I am delighted to introduce a debate on a most important subject that is of considerable interest to many people, both in this House and in the country.
I wish to put on record my thanks—and, I suspect, those of hon. Members on both sides of the House—to my predecessor the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), who did so much to achieve success in the broad area of road safety.
Last year more than 5,000 people were killed and more than 300,000 were injured in road accidents. In other words, in a single year 100 of the constituents of every Member of this House were killed or seriously injured in road accidents. They are the sort of people we meet every day in our constituency activities. We probably all know a family that has been devastated by the death of a child in a road accident. Many of us have teenage children—I have two young children—and so we understand only too well the concern felt by parents for children of that age. Two out of every three teenagers who die accidentally are killed on the roads.
That terrible loss of life is not the result of a natural catastrophe that is somehow beyond our control; it is a disaster of human making that we can and must tackle. Because of its importance, the Government have carried out a full inter-departmental review, of road safety policy. That review, which reported in 1987, analysed the problems, examined what was realistic and practicable, and provided us with a structured framework for reducing those road casualties by a third by the year 2000.
In making its analysis, the review carefully studied what could be learnt from the experiences of other countries. The broad pattern seen in the United Kingdom was mirrored in most developed countries. We had, and still have, the best overall road safety record in the European Community in terms of road deaths both per head of population and in relation to miles travelled. We have a particularly good record for car users, but rather less so for pedestrians and cyclists. As children make up a larger proportion of those groups, we have a relatively poor record on child safety. That part of the study, therefore, gave us a clear indication of where we should concentrate our efforts.
The review examined the effects of past measures that had contributed to the reduction in casualties over the previous 15 to 20 years. That was a complex process because of other changes in behaviour, travel mode and attitudes to one's own and other people's safety. Some actions by central and local government had clearly been particularly significant. They included infrastructure improvements such as the building of motorways, which are eight times safer than other roads—we are, after all, meeting a day after the 30th birthday of the building of the M1—urban bypasses, which are often three times safer than the roads they replace; town centre pedestrianisation; improvement in road lighting; the construction of safety barriers, and other low-cost, high-return safety engineering techniques. Changes in road traffic law, notably the introduction of compulsory seatbelt wearing and breath testing for alcohol, have also made a major contribution. Education and driver and rider training, although less tangible, also played a significant part.
In the light of the review, the Government decided to focus on three areas: The first was to raise the level of public awareness and response so that road safety was not seen simply as the Government's responsibility, but that everyone should play their part. The second was to target the most vulnerable road users—that is to say children, the elderly, pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists. The third was to use proven, cost-effective methods that could be forecast robustly and would cut casualties by calculable amounts, especially in the areas of vehicle and road engineering.
My hon. Friend may be aware that I represent a constituency which does not have any motorways but which, sadly, has had a number of young fatalities recently. Indeed, there are a number of them every year. He has not yet touched upon the contribution that the speed limit can make to road safety, and I wonder whether his Department would uniquely consider the Isle of Wight for a uniform speed limit, as already exists in the Channel Islands. I wrote to the county surveyor about that matter some time ago.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who speaks uniquely for the Isle of Wight, and with every strength and on every possible occasion. This is yet another excuse to visit his delightful constituency, to see the province at first hand. I shall ensure that my office is aware of his concern and we shall have a look at the matter. This is a serious point which he has developed at some length with his county surveyor, whose response I shall be interested to see.
Based on the review's assessment of what such measures could achieve, we adopted the target of reducing road casualties by one third by the end of the century. This is a tough target which cannot be attained by the Government alone. It will need the combined arid sustained efforts of everyone involved in road safety.
So, following the report, we consulted widely on how to achieve its aims. The first fruits of that exercise were set out in the report placed by my predecessor in the Library in July 1988. There was wide support for the proposed approach and a welcome commitment from the local authority associations—together with a work plan for the first few years of the target period. This summer we updated that with a further report and action plan which we circulated widely to all involved. It was warmly welcomed.
In Government priorities, four sectors are being addressed—the road, the vehicle, the driver and the vulnerable road user. I shall deal first with the road. We recently announced in the White Paper "Roads to Prosperity" our plans for a £12 billion road building programme over the next 10 years. The building of roads is often seen by the public and press solely in terms of increased mobility—the reduction of congestion and shortening of journey times. These, of course, are important objectives, but the aim is also to provide safer roads for vehicles and their occupants. Equally important, by moving traffic out of town centres, we can separate it from other road users such as pedestrians and cyclists and thereby improve their safety. All major road building developments are subject to a cost-benefit analysis. It is very important that this analysis gives full weight to casualty savings. We have looked at this carefully. The value to be placed on saving a fatality has been increased to £500,000 and work is in progress on revaluing serious injuries.
The Minister is making an important point. In the cost-benefit analysis. Have there been or are there likely to be any changes in the analysis of road building costs comparative to the costs of improving public transport or building railways, or improving railway services? That would reduce road usage, which would be a factor in improving road safety.
We give a great deal of attention to casualties and how they are caused across the whole of transport provision. I could not give the hon. Gentleman an immediate answer on the technicalities of the calculation. If he would like to write to me—
I should be delighted to write to the hon. Gentleman and give him the technical answers so that next time he intervenes he will know as much about it as I do. He makes a serious point about safety, which has been well taken. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin), who handles aviation and shipping matters in the Department, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield. Southgate (Mr. Portillo), who looks after public transport, are giving these matters important consideration, because they are fundamental to all that we do.
Large-scale road building is not the only way that highway engineers can improve road safety. Local road safety schemes involving low cost remedial measures at problem sites can make a substantial contribution to reducing accidents. These can involve as little as the provision of new signs, road markings or lighting and can extend to resurfacing, junction improvements or the installation of traffic lights or roundabouts. Such schemes are extremely cost-effective. In the summer, we announced that we would be doubling our spending this year on such schemes on trunk roads to £10 million. We are anxious that local authorities should increase the number of schemes on local roads, where most accidents occur. Together we set up a joint task force last year to identify factors which constrain the rate at which schemes are implemented and to recommend ways in which performance can be increased. The task force reported in July, one of its recommendations being that a proportion of transport supplementary grant should be earmarked for schemes on all roads and not just those of more than local importance. Because of the value of these schemes, I have decided that we should give the matter very careful thought, in consultation with the local authority associations, and as long as I can be satisfied that the proposed changes would not give rise to any insurmountable problems in relation to the principles of the system, I am prepared to consider them in the next TSG round.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support, as in this matter his experience makes him realise the importance of what I have said. I cannot at this stage be specific. I am working as hard as I can to ensure that the change is incorporated as quickly as possible. In truth, the decision was taken only recently and we are still exploring the ramifications. I undertake to do this as quickly as I can.
My hon. Friend will know that Dorset has only one trunk road, so the vast majority of road building falls upon the transport supplementary grant. Therefore, although the 50 per cent. coming from the Government is extremely welcome, the other 50 per cent. that must be provided locally is difficult to find. Has he given any consideration to increasing the number of trunk roads, particularly north-south, in Dorset?
My hon. Friend is expecting a little much of me, in a debate such as this, to give him chapter and verse of the road structure of Dorset. His intervention gives me an ideal opportunity to come to Dorset to inspect the road structure at first hand, and I shall be delighted to do so. Perhaps my hon. Friend would care to pursue the matter with me after the debate and we can explore what we can do to assist and improve the road structure—I am sure that it is already very good, but everything is capable of being improved—within his constituency and within the county.
Site specific schemes are very effective in dealing with accident blackspots, but in a typical urban area, over half the accidents are scattered diffusely. These include a high proportion of pedestrian and cycle accidents, especially involving children. We therefore launched a major urban safety project for the development of area-wide traffic management systems for improving safety. These involved road engineering to discourage "rat-running" through residential areas, with road humps and selective road narrowing to reduce vehicle speeds. Five demonstration schemes have now been implemented around the country and the initial analysis has shown a reduction in casualties of between 15 and 30 per cent.
In addition to schemes designed specially to achieve casualty reduction, significant benefits can be obtained by ensuring that all road works affecting the highway, whatever their main objective, are designed with safety in mind. This can be done at the design stage and by subjecting all schemes to a safety check by staff not associated with the original design. Such a "safety audit" will shortly become standard practice on the Department's own schemes.
The second of our objectives is the vehicle. There are already large potential savings in casualties in improvement in vehicle design. The Transport and Road Research Laboratory has been a world leader on design improvement that could reduce casualties. Our present task has two objectives. The first is to encourage manufacturers to start introducing some of these improvements without waiting for legislation. Like other hon. Members, as a Member with a constituency interest in a truck and bus manufacturer, I am only too well aware of the pressure on it, not only from the public generally but from me, for improvements. Customers today are demanding higher standards of safety. Older drivers, whose numbers are rapidly increasing, have made it clear that they attach as much weight to safety and comfort as to speed and high acceleration. The example of Volvo in successfully marketing the safety of its vehicles is one that others would do well to emulate.
Secondly, we are pressing for better vehicle safety standards within the European Community. Where vehicle construction standards need to be agreed, we know exactly which features would save most lives.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I welcome many of the improvements in bus design, and the Volvo has a high standard. Will the hon. Gentleman also turn his mind to the problem of access for less mobile people? Basic bus design is old fashioned, and it is possible to have much lower access to buses and lower floors, with a slightly different layout design. Less mobile people would then be able to use buses more safely and easily.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman congratulated a firm which makes buses in my constituency. His point is entirely fair and one that we make continually. My advisory committee on the disabled raises the matter with me regularly, and I reflect its anxieties to manufacturers whenever possible.
Where vehicle construction standards need to be agreed, we know exactly which features save the most lives and those should have priority. The Commission has a real contribution to make and we wish to work closely with it. This does not involve it in matters outside its proper competence which are best left to national Governments, such as how much alcohol people may lawfully drink or the speed at which they can travel on roads.
Will my hon. Friend discuss the use of anti-lock brakes within the framework of the Community? He will be aware of the contribution of anti-lock brakes on aircraft and that 15 per cent. of accidents on roads arise from skidding. Anti-lock brakes would make a major contribution to solving that problem. Will he consider that?
I have anti-lock brakes on my car and I appreciate their importance in keeping me on a safe course in the event of an accident. My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I shall look at it most closely.
We could save 10,000 deaths or serious injuries to car occupants per year with the measures to which I referred earlier. They include better protection against the side of a car impacting against another car or obstacle, and a better design of steering wheel which will reduce facial injuries to drivers. I was pleased to support the launch of a new steering wheel on the new 200 series of Rover vehicles at the Motor fair a few weeks ago. The manufacturers and TRRL put a great deal of work into producing that world-leading design. Likewise, thousands of deadly injuries to pedestrians and motorcyclists could be avoided if cars were to be designed with a more "pedestrian-friendly" front.
A further category where substantial savings could be achieved is in protection for motorcyclists. Some motorcyclists have sometimes argued that they should have complete freedom to choose the motorcycle that they like without paying attention to safety features. My hon. Friends will not be surprised to learn that I am all for freedom but at present the freedom does not exist. Our research shows that substantial benefits can be obtained from better protection of motorcycle riders, not just to the legs, although that would be an important benefit, but against frontal impact, for example through the provision of airbags. Yet, at present no manufacturer offers such features on its normal production run of motorcycles, so motorcyclists are denied the choice of safety features, even if they want them.
I am also anxious further to improve bus safety, which we touched on a moment ago. We already have a good record. We were among the first in the world to have a stability test to prevent overturning. We have new measures in progress to reduce the risk of people being trapped in automatic doors on buses—something that has caused great anxiety especially among elderly people.
More remains to be done. We are particularly anxious to encourage greater safety among children. We want to ensure that the buses provided are safe and in particular are fitted with seatbelts. I am pressing manufacturers to include seatbelts on all seats and we are encouraging schools to request seatbelts when they charter coaches. Every parent should encourage his or her school to do that.
A further area where we are looking for improvements is on better access for disabled passengers, especially to enable easier boarding and alighting. Again we are encouraging manufacturers to bring forward improvements voluntarily, without waiting for legislation. But legislation may still be needed. This will require agreement within the European Community. As with many other matters which are not given the attention that they deserve, the United Kingdom is taking a leading role in pressing for early agreement on better bus standards. in keeping with the aim of harmonisation of standards within Europe to achieve a high level of safety.
The Government's third priority is to influence driver behaviour. The most direct way of doing that is through legislation, and a substantial body of road traffic law is designed to maintain and improve road safety. Earlier this year we published our response to the road traffic Law review—the so-called North report. In the White Paper, "The Road User and the Law", we set out the Government's proposals to establish a closer link between the requirements of the law and the road safety and traffic benefits that it is designed to achieve. We aim to hit hard the bad driver and the drink-driver, and to ensure that those who drive badly or under the influence of drink are properly punished. The key measures include replacement of the present reckless driving offence by a new dangerous driving offence aimed more at the observable standard of driving and less at the drivers' state of mind; a new offence, with up to five years imprisonment, of causing death by careless driving while unfit through drink or drugs, and other measures against drink-drivers; a new extended driving test for drivers disqualified for the main bad driving offences; use of modern technology to detect speeding and traffic light offences; and a major experiment in rehabilitation for drink-driving offenders.
Meanwhile, we have already taken steps to extend the high-risk offenders scheme. Under the scheme, the worst drink-drive offenders—those disqualified at two and a half times or more over the limit or for refusing to provide a specimen—are required to satisfy the medical authorities that they do not have a drink problem and are otherwise fit to drive before their licences are returned.
The law alone will not stamp out drink-driving or prevent people from driving badly. We have to change people's attitudes. Drinking and driving is the largest single cause of road accident deaths in this country. Nearly 1,000 people are killed each year in accidents where the driver or rider has been drinking over the legal limit. At night nearly half the drivers killed have alcohol levels above the legal limit. That is why we are concentrating our publicity effort against drink-driving. I am pleased to report that this is meeting with some success. Research carried out for the Department of Transport into the effectiveness of its advertising, measuring changes in attitudes to drink-driving, shows that the number of people driving after drinking has almost halved over the past 10 years from 29 per cent. to 16 per cent. Recently published statistics show a 5 per cent. fall in the number of breath tests found positive after accidents. That evidence is supported by coroners' statistics.
The police have made an enormous contribution to combating the menace of the drink-driver. They have increased considerably the resources that they put into enforcing the law. The number of breath tests that they administer is now approaching half a million a year. Last year the police asked for their powers to breath test to be extended, as hon. Members know. Earlier this year the Home Office invited comments on whether there should be any change in police powers to require breath tests. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will be studying the outcome of that consultation exercise as one of his priorities, and hopes to make an announcement shortly.
Even where the driver is not under the influence of drink, research shows that over 90 per cent. of accidents involve human error. We simply do not know enough about human behaviour to understand such things as why people take risks, why they fail to see a pedestrian or why they misjudge distances and speeds. An increase in our knowledge of these matters could be of enormous benefit in reducing road accidents by enabling us to design roads and vehicles better to minimise the chance of error. We have therefore set up a programme of behavioural research to provide the building blocks from which we can hope to begin to find answers to those questions. It is long-term strategic research with potentially huge returns. Our road and vehicle safety research programme now exceeds £8 million a year and includes over £500,000 for long-term strategic research into driver behaviour.
Motor cyclists are vulnerable road users, in that they are eight times more likely than car drivers to be involved in an accident and 40 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured. More than 40 per cent. of motor-cyclist casualties are under 20 years of age. Those statistics have provided us with a six-point package of measures to make motor cycling safer.
First, next year all motor cyclists will have to undergo basic training by qualified instructors before they can take their motor cycles on to the roads. Secondly, they must then take the test for a full licence within one year, rather than the two years that are currently allowed. Thirdly, as from 2 October, the test is now more demanding, with the examiner following the candidate around the test course on a motor cycle. Fourthly, we are supporting a proposal by the European Commission to restrict newly qualified riders to lower-powered machines for the first two years after they have passed the test. Fifthly, car drivers will have to undergo the same basic training as other motor-cycle and moped riders before their provisional entitlement comes into effect. Finally, learner riders will not be able to carry pillion passengers.
We are taking urgent steps to ensure that we obtain enough examiners. I cannot wave a magic wand and solve the problem overnight, but it is certainly a priority.
Pedestrians are among the road users at greatest risk, yet are the most difficult to protect. More than a third of all people killed on the roads—over 1,700 each year—are pedestrians, and a large proportion of those are children and elderly people.
One of the most important ways of protecting pedestrians is to slow down the traffic in residential areas. I have already described the urban safety project involving the use of speed-reducing techniques. We shall shortly be introducing regulations to make it easier and cheaper for local authorities to provide road humps, and we shall also be relaxing the regulations for pelican crossings. I shall be inviting views on the possibility of more widespread use of 20-mph speed limits in conjunction with area-wide "traffic-calming" schemes.
Many pedestrians are run over because they are not seen by car drivers. Last Wednesday I launched a conspicuity campaign on the theme "See and be seen", directed at persuading vulnerable road users—pedestrians, cyclists, motor cyclists and horse riders—to wear or carry something that can be seen easily by drivers. Pedestrians, however, must also be taught to look after themselves.
That brings me to the third identifiable group of vulnerable road users—children. Their vulnerability, and its tragic consequences, was highlighted in the BBC television programme "Watchdog" earlier this week. Education and training must be the key to improving our record on child safety. Good pre-school road safety training can help to avoid casualties among children as they grow older. We are about to launch a pilot "traffic club", in co-operation with the General Accident insurance company and local authorities.
Let me record the thanks of my Department—and, I think, those of road users generally—to companies such as General Accident and the many others that take such enormous trouble and put so much effort into supporting and encouraging such schemes, particularly those involving children.
The hon. Gentleman is extremely cynical, but I think that I understand what he is saying.
The pilot scheme will provide parents with road safety material suitable for their child's age. The project will cover some 500,000 children, who will receive an initial package on their third birthday and another every six months until they start school.
Once at school, children can be taught road safety as a subject in its own right. I welcome the initiative shown by some head teachers in introducing road safety into their school curricula, and I hope that more schools will follow. Together with the motor-cycle industry, we provide support for former motor-cycle ace Dave Taylor, who tours schools throughout Britain bringing home the road safety message to both pupils and teachers.
Have the Government considered putting road safety into the national curriculum? Ensuring that children are educated in road safety would then be a legal requirement, and would no longer be left to the more progressive and far-seeing teachers.
As the hon. Gentleman will understand, that is a matter for the Department of Education and Science, and I am in regular contact with the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth). We certainly intend to see what we can do to bring road safety into the formal structure of the curriculum. I am delighted that it is being given its present degree of priority, but the hon. Gentleman has made a fair point with which I have considerable sympathy.
It is possible, then, to make road safety part of the wider curriculum. Last month we launched a "Safe Journey to School" competition, aimed at pupils aged between eight and 12. Children, parents, teachers and school governors will work together to devise alternative, safer routes to school. In the process the children will become more aware of traffic hazards, and will develop skills and techniques to deal with them: thus the general awareness of the school community of traffic danger will be enhanced. An inter-active video will make children more aware of road hazards generally.
We are also developing teaching resources for use in the national curriculum. By using road safety statistics in mathematics or vehicle stopping distances in physics, children will gain a heightened awareness of road safety while studying core curriculum subjects. Regulations making compulsory the wearing of seat belts by children in the backs of cars came into force on 1 September and constituted a major step to improve child safety. More than 60 children are killed and more than 7,000 injured each year while travelling unrestrained in the rear of cars. Three quarters of those lives could be saved and two thirds of those injuries avoided if all wore restraints.
Cycling is another activity in respect of which we are concerned predominantly with child safety. The cycling proficiency team organised by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, aimed at teaching children aged nine or more to ride bicycles safely, is to be relaunched as "Cycleway". I am assured that it is not going to be scrapped, as some press reports have suggested. About 300,000 children pass the test each year—almost 50 per cent. of the age group—and I am sure that that initiative, which will involve teachers more closely, will result in more children being better prepared for our roads. ROSPA will continue to award certificates and badges to children who pass the test.
