HC Deb 24 March 1958 vol 585 cc159-84

10.9 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the London Traffic (40 m.p.h. speed limit) (No. 1) Regulations, 1958 (S.I., 1958, No. 301), dated 21st February, 1958, a copy of which was laid before this House on 28th February, be annulled.

Mr. Speaker

It might be convenient for the House to consider this and the following two Motions together.

Mr. Davies

It will suit us very well, Mr. Speaker, if, in moving this Motion, I may refer to the other two Motions, which deal with the 40 m.p.h. speed limit and pedestrian crossings respectively.

The objective in having the debate is not to oppose the Regulations but to ask the Minister for some of his reasons for some of the changes which have been made on certain stretches of road where either the speed limit is being raised from 30 to 40 m.p.h. or derestricted roads are having a 40 m.p.h. speed limit imposed. As this is a major change in the regulation of the speeds of motor vehicles on the roads, it was thought that it might be of interest to hon. Members, particularly those whose constituencies are affected, if a short debate took place and the Minister were given an opportunity to hear our views and to reply to them.

These changes arose from the Report on the 30 m.p.h. speed limit in the London traffic area published as long as two years ago by the Sub-Committee of the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee. Why is it that so long elapses after the appearance of these Reports and their recommendations before any action is taken? It is two years since this Report appeared containing specific recommendations. Not long afterwards the Minister said that he accepted the Report in principle, but only now are these Regulations being laid. It seems that the Ministry is rather dilatory in these matters. This is not the first occasion on which we have drawn attention to it, and it seems that there are many occasions on which speedier action could be taken within the Ministry.

Not all of the stretches of road where changes in the speed limit were recommended in the Report are affected, and I want to know why the Minister has accepted the recommendations in some cases and not in others. Here was an expert body which considered these stretches of highway and made specific recommendations. Is the Minister's subsequent decision a result of consultations which have taken place with the local authorities or has the Minister some other reason for not fully implementing the recommendations? It would be helpful if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary told us what standards the Ministry lays down in deciding whether a road shall carry a 30 m.p.h. speed limit or a 40 m.p.h. speed limit or no restriction at all. What is the basis which he has applied in this instance to select those roads where the 40 m.p.h. limit is to be brought into effect?

From my own observations it seems that these changes have been effective and that the speed limits are being better observed by motorists at the new speeds than they were at the previous speeds where there has been an increase from 30 to 40 m.p.h. It is difficult to decide whether the arterial roads which converge on London should be restricted or not. There is often a conflict between the convenience and safety of the local residents, on the one hand, and the need to keep traffic flowing at a reasonable speed, on the other hand.

There is a case in my own constituency on the Great Cambridge Road, one of the main arterial roads out of London, which is now being made into dual carriageway where a dual carriageway had not previously been built. There has been considerable pressure for the imposition of a 30 m.p.h. speed limit on that section of the road which passes through Enfield, which was derestricted. The pressure was resisted by the Minister and by the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee when they considered it.

That was understandable because, from the drivers' point of view, this is a road upon which it is desirable that the traffic should flow quickly. On the other hand, the danger to local residents has been considerable, and a very large number of accidents have taken place. That this road should now have imposed on it a speed limit of 40 m.p.h. seems to be a reasonable compromise between the local residents' wish for a 30 m.p.h. limit and the motorists' natural wish that it should remain derestricted—as the Minister wished at the time, because of the desire to keep the traffic moving.

The same situation arises on the many roads that converge on London. Speed, in itself, is not dangerous. It is dangerous only in certain traffic and road conditions. It is really the motorist himself who has to judge at what speed it is safe to drive. Good drivers do that, and it is mainly, I suppose, for the sake of the poorer drivers that the lower speed limits have been imposed.

I refer to that because what is important is that speed limits should be fixed at a limit that the driver recognises as being reasonable, and which, consequently, he is willing to observe. That is the main criterion. The speed limit fixed must be justified by normal road conditions in order to be acceptable to the drivers. Only then will the motorist respect the law, and only if he is able and willing to respect the law will the law be enforceable.

Where the speed limits are universally ignored because they are considered to be unreasonably low, enforcement is physically impossible. We found that with the parking regulations, particularly in London. Where motorists feel that it is not reasonable to prevent parking on the highway, or where there is not off-street parking available, the number of people breaking the regulations is so great that it becomes impossible for them to be enforced.

So it is with the speed limit. If motorists feel that any restrictions imposed are unreasonable, and unacceptable to them, the number of offences committed is so great that the police cannot possibly enforce the law. Therefore, I believe that if the speed limit of 30 m.p.h. is raised to 40 m.p.h. where it is reasonable to do so, it may assist in the enforcment of the law which is, in itself, a desirable objective. If the law is neither respected nor enforced, it falls into disrepute, and respect for the police diminishes, which is most undesirable.

I would say that enforcement is the crucial matter in the fixing of the speed limits. It is because I think that on stretches such as the Great West Road and the Great Cambridge Road, and the other great arterial roads out of London, the 40 m.p.h. limit will be respected and enforced that I think it good that it should be raised in this way.

