We have now approved the introduction of directional signs to local services in bypassed communities, provided that these are not paid for by highway authorities. I understand that the English Tourist Board hopes to publish the report of the joint working party on tourism signposting within the next two or three months, and I would like to see and consider this before deciding whether other changes should be made.
Small businesses throughout the United Kingdom will be heartened by the continuing interest in this matter of my right hon. Friend and my hon. and learned Friend. However, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the growth and employment potential of small businesses would gain tremendously, where they exist close to trunk roads and motorways, if there were better signing for them? If the signs were available for the benefit of motorists, does he agree that it would save motorists on motorways such as the M5 suffering from the extortion that is now being practised by the motorway service station at Bristol, which is charging £1·69 per gallon for petrol, and similarly at Taunton, which is charging £1·75 per gallon?
We are always anxious to do anything possible to encourage small business. The Department's only concern is that road signs should be safe and that the information on them should be accurate and useful for motorists. Subject to those conditions, we are happy to encourage them. I am glad to say that there are some welcome improvements taking place at motorway service areas now that we have sold them to the operators and freed them from some of the old restrictions. They are now allowed to advertise their petrol prices, and my hon. Friend will note that prices are coming down on the motorway service areas.
I was dealing with signs on highway land. We shall authorise signs so long as they bear useful information and they are safe. Other signs alongside roads are subject to town and country planning legislation. That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. We do not want commercial signs cluttering fields alongside roads.
Does my hon. and learned Friend recognise that the criteria that have applied to the inclusion of towns on motorway direction signs have not always been to the advantage of motorists or local inhabitants? Will he bear in mind that motorists are capable of assimilating more than the name of one or two towns at a time and that some towns of a considerable size are omitted from motorway signs?
We try to take a sensible view of these matters and we consider individual suggestions. We cannot feature a dozen towns on every motorway sign to satisfy civic pride in every community. Our aim is to put as many towns of reasonable size on each sign as the motorist can assimilate.