HC Deb 23 February 1966 vol 725 cc563-83

10.35 p.m.

Sir Martin Redmayne (Rushcliffe)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Motorways Traffic (Temporary Speed Limit) (England) Regulations 1965 (S.I., 1965, No. 2063) dated 3rd December, 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 16th December, 1965, be annulled. I hope that it may be convenient, Mr. Speaker, to discuss at the same time the three other Motions standing in my name and the names of some of my hon. Friends: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Motorways Traffic (Temporary Speed Limit) (Scotland) Regulations 1965 (S.I., 1965, No. 2078), dated 9th December, 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 16th December, 1965, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Motorways Traffic (Temporary Speed Limit) (Wales) Regulations 1965 (S.I., 1965, No. 2083), dated 9th December, 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 16th December, 1965, be annulled. and That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Traffic Signs (Motorways Speed Limits) Regulations, 1965 (S.I., 1965, No. 2085), dated 9th December, 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 16th December, 1965, be annulled.

Mr. Speaker

If the House has no objection, so be it.

Sir M. Redmayne

We have little time and I shall try to be brief on a subject on which I would have a good deal to say. I want to devote my time almost wholly to the speed limit on the motorways because I believe that it is here that the limit is most subject to criticism. Some people outside have expressed surprise that we should pray against these Orders during the course of the experiment. They fail to realise that the procedures of the House compel us to do so and before the end of this week if we are not to lose our only opportunity of contributing a corporate view before the Minister makes up her mind whether or not to impose a permanent limit.

We shall not seek to divide the House, because it is pointless to do so in the middle of a review, but I make it clear that we reserve our position at a later stage. It is also worth noting that the general speed limit on roads other than motorways does not appear before the House at all. That is how it is laid down in the Act and if necessary we shall have to seek remedies for that if we wish as a later stage to debate the limits as a whole.

I hope the House will forgive me if a lot of what I say is in the first person, because I constantly drive on the M.1 and the M.4 and have driven on the M.6 since the limit was imposed. In using the first person I am repeating also views put to me in much correspondence on the subject. The letters I have received on the subject have been most moderately expressed and most clearly argued when they have been against the limit. I particularly want to put that on record because it has been suggested that those against the limit are in some sense irresponsible.

I want to enumerate flatly and without embroidery a number of dangers which have become common on the M.1. It is my impression that the speeds in the slower lane have increased since the speed limit was put on and certainly the centre lane driving seems now to be seldom more than five miles an hour slower than in the fast lane. I think that is a smaller differentiation than used to exist.

In the fast lane, few seem to travel over 70 miles an hour but they do travel at that speed and are noticeably frustrated if held up by someone whose speed drops even by a mile or two. Therefore two situations arise. First, one finds that more drivers stick to the outside lane than used to and this also applies in the case of a 40 m.p.h. limit. It is a feature of limiting speed. Some drivers appear to think, it seems to me, that they can go into the outside lane merely because they have as much right to be there as anyone else and some also seem to take the view that there is no need for them to look behind in their reflecting mirrors because, if they are travelling at 70 m.p.h. legally they cannot be overtaken.

Secondly, since the differentiation in speed between the outside and the centre lanes is now so much less than it used to be, the available space to move into the centre lane from the outside is both less and is harder to find because, as those driving on the motorways know, in looking for a space to move into the centre lane one cannot accelerate beyond 70 because, if one does so, one is breaking the law.

The result of this is a strong tendency for traffic to bunch and quite frequently one finds oneself in bunches of cars three abreast in the three lanes and six or so deep, all travelling at near enough the same speed. This happens two or three times in a journey between London and Nottingham, for example, and two or three times is enough. This happens in winter traffic and it will happen very much more when we get to the holiday traffic in the summer if the limit is continued. All the time these cars tread on each other's heels much more than they used to and it is only those who break the law who can ease the pressure.

But there are other dangers. We all know that cross-winds are very tricky on the motorways and the more vehicles are abreast, the more risk of danger there is and in wet weather—and this is a point which must be taken into consideration—vehicle spray, at all times a menace on the motorways, in these conditions of compulsory bunching is positively dangerous.

