HL Deb 26 February 1957 vol 202 cc5-22

2.45 p.m.

THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF DEFENCE (LORD MANCROFT) rose to move, That the Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limit) Regulations, 1956 reported from the Special Orders Committee on the 6th of February, be approved.

The noble Lord said. My Lords, I rise to ask your Lordships' apporoval of these Regulations. The primary purpose of the Regulations is, of course, to increase from 20 m.p.h. to 30 m.p.h. the speed limit for heavy goods vehicles. This, I think, is a problem with which, by now, your Lordships are tolerably familiar. There are other changes embodied in the Regulations, but they are of secondary importance and I do not propose to enter into them in any detail unless your Lordships so wish. The major effect, therefore, of these Regulations is that, with certain minor and technical exceptions, the speed limit of all goods vehicles of over 3 tons. unladen weight will be increased from 20 m.p.h. to 30 m.p.h. with effect from May I next.

What is the justification for this change? From the technical pofrigmarole as to whether they aint of view, I think your Lordships will agree that this change is long overdue. The efficiency of the braking equipment on these vehicles and their general mechanical efficiency have, without doubt, very greatly improved since 1934 when the figure was last fixed. These vehicles, these heavy lorries, I think everyone will agree, are well maintained and well driven. In fact, I think it is safe to say that the drivers of these long-distance heavy lorries are among the best, and certainly among the most courteous, on the road to-day. More than ten years have elapsed since a Departmental committee reported that there were no safety objections to this proposal. I am sure that manufacturers themselves will cordially welcome this proposal. The inducement to build down to a 3-ton limit will now be removed. Heavier vehicles can now be powered in a manner which is much more suitable for our overseas markets. There is hardly a country in Europe with a limit as low as ours. In the United States of America and in Canada, speeds of from 40 m.p.h. up to 60 m.p.h. are allowed for even larger and heavier vehicles, although admittedly their roads are more suitable. Even so, on our roads passenger vehicles, buses and so on, bowl along quite merrily at 30 m.p.h., with a weight of ten tons and more behind them; and I think that your Lordships will possibly agree that to see a heavy lorry travelling at 20 m.p.h. on the open road is, in point of fact, also a rarity. To see one or two drivers spending the time that they have thus saved in a roadside café is not quite so rare.

I think the operators will welcome this measure. It will improve the effective productivity of their vehicles by putting them to more economic use; and that means a degree of cheaper transport and quicker delivery.

There are the other safety objections to be considered—these are frequently raised. The first is the question of fatigue to the drivers. It has been suggested that it is an undue strain on drivers to travel at these higher speeds. I am afraid the fact is that most of them already travel at this speed of 30 m.p.h. The plain fact, however, is that the modern lorry, which is often equipped with power-assisted brakes and steering, is no harder to drive at 30 m.p.h. than the 1934 lorry was at 20 m.p.h. Most drivers who already go at 30 m.p.h., or more, say that it is easier than driving at a speed which means more frequent overtaking by other vehicles and less margin to take short gradients in top gear.

Your Lordships may have studied the accident statistics. I, too, have studied them carefully, and they are even more confusing than most statistics. Your Lordships can draw almost any conclusion you like from this set of figures. Only two facts emerge with any certainty from these accident statistics. The first is one that I have already mentioned, that these long-distance drivers are obviously very careful drivers indeed. The second is that heavy goods vehicles seem to get involved in fewer accidents than other vehicles, although, unfortunately, more of those accidents are fatal. This, I think, is hardly surprising, but in a high number of fatal accidents the police attribute the casualty to the victim's action, rather than to any fault on the part of the driver. We must bear in mind, again, that the driver was probably in any case going at the new, now to be authorised, speed of 30 m.p.h.

Then there is the question of roads, a question which your Lordships have discussed on many occasions and, no doubt, will discuss again. I know that it is suggested that our roads are not fit for these higher speeds, but should we wait until we have roads to get these speeds, or do we confine the increase only to the open roads? I do not think that would make sense. If we waited until we had the roads that would, for instance, meet with the approval of my noble friend Lord Howe, I am afraid that we should wait either until the cows came home or until the lorries fell to pieces.


