HC Deb 30 July 1956 vol 557 cc1009-15

Lords Amendment: In page 5, line 23, at end insert: (2) A length of trunk road or of classified road shall not be deemed for the purposes of the Act of 1934 to be a road in a built-up area by reason only of the system of street lighting provided thereon if no relevant system of street lighting was provided thereon before the coming into operation of this subsection. (3) As respects any length of road in a built-up area to which this subsection applies, subsection (1) of section one of the Act of 1934 shall have effect with the substitution for the limit of speed to be observed under that section of a limit of speed of forty miles per hour. (4) The last foregoing subsection shall apply to any length of road to which it is applied by a direction given by the authority having power to give as respects that length of road a direction that it shall be deemed not to be a road in a built-up area, but the giving, revocation or variation thereof shall be subject to the like provisions as the giving, revocation or variation by that authority of such a direction as is last mentioned. (5) The provisions of subsections (3) and (4) of this section shall not take effect until an order by statutory instrument appointing a day for such subsections to come into operation has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament: Provided that no such order shall be made before the Minister has reported to each House of Parliament the views of the Departmental Road Safety Committee on the results of the experimental introduction of a forty miles per hour speed limit in the London Traffic Area. (6) Subsection (3) of section one of the Act of 1934 (which gives power, by order approved by Parliament, to increase or reduce the general speed limit in built-up areas) shall apply in relation to subsection (3) of this section, and in subsection (7) of the said section one (which relates to traffic signs), in paragraph (a), for the words from 'the places' to the end of the paragraph there shall be substituted the words 'whether a length of road is or is not deemed to be a road in a built-up area and what limit of speed is to be observed where a length of road is deemed to be such a road; and'. (7) Where no relevant system of street lighting is provided on any length of road but that length of road is deemed to be a road in a built-up area, a person shall not be convicted of an offence under section ten of the Act of 1930 committed on that length of road in contravention of section one of the Act of 1934 unless the fact that it is deemed to be such a road is indicated by means of such traffic signs as are mentioned in the said subsection (7.) (8) In any proceedings for an offence under section ten of the Act of 1930 committed in contravention of section one of the Act of 1934, being proceedings relating to driving on a length of road provided with a relevant system of street fighting, evidence of the absence of derestriction signs shall be evidence of the length of road being deemed to be a road in a built-up area. (9) In any proceedings for an offence under the said section ten committed in contravention of the said section one—

  1. (a) a certificate of an officer of the highway authority for any road stating whether a relevant system of street lighting was provided on any length of that road before the coming into operation of subsection (2) of this section; and
  2. (b) a certificate of an officer of the Minister, or, in Scotland, of the Secretary of State that any road is or is not a trunk road or a classified road,
shall be evidence of the facts certified; and a document purporting to be such a certificate and to be signed by such an officer as is mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of this subsection shall be deemed to be such a certificate unless the contrary is shown. (10) In this section the expression 'classified road' means a road classified by the Minister or the Secretary of State under the Ministry of Transport Act, 1919, in Class I or Class II or in any class declared by him to be not inferior to those classes, the expression 'derestriction sign' means a traffic sign displayed in pursuance of subsection (7) of section one of the Act of 1934 to indicate that the length of road is to be deemed not to be in a built-up area, and the expression 'relevant system of street lighting' means a system of street lighting furnished by lamps placed two hundred yards or less apart.

Mr. Molson

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

This Lords Amendment appears to be rather long and complicated, and I think, therefore, that I should give the House a rather fuller explanation of it than I have thought necessary in respect of some of the other Lords Amendments. I think I can help hon. Members by pointing out that much of this Lords Amendment has already been passed by this House. Hon. Members may not, therefore, wish to trouble themselves with what they have already considered and approved. The only reason why these subsections appear in this Lords Amendment is that they are being moved into Clause 4 out of the old Clause 36, which we are deleting. This is purely a matter of drafting. As the House is aware, we are hoping in the near future to consolidate all the Road Traffic Acts, because at present it really is almost impossible to find one's way about them. We thought it would be much more convenient if all the matters dealing with speed limits were included in a single Clause, Clause 4, instead of some of them being in Clause 4 and some of them in Clause 46.

The new subsections which appear in this Lords Amendment are subsections (3), (4), and (5), with a proviso attached thereto, and part of subsection (6.) They provide that in cases where the appropriate authority so directs—that is, the Minister or the highway authority—the speed restriction in a built-up area on a specified length of road may be 40 m.p.h. instead of 30 m.p.h. In effect, therefore, the Amendment means that the Minister, in respect of a road in a built-up area, instead of entirely derestricting it, may, if he wishes to do so, subject it to a 40 m.p.h. limit.

As a result of the proviso to subsection (5), which was inserted, as I have mentioned, in another place, the Minister may not make a special order in respect of a classified road outside the London traffic area until the Departmental Committee on Road Safety has considered the experience gained in London, and has made a report to the Minister, and the Minister has passed on that report to both Houses of Parliament. Then it will be necessary for an affirmative Resolution to be passed by both Houses.

