§ Order for Second Reading read.9.35 am
§ Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to introduce the concept of traffic calming into statute. Traffic calming is a way of containing vehicle speeds by self-enforcing engineering measures and improving driver behaviour. It is further intended to change people's attitudes so that they drive more smoothly and are aware of the kind of roads that they are using and drive at speeds tailored to fit the environment.
Traffic calming is specifically directed at urban areas, particularly residential roads in our towns and villages. The Bill has twin objectives—the reduction of road casualties in built-up areas, particularly among the young and the elderly, and the improvement of the road environment near where people live.
The Bill applies equally to England, Wales and Scotland. I wish to take this early opportunity to thank the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). I know that his party would have preferred a separate Bill for Scotland, introduced by the Scottish Office, but it understands that because of a shortage of time the only way to achieve its objective is for one Bill to cover England, Wales and Scotland. I also wish to thank the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) who suggested in the first place that the Bill should apply to Scotland as well as to England and Wales. I have a general word of thanks to members of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties who have given me their support and, through them, to the various councils in their areas which have also expressed support for the Bill. They consider that it should be enacted.
The need for the Bill, which will tidy up the law on the legality of traffic-calming measures, is easy to see throughout the country. Although the most commonly used traffic-calming measures, road humps, are governed by statute and are subject to clear regulations, other techniques such as chicanes, road narowing, different road surfaces, shared road surfaces, rumble strips and gateways are not properly covered by legislation. Some doubt has been cast on the legality of all or some of those methods in certain circumstances.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
On behalf of pedestrians in general, may I say how much the Bill will be greatly welcomed in all parts of the country? Although a lot of attention is given to motor journeys and to journeys by bus, we are all interested in the safety of people on foot because even motorists walk around. Certainly, those who are on foot rely on road users, be they on motor cycles or in cars, to drive safely.
Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that the road hump regulations had to be changed two or three times? That had to be done, first, to reduce costs to a level that highway authorities could afford and, secondly, to deal with circumstances that were perhaps too tightly restricted. My hon. Friend's Bill will enable local highway authorities to 611 take account of the interests of all their residents as well as those travelling through their areas. That will be of great service to pedestrians.
I have listened to my hon. Friend's speech with great interest. I fear that I may not be able to take part in the debate as I intend to cause trouble for the Government over Oxleas wood, which is in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), but I hope that my hon. Friend will regard my support as being with him throughout the debate.
§ Mr. Mans
I fully agree with my hon. Friend's remarks about pedestrians. One of the central parts of my Bill is intended to cut down the number of pedestrian casualties, and I shall explain that more fully later. The purpose of the Bill is not to over-regulate but to allow as much discretion to local authorities as possible, bearing in mind that we also need certainty within the law, and I hope that I have struck a balance.
§ Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
Before my hon. Friend further develops his theme, will he explain whether it is envisaged that measures that might result from the Bill will include action to control traffic on narrow roads? I am sure that my hon. Friend and many right hon. and hon. Members will understand that, although this issue is important in cities and built-up areas, in rural areas such as Shropshire we face immense problems because of large—often continental—lorries charging around the country lanes. They are considerably wider than normal traffic and are often very dangerous. There have been a number of fatalities in my constituency. Although the issue may not be of great interest in urban areas, it is important in rural areas, and I wonder whether the Bill will tackle the problem of road widths and the width of vehicles travelling down narrow country lanes.
§ Mr. Mans
I sincerely hope that it will. I have been interested in the number of representations that I have received from country areas and I see no reason why the Bill cannot apply to villages, too. It is basically an enabling measure to allow more discretion to local authorities to take measures, within a light regulatory framework, so that roads are more suited to the traffic using them, bearing in mind other road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists, and local people in villages and constituencies like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway). I hope that the Bill will enable the measures that he wants to be put in operation.
Before the interventions I was discussing the legality of existing measures and whether that had held up the introduction of traffic-calming measures. There has been some doubt about the law with regard to traffic-calming measures other than road humps which has meant that authorities have produced traffic-calming schemes but have been left in some doubt as to whether they could be prosecuted for obstructing the highway. Other authorities have held back before embarking on such highly desirable projects because of that uncertainty in the law.
One of the primary reasons for the Bill is to clarify the law. Also, once the law is straightened out, it should result in clearer advice from the Department of Transport on traffic-calming measures.
I have received considerable assistance in drafting the Bill from the Government and from my hon. Friend the 612 Minister for Roads and Traffic, who is on the Front Bench. I am indebted to his Department for all the technical help that I have received from it, and I sincerely hope that the Bill is a better measure as a result.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
I hope that my hon. Friend understands that, although it is unusual to contribute at this point in the debate, there are reasons for it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we should also pay tribute to Friends of the Earth which, when I was a Minister at the Department of Transport, suggested that it would be sensible for the Minister with responsibility for roads to go to the Netherlands with some civil servants to see how traffic calming works there. We learnt not merely that the "woorerf" idea—which is unpronounceable and unspellable—can work, but that it is too expensive to be applied everywhere, even in the Netherlands. We also learnt that one can integrate the interests of motorists by using bypasses to take through traffic away, and go in for traffic-calming measures which work. Does he agree that we should pay tribute to those civil servants who cycled around, before and after the Minister, to ensure his safe journey?
§ Mr. Mans
I am more than happy to pay tribute to those gallant and courageous civil servants who led or followed my hon. Friend on that exciting detour on the continent. I shall return to the subject of Friends of the Earth later and shall not go into too much detail now.
The Bill is short, containing only five clauses and two schedules, which is a good thing. Essentially it adds to measures in various statutes, notably in the Highways Act 1980—covering England and Wales—and the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984, so that traffic-calming techniques of the sort that I outlined can be constructed by highway and road authorities.
That power is given in clauses 1 and 2 and the regulatory framework is outlined in the accompanying schedules. The Secretary of State is given the authority to sanction road and highway authorities' schemes, which may not always fall within the regulations.
I understand that the Bill will also allow temporary traffic-calming measures to be used—for example, with roadworks or other work that does not require the adoption of permanent traffic-calming techniques. Lancashire county council—my highway authority—is especially interested in that and I hope that it will be reassured by that part of the Bill.
I stress that I understand that the regulations will be general and that highway authorities will be given discretion to interpret them in the most appropriate way. Clearly, we need to balance the requirement for certainty and also allow initiatives to be taken by highway and road authorities when dealing with problems in their areas. I sincerely hope that I have managed to strike a balance in the Bill between those two needs.
I assure groups that have contacted me and which are concerned about over-regulation that I want a minimum of regulation and the maximum amount of discretion to be given to local authorities. I believe that the Bill gives that discretion.
I understand that the Government propose to introduce shortly a money resolution in association with the Bill.
I mentioned the primary objective of reducing the number of road casualties. We have a good accident 613 record in this country and that is due in no small way to the special interest given to the subject by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) when he was Minister for Roads and Traffic and to the actions of the present Minister. Clearly, reducing the number of road casualties is and has been a priority for the Government for some time. Our accident record is good when judged against that of virtually every other country, and certainly against that of easily comparable European countries.
I am sad to say that we have a different record on pedestrian deaths. It is considerably worse than that in other continental countries. For example, in 1990 there were 1,694 pedestrian deaths on our roads and 367 children died. The majority of other pedestrian casualties were people over 60. There were 3.1 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 of the population, above the average among European Community countries. The figure for child deaths was 2.4 per 100,000 of the population, one of the worst statistics in the European Community, at 31 per cent. above the European Community average.
For example, in West Germany, which has invested heavily in traffic-calming measures in the past 10 years, there has been a large drop in pedestrian fatalities, from 6.2 to 2.3 per 100,000 of the population—a reduction of 63 per cent. In contrast, the drop in the United Kingdom over the same period has been from 4.4 to 3.1 per 100,000 of the population—a reduction of 32 per cent. That illustrates graphically the fact that in 1980 we had fewer pedestrian deaths than West Germany and now we have more. The only quantifiable difference between what happened in this country and in Germany during that period is that the Germans produced many more traffic-calming schemes, which I acknowledge are complicated and in many cases quite expensive. They have clearly had a considerable effect on the pedestrian accident record. Although we have reduced the number of pedestrian deaths in this country—we should not underestimate the work that has been done to achieve that—the results have been less dramatic than in Germany.
§ Sir John Farr (Harborough)
I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the Bill. While he is speaking about child deaths, will he confirm that if vehicles travelled at 20 mph, only one child in 20 would be killed? Will he comment on the idea of reducing speed limits to that level?
§ Mr. Mans
Yes, I affirm that my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Speed is critical in terms of child deaths and one of the Bill's main purposes is to allow greater flexibility in the use of speed limits. There is no point in simply applying lower speed limits on residential roads if the drivers have not been prepared for the fact that they must slow down. Traffic-calming techniques are meant to encourage a driving style that is more concerned with the surroundings and, as a result, lower speed limits can be introduced. I would go so far as to say that one of the main reasons why there are fewer casualties among pedestrians and particularly children in countries such as West Germany is that that country has more flexibility in the use of speed limits. That must be a primary objective of the Bill.
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing this important Bill. I hope that, in what is inevitably a short Session of Parliament, it will be able to complete its passage.
614 What my hon. Friend says is no doubt the kernel of why we need the Bill. Does he agree that, whereas one can read too much into cause and effect, too many children and other pedestrians are being injured on our roads? Since the Government first introduced road humps in 1981, traffic engineers in too many councils have shown naked hostility to the idea of traffic calming and have completely set their face against the idea of road humps. I do not suggest cause and effect, but authorities must consider carefully the effects of not implementing those measures.
§ Mr. Mans
It varies across the country. Some local authorities may not have introduced those measures as quickly as possible, but it goes further than that. Many may have been persuaded or encouraged not to do so by the uncertainty in the law, so I would not go quite as far as my hon. Friend in suggesting that local authorities alone are to blame.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
That was a most disgraceful comment by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes). He may have had an unfortunate experience with a highway engineer——
§ Mr. Bottomley
I suspect that part of the problem is that councils have an allocation of resources and the Department of Transport has helped by providing extra resources. I wish to say on behalf of highway engineers, both in the counties and the boroughs of the metropolitan districts, that their contribution through their professional associations—the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Highways and Transportation—and in co-operation with the experts in the Transport and Road Research Laboratory and the Department of Transport has led to much enthusiasm among many of those responsible.
One of the messages from the Bill may be that bringing in those schemes and making them work is one way in which the engineers can show that they have as much to contribute in cutting the number of casualties as those who deal with the behavioural side of driving and those who build the bypasses that take traffic away from towns and villages. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West will not mind my robust defence of those who are not in the House to defend themselves.
§ Mr. Mans
Perhaps I can find a way through the middle of my two hon. Friends' useful contributions. This is a debate and I welcome differing views on the initiatives shown by road traffic engineers. If the Bill is enacted, as I hope that it will be, I hope that extra impetus will be given to road traffic engineers to come up with innovative schemes. I do not want over-regulation or road traffic engineers simply toeing the line and following regulations as they are laid down where they may not be appropriate for their particular locality. I hope that the Bill will change that so that there are fewer of the type of engineers described by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) and more progressive traffic engineers.
§ Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that topic and because there is clear disagreement between his hon. Friends, will he acknowledge that the criteria by which the Department awards funds to the local authorities are framed in such a way that the widest traffic-calming measure that he wishes to 615 introduce, not just for safety reasons, is not possible? The problem is not necessarily caused by the unwillingness of local authorities. Lewisham council, for instance, is very willing, but often it is unable to secure sufficient resources from the Department to implement all the traffic-calming measures that it would wish. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that there is a resource problem.
§ Mr. Mans
Obviously, there will always be resource problems for a variety of activities that local authorities would like to carry out, under whatever Government exist at a particular time. Local authorities such as Lewisham will probably be able to make out a much better case for money to be allocated within the overall grant specifically for traffic-calming measures, because the Bill makes it clear that that money can be allocated not only on road safety grounds but through environmental improvement grants. It is important to find a measure that has much support from both sides of the House, bearing in mind the time constraints of this Session, so that we get something on the statute book to improve matters. I fully acknowledge that it may not be ideal to everyone, but it will at least be an improvement on what has gone before.
Before all those helpful interventions, I was discussing pedestrian casualties. Differing casualty rates in other countries are one thing; we also have distinct differences within Great Britain, where there are great regional variations. My region, the north-west, comes out badly, with road deaths among pedestrians 37 per cent. above the national average. Therefore, the Bill is particularly relevant to the part of the world that I represent. That may be because of the number of large conurbations in the north-west, but other factors may also be involved. There are wide regional variations and I hope that my Bill will address problems where they are clearly greatest, such as in the north-west of England.
As well as referring to various techniques to help road safety, the Bill is intended to enhance the environment. The adverse effects of traffic on the appearance of our streets take many forms: the visual intrusion of vehicles on the street scene, particularly from heavy goods vehicles; the ugliness of road surfaces; the railings that protect pedestrians; high-intensity lighting; and the degradation of buildings and paving materials as a result of the continous heavy flow of traffic.
Traffic-calming measures improve the appearance of streets by narrowing carriageways and widening footpaths so that the scale of the street is restored to human proportions. Dark surfaces can be replaced by attractive materials which are more sympathetic to the surrounding buildings. Functional features such as footway extensions or chicanes can be made more attractive. As space is reclaimed, opportunities arise to plant greenery, thus softening the scene. High-quality street furnishing can also be introduced.
§ Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)
Does my hon. Friend agree that yellow lines, particularly double ones, are the most appalling intrusion on many of our streets, and there must be better ways to show motorists where they may or may not park?
§ Mr. Mans
My hon. Friend makes a good point. If there were a number of measures to encourage improvements in 616 the visual appearance of streets, clearly those responsible for such matters could take greater account of factors such as yellow lines, which were perhaps not considered intrusive a few years ago. I believe that the measure will encourage people to look with different eyes on what we are trying to achieve in the streets of our towns and villages.
§ Mr. Mans
In terms of the Bill there is clearly a need, within large towns such as London, to ensure that traffic that needs to flow is allowed to do so. In that respect, I approve of red routes and I should not like anyone to gain a false impression of my views on that.
The features that I have mentioned would emphasise that a street has a variety of functions and is not simply a through road. Many towns in continental Europe have demonstrated that to great effect and there are also examples in the United Kingdom—notably, Exeter. I should like to mention the work of Devon county council and the excellent book that it published on traffic calming, which was of great assistance to me. In my district, Lancashire county council is currently involved in extensive road calming and street improvement work in Preston. I hope that as a result of the legislation any doubtful aspects of the plans will be brought within statute. However, we still have some way to go before we achieve the results that have already been achieved on the continent. We must look across the channel at what has happened over many years in Holland and Germany, where it is easy to see how successful the measures have been.
Apart from the visual appearance of streets, the noise level can be reduced by traffic-calming measures. I know that that will be of interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) who has expressed in previous debates concern about noise levels in urban districts. In most circumstances, exhaust emissions will also be reduced.
Softening the distinction between pavement and carriageway heightens the perception that a street is a shared space and that carriageway users are not restricted to car drivers. I hope that that will benefit cyclists and pedestrians.
