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House of Commons

Friday 24 January 1992

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Royal Parks

9.34 am

Mr. Bryan Gould (Dagenham) : I have here a petition with about 22, 000 signatures, principally of visitors and the staff of the royal parks who are concerned about the proposed privatisation of those parks because they fear a consequent fall from the high standards established in them.

The petition reads :

To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.

The Humble Petition of the staff of, and visitors to, the Royal Parks Sheweth

That the government, through Mr. Michael Heseltine MP, has signified its intentions to contract out the work carried out in London's Royal Parks.

Wherefore your petitioners pray that your honourable House halt the contracting out of the maintenance of the Royal Parks.

And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, etc. To lie upon the Table .

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Orders of the Day

Traffic Calming Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

9.35 am

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The purpose of the Bill is to introduce the concept of traffic calming into statute. Traffic calming is a way of containing vehicle speeds by self- enforcing engineering measures and improving driver behaviour. It is further intended to change people's attitudes so that they drive more smoothly and are aware of the kind of roads that they are using and drive at speeds tailored to fit the environment. Traffic calming is specifically directed at urban areas, particularly residential roads in our towns and villages. The Bill has twin objectives--the reduction of road casualties in built-up areas, particularly among the young and the elderly, and the improvement of the road environment near where people live. The Bill applies equally to England, Wales and Scotland. I wish to take this early opportunity to thank the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). I know that his party would have preferred a separate Bill for Scotland, introduced by the Scottish Office, but it understands that because of a shortage of time the only way to achieve its objective is for one Bill to cover England, Wales and Scotland. I also wish to thank the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) who suggested in the first place that the Bill should apply to Scotland as well as to England and Wales. I have a general word of thanks to members of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties who have given me their support and, through them, to the various councils in their areas which have also expressed support for the Bill. They consider that it should be enacted. The need for the Bill, which will tidy up the law on the legality of traffic-calming measures, is easy to see throughout the country. Although the most commonly used traffic-calming measures, road humps, are governed by statute and are subject to clear regulations, other techniques such as chicanes, road narowing, different road surfaces, shared road surfaces, rumble strips and gateways are not properly covered by legislation. Some doubt has been cast on the legality of all or some of those methods in certain circumstances.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : On behalf of pedestrians in general, may I say how much the Bill will be greatly welcomed in all parts of the country? Although a lot of attention is given to motor journeys and to journeys by bus, we are all interested in the safety of people on foot because even motorists walk around. Certainly, those who are on foot rely on road users, be they on motor cycles or in cars, to drive safely.

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that the road hump regulations had to be changed two or three times? That had to be done, first, to reduce costs to a level that highway authorities could afford and, secondly, to deal with circumstances that were perhaps too tightly restricted. My hon. Friend's Bill will enable local highway authorities to

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take account of the interests of all their residents as well as those travelling through their areas. That will be of great service to pedestrians.

I have listened to my hon. Friend's speech with great interest. I fear that I may not be able to take part in the debate as I intend to cause trouble for the Government over Oxleas wood, which is in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), but I hope that my hon. Friend will regard my support as being with him throughout the debate.

Mr. Mans : I fully agree with my hon. Friend's remarks about pedestrians. One of the central parts of my Bill is intended to cut down the number of pedestrian casualties, and I shall explain that more fully later. The purpose of the Bill is not to over-regulate but to allow as much discretion to local authorities as possible, bearing in mind that we also need certainty within the law, and I hope that I have struck a balance.

Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham) : Before my hon. Friend further develops his theme, will he explain whether it is envisaged that measures that might result from the Bill will include action to control traffic on narrow roads? I am sure that my hon. Friend and many right hon. and hon. Members will understand that, although this issue is important in cities and built-up areas, in rural areas such as Shropshire we face immense problems because of large--often continental--lorries charging around the country lanes. They are considerably wider than normal traffic and are often very dangerous. There have been a number of fatalities in my constituency. Although the issue may not be of great interest in urban areas, it is important in rural areas, and I wonder whether the Bill will tackle the problem of road widths and the width of vehicles travelling down narrow country lanes.

