'(1) The Secretary of State shall appoint persons as inspectors of road accidents.
(2) The Secretary of State shall appoint one of the inspectors as the Chief Inspector of Road Accidents.
(3) The inspectors appointed under this section may be referred to as the Road Accident Investigation Branch (being a branch of the department of the Secretary of State who appoints them).
(4) An inspector of road accidents shall carry out such of the functions of the Road Accident Investigation Branch as may be assigned to him by the Chief Inspector of Road Accidents.'.—[Mr. Don Foster.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 8—The Road Accident Investigation Branch: General aims—
'In exercising their functions the Road Accident Investigation Branch shall have regard to the desirability of—
(a) improving the safety of users of roads, and
(b) preventing road accidents and road incidents.'.
New clause 9—The Road Accident Investigation Branch: Assistance to others—
(a) may be provided with or without charge;
(b) may be provided inside or outside the United Kingdom.'.
New clause 10—The Road Accident Investigation Branch: Investigations—
'(1) The Road Accident Investigation Branch shall investigate any road accident in which there is a fatality
(2) In investigating an accident or incident the Branch shall try to determine what caused it.
(3) On completion of an investigation the Branch shall report to the Secretary of State.
(4) In performing a function in relation to an accident or incident the Branch—
(a) shall not consider or determine blame or liability, but
(b) may determine and report on a cause of an accident or incident whether or not blame or liability is likely to be inferred from the determination or report.
(5) The Branch may conduct an investigation and report whether or not civil or criminal proceedings are in progress or may be instituted (but this subsection is without prejudice to the operation of the law of contempt of court).
(6) The Chief Inspector of Road Accidents may apply to the High Court or the Crown Court for a declaration that the making of a report in connection with a specified accident or incident will not amount to a contempt of court in relation to civil or criminal proceedings which have been or may be instituted in connection with the accident or incident.
(7) The Chief Inspector of Road Accidents may reopen an investigation if he believes that significant new evidence may be available.'.
New clause 11—The Road Accident Investigation Branch: Investigator's powers—
'(1) For the purpose of conducting an investigation by virtue of section 4 an inspector of road accidents may, provided that he produces evidence of his identity if asked to do so—
(a) enter land (which may include a dwellinghouse) which adjoins or abuts a public right of way;
(b) with consent from a Chief Police Inspector, enter a vehicle which is on a public right of way;
(c) enter land, premises or vehicles which do not fall within paragraph (a) or (b) if the inspector reasonably believes that it may contain evidence relating to an accident or incident;
(d) in entering anything under paragraph (a), (b) or (c), be accompanied by one or more persons authorised by the Chief Inspector of Road Accidents for that purpose (whether generally or specifically);
(e) in entering anything under paragraph (a), (b) or (c), make arrangements to have with him equipment or materials.
(2) For the purpose of conducting an investigation by virtue of section [The Road Accident Investigation Branch: Investigations] an inspector of road accidents may—
(a) make a written, electronic, photographic or other record;
(b) remove and retain samples;
(c) arrange for anything to be removed and retained for the purpose of analysis or other examination or for the purpose of preserving evidence;
(d) require access to a record or to recording equipment;
(e) require a person to answer a question;
(f) require a person to provide information;
(g) require a person to disclose a record;
(h) require a person to provide a copy of a record;
(i) require disclosure of the result of an examination of a person, body or thing;
(j) require a person to certify the truth, accuracy or authenticity of a statement made, of information or a document provided or of a record disclosed.
(3) A person commits an offence if without reasonable excuse he—
(a) fails to comply with a requirement imposed by an inspector of road accidents for the purpose of an investigation by virtue of section [The Road Accident Investigation Branch: Investigations];
(b) makes a statement for the purpose of an investigation by virtue of section [The Road Accident Investigation Branch: Investigations] knowing or suspecting that the statement is inaccurate or misleading;
(c) provides information or a record for the purpose of an investigation by virtue of section [The Road Accident Investigation Branch: Investigations] knowing or suspecting that the information or record is inaccurate or misleading;
(d) obstructs an inspector of road accidents in the course of his conduct of an investigation by virtue of section [The Road Accident Investigation Branch: Investigations];
(e) obstructs a person accompanying an inspector of road accidents; or
(f) obstructs a person exercising a power of an inspector by virtue of regulations under section 5(1).
