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Column 621benefits would increase to some £310 million. That is a significant sum : it is about the same as London Regional Transport's capital investment programme.
A road pricing system would help people who choose to pay to go quicker and would benefit buses and people who travelled on them. It would help to finance the improvements to public transport that need to be the correlative of the policy, and the external costs of delay by pollution, accidents and rat running would be reduced. The system would not be unfair because the poor would benefit as buses would move more quickly.
I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that the idea is worth further study by his Department as it would reduce accidents and traffic and would help to finance improvements to public transport. 12.32 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : It is a pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) because he too is against road-building schemes in London. That is now the majority view of hon. Members who represent London constituencies, irrespective of their party. The Minister was a councillor in Haringey at the same time as I was, and I hope that he will recognise the strong feeling in London that urban motorway building is not on. It does not solve London's traffic problems or increase people's mobility. I hope that the Minister will remember that when he makes a decision.
Road safety is very important. Last year, 5,000 people died and 63, 000 suffered serious injury as a result of accidents on the roads. I hesitate to say that all those accidents and fatalities were avoidable, but a large proportion were avoidable, as they were due to defective vehicles, speeding, drunken driving and a range of other things. As most of those causes are due to human error, it should be possible to avoid a large number of accidents. I welcome the proposal to reduce that number by one third, although I hope that it will be more.
I represent an inner urban area where the incidence of car ownership is low. It is below the London average, which is below the national average. The community suffers from the large amount of traffic that goes through the constituency. We have the eternal problem of rat-running commuters. Every morning, I feel angry about the amount of pollution that the people I represent have to suffer, as car after car goes by with one person in it, holding up a bus carrying 60, 70 or 100 people. Cars are more dangerous than buses and they cause greater inconvenience.
We have to take a more sensible approach to public transport. I welcome the proposed safety measures to protect pedestrians. For too long in traffic planning measures, road traffic engineers have taken the view that their only responsibility is to get traffic moving as quickly as possible through an area. They have ignored the needs of the majority of the population. Everyone is a pedestrian at some point.
Most people are at some time passengers on public transport and a minority of people are private car users. However, much road safety planning encourages greater use of private cars. My hon. Friends the Members for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and for Tooting (Mr. Cox) mentioned the horrifically high casualty figures for
Column 622cyclists in London. There has been a rapid increase in the number ofcyclists in London--rightly so--as cycling is cheap and does not pollute the environment. However, it is dangerous.
The Greater London council adopted a good policy of trying to introduce 1,000 miles of cycle lanes, but that has not been achieved. I hope that the Minister will accept the demands for increasing the number of cycle lanes and cycle priority measures at junctions. There are several major junctions in London--Hyde Park corner, Marble Arch and Trafalgar square--where, with a bit of ingenuity, life could be made much safer for cyclists. However, very little has been done. If one thinks of the real cost of providing safe cycle lanes compared to the cost of major road junction improvements to benefit cars, one sees the benefits of it.
I hope that the Minister will recognise that the resources put into public transport are important, as is the mobility of transport in London. London is now a slow place in which to get around. The average speed of traffic in central London is about 11 mph on a good day, 8 mph on a bad day and zero mph on a very bad day. Things are getting worse because of the promotion of people driving in and out of London by private car and the slow journeys that buses have to make. Often a bus journey is curtailed because it is so far behind schedule that if it is not curtailed, the route behind it will be denuded of buses. We need bus priority measures rapidly and they must be enforced strongly.
I believe that in many cases the Metropolitan police opposed the introduction of certain bus lanes or bus priority measures and have not bothered to enforce them. If nothing is done about a car illegally parked in a bus lane it may make life more convenient for that individual driver or delivery vehicle but it will hold up at least 50 people on each following bus and that should be multiplied by the problems those people face as a result.
We must look at the Government's overall strategy. I endorse entirely all the road safety measures and the strongest possible action against drunken drivers and drivers of unsafe cars. Anyone would do that. Anyone who has seen the hurt and trauma of a family whose small child has been killed in a road accident knows that the hurt does not go away. It often remains with the parents for the rest of their lives. The strongest possible measures to improve road safety should be taken and I obviously support that.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West said, the Government are proposing to reduce casualties by a third in the next decade, but they are calmly presiding and vaguely planning for an 80 per cent. growth in the number of cars over the next 16 years and a 100 per cent. growth over the next 20 years. By the early part of the next century there will be double the number of road vehicles although it is impossible to double the number of road spaces. It is ridiculous even to think of doing so. There is a need for an overall transport strategy designed to increase the mobility of the mass of the population but not to increase the number of private cars. I also oppose urban road building. Anyone who lived in or represented my constituency would do so, as it is to be torn apart by whatever east London assessment study is accepted by the Government. We should reject all those studies as they would all lead to a road building option that would destroy part of my constituency and bring more cars into it.
