HL Deb 14 March 1995 vol 562 cc718-9

2.39 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government

Whether they are encouraging police forces to introduce systems for conveying visual messages in words from patrol cars to the drivers of vehicles while travelling on motorways and roads.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, the use of this equipment appears to be a good idea which has road safety advantages. My department is aware that message sign systems such as this are being evaluated by two police forces, the West Mercia Constabulary and the West Midlands Police, on behalf of the Midlands Regional Motorway Police Group. Any recommendations to encourage the wider use of these signs by police forces will be made by the National Motorway Conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her reply. I am glad that the Government approve of the scheme. Does the Minister agree that it could prove to be an effective way of improving traffic flows, especially if the messages are used to guide vehicles into appropriate lanes? As there appears to be provision for 50 prepared messages in each police car, reflecting the usual courtesy of the police perhaps there may be an introductory message such as, "Hello, hello, hello!", and a concluding message for excessive speeding of, "You are nicked!"

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that the system appears to have positive road safety advantages. That is the real import behind the use of the equipment. It will help police to convey messages to drivers without the need to stop them. That is important. The equipment is also being used by the two police forces in a month-long campaign aimed at motorway safety and it will be fully evaluated. The hope is that the recommendations will be positive, not only for those police forces but also with a view to wider use by the police as a whole. In relation to specific messages, for one or two who are caught it could be, "On your bike!".

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, further to my Question of last week in relation to car telephones, can we have a message on the backs of those police cars saying, "Put that damn telephone down; it is dangerous; it is against the law and you are liable for a large fine"?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, 50 messages have been predetermined. I do not know whether there is to be any elaboration on that. We may need to be careful that other road users do not produce replies to some of the messages suggested.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the West Midlands Constabulary does have a sign saying "Put your phone down"?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I was planning to go through all 50 signs. However, the noble Countess is absolutely right.

Lord Mclntosh of Haringey

My Lords, bearing in mind the need for brevity in these messages, would it not be better if they tended to emulate the old Clause Four rather than the new one? More seriously, does not the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, indicate the need for collaboration between different police forces in the effective use of these devices? If that is the case, how is it that different police forces supervising the M.25 have still not reached agreement about the radio messages to be used on that road?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, as regards the noble Lord's first point, it is absolutely true that a longer message does not necessarily lead to greater clarity. As to the second point, that is an operational matter for the police. If they take some time agreeing the matter, the decision made at the end may be a better one.