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Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): We have seen expressed in some parts of the media the unfortunate idea that speed camera fines are simply a way of raising more money for the Government. Does the hon. Gentleman not worry that the new clause, which proposes to make positive use of the funds raised, could be misinterpreted by such media mischief?
Mr. Chope: I know that there are many mischievous people working in the media, but anyone suggesting that Conservative Members are proposing incentives for more speed camera offences to be detected in order to raise more money from fines would be unaware of the campaign that we have been waging against using speed cameras as "greed cameras", as I have called them in the past. We believe that there is already a clear and unexplained disparity between the revenue raised by some safety camera partnerships and that raised by others.
I do not believe that the people of Dorset drive less well than the people of Greater Manchester. Rather, that statistic stems from the fact that some of the Dorset speed cameras are situated in positions that rather unfairly confront people with the full rigour of the law. I also believe that the money could be effectively spent investing in road safety education, which cannot be afforded in Dorset at the moment. Much of the revenue from speed camera fines is reverting to the Treasury rather than being made available for reinvestment in road safety purposes.
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One of the ironies of the speed camera debate is that the number of people being killed on our roads is continuing to increase rather than decline. That should not be happening, because we now have much safer vehicles and many improvements have been carried out on our highways. We are achieving a reduction of speeds, accidents and fatalities at the specific site of speed camerasthat is hardly surprisingbut people continue to speed elsewhere, resulting in a significant number of deaths.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): I am trying to follow the gist of the hon. Gentleman's argument, but is he not effectively advocating having more speed cameras? He acknowledges that speed cameras stop accidents, so why should we not logically deduce that we need more speed cameras further to reduce them?
Mr. Chope: Bad driving is responsible for many accidents, and that is why I have argued robustly in favour of having more traffic police. As the hon. Gentleman knows from earlier debates, we have drawn the public's attention to the fact that the number of traffic police has declined by almost 3,000about a thirdunder the present Government.
We believe that the best way of ensuring good driving standards on the roads is, first, to have good driver education, including revision courses if necessary, in order to encourage drivers to achieve the highest standards on the roads. Secondly, we believe that the money invested in road safety at the moment is inadequate and could be significantly enhanced. That is one reason why we want to divert the money currently going straight to the Treasury into speed awareness and driver improvement courses. I know that that proposal is broadly welcomed by many members of safety camera partnerships. I know from conversations with people involved in the Dorset safety camera partnership that they disagree with the Government policy of not allowing surplus revenue to be reinvested in education and training programmes.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): If a huge number of people in Dorset and elsewhere are being caught by speed cameras, surely the hon. Gentleman would accept that such people are committing an offence. Which other offence whose potential outcome could be the death of another person does he believe should be treated as leniently?
Mr. Chope: I think that the hon. Gentleman is being rather unrealistic about this matter. I know that he joins me in being a supporter of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, so does he not agree that we should be encouraging responsible driving, at speeds that are appropriate for all the circumstances? Just because someone puts up a sign saying, "Thou shalt travel at 30 mph," it does not necessarily mean that an objective test would find that that was the appropriate speed to travel on that part of the road.
Mr. Greg Knight:
The point made by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) would perhaps be valid if every speed limit in the UK
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were truly appropriate. Is there not an overwhelming case for carrying out a nationwide speed audit to ensure that every speed limit is appropriate?
Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, that is why he and I have both jointly announced such a policy, and I am grateful to him for reminding a wider audience of it. It is not dissimilar to a policy adopted in New Zealand and Australia, where each stretch of road is examined to assess the most appropriate speed limit, bearing in mind the fact that the limit must be the maximum speed at which drivers can travel in ideal conditions.
The 2003 vehicle speeds statistics for Great Britain, which were published last year, showed that 57 per cent. of drivers broke the 30 mph speed limits and 50 per cent. broke the limits on motorways. Faced with that sort of evidence, surely a more humble and less arrogant Government would acknowledge that something could be wrong with the speed limits, given that more than half of drivers admit to breaking them.
What has happened under the present Government is that the speed limits have fallen into disrepute, so that people increasingly think that the only time they need to comply with a speed limit is where it is reinforced by a speed camera. That in turn results in more inappropriate speeding on our roads. Conservative Members believe that that is a major subject to be dealt with.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con): Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of speed cameras, may I bring him back to the original purpose of the new clauseto release money, irrespective of what we think about the cameras, for road safety? Does he agree that another way of releasing money pertains to the ridiculous bureaucracies that surround safety partnerships? Could we not free up funds by tackling that problem? The police could be allowed to get on with it and the money would not be wasted on pen-pushing, paper-moving bureaucracies called safety camera partnerships.
Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is right. Towards the end of parliamentary questions about one of the Government's key election campaigns, we heard the revelation that the amount spent by the present Government on advertising and self-promotion has increased fivefold during their period in office. Under speed camera safety partnerships people can reinvest the money for propaganda but they are not allowed to spend it on road safety education. I agree with my hon. Friend that it would be much better if the money were invested in information and education rather than propaganda.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con):
One of the downsides of speed cameras can be that motorists take back roads to avoid them. Does my hon. Friend agree that there has been a disturbing rise in the number of fatalities on B and C roads, where cameras tend not to be sited, as they are on main roads? That is certainly a problem and a concern in my constituency.
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Speed cameras have been installed on the A6, so other roads are more heavily used and accidents on them have increased.
Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. That is another example of the law of unintended consequences. I do not think that when the Government put all the emphasis on speed cameras, they intended there to be more fatalities on B and C roads, but that has been the result. They thought that cameras would improve road safety, but that is not what has happened. My hon. Friend referred to what was happening in his constituency. One of the reasons why speeders on B and C roads feel that they can get away with it is that the number of police engaged on speed enforcement has been cut back so severely by the Government, as I pointed out earlier.
Mr. Kidney: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman mentioned speed awareness and driver improvement courses as possible beneficiaries of his new clause. Currently, when people successfully attend those courses they avoid a fine in court or penalty points on their licence, so it seems fair that they should pay the cost of the course, which makes the courses self-financing. Is he proposing to undermine that?
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