As we really had no opportunity in this House of considering this matter of the 40 m.p.h. speed limit the House may be inclined to feel that it is desirable that we should progress slowly in this matter. My right hon. Friend announced to the House, in an Answer to a Question, that by a majority the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee had reported in favour of the introduction of a 40 m.p.h. limit, but it may be agreeable to this House that an experiment should be tried in London and on trunk roads elsewhere and that Parliament should have an opportunity of debating the matter on an affirmative Resolution.

8.0 p.m.

Perhaps I may summarise what the position will be. Frankly, it is not apparent from the wording of this Lords Amendment. Under Section 46 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, the Minister will be able to introduce a 40 m.p.h. limit on trunk roads. Under the London Traffic Act, 1924, he will be able to introduce it into the London traffic area. It is therefore on classified roads outside the London traffic area that subsection (5) and the proviso thereto of the Amendment apply.

The position, therefore, is that under these other provisions of the law experiments can be tried with a 40 m.p.h. limit but it is only subject to these special precautions that the 40 m.p.h. limit can be introduced on classified roads outside the London traffic area by this amendment of the provisions of Section 1 of the Road Traffic Act, 1934.

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

I hope that the House will not agree to accept the Amendment. It seems to me that the present position is crystal clear. We know that there are certain built-up areas with a 30 m.p.h. limit and certain derestricted areas at present. These are perfectly plain and everybody throughout the country understands them. There is nothing more confusing than the introduction of a third category. When one travels through Markyate there is a 15 m.p.h. limit. In America, from State to State there are limits of 15, 20, 25 and 30 m.p.h. and confusion becomes worse confounded.

We have restricted traffic far too much. Many places which ought to be by-passed are still restricted areas. There ought to be more derestricted areas. To create a third class of 40 m.p.h. areas will get us into all kinds of difficulties. I shall not spend as much time in opposing the Amendment as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has taken in supporting it. After the long time we have spent in Committee and in the House discussing this matter, what is dimly apparent to the right hon. Gentleman is blazing daylight to the rest of us. We are against the Amendment for the reasons that I have stated, and I hope that the House will not agree with it.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

Unlike the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), I think that it is a very good thing to try these variable speed limits, but I should like some further explanation from my right hon. Friend of the proposed new subsections (3), (4) and (5.) If the 40 m.p.h. limit is to be applied to any of these roads, do the present provisions for public inquiries apply? There are three different types of roads—the trunk roads, the London roads and the provincial classified road. Would there be a public inquiry in the case of the provincial classified roads if there were a difference of opinion between the Minister and the local authority on whether the 40 m.p.h. limit should be imposed?

Mr. Ernest Davies

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), I have some doubts about the wisdom of this experiment with the 40 m.p.h. limit. I am glad that it was on the initiative of the Opposition in another place that it was decided to postpone the introduction of the 40 m.p.h. limit on classified roads until we have had some experience of the experiment in the London traffic area.

I suggest that the House will not be satisfied with having to debate an affirmative Order. Once that Order comes to the House the decision has been made. If we are to have a report on the 40 m.p.h. limit in the London traffic area it will be far better if the House is able to debate that report and express it views on the 40 m.p.h. limit before it is presented with a Statutory Instrument, which the Government will presumably back with the full force of their supporters by imposing a Whip. Throughout our debate on the Bill, non-party views have been expressed freely on both sides of the House and compromises have been reached on certain issues. It would be inconsistent if the 40 m.p.h. limit were not subject to a free discussion and a free vote in the House before we were presented with an affirmative Order which in effect would be a fait accompli.

What are the Government's intentions regarding trunk roads and the London traffic area? The Joint Parliamentary Secretary stated that the Minister already has power to vary the speed limit, as between restriction and derestriction, between 30 m.p.h. and 40 m.p.h. It would be helpful if we knew what the Minister has in mind. No indication has been given as to whether it is his intention to impose a 40 m.p.h. limit on trunk roads which are not restricted, or to raise the 30 m.p.h. limit to 40 m.p.h. on other sections of trunk roads. If it is the Minister's intention to proceed with the experiment in London I urge those responsible for making these decisions not to provide that roads will have a 30 m.p.h. limit, then a 40 m.p.h. limit, then restriction and derestriction.

I have in mind the Great Cambridge Road through Edmonton to the Hartford-shire border. At present there is a restriction and a derestriction. Now it is proposed to make 30 m.p.h. and 40 m.p.h. speed limits. In other words, a motorist will be restricted to 30 m.p.h. for a couple of miles, then to 40 m.p.h. for a further couple of miles and finally to 30 m.p.h. It would be far better to have a consistent limit of 30 m.p.h. or 40 m.p.h. for the whole six miles rather than have these varying speeds. On our congested roads today the motorist's attention should be on the road and not on the speedometer. If varying speed limits are imposed it will be difficult for the motorist to know exactly in what area he is travelling at a given moment.

I urge the right hon. Gentleman also to give attention to the road signs where speed limits are imposed. On many roads there are not sufficient signs to indicate where the road is restricted and derestricted. In many cases there is no more than a 30 m.p.h. sign at the entrance to a restricted area. Similarly, I hope that if there is a variation between 30 m.p.h. and 40 m.p.h. it will be clearly marked so that motorists will know where they are.

Question put and agreed to.—[Special Entry.]