HL Deb 07 June 1995 vol 564 cc1350-2

2.47 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether a highway authority may ban certain vehicles from travelling on roads at particular hours of the day on the basis of the speeds at which they can travel.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen)

Yes, my Lords. The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 empowers traffic authorities to make orders regulating the use that any particular class of traffic may make of any road.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that informative Answer. Is he aware that Essex County Council is consulting on proposals to ban from certain roads at peak times vehicles that are not capable of travelling at more than 30 miles an hour? Such a ban would include milk floats, contractors' plant and farm vehicles, at which the ban is particularly aimed. Will he accept that the evidence that slow-moving traffic causes congestion at peak hours is tenuous, to say the least? Does he agree that in areas where many farms are divided by such roads, so that the only means of access is across or along those roads, such a ban would only be appropriate where an alternative means of access is available?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, those powers exist and have existed for some time. It is worth noting that they have been used extremely rarely. My noble friend is correct. Essex is looking into the possibility of introducing some restrictions. But I should emphasise that there are safeguards. Before introducing any kind of permanent traffic restrictions, the traffic authority must publish details of its proposals and consider any objections and representations received against them.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the most frustrating experience on a motorway is to be following an abnormal load—a wide load—that cuts three lanes to one lane and causes tailbacks and occasionally accidents? In view of the fact that the Police Community Liaison Committee has suggested night-time movements only for such abnormal loads and the majority of hauliers support that suggestion, why is it not done?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, there are already restrictions on the types of vehicle that can use motorways. The safety considerations that the noble Lord highlights are important. The fact that people become frustrated when travelling behind a slow-moving vehicle can lead to unsafe situations. Our motorways are safe roads and we already take into consideration the kind of factors that the noble Lord mentioned.

Lord Clark of Kempston

My Lords, one of the reasons for traffic congestion is that many contractors cone off sections of the road without any men working behind the cones. Would it not be a good idea to ban contractors from putting up cones unless there are men working on the road?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, that is why we introduced the cones hotline.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, when I drove to the House this morning I found that on one stretch of the road I was travelling at over 40 mph. Was I breaking the law?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, the noble Lord will have to inform me on which road he was travelling.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, it was Kennington High Road.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, without notice I could not tell the noble Lord whether he was breaking the law. However, I suspect that it is a 30 mph zone and the noble Lord should report himself to the police.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, is it not much more likely that my noble friend thought that he was driving at 40 mph, but in fact he was only driving at 30 mph or less?

The House is grateful to the Minister for pointing out that a very real problem exists, particularly on narrow roads. It is obvious that that is the situation which caused Essex County Council to consider its rather draconian action. Does the Minister agree that the activities undertaken by the National Farmers Union in issuing guidance notes and in undertaking consultations with police authorities in order to try to mitigate the problem is perhaps the right course to follow at this juncture? The guidance notes include the provision that farmers should avoid taking tractors on roads at busy times whenever possible. Would it not be a good idea to see what result that guidance from the NFU has had?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, these are important issues. Safety is a major concern and there is a great deal to be gained from the type of approach the noble Lord highlighted; namely, talking to the relevant authorities and keeping in touch with the police.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, the noble Viscount referred to the cones hotline. On a value-for-money basis, will he be good enough to tell the House what the estimated cost is for each call to the hotline?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord that without notice. I shall endeavour to find out and let him know.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, will my noble friend accept that the whole question of road improvement is likely to become more difficult should a policy of restriction of this sort become more general? It is inevitable that landowners will demand and have to be supplied with expensive accommodation works to guarantee access across roads or along roads if they are not able to travel on highways at certain hours. Not only will that impose delay on the construction of improvements, but it will also add dramatically to costs.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, this is not a widespread policy. It is designed for use where specific problems are caused by slow-moving vehicles. There would also be enforcement problems with such a policy which may dissuade certain authorities from bringing it forward. Inevitably, where traffic restrictions are brought forward, that will inconvenience some members of the community. The inconvenience must be taken fully into account by councils in coming to their decisions.

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