HC Deb 26 July 1974 vol 877 cc2064-72
Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

I beg to move Amendment No. 19, in page 29, line 42, after 'dimensions', insert 'duration'.

The Temporary Chairman

With this Amendment we are to consider Government Amendments Nos. 20 and 21, and Amendment No. 22, in page 31, line 14, at end insert— '(c) no experimental road hump shall remain in situ for more than 15 months'.

Mr. Finsberg

I wish to insert the word "duration" in the clause because I am not certain that we want the "sleeping policeman" as a permanent feature. I said on Second Reading that I had some experience of them in different places when I was on Commonwealth Parliamentary Association visits and that in my view they were not completely safe for both cars and cycles. There is a case for experiment, but the experiment needs to be carefully designed, which is why I suggested to the Minister that the legislation should lay down the duration and say that no experimental road hump or "sleeping policeman" should remain in situ for more than 15 months.

In his generous way, the Minister said that he would consider between Second Reading and the Committee stage what I had said. I observe that he has gone somewhat further than I suggested, and is now talking of a period of one year. For that reason, I need say no more.

I hope that the Committee will decide to accept Amendment No. 19, which is technically necessary. I do not think that the Ministry draftsmen can say that it is not technically correct. In the event of the Minister being able to satisfy us that Amendment No. 20 is technically in order, at the appropriate moment I shall seek leave to withdraw my amendment in order to enable the Government amendment to be accepted.

Mr. Awdry

The Minister will remember that, when we debated this matter on Second Reading, the Opposition expressed reservations about this experiment of "sleeping policemen" or road humps.

There is considerable anxiety about this matter in the motor cycle industry. It is clear that warning will be given when these artificial obstructions are placed in the road. There will be warnings for motor cyclists. However, when the weather is bad, especially in snow, the warnings may not be seen, with the result that a motor cyclist travelling at a fairly fast speed may be unaware of these artificial humps in the road.

On Second Reading, the Minister said that he would be meeting representatives of the motor cycle industry. I gather that he did so yesterday. Will he tell us about those consultations and whether he gave assurances to enable motor cyclists to accept the concept of road humps? This is a very important matter, and there are many motor cyclists who will be listening to what the Minister has to tell the Committee.

Sir George Young (Ealing and Acton)

I believe that I am one of the few hon. Members who regularly ride motor cycles—a form of transport which I recommend to the Committee.

Anyone going over a road hump or "sleeping policeman" in a car finds it uncomfortable. For a motor cyclist, however, it is painful and dangerous, especially if it is placed anywhere near a corner where a cylist or motor cylist is already at an interesting angle. I hope that humps will not be placed near to corners or underneath trees. In the autumn when there are wet leaves on roads, it is dangerous enough, anyway. If there is also a road hump, it is yet another threat to negotiate.

In my view, the clause has been drafted with the car and not the motor cycle in mind, especially the dimensions of this hump. I hope that the Minister will ensure that there is no danger of the footrest of a motor cycle, or the pedal of a cycle, catching on a hump. I hope that he will assure the Committee that a hump goes across the whole width of the road. If it does not, there is a danger of a motor cycle or cycle being tilted where the hump becomes flush again with the road. It is essential to have adequate warnings where these hazards are.

If the Minister would like me to test these humps personally, I should be happy to do so. Perhaps I might invite him to sit on the pillion. I guarantee him a very interesting experience.

On behalf of the motor cycling fraternity, may I press the right hon. Gentleman for these specific assurances?

Mr. Goodhart

I have a double interest in this matter in that there are a number of humps on a private road near my home which have been there for some time and in that there is also a proposal to install a number of these humps on roads in my constituency. I have some reservations about them, quite apart from the valid arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing and Acton (Sir G. Young), the motor cyclist.

There is a problem about foreign visitors to this country. Nowadays, a substantial number of people use our roads who do not have a command of English and who could well approach these humps, however carefully marked they were, without realising what they were about to hit. I wonder what study has been made of the alternative suggestion that, instead of installing a hump where it is wished to slow down motorists and motor cyclists, a patch of road perhaps a yard or two wide should be left unmade. A driver who did not see the sign saying that there was a hump ahead would then be aware that he was approaching something a little rough and would slow down without being thrown into the air.

