HL Deb 31 July 1958 vol 211 cc603-23

4.29 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I rise to continue the debate on by-pass roads. Your Lordships must have become rather bored, because every time I speak on road matters I start by saying that I wholeheartedly agree with every word that has fallen from the mouth of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. It will be somewhat of a relief, therefore, to your Lordships for me to say to-day that I disagree with at least 85 per cent. of everything the noble Lord has said. I rather deprecate that he gave so little credit to the present Minister—although, of course, the noble Lord and I both agree that we are not going fast enough and far enough. He gave the credit to previous Ministers of Transport, because he said that motorways were their brainchild. But, after all, the present Minister is the first Minister who has built anything, and I think "the proof of the pudding is in the eating."

I am not going to indulge in a two-way debate with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, to-day, not only because I have already said in the past what I have to say in answer to his arguments, but because I am keeping it "up my sleeve" for the time when we get more permanent Regulations. These are only temporary Regulations. What I want to bring to your Lordships' attention is the form of the Orders themselves, and the results that may or may not spring from them. The more one studies these Orders, the more it appears that the results of them and the method of carrying out the results which the Minister wants have not been properly thought out.

Why did the Minister make this form of Order? It cannot have been to deal with those very heavy and large, slow-moving loads, such as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, mentioned—ships' propellers that occupy one and a half lanes of traffic width and so on—because the Minister already has the powers to deal with those. So obviously he is not considering that type of load. Or is he? I find people strangely muddled in their knowledge and thinking about these abnormal indivisible loads; and, regrettably, the person who appears to be most muddled is my right honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary in another place. He seems to think that all these abnormal indivisible loads are the very large ones.

In case my noble friend Lord Mancroft takes me to task for this, I would refer him to the OFFICIAL REPORT of the other place of July 29 [Vol. 592, col. 1266]. The Parliamentary Secretary then used these words: One has to use one's imagination about the effect of abnormal indivisible loads travelling along such a road—one of these vast loads perhaps occupying a whole lane, or as much as a lane and a half, which some could occupy, the largest travelling at a very low speed—only four or five miles an hour—which might constitute a really serious danger to the general flow of traffic. Therefore, the eventual conclusion of my right honourable friend and myself was that we should start by excluding these loads from the motorway. Evidently, according to the Parliamentary Secretary it is only these very heavy loads that are to be excluded. But that is not what the Order says; and I do not believe it is what the Order means. As I say, the Parliamentary Secretary seems to think there is only one form of abnormal indivisible load, and that is the very large one.

What I want to know, first of all, is: why has the Minister done this? Unless this Order is passed, nobody applies to the Minister for the smaller loads—those under 150 tons, or less than 20 ft. wide—to use any road; they apply to the highway authority, the local authority. For the very big loads they have to apply to the Ministry, and so the Minister already has the power to control them. I suppose the Minister thinks that if he were to leave this matter to the local authority they might use their common sense. They would say to themselves: "With this motorway and this type of traffic, there would be less hazard and less congestion than if we passed the traffic through the middle of Preston." Indeed they are right, and it is a perfectly valid reason. What the Minister is doing is taking those powers away from the local authority.

How is this going to work? The Minster says that he is going to admit for, say, a week at a time abnormal indivisible loads. Does he mean the very large ones—because he can do that or not, as he likes; he has other powers in that respect—or does he mean these smaller loads? How is he going to admit them? Under the Road Traffic Act, application for these smaller loads has to be made to the local authority, and the police have to be notified; and nobody but the police is entitled to alter the route or vary the times when these loads shall pass. Is the Minister going to use the police as his agents? I hope that my noble friend will be able to answer that question. If he cannot answer it, then it is as I suspected: that this Order has not been properly thought out. How is the Minister going to open this motorway for a week to the smaller type of indivisible loads? With these smaller loads, from two to six days' notice of application has to be given to the local authority, depending on the size of the load. There is no method, so far as I can see, by which application in respect of these loads can be made to the Minister. If his Order is passed, he can stop them using the roads. But if he wanes it as an experiment, how is he going to admit them? It will be nothing to do with him at all. Even if he says to the police: "You act as my agents. You vary the route, and you bring these things round", an application must still be made, and it will not be made to the Minister.

