HC Deb 20 February 1964 vol 689 cc1507-24

9.16 p.m.

Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Vehicles (Conditions of Use on Footpaths) Regulations 1963 (S.I., 1963, No. 2126), dated 19th December 1963, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd January, be annulled. I do not know whether it is because he thinks that he has done so well that the Minister of Transport is joined with the Minister of Power in producing this wonderful set of Regulations, which, as I shall try to show, are about as futile as most of the things which the Minister of Transport has attempted to do up to now. I cannot understand why the Government should put themselves into the position of being up against everybody. Perhaps the reason is that they do not take other people into consideration. I cannot understand how else they could have got themselves into the muddle of introducing Regulations which are opposed by all the authorities concerned throughout the country. Perhaps what they have done in this case is consistent with everything else they do. The fact remains that anyone who knows anything at all about these particular Regulations regards them as entirely wrong. The authorities which will be affected by them have not been properly consulted, with the result that what they regard as the right thing to do has been entirely denied them by the Government.

That is a statement of fact. It is not a party political attack on the Government. It is a criticism which comes from the Association of Municipal Corporations which represents all the boroughs of the country, from the County Councils' Association which represents alt the county councils, and from the Urban District Councils' Association. From the point of view of local government, they represent the whole community. Yet the Government go their own way irrespective of the views of others in a dream world, or nightmare world, ignoring everything that everyone else wants and introducing Regulations which I must ask them to withdraw and consider again.

The Regulations go unnecessarily far in putting difficulties in the way of highway authorities and contractors to highway authorities in the maintenance of footpaths. They are regarded as quite unsatisfactory by a number of organisations which have been in touch with me on the subject. This is the view of the County Councils' Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations, of which I have the privilege of being a vice-president, the British Road Federation, the Coated Tar Macadam Federation and the Road Rollers Association.

It is a common sight throughout the country today to see footpaths being made up with a tarmacadam metalled surface. To do this work, and to keep such footpaths in repair, it is plainly necessary that rollers must be used. Moreover, to carry out proper repair and maintenance work on such footpaths, it is essential to use reasonably heavy rollers, These rollers are of two types, vibratory and deadweight.

Although vibratory rollers generally weigh less than 1 ton, the effect of the vibration is to impose a load many times greater than 1 ton. I have tried to obtain some particulars about the precise amount of load imposed by a vibratory roller, but it seems that the makers of such implements are a little shy of giving estimates, in face of these curious Regulations. This is not unnatural, since, if they claim too much efficiency for their vibratory rollers in this sense, they may find them ruled out of use.

Deadweight rollers usually weigh either 30 cwt. or 50 cwt. Furthermore, the extension of the use of bituminised material for the surfacing of footpaths has led to the development of laying machines similar to those used for laying road material but of narrower width. Such machines weigh more than 1 ton.

The Regulations state that the weight of the appliance or vehicle must not exceed 1 ton and that in no case must the weight transmitted to any strip of the surface of the footpath upon which the appliance rests exceed more than 12½ cwt. between any two parallel lines drawn two feet apart on that surface at right angles to the longitudinal axis of the appliance". The Minister shakes his head.

Mr. John McCann (Rochdale)

What does that mean?

Sir B. Janner

It means that he is in agreement, in spite of what I have said. I hope that by the time I have finished he will shake his head the other way.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)

It is not difficult to be in agreement with the hon. Member when he is giving an easily understandable précis of what is in the Regulations.

Sir B. Janner

I thought that the Minister was shaking his head because he agreed not that this abuse had been made possible by the Government but with the abuse itself. I apologise.

The first condition in Regulation 4 would seem to rule out a large category of small motor rollers which today are frequently used by local authorities and their contractors for the maintenance of macadamised footpaths. The second condition would seem to rule out some of the vibratory compacting machines which are also used for laying and maintaining such footpaths. I have in my hand some particulars and illustrations of typical machines. They are the kind of machines being used at present. Probably the Parliamentary Secretary will know them very well. It will not be possible to use these machines after these Regulations come into force.

