HC Deb 16 November 1933 vol 281 cc1170-6

(1) Where the bridge authority of any bridge over which a road passes is satisfied that the bridge is insufficient to carry vehicles of which the weights or axle weights, as hereinafter defined, exceed certain limits, the authority may by a conspicuous notice in the prescribed form placed in a proper position at each end of the bridge prohibit the use of the bridge either—

  1. (a) by any vehicle of which the weight exceeds a maximum weight specified in the notice; or
  2. (b) by any vehicle of which—
    1. (i) the weight exceeds a maximum weight so specified, or
    2. (ii) any axle weight exceeds a maximum axle weight so specified;
and any such notice may, as regards both weight of vehicle and axle weight, specify different maximum weights in relation to a vehicle travelling at a speed less than a speed specified in the notice, and in relation to a vehicle travelling at that speed or any greater speed:

Provided that the weight specified in any such notice as the maximum weight of a vehicle shall not be less than five tons, and the weight so specified as a maximum axle weight shall not be less than three tons.

(2) The highway authority of any road leading to a bridge shall give to the bridge authority reasonable facilities for placing on the road any such notice as aforesaid and if the highway authority so require, the bridge authority shall erect warning notices in the prescribed form at the principal junctions of roads leading to the bridge.

(3) Before placing a restriction or prohibition under this section on the use of a bridge, the bridge authority shall give to the Minister twenty-eight days' notice of its intention so to do with particulars of the restriction or prohibition, and the Minister shall cause a list to be kept of all restrictions or prohibitions which have been placed on the use of bridges under this section and the list shall be open to inspection by any person.

(4) For the purposes of this section—

  1. (a) "weight" means weight laden;
  2. (b) the weight transmitted by a vehicle, to any transverse strip of the road surface five feet in breadth shall be taken as being an "axle weight" of that vehicle and for the purposes of this paragraph a vehicle and any trailer drawn thereby shall be deemed to be a Single vehicle; and
  3. (c) "placed in a proper position" means placed in such a position either on or near the bridge or on or near the road leading to the bridge as to be visible at a reasonable distance from the bridge to the drivers of vehicles approaching it.

(5) If, without the consent of the bridge authority, a vehicle is driven across a bridge in contravention of a notice so placed as aforesaid, any person who so drives it, or causes or permits it to be so driven, shall, without prejudice to any civil liability incurred by him in the case of damage being caused to the bridge, be liable to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds and, in the case of a second or subsequent conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds.

If in any proceedings under this subsection the prosecutor satisfies the Court that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the weight of the vehicle exceeded the maximum weight specified in the notice, or that any axle weight of the vehicle exceeded the maximum axle weight so specified, it shall lie on the defendant to prove that the weight of the vehicle or every axle weight of the vehicle, as the case may be, did not exceed such maximum weight or maximum axle weight.

(6) Any person or body of persons aggrieved by a restriction or prohibition placed on the use of a bridge under this section, and any highway authority in whose area the bridge is situate, may at any time apply to the Minister for an order modifying or removing the restriction or prohibition.

(7) On receiving any such application as aforesaid, the Minister may cause the bridge to be inspected, and may require the bridge authority to give to his inspector such information as to its structure and condition, and such other facilities for his investigation of the circumstances as the bridge authority may be able to give and, after considering the report of his inspector and any representations made to him by the bridge authority, may, if he thinks proper, make an order modifying or removing the restriction or prohibition, or imposing different restrictions, and the bridge authority shall, within such time as may be specified in the order, cause notices to be erected complying with the order, and if the bridge authority fails to do so, the Minister may cause the notice complained of to be removed or varied or new notices to be erected so as to comply with his order, and may recover summarily as a civil debt from the budge authority the expenses incurred by him in so doing.

(8) The provisions of this Act as to costs incurred by the Minister in connection with inquiries shall apply in relation to costs incurred by him in connection with inspections and investigations under this section, as if any such inspection or investigation were an inquiry to which the applicants and the bridge authority were parties.

(9) The Minister may at any time on an application made to him by the bridge authority, or on his own initiative, vary or revoke any order made by him under this section, if he is satisfied that it is proper so to do.

4.34 p.m.


I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Lords Amendment, in line 43, after the word "breadth," to insert the words: or such other breadth as the Minister may, by order from time to time, prescribe. I have had representations from two quarters as to the serious effect that this Clause may have unless it is modified in the way that I desire. On page 13 of the Lords Amendments, in Sub-section 4 (b), there is this definition: The weight transmitted by a vehicle, to any transverse strip of the road surface five feet in breadth shall be taken as being an 'axle weight' of that vehicle. In another place Lord Howe explained at some length the difficulties of the situation, and the Secretary of State for Air, who was in charge, found himself unable to accept an Amendment that five feet should be reduced to three feet six. The position is, I understand, that these six-wheeled vehicles are so constructed that the centres of each pair of double wheels are separated by less than five feet, accordingly each pair of double wheels is, for the purposes of this Clause, treated as one wheel. In other words, a six-wheeled vehicle is supposed to have exactly the same effect on a bridge as a four-wheeled vehicle. The effect of a vehicle on any bridge depends on three factors. There is the actual crushing weight on the surface, which depends upon the concentration, of weight at a particular point. Whatever the tyres are made of, they are compressed to some extent, and it is not a line of contact but a small area of contact, and the crushing effect depends on the intensity of the load on the immediate surface with which the wheel is in contact.

