HC Deb 24 April 1964 vol 693 cc1694-723

Order for Third Reading read.

11.7 a.m.

Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am moving the Third Reading of this Bill largely because I believe that we must do everything possible to promote safety on our roads. I should like to say briefly what the Bill does. Clause 1 (1) amends Section 13 of the Road Traffic Act, 1962. The power of "the appropriate Minister"—that is, my right lion. Friend the Minister of Transport in England and Wales and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland—under Section 13 is widened to include power to make an order imposing a temporary upper speed limit in two cases— (a) in respect of roads of any class specified in the order and (b) in respect of all roads other than roads of any class so specified. For the purpose of such an order, roads may be classified by reference to any circumstance appearing appropriate to the Minister concerned to be suitable for the purpose—for example, including their particular character, the nature of the traffic to which they are suited or the traffic signs thereon. The power to impose a minimum speed limit on specified roads is not affected.

Also, under the Bill Section 13 of the 1932 Act is made to apply to an order made under Clause 1 as it applies in relation to a speed limit to be observed on all roads. That is to say, traffic signs will not be necessary. I think we all remember during the summer months seeing the police one day uncovering these traffic signs and on another day covering them up, which is largely a waste of time. They will not be necessary.

Clause 1 also is to be construed as one with Section 13 of the 1962 Act. That is, it will not confer a power to impose a temporary or experimental speed limit on special roads, for which there is a special power of regulation in Section 37 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960. This deals with our motorways which are gradually increasing in mileage throughout the country. The Bill also contains some normal provisions as to the commencement and extent.

My reason for sponsoring the Bill, to put it a little more clearly in layman's language, is that the Minister can impose a general speed limit without providing traffic signs. But the effectiveness of any speed limit depends very largely upon securing the willing compliance of the majority of drivers. Experience shows that such compliance is best obtained when drivers feel that the speed limit, whatever it may be, is justified and appropriate for the conditions in which it is imposed.

The general speed limit as envisaged under the 1962 Act applies to a great variety of roads, to winding lanes classified as C roads and to recently built class A roads almost up to motorway standards. It is impossible to select one overall speed limit which could be appropriate for them all. With the idea of settling on a limit not to be exceeded on ordinary roads, the Minister last year decided that, in practice, it should be 50 m.p.h. The trouble is that this is too restricted for roads of good modern design like dual carriageway clearways. The object of the Bill is to enable the Minister either to exempt these better roads from the overall blanket limit or to impose upon them a speed limit higher than that which he applies to the B and C roads. It might be, say, 60 or 70 m.p.h.

How did the 50 m.p.h. speed limit work in practice? Last August, during the holiday rush period and at weekends, a 50 m.p.h. overall speed limit on all roads other than motorways was imposed. According to my researches, there was an effort by the general body of motorists to observe this on the very first weekend. But what did they find in practice? After having been, perhaps, on a country road behind a lorry or coach travelling at 30 or 40 m.p.h., they came on to a dual carriageway and the lorry or coach speeded up to 45 or 48 m.p.h.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)


Sir H. Harrison

Perhaps more—but I am assuming that the lorry driver or coach driver was obeying the law as laid down then.

The private motorist, in a faster car, could see the dual carriageway perfectly clear ahead, yet he would he breaking the law if he went at 55 m.p.h. to pass the heavier vehicle. Therefore, the blocks of traffic did not clear themselves when they reached the dual carriageway. By the third or fourth weekend, motorists came to the conclusion that this was rather nonsense on dual carriageways and, when three or four started to go past at 60 m.p.h., everyone else thought, "Why should I observe the law when others seem to get away with it?". In the end, we did not get the benefit in safety from this provision in the 1962 Act for which we had hoped. This is why I have chosen to introduce and recommend the Bill to the House.

As there will be no traffic signs, it is essential that the class of roads excepted for special treatment should be immediately recognisable. This is why I have drawn Clause 1(1) in the form in which it appears. For the present, the ways in which such roads might be classified are these: dual carriageway roads, clearways which are indicated by the clearway sign and, in the future—the not too distant future, I hope—the primary routes which will be indicated by green direction signs.

I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport here today. I am sorry that he has not with him his colleague from the Scottish Office because the Bill applies to Scotland as well as to England and Wales, but, perhaps, as my hon. Friend sits for a Scottish constituency, he thinks that he is acting in a dual capacity both as a Minister of the Crown responsible for transport and as a private Member from Scotland.

In recommending the Bill to the House, I wish to draw attention to what has happened to it so far. It is often said that private Members have very little scope or power against the Front Benches. Nevertheless, it is sometimes possible, with willing help, to get Bills through. The progress of this Bill has been remarkable. It will be remembered that it was only on 19th March that I presented it, exactly five weeks and one day ago. Since then, it has had its Second Reading and Committee stage. What is more remarkable is that, by accident, good luck or whatever it may be, it has become the first Bill to be called today, so that we have the opportunity to debate it thoroughly on Third Reading.

I have some confidence that the Bill will be given a Third Reading today, because I have had no opposition to it in arty part of the House nor have I encountered opposition to it from any of the motoring associations and societies. In fact, they are all in favour of it. Therefore, if the Bill is given a Third Reading today and it passes promptly through another place. I hope that it will receive the Royal Assent some time early in June and become law early in July. This will be in time for my right hon. Friends the Minister of Transport for England and Wales and the Secretary of State for Scotland to make appropriate orders to deal with the August weekends and holiday rush period for which the original powers were wanted in the 1962 Act.

I believe that the Bill will make a small but sensible contribution to the solution of the problem on our roads. It will be of real help to drivers. When we had a debate on road safety, about two months ago, it came out quite clearly that the attitude and behaviour of the driver himself is the most important factor on the roads. If he does not think that the law is wise and sensible, he will disregard it. Plainly, motorists felt that a blanket speed limit of 50 m.p.h. was not sensible on different roads with quite different characteristics. With that in mind, and with the idea of enlisting the willing cooperation of drivers, I recommend the Bill to the House.

