HL Deb 19 July 1955 vol 193 cc873-95

6.0 p.m.

LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will state their policy regarding the closing of public highways for the purpose of motor racing; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have at last arrived at that part of the Order Paper which will interest quite a number of noble Lords. At this hour of 6 o'clock I ought perhaps to have prefaced my remarks by apologising for detaining your Lordships; but as the sun is still shining, and as I hope we shall get through the business before darkness falls, perhaps your Lordships will bear with me. At this time I feel that we can quite rightly ask Her Majesty's Government to declare their policy on this very serious matter. It was for that reason that I put this Motion on the Order Paper. Let me tell your Lordships that I have no intention of dividing the House on this particular Motion; if I had had that intention, I should have worded my Motion differently.

The time has arrived when Her Majesty's Government must say quite definitely what is their policy in regard to the closing of public highways for the purpose of motor racing. An Amendment to the Road Traffic Bill was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, and supported by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, to revise the law so as to give powers to the Minister to close roads at certain times and upon certain specific dates so that motor racing could be held by approved bodies. When the Paymaster General, the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, replied on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, he said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 191, col. 352]: I feel that it is not possible to overestimate the degree to which the closing of the Queen's highway constitutes an invasion of personal liberty. It is really making a public road into a private road, and no one should in any way misconceive the significance of doing so. The noble Earl went on to say (col. 353): We must be under no illusion. People in the locality where this racing took place would be personally affected in a very high degree. He also said (col. 353): I am sure this Committee will agree that, however desirable this project is, it should not be carried out in Face of strong local opposition.

With all that, one can find not one criticism. When the noble Earl said he thought that the right procedure in this matter was to promote a Private Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, asked (col. 354): But if this is to be done by Private Bill, may WO have an assurance from the Government that the Ministry will not oppose automatically such a Private Bill, because if they are going to do that it will be a waste of time putting it forward? The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, then said: I will readily give the noble Lord the assurance that the Ministry will not automatically oppose a Private Bill.

Speaking with great respect and goad will, I feel that perhaps the noble Earl went a little far, because there is opposition to this proposal in this country. It has come to a head through a project put forward by the Derbyshire County Council to promote a Private Bill for the purpose of closing, at various times during the year, approximately twelve miles of public highway in the middle of the Peak District Forest Park—a national park. I understand—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, who I understand will reply for Her Majesty's Government will correct me if I am wrong—that the matter comes up to-morrow at a meeting of Derbyshire County Council for decision as to whether or not they are to promote this Bill. It is unfair to spend the ratepayers' money on the promotion of legislation and thereby cause a vast number of well-meaning citizens to subscribe thousands of pounds for a fighting fund to oppose such legislation by Private Bill procedure if—as I suggest to your Lordships would be the result—such a Bill would be abortive. I cannot understand how anybody can think that such a Bill would ever pass through Parliament, because at some time during its passage Her Majesty's Government would have to advise Parliament on whether it should be supported or opposed.

Citing this as a specific illustration, I would point out that this projected route is in an area right in the middle of the Peak National Park; half the route runs along an A-class road and some part of it runs along other roads which are State-aided. As your Lordships know, any road works authorised by the Ministry of Transport attract, as a grant of the taxpayers' money, 75 per cent. on A-class roads, 60 per cent. on B-class roads and 50 per cent. on C-class roads. Here we have a project which, it is said, will attract something in the region of 100,000 to 250,000 people. After some £2 million or £3 million has been spent on this road to make it safe for racing under modern conditions, there will be all the other services that will be necessary in connection with a large number of people—buildings, stands, lavatory accommodation, sewage disposal, and car parks for an estimated minimum of 25.000 cars. Moreover, modern technique in motor racing demands in the interests of safety that roads shall be considerably wider than even the widest road on this proposed circuit. With speeds in modern motor racing now reaching 185 miles an hour, and likely, with modern technical developments, to reach 200 miles an hour within a short space of time, just think what space and what size of road will be needed to enable racing to be carried on without undue danger to the public. The unfortunate happening at Le Mans has pinpointed this need, and in the official inquiry that was held by the French Government it was admitted that the cars at the time when the accident occurred were travelling at about 155 miles per hour.