Mr. Mans : I sincerely hope that it will. I have been interested in the number of representations that I have received from country areas and I see no reason why the Bill cannot apply to villages, too. It is basically an enabling measure to allow more discretion to local authorities to take measures, within a light regulatory framework, so that roads are more suited to the traffic using them, bearing in mind other road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists, and local people in villages and constituencies like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway). I hope that the Bill will enable the measures that he wants to be put in operation. Before the interventions I was discussing the legality of existing measures and whether that had held up the introduction of traffic- calming measures. There has been some doubt about the law with regard to traffic-calming measures other than road humps which has meant that authorities have produced traffic-calming schemes but have been left in some doubt as to whether they could be prosecuted for obstructing the highway. Other authorities have held back before embarking on such highly desirable projects because of that uncertainty in the law.

One of the primary reasons for the Bill is to clarify the law. Also, once the law is straightened out, it should result in clearer advice from the Department of Transport on traffic-calming measures. I have received considerable assistance in drafting the Bill from the Government and from my hon. Friend the

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Minister for Roads and Traffic, who is on the Front Bench. I am indebted to his Department for all the technical help that I have received from it, and I sincerely hope that the Bill is a better measure as a result.

Mr. Peter Bottomley : I hope that my hon. Friend understands that, although it is unusual to contribute at this point in the debate, there are reasons for it.

Does my hon. Friend agree that we should also pay tribute to Friends of the Earth which, when I was a Minister at the Department of Transport, suggested that it would be sensible for the Minister with responsibility for roads to go to the Netherlands with some civil servants to see how traffic calming works there. We learnt not merely that the "woorerf" idea-- which is unpronounceable and unspellable--can work, but that it is too expensive to be applied everywhere, even in the Netherlands. We also learnt that one can integrate the interests of motorists by using bypasses to take through traffic away, and go in for traffic-calming measures which work. Does he agree that we should pay tribute to those civil servants who cycled around, before and after the Minister, to ensure his safe journey?

Mr. Mans : I am more than happy to pay tribute to those gallant and courageous civil servants who led or followed my hon. Friend on that exciting detour on the continent. I shall return to the subject of Friends of the Earth later and shall not go into too much detail now.

The Bill is short, containing only five clauses and two schedules, which is a good thing. Essentially it adds to measures in various statutes, notably in the Highways Act 1980--covering England and Wales--and the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984, so that traffic-calming techniques of the sort that I outlined can be constructed by highway and road authorities.

That power is given in clauses 1 and 2 and the regulatory framework is outlined in the accompanying schedules. The Secretary of State is given the authority to sanction road and highway authorities' schemes, which may not always fall within the regulations.

I understand that the Bill will also allow temporary

traffic-calming measures to be used--for example, with roadworks or other work that does not require the adoption of permanent traffic-calming techniques. Lancashire county council--my highway authority--is especially interested in that and I hope that it will be reassured by that part of the Bill.

I stress that I understand that the regulations will be general and that highway authorities will be given discretion to interpret them in the most appropriate way. Clearly, we need to balance the requirement for certainty and also allow initiatives to be taken by highway and road authorities when dealing with problems in their areas. I sincerely hope that I have managed to strike a balance in the Bill between those two needs.

I assure groups that have contacted me and which are concerned about over- regulation that I want a minimum of regulation and the maximum amount of discretion to be given to local authorities. I believe that the Bill gives that discretion.

I understand that the Government propose to introduce shortly a money resolution in association with the Bill.

I mentioned the primary objective of reducing the number of road casualties. We have a good accident

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record in this country and that is due in no small way to the special interest given to the subject by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) when he was Minister for Roads and Traffic and to the actions of the present Minister. Clearly, reducing the number of road casualties is and has been a priority for the Government for some time. Our accident record is good when judged against that of virtually every other country, and certainly against that of easily comparable European countries.

I am sad to say that we have a different record on pedestrian deaths. It is considerably worse than that in other continental countries. For example, in 1990 there were 1,694 pedestrian deaths on our roads and 367 children died. The majority of other pedestrian casualties were people over 60. There were 3.1 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 of the population, above the average among European Community countries. The figure for child deaths was 2.4 per 100,000 of the population, one of the worst statistics in the European Community, at 31 per cent. above the European Community average.

