HC Deb 05 April 1971 vol 815 cc181-98

10.17 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)

I beg to move, That the Motor Vehicles (Speed Limits on Motorways) Regulations 1971, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th February, be approved. Perhaps we can discuss at the same time the next Motion on the Order Paper, That the Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limits) Regulations 1971, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th February, be approved. Maximum speed limits for specified classes of vehicles were set out in the Fifth Schedule to the Road Traffic Regulation Act, 1967. Under Section 78, the Secretary of State may, by regulation subject to the approval of each House of Parliament, vary these limits.

The Fifth Schedule set out the limits currently applying to the specified classes of vehicles on roads generally. Under the identical power of Section 24 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, which Section 78 of the 1967 Act replaced, the Minister made the Motor Vehicles (Speed Limit on Motorways) Regulations, 1966, which continued to substitute, for vehicles driven on motorways, a different schedule of speed limits from that applicable to vehicles on roads generally.

The first Regulations substitute two new sub-paragraphs for sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 2 in the 1967 Schedule, so making the following change in limits on all-purpose roads. First, the speed limit of 40 miles an hour, which at present is applicable to goods vehicles, is raised to 50 miles an hour where the unladen weight of the vehicle does not exceed 30 cwt. and a trailer is not drawn. This means that most small delivery vans will be able to drive at 50 miles an hour instead of 40. The reason is that these light vans have many of, though not all, the characteristics of private cars. From their size and performance generally, they are much more akin to motor cars than to lorries. There is, therefore, a strong case for raising their permitted speed limit.

However, it might be argued: If there is a case for raising the limit at all, why not get rid of it completely? But they may be more heavily laden than cars, so requiring longer stopping distances, and the van bodywork restricts the driver's vision more than in a car. Their accident record is somewhat poorer than that of private cars—an accident rate averaging 331 compared with 274 per hundred million miles travelled during the period 1967–69.

The present 40 m.p.h. limit is clearly unrealistic for light vans of this type and is not well observed, and unrealistic speed limits which are not observed cannot be enforced. Removing the limit altogether is not justified on the safety grounds I have mentioned, but we consider that an increase to 50 m.p.h. is a reasonable compromise for this type of vehicle. This should be less frustrating for the drivers of these vehicles and also for car drivers, who will not so often be held up or obliged to overtake in conditions of traffic congestion. The new limit should also be better observed.

The effect of the second set of Regulations is to introduce a speed limit of 60 m.p.h. applicable to goods vehicles exceeding three tons unladen weight when driven on motorways. This means that these heavier goods vehicles, which at present go at high speeds on motorways, will henceforth be required to limit their speed to 60 m.p.h. We shall, nevertheless, be retaining the existing limit of 50 m.p.h. applicable to public service vehicles when drawing trailers. An example of this might be London Airport buses which go on motorways. We think it reasonable that they should be kept within the existing 50 m.p.h. limit.

We shall be retaining the 40 m.p.h. limit applicable to all other motor vehicles, including the goods vehicles I have mentioned, when drawing a trailer which has "less than four wheels", which is the language of the Act—though I cannot recall seeing such a trailer with less than two wheels, such a vehicle would, however, be included—and this will cover horse boxes and what are known as close-coupled four-wheeled trailers.

The 60 m.p.h. motorway speed limit will apply to those classes of vehicles constructed or adapted for use for the conveyance of goods or burden which exceed three tons unladen weight; that is, heavy lorries, motor tractors and locomotives. The distinction between a motor tractor and a locomotive for the purposes of the law is that such a tractor is under 7¼ tons and such a locomotive is over 7¼ tons. These classes of vehicles are prohibited from using the third lane on motorways and are currently subject only to the overall motorway speed limit of 70 m.p.h.

The main reasons for subjecting heavy goods vehicles to a 60 m.p.h. limit on motorways, in place of the general 70 m.p.h. limit, are obvious to those who have observed them in action. First, they require considerably longer braking distances than light vehicles; secondly, their greater weight is likely to cause more damage and injury in the event of a collision—hon. Members will be aware of what can happen on motorways, particularly in multiple collisions—and, thirdly, the tyres of some of them are not suitable for sustained high speeds of 70 m.p.h. or more.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State intends to keep the need for this limit of 60 m.p.h. under review in the light of improvements in breaking performances, maintenance and design.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. John Nott (St. Ives)

A most regrettable situation will be created in the Isles of Scilly if the Regulations go through as they stand. I wish to refer in particular to raising the speed limit for vehicles having an unladen weight not exceeding 30 cwt. when not drawing a trailer. To explain my concern about the Regulations, I have to speak of the background to the case which I wish to put.