Mr. H. Hynd

The hon. Gentleman has spoken more than once about the willing compliance of drivers, and I fully agree with him about that, but what about the willing compliance of the local authorities who represent the public? Will it be possible under the Bill for the Minister to impose regulations on roads under the control of local authorities without the consent of the local authorities?

Sir H. Harrison

I do not want to get too involved in matters about which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be very much better informed. Perhaps he may catch the eye of the Chair and assist the House in due course. As I understand it, the Bill will apply to a I roads to which the 1962 Act applied, that is to say, all roads in respect of which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland have power to make orders.

I was speaking about the value of willing compliance on the part of motor drivers, and I was about to remark, also, that there are not sufficient police for all these purposes. When the 50 m.p.h. limit was disregarded at weekends last year, there were not enough police to enforce it. Perhaps we have not sufficient police to enforce the road regulations, but, in any event, we must as far as possible ensure that the regulations are wise and sensible.

If the Bill does nothing else but save a few lives or losses of limb, it will be thoroughly worth while. I recommend it to the House with this very much in mind. We back benchers can play a part in introducing small Measures of this kind to improve safety on the roads. Everyone concerned with road safety knows that there is no one solution and that a number of small measures can help. I should like to thank hon. Members for their great help and forbearance at earlier, stages of the Bill, which I thoroughly recommend to the House.

11.20 a.m.

Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)

I should like to be the first to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) on introducing the Bill. I strongly agree with him that one of the difficulties about Parliament is that people think that back bench Members can do noting. His Bill is a notable example of how a Private Member's Bill can, I hope, have a rapid passage.

Undoubtedly, speed is one of the factors, although by no means the only factor, leading to road accidents. We hear successive Ministers of Transport saying that they cannot do this or that because they have not the power. Far from the power being withheld from them, many hon. Members on both sides would be only too glad to give it to them. In 1959, I introduced a Bill called the Traffic Control (Temporary Provisions) Bill, under the Ten Minutes Rule, which was designed to give the Minister power to lay down regulations in the interests of road safety. After the figures of Easter road casualties were published in 1960, my hon. Friends urged a 50 mite an hour speed limit on the Minister which he subsequently accepted.

Two points come to my mind on what my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) said about the position of local authorities. One is that usually local authorities are in favour of road speed limits because the people who live in their areas are those who suffer from the fast passage of traffic through them. We often find in villages in which the Minister has not imposed a speed limit women with prams and children having to run the gauntlet of traffic in crossing from one side of the village street to the other to do their shopping. I hope that the Minister will not allow local authorities to influence him too much in his decisions.

The conception that a road is the special responsibility of the local authority in the area concerned is, in my opinion, obsolete. The road network is a matter of national policy. I hope that the Minister will use his powers with due regard to local opinion but that he will not be too greatly influenced by it if there are objections in any area to the imposition of speed limits.

I turn to the point touched on by the hon. and gallant Member about policing. This is a separate problem which I should not be in order in raising in general on the Third Reading, but as the number of regulations rises in order to increase the safety of travel on the road the problem of policing becomes even more acute. The simple truth is that, in terms of road safety, Britain is terribly under-policed. Anyone who looks at the figures of the increase in the number of vehicles on the roads and then tries to discover—it is not an easy thing to discover—until the Police Bill, how many motor and motor cyclist police are available to various police authorities, will realise that the ratio of police to motorists is steadily diminishing over the years.

I am in favour of legislation, if it is right, running ahead of the capacity for enforcement, because when legislation lays down certain conditions it is a very good thing that the public should know what the law is. There is also the self-policing element. People want to co- operate with the law as far as possible. The Bill draws attention to the urgent need for more motor police, and its provisions will be nullified unless much more urgent action is taken.

Sir H. Harrison

The hon. Member is very clever in these matters. If the Minister does not move, perhaps he will be able to think of a way to deal with the matter through a Private Member's Bill.

Mr. Benn

It is impossible under our constitution to propose increased expenditure. Even if I had a Bill in my pocket—I will not say that I have not—it would be ruled out of order, because one cannot suggest expenditure under one Bill on the Third Reading of another. But we are entitled, in discussing the Third Reading of a Bill, to consider what the effect of its provisions will be. In my opinion, the effect of the provisions of this Bill, which I wholly support, will be to underline again the fantastic neglect by the police authorities of their responsibility to ensure that there are adequate motor and motor cyclist police on the roads to enforce the law. I believe that the Ministry of Transport has some responsibility for this. No one would for a moment accept an air safety regulation which was not automatically policed, yet we pass a lot of regulations, and the policing aspect is dealt with as a separate issue and is not properly tackled.

With that particular point in mind, I welcome the Bill. I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member on introducing it and hope that it will be passed into law.

11.25 a.m.

Mr. Dudley Smith (Brentford and Chiswick)

I join the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) in congratulating my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) on introducing the Bill and for his clear and concise explanation of its provisions. It is a road safety Measure, and any such Bill is worthy of support from both sides of the House.

Hon. Members are often in difficulty when a Bill of this sort, small as it is, goes through on the, nod on Second Reading and in Committee. It is, therefore, a good thing that we should have an explanation of it during the fairly restricted stage of the Third Reading. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will underline one or two points which have been made and will, perhaps, say something about the points that I should like to raise.

Under the Bill, the Minister will have power to except dual carriageways from temporary or experimental speed limits and to impose a different speed limit on them. This is a sensible and right step. As my hon. and gallant Friend emphasised, it is a good thing that we should be considering this matter now because there is a good chance that it will be the law of the country by mid-summer.

I agree with the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East that, on the whole, local authorities co-operate with Measures of this sort. I subscribe very much to what he said about the police and the need for further enforcement when laws of this type are introduced.