For example, in West Germany, which has invested heavily in traffic-calming measures in the past 10 years, there has been a large drop in pedestrian fatalities, from 6.2 to 2.3 per 100,000 of the population--a reduction of 63 per cent. In contrast, the drop in the United Kingdom over the same period has been from 4.4 to 3.1 per 100, 000 of the population--a reduction of 32 per cent. That illustrates graphically the fact that in 1980 we had fewer pedestrian deaths than West Germany and now we have more. The only quantifiable difference between what happened in this country and in Germany during that period is that the Germans produced many more traffic- calming schemes, which I acknowledge are complicated and in many cases quite expensive. They have clearly had a considerable effect on the pedestrian accident record. Although we have reduced the number of pedestrian deaths in this country--we should not underestimate the work that has been done to achieve that--the results have been less dramatic than in Germany.

Sir John Farr (Harborough) : I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the Bill. While he is speaking about child deaths, will he confirm that if vehicles travelled at 20 mph, only one child in 20 would be killed? Will he comment on the idea of reducing speed limits to that level?

Mr. Mans : Yes, I affirm that my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Speed is critical in terms of child deaths and one of the Bill's main purposes is to allow greater flexibility in the use of speed limits. There is no point in simply applying lower speed limits on residential roads if the drivers have not been prepared for the fact that they must slow down. Traffic-calming techniques are meant to encourage a driving style that is more concerned with the surroundings and, as a result, lower speed limits can be introduced. I would go so far as to say that one of the main reasons why there are fewer casualties among pedestrians and particularly children in countries such as West Germany is that that country has more flexibility in the use of speed limits. That must be a primary objective of the Bill.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West) : I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing this important Bill. I hope that, in what is inevitably a short Session of Parliament, it will be able to complete its passage.

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What my hon. Friend says is no doubt the kernel of why we need the Bill. Does he agree that, whereas one can read too much into cause and effect, too many children and other pedestrians are being injured on our roads? Since the Government first introduced road humps in 1981, traffic engineers in too many councils have shown naked hostility to the idea of traffic calming and have completely set their face against the idea of road humps. I do not suggest cause and effect, but authorities must consider carefully the effects of not implementing those measures.

Mr. Mans : It varies across the country. Some local authorities may not have introduced those measures as quickly as possible, but it goes further than that. Many may have been persuaded or encouraged not to do so by the uncertainty in the law, so I would not go quite as far as my hon. Friend in suggesting that local authorities alone are to blame.

Mr. Peter Bottomley : That was a most disgraceful comment by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes). He may have had an unfortunate experience with a highway engineer--

Mr. Hughes : Several.

Mr. Bottomley : I suspect that part of the problem is that councils have an allocation of resources and the Department of Transport has helped by providing extra resources. I wish to say on behalf of highway engineers, both in the counties and the boroughs of the metropolitan districts, that their contribution through their professional associations--the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Highways and Transportation--and in co-operation with the experts in the Transport and Road Research Laboratory and the Department of Transport has led to much enthusiasm among many of those responsible.

One of the messages from the Bill may be that bringing in those schemes and making them work is one way in which the engineers can show that they have as much to contribute in cutting the number of casualties as those who deal with the behavioural side of driving and those who build the bypasses that take traffic away from towns and villages. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West will not mind my robust defence of those who are not in the House to defend themselves.

Mr. Mans : Perhaps I can find a way through the middle of my two hon. Friends' useful contributions. This is a debate and I welcome differing views on the initiatives shown by road traffic engineers. If the Bill is enacted, as I hope that it will be, I hope that extra impetus will be given to road traffic engineers to come up with innovative schemes. I do not want over-regulation or road traffic engineers simply toeing the line and following regulations as they are laid down where they may not be appropriate for their particular locality. I hope that the Bill will change that so that there are fewer of the type of engineers described by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) and more progressive traffic engineers.

Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) : Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that topic and because there is clear disagreement between his hon. Friends, will he acknowledge that the criteria by which the Department awards funds to the local authorities are framed in such a way that the widest traffic-calming measure that he wishes to

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introduce, not just for safety reasons, is not possible? The problem is not necessarily caused by the unwillingness of local authorities. Lewisham council, for instance, is very willing, but often it is unable to secure sufficient resources from the Department to implement all the traffic-calming measures that it would wish. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that there is a resource problem.

