HC Deb 28 January 1998 vol 305 cc285-305

11 am

Mr. Michael Wills (North Swindon)

I am very grateful for this opportunity to bring an important—but, unfortunately, not new—matter to the House's attention. Since 1992, as far as I can discover, the House has had 27 debates, 35 oral questions, 514 written questions and 21 early-day motions on road safety. Nevertheless, last year, 3,500 people lost their life on our roads. All of those people lost their lives tragically, and most of them did so avoidably.

Another 48,000 people were seriously injured on the roads, and, although there has been a decrease in fatalities in the past 10 years, the rate of decrease has slowed considerably in recent years. In the past three years, the figures have been virtually static. Since at least the early 1980s, there has been no significant change in the total number of injuries on our roads.

Perhaps that dreadful litany is becoming so familiar that people are becoming immune to it; they accept death on the roads as another fact of life. However, the figures are unacceptable, and we must keep reminding ourselves of that.

Throughout history, human beings have learnt how to do many wonderful things, but we have not yet learnt how to avoid each year more than 50,000 avoidable human tragedies. In 150 years, I believe that people will look back and wonder how we could have tolerated the situation for so long—just as we look back now and wonder how, 150 years ago, children were allowed to work down the mines or up chimneys. The dreadful situation cannot continue unchanged forever, because it is, literally, intolerable. However, until we do find ways of tackling it, thousands more lives will be lost, and even more lives will be wrecked.

Like so many hon. Members, perhaps the most heartbreaking cases that I have dealt with in my surgery have been those of relatives of victims of car crashes. How can we not respond to stories such as that of the man who came to me and told me how his wife was driving home with his daughter along a narrow country road, when a car driven on the wrong side of the road and way over the speed limit by a young man—who was not drunk—smashed into their car. His wife was taken from the car alive, but, unfortunately, she died a few minutes later on the grass verge in the arms of her daughter.

Such stories are all too familiar. In one awful moment, lives are changed for ever, devastated by a dreadful loss that those of us who have not experienced one can only imagine with awe. Their pain continues through every waking hour, although it is not only over the loss of someone whom they have loved—although, God knows, that is hard enough. Every one of them has told me that what hurts so much is the fact that their loss was so avoidable.

I asked for this debate for those reasons, and I am grateful for the opportunity to suggest some possible positive action. We will not be able to begin to change the situation until we understand why it persists.

No one could possibly be in favour of continuing such carnage, and many people daily continue to do their best to change the situation. Successive Governments have been committed to promoting road safety. The police do their very best—and more. I have been struck by the heartfelt tributes paid by victims' relatives to the police's dedication and sensitivity in dealing with road accidents. Motoring and road safety organisations do admirable work in campaigning for change, in which they are supported by responsible businesses.

Why are we seemingly unable to make more progress in dealing with that blight on our society? There are no easy or simple answers, and I do not want to suggest that there are. There are many reasons for the appalling casualty levels on our roads, such as: momentary human error, which nothing will every completely eradicate; badly maintained vehicles; and dangerous roads and road conditions. Above all, however, it is clear that responsibility lies with dangerous human behaviour. If we are to change such behaviour, we must change our toleration of it.

Successful action has been taken in dealing with one specific form of dangerous behaviour: driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. We now have to tackle more effectively our toleration of all forms of dangerous driving. Clearly anyone who drinks and drives exposes himself and others to great risk; but surely a driver who aggressively speeds is equally culpable? Speeding has been shown to be a factor in more than a third of all accidents. Although the danger of speeding should be reflected in the sentences passed by courts, sadly, that does not seem to be happening.

Although I stress that the figures are not conclusive—they cannot be conclusive, because they involve difficult matters of the relative ease of proof—the courts seem to treat motoring offences causing death or bodily harm more seriously if drugs or alcohol are involved. A motorist is twice as likely to be acquitted of a motoring offence causing death or bodily harm if alcohol or drugs are not involved than if they are.

Why should dealing more severely with dangerous driving be axiomatically justifiable? Surely any person guilty of aggressive, dangerous behaviour should be treated as equally culpable. I cannot understand the logic of arguing that someone who causes death by driving aggressively is somehow less culpable than someone who causes death because he has drunk too much.

The issue of aggressive driving lies at the heart of the problem. Anyone who drives a car sees examples daily of such dangerous behaviour as speeding aggressively, tail-gating and reckless overtaking. The fact is that 80 per cent. of road deaths do not involve alcohol; they involve dangerous driving by sober people.

Characterising much of that dangerous driving is the type of aggressive behaviour biologically associated with young males. Of course not all men are dangerous drivers, just as all dangerous drivers are not men. Many women are dangerous drivers, and not all young men are dangerous drivers. Many dangerous drivers are older than 24. The facts, however, speak for themselves. A male driver is two and a half times more likely than a female driver to be involved in a road accident causing death or serious injury. A young male driver aged 17 is three times more likely than a 17-year-old female driver to be involved in a road accident causing death or serious injury.

Such differentials between men and women drivers are apparent regardless of how one considers the figures—whether in rates per thousand licence holders or rates per thousand kilometres travelled. Moreover, the figures show also that male drivers are far mor1e likely than female drivers to have an accident when overtaking or going round a bend—a particularly avoidable type of accident, which often signals a particular aggression or recklessness. Significantly, there is a steady decline in the likelihood of that type of accident occurring when a male driver is over 24 years of age.

In the 21-to-24 age group, more than twice as many male drivers as female drivers have accidents overtaking. A male driver aged 21 to 24 is 80 per cent. more likely than a female driver in that age group to be involved in a single-vehicle accident—another particularly avoidable type of accident.

The figures suggest that, as much as anything else, attitude—the aggression that is associated with but, unfortunately, not confined to the behaviour of young men—causes death and injury on the roads. If we can stop the carnage caused by testosterone-crazed young men and those who act like them, we will not stop death on the roads, but we will make a significant start in reducing the current obscene levels.

How can that be done? Many measures have been suggested by campaigning organisations, and I see merit in many of them. Today, I shall focus on a few that could help bring about the sea change in culture which is so desperately needed.

