I beg to move,
That the Special Roads (Classes of Traffic) Order, 1959, dated 2nd July, 1959, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd July, be approved.
There are put down for the consideration of the House, also, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, a Motion for approval of the Motor Vehicles (Speed Limit on Special Roads) Regulations, 1959, and a Prayer to annul the Motorways Traffic Regulations (S.I. 1959, No. 1147). Would it be convenient to discuss them all at the same time?
Three Statutory Instruments similar to the ones before us today were made last year before the Preston by-pass was opened and, as motorway conditions were new in this country, they were deliberately made on an experimental basis, expiring on 1st August this year. Our idea was that new statutory arrangements could then be made on a permanent basis to govern the use of motorways in the future, in time, particularly, for the London to Birmingham motorway when it opens this winter.
The only change which we have made in the Special Roads (Classes of Traffic) Order is to remove the exclusion of abnormal indivisible loads which appeared in the Order last year. Experience on the Preston by-pass has shown that these loads up to a width of 14 ft. can safely be allowed on the motorway. On a 24-ft. two-lane carriageway, 10 ft. remain for passing and, in our opinion, this is enough for a full-width 8-ft. lorry. This means that we must make a consequential amendment to the Motor Vehicles (Authorisation of Types) General Order, 1955, which allows these abnormal indivisible loads up to 20 ft. in width to be moved without prior authorisation.
We shall now amend the Order by reducing the width in respect of motorways to 14 ft., so that all abnormal indivisible loads over 14 ft. will have to have individual authorisation by the Ministry. Each one will need a special permit. The result of these changes will be that loads of over 9½ ft. width and up to 14 ft. can be carried on the roads and motorways provided that two clear days' notice is given to the police, who will decide such matters as times, routes, escorts, and so on. That is the normal practice. For loads of over 14 ft. in width, a special permit will be required by application to the Ministry. A permit will not normally be issued for motorways unless we consider that special circumstances justify it. We shall continue to watch this matter closely, but I am sure that the House will agree that, where it is possible for these loads to travel on motorways safely, it is desirable that they should do so. That is the only change in that Order.
The second Statutory Instrument, which relates to speed limits on special roads, does not differ from the present experimental one. The only speed limit which exists on the motorways is on vehicles drawing two-wheeled trailers or close-coupled four-wheeled trailers, normally caravans. Otherwise we confirm the view that we took last year that no limit is needed. Experience has shown that the existing arrangement is satisfactory. Drivers of both private' and commercial vehicles have driven at sensible speeds on the Preston by-pass and within the safety limits of their vehicles. Commercial vehicles, including light vans, have, in the main, been driven at 30 to 40 miles an hour, at sensible speeds. Generally, private cars have been driven at speeds between 45 and 55 m.p.h. Many have been driven at speeds under 45 m.p.h., and higher speeds have been the exception rather than the rule.
As a matter of interest, for the month ending 23rd May, police records showed that no vehicle was driven at over 75 m.p.h. on the Preston by-pass. These reports confirm that drivers generally travel at reasonable speeds and that speed limits are not needed on these roads. But when the London-Birmingham motorway opens, which will give a 73 mile stretch of road, we shall watch the position very carefully.
Finally, I come to the Motorways Traffic Regulations. These are the Regulations which are being prayed against and they really concern——
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the other Statutory Instrument, he will know, as I know, of the danger in Germany of vehicles travelling at very high speed where the central way is narrow, and drivers temporarily losing control, going right across the road and meeting oncoming traffic. Certain restrictions may be put on sections of the autobahnen. I have been on some of them recently. Will the Ministry keep that point in mind with regard to the speed limit on motorways?
Yes, we will. As the hon. Gentleman has said, we know that German experience has not been too happy. We accept that there is that danger, but there seems to be some difference in temperament between drivers here and drivers in other countries. I think that that is probably only natural, and certainly experience up to date confirms our original impression that it would be safe to proceed without a speed limit. However, naturally, we shall watch the position very carefully, and, if future experience is not happy, we shall have to reconsider that point.
As I was about to say, the third Statutory Instrument is also substantially the same as that which we brought into force last year in respect of the Preston by-pass. The only new features are small ones. First, persons investigating an accident on a motorway may be exempted by the police from observing the Regulations. Secondly, when an ordinary general-purpose road in the neighbourhood of a motorway becomes temporarily impassable, the police may relax the Regulations which exclude certain classes of vehicles from the motorway—for instance, mopeds, cycles, learner drivers, and so on. There has been some rewording of the original Regulations, but no change of substance.
