HC Deb 15 May 1992 vol 207 cc849-910

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Lightbown.]

9.34 am
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will have noticed this morning, because it has been well advertised in the press and on television, that Olympia and York has now filed for bankruptcy. You have heard me call at least three times this week for a statement in the House by either the Secretary of State for the Environment or by the President of the Board of Trade to let us know that in no circumstances will taxpayers' money be allocated by the Government to that bankrupt firm. I have never received proper assurances. You will have heard the inconclusive exchanges the other day between me and the Secretary of State for the Environment.

I now call on the Government through you, Madam Speaker, to make it clear that if Olympia and York files for chapter 11 and bankruptcy proceedings, in no circumstances will the Government use taxpayers' money to bail out the company in the Canary Wharf development or anywhere else. We should have a statement here today to make that abundantly clear.

Madam Speaker

That is barely a point of order for the Chair. I inform the hon. Gentleman and the House that I have been given no indication that a Minister is about to make a statement. Those on the Treasury Bench will, of course, have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)

Further to the point of order, Madam Speaker. I should like to say that the information given this morning by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—

Madam Speaker

Order. May I give a little guidance to the hon. Gentleman? A point of order must be a matter directly for the Chair. We cannot get into a debate on points of order. I have dealt with the matter now.

9.36 am
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Kenneth Carlisle)

I am truly delighted that my first opportunity to open a debate as Minister for Roads and Traffic should be on the vital subject of road safety. It is a matter to which the Government and I personally attach the highest importance, and I know that that sentiment is shared by the whole House.

Road safety is about people. Nine out of 10 casualty accidents involve human error and they are one of the most avoidable causes of human suffering—avoidable, that is, if only people would drive more carefully, obey road traffic law and follow the highway code. We are all road users in one way or another, as drivers, passengers, cyclists or pedestrians, and we all have a strong human interest in making our roads safer. It is of paramount importance to our constituents that they and their families should be able to travel safely on our roads. There is also an important economic interest at stake. Road accidents cost the country a staggering £6 billion a year.

I am committed to our drive to reduce casualties. Even one casualty is one too many, and this is a campaign on which we will not falter. That is why, in 1987, we set ourselves the target of reducing casualties by a third by the year 2000 compared with the average annual level for 1981–85. We are now five years into this programme. There is no room for complancency, but there are many encouraging signs.

The provisional casualty statistics for 1991 have recently been issued. They show that road deaths in 1991 were 13 per cent. down on the previous year and more than 19 per cent. down on the 1981–85 average. Just over 4,500 people were killed on our roads in 1991. That is the lowest figure since 1948 and the second lowest since 1925. It compares with almost 8,000 deaths in the worst years of the 1960s. Let me remind the House that there is nine times as much motor traffic on our roads today as there was in 1948.

By international standards, too, our record is good. Latest comparable figures show that for every 100,000 in the population, there are 10 road deaths a year in Great Britain compared with 13 in the western part of Germany, 18 in the United States of America and 20 in France. Ours is now the lowest fatality rate in the Common Market, but I must stress that it is still 4,500 deaths too many. Every road death is a major tragedy for the victim's family and friends.

Serious injury accidents can be almost as devastating, in many cases leaving those involved physically or mentally scarred for life. It is particularly good news that the number of those fell by nearly 15 per cent. between 1990 and 1991—and 1990 was a relatively good year. For serious injuries, we have almost reached the target with a reduction of over 30 per cent. since the base years of 1981 to 1985. So we are making fair progress on the most serious casualties. However, we still have a long way to go on the overall casualty target, which is only 3 per cent. down on the baseline. That is largely attributable to a growth in slight casualties among car users, which appears to reflect the growth in traffic of more than 40 per cent. since the base years 1981 to 1985.

One may ask whether those dramatically lower casualty figures are really a significant long-term trend or merely a "blip", a fortuitous piece of good luck, which will soon reverse itself. Some have claimed, for example, that road accidents always go down in a recession and will increase as soon as the economy picks up.

Against this, I can point out only that, despite the recession, the level of traffic on our roads has not fallen —indeed, there was 3 per cent. more traffic in 1991 than in 1990. The improvement can no longer be written off as short term. The number of deaths and serious injuries has now fallen in six successive quarters compared with the corresponding quarters of the previous years. So there are good grounds for optimism, although none for complacency.

As I have said, human error is the most common cause of road accidents, so the cornerstone of our strategy to improve road safety is encouraging better conduct by drivers and riders on our roads. We can do this by education and publicity campaigns, but better enforcement and stiffer penalties are also necessary ingredients.

The highway code is an invaluable teaching aid for all road users. We are reaching the final stages of preparation of a completely revised edition—the first major revision since 1978. The more detailed "Driving Manual", long recognised as a key reference book, has also been completely revised, and a new edition will be published later this month.

Publicity campaigns play an important role in helping to reinforce legislation and improve attitudes and driver behaviour. Our current publicity programme is largely directed at two major areas—drinking and driving and child road safety. I shall have more to say later about our success in changing attitudes to drinking and driving.

The child safety campaign aims to reduce the number of children killed or seriously injured on our roads, in particular by encouraging motorists to reduce their speed in urban areas where children are likely to be around. The first child road safety campaign was launched in May 1990. Changing attitudes, and translating those changes into improved behaviour, is a slow process. The campaign must be maintained for a number of years before its full benefit is felt, but research shows that it is already having some effect on driver attitudes. I know that the whole House will support this campaign to protect our children.

The majority of drivers will respond to well-focused publicity and modify their behaviour if they are fully aware of the risks. Unfortunately, though, there is a minority who appear to enjoy taking risks or who are totally unconcerned about the danger they cause to themselves and others. Behavioural research funded by the Department is aimed at improving our understanding of this type of driver. We hope that it will point the way to some positive policies for reducing the risk they pose to themselves and others, but for some, it seems that stiff penalties may be the only answer.

There has been much public outcry about certain cases in which the courts have been unable to impose the highest penalties on drivers who have caused death or serious injury because of the difficulty in proving a charge of "recklessness". That was a central concern of the committee chaired by Dr. Peter North in the mid-1980s, and it recommended that the most serious driving offences should be reformulated.

That has now been done in the Road Traffic Act 1991, much of which was based on the North committee's recommendations. Those provisions will come into force on 1 July this year. The new offences of "dangerous driving" and "causing death by dangerous driving" are constructed in such a way that the court's decision will be based more on the objective standard of driving than on the driver's state of mind. I hope that this will lead to much severer penalties being imposed where the appalling standard of driving justifies that.

Another important change the new Act will make is that drivers convicted of the "dangerous driving" offences will be ordered to take a double-length driving test before regaining a full driving licence. Courts will also have the discretion to require a re-test—in the more serious cases a double-length one—where a driver is convicted of other endorsable offences. The longer test will provide more opportunity to examine the attitude of the driver in a variety of traffic situations, as well as driving skills as such.

In looking at the main behavioural causes of road accidents, two factors clearly predominate—speed and drink. Attitudes to drinking and driving have greatly improved in recent years, but we are all aware that speed limits are still widely ignored. Yet, as other causes of accident are gradually reduced, speed emerges ever more clearly as the main killer on the roads of the 1990s.

We have all heard the expression "speed kills", but just how literally true that is was brought home to many people by last year's excellent campaign on the subject, "Kill your speed, not a child". That showed vividly the difference of impact on a child pedestrian of vehicles travelling at 20, 30 or 40 mph—literally it is the difference between life and death. At 40 mph, most children are killed; at 20 mph, most live.

Research shows that, in between 22 and 32 per cent. of accidents, excessive speed is a contributory factor. Accidents at speed are more likely to result in death or serious injury. It is a sobering thought that it has been estimated that a 1 mph reduction in average speed across the board could save around 8 per cent. of all injury accidents and around 11 per cent. of fatal accidents.

Therefore, it is essential that we have the right speed limits for different classes of roads. My right hon. and learned Friend, the previous Secretary of State for Transport, confirmed in July 1991 that the top national speed limit would remain 70 mph. I am pleased that the Association of Chief Police Officers now supports our decision.

We have recently issued a consultation paper on the guidelines we give local authorities in setting local speed limits on roads for which they are responsible. We are proposing that local authorities should have greater freedom to take account of the environment through which the road passes. That has been widely welcomed, and we shall shortly be issuing revised guidance, taking account of the many comments received.

The main problem about speed limits, of course, is how to enforce them. The Road Traffic Act 1991 has replaced the flat rate of three penalty points for speeding with a range from three to six points, which a magistrates court may impose according to the severity of the offence. That means that, in future, a driver may lose his licence on the basis of only two serious speeding convictions.

The main enforcement problem is catching the offender in the first place. Here, technology can help, in the form of automatic cameras. Some police forces are already using this sort of camera to detect drivers who cross on red traffic lights. It has proved a remarkably effective exercise, not only in bringing offenders to book, but also in deterring others. As these cameras become more widely used, we hope that drivers will regard every traffic light as a potential camera site. That would produce significant accident savings.

The legislative changes in the Road Traffic Act 1991 will enable us to take a similar approach to the problem of speeding, and these measures come into effect in July. Evidence from type-approved camera equipment will no longer need to be corroborated by a policeman on the spot. We are hoping for the same sort of success we have achieved with red light cameras, particularly in terms of deterring people from speeding. The acid test will be whether the introduction of cameras reduces speed and accidents. From our experience with red light cameras, we have every reason to be optimistic.

Apart from speed, the other form of road user behaviour that causes an alarming number of accidents is driving under the influence of alcohol. This is not only illegal but utterly selfish and dangerous. Fortunately, the message seems finally to be getting through. The number of people killed in drink-related accidents has more than halved over the past 12 years. This suggests that we are beginning to reap the benefits of years of patient campaigning and education and that the attitude of society is itself changing. But drink-related accidents still account for some 800 deaths, so it is important that we maintain the momentum.

The Government's publicity campaigns alone would not have had such a dramatic effect without the widespread support that they have received. I should particularly like to acknowledge the contribution of the police, who have trebled the level of breath testing in the past 10 years, and of the drinks industry, which has promoted low-alcohol and alcohol-free drinks.

It is gratifying that the general level of driving over the limit is going down, but, as we know, there is still a hard core of heavy drinkers. Some may have a medical dependence on alcohol and should not be allowed to drive at all. The high-risk offenders scheme, which was extended in June 1990, imposes additional medical checks on repeat offenders or those convicted at very high blood-alcohol levels. They cannot regain their licences until they have satisfied the Department's medical experts that they are no longer alcohol dependent.

The Road Traffic Act created a new offence of causing death by careless driving while unfit through drink or drugs. This will carry the same maximum penalty—five years imprisonment—as the offence of causing death by dangerous driving.

Some drink-drivers need help as well as the deterrence of legal penalties. Much useful pioneering work has been done by the probation service and the voluntary sector on rehabilitating drink-drivers and others with a drinking habit that gets out of control. The Road Traffic Act provides a power to conduct a large-scale experiment in rehabilitation courses for drink-drive offenders.

Under this scheme, an offender can earn remission on the period of disqualification by attending and completing an approved course. I emphasise that this is not a soft option. It will require attendance for about 16 to 20 hours, and the offender will be required to pay the course fee. It offers the possibility of bringing about a permanent change in behaviour which cannot be achieved by penalties alone. The experiment will be well worth watching, and I shall do so with great care. It may have wider applications.

For the experimental period, this scheme will operate in certain parts of the country only. If the experiment shows that rehabilitation courses are effective, the scheme will be extended throughout Great Britain. This will require an affirmative statutory instrument, so Parliament will be fully involved in the decision. The experiment is, of necessity, over a long period, so it will be a few years before the debate takes place.

Although I have concentrated on measures to improve road user behaviour, road safety can also be improved by better design of vehicles and roads. These are areas in which steady progress has been made for a number of years.

One important recent development in vehicle safety has been the compulsory fitting of speed limiters on lorries as well as coaches. I have already spoken of excessive speed as a major factor in accidents, and the impact of heavy vehicles at speed is particularly severe. For some years now, all new coaches capable of travelling at 70 mph have had to be fitted with speed limiters, and retrofitting of older coaches is, I am glad to say, now complete.

From August this year, all new goods vehicles over 7.5 tonnes will also be fitted with speed limiters, and a retrofitting programme for the heaviest vehicles already in use will end in 1993. This will result in considerable fuel savings and environmental benefits in addition to the much-needed road safety benefits.

Another substantial recent step has been the extension to rear seats of the requirement to wear seat belts which are fitted and available. Rear seat belt wearing was made compulsory for children in 1989 and for adults last July. The combined effect of these changes could be a reduction of at least 100 fatal and 1,000 serious injuries a year. Wearing rates by drivers and front seat passengers in this country are among the highest in the world. In post-1987 cars, rear belts are now worn by almost 90 per cent. of children and almost 60 per cent. of adults. The rate for adults has more than doubled since wearing was made compulsory. It is clear that more and more passengers recognise the value of using seat belts.

Further progress on vehicle manufacturing standards depends crucially on securing agreement within the European Community, since no member state can unilaterally lay down standards which would form a barrier to trade. As we all know, getting agreement can be a long and tortuous process, but the United Kingdom is pushing hard on a number of fronts, and some good progress has recently been made.

Although progress on car standards moves slowly, manufacturers could do more at the design stage to improve safety. Consumers are becoming more aware of safety issues, and several large manufacturers are vigorously marketing the safety aspects of their models. Gone are the days when it was said in the advertising world, "Safety doesn't sell".

We intend to maintain this momentum by providing the consumer with safety statistics on makes and models of cars. This week we published the second of our reports on "Car and Driver: Injury Accidents and Casualty Rates" which gives information on how well cars protect their occupants. As more information becomes available we shall follow this up with further publications to assist the consumer in making informed decisions when buying a car.

For vehicle safety, Governments and the Community can only set standards and regulate, but the trunk road network is a direct responsibility of the Government. As well as providing mobility, as roads are the arteries of the nation, the roads programme makes a substantial contribution to road safety. New roads, purpose built to modern standards, are far safer than the ones that they replace. They also make a welcome diversion of traffic away from less suitable, lower quality roads. The scope for accident reduction is one of the factors taken into account in selecting schemes for the national trunk road programme.

Trunk roads carry about 30 per cent. of all traffic, but only about 10 per cent. of accidents occur on them, and the casualty rate on motorways is only one fifth that of other roads. But the volume of traffic is growing more quickly on these roads than on others, so achieving casualty reductions here is a real challenge. We are making a determined effort, and we now require all the Department's new roads to be subject to a full safety audit. Best estimates are that the road programme will save about 80,000 casualties cumulatively over this decade.

On existing trunk roads we have completed a major programme of gap closures. Since the casualty reduction target was set, we have installed around 1,000 miles of central reserve fencing on dual carriageway trunk roads.

However, almost three quarters of all casualties occur on local roads, and I cannot stress too much how we welcome the support and commitment of local authorities to road safety. Following the guidance given by the local authority associations in their excellent code of practice for road safety, almost all local highway authorities have now prepared their own local safety plans setting out the way in which they seek to improve road safety across their whole area of responsibility.

Some of the most impressive casualty savings can be achieved by relatively minor and inexpensive measures to remove a specific source of danger. These are commonly known as local safety schemes. The majority are carried out on local authority roads and the latest transport supplementary grant settlement allocated over £42 million for this purpose. The combined grant allocations for 1991–92 and for this year will allow local authorities to build around 7,700 local safety schemes nationally. They should save about 170 lives and prevent 2,200 serious injuries and 9,000 other casualties in any 12-month period. The same techniques are used to improve black spots on the trunk road network.

A very promising development in recent years has been the specification of a road hierarchy in urban areas to get traffic on to a network designed for vehicles and away from the residential areas where people live and children play. This has permitted the use of design and engineering measures to reduce the speed of drivers on these purely residential roads.

It is estimated that this approach, which was developed by the Transport Research Laboratory, can save up to 13 per cent. of all injury accidents in the areas treated. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) is with me on the Front Bench today, because, as the new Under-Secretary with responsibility for these matters in London, he is taking many of these measures forward with his usual verve. I know that he will have much to contribute to this campaign.

Road humps have proved to be one of the most effective ways of calming traffic in residential areas. In 1990, we simplified the regulations to make them easier to introduce and less expensive. More recently, a small legislative change in the Road Traffic Act 1991 will increase the scope for non-standard humps to be approved.

There are, however, a number of other engineering techniques for calming traffic, such as chicanes and road narrowings. Until recently, local authorities have been reluctant to use these because of doubts about their legal status. I hope that these will now be resolved thanks to the new Traffic Calming Act 1992, which happily just received Royal Assent before Dissolution.

I must pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) who introduced that legislation as a private Member's Bill in the last Session. I am sorry that he is not with us today, but he has given me an understandable excuse for that. Since going to the Department, I have come to realise what a contribution his private Member's Bill will make to safety. It was a tremendous effort to get his Bill through before Dissolution.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

I entirely endorse my hon. Friend's comments about the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans). I was fortunate enough to be a sponsor of the Bill. However, will my hon. Friend note that many of the authorities responsible for the implementation of these more interesting traffic-calming measures are now claiming that they have problems with resources? Although I am not requesting further Government funding, should not councils give higher priority to the implementation of such schemes, in the interests of pedestrians and other road users?

Mr. Carlisle

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. As I said, we are giving substantial sums for local safety measures—about £42 million a year. That is ring-fenced, so it has to be used on such measures. Obviously, as we introduce and persuade people to take traffic-calming measures, the input that local authorities have to make is paramount. We shall have to carry this forward with real energy. I assure him that I intend to do that, because I see traffic-calming measures as the most effective way not only to improve safety but to make residential areas better to live in. I pay tribute to the part that my hon. Friend played in getting the Bill through Parliament.

It is also important to try to reduce speed in residential areas, and some of the measures that I have described have been used to good effect in the new 20 mph zones. Some 27 of these have now been authorised, and there are more in the pipeline. All in all, this is solid progress from which we can derive some satisfaction. The improvement in casualty figures from 1990 to 1991 was the best for 50 years. Our road safety record is excellent by international standards, and I have mentioned a number of other measures which are about to come in or are very recent, which should improve road safety even more.

However, we cannot be complacent. With traffic continuing to grow, we cannot afford any relaxation in our efforts. It has been said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Similarly, the price of safer roads is ceaseless activity. I can assure the House that we shall take all steps necessary to achieve the casualty reduction target for the year 2000, and if possible to go even further in reducing this senseless waste of life and limb.