(4) A person who is guilty of an offence under subsection (3) shall be liable on summary conviction to—
(a) imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks;
(b) a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale; or
(5) Subsection (6) applies where—
(a) the Road Accident Investigation Branch is conducting an investigation by virtue of section 4 in respect of an accident or incident; and
(b) a question arises as to the desirability of action which any other person proposes to take for the purpose of investigating the accident or incident.
(6) The question may be determined by—
(a) the Chief Inspector of Road Accidents; or
(b) an inspector of road accidents acting on behalf of the Chief Inspector.'.
New clause 12—The Road Accident Investigation Branch: Regulations—
'(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations about the conduct of investigations by the Road Accident Investigation Branch; in particular, the regulations may—
(a) confer a function on the Chief Inspector of Road Accidents or on the Branch;
(b) make provision about the way in which a function of the Chief Inspector or the Branch is to be performed;
(c) permit or require the Chief Inspector to appoint a person to conduct or participate in an investigation;
(d) provide for a power of an inspector to be exercisable by a person conducting or participating in an investigation by virtue of paragraph (c);
(e) permit or require the Chief Inspector to request assistance from another person;
(f) permit or require another person to assist the Chief Inspector.
(2) The regulations may make provision about the preparation, form, content and publication of a report made by the Branch under section [The Road Accident Investigation Branch: Investigator's Powers]; in particular, the regulations may—
(a) require a report to address the question of what caused an accident or incident;
(b) require or permit a report to make, or not to make, a recommendation;
(c) require or permit the preparation and publication by the Branch of an interim report;
(d) require the Branch to give an opportunity to a person interested in an investigation to comment on a draft report or draft interim report;
(e) require the Branch to notify a person of the content of a report or interim report before publication;
(f) require the Branch to give a copy of a report or interim report to a person;
(g) make provision about the timing of publication.
(3) A reference to a report by the Branch in section 4 includes a reference to an interim report permitted or required by virtue of subsection (2) above.
(4) The Secretary of State may make regulations about the use, disclosure and destruction of information acquired by the Branch; in particular, the regulations may—
(a) prohibit the disclosure of information in specified circumstances;
(b) permit the disclosure of information in specified circumstances;
(c) require the disclosure of information in specified circumstances;
(d) make provision by reference to whether or not a person consents to a disclosure which relates to him;
(5) Regulations under this section may—
(a) create an offence (but not an offence punishable by imprisonment);
(b) confer a discretionary function;
(c) confer jurisdiction on a court or tribunal.'.
New clause 13—The Road Accident Investigation Branch: Requirement to investigate—
'(1) The Chief Inspector of Road Accidents may direct that any road accident or road incident of a specified kind or which occurs in specified circumstances shall be investigated by each person who manages or controls, or participates in managing or controlling, all or any part of public rights of right—
(a) on which the accident or incident takes place, or
(b) which is involved in the accident or incident.
(2) A direction—
(a) shall specify the manner in which the investigation is to be conducted, and
(b) may make provision for a case where more than one person would be required to conduct an investigation, whether by
requiring a joint investigation or by requiring or enabling one or more persons to conduct an investigation on behalf of others.
(3) A person to whom a direction under subsection (1) applies commits an offence if he fails to comply with it.
(4) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (3) shall be liable—
(a) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or
(b) on conviction on indictment, to a fine.
(5) The Chief Inspector shall publish a direction issued by him under subsection (1) in a manner which he considers will bring it to the attention of each person who is likely to be required to comply with it.
(6) But in proceedings against a person for an offence under subsection (3) of failing to comply with a direction it shall not be necessary to prove that he was aware of the direction.
(7) A direction under subsection (1)—
(a) may make provision which applies generally or only in specified circumstances,
(b) may make different provision for different cases or circumstances, and
(c) may be varied or revoked by a further direction.'.
New clause 14—The Road Accident Investigation Branch: accident regulations—
'(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations in connection with the investigation of road accidents.
(2) The regulations may, in particular—
(a) require a person to notify the Road Accident Investigation Branch of a road accident and,
(b) make provision about the timing, form and content of notice given by virtue of paragraph (a).
(3) The regulations may, in particular, require a person to take or not to take specified action following an accident or incident—
(a) pending the commencement of an investigation, or
(b) during the process of an investigation.
(4) The regulations may—
(a) create an offence (but not an offence punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding the maximum term which may be imposed by a magistrates' court in accordance with section 78 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 (c.6));
(b) confer a discretionary function;
(c) confer jurisdiction on a court or tribunal.'.