In the past few weeks, various organisations and individuals have raised one or two points about the Bill. I can reassure the emergency services which have rightly expressed concern about some traffic-calming measures—mainly because the legal channels available for local authorities have been limited, so emergency services have faced the problem of road humps which form a barrier to those wanting to get to the scene of accidents quickly. Because of the wider range of measures available within the Bill, it should make it easier, rather than harder, for emergency services to reach accident scenes. I hope that, as a result of the certainty that the Bill will bring to the law, the discussions between highway authorities and the emergency services will be more likely to reach satisfactory conclusions than at present.
617 For example, rather than 1992 limiting possible action to the introduction of road humps, the Bill will ensure the use of speed tables, with gaps either side to slow down cars, while allowing larger vehicles such as fire engines and ambulances to reach their destinations quickly. There are many other ways in which road traffic engineers will be able to accommodate the needs of reducing the speed of the normal flow of traffic while allowing good access for emergency vehicles. The planning will take place in a freer atmosphere when matters are discussed by different organisations, and many more solutions will be available to deal with specific problems.
I have received a huge amount of support, not only from hon. Members from all parties—some of whom I am delighted to see here to speak in today's debate—but from a number of outside organisations. I should particularly like to thank Friends of the Earth, whose past work formed the basis of my idea for the Bill. I appreciated that organisation's help during the past few weeks as I attempted to construct the Bill. Many local councils—including my own, Wyre borough council—have written to me directly, and some did so through their Members of Parliament. I have also received letters from other countries—not just from private individuals—and from councils in Scotland, England and Wales. Without exception, they all said that the measure would help their districts. Among other organisations that have shown support for the Bill are the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club, the British Medical Association, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and cyclist groups.
I hope that I have shown that that shows that the measure has a wide range of support from all political parties and a number of pressure groups with different aims. While the Bill is a small measure in itself, I sincerely believe that it will start a process that will lead to considerable changes in the visual appearance of the streets of our villages and towns in the next few years. I hope that it will result in fewer pedestrian casualties, particularly among the elderly and the young. I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. David Amess (Basildon)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) on his excellent Bill and I am grateful to him for asking me to be one of its sponsors. The measure has wide support in the House and throughout the country. I was grateful that my hon. Friend found time in his interesting speech to pay tribute to the present Minister for Roads and Traffic and his predecessor. I had the privilege to work with both of them, so I know that their commitment to road safety was profound. The exemplary record of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) in these matters is well known.
I hope that it will please my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre, and encourage him, to hear that my constituents in Basildon warmly welcome the Bill. The House will know that Basildon is the finest new town in the country, the finest town in the south, and will shortly be seen to be the most dynamic town in Europe. Basildon was built when Her Majesty the Queen came to the throne and has been developed in an interesting way since then, but the width of its roads leaves something to be desired. Forty years ago, the planners did not foresee the huge increase in car 618 ownership. Some of our roads are just not wide enough for two vehicles to pass. This in itself has caused tremendous problems for my constituents.
I understand that the Bill will lead to the use of a wider range of techniques and to high-quality traffic-calming schemes. I also believe that it will make a significant contribution both to road safety and to local environments.
I am sure that all hon. Members find it distressing to attend a public meeting after an accident in which a child or elderly person has been killed. Petitions are sent in, and eventually the Member of Parliament is called to attend a public meeting, following which there is widespread consultation on traffic-calming measures that the residents believe are necessary. I hope that the true benefit of my hon. Friend's measure will be that, in future, we will second-guess these problems and no longer act after accidents have happened. We must design our roads and traffic flows to make our towns much safer.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who is a diligent attender on a Friday, will join us at some stage today. As he knows only too well, I was born in Newham, and I still take a real interest in it. The borough of Newham has implemented all sorts of traffic-calming measures, particularly humps in roads. Unfortunately, in Capel road in Forest Gate, the residents decided a few years ago that there were too many traffic problems outside the local pub and that they needed to slow down the traffic. Because of the lack of consultation—I am not trying to bash Newham; I will come to Basildon in a moment—the humps were laid in that road at intervals of just a few yards. The planners, in short, went over the top. The tragedy is that the road was used for funeral cars to take mourners to the City of London cemetery, the biggest crematorium/cemetery in London. We can imagine the distress caused to the mourners while they were going over all these bumps. In the end, people had to be taken another way. That is just one example from the early days of traffic calming. If there had been more widespread consultation, that method would never have been used in the first place.
I wish to praise the excellent chairman of the highways committee of our county council, Councillor Ron Williams, who has done a wonderful job working closely with the constabulary in introducing traffic-calming measures in the constituency that I am proud to represent. A conspicious failure, however, is to be found at a turning near where I live, known as Dry street. For two decades, there has been concern about Dry street being used as a rat run. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may smile, but there are still 28 farms and smallholdings left in my constituency. There are still one or two cottages with thatched roofs in Dry street—it is the rural part of my constituency. The road is extremely narrow and along it are horse centres and a large kennels. All the properties are built right on the edge of the road. It has been impossible to obtain an agreement on what to do to stop the turn being used as a rat run.
At one time, one section of the community suggested that we should close the road. The councillor who represented the area was standing for re-election and I suspect that she lost her seat because she decided to support the closure of the road. I took part in a public meeting a year ago, at which we suggested better signs and large mirrors, but still no solution has been found to control the traffic in Dry street. I hope that, by publicly 619 airing the matter today, I can send a message to residents and Essex county council that we need a solution to the problems of the street. Some months ago, a car slammed into a horse there—the damage can be imagined.
Some months ago, I was invited to St. Margaret's school in Bowers Gifford, which is in Basildon. It was a well-attended public meeting organised by a parent, held because of the widespread anxiety about the fact that, when children came out of the school, motorists paid no attention to the possible dangers. There was no crossing and no lollipop person—[Interruption.] This should not be a cause for mirth: lollipop women and lollipop men do a magnificent job for road safety. They stand there in their oilskins whatever the weather and they are friends of the community, just like local policemen. I am not sure how much the service costs, but I would welcome an increase in their numbers.
I found at the public meeting that it was a classic case of the interested parties not having been listened to at a much earlier stage. The cogs of the bureaucracy had moved slowly in the attempt to implement measures that would help the parents of the children in the school. I realise that my hon. Friend's Bill will be of enormous significance in such cases.
I have received an excellent letter from the Royal Automobile Club. I do not mean to knock the Automobile Association, of which I am a member, but—I have not had a chance to open my post this morning—I am somewhat disappointed not to have received any communication about the Bill from the AA. I therefore cannot present a balanced account of the views of the two organisations.
Nevertheless, the RAC tells us that the chances of survival of vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists are greatly enhanced when the vehicles that hit them are driving at less than 20 mph. That was recognised in the excellent recent Department of Transport campaign with the slogan "Kill your speed, not your child".
The shock for the bereaved when anyone is killed in an accident is truly awful. When a child is killed, it is distressing for everyone. We meet constituents who never get over the shock of such a tragedy. On television, there has recently been publicity about those who are left to mourn children. There is also widespread analysis of the people who were responsible for the deaths of children and of the counselling that is avaialble. The RAC is convinced that traffic calming is a self-enforcing means of keeping speed down in areas where pedestrians, and especially children and old people, are likely to be present.
We understand the pressures on motorists to get quickly from A to B, and the fact that the Government are used to being blamed for everything, because it is good knocking copy. Traffic works intended to improve roads slow the traffic flow, and motorists become angry. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) has often spoken about rat runs which develop from road improvements. I agree that the red route has been a great success.
The Bill offers three advantages to motorists. Traffic calming is clearly preferable to road closure as a means of allowing safe interaction between motorised and non-motorised traffic, while maintaining vehicle access. Secondly, it has the advantage of reducing the chance of a 620 motorist being involved in an accident. Thirdly, the deterrence to through traffic reduces the risk of damage to parked vehicles.
The Bill seeks to introduce the concept of traffic calming to highway law because legislation has lagged behind the interest in this developing field. The Bill makes the clear statement that traffic calming embraces the dual goals of road safety and environmental preservation or improvement. The latter has often been overlooked, to the detriment of amenity and the longer-term acceptance of traffic calming schemes.
I have been in the House for many private Members' Bills. This is the first time since I have been in the House that Parliament has gone into its final year. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre on his Bill and on his acceptance of the time difficulty. If one hon. Member objects to such a Bill, the opportunity is lost, but I shall be staggered if any hon. Member seeks to delay the passage of this one. My hon. Friend has the privilege of knowing that if his Bill becomes law, it will save lives, although we cannot say how many. I hope that it will have a speedy passage through both Houses.
§ Sir John Farr (Harborough)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) on his Bill. I was pleased to hear the forecast that nobody will object to it. No hon. Member could object to it, except to say that such a measure should have been thought of before. It is a short and lucid Bill, and it stands out a mile to anyone who reads it that its proposals should have been put in train by the Government urgently and energetically.
The Bill is an important little step on the road to a more ordered regime on our streets. In that context, country roads and roads in urban areas are of equal importance. We must try to improve the atmosphere on our roads. Child deaths on the roads could be slashed if the Bill becomes law. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre said, nearly 50,000 children under the age of 15 were killed or injured last year, of whom 417 died and 8,870 were seriously hurt. More than half the fatalities were pedestrians, and boys aged seven and girls aged 12 were the main victims.
The Department of the Environment estimates that 83 per cent. of child casualties occur on built-up roads and that a quarter of pedestrian injuries occur on the way to and from school. It is important for the House to continue to repeat the television campaign message that, at 40 mph, a vehicle will almost certainly kill, at 30 mph half those involved in an accident will die, and at 20 mph only one child in 20 in an accident will be killed. If the debate can get that message over, it will be well worth while.
I was a little upset by the comment of Mr. Ken Jury, the vice-chairman of the Association of District Councils transport committee. Speaking about traffic-calming measures, Mr. Jury recently said:The typical driver will hate them, but, like seat belts and the 70 mph limit, they'll get used to them.Mr. Jury is totally wrong. The average driver is a parent or is associated with children and will accept the sensible calming measures in the Bill. He will look upon them not as a curse but as measures that are part of civilised society. We must try to eradicate the unfortunate attitude of influential people who oppose sensible improvements to country and urban life such as traffic-calming measures.
621 Market Harborough has the privilege to be one of the six towns selected for the three-year trial. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre for associating a bypass on the A6 at Market Harborough, which is nearing completion, with one of the new traffic-calming schemes.
Market Harborough is associated with Berkhamstead, Dalton-in-Furness, Petersfield, Wadebridge and Whitchurch, all of which are experiencing traffic-calming measures. Like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre, my constituency has experienced agonising road fatalities recently. We have had distressing headlines of children killed in urban areas. We are all anxious, on both sides of the House, that the traffic-calming measures envisaged and put into effect in my constituency in this three-year scheme will be approved and brought into use.
No sensible driver could object to any of these measures. Some people say that the old-fashioned sleeping policeman is a hazard, but I think that he is a useful sort of fellow to have around. We have one in Vincent square, which stopped all the post office vans rushing through at 90 mph at 3 o'clock in the morning. I only wish that the bumps were even more pronounced.
There are other ways to calm traffic, such as the chicane, where pavements are made to jut out at intervals so as to narrow the road. That sensible and easy-to-live-with measure is the sort that we are looking forward to as part of the overall scheme in Market Harborough. There is also the traffic throttle, where two lanes temporarily merge, and the rumble strip. Those of us who have driven a lot on motorways late at night know about the rumble strip. For instance, on the M1, the driver cannot nod off because every so often a rumble strip wakes him up. There are variable height bumps to keep the driver alert—that is another name for sleeping policemen.
I hope that we shall hear no silliness about the effectiveness of sleeping policemen, because no sensible driver should be speeding in a built-up area or on a country road. As we all know too well, whether we are driving in rural or built-up areas, a child can unexpectedly appear from around the corner.
Another of the improvements in Market Harborough is the movable traffic island, designed to wake up the regular driver, and the gateway, where the driver has to slow down as he passes through pairs of pillars. These experiments are thoroughly welcomed by all sensible, thinking drivers and pedestrians in town and country.
A significant feature in the campaign for road safety is that the Government's recent urban safety project estimated that if this Bill were already on the statute book, 15,000 accidents a year, which would have cost the community £175 million, could have been avoided, thus also avoiding much heartbreak and human anguish. There are many advantages in the Bill. It will reduce the number and severity of accidents in built-up areas and will help to reduce air and noise pollution. It will improve the urban street environment for non-motor users. It will reduce the car's dominance in a way that varies according to street type.
It is particularly important that, by what we do, we encourage a quieter and cleaner environment. It has been shown that the planting of trees can, apart from any other factors, introduce three positive environmental effects. Trees narrow the motorists's line of vision, making him drive more cautiously. They enhance the landscape and act as major consumers of carbon dioxide.
622 I hope that the Bill makes good progress. I cannot see that any hon. Member will object to it, although even a Bill drawn up by someone as skilled as my hon. Friend may need to be improved and added to in Committee. However, I am sure that it will go into Standing Committee and then on to the statute book.
If I have any criticism of the Bill, it is only that the Minister already has powers, which he is using in the six towns that I have named. I am anxious to see the existing trial strengthened, improved and fully used. My hon. Friend's Bill will assist in such a process. I congratulate my hon. Friend, I wish him well and I hope that his Bill will have a speedy passage through the House.
§ Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich)
I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) on introducing such an imaginative and necessary Bill. It strikes a chord in me, because two issues propelled me into politics. One was the inadequacy of the education provision in the area in which I lived and the other was the hazard of traffic to children in the neighbourhood. We live on a main road and we accept the hazards which that presents, but at the back and the side of the house is a fairly quiet side turning and a square in which children used to be able to play normally and happily. A rather canny motorist discovered that this was a rat run that enabled him to avoid the traffic on the main road. Others followed, and as a result children who had been happily playing there faced a sudden and unexpected hazard.
The two-year saga of persuading the local authority and the police to do something about this side road and quiet square that would protect the children playing there convinced me that, if one wanted to get anything done, one had to get on the inside track and become a member of that local authority. That ultimately brought me to this House. Therefore, the issue with which the Bill deals is close to my heart.
There are several aspects of this short Bill. They include safety, to which I shall draw attention, and the aesthetic environment, as it will do much to improve the quality of life, particularly in cities but also in many rural communities where traffic is becoming an unacceptable hazard and nuisance.
My constituency has two notable features that the Bill will quickly affect. First, it lies on the route from Kent and south-east England, through south London, and into central London. As the commuter traffic and heavy goods traffic funnels through that bottleneck into central London, the build-up becomes intense. In the morning, the radial roads are almost impassable. That represents a hazard to those who are driving, and especially to pedestrians and residents. In particular, it is a hazard to young children, who are so much part of my constituency.
I have said on other occasions that we have no industries in Dulwich except the education industry. We probably have more schools than any other constituency, by some geographical quirk. Throughout my time as a member of the Greater London council and as a Member of this place, it has always been of great concern to me and my constituents that something should be done to ensure the safety of young children on their way to school in the early morning and on their return in mid-afternoon, which are times when traffic is either at its height or is beginning to build up.
623 On many occasions, when addressing public meetings —I am sure that what I am about to describe has been experienced by other hon. Members—I have faced authorities that have been unwilling to respond to problems and hazards, or have perhaps been indifferent to them. How many times have we heard the phrase, "Nothing will be done until someone is killed"? To introduce a scheme after someone has been killed, often a scheme that could have been introduced and implemented in the first place, is a terrible epitaph.