One example is the Blaw Knox Minipaver which is advertised as being particularly suitable for footpath work. I understand that the production of about 100 of these new Minipavers is planned for 1964 on the assumption that about half will be used in this country—I draw the Parliamentary Secretary's attention particularly to the following fact—and that half will be exported. If these Regulations go through unamended, it seems that there will be no market for these Minipavers in the United Kingdom since their weight, even unloaded, is about 4 tons and the Regulations state that no vehicle can be used on pavements in a general way if it weighs more than 1 ton. Even if exemption is given—and I am sure that we shall hear all about exemption tonight—by the Minister of Power under Regulation 7, in no case must the weight exceed 3 tons.

Let me give as another example the well known small rollers turned out by the firm of Aveling Barford. These are excellent machines, and I have particulars of them here. The Minister may claim that there is adequate power in the Regulations to give directions for relaxation of the requirements of Regulation 4. It is true that provision for such relaxation exists in Regulation 7, but only, as I have indicated, for vehicles weighing up to 3 tons in any case. A local authority or anyone who wants to carry out repair work must go cap in hand to the Minister and ask, "Am I allowed to use a particular machine?"

Relaxation must be granted by the Minister of Power and must apply to a particular local authority or in a particular case. Presumably the Minister of Power is brought in, because of the consideration in some cases that gas mains may be laid below the pavement and damage may be done to gas pipes if the rollers weigh too much. I understand, however, that this should not be a serious risk if the gas mains are laid at a proper depth. I understand that there is provision on the Statute Book under which gas companies can be asked to lay their mains at a suitable depth if necessary or if it is thought desirable. But the Regulations would appear to apply whether or not there were pipes under the ground in question or not. The local authority knows whether or not there are pipes there, not the Minister of Transport. Heaven knows he has enough on his hands, although perhaps the Minister of Power has not. I can imagine the Minister of Power sending his inspectors to see whether the local authority knows if there are gas or electricity pipes there. The whole thing is farcical.

I have said that the Regulations will apply whether or not there are pipes under any footpath. In any event, it would seem an intolerably complicated and dilatory procedure for the Minister of Power to be brought in whenever a 13 cwt. roller must be brought along to repair a particular little stretch of footpath in any part of the country.

I have had letters from local authorities about this matter. I know that my own association regards Regulation 4 as quite unnecessary and an interference with the legitimate and understandable work of the authorities. That applies to all authorities. The Minister should not misunderstand me. I am not merely talking about Labour-controlled boroughs. He is setting himself up against the whole lot. This is perhaps a new departure. Heaven knows how he will answer that, leave alone answering the authorities and his conscience about his own party's point of view.

Let me tell the House what the people representing the counties say. I think that the Parliamentary Secretary represents a county, but suppose that he does not. Let us see what some of his friends in the counties say. My association said categorically that it is against it. That means every borough council throughout the country. Leicester, part of which I am proud to represent in the House of Commons, has an intelligent council. It is Labour-controlled. Leicester is included with others of all political outlooks. They say that the Regulation is unnecessary.

What do the county councils say? Look how they have been treated—and some of them, I believe, are Conservative-controlled. They say: The Association were consulted in September, 1962, and noted that draft Regulation 4(a) prescribed that the weight of the appliance or vehicle should not exceed 1 ton, while draft Regulation 8 enabled the Minister of Power to give a direction relaxing that requirement as it applied to a particular authority or in any particular case so as to permit the use of a vehicle to a weight not exceeding 2 tons. On 12th October, 1962, the Secretary of this Association, after consultation with the Association's advisers, wrote to the Ministry of Transport as follows: 'In our view the minimum weight referred to paragraph 4(a) should be amended to 3 tons to allow for the use of footpath rollers weighing approximately 2 tons and tractors equipped for scrub cutting and weighing about 2½ tons. An increase in the permissive total weight of the vehicle would lead to corresponding increases in the weights defined in paragraphs 4(a) and 4(c).' On 19th October, 1962"—