A further point is with regard to the legal powers of the Minister. I wonder whether he is trying to do something for which he has not legal powers. Something of this kind was hinted at in another place and no answer was forthcoming, but I hope that an answer may be given to-day. Under the Special Roads Act, the Minister can vary the class of vehicle admitted to motorways—and these are the words which have come out of the Act—" on occasion or in an emergency ". The meaning of "in an emergency" is quite clear; and for experimental purposes, presumably, the Minister does not intend to allow this type of vehicle to use roads under the heading of "in an emergency" unless there is one. But what is meant by "on occasion"? One would think he would say: "There is the vehicle. This is the occasion. Let us admit it." It is not much use as an experiment. The Minister said in another place that he intended to admit various types of vehicle—he did not say what—for a week at a time. If this Order is going to pass, I should prefer it to be done that way, but I have been advised that it is probable that the Minister has no legal powers based on the words "on occasion", to open the road for a week.


The noble Lord has evidently given a great deal of study to this matter, and we are grateful to him for raising the point. Would he give the House the benefit of his view? The words of the Minister are: I want to try as many combinations and permutations of traffic on these types of road as we can in the hope that when we come to the House we shall have the result of this experience. The noble Lord is saying that the Minister has not the right to do this. He is saying that the Minister has not the right to say: "I will take off all private motor cars, or some private motor cars, or all cars over a certain speed."


The noble Lord has misunderstood me. The Minister has a perfect right to exclude classes of vehicles. But this is to be an experiment; he wants an experiment, and to some extent I am on his side. But when it comes to allowing them "on occasion", that is where the difficulty arises. I doubt if the Minister has power to allow them on for experimental purposes. I should like an answer on this point. If "on occasion" means for a week at a time, well and good, because that is the obvious way to try it out. But I am advised that he has not the legal power to do it in that way. If the words "only on occasion" are to be used in their true meaning, I am afraid it will mean that only the very large slow-moving types of abnormal vehicle will be covered. But the Minister already has that power and it would not be much of an experiment.

May I say a word about this experiment? I do not like this Regulation, but I see the force of the argument. If we are to have an experiment, let us have a proper one. I hope the Minister will not try to prove any theory he holds, or disprove other people's theories, without a full and proper experiment. I would suggest that the only way to have a full and proper experiment is by some method—subject to the legal argument which I have put forward—of having these abnormal indivisible loads watched by a team of experts during the period when they are admitted to this road. Quite frankly, I can see no possible team of experts who have the recognised knowledge except the Road Research Laboratory. There is not another team who are capable, from a technical point of view, of doing it properly.

If the experiment is going to be worth anything when this team report they should be asked to report not only on the disadvantages of allowing these abnormal vehices to use the by-pass motorway but also on the advantages, by way of cost, speed of passage, and so on, to the commercial vehicle. Both sides should be shown, and in about the same period of time. If the experiment is going to mean anything, both the advantages and disadvantages should be examined of a similar vehicle moving through the middle of Preston, and the report should show the comparative advantages and disadvantages of all questions dealing with this matter. Provided that that sort of experiment is carried out, it will be worth something, but anything less will be useless. There is no point in carrying out an experiment to see if an abnormal indivisible load is a hazard on a motorway. You do not need an experiment. I will tell your Lordships that now—it is a hazard anywhere, on any type of road. What we want is an expert report as to whether the hazard on a motorway is greater than the hazard on other roads in the neighbourhood; and which, taking one thing against another, is the greater hazard. That is the sort of experiment we want. If that is what the Minister intends to carry out, well and good. Anything else is a waste of time and money.

I hope that my noble friend will be able to answer the few questions I have put to him. If future permanent regulations for other motorways are in this form, I shall have a great deal to say, and I shall probably move to annul them. But this is an experiment. I sympathise with the Minister, but I do not think I quite like the way he is doing it. I say, give it a chance if he has any method by which he can do it, but I rather doubt his powers in this matter or what the results will be

4.44 p.m.