Mr. Fry

I think that there is room for experiment with these humps, particularly because on many private housing estates where the roads are adopted there is a tendency for all kinds of vehicles to use them as short cuts. I am satisfied that many purely residential areas have road safety problems of that kind. However, we should proceed cautiously with this experiment.

I should not like it to be thought that it is only the motor cyclist who is concerned about this matter. There is considerable dissension among other people. The Road Transport Association, the Road Haulage Association and the RAC have strict reservations. They would prefer that the clause were left out of the Bill and that experiments should take place at the Road Research Laboratory. I agree with them that the clause is somewhat premature.

3.0 p.m.

Many firms, which have constructed and used humps on their own property, not on the public highway, have discovered various difficulties. There have been problems with damage to transmission and steering mechanism. There is also the potential danger to drivers and passengers, which we have all experienced when we have gone over hump-backed bridges which we did not anticipate. In some cases the existence of humps has considerably increased vehicle repair costs. Therefore, I believe that the clause should not go through lightly.

Furthermore, I believe that there is potential danger or loss of right to the road user. I tabled an amendment, which has not been called, about this matter. I am concerned that if the humps are put into operation the highway authority cannot get out of its statutory obligation to maintain the highway in a safe condition and to warn road users that the highway is in a dangerous condition. If we are to experiment—I think it is a useful idea—we must lean over backwards to see that road users are not injured.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I, too, have some doubts about this provision. There are many occasions when a driver's attention is distracted when driving. There are occasions of poor visibility when the signs may not be seen. There are times when snow, especially when it has been blowing in a wind, covers one side of a notice. These humps in the road can be dangerous. I do not know whether I was fortunate enough to have the Minister's attention on the last point. I was referring to occasions of snow being blown in the wind and obscuring one side of a notice, according to which way the wind is blowing. It is easy for notices to be obscured in that way. If a driver is not warned about the humps and goes over them at a fairish speed he can cause damage either to the vehicle or to himself.

This matter has to be approached with great circumspection. It is all very well to carry out experiments on private drivers and small private roads where we may be dealing only with delivery vehicles, but on the public highway different considerations apply.

I am not happy about this matter relating either to motor cars or, much more important, to two-wheeled vehicles. I think that some nasty accidents may occur. I am not suggesting that we should vote against the amendment, but I hope that the Minister will keep an eye on the situation. I believe that we should be prepared in our minds to reverse this decision and to stop the experiment if we do not like the results.

Mr. Mulley

There is a little misunderstanding here. In this country one rather expects that when anything new is contemplated everybody is against it.

Of course, we are quite properly urged by all quarters to do something about road safety and the prevention of accidents. Unfortunately, there are road users who do not slow down, however many notices may be put up, and so on. But notices are one way of helping to give warning of dangers.

We are asked whether we might introduce measures to stop heavy lorries taking short cuts through residential areas, and so on. This might be one way of preventing that nuisance. We have a completely open mind, because this is entirely experimental. It is right that we should have to come to the House before embarking on such an experiment. In any event, we have no powers unless they are granted by legislation, which is the proper way of going about the job. There are no powers to do other than conduct experiments on the authority of the Secretary of State. Therefore, they are open to Parliamentary Questions, and so on. There is a whole list of safeguards. The highway authority has to be consulted, objections can be heard, and so on.

It is necessary to know whether these humps will be acceptable to road users and will serve a useful purpose and that cannot be known if the experiment is conducted only on private establishments. It is necessary to know the reaction of the public in all conditions.

That this is entirely experimental is shown by the fact that, in response to questions on Second Reading, I immediately put down an amendment to require the hump in any particular location to be taken up at the end of a year, because that should be a reasonable time in which to assess its value. These humps must be tested in all weathers, and I hope that nobody driving a vehicle will travel at such a speed in a snow storm as to be a danger to others.

