HC Deb 19 December 1962 vol 669 cc1376-98

8.50 p.m.

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

I beg to move, That the Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limit) Regulations, 1962, dated 5th November, 1962, a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th November, be approved. The maximum speed limits for different classes of motor vehicles are set out in the First Schedule to the Road Traffic Act, 1960, and the House will recall the amendment which we made to that Schedule last year, when we increased the speed limit for buses and motor coaches from 30 to 40 miles an hour. The amendments we now wish to make by these Regulations are considerably wider in scope and much more intricate in detail. But rather than ask the House to approve an elaborate series of particular amendments, we thought it best in this case to revoke the entire Schedule and replace it by a new Schedule which incorporates both the amendment made last year and those we now propose.

While quite a lot of the Schedule is new, there is also much that is unchanged, including the whole of paragraphs 5 to 14. This somewhat complicates the picture. It may help if I give the House, in simple terms, the gist of the principal changes which the new Schedule makes.

First, the maximum speed for goods vehicles without trailers, but including articulated vethicles, is to be raised from 30 to 40 m.p.h. Secondly, goods vehicles pulling trailers are to have their limit raised from 20 to 30 m.p.h., with the exception of light vehicles towing light trailers or caravans, whose limit will be raised from 20 to 40 m.p.h. Thirdly, cars towing light trailers or caravans are having the limit raised from 30 to 40 m.p.h. while cars towing heavy trailers are to go up from 20 to 30 m.p.h.

Motor tractors and locomotives, as they are called—that is to say, heavy tractors over 7¼ tons—which reach certain standards of design with regard to brakes, tyres, springs and wings, and towing trailers of similar standards, will have their limit raised from 20 to 30 m.p.h. and from 12 to 20 m.p.h. respectively. Finally, motor tractors pulling two or more trailers, and locomotives with more than two trailers, are raised from 5 to 12 m.p.h.

No doubt hon. Members will have specific points to raise or questions to ask and I shall do my best to answer them. But I want to make four points on the general philosophy which underlies these Regulations. First, the law must keep abreast of technical progress. These Regulations will have the effect of changing the law in a highly technical field.

Unlike road speed limits, which have to take account, first, of the human situation which may arise on particular stretches of road—careless drivers or pedestrians, children and so on—vehicle speed limits are related first and foremost to the technical characteristics of the vehicle itself. As these characteristics change, so, of course, the law must be prepared to change, if it is not to lose touch with reality and fall into something like disrepute. That is what has been happening in recent years in this field.

The vehicle speed limit laws have fallen into some disrepute and are now disregarded on a wholesale scale, but I should like to make it absolutely clear that we are not proposing to change the law simply and solely because it is being largely disregarded. If we believed it to be a good law, if we believed that the speeds laid down in the present Scheule really were the highest speeds at which various types of vehicles could be driven with safety, we would not propose to change them, however much they have been disregarded.

The remedy for wholesale disregard of sound laws is not to change them, but to step up the rigour of their enforcement. We are changing the law here because it is out-of-date, and for no other reason than that. The fact that it is widely disregarded at present is some evidence that it is out-of-date.

Secondly, the legal background has changed significantly as a result of the passing of the Road Traffic Act, 1962. When Section 5 of that Act comes into force—and the House will perhaps recollect that this provides the penalty of disqualification for certain road offences under what we call the "totting-up" procedure—we expect that the traffic laws will be more scrupulously observed. If not, the whole purpose of our legislation will have been defeated.

Where, hitherto, a maximum legal speed limit of 30 m.p.h. has meant in practice a maximum enforced limit a good deal higher, we may expect that in future there will be no such difference between the two. In other words, if the law says 30, it must from now on be taken to mean 30, and not 40 or 50. I submit that that is the only basis on which we can properly consider these proposals—that they mean what they say, and that they will be enforced accordingly.

My third general point is that vehicle speed limits must be related to normal road conditions on the better class of main roads outside urban areas. They must not be related either to motorway conditions, on the one hand, or traffic conditions on dangerously congested roads, on the other. There will be many places where the higher speeds which this Schedule proposes would be highly dangerous on account of particular traffic hazards, which do not warrant the imposition of a road speed limit. But that is no argument for limiting the whole class of vehicles to a lower limit everywhere. The maximum permitted speed ought to be the speed at which the vehicle can travel safely on normal good main roads. That is the test, and I should explain that none of the vehicle speeds in this Schedule applies on motorways.

Finally, vehicle speed limits must be related to the normal condition of the vehicle population to which they apply and which they govern. The fact that some vehicles are old, or badly maintained or are being overloaded or in some other respects dangerous, ought not, I suggest, to be allowed to govern the speed of their class of vehicles as a whole. Faults like that have to be met by their own specific remedies, and not by using speed limits to do the work.