The Minister will be pleased to learn that I passed my cycle test at school. Will he have discussions with the cycle dealers and their associations to ensure that when children in the appropriate age group buy a bicycle, or one is bought for them, they are given the maximum possible encouragement to undergo training and to take a test?
I am fairly certain that that happens a good deal already, but if we can improve on the present position I shall be happy to do so. My own children, aged 13 and 10, both own cycles, and have been told in no uncertain terms that they must take the test. I hope that other parents will tell their children the same, particularly with Christmas coming up and the possibility, indeed probability, of more children being given bikes. I should add that, as my children already own bicycles, they will not feature among the presents that they will receive this Christmas. I hope that they will not read this!
The County Road Safety Officers Association, with the help of my Department and of General Accident, has provided a highway code for young road users which provides sensible advice on safe cycling. We are currently working on the production of a public information film to encourage the wearing of cycle helmets, particularly by children. I shall continuing to give high priority to improving child safety, and to developing the necessary measures with the help of all concerned.
Last but not least among the most vulnerable road users are the elderly. Almost 30 per cent. of all pedestrians killed on the roads are over the age of 60. The new proposals for traffic calming will be of particular benefit to older people—both pedestrians and motorists—as will other measures announced in our pedestrian safety package last spring.
Many interesting and important ideas were aired at a seminar that I addressed last Tuesday on the subject of the older driver, arranged by the Automobile Association. I look forward with keen interest to receiving the report and proposals aimed at improving the safety of older motorists on which the AA and the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention are now working.
What is clear from all these activities and initiatives to which I have referred is the important role which everybody, both as individuals and through the institutions of which we are part, can play in improving road safety.
A moment ago I mentioned vehicle manufacturers. They have done much to design safer cars and make available safety features, such as anti-locking brakes, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jacks) referred so cogently. But the impression given by vehicle advertising is that there is only one manufacturer who sees safety as a primary selling point. It seems to me that all too often the central feature of the promotion of a new car is its acceleration, or the extent to which it is capable of exceeding the legal speed limit. I do not think that it is enough to say, "That is what people want". Indeed, I note some countries have agreed a code of practice with their industries to avoid purveying such a message. Advertising forms attitudes as well as responding to them.
There is also a role for insurance companies. If, as in the United States and Sweden, they published accident and casualty rates of different makes and models of cars, the consumer would be able to make an informed choice. Of course there are other factors. No doubt sports cars have a worse record than family saloons because they are driven by different types of people, but that is no reason why someone who is in the market for a family saloon should not have information on the relative safety records of different models.
I very much welcome the voluntary agreement of the motor insurance industry to bring to an end policies which provide protection against the consequences of disqualification from driving for alcohol or drug-related offences. Similarly I welcome the clear signal given by Pearl Insurance in withdrawing cover from drivers involved in accidents when their blood alcohol level is above the statutory limit. I hope that others will give equally clear signals to the drinking driver.
My hon. Friend referred to excessive speeds. Would he dare to think the unthinkable and explain to the House why motor vehicles are produced all over the world that are capable of being driven at 120 mph? Is it perhaps for use in people's driveways, or is there some other area that has escaped my notice where such speeds can be attained in this country?
My hon. Friend has asked a very good question. It is one for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders as much as for me. I used to drive a little old sports car quite quickly. I have since realised the folly of my ways, but I think that acceleration forms as much a part of it as the high speed at the top of the range. However, my hon. Friend has made a fair point which he should continue to address both in public and in private to those who are in a position to answer.
There have been other notable initiatives. Autoglass has provided splendid prizes for the "Safe Journey to School" competition and 3M has given its support to the conspicuity campaign. Britax has helped us to publicise the child seat belt law and Kwik-Fit has run an award winning campaign promoting the use of child restraints. There must be many other private companies with an interest in road safety. I hope that they can be persuaded to take an initiative in support of the national effort to cut casualties. After all, enlightened self-interest is a great motivator for improvement.
I welcome, too, the splendid support for the campaign against drinking and driving given by the drinks industry. The brewers, publicans and soft drinks manufacturers have not only reinforced our message that drinking and driving do not mix but also can take credit for making it socially acceptable to decline to drink alcohol. They have introduced and promoted a range of alcohol-free and low-alcohol beers, wines and ciders which make it possible for a driver to feel socially at ease while avoiding alcohol. This is particularly important to young men, who are the main target of our publicity against drink-driving.
Finally, there is a group with perhaps the most important role and responsibilities in road safety—the local authorities. Without question, even with all the support and goodwill of the private sector, achieving the target of reducing road casualties by one third will depend on the commitment and co-operation of local government. Seventy five per cent. of all casualties occur on local roads. Bus and train users are as vulnerable as—indeed, more so than—car users as they cross roads at each end of their trips to reach their destinations. Only local highway authorities can implement safety schemes on these roads. The local authority road safety officers are on the front line of education and training, providing education material to schools and promoting road safety projects.
From my experience on a local authority, I can say that the status of road safety officers is not always what it ought to be. Too often they are stuck in offices at the back end of the building, and the committee to which they respond comprises members of the authority who perhaps are not in the forefront of day-to-day council activity. That must change. The road safety officer must be one of the most important people among council officers. The road safety sub-committee must become a committee in its own right and must have a say in all matters relating to transport.
The local authority associations have recommended that each authority should set a local casualty reduction target and produce a road safety strategy for meeting that target. They have produced guidance to their members on how to go about this in their "Road Safety Code of Good Practice". This is an excellent document which I recommend hon. Members to read, if they have the time, and which I wholeheartedly welcome.
I am currently engaged in a round of regional meetings with local councillors and their chief executives and have been struck by their interest and commitment. To provide the missing link between the national targets and these local targets we agreed to set regional casualty reduction targets and to monitor progress towards achieving them at the next and subsequent regional consultative meetings.
In a wide-ranging speech, for which I make no apology, I have outlined at some length the Government's approach to tackling the scourge of road casualties. There are two aspects which are of the highest importance. First, there is the hard-nosed process of identifying where our record is poorest, concentrating on proven casualty reduction measures, analysing what is achievable in numerical terms, setting targets and monitoring what has been achieved.
Secondly, there is the need to change attitudes throughout society, to bring home to people the scale of the human disaster that is going on around us, to make them recognise that this is not someone else's problem but that of the whole of society.
Every individual road user must be made aware of his or her duty of care to others and to himself or herself. Parents must instil in their children the fact that the roads are the most dangerous place where they are ever likely to be. Teachers in the classroom, doctors in their surgeries, Members of Parliament in their constituencies, the press and television all have a responsibility to advise and educate. Vehicle manufacturers can make their products safer and can market safety in their advertising. Every private company in this country can improve road safety by ensuring safer driving by their employees. Some can contribute directly by developing and marketing new safety products. Others can sponsor road safety projects both locally and nationally.
I can assure the House that the Government are committed to playing their full part in the war against this senseless loss of human life; but that war can be won only by the concerted effort of every company, every institution and every individual in this country. Without that, 3 million people will die or be injured on Britain's roads over the next decade.
In recent years under this Government transport safety has become a major focus of public concern—not, regrettably, because of their attention to road safety, which we acknowledge, but because of the unprecedented series of transport disasters: in the air, at sea, on the railways and on London Underground. While these tragic events serve to concentrate the mind on specific safety issues and on what we believe to be the Government's neglect of the public sector, it is the relentless toll on our roads that must rightly occupy our thoughts today.
For every minute that we are debating the matter this morning, one person will be injured in a road accident. Furthermore, as the Minister has acknowledged, the victims of road accidents are, disproportionately, the most vulnerable members of our society—children and the elderly. The Opposition are acutely aware of the fact that we have some of the worst safety statistics in Europe when it comes to children on our roads. We acknowledge that attempts are being made to reduce the number of accidents in Britain and we wholeheartedly welcome the Government's target to reduce accidents by one third by the year 2,000. I am happy to join the Minister in paying tribute to the former Minister, the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), for his work.
However, as the Minister has reminded us, during 1988 over 5,000 road users died and over 300,000 were injured in road traffic accidents. In addition to the enormous emotional cost of this tragic loss of life, the social cost is in excess of £4 billion. The accident figures could be dramatically reduced if a variety of measures were put into practice.
Road safety is an equity issue. At present, cyclists and pedestrians run a disproportionately high risk of being killed or seriously injured as compared with people who travel in cars or on buses. Pedestrian injuries are increasing. Last year, nearly two fifths of all people killed on the roads were pedestrians and cyclists. Furthermore, as the Black report showed, children from economically deprived backgrounds are most at risk from road accidents. Surely it is ironic that the most inherently safe and environmentally benign modes of transport—walking and cycling—produce the most casualties.
The Government have responded to the particularly pressing problem of child accidents on the road with a programme of education which the Minister has outlined today. While we commend the launch of the major pilot on pre-school traffic clubs, we believe that there is a case for a general duty to be placed on schools to teach road safety. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and I hope that road safety will be introduced into the national curriculum and that the national curriculum will not interrupt the programmes that some schools have already started.
However, there is a fear that those good measures will be lost in the wider measures of Government policy. Educated children would not only be aware of their own safety needs, but would recognise the huge deficiencies in Government transport planning which directly impinge on safety. The reductions in Government financial assistance to public transport are a scandal. High prices and poor standards of service and safety resulting from the cuts in subsidy force people to make more journeys by private car. Indeed, the Minister's own advisers predict dramatic increases in private car use in the next 20 years.
What real hope can there be for achieving the Government's targets on road safety when they have no coherent policy for public transport? Only yesterday, British Rail and London Regional Transport announced average price increases of 9 and 10 per cent. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether he expects any increase in road accidents as a consequence of those price rises. In London, when fares were increased by 100 per cent. following the Law Lords' ruling on the GLC's Fares Fair policy, accidents increased in London by 3,000 per annum. An expert study carried out by Professor Allsop of University college concluded that there was a linear relationship. Thus, we expect an increase in road accidents as a consequence of yesterday's fare increases. Not only will those increases deter people from using public transport by price; they will also result in a poorer service. As the Minister knows, the Government's decision to cut public money in revenue support led the operators to seek increases 50 per cent. higher than those announced yesterday. Clearly, they believed that increases of twice the rate of inflation were required to finance the improvement and investment programmes they seek to undertake without Government support.
Does the Minister honestly believe that the state of public transport in Britain, particularly in London, will not continue to force people onto the roads and into private cars? That is not the only area of Government policy which is at odds with their commitment to road safety. Where is their real commitment to traffic-calming measures and accident investigation and prevention? The Minister has said much about experiments and future good intentions, but we want to see them in practice. Not nearly enough is being done. Experts from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the Association of London Authorities and the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety have all pointed to the vital importance of local measures in the urban environment that can save lives. Sadly, the Government's laudable aim of reducing accidents by one third by the year 2000 is unlikely to be reached because their general philosophy in transport is profit first. It also appears that there is a certain amount of inertia in the Government in implementing new legislation.
The Minister referred to the White Paper "The Road User and the Law" which could make many useful contributions to road safety, but will anything on it be included in the Queen's Speech? It would be highly regrettable if it were not and I hope that the Minister will assure us that that vital piece of legislation will be included in the coming Session.
The Opposition welcome some of the proposals for changes in road and traffic law set out in the White Paper, particularly the proposal to replace the reckless driving offence with offences that relate more closely to actual standards of driving. We also favour proposals for retesting, retraining and rehabilitating offenders, and we believe that the Government should reconsider their omission of drunk-driver offenders from the retesting proposals. We were surprised by and did not understand the exclusion of drunk-driver offenders from the retesting proposals.
We are firmly committed to reducing the number of drink-driving offences. While we appreciate the success that has been referred to this morning in the fall in the number of fatal accidents involving drivers over the limit, we believe that a comprehensive package of measures should be introduced further to reduce those figures. More has to be done to devise appropriate sentencing and treatment programmes for high-risk offenders. In line with the EC, the Opposition believe that the current legal level of alcohol consumption for drivers is too high and should be reduced to 50 mg per 100 ml of blood. It is commonly believed by those who have researched these matters that the test used in 1967 to set the present limit is now inappropriate.
We believe that, along with the reduction in acceptable levels of alcohol, an agreed system of random breath tests should be introduced. At the moment, the chances of drunk driving being detected are too low, ranging from one in 250 trips in one locality to one in 4,000 trips in other parts of the country. The police are making up the rules as they go along. There is no consistency and no justice. Therefore, it is time that a new system is put in place. However, we are absolutely clear that such tests would be acceptable and civil liberties would be protected only if rigorous standard guidelines were set out for the police so that in no way could they be used to victimise certain groups in society.
The evidence is in the statistics that demonstrate that there is no consistency in the numbers of people being stopped randomly, which vary enormously and depend on the rules adopted by individual constabularies. I am afraid that there is also evidence that there is disproportionate stopping of young black people in many parts of London. If we really want to tackle the problems, we must legitimise random testing and that means that we must legislate.
There are many ways in which random breath testing could be better implemented. Many groups would need to be consulted before a firm course of action could be taken, but we are convinced by research abroad that it can make an important contribution to the reduction to the numbers of drivers over the limit. We look forward to the promised report from the Home Secretary. Other legislation could also be implemented if the Minister is really serious about trying to meet his targets by the year 2000.
The Minister mentioned improvements in vehicle safety standards. We agree that they could play a part in reducing casualties. Pedestrian-friendly car fronts, side impact protection in cars and front under run guards on heavy goods vehicles would significantly improve a person's chance of survival when involved in an accident. However, we require more than the Minister's fine words. If motorists are to be forced to do what we know could be significant in saving people's lives, action is required.
I ask the Minister to give his attention to second-hand vehicles. Perhaps he could refer to that subject when he sums up. The maintenance and repair of vehicles is important for the prevention of accidents. We are concerned about the continuing illegal practice of clocking so that cars record a lower mileage. We are also concerned about the rebuilding and selling of cars that have been destroyed in accidents.
I am interested in this idea and it is one that has been bandied about, but I am aware of the problems involved. Would the hon. Lady like to develop her theme —I do not want to put her on the rack—and say how she thinks that recorded mileage can be checked without the introduction of a substantial bureaucratic operation which will make life more difficult for those who buy and sell cars?
I am delighted to respond to the Minister's invitation as it gives me an opportunity to advertise the Labour party's transport document. The Minister has obviously not had the time, or perhaps the inclination, to read it.
The document says that the Labour party will ensure that all motorists inform the driver and vehicle licensing centre of the mileage of their car when relicensing it or when a car is destroyed or acquired. Motorists would have access to the DVLC records in Swansea and that would be the first step towards establishing it as a consumer protection body, and towards protecting the interests of motorists.
Perhaps I fell into that, but I do not object to having done so, as it allows us to pursue the debate. How would the hon. Lady control what people put down as the mileage on the form? Most people in Britain are law abiding, and they would put down the right amount, but the people she is trying to catch would not put down the correct amount.
Clocking is not usually done by individuals who own and drive cars. The offence is committed by second-hand car dealers. If we can assume that people who legally own and drive the cars are, as the Minister says, honest, and if they inform the centre as we propose, that will give a continuous record and is likely to expose illegal operations when the car gets into the hands of crooks.
I should like to help my hon. Friend as I have had unfortunate experiences of second-hand car dealers altering the recorded mileage. It is a fairly common practice among lower-level second-hand car dealers. I am talking not about the big dealers but about the type with wire netting compounds.
One way to prevent that abuse would be for the car mileometer and speedometer to be in a sealed unit stamped with the same number as is stamped on the car body. It would then be impossible to change it without fiddling the body number on the unit. If one bought a second-hand car one would have to check that the body number corresponded with the number on the sealed mileometer unit. That would not be foolproof, because some people are smart, but it would certainly help.
It may be helpful if I continue, but I appreciate the intervention of my hon. Friend as it was most helpful. If the Minister wishes, we would be delighted to carry on correspondence with him to pursue the issue.
To return to improving pedestrian safety—I acknowledge the contribution that the Government have made, but I believe that it is piecemeal. Much of the emphasis has been on making pedestrians more mindful of cars. The Minister reiterated that this morning. Scare tactics have been used to alert children to the perils of the roads. The slogan
One false step and you're dead",
which was issued in a Department of Transport press release, suggests to me that the car is supreme in the hierarchy of road users. Pedestrians are treated as second-class citizens, who must watch their every step. Their needs are not given priority, despite the fact that in central London, for example, 40 per cent. of all trips are made on foot.
Britain's figures for pedestrian safety give cause for alarm. In general, the number of reported pedestrian casualties has fallen over the years throughout most of Europe. Only Spain, Portugal and Greece have a worse fatality rate than the United Kingdom. After motor cycling, walking has the highest casualty rate per kilometre travelled. Sadly, we predict that pedestrian accidents will not decrease at the rate the Government desire, because motor vehicles are involved in pedestrian accidents. Clearly the Government have no policy to discourage car usage. On the contrary, the Minister again boasted of the huge road-building programme that he wishes to institute.
Does the hon. Lady know what percentage of accidents, in which pedestrians are killed, are the fault of the pedestrian, rather than the driver of the vehicle involved? It seems to me, as a driver, that many pedestrians wander around the roads as though cars were made of marshmallow. I suspect that accidents are often their fault. Perhaps an educational programme directed at children might improve pedestrians' road behaviour. The emphasis ought to be placed there, rather than on the driver.
It is unclear where the emphasis ought to to be placed, but I suggest that, by putting the onus on the pedestrian, the car user is allowed to believe that it is the pedestrian who must take care. Clearly there is equal responsibility between pedestrian and driver.
From my observations of the work of the Department of Transport and from its press releases, I consider that, by putting the emphasis on the pedestrian, the Department has, to some extent, let the driver off the hook. Perhaps the Minister is planning to do something about that. He said that he had just launched a new scheme. Is it intended that the scheme will improve the behaviour of drivers?
In urban areas, far too many drivers think that the pedestrian should get out of the way. There is important evidence to show that people are being knocked down on pedestrian crossings where they should have priority. There is a great deal of evidence that that priority is not observed by drivers, and accidents and fatalities occur.
The statistics show that one third of all pedestrians who are injured in motor accidents, suffer injuries when they are on the pavement. It is a bit much to ask a pedestrian to keep out of the way of a motor vehicle when he is on the pavement. Pedestrians are safer on the pavement, but clearly they are for pedestrians and not for motorists.
I was pointing out that pedestrians have the right to cross the road at a crossing. The hon. Gentleman says that they have no right to be on the road, but I remind him that most pavements are intersected by roads. One cannot have continuous pavements. Pedestrians have to keep crossing the road, even if they are not mad enough to walk into the road in the path of a car.
The rising volume and speed of traffic over many years has caused parents to impose increasing restrictions on their children's unaccompanied travel. That creates a burden on parents who must accompany their children on trips.
As I have said, young and old are made vulnerable by the fact that we have road intersections at which people must contend with drivers who are often inconsiderate to the needs of pedestrians. One in seven pedestrian casualties occurs on pedestrian crossings where people are supposed to have priority. We believe that serious and sometimes dramatic measures must be taken if any attempts, other than cosmetic ones, are to be made in the future especially given the rising traffic density.
A reduction in speed limits must be enforced in some urban areas and more traffic-calming measures must be implemented in residential streets. Experiments and experience in Scandinavia and the Netherlands suggest that measures taken to reduce through-traffic and the speeds of vehicles, while improving facilities for cyclists and pedestrians, can be successful in reducing road traffic accidents. They claim a success rate of over 50 per cent. in previously traditional urban layouts. We applaud such measures.
The Government's response to such traffic calming has been lukewarm. However, we are delighted that the Minister has suggested that there will be an increase in the Government's enthusiasm for introducing such measures. Ninety-five per cent. of pedestrian casualties occur in urban and residential areas. In those areas the balance between the needs of vehicles and pedestrians must be addressed more equitably. Evidence that cars do not slow down in front of schools is particularly worrying. In residential areas, traffic calming and the enforcement of speed limits can be used to reduce noise and air pollution, increase safety and play a part in creating a more environmentally friendly community.
