HL Deb 05 March 1970 vol 308 cc480-510

3.19 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is largely a pre-consolidation Bill. Much preliminary work on the consolidation of Scottish highway law has been done, and the Scottish Law Com-mission have agreed to undertake the drafting of a consolidating Bill. It will come as a boon to those who administer highways legislation in Scotland. Many basic powers of highway authorities are contained in the Roads and Bridges (Scotland) Act 1878—which itself incorporates much of the General Turnpike Act 1831—or in the Burgh Police (Scot-land) Acts of 1892 and 1903. Additional powers are conferred by Acts dating from the 'twenties or 'thirties. The most recent legislation of importance is the Trunk Roads Acts of 1936 and 1946 and the Special Roads Act 1949, under which we are building our great modern highways. Legislators of a century ago, however skilful, could hardly foresee all the requirements of our own time, and there are things we have to tidy up before consolidation. That is why we have this Bill and why it deals with so many miscellaneous topics. It is a useful measure, but your Lordships will not find it in any way revolutionary.

The Bill has four main purposes: improvement of the formal procedures relating to the construction of special roads and trunk roads; extension of the powers of highway authorities to carry out road improvements; enabling high-way authorities to promote road safety and effective traffic management by stop-ping up roads and accesses to roads and by regulating activities which can cause danger or inconvenience to road users; and, finally, the codification of the statutory provisions under which highway authorities acquire land.

Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill, which deal with the formal procedures which are a preliminary to the construction of special roads and trunk roads, are important. A special road is a motorway, and its distinctive features are that certain classes of traffic are prohibited from using it and that side accesses are reduced to the minimum. It may be built by the Secretary of State or by a local highway authority. A trunk road is a major route for which the Secretary of State is the highway authority. The procedures for designating these two kinds of roads are basically similar. The main line is pre-scribed in a scheme—or an order, in the case of a trunk road. This is often followed by a second order—usually called a side road order—dealing with the stopping-up, or diversion, or alteration of side roads crossing or meeting the main road. All of these schemes and orders have to be advertised, followed by a period of three months for objections. The Secretary of State has finally to decide whether the schemes or orders should be made and he may order a public inquiry into objections before deciding.

The problem is to strike the correct balance between speeding progress with road schemes and adequate protection of she rights of individuals. The legitimate rights of individuals have been very much in our minds, but nevertheless, we think that the existing procedure gives rise to delays which can be reduced with-out detracting from the right of effective objection. We have made changes accordingly.

Clause 1 contains the main alterations. The first two subsections empower the Secretary of State to make regulations prescribing the procedure to be followed in the making and confirmation of special and trunk road schemes and orders. Such regulations may require the centre line of a road to be indicated on a map on a prescribed scale. This is not new: there are similar powers in Section 16 of the Special Roads Act 1949. Subsection (3), however, breaks new ground by pro-viding that the center line of a road as constructed may deviate from the centre line as indicated on the map which is advertised, by such distance as is specified in the scheme or order, up to a maximum of 50 metres.

After discussing a road-line with objectors, we are sometimes able to meet their objections by shifting the road-line a little, say by 30 or 40 metres. On three occasions in recent years, in order to do this, we have had to re-advertise the revised proposals, and then wait three months to see whether they gave rise to fresh objections. There were no fresh objections in any of these cases. If the original proposals contain a moderate provision for deviation, we can elicit all the objections to any possible line within those limits and then, at the end of the day, adopt any such line without having to re-advertise the proposals. I stress that the limits of deviation in the advertised plan would not always be 50 metres: they might be 40 or 30 or 10 metres or there might be no deviation at all, depending entirely on the situation, and the eventual line could not deviate by a greater distance than was shown in the advertised proposals.

Subsections (4) and (5) would reduce the period for objecting to a scheme or order from three months to a period specified in the advertisement, which must be not less than six weeks. The period for objecting to a development plan is six weeks, and to a compulsory purchase order it is only three weeks. Six weeks for objecting to a proposal for a new trunk or special road therefore seems to me to be reasonable. Where the issues are complex the clause would make it possible to allow a longer period for objections. People must have adequate time to consider proposals and to formulate objections, but an objection is often no more than a letter saying that the person concerned objects to the scheme, without explaining why. It is not usually a reasoned document, supported by statistical evidence and carefully vetted by professional advisers. On asking for more information, we are told that the road will sever a farm, or affect the amenity of a house, or something of the sort. This is natural: objectors cannot in general be expected to produce technical documents, and we establish the facts after the period for objections has expired, in negotiation with the objectors or, if necessary, at a public inquiry.

The six-week period also seems to us reasonable where a scheme or order has been advertised, discussed with objectors and recast in such a way as to meet the objections. The revised order is then re-advertised, and at present we have to wait a further three months before the next stage of the procedure can start, even though we know with certainty that there will be no further objections.

Clause 1(5) requires any person objecting to a road scheme to state his grounds of objection. We do not now receive closely reasoned objections, and we do not expect to receive them in future. But at present we cannot require the reasons for an objection to be stated, however briefly, and while this has not so far given us much trouble on road schemes we had the experience last year, when we were reconsidering the Forth Road Bridge tolls, of someone who refused to state the grounds of his objection. Clause 1(6) empowers the Secretary of State, where any objector suggests that the road should follow an alternative route, to require him to give sufficient details of that route to enable it to be identified. At present someone can, at a public inquiry, suggest an alternative route for the first time. For such a proposal to be properly considered the inquiry might have to be adjourned, with further loss of time. We are not going to ask for precise engineering details but only for a sufficient indication of the line to let us do our own surveys and find out whether the line is feasible. Incidentally, the per-son suggesting an alternative route will not be required to supply details of it within the original six-week period for objections, but will be given additional time to do so.

Clause 1(7) would empower the Secretary of State, when making or confirming a scheme or order, to make or confirm it in whole or in part. An unresolved objection sometimes affects a very small part of a road project, so that the scheme as a whole could proceed without prejudicing consideration of the objection. What we now do in such cases is to make the formal scheme or order, omit-ting the contested provision. When the dispute has been resolved, we make a varying scheme or order, embodying the decision on the particular objection. This has to be advertised, with a further period of three months for objections, before work can start on that part of the project. Clause 1(7) will enable the decision on a small controversial part of a scheme to be given effect without the necessity to re-advertise the proposals.

