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Mr. Kidney: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's kind comments about me, but will he at least take a personal interest for a short time in establishing that the police have a grip on the matter and that they intend to ensure that there is a national standard throughout the country? Would his Department be mildly encouraging of every force and safety camera partnership that adopts such schemes?
The hon. Member for Christchurch hoped that we would accept new clauses 3, 4 and 6 without demur. I am sympathetic to them, but the difficulty is that Home Office consultation is due to finish on 6 MayI do not know whether that date may be of interest to hon. Membersand it would be premature for the Bill to introduce those changes before the consultation has been completed.
Mt hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) spoke movingly about the case of a 12-year-old boy in his constituency, which shows why we need changes. Although it is difficult in such circumstances, I hope that he will be patient, because we need to consider all offences across the board instead of picking some of them off piecemeal. However, I am deeply sympathetic to the views he expressed.
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My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) made the same points. He was right in saying what he did, but some of the penalties may be more onerous that those that are ultimately intended. We must listen to the consultation and then consider the whole package of measures.
Mr. Jamieson: That is the intention that was set out by the Home Office. My Department does not deal with the matter, but the intention is that the Home Office will introduce appropriate changes when the consultation has been completed.
I have some sympathy with new clause 7, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight, but my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West unpicked the problems rather well. There could be considerable difficulty with enforcement. Reference was made to county boundaries, especially in Devon and Cornwall, and whether they are clear. They are not always clear therecertainly not between Devon, Dorset and Somersetand that could lead to considerable confusion.
Speed limits on roads are a matter for local authorities. The approach that I prefer, and which the Government are encouraging, is that local authorities decide the appropriate speed for each individual road and see how many casualties there are. If there are no casualties, there is no need for action, but where there are casualtiesthey often occur in villages and small settlementsit is in the gift of the local authority to introduce a different speed limit, even as low as 20 mph. Local authorities are doing just that in many areas.
This is not just a matter of changing the sign on the road and introducing a different speed limit. It is important that any changes are related to other changes, such an engineering changes, a change in the road design or improvement to a junction and so on.
Mr. Andrew Turner: Two points arise from the Minister's comments. First, I am sorry to hear him say that if there are no casualties there is no need for action. Pedestrians, cyclists, riders and so on are often driven off the roads because they fear that they may become casualties. That is the evil that we must deal with. Secondly, and far less importantly, I hope that the Minister will deal with the proliferation of signage that appears to be required by his Department when speed limits are introduced.
Mr. Jamieson: If people are being driven off the roadsfor example, children cannot walk to school along a roadthat is clearly a case for action by the local authority. The need for action may be related not to casualties but to the convenience of local people, if there are no footpaths and the road is very dangerous.
I have read the views of Commercial Motor on new clause 12, and many others have expressed similar views. I would be sympathetic to new clause 12 if I thought that no increase in danger would result from allowing heavy goods vehicles to travel at 50 mph rather than 40 mph on narrow roads. We rehearsed the arguments well in
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Committee, and the 40 mph speed limit for such vehicles on a single carriageway is in place for a good reason. Heavy goods vehicles take much longer to stop than cars, and the number of casualties and collisions involving such vehicles on those roads is much higher than it is for cars.
In new clause 19, the intention is to make the endorsement of licences a discretionary matter for the courts. That still poses several technical problems. It could throw out an entire framework for keeping records of previous driving offences. I do not know whether it is part of the policy of the hon. Member for Christchurch to disregard the problem of repeat offending. It is not clear how he proposes to deal with fixed penalties that involve the imposition of penalty points. If the court thinks that there are special reasons not to endorse a licence, it may choose not to do so, but those special reasons have to be established by case law, which is beyond the scope of the debate today.
I was interested by what the hon. Gentleman had to say about mobile phones. I am beginning to wonder what the modern Conservative partyif that is not a contradiction in termshas against road safety and the efforts that we have made to reduce casualties. If people are using a handheld mobile phone while driving, it constitutes a danger on the road. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the issue of whether someone is driving or not. When someone is drunk and in control of a vehicle, that can include standing near the vehicle or sitting in the vehicle with the engine turned off, because we know that in the next few minutes they will not become sober again. That is different from someone who pulls in to the side of the road, turns the engine off and makes a call on a mobile phone.
As Members of Parliament, we have to be careful about what we say in this Chamber. The hon. Gentleman spoke of a case in which a police officer had gone down a line of cars booking people who were using their mobile phones while the cars were standing stillbut when he was challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, he could not tell us when or where that happened. If he wishes to intervene and put on the record when that event took place, I will look into it and take the issue up. However, if he cannot say when it was, perhaps he should keep his silence on such matters and avoid putting urban myths on the record. He appears to have no intention of intervening, so it is probably safe to say that that case did not exist and we may dismiss it.
We have had a useful and helpful debate on a wide range of issues. I thank the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) for his charming and pleasant comments. However, he may have to put up with me for another 15 or 16 months yet.
We have had an excellent debate, but I am not persuaded by the Minister's arguments on new clause 1. Indeed, the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) made a compelling argument in support of that new clause and we look forward to him joining us in the Lobby later.
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The Minister accepted that new clauses 3, 4 and 6 were worth while, but he prayed in aid the old defence of Ministersthat of prematurity. That does not wash in this case, because the Government set up a review of the offences back in May 2003. The review ran so slowly that it did not report until the end of January, but now the Minister is playing for more time by talking of a consultation period that will end in May. I think that the House has made up its mind that the offences identified in new clauses 3, 4 and 6 should be on the statute book. We cannot test the House's opinion on all those new clauses, but I hope that we will be able to do so on new clause 6, which deals with the most serious offence identified and would send a clear message that people should not drive while disqualified. If they do so, and cause an accident that results in death, they should expect the full force of the law to come down heavily upon them.
The Minister said that several of the cases that we made are not borne out by the evidence and had a general go about the inappropriateness of our approach to speed cameras. We feel that speed cameras are still too much abused. Too many are in the wrong place. The Minister keeps asking us to specify particular examples, so I shall remind the House of the case last year in which a genuine speed camera was implicated in the death of an elderly pedestrian. Myra Nevett, who was 69, was fatally injured as she crossed a road in Disley, near Stockport. At her inquest, the south Manchester coroner, John Pollard, said that the motorist was apparently distracted by the sight of a speed camera. He said:
"Cameras are sometimes responsible for distracting drivers, who look at their speed rather than the road. These cameras are a valuable safety measure when properly used, but they are in danger of becoming a hazard."
Recently, in Dorset, we had a case in which someone who was fed up with speeding motorists outside his house and put up a fake speed camera, which led to a fatal accident nearby. That is another example of a speed camera causing problems rather than solving them.
Finally, on new clause 19, we believe that scope should be allowed for mitigation of the fine and penalty points. It is not unreasonable that, if there are mitigating circumstances, a driver should receive fewer or no penalty points on their licence. That is the idea behind new clause 19 and I hope that we will have the opportunity to vote on that later. In the meantime, I commend new clauses 1 and 6 to the House.
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