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Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby): I presume that when the hon. Gentleman speaks about local authority officials looking out of their window on cold, snowy mornings, he is referring to those in his constituency. The people of Sefton are rather more well prepared than that.
Mr. Gray: I am delighted to hear that the hon. Lady's local authority is more well prepared than those I described. However, there is no requirement under the law for her local authority to do anything other than to carry out gritting on a haphazard basis. The law does not require her local authority to make provision in a satisfactory, planned way. Figures across the nation show that. In Scotland, 40 per cent. of all roads are gritted regularly. In Devon, the figure is 19 per cent. In my county of Wiltshire, 26 per cent. of roads are gritted normally and a further 26 per cent. will be gritted in extreme, severe weather, making a total of 52 per cent. There is no overall plan with regard to who grits and when. The hon. Lady makes a grand claim for Sefton. I have not looked at Sefton in detail, but I am delighted to hear about it.
Wiltshire has produced exactly the sort of plan that I suggest should be produced across the country. I propose the production of a clear plan, perhaps with a map, such as that included in the leaflet issued by Wiltshire county council. The plan would show which roads were to be gritted, when they would be gritted and the weather conditions under which that would take place.
Mr. Gray: Yes, it does. I am delighted that the hon. Lady is taking such a detailed interest in the Bill. We had a little conversation earlier this morning about some other equally detailed matters. I therefore very much hope that the hon. Lady may be prepared to consider serving on the Standing Committee considering the Bill, if we are lucky enough to reach that stage. I know that the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) is also very keen to take an active part in the detailed discussions in Committee.
The notion is to make it plain which roads are gritted and when and to find a way of encouraging local authorities to increase the use of gritting. This matter has been highlighted by the judgment in the case of Goodes v. East Sussex County Council last year. The Law Lords concluded that the Highways Act 1980 placed no general duty on a highways authority to pre-salt any road. In making the judgment, however, Lord Hoffmann indicated that a person who has suffered injuries owing to ice on the road had a right to expect a remedy. That is a very important point.
Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): I am struggling to understand the hon. Gentleman's earlier response to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) in relation to clause 1. He said that clause 1 would require local authorities to publish plans, as he outlined. My understanding of clause 1--and I have re-read it since he said that--is that authorities will be bound to
Mr. Gray: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It sounds as if we have in him another volunteer to serve on the Standing Committee, as he is showing a keen interest in the detail of the Bill.
The answer is the word "reasonable". The word is taken from the 1984 Act to which I referred. It means that authorities must take reasonable steps to clear snow and ice from the roads--something that local authorities in England do not have to do--and that includes producing a plan.
Mr. Gray: If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I have given way to her twice, including once on this point. Gritting is a very small part of the Bill, and I intend to make a little progress. Perhaps she could contain her excitement until she is serving on the Committee, which I hope that she will be happy to do. The Bill would improve the quantity of gritting across the nation and improve the driver's knowledge of whether roads are gritted.
The AA research demonstrates that where drivers understand the speed limit, know what it is and believe it to be sensible, broadly speaking they obey it. People know that in most towns the speed limit is 30 mph, so they go at 40 mph, although they should not: they observe the speed limit in the breach. Equally, on motorways, they know that the speed limit is 70 mph, so they go at 80 mph. They observe it in the breach.
However, in rural areas, people do not know what the speed limit is. In rural villages where no other speed restriction operates, and on single-lane country lanes such as I have in my constituency, the speed limit is 60 mph. That is absurd. One could not go at 60 mph through most villages or on most country lanes. People do not know that that is the speed limit, but if they did, they would not observe it, because they would think it silly.
The aim, which I believe the Government have in the back of their mind, although they plan to implement it within a longer time scale than I envisage, is to introduce speed limits across the nation which make sense and which drivers understand--or, in the AA's expression, buy into. Drivers will know what the speed limit is, they will recognise that it is sensible and they will observe it, albeit in the breach. For example, it might be sensible to implement the suggestion of the Council for the Protection of Rural England that there should be a speed limit of 30 mph in most villages, and perhaps 40 mph on single-track rural lanes. At present, speed limits across the nation are haphazard, people do not understand them and therefore do not observe them. They make up their own rules on speed limits.
Last year the CPRE produced an excellent report entitled "The rural traffic fear survey", which revealed that 65 per cent. of people felt threatened all or some of the time by speeding traffic. It is a huge problem. I discovered from my parish council a couple of years ago that the biggest problem that we have in rural areas is cars going too fast through villages and round bends. Horse riders--I am a horse rider myself--are terrified. Even in the smallest rural lanes, cars travel at speed, for no reason at all, and they are not breaking the law.
Clause 2 would require local authorities to produce a plan setting out what they believe to be sensible speeds for the particular conditions in their area, subject to national guidelines. Under the Transport Act 2000, the Secretary of State is required to produce a hierarchy of speeds in rural areas within 12 months. I believe that that was a CPRE-inspired amendment to the Bill, on whose Standing Committee I served, as did the Minister.
The present procedure for introducing speed limits is extraordinarily complex and burdensome. Wiltshire county council, which proposed the relevant part of the Bill to me, told me that under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, to introduce or change a speed limit, or even to move a speed limit a small distance entails various stages: initial consultation with the police and local council; drafting of a notice and traffic order; obtaining the formal views of statutory consultees; advertising in the local press the intention to make the order; formal consideration of objections; and publishing a notice that an order has been made. Finally, the speed limit is introduced, changed or moved, and the appropriate sign is put up.
Typically, I believe, that takes six to 12 months and costs about £5,000. For example, in my constituency, in Corsham, St. Michael's Roman Catholic school is just outside the 30 mph speed limit. That means that people are driving past the entrance to the school at 60 mph and slowing down when they come to the 30 mph speed limit. We have been campaigning for some years to have the speed limit moved by 100 yd, so that the school will be within the speed limit in Corsham town. To do that, as I said, costs about £5,000, and the county council simply does not have the money to do it. The town council, on a tiny precept, also cannot afford to do it.
The Bill proposes doing away with the burdensome, bureaucratic and expensive procedure for bringing in and changing speed limits. The local authority would have to consult only the police and would then introduce or alter a speed limit.