Mr. Mans : Obviously, there will always be resource problems for a variety of activities that local authorities would like to carry out, under whatever Government exist at a particular time. Local authorities such as Lewisham will probably be able to make out a much better case for money to be allocated within the overall grant specifically for traffic-calming measures, because the Bill makes it clear that that money can be allocated not only on road safety grounds but through environmental improvement grants. It is important to find a measure that has much support from both sides of the House, bearing in mind the time constraints of this Session, so that we get something on the statute book to improve matters. I fully acknowledge that it may not be ideal to everyone, but it will at least be an improvement on what has gone before.

Before all those helpful interventions, I was discussing pedestrian casualties. Differing casualty rates in other countries are one thing ; we also have distinct differences within Great Britain, where there are great regional variations. My region, the north-west, comes out badly, with road deaths among pedestrians 37 per cent. above the national average. Therefore, the Bill is particularly relevant to the part of the world that I represent. That may be because of the number of large conurbations in the north-west, but other factors may also be involved. There are wide regional variations and I hope that my Bill will address problems where they are clearly greatest, such as in the north-west of England.

As well as referring to various techniques to help road safety, the Bill is intended to enhance the environment. The adverse effects of traffic on the appearance of our streets take many forms : the visual intrusion of vehicles on the street scene, particularly from heavy goods vehicles ; the ugliness of road surfaces ; the railings that protect pedestrians ; high- intensity lighting ; and the degradation of buildings and paving materials as a result of the continous heavy flow of traffic.

Traffic-calming measures improve the appearance of streets by narrowing carriageways and widening footpaths so that the scale of the street is restored to human proportions. Dark surfaces can be replaced by attractive materials which are more sympathetic to the surrounding buildings. Functional features such as footway extensions or chicanes can be made more attractive. As space is reclaimed, opportunities arise to plant greenery, thus softening the scene. High-quality street furnishing can also be introduced.

Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow) : Does my hon. Friend agree that yellow lines, particularly double ones, are the most appalling intrusion on many of our streets, and there must be better ways to show motorists where they may or may not park?

Mr. Mans : My hon. Friend makes a good point. If there were a number of measures to encourage improvements in

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the visual appearance of streets, clearly those responsible for such matters could take greater account of factors such as yellow lines, which were perhaps not considered intrusive a few years ago. I believe that the measure will encourage people to look with different eyes on what we are trying to achieve in the streets of our towns and villages.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : We could have red lines.

Mr. Mans : I am not sure whether red lines would be much of an improvement on yellow--

Mr. Skinner : Yellow is a bit liberal.

Mr. Mans : In terms of the Bill there is clearly a need, within large towns such as London, to ensure that traffic that needs to flow is allowed to do so. In that respect, I approve of red routes and I should not like anyone to gain a false impression of my views on that.

The features that I have mentioned would emphasise that a street has a variety of functions and is not simply a through road. Many towns in continental Europe have demonstrated that to great effect and there are also examples in the United Kingdom--notably, Exeter. I should like to mention the work of Devon county council and the excellent book that it published on traffic calming, which was of great assistance to me. In my district, Lancashire county council is currently involved in extensive road calming and street improvement work in Preston. I hope that as a result of the legislation any doubtful aspects of the plans will be brought within statute. However, we still have some way to go before we achieve the results that have already been achieved on the continent. We must look across the channel at what has happened over many years in Holland and Germany, where it is easy to see how successful the measures have been. Apart from the visual appearance of streets, the noise level can be reduced by traffic-calming measures. I know that that will be of interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) who has expressed in previous debates concern about noise levels in urban districts. In most circumstances, exhaust emissions will also be reduced.

Softening the distinction between pavement and carriageway heightens the perception that a street is a shared space and that carriageway users are not restricted to car drivers. I hope that that will benefit cyclists and pedestrians.

In the past few weeks, various organisations and individuals have raised one or two points about the Bill. I can reassure the emergency services which have rightly expressed concern about some traffic-calming measures-- mainly because the legal channels available for local authorities have been limited, so emergency services have faced the problem of road humps which form a barrier to those wanting to get to the scene of accidents quickly. Because of the wider range of measures available within the Bill, it should make it easier, rather than harder, for emergency services to reach accident scenes. I hope that, as a result of the certainty that the Bill will bring to the law, the discussions between highway authorities and the emergency services will be more likely to reach satisfactory conclusions than at present.

