HC Deb 06 April 1977 vol 929 cc1198-201
6. Mr. Budgen

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will now make a statement on his proposals for speed limits.

Mr. William Rodgers

Yes, Sir. From the beginning of June the national speed limit on dual-carriageway roads will be restored to 70 m.p.h. On single-carriageway roads the limits will be raised from 50 to 60 m.p.h. Where, of course, safety considerations require it, lower limits will be indicated in the usual way.

Mr. Budgen

Is the Secretary of State aware that there will be widespread public relief that he has at last taken notice of the views of the vast majority of road users? Will he tell the House whether it is the beginning of a review by the Government of all the Acts on the statute book, with a view to eliminating those Acts that are unnecessary, unenforceable and interfering?

Mr. Rodgers

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks—though perhaps he put them in a way that I would not have chosen. These are serious and difficult matters. The whole House has discussed them many times. I think that the House appreciated the circumstances in which, in 1974, the lower speed limits were imposed. When I first became aware of them I thought that they were right, but consultation has indicated, as the House has indicated, that it was time for a change. We have responded to that. I would draw no larger conclusion, as the hon. Gentleman has attempted to do.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Minister aware of the need to encourage local authorities, in conjunction with police authorities, to review local 30 m.p.h. speed restrictions? Some of these were introduced up to 40 years ago, when conditions in built-up areas were different. Does he realise that these limits are now often totally anomalous and that there is often great resistance to altering them—although there is a need for that to be done?

Mr. Rodgers

I agree that limits must be looked at frequently to adapt to changing circumstances and to allow for public opinion—although that is often divided. If the hon. Member has a specific question, I shall be grateful if he will let me know about it.

Mr. Bagier

Is the Minister aware that in the past there have been no speed limit signs on single carriageways? Has my right hon. Friend any estimate of the cost of signposting such roads?

Mr. Rodgers

My hon. Friend has misunderstood. The new speed limits of 60 and 70 m.p.h. will not be signposted, because they are upper speed limits. There will be signposting where there are downward variations for safety and other reasons. It would be expensive and time-consuming to signpost the upper limit.

Mr. Norman Fowler

This is a substantial victory for those who have pressed for change. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of the major reasons why we have pressed for change during the last 12 months is the confusion that has been caused to motorists by having three speed limits at 50, 60 and 70 m.p.h.? Does he realise that although I welcome the reduction in speed limits, because that will give great help to motorists, I regret that the decision was not taken earlier? Will he emphasise to the public that the changes will not come into force immediately, but on 1st June?

Mr. Rodgers

The hon. Member made an important point in his final remark. It should be noted that these limits will come into force on 1st June and not before then, and that the present position will be maintained in the meantime. I hope that the changes will be welcomed. They should not be regarded as more than a victory for common sense in the light of the change in circumstances.

Mr. Penhaligon

Will encouragement be given to the police not to prosecute between now and 1st June, because there surely could not be any greater incentive?

Mr. Rodgers

It would be presumptuous of me to give such advice to the police. Where law exists, it is important that it should be enforced, but it is more important that it should be respected. I am sure that every hon. Member will endorse that view.

Mr. Marten

What is the possibility of an 80 m.p.h. speed limit for motorways? Will the Minister explain why we must wait until June for the new speed limits?

Mr. Rodgers

The 80 m.p.h. speed limit is not being adopted. We are maintaining the 70 m.p.h. limit on motorways because we believe that that is right in the circumstances. There is a considerable job of work to be done in changing from the present speed limits, and it is important that everyone should be aware when the change will occur. I think that the gap is reasonable enough. We are now moving to new limits that make good sense and will, by common consent, be welcomed and respected.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

As it has been suggested that the majority of motorists will welcome the increase and as travelling at more than 50 m.p.h. will be more expensive, does that not throw an odd light on the outcry about the increased petrol tax that was proposed in the Budget? Does my right hon. Friend reject that outcry?

Mr. Rodgers

I agree that the outcry was something of a nonsense. It is a matter of individual choice. It is certainly the case that if one drives at more than 50 m.p.h. in a family car one consumes more petrol and pays higher costs. I assume that those who want to make a saving will take the necessary action and will remain below the speed limit.

Mr. John Ellis

Does my right hon. Friend agree that speed is a contributory factor to road accidents and that as a direct result of his announcement today more people will be killed and injured on our roads? Are we not all guilty of having a schizophrenic approach to this matter? It is no use the House or the public throwing up their hands in favour of safety when such an approach is adopted. Is it not only fair to say that?

Mr. Rodgers

Yes, it is only fair to say that. All of us, including me, suffer from schizophrenia. We want to save life, but we like driving fast. Although we should all travel slowly, with a red flag in front of us, people do not choose to do that. We must strike a balance. It is dangerous in some respects, but that is life.