Right hon. and hon. Members probably have had an opportunity to see the traffic signs on the Preston by-pass. We have been greatly helped by the Advisory Committee on Traffic Signs for Motorways, under the chairmanship of Sir Colin Anderson. The Advisory Committee has done excellent work for us and I should like to express my thanks to it. The Committee has managed to provide effective and acceptable signs for traffic moving at these high speeds of up to 70 m.p.h. My hope is that throughout the country we shall gradually see signs changing to that kind of pattern. Now that the signs have been seen in use, I think the consensus of opinion is that they are about right.
We have had the traffic on the Preston by-pass watched carefully. We have had monthly police reports, which have shown us the speed and behaviour of vehicles and have given accident records. We have also had the benefit of consultation with sixty-seven organisations interested in road use. Our conclusions embodied in the three Statutory Instruments have been reached in the light both of consultations with these bodies and our own experience.
We intend to make motorway travel as safe, swift and convenient as is humanly possible. These motorways are at last becoming a reality. We have had the short sample on the Preston by-pass. In the coming autumn, we hope to see the London-Birmingham motorway of 73 miles coming into use. The programme next year will bring also the Lancaster by-pass, the Ross Spur and the Maidstone by-pass, a further forty miles, and we are now starting construction on the Birmingham-Preston stretch of 78 miles, the Maidenhead by-pass and the Don-caster by-pass, a further 98 miles in all. Completing this year, coming into use next year and under construction, therefore, is a considerable mileage of motorways. It is of first importance that we should have the Regulations right so that travel on these roads will be as safe, smooth and swift as possible. I believe that we have it right. We have been greatly helped by the experience of the past year.
The House is again grateful to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation for his explanation of these Statutory Instruments. Regulations are usually more difficult than a Bill for the layman to understand and for that reason one often is forced to put down a Prayer, when that is appropriate, not because one is opposed to the Regulations, but because one wants an explanation of their contents. We have had that explanation today and everybody in the House will, I think, be pleased that the provisional, experimental Regulations passed earlier for the Preston by-pass have proved to be about right and that they can be continued and made available for the other motorways which are now to be built.
I have no comment whatever on what the hon. Gentleman has said and no criticism. It seems to me that the situation is very sound. It is interesting that even the motor organisations, the R.A.C. and the A.A., who, if they can put forward criticism about these matters, usually do so, seem to be supporting the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and the Ministry on this occasion, with one minor and not important exception. Therefore, we on this side accept the Order and the Regulations.
I shall not move the Prayer which we have on the Paper. I am very glad that all the officials concerned have been able to be, as has been shown by experience, so wise about their original ideas about what is necessary for these motorways. They can now be continued in time and used equally for the new motorways which are to be built during the next year or two.
I should like to say just a word from this side of the House, I am sure we all welcome this Order. I am particularly glad to see that the Parliamentary Secretary is introducing an Order which will allow abnormal indivisible loads up to 14 ft. without special permits on the roads. It was a year ago that I made the case that the motorways were intended to take heavy traffic away from the towns, away from the conditions of towns like Preston where there are hundreds of little side roads and overcrowded traffic conditions. This will help to get abnormal indivisible loads away from the towns and up to the motorways, and I welcome that very much.
There is another matter on which I have a certain amount of personal sympathy with those concerned and which I would draw to my hon. Friend's attention, and that is the drawing of light dinghies on two-wheeled trailers about the country. People are very used to doing that at fairly high speed. I think it may be worth considering that they should go at more than 40 miles an hour on the motorways. They are quite safe conveyances. Perhaps my hon. Friend will give thought to that, so that an exception may be made of those two-wheeled trailers.
I shall not detain the House for more than a moment, but I must say that this Order is one of the most unclear I have seen. Indeed, I could not make head or tail of it at first. I was assisted by a statement made by the standing joint committee of the R.A.C. and A.A., which boils the Order down to meaning that abnormal indivisible loads will be permitted on the motorways. Even the Explanatory Note to the Order is less clear than many I have seen before.
Be that as it may, the point I should like to make, and on which I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), is about abnormal indivisible loads being allowed on the motorways. There is here a contradiction, for the motorways are made to take vehicles which may be travelling at 100 miles an hour, and yet we are to allow on those motorways vehicles which may not go as far as 100 miles a day. There seems to me a great danger of accidents in mixing these two forms of traffic. I have no personal experience of the Preston road, but doubtless it will have been taken into consideration; but on the motor ways there are very fast moving vehicles with which there may now be mixed slow moving, heavy loads.
Incidentally, I wonder whether we are not rather out of date in using the term "abnormal indivisible load". These loads are not so abnormal as they were a few years ago. One comes across them much more frequently than one used, and all of them are by no means indivisible but are huge pieces of machinery assembled at the point of manufacture, some of which could be profitably assembled at the point of destination. I think there is great danger in mixing the two sorts of traffic moving at such different speeds.