We need to send clearer and stronger signals that dangerous driving will not be tolerated. In the past, such signals have not been as strong and clear as they could have been because we have a central ambivalence about the motor car. The motor car has been a great force for personal liberation in the 20th century; it has brought the freedom of individual and autonomous travel to millions of people. For the past 50 years, more and more people have enjoyed the great benefits that motor cars can bring. Now, we are coming to terms with the costs.

Environmental consequences are now central to Government and public policy, but unfortunately the same does not appear to be true of the role of the car as a lethal weapon. Every year, there are five times as many road deaths as murders, yet the Home Office does not appear to consider that road safety should be a core activity for the police. Relatives of victims frequently complain that the system is too lenient. Constituents of mine who have suffered such tragedies all complain bitterly—and with evidence—about how lightly the death of their loved ones seems to be treated by the legal system. There is evidence to bear them out.

Between 1993 and 1995, for example, more than 25 per cent. of those convicted for causing death by dangerous or careless driving escaped a custodial sentence. All too often, the treatment of driving offences seems to be governed by the feeling of "There but for the grace of God go I", and its companion instinct that driving offences should not be treated as severely as other offences.

That attitude perilously conflates two quite different phenomena: on one hand, the momentary lapse, of which we are all capable, and on the other, the persistent dangerous driving of a minority which is responsible for the majority of serious crashes. All too often, the belief that we are all capable of occasional error seems to mitigate the treatment of criminally dangerous driving, which is quite different and could and should be seen as such. We need to send out different signals. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to doing so. I shall suggest just a few measures which might help.

I suggest three reforms of the licensing system. The age threshold for a driving licence should be raised from 17 to 18. Figures show that casualties decrease with age. That partly reflects the fact that inexperience is an important factor in road casualties—the more one drives, the safer one gets—but age is significant. The figures are clear. In 1991, for example, the rate of casualties for male drivers of 100 million vehicle km fell 40 per cent. between the ages of 17 and 18. It fell a further third between the ages of 18 and 19, and a further 15 per cent. between the ages of 19 and 20. The rate for those aged between 21 and 24 was half that for those aged between 25 and 34.

Driving experience alone cannot account for that steady decline over age. Maturity, too, must be a critical factor. If we believe that someone is not sufficiently mature to exercise the right to vote until they are 18 years old, I see no reason why we should believe that someone is mature enough to take control of a lethal weapon before that age. Changing the age threshold would send an important signal about how seriously we should take the act of driving.

In the same spirit, I suggest that everyone should take a driving test every five years. That would be a powerful discipline for us all. A five-yearly assessment of our ability to drive responsibly would remind everyone on the roads of the fact that they are in charge of a lethal weapon—something that all too many forget.

The third reform is minor but culturally significant. We should take action to tackle the problem of motorbike deliveries. At the moment, anyone who wants to deliver pizzas, be a courier or undertake any other commercial activity on a motorbike can do so without having to pass a driving test. Although people are required to undergo compulsory basic training, they do not have to pass a driving test before they take on work that involves travelling long distances under great pressure on roads on which they are most likely to have accidents. What kind of signal does that send? If we are serious about improving safety on the roads, a minimum requirement should be to ensure that those whose work renders them more likely to be involved in accidents have passed a test of driving competence.

My second area of suggestions relates to the policing of road safety. We need to give the police more support. Road safety must be made a core priority for the police. What message is sent by the fact that it is not? We must give them the tools to do the job. Every policeman to whom I have spoken has asked for more speed cameras. Let us give them such cameras. The Association of Chief Police Officers has made an eminently sensible suggestion about how to pay for the cameras: that an administrative charge be levied for each convicted offender. Implementing that need not breach any Treasury principle or create any precedent. All the evidence suggests how effective an increase in the number of speed cameras would be in disciplining dangerous driving.

I should like to suggest two changes to the legislative framework. This area is critical. Law and its implementation sends powerful messages about a society's values. The road safety organisation, Brake, has suggested that, where death or injury has been directly caused by dangerous driving or by using a vehicle in a dangerous condition, there should be only a charge either of manslaughter or grievous bodily harm, and that the option of the less serious charge of careless driving should be removed. I support that proposal.

The legal leap between a charge of causing death by dangerous driving and manslaughter is not great, but the signal that such a change would convey is. It would signal that killing someone with a car is not somehow different from killing someone in another way so that it merits a different charge. It is exactly the same and should be treated in exactly the same way.

I recognise that some may argue that juries would be reluctant to convict if any more serious charges were available, but that argument does not stand up to close scrutiny. Even if juries were less likely to convict, it would only be because they did not believe that the offences were sufficiently serious to merit such punishment. How are we ever going to change such an attitude, which—I hope—I have demonstrated is profoundly wrong, if courts persistently offer offenders no more than the traditional equivalent of a slap on the wrist?

Whatever sentences the courts impose, they need to send a clear signal that there can be no universal right to drive without a clear acceptance of the serious responsibilities that go with it. If individuals reject the responsibilities, they should forfeit the right. My proposal is simply that, for anyone convicted of dangerous driving, whether or not it results in death or injury, there should be an automatic ban from driving for three years. Any three such convictions should result in a lifetime ban—three strikes and out.

I recognise that some people may object to the proposal because they are worried by the removal of the traditional discretion in sentencing, but the proposal maintains such discretion in every area other than in respect of the licence. Others may worry about severe penalties being imposed for momentary lapse—the "There but for the grace of God go I" argument—but the jury would retain the discretion to decide whether a person is guilty, and the sentence would be able to distinguish between a one-off error and persistently dangerous behaviour.

It may also be argued that there is little point in banning more people from driving when such bans are routinely imposed. Every year, the number of those found guilty of driving while disqualified amounts to about 25 per cent. of those disqualified in that year. That is not an argument against extending driving bans but an argument for tightening enforcement and the penalties for driving while disqualified. Perhaps automatic confiscation of the cars of those found guilty of such an offence might encourage greater compliance with the law.

For those who complain about such measures on libertarian grounds, I suggest that they are shown a video of interviews with relatives of victims of such dangerous driving, which—I hope—would encourage them to make a clearer distinction between liberty and licence. I suspect that, after a few examples of such lifetime bans, we would start to see a new spirit of discipline in drivers who currently feel that it is quite acceptable to tail-gate for 30 miles down a motorway or overtake at 50 mph on a narrow winding country road.

