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Speed Limits

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 14th May 2009.

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Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Conservative, Croydon South 10:30 am, 14th May 2009

What responses he has received to his recent consultation on speed limits; and if he will make a statement.

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

"A Safer Way", our road safety consultation published on 21 April, which I mentioned a moment ago, aims to reduce road deaths by a third by 2020. We make a range of proposals, two of which are carefully targeted to reduce speed. The first is that local authorities should reduce limits to 20 mph on roads of a primarily residential nature and around schools, and the second is that highway authorities should reduce limits from 60 mph on the more dangerous rural single carriageways, when the evidence supports that. We have started receiving representations. The closing date for the consultation is 14 July.

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Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Conservative, Croydon South

Does the Minister accept that such worthy policy objectives bring into play the law of unintended consequences? Does he agree that this will increase journey times, which will increase congestion, with a knock-on effect on pollution? Is he aware that the Institution of Chemical Engineers has said that in areas where the speed limit is reduced to 20 mph, there will be a 15 per cent. increase in CO2 emissions and a 50 per cent. increase in nitrous oxide? What impact will that have on meeting his Government's emissions targets?

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

We are conscious of the question of emissions, and I am sure that that will be examined as part of the consultation and monitored closely by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. However, variable speeds have been shown to be able to assist in managing and reducing congestion. The consequence that we are trying to achieve as a result of the consultation document is further to progress the improvements that we have seen in road safety. Between 2002 and 2007, there was a reduction of some 36 per cent. in people killed or seriously injured on our roads. In the longer term, our ambition is to achieve the safest roads in the world. We are looking to have a further reduction of one third in casualties by the end of the next 10-year strategy. Speed reductions are part of that, because inappropriate speeds and people breaking the speed limits cause some 700 deaths and 20,000 injuries in an average year.

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Photo of Russell Brown Russell Brown Labour, Dumfries and Galloway

The consultation has caused confusion in the minds of some. In a rural constituency such as mine, which has three single carriageway trunk roads, there is concern that the aim is to reduce the speed limit from 60 mph to 50 mph. Can the Minister give a guarantee to my constituents that major single carriageway trunk roads will not have that reduction imposed?

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

As I have been trying to outline, I cannot guarantee that there will not be reductions from 60 mph to 50 mph on some roads. We are trying to achieve a reduction in speed on roads where people are being killed and seriously injured in disproportionate numbers because the quality of the road is not as good as that of most of the A roads in the country. We are looking to make an assessment, we will produce the data, and it will then be for local authorities and highway authorities to make a determination as to the appropriate speed limit for the roads concerned. We are not proposing to introduce a blanket reduction across the country: this is targeted for best effect to ensure that vehicular traffic can get from A to B as efficiently as possible, but also safely.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

As of this morning, a petition against the Government's A road speed limit proposal is ranked No. 2 on the Downing street website, beaten only by one entitled with the single word, "Resign". So it is official: Labour's speed limit policy is the most unpopular thing in the country apart from the Prime Minister, though admittedly he is ahead by a comfortable margin of 30,000.

Everything that the Minister has said this morning has signalled a major retreat on the briefing on this issue given to journalists in March. Why does not he go the whole way and drop the Government proposals that are on the table?

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

With the greatest respect to journalists, there was no briefing to say that we were reducing the speed limit on single carriageways from 60 mph to 50 mph across the country. We signalled a clear intention to issue new guidance based on data that we will collect on an annual basis on the performance of roads to identify those that are most dangerous—where more people are being killed. As I mentioned earlier, the clear statistic in all this is that 62 per cent. of people are dying on those roads, which carry only 40 per cent. of the traffic. There is a disconnect in this regard. We need to ensure that we can assess the more dangerous roads and that they then have an appropriate speed limit. There is no retreat; the proposal has never been for a blanket ban. We are targeting where the 50 mph limit should be introduced, and we will produce guidance for local authorities, not an instruction or a blanket reduction.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

But will the Minister not recognise that the flaw in reducing the default speed limit, which is what he is proposing to do, is that it will hit all motorists with a collective punishment for the actions of the irresponsible few, rather than target high-risk, problem drivers? Why are the Government failing on these problem drivers? Why, after a decade in charge of our roads, are they still using a test for drug-drivers that is no more sophisticated than asking them to walk in a straight line? Why is the average fine for uninsured rogue drivers less than £200, and will he admit that reduced speed limits and more speed cameras will not tackle either of those—

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I shall try to deal with the main elements of the hon. Lady's questions. First, we think that we are making progress. The road safety strategy for 2000-10 targeted a 40 per cent. reduction in deaths and serious injuries. Up to 2007, it was 36 per cent., so we should reach that. We had the lowest number of such deaths in recorded history in 2007, at 2,946. That is progress, and it is to the great credit of the police, local authorities, road safety officers and everybody else who is campaigning on road safety.

On the direction of travel, we want a further reduction and we want Britain's roads to be the safest in the world again, as they were previously. On dealing with those who are transgressing against our laws, we are dealing with uninsured drivers and those who do not have road tax. The numbers are the lowest they ever have been. We had a consultation suggesting that those who recklessly and dangerously speed should get double points on their licence, because that will bring them to book. We are ensuring that the sensible, decent, ordinary, courteous motorists are the ones whom we are trying to protect, and we believe they are on the side of stronger legislation and guidance. We want safer roads, and we want those who transgress against the laws dealt with.

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