit in order to try to experiment. But the Minister has thrown wisdom to the winds; he is simply banking upon the motorist playing his part and not exceeding what would be regarded as a reckless speed.

I want, first, to deal with the question of the class of traffic which will use the Preston bypass. The view of the Transport and General Workers Union upon the matter is that, since a number of vehicles carrying abnormal and indivisible loads are already under the control of the appropriate authority in the matter of loading, it is unreasonable to exclude them from the use of the bypass. I agree with that point of view. I see the Minister smiling, but this is a serious point. The conception of these motor roads is that they shall allow motor transport to proceed more speedily than it can on the existing winding roads of our countryside.

It is intended that the large amount of money that we are spending upon the construction of these motorways—and I supported the policy right through—should be of assistance not merely to the private motorist but to the industrial life of the nation. It is intended that these motorways should assist manufacturers to deliver their goods from one point to another at a cheaper rate per mile than is possible with the congested conditions of our roads today. From that point of view it is important that we should examine the question of these very large, uncomfortable and bulky loads.

I know that if we have them on this experimental motor road they will be a nuisance to some of the other traffic which wants to move more speedily, but does the Minister seriously suggest that after we have constructed a link system of motorways throughout the country we can legitimately prohibit for all time the use of these motorways by this type of transport? From the point of view of public safety it is far better that it should go where it can move easily along these new motorways than that it should have to go winding round the streets, lanes and highways of Britain, going miles out of its course in order to avoid low bridges, costing a tremendous amount of money and labour, and involving expenditure in the police force by way of the provision of motor-cyclists and policemen to guide it along hundreds of miles of roadway. It seems fantastic that we should think of excluding such traffic from the motorways, and I urge the Minister to reconsider the matter. It is not fair or equitable to the industries concerned, and it certainly is not making the best use of our motor roads.

I turn now to the Motor Vehicles (Speed Limit on Special Roads) Regulations, 1958. The Minister seems to be making an extraordinary decision here. In opening the debate the Joint Parliamentary Secretary gave us his views about the freedom that we were giving to the private motorist by these Regulations. He talked about motorists travelling at a safe speed, according to their own judgment. What nonsense that is. He knows quite well that to talk in terms of a speed limit according to one's own judgment is merely asking for trouble. The judgment will depend upon, the type of individual driving the vehicle, and it may well be that we shall have serious accidents on the Preston bypass as a result of these Regulations.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister, however, say, "If that happens, this is an experimental period and we can bring in Regulations relating to speed." That seems to be approaching the question from an entirely wrong angle. It would have been infinitely better if we had started moderately by allowing a slightly extra speed above the existing legal limit and said, "We will review the position in the light of this experiment and, if necessary, bring forward other Regulations based upon our experience on this road," rather than introduce proposals of this character, without any knowledge of what might transpire on these sections of road.

There are other points to which I am sure the Minister has not given adequate consideration. There is the question of the capacity of certain types of vehicles to go at unlimited speeds; the question of braking capacity, and the general type of vehicle and its loading. All these factors must be taken into consideration if we are properly to examine the position.

It is all very well for people who are used to driving an ordinary motor car to talk about heavy transport vehicles being able to travel at any speed they like without any danger to the general travelling public or to themselves. No one today is satisfied that the braking facilities of transport vehicles are adequate or that they are capable of meeting the strain of unlimited speed. If some transport vehicles happened to be following a stream of private cars going at 50, 60, 70—shall we rejoice, and say 100 miles an hour?—along the Preston bypass and something went wrong in front, are we satisfied that the drivers of those vehicles, which might be carrying heavy loads of steel or something of that kind, would have sufficient braking power to prevent a collision with the vehicles in front and avoid causing great injury and even loss of life?

I do not think that the Minister has given adequate thought to these matters or that he has troubled to have the consultations he ought to have had with people who could advise him. I am referring not only to the manufacturers, but to the men who drive these vehicles. Their opinion is very important. They are regarded as the best drivers in the country. Through their trade union representatives they make representations to the Minister. We are entitled to an assurance that the right hon. Gentleman has had adequate consultations with the trade unions concerned. My information is that his consultations have been confined to a letter addressed to the unions. So far as I know, there has been no attempt to obtain the views of the men who drive the vehicles so that the Minister can form an intelligent appreciation of the points which arise over this question of abolishing the speed limit.

I say, frankly, that to start an experiment by having no speed limit at all is asking for trouble and setting about the whole matter in the wrong way. Even at this late hour, I wish to plead with the Minister to be realistic. I ask him to withdraw these Regulations and to have further consultation with all sides of industry and any section of the community capable of advising him. If we are to have temporary Regulations, as appears to be necessary, lot them be based on a policy hammered out after the closest and most intensive consultation with everyone concerned.

I have always supported the building of these motorways. It will be a tremendous thing for Britain when we have a network of motorways throughout the length and breadth of the land. It is equally important, although these Regulations are of a temporary nature, that we start moderately and right and are in a position to increase the facilities and the speed rather than that we should start at a point at which it may be necessary to scale down. I hope that the Minister will pay serious attention to the views expressed tonight. The unions feel strongly that there has been inadequate consultation on this vital matter. The welfare of our drivers may be at stake because of the abolition of the speed limit. We feel it to be wrong and unfair to the men concerned and unfair to the general public that provision has not been made on a more sensible and equitable basis.

8.35 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I shall not start by answering in detail the most extraordinary speech of the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy). He spoke to us as though no one had ever seen a motorway before or had any experience of it. I will allude to some of the points he made during the course of my speech.

I wish to start by congratulating my right hon. Friend on being in a position to make these Statutory Instruments at all. Great Britain started very late in the construction of motorways. After the war, when other countries in Western Europe were building new motorways or extending existing ones, we confined ourselves to passing the Special Roads Act of 1949 and making a few plans. That is all that happened for a considerable number of years. But in recent months great progress has been made and considerable stretches of special roads have been completed, or are nearing completion.

As was mentioned by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, a number of hon. Members recently had an opportunity of seeing a considerable portion of the London—Birmingham motorway under construction. A number of hon. Members have also seen the motorways under construction in Western European countries. With other hon. Members, I have seen roads under construction in Western Germany, Holland, Belgium, Austria, and West Berlin. Hon. Members who have seen those roads, and our own roads, will agree that the British motorways are of a very high standard. I have no hesitation in saying that our motorways, when they are completed, will be the best in Western Europe. I cannot compare them with those in America because I have not seen the American roads, but I expect that our roads would compare very favourably with those in America.

A special road is of no use unless there are special restrictions on its use, and all the officials in the countries of Western Europe which I have mentioned are agreed on one thing as it applies to conditions in Western Europe, including this country. Since the main towns are comparatively close together, much closer together than on the American continent, the main use of a motorway is to maintain a steady flow of traffic at a fast pace which is also an even pace, and it is particularly important that the flow should be steady rather than any particular pace. The Dutch officials went so far as to produce a table showing not only the saving in time achieved by having motorways, but also the saving in maintenance costs per vehicle by not having to apply the brakes or change gear at frequent intervals. That answers some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Bradford, East.

In this connection it is obvious that if we have on the motorway a large vehicle which will obstruct the passage of overtaking vehicles the advantages of not applying brakes or changing gear will not appertain. Thus, apart from the question of danger, it militates against the advantages of the road to have indivisible loads blocking up the roadway and causing vehicles to brake in order to pass round them.

Mr. Sparks

Does not that apply in the reverse direction? If we take those vehicles off the existing highway we reduce the amount of braking by vehicles on the road, but what we gain on the swings we lose on the roundabouts.

Mr. Wilson

Not at all. These roads cost £¼ million per mile and it is a waste of money to build them if we are to fill them up with traffic carrying large indivisible loads which will cause other vehicles to brake. Further, the hon. Member for Bradford, East seemed to think that the existence of these vehicles on motorways would not be unduly dangerous, but experience in Western Europe is that accidents on motorways nearly always occur when several lines of traffic are diverted into one.

Some hon. Members may recollect actually seeing a very bad accident in Holland where, for the purpose of repairing a highway, the authorities had diverted two main lines into one, with the result that seven cars collided with each other. Having large indivisible loads on the motorway and causing a line of traffic to pass out of its line is likely to cause an accident which might be a multiple accident of a very serious character.

Mr. McLeavy

Was not the accident very largely due to the fact that there was no speed limit?

Mr. Wilson

No, no. The reason was that the road had been converted from a double two-lane road into a single two-lane roadway.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I saw the accident and my impression was that it was caused because two roads taking traffic in opposite directions had been thrown into one.

Mr. Wilson

That was true, but the same principle applies where two lines in the same direction are thrown into one. It means increased danger.

I do not think anybody has raised objections to the limitation of the use of motor cycles on the motorways. It would be very undesirable to have mopeds and very light motor cycles of that kind on the motorway. It is right to expect that a good number of vehicles will have to be excluded if full use is to be made of the motorways.

With regard to the two-wheeled trailers, my impression is that those vehicles are very often caravans pulled by rather small private cars which are not very suitable types for towing that type of vehicle. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The Minister has been rather generous in permitting a speed of 40 m.p.h. to these vehicles. It seems to be ample. I would again say to the hon. Member for Bradford, East, that on European motorways very large vehicles pull trailers of equal weight and travel at 60 m.p.h. and more. Recently, the Germans have proposed to put on a speed-limit, not for reasons of safety, but because these very heavy vehicles are knocking the autobahnen to pieces as they pass along them. I think the speed limit is 55 m.p.h. for a large vehicle with a large trailer.

Dutch or German experience is nothing which we could take as conclusive. Conditions in any country are bound to be different from others, especially when we remember that the German officials themselves are the first to admit that the British standard of driving is higher than the German standard. Nevertheless, we should pay some attention to Continental experience, especially Western European, where conditions are much more likely to be similar to our own than they would be in America.