Where a special road is being constructed, the Secretary of State or local highway authority concerned can publish all the proposals—that is to say main line schemes, side road orders and compulsory purchase orders, if any—at the same time. The Minister of Transport has similar powers in relation to trunk roads, but in Scotland, in relation to trunk roads, the Secretary of State cannot publish the side road orders until after the main line order has been made, and compulsory purchase comes after that. So the procedure may take twice or three times as long as if the various orders could be published concurrently. Clause 2 provides for concurrent procedures on trunk road schemes. This is also for the benefit of potential objectors, who will be able to consider all the ramifications of a road project at once where concurrent procedure is adopted.

Clause 3 empowers the Secretary of State to provide a service road for the purpose of relieving a trunk road of local traffic. Where a trunk road passes through a small town or village it may be desirable to provide a service road to carry local traffic and provide parking space. Normally this would be the function of a local highway authority, but the Secretary of State might prefer to do it, as an alternative to an expensive widening scheme on the trunk road. He has no powers to provide such a service road at present, because his powers to provide trunk roads imply that they must be through-routes, which a service road is not.

Having devoted much attention to the important clauses dealing with trunk and special roads, I am sure your Lordships will not object if I deal more quickly with the remainder of the Bill. Clauses 4 to 11 give highway authorities new and extended powers to carry out road improvements. A little of this is new, but most of the provisions are derived from powers that are already available in Scottish highways legislation, though some of them are now applied to categories of roads to which they did not previously apply, or are given to highway authorities who did not previously possess them. They deal with such matters as the upkeep of private streets, provision of safety fencing, alteration of road levels, planting of trees in highways, drainage of roads and so on.

Clauses 12 to 16 provide for the stop-ping-up of roads and private accesses. Clause 12 for the first time empowers Scottish highway authorities to stop up roads which have become unnecessary or dangerous to the public, and Clause 13 gives powers to close private accesses which seem likely to endanger or to interfere unreasonably with traffic on high-ways. Powers to close roads and private accesses must not, of course, be irresponsibly used, and there is provision in all these cases for circumscribing the powers and providing an appeal to the Secretary of State. Clauses 14 and 15 are special cases of these powers. Clause 14 empowers the Secretary of State to stop up a private access to a proposed new trunk road, and Clause 15 empowers local highway authorities to stop up or alter side roads or private accesses joining classified roads. Clause 16 provides that where a road is stopped up, and no longer used as such, the solum is to vest in the adjoining proprietors, subject to a prior claim by someone having a title.

Clauses 17 to 26 of the Bill are concerned generally with the regulation of activities which may damage roads, or may endanger or inconvenience road users. As with Clauses 4 to 11, dealing with improvements, a little of this is new, and a good deal of it is old Statute brought up to date. These clauses deal with such matters as overhanging vegetation, damage to roads and road furniture, obstructions and excavations in roads, and regulation of builders' skips. Clause 21 deals with the deposit of mud or liquid from vehicles on roads. I should tell your Lordships that we have found great difficulty in framing this clause as we would like it, and we have consulted representatives of farmers, local authorities and others about the best way to regulale the problem. At a later stage of the Bill I shall be putting down Amendments to provide a more flexible method of dealing with mud on roads than is presently contained in the Bill. Clauses 27 and 28 deal with the pro-vision of litter bins and storage bins on roads, and with the use of appliances and vehicles on footways by public authorities.

Clauses 29 to 36 deal with the acquisition of land by highway authorities. These are mainly a codification of pro-visions to be found at present in several Acts, and we have taken the opportunity of this Bill to bring them together and tidy them up. Clause 29 confers the basic powers to acquire land for the construction and improvement of roads, and Clause 30 provides additional powers in respect of special roads and trunk roads. At present, land can be acquired for road improvements only within 220 yards of the highway. Where land is being acquired by agreement we are re-moving this limit, but we are keeping a limit of 200 metres where land is being acquired compulsorily. Clauses 31 to 33 authorise the acquisition of land for such things as offices and road depots, and for the purpose of replacing stopped-up accesses to properties. Clause 35 contains standard procedural provisions relating to the compulsory acquisition of land, and Clause 36 empowers highway authorities to acquire land in advance of requirements. The Secretary of State already has such powers, but they are now conferred on local highway authorities for the first time.

Clause 37 enables highway authorities to contribute towards the cost of drainage or flood-protection works under-taken by others, where this may benefit the road. The remaining clauses of the Bill deal with miscellaneous and supplementary matters, for the most part in common form. The proposals in the Bill have been fully discussed with the local authority associations and with the landowners' and farmers' organisations, who are in general agreement with them. We have also been able to meet a number of other suggestions. My Lords, this is a useful Bill, which will make it easier to build and maintain roads to modern standards. On that basis, I commend it to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Lord Hughes.)

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for once again explaining so clearly the Bill that we are discussing this afternoon, and indeed for giving us the historical survey at the beginning of his speech. We all agree, I am sure, that a modern, well-designed and well-integrated road system is one of the keys to the future wellbeing, indeed prosperity of Scotland and of any country. In my view the roads system in Scot-land has improved greatly in the last few years, but I am certain all noble Lords will agree that there is still much to be done, not only on country and through trunk roads but particularly, I might add, on roads in our great cities and towns. I am sure that all noble Lords can think of their own particular pet road which requires improvement, and I am not going to pursue that topic this afternoon. In any case, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has said, the Bill does not pre-tend in any way to set out to solve completely the road problems of Scotland; it is essentially a tidying up measure. On behalf of noble Lords on this side of the House I should like to welcome it for what it sets out to do.

I accept the need to speed up procedures; and personally I do not think there can be any real quarrel with the reduction to six weeks in the minimum period allowed for lodging objections to schemes. I was very relieved to hear from the noble Lord that in essence the objections required within the period of six weeks are outline objections and not the full detailed and technical objections which might have been required, because that would, I think, have been an unreasonable request. I understand that that is not the case, and that any objector has only to object in outline to what is proposed.

