HC Deb 14 July 1960 vol 626 cc1759-80

10.45 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)

I beg to move, That so much of the Road Traffic Act, 1956 (Commencement No. 10) Order, 1960, dated 30th June, 1960, as relates to subsections (3) and (4) of Section 4 of the Road Traffic Act, 1956, and of which a copy was laid before this House on 7th July, be approved.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Before the Joint Parliamentary Secretary proceeds, may I suggest that it would be for the convenience of the House to take with this affirmative Order the next Motion but one in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) and myself, namely: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Traffic Signs (Speed Limits) Regulations, 1960 (S.I., 1960, No. 1124), dated 30th June, 1960, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th July, be annulled. I would plead in support of that procedure that the Order which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is moving provides for the 40 m.p.h. speed limit and that my Motion relates to the Statutory Instrument which brings the sign for 40 m.p.h. into existence. The two fall naturally together. One relates to the change in the law, and the other relates to the change in the traffic sign which signifies it. If it is agreeable to you, Mr. Speaker, that the two should be taken together, I think it would greatly simplify the work of the House.

Mr. Speaker

There are some difficulties about this from the point of view of the Chair. First of all, whether or no one imposes a speed limit of a given number of miles an hour is a question logically much distinct from the shape, size and dimensions of the figures that one puts on the sign by which one draws attention to the speed limit that one imposes. Another difficulty is that different Rules of Order apply, the Minister's request for approval being exempted business and the hon. Gentleman's Prayer being governed by Standing Order No. 95 (a). From the Chair's point of view, it would be rather easier if the House dealt with the two Motions separately.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely one cannot argue on the one case if one does not allow a sign to be put up indicating it? Surely if one is to argue the one case one has to argue the other too? Surely it must be logical to take the two Motions together? Otherwise we may well have a duplicated argument, and I should not think the House would want that at this time of night.

Mr. Speaker

It is curious how different problems strike different minds. To some people it would seem that the decision whether or no the speed limit one imposed was one of 30, 40 or 50 m.p.h. depended on very different considerations from the dimensions of the sign by which one signified to the driver the speed limit that one had imposed. I am afraid that I cannot accede to the suggestion, but I appreciate the difficulty.

Mr. Hay

Perhaps I might briefly outline the background to the Order. In 1954, the then Minister of Transport requested the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee to review the 30 m.p.h. speed limit in respect of roads of traffic importance in the London area and to consider whether the law met modern conditions in the metropolis.

As a consequence, the Traffic Advisory Committee set up a sub-committee, which reported in 1956. The sub-committee recommended that there should be an experiment of a 40 m.p.h. speed limit on selected main traffic routes in the London traffic area where it was obvious that some speed limit was necessary but a 30 m.p.h. speed limit was unrealistic. This conclusion the Minister accepted, and the experiment was begun in March, 1958.

A total of 118 miles of road was selected in the London traffic area. Forty-six of these miles had previously had a 30 m.p.h. speed limit on them, and 72 were previously unrestricted. In the experiment the Road Research Laboratory and the police forces cooperated, and eventually, in December, 1958, and in April, 1959, the Road Research Laboratory issued two reports. The first of these reports was upon the effect of the new 40 m.p.h. speed limit on vehicle speeds. The second report was upon the effect of the new limit on accident frequency.

The conclusions that the two reports came to were these. So far as the roads which had previously been unrestricted were concerned—those with no speed limit on them in the past and now subject to the 40 m.p.h. limit—vehicle speeds in general had decreased as a result of the limit. The accident rates had fallen. The average speeds of cars were about 3 m.p.h. lower than if the limit had not been imposed. Similar reductions in speed were noticed for goods vehicles. Accidents were no less than 19 per cent. fewer with the 40 m.p.h. limit than had previously been the case.

When one considered the category of fatal and serious accidents, there was a diminution in the rate of 30 per cent. This was associated with a reduction from 54 per cent. to 28 per cent. of the proportion of private cars exceeding 40 m.p.h. In other words, of all those cars which, before the limit went on, exceeded 40 m.p.h., the reduction was more than half.

That was the situation shown up by the reports in respect of roads which were unrestricted but on which the 40 m.p.h. limit had been applied. The second category was roads where there was a 30 m.p.h. limit and which had put upon them a 40 m.p.h. limit. Here, the interesting thing is that the reports discovered no significant change at all in either vehicle speeds or accident rates. If I might approach it from another direction, the imposition of the 40 m.p.h. limit showed a significant reduction in speeds and accidents. The limit was being observed in the cases where there was previously no limit on the road, but the raising of the limit from 30 to 40 m.p.h. showed no difference, either in speed or accident rates. One could, therefore, logically infer that in these cases the 30 m.p.h. limit was unrealistic. It was not being observed by the motorists.