Column 623I agree with the opposition to urban road building because of all the safety arguments that have been put forward, but it is not sensible to say that there is a difference between urban and rural road building. If road capacity between urban centres is improved, when a person reaches his destination he will not park his car and get on a bus. If someone drives from London to Birmingham, he expects to drive into the centre of Birmingham and park his car. The Government's overall strategy must include improving rail and public transport. Governments over the past 25 or 30 years are to blame for the problem because of their short -sighted approach to rail investment and development. It is amazing to read in rail magazines the proposals for building new lines and reopening lines and stations that 20 years ago were declared redundant.
I hope that the Government will reconsider their transport policies and stop promoting private car ownership, stop the subsidy on business-owned cars and encourage better use of and more investment in public transport. I have often said that support from the public sector for transport is the lowest in western Europe, and it is envisaged that it will fall even lower. We must reverse that trend and invest more in public transport, which is a safer and environmentally far more sensible means of transport compared with cars. Is it a good idea to pollute our cities and countryside with more vehicles when it is possible to increase the use of railways, which are a far safer form of transport than any other available? When road accidents occur, as tragically they often do in London, one rightly expects the emergency services to be on hand. One expects the police to direct the traffic and perform emergency first aid if necessary, the fire service to cut people out of the wreckage and prevent fires and the ambulance service rapidly to take the victims to hospital. Under the standards laid down for ambulance collection for emergency calls, the ORCon--Operational Research
Consultants--standards, which were laid down some years ago, 50 per cent. of 999 calls had to be answered within seven minutes, and 95 per cent. within 14 minutes. The current figure is that only 84 per cent. are answered within 14 minutes. The trend appears to be downwards, and we are nowhere near meeting the ORCon standards. If an ambulance cannot quickly offer the best medical attention, there is a likelihood of further loss of life.
There are a number of reasons for the delays, such as road congestion in London. One can imagine the problems of trying to get a fire engine or ambulance rapidly through the centre of London, where traffic speeds can be as low as 11 mph. I recently had a discussion with the regional secretary of the Fire Brigades Union in London, who graphically explained that a half a mile an hour slower traffic movement in London can add two or three minutes to the journey of a fire engine across central London. Ambulances experience similar problems and that clearly can lead to loss of life.
We must recognise that the Government adopt differing attitudes to the emergency services. They have given considerable pay increases to the police force, and the establishment level of the Metropolitan police is yet again being increased at a cost of about £1 billion a year. The fire service has not had such increases in expenditure, and it is proposing to remove many pumps from stations and reduce the availability of fire engines throughout London.
Mr. Squire : We recognise that this is not the centre point of the debate, but I know that the hon. Gentleman would wish to be fair. Does he agree that a number of proposals in that same report call for an increase in the number of appliances, as well?
Mr. Corbyn : I accept that. It is true that there will be an increase in the number of appliances in some places. I think, however, that the hon. Gentleman will accept that overall there will be fewer pumps available across London than at present and that there are likely to be fewer fire stations and engines in the long run. Couple that with traffic congestion and the necessary safety provisions and we can begin to see a grim future.
Likewise, as I said, the ambulance service is having difficulty meeting the ORCon standards in responding to 999 calls. It is also having difficulty in recruiting staff, partly because of the enormous pressures faced by ambulance controllers. They need to decide immediately who has the greatest priority--a person with a heart attack or a road accident victim. They are under great psychological pressure. Understaffing leads to people working excessive hours, resulting in increased sickness rates. It is disgraceful that, even now, the Government are not prepared to increase the 6.5 per cent. pay offer to ambulance staff. They are allowing the pay differences between fire and ambulance staff to get even bigger and are threatening to bring in the Army to break the resolve of the ambulance workers, rather than solving the dispute as we would wish. I would hope that in a road safety debate the Minister would at least be prepared to recognise the value of the ambulance service as an aid in making roads safe, albeit after accidents have occurred, and a means of preserving life. I hope that he will do everything that he can to ensure that the ambulance workers are properly remunerated. Instead of hearing pious talk and seeing crocodile tears, ambulance workers should be given support and recognition for their efforts in providing a service of which we would all want to avail ourselves when necessary.
