Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 460 - 479)



Mr Olner

  460.  You cannot afford films for them now, can you?
  (Mr Brunstrom)  The number of cameras and the usage of cameras has grown substantially very satisfactorily. The problem is not in the front end of this, of actually detecting the offences, we are getting better and better at doing this, there is not a technological problem here; the problem comes in the back office work, processing it and actually getting the result. The front end side of this costs us pennies. Putting the film in the camera is an inconsequential cost. The cost is in processing the results, finding out who the offender was and pursuing it to conviction or fixed penalty. Our cost is in the order of £20 when a fully automated system is in use. There are still areas where fully automated systems are not in use and in that case the cost is greater. We feel that should be added to the costs of the fixed penalty, which is currently £40, making a total penalty to the offender of £60. That is still approximately half the penalty that is applied to an offender with costs in a Magistrates' Court, so there is still a very attractive financial proposition to the offender which is what the legislation intended, but we are not allowed to recover our costs——

Chairman:  I think we have got that point.

Mr Donohoe

  461.  Do you think that there is a case for all of the issuing of tickets to be done by a separate force and for there to be an actual specialist police force involved in all of this?
  (Mr Manning)  I think what you are showing there is an interesting problem we have between the decriminalised and the criminalised systems. Certainly where it is a criminal offence then it is probably appropriate that the police force are the responsible body. Whether it needs to be a criminal offence is the point at issue and I would not be standing saying that it should be a criminal offence. Obviously if it is appropriate for it to be decriminalised then that would be an appropriate route because that does move us into another issue which is the reason why with decriminalised offences they are making a full cost recovery and that is the issue which is denied the police service. If we could have that full cost recovery then we would also be able to carry out this task to the appropriate level. With regard to the decriminalisation issue, I think there is a very real factor here and it is the requirement or not for the police or somebody to intervene in moving traffic. If there is a requirement for someone to stand in the road and say Stop, I passionately believe that should be vested in a sworn police constable. In those cases that should remain a criminal offence, the police being properly accountable and the actions of a constable being held to account also. But where enforcement can be properly undertaken by the decriminalised automatic system then I think that is a matter which could quite properly be decriminalised and be operated through some other agency.

  462.  Do you not think that there is a fairly strong case for there being set up a specialist police force to deal with this across the whole of the UK?
  (Mr Manning)  From an ACPO perspective, talking across the country, no, I do not. I think what one has to recognise is the mix of resources that a Chief Constable has to his/her command requires a range of responses. What we actually draw heavily on is some very specialist police experience which actually comes to bear on the road network and vice versa. The road network is not just populated by people who break "traffic" laws, it is populated by the whole community which are involved in a whole range of criminality. So to try and separate out and actually have a specific roads police unit I think would be counter-productive. There will need to be a whole range of interactions. That said, police forces need to work in a coordinated way and that certainly is the case in the West Midlands where we have co-ordinated working between the forces in the West Midlands which actually does allow for the passage of information, the intelligence, across the strategic network to ensure a co-ordinated approach.

Mr Donohoe:  We do have an actual traffic police force that operates for railways. Surely there could be one for the roads.


  463.  I think Mr Manning has answered the point.
  (Mr Manning)  I would like to take issue with whether it should be there at all!

Chairman:  We are not going to get into the usual arguments between the transport police and the police.

Mr Stevenson

  464.  Instead of talking about the police having the ability to recoup their costs through an administration charge, would it not be far better, as we have heard from previous witnesses, to go down the path, where appropriate, of decriminalisation and transferring the responsibilities to local authorities instead of having this further bureaucratic layer of recouping administration costs imposed on the system?
  (Mr Stevens)  In terms of the London approach I think that is absolutely right. I think that the formation of the GLA and the Mayor will be an immense step forward. If I may just touch very briefly on what you are saying about a separate traffic police. No, I do not think that is the answer. I think what is needed is for the traffic wardens as they stand at the moment to be given more power to deal with standing offences. As Mr Manning says, there is a crossover between traffic offences and criminal offence and we want to be very careful not to separate them and to blur those issues.


  465.  You are not suggesting the warden can deal with criminal offences, are you?
  (Mr Stevens)   No, he is restricted in what he does. It is very much the view of the Metropolitan Police and ACPO that the traffic warden should be given far more power to deal with some of the offences he/she deals with.

Mr Stevenson

  466.  Deputy Commissioner, it is not just a matter of recouping the costs and whatever, the Home Secretary is saying very clearly to you you should concentrate on the serious issues. You have seen all the reports. Whilst I personally would agree entirely with the proposition that you have to be extremely careful where you draw the line between decriminalised and criminalised, for the life of me I would like to be convinced that you need a special police force or anything like that for these sort of things. If it can apply in GLA then why cannot it apply in other large cities or urban conurbations?
  (Mr Manning)  There is often a confusion between the need for regulation with regard to traffic management, much of what you were hearing about from the previous speakers, and the enforcement of the criminal law. Certainly where traffic management issues can be properly enforced through automatic systems then I have got no problem with that being decriminalised and handed over. Where there is a need for the enforcement of the criminal law through the fixed penalty system and that involvement in the moving of traffic, I would still want on the back of that particular fixed penalty the administrative charge for the road safety reasons, to ensure that we do carry out those tasks and do undertake that intervention and ensure that the law is complied with.

