HC Deb 03 August 1971 vol 822 cc1520-37

12.25 a.m.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Inflammable Substances (Conveyance by Road) (Labelling) Regulations 1971 (S.I., 1971, No. 1062), dated 28th June 1971, a copy of which was laid before this House on 8th July, be annulled. I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it will be for the convenience of the House if we take at the same time the second Motion, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Inflammable Liquids (Conveyance by Road) Regulations 1971 (S.I., 1971, No. 1061), dated 28th June 1971, a copy of which was laid before this House on 8th July, be annulled

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris) indicated assent.

Mr. Rees

I am obliged.

We wish to probe to ascertain the Government's intention in the Regulations on the important matter of the carriage of dangerous substances through the streets of towns, possibly affecting many of our constituents. The Regulations to which the first Motion relates deal with the labelling of inflammable substances for conveyance by road.

When an accident occurs to a vehicle which is carrying poisons, it is important that doctors and firemen should know what is contained in the tank. I know that there is a great deal of training for firemen in this respect, because increasingly nowadays they are engaged not in putting out fires but in dealing with accidents, particularly on motorways.

Given the labelling, how is the fire service kept informed of the changing nature of the liquids that are carried? It is important not simply that there should be labelling, but that it should be meaningful to those who function after an accident. In using the Ml a great deal, as do many hon. Members who have North of England constituencies, I have noticed that telephone numbers are often given alongside the label. I have often wondered how important those telephone numbers are and whether they are manned at all hours of the night. My first question, therefore, concerns the use to which the labelling is put.

Regulation 3 states that These Regulations apply to any inflammable substance (that is to say, petroleum-spirit, carbon disulphide… . I will not read the remainder; hon. Members are as capable of reading it as I am. How limiting is Regulation 3? The reason for my question is that Regulation 8 states that In the case of a container which does not contain any acetaldehyde or carbon disulphide… . Having had the limitation in Regulation 3, we then have Regulation 8, and I was surprised that Regulation 9(3) goes on to say that The substances to which this Regulation applies are as follows and it lists seven names which I am not capable of pronouncing. Therefore, Regulations 3, 8 and 9(3) appear to be in conflict. While I accept that Statutory Instruments and Orders must be legally correct, there comes a time when ordinary mortals who deal with this important matter have to read them.

Regulation 6, which will be of importance to trade unions whose members drive the vehicles in question, states that The owner of a vehicle used for the conveyance of any inflammable substance … shall … affix a copy thereof in some place where it can conveniently be read". That may be a way of expressing it, as is done in countless Orders, but it is important that it should be done in a fashion that enables the drivers of vehicles to know what is going on.

I recall that when I had responsibility in the Home Office regulations existed to deal with inflammable liquids. Vehicles had to bear at the highest point of the front and rear a label indicating the nature of the dangerous substance being carried. In addition, tank vehicles and packages containing inflammable liquids were required to be marked with the name of the liquid contained. What changes do both sets of Regulations make in those requirements?

Regulation 3 of Regulations 1061 reads: Subject to Regulation 9 below, every person engaged in the conveyance, or the loading or unloading in connection with conveyance, of any inflammable liquid shall secure so far as is reasonably possible that none of the inflammable liquid is spilt. My first instinct is to say, "So what?". What does the phrase so far as is reasonably possible mean? We have moved beyond the driver to anyone who is dealing with inflammable liquids. I recall that the staff of the Home Office was preparing a circular to be sent to responsible bodies giving advice on what to do in the event of a spillage. What has happened to that circular?

Regulation 6 reads: Subject to Regulation 9 below, a suitable and efficient fire extinguisher shall be carried in an easily accessible position on any vehicle conveying any inflammable liquid. This may be meaningful to the people concerned, but it is important that they should know exactly what is meant by suitable and efficient fire extinguisher. I am not clear about Regulation 8, which says: It shall be the duty of a local authority empowered under the Petroleum (Consolidation) Act 1928 to grant petroleum-spirit licences to enforce within their district the provisions of these Regulations … A problem may arise with a vehicle which sets out from Sutton in Surrey to go to Leeds in Yorkshire. Does this Regulation mean that a local authority has power to enforce the provisions in respect of vehicles that are not registered with that local authority? Problems arise in many towns in the North, including those in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs). Vehicles are rerouted round the outskirts of towns, and the heaviest lorries carrying the most dangerous substances pass through streets which were formerly entirely residential. Serious trouble could arise in the event of an accident.