not 1963— the Ministry of Transport"— It is a pity that the Parliamentary Secretary does not have the other Minister with him. It would not be of much help to anybody, but his colleague should be here to listen to what he has landed the Minister of Power into. The letter states that the Ministry of Transport acknowledged the Association's letter saying that the comments had been noted"— That is the kind of answer to questions that we sometimes get from the Government— and that they would be borne in mind when they were considering the replies received. Nothing further was heard from 19th October, 1962 until 2nd January"— not 1963; that would be much too soon for the Government to answer— 1964, when a letter was received from the Ministry of Transport enclosing a copy of the Regulations which had been made on 19th December, 1963, and laid before Parliament on 2nd January, 1964: the weight prescribed by Regulation 4(a) is still 1 ton, although Regulation 7 (formerly draft Regulation 8) has been amended to permit the Minister of Power to give a direction relaxing the requirement as to weight to permit the use of a vehicle not exceeding 3 tons. The Association object to these Regulations"— and who could blame it? After what I have tried to explain tonight, nobody except the Government could blame the Association. The Government had better get out of this mess quickly and get the Minister of Transport out of it quickly, too. He is in it deeply enough. He has dragged the Association into it and that is why there is objection.

The Association states that it supports the Motion standing in my name, which I am not surprised to hear, praying for the annulment of the Regulations. It states that (a) there has been insufficient consultation with the Association in that no action whatsoever has been taken to amend Regulation 4(a), nor has any explanation been given of the reason why this Amendment could not be made; (b) that the power contained in Regulation 7 for the Minister of Power to give a direction relaxing the requirements of Regulation 4(a) represents a quite unnecessary amount of paper work and central control over responsible authorities in what is comparatively a minor matter; because of the failure to prescribe three tons as the maximum permissible weight under Regulation 4(a), it will frequently be necessary to ask for this relaxation to be granted. I know that this Prayer is coming from this side of the House, and perhaps in those circumstances it is not as palatable as it might otherwise have been; hut, after all, common sense is common sense, is it not? It is no earthly good the Minister's sticking to something which is nonsense and which flies in the teeth of everybody who has control of these matters. The Parliamentary Secretary is a reasonable fellow as a rule. He may not be tonight; I do not know; I do not want to commit myself too far. Still, I hope that perhaps on reconsidering the matter he may decide that after all he ought to withdraw these Regulations and say to himself that before he introduces a different kind of regulations, even if that is necessary at all, he will sit down with the authorities who really know their business and discuss them with them in advance.

Even if he cannot trust them with anything else, and he certainly does not trust them with very much money, surely at least he can trust them to look after their footpaths and not to do any unnecessary damage to them, and to have the sense to know whether they should use a vehicle of 8 cwt. or 1 ton 4 cwt. without coming down to their headquarters about it. Just imagine the number of people concerned every time they have to send out one of these things. The Minister will have to send an inspector to examine the road and see what is underneath every time. Or will the Government take the word of the local authority? If they do not trust the authority they will have to dig up the drains every time, dig up the electric wires and have a look at them and put them back again. If they do not find anything underneath at all they will be in trouble; they will find nothing and will just have to put the earth back into the hole from which they took it.

It is all steer nonsense, and so I ask the hon. Gentleman in these circumstances to agree to annul these Regulations, which really are ridiculous ones.

9.38 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) for moving this Prayer against these Regulations, because Regulation No. 4 seems to me rather extraordinary, unless, of course, I have read it incorrectly. This delegated legislation is very often very difficult to understand Regulation No. 4, though, is rather extraordinary.

