HC Deb 28 June 1960 vol 625 cc1343-52

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

1.16 a.m.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

I am very glad, even at this late hour of night, to have the opportunity of raising a matter which is exercising the minds of a very great number of people in Edinburgh. I refer to the proposal to raise the speed limit in Holyrood Park from 20 m.p.h. to 30 m.p.h.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)


Mr. Willis

Holyrood, of course, has an unique character and atmosphere which is appreciated and cherished by most of the citizens of Edinburgh, and it is widely felt by the citizens that this proposal threatens these very seriously. It is also the natural playground and sanctuary for thousands of Edinburgh families, and most of the families who use it in this way are very seriously concerned at the proposal which has been made by the noble Lord. It is also, of course, a spectacular civic attraction, with lochs and hills, probably unrivalled by any city in the world.

The Queen's Drive and the approach roads, about five miles in all, are really suitable only for limited and slow-moving traffic, and this is particularly true when cars are parked along the road itself; and a great many cars do stop when people want to look at the scenery. The only stretch along which there is a tendency to speed is the straight stretch alongside the Palace Gardens, and it is along this stretch that most of the children play. Anyone who has been into the park at weekends or at holiday times during the summer knows that along this stretch of the road, because the boating pond is there, hundreds and hundreds of children play.

It is also along this stretch that traffic seeking a short cut through Piershill to Newington travels, and although the present limit is fairly well observed, it is along this stretch that the higher speeds are reached. At present, with the 20 m.p.h. limit these speeds may be between 20 and 30 m.p.h. I think that probably a number of people reach between 25 and 30 m.p.h. With the 30 m.p.h. we can look forward along this stretch to speeds between 30 and 40 m.p.h., probably 35 to 40 m.p.h. I think that they are quite common speeds in streets where there is a speed limit of 30 m.p.h. Indeed, in the street in which I live in London, it is common to see people speeding along at 50 to 60 m.p.h.

I believe that we could expect, along this particular stretch of the road, an increase of the kind I have mentioned, and it is precisely at this point that children play. Obviously, this will be very dangerous, and that is why most of the parents are greatly concerned. To make this increase along this stretch of road would really convert it into a road for fast moving traffic passing through the park rather than for people using it for the purpose of seeing the scenery.

I fail to understand the Minister's statement in the letter he sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Oswald), that he could see no reason at all why any increased danger to the public should arise". I should have thought that suddenly to increase the speed of traffic from an average of, let us say, 25 m.p.h. to 35 m.p.h. at the point where most children play in a park would obviously make the place more dangerous. There can be no doubt about that. The Minister goes on to say that he does not think that many motorists would go very fast because it would not be in their interests to do so. But it would be in their interests to do so along this particular stretch of road, because it is a short-cut between Piershill and Newington. That is what my hon. Friend had in mind when referring to the danger of this road becoming a sort of race track.

I asked last week, and I ask again: who asked for the change in the speed limit? The speed limit in Holyrood Park was reaffirmed only last year, in 1959. Where did the demand for an increase come from? I know of no organisation, no public body, which asked for the change. Did the corporation ask for it? Did any other organisation or body ask for it? So far as I know, there was no demand whatever for the change from anyone in Edinburgh. Why, then, does the Minister make it?

One of the answers, of course, is that he is making the change somewhere else; but that has nothing to do with Holyrood. This is a terrible example of Whitehall knowing best. We used to hear a lot about that, and the noble Lord himself, I think, has been heard to use the expression. This is an example of Whitehall thinking it knows best.

There has been a volume of protest, and, since people knew that I intended to raise the matter in the House of Commons, I have received many communications protesting about it. The first complaint at this proposal which I heard was at the Edinburgh Trades Council, which represents 40,000 people in Edinburgh. Other organisations in Edinburgh have protested, and, of course, the Pedestrians' Association has protested. Very many individuals and bodies have protested against the proposed increase in the speed limit.

The interesting fact is that, during the controversy, there has been no great body of people coming out in favour of the change. It has been accepted that the Minister intends to make the change. That is all. The police accept that the change is to be made and they have not raised any great objections. The editor of the Edinburgh Evening News took a similar line in Edinburgh, but he added the interesting comment that the important thing was that the limit must be enforced. But we cannot enforce the 20-mile limit. The important thing is that the 30-mile limit must be enforced. Obviously, we are not going to enforce that limit any more successfully if we cannot enforce the other limit. Why? Because there are not the men available to do it. That is why everyone is so concerned about the matter.

An enormous number of people have been complaining about the matter—associations, trades unions and individuals. I have been amazed—and I say this in all sincerity to the Minister—at the number of people who in the course of conversation have expressed their very serious concern about the matter. The hon. Gentleman might be interested to know that one of the letters recently sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central said: I consider Lord John Hope's letter on the subject quite nonsensical. I feel most strongly about his inability to see any danger in the new regulation and have written to the North Edinburgh Unionist Association withdrawing my membership. That shows that this is a non-political issue. I have other letters and telegrams.

