§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Debate continued.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, it is with some difficulty that one resumes making a speech. I propose to be very brief. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, would agree that there are two regulations 343 which govern the question of the loading of vehicles, Regulations 68 and 73. So far as 68 is concerned, that is mainly to protect roads and bridges, and it is the only one under which the police, with the approval of highway authorities, can weigh a vehicle to see whether it contravenes a regulation. Regulation 73 is the one dealing with dangerous loads and it is the one, I think, which gives most of us concern. It is not possible now, as I understand it, unless there is an accident, for a load to be weighed by the police. I wonder whether the Minister would consider strengthening the position of this Regulation to such an extent that the police, if they believed a load to be too heavy and dangerous, could weigh it.
I put only one further point to the noble Lord, Lord Chesham. There is some possibility, I understand, of a new regulation to increase the overall size and weight of commerical vehicles in this country. I would ask the Minister whether he would agree that, if and when that regulation is presented, the Government will include in it a clause dealing with the speed limit, so that we can discuss not only the wisdom of increasing the size of the vehicle and the weight of the vehicle but also the relevant speed limit.
In conclusion, may I say that I am very glad the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, is to take part in this debate. He is the Chairman of the Road Haulage Federation. I believe that if the haulage industry will recognise some of the defects in its organisation, particularly those points on which I have spent a good deal of time (I apologise to the House for doing so), they themselves could do a great deal voluntarily to improve the situation, and I am sure the Government would welcome the co-operation of the industry. Equally, they could do a good deal to stop the present abuse, the contravention of the law relating to records and the hours worked by drivers. I see from the Report that there were 13,000 convictions last year for contraventions of these very important speed requirements in our legislation. I hope that the Government, if they receive approval of these Regulations this afternoon, will promise the House very speedy treatment on the question of raising the standard of maintenance 344 of the vehicles and speedy treatment of the weights that are carried by the vehicles. I think we are taking a very big step. I hope there will be no dire consequences from it. I have a lot of faith in the drivers; I think their skill does a lot to prevent accidents. But I do believe that we must look at these two important factors if we are to reduce in any way the appalling loss of life on our roads to-day.
§ 4.19 p.m.
THE EARL OF GOSFORD
My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for not being present when he first referred to me. I am grateful to him for referring to me, but I should like to point out to him that I am Chairman of the Road Federation and not the Road Haulage Federation. Nevertheless, my own Federation will naturally do all it can, and has done in the past under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, to take all steps possible to promote the safety of all who use the roads.
I rise in support of my noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who, in his usual sound, sensible and concise manner, described these Regulations. I am glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, opposite that those noble Lords do not propose to oppose them. These proposals continue the very logical attitude which was adopted six years ago when the speed of goods vehicles was raised from 20 m.p.h. to 30 m.p.h. My main concern in considering these proposals is that they should not add in any way to road accidents. There was no dramatic or tragic increase in road accidents because of the previous rise. The Road Research Laboratory carried out full investigations and found—I am using their own words:no clear indication that the change had had any effect on the number of accidents per vehicle on the road.It is too easy, when discussing road traffic matters which closely concern safety, to become perhaps a little overheated, to blame one section of the community or another, and perhaps to exaggerate in bringing examples to mind; but perhaps one could be excused for expressing in strong words one's feelings on a subject such as road safety. One can rightly be criticised if one forgets the facts, or if the facts are 345 manufactured, as I have said, out of thin air.
None of your Lordships would wish to approve any measure which might increase the danger to road safety. As I have already said, this Order does not. To my mind, the provisions are nothing but rational and desirable, nothing but a reflection of technical progress; and, as my noble friend Lord Chesham said, they are realistic. The law must keep abreast of progress or it becomes empty of meaning and is transgressed. And it is particularly easy for regulations concerning motor usage to lose touch with reality, so rapid are the technical advances in vehicle manufacture. Braking capabilities, to take only one example—the one which is most relevant to road safety—have increased enormously in a few years.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, mentioned that it would be dangerous for some types of vehicle to travel at the higher speeds given in these regulations. But, unless I am under a misapprehension, there is no obligation on drivers of vehicles to drive at the upper limit; and professional lorry drivers, who are a sound race of men, are just as anxious for their own safety as is any other responsible citizen. I am sure that the time has come, as it came in 1957, to amend this particular law and to bring vehicle speed limits into line with common sense. The kind of thing which I have in mind in saying that these new Regulations will add to road safety is, for instance, the improvement they will effect in traffic flow. Overtaking hazards will certainly be reduced, and the dangerous frustration which drivers feel when they find themselves behind a lorry which is not allowed to go at a speed greater than 30 m.p.h., will surely now be reduced. This sort of frustration has caused far too many accidents in the past.
I should now like to turn briefly to the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and to refer to the report of the licensing authorities, to which the noble Lord has drawn our attention. I am unable to find any breakdown in the report which shows the reasons for prohibitions, and it is perhaps a fair assumption that only in the face of immediate prohibitions were the faults serious. Even in these cases it does not 346 appear to be possible to say what bearing the faults might have on road safety. A number of them were, no doubt, quite technical breaches of the Regulations. As the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, mentioned, the total number of vehicles examined in the year 1960–61 constituted around 8 per cent. of the total number of goods vehicles on the roads. Although that seems to be a small percentage, we must remember that the inspectors will select for examination only those vehicles which look as if they require attention; they will hardly waste their time on checking vehicles that look reasonably new, and therefore faultless.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, also mentioned that in the September quarter of 1961 there was a total of just under one and a half million goods vehicles registered, yet there were more than that number of new registrations in the years from 1953 to 1961 inclusive. From this, it would probably be fair to say that in 1961 the average age of goods vehicles was well under four years, and therefore old goods vehicles are but a small proportion of the whole. It is interesting to note that in the West Midlands licensing area, as in a number of others, voluntary action has been taken by the road haulage industry, in conjunction with the licensing authorities, to establish vehicle maintenance committees. This action helped to bring about a 17 per cent. decrease in the number of prohibitions, and this in spite of a considerable increase in the number of the vehicles examined.
Before concluding, I should like to return briefly to the safety regulations. I have not so far touched upon that other excellent reason for accepting the proposals before us—namely, their effect on industrial activity. The retention of any unnecessary restrictions resulting in longer journey times for road transport must handicap industry, and to do that now is the last thing that any of us wants. I do not suggest that there will be as rapid an increase in transport productivity as there was after the previous raising of the speed limit in 1957; the average speed maintained by goods vehicles does not rise in proportion to the maximum speed permitted. Nevertheless, there will certainly be an increase, and this is all to the good. When one considers all the benefits which these proposals could bring, I am sure your 347 Lordships will agree that we should give these Regulations our whole-hearted support, and that we should congratulate the Government and my noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary for putting them forward.
§ 4.29 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CHESTER
My Lords, no one in this House will wish to cross swords with the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, on the statement which he has made, that from time to time it is necessary to examine the situation regarding speed limits in this country. With the improvement in design of motor cars and the improvement of the roads, obviously, from time to time we must consider whether some of the speed limits that have existed, possibly for some years, are now out of date. Nevertheless, I cannot feel that the fact that car design is better, or that roads are safer, is necessarily a reason for raising the speed limit. There are many other factors involved, and one has to take the overall picture of the situation before so serious an action as raising speed limits is taken.
For instance, while it may be easy to justify the raising of the speed limit for a number of categories of traffic, to put them together, as is done in these Regulations, thus suggesting, possibly unwittingly, that it is therefore all right for people to drive faster than they have done in the past, may lead to misunderstanding. I readily accept that it may not be the intention in raising speed limits; yet that may well be the interpretation which is put upon the Regulations by those who do not take full consideration of what they entail.
My Lords, I am not one of those who believe that speed is necessarily dangerous in itself, for there are circumstances in which accidents can be avoided because one is able to drive a little faster. That is certainly true where the driver is a person of skill and experience. Nevertheless, there is no doubt whatever that when an accident takes place speed greatly aggravates the consequences. Therefore, one ought to be very careful indeed about giving any impression that faster driving is tolerable, unless every safeguard has been examined.
For that reason I find it very difficult to accept the argument advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, and the noble 348 Earl, Lord Gosford: that because people have been habitually breaking the law and driving too fast, therefore it is necessary to bring the law up to date and allow them to go on driving in that way.
THE EARL OF GOSFORD
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord Bishop—and I apologise for doing so—I certainly had no intention of taking that line of thought at all.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CHESTER
I am sorry if I misunderstood the point which the noble Earl made.
I would go on to add that I have examined this new Schedule very carefully, and it seems to me that a good many of the adjustments which have been made are normal and reasonable. There is, however, one category which gives me grave cause for concern, and I hope that the Government will give it further consideration; that is, the wholesale uplifting of the speed limit for all classes of commercial vehicles from 30 to 40 m.p.h. It seems to me illogical, first of all, to make no differentiation between the types of commercial vehicle. I readily admit that there are some commercial vehicles—small, light vehicles—for which the 40 m.p.h. speed limit may not necessarily be undesirable, but I cannot accept that the raising of the speed limit for these great heavy vehicles which crowd upon our roads at the present time from 30 to 40 m.p.h. is desirable.