I am particularly concerned at the level of road casualties among young people. Young, newly qualified drivers represent only 10 per cent. of all licence holders, but they account for 20 per cent. of driver casualties. They are involved in accidents which result in 1,000 road deaths each year. Many young people drive carefully and responsibly, but there are others who consider good driving to be fast and aggressive rather than safe. Some important research is being carried out in this area and in the light of this I shall be looking carefully at what can be done to reduce the unnecessarily high rate of casualties among this age group.

I have no doubt that many hon. Members are hoping to take part in the debate and, as a new Minister to this subject, I shall listen with great care and particular interest, and certainly with an open mind, to the points they make. As the Minister for Roads and Traffic, I am already aware that I have inherited a programme of impressive work. One of my highest ambitions is to drive this work forward and to strive to my utmost ability to make our roads ever safer.

10.8 am

Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

I begin by welcoming you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to your new position. May I also he the first to congratulate the Minister on his appointment to his new post?

These debates on road safety have become an annual event, in which the Minister tells the House all the good things that the Government are doing. We applaud proven achievements, but, despite the welcome news that death and injury figues fell in 1991 as compared to 1990, there is a fundamental weakness in the Government's approach. Road safety primarily concerned with the interaction between private cars, cyclists and pedestrians is only part of the general issue of transport safety. Huge sums of money are being spent on rail and undergound safety, two modes of transport with far better accident records than road-borne transport.

Have the Government made any analysis of any overall evaluation of transport safety and the return on moneys invested in various modes? Might it not be the case that such an analysis would reveal that public transport has a far better safety record than the use of private cars and might suggest some new perspectives in thinking about road safety?

Perhaps the new Minister will take more seriously than his predecessor the potential disaster inherent in the predictions that the number of vehicles on our roads will double by 2025. Surely such an increase in road-borne transport would be bound to affect road safety seriously. Surely any objective analysis of transport safety would dictate that there should be a major effort to shift people from modes of private transport to public transport.

I welcome the reduction in road accidents and I hope that the downward trend continues and that all agencies involved in road transport matters are given encouragement, support and appropriate resources to continue that vital work. I note the decrease in motor cycle accident rates and believe that the introduction of compulsory basic training for all learner cyclists, which we supported, must have been a significant factor in that welcome change. I also pay tribute to the industry for its research into design improvments, such as better braking, tyres and suspension.

However, as the Minister acknowledged, the good news cannot hide the fact that too many people are being killed or injured on our roads. I remind the House that last year there were 4,520 deaths in road accidents in Britain and more than 300,000 injuries. We all agree that that level is unacceptable.

Some sections of the population are considerably more at risk than others, and the Government must do more to deal with that. Older pedestrians are twice as likely to be killed on the road as other adults on foot. In 1989, nearly half of all pedestrians killed on the roads were more than 60 years old. Children are also at risk, road accidents being the leading cause of death for school age children. Most shockingly, road accidents are the cause of one in three male deaths between the ages of 15 and 24—a matter to which the Minister alluded in his closing remarks.

As a priority, we ought to be trying to ensure that the message of road safety reaches those young drivers, especially young male drivers—drivers aged between 17 and 20 are twice as likely to have a road accident as people in the 31 to 40 year age group.

Since our last debate, there has been much activity, both by the Government and by others, and most significant is the primary legislation that occupied us last year—the Road Traffic Act 1991, which is relevant and to which the Minister referred. While we strongly opposed part II of the Act, as I shall explain later, we supported the provisions in part I. I agree with the Minister that, once fully implemented, that Act will make a major contribution to reducing casualties on our roads. As he said, the new offence of dangerous driving will be easier to establish, as it is assessed on driver behaviour and not the driver's state of mind.

I am also pleased that there is a new offence on the statute book of causing death by careless driving while drunk. The Minister may not know that we pressed hard for that offence to be widened to include serious injury, but the Government refused to compromise.

We also supported another measure to which the Minister referred, the fitting of cameras to catch red light violators and those speeding on motorways. Those are two useful devices which I hope will act as much as a deterrent as a detector. I was pleased to hear the Government's account of what has been happening to red light camera detection, which is already in force.

Valuable though the 1991 Act is, it is deficient in some respects. The main area of deficiency is its omissions. Inexplicably, we once again failed to put on the statute book the introduction of random breath testing. Perhaps the Minister does not appreciate the vital importance of that issue, and the strength of the arguments put by the proponents of random breath testing. Although he has probably not yet had the chance to do so, I hope that he will find time to meet the British Medical Association, the Consumers Association, the Association of Police Surgeons of Great Britain and the National Federation of Women's Institutes—to name but a few—all of which support the introduction of random breath testing. Perhaps the Minister has a more open mind than his predecessor.

One of the problems of advancing arguments is the lack of recent research. I was encouraged to read—I hope that the Minister knows about this—that the Prime Minister ordered studies into drink driving in February this year. Would the Minister tell the House what progress is being made on that study? Drink-driving accidents kill 800 road users each year and injure 20,000, half of whom have not been drinking and driving.

Government research shows that more than 40 per cent. of people who admitted to drinking and driving believed that the chances of being caught were small, and they are right. The chances of detection range from one in 250 trips in some areas to one in 4,000 trips in others. It is true that there has been a reduction in the proportion of drivers killed who are over the legal limit, to around 19 per cent., but the level is still too high and we must not be complacent.

Above all, drivers need to be persuaded that the chances of their being caught are high. There needs to be an effective deterrent, and it does not exist at present. Overseas experience, in New South Wales for example, shows that, where perceptions of being caught were low, high-profile random breath testing could act as a powerful deterrent to drinking and driving. Reductions of about 35 per cent. were recorded there, with savings amounting to 20 times the cost of implementing the measures.

Random breath testing, as proposed by the Opposition, involves the establishment of roadside checkpoints where the police can check for excess alcohol. It does not involve giving the police unfettered powers, which could lead to an infringement of civil liberties. It would be a highly publicised, high-profile deterrent, and it has public support. Surveys conducted during the past three years show that 70 per cent. of the public support that measure.

We still firmly believe that the introduction of random breath testing could lead to a sharp drop in drink-driving and could add to the considerable successes which have already been recorded in this country. I hope that the new Minister will have a more open mind on that issue, because it remains critical to road safety.

In our previous debate on road safety, the then Minister approved regulations to introduce the compulsory wearing of seat belts in the rear seats of cars—a measure which we have supported for some time and to which the Minister referred today. He said that the fact that we were approaching a figure of 60 per cent. of adults wearing rear seat belts was a great success, but that leaves 40 per cent.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Sixty per cent.?

Ms. Ruddock

Specifically it is 58 per cent., and that allows for a 40 per cent. improvement. On every occasion that I have taken a taxi from this place which was fitted with rear seat belts and have fitted the belt before leaving, the taxi driver has told me that, in his experience, I am the only Member of Parliament to do so. If any hon. Members present in the Chamber today can say that they do so—

The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris)

I always wear them.

Mrs. Ruddock

The Minister now has the benefit of a ministerial car and may not be taking taxis. Among taxi drivers who come to the precincts of the Palace of Westminster, it is certainly a common opinion that Members do not wear rear seat belts. I urge them all to set the best example and do so consistently.

The Traffic Calming Act 1992 was also passed in the last Session and, as the Minister and I acknowledge that it is a significant Act. I congratulate the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) on piloting the Bill so skilfully through its various stages in the House. The Act allows local authorities far greater flexibility to implement measures to calm traffic—to slow it down in urban and residential areas. Together with the Government's recent announcement that local authorities may vary local speed limits and the establishment of several 20 mph zones, there will be a considerable improvement. These measures are particularly relevant to our concerns about accidents to two-wheeled travellers—cyclists and motor cyclists—and pedestrians.

Although the figures for those categories have indeed fallen, our record for those modes, unlike car transport, compares less well with that of other European countries. In many other European countries, it is safer, and indeed pleasanter, to walk and cycle. As the Minister acknowledged, one of the principal problems of our roads is excess speed. The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety reports that work by the Transport Research Laboratory shows that about 10 per cent. of drivers involved in accidents are going too fast for the conditions.

The Minister has said that he will shortly issue revised guidance on speed. Will he look carefully at the PACTS leaflet on reducing road injuries caused by speed? It lists sensible measures, such as changing public attitudes through publicity campaigns and discouraging the high rating given by the press and advertisers of the top speed and performance of new cars. That advertising of the cult of speed is a major problem in changing attitudes. I demand of the Minister that more work is done on that.

PACTS also draws attention to the need to ensure that local authorities are properly resourced to carry out their vital safety work. It is on this point that I should like specifically to address the concerns that we share with the Association of Metropolitan Authorities about recent changes in the allocation of resources for local authority capital expenditure on transport. Only 7 per cent. of those resources can now be spent entirely on the basis of local discretion—the so-called headroom allocation. That has a direct bearing on local authority programmes for street lighting, traffic-calming measures with environmental objectives, locations with accident records and initiatives aimed at improving conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.

Will the Minister look closely at the AMA's arguments for increasing headroom? Will he acknowledge that, if the 1991 level of headroom were to be restored in real terms over the next three years, resources of £220 million would become available in the 1992–93 settlement? Surely the Minister must acknowledge—indeed, this morning one of his colleagues almost pressed this upon him—that resources in this area must be increased and that they have a positive effect on road safety. If he will not acknowledge or be persuaded that resources should be increased, what is his attitude to the alternative approach of changing the balance of local transport capital settlements more in favour of headroom and away from named major projects and earmarked initiatives?

I now turn to a more controversial aspect of transport planning which is highly relevant to road safety in London. I am delighted to see the Minister for Transport in London in his place, because I refer to red routes. The predecessor of the Minister for Roads and Traffic made great play of the reduced casualty rates along the pilot route. There was a 36 per cent. decrease compared with decreases of 12 per cent. over London as a whole and 11 per cent. in Islington as a whole. I welcome those reductions in the casualty figures, but more caution should be exercised in making claims for the red routes.

Surveys show an average increase in traffic flows of 8 per cent.—that is, more traffic along the pilot route—compared with a 1.6 per cent. decrease in London's general traffic. The speed of traffic in the pilot area has increased by 12 per cent. in the southbound direction and by 29 per cent. in the northbound direction. A survey by Haringey council shows that the average speed on Archway road has increased from 30 mph, the legal limit on that road, to 37 mph.

As many more cars are travelling faster on the roads, it is likely that pedestrians now perceive the roads to be more dangerous, and so exercise greater care when crossing. Although we welcome that greater care and the reduction in accidents, we are afraid that this may be a short-term response and that increasing frustration and difficulties in crossing the road will lead to more serious accidents on these routes. The Government have consistently acknowledged that faster speed is a problem for road safety. Speeds increasing as a result of red routes pose new dangers.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

I am sure that the hon. Lady is right. Will she also acknowledge that the experiment included 17 new or improved pedestrian crossing points, and that that must be an integral part of any such plan? It was on the route she describes, and I hope that it will be on any other routes in London.

Ms. Ruddock

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I acknowledge that, if a road becomes more difficult to cross because of increased speed and traffic flows, there must be more pedestrian crossings. He will appreciate that, when the Government plan to introduce 300 miles of red routes, such a proportion of additional crossings will undoubtedly become a major problem and will defeat the increased speeds and so on. I am outlining the paradox here for the benefit of the House. It reflects seriously on potential road safety and future problems. The Government are not proposing to give the 300-mile network the same sort of financial support for all the additional measures, such as pedestrian crossings, entry-route treatments and traffic-calming treatments, that are in the pilot route.

Mr. Jessel

Can the hon. Lady please enlarge on that point, because I am not sure that I have understood her clearly? She seems to be saying that, because traffic is moving faster on red routes, pedestrians are more careful and the safety record is improving, but that in future the same pedestrians may change their minds and disregard the faster traffic, so dangers will increase. Why should they?

Ms. Ruddock

All the reports and local surveys suggest that there is a huge amount of frustration in the local neighbourhood as people try to go about their everyday life—shopping and moving about—with a red route crossing through the community. Although there has been an attempt to deal with the frustration and difficulties, by the provision of pedestrian crossings, in the pilot scheme, that is unlikely to happen on the Government's proposed 300-mile network.

My other point is that, although at this stage we see a reduction in accidents and more caution, it may be too early to make that positive assessment and believe that it will continue. We all know that, in an accident, the speed of the vehicle is extremely important in terms of the degree of injury that results. As the Minister explained, at certain speeds people are unlikely to be killed. If speed is increased by 10 mph, a pedestrian colliding with a vehicle will with certainty be killed. These are important matters, and I bring them to the House for serious consideration.

There is a flaw in the Government's claim to promote road safety and traffice calming when they also propose 300 miles of speeded-up traffic through shopping and residential areas. I am particularly concerned about the effect of the 300-mile network on people with disabilities. I am sure that the Minister's advisers will be familiar with the essential principles laid down by the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation and with representations of the Greater London Association for Disabled People.

Increased traffic speeds and the present lack of provision of pedestrian crossings have a disproportionate effect on the disabled. Will the Minister confirm that the Department does not have figures for the number of pedestrian casualties accounted for by those who suffer from various disabilities? My understanding is that such figures are not available—but if they are, I shall be delighted to know of them.

Will the Minister undertake to examine the question of road safety in respect of the disabled? I raise that in the context of red routes in London, but impress on the Minister the wider concern for the safety of the disabled on all our roads. Is the Minister aware also of the views of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, which suggests a number of key action points to benefit the visually impaired?

The RNIB takes the view that research should be undertaken into the number of accidents involving visually impaired pedestrians and the causes of those accidents. The institute believes that the use of tactile paving and of audible and tactile signals at pedestrian crossings ought to be mandatory and not discretionary. It also believes that the guidelines on the installation of drop curves, traffic-calming systems, and shared facilities should also be made mandatory, not advisory.

As to pavement parking, many organisations argue that the present law ought to be clarified and enforced. Excavations, road works—those famous holes in the road—and the lack of overall maintenance are all aspects which specifically concern the disabled. Unfenced road works present a hazard to us all, but particularly to the blind and visually impared. I hope that the Minister, in the enthusiasm that he must have for his new job, will consider those aspects, to which far too little attention has been paid.

If road safety and care for the environment were at the heart of the Government's road safety policies, they would not be proposing 300 miles of red routes for London. No amount of packaging red routes, giving buses a little more space, or adding pedestrian crossings can disguise that the purpose of the routes is to facilitate through traffic. If road safety were to be put first, a different network would emerge that prioritised buses and non-motorised forms of transport over car users.

Recently, the EC Environment Minister suggested for a club of cities with car-free zones. The scheme, "Cities without Cars", aims at encouraging individual cities to tackle exhaust emissions, improve environmental quality by cutting down on car use and exclude cars entirely from certain zones. There is some interest in those suggestions among local authorities in this country, if not among people in this Chamber. I hope that we will learn in clue course of the Minister's response to them.

The EC scheme shows that the debate on road safety ought not to be confined to questions involving collisions between vehicles and between vehicles and pedestrians and cyclists. It is time to broaden the road safety debate and to acknowledge that the environment ought to form part of it.

The impact of roads on their local communities, and on the level of noise and air pollution, threatens to endanger the quality of people's lives. Pollution in London often reaches crisis proportions, yet when, last December, it achieved its worst level since records began in 1976, the Government simply asked people to stay at home or to cut down on their driving. The Government did not and do not have a systematic system of air pollution monitoring. We impress on them the need to introduce such a scheme, and to be prepared to take real action where air pollution limits are exceeded.

Mr. Bowis

The hon. Lady makes an important point about air pollution, but does she not accept that the worst examples often occur at the worst traffic jams? When cars are holed up in big traffic jams and pump out their exhaust fumes into the atmosphere, that creates a worse situation than traffic that is running smoothly. Although red routes are not the whole answer, but only part of a package of traffic-calming measures, they can serve to draw traffic out of the rat runs in side streets, as the experiment proved, and stop the concentration of car exhaust pollution—which is a menace to those who live along what should be free-flowing main routes through London.

Ms. Ruddock

The hon. Gentleman's suggested solution is far too simplistic. If vehicle numbers increase at the rate that the Department predicts, any possible benefits of a smoother traffic flow would be negated. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the exhaust fumes pumped out by stationary vehicles are a major factor in air pollution, but the increase in vehicle numbers accounts for most of it. Some industries have dealt very well with air pollution, as we did domestically with coal fires many years ago, but we remain plagued by the problem of car exhaust fumes. Making provision for vehicles to travel faster through London is not the answer.

Also, the more that motorists perceive that it is possible to drive quickly through London, the more they will be encouraged to use their vehicles. It is not enough to take account of individual factors—a more comprehensive approach is needed.

My penultimate point concerns the role of education. In every transport debate in which I have participated, I have called for the topic to form part of the national curriculum. Some 85 per cent. of secondary schools and two thirds of primary schools have no structured road safety education programme. That is disgraceful, when one considers the road casualty rate among children and young people. It is obvious that consistent road safety education at all stages in childhood ought to be a primary concern. The Government must devote more resources and effort to ensuring that topic is taught to all children —and the most effective way would be to include it in the national curriculum.

I remind the Government that, despite their many good initiatives, nothing can replace a comprehensive transport strategy that has road safety, environment and people at its heart—which would transform Britain's appalling traffic congestion problems and improve people's lives immeasurably.

Mr. Jessel

The hon. Lady suggests that road safety should form part of the national curriculum, but surely Labour opposes a national curriculum.

Ms. Ruddock

I fear that the hon. Gentleman has failed to follow any education debate in the House. He is totally incorrect.

I repeat that such a strategy—with road safety, the environment and people's needs at its heart—would transform Britain's appalling problems of congestion and improve the quality of people's lives. Welcome and useful though the many road safety measures of which we have heard are, I warn the House that their effectiveness will diminish as the crisis of congestion and increased traffic on our roads continues.

The Government must face the fact that we cannot build our way out of congestion. A new approach is needed, but Ministers have not outlined such an approach this morning. We must take lessons from other European cities—cities that have promoted public transport, discouraged the use of cars and encouraged walking and cycling and environmentally friendly streets.

The Government's transport strategy needs to be transformed. I hope that the House will take note of the fact that we need to find that new approach rather than continuing to have annual debates within the present narrow limits.

10.40 am
Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

I welcome the fact that the debate is taking place so early in the new Parliament, which was elected only last month. That proves that the Government attach great importance to the subject of road safety.

I have a very personal interest in this, because my five-year-old daughter was killed in a motorway crash in 1975.

