HC Deb 08 July 1991 vol 194 cc688-9

Lords amendment: No. 12, in page 39, line 36, leave out "In"

Mr. Chope

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments Nos. 13 to 16, 83 to 86, 88, 89, 93, 94, 121, 131, 133 and 139.

Mr. Chope

The amendments are largely technical and are designed to improve clause 41, which provides for variable speed limits to be imposed by highway authorities in certain circumstances.

Ms. Ruddock

In connection with amendment No. 14, what other subjects, apart from the variable speed limits, might the regulations he used to deal with?

Mr. Peter Bottomley

The Minister says that the amendments are technical, but it is only by getting technicalities right that local highway authorities, which look after 94 to 96 per cent. of our roads, will have the opportunity to take traffic calming measures and protect the living cells, such as people on foot and on bicycles, who have as much as if not more priority than drivers.

Hon. Members will know about the number of times it has been necessary to change regulations and incorporate speed-reducing features and contributions from road traffic engineers. Such features cut speed by working sometimes on the psychology of the drivers and sometimes on the urban environment. It is important to emphasise to consumer groups, residents' groups and tenants' groups that they should campaign not for signs indicating lower speeds, but for traffic management and engineering which leads to vehicles travelling more slowly. That was one of the lessons that people learned from potholes. It has been learnt by the Danes and the Germans and, most importantly, by people in the Netherlands. Many local authorities, including some in London, have been pushing for such measures for some years.

5.45 pm

In the boroughs of Wandsworth and Bromley on two occasions the regulations did not allow the arrangements to come into force. However, traffic was moving slowly and there was no risk if the highway was changed to inhibit people travelling at speed.

I think that the amendments and the clause have all-party agreement and that they will make it possible to continue adapting what highway authorities do to keep traffic on through roads and away from routes used by people on foot. Such journeys constitute half the journeys in the country. It should be possible to require traffic going through residential or shopping areas to go much more slowly. A person in a one-and-a-half tonne steel vest should not feel that he has an automatic right to shove to one side an elderly person, a child or some other road user.

I pay tribute to the many highway engineers who work as agents for the Department as well as principals in their own right for the advances that they have made. I hope that we shall reach the stage at which Britain is the safest country in the world not just for drivers but for pedestrians, especially children. We must use the contributions of highway engineers. The erection of a sign saying 15 mph or 20 mph is a reflection of their work rather than just an indication to motorists to drive more slowly.

Mr. Chope

I agree with my hon. Friend. About a fortnight ago, I was in Exeter visiting Devon county council, which in the past month published a book—it is more a book than a pamphlet—giving examples of traffic calming measures that have been introduced not just in Devon but in Wandsworth, in the Netherlands and elsewhere. There is no need for local authorities to keep reinventing the wheel. I commend that publication to those who are interested in traffic calming measures.

Wandsworth is not the only London authority to reduce casualties on the roads in residential areas and its success is due in no small measure to its enlightened attitude on traffic calming. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham said, as well as putting up a sign one must introduce highway engineering measures.

In reply to the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) I can say that the regulations will not cover other subjects. They cover speed limits and associated matters such as signing. For example, Lords amendments Nos. 83 and 94 make it clear that the Secretary of State may authorise road humps that do not conform with the regulations. The amendments go slightly wider, in that context, than pure speed. They are related to other matters that one can describe as ancillary matters.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) raised an important point. Am I right in thinking that, if a local highway department wanted to introduce road humps or any other speed-limiting feature that did not comply with the regulations, the Minister would be happy to receive an application from it and to consider whether the regulations needed to be adapted so that what made sense on the ground would also be legal?

Mr. Chope

That is very much the case, yes.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.