Another area requiring more Government attention and support is that of accident investigation and prevention. As the Minister said, it is a low-cost way of saving lives. It is a systematic procedure for identifying sites where high accident rates occur, and implementation of low-cost measures can follow. Local authorities are clearly aware of the enormous benefits of accident investigation and prevention schemes and they have been urging the Government to change the way in which those schemes are financed. Quite simply, not enough money is being made available to them at the moment. I hope that what the Minister said this morning will overcome those problems.
I shall be in a position to test him out. My local authority of Lewisham has identified vital traffic measures within the borough, covering road safety, traffic calming and measures relating to pedestrian safety. The total cost involved would be about £750,000. Within that figure it made a bid for £50,000 for the AIP schemes—it got £25,000. Overall it has just £50,000 to meet needs costed at £750,000. Who sets those spending limits? It is certainly not the people of Lewisham who are fed up with frightening road traffic conditions and who are afraid for their children and old people. The limits on capital spending and accident prevention are set by the Government.
More resources that are better targeted are urgently needed and I was glad to hear what the Minister said about the transport supplementary schemes. Again, we are disappointed that he cannot give us a time scale. We shall be monitoring closely his response and the speed with which he is able to make those changes.
As we all acknowledge, local authorities have a vital role to play in securing a safer environment. Road safety has always been high on the agenda. I intended to recommend to the Minister the local authority association's code of good practice for road safety. However, I am delighted to know that he has read the document and is supporting it so thoroughly.
I urge upon the Minister—although it may not be necessary—the need to ensure that none of our good practice is lost in the wake of changing legislation in 1992. I refer particularly to areas that worry us both, such as motor cycle helmets, for which we have excellent safety standards which are not met in the EC. Where we do have good national mandatory safety standards, we must ensure that our good practice is not reduced to a lower level by EC regulations.
The Government have issued a challenge to themselves —that of reducing accidents by a third by the year 2000. We applaud that target and welcome everything the Minister has said that could help positively to achieve it. However, because of the overall direction of Government transport policy, we feel regrettably, that it is unlikely that their targets will be met. We shall continue to urge the Government to give a much greater priority to public transport finance and to support for transport systems that provide the safest mode of carrying people in Britain. We will also continue to urge the Government to give local authorities the backing that they deserve and seek, because it is within local democracy that some of the best ideas and plans have been laid for improving road safety.
I warmly welcome this further opportunity to discuss the important subject of road safety. All of us welcome the constructive way in which the debate was opened by my hon. Friend the Minister and by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock).
It has been rightly said that because road accidents do not occur all at the same time and place in one single, dramatic pile-up of deaths and injuries, they constitute an "invisible massacre". The startling suggestion made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) that a high proportion of accidents occur to pedestrians on pavements—is a frightening statistic. It is salutary for us all to remember that the overwhelming majority of transport-related deaths and injuries occur on our roads. Indeed, road accidents make up 40 per cent. of all accidental deaths. As individuals we run a one in 10 chance of being killed or seriously injured in a road accident.
Hon. Members will know that I have a long-standing interest in alcohol misuse, particularly in regard to drinking and driving. Having taken part in so many debates and discussions over the years, I must confess to a sense of déjà vu. It is 13 years since the publication of the Blennerhassett report which recommended additional breath-testing powers for the police and an extended and improved procedure for managing the high-risk offender.
I am proud of the fact that as far back as 1974 the then National Council on Alcoholism, of which I was the chairman, recommended changes in dealing with high-risk offenders. During the Second Reading debate on the Transport Bill of 1981 I recall expressing disappointment that the Government had not included such changes in their Bill. However, I was assured by the then Minister of State that administrative powers under existing legislation enabled such procedures to be implemented. I am pleased that since then the Department of Transport has developed such procedures and that the interdepartmental ministerial group on alcohol misuse has recommended that these should be strengthened further.
I acknowledge therefore that progress has been made in the 1980s. In Britain, as in most other developed countries, there has been a slow but steady reduction in the number of deaths and injuries caused by road accidents. Consistent with that has been a gradual decline in the proportion of fatal accidents in which the driver was in excess of the legal limit for alcohol—a decline from 33 per cent. in 1978 to 23 per cent. in 1987. While that improvement is welcome, it should be recognised that it provides no justification for complacency. I applaud the Government's target to reduce accidents by the year 2000, but the general public want a faster reduction and the necessary legislation to implement changes as quickly as possible. For there are still thousands of unneccessary and avoidable injuries and deaths each year, and alcohol remains their single main cause.
There has been a welcome change in public attitudes. The convicted driver is no longer regarded as an unlucky victim of over-zealous policing but as a potential killer whom it is the duty of the police to stop. Much of that change of attitude should be credited to the campaign against drinking and driving and to the media, who have succeeded in bringing home as never before the message that the drinking driver is a threat not only to himself but to everyone in his vicinity.
There was, however, an inexcusable aberration by the then Secretary of State for Transport, who sanctioned the "Stay Low" Christmas campaign, which was so disastrous. The firm rejection of that dangerous notion, and a firm reaffirmation of the message, "Don't drink and drive" is a fine legacy bequeathed to the Minister by his predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley).
The Government have clearly discerned and responded to the shift in public attitudes and have begun to strengthen their campaign publicity accordingly, but there is still some way to go, particularly in regard to legislation. On that so far there has been much talk but little action. It is time for Government rhetoric to be superseded by effective action and for the Government to catch up with public opinion.
There is no room for complacency, because well over 300 of the 1,500 drink-related deaths annually are innocent
victims of someone else's drinking and driving. By being in the wrong place at the wrong time, an innocent person is killed every clay on our roads by another's drinking and driving. If those 300 people were, by some impossible set of circumstances, to be killed in Whitehall this morning, the Minister would be rushing to the scene and plans would be laid to rush in legislation to prevent a similar massacre in the future. However, as matters stand, innocent people are massacred in silence, and there are no headlines, messages of sympathy or offers to raise national distress funds. The Institute of Alcohol Studies has rightly said:
No wonder the families of the victims feel anger for there are few other crimes in which the victims receive less consideration than their assailants.
I was therefore much encouraged by the proposal in the White Paper "The Road User and the Law" to introduce a new offence of causing death by careless driving while over the limit. This reform is much overdue. It has been warmly welcomed by hon. Members and by the country. What is now required is an assurance that the reforms recommended by the North committee will be implemented. I know that there is some anxiety among the road safety community that the Bill may not be included in the Government's programme for the forthcoming Session. May I say quite gently but firmly that such a failure would be a cause of considerable disappointment and anger among many hon. Members and beyond? My hon. Friend the Minister, who is sensitive to opinion in the House, will be aware of this anxiety and of the necessity to put it to rest at the earliest opportunity.
My right hon. Friend is vastly more experienced than almost any hon. Member in these matters. He will know full well that neither I nor any other Minister can predict what will be in the Queen's Speech. I am sure that the fact that my right hon. Friend has raised this matter will mean that it will be drawn to the attention of those august people who decide these matters.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's courteous intervention. I have been a Minister and know perfectly well that he is unable to say anything at this stage. The mere fact that he rose to his feet only momentarily suggested to me that he had some advance information. I say to him, with the utmost friendliness, that I hope that I shall not be castigating the Government for any omission following publication of the Queen's Speech later this month.
I hope, too, that my hon. Friend the Minister will take the opportunity provided by this debate to give the House an assurance that the Government are giving the most serious consideration to two measures which were not included in the White Paper, but which many of us regard as the most important of all—random breath testing and a reduction in the legal limit for driving. The arguments for random breath testing have been rehearsed many times in the media and elsewhere over recent years, and we are all familiar with them. The main considerations seem to be entirely clear. First, the representative bodies of the police service have asked for additional powers to administer breath tests to increase the deterrent value of breath testing. I speak as someone who has held an advisory capacity to senior police officers for many years.
Secondly, almost all expert opinion is convinced that random testing would save hundreds of lives and prevent thousands of injuries each year and regards it as probably the most effective counter-measure still available to reduce the number of drinking drivers on our roads.
Thirdly, we know that the public overwhelmingly support the introduction of random testing. Opinion surveys show consistently that random testing is supported by 80 per cent. or more of the population, while experience in other countries shows that it becomes even more popular after its introduction and as its benefits become evident. We know that the majority of submissions in response to consultation on police breath testing powers, which were called for by my right hon. Friend the former Home Secretary, were in favour of the police being given additional powers.
It is true that in debates on this issue there often appears to be some confusion between "unfettered discretion", which would allow the police to stop and test any driver at any time, and the more limited power of random testing, which would allow the police to test drivers without "reasonable suspicion" only at specially designed roadside checkpoints.
It is abundantly clear to me that the consensus has formed around and in support of random testing mainly because the checkpoint system can more easily be governed by a code of practice designed to prevent police powers bearing down unfairly on individuals or groups. That is a crucial point because the police want to carry public opinion with them, but they are having an increasingly difficult job. When I was a youngster, a police officer being killed or wounded by the public was unthinkable. I can remember only one case of a police constable being murdered in the 1930s, the case of police constable Gutteridge who was shot to death in Billericay —a constituency that I once represented. Since the war, and particularly over recent years, the police have come under increasing pressure. They are therefore most anxious to have clearly defined powers that will carry the public with them, and for that reason, and for no other, are effective.
At the risk of widening the subject of the debate slightly, does my right hon. Friend agree that this is probably not unrelated to the abolition of the death penalty for the murder of police officers?
I have my own views on that subject, but, with respect to my hon. Friend, it would be wrong of me to comment on that in this debate. We are discussing the extremely serious issue of giving the police the necessary powers to deal with drinking and driving.
There is simply no point in clarifying and endorsing powers that are poorly designed for the purpose for which they are intended. In other words, existing police powers must be reconsidered. Even clarified and endorsed, the existing powers of the police permit them to carry out only a poor man's version of random testing, a procedure both more cumbersome to operate and less efficient than random testing proper, and therefore less likely to be carried out. What possible advantage could there be in taking such a step?
The support for random testing is now so strong that it is difficult to understand why the Government are still dragging their feet. I do not expect my hon. Friend the Minister to answer this question now, but I must ask, of what are the Government afraid? It seems clear that their reservations are based solely on anxieties about the possibility of impaired relations between the police and the public. Such anxieties are entirely misplaced. I have already referred to the abundant evidence showing that the overwhelming majority of the public support the introduction of random testing. Indeed, the police would not have requested additional powers if they believed that there was any significant danger of alienating the travelling public. They are fully alive to the need to retain the confidence of the travelling public.
I do not wish to speak too long, but there is one other important point which has not yet been raised. I am saddened by the Government's negative and insular response to the European Commission's draft directive, which proposed a maximum permissible blood alcohol level of 50 mg from 1 January 1993. The Commission's view was endorsed by the European Parliament's committee on Transport. At this stage, I shall not enter into the argument about whether this is an appropriate matter for Community legislation, other than to point to the obvious fact that more and more people are travelling from one member country to another—the purpose of the Channel tunnel is to accelerate that movement—and it therefore makes sense to have a common policy in Europe, in the interests of safety.
What disappoints me is that the major part of the evidence on which the Commission based its directive was drawn—believe it or not—from the findings of my hon. Friends's own Transport and Road Research Laboratory. In my Second Reading speech on the Transport Bill in 1981, I emphasised those findings as they applied to young people. Impairment of driving ability among young people begins at the low level of 30 mg. I said:
At 50 mg., a young person is three times more prone to accident than before. At 80 mg., he is six times more prone.
I implored the Minister then and I do so again. I said to him:
For the sake of protecting the young people of this country … I urge my right hon. Friend to look again at lowering the limit for all motorists.
I went on to say that I was glad that the then Minister had
wisely retained the power in schedule 8 to the Bill to vary the limit."—[Official Report, 13 January 1981; Vol. 996, c. 881.]
Why does not the Minister use this power? The major cause of death for a young person between the ages of 16 and 24 is a road accident with a raised blood alcohol level. The Minister could at a stroke reduce the incidence of such tragedies. It is a commonplace that the 80 mg legal limit is not in any sense a safe limit. There does not appear to be a safe limit anyway. Guidelines issued since the advent of the evidential breathalyser mean that drivers are not normally prosecuted until they exceed 40 microgrammes of alcohol in the breath, which in terms of the blood alcohol level is equivalent not to 80 mg but to over 90 mg. In other words, the introduction of the evidential breathalyser has led to a de facto raising of the legal limit. Thus there is a strong case for reducing the legal limit simply to account for that factor.
If the limit is to be reduced, it would seem sensible to reduce it to 50 mg, which the consensus of scientific opinion regards as the maximum blood alcohol level compatible with public safety on the roads. The former Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), rightly stated that even one drink can kill. A 50 mg limit would be far more consistent with the educational message contained in the anti-drink-driving campaign of the Department of Transport. Public opinion surveys show majority support in favour of a reduction.
I want to know, and I think the country wants to know, what is preventing the Government from attuning the law more closely to their message. I understand that 3,000 of the responses to the Home Office consultation favoured random testing while only 400 were opposed. Who were those 400? They must represent a very powerful vested interest if they can block the overwhelming majority's view. The House has a right to know who they were. Were they individuals, organisations or vested interests? How could they block the views of the overwhelming majority?
Certainly I welcome the steps that the Government have already taken, or announced their intention to take, to reduce the menace of the drinking driver. The whole House supports them. The progress that has been made in recent years provides a sound basis for the introduction of these additional measures which, if taken, will make a substantial contribution towards achieving the Government's goal of reducing road casualties by one third by the end of the century. Yet I am still impatient. I want to see much faster progress, as I think we all do. the opportunity now exists to reduce by an even greater amount the most preventable accident of all, that which is alcohol related. It will be a tragedy if the Government decline to take it.
I am sure that we have all listened with great interest and respect to the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), the Father of the House, because his are the kind of comments that come to us via our postbags week by week. I hope that consideration will be given to the valuable points that he made to the Minister. Without doubt, on whichever side of the House we sit, we wholly agree with virtually everything he said.
This has been an interesting debate. I congratulate the Minister and his Department on initiating it and I congratulate the Minister on many of his comments. I am sure that, wherever we live or wherever we represent—whether a large city constituency or a rural area—road safety and all the issues linked to it are important matters.
The problems inlude increased traffic on local roads, large lorries going through residential areas, difficulties in finding somewhere to park and the indiscriminate way in which cars and lorries park. I was interested in the exchange between the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) about parking on pavements. Despite laws under which motorists who park on pavements can be prosecuted, there is still too much of it.
Much comment has been made about children and young people. Parking on pavements is equally a problem for the elderly, the disabled and the blind. Like many hon. Members, I still see a great deal of parking on pavements. Another problem, which I see repeatedly, occurs when large lorries park at road junctions. A motorist trying to come out of a road has to make his way into the flow of traffic to see what other traffic is coming along. Something needs to be done.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the biggest problems faced by the elderly and the hard of hearing occurs at pelican crossings? The speed at which people are expected to cross the road is unreasonable, especially if they are elderly. For many people, the bleepers attached to those crossings are inaudible. Does the hon. Gentleman think that it might be better to have a flashing light—as opposed to just the image of a flashing person—on each pole?
The hon. Gentleman's three points are all valid, especially the first about the speed with which cars travel and the disregard that they often show for crossings. He also made an important point about people with defective hearing who, sadly, cannot hear the bleeping noise at crossings, and his suggestion about flashing lights is relevant. The great benefit of debates such as this is that the exchange of views between hon. Members of all parties brings up points that could he of benefit to the overall issue of road safety.
The double parking of cars, especially at night, is a problem in many parts of London, and probably in other areas as well. Double parking often takes place in the day, but the double parking of cars with no lights on in residential areas at night is the main problem. The Minister's Department must look at that problem in detail. Double parking is one of the many complaints relayed to us which involve road safety.
The Minister has made many comments about how his Department sees progress being made to improve road safety. Sadly, from my experience, the problems of road congestion is becoming worse, especially outside the rush hour periods—and one has to accept that there will be much congestion in our major cities and large towns in the rush hours. My hon. Friend the Member for Deptford, also touched on this point.
Many of us say that we must try to reduce the number of cars on our roads, but the announcement this week that rail and Tube fares will rise will drive many people who normally would be happy to use public transport to consider seriously whether they will continue to do so. I will quote briefly from a letter dated 23 October which I received from a constituent. He says:
I see in last week's Press that there is every likelihood that Public Transport fares may soon increase again, by more than the current rate of inflation. This will serve only to force more people to use their cars to get to work and back, thereby making the situation on the roads that much worse.
I am sure that all of us will hear such comments from our constituents this weekend.
Whatever criticisms we may make about Government policy overall, the subsidies for public transport, whatever help may be given, are wholly inadequate for existing needs. Let us consider the systems in other European countries. We hear a great deal about the French system of subsidising public transport; subsidies, whether at national, regional or local level, are enormous. The French have proved the benefits that can accrue to a country from the improved movement of people and goods. We need to consider such systems in far more detail.
I want to concentrate on one or two issues that have not been given the prominence they deserve in this debate. All of us are aware of the rat runs of vehicles being driven through residential areas and the problems that that causes. The Minister referred to the development of road humps and sleeping policemen. I find that the vast majority of residents would like to see such humps installed. There are requests for such humps throughout the borough of Wandsworth and, in fairness to the borough council, it is seeking to put road humps in rat run areas. One proplem is that it takes a long time for their installation to be approved and there is often a difference between the attitude of the police and that of the local authority on whether a particular road is suitable for the installation of road humps. Another problem is cost. I do not know whether the Minister has seen the figures, but I must tell him that I am amazed by the cost of the installation of road humps. It does not seem to be technically difficult development, but the delay in obtaining permission to install road humps and the cost of installing them should be looked at.
We should also consider street parking in greater detail. I know that swoop squads of traffic wardens drive around ticketing every vehicle they see illegally parked. I do riot criticise that, but I do not believe that it gets to the root of illegal parking. We should seek a system whereby we have a community traffic warden—very much like a community policeman—who could cover a local area. Such a warden would not necessarily give a ticket to, or fine, every motorist badly parked at road junctions or double parked, but would try to build up a relationship within the community so that he could say to such a motorist, "Your parking is dangerous and is causing problems. If you do not stop, my job will be to give you tickets and you may find yourself facing court action because of your attitude." We should consider such a system because in our larger cities, as I am sure that the Minister is aware, the problem is worsening.
We have legislation for bus lanes, but it is often riot enforced. We are told that bus lanes are intended to ensure the early movement of buses and taxis. Only a few yards from here, along Millbank, there is a bus lane with a notice saying that the bus lane is operation from 7 am until 7 pm. Yet at any time one can see car drivers and lorry drivers using that bus lane and holding up buses. We have the legislation for bus lanes. We have the right to ask the Minister and his Department when the rules that govern their use will be enforced. Those rules do not seem to be enforced in many other areas of London in which bus lanes are operating.
In my constituency this Tuesday, I was driving along the road at about 10 pm. I saw in the distance a light and I believed that a motor cyclist was approaching. It was riot until I was about 10 yards away from the light that I realised that it was a van with defective lighting. Defective lighting is bad enough in the summer months, but in the winter, the police should rigorously enforce existing legislation on motor vehicles being driven with defective lighting. That is especially important to protect the elderly and young children. There are far too many vehicles with defective lighting.
The provision of cycle lanes has not been given sufficient attention this morning. More and more people are using bicycles, whether to go to work or for general travel, and whether they live in a local area or travel from outside it. There are very few cycle lanes in operation in Westminster, although one sees many cyclists. Many hon. Members cycle to the Palace, I believe. I see the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) in his place; I gather than he is a keen cyclist.
