'(1) The Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001 (c. 3) is amended as follows.
(2) In section 38 (Unified power for Secretary of State to fund speed cameras etc.) after subsection (1)(a) insert—
"(aa) such educational or training programmes undertaken by that authority as may support the activities in (a),".'. —[Mr. Chope.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Incentives for undertaking driver improvement and speed awareness courses—
'If a person who has at least seven and no more than eleven penalty points endorsed on his driving licence subsequently successfully completes a driver improvement course or speed awareness course authorised by the Secretary of State, he shall be entitled to have the number of penalty points endorsed on his licence reduced by three.'.
New clause 3—Maximum penalty for dangerous driving—
'In Part 1 of Schedule 2 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (c. 53) (Prosecution and punishment of offences: offences under the Traffic Acts), in the entry relating to section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (dangerous driving) in Column (4) (punishment) for "2 years" substitute "5 years".'.
New clause 4—Causing death by driving whilst unlicensed—
'If a person causes the death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place otherwise than in accordance with a licence authorising him to drive a motor vehicle of that class he is guilty of an offence.'.
New clause 6—Causing death by driving whilst disqualified—
'If a person causes the death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place while disqualified from driving by order of a court he is guilty of an offence.'.
New clause 7—Speed limit on rural roads—
'(1) A maximum speed limit may be designated by a relevant authority for all rural roads in an area.
(2) Where the area is the whole of England, the relevant authority—
(a) is the Secretary of State;
(b) may designate, amend or remove a speed limit by order subject to the negative resolution procedure.
(3) Where the area is that of a highway authority, the relevant authority—
(a) is the highway authority;
(b) may designate, amend or remove a speed limit by making a traffic order.
(4) Where the area is that of a principal authority which is not a highway authority, the relevant authority—
(a) is the highway authority whose area includes the area;
(b) may designate, amend or remove a speed limit by making a traffic order.
(5) Notwithstanding the provision of other enactments no sign or other device shall be required for an order made under subsection (2) to have effect.
(6) Notwithstanding the provisions of other enactments no sign or other device shall be required for an order made under subsection (3) or (4) to have effect save one on each highway entering the area which shall be of a design and dimensions determined by regulation made by the Secretary of State.
(7) For the purpose of this section, a "rural road" is a highway to which all of the following conditions apply—
(a) no speed limit other than the national speed limit applies;
(b) street lighting is not provided; and
(c) there are no road markings in the centre of the road.
(8) Where both the Secretary of State and a highway authority have set a speed limit under this section, the lower limit shall have effect.'.
New clause 12—Speed limits for vehicles of certain classes—
New clause 16—Speed awareness courses—
'(1) The appropriate national authority shall establish courses for offenders guilty of offences under section 17(4) or 89(1) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (c. 27).
(2) The appropriate national authority may issue guidance to course providers, or to any category of course provider, as to the conduct of courses established under subsection (1).
(3) Course providers shall have regard to any guidance given to them under subsection (2).
(4) Guidance issued under subsection (2) will make provision in relation to the content and approval of courses and may include provision—
(a) in relation to the criteria to be applied for identifying those to whom courses should be offered;
(b) in relation to the content and length of courses;
(c) for the monitoring of courses and course providers;
(d) in relation to the making of applications for approval;
(e) in relation to withdrawing approval; and
(f) specifying the maximum fees that a person may be required to pay for a course and by when they are to be paid.
(5) In drawing up guidance issued under subsection (2), the appropriate national authority shall consult such organisations and individuals as it considers fit.'.
New clause 19—Amendment of Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988—
'Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 shall be amended by substituting the word "discretionary" for the word "obligatory" in column 6.'.
Amendment No. 18, in clause 22, page 25, line 18, leave out paragraph (b).
Amendment No. 19, in page 25, line 30, leave out 'mobile telephones'.
Amendment No. 20, in page 26, line 2, leave out 'Obligatory' and insert 'Discretionary'.
Amendment No. 21, in page 26, line 5, leave out 'mobile telephones'.
The new clause would enable the increasing volume of funds obtained by so-called safety camera partnerships to be reinvested in education or training programmes undertaken by local authority members of those partnerships. The Government have introduced proposals for road safety grants in clause 1, but we believe that their proposals are de minimis in comparison with the potential of new clause 1.
I am pleased to say that our proposal in the new clause has been warmly supported by the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety and I understand that the Liberal Democrats also support it. In Committee, furthermore, it was not only supported but enthusiastically spoken to by Mr. Fisher, who I am sorry to say is not in his place this afternoon. He pressed the Minister hard to justify the Government's belief that the revenue raised from speed cameras should not be reinvested in education and training programmes for drivers.
We have seen expressed in some parts of the media the unfortunate idea that speed camera fines are simply a way of raising more money for the Government. Does the hon. Gentleman not worry that the new clause, which proposes to make positive use of the funds raised, could be misinterpreted by such media mischief?
I know that there are many mischievous people working in the media, but anyone suggesting that Conservative Members are proposing incentives for more speed camera offences to be detected in order to raise more money from fines would be unaware of the campaign that we have been waging against using speed cameras as "greed cameras", as I have called them in the past. We believe that there is already a clear and unexplained disparity between the revenue raised by some safety camera partnerships and that raised by others.
The hon. Gentleman may like to know the figures that apply to my own local area of Dorset. As reported in the excellent local paper, the Daily Echo, on
"Speed fines for one in ten drivers: welcome to Dorset, you're nicked".
That was the headline. The article continued:
"More speeding fines were issued in Dorset last year than in Greater Manchester—which has a population three-and-a-half times bigger."
I do not believe that the people of Dorset drive less well than the people of Greater Manchester. Rather, that statistic stems from the fact that some of the Dorset speed cameras are situated in positions that rather unfairly confront people with the full rigour of the law. I also believe that the money could be effectively spent investing in road safety education, which cannot be afforded in Dorset at the moment. Much of the revenue from speed camera fines is reverting to the Treasury rather than being made available for reinvestment in road safety purposes.
One of the ironies of the speed camera debate is that the number of people being killed on our roads is continuing to increase rather than decline. That should not be happening, because we now have much safer vehicles and many improvements have been carried out on our highways. We are achieving a reduction of speeds, accidents and fatalities at the specific site of speed cameras—that is hardly surprising—but people continue to speed elsewhere, resulting in a significant number of deaths.
I am trying to follow the gist of the hon. Gentleman's argument, but is he not effectively advocating having more speed cameras? He acknowledges that speed cameras stop accidents, so why should we not logically deduce that we need more speed cameras further to reduce them?
Bad driving is responsible for many accidents, and that is why I have argued robustly in favour of having more traffic police. As the hon. Gentleman knows from earlier debates, we have drawn the public's attention to the fact that the number of traffic police has declined by almost 3,000—about a third—under the present Government.
We believe that the best way of ensuring good driving standards on the roads is, first, to have good driver education, including revision courses if necessary, in order to encourage drivers to achieve the highest standards on the roads. Secondly, we believe that the money invested in road safety at the moment is inadequate and could be significantly enhanced. That is one reason why we want to divert the money currently going straight to the Treasury into speed awareness and driver improvement courses. I know that that proposal is broadly welcomed by many members of safety camera partnerships. I know from conversations with people involved in the Dorset safety camera partnership that they disagree with the Government policy of not allowing surplus revenue to be reinvested in education and training programmes.
If a huge number of people in Dorset and elsewhere are being caught by speed cameras, surely the hon. Gentleman would accept that such people are committing an offence. Which other offence whose potential outcome could be the death of another person does he believe should be treated as leniently?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is being rather unrealistic about this matter. I know that he joins me in being a supporter of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, so does he not agree that we should be encouraging responsible driving, at speeds that are appropriate for all the circumstances? Just because someone puts up a sign saying, "Thou shalt travel at 30 mph," it does not necessarily mean that an objective test would find that that was the appropriate speed to travel on that part of the road.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, that is why he and I have both jointly announced such a policy, and I am grateful to him for reminding a wider audience of it. It is not dissimilar to a policy adopted in New Zealand and Australia, where each stretch of road is examined to assess the most appropriate speed limit, bearing in mind the fact that the limit must be the maximum speed at which drivers can travel in ideal conditions.
The 2003 vehicle speeds statistics for Great Britain, which were published last year, showed that 57 per cent. of drivers broke the 30 mph speed limits and 50 per cent. broke the limits on motorways. Faced with that sort of evidence, surely a more humble and less arrogant Government would acknowledge that something could be wrong with the speed limits, given that more than half of drivers admit to breaking them.
What has happened under the present Government is that the speed limits have fallen into disrepute, so that people increasingly think that the only time they need to comply with a speed limit is where it is reinforced by a speed camera. That in turn results in more inappropriate speeding on our roads. Conservative Members believe that that is a major subject to be dealt with.
Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of speed cameras, may I bring him back to the original purpose of the new clause—to release money, irrespective of what we think about the cameras, for road safety? Does he agree that another way of releasing money pertains to the ridiculous bureaucracies that surround safety partnerships? Could we not free up funds by tackling that problem? The police could be allowed to get on with it and the money would not be wasted on pen-pushing, paper-moving bureaucracies called safety camera partnerships.
My hon. Friend is right. Towards the end of parliamentary questions about one of the Government's key election campaigns, we heard the revelation that the amount spent by the present Government on advertising and self-promotion has increased fivefold during their period in office. Under speed camera safety partnerships people can reinvest the money for propaganda but they are not allowed to spend it on road safety education. I agree with my hon. Friend that it would be much better if the money were invested in information and education rather than propaganda.