I beg the hon. Gentleman to believe that there is widespread opposition in the City of Edinburgh to this proposal. It is a widespread opposition on the part of people concerned about the safety of their children and about their own ability to take a quiet, pleasant stroll in the park on Sunday night.

In my constituency they come from around Piershill. They also come from other areas; from Canongate, Easter Road and Abbey Hill into Holyrood Park. They use it as a playground. They come from the St. Leonard's Ward area and from the Prestonfield area. All these areas are densely populated and include a very large number of children. The park is one of the places in which the children can play.

If the Minister has any experience of the park at all he will know that not only do they play in the park and along the stretch that I have particularly mentioned, but that they tend to run into the road because there are ice-cream vans to attract them. There is nothing there to protect the children.

Last night, a protest meeting was held in Edinburgh. The speakers included a Progressive councillor, Labour councillors and the only Liberal councillor. Another speaker was an instructor at a driving school, and ministers also spoke. Among the audience were motorists as well as pedestrians. That meeting unanimously carried a resolution asking the Minister to think again about this proposed change. The resolution read: That thus representative public meeting is unanimously opposed to the proposal to increase the speed limit in Holyrood Park and strongly urges the Minister of Works to reconsider his decision for reasons of public safety and to preserve the amenities of this unique wild playground. I fully support that resolution and I most sincerely beseech the Minister to reconsider the matter and to leave well alone. I am quite confident that if he will do that he will receive the heartfelt thanks of most of the citizens of Edinburgh.

1.30 a.m.

Mr. J. A. Stodart (Edinburgh, West)

I entirely agree with the assertion of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) that there is opposition—how considerable, it is difficult to say—within the City of Edinburgh to this change. I shall give merely two short reasons why I do not think that this opposition is well founded. The first is that there are few people who are observing the 20 m.p.h. limit in Holyrood Park. The hon. Member has made that statement already.

During the Whitsun Recess, when this issue was raised, I took the trouble to go to the park for half a day, during which I motored all round it. Having armed myself with a stopwatch, I attempted to carry out certain calculations at three different points as to the speed at which cars were travelling. I would not pretend that these calculations could in any way be described as utterly accurate, but they gave an indication. I waited until I had seen 100 cars go by.

Of that 100, only five were travelling at or about 20 m.p.h. I am referring to the straight stretch between Piershill and Newington. Ten cars were travelling at over 40 m.p.h. and the vast majority, on both the High Road and the Low Road, were travelling at between 30 and 35 m.p.h. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East may not agree with those precise figures, but he agrees that the limit is not being observed.

Where I tend not to follow the hon. Member is in his assumption that if the limit is raised to 30 m.p.h. the speeds will automatically be raised, although not necessarily to the same extent. What governs the speed of motoring is the condition of the road, the width, the contour, the surface, and so on. I do not think that because we raise the speed limit to 30 m.p.h., it necessarily follows that the vast majority who go at between 30 and 35 m.p.h. will go faster than that simply because the notice board states 30 m.p.h. instead of 20 m.p.h.

My second point as a result of my observations is that having driven round the park—I must confess to breaking the regulations in so doing by going at 30 m.p.h.—although it would be absurd to make out that I can speak in any sort of detachment on this matter, I cannot honestly say that I thought in any way that at 30 m.p.h. there was any danger.

Mr. Willis

What day was it?

Mr. Stodart

A Saturday afternoon. I can only give that as the experience of one who has motored for a long time and who has never had any sort of motoring incident in which I have been involved since 1938—and I sit down clasping the bench in front of me.

1.34 a.m.

The Minister of Works (Lord John Hope)

I realise that some people have felt sincerely that what I am asking the House to approve is a mistake. I know also that certain attempts have been made, equally by sincere people, in certain quarters to whip up strong feeling. In my view these attempts have not been successful. Against what have these strong feelings been whipped up? It is against a speed limit in Holyrood Park of the very slow universally accepted figure of 30 m.p.h.

Mr. Willis

The noble Lord can take it from me that the very large number of people who have spoken to me, including trades councils and ward committees, have not been whipped up.

Lord John Hope

It may well be that the hon. Member has done no whipping up. I did not say that he had, but it has happened in some quarters. The very few letters that I have had or that have come to my Ministry have all exaggerated the facts in an extraordinary way. They argue as if I were attempting to raise the speed limit to 50 m.p.h., or 60 m.p.h. That is the kind of premise from which these people have argued. If that premise were sound I should 'have a very difficult case to answer.

Lot me give two examples 'of the exaggerated language that has been used. "From liberty to licence" was one expression, the licence as opposed to liberty being that a man will be allowed to drive at the "terrible" speed of 30 m.p.h. Then the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Oswald), whose answer from me was quoted by his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East wrote that I was intending to make the park into what he called a speedway. A speedway with a 30 m.p.h. limit is really a ridiculous proposition and no one knows it better than the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central. I am sorry that he is not here to hear me say so.