Over the past few years, I have seen a number of schemes come into being. I pay tribute to the Metropolitan police traffic division, to Southwark council, to other traffic authorities and to the Department of Transport, which have taken note of problems and assisted in introducing schemes. For example, the refuge in Grove vale is of great assistance to the children who have to cross that busy road on their way to Grove Vale school. It has been of great benefit to them and has given great reassurance to parents, who have been worried about their children making the crossing.
Court lane is a residential road in which many young children live. In other circumstances, their parents would feel happy to allow them to go to school alone. However, before the introduction of road humps, they felt that it was necessary to accompany their children to ensure that they took full account of the problems that confronted them. The introduction of road humps in Court lane has calmed the traffic there and has persuaded motorists who would otherwise have cut through the area by using the road to avoid the main road traffic to think again. That has been of great benefit and value to those who live in Court lane. Their anxieties have been alleviated.
I suggest that the Bill has relevance to several other problems that are still outstanding in my constituency and remain under consideration. First, there is the south circular road, in which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and his Department took an interest a year or so ago. I am delighted that, following strong representations from the local community, myself and the council, we have succeeded in persuading the powers that be that there should be no major upgrading of the road to make it more than a local feeder road. It will not become a major orbital route. That has been of some reassurance to the children who cross the road to go to school.
There has been a particular hazard for those who go to Dulwich college. Some of the college's boarding houses and its preparatory school are on one side of the road, and the school itself is on the other. It is a road along which much heavy traffic speeds while children seek to cross it at the traffic lights. Often the children have decided to cross this road at places other than the traffic lights. That may not be advisable, but children are children. Consideration is being given—I hope that the Bill will speed up the process to ways in which conditions can be improved for children who have to make the crossing.
One of the earliest examples of traffic calming was introduced by the estates governors of Dulwich. It was about 200 years ago that they introduced their tollgate in College road, which has had a calming effect because it touches the pocket. Unfortunately, the calming effect was 624 no match for modern technology. The tollkeeper suffered severe injury as a result of irresponsible traffic passing through, and the system was temporarily closed.
When the tollgate was temporarily suspended, traffic immediately built up, because motorists realised that they could pass along College road without paying or having to slow down at the tollgate. It was reinstated for an experiment, and there is now a wide-ranging debate within the constituency generally, but particularly among those who live nearby, adjacent to College road, on whether the tollgate should be reinstated and on the sort of charge that would deter those who might otherwise slip through.
Not far from the south circular road and College road is Dulwich village. At a crossroads is Dulwich Hamlet school, which is a junior school, and part of the Dulwich Village primary school, which is divided on two sites. One part of the school is on one side of the road that is known as Dulwich village and the other part is on the other side. Children have to cross the road at certain times of the day, which they do under close supervision.
No one can fault the responsible and serious approach that the teaching staff take when the crossing is made, but account has to be taken of the impatient driver who is driving through Dulwich village at a point where five busy roads meet. There is Court lane, which has been calmed slightly by the introduction of road humps. There is Carlton avenue, in which other experimental measures have been taken to try to calm the traffic. There are also Burbage road and Dulwich village. All these roads are used by through-running commuter traffic, sometimes including heavy goods vehicles.
Consideration must be given to how we can deal with this crisis point. I believe that the Bill offers an opportunity for parents of children at Dulwich Hamlet school and Dulwich Village school to alleviate their anxieties. That will be possible if the provisions in the Bill are implemented in their area.
Alleyn park and Alleyn road are two residential roads which have been discovered by commuters coming into London from the south-east. I have no fear that, in mentioning them today, I am opening an opportunity for those who might not know about them, since traffic-calming measures—humps and pinch points—have been introduced experimentally in both. Alleyn park is used by many small children who go to Dulwich college preparatory school, adjacent to which is Kingsdale school.
Even for a responsible motorist driving along the road, it is worrying to see the hazards that present themselves. There are other drivers who are exceeding the speed limit as they try impatiently to make up time while children are either alighting from cars or arriving on foot, with all the attendant difficulties. The problem in Alleyn park must be examined in the context of the Bill as we try to solve it.
I am mindful also of the James Allen's girls' school in East Dulwich grove, which is attended by many children who come from some distance from the area. Some arrive by car and others by coach. They have to be deposited in the proximity of the school—sometimes outside the gates and sometimes close by. Alleyn's school is in the same area and has similar problems. The hazards at school arrival and departure times are intense in those locations.
South Croxted road runs along the border between Dulwich and Lambeth. At its junction with Thurlow Park road is Oakfield school, where young children arrive and depart. Their parents are concerned because cars move off quickly just as the traffic lights change, or even jump the 625 lights as they are turning red. Their anxiety is apparent on their faces as they wait with their children to cross the road. As a parent, I could never be happy about allowing a child to cross such a road on his own. Children need to be accompanied until they reach full maturity. The opportunity to cross such roads on their own may be part of the growing-up process for children, but the hazards are simply too great to allow it in these circumstances.
I am currently dealing with the problem of Wood vale, a road which separates my borough of Southwark from Lewisham. The road runs through both my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples). It is used as a major cut-through road by commuter traffic trying to make a south-east and then an east-west movement into London. Its width and its length tempt traffic to speed, and it has no traffic lights. Although a residential road, it is fast becoming a major through-traffic route. That is a hazard to children.
There is also the additional problem that homes for the elderly and for the blind are situated along that road, and the hazard that that presents does not bear thinking about. The problem is currently being discussed between myself, the Metropolitan police and the Southwark and Lewisham councils. We have to find some way of alleviating the problems.
I have cited specific places in my constituency where incidents have occurred and where the threat of more exists. I take great heart from the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre has introduced a Bill which has the wholehearted support of the House, and which deserves the wholehearted support of all who care about the safety of our citizens, our constituents and, especially, our children.
§ Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden), who is known as a most assiduous constituency Member of Parliament. Much of what he said about his constituency struck a chord with me, thinking about my own constituency. He spoke about the great need in many areas for the calming of traffic. The word "calming" is in the title of the Bill, and it is significant that such a word had to be used. It brings to mind an image of traffic having a malignant life of its own and needing to be calmed.
When I am sitting in a traffic jam, I sometimes ask myself how one would define "traffic". To me in my car, everyone else is traffic and therefore a nuisance. However, everyone else sitting in their cars must mutter to themselves. "Traffic—what a nuisance it is." Traffic is everyone else.
London and most of our other towns and cities were not originally laid out for traffic. When the Romans arrived here, they had no idea of the internal combustion engine; their thoughts were more concerned with chariots and similar forms of transport. Many of our problems today stem from the way in which towns and cities were laid out.
Why does traffic speed whenever it can? Of course, very often it cannot speed because it is stuck in a traffic jam, but when it can, it does. That is when traffic-calming measures are most likely to be needed. Modern traffic is driven by the internal combustion engine. When it first arrived on 626 the scene 100 years ago, no one dreamed that it could be not only a great boon and a benefit for most people, but the most dreadful nuisance.
The internal combustion engine should not be allowed at all in our towns and cities. It can be extremely noisy, especially when it is in fast cars driven by young men. It is also a terrible polluter. Speaking on behalf of asthmatics everywhere, I can tell hon. Members how distressing it is to walk around our towns and cities when the weather is calm, still and cold—as it was a few weeks ago—and there is a smog of traffic pollution.
On the other hand, what was it like before the internal combustion engine, when people travelled with the aid of the horse? Now, we tend to think of the horse as an environmentally friendly creature, but in the days when there were hundreds and thousands of horses everywhere, there must also have been stink and flies. People were employed as crossing sweepers and they would watch for someone waiting across the road. There were piles of manure everywhere, and they would sweep it out of the way so that people could cross.
§ Mr. Banks
I am a little older than the hon. Gentleman, and I can remember London when horses were used for many purposes, although not in the numbers that he mentioned. He might be interested to know that a young fellow such as I could make a pretty penny collecting buckets of horse manure and selling it to the neighbours to use for fertilising their roses. It was not all bad.
§ Mr. Summerson
That was an excellent idea. I am not at all surprised to hear that the hon. Gentleman sold manure to his neighbours specifically to fertilise roses—no doubt, the redder the better. Manure can be used for other things, such as to fertilise the vegetable patch. Horse manure in its raw state is not terribly good for roses, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman killed his neighbour's blooms.
I support the Bill and hope that it can be used in conjunction with other measures. Should traffic be prevented from entering towns and cities? I also think that an increase in the number of flyovers for both traffic and pedestrians would be helpful. Roads have mixed uses—all too often, people simply want to get from one side to the other, but they cannot because of the traffic. The traffic then has to be held up, which is annoying. There should be pedestrian flyovers with an escalator at each side and a bridge over the road so that people can cross safely and the traffic move freely. I accept that the flyovers would not be beautiful, but they would be practical and popular.
There should be more flyovers for traffic. The Hogarth flyover at Chiswick does not look very good, and it probably did not cost a great deal to erect, but it is effective in keeping the traffic moving. Humps cost a great deal of money—I will not use the word "resources"; I am thinking of mounting a one-man campaign against its use. When we mean money, why do we not say so?
Humps have other disadvantages. They are noisy for those who live near them. One hears the roaring of the car's engine, the squealing of its brakes, the thump as the vehicle hits the hump, and another roar as the driver 627 accelerates away—often to the accompaniment of screeching tyres. The whole process is repeated a hundred yards down the road.
Humps are also extremely uncomfortable for cyclists. I sometimes encounter one notorious hump on my way home. If I am forced a little way out from the kerb, I find myself almost airborne. That is very bad for my bicycle, and extremely bad for me. As has been said, humps also present difficulties to emergency vehicles. I am not against them in principle, but they should be used in conjunction with other methods of traffic calming.
Many people are concerned about the speed of traffic today. Cars speed along Queen's road and nearby residential roads in my constituency. Constituents have asked me to intercede with the local council, to help to ensure that some form of traffic calming is introduced, because they fear for their safety and that of their children. That is just the kind of area where calming meaures ought to be introduced soon.
Although Walthamstow is part of Greater London, it is also a town. If you, Madam Deputy Speaker, visited Walthamstow, you would enjoy the experience immensely. I could show you the centre of Walthamstow village, with its charming 15th-century church and old, half-timbered houses. It is a lovely quiet area, but when traffic rushes through, its peace and tranquillity are destroyed. Some steps have been taken, but its residents are still concerned.
Also in my constituency are the two major traffic arteries of Forest road and Lea Bridge road. They are heavily used by vehicles travelling between London and Essex. Traffic-calming measures are needed there also, but in conjunction with other techniques to ensure that traffic can keep moving. If I may mix my metaphors, they are bottlenecks as well as arteries. If flyovers of the kind that I mentioned could be introduced, through traffic could keep moving and that would benefit all who live along those routes.
Buses are one of the best inventions of the 19th century. The more we have, the better. We need more bus lanes, and traffic lights specifically to control them. I am sure that, if the public could count on catching a bus without waiting too long—and knowing that it would be warm and comfortable, the fare would be reasonable, and the bus would keep moving—more and more people would use buses.
I attack those selfish, inconsiderate and stupid people who park in bus lanes. Buses ought to be fitted with extra-heavy bumpers to drive such vehicles out of the way, so that the buses can keep moving. Bus passengers would be far calmer if they knew that they would keep moving.
I want to put in a plug for buses on routes 38 and 55 in my constituency, which once provided a through route from there into the west end. Alas, they no longer do so. Local people want those through routes reinstated, and so do I. If more buses were on our roads, there would be less need for traffic-calming measures.
We could also have more trams. How I like the trams when we go to Blackpool for our party conference. I most look forward not to the long and boring speeches in the conference hall, but to boarding the trams and rumbling along the promenade.
Traffic lights are supposed to control junctions, but it seems that their timing is often deliberately used to slow 628 the pace of traffic. Lights should be used to control road junctions or to ensure pedestrian safety, but not to slow traffic. Heaven knows that traffic does not move all that fast anyway. All traffic light timings should be set to the speed of cyclists. That would encourage more people to get on their bikes.
More and more people are taking to using bicycles, and quite right too. I welcome the Government's announcement of 1,000 miles of cycle routes in London. That is a good thing, for the more that people take to their bikes, the better. Cycling is good for one. It is healthy, gets one out and about, and allows one to see things. It is a much more unselfish form of personal transport than getting into a car and causing noise and pollution. I am one of the London Members of Parliament who have been asked to do a three-minute spot on Greater London Radio, when I shall raise the subject of cycling. I will also be talking to someone from Friends of the Earth, which I know much supports cycling.
I want to give one or two words of warning to cyclists. I wish that they would use lights at night. People who ride bicycles without lights and who do not wear bright clothing pose a great danger and are asking for trouble. They must ensure that their bikes are properly illuminated.
On a miscellaneous point, where there is an arrangement of two or three parallel traffic lanes, that on the left should never be marked with an arrow indicating that vehicles in it can only turn left. That arrangement can make life extremely difficult for the cyclist who wants to move off straight ahead. If he stays in the left-hand lane, he faces the prospect of being carved up by any vehicles that want to turn left. If he moves to the middle, some idiot in the left-hand lane will decide to drive off straight ahead.
As to the future, I hope that city vehicles will all be electrically powered. That would be more environmentally friendly and quieter—and safer, because the speed of electric vehicles could be strictly governed. I hope that we will be able to ban the infernal internal combustion engine from our towns and cities and adopt instead quiet and safe methods of transport. Above all, let us have calm traffic.
§ 11.8 am
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)
It gives me great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson), who made another of the usual inventive contributions that have marked his first term as Member of Parliament for Walthamstow. I am sure that it will be followed by many successive terms. If my hon. Friend's constituents have any regard for work rate and the diligence with which they are represented, they will substantially increase his majority.
My hon. Friend mentioned the "infernal internal combustion engine". He said that no one realised what the dangers were. My hon. Friend and I are probably two of the few hon. Members who realise where the first recorded pedestrian fatality took place. It was in my constituency, outside the speech hall of Harrow school, where my hon. Friend was educated. There is a brass plaque there to record it.
§ Mr. Hughes
Just in case there is any doubt, the plaque records the pedestrian fatality. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) for helping me to make that clear.
629 I have high hopes for the Bill. Would not it be marvellous if we could hope for a brass plaque somewhere recording the last pedestrian fatality? It is a serious matter. We are talking about tragedies affecting individual families. Over the years, it has become clear that a proportion of such tragedies—probably a large proportion—is entirely avoidable. It is scandalous that we know that some of the deaths are avoidable yet nothing is done.
I warmly welcome the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) has shown great skill in bringing it before the House in its present form. My hon. Friend showed skills of diplomacy that one would not necessarily have expected of a former bomber pilot in seeking to settle what appeared to be an argument between my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) and me. I can report that, in a sedentary conversation, my hon. Friend and I managed to clear up our argument. We concluded that both of us were right, which is always a comfortable conclusion to an argument, and that some traffic engineers and national bodies were very good and forward-looking whereas others were not. Perhaps we should recommend that those who sit on selection committees in borough councils and have to select new borough engineers ask the engineers their views on traffic calming.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) made an interesting reference to the remarks of the vice-chairman of the relevant committee of the Association of District Councils, Councillor Drury, who said of traffic-calming measures, "The average motorist will hate them." I am sure that Mr. Drury is at least partly right. Some motorists will hate them. But that begs the question: on whose behalf and in whose interests do we seek to introduce traffic-calming measures? Who comes first?
