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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 loada wide loadthat 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, 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.
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?
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,
The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Earl Ferrers): My Lords, the question of funding for a new pressurised water reactor station at Sizewell C was examined extensively in the nuclear review. The Government would need to be convinced that there were compelling strategic reasons for using taxpayers' money to build another nuclear station when the private sector is unwilling to do so. The nuclear review found no such reasons.
Viscount Mersey: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Can he confirm that building a nuclear power station is extraordinarily expensive and unlikely to be funded by the private sector? Consequently, will he confirm also that in around 10 years' time there will be only one nuclear power station left, Sizewell B, and that will be producing only around 3 per cent. of our electricity, while the remaining 97 per cent. will have to come from fossil fuels plus a few windmills? Inevitably the damage to our environment will be much greater than if we had gone down the nuclear road.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I agree that building nuclear power stations is an expensive exercise. However, if it is possible to find private finance to build the Channel Tunnel, then it is possible to find private finance to build a nuclear power station provided it is economical. The independent consultants looked at the development of fuel diversity since the electricity privatisation in 1990 and the likely future trends. They concluded that the mixture of different fuels for electricity generation was unlikely to fall below the levels of the 1980s during the period up to 2010. Providing public sector support for a nuclear power station would constitute a significant intervention in the electricity market. In the light of the consultants' report, Her Majesty's Government concluded that there was no case for public support for a nuclear build.
Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, are the Government aware that on this occasion they are to be congratulated on coming to the inevitable conclusion? Anybody who reads the report and is able to come to a contrary conclusion will do so because of a preconception that it is necessary to build the reactor. The report proves conclusively that private enterprise will not build it and the Government are well advised not to invest public money in a project which is unwanted and the end of which is unforeseeable.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, my noble friend is correct. Nuclear power stations do not produce greenhouse gases or acid rain gases. There are various environmental arguments in favour of them. But, the nuclear review looked at all that and concluded, nevertheless, that there was no case for public intervention, which would distort the market.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is the Minister aware that estimates have been given by economists who are well-versed in the subject of nuclear power that Sizewell B is likely to produce a derisory amount from its sale in consequence of privatisation proposals? What do the Government say about that? Will the Minister also comment on assertions that have been made that part of the nuclear levy, which was designed to deal with the decommissioning of nuclear plants, has been used as a subsidy for Nuclear Electric's ongoing operations? Is that right?
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