The police were asked for their views about the experiment, and they considered it to have been successful. They went further and expressed their desire for the 40 m.p.h. limit to be more widely extended to roads where they thought that 30 m.p.h. was unrealistic and not properly observed.

Although those two reports were produced at the end of 1958 and the beginning of 1959, the monitoring of the experiment has continued ever since, and the latest figures we have show that the conclusions reached by the reports are more than confirmed. This was reported back to the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee. It also regarded the experiment as successful.

In the meantime, Parliament had passed the Road Traffic Act, 1956, and Section 4 of that Act enabled a speed limit of 40 m.p.h. to be substituted for speed limits of 30 m.p.h. Section 4 (5) provided two conditions before this could be laid down: the first was that the Ministry of Transport and the Secretary of State for Scotland would have to appoint a day when the commencement of this Section could be brought in.

That is the Order which is now before the House. This Order appoints the 3rd August as the day from which this 40 m.p.h. limit can be extended throughout the country. The second condition laid down was that the Minister must first report to Parliament the views of the Departmental Committee on Road Safety on the results of the experiment. This condition also has been fulfilled by the report presented to Parliament by the Minister on 22nd March, 1960 (House of Commons Paper No. 144).

This report, which hon. Members have, no doubt, had an opportunity of studying, gave our conclusion—I say "our" because at the moment I was chairman of the committee—on the results of the experiment. We came to the conclusion that it was a successful experiment and should be extended. We made a number of suggestions in the report as to the circumstances—the types of roads, the length of road, and so on—which should be taken into account when selecting the roads for a 40 m.p.h. limit. In particular, we suggested certain criteria which should be applied when considering which roads should have the limit put upon them. Those criteria are set out in paragraph 11 of the Report, and they will be a valuable guide to highways authorities in deciding which roads in their respective areas should have this limit applied. We intend to circulate a circular of guidance drawing attention to all those matters.

I must emphasise the importance of careful selection of roads for this 40 m.p.h. limit. It would be quite wrong to select on a purely haphazard basis. I mention one sort of case for which we think the 40 m.p.h. limit will be eminently suitable. We are all aware of the type of arterial road which leads suddenly and often without warning into a built-up area. That is a frequent occurrence in undulating countryside. One may be going along a wide and fast road and then, around a sudden corner or down a hill, find a small built-up area with a 30 m.p.h. limit.

Motorists frequently admit that they are completely misled by the nature of the road into thinking that the unrestricted road will continue, and they sometimes get involved in accidents as a result of suddenly running into a 30 m.p.h. limit. The 40 m.p.h. limit can be introduced as a kind of buffer between the unrestricted section of the road and the 30 m.p.h. limit section. That is the sort of transitional case for which we believe the 40 m.p.h. limit will be extremely useful.

I hope that I have made it clear that the application of the 40 m.p.h. limit is limited to a certain type of case. I have noticed observations in some quarters of the Press which have obviously been based on a complete misunderstanding of what the Order is intended to do. It is not our intention to substitute the 40 m.p.h. limit for the 30 m.p.h. limit where that exists. In other words, we are not increasing the 30 m.p.h. limit to 40 m.p.h. throughout the country. Nor are we extending the 40 m.p.h. limit over every mile of road in the country, as I have seen suggested. There will be only two cases in future. The first will be where the road has previously been unrestricted, but where some restriction is obviously necessary and the second will be where the 30 m.p.h. limit is unrealistic, but where a 40 m.p.h. limit would get the willing co-operation of drivers. I must emphasise that the observance of speed limits so much depends, in our experience, on their being realistic and accepted by drivers as being something reasonable. The introduction of this 40 m.p.h. limit gives us much needed additional flexibility in what is a useful measure contributing towards road safety. For that reason, I hope that the House will now agree to the Order.

10.59 p.m.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)

It is with same trepidation that I rise to speak on transport tonight, but I think that with this Order even Erskine May could find no dangers, because we are simply discussing whether on the basis of the experiments there is now a case for moving up to or down to the 40 m.p.h. limit in certain sections of our roads.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his ample explanation—my cornucopia of compliments is not yet empty and I shall say more friendly things about the hon. Gentleman in a moment. At the same time, it is only fair to point out that we have had the fact that speed kills drummed into us for so long that we are bound to look with great suspicion on any proposal to raise the speed limit. It is only because the evidence in this case is absolutely categorical that we can consider a change in our speed laws.