This debate is valuable because it has provided the opportunity to discuss overall policies as well as individual, more localised, road safety measures. I hope that the Government are prepared to look again at their overall transport policy. I hope that they will look towards public transport development rather than continue the obsession with the private car. That would be a major contribution towards road safety as would the traffic relieving and safety measures outlined by other hon. Members.
Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow) : I should like to echo some of the problems that have arisen during this interesting debate. There are many narrow streets in my constituency of Walthamstow, which was not designed with the motor car in mind. Many of those narrow streets are blocked by parked cars, leading to the danger of children running out between cars as well as frustrating drivers who cannot get through. Because the major roads are blocked, we, too, experience the unattractive phenomenon of rat- running. For example, Century road, which should be a quiet residential road, has 1,000 vehicles an hour going through it at peak times.
I welcome the new roads that the Government propose, but I do so selectively. They are obviously very much
Column 625needed outside our towns and cities, but they would be a disaster in Greater London. I draw attention particularly to the proposition to build a new trunk road down the Lea valley. It is to be built across Walthamstow marshes, one of the few open spaces that my constituents have and an area which has been untouched for over 2,000 years. Now we have this horrific proposal to build a whacking great motorway across the middle of it. My constituents will not have it, and neither will I. We will fight against it.
These problems are mirrored across London to such an extent that many people are taking to their bicycles, as has been said during the debate. I echo what the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has said. When I come to the House on my bicycle up Whitehall, I stop if the traffic lights at the entrance to Parliament square are green, even though I have to ensure that I am not rammed up the backside by a bus coming into the bus stop there. I know that to cross those lights at green and to come straight on is suicidal, so I wait until the lights turn red and break the law by crossing the red light, going on about 10 yards and stopping. As soon as the light turns, one has to pedal like mad to get ahead before the maniacs behind come whizzing up to turn left into Bridge street. On occasions I have been sworn at merely because I am on a bicycle.
Mr. Summerson : Someone swore at me the other day when I was dressed like the hon. Gentleman, so no one could have mistaken me for a Tory. I was sworn at because the man was driving a van and I was on a bicycle. I am afraid that many people's personalities change as soon as they get into their motor cars and they become incredibly dangerous. I do not know why, but that is what happens.
Far too many problems are caused by the sheer volume of traffic in London, which is caused by the excessive number of motor cars. We must consider that problem. I believe that use of the private car should be sharply curbed and that people living outside London should not be permitted to bring their cars into London. That would give more traffic to British Rail, which would mean that it should be able to provide more trains. British Rail would have more revenue, so it should provide a better service. Once in London, if people knew that there was a good public transport system with smoothly operated, comfortable and efficient buses giving good service to the passengers and coming along at regular intervals in sharply defined bus lanes in which unloading and loading were not permitted, they would use public transport far more. That would be greatly to the benefit of the capital and the people who live here.
I had the misfortune to drive up the M1 last Friday afternoon, which was an extremely foolish move on my part. I had to leave at 3.30 pm. Three hours later, at 6.30 pm, I had covered all of 52 miles. I thought that something was wrong, but when I pulled into a service station and chatted to some of the people there, they said that nothing was wrong and that everything was usual. One sees so many examples of the bad use of motorways. When you drive up to your constituency, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am sure that you do not sit in the middle lane all the way with no vehicles in the inside lane. Many idiots sit in the middle lane, even though there is only one car every
Column 626quarter of a mile in the inside lane. The result is that much of the motorway is grossly underused. We need more education of motorists in that respect and perhaps the police should be told to prosecute some of those people. Word would pretty soon get around that one does not have to be idle on a motorway and just sit there. People should use the inside lane and overtake if necessary. That may mean that people have to use their right finger from time to time to operate the indicator, but the benefits would be great and we should have far better use of the existing motorways.
