HC Deb 14 April 1981 vol 3 cc157-74

'(1) The provisions of Schedule (Road humps) have effect with respect to road humps.

(2) This section and Schedule (Road humps) come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may appoint by order made by statutory instrument, and different days may be so appointed for different purposes.'—[Mr. Kenneth Clarke.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.52 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This clause, together with the associated new schedule, deals with the matter of road humps—an important though minor road safety feature which the Government hope will be introduced on to appropriate roads in the reasonably near future. They are sometimes called sleeping policemen.

Road humps are raised ridges across the road designed to keep the speed of traffic down to a speed suitable for a particular road. The kind of road humps that we have in mind, being on the public highway, would be strictly controlled. Regulations would need to specify the height, dimension and signing, to make sure that no accidents were mused by motorists coming unexpectedly upon humps and no damage was caused to vehicles by unauthorised humps of a strange shape or size. The Government are satisfied, in the light of research carried out, that, on suitable minor roads, road humps can have a beneficial effect on the speed of traffic and hence on road safety. The kind of road for which they are most appropriate is the small back-street side road, often used as a short cut in rush hours, through residential areas where traffic speed ought to stay down to 30 mph. A properly constructed road hump will make sure that this happens.

There have been experiments with road humps on roads since section 17 of the Road Traffic Act 1974 empowered the Government to install them on an experimental basis. Several road humps were installed and were successful, but because the legal powers to lay them were so limited the road humps had to be dug up and removed and the road surface reinstated after the experimental period. This caused some protest. In the areas where they had been laid they tended to be popular with local residents and with motorists.

Last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant), whom I see in his place, introduced a Private Member's Bill that would have enabled road humps to be laid lawfully by local authorities and by the Secretary of State throughout the country. The Bill passed through all its stages in this House and had reached a late stage in another place when an amendment was moved which this House had no time to consider. My hon. Friend was extremely unlucky not to be able to get his Bill on the statute book.

My hon. Friends the Members for Meriden (Mr. Mills) and for Faversham (Mr. Moate) tabled amendments in Standing Committee to achieve the same purpose. The Government accepted them and promised to bring forward on Report drafting amendments to make sure that the wording of the legislation complied with the Highways Act 1980, a consolidation measure that has arisen since my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central introduced his Bill, to make various alterations designed to satisfy some of the critics—particularly in another place—who were worried about some details last year.

The long new schedule contains the correctly drafted provisions. It also makes sure, that, unlike last year's Bill, there is no question of depressions being installled on roads. There will be only humps, elevated from the road. Humps will be installed only by local authorities on roads subject to a speed limit of 30 mph. In certain cases, approved humps can be put on private highways.

The effect of the clause will not be drastic. I do not think that many humps will be installed. Some local authorities are eager to install them in suitable places. When installed, so long as they follow the prescribed requirements that my right hon. Friend will lay down in regulations they will be treated as part of the highway and not as unlawful obstructions.

Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, East)

I like very much what my hon. and learned Friend proposes. Will this provision apply in Scotland?

Mr. Clarke

Yes. Part of the new schedule expressly applies the law to Scotland. It has been felt safest to set out a whole separate enactment of the schedule in terms appropriate to Scottish law. I trust that it will be as beneficial there as here. I commend the new clause.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

Will local authorities be liable to meet the costs, or will the Department of Transport meet the costs? I am concerned about what costs will be involved. This has not been mentioned by the Minister.

Mr. Clarke

The local authority would meet the cost of any road hump that it wanted to be installed. It would be part of the authority's ordinary transport budget. The cost of a hump is a few hundred pounds. The local authority would have to weigh up, within its transport budget priorities, whether the case for the hump was justified. No extra expenditure by the Government is contemplated.

Mr. Roger Stott (Westhoughton)

The Under-Secretary of State pointed out that the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) tried to bring forward a Bill last year which fell because of a procedural wrangle. We indicated from the Opposition Benches in Committee that we had no objection to the proposals. We still have no objection. I am glad to see that the Government have removed "depressions". That was a minor point of contention.

The clause, as it stands, has the support of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself. To facilitate progress and to enable the House to debate a more serious issue, I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will be brief in discussing the clause.

Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)

I intervene only briefly to express my pleasure that the Government have seen fit to bring this provision within the Bill. A great deal of time was spent last year on my Private Member's Bill, for which I had all-party support. The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) and hon. Members representing all parties supported it. Indeed, the previous Labour Administration were in favour. It was an all-party measure designed to encourage road safety.

It was a great pity that because of difficulties in another place the Bill became bogged down and I was unfortunately pipped at the post. It is good news that the Minister, with the considerable help of my hon. Friends the Members for Meriden (Mr. Mills) and for Faversham (Mr. Moate) in Committee, has brought forward this proposal.

I was startled by the response from the public, who were very much in favour of my Bill when it was going through the House and received some degree of publicity. I was invited to see experimental road humps that had been placed in roads. Residents expressed to me their delight about their effect in slowing down traffic, about improved amenities and increased safety—all factors that have been borne out statistically by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. Those people were horrified when I had to tell them that at the end of a year, unless the law were changed, the road humps would have to be dug up. This was a ridiculous state of affairs and an absurd feature of the law. I am glad that the Government have bitten on the bullet and intend to put this proposal permanently on the statute book.

