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Mr. Chope: No, I will not give way because the hon. Gentleman has not been present for the whole debate. If he had read tonight's Evening Standard and been present for the whole debate, he would have had the chance to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White) highlighted his concern about the Bill's impact on the development of broadband, and that point was also made by a number of other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda). The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) took the biscuit in the sense that he demonstrated a knowledge of road humps superior to that of any other hon. Member who participated.
The Government should be concerned at the serious all-party criticism of the Bill on a number of accounts. There is a lack of pre-legislative scrutinyan ideal opportunity has been missed. There is a lack of detail in the Bill on several key points, particularly the extra powers for traffic officers and the unanswered question about what will happen to the 550 police who will be
Other concerns emphasised by Conservative Members were the lack of a level playing field between utilities and local highway authorities, both contributing to highway disruption, local authority fixed penalty notices being extended to moving traffic offences, and speed cameras being used as revenue raisers and no longer commanding the respect of the motoring public.
I should like to concentrate on two or three big issues. The Government have hyped the Bill, saying that it is a congestion-busting Bill, yet in the Department for Transport's autumn performance report, published in December 2003, at page 5, we see that the Department admits:
I asked the Secretary of State, in a question that should have been answered today because it was a priority written question, what the level of congestion in inter-urban roads and urban roads is against which he intends to achieve a reduction as a result of the Bill. As reducing congestion is supposedly at the heart of the Bill, one would have thought that that would be an easy question for the Department to respond to, but it has failed to do so in a timely way.
The Department has also failed to respond to another question asking for the Secretary of State's estimate of the proportion of congestion on roads in England and Wales that is caused by poorly planned and lengthy street works carried out by utilities and by or on behalf of highway authorities. He had great fun knocking the 10 per cent. figure in the Opposition's amendment, but if he says that that figure is wrong, let him declare the correct figure. Why has he not done so in response to my parliamentary question due for answer today?
The second point that I want to emphasise, which was raised by a number of hon. Members tangentially, is the police role in fighting crime. The Motorists Forum report, published in December last year, included a review of the delivery of the road safety strategy and emphasised the link between road traffic offences and other crime. It referred to the North report, which was published in 1988.
The Government, however, have not taken the opportunity in the Bill to address concerns about rising car crime and lawlessness among those who drive on our roads. Every hour, 300 car crimes are committed at a cost to the nation's drivers of £826 million. Car mugging, in which crooks break into vehicles to steal, has risen by 20 per cent. in the past year to no fewer than 415,000 offences. There are four times as many car muggings as street robberies. The Government's emphasis on dealing with street robberies ignores the plight of motorists, who pay an enormous sum of money as a result of the lawlessness to which they are subject. Nine out of 10 motorists do not believe that the Government are doing enough to fight car crime, and the Bill does nothing to address that.
The number of people driving without a driving licence is, according to the Minister's figures, between 620,000 and just over 1 million. The number of people without insurance is estimated to be 1.25 million. The number of untaxed vehicles is 1.75 million, and only about half the fines imposed for driving offences are paid. At its worst, the Bill panders to those who enjoy persecuting and humiliating the motoring public. It targets the essentially law-abiding citizen, yet does nothing to tackle the rogues responsible for increased lawlessness on our roads.
Finally, the Secretary of State has kindly said that I am an expert in the field, so I should like to address speed cameras. The Government have tried to exercise spin on the issue. The answer that I received on 17 December about the eight safety camera partnership areas for which figures are available said that, in 2002, the number of fatalities had increased in four areas, notwithstanding the presence of a safety camera partnership, and had decreased in the other four. That conclusion is not the same as the Government's spin that such partnerships always result in a reduction of fatalities. The Secretary of State said that he was concerned that the safety cameraship[Laughter.] I am sorry, he said that the safety camera partnerships should comply with his rules. However, his own handbook states:
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) said that a number of bids had been made by people who wished to serve on the Committee considering the Bill. I am sure that the Whip has taken careful note and marked the contributions that have been made, and that all of us will go to sleep tonight dwelling on the word "cameraship"a new word that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) has put into the English language.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) made a powerful contribution in which she raised a number of points. I hope that many of them will be addressed in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) made a very thoughtful contribution.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), with his 10 commandments, made one of the best contributions tonight in terms of presenting good ideas. Perhaps the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) will note his speech. He may have something to offer, although he seems to be shaking his head; I am not quite sure why.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) made a helpful and supportive contribution, as he always does in such debates. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), drawing on his long experience in the matters under discussion, made some useful points, and I am sure that many of them will be debated in Committee as well.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) spoke of London. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda) expressed well-reasoned support for the Bill. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) made a sensitive and supportive speech and was very much in favour of the Bill, for which I am grateful.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) made some very powerful points about road safety. As always, he was a strong advocate for his constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud spoke for good sense, as always, and emphasised important issues of road safety. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White) made a very thoughtful contribution.
The Bill contains a number of measures with a common aimensuring that our national and local road networks are operated as efficiently as possible and safely for the benefit of all road users, including cyclists and pedestrians, who are just as much road users as people in motor vehicles.