With regard to the various regulations which are already in existence, as I recall the situation there were requirements in the Poisons (No. 2) Rules of 1968. Do those rules still apply and, if so, do these new Regulations supersede them? Furthermore, I recall that the Ministry of Transport—now the Department of the Environment—made regulations concerning the construction of vehicles. I presume that such regulations have been drawn up by the Department of the Environment and I should like to know whether they still apply.

My hon. Friends and I have raised this matter at this late hour because we felt that these are important problems which should be aired in the House so that we may canvass the Government's views. We should welcome any information from the Government on this matter since the situation is worrying many people in the constituencies.

12.35 a.m.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

On the night of 30th/ 31st May this year a large tanker containing 5,000 gallons of ethanol, a highly inflammable and explosive liquid, was parked on waste land in Sculcoates Lane in my constituency. It sprang a leak through a faulty valve, and it was a potentially dangerous situation.

This tanker carrying ethanol was parked near several other loaded tankers, the one adjacent to it carrying acid and others containing similarly dangerous loads. If the tanker containing the acid had sprung a leak and both liquids—the acid and the ethanol—had mixed there would not have been just a potentially dangerous situation but, in the words of the Deputy Chief Fire Officer, "a major disaster". And this lorry was parked in a highly populated area.

On 19th May an empty tanker was parked on waste land in Sutton Street adjacent to a modern housing estate near the city centre. It had been carrying propane. Gas in the pipes forced open the safety valves and again there could have been a great tragedy.

I mention these two examples because they are important when dealing with these Regulations. I must give expression to the grave concern of my constituents on these matters. We have recently seen the devastating and tragic results of accidents occurring to tankers carrying dangerous loads in the city. These accidents have caused fatalities.

Although these Regulations are admirable and praiseworthy as far as they go, they do not deal with some of the problems involved. Although the Regulations govern conveyance by road, there is no suggestion in the Regulations about the place where vehicles bearing these labels should be parked.

From the examples I have already given, it will be seen that the Regulations should state that the lorry carrying this label should be parked not on waste land—because the owners do not have adequate parking for their vehicles or because the driver wants an "early off" but in a recognised park, securely watched, where vehicles can be checked and away from built-up areas. Indeed, my own city corporation in Hull, in conjunction with the Road Haulage Association and the Department of the Environment, have decided to establish such a park. They are very much aware of the disasters which, fortunately, they missed earlier this year.

The point is that the requirements for parking should not rest upon a particular intention of a local authority, no matter how praiseworthy and progressive it is, as my local authority is. It should be mandatory on employers with licences to convey these substances to have such parking facilities available for their lorries and their contents both at the start of the journey and at the destination. They should have rules preventing their drivers from parking in unauthorised places. Vehicles bearing the symbol should be away from the tremendous temptation they present both to children seeking to tamper or play with valves and things of that sort, and also, potentially, to vandals and people unthinking about the problems which exist.

Further, there should be in the Regulations an obligation not only on the owners of the vehicles but on the main contractors as well to satisfy themselves that the Regulations are obeyed. My union, the T. & G.W.U., which organises the great majority of the drivers of these vehicles, has no fear that the Regulations will not be observed by the well-established firms in the industry. It is the "cowboys", the small subcontractors, that it fears most. It fears that many of these Regulations, praiseworthy as they are, may well be ignored by some of the people involved.