According to this, a vehicle must not exceed 1 ton in weight. That is in paragraph (a). It can have two wheels 2 ft. apart and at that point of impact the given weight must not exceed 12½ cwt. That is if the vehicle has two wheels. I presume that on this vehicle one could have two wheels transversely 2 ft. apart giving a force of 12½ cwt. at that point. It would have to be a three-wheeled or four-wheeled vehicle, not a two-wheeled vehicle, that is a certainty.

If there were another pair of wheels which would be 2 ft. apart, then according to this Regulation they would have to be transverse and of longitudinal to the other two and they could have a weight at that point of contact of another 12½ cwt.; that is, 25 cwt. But the whole thing must not weigh more than 1 ton. It seems to me that under subparagraph (b) it could weigh 25 cwt. if it is a four-wheeled vehicle. If it is a three-wheeler that is to say, if there is not another wheel in the same line transversely to the longitudinal track of the vehicle—the weight over any one wheel must not exceed 8 cwt. As the weight over the two wheels can be 12½ cwt. and over the other wheel 8 cwt., the total Weight could be 1½ tons, according to the Regulation.

What does all this mean? It seems to me that the mathematics are a lot of nonsense. This is crazy. Whoever worked this one out? It is not possible to have a vehicle with two wheels. If the vehicle has three wheels, when each wheel is on a weighing machine it could comply with sub-paragraph (c) and subparagraph (b), but it will exceed the weight in sub-paragraph (a). That means that a manufacturer would not be able to manufacture to the limits in subparagraph (b) and sub-paragraph (c)—though it seems to me reasonable enough that he should be able to do so—because in the sum total the weight would exceed the limit provided in sub-paragraph (a).

It is not sufficient to state, as is stated in Regulation No. 7: The Minister of Power may give a direction relaxing the requirements of Regulation 4… What a business this is going to be if a manufacturer has to work things out in such detail as this. I must support my hon. Friend in asking the Minister to take these Regulations back and to have Regulation No. 4 examined again.

If we take sub-paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) together they make nonsense. I doubt very much whether any manufacturer would manufacture a three-wheeled vehicle, but that is what the language of this Regulation means. Regulation No. 4 (c) states: … where no other wheel is in the same line transversely … If there is no wheel in the same line transversely, and if it is not a three-wheeled vehicle, it must be a wheelbarrow, but we would not have a wheelbarrow weighing 8 cwt.

Therefore, the Regulations must refer to a three-wheeled vehicle. To comply with sub-paragraph (c), the three-wheeled vehicle Regulation, it will weigh over 1 ton, and if we consider the four-wheeled vehicle with two pairs of wheels 2 ft. apart transversely, the weight of impact longitudinally will total 25 cwt. There is something wrong there. I admit that I may be reading the Regulation wrongly, but I think that the Minister should look at this again and redraft it.

9.43 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)

I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Leicester, North- West (Sir B. Janner) in praying against these Regulations. We know the wide range of his interests in various transport matters. Only the other day he was showing his knowledge of arboriculture when we discussed the propriety of planting rosa multiflora japonica. Yesterday he delighted the House with his remarks on the Hackney Carriage Bill. We all enjoyed that. Tonight he is engaged in the more mundane, but nevertheless practically very important, matter of footpath repair, and I think we would all agree that he put his case persuasively.

Before replying to the hon. Gentleman, I should like to give some of the background to these Regulations and explain why we are having them. As I expect the hon. Gentleman knows, up till now it has been unlawful for any vehicle to be used on a footpath or footway. Section 72 of the Highways Act, 1835, makes it an offence for any person wilfully to drive a carriage of any description, or any truck or sledge, upon any footpath or causeway by the side of any road made or set apart for the use or accommodation of foot passengers.

In addition, Section 18 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, prohibits motor vehicles from being driven on any road being a footpath or bridle way. That is the general position in law but, naturally, with the advent of modern machinery and methods of footpath construction and maintenance, local authorities have been anxious to avail themselves of these new facilities and some of them have taken powers to permit the use of such appliances by means of local Acts. That was done, among others, by Coventry and Bootle.

