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Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the difficulty on major match dayswhether that involves FA cup finals or rugby matcheshas been that the rail service has sometimes not been running into Cardiff? That has caused problems getting in and out on the M4.
Mrs. Lawrence: My hon. Friend is correct. The extra pressures placed on the Millennium stadium caused by Wembley being non-operational have created further problems. His question endorses my point that we need to co-ordinate strategic work on roads and rail to ensure a means of getting traffic through, one way or another.
I recently saw an example of co-ordination and licensing in Copenhagen, where tram lines run through the centre of the city. The tram system is very efficient and serves the city well. Work on the tram lines and the roads is carried out overnight. It starts after dark and is finished, or at least put into abeyance, by 7 am to allow normal daytime traffic to proceed.
As well as the strategic highway considerations, there are other important measures in the Bill that I believe need further explanation. One that has already been mentioned is the role of the new uniformed on-road traffic officers. These officers will be given powers to stop or direct traffic, and to place temporary road signs. However, clause 8 refers to the granting of further special powers to them. It would be beneficial to the debate if the Minister would expand on those special powers now, rather than waiting until the Bill is in Committee.
The Secretary of State mentioned the ability for local authorities to handle offences such as blocking box junctions. Does that mean that local authorities will be given the power to prevent the blocking of dropped kerbs, which are used by wheelchairs? That is a tremendous problem. Are other things involved, such as allowing powered two-wheel vehicles to use bus lanes in towns or other areas under local authority jurisdiction? When bicycle riders became permitted to use bus lanes there was, I believe, a drop of about 28 per cent. in accidents involving cyclists. I hope that a similar move for powered two-wheelers would have a similar road safety impact.
The question marks over the uniformed on-road traffic officers relate to whether they will take on some duties that are undertaken by police in tackling dangerous driving. If they are to do so, what precise powers does the Minister envisage them having, and does he accept that there will need to be clear lines of demarcation between their duties and police duties? Those question marks are perhaps best outlined in the document published by the Select Committee on 17 December, immediately before the recess.
I am not one of those who decry the increasing use of speed cameras on UK roadsnor do I think that enforcement means either police or cameras, because the two should complement each other. Figures that I have obtained from the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety show clearly that speed cameras have proved to be an extremely successful road safety tool. Those figures demolish the myths put out by certain elements of the press recently, and show that deaths and serious injuries have been reduced by over one third at speed camera sites.
Among the myths is the claim by Autocar magazine that speed cameras are not sited on the most dangerous roads, and also that they are not popular. The hon. Member for Ceredigion mentioned the need to consider other factors in judging which are the most dangerous roads, and criteria for placement have to be based on accident figures plus figures demonstrating that surveys have shown that 20 per cent. of drivers on the stretch of road in question are exceeding the speed limit. I know that to be a fact because Pembrokeshire county council has been assiduous about it. Some communities are frustrated that this should be so.
I would like to tell Autocar magazine and anyone else who doubts the effectiveness of speed cameras that communities in my constituency would be very grateful to have speed cameras in their midst. It is perhaps more accurate to say that, in general, speed cameras are unpopular among those who have little regard for the rule of law and the welfare of people living in communities affected by busy roads.
Regrettably, Home Office figures show that there has been an overall UK-wide reduction in the number of designated traffic police. Looking back to 1966, traffic-trained officers made up 15 to 20 per cent. of constable strength, but in 1998 that figure was 7 per cent. of force strength. PACT's view is that there are two contributory factors to that. One is that fixed speed cameras reduce the speed limit enforcement burden on officers with the result that reduced officer time is spent on dealing with collisions and their aftermath. The second is the finding of the report "Road Policing and Traffic 1998", produced by the inspectorate of constabulary, that the fall in the number of designated traffic officers is due partly to the increasing demands of more high-profile policing and partly to a failure to include road traffic enforcement as a "key priority" for policing. Perhaps we should take that up with the Home Office, although again the matter was covered adequately by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich. There should be a link between traffic policing and the Department for Transport: it should not be left entirely with the Home Office.
Mr. Drew: Obviously this is a crucial part of the legislation, but does my hon. Friend agree that, in a sense, the debate runs parallel to what the public want, which is visible policing? However, we all knowI am sure that we all go out with our police from time to timethat visible policing conflicts with effective policing. The reality of the modern world is that the most effective policing is based on intelligence. In considering such an example, should we not acknowledge that the most effective policing involves looking out for those motorists who are the most dangerous? That could involve staking out their homes and looking out for whether they are drinking and driving. So we are not going to get a real picture here. These things are much more complex than just looking at certain numbers. Will my hon. Friend comment on that?
Traffic policing and camera enforcement should not be mutually exclusive, and that leads me back to question the role of the uniformed on-road officers that will be created by the Bill. While cameras can register and enforce speed violations of vehicles exceeding standard limits, there are speeding offences they cannot deal with. For example, they will not detect the speeding of the 4x4 vehicle towing a boat on a trailer that overtook me via the outside lane of the M4 at well over 70 mph recently, breaking three rules of the road in doing so. Neither will they detect the 60 mph restricted solo vehicle speeding in any lane, whether that is a lorry or any vehicle towing a trailer. They cannot detect the boy or girl racer who weaves from lane to lane, both overtaking and undertaking and causing a danger to all road users. They cannot detect the vehicle "tailgating" the one in frontan all too prevalent practice, it seems. All those activities are liable to cause accidents and subsequent congestion.
Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the greatest frustrations is someone doing 40 or 50 mph in the middle lane, which causes a lot of problems? People going slowly and not at the appropriate speed, as well as people going over the speed limit, cause many accidents.
Mrs. Lawrence: I agree entirely. Also involved is the current practice of drivers feeling that they can drive continuously in the middle or the outside lane, turning a three-lane motorway into a one-lane motorway. That needs a human presence on the motorway to deal with it. All those offences are dangerous. They cause congestion and are potentially causes of accidents, but they require a human presence on the roads to identify them. More officers present in unmarked cars, plus traffic policing being restored as a key priority at some level, would achieve that.
I am interested to hear from the Minister whether those are the further powers referred to in clause 8. In the meantime, I urge the Government to ignore the idea of populist support for ending speed camera enforcement. That populist support does not come from people living in communities severed by busy roads. They are aware of the value and worth of speed cameras in protecting local residents and children in particular. I would suggest that that populist support comes only from those who are prepared selfishly to ignore speed limits and break rules that are there quite simply to save lives. Speed cameras have been shown to be effective in doing so. In fact, if we are serious about road safety we probably need more, as well as more enforcement support for those offences that the cameras cannot detect. I would welcome the Minister's comments as to whether the proposed uniformed officers will have any role in doing just that.