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Mr. Hill: My hon. Friend is right: the disposal of abandoned vehicles is enormously costly to local authorities--both those like my own authority of Lambeth which is almost adjacent to my hon. Friend's authority, and others nationally. The problem is enormously expensive and the Government are certainly looking at costs as we review the issue of abandoned vehicles--a matter in which I personally take a close interest as a Minister. My hon. Friend's observation is therefore taken very seriously.
To return briefly to the Medway pilot scheme, we hope its evaluation will provide us with solutions that we can introduce nationally, some of which may require legislative changes in their own right. In the light of his observation, may I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) that it seems more sensible to consider all possible legislative changes as a whole in due course? In addition, on the horizon is the vehicles (end-of-life) directive which seeks to make provision for the collection and environmentally sound destruction, or recovery and re-use, of vehicles that have outlived their usefulness. We are currently looking at how best to implement the directive which will, we hope, tackle the problem that the amendment seeks to address. In the meantime, for the extremely cogent reasons that I have advanced, I trust that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) will agree not to press his new clause.
Mr. Bercow: There has been a remarkable change of heart on the part of the Government. Of itself, that is not necessarily to be regretted or deplored, but the extent to which, at this relatively late stage in the consideration of the Bill, Ministers seem uncertain about the means by which to achieve their objective is scant reassurance to the rest of the House, the affected industries and, indeed, the wider public.
Despite the fact that the Minister must have been considerably embarrassed about that about-turn, he did his best to camouflage it and presented a difficult case with his usual vigour and alacrity. However, there is a big change on the Government's part. Previously, they thought that the arrangement was fine and, only 10 days or so ago, they were commending their planned intentions to the Standing Committee. Now, it seems, there has been a turf war, from which the Home Office--the lead Department dealing with the Bill--has, not surprisingly, emerged victorious. Nevertheless, there are genuine concerns about the Government's position on the proposal to finance a wide-scale roll-out of additional speed cameras.
The main concern that my hon. Friends and I have, which we explained in Committee and which was not convincingly answered, is that the proposal is far less a road safety measure than it is a tax-raising device. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) takes a different view. Not surprisingly, in view of past experience, he ended up a few moments ago disagreeing with himself, though he was probably unaware of it. That is a curious state of affairs. Hon. Members often disagree with each other across the House, and it is not entirely unprecedented for
Mr. Bercow: There are other matters on which there might be Divisions, and the hon. Gentleman, who has a natural and well-developed inquisitiveness, must await developments. I am not prepared to tell him now when we might have a vote. [Interruption.] No, I am not disagreeing with myself. I am simply telling the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) that I understand his curiosity, but I assure the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) that I am not yet ready to satisfy the hon. Gentleman's curiosity.
As will become clear to hon. Members, my hon. Friends and I do not approve of new clause 7. We approve of new clause 5--not surprisingly, as it is ours. Let me be specific. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston had something of a tantrum a moment ago when I accused him of disagreeing with himself, and started insulting me from a sedentary position. I know that he has considerable knowledge of much legislation, and I respect that knowledge. However, people who are very knowledgeable can often be wrong-headed, and the hon. Gentleman is wrong-headed.
I shall explain why I accuse the hon. Gentleman of internal inconsistency and disagreement with himself. He asked the Minister in an intervention to confirm that all the proceeds of fines would have to be spent on road safety measures, for if that were not done, it would effectively defy the will of the House. In other words, any moneys raised would have to be spent on road safety measures. I assume that the hon. Gentleman was not being cynical. Whatever his other failings and merits, I have not accused him of being cynical. I assume that he was saying not just that money raised from fines would be spent only on road safety measures, but that all money raised from fines would be spent on road safety measures, and that it would not be appropriate, for example, to use the money to reduce interest charges that the Government might face. Not only could the money not be spent on another public policy, such as purchasing hospital equipment, but it could not be spent to satisfy another obligation, such as reducing a debt. All of it would have to be spent on road safety measures.
The hon. Gentleman seemed to be suggesting to the Minister--it was so clear that none could doubt or gainsay it--that the Government would ring-fence the funds. The Minister speedily responded and accepted that. He said yes, he thought that that was the intention. Thus the hon. Gentleman suggested ring-fencing, and the Minister took him up on it and said yes. I challenge the Minister to confirm that the ring-fencing would apply, if not in every year without fail--errors occur, and there can be a mismatch in one year or another--at least over the five-year period of a Parliament or, in view of the way in which the Government apparently intend to cut and run, over the expected four-year term of a Parliament.
At that point, the predictable confidence and remarkable assurance that the Minister usually displays in the delivery of his arguments immediately deserted him. All of a sudden, he retreated into a combination of the evasive and the coy. Now, I am very fond of the Minister. After all, he was my constituent when I was a young councillor in the London borough of Lambeth some years ago. We used to chat on the bus on which he travelled home, so we have always had good relations. I have the highest regard both for his integrity and for his debating skills. However, when he gets into difficulty, he waffles. When he does not know the answer, he becomes evasive. When he is severely under pressure, he says to the House, "Oh, but I am just a junior Minister. This is not a matter for me. I obviously cannot commit my senior, distinguished and highly respected right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I will get into frightful difficulty if I do."
All that I was challenging the Minister to do was to confirm that, if the funds are to be ring-fenced, they will all be spent on road safety measures over a five-year period. All that I required from him was an answer in the affirmative or the negative. Instead, I got a circumlocutory evasion. That was not good enough.
Mr. Miller: I want to ask the hon. Gentleman a question. Will he put on record how much he estimates needs to be spent on road safety schemes in his constituency, and what the shortfall is between that and current Government expenditure plans?
Mr. Bercow: That is a fascinating challenge, but I shall be honest and tell the hon. Gentleman that off the top of my head I do not have the square root of a clue. If he would find it a stimulating and enjoyable experience to correspond on the subject, because there is a genuine public interest at stake or he wants to pursue an important debating point with me, I should be happy to correspond with him.
I accept that the hon. Gentleman makes a fair challenge. He is right that, off the top of my head, I do not know the answer. Like all right hon. and hon. Members, I receive regular requests for support for particular schemes, and I lobby vigorously on behalf of those that I think are in the public interest. I do not know what the figures are, but seriously, I would be happy to correspond with the hon. Gentleman. Moreover, I accept the thinking underlying his intervention: that much work needs to be done to improve road safety.
What I found in Committee, as my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) and--if she were present, which sadly she is not--for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) would testify, was one of those rare but striking occasions on which not only did Government and Opposition Members disagree about speed cameras, but there was almost blank incomprehension of each other's position. It is certainly fair to say that of the
The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston nods to confirm that. [Interruption.] He rather impolitely spoils his point by saying from a sedentary position that the odd individual whom he has in mind is none other than yours truly. The trouble with that point is that it would apply if I were speaking only for myself, but, as I hope he will accept, I am speaking on behalf of the Opposition.
We believe that there is a degree of disingenuousness in the Government's plans, because they are not prepared to pledge that all the funds will be spent on road safety measures, and that the Government are in error in distorting by over-emphasis. They exaggerate the significance of speed, important consideration though it is, and the cost-effectiveness of a large-scale roll-out of additional speed cameras, as against various other causes of road accidents and possible means by which to address those problems.