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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460-479)



Mr Wiggin

  460. There are over one million unlicensed and uninsured cars in London alone, so how is that going to help at all?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Well, it will be able to help because it will be able to identify those vehicles that do not have tax.

  Mr Wiggin: Well, we know who they are already. We know because we know that they have not paid for their licence, for their road tax.

Chris Grayling

  461. Can I just lastly ask you, I think you probably heard during the previous piece of evidence the discussion about forces and the implementation of cameras on sites where there have been accidents. The Minister from the DTLR said that it would be his hope and expectation that forces would actually put cameras in places where there was a potential risk as a result of changed road usage. What guidance do you give to police forces about this issue because I know many of them are shielding themselves behind the "there have been a number of incidents here already" defence to prevent the implementation of cameras in places that could be needed in the future?
  (Mr Ainsworth) The reason for pushing forward the netting-off scheme was precisely to do that, to enable a funding scheme which would pay for the revenues which are necessary in order to run cameras in such areas. Now, that was agreed last August. All the guidelines have been agreed by all of the partners that are necessary, local government, the police, the Home Office and DTLR, and we want to see that happen. We want to see those cameras used in the most effective ways. We want to see them used where there is evidence that there are accident hot-spots and where there is evidence that speed is a contributory factor to that. We want to see the best use from the resources that we have because they are finite, and we want to see them reproduced and not turn motorists off and motorists get the impression that speed cameras are some kind of monetary gain, but that they build up the support of motorists and motorist organisations for the fact that speed cameras are being used to reduce accidents and save lives.

Mrs Ellman

  462. Nearly a year has passed since the consultation on plans for increased penalties for road offences and speeding was produced. Why has a year gone before anything has happened?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Well, the consultation was published last December and we gave until last March for responses. The Committee may not be aware, but we had over 1,000 responses to that, quite incredibly and at some surprise to ourselves. They are not straightforward responses. Some of them are quite detailed responses which not only answer the questions that we asked, but make serious proposals in themselves, so it has not been possible to conduct that evaluation yet. We are trying to do that and we will do that as fast as we can in order that we can publish our proposals and move forward in the area.

  463. When are you going to come to a conclusion?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Within the next couple of months.

  464. Has Downing Street told you to lay off the motorists?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Nobody has told me to lay off the motorists at all.

  465. Or anyone else in the Department?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Let's be very clear about this if there is a suspicion from the Committee. There is no ministerial activity that has caused any delay with regard to the response to the consultation document. It has been sheer volume with regard to the responses that we have had. Let me equally say and be honest with the Committee that we have not been, as Ministers, putting the whip behind officials, saying, "Where is it? Where is it? Can we have it now?" We have had an awful lot on our plate. It is something now though that we do need to bring to a conclusion. There is no political pressure from anyone that I am aware of to say that we should not do so.

  466. Is it true that the Home Secretary wants an 80 mph speed limit on motorways?
  (Mr Ainsworth) I think the Committee would be very surprised if Ministers, if any Ministers came into a situation and simply accepted the handed-down version of what was right and proper without first of all questioning it.


  467. Also we would be very surprised if you took major policy decisions without basing them on information that had been researched by the relevant department.
  (Mr Ainsworth) Do we have any evidence that anybody has suggested that we should do?

  468. Well, we are asking. We are asking, Minister, and it is a very valid question.
  (Mr Ainsworth) I think the Committee will be aware, there is no desire from Ministers in the Home Office or any other department, and there is no difference, I do not think, between the departments, to see an introduction of the level of speed that people are travelling at on the motorways, but the Committee will know that there are issues surrounding enforcement, that the most effective way of enforcing the speed limit is with regard to the use of cameras and the police have accepted that. Motorways are the safest roads and if we are actually going to use cameras where they are going to save lives, the motorways are going to be a long way down that route, so it is right and proper, where we have laws which are not being complied with by substantial numbers of the public, that we look carefully at whether or not we can get better compliance. As I say, I do not think there is any desire from anybody at all to see an increase in the speed at which motorists travel on our motorways. I think the earlier question from Mr Betts about the number of enforcement decisions for speed below 79 mph was quite informative in that effectively speeds of that limit are not being enforced and the ACPO guidance on the enforcement of speed limits is now available on their website for everybody to see. Now, I think that is a step forward. I think people ought to know the way in which the police are operating with regard to enforcement and it ought to be an open issue and not one which is clouded in secrecy or causing confusion.

