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Mr. Andrew Turner : It might assist the hon. Gentleman if I answered him now. Subsection (2) provides:

I have not allowed for a relevant authority for the whole of Scotland, so only designations under subsection (3) could be made in that respect. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman's highway authority would take account of his views on that matter.

John Thurso: I am grateful for that clarification. Although the hon. Gentleman's intention is absolutely right, I suspect that he may need to have a look at schedules 4 and 5 of the Scotland Act 1998, because I am not entirely certain that the relevant powers have been devolved, and that may cause him a small problem.

New clause 12 would increase the speed limit for heavy goods vehicles from 40 to 50 mph. I will not detain the House with what I recounted in Committee in respect of the A9, but I should like to highlight the basic problem with the categorising of roads. A large part of the A9 is a modern road that is made up to a very high standard, where a speed of 50 mph is perfectly appropriate for a lorry, but other parts are made up to a 1970s standard and some go back to a 1960s standard.

The longer-term problem is that some A roads are capable, through engineering, of allowing greater speeds than other A roads, some of which go right down to single-track in parts of the far north. Several hauliers have told me that because of the times at which drivers are permitted to drive, the long distances involved mean that they are unable to get to relevant markets. For
 
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example, on the long stretch of the A9 from Tain in Ross-shire down nearly to Perth, which has some dual carriageway but is mostly single carriageway, that extra 10 mph would permit drivers to reach some of their markets in one go without having to stay overnight in the cab. I remind the House of the sign just outside Inverness that states: "Frustration causes accidents—allow overtaking". That is a problem. Most lorry drivers are very good—they leave a gap between the vehicle in front and permit overtaking—but it would be helpful to increase the limit on that particular stretch of road.

We have already dealt with speed awareness and I look forward to hearing the arguments of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney). I am intrinsically sympathetic to new clause 16.

I am not wholly convinced by new clause 19, for reasons that we discussed in Committee. It does not necessarily add anything to the measure or make life easier, and I suspect that I am not in total sympathy with the hon. Member for Christchurch about it. However, I want to comment on his points about the definition of "driver" and when people are deemed to be driving a car. As he will remember, I said in Committee that I had intended to stay out of the debate but, having heard the Under-Secretary's answer, I felt obliged to support the hon. Member for Christchurch. I gave an example, again from my beloved A9, of the roadworks at Berriedale last year, when the traffic lights were red for up to 15 minutes. We were happy with that because we were getting great improvements and we all knew about the wait.

If someone happened to draw up when the lights turned from green to red, he knew that the time allowed for a lorry to go all the way down to the bottom and back up the other side at 5 mph and for traffic to pass in the opposite direction would be 15 minutes. One simply turned off the engine and used the time productively. Occasionally, one might have used a mobile phone—[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] That was before the law changed. One would phone to say, "I caught it bad at the lights. It'll be another 15 minutes before I get there."

The Under-Secretary responded by saying that, in such circumstances, the person concerned would not be prosecuted. However, as we discovered from further discussion, the law does not accord with that. The law is straightforward: simply sitting stationary, with the engine switched off for what will clearly prove to be a long wait, is not enough. I believe that, even if one got out of the car, stood alongside it and used a mobile phone, one could still be prosecuted. I do not know how many miles from the car one would have to walk before the courts decided that one was not driving.

The serious point is that we are trying to get the message across to motorists that it is dangerous to use a mobile phone when in charge of a vehicle. Clearly, we do not want a position whereby every time a car stops at traffic lights for 30 seconds, people feel free to use their mobile phones; but equally, when it is obvious—for the reason that I outlined or, for example, because an unfortunate accident has occurred—that there will be a long wait, the inability to use a mobile phone will be perceived as unfair and silly. I suspect that people will not know the law and therefore break it without
 
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realising it. The Government could usefully examine the matter and introduce a correction to achieve the balance that I believe we all support.

Mr. Chope: Case law shows that one would not be deemed to be driving after one had got out of a car, gone into a shop and was engaged in selecting goods. At that stage, it would be said that one was no longer driving.

John Thurso: I am grateful for that clarification. The definitions should be re-examined, given that they were introduced before mobile phones were invented. I hope that the Government will at least consider the matter and perhaps use the opportunity in another place to introduce a more reasonable definition in respect of mobile phones.

Mr. Kidney: I want to speak about new clause 16, which I tabled. The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) mentioned the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and I declare a non-pecuniary interest in that I co-chair PACTS.

My vision in tabling the new clause is for speed awareness courses throughout the country that are widely available to people who speed, in an attempt to correct their offending behaviour. There is currently no national model for speed awareness courses and the new clause proposes that the Government should establish a national scheme in which such courses are provided. There is a national scheme for drink-drive rehabilitation courses, for which legislation provides. Again, there is a national model for driver improvement schemes, with national monitoring of drivers' progress. We are therefore behind the curve on speed awareness courses.

2.15 pm

I understand that the Association of Chief Police Officers, on behalf of the Department, is currently developing guidance for local authorities and police forces about when such courses should be used. It is significant that they are available; the current legal position is that police forces make conditional offers to people who would otherwise be prosecuted in court for speeding and receive a fine and points on their licence. The exact terms of the conditions and the judgment about whether someone has complied with them could be important for that person's future. It is therefore important that we are certain about them.