The new clause will cut down noise and nuisance. It will be welcomed by residents. It is a power that local authorities should possess. They do not need to exercise the power; it is voluntary and permissive. No one is forcing the authorities to do anything. According to researches, 52 per cent. of drivers favour road humps. I am delighted that, although I am not responsible for the new clause, a small measure that I started has come to fruition.

4 pm

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) on having got part of his desires almost met.

I intervened during the Minister's speech because I wanted to know where the money was to come from. Like all Ministers, he said "Well, it is only a few hundred pounds." Of course, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer is concerned, he uses the phrase "only a few million pounds".

Local authorities are always being told "It is only a small amount. It is only a few hundred pounds". However, this is like the question of the cost of living. Almost daily, a Minister who has just returned from the Continent of Europe says from the Dispatch Box that this or that is going up in price—"but it is only 1 per cent." But why should local authorities have to meet this cost out of their local funds?

The hon. Member for Harrow, Central said that local authorities will decide whether they want to introduce humps. He said that it is voluntary. I remember the day when seat belts were a voluntary matter, but now everyone is trying to make wearing them compulsory. What happens when it becomes compulsory to have these humps? This is where the thin end of the wedge, or of the humps, comes in. Start it gradually, bring it in voluntarily, introduce it for a few hundred pounds, and having got the councils hooked, start making it compulsory and start loading them with a lot of expense.

I do not want my council to be loaded with a lot of costs. I do not want Conservative Members who have been complaining about rates rising to have to explain to their constituents that the rates have risen again because some councils that want, for one reason or another, to put in some humps find that a few hundred pounds have to be found.

Sir Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)

It is not just the cost that will rise. The hon. Member might reflect that it could be the humps that rise, too, because as people get used to the idea they will want them higher and higher in order to make the traffic in their neighbourhood slower and slower.

Mr. Lewis

The hon. and learned Gentleman, rightly as always, is well on the ball—or well on the hump. Perhaps he will go into more detail on that aspect. I do not want to delay the House in any way. I merely wanted to deal with the question of the cost. I am concerned about costs.

When the Government are introducing legislation which will cost the taxpayer money, either directly through the national Exchequer or indirectly through local rates, I do not mind whether they do it in such a way that Members can get at them on the Floor of the House. I am then happy about it. [Interruption.] Hon. Members laugh, but a number of local authorities are, as we know, prolific spenders. They can spend money like water. We then find that the ratepayer has to pay.

Mr. Anthony Grant

There is something called local elections. If a local authority were outrageous in its expenditure on road humps, which is very hard to conceive, the remedy of the electors would be in their own hands. It would be to change the local authority.

Mr. Lewis

Like me, the hon. Gentleman is very old in the tooth, and he very well knows that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) once said, a week is a long time in politics. We all know that what happens today is often forgotten tomorrow. One cannot expect local people to remember that the hump from which they have been suffering for 10 days, 10 weeks or 10 months is all due to the actions of the local authority. The point is that this could not happen but for the Government. My point is that I want to stop the Government doing this and to stop the House giving them the right to do it, unless the Government pay the full costs.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for missing the beginning of his speech. That is my loss, because I do not know what he said.

There is a lot to be said in favour of road humps. However, now that we are in the EEC I should have thought that this was the sort of issue on which individual member States would be very unwise to make their own decisions as to how they should go forward. I should have thought that it would be sensible to wait until Brussels has made a decision about the sort of humps that we should have throughout the Community, so that we do not have to to go forward and spend this money, about which the hon. Gentleman is rightly concerned. Let us wait until we have a decision from Brussels and we can all do the same thing.

Mr. Lewis

I do not know whether I should be in order in dealing with that matter, Mr. Speaker. I suppose that it would be in order, because it concerns the hump. I am surprised at the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). I have no confidence in the Common Market. He appears to have confidence in it. The present Government waste money, but there is no possibility of their wasting money to the same extent as the Common Market wastes it. If we left this matter to the Common Market we would have a far greater waste of money and far more expenditure than would be necessary.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Getleman's instinct at the beginning was a good one. If I were him, I should leave the Common Market and return to English, Welsh and Scottish humps.

Mr. Lewis

I am not so sure, Mr. Speaker. I agree with you about the first matter, but I am not sure whether I should not ask the Minister a further question about the cost. If, as he says, local authorities would have to pay these few hundred pounds—we all know that the few hundred pounds will turn into a few thousand pounds and eventually a few thousand pounds will turn into a few hundred thousand pounds—should we not ask the Common Market for subsidies?

That is a point that I had not thought of previously. It could well be in order. If my local authority wanted to get the hump, or to put up humps, would it be in order in asking the Common Market to help with the costs? If that were so I might consider supporting the proposition—because any money that I can get out of the Common Market, I am happy to get, in any way possible. However, I am not sure that local authorities will be able to do this. I think that what would happen would be that the local authorities would have to pay. If the Minister is all in favour of this proposition he ought to say "I shall see to it that we shall meet the costs from the Exchequer."

Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)

Is it not more likely that under some potential future common hump policy our taxpayers would end up paying for the construction of humps across the Channel?

Mr. Lewis

I think that Mr. Speaker would have the hump if I developed that point too far. I shall speak to the hon. Member outside later. He has a point. The cost is said to be only a few hundred pounds. I am making a serious point.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, East)

You do not have a serious point in your head.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Such remarks are addressed to me, and that is a little exaggeration. Being Welsh, I am accustomed to exaggeration, so we shall let the matter pass.

Mr. Lewis

I would not dare to think of accusing the Chair in such a manner.

I am worried about this matter. If the Minister would care to come with me today, tomorrow, or any day of this week—[HON. MEMBERS: "Now."]. Yes, now. Within half an hour of travelling around the London boroughs he would find potholes as big as the Dispatch Box in almost every street. There are big potholes which have existed for months on end. Local authorities claim that they cannot afford to put matters right because they do not have the necessary money. These potholes are dangerous to the blind, the sick and the disabled, and they are dangerous to motorists. I am not talking about the question of the control of the boroughs, or whether it is Westminster, Islington or Lambeth. In all of these boroughs, as I have seen myself, there are huge potholes. If we are to have safety measures—I agree that we need safety measures—surely these potholes ought to be repaired. The Minister has done nothing about that matter.

Mr. Marlow

I am sorry to intervene again, but the hon. Gentleman, uncharacteristically, did not answer my question. If we were to go ahead and build our own road humps, is there not a risk that we should have to replace them later with a Eurohump? The money would be spent twice.

Mr. Lewis

The hon. Gentleman should take up the matter with Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker is in the Chair. As the hon. Member knows, Mr. Speaker is never wrong, and he has ruled that I cannot deal with the matter. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, much as he thinks he is right, the occupant of the Chair can never be wrong, just as he can never be silly or stupid.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I beg to move, That the Question be now put.

Mr. Speaker

I am not prepared to accept that motion at this stage.

Mr. Lewis

I cannot deal with the issue raised by the hon. Member for Northampton, North because Mr. Speaker said that it would not be in order for me to do so. I can discuss the matter with the hon. Gentleman later—perhaps in the Lobby, or even in the bar where we could have a few drinks and become inebriated. We could not do that in the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will excuse me if I do not deal with the matter now.

We must watch public expenditure and ensure that it is cut to the bone. I sound like the Prime Minister or the Government. I have been listening too much to the Government and their supporters talking about cuts in public expenditure. The Government must do something to reimburse local authorities on a 100 per cent. basis. Otherwise councils will not build road humps. If road humps are not built, the local inhabitants will be unable to do anything about it—other than perhaps throwing the council out at the next election. I hope that the Minister will say that as the sum involved is only a few hundred pounds he will guarantee that the Treasury will foot the bill.

Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden)

I am grateful to be called, Mr. Speaker, because it is important to make some procedural and detailed points about the new clause on road humps.

I congratulate the Under-Secretary on taking an unusually short time. That should be recognised, in view of the undercurrents in connection with the new clauses and the possibility of discussing new clauses later I note also the extremely short time taken—most honourably—by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott). That underlines the fact that both sides of the House want a short discussion on the matter today.

I moved the amendment on road humps in Committee and I believe—perhaps supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant), who discussed road humps in endless detail on previous occasions—that those who are knowledgeable about road humps are happy to accept the Government's dictates and changes. That is demonstrated by the fact that we have had the shortest speeches for a long time on both sides of the House. There is absolute agreement, therefore, that road humps in the form presented today are acceptable. Any further detailed debate that is not reckoned to be substantial to the nature of the clauses can be interpreted by people inside and outside the House only as delaying the measures that will allow further new clauses to be debated later.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I rarely raise a point of order, but on this occasion I feel that the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) are such as to inhibit discussion on this important clause. I seek your guidance, and hope that those of us who want to debate road humps will not be browbeaten or prevented from putting forward our points of view.

Mr. Speaker

This debate did not start until about 3.50 pm. That is enough of an answer about an early decision on any question of a closure.

4.15 pm
Mr. Arthur Lewis

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) is wrong. The Chair never limits debate when it believes that there has not been adequate debate. There is never a chance of debate being restricted, because the Chair ensures that we get fair play. It is wrong for the hon. Gentleman to suggest otherwise.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but in the interests of fair play I am interrupting him so that I may call the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills).

Sir Ronald Bell


Mr. Mills

I shall not give way. I shall be brief, and I have no intention of being discourteous to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis). I hold him in considerable regard, and I believe that what he said is important. I accept what he says about public expenditure. I was not talking about his speech; I was saying that it would be a shame if the debate on road humps were to inhibit further discussion on measures which other right hon. and hon. Members feel are important. Perhaps I may be forgiven for saying that in Committee the pressures put on those Members were considerable. I do not wish to inhibit the House by saying that I agree with the Government's decision on the amendments originally tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central and myself in Committee. They have taken away the depression from road humps. That might lighten the lives of some hon. Members, and even reduce any feeling that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West might have that public money could be spent on depressions instead of humps. Thus, any expenditure on road humps would be positive.

