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Column 607opinion poll on that issue, undertaken by National Opinion Polls market research. Such testing was defined as :
"giving the police the authority to set up special roadside checkpoints and to routinely breathalyse any driver passing through."
In that poll, 81 per cent. of the public were in favour of that step which would massively increase the deterrent power of breathalysing. Those in favour covered all sections of the community--male and female, young and old, rich and poor. I hope that the Government will soon take the final step along the road which has already saved so many thousands of lives over the past 20 years. Speed is another problem. We can now curb speed on main roads through the introduction of speed cameras and on back roads and lesser roads through the wider use of road humps and other traffic-calming measures. A few weeks ago I spent some time driving in the United States of America. America has a more violent society than ours, but the Americans are infinitely better behaved on their roads than we are. The American general traffic speed limit is 55 mph and occasionally 65 mph. Those limits are largely enforced by radar. In the many hours that I spent driving in America, I did not see a car exceed 70 mph. That has had a dramatic impact on the number of road casualties in America since the limits were introduced about 20 years ago. The road accident fatality rate in the United States is about half the rate in this country. I believe that the legislation of speed cameras could be enormously helpful.
The North report recommends :
"The fixed penalty system should be amended by legislation to allow a fixed penalty to be sent to an offender identified after inquiries flowing from an automatic speed detection check."
The Transport and Road Research Laboratory estimates that that step would reduce fatalities by at least 5 per cent. a year and PACTS believes that the figure could be a little higher because the high-speed accident would be most affected. The North report also recommends that the law should be changed to enable cameras to be used in traffic light offences. That would also produce a substantial reduction in the number of fatalities. It would certainly reduce the number of fatalities by about one a day--at least 365 a year. However, we need legislation and I hope that such legislation will not be delayed. I add my pleas for legislation to those that have been made already.
I want to commend the Minister on two points. He and I attended a conference on the older driver organised by the Automobile Association earlier this week. Every expert who spoke at the conference underlined the importance of visibility. I am delighted that the Minister has already announced an extension of lighting up time. However, I was not entirely clear from his statement whether that was intended to apply just to vehicles or whether street lights would be turned on for an extended period.
Mr. Atkins : Perhaps I can clarify this point. As my hon. Friend is a year older today than yesterday, I take this opportunity to wish him a happy birthday. The extension applies only to vehicles, not to street lights.
Sir Philip Goodhart : I hope that in the very near future my hon. Friend the Minister will come to the Dispatch Box and tell us that the extension will apply to street lights as well as to vehicles. I was delighted by the Minister's announcement of a loosening of the restrictions on the introduction of road
Column 608humps. They play a most important part in curbing speed in residential areas. The initial restrictions on their use were far too tight and I am glad that they are to be reduced. The Minister referred to the casualty rate among school children. I hope that road humps, almost as a matter of course, could be placed outside primary schools where they are on back roads, as they almost always are. I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to his new duties and I hope that in the coming Session he will have a substantial legislative load to bring before the House.
Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport) : I am pleased to address the House in my new capacity as Liberal Democrat spokesman on local government and transport. Both local government and transport are particularly relevant to this debate and can be linked, as I hope to show. Road safety touches us all and we should all be concerned about it. This debate has proved that. As my party's outgoing health spokesman, I have also had a keen interest in any reduction in the number of accidents on our roads. Obviously, such a reduction would reduce pressure on the National Health Service. In a parliamentary answer on 28 November, the then Minister said :
"It is estimated that the cost of road accidents to the National Health Service due to hospital treatment in 1987 was £146 million."-- [Official Report, 28 November 1988 ; Vol. 142, c. 164.] I am sure that we will see an increase in that estimate this year. Road safety is not only about financial cost ; it is about human cost--death, injury and destroyed lives. The present scale in this country is far too high a price to pay, whatever benefits there may be from the age of the motor car. It is the Government's declared and welcome intention to reduce road accidents by one third by the year 2000, but until there is a change of direction in overall transport policy, things will not greatly improve. Our island--I include Northern Ireland--is far too small to allow 50-odd million people to own or travel in cars. Our roads are already far too congested. Overcrowded roads produce stress and impatience in drivers and can lead to poor attitudes which manifest themselves in dangerous driving manoeuvres. Attitudes such as "this is my piece of road and I am sticking to it" and, "Get out of my way, I am in a hurry" end in disaster. Too often, innocent pedestrians, cyclists and passengers suffer as a result of pure selfishness or a need to feel a sense of power.
