HL Deb 28 October 1980 vol 414 cc302-13

7.9 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 3 [Requirements as to the construction of road humps]:

Lord AIREDALE moved the following amendment: Clause 3, page 3, line 17, at end insert— ("(3) Regulations made under subsection (2) above shall preclude the construction of road humps on any road where no speed restriction is in force.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have tabled this amendment because when in Committee I asked the question which is embodied in this amendment and I did not receive a direct answer from either of the two noble Earls who seem to be co-piloting this Bill. However, the noble Earl the Minister handsomely made up for that by writing to me very fully indeed upon this point. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has a copy of the Minister's letter in which the Minister says, inter alia: So far as speed limits are concerned, we certainly do not see humps as an alternative to statutory speed limits, but simply as a self-enforcing means of controlling speed. Our present knowledge, based on practical experience, is related to humps in restricted areas …". Lower down the Minister says: I can speak only hypothetically since, as I say, the department has never studied potential 'humping' locations outside towns …". I think that that was known to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, when we were in Committee, because the noble Lord put down an amendment seeking to confine road humps to within residential areas.

That did not find favour with the Minister because the Minister said that "residential areas" was an expression which was not capable of precise definition. That led me to put down this amendment in this form because I think I can safely say to the House that "where no speed restriction is in force" is an expression which is capable of precise definition. I hope therefore that the amendment in this form overcomes the criticism that was levelled at the amendment in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. The Minister's answer is in his letter, from which I have read out extracts.

What I am seeking to establish is that no one should ever have to encounter a road hump without having passed two signs restricting his speed. Not only the road hump sign but also a speed limit restriction sign. The reason I am so keen on this is that, as we all know, it is so easy sometimes to fail to see a road sign. Take, for instance, the case of a road hump and its sign which has no protecting speed limit sign in front of it before you get to it. A motorist is driving along. About the place where the road hump and its sign are a child has kicked a ball out into the road. The motorist sees this from some distance away. He has no need to slacken speed at once but he is watching that child very carefully indeed to make sure that the child is not going to dash out into the road to retrieve its ball.

The child behaves itself. It sees the motorist. The motorist is able to pass quite safely without reducing speed, but he has not seen the road hump sign because he was watching the child on the other side of the road. He has not seen a speed restriction sign either because there was not one there. So at some considerable speed he encounters the road hump. What happens then? He probably hits his head on the roof of the car, he probably stuns himself, and he loses control of the vehicle and runs into somebody and kills him. What kind of road safety is that?

The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, advocated road humps in country parks. I can think of no circumstances in which it would be appropriate to have a road hump in a country park without there being a speed restriction in that country park. Parliament is always anxious about giving powers to the executive to make orders. It is surely quite clear in this case that the Minister is entitled to come to Parliament and say, "We have experimented with road humps in residential areas. We know something about that. We have not experimented outside residential areas where speed limits do not apply. We do not pretend to know anything about that. We have no immediate plans for putting road humps outside residential areas". I should have thought that that was quite as far as the Minister could expect Parliament to go in granting enabling powers to make these regulations. I hope that this amendment will be accepted, and I beg to move.

7.15 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support the general principle behind the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. There is, however, one question that worries me, and I wonder whether the Minister could give the House an answer because possibly the amendment is a wrecking amendment, although unintentionally so. I have always been under the impression that there is a speed restriction in force on all roads in this country. Where no other limit is in force and specifically signposted, one of 50 miles an hour is in force. I wonder whether the Minister could answer that point.


My Lords, I should like to support what my noble friend has just said. It is rather an important point. We do not want, by amending this Bill, to spoil its chances of success in another place, and yet I have every sympathy with the spirit behind Lord Airedale's point. Anyone who has driven in the United States of America knows what it means to have these humps at the end of roads joining main roads, and appreciates their value. The Pedestrians' Association are enormously in favour of the Bill and anxious that we should not spoil any chance of it getting through the other place by amending it. I very much look forward to the Minister's reply to my noble friend's question.


My Lords, may I follow up the question that has been raised on speed restrictions. Looking at the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, I see "where no speed restriction is in force". There is a speed restriction of 70 miles an hour on motorways. Many roads have a 50 miles an hour speed limit; many roads 40 miles an hour; some 60 miles an hour, with signs up. Therefore, the amendment is almost inoperatve because it does not say a 30 miles an hour speed limit, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, has in mind, and there are speed restrictions on practically every road.