When the House was discussing the amendments regarding the speed limit for buses and coaches last year, there was some doubt and indeed a little despondency because of what we were doing. A number of hon. Members indulged in somewhat gloomy prognostications about what the effect would be on the accident rate. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) in his place, and perhaps he will intervene in the debate. He will remember, also, that on that occasion he was very emphatic about the point.

My hon. Friend said: … I forecast, without the least possible doubt, that as a result of these Regulations there will be an increase in the number of accidents in which public vehicles are involved."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1961; Vol. 644, c. 1667.] Since my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby was a bit gloomy on that occasion, he will be happy to know that that forecast has proved wrong. So far from the number of accidents concerning these vehicles increasing, it has gone down. In the first six months of this year, public service vehicles were involved in 3,988 collisions with other vehicles, compared with 4,020 in the corresponding period of 1961, when the lower speed limit was in force.

Incidentally, there is a further piece of evidence to the same general effect which I should like to put to the House. Goods vehicles speed limits have been increased once before, in 1957. We then increased the 20 m.p.h. limit for the three-tonners and over to 30 m.p.h. Subsequent studies by the Road Research Laboratory found, in its words, no clear indication that the change had had any effect on the number of accidents per vehicle on the road. I can tell the House that we are reason- ably confident that the proposed general increase in speed limits for goods vehicles which these Regulations bring about ought not adversely to affect road safety.

There is no historical evidence from past experience with either goods or passenger vehicles which would support the contention which is sometimes put forward, that a sensible increase in maximum permitted speeds must inevitably lead to an increase in accidents. I do not think that there is any evidence to prove that.

If, in the light of experience, it were to turn out that there was a significant rise in the rate of accidents involving fatal and serious injuries and this could be directly attributable to these Regulations, we would certainly consider either reducing the limit again, or adopting some other counter measures as might seem appropriate. However, I am somewhat optimistic about this matter and I hope that neither I nor any of my successors will be obliged to meet that undertaking. I commend the Regulations to the House as sensible and useful provisions which are long overdue.

9.3 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

As always, the Parliamentary Secretary has made a good case for the proposition he has put before the House. However, that does not mean that he has completely relieved the minds of many of us about the dangers which may follow acceptance of these new Regulations. The Parliamentary Secretary is quite right to bring in an entirely new Schedule, complicated and difficult to understand as it is, rather than to amend the old one.

The weakest part of his case was his suggestion that because the speed limit had been widely evaded in the past that was evidence that the law was out of date. I do not believe that is so. I fear that just as the law has been evaded in the past and vehicles have travelled at speeds substantially greater than those permitted, so the same thing will happen again. Unless we can be assured that enforcement will be far stricter than in the past, which means having substantially greater police forces available for enforcing the law, the new speed limits will be observed by only a minority of goods vehicles and exceeded by the majority.

Many of us are put in some difficulty by the presentation of these new speed limit Regulations. We do not want to retain restrictions which result in the transport of goods by road taking longer than necessary, because that imposes an unjustified, and in some cases a severe, handicap on industry. If as a result of technical advances existing Regulations are out of date, we do not want to retain the old Regulations and thereby oppose the march of progress. We must accept that great advances have been made in the technology of vehicle braking and that all modern vehicles have much more efficient braking systems than those incorporated in vehicles ten or even five years ago. On these grounds there is a strong argument, which I admit straight away, for some relaxation in the present speed limits.

The demand for this relaxation has come largely from industrialists and road hauliers. There is nothing necessarily wrong in that, but two things must be borne in mind. First, industrialists and road hauliers are naturally primarily concerned with the prosperity of their enterprises and not with the toll of road casualties. That is the responsibility of the Minister of Transport and the House.

Secondly, we know that there is in the transport industry—both in the road haulage section and in connection with the C licence vehicles which are run by industry—a section—a small section it is true, but still large enough to be dangerous—where the operators are socially irresponsible and make no effort, or very little effort, to abide by the Regulations laid down by Parliament.

We know, because we have plenty of evidence of this, that these employers, and sometimes the drivers themselves—I must include them in this accusation—evade the traffic laws and are consequently a menace on the roads. Our fear is that this minority will take advantage of this further relaxation and become quite a serious menace—not large, but substantial and something of which we should take notice—to road safety.

This evening when considering this proposal, for which there are strong technical grounds, particularly grounds which suggest that they will advantage industry, the House must consider the safety aspect. That is our duty. In passing, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to convey my congratulations to the Minister for the steps he has been taking during the last week or two to try to keep down the toll of accidents over the Christmas period. He has been exceedingly active, and I hope successful, in his endeavours. He has done a very good job.