I have here photographs of two of the roads that will form, or which it is proposed should form, part of the circuit of which I am speaking. These roads today are about 15 feet to 18 feet wide, because they are B-class roads. Is it really thought that these roads, which run through one of the most beautiful parts of the Peak district, are going to be made wide enough to ensure safety? Are we going to take down all the beautiful stone walls, that are such a feature of this part of Derbyshire, in pursuance of this project to form a race track, a track which will have to be there for 52 weeks a year, whether it is used or not? To my mind, this is unthinkable and unnecessary, and I am going to tell your Lordships why I think it is both. Let me say at once that I am not opposed to motor racing. I was bred and born in the motor industry, and if your Lordships will forgive a personal reminiscence I may tell you that when, at the age of 17, I was a humble improver at the Clement-Talbot works in London I worked on the car which was driven by Mr. Percy Lambert in February, 1913, when it became the first car in the world ever to travel 100 miles in one hour. I have been brought up in the atmosphere of this industry, and I say to your Lordships that, definitely, motor racing to-day is a sport, a dangerous sport, and immediately you remove the element of danger from it the public appeal lessens. Therefore, I say you must carry on this sport on private tracks of which there are a number in this country—for example, Goodwood, Silverstone, Donington and Aintree.

What great advantage can you obtain from transferring motor racing from those tracks to the Queen's highway, with all the attendant inconvenience to people and with the colossal monetary expenditure that would be involved? What advantage is there in transferring it from those private tracks, admirable as they may be, to the public highway? I am not going to be so foolish as to class present-day motor racing with that sadistic sport which has recently made its appearance and which is called "stock car racing." That, I think, is about the lowest form of entertainment I have ever witnessed. The only thing that attracts crowds to it is its brutality and the chance of seeing an accident, because the whole thing is based on that possibility. It has no rules; in that it is like all-in wrestling. But we have properly conducted race tracks in this country where safety precautions can be taken and hazards can be guarded against; and seeing that we have these tracks I say that it is unnecessary for the Queen's highway to be used for racing.

Now what are the points in favour of this project? It has been said—I expect the noble Earl, Lord Howe, will fiercely contest this contention of mine —that the advantage of motor racing to the technical development of the motor industry to-day is practically negligible. It is in fact so small as not to be worth consideration. And I say that from personal experience. All the motor cars that race on these circuits are prototypes. Whatever happens to those motor cars, and all the technical experience gained, makes not one jot of difference to the little modest motor car that is bought by Bill Jones or Peter Robinson. The noble Earl shakes his head; but I am going to prove it. It is most significant that the two greatest motor car manufacturers that the world has ever seen gave up racing a long time ago. One of these firms is Rolls Royce. I quote their advertisement, which states that that produce the world's greatest motor car. I sincerely believe that is true. On the other hand, there is the Ford concern, the greatest mass-produced motor car manufacturing undertaking the world has ever known, which gave up motor car racing 50 years ago. The last time Rolls Royce ever entered a competition, so far as my knowledge goes, was in 1910 in the Isle of Man. Henry Ford himself once drove a Ford racing car in 1904, and a Ford car has never since been raced by the firm. So it was not necessary for those two great firms to indulge in motor racing for reasons of technical development.

And the motor industry itself has spent nearly £500,000 on constructing the finest proving ground in the world—though it is little known. If your Lordships would care to possess yourselves of copies of the brochure which I have here, you will be able to read all about it. This proving ground was built by the motor industry, it is run by the Motor Industry Research Association, and the whole cost was borne by the industry. The cost of its upkeep and its running is shared by the motor industry and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. Here you have a track three miles in circumference permitting speeds of 150 miles per hour. There are special roads built to test every feature of motor vehicles. There are stretches reproducing the worst of the Continental roads. There are submerged tanks, water splashes, wind tunnels and roads producing various effects, including noise effects. All these are designed to ensure the best possible scientific testing, and they are used by the motor industry to-day.

If we come to the really logical argument in favour of motor racing in this country, there is one, and that is prestige. But what prestige can be gained by racing on the Queen's highway that cannot be obtained by racing on a private circuit, with all the safety conditions that can be devised? It is unthinkable, I submit, that we should close roads in this country, because as soon as that is done they will have to be made safe for speeds of over 200 m.p.h. Then the human element comes in. I do not want to discuss the sad fatality at Le Mans, where so many people were killed, but the real cause of that disaster was the human element. When cars are passing each other at terrific speeds on relatively narrow roads. I say that somebody has to take the responsibility for it. If people want to go and see a dangerous sport on private grounds, let them go—I will not stop them. But I consider it wrong to encourage people to think that in this country we can allow our roads to be used for that purpose. That really is the case, and I seriously ask Her Majesty's Government to say what their policy is.