I would add a word on Clause 36 of the Bill, which now enables the highway authorities to acquire in advance of requirements the land which is needed. I have no objection to this, but I should like to make an appeal to the noble Lord to see that this facility is not abused. So often nowadays land is purchased, frequently by agreement, for road building or alterations, and then absolutely nothing happens, in some cases for a great many years. I feel that that is not a good thing, although I appreciate that local authorities and highway authorities obviously must be able to some extent to plan ahead. I hope that this provision will not be abused. I should like to refer to one or two other aspects of the Bill, but I do not wish to take up much time this afternoon. I was glad to see in Clause 8 that increasing attention is being paid to the amenity aspect of our highways in Scotland. I am sure we all welcome this. I personally believe that it is of great importance, especially from the angle of the tourist trade, that our roads are made as beautiful as possible, of course consistent always with safety.

The provisions dealing with the removal from roads of obstructions such as over-hanging trees and dangerous walls also appear to me to be reasonable. There is one small point in connection with retaining walls. So often these walls are made dangerous by the activities of heavy traffic, and I feel that consideration should be given to whether a highway authority should bear at any rate part of the cost of keeping them in a safe condition, and that the cost should not all be placed upon the owner, because it is not his fault if heavy traffic comes along and does damage to such a wall. All noble Lords will be able to think of instances where damage of this kind has occurred.

The noble Lord mentioned Clause 21. I was glad to hear that he will be putting down Amendments later on in the progress of the Bill in connection with the deposit of mud on the road. Certainly this is a difficult problem. One can hardly expect tractor drivers or lorry drivers solemnly to get out of their vehicles and hose or scrape mud off wheels or whatever the mud is adhering to. At the same time, one wants to ensure that roads are kept as clear as posssible from mud. I hope that the noble Lord will give us plenty of time to consider his Amendments when they are put down. I would also suggest to him that when he is considering his Amendments he should not forget the forestry interests. They, too, have a similar problem to that of the farmers with regard to lorries and tractors, and I should like to think that any pro-posed Amendments will cover forestry interests as well.

I do not wish to say any more about the Bill. In passing, 1 notice that it has gone over to the metric system. I do not know whether this is an indication of things to come. As the noble Lord has said, the Bill is a useful piece of legislation. It is not going to give Scotland a new road system; but then it does not set out to do so. I personally think that the measures to set up and simplify procedures will be of help. I believe that the House will wish to give the Bill a Second Reading this afternoon and to ensure its speedy progress on to the Statute Book.

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, I also do not wish to take up much of your Lordships' time. As has already been stated by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, most of what is in this Bill we have already seen before or had to live with. But I feel that there are one or two comments on road improvements that might usefully be made in connection with this Bill. Before coming to the Bill itself I should like to spend a moment or two on the improvements. While they are always most welcome, and often much needed, I am always greatly concerned over the amount of agricultural land that is taken off by each and every improvement. This is a growing thing. Not only is the area taken off for the new piece of road, but quite often the area where the old road was is left sterile, so that the land in between the old road and the new becomes derelict. Although such areas individually probably do not amount to a great acre-age, taken together they amount to a large area of land that is lost to agriculture.

My other slight concern is over the fact that where improvements are made the builders try to make the road a faster one. I know, for example, that where I live, on the A.77, the road is under-going tremendous improvements, and I understand that it has been brought up to the standard that it should be safe at 60 m.p.h. I have a feeling that this is misleading, because although the bends and gradients of the road may be such that it is perfectly safe for a person to take them at 60 m.p.h., the road will not in fact become any safer, because we tend to forget that there is mixed traffic on it. If a road has on it a tractor travelling at, say, 12 to 15 m.p.h., then a bus, which is certainly always stopping and often does not exceed 40 m.p.h., and then a few heavy lorries which would require a Jaguar or an XK90 to catch them, this does not make for safety on the road. One of the difficulties, of course, is that drivers become impatient or bad-mannered, and they try to pass other vehicles without regard to anybody else. I cannot help feeling that if the speed of the road is to be increased to this extent one needs virtually a dual-carriageway. The different kinds of traffic can then travel at their varying speeds, and can sort themselves out.

Another tendency I have noticed where improvements are made, with every intention of making the area safer, is that the result has been in fact to make it more dangerous because, somehow or other, the planners have tended to make the lines of the road so that you drive into the oncoming traffic or to the traffic which you are meant to be avoiding. I know of one or two such instances. Undoubtedly what was a dangerous bend or junction previously has been improved, but one has found oneself being led naturally into the oncoming traffic or the crossing traffic, when previously this was not the case. In this connection it may be necessary, it seems to me, for the planners to take more care with their plans.

There is another point that is reflected in the Bill. Recently I have noticed bad road signing during the time when improvements are being undertaken. The other day I was driving from Edinburgh to Ayr, on the A.70, and outside Car-stairs, where an improvement is taking place, I came to a certain piece of road, and it was impossible to discover whether I was on the right piece of road or not. That was in daylight. If a motorist arrived at that spot at night I think that he would almost certainly find himself completely in the wrong place. This morning I had to set off before sunrise, and I came through three new road constructions where improvements are taking place, each of which was totally unlighted. It is true that two of them had a traffic light on them, but one was not working. There was no other lighting on these constructions at all. Only the other day a bad accident occurred: someone had not seen the obstruction and had gone smack into it.

My Lords, I would turn for a few minutes to one or two little points that I noted within the Bill itself. The first point is in Clause 11, where I note the power to fill in ditches. This power, so far as I am aware, already exists, but I should like to be assured that this in no way affects the taking of the drainage water from a higher piece of ground adjoining the road, and that when this is done cognisance is taken of drains that run into the roadside ditch. On Clause 10, I am rather concerned at the idea of any person being able to put forward a request for closure of a side road. I agree that it may be permissible for a side road to be closed, but to use words like "any person" surely leaves a very wide margin; and the person making the request may have no knowledge of the circumstances governing that side road and that junction. Surely we get caught by the fact that every junction on any road is in itself a danger.

