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Clause 83—(Restriction Of Traffic On Certain Roads)

Volume 467: debated on Tuesday 19 July 1949

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I beg to move, in page 63, line 23, at the end, to insert:

"(7) Where an order under this section has been made by the Minister of Transport as respects any road, he may give to the highway authority directions as to the exercise by them in relation to the road of their powers under section forty-eight of the Road Traffic Act, 1930 (which provides for the erection of traffic signs); and any directions under this subsection—
  • (a) may require the traffic signs to be placed in pursuance thereof to be of such size, colour and type as may be specified in the directions, notwithstanding that the size, colour or type may not be one prescribed for the purposes of the said section forty-eight;
  • (b) shall be enforceable, on the application of the Minister of Transport, by mandamus."
  • This Amendment provides for the case where the Minister of Transport has made an order restricting traffic on a road in a National Park or in an area of outstanding natural beauty. It then becomes necessary to give directions to traffic as to alternative ways, and it may be necessary to provide signs. This Amendment enables the Minister of Transport to give directions to the highway authority as to the kind of signs that are to be put up.

    I agree with the Minister that some such subsection as this is proper and right. The only remarks I wish to make are not so much for his ears as for the ears of a representative of the Ministry of Transport, which I regret to see is not represented on the Government Front Bench at this moment. We are concerned here with signposts and signs in some of the most beautiful parts of this country. Unfortunately, the Minister of Transport has an appalling record in the matter of design and care for amenities. Needless to say, I shall not revert to that matter which the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) and I were able to mention on a previous occasion, which will be in the minds of many Members at this moment. I would call the attention of Members to something they may have observed very recently.

    Until comparatively recently, we had signposts put up by, or at the instigation of, the Minister of Transport which were reasonably well designed and clear. The words were in black and the background was white. They were not too ugly and they were perfectly clear. But in more recent days, quite suddenly, we have seen signs in three colours all over the country. The Minister of Transport has decided to put up a sign with a yellow background, with white and then black upon it. This has two disadvantages. First, it is perfectly hideous; yellow is a particularly disturbing feature in ordinary street architecture and in the countryside. Secondly, it is much more difficult to see what it says. In fact, it has every possible disadvantage.

    I do not want to enlarge on that or say anything controversial. I want to say, what I believe every Member who has any care for amenities will agree with, that there happen to be at least two bodies in this country who are giving very careful thought to good design and good design of the furniture of roads, to highways, footpaths and so forth, namely, the Royal Fine Art Commission and the Council of Industrial Design, which act together and collaborate and are urging and are anxious to persuade the Minister of Transport to consult them on all road signs, street furniture and so forth.

    I beg the right hon. Gentleman whose care for some of the beauty of the countryside I do not doubt—there would be little motive for this Bill unless he had some care for these things—to observe what the Ministry of Transport are doing at the present time. While we are granting these powers to the Minister of Transport, because some such powers are right, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will convey, what I feel sure is the unanimous wish of this Committee, to the Minister of Transport that, in exercising the powers we are giving him, he should have some regard to decency and good design and should consult the two bodies I have mentioned.

    Even though no representative of the Ministry of Transport is here, and I really think that a representative ought to be here to answer on this and other Clauses, I presume that the Minister of Town and Country Planning has some information about what is in the mind of the Minister of Transport as to how this Amendment will be put into effect. In particular, I should like to ask what is the intention in regard to the colour of these signs. Can we have an assurance that the hideous yellow which is so much favoured by the Automobile Association will not be used for these signs, a great many of which will be in the depths of the country? I should also like an assurance that before any decision is reached on the matter the Royal Fine Art Commission will be consulted.

    I hope that the hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss) realises it is not possible for me to deal effectively with what he has said, because it is really a matter which is directed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] He has other things to do, I presume; this Bill has been quite capably handled by the Minister of Town and Country Planning and his Parliamentary Secretary. But I give the hon. and learned Member the assurance that I shall inform my right hon. Friend of what he has said, and of what the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) has said—I shall even send him a copy of their speeches.