It does not appear to me that the Regulations cover vehicles containing, for example, empty vessels—jars, bottles, drums, and so forth—which have previously contained substances. I give the example of a lorry load of empty drums which contain the residue vapour which might be highly dangerous, highly explosive and highly inflammable. Will the Regulations cover this sort of situation? It appears to me that they do not. Regulation 9 says: Regulations 3 to 7 of these Regulations shall not apply in relation to the conveyance of any inflammable liquid (other than acetaldehyde) in a vehicle, if— —and then follow subparagraph (a) and subparagraph (b), which states: in the case of conveyance otherwise than in a tank wagon or tank trailer, the total quantity of inflammable liquid in the vehicle does not exceed 500 kilograms (1,102.5 pounds). One can easily imagine the sort of situation where a lorry parked or even moving has a loose load. The drums fall off, there is a spark and then an explosion causing considerable damage.

I welcome these Regulations but they go only some way—not the whole way—to making our roads as safe as they could be. Hull City Council is going a considerable way to meet our problems locally. Because I would not want the same fears to arise in other areas, and because other areas might not be so lucky as Hull, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell us that the problem is being looked at urgently and carefully by his Department.

12.45 a.m.

Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)

There are now over 40 pieces of legislation—Acts, Regulations and Statutory Instruments—dealing with the transport of chemicals by road. This leads me to make a simple request: that all these should be published in a single volume so that the many people who are concerned with the transport of dangerous chemicals by road can examine the legislation without having to refer to so many different publications.

The dangerous substances with which we are concerned are all listed and defined in the Petroleum (Inflammable Liquids) Order 1971, No. 1040. It lists, in all, some 206 inflammable liquids, including acetone, Bromobutane, Butyl nitrite, Diethyl ether, Flurobenzene, and many others which I would not claim to be able to pronounce. I mention these to show that we are dealing not solely with petrol but with 206 substances which, subject to their being in combinations which can give off inflammable vapour below a temperature of 23 degrees, could be subject in any circumstances to control by Regulation.

The first of the Regulations which I wish to criticise is Statutory Instrument No. 1061, The Inflammable Liquids (Conveyance by Road) Regulations 1971. It includes within its provisions the requirement that every person engaged in the conveyance … of any inflammable liquid shall secure so far as is reasonably possible that none of the inflammable liquid is spilt. That is a perfectly reasonable provision. I admit that it might be more tightly defined, but the aim is clear and it is desirable practice.

It then requires that no person engaged in the conveyance … of any inflammable liquid shall smoke or carry any naked flame. It also provides that vehicles carrying these inflammable liquids shall not have portable lights capable of igniting inflammable vapour, and that a suitable fire extinguisher shall be carried.

All these are perfectly laudable Regulations. What is amazing and absolutely horrifying is that Regulation 9 promptly excludes 204 of these 206 inflammable liquids from any of these safety requirements, subject only to their being carried in a road vehicle, other than a tanker, in quantities not exceeding 500 kilograms.

Therefore, I cannot join my hon. Friends in welcoming the Regulations. These Regulations put at hazard citizens of this country by exempting from perfectly reasonable safety regulations the conveyance of 204 highly dangerous liquids.

The Inflammable Substances (Conveyance by Road) (Labelling) Regulations 1971, No. 1062, exclude the same liquids from the requirement to label if they are carried in quantities up to 500 kilograms. For reasons which have already been adduced, which I need not repeat, the ability to identify quickly in circumstances of accident and hazard the chemicals with which we are dealing can be a major factor in achieving a lessening of the hazard and preventing dire consequences for people in the vicinity of an accident.

I do not ask the Minister to accept my word for the risk involved in the kind of accident which arises from the conveying of these substances. I ask him, however, to consider carefully the words of Dr. H. K. Black, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Explosives at the Home Office. He delivered a paper to the symposium on "Disasters—their prevention, control and social effects" in 1968 at the Dundee meeting of the British Association.

I want to quote a few of the accidents to which he drew attention because they appear to be totally relevant to these Statutory Instruments. He gave details of one accident at West Bromwich in 1962, in which A mixed load of goods, amongst which were some organic peroxides in drums, and some hydrogen peroxide in glass carboys was found to be on fire in passing through the town; after being driven on to a waste piece of ground the load blew up. As a consequence 32 people were injured, and there was considerable damage to property. This accident provided evidence that the properties of organic peroxides were not sufficiently well known, for this was the first occasion on which it could be shown that, with one type of peroxide, a low-order explosion was capable of communication to all the load. For that piece of knowledge 32 people were injured.