Then on Clause 13 I am a little concerned about the position regarding farm entrances, field entrances, field gates on to the road, and similarly over forest gates alongside the road, I hope that when these powers are used great care will be taken, and consultation held, before they are exercised, to ensure that they do not create unnecessary difficulties, or undue hardship, for those whose land adjoins the road and whose normal access has been on to a public road.

Clause 19 refers to obstructions, over-hanging obstacles, and the like. My only comment here is that I hope this clause will not be used as a means of getting rid of some of our hedgerow trees before they become unsafe. Some people like trees, and some people do not; and if there happens to be some-body who does not, he tends to be very successful in getting trees of this kind removed. Clause 20 refers to trees and shrubs planted within five metres of the edge of a carriageway. We are bound to have difficulty with this clause because slowly but surely carriageways are get-ting wider. From what point is this measurement going to be taken? Practically every year we find that many of the roads of the local authorities gain another six inches or another foot in width, so that trees and shrubs which were formerly at a safe distance gradually come within the unsafe distance, and may then be caught by this clause.

The only other point to which I wish to draw attention is in Clause 38, which gives the powers of entry. It seems to me—I may have misunderstood it—that if the local authority give seven days notice, that is all they need to do; and they then have the right of entry. There does not appear to be any provision for objection by a person having grounds. This seems rather high-handed, because many people may have a perfectly valid reason for not wishing the surveyors, and so on, to come trampling over their property at a particular time. I notice that subsection (4) of this same clause allows statutory undertakers and the National Coal Board the right to object. I wonder whether this could be extended slightly to allow farmers, foresters, and people in this kind of business, to have the same powers, because often their interests can also be affected injuriously. My Lords, that is all I have to say about the Bill, except for the final comment that one is slightly concerned because, although there is not much new in the Bill, tremendous powers are placed in the hands of a local authority, and are quite often administered by only one or two people. It makes one wonder.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, I too am glad to welcome the Bill, and especially the explicit speech with which the Minister has introduced it. Indeed, in my own experience it is important that every step should be taken to accelerate work on a number of the roads which are being reclassified. I refer particularly to the A.702, which is my particular headache. However, I would agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Ailsa, in having very real doubts about the extensive powers that are now being placed in the hands of the road authorities rather than in the Secretary of State. In general terms I am always disappointed that there are not, in my view, adequate powers for arbitration in the case of disputes over compensation for acquisition. I should be glad to hear from the Minister, when he replies, what he feels about that point. It is specially brought out, of course, in Clause 35(4), but I believe that the willingness of property owners to co-operate in this very necessary work would be enhanced and speeded up if they felt that there was really going to be proper compensation in the event of acquisition.

There arc various points in the Bill which might well be brought up, and I propose to mention one or two which have not already been mentioned by the noble Marquess. First, there is road safety—words which take a prominent place in the first paragraph of the Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill. Secondly, I have various comments to make on one or two clauses which are based not only on my active interest in promoting road safety, but also on practical experience which derives from the fact that my small property marches with a road only recently reclassified. It is a road on which the traffic has at least quadrupled since the opening of the Forth Road Bridge, and I should say that it is greater than that in terms of the tonnage that actually passes the gate.

The first clause to which I would refer is Clause 10, and particularly to subsection (5). I am not altogether happy about that subsection, as I indicated in my opening remarks, because the question of drainage is a problem, especially where a classification turns a country road into a trunk road. This may greatly increase the volume of water which is collected by the impervious road surface, and may affect agricultural land in a way which I have no doubt the noble Marquess included in his comments. Where existing country roads have a drainaway from the road that goes into a field, it is conceivable that great damage may be done to agricultural land if the volume of water flowing into the field from a widened road exceeds the capacity of the field drainage to carry it away.

With regard to Clause 19, I wonder whether the period of ten days in subsection (1) is too short. After all, if a matter is urgent the authorities have power under the proviso in subsection (2) to carry out work themselves. In other words, if there is a real danger requiring immediate attention the authorities have power to deal with it. To my mind, ten days may be adequate in terms of some trees, growth and the like, but it may not be enough if the trees are large, if the weather is bad or if there are trade holidays in hand. I wonder whether the Minister will consider extending that period to, shall we say, a fort-night.

I should like to reinforce the point made by the noble Marquess, Lord Ailsa, about the traffic build-up on roads. With regard to the recovery of expenses, to which the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, referred, walls of a property which are perfectly adequate for country roads are not adequate if a road is classified, not because of anything to do with the property but because of the increased flow of traffic passing by. That is the kind of situation in which arbitration might comfort a property owner.

Another point about walls, fences or hedges beside a road, is the road safety aspect because of the obscuring of vision. It is quite possible that a wall, which is adequate in strength and in every other respect, may make a corner dangerous, especially at the speeds which roads now have to cope with. For the purpose of road safety, I wonder whether powers could be given under this clause to enable an authority to have walls or hedges removed and replaced by fences, or moved back. I am certain that this would receive the co-operation of property owners, so long as they were satisfied with the compensation.

Clause 19(6), which deals with trees, worries me a little and I should be grateful if the Minister would look into that subsection. It says: Work may be carried out under this section on a tree, notwithstanding that the tree is subject to a tree preservation order made under section 26 (1) of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1947. That seems to me a bit hard on the amenity people, and I am not sure that the wording of the subsection could not extend from tree to tree, destroying trees unnecessarily. If a long view was taken, the centre line of the road could be moved rather than destroy a tree, certainly in European Conservation Year.

I now turn to Clause 21(2), which has a connection with what has already been said about the spreading of mud and liquid. I appreciate that the Government are going to table an Amendment at the Committee stage, but I should like to draw attention to the danger of gravel being spilled from vehicles. I believe that this point is covered by another Statute, but it is worth looking into, because in my neighbourhood, where there are a number of gravel pits, a great deal of damage is done, especially in the dark, by those fast vehicles being overloaded. They shoot off down the roads spreading these round pebbles, and I believe that on one length of the A.73 14 windscreens were broken in one day as a result of the faulty loading of one of these gravel-carrying vehicles.

