HL Deb 03 July 2002 vol 637 cc218-21

2.54 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with progress towards achieving the road safety targets in the 10-year plan.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Government remain fully committed to their road casualty reduction targets for 2010 set out in the strategy document, Tomorrow's Roads: safer for everyone, and will take all necessary measures to achieve them.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. In view of the fact that the recently published road safety statistics show that accidents are increasing, does he agree with the Select Committee in another place, which said that speed is a major factor in road accidents? I shall quote a phrase from the committee: The Government needs to give political leadership". What steps are the Government taking, bearing in mind that they have tightened significantly the criteria for the siting of speed cameras; they have refused to do anything about people using mobile telephones while driving; and the fact that their love affair with the extreme elements of the motoring lobby is quite contradictory to their targets set out in the 10-year road safety plan?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the most recent accident statistics, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, describes them, should be taken in terms of deaths and serious injuries. That is the measure we take. While there has been a slight increase in the number of deaths, there is a continuing decline—as has been the case for many years now—in the number of deaths and serious injuries taken together.

It is quite true that the Select Committee pointed out that speed is one of the most significant elements in road accidents. We continue to keep speed limits under review. I should remind the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that, under certain circumstances, local authorities are empowered, without the need to refer to central government, to reduce speed limits in their own areas. Speed cameras have formed another significant element in speed reduction. There is no doubt that speed cameras work, but it is important that they should be seen by motorists as a means of reducing accidents rather than as a means of raising money for the Treasury. That would reduce confidence in our policies in general.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen

My Lords, evidence shows that between 800 and 1,000 people are killed each year in work-related road accidents. Can my noble friend assure the House that the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive will have sufficient resources to be able to extend their activities into this area of work?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we are aware of the Health and Safety Commission task force on this subject. We have received a report from the Health and Safety Commission on the matter, which has been placed in the Library of the House. We are now considering our response. I hope that there will be no significant delay in the Government's response to this important report.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that a major contribution to road safety has been made by the motorways of this country? Does he further agree that what is now required in order to reduce traffic congestion and gridlock, and to increase road safety, is more motorways?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not think that that follows at all. It is certainly true to point out that two things have happened at the same time: the first is that there has been a continuing reduction in the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads, which is to be welcomed; secondly, accidents on motorways are at a lower level than is the case on other types of road, where the road area is shared by pedestrians and cyclists as well as motor vehicles. It does not follow from that at all that we should have more motorways.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, can the Minister respond in further detail to the question raised by my noble friend with regard to the use of mobile telephones while driving? It is very troubling to see people using mobile telephones while driving at high speeds on the motorway. Do the Government have any intention to legislate in this area?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I think that we have all experienced people using their mobile telephones in what appear to be dangerous situations. I have been overtaken both on the outside and on the inside by drivers carrying mobile phones. It is an offence to drive dangerously and using a hand-held mobile telephone is dangerous. However, it does not follow necessarily that it should be a specific and separate offence to drive while using a hand-held mobile telephone, although that may become necessary if we cannot persuade drivers not to do it. I remind the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that after the wearing of seat belts was made compulsory, it took very many years for the belts actually to be used. We still think that, for the present and until we are convinced otherwise, the existing legislation covers this point.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, does my noble friend agree with the concern expressed by the Select Committee in the other place about the 11 per cent decline in the number of traffic police over the past four years? Can he reassure the House that the Government intend to ask police forces to make traffic policing a priority in the national policing plan?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I can certainly confirm that traffic policing is a part of the general aims and objectives of police forces and is therefore a priority. I am not quite sure what are the numbers of traffic police. The work of traffic police is often integrated with crime prevention and crime discovery activities, which seems sensible. It is often difficult to tell whether a policeman is acting only as a traffic policeman. In any case, it is the use of technology which is very much helping in the reduction of traffic accidents.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, have the figures been split between cars and motor-bikes? The Minister concentrated on cars, but have there been more motorbike deaths and accidents recently? My experience is that motor-bike riders swish through the lumps and bumps in the road, whereas cars have to pull up and go slower.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the figures I gave related to motor vehicles, including motor-bikes. It is certainly true that motor-bikes are much more dangerous for the drivers than passenger cars.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I hope that—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, we really must go on to the next Question. I gave way to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, because she kept importuning me.

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