A young police constable to whom I spoke not too long ago, summed up another aspect of driving attitudes. In a discussion about whether people were less caring today, he said, "Of course they are. You have only to look at the way they drive to see that. There is not a thought for others. They are determined, no matter what the cost, to get to wherever they are going in the least possible time. People don't give a damn." That is a damning statement, and we should take it to heart and consider how we can change the current trend. Crowded streets crammed with parked cars are a danger to all pedestrians. Without a clear view of oncoming traffic, crossing the road can be extremely hazardous for some groups, such as the young and the elderly. A hazard may be even worse when trees are planted at the edge of pavements. Tree-lined streets are pleasant from an environmental point of view, but they obstruct pedestrians' views. I am referring particularly to
Column 609small children who can appear from behind a tree right out of the blue. There was a tragic case in my constituency of Southport. The council debated whether to increase the speed limit from 30 to 40 mph on a tree-lined street. I and, to their credit, many other councillors said, "That can cause accidents. We must be careful about whether we increase the speed limit, because that is a tree-lined street." Within six months, a four-year-old boy came out from behind a tree and was killed. I wanted to say, "I told you so," but I did not, and the road safety people in Sefton recommended that trees be removed from the edge of the roadway in that area. That happened, and the environmentalists did not protest.
Pedestrians and drivers alike should be made aware of the unexpected dangers. I would not object to a few more signs, caution lights and other physical aids if they prove to be beneficial in making our roads safer.
To build bigger and better roads to ease congestion is not the answer. The debacle of the M25, with its traffic jams and high accident rate, is a testament to that. It is now called the biggest car park in the world. We will never be able to meet demand. The more roads we build, the more cars people will buy to fill the empty spaces, and any massive road-building programme will undoubtedly lead to an even poorer public transport system. The previous Secretary of State's ideas about tolls, super highways or fast lanes will not do, either. If tolls are set at such a price that it is worth collecting them, there will be stretches of motorways, blighting the landscape and without a car in sight.
Mr. Maples : I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument about never having enough roads to take care of potential demand in cities. However, the hon. Gentleman appears to be saying that that is his party's national policy. The hon. Gentleman will have to find some way of suppressing people's right to use their cars on those roads. How does he propose to do that?
Mr. Fearn : I do not intend to suppress any car user's right to use a road. Car users have that right, and I hope that it will continue. Some people may not purchase cars because the public transport system would supplement the road system. That does not interfere with the right of urban motorists who use their cars a great deal. When road congestion worsens, roads fall into disrepair. Local authorities and rural communities do not have the cash to repair roads, and that is causing further accidents.
Mr. Gerrard Neale (Cornwall, North) : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if we were to double the capacity of British Rail over the next 12 months, we would barely do more than take up the anticipated growth on the roads in that period? That is the scale of the problem. The hon. Gentleman seems to treat it as though it could be dealt with simply. We would have to continue doubling the capacity of British Rail every year to deal with the growth.
There are great difficulties with the toll system in Spain. I understand that some of the new road systems are a joy to travel on because there are so few cars on them. Many
Column 610Spaniards boycott the roads because they are unable to pay the high tolls. I hope that that would never happen here.
I question whether a move to faster lanes would be wise. Although the relationship between the number of accidents and speed is unclear, we know that the severity of road accidents is related to the speed of impact. I accept that the speed of impact is not necessarily the speed of travel, but an analysis of the 1986 accident figures shows that fatality rates are higher on high-speed roads. That proves that it is not too far-fetched to conclude that speed is a significant factor in road accidents. In 1987, 54,352 serious accidents resulted in 64,293 serious casualties. Any move to increase speed limits cannot fail to produce far higher numbers.
Although I recognise that there is no simple formula for improving the accident rate on our roads, there is much that we can do to develop a much improved, safer and more efficient public transport system. As my party's spokesperson on this matter, I hope that I will have numerous opportunities to debate how that can be done. However, I do not hold out much hope for safer public transport. If the Government can allow one of their pet projects to be derailed--I refer to the Channel tunnel link--there is little hope for the rest of us. The delay in developing a London link will have a knock-on effect on roads in the south-east, making it even more difficult to travel on them.