In order to regularise this position it was decided in the Public Health Act, 1961, to extend these powers throughout the country and so authority was given in Section 49 to the Ministers of Transport and Power to make Regulations permitting local authorities to use these modern appliances. It is in exercise of this power that these Regulations have been framed.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester, North-West appreciates that, without these Regulations and in the absence of local Acts, the use of any vehicle on a footpath is illegal. We felt, therefore, that something had to be done. The theme of the hon. Gentleman's criticism is, however, that although we have done something we have not done enough—

Sir B. Janner

Not the right thing.

Mr. Galbraith

—and that the restrictions imposed are not sensible having regard to modern conditions. I wish that I could agree with him but our experience is unfortunately not the same as his.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, footpaths are often used by public utilities when they are laying their pipes. A heavy load on the footpath, especially during its repair or reconstruction, can easily damage the pipes beneath the surface. The primary object of the Regulations therefore is to protect the public from the consequences of damage, especially to gas mains which are often laid in footpaths along the streets.

The danger the hon. Gentleman referred to as being comparatively minor is, on the contrary, very serious indeed. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Power has given me examples of the appalling record of deaths from this cause. I am told that each year there are about 30 deaths as a result of cracked gas mains.

Mr. McCann

Surely some of these are on roads where heavy vehicles are allowed without control.

Mr. Galbraith

I am coming to that. Of course we do not know how many are attributable to vehicles because, in many cases, the cause of the fracture is undetected and the results may not appear until some time afterwards. But the inherent danger does exist and is something we cannot ignore.

The trouble is that escaping gas cannot usually get away through the pavement. It often finds its outlet sideways, which means that where terraced houses are built up to the footpath with no front garden the gas seeps through into the house—often with fatal results, especially when it happens at night when people are asleep. Even where there is a garden between the pavement and the house there is some chance of the gas escaping through the earth and creating a potentially dangerous situation.

The Regulations permit the local authorities to use on footpaths mechani cal appliances for their construction, cleansing and maintenance. It was at that stage of his speech that the hon. Gentleman saw me nodding in agreement. I was not necessarily agreeing with everything else he was saying. These appliances, however, are subject to a weight limit of 1 ton for any vehicle and to a spied limit of 5 m.p.h. The hon. Gentleman did not think that that was too low.

I did not think that hon. Members would wish me to explain the details about how the weight is transmitted to the surface of the pavement through the various axles of the machine, but the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) has raised the matter. It is difficult to explain across the Floor, but if he likes to meet me at the back of the Chair, I am perfectly prepared to make a drawing which, I hone, will make the matter clear to him. The object is to spread the load as far as possible so as to reduce the impact.

It is thought that we have been too careful in all this and that overall the weight limit is too restrictive. We have given this matter a good deal of thought and in order to avoid being too rigid, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power, where he thinks fit and where the local circumstances justify it, can increase the weight limit to 3 tons in particular cases.

The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West suggested that local authorities were responsible bodies, whether they were Conservative or Labour, and were as competent to look after the public interest in this matter as the Minister of Power or the Minister of Transport.

Sir B. Janner

I did not say that they were responsible bodies in every respect. I said that they were sufficiently responsible for this purpose.

Mr. Galbraith

We will not quibble about that. At any rate, the hon. Gentleman says that they are responsible in this respect whether they are Conservative or Socialist.

However, as I explained earlier, the damage may take some time to show itself and no one will then know what has been the cause, whether the repair operations or something else. I agree that the local authorities are responsible, but we thought that we should try to eliminate repair work on footpaths as a possible cause of leaking gas. I am sure that the hon. Member with his well known humanistic outlook, will agree that prevention is better than any indemnity which might be given by the local authorities if they do any damage inadvertently. We want to prevent and not just compensate after the damage is done.