Even if there is no bunching, the dangers arising from reduced differentials of speed are still considerable. Before the limit, both passing and regaining one's position on the motorway were long-term operations—a long swing out and a long swing in—and this is much safer for all concerned. But the same manoeuvre now that we have the lower differentials of speed is in nearly every case too quickly out and too quickly back. This is very often accompanied—and I have seen this time and time again—by a reduction of speed as soon as the centre lane is regained, because the man passing has so often gone up to 72 or 73 m.p.h. and at once conscientiously comes back to 70 m.p.h., with the result that he immediately pancakes with the car behind.

There is a very good film put out by the right hon. Lady's Ministry showing how passing on the motorway should be done, and it makes the very point that the driver should look first for the car which is coming up fast from behind and let it go. But now, for the majority of drivers on the motorways, nothing comes up fast. Everything creeps up and I say flatly that it is often infernally difficult to know what is safe and what is not.

Equally, I dislike intensely driving with another car running at the same speed as myself tucked away behind my right or my left shoulder. It does not matter how many mirrors one has—and I have as many as anybody else—in certain conditions there is always a point at which it is far too hard to see that car, not passing one, but just sitting there hoping to slip through if one slows down a little and he can ease his way past.

I do not like the hooting which one now finds going on, nor the flashing of lights. I do not like to see cars passing others on the inside, or creeping up on the inside, and this is happening all the time. Most of all I dislike those who obstruct others with a self-conscious virtue and I believe that speedometer watching for the purpose of keeping within the 70 m.p.h. limit when the eyes of the driver should be on the road is itself dangerous.

There is no question but that a man drives best at his car's best cruising speed and today many are driving less well and less safely only because the limit forces them below their natural cruising speed, or in the case of others—and I am sure that this is so—because of the existence of the limit they are persuaded to cruise up to that speed.

What one wants is for drivers on the motorway to have nothing to do except look far ahead and see where trouble is coming, both so that they can avoid it and so that they can help others behind them to avoid it—and that is enormously important. Some of the multiple crashes which we have had and perhaps because of which the limit was imposed—I am talking about crashes in clear weather and not in the fog—occurred because drivers were not looking far enough ahead and did not have the sense to slow up ahead of trouble, or the sense to keep touching their brakes so as to keep their lights flashing as they were slowing. Unless this kind of technique is adopted, there will be no safety and in these conditions the danger is greater than before.

Instead of that we get motorists sweating along because they are worrying about the cars immediately in front of them, immediately behind and lurking on their flanks. This cannot be safe. I am going to say nothing about speed as such, nothing about the need to manufacture fast cars for the export trade, and nothing about the motorways being built for speed. All of these subjects tend to be emotive arguments and I want to keep on a practical basis.

All I want to try to do is to put the arguments of the ordinary motorist driving an ordinarily fast car. If this debate were to go on long enough—but it will not—someone would be sure to say that speed is a killer. It is not speed that kills; it is foolhardiness, impatience, bad temper. All of these killing faults are as common at low speeds as at high speeds.

I want to deal with the advertisements which the previous Minister of Transport used to launch the limit. In those advertisements the National Opinion Poll was quoted as showing 60 per cent. of motorists in favour of the limit and 38 per cent. against. I am not elaborating the arguments, but I doubt very much whether 60 per cent. of motorists drive at over 70 m.p.h. anyhow, and they are automatically in favour of the limit. Equally, I know that 40 per cent. of motorists do not drive over 70 m.p.h. as a matter of habit and that in the 38 per cent. there is a very large proportion of sensible people who consider that it is perfectly reasonable and safe for the others to be allowed to drive at those speeds if they wish to do so.