I suggest to British industry that it is much more important to them to have heavy goods vehicles and the private cars of business executives passing freely at a fast pace from place to place than that motorways should be obstructed by the occasional use of heavy indivisible loads, thereby very much reducing the usefulness and safety of the motorways.

In the long run, I am sure industry would benefit by keeping heavy indivisible loads off the motorways. I am certain that industry and the trade unions would benefit by allowing an unrestricted speed on the motorways. We have seen that in many countries unrestricted speed can be undertaken by drivers without undue strain and that it gives them a greater degree of productivity, thereby providing an opportunity for greater earnings. It is to the general benefit of industry to have a speeding up of passenger and goods traffic on our roads. I hope these experimental Regulations will be a great success, as I am sure the motorways will be.

8.46 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Oswald (Edinburgh, Central)

I rise to add my protest against the undue haste of the Minister in laying these Statutory Instruments. I do not want to risk being asked to refrain from repetition and in consequence I shall not go over the data which has been given by previous speakers. The short period allowed is inadequate for the interested parties to examine the proposals.

Under the Order which we are discussing certain classes of traffic are to be prohibited from using the new eight-mile stretch on the Preston bypass. In fact, abnormal and indivisible loads are not to be permitted to traverse that highway. The Minister already has power under the new Motor Vehicles (Authorisation of Special Types) Orders to direct and divert such vehicles to prevent undue traffic congestion because certain parts of existing highways are incapable of taking those abnormal loads. It is common knowledge that additional powers are wielded by various local authorities and the police in certain regions. They are entitled to route, or reroute, abnormal loads and not to permit them along certain stretches of roads where bridges may not be of sufficient strength to bear those loads. They can direct them into other channels.

The purpose of new, better and wider roads is to procure an even flow of traffic and to prevent congestion on existing roads. For years I have stressed in this House and in Scottish Grand Committee the necessity of a nation-wide roads programme. I have always based my argument and submissions on the outmoded and outdated road system we have in this country. It is important to note that the smooth transportation of raw materials and finished products to and from our docks and factories is of the utmost importance to the economy of the country. Added overhead costs already mentioned, because of delay in keeping road vehicles on the move, continually mount against industry.

Abnormal loads are regularly transported along the highways. It must be in the knowledge of the Minister that such things as ships' engines, ships' boilers, electrical transformers, oil refinery plant, building material and other huge loads cannot be taken by rail. Such plant requires to be manœuvred, and that is very important. At the moment it requires to be manœuvred through very narrow streets, round roundabouts and across bridges whilst all other vehicular traffic is either stopped, slowed up, or diverted. The passage of such loads causes obstruction all the way from the loading point to the unloading point. Tremendous inconvenience is caused to other road users, including the public using passenger vehicles to go about their normal business.

The British Road Federation is on record protesting against the proposal of the Minister. Every hon. Member has had a memorandum from the Federation this week including a letter sent by the Federation to the Minister. In it the Federation points out that such heavy loads are almost entirely industrial loads and that the cost of transporting such loads could be cut if they were partly, if not wholly, routed on motorways. I recognise that the Minister has power to authorise that. Praise has already been given to the engineers responsible for the planning and laying down of this new motorway because it has been designed with gradients, sight lines and camber far in advance of anything in the way of roads at present in this country.

I agree with the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) that we are very many years behind other countries in our road programme and I welcome the introduction of new motorways. This experimental roadway is only a dual carriageway. I recognise the difficulties and problems, but it seems fantastic that we should impose these Regulations on a dual carriageway. We must recognise that we want even wider roads, with three lanes on either side, if we are really to get speedy transportation of merchandise. Abnormal loads are not often carried. It is not as though they were carried with the same continuity as a bus service from Westminster to Kings Cross; there is not a ten-minute service.

It is rare that we have really abnormal loads, but the Minister is not debarring the transportation of military vehicles. The huge tanks of the present day are being transported as indivisible loads. Huge guns can be transported. The Royal Air Force has what are commonly called "Queen Mary wagons", and will be permitted to use those vehicles without restriction. It is against the restriction on those indivisible and abnormal loads belonging entirely to industry that we are really protesting.

As an experienced bus driver, commercial lorry driver, van driver, tramcar driver and private motorist, I think that I can claim to know something about the roads and those who use them, and I can say that even if one of these abnormal loads were proceeding on the new motorway at a slow speed, the traffic would be overtaking the driver and not coming towards him. The motorist, therefore, would have every opportunity of seeing the width of the load, the flags it bears to warn oncoming traffic that it is an abnormal load, and he would take the necessary precautions when passing him.

If the new road system is to mean anything at all, the Minister should remember that the existing bottlenecks cause traffic obstruction, and take immediate steps to eliminate those portions of the route where vehicles and loads of exceptional dimensions cause difficulties. It is on that note that I leave the Special Roads Order. I ask the Minister to reconsider it, to lift the ban on certain types of vehicle, to allow them to use the new motorways, and so create an even flow of traffic on all roads.

On the speed-limit Regulations I will speak only briefly, as I know that many other hon. Members wish to participate in this debate. These Regulations abolish the speed limit on the motorway; but for certain types of vehicle increase the speed limit from 20 m.p.h. to 40 m.p.h.—double. The plea of all road users is that they wish to make up time lost in traffic delays. The motorist, whether he be road commercial, road passenger, in the distributive trades, in private business or driving for pleasure hopes to get an average speed over a given distance.

The traffic police are continually charging motorists with contravention of the Traffic Acts, and speeding is by far the most predominant charge. The main reason for breaking the law is the driver's desire to catch up on time lost by traffic congestion, and delays caused at railway crossings, open canal bridges, traffic signals and police-controlled traffic points.

The Minister and his predecessors have regularly inaugurated campaigns asking motorists and pedestrians to have more care on the roads, and there can be no doubt that, in many cases, the plea has been fully justified. The statutory speed limit is observed generally by road users, although everyone knows that many drivers exceed the limit, and are, in fact, a menace not only to themselves but to every other person in their vicinity. It could be argued, of course, that if we have a maximum speed limit it is always being exceeded, but that, in my view, is no excuse for the abolition of the speed limit. One might as well argue that because some men drink to excess, one should abolish all the licensing laws and let everyone else drink to excess.

I should like to stress that when we take off a maximum speed limit we give the opportunity to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who so desires to run his vehicle at its utmost speed, irrespective of the vehicle's capabilities. One thing that we must consider is that most motor vehicles manufactured in Great Britain purely for domestic use, as against those manufactured especially for export, are built to specification and are not, to my mind, capable of braking within a reasonable distance when they exceed the specification speeds.

I should like to ask the Minister—and in view of the short space of time he gave to the interested authorities to consider his Regulations, I very much doubt whether he can answer in the affirmative—whether the motor trade, as such, was in any way consulted about the abolition of the speed limit. It should be remembered that it will take some time for the motor manufacturers to re-tool their establishments so as to equip the vehicles with sufficient braking power to enable them to pull up in reasonably short distances when travelling at excessive speeds—

Mr. G. Wilson

What does the hon. Gentleman suppose happens to British vehicles when they go abroad, and travel on the motorways in Europe—where there is no speed limit?

Mr. Oswald

If, as he claims, the hon. Gentleman has seen many of the Continental ways, he will know that many British vehicles are left far behind on the autobahnen in Germany, and in Holland and Belgium. When we are exporting vehicles, we build to a specification for the country to which they are being exported, and they are very different from the specification for our domestic vehicles used purely for commercial purposes. I want to stress that the vehicles that will use the motorways are built to British specification, and will be incapable of pulling up quickly, particularly if the road is slippery, oily or wet. Only those who have driven heavy commercial vehicles with a terrific load behind them can recognise and appreciate the problem of attempting to pull up a vehicle, even in the case of some article falling from the vehicle in front where the following driver has either to brake or swerve his vehicle to clear the obstacle.

There is another point which I wish to stress. It has already been mentioned, but I want to consider it still further. One of the gravest dangers to the men operating in the vast transport industry in this country is that of braking, especially if they are carrying what might be called "loosely tied" goods on their vehicles. I am thinking of vehicles carrying tramway rails and steel rails for railways and workshops, especially on an articulated vehicle when the driver, through no fault of his own, has to brake suddenly. It must be remembered that these rails can be propelled right through the back of the cabin and can decapitate the driver, almost before he is aware that something has gone wrong in front.

I would emphasise that in many instances when a man is driving a vehicle pulling a trailer behind it he has not the same control over the trailer as he has over the vehicle. If, by abolishing the speed limit, we are to permit every driver to drive on a motorway as and how he pleases, then, instead of being in the position of getting speedy transport of people and their goods, we are likely to get more hold-ups because of the number of accidents.

Accidents which I have seen on the Continent have been caused because every one is travelling at speed and it is almost impossible for the driver of a vehicle following to pull up in the event of anything going wrong. The bursting of a tyre of a vehicle in front may cause any amount of trouble to the drivers of following vehicles.

Let us remember that the roads in Great Britain are not yet at a stage when we can have safe long-distance travelling. The Minister has been a little premature in trying to base these Regulations on an experimental stretch of eight miles on the Preston bypass. I recognise that the Minister has good intentions for the future, but I ask him to think again and at least to put some limit on the speed of certain of the vehicles which will use this motorway, having regard to the fact that many of the men employed in the industry have to run to schedule.

We are still negotiating between the trade unions and employers associations on the 30 m.p.h. running schedule. Both sides of the industry are protesting in no uncertain terms. They will say to the Minister that he is asking them, in the throes of these negotiations, to try to go into deeper water in trying to find schedule running times for the operators. Men are entitled to be rested, but if there is this additional speed-up, a man will have to cover as much as double mileage inside his normal driving period. I ask the Minister to review the situation, and I ask for further consideration of the views of those employed in the industry both on the industrial and the administrative side.