It seems to me that there are a number of reasons why this is dangerous action. First of all, there is the question of fatigue. I am not arguing that it is necessarily more tiring to drive one of these vehicles at 40 rather than 30 m.p.h. Nevertheless, these drivers do have very long periods of driving, and I cannot believe that towards the end of a long period a man's judgment is not in some way impaired, and that the consequences of an error of judgment will not be worse if he is driving faster rather than slower.
On the question of overtaking, the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, advanced the argument, which I fully appreciate, that if lorries are encouraged to go at 40 m.p.h. that will avoid impatience and irritation on the part of those who are sitting behind the slower vehicles and who try to pass, possibly when they should not do so. But there seems to me 349 to be a contrary argument which is equally valid; that is, that if a lorry is going at 40 m.p.h., to pass it a car has to go at at least 50 m.p.h.. It may be on a narrow road, and we all know that passing on roads which are not absolutely clear and wide can be an extremely dangerous operation. If an accident takes place, because the speeds are accelerated, the consequences are even worse.
My Lords, my main reason for feeling anxious about this matter is the sheer fact of having these huge juggernauts on the road driving at this speed. I can speak from a good deal of personal experience, because in the county in which I live, and across which I spend much of my time driving, there are the roads going to the great industrial centres Of the North, and to Manchester, Liverpool and Birkenhead docks. Many of our roads are comparatively narrow, and I have had experience of driving on these roads in company with such great vehicles. I should be the first to recognise the skill and the courtesy of the drivers of lorries; they have much to teach the ordinary driver in matters of courtesy; of giving signals when it is safe to pass, and so on. But I have also had experience of driving in a mist or at night, when one suddenly meets a stream of these huge lorries looming out of the dark. It is a very frightening, serious experience from the point of view of speed. I feel that there is every reason to restrict the speed of these great lorries to 30 m.p.h.
The noble Earl, Lord Gosford, quoted figures for his statement that when the last uplifting of the speed limit took place there were no evil consequences. I know that statistics can be made to prove almost anything and that it is most dangerous to argue from them. I can only say to the House, in contradistinction to what the noble Earl has said, that in the eight months following the last raising of the speed limit the figures in regard to persons involved in accidents rose from 6,922 to 7,500, a rise of almost 600; and that between 1958 and 1961 there has been a rise of nearly 4,500 personal injury accidents involving heavy goods vehicles.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, will the right reverend Prelate allow me to interrupt? In fairness to the noble Earl, I must point out that he did not quote any figures. I wish he had done so 350 because we should then have known the source of his statement that there had not been an increase in accidents. In fact there was, and the figures prove it, as the right reverend Prelate has just read out.
THE EARL OF GOSFORD
My Lords, I merely read out an extract from the Road Research Laboratory Report, which gave no figures but said that there was no indication that there had been an increase. May I ask the right reverend Prelate whether he can give the percentage of increase of goods traffic on the roads which goes with those figures?
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl to give a reference to the Road Research Laboratory Report from which he has just quoted?
THE LORD BISHOP OF CHESTER
My Lords, I am sorry if I appeared to misrepresent the noble Earl in any way. I am afraid I cannot give the percentage. That is why I stressed that I fully appreciated that figures by themselves were dangerous things to use, though I felt that they indicated a rather different nuance of approach from that which the noble Earl had given us.
My Lords, I do not think I need do more than simply remind your Lord ships of something of which we are all so deeply conscious: the deplorable state of the roads as regards accidents, and, therefore, the need to take the greatest care before doing anything that would give any suggestion that we were letting up on the restrictions which ought to be observed on the roads. I therefore very much hope that the Minister will be prepared to have another look at this question, and possibly to reconsider certain aspects of the Schedule to the Regulations.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the Government, if I may, on making it possible—as apparently one can in your Lordships' House—to have a discussion on these Regulations in conjunction with a Motion such as has been put on the Order Paper by my noble friend, Lord Shepherd. In dealing with new Regulations such as 351 these, which carry the implication made by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, that they are likely to be observed, one ought to look at them in relation to how existing rules and regulations, Road Traffic Acts and the rest are observed. It is generally accepted among lorry drivers and many car drivers, whether rightly or wrongly, that chief constables, who are the authorising authorities for prosecutions, do not authorise prosecutions unless the person was exceeding the speed limit by more than 5 m.p.h. Those of us who sit in petty sessional courts notice that from the speeds quoted by police constables when they have been following vehicles the drivers of which have been prosecuted for exceeding the speed limit. Therefore, let us face the fact that what is the legal limit, or at least the limit below which prosecutions will not take place, is almost 45 m.p.h. and not 40 m.p.h.
The noble Earl, Lord Gosford, said that there was no requirement on the part of the driver to drive to the maximum. I agree there is not, except that his employer requires that he should. Every operator carrying on a long-distance operation prepares a schedule for his driver. It is the correct thing to do from the point of view of a successful operator, for he knows that the driver will be at a particular point at a particular time. He knows where he can get in touch with him, even to the cafés which are in use by the driver. The schedule of operation which the driver has to maintain is worked out at the maximum speed limit, which at the moment is 30 m.p.h. and will be 40 m.p.h. Of course, those of us associated with the transport industry know that much of the exceeding of speed limits is in order that the driver can get a little extra time at the café at which he is going to call.
I intend to be perhaps a little critical, but I want to make it quite clear, as did my noble friend, Lord Shepherd, that I am not being critical of the best type of operator. There are operators within the road haulage industry, the larger firms and, of course, British Road Services, who are operating their vehicles safely and whose standard of maintenance is exceedingly high. In fact, they run workshops and employ mechanics of a standard which enables their fleet to 352 be first-class in roadworthiness. They, in fact, prepare their schedules in order that the driver does not exceed speed limits. They enforce the maintenance of the log book so that the driver does not work excessive hours, and they maintain a good standard of maintenance.
But let us face the facts. In spite of what the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, said in regard to the prohibitions, and especially in regard to the immediate prohibition being the only one that is serious, that really is not so. The fact is that over a very wide field of road-haulage operations every phase of the Road Traffic Acts is flouted daily on every type of licence. Whether it is an A, B or C licence, the conditions of the licence are being flouted. One has only to look at the report of the traffic inspectors to see that that is so.
The noble Earl, Lord Gosford, made reference to the fact that these were only a proportion, and that, obviously, inspectors did not inspect vehicles which appeared to be maintained to a good standard. I can understand that. After all, I have been associated also with the working of the Factories Acts, and what does a factories inspector do? There are all too few factory inspectors within the Ministry of Labour, and the inspector knows the employer who complies with, and is very often in advance of, legislation so far as the working of the Factories Acts is concerned. So he concentrates his efforts on what in the industry are termed "rat shops", and the better class of employer is never visited. That is true so far as Ministry of Transport inspectors are concerned. They are so few on the ground, they have so much to do, that as sensible men they confine themselves to cases where they think there is the greatest possibility of evasion of the law. That means that there is a wide range of vehicles, belonging to the good operators to whom I have referred, which are never investigated. That does not in any way alter the fact that there ought to be more inspectors and more inspections of vehicles.
The standard of maintenance of vehicles is shockingly low. It is not unfair to say that, over a vast field of road haulage operations, maintenance is done on a shoestring. What is the problem? The vehicles of many of the 353 small operators are obtained on hire purchase; there is pressure from the finance companies, who finance their purchase, for the maintenance of the hire purchase payments. Within the field of transport, unfortunately, there are also middlemen who are taking the profit out of the rates for a job. They get a transport job of one form or another, but they themselves have no vehicles; therefore, when they have obtained a contract they turn round the corner, trying to find an odd man with a vehicle or two, in order to carry out the work. They cut the rates, but the man operating on cut rates has pressure to maintain his hire purchase payments when he is in difficulty. Sometimes on contract work the operator has to wait some time for his money, and the banks are not easy when the Government say that they should not be easy. Therefore, when there is financial pressure the first thing that goes with many of these operators is the standard of maintenance. It is not unfair to say, as one inspector does in the report, that some operators look upon a vehicle as roadworthy if the engine will start and the vehicle will move.
The other point is hours of work. Again over a wide field of operation within the road-haulage industry there is flagrant abuse of the log book. Log books are falsified every day of the week, and, unfortunately—I have to admit it—there is almost an unholy conspiracy between the employer and the employee. Maintaining the statutory hours under the Road Traffic Act means, of course, a limitation on wages. Therefore, in order to get enhanced wages the lorry driver works in league with the employer so that the log books are falsified.
The right reverend Prelate made reference to whether there is a difference between the fatigue arising from driving at 30 m.p.h., and driving at 40 m.p.h. Let us say this quite frankly: that if one is driving a heavy lorry for excessive periods of time, the reaction of the driver is not as quick at the end of the day as it is at the beginning; and the longer the hours the greater is the likely frequency of accidents and also the severity of accidents. Therefore, enforcement of the existing Road Traffic Act is one of the most vital factors in road safety in this country. There is the other point, too, of overloading. It 354 is stated within the industry that, outside the large-scale road-haulage contractors, nine vehicles out of ten are overloaded at some stage or other; and, of course, that overloading and unsafe loading is very great indeed.
