HL Deb 14 June 1984 vol 452 cc1253-6

3.12 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the estimated cost of modernising the road signs of the United Kingdom to the standard now existing on the motorways, and what plans they have for implementing such a programme.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, most traffic signs on main roads in the United Kingdom comply with the standards recommended in the Anderson Report 1962 and the Worboys Report 1963 for motorways and all purpose roads respectively. On minor rural roads a considerable number of old "finger" post type signs still exist. Also on some urban roads there are a number of directional signs that do not comply with modern requirements. There are no centrally held records which would enable the cost of modernising them to be assessed. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has no proposals for a general programme of modernisation of these signs.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, may I thank my noble friend for his informative Answer. Is he aware that at many intersections in this country the signs are not adequate, they often lead to accidents due to hesitation by drivers as they are negotiating an intersection, and that this is something which could be rectified by a comprehensive review? Is he further aware that our general road signing compares very badly with our neighbours in Europe, particularly the French and Italians? We are way behind. While I realise that it would be expensive to bring the level of road signs other than on motorways up to a good, modern standard, is the noble Lord the Minister aware that it really would be a valuable improvement, good value for money and would save a great many accidents?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, my noble friend will no doubt be aware that the Department of Transport are responsible for 1,400 miles of motorway and 4,800 miles of all-purpose trunk road. The intersections to which he refers would fall to the responsibility of the local highway authority because there are a further 152,000 miles in that classification. We have no record which supports my noble friend's contention that the signing is sufficiently inadequate to cause accidents.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, would not the noble Lord the Minister agree that the signposting requirements on the M.25 are completely different to those required on most other motorways in Britain? Would he not agree also that if the full potential of the M.25 as a by-pass relief road for London is to be realised, it is essential that there should be adequate signposting to local destinations and places of interest? Have the Government in mind any supplementary signposting on the M.25?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I quite agree with the earlier remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. The complete signposting of the M.25 will not be accomplished until the road itself is finished in 1986. If the noble Lord has any particular difficulty in any section which is now open, of course I should like to know about it.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, is not my noble friend happy that his department is giving local authorities sufficient advice as to what should be a suitable minimum agreed standard of road signs in this country?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the signing regulations to which I have earlier referred were set in 1963, updated in 1971 and further updated in 1981. The Traffic Signs regulations do prescribe in general terms sign colours, lighting or reflectorisation requirements. These are dealt with under British Standard No. 873. We feel that our signposting compares very favourably with that of other countries.

Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many motorists will be delighted to hear that modernisation of road signs is not to proceed apace because experience has shown them that the more the signs are modernised the more confusing they become? Is he aware that it is a common experience to follow road signs pointing to a particular destination, then to come to a major crossroads and find that the place you are trying to get to is not mentioned at all, and one is confronted by signs saying, "to the North", "to the West", or "to the South"? Is this not totally inadequate?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, concerning my noble friend's last question, the advice that is given to local authorities is in a publication called, Information Signs for Use on All Purpose Roads. It says on page 19: Once a place name has appeared on an advance direction sign, it should appear on all subsequent directional signs until the destination is reached. We have no great evidence that this practice is not carried out.

Noble Lords


Lord Lucas of Chilworth

If noble Lords from any part of the House have a particular problem, again I should he delighted to know about it and draw it to the attention of the local authorities concerned.

Lord Wells-Pestell

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether the motorway road signs are still made in one of our big prisons? If this is so, would it not be possible to extend this to other prisons and give prisoners some satisfactory work to do rather than a repetitive and useless work that many of them are carrying out?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I do not know. I will certainly find out and ask my noble friend who is responsible for the prison service whether or not the noble Lord's suggestion could he adopted.

Lord Parry

My Lords, would the noble Lord accept that, important though my noble friend's question was, it is slightly more important that visitors travelling to areas of the country are able to find their way in than that prisoners should be tantalised by signs pointing the way out? Would he not accept in fact that one of our basic growth industries is suffering very badly from the confusion of short and long term directional signs, and that it is a frustration to those who are entrepreneurs in the tourism business?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the motorway and primary route network signing is covered under the European rules concerning road traffic signs and signals. It was published by the European Conference of Ministers of Transport as recently as 1974, and it includes the conventions and agreements signed in Vienna in 1968, Geneva in 1971 and Geneva in 1973. For those who may be unaware of how our signing and route signing systems work, there is a very small booklet called, Knowing Your Traffic Signs. It is priced 75p and is available from the Department of Transport. It is in current publication.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, if the road signs in Wales are to be modernised, will the Minister ensure that those that are in Welsh will remain in Welsh, particularly the road signs leading to Llan-fairpwfigwyngyllgogerchwyrndrobwlltysiliogogogoch?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord knows that the main primary road network signing includes directions in both English and Welsh. There is no suggestion that this should be discontinued in the event of any change in the signing in the Principality.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords may I ask the Minister whether it would be possible to have road signs that cannot he turned round the wrong way by vandals?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I expect it would, my Lords. There is a question of cost benefit in this matter, and since road signs cost between £250 and £5,000 each, the noble Baroness will understand that there is a problem here of considerable expense with a limited advantage in view.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that though he has given us many informative answers, he has not really satisfied the House, particularly on the point of continuity of signing, which will carry travellers through to their destinations? It is a very frequent fault to find at intersections that there is a break in signing. Will he please take steps, at least on this aspect, to carry out a survey with local highway authorities so as to ask that they should check this point to ensure that where there are gaps—to which noble Lords in all parts of the House can testify—they really should be corrected?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I take note of what my noble friend has said. He underlines what other noble Lords in all parts of the House have suggested in their response to my earlier answer. As I say, I take note of what my noble friend has said, and I shall certainly draw it to the attention of my right honourable friend.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, can the Minister give us any idea of how many motorists are stopped by the police and breathalysed because the police mistake a motorist's hesitation while trying to decipher a road sign for his being under the influence of drink?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

No, my Lords, I am sorry, I just do not know that one.