Orders of the Day — Road Traffic (Speed Limits)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th December 1976.

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Photo of John Horam John Horam , Gateshead West 12:00 am, 15th December 1976

Obviously action would have to be taken on an emergency basis if the orders were annulled. That is something that I should dislike doing. We could end up by pre-empting the consultation process on which we have embarked, which would be a great pity. We could wake up to an absurd situation tomorrow morning—namely, a 70 m.p.h. limit on motorways, which are the safest roads, and 30 m.p.h. and 40 m.p.h. limits in towns, with nothing in between. That is not a sensible position. That is not an argument that could be sensibly advanced by the Government.

The whole process of speed limits started with the national 50 m.p.h. limit in 1973. That was the genesis of the whole issue. Speed limit orders have traditionally emerged in the House in 18-month periods. They have been renewable after 18 months. That is why we are faced with the present situation. I respect the strong feelings on this issue on both sides of the House and I accept that the argument has gone one way during the debate, but the House would be foolish to take the view that on that basis the orders should not be allowed to continue. If that view were taken, we should be placed in an anomalous position that would cause the Government to have to act extremely hastily and in a way that would inevitably preempt the consultation process, which would be a pity. I put that argument to the House in, I hope, a sensible way and not by way of commenting on the arguments that have been put forward.

We are in a neutral position. We are open-minded. We have set out the facts in the consultation letter that was sent out to many organisations. We have been perfectly plain about the facts when the facts have not supported the previous arguments. For example, the amount of fuel saved over the past two years has not been great as a result of these measures. We have considered that argument, and maybe it is not sufficiently strong to justify these measures, but we have set out the facts in the consultation document. We hope that those who reply to it will send in their comments in the same open-minded and objective manner as we have adopted.

Motorists and others want a period of stability. They want to know the practical situation in respect of speed limits. They want a clear balance between the various considerations. We must put into the balance the fading consideration of energy. I agree that the whole business of limits started out at a time of national crisis. The hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Knox) said that there was doubt about supplies of fuel as opposed to price and other factors. He said that the situation has changed, and I agree with him.

The need for energy conservation in this area is less than it was. It is a subject on which we shall invite comments. We shall listen open-mindedly to the views that are put forward. I hope that at the end of the six months, which started on 1st December, we shall be able to put forward a clear view on what the country wants. I hope that we shall be able to arrive at that view. We have asked for the replies to be submitted by 31st January. We hope to be able to arrive at a view at some time before the end of the six-month continuation. I am hopeful that we can achieve that but I do not promise. That is the assurance for which the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) asked, and I am happy to give it to him.