It is, of course, desirable that the Ministry should be consistent in deciding on what stretches there shall be a 30 m.p.h. or a 40 m.p.h. limit; and that there shall not be a jumping about from 30 m.p.h. to 40 m.p.h. and then back again to 30 m.p.h. That possibility arises as a result of some of the changes which have been made, and it is very undesirable that the motorist should run frequently in and out of 30 m.p.h. and 40 m.p.h. restricted zones. That would lead to confusion and add to the difficulty of enforcement. Where there is doubt, it would be better to maintain a consistent limit over long stretches instead of changing the speed limits from time to time.

The motorist himself must, of course, accept responsibility for road discipline. I feel there is a great deal of education upon which the Ministry could embark in the discipline of motorists, and with the higher speed limits this is even more desirable than heretofore. For instance, lane discipline is of great importance. A campaign could be started with advantage to persuade motorists to keep to the appropriate lanes, the slow vehicles in the left-hand lane and the fast vehicles in the right-hand lane, instead of changing from one lane to another as happens today and is one of the main causes of accidents.

Of these three Regulations, the annulment of which I propose, one refers to changes in the speed limit on certain specified stretches of road; another refers to road signs, on which incidentally I congratulate the Ministry because they are clear, and the repetition of signs at regular intervals is desirable and effective; and the third Regulation relates to pedestrian crossings.

I should like to refer to the difficulties of pedestrians on these stretches of road where the speed limits are higher. It is desirable that on these main arterial roads where the speed limit has been raised to 40 m.p.h. pedestrian crossings should be at the absolute minimum. It is extremely difficult for the pedestrian to cross where the flow of traffic is heavy and fast, and it is difficult also for the motorist travelling at high speed to pull up in time if the pedestrian does not give ample warning of his intention to cross. Where the 40 m.p.h. limit is in force, it is most desirable that the utmost should be done to provide subways or bridges across these arterial roads so that the number of pedestrian crossings on the roads shall be as few as possible.

Parking within a certain distance of pedestrian crossings is forbidden, and on stretches of road where the 40 m.p.h. limit applies, the distance within which parking is forbidden is greater, but it seems to me that the Ministry should do everything possible to limit the number of pedestrian crossings and at the same time should erect barriers to stop pedestrians stepping off the road haphazardly.

These Prayers are moved for the purpose of hearing from the Minister what are his intentions, the extent to which he proposes to extend the 40 m.p.h. limit throughout the country, the standards which he proposes to apply, and, at the same time, the safeguards which he is introducing to protect the pedestrian, the cyclist and other road users. The success of these Regulations will depend upon whether the accident rate increases or decreases. The Ministry can assist in making the experiment a success if it has due regard to the interests of all road users, of which the pedestrian is not the least important.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)

I beg to second the Motion.

The first reason why I support my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) is that I assume that this is a sort of pilot scheme to enable us to judge, as a result of the experiment, whether it will be wise or otherwise to extend these Regulations to provincial centres. I am interested in what will be the outcome of this pilot scheme. I have in mind a number of important arterial roads in my constituency upon which Regulations of this kind will have serious repercussions. Although I hold very firm views about an increase in the speed limit, I feel that I can reasonably support an experiment on the lines suggested in these Regulations to find out whether or not it is wise that there should be an increase in the speed limit in congested areas, and whether there will be fewer accidents, fewer difficulties and less congestion if we allow an increase in certain areas.

My hon. Friend said that speed is a relative term. That is quite true. It depends upon the other fellow. If he is a pedestrian, it does not make much difference to him whether he is hit by a vehicle travelling at 30 or 40 m.p.h. He is dead anyway. From his point of view, it is a bad relativity. As there are only two kinds of people on the road, the quick and the dead, and as the quick cannot get any quicker, we can only assume that the dead will get more numerous. Therefore, some of us are very concerned lest what we should be doing in increasing speed limits will have a detrimental effect upon the people.

In this age, when we are terrifically shocked at an air accident which involves 30 or 40 people and when we are rightly shocked at a mining disaster in which 100 or 200 people are involved, we seem to lack national conscience about the number of people killed, maimed or injured on the roads. It is a staggering figure. In 1956, 267,000 people were either killed or seriously maimed or injured on the roads. This is a most serious proposition for the House to consider.

I feel that I can support my hon. Friend so that we can calmly examine with the Minister some of the reasons why he has come to the conclusion that certain roads should have their speed limit increased from 30 to 40 m.p.h. He might be able to tell us what exchanges of view there have been with, for instance, people interested in road safety campaigns and whether their views have been taken into account in deciding on these particular roads. It is most necessary that we should have information on this matter.

I should like to have information regarding one or two roads. I hope that some of my hon. Friends, including the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris), will not express great surprise when I say that I am interested in the second item in the Schedule, which deals with a particular point in a road in the Borough of Heston and Isleworth and the Urban District Council of Hayes and Harlington.