Restriction to the 30 mph limit is in line with the guarantee that the Government gave in Committee. It is therefore welcome to those who believe that the road humps new clause is a small but serious measure.

I conclude by apologising—if apologies are needed—to any right hon. or hon. Member for my earlier remarks. However, I sincerely and earnestly believe that road humps have now reached a satisfactory conclusion, and it would greatly benefit the reputation of the House and right hon. and hon. Members if we were to allow this debate not to preclude any further discussion on other important issues.

Mr. Sheerman

In Committee I put my name to the amendment on road humps. Local authorities are not forced to have road humps, but they are able to introduce them if they so wish, after a complicated procedure. The Secretary of State will have to consent to the scheme.

I accept that hon. Members have every right to discuss amendments and that we must remember that there are many amendments to discuss before 5 o'clock. There is a difference between genuine concern about road humps and the genuine concern that is felt by Members on both sides of the House that the behaviour of certain hon. Members, even though within the letter of the rules of the House, brings the House into disrepute because of the tactics being used. The road humps debate is being used to try to stop the majority of the House from having its say on issues that are important to the nation.

Mr. Fry

That surely is what the Opposition are always trying to do—stop the majority of Members from having their say. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Opposition do not have a valid point to make? Surely any point of view, even though it is a minority point of view, is entitled to be put.

Mr. Sheerman

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. However, we know that some things are within the letter of our rules, some things are within the spirit of our rules, and some things are dishonest in any institution, and bring the House into disrepute. I believe that some hon. Members are now doing that.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

I shall be brief. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant). I had the pleasure of serving on the Committee that considered his Bill. He will agree that the House owes a debt to Mr. Chris Heaps, who was one of the prime movers behind the proposal and motivated some of us to do something about it.

There are some questions to which I would appreciate answers from my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary. I support the new clause, which is a small but important measure, which gives people some control over their own environment. I understand that one of the main differences between the proposals before us and those in the original Bill dealing with road humps is that the current proposals restrict the construction of humps to roads on which there is a 30 mph limit. That is a pity, because humps would be relevant on many country roads.

On the vexed question of highway authorities, I moved an amendment to the original Bill to give district councils as well as county councils the right to initiate the process of creating road humps. The amendment was rejected, but will my hon. and learned Friend consider, in the powers that he is taking in the Bill, direct representations to him from district councils as well as from county councils?

Will my hon. and learned Friend also tell us whether he is prepared to consider representations from local groups who may be prepared to finance the construction of road humps in their localities? There are many instances where small groups of local people would be willing to do that, because they would consider the cost involved a small price to pay for the improvement of their environment.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) mentioned the 30 mph limit. Great problems are caused in my constituency by roads that run through villages that are not long enough to be approved for speed limits of 40 mph or 30 mph. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary will remember that road humps could be used as a means of enforcing speed reduction in such villages.

What guidance will be provided to local authorities from the Transport and Road Research Laboratory? As far as I can see, there is nothing that lays down what sort of hump will be relevant to what sort of speed level. Will my hon. and learned Friend ensure that guidance is provided, and will he place the greatest emphasis on road humps in terms of speed enforcement?

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

As I may not have the opportunity to reply to the debate, may I point out, on the fundamental point raised by my hon. Friend, that the nature of the road humps—the size, signing, location, and so on—will be tightly controlled by regulations? The new schedule that is a substantive part of the road humps provision includes a regulation-making power.

There can be no question of having endless local variations, or not controlling their size, and so on. All the TRRL's experience will be reflected in the regulations and the only humps that will be lawful will be those that comply with the detailed regulations that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will provide.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I am grateful for that intervention, but is my hon. and learned Friend giving consideration to experimenting with road humps to enforce a 40 mph speed limit as well as a 30 mph limit? Will he also consider road humps as the answer to the problem facing villagers that cannot get speeds limits, for whatever reason? Humps would slow traffic to the point where residents do not continually have to cross the road in peril of their lives, as is the case in Woolhampton, in my constituency, because they are unable to get a speed limit from the county council or the Department.

Mr. Fry

I am a member of the RAC's public policy committee, and when my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) introduced his Bill I may have caused him slight annoyance by objecting. I should make it clear that I do not object to the principle of road humps, but the RAC and I feel that it raises important questions of public expenditure.

We do not have a limitless amount of money. Local budgets are severely restricted. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) raised an interesting and important point about local groups financing the construction of road humps. Most of us know that the areas to which road humps are ideally suited are residential estates that are used as short cuts by traffic that races through with no regard for the safety of young children. That is a particular problem on open-plan estates, where there are no fences to keep the children in.

There is such an estate at Irchester, in my constituency. Last weekend I received a deputation from residents who were anxious to have road humps constructed at the entrance to the estate. I had to explain that the Bill was not yet law and that there was an added difficulty because the county council had to find the necessary finance.

