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Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, will acknowledge that modern buses, with proper injection systems and the addition of urea, contribute very little pollution indeed. In fact, there is no nitrogen oxide pollution at all. Most pollution comes from diesel-powered lorries and it is quite wrong to associate the bus industry with pollution.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I wish it were so but, as a bicyclist, I can tell him absolutely that it is not. Being stuck behind a bus with an exhaust pipe blowing into your face is a most unpleasant state of affairs. Indeed, I wonder why most diesel buses do not have diesel particulate filters fitted. It would be a positive advance if they were to be fitted, but that does not seem to be happening at the moment.

Cars are at their most polluting when they are jammed bumper-to-bumper in city centres. Getting cars moving expeditiously on the motorways would improve matters. Indeed, the Association of British Drivers has shown that an increase in the motorway speed limit to 80 miles an hour would save approximately 11 million vehicle hours per year for cars and 1.5 million vehicle hours for light goods vehicles.

There was much debate in Grand Committee over the issue of speed and safety. I am grateful to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents for providing me with some of its briefing material. We need to be wary about any straightforward causal link between speed change and accidents. Indeed, the Government's three-year review, Tomorrow's Roads: Safer for Everyone, found that there was a broad reduction of casualties from the baseline of the 1994–98 averages, while motorways remain some of our safest roads.
 
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When presented with studies that seem to claim a direct relationship between an increase in speed and an increase in accidents, one finds that different studies often relate to very different measurements. For example, some refer to fatalities and others to injury numbers. Highly specific studies often contradict the general trend observed by the whole motoring population. Injury accident rates fell by 30 per cent in the UK during the 1980s while road speeds increased.

Average speeds are unhelpful when measuring accident rates; injury accidents happen only once for every 1.8 million kilometres driven in the UK. An accident arises usually from an exceptional combination of circumstances. Certain demographic groups, locations and conditions dramatically affect accident rates.

As noble Lords are well aware, a vast number of motorway users already travel above 70 miles per hour in good weather. We heard a variety of testimonials to that effect in Grand Committee, most notably from the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, who observed that he himself travelled at a fairly sedate 71 or 72 miles an hour on the M40 and was still passed by vehicles.

Under these circumstances, why should we expect an increase in accidents after we sanction responsible motorists for already travelling safely at this speed? As my noble friend Lord Goschen pointed out in Grand Committee, effectively enforcing a higher speed limit is preferable to the authorities "looking the other way" when thousands of motorists daily break the law because they have no confidence in it, do not believe that it will make them safer and know that it will not be enforced.

The question must be one of achieving balance. The law must be enforceable and it must enjoy public support. The amendment will allow us to stop criminalising drivers who travel on our motorways at safe speeds. I beg to move.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, is expecting a debate on speed management this evening, I suspect that he will be disappointed, although I imagine that other Members of your Lordships' House will be rather pleased. That is partly because of the lateness of the hour, but also because I do not believe that this Bill is the right place for it. However, I have a lot of sympathy with the noble Lord's motives in bringing the amendment forward, because we clearly need a systematic review of speed limit policy in this country. That can partly be seen in the kind of headlines that we see in the tabloid newspapers, but the issue goes back much further than that. Certainly, when I arrived in your Lordships' House in 2000, I successfully moved an amendment to the Transport Act which called for a review of speeds on rural roads. All this time later, we are still waiting for the review to take place. Therefore, I hope that Minister will at least go away and consider how the Government might bring forward a more
 
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coherent debate and possible legislation on the wider question of speed limits, rather than addressing the issue of motorway speed limits in isolation.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, but I took solace from the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, indicated that she does not think that this is the appropriate Bill to which an amendment should be tabled in these terms. I largely agree with that and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, having given the issue an airing even at this late hour, will be content with having done so and will not press his amendment.

As the noble Lord will have surmised, the Government are not persuaded of the need for such a change to maximum speeds. I acknowledge what the noble Lord said about the safety of cars travelling at 80 mph and the behaviour of road traffic at present. He should ask himself if the limit were raised to 80 mph, would not people expect a level of tolerance beyond that? Would they not be absolutely astounded if they were pulled in for doing 81 or 82 mph and would it not be just a matter of months before we saw a regular pattern of speeds that were 10 mph in excess of that limit, on the grounds that the technological development of cars is such that all that is safe?

We also know that speed has a dramatic effect on fatalities. Recent evidence from the United States has shown an increase of up to 38 per cent in the fatal accident rate following an increase in speed limits on its motorways, so we should approach the issue with some care.

The Government believe that raising speed limits could jeopardise a good record in this country and could cost lives. In 2002, there were 224 fatalities on our motorways, which represented 6.5 per cent of the total number of deaths on our roads. We would of course prefer no deaths, but that figure is low in comparison with roads in built-up areas and rural roads. That is why the Government are committed in their road safety strategy to improving rural road safety through better speed management and driver information on rural roads, where by far the worst accident rate occurs. We have also provided guidance to local highway authorities on introducing vehicle-activated warning signs and 30 mph speed limits in villages.

The motorway speed limit has been the subject of frequent reviews, most recently in 2001. That review concluded that to raise the motorway speed limit would run too great a risk of increasing accidents and casualties. In addition—it is not a negligible factor—a higher speed limit would also result in higher emissions of carbon dioxide and oxides of nitrogen. It would also lead to more noise pollution.

The Secretary of State already has a power to bring regulations before Parliament to change the speed limits on our roads. This power is contained in Section 86 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. Should any future review recommend that the speed limit were raised, primary legislation would not be necessary.
 
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However, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, that it would not be in the framework of the Bill to make such changes.

Sections 17 and 84 of that Act also provide for orders to be made so that speed limit changes can be made and indicated in circumstances detailed in such orders. To date, the power to introduce variable speed limits has been used on only one road—the M25—although we intend to use the power in connection with a new active traffic management scheme on the M42.

The issue was raised of a reduction in speed limit during bad weather. That has some attractions. However, there are a number of issues that would need to be resolved before serious consideration could be given to taking that forward. Defining bad weather and determining the appropriate speed limit needs more serious consideration, and there may not be a simple solution. For example, what lower limit would be appropriate for which conditions?

The noble Lord probably thought that I would not be enormously sympathetic to his amendment at this late stage in the proceedings. However, I reassure him that we are keeping the matter under review. As I said, the last review was in 2001, and it expressed negative approaches to the issue. However, we do not consider the amendment appropriate at this time. Having given this significant debate a further airing, I hope that he feels free to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, suggested, there will be a review of speed limits in the future? That will save me dividing the House.


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