Clause 1 - Road safety grants

Road Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 20th January 2005.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 9:45 am, 20th January 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 9, at beginning insert 'Subject to subsection (3)'.  

Photo of Mr Kevin Hughes Mr Kevin Hughes Labour, Doncaster North

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 12, at end add—

'(3) No road safety grant shall be paid to any organisation which comprises or is part of a safety camera partnership.'.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The amendment tries to probe the Government a bit further on road safety grants. I do not believe that anyone is opposed to expenditure on road safety. Indeed, many people would criticise the Government for not having invested enough in it. Nor are we against giving grants. However, we would like the Minister to explain why the safety camera partnerships that have been set up in almost every area of the country, and which comprise local authorities, police authorities and others, are not able to spend their resources on road safety in the way in which this clause says that money can be spent. If the partnerships were able to spend money on road safety without constraint, there would be no need for the clause.

My second question, of which I gave notice, is about how clause 1 interacts with clause 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill. It is becoming increasingly difficult to follow road traffic law, as the Government are introducing so many different pieces of legislation that affect road safety. Indeed, many are being debated in this House at the same time. Clauses in this Bill and in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill deal with insurance. This clause authorises road safety grants, and clause 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill makes provision for payments by the Secretary of State to police authorities for the prevention, detection and enforcement of traffic offences in respect of seat belts, lighting, insurance, licences, test certificates, inadequate registration marks and so on. If such payments can be made under clause 132 of that Bill for the prevention of traffic offences, why is clause 1 necessary in this Bill?

Perhaps the Minister could discuss clause 132, which is, in essence, a Department of Transport clause in a Home Office Bill, and also the problem that I have identified. The notes on clauses for the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill contained absolutely nothing about why clause 132 is necessary, what it hoped to achieve and what sums of money might be at stake.

I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to some of those questions and explain in some detail why he feels that safety camera partnerships should not be able to re-invest their proceeds. They are awash with money as a result of the Government's policy of increasing the number of penalties through the establishment of fixed cameras.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Assistant Chief Whip, Whips

I can understand my hon. Friend's argument, but will he reassure me that any provision that the Bill makes for safety partnerships will run only for 108 days, because when Labour lose the next election, we intend to abolish the wretched things?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We intend to get away from unnecessary bureaucracy, and we regard the safety camera partnerships as   unnecessarily bureaucratic. There is nothing that they do that cannot be done by the police authorities on their own. Indeed, there is a system of divide and rule that is causing a lot of confusion for the public. I have passed on correspondence from constituents to the police authority, which has replied, ''That has nothing to do with us. It is the responsibility of the safety camera partnership.'' Similarly, the local authority said, ''It has nothing to do with us. It's the responsibility of the safety camera partnerships.''

The partnerships have a lot of money. I estimate the yield from fines to be between £60 million and £100 million per annum because the number of speeding offences has increased under the Government from about 600,000 in 1996 to the best part of 4 million, based on the figures available.

The partnerships have an enormous amount of income and many people might ask why some of that money cannot be reinvested on speed indicator signs, so that people are warned that they are exceeding the speed limit. Those signs do not incur any penalty if one does not comply with them, but they have a good impact in improving road safety and ensuring that people reduce their speed. The trouble is that it costs money to put those signs up, and many local authorities say that they have not got the resources to do that. Why have they not got those resources? Because the Government will not allow them to reinvest the money that is coming into safety camera partnerships from fines because the money is being sent to the Home Office.

The only money that can be reinvested from safety camera partnerships is in propaganda, which has always been the top priority of the Government, and in putting up more cameras. We believe that prevention is better than cure, and we would like to see some of the money being invested in road safety measures, through engineering and education. We shall come on later to discuss driver-improvement courses.

Even the administration of those courses can require funds. The courses run under the auspices of many police authorities, such as the BikeSafe courses, require money. We believe that it would be much simpler if those road safety measures could be funded out of fine and penalty income, rather than have that income going to the Government to be recycled and churned, creating a lot more bureaucracy and work for officialdom and reducing the amount of money available for front-line road safety improvements. I hope that the Minister will answer some of our concerns.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I suppose that one could argue narrowly that speed camera partnerships do not directly promote road safety. They promote, or rather prosecute and pursue, the detection of offences. It would help the Committee if the Minister explained the scope of the definition of road safety in the clause. The sort of things we all initially think of are education—educating drivers to drive better and more safely—sensible traffic signing, and traffic-calming   measures, including the increasing use of electronic flashing signs, which I welcome because that they are effective.

