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Column 594so that cars record a lower mileage. We are also concerned about the rebuilding and selling of cars that have been destroyed in accidents.
Mr. Atkins : I am interested in this idea and it is one that has been bandied about, but I am aware of the problems involved. Would the hon. Lady like to develop her theme--I do not want to put her on the rack--and say how she thinks that recorded mileage can be checked without the introduction of a substantial bureaucratic operation which will make life more difficult for those who buy and sell cars?
Ms. Ruddock : I am delighted to respond to the Minister's invitation as it gives me an opportunity to advertise the Labour party's transport document. The Minister has obviously not had the time, or perhaps the inclination, to read it.
The document says that the Labour party will ensure that all motorists inform the driver and vehicle licensing centre of the mileage of their car when relicensing it or when a car is destroyed or acquired. Motorists would have access to the DVLC records in Swansea and that would be the first step towards establishing it as a consumer protection body, and towards protecting the interests of motorists.
Mr. Atkins : Perhaps I fell into that, but I do not object to having done so, as it allows us to pursue the debate. How would the hon. Lady control what people put down as the mileage on the form? Most people in Britain are law abiding, and they would put down the right amount, but the people she is trying to catch would not put down the correct amount.
Ms. Ruddock : Clocking is not usually done by individuals who own and drive cars. The offence is committed by second-hand car dealers. If we can assume that people who legally own and drive the cars are, as the Minister says, honest, and if they inform the centre as we propose, that will give a continuous record and is likely to expose illegal operations when the car gets into the hands of crooks.
Mr. Corbyn : I should like to help my hon. Friend as I have had unfortunate experiences of second-hand car dealers altering the recorded mileage. It is a fairly common practice among lower-level second-hand car dealers. I am talking not about the big dealers but about the type with wire netting compounds.
One way to prevent that abuse would be for the car mileometer and speedometer to be in a sealed unit stamped with the same number as is stamped on the car body. It would then be impossible to change it without fiddling the body number on the unit. If one bought a second-hand car one would have to check that the body number corresponded with the number on the sealed mileometer unit. That would not be foolproof, because some people are smart, but it would certainly help.
Mr. Atkins rose--
Ms. Ruddock : It may be helpful if I continue, but I appreciate the intervention of my hon. Friend as it was most helpful. If the Minister wishes, we would be delighted to carry on correspondence with him to pursue the issue.
Column 595To return to improving pedestrian safety--I acknowledge the contribution that the Government have made, but I believe that it is piecemeal. Much of the emphasis has been on making pedestrians more mindful of cars. The Minister reiterated that this morning. Scare tactics have been used to alert children to the perils of the roads. The slogan
"One false step and you're dead",
which was issued in a Department of Transport press release, suggests to me that the car is supreme in the hierarchy of road users. Pedestrians are treated as second-class citizens, who must watch their every step. Their needs are not given priority, despite the fact that in central London, for example, 40 per cent. of all trips are made on foot.
Britain's figures for pedestrian safety give cause for alarm. In general, the number of reported pedestrian casualties has fallen over the years throughout most of Europe. Only Spain, Portugal and Greece have a worse fatality rate than the United Kingdom. After motor cycling, walking has the highest casualty rate per kilometre travelled. Sadly, we predict that pedestrian accidents will not decrease at the rate the Government desire, because motor vehicles are involved in pedestrian accidents. Clearly the Government have no policy to discourage car usage. On the contrary, the Minister again boasted of the huge road-building programme that he wishes to institute.
Mr. John Maples (Lewisham, West) : Does the hon. Lady know what percentage of accidents, in which pedestrians are killed, are the fault of the pedestrian, rather than the driver of the vehicle involved? It seems to me, as a driver, that many pedestrians wander around the roads as though cars were made of marshmallow. I suspect that accidents are often their fault. Perhaps an educational programme directed at children might improve pedestrians' road behaviour. The emphasis ought to be placed there, rather than on the driver.
