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My Lords, the latest available figures are for the 12 months from 31st March 1999 to 1st April 2000. Those show a 4 per cent increase when compared with the preceding 12 months in the total number of police vehicle accidents. The figures are 18,068 incidents in 1999-2000, with 17,338 in the year before. They include all incidents ranging from minor collisions in police station yards right through to more serious accidents on public roads.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. Can he confirm that some police forces are refusing to divulge figures on this subject to the media, despite the public's concern? Honourable exceptions are the Metropolitan Police, for whom the Home Secretary is responsible, and also the Manchester police.
My Lords, I am pleased that the noble Lord recognises that several police forces are being explicit in their publication of figures in relation to this situation. He may also know that the Metropolitan Police introduced an additional feature into police vehicles in terms of black box recorders. They help to ensure that vehicles are used economically and managed properly, as well as providing evidence when any serious accident occurs. I recognise however that several police forces are not being so open at the present time.
My Lords, I have not witnessed such incidents although I am aware of them. We have recorded in the past the number of serious incidents which led to deaths. However, I draw to the attention of the House the Minton report which produced 33 recommendations on how we should improve the operation of police vehicles at times of emergency. Clearly a necessary balance must be struck between the public's requirement that police act promptly, efficiently and speedily to an emergency which may involve threats to life and the obvious safety for the ordinary member of the public when the police vehicle is rushing to the emergency. The Minton report indicated the kind of training that is required and should be enhanced. I am pleased to be able to indicate that essential parts of the report are being adopted by a substantial number of police forces.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that with the airways project, which all forces hope to have in place within the next four years, automatic location devices within vehicles will make it much easier for police vehicles to attend accidents? The site can be pinpointed enabling the nearest vehicle to attend. That will avoid vehicles travelling all over the place at high speed and be a much safer way of proceeding in the future.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for drawing attention to one aspect of technology which will enhance the efficiency with which police vehicles are dispatched to emergencies. Other aspects of technology are also being introduced. Police vehicles which are likely to be involved in accidents and emergencies have more highly trained drivers and they also have markers on their roofs so that they can be provided with helicopter support. That again can reduce the necessity for rapid travel along the ground, the helicopter being able to guide the nearest vehicles more accurately from the air.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for introducing an element of balance to this debate. It is important that the police are able to respond to clearly identified emergencies. Again, technology and the managerial structure of police forces play their part in identifying real emergencies to which we expect the police to move with all dispatch. But it is always a cause for concern when it is found that a police vehicle has travelled too fast to an incident which is not in fact a high priority emergency. A balance has to be struck. I can assure the House that the Minton report and the work of police authorities throughout the country are fully aware of public concern and the need to strike that balance.
My Lords, my noble friend will be aware, as will other noble Lords, that I frequently go out on traffic patrols. In response to questions raised by other noble Lords, perhaps I may say that I have been through red traffic lights, but only when necessary. Does my noble friend agree that traffic officers are trained to a higher standard than drivers of other police vehicles? Consequently, training to a far more advanced standard for drivers of other police vehicles could lead to fewer accidents. Does he also agree that a police accident can be classed as such even if just a tail-light is broken?
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. My noble friend stated that he had been through red lights. I hasten to assure the House that I know it to be the case that he was in an authorised police car, bent upon attending exactly the kind of emergency that we have been discussing. He is right that the emphasis behind the Minton report and the management of the police forces is that drivers who are on duty with the requisite cars to be able to respond to emergencies require a higher level of training than do other police drivers. We expect all police drivers to set exemplary standards. However, driving in authorised emergency conditions which at times require the breaking of traffic Acts requires a higher level of skill. As my noble friend indicated, that is reflected in the intensification of the training of such drivers.