There are in the Isles of Scilly five inhabited islands. Four of them have roads which were built entirely by the islanders themselves. The fifth island, St. Mary's, has roads which are used, I suppose, by up to 1,000 people. All but a tiny proportion of the roads in the five islands are owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, and have not been dedicated. They are, therefore, not public roads but private roads. That being so, I assume—and I would like my hon. Friend to correct me if I am wrong—that the islanders may, if they wish, drive in vans at 100 m.p.h. on the private roads—although they are not roads suitable for driving at that speed—and there is nothing short of a bye-law, that the police or the magistrates can do or say to prevent it—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but if these roads on the Isles of Scilly are not public roads they do not come within the Regulations.

Mr. Nott

I was explaining the background, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I will now refer to the public roads.

It is for this reason that 90 per cent. of the roads there are free for drivers to do, within reason, what they like in relation to the Regulations. Nor is any driver driving on them liable to pay vehicle licence duty. However, the remaining 10 per cent. of the roads—and these in total amount to only one mile, in Hugh Town itself, the main town, which has narrow, winding streets—are public roads and therefore come within the Regulations. As far as I am aware, there is no speed limit on the islands, and 50 m.p.h. would be an absolutely intolerable speed at which to drive a vehicle through the narrow streets of Hugh Town. Just as intolerable to the islanders is the fact that they have to pay vehicle tax because of the bureaucracy existing in the Ministry of Transport.

In the Isles of Scilly there is for some of the time only one policeman. There are normally two, but at present the policemen there are very concerned with the imposition of vehicle licence duty—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that at this stage I should ask the Minister whether in his judgment these Regulations apply to the Isles of Scilly at all.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Far be it from me to advise the Chair. I always feel that my hon. Friend is in order. He may perhaps have strayed a little, but I must leave it to your judgment, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Nott

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, there are public roads in the Isles of Scilly to which the Regulations apply. There can be no doubt about that. If I have it wrong, I would very much welcome your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because if they are not public roads, vehicle licence duty does not apply in the Isles of Scilly either.

On the public roads in the Isles of Scilly, which amount to about one mile, about 10 per cent. of the total roads of the Isles of Scilly, the islanders are being asked, as from last week, to pay vehicle licence duty for the first time because of the Act passed during the period of Labour government. Vehicle licence duty does not have to be paid if an individual does not drive for more than six miles on a public road in any one week. The police, who are meant to be enforcing these Regulations in the future, may be engaged in trying to measure whether the islanders are, or are not, driving six or more miles per week on the public roads in the Isles of Scilly. For that reason they are quite unable—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order All this is quite out of order. None of this can possibly apply under these Regulations.

Mr Nott

The opening paragraph clearly says that these Regulations have been applied … after consultation with representative organisations in accordance with section 107(2) of that Act …". Did the Under-Secretary consult the Council of the Isles of Scilly before introducing these Regulations? After all, the Council is, I believe, a licensing authority, and therefore, presumably, will have some authority to apply the Regulations in the Islands. Did the Under-Secretary consult the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club about the manner in which the Regulations might apply on the public roads of Hugh Town?

It is not reasonable that vehicles should be driven at 50 miles per hour instead of 40 miles per hour, which is what the Regulations are about, through the narrow, winding streets of Hugh Town in the Isles of Scilly.

It may seem strange that vehicle licensing, and the Regulations, should apply to the Isles of Scilly. Indeed it is. In the case of the vehicle tax, which started last week, an official has been nominated from Cornwall through the good offices of the Under-Secretary's Department. He sits in the town hall of St. Mary. There is a board outside, which states—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am afraid that I must remind the hon. Gentleman again that vehicle tax is not in the Regulations either.