What he has been doing confirms the view that I have expressed on some occasions before, that the one exception to his otherwise black record as a Minister is his proved devotion to the cause of reducing road accidents. We hope that he will be successful, and I believe that he would have been more successful if he had accepted the proposal urged on him during the passage of the Road Traffic Bill earlier in the year that the fact that a certain percentage of alcohol existed in the blood of a driver was sufficient evidence—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

Order. I do not want to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I hope that he will not stray too far from the Regulations we are discussing.

Mr. Strauss

Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I agree. I was out of order. There is no doubt about it. It was a point which I wanted to make and, if it is not relevant to the Regulations, it is certainly relevant to the season. I ask the House to consider the safety aspect of these proposals. We would have nothing to fear from these proposals if all those involved in the road transport industry were prepared to sacrifice their own interests and scrupulously abide by the Regulations laid down by Parliament. I mean by that that drivers should not be asked to run to schedules which force them to exceed the speed limits in order to meet the convenience of their firms and that all owners of commercial vehicles should keep their vehicles in really good condition.

As it is, we have plenty of evidence to show that that is not happening today. We have available the reports of a number of licensing authorities, and I shall cite one or two of them. The last Report of the West Midlands Licensing Authority revealed that there were 527 convictions for working excessive hours in that area—and we can be sure that if there were that number of convictions there were a large number of offences committed which were never brought to court.

The Report of the South-Eastern Licensing Authority showed, from the examination of goods vehicles in that area, that 26.5 per cent. of those examined were defective to the point of prohibition. Road checks showed that 41.5 per cent. were defective. The Report of the Metropolitan Traffic Licensing Authority stated that the desire of operators to obtain maximum pay loads for minimum engine capacity and chassis weight meant that vehicles were under-powered for the loads and speeds demanded of them and that, as a consequence, the vehicles were over-driven and unsafe. The Ministry of Transport's own report on road accidents in 1961 showed that goods vehicles were involved in every fifth motor accident resulting in death or serious injury.

Considering these important facts, we must ask ourselves—in view of the failure of many firms either to keep their vehicles in good condition or to ask their drivers not to exceed the speed limits and commit offences thereby—whether it is really safe to lift the speed limit from 30 m.p.h. to 40 m.p.h. I suggest that the figures I have quoted are not very reassuring and give rise for concern.

There are other reasons why I suggest that we should be cautious. Whereas the brakes on new vehicles are, no doubt, exceedingly efficient—and I think that the Parliamentary Secretary hinted at something along these lines—and while the latest vehicles have the dual braking system incorporated in them, there are a large number of old vehicles on the roads which do not have up-to-date braking systems. If they are permitted to travel at 40 m.p.h.—and they will probably do 45–50 m.p.h.—there is a danger that when they have to pull up sharply, the new speed limit will make it impossible for them to pull up in a safe margin.

We must also consider the question of trailers. It is well known that when a vehicle pulling a trailer brakes sharply the trailer is apt to swing and become dangerous to other vehicles on the road. I know that this has given concern to a number of authorities and that when the problem of faster speeds was discussed at the Ministry of Transport's Departmental Committee meeting last year the proposal about trailers was regarded with some anxiety by the Assistant-Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and the representative of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. I understand that the proposals as a whole were only accepted by that Committee by a small majority.

The Parliamentary Secretary has said that these easier speed limits must be considered in relation to the ordinary roads on which most of these vehicles run—not the motorways, but the main roads. Again, these higher limits may be all right for the straight roads, but most of our roads are not straight. They bend and curve all over the place, and a high proportion of the roads over which commercial vehicles travel, are not the main roads but the side roads.

Mr. Chesterton has told us how it happened that so many of our roads curve and bend. He said: Before the Romans came to Rye Or out to Severn strode, The rolling English drunkard Made the rolling English road. If that is true, there can be no more striking illustration of the disastrous consequences of drunken driving. The fact remains that most of our roads do curve and bend a great deal. So that there is a further serious element of danger if these heavy commercial vehicles are to run at these higher speeds on a high proportion of British roads.

For these reasons, many of my colleagues are wholly opposed to these Regulations. The Transport and General Workers' Union has expressed its opposition to them. I see that the Parliamentary Secretary looks about him to see how many of my colleagues are now present to voice their opposition, but I can assure him that they may have so much confidence in me that they think it not necessary themselves to attend—

Mr. Hay

If I may say so, the right hon. Gentleman is doing a very good job.