At one time, I had the privilege of representing Heston and Isleworth in this House and I recall vividly the number of complaints I got from the Cranford residents in particular concerning the speed of vehicles along that road. I remember going there many a time to check on speeds and on the difficulties that some of the older people especially were experiencing in trying to cross the Great West Road at those points. We had to try to think out all sorts of schemes to assist the old and the disabled, and, indeed, the children who had to go to Berkeley Avenue junior school. They were in great difficulty in trying to cross this most important road leading out from London to the West.

I should like to know from the Minister whether there have been close consultations between himself and some of the councils in the area, with Heston and Isleworth and with Hayes and Harlington, and with some of the residents in the area, who were very concerned in those days, from 1945 to 1950, at the absence of a speed limit. I am assuming that under the Regulations there will now be a 40 m.p.h. limit, but if I had to give an opinion on that stretch of road I would unhesitatingly say that any traffic going along those parts at 40 m.p.h. constitutes a real danger to the people of Cranford and of parts of Heston and Isleworth. That is only a personal view. I am not entitled to give anything like an official view, being no longer responsible for the area in this House. It will be interesting to hear from the hon. Member for Heston and Isle-worth whether those same views are still held in the area.

Here is another road of which I know something. I refer to the last item in the Schedule—No. 35, the Brighton Road, in the Urban District of Banstead. It is proposed to apply a limit of 40 m.p.h. From a point 50 yards north of its junction with Bolters Lane to a point 75 yards south of its junction with Reigate Road". If ever I have seen hogging and speeding, it is on this stretch of road. I suppose there is more traffic along that road to the coast than on almost any other road I know. Having seen the speeding that goes on along that road and the cutting in and the skidding when vehicles come to the lights, I wonder whether it is wise to allow 40 m.p.h. on that stretch.

I have no statistics to prove what I am about to suggest, but I should imagine that there are more accidents at the lights at the Banstead crossroads than on almost any other crossroads leading out of London. It seems as if the people who speed along that part of the road are totally unable to apply their brakes in time to obey the lights at the Banstead crossroads. I went there a week or so ago to see how things were going. If I lived at Burgh Heath or in the adjacent houses, I would think that I was at great risk in trying to cross the road there, especially at week-ends.

I shall be watching this experiment carefully, because if a speed of 40 m.p.h. is introduced on such roads as the main road from Manchester to Oldham, to Ashton or to Stalybridge and those places—main arterial roads from Lancashire to Yorkshire—some of the old people in my constituency had better give up the idea of being able to cross any of these congested and busy roads. I certainly hope that the Minister will from time to time report to this House whether this scheme is adversely or otherwise affecting the accident rate. If he finds as a result of a brief experiment for six or nine months, including the time of summer traffic to the West and South, that more harm than good has been done by this experiment, I hope he will come to the House and say so, and think twice before extending to the congested areas of the North a scheme which will have been proved unsatisfactory.

10.36 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I support the three sets of Regulations. The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) complained that these Regulations are being brought in two years after the Report of the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee. My complaint is that they are being brought in twenty-two years late. I recollect that a Conservative Minister, the late Sir Austin Hudson, after the very successful introduction by a Conservative Minister of Transport of the 30 m.p.h. speed limit, foreshadowed this type of thing. It has been left to another Conservative Minister of Transport to introduce it twenty-two years later. He has done so after thorough and exhaustive examination of it by the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee.

A speed limit placed on a road which has not had a speed limit before does reduce both the number and the severity of the accidents occurring on that road. That is an indisputable fact. If there were not any other proof of that the figures relating to the introduction of the 30 m.p.h. limit in 1935 in the Metropolitan Police District would prove it. The road death toll was cut by one-quarter an the number of pedestrians' deaths resulting from private cars was cut by one-half. In addition to those old figures of 1935, the Report of the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee gives some further up-to-date figures to prove that speed limits really do bring about a reduction in the number of accidents and a reduction in the severity of the accidents which occur.

I wonder if my hon. Friend, in answering the debate, will be able to report on the earlier pilot schemes. There is the Edgware Way scheme of a 40 m.p.h. limit which has been running now for eight months, and there is the Cromwell Road extension scheme which has been running for four months. I wonder if he can report to the House the result of those pilot schemes, so that we may know what we may reasonably expect from these Regulations.

Of course, for safety alone, I should have wished to see the introduction of a 30 m.p.h. limit instead of 40 on these roads. As my hon. Friend knows, my concern is for the pedestrians, to enable them to cross the roads in safety. It is difficult enough for the pedestrian to judge the rate of approach of a car and to choose the right time to cross, when the car is approaching him at 30 m.p.h. When the car is approaching at 40 m.p.h. it is so much more difficult, particularly for elderly people and young children, particularly at night, when cars show a varying intensity of light, and particularly in rainy weather.

I feel, nevertheless, that where a 40 m.p.h. limit is being imposed on roads which had no limit before, and therefore there is reduction in the speed of traffic as well as the creation of a uniform speed, it will be of assistance to those pedestrians who will have to negotiate the roads. It will reduce that hazard of the unseen high-speed car on the outer lane, which so frequently hits and kills a pedestrian who has successfully negotiated the inner lane. Therefore, I welcome the introduction of the 40 m.p.h. limit as being better than no speed limit at all where there has been no speed limit on a road in the past.