Ms. Ruddock : It is unclear where the emphasis ought to to be placed, but I suggest that, by putting the onus on the pedestrian, the car user is allowed to believe that it is the pedestrian who must take care. Clearly there is equal responsibility between pedestrian and driver.
From my observations of the work of the Department of Transport and from its press releases, I consider that, by putting the emphasis on the pedestrian, the Department has, to some extent, let the driver off the hook. Perhaps the Minister is planning to do something about that. He said that he had just launched a new scheme. Is it intended that the scheme will improve the behaviour of drivers?
In urban areas, far too many drivers think that the pedestrian should get out of the way. There is important evidence to show that people are being knocked down on pedestrian crossings where they should have priority. There is a great deal of evidence that that priority is not observed by drivers, and accidents and fatalities occur.
Mr. Tony Banks : The statistics show that one third of all pedestrians who are injured in motor accidents, suffer injuries when they are on the pavement. It is a bit much to ask a pedestrian to keep out of the way of a motor vehicle when he is on the pavement. Pedestrians are safer on the pavement, but clearly they are for pedestrians and not for motorists.
Ms. Ruddock : I was pointing out that pedestrians have the right to cross the road at a crossing. The hon. Gentleman says that they have no right to be on the road, but I remind him that most pavements are intersected by roads. One cannot have continuous pavements. Pedestrians have to keep crossing the road, even if they are not mad enough to walk into the road in the path of a car.
The rising volume and speed of traffic over many years has caused parents to impose increasing restrictions on their children's unaccompanied travel. That creates a burden on parents who must accompany their children on trips.
As I have said, young and old are made vulnerable by the fact that we have road intersections at which people must contend with drivers who are often inconsiderate to the needs of pedestrians. One in seven pedestrian casualties occurs on pedestrian crossings where people are supposed to have priority. We believe that serious and sometimes dramatic measures must be taken if any attempts, other than cosmetic ones, are to be made in the future especially given the rising traffic density.
A reduction in speed limits must be enforced in some urban areas and more traffic-calming measures must be implemented in residential streets. Experiments and experience in Scandinavia and the Netherlands suggest that measures taken to reduce through-traffic and the speeds of vehicles, while improving facilities for cyclists and pedestrians, can be successful in reducing road traffic accidents. They claim a success rate of over 50 per cent. in previously traditional urban layouts. We applaud such measures.
The Government's response to such traffic calming has been lukewarm. However, we are delighted that the Minister has suggested that there will be an increase in the Government's enthusiasm for introducing such measures. Ninety-five per cent. of pedestrian casualties occur in urban and residential areas. In those areas the balance between the needs of vehicles and pedestrians must be addressed more equitably. Evidence that cars do not slow down in front of schools is particularly worrying. In residential areas, traffic calming and the enforcement of speed limits can be used to reduce noise and air pollution, increase safety and play a part in creating a more environmentally friendly community.
Another area requiring more Government attention and support is that of accident investigation and prevention. As the Minister said, it is a low- cost way of saving lives. It is a systematic procedure for identifying sites where high accident rates occur, and implementation of low-cost measures can follow. Local authorities are clearly aware of the enormous benefits of accident investigation and prevention schemes and they have been urging the Government to change the way in which those schemes are financed. Quite simply, not enough money is being made available to them at the moment. I hope that what the Minister said this morning will overcome those problems. I shall be in a position to test him out. My local authority of Lewisham has identified vital traffic measures within the borough, covering road safety, traffic calming and measures relating to pedestrian safety. The total cost involved would be about £750,000. Within that figure it
Column 597made a bid for £50,000 for the AIP schemes--it got £25,000. Overall it has just £50,000 to meet needs costed at £750,000. Who sets those spending limits? It is certainly not the people of Lewisham who are fed up with frightening road traffic conditions and who are afraid for their children and old people. The limits on capital spending and accident prevention are set by the Government.
More resources that are better targeted are urgently needed and I was glad to hear what the Minister said about the transport supplementary schemes. Again, we are disappointed that he cannot give us a time scale. We shall be monitoring closely his response and the speed with which he is able to make those changes.
