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Mr. Speaker: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should write to me; that might be the best idea.

29 Jan 2002 : Column 173

Road Safety and Speed

4.40 pm

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): I beg to move,

This Bill is one of those pieces of proposed legislation that are designed to address an historical absurdity in highways law, although it is also intended to contribute to tackling the danger that speeding drivers represent in built-up areas. Its origin lies in one of those "You cannot be serious" conversations that I had with a group of constituents and a local county councillor a few months ago. They were concerned about the level of speeding on local roads and told me that it is illegal to erect repeater signs in 30 mph zones in built-up areas such as those in my constituency and those of many hon. Members.

Repeater signs—the small round signs mounted on lamp posts and other roadside posts—can be used to remind drivers of 40 or 50 mph speed limits, and indeed in national speed limit zones, but cannot be used in 30 mph areas. Even if there are regular problems with people failing to realise that there is a 30 mph speed limit, local authorities are forbidden by law from erecting repeater signs. Everyone to whom I have related that fact has expressed astonishment that that is so. I very much hope that hon. Members will today agree with me on the matter.

That legal point, buried in past legislation, may seem small—until one considers that in the past three years 65 per cent. of serious road accidents in this country have occurred within 30 mph speed limits. That is a huge proportion of the accidents that lead to the deaths of more than 3,500 people a year and cause serious injury to nearly 250,000 people—many of them children.

Any hon. Members who have been to the cinema in the past few weeks will have seen a graphic advertising campaign about the dangers of driving even 5 mph over the speed limit. That extra 5 mph can mean that a car takes 21 ft further to stop than if it had been travelling at 30 mph—potentially the difference between life and death for a small child who runs out from behind a car.

No legislative measure can remove the risk of accident and injury to small children, but we all know just how easy it can be for a small child to slip from a parent's hand and run out into the road. A few weeks ago in my constituency, there was a tragic case of just that happening, and a young girl was killed. There was no suggestion in that case that the speed travelled by the driver involved was instrumental in the tragedy, but the case brought home to me and to many parents in my area just how real the risks are.

I suspect that we all know roads with 30 mph limits where it is easy to drift above that speed, and of roads where a sizeable proportion of drivers do so, so is it not absurd that the law prevents local authorities from putting up timely reminders to those using such roads? The legal restriction is truly a part of Britain's motoring history, but it is a piece of the past that I would very happily see disappear. It was originally set out in the Road Traffic Act 1934. The rule has always been that in a road with street lamps in a built-up area, the limit is always 30 mph unless it says otherwise. Such roads are designated as restricted roads. That rule has survived for 67 years and

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is currently wrapped up in section 82 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 1994. If the House gives me leave today, the Bill that I will lay before it will amend the 1984 Act to permit the use of signage on restricted roads.

My Bill has been welcomed by all those with whom I have discussed it. The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety says that such a measure would make an important contribution to improved safety. In a recent report, PACTS confirmed the seriousness of the problem. It stated:

In that report, PACTS made the clearest possible recommendation:

When I spoke to the AA about the Bill, its comment was:

The AA is committed to breaking the linkage between speed limits and lamp posts, and says that its research with motorists shows that many of them simply do not understand that connection, and many admit that that is often a reason for their breaking the speed limit. Government work has found similar reasons cited by motorists for speeding in built-up areas.

I also spoke to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, which said much the same thing and gave its support to the principle of the Bill. ROSPA believes that local authorities should have the flexibility to decide the most effective way to highlight speed limits.

I found the views of those national bodies clearly reflected in the views of local councillors and council officers to whom I spoke. One conversation, with the highways department at Surrey county council, was particularly revealing. I was told that many local authorities are trying to find ways around the law so that they can highlight speed limits without contravening the current rules. The association representing London boroughs has produced a green fluorescent sign which can be put on lamp posts to highlight speed limits, but the consensus among the professionals is that repeater signs would be much more effective.

One of the senior councillors on my own most immediate local borough council, Epsom and Ewell, said that the Bill would be extremely welcome, and that the council would very much like to be able to put up clearer signage, which is currently forbidden by law.

