Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I support the Bill, which contains many good provisions. I want to concentrate on aspects of it on which we can build and I hope that the Government will take some points on board either in Committee or in other ways in future.
First, I endorse the comments of many other hon. Members about the problem with the graduated penalty proposals. I am worried that the message conveyed by adopting proposals for lower penalties for lower speeding would undermine the Government's good work on road safety. It would convey a message that a little bit of speeding does not do any harm. That is a dangerous message and it would be a big mistake to send it. We should face the fact that the problem of speeding below 40 mph in a 30 mph zone is not that people receive many penalty points but that, too often, the law is not enforced.
In many parts of the country, there is no genuinely effective enforcement until people drive at 38 or 39 mph. I do not suggest that we should pursue with the full vigour of the law someone who inadvertently creeps one or two mph beyond a 30 mph limit. However, we must have much more effective enforcement of existing speed limits below the 10 mph leeway, which appears to be allowed in many parts of the country. That approach is
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not consistent and I would be interested to hear today or on another occasion what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary believes he can do to try to ensure a more consistent approach to enforcement of speed limits throughout the UK.
I endorse the comments made by many hon. Members on drink-driving limits. The arguments for reducing the level to 50 mg are convincing and I hope that the Government will consider them in Committee. I also endorse the view expressed by many hon. Members that, if we are to improve still further our relatively good road safety record, we need to change not only our legislation but public attitudes. The change in public attitudes can be brought about in a number of ways, and legislation will certainly play a part in that, as it will underline the message that we take seriously offences of this nature. We also need more public education, although a lot of good work has already been done in that regard. We need more public information, more road safety education of all sorts in schools, including basic education about street safety, cycle training and a wide range of other measures. We also need more driver education, and more work to be done by vehicle manufacturers.
Above all, we as public figures need to send a consistent message that cutting the toll of deaths and injuries on our roads must have a higher priority in the decisions that we take about traffic and transport. I, too, welcome the clear message given by the Secretary of State today about the way in which we should regard people who use their vehicle to drive dangerously. He drew a parallel between such people and those who create a danger by using a gun or other weapon. That was a powerful message and I endorse what he said.
We have heard today about the tragic cases that have affected many hon. Memberswe all see such cases in our communities from time to time. It is also important, however, to send out the positive message that we can do things to make a difference at local level as well as at national level. In my own city of Edinburgh, the city council, the police and other agencies have worked together to make a real impact on reducing the number of deaths and injuries on the roads. Last year, for the first time since records began, some 75 years ago, not a single school-age child was killed on the roads in Lothian, the area that includes Edinburgh. That result was achieved by a road safety strategy involving a combination of engineering measures such as road humps, enforcement involving speed cameras, and education. This was not just a one-off strategy. Over the last 10 years, we have seen a reduction of 30 per cent. in the number of injuries on the roads. That consistent reduction has meant that we have had one of the highest reductions in accidents in the UK. It is time to learn from the example set by my city council, as well as by many other councils of different political colours in different parts of the country that have introduced measures to improve road safety in their communities.
The use of speed cameras and other traffic calming measures of that nature results in howls of derision from certain sections of the community and the media. However, we have to underline the fact that none of usI am a driver myselfhas the right to break the speed limit. We must reject the spurious arguments about the Government attempting to raise revenue from cameras, because it diverts us from the fact that speed
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kills, and we do not need the carnage on the roads that still takes place despite our relatively good record compared with most other European countries.
I welcome the fact that the Conservatives have said today that they will not vote against the Bill. This is an area in which we must try to achieve as much political consensus as possible. However, it is no use Conservative Front Benchers saying that they support the headline measures on road safety if, in the next breath, they come out with language that undermines the message being sent by those measures. I do not want to undermine the cross-party consensus that we have here today, but as we listened to the opening speech by the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), we heard all the same old arguments and urban myths about speed cameras. We heard the idea slip through that the Conservatives, if they came to power, would abolish the safety camera partnerships, which have done more than anything to reduce deaths and injury by speeding. It is no good, at one level, supporting road safety, while undermining in practice, with the message that is sent out, the intent of legislation.
I say this with some hesitation but it needs to be said: when the message is sent out by some leading Conservativesalthough there are some honourable exceptions in the Conservative partythat a little speeding is okay and that it does not really qualify to be in the same league as other criminal offences, that contributes to the overall climate in which speeding is okay, and contributes to the campaign in some quarters against speed cameras and against enforcing speed legislation. We hear that too often from the Conservative Benches, and it contributes to making the roads less safe, and ultimately results in people dying or being injured on our roads who would not otherwise have died or been injured.
Conservative Front Benchers must recognise that when they undermine the message of strict enforcement of speed limits, they are acting irresponsibly and encouraging some drivers to drive in a way that leads to people being killed and injured unnecessarily. With not too much expectation of a change of heart today, I urge them to act a little more responsibly in this area, and not to take an approach that leads to more people losing their lives and being injured than would otherwise be the case.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): This debate has been well attended, and the contributions have been fewer and shorter than would have been the case had the Second Reading not lost two hours and 50 minutes to the three statements and the urgent question, which was a point made very well by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). Because of time constraints, I will not be able to respond to all the pertinent points that have been made. Unlike in most debates in the House, however, everyone who has spoken shares the same objective of improving road safety, and relatively small differences exist in relation to some of the means of achieving that objective.
I shall start with one area in which there is unanimity about the need for enforcement. I must emphasise the way in which the Government have failed both their supporters in the House and Opposition Members who
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believe that we need more police enforcement of our road traffic laws. Road traffic law enforcement is not included in the core responsibilities of chief constables, a fact which was investigated by the Select Committee in its excellent report. All that has happened is that the Government have produced a rather lame response to the Select Committee report, and have today announced that they will now get serious about enforcement of road traffic law.
Fortunately, only on 5 January I received a much delayed answer to a question that I had put to the Home Secretary on how many road traffic police officers there were in 1996, and how many there are now. It was quite a straightforward question, but it received a holding answer on 13 December, no doubt while the Government worked out how they were going to respond. The answer is rather interesting, as it shows that in the past four years 1,653 fewer police officers have been in front-line operational road policing, while the number of support staff has increased by 399, and an extra 400 have been involved in administrative supporta twentyfold increase. In 199697, this Government inherited 9,201 road traffic police officers, whereas now, according to the answer that I have received, there are only 6,276 operational traffic officersa reduction of between a quarter and 30 per cent. In the meantime, there has been an enormous increase in the number of operational support officers and organisational support administrative back-up staff.