As we all acknowledge, local authorities have a vital role to play in securing a safer environment. Road safety has always been high on the agenda. I intended to recommend to the Minister the local authority association's code of good practice for road safety. However, I am delighted to know that he has read the document and is supporting it so thoroughly.
I urge upon the Minister--although it may not be necessary--the need to ensure that none of our good practice is lost in the wake of changing legislation in 1992. I refer particularly to areas that worry us both, such as motor cycle helmets, for which we have excellent safety standards which are not met in the EC. Where we do have good national mandatory safety standards, we must ensure that our good practice is not reduced to a lower level by EC regulations. The Government have issued a challenge to themselves--that of reducing accidents by a third by the year 2000. We applaud that target and welcome everything the Minister has said that could help positively to achieve it. However, because of the overall direction of Government transport policy, we feel regrettably, that it is unlikely that their targets will be met. We shall continue to urge the Government to give a much greater priority to public transport finance and to support for transport systems that provide the safest mode of carrying people in Britain. We will also continue to urge the Government to give local authorities the backing that they deserve and seek, because it is within local democracy that some of the best ideas and plans have been laid for improving road safety.
Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point) : I warmly welcome this further opportunity to discuss the important subject of road safety. All of us welcome the constructive way in which the debate was opened by my hon. Friend the Minister and by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock).
It has been rightly said that because road accidents do not occur all at the same time and place in one single, dramatic pile-up of deaths and injuries, they constitute an "invisible massacre". The startling suggestion made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) that a high proportion of accidents occur to pedestrians on pavements--is a frightening statistic. It is salutary for us all to remember that the overwhelming majority of transport-related deaths and injuries occur on our roads.
Column 598Indeed, road accidents make up 40 per cent. of all accidental deaths. As individuals we run a one in 10 chance of being killed or seriously injured in a road accident.
Hon. Members will know that I have a long-standing interest in alcohol misuse, particularly in regard to drinking and driving. Having taken part in so many debates and discussions over the years, I must confess to a sense of de ja vu. It is 13 years since the publication of the Blennerhassett report which recommended additional breath-testing powers for the police and an extended and improved procedure for managing the high -risk offender.
I am proud of the fact that as far back as 1974 the then National Council on Alcoholism, of which I was the chairman, recommended changes in dealing with high-risk offenders. During the Second Reading debate on the Transport Bill of 1981 I recall expressing disappointment that the Government had not included such changes in their Bill. However, I was assured by the then Minister of State that administrative powers under existing legislation enabled such procedures to be implemented. I am pleased that since then the Department of Transport has developed such procedures and that the inter- departmental ministerial group on alcohol misuse has recommended that these should be strengthened further.
I acknowledge therefore that progress has been made in the 1980s. In Britain, as in most other developed countries, there has been a slow but steady reduction in the number of deaths and injuries caused by road accidents. Consistent with that has been a gradual decline in the proportion of fatal accidents in which the driver was in excess of the legal limit for alcohol--a decline from 33 per cent. in 1978 to 23 per cent. in 1987. While that improvement is welcome, it should be recognised that it provides no justification for complacency. I applaud the Government's target to reduce accidents by the year 2000, but the general public want a faster reduction and the necessary legislation to implement changes as quickly as possible. For there are still thousands of unneccessary and avoidable injuries and deaths each year, and alcohol remains their single main cause.
There has been a welcome change in public attitudes. The convicted driver is no longer regarded as an unlucky victim of over-zealous policing but as a potential killer whom it is the duty of the police to stop. Much of that change of attitude should be credited to the campaign against drinking and driving and to the media, who have succeeded in bringing home as never before the message that the drinking driver is a threat not only to himself but to everyone in his vicinity.