Mr. Strauss

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I assure him that I am expressing the deeply held views of many of my colleagues, particularly those who are associated with the Transport and General Workers' Union. They are very worried about these new limits.

The hon. Gentleman admitted that we cannot be certain that with the operation of these new speed limits there may not be more accidents. At the best, this is a gamble—and it is a gamble with people's lives. It is a gamble, and no one—not even the hon. Gentleman—denies it. He has said that he is reasonably confident that everything will be all right and that an increase in the number of accidents will not result from these higher limits. I hope he is right—perhaps, on balance, he is—but we cannot tell.

I should have been far more chary of supporting the Parliamentary Secretary's advocacy of these changes had he not very clearly declared at the end of his speech—and we shall keep him to that declaration—that if it is found that this increase in speed limits results in an increase in accidents that can be properly associated with the new speed limits, he, or his "boss", will take such steps as may be necessary—even going so far as to reduce the limits again—to put the situation right.

If he tells us that he is prepared, whenever the evidence is forthcoming, if it is, and we all hope that it will not be, to take such remedial action—and he has made very specific declaration on this point—that will probably satisfy many of my colleagues. It certainly satisfies me. I therefore hope that it will be possible to put these Regulations into operation—which will undoubtedly benefit industry—without any of the alarming effects that many of us fear. We do not welcome these Regulations; we accept them with reluctance and some fear, and intend to watch the situation very closely.

9.20 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I support these Regulations, and I do so having regard to the speech of the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) because it seems to me that he has overlooked one important point.

I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that any speed on the road is safe provided it fulfils two conditions. First, the nature of the surface of the road and the tyres on the vehicle must be such that the vehicle keeps a good grip on the road and holds the road instead of, as sometimes happens with bad tyres or a light vehicle on a poor surface, water ski-ing on the top of a film of water on the road, which gives little control over braking. Secondly, it must be possible to bring the vehicle to a standstill within a reasonable distance, within the limits of vision.

When motor vehicles first came into use, the speed which would satisfy those conditions was bound to be very low because very little was known about the construction of motor tyres or brakes or road surfaces. But as technical improvements have developed, it is natural that a safe speed has become higher than was formerly the case.

A point which the right hon. Gentleman overlooked, but which is perfectly well known to everyone, is that if too low a speed limit is maintained which the public do not accept as reasonable, accidents are caused because people will deliberately ignore that speed limit and in their impatience will take no notice of the Regulations. As most hon. Members know, I was seriously injured in a motor accident which arose from this cause. I was travelling as a passenger in a vehicle, the driver of which was somewhat impatient. We were travelling behind a lorry the driver of which was more or less observing the speed limit, which I think at that time was 20 m.p.h. it may have been 30 m.p.h.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

No, it was 20 m.p.h.

Mr. Wilson

The situation was becoming intolerable. We were on a two-lane road and this lorry was trundling on and on. Finally, the driver of the car in which I was travelling attempted to pass the lorry too near to a corner and we hit head on another vehicle which was coming round the corner. As a result, I spent the next eight months in hospital.

These accidents are caused by people losing patience, when they feel that the limit is unreasonable. Therefore, if we insist on keeping too low a speed limit, far from imposing a safety regulation we shall be encouraging accidents. Therefore, it is most undesirable to keep the limit too low.

What is the appropriate speed is a matter of judgment and experience, but I should not have thought that the speeds in these Regulations were unreasonable in view of the case which the Parliamentary Secretary has made for them and the fact that passenger vehicle speeds have already been increased, apparently without bad results. I should have thought it was much better slightly to increase the speed limit rather than retain a speed limit which most people think is unreasonable.

There is only one note of caution that has just come to my mind. There has been considerable talk recently about articulated vehicles, and certainly with an inexperienced driver of such a vehicle troubles can arise. The vehicle can jack-knife right across the road if the driver is not experienced and applies his brakes too suddenly. An articulated vehicle which is driven too fast can be rather dangerous.

There are in the Highway Code some observations about pulling-up distances at various speeds, but I noticed the other day in a newspaper a letter pointing out that these observations apply to passenger vehicles, and there is little guidance available to the public as to what is a safe distance at which a vehicle heavier than the ordinary passenger vehicle can be pulled up at various speeds.

Having regard to these increased speed limits, it might not be inappropriate to issue some firmer information than is at present available to drivers as to what is the distance in which they can pull up with heavier vehicles at various speeds. It would be rather difficult because each vehicle varies according to its type. Subject to that, I think that these Regulations are an improvement on the existing ones.

