'.—(1) The Secretary of State may make payments in respect of the whole or any part of the expenditure of a public authority in relation to—
(2) This subsection applies to offences under—
(3) Payments under this section shall be made to—
(5) In this section "public authority" means—
Mr. Deputy Speaker:
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 5—Abandoned vehicles: payments to local authorities—
'2A. The Secretary of State may make payments to local authorities in respect of expenditure incurred by them in complying with the provisions of section 3(1) below, though such payments shall not exceed the amounts paid in fines in respect of offences under section 2(1)(a) above.'.
Government amendment No. 43.
Amendment No. 26, in clause 37, page 21, line 48, at end insert—
`(f)section 2 of that Act (dangerous driving);
(g)section 3 of that Act (careless, and inconsiderate, driving);
(h)section 4(1) and 4(2) of that Act (driving, or being in charge, when under influence of drink or drugs);
(i)section 5(1) of that Act (driving or being in charge of a motor vehicle with alcohol concentration above prescribed limit).'.
Government amendments Nos. 46 to 54.
Amendment No. 43 would remove clause 37. That will satisfy Opposition Members who tabled an amendment to remove the clause. I welcome their intention to withdraw that amendment. New clause 7 would take the place of clause 37, and I shall explain our reasons for tabling it.
Clause 37 establishes a power for the Lord Chancellor to make payments to the authorities responsible for funding magistrates courts to meet the full costs of administering speed and traffic light offences. However, the provision does not enable the Lord Chancellor to make payments to other bodies such as local authorities and the police, which can form partnerships to carry out the enforcement activities. The other bodies involved in the partnerships formed to fund camera placement and operation already have established financial arrangements with other Departments; for example, the police are of course funded principally from the Home Office.
When the Treasury took the decision to allow payments to be made directly from netted-off fine revenue in certain circumstances, it quite rightly placed on any proposals to do so several important criteria that had to be met before approval would be given to proceed. One of the criteria was to ensure that any scheme put in place did not result in increased bureaucracy. As a new Labour libertarian, I fully endorse that sentiment.
We are therefore left with a clear choice either to fund the various partners through several separate funding routes or to link them all up for these purposes by channelling the netted-off revenue through one Department. That is exactly how the current safety camera pilots are operating. The funds are channelled through the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions for distribution to lead authorities in each partnership, which in these cases is a local authority. That arrangement is allowed for the time being under the provisions of the Appropriation Acts, but that can only be a temporary measure. It clearly follows that to meet the Treasury criterion of keeping bureaucracy to a minimum, we must seek to continue the system that is working so effectively in the pilots.
It goes without saying that this is a measure concerned with road safety and the prevention of road accidents. It could not be for any other purpose, and it would be grossly irresponsible and unfair of the hon. Gentleman to suggest otherwise.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for securing that clarification. I know very well of his excellent work in RoadPeace, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller). The hon. Gentleman is right to be concerned about these matters.
We had hoped to be able to sustain the pilot scheme arrangements within existing law, rules and conventions by allowing DETR to act as a paying agent for other Departments, but that has not proved to be possible.
The Under-Secretary assures the House that in no sense is this a revenue-raising measure, but so far as my hon. Friends and I are concerned, this seems to be a case of "methinks he doth protest too much". Will the hon. Gentleman therefore confirm that in no one year would the receipts to the public fund exceed the expenditure on road safety that those funds would afford?
It would certainly be the Government's purpose to ensure that there was an appropriate balance of receipt and expenditure, but if the hon. Gentleman thinks about it, he will realise that it is not possible for any Minister, any Department or any Government to ensure that that is invariably the case. There is an intention that is fulfilled over time and in general terms, but it would be unrealistic for a Minister to offer the precise guarantee that the hon. Gentleman seeks.
The hon. Gentleman really is digging himself in deep. For the delectation and edification of the House I must repeat what he just said. He referred to an appropriate balance. That does not mean an equal balance. He referred to its achievement over time in general terms. I suggest that as a harbinger of good intent, it would be helpful if he could confirm that the equality between receipts and expenditure on road safety should have to be achieved within five years. Will he, as a junior but rising Minister, at least sign up to that commitment?
Notwithstanding the hon. Gentleman's slightly improbable blandishments, I will not make the commitment that he is seeking—as with the foreign policy issues on which he tempted me earlier in our proceedings. I repeat the assurance that I gave to the distinguished hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell). The purpose of the provisions before us is entirely to improve road safety and to reduce accidents. The Government's objective will be to ensure that there is a balance of expenditure with revenue, and these matters are subject to the auditing process. They are for the public record and for public demonstration.
I fully accept what the Minister is saying about balancing budgets over time. That is an acceptable and sensible way forward. However, I am interested to know whether the hon. Gentleman can give us any idea from discussions in his Department of what is expected in terms of revenues from fines arising from the use of speed cameras being channelled into road safety measures. What is the Department's perception of the increased funding from the use of speed cameras being used to increase road safety measures? Does the hon. Gentleman have a programme in mind? By how much will we be able to extend the use of speed cameras from the pilot schemes, which have clearly been successful?
The purpose of the proposed legislation is to enable the programme to be rolled out nationally on the basis of eight successful pilot schemes. In due course, we are anticipating a significant increase in the resource that will be available to introduce speed cameras. I hope that that is of some assurance to the hon. Gentleman.
Given the intervention of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), I wish there to be no misunderstanding. My hon. Friend has made it clear that the money is for road safety purposes. It is therefore axiomatic that the money must be spent on road safety purposes. It would be clear to any auditor and to any highway authority that the use of the money for any other purpose would be against the will of the House.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. It is always a pleasure to joust with him.