Of course I recognise that change will not come overnight, but such measures, and others like them which have been proposed by those who are very concerned with such issues, could begin to make a difference. The reforms, unlike so many others, do not run into the familiar problem of costing money. The long-term economics all in favour of such changes. In 1996, the cost to society of road casualties was calculated by the Department of Transport to total £11 billion a year. That is £3.3 billion for accidents causing a fatality, £4.8 billion for accidents causing a serious injury, and £2.75 billion for accidents causing a slight injury. Just think what a fraction of that—even a 10 per cent. reduction—could do for our pensioners, our schools and our health service. Think of the difference that that would make to the 1,500 people who would otherwise be dead and the 24,000 who would otherwise be seriously injured.

Every debate and every question in this place that does not achieve a significant reduction in those dreadful statistics diminishes the stature of the House. What use is Parliament if we cannot save those whom we represent from such avoidable and needless tragedies? Whatever the Government's view of my proposals, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will give us real hope that we can make a difference, and make those dreadful statistics a thing of the past.

11.19 am
Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle)

I congratulate the hon. Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills) on obtaining the debate. I associate myself with many of his remarks, particularly what he said about grieving families. I am sure that we all have experience of tragic situations such as those that he described.

I should like to raise two matters briefly. First, had I not been here this morning, I would have been in my constituency for the local launch by the Highways Agency of the Government's 1998 child pedestrian safety campaign at Mountfield and Whatlington primary school at John's Cross on the A21, where the speed limit has recently been halved because of the need to restrict speeding.

The Highways Agency, the county council and Sussex police have all had to contend with the dilemma of needing to keep traffic moving down the A21 while also putting sensible restrictions in place, as has been done at Hurst Green, a little further north on the A21. The community is relieved that that has now been accomplished at John's Cross as well. I hope that the campaign is successful throughout the country. It is vital that children learn at the earliest possible age the importance of road safety, starting as pedestrians.

My second point touches on the kind of case to which the hon. Gentleman alluded. I was approached last week by two constituents—Mr. and Mrs. Gildea of Battle—whose son Christian was killed on 6 December while cycling back to Battle from the Conquest hospital. Christian Gildea, who was in his 20s, had obtained a degree and then decided to become a doctor. He started from scratch, taking two fresh A-levels at Hastings college. To keep himself in employment and get some experience, he found work at the Conquest hospital. He cycled to Hastings college and to the hospital. He was killed by a young driver who admitted that he had been travelling at 60 mph and had lost control of his vehicle. That young driver, who is no doubt as shocked as anyone by what happened, was fined for careless driving.

Mr. and Mrs. Gildea asked me to press for cyclists on the highway to wear helmets and illuminated flashes. I hope that the Minister will consider that. I am sure that she is already thinking about it. Mr. and Mrs. Gildea pointed out poignantly that wearing a helmet would not have saved their son, but they would like to work for road safety for others, particularly young cyclists, as a memorial to their son. I hope that the Minister will give further consideration to the wearing of helmets by youngsters doing paper rounds or anybody of any age on a bicycle on the highway. If helmets can save one life or illuminated flashes can cause one motorist to avoid a cyclist, they must be worth while.

11.23 am
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills) on securing a debate on such an important subject, and on his thoughtful contribution. I particularly appreciate what he said about the relatives of people killed in accidents. We should bear in mind that every death on our roads is needless and tragic, causing great pain to the bereaved families. I appreciated his call for the criminal legal system to take such deaths more seriously and to reflect the pain that we are all caused in the charges and the sentences.

I initiated a similar debate last November, which makes this the second debate on road safety in just three months. That shows how seriously the House takes the subject—and so it should. The number of deaths and injuries on our roads is still too high. For every murder victim, six people die on our roads.

In November I made two requests to the Minister. The first was for a lowering of the blood alcohol concentration limit from 80 mg per 100 ml of blood to 50 mg. The second was for the police to be helped with the cost of speed cameras through an administration fee added to the fines for speeders—a request repeated by my hon. Friend this morning. It has been pleasing to hear public statements since then that the Government are considering both issues. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can tell us about progress on them.

The number of deaths caused by drinking and driving fell sharply in the 1980s, but in recent years the death toll has remained stubbornly at about 10 every week. We can do more to reduce the loss of life caused by drinking and driving by lowering the limit and enforcing it effectively. Happily, I am not alone in believing that reducing the limit from 80 mg to 50 mg will save lives. Professor Richard Allsop, of University college London, was quoted in The Independent on 19 January as saying that a reduction of 100 fatalities a year could be achieved by it.

There is much debate about whether we should introduce random breath testing or an unfettered discretion for the police on breath testing. That is an important debate, but I shall not delay the House with the subtleties of it. It is important for drivers to know that drinking and driving will be detected.

Last Christmas was the first when all 43 police forces in England and Wales routinely tested all drivers involved in road crashes. That was not just a Christmas campaign—the practice is here to stay all year. The message to those who take the risk of drinking and driving is clear: "Your crime will be detected and you will be punished."

My hon. Friend also talked about driving under the influence of drugs. That is the subject of a three-year research programme organised by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Police officers regularly tell me that the difficulty is detection at the road side. Drug-influenced driving is not as simple as the breath test for alcohol. I hope that the research will lead to the development of devices to assist the police on that.

My hon. Friend talked in great detail about the problems of speeding. As he said, research suggests that speeding is a contributory factor in one third of road crashes. Speed may be excessive by being beyond the legal limit or simply inappropriately fast for the conditions. Reducing speeding will cut the number of road crashes, saving lives and lessening the number of injuries. This has been proved in Stafford—the town which I have the honour to represent—where a vigorous speed reduction policy, including the widespread use of speed cameras, has reduced road crashes and injuries; hence my interest in helping the police to mount and maintain such effective enforcement. If the police receive an administration fee, charged with every fine imposed for speeding, they could uphold the law more comprehensively.

Speed also kills children, who are particularly vulnerable to death and injury on our roads. Usually, the danger arises in close proximity to their homes. Therefore, I particularly welcome recent Government initiatives aimed at protecting our children. I am pleased that this year's transport policies and programmes give priority to safer routes to school projects. These promote safety engineering schemes in the vicinity of schools, such as self-enforcing 20 mph zones and traffic calming measures. In Stafford, the borough council is concentrating very limited resources on such schemes.