9.26 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I do not know whether hon. Members noticed a report in the newspapers this morning. I quote from the Guardian whose report was headed Three die at bus stop. Lorry's 30 ft. slide. Two men and a woman died and two more people were injured when a lorry crashed into a bus stop, uprooted a lamp standard and slid on its side for 30 feet in Huddersfield Road, Oldham, yesterday. That is not an isolated instance. Many such cases appear in the newspapers every day in these one-paragraph reports and are perhaps not noticed as much as they ought to be. I notice them particularly because I have an anonymous correspondent who cuts them out and sends them to me, and about once a month I receive about one hundred cuttings concerning lorries and other goods vehicles which have been involved in accidents.

The significant thing that I notice about these reports is the number in which the accidents occurred, merely because the vehicle could not stop, or so it appears, mounting the pavement for no apparent reason, out of control down a hill, and running into shop fronts. They are not necessarily collisions with other vehicles but because for some reason a heavy vehicle has got out of control. The figures confirm this. From the 1961 Report on Road Accidents the figures show that 17,802 goods vehicles were involved in accidents in which only one vehicle was involved or only one vehicle and a pedestrian. How in the face of that could my hon. Friend make the first point which he put to the House this evening that the law must keep abreast of technical progress? If it could be said that these goods vehicles, heavy lorries and so on, have such a safe record compared with other vehicles, there might be some argument for increasing their speed limit from 30 miles to 40 m.p.h. One ought to be able to say that they are safer on the roads having regard to the restrictions which are already placed on them. They have been subjected to a 30 miles per hour speed limit, special licensing and special examination and spot check examination on the roads, yet 20,766 goods vehicles were involved in fatal and serious accidents during 1961, one-fifth of the total. When one compares it with other vehicles it is 20,000 against 87,000 in round figures.

It may be said that I am taking absolute figures of vehicles involved in accidents and that, of course, goods vehicles travel a far greater mileage than any other vehicles and the important point is number of vehicles involved per so many vehicle miles. But if one looks at those figures—and here again I am taking figures from the Minister's Report, Road Accidents, 1961—in the case of cars involved in fatal and serious accidents, the vehicles involved per million vehicle miles was 1.1. That is exactly the same figure as for goods vehicles under 1½ tons and the figure is 1 in respect of other goods vehicles. The figures are almost exactly the same in each case. For all accidents, again on the mileage basis, the figures are 3.9 for cars, 4.2 for goods vehicles of the lighter weight and three for the heavier weight.

Thus, with all the restrictions which are placed upon them, their examination, their special licensing and so forth, goods vehicles are at present as dangerous on the roads as private cars, even taking the mileage, standard. If we remove one of the most important restrictions, the 30 m.p.h. speed limit, and raise it to 40 m.p.h., who can doubt that they will become more dangerous?

Since my hon. Friend made such a point of technical advance and said that the law must keep abreast of it, I refer to a document which was quoted by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) the Annual Reports of the Licensing Authorities. I do not wish to weary the House, but this is so relevant to the point made by my hon. Friend that I feel I should quote from some of the reports from the traffic areas on their examination of vehicles.

First, the Northern Traffic Area. Number of vehicles examined in 1961, 8,569. Number of prohibitions issued, 3,140, of which 652 were immediate prohibitions—so bad that the vehicles had to be taken off the road at once.

The Yorkshire Traffic Area. Vehicles examined, 14,000. Prohibitions, 3,000, of which 900 were immediate prohibitions.

The North-Western Traffic Area. The report says: 37 per cent of all vehicles inspected were issued with prohibition notices, 14 per cent. immediate and 23 per cent. delayed. These figures suggest that there is room for considerable improvement in the condition of goods vehicles, and the desirability of inspecting a greater proportion of them". The West Midland Traffic Area. Vehicles examined, 8,000. Prohibitions, 3,300, of Which 645 were immediate, the vehicles being taken off the road at once.

The East Midland Traffic Area. The report says: It is, however, significant to note that the number of prohibitions issued has increased over last year's figure, and this can only indicate that goods vehicle maintenance leaves much to be desired. For example, when two major road checks were carried out at the northern end of the motorway M.1 and 154 vehicles were examined, it was necessary to issue 56 prohibition notices, 12 to take effect immediately". That is 56 prohibitions out of 154 examinations of goods vehicles stopped at the end of the M.1. That was the proportion found to be defective.

The Eastern Traffic Area. Vehicles inspected, 11,000. Prohibitions issued, 3,000.