Mr. Nott

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for straying momentarily out of order on that point. I return to the question which I posed to the Under-Secretary a moment ago. Has his Department consulted representative organisations about the application of these Regulations to public roads in the Isles of Scilly? During the time of the previous Government there was no consultation with the representatives of the Isles of Scilly about the imposition of vehicle licensing tax. Has the Under-Secretary consulted the representative organisations, as the Regulations require?

The basis of my argument is that the Ministry has arranged for an official to go to the Isles of Scilly. That official has been sitting there now for 10 days and has been waiting for islanders to come along and pay vehicle duty.

Mr.Deputy Speaker

Order.That will not do at all. The hon. Gentleman is quite out of order in mentioning that sort of thing.

Mr. Nott

Will that official, who has been sitting there for 10 days with nothing to do because no one has been to see him, be involved in the enforcement of the Regulations? The police cannot enforce the Regulations, because their time is wholly taken up with checking whether the islanders have driven farther than six miles a week on the one mile of road that the Isles of Scilly have.

Finally, has my hon. Friend consulted the representative organisations in the Isles of Scilly about this? Are the Regulations being imposed upon the Isles of Scilly as just a piece of blanket bureaucratic coverage? As there is only one mile of road in the Isles of Scilly, and as it goes through narrow winding streets, is it reasonable that there should be a 50 miles an hour speed limit instead of a 40 miles an hour limit?

I think that I can bring my relevant remarks to a close by saying that at the moment the Isles of Scilly—this is a serious situation which nobody in the House should minimise—are in rebellion against the Whitehall Government on the subject of vehicle licence duty. They will be in rebellion, too, against the Regulations.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. They cannot be in rebellion tonight, because it is not in the Regulations.

Mr. Nott

How does my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary think he will be able to enforce the Regulations in the Isles of Scilly, because they are very perturbed about the actions of the Department of the Environment in bringing them within the provisions of the other Transport Acts —the Regulations refer back to a Transport Act—on 1st April?

I repeat that these islands are in rebellion. It is a situation comparable to Anguilla. How will the Under-Secretary restore law and order to the islands? if he imposes the Regulations, which will permit vehicles to travel at 50 miles an hour through the narrow one mile of streets— I repeat that there is only one mile of public roads in the Isles of Scilly—how will he restore law and order in these islands? I am not asking that troops should be sent in to wade ashore and restore law and order. I am asking merely whether the Regulations and the vehicle licensing duty apply to the Isles of Scilly; and, if so, why.

10.37 p.m.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

I had what I thought were two simple questions for the Under-Secretary. However, I, in common with other hon. Members, have become so involved in what is happening or what is not happening inside or outside the Isles of Scilly that I shall be lucky if I reach my two simple questions. However, I will try to make them less complicated than the questions asked by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott). If we can have an assurance that these Regulations have not been introduced especially to bedevil life on the Isles of Scilly, that at least will be gratifying.

I have two questions arising on the Motor Vehicles (Speed Limits on Motorways) Regulations. First, what consideration has been given to the circumstances that could well apply for heavy goods vehicles coming from the Midlands, the North or the South along the M6 motorway and then along the A580 into the Port of Liverpool. With the coming into force of the Regulations, heavy goods vehicles will presumably be limited to 60 miles an hour.

The A580 is a dual carriageway, with two lanes on each side of the carriageway. In the main, a 70 miles an hour speed limit operates, although in certain parts 30 m.p.h. and 50 m.p.h. restrictions apply. "No waiting" restrictions operate. I presume that on the A580, because it is not classified as a motorway with a maximum speed limit of 70 m.p.h., heavy goods vehicles, which on the M6 —the finest stretch of road in the United Kingdom—will be restricted to 60 m.p.h., will be able to travel at up to 70 m.p.h. This higher speed for heavy goods vehicles will operate on a much less effective road which is much more congested and which has traffic islands and roundabouts. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will tell me whether this will be the case. It will be extraordinary if it is the case. Or it may mean that in future on the M6 and on the A580 heavy goods vehicles will be able to travel at 60 m.p.h.

My second question also I relate to the M6, the motorway which I know best. Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether the normal restrictions on the class of vehicle able to use the outer lane of a three-lane motorway will apply? I take it that we do not want to see a heavy goods vehicle coming on to the outer lane, with its maximum speed limit of 60 m.p.h. One can imagine the congestion, bottle-necks or collisions which that would create.