Those are the sort of measures that most of us associate with ''promoting road safety'' and it would certainly help me to decide where I stand on this group of amendments if the Minister gave the Committee some examples of measures that might be promoted under the clause.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Assistant Chief Whip, Whips

I rise to speak specifically to the amendments. The generality of speed cameras may be better and more fully debated later in the Bill, so I shall not test your patience, Mr. Hughes, by drifting out of order into a general discussion of road safety.

I feel constrained and those who have the same sense of deja vu as I do will have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire occasionally but cruelly disagreeing with what I thought at the time were sensible amendments to the Railways Bill. Perhaps they will forgive me if I say that I am slightly worried about their otherwise marvellous amendment. The wretched safety camera partnerships are bureaucracies that too often persecute motorists; I shall talk about that under a later clause.

The principle of giving them the power to spend the money they raise is fine, but why not make the money do something good, such as improving road safety? I can buy into that principle, but what worries me is that the amendment would provide yet another reason for the cameras to be used for general money raising, which is what some of them are used for at the moment. Knowing how some of them operate, if they could spend the money that they raised on road safety—we all agree that road safety is a good idea—many would succumb to the temptation to fleece motorists even more for a good cause. If my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will forgive me, I think that the amendment contains a slight technical snag.

However, I warm to amendment No. 2, which states:

''No road safety grant shall be paid to any organisation which comprises or is part of a safety camera partnership''.

My hon. Friend will tell me if I misunderstand his intention, but I take that to mean that no grant of any sort could be paid to any council or police force that supports those wretched bureaucracies. That would certainly focus their minds on getting rid of them and we might not then need to legislate to do so. I commend amendment No. 2 to the Committee wholeheartedly for the purpose of destroying the bureaucracies rather than anything else.

If my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch wants to pursue the matter, I hope that he shares my enthusiasm for amendment No. 2 and will reflect on my minor reservation about amendment No. 1.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I speak as a London Member of Parliament. I represent an outer London constituency and, unfortunately, we suffer   greatly from being lumped into partnerships and bodies stretching all the way across London. The safety camera partnership is an example of that. People in my constituency have often asked for road safety implementation cameras, but, because we are part of London, the decision is always to focus resources on inner London and to ignore areas such as the London borough of Havering and my constituency of Romford.

I strongly endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire and my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch and for Spelthorne said about the two amendments. I believe that the camera partnerships are a complete and utter waste of money and totally bureaucratic. My greatest objection is to the lack of flexibility and local control.

I used to be a local councillor in Romford, and represented a village on the edge of London called Havering-atte-Bower. It is a very hilly village with narrow lanes. Many accidents have occurred over the years, with several fatalities. Yet, despite everything that we have done locally to try and get a camera installed, the London camera partnership tell us that that is simply not acceptable and that it does not meet the criteria. So even if the police and the local council and residents want a camera, they cannot have one because funding is not directed to my area but to central London and other areas of London where this so-called partnership decides the cameras are going to be of greater use.

The lack of local control, the lack of flexibility and the failure of these partnerships to recognise the needs of local communities—particularly those of villages, like the one I have mentioned—indicates to me that any money directed to these organisations is a waste. I therefore strongly endorse the amendments.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

This clause and these innocent little amendments have certainly lifted the lid on the clear differences between Conservative Members. We have four Conservative Members, who appear to have four different views on safety and cameras.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Assistant Chief Whip, Whips

Would the hon. Gentleman like to wait in expectation until all five of us are here?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

It would be instructive to get some further views; we may even have five Members competing with their difference views. If I can just throw in a fifth element—for the hon. Members for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) and for Spelthorne, perhaps—the safety camera partnerships have widespread support among their colleagues in local government. Most of the partnerships are supported by Conservatives in local government, who not only support them but actively pursue having cameras put in local communities. They are pursuing that because they are the people on the ground closest to the problems in their community. In many cases they are responding to the concerns of their constituents about speeding. They know that when the cameras are installed, there is a substantial reduction in the number of casualties on the stretches of road concerned.

