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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480-499)



  480. So why are the Association of Chief Police Officers asking for it to be spelled out as a core responsibility if it is part of their overarching responsibility, or do they not understand "overarching responsibility"?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Well, I do not know whether they do not understand it. That is maybe a question you should have asked Chief Constable Brunstrom when you had him in front of the Committee. I said to you at the start of my presentation to you that I was somewhat surprised by some of the comments that he made. He was attempting to indicate, or he appeared to be attempting to indicate that in some way the Home Office was not interested in this area of policy. I do not believe that he has any grounds to do that whatsoever.

Mr Donohoe

  481. Surely, Minister, that is not good enough. You have a responsibility to stop people from dying on the roads.
  (Mr Ainsworth) Yes.

  482. You have a responsibility, a direct responsibility and you could take a decision which could be a directive given to the police that you are unhappy about the numbers of traffic cops that there are and that you want to see a transformation in that area because of the number of children that have been killed, particularly around schools, and that you are not happy with the number of police. You have a direct responsibility, do you not?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Well, we have a finite resource that is given to the police and we do not have the ability day to day to tell the police how to conduct themselves.

  483. This is not a day-to-day thing. This is a management general policy trend that you could adopt and put into force and have them have to accept.
  (Mr Ainsworth) I do not know whether or not Members of the Committee actually want me to try to answer their questions or whether or not they want to try to interrupt me before I can do so. If the former, then they should please allow me to do so. I do not know whether—

  484. Please finish it.
  (Mr Ainsworth) Maybe you would repeat the question

  485. I am saying to you that it is for you as the Minister responsible to be able to change the situation in order for the police to have by far more traffic police, and you could do that.
  (Mr Ainsworth) We do not have the ability to instruct the police from day to day where to apply their resources.

Andrew Bennett

  486. You do for the Met though, do you not?
  (Mr Ainsworth) We do not have that ability from day to day to—

Mr Donohoe

  487. Why not?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Will you allow me to answer the question. We have given the police guidance as to what their priorities ought to be and as part of that is one of their overarching objectives, as I have repeatedly said, to contribute to this area. Now, we cannot state the matter higher than that. There are issues within the police reform agenda, some of which are controversial and are resisted by the police, which would effectively give the Home Secretary more say in how the police do their job in certain ways, but the police do guard their operational independence. They are concerned to continue to have that and we have no desire in large part to take that away from them. I do not believe that it is going on, as Mr Bennett throws in, "Well, we do for the Met", but I do not believe that it is the job of the Home Secretary to decide to tell the Commissioner on a day-to-day basis where he ought to put his resources. We know that recently, because of very serious issues that arose within the area of the Met, that the Commissioner decided on a temporary basis to move resources away from traffic and into other areas of policing. That is a matter for the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to make. It was a decision by him. It was not a decision by the Home Office.

Mr Betts

  488. Just picking up on that point, I thought the Home Secretary of the day did actually tell the Commissioner that he wanted street crime cut. Was that not an instruction about how he should conduct things?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Yes and he has attempted to do everything he can to encourage the Metropolitan Police to—


  489. So it is all right sometimes, but not at others?
  (Mr Ainsworth)—and to help them to cut street crime. I would have thought that that was the priority of other Members of Parliament as well as ourselves.

Mr Betts

  490. But not to deal with road accidents?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Well, I am not aware that there was a massive jump in the problem of road accidents within the area of the Metropolitan Police. There was a problem on street crime which was seriously concerning Londoners which the Commissioner felt that he had to deal with and the Home Secretary supported him in that. Can I just say that it was a temporary move of resources. It was not a permanent move, but it was a temporary move of resources.

  491. Can I go back to the 80 mph limit on motorways. You did say that the Home Secretary was not in favour of increasing the limit and was in favour of a continuous review. How is that review going to be undertaken within the Department?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Since the new team have been placed in the Home Office since the Election, we have had discussions with our colleagues in DTLR about the issues that we have and about the problems that we have with regard to enforcement and about the best way of addressing those. We are in agreement with them and at the present time it is not appropriate that anybody should seek to change that speed limit.

  492. Should it continue to involve any further research?
  (Mr Ainsworth) There is research that is ongoing, as Mr Spellar just spelt out to the Committee.

  493. So there is a particular programme of research looking at the consequences of increasing the speed limit to 80?
  (Mr Ainsworth) We will be looking at that and any other representations that are made. We sit on a joint committee with the DTLR and we look at all of the research that is available and all of the information that is available and take decisions in conjunction with them.

  494. Is there anything specific going on at present?
  (Mr Ainsworth) No.

  495. Can I just go back to the yellow speed cameras. Was the Minister not surprised to wake up one morning and to find that all speed cameras were going to be painted yellow?
  (Mr Ainsworth) No.

  496. So that had been the subject of discussion with Ministers in the Home Office before it was announced by the Department for Transport?
  (Mr Ainsworth) We were part of the committee that looked at the netting-off scheme and as part of the netting-off scheme, we wanted to make sure that the visibility of cameras was increased. We fully agreed with that. We think that they need to be looked at if the position is not right and we think that they need to be coloured appropriately to give them a maximum visibility. We are at the moment looking at how and how quickly we can persuade the police forces to bring those cameras that are not part of the netting-off scheme and which are currently coloured grey into line with those when we have got the enforcement ability because what we do not want to see are two different sets of cameras, in different sets of colours and the confusion and the potential undermining—

  497. But you said in response to the issue about motorway speeds that you obviously wanted to sit down and look at the research before you reached decisions, but on the speed cameras, did anybody say that the research had been done about the effectiveness of covert or overt cameras because the research, as I understand it, from Victoria in Australia shows that covert cameras are actually more effective? Was that not taken into account?
  (Mr Ainsworth) We want to try to carry motorists with us in the use of cameras and I think we are—

  498. So it is about public opinion then and not about effectiveness?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Well, it is not just about superficial public opinion. It is about being effective as well and it is whether or not this Committee or anybody else feels that the way to be effective is to do the business without trying to carry the motoring public with us. Now, one way of carrying the motoring public with us is to convince them that the reasons for increasing the numbers of speed cameras are to cut accidents and to improve road safety and not simply to fine them. Now, that, in our opinion, is very important and that is why we want them to be overt. We think that we have evidence that where they are placed, they are clearly visible, that people do reduce their speed not only in the immediate area of the camera, but in the adjacent road space as well, so we think that the policy will work.

  499. And you have clear research evidence to show this, have you?
  (Mr Biddulph) There has been research which was conducted in the evaluation of the eight pilot areas for the netting-off scheme. We have the report on what happened as a result of the introduction of the cameras in those areas which shows that they are effective in reducing accidents, et cetera.

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