The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, and I have recently had a slight passage of arms about the road programme. If we have money to spend, either the ratepayers' or the taxpayers' money, there are plenty of road projects which should attract money and which would be of benefit to the economic needs of this country. Motor racing is a type of sport which should not be discouraged, but it is not a factor to be taken into consideration as a contribution to the economic needs of this country. There is great opposition to this proposal. I think that other noble Lords will have something to say about the attitude of the Society for the Preservation of Rural England. There is stiff opposition to this project in the Peak district. There is the Town and Country Planning Act, under which the national parks were constituted for the recreation of the people. Will not this proposal cut across the whole conception of national parks? Perhaps the noble Lord would like me to quote what the Hobhouse Report said on this matter. The Report said: They need the refreshment which is obtainable from the beauty and quietness of unspoilt country. …a progressive policy of Park Management will be needed, to make use of the resources of the National Parks for popular enjoyment and open-air recreation. Such a policy must be wisely applied to ensure that the peace and beauty of the countryside, and the rightful interests of the resident population, are not menaced by the excessive concentration of visitors or disturbed by incongruous pursuits…For the motorist there should be good roads but not speedways. Again I ask the Government to tell the House what their policy is. Is it to encourage a sport in conditions that are going to be dangerous to the public? Because there is nothing comparable with this. It is something about which the Government have to make up their minds.

In conclusion, I should like to correct something which appeared on Monday, July 18, in the Manchester Guardian, a paper for which I have a high regard and whose Parliamentary reporting and Lobby correspondence are usually of a high order. Commenting on this debate, it said that I proposed to ask what the Government's attitude is to closing highways for motor racing, and added: He is understood to have suggested that it would he just as sensible to have horse racing on public roads. I have never been so foolish as to suggest any such thing. There is nothing to compare between the two. I would suggest that if views of mine, or alleged views of mine, on such an important and perhaps slightly controversial matter as this are going to be published, at least I should have an opportunity of stating them beforehand. In conclusion, I would ask the Government to treat this matter seriously and say that, with the present congestion of our roads and in our present economic conditions, they could not give their support to the closing of the Queen's highway for motor racing. I beg to move for Papers.

6.26 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened with great interest, as I am sure have all noble Lords, to the powerful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I was much interested in this Motion because I wondered what sort of line the noble Lord was going to take. I cannot help feeling that the noble Lord's anxieties have rather outrun his discretion, in one or two ways. First of all, the noble Lord told us that he knows a lot about motor racing and that he was with Mr. Percy Lambert, whom I also well remember; then he told us that motor racing was no good to anybody and that it had done nothing for the private motor vehicle.


What I did say was strong enough, without its being exaggerated. I did not say that motor racing was no good to anybody.


I withdraw that remark if the noble Lord thinks I misrepresented him. But the fact remains that there is hardly a feature of the modern motor vehicle that does not owe something, at some stage in its development, to motor racing. If we take detachable wheels, if we take tyres—the noble Lord shakes his head about tyres: I can assure him (and he knows as much about it as I do) that the development of the modern pneumatic tyre owes a terrific amount to motor racing. There is hardly a thing one could think of in the modern motor vehicle of which the same is not true. Take, for example, disc brakes. Several of our manufacturers are experimenting with disc brakes at the present moment, and there is no doubt that if they can be developed they will be of enormous advantage to the whole world of motor vehicles. They combine lightness with great efficiency.

Be all that as it may, I do not think that this is the moment to tackle this question of motor racing and to try to obtain from the Government, in advance as it were, a sort of declaration of faith before we know whether a Bill is to presented and what the nature of the Bill will be. To listen to the noble Lord, one might imagine that we had a Bill before the House and that included in the provisions of that Bill were clauses to enable motor racing to take place every morning, every noon and perhaps all night all over the country. The facts are fairly simple. There is a stretch of Class A road between Buxton and Ashbourne to which the noble Lord referred, and there is also a Class B road which forms a sort of back leg. To make that road suitable for motor racing would not involve great alteration. I have been round it with the county surveyor and have seen exactly what the proposal is, so far as that road is concerned. It would do nothing to impair or alter the character of the countryside or of the national park. The road would be slightly widened, but that would not harm the national park or the countryside. The spectators could be well taken care of. The road runs through a little valley which has cliffs of a sort on either side, and the spectators could remain on the top of the cliffs in complete safety and would be able to see about two miles of road. It certainly would not be possible, nor would it be necessary, for motor cars to obtain speeds of 140 or 200 m.p.h., about which the noble Lord spoke just now. No doubt high speeds would be obtained on the Class A road, but on the back roads the speeds would be dependent on the nature of the curves and so on.

