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House of Lords

Tuesday, 27 January 2004.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

The Lord Chancellor: Leave of Absence

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, before business begins, may I take the opportunity to inform the House that I will be undertaking a ministerial visit to Birmingham on Thursday 29 January? Accordingly, I trust that the House will grant me leave of absence.

Speed Cameras

2.36 p.m.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to ensure that road and police authorities follow the guidelines that speed cameras are employed conspicuously only on dangerous stretches of road.

Lord Triesman: My Lords, speeding is dangerous. Driving too fast often results in crashes, deaths and injuries. The purpose of safety cameras is to encourage compliance with speed limits and thus reduce the number of people killed and injured on our roads. Guidance to safety camera partnerships about the deployment and operation of the cameras is issued by the Department for Transport and is based on this requirement. The department ensures that the performance of the partnerships is monitored with particular regard to casualty reduction. The results are published annually.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Is he aware that such steps would do a great deal more to dispel the myth and dispel the feeling of motorists that they are the victims of a persecution to raise money? Is the noble Lord aware that a complaint was made yesterday in another place and that the Minister said that a lot of the speed cameras already in position would be removed?

Will he write to me or publish by 1 April the reduction that has been brought about by this policy? Does he also agree that the old adage of "keep your eyes on the road when you are driving" should not become "keep one eye on the speedometer and one on the camera"?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I am not sure that I will be able to recall all the points that have been made, but I shall identify one or two that are of some significance. The most recent research shows that over the last

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couple of years there has been about a 35 per cent reduction in deaths and serious injuries on those stretches of road on which there are speed cameras. I entirely accept, as do the Government, that it is important that speed cameras should be deployed, against a set of criteria, where they are most effective. That is to do with reducing casualties. It is nothing to do with increasing revenues. The aim is road safety.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the guidelines are now set at such a high level that it is almost impossible to deploy a speed camera? In fact, in the county that I represent, only one speed camera site has been identified in the past year. In view of the fact that at the same time road casualties rose to 65 from 37 the year before, will the Government please do something effective and announce a road safety policy that will deal with these road deaths?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I think that we all know that a significant number of cameras were put up before the criteria were introduced, and some of those cameras are being withdrawn because they do not meet the terms of the criteria. None the less, we still have some cameras in what I would describe as legacy situations. In some cases, the number of deaths and injuries has been reduced, thank God, and in those cases it would probably be sensible to continue to deploy cameras to ensure that the number stayed on the low side, rather than went up again.

In some cases, we find that local head teachers make a special plea to the police to install a camera temporarily, in order to look after the children for whom they are responsible. They see that there are real threats and dangers. I assure the noble Lord that it is important to make sure that we use cameras in a way that secures people's safety.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the policy of the chief constable of Durham constabulary is not to use fixed speed cameras and, in fact, there has been no measurable increase in road deaths?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I have read about that point in newspaper articles. Chief police officers, in this case acting through the chief constable of Thames Valley—who I think, in a general sense, has overall responsibility for this—made the point that the reduction by 35 per cent—the figure that I quoted just a while ago—is a very significant change. I cannot tell whether there are specific factors at work in Durham that might buck this trend. A 35 per cent change seems to be a huge gain—think of the lives saved and the injuries that are not occasioned, particularly to children.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, of course, I always obey the instructions of policemen, even former policemen. Is the Minister aware that new SPECS speed cameras have recently been introduced on the M6? The noble Lord will know that they automatically register the average speed of a car travelling between two points.

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If that car is travelling at over 78 miles per hour, they automatically issue a ticket, without any form of human intervention to the driver. As these new cameras are now hidden in the electronic signs on the M6, how do they comply with the Government's guidelines?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I shall certainly look at the issue of the extent to which compliance or non-compliance occurs. It is plainly policy, and I accept the point that cameras should be visible. That itself is conducive to greater safety. If people are complaining that they are being caught driving far too fast—by cameras, or any other efficient and more scientific means—they should perhaps think that there is no ancient English right to speed and kill people.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, given the very impressive 35 per cent reduction in accidents that has been achieved by the use of cameras, according to my noble friend, will he confirm that cameras are more effective than road humps at slowing down traffic and improving safety? Is it possible for local authorities to use cameras rather than road humps in the interests of ambulances and other emergency service vehicles, which find the humps difficult to cope with?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I thank my noble friend. I was almost tempted to comment on the road humps in the area where I live and their baleful effect on my car, but I shall forbear. I am not aware of differential statistical evidence on the efficacy of the different means of traffic calming, as it is called these days; it probably would be worth looking at it. But I suppose—it is no more than a supposition—that road humps are often deployed at frequent intervals on roads where it would not be particularly effective, or perhaps possible in some cases, to site cameras, so the comparisons may not be the best scientifically. None the less, it must be right to test the different methods applied and to ensure that the most effective methods to increase security and safety are available and used.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, in his reply to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, the Minister referred to some cameras still being in legacy situations. If that is so and they do not adhere to the guidelines, would not the answer be simply to disarm them and not to insert a film?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I cannot say how many legacy cameras contain films at present. But, where anybody believes that cameras are in use that do not comply with the criteria, I simply appeal to them to present that evidence so that it can be acted upon.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, I recognise that reducing speed will obviously reduce the number of accidents, but is there any evidence of accidents occurring when drivers brake sharply when approaching a camera?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I am not aware of research that shows that. I have seen some research

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evidence that, where you get streams of cars passing cameras, every driver tends to slow down to the same average speed. I do not think that there is research on drivers braking sharply and causing accidents. I suspect that if there were any significant incidence of that, there would have been significant research to investigate it. That is my hunch, but I shall make further investigations of the research literature to see whether that hunch is true.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, why should anybody worry about speed cameras if they are not breaking the law? Surely the answer is to have more speed cameras to catch those who break the law.

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I am sure that that is absolutely right. The aim must be to get people to drive in a serious and sensible way within speed limits and with some consciousness of their obligations to the rest of the community.

Ofsted: Schools in Special Measures

2.46 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any explanation for the rise in the number of schools placed in special measures by Ofsted.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, following extensive consultations, Ofsted introduced a new inspection framework last September. It is more precise and gives inspectors clearer guidance. The downward trend in special measures since 1997 was reversed last term. That may not be a permanent change but is possibly caused by the increased precision in inspection under the new framework. None the less, special measures judgments represent only about 2 per cent of all inspections.

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