We do not quite know the purpose of the intervention of the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), because his purpose is rarely clear. However, the effect of his rather foolish intervention, whether he intended it or not, was to tie the Minister down. Will the Minister confirm that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston said that the money must effectively be ring-fenced—[Interruption.] Yes, the hon. Gentleman did. If the Minister agrees that the money can be spent only on road safety measures, which means in practice that it will be ring fenced, why is he not prepared to commit himself to the proposition that that is exactly and exclusively how it will be spent, measured over a five-year period? It is a simple challenge. Why can he not rise to it?
The hon. Gentleman is not making an unreasonable proposition. On balance, over a five-year period, one would expect these matters to even out. I accept the general thrust of his observation but I am not in a position to say that there will be precise equality between revenue and expenditure at the end of a five-year period.
However, that would be a desirable outcome to which the Government are certainly working.
I heard the hon. Gentleman, from a sedentary position, ask, "Why?" On the whole, the Government like to approach these matters in a slightly more considered way than responding to flashes of inspiration from Opposition Members. The hon. Gentleman has had not a bad idea, and I have tried to be responsive to the broad thrust of his observation. However, he cannot expect me to make policy on the hoof, even though we are impressed by the ideas that flow from him in such a fecund fashion.
I return to the point that I was evidently so laboriously trying to make. I was saying that we had hoped to make the provision within existing conventions by allowing the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to act as a paying agent for other Government Departments. That has not proved to be possible. Therefore, to establish a clear power for DETR to make payments on a permanent basis, new clause 7 introduces a different arrangement from that set out in clause 37.
New clause 7 is purely a mechanism to allow the funds to be channelled efficiently to any future partnerships through the one Department. In so doing, it allows the funding mechanism for speed limit and traffic signal enforcement to be established as simply and effectively as possible. I stress that the scope of the clause is limited entirely to funding enforcement activity that is associated only with speed limit and traffic signal violations.
Further to my previous intervention, the Minister will accept that I am generally supportive of the ambitions of the clause. However, I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman provided a little more detail in relation to the national programme that will be funded as he has described. What specific difference will it make to existing plans within the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to extend the programme of speed cameras? Will the hon. Gentleman indicate what amount of revenue—or funding, if he so wishes—will be raised in addition to what would otherwise have been budgeted for in the Department's capital programme? What impact does the Minister think the scheme will have?
First, the Government take these matters step by step. We implement experimental or pilot schemes to ascertain whether ideas are sustainable. In this instance, given the success of the pilot schemes they evidently are. Secondly, we roll out the legislation so that the measures can be applied nationally, recognising that that is likely to produce desirable results.
Within the framework that we are debating, we shall proceed in conjunction with local authorities to work out a detailed scheme of support and allocation of resource so that there can be a significant change in local arrangements. I hope that that satisfies the hon. Gentleman. It seems it does, given his assent from a sedentary position.
If clause 37 is to be replaced, there need to be some minor amendments to the schedule to reflect that. These can be seen in amendments Nos. 46 to 54.
We have debated both on Second Reading and in Committee the principle of the netting-off procedure for safety camera operation. I believe I am right in saying that there is a consensus that it is right and sensible, in the context of improving road safety and reducing the risk of accidents, to press ahead to make netting-off for speed and traffic signal enforcement available nationally. Indeed, in tabling amendment No. 26 to expand the netting-off procedure to cover careless, dangerous and drink or drug driving, the hon. Members for Lichfield, for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) and for Colchester clearly demonstrate that general support for this road safety measure is evident in the House.
I fully recognise that the proposed Opposition amendment is well intentioned, but in this context it is not appropriate, for reasons that I shall set out. The netting-off process is to be applied only to specific fixed-penalty offences. It was decided at the outset that the scheme would be limited to fixed-penalty offences, and the pilot schemes are proceeding on that basis. Some of the receipts from the penalties will be invested in greater enforcement activity, which will continue to put road safety first.
However, more complex cases outside the fixed-penalty procedure are punishable by fine or imprisonment, or both. We maintain strongly that those cases are not to be included because courts may appear vulnerable to the charge that penalties were set in individual cases for reasons of wider monetary pressures, rather than in the interests of justice and the income of the individual. The amendment includes some serious offences that can be dealt with only by court appearance and, following conviction, would result in mandatory disqualification and perhaps even a custodial sentence. Fixed penalties are certainly not appropriate for those offences.
The House will be aware that the Government are currently addressing the wider issue by conducting a review of penalties for the main road traffic offences, including drink and drug-driving, careless driving and dangerous driving. Its purpose is to consider whether the current maximum penalties remain appropriate, and to ensure that any proposed changes to penalties that we may wish to make are consistent within the whole sentencing framework.
For the reasons that I have given, it is right that the clause should be limited to netting off fixed-penalty revenue to fund speed and traffic light violation enforcement and is not suitable for expansion into other areas. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member for Lichfield will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.
I now turn to new clause 5, which was tabled by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and others, which is legally defective. It is headed,
Abandoned Vehicles: payments to local authorities
and its references to sections are unsourced and make no sense in the context of the Bill, clause 2 of which refers only to the registration of salvage operators. There is no "section 2(1)(a) above" as the amendment states. It is possible that those who tabled the amendment had in mind
the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act 1978, which makes it an offence to abandon a vehicle in a public place and obliges the local authority to remove such vehicles in certain circumstances.