As the House knows, I have a special interest in road safety, because three-and a-half years ago I was nearly killed in a road accident. I have had particular concern ever since for measures concerning the speed limits. I am one of those who firmly believe that speed kills, which is one of the most realistic slogans ever introduced on road safety. But a Bill of this sort will not necessarily make matters worse. In many ways, it will make a contribution to bringing about more realistic standards of driving.

Like many others, I have for some time favoured some form of maximum speed limit on all roads. I believe that this could be between 50 and 60 miles an hour on most ordinary roads. However, I should get out of order if I went into that subject too fully. Failing that step, however, a Bill of this sort gives a certain amount of flexibility to the Minister of Transport in deciding appropriate maximum speeds on certain types of road.

I notice from this morning's newspapers that the Minister is going to America for a further study of road conditions there. I hope very much that he will consider the speed limits on the roads in America in particular relation to a Bill of this sort. Perhaps later there may even be further amending legislation.

One thing struck me when I examined Clause 1(2), which is to the effect that no signs indicating speed restrictions need be erected on the roads concerned. I am rather worried about this. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will say something about it, because it does not necessarily encourage the road safety aspect. There is a national game among motorists known as breaking the speed limit. Amending Bills of this kind, while doing something to bring the scope of speed observance into line, will not necessarily deal with this aspect. We know that motorists break the speed limits with impunity.

I always try to observe the speed limit when I am in my constituency, partly from the point of view of self-preservation—because it is embarrassingly bad to be convicted of speeding in one's own constituency—but also because I believe that hon. Members, of all people, should try to set an example when driving in particular areas. Unfortunately, however, one's good intentions are often not entirely on one's side. I find myself hooted at and glared at by people passing me in their cars and that people cut in front of me.

It is difficult to stick to the speed limit, particularly on roads like the main road running through my constituency, the Great West Road, which is one of the most busy roads in the whole of the London area. It is positively dangerous to try to observe the 40 m.p.h. limit on sections of that road. People are constantly trying to overtake and one is put into some difficulty. In addition, many cars and lorries are frustrated by a general speed limit on roads like the Great West Road and the North Circular, which also runs through part of my constituency, and this frustration can be another road hazard.

I should like my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to be able to confirm that roads like the Great West Road will come within the scope of the Bill. I should like him to make some comment about the need to enforce this type of speed limit on roads like that, because all too often one sees them used by motorists and lorry drivers as a sort of second-rate Goodwood or Silverstone circuit.

Observance of speed limits may bring about a more realistic approach, and I agree with the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East that we must get more police or extra traffic patrols to enforce these regulations. Regulations are brought in from time to time, but tend to be ignored by too many motorists. Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend's proposal last summer for a general 50 m.p.h. limit at weekends and holiday time did not work particularly well. As a result, the law was brought into some sort of disrepute.

As a result of the Bill we may have a better chance of more observance of speed limits during weekends and national holidays in the summer. I understand that, starting at Whitsun and continuing through the summer, about 700 miles of selected trunk roads will have a 50 m.p.h. limit at weekends. It is right that these roads should be those with had accident records and hope that when these 700 miles come within the ken of the restriction, the restriction will be vigorously enforced, much more than was the case last summer.

The Bill will benefit use of the roads, because in the past there have been objections that some roads built for fast traffic were safe at 60 m.p.h. while others were unsafe at 40 m.p.h. There ought to be some differentiation. General speed restrictions do very little to improve driving standards and I hope that the Minister will maintain this welcome flexibility. Perhaps we could well do with some derestriction on other roads, particularly after midnight. This is an argument which I hope to be able to develop on some other occasion and which does not really come within the scope of the Third Reading of this Bill.

People should not be encouraged to adopt an impatient attitude towards speed limits. If they feel that speed regulations are fair, they will try to comply with them. I support the Bill and the remarks made about it by my hon. and gallant Friend and by the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East.

11.33 a.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

I support the Bill and I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) on presenting it to the House. I apologise that I was not present to hear his speech earlier this morning. I should like to say that traffic prevented me from getting here, but that would not be entirely accurate.

I support my hon. and gallant Friend's reasons for believing it to be necessary to present the Bill—I may be putting into his mouth wards with which he would not agree, but I want at least to state my reasons for supporting it. The present speed restriction of 30 m.p.h. is dependent primarily, although not entirely, upon whether lamp posts in an area are 200 yards apart. Dependent on that somewhat irrelevant factor is decided the question of whether a 30 m.p.h. limit is to be imposed.

Our motor manufacturers, to whom we ought to give a word of praise because they are doing so well in the export and other markets, are producing better and better cars for very reasonable prices. The ordinary family car—not just the expensive luxury car—is now capable of going at speeds which, a few years ago, were thought quite impossible. It would ill become me to mention any particular makes, or deal with their speeds. Hon. Members might think that I had some interest or was anxious to advertise a particular make far from it. It is sufficient to say that the modern family car is capable of going at speeds which an express train could well envy. Very often the driver is quite incapable of thinking and acting at the speed necessary when driving a vehicle so quickly.

The vast majority of drivers drive well, carefully, and, on the whole, at reasonable speeds. Unfortunately, there are exceptions, and it is the exceptions which cause the unfortunate casualty rates of which we are all too well aware. Drivers often go at these speeds when they have been a little impatient at having been through a town with its 30 m.p.h. limit and its traffic blocks and then come to a stretch of road which is, or which they believe to be, derestricted.

I speak with some feeling on this matter, because running through my constituency are both the Brighton and the Eastbourne roads, going through a large built-up area. It is sufficient to say that one part of the Brighton Road, in my constituency, is known as "Death Valley". The simple reason is that it is a fairly straight road, but very dangerous, because visibility is sometimes poor because of rises, and so on, and side roads come into it—it is true that there are white lines across them—and vehicles come out of those side roads and there are serious collisions. If the driver on the main road is going, as I have seen some go, at 70 or 75, or even 80 m.p.h. and there is a collision, whose fault it is does not matter. The collision will be extremely serious, almost certainly with fatal casualties. It is to stretches of road of this sort that, with the advice of local councils, the Minister will have to apply his mind.