As to the increase to a 40 m.p.h. limit on roads previously restricted to a 30 m.p.h. limit, my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport will not expect me to agree wholeheartedly. I have never subscribed, and I never shall subscribe to the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Enfield, East that if the speed limit is not observed it ought to be abolished. We do not use that argument in the case of any other crimes of violence, and it is indeed a crime of violence if a person is killed by a speeding motor car. We do not say that because the coshing of wages' clerks and old ladies is on the increase, coshing should be no longer a crime.

Mr. Ernest Davies

The hon. Member has not got me straight. What I said, or intended to say, was that where the law is not accepted as being reasonable it is not observed, and it cannot be enforced. The point is that the speed limit is not accepted as being reasonable in certain cases and then it is not observed. Everybody, of course, considers it quite reasonable that coshing people should be a crime.

Mr. Page

I accept the hon. Member's explanation, but when is the speed limit not reasonable? It might not appear to be reasonable to a motorist when he travels along a road and does not know that there are places out of sight of the road which are built-up areas, and that therefore a number of pedestrians have to cross.

I am reassured to a certain extent, however, by the fact that the present Regulations apply a new 40 m.p.h. limit to three times as great a mileage of road as the mileage where the 30 m.p.h. limit has been extended to 40 m.p.h. I hope that in future the Minister will use his powers mainly to apply the 40 m.p.h. limit to roads which are at present unrestricted, rather than use them as a general excuse for relaxing the 30 m.p.h I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will give us an assurance on that point when he replies.

These Regulations came into effect on 15th March and I have made it my business to receive reports on how they are operating. I would say from these reports that they have got off to a good start, certainly in the observance of the speed limits. That may be due to their novelty, or to the publicity given to radar checks, but I am sure that to a great extent it is due to the clear signs which have been erected to indicate the speed limits. These signs are good and are clear to motorists.

It will depend in future on how the magistrates and the police enforce these speed limits. I hope that we shall not hear any stupid nonsense about technical offences of exceeding the speed limit. The 30 m.p.h. speed limit saved one life in four and that matter of life and death is not a technical matter. The enforcement of the speed limit is a very human and humane matter.

The hon. Member for Enfield, East referred to facilities for pedestrians to cross. There is a very wise provision extending the no-waiting distance on approaches to pedestrians crossings, so that traffic travelling at the faster speed will have a chance to see pedestrians about to cross, and pedestrians will have a chance to see on-coming traffic.

Was adequate consideration being given to the facilities for pedestrians to cross these roads on which the speed limit has been increased from 30 m.p.h. to 40 m.p.h.? I am perfectly well aware that the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee made a general study of this matter and reported on it and made some proposals. I have no doubt that before advising the Minister on the roads to be included in the Regulations the Committee had studied pedestrian facilities on those roads, but from an inspection of the roads I have been able to see precious little application of the proposals which the Committee made in its Report.

After speaking of the separation of pedestrians from traffic by guard rails, unclimbable fences and so on, the Committee says in paragraph 157 of its Report: If this is to be successful, however, the pedestrian must be able to cross the road at reasonable intervals. On that point I join issue with the hon. Member for Enfield, East who seemed to want to restrict the number of crossings for pedestrians. After considering the application of the differential speed limits and surface crossings if the speed limit is increased, the Committee says: … we think that in many cases advance warning signs will add to their safety. Are those advance warning signs being erected on those roads to which the 40 m.p.h. limit is to apply?

Finally, the Committee drew attention to the need for separation and crossing facilities on these roads and said: It is our impression that there is room on the main approaches to London for much greater provision of this kind, which in our view is an essential corollary of a good road system. That is a reference to crossing facilities for pedestrians. I do not believe that there has been as adequate a survey as the Committee wished, nor that adequate safety precautions for pedestrians have been introduced.

Before the principle of the 40 m.p.h. limit is applied to provincial roads, the Minister has to consider the report of this experiment and bring it to the House. I hope that when he presents that report and his views upon it, he will be able to say that a proper survey has been made of what facilities are necessary for pedestrians crossing roads where there is a 40 m.p.h. limit.

10.49 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

I rise to comment on that part of the Regulations which refers to my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams) mentioned the area of Cranford which, although in the Borough of Heston and Isleworth for local government purposes, is in the Parliamentary constituency of Feltham. Part of the Regulations cover the area from a point 44 yards south-east of the easternmost junction of Mornington Crescent, Cranford and the A.4, to a point 105 yards west of the junction of Harlington High Street and the A.4. That is the area in which the people are alarmed. They would like a speed limit of 30 m.p.h. Recently, the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris) and myself, with representatives of the Heston and Isleworth Borough Council met the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport to discuss the opposition of the local authorities and the residents to these new traffic Regulations.