One of the downsides of speed cameras can be that motorists take back roads to avoid them. Does my hon. Friend agree that there has been a disturbing rise in the number of fatalities on B and C roads, where cameras tend not to be sited, as they are on main roads? That is certainly a problem and a concern in my constituency. Speed cameras have been installed on the A6, so other roads are more heavily used and accidents on them have increased.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. That is another example of the law of unintended consequences. I do not think that when the Government put all the emphasis on speed cameras, they intended there to be more fatalities on B and C roads, but that has been the result. They thought that cameras would improve road safety, but that is not what has happened. My hon. Friend referred to what was happening in his constituency. One of the reasons why speeders on B and C roads feel that they can get away with it is that the number of police engaged on speed enforcement has been cut back so severely by the Government, as I pointed out earlier.
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman mentioned speed awareness and driver improvement courses as possible beneficiaries of his new clause. Currently, when people successfully attend those courses they avoid a fine in court or penalty points on their licence, so it seems fair that they should pay the cost of the course, which makes the courses self-financing. Is he proposing to undermine that?
Many people involved in safety camera partnerships believe that the courses should be made available to those who cannot afford to attend them. From the discussions we held in Committee, I thought that the hon. Gentleman and I were on the same side on that issue. Certainly, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety supports the new clause. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is trying to argue himself into a position whereby he will not have to support it in the Division Lobby, but he will have to do better than raising that spurious objection. As far as I am concerned, the more people who go on speed awareness and safety improvement courses the better. That is why, as I have told the House before, I am a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and encourage other people to take the advanced driving test and improve their driving standard.
As one of those who, because of the unsatisfactory nature of their driving, are not eligible to be members of the institute, may I ask my hon. Friend to give us his view on some information brought to my attention by a constituent the other day? In some parts of the country, when one is issued with a speeding fine one has the alternative of taking an advanced motoring or similar course, but that option is not available in other areas. What would my hon. Friend say to my constituent about the fact that there are different penalties for the same offence within the United Kingdom jurisdiction?
I would tell my hon. Friend's constituent that I hope that new clause 2 will be drawn to his attention. My hon. Friend's point conveniently enables me to commend the virtues of that proposal, which says:
"If a person who has at least seven and no more than eleven penalty points endorsed on his driving licence subsequently successfully completes a driver improvement course or speed awareness course authorised by the Secretary of State, he shall be entitled to have the number of penalty points endorsed on his licence reduced by three."
Our reason for proposing the new clause was the discussion in Committee, from which it emerged that access to a driver improvement or speed awareness course that led to a reduction in the number of penalty points was controlled by the magistrates court. Thus, for example, if someone had been issued with three fixed penalty notices and nine points they would be unable to attend such a course, with a consequent reduction in their penalty points, unless the matter was referred to the magistrates court. We thought that an unnecessarily bureaucratic way of addressing the issue. Surely we should encourage as many people as possible who have got into bad habits and who would benefit from a driver improvement or speed awareness course to take such a course. That is the reason for new clause 2, whose provisions would address the concerns of my hon. Friend's constituent about injustice and inequity.
As for my hon. Friend's aspiration to be as good a driver as the best, I suggest that one way of doing that would be to go in for one of the courses run by the Institute of Advanced Motorists. He would not have to go the whole way, so to speak, but he could join one of the institute's local groups, which would identify any bad habits that he may have got into. He would be a superhuman driver if he did not have some bad habits. As we are approaching the 50th anniversary of the institute, this is an appropriate time for Members to commend it and promote its virtues.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The course could be undertaken on a wholly confidential basis—without commitment, as they say. Indeed, such a course could include people such as Mr. Speaker if they wanted to join it. I know that Mr. Miller is as enthusiastic a supporter of the IAM as I am.
I hope that when the Minister responds to the debate, he will make warm and welcoming noises about new clause 2. It addresses a lacuna that we identified in Committee. What could possibly be wrong with encouraging people to improve their own driving and thereby benefit from a reduction in penalty points in the circumstances set out in the provision?
New clause 3 is on a slightly different topic. It would raise the maximum penalty for dangerous driving from two years to five years. I hope that the Government will accept it almost without demur, because I understand that such an increase in the maximum penalty for dangerous driving has been Government policy for some time. However, they have rather kicked into touch their review of road traffic offences involving bad driving. The Government commissioned the Halliday report in May 2003, yet it was produced for public gaze only on the last day that we considered the Bill in Committee—so it was hardly on the fast track. The result is that the Government have been able to avoid legislating on, and changing the penalties for, road traffic offences involving bad driving.
New clause 3, and one or two of the other new clauses to which I shall address my remarks shortly, is meant to ensure that the Bill deals with issues on which consultation has effectively taken place. The Government have said publicly that they support an increase in the maximum penalty for dangerous driving, which is currently two years' imprisonment, but under my proposal it would be five years instead, thus mirroring the increase from 10 to 14 years that has taken place in the maximum period of imprisonment for causing death by dangerous driving.
I may be unduly cynical, but I suspect that the Government's inhibition relates to the fact that such a proposal could result in a lot more people going to prison. Hon. Members who believe that bad driving is dangerous—indeed, it can be lethal—do not wish the number of available prison places to dictate policy. We believe that the policy should be established by Parliament—that we should establish what we think are the appropriate penalties and offences, and that the appropriate number of prison places should be made available.
My hon. Friend's assumption is correct. The Government admit on page 30 of their document "Review of Road Traffic Offences involving Bad Driving" that the proposals that he is talking about
"could create an additional demand for about 800 prison places."
"The great bulk of these would result from increasing the maximum penalty for dangerous driving from 2 to 5 years' imprisonment, to which the Government is already committed, when resources are available."
Does he not think that if the Government are already committed to that, they should get on with it? They can find enough resources to advertise Government programmes. Why cannot they find the necessary resources for this proposal?
Indeed, I have that document open on page 30, and was about to quote from it. It is encouraging to know that my right hon. Friend and I are very much on the same wavelength, and he is absolutely right, because this an other issue on which the Government talk a good talk. They go along to the road safety lobbies and lobbies including the relatives of victims of serious and fatal road accidents, and they say, "We're on your side." However, as is clear from what has been said, we have a policy to which the Government are already committed—raising the maximum penalty for dangerous driving from two to five years—but they are not prepared to sign up to it because of the resource implications. What a perverse arrangement.
We have tabled new clause 3 to give the Government the opportunity to endorse today a proposal that is already their policy, rather than to play the delaying game, as they have been doing until now. How else can one explain a period of 21 months between the launching of an inquiry into road traffic offences involving bad driving and the publication of that inquiry's report, which extends only to some 31 pages? That does not give the impression of a Government who are seriously committed to taking tough, deterrent action against the worst drivers—the dangerous drivers—but they could address that today by accepting new clause 3.
New clause 4 is also a reflection of what the Government say is their policy. Again, they are talking about such a policy, but they are not yet prepared to sign up to it. By tabling new clause 4, we created the opportunity to invite the Government to sign up today to what they say is their own policy:
"If a person causes the death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place otherwise than in accordance with a licence authorising him to drive a motor vehicle of that class he is guilty of an offence."
That sounds like a lot of common sense. If people deliberately drive a vehicle for which they do not hold a licence—in other words, they are not qualified and have not passed the appropriate test—they should not be on the road. Surely, if while driving such a vehicle on the road they are involved in an accident from which a death results, that conduct should constitute a specific offence. New clause 4 would create a new offence of causing the death of another person in the circumstances that I describe.
New clause 6, in similar vein, would make causing death by driving while disqualified a separate offence. It states:
"If a person causes the death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place while disqualified from driving by order of a court he is guilty of an offence."
Again, that is canvassed in the document, "Review of Road Traffic Offences involving Bad Driving", and the debate will give the Minister the opportunity to explain why the Government have not already taken such action, as they have joined the campaign that we have waged to try to get disqualified drivers off the road and deter them from returning to it. New clause 6 would emphasise to those people who are thinking of driving while disqualified that, if they are involved in an accident that results in death while they are doing so, they could spend a lot of time locked up in prison irrespective of whether they are wholly to blame for the consequences that flow from that accident. The argument is that they would have brought the guilt upon themselves by their own conduct in driving on the road while disqualified.
I cannot—I could, but I am not going to—because I do not want to create a barrier between myself and the Government. I have expressed the proposal in the most open terms, so that the Government can accept it and not say, "We don't agree with the maximum penalty." Obviously, that would be a matter for discussion, but I am sure that we could reach an accommodation with the Government on the maximum penalty in relation to new clause 4 or new clause 6 if they are willing to debate that with us.
I shall not comment on new clause 7 for the moment because it was tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Turner, and I look forward to hearing his contribution on it.
New clause 12 would raise the maximum speed for heavy goods vehicles on single-carriageway roads from 40 to 50 mph in ideal driving circumstances. During the debate on such a proposal in Committee, I was delighted that John Thurso, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, enthusiastically supported my idea. He brought to that debate much experience of what it is like in the more barren parts of Scotland, where he believes that HGVs should be able to travel at 50 mph, rather than 40 mph. [Interruption.] I knew that, if I used a particular type of language, I would ensure that the hon. Gentleman returned to his place very quickly.
I hope that I will have the opportunity to comment on new clause 12 more fully later, but may I assure the hon. Gentleman that the north of Scotland is not barren, but highly productive?
Of course I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I know the north of Scotland a little, but not so well as he does. I look forward to hearing his arguments on new clause 12.
The proposal in new clause 12 is supported by the magazine Commercial Motor and the Road Haulage Association. Indeed, I have received a letter of support from its director general. I am sure that the ordinary motoring public will also be pleased that we are thinking seriously about raising the maximum speed for heavy goods vehicles on single carriageway roads in ideal circumstances to 50 mph.