I shall not say a word today about general speed limits over the whole country or during holiday times because, apart from the fact that that would be out of order, it would be quite irrelevant to the purpose of the Bill. I regard the Bill as enabling local authorities to approach the Minister to ask him, "Just upon this exit from our town, just upon this road which, although it is not restricted, goes through a small village, please put a speed limit". This will give the Minister power to do so without a public inquiry and all the other present trouble and delay.

I echo what was said by the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn)—if we are to pass a law and take action under it, it is useless and a waste of our time and the Minister's time unless it is enforced. In these cases, the only people who can enforce the law are the police. I do not believe that we want special traffic police. The ordinary county police are quite capable of putting their trained officers in cars and doing their best to enforce the law. Once it is known locally that the law is enforced, it is more likely to be obeyed. So many motorists nowadays, perhaps wrongly, believe that if they ignore speed limits, there is not the slightest chance of anything happening to them.

Mr. Philip N. Hocking (Coventry, South)

Would not my hon. and learned Friend agree that the devilish electrical machines which the police are setting up and using on roads give them a better chance than ever before of dealing with speeding by motor-cycles and cars?

Mr. Doughty

I would not call them devilish electric machines. They are machines which accurately record the speed of vehicles, but they are not often used. I think that the best way of enforcing these regulations is for the police to be in cars and to see what is going on, because very often excessive speeds are accompanied by bad driving.

I have in mind the young man—and I regret to say on occasions the young woman—in one of these small, fast cars. I will not name any of them. These cars are capable of speeds of up to 100 m.p.h. Very often a young man driving one of these cars becomes impatient with what he regards as people dawdling along in front of him at 40 to 50 m.p.h. He changes into a lower gear, moves over to the wrong side of the road, and shoots away at a tremendous speed, counting on drivers coming in the opposite direction to ensure that there is no accident. If the police were able to catch a few people who did that sort of thing, I am sure that everybody in the country, and particularly the good drivers, would be grateful.

This is a small but important Measure. I believe that it will contribute to safety by diminishing the number of road accidents which occur every year, without imposing undue or harsh restrictions on motorists. For that reason I hope that it will soon become the law of the land.

11.42 a.m.

Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

The Bill has so far had a remarkably easy and rapid passage. In fact, it has gone along so quickly that it has probably beaten the speed limit for Private Members' legislation of this kind.

The hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) said that he hoped the Bill would be enacted before the holiday period. I should like to warn him that if all the Private Members' Bills before us go through as quickly as this one, we shall all be on our holidays before the Ministry of Transport has had an opportunity of putting them into operation.

I agree that the hon. and gallant Gentleman deserves to be congratulated not only on introducing this useful Measure, but on guiding it along so that it did not run into the obstacles and difficulties which so often beset private Members' legislation, particularly at four o'clock on a Friday afternoon.

As the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, this is a modest Measure. There has been a certain amount of discussion on it—

Sir H. Harrison

The hon. Gentleman is making a slight mistake. The Bill was presented formally, and, hitherto, there has been no talk on it whatsoever. I introduced another Bill, the Motor Vehicle Driving Establishments Bill, and if the hon. Gentleman could help me with that one I would be extremely grateful to him.

Mr. Darling

I shall be glad to do so. I thoroughly agreed with the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech on that Bill.

This is a useful Measure, because it clears away some of the anomalies in applying necessary speed limits to certain types of roads. I agree with the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith) that speed does kill. I have always been in favour of having different speed limits on different types of road, and even different speed limits on the same road, because of varying geographical and other conditions.

I am thinking particularly of my constituency, which is correctly named Hillsborough. There are many hills in it, and, because of the lack of planning in the nineteenth century when these industrial areas were built up, many of the roads go straight up the hills, and straight down again. It is extremely dangerous to allow vehicles, and particularly heavy lorries, to go down a hill at 30 m.p.h., and many accidents could be avoided if everybody concerned recognised that in such circumstances a slower speed is essential.

I, too, am worried about the question of clearly marking the roads on which one meets different speed limits so that drivers understand that in certain circumstances they must reduce speed.

I think that the enforcement of regulations is essential. I disagree profoundly with the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) when he says that we do not need a corps of traffic police. I think that we need traffic police, not only to prevent accidents and to prevent people from going too fast and thereby getting into the state where they are likely to cause accidents, but to assist the flow of traffic. I know that those matters are outside the scope of the Bill, but I hope that we can come back to this question on another occasion; because, although the intentions of the Bill are admirable, unless the question of enforcement is properly dealt with, the good effects of the Bill will not be realised.

I gather that the Ministry of Transport welcomes the Bill. I hope, therefore, that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to clear up some of the points that have been put to him so that we can pass the Bill to another place and hope that there it will be given an equally speedy and accident-free passage.

11.47 a.m.

Mr. Philip N. Hocking (Coventry, East)

I join in the congratulations to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) on introducing the Bill.

I think that it is well-known among hon. Members that I revel in driving a fast car. As I represent a constituency which has a definite interest in motor cars, and in their manufacture, I have, therefore, an interest in this Measure.

My hon. and gallant Friend has done a great service to the motoring public by introducing the Bill, because for a long time I have felt that some of the restrictions put on motorists are unrealistic. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith) when he says that speed kills. Some weeks ago my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) initiated a debate on road accidents, and produced a number of statistics which proved beyond doubt that speed was not necessarily the greatest factor in road accidents.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

Surely my hon. Friend would admit that speed kills to the extent that some people are incapable of quick reaction in an emergency? Some people are less capable than others of reacting quickly at high speed. Some people are not safe when driving at high speeds.

