Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Cadman had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 26:


Page 15, line 21, at end insert--
(“( ) In formulating such facilities, the Secretary of State shall have regard to their economic cost and practical relevance to the control of immigration.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I was slightly reassured by the Minister at our recent meeting. The term “reasonably necessary" when applied to the provision of facilities is open to considerable interpretation. Consequently, it is important that some kind of dispute procedure is made available. Any independent view on the matter is to be welcomed and will provide further reassurance. To reject the offer of arbitration appears to be a little harsh. I do not propose to pursue the matter any further at this stage.

[Amendment No. 26 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 27 not moved.]

Lord Bach: My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Report stage begin again not before 8.35 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Road Traffic: Speeding

7.34 p.m.

Viscount Tenby rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to raise public awareness of the dangers of excessive speeding.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to air this important issue. I am also grateful for the support that this Unstarred Question has attracted. It is a particularly appropriate time for such a debate as we all eagerly await the conclusions of the Government's review of the whole area of speeding and their welcome departure from the traditional stance to treat the subject in isolation rather than to relate it to a whole number of complementary issues, ranging from the impact on the environment to its effect on rural communities. No one has been more assiduous in pushing the process along than the Minister himself. I am sure that we are all grateful for his commitment to solving the problem.

Speed is the single biggest contributor to road accidents. That the problem is of formidable proportions is illustrated by figures from the recent vehicles speed data survey. It found that at 26 motorway sites 55 per cent of drivers exceeded the 70 mph limit, while a further 19 per cent drove in excess of 80 mph. More alarmingly, at 30 urban sites 69 per cent of drivers exceeded the 30 mph limit. Most

18 Oct 1999 : Column 820

alarmingly of all, in general no fewer than 72 per cent of heavy goods vehicles exceeded their limit of 40 mph. One wonders whatever happened to the concept of engine governors. In this context one of the initiatives that the Government may care to consider is prosecution not only of drivers but also of the firms employing them who may well be covert accomplices to the offence, for example, by laying down unrealistic and unsafe delivery schedules for their drivers.

Let us be sensible about this. There are very few of us who do not at one time or another break the limit. I am fully aware that I am providing a hostage to fortune by initiating this debate. Like St. Augustine, I am tempted to mutter,


    “Give me ... continency--but not yet!".

However, at least I am aware of speed limits--seemingly unlike a surprisingly large number of drivers--probably because of my experience as a magistrate for 25 years. It is also a global problem, as anyone who travels abroad can see.

We should not be too fatalistic. It is possible to turn round people's perceptions. Over the past 25 years we have seen a fundamental change in our attitude to drink driving as a result of relentless education and advertising. Although a hard core of irresponsible drivers continue to drink to excess and drive, the fact is that society has come to accept that the practice is anti-social. Yet more accidents occur as a result of speeding cars in the hands of drivers who are stone cold sober--perhaps on mobile phones, pace the excellent Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham. Our task must be to turn round perceptions in a similar fashion.

This mammoth crusade embraces not just drivers but also manufacturers and the media. There are three targets: first, drivers. The police always claim, and I agree, that fear of detection is the one great deterrent to crime, but only a comparatively small percentage of motorists are caught and fined for speeding. These unlucky few invariably feel badly done by, as if they had been unfairly singled out by capricious police enforcement. We are regularly informed that that state of affairs is due to lack of resources: not enough men on the ground and an insufficient number of speed cameras and no film to put in them.

It is here that the Government's promise of hypothecation for speeding fines takes on so much importance, for the money diverted to the appropriate police forces, assuming it is ring fenced, should provide the finance for more cameras, each with film in them, and the ordering of new state-of-the-art digital cameras which will eventually replace the existing GATSOs. In turn, all of this should produce more successful prosecutions and, therefore, more finance. Thus, the operation will be self-generating. I should be grateful if the Minister would say how negotiations with the Treasury are proceeding in this vital development which, on its own, can probably do more to lick the problem than anything else. The cynic in me ruefully admits that to hit recalcitrant drivers through their pockets, not by tax but by penalty, would do more than 1,000 educational campaigns.