I am pleased also, as the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) mentioned, that the Government are retaining the successful Hedgehog education campaign for children, with the message "Stop, Look, Listen, Live." I also wish to praise my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Brinton)—who is not here today—who yesterday proposed her Home Zones Bill.

I sometimes feel that road safety lacks the priority that it deserves. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon pointed out, it is not a core national priority for the police to tackle traffic matters. I am heartened by this second debate in the House within three months, and by the Government initiatives that I have mentioned. I hope that we are getting across to the public the message that alongside our right to drive is our responsibility; a responsibility to ourselves and to others. Reducing death and injury on our roads is a collective responsibility.

11.31 am
Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)

I congratulate the hon. Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills) on raising this issue—an issue that has probably touched us all. My grandmother was killed in a road accident. She was old and could not see or hear well. She stepped off the pavement and, unfortunately, was hit by a car. The dad of my best friend at school was killed in a car crash, as was the son of close friends of the family. The issue has probably affected each and every one of us.

Road safety is a matter for the Government, local government, the police, voluntary groups and schools—often working in partnership. However, there are some things that we as hon. Members can do to improve road safety. I should like to run through a couple of those.

I arrived here breathless and in a hurry at 11 o'clock because I had been outside with Friends of the Earth, which is publicising the Road Traffic Reduction (United Kingdom Targets) Bill, which comes to the House on Friday. The more hon. Members who are present to show their support for that private Member's Bill the better, and I welcome the Government's support for it.

The Government can encourage Members of Parliament to use their bicycles, thereby reducing the number of cars on the road. I have asked whether a cycling allowance could be made available to hon. Members who use their bikes for parliamentary business, and I understand that that suggestion is under review. I hope that the Government will respond positively. Anyone on a bike means one less journey in a car, and that helps road safety.

Hon. Members have mentioned speed cameras. My party's view is that responsibility for them should lie with local authorities, particularly if it involves an automated process. I should like local authorities to have the power to collect fines, as the system would be more effective for that. According to constituents who write to me regularly, local councils in London are all too effective at enforcing parking regulations, now that they are responsible for traffic law enforcement.

As well as helping to improve road safety, road safety measures will help the Government to meet their commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent. Law reforms have been mentioned, and there is a case to be answered in terms of the appropriateness of fines. Is it right that the fixed penalty fine for speeding is less than the fine for dropping litter? There is perhaps a question mark over the value judgments that we are making on road safety.

In one matter—the "Speed Kills" campaign recently launched by the Government—better co-ordination would help road safety. My local superintendent said that the first he knew about the campaign was when he saw posters for it. Perhaps he had not read the correspondence, or perhaps the information had not been circulated, but there was not the co-ordination between the police and the Home Office that existed over the drink-drive campaign. That may have been a localised problem, but there may be a need for greater co-ordination between Departments on that issue.

I welcome the importance that the Government attach to road safety and the fact that the Labour party manifesto gave priority to road safety. It stated that cycling and walking must be made safer, especially around schools. However, the budget allocated for local safety schemes has been reduced from £60 million to £50 million in the next financial year—something at which the Government must look.

I have one further concrete and effective proposal for improving road safety. It relates to speed, which, as we have heard, is a contributory factor in up to one third of accidents. The briefing on the subject—which many hon. Members will have received—states that, for every 1 mph reduction in average traffic speeds, deaths are reduced by 7 per cent. and casualties by 5 per cent. I suggest that the Government act to stop the sale of speed camera detectors, which are on sale openly and, in some cases, illegally in Tottenham Court road. My researcher can give the Minister the addresses of the premises that are selling speed camera detectors.

I have here a flyer for a company, which was sent to me by a constituent, Mrs. Houghton, who asked me to investigate the matter. The flyer gives details of speed camera detectors, and describes features such as a one-mile range for detecting cameras and the fact that it can pick up radar.

I am pleased to say that the Advertising Standards Authority has investigated and found against that company. Hopefully, it is no longer putting out flyers that alarm drivers by asking what they would do if they could not drive their car, and adding that speeding attracts fines of up to £2,500. The flyer encourages people to buy a product that will help them to break the law. In that case, action has been taken, but if action is taken at the point where the flyer has been distributed, it is too late. It will have gone through people's doors, and people will be aware of the product.

Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea)

Only a Liberal could argue for making illegal something that encourages one to remain within the law. The hon. Gentleman said that the detector would make it easier for people to break the law, but surely the whole point is that it gives prior warning and that only a complete lunatic would then proceed to break the law.

Mr. Brake

Hon. Members will judge for themselves whether people purchasing the detector are trying to stay within the law or will use it to break the law.

The Home Office view is not terribly helpful, because it judges that primary legislation, which would be needed to deal with the problem, is not at present justified. My view is that the Home Office should take a much firmer line on any such product and should ensure that it cannot be sold openly and, in some cases, illegally, in Tottenham Court road. I hope that the Minister will respond positively on that issue and on the other points that I have raised.

11.40 am
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

It is a disappointment that there have been fewer contributions to this debate, on road safety, than there were on the previous one, on the millennium dome, but, for a Government who have gained themselves the reputation of never answering any questions, this is a great opportunity, because the Minister will have a substantial period in which to answer some of the points that have been made. Perhaps, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will allow her to range a little more widely and answer questions that were not answered in yesterday's debates by other members of her ministerial team.

We welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter again, and I congratulate the hon. Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills) on the way in which he introduced the debate. He used statistics to support his argument and expressed concern that still too many people are killed on our roads, as indeed they are. We all know people who have suffered the effects of road tragedies.

We must none the less keep the matter in context: fewer people are killed on our roads now than in 1926, when statistics were first collected. The figure has been coming down steadily over the past 15 years of Conservative government. Before we propose, for example, the idea of raising from 17 to 18 the age at which people would be allowed to start driving, let us think about whether the countries where the minimum age is higher have a better road safety record.

Mr. Wills

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there has been no significant change—1,000 or 2,000 out of 300,000—throughout the period of Conservative government in the number of injuries on our roads, and that, in the past three years, the number of fatalities has hardly decreased at all and seems to have reached a plateau?

