HL Deb 05 July 1921 vol 45 cc978-82

THE MARQUESS OF ABERDEEN AND 'FEMME rose to draw attention to the public annoyance caused by the emission of noxious vapours from motor vehicles (a nuisance which is prohibited in the London parks), and to ask if His Majesty's Government will consider the desirability of so amending the Light. Locomotive Acts as to bring this matter under the supervision and control of police authority.

The noble Marquess said: My Lords, I should like to premise that this Question does not betoken what might be called an anti-motorist attitude. On the contrary, I am speaking as a motorist and even as a certified driver, my test having been passed under no lees an authority than my noble friend, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. I would base my argument as to the practicability of the proposed alteration of the law upon two main facts. The first is that in the city of Paris the emission of any kind of smoke or vapour from motor vehicles is not only prohibited, but the prohibition is carried out in actuality. A friend of mine told me recently that when he was passing along the streets of Paris in a motor vehicle, not his own, he was suddenly stopped by a gendarme, who told the chauffeur that he was breaking the law and there and then fined him. I do not suppose that such summary administration of justice would be feasible in this country. The second fact which supports my contention as to the workable character of the proposal is the fact that in the London parks any one permitting smoke or vapour to issue from a motor car of any sort is liable on conviction to a penalty of 40s, and that, too, is enforced. Your Lordships will notice that little smoke or vapour is emitted from motor cars in the Royal parks.

There is a general impression, and it is well founded in a sense, that the police authorities have the power to check this nuisance. But the Act is so worded that it is quite easy to evade the law. It has been put to the test and found that the law is not enforced for the reason that an exemption is provided in the case of the nuisance being accidental or temporary. Of course, any chauffeur or car-owner can say that the smoke issuing from his car is due to some temporary accident and that he is about to get it repaired. At any rate, the law in this respect is not enforced.

The nuisance is common to the whole country. It is therefore worthy of consideration, and even more than consideration. My noble friend, Lord Newton, presides over a very important Inquiry, the exact title of which I forget, in connection with the abatement of smoke. The terms of the reference to that Committee might cover this very point. But even before the noble Lord is ready to report on the subject, I hope this particular matter will be dealt with. It is a positive nuisance. One has sometimes seen a street suffused with this noxious smoke early in the morning and at different times of the day. It is largely the result of carelessness and can be prevented. It might be said that a new car uses more oil than any other, but I am referring to the constant emission of large quantities of smoke, which is not only unpleasant but absolutely deleterious. Therefore, I venture to suggest that a slight amendment in the law could effect a great improvement and reform in regard to what is undoubtedly a very vexatious and serious matter, though the nuisance is tolerated with the proverbial patience of the public, especially in London, as something which is inevitable; whereas it can easily be prevented.


My Lords, I have been asked to answer this Question on behalf of the Ministry of Transport. The matter is a fairly concise and simple one, and I think I can make it clear to the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen, who has asked the Question, exactly how the matter stands at the present moment. The rules under which vehicles which emit "smoke or visible vapour" are forbidden entry to Hyde Park and Regent's Park, are made by H.M. Office of Works as custodians of the Royal parks. Similar rules or by-laws could be made, no doubt by the London County Council as regards the parks under their control. It is clear that such considerations as the preservation of amenities, the danger of frightening saddle horses, and so on, arise in connection with parks and pleasure grounds, and that these considerations do not apply with equal force to the public highways.

Under Section 1 of the Locomotives on Highways Act, 1896, taken in conjunction with the earlier Locomotives Acts, the police have power to take proceedings against the owner of a light locomotive which emits smoke or visible vapour, otherwise than from a temporary and accidental cause. By the Heavy Motor Car Amendment Order, 1921, the unladen weight of light locomotives to which this would apply has been increased to 7¼ tons, and the powers of the police in this respect are, therefore, applicable to all vehicles ordinarily to be found on the public highway.

The Minister of Transport does not propose to introduce any fresh legislation to strengthen the powers of the police in this direction. As the noble Marquess said, there is a Government Committee, presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Newton, which was appointed by the Ministry of Health to consider the whole subject, and that Committee will report., no doubt, at no very distant date.


My Lords, the grievance brought forward by the noble Marquess is a distinct one, and I think there can be no harm in ray supplementing the answer he has just received from the Government. The difficulty in dealing with this nuisance is really caused by the ambiguity of the various Acts. The Locomotives on Highways Act, 1896, to which allusion has been made, defines a motor ear as a vehicle winch "is so constructed that no smoke or visible vapour is emitted therefrom except from any temporary or accidental cause."


That is the difficulty.


And the Light Locomotives and Motor Car Acts, which are generally known as the Motor Car Acts, do not impose any penalty in respect of the emission of vapour. But when such emission takes place, except from any temporary or accidental cause, the vehicle apparently ceases technically to be a motorcar and becomes subject to the enactments relating to road locomotives. That will give the noble Marquess an idea of the difficulties attending prosecution.


Unfortunately, I am well aware of them.


So long, therefore, as the vehicle remains technically a motor car it can emit as much vapour as it pleases, provided that emission is due to temporary or accidental causes. In those circumstances it is not surprising that the law is so obscure that it really is not enforced in practice. The noble Duke who replied for the Government did not inform the noble Marquess that the Royal Commission on Motor Cars which reported in 1906, and the Departmental Committee on Road Locomotives and Heavy Motor Cars, which reported in 1918, recommended that the law should be amended. But no notice whatever has beentaken of the recommendation, and when the noble Duke, in his reply, said that the Ministry of Transport did not propose to take any action in the matter it seemed to me to be a very unsatisfactory statement.

This is not a matter which concerns only the Ministry of Transport. Obviously the Ministry of Health are also concerned, and the noble Duke was quite correct in stating that this particular nuisance certainly comes within the province of the Inter Departmental Committee of which I happen to be Chairman. All I can say is that the noble Marquess may be quite certain that we shall not overlook: this particular nuisance, and I hope that we shall draw special attention to it in our Report. Whether any attention will be paid to the recommendations which we make in our Report is a matter for speculation. Judging by my experience, I have not any great hope of much attention being paid to us, because up to now we have been practically ignored. I can, however, assure the noble Marquess that I will see if we cannot formulate some scheme or suggest some sort of remedy for the grievance to which, he has drawn attention.


My Lords, I am very pleased to hear what the noble Lord has said. I think there will be some advantage in this discussion; at any rate, I hope to bring forward the matter again at the first opportunity, with a view to securing a simplification of the law, which, as we have heard, is rather complicated and obscure at the present time.

[From, Minutes of July 1.]