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For example, rather than limiting possible action to the introduction of road humps, the Bill will ensure the use of speed tables, with gaps either side to slow down cars, while allowing larger vehicles such as fire engines and ambulances to reach their destinations quickly. There are many other ways in which road traffic engineers will be able to accommodate the needs of reducing the speed of the normal flow of traffic while allowing good access for emergency vehicles. The planning will take place in a freer atmosphere when matters are discussed by different organisations, and many more solutions will be available to deal with specific problems.

I have received a huge amount of support, not only from hon. Members from all parties--some of whom I am delighted to see here to speak in today's debate--but from a number of outside organisations. I should particularly like to thank Friends of the Earth, whose past work formed the basis of my idea for the Bill. I appreciated that organisation's help during the past few weeks as I attempted to construct the Bill. Many local councils-- including my own, Wyre borough council--have written to me directly, and some did so through their Members of Parliament. I have also received letters from other countries--not just from private individuals--and from councils in Scotland, England and Wales. Without exception, they all said that the measure would help their districts. Among other organisations that have shown support for the Bill are the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club, the British Medical Association, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and cyclist groups.

I hope that I have shown that that shows that the measure has a wide range of support from all political parties and a number of pressure groups with different aims. While the Bill is a small measure in itself, I sincerely believe that it will start a process that will lead to considerable changes in the visual appearance of the streets of our villages and towns in the next few years. I hope that it will result in fewer pedestrian casualties, particularly among the elderly and the young. I commend it to the House. 9.58 am

Mr. David Amess (Basildon) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) on his excellent Bill and I am grateful to him for asking me to be one of its sponsors. The measure has wide support in the House and throughout the country. I was grateful that my hon. Friend found time in his interesting speech to pay tribute to the present Minister for Roads and Traffic and his predecessor. I had the privilege to work with both of them, so I know that their commitment to road safety was profound. The exemplary record of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) in these matters is well known.

I hope that it will please my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre, and encourage him, to hear that my constituents in Basildon warmly welcome the Bill. The House will know that Basildon is the finest new town in the country, the finest town in the south, and will shortly be seen to be the most dynamic town in Europe. Basildon was built when Her Majesty the Queen came to the throne and has been developed in an interesting way since then, but the width of its roads leaves something to be desired. Forty years ago, the planners did not foresee the huge increase in car

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ownership. Some of our roads are just not wide enough for two vehicles to pass. This in itself has caused tremendous problems for my constituents.

I understand that the Bill will lead to the use of a wider range of techniques and to high-quality traffic-calming schemes. I also believe that it will make a significant contribution both to road safety and to local environments.

I am sure that all hon. Members find it distressing to attend a public meeting after an accident in which a child or elderly person has been killed. Petitions are sent in, and eventually the Member of Parliament is called to attend a public meeting, following which there is widespread consultation on traffic-calming measures that the residents believe are necessary. I hope that the true benefit of my hon. Friend's measure will be that, in future, we will second-guess these problems and no longer act after accidents have happened. We must design our roads and traffic flows to make our towns much safer.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who is a diligent attender on a Friday, will join us at some stage today. As he knows only too well, I was born in Newham, and I still take a real interest in it. The borough of Newham has implemented all sorts of traffic-calming measures, particularly humps in roads. Unfortunately, in Capel road in Forest Gate, the residents decided a few years ago that there were too many traffic problems outside the local pub and that they needed to slow down the traffic. Because of the lack of consultation--I am not trying to bash Newham ; I will come to Basildon in a moment--the humps were laid in that road at intervals of just a few yards. The planners, in short, went over the top. The tragedy is that the road was used for funeral cars to take mourners to the City of London cemetery, the biggest crematorium/cemetery in London. We can imagine the distress caused to the mourners while they were going over all these bumps. In the end, people had to be taken another way. That is just one example from the early days of traffic calming. If there had been more widespread consultation, that method would never have been used in the first place.