Mr. Maples : That point ties in with what the hon. Gentleman was saying about improved public transport. My constituency and that of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) will be affected by the Channel tunnel link. The proposed public transport system would substantially relieve road congestion in Kent, yet opposition to it in our constituencies is almost overwhelming.
Ms. Ruddock : I understand the rules of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and because there is a diffculty here, I shall address my remarks to the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn). I do not wish to be associated with any suggestion that Labour Members disapprove of the Channel tunnel rail link, because it is a public transport infrastructure which we very much support. The disapproval that we have all voiced is that public money has not been provided to make the project environmentally sound.
Improvements in the public transport system cannot be achieved quickly enough to ease the urgent road problems. The time for action is now. I welcome some of the Government's most recent initiatives, including doubling the spending on local road safety schemes, about which we heard a little from the Minister. However, I ask the Minister whether extra street lighting resources are to be provided for local authorities and for schemes to eliminate black holes on motorways. We all know as we travel home--some of us travel last thing at night along the M1 and the M6--how suddenly we are confronted with the black holes in the lighting system. I am sure that accidents would be reduced if we had lighting all along our motorways.
Column 611In Sefton, where I am a borough councillor, work is currently being carried out into local and regional comparisons of road safety accident figures. I am pleased to report a 50 per cent. reduction in the number of fatal accidents and a significant reduction in the number of serious accidents in 1988. I do not want to put too much stress on statistics because I know that they can be misleading and, in some instances, can lead to complacency. I hasten to add that Sefton borough council, which includes Southport, is in no way complacent. In April 1988 is launched a massive education programme in its infant and junior schools and undertook non-school-based road safety talks, film shows, exhibitions and displays, especially for elderly people. As part of its programme for the elderly, it issued a booklet with the aid of Age Concern, entitled "Keep Living". I have no doubt that the Minister has seen it, but if he has not I recommend that he does so. It can be obtained from the County Road Safety Officers' Association, Age Concern and local road safety officers. It reports cases of elderly people who had accidents, and deals with the reasons for those accidents. It is simple, and easy to read and understand. I hope that at some time all elderly people will read it.
Education is an important part of any campaign to improve road safety. I was, therefore, interested to read in last Sunday's edition of The Observer that the child cycling proficiency test was to be scrapped. The article stated that
"a new road safety scheme designed to embrace modern teaching methods and to fit in with the national curriculum"
was due to be introduced next spring. The Minister has reassured me that the test is still with us and I welcome that. It is frightening for people to read such untrue articles in the press. The article was twisted and I am glad to know that the Minister is minded that the test should continue. If there is to be a new scheme, I can only hope that it will prove a better way of ensuring the safety of the many thousands of child cyclists who form part of the Department of Transport's statistics on fatal and serious accidents.
Our residential streets are no longer the safe back roads that they used to be. Children can no longer go out to play in our streets or ride on their bikes as a pleasant pastime. Cycling to and from school has become a major hazard. I note that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents is campaigning for single-double summer time which it believes would benefit young children coming home from school.
Some children have taken to cycling on the pavements which proves hazardous, especially to disabled and elderly people. Local byelaws then come into play. They are vigorously enforced in some authorities, leaving the young children in no man's land. There is no doubt that cyclists are an especially vulnerable group on our roads. It is estimated that there are now 13.5 million cycles in this country. It is perhaps time that we encouraged the provision of more cycling paths for travel and for recreational cycling for children. Education is an important factor in other areas also. Road safety instruction at infant and junior level is to be welcomed. However, perhaps we should be going much further. We need to wake up to the fact that we are a nation of car owners and will continue to be so. For more and more young people--some still at school--getting behind the wheel of a car will be their only method of transport in the future. I should like to see a programme
Column 612that introduces some form of safety education into our senior schools. The emphasis in such a programme could be placed on safe driving habits, attitudes and proficiency.
We should also look at ways of making our driving test more in keeping with the real world. It seems ludicrous that five minutes after passing a test, the newly qualified driver is allowed on to motorways of which he or she has no experience. To drive on a multi-lane motorway at 70 mph is not something to be taken lightly. The same law also allows people to take a driving test without a single lesson from a qualified driving instructor. The test itself is far too short for the examiner to observe any bad habits that may have been formed from driving with friends or other drivers such as relatives. That area of the law needs to be investigated with a view to making the driving test and the regulations surrounding it more stringent.