Clause 25(1) uses the term "properly lighted". But are those words adequate? This point was touched on obliquely by the noble Marquess, Lord Ailsa. "Properly lighted" nowadays means that the light must be a very great distance from the obstruction on a highway. It is no use having a light immediately against an obstruction, and a good deal of judgment is required in placing the light, depending upon the location of the obstruction— whether it is near a bend or a blind rise. I wonder whether the clause should contain some reference to a minimum distance from an obstruction at which a notice or a light should be placed.

With regard to Clause 29(3) I think that 200 metres is a long way, but in terms of what I have just said about the drainage of the highway paragraph (b) might extend even further. The same comment applies to Clause 30. I mean by that that the distance from the centre of the road might well be looked into in terms of those clauses. I refer in particular to subsection (4)(b) of Clause 30.

I object entirely to Clause 31, not be-cause I wish to be obstructive, but because I get back to this problem of the very wide powers to acquire which will rest under this Bill with local authorities or road authorities. With the Crichel Down-like experiences in the background, I feel that this point is worth looking into. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has mentioned that the 200 metres will apply in certain cases, but this clause gives power to an authority to acquire land for, shall we say, gravel or sand or stone-crushing plant in connection with the construction of a road, without regard to amenity or the impairment of agricultural land, to which the noble Marquess, Lord Ailsa, referred. All of this doubt would be overcome if the situation with regard to arbitration could be cleared up. But the possibility that I have in mind would also bring in the amenity authorities under the Town and Country Planning Act.

Under Clause 36 we again have the problem of the acquisition of land in advance of requirements. I cannot help smiling over this. Here am I, grumbling about the acquisition of land far ahead of requirements, when one of the bees that I have in my bonnet is that something like twenty years ago land was acquired in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh for the building of a by-pass road, and it is not going to be built for another twenty years. So there are two sides to the question. Not only may it be unfair to acquire land and hold it in use; it may be equally unfair to acquire land and not use it.

In conclusion, I have one suggestion to make. I have the feeling that the Bill might well be used to give power to an authority to dictate the position of road safety notices. I refer particularly to the 30 m.p.h. limit notices. Many of these notices have been in position for over a quarter of a century, and relate to built-up areas and street lighting systems of that period. I believe that it would be well worth while contemplating taking some power under this Bill to have them moved more swiftly than is possible at the moment, because local authorities either do not have that power or are not prepared to use it to move these impor- tant notices, some of which are obscured by vegetation or by shadow. My Lords, I look forward to the Minister's reply.

4.11 p.m.


My Lords, I also should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for his wonderfully clear description of the Bill. Having said that, I regret that it is now necessary to be somewhat critical. It seems a pity that when so many and varied alterations have been put into the Bill, it has not been made a comprehensive and complete revision of the highway law in Scotland. For, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has said, the last major Bill was as far back as 1878, and this Bill has many references back to previous legislation. I think well over a dozen different Bills are referred to; and, obviously, if you are trying to read such a Bill and you have to keep looking back to those many references—


My Lords, I should not wish the noble Lord to go too far on that strain because I have already pointed out that this is a pre-consolidation measure. Once this Bill is through the way is clear for consolidation and the Law Commission will get ahead with the task. But you cannot consolidate and make new law at the same time.


My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister very much for that. I think it is most encouraging, because this is a difficult Bill to follow as it stands. I feel that much of the Bill is a charter to cover up inefficiency in the administration of our roads. The very first sentence in the Explanatory Memorandum says: … to reduce procedural delays in the construction of … roads … For a very long time people in Scotland have been complaining of the lack of planning of our road system and of what is to be done in the future. Surely, with good, advanced planning there would be little need to reduce procedural delays. If you have things well planned in advance, why should it be necessary to cut down the delays? You are not going suddenly to decide that you want a road and then have to get it through in a matter of weeks. I consider that this is really nothing more than a further infringement on the liberty of the subject.

Take, again, line 27 on the first page of the Bill, which refers to a 50-metre deviation. The noble Lord also referred to this provision, saying how it might be necessary in order to save re-advertising, and so on. But if there is reasonable consultation before you advertise, then this can be done away with. The noble Lord quoted a case where a plan had been advertised and where there was an amicable settlement afterwards with, I think he said, three objectors. How much easier it would have been if only the officials had been to the people from whom there were likely to be objections, before the advertisement went in. There is far too much dictatorship in this Department, my Lords. Officials think that this is the right way to go, and they do not bother to consult people. I had this crop up time and again.

In Clause 7, I am rather worried that the Secretary of State should be taken as the arbiter between the highway authority and an individual, because surely the Secretary of State is to all intents and purposes the highway authority. He controls the purse strings; and even if it is a local authority, they are completely subjugated by St. Andrew's House. So it seems that he is arbitrating on his own case. Clause 19 —I am very worried about this point— refers to either the owner or the occupier receiving a notice. Surely it would be quite wrong that only the occupier, or even only the owner, should receive a notice. Why cannot the notice go to both? I know that the noble Lord may say that in certain cases the owner is not known or the occupier is not known, but there is no reason why an attempt should not be made to notify both.

Now, having been somewhat critical of certain aspects of the Bill, I hope the Minister will perhaps forgive me and be able to help me. Clause 4 refers to the making up of streets and footways, but it seems that it is largely urban legislation. So far as the district councils are concerned, we frequently have difficulty. Perhaps there is a through-road which has received much increased use through development or for some other reason, and which should be brought up and put on to the county list of highways. Now the county will not take over this road until it has been brought up to a certain standard. It would seem that we are now permitting very much the same for streets; and I wonder whether it would be possible for what we might call district council roads, on which they can spend money, to be brought up to standard at the road authority's expense rather than that of the poor district councils, who really have not got very much money.