This is a dangerous and busy road. It should be borne in mind that it is the last lap to London Airport. One can easily imagine that if a private car is going to the airport, and there is the time of an airliner to New York or Paris to be considered, there is a great temptation for the motorist who is behind time to speed on that section of the Bath Road. In 1957 there were over 100 accidents involving cars on that section of road. Therefore, one can easily understand that the people who live in Cranford and near this part of the Bath Road are alarmed over these new signs, for many children also live in this area.

I was in the constituency on Saturday and saw that the new 40 m.p.h. signs were in position. Therefore, I can understand the anxiety and alarm of the local people. The Minister gave an undertaking in a letter to me, in which he said that this was a six months' experiment, and that if, after review, it was found to be unsatisfactory, it could then be reconsidered. I make an appeal to him. If there is the slightest sign of unfortunate tragic accidents increasing on the Bath Road, Cranford, or on the stretch near London Airport, he should not hesitate to come to the House to ask for powers to impose a 30 m.p.h. limit.

10.52 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

For once we are indebted to the Opposition for raising this matter for discussion tonight. In this class of debate one always has the pleasure of not having to enter into party politics. I am as much in favour of the views expressed by the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) as I am strongly opposed to those of my hon. Friend, the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), and I hope to demolish one or two of the arguments he put forward. I am rather like the three-headed dog in this matter: I have my own opinions; I am concerned with one of the national organisations dealing with the long-distance road transport, and I am also interested in a leading organisation dealing with safety. Therefore, on long-distance road transport, which is much affected by these Regulations, and on safety, I have a completely objective view point. In the latter matter, I have a not inconsiderable experience of cases involved in this class of events.

These are unfortunate Regulations for the start of the new policy. Four years ago I raised this matter with the Minister of Works, who at that time was discussing the matter with the then Minister of Transport. The whole question at that time was not restriction but derestriction. The original purpose of the 40 m.p.h. limit was to raise from 30 to 40 m.p.h. areas which were in many cases governed quite unnecessarily by the 30 m.p.h. limit.

The principal cause of accidents is the frustration and irritation caused to motorists. When they come out of an area which is a focal-point of commerce and trade they want to get out from the 30 m.p.h. limit to the 40 m.p.h. limit. The idea of putting a 40 m.p.h. speed limit on the Kingston by-pass and the Great West Road, as proposed in Statutory Instrument No. 301 of 1958, will cause more accidents than will be prevented.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney North)


Mr. Rees-Davies

Yes, because people coming out of London want to get away. The way to reduce accidents is to ensure that we have effective and proper control over pedestrian traffic. The safety of the pedestrian lies in knowing the condition of the road he wants to cross. If he knows that it carries fast traffic going at a free speed he knows that the road is dangerous for him. We must provide him with adequate facilities for crossing. That is not done today. We need proper provision for the pedestrian and a safeguard for his right to cross the road. About 90 per cent. of the accidents are caused by failure to keep a proper lookout. There is hardly one running-down accident in which two-thirds of the blame does not lie upon that one cause.

There has been, I am informed, three times as much increase in the area of road on which the limit has been increased from 30 to 40 m.p.h. as there was three years ago We are told that there is three times as much road coming into the ambit of the 40 m.p.h. limit as has been derestricted. This is a national question, and it is quite right that the Ministry of Transport should hold control over the speed limits throughout the country. Otherwise every local councillor would want the speed limits reduced in every area because of the emotional clap-trap put up by the public. That is why we leave matters to the Ministry of Transport. We understand the deeper meanings of traffic problems. Everybody says that the bigger speed of vehicles is not what causes accidents, but the lack of a proper understanding and approach to the problems.

It seems to me that what is really needed is, first, to look thoroughly at the existing 30 m.p.h. speed limits to see whether any of them can be upgraded to 40 m.p.h., so that a person does not come out of a 30 m.p.h. limit and promptly put his foot on the accelerator and do 60 m.p.h. or 70 m.p.h. That is when accidents occur.

Let us also ensure that we do not slow down industry. The hon. Member for Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams) said that there was only one reason for these Regulations, and that was to reduce accidents. With such experience as I have in this matter, I would say that there are two reasons. The first is to try to make people a little more safety-conscious, and the second is to try to make them a little more production-conscious. We have two duties. The first is to ensure that people keep a proper look-out, and the second is to try to ensure that our traffic gets along faster than the snail's rate at which it has to crawl today.

If this policy is carried out properly—and at present it worries me deeply—it could meet both these problems.

11.2 p.m.

Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)

I think that the Minister has twin problems. He has to get traffic moving and to maintain reasonable conditions of safety. If, a busy road which has previously been de-restricted is brought down to the 40 m.p.h. limit, he may increase congestion of traffic, thus causing more accidents.

It is rather a sad reflection that a road like the Great West Road, which has been derestricted since it was built, and where there are six lanes of traffic, is to be moved down to the 40 m.p.h. limit. I have travelled on this road over all those years, and I find no difficulty in travelling at more than 40 m.p.h. on a great part of it, although there may be stretches where I can travel at only 20 m.p.h. because of congestion. I am afraid that the additional congestion arising from cutting down the speed will restrict traffic all the road down to a speed of 20 m.p.h. Unless the matter is carefully watched, once that stage is reached it will cause that degree of frustration which will make people want to press on under any circumstances. That in itself is a very dangerous condition.

