HL Deb 12 July 1955 vol 193 cc591-4

2.36 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether any steps have been taken to implement the undertaking given by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor to the House on 1st March, 1955, in respect of the 20 m.p.h. speed limit imposed upon heavy goods vehicles; and if so when they were taken and with what result.]


My Lords, I have no statement to make at present. I can assure the noble Lord that the problem continues to be given very careful consideration.


My Lords, does the noble Lord really think that that is a serious attempt to implement the undertaking given by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor to your Lordships' House on March 1 last? I would repeat the undertaking which was given in quite categorical terms. I quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT for March 1 [Volume 191 (No. 27), col. 628]: I give this undertaking to the House: that I will take this matter up most seriously, not only with my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport but also with my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour so soon as he returns to harness, which I hope will be in the near future. We will try to make another effort to solve a problem which has hitherto been intractable. Furthermore, may I ask, if this problem is so intractable—and I would interpose here my sincere sympathy with the noble and learned Viscount and with Her Majesty's Government—will Her Majesty's Government give this House an assurance that from now on the law will be enforced and will not be allowed to be brought into complete contempt and disregard as it is at the present time?


My Lords, following what has fallen from the lips of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, may I put this question to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke? If the law is enforced, 94 per cent. of the heavy vehicles on the roads are going to be in trouble. Furthermore, the fact that the speeds of these vehicles will come down, presumably to the legal limit, will lead to an incredible increase of the congestion up and down the principal main arteries of the country, thereby causing still more severe delays and, perhaps, even increases in the numbers of accidents. Can the noble Lord, therefore, give us an assurance that this matter is really going to be treated as a matter of urgency?


My Lords, can the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, give us any indication whether the possibility of drivers' schedules being calculated on a tonnage mile basis as opposed to a speed basis has been fully explored? If the element of speed could be taken out of the calculations of the amount of work done, it seems to me that the difficulty regarding the speed limit might then disappear.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, answers, may I ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have come to any decision about calling a conference of outside bodies which are interested in this matter, such as the trade unions and the Road Haulage Association?


My Lords, the answer to the first supplementary question is that my noble and learned friend who sits on the Woolsack has certainly fulfilled every undertaking he gave to this House. He has brought this question with urgency before my right honourable friends, the Ministers of Labour and of Transport, and the fact that no solution has yet been arrived at can be no fault of his but is a measure of the difficulty of this particular question. I can certainly give the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, the assurance that I am bringing his words again to the notice of my right honourable friend.

A number of other supplementary questions have been asked, but I would first of all deal with that put by Lord Derwent. I think his question is one which goes rather outside the scope of the original Question by Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and I should like, therefore, to have notice of the noble Lord's Question. The same applies to the question put by my noble friend, Lord Stone-haven. The question asked by my noble friend Earl Howe was really more a statement of facts, and I will certainly bring the facts which he has stated to the notice of my right honourable friend the Minister.


My Lords, I am sure that those who know the Lord Chancellor do not need to be reassured that he fully carries out any undertaking that he gives. But I should like to ask the Government this question. Whatever may be the solution, whether a change of the law or the enforcement of the law, it cannot be right to adhere to a policy of allowing the law to continue and to be habitually disregarded. That seems to me to bring the law into contempt. I should like to be assured that Her Majesty's Ministers are in entire accord with that observation.


My Lords, as the noble and learned Earl the Leader of the Opposition has intervened, I would say that of course this is no new question. It is a question with which his Government and our Government have alike been faced, and, as he knows, it is a question of wide and difficult implications. It would be a mistake for anyone to regard it as a simple decision. The reason why the problem has not been solved up to now is because it is so difficult to solve. I can reiterate the assurance that has been given by my noble friend Lord Hawke, that the views expressed to-day by your Lordships will be brought immediately to the notice of the Ministers concerned. We realise just as much as the noble Lords opposite the undesirability of having a law which is not completely operative. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said that himself in answering noble Lords during the Committee stage of the Road Traffic Bill. The House can be assured that we shall do all we can to find a satisfactory solution to this very difficult problem.

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