Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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Mr. Kidney: I speak in support of my amendment No. 53, which is grouped with my hon. Friend's amendments. I support his amendments, too, and his purpose, which is to find the right way within the scope of the Bill to reassure the House and the public at large that the proposals are a road safety measure, not a revenue-raising device. I declare a non-pecuniary interest: I co-chair PACTS, the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety, an all-party parliamentary group and a registered charity, whose purpose is to seek research-based solutions to obstacles to transport safety.

The purpose of amendment No. 53 is to tack on to the end of clause 37 a requirement for the Lord Chancellor to make a report to Parliament. I will deal in a moment with why it should be the Lord Chancellor, when we have had two Ministers from two other Departments here throughout our deliberations.

This is the Vehicles (Crime) Bill, and the crimes that are addressed in clause 37 are speeding and also, although nobody has mentioned it, passing a red traffic light. It should be clear to people that no one will have to pay a fine because of any provision in clause 37, if they do not break the speed limit or disobey a red traffic light.

My final introductory point is that, as the hon. Member for Vale of York pointed out, police authorities do not always have as much money as they would like for local priorities. They would like more, and clause 37 is an attempt to wrest money from the Exchequer and give to police authorities to spend on local priorities. At present, all fines paid by all the lawbreakers covered by clause 37 go to the Exchequer. The Lord Chancellor has no discretion and no choice but to hand over the cash. The purpose of the clause is to allow him to give back some of the money to police and highway authorities to spend on local priorities.

To emphasise that it is a road safety issue, PACTS will be happy to give to anyone who would like them, details of research that someone called Hooke completed for the Home Office in 1996 about the early effects of the use of speed cameras in reducing speeds, and therefore casualties, on the roads. The report stated that over the period when the research was conducted there was a 28 per cent. reduction in deaths and serious injuries in road collisions as a result of speed cameras reducing the speeds of vehicles passing through the areas concerned.

On Second Reading, I spoke of my experience in Staffordshire, where speed cameras have been used for three years, as a result of which there has been a 30 per cent reduction in deaths and serious injuries on the road. On some roads there have been spectacular reductions of up to 60 and 70 per cent. Bearing in mind that nationally, some 3,400 people die every year at present in road crashes, the possibility of shaving off more than 1,000 of those deaths every year is alluring. It would be a good day's work if what we did today brought about that result.

In Staffordshire, the local authority and the police have faced the allegation that they are only trying to raise more money, rather than trying to reduce casualties from road accidents. It has published openly the criteria according to which it decides where to locate speed cameras, so that the public see why cameras are put in one place rather than another. The criteria deal only with how to reduce casualties. In a recent assessment of that policy, and its success in being acceptable to the public, the local authority and the police found that the public accepted it in general, but had some quibbles about it not always being clear that they were breaking a speed limit, because road signs were not as clear as they should be, or it was not plain that there was a speed camera ahead, because it was hidden at the side of the road, where foliage had grown out and partly hidden it, or the markings on the road that the camera used to determine speed might have faded. Even now the authority is amending the criteria to make it clear that they want the cameras to be visible and the speed limit to be clearly shown. They want it to be obvious that there is a place where a speed camera will catch people who exceed the speed limit. It is adjusting the criteria to meet the genuine concerns of the public. That is commendable.

The Lord Chancellor is the means for passing over the money and should therefore be the person who is responsible for telling Parliament what happens to it. My amendment proposes that the Lord Chancellor should lay a report before Parliament, consulting with the Secretary of State, who is responsible for the whole scheme, stating what happens to the money in terms of what safety cameras—that is, speed cameras and cameras at red traffic lights—have been bought, the results of putting them by the side of the road and the effect on casualties. In that way, the House and the public at large would be reassured that the money had been used for the right purpose and had had an impact on casualties. That would have been a good way of reassuring the public. I imagine the Lord Chancellor saying, ``It's a touch unfair, Kidney, for you to do this, because all I'm doing is passing over the money to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, who is responsible for road safety, and the Home Secretary, who is responsible for policing. Why lumber me with this responsibility?'' My answer is that the clause states that it is the Lord Chancellor's responsibility to dole out the money. Therefore, it is the Lord Chancellor's responsibility to tell us what he has done with it.