My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend why he singles me out personally. Every Member of your Lordships' House has urged better roads on the noble Lord. Why does he single me out?


Because the noble Earl has done it more vigorously than other people. One benefit we hope to get from this change is a reduction of the congestion caused by these vehicles in urban areas when observing a speed limit below that of the other traffic. I hope that I am not saying anything to minimise the importance of safety: I put the greatest possible importance upon that. But I do suggest that some of the risks that have been enumerated are not really significant. A realistic speed limit is much more likely to gain acceptance, and will be much more readily enforceable by the police. This, I think, is an important point. The enforcement of the existing speed limit of 20 m.p.h. has been made difficult because of the extent to which it is disregarded and because, in attempting to enforce it, the police do not receive the sympathy and support of the public, or, in some cases, of the courts. A higher speed limit will be recognised by everyone as being more realistic and more in accordance with the requirements of road safety. Because of this, infringements will, I hope, be fewer and the task of the police in enforcing the law should be simplified by the greater measure of public support they will receive.

My Lords, I must now say a word on the subject of the industrial difficulties which we have experienced. Your Lordships may well ask why this change has not been made earlier. The trouble is that it has been bedeviled for the best part of ten years by the industrial difficulties to which I have referred. Drivers and their representatives have insisted that before the limit is raised there must be suitable guarantees as to earnings and driving schedules. One can understand that. Obviously, the higher speed limit will mean less time on the road, less overnight work and less overtime. There have been many attempts to induce employers and drivers' representatives to agree on these matters. Unfortunately, no final agreement has yet been reached.

My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor promised your Lordships two years ago that there would be a renewed effort to reach some agreement. In fulfilment of his promise negotiations were shortly afterwards reopened. The result of those negotiations was sufficiently promising for Her Majesty's Government to announce, I think last May, that they would make these Regulations now, to come into force this summer. Unfortunately after nine months the parties are still not fully in agreement. Certainly, there has been no lack of acceptance of the basic principles; everybody agrees that no driver should be worse off as a result of the introduction of the 30 m.p.h. limit, and that any increased dividend resulting from higher productivity should be divided in some agreed ratio between the management and the men. It is the detailed working out of these principles that has so far proved the stumbling block. I think Her Majesty's Government have been patient in this matter. We cannot go on waiting indefinitely for a final agreement. I do not agree with those who say that these Regulations will now give unfair advantage to the employers in regard to these negotiations. In one sense, either decision, this way or that, whether to make or to defer making this change, can be described as favouring one side or the other. I think it is regrettable that the Government decision on a matter which ought to be judged purely on safety grounds should be confused with so many extraneous considerations.

Moreover, the parties to the industrial issue are not the only parties concerned in the raising of the speed limit. Of the 122,000-odd vehicles concerned, over 71,000 are under C licences and are not involved in the industrial issue. Without going into the details of the A and B licensed vehicles, therefore, I think it is plain that the owners of a majority of the vehicles concerned are being denied, for the sake of a dispute affecting a minority only—though I readily agree that it is an important minority—the advantages which this change would bring. In short, Her Majesty's Government hope that your Lordships will agree that it is high time that this increase from 20 to 30 m.p.h. was made. Plenty of notice has been served on the parties whose past difficulties have, held up this change. They still have two months in which to reach agreement before these Regulations become effective. I think we all cordially hope that they will yet arrive at some agreement. I can see no guarantee that, if we put off a decision once more, somebody will not be standing at this Dispatch Box in ten years' time, making the same sort of speech I am making now. From every point of view this would be intolerable. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limit) Regulations, 1956, reported from the Special Orders Committee on February 6, be approved.—(Lord Mancroft.)

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, we on this side of the House will not oppose these Regulations. Speaking for myself, I may say they have my warmest support, because it was my right honourable friend Alfred Barnes, when he was Minister of Transport and when I had the honour of serving under him as Parliamentary Secretary, who first took steps to see that this change was brought about. As the noble Lord has said, that is ten years ago. There have been some delinquents since—I see one sitting almost opposite me on the other Benches, but I will not mention his name.

