Scotland Bill – Commons debate Lords amendment

Speed limits
David Mundell: I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 12.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments 13 to 16.
David Mundell: Clause 25 allowed the Scottish Ministers to determine the national speed limit on roads in Scotland and to make regulations to specify traffic signs to indicate that limit. Clause 25 limited these powers to cars, motorcycles and vans under 3.5 tonnes.
We listened carefully to the arguments presented by noble Lords, together with the case made by the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government for the Bill to provide for the devolution of powers to set different speed limits for different classes of vehicles—for example, cars towing caravans or goods vehicles. Lords amendments 12 to 16 would give the Scottish Ministers the power to make regulations regulating the speed of all classes of vehicle on roads in Scotland.
Mr Davidson: Will there be any restrictions under the Bill on the speed with which Scottish Government Ministers can change policy on issues such as income tax for a separate Scotland?
David Mundell: As the hon. Gentleman knows, in the devolution of powers such as speed limits, which are devolved in the clauses to which the amendments relate, it is entirely a matter for the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government to determine how they use those powers and whether they apply them to themselves as they would to others.
John Stevenson: Although I fully support the Bill and what we are trying to achieve by devolving power to the Scottish Parliament, with regard to the road traffic regulations I have one concern, being the Member of Parliament for Carlisle, which is on the border—that is, that we ensure that there are sufficiently sensible signs on the border to indicate whether we should be speeding up or reducing our speed as we cross the border. I hope my right hon. Friend will ensure that the Scottish Parliament makes sure that that happens.
David Mundell: I am responsible for many things, but I am not responsible for the Scottish Government acting in a sensible manner. We are seeking to devolve these powers, which apply not just to the setting of limits, but to the signage. I am a Member of Parliament for a border constituency, as is the Secretary of State. We want to ensure that appropriate measures are in place so that people know what the law is on both sides of the border. As my hon. Friend pointed out on Second Reading, there are numerous legal differences between Scotland and England, which our respective constituents have managed to cope with over many years, not least the licensing laws.
Mr Davidson: Is it not the case that the Scottish Government want these powers in order to keep the speed limits the same? Just as with the monarchy, tax, the currency and NATO membership, they want the power to decide themselves that there will be no change.
David Mundell: I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I took part in a radio programme with a member of the Scottish National party to debate the currency, and her principal argument was not over which currency Scotland should have, but about the fact that she should have the right to choose which currency; she suggested the Chinese renminbi, but I did not think that that would go down too well with the Politburo.
Lords amendments 12 to 16 would give Scottish Ministers the power to make regulations regulating the speed of all classes of vehicle on roads in Scotland and some consequential amendments. Together with the existing provisions in clause 25, that would enable them to set a national speed limit that is different for different classes of vehicle and the power to make regulations to specify traffic signs that indicate that limit. We think that that is a sensible addition to the Bill and, as right hon. and hon. Members might know, it was promoted in the House of Lords by my noble Friend Lord Forsyth, no less.
Mark Lazarowicz: These are sensible measures and I am sure that Scottish Governments of whatever political colour will use the powers sensibly. If a significant divergence was to develop between practice in England and practice in Scotland in relation to road signage and speed limits, what steps could be taken to make the necessary changes to the Highway Code, the driving test and more generally to inform drivers on both sides of the border?
David Mundell: It will obviously be for the Scottish Government to advise on changes to signage, among other things, that they make. Changes that are specific to Scotland can be included in the Highway Code, and we currently have differential traffic regulations in different parts of the United Kingdom. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, like me, will have constituents who have fallen foul of the congestion charge that applies in London but nowhere else in the United Kingdom. There are differential traffic regulations in place at the moment, and these are well advertised.
Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): What discussions were held when it was decided that it would be the right thing to devolve the power that would allow the Scottish Government to determine what traffic should be flowing and at what speed? Was there any sense behind the decision that, for example, heavy goods vehicles should be allowed to travel at 60 mph on single track roads?