Mr. Chope

No, I do not accept that. The number of people killed continues to fall, and the number of serious injuries has decreased significantly. The number of slight injuries has not decreased significantly, but I understood that the burden of the hon. Gentleman's concerns was about deaths and serious injuries, because only those could possibly justify an enormous intrusion into the freedom of 17-year-olds to begin driving.

On the continent, where many young people are not allowed to drive until they are 18, do they have better road casualty figures? On the continent, where there are nominally lower breathalyser limits, do they have better figures? Elsewhere in the world, are the figures better? The answer is no.

In the 10 years to 1996, the number of people killed on our roads fell by 33 per cent., despite an increase in motor traffic of 27 per cent. The number of breath tests administered rose by no less than 169 per cent., to more than 133,000, but the number of people failing those tests fell by 27 per cent., to just over 7,000.

In Great Britain, we have six road deaths a year per 100,000 population. I agree that that is six too many. In Austria, however, there are 15 deaths per 100,000 population; in Belgium, 14; in France, 15; in Germany, 12; in Greece, 21; in the Irish Republic, 12; in Italy, 12; in Luxembourg, thought by many to be the best European country of all, 19; in Portugal, 29; and in Spain, 15. All those countries have a significantly worse record than we have and they are improving, if at all, at a far slower rate than us.

I urge the hon. Member for North Swindon not to say that we should adopt a policy willy-nilly simply because it is adopted in the rest of Europe. I urge caution on him and suggest that our policy of education coupled with regulation has been extremely successful. We have educated people into recognising that, if they drive with excess alcohol levels, they are likely to be in an accident that could have dire consequences for themselves and others, and we have a strict law to reinforce that.

We know from the tragedy in Paris last August and its aftermath that in France they have nominally tighter breath test limits but a very weak system of penalties for those who are in breach of them. That may be one of the reasons why they have a substantially worse road casualty record than we do. The analogy is not only with countries in the rest of Europe but with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States of America and Japan, all of which have significantly more road deaths per 100,000 population than we do.

I understand that the Government intend to accept, almost without consideration, the European Community line on the rights of people who suffer from diabetes to drive motor vehicles. The matter has been of considerable concern to many people, and there has been correspondence from the British Diabetic Association asking the Government to consider the facts and the evidence, but the Government have effectively said, "Well, this is what the European Commission says, so it must be a good thing and we must adopt it."

That is not the right approach for a responsible Government to take. They should consider the issue on its merits and not be so arrogant, just as they should consider beef on the bone on its merits and not ride roughshod over the humiliating defeat that they suffered in the other place last night.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

Is it not the case that the British Diabetic Association considers the evidence concerning diabetics to be flawed and has produced evidence supporting exactly the opposite case to that which the Government have accepted? There seems to be no consideration of that.

Mr. Chope

I agree. It is a matter of great concern that the Government do not seem to be prepared to engage in a dialogue with the British Diabetic Association and get to the core of the issue, with the consequence that many people who have hitherto been able to drive light goods vehicles will no longer be able to do so, because of a European directive.

Interestingly, that European directive permits of exceptions

only in very exceptional circumstances … and then only when duly justified by authorised medical opinion". So there is a way out for the Government in discussing the matter with medical experts and the British Diabetic Association. However, the Government are not using that loophole. The Minister for Roads responded to my letter, and no doubt responded in similar terms to other hon. Members, by saying:

The advice of our Panel is that there are no exceptional cases which medical opinion would recognise as being lower risk than others". That is an extraordinary statement, and it makes a mockery of the arrangements that are being phased in to make existing drivers subject to the new regulations. If the consequences for road safety are as dire as the Minister for Roads would have us believe, there should be an outright and immediate ban. The fact that there is not such a ban on all the drivers affected tells me that there is scope for dealing with cases in a much more sympathetic way than the Government have done so far.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) made an exemplary speech. He had a couple of points to make and he made them clearly and succinctly. The Conservative Government put a lot of effort into reducing the rate of child fatalities. Although our record on road safety compares favourably with that of other countries, our record on child injuries and fatalities is worse. So, on the basis of good benchmarking practice, the Conservative Government decided to tackle that issue. Road safety campaigns were directed to child road safety. When I was the Minister responsible, I was much involved in the campaign to encourage parents and children to wear cycle helmets. Texaco supported a national campaign with the slogan "Children should be seen and not hurt." That altered the climate of opinion. Now we see many more cyclists, especially children, wearing cycle helmets.

Helmets are no panacea, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle said. They do not prevent every casualty, but they ensure that many fewer people suffer severe injury if they fall off their bicycle in a collision or as a result of riding into one of the increasingly large number of potholes that are appearing in our roads as a result of the Government's neglect of standards of road maintenance. My hon. Friend made some excellent points about the need to get even more cyclists wearing helmets.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake), the spokesman for the Liberal party on these issues, was rightly taken to task by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark). More and more controls are what the Liberal party is all about. We heard last night in the debate on the London Underground that it wants to impose another £1 billion of taxes on Londoners. Yet I know from visiting some Liberal-controlled constituencies in London that the standard of road maintenance in those boroughs leaves a lot to be desired.

Mr. Brake

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, on an issue such as road safety, we should take a non-partisan approach, and that the issue is too important to be treated in a political manner?

Mr. Chope

I am not trying to make party political points, but this Chamber is a political chamber. In so far as we have any influence over the way in which resources are allocated and how local authorities decide to allocate resources, all of us in the Chamber today who care about road safety should say, "Let us invest more resources in the maintenance of our highway infrastructure. Let us repair those pavements, get rid of potholes in the roads and invest in road safety measures that reduce further the number of casualties on our roads."

In my local area, Christchurch, a big issue is running in the local newspapers. Bournemouth council has announced that it intends to ban cyclists from using the Wessex way. There has been a long-running campaign with the local newspaper because there have been several horrible, fatal accidents involving cyclists on that stretch of road. The cycling fraternity are understandably concerned. They want to know what alternative arrangements will be made for cyclists. Cyclists feel that the council is giving in to the pressure from lorry and other traffic. There has been no effective response from the local authority on how it intends to accommodate the legitimate needs of cyclists who would otherwise use that route.