New clause 15—The Road Accident Investigation Branch: Crown application—
'This Part applies in relation to property irrespective of whether it belongs to or is used for the purposes of the Crown or a Duchy.'.
New clause 16—The Road Accident Investigation Branch: Regulations and orders—
'(1) Regulations and orders under this Part—
(a) may make provision which applies generally or only in specified cases or circumstances,
(b) may make different provision for different cases or circumstances, and
(c) may include transitional, consequential or incidental provision.
(2) Regulations and orders under this Part shall be made by statutory instrument.
(3) Regulations under this Part shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'.
New clause 17—The Road Accident Investigation Branch: Extent—
'(2) This Part extends to the whole of the United Kingdom.
(a) In the application of this Part in relation to Northern Ireland the maximum term for the purposes of section [The Road Accident Investigation Branch: Investigator's Powers] (4)(a) shall be 12 months.'.
I return to the debate that was begun in a sense by the amendment moved this morning by the hon. Member for Vale of York. During those deliberations, all members of the Committee were conscious of the crucial importance of road safety and the need for further measures to improve our roads. This morning, I paid tribute to the work done over several years to reduce deaths and serious casualties on our roads.
However, notwithstanding the fact that we have the best record in Europe, additional measures could be taken. One way to develop new measures would be to do so from the results of investigations into road accidents. For a long time, we have accepted that such benefits apply to air and marine accidents, and have established the respective air and marine accident investigation branches. Because of our concern about accidents and incidents on the railways, we have seen fit in the Bill to support measures to introduce the rail accident investigation branch. Since the election of a Labour Government in 1997, about 150 people have died on the railways, yet about 17,000 people have died on our roads. I am not belittling the work done on our railways, but a crucial task remains to be undertaken in respect of road safety.
I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He has twice referred to the election of the Government, when referring to fatalities. Is he using that just as an example of a measure of time or is he imputing responsibility to the current Government for such statistics? He should make his argument more clear.
As the hon. Gentleman will have noted from earlier deliberations in Committee and on the Floor of the House, many different statistics have been used to illustrate my point. He will be aware that I always coupled my comments about statistics with praise for the contribution that has been made by both the present and previous Governments. Statistics have improved and that is a tribute not only to those Governments, but to those who work on the ground such as the police, members of local authorities and others. There is no imputation in what I have said.
I could have put matters differently, taken the statistics for 2001 and reminded the Committee that, during that time, 3,450 people died and a staggering 37,110 people were seriously injured on roads in Great Britain. That is why I am anxious that we take action. Clearly, much more needs to be done. The Government have their road safety strategy, which is important. However, as part of the package of measures, it would be a good idea to set up a similar body to those that have been introduced in respect of rail, marine and aviation accidents, and establish a road accident investigation branch.
I am well aware that we already have in place measures to ensure that accidents are investigated.
When there is death or injury, responsibility for investigation falls predominantly to the police. They conduct detailed investigations and gather information from investigations into the STATS 19 forms, which provide useful information that can be collated and used to help in the design and modification of roads and so forth. I am also conscious that the Road Traffic Act 1988 gave local authorities the responsibility for investigating road accidents and for taking action to prevent their repetition.
The problem with the current arrangements, however, is that only a limited number of police are involved in work on our roads. Despite several parliamentary questions from hon. Members of all parties, it has become difficult to ascertain whether numbers have declined or remained static, but there is no indication that the number of police involved in such work has increased. Clearly, the police, even those who do highly skilled work on our roads, are not fully trained in the same way as accident investigators.
Similarly, there is a shortage of people trained in the business of accident investigation working in local authorities. Such investigations help us to find ways of reducing the number of accidents. The establishment of a body of the type proposed by the new clause would create the opportunity to bring together a cadre of people with specific skills and expertise to enable them to examine accidents and develop strategies to help to reduce the number of accidents.
I am well aware that the hon. Member for Vale of York said that, although she supports measures to reduce the number of road accidents and improve road safety, she is concerned that the establishment of a new body would create an additional tier of bureaucracy—I believe that that was the phrase that she used. I am also conscious of the down sides to such proposals. On the other hand, a newspaper headline stating, ''3,500 people have died'' would result in a major scandal. The large number of people dying on our roads does not lead to the level of publicity that it might have led to, had those deaths occurred by other means. Even if additional costs are incurred and the establishment of additional bodies is required, it will be of great benefit in reducing the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads.