The hon. Gentleman also suggested that the local authorities objected to the regulations, and he read some extracts from newspapers. I must admit that I found it a little difficult to understand everything he said. He probably knows that when regulations are made under the Road Traffic Act, 1960, the Minister is obliged by Section 260(2) to consult such interested organisations and associations as he may think fit, but no such requirement is made by the Public Health Act, 1961. However, the Minister went out of his way to consult the organisations and authorities concerned, such as the County Councils Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations, the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee, and all the local authority organisations the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Sir B. Janner

He went out of his way to consult them and then told them what was being done without consulting, them about the effects.

Mr. Galbraith

The hon. Gentleman is anticipating what I was about to say. I was hoping to deal with all this aspect. I was trying to show that my right hon. Friend was not obliged to do so, but did consult the organisations concerned. The proposals originally put to the associations were that the weight of vehicles used on the pavement should be limited to 1 ton, with a proviso that this could be increased to 2 tons at the discretion of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power.

In the comments received from the associations the main objection was to the weight limit of 1 ton. The associations pointed out, quite rightly, that there were a number of appliances on the market which they wished to use and which were in excess of this limit, and even in excess of the 2-ton limit proposed in special cases. These machines included cleansing apparatus, rollers, and scrub cutters which were in the region of 2 to 2½ tons, and which would be barred if the original proposals had become law.

As a result of these observations from the local authority associations the matter was considered further by my right hon. Friend's Department, and also by the Department of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power. The Minister of Power was, however, insistent that to protect gas mains it was essential to maintain 1 ton as a general limit. However, in the light of the representations and further careful thought, he agreed to the limit being uplifted to 3 tons in special cases, and we thought that this change met the suggestion of the local authorities on the question of weight. It is for that reason that I find it difficult to understand the heat which our action has apparently raised with the local authorities. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we probably ought to have told the associations to what extent we were able to meet their points, and I should like to apologise for our inadvertent appearance of rudeness in failing to do that.

What the hon. Gentleman did not draw attention to, however, was that the local authority associations also complained about the proposed Regulations limiting the use of appliances on footpaths to daylight hours. They stressed the view that it was not always possible to confine the work to this period, especially during the winter months. They stressed that this was particularly so in the case of street markets where it was necessary to start clearing-up operations immediately the market closed. In view of these representations, we decided to allow the use of vehicles on footpaths at any hour of the night or day, provided that they exhibited the obligatory lights required by the Road Transport Act, 1957, and the associated Regulations.

The hon. Gentleman will, therefore, see that not only were the local authorities consulted, but that in both instances account was taken of their views and adjustments made to meet them, perhaps not all the way, but a good deal of the way, and I do not see how we could have gone any further to meet the point; made by the hon. Gentleman without imperilling public safety.

We do, however, want to do everything that we can to make the procedure work smoothly—and I think that this may help the hon. Gentleman—so my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power has undertaken to see that the granting of relaxations is carried out speedily and with the minimum of red tape. The hon. Gentleman devoted a considerable portion of his speech to that. He did it in a humorous way, but I saw what he was getting at.

To ensure that, my right hon. Friend will arrange for his officials to invite representatives of the local authority associations concerned to meet in the near future. This meeting will discuss procedure for submitting applications with a view to simplifying the practical working arrangements, and I am sure this ought to help them to get on with the job.

The hon. Gentleman also suggested that uncertainty as to what equipment would be permitted by the Ministry of Power would prevent contractors from tendering for maintenance work on these footpaths. I do not know whether I could go all the way with the hon. Gentleman, because I am fairly certain that a local authority will know what it wants and will obtain my right hon. Friend's relaxation under the Regulations before going out to tender.

The hon. Gentleman also referred—and I am glad that he did so—to vibratory rollers, because these machines have fairly recently come into operation. They operate by way of a vibratory motion causing the roller to thud on the surface which is being constructed or levelled instead of rolling smoothly in normal way.