The Earl of AVON

My Lords, perhaps I had better come in here and say that noble Lords have stolen a lot of my thunder. I was going to say to the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, that despite the care with which he has drafted it, in fact since the introduction of national speed limits no highway in this country is unrestricted. Therefore, in point of fact the amendment as it is drafted would not work.

Having said that, I should like to say, as I think I said before, that the Government are fully sympathetic to the idea that only restricted roads of 30 miles an hour would be considered for road humps, but we do not want to be tied to that at this stage in case we find other places where road humps could be put in where there are unrestricted stretches.

May I continue reading from the letter which I wrote to the noble Lord. I said: there may be stretches of road where, for example, vehicle speeds are naturally low because of physical characteristics—bends, hills, narrowness, etc., and the imposition of a 30 mph speed limit is inappropriate, but a problem exists to which humping could be the answer". It is hard to say these things until one has got further along the road to experimentation outside 30 mile an hour limits, but that is a point we should like to see left open.

The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, mentioned the idea of having two signs. We are by no means unsympathetic to having two signs; that will be taken on board and when further experiments are done that idea will be put forward. Perhaps we could have two humps and two road signs, one at 50 metres and another at 100 metres or whatever. That underlines my whole attitude towards this little Bill. We are fully sympathetic to all the points that have been made. They will be taken back to be experimented with but, as my noble friend Lord Ferrier said, we want to get the Bill on the statute book because we believe it is another weapon in the armoury of road safety.


My Lords, it is a pity the Minister has spoken, but I hope your Lordships will give him leave to speak again, because while the amendment has been proved to be defective by virtue of the national speed limit of 60 mph on roads other than dual carriageways, I wanted to raise a point which was mentioned in the letter and which the Minister mentioned in Committee when we discussed a very similar point. He then said: It is more than unlikely that Ministers would contemplate providing for the construction of humps on motorways, trunk or principal roads, and it is likely that they would at any rate consider confining hump installations to 30 miles per hour speed limit roads".—[Official Report, 20/10/80; col. 1692.] That is what the Government said eight days ago, but today they are saying something rather different, and it is because of this, in my view, weakness in this enabling Bill that I pose to my noble friend the position of road humps on the A9 at Blair Atholl and on the same road at Kingussie. I confess that I have not actually been there to see them, because I found out about them only a short while ago, but I understand that on the stretch of road at Blair Atholl there are 15 humps and on the stretch at Kingussie there are 11 humps. This is on an A, principal, road which is unrestricted other than by the national speed limit and I believe it is a rather dangerous stretch of road. I also understand that the humps at Blair Atholl have been there for about four years, which seems to be slightly outside the experimental period, though I understand another body is looking into the legality of that.

We have been assured by my noble friends Lord Avon and Lord Kinnoull that all will be well, that all the comments and suggestions that have been made will be taken on board and that, no doubt when consultations have taken place, the regula- tions will be drawn to everybody's satisfaction. It seems that since Second Reading and Committee we are having a number of different answers, all falling behind what has been described as "this little Bill" which my noble friend said would provide another weapon in the armoury of road safety, a measure which is being pushed through your Lordships' House so that it should arrive in the other place unamended; in other words, so it will not fail.

My noble friend Lord Kinnoull says that when the regulations are laid they will be subject to the Negative Resolution procedure, which means that if one does not like them one will have to pray against them and there is no question of their being amended. I find this principle to be absolutely wrong, particularly in a matter which other noble Lords have said is of some importance, namely, that of road safety, and things tend to go by default. If the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, is defective in that he unwittingly overlooked the national speed limit, there is a way to remedy that: we shall have another chance on Friday on Third Reading.

It is really a question whether the Government are basically in sympathy with what has been said, or will—the Government and my noble friend Lord Kinnoull—turn their face, as they have some 15 times already, and say, "No, in no circumstances will we allow any amendments, because the Bill may fail. We will rely on regulations and, in any event, you have our assurances". I suggest that the assurances that have been given are somewhat contradictory, and unless I am very much mistaken the assurances that were given in 1974 have not yet been kept. Lord Airedale may therefore like to reconsider the wording of the amendment, if it should find favour with your Lordships in principle, so that we may be given an opportunity really to sort the whole thing out and then this little Bill can come back at the beginning of next Session undoubtedly with the approbation, if not the total approval, of your Lordships.


