HC Deb 27 October 1976 vol 918 cc441-3
1. Mr. Bowden

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will make a statement on his intentions as regards the 50, 60 and 70 mph speed limits.

12. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will make a statement on his intentions as regards the 50 and 60 mph speed limits.

13. Mr. Marten

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will now abandon the 50 mph speed limit imposed during the oil crisis.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John Horam)

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Energy—the hon. Member for White-haven (Dr. Cunningham)—told the House last week that the Government intend to circulate a consultation document seeking the views of representative organisations on the national 60 mph and 50 mph speed limits. The decision on the future level of limits will be taken when the consultation is complete. In the meantime, the present limits will be renewed for a further six months. I have no present plans to review the 70 mph limit on motorways.

Mr. Bowden

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment and thank him for that reply. Does he not agree that there is grave confusion about the speed limits, that many motorists do not know the limits for the road on which they are travelling, and that the police are finding it extremely—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is asking a question. Will he please come to the point?

Mr. Bowden

Is the Minister aware that the police are not finding it easy to enforce the law, and will he do everything possible to expedite the review and change the existing limits?

Mr. Horam

I agree that some people do not know the limits. Nevertheless, compliance remains extremely high, and in July this year 81 per cent. of people were observing the law on the 50 mph limit. None the less, I take the general point that in the consultation procedure we must consider whether people are willing to take account of the law. I am anxious that we must not put motorists in a position in which they are overburdened by rules and regulations of which they are only hazily aware.

Mr. Knox

Since the speed limits involved were introduced only as emergency measures, why does the Minister not abolish them now, since the original reasons have disappeared?

Mr. Horam

The original reasons have not disappeared. Petrol is more readily available than it was at an earlier period, but it is still expensive, and by these measures we are making substantial savings on our balance of payments. None the less, we think that there is a case for abandoning them, and that is why we are embarking on the consultation procedures.

Mr. Alexander Wilson

Is my hon. Friend aware of the tragic accidents, many of them fatal, that occur regularly on the A74? Rather than abolish these speed limits will he ensure that drivers adhere to them?

Mr. Horam

My hon. Friend makes a good point. This subject has a road safety content, and is not purely a matter of energy saving. He will be interested to know that on 50 mph and 60 mph limit roads the accident rate, as a result of these limitations, has improved by 10 per cent. I assure him that I am fully cognisant of the point that he makes.

Mr. Marten

How can the Minister say that 81 per cent. of drivers are observing the speed limits? Since the Department, the motoring organisations and other interested bodies must by now have marshalled all their arguments, will he now seek to cut the consultation time to about three months? How many months' consultation was there before the order was imposed?

Mr. Horam

We should like to cut down the period concerned. The period of six months is the maximum, but if the process can be completed at a faster rate, all well and good. The reason why I quoted a figure of 81 per cent. was that it was the proportion that came out of a sample survey in July.

Mr. Tebbit

Is the Minister saying that he regards as satisfactory a situation in which 19 per cent. of motorists ignore the speed limits? Is that the Government's standard for what is desirable or acceptable in obeying the law?

Mr. Horam

It is about the level of compliance that has been observed the whole time. It is very good when applied to the general area of speed limits.