Where is the courtesy in driving today? It has gone out of the window. Twenty years or so ago, the first car I bought was a mark VI Bentley of 1948 vintage. [Hon. Members :-- "Your first car?"] I promise you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it was my first car. I paid the enormous sum of £60 for it. When I tell the House that at the time, I was an agricultural student earning £9 a week and having to pay £5 a week to the farm manager's wife for board and lodging, hon. Members will realise that it took a long time on £4 a week to save up 60 quid to buy the Bentley.
I bought it in the end and one of the finest things about it was the handbook, which I discovered in a neat slide underneath the dashboard. I opened it and saw that its first words were : An owner would do well to instruct his driver as follows : "For me, that advice was completely redundant. The handbook also instructed one to dip one's headlight",
"extending safety and courtesy to passing traffic".
That phrase has stuck in my mind ever since. Today, all that has flown out of the window, and many of us turn into aggressive maniacs when we get into our cars. I believe that the answer to that lies in education.
My final word is on the subject of the internal combustion engine in our towns and cities. When Henry Ford invented the Model T, it was his idea that it would be used by farmers out in the countryside. He never intended cars to be used in towns and cities. All cars pollute most terribly. When I walked here this morning--I walked, Madam Deputy Speaker--I once more had occasion to realise that. I am an asthmatic and I found it most distressing. The number of people with asthma and similar conditions increases every year. The internal combustion engine is not suitable for our towns and cities. We need a new design of electric vehicle that is quiet and pollutant free. I should like to see the return of the trolley bus, because it was quiet and efficient and non-polluting. If we do all that and ban the internal combustion engine, our towns and cities will be healthier and safer places for everybody.
Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch) : After listening to a debate for nearly three and a half hours, one often starts to hear all the arguments again. That has not happened this morning and it is to the credit of hon. Members on both sides of the House that we have covered a number of different issues. I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) about his desire to reduce the impact of the motor car in our cities, although I am not clear whether he would bring in an exclusion clause for 1948 Bentleys. A similar message has emerged during several hon. Members' speeches.
Column 627I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister, as this must be the first full day's debate that he has had to handle. Like the rest of us, he is now required to sit here throughout. Having known my hon. Friend well for more than 20 years, I wish him great success in his new job. He is already finding that it carries a higher profile than his previous post, but I hope that along with the inevitable kicks there will be some passing moments of satisfaction.
I strongly endorse what the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), said about drink-driving. There has been a significant change in social attitudes to drink-driving, and, like smoking, it increasingly causes great offence. Drink-driving can also cause injury and loss of life and the connection between accidents and the consumption of drink is now so clear that my right hon. Friend's message should be listened to carefully, especially by the Government. He talked about the need to consider reducing the limit, and I judge that we should follow that course, because we must reflect, and sometimes lead, changes in social attitudes, and there is now little public sympathy for the person who thinks it clever to go out drunk in charge of a powerful vehicle and thus to threaten the life and limbs of innocent people. I want to concentrate on the problem of excessive speed, and, in particular, excessive speed of heavy goods vehicles on motorways. Some hon. Members will be aware that all new coaches in this country, as they are brought into use, must be fitted with speed limiters--and a jolly good job too, say I. However, hon. Members may not recall that that step was decided upon only after a spectacularly ghastly accident on the M6 in 1985 in which 13 people were killed-- [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic will be aware of this because it occurred in his constituency. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development, when she was at the Department of Transport, introduced the requirement for speed limiters on coaches. I was her Parliamentary Private Secretary at the time. As you are well aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that is an exalted post of enormous power, but of scant recognition. The implementation of the requirement was followed through by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Bottomley) in his previous post at the Department of Transport. From 1 April this year all new coaches must have speed limiters and progressively over the next two years all existing coaches will similarly be required to use them. The limiters restrict coaches to 70 mph, which most of us would consider to be an ample speed for a vehicle of considerable size.
In comparison, what requirement exists for lorries? There is no requirement for heavy goods vehicles to carry a speed limiter. However, none of us travelling on motorways or trunk roads can be unaware of the reality of driving beside, in front of or sometimes totally surrounded by heavy goods vehicles. We receive regular reports that, because coaches are limited to 70 mph, they are often overtaken in the inside lane by heavy goods vehicles which are allegedly restricted to 60 mph, but which in practice thunder along well in excess of that speed.
What is the justification for not trying to control the maximum pace at which juggernauts can interfere with our lives?
Mr. Squire : Not without notice. Even after pausing for reflection, I have difficulty in recalling such an occasion. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) lends some currency to the gist of my comments.
