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Road Safety

Volume 670: debated on Thursday 30 January 2020

The Government are committed to improving safety on all our roads, and to reducing the numbers of those who are needlessly killed and injured. Last July, we published “The road safety statement 2019: a lifetime of road safety”.

The right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) has this week accused Highways England of

“a shocking degree of carelessness”

in rolling out all-lane-running motorways, and the chairman of the Police Federation has described smart motorways as “inherently dangerous” and “a death trap”. I welcomed the Secretary of State’s announcement of a rapid evidence stocktake, and he promised to bring forward recommendations in a matter of weeks, but it has now been three months. What is he going to do, and when, to prevent further avoidable deaths?

I should like to start by thanking the hon. Lady for her sterling work as Chair of the Select Committee on Transport, which I am sure is recognised by all Members of the House. She is absolutely right about that stocktake. Two things have happened. First, the general election intervened and took up some weeks. The other thing that has happened—I say this in all sincerity—is that I have uncovered a range of issues that I am not content simply to brush over. I have therefore requested further information, and we are nearly there. In this process, I have specifically included going back to, speaking to and in one case meeting the families of those who have been affected by these issues. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead that there is far too much complication in having all-lane-running dynamic motorways—smart motorways. If the hon. Lady will forgive me, this is taking a little longer, but I think we will get to a much better outcome.

It has been clear for some time that all-lane-running motorways are death traps. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) has pointed out, five people have been killed in just 10 months on a 16-mile stretch of the M1. The Secretary of State has the power to scrap these dangerous motorways now, so will he stop this dither and delay and act now to avoid further tragic deaths and serious injuries? Will he also assure the House that there will be no restoration of these motorways without full radar coverage?

As I pointed out a moment ago—perhaps after the hon. Gentleman’s question was written—it is important that we gather all the facts. Sadly, 1,700-plus people died on all our roads in 2018. Motorways are the safest of those roads, but the question is: are smart motorways less safe than the rest of the motorway network? For me, we must make them at least as safe, if not safer, otherwise they cannot continue. But we have to do this as a fact-based process. I am interested, rightly, in speaking to the families of the victims as well as to organisations such as the AA and the RAC and to Members of this House. Forgive me, it does take time to do this correctly, but I do not think the hon. Gentleman will be disappointed with the results.

I should like to join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) for the way in which she has chaired the Transport Committee over the past two years. She has done so with great fairness, and she probed with great diligence as well. I want to give her my thanks for that, and she is also a wonderful friend.

When it comes to road safety, there is great concern that school safety is at risk. Would it be possible to set up a programme of investment so that the most dangerous schools can get the necessary technology and 20 mph speed limits put in place? That would also encourage the use of walking buses.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election as Chair of the Select Committee. Yes, I agree with him about working with schools. One point that is often forgotten is that local authorities already have the power to reduce speed limits, for example to 20 mph. I look forward to working with him as Chair of the Committee.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the stretch of the M20 that runs through my constituency is due to open as an all-lane-running motorway in March, but it does not have stopped vehicle detection systems or appropriately spaced emergency refuges. I appreciate that it will be frustrating for those using it to continue to have cones and low speed limits, but does he agree that, given the concerns about safety on all-lane-running motorways, it should not open until all those measures have been put in place?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has campaigned on this issue for a long time. That stretch of the M20, and all other stretches that are currently being worked on, will not be opened until we have the outcome of the stocktake.