There was, however, an inexcusable aberration by the then Secretary of State for Transport, who sanctioned the "Stay Low" Christmas campaign, which was so disastrous. The firm rejection of that dangerous notion, and a firm reaffirmation of the message, "Don't drink and drive" is a fine legacy bequeathed to the Minister by his predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley). The Government have clearly discerned and responded to the shift in public attitudes and have begun to strengthen their campaign publicity accordingly, but there is still some way to go, particularly in regard to legislation. On that so far there has been much talk but little action. It is time for Government rhetoric to be superseded by effective action and for the Government to catch up with public opinion.
There is no room for complacency, because well over 300 of the 1, 500 drink -related deaths annually are innocent
Column 599victims of someone else's drinking and driving. By being in the wrong place at the wrong time, an innocent person is killed every day on our roads by another's drinking and driving. If those 300 people were, by some impossible set of circumstances, to be killed in Whitehall this morning, the Minister would be rushing to the scene and plans would be laid to rush in legislation to prevent a similar massacre in the future. However, as matters stand, innocent people are massacred in silence, and there are no headlines, messages of sympathy or offers to raise national distress funds. The Institute of Alcohol Studies has rightly said :
"No wonder the families of the victims feel anger for there are few other crimes in which the victims receive less consideration than their assailants."
I was therefore much encouraged by the proposal in the White Paper "The Road User and the Law" to introduce a new offence of causing death by careless driving while over the limit. This reform is much overdue. It has been warmly welcomed by hon. Members and by the country. What is now required is an assurance that the reforms recommended by the North committee will be implemented. I know that there is some anxiety among the road safety community that the Bill may not be included in the Government's programme for the forthcoming Session. May I say quite gently but firmly that such a failure would be a cause of considerable disappointment and anger among many hon. Members and beyond? My hon. Friend the Minister, who is sensitive to opinion in the House, will be aware of this anxiety and of the necessity to put it to rest at the earliest opportunity.
Mr. Atkins rose--
Mr. Atkins : My right hon. Friend is vastly more experienced than almost any hon. Member in these matters. He will know full well that neither I nor any other Minister can predict what will be in the Queen's Speech. I am sure that the fact that my right hon. Friend has raised this matter will mean that it will be drawn to the attention of those august people who decide these matters.
Sir Bernard Braine : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's courteous intervention. I have been a Minister and know perfectly well that he is unable to say anything at this stage. The mere fact that he rose to his feet only momentarily suggested to me that he had some advance information. I say to him, with the utmost friendliness, that I hope that I shall not be castigating the Government for any omission following publication of the Queen's Speech later this month. I hope, too, that my hon. Friend the Minister will take the opportunity provided by this debate to give the House an assurance that the Government are giving the most serious consideration to two measures which were not included in the White Paper, but which many of us regard as the most important of all--random breath testing and a reduction in the legal limit for driving. The arguments for random breath testing have been rehearsed many times in the media and elsewhere over recent years, and we are all familiar with them. The main considerations seem to be entirely clear. First, the representative bodies of the police service have asked for additional powers to administer
Column 600breath tests to increase the deterrent value of breath testing. I speak as someone who has held an advisory capacity to senior police officers for many years.
Secondly, almost all expert opinion is convinced that random testing would save hundreds of lives and prevent thousands of injuries each year and regards it as probably the most effective counter-measure still available to reduce the number of drinking drivers on our roads.
Thirdly, we know that the public overwhelmingly support the introduction of random testing. Opinion surveys show consistently that random testing is supported by 80 per cent. or more of the population, while experience in other countries shows that it becomes even more popular after its introduction and as its benefits become evident. We know that the majority of submissions in response to consultation on police breath testing powers, which were called for by my right hon. Friend the former Home Secretary, were in favour of the police being given additional powers.
It is true that in debates on this issue there often appears to be some confusion between "unfettered discretion", which would allow the police to stop and test any driver at any time, and the more limited power of random testing, which would allow the police to test drivers without "reasonable suspicion" only at specially designed roadside checkpoints.