The Committee is probably bored of being reminded that I visited Sweden to see the work being done there. The sole purpose of my visit was to examine how the Swedes carry out accident investigation. The Committee will be interested to know that, as part of the roads division in the Swedish Ministry of Transport and Communications, on 1 January this year, the Swedes established a body along the lines of the one described in the new clause. It has been in place for only a few months, so it is too early to draw conclusions about any benefits, but I will be watching developments with considerable interest in the months and years to come.
Certainly, in Sweden, where several methods of collating data from road accidents have been tried and improvements resulting from that information have been sought, people conclude that to have a group of
people focused on road accidents is a sensible way forward. Notwithstanding the Minister's comment that transport includes roads, with its focus mainly on other areas of transport, the Bill has a significant hole in it, unless we are prepared to find ways of introducing measures such as the new clause to boost road safety.
I am conscious that the Government have introduced their three-year road safety, and we all want regular reports on progress. I am sure that the Under-Secretary agrees that there is still a long way to go in respect of the detail of reports in progress. I hope that he will consider, even if he is not prepared to accept, whether it might be important to strengthen aspects of the legislation relating to road safety before the Bill leaves both Houses.
The Committee will recall that it was our amendment No. 16 to clause 10 that contained the embryo or, in the words of the hon. Member for Bath, the philosophy that all modes of transport should operate to the same high standards of safety, and that the sanctity of life should be reflected equally in road, rail, air and sea travel. The amendment stated:
''Accident reports such as those conducted in the event of a road accident should be completed by the relevant investigators acting under the provision of this Bill, ensuring greater transparency and security across all modes of travel.''
The Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions recorded that my county of North Yorkshire had the worst record of casualties and fatalities for transit traffic. North Yorkshire seems to suffer more transit traffic than any other county. As a result, I am concerned about the general drift of road accident casualties in North Yorkshire in 1997 to 2001. The following figures have been provided by the Library. In 1997, there were 87 fatalities, and the total number of severe casualties was 5,088. Regrettably, the number of fatalities rose in 2000, but subsequently decreased to 82 in 2001. All severities, including fatalities, serious injuries and slight injuries, amounted to some 4,632, which is an unacceptably high figure.
It would have been courteous of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington to note that the provenance of his new clause was the private Member's Bill that was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray). The Bill had a good hearing but was sadly not supported by the Government and was lost. The Bill contained a clause similar to new clause 7.
I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Lady again. If she discovered that our new clauses had been tabled before her amendment, I hope that she would accept that the provenance of her amendment was us. All the measures contained in the Bill introduced by
the hon. Member for North Wiltshire have been the subject of debate in the House for many years. She listed a large number of those measures. If she wants me to, I should be happy to send her an analysis of the contributions from various hon. Members on both sides of the House, and that is notwithstanding my huge congratulations to the hon. Member for North Wiltshire on compiling them as he did.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire will be delighted to hear that, and I look forward to exchanging letters with the hon. Member for Bath. I referred to the gestation of our amendment. The hon. Gentleman will recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) used that wording. Regrettably, that amendment was not selected for debate, but it was on the Amendment Paper some time before the hon. Member for Bath had put pen to paper to write his new clauses. We can explore that outside the confines of the Committee in a lengthy exchange of letters, to which I look forward.
I enjoy writing letters. One of the privileges of being a Member of Parliament is that one writes many letters in the course of a day, although not so often to parliamentary colleagues such as the hon. Member for Bath. However, it will be a joy to add him to my list of correspondents. He was lucky that his new clause was deemed to be suitable and I was unlucky that our amendment was not.
If I may refresh the Committee's memory, this issue was first aired on Second Reading by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale. The new clauses are beautifully drafted, but I hate to think how many trees were felled—whether in Russia, Scandinavia or this country—to print them. Judging by the volumes of print-off, I do not think that the hon. Member for Bath can have spoken to each new clause. It would seem that he has not done himself justice.
Lest the hon. Lady feel concern about the number of trees, I assure her that I simply cut and pasted from other clauses. We merely deleted the word ''rail'' and inserted ''road''. It was a fairly simple exercise.
I am disappointed. I thought that the hon. Gentleman would have liked to make out that he had done a little more research. I am hugely relieved that he did not ask me to accompany him on his now well-known visit to Sweden. We have heard much about it that we will not forget in a hurry. I am glad that he did not ask me to act as his interpreter on that occasion. Perhaps he did not entirely understand some of the evidence that he heard and so did not quite get the gist of what was happening. Again, we can explore that in the confines of our private correspondence, which I am sure will not be of such interest to members of the Committee.
