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Mr. Heald: We have just voted on a proposal to allow the Minister to determine that certain activities do not constitute the sale of registration plates. The Committee discussed whether manufacturers who do not sell directly to the public would be exempted. Does the Minister have that possibility in mind?
Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman asks a reasonable question, although I think that we covered it in Committee. The purpose of the proposals is to ensure that the Bill is targeted on the right people. We had a long discussion about people who deal in parts. The vintage bike industry was mentioned. The Committee tried to respect the needs of hobbyists by ensuring that the Bill did not become a sledgehammer that hit the legitimate activities of such people. That is why we wanted the sensitivity with which the Government always exercise their Executive powers to be enshrined in legislation.
Clause 36 will extend the time limit to three years and enable proceedings for taking a vehicle without authority to be brought at any time within six months from the date when sufficient knowledge came to the attention of the prosecutor.
A more widespread threat to public safety is speeding, which we debated at length on Report. Rolling out speed cameras nationally is a vital part of our road safety strategy. New clause 7 will allow the money that magistrates courts receive from fixed penalties for speeding or jumping red lights to be used to fund road safety. The funds will be ploughed directly back into the fight against road crime and our efforts to improve road safety. That will ensure that funding is available to increase the number and geographical spread of safety cameras, for example, which will aid the prevention and detection of speeding and red traffic light offences. As speeding drivers may be guilty of other offences, there will also be a wider crime reduction benefit.
Mr. Clarke: I saw the press coverage of the M2 speed cameras. Our proposal does apply to motorways. However, I must emphasise, as the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) did, that the process is about promoting road safety, and road safety alone. Some of the press coverage of the M2 cameras suggested that there might be a financial motive. That is not the case.
Mr. Brady: The Minister told the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw) that the cameras' primary purpose is to promote road safety. Is he clear that motorway cameras will focus on stretches where there are roadworks and lower speed restrictions, instead of being rolled out generally across all the network?
Mr. Clarke: I can confirm that the police identified and focused on accident black spots in the pilot schemes. It is intended that that practice should be followed across the country. The cameras might be related to roadworks and other restrictions, which might be temporary in nature. However, most police forces have a detailed mapping of where road accidents occur most frequently. They naturally want to put cameras at those locations, both to act as a deterrent, which the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) mentioned on Report, slowing drivers down at the key points of danger, and to record the drivers who break the law.
Mr. Brady: I thank the Minister for his full reply. Given that we would all wish to maximise the deterrent effect, can he confirm that it is the Government's policy, where possible, to ensure that signs to warn of the presence of speed cameras are in place on motorways?
Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and his colleagues in the DETR are considering carefully how we can improve the signage of road speed limits. The need for improvement has been forcefully pointed out by the AA and the RAC, and it is necessary to work harder to ensure that motorists are fully aware of the speed limit wherever they are. That is an important aspect of the road safety proposals that the Government are considering.
The operation of those proposals will be a matter for each local authority. My own county, Norfolk, has published a good road safety document, which is in my constituency file. I was reading it earlier because I want to respond to the authority's proposals for improving signage and policies. Road safety is the general thrust of local government policies, and they have been much encouraged by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and his colleagues in the DETR.
Mr. Clarke: I am sorry if my answer was unclear. I was trying to refer to the specific signage for speed cameras and the more general signage for speed limits. When I drive, I find it frustrating to see a picture of a speed camera without a speed limit attached. Putting those
Mr. Fabricant: Do the Minister and the Under-Secretary agree that if there is to be more widespread distribution of speed cameras, there needs also to be a wholesale review of speed limits? In some cases, limits might need to be lower, but in others they may need to be higher.
Mr. Clarke: I do not know whether my hon. Friend drives. He is an outstanding Transport Minister, and the people of the country are fortunate to have him. The hon. Member for Buckingham made it clear that he did not use computers, but I do not think that that disqualifies him from being a Member of the House, even though in the modern information age, one might think that he would want to know what was going on around him in the world. Perhaps that is reflected in his contributions.
Mr. Clarke: I never use the word "unassailable". Unlike the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, I have a lot of experience outside the House, if not in it, and I know that the word "unassailable", especially when uttered by Conservative politicians, should not be used in circumstances that pertain to any significant development.
In answer to the question of the hon. Member for Lichfield, the Government are developing our road safety strategy, which includes signage. Those matters are also being considered by individual local highways authorities. In my county, for example, the authority is specifically considering, among other things, a 20 mph speed limit in specific areas such as those surrounding schools.
I emphasise again that the focus of the approach is on improving road safety. As part of the national roll-out of the programme, the Government will issue guidance to local partnerships on signage for speed cameras. I can therefore make a stronger commitment than I did in my off-the-cuff response to the hon. Gentleman that the guidance on signage for speed cameras will include precisely the points that he raised.
It is the Government's intention to cut vehicle crime at the roots. That means reducing the market for stolen vehicles. We will do that by regulating the motor salvage trade and the supply of number plates, which is the Bill's main purpose. Vehicle identity checks and new requirements for documentation by the DVLA will reinforce the system of regulation. The Bill has three ancillary purposes: first, to extend the time limit for prosecuting so-called joyriders; secondly, to make it easier for the police to detect uninsured driving; and thirdly, to enable magistrates courts receipts to be directly applied to road safety.
Mr. Bercow: The Minister of State, Home Office had the temerity to criticise the Opposition for a poor attendance this evening. He demonstrated not only temerity but unwisdom, given the fact, to which I must refer at the outset, that the hon. Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Mrs. Gilroy), for Warrington, North (Helen Jones), for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe), for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) and for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), who were all members of the Committee that examined the Bill, have toddled out of the Chamber and have not been present to hear the Minister of State make the case for the Third Reading. It ill behoves the Minister to chide us, to suggest indifference and to accuse us of being part-timers when his hon. Friends, who might have been expected gleefully to listen to his honeyed words, have absented themselves from the Chamber and possibly from the Palace.