  467.  That depends on where the line is between criminal and de-criminal activities. You have said, Mr Manning, that you are "passionately" opposed to the power to stop being taken out of the police's hands. In the Metropolitan Police's submission is an example of co-operation between the police and the other agencies, i.e. Operation Mermaid. Most of us have seen the check points on the main road. Why in heaven's name does it take a police officer standing in the road with his hand up like that to stop a vehicle? Why cannot that be transferred to a properly authorised civilian local authority person? Why does it have to be a police officer? You say there is much concern or alarm amongst the public. Have you got evidence to justify that?
  (Mr Manning)  It does not have to be a constable, it could be someone who is working under police management and I think that is the issue.

  468.  So it could be a duly appointed civilian person?
  (Mr Manning)  Working under police management. The example we give is the traffic warden service, not the parking attendants that you heard of with regard to decriminalised parking, who work on the red routes currently. We have badged and re-identified them recently as being a very integral part of the Metropolitan Police. I believe if they were given the power to stop—they are part of our infrastructure, they are part of our management, they work under our control and direction, they are part of our communication systems—that could be properly managed and lead to a conclusion.

  469.  Are you suggesting that the ability of a properly designated civilian person not under the management of the police to stop heavy goods vehicles and check them would be an infringement of civil liberties?
  (Mr Manning)  No, I am not saying that. I think there would be very distinct real criminal risks with that. I think the opportunities for that person to intervene when perhaps the driver is not aware whether it is a police officer, whether it is a civilian, whether it is someone acting in a bogus capacity, raises issues. Operation Mermaid is a very good example of the sorts of things you find when you are put into operation. Mermaid has recovered guided missiles which were illegally being carried and that is the sort of thing where you may think you are going to be checking for an environmental reason and you find yourself running not just at criminality but into terrorism. I think there is a very real need to retain this particular power under police management, but I take the point that we should be making best use of our resources and it does not necessarily need to be vested in a highly paid very well-trained constable. We think the traffic warden service is an ideal vehicle for being able to discharge that responsibility within police management.

Mr Brake

  470.  Mr Stevens, the checks that are carried out by Westminster Council on pollution, are those done under police management?
  (Mr Stevens)  No, they are not, sir, they do them separately. Can I just reinforce what Mr Manning said? There are a large number of vehicles that do not stop when asked by the police and then you are into a tremendously difficult situation of how that vehicle is stopped, when and where and the only people who can do it, and sometimes we have difficulty in doing it, is the police force.
  (Mr Brunstrom)  Can I come back to Mr Stevenson's point about seriousness of the offences and decriminalisation? There is very clearly scope for significant decriminalisation of some traffic related offences which are currently subject to the criminal law, that is self-evident. However, I believe we must make a significant distinction between those offences where road safety is imperiled and those which deal only with road management. There are about 3,000 people a year killed on the roads in this country, four times as many as are subject to homicide. When you are committing offences that imperil road safety your driving licence is at stake and quite properly so. It is a significant sanction. When one's driving licence is at stake, one's right to use the roads, that should properly be the province of the public police service. It is a road safety issue and it is one we should be paying a significant amount of attention to and we can and will do better. Lives are at stake here. They are not at stake when one is looking at parking offences on double yellow lines.

Dr Whitehead

  471.  Guided missiles can be very bad for the environment as well on occasions. What does ACPO think about the debate that is presently being raised about lowering speed limits throughout the UK, possibly a 55 mph upper speed limit and 20 mph in residential areas? The purpose of that, among other things, would be to radically reduce CO2 emissions. Do you think that is a feasible proposition in terms of your experience in policing these methods?
  (Mr Manning)  Certainly enforcement is a very real issue when considering the application of a speed limit. We do have concerns at the lower end of the scale where inappropriate speed limits should be set but where they are not going to be regularly accepted and attitudinally recognised by the people who are subject to them as being appropriate and therefore they would wish to breach them and probably would breach them. If the only way of enforcing that was by the presence of the police then that would not be high on our list of priorities and one would have difficulty in doing it. So the passing of responsibility over to local boroughs to make decisions about speed limits we do have concerns about if they are not accompanied by road calming measures which actually make them self-enforcing. So that is quite appropriate and quite proper. Where they are not self-enforcing but rely on police enforcement there are some real concerns. I think the same applies also with the upper end of the limit. If we bring the limit down to a level which is not universally recognised by the motorist as being appropriate then unless we have a great attitudinal campaign to be able to convince them that it is safe——and let us be honest, from a road safety point of view speed does kill, speed is one of the biggest killers of all people involved in road collisions and we get significant reductions in casualties by reducing the speed limit by ten mph, it does bring about substantial savings in life. There has to be a realisation of what is acceptable to the motoring public in the sense of it not being seen to be explicitly dangerous. So to come down from 70 on dual carriageway motorways to something in the region of 55 would place a very real burden on the police service with regard to enforcement of what probably is not going to be accepted by the greater majority of the motoring public as a reasonable upper limit.