Over the years, a number of tragic events have led to the loss of many lives, to severe injuries and to hardship. Hon. Members have mourned with the rest of the nation and have called on the Government to act quickly to improve the safety standards for members of the public, yet every year we seem content to allow untold numbers of people to suffer from the most terrible consequences of road traffic accidents. As I said earlier, I know that there is no simple formula, but I hope that the Government are taking their responsibilities seriously. I hope that they will provide the resources necessary to enable us to reach the target for the reduction of accidents that the Government themselves have set.
Mr. Conal Gregory (York) : As so many traffic movements are effected by road, it is vital that we work towards the greatest safety measures possible. As vice-chairman of the Conservative parliamentary transport committee, I welcome today's debate and apologise to the House for my croaky voice.
Clearly, the Government have given a high priority to road construction and maintenance. In North Yorkshire, the benefits will amount to almost £40 million-worth of road schemes in the 1990s. That is vital when we see the carnage on the A1. Only last month, the death toll on North Yorkshire's roads reached 100, against 86 for that period last year.
I should like to suggest four changes in policy that would save lives and be extremely cost-effective. First, there is a need for seat belts on buses and coaches, and my hon. Friend the Minister referred to that in his imaginative and wide-ranging speech. The lives of young people are put at risk when they are on school outings. There have been some appalling accidents where, I am confident, children would have been saved had they been wearing seat belts. The matter requires the urgent attention of the House ; only a small measure would be needed, but it would have great effect. Secondly, there is a need for adequate insurance cover. We all know of constituents who have suffered terrible injuries from cars whose drivers have not been insured. We should require every car to display a valid insurance disc on either the windscreen or the bumper so that, at a glance, the police and other motorists can see it. The Road Traffic Act 1988 requires the user of a vehicle to be insured. It should be a simple procedure to require evidence of that insurance to be prominently displayed. All car owners
Column 613must show a valid insurance certificate each time that they renew a vehicle licence, but there is no deterrent to someone later that day going to his broker and reclaiming the funds. A simple display disc, which would have to be redeemed to recover funds, would be a simple and effective solution.
My third area of concern is tyre safety, and I declare an interest as I am a consultant to the tyre executive committee of British Rubber Manufacturers Association. I am glad that the tread size is moving from 1 mm to1.6 mm on 1 January 1992 at the latest. After all, my hon. Friend's official vehicle has its tyres changed before they reach that level, and we surely would not want a duality of standards. There should be two further developments. First, the tread depth should be measured across the whole tyre and not just across 75 per cent. of the width. It is a curious British anomaly. Will my hon. Friend re-examine European Community directive 89/459 and ensure the greatest road safety criteria? Will he also ensure that there is a concerted campaign to make the new law well known? My hon. Friend the Minister for Public transport said in an Adjournment debate on 26 May that the Government would give their support to that. I urge my hon. Friend to join with the newly created Tyre Industry Council and agree to fund half the costs of such a campaign. If the council contributed £500,000 and the Department matched that sum, there would be a very effective campaign and motorists would soon realise that there was a new law and that they must change their tyres.
Secondly, action must be taken on the sale of second-hand tyres. There is no law that states that second-hand tyres have to be safe. Second-hand goods are not covered by the general duty requirement of safety. A survey of tyres on sale to the public, recently carried out by trading standard officers in Yorkshire and Humberside, revealed a staggering 32 per cent. failure rate. Defects ranged from nails embedded in the tread to leaks from the valve base, side wall damage and severe weathering. Calls for strict controls to protect motorists and other road users have gone unheeded. I hope that that latest evidence will persuade the Government to impose tight controls that will give the road user the additional protection that is needed. Motorists should exercise extreme caution when considering the purchase of such tyres because the apparent financial saving is not worth it if safety is reduced. It may come as a surprise to the House to learn that when a trader in tyres is found guilty, or pleads guilty, to supplying faulty tyres, the court does not order the seizure and destruction of those tyres, but ensures that they are returned to the negligent trader. Where do those faulty tyres go? I urge my hon. Friend to hold discussions with the Lord Chancellor so that that horrifying loophole can be closed.