As I pointed out in Committee, when the 40 mph rule was first introduced, traffic levels on single carriageway roads were such that it was relatively easy for a motorist to overtake a heavy goods vehicle, so it could be done comparatively safely. Traffic was thus not held up at the speed of the slowest vehicle. Given current traffic conditions on many single carriageway trunk roads, especially those that meander between the east of Dorset towards the Devon border and beyond, it is difficult to find an opportunity to overtake a vehicle travelling at 40 mph, which leads to queues, often many miles long, of traffic travelling at or around that speed.
Is there not another argument to support my hon. Friend's case? Since the speed limit was introduced, heavy goods vehicles have been fitted with much more effective braking systems, including air brakes in most cases, and power assisted steering. They can thus travel safely at higher speeds.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point.
The Minister put up the defence against the proposal in Committee that, if vehicles travelled faster, the consequences of any accidents in which they were involved would be greater. No one would disagree with that, but we are suggesting that the mere presence of lorries that are limited to travelling at 40 mph on single carriageway roads is creating a lot of driver frustration, which leads to people taking unnecessary risks by trying to overtake when it is probably not safe to do so.
We know that the frustration among the motoring public is such that at least one major delivery company—I think that it is the company that delivers for Tesco—has a notice emblazoned on the back of its heavy goods vehicles to show that they are limited to travelling at 40 mph on single carriageway roads. It has done that because people have complained that the vehicles should be travelling faster. Before the proliferation of speed cameras, I suspect that many heavy goods vehicles travelled at nearer 50 mph than 40 mph when circumstances permitted, but given today's tighter enforcement, they are going at only 40 mph, which is creating driver frustration and consequent road danger. If new clause 12 were accepted, it would be a move in the right direction towards improving road safety.
I shall leave Mr. Kidney to make his own arguments about new clause 16 because he tabled the measure. However, Conservative Members are on the same side as him because we want more support for speed awareness courses. While I am on that subject, I can tell the House about a successful day of action carried out by the Hampshire constabulary. I think that it happened last week, but it was certainly reported in the New Milton Advertiser over the weekend. There is a dangerous piece of C road in the heart of the New Forest with a standard 40 mph speed limit. Hampshire police detected several vehicles travelling in excess of that speed and the drivers were given the option of either accepting a fixed penalty notice or having a discussion with a group of people who had owned animals that had been killed on the road, most of which were ponies. Not surprisingly, most of the motorists opted for the discussion.
A lot of interesting information came out of the process. Many people had not realised how dangerous the road was or how common such accidents involving animals were. Some had not even realised that the animals had owners. Although the animals are New Forest ponies, they have owners, so much distress and hardship is caused if they are run over by motorists who travel too fast. Many motorists had not realised the consequences of such collisions for them and their cars.
I support such enforcement using discretion at the roadside, although any motorist who was driving extremely fast was referred to the magistrates court or had to accept a fixed penalty with no argument. Such driver awareness programmes are a positive way forward for road safety. They are better than just having speed cameras because that system does not allow the issue to be addressed in the sensitive way that Hampshire police employed. As I have said earlier, sufficient numbers of police officers need to be devoted to road traffic responsibilities to carry out such a scheme, but we will put that right when we get into government.
New clause 19 arose from a further debate in Committee after it became apparent that there was no system of mitigation if people were given fixed penalty notices in circumstances in which they believed that, if a police officer had been at the scene, he would have exercised discretion and issued a caution or warning instead of a penalty. My thinking about the new clause partly arises from a constituency case. One of my constituents was caught out by a speed camera on a road on which the speed limit had recently been reduced from 40 mph to 30 mph. The driver had not realised due to an oversight that the speed limit had changed.
My constituent received a standard form to fill in to accept that he was driving the vehicle at the time. The form said that if he had mitigating circumstances, he should refer the matter to the magistrates court. He did that, but when the case reached court, the magistrate said that the court had no discretion on the issuing of penalty points. All hon. Members will have heard of constituents who have thought it unjust that they have received three penalty points as a consequence of a fixed penalty notice.
I know of another person who was convicted of speeding, despite the fact that the temporary speed limit sign on the road had blown over in the wind. I am sure that we can all think of similar examples. A wise law would take into account individual circumstances and allow proper discretion. Indeed, that is the type of law that we have in a mature democracy. A Stalinist society, however, makes an unthinking demand: "Thou shalt comply and if thou hast not, whatever the explanation, thou art guilty of an offence for which thou art subject to a fixed penalty." We need to take a more mature approach and allow some discretion and that would be the effect of incorporating new clause 19 into the law.
I support my hon. Friend, but does he agree that the loss of a driving licence has very different consequences for a merchant banker who lives in Kensington and a plumber who lives in the rural depths of Sussex or the Isle of Wight?
I agree, and we could have a long debate about such differences. My hon. Friend's example demonstrates what happens when one reaches the stage of totting up points. Someone with 12 penalty points has to go to the magistrates court and argue that they should not be disqualified because the consequences would be dire for their job or occupation. I accept that for some people the consequences can be grave, but sometimes the injustice is compounded by the fact that the total number of penalty points is the result of a series of relatively minor speeding incidents. Some hon. Members have been subject to the totting up of points, after being convicted of a series of minor infringements of road traffic laws—[Interruption.] Mr. Miller seems to know who I have in mind, but Members on both sides of the House have found themselves in such difficulties.
New clause 19 is one of the most potent measures in this group of amendments, as it aims to redress the balance between the ordinary motorist and the law, and would ensure that the law is fair, rather than oppressive. The proliferation of fixed penalties is all the more reason why discretion should be allowed in genuinely mitigating circumstances. That discretion should be used to allow not only a reduced fine but a reduction in the number of penalty points. My proposals go much further and are more effective than the Government's proposals in the Bill.
Amendments Nos. 18 to 21 deal with driver education and unsafe driving. They would amend clause 22, which deals with the mischief of mobile telephones. We had a good debate about that in Committee and the Opposition have no problem with penalising people who cause danger to themselves or others as a result of driving without proper care or attention while using a mobile phone. However, we are concerned about the definition of driving. Under case law, which would be the defining consideration if this piece of legislation was accepted, driving includes circumstances such as a vehicle being stationary in a five-mile queue. The driver may have left the wheel to use a phone but, according to the law, he would still be regarded as driving.
Indeed, that is the case, but we do not believe that it accords with common sense or fair play.
We should discourage people from using mobile phones while driving and, indeed, penalise them for doing so. However, we should not penalise them with three penalty points and a fine for doing so at the wheel when their car is in stationary traffic and they have turned off the ignition. We tabled a reasonable amendment in Committee to try to make an exception to the rule, but the Government rejected it out of hand. To be fair, I do not think that they really understood the law, because any rational person listening to the debate would have said that our points were valid.
Since that debate, it has come to my notice there have been incidents in which police officers have gone down lines of stationary traffic booking people who were using mobile phones. That is demonstrates a perverse sense of priorities and it just fuels many motorists' belief that, rather than improving road safety, the Government are engaged in a war against the motorist. If the Government want to improve road safety—we are highly supportive of that proposition—as well as the relationship between the police, the law and the motoring public, they should accept the amendments, which would ensure that individuals who use a mobile phone when their vehicle is stationary would not be guilty of an offence. The Minister will notice that, to ensure that the amendments were selected, we made certain that their terms are not identical to those of the amendment that we tabled in Committee. We would be happy to revert to the wording of our original amendment, if the Minister offers to accept it, and we would withdraw the amendments that we have tabled today.
I accept that applications of the law can become ludicrous. That would be the case if, for example, a vehicle was literally stationary and could not move because it was in a five-mile queue. However, could the hon. Gentleman tell us more about the case that he cited and see whether the House would agree with him in those particular circumstances?
I do not have the report of Committee proceedings with me, but that case is set out in Hansard. In Committee, I cited case law about the definition of driving.
Perhaps I was not clear enough, as the hon. Gentleman has missed my point. The case law to which he refers predates mobile phones by a long chalk. He talked about a specific incident in which a police officer went down a line of traffic and booked motorists in stationary vehicles who were on the telephone. Could he tell us more about that?
Surely, the hon. Gentleman in turn accepts that we would be mad as legislators to create a strict offence but expect the police or more probably cameras to separate the just from the unjust. Surely the best thing is to ensure in the first place that the law is just and that there is a proper exception to the application of it in circumstances in which he and I would agree that it should not apply—that is, in relation to people who are using mobile phones in stationary traffic when they have switched the engine of their vehicle off.
A parliamentary colleague, who is not in the Chamber at present, has on her dashboard a little television. I have never got to the stage of owning a car that had a television on the dashboard, but apparently the television switches off automatically when the car is in motion and switches on automatically when the car is stationary at traffic lights. It is, apparently, a lawful piece of kit and a standard feature of some of the more up-market vehicles. In this case, it is a British vehicle—a Land Rover, I think. I have not gone into the detail of it, but if it is lawful to have on the dashboard a television that is activated when the vehicle is stationary, should it be unlawful to use a mobile phone when the vehicle is stationary and the engine is switched off? We are making the law an ass if we legislate on that basis. That is why I hope the House will accept the amendment, along with a host of the new clauses.
This is a fascinating group of new clauses. On some of them, I find myself on the side of Mr. Chope, and on others I am violently opposed to him. I shall deal with the two points on which I strongly agree with the tenor of his arguments. They relate to new clauses 3 and 4, on which the hon. Gentleman made some powerful points.
The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Mr. Jamieson, has started a consultation, which I warmly welcome. I hope the Opposition welcome it as well, so that whoever occupies my hon. Friend's position after the election—
I hope that whoever holds the position will accept that legislation needs to be introduced to reflect the spirit of our discussions and the mood outside. What could be said in any consultation that would cause my hon. Friend not to accept the point made by the hon. Member for Christchurch and the point that he himself sets out in the report that is out for consultation? I want an answer to that because I find it difficult not to agree with the hon. Gentleman in his cogent argument about the need for change. My hon. Friend knows my views because we have discussed the matter before in the Chamber and elsewhere, in my capacity as a patron of the charity RoadPeace.
