HC Deb 30 July 1975 vol 896 cc1795-9
6. Mr. Monro

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what action he now proposes to improve road safety on the A74; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. William Ross

As foreshadowed in my statement of 17th June, the overall accident pattern, the way the road is used and various possible safety measures have now been examined. As a result, I have decided to modify the existing signs to show the general speed limit for heavy lorries. Additionally, more A74 route repeater signs will be used, to stress that the road is an all-purpose trunk road and not a motorway. Police patrols and other enforcement measures have been intensified and proceedings are being instituted in a large number of cases. The case for providing safety barriers at certain points is being examined, and the road surface and layout are being improved where necessary. My officials are to hold discussions with representatives of road users about the road, the way it is used, and features of it which affect regular travellers.

Mr. Monro

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I am grateful for his statement and his indication that progress will be made in the very near future? Will he make a further announcement, perhaps during the recess, on any physical improvements in road access and underpasses, because the people of Scotland will not countenance any further delay to improvements in road safety on the A74? Will he press on the police forces concerned that the only way to make an immediate impact on this road is for speeds to be reduced and for them to make certain that commercial vehicles and private cars keep to the required limits?

Mr. Ross

That is a fair point. The question of speed is all-important, but there has to be a recognition by all who use this road that they should drive to the conditions of the road and traffic at any particular time. There is no easy solution. There are accidents even on motorways. We are having joint discussions with lorry drivers and haulage associations, and also with the motoring organisations, to bring in people whose point of view may not have been taken account of by the engineers. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's point about access roads, this is a very busy farming area but very few accidents have taken place at the access roads. During the six months of the winter there was not one fatal accident on the Dumfriesshire section of the road.

Mr. Buchanan

Will my right hon. Friend consider the solution used on the Continent and ban all heavy lorires from the middle or outside lanes of this road? Does he realise that heavy lories are the chief cause of accidents on this road?

Mr. Ross

I would not say they were the chief cause. They are certainly involved in accidents. Heavy lorries represent about 25 per cent. of the traffic on this road and they are involved in about 30 per cent. of the accidents. There is no easy, quick or sloganised solution. I hope something will come out of the discussions, but I have seen protests from lorry drivers that they are being blamed for the accidents. All road users must drive with care and observe the signs. They must realise that they are not on a motorway, and that speed limits do matter. I am glad to say that there has been an improvement in and stepping up of police management in this matter, with considerable effect.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Is the Secretary of State not being pathetically complacent about the problems being caused by this road? Does he not realise that it carries considerable loads of traffic in the summer and that it is ridiculous that a road of this calibre, which is a main umbilical link between Scotland and England—a link he is particularly keen to maintain—was not constructed as a motorway? Will he undertake that it will be upgraded to a motorway within the soonest possible time?

Mr. Ross

What does the hon. Gentleman mean by "within the soonest possible time"? Are we to create a completely new road? He should talk more sense—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman knows that improvements are going on. I do not know how familiar he is with this road and the conditions on it—

Mrs. Bain

Answer the question.

Mr. Ross

The manners of the SNP are really disgraceful, both inside and outside this House. They do no credit to the people of Scotland.

Mr. James White

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am probably the only hon. Member who carries a driving licence for a heavy goods vehicle? Is he aware that I have been using this road since 1938, and in a question six weeks ago I asked what kind of disaster would be needed before something was done about the A74? Does he recall that 14 days later 11 people were killed on this road? Does he realise that I am delighted with his answer but that it is no use of drivers who appear in court having their fines paid by trade unions, and that unless they lose their licences, accidents will continue to happen?

Mr. Ross

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comment. I know of his experience, and I have discussed this matter with him The important factor is the way in which the road is used. When an accident occurs we examine it to see whether the condition of the road had anything to do with it, whether the mechanical state of the vehicle was the cause, or whether it was caused by incompetence of the drivers. Anyone who thinks that the easy way out is merely to create a better road and therefore a safer road, does not understand. Drivers must appreciate the kind of road they are travelling on, and should drive to suit the conditions. The figures for accidents on the 68-mile stretch of the A1 in Yorkshire are relatively the same as for this road.

The approach by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), who is immediately concerned with the road, was very different from that of other hon. Members, who seek simply to make propaganda out of this issue.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Contrary to what has been said in some parts of the House, is the Secretary of State aware that to raise this road immediately to motorway standard would isolate the communities in the areas through which the road passes? In the various plans that the right hon Gentleman may be bringing forward for structural improvements to the road, will he ensure that consideration is given to the future, and to the hopes of all hon. Members that eventually the road will be taken up to motorway standard, and that improvements will be made to that end?

Mr. Ross

We may move in that direction ultimately, but the hon. Member must know that his Government took a decision on this road in April 1973, in respect of improvements, and that we have been carrying out those improvements and stepping them up. We have drawn on the experience of the users of this road in deciding what improvements should be made.

Hon. Members have referred to the need for safety barriers, but at certain points they could be a danger rather than a help. We would have to decide what sort of barrier was needed. All these things are being examined and decisions about improvements are being taken continually.