The creation of the traffic officer service for the Highways Agency has arisen from a very thorough review by the agency and the police of their respective roles and responsibilities. It is apparent that transferring some of the traffic management activities on motorways and trunk roads, especially when there are incidents on those roads, would bring considerable benefits. There would be benefits not only for drivers, in terms of fewer and shorter hold-ups and better information about what is happening, but for the police, as the equivalent of 540 police officers would be released for vehicle, road and other crime fighting duties.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich raised the issue of how those extra resources would be used. Of course, it is a matter for the chief constable in each area to decide how any time that has been released from police officers should be used. On a recent visit to the west midlands, where the first trial is to be introduced, I saw that the police there were anxious to use any of the resources released in respect of traffic officers for further crime reduction and tackling crime on the roads, not only including road crime, but where criminals are using the road network in conjunction with other criminality.
The traffic officer service will be brought together with the new regional control centres, operated jointly by the police and the Highways Agency, which will manage traffic and co-ordinate on-road resources. We intend to roll out the approach progressively, starting in the midlands this year.
For local authorities, we are introducing a network management duty, so that they carry out all their relevant activities in a way that minimises congestion and disruption. They will be required to appoint a traffic manager. It will be for each authority to decide the traffic manager's precise role, but the manager will be key to achieving the goal of keeping the traffic moving.
Several hon. Members asked what exactly the role of traffic managers should be. Of course, their precise duties will be a matter for the local authority concerned, and they will be responsible to it. That will in no way diminish authorities' existing duties on safety, the environment and the provision of high-quality public transport, but by drawing together the strands that affect the movement of the network, the service that is provided to all road users will be improved. At the same time, if authorities are not performing their duties properly, it is right that the Government should be able to take action. We would much prefer that authorities improve their performance and manage their networks effectively, but if intervention is necessary the Bill provides for that on the basis of evidence, transparency and proportionality.
Several Members asked about traffic officers. Of course, they will be trained for the appropriate level of activity that they have to undertake. Their uniforms will be clearly distinguishable from those of the police: they will be marked, "Traffic Officer", and carry the Highways Agency logo. As for the role that they might perform if they were the first people to arrive at an incident, they could provide first aid or give information to road users further back on the road to avoid their running into the incident as well. The kind of extra power that may be appropriate in future is the checking of overweight vehicles on some parts of the road network.
I turn now to the contribution of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green). The period of economic success in the 1980s and 1990s that he talked about must have passed me by. One of the reasons why our transport network is under so much pressure is that nowin the late 1990s and 2000 onwardswe have an economy that is thriving, with 1.5 million more people in work. That has created extra stress on our transport system, which was neglected for years by the Conservative party.
The hon. Gentleman said that there would be 550 fewer traffic police. That is simply not the case. We will release the time of those 550 police to enable them to carry out other activities, such as tracking down criminals on the roads. They will enforce the law on the roads, not be removed from them.
The hon. Gentleman uttered another piece of nonsenselet me nail this onewhen he said that traffic officers will represent a competing breakdown service on the motorway. He clearly was not listening when the Secretary of State said in his opening speech that that is not the case. They will not provide an alternative breakdown service, but in certain circumstances they may do what the police do nowfor example, they may call in contractors to take a vehicle away if no other service is available to do it. The role of the AA and the RAC will of course remain as it is today. Traffic officers will work closely and carefully with all the people who provide such services on the road.
The hon. Gentleman went on to say that the Bill places in the hands of civilians certain activities for enforcing the law. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave credit to the hon. Member for Christchurch for introducing speed cameras. In the 1930s, one of my predecessors in Plymouth, DevonportHore-Belishahad a certain beacon named after him. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) made the suggestion, to which I shall give careful consideration, that the speed cameras should be called Chope cameras. I also give the hon. Gentleman credit for introducing the measure to transfer enforcement for road traffic offences from the police to local authorities. He said on 26 February 1991 in the debate on the Road Traffic Bill:
The hon. Member for Ashford spoke at length about speed cameras, as did a number of other contributors. He said that there is a lot of evidence that cameras are in the wrong place. "A lot of evidence" is not constituted by his constant repetition of a falsehood. In the newspapers he has been quoted as saying that 4,000 cameras were wrongly placed. I noticed that when my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) asked him to name one of those 4,000 cameras that were in the wrong place, he could not tell us anything at all. He was totally silent on the matter.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that many hon. Members in all parts of the House would be up in arms if we said that we intended to remove the camera from their local community, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw. The A631, the A638 and the A620 may be some of the roads in question.
I have a challenge for the hon. Member for Ashford, and it is a serious one. On matters of road safety, I should like to think that we had a certain amount of cross-party accord. I am sure he would agree that we want to reduce death and injury on our roads. I hope there is no disagreement on that. If he knows of any speed safety camera in one of the partnership areas that has been placed somewhere where it does not meet the stringent criteria set by my Department, let him provide that evidence. If he does not have the evidence to present to me and to the House, let him be silent for a time and reflect on the number of people, particularly the children and elderly people, whom those cameras have saved.