My Lords, this is the first occasion that I have ventured to address your Lordships on the subject of the indivisible load. At the outset, I should like to say how cordially I agree with the policy of the Minister, which I think could be described as one of trial and error. It is obviously reasonable and, I should have thought, obviously the best thing all round, and is likely to get us away from a good many personal theories on the subject of motorways. When I have said that, I cannot help regretting very much indeed that the Minister should have had to choose such a roadway as the Preston by-pass. The Preston by-pass, as has been pointed out to your Lordships this afternoon, and as was pointed out in another place, is a two-carriageway road with two lanes of traffic going in opposite directions. What is the good of using such an inadequate artery as that as any real guide to the London-Birmingham motorway, which is going to have three lanes of traffic in each direction? Furthermore, the Preston by-pass will be an incomplete motorway. It is only going so far, and then it is going to turn off and go to the village of Broughton. That is already one of the worst bottlenecks in the whole of the North of England at week-ends or holiday periods, with an extreme concentration of motor vehicles.

One realises that perhaps the Preston motorway is the only one, and that is why the Minister has chosen it. But there are section of roads in other places. For example, there are already certain sections of the Western Avenue that have three lanes of traffic in each direction. I hope it will not be long before the remaining portions of the Western Avenue are extended so that we shall have three lanes of traffic right through. They are badly wanted, Heaven knows!, and a certain amount of work is already in progress there. But I feel that the Preston motorway, or by-pass—call it what you like—is incomplete and may, to that extent, produce fallacious lessons.

In my submission, the whole question of motorways requires careful consideration. Those of your Lordships who have driven abroad on the autobahnen in Germany, the autostrada in Italy, and the motorways in Belgium, already know quite a lot about the problems that one is likely to encounter. Your Lordships may think I am rather straying away from the subject, but I can promise you that I am coming back to the question of the individual load. We are now asked to confirm Special Orders which are to last for a year. At the end of that time, they will be subject to reconsideration, and I want to ensure, if I can, that the experience which many of us have had abroad and elsewhere of the condition of motorways can be taken advantage of and brought into consideration when the final chapter comes to be written.

The indivisible load is not a common thing at all; it is an uncommon thing. Occasionally it varies in size and content. It may he a catalyst tower or a ship's propeller. A ship's propeller is one of the worst things one can meet, because it takes up of itself at least fifteen and maybe twenty feet of roadway. Take this Preston model which the vehicle has to use. That means that one line of roadway is going to be completely out of action.




One carriageway, I meant. Two lines of traffic, or one whole carriageway, are going to be out of action. It seems to me that if the Minister allows indivisible loads of those dimensions, or the police allow very large indivisible loads to go down the motorway at all, that should be done only at night and as an exceptional circumstance. I want to make another submission to your Lordships and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, will give it consideration. When an indivisible load is launched out on a motorway, whether it is a two-lane motorway or a three-lane motorway, either by day or by night, a special signal should be put at the entrance to the motorway, so that the person driving, maybe, a light motor car rather quickly in the wet will not suddenly and unexpectedly come up to one of these large vehicles and its huge content. The signal would be a warning to him. I should not have thought it would be difficult to have a signal of that kind. There must he people looking after the motorway at intervals—I have in mind the London—Birmingham motorway, not the Preston motorway. If there could be some sort of special signal, the moment one saw it one would look out for one of these huge vehicles and its large contents. I cannot help feeling that that might be worth doing, and certainly worth doing on such a limited experiment as that of the Preston motorway. I throw it out for consideration; whether it will have any value or not I do not know.

It seems to me that there would not be quite the same objection to the indivisible load on a three-lane carriageway that there is to it on a two-lane carriageway. I cannot help feeling that we should not be carried away too far by the idea that there are going to be processions of them. I am sure there will not be; I am sure the Minister would not allow it. We must rely on the Minister and the officials of his Department, and I am perfectly certain that it will be possible on occasions to get an important and very large indivisible load along a motorway without causing extreme congestion and without causing extreme difficulty to other forms of traffic which might be found on it.

