HC Deb 17 May 1966 vol 728 cc1271-89

10.38 p.m.

Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the 70 miles per hour (Temporary Speed Limit) (England) Order 1966 (S.I., 1966, No. 372), dated 4th April, 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th April, be annulled. I hope that it may be for the convenience of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if at the same time we discuss the five other similar Motions on the Order Paper in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Motorways Traffic (Temporary Speed Limit) (England) Regulations 1966 (S.I., 1966, No. 373), dated 4th April, 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th April, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the 70 miles per hour (Temporary Speed Limit) (Wales) Order 1966 (S.I., 1966, No. 374), dated 4th April, 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th April, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Motorways Traffic (Temporary Speed Limit) (Wales) Regulations 1966 (S.I., 1966, No. 375), dated 4th April, 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th April, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the 70 miles per hour (Temporary Speed Limit Continuation) (Scot land) Order 1966 (S.I., 1966, No. 378), dated 4th April, 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th April, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Motorways Traffic (Temporary Speed Limit) (Scotland) Regulations 1966 (S.I., 1966, No. 379), dated 4th April, 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th April, be annulled.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

Yes, if the House so wishes.

Mr. Walker

Our reason for putting down this Prayer tonight is that it gives the only opportunity for the House to discuss the Minister's Order extending the period of the experimental 70 m.p.h. speed limit. I thought that it would be convenient for the House to take this opportunity to enable hon. Members on both sides to express any further thoughts they had on the matter, to enable the Minister herself, perhaps, to give some later details and figures drawn from the experiments, and to enable us to discover some of the facts which have emerged in the period of the experiment so far.

Looking into this, we have already received and obtained a number of figures relating to the experiment and its results for January and February. These indicate that there was a reduction of about 19 per cent. in the number of deaths and serious injuries on rural and Class I roads and a reduction of 11 per cent. upon those roads where speed limits already applied.

I ask the Minister to comment upon the apparent contradiction between these figures and the figures published yesterday giving the number of deaths and serious injuries for the country as a whole. These showed that, for cars, the number of accidents was 8 per cent. up during this period and, likewise, this coincided with an increase in the mileage of 8 per cent., which cancels it out.

We seem, therefore, to have the situation where, in those areas of experiment for which figures are given, the figures show a substantial reduction, whereas there is nothing like that reduction over the rest of the country according to the figures issued by the Ministry yesterday. In January and February, it seems, there was a substantial decrease on classified roads and motorways while there seems to have been a substantial increase in accidents involving cars in other parts of the country.

I want the right hon. Lady also to comment upon the varying reports which appear to be coming in from drivers about what has been happening in the experiment. At a recent conference in my constituency, certain people said there had been a substantial increase in the number of deaths and injuries on the motorways. This was contradicted by statements by various chief constables supervising various parts of the motorways. These tended to say, if anything, that the number of fatalities and injuries had been increasing.

What consultations has the right hon. Lady had both before the experiment and since it began with police organisations? In our previous debate on this she said: A few days later my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton met chief constables and others, including representatives of the motoring organisations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1966; Vol. 682, c. 581.] How many chief constables were consulted before this experiment took place? Did the meeting discuss this subject at length? Their view is very important on this matter, which affects the relationship between the police and the public. It has an important effect upon the task of the police in improving the detection of crime and also in supervising various traffic problems.

So far, the public statements made by police officials appear to be somewhat hostile to the imposition of this speed limit. It is true that there have been only a relatively small number of these comments, but I want to know the degree to which the right hon. Lady has consulted chief constables and what consultations are taking place now.

I should also be interested in her comments on the general complaints of an increase in "bunching" on the motorways and whether the reports show that in fact there has been such a general increase. I want the right hon. Lady to comment upon the frequent complaints that people travelling in the outside lane and at the maximum speed limit of 70 are refusing to move to the inside lane because they consider that anyone passing them is committing a crime anyway.