The South Wales Traffic Area. This is what is said: Altogether, a total of 7,000"— I am using round figures— inspections covering 5,000 vehicles were carried out during the year under review, and prohibition notices were issued in respect of 2,500 vehicles, 754 being immediate prohibitions". I will take one more example. This is what is said by the Western Traffic Area: … there has been no noticeable improvement in the maintenance of the vehicles owned by many of the smaller operators, whose motto seems to be, 'If it goes, it's all right'. In face of all those reports from the licensing authorities, how can my hon. Friend say that there has been such technical progress that we should allow these vehicles to go at a greater speed on the roads? This must all be set against what is said in the Highway Code: Vehicles other than private cars may need twice the distance to pull up on a dry road. It is the stopping distance that counts in an emergency. This was well put in the Observer last Sunday by Gordon Wilkins, the motoring correspondent of the Observer, with whom I do not often agree and with whom I had a "set to" on television on Saturday night. I quote what he wrote in the Observer the following day: The A.A. and R.A.C. have already endorsed the proposal to raise the lorry limit, on the grounds that it will improve the flow of traffic and reduce overtaking. They might have asked some of their members how they feel when trapped in a small car in a group of fast-moving lorries belching diesel smoke, burdened with the knowledge that if the car stops the lorries may not be able to. A good eight-wheeler in new condition can stop from 30 m.p.h. in slightly under 50 ft., but from 40 m.p.h. it would need at least 90 ft. This will be greatly increased if there is overloading and poor maintenance, and spot checks have shown a disquieting amount of bad maintenance. My hon. Friend quoted what I said on a previous occasion when the speed limit on public service vehicles was increased. He knows very well that the road accident statistics are divided into those in which a vehicle and a pedestrian are concerned, those in which only one vehicle is concerned, those in which two vehicles are in collision and those in which three or more vehicles are in collision. He gave the House the figures of public service vehicles involved in collisions, which, of course, is not the full story. Even in that instance, he rested his case on the fact that in 4,000 accidents there was a reduction of 82. But that was only in the case of public service vehicles in collision with other vehicles.

I challenge my hon. Friend to give me one instance when an accident rate has decreased as a result of an increase in the speed limit. Or, to put it the other way round, I challenge him to give me an instance when an accident rate has not increased after the raising of the limit. I will take even vehicle miles and not the absolute number of accidents.

These Regulations are as certain to cause death as if my hon. Friend had handed a revolver to a trigger-happy lunatic. It has been proved on so many occasions that when the speed limit is increased accidents themselves increase.

My hon. Friend said, in effect, that we must be realistic, that goods vehicles now travel at greater speeds and that if we raise the speed limit they will not go any faster. But that was not the result of the previous increase in the speed limit. I quote from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research's Road Research Laboratory's Report relating to the increase in 1957: After the change in the limit, the proportion of heavy commercial vehicles exceeding 30 m.p.h. rose from 45 per cent. to nearly 56 per cent. It therefore cannot be said in the light of previous experience that if we raise the limit it will be observed. The fact is that the more we raise the limit the greater is the non-observance of it, as was shown by that previous raising of the limit from 20 to 30 m.p.h.

Finally, I quote from what is, I think, the latest Ministry circular about road casualties. It is dated 20th November, 1962, and is optimistically headed "Fewer killed". The last paragraph states: The largest percentage increase in casualties was among goods vehicle drivers and passengers. The number killed and seriously injured, 4,049, was 11 per cent. more than in the previous year, while, it is estimated, goods vehicle traffic increased by one per cent. This 11 per cent. increase in casualties is among drivers and passengers, so that one can assume that the increase is higher if one takes all casualties in accidents involving goods vehicles. That 11 per cent. increase in casualties to goods vehicle drivers and passengers when there was only a 1 per cent. increase in vehicle traffic compares with a 6 per cent. increase in car driver casualties in the corresponding period when the volume of motor car traffic increased by 7 per cent.

In face of that shocking indictment of goods vehicle driving over the period of nine months covered by the report, how can my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary say that it is safe to increase the speed limit from 30 to 40 m.p.h.? I repeat my conviction that, as with the speed limit increases for users of other vehicles, this change will have disastrous results.

9.41 p.m.

Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)

In welcoming the Regulations, I am very much in agreement with the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson). We all know of my hon. Friend's zeal in transport matters, although many of us thought that he carried it a little far When he had to investigate personally what it was like to be involved in an accident.

I have always felt that the laws and regulations which we pass in the House of Commons need the willing acquiescence of the large majority of the people. It seems to me that the existing Regulations have become out-of-date and that the present speed limits have been exceeded.

There are two matters which I should like to put to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, although he may not be able to give a complete answer tonight. Is he more hopeful that the police will be able to enforce the new Regulations rather more severely than they have been able to enforce the old ones?