Since I am going to refer to the American survey, which is another part of these advertisements, I would point out that in the survey the number of drivers habitually driving at 70 m.p.h. in America—and, after all, this limit has been largely based on American experience—is only 5 per cent. In these advertisements there is a statement which runs as follows: There is evidence that the average casualty rate for drivers exceeding 70 m.p.h. is about three times that for drivers travelling between 65 m.p.h. and 70 m.p.h. I put a Question down to the Minister asking on what information this statement was based and I was told that it was based on an American publication called "Accidents on Main Rural Highways." There is now a copy in the Library. I say quite baldly that, in that the advertisement makes this statement, it is an outstanding example of the selective use of statistics, particularly in respect of motorways in this country because it says that the survey undertaken was expressly confined to two-and four-lane roads of the non-freeway type. In other words, it was confined to ordinary roads as we know them. It also says that the design speed of those roads was never more than 70 m.p.h. and mostly 55 m.p.h. or 60 m.p.h., sometimes as low as 45 m.p.h. Thus it gives no useful information about motorways of the kind we have which are designed for much higher speeds.

It also shows that the rate of accidents on four-lane highways, the largest road with which it deals, is considerably lower than on two-lane, and one understands that. It permits the obvious assumption that the accident rate on six-lane motorways of high speed design would have been shown to be lower still, as it is in this country.

With direct reference to this figure of three times the accident rate mentioned in the advertisement I want to say that, having studied the report, both its graphs and tables, if the Minister wishes to advertise that the injury rate per 100 million miles over 70 m.p.h. is three times that at 65–70 m.p.h., she, or her predecessor, should in all honesty have made it clear that the injury rate at speeds of 30 m.p.h. to 40 m.p.h. is also three times as much as 65 m.p.h. to 70 m.p.h. It is an inverse curve. At lower speeds still, the injury rate is very much higher. If it is put in straight figures taken from the report it is shown that by day, of a sample total of 2,151 drivers, the number injured at speeds over 73 m.p.h. is 68, or 3.5 cent. The number injured at speeds between 63 and 72 m.p.h. is shown as 180, or about 9 per cent., and the remainder of the sample, numbering 1,900 injured persons, were all travelling below 63 m.p.h. and the majority considerably below. This was, therefore, a peculiar use of a random statistic taken from a report which reached very different conclusions.

That is all I want to say about motorways. As to other roads, much of these arguments equally apply.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Samuel Storey)

The right hon. Gentleman cannot deal with other roads on this Prayer.

Sir M. Redmayne

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That will save the time of the House. I have said enough even in that one sentence to make my point and I can return to it on some other Parliamentary occasion.

My remaining comments refer to the 30 m.p.h. advisory limit. It has been little used since it was enforced, and that is a good thing, because conditions have not made it necessary. When it was used, I was rather surprised that so much comment was made of the fact that drivers were on occasion driving faster than 30 m.p.h. Newspaper comments pointed out how many vehicles swept past their reporters who were driving at 30 m.p.h. Clearly, they misapprehend the purpose of the Order, as is clearly set out in Regulation 4, that a driver shall obey the flashing signs and drive at a speed which does not exceed 30 miles per hour and is safe having regard to any hazard which he may encounter until it is safe for him to drive at a greater speed. That is clearly set down. It means simply that having had warning of a hazard, if the hazard is observed the driver can therefore judge what speed is safe, or if, for example, the hazard is fog and the fog is sufficiently clear for him to drive at more than 30 m.p.h., he is at liberty to do so with reasonable caution So much for that point. It needs to be made clear.

On previous occasions, I have put to the Minister a different suggestion about how the fog hazard could be met: that was, by a chain of lights down the centre divide. I should like to draw the attention of the House and of the Minister to a very good article by Raymond Baxter in the Autocar of 31st December describing a chain of low voltage lights, which were an improvement on what we talked about previously, which would achieve a desirable form of fog lighting in getting the driver's eyes away from over-concentration upon a close object—probably another car's rear light or the shadow of his own headlights in the fog—and keeping them searching out into the fog at a distance which would give him a reasonable chance of avoiding trouble.

We are highly critical of the 70 m.p.h. speed limit on the motorways. We believe that it will be proved that other roads should be treated on their merits. That is what I was not allowed to say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but now, thanks to you, I have said it. Thirdly, we suggest that the advisory 30 m.p.h. limit should be interpreted as laid down in the Order and not in the advertisement, because the advertisement says nothing about the driver's judgment in the matter.

