HL Deb 09 December 1965 vol 271 cc387-9

3.5 p.m.


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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action it is proposed to take against those drivers of vehicles who removed barriers and signs placed by the Staffordshire Police temporarily closing a section of the M.6, under powers conferred by Section 54 of the Road Traffic Act 1960, and proceeded over the closed section in defiance of such police action, as reported in the Press of 1st December.]


My Lords, the Chief Constable of Staffordshire has informed me that two lengths of the M.6 Motorway were closed to traffic during the morning of Tuesday, November 30, owing to icy conditions which had then already caused a number of vehicles to get into difficulty. He has received no reports of any motorist removing barriers or signs put up by the police.


My Lords, first of all, will the noble Lord accept my thanks for the nature of his reply, which makes it perfectly clear that the Press reports of this incident referred to in my Question were without any foundation whatsoever, which I think is deplorable? Secondly, would he agree with me that his reply also makes it equally clear that the prompt action of the Staffordshire Police upon this occasion in closing a section of the M.6 prevented a repetition of the catastrophe that happened upon that road during the fog conditions about a month ago? May I, finally, ask him as a supplementary question whether, in view of the lamentable ignorance shown by a number of chairmen of police authorities throughout this country who have publicly stated in the Press of late that the police have no authority to close roads in emergencies such as this, he will consult his right honourable and learned friend the Home Secretary and cause to be made quite clear to the police authorities of this country the provisions of Section 54 of the Road Traffic Act 1960?


I am most grateful to my noble friend for his observations. I think that he has asked me three questions. As for the first, I believe it may well be the case that the prompt and efficient action of the police on this occasion did avert many accidents, and possibly deaths, because according to the report from the Chief Constable, severeicing conditions had made driving very dangerous indeed, and a great number of drivers were seen to be in difficulties.

With regard to his suggestion that the Press reports were a complete fabrication, I very much regret to say that the facts would appear to bear out this contention, because the closures of the carriageways were applied by directing police patrols to the various link roads; cones were placed across all accesses to the carriageways and police officers with wireless vehicles remained in attendance until the closures were lifted. The Chief Constable says that he cannot possibly see how there can be any substance in the Press reports that motorists had removed the closure barriers. Inquiries in my Department and from the Staffordshire police indicate that neither of the newspapers which printed this report made any inquiry. One provincial newspaper did inquire of the police. They did not print the report. They informed the police that the R.A.C. had told them, and the R.A.C. told the police that the newspaper had told them.

With regard to the third point about powers, I am satisfied that where the police are of opinion that the conditions on a road are so dangerous that it is necessary in the interests of safety to close the road, they are able to close it; do close it; and I am sure your Lordships will agree that they are right to continue closing roads when conditions warrant it.

And I hope that they will do this as efficiently as the Staffordshire police did. With regard to referring the matter to my right honourable and learned friend, I am firmly of the view that the police do know their powers and will certainly carry them out on such occasions, but I will nevertheless refer it to my right honourable friend.


My Lords, will the noble Lord accept my thanks for that reply, which I hope will receive great publicity throughout this country?—because it may result in the saving of lives and of damage to limbs and property which is a very serious thing at the present time, with the wintry conditions we are experiencing.

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