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Mr. Tyler: I warmly welcome clause 22, which deals with mobile phones, but will the Minister look again at the evidence provided by Brake, that very effective road safety pressure group? It suggests that even hands-free mobile phones can distract drivers. Will he consider that evidence again in Committee?
Mr. Jamieson: Our recommendation is that people should not use a mobile phone at all when driving. However, the law must be enforceable. When we brought in the £30 fixed penalty last year, we said that we would hold a review in a year's time. The Bill contains the new measures to raise the fine and to impose the three penalty points that we promised. If necessary, we will review the law again in the future. The Bill contains a range of sensible and proportionate measures to make our roads safer.
I will not have time to respond to all the points raised in the debate, so I invite hon. Members to whom I cannot respond to correspond with me, or to raise matters in Standing Committee. The hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) opened the debate for the Opposition, and I am grateful to him for his shared concerns and consensual approach. He said that he would not divide the House on Second Reading, as did the Liberal Democrat spokesman. It is good to have that consensus on this important Bill, although I fully expect there to be some differences about some of the smaller matters in it, which we will debate in the usual way.
The hon. Member for South Suffolk said how differently we in this country treat deaths on the road from deaths arising from rail or air crashes, or other causes. Other hon. Members made the same point, including my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon).
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I think that we are going through a gradual cultural change in this matter. I am glad to say that the number of people injured is falling, as is the death rate. The static figure for deaths is about 3,500 a year, and we have to tackle that. I hope that the House's consensual approach will allow us to find a way to do so.
The hon. Member for South Suffolk mentioned the EuroRAP map, and said that it showed some roads to be more dangerous than others. That is to be expected, but local authorities and the Highways Agency are devoting a lot of energy to identifying which roads and junctions are most dangerous and problematic. We are focusing our attention, and our funding, on those roads. If we are to pay for the improvements that the hon. Gentleman wants, we must put the funding in. In those circumstances, cuts would not be appropriate.
Mrs. Anne Campbell: My hon. Friend has said that he will be taking another look at dangerous roads, so will he look again at the A14, which runs between Cambridge and Huntingdon? A very large number of accidents happen on that road, so can anything be done to improve the situation before 2010?
Mr. Jamieson: We appreciate the dangers of that piece of road, and I know that my hon. Friend has lobbied consistently on the issue. Those are the sort of dangers that we want to address, but she will know that it is incumbent on us to tackle the worst first. We must deal with the greatest problems first.
The Conservative party has performed either a U-turn or a complete 360-degree turnI am not sure whichin respect of speed cameras. The hon. Member for Christchurch did a wonderful job in 1990 when he introduced safety cameras. However, the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) argued all last year that most of those cameras were in the wrong place and should be removed. I am glad that the hon. Member for South Suffolk has brought some calm common sense to the Conservative Benches, as he clearly realises that he is on a losing issue with the electorate. The vast majority of people in this country do not believe that people should be able to speed freely. They believe that their children should be able to cross the road without having speeding drivers around them. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support.
The hon. Member for South Suffolk proposed an audit of the cameras. We have already done that. Some of his Conservative colleagues in local government have also carried out an audit. I repeat the challenge that I made to the Tory Front-Bench team 13 months ago. If the hon. Gentleman knows where there are cameras that do not meet the criteria, let him tell the House where they are. After 13 months, nobody on the Conservative Benches has come up with a single example of a camera that has been wrongly placed.
I am glad to have the support of the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso). He spoke about pedestrians being killed at various speeds, and the issue of variable speed limits. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his opening remarks, the variable penalty is only an
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enabling power in the Bill. The detail will come later, after careful consultation. That is an important matter, because the faster the car is going, the more likely it is that people will be killed.
Repeater signs are not dealt with in the Bill. There are difficulties associated with cost and with the clutter of street signs. The present system, whereby a built-up area where there are lights is a 30 mph zone, goes back 70-odd years. On bull bars, a subject which interests my hon. Friends, we are negotiating a new European directive to control their use. It is my view that they have no place on any vehicle on the road.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax, who chairs the all-party group on road safety, contrasted our attitudes to death caused by various modes of transport. The law already empowers local authorities to reduce speed limits to 20 mph. I take her point about sleep-related issues. They are important, but in the main do not need to be dealt with in primary legislation.
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) spoke with great enthusiasm about many of the measures in the Bill, particularly those dealing with foreign lorries, equal treatment of British subjects and foreigners on our roads, rest areas and uninsured drivers. He spoke about a level playing field across Europe. I agree about common practice, enforcement and information sharingbut whether we want the same laws as other countries in the European Union, I very much doubt. We have a better record, and those countries look to our legislation as an example, rather than the other way round.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough made an impassioned speech on behalf of his constituents. The penalties issue that he raised is being examined by the Home Office. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston has a long history of interest in road safety matters. I thank him for his support. He raised some interesting points, which the Committee may want to consider.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) made a helpful speech, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), although he said that the Bill did not go far enough. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) chairs the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, so his commitment, and that of the people with whom he works, is clear.
We are concerned about the death statistics. We have been successful in reducing the number of serious injuries on the roads, and I agree that we must now turn our attention to reducing the number of deaths. Sadly, the figures rose last year, mainly because of an increase in the number of motor cyclist deaths, and we must address that issue. However, I am very much opposed to the harmonisation of penalties across Europe.
In conclusion, each crash brings human misery for those who are injured and the families of those who are killed, and a massive cost to our economy. The Bill contains a number of measures that will help to make our roads safer; it will be welcomed by all of us, and I commend it to the House.
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