The arguments are powerful and need to be dealt with. We must send out a strong message that if the House decides this afternoon to await the outcome of the consultation, unless somebody produces some stunning new arguments that make the House review its conclusions, there will be legislation to implement the intention of new clauses 3 and 4, and that legislation will be tough on offenders.
Yes, indeed. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's assistance on that point.
We disagree on the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the effectiveness or otherwise of speed cameras. Ultimately, there is one simple, incontrovertible fact: nobody gets caught by a speed camera who is not breaking the law. Anyone who whinges to any hon. Member about the fine they received as a result of speed camera evidence has broken the law.
Is it not a valid point that the law may not be fair? Let me give the hon. Gentleman an example. There are many instances of the police stopping motorists who are technically breaking the speed limit and letting those motorists proceed on their way with a warning, because the police appreciate and perceive that the breach of the law was de minimis or was in such circumstances that there was no danger to other road users. It was a technical breach of the law. Speed cameras have no discretion. That is the problem, and it has become worse over recent years.
I thought for a moment that we would get an admission of guilt from the right hon. Gentleman.
The simple fact is that the technology employed is set to allow a certain amount of tolerance. There is already tolerance in all the circumstances in which cameras are put in place. It applies approximately the same latitude as the police would allow before enforcing a prosecution. That de facto pushes up the limits slightly.
I can think of one specific camera that I know well on the Runcorn expressway—a 60 mph zone. It used to be a derestricted zone, but it was reduced to 60 mph because of some serious crashes on that stretch of road. Then speed cameras were introduced, which caused people to drive more slowly. The net effect was to make that stretch of road safer. Interestingly, one camera was removed in the recent past, because there is the belief that it has had the desired effect and the habits of most drivers there have changed.
I believe that the technology can be used to assist in educating drivers. We should not see speed cameras as an alternative to police officers. They are a different tool used differently, placed as a result of consultation through the safety camera partnerships, which work extremely well, even in Dorset, as the hon. Member for Christchurch acknowledged. Their judgments are not from on high. They are judgments applied locally by local people who know the roads where the technology is to be installed.
My hon. Friend has made the valid point that safety cameras only catch the guilty. The position adopted by Mr. Chope is contradictory: as far as I understand it, he wants both to have fewer safety cameras and, through new clause 9—which has not been selected today—to get rid of speed humps, which catch the innocent. On suburban roads, we should install more safety cameras and fewer speed bumps, so that the guilty are caught and the innocent, who drive at or below the speed limit, are not penalised.
As usual, my hon. Friend has made a powerful case. We must take a flexible look at what is available as the technology unfolds, because, for example, some of the number plate recognition technologies are amazingly effective.
May I make a tiny diversion, Mr. Deputy Speaker? On the Saturday before last, I went out on patrol with the police in rural Cheshire. We were overtaken by a vehicle similar to one that the officers had had brought to their attention. Within 30 seconds, the powerful technology used by the police had sent us the vehicle's details, including its owner, the insurance details and the owner's address. That was an amazing demonstration of an effective piece of Government IT procurement, which is doing a marvellous job in terms of not only road safety, but broad crime prevention.
I agree with the hon. Member for Christchurch that common sense must prevail when technology is employed. We do not know whether his example of a police officer who sought to prosecute people for using mobile phones when their engines were turned off in a stationary row of traffic is an urban myth or a rural myth, because we do not know which road it happened on. If it were true, however, I would agree that that is an inappropriate use of the law and that that officer's actions would put off people from sticking rigorously to the rules of the road. If it were true, it would also raise an interesting question about police training. We must ensure that officers are encouraged to apply the law pragmatically and sensibly.
The hon. Gentleman and I do not disagree on the use of new technology, which he has just described. It is admirable that the police now have the ability to monitor passing vehicles' number plates not only for road traffic offences such as no insurance, but for more serious crimes such as drug dealing—the technology can identify known drug dealers, whom the police can then apprehend. Does he agree that the effectiveness of the new technology depends on the reliability of the database? Does he accept that police forces across the country have raised serious concerns that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency database is not as reliable as it should be?
I can only go by my own experience, which shows that the response is remarkably accurate. Any database—it does not matter whether it is a paper database or whether the information is held electronically—has an error level. If the right hon. Gentleman is setting out a case for making sure that the DVLA employs sufficient people to protect the database's integrity, I agree with him. That argument applies to any database to which the police have access, because databases should be kept to the highest level of accuracy to protect the integrity of the law enforcement process.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise the need to introduce changes in some areas, particularly on the ground covered by new clauses 3, 4 and 6 and on the areas that my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) and for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) will raise later in the debate. The matter is important and we must work hard to ensure that public confidence in the integrity of the law is sustained. To that end, I accept the argument, which I suspect my hon. Friend the Minister will advance later, that a consultation period is required.
In conclusion, I repeat my point on the principle behind new clauses 3, 4 and 6, and I want to hear my hon. Friend the Minister say in strong terms that the Government intend to introduce legislation to establish those points.
Before I discuss the individual new clauses, I want to make a general point. Taken individually, many of the new clauses tabled by Mr. Chope are reasonable, and I have indicated those that I support. If we consider the totality of the new clauses, however, we perceive a kind of underlying mood music, which suggests that the motorist is hard done by and that an overall relaxation should take place. That argument assumes that motorists feel hard done by, but I have found that people increasingly understand the need for restraint with regard to speed. Most people to whom I speak either accept that speed cameras are a useful necessity or are looking for ways to introduce one in their community or on their roads.
In my constituency, the A9, which I shall no doubt discuss later, runs up to Thurso from Inverness. One of the complaints is that the volume of traffic and the consequent deaths are happily insufficient to allow speed cameras to be installed in some of the villages and towns on that busy main road. I would look favourably on a relaxation of the criteria within the 30 mph limit, because prevention is better than deaths and accidents.
I support new clause 1, with the caveat that I am not arguing from an anti-camera standpoint. Speed cameras are currently accompanied by a warning sign not less than 1 km from the camera, the camera itself is painted a bright orangey-yellow colour and has reflective tape on the back, and huge white grid lines are painted on the road, so any motorist who fails to take account of what is nothing short of a flashing beacon perhaps deserves everything that they get.
The substantive point of new clause 1 is that the funds raised should be made available for education, and I see no harm in that whatsoever. I do not necessarily believe that speed cameras are simply nasty, money-grabbing machines, but if there are surplus funds and partnerships see a way in which they could be deployed that would be enabled by the new clause, I see no reason not to allow it to go through.
Enforcement is important in relation to speeding offences, but we must not forget the other two Es—engineering and education. Where enforcement leads on to education, that is highly beneficial. Yesterday, I visited parts of Kent and East Sussex to look at some railways, and the very nice man who was driving me told me that when he had an accident two years ago, the police offered him a choice between prosecution and a driver awareness course. He obviously took the course, and said that he was delighted to have paid for it and learned a great deal that he had no idea he would take from it beforehand. I do not know the particular circumstances of the accident, but that aspect was beneficial. For that reason, I am happy to support new clause 1.
Indeed; it should be up to the perpetrator to pay for the course. I am taken, however, by the idea of allowing a little discretion. Some people, certainly in my constituency, live on very small incomes or even on state benefits, and there is sometimes a good argument for—I would not want to use the term "scholarship"—
Absolutely; that would be a good way of describing it. I would be happy with that approach if it encouraged more people to take it up.
I am pleased to hear what the hon. Gentleman says. Could not a person of very meagre income who finds that they cannot afford to pay a fee en bloc for a speed awareness course opt for the fine and offer to pay at £2 a week?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point and I urge the Government to consider it. The critical point of principle is that an awful lot of people can pay and should pay, but in such circumstances as have been described by various hon. Members, it would be perfectly valid to do everything possible to encourage people to take the education route. If that means utilising an easy payment plan or a fund from another area, we should consider that.
On new clause 2, I have some sympathy with the principle behind it, but it is defective in that it states:
"he shall be entitled to have the number of penalty points endorsed on his licence reduced by three".
That would clearly be wrong if the totting-up procedure had included, for example, offences involving two points. In Committee, the possibility was inserted into the Bill that fixed penalties could be lower than three points. Many of us argued against that and are hoping that, for speeding in particular, the level will stay at three or more. It is possible that somebody could arrive at the totting-up point where the new clause kicked in through a series of two-point penalties. In that case, it would clearly be wrong to get three taken off—or a 33.3 per cent. bonus. That is why I cannot support new clause 2.
I have great sympathy for the new clauses on penalties and would certainly support them for all the reasons that the hon. Member for Christchurch set out. Given that it has taken several years to get to the point where we have a Road Safety Bill, I am not sure that we will get back to it for some years to come. These are such important matters that I urge the Government to consider, if possible, incorporating these new clauses in another place.
New clause 7 puts a case with which I have considerable sympathy. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm whether, as I understand it, the new clause relates solely to England and would have no effect in Scotland. My concern stems from the fact that subsection (7)(c) defines a "rural road" as one where
"there are no road markings in the centre of the road."
In my constituency, a great number of A roads have no such marking—they are, as it were, one-and-a-half width roads. They tend to occur on the north coast and through Sutherland and Caithness in places that have very clear visibility, exceptionally low traffic volumes and long distances to travel. There would be no point whatsoever in reducing speed limits there from 60 mph; nobody is asking for it and there would be no great benefit.
It might assist the hon. Gentleman if I answered him now. Subsection (2) provides:
"Where the area is the whole of England, the relevant authority . . . is the Secretary of State".
I have not allowed for a relevant authority for the whole of Scotland, so only designations under subsection (3) could be made in that respect. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman's highway authority would take account of his views on that matter.