The A.12, the main road from London to Yarmouth, runs through a large part of my constituency. There is today a large new class of private car drivers with trailers. I refer to the people who indulge in the sport—and they are to be thoroughly encouraged—of sailing small boats, or even driving speed boats. These drivers buy their trailers and carry the lightweight boats upon them. The trailer is low-slung and travels extremely easily behind a small private car.

Unwittingly, many of the drivers do not know the Regulations governing the use of vehicles with trailers. Is it possible that by agreement with the trailer manufacurers a pamphlet could be issued informing people who buy trailers of the Regulations governing their use? Perhaps my hon. Friend will bear this suggestion in mind as a means of ensuring that users of these vehicles conform with the Regulations and do not remain in ignorance of them.

9.44 p.m.

Mr. Hay

I think that the House would expect me to reply to some of the main points which have been made during the course of this brief debate. I did not expect an ecstatic welcome to the Regulations, but I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members for what they have said. They have not been prepared to give us a completely blank cheque, but, at least, we have not had it returned marked "R.D."

The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), who, as I said when he was speaking, very adequately put forward the views of some of his right hon. and hon. Friends who, for various reasons, are not present tonight, began by complimenting my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport on the successful publicity that he has been giving to the subject of Christmas road accidents. I will see that the right hon. Gentleman's remarks are brought to the ears of my right hon. Friend, who will be quite astonished to receive praise from any quarter.

Dealing with the Regulations, the right hon. Gentleman referred, of course, as I expected he would do, to what I suppose one may call black sheep employers of haulage drivers—employers who force their drivers to keep often unrealistic schedules by breaking the speed limit. Of course, I hold no brief whatever for those sorts of people, but I would suggest both to the right hon. Gentleman and to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), who made a somewhat similar point by referring to the reports of the Traffic Commissioners, that the fact that large numbers of offenders are being brought to book is not necessarily evidence that a large number of other offenders are going unpunished.

I should have thought that the House would have welcomed the fact that the reports show a very high standard of enforcement on this very difficult subject of drivers' hours, and certainly none of the evidence which I have in my Department goes to show that the abuses which the right hon. Gentleman was referring to are in the slightest degree widespread. On the contrary, we have every reason to think that formerly these offences were widespread, but now the situation has much improved.

Of this I am certain, that if we can get these Regulations, if we can bring these vehicles' speed limits more into line with what everybody accepts is really common sense, then we can expect an even smaller number of offences on hours being committed in the future. There will be less incentive to employers to force their employees to drive their vehicles at over the speed limit to keep to a schedule, if the schedule can be adjusted in a realistic fashion. One must have regard to the type of vehicle which they drive today and the general condition of our roads, which, despite what the right hon. Gentleman says, I think is improving—not, perhaps, as fast as we in the Ministry of Transport would like, but certainly much better now that it has ever been.

Perhaps I could say another word about the question of hours. Drivers' hours and driving fatigue are subjects which are frequently raised in this connection, and many people believe that the increase in speed is a dangerous measure for that reason. I want to tell the House that we are extremely aware of the interests of the lorry driver. He is a very vital human factor in the equation, and nothing must be done to impair his skill and ability to drive his vehicle safely. If the new speed limits are found in practice to make any difference to drivers' fatigue—which we do not expect, but if that should be the case—we will look at the situation in the light of the evidence, and consider whether any reduction in hours may be justified.

But it may well be that in the conditions which are typical conditions we have to consider for this purpose—that is, driving on reasonable, good, open roads, and not in congested, dense traffic—the fatigue involved in maintaining a maximum of 30 m.p.h. is greater than in allowing a vehicle its head and letting it cruise at 40. Perhaps what I have said on this subject of hours may be noted in those quarters particularly interested in the subject.

Let me say a word next about trailers, which the right hon. Gentleman also mentioned, and in this connection, something about the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison). The Regulations make an important change in respect of goods and passenger vehicles towing trailers. There have been in recent years some substantial improvements in the design of all kinds of trailers, and, in particular, caravans. Particular attention has been paid to brakes and tow-bars and methods of attachment to the vehicle. The old limits of 20 and 30 m.p.h. are in this respect quite unrealistic, and we think that the limits in the new Regulations of 30 m.p.h. and 40 m.p.h. are much more in accord with the realities of safety requirements.

In the particular case of caravans, we have given a good deal of thought to the question of whether a restriction should be laid down which would limit the higher speed of 40 m.p.h. to certain types of caravan trailer or to particular combinations of car and caravan. Various possibilities have been examined from the technical point of view; all of them have been probed, and lots of new ideas have been canvassed.