It is abundantly clear to me that the consensus has formed around and in support of random testing mainly because the checkpoint system can more easily be governed by a code of practice designed to prevent police powers bearing down unfairly on individuals or groups. That is a crucial point because the police want to carry public opinion with them, but they are having an increasingly difficult job. When I was a youngster, a police officer being killed or wounded by the public was unthinkable. I can remember only one case of a police constable being murdered in the 1930s, the case of police constable Gutteridge who was shot to death in Billericay --a constituency that I once represented. Since the war, and particularly over recent years, the police have come under increasing pressure. They are therefore most anxious to have clearly defined powers that will carry the public with them, and for that reason, and for no other, are effective.
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : At the risk of widening the subject of the debate slightly, does my right hon. Friend agree that this is probably not unrelated to the abolition of the death penalty for the murder of police officers?
Sir Bernard Braine : I have my own views on that subject, but, with respect to my hon. Friend, it would be wrong of me to comment on that in this debate. We are discussing the extremely serious issue of giving the police the necessary powers to deal with drinking and driving.
There is simply no point in clarifying and endorsing powers that are poorly designed for the purpose for which they are intended. In other words, existing police powers must be reconsidered. Even clarified and endorsed, the existing powers of the police permit them to carry out only a poor man's version of random testing, a procedure both more cumbersome to operate and less efficient than random testing proper, and therefore less likely to be carried out. What possible advantage could there be in taking such a step?
Column 601The support for random testing is now so strong that it is difficult to understand why the Government are still dragging their feet. I do not expect my hon. Friend the Minister to answer this question now, but I must ask, of what are the Government afraid? It seems clear that their reservations are based solely on anxieties about the possibility of impaired relations between the police and the public. Such anxieties are entirely misplaced. I have already referred to the abundant evidence showing that the overwhelming majority of the public support the introduction of random testing. Indeed, the police would not have requested additional powers if they believed that there was any significant danger of alienating the travelling public. They are fully alive to the need to retain the confidence of the travelling public.
I do not wish to speak too long, but there is one other important point which has not yet been raised. I am saddened by the Government's negative and insular response to the European Commission's draft directive, which proposed a maximum permissible blood alcohol level of 50 mg from 1 January 1993. The Commission's view was endorsed by the European Parliament's committee on Transport. At this stage, I shall not enter into the argument about whether this is an appropriate matter for Community legislation, other than to point to the obvious fact that more and more people are travelling from one member country to another--the purpose of the Channel tunnel is to accelerate that movement--and it therefore makes sense to have a common policy in Europe, in the interests of safety. What disappoints me is that the major part of the evidence on which the Commission based its directive was drawn--believe it or not--from the findings of my hon. Friends's own Transport and Road Research Laboratory. In my Second Reading speech on the Transport Bill in 1981, I emphasised those findings as they applied to young people. Impairment of driving ability among young people begins at the low level of 30 mg. I said :
"At 50 mg., a young person is three times more prone to accident than before. At 80 mg., he is six times more prone."
I implored the Minister then and I do so again. I said to him : "For the sake of protecting the young people of this country I urge my right hon. Friend to look again at lowering the limit for all motorists."
I went on to say that I was glad that the then Minister had "wisely retained the power in schedule 8 to the Bill to vary the limit."--[ Official Report, 13 January 1981 ; Vol. 996, c. 881.] Why does not the Minister use this power? The major cause of death for a young person between the ages of 16 and 24 is a road accident with a raised blood alcohol level. The Minister could at a stroke reduce the incidence of such tragedies. It is a commonplace that the 80 mg legal limit is not in any sense a safe limit. There does not appear to be a safe limit anyway. Guidelines issued since the advent of the evidential breathalyser mean that drivers are not normally prosecuted until they exceed 40 microgrammes of alcohol in the breath, which in terms of the blood alcohol level is equivalent not to 80 mg but to over 90 mg. In other words, the introduction of the evidential breathalyser has led to a de facto raising of the legal limit. Thus there is a strong case for reducing the legal limit simply to account for that factor.
