HC Deb 07 December 1953 vol 521 cc1763-72

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Heath.]

10.58 p.m.

Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)

The question I wish to raise with the representative of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation is one which a mining village in my constituency feels very keenly. I want to deal specifically with the position in Huntington and a neighbouring village, although I shall, if time permits, make some reference to road safety in the County of Stafford generally. I prefer to concentrate on these two constituency points because they illustrate something which is worrying many people in our part of the country.

I ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to remember that I am not talking about people who are fussy or hysterical. A mining constituency does not complain easily. I am not talking on an issue affecting people who are not used to danger. Miners accept danger when they go underground. They accept the normal risks of their job. But when we find that in such a community the whole population is seriously worried about the safety of the people on the main highway, especially children, then it is an occasion when the Minister and his Department should look into the matter to see whether they are doing all that can reasonably be expected of them. I have written about this on several occasions to the Minister, and have also asked questions of him; so he is well acquainted with the facts.

In the village of Huntington there is a great main road, and the traffic is passing along that road without even the protection of the 30 m.p.h. speed limit. On one side of the village street there is an elementary school and on the other a secondary school, and there are little cottages on each side of the road, many of which have no back gardens. So, apart from the hours when children are going into and coming out of school, there are dangerous periods, such as evening time, holidays, and week-ends, when the normal impulse of the children is to pour out on to this main road.

At one time we had the 30 m.p.h. speed limit, and while it must be admitted that that is not a perfect protection, it was better than the present situation, because now there is a steady stream of traffic—mostly heavy traffic—going through the heart of this little community. I am told that the volume of traffic is increasing on British roads to such an extent that while at the present moment we have 5 million mechanically propelled vehicles on the roads, the expectation is that by 1958 there will be 7½ million. The Minister will know better than I if that estimate is accurate, but all hon. Members know from their own observations that the volume, as well as the speed of traffic, is increasing all the time.

I do not want to go into what I think is the fundamental remedy for this problem, the question of how long this island can afford to have its railways denuded while all this extra heavy traffic goes on the roads. Staffordshire is trying to maintain its roads in reasonable condition, but the task is hard and, in future circumstances, it will be harder; however, it would be unreasonable for me to expect the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with this issue tonight. Could I, therefore, ask him why the 30 m.p.h. limit should not be reintroduced? Some effort, I know, has been made to meet the feelings of local people. We have patrol wardens out by the schools helping to cope with the children when they are rushing out perhaps late in the mornings and rushing home again in the lunch hour. But that does nothing to cope with the children at odd hours, during the evening, for example.

Personally, I think it is reasonable to ask that the speed limit should be reduced to 10 m.p.h. while vehicles are going through this place where the parishioners feel that they are so vulnerable. When the divisional road engineer for Staffordshire went into this problem, no representative of Huntington Parish Council was asked to attend. I do not know if it is usual for a representative of the parish council to be asked to attend on such occasions, but I should have thought that some means should have been found to discover why the local people feel so strongly on this issue.

The problem was first brought to my notice by parents. It was then officially brought to my notice by the local council, we were provided with patrol wardens, which eased the situation a little, but the feeling which the villagers still have is represented by a letter which was sent to the Road Traffic Commissioner at Birmingham by the local lodge of the National Union of Mineworkers. It is not usual for a miners' lodge to take up an issue of this kind in the way it was done by the Huntington Lodge, but, having considered the problem, the lodge wrote to the Commissioner in the following terms: On behalf of the workmen employed at the Littleton Collieries, Huntington, Cannock, I have been instructed to call your attention to the necessity for restoring the 30 miles per hour speed limit through the village of Huntington. Great concern is expressed at our branch meetings. Huntington is a mining village on the busy Canxiock—Stafford road. The number of men employed at the colliery is over 1,600. In the village are two schools, one on each side of the road, Huntington county secondary school and Huntington county primary school. Children attending the primary school number 293, and the number of children attending the secondary school is 246. The feeling in the village is very strong against the lifting of the 30 m.p.h. limit. There are two long rows of houses (not opposite each other) which have no back ground for children to play in, and parents are constantly worrying whether their children are safe. Every time there is a screech of brakes, the question is heard, 'Is it my child?' I ask you on behalf of the mining community of Huntington to give this matter your kind consideration. I cannot put it better than it has been put by the representatives of the local miners.

