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Traffic Speed Limits In London

Volume 375: debated on Thursday 21 October 1976

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made on the review of speed limits in London proposed by the Minister of Transport in his Policy Statement to the House of Commons on 5th March 1969.

My Lords, a Joint Working Party of officials was set up to review the speed limits on London's main roads. It comprised representatives of the Greater London Council, the Metropolitan Police and the Ministry of Transport. A detailed survey of 794 miles of road led to a recommendation that the limits should be raised on 175 miles, of which 125 miles were on principal roads for which the Greater London Council are responsible. However, progress in implementing the report has been slow and only 21 miles have actually had the limit raised to what the Working Party regarded as a realistic level. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has a number of orders for trunk roads in the offing and I understand that the Greater London Council are consulting the London boroughs about proposals for a limited number of orders for principal roads.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that helpful and, as always, courteous reply. As only 12½ per cent. of the recommendations have been implemented so far, and as this goes back to 1969, would she agree that this seems to be a rather small amount of implementation? Does the Secretary of State have the right under the Road Traffic Act 1967 to command that the rate of implementation be increased and will these powers be requested shortly in view of what she has just said?

My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord says. There seems to be some reluctance locally to accept that the raising of limits to a realistic level does not lead to higher actual speeds, although experience is all to the contrary. The Greater London Council is negotiating with all the London boroughs. Up to now the Department has been reluctant to interfere with the local authorities but, as I said, my Department now has some orders in the offing and, if necessary, we shall be instituting the procedures.

My Lords, when my noble friend refers to raising the speed limit to "a realistic level" may I ask her what she means by a realistic level? Is she talking about raising it from 30 mph to 40 mph or from 40 mph to 50 mph?

My Lords, it varies according to the type of road. There has been this review of 794 miles about which it has been suggested that on some the limit should be raised from 30 mph to 40 mph, on some from 40 mph to 50 mph and so on; each road is looked at on its merits and according to the use it gets. The realistic speed is the one at which I think it would be fair to say most people normally travel now, without accident, when they do not adhere to the speed limits. Where we have unrealistically low speed limits it is difficult for the police to enforce them, but where we have what we think are realistic limits it does not take so many police to enforce them and we can perhaps be more realistic about the whole thing.

My Lords, would the noble Baroness agree that one of the chief problems with speed limits is that of enforcement and that with a very reduced police force, as we have, who are engaged on other and more important work, it will be extremely difficult to enforce any limits that are made?

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the whole House is filled with admiration of her definition of "a realistic speed limit"?

My Lords, does the noble Baroness realise that she is enunciating a very dangerous doctrine; namely, that the law should adapt itself to the level at which it is commonly broken?

I was not suggesting that, my Lords. I was saying that the common practice throughout the country appears to be that when we have a very low speed limit motorists do not adhere to it but travel at four, five or six miles per hour faster than that limit. If we had what appears to be a more realistic limit, provided no more accidents occur than occur at present, it would be much easier for the police to enforce that limit.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a realistic speed limit depends on whether one is a motorist, pedestrian or other road user and that that should be the most important factor taken into account when considering what is a realistic speed limit, as distinct from whether the law can be enforced?

My Lords, I am sure that the Joint Working Party took that into consideration. Those on it represented not only the Greater London Council and the police but the Ministry of Transport and people concerned with pedestrians as well as road users.

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend if she will extend the speed limits on the present proceedings in this House?