What I am very anxious about is lane discipline. We can have all our discussions, animated as they may be, on the subject of indivisible loads and whether they are a possible obstruction. But why worry our heads so much about a thing which is not going to happen often, if it happens at all, and, at the same time allow very often small—but not always small; sometimes rather big—light vehicles, motor cars and the like, to wander at will down the middle of the motorway, whether it has two lanes or three or the extreme right hand section of it. It must be your Lordships' experience—it certainly is mine, and most of my friends say the same thing—that there is a certain percentage of drivers who drive light motor cars on these improved roads and who simply have no consideration whatever for other road users. They go sometimes quite slowly on the crown of the road. Traffic coming up behind wants to get by, and after a few miles of waiting one finds that the driver in the middle of the road will not do anything about it. What is one to do? There is a sense of frustration all round; everybody loses his temper. Eventually somebody makes a dart to get by on the near side—very wrongly, but it happens—and just at that moment the man in the middle of the road pulls over. There really must be a vastly improved lane discipline, if you like, on all the roads of this country.

Last Whit Sunday it so happened that I had to drive from Köln on the motorway running south through Germany along the line of the Swiss frontier at Basle. I was enormously struck by the lane discipline of the Germans; and not only by the lane discipline but by the way in which the drivers were all obviously looking in their mirrors. The moment a faster car came up behind they would pull over. There was not 1 per cent. of them who failed to do this. Even if they were not looking in their mirrors, the moment they became aware, by the use of the horn or headlights, that another car wanted to overtake, they got out of the way. How very different from the experience one finds on the crowded roads of this country, where it is far more important that it should be done!

Again, in Germany on the autobahnen—I do not think the same rule applies in Italy; I have only come across it in Germany—one German heavy vehicle is not allowed to pass another going up a hill. I do not know whether that rule will be necessary on the London-Birmingham motorway; I do not know whether it actually follows the contours and goes up hills, or goes through cuttings. It is an important rule and it has this advantage. Your Lordships will often have followed a heavy vehicle trying to overtake another on a hill, and you will know what happens. All of a sudden a cloud of noxious vapour comes out of the vehicle through the driver "revving" his diesel engine much too fast. It is poisonous to people on the side of the road and to anybody in following vehicles. Could we have it laid down, if not immediately, in a year's time when we come to think about these things again, that heavy vehicles are not to try to pass one another going up hill? It is going up hill where it matters; on other sectors of the road it does not seem to happen to anything like the extent. The Germans have found it necessary to make that order, and I think we might follow their example over here.

To return to the question of lane discipline, could we not do something about that? Could not the driving examiners help us? Could they not emphasise to the learners that one of the special things they must learn and must think about is their present position on the road as well as getting ready for the next turning and things of that sort? Again, it is important that they should got, and keep, in the right lane of traffic, and, thirdly, that before turning out of their lane of traffic they should use their mirrors.

Reverting to the question of the indivisible load, I cannot help feeling, from what has been said this afternoon and from what I have heard of the matter, that we should be careful not to over-emphasise the difficulties. I think the Minister is quite right in having his experimental period and sticking to it, as he did in the teeth of a certain amount of criticism the other day in another place. I have read the whole of the debate there, and I cannot help feeling that the approach of the Minister on this question is right—in fact, I entirely support him.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord So[...]ers for allowing me to speak now. My opening remarks will be the concluding remarks of a study which was made by the Union Routiere de France after consideration of three important documents, particularly with regard to the part transport must play in the years to come. These three documents were A Study on the Economic Situation in Europe in 1956, produced by a Commission of the United Nations in Geneva in 1957, Europe Today and in 1960—the Eighth Report of the Economic Committee of O.E.E.C. in Paris; and Touring in Europe, a document also produced by the O.E.E.C. in Paris. With your Lordships' permission, I should like to quote a few words from their conclusions—it is a translation of their remarks. They state: Road traffic is in a constant state of development. One must not hamper its impetus but give it the means to expand freely; any hindrance to the day-to-day activity of traffic and transport automatically has its repercussions on costs, and consequently on the standard of living of the nation. Equally, as that applies to Europe on the whole, I think it applies in part to this country.