Mr. Hocking

I take the point made by my hon. Friend, but I think that he will admit that those who drive fast are invariably much more capable drivers than those who drive slowly.

Mr. Dudley Smith

The point is that they think that they are more capable.

Mr. Hocking

I will not argue that at the moment. If hon. Members look at the statistics produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West, they will appreciate the point that I have made.

I believe that one of the contributory factors to accidents is frustration. Willy-nilly, a speed limit of 50 m.p.h. is to be imposed on 700 miles of trunk roads during the summer. On these roads there is often very little traffic during the weekends, between the hours of midnight on Saturday and eight o'clock on Sunday morning. It seems absurd that even during that period this limit should be enforced. People often feel frustrated when they are travelling along at that speed and the road is quite clear ahead, so that they could easily pass another vehicle but for the fact that if they did they would break the law.

The Ministry of Transport must examine the problem of speed limits more carefully than it has done. It must be prepared to relax limits a little from time to time. The 30 m.p.h. limit imposed in the 1930s is not necessarily the correct limit for today. Motor vehicles have been improved considerably during these years. The braking power and general efficiency today are infinitely better than they were then. I suggest that the powers incorporated in this Measure should be used to conduct experiments to an ever-increasing extent so that we can arrive at speed limits which are realistic in present circumstances. If these experiments are carried out I am sure that we shall find that we are able to reduce the accident rate considerably while, at the same time, causing less frustration to motorists, who will be able to get about the country in a reasonable manner without too many unnecessary restrictions.

Some hon. Members have claimed that we have not enough police on the roads to enforce these rules. In my opinion, the number of mechanical devices which are used today and are set up on various highways and by-ways to enforce speed limits have a far greater effect than a motor-cycle policeman or a police patrol car. In some cities there are notices which warn motorists that radar speed checks are in operation. I doubt whether these radar checks are in regular use, but I am certain that so long as the notices are there the knowledge that the police may be using these checks has a great effect upon the motoring public. I believe that the necessary machinery does exist to enable the enforcement of a Measure such as this, and that it can be used quite effectively.

11.53 a.m.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)

Unlike the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling), my constituency has only one hill. The problems which have been referred to today raise many wide issues, although this Third Reading debate must necessarily narrow the scope of our argument.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) raised some points which are extremely relevant to the debate. I join in congratulating my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) on introducing the Measure. He said that the road to Brighton runs through his constituency.

Sir H. Harrison

I did not say that. It obviously does not do so.

Dr. Glyn

I apologise to my hon. and gallant Friend; I meant that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East said that the road to Brighton ran through his constituency. Any hon. Member who is familiar with that road will agree that very few of its 55 miles are derestricted. It should be a main artery, but it is chopped and cut about with various speed limits.

My hon. and learned Friend also referred to young married couples who drive small vehicles. One of the greatest dangers arise from the fact that many people who have been accustomed to driving family saloons suddenly become the possessors of cars which are very much faster, and they do not adjust themselves to the greater speed of their new cars. Many cars today which are well within the purchasing power of the average family can travel at up to 100 m.p.h. This fact, together with the driving of the younger and more irresponsible motorists, is responsible for the high number of accidents that we have had.

If the Bill receives a Third Reading it should be on the Statute Book by July. That means that my right hon.

Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Transport should be able to introduce the regulations before the coming holiday. That is a great tribute to my hon. and gallant Friend. It means that in some measure he will have contributed, indirectly or even directly, to the reduction of accidents during the summer.

The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) raised the question of local authorities. What we have to consider is not so much what the Minister does as what local authorities do. This must of necessity be a partnership in which common sense prevails. We cannot have all the Departments working in watertight chambers, and saying "This must be done, or that must be done." Developments under the Bill must be negotiated between the Ministry of Transport and local authorities, so that a middle way can be found which does not cause bottlenecks to traffic but, at the same time, does not open the gate for further accidents.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith) mentioned the Great West Road. I entirely agree with him about that. As he says, it is a good road, and most motorists can go very close to the speed limit. Nevertheless, motorists driving at the limit prescribed invariably find themselves almost dawdling in a stream of traffic which is going very much faster.

The Bill introduces changes, and we must, therefore, consider the question of enforcement. Many hon. Members have praised radar checks. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey. East said that he did not think that they could replace vehicles manned by policemen. I believe that we need a combination of the two. Radar checks economise in manpower and also deter people from exceeding the speed limit. The fact that a radar installation is in operation makes people more careful in their observation of speed limits. Nevertheless, the advantage of having a police officer in a car is that he is able not only to watch the speed of motorists but, far more important, the way in which they are driving their vehicles, whether above or below the speed limit.

Sir H. Harrison

I agree with what my hon. Friend says about enforcement. The whole object of the Bill, however, is to reduce the need for enforcement. Certain roads will be exempt from the overall 50 m.p.h. speed limit.

Dr. Glyn

I take my hon. and gallant Friend's point which really divides into two parts He says that certain roads will be exempt, but there will still be a speed limit of some sort in respect of them. They will still have to be patrolled. Both sides of the question require careful study. I believe that the Minister is striking the right balance between radar checks and various other devices, on the one hand, and police patrol cars, on the other. Whatever may be said about the use of radar and short-wave television, there is still much more effective control when police officers can see a vehicle being driven dangerously and are able to stop it. That is far better evidence in the court.

Although we must, of course, consider the best way of saving lives, we must also consider very carefully the necessity for traffic to be able to travel at reasonable speeds along reasonable roads. This is the cause which my hon. and gallant Friend has had in mind in introducing his Bill. He allows increases in speed on roads where there is little danger of such increased speeds causing further accidents.

The hon. Member for Hillsborough said that he agreed with the gradation of speed to 30, 40 and 50 m.p.h., but I think that on some roads this can be very confusing to motorists, as it varies from one area to another. I personally should like to see some universality of speed limits.