I am satisfied that residents of many estates would have no difficulty in raising money to provide road humps. They cannot take the decision on their own, because it is important to have a standard form of road hump and we cannot allow those that will cause more accidents than they prevent, but I hope that the Government have not closed their mind to the idea that there should be an injection of private capital, if I may use that phrase to my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary, because that would be in the interests of those who will be most affected.

I hope that we shall not have to wait for individual local authorities to make up their minds, because much could be done by local people in the cause of road safety.

Mr. Adley

As the Government encourage that principle in the NHS, would not the Department of Transport be well advised to follow that example?

Mr. Fry

Indeed. I would take it a step further and use the analogy of preventive medicine.

The ideal time to consider the provision of humps is when the outline of a new estate is being discussed with a developer. Consultation could take place at that early stage, and that might stop the development of estates where many parents are fearful for their children's future.

On many new estates there are often few children in the early years. It is only after two or three years that children come along, and therefore thought is not always given to road humps as a road safety measure when estates are being planned.

I support the new clause, but the proposal needs more thought and more impetus, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State needs to embrace the political philosophy that we are trying to extend in other areas.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I am fascinated by the hon. Gentleman's comments about private capital, and I should like him to go into more detail on that. Is he suggesting that we should appeal to the financiers and entrepreneurs of the City of London? Is the money to come from local residents? Many of my constituents are going to prison because they cannot pay their present rates. The hon. Gentleman's suggestion would be easy to operate on an estate, but does he propose that in other areas someone should go round with a hat to each resident?

Mr. Fry

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's intervention, but the point that I was trying to make was that where a road hump was not likely to be provided, because of shortage of cash, local residents could club together if they wished. I further tried to point out that perhaps the developer of a new estate should bear the cost of providing road humps. I accept that there are areas where the local residents could not finance the cost, and in those circumstances it would be the responsibility of the local authority.

I put all these points with great seriousness to my hon. and learned Friend, and I hope that he will reply to them before this debate is concluded.

4.30 pm
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I noted the speed with which my hon. and learned Friend introduced this measure and the speed with which the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) replied, and I was somewhat alarmed when my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) seemed to be saying to the House that this was a matter of sufficiently little importance for hon. Members not to be justified in debating it.

Mr. Iain Mills

Would my hon. Friend allow me to correct his misapprehension? I said that I hoped that this small but important measure would not preclude the discussion of any other new clauses, and I put forward for his attention the fact that this matter had been debated both in this House and in another place at some length.

Mr. Lawrence

I accept completely what my hon. Friend has so charmingly said to reduce the effect that his opening words might have had upon me, because I certainly felt them to be somewhat intimidating.

Although road humps may seem to some hon. Members in this Chamber to be less important than some of the other matters to which I hope that we shall come, such as the question of motor-cycle helmets, the RAC, which is one of the most responsible organised bodies, if not the most responsible one, for motorists in this country, views the question of road humps with great seriousness. For this reason, we might have thought from the speeches that we have heard so far from those who are anxious to get this road hump measure on the statute book that nobody who had spoken in favour of the new clause was actually a motorist.

Road humps, particularly if they proliferate in the sort of regions that my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) was intimating they might, would be a great inconvenience to motorists. While the interests of road safety may weigh substantially in their favour, the fact that we are introducing in this House a measure which will greatly inconvenience motorists is something that we must take seriously and must consider fully.

Mr. Anthony Grant

Following that line of argument, perhaps my hon. Friend will explain why the researches of the Road Research Laboratory, where humps have been installed, revealed that no less than 52 per cent. of motorists who were polled were in favour of the humps.

Mr. Lawrence

That raises a whole new question that I would rather not go into. All I can say is that I have repeatedly driven over humps in the area in which I live and have never once been polled. If I had been, I would have said exactly what I thought of the humps that I had been over.

Sir Ronald Bell

Would my hon. Friend not consider the probability that the motorists polled were exactly those who lived in the immediate neighbourhood, because my experience, and, I imagine, that of most Members of Parliament, is that everybody wants a tight speed limit in the immediate neighbourhood of his home and no speed limits anywhere else. The same probably applies to road humps.

Mr. Lawrence

I am sure that, as so often with what my hon. and learned Friend says, that is absolutely right.

Mr. Michael Brotherton (Louth)

If, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) says, 52 per cent. of the motorists polled were in favour of humps, that means that 48 per cent. were against them. With the statistical imprecision of polls, would that not show that the result was totally insignificant and probably wrong?

Mr. Lawrence

It certainly shows that the matter is one concerning which the country is not entirely of one mind and is therefore something that we ought to consider, at any rate in a reasonably short debate, raising the matters that concern us most.

Mr. Gary Waller (Brighouse and Spenborough)

I wonder whether my hon. Friend is aware that the poll which has been referred to was in relation to some particular road humps. Motorists were asked if they were in favour of those road humps, and not necessarily road humps in general. While it is reasonable to suppose that many would favour road humps in general, if they proliferated and there were a large number of humps, some motorists might have a different view from that which they expressed in relation to the small number of road humps allowed under the experiment.