The amendment seeks to allow the Secretary of State to make payments to local authorities for the purpose of removing abandoned vehicles, provided that the payments do not exceed the value of fines imposed for abandoning them. That would be an additional resource for the collection of abandoned vehicles. Of course, we understand the extent of concern about abandoned vehicles, and agree that the problem must be tackled. In fact, it was raised on Second Reading and in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw). However, we do not agree that the amendment would provide the practical solution that it seeks. In particular, it does not take account of the work of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the police.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was coming on to set out those precise measures.
As I have said, we are keen to tackle the problem of abandoned vehicles, which are an eyesore and cause considerable concern to the public. They are also dangerous. I well remember a pupil at a Glasgow school at which my wife once taught who died after playing with an abandoned vehicle and dropping a lighted match into the petrol tank. There was an explosion and the child was killed. It is because of such cases that it is important to deal with the issue.
We are watching closely a pilot scheme in Medway, with which my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford is involved and which is partly funded by the DVLA. The scheme was due to begin on 22 January, and I understand from my hon. Friend that it has already made a promising start. I rather think that we will hear more from him, should he catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the mean time, I want to put on the record my tribute to my hon. Friend for his personal contribution to initiating that important scheme.
Abandoned vehicles are usually untaxed and, under the scheme, untaxed vehicles will be wheel-clamped by one of DVLA's contractors—Sureway—and, if they are not taxed within 24 hours, will be removed to one of two car pounds and disposed of after 35 days. The pilot is a multi-agency approach to the problem and, if successful, could be used in other areas. There will be no advance publicity associated with the scheme: the aim is to deliver a short, sharp shock to the owners of unlicensed vehicles and force them to relicense. A number of abandoned vehicles will also be caught in the net.
Will my hon. Friend clarify whether that scheme involves recouping the costs of disposing of those vehicles? The experience in my local authority, which is spending about £160,000 a year on the disposal of abandoned vehicles, is that, when the owners are approached, they say that they have sold the vehicle to a person in the pub or somewhere, but that he or she has not come to pick it up. They are literally discarding their vehicles on the roadside and leaving it to others, through their council tax, to pay for their disposal. Unless a penalty is involved, that practice will continue.
My hon. Friend is right: the disposal of abandoned vehicles is enormously costly to local authorities—both those like my own authority of Lambeth which is almost adjacent to my hon. Friend's authority, and others nationally. The problem is enormously expensive and the Government are certainly looking at costs as we review the issue of abandoned vehicles—a matter in which I personally take a close interest as a Minister. My hon. Friend's observation is therefore taken very seriously.
To return briefly to the Medway pilot scheme, we hope its evaluation will provide us with solutions that we can introduce nationally, some of which may require legislative changes in their own right. In the light of his observation, may I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) that it seems more sensible to consider all possible legislative changes as a whole in due course? In addition, on the horizon is the vehicles (end-of-life) directive which seeks to make provision for the collection and environmentally sound destruction, or recovery and re-use, of vehicles that have outlived their usefulness. We are currently looking at how best to implement the directive which will, we hope, tackle the problem that the amendment seeks to address. In the meantime, for the extremely cogent reasons that I have advanced, I trust that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) will agree not to press his new clause.
There has been a remarkable change of heart on the part of the Government. Of itself, that is not necessarily to be regretted or deplored, but the extent to which, at this relatively late stage in the consideration of the Bill, Ministers seem uncertain about the means by which to achieve their objective is scant reassurance to the rest of the House, the affected industries and, indeed, the wider public.
Despite the fact that the Minister must have been considerably embarrassed about that about-turn, he did his best to camouflage it and presented a difficult case with his usual vigour and alacrity. However, there is a big change on the Government's part. Previously, they thought that the arrangement was fine and, only 10 days or so ago, they were commending their planned intentions to the Standing Committee. Now, it seems, there has been a turf war, from which the Home Office—the lead Department dealing with the Bill—has, not surprisingly, emerged victorious. Nevertheless, there are genuine concerns about the Government's position on the proposal to finance a wide-scale roll-out of additional speed cameras.
The main concern that my hon. Friends and I have, which we explained in Committee and which was not convincingly answered, is that the proposal is far less a road safety measure than it is a tax-raising device. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) takes a different view. Not surprisingly, in view of past experience, he ended up a few moments ago disagreeing with himself, though he was probably unaware of it. That is a curious state of affairs. Hon. Members often disagree with each other across the House, and it is not entirely unprecedented for members of the same party to disagree with each other, but it is very strange for a Member of Parliament to disagree with himself, and it is even more curious—I dare go so far as to suggest that it is unprecedented—for an hon. Member unknowingly to disagree with himself. That, unfortunately, is the situation in which the hon. Gentleman finds himself.
There are other matters on which there might be Divisions, and the hon. Gentleman, who has a natural and well-developed inquisitiveness, must await developments. I am not prepared to tell him now when we might have a vote. [Interruption.] No, I am not disagreeing with myself. I am simply telling the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) that I understand his curiosity, but I assure the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) that I am not yet ready to satisfy the hon. Gentleman's curiosity.
As will become clear to hon. Members, my hon. Friends and I do not approve of new clause 7. We approve of new clause 5—not surprisingly, as it is ours. Let me be specific. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston had something of a tantrum a moment ago when I accused him of disagreeing with himself, and started insulting me from a sedentary position. I know that he has considerable knowledge of much legislation, and I respect that knowledge. However, people who are very knowledgeable can often be wrong-headed, and the hon. Gentleman is wrong-headed.