Now I want to turn to another and most important field where lorries are affected by these Regulations. I refer to the vehicles operating in association with civil engineering. Here I should say that I am not a civil engineer. Nine-tenths of the lorries engaged are operated under piece-work arrangements. Therefore there is an inducement to the lorry driver to speed. After all, the more journeys he makes the greater tonnage he carries and the greater his pay packet at the end of the day. Not only is there a violation of working hours but there is an encouragement of the violation of speed limits, and there is also an encouragement of and the winking at the overloading of vehicles. One may say that the standard of maintenance of road-haulage vehicles over a wide field is poor, or not of a high standard; and we all know that, so far as those engaged in civil engineering are concerned, because of their difficulties in going on to sites, backing in and out, and so on, mudguards, number plates, rear lights and the rest "go for a Burton". As a result, the standard of such a lorry, on the basis of its appearance and effectiveness, is very low indeed. I doubt very much whether there is one noble Lord in the House at the moment who, when he has come up behind them, has not cursed sand-and-gravel lorries or rubble lorries for being deficient of mudguards, as a result of which one's windscreen and everything else suffer badly.
Therefore, my Lords, we ought to look at these Regulations not only on the basis of the better type of firm who will observe them and who will do their best to see that their employees observe them to the letter, but also on the basis that, in this road-haulage industry, there is a "free for all" over a very wide field, which creates the possibility of danger as well; and that those whose standard of maintenance, hours of work and loading are bad are given rights under these Regulations equal to those given to the good operators. Therefore there is an obligation upon the Government to see that these Regulations are 355 given only to an industry which really starts out with the intention of carrying them out.
If we are going to have these Regulations and the general Regulations under the Road Traffic Act honourably observed, then there are only two ways of dealing with the industry: either large-scale monopolisation or nationalisation. The present "free for all", with large numbers of independent operators, just means chaos within the industry, which in turn means that we cannot get regulation of or safety for the people who work in it. Therefore, my Lords, I should like to suggest, in the interests of the road-haulage industry itself, and in the interests of the best operators within that industry, that the Government ought to set up an inquiry into the operation of the industry—and not only into the operation of the industry as an industry, but also into the cost of that industry to the nation.
We hear a lot about the £150 million deficit so far as the railways are concerned. Perhaps I ought here to declare, not an interest, but a bias, as an ex-railwayman. I certainly have a greater affection for the railways than for road haulage; and I would agree that instead of using road services there ought to be a greater use of the railways than there is at the moment. On the question of the cost to the nation, the subsidy to the road haulage industry is more than ten times the £150 million to the railways, when one looks at it on the basis of the provision of the permanent way, the cost of accident services, fire and police, special loads and so on—and especially if one looks at the cost over the recent weeks. This winter the county councils and county boroughs have spent millions of pounds of the taxpayers' and of the local ratepayers' money in order to keep the roads free from snow as best they could for road haulage. The road haulage industry has contributed nothing. It has cost British Railways many hundreds of thousands of pounds, but that cost of snow-clearing to the railways has not been a cost on the taxpayer directly: it has been a cost to British Railways, and will be included within a deficiency. Although it may be outside the scope of this debate, I wonder whether the noble Lord, when he comes to reply, will tell us what is 356 the cost to the road transport industry of snow-clearing during the recent bad weather.
My Lords, I would conclude by urging that the Government should look at the question of the operation of the industry. I agree that, in terms of the best operators, who maintain their vehicles well, who maintain a high standard of driver and who give every facility for that driver to conform to the law, it is just foolish to keep them to speeds that were in operation 30 to 40 years ago. Given observation of the law, then these Regulations are good; but in an industry where there is flagrant flouting of the law those who flout it ought to be controlled much more than they are. One method of doing that is by making an increase in the inspectorate of the Ministry of Transport, who have an unsavoury job to do.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him a question about something he said, which rather confused me? I think he said that the tendency in the civil engineering industry was to overload lorries. When I was in the civil engineering industry we used to buy sand and gravel and aggregate by the cubic yard, and the cubic yard was measured by the cubic capacity of the lorry. The tendency was for the lorry never to be full enough, not to be overloaded. Perhaps the noble Lord could explain that point.
§ LORD LINDGREN
There are two things. Work is often awkward in the civil engineering industry, particularly on works paid for by the Ministry of Transport, and particularly road-making. Contracts for tipping lorries, for instance, are let to persons who do not possess a tipper at all. A third party comes in, tenders for the contract, gets the contract and then starts to look around for people who have a tipper that can be used. He then sub-lets to these people. They get a cut rate because the middleman has taken a rake-off, and they are in business. Moreover, the drivers are on piecework of tonnage and number of loads a day. If, by piling up to a peak on top of a lorry, they can get on an extra ton—and they can—then there is an agreement or a tendency for both the driver and the contractor to do it. In some cases on the civil engineering side the contractor or sub-contractor is the lorry-owner as well, but sometimes, of course, 357 it is an employee. There is an overloading of lorries, so far as sand and ballast are concerned. There is a great deal of difference between a wet weight and a dry weight. If you get wet sand on a lorry, it can add a considerable amount to the tonnage and to the weight on the springs.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester I wish to say a few words of regret and protest at the proposal in these variations of orders to raise the speed limit on goods vehicles—undifferentiated, lumped together—from 30 to 40 m.p.h, But after nearly 30 years of arguing with successive Ministers of Transport on this sort of subject, I realise that it is a mere waste of breath to plead with the Minister when he is in his present mood. I say "his present mood", because it seems to be one of the mysteries of abnormal psychology that, no sooner has an honourable or right honourable Member become Minister of Transport than he develops a most virulent attack of schizophrenia.
In one half, the "Jekyll" half, of his split personality he is acutely conscious of his primary duty of saving life; and then, like Mr. Hore-Belisha, he will declare that it is speed that kills; or, like Mr. Marples, he will clap a speed limit on particularly dangerous stretches of roads over Bank Holiday weekends. But when the other half, what I would call the "Hyde" half, of his personality takes over he can think of nothing but traffic jams and five-mile car queues, and of his over-mastering duty to keep traffic moving faster. I am sure we all have some sympathy with "Mr. Hyde" in that mood.
I myself certainly cannot forget that I have had the privilege of driving cars since before the First World War. Like many others of your Lordships, I have had the privilege of driving cars on British roads when the motorist had the road more or less to himself. And one does sympathise with the tribulations and frustrations of the contemporary car owner in his millions, and therefore to some extent with the "Hyde" moods of the Minister of Transport. Nevertheless, with an annual casualty list of 300,000, it cannot be right for the Minister to take steps which I believe can be shown to be more than likely, to be almost certain, 358 to increase the totals of deaths and injuries.
In his "Jekyll" mood the Minister of course knows very well, because it has been reported by the Road Research Laboratory, that it is only the best 10 per cent. of cars which are capable of stopping within the distance given in the Highway Code. And whereas the best 10 per cent., travelling at 40 m.p.h. can stop in 120 feet there are many cars—one might almost say most cars—and drivers who require twice that distance to stop: while even the best 10 per cent. require twice that distance on a wet surface.
In his "Jekyll" mood the Minister will be constantly conscious that the Highway Code states that vehicles other than private cars may need twice the distance to pull up on dry roads. But in his "Hyde" mood the Minister is all too ready to forget these considerations and to make the plausible but sophistical and, I think, threadbare plea which we have often heard in this House (but not, I am glad to say, this evening), that it is not speed that matters but speed in the wrong place and at the wrong time. Of course, taken literally and strictly, that is perfectly true—indeed it is a platitude. What you have said is that when speed is not wrong it is right. But it is the latent implications and the inferences which are constantly drawn from that platitude that are entirely false. When you say speed is dangerous only at the wrong place and at the wrong time you should add that a driver can almost never be certain that what he is assuming to be the right place and the right time will not, suddenly and disastrously, prove to be very much the wrong place and the wrong time. A lorry is proceeding at 40 m.p.h. in apparently safe conditions. Suddenly a child 30 yards ahead falls off his bicycle, or a car emerges from a turning, or some idiot cuts in and overtakes an oncoming car. If that happens, the lorry driver will need to stop in a very much shorter distance than 80 yards if he is to avoid infanticide or a head-on crash. Of course the Minister knows this. His experts are presumably feeding him with truisms of this kind every day.
He knows that Mr. Newby, of the Road Research Laboratory, addressing the 359 Traffic Engineering Group of the Institute of Civil Engineers stated—and here I come into conflict with the mysterious attribution to the Road Research Laboratory by the noble Earl, Lord Gosford—that if the speed limit were raised then accidents would be almost certain to increase, and had increased in all the cases studied. The Minister will know—what the right reverend Prelate reminded the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, of just now—that in the eight months immediately following the raising in 1957 of the speed limit on heavy vehicles from 20 to 30 m.p.h., the accidents to such vehicles involving personal injuries rose from 6,922 to 7,500 and have been rising annually ever since—from 12,917 in 1958 to 16,396 in 1961. It is said that statistics can prove anything, but here the noble Earl and I have both quoted from the same source, the Road Research Laboratory, and presumably one or the other of us is wrong. I hope and think that it is not me.
THE EARL OF GOSFORD
My Lords, will the noble Lord permit me to interrupt him? As I said to the right reverend Prelate, I am sure that those figures would be much more realistic if they were given as percentages of the number of vehicles on the road. The fact that the actual number of accidents increases does not mean that the accident rate is increasing.