That is one way in which a bridge may fail. There are two other ways. It may fail at either end because the supports are sheared, and the shearing effect is naturally at the maximum at the end of the bridge at which the vehicle is at the moment. Part of the load is borne on the piers on that side and part on the piers on the other. The fact that the load is in fact more distributed in a six-wheeled vehicle than in a four-wheeled vehicle will, to some small extent, minimise the shearing stress. The last effect is through the bridge collapsing in the centre. A distributed load has nothing like the same effect as a concentrated load in causing the bridge to collapse at the centre, and accordingly the distributed load of a six-wheeled vehicle, instead of four, materially modifies the situation from that point of view.

The technical experts are disagreed on the matter. Those who advise the Ministry take one view and those who, I understand, according to the speech of Earl Howe in another place, were advising others, take a contrary view, and there is this dispute. I do not think either this House or another place is competent to settle such a purely technical dispute as to the right distance to be prescribed as the breadth of the transverse strip, and, in order that the Minister or his successor may have an opportunity in the future of modifying this, if circumstances call for modification, I want to confer on him the power to prescribe by Order another width if the technical information satisfies him or his successor that another width is in fact quite safe. We are running the risk of closing a number of bridges to six-wheeled vehicles by leaving the Clause in its present rigid form. I want to confer on the Minister this power of modifying the passage in such a way that if a mistake has been made he may correct it when he finds it necessary to do so.


I beg to second the Amendment to the Lords Amendment.

4.40 p.m.


The House will now have the advantage of seeing the almost unique spectacle of a Minister modestly refusing a power sought to be conferred on him. The object of the Amendment is to take this precise definition which is included in the Clause and to leave me powers at any subsequent time either to increase or decrease the width. I feel that it would not be fair to the various interests with whom this matter has been discussed and who watched its passage. through another place if at the last moment I were to take this power to myself in this way. The limit of five feet which has been put into the Bill has been subjected to criticism, and it has stood the test of that criticism, arid I feel that, if at any subsequent time I or my successors should wish to change that figure, it would only be fair to come back and allow the new figure to be subjected to the same criticism which this has met. In the circumstances I cannot accept the Amendment.

Amendment to the Lords Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.42 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

The Clause was fully considered in another place, and the Government accepted certain Amendments which were moved by the Noble Lord to whom reference has been made, and my hon. Friend will at once take action to inform motoring organisations as suggested of any preliminary notice that he may receive from bridge authorities. The new Clause is intended to take the place of Section 25 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, which deals with restrictive notices which can be placed on a bridge by a bridge authority in cases whore, in the opinion of that authority, the bridge is not strong enough to carry weights in excess of the limits specified in the notice. Traffic over a large number of bridges maintained by railway companies, canal companies, and other authorities has been restricted in the past in this manner under the provisions of the earlier Locomotive Acts, the Motor Car Act, 1903, and Orders made under those Acts. Generally speaking, the provisions of these earlier Acts were done away with by Section 25 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930. That Section, however, has proved unworkable, and it has never been possible for the Minister to bring it into operation. Negotiations from time to time have taken place between officers of the Ministry of Transport, representatives of the railway companies' associations and the canal association, and representatives of local authorities with a view to framing suitable notices under the provisions of the Section. These negotiations proved abortive, largely because it was impossible to secure agreement between the interests concerned as to a form of notice which could readily be understood by road users.

In the meantime the large majority of the notices placed on bridges under preceding enactments have become inoperative, and bridge authorities have been unable to restrict the weight of traffic crossing weak bridges for the maintenance of which they are responsible. Powers to this end have been exercised in the past under these old Acts. Section 25 of the Act of 1930 cannot be worked, and, therefore, it has to be altered. The Minister has proposed to Parliament the provisions contained in the Clause, which appear to him to be equitable as between the interests of bridge authorities on the one hand and road users on the other.

One of the main difficulties of framing suitable restrictive notices arises from the comparatively recent development of the six-wheeled vehicle, of which the two rear axles lie close together and form a sort of bogey on which the major portion of the load is carried. I cannot pretend to be an expert like my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams), and, therefore, I must ask the House to allow me to read out what the difficulty of the situation is with regard to these vehicles. It is obvious that from the point of view of the effect on the structure of a weak bridge it is necessary to regard the weight carried by these two axles as a single "axle-weight." A definition of axle-weight is therefore included in the Clause as being the "weight transmitted by a vehicle to any transverse strip of the road surface five feet in breadth."

The Clause preserves the right of bridge authorities to erect notices restricting the weight and "axle-weight," as defined in the Clause, of vehicles on weak bridges. One of the provisions of the Motor Car Act, 1903, and the Orders made there-under provide for an appeal by any aggrieved party against a restriction placed on a bridge, on the ground that the bridge was capable of carrying greater weights than those specified in the notice. My hon. Friend the Minister has been impressed by the fact that this provision with regard to an appeal has been a dead letter. Indeed, I do not think that in the records of the Department there is any record of an appeal having been lodged. This, we take it, is largely due to the fact that the onus was upon the appellant to produce reasons for his complaint, and, obviously, not being in a position to secure the necessary information from the owners of a bridge he was not in a position to bring forward an appeal. The Clause remedies this defect by providing that the Minister, on receiving an application by an aggrieved party, may cause the bridge to be inspected, and if he is satisfied, after considering the representations of the bridge authority and any information supplied by them, that the bridge is capable of carrying greater weights than those specified in the notice, he may make an order varying the maximum limits of weights accordingly. It seems to us that the Clause is eminently desirable, and I therefore move that the House should agree with the Lords in the Amendment.


Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman be good enough to explain how a bridge authority can be a "conspicuous notice" as this Sub-section states. It says, dealing with the bridge authority, in line 5: The authority may be a conspicuous notice. Will he explain how that arises?


I think that my hon. and learned Friend has been unhappy in his copy of the Bill. My copy says "by."


I am dealing with the Lords Amendment.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment," put, and agreed to.