Earlier in the debate it was said that speed itself was not a cause of accidents. Various opinions about this have been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I think that the only observation that it would be proper to make at this stage would be that whatever the accident it is obvious that the higher speed at which it occurs the greater the casualties that must occur. I do not think that anyone would deny this. The basic factor is that the number of people handling these fast cars is increasing and this requires very careful watching.

I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye for introducing the Bill. There are two points on which I should like the guidance of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. I am slightly worried about the question of having no traffic signs on these stretches of road and as it is a point of some substance, perhaps my hon. Friend would refer to it.

There is another point which I should like him to mention, if he has the figures available. I think that it would be of interest not only to the House but to the motoring public and, incidentally, to pedestrians to know exactly what effect the introduction of the 50 m.p.h. speed limit has had on the casualty figures over the stretches of road upon which it has been enforced. This is something which the public ought to know.

Finally, I think that we have to be a little realistic about this. The motoring world has changed from the days when someone walked in front of the motor with a fed flag, and the question of speed and the whole attitude towards motoring is changing. The Bill is a welcome addition to existing legislation. But I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, when he conies back from America, perhaps in conjunction with the local authorities, will look at the whole question of traffic in towns to see whether in the future he might introduce some legislation which is slightly more comprehensive.

I welcome my hon. and gallant Friend's Bill and I am sure that the House will be grateful to him for its introduction.

12.3 p.m.

Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)

I intervene for a few moments to ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary two questions. I should also like to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) on introducing the Bill and upon the speed with which he is getting it through, and also for obtaining the support of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) who is very discriminating in the way that he supports Private Members' Bills.

I wonder whether the Ministry would consider introducing different speed limits in opposite directions for some roads, particularly on steep hills. I am prompted to ask this because the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) said that there were roads in his constituency which went up one side of a hill and down the other. I have some in my constituency, too, as anyone who goes there tomorrow week for the Cup Final may discover. I only hope that they do not try to park their cars on those hills, because they will probably find them driven away by the police during the match. There are hills there which it is dangerous to come down at 30 m.p.h. but which are perfectly sale to go up at 50 m.p.h. and I think that the time has come when we could possibly discriminate in that way, by imposing speed limits in opposite directions.

Another example which I can think of in the General London area is Brockley Hill, on the A.5, north of Edgware, which it would be perfectly safe to go tip at 50 or possibly even 60 m.p.h. but very dangerous to come down at anything over 30 to 40 m.p.h.

During the last General Election, I remember being asked by an enthusiastic road safety constituent whether I favoured a law to place speed governors on all cars, not made for export, which would limit them to 30 m.p.h. I promptly pointed out hat it would probably mean that cars would not be able to get up some of the hills in Wembley, if that were the case. One needs a car of great power to get up steep hills, and, therefore, I think that the time is coming when we should have different speed limits in opposite directions on hills of that kind. I hope that the Bill will receive a Third Reading and soon reach the Statute Book.

12.6 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) on introducing the Bill, and it therefore may seem a little churlish of me to underline what I think is a very serious defect in it. As the Explanatory Memorandum points out The effect of Clause 1(2) is that no signs indicating the speed restrictions need be erected on the roads concerned. I should like to know why not. After all, is not one of the assumptions behind the Bill that speed does kill?

Hon. Members, one after another, on both sides of the House, agree that this is one of the main causes of fatal road accidents today, and that there is a flagrant disregard of speed limits. It is a national scandal. Some people refer to it as a sport—it is a wicked sport and that is why I use the word "scandal". If we think that it is right to give the Minister these flexible powers—and I most certainly do—it is monstrous that we should give him those powers and then not let the average motorist know when the Ministry will be using them.

Why should a motorist be penalised for travelling above the speed limit, imposed by regulation by the Minister, when he does not even know that the speed limit has been introduced? It is a mockery almost, about the unwillingness to communicate our intentions to the public, that we here, as it were on the morrow of Shakespeare's birthday, who speak the tongue that he spoke, in the midst of his quater-centenary celebrations, should shrink from using the most powerful and vivid language which has been bestowed upon us.

It is not only in this respect that one notices the reluctance to convey the wishes of the transport authority to the motoring public. It is almost endemic in us. Time and time again, we find a motorist having his car towed away because he is not supposed to park where he is, although there is no indication that parking is not allowed. Sometimes, one finds that there is a no parking sign, but Lord help the visiting tourist, who finds it difficult to discover on which side of the sign parking is not allowed.

The Bill underlines what I believe to be a profound misconception, that somehow or other the motorist is expected to observe regulations without it being made quite clear to him what they are; and—this has been touched on by hon. Members on both sides of the House—without there being the proper enforcement in many instances. I do not wish to go into that aspect of it, because I know that it is not within the terms of the Bill, but I hope that when my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary replies he will take very seriously this criticism which has come from more than one hon. Member in respect of Clause 1(2).

If it is to be brought home to motorists that we seriously intend to impose speed limits and to impose them with a high degree of sensible flexibility, then for goodness' sake let it be made quite clear that it is not a punitive Measure, but one to help people to drive safely and carefully. I hope that in another place a suitable Amendment might be drafted which could be included in this very worthwhile Bill.

12.10 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)

It might be appropriate if I were to intervene at this stage for a moment or two not with any intention of cutting short discussion on the Measure, but to give the Government's view on the Bill.

Though, really, there is not a great deal that I can add to the very clear exposition of the purpose and the effect of the Bill which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) provided when he moved its Third Reading, which, I thought, he did very convincingly, there is one thing that I can say, and that is how much we in the Government are indebted to my hon. and gallant Friend not only for the general enthusiasm which he always displays in all transport matters, but especially here for the skill with which he has achieved what so far has defeated us, by clothing this idea in legislative form and getting it so far so quickly.