In a way, I am sorry; I thought that I had been helpful last year when the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) took a polarised view of this issue. I provided information and an explanation and I thought that perhaps the Conservatives' view might change somewhat on this and that they might come to some sense. That is clearly not the case.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Assistant Chief Whip, Whips

I listened to the Minister's fiction with some amusement. His explanation as to why at least one Conservative-controlled county council is enthusiastic is totally wrong. Has he not heard about Surrey county council, which has decided to set one of these things up? They have made it quite clear that they have no intention of adding any more cameras and that the only reason they have done it is that they are so grossly underfunded by the Government's police grant that they have no alternative but to try to defray the cost of their cameras by fleecing the motorists.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

That is totally wrong. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to look at some of the other authorities; I have a list here of the partnerships. I know from personal contact and from the many letters that we have received from councillors and from some of the portfolio holders of the highways budgets how they have supported the cameras in their communities. The hon. Member for Spelthorne may want to connect with his colleagues in local government, because they have a different view from the one that he has expressed in the Committee.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 would amend the clause so that a national transport authority—the Secretary of State for England or the National Assembly for Wales—could not provide payments to any organisation that formed part of a safety camera partnership. A partnership is a voluntary grouping that enables the police forces and highway authorities to operate cameras effectively. Virtually all highway authorities in England are now involved in the partnerships, regardless of the political party running the authority.

Our main purpose in amending section 40 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 is to clarify the scope for funding large-scale demonstration projects, to provide uncomplicated funding arrangements for local authorities that undertake such projects and to improve the administrative arrangements. Under the rules that we apply to the safety camera partnerships, money is available to them to fund the safety camera   operational expenditure through camera revenue netting-off arrangements. Under our strict guidelines, authorities can use the funds for that purpose only.

I know that the hon. Member for Christchurch introduced safety cameras when was a Transport Minister. I think that he did a good job. I commend him, as I have on many other occasions, for having had the good sense to introduce them. We have taken the policy somewhat further. At the time, the hon. Gentleman predicted that 2 million tickets a year would be issued. It has taken 13 or 14 years to reach the number that he predicted in 1990; his predictions were right, but it took a little time.

We have laid down a strict code of conduct for the partnerships, so that cameras cannot be placed anywhere simply to raise revenue. They must be placed on a stretch of road where, first, speeding takes place and, secondly, there is a record of death and injury. Over a period of about 13 months I have asked Opposition Members to let me know if they know of any cameras that do not meet those guidelines. There are about 5,000 cameras in the country. I constantly ask this question, but not a single camera has been brought to my attention during those 13 months. I assume from that that the partnerships are operating within the rules and that the authorities, many of them Conservative, are operating carefully within the rules and improving road safety in their area.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:00 am, 20th January 2005

Do those guidelines also apply to mobile camera sites? If not, what are the guidelines for siting mobile units?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

If it is helpful to the right hon. Gentleman, I can get him the full set of guidelines. Yes, they do apply to mobile sites. There is greater flexibility. The police have the ability to set up a mobile site outside the remit of the partnerships if they have concerns about a stretch of road: they would not receive the funding revenue from the fines. They can set them up at any time, at the chief constable's discretion, and usually in response to concerns about speeding. I think that about 10 per cent. of the sites in the partnership are mobile sites.

The hon. Member for Christchurch spoke as though a large amount of excess money was available from the partnership. In round figures, about £120 million was collected in fines last year and about £100 million returned to the partnerships. The partnerships include local authorities, the police, the judiciary and, in some cases, health authorities. The money is returned to them so that they can operate the cameras and—this is the important point—so that operation of the cameras is not a burden on the wider budget of the local authority or the police. The cameras do not take money away from fighting forms of crime other than speeding on the roads.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

Is the hon. Member for Christchurch right in saying that such organisations cannot reinvest money in warning signs? If so, why is that the case? It seems eminently sensible to prevent rather than prosecute. If   there is a good reason why they should not invest in warning signs, could my hon. Friend the Minister explain it to the Committee?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Part of the guidance for the siting of the cameras is that they must be conspicuous. They are painted yellow so that they are obvious. We do not want to catch people but to slow them down at sites where there have been the most casualties. The cameras must be clearly signed and advertised as well; that, too, is part of the guidance. Again, if my hon. Friend would like a copy of the guidance, I would be happy to provide one.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Assistant Chief Whip, Whips

On a point of order, Mr. Chairman. A helpful offer has been made twice to provide documentation to colleagues. Perhaps it would be a good idea if the whole Committee were to get a copy.

Photo of Mr Kevin Hughes Mr Kevin Hughes Labour, Doncaster North

That is not a point of order, but I take on board the hon. Gentleman's request. I am sure that the Minister will do so as well.

Mr. Jamieson rose—

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I will in just a moment. There are so many things happening just now.

The rules are available in the Library, of course, and it is not necessary for me to provide them for Members. However, if that would be helpful, I am sure that we can pass a few copies around and provide some interesting bedside reading for Members.

