Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 444-459)



  Chairman: Perhaps we could have Members' interests please.

    Mr Betts: Member of the TGWU.

    Chairman: Member of the Rail Maritime Transport Trade Union.

    Mr Donohoe: Member of the TGWU.

    Mrs Ellman: Member of the TGWU.

    Chris Grayling: Occasional work with Toyota in my constituency, which is not on the Register yet, but it will be some time next week.


  444. Good morning, Minister. Thank you for joining us. Would you be kind enough to identify yourself?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Good morning, Madam Chairman. My name is Bob Ainsworth. I am the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Home Office. With me is Geoffrey Biddulph from the Home Office who deals with these issues and liaises with the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

  445. Could I ask you, did you want to make some opening remarks?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Just very briefly, if I may, Madam Chairman. You will know that I have just assumed responsibility for this area of policy in the Home Office. Obviously the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions are the legal authority on this, but with our responsibility for policing, we do work closely with them in this area of policy. I will be obviously looking to Geoffrey Biddulph to be able to help me with some background issues and detailed issues in trying to respond to the questions that the Committee ask. I would just like to say one thing and that is just to repeat the comment made by the Minister of Transport at the start of his comments, that we do have, by international comparisons, a very good record on road safety. That is not to say that there is not much more that we can do and we ought to be doing and that it is not a very important area.

  446. You know, Minister, if I wanted to murder somebody in this country, I would do it with a motor vehicle because we actually kill four times as many people in road traffic accidents as we do in homicides. We also have one of the worst child pedestrian casualty rates in Europe. Do you think this means that the Home Office and the police should take road traffic policing more seriously or that they are not aware of the implications of our existing legislation?
  (Mr Ainsworth) I always thought you had weapons which were more severe than a motor vehicle, Madam Chairman! I accept the point you make and I heard you make the same point to the Minister of State for Transport. It is not true that the police do not take these issues seriously; they most certainly do, and making a contribution to road safety is one of the overarching objectives of the police force. You have taken evidence from Chief Constable Brunstrom on behalf of ACPO already to the Committee and he has given you details of how they have tried to up their game in this regard in the last couple of years with a degree of success in his opinion.

  447. The thing which interests me is that in a previous Parliament, responsibility for road traffic safety was the responsibility of a Minister of State. Now, you will understand, Minister, that I mean no personal cruelty if I say that you are not of the same level in the ministerial pecking order. Now, does that mean that this signal is an indication of the importance of road safety within the work of the Home Office?
  (Mr Ainsworth) I hope that it does not. We operate as a team within the Home Office, but you will be aware, as other Committee Members will be aware, of some of the pressures that we have been under during this session. We already had a very heavy legislative programme and there were a lot of issues on our agenda from asylum to police reform. Then we had September 11 and other issues that arise from that. You must allow us to try to manage the workload within the Home Office as best we can and not interpret the fact that an area of policy like this has been given to me, as Parliamentary Under-Secretary, as in any way downgrading or a change in the priority that is given to it. If anything, it is quite the reverse in that we are trying to make absolutely sure that we are taking up all of the time of all of the Ministers and making sure that they are taking these areas of policy forward.

  448. The difficulty is that the Association of Chief Police Officers asked for a clear statement in the National Policing Plan that road policing is core police work. Now, are you going to provide that?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Well, I listened and I have to say I was surprised by some of the comments which were made by Chief Constable Brunstrom. It is, as I have said, an overarching objective of the Police Service and we have no intentions of trying to detract from that in any way.

  449. No, although the White Paper on police reform did not mention it.
  (Mr Ainsworth) And it did not mention burglary and it did not mention domestic violence either. It is not about burglary, it is not about domestic violence and it is not about traffic; it is about police reform.

  450. It is about how the Home Office chooses to define "core responsibilities".
  (Mr Ainsworth) I do not think we should go down the road of requiring us to mention every single activity and every single interest that we have in every single document that we produce. As I have said, I found those comments quite surprising, to tell you the truth. Other areas of major concern, I would have thought, to everybody in Parliament and in this Committee are not mentioned in the police reform document either.

