HL Deb 10 June 1991 vol 529 cc892-4

2.52 p.m.

The Earl of Buchan asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, since in practice traffic on motorways now flows at its own speed, there is a case for bringing legislation into line with practice by abandoning speed limits altogether.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

No, my Lords. To do so would increase speed and hence accidents. In Germany—the only European country with no mandatory limit on motorways—15 per cent. of cars exceed 94 miles per hour compared with less than 3 per cent. in Britain. The death rate on German motorways is some 13 per cent. higher than ours.

The Earl of Buchan

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. Will he consider putting buses under the same restraints as lorries?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, buses are already limited as to the speed at which they can travel on motorways and other roads. As from 1st April this year, they have had to be fitted with speed limiters —a proposal that we now intend to extend to lorries.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, is the Minister aware that speed limiters do not seem to be very effective? It is quite usual to find motor coaches still speeding along at 80 miles an hour.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, so far as I am aware, the limiters should be effective in limiting speed to 70 miles an hour. I have no evidence that they are not effective. If the noble Lord would care to give me some evidence, I shall consider it.

Viscount Caldecote

My Lords, can my noble friend tell me whether it is as great an offence to drive at 50 miles an hour in bad weather conditions such as fog as it is to drive at 90 miles an hour in clear weather conditions on a clear motorway?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I cannot give an answer to that question. As my noble friend said, it would depend on the circumstances, but it would be up to the courts to decide.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, would have great difficulty in attempting to produce the evidence referred to without himself breaking the law?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, that is indeed true.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the Minister aware that his reply to the noble Earl, Lord Buchan, will be welcomed in all parts of the House? Is not the correct answer to ensure the enforcement of existing speed limits, to try to enforce better lane discipline and to introduce as soon as possible—early next year, we hope—the 60 miles-an-hour speed limiter arrangement for heavy goods vehicles?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, enforcement is a matter for the police, but it will be aided by provisions in the Road Traffic Bill to which we shall turn shortly this afternoon and which will encourage the use of new technology to assist enforcement.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, is the Minister aware that on one occasion many years ago it was suggested that the roads should move and that the vehicles should remain stationary, thus enabling them all to move at the same speed?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

No, my Lords. I was not aware of that suggestion, nor do I envisage it being put into practice.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, did the Minister agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, when he asked whether speed should be commensurate with road conditions, particularly in fog and other inclement conditions? Does he agree that, although it is premature to pass judgment on the value of limiters on heavy goods vehicles, it would be appropriate for continuing surveillance to be undertaken to ensure that the circumstances referred to by my noble friend Lord Strabolgi do not occur in the future? Does he agree that it would therefore be appropriate for him to report back to the House in, say, 12 months' time, if he is still there, in order to indicate what progress has been made?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I entirely endorse what the noble Lord said in the first part of his question about people needing to take greater care, for example, when there is fog about. As I said, provisions in the Road Traffic Bill will allow for variable speed limits to be introduced, which could be of benefit in that context. Again, as I said, we intend to introduce speed limiters for new heavy goods vehicles from 1st August next year. I hope that I shall be around in 1992 to report on how successful that has been.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the most effective deterrent for compelling people to keep within the speed limit on motorways is the simple appearance of a police vehicle? It would greatly help to ensure that those who break the law no longer do so if more police cars could be given the duty of patrolling motorways.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am well aware that enforcement is an important part of the question. As I said, it is a matter for the police. They do not have infinite resources and it is for them to deploy those resources to the best of their ability. I remind noble Lords that they can travel along a motorway for many miles, perhaps not realising that there is a police car one mile in front or one mile behind.

The Earl of Buchan

My Lords, as I was a little disturbed by one of the Minister's answers, can he say that he, travelling in his law-abiding, ministerial Rover at 70 miles an hour, has never been blitzkrieged by a BMW at 100 miles an hour? Has he driven on motorways recently?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I frequently drive on motorways, both in my ministerial capacity and in my private capacity. I have noted the frequency with which other motorists exceed the speed limit.

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