We cannot support new clauses 7 to 17, because establishing a road accident investigation branch to
find out how many accidents there are per year, as the hon. Member for Bath suggests, would give rise to the need for considerable powers of investigation. I may have missed it—perhaps I cannot see the wood for the trees—but I cannot find the provision that tells us what criteria would be used. That is what we sought to do at the beginning of the Committee. It will be a memory exercise for members of the Committee to hark back to clause 1, under which we sought to define which accidents and incidents should be investigated. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would assist me and say where he has specified which accidents and incidents would be investigated by such a road accident investigation branch. Presumably, with many thousands of accidents each year, there will be a vast new bureaucracy.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Bath should have his eyes tested. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge is correct, as always. We are referring not to clause 10(a) because that would not make any sense, but to new clause 10(1), which states:
''The Road Accident Investigation Branch shall investigate any road accident in which there is a fatality.''
As has been mentioned, in the last five and a half or six years there have been thousands of such accidents. Therefore, there would be a plethora of investigations.
Unfortunately, an earlier amendment of ours was deemed not to be in good order. The hon. Member for Bath moved his amendments swiftly, so it is possible to refer to STATS 19. As we mentioned, it is interesting to note the types of information that might be available to the rail accident investigation branch. I assume that the hon. Gentleman would wish for them to be available—or, at least, to be considered—but I fear that he will not be successful in that regard, although I hate to disappoint him after all the hard work that he has done. In the normal course of events, it will take the police and the Transport Research Laboratory a considerable amount of time to investigate such matters, and where a reparation case follows as a result of such investigations, the courts will be involved and they will rely heavily on their work.
In an earlier debate, the Minister confirmed that where an insurance company defends such an accident under present road traffic provisions, it would, if it requested a witness statement, normally have to pay the police for furnishing it. That is interesting. I once
insisted on giving a witness statement before I left the scene of an accident in which a youngster almost lost his life. I hope that the Minister will confirm what the present law is.
It is highly regrettable that to avoid paying the police for a witness statement, the insurance company might go to that witness after a long delay: a considerable period might have passed before the witness made an initial statement. I know only too well from having seen witness statements and from having tried to get a witness in court to stand by a statement that details become blurred as time elapses from when the initial witness statement was given. It is a regrettable fact of life that there is potential for conflict between witness statements from the same witness when the insurance company has refused to pay the police for that statement. It would be helpful to know from the Minister if the Government are considering looking into that.
If the hon. Member for Bath is minded to withdraw his new clause, I hope that he will feel that at least most of the causes of a fatality or a serious accident are well recorded in an exemplary fashion in STATS 19. The casualty records address the class of casualty—is it the driver of the vehicle, a motorcycle, a pillion passenger or a pedestrian? They consider the sex of the casualty, the age of the casualty, the severity of injury to the casualty, where the pedestrian was located, whether he was moving, and in what direction he was facing. Factors such as whether the casualty was a school pupil or a car passenger are taken into account. Useful, detailed information is given in STATS 19. Is the hon. Member for Bath suggesting that such information should no longer be passed from the police to the transport research laboratory but should be given to the road accident investigation branch? If so, what would be the status of STATS 19?
Should court action result from such information? Could it be used as evidence in court? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could point to where such level of detail appears in his new clause. STATS 19 is a remarkable document, and the level of statistics is detailed and helpful. It goes into the state of the road and the nature of the carriageway.
I share the hon. Lady's delight in the degree of detail and information contained in STATS 19. A few weeks ago, she helpfully read out the list of what it contains. Does she agree that its statistical base depends on the quality of the people who carry out the investigation? Successive Home Secretaries have increasingly focused their attention on street crime and drugs, and there is already increasing concern about the shortage of police carrying out traffic duties. Because of their mixed range of responsibilities, they are far less likely than others to have the detailed expertise and skills to carry out road accident investigations and to ensure high-quality data are displayed in the statistics. Does she agree that it would be better to have people trained especially to do the job?
I disagree. I wish to place on the record my highest regard for the police. They are better qualified than others for the simple reason that they have undertaken such work for several years.
Their reports are used as evidence and, on several occasions, they are asked to refer to those reports in court. It would be inappropriate to alter arrangements after such a long time in which operations have been successful and satisfactory. I hope that the Minister will agree to keep the tried-and-tested system.