My support of these Regulations is born of three main considerations. First of all, that for more years than I think any of your Lordships would care to remember the law has been brought into disrepute; and that, in itself, in a law-abiding country such as this, is a bad thing. Secondly, in spite of the views of what I would call jaundiced folk, these Regulations will add to the safety of the roads. It is a first principle, and one which every other country has learned before this country, that proper traffic and safety control is born of getting all your traffic to travel at the same speed. In congested areas, the greatest contributory factor to accidents is having different types of traffic travelling at different speeds. My third reason for supporting these Regulations is that for far too long our vehicle-manufacturing industry has been handicapped by the anomaly of having to build their vehicles down to a weight for this country alone. That has added to the high cost factor in relation to the export of their vehicles.

I make no apology for being the advocate of the motor industry in this connection. They have done an outstanding job in regard to exports from this country. When a person in this country wishes to purchase a commercial vehicle to carry a 7-ton load, it is a tragedy that the manufacturer has to bring down that vehicle to 3 tons unladen weight in order to fit the design of the vehicle to a tax formula. No other country will have such a vehicle. The building of that vehicle to within such narrow limits of weight has meant a risk to safety, because robust construction has to be sacrificed for weight considerations. That applies only in this country.

My Lords, I hope that we have now turned to a more progressive outlook upon speed limits. But if any of your Lordships cares to look at the Statutory Instrument, he will see that there are still eleven types of vehicles using the roads of this country which are restricted to 5 m.p.h., and there are three which are restricted to 12 m.p.h. We in this House have discussed the subject of abnormal loads, and, in spite of the embarrassment that it might cause to the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, I am not going to lose the opportunity of returning to this subject; because one of the chief causes of congestion upon our roads, ill-fitted for the traffic they have to take, is that 90-ton to 100-ton loads, 120 feet long, are still taken along main roads at a speed of 5 miles an hour. Until we do something about that matter, we shall not get rid of the congestion. Another point is that to-day we are still taxing commercial vehicles upon an unladen weight capacity, a fact which still restricts the designer. Surely if a goods-carrying vehicle is to be taxed upon its weight capacity, it should be taxed on its laden weight and not its unladen weight. I should prefer to see all commercial vehicles in this country taxed in the same way as private motorcars—on a flat rate, and a very low rate at that.

The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has mentioned the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor. I regret that he is not here to-day, because I well remember what he had to say when he spoke from the Woolsack during the protracted debates we had in your Lordships' House upon the Road Traffic Bill. He said that while he was the head of the Judiciary of this country he would do everything he could to see that the law was not brought into disrepute. May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in the absence of the Lord Chancellor, whether he will convey to him my earnest plea that, having now reduced this anomaly in the law, he will use his best efforts to see that in future the law of this country is enforced? I do not believe that it is altogether against public acceptance. I know I shall say something which is very unpopular, but I believe that the chief culprits in regard to the traffic laws of this country not being enforced are (a) the police and (b) the magistrates. I have said that so often that possibly it does not need repetition, but perhaps with this small step, and with the Magistrates' Courts Bill that is at present going through your Lordships' House, which will simplify the procedure of the courts, we may see a release of police power for the purpose for which police power is intended; that is, the enforcement of the law.

One last concluding remark upon this subject: I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in his remarks about industrial difficulties. There are really no industrial difficulties in this matter, because, in saying that vehicles shall be able to travel at 30 m.p.h., instead of 20 m.p.h., one does not say that they shall travel at 30 m.p.h.; and in my opinion, a speed limit regulation has for too long been used for a highly improper purpose. I hope that this Regulation fulfils all your Lordships' expectations, and, so far as my noble friends and I on this side of the House are concerned, we shall not oppose it.

3.4 p.m.