I have listened with great interest to the debate. My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the reductions in the number of deaths that have occurred in recent years. It must count as a considerable achievement nationally that, by last year, road deaths had fallen to 4,520, representing a drop of about one quarter during the 1980s. The figure was about 6,000 in 1980, 7,000 in 1970 and 8,000 in 1960. There has been a long-term reduction, but the figure fell faster in the 1980s than in previous decades. That no doubt owes something to the seat belt and drink-driving legislation. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) was less than generous in her recognition of the very substantial achievement that has taken place particularly in the last decade.

The hon. Lady also referred to the need to link environmental issues with road safety. In a sense, that is already being done, because, in general, when a bypass or new motorway is constructed, the casualty rate falls—as we have been told is also likely to happen in relation to red routes. New bypasses constructed around our towns and villages not only promote road safety but improve the environment: the air breathed by those living and shopping in the town or village in question becomes less polluted as a larger proportion of the fast through traffic is taken out of its centre.

My hon. Friend the Minister compared our road casualty figures with those for other countries. He said that, in the United Kingdom, there were 10 road deaths per 100,000 of the population. I believe that the figure may be even better than that. Some 18 months ago, in November 1990, his predecessor the former Member for Southampton, Itchen—whom we greatly miss and who we hope will return here before long—said in our road safety debate that the figure was 9.2 per 100,000. That figure was for 1989 and there has been some improvment since then. I therefore wonder whether the figure is not nearer 9 per 100,000 than 10 per 100,000, which was the figure that the Minister gave today.

The Minister said that, in the United States, the figure was 18 per 100,000; in Germany, 13; and in France, 20. In 1990, the former Minister referred to some other countries where the figures were higher still, such as Spain, with 21 per 100,000, Luxembourg, with 23 per 100,000 and Portugal with 33 per 100,000. Although we have nothing to be complacent about—and the Minister was certainly not complacent, but expressed his determination that the figures should be reduced still further—several other countries in the European Community have a substantially worse record than ours. However, our figures remain too high, at 4,520 deaths per year, or 90 per week, or 13 per day; and, like any sudden and violent death, every single death on the roads is a great personal tragedy.

Other forms of transport are safer than road transport. The casualty figures per mile travelled are much lower for rail, air and water transport than for road transport. When there is an air, train or boat accident—one thinks of the Clapham rail accident, the Lockerbie air crash and the sinking of the Marchioness in the Thames—a large number of people are killed all at once. The media will inevitably focus on such disasters because of their immensity, with the numbers killed reaching double or even treble figures. The Minister said that 96 per cent. of all transport accidents in Britain took place on the roads and the 13 deaths per day on the roads far exceed the figures for air, water and rail transport.

Earlier this year, there was an appalling tragedy affecting my constituency in which five young people aged between 17 and 20 travelling in the same car were killed on the M25 to the south of London. Three of them were from Teddington, one from Twickenham and one from outside my constituency who I believe lived in Chiswick. The inquest took place on Tuesday and I have read the first reports of it published in the local newspapers this morning. I should like to send those reports to the Minister and would ask him to be kind enough to examine them, to send for a full statement of the coroner's remarks at the inquest and to ask his officials to analyse them and establish what lessons can be learned and whether safety on the M25 and other motorways can be improved, in the hope that, in the long run, some good may come out of that appalling tragedy.

I was glad to hear the Minister say that the number of serious injuries had fallen by 30 per cent. over the past two years; that is a substantial improvement. He said that nine out of 10 casualties involve a component of human error. At first sight, that might seem inconsistent with his later statement that the prime causes of accidents were speed and drink, but a further analysis will show that there is no inconsistency, because it is, of course, possible for human error to occur at speed or when a person is drink-driving. I believe, however, that a large proportion of accidents are due to human carelessness or error or lack of common sense.

The Minister referred to speed. It is an established fact that speed is a cause of accidents: there is no doubt about it. However, I must enter a caveat. Speed limits must make sense to ordinary motorists. It is no use imposing a 40 mph speed limit on a dual carriageway where the general motoring public think that to travel at 50 or 60 mph is perfectly safe. If the local authority, or the Department of Transport in respect of trunk roads, does that, the speed limit is unlikely to be respected. Drivers will take relatively little notice of it and will think that it is safe to drive much faster. On dual carriageways where there is a large amount of traffice, the police are likely to have enforcement problems, in terms of the manpower that they can spare to enforce speed limits. Respect for law and order is likely, therefore, to be undermined.

Speed limits must be credible and consistent. I hope that my hon. Friend will ensure that his Department uses its influence to ensure reasonable consistency as between one local authority and another in the application of speed limits. Reasonable common sense must be used to bring about consistent standards or speed limits will not be respected by the public and the dangers on the road will be increased rather than diminished.

Lorries often drive too fast on motorways, as do coaches. The drivers of cars and lorries on motorways sometimes drive far too close behind the vehicle in front for safety. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] My hon. Friends endorse what I say. That feeling is, I believe, shared by the whole House and, I hope, by those who sit on the Treasury Bench. It is dangerous when so many cars on motorways are driven 20, 15 or even 10 yards behind the car in front, even at a fairly high speed. If the attention of the driver of the car in front is momentarily distracted, or if the driver of the car in front sees impending congestion that cannot be seen by the driver of the car behind him or if, through carelessness, the first car begins to run out of petrol and slows down, that could be very dangerous if the following car is travelling at high speed only 10 or 20 yards behind. I hope that the Government will look at what can be done. It is easy for me to stand here and pose the problem. It is much more difficult to provide a solution. I hope that I shall be assured that this point is under careful consideration.

Another problem is that a car can be driven in the slow lane at about 50 or 60 mph while the driver of the car or lorry behind is breathing down the neck of that driver, almost terrorising him into increasing his speed, which he may reasonably not wish to do, or forcing him onto the hard shoulder. That can terrify women drivers in particular. It is extraordinary that people who are not at all worried about wasting between 30 and 60 seconds in a town, through congestion, become highly indignant if somebody in front of them on a motorway causes a delay of between 5 and 10 seconds, which might be the difference between travelling for a minute at 70 mph or travelling for a minute at 60 mph. We must try to improve driving standards on our motorways.

As for the seat belt legislation, front seat legislation was passed in 1981 and enforced in 1983. Rear seat belt legislation has been passed in more recent years. As that legislation was passed more recently, the House has focused its attention this morning on rear seat belts. May I point out, however, that front seat belts, which were made compulsory in 1983, were the subject of many contentious private Members' Bills in the 1970s. There were fierce disagreements in all parts of the House, the argument being between individual liberty and safety. That legislation has saved about 200 lives a year and 7,000 serious injuries a year. I hope that the House will not mind if I mention that when the amendment was passed on 28 July 1981 the then Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) paid particular tribute, in column 1070, to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), to me, and to the then Member for Parliament for Norwich, North, who is now Lord Ennals, for the part that we had played over the years in bringing about the legislation.

The wearing rate of rear seat belts has regional variations, as does the wearing rate of front seat belts. I hope that the Minister will examine figures produced by the AA, that I shall send to him on Monday, which show that the wearing rate is 97 per cent. in the midlands, 69 per cent. in Scotland, 90 per cent. in the south-east and 91 per cent. in the west country and in Wales. In view of this significant variation, it would be interesting to look at the causes and see what lessons can be drawn to improve still further the wearing rates in those parts of the country where, on average, it is lower.

My hon. Friend referred to the advertisements for cars on television and said, "Gone are the days when safety does not pay." That is certainly a great change. Only three or four years ago when new cars were advertised on television, the advertisements related only to speed and performance, not at all to safety. The public want safer cars, but still more could be done by the car and advertising industries to reflect that change in public taste. I hope that the Government will do more to encourage the car and advertising industries to move still further in that direction.

The hon. Member for Deptford referred to the red routes and kindly allowed me to intervene on that subject. Although it is the responsibility of the Minister who deals with transport in London, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic will pass on to him my request that the red routes should be evaluated as soon as possible in safety terms. Even if it is only a pilot evaluation, I believe that statistically significant figures could be produced at this stage. There is so much controversy about red routes that we should be aware of the effects upon safety, which should be a major factor when we decide how fast we want the red route scheme to proceed.

My hon. Friend the Minister referred to child safety, but made little reference to school crossing patrols. There are not enough of them and their standard is very variable.

Mr. Skinner

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will know that this morning I said that I expected a statement to be made on the bankruptcy proceedings of Olympia and York and on the Government's involvement in using taxpayers' money to build Canary Wharf. I was amazed to find that the Government will not make a statement, especially when I read in The Independent that, despite the bankruptcy proceedings under chapter 11, the Government are continuing negotiations with Olympia and York. This has all the hallmarks of the same business as Maxwell. Having raised the matter four times this week, I received a letter yesterday from Olympia and York telling me to shut my mouth about the matter and about the scandalous waste of taxpayers' money. At the time as it was sending me that letter yesterday, it was in the process of filing bankruptcy proceedings. I will not be gagged, and I demand that the Government make a statement.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. Madam Speaker dealt with this subject this morning and informed the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that, as far as she was aware, no request had been made for a Minister to make a statement. That is the situation as I understand it at this moment in time. I have no doubt that the Minister has taken note of what the hon. Member said, and I do not see any useful purpose in having any further points of order on this subject.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The canary died at Canary Wharf in the small hours of the morning. It was unusual because it took place on the other side of the Atlantic in Toronto and New York, which are six or seven hours behind us. As a result, first thing this morning, Ministers may not have paid attention to what had happened and may not have received advice from the appropriate Department. It appears that some form of bail-out procedure will go ahead because of the £400 million that was due to be spent by the company on the Jubilee line, and because of the question of the 3,000 civil servants that the Government are thinking of moving—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We seem to be going over the same ground. I do not see any useful purpose in continuing points of order if they are on this subject. I repeat that I am not aware of any requests being made for a Minister to make a statement. I have said that the Minister will have taken note of what has been said. In the circumstances, we should get on with the debate.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

On a different subject?

Mr. Spearing

It is a procedural point of order. I shall not mention the issue because I am an east London Member. You have given the position as it stands. If the Government intend to make a statement on this important matter at 2.30 pm or 3 pm, will you tell the House how such an intimation might be relayed to us, either in the Chamber or by a notice in the Lobby?

Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. May I say to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) that that could be done, if necessary, but it is a matter for the Government.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We appreciate your difficulties and I certainly do not want to add to them, but there are special circumstances surrounding the request for a statement of 2.30 pm.

Although this matter covers a number of Departments, the Department of Transport is particularly affected because of the Jubilee line investment. Some concern has been expressed that, as the company defaulted on the £40 million payment that was due on 31 March, a deal may be done over the weekend. As a transport Minister is here, the Department could make a statement by 2.30 pm, with particular reference to the Jubilee line. The House at least would then have some understanding of what is likely to happen over the weekend. Failing that, we shall have transport questions and a transport debate on Monday, which would allow a statement to be made. Much concern has been expressed about this, so I hope that the Department will consider making a statement at the end of the debate at 2.30 pm

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have said that that is possible, and no doubt the Minister will have taken note.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Is it on the same subject?

Mr. Hughes

The same subject.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am not taking any more points on the subject. I have covered the point.

Mr. Jessel

I was referring to school crossing patrols and the need to maintain the training of patrol keepers. I should like the Department of Transport to refer to the Metropolitan police a request for a school crossing patrol at Stanley Road school, Teddington.

More generally, in relation to the safety of primary and comprehensive schoolchildren on their way to and from school, visibility bags—school satchels and bags in dayglo colours—are produced by a company in my constituency called Day Star. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) and 1 share the belief about the need to introduce such safety measures to protect schoolchildren travelling to and from school. I shall send the information to my hon. Friend the Minister and ask him to look into it.

I refer next to the creeping increase in the tendency of cyclists to ride their bicycles across pedestrian crossings. That is a very unsafe practice because most motorists do not know whether they have to give way. All motorists know that they have to give way to pedestrians on pedestrian crossings, but are hazy about whether they have to give way to cyclists. That uncertainty will cause accidents if it is not dealt with and I should like the Minister to hold discussions with the police and local authority representatives to see what can be done to police and to reduce such behaviour on pedestrian crossings.

One cause of road accidents that I have not heard referred to in the House or anywhere else is that sometimes foliage from plants, trees or bushes grows over road signs. Will the Minister see what can be done to monitor regularly the growth of foliage across road signs? When drivers look at road signs, often at speed, they want to absorb the information in a split second. If they cannot see because a sign is overgrown it might take some seconds to see what it says. That can distract their attention from the roads which might be unsafe. I should like action to be taken to ensure that this does not happen.

The Automobile Association has drawn to my attention the need to analyse the role of young drivers in causing road accidents. The hon. Member for Deptford also referred to young drivers. The subject should be added to the Minister's intentions to consider child safety and drink-drivers—young drivers should be added to his list as a third category.

Young drivers have a worse accident record than middle-aged or older drivers. When the Automobile Association contacted me about that a few days ago, I asked it to send me a note from which I should like to read. It states: About 17 per cent. of driving licence holders are under the age of 25. However, 27 per cent. of accidents involve a driver from this age group. The common perception of an accident involving a young driver is of a high speed accident in which the young driver is hurt. In fact, young drivers are involved in nearly 90,000 accidents"— presumably per year— in which someone is hurt, yet only 38,000 young drivers are themselves casualties. This suggests that well over 50,000 other people are killed or injured each year in accidents involving young drivers. The magnitude of this problem is such that the AA Foundation for Road Safety Research commissioned Southampton University to research young drivers. The main findings of this research were: —That only a minority of young drivers—about one third of the total—can be classified as unsafe and that young drivers use their cars differently from more experienced drivers. It goes on to suggest some measures. It states that the AA is calling for the introduction of a system which phases in the 12 penalty points that drivers may accrue before being disqualified: —First year drivers would be required to re-take their driving test once four points had been endorsed on their licences … Second year drivers would be treated similarly once six points had been endorsed. Third year drivers would be re-tested after ten points had been endorsed on their licences. I should like the Minister to consider those issues and those raised by other hon. Members. I thank him and the House for their patience.

11.1 am

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

May I begin by congratulating you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment? During your time as a Member of this House, you have established a record of knowledge of the subjects on which you have spoken, but, above all, you are known for the great courtesy that you have always shown to colleagues, irrespective of the party to which they belong. I am sure that that will continue in your new role and that you are aware of the great pleasure that your appointment has given to the House. May I also congratulate the Minister for Roads and Traffic on his appointment? Transport in general and the matters for which he will be responsible are clearly in the forefront of the lives of all the people whom we represent, and I wish him well in his appointment.

Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I welcome this debate. The recent general election in which we were all involved covered many issues, but, although transport and the environment were often discussed, road safety did not receive much publicity. Certainly, at the meetings that I attended, it did not arise at all, but it is closely related to transport and environmental issues.

I am sure that hon. Members who have been here for a while and those who have only recently arrived are or will soon become aware that our weekly postbags contain a sizeable number of letters from constituents expressing enormous concern about the volume of traffic through the areas that we represent, about the rat runs that motorists unfortunately develop in residential areas, about the size of lorries that often drive through those areas, and, above all, about the parking problems. The list goes on and on.

I am often told—I share this view—that the movement of traffic is given priority over the safety of pedestrians and the protection of the local community. I am sure that, when we deal with the respective authorities—be they the local council or the police—we are told that of course there is concern for residents, but when those residents or local residents' groups suggest ideas, they are told, "We're sorry but that would not be possible," or, "That would be far too expensive." I hope that when the Minister outlines his Department's plans for greater road safety, we shall learn that the policies to be introduced and followed will relate to the views of local people, to their safety and to the protection of their environment.

Conservative and Labour hon. Members have spoken about red routes. They are to be introduced in my constituency in south London. Lots of claims are made about them, but in the area where they have already been introduced—in the Islington and Highgate area—one does not hear the local people saying how marvellous they are and that they want a lot more. Nor has there been any proof that they have increased the safety of the people who live in that area, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) said, we understand that the Department of Transport intends to introduce many more such routes.

What does the Pedestrians Association say about red routes? It issued a press release on 20 March this year—so it is very recent—entitled "Red route blueprint is a disaster." That organisation is wholly committed to the issues that we are discussing—road safety and safety in general for people who use the roads, whether they are drivers of motor vehicles or pedestrians. I know that the debate is not about red routes as such, but they are related to the issues that we are discussing.

We cannot say that we are dealing with the movement of traffic alone or with the general safety of pedestrians. We also have a duty to make known the views of shopkeepers in the areas in question. Many of them have developed their businesses through enormous hard work over many years. They are not the big chains such as Tesco, Sainsbury or Marks and Spencer, but people who have worked very hard to build up their businesses. They are wholly opposed to red routes. Clearly, they are opposed to them because they see the effect that they have or could have on their business, but they are also expressing to me their concern about what will happen in the areas where the red routes are to be introduced.

Many people go to their shopping in their cars. Where will they park their cars? They will park them in residential areas—if they can find a parking space—thus adding to the problems of local pedestrians. I know that this issue may not be the sole responsibility of the Minister for Roads and Traffic, but it is certainly the responsibility of his Department.

I shall quote some comments made by the Islington Society, a local environmental society which represents the area in which the red routes operate. In a recent publication, from January this year, it says: We originally welcomed the bus-priority aspect of the red route. But the pilot scheme has led to no extra buses. Instead we have seen an 11 per cent. increase in all other traffic—most of it cars of commuters, simply adding to London's overall congestion. … Red routes which encourage more traffic into our already congested capital must be vigorously opposed for the sake of London's economy and its environment. I am sure that the Minister will have the courtesy to make known not only my views on red routes but those of other hon. Members before any future development of that scheme. I beg him to listen not only to the views of the officials in his Department, the conscientious and talented council officers and local shopkeepers, but, above all, to the community in areas where red routes are to be introduced.

It has been said this morning that the Department of Transport forecasts a doubling in car ownership in the next 25 years. We must begin to ask exactly what that means in terms of road safety. Where will those vehicles be driven? Members of Parliament, wherever their constituencies, spend much time in London and know about the enormous congestion here. Congestion exists not only in London and other big cities. Indeed, the Minister's city must suffer from time to time from considerable traffic congestion. We are told that there will be a year-by-year increase in traffic. Where will those vehicles be driven and parked on existing roads?