  472.  What I think you are saying is that in terms of enforceability and the ability of the police to make a system work, a reduction in urban speed limits where certainly there does appear to be some residential opposition to rat running motorists and so on in your view would be more possible to support in terms of enforcement and would be more acceptable to the public?
  (Mr Manning)  And where one looks at lots of cluster sites with regard to injuries one can see the danger of those types of runs, but can I just stress that there does need to be engineering and road planning.


  473.  Emergency services are now able to isolate specific accident sites using their software where they pick up considerable numbers of casualties. Is that evidence fed through to you? Do you use it?
  (Mr Manning)  Perhaps that is for Mr Brunstrom as Cleveland is perhaps at the leading edge.

  474.  Mr Manning, you are a born politician, carefully diverting questions left and right.
  (Mr Brunstrom)  The answer to your question is a simple yes. The police service needs to be targeting its resources across the whole range of our endeavours and reducing road casualties is no different to anything else. We are very very good now at getting into mapping, targeting, working in partnership with other agencies and it goes far beyond the ambulance service, we look at all the other partner agencies in this. It is not quite as easy as it sounds to identify accident locations and only about 15 per cent of casualties are caused at identifiable geographic locations because, as Mr Manning says, the vast majority are caused by other reasons, largely speed and inattention. We can identify the 15 per cent or so and we can target our resources to deliver effective engineering and enforcement action, engineering coming largely from local authorities. We are getting very good at that. Again the technology does exist and we are using it very well and there is clear scope for significant improvements in the future.

Christine Butler

  475.  Which kinds of roads attract the most personal injuries?
  (Mr Manning)  The lower speed limit higher congestion types of roads.

  476.  So we are not talking about motorway driving and dual carriageway driving, there is a good argument for reducing the speed limit on urban roads and yet the police are often very loath, especially when they are advising local authority committees, to take any such measures. I am putting forward the point that with increasing advances in technology and the possibility of using that outside the police remit there is a good chance of reducing injuries and death in the urban areas. So why are you not more supportive of the fact that we can now use enhanced technology?
  (Mr Manning)  We do support the increased use of technology, you are quite right. Vehicle control systems and mobilisation and those sorts of things which are technically possible now to control vehicle speed in some locations are something we would support. The road safety aim of saving lives and reducing vehicle speed are interlinked. What the public have to accept is that it is about attitude. It is about convincing the public that what you are doing is right. If you do not there will be gross disregard for the law.

  477.  But technology can sort that out.
  (Mr Manning)  Technology can help, but until technology is there it falls on the police to sort it out.


  478.  I want to ask you something simpler. How serious is the omission in the White Paper proposals regarding traffic management, because the police seem to be very interested in safety but not so much interested in traffic management?
  (Mr Manning)  It is our primary role. The overarching aims and objectives for the police service only identify one aspect of road policing which is the contribution to the reduction of casualties and so clearly this is a responsibility for other people. We are not funded, therefore, to play that full role, but, as Richard has said, we do work very much in partnership with all the agencies and we would want to continue with that. We have some valuable information to impart to them.

Mr Bennett

  479.  You have been talking a great deal about the success of technology in identifying vehicles that are breaking the law, but there is almost an underclass of ten or 15 per cent where because it is difficult to trace the ownership of the vehicle they get away with it. What are you doing about that?
  (Mr Brunstrom)  We get about 80 per cent of offenders simply just by writing to them and asking for them to pay the fine. We collect about another 11 per cent through police inquiries and we are left with about nine per cent who are difficult to track down. The question is how many resources we want to put in to catching the other 9 per cent. A 91 capture rate one could argue is a very successful solution, it is a very good outcome and it compares very well with other aspects of police work. However, the nine per cent hides recidivist serial offenders, some of the most dangerous people, the people who are hiding from the law. We do have a problem. The DVLA do not see sorting their system out to enable us to identify the drivers, which requires a small change in the law under section 172 of the Road Traffic Act, as a priority to them. It effectively costs them a lot of money to make a small fix to a problem which they do not own, i.e. tracing the nine per cent. This is the difficulty about who actually is the keeper of a motor vehicle. There is a European Directive pending which will provide a European definition of this. I speak as a committed European on this.

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