I am very glad to see a piece of our traffic law changed as a result of scientific study. In regard to the previous Order, I said that Britain was often behind other countries certainly in the technical field. In thinking of the under-developed areas I always think of the Ministry of Transport in relation to its need for technical assistance, and when we see the introduction of legislation based on scientific study it is a pleasant change. The Road Research Laboratory and the Departmental Committee under the chairmanship of the hon. Member have produced evidence which the House would be foolish to ignore.

The odd thing about it is that when we raise the speed limit from 30 to 40 m.p.h. it makes no difference to the speed of the motorist. This is an interesting fact. The report of an experiment conducted on similar lines in the United States was recently published in Traffic Engineering. It suggested that sometimes, when the speed limit was raised, people drove more slowly. It is a curious thing, but traffic engineers who have made a detailed study of this matter are coming more and more to the conclusion that there is a speed limit which is self-policing. I do not mean by this that the motorist should decide tile speed at which he should travel and the Government should fall in by obligingly giving him the speed which he wants, but the evidence suggests that there is a realistic and effective speed limit. It will greatly help the enforcement of our laws if, without prejudice to safety, it is possible to bring the speed laid down by law into line with that realistic level.

But it is necessary not to have too many speed limits. One of the beauties of our old law was that there was either no speed limit or a speed limit of 30 m.p.h. Then the motorist knew where he was. But we are already moving into three different levels. We have a 50 m.p.h. limit at weekends for certain roads, which at other times have no speed limit; there are to be other roads which were previously unrestricted but are now to be subject to a limit of 40 m.p.h., and others which were subject to a speed limit of 30 m.p.h. but are now to be subject to one of 40 m.p.h. There is a danger that in trying to match speed to road conditions and the day of the week we may reach a stage where the motorist will not know where he is. The Minister was right to stress the need for absolute clarity in this matter. That is why the road signs which we shall be discussing in a Prayer, if we reach it tonight, are so important.

I have some questions to put to the Minister. First, I am still not satisfied that the policing of our roads is adequate. I raised this point before Whitsun, and it is strictly relevant to the Order. If we are going to raise the speed limit, or even discuss it, the first question come up against concerns the policing of the limits. I am very alarmed at the way in which the number of police cars in Britain has fallen behind the number of other cars on the road. Although it is difficult to estimate what it should be, there clearly should be some ratio between ordinary cars and police cars—whether it is one in 1,000 or one in 100,000—but we know that whereas the number of cars on the road has doubled in the last ten years the number of police cars has nothing like doubled, and in the case of London it has hardly increased at all. If we want the motorist to obey the law he must feel that the law is being enforced.

I greatly regret the failure to coordinate between the Ministry of Transport and the Home Secretary in London and the police authorities outside. I blame the police authorities and not the Ministry for their failure to co-ordinate on the question of adequate police patrols, because this is an extremely important question.

My second question relates to the question of grading up and down. I was glad to hear the Minister say that he intends to have a 40 m.p.h. zone as a buffer between an unrestricted road and a restricted road, but here again the question arises in regard to the 50 m.p.h. limit. It is possible that we could have a situation where we had a 50 m.p.h. limit imposed at the weekend, and then the motorist could move into a 40 m.p.h. zone and then to a 30 m.p.h. zone, and finally go into one of the Royal Parks, and into a 20 m.p.h. zone.

Mr. Hay

Not after Monday.

Mr. Benn

The Minister says that confidently, but he must face his hon. Friend before he gets that through. There is the danger of having so many limits that one does not know where one is.

The third question is the rather related one of using the speed limit as a buffer zone. I think that one of the most dangerous situations of all is that of having traffic lights on unrestricted roads, because a car may be approaching traffic lights at high speed and whereas one is accustomed to knowing how far one can go when travelling at 30 m.p.h. when the lights go amber, if one is travelling at 60 m.p.h. there is the agonising decision to be made whether the lights will go red before one reaches them, or whether one will get over safely. The motorist has a double duty, to stop if the lights show red, but not to stop if he endangers vehicles behind him. I think that traffic lights ought never to be put on an unrestricted area of road without some sort of restriction or some warning sign, in advance.

Some local authorities have a sign which says, "Traffic Signals Ahead." That is all very well, but that means that there is a lot of reading to be done and some foreigners do not understand it. It is, therefore, much better to have a 40 m.p.h. sign, or a 30 m.p.h. sign, and use it as a buffer.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

Better still, have no traffic lights.

