HL Deb 15 December 1926 vol 65 cc1673-9

had given Notice to call attention to the nuisance caused by the volumes of smoke emitted by steam lorries and tractors and to the dangerous conditions constantly caused Thereby, particularly in foggy weather, and to ask His Majesty's Government why regulations cannot be enacted compelling such engines to use smokeless fuel. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I do not want to detain your Lordships more than a very few minutes, but before the Session closes I do wish to call attention to what I consider to be not only a public nuisance but also, with the present day great increase of motor traction on the roads, an absolute public danger. Anybody who motors about the country or watches the traffic in the streets will have noticed the tremendous growth of steam traction of all sorts in the country. You notice steam tractors going about pulling enormous furniture vans, and trains of two, three or four vehicles with a steam engine in front, which completely block the road. There do not seem to be any regulations with regard to them. They emit most tremendous clouds of smoke; in fact, they leave behind them very often a smoke-cloud which would do justice to a destroyer engaged in naval manæuvres.

The result is that anybody following behind cannot see what is coming. You cannot pass them except at great danger and you get constantly involved in this cloud of smoke. In wet, clamp, foggy weather, when there is not much wind, this smoke hangs about and you get a state of affairs in which you simply cannot get across the road. Personally, I have had one car smashed up—near Bushey—and I have had several narrow escapes. Only two or three days ago, when trying to pass one of these engines, I could not see anything and I had to wait until the clouds blew over, running the risk of being run into meanwhile. These engines are a danger, not merely to motorists but to cyclists and pedestrians. You see people on the tops of omnibuses, in a stream of traffic following behind these engines, putting their heads down to try to avoid the smoke and sparks which are emitted. I was following one of them the other night and the sparks were worthy of a miniature volcano. I think this sort of thing constitutes a real danger to inflammable matter in hay-carts, or anything of that sort, that may be passing. Going through the villages, too, one sees that upper rooms with the windows opened are filled with smoke. In fact, the whole thing is a public nuisance.

Nobody wishes to interfere with cheap and effective transport in the streets and about the country, but I submit that this nuisance is absolutely unnecessary, that there are forms of smokeless fuel which can be enjoined by regulation and that something can be done to obviate what I regard as a continual and growing danger. I want to ask His Majesty's Government whether the authorities cannot take the matter in hand and issue appropriate Regulations.


My Lords, the law respecting mechanically-propelled road vehicles is somewhat complicated, owing to there being one law for the heavier types of vehicles, which are known as locomotives, and another law for the lighter types of vehicles, known as light locomotives, which are again subdivided into motor cars and heavy motor cars. As regard locomotives, vehicles exceeding 7¼ tons in weight unladen are locomotives and are invariably vehicles of the tractor type and in most cases use solid fuel—that is, coal. As regards use and construction, these vehicles fall within the purview of the Locomotives Acts. Section 30 of the Highways and Locomotives (Amendment) Act, 1878, enacts:— that every locomotive used on any turn-pike road or highway shall be constructed on the principle of consuming its own smoke; and any person using any locomotive not so constructed, or not consuming, so far as is practicable, its own smoke, shall be liable to a fine not exceeding £5 for every day in which such locomotive is used on a turnpike road or highway. Similar provision is made as to Scotland by the Locomotives (Amendment) (Scotland) Act, 1878.

In a prosecution for this offence, if the emission of smoke is proved the defendant can say that the locomotive is constructed on the principle of consuming its own smoke and can proceed to submit that it does so, so far as is practicable. This involves proof that the apparatus to secure the consumption of the smoke is in order and properly operating, and that the fuel is of the proper description and quality. If he can establish both these facts, the prosecution must fail.

As regards light locomotives, until the passing of the Locomotives on Highways Act, 1896, all mechanically-propelled road vehicles were "locomotives." That Act withdrew from the operation of the Locomotives Acts the lighter types of vehicles and these vehicles were designated "light locomotives." The definition was altered to "motor car" by the Motor Car Act, 1903, and, by subsequent Orders, motor cars were again subdivided into "motor cars" and "heavy motor cars." Steam vehicles falling within the definition of light locomotive are all, in fact, heavy motor cars and comprise, (1), the familiar steam wagon such as the Foden or Sentinel, and (2), the lighter forms of tractors or traction engines. These vehicles use coal as fuel. Under Section 1 of the Act of 1896, a light locomotive is defined as— a vehicle which inter alia is so constructed that no smoke or visible vapour is emitted therefrom, except from any temporary or accidental cause. It is clear that, unless the vehicle is so constructed as to emit no smoke or visible vapour under normal conditions, it will be outside the definition of light locomotive and will be, in consequence, a locomotive and subject to all the laws governing ordinary heavy locomotives.