My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot follow the noble Lord who has just spoken in his criticisms of the magistrates and of the police. I am perfectly certain that both magistrates and police do the best they can with what has been, up till now, a completely hopeless problem. One hopes that legislation embodied in these statutory instruments and in the law of the land may be realistic. The noble Lord who introduced this Motion on behalf of Her Majestys' Government said it was important that the legislation embodied should be both realistic and enforceable. Let us have a look at his Order. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth pointed out that under the Order some vehicles are still restricted to 5 m.p.h. or to 12 m.p.h., although it provides for the long-awaited extension from 20 to 30 m.p.h. in the case of heavy goods vehicles. Under this Order we shall have the limits which your Lordships see: one of 5 m.p.h.; two of 12 m.p.h.; several of 20 m.p.h.; and, of course, the 30 m.p.h. In addition, we shall have a special limit in special places, a matter which was referred to in Question and Answer in this House the other day, of 15 m.p.h. And the Minister of Transport is going further: he is going to saddle us with a 40 m.p.h. limit on certain roads.

I appeal to your Lordships. Many of you have sat in magistrates' courts, are interested in the administration of the law and know all that can be known about it. How in the world can we expect the police to be able to enforce all these varying limits of 40, 30, 20, 15, 12 and 5 m.p.h.? I submit to your Lordships that that is not really realistic. The noble Lord who introduced the Motion laid down that legislation should, as a prerequisite, be realistic. I submit to your Lordships that this multiplicity of speed limits is not going to do the slightest good. Take, for example, the 30 m.p.h. limit. On top of that, there is to be the 40 m.p.h. limit. Which one of your Lordships would like to get up and say where lies the dividing line, in public safety, as between 30 and 40 m.p.h.? Everybody who knows anything about it will say that it is just plain silly. It affects nothing, and it only makes more work for the policemen and makes life harder for the driver of the motor vehicle than it may be already, under certain conditions. It is not a good idea, because the driver of a motor vehicle should concentrate on his job and on what he is trying to do—that is, to drive his vehicle safely. If he has to be looking beside the road all the time for signs saying whether he is in a 30, 40, 15 or 20 m.p.h. limit area, then he cannot concentrate on the roads or on the traffic on them.

Everybody has known for years that this increase in speed limit for heavy commercial vehicles from 20 to 30 m.p.h. is an absolute necessity. It is perfectly ridiculous, in these days, to limit heavy commercial vehicles to 20 m.p.h., for we all know perfectly well that many drivers (I will not say all) find that their schedules are worked out on the basis of a speed of 20 m.p.h. and that they have only to travel at 40 m.p.h. to have a much longer time to spend in a roadside café. Here I should like to pay one very humble tribute to the drivers of these heavy commercial vehicles. I am sure that those of your Lordships with far greater experience than mine will agree that it is impossible to pay an adequate tribute to the extraordinarily efficient, indeed magnificent, way in which the great hulk of drivers of heavy commercial vehicles handle those vehicles. The conditions on our roads, as we know them to-day, are bad enough, but they would be infinitely worse were it not for the splendid way in which these drivers handle their vehicles. In my humble judgment, it is definitely an example to all road users, of any class.

The Road Research Board (as it was) have told us that 94 per cent. of the heavy vehicles affected by the 20 m.p.h. limit which has existed—and which I imagine still exists at the moment—completely ignore it. I am sure that your Lordships on both sides of the House will agree that, when we find a law subject to such wholesale disregard as this, there is only one thing to do; that is, to change the law to make it, as the Minister has said, more realistic. I am perfectly certain that this Order will in no way vary the conditions as we know them on the roads to-day. The vehicles will still go at apparently the same speed as to-day. It does not mean that, because the limit has risen from 20 to 30 m.p.h. they will all go at least ten miles an hour faster. It does not mean that at all.

There is one point that I must bring to the notice of the Minister—he may find eventually that there will be complaints arising about it. I refer to the question of smoke from the exhausts of heavy commercial vehicles. There has been a good deal of complaint about dense clouds of black smoke which are occasionally emitted from the exhausts of heavy commercial vehicles, not only in this country but in every other country as well. It usually arises from over-rich combustion, bad maintenance, improper adjustment of the injectors or, possibly, from improper use of the choke. If heavy commercial vehicles are to be allowed to go faster, it is just possible that the drivers of such vehicles will, on occasions, when they come to a hill, try to open out in order to get up the hill without the necessity for changing into a lower gear. So there may be more complaints about exhaust smoke in the future than there have been in the past. That is, I think, almost the only likely reaction to all this. We are going to ask the police—who were rather criticised on this matter, I thought, by the noble Lord who spoke last—to try to enforce these laws. By so doing we shall place an extra burden upon them, especially if there are more cases of emission of black smoke—which, of course, is contrary to the law. The police are short-handed but I believe that they try to do their best, subject, as they are, to very difficult conditions and to crosscurrents of public opinion.