18 Oct 1999 : Column 821

Next, we come to manufacturers. Is their attitude responsible as far as concerns speed? Two recent examples may suffice. Last week a manufacturer was reprimanded by the Advertising Standards Authority for two advertisements glamorising speed. Both were subsequently withdrawn. The week also saw the welcome resurrection of an honoured name in the British sports car industry. We are informed that its new model will have a top speed of 150 mph or more than twice the legal limit on any road in this country or anywhere else in the world except possibly a German autobahn.

Manufacturers will and do argue that the extra power is to get out of trouble in an emergency--some emergency, my Lords!--and that anyway it is a global and competitive market and with everyone doing it they have to do so as well. There may be a scintilla of truth in both those assertions but if that is all there is to it why do advertisements for new cars invariably stress that speed has sex appeal and is the most direct route to success with the fairer sex? The attraction of power--I regret to say that it should not be entirely unfamiliar to politicians--comes into the issue as well.

I was told recently by the director of a well known British company that the only thing his middle aged colleagues cared about when choosing a new company car was how long it would take to get from nought to 60 miles per hour. The question was not how dependable the car might be, nor how comfortable or safe, but just how fast it was. This was the only concern of otherwise mature men. This preoccupation with speed is pandered to by much of the media, in particular by what I may describe as the “bloke-ish" motoring correspondents who extol the attractions of cars packing plenty of punch in contrast to the dull family models lacking glamour. They also seem unable to see the essential ludicrousness of praising a car for its ability to go far faster than any car is legally entitled to do on any road in this country.

Speed also plays havoc with the environment. Traffic volume is growing faster in rural than in urban areas. The CPRE has done much valuable work. I declare an interest in the organisation as president of a county branch. It is concerned about intimidation of country folk by speeding cars. It is the villages which are suffering from this modern plague--a fact admirably dealt with by the Private Member's Bill being introduced in another place by the honourable Member for Peterborough Its three principal proposals are a national speed limit of 20 miles per hour in villages, a reduction of the speed limit on C and unclassified roads to 40 miles per hour, and the creation of quiet lanes where pedestrians have priority. All have much merit.

The present position where minor roads--at weekends in particular they are crowded with walkers, cyclists and riders--are subject only to the national maximum limit of 60 miles per hour has been a scandal for many years; a scandal perpetuated by the archaic planning procedures which have tied the hands of local authorities trying to implement change. Accordingly, the Government's action earlier this year in cutting

18 Oct 1999 : Column 822

through that red tape is to be applauded. I hope that the Minister can tell the House how that process is proceeding.

I turn briefly to the other side of the coin; namely, enforcement. Too many of our limits, and too many of our procedures for evaluating and altering them, were set in the 1920s when the amount of traffic on our roads was one-fiftieth of what it is today. Keeping up with modern conditions, and changing, if necessary, with them so that some limits may be raised and others lowered, seems essential. Stories have recently been trailed in the press (I am told inaccurately so) that some elements of the police favour a zero tolerance policy in respect of speeding. In my view that would be both misplaced and dangerous. It would be misplaced because it could severely damage the relationship between the motorist and the police, and dangerous because if there is the distinct possibility of prosecution for someone doing, say, 31 mph, drivers will be looking at their speedometers rather than the road ahead, increasing the risk of accidents. In addition, the inaccuracy of speedometers to one mile per hour will provide a field day for lawyers in the courts.

No, what is needed is a rigorous overhaul of the existing limits for the protection of the vulnerable and the environment. And this must go hand in hand with the probability of detection and prosecution--within the existing discretionary parameters--as the result of increased finance for additional resources becoming available, so that to continue to flaunt speed limits flagrantly will become a very expensive option indeed.

It will be a hard task--harder by far than turning people's perceptions round about drink driving. But as our roads get ever more crowded it is a task that must be faced and a battle that must be won.

