HC Deb 04 March 2003 vol 400 cc659-60
1. Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon)

When the new local authorities' guide for the setting of speed limits will be published. [100177]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson)

Guidance on the setting of speed limits already exists in the form of roads circular 1/93. The Government are committed to reducing the number of casualties and those killed and seriously injured on our roads caused by excessive and inappropriate road speed. Later this year, we will develop new guidance for setting local speed limits.

Ms Drown

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, and I urge him to get that new guidance to local authorities as soon as possible. Swindon parents tell me that they would like more factors to be taken into account when considering speed limits. They want speed limits to be reduced, particularly outside schools. Will the new guidance allow matters such as environmental factors, the fear of accidents and things that might encourage more people to walk their children to school to be taken into account in considering speed limits, rather than just the accidents that have taken place?

Mr. Jamieson

I have some good news for my hon. Friend: there is no need to wait for the new guidance. Since 1999, highways authorities have been able to apply 20 mph zones without authorisation from the Secretary of State. Road safety will always be a prime concern of highways authorities when introducing speed limits. However, they can also consider environmental and quality of life issues as well. Reducing the perception of danger encourages people to walk and cycle, particularly on the school run and in the vicinity of schools, which, in turn, improves the quality of life of people, particularly in the rural areas.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell)

Does the Minister accept that although there is clearly a strong case to reduce speed limits in vulnerable areas, such as outside schools, it is equally important on dual carriageways where there is no possibility of encountering pedestrians to increase too low speed limits, which bring the whole speed limit process into disrepute and can often cause speeding?

Mr. Jamieson

The thrust of what the right hon. Gentleman says is correct. What we are talking about is speed limits that are appropriate to the circumstances, and what we need to consider, particularly in rural areas, is having appropriate speed limits for the circumstances, and ensuring that those speed limits are enforceable is very important. In particular, we need to focus our efforts on those places where there have been casualties and injuries and where people have been killed and seriously injured.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

In encouraging local authorities to determine appropriate speed limits, will my hon. Friend say that they should make that decision on what is appropriate, not on guidance from police authorities, which sometimes mistakenly give the advice, "Don't reduce this speed limit because we haven't got the resources to enforce it."?

Mr. Jamieson

Although the resources available to local authorities have increased very substantially under our local transport plans—most authorities have had two or three times as much money in recent years—it is important, as my hon. Friend says, that those resources are used to best effect and to reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured on the roads. Of course I hope that, whenever those decisions are made, the highways authorities will work in co-operation with the local police.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

I welcome the Government's commitment to reduce the number of casualties on our roads and to introduce guidance on setting local speed limits, so will the Under-Secretary now agree to accept our new clause 21 to the Railways and Transport Safety Bill, setting out a rural road hierarchy and a range of speed limits as appropriate?

Mr. Jamieson

We recognise the hierarchy that the hon. Lady first proposed in her new clause, but the proposals that we first saw would be deeply intrusive in some rural areas in the number of signs and engineering works that would be needed. Of course that would be very costly, and we would have to consider the benefits that any expenditure would achieve to ensure that the cost was reasonable. As I said in a previous reply, we must focus the resources where the need is greatest and where the problems exist. There is very substantial extra funding in local authorities to do that, and we hope that they will direct its use to where the dangers and problems are greatest.

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