HC Deb 01 July 1971 vol 820 cc777-80

1.17 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)

I beg to move, That the Special Roads (Classes of Traffic) Order 1971, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd June, be approved. I suggest that we should also discuss the Special Roads (Classes of Traffic) (Scotland) Order, 1971.

The effect of these Orders is to allow additional categories of vehicles to use the motorways. The most important of these categories is the locomotive, which is a legal term meaning vehicles not designed to carry a load themselves and weighing more than 7¼ tons. The purpose of these locomotives is to haul trailers containing a load. As things now stand, when the load is abnormal, so long as that load is indivisible—for example, a long concrete beam or a heavy cable drum—the locomotive is already allowed on the motorway; but when the locomotive is travelling solo or is hauling a normal load, such as a consignment of metal castings, it is, curiously enough, at present forbidden. These Orders will remove this anomaly. They will make it lawful for this type of tractor to be driven on the motorway.

The other categories included are vehicles for moving excavated material—for example, in construction work—and vehicles which are built here for use outside the United Kingdom and therefore have an export importance. In all cases there is a condition that the vehicle should be capable of a minimum speed of 25 miles an hour.

There are good reasons for making this change. The operators have told us that the present situation is not only very inconvenient but increases their costs substantially and, in addition, the alternative routes that they are compelled to use with these large vehicles often pass through densely populated and highly industrialised areas or through our historic towns. In such places these larger vehicles can cause considerable congestion and delay, thus increasing costs to the community generally.

The House will wish to be assured that road safety will not be adversely affected. The total number of vehicles involved amounts only to a few thousand, and very few are likely to be on the motorways at any one time. Most of them can maintain a speed of 35–45 m.p.h. and thus fit into the slower stream of commercial vehicles without difficulty.

In short, I see no reason to fear any adverse effects on safety, and, indeed, there may be a positive safety benefit in removing these vehicles to some extent from roads less capable of accommodating them.

We have of course consulted interested organisations on this proposal, and I am glad to say there has been general agreement with them. I hope, with those few words, that the House will approve the Orders.

1.21 a.m.

Mr. Tom Bradley (Leicester, North-East)

The House will be grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the Orders. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that, given the gradual extension of the motorways network, these Orders are eminently reasonable in that the type of vehicle he has described will cause far less nuisance on the motorways than on all-purpose roads.

However, will he be a little more categorical in his assessment of the extra traffic burden that is likely to arise on our motorways? We are well aware of the way in which these vehicles on the Continent are pounding motorways to pieces where this type of Order is in operation. Does the Minister intend to make extra provision for such maintenance as may be necessary in the slower lane arising from the extra usage which will be involved?

Will the Minister also say a word about the overtaking rules? Some motorways have only two lanes, and if a vehicle of this type doing between 10 m.p.h and 25 m.p.h. is to be overtaken by a similar vehicle at a slightly superior speed, there could be a build-up behind which could create serious traffic delay, thus aborting the very purpose of our motorways. Is the Minister to issue a code of conduct? Does he intend to prohibit the overtaking of this type of vehicle by a similar vehicle?

The Minister will be aware that these locomotives are not at present required to meet minimum braking standards. The Orders will encourage the development of higher speed vehicles, thus necessitating braking standards to be applied. I would welcome recognition by the Minister of these points, and some reassurance.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

With the leave of the House, I will reply briefly to the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. The extra traffic burden on the motorways is bound to be proportionately very small. There are in the whole country only a few thousand of these vehicles, and they are already in use. If they are not on the motorways, which the House might think is the most suitable place for them, they are on other roads, often inadequate roads. Therefore, the additional burden on the motorways will be marginal. I pointed out that where they are pulling indivisible and abnormal loads they are already on the motorways. It is only where they are pulling normal loads that they are for the first time to be lawfully admitted.

I know of no reason to suppose that there will be additional wear and tear on the slow lanes of motorways. Certainly there is no evidence that additional maintenance will be required but I am sure that the point raised by the hon. Gentleman will be noted. I undertake that.

The hon. Gentleman referred to overtaking. He was not quite right in suggesting that their speeds would be between 10 m.p.h. and 25 m.p.h., although if they are going up hill they may well fall to that level. They will need to have a minimum speed of 25 m.p.h. Obviously it is not practicable for them always to be going at that minimum speed or higher.

I take the point about the way, through selfish overtaking by one heavy vehicle or another, there may be a convoy situation on the motorway, which is most irritating. I will consider what the hon. Gentleman said about a code of conduct. It may be that mention of this might be appropriate for inclusion in the Highway Code or other advice which the Department offers.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned minimum braking standards. I am assured that the present braking standards of such vehicles are adequate but I will look at this matter as he has asked me to.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Special Roads (Classes of Traffic) Order 1971, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd June, be approved.

Resolved, That the Special Roads (Classes of Traffic) (Scotland) Order 1971, a copy of which was laid before this House on 24th June. be approved.—[Mr. Eldon Griffiths.]