Though this Bill which we are now discussing may be a quite modest Measure, its effect could be quite important for safety on the roads. It will provide my right hon. Friend with a new degree of flexibility in the imposition of speed limits so that they will more nearly accord with road conditions, and, because of this, make a greater appeal to the common sense of the motorist and so achieve the purpose of speed limits which is the creation of conditions that will encourage greater safety on the roads.

At present, as the House is aware, this happy state of flexibility does not exist. As my hon. and gallant Friend explained, the Minister has powers to impose a temporary speed limit, but the difficulty is that if this speed limit is not to be a general one covering all roads then traffic signs have to be provided.

Obviously, for a temporary speed limit it is not practicable to provide signs on more than a small mileage of roads, and, consequently, our trials of speed limits have had to be either on a very small scale with signposts, or, if general, then the speed limit would almost certainly be too low for the best and most modern of our roads. Thus the instrument which has been at our disposal up to now is rather a blunt one—better than nothing at all, but not so good as it might be.

Mr. Johnson Smith

My hon. Friend said that it would not be practicable to provide signs where the speed limit had been introduced on a temporary or experimental basis. I appreciate that it would not be practicable to introduce on such stretches of the highway a more permanent type of sign to which we are accustomed, but would it not be practicable on such stretches of the highway to introduce a more portable type of sign, made, perhaps, chiefly of plastic?

Mr. Galbraith

If my hon. Friend will wait I intend to deal rather more with the identification of roads, which is an important point.

As I was saying when my hon. Friend interrupted me, the instrument at our disposal at the moment is a rather blunt one, but it is better than nothing, though not nearly as good as it might be. This imperfection has spurred my hon. and gallant Friend to action, and if the House gives the Bill a Third Reading, and in due course it becomes law, then the efforts of my hon. and gallant Friend, as particularised in the Bill, will have the effect of turning the present blunt instrument into a much sharper one capable of greater precision. It will then be possible for my right hon. Friend to prescribe limits which are suited to the conditions of the particular classes of road and to the nature of the traffic on them.

One of the difficulties up till now has been that though there are different kinds of roads easily identifiable at the Ministry, my right hon. Friend has lacked power to apply special limits to them. This has been mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry, South (Mr. Hocking), for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) and for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith). The important thing is not whether or not the roads are signposted but whether or not they are easily identifiable to the man in the motor car.

Although it is quite clear whether one is driving on a dual carriageway or one is not—anyone can see that, and if one is dealing with clearways they do have signposts at the entrance to them—up to now, though there are these roads which are suitable for higher speed limits, my right hon. Friend has lacked power to apply different speed limits to them.

As a result, however, of the provisions of the Bill my right hon. Friend will in future be able to decide that though in general, say, a 50-mile-an-hour speed limit would be appropriate for most roads, on well-designed roads such as a dual carriageway or even a clearway, a limit of 60 miles an hour would be perfectly safe.

Sir H. Harrison

Am I right in thinking that there would be no necessity for the Minister to impose any limit on the highways—that he could impose a 60-mile-an-hour limit or no limit at all?

Mr. Galbraith

I agree absolutely with my hon. and gallant Friend. There would be no need to impose any limit. I was just giving an example.

The trouble is that in general a speed limit, as my hon. and gallant Friend pointed out, has to be low enough to have a significant restraining effect on ordinary roads, and 50 miles an hour is, we consider, high enough for that purpose. But this is unduly restrictive on most dual carriage way roads and even on some single carriageway roads as well. My hon. and gallant Friend's Bill will enable the Minister to differentiate between the different roads. Looking to the future, this power to discriminate will be particularly valuable on the primary routes which are envisaged as part of the Worboys signposting reforms.

I have talked a lot about speed limits and I should not like the House, or, indeed, the motoring public, to conclude from what I have said that my right hon. Friend will use this Bill, if and when it becomes law, as an excuse for starting a new restrictive policy on speeds generally. My right hon. Friend has no such intention. He merely hopes by means of the Bill, when general limits are necessary for experimental purposes, to be able to apply them with greater relevance to conditions on particular kinds of roads.

The hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) asked a question, echoed by his hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), about local authorities. In fact, my right hon. Friend does not need the consent of local authorities in order to impose speed limits. Nor has he received any objection from them when he has done so. In any case, a speed limit order of this sort can remain in force only for four months unless Parliament gives its approval to an extension, so clearly this is all experimental and there is nothing to worry about. It has no relevance to the sort of roads which have permanent limits on them such as the roads to which my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith) referred.

As to the use of these powers, the House will recall that last year there was a general feeling that the limit imposed in the summer for five weekends, though appropriate for most roads at such a time, was too restrictive on some of the roads. This summer, despite the fact that this Bill may be law, my right hon. Friend has decided not to impose any general limit at all as he did last year, and the absence of one this year will give him an interesting comparison on the effectiveness of such general restrictions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clapham asked about the results last year. I have a few figures and I hope it will not bore the House if I give them. In the first weekend last year there was a 10 per cent. decrease in casualties; in the second weekend there was an 8 per cent. decrease; in the third weekend there was a 26 per cent. increase; in the fourth weekend there was an 11 per cent. increase; and in the fifth weekend an 8 per cent. increase.

These figures take account, approximately, of variations between 1962 and 1963 in the amount of traffic. It was not possible, however, to make allowances for variations in weather, which also have a very important effect on the accident risk. In view of this, no firm conclusions can be drawn about the effect of the speed limit on casualties. Some speed measurements were taken, but only at a few points and not on every weekend. They suggest that the speed limit reduced speeds on the first weekend but offer no real guidance on other weekends.

Dr. Alan Glyn

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information, in which I am sure that the country will be interested. Will not he agree that now the only thing which can be done is to compare those figures with this year, when there will be no speed limit, and we shall have an overall rough and ready check after the summer?