The fourth, and perhaps the most important, issue is the standard of garages. The public puts enormous faith in garages to ensure the safety and maintenance of cars and other vehicles. Last year, trading standards officers received 100,000 complaints, the majority--57, 000--relating to second-hand cars and 15,000 relating to service and repair. The public puts its confidence in garages that belong to the Motor Agents Association, a trade body with a membership of 13,600 garages that proudly display
Column 614the association's logo as a sign of respectability. Many hon. Members will have seen it on doors and on invoices and other documentation. That confidence is, sadly, unwarranted. Despite the number of garages pleading guilty, or being found guilty, of vehicle-related offences, only two members a year had their membership of the MMA cancelled in 1986, 1987 and 1988, yet the association has some 10,000 complaints annually. It is a whitewash. It is hardly surprising that only 26 to 28 per cent. of the public consider motor traders to be legal, honest and decent. The vast majority know that they are quite the contrary.
We must have much tougher penalties. I realise that I am in danger of not being the guest of honour at the association's next annual banquet, but we must expose the problems. We need tougher penalties to combat the unroadworthy vehicles that are sold, the clocking of speedometers and the moving of vehicles without the speedometer being engaged, inadequate servicing and the problem of garages unfit to offer credit but still attempting to do so. Last year, my county, the North Yorkshire county council, prosecuted 15 dealers for 34 offences. I praise the vigilance of its officers, but the penalties amounted to a derisory £12,900 and will not be an adequate disincentive. Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will discuss raising the penalties to deter such traders from dicing with death. I trust that he will ensure that the mileage can be recorded on the driver and vehicle licensing centre form when the annual licence is renewed. It is nonsense that the DVLC can hide behind red tape as a reason for not introducing this most useful safeguard. As many garage applications for consumer credit licences are refused or revoked by the Office of Fair Trading, it is incredible that that august body, the Motor Agents Association, does not expel such companies from membership. I hope that the Government will have urgent discussions to end this anomaly and restore public confidence in the credit facilities offered by garages.
These four measures--coach safety belts, an insurance disc, better tyre regulations and more responsible garage trading--will ensure improved road safety and greater confidence of the motoring public and those who use our roads.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I assure the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory) that I shall always want to purchase, and will have the confidence to purchase, a second-hand car from him. I should have liked him to make another point about garages and garage forecourts. The inaccuracy of the tyre pressure gauges on many garage forecourts is frustrating. If tyre pressures are important to the safety of vehicles, garages should do more to ensure that the gauges are accurate. The hon. Gentleman should perhaps say something about that to those friends and organisations that he represents so ably. I found the Minister's speech most constructive and well worth listening to. It was also unnerving because I always considered him to be one of the original Tory bootboys when he was first elected, along with the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth). It shows that office has a way of imposing certain disciplines on the most unruly of hon. Members, making them appear both
statesperson-like and highly responsible. It is worrying to
Column 615see the way that office destroys thuggery and individualism. I am glad that there is no way in which office will taint me.
On this issue, the Opposition entirely support the Government. It is unusual for them to come up with something so constructive as measures to cut road accident casualties by the year 2000. The Government have our support in that objective, but their other activities and policies, particularly those that affect London, militate against them achieving it. One is the Government's policy on public transport.
The greater emphasis that is given to public transport, the greater the level of road safety because public transport is far safer than private transport. The Government are far from encouraging greater use of public transport. Only yesterday it was announced that London Underground fares are to be increased by 10 per cent. That is more than the rate of inflation. Every time that fares go up more people stop using public transport and start using their private vehicle, if they have one. If not, they make alternative arrangements. Greater use of private vehicles leads to an increase in the number of road accidents.
The University of London undertook a study which showed a correlation between fare increases and the number of road accidents. When fares increase, the number of accidents increases. The Government should put greater emphasis on public transport in London and Britain's other cities as a positive way of reducing the number of road accidents.
We have a better record on road accidents than much of Europe. In the light of the Government's new road building schemes and of predicted traffic increases, it is clear that the rate at which the volume of traffic increases will exceed the decline in the number of road accidents. The Minister must address that problem. If more and more urban motorways are built, there will be a greater possibility of accidents occurring. The forecast increase in traffic levels of between 80 and 140 per cent. by the year 2015, in the absence of other changes, will lead to a doubling of the number of road accidents. The Government are in a dilemma because they are pursuing the worthwhile objective of reducing road accident casualties by a third by the year 2000, while pursuing wide-ranging policies that militate against that objective.