In 1955, Statutory Instrument No. 677 came into operation—the authority for the special road, Bamber Bridge-Broughton scheme; in other words, the Preston By-pass. Section 1 of this Instrument states: The Minister is hereby authorised to provide along the route described in the First Schedule to this Scheme a special road for the use of traffic of classes I and II set out in the Second Schedule to the Act "— that is, the 1949 Act. The Minister now proposes to prohibit certain categories of vehicles from using this road except under what I would term artificially created conditions. Here, I have particularly in mind vehicles carrying heavy, abnormal and indivisible loads. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, is not in his place at the moment but I must say that I agree with much that he has said this afternoon. As these regulations are purely experimental I should have seen greater logic, with all due respect to the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, in allowing these vehicles access to the Preston By-pass on the basis of the normal requirements of the industries concerned, and then checking the effect on traffic flow or congestion. As mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, the Road Research Laboratory would be a perfect body to undertake that check.

In the same way that this Laboratory was able to assess future traffic conditions at Hyde Park Corner only by means of large weaving sections at Northolt, not linked into a roundabout—in the words of the Director of the Laboratory, The experiment suffered from a degree of artificiality inherent in controlled testing and due to the fact that the weaving sections were isolated ones "— I believe that the conditions that would be obtainable on the Preston By-pass would be artificially created conditions. That really is the point I wish to make.

I should not like to weary your Lordships with a long list of instances of where these indivisible loads have suffered from complicated routing. Apart from complicated routing, the conditions under which some of these loads have had to be carried have added considerably to the time taken for the load to reach its destination, and, naturally, have added also to the cost. For instance, over the last eighteen months one firm in Preston has been exporting to Rhodesia a number of locomotives—I believe twenty. These locomotives were too large to go by rail, and in view of the fact that the bridge at Warrington was inadequate to take the load they had to be routed via Bolton, Manchester and right down to Newcastle-under-Lyme, and then up again to Birkenhead—in other words, the journey was three times as long and the time taken was five times greater.


Could the noble Lord tell us why the Manchester Ship Canal was not used?


I was just coming to the point about the use of shipping. It is much more expensive; it adds to the cost. That is the important point with regard to exports or any other commercial consideration. I should like now to refer to the question of a chemical plant which had to be sent from Renfrew, near Glasgow, to Fawley, near Southampton. In this case, the route had to be extended by 30 per cent. If the load had gone by ship it would have cost approximately 50 per cent. more than by sending it by road.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, referred to the advisability in a number of cases of sending loads by rail. I have a case in mind where a load was sent by rail. A heavy commercial vehicle had to be sent across England just to carry this heavy plant from the railway sidings to the site, which was a matter of two miles. For that the vehicle had to go from one side of England to the other. Another small instance I think stresses the inadequacy of our bridges, but it also highlights the fact that, as I think, we do not want to make the problems of the industries concerned any greater than they are already by legislating in a manner which would make matters more difficult for them. I have in mind the case of a toad which could not cross the Severn on account of there being a bridge which was inadequate for road traffic. The load had to be off-loaded and then carried by rail, and then reloaded again on the other side of the Severn, and the empty commercial vehicle had to travel a matter of sixty miles. To the expense thus incurred must be added the cost of providing rail sidings and also unloading berths. An important point here is that hauliers as well as manufacturers are of the same opinion in this matter of indivisible loads. That is why I feel it would be regrettable if Her Majesty's Government were to press for an experiment on the Preston By-pass by means of artificially created conditions. May I therefore beg the noble Lord the Minister without Portfolio to ask his right honourable friend whether he could reconsider this point and tackle it in a different manner?