To complete the point that I was making to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), proper signing, warning and advertising are all part of the package that safety camera partnerships must accept.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

On a point of clarification, the signs to which I referred are the infrequent but helpful signs that are just a warning. They alert people by flashing up that they are doing more than 37 mph. As a motorist, I find them salutary indeed. One immediately responds to them, and I would have thought that they would be more effective than the threat of a camera and likely prosecution.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Yes, local authorities may place signs outside of the partnership arrangements at certain times. The Highways Agency sometimes puts them up on or near roadworks. A partnership can pay for vehicle-activated signs, but only at camera sites where there has been a certain level of speeding or death and injury. Such signs can be paid for out of partnership funds. Any highways authority or, I suppose, the police could pay for them outside of the partnership arrangement if they thought that that was appropriate.

Generally, I am very much of the mind that the signs are good. They should be used as a first resort, particularly if there is a problem for a certain period of time. They provide a useful adjunct to the rest of the partnership. 

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney Labour, Stafford

I wanted to help my hon. Friend by making it clear that the rules and guidance about where to site safety cameras are contained not in a secret document but in a handbook that is published every year. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced on 4 November 2004 in a written statement at column 16WS in Hansard that this year's handbook had been produced and that copies were available in the Library.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Yes, he did. I thank my hon. Friend for that. The document is freely available. The local authorities and the police have it and it is in the Library.

Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions

The Minister referred to signage for speed cameras and said that the purpose of speed cameras was to reduce speed, not to catch motorists speeding. If that is the case, why can there not be signage before the speed camera to warn that it is 100 yd away? Instead of having generic signs which are spread all over the place and all down the side of the road, why can we not have a sign that says, ''100 yd'', with a picture of a speed camera? At least that would stop motorists looking for the yellow cameras and then slamming on their brakes at the last second. They would be given an opportunity to slow down in a reasonable manner.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. At the vast majority of sites motorists are warned in advance. It staggers me that people get caught on the cameras because they are so well flagged up. There are websites and press releases; the vast majority of cameras have a sign beforehand saying that they are coming up; and they are painted yellow so that they can be seen, yet there are still people exceeding the speed limit.

Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions

The Minister and I both travel to the same part of the country. I was surprised to hear his comments because I regularly drive on the A303 and no speed camera that I know of on that road has a pre-warning sign. There are generic signs that indicate that there are speed cameras on the road, but they do not warn that there is speed camera 100 yd away.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman wants a policeman to stand at the side of the road and tell people to slow down because there is a speed camera up ahead. The cameras are clearly painted and they are signed beforehand—although not at a specific distance. There are areas with mobile sites and there are often several signs along the road. To relate that to the area near his constituency, I can think of parts of the A38 that have mobile sites on the bridges, in places where there has been death and injury through excess speed. There are regular signs along that stretch of the road alerting motorists that a mobile site could be in operation.

Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions

I am not arguing about mobile sites because that is a slightly different issue. However, where there is a fixed camera on a pole, and the purpose is to slow people down, as the Minister   said, we could stop them having to look for the yellow camera and then break when they come to that point by having a warning sign that says, ''100 yd''.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 10:15 am, 20th January 2005

Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. The document that we are going to be provided with shortly states:

''All safety camera sites within the Safety Camera Programme must be signed in accordance with the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions. This ensures that all sites whether fixed, mobile or red light are clearly highlighted to motorists thus giving them every opportunity to moderate their speed to within the posted speed limit or to stop at a red light.''

If he knows of some sites that do not meet those criteria, he should bring it to the attention of Devon county council and the partnership. I am sure that they will take the appropriate action.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The point that the Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) is making is that sites should be specifically signed and that there should not be generic permanent signs on a stretch of road when there is no camera in place. There should be a specific sign. If it is the Minister's policy that cameras should always be visible, why, on many occasions, do employees of the camera partnership hide in the back of an unmarked white van which has been specially converted so that the rear window drops down to enable them to film through it? Why are they not standing by the roadside in bright orange jackets, making themselves visible?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The people that the right hon. Gentleman says are hiding in the van are the police, for whom we have high regard. They are catching people who are breaking the law and who are contributing to killing and injuring children and other people on our roads. Mobile sites are clearly signed. In some cases, the police or the partnership advertise when they are going to set up a site, with a view not to catching people, but to getting them to slow down.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Assistant Chief Whip, Whips

The Minister is being contradictory. I accept what my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire says. If the police hide in the back of vans, so that one does not know they are there, it is an argument for hiding fixed cameras in hedges. The Government have accepted that we should not do that, and that fixed cameras should be made visible. Surely to goodness, consistency means that police should not hide in the back of unmarked vans.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire said that the police were hiding in the back of the van. The vans are usually police vans and they are very conspicuous, but if he has a complaint about that in his constituency, he should raise it with the partnership. However we pick over this point, the sites are signed and the police catch only people who are exceeding the speed limit and breaking the law in areas where there has been death and injury due to people speeding.  

Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions

On the distinction between the vans with mobile speed cameras, the officer in the van has discretion over whether to photograph and do someone for speeding. They will make a judgment within bounds and by what is on the road. A fixed camera takes a photograph when a pre-determined speed has been reached. The Minister keeps saying that those cameras are signed, but let us make it clear: fixed speed cameras are not signed to say that there is a speed camera within a certain distance.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. With cameras operated from the back of a van, a degree of judgment is left to the police officer in the back of a van about a particular motorist and the danger that they might cause at a particular site. He is right to say that there is no specific sign standing at a certain distance from a speed camera; nevertheless, they are signed in the area in which they are placed. If he wants to present an argument that they should be signed differently, he may want to see if he can get some interest locally. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) said, we annually review the guidance on this matter, and if the hon. Gentleman thinks that we can improve it, I would be happy to consider what he has to say. We considered a large number of representations last time and we made several helpful changes, so if he wants to contribute to that, it will be his major contribution to the Committee and road safety.

The hon. Member for Christchurch raised a point about clause 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill. It is not for me to speak to that Bill in this Committee, but I can say that it legislates for the fines that have been generated by the automatic number plate recognition cameras. Some of that money will be hypothecated to the police. Again, as we are putting so much extra money into the police, it represents more money that is not being diverted from the tackling of other crime. It is money from those detection cameras that can be used. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's point relates to any of our discussions.

This has been an illuminating debate. We have spent a long time discussing speed safety cameras, which was, I suppose, almost inevitable. Some of the grants that we have given to local authorities, which this clause will make much easier to provide in the future, have been used to great effect. I say to the hon. Gentleman that they are far in excess of the revenue from fines that the Exchequer currently holds on to. It retains about £20 million, which goes into the Consolidated Fund.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central will know that his constituency has benefited from a grant given to his local authority. I wrote to him earlier in the year. The local authority has been providing extra facilities in Stoke-on-Trent. They may not be specifically in his constituency, but they are certainly in Stoke-on-Trent. Moneys were focused specifically on authorities, such as Manchester and Blackpool, which had a high rate of child deaths on their roads. Many of those authorities are introducing innovative schemes to improve road safety for children. The clause enables us to provide funding for   those schemes freely, without requiring the bureaucracy of going through the House with a special order each time we want to fund a scheme.

The amendments would prevent any authority that was in a camera partnership—in other words, virtually every authority in the country, whether controlled by the Tories, by Labour or by the Liberal Democrats—from receiving one of those grants. That totally contradicts what the hon. Member for Christchurch said he wanted. On the one hand, he said that we should take more money from the cameras. Should we put it into road safety? The hon. Member for Spelthorne said, ''Let's get rid of those wretched things'', which would mean less money going to the authorities. On the other hand, he opened his speech by saying that we should spend more money on road safety. Perhaps, as the Committee proceeds, the Opposition will provide more clarity on those matters. They have certainly not provided any yet.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney Labour, Stafford

The Minister says that there is bureaucracy—special orders are needed for each grant—and that we will sweep that bureaucracy away. My concern is about scrutiny and accountability. Is it intended that the Department will make an annual report to Parliament of the grants that it has given?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

All the Department's expenditure is open to scrutiny by the House, as is that of every other Department. The grants are generally not given out in advance, but are provided as recompense for a scheme that has been carried out. So, if the authority does not carry out the scheme according to the specific guidelines that we set out and the specific case that it made for the funding, it will not be given the money. There is that safeguard. We check carefully to make sure that the money will be used for the purpose that we intended and that it does not drift off to be used for a purpose not related to road safety.

This has been an illuminating debate. I hope that the power and strength of the arguments that I have put forward against the amendments mean that the Committee will resist them.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Assistant Chief Whip, Whips

I want to add a couple of points to what the Minister said. They would, I am sure, have been too long for an intervention.

At the risk of being accused by the Minister of being inconsistent, I say that I subscribe to the view that politicians need to be pragmatists. Therefore, although I object to speed cameras, which the debate is partly about, I am prepared to address the issue on the basis that they may continue. In that context, the Minister might like to reflect on a couple of things.

The first is the point that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central made well. I want to reinforce that point. Making it possible to spend the money made by safety camera partnerships should be high on the list of priorities. I vouch for the fact that those flashing lights have a salutary effect. There are a number of them in my constituency. My constituents say that they find them useful and that they slow people down. So, if spending the money that   partnerships make is not possible and if the Bill as phrased does not make it possible, I join the hon. Gentleman in trying to persuade the Minister to make a practical change so that it becomes possible.