Everyone in this House would deplore such behaviour. I gather that in many cases speedometers are inaccurate. The police, I understand, cater for an inaccuracy of about 10 per cent. Thus, a man can be travelling at 63 miles an hour with an inaccurate speedometer showing 70, causing "bunching" behind him. In any case, if a person wishes to break the law and travel at slightly over 70, it is not in the interests of road safety for a motorist in front to consider that he can stay in the outside lane because his speedometer shows 70. I hope that the Minister would join me in condemning that particular practice as being foolish and silly, and not in any way helpful to her experiment.

Have there been any comments during this experiment about the desirability of further experiments on the basis of a minimum speed limit? There have been many comments in this House about the number of accidents caused by people going too slowly and causing congestion and impatience, and I wonder if her observations of the fast speed limit have resulted in her considering that experiments of this nature might be worth while.

Can the Minister say in what form she will publish the findings on this experiment? It is not sufficient to report the number of accidents or casualties that have taken place, in comparison with previous years or in comparison with last year. I am certain that the Minister will be giving these figures to the House in a few months' time. These figures indicate certain contradictions and it is hard to calculate the true effects.

As far as motorways are concerned, I believe that the latest figures show a substantial drop in the number of accidents and a less substantial drop in the number of casualties. If this is compared with previous years, it will be found that in the previous year the number of accidents increased by a greater amount than the number of casualties. There appears to be a contradiction there in that the casualty position is not being improved by this experiment as much as the accident position and this is in contradiction to the trend shown the previous year.

When the Minister publishes her report upon this experiment, as she presumably will, I would ask her to make particular note to bring out such facts as the degree to which the 70 m.p.h. speed limit has been applied. If one looks at the figures this is obviously a very important factor. Secondly, one has to consider the changes that have taken place as compared with the previous year. For example, if during the period of this experiment there has been a considerable increase in the number of police patrolling on certain motorways, this would have made an impact upon the figures.

Thirdly, it would be interesting to know the estimated speed at the time of the various accidents, compared with their comparative figures in previous years. Were there any changes in roads, before and after the imposition of the limit, by way of improvements? This is an important factor. Can the Minister say whether the installation of new and improved traffic signs, as compared with previous years, has affected the figures in any way? Finally, there is considerable importance to be attached to a comparison of weather conditions. If one looks at the figures published for the January—February period, it would appear that there has been very little improvement in the motorway figures.

Taking the accidents which did not occur in fog, one finds that there was a fall from 51 to 40, but if one looks at the casualties one finds that there was a considerable increase in both fatal and non-fatal accidents in this period, as compared with the same period last year. If one looks at the figures published yesterday for road casualties throughout the country, there is a tremendous fluctuation between January and February. For the two months an overall improvement is shown and for February the figures show a deterioration of something like 8 per cent. This indicates that weather conditions and factors such as this make quite considerable variations in the figures which might not necessarily be related to the 70 m.p.h. speed limit.

This is an important experiment. It is an experiment in which motorists and people concerned with road safety are naturally interested. It is important that whatever conclusions the Minister reaches on this question must be backed by full statistics and an explanation that she is absolutely satisfied that any improvement is related to the speed limit and not to other factors.

I therefore hope that the Minister will be able to take the opportunity of this Prayer tonight to give us further information. My right hon. and hon. Friends will not divide against the Order. Our purpose is simply to obtain more information. so that when the Minister reaches her conclusions we will all have been able to give further thought to this important experiment.

10.51 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mrs. Barbara Castle)

I should like, first, to congratulate—

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

On a point of order. The House will be obliged to the right hon. Lady for being present and replying to the debate, but am I right, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in thinking that it continues until half-past eleven? In that case, I wonder whether it would not be more convenient to the House for the Minister not to reply to the debate until after other hon. Members have made their observations.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mrs. Castle

Had the hon. Member allowed me to get the first sentence out of my mouth, I intended, after an initial courtesy to the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker), in which I was about to congratulate him on the spirit in which he had moved the Motion, to go on to explain that I was intervening at this point, not to curtail the debate—and I hope that I shall certainly not take all the rest of the time that is available—but because I have some very important information to give the House.

