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Points of Order

3.32 pm

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I briefly gave notice yesterday of this point of order, which relates to the answer given to a question from me by the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety, the right hon. Member for Salford (Hazel Blears). It appeared in Hansard on 29 November, and on 8 December, she wrote to me to point out that it was inaccurate—through, I am sure, no fault of hers—in two substantive respects. She then wrote to me to correct the two inaccuracies and has confirmed that a copy of the letter has been placed in the Library. As you know, Mr. Speaker, the inaccurate answer remains on the record in Hansard. May I ask you to use your good offices to ensure that the record is reprinted with the full text of the amended written answer, including the corrections to those two inaccuracies?

Mr. Speaker: I am pleased that the Minister has clarified and rectified the situation. If the hon. Lady is very keen to ensure that the content of the reply that she received is on the record, she can table an identical question and the answer to it will tie in with that reply. That is the way to do it.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you can advise Ministers on the correct procedure when answers given in this House are not correct. If I may, I draw your attention to the differing practices of the Treasury and the Foreign Office in this regard. When I asked a question during Treasury questions on 10 November, the answer given was incorrect and a letter was then placed in the Library of the House. However, I noted from yesterday's Order Paper that when the same thing happens in the Foreign Office, it is good enough to include a written ministerial statement on the Order Paper. Given these differing practices, can you advise Ministers on the manner in which you expect inaccurate answers to be corrected?

Mr. Speaker: May I say to the hon. Gentleman that that would be a matter for consideration by a Committee of the House? It is not one for me to intervene in.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Today, I have read on a BBC website that a £100-million contract for new coastguard helicopters has been awarded. One of the coastguard bases that will benefit is at Stornoway, in my constituency. I raised this matter in a point of order last Thursday, when I asked whether the relevant Minister would come to the House and make a statement about the contract. Will hon. Members have an opportunity to question that Minister about the matter?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman can put down questions for the appropriate Question Time. He can also submit written parliamentary questions to find the information that he seeks.

13 Dec 2005 : Column 1236

Road Traffic Signs (Enforcement Cameras)

3.35 pm

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): I beg to move,

The Bill is very simple, and I do not expect to detain the House for my full 10 minutes. My proposal would mean that signs indicating the location of a speed camera would also include information about the speed limit that drivers are expected to observe. So, a sign might say, "Speed camera 30", when 30 mph is the limit at that spot or, "Speed camera 40", when the limit is 40 mph.

In many places—and there are some in my constituency—drivers joining a larger road from a side road will pass a speed camera before being informed about the relevant speed limit. I am not at all opposed to the use of speed cameras to enforce reasonable speed limits, and I speak as one who has been fined. Cameras have the effect of restraining those of us who might be tempted to go beyond the appropriate limit, and certainly I am always especially careful when I see a camera.

I think that speed cameras work, but surely it is in the interests of law enforcement and common sense to require camera signs to inform drivers about what they are expected to do. That would be in drivers' interests, too: on seeing a camera sign, all they would have to do is glance down at their speedometers to make sure that they were within the limit displayed on the sign, and then proceed.

Really, that is all that there is to the Bill. It has widespread, all-party support, for which I am very grateful. Its implementation costs would be negligible, as existing signs would merely have to be amended. The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) has asked me to stress his view that there are too many signs already, and that he would like efforts to be made to reduce other signage if the Bill were passed. I accept that that is a reasonable point.

In this House, the tradition is that Bills that merely offer practical improvements are given a fair wind. I hope that hon. Members present today will give it that fair wind, and that it meets the same treatment if approval is given for its Second Reading on 14 July.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Full speed ahead!

Dr. Palmer: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his encouragement, and I hope that the House will allow me to bring in the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Dr. Nick Palmer, Mr. Andrew Tyrie, David Lepper, Mr. Fabian Hamilton, Andrew George, Dr. Howard Stoate, Mr. Rob Wilson, Mr. Andy Reed and Mr. Paul Truswell.
13 Dec 2005 : Column 1237

Road Traffic Signs (Enforcement Cameras)

Dr. Palmer accordingly presented a Bill to require all road traffic signs which show the routes where enforcement cameras are from time to time in use to include information on the speed limit in force on such routes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 14 July, and to be printed [Bill 102].

13 Dec 2005 : Column 1238

Orders of the Day

Criminal Defence Service Bill [Lords]

[Relevant document: The Fifth Report from the Constitutional Affairs Committee, Session 2003–04, HC 746, on the Draft Criminal Defence Service Bill.]

Order for Second Reading read.

3.40 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill seeks to establish a legal aid system that balances fairness with administrative simplicity and that is based on affordability yet is sensitive to an applicant's individual circumstances. In order to achieve that, we will transfer the power to grant legal aid representation from the courts to the Legal Services Commission, and we will introduce a test of financial eligibility.

The Bill and the scheme that it seeks to deliver are a straightforward evolution of the founding principles of legal aid as they were first expressed by the Rushcliffe report in 1945 and by the subsequent Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949—introduced by a Labour Government. From its earliest design, legal aid was intended to be a wider expression of the beliefs that lay at the heart of the welfare state. A "judicare system" was to be established whereby the services of lawyers could be made available to the poor as well as the rich. The Bill reasserts those founding principles, as well as creating a robust and sustainable legal aid system that is not only capable of responding to the demands of the modern justice system, but of enhancing and supporting it. It also builds on an existing raft of reforms that have already had a significant impact in the area. The Access to Justice Act 1999 modernised the legal aid system and, since then, we have continued to improve and refine the performance of legal aid.

But costs have continued to rise: as indeed they have throughout the history of legal aid. In 2004–05, spending on legal aid as a whole exceeded £2 billion, a rise of £513 million since 1997–98. To put it simply, year on year, the cost of legal aid has risen, on average, at almost twice the rate of inflation. That trend cannot be allowed to continue.

Since 1997, there has been a large growth in criminal legal aid where expenditure has risen by £458 million. There is little doubt that a good proportion of that spending has proved invaluable in protecting the rights of the vulnerable, ensuring access to justice and maintaining the efficiency of the criminal justice system, but the Government also have a wider responsibility to protect the interests of the poor, the socially excluded and, ultimately, the law-abiding members of society. Legal aid resources are finite and only one part of our social agenda, which includes health and education.

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