My Lords, the Minister mentioned experiments. Precisely what experiments have been done in depressions, remembering that the Bill involves not only humps but depressions? I should like to know precisely how much experimentation has gone on into depressions, not only by the Government but by an authority which I understand does some work from a station in Berkshire. Although the Bill refers in its title only to humps it deals with both, and it is important that this little Bill, which I think will cause a great deal of trouble, should be absolutely accurate.

7.28 p.m.

The Earl of AVON

My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may at the outset deal with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Lucas, because he gave me notice that he would ask me about the Blair Atholl and M90 roads. As the information was given to us only recently we have not had much time to do our researches, but I have discovered something delightful called a rumble strip. These apparently illegal humps on the A9, these so-called road humps which are not road humps in the context in which we are speaking about them, are in fact rumble strips. We believe a rumble strip has been used at the junction of the M90 and the access road before the length covering Glenfarg, which was recently opened. We are not sure about the Kingussie situation, but I suggest that we should not think of these as road humps but as something which sounds to me to be illegal.

To answer my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve, as I said in Committee there has been no experiment whatever in depressions. It is even open to the Minister at present whether or not he would want any experiments in depressions, and there will be no question whatever of building a depression until such experiments have been tried out for a period of at least nine months.


My Lords, remembering the high accident rate among young people riding motor-cycles, may I ask my noble friend to ensure that when experiments of this kind are carried out—and I am surprised that they have not already been done—steps are taken to bear motor-cyclists in mind? Constructions of this kind would seem bound to increase the already high accident rate among motor-cyclists, especially if humps and depressions are built on main roads. I quite understand their usefulness in residential areas, but I should imagine that on the main roads they would be very dangerous, even if they are well lit, since, after all, lights do fail. If young people going along on motor bicycles at too fast a speed suddenly come upon these humps, it could be disastrous. I hope that experiments are carried out with regard to motor bicycles, where the accident rate is extremely high among young people. I especially have in mind a stormy night, perhaps in the autumn, with leaves and other things on the road; there could well be a serious accident.

7.30 p.m.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl, Lord Avon, to think again about both the examples that he gave? First, there were the so-called "rumble strips" on the approach to the pass through Glenfarg, as one came off the M.90. It is now outdated because a new section of the M.90 has just been opened, so that stretch of road is no longer in use. To call them "rumble strips" is some civil servant's bit of double talk. They were certainly fairly small and fairly closely spaced, but they were humps.

Secondly, I was appalled to hear the way in which the noble Earl cavalierly brought up the example of a supposed use for humps where there was no speed limit on the road, but where some feature of the road, such as a bend or a hill, made it necessary to slow the traffic. This is precisely the place where a hump must not be positioned, since it could throw a car out of control just as it goes into a bend.

At the Glenfarg turn-off (now, fortunately deceased), the humps were small, but one could see them as one was approaching up a hill. There was good visibility, with lots of warning signs— "End of Motorway", "Danger", "Slow", and everything else—for half a mile ahead. There was no danger of anybody missing them. However, elsewhere, without all the paraphernalia of the warning signs for the temporary end of the motorway, there arises precisely the possibility to which the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, referred: that people will approach humps which would not neces- sarily be of the type that are positioned in quick succession and which make a noise rather than cause any reaction to a car's suspension. The Bill makes it wide open for the Government to experiment with any kind of hump.

At speeds above 30 miles an hour there is no kind of hump that can be used safely, apart from the type which tends to be noisy rather than effective in any other way, and which the noble Earl was trying to pass off as a rumble strip. There is no shape of hump that can suit all forms of vehicle suspension. I think I can guarantee that whatever design of road hump is chosen, one will be able to find a car which is perfectly roadworthy but which, if it goes over the humps at more than 35 or 40 miles an hour, will be difficult to control. This is a very definite lessening of road safety, and there is no call for it.

The Earl of KINNOULL

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, for raising this small amendment and once again attracting such am interesting debate on this small enabling Bill. I was going to congratulate the noble Lord upon his ingenuity in resurrecting what we discussed in Committee—that was, until my noble friend advised me that the amendment was defective. Nevertheless one recognises the concern felt by the noble Lord, and by my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and all other noble Lords and the noble Baroness who have spoken. The concern was that what was intended to be a Bill concerned with safety might in fact prove to be an unsafe Bill. Those of us who went through the long Committee stage of this small Bill understood that it is an enabling Bill, and know that all the safety details regarding motorcyclists, speed limits, depressions, and all the other points that have been raised, will be dealt with in discussion and by consultation before any draft regulations can come forward. Those regulations cannot be implemented by the highway authorities until they have come before Parliament.