I hope that this statutory instrument will go through, but I beg the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, and Her Majesty's Government seriously to consider this speed limit question. It is no use having a multiplicity of speed limits if you want to have them observed and the law enforced. Let us have the fewest possible complications on our crowded roads. Incidentally, the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, rather pilloried me on the subject of roads and my possible views upon them. But my views on roads, I think, are in no way different from those held by the majority of noble Lords in this House. The Government, I believe, are in a minority on this question of better roads. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, will impress on the Minister of Transport, now that he is in the Cabinet, the fact that he now has a glorious opportunity—an opportunity never before vouchsafed to a Minister of Transport—to talk directly to the Cabinet on the subject of better roads. If the Government really mean business, and want to reduce road casualties, then better roads provide the best short cut to take—indeed, it is the only thing that can be done. I beg the noble Lord to try, if he can, to "ginger up" his chief and to induce him really to get to grips with this question, which is of such vital importance to all of us.

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, I think that someone ought to put the other side in regard to this matter. The noble Earl who has just spoken is such a passionate enthusiast for speed that he does not seem to realise that there are other citizens whose passion for speed is not quite so great as his own. It seems to me that the only implication one can draw from his remarks is that there ought to be no sort of speed limit whatever on any sort of motor vehicle that travels on our roads. He seems to be deploring that the Government wish to maintain a speed limit of 30 m.p.h.


My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord, but I am sure he does not want to misrepresent me. I was arguing against a multiplicity of speed limits. I say let us have as few speed limits as possible, but let us have them enforced.


I entirely agree that we ought to have them enforced. But the noble Earl indicated that these heavy goods vehicles would in fact continue, as at present, to travel at 40 m.p.h. I did not find it in any part of his speech that he deplored that they should do so. In my view, for many of these vehicles, on the roads on which they travel, a speed of over 20 m.p.h. is undoubtedly dangerous. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has pointed out that there have been a number of cases in which these heavy vehicles have been involved in accidents resulting in death. On certain types of road, such as those which exist in the county in which I have the honour to be chairman of the county quarter sessions (we have very difficult roads—hilly, twisty and rather narrow), these vehicles are, at the present time, a menace to the safety of other road users. As everyone agrees, drivers are already guilty of continually breaking the law; criminal offences are committed practically every hour of the day—almost, one might say, every minute of the day.

I entirely agree with Lord Lucas of Chilworth that it is deplorable that no sort of attempt has been made by the police to get convictions. It is all very well to say it is difficult for them: in my experience they never try. I do not sit very often in petty sessions, but I have never had a case brought before me in any in which I sat; nor, so far as my experience of quarter sessions goes, are cases of this sort brought. Nor does one hear appeals from such cases. It is generally known that, at any rate since the beginning of the war, no sort of effort has been made to enforce the existing speed limit. Before the war, there was an admirable system of police patrols, but at the present time this has practically, if not entirely, ceased. Before the war, it was brought to the notice of these drivers in many parts of the country that on many roads it was not safe to travel at this sort of speed.

I do not deny for a moment that, on certain roads, this type of vehicle can travel without danger at 30 m.p.h., or even 40 m.p.h. It can do so on dual carriageways, or on comparatively wide and very straight roads, on which, it may be, the majority of the work of the vehicle is done. As Lord Lucas of Chilworth points out, on the Continent these vehicles are allowed to go at higher speeds. But on the Continent, on the whole, roads are very much straighter and very much wider than the roads of this country. I have had experience of driving on the roads in most countries in Western Europe, and am sure that, wherever commercial traffic is at all heavy, the roads are very much better adapted to these higher speeds than are our roads here in this country.

