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Mr. Chope: I deal with miles, actually, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that this Governmenthis Governmenthave tried to transfer the debate to a discussion of fatality rates per, say, 1,000 miles. When I was Roads Minister in a Conservative Government, we set a target for reducing the actual number of people killed on the roads, and we were very successful in achieving it. I do not claim all the credit myself, but during the two or three years for which I was the Minister, the annual toll of fatalities on the road fell by more than 1,000 a year. Under this Government, since 1997 the number of fatalities has reached a plateau. In fact, according to the most recent figure it rose slightly.
Not surprisingly, the hon. Gentleman and, perhaps, Ministers are falling back on the number of fatalities per 1 million miles driven. Because of the higher mileage on the roads, the number may be falling as a small proportion, but it certainly does not compare with our record in government. Indeed, we would like to see a significant further reduction in the number of fatalities. One of the key ingredients is proper enforcement, and it is one of the ingredients that have been lacking in the Government's policy. It is no good just coming out today with a lame press release suggesting that everything will be rosy in the future, when we know that the figures suggest otherwise.
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The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) referred disparagingly to Conservative Members' comments about the need for police officers, and the fact that road safety cameras cannot be an adequate substitute. On 13 May 2004, Jan Berry, chairman of the Police Federation, said:
"I don't think you can remove the human element of policing and replace it with a camerain some force areas if you are going 35 mph at 2 am in a 30 mph area and no other traffic it would be extremely unusual for an officer to give you a ticketa speed camera doesn't have that discretion."
That is what worries us. In 1996 there were about 300,000 speeding fines; in 2004 there were probably 3 million, but as I have pointed out, there has been no reduction in the absolute number of fatalities. Despite that, the Government are probably raking in anything between £60 million and £100 million in extra fines. Their policy is not working, and it is alienating the travelling public and road users generally.
The Select Committee Chairman, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich, said that the incidence of compliance with 30 mph limits was very smallthat there was 58 per cent. non-compliance. Speed limits must be worthy of respect, or they will be ignored. It is essential for us to have a sensible regime of speed limits, and sensible enforcement. That point has been made strongly by the Institute of Advanced Motorists, of which I am privileged to be a member. It has drawn attention to
"the increasing use of non-discretionary cameras in place of police officers who are able to able to apply discretion taking account of prevailing conditions. For example, the Government position on the motorway limit included the assertion that while at 70 mph drivers would regularly travel at 80 mph, if increased to 80 mph they would travel at 90 mph. This argumentation is clearly undermined if zero-tolerance cameras substitute police enforcement."
"speed limits are exactly that: limits. The IAM and other road safety organisations constantly remind drivers of this. They are the maximum speed where conditions allow and therefore, by definition, a lower speed must be appropriate where there are additional hazards e.g. traffic density, rain, fog, high pedestrian population etc . . . For their message to be credible it follows that the speed limit should be set as the maximum permitted speed where the road appears empty of moving hazards, the conditions dry and visibility clear."
That is, I am afraid, far too infrequently the situation, which is why I am pleased to be able to tell the House this evening that the next Conservative Government, which will come in later this year, will conduct a review of speed limits on all English roads to ensure that posted speed limits are appropriate to the function and characteristics of the road. We will implement a consistent signposting policy across England to inform drivers, riders and passengers of these posted speed limits. That will have a major effect on the motoring public's confidence in the fairness of the system.
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My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) made a most important speech, and I certainly endorse what he said about the Streetwise safety centre, which I also had the privilege of visiting. It has achieved an enormous amount for road safety in our area. He admitted to having been the victim of the penalty points system, and of speed cameras imposed temporarily on roads under repair. I am afraid that concern about such cameras is often expressed in the postbag by people who, when travelling along a road whose normal speed limit has been replaced by a temporary limit, find that the signposting is inadequate. As a result, they are caught outin circumstances for which they find it very hard to accept responsibility.