    I shall take particular care, as the Minister of Town and Country Planning, to confer with my right hon. Friend to ensure that these signs are not as bad as the hon. and learned Member fears. On the other hand, I do not entirely share his view about them, nor the views of the hon. Member for Twickenham. I do not think that yellow is necessarily an ugly colour. I think it is a very good colour. All I can say is that we do realise the importance of not doing anything in relation to signs which will be out of harmony with the beautiful surroundings in which they will be placed. I hope that both Members will accept that assurance.

    5.0 p.m.

    I should have thought that when a Clause giving additional powers to the Minister of Transport is being discussed, one of two things should happen—either a representative of the Ministry should be present, or the competent Ministers who are here should be empowered to answer for the Minister whose powers are affected. I am sorry if the right hon. Gentleman has not noticed the more recent yellow atrocities which have been put up, and which have the disadvantage of being extremely disfiguring and far less clear than those which they have replaced.

    I am not asking that my word or even the right hon. Gentleman's word should be taken, but that the Minister should consult the two bodies set up by the Government for the express purpose of being consulted on matters of this kind. I have made my point, with which I believe Members opposite are in full sympathy, and I am confident that the right hon. Gentleman will press his colleague rather more hardly than he has so far indicated.

    Lest it has been overlooked, may I observe that orange and blue are colours which are most striking and that it is not true to say that all orange and blue colours are less distinctly seen than black and white colours? There may be some reason for this change—perhaps to prevent accidents—but while sharing the view that some authority should be consulted as to the duty and suitability of these signs, I do not believe it should go forth that only black and white signs should be used, as they are not the most distinctive colours.

    I do not wish to disturb the Liberal Party from their slumbers, but I must say that I was horrified at the Minister's reply—and it takes a lot of what this Government have done to horrify me. Apparently the Minister did not consult the Minister of Transport at all. We are used to that kind of thing, but I should have thought that on an occasion like this there would have been consultation beforehand about the way in which these powers should be carried out. This sloppy way of carrying on shows up badly today, when we have so much to do. The Minister should take more trouble in working out these matters; there should be greater co-ordination between Government Departments.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move, in page 63, line 30, at the end, to insert:

    "(8) The powers conferred by this section are additional to and not in derogation of the powers conferred by other enactments, and the powers conferred by section forty-six of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, as amended by section twenty-nine of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, to prohibit or restrict the driving of vehicles, or of any specified class or description of vehicles, on any specified road shall be exercisable on the ground that the road cannot be used, or cannot be used without restriction, by any such vehicles without prejudicing the comfort and enjoyment of other persons using the road or of the public generally."
    Since I raised this matter in Committee I have had some correspondence with the right hon. Gentleman on the subject, and he has been good enough to send me a reply to the letter which I sent to him. Perhaps he would like to know that the Amendment which I have moved was put on the Order Paper before I received his reply. Having regard to the contents of his letter I am not very confident that he will accept the Amendment now, but, since I wish to be persuasive, I should like to make it clear that I do not propose now to press it to a Division. I wish merely to put two or three points before him in the hope that they may be considered when the Bill goes to another place and that they may be met to some extent in the interests not only of the particular purposes for which I have moved the Amendment, but also of the public and some Government Departments.

    This Clause deals with the restriction of traffic on certain roads. We are now getting a multiplicity of different provisions in different Acts under which traffic can be restricted on roads. To give only three examples, there is the provision mentioned in my Amendment, that is to say, Section 46 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, as amended by Section 29 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, which is the most general provision; there is the provision in the Special Roads Act, passed not very long ago; and there is also the provision in this Clause.