I shall explain why I accuse the hon. Gentleman of internal inconsistency and disagreement with himself. He asked the Minister in an intervention to confirm that all the proceeds of fines would have to be spent on road safety measures, for if that were not done, it would effectively defy the will of the House. In other words, any moneys raised would have to be spent on road safety measures. I assume that the hon. Gentleman was not being cynical. Whatever his other failings and merits, I have not accused him of being cynical. I assume that he was saying not just that money raised from fines would be spent only on road safety measures, but that all money raised from fines would be spent on road safety measures, and that it would not be appropriate, for example, to use the money to reduce interest charges that the Government might face. Not only could the money not be spent on another public policy, such as purchasing hospital equipment, but it could not be spent to satisfy another obligation, such as reducing a debt. All of it would have to be spent on road safety measures.
The hon. Gentleman seemed to be suggesting to the Minister—it was so clear that none could doubt or gainsay it—that the Government would ring-fence the funds. The Minister speedily responded and accepted that. He said yes, he thought that that was the intention. Thus the hon. Gentleman suggested ring-fencing, and the Minister took him up on it and said yes. I challenge the Minister to confirm that the ring-fencing would apply, if not in every year without fail—errors occur, and there can be a mismatch in one year or another—at least over the five-year period of a Parliament or, in view of the way in which the Government apparently intend to cut and run, over the expected four-year term of a Parliament.
At that point, the predictable confidence and remarkable assurance that the Minister usually displays in the delivery of his arguments immediately deserted him. All of a sudden, he retreated into a combination of the evasive and the coy. Now, I am very fond of the Minister. After all, he was my constituent when I was a young councillor in the London borough of Lambeth some years ago. We used to chat on the bus on which he travelled home, so we have always had good relations. I have the highest regard both for his integrity and for his debating skills. However, when he gets into difficulty, he waffles. When he does not know the answer, he becomes evasive. When he is severely under pressure, he says to the House, "Oh, but I am just a junior Minister. This is not a matter for me. I obviously cannot commit my senior, distinguished and highly respected right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I will get into frightful difficulty if I do."
All that I was challenging the Minister to do was to confirm that, if the funds are to be ring-fenced, they will all be spent on road safety measures over a five-year period. All that I required from him was an answer in the affirmative or the negative. Instead, I got a circumlocutory evasion. That was not good enough.
That is a fascinating challenge, but I shall be honest and tell the hon. Gentleman that off the top of my head I do not have the square root of a clue. If he would find it a stimulating and enjoyable experience to correspond on the subject, because there is a genuine public interest at stake or he wants to pursue an important debating point with me, I should be happy to correspond with him.
I accept that the hon. Gentleman makes a fair challenge. He is right that, off the top of my head, I do not know the answer. Like all right hon. and hon. Members, I receive regular requests for support for particular schemes, and I lobby vigorously on behalf of those that I think are in the public interest. I do not know what the figures are, but seriously, I would be happy to correspond with the hon. Gentleman. Moreover, I accept the thinking underlying his intervention: that much work needs to be done to improve road safety.
What I found in Committee, as my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) and—if she were present, which sadly she is not—for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) would testify, was one of those rare but striking occasions on which not only did Government and Opposition Members disagree about speed cameras, but there was almost blank incomprehension of each other's position. It is certainly fair to say that of the Government's attitude to us. The Government seemed to think that using fines for the purpose of the massive roll-out of speed cameras would be a thoroughly good thing, that it would obviously be effective, and that only the most bizarre specimen could possible oppose it.
The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston nods to confirm that. [Interruption.] He rather impolitely spoils his point by saying from a sedentary position that the odd individual whom he has in mind is none other than yours truly. The trouble with that point is that it would apply if I were speaking only for myself, but, as 1 hope he will accept, I am speaking on behalf of the Opposition.
We believe that there is a degree of disingenuousness in the Government's plans, because they are not prepared to pledge that all the funds will be spent on road safety measures, and that the Government are in error in distorting by over-emphasis. They exaggerate the significance of speed, important consideration though it is, and the cost-effectiveness of a large-scale roll-out of additional speed cameras, as against various other causes of road accidents and possible means by which to address those problems.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, as road safety is in need of major investment across the country, any revenues generated by speed camera fines should be in addition to what is provided by the Exchequer, not a replacement for it?
Liberal-Conservative alliances are rare in this Parliament, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am grateful to him for providing ballast to my argument. He is right to make that point, and he probably would not have to do so if the Government had confirmed more explicitly that all the money would be spent on road safety, and that that money would be in addition to, not instead of, other moneys. I think that the hon. Gentleman is hinting, in his understated and polite fashion—and, in my slightly less understated and polite fashion, I am happy to take up the hint—that the Government have an appalling record on so-called additionality.
I know that you are familiar with the concept of additionality, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I have heard you expatiate on it in relation to Suffolk matters. The concept relates to whether Government spending is additional to, or a substitute for, what would otherwise be spent. Ordinarily, such argument arises in the context of lottery funding, but I shall not animadvert on that subject now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as you would probably get cross if I did so. I would not want that to happen as we approach the dinner hour of some hon. Members.
None the less, the hon. Member for Colchester made a fair point. Will the Under-Secretary confirm that the funds are additional to any other funds that might be spent? That is a fair challenge. [Interruption.] I wish that I could have heard the sedentary observation made by the Minister of State, Home Office, as I might have been tempted to reply.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary made an observation about dinner, and I remarked that the presence of only one Back-Bench Conservative Member suggested that the Opposition were more keen to eat dinner than to participate in the debate in the manner that the hon. Gentleman described during consideration of the programme motion.
I am grateful to the Minister, who can never resist an opportunity to point score—something that I never do, as he well knows. All that I can say in response is that I have no intention of going to dinner, although he would probably prefer me to do so. Apart from anything else, I am anxious to retain whatever element of a trim figure I currently possess. I am much more interested in discharging my obligations on Report and Third Reading than I am in consuming whatever the estimable House of Commons Refreshment Department has to offer.