In 1980, I had recently been elected in a by-election to the GLC to represent Croydon, Central. A Greater London council traffic engineer had invented an ingenious scheme. To stop a rat run, he had simply reversed the direction of a short one-way road, thus making it impossible for motorists to avoid the intersection at the bottom of Gravel hill which people had hitherto sought to avoid. I received a huge number of letters of objection from people in Farnborough and other parts of Surrey and Kent—in fact, from anywhere except an address in that little road.
In those days, Croydon, Central was a relatively marginal seat so I was not particularly impressed, although I was impressed by what those living in the road said. They told me that people had been run over and that residents had not been able to get their cars out of their driveways in the morning because of the traffic jams. Their interests were paramount and even if the letters of objection had come from another part of my constituency—I can say this now that I no longer represent the area—I should have accepted the serious point that the people whose views should be taken into consideration are the people living in the road in question. We must consider the effect on their quality of life and the safety of their children. The Bill seeks to address that central question.
As I said in my intervention, the problem is that some traffic engineers have sought to clutch at straws in arguing against traffic-calming measures. They tell us that road humps are a hazard. I think that it was 1984 when my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development, then Minister of State for Transport, first introduced the parent 630 legislation. The regulations have been changed subsequently. From my GLC files and my files from this place, I could produce an interesting chronology to show how traffic engineers set out their precise objections and how the Government met those objections in new regulations, only to find the traffic engineers raising new objections.
Take, for example, the objection that road humps are a hazard. I can well recall what happened when I worked in Belfast for the BBC. I had never encountered road humps in this country and when I first found one, outside a police station, my hire car almost took off. The experience is extremely uncomfortable and I can assure the House that it happens only once. One gets used to traffic humps. I am pleased to tell the television licence holders that the car was a very nice Mercedes, which must have cost the BBC a great deal of money, so the experience was not as uncomfortable as it might have been. If people can get used to traffic humps in Belfast, there is no reason why they should not get used to them in the rest of the United Kingdom.
I have heard traffic engineers argue that traffic-calming measures and road humps are ugly, quite inappropriate or out of place. Those trivial arguments simply do not weigh in the scales against the loss of human life and the tragedy that will result in the absence of the measures.
The hon. Member for Deptford was right about money. No one should run away from that, but I believe that money is only the endgame in the long chess game played by people who do not want the measures in the first place. I promoted a private Member's Bill dealing with the safety of children's playgrounds and the rubber surfaces underneath play equipment. Local authority officers who did not want the measures in their playgrounds used money as the endgame, having argued previously that the measures were unnecessary and the benefits unproven. Local authority members and council committee chairmen never reached the point at which they sought to argue with their colleagues for a reasonable slice of the money. I do not run away from the argument about money, and I accept that if we have traffic-calming measures in some roads, there will automatically be a demand for them in others when their good effects are seen; but I do not believe that lack of money is preventing desirable traffic-calming measures from being introduced.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will know that I often speak on local authority matters in the House and often mention the London borough of Islington. I think that today will be a first because I propose to mention it to praise it.
§ Mr. Hughes
All right, I shall mildly praise it. No, I shall properly praise it. The other day, I drove through a part of the borough which I think is called Barnsbury, although I do not know the borough at all well. I was diverted by the police off a main road because of a traffic accident and drove through this area. It has been transformed by the most sensitive use of gently gradiated humps at road junctions and gentle chicanes.
§ Mr. Summerson
I lived in Barnsbury for 12 years. The traffic scheme to which my hon. Friend refers was introduced at the time when Islington had a Conservative-controlled council.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am most impressed to hear that. The people in that area will be grateful for what has been done. The effects have benefited the whole community.
Parts of my constituency would also benefit from traffic-calming measures. The problem is that if one lists areas that would benefit from them, inevitably one misses out a whole host of others. People then wonder why one did not bother to refer to them. I have already referred to the road that runs through Harrow-on-the-Hill past Harrow school. Cars travel at fast speeds down the high street, which is a narrow, winding road. I have seen cars going down the hill at least 50 mph, if not faster. Boys from Harrow school are crossing the road at all times of the day. At Dulwich it is different. The boys there move from one part of the school to another at fixed times of the day.
The boys from Harrow school take great care. However, due to the work that is going on in Harrow town centre at Roxborough bridge, the amount of traffic has increased. Far too many cars are parked there, so visibility is difficult. The winding nature of the road adds to that difficulty. The road is a prime candidate for traffic-calming measures. I suspect that almost none of the cars that would be slowed down by traffic-calming measures are owned by people who live in the London borough of Harrow. It is the people who abuse the privilege of visiting the London borough of Harrow who cause so much nuisance and danger in the high street of Harrow-on-the-Hill.
Another problem affects Paines lane, Pinner. That was an ancient track which developed into a small road. It has been discovered by heavy lorries coming into Pinner from the Uxbridge road. Paines lane is completely unsuitable for heavy lorries. Width restrictions in particular would greatly protect the people who live in Paines lane and the historic high street in Pinner, which also suffers—it is a continuatition of Paines lane. The surrounding area would be enormously improved if traffic-calming measures were introduced in Paines lane.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The hon. Gentleman describes a situation that most of us recognise from our constituency experience. What does he think about the old Greater London council's lorry ban? I cannot remember whether he supported it. I do not know whether he will be able to get his side, in the few weeks left to it, to do something about restoring the GLC lorry ban.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was about to deal with that very point. My GLC friends and I supported in principle the GLC lorry ban, but in Committee I moved an amendment dealing with the ban. One problem is that certain people have to be exempted; they have to be able to get on with their business. Eventually, not many lorries were banned. Almost every heavy lorry displays a sticker, either a GLC lorry ban exemption sticker or the new London boroughs exemption sticker. I do not criticise the introduction of that measure, but it was not as effective as it might have been. The amendment that I moved would have enabled a lorry ban to be enforced in specific roads. None of us would object to lorries running all night on certain major trunk roads. Everybody, however, would object to heavy lorries going down Paines lane. A lorry ban that specified that lorries were banned from certain roads between certain hours 632 would make a far more effective contribution to people's welfare and quality of life. More work by hon. Members, perhaps on a cross-party basis, is needed.
§ Ms. Ruddock
I am most interested in the hon. Gentleman's comments. The Labour party has already adopted a policy that would designate lorry routes. We are following the example of many other European countries. We believe that designated lorry routes would make a real contribution to traffic-calming measures.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am delighted to hear that; it makes sense. I am delighted to know that the hon. Lady is considering taking these measures down to local level. As she will not, however, be given the opportunity to carry out that policy, I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic has heard the point that she made.
There are different sorts of roads where different traffic-calming measures can make a great contribution. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre has introduced a wide, enabling Bill. That is the best part of it. No hon. Member wants to be told what should be done in his or her constituency. Local residents and tenants' associations know precisely what they want to achieve. They know what is needed far better than borough council officers or even their Member of Parliament. The fact that this is an enabling Bill will enable a borough or any other kind of council to ensure that the right traffic-calming measures are introduced.
Friends of the Earth wrote to hon. Members who have shown an interest in these issues and asked us to introduce such a Bill if we were successful in the ballot for private Members' Bills. I was surprised to receive a proposition from Friends of the Earth with which I so thoroughly agreed and which was so very well thought through. The organisation targeted correctly the Members of Parliament that it thought would support the Bill. I am glad that it found the right target when it contacted my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre. Despite the fact that little time is left to us in this Parliament, I hope that the Bill will have a speedy passage and that it will reach the statute book without amendment.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
I am sure you will agree, Madam Deputy Speaker, that Friday morning debates are normally quiet, but occasionally they reveal gems and surprises. I was somewhat startled to hear of the early age at which my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) allowed himself to be seduced by the market economy. I shall be interested to hear whether my hon. Friend's neighbours, the beneficiaries of his activities, put his name forward for the young entrepreneur of the year award or the young environmentalist of the year award. However, in view of the nature of my hon. Friend's activities, perhaps they were reluctant to get close enough to him to secure his assent to the nomination.
I want to give some celtic support to the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans). So far, the debate has been a home counties affair, but we all understand that our colleagues who represent other parts of the country have constituency commitments today. However, the Bill is as relevant to Scotland, Wales and the north of England as it is to the home counties. I understand that hon. Members who represent London 633 experience the problems we share on a far greater scale than we, fortunately, have to contend with in our communities.
The Bill is attempting to engineer out the shortcomings of human nature. It is trying to deal with the problems caused by the selfishness, stupidity and aggressiveness of motorists. We are trying to find engineering devices that will suppress those characteristics which we all see and which, if we are honest, at different times we all share as drivers.
It is appalling to think that, every single week, eight children die on our roads. That means that eight families will never recover from the horror of the accidents. We are delighted that the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) contributed to the debate. He said that he did not understand why some of the problems existed, because many drivers are also parents. However, the hon. Gentleman, in his generosity towards parents, overlooked the fact that we have a great capacity to compartmentalise our roles. At one moment we can think as parents or pedestrians about road safety, but, half an hour later, we can have a completely different perspective in our commuting role.
Nowadays, jumping the red light has become the practice, not the exception. There is nothing sadder than to see on such cars a sticker on the back window which says "Caution—child on board". That message is intended just for the weekends or the evening, because that same motorist will jump the red light in his rush to get a fraction ahead in the queue on his way to work.
When we are on the roads, we all believe that the idiot is the one in the other car. The Bill would attempt to devise ways in which to suppress and limit the idiocy in all of us once we get behind the wheel of a car. When one gets into a car, one steps into a self-centred, introverted, competitive cocoon, in which one thinks differently from when one is on the pavement. Similarly, we think differently when we discuss the problems of road safety in the abstract in the Chamber.
Stupidities are not practised only by the motorist. I suspect that many hon. Members have shared my anger when I see a parent at the side of the road, safely on the pavement, pushing a push chair or a pram part way into the road while they are waiting to cross. Stupidity is not entirely confined to motorists—although, justifiably, they can claim the lion's share of it.
My county highway authority has written to me to express its support for the Bill. In that letter, the director of environment and highways makes the following relevant point:One of the things we are finding is that our ability to introduce 20 mph speed zones in residential areas are extremely limited by the complex procedures that have to be followed, and all the necessary paraphernalia of road narrowings, humps, chicanes and the like. This is not to mention the considerable cost involved, and the need to obtain Secretary of State's consent on each and every occasion.I hope that the Minister will consider the role that the Department of Transport could play in expediting action once the Bill has concluded its passage, by some accelerated route, through both Houses.
When one tries to engineer out the shortcomings of the motorist, it is important to ensure that they fear the enforcement of the law. The other day, I was driving in south London through a slightly modified form of gateway, where the cars went through the limited centre 634 section, with a bus lane on the near side. There was no barrier across that gateway as there is on those that are intended to prevent access except for fire engines. There were three cars going through the centre section and the two drivers behind me saw it as a great opportunity to get ahead in the queue. They shot through in the bus lane in the knowledge that no one could do anything about it. Even when we have something as categorical as a red light, motorists blatantly ignore it.
In my constituency, a recent tragic case involved an elderly driver who was killed when a young driver shot the lights. In another appalling incident, a bus driven by someone from, I am sad to say, my part of the country, killed someone when the driver went through a traffic light when he arrived at the London end of the motorway.
Of all the bad practices that have developed in motoring, nothing is more dangerous than the practice of jumping the red light. About a year ago, in a debate on road safety, I said that one of the ways I alleviated the tedium of driving in and out of the House every morning was to count the cars who jumped the red light. Such behaviour has now ceased to be the exception—it is almost practice, as not just one, but several following cars jump the red light. Accidents are averted only because drivers waiting at the lights are now becoming increasingly nervous about moving off straight on the green: one must watch for the idiot at the crossroads.
Problems are exacerbated by the sheer lack of awareness and ignorance of the highway code. I know that this issue is an old chestnut, but at some stage we must accept that we need to make the non-mechanistic part of the driving test more rigorous. It is all well and good for people to learn by rote to change gear and about the mechanical aspects of driving, but it is also important that, at the most receptive stage—when people want to learn because they want the end product of access to driving a car on the road—good habits and practices, which are inculcated in the highway code are enforced on people who will probably be let loose on the roads until they reach the age of 70.
The problem of enforcement also means that we must ensure that magistrates exercise their power to punish motorists appropriately. As well as making the driving licence more difficult to obtain, it is important to make it more difficult to retain for people whose licence has been suspended. I am glad that there are moves in that direction.
We cannot alter human nature. We can only try to restrict it by the mechanical and engineering methods described by the hon. Member for Wyre, and to limit it by the use of sanctions, which means that the courts also have their role to play.
§ Mr. Dudley Fishburn (Kensington)
This is an entirely sensible use of parliamentary time on a Friday morning. So often, the Friday morning slot is taken up with some grand design or pet theory of a Back Bencher—if only the universe could be changed, it would be a better place; if the world were flat people would not fall off it; if some amendment could be made to humanity, human beings would behave better.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) has chosen a different route to make sense of his moment of parliamentary time. In a few words, by making some small 635 and explicit changes to the law, he will change the way in which millions of people feel about their environment, the street in front of their homes and their community. He is to be praised enormously for that.
The Bill is a modest 35 lines. One of the curses of parliamentary life is that we pass far too much legislation. In the past few years, legislation passed has reached ever greater records, in length and often in incomprehensibility. This Bill will set the law for England and Scotland in 35 lines—indeed, it changes the law in England in a modest 20 lines.
I wish that I could pretend that the Bill was entirely comprehensible, but it is not. These wonderful words appear at the beginning of line 5:5 l.—(1) In section 62 of the Highways Act 1980 (general power of improvement) in subsection (3) (description of works for which specific powers are given and to which the general power does not apply) after paragraph (ff) there shall be inserted—'(fg)'".That is the legislative nonsense behind which lie real changes in the way our streets will look—not immediately, but after some years—as a result of this legislation.
If I have been cruel in pointing out one of the more incomprehensible passages, I commend my hon. Friend for the simple lines in the Bill, including line 25, which I am sure will be effective and which state:(a) for the words '39' there shall be inserted the words '39C'".If my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre is able to change our legislation with such simplicity, he deserves commendation.
In legislative terms, the Bill clears up the law. During the past few years, local authorities have been uncertain about what they could and could not do. People with the best intentions of calming traffic, improving the environment and making the urban landscape feel more friendly to residents, have been hindered by that uncertainty. That is why traffic-calming measures have almost been reduced to the single method of road humps, which are unsatisfactory, as has been pointed out repeatedly in the debate.
As I understand it, the Bill allows local authorities the choice of a range of methods to calm traffic and it allows them to do so in the knowledge that the law is behind them and is clear. They will not continually have to look over their shoulders for the possibility of a lawsuit or the Secretary of State for the Environment not approving their scheme. As a result of this legislation, which we trust will speed through the other place as fast as it passes through the House, local authorities will be able to say yes to availability of forms of traffic calming in their areas. They will be able to have a chicane, or a road narrowing, or to plant a tree. They will be able to use a variety of methods, and new ones will be invented to calm traffic as a result of the Bill.