9.10 p.m.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

I think I can reassure the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Oswald) that every manufacturer of a vehicle or motor car today makes the braking specifications and the braking capacity of that vehicle up to the limit of the speed of which the vehicle is capable. We need have no doubts about that.

I think we can congratulate the Minister on bringing forward these Statutory Instruments and on certain aspects of them, in particular for taking the small and vulnerable moped and autocycle off the motorway, and secondly, for having the courage to introduce these Regulations with no speed limit for vehicles generally. It seems to me that we must leave it to the responsibility of the driver to go at a proper speed according to the traffic conditions. It may be that in the middle of the day when the motorway is crowded with traffic the proper maximum speed would be about 50 m.p.h., but at 6 o'clock in the morning when the motorway is empty and the weather is fine it may be perfectly safe to travel at 100 m.p.h. in a sports car.

We shall, I am sure, all consider with interest the driving code which my right hon. Friend will produce in due course, and no doubt we shall have some suggestions to make on it. The suggestion that springs to my mind at the moment is that in future driving codes we must induce drivers to pay more attention to their mirrors and to look behind them rather than just depend on giving signals. We might even go so far as to say that on a motorway if a driver switches from one lane to another and an accident is caused, it is the fault of the driver who switches lanes rather than of the driver who runs into him. Anyway, that is a point to be considered.

I was shocked at the proposal that the heavy indivisible load should be banned from motorways. I understand that there are three classes of these loads. There is the load that is over 9 feet 6 inches wide but up to 75 tons, in respect of which the vehicle operator has to give two days' notice to the police. There is the load that is over 75 tons, in which case the operator must give six days' notice to the highway authority. Then there is the very heavy and large load of 150 tons or more and 20 feet wide which can only be moved by a special movement order of my right hon. Friend the Minister.

I was trying to clear up this point earlier, and perhaps the Minister will confirm this point. I think that that is the type of vehicle that he had in mind when he said that he might allow some vehicles experimentally on the Preston motorway—

Mr. Watkinson

Perhaps I can help by saying that there is no intention of banning abnormal indivisible loads at all for the purpose of experiment on this motorway. When we want to control the kind of load, it is necessary to make a prohibition order. There is no long-term ban.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I take it that the special movement order which the Minister makes would overrule this Regulation.

I have been putting the case for motorways for over twenty years, and one of the arguments that I have used freely—and I think others probably have as well—is that the advantage of the motorway is that it will take this heavy traffic away from the little villages, towns and narrow roads. Nearly every week in this House and in another place objection is taken to these heavy abnormal indivisible loads. The suggestion made is that they ought to go by sea or by train.

Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

It is all very well saying "Hear, hear", but they cannot go by sea because they generally originate in a place like Rugby which is about 70 miles from the sea, and they cannot go by train because they are too big for the tunnels. Therefore, they have to go by road, and it seems to me that the logical place for this heavy traffic is the motorway.

If I had been speaking at Preston, as I might well have done if the Minister had asked me, in favour of a Preston bypass, I would have used this sort of argument. I would have said to the good people of Preston, "Your town is on the A.6, a trunk road, and in the six miles through Preston this A.6 road has no less than 1,898 crossings, one level crossing, four sets of traffic lights and several bottlenecks only 21 feet wide. It is intersected by the east-west route from Blackpool, with all that heavy traffic. It has a bad accident record. Now you, the people of Preston, are to have a beautiful motorway which will take this heavy through traffic away from the centre of the town". I think that that would have been applauded.

I do not wish to discuss the special movement orders which the Minister makes in respect of the very heavy and very wide traffic, 150 tons and 20 ft. wide, but I wish to refer to what I call the normal indivisible load. I understand that there are 20,000 such movements throughout the year. Further, I understand that 90 per cent. of these indivisible loads are up to 12 ft. wide, and about 1,000 of them go through Preston each year. So that poor old Preston has about three such indivisible loads going through the town each day. But, as I say, the great majority are only up to about 12 ft. wide—not very wide.

Is it practicable for these 12 ft. loads to go on the motorways? I believe that it is. Each lane of the carriageway is 12 ft. wide. In addition, there is 1 ft. of contrasted coloured material at the side of the road. Each dual carriageway, in each direction, is a 26 ft. road. We have 52 ft. of carriageway altogether. It surely must be safe for a 12 ft. vehicle, which normally goes fairly slowly and keeps to its own side, to use one of the carriageways on such a four-carriageway road. If necessary, let it have a police guide to take it through.

The argument has been used—I think my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary used it—that there is the possibility of danger being caused by the relative speeds of the indivisible loads and other traffic, that people would be motoring very fast and might run into these heavy loads. But that already applies on the ordinary roads. If I motor down the A.5, I might quite easily be going at 70 or even 80 miles an hour and come upon one of these indivisible loads. I do not consider that the risk on the motorway will really be any greater than it is on the ordinary road. In fact, I think that it will be less hazardous to have this traffic on the motorway because the sight lines are better and one would be able to see farther ahead and take avoiding action in good time.

This kind of traffic, of course, is very important. We are dealing not only with ships' boilers, and so on, but with reactors for the atomic energy programme, heat exchangers and the like. In Holland, a country comparable with our own, these indivisible loads are allowed an the motorways although they are two-carriageway motorways.

Approaching the matter from the point of view of the public and the people of Preston, I ask the Minister to reconsider his decision and bring in an amendment to his Regulations in November when the motorway is opened. There is time to have second thoughts about it. I am satisfied that we could safely allow loads up to 12 ft. wide to go on the motorway, and I ask my right hon. Friend to consider that. It is a matter of great importance to our trade and industry, and it is a matter of considerable importance also to the ordinary public who live in towns like Preston and villages where motorways will pass. They ought to have the benefit of having all this heavy through traffic taken away from the places where they live.

9.14 p.m.

Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)

Nobody in the House would wish to do anything or say anything which would discourage the development of motorways in this country. I am sure that we all hope that not only will the Preston motorway be finished quickly, but that all the others will be finished quickly in order that motoring will be mare comfortable and that industry and the country may benefit economically. Having said that, however, I cannot for the life of me understand why the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation has gone out of his way to be awkward with the interests which are involved, very largely economically, in this project.

We have heard from the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) what certain powerful economic interests feel, and I have read the document which they have issued about barring indivisible loads. There have been others. It is equally true that the men—and there will be thousands on the roads every day and night driving the heavy lorries at, apparently, very much increased speeds—have been treated with contempt. It is no use writing to the official representatives of the lorry drivers on 7th July and asking for a reply by the 21st, and then issuing the Regulations on the 22nd. That is not consultation; that is treating the very important interests of the men, upon whose physical strength and work a good deal of the industry of this country depends, with contempt, for which, I am afraid, the Minister of Transport is becoming rather notorious.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

Surely, what the Minister did was absolutely proper? We are introducing something which is only for a trial period, and is, as my hon. Friend indicated, a first example. Very rightly and properly, although not obliged to do so, my right hon. Friend asked all the interests concerned for their views with regard to this preliminary shot.

Mr. Gibson

It may be for a trial period, but the trial period will last for a year. It is just nonsense, if the trial period is to last a year, to expect that either side of the interests involved, the manufacturers and the dealers or the unions representing the men who drive the vehicles, could possibly consider the Regulations and produce reasoned arguments about them within fourteen days.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Well, we did.

Mr. Gibson

All I can say to that is that they could not have had much consideration.

What we are complaining about is that the Minister did not give the trade union mainly concerned with this industry a full and proper opportunity of considering these Regulations and their effect on the men who drive the lorries, on their health and on their hours and conditions of work. He did that at a time when he knew that they were still engaged in negotiations with the employers in the industry about raising the limit to thirty miles an hour. It seems to me that that is asking for trouble, and is certainly not fair to the men, who give their lives to the service of industry as some of them unfortunately do in reality, and without whose work the transport industry cannot get along. Unfortunately, in this country we have had long experience of the difficulties which have existed between both sides of the road transport industry, and I am afraid that this method of dealing with new Regulations is not going to help.

I plead with the Minister to have another look at the matter. We cannot boldly double the speed limit for certain vehicles, as the Regulations do, and have unlimited speed for the vast majority of vehicles, without the men who have to do the work being entitled to an adequate say in the matter. We feel that there has not been adequate time to give real consideration to these proposals, that they have been rushed through, and that the Minister could have done this earlier, it he had liked to do so. He must have known that this new motorway would be ready for use by the end of the summer, and he must have known that many weeks ago. The discussions could have started then, and, quite frankly, do not know why they did not, I do not understand it.

I think there is a legitimate cause for complaint about the action of the Minister of Transport in rushing this matter in the way he has done without giving all the interests concerned, and I am mainly concerned about the trade unions, a real opportunity of considering his proposals, putting forward their considered points of view, and being ready and willing to argue with him about them. There has been no time for that. All I can say is that if the Minister pushes this proposal through tonight, he will create more trouble, discontent and suspicion against himself in the minds of the men and women in the transport industry—and he has already done that very badly.

9.20 p.m.

Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)

I must apologise to the House and to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that I was unable to be present at the beginning of the debate. I have, however, been here long enough to realise that a large part of the debate has concerned the question of the so-called indivisible loads, or the juggernauts, as I prefer to call them. In this context, I am in full support of my hon. Friend.

