HL Deb 15 February 1972 vol 328 cc9-11

2.50 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 how many summonses have been taken out in the last five years in the London Metropolitan police area against commercial vehicles emitting smoke and fumes beyond the statutory limit.]


My Lords, during the five years, 1966–70, there were a total of 751 prosecutions in the Metropolitan Police District for unlawful emission of smoke and other substances from motor vehicles. The available statistics do not distinguish between private and commercial vehicles.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that reply, may I ask him whether he is aware that many motorists appreciate that there are large numbers of vehicles which emit obnoxious fumes far above a reasonable limit? Would it not be easier to clean up the environment in our towns if it were easier to collect evidence and also to get successful prosecutions? Would he consider perhaps enlisting the aid of traffic wardens in reporting vehicles which are making excessive smoke? Would he also consider setting a limit to the amount of obnoxious fumes that can be emitted, just as limits have been set on the amount of noise which can be made?


My Lords, the difficulty about setting statutory limits is that smoke blows away, so that it is hard to measure it in any way. Heavy goods vehicles, especially those powered by diesel fuel, are the main offenders, and additional regulations, including those making it necessary for goods vehicles to have an annual test and authorising random roadside tests, were introduced by my right honourable friend, the Minister for Transport Industries, last year. There are now over 500 Department of the Environment goods vehicle examiners, and so they are available to assist the police in the way the noble Lord has indicated.


My Lords, does my noble friend appreciate that noise also blows away; so that is no argument against trying to set a limit?


My Lords, can the noble Lord say, out of the number of prosecutions he enumerated, how many proved successful?


My Lords. I can do that on the basis of convictions for England and Wales, although not for the Metropolitan Police District. Out of a total of 1,857 prosecutions in 1970, 1,774 were successful.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that probably a better solution would be to have regulations for the power/weight ratio of vehicles, so that smoke emission would be likely to be very much less?


My Lords, this is a technical subject, and the fact that a Home Office Minister is speaking on it as well as my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton shows how unsparing the Government are in giving our attention to these matters. I am told that the reason why the regulations take the form they do rather than setting a statutory limit is that they aim at the causes of excess smoke. This is usually caused by faulty engine maintenance, overweighting and things of this sort, and the regulations are aimed at preventing this.


My Lords, in view of the importance of this subject, could the noble Lord tell me whether the Government are satisfied with the number of prosecutions, which seem to me to be a very small percentage of the total number of vehicles on the road?


My Lords, the figure in the original reply referred to the Metropolitan Police District only. If we look at the figure for England and Wales over the same period we see that there were 11,817 prosecutions. I am advised that this does not include written and verbal warnings by the police, which often will be an appropriate form of sanction.