    I do not think it is for the convenience of the public, of amenity societies, of lawyers, of local authorities or of representatives of the various classes of traffic which are liable to be restricted, that there should be so many different sections of different Acts under any of which a restriction may be imposed, and that there should not be any cross-reference on the face of the Statute to these different powers. The purpose of my subsection is twofold: First, it is to make clear at the outset that the powers conferred by this Clause are additional to and not in derogation of powers previously conferred; secondly, that the general powers contained in Section 46 of the 1930 Act, as amended, can be used on grounds of amenity.

    I always give one example when arguing this point, in the hope that it will be generally known to Members in all sections of the Committee. I take the example of the beautiful green road known as the Berkshire Ridgeway, which may be known to many Members. I believe that all who know it will desire—and I am sure the Minister of Transport desires—that there shall not be unrestricted motor traffic on that green road. It is not certain that the required restriction will be imposed under either of the other statutory provisions I have mentioned, that is to say, the statutory provisions other than that which I have specifically named in this new subsection.

    Those paths or roads which will be protected as through routes will very often be lengthy routes, and a comparatively small section may not be protected as a through route. On the other hand, under this Clause, unless the road is in the area of a national park the powers apply only in an area of outstanding natural beauty. There may be questions where that is arguable; I think it would be for the convenience of everybody, and not least the Ministry of Transport, that their powers under Section 46 of the 1930 Act should be exercisable on the grounds of amenity, if the road is completely unsuited to the traffic proposed to be restricted. If we have something like the Berkshire Ridgeway, which has been used by pedestrians and riders of horses for at least 7,000 years, we should protect it, quite apart from whether it comes under these two more restricted classes of provision which I have named.

    I think the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that this question has really been fully ventilated, for, not only did he raise the matter in Committee upstairs, but he also raised it with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and again with me in correspondence. Therefore, there can be no question that we are not all fully alive to the point he has made. The consistent answer has been that we accept his point, and that it is met by Section 46 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930.

    Well, that is what we say; we say that that Section enables traffic to be restricted on grounds of amenity.

    May I correct the right hon. Gentleman? He is really making a slip. That has never been maintained either in the discussions upstairs or in our correspondence. The Ministry of Transport supported a Private Member's Bill which I promoted before the last war precisely because they were confident that they could not use the Section on grounds of amenity. The point raised in the correspondence has been that powers subsequently taken meet the point, but not that Section 46 meets the point. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that he is making a slip.

    I am sorry; the hon. and learned Gentleman is right. It is the Amendment to the Special Roads Bill which amended Section 46 of the Road Traffic Act which it is stated—and which I am advised is so—enables the Ministry of Transport to restrict traffic on roads on the grounds of amenity. It is not Section 46 as it was, but Section 46 as now amended. But the point remains that it is contended, all parties being fully alive to the point which the hon. and learned Gentleman makes, that his case is met and that there is no need for further amendment of the law.

    However, in view of the persuasive way in which the hon. and learned Gentleman moved his Amendment, I am quite prepared to look at it once more, and to have a word with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. If it should then transpire that the advice given to us is either wrong or in any way doubtful, I am quite prepared to see that the matter is put beyond any doubt. But, on the advice I have, it would be absurd to amend a law which at the present time appears perfectly clear. For these reasons, I regret that I cannot advise the Committee to accept the Amendment.

    In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said and his promise to look into the matter between now and when the Bill is considered in another place, after giving him the assurance that I have reasons of a formidable kind for thinking that the law without such amendment is not quite adequate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

    This Clause deals with the restriction of traffic, and I wish again to bring before the Minister the anxiety felt by all the road users of the country concerning the power he has under the Bill to close roads, especially main roads. For instance, the trunk road and the Class 1 road represent 28,000 miles out of a total of 155,000 miles of roads of all kinds. We think it wrong that there should be the risk and the fear hanging over these road users that in time a road may be closed or may be diverted as a result of this Bill. These roads, as everybody knows, are essential for the carrying of goods as well as for passenger traffic of all sorts, and form the main traffic routes of Great Britain.