We should not show too much sympathy with these enormous loads which are taken about the roads. I am never entirely convinced that it is necessary to construct them in the places where they are made. I am sure that a replacement for the "Queen Mary" could be economically built in Croydon, but I do not think that we need have any sympathy with the subsequent difficulties that the manufacturers would experience in getting the vessel to the sea.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will be firm in this matter and bear in mind that some of us at least feel that in certain cases these enormous loads are transmitted partly with a view to a form of free advertisement. There is no lack of notice about manufacturers and what they do as these loads move slowly along the roads.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

May I give my hon. and gallant Friend the benefit of my experience? The reason why these things are made in the factories is that it is much cheaper to make them there than to take them in bits and pieces and assemble them at the ports.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

None the less, I feel that if the Government are firm, it will be found possible in most cases to divide these indivisible loads.

To my mind, the three things that matter about the Order are the question whether there should be an upper speed limit for these roads, the fate of bicycles, and the fate of mopeds. Concerning the speed limit, I still favour a realistic absolute upper speed limit on these new roads where otherwise the only limit to the speed at which one can drive would be the technical capacity of the vehicle. I suggested to my right hon. Friend privately some time ago that action should be taken to impose an upper speed limit of 100 m.p.h., which at that time would have been recognised as reasonable by even the most speed-minded person who uses the roads. I appreciate the reasons for the reluctance of my right hon. Friend to accept that suggestion, and I thank him for the courtesy with which he replied to my arguments. Be that as it may, it is now too late. Only last month I saw the dream motor-cycle being constructed designed to cruise at a speed of 105 m.p.h. I must say that if I could afford it, I should very much like to buy it.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Would my hon. and gallant Friend be willing to be one of the traffic cops who would have to do 120 m.p.h. to catch those who exceeded the speed limit?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

My hon. Friend is not displaying his usual imagination. When a new road is constructed, there would be no technical difficulty in building into it automatic speed recording devices.

As I have said, the time for the 100 m.p.h. speed limit has passed. By the time that the great new motor road is opened—not the Preston bypass, but the first of the long roads, which, I understand, is due to come into operation at the end of 1959—I have not the slightest doubt that there will be cars on the market advertised to cruise at 150 m.p.h. and, what is more, that there will he fools who will go that speed. I am afraid that the principle of an upper speed limit will not be accepted now until an appalling succession of accidents have shocked public opinion.

I now turn to what to my mind is the more important question about bicycles. I do not argue for bicycles having to share these roads, which would undoubtedly be extremely dangerous for them. I am speaking individually, and I know that the view that I am about to express is not shared by the organised bicycling clubs. They do not share it because their great fear has always been that cycle tracks will be established on all roads and they will be compelled to use them, as is the case on the Continent. I do not entirely agree with their point of view, but I feel that whenever a new motor road is constructed separate cycle tracks should be constructed alongside for compulsory use. I view with concern the precedent of excluding cyclists from these roads altogether. I understand that we are to have garages and restaurants, and so on, under a somewhat grand name at intervals along these roads. Why should the people who work in these places be forbidden to proceed to their place of work by bicycle? That is one point that occurs to me.

Lastly, I should like to deal with mopeds. I view their exclusion from these new roads with mixed feelings. In a way I think that there is some injustice in banning them from the roads, although here again this problem could easily be met in future by having tracks for the exclusive use of both bicycles and mopeds. On the other hand, it seems to me—and this I regard as a slight ray of light in this Order—that the Government have now accepted the principle that mopeds should be classed as bicycles. A great many of us have pressed for this to be done for some time, as is done on the Continent. My right hon. Friend's own road safety committee went some way towards favouring the classification of mopeds with bicycles in regard to the age for riding them, and so forth. This has now been done on motor roads. Surely it is wrong to treat mopeds as bicycles on motor roads and to treat them as motor vehicles on the remaining roads. That would be very unjust and would be bitterly resented as time went on. Therefore, I very much hope that the Order laid before the House can be regarded as the first step to reclassify mopeds as ordinary bicycles.

9.28 p.m.

Mr. R. E. Prentice (East Ham, North)

I am very glad to be able to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes-Hallett). I speak as one of his constituents, and I can pay tribute to the fact that his prowess as a cyclist and motor scooter rider is well known in Croydon. I was particularly interested in his criticism of private enterprise for its anti-social tendencies in putting industries in the wrong places.

I shall speak, like my hon. Friends, in a critical vein, but against the background that we are enthusiastic about the motorway projects. We think that they have come too late. We want them to be expedited, and we speak with enthusiasm about the building of these new roads. Also, we are not against experiment in laying down regulations for traffic. Obviously, when a new type of road is constructed for the first time, this is the moment to make constructive experiments. We do not wish to be accused of any conservative tendencies, whether the word is spelt with a small "c" or a capital "c". Although this is an experiment—and it has been said several times that the Instruments will run for only 12 months—we must consider that it is intended as a blueprint for the future, unless there are any serious snags in it. At least, that is the spirit in which it will be accepted by people who are interested in this matter. What is being laid down here is probably the pattern for future developments.

It is, therefore, a great pity that the Minister should have started off on the wrong foot by issuing these Instruments without having proper consultations with the people concerned. I should have thought that it was a first principle of administration in this field that he would have had full consultation with the unions whose members work on the roads; the manufacturers' associations, concerned commercially with using the roads, and bodies such as the Automobile Association representing the motorists.

Several of my hon. Friends have referred to the very short time given to the Transport and General Workers Union to make its comments. I submit that it was absurd to give it only fourteen days in which to do so. Even worse is the fact that after it had made its answer, on 10th July, it found that the Instruments were laid before Parliament four days later. This obviously led the union to conclude that the Minister was only pretending to consult it, and that in fact everything had been settled before its views could even be considered. It is not only the union which feels this way. Hon. Members will have received a circular letter from the British Electrical and Allied Manufacturers Association, in which the secretary says: I am asked to express regret that the Minister before issuing such draft Regulations which affect the movement of heavy indivisible loads has not advised the heavy electrical and allied plant industry which is directly affected by such Regulations of his proposals. Apparently it had had no warning of what was involved in the Instruments.

Turning to the point of view of the unions, I would say that two serious results arise from the failure to consult them. The first is that the men themselves are deprived of the right to be heard. We are talking about men whose livelihood depends upon the roads, who spend their working lives on the roads, and whose welfare and safety are affected by matters of this kind. They have a right to see that their representatives are fully and properly consulted before such Instruments as these are put into force. The second result is that the Minister, and therefore the country, are deprived of advice from the people who are best able to give it—the people with practical day-to-day experience of conditions on the road. That is maladministration, and I feel that the Minister has much to answer for on this point.

I want to make one or two brief comments upon the Instruments. First, as to the classes of traffic, the important criticism levelled at the Minister is that he already has power to regulate the movements of these indivisible loads. This was explained very well to the House by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) in great detail. It seems to me that this gives the police a chance to discriminate between one load and another. Surely it is not right that the Minister or this House should lay down a general rule about indivisible loads. Surely the correct thing is for the people who want to move a load to notify the police, and for the police then to take into account the weight and width of the load, between which two places the load is to travel, and the alternative routes available. In many cases it may be better to keep loads off the motorway, but in other cases it may be better to put them on it.

I was impressed by the example given by the hon. Member for Twickenham of the situation in Preston. He mentioned the fact that there were nearly 2,000 intersections on the existing road through Preston, as compared with the new motorway which will be practically uninterrupted. Surely the purpose of the new motorway, and those which are to follow it, is not only to provide a fast flow of traffic but also to relieve congestion on other roads. Therefore, in deciding whether a particularly heavy load should go on one road or another, the conditions on both roads must be weighed up.

That should be done from a speed point of view; from an economic point of view—that is, how much would it cost the people to move it, remembering the costs of moving these loads affects prices and sometimes the prices of exports—and above all, from a social point of view, which is the most important. I should have thought that more than anything else this is a matter on which the people working in the industry should have given advice.

I do not wish to be dogmatic about the exact figure which should be put on speed limits for the new roads, or what classes of vehicles should be involved. But the Regulations on this point already lay down certain classes of vehicles—very limited classes, trailers and so on—for which there will be a speed limit. I should have thought the right thing would be to extend that to heavy commercial vehicles, in general, and perhaps to make a number of classes. The hon. Member for Twickenham said that in these days when manufacturers build vehicles and work out the braking capacity and things of that kind, they do not have regard to a speed limit. They work to the speed limit of which the vehicle is capable. Surely that is not true of many vehicles still on the roads which were built some years ago. I am advised that in many cases they were constructed with a statutory speed limit in mind. Such questions as the maximum load or braking capacity were worked out with a speed limit in mind.

I was impressed by the example given by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy), who spoke about the danger of vehicles loaded with steel girders or some similar loads. Before I became a Member of Parliament I was a trade union official concerned with handling claims for damages brought forward by people injured in the course of their work. Less than two years ago I was concerned with a claim by the widow of a man killed in the kind of circumstances envisaged by my hon. Friend. The driver had to brake suddenly and the load of steel girders went through the cab of the vehicle and killed the driver. Where there are loads of that kind there must be strict control of the speed.

Some hon. Members opposite have said, "Well, if the driver is a sensible man he will not go too fast." It might be said that if the employer is reasonable he will lay down a schedule to allow for a moderate speed. That may be so, and it may work in nine cases out of ten. But surely the law in this matter must allow for the unreasonable employer and the unreasonable driver and provision must be made both to protect them and to protect other road users from their possible folly. If everyone were reasonable in these matters we should not need a speed limit at all. With the terrible toll of life caused by road accidents, and the figures are creeping up all the time, surely we have to be extra careful about any measure liable to increase accidents. It seems to me that to put this reliance on people being reasonable and behaving sensibly is wrong. Where life is concerned the law itself has to enforce a reasonable standard.

I believe that in both these Instruments the action of the Minister is open to criticism. There are counter-arguments, these are not easy matters on which to be dogmatic, but the very fact that these are complicated matters emphasises the principal point of criticism which has been advanced in this debate; that there should be full and detailed consultations with the people who have day-to-day experience of working on the roads. Failure to make provision for that is a serious omission on the part of the Minister.