The shortage of police is a problem. We are familiar with that in North Yorkshire. I live probably less than eight miles from Sutton Bank, a well-known dangerous spot. Caravans have been banned, but drivers of inappropriate vehicles still want to drive up and down the steep bank. Its gradient is not only steep but has bends at its start and finish. I know for a fact that several police officers are often taken off their usual duties at Thirsk police station and sent on traffic duty. I hope that the Minister and his colleagues at the Home Office will plead for more police resources. He will gain support for that from both sides of the Committee.
I do not share the conviction of the hon. Member for Bath that there is a need to leave a system that has worked well. If anything, STATS 19 should be the document used by the rail accident investigation branch. I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman has done himself justice by suggesting that members of the rail accident investigation branch would be better placed than police officers to perform the duty that those officers have performed so adequately for a considerable time. Such a change would result in an inferior service to the courts in the event that a court action followed.
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Lady so often. I am listening with great care to what she is saying, but I fail to understand the logic of her argument. Am I correct in assuming that she and her colleagues—not least the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale—supported the establishment of the rail accident investigation branch with great acclamation for the same reasons that I am proposing for roads? Yet she seems now to suggest that her arguments about rail would not work for roads.
At the moment, the railways as identified by Lord Cullen have no specific investigation branch. They are modelled on aviation and maritime rules and, had we remained in Government, we would have introduced such measures. We pledged in 1996 and 1997 to do that. We are saying that the system works well. We are not persuaded by the hon. Gentleman's new clause. We do not wish to set up a bureaucracy for which there has been no call. I wait to hear the Minister's response.
The debate has been a useful one. Road safety is of considerable importance to my Department. We take it very seriously, and my officials work constantly to find ways to reduce casualties on the roads. I was pleased that the hon. Member for Bath rightly said that the number of casualties on our
roads has been falling consistently for a long time. In fact, over the past 30 years, there has been a gradual reduction in the number of those killed or seriously injured. Moreover, the number of vehicles on the road has gradually increased. The rate at which casualties occur is reducing substantially year on year, and that must be a good thing.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that 17,000 people have died in six years on our roads, which is appalling carnage and a statistic that causes us great worry. Another statistic that I sometimes use is that, each year, the number of children who die on our roads—just under 300—is equivalent to a medium-sized primary school. That is a disturbing figure. We have only to imagine the worry and heartache caused by those child casualties, let alone that caused by the adults who are killed.
Moreover, for every person who dies on the road, 10 people on average are seriously injured. Some of those, particularly older people, never recover properly from their injuries and remain disfigured or maimed for the rest of their lives. It is a serious problem, and there is wide agreement among all parties that action is needed taken.
The hon. Member for Bath referred to Sweden. When I am not in Committee, I occasionally leave the shores of this country. Sometimes, it is useful to look back to see whether we are taking the right action. I visited an accession state—I shall not say which one—to the European Union and considered issues concerned with road safety. That country had a high casualty rate. The number of vehicles on the road is 10 times higher than ours. However, there is no consensus in that society about the need to reduce road casualties. No culture is widely shared in that country between the various parts of Government and local government; no culture shares the ambition to create greater safety on the roads.
In Sweden, things are different. There is a strong culture of safety and wide consensus on the need for safety. That is why Sweden has a good record—as we do—which compares well with the record of the rest of the world. We look closely at countries that have good records, and Sweden is one of them. We consider what it does, as it considers what we do, to see whether we might learn from each other and to see which practices are appropriate. The hon. Member for Bath did not actually tell us whether Sweden had a body similar to the road accident investigation branch; perhaps he could tell us about that another time. He said that there was a group that pooled ideas, but I am unsure about whether he was formally saying that there was the equivalent of a road accident investigation branch.
I have considered the new clauses carefully. If we could take a measure that would reduce casualties on our roads, we would want to do it and it would find favour with us. However, having considered the amendments carefully, I am not sure that the proposals would take us any further forward than we are now. I wonder whether it would divert resources and human energy away from the areas on which we should focus to areas such as investigation
and whether it might duplicate work that is already carried out well.
The new clauses, which make proposals for road accidents, appear to ignore the number and nature of the type of casualties on our roads, and they also ignore the fact that sound arrangements exist for investigating them. There are some significant differences between road accident investigations and those for other modes of transport.
In 2001 there were 3,176 road accidents involving a fatality. In most cases, road accidents result from human failings and are not a consequence of technical or system failure, or any other negligence on the part of a regulated corporate body, such as a train operating company or an aircraft operator. I am therefore unconvinced that the suggested investigatory body would do anything to improve road safety or prevent further road accidents. A well-established process is in place for road accidents, and it was improved last year with the introduction of the police national Road Death Investigation Manual, of which I have a copy for the Committee. That comprehensive document sets out the guidelines that the police need to use to investigate serious road incidents.