More investment is needed to solve that problem. I shall repeatedly make the point from this Bench, until Ministers understand, that we need to invest in road safety measures more of the money that motorists pay in taxation. I hope that the Minister will say that she has now accepted that argument.

The Minister is much accustomed to responding to parliamentary questions by saying, "I shall answer this question shortly." She did so on Monday in response to a question from me about the deaths of two cyclists on the track of the Sheffield supertram. In my submission, that is a serious situation. A new and much-vaunted form of transport seems to have been designed in such a way as to make it difficult for cyclists to avoid getting their wheels caught up in the tram tracks. I hope that the Government will investigate the matter seriously. Although it may be a good thing to have public transport, it is not good if the consequence is to put cyclists in jeopardy.

I shall not be tempted to go into the saga of the waste of so much money on the supertram project by the local authorities in Sheffield. Nor shall I ask the Government how they intend to deal with the likely consequences of that expenditure—an increase in council tax of £40 a year for 30 years for every resident living in the four boroughs affected. However, if the Minister wishes to deal with those points, we shall welcome her responses.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington referred to the Road Traffic Reduction (United Kingdom Targets) Bill, which is to come before the House on Friday. He said that it had been launched today. It is matter of great regret that such an important Bill has been published only two days before it is due to be debated. The fact that it would have a prominent position in the private Member's ballot was known more than six months ago, and it seems to have taken all that time for the details of the Bill to be prepared. We now have a couple of days before it comes up for debate, and we are told that it is to be published today. Contrary to previous hints, we have heard that the Government will accept the Bill. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that and, in so doing, say whether she thinks that the Bill will contribute to further improvements in road safety.

Friends of the Earth claims that the Bill will save our children by cutting traffic. However, parents seem to think that the way to protect their children from traffic and to make their journeys to school safer is by taking them in the car rather than leaving them to walk or cycle. Ergo, cutting traffic would not result in fewer children being at risk from being injured on the roads. Certainly that is not the verdict of parents. I shall welcome any observations that the hon. Lady has on that.

Mr. Kidney

With regard to the knotty problem of children being safe if they walk or cycle to school, parents' experience is that those are not safe forms of transport, and that has led more of them to put children in the back of the car to take them to school. The hon. Gentleman referred to greater investment in safety for cyclists in particular, so clearly he understands that, if we are forced to make less use of the car, it should follow that we must be forced to find more investment for the alternatives.

Secondly, another aspect of road safety is the problem of fumes from cars and the growing incidence of asthma in recent years. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that reduction in traffic would at least be beneficial to future generations of children if they experience lower levels of asthma as a result?

Mr. Chope

I agree that the reduction in noxious emissions from motor vehicles will be beneficial, but we should not forget that that can be achieved even with a constant level of traffic through the application of new technology, and that is what is happening. That is why, even with traffic levels as they are, and they are projected to grow, the total amount of noxious emissions from that level of traffic will fall during the next 10 or 15 years. Beyond that, there is a problem that must be addressed. let us not think that the only way to reduce noxious emissions is to reduce traffic. We can reduce the noxious emissions from each vehicle.

We also have the anomaly that people are concerned about their children's road safety, yet too many children on the journey to school in the car do not wear seat belts. That is a tragedy. Many parents have not yet got the message that their children should wear seat belts whether they are in the front or the back of the vehicle. That is a matter of education as much as enforcement. The Government could put some effort into one of their next road safety campaigns to re-educate parents about the merits of their children wearing seat belts.

12.3 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Glenda Jackson)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills) on introducing again in the Chamber the exceedingly important issue of road safety. He referred to the number of times and the variety of ways in which the House has debated road safety. This is the second time in three months that we have debated the issue on a Wednesday morning, and I make no complaint about that.

My hon. Friend seems to feel that there is a kind of passive acceptance in Britain on road safety matters; but there is a rising tide of concern throughout Britain about transport issues generally, which is why the Government are so committed to introducing an integrated transport strategy—on road safety matters in particular.

Despite the United Kingdom's good road safety record as compared with other countries—a point detailed by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) via the list method—by the time we finish our debate this morning, in all probability five people will have been killed and 60 seriously injured on our roads. I have little doubt that all will regard that as a salutary reminder of how much remains to be done.

On 15 October we announced that we had begun work to devise a road safety strategy and a casualty reduction target for the coming decade. Work is now well under way, and we are trying to develop our strategy in collaboration with others who are active in road safety—local authorities, the police and independent experts—so that we can collect the available ideas informed by experience and expertise.

We trust that there will be wide consultation and are discussing with the Local Government Association and others how that can best be conducted. Road safety is a topic with a particularly strong local element and with local reverberations throughout communities because most casualties happen on local roads. Motorway crashes may grab the headlines, but the terrible tragedies all too often happen locally, as all hon. Members well know from their constituents and as my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon so poignantly reminded us today, as did the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake), whose own family has had dreadful personal experience. Our purpose is to apply properly thought through ideas that will have a practical effect in reducing road casualties.

The United Kingdom now holds the presidency of the European Union, and many member states are concerned, as we are, about road safety. Each member state can learn lessons from others, and the Commission proposes to help by collating Unionwide experience and expertise to enhance and ease co-operation. Road safety must be driven by local circumstances because solutions which have worked in one country may not work in another. Nevertheless, it makes sense to share knowledge, and we support the Commission's efforts to disseminate best practice.

In April, we shall be providing a platform for a Commission-funded programme to persuade people, among other things, to wear their seat belts. The UK has a good record on the wearing of front seat belts but not as regards rear seat belts, which are also an essential safety measure. There will be two conferences, one on safe driving and the other on road safety education. It is no coincidence that the emphasis of both conferences is clearly on the young driver. One of our greatest challenges is to reduce the accident involvement of novice drivers, many of whom are young. My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon was right to point out the cultural and social aspects of that problem. New drivers have more accidents for two reasons: the first is inexperience, which may well be improved by better training and testing; the second is irresponsibility, as my hon. Friend said.