I wish to praise the excellent chairman of the highways committee of our county council, Councillor Ron Williams, who has done a wonderful job working closely with the constabulary in introducing traffic-calming measures in the constituency that I am proud to represent. A conspicious failure, however, is to be found at a turning near where I live, known as Dry street. For two decades, there has been concern about Dry street being used as a rat run. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may smile, but there are still 28 farms and smallholdings left in my constituency. There are still one or two cottages with thatched roofs in Dry street--it is the rural part of my constituency. The road is extremely narrow and along it are horse centres and a large kennels. All the properties are built right on the edge of the road. It has been impossible to obtain an agreement on what to do to stop the turn being used as a rat run.

At one time, one section of the community suggested that we should close the road. The councillor who represented the area was standing for re- election and I suspect that she lost her seat because she decided to support the closure of the road. I took part in a public meeting a year ago, at which we suggested better signs and large mirrors, but still no solution has been found to control the traffic in Dry street. I hope that, by publicly

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airing the matter today, I can send a message to residents and Essex county council that we need a solution to the problems of the street. Some months ago, a car slammed into a horse there--the damage can be imagined.

Some months ago, I was invited to St. Margaret's school in Bowers Gifford, which is in Basildon. It was a well-attended public meeting organised by a parent, held because of the widespread anxiety about the fact that, when children came out of the school, motorists paid no attention to the possible dangers. There was no crossing and no lollipop person-- [Interruption.] This should not be a cause for mirth : lollipop women and lollipop men do a magnificent job for road safety. They stand there in their oilskins whatever the weather and they are friends of the community, just like local policemen. I am not sure how much the service costs, but I would welcome an increase in their numbers.

I found at the public meeting that it was a classic case of the interested parties not having been listened to at a much earlier stage. The cogs of the bureaucracy had moved slowly in the attempt to implement measures that would help the parents of the children in the school. I realise that my hon. Friend's Bill will be of enormous significance in such cases.

I have received an excellent letter from the Royal Automobile Club. I do not mean to knock the Automobile Association, of which I am a member, but-- I have not had a chance to open my post this morning--I am somewhat disappointed not to have received any communication about the Bill from the AA. I therefore cannot present a balanced account of the views of the two organisations.

Nevertheless, the RAC tells us that the chances of survival of vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists are greatly enhanced when the vehicles that hit them are driving at less than 20 mph. That was recognised in the excellent recent Department of Transport campaign with the slogan "Kill your speed, not your child".

The shock for the bereaved when anyone is killed in an accident is truly awful. When a child is killed, it is distressing for everyone. We meet constituents who never get over the shock of such a tragedy. On television, there has recently been publicity about those who are left to mourn children. There is also widespread analysis of the people who were responsible for the deaths of children and of the counselling that is avaialble. The RAC is convinced that traffic calming is a self-enforcing means of keeping speed down in areas where pedestrians, and especially children and old people, are likely to be present.

We understand the pressures on motorists to get quickly from A to B, and the fact that the Government are used to being blamed for everything, because it is good knocking copy. Traffic works intended to improve roads slow the traffic flow, and motorists become angry. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) has often spoken about rat runs which develop from road improvements. I agree that the red route has been a great success.

The Bill offers three advantages to motorists. Traffic calming is clearly preferable to road closure as a means of allowing safe interaction between motorised and non-motorised traffic, while maintaining vehicle access. Secondly, it has the advantage of reducing the chance of a

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motorist being involved in an accident. Thirdly, the deterrence to through traffic reduces the risk of damage to parked vehicles. The Bill seeks to introduce the concept of traffic calming to highway law because legislation has lagged behind the interest in this developing field. The Bill makes the clear statement that traffic calming embraces the dual goals of road safety and environmental preservation or improvement. The latter has often been overlooked, to the detriment of amenity and the longer-term acceptance of traffic calming schemes.

I have been in the House for many private Members' Bills. This is the first time since I have been in the House that Parliament has gone into its final year. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre on his Bill and on his acceptance of the time difficulty. If one hon. Member objects to such a Bill, the opportunity is lost, but I shall be staggered if any hon. Member seeks to delay the passage of this one. My hon. Friend has the privilege of knowing that if his Bill becomes law, it will save lives, although we cannot say how many. I hope that it will have a speedy passage through both Houses. 10.23 am

Sir John Farr (Harborough) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) on his Bill. I was pleased to hear the forecast that nobody will object to it. No hon. Member could object to it, except to say that such a measure should have been thought of before. It is a short and lucid Bill, and it stands out a mile to anyone who reads it that its proposals should have been put in train by the Government urgently and energetically.

