HC Deb 09 March 2004 vol 418 cc1360-4
2. Mr. Archie Normanv (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)

What plans he has to amend the guidelines for siting speed cameras. [159430]

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

The safety camera partnerships have prepared their 2004–05 operational cases on the basis of the "Handbook of rules and guidelines for the operation of the national road safety camera programme", dated 31 October 2003, which includes the criteria for the sitting of cameras. The handbook is kept under review.

Mr. Norman

Will the Minister acknowledge that, although several speed cameras in my constituency have a negligible bearing on safety, the guidelines prevent us from getting a speed camera in the worst accident blackspot in the area—on the A21 at Flimwell, where 11 fatalities and nearly 100 accidents have occurred in the past five years—because the police say that the speed limit cannot be reduced because the traffic goes too fast. We cannot get a speed camera in place exactly because the speed limit is too high. Will he acknowledge that the guidelines for speed limits and speed cameras need to be integrated, so that we can address the problem of the worst blackspots and remove those cameras that have no real bearing on safety?

Mr. Jamieson

I note that the hon. Gentleman has called for a relaxation of the rules on the placing of cameras. That is certainly echoed by a number of authorities around the country that have written to us after we asked them at Christmas whether all their cameras met the criteria, and we will consider that. The police have a certain amount of discretion, but we will look at that. Of course he may want to have a discussion with the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green)—the Conservative spokesman—who has a very different view on such matters.

The hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) says that some of the cameras in his constituency are ineffective. Before a camera was fitted at the A264 Langton road-Langton green junction in December 2000, there were 16 crashes and four people were killed or seriously injured. Since the camera was fitted, there have been two crashes and no one has been killed or seriously injured.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend accept that some people still do not get it? If we could reduce excessive and inappropriate speeds, we could reduce deaths and serious injuries on the roads. If education is the problem, could some more money from speed camera fines be used for education—specifically, for speed awareness courses?

Mr. Jamieson

We have no such intention at the moment. The money from fines goes entirely towards maintaining cameras and ensuring that they are in the right places. I am sure that my hon. Friend has noted, as I have, that although I have asked the hon. Member for Ashford several times to tell us where the 4,000 cameras that are in the wrong places are, as yet we have heard nothing from him. I look forward to hearing him speak at the Dispatch Box today.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con)

Is the Minister aware that, despite the introduction of a large number of speed cameras in Hampshire, the fact is that fatalities in Hampshire have risen over the past two years? Is he aware that a representative of our safety camera partnership—I think that that is a misnomer in any case—is reported as saying: Where we've put cameras, we've had a reduction in casualties… Deaths might have gone up on other parts of the road. I don't know what happens away from our cameras"? Is not that kind of view doing a great disservice to road safety policy? Surely road safety is a question not only of cameras, but of routine policing as well?

Mr. Jamieson

First, the Hampshire partnership informed us that its cameras were in places that met the Department's criteria. Secondly, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman talk to his partnership to find out what has happened on accident reduction in places where cameras have been sited. If he is saying that there are more casualties in his area, he may be arguing for more road safety features, which might include more cameras. He might want to have discussions with the hon. Member for Ashford, who I notice is silent on this matter and seems to have given up on providing the evidence that he says exists to show that 4,000 cameras are in the wrong places.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab)

If anyone can identify one of the useless cameras that is not working, I will do them a deal. I will swap them the road humps that I still have in Warsop in my constituency for a speed camera. I have a whole series of constituents who want speed cameras. If a community wants a speed camera, should it not be able to decide that through a ballot in a referendum instead of being fobbed off with useless excuses about why it cannot have one?

Mr. Jamieson

I know my hon. Friend's views on road humps, and I think that he would agree that finding appropriate measures in a specific area is what reduces the speed of traffic. I know that his view is shared on a cross-party basis because we have received a letter from West Sussex county council, which says of cameras However their activities are somewhat constrained through the strict rules on where cameras can be deployed. I receive many requests from parish councils and others for more flexibility on this issue. The letter is signed by Lieutenant-Colonel Tex Pemberton, OBE, who, I believe, is a Conservative councillor on the council.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford) (Con)

I am always willing to meet popular demand.

The Minister will be aware that when he solemnly announced last week that every single speed camera was in exactly the right place—based on evidence provided by the speed camera partnerships that put them where they were in the first place—he simply made himself look ridiculous. He keeps asking for examples of wrongly placed speed cameras, so I invite him to talk to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, who has just removed hundreds of cameras because they were in the wrong position. What does the Minister say to the Automobile Association, which says: No partnerships are going to say cameras need to be taken down because they would risk not being able to cover their costs … In fact the pressure is on them to keep putting up more cameras just to pay for the ever-rising numbers of staff"? Does the Minister agree with the AA and us that we need a proper independent audit of the cameras to ensure that each one is helping road safety and not just making money for bureaucrats and the Government?

Mr. Jamieson

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman got to his feet, although I do not think that he had intended to do so before I challenged him. First, the Metropolitan police have quite properly reviewed their cameras, as we asked all partnerships to do. The letter that we received from the London partnership told us that all its cameras were in places that met the criteria. The hon. Gentleman is essentially saying that the criteria should be altered or adjusted. He still has not substantiated the comments that he made to the Media around Christmas and new year saying that most of the cameras were in inappropriate places. That is not shown by evidence from councils because I have letters from all the partnerships—if he wants to have a look at them, they are from Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat councils and from chief constables. If he wants to say that cameras are in inappropriate places, he should come before the House with evidence, but so far, he has failed to do so.

Mr. Green

The Minister appears to be deaf, as I have just pointed out that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis said that he wants to remove hundreds of cameras. He may wish to treat the commissioner with contempt, so let us see how he reacts to the chief constable of Durham, a county with a very good road safety record, who writes that the cameras catch vehicles exceeding the speed limit in only 3 to 4 per cent of collisions. He also says—significantly, this is the issue that the Minister consistently ignores—that unlike many police forces Durham has not reduced the number of road policing officers". Is that not the key? The Minister wants more cameras and fewer traffic police, but we want to keep the traffic police and put cameras only where they are needed. Does he agree that it is time to change his policy, which is damaging relations between the police and the general public, and is emphatically not the best way to make our roads safer?

Mr. Jamieson

In the case of Durham, I had asked for an explanation of the reason why casualties had gone up, whereas they have gone down in many neighbouring authorities. The hon. Gentleman has still not dealt with the main point. He has backed off from talking about those 4,000 sites, and I believe that the ought to withdraw that comment. I have received comments from the partnerships, many of which cover areas represented by his party, including his own partnership in Kent. It referred to his remarks in the press, and said: When is the non-sense that is regularly promoted in the national media going to be proactively countered? I urge the hon. Gentleman to counter that impression. He does not have a policy but a posture. He will remain in opposition with those arguments and we will remain in government until he learns that he is not practising opposition but opportunism.

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

Could the Minister tell the House how many motorists who keep within the lay when passing speed cameras are prosecuted? Is it not time that we strengthened the guidelines so that the safety partnerships can consider any site where there has been a personal injury? Should we not give priority to consideration of the families of people who die or are seriously injured on our roads?

Mr. Jamieson

That is the point The policy is not about catching people or raising money but about reducing death and injury on our roads. It has been manifestly shown that, where cameras are sited, there is on average a 35 per cent. reduction in the number of people killed and seriously injured on the road. My hon. Friend makes a good point—people who stick to the law and stay within the speed limit are driving safely. The vast majority of motorists do so, and they are not fined.

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