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House of Lords

Thursday, 28 January 2010.

11 am

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Liverpool.

Roads: Speed Cameras


11.06 am

Asked By Lord Trimble

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, any decision to remove a camera is for local road safety partnerships, not the Government. The Department for Transport's guidance on the deployment of cameras encourages road safety partnerships regularly to review their camera sites. Cameras in Scotland and Northern Ireland are a matter for the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Lord Trimble: I thank the Minister for that reply. The Government would find it easier to persuade motorists that cameras are there for safety rather than revenue reasons if they made greater use of the devices often seen at road works which show the speed of the oncoming car. Does the Minister agree that those devices have more impact and effect on the behaviour of drivers than speed cameras; and that the effect would be greater if there was recourse to the suggested smart traffic lights that would be triggered by the excessive speed of motorists?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I hope I will not embarrass the noble Lord if I pay tribute to his contribution to road safety in Northern Ireland when he was First Minister. He is credited with putting road safety firmly on the political agenda: the Northern Ireland safety camera scheme was instituted on his watch. The point that he makes about speed indicator devices and vehicle-activated signs is a good one. They are popular with local authorities because they tell motorists what speed they are doing. The difficulty we find with them is that their effect on driving patterns is short-term. Speed drops for a couple of weeks, but then creeps up again because there is no penalty attached to breaking the speed limit shown on the devices.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: Will the noble Lord assure the House that local police forces are not using speed cameras as a substitute for highways policing? While cameras undoubtedly pick up speed, they do not pick up drink-driving, dangerous driving, tailgating and such practices.

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Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, the days of ring-fencing government funding for safety cameras ended in 2007. A decision on whether safety cameras are installed is now a matter for local determination. In some cases, it is appropriate for local authorities to decide this: others may decide to do it in a different way. We would not want to see cameras used as a means of replacing police or other ways of enforcing speed limits.

Viscount Tenby: My Lords, is not one of the problems the drop in the number of traffic police? There is no more effective way of controlling bad behaviour on the roads than having the physical presence of policemen.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, our police have many demands on their time and priorities. While there are 16,000 more police now than there were 10 years ago, matters of operational policing are not for the Department for Transport. However, I will draw to the attention of the Home Office the points made by the noble Viscount.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, will my noble friend comment on the increasingly common use as a deterrent of cardboard police cars on motorway bridges; and does he believe that these things are cut out for the job?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, any dummy camera or other dummy device would be seen through quite quickly.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, did the Minister read the excellent article by Simon Jenkins in Tuesday's Evening Standard, in which he exposed the predatory policies against motorists planned by Westminster City Council? It proposes to make single yellow lines subject to parking restrictions in the evening and to continue charging for parking bays. It is clear that this is intended entirely as a means of taxing the motorist in order to meet Westminster's funds deficit. Can the Government do anything about it?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, the noble Lord tempts me, but the Question is about speed cameras in the United Kingdom, not about parking policies in the City of Westminster. I would have thought that there were other ways in which the noble Lord could draw attention to the points that he makes.

I can comment on the role of Transport for London, which is very keen on installing safety cameras. However, it would not be appropriate to comment on Westminster council's parking policy.

Lord Geddes: Are Her Majesty's Government in favour of the much reported increased use of average-speed cameras on motorways?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: Yes, indeed, we are, my Lords. Average-speed cameras are certainly a way of getting speed limits observed on motorways.

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I should make it clear-and this goes for the previous questions-that speed cameras are not a way of raising revenue.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: We would be delighted if they led to not a single fine being imposed because motorists were observing speed limits.

