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House of Lords

Wednesday, 22nd May 2002.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.

Road Safety

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to reduce the toll of death and injury on the roads.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, Britain has one of the best road safety records in Europe, but there is still much that we can all do to help to improve it. The Government set out a comprehensive strategy for reducing road casualties in Tomorrow's roads—safer for everyone, published in March 2000. One of our targets is to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries by 40 per cent by 2010, compared with the average for the years 1994 to 1998.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that Answer. However, does he accept that one of the gravest risks while travelling in cars arises from the failure of people to wear seat belts? Does he accept that a majority of drivers or those who travel in the front seats of vehicles who die in road accidents are killed because passengers in the rear do not wear seat belts? What do the Government propose to do to enforce the law on seat-belt wearing? Are they proposing any active campaign to encourage and induce people to wear seat belts, thereby saving many lives, possibly including their own?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I cannot over-emphasise enough how important it is that drivers and front and rear-seat passengers wear their seat belts. In most cases, it is illegal for people not to wear seat belts. What are the Government doing to bring the matter to people's attention? I do not know whether my noble friend has seen the current advertising campaign which involves a very effective film of a family travelling in a car. The commentator says in effect that someone is about to be killed. One sees the teenage son being thrown through the car and one assumes that the driver is killed by her son hitting her from the back. Therefore, it is a matter that we take seriously and an issue on which the Government are campaigning. It is already illegal not to wear seat belts. It is for the police to decide whether to prosecute or to give fixed-penalty notices in respect of the offence, but it is a matter of considerable importance to road safety.

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Lord Brougham and Vaux: My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. I also declare an interest in that I do not have a mobile telephone. Can the Government confirm that they have done a U-turn or, at best, have had a change of heart? Is it the case, as stated in an article in last night's Evening Standard, that they are considering introducing legislation to ban the use of mobile telephones while driving?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the use of mobile telephones in relation to cars is a problem. Such use can already be illegal if it leads to careless, dangerous or reckless driving. Several issues arise in relation to this matter, but we have not ruled out a ban on the use of hand-held telephones. Indeed, that idea is under active consideration.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, is my noble and learned friend also aware of an article in Monday's Evening Standard which drew attention to police excesses in fining people for travelling at only a little over the speed limit? I know that speeding at an excessive rate can cause death, but I believe that the way in which we enforce speed restrictions with the use of cameras spoils the situation for many motorists who drive carefully.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I do not agree with the implication that safety cameras spoil things for motorists. Speeding is against the law. Safety cameras are intended to persuade drivers not to speed and, therefore, not to attract fines. In the pilot areas where speed cameras are operating and being tested, the reduction in road deaths has been in the region of 47 per cent.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, will the Minister advise those in the department who brief the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail that no revenue goes to police authorities or counties other than that used for the process of prosecuting people? Will he please tell the House that, instead of going to the Treasury, some of the money should be spent by the police, county councils and unitary authorities on road safety measures, which are desperately needed and for which there is no money at all?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the noble Lord is broadly right. Money collected from speed camera fines is used to cover the cost of the speed cameras and the processes attached to them, but the remainder goes to the Treasury. Decisions are then made about how that money is spent, and priorities must be identified by the Treasury.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that it would be a rather sad day if the police were deprived of exercising their discretion?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, questions of prosecution are almost invariably a matter of discretion for the police. It is important that they continue to exercise it reasonably and sensibly.

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Lord Dubs: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend have any information about how helpful road humps are in cutting down speeding and therefore road accidents? It seems to me that expensive cars sail over them very quickly unlike cars such as mine. I respect my shock absorbers and go very slowly. But do humps contribute to road safety?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the effect of humps must be to slow down traffic in certain circumstances. I do not have available specific statistics about their effect, but their purpose is plainly to slow down traffic with a view to reducing injury and death on the roads.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, the Government's transport adviser, the noble Lord, Lord Birt, has put forward recommendations on the introduction of toll roads. Those, of course, would have an impact on road congestion and, therefore, road safety. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, feels unable to submit himself to parliamentary scrutiny or debate. As I know that the Minister agrees with open government, will he give an assurance that he will publish the report?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am not sure which report is being referred to. I am here to represent open government. So ask me any question about road tolling, but do not ask me about the process.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend accept that I have discovered a new kind of road offence? When I finally managed to draw level with someone who had been weaving around while using his telephone, I found that he had hung it up and was trimming his moustache with a small pair of scissors.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I accept that using mobile phones, trimming one's moustache and eating a takeaway meal in cars can all give rise to charges of careless or dangerous and reckless driving. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that people do not use mobile phones in a way that causes danger.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, referring to the Question on the Order Paper, while we all agree on the importance of wearing seat belts, both front and back, is not a considerable deterrent—at least to rear seat passengers—to the wearing of seat belts the fact that they are so uncomfortable and inconvenient? Are the Government doing anything about that?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, in many cases they are comfortable and convenient. The safety that comes from wearing them is great, not just, as my noble friend Lord Janner said, for the people wearing them, but, just as significantly, for the front seat passenger and the driver. So, even if they are a little uncomfortable, for the safety of everyone in the car, it is best that they are worn.

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Economic Growth

2.44 p.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the economic growth rate in the first quarter of 2002 and how it compares with the rate in the last quarter of 2001.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, according to the preliminary estimate published by the Office for National Statistics, UK GDP growth strengthened to 0.1 per cent in the first quarter of this year, following zero growth in the final quarter of 2001. In 2001 as a whole, the UK economy grew by 2¼ per cent, the highest rate of growth in the G7.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, does the Minister agree that those figures represent disappointing prospects so far as concerns growth, and especially the Government's annual growth target which has implications of course for revenue? Does the noble Lord further agree that the increase in national insurance contributions is detrimental to growth and will stimulate price and wage inflation as the Bank of England expects?

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