Mr. Benn

The motorists' lobby is here in force—no traffic lights; no parking meters. I did not know that such a lot of backwoodsmen existed as there are on both sides here tonight.

I now come to the question of where a local authority should make use of the powers that are being conferred on it, and this is absolutely crucial. I have read the Explanatory Memorandum published by the Ministry of Transport. It picks out three categories of roads which might be appropriate: first, those which form natural transitions from the unrestricted status to the 30 m.p.h. limit; secondly, by-passes to large towns; and thirdly, isolated sections of important through routes which have high accident records which cannot be reduced by other measures.

I call this a very confused piece of advice because, although it may be that when one puts the speed limit up to 40 m.p.h. the accident record gets better, it does not follow that if the accident record is bad one makes it better by raising the speed limit from 30 m.p.h. to 40 m.p.h. I hope that if the Ministry of Transport gives advice to local authorities it will make it far more specific than that.

I return to the point I made earlier. It was not in order then, but it is now. The Ministry of Transport should put its technical services at the disposal of local authorities. I hope that local authorities in Britain will develop traffic departments appropriate to their problems. At the moment they do not have such departments. The only traffic engineering done is done centrally, and I should like the Minister not merely to send out a circular, but to have these little study groups available for local authorities, like the Organisation and Methods Department of the Treasury which I gave as an example. They should go to local authorities which are contemplating this to help them to plan traffic analyses, to help them to divide stretches of road into areas with 40 m.p.h. speed limits, and to put their plans into effect.

Finally, I hope that the Ministry of Transport will help local authorities to see that all these things are made clear to motorists in the new districts, because this question of clarity and understanding is fundamental to road law. Al- though in London we are familiar with the 40 m.p.h. speed limit and are used to it, in areas where it will operate for the first time I want to be certain that no local authority, in making this new experiment, will fail to alert people in the area where the experiment is to be made about the meaning of what is being done.

With those simple queries, I commend this Order to the House.

11.9 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

This Order is not a matter of what is reasonable or convenient for motorists. It has a direct application to death or life on the roads, as one can see from the figures which have already been reported.

As my hon. Friend explained, before the Order can be made, he has to present the Report of the Road Safety Committee—the report on the results of the experimental introduction of the 40 m.p.h. limit in the London Traffic Area. In that document, which has been laid before the House it is said: We note that the reports produced by the Road Research Laboratory show that on those lengths of road which were previously unrestricted the imposition of a 40 m.p.h. limit has in general resulted in a decrease in vehicle speeds and there have been fewer accidents. That is a very vague statement, that "there have been fewer accidents."

When one looks at the Report of the Road Research Laboratory one sees how extremely significant that reduction in the accidents is on what were previously unrestricted roads but where there is now a 40 m.p.h. limit. We have the Metropolitan Police reports of the difference in the accident frequencies and the seriousness of the accidents as between unrestricted roads and roads where there is a 40 m.p.h. limit. The figures can be seen from the 1958 road accident analyses of the Metropolitan Police to justify the statement in their reports that the chance of a road user being killed if involved in an accident is more than twice as great on an unrestricted road as compared with a road where the speed is limited to 30 m.p.h.

When one gets to the figures of the percentages of fatal and serious accidents occurring, when they occur on a 40 m.p.h. road compared with a 30 m.p.h. road, the figures are impressive. On a 40 m.p.h. road the percentage of serious and fatal accidents is 43. On a 30 m.p.h. road it is only 25. So it is a matter of life and death for many people whether we leave a road unrestricted or impose a 40 m.p.h. or a 30 m.p.h. limit. The Road Research Laboratory in a report on the experimental imposition of a 40 m.p.h. limit said this: Where the 40 m.p.h. limit was applied to roads formerly unrestricted there were on the average 20 per cent. fewer accidents than expected if the regulations had not been applied and a reduction of 30 per cent. in fatal or serious accidents. That means that by applying a 40 m.p.h. limit to a previously unrestricted road we save one in every five accidents and there are 30 per cent. fewer fatal and serious accidents.

With regard to the increase of the speed limit on roads previously restricted to 30 m.p.h. and now increased to 40 m.p.h., my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) said that there was practically no difference. That is not exactly what the Report of the Road Research Laboratory states. It says: Where the limit was raised from 30 to 40 m.p.h. there was no significant change in the total number of accidents, though there was a slight increase in fatal and serious accidents and therefore in the average severity of all accidents. I have spoken in percentages so far, let us see what this means in overall numbers, in terms of life and death and in the loss of limbs on the road. It is given in Table 111 of the Road Research Laboratory Report where it is shown that, where the road was unrestricted previously and a 40 m.p.h. was imposed, over a period of six-months' investigation by the Laboratory there was a reduction of 78 in the actual number of serious or fatal accidents. The serious injury accidents had dropped from 845 to 767. It is said that one might have expected by an increase in traffic an increase up to 954 accidents. That meant that there had been a reduction of 20 per cent. in the number of expected accidents.