Since the Prayer was tabled, as the hon. Member for Worcester has pointed out, I have received from the Road Research Laboratory its preliminary analysis of the results of the first 16 weeks of the 70 m.p.h. experiment. These will be the latest figures which I shall get before I have to decide what to do on 12th June.

I have carefully studied the figures and the advice I have received from the Road Research Laboratory, together with the views of other interested groups, and I have reached my decision on the future of this experiment. It is only fair to the House, therefore, to say this at the outset and not allow the debate to continue in a rather false atmosphere as though this were merely an interim stage of the argument.

As the House knows, the experiment was initiated by my predecessor on 22nd December to last for four months, until 13th April. That decision was taken in a situation in which public opinion had been profoundly shocked by the series of multiple crashes on the motorways and there was considerable pressure in the House upon my right hon. Friend to do something, and to do it urgently, about safety, particularly on the motorways.

The hon. Member for Worcester asked what kind of consultations we had had, particularly with the police, who, as he rightly says, are concerned with enforcement. I was not Minister of Transport at the time the experiment was introduced, but my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary had urgent meetings on 8th November, following the incidents on the motorways, with the Lancashire and Staffordshire police, who were strongly in favour of the experimental 70 m.p.h. speed limit.

A few days later, my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Tom Fraser), had consultations with chief constables and others. At that stage, everyone agreed that it was important to take any step which might relieve the risk of accidents on the motorways and that this experiment should be tried.

In the event, it was probably unfortunate that the experiment started for only four months. There was a straightforward reason for it, and that was that four months was the maximum which the law allowed for an initial experiment upon ordinary roads. That is how the law was framed. It was obvious that ordinary roads, being less safe than motorways from an engineering point of view, should also be covered by the speed limit and that the speed limit for motorways and ordinary roads should be a parallel one. But my right hon. Friend made it clear at the time that, if the four months proved not to be sufficient, the experiment would have to be extended.

We soon discovered that that would be necessary, for two reasons. In the first place, a four-month period for the experiment is not long enough to enable the Road Research Laboratory to assess the results of the four months. There is a time lag. That is why we were able to give only the January and February figures when the time came for us to decide what to do about the first four months of the experiment.

At the time, the January and February figures clearly justified the continuance of the experiment. As the House knows, they were published on 6th April. They showed that, during those two months of January and February, casualties on rural roads had been reduced significantly, with an actual reduction of 8 per cent. compared with the same period in 1965, and, after allowing for traffic increases, an estimated reduction of 19 per cent.

That was dramatic evidence, and the House accepted it. I do not know of anyone who is now suggesting that the 70 m.p.h. limit should be taken off the rural main roads. I do not know of any of our advisers or anyone else in the country who is pressing for that. It has proved itself in respect of those roads. But for the 73 miles of the M1 motorway complex in the same period, the results were less precise. They were less precise for an obvious reason. If one wants to make good comparisons, one has to be able to go back over a number of years. We have not had all the motorways for many years, and the 73 miles of the M1 complex is the only part for which one can go back over a five-year period. The result is that there is a very small number of accidents and casualties, and one has only a short period within which to make comparisons.

During January and February, there was an increase in casualties on the M1 complex, but not in accidents. After allowing for the growth in traffic, the overall accident rate on the motorway was less than in the six previous years, and lower than might have been expected.

It was for that reason that, on 4th April, I made Orders extending the period to 12th June for both motorways and non-motorways. In the normal way, I should have announced that to the House. But, because of the General Election, the House was not sitting. Its right to pray against these Orders was preserved, and that is why we have this Prayer tonight.

The extension of two months has meant merely this. It has enabled the Road Research Laboratory to produce its analysis of the figures for the first 16 weeks of the experiment for the M1 complex, and up to the end of March for other roads. I have placed copies of these figures in the Vote Office, and the hon. Gentleman has had them. These are the figures on which we have to judge the value of the experiment up to 12th June. We have to judge it on all that we have available to us at the moment, though the Road Research Laboratory is, of course, going more fully into the analysis than it can do in this short period.