In spite of what the noble Earl, Lord Howe, says about this. I wish that the Government had been prepared to schedule roads, on the basis of those on which it is safe to drive a commercial vehicle at 30 m.p.h. or so, and those on which it is not. Because I have not the Slightest doubt that the result of this Order will be that, in many parts of the country, the accident rate will increase, and there will be more deaths; for, as Lord Mancroft says, when this type of vehicle is involved in accidents it is very likely that deaths result. After all, pedestrians still use the roads to-day. It may be that we are reaching a stage when the pedestrian is entitled to use the Queen's highway only at the risk of his life.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? Can he explain how the accident rate will increase if lorries are allowed to travel at 30 m.p.h. legally—exactly the same speed they have been going at illegally?


My Lords, if the noble Lord would give an undertaking that no lorry will go at over 30 m.p.h., I should be grateful to him, but I think that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is more likely to be right when he says that they will probably go at 40 m.p.h. That brings me to my last point, which is the essential need for enforcement. I hope that the Government are now determined that they will be unable to carry out this change without reviving police patrols and making a genuine effort to see that this new speed limit is enforced. I wish that I could believe that they are going to do that. I see a slight look of determination in the noble Lord's face. I wish that I could take it that he was going to "bite" his colleagues in the Government, and, more particularly the chief Constables up and down the country, so that at last we shall have a limit which will be enforced. Even if that were so, however, I believe that there would still be accidents produced by this new state of the law.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, the extremely convincing manner with which the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, argued the case for this Order may have the result that your Lordships may forget for a moment how very recently it was that Her Majesty's Government found it entirely impossible to do what they are now proposing to do. The alacrity with which the Government have changed their minds in this respect gives great encouragement to those Members of your Lordships' House who would like them to change their minds about one or two other matters—I have in view other matters connected with the liberty of the subject. After all, this Order slightly increases the liberty of the subject. I need not remind your Lordships that the passing of this Order does not necessarily mean the slightest increase in speed. We are rather apt to forget that all we are doing is to ensure that it is no longer a criminal offence to drive at 21 m.p.h. I have never been able to understand the close connection between the altering of this criminal law and what some people refer to darkly as the "industrial trouble" connected with it. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said that there was no industrial trouble but he said it with his tongue in his cheek, as everybody at once detected.


My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord detected something of which I was not physically aware.


My Lords, there are some things of which the audience is aware and the speaker is not. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, was being very conservative this afternoon. He said—and I have no doubt that there is something to be said for it—that sometimes a heavy vehicle is driven at more than 20 m.p.h. and this results in danger. I ant sure that in those circumstances it would be far better to charge the driver with an offence under Section 11 of the Road Traffic Act—say, driving at a speed which is dangerous to the public. That would be far more effective than sticking to this entirely outmoded and out-dated limit of 20 m.p.h. Several noble Lords have said that there has been little or no effort to enforce the present law. To my mind, that is in no way surprising. It is not easy for the police, or anyone else, to enforce a law which has long since ceased to have any merit whatsoever. I welcome the Order and hope that it will be passed this afternoon.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, after listening to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, I feel that I must not lose the opportunity to lay this ghost of the increasing of safety by means of speed limits. All statistics which we have examined on this question prove that speed is not the primary source of accidents. It is just as easy to drive dangerously at 5 m.p.h. as it is at 30 m.p.h. or even 60 m.p.h. As regards the increasing danger from legalising what lorry drivers already do, I cannot feel that lack of confidence in lorry drivers which the noble Lord seems to feel. I would join other noble Lords who have expressed complete confidence in their capability and have praised their extreme courtesy, which I have noticed unfailingly, and I do a good deal of driving behind them.

