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7 Feb 2008 : Column 329WH—continued

I spoke at the Association of Chief Police Officers and Police Federation road safety conferences this year, as did the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker). We both got a sense that such matters are higher on the police agenda than they perhaps have been for some little time. Certainly, the latest evidence shows that there was a 6 per cent. rise in the number of
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people who were breathalysed in the Christmas campaign. Encouragingly, there was a 20 per cent. reduction in those who failed the test.

Mrs. Dunwoody: Of course, the number of people who were breathalysed had previously dropped—the increase the Minister mentioned must be seen in that light. I am happy to have the Minister’s assurance that those matters are still being debated, but I must ask this simple question: is there anything in the core responsibilities of chief constables that insists on traffic enforcement as a basic and important priority?

Jim Fitzpatrick: My hon. Friend will have to forgive me because I cannot remember the name of the document on which the police recently consulted, but, on the indicators, the police measure offences such as those she described, whereas they did not before. That is a key indicator that the matter is being taken more seriously. If they do not measure performance, how do we know how seriously they are taking the matter? I hope that that gives her some reassurance, but I shall be happy to write to her on the matter in due course.

My hon. Friend also asked about the Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995. It will be reviewed as part of a wider look at remedial training for offenders. It is important to look at how to correct the bad driving that leads to a new driver committing offences and earning points. The main consultation document will concentrate on learners, but it will contain the promise of more proposals on remedial training, for example, and we should move on to that matter after the consultation.

The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) raised the question of suspended disqualifications, and individuals who are given a one-year ban at, say, 16, which of course would not mean anything because they are not able to drive until they are 17. The bench has discretion to pass a sentence that will apply when a young person reaches the age at which they would be able to drive. One would hope that a bench passing a disqualification sentence would be aware that there is no point in passing a sentence that is not of such a length, because it would have no impact at all on the driver. The bench has the discretion, so it ought to deal with the matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) raised the matter of rural roads. I intervened in his speech—he generously gave way. I can tell him that the beacon counties that were chosen were Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Devon and Norfolk, because they had a particularly good record. We therefore felt that those counties would use the money more wisely. However, the information and evidence that show how they have determined what works for them will be shared with all other interested local authorities, so that it will benefit the whole country.

Mr. Drew: Does my hon. Friend accept that the obverse must also be true? The constituency of the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) has a terrible reputation because of the number of accidents that involve younger people. It might be an idea to look at blackspots. The Forest of Dean is a terrible blackspot—hardly a week goes by without another fatality or serious injury in that part of the world.

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Jim Fitzpatrick: My hon. Friend makes a strong point in respect of that area. Safety is very much a matter for local road safety partnerships and local authorities. We will give, if I recall correctly, an additional £110 million each year for the next three years to local authorities to deal with additional road safety issues. However, the additional £8 million over the next couple of years is specifically for authorities in areas where there are problems, and which have a track record of good practice in dealing with rural roads, to look at innovative ways in which to address the dangerous areas on their roads, and to share that information with the rest of us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle and the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill), who spoke for the Conservatives, raised the question of the statistics for the first three quarters of 2007, which were announced today. The figures indicate a 5 per cent. reduction in the number of people killed in the first three quarters, but it is obviously too early to say whether that constitutes a resumption of the downward trend—we need to be wary of interpreting the figures that way too early.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) raised the question of the hazard perception test and why it was taking so long. The aim of the test was to make new drivers safer in the first three years. We had to monitor a sample for that period, and it was introduced only in 2003. I can assure him that the analysis is complete and will be published with the consultation document, so that people can see the outcome. The evidence seems to suggest, however, that no significant benefits were identified, because trainer drivers did not take what they learned through hazard perception testing into on-road activity. There was a disconnection, which will manifest itself in the analysis that people will have the opportunity to see in due course.

My hon. Friend also asked about putting high-speed roads into tests. That is done wherever practical, but in areas such as inner London, there are no high-speed roads. That is a matter to which he may wish to return during the consultation.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech) raised the question of the driver logbook. The project has been extended. However, it is one of the things that we will think about using in the new system. It is a means of structuring learning over the competence framework, so the idea has not disappeared.

The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby talked about older drivers. I can assure him that we are talking about safe driving for life—we need to develop support and training products for older people and experienced motorists. He made some good points in respect of one or two of his constituents who returned to driving after a considerable absence.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned some of the educational initiatives up and down the country. The Driving Standards Agency goes into schools with a package called “Arrive Alive”, and it aims to have a gold-standard offering for schools. The agency sponsors an excellent teaching pack and DVD aimed at attitudes that hon. Members may wish to take note of. A number of initiatives have been designed by local authorities, road safety partnerships, police forces, and fire and rescue services up and down the country, but the DSA is working on those matters.