What do the figures show? They show that over the first three months of 1966 the reduction in the accident rate on rural main roads was consistent with the 70 m.p.h. limit having had a beneficial effect, and the Road Research Laboratory is still working to determine the best method of analysing the figures, taking into account all the factors to which the hon. Gentleman referred, such as traffic volumes, and other factors which may be relevant. It is no good taking the neat figures. They have to be qualified in this way and I assure the House that the Road Research Laboratory is most scrupulous in its checking and analysis of these figures, and it is not going to be rushed into any sweeping statements unless the evidence warrants them.

But what is interesting is that in the later set of figures the position is reversed. The position on rural main roads is less precise, but the position on the motoways seems much more significant, taking the three months figures, than we were able to say on the basis of the January and February figures alone. On the Ml motorway complex, over the first 16 weeks of the experiment the accident rate fell by 16 per cent., and the injury accident rate fell by 18 per cent. compared with the average of the previous five years over the same period of the year.

Mr. Peter Walker

The right hon. Lady said that she had placed these figures in the Vote Office. I am told that they are not available there. I received them only because a journalist asked me to comment on them. They are not available in the Vote Office. It would have been of great assistance to hon. Members if they had been.

Mrs. Castle

I assure the hon. Gentleman that my Department went to a great deal of trouble to reproduce a considerable number of copies and make them available through the usual channels. I am sorry if the usual channels do not work very efficiently, but that is not the fault of my Department.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I received them from the Vote Office only a few moments ago. The Vote Office must have run out of copies.

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

One hon. Gentleman opposite and I went to the Vote Office as soon as the right hon. Lady made her statement about copies being available there.

The man there told us that he was not aware of the figures.

Mrs. Castle

I assure the hon. Gentleman that within a matter of hours steps were taken to distribute these figures to the House, because I was in something of a dilemna. Having received the figures, having considered them, having had my consultations, and having made up my mind, I could have sat here and allowed the House to go through the motions of a debate and then given a stalling answer. Had I done this, in two days' time when I made my announcement I would have been accused of having misled the House. The alternative was to make my announcement now, and to take whatever steps I could in the time available to make the figures available to those interested in the debate. It was a choice of evils, and I thought that the one which I decided to choose showed greater courtesy to the House, because this is not the last occasion on which the matter can be raised.

As I was saying, the injury accident rate fell by 18 per cent., though it is true—and the hon. Gentleman referred to this—that the reduction in casualties was only 2 per cent. But there has been a general tendency in recent years for the number of casualties per accident to increase, and in any case, as Table 6 shows, the casualty rates tend to fluctuate considerably. This is the lesson of Table 6—that the rate fluctuates. Here again, we need more evidence and a fuller study of the problem before we can be sure of the reasons.

All this is proof to the House that the only firm conclusion that we can reach so far on the basis of the period we have so far allowed ourselves for the experiment is that there is no complete proof yet of the value or otherwise of the 70 m.p.h. speed limit. We cannot have it one way without having it the other. There is not sufficient evidence either way, and I am not basing my argument on the fact that any case has been proved either way.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

I can support the right hon. Lady. I went to the Vote Office and obtained the figures. I do not know what the confusion is, but I absolve the right hon. Lady of any discourtesy to the House.

Mrs. Castle

I am very grateful to the hon. Member. I am glad to be cleared in this way.

Although there is no conclusive evidence, there are indications of an appreciable beneficial effect. I face this situation. There is evidence that the experiment has actually reduced the number of accidents both on the rural main roads and on the motorways, but there is also evidence that we need to know a lot more before we can really establish the truth, what then is my duty as Minister of Transport?

Following the receipt of these figures we carried through the usual consultations, and they were very exhaustive. They happened to coincide with today's debate. They were arranged before we knew that a Prayer was to be tabled, and this was one of the factors that led to the speed with which we have had to try to distribute the material to the House. My National Road Safety Advisory Council met today. The meeting had been called some time ago with the knowledge that these figures would be coming forward for consultation purposes.

Again, I am sorry to say, the attendance was small. All the members present were agreed that the experiment should continue on the non-motorways, but on motorways their views were divided. I suggest that this shows that there is no conclusive evidence on the value of the experiment on the motorways on which we can make up our minds finally either way.