The police investigate individual accidents thoroughly, not least because the causes of those could lead to the prosecution of some of, if not all, the drivers concerned. Such investigation may take several hours to complete at the side of the road and several weeks to conduct elsewhere. Police forces and their respective local authorities share information that could help them to improve the roads and to reduce the risk of accidents. Often, when I visit what are generally known as black spots, I am impressed to see local councillors, the Highways Agency and the police working together to consider how to reduce casualties.
My Department maintains a national database of road accident statistics, and it uses the data to inform research studies and, through those, to inform policy development. The data also enable us to check that we are delivering on our targets for reducing road safety by reducing deaths and injuries. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have set ourselves tough and demanding targets to reduce the number of people who are killed and seriously injured on our roads by 40 per cent. over a 10-year period, and, because our record is not so good in terms of children, by 50 per cent. for them. All our records show that we will meet that target, but there is no room for complacency. We must continue looking at measures that will help us to meet that target in an appropriate time.
Several research studies are under way on contributory factors to accidents. The studies include making detailed on-the-spot investigations of a sample of accidents as soon as they have occurred, and an in-depth analysis of detailed police files. Analysing data from a large number of accidents and looking for common threads is much more likely to lead to improved safety measures than a centralised investigation of individual accidents. Whereas I am confident that vehicle inspection and the efforts of the police and the highway authority teams combine to
provide the most effective way of investigating accidents and learning lessons, in extreme cases the Secretary of State has the power under section 179 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to hold inquiries for the purposes of the Act.
I am aware of what happens at local authority level. In the local transport plan for the area around the hon. Lady's constituency, my Department has provided a substantial sum; I stand to be corrected, but I think that in real terms it is two or three times as much as it was a few years ago. Those local transport plans include an undertaking to improve road safety. Because local conditions can sometimes cause accidents, it is important that local people should help in finding the solutions.
Obviously I shall investigate the figures to discover whether they are as the Under-Secretary said they are. Is he aware that although the Government have given with one hand, they are taking away with the other? Regrettably, North Yorkshire police have been given a stand-still budget. The very people who should be investigating road accidents will be £8.2 million worse off in real terms. North Yorkshire police have been encouraged by the Government to take on extra officers, but the force will have great difficulty in paying them.
I was referring to the local transport plan, for which my Department is responsible. From 2000–01 to now, there has been a substantial increase. It struck me when I visited an area adjoining the hon. Lady's constituency that it had enjoyed a particularly large factoring up of the funding available for that purpose. An important factor—it is a challenge for the Government—is to ensure that local authorities spend that money on road safety.
The hon. Member for Bath should take the issue up with his colleagues on the local councils. I know that there is enormous pressure on budgets, but road safety is important. Short-term matters can sometimes take over, but a long-term reduction in casualties and the misery that goes with them is more important. It is incumbent on us all to talk to our colleagues in local government and to make sure that that is happening.
I agree. I am sure that councils of all political persuasions will need urging on. However, the Minister will have seen the recent reports showing that a number of local authorities are rather reluctant to introduce some of the measures in the initial local transport plans, even though the Government have made the money available. Will the Minister assure the Committee that he will press those councils, regardless of party political affiliation, to get on with the job for which they have been given the money?
That issue concerns us. We are looking closely at the report, and if authorities are not spending the money allocated by my Department for a range of transport matters, road safety being one of them, perhaps in future we should place the money with those authorities that make best use of it. My putting it that way may give the hon. Gentleman some indication of our strength of feeling on the subject. We have made a big investment in local transport plans. We want local authorities to make decisions at a local
level, but when we provide money for the purpose of transport and road safety, we want to ensure that it is spent on that. The local aspect is that it will be local people making decisions on how best to use the funding locally, as long as it is used for transport.
The hon. Member for Vale of York spoke about the high casualty rates in her constituency. There is also a high casualty rate south of her part of the world, in Lincolnshire. It has been suggested that the type of roads—single carriageways and long, straight roads with occasional chicanes or bends in them, for example—and the presence of a lot of agricultural traffic can increase the rates. There is a high incidence of collisions when people become impatient behind an agricultural vehicle and overtake unsafely. There are several other reasons, including people not being familiar with the area—holidaymakers for example—and travelling too fast for the roads. It is difficult to put one's finger on what has caused the higher rate in certain areas. Other authorities also have a high rate, and there are no obvious reasons for that, but we examine such matters carefully. I am not sure that investigating each casualty will necessarily take us forward, and examining trends in authorities can be a better option.