I should like to say a few words on the aspect of the speed limit. Here I am in agreement with Her Majesty's Government. I believe that this "no speed limit" principle should work, providing strict lane discipline is maintained and rigidly enforced, as has been so clearly mentioned by my noble friend, Lord Howe. My experience on motorways abroad is that in general traffic lane discipline is maintained to a large degree. This brings to my mind the question of three-lane and two-lane dual carriageways. I have driven a number of times on the Autoroute de l'Ouest, just outside Paris, and have found that on the three-lane portion even under heavy traffic conditions one can maintain a high speed on the outer lane. In fact, traffic can travel quite easily at from 70 to 75 m.p.h. while slow traffic is keeping to the inner lanes, and there has been little congestion—the flow has been very good. On the other hand, on the two-lane portion, the outer lane is used by the faster traffic, but under heavy traffic conditions similar to those appertaining on the three-lane highways, there has been a complete stoppage. That is why I heartily hope that wherever possible Her Majesty's Government will provide three-lane dual carriageways.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want to take up much of your Lordships time for I know that we have another debate to come, but there are one or two points that I should like to make. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, opened his speech by telling us that more work is being done on British roads to-day than ever before. I do not think any of us will question him on that, because certainly there could hardly be less. I think I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, up to a point, in that I hold that these very heavy excess indivisible loads should be banned altogether when possible; but, as has been pointed out, that is not always possible from a commercial point of view, and one has to face that fact.


My Lords, when the noble Lord says "very heavy", does he mean very heavy loads or loads up to 150 tons?


My Lords, when I said "very heavy" I meant very large loads, such as would make it impossible to overtake; for where we have a two-lane carriageway a load up to 20 feet wide would make it impossible to overtake. That, I believe, is the extreme width.


My Lords, the noble Lord must not lose sight of the fact that, although width is of first importance, a vehicle with a load of 150 tons and capable of travelling at only 5 m.p.h. is as big an obstacle on a road like the Preston motorway as one of extreme width.


My Lords, I quite agree; it is a question of whether one can overtake. I believe that both width and weight count, but we must realise that those examples are few and far between. I believe the suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that there should be some signal at the beginning of the motorway is an excellent one. I also believe that it would perhaps be possible to prevent these loads from increasing too much by making a slight charge for excess loads—loads excessive in both size and weight—with an increasing charge according to increasing size and weight. Perhaps such loads might then be economically less satisfactory, so that those responsible would think of some other way of sending such loads. On the other hand, with smaller excess indivisible loads, I am not sure where the normal load stops and the abnormal load begins. In any case, obviously, there are many technically abnormal loads which do not prevent one from overtaking on a two-lane dual carriageway.


My Lords, that is, of course, laid down by Act of Parliament.


My Lords, I realise that, and therefore I certainly do not think those loads should be excluded from the motorways. I hope, however, that the Minister is holding it very firmly in his mind that this is to be an experiment. He has said so, but of course one cannot make an experiment without trying both ways. We cannot ban all these excess loads from motorways for a year and then say that we have made an experiment, because we shall not have tried the other way. The only course will be for the Minister to try both ways and to have the experiments thoroughly supervised, as the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, has suggested, by a team of expert advisers, to see which one works.

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to support the Orders which the noble Lord, the Minister, has laid before the House I shall be very brief. Like many other noble Lords, when I came down to the House this afternoon I had a large amount of literature on this subject from various organisations. The matter on which we are legislating this afternoon is of very great importance, for it is the first experiment with motorways in this country. Until I made inquiries before this debate, I quite thought, in my ignorance, that the Preston motorway was to have three lanes either way; but it is to have only two each way.

As the noble Lords, Lord Derwent and Lord Lucas of Chilworth, have said, it is a little unfortunate that this experiment should be made on a road which is not going to be very wide. When all is said and done, the Great West Road and Western Avenue—or parts of them anyway—were built twenty years ago, and there are already three lanes either way. I do not think we shall get the full result of the experiment we want until the Birmingham motorway is open. We have always been told that the object of these motorways is to speed up traffic for the trade of this country and to get stuff more quickly to the ports. That has been one of the reasons why we have been pressing to get money out of the Treasury; it is going to save hours and hours on the roads and save money for the country because we shall be able to export material more cheaply. I hope that this is only an experiment and that the exclusion of these heavy loads from the main arterial roads will not be permanent.

I regret that the present by-pass, for matters of finance, was not able to be made three-lane either way, because it is always expensive to enlarge afterwards. If these heavy indivisible loads are allowed on the road, I hope that it will be done only in the daytime, because it has to be done under police supervision and it is much more dangerous, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said, to allow them to travel at night, when we hope some of the faster commercial traffic will be travelling.