Our difficulty about drawing a line is that there are so many variable factors to be taken into account. The safety of a combination of car and caravan depends not only on unladen weight, but on the laden weights of the two vehicles and, more particularly, on the way in which those weights are distributed. It also depends on the brakes, on the manner of attachment to the car, and, finally—which is a very important factor in the liability of the trailer to "snake" from side to side of the road—on the distance between the towing connection of the car and the centre of the rear axle.

While, in general, a combination in which the caravan is much heavier than the towing car may create a hazard, there are certain vehicles, such as the Land Rover type, which can tow a heavier caravan with complete safety, while other heavier cars with a long overhang would be unsafe with a lighter trailer.

There is a big export business in caravans, and on the Continent there are very few restrictions on caravan speeds. If we were to introduce differential treatment here as between vehicles over and under a certain weight, it would undoubtedly have adverse consequences on design and exports. I have met representatives of the caravanning interests, and they left me in no doubt about that.

I am satisfied that in general car-caravan combinations present no serious safety problems on the roads, and the proposed increase in speed to 40 m.p.h. should not result in any increase in accidents. On the contrary, I think it is possible that a number of lives may well be saved as the result of reducing the amount of overtaking and the frustration caused to car drivers who have the misfortune to be caught behind one of these combinations moving religiously at 30 m.p.h. on heavily-trafficked country roads during the holiday season.

My hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), who reminded us of the very unpleasant experience that he underwent some years ago, referred to this point about overtaking. It is important to remember it when one considers accidents in this connection. If one assumes, as I have indicated we ought to, that the law will be obeyed in the future, regardless of whether or not it is obeyed at present, there can be no doubt that the amount of overtaking will be much less if goods vehicles travel at 40 m.p.h. than if they are limited to 30 m.p.h. The Road Safety Committee, when it discussed the proposals previously, took this point very much into consideration and came to the conclusion that it was one of the main reasons why this change should be made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby was, as I rather expected he might be, somewhat critical of our proposals. I suggest that one can read a little too much into newspaper reports of individual accidents One always regrets to hear of the personal (tragedies which are caused by that type of road accident, but I would like him to find out whether the accident which he quoted happened inside a town. If so, it must presumably have happened in an area where there was a 30 m.p.h. road speed limit, and the fact that the vehicle may have been travelling at more than 30 m.p.h. has no connection whatever with these regulations, because these regulations apply only to the vehicle. Even if the vehicle has a vehicle speed limit of 40 m.p.h. on it, it must still travel at not more than 30 m.p.h. when in a built-up area.

My hon. Friend quoted a number of figures and, in particular, the number of fatal and serious accidents involving goods vehicles of various types per million vehicle miles. He referred to the fact that, in 1961, 4.2 goods vehicles of one type and 3.0 goods vehicles of another were involved in all types of accidents per million vehicle miles. That may seem a lot, but when one considers that motor cycles reached a figure of no less than 17.3, motor scooters 18 and public service vehicles—buses and coaches—9.7, which is more than double the number of goods vehicles, one comes to the conclusion that one can draw all sorts of inferences from published tables of figures.

I will not quote a celebrated saying about figures which do not lie because you, Mr. Speaker, might pull me up. There is a continuation of that remark which I will not repeat in the House. But I take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby when he says that one can show conclusively from the figures that what we are doing is not conducive to safety.

Mr. Graham Page

My comparison was with ordinary cars, and in that comparison the figure is about the same, if not a little more for goods vehicles.

Mr. Hay

It is true that my hon. Friend is talking about ordinary cars. But let us look at the figures for fatal and serious accidents. They are: goods vehicles, 1.1 per million vehicle miles, cars and taxis, 1.1; motor cycles, 5.9; motor scooters, 4.7; and public service vehicles 2, which is twice as many as in the case of goods vehicles. Yet we know that public service vehicles are probably about the safest vehicles on our roads.

However, I will not take up the time of the House by talking on this at great length. But it is not the case that we are, by these Regulations, producing, as my hon. Friend put it, a loaded revolver and putting it in the hands of a trigger-happy lunatic. That is a gross overstatement.

Finally, I will deal with the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye. I would remind the House that under Section 5 of the Road Traffic Act we have, as I have stated, a new power which gives the courts the opportunity, and, indeed, the duty, of disqualifying people who commit certain types of road offence. This is another reason why these speed limits should be brought up to date. If this power is put into the hands of the courts, with a duty imposed on them to disqualify, it is only right that speed limits, whether applying to roads or to vehicles, should be realistic. Public opinion would demand no less.

I am obliged for the interest taken in this matter. It is a subject which always creates a good deal of excitement, but it has not produced quite as much heat as I expected tonight. I hope that the House will let us have the Regulations.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limit) Regulations, 1962, dated 5th November, 1962, a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th November, be approved.