Mr. Jones: I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that it is essential that motorists are satisfied that speed cameras are being operated as fairly and ethically as possible. Will he therefore please explain why magistrates courts committees are invariably part of speed camera partnerships? Does he not agree that that state of affairs can give rise to a perception of a conflict of interest, even if such a conflict of interest does not in fact exist?
Mr. Darling: I have had many representations on speed cameras, although that is not one of them so far. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in December last year I announced change to the funding regime so that the system was not biased towards putting in speed camerasat the moment, they are effectively free. We are also considering the constitution of the groups that consider whether speed cameras or other safety measures should be put in place, including the police, local authorities and magistrates. As we develop that policy, we will take his comments into account.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): It is good news that safety camera partnerships can introduce road safety measures other than just speed cameras. The Secretary of State should, however, be a champion of speed cameras. He knows that the four-year evaluation report states clearly that in areas where there is a speed camera, the number of vehicles exceeding speed limits falls by 70 per cent., and the number of people killed or seriously injured falls by just over 40 per cent. Will he confirm that, according to the report's methodology, about an extra 100 people have either been killed or seriously injured on our roads as a result of his Department's delay of over six months in implementing up to 500 speed cameras?
No, I do not accept that at all. The reason that the Government decided to delay approving new schemes is that, first, we were waiting for the four-year report, and, secondly, we had it in mind to change the funding regime, about which we had to tell the various organisations. At just about every Question Time over the past four years, and on every other occasion, I have made the point that speed cameras work. On any view, they save lives. I want to make sure,
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however, that we have the right funding regime and the right regime for operating them, and I believe that we are well on the way to achieving that.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (Mr. Jim Murphy): The levels at which appeals are determined is a matter for the permanent head of the relevant department. That is in line with Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service best practice guidance. I am not convinced that there are compelling reasons to change the arrangements, but I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the specific constituency matter.
Alistair Burt: I am grateful to the Minister for his answer and for taking the trouble to have an initial look at the case raised by my constituent, Mr. Paul Barford, who is currently under threat of dismissal from the Ministry of Defence. May I press him to consider specifically circumstances such as those in this case, in which an employee has complained that a Department has been perpetrator, judge and jury in personnel matters that might involve harassment, and in which the Department alone must determine the case? Will he examine changes to the civil service code and consider widening the scope of references to the Civil Service Commissioners?
Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is right that I have spent some days investigating this matter on his behalf, as I know that he has raised it on several occasions with previous Ministers. The process was introduced in 1996, is undergoing review and is currently in line with ACAS best guidance. The relevant staff trade unions have not raised a specific concern. I think that it is the first such case that has been brought to our attention by a Member of Parliament, and I wish to confirm that when there is a matter of conscience the Civil Service Commissioners can, of course, become involved. That is established in the civil service code. I am happy to discuss the specific constituency matter that he raises.
Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East)
(Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware of the excellent development of mediation services throughout the country? Many of our departments have a very good record in that respect. I think we should consider using such services more, especially to deal with personnel issues and disputes in organisations. May I urge my hon. Friend to take a close look at what is happening in some civil service departments, and discuss with those who have an interest the best way of extending mediation services throughout the service?
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Mr. Murphy: The Employment Act 2002 introduced a statutory grievance procedure to reduce the use of litigation as a first resort, and many Departments have established innovative processes and procedures to make that a reality. I should be happy to meet ministerial and parliamentary colleagues and those involved in extending those processes across Government, so that the Cabinet Office can share best practice throughout the civil service.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (Mr. Jim Murphy): Since the Government launched the measurement exercise last September, a significant amount of work has been undertaken. This is the first time such an exercise has been tried in the United Kingdom. The results will enable us to focus on areas in which we can achieve significant reductions in the administrative burdens on business, charities and voluntary organisations.
Andrew Rosindell: The Minister will know that the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, published last week, gives little or no indication of what resources the Government will commit to deregulation. Perhaps he would like to give us that information today.
Mr. Murphy: The Bill published last week, which I assume the hon. Gentleman welcomesthere is no commitment in that regardis an ambitious model for delivery of a better-regulation agenda for UK business, voluntary sectors and others. It builds on what has already been done to ensure that, for the purposes of the World Bank and a number of other reputable organisations, the UK is one of the most supportive regulatory and economic environments in which businesses can prosper.
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): The people who know most about how to get rid of bureaucracy are those who suffer from it within public services. Would it not be a good idea for the Government to establish a "bureaucracy-buster"? People working in public services could tell such an organisation, on the basis of direct experience, how bureaucracy could be removed, and the Government could then do something about it.
We have already contacted more than 145,000 businesses to try to assess the extent of the administrative burden that they are experiencing. We are also communicating with the voluntary sector and others. Following my hon. Friend's question, however, I will raise the possibility of a red tape-buster in the public sector.
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Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Rather than concentrating on reducing administrative burdens, in recent years the Department has been spending much more on Government information and communication. Is it not ironic that a Department that is responsible for cutting administrative burdens on organisations such as those of which we have heard has increased spending on just the running costs of the Government Information and Communication Service from £543,000 in 1998 to a whopping £2.38 million in the current year? How is the taxpayer expected to react to a fourfold increase in the cost of putting out the Government's message, when burdens on businesses and the other organisations of which we have heard have just gone through the roof?
Mr. Murphy: I am sad to see that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) is on the Back Benches this afternoon. I have missed his monthly 30-second diatribea single transferable diatribeon better regulation. Perhaps he will catch your eye later, Mr. Speaker.
As for the question of Government communications, it is important to communicate the fact that we have record levels of low unemployment, record levels of public investment and record levels of public service reform to support hard-working families. We should note the contrast between today's figures and those under the previous Government. They were probably not that interested in reporting to the public the millions who were unemployed, the generations stuck on incapacity benefit and the vast underinvestment in our public services.
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): Local industrialists often tell me that there appears to be an ever-increasing flood of regulation coming from the European Union. What are the Government doing to ensure that such regulation is proportionate to the problems that it is designed to deal with?
Mr. Murphy: The UK Government are involved in the sixth presidency initiative, which, as the name suggests, involves six consecutive presidents of the EU in a sustained effort to reduce bureaucracy and the number of directives coming from Europe. We are heartened by the Commission's efforts in recent months. During our presidency, it announced that it would withdraw a third of all legislative proposals, and last October it announced ambitious simplification plans, involving the removal of 90 proposals. We have a lot more work to do, and this year it is absolutely crucial that both Europe and the UK deliver on the better regulation agenda that the business community supports so strongly.