Mr. Lawrence

That raises the spectre of a number of over-enthusiastic local authorities round the country deciding that because Parliament thought road humps were so important a contribution to road safety they should put up road humps wherever the local residents complained about the traffic going along their roads. The thought that we might have in this country thousands of towns and cities and tens of thousands of villages going about the business of building road humps might raise a question in the minds of the millions of motorists who might be inconvenienced.

Mr. Adley

I know that my hon. Friend has given a great deal of thought to the question of road humps and that his mind is not on anything else in the Bill. If he is so concerned about the convenience of motorists whose views, presumably, from what he is saying, he thinks should override anyone else's, would he also agree that pedestrian crossings and traffic lights are a frightful inconvenience to motorists and that we should do nothing to look after the interests of those who live locally and might want to cross the road?

Mr. Lawrence

I do not think that it is necessary to take any argument to a logical conclusion that is absurd. I have never argued that pedestrian crossings are wrong or that we should not have them, in the interests of road safety, and I am not doing so now. I am not even arguing now that we should not have road humps. I am merely saying that the question of road humps is an important matter upon which a number of issues need to be clarified in the minds of the public. We are legislating here on behalf of the public, not on our own behalf or in accordance with our own biases or predisposed views. We are legislating for the people that we represent and I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) that many people that I represent will be greatly inconvenienced by a massive proliferation of road humps wherever they want to drive and wherever residents in a particular area feel it necessary to put them.

One of the reasons why I feel strongly about this question of road humps—I hope that my hon. Friend will give me credit for having a mind that is able to embrace not only the subject of road humps but also other matters that may arise, such as crash helmets, which I hope that we shall come to shortly—is that I drive a car and have some friends who live in a road where road humps have been built.

One question which I think needs to be answered by my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary—because he is learned he is in a particularly good position to answer it—is exactly what powers or rights the motorist has who goes over a road hump which has been built too high, or is a little too wide, or whose dimensions in some way cause damage to his car or injury to the people who are in it.

Some of the road humps I have been over have been of a quite exaggerated size; presumably they have had the approval of somebody in the road transport section of the local authority who has said that the road humps are properly of this size and height. Exhaust systems on cars are very expensive these days and it is not always easy to avoid not only the expense but the waste of time involved in having repairs done after driving along roads with road humps which certainly hitherto have been of a rather exaggerated size.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I disagree with the hon. Member on the prnciple but I ask him to turn to something which was put to me—against my views, incidentally. The question of exhausts and their cost is perhaps not so vital, but I was told by a motor engineer that one of the great dangers—this was probably not put to the 52 per cent. of motorists in favour of humps—is that going over humps persistenly can damage the steering of a car and the person driving does not know that the steering is damaged.

Damaged steering is far more dangerous than a damaged exhaust system. If an exhaust system falls off a car, the poor owner has to foot the bill. He is more likely to knock down a child because he does not know that his steering has been damaged than because his exhaust system has been damaged. Will the hon. Gentleman develop that angle?

Mr. Lawrence

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I do not take long to develop it. I am grateful to him for raising it. I was about to mention other parts of a vehicle that are damaged by road humps. The modern car is a piece of delicate and expensive machinery. Many other parts may be shaken and ruptured, apart from steering and exhaust systems. The expense thereby created is substantial.

What remedy does the motorist have in circumstances in which a properly approved road hump causes damage or injury when a car is passing over it at a not excessive speed?

What are the powers of supervision of local authorities that respond to the proper concern of local residents who are worried about speeding vehicles? Very often we, as Members of Parliament, receive complaints from residents about young people on motor bikes. What supervision is expected to come from what centralised organisation to ensure that before road humps are put on any road there is a positive need for them in the interests of road safety? I foresee local councillors throughout the country saying, "If this is what the local resident wants and if he feels that we should be doing something to protect his residence, road safety in the area and the safety of children, we shall install them." That is not good enough, because it may be that the humps about which I am complaining——

Mr. Sheerman

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you guide the House on the issue of Members' interests when they make speeches on matters on which their interests might bear? At the beginning of a speech should an hon. Member make a declaration of any remuneration that he receives from outside bodies that might be connected with the legislation that we are discussing? What is the rule on that?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

An hon. Member would use every discretion that he has in dealing with such matters as those to which reference has been made.

Mr. Brotherton

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not the convention of this place that right hon. and hon. Members always declare any interest that they may have? Is it not possibly a slur by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman) on my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) to raise the issue on a point of order?

Mr. Lawrence

I do not take it as a personal slur. However, as the issue has been raised I shall deal with it. I am a paid-up member of the RAC. As such, I suppose that I have some interest in ensuring that that body's request that the issue of road humps should be properly considered—it is one on which it feels quite strongly—is carried to a sensible conclusion. That is one of my interests.

Secondly, from time to time I have the good fortune to be instructed by those who run foul of the traffic law. I suppose that it is conceivable that if there are road humps that encourage some lawbreakers to infringe the speed limit or to go against the provisions of this proposed legislation I might have some financial interest. It will not have escaped the House that the tenor of my speech is that we should be careful before we proliferate humps that will provide me with more work, In the circumstances it is difficult to conceive why the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman) should think that I am speaking——

4.45 pm
Sir Ronald Bell

Does my hon. Friend have a retainer from any particular road hump?