9.40 p.m.

Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)

The happy fact behind the regulations that we are discussing this evening is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) said, that we are within reach of seeing the opening of the first special road in this country. I am sure all of us who have seen the Preston bypass and the London-Birmingham motorway will congratulate the Minister and his Department and all those engaged in this work on their very great achievements. I am happy to think that part of the London-Birmingham road passes through my constituency of South Bedfordshire.

I believe that the time has come when we have a contribution to make to road-building work throughout the world. We have something to show to other countries. It is perhaps worth considering that the time may be very near when we can ask road engineers from other countries to come here to see what we are doing in the building of modern special motor roads.

I have been giving considerable thought and have been listening with very careful attention to what has been said about the indivisible load. We have talked a lot about it. I have one suggestion which the Minister of Transport might be good enough to consider. I appreciate his difficulties. It is not easy on two-lane roads like the Preston bypass, if we want to get the traffic moving at a good pace, to visualise what can be done. The suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) was that 12 ft. or so could be absorbed by the overlap of road on the inside of the inner lane. That might be a possibility.

I want to make a suggestion. The present prohibition will extend to all vehicles with loads over 24 tons or 32 tons with trailer, irrespective of the speed at which those vehicles might travel. If the vehicles are not overlapping their lane there is no reason why vehicles coming behind should not be able to pass round and to proceed upon their way. A car on the motorway could pass one of these loads if the load did not have a width greater than one lane. A motorist should be able without difficulty to pass in those circumstances.

It is not a question of such a load interfering with traffic proceeding in the same direction. Appreciating all the difficulties, I suggest that there is still time, because the motorway will not be ready for a time yet, to ask my right hon. Friend to consider that suggestion, that if indivisible loads are no wider than the lane they can easily be passed by other traffic.

I would also ask my right hon. Friend, who has considerable contact with motoring organisations, that before he issues the early advice that the Parliamentary Secretary talked about, he should consult the motoring, transport and haulage organisations, and also that my right hon. Friend asks these organisations for the benefit of their experience and knowledge, gleaned in the first twelve months before drafting the addendum to the Highway Code to which the Parliamentay Secretary also referred.

Members of those organisations will have been using this eight-mile stretch of the Preston bypass over the twelve months and will have gained considerable experience of some of the difficulties which nobody else will have had the same opportunity to gain. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will take that point into consideration.

With the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) and other hon. Members, I still believe that speed is the most constant factor in accidents. [Interruption.] I believe it is the most prominent factor, although I realise I may not speak for a majority opinion. I mean speed in the wrong place, in the wrong context and on the wrong occasion. It is not the only factor, but it is the greatest common and constant factor in accidents.

I endorse what the Parliamentary Secretary said at the end of his remarks when opening this debate. Motorways are a new concept. We shall have 53 miles of new road completed by the end of 1959 from London to Birmingham, and I feel confident that there will soon follow more miles of new road right up into Yorkshire.

This is a new concept, and I feel sure motorists who drive heavy vehicles or private motor cars will be aware that in this new facility there is not only a new quality of efficiency and ease of travel, but also many more dangers which perhaps do not exist on many roads we have at present. Let us face the fact that although a road may be slow and cause annoyance to anyone travelling on it, especially if he is in a hurry, he cannot travel at more than a certain speed, but on these new motorways, with one exception of vehicle, there is to be no speed limit. There will be all sorts of dangers which have not been experienced on our roads in the last 40 or 50 years. I endorse the plea of the Parliametnary Secretary to those using the new roads to go cautiously until more experience has been gained so that these roads may provide safer, more efficient and easier travel.

9.47 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

I am glad of the opportunity to make a few remarks. With all hon. Members, I welcome the new motorways. I am sure we all wish the Minister good speed in their construction.

The general public are always uneasy when new Regulations are made which do not impose a speed limit on roads: I do not think the solution to our traffic problems can be found in more speed or that with more speed on motorways or other highways we are likely to prevent traffic blocks. We are operating a twentieth century invention, the motor vehicle, on roads which were constructed centuries ago, mainly for horse-drawn vehicles and not for motor vehicles. While we are waiting for the construction of new motorways and bypasses there are bound to be traffic jams, especially in big cities and towns.

I do not feel that a solution is necessarily to be found in speed. I realise that on new motorways there will be no pedestrians, but only motorists driving buses, coaches, cars or other vehicles. By keeping pedestrians off motorways we shall not do away with accidents, however. Most motorists observe the courtesies of the road and the majority are as careful as possible. They recognise that a motor car can be a killing instrument and they drive with care. The Minister must realise, however, that a small number of motorists are inclined to take risks. When we have new well-constructed, motorways it is likely that a small minority of motorists will imagine they are on racing tracks at such places as Brooklands. That will make accidents likely. On the Preston bypass motor coaches and buses will be used by people going on holiday to Blackpool, and if some motorists use that road as a racing track there may be nasty accidents.

Therefore, I hope that during the twelve months' experiment most careful attention will be paid to the problem of motorists who are inclined to go at speed with danger to others. I understand that the Americans call these roads toll roads and have a speed limit on them. They must have made a study of this problem to have imposed a speed limit. Western Germany were pioneers of motorways. They commenced without a speed limit. Now I understand a speed limit is imposed on commercial vehicles there. If Western Germany, after a long period of motor traffic on motorways, has imposed a speed limit, there must be some reason for taking that action. I ask the Minister to study this problem very carefully during the next twelve months.

Road casualties must give every hon. Member very serious concern. In January of this year, 470 people were killed, as against 414 in January, 1957. In February, 1958, 368 were killed, but only 282 in February of last year. The March figures were 429 and 357 respectively. The same increases are shown in the figures of seriously injured. In the first three months of this year there were 13,248 seriously injured as compared with 11,813 in the same quarter of last year. The figures for the slightly injured were 42,794 in the first three months of this year, as compared with 36,294 in the first three months of last year.

Each year more and more people are being killed and injured, and it is up to Parliament and the Government to pay great attention to this. The Minister is making these Statutory Instruments applicable for twelve months, but I hope that if he finds that accidents are taking place on these motorways he will amend the Regulations by imposing a speed limit, in the interests of road safety—for the protection of the travelling public, and for the motorist.

9.55 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) and to develop a little further his remarks on speed, speed limits and road safety on the special motorways. This is probably the most important aspect of this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) took his examples from the motorways in Western Europe, but the accident records there are not the sort we would wish to have here.

The American turnpikes have had far greater success in reducing accidents, because restrictions are placed on the traffic using them. We have a report from Dr. Starks, of our own Road Research Laboratory, of an investigation of the American turnpike roads, and perhaps the House will bear with me if I quote from his report. We pay too little attention to the very valuable expert advice so frequently given to us on road safety matters by the Road Research Laboratory.

In his report, Dr. Starks tells us: On all existing toll roads there is a maximum speed limit ranging from 55 to 70 m.p.h. for passenger cars and from 40 to 60 m.p.h. for commercial vehicles. These maximum speeds are strictly enforced. Can we afford to discard the experience that the Americans have gained in the use of these special motorways and say that our drivers are so much more efficient and our cars so much more perfect than the American that we can do without a speed limit?

I quote now from Captain Sheaffer, who is in charge of the police on the Pennsylvania turnpike. He expresses it in this way—and perhaps they are a little less squeamish in America than we are in speaking of road accidents. He says: … we never get calloused to the sight of broken bodies, to the screams of the injured pinned in the wreckage, to the sickening smell of blood and death. And this is why we stop the speeding motorist; it isn't just to run up a record for arrests, for the best trooper is not the one who gives out the most tickets, but the one who gives the most help. Thus, the Pike's"— He means, of course, the Pennsylvania Turnpike: fatality ratio has dropped to an all-time low for this year's first quarter—2.7 per 100 million vehicle miles …". That is a low accident figure. The national figure for America is over seven. Therefore, by means of a well-patrolled turnpike, with a speed limit, they have achieved an immense reduction in accidents.

I am convinced that the special motorways can contribute to road safety, but they will not do so automatically. In his very valuable report, Dr. Starks sums it up extremely well. He says: Many of the hazards which exist on other roads are absent on toll roads, but the very absence of these potential dangers, coupled with the good driving qualities and long sight distances, creates other hazards. Speeds are usually higher and are often sustained for comparatively long periods of time, and monotony, fatigue, and lack of driving skill and judgment are important factors which contribute to accidents. It will be seen that although by means of these special motorways we do away with certain accident factors, at the same time we create others. By statistics, of course, one could prove that a special motorway would reduce accidents by some 70 per cent. or 80 per cent. If we take a comparable road in this country and cut out all its intersections and, therefore, deduct all the accidents happening at them; if we cut out all the accidents to cyclists and to pedestrians, we can get a statistical reduction of about 75 per cent. of the accidents on that road and thus one might say that the motorway would be 75 per cent. safer. But there are these other hazards. On the American motorways they have found some of the greatest hazards in what they call sleep-outs, drivers getting drowsy from the monotony on the special motorways, and something like 37 per cent. of the accidents in one area, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, arose from that.

They have also found on investigation that accidents due to loss of control are very high. In an investigation carried out over a period of time it was found that 25 per cent. of the total accidents were due to loss of control of the vehicle. In this country, only 5½ per cent. of the accidents are attributed to loss of control.

Then again, at the ends of the turnpikes on the special motorways there are particular dangers. As every hon. Member knows, when driving any great disstance one does not realise one's speed when one comes into a built-up area, and the accidents which have occurred in America around the toll booths because cars do not pull up in time have made it necessary to build special guards and dips in the roads to prevent such accidents.

I should have thought that in these Regulations we ought to provide for two things. We ought to provide for a speed limit, as experience shows on the American turnpikes. It may seem illogical to ask for that, because we have not a speed limit on the ordinary roads, but the ordinary roads have their natural restrictions and one cannot drive at any great speed on ordinary roads for any distance.

