HL Deb 18 July 1960 vol 225 cc363-7

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Road Traffic Act. 1956 (Commencement No. 10) Order, 1960, a copy of which has been before your Lordships for some time, be now approved. In the first place I should tell your Lordships that the Order has been before the Special Orders Committee of the House, and that that Committee have reported that, while the Order is not in accordance with precedent—the reason being that it cannot be, as it is the first time that a procedure of this kind has been contemplated—they do not think it necessary otherwise to draw the special attention of your Lordships' House to any features of it. I think I should try to explain as simply and briefly as I can what this Commencement Order sets out to do.

Subsections (3) and (4) of the Road Traffic Act, 1956, which at least the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, will I am sure vividly remember, gave power to substitute a speed limit of 40 m.p.h. on any stretch of road which is subject to a limit of 30 m.p.h. Subsection (5) of Section 4 laid down that these provisions could not be brought into operation until two preliminary stages had been accomplished. The first was that the Minister was to seek the views of his Departmental Committee on Road Safety on the results of an experimental introduction of a 40 m.p.h. speed limit on selected roads in the London Traffic Area, and was to report these views to each House of Parliament.

Secondly, when this had been done, the subsections allowing the substitution on selected stretches of road could have effect only if the Order appointing a day for the coming into effect of the provisions had been approved by Affirmative Resolution of each House. It is for the purpose of seeking the approval of your Lordships' House to bring, these provisions into force that this Order has been laid. I hope that on this occasion I may expect that I can rely on the wholehearted support of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, because, as I am sure that he and others of your Lordships will remember, we owe to him this procedure which was embodied in Section 4 of the Road Traffic Act, 1956 governing the machinery for introduction of the change from 30 m.p.h. to 40 m.p.h. which I have just outlined; and he will see that this procedure has been followed in every respect.

There has been an exhaustive experimental try-out of the 40 m.p.h. speed limit in carefully selected roads in the London Traffic Area, and the Departmental Committee on Road Safety reported upon that to Parliament in March of this year. Their Report concluded that, subject to careful attention being given to the criteria which would govern the selection of roads to which the 40 m.p.h. limit should be applied, the measure was a good one and that it was worthy of further extension throughout the country. Both the Road Research Laboratory and the police are in favour of it.

In order to be quite clear of what we are doing this afternoon I think I should dispose of one or two possible misconceptions. In the first place, if and when your Lordships give your approval to this Order, the result will not be that a 40 m.p.h. limit will automatically replace a 30 m.p.h. limit on any road. On the contrary, it will be necessary for the application of the 40 m.p.h. limit to be considered very carefully in relation to circumstances and conditions on each stretch of road by the appropriate authority.

It may help if I explain who the appropriate authorities are. For trunk roads, it will be, of course, my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport, in England and Wales, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, in Scotland. For roads in the London Traffic Area it will be my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport but on this occasion acting on the advice of the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee. For roads other than trunk roads outside the London Traffic Area, the normal procedure will be that the local authority concerned, after consulting with the chief officer of police, will make an order to apply a limit of 40 m.p.h. on a road previously limited to 30 m.p.h. But I must emphasise that no order of this kind will become effective until it has received the consent of my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport, in England and Wales, or the Secretary of State, in Scotland. Exceptionally, either of my right honourable friends, as appropriate, will be able, in default of desirable action by local authorities, to apply the 40 m.p.h. limit. They are bound in cases of this sort, though, if the local authority wish it, to hold a local inquiry before they come to a final decision.

The other misconception, my Lords, relates to the scope of the present Order. I do not want to repeat myself but I must make it quite clear that this Order applies only to roads which are already the subject of a 30 m.p.h. limit. Your Lordships may wonder why the order does not deal with the application of a 40 m.p.h. limit on roads which are not at present subject to any speed limit. The answer is that the procedure for imposing a 40 m.p.h. limit on unrestricted roads already exists and, in fact, has been in existence since 1956.

There is a matter of policy. My right honourable friend and his predecessor decided that it could not be right to use these powers to apply 40 m.p.h. limits to unrestricted roads when Parliament had specifically laid it down that roads subject to the 30 m.p.h. limit could not be changed without their specific authority. Where, therefore, in the future it is desired to impose a 40 m.p.h. limit on a road which is now the subject of no limit, it will, in fact, be possible to do so without any further action, but the procedure will not be the same as under the provisions which are before your Lordships this afternoon. I apologise for what (though I have tried to keep it as short as possible) has inevitably been a rather complex introduction to the Order. My only excuse, which I must offer in my defence, is that the provisions themselves are rather complex. The effect which your Lordships are being asked to approve is, however, essentially simple and straightforward. It is simply that the appropriate authority will be able to approve the substitution of 40 m.p.h. as an upper speed limit on suitable stretches of road which are at present subject to the 30 m.p.h. limit. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Road Traffic Act, 1956 (Commencement No. 10) Order, 1960, be approved.—(Lord Chesham.)

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that all your Lordships are grateful to the noble Lord for his very careful explanation of this Order. I personally am grateful to him because he has carried out quite faithfully what the Government undertook at the time of the passage of the Road Traffic Act. May I make just one suggestion to him?—because we on this side are quite satisfied with the Order after hearing the noble Lord's explanation. Will he try upon as many occasions as he possibly can to see that when the change from 30 m.p.h. to 40 m.p.h. takes place the limit is not brought back again to 30 m.p.h. before the road goes into an unrestricted area? I expect that the noble Lord will recall that that was one of the objections I originally had: the insertion of a 40 m.p.h. limit in the middle of 30 m.p.h. limits each side. Will the noble Lord do that if he can? I know that it is difficult in London, but outside it may not be so difficult. If he can avoid changing the 40 m.p.h. limit back to 30 m.p.h. before the road goes into an unrestricted area, and will see that that principle is carried out on as many stretches of road as possible, I am sure that it will be for the convenience of all users of roads and all those who control road traffic.


My Lords, I think that, while saying to the noble Lord that I cannot give any kind of undertaking about it, because there are so many authorities involved, it is certainly a point which will be borne in mind in the composition of the necessary circular, which will have to go out about them.

On Question, Motion agreed to.