David Mundell: I share the hon. Gentlemen’s concerns about traffic speeds in our part of Scotland, Dumfries and Galloway, particularly on the A75. I hope that these powers will allow the Scottish Government for once to focus on Dumfries and Galloway and address such issues. They will have the powers and it will be for them to make the decisions. I commend my noble Friend Lord Forsyth for achieving this significant amendment to the Bill. It is the only amendment made
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during the passage of the Bill that will ensure that the powers of the Scottish Parliament are increased, and I do not think that the irony of that was lost on him.
Mr Davidson: Given that speed is a product of both distance and time, has there been any further submission from the nationalists on their ambition to have Scotland in a separate time zone, because it is obvious that if it was in a separate time zone—
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Three strikes and you’re out.
David Mundell: Before the debate becomes any more raucous, I should recognise that this is possibly my final opportunity to speak to the Bill, so I should like to use it principally to thank the officials in the Scotland Office who have worked so hard to deliver it. We are often the subject of scrutiny, but we are a very small Department and we, along with the Treasury and, indeed, Scottish officials, have worked to deliver this major piece of constitutional legislation. I thank all those who have participated in that process. As I said at the very start of our proceedings, I participated at the beginning of the process that led to the Bill, and I am very proud to be here at the end.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Not quite at the end yet.
4.15 pm
Mr Bain: Lords amendments 12 to 16 would amend clauses 25 and 26 to devolve completely to the Scottish Parliament all aspects in relation to speed limits on all roads in Scotland. They follow the recommendation of the Calman commission and resolve the ambiguities and uncertainties that might have ensued from a partial devolution of the national speed limit for Scotland in respect of certain vehicles or roads.
We are pleased to support the amendments, and I echo the right hon. Gentleman’s thanks to the officials and team in the Scotland Office for piloting this hugely significant Bill on such a relatively smooth course through not just this House, but the other place. It now has the approval of the Scottish Parliament, too—no mean feat. On that basis, we on the Opposition Benches wish the Bill a speedy journey on its passage into law in the coming days.
Iain Stewart: I am very happy to support this group of Lords amendments and, indeed, the provisions in the Bill.
I must confess that this is an issue on which I have changed my mind. On Second Reading, I had concerns about creating different speed limits north and south of the border. I did not say so from any great constitutional position; I was very much wearing a “road safety” hat. I serve on the Transport Committee, and road safety is an issue that we take with great seriousness. Indeed, we are conducting an inquiry into it.
Drivers can get lulled into a sense of security on a long journey, and for long-distance drivers in particular, going up the M6 and then the M74, I was concerned that if the speed limit changed suddenly at Longtown or Gretna, depending on which way they were going, it could result in some road safety issues. But as part of the Committee’s inquiry we have been looking at different speed limits in different parts of the country, through managed motorway limits and other road safety measures, and by considering the evidence I have been persuaded that it is not the issue I thought it might be, so I am happy to welcome the changes before us. Rather than having the United Kingdom Government responsible for some speed limits and the Scottish Government responsible for others, it makes sense to group them under the auspices of one Government.
My only additional point, which echoes that of the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), is that if we reach a situation in which there are differing speed limits on either side of the border, we will need proper signage and, through The Highway Code and the driving test, to explain those differences properly so that there is proper education and awareness.
With that small caveat, I am happy to support the Lords amendments, and in the last few seconds before I am cut off in my prime, I too congratulate and thank the officials who put together the Bill.
Mrs McGuire: I add my support for the Lords amendment. It makes sense. We have to realise that drivers of all kinds cope with different speed limits, even within one county. This Bill has had a long journey, but there has also been a long journey for those of us who, like you, Madam Deputy Speaker, were here in 1997—
4.20 pm
Three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83F), That this House agrees with Lords amendment 12.
Question agreed to.
Lords amendment 12 accordingly agreed to.
The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).
Lords amendments 13 to 26 agreed to.
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