We now know a great deal about new drivers, thanks to a large study conducted by the Transport Research Laboratory of nearly 30,000 drivers who passed their driving test on one of four dates in November 1988 and July 1989. Of those candidates, 18 per cent. had at least one damage-only or injury accident in the first year after passing their test; 6 per cent. of those accidents involved an injury. The study also found that far more of the drivers who had fixed penalty tickets or summonses were involved in accidents. That is why it is important to impress on them the need to obey traffic laws such as speed limits. It underlines the fact that attitudes are as important as skills.

Many young male drivers in particular are extremely good at manoeuvring their vehicles but, because of their attitudes, they are a hazard to themselves and a menace to all other road users. It is that bad driving behaviour that we need to curb. The Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995 is a start. The Act revokes the licences of drivers who tot up six or more penalty points within two years of passing the driving test. It came into operation last June, so it is too early to say how it is operating.

Several restrictions on new and young drivers were discussed by the previous Government in the 1993 "New Driver Safety" consultation paper, which concluded that such restrictions would either be impracticable for Great Britain, bordering on the unenforceable, or have heavy social costs. Most had major cost implications for the Government, or, if self-financing, for the drivers themselves. However, we were not elected simply to reinforce the conclusions reached by the previous Government and we are prepared to look at the measures afresh if they seem likely to promise casualty reductions. I trust that that reassures my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon.

One of those measures was to put back the time at which a person could take a practical driving test to their 18th birthday—a proposal mentioned by my hon. Friend. The conclusion in 1993 was that there was no clear case for doing so. It will be a matter to be addressed in our road safety strategy, but we must recognise that, regrettably, some people are still dependent on being able to drive to get work. We are therefore not talking exclusively about a road safety issue—the point underlines this country's urgent need for a properly integrated transport policy. Research is continuing and any new policy must take the latest findings into account, but all the research so far in this area leads us to the same conclusion—that irresponsibility is a major cause of accidents.

Whatever legal limits we impose—and they must be credible and enforceable—it is attitudes that we need to change. My hon. Friend referred to sentencing policy and the attitudes of juries. I am straying off my departmental territory in this respect, but he raises an important point. The courts are composed of people just like us and not necessarily professional lawyers. Juries and, I dare say, many magistrates are people just like us and have similar views on society. They say to themselves, "This young man is accused of dangerous driving, but perhaps he just chanced his arm and was unlucky, so we shall bring in a verdict of careless driving and pass a light sentence." The police or the Crown Prosecution Service may take the view that they will never make a dangerous driving charge stick, so they opt for charges of careless driving.

I admit that all that is speculation, but my Department and the Home Office intend to conduct real research into developments since the Road Traffic Act 1991 was passed—a matter to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) referred in our previous debate on this issue. We must arrange matters so that the proper level of criticism and opprobrium is brought down on the heads of those who, in many instances, have caused death or serious injury and whose gross lack of responsibility must be highlighted.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon raised the issue of re-testing. There is already an element of re-testing, either of new drivers who offend, or of drivers who have been convicted of dangerous driving offences, or of drivers who are, at a court's discretion, ordered to take a re-test. That illustrates the point about targeting: massive costs would be involved in re-testing everybody in the way that some—although not, I hasten to add, my hon. Friend—have suggested.

We know that casualty accidents are caused by specific groups of drivers, and it is our belief that we should be targeting them. There is no real evidence yet that older drivers are substantially more accident-prone than others. We shall, however, need to consider the matter because there will be many more older drivers in 15 years or so as the population ages and—crucially—as more of them have driving licences. However, testing and re-testing are not necessarily a good way of detecting irresponsibility, and to fail someone without objective evidence of bad driving would put a massive burden on driving examiners.

My hon. Friend referred to the police objectives set by the Home Secretary every year. Various interests have been pressing successive occupants of that office to make road policing a key objective. Last November, my right hon. Friend went further in that direction than his predecessors had done. His letter to chief constables said:

Traffic policing is a central part of the police's responsibilities for maintaining law and order and preventing and deterring crime and reducing death and injury on the roads. I will therefore expect traffic policing to play a full part in achieving my overall objectives for the police service, particularly in relation to community safety and crime reduction, and in achieving a safer environment on the roads. I would also draw attention to our objective of promoting community safety, which encompasses much of the bad behaviour we have been discussing and which brings me to the subject of road rage. It is not a term I like, nor a definition that I would necessarily accept. The term can be perceived as trivialising what we would normally describe as murder or grievous bodily harm. It is as if driving on the roads is some drug taken in all innocence which takes away responsibility for our own actions. There is no excuse for such behaviour.

For the ordinary motorist, aggressive driving usually manifests itself in dangerous driving practices, such as following vehicles too closely, cutting in on other drivers and speeding. Such driving practices often cause accidents. Curiously, researchers have found that some normally calm people admit to losing their tempers when driving, but that some normally angry people are calmer in that situation. As yet, nobody knows why that is so.

Several hon. Members mentioned speed cameras, which are indeed a potent weapon against people who break the speed limit. They are also proved to reduce accidents. We need more of them, and we need the resources to process the results. We are considering carefully the idea that at least some of the revenue from fines, or a separate administrative charge, should be used to finance cameras and the subsequent issue of fixed penalty notices. However, behind that action there remains the need to secure much more widespread observance of limits. It is not only young male tearaways who are to blame: 70 per cent. of people exceed the 30 mph limit and they cannot all be young men, unless the population has changed dramatically and in an exceedingly short time.

I should also refer to a matter raised in the previous debate on this subject by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman)—the advertising of new cars. That is very relevant to the attitudes which my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon rightly identifies as a danger. The House will know that there are codes of practice for printed advertising, run by the Advertising Standards Authority, and for television advertising, run by the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Those codes are aimed, among other things, at advertisements that appear to endorse or promote irresponsible driving or irresponsible attitudes towards driving. That is a matter of some interest in other EU member states. With car manufacturers and others increasingly addressing international markets, Community action is sensible. So the Commission, supported by the UK Government, is trying to broker a Europewide voluntary code of practice.

I urge all hon. Members to refer bad advertising to the ASA or the IBA, whichever is appropriate. My noble Friend Baroness Hayman has done so in respect of two recent advertisements: one for the Volkswagen Passat was withdrawn and the other for the Honda Civic Vti was modified. The more such action is taken by responsible people, the more notice advertisers will take, because it costs their clients money if they have to withdraw advertisements in those circumstances.

