HL Deb 08 February 1973 vol 338 cc1136-9

3.13 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 whether, in view of the increasing number of movements of bulk loads of highly dangerous liquids, such as acids, by road, they will issue regulations to ensure that the police are notified of the details of the load and the route and timing of the journey, so that, in the event of an accident or leakage, appropriate neutralising and rescue equipment is readily available.


My Lords, the volume of this traffic is so great that a comprehensive system of movement monitoring would not be practicable. The emergency services have, however, been advised how to deal with spillages of inflammable liquids and corrosive substances, and will have been able to establish where stocks of suitable neutralising agents can be obtained. Rescue equipment is kept by fire brigades.


My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. I am considerably alarmed at this because there have been numbers of cases of very dangerous and serious accidents. I feel that some form of control—


My Lords, I do not dissent in any way from what my noble friend is saying, but I think that it would be more in order if he couched it in the interrogative form.


I beg your Lordships' pardon. Would the noble Baroness consider, as an interim measure while looking further into this matter, whether these vehicles should be distinguished in some way when travelling on the road because at the moment, as I am sure she will agree, they are causing great danger to a large number of people?


My Lords, the Home Secretary's Standing Advisory Committee on Dangerous Substances is considering additional controls and these could extend to movement monitoring. But among the proposals for next year will be included controls on the construction and operation of vehicles. I will certainly draw the suggestion made by the noble Lord to the notice of the Home Secretary.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether she is aware that the P. and 0. Group, which is an extensive road service, has switched 500,000 gallons of this dangerous liquid from road transport to rail transport? Will she not do something to encourage this practice, particularly as special vehicles are now available?


My Lords, I will certainly take note of that point, although I think I am right in saying that in fact matters of transport come under the Department of the Environment.


My Lords, to return to the Question on the Order Paper, would it really be so difficult for the police to be informed when such a vehicle starts on a journey? Obviously, it would not be possible to have police all the way along the route, but it is possible to use a telephone. Would it really matter if the police were instructed to telephone to the next area through which the vehicle would be travelling?


My Lords, as I said earlier, I understand that there are now so many movements of these dangerous liquids that it is not thought practicable for the police to be informed about every one of them. The Home Secretary's Standing Advisory Committee is considering whether it can monitor those which are especially dangerous.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is a specific danger that when an accident occurs involving one of these vehicles the liquid may find its way into a river which provides a water supply? Is she aware that there is a need for urgent action and that if the volume of these vehicles is so great that it is impossible to monitor them, and therefore direct that they travel on routes which would be reasonably safe, it is vital that the structure of the vehicles carrying especially corrosive chemicals should be such as to give a far greater safeguard than is the case to-day?


Yes, my Lords, we are aware of the urgency and importance of this subject, and I will take note of what the noble Lord has said.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness able to tell us whether the Committee to which she has referred will also study the question of other toxic liquids as well as those which are inflammable or corrosive, which may not only find their way into rivers but also into water underground and be a contaminant for many years to come?


My Lords, it is proposed to introduce controls during 1973 over organic peroxide and other materials. I hope that this information will go some way to meeting the point raised by the noble Earl.


My Lords, is it possible for a driver to be sent off on a journey not knowing what is in his tank, so that if there is an accident he cannot tell the police what the tank contains so that they may wipe it up in the right way? Or is there now a regulation, having the force of law, that every driver must be told what he is carrying?


My Lords, the Chemical Industries Association has produced a scheme consisting of a set of printed cards called "Tremcards" which give the particular substances and the kind of information that the driver would be required to know should there be an accident. Among the regulations will be one requiring that a copy of these instructions be carried on every vehicle.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that many of these vehicles may contain anything up to twenty or thirty tons of a highly dangerous liquid? Will she inform the Minister that the railways have long experience of dealing with these substances, and will she impress upon her right honourable friend that there is considerable volume of opinion in the country which thinks that such liquid should be carried by rail and that it is a waste of the time of firemen and policemen to have to supervise road vehicles carrying these substances?


My Lords, we are very well aware that extremely dangerous substances are carried. I will pass on to my right honourable friend what the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, has said.


My Lords, can the noble Baroness say whether there are any special regulations covering the servicing of these vehicles, and also whether there are any restrictions upon the speed at which they may travel?


My Lords, I do not have that information before me, but I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Segal, on the matter.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness make clear one thing which I am not yet clear about? Now that we are part of the European Community, have we the right to forbid lorries over a certain size to come into our country?


My Lords, I think that is rather wide of the Question.