The Bill will be especially welcome in my constituency. I represent the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where about 100,000 people live; yet every day, well over 1 million people pass through that slice of our great international city. The area was partly built in the 18th century and was almost finished by the end of the 19th century. All the roads were certainly in place by the turn 636 of this century. The huge increase in the flow of people to and fro—like some massive tide—alters the residential feel of the heart of our capital.
About 70 per cent. of Kensington is a conservation area. It is not merely the buildings but the environment which is held to be of special importance and to need special care. The mass of traffic passing through the area is not merely a pollutant but takes a daily toll of the fabric of the great historical centre of our city.
Many residents in Kensington would seek only to change the title of the Bill from the Traffic Calming Bill to the "Traffic Euthanasia Bill". As my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) and for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) have said, many traffic-calming schemes annoy people from outside the area, where they are imposed but are fully supported by residents. The fact that we shall be able to impose a variety of different schemes in Kensington will be greatly appreciated.
Some time ago I introduced the Street Furniture Design and Planning Bill, which was intended to clear up some of the clutter which makes such a mess of London and of other United Kingdom cities. Like all sensible measures, with the exception of this Bill, it got nowhere, but at least it aired the widespread feeling that London is a long way behind best practice to be found in Europe and elsewhere in the design of our city and the things which are plonked down on our pavements and streets.
When studying the extraordinary range of mess in our streets, I was aware that the Department of Transport and local authority traffic departments are perhaps the worst culprits, putting up many messy, bossy signs to control traffic and to calm it.
If the Bill introduces practical measures to slow down the flow of traffic in residential areas, such as narrowing streets and planting trees in the middle of roads, the need for all those metal signs and bits of flashing bossiness will be diminished; that will have a knock-on effect on the appearance of our city environment.
The Bill passes through the House at a convenient and sensible time because it will be noted by the commission led by Dame Jennifer Jenkins, which is studying the use of London's royal parks. The commission will have studied especially the flow of traffic through the royal parks in the centre of London and outside. This Bill will allow it to make recommendations on a much wider range of traffic control. As hundreds of thousands of Londoners use the royal parks every day, that will improve their quality of life. I hope that the commission will look into the possibilities opened up by the Bill once it receives Royal Assent.
We have rightly heard much about the need to encourage bicycles in the centre of London. London is a largely flat city for which the bicycle is tailor made, and I would do anything to encourage cycling in London, especially in the royal parks, where cycling can be encouraged through the creation of cycle routes and where, as a result of the Bill, the mass of traffic can be made to flow more smoothly where desired and yet be restricted where it is not.
The Bill will not simply encourage cyclists or even discourage motorists but will exclude motorists from areas where a great number of cars are not required. One of its effects will be to encourage pedestrians. London is made for pedestrian life. In many of the world's great cities, pedestrians are regarded as freaks. If people try to walk a 637 few blocks in Los Angeles, they will be picked up by the police force for loitering. It is unthinkable that a Californian should put on shoes to walk. He may put them on to walk to the car, but that is their only use.
However, shoe leather is the best form of transport in London. As the Bill makes our residential streets calmer, people will begin to find walking more attractive, easier and safer. To go from one end of my constituency to another takes less than 30 minutes by foot, but it can easily take longer by car.
As we improve residential areas, parks and green spaces, cut down the thrust of traffic where it should not be, implement some of the schemes that have been suggested today on both sides of the House, and encourage traffic to go along predesignated routes, we shall take a substantial step toward creating a more pleasant London. This is a national Bill, which will apply to all cities in the kingdom, but I speak for London, the residents of which will have good cause to be thankful for this morning's debate and for the Bill.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I agree with virtually everything that the hon. Member for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn) said, which will surprise him as much as it surprises me. This is a morning for agreement on an excellent Bill.
Pedestrianism and people's willingness to walk should be a matter of choice. In my area, people often have to walk because they are waiting for a bus that has not arrived. If we are to improve the lot of pedestrians, we should start immediately by setting an example outside the Palace of Westminster by pedestrianising the whole of Parliament square.
§ The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Christopher Chope)
Except for Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. Banks
I do not think that we should exempt ourselves. I am sure that we can find ways to deal with problems that may arise. The weight of traffic makes it difficult to gain access to that lovely bit of green in Parliament square and once one is there it is not a pleasant place to be. We took readings of lead levels and emission gases from exhausts and the readings were most unpleasant. The hon. Member for Kensington talks about the quality of life in London, and we should deal with some of those problems.
§ Mr. Banks
That is an eminently sensible suggestion. When the Bill is in Committee we may be able to consider it and make a few interesting amendments. The Bill is excellent and I was pleased that the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) asked me to be a sponsor. I apologise to him and the House for arriving late, but there was a reason for it. I am wearing a finger stool not to prevent me from picking my nose—it would not make much difference because I pick my nose with my right hand—but because I am taking part in a small experiment to register the stress levels attendant on being a Member of Parliament. I am 638 carrying behind me a monitor and some pads on my nipples are registering my heartbeat as I face, with fraught expectation, the possibility of addressing this packed House on such a controversial measure. I hope that the evidence that we gather from the experiment will reinforce any additional claim for higher payments among Members of Parliament because of the high stress levels that we must endure in doing our job. It is wholly appropriate that I should be having my stress levels measured while making a speech on traffic calming.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) is unfortunately not in his place, but I shall answer his question for the record. He asked me about the history of my horse manure collection in Brixton many years ago. Yes, it was to try to earn some money. It was an early brush with capitalism, but, given the fact that I used to receive only 6d for a bucket of horse manure—for those young Conservative Members present, that is 2½p in today's decimal currency—I soon lost my love and affection for capitalism and realised how exploitative it was. That is why I now sit on this side of the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West would fully appreciate that collecting horse manure is wonderful training for going into politics.
It is interesting to see Conservative Members—and Opposition Members, I suppose—using this opportunity to raise issues of concern to their constituents. It is no mere coincidence that Conservative Members from very marginal constituencies in London have been taking this opportunity to address their constituents via the House of Commons. The hon. Members for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden), for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) and for Kensington will need an awful lot more than road humps and chicanes to save them at the general election. Chicanery rather than chicanes may assist them. However, they made some good points and we have all had those experiences within our constituencies.
Experiences are a good basis on which to make comments in the House. After the tests had been carried out on me this morning, I took a taxi along Regent street and could see the problems of London all around me. They were not unusual; one of the large stores was having a facelift and its front was being cleaned of pigeon manure, which is not as eminently collectable as horse manure, as one does not receive much money for it and it takes more effort to collect it. To clean the building, a large hoist had been erected which was occupying one lane of Regent street. The lane had been coned off.
It was obviously convenient for the store owner to have the building cleaned on Friday morning rather than Sunday morning or Saturday, but it meant that the rest of us travelling along Regent street were inconvenienced. Too many people in London act as it suits them and inconvenience other road users.
I hope that the Minister will give us the precise position of the Government's policy on the renting of road space by developers, and tell us how it is progressing and what effect we can expect. All sorts of people seem to have the right to dig up London streets and lay them back down, only to be followed by other organisations. There seems to be little co-ordination, which produces maximum inconvenience for Londoners travelling around, whether in cars, taxis, buses or bicycles. Several Conservative Members are cyclists; they should consider the fact that the patchwork quilt of work and potholes on the roads is dangerous, particularly to cyclists.
639 I have never known a time when London's roads were in as bad a condition. That is partly because the cash restrictions imposed on local authorities have meant that road maintenance has been rolled back. I see that the Minister for Roads and Traffic is shaking his head, but will he tell us why London streets are so bad? I am not imagining it. I am not making a cheap political point—I have other opportunities to do that. Everyone who uses London streets knows of their appalling condition and how dangerous they are for pedestrians and other road users, particularly cyclists.
In welcoming the Bill I shall mention a couple of facts that the Association of London Authorities has asked me to raise in the debate so that they can be placed on record. On behalf of the London Labour boroughs, the ALA welcomes the Bill, but it says that it is important that the regulations envisaged should not be so detailed as to stifle attempts by highway authorities to implement traffic-calming measures. It cites the fact that when the Department brought out the first set of regulations on road humps they were so restrictive that it was made virtually impossible to implement such schemes. I believe that we are now on the third set of Department of Transport regulations on road humps. In Committee we must consider how the Bill will be implemented and ensure that it is not too restrictive.
§ Mr. Mans
I realise that the hon. Gentleman was otherwise engaged earlier, but in my speech I made it clear that the regulations were very much in line with what the Association of London Authorities suggested. I think that the ALA used the expression "light touch", which is how I should like to see the measure implemented. The maximum amount of discretion should be given to local authorities to do what is best for their districts.
§ Mr. Banks
I apologise for raising issues which the hon. Gentleman has already covered. The ALA raises two other matters that have perhaps been dealt with. I do not wish to detain or unnecessarily bore the House, but one issue that the ALA mentioned was the number of traffic-calming measures that are already legal. It said that such measures includedwidth restrictions (narrowings) to restrict heavy lorriesbut also said:on the basis of the 1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act, these are legal only for safety purposes or to improve the environment by restricting heavy lorries alone. A simple amendment would bring the law in line with the proposals in the Bill by allowing such measures to improve the environment generally.I hope that the hon. Member for Wyre will consider that issue in Committee.
The matter of cash has already been mentioned. Local authorities will obviously be concerned about that.
Like other hon. Members, I wish to mention my constituency. I do so not out of the desperation that perhaps moves Conservative Members to think about the election, as, fortunately, Newham, North-West is one of the best Labour seats. I work hard and do not take the electors for granted, but I can contemplate the next Parliament with a little more certainty than some Conservative Members.
The London borough of Newham has many traffic problems. We can hardly expect anything else as Newham has the A11 and A13 running through it from east to west, 640 dividing the borough into three strips of land. The scene is not very attractive, and anyone who has travelled along the A 11 and A13 through the borough will know of our problems. The effect on the environment of such an enormous weight of traffic is dire. It is unhealthy to live alongside roads that carry the vast amount of traffic of the A11 and A13.
I do not blame motorists for trying to find ways around traffic jams by rat running, but we know the problems that that creates in side roads. Residents rightly complain to us about that, particularly in districts such as Forest Gate, Maryland and Stratford. There are particular rat-running problems off the Leytonstone road, where there are many schools, thus creating dangers for residents of that district. Many demands are made on the borough to implement traffic-calming schemes and any additional power and resources that we can give it to do so, via the Bill, will be welcome by Newham residents.
Road humps and width restrictions do not prevent traffic from passing along roads, although they may restrict it. The prospect of encountering humps on rat runs is still more attractive than being stuck in what I suppose is the ultimate traffic-calming measure—a gridlock that does not move. Such traffic jams are not calming for the drivers or those who live in the district. When someone is stuck in a traffic jam, his or her stress levels increase. The very thought of it has no doubt sent the machine on my back surging into the higher realms of machine tolerance. Road humps and restrictions do not address the main problem, which is that there are too many vehicles on London's roads. The best way to calm traffic, other than creating an enormous gridlock, is to remove as much traffic from the roads as possible. That is the issue we must address in the great conurbation of London.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) speaks on behalf of the Labour party—soon to be the government—I hope that she will say more about what the Labour party will do about traffic in London when it comes to government. Traffic is a big issue, although not the one on which the election will turn—no doubt, we shall be discussing the economy. However, among the many issues that interest Londoners, traffic and public transport will be two of the most important during the election. I know that, in her usual fashion, my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford will address that matter head on.
We need to attach far higher priority to public transport. It must be developed much more in London. We need more bus lanes and bus priority schemes, and we need them properly enforced. I am a fairly law-abiding citizen—in fact, I am very law abiding. Why should I undersell myself? I have a thing about bus lanes because I supported the GLC when it was implementing them in London. I therefore have an ideological attachment to bus lanes. It seems far more democratic that big red buses should go charging through with priority than that single people in cars should, so I always make sure that I keep out of bus lanes. It is very annoying—here goes the old monitor again—to see such cars steaming down the bus lane, and I find myself hoping that there is a policeman at the other end of it. Unfortunately, there rarely is. That is what is so maddening—people get away with it. Of course one is tempted to follow cars down the bus lanes, but I resist any temptation to break the law. I hope that the Labour Government will properly enforce additional bus lanes in London.
641 We also need to end the tax breaks for company cars. Far too much traffic enters London and we should dissuade companies from giving their employees cars by ending the tax breaks for such cars. If companies want to carry on providing them thereafter, fine; but why should the rest of us subsidise companies through the tax system for providing cars for their employees that are often unnecessary?
In the end, someone will have to consider restricting cars in central London. We shall have to tell people not to bring their cars in during certain hours, unless they have a demonstrable need to do so. Many people do need their cars for good reasons and they should be allowed to use them. People will claim that this is an infringement of their freedom; to a certain extent, it is. Living in society means that some of our freedoms are restricted. We cannot have the right to exercise our freedoms at the expense of maximum discomfort for large numbers of other people and at the expense of their freedoms. If people do not act responsibly, they will have to obey the law.
If we are to implement such an idea, however, we must offer people the only alternative, which is good public transport. If people know that they can get a bus, tube or train, they have no great incentive to take their cars and sit in traffic jams. I do not think that we need coercion. A good public transport policy for London will lead naturally to a decline in the use of the private car. Four people sitting in four cars occupy more space than a double-decker bus, which seems nonsensical. Everything has its price, including road space. It seems wrong that four people should occupy slightly more road space than 80 bus passengers.
Lastly, whatever we do in the House, we must ensure that we provide those who will have to police these various schemes with enough powers to make them work. There is nothing worse than the House passing what seems like good-guy legislation only to see it fall into disrepute through abuse. We need to control traffic in London, to restrict the use of private vehicles and to have more bus lanes. In that case, we must think about more police, more traffic wardens and more people who can penalise anti-social citizens, thereby ensuring that they act in accordance with the wishes of the majority and not in the interests of a selfish minority.
I welcome this excellent Bill. There are certainly sufficient reasons for it to go into Committee. Were there not, it would have been good to see it complete all its stages here this morning, given the great deal of support for it expressed by hon. Members. I am happy to add my support for the Bill to theirs.
§ Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)
It is a pleasure to speak about the Bill this morning, and to be a co-sponsor of it. We owe my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) a great deal for introducing the Bill and giving some of us the chance to be associated with it.
I must apologise for hearing only part of my hon. Friend's speech and for missing a great deal of the debate. Perhaps I should be wearing the stress machine attached to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), but it took one of the coldest days of the year for my central heating boiler to pack up. I then had to try to find workmen to come out and fix it—workmen whose bleepers do not respond to bleeping. It has been a rather stressful 642 experience and I apologise for having to nip off as soon as I finish speaking to make sure that the men can get into the house to fix the boiler.
The debate also gives some of us the opportunity to reflect on related matters. Almost unprecedentedly, officials are crammed into the Box so as to pick up every important sentiment that we want to hand to the Minister.
A city such as Leeds reflects many of the problems and developments with which we are dealing under the Bill. My constituency is a suburban seat which goes into the inner city. We have the problems of the village on the outskirts through which the traffic feeds down from Harrogate. The Harrogate bypass has increased the flow of traffic, and heavy lorries charge through the village streets, whose pavements are only 2 ft wide. There is an old people's home in the village, and elderly people are increasingly worried. Indeed, my mother decided to leave the village, no longer feeling safe as the huge trucks surged through it. People feel that they will be sucked into the road by them. On the village lane, the sides and hedgerows have been smashed by an increasing number of heavy goods vehicles.
