Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Rob Marris: Even when his engine was switched off?

Mr. Chope: Indeed, that is the case, but we do not believe that it accords with common sense or fair play.

We should discourage people from using mobile phones while driving and, indeed, penalise them for doing so. However, we should not penalise them with three penalty points and a fine for doing so at the wheel when their car is in stationary traffic and they have turned off the ignition. We tabled a reasonable amendment in Committee to try to make an exception to the rule, but the Government rejected it out of hand. To be fair, I do not think that they really understood the law, because any rational person listening to the debate would have said that our points were valid.

Since that debate, it has come to my notice there have been incidents in which police officers have gone down lines of stationary traffic booking people who were using mobile phones. That is demonstrates a perverse sense of priorities and it just fuels many motorists' belief that, rather than improving road safety, the Government are engaged in a war against the motorist. If the Government want to improve road safety—we are highly supportive of that proposition—as well as the relationship between the police, the law and the motoring public, they should accept the amendments, which would ensure that individuals who use a mobile phone when their vehicle is stationary would not be guilty of an offence. The Minister will notice that, to ensure that the amendments were selected, we made certain that their terms are not identical to those of the amendment that we tabled in Committee. We would be happy to revert to the wording of our original amendment, if the Minister offers to accept it, and we would withdraw the amendments that we have tabled today.

Mr. Miller: I accept that applications of the law can become ludicrous. That would be the case if, for example, a vehicle was literally stationary and could not move because it was in a five-mile queue. However, could the hon. Gentleman tell us more about the case that he cited and see whether the House would agree with him in those particular circumstances?

Mr. Chope: I do not have the report of Committee proceedings with me, but that case is set out in Hansard. In Committee, I cited case law about the definition of driving.

Mr. Miller: Perhaps I was not clear enough, as the hon. Gentleman has missed my point. The case law to
8 Mar 2005 : Column 1410
which he refers predates mobile phones by a long chalk. He talked about a specific incident in which a police officer went down a line of traffic and booked motorists in stationary vehicles who were on the telephone. Could he tell us more about that?

Mr. Chope: I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman more.

Mr. Miller: Is it fiction?

Mr. Chope: I doubt very much whether the person who informed me about it was telling porkies.

Mr. Miller: If it were true, the hon. Gentleman would be on to a good point.

Mr. Chope: Surely, the hon. Gentleman in turn accepts that we would be mad as legislators to create a strict offence but expect the police or more probably cameras to separate the just from the unjust. Surely the best thing is to ensure in the first place that the law is just and that there is a proper exception to the application of it in circumstances in which he and I would agree that it should not apply—that is, in relation to people who are using mobile phones in stationary traffic when they have switched the engine of their vehicle off.

A parliamentary colleague, who is not in the Chamber at present, has on her dashboard a little television. I have never got to the stage of owning a car that had a television on the dashboard, but apparently the television switches off automatically when the car is in motion and switches on automatically when the car is stationary at traffic lights. It is, apparently, a lawful piece of kit and a standard feature of some of the more up-market vehicles. In this case, it is a British vehicle—a Land Rover, I think. I have not gone into the detail of it, but if it is lawful to have on the dashboard a television that is activated when the vehicle is stationary, should it be unlawful to use a mobile phone when the vehicle is stationary and the engine is switched off? We are making the law an ass if we legislate on that basis. That is why I hope the House will accept the amendment, along with a host of the new clauses.

Mr. Miller: This is a fascinating group of new clauses. On some of them, I find myself on the side of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), and on others I am violently opposed to him. I shall deal with the two points on which I strongly agree with the tenor of his arguments. They relate to new clauses 3 and 4, on which the hon. Gentleman made some powerful points.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), has started a consultation, which I warmly welcome. I hope the Opposition welcome it as well, so that whoever occupies my hon. Friend's position after the election—

Mr. Jamieson: In 15 months.

Mr. Miller: Indeed.

I hope that whoever holds the position will accept that legislation needs to be introduced to reflect the spirit of our discussions and the mood outside. What could be said in any consultation that would cause my hon.
8 Mar 2005 : Column 1411
Friend not to accept the point made by the hon. Member for Christchurch and the point that he himself sets out in the report that is out for consultation? I want an answer to that because I find it difficult not to agree with the hon. Gentleman in his cogent argument about the need for change. My hon. Friend knows my views because we have discussed the matter before in the Chamber and elsewhere, in my capacity as a patron of the charity RoadPeace.

The arguments are powerful and need to be dealt with. We must send out a strong message that if the House decides this afternoon to await the outcome of the consultation, unless somebody produces some stunning new arguments that make the House review its conclusions, there will be legislation to implement the intention of new clauses 3 and 4, and that legislation will be tough on offenders.

1.45 pm

Mr. Chope: Do the arguments that the hon. Gentleman has just deployed extend to new clause 6?

Mr. Miller: Yes, indeed. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's assistance on that point.

We disagree on the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the effectiveness or otherwise of speed cameras. Ultimately, there is one simple, incontrovertible fact: nobody gets caught by a speed camera who is not breaking the law. Anyone who whinges to any hon. Member about the fine they received as a result of speed camera evidence has broken the law.

Mr. Greg Knight: Is it not a valid point that the law may not be fair? Let me give the hon. Gentleman an example. There are many instances of the police stopping motorists who are technically breaking the speed limit and letting those motorists proceed on their way with a warning, because the police appreciate and perceive that the breach of the law was de minimis or was in such circumstances that there was no danger to other road users. It was a technical breach of the law. Speed cameras have no discretion. That is the problem, and it has become worse over recent years.

Mr. Miller: I thought for a moment that we would get an admission of guilt from the right hon. Gentleman.

The simple fact is that the technology employed is set to allow a certain amount of tolerance. There is already tolerance in all the circumstances in which cameras are put in place. It applies approximately the same latitude as the police would allow before enforcing a prosecution. That de facto pushes up the limits slightly.

I can think of one specific camera that I know well on the Runcorn expressway—a 60 mph zone. It used to be a derestricted zone, but it was reduced to 60 mph because of some serious crashes on that stretch of road. Then speed cameras were introduced, which caused people to drive more slowly. The net effect was to make that stretch of road safer. Interestingly, one camera was removed in the recent past, because there is the belief that it has had the desired effect and the habits of most drivers there have changed.

I believe that the technology can be used to assist in educating drivers. We should not see speed cameras as an alternative to police officers. They are a different tool
8 Mar 2005 : Column 1412
used differently, placed as a result of consultation through the safety camera partnerships, which work extremely well, even in Dorset, as the hon. Member for Christchurch acknowledged. Their judgments are not from on high. They are judgments applied locally by local people who know the roads where the technology is to be installed.

Next Section IndexHome Page