Another example that he gave was of an explosives accident at Marshall's Creek, Pennsylvania, which caused the death of five people. In this case the tyres of the vehicle went on fire which then communicated to the load. It was only then appreciated that, following a tyre failure, fire might only be seen to occur maybe 15 or 20 minutes after the vehicle had stopped. The last case that I want to quote—and I take it from another country to show that this is an international problem and has been recognised as such—occurred at Martelange in Belgium. On this occasion a tanker vehicle was conveying liquid propylene and came into collision with the parapet of a bridge. It went on fire and an explosion killed at least nine people and injured many others … Propylene is one of the substances which the Government are proposing to exclude from the safety regulations if it is carried in quantities of between 250 and 500 kilograms. It seems to me that the House cannot welcome these Orders.

Whilst inflammable liquids are conveyed by road it may not be possible to ensure complete safety. I think that there must be some element of hazard. All that we can do by regulations, by legislation in any form, and by the most careful policing of it is to cut down the risks involved in the carriage of these liquids, and take precautions to minimise the effects of accidents when they happen. The two Statutory Instruments before the House reduce the precautions that have to be taken and increase the risks, and therefore I believe that both Regulations should be rejected.

12.53 a.m.

Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)

I shall do my best to avoid repeating what has been said because I think that we have all been following very closely the publications of the authorities who have been writing and speaking on these two subjects over the last few years.

I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) in saying very firmly and, I think, very fairly, that we should not accept these Regulations, and nor should the Minister. In reply to a Question that I put to him the Minister said: The Standing Advisory Committee on Dangerous Substances is considering a number of proposals for improving the arrangements for conveyance by road."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1971; Vol. 821, c. 1655.] As the Committee's report is apparently not ready, I should have thought that the Department would have withheld its hand. We recognise that if any precautions can be taken in relation to the conveyance of petroleum and dangerous substances they should be taken. I hope that when I have made my short contribution the Minister will announce his decision to withdraw these Regulations.

I want to deal first with S.I. 1061. I am amazed at the weakness of these Regulations, in terms of the number of exemptions. Paragraph 3 of the Schedule provides that The receptacle must be so constructed and closed that none of the contents can, under normal conditions, escape from it. Can the Minister tell us how many roads over which this kind of heavy traffic travels every day and night are normal roads? If he will visit St. Helens and examine our road surfaces he will see what this heavy traffic is doing to them. He can also listen to the complaints of my constituents about those damaged road surfaces.

Paragraph 4 provides that The receptacle must be so constructed that no part of its interior surface can, under normal conditions, be so affected by contact with the contents as to make the use of that receptacle dangerous. What are "normal conditions"? If it is the intention of the Department to provide safety measures for the conveyance of petroleum, the safest way would be to order the construction of receptacles that will stand up to abnormal rather than normal conditions.

In view of the danger of this highly inflammable liquid I cannot see why a load should be exempted because it does not exceed the maximum of 1,102.5 lb. If there is an accident many people could be severely burnt, or burnt to death, with a load like that. It can set large properties on fire; it can set whole buildings going. I want to know why the opportunity to provide safeguards against serious accidents on our roads, in our streets, at the docks, and elsewhere, was not taken by putting forward stronger Regulations. For that reason I invite the Minister to accept our criticism in the spirit in which it was offered from the Opposition Front Bench and withdraw these Regulations.

It would be wrong of me to sit down without dealing with the question that I raised in the House on the date that I referred to a few moments ago. I am looking forward to the Report of this Committee. It is remarkable that in this Instrument, we should be asked, apart from the exemptions for safety regulations, to accept that receptacles constructed for the carriage of dangerous substances should provide for normal conditions. This is a weakness. It would be far better if they provided for abnormal conditions.

I have had a great deal to do with labelling, including dangerous cargoes. Even the most securely tied label can be destroyed in an accident. So, in a safe system, the label should not be used as an alternative to the indelible marking, but only as a secondary method. I wonder whether Regulation No. 6 could be of use where a driver is unconscious or worse.