My other point arises from what the hon. Member for Teignbridge said. I do not come from his part of the world, but from God's own county, Somerset, so I know the A303 well. When I go down that road, a couple of cameras concern me. They are not in built-up areas. One generally knows if one is in an area with a speed limit of 30 mph, so, if one sees a camera, one knows that it is checking that one is doing 30 mph. On the open road, of which the A303 is an example, there are bits that have 50 mph limits, because they are dangerous. Other parts have no speed limit, which means that the limit is 60 mph if the road is a single carriageway. One of the cameras that I have in mind is in a 50 mph area, and a couple of others cover the 60 mph bit. There can be signs that say what the limit is, but one is never quite sure.

One can drive along a bit of road where it is permissible to go at 60 mph and see a camera looming. There is a sign showing that it is there, and at the last minute one thinks, ''Is the limit 60, 50, or 40?'' One often finds oneself behind someone who jams on their brakes thinking that the limit might be 30, even though traffic behind is legally doing 55 or 60 mph. I suggest to the Minister that if he intends to stick with that, the speed limit should be placed on the camera. I accept the argument that the hon. Member for Teignbridge uses about more specific signs, which I will not go into further because he has made the point. I would like to make a plea for putting the speed limit on each camera so that someone does not whack on their brakes at the last minute and cause an accident where people go into the back of them.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 10:30 am, 20th January 2005

I said at the outset that this was a probing amendment, and it has been very useful to that end. Far from disclosing disagreements on my side, it has pointed out some of the inconsistencies in the Government's approach which we shall return to when we discuss clause 17, which relates to the question whether the Government really want motorists to know in advance that a speed camera is in position, or whether they want to take motorists by surprise and obtain a fine from them.

I am grateful to my right hon. and hon. Friends for their contributions to the debate, and I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central for highlighting one of the points from my opening remarks. I would like to return to that point. The Minister has told us that £120 million in fines is collected, of which £100 million is being recycled to help to run the cameras, meaning that there is a surplus of £20 million. Why is that £20 million not available for reinvestment in speed indicator warning signs, in positions where there are no speed cameras? I do not think that the Minister has answered that question, and I will happily give way to him if he wishes to address that point.

From discussions with a county councillor in Dorset, Councillor Ann Warman, I know that she has been trying to have such signs installed on the B3081 between Ringwood and Verwood, a road that is largely within the boundary of Hampshire country council. There have been six fatalities on that road in as many years. The council says that it cannot afford to put up a speed indicator warning sign because it has only one mobile sign and cannot afford to put up fixed signs.

Dorset county council has invested in six mobile signs using its own resources, but it would be much better, and we would have many more of those speed indicator warning signs, if we were able to reinvest the money from the penalties imposed at speed camera sites. The Minister has said that £20 million goes straight into the Treasury coffers; if that money were invested in speed indicator warning signs, I venture to suggest that there would be a manifest improvement in road safety.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I do not know the record of the road that the hon. Gentleman just described, but I point out for clarification that if Hampshire, Dorset or any of the other authorities to which he refers wanted to place a vehicle-activated sign, and the road met the criteria for having a camera, the partnership could provide vehicle-activated signs. Judging from the death and injury that he describes on that road, he should pursue the matter with the local authority.

There is no security to the excess money, the money that goes to the Consolidated Fund. We hope that the figure will fall, because we want fewer people to be fined, not more, so trying to fund projects with that money would not give local authorities any security. It is better to fund them through my Department, which can securely attach certain funds to certain projects.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The Minister's last point is rather weak. When there is a surplus, the money could surely be reinvested in road safety measures. I am not suggesting that extra money should be spent when there is not a surplus.

As to the issue about fixed cameras as against speed indicator warning signs, a fixed camera is of limited use on local roads where accidents take place along a whole stretch of road. Local people get to know where a speed camera is; they slow down, then they can accelerate away. However, a speed indicator warning sign warns motorists, whether they know the road well or not, that it is, in a sense, an accident blackspot and that their speed is exceeding the limit.

Another point that has emerged is that the cost of administering the safety camera partnerships has now risen to as much as £100 million. One is bound to ask whether, if one had £100 million to invest in improving road safety, one would put it into safety camera partnerships and speed cameras, as we do, or into another mix of investment. As I have said before, I think that the Government are spending too little money on engineering and education and putting too much effort and expenditure into cameras.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Riverside

Does not the hon. Gentleman find it difficult to argue consistently against speed cameras when independent research has verified that accidents in the vicinity of speed cameras can be reduced by up to 40 per cent.?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

No, I do not find that difficult to argue, because a much better return can be obtained from safety improvements, such as putting up a safety barrier or building a dual carriageway where there is a single carriageway. One can get a return like that from all sorts of measures. The idea that only by installing a safety camera can one get any return on investment and a reduction in serious and fatal accidents is mistaken. One of the troubles with speed cameras is that they are sometimes used as a substitute for road engineering measures.