The noble Lord also mentioned the Council for the Preservation of Rural England—and indeed they have a lot to do in that area of Derbyshire. If you go there and talk to the local people, one of the things you will be told is that many of the visitors to that part of the world when the daffodils are out have a habit of going round the countryside pulling up the daffodils in bunches, bulbs as well, and tying them on to bicycles and going off down the road; and later these delightful plants are thrown away because the people are too tired to go further with them. Visitors to that part of the world are not so popular as many people might think. I do not know whether the same thing goes on in other national parks or beauty spots, but one has seen the same happen to bluebells. Then you will be told that the amount of litter left by visitors—there is no question of motor racing people having left it—is appalling. Be that as it may, I feel that we should retain a sense of proportion in these things.

Then there is the question of track racing versus road racing. Track racing produces very artificial conditions. Silverstone, Aintree and other tracks of a similar character are, on the whole, rather flat, and in places extremely wide; and they introduce a lot of artificial conditions. But in road racing the cars are used under natural conditions; the standard and skill of driving required are much higher and the test to which the vehicles are subjected is much more considerable.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, referred to the appalling tragedy which occurred in France the other day. I happened to be there, and I know not only what happened, but many of the causes of the accident. One has to be careful, when referring to what happened at Le Mans, because the whole question is still sub judice. Following that accident, the French Government set up two committees, each presided over by a French Cabinet Minister, and they have not yet reported. Another committee was also set up, a sort of police inquiry, which took place on the morrow of the race. I do not want to say too much about it, but I feel that the causes which brought about that accident at Le Mans were fairly simple to understand, and it is quite possible that an accident of that kind might never occur again in a million years. It required certain prerequisites to bring it about, and the chances against those same circumstances all being present again are literally millions to one. But motor racing is dangerous, and to a certain extent that may be in subtraction. However, in this country we have taken the greatest possible care of spectators at every stage, and mercifully, on the whole, we have been fairly free from serious accidents. Motor racing has taken place on the roads in Northern Ireland, in the Isle of Man, and also in Jersey, in the Channel Islands. It has been conducted very well, and has, I believe, been a source of great enjoyment to a great number of people.

I do not know that there is much more that I can say to your Lordships. Before we go into action against the proposal, I feel that we ought to have a Bill before us. I do not think it is a good idea to beat the air and to try to kill this proposal until we know what is in the Bill. I personally hope that the Government will not go too far. They should always reserve to themselves the right to consider every proposal on its merits. I am certain that if a Bill is promoted it will never propose that motor racing should take place every day of the week. It will probably propose that power should be given to close the roads for a race on a specified maximum number of days in the year—possibly from four to six times a year—during certain hours of practice, probably a two-hour or three-hour period early in the morning when there is nobody about. There is no doubt that if motor racing did take place on this particular circuit in Derbyshire, as proposed, it would be of great financial benefit to the various towns in the area. One is told by people in Buxton that the hotels there are nothing like so prosperous as they used to be—and I can well believe it. Various other towns not too far away, such as Ashbourne, Derby and so on, would no doubt benefit; and the various garages in the area would also experience a better time than they have been doing. Let us, in any event, wait until we see what the Bill contains before we declare ourselves opposed to some proposal about which we know nothing at the present moment.

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, we on these Benches are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for moving this Motion at the present time. We think that he has chosen an extremely apt moment for doing so, as I believe that the Derbyshire County Council are to consider to-morrow a resolution to promote a Private Bill in Parliament. This Bill will seek to establish a motor racing circuit in the Peak National Park. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has spoken about motor racing in general, but I should prefer at this late hour to confine my remarks to the proposal about the Peak National Park. I should like to say at the outset that I have been asked by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, to say that he is sorry he cannot be here to-day, and he has asked me to speak also on his behalf. He and I, of course, are in complete agreement about this non-Party matter. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, as your Lordships are aware, is the President of the Sheffield and Peak District Branch of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. The Council is, of course, very concerned about this whole proposal. I have listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Howe. If I heard him aright, he said that nothing in this proposal would alter the character of the national park. I am sorry to disagree with the noble Earl, but I cannot believe that, and in the course of my speech I hope to say why this is so.

To start with, if the Derbyshire County Council really thought that this scheme would make very little difference to the national park, why did they conduct the first investigations in such secrecy? The decision was made, I believe, in consultation with the R.A.C. and other interested parties; but they did not at any time consult the Peak Park Planning Board or the National Parks Commission. It is believed that the parties to the original investigation were the Ministry of Transport, certain motoring organisations and the Derbyshire County Council. But the whole thing was done in a very secret manner, and the first news came out during the debate on the Road Traffic Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has pointed out. The Manchester Guardian, in a leading article on May 5 last, said: There is a good deal more to a racing circuit than roads, cars and drivers. I simply cannot believe that it will be possible to establish a circuit, even for a day or two during the year, and that, at the end of the event, all the people shall fold their tents, like the Arabs, And as silently steal away, leaving the country completely empty and without any scars, just as if nothing had happened. That I just cannot believe, and I should like to outline briefly some of the objections.