Can a driver's knowledge of these Regulations be used at all times? If not, the markings on such vehicles should conform to a national hazard identity system. It should be available to and clearly understood by the emergency services. The hazardous potential of such an incident would be rapidly ascertained and the prescribed first aid action taken.

All persons concerned with accident prevention agree that an accident is an event waiting to happen and, given the right conditions, it will happen. Schedule 3 provides an alternative to the indelibly marked vehicle or tank. As I said earlier, the label should not be used as an alternative to marking such vehicles indelibly. More care should be taken to obtain the opinions of, for example, the Institute of Industrial Safety officials and officers of emergency services, including the fire brigade.

Where dangerous substances are being conveyed, it is vital that receptacles are constructed in such a way that they will withstand the toughest transport conditions. Schedule 4 is important in this respect. To lower the standards would only mean a lowering of the safety standards.

I hope that the Minister has listened to our submissions with care. As we have made clear, this is not a political matter. This is an Instrument which, if allowed to pass unchallenged, might result in safety standards on the roads being lowered. I urge the Minister to withdraw these Regulations and to replace them by others with teeth that will provide the provisions we are seeking.

1.7 a.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Richard Sharples)

I wish to make it clear at the outset that I in no way underestimate the importance of these Regulations or the dangers which face many people, particularly in industrial constituencies, where dangerous substances of the kind we are discussing are carried by road.

I will answer as many questions as I can, and a number of hon. Members have asked about technical matters. It might be convenient if, first, I make some general remarks about these Regulations compared with the 1968 Regulations. In many respects they are identical, but first I will deal with the main changes.

First, the exemption limit of 250 kg. in the 1968 Regulations has been increased to 500 kg. This is designed primarily to ease the difficulties of the small common carrier who may from time to time need to carry quantities of more than 250 kg. as part of a general load.

The second change is that the provision in the 1968 Regulations that containers containing not more than one kilogram of an inflammable liquid need not display either the "inflammable" label or the name of the substance contained therein has been extended to cover individual metal containers containing not more than five litres of inflammable liquid.

The third change is that containers in which what are called potable spirits—that means in common language spirits such as whisky, gin and rum—are conveyed are no longer required to display the "inflammable" label, and provision is made for both containers and tank vehicles containing such spirits to display the commonly accepted name of the substance instead of the correct chemical name, which I have discovered for the first time this evening is "ethanol mixture".

Fourth, containers and tank vehicles conveying inflammable waste may now display the words "disposable waste" instead of the name of the substance.

Fifth, the exemption from the container and vehicle labelling requirements provided under the 1968 Regulations in respect of packages complying with certain specified requirements, which were set out in Schedule 3 to the 1968 Regulations, has now been extended to apply to metal aerosols enclosed in a wrapping of polyethylene film by a process of shrinking and sealing by heat.

Sixth, a new provision has been included in the 1971 Regulations requiring containers and vehicles conveying certain inflammable liquids which are also corrosive to display the "corrosive" label in addition to the "inflammable" label. All these changes have been recommended by the Home Office Standing Advisory Committee on Dangerous Substances, following consultations which have taken place through all the normal channels. The Home Office Standing Advisory Committee was set up by the previous Government in 1965 and it has been carrying out a fairly long programme of examination of the whole of this subject. The Committee decided the following order of priorities. First, it would examine the question of inflammable liquids. That has been done to a large extent, and the 1968 Regulations were largely to deal with this question. Second, it dealt with corrosives. I introduced Regulations a short time ago to deal with corrosives. The third priority was organic peroxide, and the fourth priority was toxics.

As part of that plan of operation, the Committee has so far recommended controls for the labelling of vehicles and containers for inflammable liquids under the 1968 Regulations.

At the moment the Committee has under consideration proposals for, first, the labelling of containers and vehicles for the conveyance of organic peroxides. This was announced in a debate in February, 1968, by the then Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. He said at that time it was hoped that the Regulations would be introduced within a matter of months. To illustrate the complexity of this subject, I can say that these Regulations have not yet been introduced, although I very much hope that they will be introduced—I use now the words used by the Under-Secretary in 1968—within a matter of months.