I often cycle to this place. It is impossible to get here entirely on cycle routes from north London, which is where I live. The last part of the journey, which takes me down Whitehall, is very dangerous. The problem with cycle lanes is that although the lanes themselves are fine, and relatively safe, unless priority or safety measures are provided at junctions, they are of no value. A cycle lane along Whitehall would be of no use because the cyclist would be exposed to enormous danger on reaching Parliament square, and the same thing applies to almost every cycle lane.
I agree with my hon. Friend, who has highlighted the importance of giving more protection and consideration to cyclists, whose numbers are increasing. I take my hon. Friend's point that it is no good having cycle lanes without junction priority measures because cyclists are then exposed to even greater dangers. I am sure, however, that the Department of Transport and local authorities could examine the matter in detail and develop better strategies for the protection of cyclists.
The Minister is responsible for the road options now under consideration, and that ties in with the general issue of road safety. I see that the Minister is laughing, and I can well understand why: he is thinking, "Good gracious, not again." In any debate on road safety we should take the opportunity to voice our constituents' deep concern about the road assessment studies that the Minister and his officials are considering. Whichever assessment study the Minister and his Department eventually approve, it will no doubt bring many thousands of extra vehicles into residential areas. Our constituents are deeply concerned not only for their own safety but about the possible effects on their environment.
I beg the Minister and the Secretary of State to listen to what the people of London are saying about the road options. The Minister told me on Monday that a statement would be made in December. I could give him countless examples of letters that have come my way, but I shall quote only one from one of my constituents:
I fail to see how the capital's transport problems can be solved by building new roads which past experience has shown merely attracts new traffic, thereby changing the pattern of congestion not solving it. Surely it must be obvious that encouraging private vehicles can only worsen the problem which can best be solved by offering a true alternative through a radical, comprehensive programme of genuine investment in public transport.
That sums up the sentiments expressed in the many letters that London Members receive about road options, and I beg the Minister to pay the greatest possible attention to what the people of London are saying, before decisions are made by him.
I am sure that all hon. Members will find this an interesting debate. We all want people to be allowed to use cars and people now expect to have the right to do so. But the safety of the general public should continue to be our priority. Although much progress has been made, much remains to be done. As my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford said, we are not happy with the Government's attitude. My hon. Friend said that cuts in grants had deprived her local authority of the opportunity to make road safety provision, and I am sure that all of us could give similar examples. We may back the aims of the Minister and his Department but improvements will not be achieved on the cheap. They will entail not only the involvement and understanding of the general public but financial commitment by the Government. Unfortunately, many of us do not see evidence of complete commitment in the Government's policies on public transport and transport generally and especially on road safety.
Like the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), I have made representations to the Minister about the road assessment studies. I entirely endorse the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the importance of dealing with illegal parking and of the more widespread use of road humps.
Next weekend many of my hon. Friends will be attending Remembrance Sunday services, which will have particular significance this year as it is the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the second world war, during which 265,500 service men and women were killed in action. Since the war ended in 1945, 267,000 people have been killed on our roads. In other words, more of our people have been killed on our roads since the end of world war 2 than were killed during it.
During the past 11 months there have been four major transport tragedies, and hon. Members have been brought to the House to listen to statements about Clapham and Lockerbie. Four hundred people were killed in those disasters—the average number of people killed in one month on our roads.
What hon. Members say and do can have a substantial impact on those awful figures. Twenty years ago the number of people killed on our roads hovered at about 8,000 a year. Now it has been reduced to about 5,000 a year. There were two parliamentary reasons for that substantial decline—the first was the introduction of the breath test in 1967 and the second was the introduction of seat belts at the beginning of this decade. More work remains to be done on both those matters.
In his admirable speech opening the debate, my hon. Friend the Minister stated that there have been 25,000 unrestrained rear seat casualties in cars of which 4,000 involved death or serious injury. The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety believes that the most effective way of reducing casualties for car occupants is to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory for rear seat passengers. I hope that that will happen.
The next major step forward in relation to the two vital issues of seat belts and the breathalyser relates to random breath testing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), the Father of the House, has just made a powerful plea about that.
It is clear now that the police are solidly behind the extension of breath testing to include random testing. There can be no doubt that public opinion continues to swing in favour of random tests. The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, of which I am delighted to be a member, recently carried out a public
opinion poll on that issue, undertaken by National Opinion Polls market research. Such testing was defined as:
giving the police the authority to set up special roadside checkpoints and to routinely breathalyse any driver passing through.
In that poll, 81 per cent. of the public were in favour of that step which would massively increase the deterrent power of breathalysing. Those in favour covered all sections of the community—male and female, young and old, rich and poor. I hope that the Government will soon take the final step along the road which has already saved so many thousands of lives over the past 20 years.
Speed is another problem. We can now curb speed on main roads through the introduction of speed cameras and on back roads and lesser roads through the wider use of road humps and other traffic-calming measures. A few weeks ago I spent some time driving in the United States of America. America has a more violent society than ours, but the Americans are infinitely better behaved on their roads than we are. The American general traffic speed limit is 55 mph and occasionally 65 mph. Those limits are largely enforced by radar. In the many hours that I spent driving in America, I did not see a car exceed 70 mph. That has had a dramatic impact on the number of road casualties in America since the limits were introduced about 20 years ago. The road accident fatality rate in the United States is about half the rate in this country. I believe that the legislation of speed cameras could be enormously helpful.
The North report recommends:
The fixed penalty system should be amended by legislation to allow a fixed penalty to be sent to an offender identified after inquiries flowing from an automatic speed detection check.
The Transport and Road Research Laboratory estimates that that step would reduce fatalities by at least 5 per cent. a year and PACTS believes that the figure could be a little higher because the high-speed accident would be most affected. The North report also recommends that the law should he changed to enable cameras to be used in traffic light offences. That would also produce a substantial reduction in the number of fatalities. It would certainly reduce the number of fatalities by about one a day—at least 365 a year. However, we need legislation and I hope that such legislation will not be delayed. I add my pleas for legislation to those that have been made already.
I want to commend the Minister on two points. He and I attended a conference on the older driver organised by the Automobile Association earlier this week. Every expert who spoke at the conference underlined the importance of visibility. I am delighted that the Minister has already announced an extension of lighting up time. However, I was not entirely clear from his statement whether that was intended to apply just to vehicles or whether street lights would be turned on for an extended period.
Perhaps I can clarify this point. As my hon. Friend is a year older today than yesterday, I take this opportunity to wish him a happy birthday. The extension applies only to vehicles, not to street lights.
I was delighted by the Minister's announcement of a loosening of the restrictions on the introduction of road humps. They play a most important part in curbing speed in residential areas. The initial restrictions on their use were far too tight and I am glad that they are to be reduced. The Minister referred to the casualty rate among school children. I hope that road humps, almost as a matter of course, could be placed outside primary schools where they are on back roads, as they almost always are. I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to his new duties and I hope that in the coming Session he will have a substantial legislative load to bring before the House.
I am pleased to address the House in my new capacity as Liberal Democrat spokesman on local government and transport. Both local government and transport are particularly relevant to this debate and can be linked, as I hope to show.
Road safety touches us all and we should all be concerned about it. This debate has proved that. As my party's outgoing health spokesman, I have also had a keen interest in any reduction in the number of accidents on our roads. Obviously, such a reduction would reduce pressure on the National Health Service. In a parliamentary answer on 28 November, the then Minister said:
It is estimated that the cost of road accidents to the National Health Service due to hospital treatment in 1987 was £146 million."—[Official Report, 28 November 1988; Vol. 142, c. 164]
I am sure that we will see an increase in that estimate this year.
Road safety is not only about financial cost; it is about human cost—death, injury and destroyed lives. The present scale in this country is far too high a price to pay, whatever benefits there may be from the age of the motor car. It is the Government's declared and welcome intention to reduce road accidents by one third by the year 2000, but until there is a change of direction in overall transport policy, things will not greatly improve. Our island—I include Northern Ireland—is far too small to allow 50-odd million people to own or travel in cars. Our roads are already far too congested. Overcrowded roads produce stress and impatience in drivers and can lead to poor attitudes which manifest themselves in dangerous driving manoeuvres. Attitudes such as "this is my piece of road and I am sticking to it" and, "Get out of my way, I am in a hurry" end in disaster. Too often, innocent pedestrians, cyclists and passengers suffer as a result of pure selfishness or a need to feel a sense of power.
A young police constable to whom I spoke not too long ago, summed up another aspect of driving attitudes. In a discussion about whether people were less caring today, he said, "Of course they are. You have only to look at the way they drive to see that. There is not a thought for others. They are determined, no matter what the cost, to get to wherever they are going in the least possible time. People don't give a damn." That is a damning statement, and we should take it to heart and consider how we can change the current trend.
Crowded streets crammed with parked cars are a danger to all pedestrians. Without a clear view of oncoming traffic, crossing the road can be extremely hazardous for some groups, such as the young and the elderly. A hazard may be even worse when trees are planted at the edge of pavements. Tree-lined streets are pleasant from an environmental point of view, but they obstruct pedestrians' views. I am referring particularly to small children who can appear from behind a tree right out of the blue. There was a tragic case in my constituency of Southport. The council debated whether to increase the speed limit from 30 to 40 mph on a tree-lined street. I and. to their credit, many other councillors said, "That can cause accidents. We must be careful about whether we increase the speed limit, because that is a tree-lined street." Within six months, a four-year-old boy came out from behind a tree and was killed. I wanted to say, "I told you so," but I did not, and the road safety people in Sefton recommended that trees be removed from the edge of the roadway in that area. That happened, and the environmentalists did not protest.
Pedestrians and drivers alike should be made aware of the unexpected dangers. I would not object to a few more signs, caution lights and other physical aids if they prove to be beneficial in making our roads safer.
To build bigger and better roads to ease congestion is not the answer. The debacle of the M25, with its traffic jams and high accident rate, is a testament to that. It is now called the biggest car park in the world. We will never be able to meet demand. The more roads we build, the more cars people will buy to fill the empty spaces, and any massive road-building programme will undoubtedly lead to an even poorer public transport system. The previous Secretary of State's ideas about tolls, super highways or fast lanes will not do, either. If tolls are set at such a price that it is worth collecting them, there will be stretches of motorways, blighting the landscape and without a car in sight.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument about never having enough roads to take care of potential demand in cities. However, the hon. Gentleman appears to be saying that that is his party's national policy. The hon. Gentleman will have to find some way of suppressing people's right to use their cars on those roads. How does he propose to do that?
I do not intend to suppress any car user's right to use a road. Car users have that right, and I hope that it will continue. Some people may not purchase cars because the public transport system would supplement the road system. That does not interfere with the right of urban motorists who use their cars a great deal.
When road congestion worsens, roads fall into disrepair. Local authorities and rural communities do not have the cash to repair roads, and that is causing further accidents.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if we were to double the capacity of British Rail over the next 12 months, we would barely do more than take up the anticipated growth on the roads in that period? That is the scale of the problem. The hon. Gentleman seems to treat it as though it could be dealt with simply. We would have to continue doubling the capacity of British Rail every year to deal with the growth.
I accept that. Therefore, the Government's problem is to find a public transport system and a road system for the whole country.
There are great difficulties with the toll system in Spain. I understand that some of the new road systems are a joy to travel on because there are so few cars on them. Many Spaniards boycott the roads because they are unable to pay the high tolls. I hope that that would never happen here.
I question whether a move to faster lanes would be wise. Although the relationship between the number of accidents and speed is unclear, we know that the severity of road accidents is related to the speed of impact. I accept that the speed of impact is not necessarily the speed of travel, but an analysis of the 1986 accident figures shows that fatality rates are higher on high-speed roads. That proves that it is not too far-fetched to conclude that speed is a significant factor in road accidents. In 1987, 54,352 serious accidents resulted in 64,293 serious casualties. Any move to increase speed limits cannot fail to produce far higher numbers.
Although I recognise that there is no simple formula for improving the accident rate on our roads, there is much that we can do to develop a much improved, safer and more efficient public transport system. As my party's spokesperson on this matter, I hope that I will have numerous opportunities to debate how that can be done. However, I do not hold out much hope for safer public transport. If the Government can allow one of their pet projects to be derailed—I refer to the Channel tunnel link —there is little hope for the rest of us. The delay in developing a London link will have a knock-on effect on roads in the south-east, making it even more difficult to travel on them.
That point ties in with what the hon. Gentleman was saying about improved public transport. My constituency and that of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) will be affected by the Channel tunnel link. The proposed public transport system would substantially relieve road congestion in Kent, yet opposition to it in our constituencies is almost overwhelming.
I understand the rules of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and because there is a diffculty here, I shall address my remarks to the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn). I do not wish to be associated with any suggestion that Labour Members disapprove of the Channel tunnel rail link, because it is a public transport infrastructure which we very much support. The disapproval that we have all voiced is that public money has not been provided to make the project environmentally sound.
The hon. Lady has made her own point.
Improvements in the public transport system cannot be achieved quickly enough to ease the urgent road problems. The time for action is now. I welcome some of the Government's most recent initiatives, including doubling the spending on local road safety schemes, about which we heard a little from the Minister. However, I ask the Minister whether extra street lighting resources are to be provided for local authorities and for schemes to eliminate black holes on motorways. We all know as we travel home —some of us travel last thing at night along the M1 and the M6—how suddenly we are confronted with the black holes in the lighting system. I am sure that accidents would be reduced if we had lighting all along our motorways.
In Sefton, where I am a borough councillor, work is currently being carried out into local and regional comparisons of road safety accident figures. I am pleased to report a 50 per cent. reduction in the number of fatal accidents and a significant reduction in the number of serious accidents in 1988. I do not want to put too much stress on statistics because I know that they can be misleading and, in some instances, can lead to complacency. I hasten to add that Sefton borough council, which includes Southport, is in no way complacent. In April 1988 is launched a massive education programme in its infant and junior schools and undertook non-school-based road safety talks, film shows, exhibitions and displays, especially for elderly people. As part of its programme for the elderly, it issued a booklet with the aid of Age Concern, entitled "Keep Living". I have no doubt that the Minister has seen it, but if he has not I recommend that he does so. It can be obtained from the County Road Safety Officers' Association, Age Concern and local road safety officers. It reports cases of elderly people who had accidents, and deals with the reasons for those accidents. It is simple, and easy to read and understand. I hope that at some time all elderly people will read it.
Education is an important part of any campaign to improve road safety. I was, therefore, interested to read in last Sunday's edition of The Observer that the child cycling proficiency test was to be scrapped. The article stated that
a new road safety scheme designed to embrace modern teaching methods and to fit in with the national curriculum
was due to be introduced next spring. The Minister has reassured me that the test is still with us and I welcome that. It is frightening for people to read such untrue articles in the press. The article was twisted and I am glad to know that the Minister is minded that the test should continue. If there is to be a new scheme, I can only hope that it will prove a better way of ensuring the safety of the many thousands of child cyclists who form part of the Department of Transport's statistics on fatal and serious accidents.
Our residential streets are no longer the safe back roads that they used to be. Children can no longer go out to play in our streets or ride on their bikes as a pleasant pastime. Cycling to and from school has become a major hazard. I note that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents is campaigning for single-double summer time which it believes would benefit young children coming home from school.
Some children have taken to cycling on the pavements which proves hazardous, especially to disabled and elderly people. Local byelaws then come into play. They are vigorously enforced in some authorities, leaving the young children in no man's land. There is no doubt that cyclists are an especially vulnerable group on our roads. It is estimated that there are now 13·5 million cycles in this country. It is perhaps time that we encouraged the provision of more cycling paths for travel and for recreational cycling for children.
Education is an important factor in other areas also. Road safety instruction at infant and junior level is to be welcomed. However, perhaps we should be going much further. We need to wake up to the fact that we are a nation of car owners and will continue to be so. For more and more young people—some still at school—getting behind the wheel of a car will be their only method of transport in the future. I should like to see a programme that introduces some form of safety education into our senior schools. The emphasis in such a programme could be placed on safe driving habits, attitudes and proficiency.
We should also look at ways of making our driving test more in keeping with the real world. It seems ludicrous that five minutes after passing a test, the newly qualified driver is allowed on to motorways of which he or she has no experience. To drive on a multi-lane motorway at 70 mph is not something to be taken lightly.
The same law also allows people to take a driving test without a single lesson from a qualified driving instructor. The test itself is far too short for the examiner to observe any bad habits that may have been formed from driving with friends or other drivers such as relatives. That area of the law needs to be investigated with a view to making the driving test and the regulations surrounding it more stringent.
Over the years, a number of tragic events have led to the loss of many lives, to severe injuries and to hardship. Hon. Members have mourned with the rest of the nation and have called on the Government to act quickly to improve the safety standards for members of the public, yet every year we seem content to allow untold numbers of people to suffer from the most terrible consequences of road traffic accidents. As I said earlier, I know that there is no simple formula, but I hope that the Government are taking their responsibilities seriously. I hope that they will provide the resources necessary to enable us to reach the target for the reduction of accidents that the Government themselves have set.
As so many traffic movements are effected by road, it is vital that we work towards the greatest safety measures possible. As vice-chairman of the Conservative parliamentary transport committee, I welcome today's debate and apologise to the House for my croaky voice.
Clearly, the Government have given a high priority to road construction and maintenance. In North Yorkshire, the benefits will amount to almost £40 million-worth of road schemes in the 1990s. That is vital when we see the carnage on the A 1. Only last month, the death toll on North Yorkshire's roads reached 100, against 86 for that period last year.
I should like to suggest four changes in policy that would save lives and be extremely cost-effective. First, there is a need for seat belts on buses and coaches, and my hon. Friend the Minister referred to that in his imaginative and wide-ranging speech. The lives of young people are put at risk when they are on school outings. There have been some appalling accidents where, I am confident, children would have been saved had they been wearing seat belts. The matter requires the urgent attention of the House; only a small measure would be needed, but it would have great effect.
Secondly, there is a need for adequate insurance cover. We all know of constituents who have suffered terrible injuries from cars whose drivers have not been insured. We should require every car to display a valid insurance disc on either the windscreen or the bumper so that, at a glance, the police and other motorists can see it. The Road Traffic Act 1988 requires the user of a vehicle to be insured. It should be a simple procedure to require evidence of that insurance to be prominently displayed. All car owners must show a valid insurance certificate each time that they renew a vehicle licence, but there is no deterrent to someone later that day going to his broker and reclaiming the funds. A simple display disc, which would have to be redeemed to recover funds, would be a simple and effective solution.
My third area of concern is tyre safety, and I declare an interest as I am a consultant to the tyre executive committee of British Rubber Manufacturers Association. I am glad that the tread size is moving from 1 mm to 1·6 mm on 1 January 1992 at the latest. After all, my hon. Friend's official vehicle has its tyres changed before they reach that level, and we surely would not want a duality of standards. There should be two further developments. First, the tread depth should be measured across the whole tyre and not just across 75 per cent. of the width. It is a curious British anomaly. Will my hon. Friend re-examine European Community directive 89/459 and ensure the greatest road safety criteria? Will he also ensure that there is a concerted campaign to make the new law well known? My hon. Friend the Minister for Public transport said in an Adjournment debate on 26 May that the Government would give their support to that. I urge my hon. Friend to join with the newly created Tyre Industry Council and agree to fund half the costs of such a campaign. If the council contributed £500,000 and the Department matched that sum, there would be a very effective campaign and motorists would soon realise that there was a new law and that they must change their tyres.
Secondly, action must be taken on the sale of second-hand tyres. There is no law that states that second-hand tyres have to be safe. Second-hand goods are not covered by the general duty requirement of safety. A survey of tyres on sale to the public, recently carried out by trading standard officers in Yorkshire and Humberside, revealed a staggering 32 per cent. failure rate. Defects ranged from nails embedded in the tread to leaks from the valve base, side wall damage and severe weathering. Calls for strict controls to protect motorists and other road users have gone unheeded. I hope that that latest evidence will persuade the Government to impose tight controls that will give the road user the additional protection that is needed.