7.44 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, it is a privilege to make any first speech in your Lordships' House on the topical subject of transport safety. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for giving me the opportunity.

I should like to bring to the notice of the House the annual casualty report of the Oxfordshire County Council. This shows that last year in the county one person was murdered, but 63 people were killed on the county's roads. At least one-third of those people were killed as the result of speeding.

Speed reduction requires a three-pronged approach embracing enforcement and education--about which we have heard--and civil engineering. We are pleased that the Treasury is now considering a scheme to hypothecate some additional revenue from extended enforcement to cover the costs of casualty reduction measures. It is about the scope of these allowable casualty reduction measures that I hope the Minister may be able to give us some comfort when he replies to the debate.

Obviously the Thames Valley Police Authority, of which I have the honour to be a member, hopes that the additional resources will enable our existing

18 Oct 1999 : Column 823

cameras to be used to full effect, which is certainly not the case at present. The police and the county wish to extend the use of cameras. There is a list of villages which want to have the protection that the cameras afford.

However, I stress to the House that we should not regard enforcement as our only goal. We spend a pitifully small amount of money on education. I do not agree that education should necessarily be restricted to a campaign. We should like to get on to local commercial radio station programmes to which young men listen.

There are also many identified safety blackspots in the county which would benefit from engineering solutions to slow down traffic and create safe conditions for cyclists and pedestrians, in particular school children. We as a county council need to maintain road markings and signs far more effectively so that people are constantly reminded of speed limits and the dangers ahead, and we need to apply better skid resistant surfaces.

In my view speed enforcement is not about persecuting motorists, as some of the more extreme commentators suggest. It is about protecting people and communities. It would be sensible to treat the problems of speeding holistically, and if the fingers of the Treasury are slowly being prised open to fund better enforcement I would hope that the Minister may be able to assure the House tonight that education and traffic engineering will also benefit from those funds so that it is possible to present a package which motorists will see has a positive angle as well as one which may be perceived negatively.

7.47 p.m.

Lord Mountevans: My Lords, on behalf of the Whole House it is my pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, on an outstanding and beautifully timed speech. His career may be divided into two sections: the railways; and academia. In the first he was General Manager of the Western Region--dare I say it?--Brunel's successor if not his heir. I can say no more. In the second he was and is a professor at Salford. Again, I can say no more.

It is a full House for an Unstarred Question. I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, upon raising the issue. As some noble Lords will recall, Shaw said that those who can, do, and those who cannot, teach. I think that the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has proved, as has his career, that Shaw was wrong. Not only could the noble Lord do it in the railways but he can do it in academia as well. He has done it again elsewhere--each time, I hasten to add, with distinction.

I am told that 95 per cent of the population break the law by speeding. It may well be the only time that they ever break the law, but they do so almost every day. So this is an important matter. I have to say modestly that I have never done so. As some noble Lords will know, I have never had a driver's licence. I

18 Oct 1999 : Column 824

can plead innocence here. But as a pedestrian and a passenger I, too, am a road user and I share the concern of the noble Viscount.

I echo the noble Viscount and the noble Lord in their conspiracy theory, for those who read the debate in 50 years hence, that the watchword should be “education, education, education". Temporarily, I forget who said that in the first instance, but I am sure that the Minister will remember. Then there should be enforcement. I believe that all three of us are in agreement on that.

Our road casualty statistics show a positive trend. Education has persuaded more and more people not to drink and drive. Likewise, education has persuaded more and more people to belt up. Those are two great contributors to our substantial success in reducing road casualties. I wonder whether our next education campaign--whether aimed at the manufacturers with their 0 to 150 miles per hour before you even know you have started, or at others--should be that speed kills and maims, destroys and damages.