We all know that the point has been made that the Minister is not a motorist, and I would not dream of making a point of that, except this. I ask her to be sure that when she makes up her mind, she is advised by those who are best able to give her expert, sane, unprejudiced advice—thousands of sensible people, of whom I am only the spokesman.

10.55 p.m.

Mr. Daniel Awdry (Chippenham)

I wish to make only three points on the subject of motorways, but I should like to say at the beginning that I really do believe that this experiment is totally misconceived. I realise that there is a need for some restriction on motorways in conditions of fog—we all realise that—but that really does not justify the total restriction in good weather conditions.

My first point is on the question of danger. As a result of this restriction there will be a tendency for drivers to drive up to the limit of 70 m.p.h., and that will produce bunching. My right hon. Friend fully developed this point and I do not wish to enlarge upon it, because other Members probably wish to speak, but the real trouble with bunching is that when an accident does occur more vehicles are involved and the accident is far worse. I speak with some experience because I drive quite regularly on the M.4 motorway. This bunching, I believe, will cause great difficulties, because people will tend to try to pass a line of traffic on the inside.

My second point relates to the experiment itself. I ask the Minister to give us tonight an assurance that no permanent regulations will be imposed till a full report of the results of this experiment has been published, and all the interested organisations have been given an opportunity to comment on it. I myself very much doubt whether a short experiment of this kind is capable of giving a conclusive result one way or another, and I ask the Minister to give us one further assurance, that she does not intend to extend the period of the experiment before she publishes the report.

My third point is on a slightly different aspect. Obviously, motorways were built to enable people to drive more quickly. This step will restrict the fastest cars of our country to half their maximum capacity and speed. I believe that this will discourage the development by the motor industry of new, high-performance models, and this is a field in which we have a very substantial export success. This is a serious point: a permanent limit of this kind would have an adverse effect on vehicle design.

I have received a number of letters, as has my right hon. Friend, and all the letters I have received unanimously condemn these Regulations, which I personally believe to be a step in the wrong direction.

10.58 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Rowland (Meriden)

I trust that hon. Members on both sides do not regard this as a party matter. I must say that the growls from the supercharged Members opposite make me wonder whether this is a party matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "No. Why?"] I am glad to know that it is not, but there does seem to be an unfortunate correlation between all those who wish to drive fast and hon. Members opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Well, I trust that we may have somebody opposite defending these Regulations. As I have said, I trust it is not a party matter.

Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We have a very short time for this debate, and I think that we should come to the Regulations.

Mr. Rowland

If hon. Members opposite had not risen so quickly I should have been able to come more quickly to the Regulations.

I wish to speak in favour of the Regulations and against the Prayer to annul them, partly from my own experience in driving up and down the Ml, but, even more so, from my driving experience in the United States. I have driven about 20,000 miles in the United States, from coast to coast, and in 41 States.

There seem to be four main lessons. First, that American cars tend to be more equal with one another. That is something we are gradually moving to here. Secondly, in the United States driving is much more a routine matter, and this, again, is something to which we are tending in this country. People drive at a much earlier age than before, and people are much more likely to own cars. Gradually, this is becoming the pattern here.

Thirdly, in America there is much more flow of traffic at an even pace, and this has, undoubtedly, cut the accident rate. Fourthly, it is my experience of driving in the United States that in the States driving is not, as it were, fraught with the competitive spirit, as, to some extent, it still is in this country.

We must face the fact that, given that the United States has a speed limit on all its roads—and if I remember correctly none is above 70 m.p.h. and in some states they are as low as 65 m.p.h., and less than that at night—the situation has been produced there in which the accident rate per passenger mile is considerably lower than it is here. This has not seemed to deter significantly the exports of British cars to the United States.

That is why I am pleased that this Order was brought in by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Tom Fraser). I only regret that it was not brought in much earlier. It has taken us far too long to learn the traffic lessons that America is able to give us. She is ahead of us in practically every respect in dealing with the problems of the motor car. She makes mistakes, but she also has successes.