Motorists should exercise extreme caution when considering the purchase of such tyres because the apparent financial saving is not worth it if safety is reduced. It may come as a surprise to the House to learn that when a trader in tyres is found guilty, or pleads guilty, to supplying faulty tyres, the court does not order the seizure and destruction of those tyres, but ensures that they are returned to the negligent trader. Where do those faulty tyres go? I urge my hon. Friend to hold discussions with the Lord Chancellor so that that horrifying loophole can be closed.
The fourth, and perhaps the most important, issue is the standard of garages. The public puts enormous faith in garages to ensure the safety and maintenance of cars and other vehicles. Last year, trading standards officers received 100,000 complaints, the majority—57,000—relating to second-hand cars and 15,000 relating to service and repair. The public puts its confidence in garages that belong to the Motor Agents Association, a trade body with a membership of 13,600 garages that proudly display the association's logo as a sign of respectability. Many hon. Members will have seen it on doors and on invoices and other documentation. That confidence is, sadly, unwarranted. Despite the number of garages pleading guilty, or being found guilty, of vehicle-related offences, only two members a year had their membership of the MMA cancelled in 1986, 1987 and 1988, yet the association has some 10,000 complaints annually. It is a whitewash. It is hardly surprising that only 26 to 28 per cent. of the public consider motor traders to be legal, honest and decent. The vast majority know that they are quite the contrary.
We must have much tougher penalties. I realise that I am in danger of not being the guest of honour at the association's next annual banquet, but we must expose the problems. We need tougher penalties to combat the unroadworthy vehicles that are sold, the clocking of speedometers and the moving of vehicles without the speedometer being engaged, inadequate servicing and the problem of garages unfit to offer credit but still attempting to do so. Last year, my county, the North Yorkshire county council, prosecuted 15 dealers for 34 offences. I praise the vigilance of its officers, but the penalties amounted to a derisory £12,900 and will not be an adequate disincentive. Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will discuss raising the penalties to deter such traders from dicing with death. I trust that he will ensure that the mileage can be recorded on the driver and vehicle licensing centre form when the annual licence is renewed. It is nonsense that the DVLC can hide behind red tape as a reason for not introducing this most useful safeguard.
As many garage applications for consumer credit licences are refused or revoked by the Office of Fair Trading, it is incredible that that august body, the Motor Agents Association, does not expel such companies from membership. I hope that the Government will have urgent discussions to end this anomaly and restore public confidence in the credit facilities offered by garages.
These four measures—coach safety belts, an insurance disc, better tyre regulations and more responsible garage trading—will ensure improved road safety and greater confidence of the motoring public and those who use our roads.
I assure the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory) that I shall always want to purchase, and will have the confidence to purchase, a second-hand car from him. I should have liked him to make another point about garages and garage forecourts. The inaccuracy of the tyre pressure gauges on many garage forecourts is frustrating. If tyre pressures are important to the safety of vehicles, garages should do more to ensure that the gauges are accurate. The hon. Gentleman should perhaps say something about that to those friends and organisations that he represents so ably.
I found the Minister's speech most constructive and well worth listening to. It was also unnerving because I always considered him to be one of the original Tory bootboys when he was first elected, along with the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth). It shows that office has a way of imposing certain disciplines on the most unruly of hon. Members, making them appear both statesperson-like and highly responsible. It is worrying to see the way that office destroys thuggery and individualism. I am glad that there is no way in which office will taint me.
That point is regularly made to me by the leader of my party.
On this issue, the Opposition entirely support the Government. It is unusual for them to come up with something so constructive as measures to cut road accident casualties by the year 2000. The Government have our support in that objective, but their other activities and policies, particularly those that affect London, militate against them achieving it. One is the Government's policy on public transport.
The greater emphasis that is given to public transport, the greater the level of road safety because public transport is far safer than private transport. The Government are far from encouraging greater use of public transport. Only yesterday it was announced that London Underground fares are to be increased by 10 per cent. That is more than the rate of inflation. Every time that fares go up more people stop using public transport and start using their private vehicle, if they have one. If not, they make alternative arrangements. Greater use of private vehicles leads to an increase in the number of road accidents.
The University of London undertook a study which showed a correlation between fare increases and the number of road accidents. When fares increase, the number of accidents increases. The Government should put greater emphasis on public transport in London and Britain's other cities as a positive way of reducing the number of road accidents.
We have a better record on road accidents than much of Europe. In the light of the Government's new road building schemes and of predicted traffic increases, it is clear that the rate at which the volume of traffic increases will exceed the decline in the number of road accidents. The Minister must address that problem. If more and more urban motorways are built, there will be a greater possibility of accidents occurring. The forecast increase in traffic levels of between 80 and 140 per cent. by the year 2015, in the absence of other changes, will lead to a doubling of the number of road accidents. The Government are in a dilemma because they are pursuing the worthwhile objective of reducing road accident casualties by a third by the year 2000, while pursuing wide-ranging policies that militate against that objective.
I said that our record on road accidents is good compared with the rest of Europe, but our safety record for pedestrians and cyclists puts Britain among the least safe countries in Europe. Research carried out by the Metropolitan police, among other organisations, has shown that 60 to 70 per cent. of accidents among motorists, pedestrians and cyclists are the fault of the motorist. The number of pedestrians involved in accidents and how such accidents can be avoided have been mentioned. It is difficult for a pedestrian to avoid an accident if he is run down on the pavement. Indeed, a third of all accidents involving pedestrians happen on the pavement. It is unreasonable to say that pedestrians should be more wary of cars on the pavements. One does not normally expect to meet a car coming the other way when going about one's lawful activities on the pavement.
I noticed recently that the borough engineer of Kingston was injured by a car driving on to the pavement in September, shortly after he had opened a new road safety exhibition. That was an extremely unfortunate thing to happen, both to a borough engineer and to someone who had just done something so worthwhile. Perhaps he was following the example of dear old Mr. Huskisson, who achieved notoriety in a way that none of us would wish to do. If the Government are serious—and I accept that they are—about improving road safety, they must introduce safety measures to prevent vehicles riding on to the pavement of urban roads. We ask for more positive proposals.
The Government make a virtue of continually announcing the construction of more roads on the basis of increased vehicle speeds and increased manufacture and use of vehicles. That, in my view, is entirely wrong: the Government should be discriminating against the construction of new roads, especially in the inner cities. Of course we need to do something—indeed, we must do something—about road maintenance, for London's road system is now in an appalling state. Local authorities, with Government support, must act as soon as possible, and the Government themselves must do something about the trunk roads.
I do not wish to interrupt the flow of the hon. Gentleman's speech, or to delay the debate. I would, however, be interested to hear his comments on the fact that many of his hon. Friends—as well as mine—come to see me to press the case for constituents who want more bypasses. How does the hon. Gentleman relate that to his suggestion that we should not build more roads—that, indeed, we should discriminate against the motor car?
Such discrimination should, I think, take place in the cities. I support the idea of improved motorway systems, although I should like the Government to push more and more heavy freight on to the railways, rivers and canals rather than encouraging its movement by lorry.
I was suggesting that the Minister should not become involved in major schemes to finance inner-city roads, although ringways and bypasses are certainly important. We should do as we would be done by. If I lived in a small town or village with numerous cars and heavy lorries thundering through every day, I should certainly be in favour of a bypass. Speaking as a London Member, however, I am not in favour of more urban motorways; I want to see fewer of them, along with more discrimination in favour of the pedestrian and of public transport.
I welcome what the Minister says about the financing of accident remedial measures through the transport supplementary grant. We were going to ask him to make a statement about that, but he anticipated our reasonable demands; all credit to him for that. I hope that the Government will not take long to consider measures which we all agree are highly desirable so that local authorities can get on with their implementation.
I know that many hon. Members wish to speak, and I wish that a few more of my hon. Friends were among them. I cannot wait to hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who always speaks good sense.
Unfortunately, I shall not, no, but I shall read my hon. Friend's speech in Hansard with great interest on Monday.
The matter of enforcement does not directly affect the Under-Secretary of State, but it certainly affects the Home Department. I am sure that there is much discussion between the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in that Department about the need to get London's police to do more to enforce traffic measures—to deal with, for instance, bus and cycle lanes and parking restrictions. The police will say that they have not the necessary resources, but, in this place, if we will the ends, we must also will the means.
Opposition Members have said many times that, if the Government come up with proposals to increase the number of police and the resources available to them so that they can deal with traffic restrictions, bus priority measures and all the other enforcement measures that are necessary in London, they will certainly obtain our support. We can pass all the measures that we want to pass in the House, but unless we give the enforcement agencies the resources to back up those measures, we are wasting their time and ours. I am sure that neither the Minister nor I would want that to happen; nor, I believe, would any other hon. Member who has taken part in this morning's useful debate.
I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said about the inner cities. The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) totally failed to draw a distinction between roads in the inner cities and roads in the country.
There is usually an unexpected bonus if one speaks in a Friday debate—the pleasure of seeing what my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) is wearing. Often it is an infallible guide to what was worn by a well-dressed Tory MP at country house lunch parties in the 1930s. Unfortunately, however, we do not have that pleasure today.
I think that the hon. Gentleman is confusing my hon. Friend the Member for Watford with my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames). Both are infallible guides to their respective styles. I think that my description was right.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman could do with some advice, but I do not think that I would choose either of them, if I were he.
There have, however, been a couple of bonuses today. The first has been to hear my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) at the Dispatch Box outlining the Government's policy on road safety. We look forward to his making regular appearances on the "Today" programme and seeing whether he can beat his predecessor's record. We shall also look forward to seeing whether he can pull a longer face over Christmas than his predecessor.
The second bonus was to hear about the Liberal Democrats' policy, and I am sorry that their spokesman, the hon. Member for Southport is no longer here because it seemed to me to be thoroughly confused. We are a nation of car owners, he said, which presumably means that he realises that people want to travel around the country in their cars, but he believes that we should not build any more roads for them. I do not know what they are supposed to do with their cars if we do not build more roads for them. He failed to draw a distinction between roads in the country and roads in the cities. He suggested that public transport could take all the strain. That may be true in the inner cities, but that is not true about the country. British Rail's capacity to take people where they want to go in the country is very limited.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West mentioned Mr. Huskisson. That made me think that he, with his deep prejudice against all forms of modern transport, might make a better Liberal Democrat spokesman on transport than their current spokesman. A point made by the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) and, if she had had time, I am sure that it would also have been made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock), so perhaps I can deliver it to my hon. Friend in quadrophonic sound, related to the representations that are being made about the South Circular study. I join the band of those who are opposed to more motorways, or anything approaching motorways, being driven through the middle of London.
The road accident statistics are awful. Many of the accidents occur in London. An interesting statistic is that 70 per cent. of all accidents occur on local urban roads, many of them in London and the south-east. The cost is estimated at £4 billion. We know who the vulnerable groups are. That problem affects those who represent urban constituencies rather more than others. The Government have made several good proposals about improving road safety and the accident record. I shall not dwell on them because they have already been addressed by many other speakers. In the inner cities, however, we should examine the whole question of congestion and rat running and whether, by reducing the amount of traffic on the roads we could reduce the amount of rat running and the number of accidents.
The CBI estimates that the congestion on our roads costs £15 billion, two thirds of which is incurred in London and the south-east. There is an enormous suppressed demand for road usage. The argument that roads create traffic in London is true, although I deny that it is true about movements between urban centres outside London. We cannot expect to solve the problem of commuter traffic on London's roads by building more roads. People are prepared to accept a certain speed of about 11 to 12 mph. More roads in London would generate more traffic, which would bring the speed down again to that level.
To improve the traffic flow we should improve the lighting, increase parking restrictions and introduce local schemes. However, we need to consider creatively the problem of commuter traffic on London's roads.
External costs are caused by congestion, a problem that is not taken into account. Delays caused by one driver impose costs on other drivers. Pollution and environmental consequences affect other people. Congestion also causes accidents, the subject of our debate. If traffic is moving at 10 mph, an additional car in that traffic for one minute imposes a two-minute delay on all the other cars. There is a geometric progression. Some 67 per cent. of London's traffic is accounted for by cars. They carry 15 per cent. of the commuters, whereas buses represent I per cent. of the traffic and carry about 30 per cent. of the commuters.
We need to move away from using cars towards using public transport, which in the short term has to be buses because the improvement programmes planned for the Underground inevitably will take some time. The fact that public transport is safer should not be ignored. Obviously, we are all desperately and deeply shocked by disasters such as the King's Cross fire and the Clapham Junction accident. However, we kill far more people one by one on the roads than we do in public transport accidents.
In the Department of Transport document "Transport for London" published earlier this year, the Government agreed that there was no case for major new roads in central London. Their aims were to divert through traffic and create good orbital roads to tackle congestion. It would be a good idea to find a way of increasing traffic flow, improving bus speeds and perhaps raising some money to pay for improved public transport.
One way of doing that is road pricing, which is mentioned in the Department of Transport's document. The document says that there are practical difficulties. I am not sure whether that is right. It also says that there are theoretical difficulties, which is certainly true. It does not rule it out, but says that further research is needed. I used to think that road pricing was a bad idea, but we shall have to ration commuter space on London roads somehow. Either people sit in queues moving at 11 or 12 mph with all the external costs that that imposes on other people, or we impose some way of pricing roads to make people choose whether they want to use them, bearing some, if not all, of the economic costs of doing so.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend is aware of the pamphlet published by the Institute for Policy Research entitled "A Cleaner Faster London". I was interested that the hon. Member for Deptford did not mention it in her speech because it emanates from the new think tank that is supposed to be injecting a little perestroika into the Labour party under the chairmanship of Lady Blackstone. It contains some rather creative ideas. Perhaps the hon. Lady did not mention it because it proposes a market solution to a social problem. Perhaps perestroika has not gone quite that far. I recommend the pamphlet to my hon. Friend the Minister, although the hon. Lady does not seem to take it seriously enough to mention it in her speech.
I should like to say for the record that I attended the seminar on road pricing organised by that body before it reported. If the hon. Gentleman would care to read the Labour party policy document on transport, he would see that that was one of the ideas we were prepared to consider as we recognise that there has to be a solution to congestion.
I am interested that the hon. Lady should say that. I hear most of the Labour party's policy on transport from the lips of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who seems to be about as anti-car as possible in the circumstances. I certainly have not heard anything creative along the lines of the pamphlet which I recommend to my hon. Friends on the basis that, if other people produce good ideas, it is an excellent idea to steal them. There is nothing wrong with plagiarism in politics.
If road pricing is to work, it has to hurt. so it has to be of such a nature and at such an expense that it dissuades people from coming into London or any other major city. In those circumstances, does my hon. Friend agree that there is a very real possibility—I issue the challenge to the Opposition as well—that those who are least well-off will suffer most?
One would have expected that point to be made in a pamphlet published by a Left-wing think tank, but the author of the study says that that is not so because anyone commuting in a car is reasonably well off and the costs that those people are imposing by creating congestion on the roads impacts poorer sections of the community such as pedestrians and those using buses. The study suggests that a charge of about £3 a day for bringing a car into central London would reduce traffic to such an extent that, instead of moving at an average speed of 11 mph, it would move at between 16 and 19 mph. The benefits would be enormous not only for those who decided to pay money and use the road; it would reduce the amount of traffic and the rat running which is a problem in so many urban constituencies, and it would enable buses to move faster and reduce the number of accidents.
I am not persuaded of the virtues of road pricing because it discriminates against poorer people. Commuter motoring in and out of most major cities is heavily subsidised by the Exchequer through company cars or expense account travelling, which is not very different. Commuter traffic moving in and out of London is heavily subsidised by the Exchequer through company cars and expense account travelling. Another way to tackle the problem would be to stop people who work in the City being given a free car to drive to work from Muswell Hill.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but one cannot deal with everything in a short speech. The Government have the right approach, as they are moving towards full taxation of company cars and benefits. Because of the enormous sums of money involved, the problem cannot be solved immediately, but we are slowly getting there.
In a pamphlet, Patricia Hewitt, who I believe has some connection with the Leader of the Opposition, says:
Road pricing is the most efficient, environmentally beneficial and fairest form of traffic restraint available.
I do not normally find myself in agreement with her, but that seems to be fairly good authority for the proposition that it is not unfair. The system has been used in a cruder form in Singapore, where there is a flat charge to get into the city centre. A trial of electronic pricing, by which one pays a variable amount of money, depending on whether one is using a busy road or a less busy one, was tried out in Hong Kong and will be introduced there. Holland will introduce a system in 1990 which uses a smart card, like the phonecard, and logs an element off it. That has a lot to be said for it.
People who choose to pay will travel quicker and buses will therefore go faster. The study also suggests that benefits of approximately £190 million would accrue. If that money was spent to improve public transport in London, initially largely on improvements to the bus service, as that is the form of transport that benefits most from traffic moving more quickly, the total value of the benefits would increase to some £310 million. That is a significant sum: it is about the same as London Regional Transport's capital investment programme.
A road pricing system would help people who choose to pay to go quicker and would benefit buses and people who travelled on them. It would help to finance the improvements to public transport that need to be the correlative of the policy, and the external costs of delay by pollution, accidents and rat running would be reduced. The system would not be unfair because the poor would benefit as buses would move more quickly.
I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that the idea is worth further study by his Department as it would reduce accidents and traffic and would help to finance improvements to public transport.
It is a pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) because he too is against road-building schemes in London. That is now the majority view of hon. Members who represent London constituencies, irrespective of their party. The Minister was a councillor in Haringey at the same time as I was, and I hope that he will recognise the strong feeling in London that urban motorway building is not on. It does not solve London's traffic problems or increase people's mobility. I hope that the Minister will remember that when he makes a decision.
Road safety is very important. Last year, 5,000 people died and 63,000 suffered serious injury as a result of accidents on the roads. I hesitate to say that all those accidents and fatalities were avoidable, but a large proportion were avoidable, as they were due to defective vehicles, speeding, drunken driving and a range of other things. As most of those causes are due to human error, it should be possible to avoid a large number of accidents. I welcome the proposal to reduce that number by one third, although I hope that it will be more.
I represent an inner urban area where the incidence of car ownership is low. It is below the London average, which is below the national average. The community suffers from the large amount of traffic that goes through the constituency. We have the eternal problem of rat-running commuters. Every morning, I feel angry about the amount of pollution that the people I represent have to suffer, as car after car goes by with one person in it, holding up a bus carrying 60, 70 or 100 people. Cars are more dangerous than buses and they cause greater inconvenience.
We have to take a more sensible approach to public transport. I welcome the proposed safety measures to protect pedestrians. For too long in traffic planning measures, road traffic engineers have taken the view that their only responsibility is to get traffic moving as quickly as possible through an area. They have ignored the needs of the majority of the population. Everyone is a pedestrian at some point.
Most people are at some time passengers on public transport and a minority of people are private car users. However, much road safety planning encourages greater use of private cars. My hon. Friends the Members for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and for Tooting (Mr. Cox) mentioned the horrifically high casualty figures for cyclists in London. There has been a rapid increase in the number ofcyclists in London—rightly so—as cycling is cheap and does not pollute the environment. However, it is dangerous.
The Greater London council adopted a good policy of trying to introduce 1,000 miles of cycle lanes, but that has not been achieved. I hope that the Minister will accept the demands for increasing the number of cycle lanes and cycle priority measures at junctions. There are several major junctions in London—Hyde Park corner, Marble Arch and Trafalgar square—where, with a bit of ingenuity, life could be made much safer for cyclists. However, very little has been done. If one thinks of the real cost of providing safe cycle lanes compared to the cost of major road junction improvements to benefit cars, one sees the benefits of it.
I hope that the Minister will recognise that the resources put into public transport are important, as is the mobility of transport in London. London is now a slow place in which to get around. The average speed of traffic in central London is about 11 mph on a good day, 8 mph on a bad day and zero mph on a very bad day. Things are getting worse because of the promotion of people driving in and out of London by private car and the slow journeys that buses have to make. Often a bus journey is curtailed because it is so far behind schedule that if it is not curtailed, the route behind it will be denuded of buses. We need bus priority measures rapidly and they must be enforced strongly.