I said that our record on road accidents is good compared with the rest of Europe, but our safety record for pedestrians and cyclists puts Britain among the least safe countries in Europe. Research carried out by the Metropolitan police, among other organisations, has shown that 60 to 70 per cent. of accidents among motorists, pedestrians and cyclists are the fault of the motorist. The number of pedestrians involved in accidents and how such accidents can be avoided have been mentioned. It is difficult for a pedestrian to avoid an accident if he is run down on the pavement. Indeed, a third of all accidents involving pedestrians happen on the pavement. It is unreasonable to say that pedestrians should be more wary of cars on the pavements. One does not normally expect to meet a car coming the other way when going about one's lawful activities on the pavement.
Column 616I noticed recently that the borough engineer of Kingston was injured by a car driving on to the pavement in September, shortly after he had opened a new road safety exhibition. That was an extremely unfortunate thing to happen, both to a borough engineer and to someone who had just done something so worthwhile. Perhaps he was following the example of dear old Mr. Huskisson, who achieved notoriety in a way that none of us would wish to do. If the Government are serious--and I accept that they are--about improving road safety, they must introduce safety measures to prevent vehicles riding on to the pavement of urban roads. We ask for more positive proposals.
The Government make a virtue of continually announcing the construction of more roads on the basis of increased vehicle speeds and increased manufacture and use of vehicles. That, in my view, is entirely wrong : the Government should be discriminating against the construction of new roads, especially in the inner cities. Of course we need to do something--indeed, we must do something--about road maintenance, for London's road system is now in an appalling state. Local authorities, with Government support, must act as soon as possible, and the Government themselves must do something about the trunk roads.
Mr. Atkins : I do not wish to interrupt the flow of the hon. Gentleman's speech, or to delay the debate. I would, however, be interested to hear his comments on the fact that many of his hon. Friends--as well as mine--come to see me to press the case for constituents who want more bypasses. How does the hon. Gentleman relate that to his suggestion that we should not build more roads--that, indeed, we should discriminate against the motor car?
Mr. Banks : Such discrimination should, I think, take place in the cities. I support the idea of improved motorway systems, although I should like the Government to push more and more heavy freight on to the railways, rivers and canals rather than encouraging its movement by lorry.
I was suggesting that the Minister should not become involved in major schemes to finance inner-city roads, although ringways and bypasses are certainly important. We should do as we would be done by. If I lived in a small town or village with numerous cars and heavy lorries thundering through every day, I should certainly be in favour of a bypass. Speaking as a London Member, however, I am not in favour of more urban motorways ; I want to see fewer of them, along with more discrimination in favour of the pedestrian and of public transport.
I welcome what the Minister says about the financing of accident remedial measures through the transport supplementary grant. We were going to ask him to make a statement about that, but he anticipated our reasonable demands ; all credit to him for that. I hope that the Government will not take long to consider measures which we all agree are highly desirable so that local authorities can get on with their implementation.
I know that many hon. Members wish to speak, and I wish that a few more of my hon. Friends were among them. I cannot wait to hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who always speaks good sense.
Mr. Banks : Unfortunately, I shall not, no, but I shall read my hon. Friend's speech in Hansard with great interest on Monday. The matter of enforcement does not directly affect the Under-Secretary of State, but it certainly affects the Home Department. I am sure that there is much discussion between the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in that Department about the need to get London's police to do more to enforce traffic measures--to deal with, for instance, bus and cycle lanes and parking restrictions. The police will say that they have not the necessary resources, but, in this place, if we will the ends, we must also will the means. Opposition Members have said many times that, if the Government come up with proposals to increase the number of police and the resources available to them so that they can deal with traffic restrictions, bus priority measures and all the other enforcement measures that are necessary in London, they will certainly obtain our support. We can pass all the measures that we want to pass in the House, but unless we give the enforcement agencies the resources to back up those measures, we are wasting their time and ours. I am sure that neither the Minister nor I would want that to happen ; nor, I believe, would any other hon. Member who has taken part in this morning's useful debate.