I heartily support this Order, but I would go a step further than the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. I should like to see the abolition of speed limits the infringement of which is a criminal offence and the introduction at certain places of speed limits which would be merely advisory. One cannot find any stretch of road on which it is safe to drive at 20 m.p.h. and unsafe to drive at 21 m.p.h., nor any stretch of road which is safe or, shall I say, dangerous at the same speed at all times of the day and under all conditions. The only thing that can be settled is the good judgment of the driver. To my mind, the judgment of lorry drivers is unfailing, and I hope that the judgment of car drivers will soon become more so. I heartily support what the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft has said.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, this is a subject upon which I have spoken to your Lordships on many occasions. I do not think there is any doubt whatever that the great bulk of accidents that take place are due to the driving of whatever vehicle it is at too fast a speed at a particular place. That is, if I may use the term, the guts of the thing. We are going to increase the speed of heavy vehicles from 20 to 30 m.p.h. I should like to tell your Lordships of what happened to me this morning. I was waiting to get on to the main road and a heavy lorry came by. I pursued it. What engine he had installed in his vehicle I do not know, but he went up the hill at 40 to 50 m.p.h. at least, passed a bus and then went down the hill into my local town, certainly I should think at 40 to 50 m.p.h. We are going to say that these heavy lorries can go at 30 m.p.h.; then what will they do? If they have engines like the vehicle I have mentioned, they will drive at 40 to 50 m.p.h. and go on doing it.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chorley—I do not often agree with him but I do on this—that the higher the speed, the more accidents will take place. My view of it is this—and I think the noble Lord who has just sat down touched on it. We all want a speed limit at certain places near where we live; but we cannot get it. Where there is a narrow road or a road that is pinched in, there accidents take place. There is a place near where I live where several people have been killed in the last twenty years. I have applied for a speed limit to be set there, but no, they will not do it. A noble Lord here whispers, "I wish you had been one of them." I do not know how it is, but if you are anywhere near the Whip, you find someone saying, "For God's sake! don't spoil the debate."

At any rate, I should like to see a speed limit set throughout the whole country and severe punishment for those who do not obey that speed limit. To my mind, that is the only way in which we shall do away with the appalling list of casualties. I agree with what was said by my noble friend Lord Howe: that we should not have speed limit variation. We should allow driving at 30 m.p.h., 40 m.p.h. or whatever it is, but let it be the same, so that the police may know as soon as the car passes whether it is observing the limit. I hope that the Government will pursue this matter and spend money in putting up more notices showing the speed at which all vehicles can travel within the area. I thank the Whips for their kind support in allowing me to speak.


My Lords, I am sure we shall all readily agree that the intervention of my noble friend Lord Teviot has in no way spoilt our debate. I must confess, though, that I have some sympathy with the lorry driver whom he met this morning on the road: if I knew my noble friend Lord Teviot were behind me I should drive at 40 or 50 m.p.h. too. But I agree with my noble friend when he expresses some alarm at this variety of speed limits, the point with which my noble friend Lord Howe opened his remarks. I think it is the desire of all of us to have as much uniformity as we possibly can, but it is not always possible. If your Lordships look at the list, you will realise that we cannot have a traction engine with two trucks behind it bowling along at 30 m.p.h. There must be some restriction. But we are trying to get the variations down to a minimum because, as the noble Lord said, it does not make for ease of enforceability. That is a point that all noble Lords who have spoken have made.


I quite agree. But I think the Government might consider whether the time has not arrived when no traction engine with two support trailers should be on the roads at all, but should be split up into three separate vehicles. That would lessen the congestion.


That, of course, is covering a different field, and one as to which I know the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, feels strongly, and he knows that I sympathise with a good many of his views. But what we are trying to do now is to make the law enforceable. It has not been enforced in the past because it has fallen into disrepute. The police have been unwilling to prosecute, although they have on many occasions done their best to keep lorry drivers within the legal limits. Now I think the situation will be improved. The law will now be clear and the police will know that they are trying to enforce a law which has popular approval. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, knows that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor cannot give instructions to magistrates, but a somewhat broad hint is implicit in these Regulations; and there is a pretty broad hint to the chief constables, in whose hands, after all, the execution of this law chiefly lies. I am sure that the police will welcome this measure and do their best, within its limitations to see that it is carried out. But in the end, it must rest with the lorry drivers themselves.

I hope that this ten year argument has now been cleared up as far as possible, and that we shall now have a great improvement in the state of affairs on the roads. I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, who looks forward with foreboding to a great increase in the number of accidents on the road as the result of these Regulations. I am certain that that will not happen, and if we had thought that there was any chance of its happening we should not have brought the Regulations forward.

On Question, Motion agreed to.