HC Deb 22 June 2004 vol 422 cc1172-6
7. Mr. David Rendel (Newbury) (LD)

What plans he has to change the number of speed cameras. [179615]

11. Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD)

How many speed safety cameras have been removed in the past month because they did not comply with the siting criteria. [179620]

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

Decisions about increasing or decreasing the numbers of speed safety cameras are made locally by the safety camera partnerships, taking account of the handbook of rules and guidelines issued by my Department. At the beginning of the year, safety camera partnerships confirmed that all their camera sites fully met the deployment criteria. However, approximately 5 per cent. of cameras, although meeting the criteria for placement, may not reduce accidents, and we have asked local authorities and the police to examine other measures to reduce casualties.

Mr. Rendel

The Department for Transport's recent survey into speed camera sites shows welcome reductions in speeding and in the number of people who are killed and injured, including a 43 per cent. reduction in the Thames valley area. Will the Minister accept that he should brave the wrath of the selfish 20 per cent. of drivers who think it more important to avoid fines than to keep people safe on the roads? Will he examine those roads where there are still useful prospects for speed cameras, including, for example, the B4009 in my constituency, where the two fatal accidents in the past two years might well have been avoided if a speed camera had been in use?

Mr. Jamieson

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments on speed cameras, the presence of which has meant a substantial reduction in the number of people killed and seriously injured. One would hope to hear whether the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) has changed his view on the policy. I am sure that he will catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, if he can.

The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) makes an important point. Authorities of all political perspectives, including Tory authorities, have contacted the Department to ask us to relax our rules because they want the cameras put in other places. It is important, however, that such decisions are made locally by local authorities and local police—they understand the local issues best.

Bob Russell

Following the 95 per cent. success rate to which the Under-Secretary referred, I draw his attention to a true story that was published in the Colchester Evening Gazette last week, which stated: The number of people killed or seriously injured at sites where safety cameras are in use in north Essex has dramatically fallen. I want to refer specifically to one of the 17 sites in my constituency. In the three years before safety cameras were installed in Cowdray avenue, there were five serious—some fatal—crashes. In the two subsequent years, there have been none. In the light of that, has the hon. Gentleman received any messages of apology or retraction from politicians who are apparently prepared to envisage death and injury continuing on our roads?

Mr. Jamieson

I have yet to hear from the hon. Member for Ashford in the House or after the correspondence on 29 January, when I wrote to him to ask whether he could tell us the location of the 4,000 sites at which cameras had been installed unnecessarily. When we opened the post this morning, there was still no response.

I acknowledge that there has been a substantial reduction in casualties in the area that the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) represents. We all know about the misery that death causes but should reflect on the misery caused by serious injuries that include lacerations, crushed or broken limbs, brain injury and sometimes permanent paralysis. I am sure that the new shadow Secretary of State wants to revoke any policy to remove the cameras that are successfully driving down casualties.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab)

I am sure that my hon Friend the Under-Secretary knows that the press sometimes reports examples of speed cameras being vandalised, presumably by irate drivers. Are there statistics for the number of cameras that have been vandalised in the past couple of years? What is the Department doing to ensure that such vandalism is kept to a minimum?

Mr. Jamieson

Those who vandalise cameras put people's lives at risk They must answer a question: if a camera is vandalised and out of operation for a period of time, how many people have consequently been killed or injured? I have not got to hand the figures for the number of cameras that have been vandalised but it has happened to only a few and a minority of people are responsible. I hope that Conservative Members would not support such people—a minority who are determined to continue speeding and put people's lives at risk. I am sure that the overwhelming majority of motorists would reject that idea and such action.

Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire) (Lab)

On the assumption that speed cameras are designed to save lives in all our communities, is my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary aware of the perception that there is a far higher proportion of drivers who speed in more affluent than in less affluent areas? Will he assure hon. Members that the cameras are located for genuine reasons, not by postcode?

Mr. Jamieson

The decisions about where to place the cameras are made locally by local authorities and the police. In the past three years, child casualties have fallen rapidly. In particular, the casualty rate among child pedestrians, who are mainly in the built-up areas of our cities, has fallen by approximately 33 per cent. That must be welcome and is another statistic on which Conservative Members should reflect. I hope that the hon. Member for Ashford will be successful in catching your eye so that he can tell us his current policy on the matter.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con)

Although there is clearly an important role for speed cameras, which anyone of sense and reason would accept, does the Under-Secretary agree that the general public must be persuaded that the siting of the cameras is appropriate? Does he accept that some limitation might be placed on the power of cars that are available to young people to prevent over-powered cars from being in the hands of young, irresponsible drivers?

Mr. Jamieson

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that his own Front-Bench colleagues have not shown sense and reason on this matter, but I shall leave the House to reflect on that. It is important that the cameras are placed where there have been high numbers of casualties. The Department set out those rules very clearly, and the response from the partnerships throughout the country was that the sites met those criteria. In all those areas, the vast majority of cameras are now reducing the number of deaths and injuries on the road.

We have looked at the type of vehicles driven by younger drivers. Unfortunately, even some of the smaller vehicles are very high-powered and are certainly able to go at well above 30 mph; some can do well above 100 mph. The issue here is proper training for drivers, and proper enforcement of the law.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) Lab)

Did my hon. Friend see the recent case of the pensioner who was prosecuted for taking his hands off the steering wheel to make a gesture at a speed camera? May I encourage my hon. Friend to make exactly the same gesture at all those who call on him to reduce the number of speed cameras, and who put the rights of people who break the law before the saving of lives?

Mr. Jamieson

As I understand the case, the person who was prosecuted had both hands off the steering wheel, which I would not commend to anyone. In the light of the independent report on safety cameras, I look forward to hearing from the hon. Member for Ashford on this issue. After six months of asking him to withdraw his allegation about the 4,000 cameras, I hope that he will now take back what he said then and put safety ahead of opportunism.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford) (Con)

I am delighted that, this morning, on his own admission, the Minister has withdrawn the absurd claim that he made when he wrote to me in January, that 100 per cent. of the cameras were in the right place. Even he has now admitted that only 95 per cent. are in the right place. He is, however, missing a serious point made in the report that the Government produced last week, which is that there are 384 camera sites at which the number of serious or fatal accidents has increased since the camera went in. If the Minister wants to take the credit for a reduction in accidents at the places where that has happened, he must also take responsibility for the increase in accidents at those 384 sites. Has he told the camera partnerships to take down the cameras that are making our roads more dangerous, and if not, why not?

Mr. Jamieson

The hon. Gentleman is now wriggling. What I asserted back in January was that we had been told by the partnerships—many of which are led by Conservative authorities—that all the cameras were in places that met the Department's criteria. The independent report that we commissioned and published has shown that about 5 per cent. of the cameras—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman would be quiet for a moment, he would be able to hear what I am saying. The report has shown that, although the cameras are in the right place and meet the criteria, 5 per cent. of them are not having the effect that we want them to achieve. But does that not mean that 95 per cent. of them are having the effect that we want? The hon. Gentleman should now go back and reconsider his policy of taking cameras away because they are ineffective. It seems that the only person on whom that policy has been imposed is the former shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May).