In parts of London, the double parking at night of vehicles with no lights on them has become a real problem. It presents enormous problems, yet when the police take it up, they say that they know that the drivers are breaking the law, but there is nowhere else for them to park their vehicles. Sadly, not enough attention is paid to that potential safety hazard, which is increasingly creeping into London. I hope that, if the Minister cannot answer that point in detail today, he will see what his officials have to say and perhaps write to me and let me know what can be done to curb double parking.

During the recent general election campaign, all hon. Members, irrespective of their political party, heard public transport raised time and again at public meetings. I have listened to one or two of the maiden speeches in the House in the past few days and it was interesting to hear Members, irrespective of their political party, say that their constituencies needed an improvement in public transport services. How right they are. There can be no hon. Member who says that his constituents do not want an improvement, be it in buses, London underground or whatever form of transport. There is a continuing cry for better public transport services.

What is the Government's policy to be on that? Report after report shows what is needed. I represent a south London constituency and I come to the House on public transport—and travel on the Northern line, which goes through much of my constituency. It is a sheer and utter disgrace to the people who must use it every day to go to work. The stations and trains are in poor condition and overcrowded. Despite repeated attempts in the House to achieve improvements—not only on the Northern line, which also goes through many hon. Members' constituencies—little progress has been made.

No great progress is being made on the buses either. There may be an increase in the number of buses, but closely related to safety measures is the problem of bus lanes. I fully support bus lanes, but we have to go only a couple of hundred yards from the House to see that they exist in certain areas and then disappear totally. Then, some half a mile further along the road, they reappear. There seems to be no overall policy on the introduction of bus lanes. Obviously, the Department of Transport, the police and the local authority are all involved in decision making, but there must be a policy on bus lanes if bus traffic in London is to be speeded up.

On public transport generally, we are only too aware of what we do not have: comfort and reliability. Against those weaknesses, we experience the ever-increasing cost of travelling on London transport. I belong to the Council of Europe and, like other hon. Members who belong to that organisation, often go to meetings in Europe. This week, I was in Paris for a meeting. I can travel on the whole of the Paris network for the equivalent of 30p for a single fare. To go from this House to Victoria, a single fare costs 80p. That is just one of the weaknesses of our transport system. It is too costly, in view of the poor service and poor reliability.

Mr. Jessel

On subsidising the underground system, is not one significant difference between London and Paris the fact that Paris has a full underground network, so that, at least within the city boundary—the peripherique—nowhere is more than 500 m from a Metro station? Everyone can fairly use the system and benefit from the subsidy.

In London, the underground network is fairly full north of the Thames, but on the south side there are only a few underground lines, one of which goes through the hon. Gentleman's constituency. The main public transport network in south London, as the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) will know, is British Rail's Network SouthEast. Therefore, a form of public subsidy that enables people to travel practically free on the underground is not fair to taxpayers in areas of London that cannot make equal use of it.

Mr. Cox

I note the hon. Gentleman's comments, but I never hear such comments in Europe. I gave Paris as an example. The hon. Gentleman is also a member of the Council of Europe and often uses public transport in France. The main difference between the attitude of people and Governments in Europe, irrespective of their political persuasion, and the attitude of this Government is that the Europeans have a greater commitment to an efficient public transport system. If it means sizeable sums of public money being put in, that is done. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) and other hon. Members know that services in Europe are far better than they are here.

The deregulation of buses, which has not been mentioned so far, is related to road safety and public safety. We are told that there will be legislation in this Parliament for the deregulation of buses, not only in London but throughout the United Kingdom. Those who respresent constituencies in Greater London—not only those who, like me, represent inner London constituencies —will appreciate that one of the great achievements of recent years is the travel pass. Whether Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat Members, we know that the travel pass has made the buses one of the most popular forms of travel for elderly people.

I hope that we shall be given an early assurance that, if bus services are deregulated, the travel pass which people now enjoy will be wholly protected. If it is not, if people are asked to pay large sums or if some of the people who take over the deregulated bus services say that they are no longer prepared to follow the old system of travel passes, people may feel that they cannot afford to travel by bus and that they have to walk. That is a crucial point, although I will not pursue it now, because I am sure that we shall frequently return to it.

I understand that a transport working group is to be set up in the Department of Transport, and I hope that the Minister will tell us a little bit about it. Who will be invited to serve on that group? The feedback I have had—I am trying to be fair and I realise that the final decisions may not have been made—is that the group will comprise representatives of public transport and representatives of the private organisations that may, in the deregulation of the bus services, become increasingly involved in the running of London transport.

I mentioned the Pedestrians Association. Will it be invited to become a member of the group? Other hon. Members have mentioned cyclists. There is an active cyclists group in the House. Will it have a member on the transport working group? To deal with the overall problems, we must broaden the group to include organisations with a contribution to make.

Safety policy must be planned. One of the great weaknesses for London—London as the capital city is different from many of our large and important cities—is that we lack a strategic body for the 32 boroughs that make up Greater London. I hope that we shall hear about the Government's thoughts on setting up such a body, which could plan transport policy generally throughout London, including road policy, pedestrian policy and everything else that plays a part in road safety.

In our constituencies are men and women who belong to various local community groups. They give a great deal of time and are very committed to looking after the areas in which they live. They want to protect the environment, they try to deal with the problems of the rat runs for motorists through residential areas, and they work with local councils.

Two adjoining boroughs are often unaware of each other's road proposals. It is time that there was a strategic planning body for Greater London. Let us not he shunted along the line of people saying, "Oh, it will be another Greater London council reincarnation." We are not talking about that. We are talking about the urgent need for a body that knows London and which is made up of the people and officers of local authorities. Such a body would be able to plan developments, especially in transport, and could consider the interrelated issues of transport. We in London urgently need such a body.

This has been an extremely useful debate. This is not a subject on which everything has to be political. We can all say that certain things could be done better, but the tenor of the debate so far has revealed the commitment of all hon. Members, irrespective of party, to road safety because of its importance to our constituents.

11.35 am
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

I listened with great interest to the speech by the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox). He calls for a strategic planning body for London. He gave his own answer when he said that people would say that it was just another monolithic Greater London council. I could not agree with him more. I put it on the record that local boroughs know best how to run their planning.

I will focus on my hon. Friend the Minister's comments about child safety, and the child death and accident rate. I welcome keenly the Government's child safety campaign. It is effective and I hope that the Government will keep up the impetus in that area. I especially welcome the fact that child pedestrian deaths are now down by 1I per cent., although there are still far too many deaths. There is much work to be done in dealing with the problem of children between eight and 12 years old. Only the other day in my constituency I almost died a death myself watching two youngsters dive through fast-moving traffic. Clearly no one was there to stop them. There is great concern about 10 to 14-year-old boys who weave around the district on their bicycles. Every child is a son or daughter and each of those young lives is enormously important.

It is important to keep up the pressure on road safety education. I register my concern about Liberal Democrat-controlled Sutton council. It used to fund a road safety officer who supervised the campaign in the district. Last year the council cut that important service on the ground of cost and it has no plans to readvertise the post. That is a serious loss.

It is all very well for the council to say that it had to make the cut on the ground of cost, yet it spends a lot of money in providing skips. Skips on the roadside are an obstacle to people especially if one is blind and comes across a skip that one has not anticipated. It is important for us to pay attention to education locally on road safety. Although I pay tribute to the fact that the council send out three district officers to the schools, I believe that it is only a start and is not enough.

I turn to the quite interesting comments by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) on education in schools on road safety. She mentioned that 85 per cent. of pupils in secondary schools and two thirds of pupils in primary schools do not receive proper road safety education. I am sure that a far higher number are receiving road safety education and that is certainly the case in Sutton. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister could give us a clear picture of the Government's position.

Road safety education is not part of the core curriculum, but it is taught in many schools. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Deptford has a blind spot about the core curriculum, because it strikes me that the Labour party is doing a U-turn on it. Perhaps the hon. Lady will tell us where, finally, the Labour party stands on that important issue.

The road safety officer of Sutton should be reappointed and more support should be given to the Sutton road safety council, a voluntary body. Until recently, it received helpful funding for an education programme that it held on Saturday mornings in a drill hall. Eight to 12-year-olds were given a good visual display that included a talking Belisha, which advised them on how to cross the road properly, a fully dressed Guardsman who talked to them about road safety and, as a salutary lesson, an introduction to a nurse from our local hospital, St. Helier, who warned, "You don't want to end up in the hospital, do you?" Such voluntary bodies are important and deserve support, but funding has been cut by the local council for rather selfish reasons.

We should remind ourselves about the high rate of child accidents again and again—I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is aware of that problem. Research conducted at Newcastle university showed that one child in 10 admitted to hospital is there as a result of an accident—nine times out of 10 the child was injured, and at fault, because he ran across a road. My goodness, that could easily have happened to the two boys that I saw just the other day.

My local council should re-examine its priorities. Recently it cancelled a one-way experimental scheme, which would have cost £23,000, but it still funds the local theatre to the tune of £500,000 a year—that theatre is always empty. The council is not attaching priority to the matters that count most and which save lives.

The Sutton road safety council also deserves support because it has tried to educate the elderly on how to cross the road. Often the elderly become disoriented and they have difficulty in judging their distance from and the speed of cars. The council put elderly people into a simulator which helped them to reassess how to cross the road.

One contentious road-calming method used in Sutton is the road hump; mention of such humps causes many complaints and groans. I accept that when road humps were first introduced, they were extremely popular and many local authorities adopted them. However, sometimes local authorities get a bit obsessed with one road-calming method. The traffic advisory leaflet issued by Sutton council makes exhausting reading, because it talks about humps being used for between 20 or 150 yd of a road or for half a mile. I accept that such road humps slow traffic down, which is good, but, because of that, the emergency services cannot get to their destinations quick enough. I am told by the ambulance service that they cause great difficulties when one is trying to get a patient with a spinal injury to hospital safely. One of my constituents has cancer of the bladder and it is no joke to drive down one's local road if one has to go over bumps all the time. We must try to adopt a more flexible approach and we must consider other means of traffic calming.

Road humps are unpopular and often the traffic that would normally travel down such roads dives off down another street, without humps, so creating other rat runs and other bottlenecks. That happened in Sutton when one long street, Mulgrave road, had humps put down. Therefore, the traffic problem is pushed from A to B. We must try to ensure that road humps are used across the district rather than in just particular areas. What is more, road humps do not deter the madcap driver, the young guys who drive souped-up cars see it as a challenge to get over the humps as quickly as possible. Even law-abiding drivers, who slow down to drive over the hump, rev up their cars to do so, thus creating even more noise.

We should encourage local authorities to make more use of chicanes or rumble strips—which I prefer—one-way systems, which are helpful to emergency services, which then know exactly where they are going, and roundabouts.

I am not very keen on road-narrowing schemes. Worcester Park high street in my constituency has been deliberately narrowed to two lanes and as a result we have traffic jams of half a mile. Road narrowing may slow traffic, but it often creates traffic jams, from which no one benefits. I should like more cul-de-sacs to be introduced, as they create a better environment for residents. Some people may argue that they create rat runs, but they are definable. One can also introduce 20 mph speed limits in such streets.

Speed limits are becoming a viable method of controlling traffic. I was interested to hear about the use of detector cameras and their deterrent effect. In the past, people have argued that speed limits do not work because it is difficult to detect those who break that limit. It is also said that people always drive between 5 and 10 mph faster than the designated speed limit. However, with the use of detector cameras, speed limits can be enforced. I hope that the Government will increase the number of such pilot schemes, because detector cameras would work in residential areas.

I stayed in a provincial American town with a 20 mph speed limit and I admit that I felt that I was living life as though in a slow-motion film. However, everyone drove at 20 mph because they knew that they were being monitored. It was a fact of life and we still got to our destinations okay. We should get to our destinations as a result of a smooth ride, not a stop-start one. I hope that the impetus for introducing 20 mph schemes will be kept up.

Reductions in speed have a significant effect on the accident rate. It was salutary to learn from recent Department of Transport figures that a child has an 83 per cent. chance of dying if it is struck by a vehicle travelling at 45 mph, but that only 37 per cent. of children are killed or hurt if they are hit by a car travelling at 30 mph and, most interesting, only 5 per cent. of children are hurt if they are hit by a car travelling at 20 mph. Surely saving those lives is worth the pain and agony of travelling at slower speeds. I hope that the Government will keep up their work.

People who are given a driving penalty point on their licence often see it as a painless punishment. Let us suppose that those guilty of serious speeding offences were guilty of a crime. I accept that heavier penalties have been introduced, and I welcome that, but I believe that if such speeding were made a criminal offence that would act as a deterrent. I accept that some people may be shocked at that idea, but it should be considered. I welcomed what my hon. Friend the Minister said about measures designed to deal with drink-driving and alcoholics. The campaign to educate social drinkers is now beginning to have an effect on us all and I am sure that the Perrier company has had increased sales as a result—to good effect.

We must not give up in that area, but we must take a harder look at what to do about alcoholics. For example, should doctors report alcoholic patients? That would be a breach of confidence, but we should examine the possibility. The evidence shows that the education campaign about the social drinking habits of adults is beginning to work. I hope that the Government will continue their determined efforts to tackle the alcoholic driver. There is no doubt that a car with a drunk behind the wheel is a lethal weapon.

11.50 am
Mr. Nigel Jones (Cheltenham)

I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this important debate. I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the Minister on your appointments.

It is with some trepidation that I follow in the footsteps of a Member who over many years had a great impact on the well-being and perhaps even the performance of hon. Members. Sir Charles Irving, who retired at the election, was famous inside and outside the House as Chairman of the Commons Catering Committee. Cheltenham has been in no doubt about the importance of the post and many people in the town believe that it carried with it a seat in the Cabinet. This place has the reputation of being the home of humbugs, but it was Sir Charles who decided to package them and make a profit from them. The personal contribution by Sir Charles to Cheltenham is second to none. He was first elected to the council in 1948, the year in which I was born, became mayor for the first time in 1958 and MP for the constituency in 1974. He always put Cheltenham first in a manner that I shall endeavour to follow. I am following in his footsteps in more ways than one because when Sir Charles was first elected to this place he was the county councillor for Park ward in Cheltenham, a seat which I now hold, albeit with a majority of only four.

Sir Charles Irving came to the House after many years in industry and business. For the past 20 years I, too, have followed a career in industry at home and abroad and I share Sir Charles Irving's concern for the future of Britain's manufacturing industry. Sir Charles fought long and hard for the dispossessed and the victims in society, and that often brought him into conflict with his party. It is right to stress his personal qualities because it was his undoubted local strength and appeal which held off the Liberal and Alliance challenge at previous elections. That challenge was led by Richard Holme, now Lord Holme of Cheltenham. I pay tribute to his efforts and thank him for his help and advice.

National victory on 9 April followed the local victory of the Liberal Democrats winning control of Cheltenham borough council in 1991. The values that matter to Cheltenham—personal liberty, quality of education and the local environment—are at the heart of Liberal Democrat philosophy. It is important to stress Liberal achievements in Cheltenham, because the people there are distressed and annoyed about the way in which they have recently been portrayed. Cheltenham is a civilised and tolerant place and the abhorrent antics of a few, aided and abetted by sections of the media, must not be allowed to obscure that fact. Whatever may have appeared in the press, Cheltenham cast a positive vote in favour of the Liberal Democrats and for a representative who will continue to put Cheltenham before party or office.

Cheltenham has been famous and in the news in recent years as the home of GCHQ. During a debate on GCHQ Sir Charles Irving refused to give way to a lady Member with the words: Not if you were the only girl in the world and I were the only boy. The banning of trade unions at GCHQ, which Sir Charles vigorously opposed, was the epitome of Thatcherism. Now we have Majorism with its citizens charter and more Government openness. If that new spirit is to mean anything, trade union rights at GCHQ must be restored.

Education is important to Cheltenham which has high-quality local schools and world-renowned independent schools. We may soon have a university, but our education service is under threat as a result of yesterday's capping of Gloucestershire's budget. That will result in cuts in education, larger classes, less equipment, fewer books and redundant teachers. Capping will also impede our chief constable's efforts to fight crime.

There is growing opposition to capping, even among those who originally saw it as an essential weapon against unrepresentative and irresponsible councils. The case for capping Cheltenham is even weaker and the decision smacks of political spite. Boundary changes, which have increased Cheltenham's population, and the demand for services have not been fully taken into account by the Department of the Environment. I shall return to that issue, but in the meantime I hope that Ministers will listen to reason and the facts and will withdraw their decision to penalise the voters of Cheltenham and Gloucestershire.

Road safety is also of prime importance to Cheltenham. I shall draw to the attention of the House several cases to show that further action is needed. The A40 trunk road runs directly through Cheltenham. There has been talk of a bypass since 1954, but the time for talk is over. The plans to detrunk the A40 must be brought forward and implemented as soon as possible. Some black spots must be made safe and in that context the first priority is Bouncer's lane, where a cyclist was recently killed. Many parents of children at St. Mary's school fear another tragedy. Other roads about which I shall continue to campaign for rapid improvement include London road, on which a new crossing is needed, Village road and Springbank road where traffic-calming measures are needed. Leckhampton road and Prestbury road have bad accident records and there is a dangerous junction at Hales road, Hewlett road, Priors road and Harp hill.

At the heart of all those safety problems is the desire of the local community to achieve or to better the Government's target of a reduction of one third in accidents by the year 2000. As a member of Cheltenham's road safety committee, I know that additional resources are the key and that they must be directed to the specific areas of enforcement, education, engineering and encouragement. Speed limits and parking regulations must be enforced and that will require additional police. We must educate drivers, cyclists and pedestrians and that requires extra staff and material. We must undertake required engineering work and that requires proper funding of road improvements so that problems, such as the need for a pedestrian crossing in Tewkesbury road, are identified and dealt with before and not after the tragic death of an eight-year-old.

We must prevent accidents by campaigning for a change in attitude and encourage more careful driving. We must ensure that vehicles are properly maintained and we must stop people drinking and driving. I support the call by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) for random breath tests. We can make roads safer even with the present volume of traffic, but we should also try to reduce that volume to make our roads safer still. That requires investment in public transport. In the years ahead, I hope that the Government will allow local authorities the funding that they need to carry out basic protection measures as part of a national road safety programme.

Cheltenham is a beautiful town and a wonderful place in which to live and work. It can be a safer place, but that requires a partnership between the Government, the local authority and the community. The local council and the community are ready and willing to play their part. I ask the Government to match that commitment.

