HL Deb 27 May 1999 vol 601 cc1037-40

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will introduce lower speed limits on all types of roads.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, we are currently conducting a comprehensive review of speed policy. The review will consider speed in relation to safety, mobility, the economy and the environment. The issue of speed limits will be included within the review. In the meantime the Government have brought forward delegated legislation, approved in your Lordships' House last Friday, to allow local authorities the freedom to make 20 mph speed limits without reference to the Secretary of State.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, I welcome that news from my noble friend. Is he aware of the overwhelming evidence that speeding causes deaths and serious accidents on the roads? Will he ensure that it is considered as a major factor in the speed review that he has just announced? In addition to the suggestion in my Question, does he agree that the most effective deterrent to speeding is being caught? Will the Government therefore strengthen the powers of the police to try to achieve that aim?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I certainly agree that speed is a major contributor to the accident toll on our roads. Speed is a clear factor in about one-third of all serious accidents. In many cases the difference between travelling at 30 mph and 35 mph can turn a slight accident into a serious one or a fatality. That difference rises through the speed range. In terms of police powers, it is unfortunately true that, generally, a fear of getting caught is the greatest deterrent of all. In my view, the powers of the police in that respect are adequate in terms of the offence. However, in terms of detection, there has been a notable improvement in performance where speed cameras are used. The speed cameras financial regime is currently under review between my department, the police and other Whitehall departments.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords—

Lord Newall

My Lords, can the Minister tell us if there are any new designs of camera being developed? It becomes extremely dangerous when many people who see the camera slow down suddenly, causing awful problems. Can that be addressed?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, improvements in the technology of cameras are happening all the time. However, I believe that in general the sight of a camera is a greater deterrent, and therefore a greater contributor to road safety, even though people may, on occasions, suddenly slow down. It is true, unfortunately. that the effect of seeing a camera does not last much further down the road from the point at which it is first seen. We are addressing that problem.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord for trying to dodge in just now. I congratulate my noble friend on his remarks. Speed can be the cause of many things. Does he not think it was the cause of the success of that great north-west team, Manchester United, last night? Would he congratulate them on their success?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am sure the whole House, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly on this Question, would like to record their congratulations to Manchester United, certainly on the last 10 minutes of the game, which was the only part that I saw. It was well worth watching. My only regret is that Blackburn Rovers, when they were champions, did not manage to emulate them.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the review will take full account of the submissions made by the slower speeds initiative? Does he accept that the need to control speed is of inherently greater importance than the need to prevent drink driving., for the reason that, apart from the obvious dangers of a personal injury, speed also impinges on the social, psychological and environmental life of the entire community?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, as regards the first point, we shall certainly be taking note of those representations. We are at the consultative phase of the speed review. All views will be fed into it for consideration. I would not like to trade off action on speed against action on drink driving. Both are important. However, speed has wider ramifications, both environmental and economic, than simply the direct physical safety issue. That is why we are having a wide-ranging speed review.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, will the Minister make an assessment of how much more grave would be the traffic jams on the M.6 in the Birmingham area at busy times if the speed limit were lowered by 10 per cent?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, clearly, congestion slows down the average speed. In fact, our motorways are the least dangerous of our roads, particularly when they are free-flowing. Most accidents, and most fatal accidents, take place on our urban and rural roads, not on our motorways.

Lord Monro of Langholm

My Lords, why does not the Minister publish the report by the Transport Research Laboratory which has been referred to in the responsible motoring press over the past week? It clearly indicates that 96 per cent of accidents are not caused by speed. Will he further consider the point that the multiplicity of speed limits that are growing up throughout the countryside and the enormous number of increased road humps make driving considerably more dangerous than it was?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the TRL evidence does not bear out what the noble Lord said. It may be that he is referring to a separate study, but the study that I have seen clearly indicates that where we introduce a 20 mph speed limit—for example, in a village or urban area—and accompany that by road engineering to reduce the speed, that 10 mph reduction in speed reduces accidents by 60 per cent. That is certainly a lesson that we will take on board. I do not believe that relaxation in speed limits would help either the safety or the reliability of road journeys.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, all the research of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, in which I declare an interest as deputy president, refutes the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Monro, and emphasises the Minister's point as to how important speed is in its contribution to accidents. Perhaps I may make the additional point of how welcome it is that the Government are looking at the environmental issues also. Is it not the case that when the world was beset by the oil crisis in the 1970s, the United States Government introduced speed limits as an important way of contributing to the reduction in the pollution of the atmosphere and the excessive consumption of fuel? Should we not be looking at that against the background of our general conservation policies?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, yes, and the broader environmental aspects will be part of the review. We welcome RoSPA's contribution to that review and the work it has already done. It is also true that, in relation to consumption of fuel, in the interim the fuel efficiency of motor engines has increased substantially and that there is a continuing effort by the manufacturers to limit the degree of environmental damage at whatever speed. Nevertheless, there is a relationship, particularly at higher speeds, with the levels of pollution.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, will my noble friend take account of motor cycles, which tend to go at high speeds, often three or four of them together? They upset me this morning on my way here.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I greatly regret my noble friend being upset by motor cyclists or anyone else. It is important that all road users, including those on two wheels, observe the speed limits.