In the other place recently, Lord Brabazon stated that surveys conducted by the Department of Transport show that the number of HGVs exceeding the speed limit on motorways, which in 1983 had been calculated at 39 per cent., had dropped to 22 per cent. in 1987. That is a welcome reduction. However, even on the basis of that survey, we must realise that more than one in five heavy goods vehicles are using excessive speeds and, in doing so, endanger the public and sadly cause loss of limbs or death in accidents.
There is no technical reason why limiters should not be fitted to heavy goods vehicles. All HGV manufacturers offer some kind of speed limiter as an option. The German vehicle manufacturer MAN fits speed limiters automatically to all its vehicles. I do not put that foward as an advertisement. I am simply showing what good, forward-looking manufacturers are doing.
According to my latest information, of 60,000 new HGVs registered each year in this country, about 10,000 are voluntarily fitted with speed limiters. That is one in six. Of course, Britain has no jurisdiction over coaches and other vehicles from Community countries. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will note that remark and see whether we can achieve standardisation across the Community.
I have spoken so far only about comparative safety arguments. There are now environmental arguments why we should reduce speed. The fuel efficiency which drivers would achieve if they drove at a more reasonable pace would be in the interests of the country. If we could control the discharge of greenhouse gases, we would help in our battle against global warming.
In France, all new goods vehicles over 10 tonnes must be fitted with speed limiters. I hope that the Minister will pay good, sound and long attention to my suggestion. There are only two objections, and both are of only limited weight. One is that speed limiters would slow down the passage of freight. They would do so only marginally, but one could say that if we stick to the rules it would slow the passage of freight. If lorry drivers are breaking the law, speed limiters are a proper course of action. If it is considered possible to shift some freight only by lorries travelling at excessive speed, we should examine even more closely transferring freight to rail, and wake up British Rail's freight department to carry non-time- sensitive freight. If time is unimportant, British Rail's freight personnel do not seem to be interested. They should jolly well be interested and we could then make a small environmental gain.
The cost of fitting a speed limiter must be small, or one in six operators would not be voluntarily fitting them.
I explained the tragic circumstance in which speed limiters on coaches were introduced. Let us not face the possibility of a similar tragedy before we realise the need to control juggernauts before they destroy more lives.
Column 6291.7 pm
One must bear in mind that heavy vehicles are far better designed than they used to be. They have many more mechanical aids which enable them to travel at speed. If my hon. Friend were to come to my part of the country, he would hear hauliers explain the great value of heavy vehicles being able to move at a sustained speed, but within the speed limit, to deliver goods that are produced or grown in Cornwall.
Several London Members have spoken. I am not a London Member, so I hesitate to cast more than a brief comment on some of the points they raised. Nearly every hon. Member who has spoken in this interesting debate seemed to recognise the need for a much better motorway network between our cities. It was not until the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) spoke that it was admitted by a London Member that, if there are more motorways, more vehicles will go to places such as London and that the drivers will expect to get their vehicles very close to their destinations. However unfortunate that may be, it is an important aspect of this matter and must be borne in mind.
The hon. Gentleman will understand that I do not agree with him on many issues, but I agreed with him when he said that we have to pay much more attention to the ways in which we can integrate the motorway system into our public transport network. As a Cornish Member, I find it interesting that far more was not made at the time of the suggestion that there be a rail link from Heathrow to Paddington and that there is not a single stop on that line where it passes either over or under the M4. Massive car parks could have been provided where people could park and then travel in. Similarly, it has always surprised me that there is no provision at the Brent Cross service area at the end of the M1 for people to drive over the north circular and into a massive car park from where they could travel by rail on the "Bedpan" line to either Farringdon or Blackfriars in a matter of either 10 or 12 minutes.
I know that rat-running must be hideous and recognise that it places enormous pressures on the remaining road links in London. My hon. Friend the Minister has obviously taken that point into account, but he must be much more ruthless about parking on such runs and realise that if we stop rat-running, which is extremely unpleasant for residents, an inordinately greater pressure is placed on the roads that we must keep open. If we are to take some of those routes for bicycle or bus lanes, our roads are constrained still further. My first general point deals with the fact that all the statistics that are produced on road safety deal solely with injury to health. I do not deny for a moment that we should address ourselves strongly to this matter. Indeed, there has been agreement from hon. Members of all parties that we should reduce the number of deaths and injuries. I am struggling to remember in what context the expression, "the tip of an ill-concealed iceberg" was used, but it is apt in today's debate. The statistics relating to injuries and deaths hide the fact that a colossal number of accidents involve injury to property. Those accidents also involve a tremendous number of people who are shocked
Column 630by what happens although not "injured". It is important that we remember that bad road safety involves injury to property as well as to persons.