Mr. John Maples (Lewisham, West) : I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said about the inner cities. The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) totally failed to draw a distinction between roads in the inner cities and roads in the country.
There is usually an unexpected bonus if one speaks in a Friday debate--the pleasure of seeing what my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel- Jones) is wearing. Often it is an infallible guide to what was worn by a well-dressed Tory MP at country house lunch parties in the 1930s. Unfortunately, however, we do not have that pleasure today.
Mr. Maples : I think that the hon. Gentleman is confusing my hon. Friend the Member for Watford with my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames). Both are infallible guides to their respective styles. I think that my description was right.
There have, however, been a couple of bonuses today. The first has been to hear my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) at the Dispatch Box outlining the Government's policy on road safety. We look forward to his making regular appearances on the "Today" programme and seeing whether he can beat his predecessor's record. We shall also look forward to seeing whether he can pull a longer face over Christmas than his predecessor.
The second bonus was to hear about the Liberal Democrats' policy, and I am sorry that their spokesman,
Column 618the hon. Member for Southport is no longer here because it seemed to me to be thoroughly confused. We are a nation of car owners, he said, which presumably means that he realises that people want to travel around the country in their cars, but he believes that we should not build any more roads for them. I do not know what they are supposed to do with their cars if we do not build more roads for them. He failed to draw a distinction between roads in the country and roads in the cities. He suggested that public transport could take all the strain. That may be true in the inner cities, but that is not true about the country. British Rail's capacity to take people where they want to go in the country is very limited.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West mentioned Mr. Huskisson. That made me think that he, with his deep prejudice against all forms of modern transport, might make a better Liberal Democrat spokesman on transport than their current spokesman. A point made by the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) and, if she had had time, I am sure that it would also have been made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock), so perhaps I can deliver it to my hon. Friend in quadrophonic sound, related to the representations that are being made about the South Circular study. I join the band of those who are opposed to more motorways, or anything approaching motorways, being driven through the middle of London.
The road accident statistics are awful. Many of the accidents occur in London. An interesting statistic is that 70 per cent. of all accidents occur on local urban roads, many of them in London and the south-east. The cost is estimated at £4 billion. We know who the vulnerable groups are. That problem affects those who represent urban constituencies rather more than others. The Government have made several good proposals about improving road safety and the accident record. I shall not dwell on them because they have already been addressed by many other speakers. In the inner cities, however, we should examine the whole question of congestion and rat running and whether, by reducing the amount of traffic on the roads we could reduce the amount of rat running and the number of accidents. The CBI estimates that the congestion on our roads costs £15 billion, two thirds of which is incurred in London and the south-east. There is an enormous suppressed demand for road usage. The argument that roads create traffic in London is true, although I deny that it is true about movements between urban centres outside London. We cannot expect to solve the problem of commuter traffic on London's roads by building more roads. People are prepared to accept a certain speed of about 11 to 12 mph. More roads in London would generate more traffic, which would bring the speed down again to that level.
To improve the traffic flow we should improve the lighting, increase parking restrictions and introduce local schemes. However, we need to consider creatively the problem of commuter traffic on London's roads.
External costs are caused by congestion, a problem that is not taken into account. Delays caused by one driver impose costs on other drivers. Pollution and environmental consequences affect other people. Congestion also causes accidents, the subject of our debate. If traffic is moving at 10 mph, an additional car in that traffic for one minute imposes a two- minute delay on all the other cars. There is a geometric progression. Some 67 per cent. of
Column 619London's traffic is accounted for by cars. They carry 15 per cent. of the commuters, whereas buses represent 1 per cent. of the traffic and carry about 30 per cent. of the commuters.
We need to move away from using cars towards using public transport, which in the short term has to be buses because the improvement programmes planned for the Underground inevitably will take some time. The fact that public transport is safer should not be ignored. Obviously, we are all desperately and deeply shocked by disasters such as the King's Cross fire and the Clapham Junction accident. However, we kill far more people one by one on the roads than we do in public transport accidents.
In the Department of Transport document "Transport for London" published earlier this year, the Government agreed that there was no case for major new roads in central London. Their aims were to divert through traffic and create good orbital roads to tackle congestion. It would be a good idea to find a way of increasing traffic flow, improving bus speeds and perhaps raising some money to pay for improved public transport.