I am a little worried about Clause 24. It seems that if you have a choked drain to open up in a hurry—there may have been flooding damage—you may (I do not say that you would) find yourself liable to a fine of £100 because it may have been impossible to consult the local authority beforehand. After all, they work only five days a week now, and if you get a flood on a Saturday or a Sun-day you will have a good deal of difficulty to consult them. It is unreasonable, in such a situation, that one should be liable to a fine of £100. I am sure we are all most grateful to the noble Lord for saying that he is looking again at Clause 27, which deals with mud on the roads, and I hope that this matter will be sorted out.

I am glad that my noble friend Lord Ferrier mentioned gravel, because this is a serious problem, too—and I was pleased to see the Minister nodding when my noble friend mentioned this. In Clause 33 again, there is provision regarding 800 metres from the centre line. That is about half a mile, my Lords. It seems a lot of land on either side of a trunk road to acquire by compulsory purchase. Is this to cover up further mistakes? It is a very long distance. So is 200 metres on either side of a side-road. After all, that is a mile on either side of the trunk road that you could acquire compulsorily if you wished to.


My Lords, I am sorry, but I missed the reference to the clause.


Clause 33—compul-sory acquisition. Finally, I should like to make a plea concerning the situation where perhaps an iron-fenced side road meets a trunk road. Up to now, the roads authorities have flatly refused to put in cattle grids on these roads. I know a case where a trunk road is fenced and then there is a ridiculous gap on a side-road, running off from this road, where stock can walk out on to the trunk road. This is not only a danger to the stock: it is of course a danger to the road-user as well. I hope that it will be possible to insert some provision to get over this difficulty.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for more than a few moments. I think this Bill is a good Bill, and I am glad that my noble friend Lord Lothian gave it a general welcome. Particularly must I say now, as regards the roads North of Inverness in which I am particularly interested and of which I am a constant user, that great credit is due to the highway authorities and the local authorities for the great improvements that have been and are being made. However, I wish to raise with the noble Lord what I think I can definitely call Second Reading points.

The Minister, in his clearway passage from the beginning to the end of the Bill, really skirted over or scarcely touched upon Clause 7, which gives powers to divert waters when constructing or improving highways. Under this clause: The highway authority may divert or carry out any other works on inland waters (whether natural or artificial) … where, in the opinion of the highway authority, the carrying out of such works is necessary for the construction, improvement or protection of a highway". Those are tremendously wide powers. It means, in fact, that, subject to certain provisions which I will touch upon in one moment, the highway authorities could divert the River Tweed or could do works damaging to the River Tay, the River Dee or the River Spey, to mention four great rivers which contribute much to the economy of Scotland. The highway authority, if it considered it necessary, could carry out constructural works which might do great damage to the rivers, and therefore, as I have said, to the economy and to tourism and to the enjoyment of many people in Scotland.

The Bill provides for objections to be lodged in 28 days. That seems to me to be a little inconsistent. In the earlier part of the Bill we reduce the period for lodging objections to six weeks, and then we give only 28 days in regard to objections which I believe could be of even greater importance to the economy of Scotland than some of the objections that may be under the six weeks' pro-vision. It is true that the objections when lodged will, as it were, stop the highway authority from proceeding with those works until the matter has been referred for determination to the Secretary of State, who can either consent or give consent conditionally or can with-hold consent; but his decision on the matter will be final.

That is the provision in the Bill which I seriously question: as to whether, when you interfere with waters and Nature, you are not taking on matters of tremendous complexity; whether the ipse dixit of the Secretary of State alone should be sufficient safeguard for big measures which may affect the whole economy of the country. Could not the Minister consider at a later stage of the Bill putting in, first, "six weeks" instead of "28 days" as the time for objections; and, secondly, some form of appeal or public inquiry which will take away from the Secretary of State that absolute power which the Bill gives him as at present drafted? I hope that the Minister will consider those points. I would not press him for a reply now, but if he will consider them I believe that favourable consideration will improve what is already a good Bill.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, I hope for a complementary development in the road situation of Scotland which would flow from the added powers which the Minister is taking here. I should like to support what my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye has said. I wonder whether you really need powers quite as wide as those in Clause 7? They are sensible enough when taken reasonably but, interpreted, they could have very wide implications.

Turning to Clause 7(5), I wonder what is meant by "owner or occupier". You do not normally "occupy" water in the full sense of the term. Surely the words must mean something like "riparian owner". Water movement affects a great many people other than those in the immediate vicinity where alterations may be taking place. Could the noble Lord answer this question? Is this the first time that the word "metre" has been used in a Statute? If it is, is there an official metre anywhere in this country from which all standards can be taken? Finally, can the noble Lord say whether instruments for measuring metres are readily available in the retail stores at the present time?


My Lords, I want to ask only one question in clarification about the flexibility of the 50-metre shift of the centre line of the road. I do not want to criticise it, but of course the centre line of the road does not affect the amount of ground that the road is built on. If you happen to be on sidelong ground, you might move the road to a position 50 metres one way, but the bottom of that road might then have to be in a very heavy embankment or cutting and you would require consider-ably more land than is signified by the flexibility of the 50-metres shift. Surely in this case the controlling factor is the distance the edge of the road should be shifted, and not the centre line, because where the edge of the road comes depends on the level of the crown of the read and not on its mere position. I should like a little clarification from the Minister on that point.


My Lords, I referred to Clause 33 in my speech. It should have been Clause 32, in regard to the 800 metres.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord had no need to apologise. The note that I have been given refers to Clause 32. I am grateful for the general welcome which has been given to this Bill. Much of what has been raised could be regarded as Committee points; but, on the other hand, how does one find out whether it is necessary to move an Amendment at the Committee stage without asking some of these questions? Therefore I will endeavour to deal with some of the points which have been made.

The noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, in giving a very generous welcome to the Bill, raised only a few points, but these were all of some principle. He made a valid point in regard to the purchase of land in advance of requirements. The Secretary of State who himself has these powers at the present time does not exercise them unduly in advance of likely need. We should certainly wish to impress on local authorities that they should, in general, take the same sort of line as that of the Secretary of State. One thing which at the present time will be a very strong encouragement to the local authority to follow the Secretary of State's advice is the great expense, because of high interest rates, of doing anything before you have to do it. I do not think that, generally speaking, we need to rely on anything stronger than the natural instincts of the local authorities not to waste money—and particularly Scottish local authorities.