Lord Filkin: Does my noble friend agree that while the cameras may not be aimed at raising revenue, they are clearly having a deterrent effect on speeding? However, a side-effect has been the vast increase in the number of us who have now become criminals. Does this concern the Minister?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: I would have more sympathy with my noble friend if he admitted that what he is doing if he is speeding and picking up fines is wrong and dangerous. Speed kills, and safety cameras are one way of reducing excessive speed.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, in view of the number of speed cameras now on our roads, can the Minister tell the House what data are kept on each camera to justify it being where it is placed, as well as on the reduction in accidents before and after it is put in place and the amount of fines generated by each camera? Is that information published? If not, why not?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, the noble Baroness, as is her wont, asks a number of detailed questions. On her first question, what data are kept is a matter for the local safety partnership, which will hold those data. On her other questions, I am afraid that I shall have to write to her.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: The Minister said that the cameras are not means of raising revenue. Could he explain why, on the approach to my village, there is a speed limit of 30 mph, which goes up for just a few hundred yards to 40 mph and then down again to 30 mph? I keep meeting people in the village who complain that they have just had the first ticket in their lives for speeding, because they cannot get down to 30 mph again quickly enough after they have just gone up to 40 mph.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, one of the urban myths in our country is that safety cameras are in place to allow local authorities to raise money. That is not the case. The money from fines imposed as a result of safety camera offences goes into the Consolidated Fund. Up until 2007, the income was hypothecated; it is no longer hypothecated. Whether there should be safety cameras in the noble Baroness's village is a matter for her local road safety partnership.

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Antarctica: Cruise Ships


11.14 am

Asked By Earl Attlee

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: And now for something completely different, my Lords. The United Kingdom is closely involved in the development of internationally accepted safety criteria within the International Maritime Organisation and the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting. A revised set of guidelines for ships operating in polar waters was recently adopted by the IMO. Additionally, the IMO will develop a comprehensive mandatory instrument for ships operating in polar waters to enhance the current guidelines covering the design, equipment and operation of ships in those waters, including Antarctic cruise ships.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his interesting and informative reply, but does not the situation have all the ingredients of a disaster waiting for a date? These cruises are becoming increasingly numerous and adventurous and even the old, small but suitable MS "Explorer" sank in 2008. Mercifully, the weather was unusually calm and all were rescued in a few hours. Does not the Minister think that our luck will run out and, if it does, what will the cost be?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I draw the noble Earl's attention to the steps that have been taken since the accident with the merchant vessel "Explorer", which happily resulted in no loss of life, although I readily accept that that could easily have been a very different outcome if the weather had been different. A lot of work has been carried out within the Antarctic treaty consultative organisations in order to strengthen exactly the points to which the noble Earl refers. For example, it is now necessary for all United Kingdom-organised or originating Antarctic expeditions to have a permit from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before they can enter those waters. That permit is issued on a number of stringent conditions relating to things such as contingency planning, sufficient arrangements for search and rescue, planning for adverse weather conditions, arrangements for loss of radio, being able to cope with a full evacuation if needed and ensuring that there is proper insurance. The measures have been strengthened considerably and work continues in that area.

Lord Boston of Faversham: My Lords, will the Minister particularly ensure that he safeguards French cruise ships? My Antarctic cruise ship was French, and the food was absolutely magnificent and the wines were absolutely delicious throughout. Worth saving.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: I am sure that the noble Lord will be able to go on enjoying his French cruises, as long as the ships comply with the new

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conditions. I should add that an environmental improvement being made in 2011 is that these ships will not be able to use heavy fuel oil and will have to substitute a lighter fuel oil. That may have an effect on the number of very large cruise liners going there, but I hope that it does not affect the noble Lord's holiday plans.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Do these safety measures take account of the expanding Antarctic ice cap as a result of global cooling? Do they also take into account the floating ice, which will increase now as a result of this phenomenon?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: I sometimes think that questions in your Lordships' House should have something written beside them in ironic script. I suspect that the noble Lord's question may be one of those. What is happening with climate change in Antarctica is interesting, as different areas are being affected in different ways. Some areas are not being affected at all, and in some parts of the Antarctic peninsula ice is increasing. However, it is also the most rapidly warming part of the planet as well, so the picture is not quite as simple as the noble Lord suggests.

Lord Greenway: Does the Minister agree that charting is crucial to the safe operation of cruise ships in Antarctica? What is the position with HMS "Endurance", our ice patrol ship, being out of action? Is the replacement ship fitted with suitable equipment for charting in the area? Is the Minister not aware that many cruise ships make their own charts within the anchorages which they use? These are known as mud charts-and I repeat "mud charts" because the last time I mentioned this when we debated it a year and a half ago, it appeared in Hansard as "mug shots".