There ought never to have been so many intersections of the Great West Road. It is the number of crossings and traffic lights which may have influenced the Minister to restrict the speed. Probably the only solution is to get on with building the new road over the top of the present one so that the fast traffic can go ahead.

I would draw the Parliamentary Secretary's attention to one road I was driving along at the end of last week. It is partly in my constituency—Greenford Road. I find that one part has been reduced to the 40 m.p.h. limit and, to my surprise, I find that on the distance from the White Hart public house to Ruislip Road, the old derestriction still applies.

I will not argue whether the limit should be 40 or whether all the road should be derestricted, but to have a short stretch at 40, a short stretch derestricted and then to come down to the 30 m.p.h. limit is the worst combination one could have for road safety. I hope that the Minister will look into that point.

I find very peculiar the way these roads have been chosen. On the other side of the road is Windmill Lane. For the last twenty years people have been crying out for that road to be widened. It carries a large volume of traffic from the Uxbridge and Greenford roads to the Great West Road. It is a dangerous road under any conditions, and yet it is derestricted; and I am surprised to find that it remains derestricted. From the point of view of the condition of the road alone, 40 m.p.h. is the maximum at which anyone should travel.

I am finding some anomalies in these matters which need to be ironed out, and I hope that something can be done about them, without necessarily waiting for the six months to elapse, because they can be dealt with much earlier. I feel that when we have derestricted roads it should be necessary to show an overwhelming case before the speed of traffic is brought down on them. When roads have been derestricted throughout their existence it makes for difficulties if we proceed to restrict traffic on them to 40 m.p.h., and in some cases to reduce the limit to 30 m.p.h.

I want to obtain a report before we go very much further on what the effect of the proposals has been. There are two factors. The changes may reduce or they may increase the number of accidents. We do not know what will happen as a result of this experiment. We want to know what has happened about the freer movement of traffic. I do not think that it can possibly add to the free movement of traffic, and if it is to restrict it still further, particularly on the approaches to London, I cannot help feeling that it will be more dangerous and that the House should know about the effects as soon as possible.

11.7 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

I am sorry to have to intervene before all hon. Members who wish to speak have been able to do so, but there are a number of important points which, I feel, should be answered and before long the debate must be concluded.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) that I appreciate that this is a matter of national importance. The number of hon. Members here and wishing to take part in the debate, despite the late hour, shows what great interest there is in it on both sides of the House. Although this is the first instalment of the experiment, and a fairly small one, it is a matter of very great importance, and I have listened with interest to the valuable contributions to the debate from both sides.

The anxieties expressed in the debate are basically concerned with the perennial problem that we experience in every town in the country of the conflict of road user. It occurs universally and continually. Our cities were not built or laid out for the enormous weight of motor traffic which the roads have to carry, and the result is that continually the motor traffic is conflicting with the movement of pedestrians, whether on the pavements or trying to cross the roads, going about their business and to their shops.

I was very glad to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), who so ably represents the interests of pedestrians, felt able to support this change, because it is intended to add to road safety and to aid traffic movement, but I should be painting a picture of false optimism if I said that there is any satisfactory answer to this continuous problem of the conflict of user until we can find structural means of segregating the road users and making it possible for pedestrians to cross the streets by passing under the streets at a different level from the traffic.

I hope that, gradually, in the future those responsible for the redevelopment of our cities will have imaginative thoughts which will lead to cities being laid out in a way more suitable to modern motor traffic. I have been lucky enough to see the new lay-out of Coventry, where they have laid out the centre of the city as a shopping centre completely shut off from the roads. That is a most imaginative plan. It not only makes it safe for life and limb of the pedestrians, but it makes it pleasant as well, where the pedestrians are relieved of the noise, rush and bustle of the traffic passing along the road, which makes life hell for everybody. I hope that over the next decade or two those responsible will be thinking on these lines so that we can try to get the motor car back where it ought to be—our servant and not our bugbear.

In the meantime, we all have to make the best of it, and we have to make Regulations which will make the best use of the roads to keep the traffic moving, and do what we can to promote safety for pedestrians as and when they have to cross the road. These three Regulations are made in that spirit. They are designed to introduce a first instalment only of differential speeds—a 40 m.p.h. limit as well as a 30 m.p.h. limit—along selected lengths of road in the London and Home Counties Traffic Area.

In deciding to make this innovation I should like to give credit to those who drew up the Report of the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee, and particularly its energetic Chairman, Mr. Alec Samuels. The Committee took the best part of two years to draw up the Report and it is a very thorough and useful Report. It made a wide and detailed survey.

