HL Deb 16 July 1971 vol 322 cc639-43

11.43 a.m.

LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON rose to move, That the Special Roads (Classes of Traffic) Order 1971, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the Special Roads (Classes of Traffic) Order 1971, dated June 15, 1971, and the Special Roads (Classes of Traffic) (Scotland) Order, 1971, dated June 22, 1971, copies of which were laid before the House on June 22 and 24 of this year respectively, be approved. The Orders were approved in another place on July 1. I should explain briefly what the Orders do and the reasons for them.

The first Order, which I now move, will, if approved, amend Schedule 4 to the Highways Act 1959, which lays down classes of traffic which may be allowed on or excluded from motorways. The Order would apply to England and Wales. The second Order is substantially the same, but relates to the corresponding Scottish legislation, and will have effect in Scotland. Of the 11 different classes of traffic laid down, only classes 1 and 2 are normally allowed to use motorways at all times. These include private cars, lorries, buses, motorcycles, motor tractors, breakdown vehicles, and vehicles authorised to be used for conveying abnormal loads.

The effect of the Orders is to include in classes 1 and 2 some additional categories of vehicles, and thus to allow them to use the motorways. The most important of these categories is the locomotive, which is a legal term meaning vehicles not designed to carry loads themselves and weighing more than 71 tons. The purpose of such locomotives is to haul the trailers containing the load. When the load is abnormal and indivisible for example, a big generator or a giant boiler tank—the locomotive is allowed on the motorway. It is only when the locomotive travels solely, or hauls a normal load such as a consignment of paint or metal castings, that it is forbidden to use the motorway. The order will make it lawful to drive such tractors on motorways. The other categories included are vehicles for moving excavated material, vehicles constructed for use outside the United Kingdom, and engineering plant. In all cases there is a condition that the vehicle should be capable of a minimum speed of 25 miles per hour.

There are good reasons for making the change. Operators claim that the present situation is very inconvenient and substantially increases their costs. In addition, the alternative routes which they are compelled to use often pass through densely developed and highly industrialised areas, or through our historic towns. These larger vehicles can cause considerable congestion and delays to traffic on such roads, thereby increasing costs to the community. I can give the assurance that road safety will not be adversely affected.

The total number of vehicles involved amounts to only a few thousand, and very few are likely to be on the motorways at any one time, or to be travelling any distance. Most of the vehicles can maintain a speed of 35 to 45 miles per hour, thus fitting into the slow stream of commercial vehicles without difficulty. Fluorescent and reflective marker boards, which will be required to be fitted to the rear of heavy vehicles and trailers by November 1 of this year, will make most of the vehicles more conspicuous, and we are also considering requiring amber flashing beacons on these vehicles as an additional safeguard. There is no reason to fear that the Orders will have an adverse effect on safety, and they may be a positive safety benefit by removing these vehicles from roads ill-equipped to accommodate them. Finally, I would mention that interested organisations have been consulted, and the proposals have met with their general agreement. I hope, therefore, that the House will now approve the first Order.

Moved, That the Special Roads (Classes of Traffic) Order 1971, be approved.—(Lord Mowbray and Stourton.)

11.48 a.m.


My Lords, we are all grateful for the noble Lord's explanation and for the assurances he has been able to give the House on those matters about which some apprehension may be felt. It is a long time since I was on speaking terms with an"abnormal indivisible load ", but I have listened with interest to what the noble Lord had to say about the present position relating to these. It is clear that with the development of the motorway system it would be absurd not to make the amendment. Unless we make this amendment, we shall be channelling these extremely cumbersome loads through historic towns and through villages where the damage to amenity is considerable.

We wholeheartedly support the amendment which the Government are proposing and are pleased to learn that the Government have very much in mind those points on which we may have been worried: the question of their travelling either at too low or too high a speed. It is to be hoped that the Government will be satisfied that the regulations about the braking power of such vehicles are adequate, and that there will be some guidance as to overtaking, which is the one aspect of the problem which could give cause for alarm. As a member of the Transport and General Workers Union, I express the view that in my opinion lorry drivers are among the most courteous and careful users of the road and we need not view the proposed amendment with anything but the most warmhearted and cordial approval.


My Lords, I do not want to take up your time unduly on a matter on which I have no particular expertise, but may I say that I am not really satisfied with the three assurances which were given on the subject of safety. The first assurance simply amounted to this: that there would not be a large number of these vehicles, and from that I gather that the number of accidents would, therefore, be small. I do not think that that is an assurance on safety. The second was that although these vehicles had to be guaranteed to be able to reach a speed of 25 m.p.h., most of them would be able to do 35 or 40 m.p.h.; in other words, that is surely an admission that a speed of 25 m.p.h. on a motorway is extremely dangerous. The only assurance is that most people will not be travelling at speeds as low as that. If that is so, why should not this Order say 35 or 40 m.p.h., instead of 25 m.p.h.? The third assurance was that the interested parties had been consulted. The interested parties are those who want to use the roads in this way, not, presumably, those first of all concerned with safety. I should like a further assurance.


My Lords, I listened very carefully to what my noble friend said, and I am perfectly satisfied that the Order which he is moving is in the interests of road safety. With regard to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Platt, just now about the minimum speed, my noble friend, I think, said that most of these vehicles are able to do 35 to 40 m.p.h., but one cannot guarantee that they all are; therefore one cannot lay down a minimum speed greater than the one that has been imposed. It is most certainly safer for them to travel on a motorway than on the rather narrower roads with the great deal more overtaking, and sometimes not very wide overtaking, which occurs there.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend a question? Is there any possibility of making a regulation to provide that these vehicles, if they travel one behind the other, shall leave double the distance between each other, so that cars behind can overtake? Because that is where the real danger occurs.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, and my noble friend Lord Somers for the welcome they have given to these two Orders. They have been conceived in a spirit of trying to be helpful to road traffic in general and industry in particular. The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, asked about braking power, and this was a point about which the noble Lord, Lord Platt, was obviously worried. These are heavy vehicles, and with loads they are heavier. The advice I am given is that the braking standards are continuously under review. The Road Research Laboratory is continually at work on this subject and my right honourable friend the Minister is always willing to be advised again. Certainly he has safety continuously in the front of his mind.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood made a point on overtaking which I, personally, from my own experience, would endorse, that long-distance lorry drivers, in particular, who spend a lot of their time on the roads, are as a rule most courteous. These are matters which can he put into a Highway Code; they can be made apparent chiefly by what public opinion feels about it. I think the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, is met by the fact that obviously if these very heavy lorries were to tail each other, with no gaps, the drivers would be behaving very inconsiderately. I do not think we should legislate too much about things like this; we want to do it by public opinion. In any case, I do not think there is much of this sort of thing. When traffic jams occur, of course, it is inevitable, but in the normal conditions of road driving we do not find this is a great problem.

My Lords. I think I have answered most of the points that were raised. The noble Lord, Lord Platt, asked about the interested parties. Obviously, these included industry and the unions and the motoring associations. In the course of this short discussion this morning, we have mentioned all the obvious reasons why this is the case.

On Question, Motion agreed to