§ LORD STONHAM
Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will permit me to say that if he will refer to page 3 of the document he is looking at he will see that from 1945 to 1953, where the 30 m.p.h. speed limit was imposed on various sites, there was a reduction of 10 per cent., and in the same eight years when the speed limit was removed there was an increase of 45 per cent. in accidents. This is a comparable period.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, the Minister no doubt also knows—and I think that this is relevant to what we have just been talking about—that in the Ministry of Transport returns for 1961, we find that a goods vehicle is involved in every fifth accident which involves death or serious injury; and that last September, in a Press release by the 360 Ministry, it was announced that the largest proportion of increase in casualties, 11 per cent., had occurred among drivers and passengers of goods vehicles, the vehicles themselves having increased over the same period by only 1 per cent.
The Minister knows well enough all the facts about the unsatisfactory maintenance of many of these vehicles whose speed is to be increased, of which we have been reminded by both the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren. But when what is uppermost in the mind of the Minister is the need to keep traffic on the move, all such considerations, one cannot help feeling, will be ignored. I cannot help picturing experts summoned to the Ministerial sanctum pausing before they knock on the door, wondering whether it is going to be Jekyll or Hyde who answers. For if it is Hyde, the kind of facts and arguments which would have been welcome enough to Jekyll, will be given extremely short shrift. It is said that there was a particularly dictatorial head of an Oxford college, in the days when it was still possible for the head of an Oxford college to be dictatorial, who was presiding over his governing body during a long and heated debate. At the end of the debate, everyone present voted for the Motion except the head of the college, who alone voted against it. He then said, "Well, gentlemen, we seem to have reached a deadlock". I cannot think that under such circumstances the Minister of Transport would be so defeatist.
I only wish that it were possible to delete this particular clause from the Orders, but obviously, under the circumstances, that is not possible. Deletion would be welcome to many of those who are most intimately concerned with driving on the roads. I do not think that anything has been said this evening of the fact that the Transport and General Workers' Union are against this variation, as are the Union of Road Transport Workers and, needless to say, the Cyclists' Touring Union and the Pedestrians' Association for Road Safety. All these bodies would welcome rejection of the Order, if only that were possible; and so, I cannot help thinking, when he reverts from Hyde to Jekyll, would the Minister himself.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, we are all indebted to my noble friend Lord Shepherd in that, with the willing co-operation of the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, we have had a somewhat wider debate than might otherwise have been the case and I think we have found that extremely useful. There is a tremendous temptation to quote statistics in debates of this kind. It is almost inevitable. I am going to try to get mine "off my chest" quickly, particularly because the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has dealt with some of the points on which otherwise I would have touched.
To compare like with like—and I think this really answers the point at issue at the present time—in the year 1961 there was an increase of nearly 50 per cent. in passenger car accidents on no-limit roads, as compared with accidents on roads where there was a speed limit, whereas the increase in goods vehicle accidents on no-limit roads was less than 30 per cent. I submit that that is wholly due to two reasons. The first is the better standard of driving and care by road vehicle operators and, secondly, the fact that there was a limit imposed on goods vehicles. I think that these are reasonable assumptions. My objection, and I think the objection of every noble Lord who has so far spoken, except the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, is to an increase in the speed limits under conditions where it has been shown beyond any dispute whatever that we are not yet ready for such an increase on any count. I regard this step as deplorable, irresponsible and likely to lead to disastrous results in the shape of increased road casualties and deaths.
There is no question whatsoever that when speed limits are raised or removed, there is an increase in the accident rate. The Road Research Laboratory has done a great deal of work on this and there is no reasonable shadow of doubt. The Road Research Laboratory says, in this document from which I am reading:The proportion of vehicles travelling faster than the limit was always considerably less after it came into operation than before. Conversely, where the speed limit had been raised from 30 to 40 m.p.h. on some main roads in the London area, the proportion of vehicles exceeding 40 m.p.h. rose from 9 to 14 per cent.The only argument which the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, put forward for 362 this Order which we are considering to-day was this: "The basic reason for raising the speed limits on goods vehicles is that the present ones are out-of-date. The police cannot enforce them because people will not respect a law they regard as unreasonable." If that argument is valid in this case, then it would be just as sound to suggest reducing the penalties for burglary, because, judging from my considerable correspondence from burglars, I assure your Lordships that they regard the present law as very unreasonable and they certainly do not respect it.
Here we have a situation where 85,000 people are seriously injured or killed on the roads every year, a great many unfortunately through goods vehicles, and we are told that the time is ripe, because of mechanical advances, to make progress, as the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, said, by saying to drivers of goods vehicles that they can now drive at 40 miles per hour. As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, all experience shows that people regard that as incitement to go further and, of course, they will go faster than 40 m.p.h.
My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth—he is very sorry, and I am very sorry, that he is not here to-day to take part in this debate—pointed out in a recent letter to The Times:In 1961, 41,700 drivers of commercial vehicles were convicted of speed-limit offences, and of these only 131 suffered any suspension of licence, a penalty generally accepted as the most effective deterrent to the committing of this offence.This is under present conditions—1961. Now we are increasing the speed limits. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, suggested that it would be easier for the police to detect offenders with a speed limit of 40 m.p.h. than if it were 30 m.p.h. I suggest that such submissions are quite untenable.
My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth in the same letter asked:How can Parliament will the increase in vehicle speeds and withhold the wherewithal to see that the limits they impose are effectively policed and enforced?That is one of the major points made by my noble friend Lord Shepherd. Lord Lucas of Chilworth went on in the letter:I am not opposed to the raising of the present limits so long as the safeguards I 363 have set out are accepted. If they are not, and the road traffic law is in the future to be treated with the contempt it has been in the past, any increase in vehicle speeds will put all road users at greater risk, the greatest falling upon the drivers of these vehicles themselves, who last year suffered an increase of 11 per cent. in their killed and seriously injured.The noble Earl, Lord Gosford, asked for a quotation of the percentages, and he wanted them currently. According to the most recent figure available, there has been an increase in percentage of 11 per cent.
We have had the good fortune to-day to be able to consider the Ministry of Transport's own Blue Book on this subject. My noble friend Lord Shepherd quoted some of the most important figures, and I am not going to repeat them. But I want to deal with a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, when he said, "Of course, the traffic examiners are not going to stop the new vehicles and look at them; they just stop and examine those which look somewhat rickety." I do not know whether the noble Earl has read the Report, but every traffic area refers to road checks as the most important means of deciding on defective vehicles—and with a road check they stop even the flashing new vehicles, as well as the old shambling ones. The Northern area reported road checks on 1,420 vehicles, with 627 prohibitions; that is to say, 44 per cent. of the vehicles stopped had to be prohibited. In some cases of prohibition the vehicle must be put right within ten days; but in about one-quarter of the prohibitions in every area the vehicles had to be taken off the road. In other words, they were a menace.
THE EARL OF GOSFORD
May I ask the noble Lord whether, by any chance, he has any statistics which would give the ages of the vehicles concerned?
§ LORD STONHAM
The point is that those vehicles are licensed and are being used on the roads; and I know of no regulation which orders an old vehicle off the road. If the noble Earl is suggesting that the Government should bring in a regulation to that effect, then I should no doubt support him. But I am dealing with conditions as they are and as they 364 are revealed in the Government's book. I have calculated that, taking the proportion of prohibitions out of the 8 per cent. of the vehicles checked, 400,000 goods vehicles using the road today are unfit to use the roads. In other words they are a menace in their present condition to anyone using the roads. I should have thought that the most important people to be considered in this matter are not the owners of commercial goods vehicles, who perhaps are going to make a bigger profit out of them, because they go faster and turn round more quickly, but the 50 million or so people who are using the roads. And it is their safety which is the most important factor.
We have had no word from the Government about how these speeds will affect the question of safety. We are told that a good driver who can drive faster will be able to avoid accidents. There is nothing in the speed limit regulations to stop you from accelerating to pass a vehicle if it is going to avoid an accident. I do not know whether or not I am a good driver. I have been driving a car now for 42 years—going back in time with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, to when we were almost lonely knights of the road—and I have never yet had an accident or a claim of substance on an insurance company; and I like on occasions to drive cars fast. But some of the present-day behaviour of these road vehicles is utterly intolerable. Last Tuesday I left your Lordships' House in my car, and going round Parliament Square was a heavy lorry "breathing down my neck". Your Lordships know that they keep snorting their accelerator, and you look up. I turned down Victoria Embankment, and he was there still on my tail. I looked at my speedometer, and I was doing 30 m.p.h. down the Embankment. I then pulled over and let him draw level, and I kept parallel with him as he went along. I gave it up when we were both doing 45 m.p.h,. and he went on to do 50 m.p.h. on the Victoria Embankment. There were several policemen about, but nobody stopped him. Every noble Lord in the House knows that this is going on all over the country all the time.