I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, about allowing many of the regulations to deal with matters that should possibly be in the main Bill. I was concerned recently in regard to the Civil Aviation Bill that something similar was happening. But I am quite convinced that it would be wrong to fetter this Bill with the kind of amendment that the noble Lord wants—he did not actually say so, but it is for a 30 mile-an-hour limit—when consultations have not taken place and it is not yet known whether or not that is the right speed limit. I think that the right time for those discussions to take place is when the regulations are being drawn up.

My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth made a charge against my noble friend, who, if I may say so, is well able to look after himself. My noble friend is not technically a co-pilot, but really a very valued assistant on this matter. I should say that it is a case of dual control, so that he grabs the steering wheel when I go wrong. My noble friend Lord Lucas charged my noble friend with contradictory remarks and possibly inadvertently misleading the House. I can assure your Lordships that he has not done that. He has been steadfast in his arguments that we should leave this matter to the regulations. I am advised that this very issue that the noble Lord has now raised about the 30 mile an hour limit will be taken into account very firmly in the discussions on the regulations. I hope that the noble Lord will not feel the necessity to press the amendment.


My Lords, leaving aside the question of which noble Earl is the pilot and which the navigator, I really am too old a hand to be scared by being told that my amendment is defective in its drafting. I am sure that over the last 20 years the vast majority of the amendments that I have moved in your Lordships' House have been defective in their drafting. Of course that can be an advantage, because it is quite clear that all that needs to be done with this amendment in order to cure the defect is to insert the words "30 miles an hour". Therefore on Third Reading on Friday I shall be able to come back with the amended amendment, with the benefit of knowing what your Lordships think about the merits of this amendment. I shall hope to take advantage of that opportunity on Friday.

The Minister gave me some assurances, and so did the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. I am grateful for those assurances as far as they go. But the Minister went on to say that the department do not want to be tied down; of course they do not! No Government department ever wants to be tied down. They all want to come to Parliament and say, "Give us leave to do whatever is necesssry in the Minister's opinion. Let the Minister make such regulations as he thinks fit." That is splendid for Ministers. That is exactly what they want; and that is exactly what Parliament ought not to fall for—

The Earl of KINNOULL

My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? Is he saying that in his view the 30 mile an hour limit is the right speed limit? How does the noble Lord know, before 75 bodies outside your Lordships' House have discussed this matter, that this is the right limit anyway?


My Lords, what I am saying is, how does the noble Earl know? The experiments have been conducted within 30 mile an hour limit areas, and nowhere else. The department does not know what would be the effect of road humps outside those areas. That is why I am saying that in this Bill the road humps should be confined within the 30 mile an hour speed limit areas. If the department decided eventually to try to move outside those speed limit areas, they could perfectly well come before Parliament with another quite short Bill to enable them to do this. It would be highly controversial, and the Government know that it would be highly controversial, and they probably would not get away with it. So they do not want to do that; they want to get it into this Bill. And I am suggesting as calmly as I can that this is really quite wrong.

I am not going to continue for very much longer but the Minister mentioned something else, and the noble Baroness was quite right in saying that the Minister spoke about making experiments. He did; he twice said that those concerned wanted to be able to conduct experiments. When they wanted to conduct experiments in 1974, they had those experiments very tightly controlled by the 1974 Act. They had to publish locally what they were going to do; they had to take the opinion of the local residents; and they had to observe conditions. In this Bill there is nothing about conducting experiments. Does the Minister really say that it is right to introduce into this Bill a power not to observe 30 miles an hour speed limits because they want to conduct experiments outside those limits when they are not going to be bound by the conditions that Parliament saw fit to impose in 1974, when Parliament, no doubt with some reluctance, permitted experiments with road humps? I will not say any more because I have my opportunity next Friday, and in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, I think it will be for the convenience of the House if we now adjourn during pleasure until 8 o'clock for reconsideration of the Local Government Bill on Report.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting tins suspended from 7.42 to 8 p.m.]