I am not going into the question of interruption of public highways, because that aspect has been fully dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. But I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the new track—I refer to the track which the Derbyshire County Council decided upon after objections had been made to the first track—is actually nearer to Dovedale and the Manifold Valley than the old track was. Furthermore, the revised route extends into the tributary dales of the River Dove. Also, Hard Dale and Hartington Long Dale will both be part of this circuit. The Peak National Park was designated by the Minister of Town and Country Planning on April 17, 1951. May I just remind your Lordships of the purposes of the National Parks Act, 1949? They are, first, to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of national parks; and, secondly, to encourage the provision of facilities for enjoying the national parks and of the opportunities for open air recreation and the study of nature provided by them. Surely, the establishment of a motor racing circuit in a national park would appear to be directly contrary to the intention of this Act.

There are further reasons why the amenities of this particular park in the Peak District should be preserved. First of all, four-fifths of our population live in urban districts, and many in a smokeladen atmosphere surrounded by the ceaseless flow of traffic. The Peak National Park is situated in a very large industrial area of this kind. Its amenities would be denied to the public who enjoy it over the week-end, and denied to provide entertainment for those who are not primarily interested in national parks but in high-speed motoring. These, of course, are indirect effects, but may I just point out one or two of the direct effects on the countryside itself. We are told that crowds of 100,000 may be expected. But this is a very conservative figure. The attendance at the recent Le Mans rally, where the tragic accident took place, was in the region of 250,000—a quarter of a million people—and the region surrounding Le Mans is much more sparsely populated than the region surrounding the proposed Peak District circuit.

It has been estimated that half the population of England live within sixty miles of Buxton. Most of this vast crowd will arrive by motor car. It will be necessary to provide parking facilities for at least 25,000 vehicles. Then there will have to be servicing and refuelling facilities, public conveniences, catering facilities and also arrangements to clear the litter—not only the small amount of litter left by the few visitors to the national park, which was referred to, quite rightly, by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, but litter left by a quarter of a million people. I cannot see how gatherings of such magnitude can do anything but cause a general degradation of the soil. What about the effect on the limestone rubble walls made of loose stone which stand for centuries if left alone but which, if sat upon or maltreated by large crowds of people, will deteriorate, with the consequent trouble from straying cattle and stock of all kinds? We shall have to think of the noise for the wretched residents and farmers—they are living in the circuit, and are completely surrounded by the track—and the disturbance also to the village of Hartington. What about the effect of all this noise on cattle?

Then there is the risk of possible injury to ancient monuments. The local archæological association are, I understand, very worried about this, as the area is rich in remains of this kind. Race meetings, I gather, always take place at week-ends, and week-ends include Sundays. We shall therefore have to consider—


I am sure the noble Lord would not wish to mislead anybody, but we do not race in this country on Sundays.


I am glad to have that correction from the noble Earl. I was misinformed. There is also the question of police. The police forces are already suffering an acute shortage of manpower. They have not enough men to control normal traffic, and yet they will be called upon to deal with special diversions and this enormous influx of traffic to the area.

Apart from these matters, there is the question of the special installations which will be needed for the track. I find it difficult to believe that the roads will be left exactly as they are. As the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has said, it is difficult to tell until we see them built, but I imagine that pits will be required; that they will need a wide finishing straight, and possibly a grandstand. No doubt, if there are more accidents the authorities will have to consider the erection of safety fences on both sides of the route. I cannot see how all these installations can do anything but change completely the character of the countryside.


I hesitate to intervene again, but perhaps the noble Lord will forgive me. The installations for pits, grandstand and other things are purely temporary in character and are taken away again. They would be the same as those in Northern Ireland. I am sure the noble Lord knows what they are.


Even a large temporary stand must leave some effect on the country. There is also the question of the track being used for the rest of the year by amateur drivers, in sports cars or on motor-cycles, with the consequent danger to other people using the road. Many people are also concerned about the effect that these race meetings will have on the standard of driving, when people who leave the race meetings become infected by motor racing techniques and cause accidents. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, mentioned the tragic accident at Le Mans. If I understood him aright, he spoke of it as being almost unique. I only wish he were right. But according to The Times of June 13 last, the figures of killed and injured in race meetings since 1947 total 267—so Le Mans is by no means unique. There were accidents at Modena, at Munich, and at the Swiss Grand Prix; there were accidents at Weyberg in 1952 and at Le Mans in 1955. We only hope that the one at Le Mans will be the last, but I do not think we can necessarily assume that this will be so.