The subject of retaining walls I must admit had not been brought to my attention. It is an interesting point and I will undertake to look at it. I hope to table the Amendments which I shall be putting down to Clause 21 in relation to mud and other materials in the next few days. I emphasise to the noble Lords, Lord Ferrier and Lord Burton, who referred to this, that the question of gravel will be taken into account. Perhaps other noble Lords will not consider themselves slighted if I follow the course that I had in mind of writing to the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, as soon as I am in a position to table them, explaining the purport of the Amendments. Some of the Amendments which will be tabled in addition to those in Clause 21 will be of a drafting nature; but in the case of any significance I will try to put the noble Marquess as much in the picture as I am myself.

The noble Marquess raised quite a number of points. First, there was the amount of land taken for road schemes. This is always a great difficulty. Unfortunately, practically everything that has to be done by way of improvement —providing land for houses, for industry and for roads—eats still more into our supply of agricultural land. It must always be a question of where the balance of advantage lies. Sometimes there is little choice in the matter. It would be easy if one could always put houses, industry and roads on land of no agricultural value. This might have been very useful for the Highlands; they might then have been in a position of having the best roads instead of the poorest roads in Scotland, because undoubtedly they have much of the poorest land. We do not go out of our way needlessly to acquire agricultural land. Again we do not go out of our way, notwithstanding the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Burton, to do it in the most troublesome way to the people concerned.

I doubt whether there is any answer that I can give to the noble Marquess on the subject of roads being improved to allow faster speeds and then creating the resulting problem to which he has referred: the danger which arises when they are being used by slow and fast moving vehicles. I think that all of us have had the experience of being behind a slow-moving vehicle; and if one has to go a long distance without being able to overtake, one gets more and more frustrated and more likely to take what may turn out to be a needless risk. All I can say is there where the problem becomes really acute it is generally at the point where the justification may arise for creating a dual-carriageway, which enables a certain amount of segregation to take place. On the question of filling in ditches, certainly account must be taken of the whole problem, including the drainage from further upstream.

The power to close accesses is restricted. The highway authority must satisfy itself that another access is available or is unnecessary, or that it can provide a substitute access for the one that is being closed. On the subject of the right of appeal against entry, the present position is that, in general, under existing law there is no right of appeal and in fact there are places where only 24 hours notice need be given. Nevertheless, I will look at the point which the noble Marquess has raised.

He expressed some concern about "any person" having the right to ask for the closure of a road. I am afraid that he has been needlessly alarmed. The procedure must be carried out by the highway authority, but the wording of the clause recognises that there are people other than the highway authority who may have an interest—it may be, for instance, industry, or a university—and they are given the right to raise the matter. But they must satisfy the highway authority of the need for doing so, because it is the highway authority which will have to act. If an industrialist, a farmer or a university asks for this to be done, the highway authority cannot say, "We are not going to look at it; it is none of your business". It is their business, and they are given the right to raise the matter. But, I repeat, they must satisfy the highway authority if that authority is going to act. The noble Marquess also asked about the planting of trees within five metres from the edge of the road, and asked what happened if the road was widened. The answer is a simple one—and perhaps not a satisfactory one, if a great number of subsequent improvements take place. The prohibition on planting applies only to new trees and shrubs.

I come now to the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier. He spoke of the possibility that the increased water flow from improved roads might be too much for field drainage. The purpose of Clause 10 is to give highway authorities better powers to provide drainage from roads, and for the first time there is a requirement for owners to be consulted. This is a new provision. The owners could object if the field drainage was likely to be prejudiced, so I think that the noble Lord will be satisfied that we are seeking to improve the position. On compensation, Clause 35(3) provides for arbitration procedures on compulsory purchase of land, and Clause 39 provides for arbitration on disputes about compensation under certain other clauses. What I cannot discuss on the Bill is the question of the rate of compensation, which of course is not a matter for the content of the Bill.

Regarding the 10 days' notice referred to in Clause 19, there is of course an implication that danger exists, and obviously if there is a need to remedy a danger, too much time ought not to be allowed to elapse without something being done. But if the noble Lord looks at the clause he will see that it says, "… 10 days … or such longer period as the sheriff may allow …". Obviously, if the suspected danger arose at the time of holidays that would be something which would be drawn to the attention of the sheriff. He would not make an order on a notice, the period of which, or a substantial part of which, covered say, a local holiday, when people would not be available. If there were any other extraordinary circumstances which might make a longer period necessary, I have no doubt at all that the sheriff would take that into account.


My Lords, I thought I had made the point that the proviso to subsection (2), if there is danger, gives the authority power itself to carry out the work. It may therefore be assumed that the period of 10 days applies when there is not danger; and it seemed to me that it would be a pity to have to go to the sheriff about the difference between 10 days and a fortnight. Ten days seems to me to be too short.


My Lords, the noble Lord is seeking to confer on local authorities a power which I would have hesitated to suggest. I have no doubt that where there is very acute danger, and where waiting even 24 hours might result in danger, there will be no problem. The owner will not make difficulties because, after all, he will presumably think of the liability in which he might be involved if he were the one responsible for the existence of the danger. In cases where there was an argument whether or not there was danger, the matter would presumably go to the sheriff.

However, my Lords, I will look at the point. I do not know that I would object to the period being 14 days, instead of 10 days: I do not think that it matters very much. The important thing is that where there is immediate danger action should be taken. Where there is doubt, the owner should have some right of appeal to the sheriff, and then the sheriff may be the one who decides the amount of time that should be allowed for the work to be done. I should have thought that what would govern the period would be the time in which it could be reasonably expected that the work would be done, rather than the time at which it could be started. There would be no point in ordering someone to do something within 10 days if the job was so extensive that it would take a fortnight to carry out.


My Lords, the clause says, "to carry out", not "to commence".


I think the noble Lords is right there.

