|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): The Secretary of State is being fairly amusing, but may I take him back to the serious point about local authority representatives essentially being the witnesses to and the prosecutors for road traffic offences? Parking is clearone is parked either illegally or legallybut things are more difficult when the vehicle is moving. What training will those individuals have before they are used to prosecute people?
Mr. Darling: There are a couple of points there. First, I agree that people must be trained properly. I agree that there is a world of difference between looking at a meter to see whether it has expired and looking at somebody who might be going into a bus lane. In the case of bus
I want to make one further serious point, which bears on the speed camera question and on what we are proposingI have said this outside the House and I should say it inside the House. It is important that we remember that there is a fine line between maintaining public support for things such as speed cameraswhich have shown that they can reduce casualties and serious injuriesand keeping bus lanes and junctions clear, and individuals overstepping the mark. The public will stay with us if they believe that such measures are there to help them by reducing accidents and congestion, but they will not put up with it if they feel that people have gone beyond that point and are picking on them. They do not want that.
The hon. Gentleman is right that the people about whom we are talking must be trained properly and know what their responsibilities are. It is important that people have confidence in them, because the object of these measures is to get traffic flowing more efficiently. We have all had experience of sitting in a bus that cannot go up the bus lane because someone is parked in the middle of it, or of being stuck at a junction that is blocked because people are ignoring the box markings and so on. If those problems can be sorted out, that will contribute to making traffic less congested.
Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood) (Lab): One of the problems that many disabled people must put up with is disregard for the blue badge scheme. Part 6 seems to me ideal for dealing with its proper enforcement. It has been subject to a review, and the Government have broadly accepted the recommendations. Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity that the Bill offers to address the scheme's proper enforcement?
Mr. Darling: I am not sure that the Bill is the right place to do it. As my hon. Friend will know, we conducted a review after consultation with a wide variety of organisations. We may return to the matter in Committee but I cannot promise to include it in the Bill. If he is lucky enough to secure a place on the Committee that scrutinises the Billthe Whip has already made a note of his name, which will teach him to intervenethe issue can no doubt be debated for many hours Upstairs.
John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): The Secretary of State makes a powerful case for the use of public servants in some of these functions. One legacy of previous Governments, in 1991 and 1984, was the ability of local authorities to privatise such services. How does he square the lack of a provision in the Bill to tidy up that anomalyfor example, the ability to privatise local authority duties in relation to car parkingwith the need, in his words, to take the public with us in these changes?
Mr. Darling: I am not sure whether the fact that the people who enforce parking regulations work not for a council but a private company is the concern. The question is how they conduct themselves and enforce the rules and regulations. I have long taken the philosophic view that what matters is what works bestit does not
John Mann: What if a private operator employs car parking attendants who are on performance-related pay and, under the contracts, the local authority receives a set percentage of car parking charges while the contractor receives 100 per cent. of the fines? Might that not skew the actions of attendants and operators, and thus remove the public confidence in fairness and equity that is so crucial?
Mr. Darling: It is for the local authority, whether it does the work itself or has decided to give it to someone else, to ensure that it strikes the right balance, applies the right rules and takes the right approach to enforcement. We have all come across people employed by councils, as well as people employed by private companies, whose attitude could do with some refinement; but, equally, we have come across people working for private companies and people working for councils whose manner as they issue a ticket is a sheer delightthey could not be nicer about it. If my hon. Friend is saying that the work should not be done in the private sector, I disagree with him, but he has probably just talked his way on to the Standing Committee, where he will be able to discuss the matter further.
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that spending of the fines income from this civil enforcement will be restricted to traffic management schemes and local environmental schemes? That would make the proposals more acceptable to the public.
Mr. Darling: None of these arrangements is there to raise revenue, any more than speed cameras are. The purpose of speed cameras is to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries, which they have done by about 35 per cent.
Just before the new year, I heard my hon. Friend on the radio arguing for tougher penalties and lower speed limits. He does not always give that impression when speaking to some newspapers, but he is right to suggest that it would be wrong of us to get rid of speed cameras, because there is evidence that they have indeed reduced the number of deaths and serious injuries. The Bill is designed primarily to ensure that traffic flows more smoothly than it does now, rather than to raise revenue. If revenue raising were our objective, we would bear it in mind that there are better ways of doing it.
Mr. Wilshire: I shall resist the temptation to join in the private grief between the Secretary of State and his Back Benchers. May I return him to training, and his point about putting people's backs up? Can he assure us that training will include the use of common sense and discretion; otherwise, there will be a risk that the more enforcing officers there are, the more people will be alienated from authority? That could easily make
Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman is right to the extent that common sense is essential in all policing, whether enforcement is carried out by police officers, traffic wardens or people whose job is dedicated to enforcing traffic regulations of this kind. Most people recognise that traffic rules and regulations are ignored too often at present, and that the result is traffic jams and frustration. People get very annoyed. As I have said, it is necessary to strike the right balance to maintain public support. People need to see that the measures are improving safety and reliability, and getting rid of traffic jams. They want to see that there is a greater good, and I am confident that that can happen.
We are committed to sustaining high levels of investment in transport. That is why we are tackling the backlog of maintenance, and investing in major improvements in the network. The Bill will allow us also to manage our roads more effectively, and to make better use of the road space that we have. I am grateful for the broad support that it has received so far, and I commend it to the House.
By 2000, the amount of revenue raised from motorists rose to £45 billion but this country spends the lowest proportion of motoring taxes on transport of any advanced country. One effect of that is the rise in congestion that the Bill is supposed to tackle. It is at record levels, which is hardly surprising given that the first transport decision taken by the incoming Government in 1997 was to scrap the bulk of the road-building programme. I am pleased that that disastrous decision has been partially reversed in recent years but the effects live on in the clogged streets and trunk roads.
At the outset of the debate it is important to tackle the thesis that new roads simply fill up and therefore lead to more congestion. The concept that a road that is full of vehicles is symptomatic of a failure in the system is never applied to schools or hospitals. In addition, an underlying point is too often ignored by those who subscribe to the easy thesis that more roads mean more traffic and more traffic inevitably means more congestion. Car travel has increased in recent years not because of any sudden desire among the population to