I leave my questions there. First, what is the effect of the Regulations as regards a heavy goods vehicle coming off the motorway and on to the A580? Second, what is the effect, if any—sI assume there is none—on the rules governing the use of lanes by heavy goods vehicles on motorways?

10.41 p.m.

Mr. Idris Owen (Stockport, North)

My only claim to be able to offer any comment in this debate is that I hope this year to have completed 750,000 miles on British roads since I first started to drive a motor car.

I am disappointed at the Minister's rather timorous approach to Schedule 5 of the 1967 Act. He has introduced the 40 m.p.h. and 50 m.p.h. speed limits for two classes of vehicle on derestricted roads. Will he give consideration to introducing a third class; that is, vehicles not capable of carrying more than 5 cwt., and raise the limit in their case to 60 m.p.h.?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt, but the hon. Gentleman may not suggest that the Minister do something that is not actually in the Regulations.

Mr. Owen

I understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am disappointed that the Minister has not raised the unladen weight speed limit above 50 m.p.h. for vehicles with a carrying capacity below 5 cwt. There are many such vehicles on British roads which have been purchased by ordinary working chaps, and they are often used as private motor cars. One has only to travel about to see them beating a trail to the seaside in the summer, for example. Such vehicles are quite capable of being driven at speeds in excess of 50 m.p.h. with safety. If we are thinking in terms of danger, a Mini car, fully laden with passengers and luggage, is every bit as dangerous as a 5 cwt. pick-up with two passengers in the front and no goods in the back. I respectfully suggest that the limit should be lifted to 60 m.p.h for this class of vehicle.

Insufficient attention has been given to the problem of bunching. One of the great problems which I have experienced in a little competition motoring and many years of ordinary driving has been the growing problem of bunching. It has developed greatly of recent years, due to the intense flow of traffic. The more we can segregate traffic, the better in the interests of safety. For this purpose, it is of advantage to have different classes of vehicle with varying speed limits.

I return again to the question of the small vehicle to which I have referred. It is now designed, virtually, on precisely the same chassis as its equivalent motor car. I plead again that this small vehicle constructed on a specification almost identical to that of its motor car counterpart, should have a higher speed limit allotted to it.

There is an enormous amount of bunching on our roads nowadays. The more we can segregate traffic, the better we can create a more rhythmical flow, with less danger as a result. There should be a modification for the small vehicle, which cannot rank as a danger.

10.44 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Fox (Shipley)

I assure my hon. Friend the Minister that, despite the speeches made tonight, the majority of us welcome these two sets of Regulations. The proposed increase in respect of light vehicles from 40 to 50 m.p.h. is long overdue. It has been ignored for far too long.

I think that for reasons of safety, the majority of people in the industry will welcome the Regulations which reduce the speed limit on motorways. Nothing has been more frightening than the limit of 70 m.p.h. applying to all vehicles on motorways. I should, however, like to know how my hon. Friend proposes to publicise the reduction of the speed limit. We are dealing with a reduction from 70 m.p.h. to 60 m.p.h., and I do not consider it sufficient to intimate this by means of a Press release.

I take it that the Regulations will be effective fairly quickly, and I seek reassurance about this. How does my hon. Friend intend to get this across to drivers who have for so long been driving to the higher limit and will suddenly be faced with a lower limit? I am sure that many of them will not appreciate what has happened in this House. I would welcome my hon. Friend's assurance that other measures than a Press release will be used.

10.46 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)

It is right that the House should consider changes in speed limits, and our short debate tonight indicates the many difficulties that face anyone who has to take such decisions. It is right to try to avoid over-complexity. I had great sympathy with what was said by the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Idris Owen), but the more categories there are, the greater the difficulty becomes.

The other real difficulty is that of having to legislate for a category of vehicle. The test with which we would all be concerned is the capability of the vehicle in question. One cannot determine by specifying a category of 30 cwt., 3 tons or whatever it may be whether a vehicle, which may be 10 or 15 years old, meets the requisite standards of braking and the rest and is adequate for the same speed limit as would be right for a modern, well-maintained vehicle of the same class. I think the Under-Secretary has struck the right balance in the Regulations but I am glad to hear from him that the matter will be kept under review.