There is also the question of the export trade. I do not wish to say much about this aspect, except that we all recognise the great contribution which the motor industry is making to our export trade. I believe it is an argument to say that motor racing, by helping the designs of domestic cars, will help our export trade. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, talked about disc brakes. He has an unrivalled knowledge of these things. I can only cite, if I may, an argument on the other side by the Sunday Times Motoring Correspondent in the issue of June 19 last, in an article which was entitled, most aptly, I thought, "Roman holidays of speed." The writer doubted whether racing nowadays helps to produce the cars the motorist wants to use. He pointed out that the speeds achieved are out of all proportion to those in ordinary use. Furthermore, this writer, stated that the modern sports racing car derives more from aeroplanes than from ordinary touring cars. These racing cars bear little relation to the models for public use. Therefore, I do not think we can say that by establishing this road racing circuit in the Peak National Park we are helping the export trade in any way whatsoever. In fact, if we consider the loss of amenities to the Peak District, which is an important centre for tourists and others who come there to see the beautiful countryside, and also houses of the importance of Chatsworth, I should say that that was a far more important consideration to take into account than the very doubtful value of motor racing to the export trade of the motor industry.

In conclusion, I would say that in my view the establishment of this circuit is directly opposed to the spirit of the National Parks Act. Furthermore, it cannot be done without spoiling the countryside and affecting the peace and amenities of the local residents and visitors to the area. It will cause danger to spectators; it will adversely affect the standard of driving, and it will not help our export trade. I sincerely hope that the Government will not permit it.

6.57 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to take part in this debate, but I have a keen interest in the national parks. I was responsible for passing the National Parks Act, and therefore I feel that it would perhaps be appropriate if I said a word or two on this Motion. First, I would remind the House of what the Motion really asks. It is that the Government should state their policy regarding the closing of public highways for the purpose of motor-racing. This is not a debate on the merits or demerits of motor racing itself, upon which certainly I have no particular qualification to speak, and a good many others of your Lordships may not have. Motor racing, as such, is probably a good thing. I should be quite prepared to accept from the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that it has been responsible for vast improvements in the quality of our motor cars and still has a part to play. But what we are asked to consider is whether it is appropriate that motor racing should take place by means of closing public highways to the public and also, since we are not discussing this in a vacuum but in relation to a particular project for the Peak District, whether in particular it is appropriate that motor racing should take place in the Peak District, and in the centre of the Peak National Park. It is on those grounds that I should like to address myself for a short time to your Lordships. First, on the question whether we should sit back and say nothing because we have not a specific project in front of us—whether we should wait until a Bill is before the House—I would say that this question has reached sufficient definiteness to enable us to express a view. It is no longer an academic question. My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth tells us that an actual project is coming before the Derbyshire County Council tomorrow. It has been considered, it has been canvassed in the Press and I think we all have a fairly good idea as to what the project is. The question is, should we just sit back and allow the Derbyshire County Council to promote a Bill and incur large expenditure in the promotion of that Bill; or should we say, knowing pretty well what is involved, what the views of the Government are, so that they may promote their Bill with that knowledge in mind? If, in spite of the policy of the Government, they still want to promote the Bill, there is nothing to stop them; but I think it would be right that they should know what the Government have in mind on this question.

I imagine that there are two points that the Government will consider. They certainly will not be passing an opinion on the merits or demerits of motor racing as such; they will express a view on the desirability of closing down a number of miles of public highway for a certain part of the year. My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth gave us some idea of the extent of the highway. The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has been good enough to pass round a number of maps from which your Lordships can see that the roads proposed to be closed are important roads. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, will see that it is fairly definite; that we have a project before us, and we know what is in mind. There are trunk roads, Class A roads and Class B roads, and in the aggregate it is proposed to close a very big mileage of roads.

Is it right that the ordinary traveller using these roads should be deprived of the use of them, should probably be diverted long distances (because I cannot see any satisfactory alternative roads within easy distance) at possibly short notice, and at great inconvenience? I think that is a factor which Her Majesty's Government ought seriously to take into consideration. After all, the trunk roads are paid for wholly by the community as a whole, and they certainly are not paying for these trunk roads in order that they may be converted, even for a short time, into racing tracks. As to the other roads, for which considerable contributions are made out of public funds—60 per cent. or 50 per cent. or less—the same considerations apply.