I believe that the police have got as far as setting some general national standards for the courses and that they comment on the professionalism of the presenters and instructors who are used on them. However, we have not yet reached the stage where there is certainty throughout the country. Let me give a couple of examples of matters about which I want to know more. What is the purpose of a speed awareness course? To whom will it be directed? Are we considering first-time speeding offenders, to catch them early and give them a course instead of prosecuting them, or those who are speeding at a specific speed, who, whether it is their first or fourth offence, would be offered a course if they did not break the speed limit by too much? It is important to be clear about the purpose of the course.
 
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I believe that people should have the opportunity to go on a speed awareness course rather than going through the courts the first time they offend and that that should apply to everybody. That is a large number of people.

Mr. Greg Knight: As the hon. Gentleman knows, in America, there is a well-known offence of jaywalking whereby a pedestrian crosses the road recklessly instead of at a recognised crossing point. Does he believe that there is a case for educating pedestrians in the need to behave responsibly and improve their safety awareness? Is not there a case for expanding speed awareness courses into highway awareness courses for people other than motorists to attend?

Mr. Kidney: The right hon. Gentleman should be careful of confusing two different matters. Speed awareness courses are for people who have broken the speed limit and been caught. We are trying to correct their behaviour before it becomes a bad habit for the rest of their driving careers. However, there is a case for much more education and I shall comment on new clause 1 shortly.

We must also establish the best format for the courses. Some authorities provide a theoretical and a practical element but others provide only a theoretical element. Research increasingly shows that both are desirable in a speed awareness course. If we can establish that that is the case, it ought to be the national standard.

I want to consider cost. Authorities that have already set up speed awareness courses made the policy decision that the courses should be self-financing and they therefore charge the people to whom they make the conditional offer to attend a sufficient fee to cover all the costs. I believe that the figure is currently £90. As a matter of principle, that is right. A person who attends the course avoids a fine in court and three points on the licence. Those matters have a value and it is right that people should pay for a course to avoid those consequences. I would therefore oppose the suggestion of the hon. Member for Christchurch that the money from speed camera fines should be used to allow all the lawbreakers to go on courses for free. However, I am sympathetic to the point of the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) that, in the small number of cases when the individual cannot afford the option, there could be some sort of assistance through a hardship fund. I would be sympathetic to that.

The hon. Member for Christchurch thought that I was manoeuvring myself into the position of being able to vote with the Government and against his new clause 1. However, I am encouraged by the new clause. It provides an opportunity for the House to speak with one voice and to resist the small number of ferocious critics in the media who say that speed camera fines are all about raising money for the Treasury's coffers. The Minister ought to think carefully about grabbing this amendment. Let us label it "the Conservative amendment" or "the Chope amendment", and say to those few in the media with such hostile views that the whole House believes that speed camera fine income is genuinely used for road safety purposes, and that we would even use the money for road safety educational purposes. I would say to the right hon. Member for East
 
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Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) that that money could be spent in schools on education relating to the safe crossing of roads, and on general educational projects on highway behaviour, but not on subsidising speed awareness courses for lawbreakers. That would be going too far.

I believe that there is a benefit in having speed awareness courses, and I would like to give a couple of examples. In Staffordshire, we looked at the courses that had already been established in Lancashire and Northamptonshire, and decided to go ahead with the programme. Indeed, I was given the honour of launching the Staffordshire schemes. About 12 months later, I went back and saw one of the schemes in action. Actually, it is slightly inaccurate to say "in action", because I arrived when everyone had gone out in their cars for the practical part of the course, so I only saw the classroom in which the theory had been taught.

I was able to see the reasons for breaking the speed limit that people had written down, and they seemed to fall into two groups. One group said that they had not appreciated that they were breaking the speed limit. Within that group, there must have been some people who had not been paying proper attention, although a few might legitimately have been able to claim that the signs were not as good as they could have been in some areas. The other group of people said that they had been under time pressure, and that that had caused them to speed. Many of those people had probably not allowed enough time for their journey and had had to break the law to catch up. However, there might be a sub-group involving people who drive for a living and who might have been subjected to unfair pressure from their employers. We need to tackle that problem with the employers.

In Staffordshire, the courses have made a good start and are proving very successful. Lancashire, however, provided the father and mother of the courses, and now has a lot more experience of running them. As a result, it also has a lot more evidence of their success. After the courses had been running in Lancashire for a short time, Staffordshire university was asked to carry out an evaluation of them. Dr. Michelle Meadows produced a report identifying significant improvements in "drivers' attitude to speed" and in "drivers' violating behaviour", and showing reductions in drivers' self-reported speeds ranging from 2.6 mph to 4.8 mph. It seemed that the improvements in driving behaviour were sustained for three months after attending the course.

Dr. Meadows made recommendations for changes to the design of the evaluation and for further research into reoffending rates. That advice was followed, and after a further period of research, Lancashire county council was able to identify a marked difference in reoffending rates between those who had attended speed awareness courses and those who had not. Among those who had been found guilty of speeding and had attended a course, the reoffending rate was 36 in 1,000; among those who had never attended a course, the rate was 98 in 1,000—nearly three times as high. So there is some evidence of the effectiveness of the courses.

I am grateful to Neil Cunliffe of Lancashire county council, who has sent me a copy of one of the latest letters that his team has received. It is from the wife of a man who attended one of these courses. She wrote:

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That is the genuine voice of someone with experience of a speed awareness course telling us that it had been a valuable thing to do.

I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic to the idea of being much more vigorous about adding this arm to our education programme for the prevention of future casualties, by making speed awareness courses much more mainstream and giving them national consistency in terms of how they are offered across the country.


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