Mr. Livingstone

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the last few minutes, the High Court has ruled that the Secretary of State for Education is guilty of manifest unfairness in his decision to deny state funding for Islamic schools in my constituency. This is the first time in this Parliament that the Government have been defeated in the courts and on an issue for which there will be much cross-party support. We should have an urgent statement, before the House rises, on what the Secretary of State intends to do so as to comply immediately with the judgment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

This is a matter for the Government, not for me. I am sure that the Minister will have noted the points that the hon. Gentleman has made.

12 noon

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones), and welcome him to the House. Making a maiden speech is always an exciting occasion. In the months to come, he may speak in a debate that is better attended than this, but he will never forget his first speech. I hope that this contributions have as much beneficial impact on the proceedings of the Chamber as his predecessor's did on our digestions. Sir Charles was a great character, who is much missed. News of his retirement was greeted with great sadness because he had an influence on our proceedings in many ways and made major contributions to them. The hon. Gentleman has a great tradition in which to follow.

The House will not be surprised when I also say, with no disrespect to the hon. Gentleman, how sad I was about the publicity surrounding our excellent Conservative candidate in Cheltenham, my namesake, John Taylor. I hope that he will soon find a place in the country because were he to come here, he would quickly become an excellent Conservative Member of Parliament. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

This is an important debate which covers many matters of great concern to our constituents. It shows that the House of Commons can rapidly address matters of such importance when the cut and thrust of the major debates that inevitably come up in a general election campaign are cast aside and we get on with our job of looking after the detailed interests of our constituents.

The Minister gave us some encouraging figures. Although we cannot afford to be complacent, those figures at least show that road safety is being firmly tackled. Fewer people were killed on our roads last year than at any time since 1948. That is quite remarkable, when one considers the different nature of transport today. We should note with pleasure that improvement and the fact that road deaths fell by 13 per cent. in 1991 to 4,520.

However, as a Member of Parliament I am staggered at the figures that I have obtained from the Library on the average number of deaths and serious injuries per constituency. In 1990, in Great Britain, there were 5,217 fatal road accidents, and a further 60,441 people were seriously injured. There will be considerable variation from constituency to constituency, depending on population and traffic conditions, but on average these figures represent eight deaths and 96 serious injuries a year per constituency. Less serious injuries are less likely to be monitored, but those reported number about 270,000, or 480 per constituency. These are staggering figures and show how much attention we must pay to road safety.

It is right that the other causes of death should attract our attention and concern, but compared to the average per constituency, per year, of eight deaths resulting from road accidents, leukaemia is typically the cause of six deaths, suicide the cause of seven and sudden infant deaths, or cot deaths, the cause of two deaths. Therefore, road accidents are responsible for more deaths. Despite that, public attention and concern is not so sharply focused on them as it is on other causes of death, worrying though they are. I do not wish to appear to underestimate the importance of the organisations that are trying to raise funds and focus attention on those other causes of death.

The problem is that the motor car is an important member of the family. Every family wants one and, fortunately, many families now have more than one. It is a sign of prosperity and of the fluidity of people's expectation of how they will move around. In many cases, it is people's second most important capital outlay, although many cars do not prove to be much of an investment. That is the problem for the Labour party. I could not disagree with much that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) said. The problem is that sneaking into what the Labour party says is a slightly anti-car atmosphere. It regards the fact that car use may double over the next few years as a failing in society. Instead, it is a sign of how people want to use their resources, their leisure time and their working time. We have to adapt to that, rather than forcing people away from what they would naturally choose when given the freedom to do so.

Ms. Ruddock

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not surprised that he has tempted me to the Dispatch Box. He needs to realise that, while people want to own cars, in the interest of the whole of society, which means each of us individually as well, we must temper the use of those cars. If people had the option of using excellent public transport that was affordable, convenient, clean and all the things that we would like it to be, but which it so often is not, we would do what other continental European countries have done and vary our modes of transport.

What is critical is the mix. We are not criticising the ownership of cars or the desire to own them. We are criticising how much they are used and saying that we must devise a strategy for mobility that will curb the severe and adverse environmental effects of increasing car use.

Mr. Taylor

The hon. Lady extols the virtues of transport systems in continental countries, but she has already recognised that the road safety record in continental countries is worse than ours. There are not many paragons of virtue among our continental friends. However, I think that the hon. Lady will find as I continue my speech that there is much common ground between us. I am sure that we will all enjoy this spirit of post-election reconciliation.

The ideal solution would be if reality were like the television advertisement that some of us may recently have seen, in which two cars approach each other rapidly, crash head on and then, magically, separate and are perfect. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister should become the Minister for Vorsprung Durch Technik and introduce such wonderful developments. Sadly, life is not like that. I know to my cost as a Member of Parliament in Surrey that it is badly affected by the growth in the numbers of cars.

Car ownership in Surrey stands at 0.51 vehicles per person—I am not sure how that translates into real figures —which is 45 per cent. above the national average. With twice the average traffic flow on class A roads and the highest traffic flow on principal urban roads of all the counties, those figures cause Surrey Members of Parliament to be concerned about the directions that we should take.

I applaud the Government's target of reducing road casualties by one third by the end of the century and I am delighted that Surrey county council is making an effort to meet that target. The county has put a high priority on road safety and officials have told me that it is unique among comparable authorities in publishing a road safety plan for each district, listing key areas of high risk which require extensive research. I am delighted that it is doing so.

The district plans also facilitate the co-operation of all district authorities in the county. Let us hope that all departments of the county and district councils understand that a reduction in the number of casualties is essential.

There is no room for complacency. The numbers of deaths on the roads are unacceptably high and we will probably have to consider some unpopular measures to combat the problem. With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I may return to that subject later, but first I must highlight some of the important statistics. As the Minister said, road accidents are the main cause of death for school-age children, yet nearly two thirds of primary schools have no structured road safety programme, and that is a common concern among Members on both sides of the House.

When visiting schools in my constituency, I regularly ask whether they teach road safety, and most do so. However, it appears to be one of those subjects taught by teachers because they are concerned about it, as opposed to a subject taught in any structured way. The work of the Surrey county road safety group to introduce playgroup leaders to road safety material produced by the county is a welcome beginning to structuring awareness of road safety problems at an early age. Much of the work will be in training group leaders and schoolteachers in how to get the information across. I hope that information made available to leaders and schools will be more easily understandable.

Road user behaviour, materials and programmes are being incorporated as part of the Surrey curriculum, and that is extremely good news. If that is done throughout the county and has the co-operation of the boroughs, I believe that we will have made considerable progress.

In many cases, road safety problems involve pedestrians. That subject has already been mentioned. I admit that we may not have such a good record on pedestrian fatalities as some other countries and must therefore pay increasing attention to that problem. In urban areas, pedestrians are the largest casualty group, accounting for 60 per cent. of all fatalities. It is not hard to see why the figures that I had to go to the Library to find have already been used, but they bear repetition because they inevitably lead one to consider speed limits.

Pedestrians struck at 20 mph receive mostly minor injuries, while the majority of those struck at 30 mph are killed or seriously injured. I think that all hon. Members present in the Chamber drive, and we know that 20 mph is a frustrating speed—let us admit it. In modern cars, 30 mph is also regarded as slow, but the difference between 20 mph and 30 mph is the difference between an injury that someone can recover from and an injury from which they will not recover or which will disable them for life. As drivers, more and more of us need to realise that, and that realisation could lead to an increasing number of 20 mph zones.

We all know how difficult it is to get the police to monitor 30 mph zones. Members of Parliament can easily suggest solutions, but the question is whether they will have any impact if they cannot be enforced. The use of cameras is worth considering, but I am not yet convinced that it is a practical proposition. We certainly must find some way to encourage motorists to slow down.

One polytechnic has argued that the introduction of a 20 mph speed limit in built-up areas would initially cost up to £600 million. I have not studied its proposals in detail, but the study goes on to say that that sum could be recouped by savings of £2 billion resulting from a fall in the social costs of traffic accidents. It is difficult to get a grip on such figures, but considerable savings could undoubtedly be made if the number of people hospitalised, or having to go through rehabilitation and face other social problems, could be reduced. Therefore, we must consider in that wide context the cost of introducing some of the schemes.

The Minister rightly praised my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) for his work on the Traffic Calming Act 1992. I know that the Act followed work by his predecessors. I welcome the initiatives that the Minister announced today and I welcome him to his position in the Ministry, because he will bring a great deal of experience to the post.

I was a sponsor of the Traffic Calming Act because I know from my constituency experience that many people want traffic to be calmed. As has already been discussed, humps are perhaps the worst solution and the most irritating form of traffic calming. They are also a disadvantage to the emergency services. Therefore, we must be careful when considering the available traffic-calming measures, but I have no doubt that that is the way in which we have to proceed if we are to achieve more sensible speed limits on our roads.

Many authorities were deterred from implementing traffic-calming measures because of worries about prosecutions for obstructing roads. That has been clarified, but local authorities do not have a vote for the funds for various new measures such as chicanes, right-angled parking, road narrowing and raised crossings. I intervened during the Minister's speech on that subject and I am worried about it. I know that my constituents want such schemes and that many people believe that they are right. However, I see no process whereby the more imaginative traffic-calming schemes, which are now permissible, can be put into practice if the funds have not been voted for them.

County and borough councillors should carefully consider their order of priorities. I am delighted to hear the Minister talking about ring-fencing certain sums of money. The Department should also consider how the availability of the new schemes can be translated into reality, without the inevitable financial restraints which will face us at local level.

During the election campaign, I was made well aware of the key areas in my constituency where traffic calming is needed. I cannot list them all, but colleagues will know only too well of similar examples in their constituencies. Claygate lane has three schools, but is used as a cut-through in the early morning, which happens to be the time when people go to work but children are also going to school. The two are incompatible, and that problem must be dealt with. Aynyard road in Cobham has quite a few young families living on it, and they face a similar problem with morning cut-through traffic. When traffic movements change or a new development takes place in part of the town, more traffic will suddenly build up on roads which previously had not been used to such traffic. West End lane in Esher is a classic example.

During examination of whether traffic-calming measures are necessary on such roads, I hope that we can get away from asking how many deaths there have been. Constituents often tell me that they know that I cannot help because they have not found any bodies that week. I understand why the Department of Transport has to consider that.

Incidentally, I warmly welcome the Minister for Transport in London to his new task. He will find that he has many friends in the House and I wish him all the best in retaining them when he carries out the onerous tasks that have been placed upon him.

The difficulty of the death criterion is that morbidity alone puts the whole otherwise interesting study of whether traffic calming can be put in place in the wrong context and starts it off on the wrong footing.

Traffic calming is important in terms of habit breaking. There is about to be a problem in Esher, where, because of road widening, traffic will detour down Milbourne lane and Littleworth road. The residents by and large accept that as inevitable. However, when the original road widening has stopped, the instinct of drivers to use the detour will remain. Some families there certainly do not wish the road to be a long-term cut-through. That is a classic case of traffic calming, even if it is not permanent traffic calming. It would break the habit of drivers using a road that was never designed to be used by morning rush hour traffic. County councils and other authorities should think not only of permanent but of temporary traffic calming to break habits.

Many other parts of my constituency will not thank me for not mentioning them this morning. I have not forgotten the residents of Ripley, Send and Clandon. Nor have I forgotten all the others. It is just that my colleagues are looking rather worried lest I mention every road in my constituency.

There is an unpopular point that we should make. Our population is aging and the aging population wish to be as mobile as when they were young. Of course that is absolutely right. Just as we are toughening tests and criteria for learner drivers, we should have tougher tests for our senior citizens. The criteria that are used by general practitioners and others should be made more explicit.

At the moment, it is up to a person to declare whether he or she has any physical or mental disability or condition that affects his or her fitness to drive. That is not just for the elderly. There are various reasons throughout life why that may be necessary. As a result of a brain tumour, from which I am glad to say she has made a good recovery, my wife has some disabilities, and she falls into the category of person who needs a medical licence that must be renewed at short notice. She had to go to Banstead to do a rehabilitation driving test. She was terrified, but passed the test well.

These test centres are not given enough attention or publicity. They not only help the individual but increase the likelihood of road safety. We tend to think of test centres only for those who will want to drive lorries or attain the advanced driver testing standard. The centres are available to all people who wish to be certain that they can still drive safely, whether because they are getting older or have had some form of disability which requires them to be reassessed. Will my hon. Friend the Minister ensure that more publicity is given to those test centres and the desirability of increasing their number and accessibility?

Dr. Spink

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Government bringing in on 6 April the disabled living allowance, which means that people who previously relied on mobility allowance, but from whom it was withdrawn at the age of 80, can now enjoy mobility for the whole of their lives because the allowance will not be withdrawn at 80?

Mr. Taylor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to that important fact, and I certainly endorse it. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London is making a sedentary contribution from the Front Bench which should have a wider audience. If he would like to intervene on me from the Dispatch Box, he will make his debut in this debate. His typical shyness has got the better of him on this occasion.

The main point that I want to leave with the House is the importance of encouraging people to take these tests when there is any doubt about their disability. That is not only in their interests but in those of other road users.

At the beginning of my speech, I said that there were some tough choices to make, and it is on this point that I wish to end. I do not see any alternative to making the marginal use of the motor car less attractive. If one owns a motor car that is sitting in one's front drive and one wants to nip into town, there is no apparent cost, except for petrol. Nevertheless, the costs are there; one merely does not calculate them. The use of the car for marginal travel is increasing constantly.

I am not against people using cars. I am not even trying to discourage them from using cars for these journeys. That is more the attitude of the Labour party. Nevertheless, I want to draw attention to the marginal cost of using one's motor car not to one personally but to society as a whole. The House will not be surprised, therefore, to hear that I think that road pricing is inevitable. As I said in the previous Parliament, many of my constituents will probably string me up for recommending road pricing, because many commute into London. They did not appear to object, judging from the result of the general election. Therefore, with nearly 66 per cent. of the vote, I take a deep breath and repeat that I believe that road pricing is inevitable, particularly around our large cities.

Of course it is right that we should improve public transport. I have consistently campaigned to encourage British Rail to improve Network SouthEast. There are 10 railway stations in my constituency, so it is a constant interest of mine. I should like more people to use Network SouthEast and to commute by rail, not only for business but for shopping or whatever in town. That requires a better railway service. I do not wish to take up more time on that in this debate, but I shall return to discuss how British Rail may improve its service in future.

In urging British Rail or whoever operates the franchises of the rail service into London to improve the service, I add that there should be at the same time some reminder to individuals who automatically use their car that the cost will hit them each time they do so. That places in context the obvious cost of purchasing a rail ticket. As technology improves, road pricing will be the way forward. I do not necessarily claim that we ought to hypothecate the revenue from road pricing—that is for another, if also important, debate. Nevertheless, if the moneys from road pricing were devoted to improving public and private transport, that might ultimately lead to an improvement in road safety.

I have been an enthusiastic supporter of the deregulation of bus services, but, in common with many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I do not regard it as a panacea. There are times when one must draw to the attention of the private sector the fact that it is missing out on something. That is beginning to happen in some areas.

To me, it is inconceivable that private bus operators do not identify the opportunities that present themselves. In one of my boroughs, the town hall has moved from Walton to Esher. Many of the residents of Molesey in part of my constituency do not have access to a car during the day or at all, and now find that there is no bus service between Molesey and Esher, whereas there used to be one between Molesey and Walton—which is in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie).

Minibuses are very flexible, yet there are constant complaints that there is little flexibility in the minds of bus operators. I wish that more publicity were given to the omissions of the private sector, as well as more encouragement for the role that it can play in providing public transport. Those of us who believe in deregulation and the role of the private sector should not, however, hold back in voicing criticisms when it appears that opportunities and initiatives are not being taken.

This important debate affects more of my constituents than would wish to be affected by it, and certainly more than realise that they are affected by the problems of road safety. The county of Surrey has a duty—probably more than many other parts of the country—to ensure that its schools, and adults in their places of work and elsewhere, pay attention to road safety. We ought to devise new ways of tackling that task. If we do, the future will be safer for ourselves and for our children. I urge the Government to continue the innovative work that they have begun, of finding ways to contribute to the welcome process of improving road safety.

12.31 pm
Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones) on his excellent maiden speech, and I look forward to his future contributions. I may tell the hon. Gentleman that when one rises to make one's first post-maiden speech, as I am now doing, the process is a lot less fearful.

Road safety is an important issue for south-east Essex, and the news is not all bad. There were fewer people killed on this country's roads last year than in any other in my lifetime—that is, since 1948. Britain has the best overall road safety record of all the European nations, and Castle Point is no exception. Its road safety is quite good, but we can and must do more.

Sadly, Castle Point has had its share of personal tragedy on the roads. Earlier, we heard a heart-rending speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel). Such tragedies are never more devastating than when they involve children, and my remarks will deal with how we can help that particular group. I am thinking specifically of youths aged between 17 and 21.

I welcome the Government's target of reducing road casualties by one third by the year 2000, and later I will suggest how my hon. Friend the Minister can achieve it.

There is a definite correlation between high speeds and the increased severity of road accident injuries. There is also a correlation between faster speeds and accidents occurring more frequently. There is less evidence for this assertion, although common sense suggests that correlation is positive.

The Minister said that drink and speed were twin evils. Drink-driving was indeed a great evil, but I believe that it has now largely been addressed. It is now socially unacceptable to drink and drive. Society has brought pressure to bear as far as it can. There remains a small core of people who continue to drink and drive, and I welcome the initiatives that the Minister is taking to deal with those people and to offer them hope. Speed must now be in the frame—the chief target for our attention. I believe that there is a subtle but significant change in the public perception of speed, as there was a few years ago in the public perception of drinking and driving. The public now view with great concern the exceeding of rational speed limits, which will become increasingly socially unacceptable over the years.

The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Traffic Safety is campaigning to reduce traffic speed. I welcome its efforts and look forward to the Government's new guidelines on speed, which I urge the Minister to issue as soon as possible. I also urge him to promote the implementation of two of the provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1991—the provision allowing local councils to implement variable speed limits and 20 mph zones without having to go through the Department, and the provision for the more extensive use of deterrent surveillance camera equipment.

In Essex, up to 50 per cent. of accidents involving serious injury or fatality are associated with two factors combined—speed and youth. The Minister has acknowledged the vulnerability of the 17 to 21 age group. The loss of young adults is a tragedy which affects every hon. Members' constituency. I draw the attention of the House to a parliamentary reply: Research studies show that young and inexperienced drivers have a much higher accident rate than mature drivers." —[Official Report, 23 July 1990; Vol. 177, c. 18.] I shall deal first with cars and then with motor cycles. With cars, there is an accident syndrome involving a combination of factors—young and relatively inexperienced drivers, powerful cars, young passengers and the hours of darkness. Those four factors add up to the lethal cocktail about which we have heard this morning from my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham. It is an issue not only in this country but worldwide. Australia has a massive problem involving young people in powerful cars. In France, driving licences are granted only in stages. In Israel, young people under the age of 21 are not allowed to drive during the hours of darkness.