I believe that in many cases the Metropolitan police opposed the introduction of certain bus lanes or bus priority measures and have not bothered to enforce them. If nothing is done about a car illegally parked in a bus lane it may make life more convenient for that individual driver or delivery vehicle but it will hold up at least 50 people on each following bus and that should be multiplied by the problems those people face as a result.
We must look at the Government's overall strategy. I endorse entirely all the road safety measures and the strongest possible action against drunken drivers and drivers of unsafe cars. Anyone would do that. Anyone who has seen the hurt and trauma of a family whose small child has been killed in a road accident knows that the hurt does not go away. It often remains with the parents for the rest of their lives. The strongest possible measures to improve road safety should be taken and I obviously support that.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West said, the Government are proposing to reduce casualties by a third in the next decade, but they are calmly presiding and vaguely planning for an 80 per cent. growth in the number of cars over the next 16 years and a 100 per cent. growth over the next 20 years. By the early part of the next century there will be double the number of road vehicles although it is impossible to double the number of road spaces. It is ridiculous even to think of doing so. There is a need for an overall transport strategy designed to increase the mobility of the mass of the population but not to increase the number of private cars.
I also oppose urban road building. Anyone who lived in or represented my constituency would do so, as it is to be torn apart by whatever east London assessment study is accepted by the Government. We should reject all those studies as they would all lead to a road building option that would destroy part of my constituency and bring more cars into it.
I agree with the opposition to urban road building because of all the safety arguments that have been put forward, but it is not sensible to say that there is a difference between urban and rural road building. If road capacity between urban centres is improved, when a person reaches his destination he will not park his car and get on a bus. If someone drives from London to Birmingham, he expects to drive into the centre of Birmingham and park his car. The Government's overall strategy must include improving rail and public transport. Governments over the past 25 or 30 years are to blame for the problem because of their short-sighted approach to rail investment and development. It is amazing to read in rail magazines the proposals for building new lines and reopening lines and stations that 20 years ago were declared redundant.
I hope that the Government will reconsider their transport policies and stop promoting private car ownership, stop the subsidy on business-owned cars and encourage better use of and more investment in public transport. I have often said that support from the public sector for transport is the lowest in western Europe, and it is envisaged that it will fall even lower. We must reverse that trend and invest more in public transport, which is a safer and environmentally far more sensible means of transport compared with cars. Is it a good idea to pollute our cities and countryside with more vehicles when it is possible to increase the use of railways, which are a far safer form of transport than any other available?
When road accidents occur, as tragically they often do in London, one rightly expects the emergency services to be on hand. One expects the police to direct the traffic and perform emergency first aid if necessary, the fire service to cut people out of the wreckage and prevent fires and the ambulance service rapidly to take the victims to hospital. Under the standards laid down for ambulance collection for emergency calls, the ORCon—Operational Research Consultants—standards, which were laid down some years ago, 50 per cent. of 999 calls had to be answered within seven minutes, and 95 per cent. within 14 minutes. The current figure is that only 84 per cent. are answered within 14 minutes. The trend appears to be downwards, and we are nowhere near meeting the ORCon standards. If an ambulance cannot quickly offer the best medical attention, there is a likelihood of further loss of life.
There are a number of reasons for the delays, such as road congestion in London. One can imagine the problems of trying to get a fire engine or ambulance rapidly through the centre of London, where traffic speeds can be as low as 11 mph. I recently had a discussion with the regional secretary of the Fire Brigades Union in London, who graphically explained that a half a mile an hour slower traffic movement in London can add two or three minutes to the journey of a fire engine across central London. Ambulances experience similar problems and that clearly can lead to loss of life.
We must recognise that the Government adopt differing attitudes to the emergency services. They have given considerable pay increases to the police force, and the establishment level of the Metropolitan police is yet again being increased at a cost of about £1 billion a year. The fire service has not had such increases in expenditure, and it is proposing to remove many pumps from stations and reduce the availability of fire engines throughout London.
We recognise that this is not the centre point of the debate, but I know that the hon. Gentleman would wish to be fair. Does he agree that a number of proposals in that same report call for an increase in the number of appliances, as well?
I accept that. It is true that there will be an increase in the number of appliances in some places. I think, however, that the hon. Gentleman will accept that overall there will be fewer pumps available across London than at present and that there are likely to be fewer fire stations and engines in the long run. Couple that with traffic congestion and the necessary safety provisions and we can begin to see a grim future.
Likewise, as I said, the ambulance service is having difficulty meeting the ORCon standards in responding to 999 calls. It is also having difficulty in recruiting staff, partly because of the enormous pressures faced by ambulance controllers. They need to decide immediately who has the greatest priority—a person with a heart attack or a road accident victim. They are under great psychological pressure. Understaffing leads to people working excessive hours, resulting in increased sickness rates. It is disgraceful that, even now, the Government are not prepared to increase the 6·5 per cent. pay offer to ambulance staff. They are allowing the pay differences between fire and ambulance staff to get even bigger and are threatening to bring in the Army to break the resolve of the ambulance workers, rather than solving the dispute as we would wish. I would hope that in a road safety debate the Minister would at least be prepared to recognise the value of the ambulance service as an aid in making roads safe, albeit after accidents have occurred, and a means of preserving life. I hope that he will do everything that he can to ensure that the ambulance workers are properly remunerated. Instead of hearing pious talk and seeing crocodile tears, ambulance workers should be given support and recognition for their efforts in providing a service of which we would all want to avail ourselves when necessary.
This debate is valuable because it has provided the opportunity to discuss overall policies as well as individual, more localised, road safety measures. I hope that the Government are prepared to look again at their overall transport policy. I hope that they will look towards public transport development rather than continue the obsession with the private car. That would be a major contribution towards road safety as would the traffic relieving and safety measures outlined by other hon. Members.
I should like to echo some of the problems that have arisen during this interesting debate. There are many narrow streets in my constituency of Walthamstow, which was not designed with the motor car in mind. Many of those narrow streets are blocked by parked cars, leading to the danger of children running out between cars as well as frustrating drivers who cannot get through. Because the major roads are blocked, we, too, experience the unattractive phenomenon of rat-running. For example, Century road, which should be a quiet residential road, has 1,000 vehicles an hour going through it at peak times.
I welcome the new roads that the Government propose, but I do so selectively. They are obviously very much needed outside our towns and cities, but they would be a disaster in Greater London. I draw attention particularly to the proposition to build a new trunk road down the Lea valley. It is to be built across Walthamstow marshes, one of the few open spaces that my constituents have and an area which has been untouched for over 2,000 years. Now we have this horrific proposal to build a whacking great motorway across the middle of it. My constituents will not have it, and neither will I. We will fight against it.
These problems are mirrored across London to such an extent that many people are taking to their bicycles, as has been said during the debate. I echo what the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has said. When I come to the House on my bicycle up Whitehall, I stop if the traffic lights at the entrance to Parliament square are green, even though I have to ensure that I am not rammed up the backside by a bus coming into the bus stop there. I know that to cross those lights at green and to come straight on is suicidal, so I wait until the lights turn red and break the law by crossing the red light, going on about 10 yards and stopping. As soon as the light turns, one has to pedal like mad to get ahead before the maniacs behind come whizzing up to turn left into Bridge street. On occasions I have been sworn at merely because I am on a bicycle.
Someone swore at me the other day when I was dressed like the hon. Gentleman, so no one could have mistaken me for a Tory. I was sworn at because the man was driving a van and I was on a bicycle. I am afraid that many people's personalities change as soon as they get into their motor cars and they become incredibly dangerous. I do not know why, but that is what happens.
Far too many problems are caused by the sheer volume of traffic in London, which is caused by the excessive number of motor cars. We must consider that problem. I believe that use of the private car should be sharply curbed and that people living outside London should not be permitted to bring their cars into London. That would give more traffic to British Rail, which would mean that it should be able to provide more trains. British Rail would have more revenue, so it should provide a better service. Once in London, if people knew that there was a good public transport system with smoothly operated, comfortable and efficient buses giving good service to the passengers and coming along at regular intervals in sharply defined bus lanes in which unloading and loading were not permitted, they would use public transport far more. That would be greatly to the benefit of the capital and the people who live here.
I had the misfortune to drive up the M1 last Friday afternoon, which was an extremely foolish move on my part. I had to leave at 3·30 pm. Three hours later, at 6·30 pm, I had covered all of 52 miles. I thought that something was wrong, but when I pulled into a service station and chatted to some of the people there, they said that nothing was wrong and that everything was usual. One sees so many examples of the bad use of motorways. When you drive up to your constituency, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am sure that you do not sit in the middle lane all the way with no vehicles in the inside lane. Many idiots sit in the middle lane, even though there is only one car every quarter of a mile in the inside lane. The result is that much of the motorway is grossly underused. We need more education of motorists in that respect and perhaps the police should be told to prosecute some of those people. Word would pretty soon get around that one does not have to be idle on a motorway and just sit there. People should use the inside lane and overtake if necessary. That may mean that people have to use their right finger from time to time to operate the indicator, but the benefits would be great and we should have far better use of the existing motorways.
Where is the courtesy in driving today? It has gone out of the window. Twenty years or so ago, the first car I bought was a mark VI Bentley of 1948 vintage. [HON. MEMBERS: "Your first car?"] I promise you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it was my first car. I paid the enormous sum of £60 for it. When I tell the House that at the time, I was an agricultural student earning £9 a week and having to pay £5 a week to the farm manager's wife for board and lodging, hon. Members will realise that it took a long time on £4 a week to save up 60 quid to buy the Bentley.
I bought it in the end and one of the finest things about it was the handbook, which I discovered in a neat slide underneath the dashboard. I opened it and saw that its first words were:
An owner would do well to instruct his driver as follows:
For me, that advice was completely redundant. The handbook also instructed one to dip one's headlight",
extending safety and courtesy to passing traffic".
That phrase has stuck in my mind ever since. Today, all that has flown out of the window, and many of us turn into aggressive maniacs when we get into our cars. I believe that the answer to that lies in education.
My final word is on the subject of the internal combustion engine in our towns and cities. When Henry Ford invented the Model T, it was his idea that it would be used by farmers out in the countryside. He never intended cars to be used in towns and cities. All cars pollute most terribly. When I walked here this morning —I walked, Madam Deputy Speaker —I once more had occasion to realise that. I am an asthmatic and I found it most distressing. The number of people with asthma and similar conditions increases every year. The internal combustion engine is not suitable for our towns and cities. We need a new design of electric vehicle that is quiet and pollutant free. I should like to see the return of the trolley bus, because it was quiet and efficient and non-polluting. If we do all that and ban the internal combustion engine, our towns and cities will be healthier and safer places for everybody.
After listening to a debate for nearly three and a half hours, one often starts to hear all the arguments again. That has not happened this morning and it is to the credit of hon. Members on both sides of the House that we have covered a number of different issues. I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) about his desire to reduce the impact of the motor car in our cities, although I am not clear whether he would bring in an exclusion clause for 1948 Bentleys. A similar message has emerged during several hon. Members' speeches.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister, as this must be the first full day's debate that he has had to handle. Like the rest of us, he is now required to sit here throughout. Having known my hon. Friend well for more than 20 years, I wish him great success in his new job. He is already finding that it carries a higher profile than his previous post, but I hope that along with the inevitable kicks there will he some passing moments of satisfaction.
I strongly endorse what the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), said about drink-driving. There has been a significant change in social attitudes to drink-driving, and, like smoking, it increasingly causes great offence. Drink-driving can also cause injury and loss of life and the connection between accidents and the consumption of drink is now so clear that my right hon. Friend's message should be listened to carefully, especially by the Government. He talked about the need to consider reducing the limit, and I judge that we should follow that course, because we must reflect, and sometimes lead, changes in social attitudes, and there is now little public sympathy for the person who thinks it clever to go out drunk in charge of a powerful vehicle and thus to threaten the life and limbs of innocent people.
I want to concentrate on the problem of excessive speed, and, in particular, excessive speed of heavy goods vehicles on motorways. Some hon. Members will be aware that all new coaches in this country, as they are brought into use, must be fitted with speed limiters—and a jolly good job too, say I. However, hon. Members may not recall that that step was decided upon only after a spectacularly ghastly accident on the M6 in 1985 in which 13 people were killed—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic will be aware of this because it occurred in his constituency.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development, when she was at the Department of Transport, introduced the requirement for speed limiters on coaches. I was her Parliamentary Private Secretary at the time. As you are well aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that is an exalted post of enormous power, but of scant recognition. The implementation of the requirement was followed through by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Bottomley) in his previous post at the Department of Transport.
From 1 April this year all new coaches must have speed limiters and progressively over the next two years all existing coaches will similarly be required to use them. The limiters restrict coaches to 70 mph, which most of us would consider to be an ample speed for a vehicle of considerable size.
In comparison, what requirement exists for lorries? There is no requirement for heavy goods vehicles to carry a speed limiter. However, none of us travelling on motorways or trunk roads can be unaware of the reality of driving beside, in front of or sometimes totally surrounded by heavy goods vehicles. We receive regular reports that, because coaches are limited to 70 mph, they are often overtaken in the inside lane by heavy goods vehicles which are allegedly restricted to 60 mph, but which in practice thunder along well in excess of that speed.
What is the justification for not trying to control the maximum pace at which juggernauts can interfere with our lives?
Not without notice. Even after pausing for reflection, I have difficulty in recalling such an occasion. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) lends some currency to the gist of my comments.
In the other place recently, Lord Brabazon stated that surveys conducted by the Department of Transport show that the number of HGVs exceeding the speed limit on motorways, which in 1983 had been calculated at 39 per cent., had dropped to, 22 per cent. in 1987. That is a welcome reduction. However, even on the basis of that survey, we must realise that more than one in five heavy goods vehicles are using excessive speeds and, in doing so. endanger the public and sadly cause loss of limbs or death in accidents.
There is no technical reason why limiters should not be fitted to heavy goods vehicles. All HGV manufacturers offer some kind of speed limiter as an option. The German vehicle manufacturer MAN fits speed limiters automatically to all its vehicles. I do not put that foward as an advertisement. I am simply showing what good, forward-looking manufacturers are doing.
According to my latest information, of 60,000 new HGVs registered each year in this country, about 10,000 are voluntarily fitted with speed limiters. That is one in six. Of course, Britain has no jurisdiction over coaches and other vehicles from Community countries. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will note that remark and see whether we can achieve standardisation across the Community.
I have spoken so far only about comparative safety arguments. There are now environmental arguments why we should reduce speed. The fuel efficiency which drivers would achieve if they drove at a more reasonable pace would be in the interests of the country. If we could control the discharge of greenhouse gases, we would help in our battle against global warming.
In France, all new goods vehicles over 10 tonnes must be fitted with speed limiters. I hope that the Minister will pay good, sound and long attention to my suggestion. There are only two objections, and both are of only limited weight. One is that speed limiters would slow down the passage of freight. They would do so only marginally, but one could say that if we stick to the rules it would slow the passage of freight. If lorry drivers are breaking the law, speed limiters are a proper course of action. If it is considered possible to shift some freight only by lorries travelling at excessive speed, we should examine even more closely transferring freight to rail, and wake up British Rail's freight department to carry non-time-sensitive freight. If time is unimportant, British Rail's freight personnel do not seem to be interested. They should jolly well be interested and we could then make a small environmental gain.
The cost of fitting a speed limiter must be small, or one in six operators would not be voluntarily fitting them.
I explained the tragic circumstance in which speed limiters on coaches were introduced. Let us not face the possibility of a similar tragedy before we realise the need to control juggernauts before they destroy more lives.
I listened with interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), and I shall return to one or two of his points in a moment.
One must bear in mind that heavy vehicles are far better designed than they used to be. They have many more mechanical aids which enable them to travel at speed. If my hon. Friend were to come to my part of the country, he would hear hauliers explain the great value of heavy vehicles being able to move at a sustained speed, but within the speed limit, to deliver goods that are produced or grown in Cornwall.
Several London Members have spoken. I am not a London Member, so I hesitate to cast more than a brief comment on some of the points they raised. Nearly every hon. Member who has spoken in this interesting debate seemed to recognise the need for a much better motorway network between our cities. It was not until the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) spoke that it was admitted by a London Member that, if there are more motorways, more vehicles will go to places such as London and that the drivers will expect to get their vehicles very close to their destinations. However unfortunate that may be, it is an important aspect of this matter and must be borne in mind.
The hon. Gentleman will understand that I do not agree with him on many issues, but I agreed with him when he said that we have to pay much more attention to the ways in which we can integrate the motorway system into our public transport network. As a Cornish Member, I find it interesting that far more was not made at the time of the suggestion that there be a rail link from Heathrow to Paddington and that there is not a single stop on that line where it passes either over or under the M4. Massive car parks could have been provided where people could park and then travel in. Similarly, it has always surprised me that there is no provision at the Brent Cross service area at the end of the M1 for people to drive over the north circular and into a massive car park from where they could travel by rail on the "Bedpan" line to either Farringdon or Blackfriars in a matter of either 10 or 12 minutes.
I know that rat-running must be hideous and recognise that it places enormous pressures on the remaining road links in London. My hon. Friend the Minister has obviously taken that point into account, but he must be much more ruthless about parking on such runs and realise that if we stop rat-running, which is extremely unpleasant for residents, an inordinately greater pressure is placed on the roads that we must keep open. If we are to take some of those routes for bicycle or bus lanes, our roads are constrained still further.
My first general point deals with the fact that all the statistics that are produced on road safety deal solely with injury to health. I do not deny for a moment that we should address ourselves strongly to this matter. Indeed, there has been agreement from hon. Members of all parties that we should reduce the number of deaths and injuries. I am struggling to remember in what context the expression, "the tip of an ill-concealed iceberg" was used, but it is apt in today's debate. The statistics relating to injuries and deaths hide the fact that a colossal number of accidents involve injury to property. Those accidents also involve a tremendous number of people who are shocked by what happens although not "injured". It is important that we remember that bad road safety involves injury to property as well as to persons.
I appreciate that my second point is to remind the House of the obvious, but when we learned to drive—looking around the Chamber I suspect that that was some years ago for most of us and indeed, rather more years in my case—the level of responsibility and skill then required by the driver was far less than it is now. I know that my hon. Friends will have been taken by the point made by the Minister when he addressed several of these issues. The behavioural study is certainly important.
I turn now to two areas relating to the level of responsibility to be displayed by the Government. In my first point, I shall unashamedly use constituency issues. We have no motorway in Cornwall and have certain stretches of unlinked dual carriageway. My right hon. Friend who is now the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry gave an undertaking when he was Secretary of State for Transport that the A30 into Cornwall would be dualled. As my hon. Friend knows, that is now proceeding. Although I hesitate to suggest that he might extend his tour and the commitments that he has entered into today, if he can find the time to come to Cornwall, we should love him to do so. The stretches of A30 that remain undualled are very dangerous. Indeed, the busiest part of that road is still undualled, which creates a great danger for drivers —especially those who are tired because of long holiday journeys and those who are caught behind heavy goods vehicles. I urge my hon. Friend to press for the extension of dual carriageways to be carried out piece on piece, not in bits here and bits there. It is dangerous if drivers are at one moment on a dual carriageway, then down to single track and back to dual carriageway.
My next point relates to the part of the A30 that runs through the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) and also to the A303 in Somerset. In this day and age it is quite crazy to contemplate building single carriageway trunk roads with three tracks rather than dual carriageways. I hope that my hon. Friend will realise the sense of that.
I endorse my hon. Friend's remarks. It is crazy to build trunk roads as single track, even if they are three lanes. They should be dual carriageway. We have a similar problem with a bypass in my constituency. I understand that 75 per cent. of accidents occur in rural and local areas, where there are bottlenecks and traffic diverts around narrow lanes with which drivers are not familar. That can be extremely dangerous. We must adhere to the road improvement programme, and I was pleased to hear that additional expenditure on that is anticipated.