There was an article in the Observer on September 16 last by Gordon Wilkins, who said:Nothing I have ever written for the Observer has drawn such a response from 365 readers as my protest against the proposal to raise the speed limit for heavy lorries to 40 m.p.h. The great majority of letters have endorsed my view that our road system is not adequate for these higher speeds.The letters reflect the fear of people who travel the roads in small cars. 'My young son and I were chased at 50 m.p.h. by an unloaded brick lorry', writes a man from Cardiff. 'The driver appeared incensed when I tried to get away and was attempting to cruise about one yard behind me'.A mother writes from Northwood: 'What can the ordinary motorist do to make his views and fears felt? I shall soon be taking my two children by road from Northwood to Harrogate. It is not the distance or the other cars I shall be afraid of—it is the heavy ruthless lorries. A friend of mine was literally forced on the verge two years ago on this very journey. Her car was a write-off.'A doctor from Peterborough writes: Please go on stressing the dangers of these huge vehicles, subject to no tests, getting away with speeds and lighting deficiencies which would soon attract police attention if cars were concerned.'My Lords, I have had many letters from people all over the country, and here is one from Port Talbot:The traffic conditions on the A.48 in this area are absolutely criminal. I have been pressing the Ministry of Transport for the last three years to do something about it, and nothing has been done. Now, to make matters even worse, heavy traffic, including huge oil tankers from Llandarcy, are to be speeded up to 40 m.p.h. On the eastern side of this road, through Baglan, the footpath is only one and a half to two feet wide, and old people like myself living here are terrorised beyond measure, and many are unable to face it. Many of the vehicles are overloaded, and frequently heavy goods are hurled from speeding traffic on to the footpaths endangering the lives of pedestrians. Many fatal accidents have occurred, and this portion of the road is so notorious that it is now known as 'The murder mile'.The writer of that letter sent me a sample of the kind of stuff which flies off the lorries, as big as a man's head, to the infinite danger of people walking along the road. These are people who are moving about the country on their lawful, peaceful occasions; these are their feelings, and we all know that they are true.
I should be prepared, if a case were made by the Government, to agree that in certain conditions speed limits could be raised; but not when 400,000 of those vehicles are not fit to be on the road at any one time. This is not my opinion. This is in the Government's own document. I have never before read comments by civil servants so stringent 366 about their own Department as the comments in this book on the state of traffic. Just let me briefly read one or two of them. The Yorkshire Area reports:The tendency to regard offences against the Act and the Regulations as a normal hazard of the haulage industry appears to receive some measure of encouragement from the attitude of many lay magistrates who impose inadequate penalties.This is a civil servant writing. The North-Western Area reports:Thirty-seven per cent. of all vehicles inspected were issued with Prohibition Notices. … These figures suggest that there is room for considerable improvement in the condition of goods vehicles, and the desirability of inspecting a greater proportion of them.The West Midland Area reported a 60 per cent. increase in convictions in a year and a 30 per cent. increase in warning letters. It says:Perhaps those concerned will now read the writing on the wall as well as the letters.But the Government refuse to read their own writing—because this is Government writing about which we are speaking. The East Midland Area also says:Even taking into account the higher speed of operation on motorways, this would appear to be a deplorable state of affairs.
§ LORD STONHAM
The East Midland Area had a road check on the M.1. Out of 154 vehicles involved 56 were prohibited, and the report adds:Even taking into account the higher speed of operation of motorways, this would appear to be a deplorable state of affairs.I agree with that statement. But the noble Lord wants to speed up those vehicles.
§ LORD STONHAM
Well, to make it possible for them legally to be speeded up. The noble Lord declares that we want to raise the speed limit but that people do not have to travel faster. He might be asked the question: "Why raise the speed limit if they do not want to travel faster?"
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I must interrupt at this moment. The noble Lord must not use a quotation relating to a 367 road on which there is no limit for commercial vehicles, in support of his argument against raising the speed limit a certain amount on other roads. That is the only point I wanted to make.
§ LORD STONHAM
That is quite fair, but I did say it was on the M.1, with no speed limit. I quoted it in full. The point is that I was referring to the prohibitions. In other words, more than one-third of the vehicles involved in that road check were regarded as not fit to be on the road.
§ LORD STONHAM
But they are a bit over-heated, and not quite the same vehicles. They are more liable to accidents because they have come under strain. This is the point I want to put to the noble Lord. One-third of those vehicles which were tested were unfit to be on the road, and there is no suggestion whatever—and the noble Lord made none—that there are going to be more examiners, more enforcement officers, or any steps taken to ensure that these vehicles are more roadworthy before we increase the speed limit. I should have thought that, in the interests of safety, the first essential before we increase the speed limit is to see that sufficient steps are taken to make quite certain that the vehicles are more roadworthy and able to act properly in an emergency.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, quoted the figures of the distance needed to pull up, and that distance must be doubled in wet weather. With only one-tenth of the vehicles on the road able to brake in accordance with the requirements of the Highway Code—these are the conditions under which we are considering an increase in the speed limit.
I was giving some of these Civil Service comments. The South-Eastern Area reported that the steadily rising incidence of cases involving serious and flagrant breaches of the law indicates that there is a great deal of room for improvement in the haulage industry generally. This is not a politician making a statement; it is a civil servant making a statement to his own Department. That 368 is why I am suggesting that it is not so much the road hauliers who want to read the writing on the wall as the Ministry of Transport who want to read their own writing, and then perhaps we should get better results.
I am concerned with the question of enforcement. With the present 30 m.p.h. limit many of these vehicles, as we know, travel at 50 and 60 m.p.h. I quoted one which I followed last week, on the Victoria Embankment doing 50 m.p.h. It was a heavy, old, chemical lorry, a tanker, probably containing dangerous or corrosive fluids. There are many such going about the country which can be involved in serious accidents. I would ask how this Order is going to be enforced? If you read the Order, it lists 29 different classes of vehicles each with its own speed limit. There are five different speed limits, ranging from 5 m.p.h. to 40 m.p.h. I would say that it is impossible, with the best will in the world, for the police to be familiar with all the types of vehicles to which the different maximum speed regulations apply; they just cannot do it. There are no discs or indications on those vehicles as to what maximum speed limit should be applicable to them. They were abolished some time ago.
I know the noble Lord has told us that his right honourable friend, who is considering the question of overloading, has now set up a departmental committee to work out a scheme to fix maximum permitted loads. That is another good thing, and I suppose that in two or three years' time we shall get the report from the committee and something will perhaps be done about that. Meanwhile, we are having this increase of speed limits with no indication on the vehicles as to what the permitted speed limit is, and no indication as to how it should be loaded, or if it is overloaded.
My noble friend Lord Shepherd has pointed out the very limited circumstances in which the police can get a van examined. We have heard nothing about the damage to road surfaces. We see on the television the potholes on the M.1, although we are spending another £1½ million on it. There is the extra damage to road surfaces caused by these extra speeds. A four-ton lorry of unladen weight taking on six tons, making an overall ten tons, can travel all over the country for just less than 369 £1 a week vehicle licence. This book says that the average mileage done by a four-ton vehicle is 20,000 miles a year. There are 245,000 lorries of over three tons, so they are travelling, according to the book, 5,000 million miles a year, and they pay only £17 million a year between them in road licences: less than a penny a mile for the use of the roads all over the country in payment for the damage that they do. They are going to do far mare damage if they travel at faster speeds. And remember, my Lords, we are considering the possibility of bigger lorries. The 10-ton lorry does to the road surface sixty times more damage that a 1-ton lorry, and the faster they travel the more damage they do.
I would ask the noble Lord, therefore, if he will ask his right honourable friend to consider the possibility of having graded speed limits according to the size and weight of vehicles and to the loads they are carrying. It is surely indefensible to have, as we have in this Order, the same speed limit for a Minibus as for an 8-wheeler with 24 tons all-up weight. That is what this Order allows: 40 m.p.h. for a Minibus and 40 m.p.h. for an 8-wheeler which can have 24 tons all-up weight. When it is travelling at 40 m.p.h. how quickly can it stop? And if it cannot stop there is going to be a serious accident. With the overloading and very poor standards of maintenance which are so prevalent, it is impossible for many lorries travelling at high speeds to stop in a reasonable space.
I think, therefore, that before the Government increase the speed limits we should have sufficient examiners to make sure that the vehicles are roadworthy, because, as my noble friend Lord Shepherd said, if we can have examination of 25 per cent. of vehicles that would be enough to ensure that the other road users would see that their vehicles were kept in order. We must by Statute limit loads well within the compass of the vehicle. At the present time an operator can buy a 4-wheel lorry built to carry 7 tons; he can add a third axle and run it at an all-up weight of 20 tons though the chassis, brakes, steering and tyres are designed to cope with only 11 tons.
I feel that the Government should withdraw this Order. I know that we 370 are not voting against the Order as such, but we are also considering the Motion moved by my noble friend. I think the facts are so much against it that the Government should withdraw the Order because these proposed speed limits are not realistic in prevailing mechanical and traffic conditions. I know that the noble Lord regards them as justification for the higher speed limits, but in my view they provide the very reason why, under present conditions, we should not have the higher limits. I think that, before we increase the limits, immediate steps should be taken to enforce the present speed limit; that we should restore the use of discs on vehicles to indicate their permitted speed; that we should step up police action and prosecutions for infringement. We should also increase the number of examiners to double or treble the road checks, and get the faulty lorries off the road and end the exploitation of drivers through their working excessive hours.