Mrs Ellman

  469. So how hard is the Home Secretary pressing for the 80 mph limit?
  (Mr Ainsworth) The Home Secretary is not pressing for 80 mph. The Home Secretary is happy with the current speed limit at 70 mph, but he does not want that situation or for any area of policy to be ruled or closed off for ever and a day. All of these issues ought to be kept under review and kept constantly under review and that is his opinion.

  470. What is the Home Office going to do to change the general culture that speed does not matter?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Well, we have a very major problem with the attitude of motorists, there is no doubt about that, and non-compliance with speed limits applies as much to the situation that occurs on motorways as it does to the 30 mph speed limit and everything else. We need to try to get the agreement of the motorist. We need them on our side and we need an education job in order to get them to comply with the speed limits. We are fully on board with trying to do precisely that and that is the route down which we travel, using cameras and other technologies and using enforcement by police authorities where it is necessary and where there is a proven need because we have accident hot-spots and we have situations where people are being shown to be disregarding the speed limits systematically.

  471. Are you satisfied with the progress you are making on that?
  (Mr Ainsworth) No, I do not think that anybody can be satisfied with the situation as it is.


  472. You have a publicity budget, do you not, Minister?
  (Mr Ainsworth) We do have a publicity budget, yes.

  473. And you make a number of public interest advertisements during the year, do you not?
  (Mr Ainsworth) We do.

  474. How many of those have been an attempt to raise the question of speed and the fact that speed kills?
  (Mr Ainsworth) In the last year from the Home Office, Geoffrey?
  (Mr Biddulph) I am not aware of any, but the main responsibility in this area is the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and they run a campaign—

  475. With respect, Mr Biddulph, I do not want to argue with you. I think the Minister is the one we have a go at. The reality is that you have a responsibility. This is one of those subjects where there is joint responsibility, where the Department only has a limited control. If you are serious about wanting to change public attitudes, can you assure this Committee that you have used some of your budget in public interest films to make sure that those points are made?
  (Mr Ainsworth) We have a responsibility, but we have a devolved police force and we have no direct power over exactly—

  476. But you have a devolved police force with responsibility for burglary and that does not stop you doing public interest films that make those points.
  (Mr Ainsworth) I understand that, but you are not really taking on board, I do not think, Madam Chairman, the point that Geoffrey Biddulph just made and that is that the DTLR are the lead Department in this. We share responsibility with them, we work with them, there are joint committees in order to ensure that that is so, but this main area of policy is the lead responsibility of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

  Chairman: Well, perhaps you would like to go away, we will not spend any more time on it now, go quietly away and give us a little list of the things which you thought worthy of raising as part of your budget for the last twelve months.

Mr Donohoe

  477. How do you intend to catch more uninsured and unlicensed drivers?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Well, there is, as I have indicated, the possibility of technology being helpful in this and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions launched a week or so ago the new camera technology that potentially will give us a better ability to catch up with licence defraud.

  478. You understand that there are something like 1,000 drivers in every constituency who are either one or the other. Why in these circumstances then has there been a reduction in the number of police officers responsible for traffic?
  (Mr Ainsworth) We do not dictate to the police their operational responsibilities, and are—


  479. Because you do not include it in their core responsibilities.
  (Mr Ainsworth) Well, we do include it. It is one of their overarching objectives. Now, I do not see how that can be higher or more clearly stated than for the Home Office to say that one of the overarching objectives of the Police Service is—

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