I shall be glad if the Minister will tell me if he has also considered the representations which have been made to him about the village of Weston-under-Lizard. That village is in a similar situation, the main A5 road running through it.

I believe I have put all the essentials to the Minister. I have taken the opportunity of the Adjournment Motion to put them to him, for I know that he has had the individual points brought to his attention. My hope is that, owing to the heavy flow of work in a great Government Department, he may have delegated responsibility for this matter to his Regional Office.

I ask him to remember that I am not the kind of hon. Member who is continually raising constituency issues of this kind. I will not raise any issue which is frivolous or unreasonable. I am raising this subject tonight because I entirely agree with the local people that they are subjected to intolerable danger and nervous strain by reason of the heavy and increasing flow of traffic passing along their village street. As I have said, there is a school on either side of the road and children running across the road have not even the protection of a 30 m.p.h. speed limit. This is all the people are asking for. When the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have gone into the matter personally, I hope that they will be willing to meet this very modest request.

11.9 p.m.

Mr. Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

I support what the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) says about this road, for I know it very well. Certainly, coming from Stafford towards Cannock, in which direction one leaves a dual carriageway and then enters the bottleneck through Huntington, one can appreciate the fear of the parents. I should like to feel that the Parliamentary Secretary, in the absence of very strong reasons from the divisional road engineer, will say that he will have the matter looked into.

I should like to say a few words on the general principle involved. In the Peterborough constituency we had a similar stretch of road. The local police, local residents and local council strongly resisted the derestriction of the road. All who knew the locality intimately were against the derestriction. However, their point of view was not accepted, and the road was derestricted. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to make certain that full weight is always given to representations from local people, particularly when, as in the case mentioned by the hon. Lady and the case in my constituency, the police and local authorities, as well as the residents on the spot, thought the decision was wrong.

11.11 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I should like to support the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee), as I know this road well. I know also that the Parliamentary Secretary knows Staffordshire roads very well; I remember that some years ago I used to see him joining the train at Stafford. The example the hon. Member for Cannock raised is only one of many causing great concern in Staffordshire, because of the continual postponement of major projects to divert major roads round villages and towns and because of the increasing weight of traffic on the London to Holy-head and Birmingham roads through the county.

It is a fact that many of the roads of the county are unfit to take the traffic with which they are burdened. In many parts we have an appalling state of affairs. Unfortunately the basis on which the Minister allocates grants for counties tends to breed that state of affairs. Because we are unfortunate in Staffordshire in having fewer roads having a 30-foot carriageway than has Cheshire, although we have much more traffic and a greater mileage of roads, we receive the smaller grant. Nothing is being done to carry out major projects necessary for road safety or to take some of these major roads outside the built-up areas, and the grant to the county is the minimum for maintenance of these roads.

I know the Parliamentary Secretary cannot reply on that matter tonight, but I hope that we hon. Members from Staffordshire have impressed upon him, during the short time he has held his office, that we are concerned about the appalling state of affairs on our roads, and their dangers, and that we hope that the Minister of Transport will pay great attention to the need for improving the highways of this important industrial area.

11.14 p.m.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will take notice of the appeal of my hon. Friend. As I tried to point out the other day, in the economic cross-road of Britain's transport, it may be unfortunate that Staffordshire is in the position she occupies. Having such a key position in those economic cross-roads, I believe the county deserves more attention. I hope that this appeal by Staffordshire M.P.s will not fall upon deaf ears.

11.15 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)

The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) and the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) have somewhat widened the issue which was raised by the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee). I have already had occasion to speak about the great need for improvement of the Staffordshire roads, and I have indicated that the Minister will look sympathetically at the claims of the county next year. I should like to point out, however, that at the present time Staffordshire has no ground for complaint, and that although the allocation from the Road Fund this year is less than it was last year, this is still the highest allocation that has been made in the Midland Division, although both Shropshire and Warwickshire have substantially larger mileages. I say that only in order to show that there has been no unfair discrimination to the disadvantage of Staffordshire, although we recognise that there is great need for further expenditure in the County.

The hon. Lady raised two matters in her own constituency. In particular, she emphasised the situation that exists upon the busy road through Huntintdon. The Road Traffic Act of 1934 provided for the general application of a speed limit in built-up areas. We all accept that as being a desirable amendment of the law, and it has resulted in a very substantial reduction in road accidents. At the same time, we believe that it is extremely important that the 30 miles per hour speed limit should not be applied in any length of road where its need is not apparent to motorists.