Some members of the Committee will be familiar, for example, with the A30 between Exeter and Cornwall. Along that road there is a speed camera for eastbound traffic which is close to a dangerous junction. The camera causes people on that carriageway—most of whom are doing in excess of 70 mph—to reduce their speed, but it has not done anything to improve the overall safety of the junction. The best way of improving its overall safety in the long term would be to have a grade separated junction as there is on another part of that road; the Minister knows that part of the world. If all those junctions on the A30 between Exeter and Truro were grade separated road safety would be much enhanced and there would not be a need for the speed camera.

I do not buy into the argument that the only way of achieving improved road safety is by sticking up a speed camera. Indeed, often the impact of these cameras is that they just encourage people to think that the only place where they have to comply with the limit is where there is a speed camera in position. 

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I am listening very carefully to what the hon. Member has said. Could he just help the Committee? He has largely argued against speed cameras. Could he now tell us what was the thinking back in the late '80s and in the early '90s when he introduced the cameras?

Photo of Mr Kevin Hughes Mr Kevin Hughes Labour, Doncaster North

Order. I have allowed a fairly wide-ranging debate on the amendments but I will not be taken advantage of. We are not, in this clause, debating the merits of the cameras.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I have no regrets whatsoever about introducing the power to have camera enforcement in the Road Traffic Act 1991. It has been at its best at traffic lights.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am glad that the Minister agrees, because there can be no excuse whatsoever for going through a red traffic light. The more motorists who are caught and banged to rights for breaking traffic light rules the better. I am concerned, however, that they are now being used in such large numbers as a substitute for engineering and education improvements rather than as an end in themselves of helping enforcement. I will not go on with this any longer as we will have a chance to come back to this on clause 17.

In answering my question about the contents of clause 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill the Minister made another interesting point. He has drawn attention to the hypothecation in that clause, with resources going back directly to the police, rather than to so-called safety camera partnerships. The point that we are making on our side is that the hypothecation in relation to the fines from safety cameras could be to police authorities or to highway authorities for reinvestment. It is not necessary for there to be a safety camera partnership in order for hypothecation to be secured. That the Government accept that is apparent from the fact that they introduced clause 132 without having to set up a new body to accommodate the receipts from the fine hypothecation process.

We discussed the contents of the handbook and so on. I do not disagree with the idea of giving road safety grants, and I am grateful to the Minister for giving us some of the information about the money coming from the cameras. Are those figures for the last financial year, ending last April? If not, what period is covered? Does the £120 million of fines reflects those actually paid or just those imposed? We know that many fines are imposed but never paid, so perhaps the Minister could clarify that. We are grateful for the indication that there is a surplus of £20 million. It could be better spent if it were invested in road safety measures.

Having identified the amendment as a probing one, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:45 am, 20th January 2005

This clause is widely drawn, and gives the Secretary of State massive unfettered powers. I am uneasy about its wording and seek reassurance from the Minister. The clause gives a national transport authority, which is

''the Secretary of State acting with the approval of the Treasury'', which I presume he always does, the power to

''make payments to any local authority''—

I have no qualms about that—

''or any other authority or body for meeting the whole or part of the capital or running costs of any measures for promoting road safety.''

The Minister should explain what he has in mind, apart from the expected giving of grants to local authorities or perhaps safety camera partnerships.

I shall give an extreme example that would be allowed under the provision. The Wellingborough Labour party, perhaps despairing of the future, might decide in March, two months ahead of a general election, to launch a campaign, ''Be safe in Higham Ferrers.'' It might want every cyclist going through the constitutency to wear a bright, fluorescent jacket that states on the back, ''Paul Stinchcombe says, 'Be safe.''' Wellingborough Labour party is a body and it could say that its campaign was for road safety, so it seems that that would be allowed under the Bill.

Such an extreme example would not be acceptable to public opinion and the Minister would not venture that far. But there may be other marginal cases that might not upset public opinion but which most of here would consider unacceptable that the Minister could fund under the provision. Will he tell us what he has in mind and why he feels that it is in order for the Secretary of State to have that power to make such grants to any body or organisation for any measures so long as they relate to road safety?

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

This important clause gives important powers and we support it. However, I have two questions for the Minister.