I know that the Government have given consideration to the matter. In the documentation that they have published, there is a suggestion that they, too, are uncomfortable with the present situation. The Government's speed policy review published in March 2000 addressed the matter and indicated that a change in legislation might be required. The Government told me in a written answer that they would be reviewing road signage this year. I hope that the Bill will give them the opportunity to throw their weight behind the proposed changes.

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In Britain, we are fortunate to have some of the safest roads in Europe. Twenty years of public education have much reduced the problems posed by drink-driving, for example. However, there is general consensus that speed remains a major problem, especially in 30 mph zones. Today the House has the opportunity to take a small step towards reducing that problem. The Bill would put another piece in the road safety jigsaw. It would make it much more difficult for motorists to forget that they were in a 30 mph speed limit zone. It would give local authorities the freedom to judge where such a reminder was necessary.

I have not found a single person or organisation who thinks that the Bill is a bad idea. On the contrary, most people to whom I have spoken are amazed that the current law does not permit repeater signs in 30 mph limits. We can change that. I hope that today hon. Members will start my Bill on the road to the statute book, and that in doing so, they will help me take another step in making our roads safer for pedestrians, for motorists and, above all, for our children.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Chris Grayling, Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody, Andrew Bennett, Mr. Paul Goodman, Mr. Mark Francois, Mr. Mark Hoban, Mr. Adrian Flook, Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger and Mr. Andrew Selous.

Road Safety and Speed

Chris Grayling accordingly presented a Bill to make further provision for road safety measures in residential areas and for the indication of speed limits: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 10 May, and to be printed [Bill 85].

29 Jan 2002 : Column 176

Opposition Day

[9th Allotted Day]

Post Office

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I announce to the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.50 pm

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford): I beg to move,

It is less than two years since Parliament passed the Postal Services Act 2000, which established the Post Office—or Consignia, as it then chose to be called—as a plc in 100 per cent. Government ownership.

During the Third Reading debate on that legislation, the then Secretary of State said:

That was the prediction of the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers), and, like everything else that he has touched, it has since proved a disaster. In the short time since he made that statement, the Post Office has reported its first operating loss for 25 years, and nearly 63,000 days have been lost owing to industrial action in the last financial year alone. In that same period, another 547 sub-post offices have closed, and the company has moved even further away from meeting its delivery targets.

Last November, it was reported that Consignia was considering 15,000 redundancies. At that time, the company was quoted as saying that 20,000 was an extreme worst-case figure. A few weeks later, just before Christmas, the chief executive casually dropped into an answer to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry that the number of redundancies was likely to be 30,000. Since then, we have had the decision to scrap the second delivery, and reports that the early morning collection is to go. The latest report, received in the last few days, is that deliveries might not be made until the afternoon.

It is extraordinary that a national institution such as the Post Office could have been brought so low in such a short time. There is no reason for that to have happened. The Post Office is still a huge business, with a work force of 200,000 and a brand image that is generally respected

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and trusted throughout the country. In particular, the postmen and women who get up early to deliver the mail in all weathers do a great job and are the company's greatest asset, while the sub-postmasters who deliver services for the Post Office are at the heart of thousands of rural and urban communities.

Of course, post offices throughout the world are facing challenges. Fax machines, e-mail, electronic payments and direct debits have all provided competition that has gnawed away at some of the basic business of mail and parcel delivery. Other European and international postal services, however, have adapted far more quickly than the Post Office in the United Kingdom. In Germany and Holland, the Governments have recognised that lumbering state-owned corporations are unsuited to the new challenges and that, if they are to survive and prosper, they need the freedom and flexibility of private sector ownership.

Since it was partially privatised, the German Post Office has bought the majority share in DHL, and is now the biggest operator in the European courier express and parcel industry. The Dutch post office, which is fully privatised, has bought TNT and is the second biggest business in Europe. Both have left the UK Post Office far behind—its own acquisitions have been far less successful. Only last month, the Public Accounts Committee reported that the Post Office's acquisition of German Parcel is barely showing a positive return and that the Department of Trade and Industry has failed to operate proper oversight.

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