Miss J. M. Quennell (Petersfield)

Is the hon. Member aware that if the population density of the United States were applied to this country we should have a population of 2½ million?

Mr. Rowland

I am fully aware of this, but I am comparing the number of cars and the number of miles the Americans travel with the number of accidents they have. The hon. Lady has a point, but it does not explain the fact that even in the most densely populated parts of the United States—Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Boston—the accident rate, on admittedly better road system, is lower than it is here.

We are gradually going to move into a situation where we shall have much denser traffic travelling between London and Birmingham and London and Nottingham, with cars travelling at roughly the same speed, one with another. Some hon. Members may call this bunching, but gradually we shall have to accept traffic flowing at very much the same speed along the whole route.

Since this limit came in driving has been more relaxed rather than more intense on the Ml. I now find fewer flashing lights on the outside lane, because there are fewer cars coming up at 90 or 100 m.p.h. while I am overtaking at 70 m.p.h. This is a good deal more relaxing than it was before.

I take issue with the point made by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry), who suggested that we should not extend the experiment because we will not know what the statistics prove. The moral of the situation is that if we are not sure by 13th April what the experiment has shown we should continue it. I do not suggest that we should make the 70 m.p.h. limit permanent—that would be bad logic—but if, come April, we are still not sure what the experiment has shown I am sure that any fair-minded person would agree that we should extend it.

We must bear in mind, also, in assessing the statistics in these three or four months and comparing them with the same three or four months last year or the year before, that there is now an increased traffic density and that we might have a situation in which the accident rate went up slightly despite the 70 m.p.h. limit, whereas it would have risen still more had there been no 70 m.p.h. limit. I trust that my right hon. Friend will bear this point in mind in assessing the figures, and will realise that we are only stepping into line with the nation which is by far the greatest experience in coping with the problems-of the motor car. The experiment should continue if we are not sure what the results are in a few weeks' time.

11.5 p.m.

Sir Clive Bossom (Leominster)

I wish to make my position clear at the beginning of my speech. I was wholly opposed to the 70 m.p.h. speed limit on the motorways, and for the same reason as was put forward by Mr. Wilfred Andrews, Chairman of the R.A.C., who pointed out yesterday that it can be proved that the great majority of accidents in this country occur at speeds below 40 m.p.h.

So far, no evidence has been produced in relation to the 70 m.p.h. limit. The Ministry, in its wisdom, instituted this experiment. I am never against experiments if they are going to cut down the loss of life or improve road safety. However, very begrudgingly, I was willing to let it have a fair trial if it went on until only 13th April. Most people said at the time that the decision was ill-considered and far too hurried. Most hon. Members have received a large postbag of letters from motoring clubs and other organisations expressing unanimous disapproval of what they consider yet another restriction on the motorist.

At Question Time on 9th February, the Minister was unable to give me any assurance that she would remove this restriction on 13th April. I hope that she will state tonight what information she is asking for, and whether conclusions will be based on full scientific assessment or just on "hunches". If the conclusions and statistics are not satisfactory—and many of us believe that the Road Research Laboratory, the police and the motoring organisations will not have enough time to form definite conclusions by 13th April—what is the Minister planning to do in that case? We must know that tonight.

We have had many arguments tonight about "overtaking", "bunching" which caused the multiple crashes. The hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Rowland) mentioned America. Driving on high speed roads in America at a constant speed in nose to tail queues, I found, in the end, led to lack of concentration. Many accidents there occur because of drowsiness and boredom caused by driving at constant speeds. What we must bring home to the Minister is that it is no good having speed limits which are hard or nearly impossible to enforce—and this limit will be one such. Motorists will soon realise that that law cannot be fully enforced, and will gradually take little or no notice of it. This will harm relationships between public and police, which is something we do not want.

I ask the Minister to take a long, close and scientific look into this question before she makes up her mind. She must not continue to impose the restriction, even experimentally, unless there is clear evidence to justify it.

11.8 p.m.