I ask the Minister to consider the possible use of P or R plates to phase in drivers who have just passed their test. In Ireland, the use of the R or restriction plate works extremely well and, as a result, that country has a far superior record on road traffic accidents involving young people. I urge the Minister to do the necessary research and to introduce measures along those lines. The R plate category could involve restricting not only speed but size of engine, which brings me to a quite different point.

The police are responsible under the law for reporting on serious accidents but they are not required to record the model of the vehicle. They can record that the vehicle was a Ford Escort, but it matters whether that vehicle was an RS2000 or a 1.3L model. That information is extremely relevant. It would be useful for analysing accidents and introducing controls so that such accidents could be prevented in future. I ask the Minister to look carefully at that issue.

We must have accurate accident data in order to reach the right decisions, implement the correct traffic-calming measures and identify areas where accidents are likely to happen so that they can be prevented. We do not want dead bodies on our streets. It is not good enough just to work on the basis of a gut feeling, which is what often happens now. We need sound systems for the collection, collation and analysis of data. We need also sound data bases.

The transport supplementary grant should be extended to cover intelligence and record gathering and analysis work. Each authority goes its own way. Each county council's highway authority invents the wheel, as it were. That is both ineffective and inefficient. The Department of Transport should give direction from the centre. I can help the Department. Essex county council's highways department has done excellent pioneering work. The Department of Transport ought to liaise with that department and use its work, thus providing a lead for other county councils. I congratulate Mr. Mike Self, the county surveyor of Essex, who has been chosen this year to represent his professional body.

I ask the Minister to consider extending the transport supplementary grants to cover the funding of other local road safety schemes, in order to increase public awareness of the importance of road safety. In particular, those schemes should begin with the very young, the three-year-olds, so that these vulnerable children can be educated in road safety. I congratulate the insurance company, General Accident, on having provided a considerable sum of money to promote the eastern region scheme for the education in road safety of three to six-year-olds. That scheme has proved to be extremely successful and should be continued, if at all possible. I urge the company to do that.

Motor cycle safety causes great concern, particularly in the age group 16 to 21. I did not and I would not allow my children to take motor bikes on the road. I do not see why my concern should not be brought to bear on all children in this country. I shall, I am sure, make few friends today when I say that if I could pass a law today that increased by just one year the age at which a young person could have a provisional motor cycle driving licence, I am convinced that we should save tens, perhaps even hundreds, of valuable young lives next year. That would be the use of legislation in a truly gratifying way.

I suggest that hon. Members should visit their local hospital's orthopaedic ward tomorrow where I guarantee they will find at least one young person in that age group who is the casualty of a motor cycle accident. That might help to control the rise in youth disorder in places such as Wood End, about which we heard today on the news, where motor cycles have been the focus of youth disorder.

I shall deal now with transport infrastructure, and in so doing I trust that I will not steal the thunder of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) but will develop the point that was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor).

Mr. Ian Taylor

My hon. Friend has twice referred to me as being "right hon.". There are times when I wish that I was, but the moment that a Back Bencher believes that he is right hon., Hansard immediately demotes him.

Dr. Spink

I am grateful for that correction and I accept it. I do apologise.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) made a cogent point about the use of public transport. The London to Tilbury and Southend line—the so-called misery line—fails to provide a proper service, is unreliable and forces more traffic on to the roads. It therefore has a detrimental effect on road safety in south-east Essex. In response to a parliamentary question, the Minister told me: BR has just let a contract for the survey and design part of the £50 million resignalling project which they believe to be the key to improving reliability on the London, Tilbury and Southend line. BR is considering what the best option for replacing the rolling stock might be. I look forward to receiving its proposals." [Official Report, 13 May 1992; Vol. 207, c. 107.] I am astounded by that answer. I am astounded that British Rail has not put forward its plans for rolling stock on that line and I call on Sir Bob Reid, its chairman, and particularly Network South East, to get their act together and to make specific proposals, not next year, not next month, but next week, so that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and I can pursue the matter with the Minister on behalf of our constituents. Investment in rolling stock is the key to the development of the Transport infrastructure of south-east Essex.

Thanks to its generous transport supplementary grant of £42 million, Essex does not have a major problem funding small, low-cost engineering measures to alleviate local problems and black spots.

Humps have been used in my constituency. I take a slightly different view from other hon. Members who have spoken about the use of humps. Their use in Scrub lane in my constituency caused much controversy and, generally, people do not like them, but I assure the House that the people who live on Scrub lane like them. I checked yesterday with Essex county council and was assured that the humps had done their job. They have reduced traffic flows dramatically, have prevented Scrub lane from being used as a rat run and have reduced speeds dramatically. We must carefully consider traffic-calming measures and we must not write humps off altogether at this stage.

Essex's problem lies not in funding small, low-cost schemes but major capital infrastructure projects, which can have the most dramatic impact on reducing accidents and improving road safety. In a parliamentary answer my hon. Friend the Minister said: I shall give careful consideration to any proposals which the county may wish to make as part of their bid for transport supplementary grant and credit approvals for capital spending on local roads in 1993–94."— [Official Report, 12 May 1992; Vol. 207, c. 72.] I give notice that my Essex colleagues and I will press the Minister on this matter in the near future; meetings are already arranged.

I finish by congratulating the Government on their achievement in having reduced the number of accidents on the roads and also on their plans for the future. Their target to reduce road casualties by one third by the year 2000 is excellent, but there is no room for complacency.

12.49 pm
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink), not only because this is the second time this week that I have spoken very soon after him but because he always expresses an interesting collection of ideas in an entertaining fashion. I hope that many of them will be considered carefully and I aim to develop some of those themes.

I also thank my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic for introducing this debate and for giving us the opportunity to discuss an important matter. I also congratulate him for his encouraging words on a topic which must be of interest to everyone. If I were a statistician, I might be tempted to say that road deaths in Britain are in inverse proportion to traffic volumes, but, like other statistics—and recent opinion polls come to mind—I think that that would be an abuse of cause and effect.

Surely, the real tribute should be paid to Government policies of the past 13 years which can perhaps be measured in four general ways: first, education and persuasion, which have been most effective; secondly, proper enforcement of the appropriate laws and controls; thirdly, the improvement of road design and construction; and fourthly—although this is perhaps not so much a tribute to the Government as to the car industry—the improvement in overall car design so that cars can be better and more effectively controlled and can also withstand accidents.

I should also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute—I do not think that anyone else has done so today—to the emergency services. Surely, the effectiveness with which they now operate at accidents and in hospitals compared to 10 or 15 years ago must contribute greatly to the number of lives that are saved and to the fact that serious injuries are now less serious than they would have been some time ago.

As my hon. Friend the Minister said, in 1991 the number of fatal accidents on Britain's roads declined by 13 per cent. The number of serious injuries declined by 15 per cent. and of slight injuries by 8 per cent., but, of course, the overall figure is still too high. As my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) rightly said, one major incident in an area can immediately make the figures and the percentages rise dramatically.

As for the overall figure, if such a number of fatal injuries occurred in a major industry such as the coal industry, which used to have a very bad accident record, it would be the focus of far more attention. I hope that the day will dawn when people look back on the present figures—much improved though they are—and see them as unacceptably high and are able to say that the means were found to reduce them considerably. Indeed, I believe that many of the policies now being pursued will help to achieve that.

As further evidence of the considerable decline in the effect of accidents, I shall quote some figures from my constituency which back the national figures; although I should perhaps say that they are from the Bromley borough area, in which my constituency is located, as that is a more accurate description. They show that the number of deaths was reduced from 15 in 1988 to seven in 1991—in other words, more than halved. The number of casualties was reduced from 1,795 to 1,510 and the total number of accidents declined from 1,453 to 1,254. That in itself is an illustration of a downward trend in the borough which has continued consistently for 15 years, and I congratulate Bromley borough on its part in helping to bring those figures down.

Bromley's policy has three features. The first is its policy to encourage the police to target enforcement, because although enforcement is important, targeting is even more vital. The second is the effectiveness with which road safety education has been carried out, including in schools, and I take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) for accepting the great value of the national curriculum, which was not always accepted by Labour Members. Thirdly, there is what Bromley councils like to describe as the "remedial war", to improve standards of road conduct.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) referred, quite rightly, to the tragedy of children being injured or killed in road accidents. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point discussed the bracket of youths and older children. In many ways, accidents that occur to children in the youngest-of-all bracket—from zero to four years old—are the most harrowing. When I was a young journalist I well remember attending my first inquest and being so upset by the evidence about the death of a three-year-old in a tragic accident that I had to leave the coroner's court, which did not endear me to my fellow journalists. The impact of even one such fatality can be a harrowing experience.

I am glad to say that between 1989 and 1990, the latest year for which I have figures, the number of accidents in Bromley borough involving that age group declined from 21 to 16. That is still 16 too many. Road safety officers in the area are concerned that children of that age are either not being correctly strapped into safety seats in cars or not being strapped in at all. More needs to be done, in educational terms, to focus on the importance of doing that. It can be difficult to get the message over because the advice and law have changed over the years. When my first child was born—she is now eight—the advice given was different from that which I must now apply to my second child, who is seven months old. In the past, a child had to be put in the back facing forwards, whereas the advice is now to put the child in the front facing backwards. There is still a major hurdle to overcome in explaining to ordinary parents the most effective means to use. There is clearly a deficiency in education and publicity and I hope that some effort will be made to deal with it.

I have already referred briefly to traffic volume, which the hon. Member for Deptford also mentioned. We should try to encourage, as far as possible, the trend to use other, safer forms of transport, particularly public transport. I welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the importance of placing more emphasis on the use of the railways.

I am not anti-motorist and I strongly reject some of the ideas put forward by Opposition Members because they appear, at least, to be anti-motorist. The problems cannot be solved by compulsion and should not be solved by cost either. We must maintain the essential rights and freedoms of individuals to choose their mode of transport, including private cars, which, in many ways, are irreplaceable. However, the rail system offers a safer and, in theory, more relaxing means of transport than road vehicles. So long as it is maintained competitively and made more attractive than travelling by road, it should succeed in helping to control the volume of road traffic by offering a viable alternative.

It is important for services to be sufficient and reliable. Several of my hon. Friends have referred to that this morning. The experience of travellers in the Beckenham area matches what my hon. Friends have reported. The commuter service, which should provide a far better alternative for travelling to central London than the roads do, is deteriorating. In what I regard as a scandalous abuse of its monopoly position, British Rail in the past week further reduced its peak travel services in the area. It did not cut services that were underused or underfunded. It seems that the cuts were made simply to fit the whims of timetabling. Not surprisingly, the result is that some people have already said to me that they will no longer travel by train because there are no longer convenient trains and that they will go back to using cars. That must be a retrograde step. I hope that the reforms promised by the Government will attract more people on to rail services which will control traffic volumes.

Traffic-calming measures are especially important in urban constituencies such as mine and such measures have been well used by Bromley borough council. The council has used road humps, which I should rather hear described romantically as sleeping policemen. Some of the other methods suggested must be considered carefully. I have some reservations about some of the road-narrowing methods used. Bromley has recently stopped using road narrowing as a means of calming traffic because at least one fatal accident has been caused by the way in which the road narrowing system was constructed.

Rat runs are a nuisance and a danger in urban areas, especially when they are linked with speed, which has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members. I welcome the attention being given to the problem. Red routes are an advance and will help by ensuring that traffic moves more smoothly. Smoothness is part of the formula. I like to think of the red routes as "Goodhart routes", named after my predecessor, because I know of his especial interest in and advocacy of that system of traffic control.

The hon. Member for Deptford mentioned advertising. I worked until recently in the advertising industry, although I no longer have any connection with it, I hasten to add. The industry is especially aware of the criticisms and concerns. I believe that the advertising industry has largely overcome the problems. It has made strenuous efforts to ensure that descriptions of new cars given in advertisements stress the benefits of the car, but do not encourage unlawful practices such as speeding.

To criticise advertising too heavily in that regard displays an underestimation of the human character. It implies that people are so gullible that if they see an advertisement in which a smart car is travelling fast along the road, they will be compelled to jump into their cars and ape that performance on the local roads. Humans simply do not behave like that. The advertisers and the companies are far more responsible; and it is not in their interests to promote an advertisement that faces considerable criticism. Although it is a valid point, it has already been well addressed.

My hon. Friend the Minister referred to speed limiters on coaches and on heavy goods vehicles. That is extremely welcome. Like every other hon. Member, I have had the experience of driving on a motorway and suddenly finding that a huge lorry or coach is on my tail, and is hooting and flashing its lights to try to intimidate me into getting out of its way. Such vehicles have often been running at speeds well above the legal limit. A means of stopping that, other than having those vehicles tailed by police cars all the time, is welcome. Private motorists also indulge in unacceptable practices on the roads. In recent years, there has been a growth in misbehaviour, if I can put it like that, among motorists, particularly on motorways, where I have seen appalling examples of dangerous driving. That problem must be tackled through a dual effort that combines education and publicity with strict enforcement and penalties. That would deter those who feel compelled to burn everyone else off the road.

The Government deserve great praise for the effective action they have taken to reduce dramatically the incidence of drink-driving and to change the social climate. More action is still needed. However, I believe that existing police powers are sufficient. The hon. Member for Deptford suggested that we should go a step further and introduce random breath tests. I am concerned about the civil liberty implications of such a change, but it is also important to consider the practical application of random tests. To stop people at random would be a misapplication of police time and resources, especially if they found that 98 per cent. of those tested were below the limit because they had not been near a public house and had not taken a drink. At the moment the police are able to select, without much limitation, those people who are likely to have had a drink or those whose driving suggests that they have been drinking. The existing procedures represent a more effective use of their time and resources and I believe that the current law is adequate.

I accept that the drinks industry has done a great deal to combat drink-driving, but it has a responsibility to do more. However, I congratulate the Portman Group, a drinks-industry funded education council which has done a great deal to encourage social as opposed to anti-social drinking, which affects road safety.

A mixture of education, enforcement and improved traffic-calming measures have done a great deal to improve road safety, as is ably borne out by all the available statistics. By continuing that process we will see a further improvement in road safety in which the Government already have an excellent record.

1.7 pm

Mr. David Amess (Basildon)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) on his excellent speech. We missed him when he was absent from the House for five years and we welcome him back. I note that he has lost none of his eloquence.

I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) on his post-maiden speech. He is not at all like Sir Bernard Braine, one of the greatest parliamentarians that I had the privilege to know. However, my hon. Friend demonstrated his wit and his charm and we look forward to his future speeches.

I also congratulate my hon. Friend on what he said about the Fenchurch Street line, which is an utter disgrace. I made that clear to the chairman of British Rail when he made his disastrous public relations journey with us from Basildon to Fenchurch Street. As far as my constituents are concerned, when it comes to the Fenchurch Street line, "Up with it we will not put." We intend to badger British Rail and, on a friendly note, Ministers, to ensure that in the first year of this Parliament my constituents get a decent service. I have three stations in my constituency, Laindon, Pitsea and Basildon, and my constituents provide the greatest share of revenue for Network South East, but we get poor value for money.

Some months ago we had a similar debate on road safety. The whole of the House is united in its attempts to reduce the number of road accidents and deaths. I am sure that all hon. Members have had the harrowing experience of a constituent coming to the surgery to speak about the loss of a loved one. It is difficult to know what to say to someone whose child had been killed. At this stage in the debate it is unlikely that any hon. Member has anything original to say on road safety, but we must battle on. I look forward to new suggestions, if there are any. Hon. Members are united in a wish to see a reduction in road accidents and deaths. I shall cheer up the House by speaking about Basildon. With the demise of socialism the sun will never set on Basildon, thanks to some initiatives that I have in mind.

Dr. Spink

Would my hon. Friend like to join me in asking Basildon borough council immediately to remove the rather foolish, additional, confusing and distracting road signs stating, "Basildon is a nuclear free zone"?

Mr. Amess

You will probably regard that as irrelevant, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have the matter in hand, but I shall speak about it at a later date when more hon. Members are present.

I congratulate the members of our excellent Department of Transport team. They will discharge their duties well because many people behind them and many Opposition Members intend to make sure that matters about which we feel passionately will be acted upon as soon as possible.

As hon. Members have said, on average 12 lives were lost and 140 people were seriously injured on our roads each day last year. The figures are a considerable improvement on the previous year, in spite of the big increase in traffic, but there is certainly no room for complacency. Roads, drivers and vehicles all play a part in road safety. Enormous sums of taxpayers' money have been spent and will continue to be spent on necessary upgrading and improvement of roads.

I congratulate Conservative-controlled Essex county council on its commitment to improve road maintenance in my constituency, the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point and that of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), who may not entirely agree on that. The widening of the A13 and the development of the roundabout at Five Bells will be of enormous benefit to our three constituencies.

In spite of penalties on contractors, too many road maintenance schemes are behind schedule and that results in further deterioration. New bypasses and motorways are planned and some have been started. Bearing in mind the EC single market, I hope that there will be no delays in that programme. A good road network boosts safety and cuts costs to industry. We are all united about the benefits of such a network for jobs and for increasing the prosperity of local businesses.

My hon. Friends the Members for Beckenham and for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) spoke about rear seat belt legislation. That has certainly had beneficial effects. Our magnificent hospital in Basildon, which achieved trust status on 1 April, tells me that it believes that there would be an even greater reduction in injuries coming to the accident and emergency unit, particularly among children, if all passengers were belted up where practical, and rear seat belts were fitted in older vehicles. I know that my hon. Friend for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) does not entirely agree with us on that, but the rest of Essex is pretty much united.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) last year introduced a private Member's Bill that dealt with road humps. I had the privilege to serve on the Committee examining that magnificent Bill, which has, since it was enacted, brought benefits. Normally, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is with us on a Friday, but perhaps he has been offered higher office within the Labour party. I have criticised road humps in Newham. I know that the local authority is doing its best, but it has gone over the top with the road humps in Capel road, which is used to drive mourners to East Ham cemetery. The number of road humps in it has made the journey impossible. I hope that the council will look at the matter.