While many of the very large lorries are probably capable of the present 70 m.p.h. limit, there are many others that one is reluctant to pass on motorways because one wonders whether they are liable to swerve, and at that kind of speed they look anything but safe.

I find it difficult to understand why, for example, the coach from Cromwell Road to London Airport should be kept down to a lower speed when any old lorry of over 3 tons may travel at 60 m.p.h. I understand that if public service vehicles have a small luggage trailer at the rear, they are kept down to 50 m.p.h. It seems to me that they are as capable of the higher speed as certain other vehicles, and we know that standards for public service vehicles tend to be higher than can be applied to the generality of road transport. I wonder what special reason there is for keeping that class of vehicle down to a limit of 50 m.p.h. when, after examination, 60 m.p.h. has been determined as the right speed for vehicles of over 3 tons.

While one sees the possibility of increasing the speed limit to 50 m.p.h. for 30 cwt. vehicles on ordinary roads, it may be that there is a case for increasing their limit to 60 m.p.h. or making them, like motor cars, subject to the overall 70 m.p.h. limit. It is probably right, however, to err on the side of caution.

There is a great problem here, because wherever a speed limit is imposed, the statistics are such that they always indicate a danger of more accidents. On the other hand, there is no means of measuring the extent of accidents which might be caused indirectly by frustration on the road when a driver has had to travel many miles behind a slow vehicle and then takes a chance because he is late for an appointment or is coming for a Division in the House. When he tries to overtake the vehicle in front of him, another car might be coming in the opposite direction and a serious accident occurs. That cannot be attributed to the fact that a man was held up for half an hour down the road by a vehicle which was quite capable of doing a higher speed.

The real problem in all this is enforcement, which, we know, is not the responsibility of the Department of the Environment. Certainly, if one can tighten enforcement standards, it is right. It is easier to enforce realistic speed limits, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will not rest too much on that argument, because there are many people who feel that the better thing to do is to drive at 5 or 10 miles faster than whatever the speed limit is.

I think it is right that we should give these proposed speeds a trial. No doubt we shall have opportunity of having reports from the Department if it feels that the statistics indicate further changes are wanted.

I am sorry that I cannot be involved in the affairs of the Isles of Scilly, but I can understand the anxieties of the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) in the matter, particularly as, if there is a rebellion, the rebels may well seek to make the first victim of the rebellion the hon. Member for the constituency who supports the Government. I can understand his personal difficulty. If he is worried about 50 miles an hour I would think from his description of one mile of public road than there 40 miles an hour would be dangerous. Maybe that difficulty could be resolved by a limit of 20 m.p.h. and the people should be independent in the matter, but I would not seek to proffer advice, for this is a matter in which they should exercise a proper independence.

Although I think the hon. Member did not intend to do so, he underlined the whole problem with which we are faced in considering speed limits. We cannot lay down speed limits which will be suitable for all the various kinds of roads which we have in this country. There are many thousands of miles where it would be absolute lunacy to drive any car at 50 miles an hour and, clearly, round an S-bend we cannot have a speed limit over a few hundred yards or even a mile.

Mr. Nott

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that it was lunatic—and I think it was done when he was at the Ministry of Transport—to impose a tax which cost more to collect than it yielded in revenue?

Mr. Mulley

I imposed no such tax. On the other hand, if people enjoy the benefits of belonging to a country they should pay their share of the costs of running that country.

A great number of the accidents which occur arise because, unfortunately, where there is a maximum speed limit people tend sometimes to drive much faster than they should, and I am afraid that there is nothing that we in the House can do to stop that, but hope that we shall have from the Under-Secretary of State an indication that there is to be the maximum possible expenditure on the roads for the sake of road safety generally.

With that, I agree that the House should pass the Regulations.

10.54 p.m.

Mr. Bob Brown (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

I do not propose to detain the House more than a moment or so. I welcome these Regulations, or anything which tends to road safety, but I join the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Idris Owen) in his criticism of the timidity of the Department on the question of the 3 cwt. van.