Therefore, by imposing the 40 m.p.h. limit on a previously unrestricted road there has been a great benefit in saving life and limb on the road, but in imposing the 40 m.p.h. limit on a road which previously was restricted to 30 m.p.h. there is a greater proportion of fatal and serious accidents. Surely the lesson to be learned from that is that where the speed limit is increased greater safety measures—press-button signals for pedestrian crossings, provision of proper methods of getting pedestrians across the road by decent subways and so on are needed.

The Road Research Laboratory in its Report, summed up the position very well when it said: The significant reduction in the total number of injury accidents, and in the proportion of fatal accidents, on roads formerly unrestricted is consistent with the hypothesis that the speed limit reduces accidents. It follows from that that when we increase the speed limit we increase the number of accidents. In the Report which my hon. Friend lays before the House, the Committee said: We find that in deciding whether stretches of road are suitable for the 40 m.p.h. limit there are certain points which should always he taken into account. Then it sets out examples, volume of pedestrian and cycle traffic, provision of adequate footpaths, facilities for pedestrians to cross the road, and so on.

Are these roads to be chosen by reason of the facilities which are there already? Are the roads on which the 40 m.p.h. speed limit is to be placed where there is now the 30 m.p.h. limit to be chosen for the facilities they have at the moment, or can we expect more safety measures to be placed on them because the speed limit has been increased? Obviously an increase in the limit is a great convenience to traffic. Probably there is a steadier flow and the limit is better enforced at the higher speed, but, if we are to accept that higher speed, there must be the greater safety measures imposed, as is shown by this Report. I am afraid that my hon. Friend did not bring it out in his introduction of this Order that he was prepared to press for the expenditure of money on safety measures where the limit is increased from 30 to 40 m.p.h.

11.17 p.m.

Mr. G. W. Reynolds (Islington, North)

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) referred to me as a backwoodsman and a representative of the motorists' lobby. I assure him that I am neither. In fact I support this particular Order.

I want to take the opportunity to add to the praise that my hon. Friend has lavishly poured on the Ministry a few words of praise of my own. I am going on what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said and I hope I have my dates right. I want to congratulate the Ministry on the speed with which it has moved. It was only in 1954, six years ago, that this suggestion was put up. That is pretty good going. It was only two years after that that a committee was set up to look into it, and we had the experiment going by 1958. If I heard the Parliamentary Secretary aright, by the beginning of 1959 they were satisfied that this was a very good idea, and only 18 months have gone by——

Mr. Hay

The hon. Member obviously did not hear me aright. I said that the two Reports of the Road Research Laboratory were in December, 1958, and April, 1959, not that the final Report was made by the Departmental Committee on Road Safety at the end of 1958.

Mr. Reynolds

That is exactly what I thought the hon. Member said. He informed us that by the beginning of 1959—and I regard March as the beginning of 1959—the Reports came out which said that everything in this idea was good. The Minister went on to tell us that further information since then has confirmed those Reports. Eighteen months after everyone decided that it was a good idea, we are getting down to doing something about it on a permanent basis, so that it has taken six years for the Ministry of Transport to bestir itself on the matter—from 1954, the date of the suggestion, to July, 1960, when we are doing something about it in the House. The Minister ought to be congratulated on that. Whether it has anything to do with the change in the Minister in the recent past I do not know, but I add my congratulations to those offered by my hon. Friend, and I give mine just as generously as he gave his.

Having said that, I should like to look at one or two other aspects on which I am in disagreement with my hon. Friend and with the Minister. The Minister suggested, and my hon. Friend supported him, that a change might be made in the situation where a motorist who is driving along an unrestricted road suddenly rounds a bend, or comes down a hill, and finds himself among a collection of houses and in a 30 m.p.h. area. The Minister suggested that it might be a good idea to put a 40 m.p.h. speed limit sign about half-a-mile from the point at which the motorist enters the 30 m.p.h. area. I think that it would be far simpler to move the 30 m.p.h. speed limit sign so that the motorist sees it before he rounds the bend or comes down the hill. I do not see that we gain much by imposing a 40 m.p.h. limit for half-a-mile or so before the beginning of the 30 m.p.h. area. Does the Minister think that once a motorist has travelled over that stretch of road a few times, and once he knows that the 40 m.p.h. sign is a warning to him that there is a 30 m.p.h. sign round the bend, he will slow from 60 m.p.h. to 40 m.p.h. as he enters that area? I do not think he will. Such a change would be an unnecessary complication in the present system.

