HL Deb 19 July 1961 vol 233 cc648-52

2.26 p.m.


My Lords, the First Schedule to the Road Traffic Act, 1960, specifies speed limits for vehicles in certain classes or descriptions. Paragraph 1 (1) of the Schedule provides that passenger vehicles having an unladen weight exceeding three tons or adapted to carry more than seven passengers, exclusive of the driver, shall be subject to a speed limit of 30 m.p.h. This means buses, coaches and small 10 to 12 seater personnel carriers. Smaller passenger vehicles, of course, are not subject to any speed limit on unrestricted roads. The Regulations for which I ask your Lordships' approval increase the speed limit of vehicles covered by paragraph 1 (1) to 4.0 m.p.h. on roads that are not subject to a speed limit of less than that figure. In fact, the Regulations are those in respect of buses and coaches which I announced during the Committee stage of the Road Traffic Bill, when your Lordships discussed the matter very thoroughly and agreed on the necessity for speed limits being realistic. I think that noble Lords in all parts of the House generally welcomed the announcement at the time, and I hope that your Lordships are now able to approve these Regulations. I beg to move that the Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limit) Regulations, 1961, be approved.

Moved, That the Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limit) Regulations, 1961, be approved.—(Lord Chesham.)


My Lords, at the risk of being thought to be a voice crying in the wilderness, and not wanting to hold up proceedings before the forthcoming debate, none the less it seems to me that this is a matter of sufficient importance for those of us who feel strongly about it not to let it go without a protest. I am not going to press a Division because I should obviously lose it; apparently there was unanimity of opinion on a previous occasion when the question was discussed—I was not here or there would not have been.

There is one point which needs to be thought about. I may be wrong, but I am told that the permitted size of buses is shortly to be increased. Surely it would be wiser to discuss this increase in speed in conjunction with the increase in size. A second point which is near to my heart is that, like many other noble Lords, I live in the country and have a large family. I keep them off the roads when on their bicycles as much as possible, but they have to go on the roads sometimes and on many winding country roads, when we consider that it takes large vehicles as much as 150 feet to pull up at 30 m.p.h., I feel that 40 m.p.h. is altogether too fast. I should be much happier to see a bus going down a winding country road at 30 m.p.h. than at 40 m.p.h.

It has been argued previously in favour of this proposal that the law is not enforced and that vehicles do go at more than 30 m.p.h. It seems to me an extraordinary attitude for a Legislature to take up, that because they cannot bother to see that their laws are enforced they should therefore alter the law. Furthermore, I cannot help thinking that once this increase is permitted, motor coach companies will increase the speeds allowed for in their schedules and the unfortunate drivers will be forced to drive faster, even if it is against their better judgment. I promised to keep my remarks short and I will only say further that this is a serious matter: the number of people killed and injured on the roads is very great and the number of accidents in which public service vehicles are involved is very high.


My Lords, I will not keep your Lordships for more than a minute. I entirely agree with the Government's attitude in this matter and not with that of my noble friend Lord Moyne. As to the interests of road safety, if you get passenger coaches and buses driving slower than the normal stream of traffic it leads to others trying to cut in and pass, and causes more accidents than anything else. My noble friend does not seem to realise that bus and coach drivers in this country are probably among the most reliable on the roads.


I certainly realise that.


If there should happen to be a large bus in a winding country road you will molt find the driver driving at 40 m.p.h. I hope that the Government will stand by their own ideas.


My Lords, the real queston is that mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, as to whether any real effort is to be made to enforce this speed (limit. I remember when the order for putting up the speed limit of commercial vehicles from, I think it was, 20 to 30 m.p.h., was moved, I asked whether the speed limit would be enforced, and I was given some assurance that it would But no effort whatever has been made in that direction, and every one of your Lordships Who drives a motor oar must have been passed by large commercial vehicles travelling at anything up to 50 m.p.h., time and time again. It happens to me almost every time that I go on the road. It is ludicrous to establish these speed limits unless they are enforced. The ordinary 30 m.p.h. speed limit in built-up areas is ignored all the time, and if anybody driving tries to keep to it, he is hooted at by all the other people who are angry with him for obeying the law. Are the Government going to give us traffic police such as we had before the war, to warn people and try to keep the traffic in order? I am sure that that is the secret of this problem. It is futile to have these speed limits passed by Parliament and to make no sort of effort to enforce them.

2.33 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Moyne must remember that the present speed limit was introduced in 1930. Since then there have been improvements in the construction, and particularly in the braking performance, of public service vehicles, so that buses can now travel quite safely at 40 m.p.h. That is, at any rate, our view, and that of many other people, including the Departmental Committee on Road Safety. Furthermore, public service vehicles are regularly inspected by the Department's technical officers to ensure that they go about their business with a high standard of maintenance. As my noble friend Lord Derwent said, the drivers are of a very high order; they have to be, and they must hold a special driving licence which requires a high level of competence.

I do not think Lord Moyne's point about increased size has anything to do with this, because what we are discussing to-day is the question of speed. If in due course it is approved that there should be an increase in size, such as has been mentioned, it will not apply to existing buses. It will take quite a long time to come into effect, and in the meantime it is thought that this measure should apply to existing buses and coaches. I agree also with my noble friend Lord Derwent that the fact that vehicles are permitted, in proper circumstances, to travel at 40 m.p.h. does not mean that they must do so and must do it round every corner.

I could not be more at one with my noble friend Lord Moyne in his concern for his, mine or anybody else's children cycling along country roads, but I do not think that is a valid objection. The point of altering the law on this subject is not because it cannot be enforced, but because it seems sensible and reasonable to do so, which is, of course, a much better reason. My noble friend was worried whether the increased speed might mean tighter and, therefore, possibly more dangerous schedules. Here again, the schedules of what are generally known as stage and express carriages (quaint but expressive words) are regulated by the traffic commissioners, and I do not think there is much danger that a higher speed limit is likely to be abused in this way. But even if it were, operators would be liable to a charge of incitement if it could be shown that the schedule could not be reasonably complied with without exceeding the speed limit. Those, I think, are good arguments against what my noble friend said.

I thought the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, was a little cynical, if not perhaps entirely incorrect, in what he said about enforcement. At the time to which the noble Lord referred, it was said in many quarters of your Lordships' House that in order to enforce things properly it was needful that they should be realistic. This is a move to try to produce a realistic speed limit, in the circumstances, for buses and coaches. We feel that we can go ahead with this now, without waiting for the results of the reviews of other speed limits, which we have also discussed in the past. I hope therefore that your Lordships will approve this Order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.