The 70mph motorway speed limit has become "discredited" and resulted in millions of motorists breaking the law, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said today as he confirmed plans to consult on allowing it to rise to 80mph.
Mr Hammond told the Conservative Party conference the move would "restore the legitimacy" of the system and benefit the economy by "hundreds of millions of pounds".
The plan has been condemned by road safety and environmental campaigners but Mr Hammond said the law had failed to keep pace with "huge advances" in motoring technology.
He said: "The limit that was introduced way back in 1965 - when the typical family car was a Ford Anglia."
Mr Hammond said he owned an Anglia, as did Baroness Thatcher when she became an MP, but added: "Things have changed quite a bit since then. There have been huge advances in car technology, road deaths have been reduced by three-quarters.
"Meanwhile, the 70mph limit has been discredited because it failed to keep up with these changes - with almost half of all motorists exceeding it, bringing the law into disrepute
"So I will consult on increasing the limit on motorways to 80 mph, bringing millions of decent motorists back within the law, restoring the legitimacy of the speed limit system, speeding up journey times, improving productivity and delivering hundreds of millions of pounds of net economic benefits.
"Putting Britain firmly in the global economic fast lane."
He joked: "I have had an approach from one of my Cabinet colleagues inquiring whether the change could be retrospective - but I am afraid I have had to disappoint him."
Mr Hammond also used his speech to hit out at those protesting about the planned HS2 high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham.
The route will pass through Tory heartlands and it has faced stiff resistance from the party's MPs and grassroots.
But Mr Hammond, MP for Runnymede and Weybridge, said: "I know that these huge infrastructure projects ... provoke some strong opposition, just as the building of the original Victorian railways did and the construction of the M25 - which runs through my back yard. But imagine Britain now without them now.
"As an individual, I respect people's instinct to defend their own back yards but the job of Government is to act in the interest of the nation as a whole, taking the tough decisions for the long term, even when the temptation for politicians is to look to the next four years - not the next 40."
Mr Hammond also said that the Government was taking a "long, hard look" at public procurement after a lucrative train-building contract was awarded to German firm Siemens ahead of Derby-based Bombardier.
He said: "While I believe firmly in open markets and free trade, I also believe an open market needs a level playing field.
"And in the meantime, we will do everything we can to support UK train building and the supply chain that supports it."
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