This morning my Parliamentary Secretary held a meeting to consider the views of a wide range of organisations interested in the question of a speed limit. No less than 25 organisations were represented. It was a very well attended meeting. The organisations included motoring organisations, trade unions, transport associations, safety organisations, local authorities and every conceivable type of body which might be interested.

It is not surprising that this body was not unanimous in its views. Here again, there was a general acceptance of the need for a further period of experiment on ordinary roads, and a consensus of opinion that a case existed for a similar extension on the motorways. I put it no higher than that. There was also general agreement that if an extension were made it had better be for a worth-while period—sufficiently long to enable the Road Research Laboratory to obtain significant figures and to conduct an analysis in depth.

The hon. Member asked about the police. We take their views very seriously into consideration, because we all know the problem of enforcement, and that the views of the police on this matter are of great importance. It so happened that consultations took place with the police this morning. The Motorways Sub-Committee of the Traffic Committee of the Central Conference of Chief Constables met at the Home Office today to discuss this question of the experiment. I have seen a report of its views. Although the chief constables—here again, the unanimity of opinion is astonishing—were generally agreed on the value of the 70 m.p.h. speed limit on ordinary roads, there was no similar generally agreed view about the motorways. This pattern has revealed itself in all these consultations.

It is obvious that enforcement has not been easy, but the number of prosecutions which have been undertaken shows that any driver who thinks that he can ignore the limit with impunity is running a very great risk. I should like to draw the attention of the House to Table 2 in the figures of the Road Research Laboratory and to the very dramatic reduction which that shows in the proportion of motorists driving at high speeds since the limit was introduced. In particular, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of motorists observed driving at 80 m.p.h. or over.

I think that this shows, therefore, quite apart from the risk of prosecutions, that we have begun to get an observance of the limit and a change in driver behaviour, an acceptance of the new pattern of driving, which the introduction of a speed limit of this kind compels us to adopt.

I admit to the hon. Gentleman that there have been complaints of "bunching", but there is an argument about whether what some people call bunching other people would not call the maintenance of a steady stream of traffic, all going at the same speed, which of course is the pattern which has developed in the United States and helped to reduce the accident rate on their expressways. Provided drivers keep a sensible, safe distance apart, a steady consistent flow is by no means a sign of additional danger.

Therefore, there is an indication that even in the short period of the experiment, drivers have begun to try to live with the limit, and are observing it, even though enforcement may not be as comprehensive as would no doubt be ideal.

The House will realise from what I have said that two things emerge. The evidence is not conclusive, and the reason is that the period which we have allowed for the experiment so far has been insufficient. I am sure that there is one thing on which the drivers of this country would agree—whether they are people who are putting "Castle Must Go" stickers to get rid of the speed limit, or nice amiable people who think that I am not so bad after all. That is that they do not want messing about, with a little here and a little there, a month or so extra. If we are to have the experiment, let us have it. Let us get results which everybody can accept, results which can be seen clearly to point to the course which we ought to adopt. I believe that motorists would accept this view and would in future like to know where they are.

Therefore, I have decided that the right course for me to adopt is to say that the case is not proven, but that there are signs, which I dare not ignore, that the speed limit has helped to reduce accidents, and that therefore I should continue the experiment in its present form, but for a really effective period. The Road Research Laboratory considers that the minimum period in which it can hope to produce really worth-while results is 18 months, after which it must have a little time margin to do the assessment and analysis of those figures.

As the House knows, the trial ban which I am introducing on the use of the third lane of three-lane motorways by heavy vehicles, which begins next Monday, 23rd May, will remain in force for 15 months. I propose to extend the 70 m.p.h. speed limit experiment for the same period, that is, up to 3rd September, 1967. This will cover the August Bank Holiday and the last weekend of the period. I shall, therefore, be laying the necessary Orders before the House before the present limit expires on 12th June.