My Lords, on the question of tree preservation orders, I must point out that this provision relates to existing danger to roads. It may well be that if there was danger the only thing to do would be to remove the tree. Obviously, unless the intention was to make a new road it would not be possible to move the road. I could have seen the noble Lord's point if it were a question of constructing a completely new road, in which case it might well be desirable to alter the line in order to preserve some very fine trees —in fact that sort of thing is done from time to time. But there might well arise the question of danger on an existing road, involving the destruction of a tree on which there was a preservation order. Obviously, in such a case destruction would be done only as a last resort, because the existence of the preservation order would make it necessary for the people concerned to consider every other reasonable course of action.

In relation to Clause 25, the noble Lord raised the question of whether a distance could be set for advanced lights. This is covered by the traffic code for road works which I am glad to be able to assure the noble Lord is presently under consideration. Then in connection with Clause 31, the noble Lord asked whether the clause would allow the high-way authorities to acquire land for crushing gravel, and so on, to the impairment of agriculture or amenity. The answer is that the highway authority would no doubt be able to acquire land for quarrying, and it would not always be near the road. This could lead to acquisition either by agreement or compulsorily. If the acquisition needed agreement, the owner could refuse to sell; if it was pro-posed to be acquired by compulsion, he has the necessary safeguards.

The noble Lord, Lord Burton, began by saying that he had to be critical. He will forgive me if I say that if I got through a Scottish Bill without some note of criticism from the noble Lord, nobody would query his views on the matter, but if we had reached agreement people would wonder where I had gone wrong. I therefore express my usual note of gratitude to the noble Lord for making it clear that he does not see eye to eye with the Government on every dot and comma in the Bill. I am not going to say anything about his general remarks about bureacracy and the Bill as a cover-up for inefficiency.

The noble Lord asked why deviation is needed. There may be cases where a proposed road has to be changed for engineering reasons and the possibility of this cannot be known beforehand. There might be whole stretches of road where the question of deviation would never arise, because it was clear that this was the line that was required. Then again, the road might have to be moved 30, 40 or 50 metres, not because of engineering reasons but to remove objections. After all, if the matter can be fixed in this way, so that everybody is made happy about it, there is no reason why highway authorities should have to go through the present wasteful procedures of doing the initial work and then doing it all over again after they have found out what people want. If we provide for meeting possible objections in the way we suggest in the Bill, we can avoid this.

The noble Lord also asked about consultation before road schemes are advertised. This is an old point. Of course, a great deal of consultation takes place before advertisement. All the people who are expected to be involved are consulted. But with the best will in the world—and the noble Lord will believe that neither I nor the civil servants in St. Andrew's House claim to know everything—there can be cases where somebody turns up with what appear to be legitimate objections that have never occurred to us. How can we know, in advance of advertisement, of an objection from somebody of whom we do not know? The procedure in the Bill enables the unknown and the unforeseen to have the benefit of consultation, and it enables us to cut down the periods of delay and not have, as we have at the present time, three months added to three months.

The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, spoke of the distance of 200 metres in Clause 29. A highway authority is empowered to acquire land required for highway purposes, but I would point out that the 200 metres is the maximum distance from the road it can go; and in many cases the distance may be less.

To come back to the noble Lord, Lord Burton, who spoke about the possibility under Clause 4 of unadopted roads in landward areas being assisted, the whole question of private street rights is being considered separately at the present time by the Department with the local authorities associations. I hope that something may come out of this consideration, but we have not got far enough in these consultations for me to give any undertaking about financial assistance. The noble Lord also referred to the limit of 800 metres. The object here is to enable the highway authorities to acquire land to replace an access which has to be closed. It was felt reasonable that there should be this latitude. The idea is not to acquire huge swathes of land, but it might well be that an authority would not be able to provide an alternative access 50 or 100 yards away, and might have to go up to half a mile to find a suitable site. Therefore we feel that it is better to provide for what might happen than to fix a narrow limit and then find that a road cannot be closed because the limit is so narrow that no alternative can be provided.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye—and the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, joined with him—raised the question of the diversion of a watercourse. This is a new power which is being given to local authorities. I think that noble Lords are looking on this as something much vaster than the purpose for which it is intended. The local authorities have asked for this power, because, for instance, they may find that in having to build a bridge over a fairly narrow stream, the existing course of the water may mean that the bridge will have to be built at an angle—a skew bridge, which becomes a nuisance—whereas a small diversion of the stream may make it possible for the bridge to be built on a line with the road. In other cases, the local authority may wish to divert or change the course of a stream because that would enable the authority to make the road more economically. The whole intention is to use this power for some-thing of a minor nature, because as soon as an authority embarked on any diversion of a large river, or any major diversion of a smaller one, it would be involved in enormous expense in carrying out the work and in the compensation which would follow. In any event, I think that the procedures of protection which are laid down in this respect are adequate.

The noble Lord also took exception to the Secretary of State's having the final decision on this matter. My Lords, someone must have the final decision, and it has been generally accepted that Parliament will be kept better in the picture if the final decision is taken by someone whose accountability is to Parliament, rather than by some outside authority. I am well aware that I may not be satisfying the noble Lord, but this provision is backed up by precedents in other import-ant measures where the final appeal is to a Minister.


My Lords, does the noble Lord recollect, in regard to the paramountcy of the Secretary of State, the fate of the river Deveron water scheme? In that case, if the Secretary of State had had the final word, the scheme would have gone forward, in spite of the protests and representations. The Secretary of State held an inquiry, but he threw over the inquiry and issued a Pro-visional Order. Finally, a Select Committee was set up and found that the Secretary of State's ipse dixit was not right. The noble Lord is saying that this is only a little power, but in fact it is a very big power that he is trying to take.


My Lords, I still think that the noble Lord's fears are groundless, but it is much better to allay fears than to try and push them aside, so I will have a look at the matter.

My final point relates to the metric system. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, will probably be as surprised as I am at the answer I am able to give him. Yes: there is standard metre in the Ministry of Technology, and measuring equipment can be purchased. I think that I have at fairly considerable length answered most of the points raised by noble Lords. I know that my colleagues and those who wish to follow me will not be unduly grateful to me, but I hope that in due course I shall receive a dividend in having the minimum of Amendments to deal with at the succeeding stage of the Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.