Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Miss McIntosh: The Under-Secretary has been astute in identifying the type of road that could cause problems. The Government have delayed the de-trunking programme for one year because of the introduction of a new spending formula, and that is welcome, but my concern is that considering that the roads that he identified may be causing accidents or be a contributory factor in them, is this the right time to proceed with the de-trunking programme? Would it not be better for road safety to identify the contribution that those roads make before the programme passes on the responsibility?

Mr. Jamieson: The de-trunking programme will be done with close discussion and liaison with the Highways Agency. Several issues other than road safety are involved, including controlling traffic flow, which we feel that it is better for the local authority to handle. Most authorities agree with us and are happy to take the responsibility. Road safety is an important issue, but there are others, too.

The hon. Lady asked about paying for witness statements. It is a matter in which there is no difference between traffic and non-traffic liability. However, if she wants more detail—it is a little beyond the scope of the Committee, and I know that you do not want us to talk too much about letters, Mr. Hurst—I could add that to the list of queries to respond to later.

The hon. Lady also asked about STATS 19 and the quality of information. The form provides high-quality information, but one difficulty is that the form is not compiled in a consistent way throughout the country. As the hon. Member for Bath said, the way in which the information is fed in is also important. We are closely examining the form and the information technology that backs it up to try to get better consistency and quality of information and help the police officer at the side of the road save a considerable amount of time in gathering accurate information.

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We are deeply sympathetic to the idea of reducing road casualties, and improving safety is at the core of our road policies. We have provided substantial amounts of money for local authorities to improve road safety in their own areas, and the Department is doing an enormous amount to reduce casualties on our roads. Notwithstanding that, I am not convinced that, worthy as they are, the proposals would provide a cost-effective route forward. We share the ambition to create safer roads, so it is with reluctance that I urge my hon. Friends to resist the new clause.

3.45 pm

Mr. Foster: I thank the Under-Secretary for his lengthy and detailed response, in which he rightly touched on a wider range of issues than those directly related to the proposals. As I have said on many occasions, no one will doubt the commitment or desire of the present or previous Governments, of any political party, to improve safety on our roads. We may disagree from time to time as to the exact way forward on, for example, speed limits, the use of mobile phones in cars or what the drink-drive limits should be, but no one listening to the Under-Secretary would doubt his sincerity and commitment to take action.

The new clauses have been debated in an interesting manner. When we were debating the establishment of the rail accident investigation branch, we were conscious that we were mirroring work that had already taken place in marine and aviation services. At that time, the hon. Member for Vale of York was an enthusiastic supporter of the initiative, although perhaps not of all the details. The Under-Secretary was certainly a supporter because he was one of those who proposed the idea.

We are conscious, in relation to railways, that when accidents take place, a large number of organisations and individuals are inevitably involved: the police, the train-operating companies, Network Rail, the Health and Safety Executive and so on. They all have a part to play, but I particularly stress the role of the police. Hon. Members on both sides of the House thought it appropriate and sensible to establish, in addition, the rail accident investigation branch.

When the hon. Lady responded to the new clauses that referred to roads, she told us that everybody who was involved in roads was doing a fantastic job and that everything was wonderful, so there was no need to make any change. One could interpret that unkindly as being critical of those involved in accident investigation on the railways. She appears to have a high regard for the traffic police and their investigative work, and sees no need for the establishment of a road accident body of the type that I am proposing, yet in relation to the railways, she sees the need for such a body, which implies less confidence in the work of the British Transport police. I cannot believe that that is in the hon. Lady's mind, so perhaps we should put her opposition down to the fact that she was responding to a Liberal Democrat new clause.

The Under-Secretary and the hon. Lady have both drawn attention to the large number of investigations and people, alongside the police, that will be necessary

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given the large number of fatalities on our roads. Both of them are right that a large number of investigators would be required for the work, but that expenditure would be well worth it: benefits would accrue from their work. I should like to place on record my gratitude to all those people who currently conduct investigations, but, as the Under-Secretary said, there remains a need to improve the quality of the information that is used to underpin STATS 19. The only way that we will improve the quality of information is by having people with appropriate skills, experience, and expertise to conduct investigations. That was the reason why I thought it appropriate to table the new clauses. However, at present the new clauses do not have the support of many Committee members. In order that there may be an opportunity to debate the issues later—perhaps in a slightly different form—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New clause 21

Development of rural road hierarchy

    '(1) There shall be a new classification of speed limits for rural roads to be known as a Rural Road Hierarchy.