As I have tried to emphasise, the Opposition are anxious that the Government are attaching a disproportionate significance to speed and that they are not attaching enough importance to other forms of dangerous driving. I know that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston disagrees with that argument. His views will doubtless be informed or reinforced by his constituency experience, so I assure him that I am speaking not off the top of my head, but on the basis of representations made to me by my own constituents. I say in all sincerity that such representations have been made to a number of Opposition Members. I find it inconceivable that they have not been made to Labour Members also.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston does not agree with the validity of my point. He might think that the only people who make such observations spend their time driving around at extraordinary speeds. However, a lot of people feel that many accidents are caused by dangerous and inconsiderate driving. It is not true to argue that such driving consists exclusively of excessive speed.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept the clear evidence to show that decreasing car speed from 30 mph to 20 mph reduces by 60 per cent. the injuries caused in crashes involving children?
Yes. I have heard that point before and I know that it is correct. The hon. Gentleman's comments support the view that we should try to clamp down on speeding. I accept that view, but it does not mean that tackling speeding is the only method by which one should seek to improve road safety and reduce the number of accidents.
The hon. Gentleman and I agree on that point and accept that speeding is not the only form of dangerous driving. We must therefore make a judgment on whether it is wise to use all the proceeds of fines for the exclusive purpose of extending dramatically the number of speed cameras throughout the United Kingdom. Although the spending of some money on that purpose might be justified, I am politely suggesting to the hon. Gentleman that I do not think it proportionate or wise to devote all of it—if, indeed, that is what the Government will do in practice.
On speeding, is my hon. Friend aware of the good work done by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) on bull bars? That work has my wholehearted support. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston spoke about statistics on the killing of children at speeds of 30 mph and 20 mph, but is my hon. Friend aware that a child who is hit at head level by a bull bar—we should bear in mind that bull bars are usually fitted for cosmetic purposes—can be killed by a vehicle travelling at only 4 mph?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that observation. I was aware of the potential damage that bull bars can do, although I did not know about the important work done by the hon. Member for Newport, West. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for enlightening me on that point.
Conservative and Labour Members must agree to differ, both on the rationale for proposals to use fines for the funding of speed cameras and on their likely implementation. I refer to likely implementation as it is not clear whether the Government intend to stick in practice to the principles of ring fencing and total expenditure of fine proceeds on speed cameras, even though those are the principles that they appear to avow to the House.
We disagree not only about that point, but about payments to local authorities in respect of the obligation to secure the removal of abandoned vehicles. I should like to deal briefly with this matter, as the Minister of State and I disagreed about it in Committee. Indeed, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw) also disagreed with me. I listened with respect to the hon. Gentleman's remarks, as I know that he is attending closely to the pilot scheme in his area, but I was fairly unfazed by his comments on a multi-agency approach. Although I always listen to him with interest. I thought that the frequent restating of the need for a multi-agency approach was a substitute for a policy rather than proof of one.
I am not that excited, but I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. If he wants facts rather than proposals—that is my interpretation of his remarks—he should know about the pilot that has started in the Medway towns. It brings together the DVLA, the police, the fire brigade and the local authority. The Medway towns now have a minority Conservative-led administration, so no partisan point is at stake for me. However, he might like to know that, before the pilot began, on average, four abandoned and untaxed vehicles were removed each week from the streets of the Medway towns. Within the first week of the pilot, however, between 50 and 60 vehicles were removed. If he is talking about the proof of the pudding, he should know that the pilots are certainly working. They are bringing together the powers of all the agencies by introducing the proposal that I described in Committee. I think that that proposal will work.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. He speaks as a constituency Member of Parliament and I do not seek to gainsay him, but I point out that it would not be right to prejudge the outcome at this early stage. He will accept that it is only on the conclusion of a pilot, when all the evidence has been considered and submitted—this applies also to the public and other inquiries of which we currently hear so much—that one can draw a conclusion about likely effects.
I am sorry, but I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman again. He knows that I am usually happy to do so, but I want to make progress.
I was a little disappointed that the Minister of State cavilled at our references. As he knows perfectly well from Standing Committee debates, the Opposition grounded our proposal on the requirements of the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act 1978. Under that Act, it is already an offence to abandon a vehicle in any place in the open air, and fines of up to £2,500 can be levied for such an offence.
A recent Royal Automobile Club survey found that between 150 and 200 cars were being abandoned each month in Islington alone. We must do something to tackle that problem. Although the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford was enthusiastic about how to deal with it in Medway or Chatham and Aylesford, he seemed baleful—nay, doleful—about the prospects of achieving progress elsewhere. Indeed, he suggested that pessimism was his middle name. He said that nothing could be done, that it was too much to expect, that the funds could not be provided, that local authorities would not deliver and that it was all very unfair. He suggested that we had to reconcile ourselves to huge numbers of abandoned vehicles while the Government engaged in a feeble display of collective hand-wringing.
It is gracious of the hon. Gentleman to give way. He mentioned the Medway scheme earlier, and said that it was wrong to prejudge a pilot. Do not his proposals prejudge what local authorities will be able to collect? As I advised him in Committee, officers from Kent county council and Medway council, which are both Conservative authorities, advised me that 90 per cent. of abandoned vehicles were untraceable.