I wish to deal with some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch about motorways. Speed, of itself, is not dangerous. I am not suggesting that the speed limit on motorways should be increased above 70 mph, but the grave differentials in speed on our motorways are dangerous. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) said how infuriating it was to be behind someone driving slowly in the middle lane. There should be signs on the motorways saying, "Keep to the inside lane unless overtaking". I have a high regard for the Department's officials. They have provided a great deal of statistics under successive Governments to which, unfortunately, Ministers do not always listen. I suspect that they would suggest a trial on particular stretches of road. I am sure that that would help to educate drivers to keep to the inside lane.
We must consider whether there should be a minimum as well as a maximum speed limit. Unless there are signs saying that the maximum speed limit is lower than 70 mph, such as in areas of road works, it might be sensible also to impose a 50 or 55 mph minimum speed limit. I am sure that I do not need to tell my hon. Friend the Minister that traffic on motorways bunches around slower moving vehicles, especially those that dwell in the middle lane. That is dangerous, especially in bad weather. I urge him to look at that point. In addition, more traffic speed signs would have to be installed along the motorways to inform drivers. That would be an extremely welcome measure.
I am listening to my hon. Friend's proposal with great interest. He has not, perhaps wisely, suggested a minimum speed. Therefore, I wish to press him a little as to whether he has thoughts on that. Is he thinking of, say, 40 mph?
I did give a speed, but perhaps my hon. Friend was not here. I suggested between 50 and 55 mph as a minimum speed. However, as my hon. Friend said earlier, heavier vehicles may be unable to sustain such speeds. As a result, my hon. Friend the Minister will have to think seriously about segregating traffic. I hear that a new motorway, probably privately constructed, will be running between Birmingham and Manchester and it will not be too long before my hon. Friend the Minister will have to think about providing one motorway link for lorries and commercial vehicles and a separate one for cars. My hon. Friend will find that, unless the motorways are built extremely wide, with many lanes, the disparity between the speeds of vehicles will mean that he will not get the lane use that would otherwise be obtained with a lower disparity of speed between vehicles.
The hon. Member for Islington, North rightly pointed out the Department's projections for a doubling of traffic in the next 20 years. My hon. Friend the Minister will have to look at many different problems. I urge him to consider the imposition of a minimum speed limit on motorways, even if it is only on a trial basis at first.
I am glad to have the opportunity to take part in this far-ranging debate. I compliment all the hon. Members who have taken part on the range of subjects that have been covered.
The enormity of the subject in these debates is a bit like reading those magazines on car mechanics, when every week a new part of the servicing that is required for one's vehicle is revealed and after 52 weeks one wonders how one's car keeps going. There are so many potential hazards on our roads. We must pay tribute to the fact that, generally speaking, our record on road accidents shows us to be a relative safe country. That is not to say that we cannot do better. In welcoming my hon. Friend and near parliamentary neighbour to his new post, I congratulate him on the scope and scale of his speech. When one has the chance to listen to a Minister talking extensively on an area of his responsibilities, one realises how wide is the Government thinking that has already gone in many of the subjects that we have discussed.
I shall try to put the debate into the context of transport policy. Our debate is about what I would call the consequences of mobility. One of the greatest developments, as our well-being has increased, has been people's ability to decide on their freedom of movement. The economic prosperity occasioned by the Government's policies has enabled more people to buy cars and use other forms of public transport to go on journeys. Underlying the debate and this development in transport must be the allowance of increased choice and of alternative systems of transport.
In public transport, we should not lose sight of the fact that the Government's policies have encouraged the development in our cities of light railway transport systems. We are seeing the renaissance of public transport, including trolley buses returning in certain towns. That is not to say that there is not a need for more public investment in local rail, underground and other forms of service. The Government cannot be criticised for inactivity in this sector.
My hon. Friend the Minister knows of the problems of travelling to Lancashire, and I shall focus on that county in a moment. First, I congratulate him on choosing today for this debate. When I woke up this morning to the "Today" programme, instead of hearing the usual bulletin for "Friends of the M6", I was greeted by the news that today was the most dangerous day for road accidents. I took care when I drove to the House. This is an appropriate day for a debate on transport safety.
I wish to put on record my praise for the work of the local authority, the county police services and local road safety groups in Lancashire, and to thank my hon. Friend's predecessor, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) for supporting a road safety poster campaign in my constituency. His personal letter was a great boost to young people in my area, telling them that someone in the Government was bothered about their anxieties and interests. The new Minister, who is a compassionate, family man, must understand the need to acknowledge such local road safety initiatives.
More than 20 people are killed or injured on the roads of Lancashire every day. One police officer described that as the equivalent of a Hillsborough every week. Other hon. Members have tried to put road safety in context and we must never lose sight of the human element. We are not dealing with mere statistics. In 1988 there were 7,331 accidents in Lancashire compared with 7,088 in 1987 and 7,338 in 1986. I quote the figures for three years because I do not wish the House to think that the trend is sharply upwards, although, sad, to say, recent figures suggest that there is a rise in the number of accidents in Lancashire. Given the increased volume of traffic we must take some comfort from the fact that the statistics have remained at roughly the same level and have not increased dramatically.
The statistics on the cost of road accidents hammer home the enormity of the problem. The Department of Transport's own figures impute a cost of £97,217,000 to accidents in Lancashire. That alone would justify investment in schemes to reduce the number of accidents. Many victims of road accidents end up in hospitals which face ever-increasing pressures on their medical services. There would be an excellent rate of return on any investment aimed at reducing accidents.
That is an important point. Although we know that 92 per cent. of accidents are the result of human error, that statistic relates only to those that are reported.
Any accident involves cost and trauma to the people involved. The average cost of an accident is just over £12,000. The overall cost of dealing with accidents and the suffering and trauma that they involve is double the annual budget of the Blackpool, Wyre and Fylde district health authority, which serves my constituency.
Of the accidents that occurred in 1988, a total of 1,133 involved pedestrians crossing the road. Several other hon. Members have drawn attention to that problem. Children's safety and the relationship between motor vehicles and pedestrians are of major importance. If 92 per cent. of road accidents are caused by human error, we need training to overcome that human fraility. Training should not stop at schoolchildren; it should take place in the workplace, the home and wherever else it is necessary.
I am told by Lancashire county council that the area has the highest rate of pedestrian deaths among children between the ages of six and nine per 100,000 of the population. That is higher than the rates in Sweden. Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Greece, Norway, Denmark, France, Belgium and Germany. It is not a record to be proud of, and it highlights the need for hard work on road safety education in schools, and I welcome my hon. Friend's commitment to continuing his dialogue with his colleague in the Department of Education and Science to establish whether such education can be incorporated more fully in the school curriculum.
I hope that, when the debate is reported by the media, it will—if nothing else—alert parents to the need for responsibility on their part.
I am pleased to observe the efforts already being made to deal with the problem in Lancashire. Last year the local police visited more than 3,200 schools, addressing 210,000 school children on the subject of road safety, and they are continuing to develop interesting initiatives. Only this year it was announced that Lancashire would receive an additional seven police officers. We know, from every debate in the House, about the pressures on police manpower, and this excellent tale of education and advice is now under stress. I ask my hon. Friend in all sincerity to request the Home Office to consider the returns—in human terms—that can be obtained from ensuring that police resources enable that programme of education to continue.
I noted my hon. Friend's comments about bicycles. In the course of their school visits, the police examined 1,343 bicycles, and found that 335 were defective. It is up to mum and dad to check their children's cycles sometimes: simple acts of maintenance in the home can clearly prevent some accidents.
The Lancashire police have an interesting maxim, which they call the "three Es" approach: education, enforcement and engineering. I shall come to enginering in a moment; we have already discussed education. As for enforcement, my hon. Friend has proposed a wide range of measures to assist the police force, which I entirely support. Let me, however, underline the message that hon. Members have already delivered on the subject of the law.
I support wholeheartedly the recommendations of the North report, especially those that apply to crimes connected with drink-driving. When I was campaigning during the last election I met a man called Alec Monteith, and later learned in graphic terms of the tragedy that he had suffered: he had lost his wife, a nurse, in a desperate accident involving a drunk hit-and-run driver who had caused a multiple accident at 10 o'oclock one night.
Alec Monteith has now come to terms with the loss of his wife, at least in a day-to-day context—no one can bring back Jean Monteith. Nevertheless, being visited time after time by a constituent campaigning on behalf of those who oppose drink-driving, being shown the photographs of the accident—I do not criticise my constituent one jot for that —and being told of his frustration that the law could not bring an action at the time against the person who was later arrested for for the crime underlines to me in graphic detail why we must press ahead with the reform of the law.
As for the county council's engineering role, I was pleased to receive a copy of the local authority associations' road safety code of good practice. The preamble says:
There is a need for local authorities to play a lead role in helping to achieve the ambitious casualty reduction targets set by the Secretary of State for Transport.
Many people say that the Conservative party believes that there is no role for local government to play, but this is a well-defined role which local government acknowledges and which my hon. Friend has encouraged.
I was delighted to hear the Minister's announcement of the transport supplementary grant. However, I am worried that under the TSG arrangement the amount left for local authorities to spend on minor road works, many of which are aimed at improving road safety, is very small. Lancashire made a strong representation, following last year's good transport supplementary grant allocation, about headroom in its budget. As my hon. Friend has acknowledged the role of cost-benefit analysis within the TSG and road safety projects, will he look again at the possibility of saying to local authorities, "Please put forward a cost-benefit justification for particular levels of spending" so that excellent small projects, which may not be ones that the TSG could assist but which nevertheless are vital, stand a chance of being carried out?
Cosmetic work is sometimes carried out. A local councillor says, "I think that we could do with a bit of road widening" so that he can then say to his chums, "I have improved the traffic flow around that junction." That may be a good and worthy cause, but it is not so good and worthy a cause as saving lives. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider applying the same approach to cost benefit so as to increase the headroom and increase the amount of money that is made available for improving road safety.
I was interested to hear about the project that my hon. Friend's Department and the Transport and Road Research Laboratory have been sponsoring in Colne. A very interesting project, excluding the town centre, analysed the full traffic flow in that town. As a result of expenditure of £200,000, between 10 and 15 per cent. of accidents were eliminated. Therefore, 20 people a year avoided being injured. There has already been a saving of £150,000 in accident costs in two years. That is a splendid rate of return. I wish that I could find an investment that gave me that rate of return in two years. I ask my hon. Friend to argue cogently—both to his Secretary of State and then to the Treasury—for more money to be spent on particularly effective local projects. My hon. Friend committed himself to that action in his speech. Local experience in Lancashire underlines that point.
I almost feel that my speech was written while I was stuck in the many and frustrating jams which I, and many others, had to endure on motorways this summer. I am delighted that the Government have committed themselves to a realistic increase in motorway capacity. We live in a crowded island. Many of our journeys take us to destinations that are less than 100 miles away. We have to accept the reality that roads play a vital part in the transport system. I realise that overnight there cannot be an instantaneous "fix" of new lanes on the M6 and the M1, but I am very frustrated by the lack of information that is given to motorists about delays on motorways.
Where on earth have the variable information signs gone? I see them standing, like dreadnought battleships about to be scuttled, on the side of motorways, inert and inactive. No information is provided that at the next junction there is a blockage, or that there has been a serious accident and I ought to slow down. Instead of that, there are the current dot matrix signs which do not give much information, and are mostly ignored by drivers who then run into major traffic jams. I ask my hon. Friend to use the variable information signs, particularly at weekends, so that people are encouraged to use vast tracts of unused roads.
As I travel from the north, wishing to avoid the motorway I have discovered the delights of the A51 and A34. Denuded of their normal commercial traffic they speed me to the south, but if only others knew of the unused resources of our roads we would have a much better balance in the available road capacity.
In addition to variable signs, will my hon. Friend please try to have an initiative on radio information between London and Lancashire? I used to pass three signs, but one has blown away. They display information about KHz and MHz which do not mean a lot to people with normal radios. I know that the BBC is investing in the radio data system, but most people will not be able to afford the £300 or £400 for the set and will certainly not throw away their present radios. It is time that we had a much better traffic information service on the radio so that when we drive along the motorways we know which radio area we are in and where to receive the signal. Information leaflets should be available at motorway service stations telling people where to tune for that information. The quality needs uprating enormously.
Given the possibility of a broadcasting Bill in the Queen's Speech, will my hon. Friend ask the Home Office to consider introducing a radio channel dedicated to the dispensation of up-to-date traffic information to help people avoid accidents and make better use of the motorways?
Will my hon. Friend look again at the regulations that the European Community and his Department have proposed concerning spray from heavy lorries? I am fed up with performing a wall-of-death act trying to pass a 38-tonne, 45 ft juggernaut at night. They do a vital job, but they do not realise the risk that I and thousands of other motorists take in trying to get past them. The road research laboratory needs to look again at that.
I am glad that my hon. Friend acknowledged the benefit of anti-lock braking systems. The time is right to examine the contruction and use regulations and consider whether those items could be made a requirement for cars. If Ford can provide them for its lower-cost models for £200, so should everyone else.
We have had a wide-ranging debate. I already feel that my drive home will be more relaxed because I have got off my chest some of the frustrations that I and many thousands of other motorists experience. We are all dedicated to improved safety. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister has taken such a comprehensive approach, and I hope that the debate has supplied him with greater and more persuasive arguments to get the resources that are needed to make those policies effective.
We have had a rewarding and interesting debate. One of the rewards of sitting here for four hours listening to everyone else is that I can use the time available to the best possible effect, although there will not be time for me to raise more than a couple of important issues which have not been covered so far.
My constituency, like those of my hon. Friends the Members for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) and for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale), has no motorways. However, it has two major roads, the A303 between London and the west of England, and the A36, the main trunk road between Bristol and Southampton. It also has the problem of Stonehenge on which, I am glad to say some progress has been made this week. It is a delight to see officers of the Department of Transport out there with theodolites, looking at ways past Stonehenge. I hope that the road will soon be dualled and that the villages of Winterborne Stoke and Chicklade will soon be bypassed.
It has been an interesting debate because there has been no lobbying. Perhaps it is because I do not often speak on transport issues, but I have not received a single piece of paper telling me what to say or do, so my speech is all my own work. I wish that we were allowed to make judgments more often from the Back Benches.
I thought that I might not be able to be here today because yesterday a story about my constituency broke in the national press. It appears that not only do we have problems caused by congestion and speeding vehicles but that we also have problems from aeroplanes. A number of my constituents have had their cars spoiled by anti-freeze leaking from low-flying jets flying from Boscombe Down in my constituency. That has taken a little while to sort out. I hope that they will get due compensation from the Ministry of Defence. I am sure that no one wanted to spray anti-freeze on my constituents' cars, but, unfortunately, that is what appears to have happened.
I have been interested in road safety for many years —since the day I did a deal with my mum when I wanted to borrow the family car, shortly after passing my driving test. She wisely said that I could borrow it when I had passed my advanced driving test. That was wise advice. I have passed it on to many people, and I have warned my children that I shall say the same to them when they have passed their driving test.
I have the honour to be the president of the Salisbury Plain branch of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. I commend it and the other branches for the important work that they do to take motorists beyond the basic driving test, which I regard as a test of competence to control a vehicle mechanically, and which is a far cry from safe, responsible driving. "Skill with responsibility" is the motto of the Institute of Advanced Motorists.
We should be grateful for the superb engineering standards of the Department of Transport and of the people to whom it sub-contracts work—often the county councils. When one drives abroad, one notices how tatty their best roads are. They are unfinished, they do not have proper culverts at the sides, the surface is poor and there are large joins between blocks of concrete.
The Department of Transport deserves praise for the good work it does. All the officials in the Department of Transport, from the Private Office which receives most of the fury of hon. Members, down to the regional offices —in my case at Bristol—deserve thanks for their unfailing courtesy to hon. Members who are often under great pressure from irate constituents.
The road building programme should be welcomed. It is not concerned solely with motorways. The Government deserve thanks for their bypass programme, which during the past 10 years has added tremendously to the quality of life in rural areas. One example is the village of Steeple Langford where the bypass was finished six months ahead of schedule because of the Department of Transport's new business sense. It induces contractors to finish ahead of time and penalises them if they are late. The bypass has made a tremendous difference to that village, and I trust that many other villages will benefit.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will shortly be able to announce the proposed preferred route for the Salisbury bypass. It will be of enormous benefit to one of the most ancient and historic cities in Britain.
We cannot continue to pour more cars and commercial traffic on to congested roads. It is not just a matter of spending more money on public transport. I wish it were that simple, but it is not.
We have to consider road pricing carefully. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) made a compelling case for that policy in London. It is interesting that there appears to be agreement among hon. Members on both sides of the House on that. It is an unpopular subject, and it is difficult, but we cannot ignore it any more. I have a horrible feeling that, if the Minister does not take up road pricing, it will soon be pinched by the Opposition. I encourage him to consider it again.
We cannot ignore the environmental impact of pouring more concrete on to the countryside. We must consider alternatives. We can improve rail links. That would take some traffic, particularly commercial traffic, off the roads.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to take up with British Rail and the Treasury the fact that, under Treasury rules, when British Rail considers investment appraisal it is forbidden to consider the cost-benefit analyses. Those are not available to British Rail and it is not allowed to make comparisons between the cost and benefit of an investment to British Rail and the cost to the community. That surely must change and I hope very much that it will. After all, with the transport supplementary grant, cost-benefit analysis is old hat, so why is it not used when we are looking at the whole transport system?
Although people in south-east England complain about the increase in rail fares, as one who lives outside the south-east, may I say that it is interesting to note that subsidies to commuters in that area are still running at a level twice as high as the entire Department of Trade and Industry regional aid budget. That is unacceptable.
What is it that makes an ordinary, civilised, decent person turn into a maniac and criminal when he or she gets into a little box on wheels? Time and again during the debate we have returned to the problem of driver behaviour. There has been a remarkable success story with regard to alcohol, and I congratulate the Department of Transport on its approach. Changing public attitudes and behaviour has worked well but more has to be done.
Speed is another problem. Again it is a question of driver behaviour and we have to decide when a speed limit is not a speed limit. On motorways it is commonly accepted that one "won't be done" unless one drives at more than 80 mph. In villages with a 30 mph limit, it is also commonly accepted that drivers can get away with 40 mph. That is not sensible.
I live close to the village of South Newton on the A36 where there was a crash only last night. There is a crash almost weekly because thundering great lorries and silly motorists pass through a narrow twisty village high street that happens to block the way between Southampton and Bristol. As a result of those accidents and a petition given to me by the villagers, I spent a morning in an unmarked police car as a guest of the local constabulary to see the problem from their point of view. It was an eye-opener. The private motorists who were driving through the village at 45 mph were deeply offended when they were stopped by the police and warned. One driver who was doing 47 mph is to be prosecuted.
There is no doubt that most lorry drivers are responsible professional drivers. The country's economy would grind to a halt if we did not have lorry drivers. However, the speed at which some large lorries travel is unacceptable. It is unreasonable that the lives of people in the villages should be made a misery. The professional lorry drivers have got the police sewn up. They have CB radios all the way from Southampton to Bristol and that means the police do not have a chance. It illustrates the importance of driver behaviour that when a lorry driver sees a police car he radios up and down the road so that everyone obeys the speed limit. That is wonderful, but they have other tricks. The police illustrated to me that even when they can catch a heavy goods vehicle speeding, it is almost impossible to get to it unless they are on a dual carriageway because there will be four, five, six or a dozen cars in between and so enforcement is difficult. The police cannot do it all even with radar guns.
I welcome the proposals for new technology and the Government's response, "The Road User and the Law." The introduction of fixed position cameras will be of great benefit in recording the date, time, speed, traffic conditions and weather conditions. I hope that the law will be changed to allow such evidence to be admissible in court.