These vans are run by working class families. They use them as means of family transport. It is of no use the Government—or the Exchequer—burying their heads in the sand to avoid this issue. There are many hundreds of these little vehicles which are used by men to travel to and from their work and to take their families out at weekends, and, indeed, to take them on their holidays. It is ludicrous that a speed restriction should still be enforced. To all intents and purposes a light van is a private car. This Government are, and my own Government were, like ostriches on this.

In answering the question which he suspected was coming, about why these vehicles were not derestricted completely, the Under-Secretary of State mentioned safety and vehicle design. Here he let the cat out of the bag. The only danger with a small van is the blind nearside, and all small vans should be designed with a widow behind the driver. This is not done, and road safety is sacrificed in the interests of the Exchequer. Purchase tax becomes payable if a window is put behind the driver. The manufacturers would be willing to produce these vans with a window to give the driver visibility on approaching angular junctions on the left-hand side. The greater hazard of the van compared with the private car is caused simply by this failure of design.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to develop this point. While I know the Under-Secretary cannot answer it tonight, I hope he will undertake to have further discussions with his Treasury opposite number—as I did when I was in his seat—and that he will succeed where I failed in getting a bit of common sense into the Treasury.

10.57 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

did not imagine that we would range quite so widely on these rather limited and technical Regulations. As the law stands we must take them altogether as they stand or not at all. We are not able to amend them in particular.

The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), who speaks with great experience and authority on this subject, made two points. He wondered why we could not remove altogether the restriction on the 30 cwt. van. The answer lies in the statistical evidence about accidents. I have quoted some figures and it would only weary the House if I quoted more, but the objective fact that cannot be burked is that the light van at present has a significantly higher accident level than the motor car, and, therefore, it is right that it should be placed under greater restriction than the private car.

The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Bob Brown) sought to tempt me into Exchequer matters, but I will not be drawn. As things stand, the light van is more dangerous and must, therefore, be subjected to greater restrictions.

Mr.Bob Brown

I would not dream of encouraging any hon. Member to go out of order, but will the hon. Gentleman at least concede that the obdurate nature of the Treasury is causing this further road safety hazard by increasing the accident rate of this type of vehicle?

Mr. Griffiths

I cannot agree with that. Whereas, in the hon. Member's day, the Treasury may have been obdurate, the Treasury today is the soul of resilience, flexibility and good sense. The hon. Gentleman must face it—more accidents occur to this type of vehicle. Although he is right to say that, in practice, large numbers of people use them virtually as private cars, they can be and are loaded to a much greater weight. Therefore, their braking capacity is less than that of private cars, and certain dangers are built into them. A Government Department or the police cannot so easily distinguish between loading to take children to the seaside and loading a substantial amount of goods for trading purposes. Because they are designed and used primarily as trading vehicles, they must be regulated on that basis. We have reached a reasonable compromise after our consultations with the trade.

The right hon. Gentleman's other question was why we were applying the same rules as for heavy vehicles on the motorway to public service vehicles pulling a small trailer. As he said, such a coach would be restricted to 50 miles an hour, as at present. It should be, simply because it is pulling a trailer.

Mr. Mulley

My point was not that there had been any change in respect of the public service vehicle, but that I imagined that these new proposals had emerged from a review of speed limits on motorways. I wondered why the small trailer was thought such a hazard in comparison with large vehicles which can travel at 60 miles an hour.

Mr. Griffiths

It relates directly to the trailer. The heavier vehicles, which are allowed to go at 60 m.p.h. on motorways, are not pulling trailers. Any vehicle pulling a trailer is under a stiffer restriction, because certain other factors come into play, such as manoeuvrability, speed of stopping, winds and so on, affecting the safe speeds which can be reached. After consultation we have concluded that no change is justified in those vehicles, but we shall keep the matter under careful review.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox) welcomed both sets of Regulations and was concerned about publicity about the speed which these very large and sometimes dangerous lorries do on the motorways. Our heavy goods drivers generally maintain a safe speed level and handle the vehicles with great care, but he is right to say that this change should be made widely known, and we shall use our best offices for that purpose. Because he is a very practical man, I would point out to him also that there is nothing so effective as one or two prosecutions to make it known within the fraternity—

Mr. Ogden


Mr. Griffiths

If vehicles were to break the law, surely the hon. Gentleman would accept that prosecutions should take place—

Mr. Ogden

I was taking objection to the hon. Gentleman's proposition that there is nothing more effective than prosecuting someone who by default breaks the law. As someone who was previously adviser to the Police Federation, it was unfortunate that he should say that tonight.