I think that there is some misunderstanding here. We do not claim that we have the perfect answer, but we have in mind something that is different from what one finds in other countries and on some private estates and campuses. The Transport and Road Research Laboratory is trying to find a hump that will lead to some discomfort but avoid damage to the load or vehicle or risk of loss of control. Numerous tests show promise for a hump 12 ft long and 4 in high. The length of this hump in relation to the wheel base and the flattened, gentle profile means that it affects the vehicle itself rather than the suspension and avoids the risk of damage to tyres, exhaust systems, and so on. Discomfort to drivers is progressive beyond a speed of about 15 to 20 mph for a car, and 10 mph for lorries. This lower threshold for heavy vehicles raises the possibility of using the device to deter heavy vehicle drivers from using residential roads as short cuts.

At the other extreme, the effect on two-wheeled vehicles is negligible. Thus the claim that is made cannot be substantiated, and I should be happy to make arrangements for the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) to visit the Transport and Road Research Laboratory and test this device for himself. I cannot guarantee to be his pillion passenger unless we can fix a mutually convenient date, but if I were able to arrange that I should be happy to do so.

The intention is to carry out only a certain number of these experiments. Each one will be authorised by the Secretary of State, and everyone knows that Ministers are answerable to the House for things that go wrong. We want to give this experiment a reasonable run, and if it gives rise to great difficulties I am sure that the Minister concerned will be among the first to ask that the experiment should be brought to an end.

There are no powers to carry out these experiments generally on highways, even if everybody says that they are marvellous. It will still be necessary to come back to the House to consider the matter, and we would do that the moment it was thought that the understandable fears of motorcyclists and others were being realised.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the experiment lasting for one year beginning with the day on which the construction of the hump begins. Does the right hon. Gentleman regard that as satisfactory? Has he thought this through? Let us suppose that the Minister authorises the construction of an experimental road hump and that two days after construction starts there is an industrial dispute which drags on for three or four months during which no work is done on the hump. The right hon. Gentleman will then have only a short period for his experiment, and he will not have the benefit of a full 12 months in which to test public reaction. My amendment suggests 15 months from the date on which the experiment starts. Does the Minister think that 12 months will give him what he wants?

Mr. Mulley

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I was trying to bend over backwards to give assurances in response to the genuine and understandable fears of motor cyclists, motorists and others. These will just be experiments, and there will be very few of them. It is possible that one might be held up by an industrial dispute or something of that kind, but in that event it would not be an experiment at that point in time.

I can see some advantage in accepting the hon. Gentleman's amendment rather than my own, but I am advised—I make no complaint about it—that mine are in the correct form, having been drafted by parliamentary counsel. If the Committee wished, I suppose I could consider a manuscript amendment to make the period a year and a quarter. I should not complain about that, but I think that for practical purposes the period of one year will be sufficient.

It must be understood that these will be experiments. I do not want anybody to think that we are about to build the things all over the place.

I am advised that there is a serious technical defect in Amendment No. 19 in that a hump cannot have a duration. The point of this amendment would have been more apt, I think, even if the wording itself were technically defective, if we had left out any reference to a date. But now we have a definite date, and everyone knows that these experimental devices cannot be there for more than a year, it is not so important to make the reference to duration which the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) had in mind. I hope that he will agree that his point has been met or, indeed, even over-provided for by my two amendments which together do what he rightly had in mind. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing my attention to the matter because, if he had not done so, my amendments might not have been put down in this way.

Mr. Finsberg

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 20, in page 30, line 10, at end insert— '(4A) A road hump constructed in a highway in accordance with this section shall be removed not later than the expiry of the period of one year beginning with the day on which its construction began'.

No. 21, in page 31, line 5, leave out 'Where a road hump is constructed' and insert 'If and so long as a road hump is constructed and maintained'.—[Mr. Mulley.]

Question proposed. That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Awdry

Did the Minister have his meetings yesterday with representatives of the motor cycle industry, and was he able to satisfy their worries on the whole question of the proposed humps?

Mr. Mulley

I did not meet them myself. I arranged, at their request, for them to meet experts in the department. They had several points to raise, and further meetings will be held. I should like to meet everyone who wishes to see me, but in the past few months I have found a great restriction in that there are only 24 hours in a day. The demands of the House in recent weeks have been fairly considerable, too.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 22, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 23 to 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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