Mr. Galbraith

Naturally, we shall do that, but even then it would be dangerous to draw conclusions. The experiment has not gone on for a sufficient number of years.

Mr. Benn

The hon. Gentleman has made an extremely important announcement. During the Third Reading of a Bill which is designed to introduce a speed limit, he has announced that the Minister will make the experiment this year of abandoning the 50 m.p.h. speed limit. He has given figures which show that at any rate a 50 m.p.h. speed limit had an effect in reducing accidents. We do not know whether the rise in the number of accidents later was because people disregarded the speed limit or otherwise. It is a curious opportunity to take to make a major announcement of this kind.

Mr. Galbraith

In fact, these figures have been made public. I think at the end of the summer. I should like to check that, but I think that my right hon. Friend did issue a Press statement giving substantially these figures, and all that I was doing was trying to help my hon. Friend who had asked about them.

Mr. Benn

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, the point is not whether the figure was 3 per cent., but whether this is the moment to make an announcement that there is not to be a 50 m.p.h. speed limit this summer, when it is not possible for the House to debate it.

Mr. Galbraith

I should have thought that if my right hon. Friend had decided to have a speed limit, that would have been the occasion for a debate. But when he says that he is not to have a speed limit, surely that is reverting to what has been the practice in the past. What he did last year was to make a change. This year there is to be no change. He is continuing what is the normal practice.

Mr. Darling

I hope that I have got this clear. As I understand it, what the Parliamentary Secretary is saying is that the Minister is to experiment, or, rather, go back to the previous situation, to see whether, having got rid of the speed limit, there will be any more, or fewer, accidents. In other words, he is taking an awful risk—

Mr. Bean

Hear, hear.

Mr. Darling

—in going back to the previous situation. I echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), that this is a very curious occasion on which to make an announcement.

It may be that it is an announcement which fits within the rules of order, but we are thinking about the millions of motorists on the roads. It is their interests that we have to consider and I object strongly to a statement of this kind being made in such a way that we cannot discuss it in the House.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must observe the rules of order. I have been much too indulgent this morning. I do not think that hon. Members on either side of the House are in a position to throw stones or notices about.

Mr. Galbraith

I am obliged, Mr. Speaker. I was not intending to offend the House in any way, but I find it very difficult that when one says that one is not going to do anything it should be regarded as a statement of policy.

Mr. Darling

It is.

Sir H. Harrison

I could understand the Minister making this statement when the speed limit was a blanket overall speed limit. But I ask him to speak to his right hon. Friend to see whether, if the Bill gets a passage through another place and becomes law in time, he might be able to think again—when he will have flexible powers—about whether it would be wise to use them this August.

Mr. Galbraith

It is a bad thing to intervene during the speech of someone else unless one knows exactly what is going to be said. I am coming on to the future in a minute or two.

Though there is to be no general speed limit this summer, my right hon. Friend intents to have a further trial of the 50 m.p.h. speed limit on certain trunk roads—about 700 miles of them—which was what my hon. and gallant Friend was referring to. In 1963, 700 miles of selected trunk roads were subjected to a 50 m.p.h. speed limit on 16 weekends between Whitsun and mid-September. This showed a reduction of 29 per cent. In accidents and 26 per cent. in casualties compared with 1959. Comparable roads on which a speed limit was not imposed showed reductions of 16 per cent. in accidents and 15 per cent. in casualties.

The 50 m.p.h. limit on selected roads, as distinct from the general one, has been effective in reducing the speed of traffic and the frequency of accidents. Speed measurements taken in 1963 showed a significant reduction in the volume of traffic travelling at more than 50 m.p.h. The accident record improved by about 12 percent. as compared with similar roads on which a speed limit was not applied but which had the same degree of police patrolling. Although it is very early to attempt to draw any conclusions, the 50 m.p.h. speed limit on an 8-mile length of the A.1 has been effective.

The frequency of accidents has been less than half what it was before the speed limit was imposed, and even over the relatively short period of six months such a difference is unlikely to have arisen by chance. The present trend, therefore, or these selected roads, 700 miles of them, is promising and, though the figures are by no means conclusive, my right hon. Friend thinks it right to have another experiment this summer.

Meeting the point of my hon. and gallant Friend and looking further into the future, if this Measure appeals to Parliament and the Bill becomes law—

Mr. Niall MacDermot (Derby, North)

Can the hon. Gentleman make clear whether the experiment for this summer on the stated mileage will be with or without signposts?

Mr. Galbraith

This will be with signposts, the 700 miles which have signposts.

I was saying that by Christmas, when we hope that the Bill will have become law, it will enable my right hon. Friend to impose a general speed limit which is considered to be appropriate for Christmas conditions. With this legislation my right hon. Friend can do so with greater precision and exempt from the lower limit roads for which it is inappropriate and impose a higher limit on them, or, as my hon. and gallant Friend suggested, have no limit at all.

Several hon. Members have referred to the important matter of enforcement. I agree that this is a very important matter. Unfortunately, it is a matter which as a Minister from the Ministry of Transport I am not competent to deal. It is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, though I can assure the House that we are in close touch with the Home Department at all times.

I think that the Bill will appeal to motorists who are very willing to cooperate with a limit which seems to suit conditions, but who naturally become frustrated when they consider the limit bears no relation to the conditions on the roads. This sense of frustration, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Hocking) causes them sometimes to drive badly and so a higher limit on a suitable road may mean that somewhat faster speeds actually produce greater safety and fewer accidents. At any rate, the Bill gives my right hon. Friend a degree of flexibility which he has not had before and which will enable him to experiment so that he may treat different roads differently according to their peculiar characteristics. This flexibility should help motorists and safety.

For all these reasons, on behalf of the Government, I warmly welcome the Bill. Again I thank my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye for the trouble that he has taken to "father" it and I commend it most heartily to the favourable consideration of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.