My noble friend Lord Lindgren mentioned that, and also the fact that chaps had to be in league with their employers to work overtime so that they got a decent wage. I should have thought the answer to that would be to give the men a decent basic wage so that they do not have to do excessive overtime and break the law to live. I think that we should limit the weight and loads and not increase the speed limit for the heavy lorries, but reduce it to 20 m.p.h. I think we should increase the cost of vehicle licences for heavy lorries so that they pay more for the damage they do. This is a very serious matter which is concerning a great many people in this country. and I do hope that the Government will withdraw this Order and not take the disastrous step they propose.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, would he consider following the example of the United States? I think I am right in saying that most of the accidents these days are connected with lorries. Perhaps I am wrong; if so, I am sure he will correct me—the noble Lord says that I am. I thought that most of the accidents there were connected with lorries, and in the United States one finds lamps placed all over the rear of lorries, and that is very conducive to avoiding accidents. I thought that if we could consider putting 371 rear lamps all the way round the square on the back of the vehicle it would militate against so many accidents happening.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I will certainly bear the noble Earl's suggestion in mind. He will understand it if I do not go further into that suggestion to-day when we are debating speed limits of commercial vehicles. We have not had a particularly long debate but a debate which has been extremely thick in suggestion and point, and I must frankly ask your Lordships' indulgence and forgiveness if it takes me a little time to wind up on behalf of the Government. It is a little difficult to know where to start, and I think I should start by getting rid of the worst part of it, the somewhat unworthy thought which crossed my mind when I saw the names of the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, and the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, together with the names of other noble Lords opposite; that there might be some matter of political or ideological reason.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, is the noble Lord suggesting that my noble friend Lord Lindgren and I are the only two Members of your Lordships' House to have any political inclinations?
§ LORD CHESHAM
I am not suggesting that at all. I am suggesting that the thought crossed my mind, unworthy as it may have been—I will repeat myself in case I did not make it clear—that the views of the noble Lords might have been to some extent coloured by their political feelings on the matter of road transport. Indeed, at the end of his interesting speech the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, indicated that. His political enthusiasm took him interestingly but, if I may say so, unsuitably outside the range of the debate -because I do not believe that anyone could really pretend that the cost of snow clearance has any bearing on speed limits for commercial vehicles.
§ LORD CHESHAM
It occurred to me, too—again an unworthy thought—that both the noble Lords I mentioned have a very considerable personal vested interest, may I call it, in the railways. That I think is well known. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, shakes his head, 372 but, if I am not mistaken, I believe that he is the leader of a national organisation which has nailed to its mast the motto "Save the railways". If I am wrong I shall be delighted to withdraw that statement.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I am Chairman of the National Council of Inland Transport, which has no kind of Party affiliation whatsoever. The noble Lord used the term "personal vested interest", which is normally taken to apply to some kind of financial interest. I assure your Lordships that I have no kind of direct or indirect financial interest to declare in transport.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I accept that most readily, and I never intended to imply that there was any financial interest. That is not what I said. I said "personal" vested interest, and if there is any suggestion of finance in that I withdraw it at once. They have an interest in railways.
§ LORD ELTON
May I interrupt for a moment to ask the noble Lord if he would explain why having an interest in railways which is not a financial interest should in any way invalidate opinions about road safety?
§ LORD CHESHAM
If I may just continue with the thesis I am developing, that will become clear to my noble friend, among others. I think it is true to say that people who have feelings like that on the railways may be expected to be a little prejudiced. I said that that unworthy thought had crossed my mind. If the noble Lord, Lord Elton, had allowed me to continue, I should have gone on to say that I had dismissed those unworthy thoughts from my mind; that I had treated what had fallen from the noble Lords concerned as being appropriate to the occasion, and that I intended to deal with, at any rate, some of the points they made at their face value within the context of the debate.
Haying said that, with some difficulty, I will proceed, if I may, to consider some of the points which were raised by the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Chester, in an interesting speech. I do that because (he will forgive my saying so; I do not know what his circumstances are to-night) I know that 373 right reverend Prelates sometimes have to catch trains. The first point with which I want to deal is one which I consider he misunderstood a little, if I may say so, as did the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I had not thought, and I had not intended to argue, that the basic reason for this change of speed limit was that, because everybody gets away with exceeding the present limit, therefore it must be changed. If I gave that impression then I did not make ray point sufficiently clearly. I pointed to the fact that it is widely and flagrantly abused—as indeed it is—as evidence of the mental attitude in this connection of people who regard the present limit as no longer respectable in its true sense. That is what I meant and that is the spirit in which we have approached this problem. I say that in the hope that I have made myself clear the second time.
I must, of necessity, with so many points, dart from one to another somewhat briefly. I want to turn very quickly to the question of fatigue, which the right reverend Prelate raised, as did the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren. This is obviously a matter to which attention and careful regard must be paid: it obviously cannot be ignored. But so far there is no evidence that any problem arises from it. Taking the accident figures for 1960 and 1961—and fatal and serious accidents at that—in 1960 there were 19,781 vehicles involved, and out of that number it was stated that the number of drivers ill, fatigued or physically defective was 62, which is under 1 per cent. I will spare your Lordships the figure for the following year; it was even less.
As I understand it, research which has been done abroad, and to a certain exent here, does not indicate that the eleventh hour of driving which is permitted under the present regulations is necessarily any more dangerous than the first. But I do assure the noble Lords concerned that this matter is being carefully watched, and various studies are being undertaken in an attempt to see whether there is any necessity to change the hours on safety grounds—and I am talking at the present time, of course, only on safety grounds. It is rather difficult to assess, and medical approaches have not been very conclusive up till now. But your 374 Lordships may like to know that the Applied Psychology Research Unit of the Medical Research Council is doing work at this present time in co-operation with the Road Research Laboratory, and accident statistics are also being broken down, so far as possible, to discover what can be found. But so far there is no indication that working proper hours is likely to lead at either speed limit to danger of fatigue.
Then I come to the vexed question of overtaking. The right reverend Prelate made a perfectly good point, that it takes longer, both in time and distance, for a car travelling at a given speed to overtake a lorry that is moving faster. Of course that is true, but this is a point which has been very carefully considered, and our conclusion is that that undesirable effect is more than offset by the fact that less overtaking is required in a more uniformly moving stream of traffic. We have considered that point very carefully, as I say, and our conclusion definitely came out that the point mentioned by the right reverend Prelate was outweighed by the advantage. I was a little struck by the right reverend Prelate's calling in aid the very large lorries looming out of the dark in a fog at high speed. I thought, if I may say so, that, like some of Lord Stonham's more lurid prayers in aid, it was a little overdone. Is it really true that large lorries drive at 30 or 40 m.p.h. in fog in the dark? I doubt it; and, quite frankly, I do not believe that in conditions of darkness and fog a majority of lorry drivers are going to approach either speed limit, 30 or 40 m.p.h.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CHESTER
My Lords, if I may intervene, I did not say that they were, and I should not like to give the impression that I thought they were. I was merely saying that I find these vast lorries on the road, in the dark and in the mist very alarming, and if they are going to be given permission to go faster they will be even more of a menace and danger than they are at the moment.
§ LORD CHESHAM
That no doubt would be so. I was trying to apply /the right reverend Prelate's analogy to the case in point. I was making a rather poor job of connecting the two, I must admit. I agree with him, although I frankly do not think it is of great support to the case in point.
375 I should like now to turn to this question of accident figures, and I want, I hope without getting muddled or indulging in controversy, to try to sort out the slight tangle that seems to have occurred about what quotation came from where. First of all, I should like (and I think this is most important, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, pointed out) to look at what is going on now. He quoted from a letter which was written by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, to The Times, pointing out that the number of goods drivers killed and seriously injured increased last year by 11 per cent. That figure is correct for the nine months ended September 30, 1962. For the sake of the record, and to keep it straight, it is only fair to add that now that the figures are available for October and November that figure for the 11 months goes down to 8 per cent.
§ LORD CHESHAM
It is still an increase, but it is fair for the sake of the record. The noble Lord said 11 per cent. Taking in two more months the figure is 8 per cent.; so there has been a decrease to an extent in two months.
I have no evidence for saying this, and I am going to apologise to your Lordships for voicing a purely personal opinion, but I will take personal responsibility for it; it does not represent the view of my right honourable friend or of the Department. I think that there is a strong possibility that the increase in casualties—because, as I am about to indicate, the accident rate of goods vehicles remains good—is due to excessive speeds. That is why I said, and why I still say—and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, completely—that enforcement is the answer to this problem. I am happy to say that the police recruiting situation is better than it was. There has been an increase of 5,000 policemen in the country in the last two years, and the traffic side must have had its benefit from that. But it must go on and, as I said (I do not want to go into this point in detail again), I think that this measure is going to result in better discipline and better enforcement, and that is probably as big a reason as any other 376 why I am in favour of it. I think that is vital.
Every instance of things happening on roads that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, quoted from the harrowing letters that he read out was, as I was careful to note, an offence under the law at present. I wrote down on my notes brief details of what he read out, and opposite I wrote in large letters "Enforcement". That is the answer to every single problem that he mentioned. Many of them, as I recall, are slightly outside the scope of these actual Regulations, but are to do with the road safety of commercial vehicles-such things as lumps of stuff being flung off them. But that is the situation.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, could I ask the noble Lord just one point on that? I fully accept that he is entitled to his opinion that, when they come into force, these regulations may make enforcement easier. Can the noble Lord give a real undertaking that, if within a reasonable period of these Regulations being passed it is clear that they are in fact being broken and are not being enforced by the police, he will have no hesitation in coming to this House with a Regulation bringing the speed limit back to what it now is?