On the motorways, the only limit to the speed is the capacity of the vehicle. Hon. Members have said that a driver must be relied upon to use his judgment. Frankly, I am not prepared to accept that, having regard to the number of accidents which occur at the present time through excessive speed—speed in the wrong places at the wrong time. Surely to get what several hon. Members have said that we need on these motorways, steady speed, by which I presume they mean a uniform speed, the right way is to impose an upper speed limit and keep the traffic moving evenly, by which I do not mean at a slow speed, on those roads. I should have thought that a speed limit of 70 was about right.

On the New Jersey turnpike, there is no difference in the speed limit between private vehicles and commercial vehicles. This might be a sound idea, because we then have all the traffic moving at about the right speed, but I rather doubt whether the commercial vehicles in this country are sufficiently equipped for that at the present time. Thus, one point which, I think, ought to be included in these Regulations is a speed limit.

The second point is a check on speed at either end of the special motorways, and, if possible, a stop, as they have for the toll roads in America, for two reasons: first, so that the driver has a chance of adjusting his mental attitude towards speed as he approaches a built-up area, and secondly, so that we may provide in these Instruments for examining the type of car which is going on to these roads.

Again may I quote the Pennsylvania turnpike, where they had a war on thin tyres because they found in one period that no fewer than 69 per cent. of the accidents had been caused through bursting tyres and skidding on thin tyres. We have nothing in these Instruments to prevent the most dilapidated vehicle going on to these roads, driven at very high speeds for long distances. I am not talking only about the eight miles of Preston bypass because I believe that these Instruments will be a precedent for future regulations. I believe that we should have some check at either end, for the adjustment of the mental attitude towards speed, and someone to check up on a vehicle and, if necessary, prevent it from going on the road in a dangerous condition. I would add to the speed limit and the check a substantial patrol of the road by the police.

Those are the two major points. There are some other points which one would have expected to find in these Statutory Instruments. Surely there should have been some prohibition on stopping. At present, as I read the Order, there is no prohibition on anybody drawing up on the actual carriageway, and if that is done it will produce most dangerous conditions. I see nothing which makes it compulsory to use the carriageways in one direction only on each side of the strip. I think the Minister needs a regulation to that effect in order to prosecute people for turning in the strip and possibly causing accidents when other vehicles are travelling at high speeds.

There is also nothing to prevent learner drivers from using these roads. A further point which is of concern to me is that there are no regulations about the conduct of persons on foot on the roads.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

Surely all these matters that my hon. Friend is referring to will be covered under Section 12 of the Special Roads Act, 1949. Regulations were laid under that Act which cover the prohibition of learner drivers, parking on roads and other matters.

Mr. Page

That may be. But I understand that these Instruments are being brought in quickly before the end of this Session so that they will be in operation for the Preston motorway. Perhaps we shall have some further regulations on these topics.

A matter with which I want to deal in particular is the question of restrictions on pedestrians. I can find no regulation, other than that which creates the motorway, to prevent pedestrians from using the road. How is there to be indicated to pedestrians the area which they must not use? Let us remember that we are here dealing with children and elderly people, among others. I hope it will be made clear what area is forbidden to pedestrians, as well as what is to happen to the motorist on foot when, for example, his car breaks down. I hope there will be some clear indication on these special motorways where a man must not walk, so that he may avoid being a criminal.

We can only make these special motorways a success by carefully regulating them so that they are acceptable to the average driver and by ensuring that he will not shun them because they are just racetracks. We want them to be used fully.

These Instruments are expressed to be experimental, only for one year. I venture to prophesy that at the end of the year my right hon. Friend the Minister will be obliged to bring in some sort of speed limit and a check on speed at either end of the motorway. In the meantime, we shall have been experimenting for these twelve months with life and limb, and it is my fear that if these Instruments are accepted for twelve months, as they are now, many people will have died and will have been injured in the course of that experiment.

10.9 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

I am happy to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), and I should like to start by saying that I think that my hon. Friend's prophecy may well prove to be wrong. It seems to me that it is far more likely that at the end of the twelve months there will have been, relatively speaking, far fewer accidents on the motorways than on any other of the highways in this country. I am delighted that there is no speed limit attached. It would be quite illogical to impose a speed limit on a road specially designed for safe, fast traffic, and wholly wrong to do so, at least unless the prognostications of my hon. Friend about the danger of these roads were abundantly proved.

There are three matters I want to deal with tonight. First, I want to answer what has been alleged against the Minister in criticism of himself and his Department, namely, that there has not been proper consultation. Two hon. Gentlemen opposite particularly made that criticism. I then wish to refer to the speed of travel on these roads and to refer to one important aspect of it, namely, what is known as lane discipline. I hope that we shall ensure that those who drive fast and those who drive slowly will adhere to their proper lanes. Thirdly, I wish to refer to the transport of heavy loads and make one or two suggestions about such loads moving at night and about the width of the vehicles involved.

I really cannot agree at all with the criticism which has been made about prior consultation. I have some knowledge of these matters. The National Conference, of which I have the honour to be president at the present time, was consulted at the same date as was the Transport and General Workers Union. We, at a special meeting, thought that there was abundant time, in a fortnight, to consider the Measures proposed, particularly bearing in mind two factors. We are considering tonight Regulations governing only eight miles of the Preston bypass. At this time next year, we shall have an opportunity to consider the effect of them, and we shall then have an opportunity of dealing with what is of paramount importance, namely, the Regulations which will then come forward for governing the Birmingham motorway, which, I am sure, everybody is delighted to think will be opened in the autumn of next year.

The Minister and his Department are undertaking an experiment, for a trial period. Out of courtesy, he gave an opportunity to all the appropriate organisations to tender their tentative views. They are not final views; they are tentative views. We tendered our tentative views. In our letter—it is only a matter of three lines—we said that we thought that the Regulations, generally speaking, were admirable. We said that as a Conference, and that is my personal view, too. Our Conference said, referring to the indivisible loads, that these form an important part of the national and export trade and should be moved as quickly and efficiently as possible to destination. No one will disagree with that. Further, we said that if one tries to assess where the greater danger to the travelling public lies, it is surely true that a large indivisible load on a narrow highway is a greater public danger than the same load on the wide motorways. That was an expression of view. It did not go on to say that, on balance, all these heavy indivisible loads—what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) called the juggernauts—should necessarily have a right of way, at all times, on these motorways.

This is the suggestion I put to my right hon. Friend. Could not the indivisible loads, in special circumstances, be permitted to travel at night on these motorways? As I understand it, he has special powers in this respect. Very often, the police authorities are notified when such loads are to travel. They are often very heavy, long, and wide and, accordingly, notification is given of a wish to move such a load, of the route upon which it will travel and the expected time that the journey will take.

Mr. C. R. Hobson

They get it free of charge, too.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Yes, free of charge. It seems to me, and I hope that the House will agree, that there is room for such loads to travel at night, certainly on the particular bypass with which we are immediately concerned. I am not dealing with the general picture at the moment; I am considering this particular bypass, as an experiment, and only as an experiment.

Might not these loads be entitled to use the Preston bypass, with notification, only at night, as an experiment? Will the Minister consider whether, where the width does not exceed 12 ft., they might be allowed to use this road, provided that they do so only at night? Could he take some general discretion himself—and, incidentally, may I ask if he has the power, because I am not sure whether he has or not—to permit these loads to travel in circumstances which he may lay down; that is to say, in individual cases only, in which he thinks it is proper to allow them to do so?

Mr. Watkinson

indicated assent.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I gather my right hon. Friend can.

Mr. Stan Awbery (Bristol, Central)

The Minister is laying down a precedent with this scheme, not only for this section of road, but for any road in future, and saying that the same principle will apply.

Mr. Rees-Davies

That is what the hon. Gentleman says, but I do not accept it. I am sure that we shall have another debate in twelve months' time on this subject. May I invite the Minister to tell the House whether we shall have the opportunity in twelve months' time to consider this matter again? When he replies, my right hon. Friend may be able to tell us whether this is the finale or merely the prologue. Perhaps he will be good enough to deal with that in his reply, because it would certainly ease the minds of many hon. Members opposite.

I wish to conclude with some comments on the subject of speed. It seems to me that there are two considerations. On the whole, there are fast drivers and medium-pace drivers. The fast drivers will want to go on the middle lanes, and the slower drivers will want to keep to the other lanes. I do not believe in any speed limit on a road which has been designed for fast traffic. What I should like to see is that those who normally travel at 40 m.p.h. and never drive at more than 50 m.p.h., whatever opportunity arises, because they are just not capable of it, and those who are driving commercial vehicles who, for one reason or another—such as the state of the vehicle or the time permitted for a journey—do not want to travel at more than 40 m.p.h., adhere to the nearside lanes.

One of the main causes of accidents on these motorways, particularly overseas, where there has been experience, has been the heavy vehicle which has been travelling too slowly when a third vehicle comes up suddenly to find one slow vehicle overtaking another. If one slow vehicle is overtaken by another slow vehicle, then a person who is driving at 100 miles an hour is very often catapulted into an accident. I would hope that we shall have good lane discipline on our motorways. If we can get this, and we can persuade those people who are driving at the more moderate speeds to adhere to the nearside lane, those who are travelling faster will be able to overtake with safety. Of course, within the next twelve months, we shall be able to have an analysis of the accidents that may occur on this bypass, and we shall be able to say whether my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) is right or whether the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet is right.

I have always maintained that speed is not a main factor in accidents, from my own experience of accidents. My hon. Friend from his experience takes the contrary view. Well, we shall see.