One way of doing that is road pricing, which is mentioned in the Department of Transport's document. The document says that there are practical difficulties. I am not sure whether that is right. It also says that there are theoretical difficulties, which is certainly true. It does not rule it out, but says that further research is needed. I used to think that road pricing was a bad idea, but we shall have to ration commuter space on London roads somehow. Either people sit in queues moving at 11 or 12 mph with all the external costs that that imposes on other people, or we impose some way of pricing roads to make people choose whether they want to use them, bearing some, if not all, of the economic costs of doing so. I do not know whether my hon. Friend is aware of the pamphlet published by the Institute for Policy Research entitled "A Cleaner Faster London". I was interested that the hon. Member for Deptford did not mention it in her speech because it emanates from the new think tank that is supposed to be injecting a little perestroika into the Labour party under the chairmanship of Lady Blackstone. It contains some rather creative ideas. Perhaps the hon. Lady did not mention it because it proposes a market solution to a social problem. Perhaps perestroika has not gone quite that far. I recommend the pamphlet to my hon. Friend the Minister, although the hon. Lady does not seem to take it seriously enough to mention it in her speech.
Ms. Ruddock : I should like to say for the record that I attended the seminar on road pricing organised by that body before it reported. If the hon. Gentleman would care to read the Labour party policy document on transport, he would see that that was one of the ideas we were prepared to consider as we recognise that there has to be a solution to congestion.
Mr. Maples : I am interested that the hon. Lady should say that. I hear most of the Labour party's policy on transport from the lips of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who seems to be about as anti-car as possible in the circumstances. I certainly have not heard anything creative along the lines of the pamphlet which I recommend to my hon. Friends on the basis that, if other people produce good ideas, it is an excellent idea to steal them. There is nothing wrong with plagiarism in politics.
Mr. Atkins : If road pricing is to work, it has to hurt, so it has to be of such a nature and at such an expense that it dissuades people from coming into London or any other major city. In those circumstances, does my hon. Friend agree that there is a very real possibility--I issue the challenge to the Opposition as well--that those who are least well-off will suffer most?
Mr. Maples : One would have expected that point to be made in a pamphlet published by a Left-wing think tank, but the author of the study says that that is not so because anyone commuting in a car is reasonably well off and the costs that those people are imposing by creating congestion on the roads impacts poorer sections of the community such as pedestrians and those using buses. The study suggests that a charge of about £3 a day for bringing a car into central London would reduce traffic to such an extent that, instead of moving at an average speed of 11 mph, it would move at between 16 and 19 mph. The benefits would be enormous not only for those who decided to pay money and use the road ; it would reduce the amount of traffic and the rat running which is a problem in so many urban constituencies, and it would enable buses to move faster and reduce the number of accidents.
Mr. Corbyn : I am not persuaded of the virtues of road pricing because it discriminates against poorer people. Commuter motoring in and out of most major cities is heavily subsidised by the Exchequer through company cars or expense account travelling, which is not very different. Commuter traffic moving in and out of London is heavily subsidised by the Exchequer through company cars and expense account travelling. Another way to tackle the problem would be to stop people who work in the City being given a free car to drive to work from Muswell Hill.
Mr. Maples : I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but one cannot deal with everything in a short speech. The Government have the right approach, as they are moving towards full taxation of company cars and benefits. Because of the enormous sums of money involved, the problem cannot be solved immediately, but we are slowly getting there.
In a pamphlet, Patricia Hewitt, who I believe has some connection with the Leader of the Opposition, says :
"Road pricing is the most efficient, environmentally beneficial and fairest form of traffic restraint available."
I do not normally find myself in agreement with her, but that seems to be fairly good authority for the proposition that it is not unfair. The system has been used in a cruder form in Singapore, where there is a flat charge to get into the city centre. A trial of electronic pricing, by which one pays a variable amount of money, depending on whether one is using a busy road or a less busy one, was tried out in Hong Kong and will be introduced there. Holland will introduce a system in 1990 which uses a smart card, like the phonecard, and logs an element off it. That has a lot to be said for it.
People who choose to pay will travel quicker and buses will therefore go faster. The study also suggests that benefits of approximately £190 million would accrue. If that money was spent to improve public transport in London, initially largely on improvements to the bus service, as that is the form of transport that benefits most from traffic moving more quickly, the total value of the