HL Deb 14 December 1992 vol 541 cc454-5

7.12 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 23rd November be approved [13th Report from the Joint Committee,].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the draft order before us seeks to devolve full responsibility for setting speed limits on principal roads to local traffic authorities. At present they are required to seek the consent of the Secretary of State when setting a speed limit on such a road. The order removes that requirement.

Principal roads make up about 10 per cent. of the road network and are the most important roads for which a local authority is responsible. In general they are non-Trunk A roads. Local authorities already have the freedom to set speed limits on all other local roads without requiring consent.

The proposal to alter that requirement was included in a consultation document on the revision of the guidance given to local authorities on the setting of speed limits. It was widely welcomed. Removal of the requirement for consent will reduce the amount of work for local authorities in making speed limit orders and will save staff time in the department. Around 150 such orders are processed each year, adding about three months to the normal six months taken to make an order.

The original requirement for local authorities to seek that consent was intended as a means of ensuring consistency in the setting of speed limits. However, there is no control exercised over speed limits on the vast majority of local roads which comprise 86 per cent. of the network and there is no evidence that that has resulted in widespread unsuitable limits. The Government are satisfied that consistency will be maintained just as effectively in the future.

The order will enhance road safety by making it possible for local authorities to respond more quickly to a need for a change in a limit. It represents a useful deregulation which will reduce bureaucracy and make local authorities more accountable for their own decisions. They employ highway engineers of the highest calibre, expert in dealing with speed limit questions so there is no reason for local decisions to remain subject to central approval. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the house on 23rd November be approved [13th Report from the Joint Committee].—(The Earl of Caithness.)

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, the Minister is having rather a good night—perhaps uncharacteristically, I do not know. Again I thank him for explaining the order. One matter that causes me concern is that one cannot consider the question of speed limits as an isolated factor. Engineering considerations and so forth must also be considered. To that extent resource implications are particularly important.

PACTS—the Parliamentary Advisory Committee on Transport Safety—suggested that there is a need for £55 million by way of transport grants for local safety schemes, whereas the TSG local safety scheme's element falls short of that by around £12 million. That is a matter for concern. We shall await the situation as described in 1993–94 before coming to any firm conclusions. I merely mention that by way of caveat. Otherwise I support the Minister's proposition.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord. I hope that he can keep it up for a further 24 hours.

On Question, Motion agreed to.