My hon. Friend also made a very important point about the many cyclists on our roads who ride without lights. The Government should do something to help those who ride with lights that flash or pulsate, or which consist of light-emitting diodes, because currently they are outside the law. The chief executive of the parliamentary advisory committee on transport safety admitted to me in a conversation yesterday that he had such lights on his bike. Strictly speaking, they are outside the law, and this Bill gives the Government an opportunity to bring such cyclists within the law, and then to bear down more heavily on those who ride with no lights at all.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) raised a number of important points, but his overall theme of the importance of education is one that we should take seriously in this debate on road safety. It is apparent that the Government are putting too little emphasis on education's role in improving road safety.
Several contributors discussed the vexed issue of whether there should be a separate offence of careless driving resulting in death, and I can see the arguments for and against creating such an offence. However, I hope that, in responding to an amendment that we will table in Committee, the Government will compare that issue with what happens under the terms of section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. Through it, people are prosecuted for failing in their duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety and welfare at work of an employee. The consequences of that failure bear heavily on the penalties imposed, and it is such issues that the victims of road accidents and the relatives of those involved in fatalities want the Government to address.
Let us not forget, however, that motorists are paying £8 billion more every year in vehicle excise duty and fuel duty than they were when this Government took office. What are they getting in return? They are getting precious little investment in the road infrastructure or in new engineering works, which are also very important elements of road safety. I am pleased to announce that although this Government have backed away from a commitment to improving the A3 trunk road at Hindhead, the incoming Conservative Government will bring forward that project as quickly as possible.
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In conclusion, I think that the chairman of the Institute of Advanced Motorists hit the nail on the head when he spoke at the annual lunch. A member of the Government party was invited but, sadly, did not turn up: a space was left there, but I do not know the reason for the absence. The chairman said:
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): It is always good to follow the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), because anyone can sound reasonable and measured after he has spoken at the Dispatch Box. I was interested to hear his comments. He says that he would spend more on roadsparticularly the A3 at Hindhead, for some reasonbut I do not know how that squares with the £2 billion cuts that the Conservatives have also promised. At some future time, we may hear the answer to that question.
We have had a good-tempered debate with some excellent contributions on both sides of the House, and we have seen a wide degree of consensus on both the Front and the Back Benches for many of the measures in the Bill.
Roads are key to our economic success, and vital for the movement of people and goods. Our economy is doing well. We have a successful and vital economy with more people owning cars, which is why our roads are busier than ever before. We must use those roads safely. The speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), the first to speak from the Back Benches today, was a powerful one, which made that point eloquently. We are grateful to her Select Committee for examining the proposals before the Bill was published, and its report was extremely useful in preparing the Bill. I hope that it will be used in the forthcoming stages of the Bill, too, particularly with regard to implementing particular measures later.
I know that my hon. Friend will be disappointed that the Bill does not deal with some of the serious offences that have been under review for some years. Her views on that matter were also expressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) and for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller). Let me assure her and other Members that these matters are on the Home Office agenda, and consultation on them will start as soon as possible.
Safety on our roads is important to each and every one of us in representing our constituencies, and all our constituencies are affected in some way by road safety. We have heard today, as we so often do in such debates, a number of personal and harrowing stories of constituents who have either suffered injuries themselves or had friends and neighbours killed or seriously injured. We also know that vulnerable young children and the elderly are particularly affected by road safety issues. That interest has been the catalyst for the high-quality debate that we have conducted here today. The debate continues outside this Chamber. Many interest groups, some of them parliamentary, have helped to progress those issues through their discussions and lobbying.
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As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his opening speech, UK roads are some of the safest in the world, certainly in comparison with those in many other countries. That is due to action taken by successive Governments over a long period. I am not referring only to what has happened recently, but to the longer term. The vast majority of drivers in this country, young and old, are careful, considerate and law-abiding. The large quiet majority are people who wear their safety belts, do not exceed speed limits, do not use their mobile phones while driving and obey traffic laws.
However, their safetyand the safety of the rest of usis compromised by the small minority who put other people's lives at risk. The people in that minority think that when it comes to driving, insurance is somehow an optional extra. They think that they are special, and can drink and then drive safely. They chatter on their mobile phones when they should be concentrating on the road ahead.
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