I appreciate that my second point is to remind the House of the obvious, but when we learned to drive--looking around the Chamber I suspect that that was some years ago for most of us and indeed, rather more years in my case--the level of responsibility and skill then required by the driver was far less than it is now. I know that my hon. Friends will have been taken by the point made by the Minister when he addressed several of these issues. The behavioural study is certainly important.
I turn now to two areas relating to the level of responsibility to be displayed by the Government. In my first point, I shall unashamedly use constituency issues. We have no motorway in Cornwall and have certain stretches of unlinked dual carriageway. My right hon. Friend who is now the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry gave an undertaking when he was Secretary of State for Transport that the A30 into Cornwall would be dualled. As my hon. Friend knows, that is now proceeding. Although I hesitate to suggest that he might extend his tour and the commitments that he has entered into today, if he can find the time to come to Cornwall, we should love him to do so. The stretches of A30 that remain undualled are very dangerous. Indeed, the busiest part of that road is still undualled, which creates a great danger for drivers--especially those who are tired because of long holiday journeys and those who are caught behind heavy goods vehicles. I urge my hon. Friend to press for the extension of dual carriageways to be carried out piece on piece, not in bits here and bits there. It is dangerous if drivers are at one moment on a dual carriageway, then down to single track and back to dual carriageway.
My next point relates to the part of the A30 that runs through the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) and also to the A303 in Somerset. In this day and age it is quite crazy to contemplate building single carriageway trunk roads with three tracks rather than dual carriageways. I hope that my hon. Friend will realise the sense of that.
Mr. Key : The Department of Transport is also considering building the A36 Bristol to Southampton Salisbury bypass link as a three-lane single carriageway, even though there has been a 37 per cent. increase in traffic on that road in two years.
Mr. Neale : I endorse my hon. Friend's remarks. It is crazy to build trunk roads as single track, even if they are three lanes. They should be dual carriageway. We have a similar problem with a bypass in my constituency. I understand that 75 per cent. of accidents occur in rural and local areas, where there are bottlenecks and traffic diverts around narrow lanes with which drivers are not familar. That can be extremely dangerous. We must adhere to the road improvement programme, and I was pleased to hear that additional expenditure on that is anticipated.
I wish to deal with some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch about motorways. Speed, of itself, is not dangerous. I am not suggesting that the speed limit on motorways should be increased above 70 mph, but the grave differentials in speed on our motorways are dangerous. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) said how infuriating it was to be behind someone driving slowly in the middle
Column 631lane. There should be signs on the motorways saying, "Keep to the inside lane unless overtaking". I have a high regard for the Department's officials. They have provided a great deal of statistics under successive Governments to which, unfortunately, Ministers do not always listen. I suspect that they would suggest a trial on particular stretches of road. I am sure that that would help to educate drivers to keep to the inside lane.
We must consider whether there should be a minimum as well as a maximum speed limit. Unless there are signs saying that the maximum speed limit is lower than 70 mph, such as in areas of road works, it might be sensible also to impose a 50 or 55 mph minimum speed limit. I am sure that I do not need to tell my hon. Friend the Minister that traffic on motorways bunches around slower moving vehicles, especially those that dwell in the middle lane. That is dangerous, especially in bad weather. I urge him to look at that point. In addition, more traffic speed signs would have to be installed along the motorways to inform drivers. That would be an extremely welcome measure.
Mr. Squire : I am listening to my hon. Friend's proposal with great interest. He has not, perhaps wisely, suggested a minimum speed. Therefore, I wish to press him a little as to whether he has thoughts on that. Is he thinking of, say, 40 mph?
Mr. Neale : I did give a speed, but perhaps my hon. Friend was not here. I suggested between 50 and 55 mph as a minimum speed. However, as my hon. Friend said earlier, heavier vehicles may be unable to sustain such speeds. As a result, my hon. Friend the Minister will have to think seriously about segregating traffic. I hear that a new motorway, probably privately constructed, will be running between Birmingham and Manchester and it will not be too long before my hon. Friend the Minister will have to think about providing one motorway link for lorries and commercial vehicles and a separate one for cars. My hon. Friend will find that, unless the motorways are built extremely wide, with many lanes, the disparity between the speeds of vehicles will mean that he will not get the lane use that would otherwise be obtained with a lower disparity of speed between vehicles.