    (2) The hierarchy will set maximum speed limits for different road types, and include speed limits no higher than—

    (a) 20 mph for rural roads in the vicinity of schools and roads designated as Quiet Lanes under the Transport Act 2000;

    (b) 30 mph for rural roads passing through villages;

    (c) 40 mph for rural roads which have been classified as Country Lanes;

    (d) 50 mph for poor quality single carriageways;

    (e) 60 mph for high quality single carriageways; and

    (f) 70 mph for dual carriageway roads.

    (3) For the purposes of this section, a Country Lane is any road which is primarily used for local access, where there is no white centre line, and which has been designated as such by the local transport authority.

    (4) Local transport authorities shall have the power under this section to review any restricted and unrestricted non-urban road or roads for which they are the traffic authority and reclassify them as part of the rural road hierarchy.

    (5) Local transport authorities may amend the existing speed limit for a road or roads within that classification, taking into account guidance issued by the Secretary of State.

    (6) As soon as is practicable and no later than six months after the coming into force of this Act the Secretary of State shall issue guidance as to the way in which a transport authority shall exercise its powers in developing a rural road hierarchy.

    (7) Guidance under this section shall include guidance on—

    (a) the function of the rural road hierarchy;

    (b) definitions of different road types and areas, including country lanes, quiet lanes, and villages (subject to the requirements in subsection 4 and the Transport Act 2000) and how the assessment of road quality is to be made;

    (c) the procedures for reviewing the classification of roads and reclassifying them, including the use of appraisal;

    (d) requirements for public consultation;

    (e) appropriate speed limits for different road types within the hierarchy, subject to the requirements in subsection 2;

    (f) the procedures for applying speed limits on an area basis;

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    (g) how the rural road hierarchy will link to requirements under the Transport Act 2000 for the production of Local Transport Plans; and

    (h) the relationship between the rural road hierarchy and urban roads.'.—[Miss McIntosh.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Miss McIntosh: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I shall say why we believe that there is a need for the development of a rural road hierarchy, and why the Government might be minded to follow up the research that has been done on that subject. It would be appropriate to give some statistics on the impact of speed, as opposed to alcohol in the blood, on driver behaviour. The Library figures, which are the most recent that are available, I imagine, show that the number of fatalities caused by speed justify the Government wishing to take action in that regard.

I am not sure what the reporting period is but accidents on built-up roads result in some 20,000 serious injuries a year. We touched on the matter earlier but, regrettably, I do not know whether the Minister can say that we are any further forward in judging how many road accidents involve drugs. However, in response to a parliamentary question, one of the Minister's predecessors, who is now Deputy Chief Whip, touched on the fact that a fifth of drivers killed had a blood alcohol level above the legal limit, and went on to say that

    ''The Department has undertaken specific research into the incidence of drugs in road accident fatalities. This found that there was a presence of illegal drugs in some 18 per cent. of driver fatalities of which cannabis accounted for about two thirds. However, traces of cannabis remain in the body for some time after any impairing effect, and in general the presence of drugs is not evidence of impairment or accident causation.''—[Official Report, 22 January 2001; Vol. 398, c. 461W.]

I do not know whether the Minister can show how much further on we are with those figures.

The Committee may recall that between 1865 and 1896 locomotives on the highway had to be preceded by a pedestrian carrying a flag and were subject to a speed limit of some 2 mph in populated areas and 4 mph elsewhere. That maximum speed limit was increased to 14 mph, and in 1903 to 20 mph. In 1930, speed limits for cars and motor cycles were abolished. In 1934, roads in built-up areas, which are defined as those with street lighting placed not more than 200 yd apart, had a general limit of 30 mph. Other roads had no speed limit at all until 1965, when a general national upper limit of 70 mph was introduced for all roads including motorways. Since 1977, the speed limit for cars has been 70 mph on dual carriageways and 60 mph on single carriageways. The speed limit on an unclassified road, assuming that it is a single carriageway, is 60 mph.

The speed limits on rural roads have been the subject of discussions and research, not least in the Department for Transport's strategy document, which was published in 2000. Paragraph 34 states:

    ''The relationship between speed and safety is a complex one. But from the national and international literature there is overwhelming evidence that lower speeds result in fewer collisions of lesser severity.''

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Some interesting conclusions can be drawn, which are listed. It also refers to new research that is being examined, particularly the scope for reducing collisions through speed management. The study concluded that

    ''each 1 mph reduction in average speed is expected to cut accident frequency by 5 per cent.''

 
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