HC Deb 20 July 2004 vol 424 cc135-8
1. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab)

When he expects to bring forward proposals to amend the law on speed cameras. [184914]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson)

The Road Traffic Act 1991 provides for the use of cameras, and the Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001 provides for their operation to be met from fixed penalty fines. The recent independent review of the first three years of the safety camera programme confirmed its effectiveness, with a 40 per cent. reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured at camera sites. We have no plans to amend the law on cameras. However, when the legislative opportunity arises, we propose to shift from the present three-point fixed penalty for all categories of speeding to establish a band of penalties from two to six points to distinguish between higher and lower offences.

Tony Wright

I am grateful for that answer, but my support for speed cameras somewhat diminished recently after I was done by a camera for driving at 37 mph. I have discovered since that different speed camera areas impose penalties at different speeds, which does not seem right. I have also discovered that there is no proportionality between excess speed and the penalty and points imposed. Will my hon. Friend make progress with the review and introduce more flexibility, because public support for the system will otherwise be eroded?

Mr. Jamieson

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his frankness and honesty. He knows that if he exceeds the speed limit, he runs the risk of getting a penalty. He is right, however, to recognise the concern expressed by many that those who exceed the speed limit by a small amount receive the same penalty as those who exceed it more seriously. It is important for the punishment to fit the crime, so we will look for a legislative opportunity in a road safety Bill to introduce a new penalty points system under which the punishment more accurately reflects the severity of the offence.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con)

What will the Minister do for the increasing number of motorists who appear to be troubled by notifications sent out wrongly by agencies because of inadequate crosschecking of vehicles by speed enforcement agencies or congestion charging agencies?

Mr. Jamieson

The position is very simple. If people want to challenge a speeding offence, they have the opportunity first, to send for photographic evidence, and secondly, to challenge the penalty in court. For parking and other offences, they may go to the local authority, then the adjudicator. There are plenty of checks and balances for people who may be wrongly accused.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab)

As a result of opposition in some quarters, safety camera partnerships are sticking rigidly to the guidance that there must have been lots of casualties at a site during previous years. Does my hon. Friend agree that that sometimes means that avoidable deaths happen because of a lack of speed cameras? Does he agree that a good example of that are those motorcyclists who crash and die at sites where there is no history of previous crashes? Should safety camera partnerships not be allowed the discretion—we should be open about this—to site speed cameras in places where they anticipate that accidents and deaths will happen if there is no intervention?

Mr. Jamieson

As a general rule, we want cameras to be put only in places that meet the strict criteria on numbers of deaths and injuries. As my hon. Friend knows, there is a certain flexibility in the partnership scheme to give the police and local authorities some ability to site mobile cameras, especially in places where they anticipate problems.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con)

I do not want to change the rules.

Mr. Jamieson

The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) may not want to change the rules, but I have letters from Conservative council leaders who want the rules relaxed. He might want to get in touch with his local authorities to find out what they are saying.

Mr. Knight

What is his name?

Mr. Jamieson

Well, I have a letter here from—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Minister should send a copy of the letter to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford) (Con)

I am glad that the Conservative party policy of proportionality for sentencing is gaining more support among Labour Back Benchers. Will the Minister address the serious problem of the number of people killed on the roads? Will he comment on figures from the Kent and Medway safety camera partnership showing that an average of 11 people were killed every year at the worst black spots before the partnership was formed and the cameras put up, but that the average number killed since the partnership started is 12? The project manager for the partnership is honest about that and says: The number of fatalities across the county is staying fairly stubborn … It's not as encouraging as we would like. Will the Minister be equally honest and admit that cameras alone are not cutting the numbers killed on our roads? Does he agree that if he wants to reduce the unacceptable death toll on the roads, he will have to change his blinkered approach?

Mr. Jamieson

We have never said that cameras are the only answer to preventing death and injury on our roads. The hon. Gentleman will know from the figures for Kent of the substantial reduction in the number of people killed and seriously injured where the cameras have been placed. The overall figures for the number of people killed on the roads—I have said that this should not be a party political point—show, sadly, that some of them are motorcyclists, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) said. Incidents sometimes happen on country lanes and in other places where cameras would have no direct effect, so we are considering other measures as well. However, as these are the last Transport questions this term, I hope that before we complete them the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) will tell us where the 4,000 wrongly placed camera sites are, because he has not told us yet.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)

As patron of RoadPeace, I welcome the experiment conducted to allow the organisation's "Remember Me" poster to be placed on the side of cameras. Does my hon. Friend agree that that helps the motorist to put the issue into context—that the cameras are placed there to reduce deaths on our roads?

Mr. Jamieson

I have seen that campaign. We wanted the cameras to be conspicuous and signed because we wanted not to catch people but to slow them down. I have looked at the RoadPeace proposal to put a figure or something at the side of the road depicting someone who may have been injured or killed. We will continue to consider it, but we would not want it to distract drivers and be a further road safety disbenefit. I would also be worried in case such a memorial to someone who had died was defaced, removed or damaged. That could make the grief for the families who have lost someone even greater.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)

The Minister knows of my support for appropriately sited cameras as a tool for reducing casualties and saving lives. Is he aware, however, of recent media reports that call into question the statistical accuracy of the benefits of cameras through something called regression to the mean, which is not taken into account? Will he look into those claims, as it is clearly vital that the public should have full confidence in the benefits of cameras in order to support them?

Mr. Jamieson

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and his party for their support for the road camera partnerships and for reduction of death and injury on the roads. That just shows that there is good sense on the issue in his party, which has yet to prevail in the Conservative party.

I have heard the accusations about regression to the mean. I have some slight capacity in that respect, having been a mathematician before I joined the House, and I still remember some of my statistics lessons. The size of the sample—the number of different cameras involved—means that the accuracy of the figures is robust. I have asked people with a much greater facility in statistics than I to ensure that the figures are correct.