Mr. Eric G. Varley (Chesterfield)

I do not know whether I heard the right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) correctly, but I think that he said that the experiment was not for a long enough period—

Sir M. Redmayne indicated dissent.

Mr. Varley

I obviously did not hear him correctly. Judging from the many Questions we have heard in the House, the Opposition, or some hon. Member speaking for it—

Sir M. Redmayne

I could not think that the hon. Member was referring to me, because I said nothing of the sort. He will see that.

Mr. Varley

I thought that hon. Members speaking on behalf of the Opposition have said this from time to time.

I, too, have received many representations from my constituency about this limit. I have answered the criticisms by saying that we must see how far we can reduce the appalling loss of life which is taking place on our roads. As a motorist, I am convinced that there is something in the argument that the limit produces "bunching" on motorways. Before the limit is made permanent the House should have more evidence about its effect and about whether or not it is reducing road accidents.

However, I am in favour of the experiment continuing until it is made abundantly clear that a speed limit is necessary. I hope that my right hon. Friend has an interim report on this matter to give us tonight. It is causing concern. I receive possibly—I say this with some hesitation—more correspondence from my constituency on this matter than on any other. It is certainly a live issue in the country.

11.10 p.m.

Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)

I have received a number of letters from my constituents protesting about this speed limit, although I must confess that the Ministry of Transport has not paid very much attention to motorways in Dorset as yet.

I do not like the Regulations, and I would raise three objections to them. First, the 70 m.p.h. speed limit is such a very blunt instrument. It completely fails to differentiate between one type of private car and another. The hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Rowland) spoke a great deal about his experiences in America, but he has utterly missed the point that most American cars are designed to travel at more or less the same speed, whereas here we have everything between very low-powered cars and very high-powered cars.

The hon. Member went on to speak a great deal about supercharged cars, but he obviously does not know much about cars if he thinks that there are many supercharged cars in this country.

Mr. Rowland rose

Mr. Wingfield Digby

No, I cannot give way.

I have what the hon. Member would describe as a supercharged car outside the House. It travels at a maximum speed of 145 m.p.h., of which the hon. Member disapproves. I have another car which I normally drive about London, and it has a maximum speed of 70 m.p.h. I cannot believe that I am equally safe in either car at 70 m.p.h. It might be said that I should not drive the slower car at more than half the speed.

The point about these kind of Regulations—one can see it coming down the Ml—is that the maximum speed becomes the minimum speed. Every driver considers that, whatever car he is in, whatever its capabilities, whatever its road holding, whatever the skidding conditions, he has an absolute right to travel at 70 m.p.h. and that somebody in a very much faster car has no right to pass him. Many of these points were very well dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne), who has used a great deal of observation in travelling up and down the M.1.

The second thing that I do not like about the Regulations is that they are unenforceable. We already have far too many speed limits which are not enforceable. In the long run, laws which are unenforceable do not do anything except bring the entire law into doubt. We cannot enforce the 30, 40 and 50 m.p.h. speed limits. It is no use going on imposing new limits when the old ones are unenforceable.

I put a Question to the Home Office asking for the ratio of patrol cars to all road vehicles today and 20 years ago. It had no idea. However, I would not mind betting that the ratio of patrol cars is now very much lower. If one has speed limits one must enforce them, and I am sure that we need far more patrol cars than one ever sees at the moment going up and down the M.1. The mere presence of patrol cars leads to very much more careful driving. If one sees the car in front suddenly driven more carefully, one can bet that the driver thinks that he has spotted a patrol car.

The third point—it must be made again—is that speed is not the major cause of accidents. This has been brought: out very well. I have here a paper entitled "The Dilemma on the Roads: Traffic or Safety?," by Mr. J. J. Leeming, who was the County Surveyor in Dorset for a long time. He has written a number of papers on the subject. He has produced some very interesting figures in a table. These show the results of various types of road changes. The table shows that alterations to the road surface reduce accidents by 88 per cent. and other types of changes in the road surface reduce accidents by 65 per cent. But the imposition of a 30 m.p.h. speed limit—there was no 70 m.p.h. speed limit in those days—reduced accidents by only 24 per cent. The only thing which reduced accidents less was double white lines, which is, perhaps, rather disappointing.