The detection and recording by electronic means of the minority of selfish and unthinking drivers flouting the law and endangering other road users will be a powerful deterrent. Provided that the means are under strict monitoring and control, no driver need fear erosion of liberty. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will be able to confirm these safeguards at a later date. Drivers are citizens and deserve charter protection. I very much hope that they will get it.

Most hon. Members are drivers. They will know that, in the main, our errors inhibit road safety. My wife thinks that she is a good driver and I am a thoroughly bad driver. I detect aggression within society—one has only to walk along the streets to notice it. People seem to want to barge into each other rather than step aside. There is aggression on the escalators in the tubes and, above all, there is aggression on the roads. This is not just restricted to young people. Only last week, two men over 50, with their wives—perfectly respectable people—cut straight in front of me without indicating. I slammed on my brakes, but it happened so quickly that I did not even have time to use the horn.

I make this impassioned plea to both sides of the House. Let us ensure that good manners are returned to our roads. One may not have a lot of money, but one can be clean and tidy on the roads. It does not matter what car one drives; one can use courteous behaviour.

I am not sure whether we should make the driving test more difficult, but I look with horror on people who pass a driving test then pull into a petrol station and do not even seem to know where to put the petrol in. Often, they have no idea how the car is propelled. Perhaps what we need is a more sophisticated driving test. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point. Is it right that a person who passes his driving test at 17 can celebrate with his friends, take the L-plates off, go out and have an accident? The son of a dear friend of mine was killed as a result of an accident like that. There are so many other examples and I commend my hon. Friend's suggestion.

There is good news—there has been a 25 per cent. reduction in motor cycle accidents and a 25 per cent. increase in the number of young people taking the full licence test for motor cycles. Even better, I note that the percentage pass rate is climbing as riding standards improve.

I am pleased that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, which is to be commended for its enterprise, is amending driving licence regulations for all types of vehicle.

I know that it is difficult to think up a new slogan each Christmas, but the Department of Transport's initiatives on drink-driving are working. The Secretary of State should know that there is strong backing for deterrents, education and tough enforcement of the law.

As recent reports have confirmed, drivers of high-performance cars are more likely to be involved in fatal accidents. It is all very well for me to say that, because I drive a broken down Escort, which has difficulty reaching 60 mph, let alone breaking the speed limit. Manufacturers' sales promotions for those and other vehicles must minimise the speed and performance aspects. Surely it is better to emphasise safety, economy, reliability, price and reductions in pollution. It is encouraging that insurance companies are rapidly increasing premiums for higher-performance cars. Saying that will make me unpopular with some of my business supporters in my constituency, but I believe in it strongly.

Rental companies, acting on bad experiences, are shedding high-performance cars from their fleets. Cars are clearly much more lethal at high speeds and too often innocent victims are killed or maimed.

The Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Act 1992 is beginning to bite and to affect the activities of the relatively small number of callous, youthful cowboys who steal cars and wreck lives and properties.

If some manufacturers can fairly be blamed for their promotion of higher-performance public road speedsters, equally they should be praised for continuously updating vehicles' built-in safety factors. The risk of death in an accident in an older car—prior to 1988—confirms that welcome fact.

I do not believe that anyone has mentioned the Vehicle Inspectorate today. It was one of the first executive agencies to be set up in 1988. Strangely, it has a low profile, but its important contribution to road safety is not sufficiently recognised and cannot be overestimated.

Many of the inspectorate's activities are directly linked to road safety via road worthiness. The independent National Audit Office issued an important report on the Vehicle Inspectorate earlier this year, which highlighted a significant increase in efficiency since its inception, but noted with regret that scope for further improvement was limited by Government policy, which I find puzzling. The Vehicle Inspectorate is not allowed any flexibility in its activities and is still subject to limitations. I gently chide my hon. Friend the Minister that such limitations seem out of line with Government policy and the Fraser report, by precluding the inspectorate from being market led and by not allowing the full use of its resources and services. I understand that a review of the inspectorate's status is under way, and I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to speed up that process so that benefits to taxpayers and road safety may speedily accrue.

Furthermore, I hope that there is an injection of appropriate external advice to assist the inspectorate's board in the overdue progress to more effective, market-led techniques and activities. I am sure that the present competent executives would welcome the removal of shackles and I trust that the Secretary of State will have good news for us.

I end by informing the House of an initiative, as ever in Basildon. The Government have devoted much attention to the security of all types of vehicles. Manufacturers and retailers must continue to improve and install effective security devices. That will help buttress law and order and reduce costs. We have an epidemic of car thefts—nearly 600,000 a year. As we all know, the peak age for offending is 15. Trucks and coaches are also affected. I hope that the Department will do its utmost to encourage innovation and the greater use of security products, and not just on new vehicles. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education spent a great deal of time on that when he was a Home Office Minister.

As ever, Basildon led the way on this. On Monday, the Basildon crime prevention and safety panel will launch an initiative called Take Mistake. Long before the media and the Home Office were talking about joyriding and an inter-agency approach, we were tackling it. Funding came from the police, social services, local authorities, commerce and industry, Victim Support, the police, education and the magistracy. The locations in the training pack are local, and the actors, music composers and producers are all locally based and have worked with the university of East Anglia on the project.

Although on Monday we shall focus on auto-crime to provide a story line, the theme is that choices have consequences. The video has trigger points for discussion, for example on drinking and on attitudes to authority and authority figures. Its use is intended for schools, youth groups and juvenile justice and probation groups. All secondary schools in Basildon will be visited by the police division and will receive a copy of the video.

I congratulate the Government on initiating this debate. This is a serious matter which is certainly worth our attention. Obviously, I agree with other Members about the progress of the past few years, but one death, one accident, is one too many. I understand that we are still to hear some original suggestions and I hope that next year or the year after we shall see further reductions in accidents.

1.27 pm
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

It is always a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the embryo Baron of Basildon (Mr. Amess) and to hear his latest conquests in that area. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) intervened to suggest that the signposts that warn people of the danger surrounding that area should come down. I now understand why those signs were put up. It is not so much a nuclear-free zone; rather, as John Betjeman used to rage, Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough", so my hon. Friend was calling for the gentle tax bombshells to fall on socialist Basildon, and they did again and again at the national and local elections. I cannot wait to see them falling on the managers of the Fenchurch Street line, because I have no doubt that they will fall to his blasting before long.

As this is the first opportunity that I have had to speak under your deputy Speakership, Madam Deputy Speaker, I welcome you and congratulate you on your presence in the Chair. I was present when you were welcomed by a Member on the Opposition Front Bench who said that you were known for being kind to the less fortunate creatures on this planet, the furry ones. It was not pointed out, however, that your solution—we both have an interest in Battersea dogs home—is registration, and the preferred method is to implant a chip into the scruff of the dog's neck. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, may be bringing to the Chair a new form of discipline which right hon. and hon. Members will ignore at their peril. Nevertheless, we welcome you and wish you all success.

I welcome also my hon. Friend the Minister to his new post. He has come from the Ministry of Defence, which is entirely appropriate. There will be cross-party agreement that if this country's armed forces were ever to think of mounting a coup, the tanks charging towards Westminster would soon find themselves gridlocked in south Kensington. They would be unable to reach their target, and would have to set up with some Napoleon of Notting Hill instead. My hon. Friend's experience of getting tanks through is perhaps relevant to London's traffic and transport problems.

I welcome the Government's target of reducing road casualties by one third by the year 2000. I hope that it will be reached sooner, and be replaced by a target of a two thirds' reduction in the early years of the next century.

Reference has been made to the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety's excellent statistics. Although it is good news that road casualties are reducing, the reality remains that last year, more than 4,500 people died and more than 300,000 were injured in road traffic accidents. PACTS points out that that means an average of 500 casualties in each of our constituencies. We would all do well to note that horrific figure and to seek to encourage the Government and everyone else involved in education and road safety to reduce it.

The comments of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) about excessive speed were echoed in all parts of the House. However, sometimes it is not speed but slowness that causes accidents. Cars travelling too slowly in the wrong lane cause aggravation which can itself give rise to accidents. Nevertheless, speed is of the essence in road accidents.

PACTS' urban speed figures show that a pedestrian struck by a vehicle travelling at 20 mph is likely to survive with minor injuries, but that if he or she is hit by a vehicle travelling at 30 mph, the chances are that the pedestrian will be seriously injured or killed.

Vehicle speeds can be monitored, checked and penalised in many ways. Reference has already been made to the use of cameras. Although we do not want too much of a catch-you-out society, when lives are at stake the public ought to be made aware that cameras and other forms of technology are available in the battle against excessive speed and dangerous driving, and will be used in prosecutions.

Those who speed and the dangerous drivers should be reminded also that they may not be aware that they are being observed. I had a fascinating discussion with the Metropolitan police about the use of helicopters in pursuing speeding drivers on motorways in particular. The driver may not see a police car or a post-mounted camera, but he may still be observed from the air, and his speed will find him out.

At the same time, we should be considering devices for limiting speed. We have heard references to the devices already used on heavy goods vehicles and coaches. Why stop there? Why can we not begin to install devices in ordinary family cars and use them to check not only speed but proximity to the car in front? I believe that it would be possible to produce mechanical devices whereby if one got too close to the car in front the speed of one's vehicle was automatically reduced. The motor industry should be investigating whether such advances are possible. They would have clear advantages not only in preventing accidents in fog but in dealing with the driver who regularly drives too close to the car in front.

Reference has been made to traffic calming and I concur with everything that has been said about it. Sometimes the road hump or sleeping policeman is the answer, although I am aware of the reservations of the emergency services in that regard. Certainly, it is both cruel and potentially dangerous to drive over a road hump someone who is being raced to hospital with a drip in his arm. On the other hand, I sometimes think that the emergency services protest too much, as I discover that road humps have been installed in the grounds of St. George's hospital. One has to strike a balance. Road humps are certainly popular with residents but there are other methods.

The hon. Member for Deptford was kind enough to refer to the Traffic Calming Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) of which I was a sponsor. That Bill increased the possibilities for action. Capes can be built out of road corners to prevent vehicles from parking too close to them. They are a great help, especially to the elderly who can see more of the road to cross and face less risk of being hit by an unseen fast car.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) referred to the dangers of road narrowing. I favour the sort of road narrowing which means that someone driving too fast through a road barrier will lose his wing mirrors. That sort of measure encourages a driver to pause and think before he speeds. Road texturing is also useful. If one suddenly hears a noise or finds that the steering and wheels of one's car are behaving differently, one is more likely to slow down. Traffic calming represents an important way of reducing road accidents.

Much has been said about rat running. It has been said that there are few new points to be made in the debate, although I know that I can rely on my hon. Friend the Member for Chester (Mr. Brandreth) to come up with his no doubt ingenious measures in a moment. Rat running is one of the reasons for introducing red routes. All sorts of other measures can be tried, but if we close every rat run with a barrier or make it into a one-way street, we will not only make it difficult for Members of Parliament to reach their constituencies; we will simply pass the problem on to another street. When a road is closed, we inevitably receive letters from residents of a neighbouring road complaining that all the speeding traffic now uses that road. The council says that it will investigate, but that it will have to wait for the new system to settle down. In six months' time, the council may conduct another survey which may reveal that the next road needs attention. It may take three months for the matter to be brought up at the next council meeting and for the plans to be drawn up. The proposals then have to be consulted upon. A year later, the road in question is closed. Then, as sure as eggs are eggs, residents of the next road complain. The real answer is to deter by carrot, providing through routes that the traffic can actually run through.

The experiment in north London has shown that, provided that the red route is regarded as part of a package involving better public transport and other traffic-calming measures, it can play a part. Of the 11 per cent. extra traffic on that route, 9 per cent. was traffic from rat runs and only 2 per cent. was new traffic.

I have mentioned the improved pedestrian crossings. There are also four new bicycle crossings. There has been an increase in bus lane kilometres and 620 new parking spaces. On average, bus journeys on that route have been reduced by nine minutes and reliability has improved by 45 per cent. The point about a 36 per cent. reduction in road casualties has already been made. The red route can provide benefits, so long as it is sympathetic to the needs of the people who live and work alongside it and so long as no one thinks that it is just a new urban motorway. Furthermore, it must be appropriate to the time of day and there must be places for people to park and deliver goods.

The provision of more public transport is crucial. By that I mean not just improving public transport but providing new public transport. I represent an area of south London where public transport is woefully inadequate. Apart from a couple of stations on the Northern line, right at the edge, we have no underground lines. We need to press, and press again, London Transport to provide links south of the river and include that half of our capital city in its network. We need park-and-ride facilities on the perimeter of London and more access to the river so that it can be used for transport.

That bring me to the question of river safety. That is not the subject of today's debate, but the Minister may know that I have promoted Bills on that subject as a result of the tragedy on the River Thames when the Marchioness sank, with tragic loss of life.

Another point has been drawn to my attention by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant). He would have liked to be here to raise it himself, as it was drawn to his attention by the Guild of Experienced Motorists. I refer to the danger to car ownership and vehicle safety of the grabber. That device is now available for sale for £150 to any car burglar who wishes to purchase it. It is a black box decoder, which is about the size of a video cassette. If, by means of the fancy remote control blipper on our key fob, we lock our car, beware. About 50 yards away there could be somebody with one of these black boxes who is directing it at the vehicle, thereby decoding the security code and knocking it out of action. I understand that normally that has to be done within minutes of the car being locked by the owner. However, there are sophisticated versions that, rather like a turbo-charged safe cracker, can flick through the codes until it reaches the right one and pops open the car. When the burglar has opened the car and taken out the valuables he can use the black box to lock it and switch on the alarm system again. When the insurance company receives the claim from a person whose car has been robbed, it tells him or her that there is no evidence that car has been unlocked. The implications are stark.

The police have already warned us of the risk involved in advertising skeleton keys for purchase by the public. If these grabbers flood the market, motorists will be faced with great problems. I hope that my hon. Friend will have discussions with the Home Office about ways to slop it.

It has also been pointed out that a fancy decoder may not be entirely necessary. One motorist in Manchester stood back from his car, pressed the remote blipper on his key fob to lock it and immediately another car, of a different make, parked and locked behind his, flashed its lights and all the buttons popped up on all the doors. It is imperative that car security systems are investigated. I ask my hon. Friend to consider that seriously.

I ask for more measures for cyclists. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) referred to cyclists using pedestrian crossings, which are for pedestrians and not for cyclists. A dismounted cyclist may walk his bicycle over a crossing, but he cannot ride it, which is quite dangerous because motorists do not know whether to give way. I have constantly campaigned for better cycling facilities in London such as safe routes for cyclists.

Cyclists must act responsibly, which means not riding without lights on the highway at night and not riding on the pavement at any time of the day or night. The problem facing the police is how to identify and catch offenders because, unlike cars, bicycles do not have registration numbers. Perhaps we should try to find a way of placing registration marks on cycles that can be spotted as they pass and which the police could pursue.

I endorse entirely the points that have been made about the needs of disabled people, for whom pavement parking is an enormous problem. The irregularity of lamp posts and parking meters poses difficulties for people who have vision problems and who must tap their way along roads with their sticks. If the bottoms of posts are not painted white, partially sighted people will not be able to see them well. All these problems could be greatly eased.

I referred to slow drivers causing problems on motorways. I introduced a Bill in 1990, which did not make progress but which dealt with motorways for which a fourth lane was proposed. It offered an opportunity to legislate for minimum and maximum speeds. The maximum speed on a four-lane motorway could justifiably be increased to 80 mph, with a minimum of 65 mph in the middle lanes and 55 mph in a slow lane. That would stop the road menace who sits in a middle lane and prevents vehicles from overtaking.

My Bill required coaches to travel no faster than 65 mph. That would have kept coaches that get around the law, by being under 12m long, out of the fast lane. Too often, coaches—which, after all, carry human beings—belt along the outside lane and are unable to stop in an emergency. They are lethal and are potentially dangerous not only for passengers but for other road users.

The point has been made across the Chamber that we need a concerted campaign to improve road safety. Respsonsibility is placed on Ministers, transport agencies, families and, particularly, on schools to teach road safety and the basics of how young people will drive in the future. If we can reach the young mind and train it in good road practice we can build towards that day when we can reduce casualties by not only a third or two thirds but more.

1.49 pm
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

This is my second speech in the House and some of my fellow Labour "new intakers" will accuse me of having a double whammy by sneaking here on Friday, but I was advised that Fridays provided an opportunity to catch the Speaker's eye and that there was some discretion about the subject of the debate in that there would be scope to discuss many issues under the subject of road safety.

I came to the Chamber to listen to the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) who is close to me geographically, if not politically. I understood that today was an opportunity to raise a number of issues that are of concern to all hon. Members and our constituents and which relate to the hazards that they face on the roads. Therefore, I am pleased to have this opportunity to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, in a Chamber which is not divided by the usual political differences but is united in promoting the well-being of people using the roads.

I do not wish to refight or relive the general election, but during the election my predecessor suggested that the Labour party was advocating a complete block on the building of new roads. For the record, I must say that that was not true. We prudently said that if—or when—we came to office we would have a moratorium on road building and would take a long hard look to ascertain whether "value for money" was being taken into account and whether the best interests of the public and the environment were being served by additional expenditure on roads. That was a prudent policy and, although we did not win the election, I urge the Government to reconsider this and to satisfy themselves that expenditure on roads is in itself the best way to promote mobility and public transport and whether it is in every case the best way to promote and defend our environment.

I do not think that the country takes a sufficiently long view in respect of decisions to extend our motorways arid create new roads, although I could advocate a number of areas in which the building of motorways is not only environmentally sound but improves the quality of life for people who at present must tolerate the environmental pollution of heavy transport passing through their towns and villages and the hazards involved in merely crossing the roads.

I pay tribute to the emergency services and in particular to the fire and ambulance services and the traffic divisions of our constabularies which do their very best to ensure that high standards of driving are maintained and that the law is upheld. I emphasise the fact that they have the harrowing job of dealing with distressing accidents, arid that people too often take for granted the distress inevitably caused even to experienced men and women in the emergency services. Although they have to deal with tragic accidents day in, day out, it takes its toll and it is appropriate for the House to acknowledge that it is extremely distressing for those men and women, who deserve our thanks.

Many of us will have had a loved one or friend killed in a motor accident—often it is a child who has been run over or knocked off his bicycle. We should be vigilant and ensure that schools promote awareness of road safety, because more could be done, even at a time of cuts in resources in schools and in services such as the police, whose resources are also stretched. I fear that such education may be suffering. I urge the Minister and his colleagues to see whether there can be pump priming for road safety education in schools.