If the limit is to be reduced, it would seem sensible to reduce it to 50 mg, which the consensus of scientific
Column 602opinion regards as the maximum blood alcohol level compatible with public safety on the roads. The former Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), rightly stated that even one drink can kill. A 50 mg limit would be far more consistent with the educational message contained in the anti-drink-driving campaign of the Department of Transport. Public opinion surveys show majority support in favour of a reduction.
I want to know, and I think the country wants to know, what is preventing the Government from attuning the law more closely to their message. I understand that 3,000 of the responses to the Home Office consultation favoured random testing while only 400 were opposed. Who were those 400? They must represent a very powerful vested interest if they can block the overwhelming majority's view. The House has a right to know who they were. Were they individuals, organisations or vested interests? How could they block the views of the overwhelming majority?
Certainly I welcome the steps that the Government have already taken, or announced their intention to take, to reduce the menace of the drinking driver. The whole House supports them. The progress that has been made in recent years provides a sound basis for the introduction of these additional measures which, if taken, will make a substantial contribution towards achieving the Government's goal of reducing road casualties by one third by the end of the century. Yet I am still impatient. I want to see much faster progress, as I think we all do. the opportunity now exists to reduce by an even greater amount the most preventable accident of all, that which is alcohol related. It will be a tragedy if the Government decline to take it. 11.6 am
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting) : I am sure that we have all listened with great interest and respect to the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), the Father of the House, because his are the kind of comments that come to us via our postbags week by week. I hope that consideration will be given to the valuable points that he made to the Minister. Without doubt, on whichever side of the House we sit, we wholly agree with virtually everything he said.
This has been an interesting debate. I congratulate the Minister and his Department on initiating it and I congratulate the Minister on many of his comments. I am sure that, wherever we live or wherever we represent-- whether a large city constituency or a rural area--road safety and all the issues linked to it are important matters. The problems inlude increased traffic on local roads, large lorries going through residential areas, difficulties in finding somewhere to park and the indiscriminate way in which cars and lorries park. I was interested in the exchange between the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) about parking on pavements. Despite laws under which motorists who park on pavements can be prosecuted, there is still too much of it.
Much comment has been made about children and young people. Parking on pavements is equally a problem for the elderly, the disabled and the blind. Like many hon. Members, I still see a great deal of parking on pavements. Another problem, which I see repeatedly, occurs when large lorries park at road junctions. A motorist trying to
Column 603come out of a road has to make his way into the flow of traffic to see what other traffic is coming along. Something needs to be done.
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the biggest problems faced by the elderly and the hard of hearing occurs at pelican crossings? The speed at which people are expected to cross the road is unreasonable, especially if they are elderly. For many people, the bleepers attached to those crossings are inaudible. Does the hon. Gentleman think that it might be better to have a flashing light--as opposed to just the image of a flashing person--on each pole?
Mr. Cox : The hon. Gentleman's three points are all valid, especially the first about the speed with which cars travel and the disregard that they often show for crossings. He also made an important point about people with defective hearing who, sadly, cannot hear the bleeping noise at crossings, and his suggestion about flashing lights is relevant. The great benefit of debates such as this is that the exchange of views between hon. Members of all parties brings up points that could be of benefit to the overall issue of road safety.
The double parking of cars, especially at night, is a problem in many parts of London, and probably in other areas as well. Double parking often takes place in the day, but the double parking of cars with no lights on in residential areas at night is the main problem. The Minister's Department must look at that problem in detail. Double parking is one of the many complaints relayed to us which involve road safety.
The Minister has made many comments about how his Department sees progress being made to improve road safety. Sadly, from my experience, the problems of road congestion is becoming worse, especially outside the rush hour periods--and one has to accept that there will be much congestion in our major cities and large towns in the rush hours. My hon. Friend the Member for Deptford, also touched on this point.