My Lords, I dislike interrupting, but I did not say that. I said that I hoped they would be used at night, because I thought they would be less of an obstruction then, especially at holiday time and week-ends.


My Lords, did the noble Earl not say that the roads should be especially marked?


My Lords, I thought that a signal at the entrance might he possible to warn all drivers making use of that particular section of motorway that there was a heavy load in front and to watch out.


My Lords, I am worried about these loads travelling at night because some roads might not be lighted at night. If the road is lighted, as the Great West Road is, it will be much safer. However, I am naturally prepared to give my support to this experiment. I regret that it is not an experiment, as we should like to have it, on a wider track; but I think that in many cases vehicles may be safer on these roads, under escort, than when taken through narrow streets in very congested towns. I fully appreciate what has been said, that these very heavy loads will take more than one lane—perhaps one and a half lanes—and that therefore it may be necessary to work just a single-line track on the other side. As I say, I think we must try the experiment; I am not altogether happy about it, but I trust that it will be the success the Minister hopes it will be.

5.23 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to draw attention to the fact, which no one has mentioned, that we are turning off the road the very tiny motor bicycle. I am not pleading that it should go on these new roads or that it should not, but I want to draw attention to the fact that abroad the little bicycle, with a motor of under 50 c.c., is not viewed as being a motor cycle. One has not to get a number for it; one has not to get a driving licence, or go through all the fuss and rigmarole which there is in this country. Would it not be a good thing to adopt that practice in this country, in view of the fact that from now on you are not going to allow the tiny bicycle to go on these roads? If the owner is to be required to go through all the paraphernalia that he has gone through up to now—he is already too slow—it is about time that he was treated decently: here he is to be penalised. I realise that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, need not pay attention to this point to-day, but I think it should sink deeply into the head of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation.

The other point I wish to make is the fact that under this Order military vehicles are allowed upon these roads. No one who motors on the English roads has missed the fact that the most poisonous form of transport is a tank-transporter. Tanks are very sensitive animals. They have to go from one end of the country to another for a change of air, and when one lot are going East another lot are going West; and these changes for the health of tanks invariably occur on Saturday afternoons or Bank Holidays. I think that that should be controlled by the Minister and not left to a local commander, because he can cause the most frightful congestion on the roads. Finally, I would ask the noble Lord whether he would get the Ministry to put an Order in rather more intelligent language than that which we find in this Order No. 3. It is almost, though not quite, incomprehensible.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, the noble and gallant Admiral, Lord Cork and Orrery, has steam up and obviously wants to put to sea, so I shall not keep him longer than possible. I should like to thank your Lordships for the extremely detailed examination which you have accorded to these Orders. Fortunately many points which your Lordships made have cancelled each other out, which makes my task slightly easier Fortunately, also, this is, as your Lordships have all agreed, an experiment. Everything that has been said this afternoon will be carefully examined by those who have to carry out this experiment. Anything put forward will be tried, and I can assure those noble Lords who have doubted whether this experiment will be bona fide or not that it will be.

May I content myself by answering just two or three of the principal questions that have been directly put to me? The first is concerned with Service vehicles. The noble Lords, Lord Brabazon of Tara and Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and other noble Lords, put this point. I readily agree that the fact that Service vehicles, including tanks, are allowed by these Regulations on the Preston By-pass is on the face of it a little illogical. I do not think that my right honourable friend would have allowed this to happen had this not been an experiment. We want this by-pass, and similar by-passes, to be available to military vehicles in an emergency. On behalf of my right honourable friend the Minister of Defence I can say that we will see to it that the vehicles do not as a habit make use of this by-pass. It might seem more logical to have put into the Order the fact that these vehicles could use the by-pass only in an emergency; but to have done that would obviously have been much more complicated and difficult. We have, admittedly, taken the easier way out of allowing them to use it and by making the promise that they will not use it during this year of experiment except with the agreement of the Minister for experimental purposes or in an emergency.