    5.15 p.m.

    The Minister may say, as he said to me in Standing Committee that the power may never be used. In column 478, the right hon. Gentleman said:
    "I can assure him that the power to close a trunk or classified road will be used with very great circumspection."
    Again, in column 475, he said:
    "I am impressed with the feeling that one can go too far in restricting the flow of traffic on the King's highway."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 26th May, 1949; c. 478 and 475.]
    That may be so, but even though the Minister has expressed his sympathy, there is a danger of a distinct loss of road facilities towards the upkeep of which, after all, the motorists and the transport companies have contributed, as indeed have local rates, and it seems wrong that this power should remain in the Bill.

    How many roads run through these national parks? There is one trunk road, No. 5, in North Wales, which goes through one of the first areas which it is proposed to make into a national park. It is the Llangollen-Bettws-y-Coed-Capel-Curig-Bethesda road. Then there are three Class 1 roads in the same category, Windermere to Cockermouth, Windermere to Penrith, Barnsley to Manchester, and Brixton to Leek in the Peak District. On Dartmoor there is the Ashburton to Tavistock road. I should have said there are five, altogether, of these Class 1 roads, which will, I think, convince anyone that this is a most important matter and needs very careful examination even at this comparatively late stage of the Bill. Instead of proceeding by way of this power in the Bill, could not something be done on the lines of another Bill passed this year dealing with the main road through the New Forest, in which it was specifically laid down that traffic could not be restricted on that road except under the general law, by Section 46 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930? I suggest to the Minister that that is a far more satisfactory and an equally effective way of meeting the requirements of the Bill as regards national parks, and I commend it very strongly for his consideration.

    I am amazed at the hon. Member for Royton (Mr. Sutcliffe) bringing a nightmare into the light of day in the fashion he has done. Surely this is a litle power which the Minister is taking to himself in order to provide that in particularly quiet places, useful for the recreation of the community, there shall be some safeguard. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Buxton to Leek road. I think I know the particular stretch he has in mind; it is where the road runs over open moorland. It would be quite fatuous to suggest that that should be closed. What is intended, I understand, is that where other arrangements can be made without inconvenience to the commerce and travelling public of the country, they should be considered. I think all men of sense and goodwill who want to enjoy the countryside would, in this day of hurly-burly, like to think that we shall have that consideration, and that the pleasant places will be quiet and will be places where we can properly recreate ourselves. I think the hon. Member has a nightmare for which there is no tangible substance.

    We had a discussion on this matter in Committee and I should like to repeat, very briefly, what I said then. I think some such power as this is absolutely essential if we are to have regard to the convenience and the enjoyment of the people who are to come into the national park areas and the areas of oustanding natural beauty. But the hon. Member for Royton (Mr. Sutcliffe) need have no fear that these powers will be arbitrarily used. He spoke as if the Minister of Transport could or would arbitrarily decide that a certain road should be closed, particularly a trunk road, and that that would be that; but I would refer him to the terms of Clause 83, which require that the council, who would take the first step, have to take into account:

  • "(a) the reasonable requirements of members of the public as users of traffic of the description proposed to be restricted;
  • (b) any reasonable requirements for such traffic to have access to premises situated on or near the road; and
  • (c) any other special or local requirements as to the use of the road by traffic of that description."
  • Therefore, they have to take traffic requirements fully into consideration before they decide to put forward the proposal for restriction of traffic.

    That is not the end of it. If they do put forward such a proposal, then it is open to the users of the road to object to the restrictions and the Minister of Transport has to hold a public inquiry at which the objectors can put forward their case. It is only after that, and after considering what alternative facilities are available, that the Minister is empowered to make an order. I think the road users are fully protected against any arbitrary use of Clause 83; they will have the fullest opportunity of stating their case, and I can assure the hon. Member that the apprehensions which he and those for whom he speaks feel, and which he has voiced here, are entirely without any justification.

    Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.