HC Deb 07 April 1976 vol 909 cc417-8
19. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will arrange for his Department to compile an estimate of the fuel saving effected by the 50 mph and 60 mph limits.

Mr. Marks

We estimate that lower speeds, together with other changes in driving behaviour since the oil crisis, are reducing consumption of motor spirit by 3 per cent. to 4 per cent. It is, however, impossible to isolate the effect of the speed limits from other factors.

Mr. Knox

How can the Minister justify the continuation of these speed limits when he does not know exactly how much fuel, if any, is saved by them?

Mr. Marks

I was not aware that exact knowledge was necessary for Governments of either side before they made their decisions. The last survey showed that the proportion of drivers observing the limit was about 80 per cent. It is clear that most drivers appreciate the need for those limits.

Mr. Norman Fowler

Is it not a fact that there is no evidence of substantial fuel saving? Given that the limits cause confusion to the motorist and enforcement difficulties for the police, why not just drop them?

Mr. Marks

We shall examine all the available evidence when the present Order expires on 30th November. As for the criticisms of the difficulties of enforcement, I am aware that the complaints which reach hon. Members are in the main from people who have exceeded the limits and had their licences endorsed as a result.

Mr. Lipton

Has my hon. Friend taken note of recent observations by the Assistant Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis that speed limits should be increased?

Mr. Marks

I think that the Assistant Commissioner was referring to the 30 mph and 40 mph limits rather than the overall limit of 50 mph on ordinary rural roads and 60 mph on dual carriageways.

Mr. Rost

Has not the Minister been advised that regular checking of points, plugs and tyres makes a bigger contribution to fuel economy than a variety of complicated, unenforceable speed limits?

Mr. Marks

I have not had such advice. I hope that hon. Members who have evidence, which the Transport and Road Research Laboratory says that it cannot separate from all the other information, will let me or the Laboratory have it.