The hon. Member for Islington, North rightly pointed out the Department's projections for a doubling of traffic in the next 20 years. My hon. Friend the Minister will have to look at many different problems. I urge him to consider the imposition of a minimum speed limit on motorways, even if it is only on a trial basis at first.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) : I am glad to have the opportunity to take part in this far-ranging debate. I compliment all the hon. Members who have taken part on the range of subjects that have been covered.
The enormity of the subject in these debates is a bit like reading those magazines on car mechanics, when every week a new part of the servicing that is required for one's vehicle is revealed and after 52 weeks one wonders how one's car keeps going. There are so many potential hazards on our roads. We must pay tribute to the fact that, generally speaking, our record on road accidents shows us to be a relative safe country. That is not to say that we cannot do better. In welcoming my hon. Friend and near parliamentary neighbour to his new post, I congratulate him on the scope and scale of his speech. When one has the
Column 632chance to listen to a Minister talking extensively on an area of his responsibilities, one realises how wide is the Government thinking that has already gone in many of the subjects that we have discussed.
I shall try to put the debate into the context of transport policy. Our debate is about what I would call the consequences of mobility. One of the greatest developments, as our well-being has increased, has been people's ability to decide on their freedom of movement. The economic prosperity occasioned by the Government's policies has enabled more people to buy cars and use other forms of public transport to go on journeys. Underlying the debate and this development in transport must be the allowance of increased choice and of alternative systems of transport.
In public transport, we should not lose sight of the fact that the Government's policies have encouraged the development in our cities of light railway transport systems. We are seeing the renaissance of public transport, including trolley buses returning in certain towns. That is not to say that there is not a need for more public investment in local rail, underground and other forms of service. The Government cannot be criticised for inactivity in this sector. My hon. Friend the Minister knows of the problems of travelling to Lancashire, and I shall focus on that county in a moment. First, I congratulate him on choosing today for this debate. When I woke up this morning to the "Today" programme, instead of hearing the usual bulletin for "Friends of the M6", I was greeted by the news that today was the most dangerous day for road accidents. I took care when I drove to the House. This is an appropriate day for a debate on transport safety.
I wish to put on record my praise for the work of the local authority, the county police services and local road safety groups in Lancashire, and to thank my hon. Friend's predecessor, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) for supporting a road safety poster campaign in my constituency. His personal letter was a great boost to young people in my area, telling them that someone in the Government was bothered about their anxieties and interests. The new Minister, who is a compassionate, family man, must understand the need to acknowledge such local road safety initiatives.
More than 20 people are killed or injured on the roads of Lancashire every day. One police officer described that as the equivalent of a Hillsborough every week. Other hon. Members have tried to put road safety in context and we must never lose sight of the human element. We are not dealing with mere statistics. In 1988 there were 7,331 accidents in Lancashire compared with 7,088 in 1987 and 7,338 in 1986. I quote the figures for three years because I do not wish the House to think that the trend is sharply upwards, although, sad, to say, recent figures suggest that there is a rise in the number of accidents in Lancashire. Given the increased volume of traffic we must take some comfort from the fact that the statistics have remained at roughly the same level and have not increased dramatically.
The statistics on the cost of road accidents hammer home the enormity of the problem. The Department of Transport's own figures impute a cost of £97,217,000 to accidents in Lancashire. That alone would justify investment in schemes to reduce the number of accidents. Many victims of road accidents end up in hospitals which
Column 633face ever-increasing pressures on their medical services. There would be an excellent rate of return on any investment aimed at reducing accidents.
Any accident involves cost and trauma to the people involved. The average cost of an accident is just over £12,000. The overall cost of dealing with accidents and the suffering and trauma that they involve is double the annual budget of the Blackpool, Wyre and Fylde district health authority, which serves my constituency.
Of the accidents that occurred in 1988, a total of 1,133 involved pedestrians crossing the road. Several other hon. Members have drawn attention to that problem. Children's safety and the relationship between motor vehicles and pedestrians are of major importance. If 92 per cent. of road accidents are caused by human error, we need training to overcome that human fraility. Training should not stop at schoolchildren ; it should take place in the workplace, the home and wherever else it is necessary.