All I am doing is to tidy up an untidy situation. There is nothing sacred about 20 m.p.h. It goes back to 1903, when there were far more horses on the roads than cars. In that year the Road Traffic Act limited traffic outside the parks to 20 m.p.h., and inside the parks the limit from 1904 was 10 m.p.h. In 1920 it was raised to 20 m.p.h. to conform with the limit outside and, as the House knows, in 1955 the limit was raised to 30 m.p.h. in St. James's Park and Green Park. Experience has shown that this rise has not produced any significant increase either in actual speed or in the accident rate. It is no use the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East saying, as he appears to be saying, that he does not believe it.

Mr. Willis

I did not say that. I can well believe it, but I did not think that the comparison was worth making.

Lord John Hope

I see no reason why the comparison should not hold, that is the ratio between a slight increase in the speed limit and the actual increase in the speed employed by the motorist.

So much for the story of the 20 m.p.h., and its being raised to 30 m.p.h. I repeat, in that context, that in my respectful judgment 30 m.p.h. is a very, very slow speed and a very, very safe speed. It is not an absurdly and unreasonably low speed, as is 20 m.p.h. That is the difference, and I believe that it is wrong to connive at a statutory obligation which cannot be reasonably carried out. Hence this tidying-up operation that I am trying to carry out. The corollary, of course, of what I want to do is that I must do what I can to see that the limit is observed, and that I shall do.

Mr. Willis

It is not observed now.

Lord John Hope

I am talking of what will happen, and I have plans to see that the limit will be kept.

I was most grateful for the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart), which were obviously as a result of a careful and interesting experiment by him.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East mentioned one or two points to which I should like to refer. He mentioned the point—it is a good one—about the difficulty of cars parked on the road. It has always been a difficulty, and it is a difficulty now. He will be glad to hear that the question of a car park has been under consideration in detail for some time—not in connection with what I am intending to do in this respect—and I hope he will very soon see the result of this consideration.

The hon. Member then asked: who asked for the increase in the speed limit? He observed that it was an example once again of Whitehall knowing best. The short answer is that I, as Minister of Works, am responsible for the Royal Parks, and I have no intention of trying to hive off responsibility for my actions on anybody else. I thought that by doing what I am seeking to do I was serving the public interest, and I still think so, and I believe that the majority of the public think so too. If this is a question of Whitehall knowing best, then a certain mixture of Pentlands into Whitehall and of a man who has known this park very well from childhood may not be a bad thing.

The hon. Member said that many organisations have protested against what is proposed and added that no body of opinion has approved of it. I do not know that either way there is much to be made of this, either of the organisations which the hon. Member says have come out against it or of one instance about which I want to tell him where my action has been positively supported—by the Edinburgh Accident Prevention Council. I should have thought that that was a relevant body in this matter, and I am grateful to it for its support.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned, correctly, that the police had raised no objection to what I intend to do. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison) also asked me about that point. The hon. Gentleman then spoke about children playing on the roads.

Mr. Willis

Playing in the park.

Lord John Hope

When the hon. Member reads his speech he will see that he said that they were also playing over the roads. Unless they are also playing over the roads the case against me in terms of danger to children falls to the ground. Several people have made this point to me also that children play over these roads. My answer to that—it is not in the least intended to put a quick one over anyone—is: can it really be that children have been allowed to play over the roads of Holyrood even with cars going at the low limit of 20 m.p.h., and, in fact, going faster?

If that is so, I believe that we should all be doing a service by encouraging; people not to let their children play over roads where there is any traffic at all, whether the limit is 20 m.p.h. or 30 m.p.h. In fact, I do not believe that children are allowed to play all over the roads. I have not seen them. I have been through the park scores of times and have seen hundreds of children playing in the park, but I have scarcely ever seen a child actually playing on the road. Certainly, it would be a very dangerous thing to do, whatever the speed limit, but that has nothing whatever to do with this situation.

Mr. Willis

I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to misrepresent me. I said that hundreds and hundreds of children play along that straight stretch, and they usually step into the road as children do when they play along any stretch—going for ice cream, and so on.

Lord John Hope

So does a child, whose street discipline is not good, on every street in the country where the limit is 30 m.p.h. It is exactly the same thing. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this point, because if there is anything in it—there may be; it may be that the children play over these roads—I hope very much that parents will realise how dangerous it has been all these years while the limit has been 20 m.p.h. to encourage their children to do it.

I do not complain of the manner in which the hon. Gentleman raised this matter tonight. It is sad that it is so late, because this is an important matter for Scotland. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his friends who feel as they appear to feel about this will consider fairly and with care what I have said. I do not feel that I am standing out against a reasonable request or a reasonable argument. I believe that I am doing what is in the best interests of road safety—that is, trying to see that we have a speed limit which is a very slow one and which can reasonably be observed. That I believe essentially to be in the interests of all.

Mr. T. Fraser

The right hon. Gentleman said he would take steps to see that the new limit is adhered to. Will he say what steps are available to him?

Lord John Hope

I shall enlist the co-operation of the police to patrol the park in a way which will deter motorists from breaking the speed limit.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at thirteen minutes to Two o'clock.