The Under-Secretary has been astute in identifying the type of road that could cause problems. The Government have delayed the de-trunking programme for one year because of the introduction of a new spending formula, and that is welcome, but my concern is that considering that the roads that he identified may be causing accidents or be a contributory factor in them, is this the right time to proceed with the de-trunking programme? Would it not be better for road safety to identify the contribution that those roads make before the programme passes on the responsibility?
The de-trunking programme will be done with close discussion and liaison with the Highways Agency. Several issues other than road safety are involved, including controlling traffic flow, which we feel that it is better for the local authority to handle. Most authorities agree with us and are happy to take the responsibility. Road safety is an important issue, but there are others, too.
The hon. Lady asked about paying for witness statements. It is a matter in which there is no difference between traffic and non-traffic liability. However, if she wants more detail—it is a little beyond the scope of the Committee, and I know that you do not want us to talk too much about letters, Mr. Hurst—I could add that to the list of queries to respond to later.
The hon. Lady also asked about STATS 19 and the quality of information. The form provides high-quality information, but one difficulty is that the form is not compiled in a consistent way throughout the country. As the hon. Member for Bath said, the way in which the information is fed in is also important. We are closely examining the form and the information technology that backs it up to try to get better consistency and quality of information and help the police officer at the side of the road save a considerable amount of time in gathering accurate information.
We are deeply sympathetic to the idea of reducing road casualties, and improving safety is at the core of our road policies. We have provided substantial amounts of money for local authorities to improve road safety in their own areas, and the Department is doing an enormous amount to reduce casualties on our roads. Notwithstanding that, I am not convinced that, worthy as they are, the proposals would provide a cost-effective route forward. We share the ambition to create safer roads, so it is with reluctance that I urge my hon. Friends to resist the new clause.
I thank the Under-Secretary for his lengthy and detailed response, in which he rightly touched on a wider range of issues than those directly related to the proposals. As I have said on many occasions, no one will doubt the commitment or desire of the present or previous Governments, of any political party, to improve safety on our roads. We may disagree from time to time as to the exact way forward on, for example, speed limits, the use of mobile phones in cars or what the drink-drive limits should be, but no one listening to the Under-Secretary would doubt his sincerity and commitment to take action.
The new clauses have been debated in an interesting manner. When we were debating the establishment of the rail accident investigation branch, we were conscious that we were mirroring work that had already taken place in marine and aviation services. At that time, the hon. Member for Vale of York was an enthusiastic supporter of the initiative, although perhaps not of all the details. The Under-Secretary was certainly a supporter because he was one of those who proposed the idea.
We are conscious, in relation to railways, that when accidents take place, a large number of organisations and individuals are inevitably involved: the police, the train-operating companies, Network Rail, the Health and Safety Executive and so on. They all have a part to play, but I particularly stress the role of the police. Hon. Members on both sides of the House thought it appropriate and sensible to establish, in addition, the rail accident investigation branch.
When the hon. Lady responded to the new clauses that referred to roads, she told us that everybody who was involved in roads was doing a fantastic job and that everything was wonderful, so there was no need to make any change. One could interpret that unkindly as being critical of those involved in accident investigation on the railways. She appears to have a high regard for the traffic police and their investigative work, and sees no need for the establishment of a road accident body of the type that I am proposing, yet in relation to the railways, she sees the need for such a body, which implies less confidence in the work of the British Transport police. I cannot believe that that is in the hon. Lady's mind, so perhaps we should put her opposition down to the fact that she was responding to a Liberal Democrat new clause.
The Under-Secretary and the hon. Lady have both drawn attention to the large number of investigations and people, alongside the police, that will be necessary
given the large number of fatalities on our roads. Both of them are right that a large number of investigators would be required for the work, but that expenditure would be well worth it: benefits would accrue from their work. I should like to place on record my gratitude to all those people who currently conduct investigations, but, as the Under-Secretary said, there remains a need to improve the quality of the information that is used to underpin STATS 19. The only way that we will improve the quality of information is by having people with appropriate skills, experience, and expertise to conduct investigations. That was the reason why I thought it appropriate to table the new clauses. However, at present the new clauses do not have the support of many Committee members. In order that there may be an opportunity to debate the issues later—perhaps in a slightly different form—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.