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Mr. Jamieson: This debate has been very good and extraordinarily wide ranging. I have seldom seen put together in one group so many new clauses that represent so many different aspects of a Bill, but it has given us a good opportunity—this is almost like a Second Reading debate—to get stuck into some of these important issues.

New clause 1 seeks to amend section 38 of the Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001 on the unified power for the Secretary of State to fund speed cameras, which enables the Secretary of State to allow for payments to be made to public authorities in the safety camera programme netting off scheme to cover certain costs associated with issuing and enforcing conditional offers from fixed penalty notices for speeding offences. The money to fund the costs is reclaimed from receipts generated by fines. The receipts are passed from the Department for Constitutional Affairs to the Department for Transport, which reimburses the partnerships for approved expenditure incurred. Any surplus generated is paid over to Her Majesty's Treasury in the form of Consolidated Fund extra receipts.

The new clause seeks to include the funding of educational or training programmes among the allowable expenditure from reclaimed receipts.
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However, the new clause is not required. The safety camera programme is delivering positive results under current rules on what the funding can be used for, and there is no reason to seek to change the rules that determine what can be funded by that income at present.

The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) referred to clause 1. That allows for local authorities to be funded by other revenue streams to enable them to fund the educational and training activities mentioned in the new clause. The safety camera programme has a distinct and different function: to strengthen detection, enforcement and deterrence of speeding and red light offences, which we have not heard much about in these debates, at places on the road network with particular problems. It complements the wider promotion of road safety already provided in the wider funding of the police and local authorities.

Opposition politicians—often spurring on some of the things we see in newspapers—and critics of the safety camera programme seek to undermine its success in reducing road deaths and injuries by making unfounded allegations that the police and local authorities are using it as a "stealth tax". We did not hear the hon. Member for Christchurch mention those words today, which must be something of a record. The present legislation and the way in which the safety camera partnership works demonstrates that that is not so, since it provides that the programme can be applied only to the deployment of cameras. That means that the police and local authorities have no incentive to deploy cameras for any other reason, however well intentioned they may be. It is important that we maintain public confidence that safety cameras are deployed for one purpose and one purpose alone.

It is unfortunate that, again today, the hon. Member for Christchurch made out that that was not the case. He used the glib phrase that we have greed cameras, not speed cameras, which will again feed little headlines in newspapers to undermine what the cameras are doing—reducing death and injury on our roads. As I have said, it is particularly children who benefit from that—mainly in urban areas, I have to say. Fewer children are being killed and injured on our roads now. I am very pleased about that. I think that the cameras have made a major contribution to improving the position.

The hon. Gentleman went on to say that some of the speed awareness and driver improvement courses for those who offend should be funded out of this income, too. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) made the point extremely well: it is the offender who should pay. Effectively, the hon. Member for Christchurch is saying that the offenders course should be paid for by the taxpayer. I do not agree. If someone breaks the law and goes on one of those courses, they should pay for it. It should not be subsidised by the taxpayer.

Mr. Andrew Turner: Will the Minister address the point that I raised earlier—whether the penalties should be the same in all parts of the jurisdiction and whether it is not unfair that in some parts of the country, there can be a trade-off between a speed awareness course and a penalty, whereas in others there is no option?

Mr. Jamieson: It is the case that these courses have been pioneered in some parts of the country. Because
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they have worked so well in certain parts, we want them to be promoted more widely across the country. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Bill puts in place many measures that will ensure that we get consistency across the country, although there should also be some local discretion. I do not want to remove that entirely.

The hon. Member for Christchurch again alluded to cameras that were in the wrong place or that were not doing their job. We have trodden this ground many times. It was nearly 15 months ago that I challenged one of his predecessors on the Opposition Front Bench to tell us where are the cameras that are in the wrong place. As yet, 15 months on, after many invitations from me, the number of those sites that the hon. Gentleman and his friends have identified is precisely zero. He has not told us of one single site where cameras are in the wrong place—so it would be helpful if he would stop making comments unless he can back them up with solid facts, which he has declined to do so far.

New clause 2 is designed to make the benefits of a course available not only to offenders whose cases are dealt with by the courts, but to those who have acquired penalty points through the fixed penalty system. I am not unsympathetic to that aspiration in the longer term, but we must proceed gradually.

3 pm

I shall explain some of the background, because retraining for road traffic offenders takes different shapes and forms, and there has been confusion about the different schemes in operation. I am sure that hon. Members will be aware that since the early 1990s, the police have dealt with some careless driving offenders by offering them the opportunity to attend a one and a half day driver improvement course at their own expense. They can do that only if the police officers involved believe that the retraining will serve road safety better than a prosecution. If the course is not completed, the prosecution will be pursued.

Courses are provided in collaboration with the police by independent course providers using the national course model. The management content and applicability of courses are matters for the police and involve the Association of Chief Police Officers, but they have no statutory basis.

During the past few years, the police in several parts of the country have extended that approach to speeding offenders, which has given rise to a range of speed awareness courses that have been offered in lieu of fixed penalties. Similarly, although those are a matter for the police, the majority of such offences are detected remotely by cameras and the criteria for offering a speed awareness course are more automatic. It is important for the Government to know how well the different courses perform, because they may correct bad driving habits before they become entrenched.

The Bill is rather different. Its starting point is the drink-driving rehabilitation scheme, which was introduced by the Road Traffic Act 1991 and piloted from 1992 to 1999. The hon. Member for Christchurch may have been involved in introducing that legislation. It is clear from the details that Parliament did not want to allow people who committed offences as serious as drink-driving to have a remission in their disqualification period without rigorous provisions.
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They included the courts being responsible for the decision to offer a course, ensuring that courses were available and checking whether the offender had successfully completed the course. Before the scheme was adopted nationally, firm evidence was sought and obtained to ensure that it was successful in reducing reoffending. The amendment would encourage motorists to go to court in the hope of avoiding a fixed penalty.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford spoke to new clause 16. I praise his excellent work as co-chair of PACTS—the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety. He has a long-standing interest in such matters and is a guiding inspiration to many of us—I am leading up to saying that I cannot accept his new clause. However, speed awareness courses have been adopted by some police forces as an alternative to prosecution for speeding offences. The driver improvement scheme is overseen by a steering group in which key Government Departments, including mine, participate.

I understand that existing speed awareness courses have evolved in a less regulated way and there have been some differences in practice and some inconsistency in eligibility for courses in different parts of the country, as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) said. I am also advised that the position has improved and I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford that such matters should be dealt with uniformly and consistently. However, the courses are the responsibility of the police and are offered at their discretion. It would not be appropriate for central Government to step in and regulate them. I am sympathetic to the ideas behind the amendment, but we must allow time for them to roll out and allow ACPO to take the lead in ensuring consistency and rigorous standards.

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