The hon. Gentleman underestimates the significance of financial constraint as a means of halting or retarding the progress of local authorities in tackling abandoned vehicles. Our proposal is based on our belief that assistance is required. The hon. Gentleman accuses me and the Opposition of anticipating or second-guessing the pilot scheme. I disagree, because the approach that he commends—the final results of which we will be made aware of—need not be incompatible with the simultaneous pursuit of the national policy that the Conservative Opposition recommend. Let a thousand lights burn; let a variety of approaches be adopted, and let the availability of resources that we recommend be a staple feature of the policy. Councils will then have the resources to discharge their obligations.
We developed the arguments clearly in Committee. I was sorry that the Minister and the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford were so unenthusiastic, because I believe that many people who live in areas where abandoned vehicles multiply by the day look to the Government to take decisive action. We recommend such action, but the Government resist it. We believe that we are right and that they are wrong.
New clause 7 grants a clear set of powers. They are welcome, especially to hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell), who have had the unfortunate responsibility of dealing with constituents who have lost a loved one through a road crash.
I have persistently and consistently nagged the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) and the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) on the matters that we are discussing. They therefore know that I believe strongly that we need to do much more about road safety. I agree with the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) that much wider measures are required. I want local authorities to use more widely their powers to reduce speed limits in urban estates. I support better driver education and more rigorous enforcement of the regulations that govern the substances that people may have consumed. I have discussed with the British Medical Association a range of ethical matters that relate to drivers who are hospitalised after causing a crash. Many issues need to be tackled.
I am especially pleased that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench are present. They accept that Parliament and the Government have a responsibility for dealing with those matters, even though some aspects are not popular with the public. That is shown by the failure of the hon. Member for Buckingham to support new clause 7 although he supports the removal of clause 37. Of course, people who believe themselves to be good drivers—we all do when we are behind the wheel of a tonne of steel—are frustrated if they come across too many lights. However, they are there for the good reason that speed kills. The evidence is unequivocal; a reduction in speed causes a reduction in deaths and serious injury.
As a result of much work, some of which I have mentioned, I want us to reach a position whereby the new clause becomes defunct. In an ideal world, we would educate our drivers, develop vehicle safety, road design and other aspects to the point where such technology became unnecessary. The hon. Member for Buckingham asked about the figures in five years and whether they would be balanced. I should like us to reach a point, through a wide range of measures, where the Government of the day—I am sure that my hon. Friends will remain on the Front Bench—can decide that the provision has achieved its objective and begin to devise other methods of using the resources.
The new clause has revenue implications, and I agree with the hon. Member for Buckingham that the provision should not create a revenue-raising power. That is why I probed my hon. Friend the Minister through an amendment to ascertain whether any revenue would be used for road safety measures. My hon. Friend confirmed that in Committee and today.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of an ideal world in which road safety measures would be so successful that awful accidents would not happen. Has the hon. Gentleman considered that if the national programme for speed cameras is so successful that the number of offences is significantly reduced, the revenue will also be reduced? There is a law of diminishing returns. I am seriously worried about the ability to continue supporting the programme.
If we considered that argument in isolation, the hon. Gentleman would be right. However, when we take all aspects of death on the road into account he is wrong. It has been estimated that every death costs approximately £1 million. The hon. Member for Colchester agrees with that. We must consider the overall figure. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) presents an intellectual challenge, but he must consider the issue in the round.
A point made by the hon. Member for Buckingham sums up the difference between the Government and the official Opposition on the issues that we are considering. In debates on previous clauses, the hon. Gentleman described victims of vehicle crimes as potentially suffering emotional scars. I do not disagree with his view, but I should like him to say that he understands and commits himself to dealing with those who suffer more serious emotional scars after losing loved ones.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman accepts that. It is vital for the House to take a lead with policies that are unpopular with the wider public. People do not like speed cameras, but when they consider the full facts, they take a different view. The Government have got the new clause exactly right. It will provide another opportunity for the relevant authorities to maintain the pressure on road safety. I hope that, with the many other matters that the House must continue to tackle, the provision will contribute to a reduction in the approximately 3,000 deaths that occur on our roads every year.
It is an honour for me to follow the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), whose record on tackling the question of road deaths and crashes I admire. I concur with the points that he made.
I am disappointed that Conservative Members do not intend to force a Division on the new clause. Their language suggested that they were opposed to the new clause—or at least parts of it—yet they will not oppose it. In a way, I ought to be pleased that they will not, but there is nevertheless a conflict between their language and the lack of a Division.
I am also disappointed with the Government for not making it clear that all the moneys generated by the fines will be spent on road safety in the broadest sense. They are missing the opportunity to deal with road safety in the round by narrowing the proposal down to include only speed cameras. I suggest that speed bumps in the vicinity of a school are a more effective road safety device than speed cameras.
The Government could have done more to spell out whether the money generated by the provisions of the new clause will be available in addition to what is currently spent. That was not said, and when something is not said, a degree of uncertainty can emerge concerning the Government's intentions.
Will the Minister give us a definition of a speed camera? Two kinds of camera could be described as income generators, in that their use can result in a fine—fixed cameras, and hand-held radar equipment. Recently, in a village in Cambridgeshire, I saw a different type of speed camera, whose use does not result in an offending motorist being fined. About two years ago, on the M25 in Kent, I saw a speed camera which flashed up a sign to inform drivers that they were breaking the speed limit. In the case of the camera in Cambridgeshire, if a car—or any other vehicle—exceeded the 30 mph speed limit, a sign flashed up "30 mph".
I understand, however, that the downside to those devices is that some motorists have been tempted to drive at speed to activate them. I suggest that we need a hybrid speed camera. If the object of the exercise is to reduce road deaths and improve road safety, rather than to generate income, we should ensure that vehicles do not speed in the first place. We need speed cameras that warn drivers that they are exceeding the speed limit. If they continued to do so, they would deserve a hefty fine, because they would have progressed from a yellow card to a red card, to use football terminology.
