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Rob Marris : My hon. Friend has made the valid point that safety cameras only catch the guilty. The position adopted by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) is contradictory: as far as I understand it, he wants both to have fewer safety cameras and, through new clause 9which has not been selected todayto get rid of speed humps, which catch the innocent. On suburban roads, we should install more safety cameras and fewer speed bumps, so that the guilty are caught and the innocent, who drive at or below the speed limit, are not penalised.
Mr. Miller: As usual, my hon. Friend has made a powerful case. We must take a flexible look at what is available as the technology unfolds, because, for example, some of the number plate recognition technologies are amazingly effective.
May I make a tiny diversion, Mr. Deputy Speaker? On the Saturday before last, I went out on patrol with the police in rural Cheshire. We were overtaken by a vehicle similar to one that the officers had had brought to their attention. Within 30 seconds, the powerful technology used by the police had sent us the vehicle's details, including its owner, the insurance details and the owner's address. That was an amazing demonstration of an effective piece of Government IT procurement, which is doing a marvellous job in terms of not only road safety, but broad crime prevention.
I agree with the hon. Member for Christchurch that common sense must prevail when technology is employed. We do not know whether his example of a police officer who sought to prosecute people for using mobile phones when their engines were turned off in a stationary row of traffic is an urban myth or a rural myth, because we do not know which road it happened on. If it were true, however, I would agree that that is an inappropriate use of the law and that that officer's actions would put off people from sticking rigorously to the rules of the road. If it were true, it would also raise an interesting question about police training. We must ensure that officers are encouraged to apply the law pragmatically and sensibly.
Mr. Greg Knight: The hon. Gentleman and I do not disagree on the use of new technology, which he has just described. It is admirable that the police now have the ability to monitor passing vehicles' number plates not only for road traffic offences such as no insurance, but for more serious crimes such as drug dealingthe technology can identify known drug dealers, whom the police can then apprehend. Does he agree that the effectiveness of the new technology depends on the reliability of the database? Does he accept that police forces across the country have raised serious concerns that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency database is not as reliable as it should be?
I can only go by my own experience, which shows that the response is remarkably accurate.
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Any databaseit does not matter whether it is a paper database or whether the information is held electronicallyhas an error level. If the right hon. Gentleman is setting out a case for making sure that the DVLA employs sufficient people to protect the database's integrity, I agree with him. That argument applies to any database to which the police have access, because databases should be kept to the highest level of accuracy to protect the integrity of the law enforcement process.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise the need to introduce changes in some areas, particularly on the ground covered by new clauses 3, 4 and 6 and on the areas that my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) and for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) will raise later in the debate. The matter is important and we must work hard to ensure that public confidence in the integrity of the law is sustained. To that end, I accept the argument, which I suspect my hon. Friend the Minister will advance later, that a consultation period is required.
In conclusion, I repeat my point on the principle behind new clauses 3, 4 and 6, and I want to hear my hon. Friend the Minister say in strong terms that the Government intend to introduce legislation to establish those points.
John Thurso : Before I discuss the individual new clauses, I want to make a general point. Taken individually, many of the new clauses tabled by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) are reasonable, and I have indicated those that I support. If we consider the totality of the new clauses, however, we perceive a kind of underlying mood music, which suggests that the motorist is hard done by and that an overall relaxation should take place. That argument assumes that motorists feel hard done by, but I have found that people increasingly understand the need for restraint with regard to speed. Most people to whom I speak either accept that speed cameras are a useful necessity or are looking for ways to introduce one in their community or on their roads.
In my constituency, the A9, which I shall no doubt discuss later, runs up to Thurso from Inverness. One of the complaints is that the volume of traffic and the consequent deaths are happily insufficient to allow speed cameras to be installed in some of the villages and towns on that busy main road. I would look favourably on a relaxation of the criteria within the 30 mph limit, because prevention is better than deaths and accidents.
I support new clause 1, with the caveat that I am not arguing from an anti-camera standpoint. Speed cameras are currently accompanied by a warning sign not less than 1 km from the camera, the camera itself is painted a bright orangey-yellow colour and has reflective tape on the back, and huge white grid lines are painted on the road, so any motorist who fails to take account of what is nothing short of a flashing beacon perhaps deserves everything that they get.
The substantive point of new clause 1 is that the funds raised should be made available for education, and I see no harm in that whatsoever. I do not necessarily believe that speed cameras are simply nasty, money-grabbing
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machines, but if there are surplus funds and partnerships see a way in which they could be deployed that would be enabled by the new clause, I see no reason not to allow it to go through.
Enforcement is important in relation to speeding offences, but we must not forget the other two Esengineering and education. Where enforcement leads on to education, that is highly beneficial. Yesterday, I visited parts of Kent and East Sussex to look at some railways, and the very nice man who was driving me told me that when he had an accident two years ago, the police offered him a choice between prosecution and a driver awareness course. He obviously took the course, and said that he was delighted to have paid for it and learned a great deal that he had no idea he would take from it beforehand. I do not know the particular circumstances of the accident, but that aspect was beneficial. For that reason, I am happy to support new clause 1.
John Thurso: Indeed; it should be up to the perpetrator to pay for the course. I am taken, however, by the idea of allowing a little discretion. Some people, certainly in my constituency, live on very small incomes or even on state benefits, and there is sometimes a good argument forI would not want to use the term "scholarship"
Mr. Knight: I am pleased to hear what the hon. Gentleman says. Could not a person of very meagre income who finds that they cannot afford to pay a fee en bloc for a speed awareness course opt for the fine and offer to pay at £2 a week?
John Thurso: The right hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point and I urge the Government to consider it. The critical point of principle is that an awful lot of people can pay and should pay, but in such circumstances as have been described by various hon. Members, it would be perfectly valid to do everything possible to encourage people to take the education route. If that means utilising an easy payment plan or a fund from another area, we should consider that.
That would clearly be wrong if the totting-up procedure had included, for example, offences involving two points. In Committee, the possibility was inserted into the Bill that fixed penalties could be lower than three points. Many of us argued against that and are hoping
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that, for speeding in particular, the level will stay at three or more. It is possible that somebody could arrive at the totting-up point where the new clause kicked in through a series of two-point penalties. In that case, it would clearly be wrong to get three taken offor a 33.3 per cent. bonus. That is why I cannot support new clause 2.
I have great sympathy for the new clauses on penalties and would certainly support them for all the reasons that the hon. Member for Christchurch set out. Given that it has taken several years to get to the point where we have a Road Safety Bill, I am not sure that we will get back to it for some years to come. These are such important matters that I urge the Government to consider, if possible, incorporating these new clauses in another place.
New clause 7 puts a case with which I have considerable sympathy. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm whether, as I understand it, the new clause relates solely to England and would have no effect in Scotland. My concern stems from the fact that subsection (7)(c) defines a "rural road" as one where
In my constituency, a great number of A roads have no such markingthey are, as it were, one-and-a-half width roads. They tend to occur on the north coast and through Sutherland and Caithness in places that have very clear visibility, exceptionally low traffic volumes and long distances to travel. There would be no point whatsoever in reducing speed limits there from 60 mph; nobody is asking for it and there would be no great benefit.
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