May I refer to a stretch of road which has been part of an experiment for some time? I agree with the idea generally of a 40 m.p.h. limit, and I agree with it on this road, which is the last section of the North Circular Road from its junction with A.40 round to the junction with A.1, where it becomes derestricted again. It is amusing to me at any rate, and it must be amusing to other motorists, that for the whole stretch of the A.40 to the A.1 the North Circular Road is a double-track highway, with three traffic lanes in each track and yet has a speed limit; but as soon as it becomes an ordinary three-lane highway taking traffic in both directions, it is completely derestricted and a motorist can travel at whatever speed he likes. In my view that is a fantastic situation. I understand that the argument is that on the double-track section, where the 40 m.p.h. speed limit has been imposed. there are a large number of factory exits and other roads entering the main road. I understand that point of view.

The stretch of road to which I refer has a 40 m.p.h. speed limit for 24 hours a day. I travel along the North Circular Road frequently. It is the quickest and most convenient route from my home to my constituency. I travel along this stretch of road at all times of the day and often late at night. I agree that the 40 m.p.h. speed limit on this stretch —and it is typical of a large number of similar stretches in the Greater London area—is a good idea, and I think that the figures given by the Minister and by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) support that.

But I often travel along that road between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. when there are probably only half-a-dozen cars on a mile stretch of road. Going along at about 43 or 44 m.p.h., which, in my view, is quite a good tolerance to allow, considering the 1,000 and 1,500 mile reports on new cars which appear in the motoring Press which tell us that in almost every instance speedometers are about 10 per cent. out at 30 m.p.h., I am nearly always overtaken by cars travelling at 60 and 65 m.p.h. At that time of night, on a three-lane, two-track road, well lit, with hardly any traffic in view upon it, I really cannot see the objection to motorists exceeding a limit of 40 m.p.h.

Need we be so rigid? Just because it is necessary to have a 40 m.p.h. limit on the road during the hours when it carries the bulk of the traffic, do we need to insist upon its continuation throughout the whole of the 24 hours of each day? I ask the Minister to look at the matter again and consider whether it is possible to be a little more flexible so that, at times when there is hardly any traffic on the roads at all, motorists may travel along what, after all, on good roads, is the perfectly safe speed of 50 m.p.h. or even slightly more.

I do not oppose the Order. I do not represent the motoring lobby or anyone else, but I do not oppose it. I wish it gave a little more discretion in regard to the hours during which the limit is to be imposed, and I am certain that, on many roads, it is unnecessary to retain the imposition of the limit for the full 24 hours of each day.

11.26 p.m.

Mr. Alan Brown (Tottenham)

During the last 30 years, during which I have been an almost daily user of our roads, I have, like everyone else, become aware of the tremendous changes which have come about. We are now discussing a 40 m.p.h. speed limit. In spite of the changed conditions, little or nothing, in my view, has been done to improve the system of light signals used to control present-day traffic. Basically, our system of traffic lights has remained unchanged during the 30 years in which I have been a motorist.

Are we satisfied that the diameter of a colour signal, about 8 in., is large enough? Sometimes, I think, it is not, particularly in brilliant sunshine. In built-up areas, particularly in the centre of towns, where there are neon lights——

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I may be a little confused, but are we not still discussing the Order dealing with the 40 m.p.h. limit, not traffic lights?

Mr. Mellish

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not the case that my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. A. Brown) is trying briefly to show why he objects to the 40 m.p.h. limit because of certain deficiencies on the roads?

Mr. Speaker I

have not heard enough from the hon. Member yet to know. I am listening.

Mr. Brown

I venture to say, with respect, that there are very few hon. Members present here tonight who have not, at some time in the hours of darkness, shot the traffic lights because of the confusion of background neon signs. I suggest that, if it is proposed to raise the speed limit, consideration should be given also to increasing the size of the signal light. The road signs laid down are fairly big, yet the most important of all, the stop signal, is still about 8 in. in diameter.

The greatest hazard of all, perhaps, is caused by the placing of traffic lights along derestricted roads. There are all too many of them, some very close to London. It is very bad for one's nerves to come along certain roads at 70 or 80 m.p.h., particularly up an incline, and then suddenly be confronted—as one is just outside Dartford—with traffic lights about 200 yards away. I think that perhaps something could be done about that.