My Lords, a far easier method still would have been to put these in the same category as the unwieldy loads and to allow them to go on to the by-pass by order for experimental purposes. Once they are on, I feel sure, knowing the military authorities, that it will take more than the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation to get them off.


No, my Lords, your Lordships need not worry about this. It is not proposed that the Preston By-pass should be used exclusively for the Saturday afternoon airing of tanks and similar vehicles, to the detriment of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara.

Another question is this question of the legality concerning abnormal indivisible loads. My noble friend Lord Derwent asked under what power the Minister can permit abnormal indivisible loads to use the motorway. This power is contained in Section 12 of the Special Roads Act, 1949. This empowers the Minister by regulations to authorise, or enable some other specified authority, such as the police, to authorise the use of a motorway on occasion or in emergency by traffic other than that traffic authorised to use it by the scheme under which it is built. In other words, the Minister may, by regulations, under Section 12, on occasion or in emergency, permit, a motorway to be used by any class of traffic he thinks fit. It is this power which the Minister will use to authorise the occasional and experimental use of the Preston By-pass by abnormal indivisible loads.

The regulation in question will be one of several which the Minister will make under Section 12 in order to regulate the manner in which, and the conditions subject to which, the motorway may be used by the class of vehicles permitted to use it.


I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but have the Law Officers given their view as to whether the words "on occasion" cover a week? Has the Minister still the power—I am all for his having this power if he is going to experiment—to open the roads for a whole week under the words "on occasion"?


I am instructed that my right honourable friend is assured that he has the necessary power to conduct these experiments. My noble friend Lord Derwent will realise that I cannot possibly from this Dispatch Box give him any information on what the Law Officers have said or what the Law Officers have not said; but I understand that my right honourable friend has this power. I can assure him also that the arrangements we propose to make to give effect to this power are being very carefully considered. Also, of course, the Preston Borough Council, the Lancashire County Council, the police and others have to be consulted. The Government do not propose to take final decisions, until all these authorities have been consulted. The ultimate arrangements will, I think, be given ample publicity, both in the normal way and through the representative organisations of interested trades.

I come back to the original point, that this is an experiment. It may be that this road is not an ideal road on which to conduct an experiment, because at the moment it has only a two-way and not a three-way lane. The bridges and the the other engineering aspects have all been drawn up with a view to its eventually having three lanes each way. That will certainly be necessary when the two roads into which it leads at each end also become three-lane roads, but they are not so at the moment, and therefore it is not quite so necessary as it will be later. There is no point in carrying out this experiment on the Western Avenue or on the Great West Road, which have houses on them and roads leading into them, and the rest.

I will make another suggestion to your Lordships if I may. We are now about to go away for three months' well earned holiday. I hope that some of your Lordships will take your holidays in the neighbourhood of the Preston By-pass—


Not on your life!


—preferably sandwiched between the largest possible trailer and a quantity of nuclear reactors, and then I hope your Lordships will come back after the holidays and report what you have found. I hope your Lordships will be still alive to tell the tale, and I hope that I shall still be in a position to hear it.


My Lords, before the noble Lord finally resumes his seat, would he mind answering the question I put to him? Why is an exception being made in the case of the car and trailer, which is the only vehicle allowed to use this by-pass that is to be subject to a speed limit of 40 m.p.h.?


Yes. I am sorry I did not deal with that point earlier. There is the difference between the two sorts of traffic. There is no speed restriction on the ordinary commercial trailer which has four wheels and hydraulic brakes, but there is a restriction on the kind of trailer which has two wheels and on the four-wheeled close-coupled trailer. The great majority of that class of trailer have only what are called "over-run brakes". I think some of your Lordships will bear me out that, at a speed of 40 m.p.h. the tail ends of such trailers start to swing in a dangerous way. That is why, in those particular cases, a limit is imposed.


I quite agree that, with an inexperienced driver at the wheel, a very light trailer is dangerous even below that speed. What I am surprised at is that the Minister has not put that into the category to be taken off that particular road altogether.


From what I know of those who drive trailers carrying their yachts behind them, they drive them as if they were untold gold.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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