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would be good enough to wait until a later stage in my remarks. I take note of what he has said, but I am coming back to that. I just wanted to try to deal with this point about accident figures, because in the House generally I think there has been a small measure of misapprehension regarding an extract read by my noble friend Lord Gosford which has remained unidentified. I should like to put the Record straight on that. The quotation comes from a report entitled The Effect of the Increase in Speed Limits for Heavy Commercial Vehicles. It is dated February 1958 and is issued by the Road Research Laboratory. I should like to read a slightly longer extract, including that which we have already had, because, if I may say so, it will be a little better in context. It reads:An analysis has been made of the casualties to drivers of heavy goods vehicles between 1953 and 1958 in relation to the numbers of vehicles on the road, with particular reference to the effect of increasing the speed limit for such vehicles to 30 m.p.h. 377 on May I, 1957. For various reasons including fuel rationing in 1956–57 attention is confined to casualties occurring in the months of May to October of each year.In built-up areas in 1957 and 1958 the casualty rate per vehicle licence was higher than in the earlier years, except for 1955. However the casualty rates for drivers of light goods vehicles and for drivers of motor vehicles during the period 1953 to 1958 showed trends rather similar to that shown by the rate for drivers of heavy goods vehicles. There is no clear indication that the change in the speed limit for heavy goods vehicles had any effect on the casualty rate per vehicle. On the other hand, there were sharp rises from 1957 onwards in the number of heavy vehicles on the road and in their mileage, and these were responsible for increases of 10 per cent. or more in casualties to their drivers above the expected annual increase.For the sake of the Record, and so that the shorter extract we had cannot be juggled about with, I have, I am afraid, taken rather a long time to make that point; but I think it is important. Apart from what I have ventured to state purely as my personal opinion, I think the increase in the rate has probably been due to increased traffic.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I am most grateful for the fact that the noble Lord has traced this cutting and enlarged upon it, although I think Lord Gosford would agree that it is quite unrecognisable as what he read out. But what has just been put before us does indicate that the accidents were either the same or that they were more numerous when the speed limit was raised from 20 to 30 m.p.h.; and that is exactly what we are saying.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I am not altogether following the noble Lord's conclusion, which appears to be in the opposite sense to that to which the Road Research Laboratory came and which I have just read out. That is in fact what I did say, but perhaps it would be easier for the noble Lord to see it in Hansard to-morrow. I am sure that he will look extremely carefully a t it.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord this: is it not a fact that in the case of accidents involving heavy road vehicles which travel faster, the casualties occur among the people they hit rather than among the drivers of the heavy vehicles themselves?
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I was talking about casualties to the drivers 378 or occupants of the vehicles. The question of whom they may hit is another matter. It is not one to be ignored, but it is not what I was talking about at the time.
I want now to come on to a point which has perplexed a number of noble Lords, the right reverend Prelate and also the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who referred to the matter when he said that different vehicles handle in different ways, some harder, some easier. The right reverend Prelate thought that it was illogical not to differentiate between vehicles. This is a point which has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords. I do not pretend that this 40 m.p.h. limit is a perfect solution in a perfect world. It can be argued that it is somewhat high for some vehicles, but it is equally strongly argued that it is certainly too low for some others, particularly the lighter type of van.
The point—a very telling one, I think—is this. Before 1957 there were differential speed limits of 20 and 30 m.p.h., as your Lordships know, between vehicles over and under 3 tons unladen weight. The effect of that was that the vehicle manufacturers spent a great deal of time and effort in building down their vehicles so as to get just under the unladen weight limit. The operators—I will be quite frank—pared down the unladen weights of vehicles that were over the safe weight limit by fitting lighter tyres, and anything else they could think of, to reduce the unladen weight in order to qualify for the higher speed. They then sought to put on the vehicles the same loads they should have put on the heavier ones in order to run them at the higher speeds. That is what happened.
§ LORD LINDGREN
If I had said that, the noble Lord would have accused me of bias in favour of railways. Now he is admitting the same point that I made.
§ LORD CHESHAM
The noble Lord may have made it among a sea of others. But I do not think I should have accused him of bias, particularly as I was about to make the point myself. The point has been put to us very strongly by the vehicle manufacturers that if we went back to a similar system of differential speed limits the same evil would happen again. In 379 addition, the time and effort of the manufacturers, who are doing a great job in the export market at the moment, would be diverted to chiselling away at their designs and specifications so as to get round the law. The dangers of overloaded vehicles would be increased. I think that that is the greatest evil. It is for that reason we have rejected any proposal far differential limits within the general class of goods vehicle.
My Lords, if we are to have a uniform limit, 40 m.p.h. is the best compromise. It may be that it is too high for some and too low for others, but if and when a satisfactory plating scheme comes along—and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for his support and his welcome to such a scheme (although I thought the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, was a little less pleased about it; he seemed a little cynical as to whether it would make any difference in a matter of years)—and every goods vehicle has its maximum permissible all-up weight marked on it, it should be possible to introduce differential speed limits according to laden weights without running the risk of incurring those undesirable evils, which I have just been describing, of building too light a vehicle for too large a load.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
The noble Lord's argument is quite sound in relation to, say, 1-ton, 30 cwt. or 2-ton vehicles: but it would not stand up in relation to the heavy 10-tonners and tank vehicles about which the right reverend Prelate was concerned. There you could have this differential between the very heavy vehicles and the lighter ones.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I have heard much expression in this House of concern about the dangers and evils of overloading, dangers and evils about which I have expressed my agreement and announced action to be taken. And, taking all in all—which is what I consider we must do—we feel that what we are proposing avoids the greater evils.
The noble Lord mentioned large vehicles, and I think I had better now make some mention of our future thoughts on the subject of still larger vehicles. I mentioned this matter the other day in reply to a question by the 380 noble Lord, Lord Boothby, and I have a little more that I can now add. The preliminary survey to increase the maximum weights and dimensions for normal motor vehicles in this country is now in the process of going out for consultation in the normal way with interested organisations. Your Lordships might like to know roughly what is in mind about this. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd suggested that as and when regulations were made to alter permitted weights and dimensions of vehicles there should be a qualification included as to their speed. I think that I must put that point straight at once. It is not possible to do it in exactly that way. The reason is that speed limits are imposed under Section 24 of the 1960 Act, which calls for Affirmative Resolution. The dimensions and weights come under Section 64, and are subject to the Negative Resolution procedure. Therefore to include a speed limit in dimension and weights regulations would be inappropriate. If it were thought desirable to control the speed of the larger vehicles it could be done by the laying of separate but simultaneous regulations to do so, and, if that was not done and any Member thought it should be done, by praying against the Section 64 regulation in order to get an assurance that action would be taken under Section 24.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
The noble Lord will remember the words I used at the beginning of my speech as to the difficulty on the part of the Opposition in opposing regulations in the Division Lobby. I would draw his attention—I will not press him on this—to the debate on the Road Traffic Bill (I think in 1958), when there was a discussion on the whole problem of regulations, whether subject to the Negative or Affirmative Resolution form. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, then said that White Papers on these regulations would be brought forward so that the House could at least have the opportunity of voting, on a White Paper. I would suggest to the noble Lord that if we are going to have these new regulations he should bring them forward in a White Paper so that the House can consider, debate, and, if necessary, vote upon it. I think that that is the least the Government can do for us in this matter.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I am grateful not to be pressed on this matter at the 381 moment, and I assure the noble Lord that I will certainly consider what he has said in the light of what I have just said. I do not think I can say more or fairer than that.
As to the proposals, I will indicate very briefly what they are and also how they compare with limits in Continental Europe. First, as to width. At present we have a limit of 7 feet 6 inches, although some heavy vehicles have authorised widths of 8 feet. Buses, since 1961, have had a permitted width of 8 feet 2½ inches. We have in mind that all vehicles should be permitted to be 8 feet 2½ inches. That width is current throughout the Continent, and there are no proposals of which I am aware for any increase.
So far as length is concerned, my Lords, with rigid vehicles our present general limit is 30 feet, but buses and coaches have been allowed 36 feet since 1961. We have in mind that all types of rigid vehicles should also be allowed up to 36 feet. That is rather less than in some Continental countries, where rigid vehicles go to 39 feet 4 inches, which is the limit recommended by the European Conference of Ministers of Transport. For articulated vehicles the present limit is 35 feet, and we propose increasing it to 42 feet, that figure having been selected on the equivalent manoæuvrability of an articulated vehicle compared with a 36 feet rigid one. That is considerably less than the European Ministers of Transport figure, which is 49 feet 2 inches, and which West Germany has already adopted.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, is there not in Europe some limitation on the roads which the larger vehicles can use, and can the noble Lord say whether his right honourable friend will be contemplating, at the same time that these measurements are increased, some limitation on the roads where these larger vehicles can be used?
§ LORD CHESHAM
Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to finish my remarks on this subject, because I want to go on to the maximum weight on a 2-wheeled axle, on which the present limit is 9 tons. We are proposing to raise that to 10 tons provided that it has twin tyres. On the Continent 10 tons is general, and France goes to 13 tons.
