HC Deb 18 May 2004 vol 421 cc803-5
1. Mr Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con)

Whether he has discussed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer ring-fencing revenue raised from camera safety partnerships for road safety purposes. [173493]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling)

The rules of the safety camera programme provide that the resources from speeding and jumping traffic lights are ring-fenced and can be applied solely to safety cameras, enforcement and information.

Mr. Mackay

Surely the Secretary of State realises that that is not good enough. First, speed cameras are raising huge sums of extra money as an alternative form of taxation. Secondly, they are not improving road safety. Thirdly, would it not be better if the ring-fencing, if he needs it, included driver instruction?

Mr. Darling

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, the vast majority of the money that is raised goes back into the cost of installing and operating the cameras. I think that I am right in saying that about £17 million, which is a small fraction of what the Department spends, goes back to the Treasury. The important point is that all the evidence says that speed cameras do reduce the number of serious injuries. The right hon. Gentleman can shake his head if he wants to, but it is worth reflecting on the fact that the last independent study that was carried out showed a 35 per cent. reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured. I would have thought that the time had come when road safety should not be a political football, but an issue that unites all Members of the House in ensuring that fewer people are killed and seriously injured on our roads.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab)

Some parts of the country, such as Staffordshire, have speed awareness courses for offenders who exceed the speed limit by only a small margin. The running costs of those courses are paid by the offenders themselves, but they involve some set-up costs and a little bit of capital. Would it not make sense to allow money from speeding fines to pay for such courses to be available all over the country?

Mr. Darling

I am not sure that I would want to do anything that actively encouraged people to think about collecting fines for the purpose of generating income. As I have said on countless occasions, the best speed camera is one that does not collect a single penny in income because it has persuaded people to slow down.

The House will be aware that the Government shortly want to consult on a more variable scheme that allows fewer points to be imposed where someone is found to have gone marginally over the speed limit, with perhaps a greater penalty if they drive far too fast. One of the options that we want to consider with the Association of Chief Police Officers is whether, as an alternative to fines, we could introduce driver awareness courses. The objective must be to get across to people that speed kills. A person who is hit by a car going at 40 mph has a 90 per cent. chance of being killed. We need to get that lesson across to people. This should not be about raising money, but about encouraging people to drive safely.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford) (Con)

This is a red letter day for Transport questions. For five months, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), the roads Minister, has stood at the Dispatch Box during Transport questions rubbishing Conservative policies on speed cameras; now, the Government have started to adopt them. On 21 April, we produced a 10-point plan for road safety. Two days ago, the Government announced that they would introduce variable penalty points for those caught speeding by cameras—number four of our 10 points. We welcome the Government's conversion. If the Secretary of State adopts one of our policies each time he has to face Transport questions, the world will become a better and safer place. Let me allow him to remove any remaining doubts that all he was doing on Sunday was producing a press release—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Transport questions, and he must put a question.

Mr. Green

Can the Secretary of State tell us when the consultation period on this policy shift will end; and will he commit himself to introducing these changes before the end of this year?

Mr. Darling

What my colleague, the roads Minister, said was that at the beginning of this year the hon. Gentleman implied that some 4,000 cameras were in the wrong place. So far, as at 11 o'clock this morning, we have yet to hear from him about one such site.

In relation to our announcement over the weekend, there is limited value in trading political points as to who thought of what idea first, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to do that, I draw his attention to the fact that of his 10 points, four were already Government policy. As regards the variable system of penalty points, the Government first canvassed that idea in 2002.

However, in the light of the fact that every day 10 people are killed or seriously injured on our roads, would it not be better if we looked at measures that improved road safety, including reducing the speed at which people travel? I would have thought that we now have the opportunity to reach an all-party consensus in relation to such matters. If improvements can be made to speed cameras, let us make them. In addition to that, I hope next month to publish details of all speed camera sites in the country so that people can see why they are there and the difference that they are making.

I also hope to publish a further independent study, and we shall wait and see what progress has been made. However, I am optimistic that the campaign to reduce speed is having an effect.

Mr. Green

The Secretary of State did not answer the question about whether he would commit himself to doing anything about the matter. Of course we all want consensus—that is why I welcome the fact that he is adopting some of my policies. What does he say to the Police Federation, whose chairman said last week: I believe some cameras are there as a revenue generator. I think police get the blame for that. I think it has been quite destructive."? Not only Conservative Members but the police, who have to enforce the traffic laws, say that the Government are wrong. They call for an audit of the position of every camera and we agree. Since the right hon. Gentleman is in the mood to adopt our policies, will he adopt the proposals for an audit of every camera position and end his current stance, which is dangerously damaging to relations between the police and the general public? He should know that, without the support of the police, he will not get better road safety in this country. He says that he is in favour of better road safety-will he adopt 'more of our sensible policies to achieve it?

Mr. Darling

The hon. Gentleman seems more concerned about what he regards as his policies than road safety. On the matters that he raised—inasmuch as I could discern them—we propose, as I said, to consult about a variable points system. We will do that next month and I hope that we can introduce legislation at the earliest opportunity.

The representative of the Police Federation said that some motorists, not the police generally, believe that the cameras are revenue generators. As I said previously, in the light of the controversy, I asked the Department to examine every site in the country with a view to publishing details of each camera site so that people can see why the cameras were put there and the difference that they make. I have no doubt that it will be necessary for me to ask the local partnerships to consider whether cameras should be present on some sites or whether they should be moved elsewhere. However, the vast majority save lives. It is interesting that— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must stop the Secretary of State and emphasise to Front-Bench Members that we have spent 10 minutes on one question. I must move on to Question 2.