I give the House this undertaking: I will not lay the new Statutory Instrument until the latest practical date in order to ensure that before the 40-day praying period elapses the House will have had a chance to study the Road Research Laboratory's fuller assessment of the results of the first four months. At the moment we have an interim assessment, and they have always said that they wanted until July in order to make their analysis and that they could then give us a better indication even on the basis of the present limited period. This will be published as soon as possible in July and certainly in time for the House to have it in order to take it into consideration before hon. Members pray against the new Orders which I introduce, if they wish to do so.

I am not making a speed limit permanent. I am merely putting the experiment on the only satisfactory basis on which it can work—the basis which will enable us to have scientific results. I am not persecuting the motorists. But with the evidence before us now, hopeful evidence that perhaps we are having a beneficial effect upon accidents, I could not stand up in the House and say, "It is not conclusive enough, and I shall therefore drop it."

If it is not conclusive enough but hopeful in its indications, then my clear duty not only to the House but to the country is to continue the experiment and in due course to bring the House a full report of its entire results.

11.17 p.m.

Sir Clive Bossom (Leominster)

I go a long way with what the Minister said, but I am not fully convinced that a 70 m.p.h. speed limit is the only answer on motorways. The Minister seems almost convinced, but has she and have her advisers seriously considered experimenting with a maximum speed limit of 90 m.p.h. on our motorways? I believe that at this figure we should not have drivers trying to drive up to the limit and we should not have bunching.

I also believe that in that event we could experiment with a recommended or advisory minimum speed limit. I recognise that there are problems, such as fog, but I should like to see recommended minimum speeds on a three-lane motorway of 40, 50 and 60 m.p.h. and on a two-lane motorway of 40 and 60 m.p.h.

The Minister made great point about asking the police, but I still believe that we could go to the police much more for this information as well as to the three motoring organisations which are driving on our motorways day and night, so they all speak with vast experience. Statistics are important but I hope that thought will be given to the points which I have made, as well as to experimenting with a maximum speed limit. The idea of a 70 m.p.h. speed limit was worth trying, but it was put on quickly and I think that if we raised it to 90 m.p.h. it would be a better and safer system.

While we wait during this long period there are three other matters which the Minister might consider doing. One is that although British motorways are among the best-constructed in the world, still more could be done for safety if we increased the guard rails, especially on the central medians. That is important. Secondly, we need a much more reliable permanent remote controlled warning light system for accidents and adverse weather conditions, and this should be installed. The present system is not very good. Thirdly, we must start a major propaganda drive in this country on the necessity for far stricter "lane discipline" on all our motorways. At the moment, we do not understand lane discipline as do drivers in America. I hope that the Minister will seriously consider all these suggestions.

11.20 p.m.

Mr. Richard Crawshaw (Liverpool, Toxteth)

I will make only one point following my right hon. Friend's statement. It is clear that when one is trying to reconcile the figures relating to one period with the figures relating to another, one is faced with having to take weather conditions into account. I do not believe, however long a period one takes, that it is possible to get identical conditions. I therefore do not believe that it will be possible to really judge these matters or reach a final conclusion even over the period suggested by my right hon. Friend.

The only way I envisage it being possible to get identical conditions is to place the restriction on a motorway in one direction only; in other words, make the restriction apply to traffic travelling in one direction on a motorway so that one set of tracks is restricted while the other is not. That would mean that vehicles would be travelling in identical weather conditions on either side of the motorway. In frost, snow, rain or whatever it might be, the weather conditions would be the same on both sides of the road and one could then, over a certain period, arrive at a conclusion. One would then be able to tell whether the vehicles travelling on one side of the motorway were more accident-prone than the vehicles travelling on the other.

I trust that my right hon. Friend will consider this suggestion, for I believe it to be the only way of arriving at a definite conclusion as to whether a speed limit is the answer to the accident problem and should, therefore, be extended to all motorways.

11.21 p.m.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

I suggest to the right hon. Lady that the attitude—the psychological condition and state of mind—of drivers is so much more important than any regulation that things like speed limits are really only trifling with the problem. There are much more fundamental matters which must be examined before any regulation will solve the difficulty.