  451. What about this proposed Standards Unit? What is that going to say about road traffic policing?
  (Mr Ainsworth) The Standards Unit that is looking at police reform?

  452. Yes.
  (Mr Ainsworth) Well, it is obviously going to look at the efficiency of the Police Service and try to assist us in making sure that standards are applicable across the piece and that best value and best performance that is given by some of our basic command units are copied in others. Now, that will apply to every single area of police work from burglary through to traffic.

  453. So what kind of indicators are you going to use for best value in relation to roads?
  (Mr Ainsworth) We are at the moment, in response to an ACPO request, reviewing the number of best value indicators that we have. They asked us to consider—

  454. Believe me, I am sorry to interrupt, I think this is admirable, but we are not talking about the number. I am saying to you what are going to be the best value indicators, not how many are there?
  (Mr Ainsworth) I cannot tell the Committee at this point in time what they are going to be because we are at the moment consulting and considering that issue and we hope, before the end of this month, to start to come to some conclusions on that issue.

Chris Grayling

  455. Can I take you, Minister, to the issue of speed cameras and, first of all, the technology. Clearly the technology that speed cameras can use is accelerating at an extremely fast rate. There have been issues around whether the police should be allowed information going straight to the police station and processed automatically by computer. That is an important mechanism. Mr Brunstrom argued that we should have face-recognition cameras. Can you set out for us what specifically the Home Office's policy is on the use of technology for speed cameras and speed enforcement?
  (Mr Biddulph) We think speed cameras are a valuable tool and all the speed cameras which we use are subject to a type-approval process, part of which includes both scientific tests and operational tests to ensure that they do meet what they are required to meet. Obviously our scientific advisers are continually in contact with the manufacturers to look at their proposals for improvements to those cameras and what they are able to achieve.

  456. Does that mean, therefore, that any reluctance on the part of the Home Office to allow the introduction of new technologies of the kind Mr Brunstrom referred to is based on a technological assessment rather than any kind of policy assessment?
  (Mr Biddulph) We would have no policy objection to the use of appropriate technology. We would wish to ensure that the technology was sound and that it did not give rise to any other issues, such as quality of the evidence and the acceptability of the evidence for use in prosecution, but not in policy terms. We would hope to see development in technology to enforce the law more effectively.

  457. Nottingham City Council wanted to use digital cameras which enabled the information to be processed in police stations, but that was rejected by the Home Office. Was that rejection based on technological grounds then?
  (Mr Ainsworth) The only thing that we are interested in and that we require is type approval and unless we have got that type approval, then they are not useful for an evidential purpose in any case. There is an issue of the purchase of equipment and the standardisation of equipment within all areas of policing and this is one of the issues which is being looked at under the flag of police reform.
  (Mr Biddulph) Could I just add that that particular issue was also being looked at in the context of the evidential chain because there were doubts about the validity of the evidential chain if we could not have the information recorded directly and there was remote recording. We think we have now resolved that issue and that was an issue more for the CPS in terms of what they needed rather than for the Home Office or on the technological side.

  458. So based on the technological knowledge that has been provided to you and other work on the evidential chain, can you give us a sense of what we can expect over the next maybe two to three years to see in terms of the arrival of new technologies within the enforcement area that will enable forces and local authorities to change the way they operate their camera systems at the moment?
  (Mr Biddulph) One of the things which is being looked at particularly at the moment is the increased use of ANPR cameras, that is, automatic number plate recognition cameras, for all sorts of purposes, not just for the speeding aspect, but for detecting cars or other vehicles which are of interest for any reason and ensuring that those are checked immediately against a database so that the police can investigate them, if necessary.


  459. We are into some very interesting human rights questions here, are we not, Mr Biddulph? "For those purposes in which the police might find an interest" is a fairly wide definition. They are very generally interested in the population, I find, the police.
  (Mr Ainsworth) The technology potentially gives us the ability to track vehicles in real time that are being looked for by the police and they are already in police records, on police computers, so there are uses in the areas of criminality and I think appropriate uses in the areas of criminality and of course there have got to be crossovers to make sure that they comply with data protection and so on.

  Chairman: I do not want to get on to this too much, but, Mr Wiggin, briefly.

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