Another problem to be flagged up in the House is the appalling state of disrepair of many lorries and buses in road safety terms. The vehicles that are most guilty of pumping out fumes in urban areas are buses. I am troubled by the fact that, although many employees of bus companies or lorry owners are aware that they are polluting urban areas or driving buses or lorries that are not up to an acceptable standard, they are anxious about raising the problem with their employers. I do not wish to open up this debate too much, but the existing employment legislation has placed many principled people in a vulnerable position, and that is just one area. If they complain or refuse to take out a vehicle they are sometimes subject to dismissal, and remedies and protection under employment laws simply do not exist.

Mr. Morgan

May I offer an example of the problem that my hon. Friend has outlined? During the general election campaign I visited a local comprehensive school. The pupils were waiting to be collected from the school by bus, to be dispersed to the surrounding villages. They had to line up behind 11 clapped-out old buses for as long as 25 minutes, breathing in the diesel smoke, because none of those bus drivers could, with any assurance, switch off their engines in case they would not restart. The children were breathing in filthy carcinogenic fumes for some 20 minutes while waiting to get on the buses.

Mr. Mackinlay

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that legitimate anecdote.

I suspect that Ministers know that much of what is uttered in the House, particularly on Fridays, is true because they have experience of it. Unfortunately, there is an inertia on the part of the Government to do anything about it. I hope that the Minister will take the problem on board and perhaps get the Association of Chief Police Officers to have a blitz on buses and lorries, so that prosecutions are made, or at least warnings given, to ensure that standards are raised. School and public transport are in a competitive market and I fear that corners are cut in lorry and bus safety. I hope that that will be drawn to the attention of ACPO.

Another related problem is the enormous amount of debris on motorways, which presents hazards. It has often fallen from lorries that have been poorly loaded and sometimes overloaded. That makes me very angry and I want more vigorous prosecution of people who put in jeopardy the lives of other motorway users. Insufficient prosecutions are made and that fact should be brought to the attention of ACPO.

Several hon. Members have referred this morning to the need to extend traffic calming measures in urban areas. The last places where traffic calming measures are introduced, but where they are probably most needed, is in our poorer housing areas. Many of my constituents write to me from the Garrison Estates of Purfleet, South Ockenden and Tilbury, desperate for traffic-calming measures, but the available resources are limited and earmarked for an experiment. The local authority is left in a difficult and invidious position of having to identify one area in which traffic-calming measures could be introduced. When public demand is demonstrably shown by local residents for traffic-calming measures, resources should be made available and local authorities should be able to respond. I hope that the Minister will take note of my claim that the poorest areas are often most poorly served in terms of the resources available for the introduction of traffic-calming measures.

The people who are the most articulate and who know how to put legitimate pressure on their local authorities, and Members of Parliament, get traffic-calming measures. In some poorer areas, that facility is not available and the people living there get left out although their need is great.

The question of stress suffered by drivers, especially drivers who have a car provided as part of their work, as representatives, or as part of their high-powered jobs, has not been raised today. I refer especially to drivers in London. There is a maxim in London that people do not so much steer into a space as aim their car at it. There is an element of aggression in many drivers who are normally the least aggressive people, as there is an imperative that they must complete their journey at whatever cost. That is aggravated by stress and, in turn, causes further stress. I hope that the Minister feels that there is a need for greater research into the extent of stress experienced by people who use cars in their employment and a need for better education on the need to relax. Employers and employers' associations should be counselled on the need to restrain some of their employees from being over-zealous in completing their duties. I recognise, of course, that that may have an impact on salaries in many cases.

Many years ago, I suffered from hypertension while I was working for a trade union. I was paid by the trade union to argue to employers that people working on VDUs and in new technology should have the correct lights, the correct desks and the correct chairs. It was my duty to argue that there should be proper facilities for people to complete their jobs and that wrong furniture and wrong lighting could aggravate them physically and mentally. I had to drive around London, in a job in which it was difficult to control the work load, using a car with a manual gearbox. I became aware that an automatic would greatly relieve the stress that motorists have to endure.

I went to my trade union and said that it was nonsense for it to expect me to argue for good facilities for the members when I had to work in a vehicle that aggravated stress. To the union's eternal credit, it took my point on board and until I came to the House, my union car was an automatic! It made a profound difference to the physical and mental stress I experienced. That point has not been fully taken on board. I am a strong advocate of the use of automatic gearboxes, especially for people working in a commercial environment, because they alleviate stress and fatigue when driving in the London area. I hope that the Minister will take that point on board when he reflects on the debate.

2.3 pm

Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester)

May I begin by joining other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic on his appointment? I welcomed the tone and the content of his speech.

I should like to bring to the attention of my hon. Friend a dilemma with which we are faced in my constituency. We have an important road in Chester, Blacon avenue, which passes through the heart of the community with schools, shops, a church and playing fields running along its length. Children have been killed and injured on that road and yet we struggle to get traffic-calming measures introduced. We are clamouring for a pelican crossing right now. Why the struggle? It cannot simply be on the ground of expense, because, in a sense, traffic-calming measures are an inexpensive option compared with the cost of a child in hospital or in a mortuary. No, we struggle because our streets are still planned with only half of their users in mind. The elderly and the young are in the majority these days, but our streets are still being designed with the motorised minority in mind.

When we have more than 200 children a year killed on our roads and in the region of 20,000 injured, this remains a life or death issue, however much we welcome improved accident and death statistics. The problem of children being knocked down in the streets will not go away, because, like it or not, that is one of the places where they play. Children play primarily in or around their homes, and not always in back gardens because many children do not have them.

One of the earliest studies of this subject, detailed in the Department of the Environment's design bulletin No. 27, "Children at Play", showed that in a mixed-rise estate, the majority of children played on roads or adjoining pavements.

Sadly, the lack of thought given to the design of roads and streets remains a significant contributor to the high level of road accidents involving children. We need a change of attitude towards the use of the street. Street space should be better shared by all the users. Parents throughout the United Kingdom are strongly in favour of that. Surveys reveal—I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House treat opinion polls with a degree of reservation and scepticism—that two thirds of parents are concerned about the lack of play space for their children. The higher the housing density, the greater the concern. It is also clear that parents hold strong views on the design of their local environment and support safety measures, even when they restrict vehicle access.

Two essential changes in attitude are necessary to make residential areas safer for children. First, we need a major commitment to introduce the type of traffic-calming measures we have discussed today. Secondly, we should redesign existing and future streets to provide facilities for recreation and play. A ban on vehicles at certain times of the day and turning streets into playgrounds is not the answer. A better solution is to retain a street's function, but to make the available space more appropriate for play and recreational use.

We have talked about a range of traffic-calming measures from speed humps, widened pavements and changes in surface texture to alternative parking. I have been challenged to come up with an original contribution and, as I am the last or penultimate speaker, that is something of a challenge. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) was intrigued to know whether I could think of anything that had not already been suggested.

Good examples of shared space already exist in Britain where new housing estates have been developed—some of the best are in Warrington new town. Other parts of Europe have explored new, original ideas. Hon. Members may be aware of the Dutch concept of the "woonerf"—it is not one egg—where street space is more safely and better shared by all the different users. Before and after studies of "woonerf' provision in Holland show many benefits, including the provision of space where it is most needed, opportunities for enhanced play, which allows equipment and play material to be brought from home, a greater feeling of security for children, more opportunities for social interaction among people in the neighbourhood and a more pleasant environment for adults.

It is accepted that streets in a residential area should be shared by all the people in that area, the motorised and the non-motorised alike. One of the greatest advantages of that has been a reduction in death and injury.

Action must be taken to improve street safety and to change our priorities. In that context, we must begin to educate the planners, because parents already have the message, as has the Minister, because he is in the vanguard of moving us in the right direction. If we do not change our priorities children will continue to die. Time is not on our side. Traffic in housing areas is on the increase and the number of cars in the United Kingdom will rise to about 32 million before the end of the decade.

Being pro-safety does not mean that one is anti-car, although I fear that Opposition Members sometimes make that mistake. One can be pro-safety and pro-car. We welcome car ownership, but we want motorists to realise that they must share their environment. The provision of tunnels to enable badgers and other wildlife to pass under busy roads is widely accepted, but pedestrian crossings and cycle ways for children are frequently resisted until there is a death. That is tragic. We must not wait for more deaths before making the point.

Car manufacturers now produce vehicles that are safer and friendlier to the environment, but advertising continues to emphasise speed and performance. Hon. Members have spoken about driver training, but that concentrates on car handling rather than on road craft. We must adjust that.

Children are the greatest users of the outdoor environment in our country, but residential streets were designed primarily for car users and in some cases cars have virtually taken over. Plans for new residential developments have to include provision for adequate parking space, but there seems to be no similar requirement for play and recreation space. Whole communities—adults and children alike—are affected.

As hon. Members have said, the majority of accidents involve children and the elderly—pedestrians whose physical and mental limitations make them the least suited to cope with modern traffic conditions. Children under 15 represent about 20 per cent. of my constituents, and their needs cannot be ignored. I welcome recent Government initiatives on safety education in schools and the initiatives outlined in the Minister's statement. The present situation requires nothing less than a truly comprehensive programme and a change of attitude by us all, because our streets are shared by us all. They are used by motorists, and the middle aged, of which I am a member, but they are also used by children, young people and older people who now make up the majority of our population.

2.12 pm
Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

With the leave of the House I shall reply to the debate. It is a great pleasure to reply to a useful and wide-ranging debate which has covered the whole spectrum of road safety. Many Members have spoken and raised many issues and I hope that they will understand if I do not reply to them all. I shall certainly write to them on matters that I do not cover in my winding-up speech.

I listened with great pleasure to the maiden speech by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones) and thank him for his courteous words about Sir Charles Irving, his predecessor. We shall hear much more about him, and I wish him well. It was also a great pleasure to hear second speeches from hon. Friends who are already accomplished campaigners. I listened with care to my hon. Friends the Members for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth), for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant), and to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay). I welcome their enthusiasm and know that we shall hear them again.

The debate should be seen in the context of our policy for a balanced transport policy. There has been much talk about investment in public transport and we have, and intend to continue to have, a balanced transport policy. That is evidenced by our increasing support for public transport, for trains and for London Underground, and by our intention that buses should be used better. Safety is an important ingredient of that overall balanced strategy.

Before considering some of the issues that have been raised today, it is worth saying how much agreement there is between both sides of the House on road safety policy. In nearly every regard, any difference between us has been one of approach rather than of general thrust of policy. We all agree on the importance of road safety and on the need to ensure that all road users can travel as safely as possible. We agree that, although we can be proud of having one of the best road safety records in the world, we must strive to do even better. We agree that the right way to achieve that is to set a target for reducing the number of casualties on our roads. We have tried to do that and we are still striving towards that target.

We agree that no Government could achieve the reduction that we are seeking by their own actions alone; it must involve the whole of society. We agree that a casualty reduction cannot be achieved by concentrating on the single aspect of road safety. It is necessary to take forward road safety measures across a broad front. As my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) said, we must strive for better behaviour and understanding by all road users. We must look for safer vehicles and better roads.

There was a strong feeling that we should do far more for the safety of children and that we should pursue traffic-calming measures vigorously and constructively. The safety of children was an issue raised forcefully by my hon. Friends the Members for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), for Sutton and Cheam, for Esher (Mr. Taylor) and for Beckenham and others. We are all agreed that child road safety is an important subject, on which I no more than touched in my opening speech.

Last year, more than 8,000 children were killed or seriously injured on our roads. I can put these statistics in a more human perspective. Road accidents are the biggest cause of accidental death among school children. One child in 15 is likely to be killed or seriously injured while still at school, so every child will know at least one classmate who has been involved in a serious road accident. All of us know of individual tragedies. These casualties are a senseless waste of young lives. They are not natural disasters. They are man made and there is much that we can do to stop them happening. That is why, two years ago, we launched a major child road safety initiative to provide a focus for the action of the many agencies, organisations and individuals that can contribute to reducing the number of children killed or injured on our roads.

At the simplest level, we can protect our children by buying them bright clothes so that they can be seen by motorists when they walk home from school in dark evenings. We can encourage them to wear cycle helmets. The campaign that we ran last year increased the sale of helmets fivefold, but I look forward to the day when no child is bought a bicycle without also being given a cycle helmet. We can do much by making sure that children always wear seat belts in cars, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham said.

It is not enough to buy our children protective equipment. All motorists have to take personal responsibility for their safety. Children are most at risk as pedestrians in urban areas.

Mr. Morgan

I am not sure that I have understood. Is the Minister suggesting that the parent or relative buying the cycle is obliged to purchase a helmet, or is he suggesting that a helmet must be considered an essential part of any bicycle sale to a child, just as seat belts are a vital part of any car sale, and that one would not be able to buy a bike without a helmet?

Mr. Carlisle

We do not follow that line. Parents should decide to buy a safety helmet when they buy a bicycle and all our persuasion and education is to that end.

Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)


Mr. Carlisle

I shall not give way. My hon. Friend has not taken part in the debate.

With the patronage of Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales, last autumn we launched a major publicity campaign to persuade drivers to slow down when children are about. Stark statistics have been produced in the debate, but they are worth repeating. In a collision at 40 mph, there is an 85 per cent. chance that a child will die. At 20 mph, there is a 95 per cent. chance that he or she will survive. That is such an important message that we are maintaining the campaign this autumn for the second phase of television advertising, costing more than £2 million. In addition, as I said in my opening remarks, we are introducing highway engineering measures to make people slow down in residential areas.

Another way to improve child safety is to educate our children so that they are aware of the risk and of how to cope with it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) said, we must keep up the pressure. There are many examples of how that can be done. We are taking action and we are piloting an educational package for pre-school children. Perhaps I should declare an interest here as I not only live in the eastern region, where the scheme is being piloted, but have a three-year-old son, so hon. Members can be sure that at least one child is being taken carefully through that programme.

Some superb educational material has been developed during the project, and I pay tribute to those involved: the Transport Research Laboratory, which has helped to develop the material and is monitoring the scheme; the seven county councils running the scheme; and to General Accident Insurance Group, which provided generous financial support.

Ms. Ruddock

Perhaps the Minister is about to refer to my suggestion about the national curriculum. If the pilot that he is outlining were successful, could it find its way into the national curriculum?

Mr. Carlisle

I shall not go as far as the national curriculum, although we have all been deeply impressed by the hon. Lady's commitment to it. I also thank her for her kind words to me at the beginning of the debate.

We are developing a code of practice for children of school age to integrate road safety education into the national curriculum and we have developed teaching materials for use in secondary schools. It is not necessary for road safety to be treated as a curriculum subject in its own right. There are merits in its being seen by school children as an integral part of their lives and not as a subject that one studies before moving on to another. Road safety fits naturally into many of the core curriculum subjects. For example, when teaching mathematics, it is more valuable to use road safety statistics than those for wheat production in north America, which were used in my day. Vehicle stopping distances and impact energies can help to give real meaning to Newton's laws.

That programme is beginning to bear fruit. Provisional figures for last year showed that child road deaths fell by 9 per cent. and serious injuries by 13 per cent. The number of children killed or seriously injured on our roads is now more than 30 per cent. below the 1981–85 baseline, from which the target reduction was set, but we can and will do more. This is a long-term programme, involving the education of children, parents and motorists. I have every hope that it will deliver ever greater results. One of the messages that I have received loud and clear from this debate is that we must carry forward this programme successfully, with the support of both sides of the House. It is a subject of the keenest interest and the House has shown its determination to do better.

Traffic calming was a prevalent issue in the debate. Traffic calming is important not only in residential areas, so that people can have a better quality of life, but to reduce the accidents about which we have been talking, especially those involving children. Hon. Members raised concerns about the resources available for this programme. My hon. Friend the Members for Esher, for City of Chester and for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) showed particular interest in that and other aspects of traffic calming, as did other right hon. and hon. Members.

Money is being made available for these important initiatives. In the current financial year, more than £42 million has been set aside for local safety schemes, an increase of 38 per cent. on last year. The combined 1991–92 and 1992–93 transport supplementary grant allocation for these safety schemes will allow local authorities to build about 7,700 local safety schemes nationally which, we estimate, will save about 170 lives and prevent more than 2,000 serious injurries and 9,000 other casualties in any year. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Esher that those funds can be spent on traffic-calming schemes, such as 20 mph zones, where they are intended to improve road safety. It is open to any authority to spend more on road safety than the sum allocated under the TSG settlement.

Ms. Ruddock

I pressed the Minister on that point in my speech. The statistics of what we expect to achieve through these measures are so impressive in terms of lives saved and serious accidents prevented that there must be a case for an increase in Government resources. As we all know, local authorities operate under tight financial regimes. Many are capped by the Government and the option is not always available for them to increase their own resources. If the Government's targets for road safety are to be met, surely this is one of the most efficacious ways of getting the work done.

Mr. Carlisle

Each local authority must be responsible for its own priorities within the money available to it. The resources available, which are ring-fenced for these purposes, have been increased this year by 30 per cent. on last year and substantial sums are being made available. We are co-ordinating with local authorities to see how these schemes, which are in their infancy and being developed through research, can be better used.

The Traffic Calming Act 1992, which has been much mentioned, provides for regulations to qualify the powers available to local authorities for such purposes. We are undertaking much research into the effectiveness of designs, such as humps. We are trying to develop humps that are more convenient for emergency vehicles. Chicanes, road narrowings and so on are also under consideration. Many Members spoke of how these measures could be of huge interest to their constituents. It is essential that we carry forward this work with great speed.

Drinking and driving was mentioned, but not as much as other subjects. It is interesting that all hon. Members agree that our efforts during the past few years have been bearing fruit. Education, combined with deterrents, is reducing substantially the number of people who are willing to risk the folly of driving after they have had too much to drink. That shows that we should persevere in other areas, such as child safety. It is clear from anti-drinking and driving campaigns that if we persevere with a policy and a theme we can get results.

This debate has been most useful for me, as it has allowed me to garner the views of many right hon. and hon. Members. We must not only persuade, educate, be thoughtful and approach the issue intelligently but undertake research, collaborate effectively with local authorities and reform the way in which we deal with those who speed. We need also to deter speeding and to punish—and we will punish, where that is essential as a necessary means of deterrence.

We are all aiming at benefiting everyone in this country. We must ensure that accidents are reduced. We have already achieved some success, but none of us can be complacent. We all know that with effort, research and determination we can do even better.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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