If we have the 30 miles per hour speed limit applied in areas which do not appear to them to be built-up, the effect is a general disregard of, and disrespect for, the law. The Ministry of Transport views with very great concern the disregard shown by motorists in many parts of the country for the 30 miles per hour speed limit. While we have been trying to press, by propaganda and other forceful means, for the respect and observance of the law in proper cases, we have also been anxious that in lengths of road which are not really built-up the 30 miles per hour speed limit should be done away with.

We came to the conclusion that the village of Huntington cannot fairly be described as a built-up area. It is scattered along a trunk road for some 2,240 yards, and there has been no development, apart from straggling frontage development, including a colliery. We therefore came to the conclusion that it was undesirable to try to enforce the 30 m.p.h. speed limit. It was for that reason that under the Trunk Roads (Built-Up Areas) (No. 9) Order, 1952, this area was exempted from the 30 m.p.h. speed limit.

The hon. Lady was very fair in what she said, and she admitted that she did not feel that the 30 m.p.h. speed limit, as such, would be of any very great value. She referred to it as "a minimum protection."

Miss Lee

What I said was that this was a modest thing, and that the local people were asking for it. It would be some protection, and I do not think the fact that people's demands are modest ought to tell against them.

Mr. Molson

The words she used were "a minimum protection." As a matter of fact, I do not believe—and this is the view of my Department—that so far as cases of schools upon the road are concerned a 30 m.p.h. limit is of any substantial value.

My right hon. Friend was impressed by the representations which were made, not only by the hon. Lady but also by the local authorities concerned, as to the danger on this road where there are schools on both sides—a secondary school on one side of the highway and a primary school on the other. It was for that reason that he suggested that there should be a patrol and that this man should watch the crossing of the children at the time of the beginning and the ending of school. It is our view that this is a far more effective protection for schoolchildren than seeking to apply a 30 miles per hour speed limit, which in practice has not been respected by motorists in the past. I am glad to know that the school crossing patrol commenced duty on 1st September of this year.

There has been only one fatal accident upon that road which I have been able to trace. Although I am open to correction on this point, I think that this accident, which occurred at 7.30 p.m. on 9th May of this year, when an elderly female pedestrian was crossing the road, took place outside the area where the 30 miles per hour limit used to apply.

I have ascertained that there was present at the conference convened by the district road engineer of my Department one representative of the Huntington Parish Council. My right hon. Friend has given the most careful consideration to the representations which have been made by the hon. Lady on this subject, and it was as a result of his initiative that this patrol was established. We do not regard this as being a built up area and we believe that in the general interests of traffic it is undesirable to have too many 30 miles per hour limits established. The fact that so far there has been only one accident, and that, I think, outside the area affected, suggests that the steps which my right hon. Friend has taken are, on the whole, reasonable to deal with the situation.

Miss Lee

Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, may I ask whether he has taken fully into consideration the problem of children who are not yet of school age? What parents fear more than anything else is not accidents to the regular convoy of children, because even without a warden the fact that there is a group is some protection, but accidents to tiny children, not even of school age, in rushing out of doors among passing traffic. The hon. Gentleman said a representative of Huntington Parish Council was present at the conference. I have an official letter from the Huntington Parish Council which reads, When the meeting took place in Huntington between the divisional road engineer and other representatives, the Huntington Parish Council were unfortunately not invited to attend. As this letter comes officially from the parish council, I naturally assumed that that statement was correct.

Mr. Molson

It may well be the case that the parish council was not officially represented, but one member of it was there. I am sure the hon. Lady agrees that the 30 miles per hour limit as such is no protection against accidents to pedestrians and that the time of day when it is most important to ensure protection is when the school is opening and closing. I cannot give any undertaking that there will be many cases where the 10 miles per hour speed limit which she suggested will be applied. That would be quite unreasonable. The 30 miles per hour limit would not necessarily be effective in preventing accidents. In point of fact, no accident has occurred so far to any of the children of whom the hon. Lady is speaking.

Miss Lee

I am sure that the Minister would not want to misrepresent what I said in any way. I stressed that the 30 m.p.h. limit would help, and the local people want it very badly. I do not want anything that the hon. Gentleman said to be interpreted to mean that I said that the 30 m.p.h. limit would not do any good. I said exactly the opposite, and I should like a speed limit of 10 m.p.h.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-five Minutes past Eleven o'clock.