We are told that the Road Research Laboratory is analysing the figures and wants more time to study them carefully. That is a reasonable request and I accept it. But it is more important that the Laboratory conducts research into drivers' attitudes, and I understand that the right hon. Lady has arranged for that to be done. I would like to have made these remarks before she addressed the House, but perhaps on a future occasion, when she has received the Laboratory's report, she will go into the psychological aspect more deeply.

The House will understand what I mean when I refer to the attitude of drivers. When people are walking on a pavement alongside a road nobody seems to bother about being one paving stone in front of another person. I am not normally jostled when walking along the pavement and nobody seems to think that there is any exceptional skill or manliness in jostling the other pedestrians. There is no "one-upmanship" spirit among pedestrians.

But such behaviour, just jostling, is the absolute norm on the roads, especially, I am sorry to say, in the United Kingdom. It is not so in France or Italy, and it is certainly not so in the United States. What is even more disturbing is that this type of behaviour is, in my experience, particularly observable among men, but not women drivers, especially in towns. I am told by those who know about these things that this is a classic symptom of sexual impotence; a classic symptom of repressed aggression.

It would be valuable if this were understood by men drivers, who drive along blowing their horns and making terrible noises with their beastly exhausts. If they realised that they were exhibiting themselves not as supermen but as the worm turning they might have a little less enthusiasm to indulge in this provocative behaviour. It is, unfortunately, true that this horn blowing and these loud exhaust noises are particularly conducive to a state of mind in other drivers which makes for accidents because it makes them impatient and angry. I would hope that the right hon. Lady will give a little thought to this and see if she could go beyond the making of rules for road safety.

Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)


Mr. Iremonger

I am sorry but I cannot give way; there are only a few minutes left.

I was trying to ask the Minister, whether, if there is not something in the way of rôle playing activity in which it will be borne in upon people who are becoming motorists that an exhibition of aggressiveness on the road is weak and evidence of a stupid mind, and that it is the calm and careful and sensible driver who shows an exhibition of strength.

We might, at the same time, discuss with the car manufacturers the possibility of their seeing whether they could do something about the tone of the horn in motor vehicles. One might want to sound one's horn as a note of warning, as if saying, "You may not realise I am here, but I would like to go past". Yet we have something loud and aggressive, so that the driver in front thinks, "What the devil is this?" and "What do you take me for?". The motorist behind may be doing something perfectly acceptable in a perfectly gentlemanly way, but he has at present no way of showing that he is not of an aggressive frame of mind.

Could not the right hon. Lady's department, through the Press and the B.B.C., make an approach to the manufacturers to get an understanding of the way in which people's minds work and of the peculiar way in which their minds are shown in their behaviour on the roads? It might do much to achieve a change of heart and to instil a sense of shame about not being careful on the roads. It might also do much more than making new rules or imposing speed limits, and I would ask that, at some time soon, the right hon. Lady might be able to expand to the House on these most fundamental matters.

11.28 p.m.

Mr. John Lee (Reading)

I have to declare an interest because I was once in the terrifying experience of having a crash at 85 m.p.h. and my attitude to road safety is, perhaps, subjective to that. I thought that my right hon. Friend was a little too defensive about the whole business by appearing to wish to be so certain that these rules are useful. The certain fact is that the faster one goes the less control one has over the vehicle and, if one finds oneself in a position where a crash is likely to occur, the less likely is one able to avoid it; and, I would add, the less likely is one to avoid serious injury.

I should like to see a 60 m.p.h. speed limit. We tend to underestimate the way in which, by the time the present road programme is completed, we shall be able to cover any distance in this country very much faster than hitherto. There is also a case for trying out an experiment on different types of road. It is difficult to justify the same sort of rules for motorways, dual carriageway roads, and minor roads all at the same time. I should have thought that there was a case for 50 m.p.h. on single carriageway roads and 60 for dual carriageways; or, for replacing the 70 m.p.h. limit with one of 60.

Time is moving on, so I will finish, but I hope my right hon. Friend will bear in mind what I have said.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

Although these papers were in the Vote Office, and I went there an hour or so ago—

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.