In the more suburban areas, the rat runs prevail as the traffic seizes up in the mornings. In the inner-city area, it is esential to improve the quality of the urban environment. Unlike many American cities, British towns and cities have the enormous attraction of pavement life, with shop fronts and people milling about. We have left behind the philosophy of the 1960s, when there was a desire to separate people from traffic and to make them cross streets on bridges and concourses at first-floor level. Perhaps it was just as well that we had a Labour Government then, because the huge recession that ensued meant that all the redevelopment of the period had to stop.
Coming out of the station in Leeds city centre, one sees the walkways on one side crossing to the other side, but since they were built all the Victorian buildings have been preserved, and the high rises, with their horrible plate glass, concrete and concrete walkways, have been discontinued.
Now we are restoring the Victorian splendour of these buildings and trying to pedestrianise the area. In modern American cities like Atlanta—not the older cities such as Boston—there are no people or shops and no life on the pavements. It is a distressing scene.
I see this Bill not as a traffic-calming measure but as an environment-calming measure. I do not know how to calm traffic, short of stopping it altogether. Some traffic-calming schemes do not calm the environment at all. Road humps may be useful, but they do not usually calm the environment. They cause a terrific amount of noise.
It is unfortunate that road humps have sometimes been the only option. Lorries do not pay a great deal of attention to them. In my village of Pool, people asked for road humps. On the Ilkley road in Otley, road humps were wanted because heavy lorries take a short cut through that road, but the lorries hardly notice the humps and the only result is the terrible noise of lorries banging over them.
The significant aspect of the Bill is that local authorities are provided with many alternatives. Before the Bill was introduced, I had already suggested to Leeds highways authority that it should pinch the junction of Ilkley road in Otley, using some of the ideas in a leaflet that I did not know existed until we came to discuss the Bill. Closing one end of a road prevents the entrance of large lorries, 643 although goods vehicles, cars and cycles can enter from the other end of the road. Roads can be narrowed to prevent rat runs.
I do not refute what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West said about policing, but I do not think that many of the Bill's measures would need policing. The attraction of many traffic-calming measures is that, unlike weight restrictions, policemen are not needed to monitor and check them with counters and gauges, which requires the stopping of traffic. Weight restriction measures can be useful, and we have called for them many times on roads into Leeds, but they need to be policed or they become meaningless and are abused. Many of the Bill's measures will solve traffic problems without placing the emphasis on policing.
The Bill's proposals must be considered in conjunction with a broad approach to traffic management. There will not be a great deal of advantage in placing road humps in Pool village if traffic remains at its present volume, because great inconvenience would be caused. There is no point in funnelling traffic into a village close to a bypass which also needs a bypass. In French towns, one always finds a sign to the centre pointing to the left or right, and an ordinary road bypasses the village.
Perhaps the Department of Transport is too regulatory. It seems to be mesmerised by the minutiae of requirements. Is there enough flexibility about the sort of bypasses that can be built and do they have to be so large, with such big verges? Do they need to take up so much land and cost so much?
We have been seeking a bypass for Pool for many years, and had considered a scheme to link into the Otley bypass. Unfortunately, political power changed in the county council and the Labour authority decided that it did not want to spend money in that part of its area; it was diverted to the south of the county and to parts of south and east Leeds. Therefore, we got half a bypass system. One side of Otley is covered but the other side, the Pool side, is not. A bypass was then built in Harrogate, and there is serious traffic congestion in Pool. It seems that there is still no prospect of a bypass that meets ministerial requirements.
Another problem arises from lack of co-ordination between local authorities and the Department. On the side of Otley that has a bypass there is a trunk road, while the other side of the village has a local authority highway. The right hand needs to know what the left hand is doing, so that the Department does not build bypasses where there are trunk roads, while parts of the environment close by are not part of the scheme because they are the responsibility of a local authority. The priority in Leeds is not to build a bypass at Pool or to do anything further in Otley but to spend the money that has been allocated in east and south Leeds.
The Bill's measures should not need detailed requirements, but the Department often insists on them. Many of us tried to improve the quality of life in villages such as Bramhope by the installation of pelican crossings, but a tight formula applies to such crossings: there has to be a specific flow of traffic and a fixed percentage of people who will use the crossing. It is not easy to strike such a 644 balance. Although we all know that it is vital to be able to cross roads with safety, it is not easy to install a pelican crossing, because of a lack of flexibility
. I thank the Department for recognising the scale of the problem in Bramhope; although the precise formula was not being met, it is on the point of being met after 13 years of campaigning, and we have received approval for a pelican crossing. The next step is to have it installed. There is some concern about the time that elapses between approval, planning and implementation. I understand that the crossing is now at the planning stage, but so far no one has been able to say when it will be built.
A bypass is the best way to guarantee the environment of our towns and villages. There must be flexibility and discretion for the local authority, and minimum regulation. When the Bill becomes law, I hope that the Department will encourage local authorities to make full use of their discretion and to look at fairly cheap measures. The Bill would allow them to put in all sorts of temporary measures, which could be a great stimulus to experiment in deciding what will work well.
Neither I nor many of my councillors know about the leaflet that I have mentioned; that shows that there is a case for the Department stimulating local authorities into making greater use of existing schemes—not only from this country but from abroad. We have been lax in the way that we have spread good practice. In many American cities, schemes to improve the quality of the environment are well ahead of those that are provided in this country. It is not just that local authorities are unsure of the law but that many of them are unaware of what can be done. The more that we bring such ideas and schemes to their attention the better, and the more we can encourage them to get cracking and impose them.
This is a non-partisan debate, unlike most of the debates in the run-up to the election. However, it seems that many Liberal Democrat Members, who complain most about local matters, are not present to debate these local issues.
§ Dr. Hampson
Not at all: I was just asking where Liberal Members were for this debate.
I am delighted to see the bipartisan approach to these matters. At the heart of the Bill is a desire to change the balance between pedestrians, inhabitants and traffic. I seek not to ban the motor car, but to strive for a better balance in our villages, suburban areas and inner cities.
The car needs access. People will always find it an attractive way to go from their homes to work, especially on a bitterly cold day, when they can travel in comfort listening to the hi-fi rather than waiting on wet and windy street corners for buses. Therefore, we have to ensure that the environment through which the car goes is not destroyed by it.
This is a small, highly constructive measure, and the debate on it has been constructive. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre will ensure that local authorities make full use of the Bill's provisions, should it become an Act, that they are aware of what will be achievable and will promote good practice. Above all, I hope that funds will be made available to grease the wheels not of the motor car but of the workings of local authorities.
§ Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)
I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's confirmation that, after the next election, he expects to be in his place. We can confirm that he will indeed be in his place—on the Opposition Benches. All the steps being taken by the Labour party, even to the extent of wiring him up to calm him down—something being done to members of his tendency in the Labour party—will not help that party to avoid the public impression, especially in London, of what the Labour party stands for.
§ Mr. Banks
I am calm. I should point out that this has nothing to do with the Labour party. I am wired up because of something in connection with London Weekend Television. I was going to say something nice about the hon. Gentleman, but, in view of what he has said, I doubt whether I shall be able to do so.
§ Mr. Bowis
I shall have to wait with patience for the day when that becomes possible, perhaps after the next election.
I am pleased to support my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) and I congratulate him on his good fortune in the ballot. I am also pleased to be one of the sponsors of the Bill and I hope to help my hon. Friend speed this measure on to the statute book. Last week, we debated a Bill that would have introduced a national lottery. Unfortunately, not enough of us were here to ensure its further progress, but I was in favour of it because of the assistance that such a scheme would have given to the arts, sport and charitable organisations. Today, we are dealing with a different sort of lottery, but one that I do not support. It is the lottery with people's lives and limbs that is our inner-city and urban traffic. It is mainly an urban problem.
Some of us have met members of a lobby who were here to support a private Member's Bill dealing with disability. I see the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) nodding her head. She may have talked to some of those people in wheelchairs. When I asked these people whether they had always had their disabilities, many said that they had been disabled as a result of road accidents—they were knocked down or had been in a car—and were left with disabilities that would be with them for the rest of their lives. That is the lottery with which we are dealing —a lottery based on the knowledge that speed kills and, when it does not kill, it maims.
I was impressed by the statistics that we were sent by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety which showed that a comparatively small reduction in speed can make a dramatic reduction in injuries. At a speed of 20 mph, a pedestrian hit by a car has comparatively minor injuries, whereas at 30 mph the majority of accidents result in death or serious injuries to those involved. Traffic calming—perhaps we should call it "driver calming"—can help to slow speeds and save lives.
PACTS also showed figures from other European countries. In Denmark 600 schemes have been brought in, resulting in an average 45 per cent. reduction in traffic 646 accidents. In Germany, there has been a 30 to 45 per cent. reduction in casualties because of the introduction of schemes such as those about which we are talking. Where schemes have been introduced in this country, the evidence shows that a substantial and impressive reduction in accidents has resulted. That is why we all support the Bill.
I particularly support the Bill because I represent a south London constituency. As I have often said, the roads in my constituency were designed not for the motor car but for the narrow-gauge horse and cart. With modern traffic flows in volume and speed, there are inevitably accidents on them. All too often, my constituents come down in the morning to get into the cars parked outside their homes and then have to go back to get new wing mirrors or ring up garages to arrange for dents to be knocked out. All too often, parents are concerned to the point of panic if their children run out of the front door, because of the speed with which vehicles travel down narrow roads which, as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West said, have become rat runs. We understand that they have come to be used in that way because motorists are trying to avoid traffic jams on main roads. We want to attract traffic away from rat runs and one of the ways of achieving that is to slow traffic so that it is no longer an advantage to use such routes.
After great arguments we have persuaded London Buses Ltd. to introduce the excellent new hoppa bus services, and there are many new routes. Unfortunately, on many occasions we see those buses stationary, because they cannot pass through rat-run routes as a result of an accident or bad parking.
I am sure that we are all aware of the effect of noise and pollution on those who live in narrow streets that are used to avoid traffic jams on main roads. If the Bill's provisions are implemented, they will take away some of the noise during the evening and the night. That will make life in the inner city more attractive for many residents.
A current measure is the implementation of red routes, which I think will do much to draw traffic from the side roads. The evidence obtained from the experiment that took place in north London shows that traffic is drawn on to the main routes. I hope that the management of red routes proves to be as flexible as we would all wish it to be.
There is an impression that a red route means no parking of any sort 24 hours a day. Such a route must be designed to meet the needs of those who occupy certain stretches of it. The restrictions may be enforced at certain times of the day. Along some stretches of the routes, there should be "tidal" systems rather than enforcement on both sides of the road. If that can be done, many of the fears of residents, shopkeepers and traders generally may be put at rest.
A clear message must go out that the schemes will be flexible. The message must also go out that the experiments that have taken place show that traffic flows become better, that buses move more freely, that the public are attracted to using the bus routes and that that helps to increase the trade of the businesses along the routes. After the initial review, it was shown that an impressive number of businesses on an experimental route had increased their business. That is good.
I refer in parenthesis to a specific problem in my constituency, which I know also affects some hon. Members who live in the area, who are perhaps not able to be in their places and to seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Custom car rallies take place on the 647 roads near Battersea park once a month and they are a major nuisance for anyone who lives in the area. There is a great need for some traffic calming or for moving those rallies to a better place—perhaps a disused airfield outside central London could be used. I would welcome that, as would my constituents. The Bill will not give me or my constituents much comfort when it comes to moving custom car rallies from Battersea, but I should be failing in my constituency duty if I did not raise the matter on behalf of my constituents.
Many measures have been taken to calm traffic, to make life easier for local residents and for those who wish to move through a certain area. In the past, there has tended to be an endless succession of changes to one-way systems. Such schemes can work and they make life interesting when I am trying to reach my constituents—I forget that the one-way system has been changed and I have to drive another few miles to reach my constituents. Nevertheless, one-way streets can be beneficial and they are reasonably popular, provided they are accompanied by speed restriction measures.
My experience is that soon after a one-way system has been implemented in a particular street—albeit at the behest of the residents I receive letters from people in that street complaining about the number of wing mirrors that are damaged. They are also concerned that the one-way system encourages cars to speed because the traffic flows more freely. A one-way system needs to go hand-in-hand with measures to slow the speed of vehicles using those roads.
Another measure often taken is to close off a street. Again, it is an initiative test—almost orienteering—for hon. Members to get to their constituents. Closing off a street certainly resolves the problem of speeding traffic in that street after all, if there is no traffic there cannot be any speeding vehicles—but the problem simply moves to the next street. The residents of that street then want it to be closed off, and the whole thing becomes absurd. We need to consider the consequential problems for neighbouring streets and simultaneously introduce measures to alleviate them, such as road humps.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West, I am pleased that the Bill will enable the faster introduction of pedestrian crossings. When a child was killed in my constituency, I managed to persuade the authorities that we needed a second pedestrian crossing on that road, albeit within sight of the existing crossing. That took five months. However, I battled for five years to get agreement to a pedestrian crossing over Bolinbroke grove to Wandsworth common. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will ensure that local authorities are made aware of their power to implement pedestrian crosssings more quickly.
More measures are required. The 20 mph schemes on some side roads are effective, provided they are policed. However, it is rather over-egging the pudding to have both a 20 mph limit and road humps on the same road. Both measures are popular, but sleeping policemen have a downside. A patient on a drip in an ambulance, desperate to get to the accident and emergency unit of the local hospital, has an uncomfortable ride. Indeed, some emergency services simply do not like road humps. That apart, many roads should and do qualify for road humps.
648 Where road humps are not appropriate, there should be more road texturing—a rather sexier term than the technical name. The texturing makes the road rough enough to make it obvious to any driver that he is travelling too fast. That is an excellent scheme in certain areas, as is the road-narrowing scheme. Road narrowing can mean, quite simply, narrowing the road. It can also be done by barriers. They slow the speed of traffic, especially if they are in the middle of the road. After all, drivers do not want to lose their wing mirrors. They can often prevent access by larger vehicles.
I hope that the Bill will persuade authorities to use road narrowing measures at some of London's bridges. In the case of the beautiful Albert bridge, for example, there is a ban on vehicles above a certain weight. Troops of men even have to break step because of the danger of the swinging bridge collapsing. However, too often one sees vehicles that should not use that bridge doing so. Narrowing of the kind used on Hammersmith bridge should be used more to protect other bridges. Also, corner capes can help to prevent the illegal parking at corners that is the cause of many accidents.
Although my hon. Friend's Bill is inevitably in legal, enabling jargon, perhaps this debate will help to flesh out its provisions. I am pleased that it imposes similar requirements to ensure adequate road quality to those placed on public utilities and others in the New Roads and Street Works Bill. Too often, ruts and holes are left when inadequate reparations are made by those who undertake road works.
All the cycling organisations support my hon. Friend's Bill, and I am all in favour of more measures to improve the life of the cyclist in London. However, one must ask cyclists to observe a degree of responsibility for road safety. All too often, excessive speed takes the form of cyclists speeding along pavements or on the road at night without lights.
The police acknowledge that problem, but they are at a loss to know what to do about it because there is no way of identifying an offending cyclist—other than by describing him and his bicycle. If bicycles carried an identifying number that could be seen by a policeman standing on a street corner, the offending rider could be pursued. Most cyclists are not irresponsible, but they can all get a bad name because of the actions of a minority.