First, I understand that the powers are already available in Scotland. Will the Minister confirm that the clause broadly mirrors the provision in Scotland, where it has worked well? Secondly, can he clarify why ''national transport authority'' means the

''Secretary of State acting with the approval of the Treasury''?

I understand from the helpful Library notes that no new money is attached to the proposal and that it is simply a more efficient and effective way of using existing resources. Is it normal to require the approval of the Treasury in each instance?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

If I may, I shall say just a few generic words about the clause and then deal with the points that have been raised by right hon. and hon. Members opposite.

As I said earlier, clause 1 extends the scope of section 40 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 for England and Wales. New section 40 makes it clear that the National Assembly for Wales or, for England, the Secretary of State may make payments to local authorities and   other authorities and bodies to meet the whole or part of the capital or running costs of any measure for promoting road safety.

I assure the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross that the grants are available in Scotland. The 1988 Act has already been amended for Scotland by section 76 of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2001, which enables Scottish Ministers to make contributions towards the cost of measures undertaken by local authorities and other authorities to promote road safety. I am glad to hear his news from the north that that is working well in Scotland.

The power to provide funding will support innovation in road safety. The development of road safety policy is often best achieved by piloting at a local level, which allows specific complex problems to be addressed by local authorities through the development of bespoke packages of road safety measures on the ground. There is accelerated learning for authorities that take part, and others with similar problems can select measures that have been effective for use in their area. It is an efficient use of public resources.

Although we have been able to fund local authority schemes in the past, the available funding methods have not been ideal. The special grant procedure has proved cumbersome and is better suited to unusual, one-off expenditures. Local government powers are broad and may have limitations compared with a specific road safety grant power. For example, the Gloucester safer city project relied on the predecessor to the local transport plan funding arrangements for capital, and rate support grant for revenue, so finance was not directly related to the project.

The project was extremely successful as a pilot, and many of the other authorities in this country—and, in fact, from around the world—are looking at the work to provide safer measures that Gloucester did to find improvements that they can replicate in their area. Probably 80 or 90 per cent. of the measures taken in Gloucester were very successful, but some were not. We learn from doing innovative things, and sometimes something that is not successful is also helpful, as other authorities will not want to replicate something that does not work.

Another example is the Kerbcraft project, which teaches young children practical roadside skills. I have been able to observe some of the work that is done in schools, and it is excellent. The schools co-operate with the local authority in providing people to assist children to cross the road safely.

The neighbourhood road safety initiative, which I spoke about briefly in relation to Stoke-on-Trent, focuses specifically on the disadvantaged. We know that children who live in tight, urban areas, often in poorer communities, are about five times more likely to be injured or killed on the roads than those who live in the leafier suburbs. That is why we focused our funding on areas that had a high death rate for children on the roads. I gave some illustrations earlier of how the grant money had been used.The new power in clause 1 has the benefits of clarifying the scope for   road safety projects, providing uncomplicated funding arrangements for local authorities and improving administrative arrangements.

A frisson ran through me when the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire spoke about diverting money from my Department to local Labour parties, specifically to the local party of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe). Attractive though that may seem to a Government, we come to the point made by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross. I do not think that it would meet Treasury rules. That is why the provision is in the clause, so that we, or a successor Government of another party, which the hon. Member for Spelthorne, who has come back to join us, has predicted will happen in 180 days' time—

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I thought he said 180. His powers of prediction are obviously better than mine. I do not know what will happen on 6 May. I am not privy to the inner workings of others.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Assistant Chief Whip, Whips

The Minister will probably be down at the jobcentre with us.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I was asked, quite properly, which other bodies could be funded. Often a number of other bodies co-operate with local authorities in providing road safety measures. A good example is that we, and successive Governments over the years, have provided money to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. That organisation has helped to pilot many projects and has given its hugely valuable expertise over a long time. I think that the Treasury is content that we should provide money to ROSPA, which is a structured organisation with a line of command; we know how the money will be spent and we know that the funds that it has received in the past have been spent to good effect.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister's words reassure me somewhat. Will he give an undertaking that, when the Bill becomes law, he will make a written statement to Parliament listing the other bodies or authorities that have received a grant under the clause?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

We do not want to restrict bodies in future that may be as good as ROSPA, but we could give more examples of where funding is being provided. In relation to the funding that my Department hands out, which mostly goes to local authorities, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we take great care about where those valuable resources go. We have a limited amount of money. That is why we are extremely careful about to whom we give it and where it goes. As I said to one of my hon. Friends earlier, we also make sure that it is spent on the things that we want it spent on and not, attractive as it may sound, for some party-political end. That would not be in order.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.