To return to an old hobby horse of mine, I believe that this debate has shown not so much the need for a maximum speed limit as the need for a minimum speed limit.

11.15 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mrs. Barbara Castle)

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) began by saying that he believed a number of people among those outside this House were surprised that the Opposition should pray against these Regulations right in the middle of the experiment. I am one of those who were surprised that he should pray against the Regulations, but I think that the one thing that this debate has revealed quite clearly is that the Opposition are now completely opposed to this experiment—

Mr. Timothy Kitson (Richmond, Yorks)

What about the other side?

Mrs. Castle

No voice has been raised from this side opposing the experiment.

I am deeply shocked by the opposition that has been expressed. I should have thought that the whole question of road safety was of such importance that our motorists and drivers would have been prepared to wait for at least four months in order to see whether some of the surmises that have been ventilated, or some of the points made, were actually sustained by the result of systematic observation of driver behaviour, the question of bunching-up, and so on, and until the results of that systematic observation—which must be more important than any isolated example of personal observation—have been received in my Department, have been studied by the Road Research Laboratory, and have been reported on fully to the House.

It was interesting to hear some of the points made by the right hon. Gentleman, but it became clear that what we were having was open hostility to this experiment—

Sir M. Redmayne

The Minister must understand. What other opportunity have we to express these views? This is our only Parliamentary opportunity until she comes to the stage of considering the end of her experiment.

Mrs. Castle

I have explained to the House—I did so at the last Question Time—that the material will be made available by the middle of March, and that I shall before the end of the experiment on 13th April, give a full report to the House on my decision, and the reasons for it. I should have thought that it was little to ask that we should wait for this information to be obtained.

The opposition that is now being voiced has not been voiced at any time when consideration was undertaken as to whether there should be this experiment—on the contrary. This idea that we should experiment on speed limits in order to meet various developments is nothing new. This experiment was not a whim just cooked up by Her Majesty's Government. It is the result of study over the years of what has happened in this country and in other countries on motorways and other high-speed roads, and study of certain recent developments.

I was interested to see that as long ago as 1st July, 1964, a couple of hon. Members—one from each side of the House—asked the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport whether he would impose a 100 m.p.h. experimental speed limit on the motorways. The Parliamentary Secretary replied: No. We are keeping under review the possibility of a speed limit on motorways. If we do introduce one it will be lower than 100 miles per hour."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July, 1964; Vol. 697, col. 215.] We also had the experiment of a 50 m.p.h. speed limit at weekends, which was carried out between 1961 and 1964.

We have had this evidence from other countries of the effects of either a speed limit or of its removal. The American figures that we have used have been queried. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that the American report to which he refers covers high-speed roads, if not actual motorways.

Sir M. Redmayne indicated dissent.

Mrs. Castle

I am sorry, but that is the position. I also point out that there has been experience from other countries. Germany tried an experimental speed limit in a certain period on a section of the Frankfurt-Mannheim autobahn. The speed limit was lifted, but not because it did not have the result of reducing accidents. On the contrary, the effect of removing the speed limit was a sudden and dramatic increase in the number of accidents. The number increased by 35 per cent. and the numbers of those killed and injured by 43 per cent. and this for an average traffic increase of only 9 per cent. Because of that there has been a growing feeling in this country that it is worth having an experiment to see whether speed is a major contributory factor in the level of accidents.

It will not be my advice which will decide the issue, but the evidence we shall get. Therefore, I do not want to give arguments in advance of the result of the experiment. I have a completely open mind about it, but I have not an open mind about the desirability of having an experiment. We all know that this matter was brought to a head by that terrifying series of multiple crashes last November on the motorways. There were three accidents involving 65 vehicles, five were killed and 30 injured. I say categorically that everybody in that situation was prepared to try any experiment that might contribute to avoiding a recurrence of that kind of horror on our roads.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Tom Fraser), who was then Minister, would have been under fierce attack from the House if he had not examined every possibility of preventing that kind of terrifying accident from recurring. Then the voices of all who have a right to be consulted on this issue were overwhelmingly in favour of this experiment. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary met the Lancashire and Staffordshire police on 8th November, three days after the accidents when the country was still reeling with the horror of those multiple crashes. They were strongly of the view that excessive speed was responsible for those accidents and in favour of an experimental speed limit on motorways.

Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)

Will the hon. Lady say what assistance there would be in having a 70 m.p.h. speed limit to prevent accidents in thick fog? That I fail to see.

Mrs. Castle

This all arose from the incidence of fog. The arguments which the police and others advanced was that if we are travelling into an area of hazard it is important that the speed differential should be reduced so that there can be quicker reaction. I have not the time to go into the technicalities. I am merely reporting to the House that the police of Lancashire and Staffordshire, were overwhelmingly in favour, arising from that experience, of an experimental speed limit on motorways and suggested 70 m.p.h. on the basis of American experience.

A few days later my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton met chief constables and others, including representatives of the motoring organisations. The general consensus of their views was that this experiment ought to be tried in the interests of safety on the roads.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham) rose

Mrs. Castle

I am sorry, but I have only two or three minutes left and I shall be criticised if I do not reply to some of the points which have been made.

I turn to questions put to me by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry). He asked for an assurance that no speed limit would be made permanent before the full report on the experimental period had been published and debated. There is nothing to hide. I am not trying to prove a particular line of argument except to justify the experiment.

I want to tell the House quite frankly the position as I see it. It might well be that the Road Research Laboratory, which is collating the data on accidents which the police are giving it direct every week, might report to me in due course that it did not think that the experimental period was long enough for it to form a valid view. This would depend on whether or not the accident figures showed a substantial reduction, whether there was a substantial effect or a strong indication of the trend of accidents. It might say that the evidence was inconclusive. If it said that, it would then be for me to judge whether, in the light of other evidence from the police of driver behaviour and all the other information coming in, the experiment should be continued for a further period.

If I decided that it was desirable to continue the experiment, I should have to lay a fresh Statutory Instrument before the House which could then be prayed against. But before I did so I would report to the House fully what the findings of the Road Research Laboratory were and the reasons for the conclusion which I had reached. It would be only if the evidence were conclusive enough that I would even consider making the Regulations permanent.

When I make my report to the House I shall give the House as fully as is possible all the figures of the casualties and all other relevant evidence from the Road Research Laboratory's provisional assessments, which will be available to me in the middle of March, and from the other sources that I have mentioned—police observation of driver behaviour, traffic flow and the rest. Therefore, there is no intention of trying to impose either the continuation of the experimental period or any permanent speed limit behind the back of the House—indeed this would not be possible because the House could pray against the Statutory Instrument—and this is certainly not my desire.

I remain profoundly convinced that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton was very wise in fulfilling his public duty to the road users of this country by introducing the experiment. He ought to be congratulated and supported. I also have reached no conclusion, and I shall not until I have the evidence on which to do so.

11.28 p.m.

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

I serve notice on the Minister that, having heard her and heard so frequently that these things are said to be experimental, we on this side of the House shall want to know, before we let her have the Statutory Instrument to continue this experiment, what objective analysis there is, what evidence will be made public to be examined by disinterested bodies, and all the details on the information in France, Germany, America and the United Kingdom that was contained in the Minister's Press notice of 24th November last.

We shall want to know the detailed statistics on which the experiments were compared, the particulars of the studies being made to assess the results on motorways in varying conditions of roads, of road structure, of dual carriageways, two-lane and three-lane roads, and the steps taken to obtain evidence of traffic behaviour on these varying roads, the tendency to drive to the limit, the evidence of "bunching"—

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Webster

No, I am not giving way.

Mr. Swingler rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Roderic Bowen)


Mr. Webster

As I was saying—

Mr. Swingler

Will the hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Deputy Speaker


It being half-past Eleven o'clock, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question pursuant to Standing Order No. 100 (Statutory Instruments, &c. (procedure)).

Question negatived.