May I ask the noble Lord whether he would say the same in the case of cycle racing?


I should not say the same in the case of cycle racing unless it were proposed to close the roads. If it were proposed to close the roads for so many days in the year, I would say the same thing, whether it were for horse racing or any other kind of racing. The noble Earl will appreciate that I am not discussing racing as such; but I think the Government ought to take serious note of whatever activity takes place on a public road which results in its being closed, particularly as these roads are being provided out of public money.

The second point is the character of the area chosen. It is probably the most beautiful part of England. There may be differences of opinion about that—everyone has his favourite part of the country. When I had to do with the national parks, I put the Peak District "No. 1" as a national park, because of its extreme beauty and because of its tremendous importance to a large number of people living within distance, who would be able to take advantage of it. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said that half the population live within a radius of sixty miles. I think that is probably true. This area in particular is one which is much in need of a beautiful playground of the type provided by the Peak District; and to deprive the general public of the enjoyment of the national park, even for a limited number of days, in order that certain people should enjoy motor racing is, I think, utterly wrong. I do not know whether or not the evil consequences which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, foresaw would follow, but it was certainly not the intention of the framers of the national parks legislation or those who for long advocated a national park movement that it should be possible to close the area, or close the centre of the area, for a substantial number of days per annum.

I do not think the noble Earl, Lord Howe, seriously means as an argument for using a portion of the national parks that a number of people are inconsiderate enough to pick daffodils and bluebells in the area. I regret it is true that a number of people do not yet know how to use the countryside. That was one of the things appreciated by everybody who took part in the legislation and in the movement. People have to be educated to treat the countryside in a proper way—and they will. The more it is used in the way in which it was intended to be used, the more people will gradually appreciate it. I have seen the same thing happening on housing estates where, for the first year or two, it is quite impossible to grow any flowers by the wayside, or even to get the grass to grow—the "kids" seem to take a delight in pulling up everything that grows. But gradually the estate improves in appearance; gradually the children, and still more the adults, learn to respect the countryside. I think that in a few years' time the noble Earl will find a vast difference in the way in which people will treat the national park areas. But I cannot see why, because of that, it should be legitimate to use a large part of the national park area for the purpose of motor racing. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, will be able to tell us this afternoon, first of all, that the Government are opposed to using public highways for the purpose of motor racing; and secondly, that in any event they would regard the Peak District and especially the national park portion of the Peak District as wholly undesirable for that purpose.

7.8 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has raised a subject which is certainly interesting; it is controversial, and I think that the controversy probably cuts across Party lines. Moreover, he has raised it in a Legislative Assembly which probably contains more racing drivers than any other legislative assembly in the world. There are three main interests which are likely to be involved in road racing. There is, first of all, that of the motor manufacturers, in their engineering capacity: they want an opportunity of testing out their components under the most exacting conditions. Then there is the same industry in its selling capacity. It is almost our most important export industry to-day, and there is no doubt that we gain more sales abroad if our cars have done well in international racing—I do not think anybody can deny that. It is even claimed that in certain countries where road racing is extremely popular we gain general export prestige in other things than cars through going in for racing—that is, provided that we win. We must win. The third consideration is motor racing as a sport or entertainment. We do not take quite the same interest in it as they do on the Continent, or in some South American countries, but I have heard that anything up to a quarter of a million people have been known to gather in this country for a motor racing meeting. All these interests, to a greater or lesser extent, are anxious to have a road circuit.

The first question one should ask is: why are they not satisfied with existing alternative tracks in this country, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, thinks they ought to be? Generally, the answer is that these tracks tend to be rather too short, so that sufficient cars cannot be raced on them at the same time; and they tend to be devoid of natural—




Shall we say features, such as hills, corners and so on, which are the real and proper test of motor car components. So, from the engineering point of view, our present tracks are by no means ideal. From the selling point of view the important factor is doing well against the Continentals in top-class meetings; our present tracks may not always attract the first-class teams because, in prestige, they will be unable to compete with Continental meetings. For those reasons it seems that we ought to have a new circuit. From the angle of sport and entertainment the chief necessities are easy access to a site within the right distance from big centres of population, with adequate accommodation for cars, with hotels and other amenities. The problem of finding an area suitable for a quarter of a million people to gather is an extremely difficult one which is not solved in our existing tracks because most of those people have to come along the public highway to reach the track. From all points of view it can therefore be said that the present arrangements are not ideal.