There is also the problem of coach drivers who, instead of using coach parks, prefer to pocket the money that they had been given to use them and to park in the street instead. That creates environmental problems for residents, because in the summer coaches are left with their engines running so that the air conditioning will operate. Coaches also obstruct the view of pedestrians and particularly of children, who may run out into the road.
Several hon. Members have already expressed their views about bus lanes. Lorry access is another important aspect of road safety, as is the question of when lorries should be permitted to enter residential streets, if at all. I have doubts about road pricing, particularly in London, although I am not against an experiment. It has the potential for an enormous bureaucratic nightmare—not least because of the many exemptions and exceptions that would have to be made and the difficulty of policing abuse.
Road pricing is also potentially socially unjust, because one would be saying to the less well-off, "You cannot use our roads because you cannot afford to do so, whereas the better-off can."
649 We should think in terms of a package. No one measure should be viewed in isolation. That is true of red routes, and of this year's vast increase in public transport investment, which is welcome. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members—including those absentees from the Social Democrats, who again seem to have deserted us —support those improvements. Public transport is crucial to what we seek to achieve, but it is not enough on its own. We need measures such as those proposed in the Bill to calm the traffic that remains. Public transport now caters for some 90 per cent. of people who travel to work in the centre of London but for only 15 to 20 per cent. of those who travel to work around the London boroughs where there are not enough bus, train and underground routes. Until such routes exist, we need to calm the traffic.
The Bill is a good and welcome measure which will immediately improve life for people in London and, I am sure, in all urban areas. It will improve their environment, reducing fumes, noise, the volume of traffic and its speed. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre can be justly proud to have brought the package of measures to the House. I am certainly proud and happy to support him and I wish the Bill a speedy and successful passage through both Houses.
§ Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)
First, I apologise to the House for my late arrival. I have been attending a meeting at Wandsworth town hall along with senior council officer Mr. Dickens and Chief Inspector Muir of the Tooting police. The Minister knows Wandsworth and will be interested to hear that there was standing room only at the meeting of one of the council committees of local residents. The issue under discussion was traffic problems in St. James's drive. The meeting was held at 10.30 am and was attended by 30 or more local residents who had had to take time off work to be there.
Of all the issues that are brought to our attention as Members of Parliament, none figures more regularly in our postbags than the traffic problems encountered by our constituents. I therefore warmly welcome the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans). Its title—the Traffic Calming Bill—says it all. I do not think that any hon. Member, of whatever party, can in any way disagree with the purpose of the Bill, which is to enhance safety and improve the environment. Anything that the Bill can achieve in that regard will be welcomed by us all, whichever area we represent.
Let me make a few observations—constructive, I hope, because I want the Bill to become law—to which the Minister may refer when he sums up. Great confusion exists in our constituents' minds about who is actually responsible for such measures. People often come to us and say, "Look—you're the MP. Surely you can help get this done." People are never sure whether something is the responsibility of the Department of Transport or the local authority, and where the local police come into the matter.
Take, for example, the siting of traffic lights. People say, "If only we could have lights there, it would be an improvement." One is then on a sort of roundabout: who is responsible and who must get approval from whom? It would help if that were clarified.
One reason why I warmly support the Bill and why I left the meeting this morning is that I believe that we should give much greater powers to local authorities—in 650 conjunction with police and local residents—to introduce their own schemes. At this morning's meeting, a repeated complaint was that council officers tell people that they can do something about improvements but that they then go on to say that they have to follow certain procedures.
At the meeting that I attended this morning, I heard that the highways, housing and social services departments had to be consulted. I accept that other departments must be made aware of proposed schemes but, sadly, that takes up a great deal of time. That point was made strongly at this morning's meeting.
The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) referred to matters that affect his constituency, which adjoins mine. I am sure that he has often heard similar comments. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that there are ways to grant local authorities, after having consulted local groups and the police, the power to introduce local schemes that would benefit local residents and improve the movement of traffic in general.
The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) referred to road humps, the cost of which always amazes me. I am not thinking about the surveys; I refer to the cost of constructing road humps. I have never been able to find out why they are so expensive. The greatest problem is the enormous speed at which vehicles travel. Road humps do not always deter fast drivers. We must try even harder to control the speed at which vehicles are driven through the residential areas of our big cities and towns.
Another problem we encounter relates to the type of vehicles that are allowed to be driven through residential areas. I hold in my hand a photograph of a residential area in my constituency. It shows juggernaut lorries delivering goods to a small factory that was sited in this area years ago, long before such huge lorries ever came on to our roads. I am deeply involved with Wandsworth council on this issue. Council officials say that they fully understand the annoyance of local residents. These huge lorries travel through streets where cars are already parked, and that presents an additional problem.
There is also the problem of the time of day when these juggernaut lorries collect materials from or deliver materials to this paper factory. I hope that the Minister will be able to say whether powers can be granted to the local authority to restrict the size of the lorries that are allowed to travel through residential areas to collect or deliver goods to companies and, specifically, the time at which they are allowed to collect or deliver those goods.
Huge lorries are delivering or collecting material from this company in the Duntshill road area 24 hours a day. The matter has been taken up by local residents. They have asked why 24-hour-a-day delivery is allowed, and have been told that that is most convenient for the drivers, since it allows them to deliver very late at night or very early in the morning. It would be most helpful if the local authority were given the power to restrict the size and type of vehicle and the times at which vehicles are allowed to call at or leave this firm's premises. I hope that the Minister will consider that matter.
Another problem that we must consider—I hope that the Bill will give us an opportunity to do so is the growth of traffic and the parking that results. A point made forcefully at the meeting I attended, to which all of us who represent city constituencies can relate, concerned the problem caused by train services operated either by British Rail or London Underground. Early in the morning, 651 enormous numbers of people park their cars in streets adjoining the stations, causing problems to the residents. We must devise a system, in co-operation with local authorities, to try to stop that practice.
The British Rail Wandworth Common station has adequate car parking facilities. Sadly, the problem is that many of the people who use that station are not prepared to use the facilities provided by British Rail—they are not prepared to pay. Instead, they park in the adjoining roads, to the great annoyance of local residents.
Another problem that has taken off is that of double parking. It does not occur only during the day times. I accept that firms may double-park to deliver goods, and men working in a house may put a note in the window of their van to say that they will be at such and such an address if the van needs moving. However, double parking now takes place throughout the night and causes enormous problems.
I have spoken to local police officers about the problem, and they tell me that they are opposed to the practice, but they ask where they can tell those motorists to park. Rightly, the police say that they must improve their image with the public. There was an onslaught against double parrking in my area four months ago, when the police placed stickers on cars that were double-parked. That did not help to improve their image. We must consider the problem of parking, because increased traffic is, sadly, not matched by increased parking spaces.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) spoke about the importance of public transport. We all differ in this House on many issues, but I hope that whatever party we belong to we can come to appreciate the importance of public transport. Undoubtedly, it has the support of the public.
Two years ago, many parts of London,. including the constituencies of the hon. Member for Battersea and myself, were subject to the western environmental improvement route—the Department of Transport proposals. A series of meetings were held on that route, and the hon. Member for Battersea and I attended many of them. It was standing room only at those meetings, because hundreds of people were so concerned at the threat to their homes and about whether they might be demolished. The stated purpose of the Bill is to improve road safety and environmental protection—issues which figured high on the agenda at those meetings. What came out of them was a need to improve London transport.
The Northern line, which runs through my constituency, is often called the misery line. People often have to travel in worse conditions than those in which cattle would be transported. I am sure that, if cattle were transported in the way that many of my constituents have to travel to and from work on the Northern line, early-day motions would be tabled which would win enormous support. We must improve condition and quality for travellers on London Transport and on public transport in general, if we are to encourage people to leave their cars at home.
Tooting Bec station is another example—I am sure that the constituents of the hon. Member for Battersea suffer from that as much as mine do. The escalators there have not worked for months and we cannot find out when they 652 will work, not merely for a few days but continuously. That deters many people who, because they cannot walk down or up the stairs, will not use the station.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West said, those are important issues if we are to develop the purpose behind the Bill, as I believe we should. My hon. Friend also mentioned bus lanes. Like him, I support them and never drive down them, no matter how irritated I might become with motorists who disregard them. However, there are not enough bus lanes, and they stop and start. Millbank is a classic example—there are bus lanes outside this place, but they disappear completely after Vauxhall bridge. We must develop a better, more integrated system for bus lanes, as there is no doubt that they keep the traffic moving.
My criticism on bus lanes concerns the total inadequacy of signs to show that one exists. Schedule 2 to the Bill states that it willimpose requirements as to…the placing of signs".I hope that that will include signs for bus lanes, which are often neither clear enough nor big enough. Again, there is an example in Millbank, outside the House. People may say—with some truth—that they were unaware that they were in a bus lane. That is no excuse, but if signs were larger and were clearly displayed, no one would be able to use that excuse when stopped by the police. Sadly, I do not see the police stopping enough motorists who disregard bus lanes.
If those issues can be incorporated in the Bill in Committee, the House will warmly support it. I thank the hon. Member for Wyre for the opportunity that he has given me to mention some issues which are important to my constituents. The other matters relating to London Transport and bus lanes are of importance to many hon. Members and to the society in which we live. They are of importance if we are to keep London moving. More and more hon. Members—whether or not they represent London—know that it is, sadly, grinding to a halt. If the Bill can do anything to avoid that, it is to be applauded, and I congratulate the hon. Member on introducing it.
§ 1.8 pm
§ Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
On behalf of the Opposition, I warmly welcome the Bill and congratulate the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) on succeeding in the ballot and on introducing a valuable measure.
As the hon. Member said, the Bill has the support of many organisations, not least the Royal Automobile Club, the Automobile Association, Friends of the Earth, cycling organisations, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and many local authorities. I understand that the Minister will support the Bill, and therefore we hope that it will have a speedy passage through the House and the other place.
I am conscious that reservations have been expressed, especially about the regulatory framework of the Bill, by the Association of London Authorities and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, but I accept the assurances of the hon. Member for Wyre that the regulations will be drawn up in such a way as to give local authorities maximum flexibility in designing and implementing the various traffic-calming measures with a minimum of bureaucratic procedures. I trust that the Minister will echo those sentiments when he responds.
653 I also appreciate the safeguards with regard to the emergency services. In Committee, some attention should be paid to buses, because London Transport repeatedly expresses concern about the difficulties that some buses have with road humps. I hope that the Department has learnt its lesson from the fiasco of the road humps regulations to which my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) referred.
The hon. Member for Wyre has already explained why the Bill is necessary. I welcome the appearance of the concept and the term "traffic-calming" in legislation. Not so long ago, traffic-calming was consigned to the outer fringes of the transport planning orthodoxy, and the speed of its promotion to a central plank of traffic management has been remarkable. That may reflect the need for new thinking that has been forced on us all, brought about by the rapidly worsening traffic conditions in our cities, towns and villages, to which many hon. Members have referred.
The demands of residents in my constituency for traffic-calming measures have increased dramatically in recent years. The chief engineer of Lewisham council, John Couch, is a great enthusiast for traffic-calming measures, and he and his authority seek to meet residents' demands. However, as I said in an intervention, local authorities are experiencing a major difficulty in gaining support from the Department of Transport for many of the environmentally based traffic-calming schemes that they wish to implement.
Such has been the mismatch of funds available to Lewisham council that one of our most critically needed schemes has had to be put into the city challenge programme. I draw to the Minister's attention as he is present this morning the fact that that scheme is in Deptford Church street, where, tragically, there have just been two fatalities and where the local residents of the Crossfield estate have, quite properly, made many demands for traffic calming on that dangerous dual carriageway and for a light-operated pedestrian crossing in that area. I trust that funds will be forthcoming for that measure, as I hope that they will be increased in line with the needs and opportunities presented by the Bill.
It may have been the Government's predictions that road traffic would double within the next so many years that sent shock waves through the transport establishment, as planners calculated the environmental, social and economic cost of catering for that increase. Those calculations galvanised many into looking anew at transport policy. Ideas of traffic restraint and management have gained greater credibility, even within the Government, but, sadly, Britain continues to trail miserably behind its continental European neighbours, which are many years ahead in traffic management and environmental awareness.
As the hon. Member for Wyre said, traffic calming is to improve the immediate environment and create what Dr. Hass-Klau, one of the foremost authorities on traffic calming, calls "peaceful co-existence" between all road users.
At its most rudimentary, traffic calming is concerned with slowing vehicles down and reducing casualties. As so many hon. Members have said, speed is a killer. Recent reports show that a pedestrian hit by a car travelling at 40 mph has an 80 per cent. chance of being killed, but a similar accident at 20 mph produces only a 5 to 10 per cent. risk of death.
Road casualties are still unacceptably high, particularly in London, which the insurance service said recently has 654 the most dangerous roads in Britain. Children, cyclists and pedestrians are particularly vulnerable road users. Britain still has one of the highest pedestrian death rates in Europe, and the child pedestrian fatality rate is 31 per cent. higher than the EC average.
About 44,000 children were killed or injured on Britain's roads in 1990 and, unlike adult casualties, the trend is upwards. One of the saddest and clearest effects of the dangers on our roads is that parents no longer feel that they can allow their children to walk to school. In 1971, 80 per cent. of seven and eight-year-olds walked to school on their own; today, that figure is less than 10 per cent. Although many fewer children are making that journey, the casualty rate is still rising. Clearly, much more needs to be done. Experience in other countries, most notably Germany and Denmark, shows that reductions in accidents of between 15 and 40 per cent. can be achieved with area-wide traffic-calming schemes.
The introduction of the 15 experimental 20 mph zones is a welcome initiative, and there is clearly great scope for bringing in widespread 20 mph zones in residential districts. The Minister recently congratulated drivers on the drop in road casualty figures, but I urge him not to be complacent. He will know that, in a recent study, of child pedestrian casualties, almost half the drivers were exceeding the 30 mph speed limit. Lower speed limit zones should not be confined to single streets or residential areas.
A recent study by Dr. Hass-Klau showed that 88 per cent. of the current 385 planned or implemented schemes in this country deal only with a single street or a few streets. We believe that we should look at shopping streets, trunk roads and whole districts to discover ways of making our towns and communities safer and more pleasant places to live.
Traffic calming consists of more than reducing speed limits on residential roads. The Labour party believes that it should be part of a package of measures implemented across whole districts, and even towns and cities, with the aim of radically improving the environment, reducing pollution and giving positive encouragement to other modes of travel, such as walking and cycling. The package must include improved public transport, as my hon. Friends have noted so eloquently——
§ Ms. Ruddock
Yes, they were echoed by Conservative Members. The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) should study the Labour party's traffic policies, as they are clearly in line with his thinking.
We believe that the package must include the improvement of public transport and the provision of pedestrian areas, cycle paths and bus priority measures. Part of that package must be tough parking rules, and the acknowledgment that some form of car restraint is now becoming necessary if we are to improve our communities. We must view traffic calming as a philosophy, not just a traffic management tool.
I pay tribute to the many schemes already implemented or planned throughout the country. Labour authorities such as Sheffield, York and Barnsley are introducing imaginative traffic calming schemes. Sheffield has introduced 20 mph limits in housing estates and is experimenting with road humps, chicanes and other features to try to persuade drivers to reduce their speed. York has created pedestrian priority zones and bus-only 655 routes and has implemented a range of traffic-calming measures. The level of public support for such schemes is particularly encouraging. A recent study has shown that the majority of businesses and even car drivers supported the schemes, and 95 per cent. were considered a success by the local authorities that introduced them.