Many of us say that we must try to reduce the number of cars on our roads, but the announcement this week that rail and Tube fares will rise will drive many people who normally would be happy to use public transport to consider seriously whether they will continue to do so. I will quote briefly from a letter dated 23 October which I received from a constituent. He says :
"I see in last week's Press that there is every likelihood that Public Transport fares may soon increase again, by more than the current rate of inflation. This will serve only to force more people to use their cars to get to work and back, thereby making the situation on the roads that much worse."
I am sure that all of us will hear such comments from our constituents this weekend.
Whatever criticisms we may make about Government policy overall, the subsidies for public transport, whatever help may be given, are wholly inadequate for existing needs. Let us consider the systems in other European countries. We hear a great deal about the French system of subsidising public transport ; subsidies, whether at national, regional or local level, are enormous. The French have proved the benefits that can accrue to a country from the improved movement of people and goods. We need to consider such systems in far more detail.
I want to concentrate on one or two issues that have not been given the prominence they deserve in this debate. All of us are aware of the rat runs of vehicles being driven
Column 604through residential areas and the problems that that causes. The Minister referred to the development of road humps and sleeping policemen. I find that the vast majority of residents would like to see such humps installed. There are requests for such humps throughout the borough of Wandsworth and, in fairness to the borough council, it is seeking to put road humps in rat run areas. One proplem is that it takes a long time for their installation to be approved and there is often a difference between the attitude of the police and that of the local authority on whether a particular road is suitable for the installation of road humps. Another problem is cost. I do not know whether the Minister has seen the figures, but I must tell him that I am amazed by the cost of the installation of road humps. It does not seem to be technically difficult development, but the delay in obtaining permission to install road humps and the cost of installing them should be looked at.
We should also consider street parking in greater detail. I know that swoop squads of traffic wardens drive around ticketing every vehicle they see illegally parked. I do not criticise that, but I do not believe that it gets to the root of illegal parking. We should seek a system whereby we have a community traffic warden--very much like a community policeman--who could cover a local area. Such a warden would not necessarily give a ticket to, or fine, every motorist badly parked at road junctions or double parked, but would try to build up a relationship within the community so that he could say to such a motorist, "Your parking is dangerous and is causing problems. If you do not stop, my job will be to give you tickets and you may find yourself facing court action because of your attitude." We should consider such a system because in our larger cities, as I am sure that the Minister is aware, the problem is worsening. We have legislation for bus lanes, but it is often not enforced. We are told that bus lanes are intended to ensure the early movement of buses and taxis. Only a few yards from here, along Millbank, there is a bus lane with a notice saying that the bus lane is operation from 7 am until 7 pm. Yet at any time one can see car drivers and lorry drivers using that bus lane and holding up buses. We have the legislation for bus lanes. We have the right to ask the Minister and his Department when the rules that govern their use will be enforced. Those rules do not seem to be enforced in many other areas of London in which bus lanes are operating.
In my constituency this Tuesday, I was driving along the road at about 10 pm. I saw in the distance a light and I believed that a motor cyclist was approaching. It was not until I was about 10 yards away from the light that I realised that it was a van with defective lighting. Defective lighting is bad enough in the summer months, but in the winter, the police should rigorously enforce existing legislation on motor vehicles being driven with defective lighting. That is especially important to protect the elderly and young children. There are far too many vehicles with defective lighting. The provision of cycle lanes has not been given sufficient attention this morning. More and more people are using bicycles, whether to go to work or for general travel, and whether they live in a local area or travel from outside it. There are very few cycle lanes in operation in Westminster, although one sees many cyclists. Many hon.
Column 605Members cycle to the Palace, I believe. I see the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) in his place ; I gather than he is a keen cyclist.
Mr. Summerson indicated assent.
Mr. Corbyn : I often cycle to this place. It is impossible to get here entirely on cycle routes from north London, which is where I live. The last part of the journey, which takes me down Whitehall, is very dangerous. The problem with cycle lanes is that although the lanes themselves are fine, and relatively safe, unless priority or safety measures are provided at junctions, they are of no value. A cycle lane along Whitehall would be of no use because the cyclist would be exposed to enormous danger on reaching Parliament square, and the same thing applies to almost every cycle lane.