I am grateful for that clarification. Although the hon. Gentleman's intention is absolutely right, I suspect that he may need to have a look at schedules 4 and 5 of the Scotland Act 1998, because I am not entirely certain that the relevant powers have been devolved, and that may cause him a small problem.
New clause 12 would increase the speed limit for heavy goods vehicles from 40 to 50 mph. I will not detain the House with what I recounted in Committee in respect of the A9, but I should like to highlight the basic problem with the categorising of roads. A large part of the A9 is a modern road that is made up to a very high standard, where a speed of 50 mph is perfectly appropriate for a lorry, but other parts are made up to a 1970s standard and some go back to a 1960s standard.
The longer-term problem is that some A roads are capable, through engineering, of allowing greater speeds than other A roads, some of which go right down to single-track in parts of the far north. Several hauliers have told me that because of the times at which drivers are permitted to drive, the long distances involved mean that they are unable to get to relevant markets. For example, on the long stretch of the A9 from Tain in Ross-shire down nearly to Perth, which has some dual carriageway but is mostly single carriageway, that extra 10 mph would permit drivers to reach some of their markets in one go without having to stay overnight in the cab. I remind the House of the sign just outside Inverness that states: "Frustration causes accidents—allow overtaking". That is a problem. Most lorry drivers are very good—they leave a gap between the vehicle in front and permit overtaking—but it would be helpful to increase the limit on that particular stretch of road.
We have already dealt with speed awareness and I look forward to hearing the arguments of Mr. Kidney. I am intrinsically sympathetic to new clause 16.
I am not wholly convinced by new clause 19, for reasons that we discussed in Committee. It does not necessarily add anything to the measure or make life easier, and I suspect that I am not in total sympathy with the hon. Member for Christchurch about it. However, I want to comment on his points about the definition of "driver" and when people are deemed to be driving a car. As he will remember, I said in Committee that I had intended to stay out of the debate but, having heard the Under-Secretary's answer, I felt obliged to support the hon. Member for Christchurch. I gave an example, again from my beloved A9, of the roadworks at Berriedale last year, when the traffic lights were red for up to 15 minutes. We were happy with that because we were getting great improvements and we all knew about the wait.
If someone happened to draw up when the lights turned from green to red, he knew that the time allowed for a lorry to go all the way down to the bottom and back up the other side at 5 mph and for traffic to pass in the opposite direction would be 15 minutes. One simply turned off the engine and used the time productively. Occasionally, one might have used a mobile phone—[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] That was before the law changed. One would phone to say, "I caught it bad at the lights. It'll be another 15 minutes before I get there."
The Under-Secretary responded by saying that, in such circumstances, the person concerned would not be prosecuted. However, as we discovered from further discussion, the law does not accord with that. The law is straightforward: simply sitting stationary, with the engine switched off for what will clearly prove to be a long wait, is not enough. I believe that, even if one got out of the car, stood alongside it and used a mobile phone, one could still be prosecuted. I do not know how many miles from the car one would have to walk before the courts decided that one was not driving.
The serious point is that we are trying to get the message across to motorists that it is dangerous to use a mobile phone when in charge of a vehicle. Clearly, we do not want a position whereby every time a car stops at traffic lights for 30 seconds, people feel free to use their mobile phones; but equally, when it is obvious—for the reason that I outlined or, for example, because an unfortunate accident has occurred—that there will be a long wait, the inability to use a mobile phone will be perceived as unfair and silly. I suspect that people will not know the law and therefore break it without realising it. The Government could usefully examine the matter and introduce a correction to achieve the balance that I believe we all support.
Case law shows that one would not be deemed to be driving after one had got out of a car, gone into a shop and was engaged in selecting goods. At that stage, it would be said that one was no longer driving.
I am grateful for that clarification. The definitions should be re-examined, given that they were introduced before mobile phones were invented. I hope that the Government will at least consider the matter and perhaps use the opportunity in another place to introduce a more reasonable definition in respect of mobile phones.
I want to speak about new clause 16, which I tabled. Mr. Chope mentioned the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and I declare a non-pecuniary interest in that I co-chair PACTS.
My vision in tabling the new clause is for speed awareness courses throughout the country that are widely available to people who speed, in an attempt to correct their offending behaviour. There is currently no national model for speed awareness courses and the new clause proposes that the Government should establish a national scheme in which such courses are provided. There is a national scheme for drink-drive rehabilitation courses, for which legislation provides. Again, there is a national model for driver improvement schemes, with national monitoring of drivers' progress. We are therefore behind the curve on speed awareness courses.
I understand that the Association of Chief Police Officers, on behalf of the Department, is currently developing guidance for local authorities and police forces about when such courses should be used. It is significant that they are available; the current legal position is that police forces make conditional offers to people who would otherwise be prosecuted in court for speeding and receive a fine and points on their licence. The exact terms of the conditions and the judgment about whether someone has complied with them could be important for that person's future. It is therefore important that we are certain about them.
I believe that the police have got as far as setting some general national standards for the courses and that they comment on the professionalism of the presenters and instructors who are used on them. However, we have not yet reached the stage where there is certainty throughout the country. Let me give a couple of examples of matters about which I want to know more. What is the purpose of a speed awareness course? To whom will it be directed? Are we considering first-time speeding offenders, to catch them early and give them a course instead of prosecuting them, or those who are speeding at a specific speed, who, whether it is their first or fourth offence, would be offered a course if they did not break the speed limit by too much? It is important to be clear about the purpose of the course.
I believe that people should have the opportunity to go on a speed awareness course rather than going through the courts the first time they offend and that that should apply to everybody. That is a large number of people.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, in America, there is a well-known offence of jaywalking whereby a pedestrian crosses the road recklessly instead of at a recognised crossing point. Does he believe that there is a case for educating pedestrians in the need to behave responsibly and improve their safety awareness? Is not there a case for expanding speed awareness courses into highway awareness courses for people other than motorists to attend?
The right hon. Gentleman should be careful of confusing two different matters. Speed awareness courses are for people who have broken the speed limit and been caught. We are trying to correct their behaviour before it becomes a bad habit for the rest of their driving careers. However, there is a case for much more education and I shall comment on new clause 1 shortly.
We must also establish the best format for the courses. Some authorities provide a theoretical and a practical element but others provide only a theoretical element. Research increasingly shows that both are desirable in a speed awareness course. If we can establish that that is the case, it ought to be the national standard.
I want to consider cost. Authorities that have already set up speed awareness courses made the policy decision that the courses should be self-financing and they therefore charge the people to whom they make the conditional offer to attend a sufficient fee to cover all the costs. I believe that the figure is currently £90. As a matter of principle, that is right. A person who attends the course avoids a fine in court and three points on the licence. Those matters have a value and it is right that people should pay for a course to avoid those consequences. I would therefore oppose the suggestion of the hon. Member for Christchurch that the money from speed camera fines should be used to allow all the lawbreakers to go on courses for free. However, I am sympathetic to the point of John Thurso that, in the small number of cases when the individual cannot afford the option, there could be some sort of assistance through a hardship fund. I would be sympathetic to that.
The hon. Member for Christchurch thought that I was manoeuvring myself into the position of being able to vote with the Government and against his new clause 1. However, I am encouraged by the new clause. It provides an opportunity for the House to speak with one voice and to resist the small number of ferocious critics in the media who say that speed camera fines are all about raising money for the Treasury's coffers. The Minister ought to think carefully about grabbing this amendment. Let us label it "the Conservative amendment" or "the Chope amendment", and say to those few in the media with such hostile views that the whole House believes that speed camera fine income is genuinely used for road safety purposes, and that we would even use the money for road safety educational purposes. I would say to Mr. Knight that that money could be spent in schools on education relating to the safe crossing of roads, and on general educational projects on highway behaviour, but not on subsidising speed awareness courses for lawbreakers. That would be going too far.
I believe that there is a benefit in having speed awareness courses, and I would like to give a couple of examples. In Staffordshire, we looked at the courses that had already been established in Lancashire and Northamptonshire, and decided to go ahead with the programme. Indeed, I was given the honour of launching the Staffordshire schemes. About 12 months later, I went back and saw one of the schemes in action. Actually, it is slightly inaccurate to say "in action", because I arrived when everyone had gone out in their cars for the practical part of the course, so I only saw the classroom in which the theory had been taught.
I was able to see the reasons for breaking the speed limit that people had written down, and they seemed to fall into two groups. One group said that they had not appreciated that they were breaking the speed limit. Within that group, there must have been some people who had not been paying proper attention, although a few might legitimately have been able to claim that the signs were not as good as they could have been in some areas. The other group of people said that they had been under time pressure, and that that had caused them to speed. Many of those people had probably not allowed enough time for their journey and had had to break the law to catch up. However, there might be a sub-group involving people who drive for a living and who might have been subjected to unfair pressure from their employers. We need to tackle that problem with the employers.
In Staffordshire, the courses have made a good start and are proving very successful. Lancashire, however, provided the father and mother of the courses, and now has a lot more experience of running them. As a result, it also has a lot more evidence of their success. After the courses had been running in Lancashire for a short time, Staffordshire university was asked to carry out an evaluation of them. Dr. Michelle Meadows produced a report identifying significant improvements in "drivers' attitude to speed" and in "drivers' violating behaviour", and showing reductions in drivers' self-reported speeds ranging from 2.6 mph to 4.8 mph. It seemed that the improvements in driving behaviour were sustained for three months after attending the course.
Dr. Meadows made recommendations for changes to the design of the evaluation and for further research into reoffending rates. That advice was followed, and after a further period of research, Lancashire county council was able to identify a marked difference in reoffending rates between those who had attended speed awareness courses and those who had not. Among those who had been found guilty of speeding and had attended a course, the reoffending rate was 36 in 1,000; among those who had never attended a course, the rate was 98 in 1,000—nearly three times as high. So there is some evidence of the effectiveness of the courses.
