HC Deb 01 December 1976 vol 921 cc909-11
29. Mr. Walter Johnson

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what action he proposes to take to minimise the serious consequences of accidents arising from dangerous liquids and chemicals being carried on the roads.

Mr. Horam

I am delighted to reach the Question which my hon. Friend tried to ask earlier. I can now give a slightly more comprehensive answer. The Health and Safety Commission is currently engaged in the preparation of proposals for new general regulations dealing with this problem. As part of this work, the Commission is investigating the adequacy of present standards of vehicle construction.

Mr. Johnson

Although I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, neither it nor the previous one is satisfactory. Does he not realise the seriousness of the problem? Does he not accept that with these vehicles going through villages and towns it is only a matter of time before there is a major disaster? Is not the only way to deal with the problem to take this traffic off the road and put it on to rail?

Mr. Horam

In view of what happened earlier, I had some idea of what my hon. Friend's supplementary question would be. We have already done something. Most major industrial companies have been urged to consider making greater use of rail for transportation of dangerous goods where that is economical. But there are sound reasons why that cannot be done for some dangerous traffic—for example, petrol, being delivered to retail outlets. Most industrial companies have no direct railhead. That is something we are attempting to deal with under Section 8 grants. We are concerned about the problem and we are trying to deal with it in two ways—by transferring such traffic to rail and by making greater preparation for what happens when there is an accident on the road.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Are dangerous loads required to be properly labelled? If not, why not?

Mr. Horam

They are required to be properly labelled.

Mr. Alexander Wilson

Will my hon. Friend set up an inquiry into dangerous loads on roads and on the railways? Does he not agree that safety precautions on the roads are better than those on the railways? Is he aware that since the recent serious accident in my constituency when an ammunition train was derailed no further instructions have been given to railwaymen about such loads?

Mr. Horam

I was aware of the accident and I am interested to learn that no further instructions have been given. I undertake to look into that.

Miss Fookes

Is the Minister satisfied that the labelling required is adequate for those engaged in the fire and emergency services?

Mr. Horam

Yes. Labels give clear instructions about what should be done in an accident. This practice has been developed under the Chemical Industries Association system, and it works. No doubt there could be improvements, and we shall try to make those which are sensible.

Mr. Swain

Is my hon. Friend aware that vinyl chloride produced by Vinatex Limited is covered by a safety regulation allowing emission into the atmosphere of one to one million parts, which is dangerous? Hundreds of tons of this chemical are transported by road annually. In the event of a road accident, heaven only knows what will happen to the people in the surrounding area.

Mr. Horam

I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern. He reveals an interest in and knowledge of these matters. We are aware of the problem and we are trying to ensure that precautions are taken when dangerous loads have to go by road, and we are trying to encourage transportation by rail when possible.

Mr. Carlisle

Is not the best way to avoid accidents to improve the road network to enable lorries to have easier access to motorways instead of having to go through residential areas, as occurs in my constituency?

Mr. Horam

I am aware of the difficulties but, unfortunately, we are suffering from expenditure restraints. I wonder what would happen if the hon. and learned Gentleman's party were in power.