Mr. Cox : I agree with my hon. Friend, who has highlighted the importance of giving more protection and consideration to cyclists, whose numbers are increasing. I take my hon. Friend's point that it is no good having cycle lanes without junction priority measures because cyclists are then exposed to even greater dangers. I am sure, however, that the Department of Transport and local authorities could examine the matter in detail and develop better strategies for the protection of cyclists.
The Minister is responsible for the road options now under consideration, and that ties in with the general issue of road safety. I see that the Minister is laughing, and I can well understand why : he is thinking, "Good gracious, not again." In any debate on road safety we should take the opportunity to voice our constituents' deep concern about the road assessment studies that the Minister and his officials are considering. Whichever assessment study the Minister and his Department eventually approve, it will no doubt bring many thousands of extra vehicles into residential areas. Our constituents are deeply concerned not only for their own safety but about the possible effects on their environment.
I beg the Minister and the Secretary of State to listen to what the people of London are saying about the road options. The Minister told me on Monday that a statement would be made in December. I could give him countless examples of letters that have come my way, but I shall quote only one from one of my constituents :
"I fail to see how the capital's transport problems can be solved by building new roads which past experience has shown merely attracts new traffic, thereby changing the pattern of congestion not solving it. Surely it must be obvious that encouraging private vehicles can only worsen the problem which can best be solved by offering a true alternative through a radical, comprehensive programme of genuine investment in public transport."
That sums up the sentiments expressed in the many letters that London Members receive about road options, and I beg the Minister to pay the greatest possible attention to what the people of London are saying, before decisions are made by him.
I am sure that all hon. Members will find this an interesting debate. We all want people to be allowed to use cars and people now expect to have the right to do so. But the safety of the general public should continue to be our
Column 606priority. Although much progress has been made, much remains to be done. As my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford said, we are not happy with the Government's attitude. My hon. Friend said that cuts in grants had deprived her local authority of the opportunity to make road safety provision, and I am sure that all of us could give similar examples. We may back the aims of the Minister and his Department but improvements will not be achieved on the cheap. They will entail not only the involvement and understanding of the general public but financial commitment by the Government. Unfortunately, many of us do not see evidence of complete commitment in the Government's policies on public transport and transport generally and especially on road safety.
Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham) : Like the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), I have made representations to the Minister about the road assessment studies. I entirely endorse the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the importance of dealing with illegal parking and of the more widespread use of road humps.
Next weekend many of my hon. Friends will be attending Remembrance Sunday services, which will have particular significance this year as it is the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the second world war, during which 265,500 service men and women were killed in action. Since the war ended in 1945, 267,000 people have been killed on our roads. In other words, more of our people have been killed on our roads since the end of world war 2 than were killed during it. During the past 11 months there have been four major transport tragedies, and hon. Members have been brought to the House to listen to statements about Clapham and Lockerbie. Four hundred people were killed in those disasters--the average number of people killed in one month on our roads.
What hon. Members say and do can have a substantial impact on those awful figures. Twenty years ago the number of people killed on our roads hovered at about 8,000 a year. Now it has been reduced to about 5,000 a year. There were two parliamentary reasons for that substantial decline--the first was the introduction of the breath test in 1967 and the second was the introduction of seat belts at the beginning of this decade. More work remains to be done on both those matters.
In his admirable speech opening the debate, my hon. Friend the Minister stated that there have been 25,000 unrestrained rear seat casualties in cars of which 4,000 involved death or serious injury. The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety believes that the most effective way of reducing casualties for car occupants is to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory for rear seat passengers. I hope that that will happen.
The next major step forward in relation to the two vital issues of seat belts and the breathalyser relates to random breath testing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), the Father of the House, has just made a powerful plea about that. It is clear now that the police are solidly behind the extension of breath testing to include random testing. There can be no doubt that public opinion continues to swing in favour of random tests. The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, of which I am delighted to be a member, recently carried out a public