I am grateful to Neil Cunliffe of Lancashire county council, who has sent me a copy of one of the latest letters that his team has received. It is from the wife of a man who attended one of these courses. She wrote:
"He was not impressed about attending the course, even less about the cost and very sceptical about what he would learn, but he didn't want the points! He returned from the course, full of praise, commenting it was money very well spent (regardless of saving his three points) and feeling it had really helped him to reassess his driving."
That is the genuine voice of someone with experience of a speed awareness course telling us that it had been a valuable thing to do.
I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic to the idea of being much more vigorous about adding this arm to our education programme for the prevention of future casualties, by making speed awareness courses much more mainstream and giving them national consistency in terms of how they are offered across the country.
So far, this debate has been excellent and we have heard a number of diverging views. John Thurso referred to the mood music on the Conservative Benches, which he identified as pro-motorist. I do not take that as an insult, but I do not think that it is particularly accurate either. I would say that we were trying to achieve fairness and balance, because we support lower speed limits where appropriate, as well as supporting higher ones in certain cases, as shown in new clause 12. New clauses 3 and 4 propose higher penalties and new offences, while new clause 19 proposes increased provision for mitigation.
We also support the tightening of the law so that, in appropriate cases, motorists cannot be prosecuted. My hon. Friend Mr. Chope referred to the case of a motorist sitting in a line of traffic using a mobile phone. Mr. Miller wanted to know where that had happened and how the case had been brought to my hon. Friend's attention. That is not the point. The point is that, under the present law, a prosecution could be brought in those circumstances. We ought to ensure that that could not happen, and that the police prosecute motorists only when their use of a mobile phone is clearly interfering with the standard of their driving.
I warmly support speed awareness courses. I would go further and introduce highway awareness courses for those who are not motorists but who have to cross the highway, namely children and other pedestrians. However, that is perhaps a debate for another day. The arrangements in place for speed awareness courses should never amount to a deterrent to a person who has been given the option to attend one. A case was brought to my attention by a personal friend who lives in Reigate and who was caught speeding by a speed camera. When the papers came through—he showed me the documentation involved—he was offered the option to attend a speed awareness course on a particular date and at a certain cost. Because of his diary commitments, however, he decided that he would rather take the penalty points and pay the fine, as that would be less disruptive to the work that he had been contracted to carry out on that day.
There are many other such cases. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross suggested that people might be deterred from attending a course for other reasons, perhaps because they were unwaged or of limited means. I hope that the Minister will explain what guidance exists on requiring motorists to pay for speed awareness courses. If a motorist can ask for, and be given, time to pay a fine by weekly instalments, surely a similar provision should apply to the payment of the fee for a speed awareness course. The whole thrust of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is that we do not want the fees and the other arrangements for speed awareness courses to have a deterrent effect. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether a person of limited means—with no savings and perhaps no income, for example—would be able to apply for time to pay the fee if they were offered the option of attending a speed awareness course.
I look forward, I hope shortly, to hearing my hon. Friend Mr. Turner refer to his new clause 7, which I find interesting. In the absence of hearing his argument, however, I cannot support it currently. I am particularly concerned about proposed new subsection (8), which indicates that two speed limits could be set, one by the Secretary of State, who, by the nature of the fact that he must examine the wider picture, would tend to pick the correct speed limit for the stretch of road in question, whereas a local council, under pressure from local lobby groups, might seek to appease a vociferous minority by setting a lower speed limit than appropriate. I therefore have great concerns.
In certain parts of the country, local authorities already seek to undermine—I suppose that that is the correct word—existing speed limits. I am thinking of the erection of speed humps. In many cases, the speed limit on a particular road is 30 mph, but the local authority has erected speed humps such that it is impossible to travel at anything close to 30 mph without wrecking one's vehicle. If there is a case for having traffic travelling at, say, 20 mph or 15 mph, why is that not the speed limit? That sort of incident causes outrage and anger in local communities and among motorists. If there is a compelling case for lowering the speed limit, perhaps near a school, I would support that rather than leaving the speed limit at 30 mph and erecting speed humps.
I shall give the House a particular example, which I am aware does not come from my constituency. Occasionally, I must travel to Derby, and my usual route involves a road called Grampian way. Some years ago, the Labour-controlled city council in Derby decided to construct a plethora of speed humps along Grampian way. Initially, that was done under pressure from local residents who wanted traffic-calming measures—they did not specify speed humps, but that is what they got. Three of those speed humps regularly fouled the exhaust system on two of the motor vehicles that I own, no matter at what speed one sought to negotiate them. The pleasure of the local community at achieving traffic calming in the area soon turned to dismay and anger, because local residents realised that not only were those speed humps extremely intrusive but they had increased pollution—not just airborne pollution but, particularly irritatingly, noise pollution during the evening, such that they were regularly kept awake as heavier vehicles in particular negotiated the speed humps. A campaign then developed against those speed humps on Grampian way. In one of the safe Labour wards within the Derby city council area, an anti-speed hump candidate stood in the city council elections—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is making the speech that he would have made had new clause 9 been selected for debate. He will be aware that it was not selected. I have been fairly generous so far, but perhaps he would bring to a close his remarks on speed humps.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been rumbled.
To conclude the point, the anti-speed hump candidate won the election, the Labour party lost control of Derby city council and the speed humps were removed.
Therefore, there are many other ways of dealing with the problem of inappropriate speed limits, which is the point on which I started. That is why we support flexibility on speed limits. New clause 12 is therefore to be welcomed. I hope that the Minister, having had time to reflect, will be more positive about accepting it today than was indicated in Committee.
I also hope that the Minister will respond positively to new clause 19, as it is an attempt to allow genuine mitigation to be taken into account—in those cases in which points should be put forward on behalf of the motorist for transgressing—which would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the penalty imposed in such an exceptional case should be lower than would otherwise occur. That would not lead to a free-for-all, as the Minister knows that guidance can be issued saying that, in all but exceptional cases, points should be imposed, and we fully accept that that ought to be the norm. However, hon. Members will know of the sort of cases to which I allude, perhaps from their own experience, in which a more lenient view could and should be taken.
I am not sorry that this debate may be the Government's transport swansong. I am sorry, however, that this debate may be the swansong for the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mr. Jamieson. In some respects, he has been an excellent Minister. I hope that he will make today's proceedings an event to remember by accepting new clauses 1, 6 and 19. If he does so, we would happily withdraw the rest.
I find new clause 16 very interesting. I say that as someone who spent five and a half years as a professional driver, three of those as a bus driver, principally driving trolley buses, and who never had an accident of any description—whether someone having an accident with me or me having an accident with someone. That was because of the superb training that I received in Vancouver, Canada, from what was then called B. C. Hydro, which ran the metropolitan buses within the Greater Vancouver regional district. It is important to encourage people to have training courses. We already have a statutory driver re-education scheme for those who fall foul of the drink-driving laws. New clause 16, tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Kidney, is very attractive.
I want to focus my brief remarks on new clause 4. Some Members will know, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford knows, that there was recently an extremely sad case in Wolverhampton in which a 12-year-old boy, Jamie Mason, was knocked down by a driver who had no driving licence, no insurance, and, I believe, no tax. That boy was killed. That driver was speeding in a suburban area according to the police evidence, and was 50 per cent. over the drink-drive limit, and that boy died. Having pleaded guilty, the driver got a two-month custodial sentence. I, my hon. Friend Mr. Purchase in particular, who cannot be here today and who wished this point to be made forcefully, and my hon. Friend Mr. Turner, find the sentencing powers and the discretion of the magistrates in relation to that case, in which the death of a 12-year-old boy occurred, extraordinary. We find a gap in the law.
I must say to Mr. Chope, who tabled new clause 4, that I do not think that the wording is quite right, but he has identified a gap in the law. Another way to address that sort of issue might be that if someone is driving a motor vehicle, or to use the words of the amendment,
"a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place other than in accordance with a licence authorising him to drive a motor vehicle of that class", such an individual should face a presumption if not an absolute legal certainty that he or she, driving without a licence, is driving carelessly. That would then match up with a new offence of causing death by careless driving, which has been a gap in our law. Under the Bill, there can be three offences of careless driving, dangerous driving or causing death by dangerous driving but not the natural fourth offence of causing death by careless driving.
In my view and that of my two Wolverhampton colleagues, that is the situation which, very sadly, faced young Jamie Mason. The individual who was driving had no licence. New clause 4 or what I am suggesting now—that someone would be presumed to have been driving carelessly if he or she was involved in an accident and had no licence—would not, of course, bring young Jamie back, but it would at least go some way towards dissuading people from engaging in such activity, and preventing the occurrence of another extremely sad incident of that kind.
I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to give thought to this issue.
Rob Marris has told a very sad story. We all sympathise with him and his two Wolverhampton colleagues, as well as—of course—the bereaved family.
It is common during road safety debates for Members to say that deaths could occur in certain circumstances, but I do not intend to take that line myself. Let me first express to my hon. Friend Mr. Chope my support for his new clauses, and explain to my right hon. Friend Mr. Knight that I tabled new clause 7 because my constituents wanted something to be done about the dangers involved in using rural roads—especially as pedestrians, cyclists or riders, but sometimes as motorists. I felt that devising and debating a new clause would do no harm.
