HL Deb 04 August 1966 vol 276 cc1470-4

3.49 p.m.


My Lords, for the convenience of the House, and with your Lordships' permission, perhaps I can take together the two sets of Regulations standing upon the Order Paper in my name. I beg to move, That the Motor Vehicles (Speed Limit on Motorways) Regulations 1966 and the Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limit) (Amendment) Regulations 1966 be approved.

Maximum speed limits for specified classes of vehicles were set out in the First Schedule to the Road Traffic Act 1960. Under Section 24 of the Act, the Minister of Transport may, by Regulations subject to the approval of each House of Parliament, vary these speed limits. The First Schedule to the Act was replaced by a new Schedule by means of the Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limit) Regulations 1962, which sets out the limits currently applying to the specified classes of vehicles on roads generally. And under the identical power which Section 24 replaced, the Minister made the Motor Vehicles (Speed Limit on Special Roads) Regulations 1959. This substituted a different speed limit Schedule for vehicles driven on special roads—that is, motorways—from that applicable to vehicles on roads generally. It imposed a limit only on vehicles drawing certain trailers and that limit was 40 m.p.h.

The effect of the first of the Regulations for which approval is now sought is to replace the 40 m.p.h. speed limit applicable to vehicles drawing trailers on motorways by a 50 m.p.h. limit when the vehicle drawing the trailer is a bus or coach with a public service vehicle licence granted under Section 127 of the Act of 1960. This new limit will allow the vehicles concerned to keep up more readily with the general flow of traffic; and the consequent reduction in the need for other vehicles to overtake them will benefit road safety. There are also strong economic reasons why the speed of buses and coaches should not be restricted any more than is essential on grounds of safety. Quick journeys are an important factor in making public transport attractive to the travelling public. With regard to safety, the licensing system for buses and coaches involves meticulous inspection which makes them among the safest vehicles on the roads. Their highly skilled drivers have to pass special driving tests. For these vehicles the increased speed limits are in keeping with improvements in their design and safety in recent years.

This increase in the speed limits for buses and coaches drawing trailers will be of benefit, in particular, to British European Airways. As your Lordships will have noticed, their coaches operating between West London Air Terminal and London (Heathrow) Airport are authorised to draw specially approved luggage trailers which have been designed and tested for high-speed travel.

The effect of the second of the Regulations, which is similar to the first, for which approval is now sought is to substitute a new paragraph 1 in the 1962 Schedule making the following changes in limits applying on roads generally: the speed limit for public service vehicles—that is, buses and coaches operating under a public service vehicle licence issued by the traffic commissioners—is raised from 40 m.p.h. to 50 m.p.h.; for the same vehicles when drawing a trailer the limit is increased from 30 m.p.h. to 40m.p.h.; and the limit for motor cars and dual purpose vehicles towing a glider trailer—that is, a trailer constructed solely for the purpose of carrying a glider or ancillary equipment—is raised from 30 m.p.h. to 40 m.p.h. The increased limit for glider trailers drawn by motor cars or estate cars recognises that the design and construction of these trailers makes them every bit as safe for towing at 40 m.p.h. as other kinds of small trailers already permitted to travel at that speed. These trailers have a low centre of gravity and are more stable than many caravans.

My Lords, these increases in speed limits, while having due regard to the public safety generally, will, I believe, be of particular benefit to users of public transport, and I hope that the House can now approve these two sets of Regulations.

Moved, That the Motor Vehicles (Speed Limit on Motorways) Regulations, 1966, be approved.—(Lord Winterbottom.)


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, for kindly explaining to the House the effect of these two Orders. I would say a word of welcome to them, especially for raising the speed limit on public service vehicles which, as the noble Lord said, are inspected to a very high standard of safety as regards their construction, their suspension and their brakes. Above all, as I am sure noble Lords in all parts of the House will agree, the drivers have a very high standard of skill. It is perfectly safe for them to go at more than 40 m.p.h.; indeed, it is very rare to find them going at that. If Parliament agrees to this Order, I hope the noble Lord will have this matter watched, to see whether, especially on motorways, the 50 m.p.h. speed limit may not in future be safely revised to an even higher figure. Personally, I welcome what I regard as a realistic approach to these speed limits, and I hope that when we come to discuss the 70 m.p.h. limit for private vehicles next week we shall have an equal sense of realism from noble Lords opposite.

There is one point which I should like to emphasise and ask a question on, and that is as regards trailers. I should like the noble Lord, if he will, to make it quite plain that the 50 m.p.h. speed limit for trailers is limited to the special close-coupled trailers which are hitched on behind and are licensed for public service vehicles. Of course, any other trailer travelling at 50 m.p.h. wobbles about most dangerously and would be a danger to traffic generally. With those comments, I have much pleasure in welcoming the Order.


My Lords, I feel that I must strike a note of dissent on this continual increasing of speed limits. I would agree with what has been said about the skill of drivers and about the speed of the vehicles themselves. But one must remember that this speed has to be seen relative to other vehicles, and, especially on narrow roads, the difficulty and danger of passing is increased if there is a continual increase in the permitted speed limit. I have no doubt that this Order will be passed, but I hope that the Ministry will go very carefully on this question of the increase of speed limits. I hope, also, that they will give great attention to the habitual and widespread breaking of the law as regards speed limits. In addition, I hope that they will give some consideration to minimum speed limits, for I believe that accidents are caused as much by those who go too slow on roads as by those who go too fast.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, may I ask him how these Regulations apply to foreign vehicles touring in this country, and whether those vehicles are subject to the same stringent supervision in regard to their condition and the conditions of work of their drivers?


My Lords, I am certain that the welcome to these Regulations which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, gave from his great experience as a former Minister of Transport reflects the attitude of most Members of this House. We should bear in mind that it is not speed in itself which is dangerous, but the circumstances in which speed is used. As we spend many millions of pounds on these new motorways it would be folly to restrict vehicles on them to a speed far below the safe maximum, thus under-using that part of the national capital. The noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, made a point about foreign vehicles. I regret to say that I cannot answer that question. If the noble Lord wishes, I will send him a letter on the subject. I do know, however, that certain restrictions on the length of vehicles are waived in the case of foreign motor coaches coming to this country.

On Question, Motion agreed to.