I urge the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and those who are gifted in the design and development of such technology to ascertain whether it would be possible to develop a speed camera that was both a warning device and a means of imposing a penalty.
My hon. Friend stirs the imagination with his concepts of developing the technology of speed cameras. Has it occurred to him that making speed cameras more visible might provide a greater deterrent? Perhaps they might attract attention more readily—and instil some caution into the motorists approaching them—if they were bright, fluorescent yellow, to continue my hon. Friend's football analogy.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's suggestion. Speed cameras are at present a nice grey, which blends into the street scene.
There is no excuse for motorists speeding. The object of the exercise must be to reduce the speed of vehicles and the number of accidents. We know that 3,500 people are killed on our roads each year, and that the number of people injured runs to hundreds of thousands. We also know the cost to the public purse of all those road accidents. Surely it makes sense to prevent the speeding and the accidents from happening in the first place.
I agree with hon. Members who said that there must be a culture change. I was not helped when I received a letter from an organisation called the Association of British Drivers bearing the sub-heading "Promoting effective road safety instead of the criminalisation of safe driving", which states:
Unfortunately, the Speed Kills dogma … has the exact opposite effect".
I wonder what the Minister has to say about that.
I draw the House's attention to a worthy publication called Essex Safety Cameras, which contains the latest news about the Essex partnership and pilot schemes. If any hon. Members have not yet received a copy, I am sure that Essex county council, the Essex police or the Essex magistrates will be happy to provide them with one. The publication spells out the success of the pilot scheme, and if anyone needs to be convinced, they should read it.
The Association of British Drivers has a different view, however. It tells me:
Councils such as Essex have a deliberate policy of preventing both drivers and professional highway engineers from deciding what is a safe speed to travel at. Instead, completely unqualified local residents can choose, based on nothing but their own prejudices.
I find such comments regrettable in the extreme.
Speed is a contributory factor in many road deaths and road accidents. We do not know precise figures. If the Bill results in just one death being prevented, it will be worth while. However, I believe that it will result in many deaths and serious accidents being prevented. I therefore urge the House to support it. I also ask the Minister to consider incorporating a proposal that every penny generated by the new system should be spent on road safety in the broadest sense, in addition to moneys already earmarked for the purpose.
I want briefly to raise one or two points with my hon. Friend the Minister. I accept all the arguments about road safety, but I want to concentrate on the issue of abandoned vehicles, which is dealt with in this group of clauses.
I accept my hon. Friend's point about the flaws that may exist in new clause 5, but I want to raise the point about the cost to local authorities of dealing with abandoned vehicles. My hon. Friend said that the Bill would restrict its focus to fixed penalties. Abandoned vehicles attract fixed penalties. While we are dealing with issues such as vehicle registration, it would not require a giant leap to add not only the issue of speeding but that of abandoning vehicles by the roadside.
The scrap value of such vehicles has disappeared, which is why we are experiencing this problem. Disposing of a vehicle properly costs money so perhaps we should ask vehicle manufacturers to cover the cost of disposal. Furthermore, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency cannot pursue an individual who has disposed of a vehicle on the roadside. It may ask, "Is this your vehicle? You are the last registered owner," but that person may reply, "No, I have sold it to somebody else—it is no longer mine." Even though the vehicle may be parked outside that person's house, the DVLA can do nothing about it.
I have pursued the issue with my local authority, which assures me that that is the case, but it is surprising that the DVLA has no power to pursue the last registered owner if that person states that he no longer owns the vehicle, even though he may not have returned the log book with a new owner's name on it or taken some such step. There are regulations in place that would allow the DVLA to pursue such individuals, but we must place the responsibility to deregister a vehicle on the person disposing of it. We must impose strictures on the last owner, who should remain responsible for the vehicle—and, therefore, responsible for its disposal—until another person is registered as the owner.
Up and down the country, and in London in particular, council tax payers and local authorities face the huge expense involved in disposing of vehicles abandoned on the kerbside, and there are no comebacks on those who deny that they own such vehicles. There are more powers to deal with someone who disposes of litter on the street than with someone who disposes of a vehicle. Abandoned vehicles can be extremely dangerous as well as inconvenient and costly to the public purse.
I want to put my views on record and stress to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that there is an urgent need to take action. Abandoned vehicles represent a huge cost to the taxpayer and an enormous problem that will not go away unless we give powers to impose a cost on those who dispose of their vehicles in such a way.
Certain expressions come to mind when one thinks of the new Labour Government—hit the ground running, the people's Parliament, the people's dome and joined-up government, for example—but the new clause reveals not joined-up government, but turf wars between Ministers. Government amendment No. 43 will delete clause 37; it will be replaced by new clause 7. However, I shall speak to amendment No. 26, which stands in my name and, I am delighted and slightly embarrassed to say, that of the Liberal Democrats in the form of the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell), who served with us in Committee, and the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey), who, like me, is one of the seven chartered engineers who are Members of the House. It is always worth plugging that issue.
I listened to the argument presented by the Under-Secretary as to why the Government would not support my amendment, which and I must confess is a probing amendment that highlights certain issues that the British Motorcyclists Federation and I want to be known. As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said, under clause 37 and new clause 7, income derived from speed and traffic light cameras will be ring-fenced for road safety. We approve of that. However, we have tabled our amendment for a simple reason.
Under proposed new subsection (5) clause 37, speed and traffic light cameras will deal with the speed of vehicles, contraventions of restrictions on the speed of vehicles, temporary minimum speed limits, speeding offences generally and traffic light signals; but perhaps that sends the wrong message as to the cause of road traffic accidents, and I shall refer to analysis carried out by a number of institutions.