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I bow to the noble Lord for his knowledge of seafaring. I can tell him that HMS "Endurance" is still at Portsmouth, and has been there since 10 April 2009. A technical investigation and service inquiry continues into the flooding incident that affected her. No decision has yet been taken about the long-term future of HMS "Endurance". In the mean time, HMS "Scott" is performing a number of very important elements of the ship's duties, to which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has agreed. However, HMS "Scott" is not an icebreaker and does not have the ability to land aircraft on her. She is able to operate only in areas clear of a significant ice risk, and probably during the summer down there. The matter is under review and no decision has yet been taken.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the Minister gave a number of conditions that are going to have to be met by cruise ships in future in Antarctic and polar waters. Will those ships have to be ice-strengthened as well?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: Yes, my Lords, they are not required to be ice-breakers but they need to be ice-strengthened and able to cope with ice.

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Baroness Scott of Needham Market: Are the Government supporting the regulations being developed by the International Maritime Organisation regarding noise emissions from cruise ships-indeed, all ships-given that it is usually older ships that cause a problem with noise, and that there is growing evidence that the noise is affecting the well-being of marine mammals?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: The noble Baroness raises an interesting question, to which I am afraid I do not have an answer. If this is an IMO requirement, I am confident that we will insist that those conditions are applied to cruise ships in the Antarctic area as everywhere else. We do not have any evidence that tourism in Antarctica is having an effect on the ecology or indeed on the climate.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, there are high risks-

Lord Davies of Oldham: Sorry, my Lords, we must move on.

Attorney-General: Private Prosecutions


11.21 am

Asked By Lord Maclennan of Rogart

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Bach said last week in response to a similar Question, Her Majesty's Government are looking at this issue urgently. I regret, however, that the week that has elapsed has not been sufficient to bring the matter to a conclusion and I can only say again that no decisions have yet been made.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: I thank the Minister for that reply. Do the Government accept, however, that the paramount requirement is to sustain the commitment of this country to enable war crimes under the Geneva Convention to continue to be triable in English courts? Will the Government further recognise that the political nature of the roles of the Law Officers makes it highly unsuitable that they should be empowered to prevent arrests from taking place?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, on the first question, Her Majesty's Government have no intention to restrict the so-called universal jurisdiction, for which, as a party to certain international conventions, the UK has legislated in respect of some grave offences. We take our commitment to tackling serious international crimes extremely seriously. The role of the Law Officers in any proposal that the Government may bring forward will be addressed when those proposals are brought forward.

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Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, in what possible circumstances, where there is a prima facie case against someone for whom an arrest warrant has been issued and where no extradition agreement is involved, would we decide not to proceed in the trying of that person?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the level of evidence that a court needs to issue an arrest warrant is well short of the presumption that a case can succeed. Before a case would be prosecuted, the final decision would be made by the Attorney-General. The considerations that she would take into account would certainly include whether or not a case would be likely to succeed and would be in the public interest. There is no requirement for a magistrates' court to take those issues into account in deciding to issue an arrest warrant.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, will the review bear in mind what would have happened in 1992, if I remember correctly, if Saddam Hussein had turned up in London having committed the crime of hostage taking under international law?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the offences of a universal jurisdiction would undoubtedly have meant that the state would have taken action in those circumstances, unless Saddam Hussein had come in a way where diplomatic immunity protected him. If he was so protected, that protection would apply, just as it does all over the world, but the state would certainly proceed against any citizen not so protected, if there was a proper case. It is difficult to believe that those negotiating these treaties had in mind the circumstance of a private individual going to a court for an arrest warrant. It is clear that the duty is on the state. This state-the British Government-does not stand away from those duties to proceed against individuals where, after proper investigation, there is a proper case.

Lord Henley: My Lords, we are talking on this Question purely about private prosecutions being brought. Those private prosecutions, as we know, can do immense damage to our standing in the world. I am thinking of the recent occasion where a former Israeli Minister was unable to visit this country because of the threat of such a private prosecution. Could not the Government move somewhat more quickly in looking at the role of the Attorney-General and might it not have been possible for the Attorney-General herself to have answered this Question?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the Government are very much seized of the event and its consequences. The Foreign Secretary said:

"We are determined to protect and develop these ties ... Israeli leaders-like leaders from other countries-must be able to visit and have a proper dialogue with the British Government".

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