There is considerable objection to the concept of national speed limits, because they are seen to take from the motorist the responsibility for making his own judgments about conditions pertaining on a particular road. I sympathise with that view: I believe that it is the responsibility of the motorist behind the wheel of a dangerous missile to decide at what speed that missile is less or more dangerous, and to adjust his behaviour accordingly. However, I also observe considerable concern about the proliferation of a range of different speed limits, and, for that matter, the proliferation of a range of signs on the highway, particularly in rural areas. I refer the Minister to an amendment that I tabled to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 when it was a Bill, which proposed that planning authorities should consult highway authorities on signage in areas of high environmental value, such as areas of outstanding natural beauty, national parks and conservation areas.
Many of us believe, and others have observed, that extra road signs do not make things safer, and that the kind of work so favoured by traffic engineers—establishing barriers around corners so that pedestrians cannot step off the pavement, driving pedestrians into cages before they cross roads, and producing a proliferation of lines and devices on the surfaces of carriageways and on lamp posts and signposts—does not make things easier. In fact, such measures give the motorist the false impression that he is safe.
I refer the Minister to documents circulated by the British Council of Shopping Centres, the Council for the Protection of Rural England and—this is the one that came to my attention most recently—English Heritage, in association with the women's institutes. They suggested that such signs not only make driving more dangerous because they create a false sense of security in the motorist's mind, but damage the environment. I therefore tried to devise an amendment that would achieve my constituents' objective but not lead to a proliferation of road signs. In the nature of things, that is likely to produce a blunt instrument. That is my explanation to my Front-Bench colleagues of the fact that I propose a national speed limit of sorts.
My constituents, especially those who ride in the Upton Cross area, have observed increasing traffic speeds among people travelling from Newport to Ryde and avoiding the main road, on which there are a number of speed cameras. That is the situation described earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. Stroudwood road and the other roads in that area are very narrow, only just capable of carrying two lanes of traffic, and there are white lines, or hazard lines, down the centre. Motorists think, "There's a division in the middle, so we can adopt a reasonably high speed." They tend to ignore the high hedges abutting the carriageway on either side, the absence of verges and the fact that, given the many equestrian centres in the area, riders are likely to be crossing, and using, the road. It is said that there are more horses than people on the Isle of Wight; there are certainly more horses than there are small girls to ride them. Riding is not a toffs' sport on the Isle of Wight even if it is in other parts of the country, which I doubt.
I hope that my new clause can be said to be relatively carefully crafted, and will prevent a further incidence of mad sign disease—the defacing of our streetscapes with lumps of aluminium and plastic, and the defacing of our rural areas as well. First, it establishes what a rural road is. Under subsection (7), a rural road must fulfil three conditions: no speed limit other than the national limit must apply, there must be no street lighting and, most importantly, there must be no white line down the middle. If a local authority wishes to impose a limit, it need only remove the white line. That in itself will tend to make motorists more careful.
Secondly, I have given the Secretary of State power to designate speed limits for England, and the highway authority power to designate them in respect of a highway authority area, or an area of a principal authority subordinate to that highway authority. That is in subsections (3) and (4). Thirdly, I have proposed that no signage is necessary if there is a national scheme. If there is no street lighting, if there are no markings in the middle of the road and if there is no speed limit, it will be obvious to the motorist that a speed limit designated by the Secretary of State applies.
It may be more difficult for those of us who live in and represent urban areas to understand entirely what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. I thought that we already had such limits de facto. If I go from Wolverhampton to the rural areas of Staffordshire or Shropshire, I see a derestriction sign which means a maximum of 60 mph unless a different limit is posted. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that what I would call a default speed limit should be less than 60 mph, or more?
I am suggesting that when the Secretary of State or the highway authorities so decide, the default speed limit should be less than the national speed limit, and that, when the Secretary of State so decides, no signs are necessary, and when the highway authority decides the same—this is covered by subsection (6)—the only sign necessary is one at the entry of the designated area, which shall be coterminous with the area of a highway authority, county council, unitary authority, metropolitan or other borough, or district in a rural area. In all those areas, designation will be by the highway authority. It is really quite simple.
Let me refer to the eighth point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire. I propose that a highway authority should be able to set a speed limit below that designated by the Secretary of State. Areas differ, and the council of the Isles of Scilly may prefer a lower speed limit than that which is appropriate for some of the roads that John Thurso mentioned.
May I gently suggest to the hon. Gentleman that his views on the issue may be coloured by the constituency that he represents—which is also where, I suspect, he lives—because it is an island? If I travel westwards from Wolverhampton in my constituency, I cross a peninsula—the southern part of Staffordshire—for approximately 8 km and then enter Shropshire. Under the scheme I understand him to be proposing, when I left Wolverhampton I might see a sign telling me that I was in Staffordshire and that the default speed limit was 50 mph. I then cross into Shropshire, where I might see one sign suggesting that the default speed limit was now 45 mph. If I missed that one sign and carried on driving at 50 mph in Shropshire, I would be doing 5 mph over the speed limit. If that is the system that he is suggesting in the new clause—the one-sign approach—it is a little impractical, and unfair on motorists. If people come from the Isle of Wight they will not know that in Shropshire, the default speed limit is 45 mph.
That is a fair point. Perhaps as a former geography teacher, I have an optimistic view of people's knowledge of county boundaries. The boundary of my county is very clear and no one enters it without knowing that they are doing so. As I have said, I tabled the new clause not because I intend to press it to a vote but because I look forward to hearing hon. Members' views and those of the Minister on it. There are considerable differences between different areas, and perhaps I have been unduly restrictive in the signage that I have proposed under subsection (6), but I am deeply aware of the need to avoid a requirement for local authorities to put intrusive road signs every 100 or 200 yd through rural areas. I am talking about rural roads here, not major roads—although I would like those restrictions to be applied to major roads, too.
That said, I take the view that the new clause is worth tabling and discussing. The proposal would certainly work in rural areas such as Devon, Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and the Isles of Scilly, where the boundaries are clear and well known. I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman, whose city used to be in Staffordshire and is now only geographically within it, and not administratively. That problem arose following the reforms many years ago, which we were unable to undo. However, the new clause is worthy of consideration and I hope that the House, and the Minister in particular, will give their views on it.
This debate has been very good and extraordinarily wide ranging. I have seldom seen put together in one group so many new clauses that represent so many different aspects of a Bill, but it has given us a good opportunity—this is almost like a Second Reading debate—to get stuck into some of these important issues.
New clause 1 seeks to amend section 38 of the Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001 on the unified power for the Secretary of State to fund speed cameras, which enables the Secretary of State to allow for payments to be made to public authorities in the safety camera programme netting off scheme to cover certain costs associated with issuing and enforcing conditional offers from fixed penalty notices for speeding offences. The money to fund the costs is reclaimed from receipts generated by fines. The receipts are passed from the Department for Constitutional Affairs to the Department for Transport, which reimburses the partnerships for approved expenditure incurred. Any surplus generated is paid over to Her Majesty's Treasury in the form of Consolidated Fund extra receipts.
The new clause seeks to include the funding of educational or training programmes among the allowable expenditure from reclaimed receipts. However, the new clause is not required. The safety camera programme is delivering positive results under current rules on what the funding can be used for, and there is no reason to seek to change the rules that determine what can be funded by that income at present.
Mr. Chope referred to clause 1. That allows for local authorities to be funded by other revenue streams to enable them to fund the educational and training activities mentioned in the new clause. The safety camera programme has a distinct and different function: to strengthen detection, enforcement and deterrence of speeding and red light offences, which we have not heard much about in these debates, at places on the road network with particular problems. It complements the wider promotion of road safety already provided in the wider funding of the police and local authorities.
Opposition politicians—often spurring on some of the things we see in newspapers—and critics of the safety camera programme seek to undermine its success in reducing road deaths and injuries by making unfounded allegations that the police and local authorities are using it as a "stealth tax". We did not hear the hon. Member for Christchurch mention those words today, which must be something of a record. The present legislation and the way in which the safety camera partnership works demonstrates that that is not so, since it provides that the programme can be applied only to the deployment of cameras. That means that the police and local authorities have no incentive to deploy cameras for any other reason, however well intentioned they may be. It is important that we maintain public confidence that safety cameras are deployed for one purpose and one purpose alone.
It is unfortunate that, again today, the hon. Member for Christchurch made out that that was not the case. He used the glib phrase that we have greed cameras, not speed cameras, which will again feed little headlines in newspapers to undermine what the cameras are doing—reducing death and injury on our roads. As I have said, it is particularly children who benefit from that—mainly in urban areas, I have to say. Fewer children are being killed and injured on our roads now. I am very pleased about that. I think that the cameras have made a major contribution to improving the position.
The hon. Gentleman went on to say that some of the speed awareness and driver improvement courses for those who offend should be funded out of this income, too. My hon. Friend Mr. Kidney made the point extremely well: it is the offender who should pay. Effectively, the hon. Member for Christchurch is saying that the offenders course should be paid for by the taxpayer. I do not agree. If someone breaks the law and goes on one of those courses, they should pay for it. It should not be subsidised by the taxpayer.
Will the Minister address the point that I raised earlier—whether the penalties should be the same in all parts of the jurisdiction and whether it is not unfair that in some parts of the country, there can be a trade-off between a speed awareness course and a penalty, whereas in others there is no option?
It is the case that these courses have been pioneered in some parts of the country. Because they have worked so well in certain parts, we want them to be promoted more widely across the country. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Bill puts in place many measures that will ensure that we get consistency across the country, although there should also be some local discretion. I do not want to remove that entirely.
The hon. Member for Christchurch again alluded to cameras that were in the wrong place or that were not doing their job. We have trodden this ground many times. It was nearly 15 months ago that I challenged one of his predecessors on the Opposition Front Bench to tell us where are the cameras that are in the wrong place. As yet, 15 months on, after many invitations from me, the number of those sites that the hon. Gentleman and his friends have identified is precisely zero. He has not told us of one single site where cameras are in the wrong place—so it would be helpful if he would stop making comments unless he can back them up with solid facts, which he has declined to do so far.