Mr. Griffiths

I do not want to pursue that point. I simply say that if the law is broken, then those who break it must expect to be prosecuted.

Mr. Ogden

But it is not the most effective way of informing the public.

Mr. Griffiths

I did not say that. I said that it was an effective way.

The hon. Gentleman referred to vehicles using the A580 into Liverpool after leaving the M6. The dual carriageway A580 is not a motorway and, therefore, the heavy goods vehicle is subject to the 40 mile and not the 70 mile limit. In addition, on the motorway the heavy goods vehicle is not allowed to use the third lane, and this will continue to be the case. It would be wrong to allow such vehicles to do so. If the speed had been reduced to 60, it would be, if anything, a greater danger to allow them to use the third lane at this speed. I give the House that assurance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Idris Owen) was concerned about the possibility of bringing in a third category of vehicle here; namely, those not capable of carrying more than 500 cwt. The answer to that came from the right hon. Gentleman, when he said that there is a limit to the number of classes that one can bring in, and it is important not to overcomplicate matters by bringing in yet more divisions.

I understand the point my hon. Friend made about bunching. It is of great importance and he speaks there with a great deal of wisdom. But when he says that the ordinary working chap is, in any event, going off on his holiday in this kind of van, that may or may not be the case, although I suspect that he is right. But I think the answer to his suggestion is that the weight which can be carried by these vehicles is of crucial importance. It is not that they are occasionally used on holidays but that frequently they carry heavier weights than cars do, and, therefore, they must be restricted to slower limits than cars. But I emphasise again that this is a compromise we have come to after discussion with the trade interests. We will keep it under review and if after a time it appears that no significantly greater danger is arising from going up to a limit of 50, we shall be glad to look at the suggestion for still further flexibility.

I come now to the suggestions of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott), who spoke so eloquently and vibrantly on behalf of the Scilly Isles. I think that his remarks were skilful in the extreme, although perhaps not directly related to the Order. I am sure that I would be out of order if I sought to answer the whole of his remarks, so I confine myself to saying that the regulations have nothing to do with the signed speed limits which appear on the roads. These are the limits at which vehicles which go on the roads are lawfully permitted to drive. The question of signing speed limits in one of the Scilly Isles also does not arise on the Order. Similarly, we are not dealing with the vehicle excise tax.

My hon. Friend pressed me to tell him what my official is doing in the island. I hope that he is having an agreeable time there but I do not think that it falls within the terms of the Regulations. But, as always, I note what my hon. Friend says. I shall read it in HANSARD and, whether it is within the terms of the Regulations or not, if there is anything I can usefully tell him, I will gladly write to him.

We are seeking to do two useful things. First, small vans at the moment are restricted to an unrealistic level. Forty miles an hour in this day and age for the well-looked-after small vans is too low. I think it could reasonably be increased, first, for the benefit of those who drive and use these vehicles, and, secondly, for the benefit of other road users who frequently, in conditions of congestion, are stuck behind them or are occasionally tempted to overtake them at too great speeds.

I think that the first Regulations, concerning light vans, take us a little further forward. I am sure that for that reason they will commend themselves to the House.

The second Regulations reduce the danger of very large lorries thundering down the motorways at speeds which are too high. Whereas we are all in favour of realistic speed limits—to my mind, that means that lorry speeds should be realistic, too, as and when and if their tyres, mechanical condition, or the driving skills of the drivers permit that to be so—I think that it is common ground that for road safety reasons there should be some restriction on the speeds at which these very large vehicles are now being driven.

I hope that the House will give its approval to these two modest sets of Regulations, one increasing the speed of the small van and the other decreasing the speed of the very heavy lorry.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Motor Vehicles (Speed Limits on Motorways) Regulations 1971, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th February, be approved.

Resolved, That the Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limits) Regulations 1971, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th February, be approved.—[Mr. Eldon Griffiths.]

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