Mr. Lawrence

I am beset by questioners.

Mr. Anthony Grant

Has my hon. Friend considered that the passing into law of the Bill might in this respect give him less work? All researches show that accidents are reduced as a result of road humps. My hon. Friend may have an interest because he may have less work as a result.

Mr. Lawrence

If my practice were concerned with negligence or accidents there would be much merit in what my hon. Friend says. The reality is, alas, that my practice is much more modest than that.

It is concerned with the defence of those who have allegedly offended against legislation of the sort that we are proposing to introduce by means of the Bill. My hon. Friend's argument is not as good as mine. If I have a financial interest in defending anyone, I am speaking against that interest in calling for caution with road humps.

The only other matter that I ought perhaps to declare——-I normally do so and it normally bores my hon. Friends, but as I am invited to declare my interests I shall do so—is that I have the great honour to be president of the National Association of Approved Driving Instructors. It is an honour that I have enjoyed for a number of years—indeed, ever since a former distinguished Member of this House ceased to hold the equivalent position in the organisation that existed previously. It is a position that I much enjoy holding because it brings me into contact not only with many small business men, whose interests, as the House knows, are a preoccupation of mine, but with road safety. If the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East has some devious or sinister fears about that position I assure him that it is one which I hold in honorarium. I think that I have replied to the hon. Gentleman, who believes that I may not have disclosed one of my interests. I have laid my interests bare. My overriding interest lies in road safety and good sense in considering the motorist.

I was proposing to ask my hon. and learned Friend what responsibility, what powers, and what facilities are available to ensure that the Government supervise local authorities that in an excess of zeal may be minded to protect themselves from any criticism on the ground of road safety by proliferating the introduction of road humps in many roads, whether they have speed limits of 30 mph or more.

I, too, have villages in my constituency, some of which are very lovely. I have tried hard, sometimes with success but, alas, not always, to have 30 mph speed limits imposed in these villages. A motor cyclist might hurtle through a village such as Newborough, in Staffordshire, and hit a road hump which he has not seen either because he is too bad a cyclist, because the light is out, or because the warning light is not good enough. That thought fills me with horror. It is one thing for villagers who are aware of the speed of traffic passing through to take care as they cross the road and another thing for motor cyclists to hurtle through and cause themselves sometimes the most atrocious accidents on hitting something in the road that they did not foresee.

It is a matter of concern for road safety that there should be proper and adequate supervision by a central and respected body to ensure that the type of road humps that cause such injury or damage do not proliferate throughout the country.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Who does the hon. Gentleman think will do the supervising? Will it be the Government or a Government Department? A huge Department recently carried out a census which omitted entire villages. It costs us £50 million a year to have an Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. A census is carried out once every 10 years. If Government Departments cannot do their jobs, how can the hon. Gentleman be sure that anything that this Government or any other Government do can be relied upon? Surely we could not rely on a Government to do what the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Lawrence

I shall not be tempted to take up the line that the hon. Gentleman tempts me to take. I am anxious to come to the conclusion of my speech and to allow those of my hon. Friends who wish to speak on this subject to make their contributions.

My third point concerns the whole question of cost. It has been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry), who, in a distinguished other guise, represents us on the RAC. The RAC is concerned about costs, and rightly so. For many years, it has conducted a campaign which draws to the attention of motorists the fact that although vast sums of money are levied from the motorist in taxes, little is spent on the improvement of our roads. It has been a perennial cause of concern in the House that our roads are not receiving as much money as they should for maintenance and improvement. That problem will grow increasingly as the vehicles which carry heavy cargoes cause more and more damage to the existing stock.

Mr. Brotherton

My hon. Friend is in error if he is seeking to argue that all the money raised in taxation by the motorist should be spent on the roads. Would it not be equally effective to say that all the money raised from the smoker should be spent on the smoker? It is silly to argue for hypothecated taxation. On reflection, does not my hon. Friend agree that he is wrong if he seeks to pursue that argument?

Mr. Lawrence

I am not seeking to pursue the argument on the lines along which my hon. Friend has tempted me to go. I am resisting much temptation this afternoon in the interests of getting on.

The point which my hon. Friend makes is, as always, valid, but I am making a different point. The RAC is concerned at the cost implications when "grossly inadequate"—that is its phraseology—resources for essential road construction and improvement are being denied. I do not entirely accept such criticism because I know how hard my hon. and learned Friend and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport are going about their business of trying to provide adequate resources for the expensive business of road maintenance.

However, the fact remains that today, on the question of road humps, we are legislating for another item which will have substantial cost implications—not only the cost of constructing the humps but the cost of modifying them when there are too many complaints and actions from local authorities. That will inevitably happen, as it has happened hitherto. There are also cost implications of insurance claims and everything else which may follow.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough rightly referred to what I know is deeply in the RAC's mind—that perhaps we should consider an opportunity for local residents who feel strongly about the need for humps to be asked to make a contribution towards their cost.

Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)


Mr. Lawrence

My hon. and learned Friend says "No". He is knowledgeable about those matters.

Mr. Grieve

Surely my hon. Friend appreciates that in most of our inner cities there are rat-runs through numerous residential streets. Would not the use of road humps in such streets prevent the appalling nuisance and danger to local residents which are caused by traffic passing through at high speed?

Mr. Lawrence

I do not dissent from that. No doubt, I would be enthusiastic for some of the residents in my area to have them. However, I am saying that if the cost implications are considerable there should be some provision whereby local authorities can say to residents that if they want the road humps they can pay for them—or at any rate they can make a substantial contribution towards them so that the general fund which would otherwise be used for the construction of road humps might be used more widely for the improvement of roads in any area. An argument may develop concerning the two sides of the interest in residential road humps. Those who do not want road humps would want some improvement in the general structure of the road in a particular area.

Mr. Arthur Lewis


Mr. Lawrence

I must resist the final temptation, if the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) will allow me to do so.

I have raised three important points with the Minister, not just because I say that they are important but because the RAC, which represents millions of motorists in Britain, thinks that they are important and should be discussed, and dealt with on Report. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will be able to give some reassurance not only to me and to those whom I represent but to the many motorists who feel—as the RAC feels—that there will be much inconvenience and cost and possibly some danger in having road humps and that that must be set in the scale on the other side of the undoubted value to road safety of having such impediments enshrined in legislation.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I know that my reply cannot close the debate. I apologise to any of my right hon. and hon. Friends who are still seeking to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. No doubt they will take advantage of any time which I leave before our timetable motion requires the debate to end.

One or two points have been raised. I shall probably leave one or two queries unanswered in the minds of the hon. Members who have spoken, most of whom have been in favour of road humps. Therefore, if our short debate leaves any doubts in the public mind, I should make clear one or two matters.

The humps will usually be installed by the highway authority. The only people empowered to construct them will be either the highway authority or the Secretary of State. In fact, the Secretary of State is unlikely to make much use of his powers, which will be used only if there is thought to be a need for further experiment in new forms of humps or new types of road. Therefore, the highway authority will install humps and in most cases that authority will be the county council.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) asked about the role of district councils. District councils are not highway authorities. The House would not wish to duplicate the powers of the different tiers of local government in highway matters. However, there is nothing to stop a district council putting a proposal to its county council and inviting that council to construct such a hump, ideally on the sort of road described by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) as a rat-run through a suburban area, of which a district council may be aware.

There is nothing to stop a group of local residents, such as a residents' committee, offering to put up the money for a road hump which they want. The cost is estimated to be between £700 and £800 in each case. If the county council can be persuaded to exercise the powers which we propose to give it, there is nothing to prevent it accepting a donation towards the cost of such a hump.

I shall make this point clear, as doubts have been expressed. We are not talking about a proliferation of all sorts of locally designed, irregular humps. The humps which we have in mind have been well tested by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. There were no proven cases of damage to vehicles arising from those humps. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) said, they were popular with motorists and residents. The motorists who responded to the questionnaire were asked where they lived. Only 3 per cent. of those responding were receiving the benefit, as local residents, from the humps on the road. No one had an accident, suffered damage or objected to the humps. Those humps were welcomed.

Regulations will be drawn up which will tightly confine the size, nature, signing, and so on of the road humps. There will be a standard pattern which can be adopted by local authorities. If they wish to adopt the pattern the local authorities will have to advertise their intention to do so and they will have to consult the local police and such other people as the regulations will prescribe. The regulations are subject to the negative procedure, but they could come before Parliament and they could be annulled by the House if any hon. Member tabled a prayer against them. Therefore, once the draft regulations are produced they will be subject to the scrutiny of the House in the usual way.

I believe that the regulations will be welcomed, as most right hon. and hon. Members have said. We are not introducing a proliferation of humps but merely an opportunity for a modest number to be put in suitable places.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) wanted to know about the position on non-30 mph limit roads. Under the Bill as drafted the Secretary of State would have power to install humps on any road, but only for experimental purposes. We do not envisage any such experiments at the moment. Local authorities would be confined to roads already subject to the 30 mph limit. I hope that that commends itself to the House. As my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said, it is all very well desiring to restrain the speed of vehicles on remote country roads or through small villages, but if a road hump were encountered on a derestricted road a serious accident could be caused if someone were travelling recklessly and fast.

I fear, therefore, that my hon. Friend's villagers and others who want speed limits will have to satisfy the highway authority that the limit is justified before the road hump can be installed to back it up.

Given those reassurances I hope that the House will agree that it is a popular and desirable measure and that the time has come to correct a long-standing anomaly.

Mr. Lawrence

Can my hon. and learned Friend answer my point about accidents and injury?

Mr. Clarke

So long as humps comply with the regulations, they will not be an unlawful obstruction in the road; they will be part of the highway. Therefore, the highway authority would be responsible for damage only——

5 pm

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am now required under the terms of the resolution to which the House agreed today to put the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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