HC Deb 01 March 1978 vol 945 cc433-5
1. Mr. MacGregor

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the question of giving local authorities more discretion in deciding speed limits in their own local areas.

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

Except on trunk roads, speed limits are already the responsibility of local authorities. On principal roads they must consult the Department before making changes, but my right hon. Friend and I are always prepared to listen sympathetically to local opinion, subject, of course, to the general need for consistency on major roads.

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful for that reply. Does the Minister accept that this issue continues to cause acute concern for villages on principal roads in my constituency, the inhabitants of which feel totally unprotected against heavy traffic, including the juggernauts which now speed through them? Is he aware that the main obstacle appears to be the departmental criteria which prevent action on this front? Therefore, will he consider giving responsibility wholly to the local highway authorities and rely on their good judgment and sense, in view of the fact that their representatives see the situation constantly on the ground?

Mr. Horam

I accept that there is concern, as the hon. Gentleman has said. I share that concern. I cannot undertake to give authority and responsibility solely to local authorities, because there obviously is a need for consistency over the whole country. However, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we are having consultations on revised criteria for speed limits. These may well propose lower criteria for obtaining a speed limit, and I think that this will help with the general problem about which I am concerned.

Mr. Bagier

Will my hon. Friend say what he means by "local" when he talks about local authorities? Is he aware that the Tyne and Wear metropolitan county authority, for example, which has insisted on increasing speed limits on various roads throughout the metropolitan county, is being opposed completely and absolutely by the representatives of both authorities inside the Sunderland borough authority within the metropolitan county? Their opinions are not being taken notice of and they are being overruled by the metropolitan county council, with apparently no further appeal. Will he look at this problem?

Mr. Horam

This apparently arises where there is a division of power between the two tiers of local government. It is endemic to the situation. Without any change within those responsibilities, there is little that the Department can do about it.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I appreciate the point made by my hon. Friend and recognise the real concern of local people about these matters, but will the Minister tread very warily in moving away from the principle of there being national criteria, because the essential point is that the motorist should be able to recognise consistency of speed limits wherever he is?

Will he also make known to the House at a fairly early stage what sort of changes he has in mind in the number of vehicle and passenger movements in suggesting altered criteria?

Mr. Horam

I have not suggested that we were moving away from a necessity to have national criteria. That remains the case. I think I made that plain in my earlier answer. However, I certainly feel that local authorities should bear in mind their responsibilities and should take account of local opinion, which can be strong in these matters. For example, a parish council, which has very few other powers, may well feel that to apply a speed limit is the one thing it can do to protect its community. On the hon. Gentleman's final point, I undertake to inform the House as soon as we have any firm proposals.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I appeal for shorter questions and answers.