The other point I wish to make is about the sequence of our signal lights. They are still red, amber and red, and then amber

Mr. Speaker

I have listened with much attention, but I think that it is a little difficult to relate that particular problem to this Order. I think that the hon. Member must address himself to the Order which we are now discussing.

Mr. Brown

If we are to increase our speed limit, would it not be advisable, as a safety measure, that the amber plus red signal should be entirely eliminated? All too frequently traffic will be approaching intersections at, say, 40 miles an hour and traffic from another direction will be approaching at approximately the same speed, trying to get across on the amber. Surely, if the light remained at red until the amber had also changed to red it would be far safer than continuing the present practice of having the amber signal on one side of the traffic lights and amber plus red on the other side.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

I wish to say a word or two in favour of the Order relating to the speed limit of 40 m.p.h. Experience has shown that on the Great West Road, which had no speed limit before, the imposition of the 40 m.p.h. limit has been a considerable success. On such a road the danger to the ordinary motorist comes more from behind than from in front, because, when cars are driven too close together, one is constantly in danger of being bumped from behind. Quite often one sees three or four cars tangled together because each one has bumped into the car in front.

Motorists on the Great West Road sometimes drive too close together. On occasion I have had to warn the motorist behind that he was driving too close to me by switching on my back light and pretending that my brakes were being applied. I would say that on that road one sees less bumps of this sort at 40 m.p.h. than when cars were driven at 60 or 70 m.p.h.

As a practical measure, I commend the Order to the House because I think that the speed limit of 40 m.p.h. has been successful on roads, such as the Great West Road, which I frequently use when going to my constituency. I have not much experience of the North Circular Road, but the speed limit has been a success and the accidents seem to be less severe than previously.

11.33 p.m.

Mr. Hay

May I begin by thanking the House for the sympathetic and, indeed, cordial welcome which it has given to this Order and to the extension of the 40 m.p.h. speed limit which we now hope to bring into force?

Perhaps I can best answer the debate by dealing with the various points raised by hon. Members. First, the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) quite rightly pointed to the possibility of confusion in the mind of some drivers by reason of the various types of speed limits that we shall now have. I ought, perhaps, before I sat down earlier to have made it absolutely clear that the Order with which we are dealing tonight has nothing whatever to do with the temporary and experimental 50 m.p.h. limits that my right hon. Friend the Minister is proposing, as he told the House yesterday in a Written Answer, to impose on a selected number of roads throughout the country on August Bank Holiday and some subsequent weekends.

Mr. Reynolds

That comes into operation in 1960.

Mr. Hay

The hon. Gentleman should not be too pessimistic. These are purely temporary measures to accumulate a body of experience as to the value of a 50 m.p.h. limit in reducing road casualties. This is something to which the House prior to Whitsun gave a general welcome. I do not remember the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) participating in the debate and commending that and urging us to greater speed—in legislation at any rate. My recollection is quite lively that the House as a whole approved the 50 m.p.h. idea. I should like to make it absolutely clear that what we are doing now is a permanent thing, whereas the 50 m.p.h. arrangement is a temporary thing on a selected number of roads to accumulate some experience of various speed limits in this country.

The hon. Member then referred to the policing of the various limits. I am sure that he realises that I cannot stand at this Box and answer for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, still less for all the various other police authorities throughout the country which will have the duty of enforcing the new 40 m.p.h. speed limit. All I would say is that, as I said earlier, the police who have been in touch with the experiment around London over the last two or three years are warm in their support for it and are themselves anxious to see the 40 m.p.h. speed limit power brought into general use because they believe that this will make not only for more realistic speed limits but for greater ease in policing the limits that exist.

I am sure that the problem of policing will be made easier if we have speed limits that motorists acknowledge to be reasonable and limits which they are themselves prepared to observe, because it is not the slightest good having a limit if the only way in which one can enforce it is to make sure that every 200 or 300 yards along the road one has a policeman with a stopwatch. That is hopeless, The thing to do is to have limits which people accept as reasonable. That is one of the reasons why we are trying to bring the order in now.

The hon. Gentleman quite rightly said that there is a risk of having too many limits. He pointed to the reference that I made to the possibility of buffers or short lengths of road at 40 m.p.h. preceding the 30 m.p.h. limit. This is a practice very much in use, I believe, in the United States. I have never been to the United States and have never seen it for myself, but I am told by those who have that it is the normal thing when one comes off a main fast highway and approaches a built-up area to have graduations in the speed limit from, say, 60 m.p.h. to 25 m.p.h. at mile intervals. One comes down from 65 m.p.h. to 60 m.p.h. over the course of a mile; over the next mile the limit is from 60 m.p.h. down to 55 m.p.h.; and so on right down to the 25 m.p.h. limit which is normal in many built-up areas there. This may be something which we shall in time have to adopt as our road system improves.