The House also discussed drink-driving in our previous debate and hon. Members will know that we shall shortly be consulting on a wide range of measures aimed at further reducing the number of accidents in which a driver or a rider has been drinking—a decision I know my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and others will welcome. I should prefer not to anticipate the outcome of that consultation at this stage.

The most recent Christmas campaign has been and gone, and this time the police changed the way in which statistics were collected. Now that all forces breath-test all the drivers involved in accidents to which they are called, we shall have a useful benchmark against which to measure progress. In past years, it has been impossible to do that properly. Just as public opinion has moved sharply against those who drink and drive, the police, too, take the offence very seriously indeed; hence the increasing number of tests. In 1996 there were 780,000 breath tests in England and Wales and figures for 1997 will be available in the spring.

Given the time still in hand, I trust that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will consider it in order if I touch on some of the specific questions raised in today's debate. I shall begin with some of the questions posed by my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon. Manslaughter was supplemented by the dangerous driving charge in the 1950s because juries were not convicting. Lifetime bans are available to the courts and were used 35 times in 1995—the most recent figures available.

The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) raised the issue of child safety on our roads—and, in particular, the safety of child pedestrians. He touched on a campaign that is being launched in his constituency today which he would have attended had he not wished to participate in the debate. The national child pedestrian campaign was launched only this morning across the road at Westminster school by my noble Friend the Minister for Roads. We hope that it will be extremely successful.

The hon. Gentleman also raised an issue which had a particular poignancy, indeed, a tragic dimension, for some of his citizens: the wearing of cycle helmets. The Government strongly recommend that they should always be worn, because statistics show that 49 per cent. of cycling accidents involve head and facial injuries. We are looking at the possibility of campaigning on that issue this year.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington raised a number of issues, including that of local authorities and speed. If we hand over enforcement powers relating to speed to local authorities, we will, in essence, be decriminalising the offences. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish us to do that. Local authorities are particularly well placed to target the locations in their locality where speed cameras could be positioned.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the selling of devices warning of speed cameras; I was not aware of the problem. The use of such detectors is an offence under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 and cases have, in the main, been successfully prosecuted by the courts. We are not, however, at present persuaded of the case for prohibiting the sale of such detectors, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are keeping the issue under review.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned fixed penalties. We shall be reviewing the level of penalty for road traffic offences later this year. We use the same methods for publicising drink-driving campaigns as for speed campaigns. The hon. Gentleman was entirely right to say that accidents are often caused not so much by excessive speed as by inappropriate speed. As he knows, that is something that the Government are keen to explore, especially in terms of providing children with safe routes to and from school.

I shall now turn to some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Christchurch. It is becoming something of a cliché that, whenever the hon. Gentleman participates in debates, he begins by welcoming cross-party support, then proceeds to attempt to turn the discussions into a party political rant; he did pretty much the same today. I do not think that I need spend much time responding to his complaints about this Government's failure adequately to maintain our roads; nor shall I spend time responding to his comments on the amount of funding for road safety. He is aware that, year after year, his party's Government reduced funding for road safety and road maintenance. Year by year, that Government deprived local authorities of the power to spend such money as they had managed to find, in ways that met the needs of local communities.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the subject of answers to questions about accidents on the Sheffield supertram. As he well knows, inquiries on that subject are the responsibility of the coroner. The hon. Gentleman made allegations about money being—I admit that I am paraphrasing him—mis-spent. The Sheffield supertram came into being while his Government were in office.

One of the hon. Gentleman's most serious allegations today involved driving licence entitlements for insulin-treated diabetes. He averred that the Government had not consulted the British Diabetic Association. My noble Friend the Minister for Roads has sent a letter to every Member of Parliament, one paragraph of which warrants quoting: It is not correct to say, as the BDA's letter does, that there was no consultation on the new requirement. The consultation paper of August 1996 on proposals for implementing the requirements of the Directive covered this issue. It proposed that holders of such licences"— I shall touch on what those licences are a little later—

should retain all their existing entitlements until the licence expired—normally at the age of 70, but earlier in the case of those with short period licences on grounds of health—but should then be required to meet the higher health standards if they wished to renew the CI and DI entitlements. It also proposed that the change would be deferred by a year from implementation of other Second Directive changes, (which came in on 1 January 1997) and would apply to licences expiring from 1 January 1998, so that drivers affected would have time to adjust to the change. (The DVLA has also been writing to drivers before their licences expire, to give them warning.) The car licences issued to insulin-treated diabetics are normally for three years, and so their existing C I and D1 entitlements will expire between now and 2000. The hon. Gentleman's allegation that the Government are simply reacting to some order from the European Union and the Commission could not be further from the truth. The essential issue is that of road safety. It is well established that there are road safety dangers associated with insulin because it can lead to hypoglycaemia, which can cause loss of consciousness, often without warning. The extension of the new rules prohibiting insulin-treated diabetics from driving lorries of between 3.5 and 7.5 tonnes and minibuses with nine to 16 seats is endorsed by medical experts, including the honorary advisory panel on diabetes and driving.

The Government have every sympathy with drivers who lose their entitlements, particularly those who drive such vehicles for a living. But in the light of today's debate, we must take seriously the possible dangers to road users; the advice is clearly based on those who are in the best position to advise politicians of whatever nation. The advisers are medical experts who have given their view of the inherent dangers.

Undoubtedly, on any medical issue, one or two individuals will have a different opinion from others—in this case, the honorary advisory panel. It is the responsibility of the Government to assess potential dangers. I would argue that it is better to err on the side of what some might call over-caution than to increase the already unacceptable statistics on death and injury not only on our roads—as the hon. Member for Christchurch made clear—but on roads throughout the European Union.

Mr. Chope

Will the Government support the Road Traffic Reduction (United Kingdom Targets) Bill on Friday 30 January?

Ms Jackson

I am happy to say that the Government will support the Bill. We believe that it may need to be amended. However, we are very conscious of the fact that—as a wide variety of organisations have said, and as emerged during our seminars on the consultation document on an integrated transport strategy—as a country, we simply cannot sustain a year-on-year growth in road traffic. It is already costing us—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. We must move on to the next debate.