It is claimed that the Derbyshire circuit could be made to meet all these requirements and, in addition, that it would serve the further purpose of bringing tourists to Derbyshire (which, in that respect, has been a little depressed since the war) and, moreover, would bring tourists to Great Britain.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord but would not some tourists be inclined rather to keep away if they heard what was going on there?


The noble Lord, I think, rather minimises the interest in this sport. He is a great lover of the æsthetic and beautiful, but there are many people in this country, and still more on the Continent of Europe, to whose ears the noise of a motor car travelling at 200 miles an hour is music. Moreover, it is claimed that the traffic problem, which is an immense one, can be handled there, and that parking of the order mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, can be provided. Finally, the Derbyshire County Council are in favour of the scheme.

On the other side, very strong objections have been raised. The Council for the Preservation of Rural England, ramblers' clubs, the Corporation of Sheffield and local authorities of Chesterfield have objected, and the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has outlined many of the grounds for their objections. At this time of night I am not going to reply in derail to all the points in his speech, first because I do not feel particularly called upon to support any particular scheme and, secondly, because the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has already replied to several points. The general ground on which these authorities object is the spoiling of amenities which, they claim, would result. I have never visited the particular area in question, but from photographs and descriptions I understand that the precise area in which the circuit would be situated is a rather desolate region. Some people like desolation; I rather do myself, and so does the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. But nobody can deny that the area is near great natural beauty spots and in a national park area; and opponents of the proposal might reasonably claim that the whole principle of the national parks was being whittled away. I am not competent, nor do I wish, to argue the legal case as to whether there can be a motor racing circuit in a national park. I have no doubt that that question would produce great arguments; but I am informed that there is no certainty that this cannot be done, so such a scheme would not be turned down on that ground alone and the decision would probably have to rest more on the moral than on the legal case.

There is set out in Section 13 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, the law which prohibits motor racing on the road; therefore either a general or a particular amendment of the law would be required. In the past, Governments have been hostile to such a change in the law. During the Committee stage of the Road Traffic Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, moved a new clause, which has been mentioned to-day, to permit the closing of roads for motor racing. Her Majesty's Government were not prepared to accept the proposal, but my noble friend, the Paymaster General, who has been quoted to-day, said that the Ministry will not automatically oppose a Private Bill on this subject. This was a slight change in the attitude which Governments had shown up to that date. Her Majesty's Government are still not prepared to see the law altered in general, so that the only method open would be for those concerned to alter the law in particular, by promoting a Private Bill. In our view this is the most suitable way to proceed. Objections can be heard, safeguards can be inserted and, if necessary, compromises can be arrived at. I must add, however, that Her Majesty's Government are not prepared in principle to commit themselves to supporting, or even to not opposing a Private Bill. Such a Bill would be examined on its merits.

On the general principle of having a road circuit, insufficient interest has so far been shown, and insufficient controversy aroused, to enable public opinion properly to be tested. If one had to hazard a guess, it would be that public opinion might support the principle of a circuit but might yet be very divided when the various details involved came to be discovered. Her Majesty's Government would want to see the reaction of public opinion to any particular scheme and would have to be convinced that there were very strong grounds of national interest before they could support any change in the existing law forbidding the closing of roads for racing. In that matter I believe that we are at one with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. On the particular question of the Derbyshire scheme, up to date a good deal of opinion has been expressed against it, but its supporters have not been very vocal in public, and Her Majesty's Government do not really know how the general public would react to the proposal. It is for the Derbyshire County Council to promote a Bill, in the light of public opinion as it develops, and it is for them to satisfy Parliament that their proposals are sound. In the same way, should any other body wish to put forward another scheme this is precisely the course they, too, would have to take.

A debate in your Lordships' House, when the Government's mind is not made up, is a most valuable method of starting the ball of controversy rolling, from which something like public opinion can emerge. So we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth (he has had to leave the House, but has asked me to make his apologies), and to other noble Lords who have spoken, and I am sure that the Derbyshire County Council will be grateful, too, for the opportunity that is being given for public opinion to develop, from which they can decide what is to be their policy. The views of the noble Lords who have spoken will, of course, be considered with care by my right honourable friend and the other Ministers concerned.

7.21 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, for the care which he took over his reply. I could wish that he had given some sort of a lead, but he was very careful to balance the two points of view, not coming down on either side of the fence. He remained sitting, very uncomfortably, on the top of a fence which is a very spiky one. I rise merely to say what he has already said: that my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth has had to leave and has asked me to apologise to the House for his absence. He has also authorised me, on his behalf, to ask leave to withdraw this Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.