Two minutes have already passed, so I shall turn to my final point. It is enforcement. We do not need more road traffic legislation or another enforcement Act. Every minute as I walk in London, I see a road traffic offence which goes unprosecuted and unpunished. If we want safer roads, we must make the effort to enforce the existing law. I pick up the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, about the police; they must have the resources to do so. The law must be enforced again and again and again, not by a cautionary slap in the wrist or by a pocket-money penalty, but consistently and severely.

7.52 p.m.

Baroness Arlington: My Lords, it is a very great privilege to make my maiden, and possibly only speech, in your Lordships' House and I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Tenby for introducing this debate. It is perhaps ironic that the only reason I am able to speak today is because of the fact that my uncle, the 9th Duke of Grafton, who was also the 10th Earl of Arlington, died from injuries sustained in a crash which occurred in a high speed car race in 1936, at the age of 21. I am only too aware of the dangers of speed. However, the issue of speed should be taken in its correct context.

While supporting the existing punishments for offenders, it is quite clear from the evidence which we have that driver education must be the principal way in which any government tackle the problem of road safety. It is also clear that enforcement is not the only way to get drivers to listen or heed speed limits with more understanding.

If we accept that driver education is the best way of dealing with this problem, where to start? Well, new and young drivers are the obvious targets. The historical facts tell us that one in three male drivers between the ages of 17 and 20 has a crash within the first few years of passing his test. One in three of all crashes involves men under the age of 20.

18 Oct 1999 : Column 825

The latest statistics from the DETR casualty report for 1998 tell us that 429 drivers between the ages of 15 and 19, and 785 drivers between the ages of 20 and 29, were killed last year, a combined figure of 1,214 out of a total for all ages of 3,537. In other words, over 34 per cent of all fatalities occurred in the 15 to 29 age group. Put another way, the most horrific and disturbing fact is that, on average, three young people will die today as they do every day as a result of road crashes in Great Britain.

Young male drivers consistently overestimate their driving ability. Making the standard driving test harder to pass is the first step, with additional sections dealing with areas such as hazard perception, motorway driving, driving in the dark and attitude. But passing the driving test is only the start of further driving education. Some noble Lords may be aware of the Pass Plus scheme which was set up in 1995, backed by the Government, the Driving Standards Agency and some of the major insurers. It is designed to make newly qualified drivers become better drivers, but it suffers from one major drawback; it is voluntary, not compulsory.

In my discussions with the extremely helpful Road Safety Officer of Argyll and Bute Council, I learnt that fewer than 20 drivers had taken the Pass Plus course between 1st January 1998 and the end of August 1999, even though half the cost of the course could be claimed from Argyll and Bute Council on production of the pass certificate.

After the initial driving test has been passed, all new drivers should be required to continue their driving education with Pass Plus, not just those with the interest or money to do so. Every driver has to read the Highway Code. This excellent brochure is updated on a regular basis, but how many of us in your Lordships' House have read the latest one? I suggest that the DVLC in Swansea is asked to investigate the possibility of issuing the Highway Code to drivers every five years on renewal of their car licence, the cost to be added or included in the annual licence fee.

In 1997, the Pass Plus scheme offered, for two months, a new car as a prize. Why not make a car available every month with the draw included in a National Lottery programme, on national television?

Having a driving licence is not a right. It should be seen as a privilege, awarded after the necessary tuition and exams. Failure to get this message across will mean that our new drivers obtain little more than a licence to kill. It is not necessarily speed that kills, it is bad driving. You can be a bad and unsafe driver at 30 miles per hour.

I thank your Lordships for your forbearance and courtesy and apologise for my speech being longer than 75 words! I do hope that some constructive measures to improve driver education, which will highlight the dangers of speeding, among other aspects, will result from this debate.

7.55 p.m.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Arlington,

18 Oct 1999 : Column 826

on a most interesting and thought-provoking speech, which began with a unique story of her fight to succeed to her title. From what she told me--and I hope that she will allow me to share it with the House--she is very brave. Her husband, who helped her to prepare this maiden speech, died suddenly at the weekend. Therefore, she deserves maximum congratulations on coming here tonight and sharing with us her thoughts.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page