New clause 7 - National speed limit for villages

Road Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:11 pm on 3rd February 2005.

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'(1) The Secretary of State shall by regulations made by statutory instrument establish a national speed limit of 30 m.p.h for motor vehicles in villages.

(2) An instrument pursuant to subsection (1) shall be made not later than twelve months after this Act has received Royal Assent.

(3) For the purposes of this section, ''village'' means a settlement of 20 or more dwellings situated along not less than 600 metres of any highway.'.—[John Thurso.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I beg to move, that the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross). It seeks to make a 30 mph speed limit for villages and settlements statutory. I will give a brief explanation of the clause. Subsection (1) says:

''The Secretary of State shall by regulations made by statutory instrument establish a national speed limit of 30 m.p.h for motor vehicles in villages.''

Subsection (2) gives a time scale of

''not later than twelve months'', and subsection (3) sets out a definition of a village as

''a settlement of 20 or more dwellings situated along not less than 600 metres of any highway.''

At the outset, I say that I am grateful to the Campaign to Protect Rural England for having brought the matter to my attention and giving me a brief. I see the new clause as a part of an overall road strategy, and particularly as a strategy for developing a clearer road hierarchy. I have often spoken during our debates about the difference between those of our roads that are clearly engineered and designed for use by the motor car at speed—the obvious examples of that are the motorway and the dual carriageway—and those roads that are not so engineered.

Many villages have narrow roads with mixed use, where pedestrians and other road users are in potential conflict with the motorist. As a principle, I have always sought not necessarily to slow traffic down or say to the motorist, ''Do not go fast unless the road is properly engineered'', but to focus on those areas where we can legislate in a way that has regard to that mixed use of the road. That is why I believe passionately that enforcement in 20, 30 and 40 mph zones is so important.  

The Government could and should consider this matter, and they are already committed to do so because the road safety strategy published in 2000 included two specific commitments for rural areas. First, it stated that 30 mph should be the normal speed limit for villages, and secondly, it included a commitment to develop a road hierarchy that would update the current road classification. I think that it was the Prime Minister who, in launching the strategy in March 2000, made the commitment, welcomed at the time, that 30 mph should be the normal speed limit for villages.

The three-year review of the road safety strategy concluded that those commitments were being successfully delivered, and its conclusions established the policy that 30 mph should be the norm for villages. Although that has been restated, I am not sure that the necessary progress has taken place, and no deadline has been set for achievement of the Government's aspiration.

Although there is clearly some difficulty with regard to the definition of ''village'', the definition included in the new clause is satisfactory. We know that 60 per cent. of road accidents take place in rural areas—many fatalities occur on rural roads—and over 50 per cent. of accidents take place in areas where there is a 30 or 40 mph speed limit; those two points are juxtaposed. It would be sensible for us to consider a 30 mph limit for villages.

The new clause cannot be considered in any way to be anti-motorist. I think that it is pro-motorist because, as a motorist myself, when travelling in rural areas in my constituency I find a number of villages with no speed limit, as well as some that have a limit of 40 mph and some with a limit of 30 mph. It would be useful to know that every village had a clearly defined 30 mph speed limit; it would be a reassuring measure for drivers, rather than an anti-motorist one. I commend the new clause to the Committee and I hope, albeit without too much optimism, that the Government will look favourably on it.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:39 pm, 3rd February 2005

The hon. Gentleman has performed a useful service in tabling the new clause, if only so that we can look at it and dismiss it. It is not anti-motorist, but it is impractical because it is too inflexible. Many villages would support the imposition of a 30 mph speed limit, but many others would take the opposite view. That is why I cannot support his blanket approach.

To give an example, I used to live many years ago in the village of Thurmaston, Leicestershire, which has been bisected by a dual carriageway that runs straight through the village. There is a pedestrian over-bridge and a pedestrian subway and, I believe, fencing on both sides of the road. As far as I am aware, there is no public wish for the speed limit on the road to be reduced to 30 mph.  

The A1 runs through several villages, not all of which have a 30 mph limit. Considering the proximity of houses to the carriageway of the A1, there is a good reason for not having a 30 mph limit in force. I hope that the Minister will say that the hon. Gentleman's approach would be too inflexible, because that is certainly the conclusion that I have reached.

There may be a case for examining the inconsistency of speed limits across the UK. I for one would favour a speed limit audit by the Government to determine what local authorities are doing in different parts of the country, and publication of the findings. If that has been done, I am not aware of it, or, if it is under way, I would like to hear of it. If it has still to be done, perhaps we should do it.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I certainly understand the concerns that give rise to the new clause. I represent a rural constituency with many villages that are clamouring for a 30 mph speed limit. However, there is no need for the new clause, simply because local authorities already have the sole responsibility for introducing speed limits on their roads. I appreciate that many local authorities do not decide on a 30 mph speed limit in a particular village—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman's point about an audit is appropriate—but it is very much down to them to make the decision on the basis of local circumstances. I appreciate that there ought to be flexibility. Local authorities may choose a speed limit from 20 to 70 mph without the need for any authorisation from the Department or the Secretary of State.