Our attention has been drawn to the fact that even if these vibratory machines are within the weight limit of 1 ton it is possible that they could inflict more damage to the gas mains than heavier rollers of normal construction. If this is the case, my right hon. Friend's Department will need to consider whether or not the Regulations require amending so as to control their use. I am glad that the hon. Member appreciates the possible damage that this type of roller may cause.

The hon. Member also referred to the fact that in certain areas there were no pipes at all. In that case he wondered why the discretion should be limited to 3 tons. Curiously enough, when the matter was being considered no one mentioned any equipment of a weight heavier than 3 tons.

Sir B. Janner

Perhaps I expressed myself badly, but I pointed out that if there were no pipes at all it did not seem necessary to have this limit. It is foolish not to leave it to the discretion of the local authority. If it knows that there are no pipes below the footpath, why bother with the Minister of Power or the Minister of Transport?

Mr. Galbraith

A local authority may or may not know that there are no pipes under the footpath. It is not the responsible authority for gas. I thought that the hon. Member was asking why, in a country area where there was no gas, the Minister of Power's discretion was limited by these Regulations to a weight of 3 tons.

There are two reasons for this. First, nobody in any of our discussions, or in any correspondence, has referred to any equipment of a weight heavier than 3 tons. I ad nit that in country districts there may be long stretches of road without pipes beneath the footpaths, but work on such footpaths that is likely to require the sort of equipment envisaged by the Regulations is unlikely to be so prevalent as to make it economic to employ special equipment heavier than that in general use on the great majority of footpaths. However, if there are many such cases we shall have to consider the matter again.

Mr. McCann

If a local authority can say that there are definitely no pipes beneath a footpath, would consent be automatic?

Mr. Galbraith

I should not like to say that that was necessarily so. But that is the kind of point that would come out in the discussions which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power hopes to have shortly with local authority organisations.

I now turn to the important question of what is to happen in the future. These Regulations are new. They permit the use of these relatively modern machines on footpaths generally for the first time. This is an advance, although one would not have realised it, listening to the hon. Member's speech. These Regulations allow the use of these modern machines on footpaths for the first time, provided that they are not so heavy as to cause damage to any pipes that may be laid beneath them. Obviously, if they are found to be defective in practice my right hon. Friend will no doubt consider whether or not any Amendments are necessary or practicable, taking into account the danger that may be caused. But I would urge local authorities, through the hon. Member, to give these Regulations a fair trial in order to see how we get on.

In conclusion, I hope that what I have said may remove any misunderstandings which have existed. The Regulations are necessary in order to legalise the use of vehicles on footpaths, and they therefore represent an advance. In general, the weight of these vehicles has to be kept to 1 ton because of the danger to gas mains. In particular cases, however, where the Minister of Power thinks that it is safe, the weight may be increased threefold, and we do not exclude a review in the light of experience. At the end of the day, however, we are faced with a clash of interests. We have to face the difference between what the hon. Gentleman regards as the proper use of the most modern, up-to-date and efficient equipment and what the Government regard as their responsibilities for public health.

Knowing the hon. Gentleman's interest in the prevention of accidents, his championship of ruthless efficiency whatever may be the danger is certainly unexpected. It just shows that the one thing about which one may be sure in politics is that one may be sure of nothing. It exhibits another facet of the wide-ranging concern of the hon. Gentleman to achieve the best. We have thought about this matter a great deal in the light of the dangerous situation which may result from fractured gas pipes. We have gone as far as we can to meet the views properly expressed by the hon. Gentleman in the interest of mov- ing with the times. But I am sure that we should be open to the severest censure if we went further to meet him. My right hon. Friend will arrange the discussions about which I spoke earlier, and I hope that in the light of what I have said, which shows that we realise that there is a problem from the point of view of the local authorities, but indicating that we too have a problem, the hon. Gentleman may feel disposed to withdraw his Motion.

Sir B. Janner

In view of the courteous way in which the Parliamentary Secretary has presented his case, and as the Government are to consult the authorities—and probably will come to the conclusion that they will want to alter these Regulations—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.