Hon. Members will have noticed that the Report gives a schedule of roads. Indeed, it was referred to by the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), who asked me why we have made changes to the roads. Incidentally, he also asked why there has been such a long delay. During the interval of two years we have been discussing the suggestions made by the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee with the local authorities, the police, and so on. The Department's Divisional Road Engineer, through his officers, has been making his suggestions and gradually we have produced an amended and enlarged list of variations from 30 m.p.h to 40 m.p.h. and from unrestricted to 40 m.p.h. That list then had to be advertised and objections had to be heard from local authorities and other interests affected. Gradually, the final list has been composed after consultations with local authorities, police, and others, with the hearing of objections of local interests affected.

The House can take it that every care has been taken to consult local opinion in making these changes, and that time has been well and properly spent in ensuring that as far as humanly possible we have done what will be acceptable to local interests; and where we have not been able to do it, we have taken full account of the local views expressed.

The second instalment will follow in a few months' time. This is the first schedule. It raises the limit from 30 m.p.h. to 40 m.p.h. on 21 miles, and lowers it from unrestricted to 40 m.p.h. on 62 miles. My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet was very critical of what he regarded as the lack of balance in this picture, and I am bound to say that if that were the whole of the story I should agree with him. But I hope that he will find that when the two schedules are taken together, when the second instalment comes, the combined effect brings matters into better balance. There we shall see, other things being equal, the limit of 30 m.p.h. raised to 40 m.p.h. on about 49 miles, and unrestricted down to 40 m.p.h. on 71 miles. That is still a slight balance in the way that my hon. Friend does not like, but the matter is more nearly in balance.

The answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, namely, what policy we apply here, is that we apply a balanced policy. What we have done is to study each length of road and consider it on its merits. There have been a variety of arguments advanced or criticisms made about this proposal, but it may help if I deal broadly with what I regard as the justification for doing it, rather than the detailed arguments. First, where the 30 m.p.h. limit is raised to 40, we believe that, on balance, traffic flow will be improved; we also believe that there will be less overtaking. The Report discusses that at some length and arrives at that conclusion.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

About a year ago, when we had a debate in the House on the raising of the speed limit for heavy vehicles from 20 to 30 m.p.h., the Minister said that he thought the majority of accidents occurred because the frustrated motorist driving behind a heavy lorry travelling at 20 m.p.h. tended to pull out. So he raised the heavy limit to 30 m.p.h. If he now raises the limit for cars to 40, will not the same circumstances apply?

Mr. Nugent

That is a fair point, which must be set against the traffic flow and speed of the rest of the vehicles on a road; but I think that my argument stands. Where 40 m.p.h. is the limit imposed on unrestricted lengths of road there will be less overtaking by the faster vehicles, and there will be, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby has said, greater safety for pedestrians and, incidentally, cyclists, too.

Finally—and I completely agree with what the hon. Member for Enfield, East has said—there will be better enforcement. I think that all hon. Members will agree that this is a crucial part of the argument. The Report comes down fairly and squarely on this. Unless we achieve better enforcement then the whole purpose of the experiment will fail. I found myself in agreement with most of what the hon. Gentleman said on this point. It is a fact that on the roads in a 30 m.p.h. area there are nowadays few vehicles travelling at 30 m.p.h. or under. Indeed, on some lengths of road it is safe to travel at 40 m.p.h. Convictions have not been obtained and, over the last decade or two, motorists have gradually travelled a little faster on the restricted roads; faster, that is, than 30 m.p.h.

It is now generally very difficult for the police to secure enforcement of the 30 m.p.h. and, despite the protestations of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, this is so and it is against the best interests of road safety. For all road users—pedestrians, cyclists, and motor-cyclists and motorists as well—this is one of the strongest arguments for having a differential speed limit.

We should pick out the stretches of road suitable for the 40 m.p.h. limit and make that figure statutory, proceeding on the same principle that the Americans do in fixing a speed limit in urban areas on the basis of what 85 per cent. of motorists in those areas do. That is, broadly, what we are trying to do: making the 40 m.p.h. limit on lengths of road where the sensible motorist would consider it to be a proper speed.

The police state that they feel confident that they will be able to enforce this limit. As hon. Members know, they are using new methods, such as radar, and there can be no resentment against the proper enforcement of speed limits if that saves life and limb. That, surely, must be something which everybody wants. I hope that the outcome of this introduction will be that we get the co-operation of the motorist; that he will be able to drive at 40 m.p.h. where it is reasonable and, therefore, he will more readily accept driving at 30 m.p.h. where we think that that is the proper speed.

Mr. Arthur Tiley (Bradford, West)

Would it not be better if we made it clear that with the higher speed which is to be permitted, the police must enforce the regulations? The fact that the 30 m.p.h. limit has not been enforced may be the very reason why the accident rate is increasing.

Mr. Nugent

The House can take it that it is the firm intention of the police to make a success of this. They have backed it throughout and they believe that it will greatly simplify their problem of enforcement, because they will have the general co-operation of the motorist, who will recognise that we are doing something sensible. If we can achieve those three objectives, I think that everyone will agree that we will have done something really worth while.