Even that is not enough. It is clear that other sanctions are needed if we are to change driver behaviour. First there should be insurance sanctions. A section of the North report is devoted to that. Paragraph 2.8 on page 17 says:
Fear of losing a bonus may be more influential in inducing good driving conduct than fear of penalties imposed by courts after detection and conviction of an offence; indeed court-imposed financial penalties are often lower than those involved in loss of a no claims discount.
How true that is. Paragraph 2.17 on page 19 says that there is a perceived absence of moral principle in road law. The report says:
The conduct which gives rise to such offences may involve no more than carelessness, misjudgment, a lapse of concentration, a failure to be aware of or understand a relatively technical requirement—failings which are not in themselves usually regarded as morally reprehensible.
I am convinced that most people would agree that it is morally reprehensible to make such misjudgments. There is clearly much concern about misbehaviour and such attitudes on the roads.
Deterrence must be important, but I do not think that the law on it is right. Paragraph 2.33 of the North report says:
Punishment will have no deterrent effect unless the offender thinks he may be caught and have to suffer the punishment.
Those words must be true.
Warnings are at the nub of the argument, and clearly are essential. Paragraph 11.13 of the North report says:
We take the view that warnings represent an effective and efficient response to a whole range of less serious road traffic offences. We recommend that warnings be used as widely as possible.
Those words must also be true.
I welcome the extension of the role of Department of Transport inspectors to trained police officers, as recommended in the North report. That must help, because there are about only 200 Department of Transport inspectors throughout the country. We must allow more police officers to inspect defective vehicles. It is absurd that a police officer who discovers that the insurance or mechanics of a vehicle are defective cannot stop that vehicle in its tracks. It is allowed to proceed as long as the driver promises to have the necessary repairs carried out.
There is the further problem of signposting dangers ahead. Little notices beside the road saying "Police road check area" or "Police speed check area" are important, yet highway authorities are reluctant to erect such signs outside villages in rural areas. I have often tried for a number of villages to get such signs erected, but it is virtually impossible. I have written to the director of highways and planning of Wiltshire county council asking for signs to be erected outside certain villages. The police asked me to ask the authorities to erect such signs, yet still they will not do so.
advocate the use of flashing signs showing the speed of vehicles and the French solution of flashing gantry-mounted signs showing the speed limit, but such ideas are seemingly not allowed in this country. I recall some good experiments such at that on the edge of Windsor great park, where signs flash messages saying that one is too close to the vehicle in front. I believe that we must be more imaginative.
That system must be right for motorways, and it must be right for villages.
We must not put everything on the shoulders of the police because they cannot solve the problem alone. I ask the Minister to consider whether we need a fundamental initiative. We have had the successful neighbourhood watch scheme for busting crime. Commenting on the neighbourhood watch scheme in a publication this week, the Home Office says that such schemes
are a way for people in an area to get together to help stop crime and make their neighbourhood a safer place.
The most dangerous thing in villages in my area is speeding vehicles.
We have had farm watch, a successful programme of community action to prevent crime—primarily theft, but also other crime—on farms. I believe that we now need a national speed watch campaign. A number of local residents in Wilton and the parish councillors of South Newton have discussed that suggestion with me. We suggest that the details of vehicles perceived to be driving through a village unreasonably—either unreasonably fast or dangerously fast—should be taken by volunteers and passed by the parish council to the police. They should write to the owners if they can identify them. Most lorries have names emblazoned on their sides, so they can be identified. The parish council should write to the chairmen of the companies and to the regional transport commissioners, asking them again and again to check the tachographs of the lorries. After all, those commissioners have responsibility for checking the operation of heavy goods vehicles.
Some people would say that this is telling tales, that it is grassing, that it is un-British and that we do not do that sort of sneaky thing. But we are talking about crime. We are talking about ruining the quality of life of whole communities, about death and serious injuries on the roads. We must act on driver attitudes and behaviour, and, as the North report says, fear of detection is a crucial factor. It is socially unacceptable to speed inappropriately.
Every hon. Member can recall stories of dangerous driving in his or her constituency. I am amazed that the big companies that let their vehicles thunder through our villages are apparently also very concerned about the environment. I regret to say that some of the greatest offenders are our big supermarket chains, which have wonderful distribution systems and are serving the consumer in their shops. Those companies are frightfully green in the shops—they have green products and say that they are environmentally friendly and reacting to social need and change. How do the goods get into the shops? They do so via great juggernauts, creating havoc in the villages of south Wiltshire.
I hope that I can bring representatives of the South Newton parish council to discuss this project with my hon. Friend the Minister and find out whether we can take it forward, perhaps on a national basis. Perhaps the residents can be a pilot in the behavioural research project which my hon. Friend mentioned, and we can get more community action to support the police who are helping to support all of us.
There was something else missing from the North report. Although the Crown Prosecution Service submitted evidence and the Director of Public Prosecutions gave oral evidence, that evidence was not published. All the good news about which we have heard today becomes but pious hope if we do not carefully consider what happens when a prosecution is being considered in the courts.
Two cases in my constituency in the past month or so have highlighted this for me. One involved an elderly gentleman who was walking along a street in a holiday town in Cornwall with his wife and friends. The pavement was narrow and the substantial overhang at the front of a coach went over it. The coach knocked my constituent down, broke his neck and he ended up with his head under a wheel. There were witnesses but there will be no prosecution of the coach driver.
Imagine my amazement when another constituent came to see me to say that while he had been driving in Dorset a car had come round a bend on the wrong side of the double white lines and there had been a head-on smash. There were witnesses in front of and behind the accident. Police on the scene took measurements, cars were written off, but no prosecution will ensue. What on earth is going on?
I tabled a parliamentary question for answer by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, which was answered yesterday. I asked whether he would
list the criteria used by the Crown Prosecution Service in deciding whether or not to prosecute in respect of traffic offences.
My right hon. and learned Friend said:
In deciding whether or not to prosecute of traffic offences…the Crown Prosecution Service has to satisfy the two criteria set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors…These require that there is sufficient admissible, substantial and reliable evidence to afford a realistic prospect of conviction and that the public interest requires a prosecution in the circumstances.
I should have thought that both cases which I have described fitted those criteria perfectly.
I realised that that was not all. One of my constituents sent me a copy of a letter from the chief superintendent of the Devon and Cornwall constabulary, which stated:
The Branch Crown Prosecutor indicates that the public interest does not call for a prosecution in every case where it appears that there is a realistic prospect of conviction. He goes on to say that proceedings should not be instigated or pursued unless there is reliable evidence of a substantial degree of blame-worthiness.
He said that in the accident involving my constituent there was no evidence of a substantial degree of blameworthiness, but rather an honest error of judgment.
I spoke to my chief constable and asked what was meant by having to weigh up blameworthiness versus errors of judgment. It could mean that if I went out into the street and mowed down a lot of children, and if I could show that it was only an error of judgment, I should get off scot-free to do it again. Someone who makes such an error of judgment is likely to do so again. Both cases I have described involved professional drivers—one was a coach driver, the other a commercial traveller—yet neither is being prosecuted.
My chief constable tells me that the Crown Prosecution Service has said that to all chief constables and that careless driving prosecutions have diminished dramatically as a result. One is not allowed to consider the consequences, only the initiator and his state of mind at the time of the accident. People have been killed in Wiltshire, yet no action is taken against those who kill others when they are in a car.
I welcome the new offence of dangerous driving which is proposed in the North report. I hope that the state of the driver's mind will not be relevant in such cases, but that the consequences of the driver's actions will be. I accept that prosecution in the criminal courts is not concerned with revenge. I am not a lawyer, but I am sure that a lawyer would confirm that the civil courts are there to wreak revenge in financial terms through suing.
Deterrence is so important in road traffic offences that we should consider carefully the action of the Crown Prosecution Service in pursuing complaints by the police. Yet again, the police feel that it is not worthwhile to go to all the trouble of measuring up road accidents and carrying out their other tasks at the scene of accidents if the Crown Prosecution Service is going to say that the police should not proceed with the prosecution. This is a question of public confidence, and if we intend seriously to improve road safety there must be public confidence as well as public involvement. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider that point urgently.
By leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker I shall speak briefly. I concur very much with what the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) has just said. The mother of one of my constituents was mown down in the street. She has suffered the same problems with the Crown Prosecution Service and feels deeply aggrieved.
This interesting debate has produced many ideas and suggestions and I look forward to the Minister's response. I hope especially that he will have time to respond on the issue of drink-driving offences and on what action should be taken. There are strong feelings in the House on the matter and, of course, on the other matters that the North report has drawn to our attention.
I was delighted to find that the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) joined us in our outright opposition to new road building in London. I cannot stress too much how strongly London Members feel about the proposals in the London assessment studies for new road building. We are joined, regardless of party, in seeking to persuade Ministers at the Department of Transport that those plans should not go ahead.
I was interested to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) on speed limits. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) is not still with us. He was wrong when he said that speed was not a factor. There is substantial evidence to show that when speed limits are reduced, there is a corresponding decrease in accidents. Although much of that evidence comes from other countries, it is notable that when we reduced our motorway speed limits from 70 mph to 50 mph because of the oil crisis in 1973, there was a 33 per cent. decrease in the number of accidents. For those reasons, we very much agree with the sentiments of the hon. Member for Hornchurch and that is why we have said in our transport policy that we shall be prepared to consider reducing speed limits on major roads in certain cases. We should remember that someone who crashes at 50 mph is twice as likely to die as someone who crashes at 40 mph. The House cannot ignore the hard statistical facts.
Of other Tory Members' speeches, I commend in particular that of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory) who made some interesting comments. He gave us much food for thought about the condition and safety of vehicles. His view accords with the Labour party's policy on the need to tackle the market in second-hand vehicles and the danger that they can present to the travelling and driving public. I hope that the Minister will respond to those remarks.
It will come as no surprise that there is unanimity on the Opposition Benches. We believe that there is a conflict between the general direction of Government transport policy and the Government's aim of reducing road casualties.
The Minister may shake his head, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that profit comes first in the Government's policy, and the profit-first principle is in direct conflict with the safety-first principle. The Government will have to reorientate many of their transport priorities and accept the ideas advanced by the Opposition. They cannot escape the fact that most people would be much safer travelling by public transport than they could ever be travelling in their private cars. We need better finance and support for public transport. We need to make a comparable cost-benefit analysis between decisions on railways and roads rather than adhering to the simple judgment that has already affected so many decisions about building new railways—the judgment that there must be an 8 per cent. return on investment.
We wish the Minister well in his endeavours to achieve the road safety targets that he has set before us. It is four years since the House last had the opportunity of a full debate on road safety. I hope that the Minister will get back to us on these matters before another four years have elapsed. If he leaves it that long, he may not have the opportunity. We look forward to finding out what effects his announcement will have in practice and we want to test his sincerity on the transport supplementary grant and on other measures that local authorities have been canvassing. The Minister has acknowledged that much more needs to be done. We join him in seeking improvements and ask for more support to be given to local authorities and to public transport where we believe the solution to road safety problems lies.
With the leave of the House, perhaps I may draw the debate to a close. This has been one of the best debates that I have attended in my 10 years in the House because of the constructive approach that all hon. Members, without exception, have adopted to a subject that concerns all of us.
There is no difference at all between us on the objective that we wish to attain, merely perhaps some discussion—and it is constructive discussion—about the way in which we should achieve it.
We have covered a wide variety of issues. When I opened the debate I sought to set an agenda and to inform the House, and through the House the country, of the Government's thinking on this most important question of road safety. Inevitably, I shall not be able to cover all the details in my speech but I undertake to ensure that, where possible, I shall write to hon. Members to deal with specific problems when I have had a chance to examine them more closely.
I agree with the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) that one of the most interesting speeches was that made by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory), albeit in croaking form. I have enjoyed hearing his views on transport matters on many occasions. He knows what he is talking about, as was clear for all to hear today. He raised several topics which I shall examine closely. Indeed, I am already examining some of them closely and I hope to comment on them further in due course. I was also delighted by the cameo speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson). We all enjoyed his speech. However, he made some serious points. My daughter is an asthmatic and she raises similar points with me, but in slightly less elegant terms than my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow. None the less, I note his points about cycling.
You, Madam Deputy Speaker, will not be surprised to learn that I was especially pleased by the contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack). He always makes a point of trying to pinch my thunder and quite rightly so. We are parliamentary neighbours and friends and he quite reasonably referred to Lancashire.
As I represent an area close to my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde, I have every reason to support him. Also, the headquarters of the Lancashire constabulary is in my constituency. I spent last Friday with the Lancashire police and we discussed a wide variety of matters affecting road safety. I had an opportunity to try the skid pan, I spoke to the driving school instructors and went on patrol on the motorways. We discussed many matters relating to road safety and I am delighted to support the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde about the police, particularly in relation to my hon. Friend's message about the quality of information on our roads.
I drive on motorways almost as much as my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde. Indeed, since I have assumed my new responsibilities, I have perhaps travelled more. I cannot agree more with my hon. Friend about the quality of information given to motorists. It is one of my prime objectives to try to improve the quality of that information so that people understand what is going on. I firmly believe that the British people are very patient souls. They will wait in queues almost anywhere. However, they become cross when they do not know why they are waiting. We should be able to tell them more so that they understand and appreciate the reasons for the congestion whether that be for an accident, maintenance or for road improvements.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde rightly said, we have had problems on our motorways. I am aware of that because part of the junction involving the M6, M61 and M55 is in my constituency. To that extent, the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) about speed limiters on lorries are all the more pertinent to me. The accident to which he referred occurred in my constituency so I am aware of the grief and suffering which arose as a result of that accident although none of my constituents was involved. However, I am well aware of the fine work of the emergency services and the police in particular in dealing with that accident.
The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch about speed limiters is very important. At the moment there are speed limiters on coaches and buses because they are public service vehicles and the pressure for limiters is great because of the number of people they carry. Detailed discussions are being held within the EEC at the moment about limiters for lorries. It would be invidious of us to set our limits before they are complete, largely because there might be a difference in attitudes to speed which might lead to confusion. However, that does not mean that we are opposed to the idea of limiters on lorries in principle. I am considering that along with a wide variety of other issues which hon. Members from both sides of the House have put to me.
I am aware of the problem and hon. Members will know that one of the largest truck manufacturers—Leyland-DAF—is in my constituency. I know that it is interested in the subject of limiters and I will raise that subject with it, and also ensure that the discussions within the EEC are brought to a satisfactory conclusion as soon as possible.
Although congestion in London is not fundamental to our debate, it is very important. The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and many of my hon. Friends including my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) have referred to the London assessment studies and the available options. They will understand that, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I came to this task, it was the very first issue on our desks—in my case, it was on my desk within an hour of my walking in the door. Therefore, I was made quite certain of the concerns and problems of hon. Members across the political spectrum.
It is my intention and that of my right hon. Friend to ensure that the uncertainty that surrounds the discussion of the London assessment studies is brought to an early conclusion. I have informed my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Sir B. Hayhoe) that my right hon. Friend intends to make an announcement in the early part of December when the reports have been received and examined in detail. I emphasise that there has never been any consideration of motorways in the accepted sense of the word. I am sure that the expression is often used entirely inaccurately. The options that are being considered are in draft form from consultants, not from the Department of Transport. We intend to make a statement in early December and relieve Londoners' uncertainty and concern.
I assure the House that we will do everything in our power to ensure that local authorities, local Members of Parliament and local residents have the chance to comment on the proposals. We intend to do that as quickly as we possibly can, bearing in mind the need to ensure that the information that comes to us is right.
The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) said that I am a former London borough councillor. I am only too well aware of the difficulties involved with roads. When I joined what is now the London borough of Haringey council in 1968, the biggest problem was the Archway road. When I left in 1976, it was still the Archway road, and when I came to the Department of Transport it was yet again the Archway road. I recognise the pressure upon hon. Members and the concern being expressed in various parts of London.
As those who are expert in these matters will know, the transport supplementary grant is being examined at precisely this moment. I have already had a preliminary canter through it. We intend to invite local authorities to make submissions for road safety projects in the 1991–92 round. I hope that it will give them plenty of time to examine the possibilities.
One of the most important parts of this debate, which I emphasised in my opening remarks and which was addressed in his own distinguished way by the Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), is drink-driving. My right hon. Friend's views on these matters are forceful and have been held by him for many years. Obviously, there are differences of opinion between hon. Members about drink-driving. However, there is one matter on which we are all united, and that is that drink-driving is simply unacceptable. All the pressures of public opinion and the effects of the advertising through my Department under my predecessor demonstrate that the change of opinion on these matters is constantly increasing against those involved in such an unacceptable activity. As I said in my opening remarks, breath testing is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. He is treating the matter with some urgency. I hope that, as it affects my Department and others, he will be able to come to a conclusion in the near future.
On a personal basis, I have considerable sympathy with my right hon. Friend's points. The idea of random breath testing, guided by a senior police officer at certain check points, seems to have great merit. I stress that that remains my personal view, but it may yet become the view of more people.
On the subject of the alcohol level, at the moment I am not yet persuaded—I am open to giving the matter some consideration—that there is any enormous advantage in reducing the alcohol level. I say that openly for one main reason—we have spent a lot of time, with some degree of success, trying to get across to the public the level at the moment. The present level is set on a scientific basis and I confess that I do not have the time to go into that now. It was set after a considerable amount of research and was picked because it seemed to fit the requirements of safe driving. I recognise that there is some concern that it should be changed and, believing that it is worthy of consideration, I shall consider that matter. However, as it stands, the level must stay the same if only because it helps us in our continuing campaign against drink-driving. Well over half the convictions in this area involve a level well in excess of the present level. Therefore, while not completely agreeing with my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point and colleagues, I recognise the concern and will keep the matter under constant review.
I am surprised that one particular matter did not arise during the debate and, although it did not, I shall address it because I have prepared myself so to do and it is worthy of being put on the record. I am referring to the publicity that has recently surrounded drivers accompanying learner drivers. Some of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members will recognise the case of Mrs. Vicki Stone, whose daughter and a friend were sadly killed in a dreadful accident. There is some discussion about this matter. I recognise the concern and have made urgent arrangements for my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) to bring in his constituent, Mrs. Stone, so that we can discuss the matter at some length.
Obviously, this subject is not capable of as easy a solution as some of us would like to think. We know from experience that learners who have had the opportunity to practise their skills as well as having lessons with a professional instructor, do better when taking their driving test and are likely to be better drivers. We do not want to limit that or to take away the opportunity for learners to gain valuable experience, but we must ensure proper supervision. I have therefore already indicated my willingness to look into this to see whether there is a case for a change in the regulations on accompanying drivers. I hope that the House will recognise that the Government and my Department have reacted swiftly to this cause for national concern to which we might be able to find a solution.
We have addressed a wide variety of areas in the debate. We have even discussed Liberal policy which, I suspect, will be discussed at even greater length in the days to come. It appears that the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) believes that there is no way in which we can impinge on the right of individuals to buy more cars, yet his party is not frightfully keen on building more roads to cope with them. That is a fundamental dichotomy that the Liberals will have to address because if they do not, we shall force them so to do. Nonetheless, the hon. Member for Southport made an interesting speech and I am grateful to him for being here because he, like me, represents a north-west constituency and knows of the difficulties involved in travelling back to one's constituency on a Friday afternoon.
This has been an important debate. I take the point raised by the hon. Member for Deptford that we have not debated this subject for some time and I hope that it will not be long before we discuss it again. Road safety is one of the most important matters facing us—Parliament and the British people. The constant number of deaths and injuries on our roads—albeit reducing year by year—is unacceptable.
I can say with some justification that Britain's record on road safety is better than many other countries in Europe, but as long as one person dies on our roads, our record is not good enough. It is my determination that we shall continue to press strongly in road safety, to improve and to reduce those dreadful statistics and to cut out the dreadful carnage on our roads. I hope that the debate has served to allow the Government to put their case and hon. Members to address the subject in their own way because, as a result, we shall gain.