The definition of ''village'' in the new clause is the same as the definition that the Department for Transport adopts in its traffic advisory leaflet, issued in January 2004. Obviously, great minds think alike, so there is no problem with that. The issue is whether the local authority, and indeed the village itself, wants a 30 mph speed limit. In my experience, most villages do. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), assisted me with a campaign for a village. As a result, we now have a dozen speed cameras—perhaps it is a little over the top—along a road through three villages to ensure that 30, 40 and 50 mph speed limits are observed. The villages are protected by speed cameras.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney Labour, Stafford

I am glad that my hon. Friend mentioned speed cameras, as I find that local authorities with backing from the police are often reluctant to agree to 30 mph speed limits. They are concerned about enforcement. If I mention speed cameras, they say that the strict guidance from the Department prevents them from installing them. Is there support in the Department for vehicle-activated signs, which would at least warn drivers that they are approaching a 30 mph limit area and that they should slow down?

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Indeed, there is support for vehicle-activated signs. Wetley Rocks, the village that I mentioned, had a vehicle-activated sign, but still, in a   tragic week, three people were killed in two separate accidents in the area of the village. The village therefore moved to speed cameras, but with the expert advice of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. I managed to convince the county council that in fact they had flexibility, within 15 per cent. of their overall budget for speed cameras, to introduce them along that stretch of road. The legislation already allows for that to happen.

We are sympathetic to the point about having 30 mph speed limits in rural areas, but it must be a decision for the village and the local authority. Obviously, some villages are in areas where motorists would probably think that a 30 mph limit was inappropriate. In that situation, there is a difficulty in persuading drivers to abide by that limit.

The advisory leaflet not only makes it clear that the norm for a village should be 30 mph, it lays down a host of guidance about vehicle-activated signs, 20 mph zones, and the use of traffic islands, gateways and different markings. The advice exists and I urge local authorities to use it. They should also take advice on speed cameras. That would demonstrate that rural areas have as much right as urban areas to have a speed limit to protect their residents. They have got the support of the Department. I urge the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross to withdraw the motion.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 3:45 pm, 3rd February 2005

I had not intended to participate in the debate, but I think that the Minister and the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross have missed the main point, which is surely that all drivers should be driving at the speed that is appropriate in the circumstances. The village where I live used to have the national speed limit, although most people drove at about 20 mph because the road was single track and there were bends. If we impose a speed limit that is not regarded as the maximum in ideal circumstances, it will not command respect.

In the less populated rural areas, in particular, it is surely important that all motorists go at an appropriate speed. During the day, when there are children around, that speed may be different from what it would be at the night time or during the early hours of a summer morning. I am worried that there would be speed limit signs in every village in the countryside and that they would add to the rural clutter instead of reinforcing the message that too many people are driving too fast in particular circumstances, in relation to their own safety and the safety of others. That is what is emphasised in the highway code.

Too many people think that they should drive up to the speed limit. To finish my example, a blanket 40 mph speed limit zone was introduced in the whole of the New Forest, but that was too fast for our village, so another limitation on driving in our village had to be introduced, because it seemed implicit that people would drive at 40 mph. Surely, without the need for a lot of clutter and a lot more regulation, we should re-emphasise the need for people to drive at an   appropriate speed, irrespective of what the speed limit sign says.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

That is why the Department leaves it to the local authority to decide the appropriate speed limit. That seems perfectly consistent with ensuring that the speed limit reflects local circumstances and conditions.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I am grateful to the hon. Members who have taken part in this short debate. I am even grateful that I enticed the hon. Member for Christchurch to his feet. It proves the old angling adage: if you fish where the fish are and use the right fly, you will usually catch one.

I am also grateful to the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) for his supportive dismissal, or dismissive support—whichever it was. If my understanding of the new clause and the advice that I have been given is correct, the circumstance that he puts forward would be exempt because of the way in which the new clause is worded. Clearly, it is not aimed at stopping the operation of a dual carriageway that happens to pass through a village, where the engineering has been undertaken in such a way that the pedestrian is protected. That would be ridiculous. Neither I, nor the Campaign to Protect Rural England, want to do that.

The specific case that concerns us is those villages—I am delighted that the Minister spotted where my definition of a village came from—in which there is no speed limit, which is the situation in many rural areas of the United Kingdom. There may or may not be the odd street light. There is one example in my constituency, where, because there is no speed limit, people take the view that 60 mph is the appropriate limit. The argument used by the hon. Member for Christchurch is turned on itself because when people do not see a limit, they assume that there is no limit, so they go at 60 mph. I agree with him that good motorists should use appropriate speed, but sadly not all motorists do. The fact that we have a hierarchy of speed limits means that people look for the guidance that they offer.

I am sorry that the new clause has not found favour with the Government, as it would be helpful. I hope that we can keep the situation under review, and perhaps the Government will continue to consider the measure. It would be a useful addition to the Bill. I am sure that there is a consensus that safety and the cutting of speed in rural areas is as important as anywhere else. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, and clause, by leave withdrawn.