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The Earl of Dundee: Within this group I shall address Amendment No. 80, which seeks to place a duty on local authorities to produce an annual report on speed limits. Speed—whether excess speed; breaking the posted speed limit, or unwise speed; driving too fast for the conditions—is a contributory factor in one in three road accidents. It is an even greater contributor to fatal accidents. For that reason, both the Department for Transport and local authorities have been undertaking advertising and educational campaigns, most notably under the "speed kills" heading, to persuade drivers to change their behaviour.

Local authorities are responsible for about 96 per cent of road lengths in England. It is their responsibility to consider the setting of sensible speed limits on their roads, bearing in mind the guidance from the department set out in the soon-to-be revised circular. Amendment No. 80 would place a duty on local authorities to report on the setting of speed limits on those roads for which they currently have responsibility. It would require them to look at the limits currently on those roads and whether they should be changed in any way. It would be a further encouragement to local authorities therefore to adopt a strategic approach to the setting of limits.

The Minister may say that local authorities already undertake this kind of analysis. That is certainly true. What does not seem to be the case, however, is the requirement to provide information for central government to enable the department to monitor the development of lower speed roads and see the effect of these on casualty reduction. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will give a positive response to this amendment to persuade local highway authorities to take further action to reduce speeds on their roads.

Lord Lyell: My noble friend Lady Gardner is about to rise, but I looked at this series of amendments and I am happy that they are all grouped together because I am very interested in Amendment No. 77 in the name of my noble friend Lord Attlee. My neck of the woods is Scotland. I understand that, in spite of all the devolved activities, this matter applies—my noble friend Lord Dundee tells me that it does. I see that the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, is beaming as he has already expressed great knowledge of Scotland, so I presume that the matter must apply to Kirriemuir as much as it applies to Alloa or anywhere else. I have one question for the noble Baroness about villages, although I have an idea what she means.

In my county of Angus and in my particular area in Scotland we have very little or no lighting. As far as concerns Amendment No. 77, the speed limit has been extended by about 400 yards beyond the last light and the last house. As you drive along that road for 200 yards you cannot see that there is a limit. There are smart-alec police and safety people, "You should know that you should go at 10 miles an hour and you will not run over a snail", and you lose your licence.
 
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That is fine because you should have known the limit. But we can do better than that and I think that Amendment No. 77 is the answer.

I looked at national speed limits for villages, as so well described by the noble Baroness Lady Scott, but can she or anyone else please explain why subsection (2) of Amendment No. 78 states:

Should that not be "less than 600 metres", because more than 600 metres would mean that there could be 19 houses in 600 metres and the 20th could be another kilometre away and that would classify, according to subsection (2), as a village. That is for the purposes of the law—for me, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and others. We would lose our licences because that would be laid down in law. I have an idea what a village is, as I suspect Suffolk County Council does. I suspect that Angus Council also has a very good idea of what a village is. If the noble Baroness narrowed down the definition, we might understand it. I can quite understand 30 miles per hour. That ought to be well signed so that people understand what they are about.

We then come to Amendment No. 79. I am afraid that I did not hurry along to Clause 27 of the 1984 Act when looking at Item No. 1(i) and Item No. 1(ii) in the table. What are these roads supposed to be? The noble Baroness spoke about country lanes, but there again we have a problem. What is a country lane?

I can take the noble Baroness to Scotland; I can take her to Wester Ross. I have just attended a dinner dance there with my noble friend Lord Gray of Contin. Huge tracts of road have been paid for by the European Union. They display the lovely European sign—blue with yellow stars. They do not have white lines down the middle of them. Perhaps not I or others will be going along them, but foreigners. I was up there two years ago and was overtaken by German camper vans. I was doing 60 mph—not that I was worried about the satellite or the speed cameras. People were overtaking me, quite safely, at considerably higher speeds. I worry just a trifle about blanket or semi-blanket limits for country lanes or rural lanes.

Can the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and her colleagues who have put down the amendment think, first, about what is a "village" and, secondly, a country lane. I have an idea what a country lane might be in Suffolk—I have driven a few miles in that county—but there are huge tracts of northern England or Scotland to which this legislation will apply. If people are driving at 45 or 50 mph on a completely empty road, should they be hounded off the road and have points on their licence, with the prospect of being off the road for a year if they do it twice or three times? I worry just a little about that.

Of course I understand the need to slow down in what the noble Baroness called "villages". I too have seen her figures of 30 to 40 mph on television and I am interested in them. Having been involved in a skiing crash at 30 mph, I would not like to be struck by a car at that speed. Had it been at 40 mph, I would have been more seriously injured.
 
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The noble Baroness has made a good effort, but can she explain "village"? I ask her to check "more than". I think that the amendment should state "less than 600 metres". Did she intend that? One cannot say that it is just a misprint. I am sure that those who drafted it took good care.

If the noble Baroness or the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, could explain also Item Nos. 1(i) and 1(ii), I would be very grateful because I do not want to lose my licence. Even the noble Baroness admitted that before she imposed 30 mph limits in Suffolk, people were going, legitimately, at 60 mph. If that was legitimate and not dangerous, I think my point is made.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: Something can be legitimate, but still be dangerous. That is indeed the point. There is already a blanket limit of 60 mph on rural roads of any type at all. Clearly, there are roads where that speed limit is simply not appropriate. I can only say to the noble Lord that if there were not a safety issue here, we would not have 2,500 people dying on rural roads every year. There is unarguably a safety problem on these roads. I am afraid that I have very little sympathy with anyone who says otherwise.

Lord Lyell: The noble Baroness said "clearly". I will take her to places—I have referred to them—where there is clearly no danger whatever. Perhaps I may say politely, in Forfar Athletic terms, that it is one-all.

Lord Hanningfield: I have a lot of time for the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, because she is a great defender of local government, but I am quite surprised by this amendment. Suffolk County Council has taken the decision to do that. I represent nine villages on Essex County Council. All of them have speed limits of 30 mph, but we took those decisions in those villages because that is what we decided we wanted in them. We are looking at 20 mph limits beside some schools in those villages. I am surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and the Liberal Democrats, who I thought believed in localism, want to impose something nationally which should be left to local communities. My local community has decided to impose limits and I have supported it. We should not do it nationally; we should leave it to local people to decide these matters according to circumstances in their villages. So I am very surprised that the Liberal Democrats want this.

8.45 pm

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: Local authorities currently have no choice about the 60 mph speed limit, which is the default speed limit. We are not suggesting taking away local authorities' choice, but if the default were reduced to 30 mph in villages and 40 mph on rural roads without white lines, local authorities could if they wished keep it at 60 mph. Their choice will not be removed; it is the default position that will be altered.

The problem at present is that many communities and local authorities want to reduce the speed limit but the process is bureaucratic, expensive and time-consuming. It is one thing for a village to make a
 
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choice not to have a speed limit and quite another for it to be told when it wants one that, because of the bureaucracy, the council cannot afford it and it must wait.

Leaving the matter to local choice addresses the point made by the noble Lord earlier. In country lanes where 60 mph is a perfectly reasonable speed limit, it can be left at that. The local authority could change the regulation in its own area, but the default for many roads that are not suitable would then be 40 mph. That is a much more sensible way forward in the eyes of the great coalition of people.


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