It will be seen that the existing law as regards the emission of smoke by road vehicles, though clumsy, is not inadequate. The law possibly requires strengthening to deal with the correlated subject of the emission of sparks. The Minister of Transport proposes to deal with the matter in the Bill for the better regulation and control of road vehicles which he hopes shortly to introduce. It is proposed under this Bill to repeal the older Acts dealing with locomotives on highways and to substitute simpler and more effective machinery for the control of road vehicles generally.

Coming to the use of bad fuel, I may say that Regulations could hardly be directed towards compelling the owners of steam lorries and tractors to use any particular type of fuel. A Regulation must deal with effects rather than causes. In the event of a prosecution the owner of the vehicle may be called upon to show that he used, so far as was practicable, the most suitable fuel for his engine. As regards the number of complaints during the past few months about smoky and objectionable road locomotives and heavy motor cars driven by steam, it is understood that normally all steam road vehicles using solid fuel, whether locomotives or heavy motor cars, use the class of fuel known as "smokeless coal," but during the recent coal stoppage the owners of steam vehicles have had to make shift with whatever coal they could obtain. As a result these vehicles have undoubtedly been causing considerable inconvenience to other road users, but there is every reason to suppose that this state of affairs will rapidly improve as supplies of suitable coal become procurable. It is possible, therefore, that the noble Earl who has raised this subject has been another of the unconscious victims of the coal strike.

The Public Health (Smoke Abatement) Bill which has passed your Lord ships' House and is now before the Commons would, as at present drafted, apply to railway locomotives and to road vehicles burning solid fuel. If the Bill becomes law it will be possible to take action under it regarding road vehicles which emit smoke or sparks to such an extent as to constitute a nuisance. Procedure under the Bill is not, however, suited to vehicles which move from place to place, and any amendment of the existing law which may be necessary will probably be most conveniently and appropriately effected under the proposed Road Vehicles Bill.


My Lords, I do not know whether my noble friend is satisfied with the answer which he has just received, but it appeared to me to be as striking a specimen of an unsatisfactory official utterance as anybody could well imagine. What my noble friend the First Commissioner of Works has done, with his usual artfulness, is to read out a lot of matter connected with obsolete Acts which have really very little bearing upon the point and to tell my noble friend, as I expect many other people will be told in connection with many other questions in the future, that the whole fault lies with the recent coal strike. I have no doubt that this will form a convenient excuse for doing nothing whatsoever for years to come.

The question to which my noble friend Lord Denbigh has called attention really represents an almost intolerable nuisance. These vehicles are triple offenders: they break up the roads, they impede traffic and they produce a smoke which is much more objectionable than any other smoke because it is emitted on a level with the other users of the road. One would have thought that this was the kind of thing that would have been dealt with in a Smoke Abatement Bill, and, in a Bill which I introduced a good many years ago and which, I think, was a much better Bill than that which has just been passed by the Government, this particular nuisance was dealt with. I did not attempt to move an Amendment to the present Bill because I knew perfectly well that I should only meet with opposition, prompted, no doubt, by some obstructive official at the Ministry of Health.

It is perfectly obvious that this is a matter which ought to be dealt with by the Ministry of Health, and yet it will be gathered from the statement of my noble friend that it has been shuffled on to the. Ministry of Transport in consequence of two obsolete Acts, dating, I think, from 1878 and 1896. Obviously my noble friend is going to get very little satisfaction out of the Ministry of Transport. If he will condescend to take my advice, he will not rely upon the somewhat nebulous promises that he has received from inv noble friend, but he will introduce a simple Bill himself—a very easy thing to do—and keep on worrying them with his Bill until eventually his views are adopted. That is the best advice I can give to my noble friend on the present occasion, and I trust that he will not be daunted by the cold water thrown upon his proposal to-day, but will continue his crusade.


My Lords, the noble Viscount is singularly unfortunate if he thinks that this evil only dates from the time of the coal strike. An intolerable nuisance has grown up not only in London but on the country roads from these vehicles which throw out volumes of impenetrable smoke and sparks from their engines, and we are not able to do anything with them under the law because it is said that they are fitted with proper appliances for consuming their own smoke. They do not do so, and if the present laws do not give adequate power to prosecute the law should be amended so as to make the actual emission of this thick impene- trable smoke and sparks an offence, and so prevent it. It is a matter to be dealt with immediately, and not dealt with on the presumption that the vehicles have proper machinery, because they have not.


I was under the impression that I had given a satisfactory answer, but apparently I entirely failed in that respect. I will certainly report to my right hon. friend the Minister of Transport the strong feeling which exists in your Lordships' House on this question.


I should like to assure the noble Viscount that his answer was most unsatisfactory. I have had all sorts of complaints from many people who have strongly urged me to bring the matter up, and to press it, and we shall not allow the matter to rest here.