In contrast to those local authority initiatives, the Government's major experiment has been in traffic management, in the form of London's red routes, which seem to have been enthusiastically received by Conservative Members. I wonder whether they have read the details of the results of the pilot scheme. Ministers have called them a total success and even suggested that the scheme is particularly beneficial for non-car users.
I only wish that it were so, but it seems to me to be so far from the truth that Ministers must be so desperate to claim at least one success in transport policy that they have failed to see the objective analysis of their own Department. As we all know, the success of any new measure, and particularly of private Members' legislation, depends on the extent of Government support. I would be the first to welcome the Government's conversion to traffic calming, but evidence on the ground of their good intentions is hard to find and often contradictory.
The original red route 'scheme was ostensibly an area-wide package of measures involving parking enforcement on the main roads, entry treatment at junctions and traffic-calming measures on the side roads. In January last year, the red lines were painted and the new parking regime put into place as part of the plan to tackle traffic congestion. The effect of these measures has indeed been to speed up traffic, and many of the drivers who are thus speeded up are breaking the speed limit.
An even more significant change has been an 11 per cent. increase in the traffic using these roads, thus creating a new and urgent demand for traffic-calming by people in the areas affected. Along sections of the route, from Angel to Archway, for example, 80 per cent. of the road has no bus lane; there is no cycle lane, and one third of the traffic signals have no pedestrian phase.
As I have said, traffic is now travelling faster. An inspector on the 43 bus route, however, found that bus journey times were back to pre-red route times, so any improvement for buses is short term and is already being cancelled out by the increase in traffic.
Moreover, along parts of the red route, the promised traffic-calming measures are still not in place, despite repeated efforts by the local authority to obtain departmental approval and money. If the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) were still in his place, I would tell him that the local authority in question, Islington, is Labour-controlled. It is an enthusiast for traffic-calming, but it has not found the Government as supportive as he might suggest.
The Government have failed to give the same priority to measures that would improve the local environment and facilitate pedestrian convenience and safety. Just two days ago, the Secretary of State announced his intention to extend the red route network throughout London. What will be the consequence of an 11 per cent. increase in traffic across the 300 miles of the network; and what would the 656 Minister expect if the recession had ended and the 11 per cent. decrease in the number of HGVs on these routes had been reversed?
The measures in the red route scheme fundamentally undermine the potential for this Bill. I ask the Minister to comment on the fact that we are advised that there are no plans for Government-funded traffic-calming schemes to be introduced as an integral part of the 300-mile red route network.
Red routes without traffic calming will become nothing but urban motorways, on which traffic can speed through neighbourhoods, with all the attendant problems. For London, at least, the excellent initiative of the hon. Member for Wyre will be a lost cause.
I end by making it very clear that, when Labour comes to power very soon, we will positively encourage traffic calming. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) invited me to outline the Labour party's policy. You might caution me for doing so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it is relevant.
We will tackle the problem of increasing congestion resulting from the over use of the private car. We will substitute public transport for private transport. We will create more bus priority lanes. We shall see that we have better enforcement. We will achieve the integration of public transport and offer people high-quality alternatives to the use of private cars. Red routes under Labour will become green routes, and London will be a better city in which to live and work.
In relation to the Bill, we will change the terms and criteria of the transport supplementary grant, which are not appropriate to local authorities' priorities. We wish to redress the current imbalance, which places too much emphasis on large-scale road projects and the needs of through traffic and too little emphasis on environmental objectives.
I welcome the money that has been earmarked for safety schemes, although it falls far short of the amount required. It is right to broaden the conditions from casualty reduction alone, to include measures aimed at improving the overall environment. We intend to merge transport supplementary grant and section 56 grant and to establish new criteria for the allocation of funds. The new criteria will correct the imbalance and will include not just time savings and safety, but environmental improvements, and they will cover all roads.
The measures that we shall take in government will complement those in the Bill. I was successful in piloting a private Member's Bill through the House, and I know how exciting and interesting that can be. However, it also involves much hard work. The hon. Member for Wyre has begun the process. He has our co-operation and enthusiasm on this important traffic-calming measure. I wish him success and guarantee him our support.
§ The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Christopher Chope)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) on his success in the ballot and on his important Bill. He made a distinguished contribution to the debate and has given the House an opportunity to debate not only traffic calming but the whole issue of road safety on which the Government have a proud record.
We have had speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Basildon (Mr. Amess), for Harbourgh (Sir J. 657 Farr), for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden), for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson), for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes), for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn), for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) and for Battersea (Mr. Bowis). There were also constructive speeches by the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and the hon. Members for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and for Tooting (Mr. Cox). As hon. Members have said, there have been no contributions from the Liberal Democrat party, which often purports to be on the side of residents and pedestrians.
The Government attach considerable importance to the use of traffic-calming techniques which can be invaluable in enhancing the safety and appearance of a locality. They form an integral part of most area-wide local safety schemes, which can particularly benefit the most vulnerable road users. The Department of Transport has consistently sought to promote the value of traffic calming. Five years ago, the Department published an influential leaflet on the topic to which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West referred. The leaflet drew attention to some of the measures that had then been implemented in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe. These can help to reduce traffic speeds, make streets safer and more pleasant to live in and discourage through traffic from using inappropriate local roads.
The response to our publication was considerable. It has helped to demonstrate the interest in the use of self-enforcing traffic engineering measures to improve safety and environmental conditions. The Department has subsequently put considerable effort into providing local authorities with technical guidance, through the traffic advisory unit.
In recent years, the legal position has become slightly confused and that is why the Bill is especially welcome. I am pleased to say that the Government have helped with the drafting of the Bill and are as keen as anybody to see it reach the statute book quickly. The Highways Act 1980 contains specific powers for the construction of road humps, an addition which was made under schedule 10 to the Transport Act 1981. We are aware that some local authorities doubt whether the general existing powers are adequate for them to undertake traffic-calming measures for which no specific powers are currently available.
It is not at all clear that the general powers to constuct features in the road, notably sections 62(2) and 77 of the Highways Act, extend to features such as chicanes and road narrowing. There are divergent opinions on the matter. Many measures, such as those in the leaflet to which I referred, have been used in the United Kingdom and more widely in other parts of Europe and appear to operate safely and effectively in constraining vehicle speed to an appropriate level. It would be most unfortunate if there were no specific legal authority to authorise those measures.
When we published our reports for improved pedestrian safety in April 1989, we gave a commitment that the Government would clarify the law in respect of speed-reducing measures to allow the use of horizontal and vertical deflection in addition to road humps. That was intended to back up existing controls on traffic speed and movements and to make enforcement easier. Unfortunately, no appropriate legislative opportunity in Government time has so far emerged, and that is why I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre, who used his second place in the ballot to introduce the Bill.
658 Traffic calming offers a cost-effective way to encourage people to drive at a speed and in a manner appropriate to the roads that they are using. The precise measures to be used in any situation have to be decided at local level. This is a matter for the individual highway authorities, in consultation with the police and others. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon spoke about the need for consultation on such measures. Although there is always frustration at the time that it takes to introduce new traffic-calming schemes, it is important that there should be consultation.
The major contribution that the Government and the Department of Transport can make is to ensure that the local authorities have the appropriate tools for the task. We have a continuing involvement in developing new traffic engineering approaches and we have taken a number of initiatives. Our urban safety demonstration project, which was set up to establish the extent to which accidents to all road users could be reduced, has been widely welcomed.
In 1990, there were 5,217 fatal accidents on our roads, out of a total of more than 340,000 casualties. Some 69 per cent. of casualties occurred on built-up roads with a speed limit of 40 mph or less. Nearly half the casualties on built-up roads were vulnerable road users—25 per cent. were pedestrians, 10 per cent. were cyclists and 13 per cent. were motor cyclists. Over 95 per cent. of all pedestrian accidents occurred in built-up areas, as did 90 per cent. of cycle casualties and 77 per cent. of motor cycle casualties. The emphasis must therefore be on improving road safety in urban areas if we are to make further progress towards our target of reducing road casualties by one third by the year 2000.
We selected five towns to take part in the urban safety demonstration project—Bristol, Reading, Sheffield, Bradford and Nelson. They were chosen because they were places with an average accident risk and had a range of road network types with interaction betweeen main road and residential road traffic. The towns were large enough to assess that the target reduction could not be reached by chance. About £250,000 was spent in each scheme area. The schemes were intended to pay for themselves, through accident reduction, in under three years. A variety of measures were used to improve conditions for the more vulnerable user and to divert traffic from residential areas on to more suitable through routes. These included road humps, mini-roundabouts, banned right turns, full road closures, limiting the use of some roads to certain classes of vehicle such as buses, pinch points, central refuges and sheltered parking.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
Recently, there has been considerable concern among groups representing elderly and disabled people about the statistics of accidents among the more vulnerable. Has that been reflected in reports generally? What will the Minister do about this, given that those groups claim that accidents involving such people are increasing?
§ Mr. Chope
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not able to participate in the debate. If he had, he would have heard about several schemes to improve road safety not just for all pedestrians but particularly for the elderly. Traffic calming is of great help to the elderly pedestrian. The Government are committed to improving the road safety of all road users and we are targeting the most 659 vulnerable groups. That is why we have been targeting children and will increasingly be targeting elderly road users. I am pleased that, this year, the Prince Michael of Kent road safety awards are being given for initiatives directed towards further improving the safety of the elderly road user.
I revert to the urban safety demonstration project. The changes in the accident numbers were judged against the figures in areas of comparable size and character and the results showed an overall reduction in accidents of about 13 per cent. Accident numbers were reduced on arterial routes and in residential areas. There was a reduction in accidents involving all road users, especially cyclists and motor cyclists, who do not normally benefit from traditional black spot treatment.
Measures were taken to redistribute traffic and they were effective in all five towns. After some initial difficulties, schemes were accepted by residents, who understood the benefits of improved safety when offset against some loss of direct access. The strategy used was successful. Although individual measures need to be adjusted to meet local conditions, it is clear that if such measures were adopted in all urban areas, it would potentially reduce the national accident figure by about 5 per cent. That would prevent about 15,000 accidents a year. Although it is impossible to put this properly in money terms, the saving would be about £300 million at current prices. That shows that investment in traffic calming produces a good return for the taxpayer. That is why the Government are investing so much in road safety and road engineering measures.
The introduction of 20 mph zones was a Government initiative. I think that it has the potential to be extremely successful. There is already considerable demand to establish those zones. Until recently, it was thought that it would not be practicable to introduce them because the police would have to enforce the reduced speed limit, and we know that it is difficult for the police to undertake extra enforcement where there is not much current compliance. It became clear that, if there were road engineering measures to complement the speed limit, the speed zones would effectively be self-enforcing. That is the essence of a 20 mph zone, and that is why such zones are becoming increasingly popular. We introduced them at the beginning of last year, and about a dozen were started. Two new ones have started this month and applications are coming in fast. The zones offer tremendous potential, especially in urban areas. I estimate that eight out of every 10 urban roads would potentially be eligible to be part of a 20 mph zone.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Does the Minister accept that if 20 mph zones are introduced, there will have to be many new signs? The local authority in Newham, North-West complains about the cost of such schemes, which becomes prohibitive because of all the new signs that have to be erected. What can be done about that?
§ Mr. Chope
It is important that there should be a clear sign to show that one is entering a different speed zone where, of course, a different speed limit applies. We realise that there are associated costs. That is why, as part of the transport supplementary grant allocations this year and next year and for the first time, we have said that local 660 authorities will be able to qualify for capital sums specifically for local safety schemes. That is an important initiative and it has been widely welcomed. The money going into it next year will be 38 per cent. higher than that provided for it this year. There is plenty of scope for imaginative local authorities that wish to take advantage of the new opportunities that are available to them.
I am conscious of the fact that many hon. Members are waiting to participate in the next debate. I am sure that they will recognise, however, that we have been engaged in an important debate. I could say much more, but before I conclude to allow the House to move on the next business, I shall refer briefly to the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock), who I think has been embarrassed by the success of the red route pilot scheme. That being so, she seeks at every opportunity to misrepresent the benefits that have come from it. It is amazing that in a debate devoted to road safety she commented adversely on the red route scheme, without mentioning that there had been a more than 30 per cent. reduction in the number of accidents during the pilot scheme. That is far greater than the reduction elsewhere in London over the same period.
It is also important to remember that there has been an increase in the speed at which buses have been able to travel. The hon. Member for Deptford sought to challenge that with some anecdotal evidence from one bus inspector on route 43. That is not a satisfactory response to the research by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, on behalf of the Department of Transport. It has international repute for being objective in assessing such schemes, which is why it was chosen.
The red route pilot has been a success and the people of London will benefit from the extension of the system. Although traffic on the red routes will be more consistent and flow faster, it will also be diverted away from less suitable residential roads. The hon. Lady asked the rhetorical question: what would happen if all red routes took an additional 11 per cent. of traffic? The answer is that life on other roads, especially in residential areas, would be much more tolerable for the people of London. We must remember that only about 14 per cent. of those who commute to the centre of London do so by car; the remainder use public transport. The Government are committed to improving the quality of public transport.
§ Ms. Ruddock
I am not disappointed by the success of the red routes. I have read all the material and studied all the evidence that the Minister says comes from excellent sources. However, the Government's propaganda—their press releases—on that excellent study highlights only chosen points and does not give a full picture of the research.
I repeat that traffic and traffic speeds have increased. Ultimately, if a road carries more and more traffic, that traffic will slow down. Meanwhile, the traffic is speeding and that has created a problem. The pedestrian casualty rate may well have dropped, but the Minister knows that the safest roads for pedestrians are the motorways. People are deterred from crossing roads because there are no places at which they can safely cross. They are being driven off the roads, many of which are local high streets.
When the red routes are extended throughout London, there will be chaos, confusion and real problems in many neighbourhoods—many of which are represented by Conservative Members.
§ Mr. Chope
It was a mistake to give way to the hon. Lady, as she tried to make another speech. She has shown how muddled is the Opposition's policy on investment in our road infrastructure, both national and local. She said that motorways were the safest roads, and we know that dual-carriageway trunk roads are the second safest. We need to invest more, both in national and local roads, to improve road safety even further. However, the hon. Lady has admitted that the Opposition's policy is to reduce investment in roads, which would mean, for example, fewer bypasses. In contrast, the Government have provided about 100 new bypasses during the past 10 years, and there are about 170 other towns and villages waiting for one. The hon. Lady said that were there ever to be a Labour Government, she would halt the bypass programme.
§ Ms. Ruddock
I know that hon. Members want to move on to the next debate, but I must put on record the fact that I did not say that we would halt the bypass programme.
§ Mr. Chope
The hon. Lady said that she would transfer elsewhere the money allocated in the transport supplementary grant for bypasses. That is clearly on the record.
This has been a good-humoured debate. I hope that the logic of the position is accepted on both sides of the House. We cannot continue to improve road safety unless we continue to invest heavily in our road system. That is why I am proud to be a member of a Government who are committed to further investment in our national roads infrastructure, rather than being committed to reducing it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).