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that time is short because of the programme motion. I shall not be making a speech so I am grateful to him for accepting my intervention. Does he recall that the Minister said that extending the offences relating to the amendment beyond speeding would introduce a distortion of justice in terms of the penalties inflicted? When he argues that moneys raised should be spread wider in terms of road safety, will he address the point on which I sadly did not receive a satisfactory answer from the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port (Mr. Miller)?
Somebody from somewhere, from a sedentary position, reminds me not to forget Neston.
Does the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) accept that, notwithstanding the overall cost of accidents to the economy, as such schemes become more effective and motorists become more law abiding in respect of speed, revenues, by definition, will fall? Consequently, there will be less money for such schemes.
A fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, I believe. Anyway, the hon. Gentleman displays sound logic. If the implementation of speed cameras is effective, there will be fewer offences and, therefore, less income. That makes one wonder whether there will be sufficient money for road safety programmes. One could go on with the argument and say that if there were no accidents one would not need a road safety programme, because the roads would be safe. I guess that everyone would like to achieve that.
To bring the House back to the amendment, I point out that considerable analysis has been undertaken of the characteristics of urban motor cycle accidents. They rarely have anything to do with speed. Keith Booth, of Modern Analytical Studies, Rochford, Essex, has done an analysis showing that 62 per cent. of accidents involving motor cycles, mopeds and scooters were primarily caused by other road user groups.
I suspect that there will be a vote. We must at least end consideration on Report at 8.30 because of the draconian conditions laid down by the Government. I want to move on quickly to say that 50 per cent. of accidents involving motor cycles were caused by car drivers, 10 per cent. by pedestrians and fewer than 1 per cent. each by pedal cyclists, buses and coaches and heavy goods vehicles. Other causes—for example, animals running into the road—accounted for 3 per cent. while 35 per cent. were caused by motor cyclists, of whom 30 per cent. were on motor cycles and 5 per cent. on mopeds and scooters.
Any motor cyclist will say that motor cyclists have to drive carefully. A driver of a four-wheel vehicle will barely notice the small bounce as he goes over a pothole. However, the rider of a motor cycle would be likely to fall off, causing considerable injury and considerable expense to the rider.
It is often the car driver who causes the accident. He may be executing a quick turn from the left or right, and, not looking in the rear-view mirror, he may not notice the motor cyclist. Motor cyclists tend to be rather safe on the roads, and the fact that a large percentage of them are involved in road accidents should not lead people to believe that they are causing accidents. In fact, car drivers are the main cause of motor cycle accidents.
According to Whitaker, Hurt and others, and according to "Transport Statistics Great Britain 1998", motor cyclists emerge badly, by comparison with other drivers, from the DETR's annual survey of drivers' observance of speed limits. However, Whitaker estimated that the speed of impact of the motor cycle in 93 per cent. of the 425 accidents in his British sample was under 40 mph, and that in 75 per cent. it was under 30 mph. My point is that accidents involving motor cyclists do not necessarily involve speed.
Indeed, most do not. I am not sure of the statistic that the hon. Gentleman is using, but we should not belittle him for saying that. An obsession with speed on its own is a distortion of reality—a distortion of the truth.
Perhaps the most interesting findings were those of Carsten and others in 1989 with regard to careless driving. They were that
At the top-high level, major driver/rider factors were 'failure to anticipate'… or unable to anticipate…and 'failure to yield at junctions'".
That is plain bad driving; it has nothing to do with speeding.
As I pointed out in an earlier intervention, and as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), the speed of a vehicle can of course kill, but the design of the vehicle will also affect its ability to kill. When a bull bar is fitted to a car or a four-wheel drive vehicle merely as a cosmetic device, that too can be a major contributory factor in the creation of a killing machine.
I am very conscious of the time. I am also very conscious of the draconian timetable set by the Government, and of the many other groups of new clauses and amendments that we wish to discuss. I shall therefore not press amendment No. 26 to a vote. I accept the Minister's point that if the issues raised in the amendment were included in the clause, pressure might be put on magistrates and juries to apply fines rather than disqualification or imprisonment. I hope, however, that the House has noted that speed is not the only issue, and that motor cyclists get rather a raw deal.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) for not pressing his amendment to a vote. He made a well-informed speech, as did my hon. Friends the Members for Eltham (Mr. Efford) and for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw). I am sure the House will agree, however, that we heard especially serious, expert and indeed creative contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) and the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell), both of whom are distinguished members of RoadPeace. I am extremely glad that we have now heard the speech from the hon. Member for Colchester of which he was cheated in Committee.
In our earlier exchanges, I remarked with a degree of awe on the fecundity and fertility of the mind of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). I fear, however, that fecundity and fertility have now fallen into fantasy. It is preposterous to describe the provisions that we propose as a tax. New clause 7 provides for the money raised by fines to be used by local authorities for traffic matters. There is no taxation here. After all, the fines go into the coffers of central Government now. The provision is not a tax, but a penalty for an offence. Drivers who keep to the speed limits will not be affected; only those who break the law will be penalised.
As with so many road traffic measures—for instance, those to enforce bus lanes—we are dealing with the encouragement of compliance. We expect the number of fixed-penalty offences to fall as more drivers reduce their speed and observe traffic light directions: the Eastleigh proposition, in other words. We believe that fewer fixed-penalty notices will be issued, with a corresponding decrease in the amount of receipts. Increased compliance will also reduce the number of casualties. This will mean lower costs for the motoring community, and safer roads.