The Bill is an important little step on the road to a more ordered regime on our streets. In that context, country roads and roads in urban areas are of equal importance. We must try to improve the atmosphere on our roads. Child deaths on the roads could be slashed if the Bill becomes law. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre said, nearly 50,000 children under the age of 15 were killed or injured last year, of whom 417 died and 8,870 were seriously hurt. More than half the fatalities were pedestrians, and boys aged seven and girls aged 12 were the main victims.

The Department of the Environment estimates that 83 per cent. of child casualties occur on built-up roads and that a quarter of pedestrian injuries occur on the way to and from school. It is important for the House to continue to repeat the television campaign message that, at 40 mph, a vehicle will almost certainly kill, at 30 mph half those involved in an accident will die, and at 20 mph only one child in 20 in an accident will be killed. If the debate can get that message over, it will be well worth while.

I was a little upset by the comment of Mr. Ken Jury, the vice-chairman of the Association of District Councils transport committee. Speaking about traffic-calming measures, Mr. Jury recently said :

"The typical driver will hate them, but, like seat belts and the 70 mph limit, they'll get used to them."

Mr. Jury is totally wrong. The average driver is a parent or is associated with children and will accept the sensible calming measures in the Bill. He will look upon them not as a curse but as measures that are part of civilised society. We must try to eradicate the unfortunate attitude of influential people who oppose sensible improvements to country and urban life such as traffic-calming measures.

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Market Harborough has the privilege to be one of the six towns selected for the three-year trial. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre for associating a bypass on the A6 at Market Harborough, which is nearing completion, with one of the new traffic- calming schemes.

Market Harborough is associated with Berkhamstead,

Dalton-in-Furness, Petersfield, Wadebridge and Whitchurch, all of which are experiencing traffic-calming measures. Like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre, my constituency has experienced agonising road fatalities recently. We have had distressing headlines of children killed in urban areas. We are all anxious, on both sides of the House, that the traffic- calming measures envisaged and put into effect in my constituency in this three-year scheme will be approved and brought into use.

No sensible driver could object to any of these measures. Some people say that the old-fashioned sleeping policeman is a hazard, but I think that he is a useful sort of fellow to have around. We have one in Vincent square, which stopped all the post office vans rushing through at 90 mph at 3 o'clock in the morning. I only wish that the bumps were even more pronounced.

There are other ways to calm traffic, such as the chicane, where pavements are made to jut out at intervals so as to narrow the road. That sensible and easy-to-live-with measure is the sort that we are looking forward to as part of the overall scheme in Market Harborough.

There is also the traffic throttle, where two lanes temporarily merge, and the rumble strip. Those of us who have driven a lot on motorways late at night know about the rumble strip. For instance, on the M1, the driver cannot nod off because every so often a rumble strip wakes him up. There are variable height bumps to keep the driver alert--that is another name for sleeping policemen. I hope that we shall hear no silliness about the effectiveness of sleeping policemen, because no sensible driver should be speeding in a built-up area or on a country road. As we all know too well, whether we are driving in rural or built-up areas, a child can unexpectedly appear from around the corner.

Another of the improvements in Market Harborough is the movable traffic island, designed to wake up the regular driver, and the gateway, where the driver has to slow down as he passes through pairs of pillars. These experiments are thoroughly welcomed by all sensible, thinking drivers and pedestrians in town and country.

A significant feature in the campaign for road safety is that the Government's recent urban safety project estimated that if this Bill were already on the statute book, 15,000 accidents a year, which would have cost the community £175 million, could have been avoided, thus also avoiding much heartbreak and human anguish. There are many advantages in the Bill. It will reduce the number and severity of accidents in built-up areas and will help to reduce air and noise pollution. It will improve the urban street environment for non-motor users. It will reduce the car's dominance in a way that varies according to street type.

It is particularly important that, by what we do, we encourage a quieter and cleaner environment. It has been shown that the planting of trees can, apart from any other factors, introduce three positive environmental effects. Trees narrow the motorists's line of vision, making him drive more cautiously. They enhance the landscape and act as major consumers of carbon dioxide.

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