Mr. John Barter (Ealing, North)

My hon. Friend's argument would seem to apply particularly in cases where heavy vehicles overtake on an incline. I hope he will deal with that point.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Yes, but I want to conclude what I was saying about speed with regard to heavy vehicles on the road by emphasising that if we have lane discipline, we shall succeed, because a principal cause of accidents, whether on motorways or on our antiquated roads, is the failure to keep a proper look-out. That is the cause of over four-fifths of the accidents in this country. In almost every case that comes before the courts, we find that the judgment of the judge is always the same. It is: "In this case, I find that the defendant—or the plaintiff—failed to keep a proper lookout." That is the point; it is entirely the human element which is the cause of accidents; a lack of concentration, and the fast drivers of this country are usually concentrating when driving at high speeds. For that reason, that is not the basic cause of accidents. I hope that this motorway will prove it. If over a few years the Birmingham motorway and other motorways prove this to be wrong, there will be plenty of time to introduce the necessary regulations accordingly.

For that reason, therefore, I invite my right hon. Friend the Minister, first, to give that further opportunity next year after what I regard as good consultation now and to look particularly at the question of large loads, whether they travel by night and the question of their width and length, so that special consideration may be given to them travelling in exceptional circumstances.

10.21 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

Hon. Members will agree that this has been a remarkable debate. For the last three hours, we have been discussing two Statutory Instruments of importance dealing with eight miles of special roadway. Hon. Members have expressed nearly as much interest tonight in roads as they do when there is a trip to inspect the roads which are being built on the Continent. If we have spent three hours, quite justifiably, in discussing this eight miles of road, when we have the following Order next year to discuss the 53 miles of road now being built from St. Albans to Birmingham we will be in for an all-night sitting.

The Minister has reason to be gratified about the way the debate has run. Everybody has expressed a welcome for the fact that at long last we in this House are able to discuss Orders which apply to motorways in this country. We have had a large number of Parliamentary Questions, debates and pressure groups at work over the last few years concerning the need for motorways in this country and at long last we are able to discuss one, albeit belated, short and inadequate as it is.

The Minister has a lot to answer when he replies. A number of different views have been expressed on both sides of the House and among his own supporters. Some, like the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), would allow mopeds and bicycles to use these special roads. Others would allow their use for the very large, abnormal indivisible loads. The main question, however, which the Minister tonight must answer is why there was inadequate consultation with the interested parties before he laid the Order and the Regulations. Several of my hon. Friends have protested at the fact that only two weeks were available between the receipt of the draft proposals and the time limit by which a reply had to be given. I should like the Minister to explain why he limited the time in this way and whether the facts are correct. One of my hon. Friends stated that the Minister sought consultation only on 7th July and called for replies fourteen days later, by 21st July, and that on the following day or a day or two later the Order was laid before the House.

I cannot understand why the Minister had to limit the time in that way. Motor roads do not grow overnight. Construction of the Preston bypass began about two years ago and the Minister knew that there would be special regulations in regard to the motorways. It was crystal clear that action had to be taken. Why did the Minister leave it until two weeks before it was necessary to lay the Order, in order to get it through the House before we adjourn for the Summer Recess, before he consulted the interested parties? I cannot understand it, and I hope that he will give us an explanation.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) considered that a fortnight was sufficient. It may be enough for the small organisation which the hon. Member represents. [HON. MEMBERS: "What organisation is it?"] The hon. Member did not inform us what the organisation was and I doubt whether any Member of the House is aware of it.

Mr. Rees-Davies

The National Conference of Road Transport Clearing Houses reviews the position of long-distance drivers all over the country.

Mr. Davies

It may have considered the time sufficient, but I should like to draw the attention of the Minister and of the hon. Gentleman to the fact that the British Road Federation, which represents the interest of hon. Members opposite far more than those of hon. Members on this side, also made its protest to the Minister and wrote to his Department on 14th July as follows: You will recall that the urgency of settling these regulations was the subject of correspondence between us in October, 1957, and since. In any circumstances, however, it is regrettable that road-user organisations are given only 14 days in which to submit comments upon matters which are of such great importance to them. The time limit imposed gives little opportunity for detailed consideration of the proposals. I quote that to the Minister so that he should not be led to believe that protest has come only from trade union representatives. The short time allowed for discussion is also objected to by other organisations. It is not merely a protest on the part of the trade union which is most concerned and whose working conditions are affected by these Instruments, but also by the road users' organisations.

I think that the Minister has acted contrary to his normal procedure. Often in this House we have had reason to attack him for being dilatory. We generally suggest that the Minister of Transport is extremely slow in attending to matters. Why on this one occasion the Minister should jump forward in this way, I cannot understand.

The main point to bear in mind is that these Instruments are experimental. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary stressed that, and I think that the House must not overlook it. It seemed to me that many hon. Members accepted too readily the fact that these Instruments would set a precedent which would be followed with regard to other motorways. For our part, we do not wish that to happen. We consider that the nine months that this road will be open should be looked upon entirely as an experimental period and that there should be full opportunity subsequently for hon. Members and outside organisations to discuss the result of the experiment and have full opportunity for putting their views before any new Orders are laid.

At the same time, it must be borne in mind that this experiment will be very limited, and the conditions on the eight miles of this bypass will not necessarily be comparable to the conditions which will prevail upon the London-Yorkshire motorway. After all, this Preston bypass has only two lanes in each of the dual carriageways, whereas the new motorway which is being built will have three lanes, and that makes a considerable difference, as hon. Members know, certainly in considering whether abnormal indivisible loads should be permitted on the motorway; and it has relevance to the speed limit.

As the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said, the case for the motorways is based upon the need for a speedy flow of traffic to help industry and consequently to reduce the cost of transport, which is a very important factor with regard to the export market. Any restrictions which militate against the fulfilment of the objectives of the motorway must be fully justified, either on economic or safety grounds. That is the test which should be applied to these Instruments, one of which restricts the type of vehicle using the roads—prohibiting mopeds and bicycles on the one hand and the large, abnormal indivisible loads on the other —and the other which removes the speed limit and so facilitates the flow of traffic.

The arguments concerning whether the abnormal indivisible load should travel upon these motorways are evenly balanced. It is very difficult to decide whether or not the Minister is right in this respect. It may be that there will be an advantage in having this experiment. In one aspect of the matter I am confused. The Minister's brief intervention did not clarify the position; it made confusion worse confounded. As far as I understood it, he implied that the reason for imposing the ban was so that he could permit a certain number of loads to go upon the road for experimental purposes.

Mr. Watkinson

indicated assent.

Mr. Davies

The Minister agrees, but is not it a fact that under the Special Roads Act, the 1930 Road Traffic Act, and the subsequent Regulations, the police and the highway authority—and the Minister is the highway authority in the case of these roads—already have full power to direct upon which roads these abnormal loads shall travel? In his speech the Joint Parliamentary Secretary confirmed that. If that is so, and it is intended that some of these abnormal loads shall travel on the motorways, why did the Order have to be introduced? Is not the existing machinery adequate for the purpose? The Minister, in consultation with the police and other responsible authorities, can decide which route abnormal loads shall use. He has that power already. It was not necessary to bring about a total prohibition, which has caused this difference of opinion in the House.

As for the Regulations, which deal with the speed limit, the arguments deployed tonight have been evenly balanced. The House seems equally divided whether they will aid the flow of traffic without impeding safety, or whether they will add to the dangers of the road. We are not concerned with private cars—and one would have thought from some speeches that there was already a speed limit on private cars. The removal of the restrictions on this road applies only to commercial goods vehicles and public service vehicles—buses and coaches. That is very important. I am not minimising that fact, but it should be kept in its proper perspective.

The yardstick is whether the removal of the speed limit is justified on economic grounds, to facilitate a steady flow of traffic, and whether it can also be justified on grounds of safety. Can it be shown that it will not increase the danger on the roads? It is also incumbent upon those who urge a speed limit to show that it is enforceable. Nothing could be worse than that the traffic laws should be unenforceable, and thus come into disrepute, with the motorist ignoring the rules and regulations. The ideal would be for each vehicle to travel at a speed which was safe for it. In other words, it would be better if it could be left to the drivers to decide what was the safe speed at which to travel. Unfortunately, the behaviour of drivers up to now has proved otherwise, and I believe that the question whether a speed limit should or should not be introduced is bound to be decided upon the behaviour of the motorists using the motorways.

Experience has shown, unfortunately, that a normally quite sensible person can become almost insane when he gets his hands on a steering wheel, that even the most patient of people, whether they be anglers or even bird watchers, become impatient of delay and intolerant of obstruction and demons for speed when they substitute a driver's seat for the river bank or the forest hide-out. I wonder what these motorists who like high speeds will do with the few minutes per hour which they gain.

As far as the lorry driver is concerned—and he is the person who will be most affected by the removal of the speed restriction—he is the least susceptible to this temptation. He is the best driver on the roads. Tribute has frequently been paid in the House to the very high standard of driving of the lorry drivers. I will not say that the lorry driver never exceeds the speed limit, but I believe that he is able to judge for himself not only whether the policeman is behind him—he can see that in his mirror—but also whether he can maintain a proper standard of safety when travelling at a higher speed.

It must be remembered that the present speed restriction imposed upon the lorry driver is due to the inadequacy of the roads upon which he travels. On our present roads, with their numerous intersections, bends and gradients, it just is not safe for him to travel at more than 30 m.p.h. except in the open stretches of country.

We must also keep in mind the nature of these motorways. There are no intersections, there is good vision the whole way, the curves are of such a nature that the vision remains good, the gradients are slight and there is generally a high standard of construction. All these things increase the safety of vehicles travelling at high speed.

It may well be that it will be safe for lorries and buses to travel at high speeds on these motorways, especially in view of the fact that the drivers responsible have such high standards to maintain. I would suggest, however, that if it is deemed necessary to impose a speed limit it should be higher than 30 m.p.h., or, to put it the other way round, that we should consider whether it is necessary or desirable to jump in one go from 30 m.p.h. to no restriction at all.