The hon. Gentleman's final point was that the Ministry of Transport should provide much more active and sympathetic help for local authorities with traffic problems by the use of some kind of traffic engineering study group or something of that sort which would be able to go and advise local authorities on the spot. I think it is only right to say that we labour under the same difficulty as most highway authorities in this country. There is an acute shortage of the right type of highway engineers, a matter that we discussed, if I remember correctly, some months ago in a debate in the House on traffic engineering. But we are doing all we can to augment and promote the supply of traffic engineers. Certainly those that we have in the Ministry are fully occupied with the work that we are doing to carry out big experiments in traffic control in London, and their experience and the results of the experiments that they carry out will be available to any other local highway authorities that want to make use of them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) gave general support, as I understood his speech, to the 40 m.p.h. speed limit, but asked me what I can only regard as a very difficult conundrum. He asked me to say whether the roads will be chosen by reason of their present facilities or whether there will be more safety measures because of the change in the limit.

I find myself in a little difficulty in answering that question in quite that form. Our intention is to introduce this 40 m.p.h. limit over a number of roads throughout the country. It will be for local highway authorities in every case to decide whether they actually wish to introduce it. We shall not put the limit on because of the present facilities alone. We are all the time trying to improve our highway system and so are the local authorities. I am certain that the limit will make quite a difference to vehicle speeds and accident rates, and this will go hand in hand with a number of improvements which will be made as we proceed. Beyond that I cannot go.

In a second hard-hitting speech, the hon. Member for Islington, North exhibited that new pugnacity which, we have heard, the Opposition is to exhibit in the months ahead. He indulged in a good deal of heavy sarcasm, if I may say so, about the six years it has taken to produce this Order from the time that we initiated the idea of a 40 m.p.h. limit. I would urge him not to be too critical of the time we have taken, however.

We are doing something extremely important here. It was very necessary to set up the right sort of experiment. It would have been very easy to have decided to have a 40 m.p.h. limit just like that, slapped it on, and hoped for the best. But we wanted to set up this experiment properly. We wanted the right people—the Road Research Laboratory—to monitor it. They had to select the lengths of road to be controlled for the experiment.

When that had been done the views of the experts had to be obtained, and it had to go before these committees, the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee and the Departmental Committee on Road Safety, to which we were obliged by Statute to put the matter. I do not think that in a case in which road safety is very much involved anyone should mock at or object to the fact that we have taken six years to do this. I am sure it was right to hasten slowly but properly. I am sorry if the hon. Member disagrees but that is my view.

His next point was whether it would be possible to have a flexible type of limit in the sense that at night the 40 m.p.h. limit might be lifted completely. I do not think that this would be a very good idea, but I will consider it. My reaction now is that the one thing the motorist wants to know is what the limit is. If he is travelling, as he probably will be, at a speed of over 40 m.p.h., when he approaches the limit he will not want to pull up to see whether that limit is applied on a 24 hour basis or only between certain hours of the day. That is always the trouble with these ideas. One would have to have a dividing line—the limit speed, and when it is on, and when it is off—and one would have to indicate that to the driver. I do not think it would be easy to do what the hon. Member suggests, but I will look into it.

The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. A Brown) raised the question of other methods of traffic control, and particularly traffic lights as they relate to this limit. He referred to the problem we know very well, of the background light and the distractions this sometimes causes. We are considering this problem all the time. I cannot promise an easy or quick solution, but there is plenty of goodwill and desire in the Ministry to do what is possible to get the problem overcome.

His other suggestion, about the elimination of the amber and red signal because of the risks caused to motorists travelling at 40 m.p.h., is another question. A lot of experimenting and investigation 'has been done on this, and our present advice is that it would be right to keep the sequence of traffic signals. But our minds are not closed and we are willing to look at the question again in the light of experiment and development.

I must apologise for taking such a long time in answering the various points raised by hon. Members. I am grateful to the House for its general support of this Order. This is a right step to take, and it will pay good traffic dividends in the years to come.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That so much of the Road Traffic Act, 1956 (Commencement No. 10) Order, 1960, dated 30th June, 1960, as relates to subsections (3) and (4) of Section 4 of the Road Traffic Act, 1956, and of which a copy was laid before this House on 7th July, be approved.