I would be happy to consider a better way if my hon. Friend the Minister is able to suggest one. I know that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has already issued guidance to local authorities and the police about the location of speed cameras. I commend the practice in Staffordshire and suggest that national guidance should follow that example. I hope that my amendment finds favour with the Minister.


The Chairman: Before we continue, may I remind colleagues that we must complete our consideration of this group of amendments by 4 o'clock. I am anxious to allow time for the clause stand part debate. I should be grateful if remarks could be brief.

Mr. Bob Russell: That is precisely the point that I wish to make, Mr. Sayeed. I want to speak on clause stand part when we have finished with the amendments.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I shall try to be brief in the light of the comments made by the hon. Member for Colchester. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston raised the subject of the famous stealth tax. This is not a tax but a penalty for an offence. Drivers who keep to the speed limit will not be affected. Only those who break the law will be fined. It is important to distinguish between this and the general arguments about charges and taxes. This is a penalty for a criminal offence.

Amendment No. 53 seeks to provide regular information. I fully support the intention behind the amendment—it is well made—and I have corresponded with my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford about the points concerned. He referred in his speech to the guidance that the DETR is producing on the appropriate siting of safety cameras and the fact that it will be updated as part of the implementation of the national roll-out. A comprehensive handbook is being produced for the police, local authorities and others who wish to form partnerships as part of the national roll-out.

Cameras have already been shown to have significant road safety benefits—I will not go through those arguments again—but an important part of the pilot scheme is to monitor their performance. When the results of the monitoring become available, they will be made available to the House. The final report on how the pilots have fared will be produced after March 2002, when they are due to end, and they will then be made publicly available. Even if national roll-out starts later this year, it is unlikely to be completed within 12 to 18 months. A report required by Parliament in 2003 will not give us a great deal of information.

We believe that there are enough systems in place to demonstrate the effectiveness of the scheme, and I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford to consider withdrawing his amendment, because it would be burdensome to extend the scope of the clause in the way that he suggests. I can give him some undertakings. First, we will publish a report on the results of the pilots when we have them. Secondly, when national roll-out is substantially complete and has been working for a while, we will publish a further report to Parliament. Thirdly, I will discuss with my colleagues in the DETR and the Lord Chancellor's Department what form of regular reporting regime, whether through Select Committees or whatever other means, might be a good way of getting to the facts on the matter.

I cannot go all the way that my hon. Friend suggests in his amendment, but I can go some of the way. I hope that he will take that into account when he considers how to proceed with his amendment.

On amendments Nos. 77 to 79, moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, we strongly support the intention behind the amendments, because it is vital that speed cameras are placed where they are likely to have the most benefit in terms of reducing collisions and the severity of collisions. Roads circular 1/92 states:

    In developing strategies for deployment and in identifying individual sites, authorities will need to bear in mind that the ultimate objective is to maximise the road safety benefits which can be achieved in any given area.

I will reinforce that point later. As I said, we intend to update the guidance, based on experience of camera operation, but it would be a mistake to be too prescriptive in legislation. There is a great deal of experience in local authorities and police forces of how best to deploy cameras, and it is important that a local judgment is made about where those cameras might be of most benefit to road safety. Local authorities and the police have at their fingertips all the data on casualties, which allows targeting of collision hot spots of the type described. That is why we should provide guidance and support, but not be overly prescriptive.

One example from one of the pilot areas—Northamptonshire—is of a head teacher requesting the police to enforce the speed limit outside the school by deploying a mobile camera unit for an hour when pupils are entering or leaving the premises. That is a perfectly legitimate use of cameras to relieve road safety anxiety and prevent accidents and casualties among a group of road users who are especially at risk.

On that basis, I hope that my hon. Friends will not press their amendments. I want to state categorically that, in all respects, the motivation behind the proposed legislation is road safety and the benefits that that brings to society.

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