HL Deb 19 November 1981 vol 425 cc567-9

3.14 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

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 they propose to take in the light of the failure of the Greater London Council to deal with traffic congestion caused by the entry into and passage through Central London of very large commercial vehicles.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, traffic regulation in London is the responsibility of the Greater London Council which has powers under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 to regulate the movement of lorries and other heavy vehicles. Lorries of more than 40 feet in length, not requiring access, are already banned from the central area of London. I understand that the Greater London Council has appointed an independent panel of inquiry into the effects of bans on heavy lorries within London: we await with interest the outcome of this inquiry.

For the Government's part, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport continues to press ahead as fast as possible towards the completion of the London outer orbital road, the M25, which will provide a means whereby large vehicles with business elsewhere may by-pass the London area.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that reply, may I ask him whether he is aware that the situation is becoming increasingly acute? That if, as is stated in the press, the Government permit the operation of larger vehicles than at present, it will become even more acute? Is he also aware that the Greater London Council, with whom, as he said, primary responsibility lies, is withdrawing the safeguarding of the routes which are required to provide proper diversionary roads round London? In those circumstances, in view of the fact that the national capital is involved, can my noble friend assure me that in default of early effective action by the GLC the Government will take powers, if necessary by legislation, and do it themselves?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's battery of supplementaries. May I start with the last one. There is a power for my right honourable friend under the Road Traffic Act 1967 to take overriding powers. With regard to the Armitage Report, these are at the moment rumours we are reading in the press. My right honourable friend hopes to make a statement on this in the near future. The noble Lord also raised a question of what the Greater London Council is doing. It has just started this panel of inquiry, with very good terms of reference, which is due to report in the spring, and I think we should wait for this.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that there is considerable disappointment among noble Lords that this House has not been able to debate the Armitage Report? Does he also recall that in the debate on the gracious Speech I asked whether it was the intention of the Government to do anything in the present legislative Session regarding the Armitage Report, and at this moment I am still awaiting a reply? Can he confirm what is the position?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, concerning whether this House debates it or not, I am sure that is for the usual channels to negotiate. So far as the matter stands at the moment, the Government are still considering the issue of heavy lorries. We are certainly moving towards decisions, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has made it clear that he expects to announce the Government's intentions fairly soon.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, while welcoming what the noble Earl said about the M25 being still Government priority, can he tell me, referring to Lord Boyd-Carpenter's question, is the 11-ton axle weight still being applied in regard to the heavier allowances for commercial vehicles?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, there is no change at the moment. We are, as I said, awaiting my right honourable friend's statement.

Baroness Denington

My Lords, I too welcome the noble Earl's reference to the M25. Can the noble Earl now give the House a date for the completion of the M25, which is not the responsibility, as he is aware, of the Greater London Council but of the Ministry of Transport and the Government? Is the noble Earl aware that the Greater London Council for many years, irrespective of party, has been pressing for this orbital road which will take the heavy traffic out of London, and that until that road is completed and built, which is the responsibility of the Government, it is not able to direct heavy lorries to suitable routes for them?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Baroness's question. Subject to the availability of adequate funds and the satisfactory outcome of statutory procedures, my right honourable friend expects the M25 to be completed as an orbital road in 1986. It has the highest priority in the national trunk road programme. Perhaps the noble Baroness may have seen that even yesterday a new section was opened between the Egham and Yeoveney sections.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the previous administration of the Greater London Council passed plans for a lorry ban in the northern part of London? That all costs to implement this ban had already been met, and all notices were ready to be unveiled, and that this experimental lorry ban, which would have been of great benefit in establishing whether lorries and heavy vehicles could be kept to major roads only, was cancelled by the present administration with the loss of those funds?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I was not aware of my noble friend's assertion, and I am grateful to her for drawing it to the attention of the House.