The Committee has under consideration proposals for, second, the operation and construction of vehicles for the conveyance of inflammable liquids. These proposals would be susceptible of extension, with minor modifications, to corrosive and organic peroxides. The third set of proposals relate to the operation and construction of vehicles for the conveyance of liquefied petroleum gases. This is of particular importance in relation to the kind of accident to which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) referred as having occurred in his constituency. One of the reasons this has been given priority is that accident.

Mr. McNamara

The accident occurred in the constituency of one of my hon. Friends.

Mr. Sharples

Anyway, it occurred in the City of Hull of which I know the hon. Gentleman is a distinguished Member.

All these matters will be within the scope of the 1928 Act and, as I say, it is expected that draft Regulations concerning them will be prepared within the next few months.

May I deal with as many as possible of the questions which were raised by hon. Members. I should like to say how grateful I was to the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) for giving me prior warning of some of his questions. He asked me how the ordinary fireman who goes out to deal with an accident of this kind is kept informed. The position is that we in the Home Office send out circulars to all those concerned, giving detailed guidance about the action to be taken in dealing with particular substances in accordance with the labels on the vehicles. We are producing, shortly I hope, all this guidance in the form of a single booklet. The guidance is given by us to the various fire authorities and through the normal channels in the fire service this is given to members of the various fire brigades.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to Regulation 3 of Statutory Instrument No. 1062. This repeats word for word the substance of Regulation 1 of the 1968 Regulations. He also asked about Regulation 6 and inquired where a notice would be put so that it could be read. The answer is that normally a notice would be put up in a depot, and the intention is that those persons concerned directly with the handling of the substances should be able to read it. Once again, this was taken from the 1968 Regulations, namely Regulation 4.

I was also asked by the hon. Gentleman about the exceptions, and I think I covered that point when I pointed out the differences between these Regulations and the 1968 Regulations.

The hon. Gentleman then referred to the list of the seven substances which are mentioned in Regulation 9 and asked why they are separate. The answer is that those seven substances—I will not attempt to pronounce their names—are corrosive as well as inflammable, and therefore they have to bear both the "corrosive" and the "inflammable" labels.

The hon. Gentleman referred to Regulation 3 of Statutory Instrument 1061. This again repeats word for word what was in the 1968, and indeed in the 1957 Regulations.

In reply to the hon. Gentleman's question about fire extinguishers—I think this arises on Regulation 6—we do not advise any particular make or classification of fire extinguisher. The purpose of the fire extinguisher carried in the vehicle—this is the advice that we give—is to prevent a fire which may start in the engine or cab of a vehicle from spreading to the load. It is not practicable to carry in the cab of a vehicle a fire extinguisher capable of dealing with a dangerous load, which may weigh as much as 10 tons or more, but it is important to be able to deal with any fire in a cab quickly and prevent it spreading.

Mr. Booth

If the purpose of the fire extinguisher is to deal with a fire arising from the engine, why exclude from the requirement to carry a fire extinguisher vehicles which are carrying loads up to 500 kilograms? One could understand the argument if the fire hazard were coming from the inflammable cargo. If the fire hazard is coming from the engine, how can there be logic in excluding those vehicles carrying a smaller inflammable load?

Mr. Sharples

There always was an exemption. The previous exemption was 250 kilograms. It has been extended to 500. The principle of the requirement has not been altered in any way. What has been altered is simply the exemption limit.

The hon. Member for Leeds, South asked me about the responsibilties of local authorities. Licensing is a matter for the local authority in which the vehicle has its depot and starts its journey. When the journey is through different local authority areas or from one local authority area to another, responsibility lies upon any authority through which or to which the load may be passing as well as the local authority in the area from which it originated. He also asked about the poisons rules. They are not affected by this.

The hon. Member for Kinston upon Hull, North asked me about parking regulations. This is a most important subject. The Standing Advisory Committee is preparing regulations to deal with this specific problem. I cannot say when these regulations will be brought before the House but I appreciate, particularly from what the hon. Gentleman said, the urgency of this matter.