New clause 2 is designed to make the benefits of a course available not only to offenders whose cases are dealt with by the courts, but to those who have acquired penalty points through the fixed penalty system. I am not unsympathetic to that aspiration in the longer term, but we must proceed gradually.
I shall explain some of the background, because retraining for road traffic offenders takes different shapes and forms, and there has been confusion about the different schemes in operation. I am sure that hon. Members will be aware that since the early 1990s, the police have dealt with some careless driving offenders by offering them the opportunity to attend a one and a half day driver improvement course at their own expense. They can do that only if the police officers involved believe that the retraining will serve road safety better than a prosecution. If the course is not completed, the prosecution will be pursued.
Courses are provided in collaboration with the police by independent course providers using the national course model. The management content and applicability of courses are matters for the police and involve the Association of Chief Police Officers, but they have no statutory basis.
During the past few years, the police in several parts of the country have extended that approach to speeding offenders, which has given rise to a range of speed awareness courses that have been offered in lieu of fixed penalties. Similarly, although those are a matter for the police, the majority of such offences are detected remotely by cameras and the criteria for offering a speed awareness course are more automatic. It is important for the Government to know how well the different courses perform, because they may correct bad driving habits before they become entrenched.
The Bill is rather different. Its starting point is the drink-driving rehabilitation scheme, which was introduced by the Road Traffic Act 1991 and piloted from 1992 to 1999. The hon. Member for Christchurch may have been involved in introducing that legislation. It is clear from the details that Parliament did not want to allow people who committed offences as serious as drink-driving to have a remission in their disqualification period without rigorous provisions. They included the courts being responsible for the decision to offer a course, ensuring that courses were available and checking whether the offender had successfully completed the course. Before the scheme was adopted nationally, firm evidence was sought and obtained to ensure that it was successful in reducing reoffending. The amendment would encourage motorists to go to court in the hope of avoiding a fixed penalty.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford spoke to new clause 16. I praise his excellent work as co-chair of PACTS—the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety. He has a long-standing interest in such matters and is a guiding inspiration to many of us—I am leading up to saying that I cannot accept his new clause. However, speed awareness courses have been adopted by some police forces as an alternative to prosecution for speeding offences. The driver improvement scheme is overseen by a steering group in which key Government Departments, including mine, participate.
I understand that existing speed awareness courses have evolved in a less regulated way and there have been some differences in practice and some inconsistency in eligibility for courses in different parts of the country, as Mr. Turner said. I am also advised that the position has improved and I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford that such matters should be dealt with uniformly and consistently. However, the courses are the responsibility of the police and are offered at their discretion. It would not be appropriate for central Government to step in and regulate them. I am sympathetic to the ideas behind the amendment, but we must allow time for them to roll out and allow ACPO to take the lead in ensuring consistency and rigorous standards.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's kind comments about me, but will he at least take a personal interest for a short time in establishing that the police have a grip on the matter and that they intend to ensure that there is a national standard throughout the country? Would his Department be mildly encouraging of every force and safety camera partnership that adopts such schemes?
I certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance.
The hon. Member for Christchurch hoped that we would accept new clauses 3, 4 and 6 without demur. I am sympathetic to them, but the difficulty is that Home Office consultation is due to finish on
Mt hon. Friend Rob Marris spoke movingly about the case of a 12-year-old boy in his constituency, which shows why we need changes. Although it is difficult in such circumstances, I hope that he will be patient, because we need to consider all offences across the board instead of picking some of them off piecemeal. However, I am deeply sympathetic to the views he expressed.
My hon. Friend Mr. Miller made the same points. He was right in saying what he did, but some of the penalties may be more onerous that those that are ultimately intended. We must listen to the consultation and then consider the whole package of measures.
Can my hon. Friend confirm that after the consultation, the Government's policy is to bring the offences in the three new clauses into legislation?
That is the intention that was set out by the Home Office. My Department does not deal with the matter, but the intention is that the Home Office will introduce appropriate changes when the consultation has been completed.
I have some sympathy with new clause 7, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight, but my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West unpicked the problems rather well. There could be considerable difficulty with enforcement. Reference was made to county boundaries, especially in Devon and Cornwall, and whether they are clear. They are not always clear there—certainly not between Devon, Dorset and Somerset—and that could lead to considerable confusion.
Speed limits on roads are a matter for local authorities. The approach that I prefer, and which the Government are encouraging, is that local authorities decide the appropriate speed for each individual road and see how many casualties there are. If there are no casualties, there is no need for action, but where there are casualties—they often occur in villages and small settlements—it is in the gift of the local authority to introduce a different speed limit, even as low as 20 mph. Local authorities are doing just that in many areas.
This is not just a matter of changing the sign on the road and introducing a different speed limit. It is important that any changes are related to other changes, such an engineering changes, a change in the road design or improvement to a junction and so on.
Two points arise from the Minister's comments. First, I am sorry to hear him say that if there are no casualties there is no need for action. Pedestrians, cyclists, riders and so on are often driven off the roads because they fear that they may become casualties. That is the evil that we must deal with. Secondly, and far less importantly, I hope that the Minister will deal with the proliferation of signage that appears to be required by his Department when speed limits are introduced.
If people are being driven off the roads—for example, children cannot walk to school along a road—that is clearly a case for action by the local authority. The need for action may be related not to casualties but to the convenience of local people, if there are no footpaths and the road is very dangerous.
I have read the views of Commercial Motor on new clause 12, and many others have expressed similar views. I would be sympathetic to new clause 12 if I thought that no increase in danger would result from allowing heavy goods vehicles to travel at 50 mph rather than 40 mph on narrow roads. We rehearsed the arguments well in Committee, and the 40 mph speed limit for such vehicles on a single carriageway is in place for a good reason. Heavy goods vehicles take much longer to stop than cars, and the number of casualties and collisions involving such vehicles on those roads is much higher than it is for cars.
In new clause 19, the intention is to make the endorsement of licences a discretionary matter for the courts. That still poses several technical problems. It could throw out an entire framework for keeping records of previous driving offences. I do not know whether it is part of the policy of the hon. Member for Christchurch to disregard the problem of repeat offending. It is not clear how he proposes to deal with fixed penalties that involve the imposition of penalty points. If the court thinks that there are special reasons not to endorse a licence, it may choose not to do so, but those special reasons have to be established by case law, which is beyond the scope of the debate today.
I was interested by what the hon. Gentleman had to say about mobile phones. I am beginning to wonder what the modern Conservative party—if that is not a contradiction in terms—has against road safety and the efforts that we have made to reduce casualties. If people are using a handheld mobile phone while driving, it constitutes a danger on the road. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the issue of whether someone is driving or not. When someone is drunk and in control of a vehicle, that can include standing near the vehicle or sitting in the vehicle with the engine turned off, because we know that in the next few minutes they will not become sober again. That is different from someone who pulls in to the side of the road, turns the engine off and makes a call on a mobile phone.
As Members of Parliament, we have to be careful about what we say in this Chamber. The hon. Gentleman spoke of a case in which a police officer had gone down a line of cars booking people who were using their mobile phones while the cars were standing still—but when he was challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, he could not tell us when or where that happened. If he wishes to intervene and put on the record when that event took place, I will look into it and take the issue up. However, if he cannot say when it was, perhaps he should keep his silence on such matters and avoid putting urban myths on the record. He appears to have no intention of intervening, so it is probably safe to say that that case did not exist and we may dismiss it.
Well, the opportunity is there.
We have had a useful and helpful debate on a wide range of issues. I thank Mr. Knight for his charming and pleasant comments. However, he may have to put up with me for another 15 or 16 months yet.
We have had an excellent debate, but I am not persuaded by the Minister's arguments on new clause 1. Indeed, Mr. Kidney made a compelling argument in support of that new clause and we look forward to him joining us in the Lobby later.
The Minister accepted that new clauses 3, 4 and 6 were worth while, but he prayed in aid the old defence of Ministers—that of prematurity. That does not wash in this case, because the Government set up a review of the offences back in May 2003. The review ran so slowly that it did not report until the end of January, but now the Minister is playing for more time by talking of a consultation period that will end in May. I think that the House has made up its mind that the offences identified in new clauses 3, 4 and 6 should be on the statute book. We cannot test the House's opinion on all those new clauses, but I hope that we will be able to do so on new clause 6, which deals with the most serious offence identified and would send a clear message that people should not drive while disqualified. If they do so, and cause an accident that results in death, they should expect the full force of the law to come down heavily upon them.
The Minister said that several of the cases that we made are not borne out by the evidence and had a general go about the inappropriateness of our approach to speed cameras. We feel that speed cameras are still too much abused. Too many are in the wrong place. The Minister keeps asking us to specify particular examples, so I shall remind the House of the case last year in which a genuine speed camera was implicated in the death of an elderly pedestrian. Myra Nevett, who was 69, was fatally injured as she crossed a road in Disley, near Stockport. At her inquest, the south Manchester coroner, John Pollard, said that the motorist was apparently distracted by the sight of a speed camera. He said:
"Cameras are sometimes responsible for distracting drivers, who look at their speed rather than the road. These cameras are a valuable safety measure when properly used, but they are in danger of becoming a hazard."
Recently, in Dorset, we had a case in which someone who was fed up with speeding motorists outside his house and put up a fake speed camera, which led to a fatal accident nearby. That is another example of a speed camera causing problems rather than solving them.
Finally, on new clause 19, we believe that scope should be allowed for mitigation of the fine and penalty points. It is not unreasonable that, if there are mitigating circumstances, a driver should receive fewer or no penalty points on their licence. That is the idea behind new clause 19 and I hope that we will have the opportunity to vote on that later. In the meantime, I commend new clauses 1 and 6 to the House.