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A lot of work is being undertaken on the cloning of number plates, not least in increasing the number of automatic number plate recognition cameras and in ensuring that number plates are trade-marked. Immediately someone commits an offence in a cloned vehicle, the matter will be raised by the innocent victim, who will obviously report the matter to the authorities. In such instances, the vehicle will become tagged as having been cloned.

The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby also cited the fact that many young male drivers think of themselves as being good behind the wheel. They are not alone. A survey in the RAC annual report for 2007 revealed that 98 per cent. of British motorists say that they are safe drivers. That may be immodest of the 98 per cent., but I am more worried about the other 2 per cent. that said that they were not safe drivers. All drivers have delusions as to how competent and safe they are. I am sure that we all make mistakes. Fortunately, most of us are lucky enough to get away with them. Trying to set out a benchmark that most people should strive to achieve is most important.

In conclusion, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, the members of the Committee and the other hon. Members who participated in this debate that it was useful and as informative as ever. I hope that colleagues accept that we will be making progress soon, and I obviously look forward to their contribution to the consultation in due course.

4.21 pm

Mrs. Dunwoody: With the permission of the House, Mr. Taylor, I should like to speak again.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will not think that I am being churlish if I say that when a handsome and talented young man has been saying to me for more than a year, “I will soon be doing something,” I somehow wonder why he is taking a year.

I know of my hon. Friend’s practical experience, and I know that I do not have to explain to him that, over this weekend, on Friday and Saturday night, many families will not be clear where their teenage children have gone. The first that they will know of the terrible tragedy that has struck them will be when someone from the emergency services, usually the police, comes to the door. I know that when he was in the fire service, my hon. Friend must have spent a lot of time cutting people out of cars, and that he might say, “It is one of those things that I no longer have to do, for which I am deeply grateful.”

What we are talking about today is not an abstract. It is not an argument about how we frame a law that will affect our economy—although it will have direct economic effects—or a law that will change the way we organise accident and emergency services in the NHS. Nor is it about how we should change the education services. The report is simply saying to the Government, “You have a direct responsibility, but also a very direct ability to affect what we have been talking about.”

Everybody’s lives will be affected by the kind of road safety that we demand. The report was written because all members of the Committee, irrespective of their age, their background, their gender or their political
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view, feel that we have got it wrong. As a nation, we are increasingly trying to deal with the question of road safety, yet we are still faced with terrifying figures and with what happens to young drivers and those who kill not only themselves but other young people.

The Committee is privileged to have Mr. Gifford as an adviser on road safety. He is the mover and shaker behind PACTS—the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety. The reality, however, is that every day we see the effects of such accidents. Unless we can do more than simply talk about it, large numbers of young people will die—tonight, tomorrow night, Saturday night, Sunday night. Some of them will take a certain amount of time to die, some of them will die quickly. Some of them will die through no fault of their own, because they were with someone who was behaving recklessly. Some of them will be very bright, and some will not.

The reality is that, as a Government, we ought to be saying that whatever we do has to be done now, not in a month’s time. The Select Committee should not be asked to come back after another year. It should not have to say to the Government, “You had this consultation. Then you had this amount of time to work out what the regulations were. You have been talking to the various Departments, the police and the various voluntary organisations, and only now are you thinking about what you are going to do.” No.

Some of the things that are to be decided will be unpopular. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mrs. James) said that young people do not know how they are going to get to work and how they are going to get back again, but if they are rushing to their death, it is not much of an advance. We ought to be
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prepared to say things to them that are uncomfortable, and we ought to be prepared to look for practical and useful support for them.

The Minister understands the problem. We did not have to highlight it today. He understands it not only from his political experience but from his practical experience in the emergency services. He must have seen the impact better than many of us. Indeed, he must have seen some things that many of us would never want to see. But I still say to him—urgency, urgency, a timetable, a result, a response. That is what we are asking for.

My Committee will not go away. It does not matter who is Chairman. It is very nice to be paid all those lovely compliments—I love it, of course. The reality is that it does not matter who is in the Chair. The message will be the same: the House of Commons demands that the Government of the day should accept that this is a waste that we can no longer afford. It is absurd. If we went out and consciously sacrificed large numbers of our young people, it could not be more bizarre.

We are not here to talk about statistics. We are talking about broken limbs and broken lives—and above all about a Government who have not only a duty to do something to change things but a duty to do so now. I am grateful to the Minister. I shall be even more grateful when he comes to the House to give us an exact programme, an exact timetable and an exact indication of the real, practical measures that will be brought in before the year is out, to change the terrible picture that we see every night in our cities.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes past Four o'clock.

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