Mr. McNamara

I am most grateful for what the hon. Gentleman said because it is of great importance. I wonder whether in his other capacity at the Home Office he would instruct local police forces to be more vigilant in supervising where tankers are parked to ensure that this sort of hazard is not created where it could be avoided and where there might be suitable parking for tankers away from built-up areas.

Mr. Sharples

Neither the Home Secretary nor I can give instructions to local police forces, but I will see that this point is drawn to the attention of those concerned.

The hon. Member for St. Helens asked about labels, and suggested the invariable use of a label fixed to a vehicle in such a way that it could not be removed. One of the difficulties with this, and one of the reasons for the provision of the alternative, is that liquids or substances of this kind may be carried in general-purpose vehicles which may be used for other things. That is the reason for the flexibility. He also asked me about the receptacles and normal loading. The Regulations are taken word for word from the 1968 Regulations. I will certainly look at the question again when they are revised again.

Mr. Spriggs

I made my plea to the hon. Gentleman because heavier and heavier loads of dangerous substances are being carried by road and in view of this we should not follow the example of the earlier Regulations. Surely we should move with the times and with the growth of this industry on the roads.

Mr. Sharples

If the Regulations need to be altered it will be right for the Standing Advisory Committee to consider the point.

One of the points that has struck me since I have been looking at these matters is that it is not very satisfactory to go on dealing with them under the 1928 Act, which was designed for entirely different purposes. The difficulties in bringing forward Regulations like these are first, that every substance must be named, and, second, that we are confined to the substances contained within the overall provisions of that Act, when things were very different.

What we have done in the Home Office is to set up a review to look at the whole question of the ways in which the system of control of dangerous substances requires to be rationalised and modernised, and what fresh legislation is needed for the purpose. We have made a certain amount of progress, and are considering the controls required on the ground to govern the manufacture, importation, keeping, use and conveyance of those substances over which my right hon. Friend exercises control in the interests of public safety.

What we want to do is to consider how those controls can best be enforced—for instance, which aspects are so technical as to call for the expertise of the Explosive Inspectorate; which are appropriate to the police because, for example, they have a security aspect; and which are predominantly fire risks, suitable for enforcement by local authority fire brigades. From that we are working back to establish what enabling legislation will be needed, what additional substances need to be controlled, and how that might best be achieved.

The House will appreciate that it is a fairly complex operation upon which we have now embarked. I cannot say that we shall be able to produce any short-term results. I think that for a time we shall have to go on working under the provisions of the 1928 Act, that the Advisory Committee will go on functioning, and that we shall go on producing amending Regulations for the time being. I appreciate that there is an urgency about this, and that the matter is very complex. For the longer term I believe that we shall need new legislation to deal with modern substances, substances which were never intended to be covered by the 1928 Act. I think that that is the right way to tackle the matter.

I recommend the Regulations to the House. I have listened carefully to everything that has been said, and I appreciate the strong feelings on the matter held by hon. Members.

1.28 p.m.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

The Minister said that he recognises that there is concern about the problem of the carriage of dangerous substances. We see from the way that the Regulations are drafted that they emanate from the Standing Advisory Committee of experts; they hardly emanate from political decisions of the Cabinet. While we accept that, I ask one thing on behalf of my hon. Friends, that in all the changes the hon. Gentleman intends he will keep an eye on the increase of weight for exclusion purposes. Without being necessarily on the side of bigness in business, we can say that it is sometimes with some of the smaller carriers that many of the problems arise. I am sure that the Minister will keep an eye on that aspect.

We were glad of the news about what the hon. Gentleman intends to do on parking, which is a problem in other cities besides Hull. We hear time and time again about the parking of vehicles in our cities, and if they have the kind of load we have been discussing that causes additional problems.

Above all, we are glad to hear the Minister's announcement that there will be a rationalisation of the law. It is the basic law that now needs to be looked at. Much of the legislation on which the Regulations are based is very much out of date. When we hear dates quoted in the 1870s for the Explosives Acts—which do not apply directly here—it is time we looked at the question again.

In view of what the Minister said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.