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Mr. Green: That is right. My objection to the proliferation of speed cameras in some areas is the suggestion that speed is the only danger. Roads that may be dangerous for other reasons do not receive the requisite degree of traffic policing. One of the effects of the obsession with cameras is a reduction in the number of traffic police, who are the only people who will be effective on roads such as the one that the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned. If we are obsessed with cameras to the exclusion of all other enforcement methods for safer driving, we will make some roads more dangerous than they need to be. The hon. Gentleman's example illustrates perfectly what is wrong with an over-reliance on cameras.
The central problem with the Bill is that the increasing reliance on cameras will remove the element of common sense. Of course, the vast majority of people who park in bus lanes or obstruct traffic in yellow boxes are behaving illegally and should be punished. However, there are exceptions and special circumstances that a trained police officer would recognise and be able to exercise judgment about, which a camera cannot do. In those cases, a real sense of grievance would be created that would further damage relations between the motorist and law enforcement agencies.
John Mann: I represent a Nottingham constituency that would be the hon. Gentleman's ideal as until last month there were no speed cameras in the jurisdiction of Nottinghamshire county council. There have been no fatal accidents on the A638 at Scrooby in my constituency, so does he agree that the best way to control speed at Scrooby and the neighbouring village of Barnby Moor is through the occasional use of a speed camera operated by a police officerthe situation that has prevailed for the past 20 yearsor does he agree with me and about 90 per cent. of the residents of those villages that the best way to control speed there would be for the county council to put in a speed camera?
Mr. Green: If the system has worked successfully for 20 years, there is clearly a sensible debate to be held about whether it is effective. The hon. Gentleman fails to address the central point, however. We all agree that speed cameras are useful and necessary in some areas, but an increasing number of people do not agree that the current use of such cameras is the most effective way of dealing with the problem. One reason for people's cynicism is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer creams off about £17 million a yearI think that was the figure given by the Government last week. That amount goes straight to the coffers of the Exchequer. That is why people are cynical.
The problem is that the Government propose to increase their reliance on cameras and on automatic penalties. I am astonished that they are doing that rather than rowing back in the face of the overwhelming public view that speed cameras have been over-used.
Another point to be considered is the Government's desire to remove the police as much as possible from dealing with traffic offences. Everyone wants the police to spend their time fighting crime, but the way to do that is to get them out of the stations, away from filling out forms in triplicate to prove that they are hitting the latest centrally imposed targets. That would allow them to fight crime. In terms of traffic duties, a police officer who pulls over a dangerous driver often exposes other crimes. The Government's proposals would remove the ability of the police to do that, which would be a seriously dangerous development.
Mr. Green: No, I cannot. It would be absurd for me to attempt to do so in terms of the detailed policies on law and order that we shall adopt in our manifesto for the next general election. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would agree that if the trend towards the removal of traffic police continues, there will be no traffic police, we shall no longer rely on the police for such duties and that will be a damaging development both for law and order in general and for traffic management. He said that he welcomed the Bill, but as it will bring about a reduction of 550 in the number of police officers I hope that he will join us in the Lobby and vote for our amendment. If he wants traffic police, he needs to vote for the amendment to translate his words into parliamentary action so I shall be interested to see what he does at the end of the debate.
The final big area for the Bill is the vexed subject of street works. Of all the issues covered, that should have been the one about which it was easiest to build a consensus. Everyone who drives or travels on public transport has a tale of roads being dug up, repaired and dug up again the following week. So it is particularly frustrating that the opportunity to promote a complete solution to that problem has been missed.
The proposals in the Bill concentrate purely on the utilities, although the Secretary of State will know that the most important thing is to ensure not just that all the utilities are co-ordinated but that they are co-ordinated with all the public sector works as well. That is not impossible. He has mentioned New York, but he need not go that far; such things are done in Scotland. Everyone who I have spoken to commends the Susiephone system and says that it works extremely well in Scotland. It seems absurd that he has not tried to import that system from Scotland and that, instead, he has chosen to go down a different route that will be less effective.
In the run-up to the Bill, the Secretary of State talked rather grandly about the holistic approach to street works. Unfortunately, he has failed his own test: the Bill does not represent a holistic approach, so it misses its biggest target. It also seems to be fairly cavalier about relying on evidence. The new permit scheme that he wants to introduce is effectively a lane-rental scheme, and that idea has its attractionsI dare say that he has some Steve Norris quotes about the attractions of lane rentalbut surely a sensible Government would wait to see the impact of their own pilot scheme before introducing country-wide legislation. The Government have appointed consultants to look at their pilot scheme, and the results are, surprisingly, not very encouraging. The Halcrow report says:
The major utilities operating in Camden and Middlesbrough"
The statutory undertakers have indicated to us that they do not intend to introduce any changes to working practices as a result of the introduction of the Lane Rental pilot schemes".
Again, I wish that the Secretary of State had carried out more consultation and thought more carefully about the proposals before introducing them. That thread runs through the Bill. Despite the length of time that the Government have spent preparing the Bill, it has ended up being a rushed, imperfect job, on which
Large parts of a Bill that ought to be uncontroversial are desperately deficient. Those who should have been properly consulted have not been properly consulted: the Transport Committee, the motoring organisations and the utilities have all been ignored. The Bill is made worse by the Government's refusal to listen to any view but their own. Motorists in this country deserve a break. The Bill was supposed to lead to traffic flowing more smoothly to the benefit of the motorist and the environment. It fails in that central and vital purpose, which is why I commend our amendment to the House.