I am told by Lancashire county council that the area has the highest rate of pedestrian deaths among children between the ages of six and nine per 100,000 of the population. That is higher than the rates in Sweden, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Greece, Norway, Denmark, France, Belgium and Germany. It is not a record to be proud of, and it highlights the need for hard work on road safety education in schools, and I welcome my hon. Friend's commitment to continuing his dialogue with his colleague in the Department of Education and Science to establish whether such education can be incorporated more fully in the school curriculum.
I hope that, when the debate is reported by the media, it will--if nothing else--alert parents to the need for responsibility on their part.
I am pleased to observe the efforts already being made to deal with the problem in Lancashire. Last year the local police visited more than 3,200 schools, addressing 210,000 school children on the subject of road safety, and they are continuing to develop interesting initiatives. Only this year it was announced that Lancashire would receive an additional seven police officers. We know, from every debate in the House, about the pressures on police manpower, and this excellent tale of education and advice is now under stress. I ask my hon. Friend in all sincerity to request the Home Office to consider the returns--in human terms--that can be obtained from ensuring that police resources enable that programme of education to continue. I noted my hon. Friend's comments about bicycles. In the course of their school visits, the police examined 1,343 bicycles, and found that 335 were defective. It is up to mum and dad to check their children's cycles sometimes : simple acts of maintenance in the home can clearly prevent some accidents.
The Lancashire police have an interesting maxim, which they call the "three Es" approach : education, enforcement and engineering. I shall come to enginering in
Column 634a moment ; we have already discussed education. As for enforcement, my hon. Friend has proposed a wide range of measures to assist the police force, which I entirely support. Let me, however, underline the message that hon. Members have already delivered on the subject of the law.
I support wholeheartedly the recommendations of the North report, especially those that apply to crimes connected with drink-driving. When I was campaigning during the last election I met a man called Alec Monteith, and later learned in graphic terms of the tragedy that he had suffered : he had lost his wife, a nurse, in a desperate accident involving a drunk hit- and-run driver who had caused a multiple accident at 10 o'oclock one night.
Alec Monteith has now come to terms with the loss of his wife, at least in a day-to-day context--no one can bring back Jean Monteith. Nevertheless, being visited time after time by a constituent campaigning on behalf of those who oppose drink-driving, being shown the photographs of the accident --I do not criticise my constituent one jot for that--and being told of his frustration that the law could not bring an action at the time against the person who was later arrested for for the crime underlines to me in graphic detail why we must press ahead with the reform of the law.
As for the county council's engineering role, I was pleased to receive a copy of the local authority associations' road safety code of good practice. The preamble says :
"There is a need for local authorities to play a lead role in helping to achieve the ambitious casualty reduction targets set by the Secretary of State for Transport."
Many people say that the Conservative party believes that there is no role for local government to play, but this is a well-defined role which local government acknowledges and which my hon. Friend has encouraged.
I was delighted to hear the Minister's announcement of the transport supplementary grant. However, I am worried that under the TSG arrangement the amount left for local authorities to spend on minor road works, many of which are aimed at improving road safety, is very small. Lancashire made a strong representation, following last year's good transport supplementary grant allocation, about headroom in its budget. As my hon. Friend has acknowledged the role of cost-benefit analysis within the TSG and road safety projects, will he look again at the possibility of saying to local authorities, "Please put forward a cost-benefit justification for particular levels of spending" so that excellent small projects, which may not be ones that the TSG could assist but which nevertheless are vital, stand a chance of being carried out?
Cosmetic work is sometimes carried out. A local councillor says, "I think that we could do with a bit of road widening" so that he can then say to his chums, "I have improved the traffic flow around that junction." That may be a good and worthy cause, but it is not so good and worthy a cause as saving lives. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider applying the same approach to cost benefit so as to increase the headroom and increase the amount of money that is made available for improving road safety.
I was interested to hear about the project that my hon. Friend's Department and the Transport and Road Research Laboratory have been sponsoring in Colne. A very interesting project, excluding the town centre, analysed the full traffic flow in that town. As a result of expenditure of £200,000, between 10 and 15 per cent. of accidents were eliminated. Therefore, 20 people a year avoided being injured. There has already been a saving of