I assure the hon. Member for Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams) and the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) that this is an experiment and that there will not be any extension of the 40 m.p.h. limit outside the London area until we have had full experience of this experiment and until a report has been brought back to Parliament and Parliament is satisfied that the experiment has been a success and that it ought to be extended to the rest of the country.

In that context, we have asked the Road Research Laboratory to make a special study of this new arrangement. The Laboratory has selected 25 to 30 sites for a "before and after" survey. It has been studying those sites for a few months before the application of the 40 m.p.h. limit and will now be studying them again after the application of the 40 m.p.h. limit. The Laboratory will, therefore, be in a good position to give a valuable report of the difference. We can then form an opinion of whether we have achieved something useful.

Mr. John Barter (Ealing, North)

Do the sites where the research is being carried out include a stretch of road where there are frequent changes of speed limit?

Mr. Nugent

Yes. They include Greenford Lane, to which my hon. Friend is perhaps referring, where there is a sequence of 40 m.p.h. for about a mile, 30 m.p.h. for about a mile, 40 m.p.h. and then 30 m.p.h. again.

My hon. Friend brought a deputation to see me because he was anxious about whether the new arrangement would work, and the hon. Member for Enfield, East has expressed anxiety about it. We feel that it will work and that it is worth trying. We will see whether the motorist reacts to it. The alternative—to have everything at a lower speed—simply means that people will drive at 40 m.p.h. and we will be back where we were before. It is worth trying out and we have asked the Road Research Laboratory to watch that aspect carefully.

I should not like to leave the impression that there is no weight in the criticisms and arguments which have been put against us. We are aware that there might be confusion to drivers, that 40 m.p.h. might not be high enough and that it might cause congestion, as the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) said, on the Great West Road. On the other hand, 40 m.p.h. may be too high, as the hon. Member for Openshaw said, and pedestrians may find it impossible to cross the road. We still believe, however, that, on balance, it is worth trying and that whatever risks there may be are outweighed by the possible benefits. I am certain that the prospect of the benefit is sound enough to justify the experiment, and I hope that the House will agree to it tonight.

Of the other two sets of Regulations, one prescribes road signs. I welcome the commendation they have received from both the hon. Member for Enfield, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby. We have made them in a square box because we thought it would make them more distinctive. I hope that they will generally be found easy for motorists to understand. There are not warning signs for pedestrian crossings in 40 m.p.h. limits any more than there are in 30 m.p.h. limits. There are only warning signs for pedestrian crossings outside areas of speed limits.

The third set are Regulations to extend the No Waiting restriction on lengths of road preceding a pedestrian crossing in a 40 m.p.h. limit area, to make sure that motorists can see pedestrians a safe distance away. The hon. Member for Enfield, East asked that there might be as few pedestrian crossings as possible in 40 m.p.h. limit stretches because of the higher speed of vehicles. Obviously, we would have regard to that, but it is sometimes essential to have pedestrian crossings on the outskirts of cities and it may be that there will he some there. However, we shall have regard to that question.

I must thank hon. Members opposite for praying against these Regulations tonight and giving us a chance of discussing these very important matters. I hope that the House will now feel satisfied that these Regulations should be made, and that we should make this experiment, and that we are doing something which may have very great value for road traffic and road safety throughout the country. I hope that hon. Members opposite may now be willing to withdraw their Prayer.

11.26 p.m.

Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isleworth)

I cannot let these Regulations pass without saying anything about that part of Statutory Instrument No. 301 which affects my constituency. As the Minister will know, there has been very strong feeling in Heston and Isleworth on the subject matter of paragraph 2 (ii) of the Schedule, which deals with that part of the Great West Road which runs through the constituency of Heston and Isleworth.

I agree entirely with the general purport of these Regulations, though I do not agree with much of what was said by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). I am at a loss to understand why he was so surprised at so many roads at present de-restricted having a 40 m.p.h. limit imposed. I raised this matter in an Adjournment debate at least three years ago and was given an undertaking by the Minister then that he was considering imposing a 40 m.p.h. limit on derestricted roads.

It has to be realised that, though these Regulations are a step in the right direction, they are only a very small step in the estimation of Heston and Isleworth, because only a relatively small part of the Great West Road is affected by them. Once again, I ask the Minister to give very serious consideration to extending the speed limit to a much greater stretch of the Great West Road than that specified in the Regulations. The 40 m.p.h. limit ends at present at Wood Lane. I would ask the Minister to see that before long it is extended further along the Great West Road so as to include Osterley Station, at a part where the road suddenly narrows from three lanes to two. That is the very place where not so long ago there was an accident involving 15 cars. That was entirely because there is no speed limit there yet.

We think that there ought to be one there, and we hope it will be extended further because there are houses on both sides of the Great West Road at this part of its length, and there are no service roads. I hope the speed limit may be extended along the Great West Road to its junction with the Bath Road, where there is a very dangerous corner. As the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) said, the Town Council of Heston and Isleworth is extremely keen that this limit should be extended, so I hope that before very long, when the Minister makes his next Regulations, he will include the whole of the rest of the Great West Road in the speed limit.

Mr. Ernest Davies

The debate having served the purpose for which we initiated it, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.