382 My Lords, our present limit for multi-axled rigid vehicles is 24 tons, which we plan to raise to 28 tons, subject to the vital and highly important question of axle spacing. This is the only instance in which we are in any way ahead of the Continent, who have their limit at 26 tons. For multi-axled articulated vehicles we plan to go up from 24 to 32 tons, again subject to the all-important question of axle spacing. That is already common on the Continent. France goes up to 35 tons, and the Commission of the European Economic Community propose 36 tons. We already permit our heaviest vehicles with a trailer to reach 32 tons, which is the same maximum weight as we now propose for an articulated vehicle. We do not propose to increase the limit for the vehicle and trailer.
My Lords, on the particular point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, I would say that we believe that the figures I have just mentioned—which will probably need some study in Hansard—are the largest that can be allowed to circulate generally on the roads of this country. We are studying, from the point of view of the largest vehicles which would come from the Continent or might be engaged in international traffic with the Continent, definite specified routes on which they might be allowed in this country. It will probably take some time to work that matter out, and as and when the scheme comes to fruition the largest vehicles will be allowed to use only selected roads suitable for them. In this connection, there is one point that I might make. That is that not every operator chooses the biggest vehicle available. Operators choose what suits them best, and the mere fact that in due course proposals will be more formally made to increase vehicles does not mean that they will all be that size. I think—though it is an estimation—that about three-quarters of the present vehicles are smaller than the existing permitted maximum sizes, and Appendix F of the Commissioners' report makes quite interesting reading in that connection.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, asked me a specific and technical question about braking distance. I should have mentioned this matter before, and I am sorry that I did not do so. He asked me what was the increased stopping distance between speeds of 30 m.p.h. and 383 40 m.p.h. If you assume an average lorry, and a braking efficiency of 50 per cent., at 30 m.p.h. it would pull up in 60 feet; at 40 m.p.h. it would pull up in 105 feet. But I think I should be justified in mentioning at this time that I have some further simple figures on braking efficiencies. They are made from a summary of some thousand tests carried out in 1960, showing the average brake performance of various vehicles. The average works out to 58 per cent. for 4-wheeled vehicles, 54 per cent. for articulated vehicles, 52 per cent. for 6-wheeled vehicles and 50 per cent. for 8-wheelers. Quite a number can, and do, go up as high as 66 to 70 per cent., so I think that that should provide a certain amount of interest to the noble Lord.
The noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, raised an interesting point—he has disappeared for the moment—about operators forcing drivers into circumstances where they had to exceed the speed limit to get their job done. That, I think, was the gist of his remarks.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I took it to be so, my Lords, that he meant that they had a very tight schedule which did not give them time to stop for a cup of tea.
§ LORD STONHAM
My noble friend said that 90 per cent. of the drivers in civil engineering—he also mentioned gravel lorries—worked on piece work with their loads. Therefore, there is an incentive for the men to do the job very quickly, perhaps unsafely quickly, in order to earn more money. It is as simple as that.
§ LORD CHESHAM
It is just a question of enforcement again, my Lords. So the noble Lord and I are again at one on this matter. I need not go into the detail I had intended, of the legal position of operators causing their drivers to operate over the limit. All I need say is that in the particular instance that he chose, of gravel and sand lorries, the Regulation is one of the easiest to enforce, because they must be calibrated lorries and they are the one class of lorry in which overloading can rapidly be measured.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, before the noble Lord proceeds, I think he is 384 rather misrepresenting the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, who, I think, said no more than that employers were keeping their drivers up to the maximum speed limit by their schedules, and that if the speed limit increased the employers would keep them up to the increased speed limit. The noble Lord went on to say that if drivers wanted a little longer in their cafes they, the drivers, would be tempted for that reason to exceed speed limits. But the noble Lord was not accusing the employers of being a party to this.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I am glad of that, my Lords, because of course if that is so—if he had reason to believe that the drivers are being ridden unreasonably hard without being forced to exceed the speed limit (if they were forced there are penalties prescribed by the law for the person forcing them to do so)—it is a matter of working conditions which I should have thought would have been taken up and negotiated with the unions concerned. That is not something with which we are concerned to-day.
I want now to come to one of the most important things of the lot, which has certainly engaged the attention of the noble Lords, Lord Shepherd, Lord Lindgren, Lord Stonham and, to a lesser extent, other noble Lords. That is the question of maintenance and testing. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, started off by using extracts from the Annual Report of the Licensing Authorities to urge his case, and that was backed up by other noble Lords. I think the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, slightly overstated the case, but that is by the way. Without going into it—and I am certainly going to make no attempt to go into chapter and verse of the detail of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, quoted—I am in full agreement with the noble Lords that the present situation is unsatisfactory, and we are giving, it very serious consideration on that account. It is not perhaps quite as bad a case as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, made out when he quoted the round figure of 110,000 vehicles examined out of 1,400,000 on the road although that is quite correct as a figure and is the figure of the examinations that were carried out by the Ministry under Section 183. He was quite right in saying that a large number of public 385 service vehicles were examined in addition to those. That figure does not include them, and they are, in fact, the subject of a separate report.
I would just say here that the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, said he had no doubt that some of the defects found were technical ones. But although some of them may have been minor they all related to maintenance and condition, and in some way had a bearing on the road safety of the vehicle. I think I must say that in all justification. What the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, did not take into account is the number of goods vehicles up to and including 30 cwt. unladen weight which are subject to the annual test under the periodic scheme, which is under Section 65. I know that that test is not as thorough as the one to which goods vehicles are normally subjected under Section 183, but it does cover the most important of the safety requirements—brakes, lights and steering.
In 1962, 190,000 light commercial vehicles up to 30 cwt. were tested under the periodic scheme. It would not be any good my trying to give your Lordships comparable figures for 1960–61, because the scheme only started in that period and was confined then to 10-year-old vehicles, whereas now, of course, it is six. I seem to remember being charged by one noble Lord opposite in particular with doing something to bring the age down further, but more of that anon. The numbers that are subject to that test will grow as the age limit is brought down, but it will still leave the problem of the over-30 cwts. which are not in the scheme. I quite agree it would be ideal, and we should favour it, if we could ensure that all the older vehicles were examined every year by our examiners; but if we did that we should have to double or treble the staff of 320 which the noble Lord mentioned, which figure is quite correct. I do not believe it could be done on financial grounds, and it would be even more difficult by way of finding the necessary men to fill the posts. That is the snag. We could, I suppose, increase to some extent the amount of time that the existing staff spend inspecting goods vehicles at the expense of what they spend on inspecting the public service vehicles, but I think your Lordships would agree, that that would be retrograde. I think it is thanks to the very 386 thorough examination that the passenger vehicles get that their mechanical condition is of a very high order, and if we were to relax on that I think that in the long run their very good safety record would suffer.
The alternative to increasing the staff is to include vehicles over 30 cwt. in the Section 65 tests, and we intend to do our best to find a solution, or to seek a solution and find it, on these lines. One of the difficulties is that only a limited number of the ordinary garages which operate the existing scheme can cope with the heavier vehicles. Of course, the problem could be dealt with by setting up Government testing stations, like the one at Hendon, all over the country, but that would involve an enormous amount of capital expenditure falling on public funds. Some local authorities undertake some vehicle testing, and it would perhaps be possible to get some of them to extend their facilities to take in heavier ones; but that, again, is going only a certain way to meet the problem.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
But would the noble Lord not agree that the cost of the inspection of private cars does not fall upon the public purse? Why, therefore, could we not have a small levy on a commercial vehicle, in the same way as we do on a motor car, in order to get these inspections carried out?
§ LORD CHESHAM
We probably could, my Lords, but I was talking about the capital cost of providing the stations suitable for inspecting the heavy vehicles all over the country, not the cost of operating the scheme.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
But the capital cost can be recovered over a period from the receipts from these inspections.
§ LORD CHESHAM
Perhaps, again, the noble Lord will allow me to finish. I was pointing out the difficulties of working a scheme; I was not saying it was impossible on that account. I hope he realises that. But it would be quite hopeless, and dishonest to the House, if I were to put forward a scheme saying that that is what we are working on without pointing out the difficulties which have to be overcome in bringing it in; I should be misleading the House.
There is another possibility, and that is to make use of the existing facilities, 387 which are mainly privately owned—mostly by road haulage organisations—for maintaining the vehicles on the road. We are studying all these possibilities. The solution may not be a clear-cut one, and it may involve different arrangements for different categories of heavy vehicles over 30 cwts. Studies are in a rather early stage at the moment, and I hope that your Lordships will understand if I am reluctant to indicate with any further degree of precision the direction in which our thoughts are leading. We have to take account not only of the technical problem of getting them properly checked, but also of the administrative, legal and financial problems as well. We shall need time for this, my Lords; not only to work out the scheme, but to enter into the necessary consultations and to work out detailed proposals.
Having said that, I should like to go on to say that I accept the purport of the Motion to follow this debate, which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and I am certainly in full agreement that this is a problem which must be solved. We are determined to find a solution to it. In fact, when the noble Lord comes to move his Motion I hope he will not mind my accepting it with a couple of remarks, which I must just make at the time; and I hope he will realise that we are as much in earnest about the necessity of maintaining these vehicles properly as he is, and as are other noble Lords who have supported his case. With those words, and with what I have said about tackling the problems of overloading and maintenance, I hope your Lordships can see your way clear to approving these Regulations.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.