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What does my hon. Friend, who is making an excellent speech, think about increasing the
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powers of the police so that they can stop people randomly on the basis of suspected drink-driving? I have a reasonably open mind on the issue, but most chief constables would like greater flexibility in that regard.
Mr. Yeo: It is clear that we must take the views of chief constables extremely seriously. I, too, have an open mind on that issue, and I am not quite sure which way the evidence points. If such powers would be one effective way of reducing the number of people who drink-drive, or of increasing the number who get caught doing so, they deserve to be supported. However, I have not seen the evidence, so I am agnostic and open to being convinced.
Mr. Yeo: I share the Secretary of State's view. The priority is to concentrate on people who are well above the limit, and on repeat offenders. If we are to devote more effort to this issue, I suspect that diverting some of it to stopping people whose blood alcohol level is between 50 mg and 80 mg will prove an ineffective use of resources.
If our aim, shared across both sides of the House, is to cut casualties from drink-driving and elsewhere, we have to be hard-headed about where we make the greatest effort, and I suspect that it makes more sense to focus on repeat offenders and those who are well over the limit than to opt for a slightly lower target. I believe that that is also the Secretary of State's view, and that of my hon. Friends as well. Let me emphasise that I approach the matter from a completely pragmatic point of view. I want progress to be made, and if it became clear that the hon. Gentleman's suggestion was the best way to make progress, I would have no objection to it in principle.
On speeding, I am delighted that the Government have adopted some Conservative party policies. Widening the range of penalty points that can be imposed for speeding offences is a good idea, and I am glad that the Government have seen the light. I wonder whether we could persuade the Secretary of State to go one step further. His Back Benchers expressed considerable interest in the idea, and it could be dealt with most effectively if we put directly into the Bill the range of speeds leading to different penalties, and the circumstances in which differential penalty points would be imposed. That would allow Parliament to be the arbiter, and there would be no uncertainty about it. I hope to pursue that point in Committee.
On speeding, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is going to mention clause 17, which deals with detection devices. It proposes a way to deal with the jamming of the police ability to detect whether speeding has occurred, and the ability to ascertain whether a speed detector is in the area. That is a valuable measure, but proposals advanced in legislation sometimes have unseen side-effects. Mark Cornwall, a constituent who runs Derby Car Parts Direct, told me that the firm,
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dealing in radar detector provision, will finish when the legislation comes into force. Yet it has developed technology that might be valuable and helpful in other respects. Perhaps the Secretary of State could help such firms to switch away from producing equipment that will become illegal, into legal products. That would be valuable.
Mr. Yeo: That intervention seems to be directed towards the future, when I am the Secretary of State. I would be pleased to help, but at the moment it is more a matter for the present Secretary of State. I shall refer to those devices in a few moments, and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on finding a good opportunity to argue a case on behalf of a firm in his constituency.
One of my concerns about our general approach to speeding is that it too often appears to be unrelated to an assessment of the risk. We have argued for lower speed limits to reduce accidents in certain areasclose to schools, for example. At the same time, in my judgment, few things do more to bring traffic laws into disrepute than rigidly enforced 24-hour limits of 50 mph on a four or six-lane dual carriageway. Given the good safety record of many motorways and trunk roads, it is surely time to consider raising the upper limit to 80 mph in certain places.
Tim Loughton: I want to return to the issue of the big reduction in the number of traffic police, which has gone largely unnoticed. I agree with my hon. Friend that we need lower speed limits, such as exist in 20 mph home zones, in school areas and residential areas with elderly people, of which there are many in my constituencybut part of the problem is that they are not enforceable. The traffic police are not there to enforce those speed limits, just as they are not there to advise on traffic safety. This is not just a question of their being there on motorbikes with speed cameras; it is also about their advising on the setting of speed limits. The traffic police are no longer there. I endorse a more flexible approach, but that can work only without such a ridiculous reliance on the broad-brush approach to speed cameras, at the expense of experienced police traffic professionals.
Mr. Yeo: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a well-founded suspicion that the Government strategy hitherto has been to encourage a proliferation of speed cameras to conceal the damage inflicted by cuts of between a quarter and a third in the number of operational traffic officers. As he says, that makes it much harder to introduce the more common-sense, risk-based and flexible approach to speed limits that we believe would go a long way to promoting safety and to winning public acceptance. A more flexible policy is the key, and the changes that I have suggested should be introduced in the context of a review of all speed limits.
It is well known that we share the concerns of those people who believe that in too many areas speed cameras are being used for revenue-raising purposes, and that they are not sited to achieve the maximum reduction in accidents. Because of that, once in government we will carry out an audit of all speed cameras to make sure that they are positioned where their impact will genuinely contribute to greater safety. Meanwhile, we should like two changes to be made to the Bill.
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The first change relates to clause 17, to which the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) referred. It deals with devices that detect the presence of equipment used to assess the speed of motor vehicles, and with other devices that jam that equipment. I draw a distinction between those two types of device, and have no objection to the proposed measures against devices that jam. However, devices that detect the presence of speed equipment belong to a different category. If the Government believe their claims that speed cameras are sited so that they slow down traffic in places where accidents are likely to occur, it is clearly helpful for drivers to have advance warning of them, as they will then approach high-risk sections of road at a moderate speed. The only reason to outlaw detection devices is that the number of drivers who might get caught for speeding would be reduced, with the result that the revenue generated by speed cameras would be cut.
Mr. Yeo: As I have said already, my proposal is that we should audit the position of speed cameras. Where they cut accidents, we are delighted about the contribution that they make, but I remain unpersuaded that every speed camera is sited in such a position. The proposal in clause 17 to outlaw devices that can detect speed cameras exposes the true intentions behind the positioning of many of them.
Another aspect of the Bill is relevant in this respect. The Bill provides opportunities to make sure that speed cameras promote safety. We could table a new clause to abolish the so-called safety camera partnerships, which serve no real purpose. If the speed cameras were operated by traffic police, it is more likely that they would be situated where they would genuinely prevent accidents. It would also mean that a higher proportion of the money paid in fines would be used by the traffic police to promote road safety in general.
Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Those of us who have followed these debates will recall that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), challenged one of the predecessors of the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) to give examples of speed cameras being sited in places where they would raise money rather than promote road safety. I challenge the hon. Gentleman now to give the House an example of a speed camera that has been placed in a certain spot just to raise money.
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