I think the case could well be made for fixing a maximum speed of 40 or 50 m.p.h. for commercial vehicles, but whether they should be completely and immediately released from any restriction at all is, I believe, open to question.

When the speed limit was raised from 20 to 30 m.p.h. for heavy vehicles, we on this side of the House opposed that change, not on principle but because agreement had not been reached between the employers and the unions as to the new schedules which it would be necessary to operate if full advantage was to be taken of the higher limit. We have been proved absolutely right in the decision we took that night. We decided to oppose it on those grounds; and agreement has not yet been reached between the road hauliers, the employers and the unions, and the vehicles are still operating on a 20 m.p.h. speed limit and not 30. Equally the Minister is to blame. If he had given more time for consultation and discussion, it would have been easier for the unions and the employers to debate this question, rather than that they should suddenly have it imposed on them in this way. I think the right hon. Gentleman has treated them disgracefully in that respect.

It is the responsibility of the operators to agree with the drivers of these vehicles on sound and realistic schedules. If the speed limit is removed, the drivers must be protected against the greater dangers which may arise from its removal. There have been different views expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, but it is necessary again to stress that hon. Members on this side of the House insist on regarding this as entirely an experimental matter. I hope the Minister will repeat the assurance given by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that before he makes any further regulations there will be full opportunity for hon. Members to express their opinions so that experience can be fully discussed and lessons learned from it. We need an assurance that the right hon. Gentleman will not again present us with a fait accompli as he has on this occasion.

Well reasoned and sincere speeches have been made by my hon. Friends, and a good case made out against several aspects of these Instruments, and, in particular, about the failure of the Minister to consult the unions concerned. A good case could be made out for dividing the House as a protest. However, in view of the differing opinions which have been expressed, which I hope the Minister will take into account, and the experimental nature of these Instruments, we do not propose to divide the House; but it must not be taken that we accept these Regulations and this Order as a precedent, or that the party on this side of the House is committed to the policy set out in them. We are, for instance, not committing ourselves to a policy of never having speed limits on the motorways.

The only gratifying feature of these Instruments is that they are necessary because the motorway is to come into use before the next Session of Parliament. In its length and breadth it is pitifully inadequate to meet the needs of the country. But it represents a beginning and is welcomed as an example of the shape of roads to come.

10.45 p.m.

The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Harold Watkinson)

I quite accept the views which the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) has put forward, but I think I can give one or two assurances which should help the House.

First, I shall deal with the question of consultation. My Ministry, with its many experienced experts, has had contacts and discussions on this matter literally for years. Over the past twelve months I have been trying to make up my mind. I have had talks with many people. I have been to Germany, the United States and to France in the past two years to see what they are doing there. The more I have gone into this, and the more advice I have had from my experts—and no one is better versed in all this—the more sure I have become that one cannot make sensible, final regulations on this matter until we have had some experience in this country of using a motor road.

Our habits here are not the same as those of the Americans and Germans when driving cars. We would be quite wrong and would run the risk of doing something stupid if we went ahead and made permanent regulations. That is the answer on consultation, which has been shown by the amount of contrary advice I have received tonight. There has been no common view on either side of the House and there is no politics in this. Everyone has his own views, based on guesswork and not on experience. I do not complain about that; it is inevitable at the moment.

That is why I was advised by my Ministry, and came to my own conclusion, that we would be wrong to launch out on permanent legislation until we had some experience. I know that eight miles of twin track road is not a great deal from which to gain experience, but it will at least provide a pilot scheme. The first thing I want to make plain to the House is that because I feel consultation, although we have had a great deal, could not bring us to any sort of final conclusion, the right thing to do was to limit these Statutory Instruments so that they must run out before the next section of motor road comes into operation. That is what I have done. I have limited them to end in August next year, just before the London to Birmingham motorway will probably be ready for use. They are subject to affirmative Resolutions, which means that the whole matter has to be debated again in this House.

These Instruments do not set a precedent, but merely enable us, as the hon. Member for Enfield, East fairly said, to carryout a necessary experiment. In my view, the right time for consultation will be over the next twelve months, when we shall be gaining experience and using this section of road as a pilot scheme. We shall need consultation and help from the police, local authorities, road haulage interests, trade unions and a great many others. It will be very welcome, the more so because then it will be based on practical experience. I certainly undertake to the House to say that we are not setting a precedent for motor roads as a whole, but enabling an experiment to be carried out on this particular road.

Why is it necessary? For this reason; there might come a time when we would want to use this road at a week-end, or perhaps for a week, for private cars only, to see what sort of flow we get under those conditions. I certainly intend to see it used by vehicles with indivisible loads. We can control their use and, if we do not want them on the road, we have power to provide that.

Mr. Ernest Davies

The right hon. Gentleman said that at some week-ends he might try to have only private cars using the road. By what powers can he do that?

Mr. Watkinson

I hope I shall have power to do that. Although this road is a very valuable by-pass and a useful addition to our road structure, we want to look at it as a motor road on which to base longer term plans, not only on how to use the roads but for road signs and a great many other things. I am grateful to the local authority and the police in that area of Lancashire, who have offered co-operation in this most important work. I ant to try as many combinations and permutations of traffic on this piece of road as we can in the hope that when we come to the House with more permanent regulations in six to nine months time they will be based on really wide knowledge and practical experience.

I do not at all accept the criticism that we have not carried out proper consultation. I agree that it has been of a formal nature, because the time for consultation is now coming, if this House passes these Regulations, and when we are prepared for the opening of the road this autumn. We will then welcome the maximum co-operation, of a practical nature, as the road is being used.

That, too, will go for this difficult question of the speed limit. I am sure that it would be wrong to start our experiments with some sort of arbitrary limit. It is the experience of almost everyone to whom I have talked that if we can manage without a speed limit, we can get what we must have—the maximum throughput on this road.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) has said, these roads are costing more than a quarter of a million pounds a mile. They will not pay a dividend, and particularly the commercial dividend that we want, unless we can push through them, as through a pipeline, the maximum volume of traffic flowing at an economical speed. If we try to say that one sort of traffic must go at one speed and another must go at another speed we will delay the very thing that we want, which is to carry the maximum economic load.

There is the same difficulty with the indivisible load. My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) rightly interpreted my present view, which is that an indivisible load that is not more than, say, 11 ft. or 12 ft. wide does not present such great difficulty, because it fits on one lane, and its length, weight and height are not such significant problems. The difficulty is with the abnormal load that closes more than one lane because on this type of two-lane road it will close over half the road, and traffic in one direction will be completely bottled up behind it. However, as I have said, I have not a closed mind on this. We must experiment, and see how we get on.

Therefore, all I ask the House to do tonight is to pass these Regulations in the sense, first, that we will welcome anyone's help to get this thing right, because it is entirely new ground and it is very important that we should get it right. Secondly, I am not asking the House to bind itself for the future, but only to enable us to carry out this experiment. It will all have to be debated again; more affirmative Resolutions will have to be laid before the House, and the House will have the opportunity to reject or to accept them. These present Resolutions must fall by September of next year—

Mr. Ernest Davies

The Minister says that we will have the opportunity to accept or reject them, but we say that when the experiment has taken place we should have an opportunity to express our views before an Order is laid, because, once presented, we have to accept Orders or reject them.

Mr. Watkinson

I quite see the hon. Gentleman's point, but I think I have met the point made by him and by other hon. Members in saying that in the next nine months there will be the maximum opportunity for practical consultation on the spot, which will, I hope, play a good part in shaping the Resolutions. But if the hon. Gentleman says that we would prefer some sort of general debate before the Orders are laid, I will take note of that. It is not, of course, a matter for me to decide but for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. If what the hon. Gentleman wants is a general debate, I will undertake to report his wish to the Leader of the House. I am anxious only that this thing should work. If it does not, it will not pay us the maximum dividend.

As to the contrary advice I have received—

Mr. Prentice

I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman could give a further undertaking? When fuller Regulations are provided, will they be sent to the interested parties in time to give them a period longer than a fortnight in which to make their comments?

Mr. Watkinson

Certainly, but this is now a continuous progress. These are not the binding Regulations, except for the purpose of this experiment. We shall want to talk with all the interested parties involved, and ask them, "If you do not want it done in this way, how do you want it done?". For example, I want to have talks on indivisible loads, in order to see if there is a better system for getting them on the road, and, perhaps, of keeping some loads off it which would tend to lose us the economic dividend which the road should bring us.

Neither I, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, nor my Department has a closed mind on this, but open minds. We have nine to twelve months of very hard work ahead, and if it is thought right to consult the House before considering anything specific, steps will be taken accordingly.

To sum up on the quite naturally conflicting advice that I have had from both sides of the House, I will take careful note of it, but I do not think I will be bound by it, nor do I think that I should be, until we have had a chance of opening this road and using it as a pilot scheme. We are trying to prepare for this great road programme for which the country should thank the Government. We have put an immense amount of capital into it. I believe that it will pay a very good dividend, but only if we get the maximum throughput on these new roads. If we get the wrong balance of speed or of load, so that we tend to hold up traffic rather than keep it flowing smoothly, we shall have accidents and we shall fail to get the results for which we had hoped.

I ask for the help of those who have expert knowledge and who are interested in this matter. If we can approach it in that way, these great new roads which are to come will really be a revolution in transport and really will pay the nation a very good dividend. For that reason, I ask the House to approve these Statutory Instruments.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Special Roads (Classes of Traffic) Order, 1958, dated 22nd July, 1958, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd July be approved.

Motor Vehicles (Speed Limit on Special Roads) Regulations, 1958, dated 22nd July, 1958 [copy laid before the House on 22nd July], approved.—[Mr. Watkinson.]