Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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Mr. Miller: In view of your observations, Mr. Sayeed, I shall be brief. There is undoubtedly evidence that speed cameras, cameras at junctions, and better warning signals about cameras cause people to reduce their speed. My hon. Friend the Minister has put it on the record that placement of cameras under the scheme must benefit road safety. That is the important point, which must be made loudly. I am sure that it will receive the support of most motorists, who realise that they are driving a tonne of steel, which is an extremely dangerous weapon if misused. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friends and I tabled amendment No. 88, which was not selected for debate. We therefore take the opportunity of this stand part debate to air our concerns. I shall not advise my hon. Friends to press the matter to a vote, although, depending on the response and reflections on the matter in the interim, we may be inclined to develop our arguments further on Report. We take a genuinely different and directly contrary view on the matter from that of the hon. Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston and for Stafford (Mr. Kidney).

There are serious concerns, which we share, about a massive and indiscriminate increase in speed and traffic enforcement cameras around the country. It has been debated extensively in the media, among other places, and hon. Members will be aware that several campaigning newspapers—if I may deploy that term—have taken up the cudgels in opposition to what they regard as an undesirable development. The official Opposition oppose the widespread roll-out of speed cameras on all of our roads. Speed cameras should be sited sensibly to deter speeding on dangerous roads or on roads that encourage, by their construction, speed in excess of the limit. They should not be used as another source of stealth taxation.

Mr. Fabricant: Does my hon. Friend agree that not only should there not be a widespread roll-out of speed cameras but that there should be a wholesale review of speed limits, which in certain areas are too high or too low? Does he not find it strange that there is perhaps a tacit agreement by the Government that the speed limits on motorways are inappropriate, by virtue of the fact that there are no speed cameras on motorways, except where there are roadworks?

Mr. Bercow: There are certainly arguments about speed limits and the case for a review thereof, and the extent to which, in practice as opposed to theory, the actual speed limit is not the guideline on the strength of which prosecutions are made. In practice, if a person is a few miles over the speed limit—I do not, of course, travel over the speed limit—he is relatively unlikely to be fined or prosecuted. If a person is many miles over the limit, he is more likely to be prosecuted. There is a degree of arbitrariness.

In the United Kingdom there is, on average, one automatic speed camera for every 30 miles of road. Under the new proposals, they will be more frequent, and the police will be allowed to keep the profits from speed camera fines. We place safety at the heart of our transport policy, but whereas others take a different view, we do not believe in needless regulation of speed.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bercow: No I shall not, because there is little time left.

Speed cameras were intended not to be a source of tax—we can re-examine the issue, perhaps on Report—but to prevent accidents and control excessive speed. A stretch of road may be safe, but also be particularly wide or straight. That may encourage people to speed and should be prevented by visible warnings of cameras. Drivers should be alerted to the presence of speed cameras, which should not be unduly hidden. [Laughter.] Certainly, speed cameras should not be used simply as a revenue collector. In some countries speed cameras are painted in bright colours or are highlighted by warning signs—a fact of which the hon. Members who are laughing are apparently ignorant.

There is a balance to be struck. There should be awareness of speed cameras, but they should not be unduly intrusive into the local life of the community. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of speed cameras. The number of random speeding convictions increased by 712,000 between 1985 and 1998. Of that, the main increase—about 443,000 convictions; on average about 89,000 a year—took place over five years from 1993 to 1998.

Helen Jones rose—

Mr. Bercow: The British Motorcyclists Federation has argued for the deletion of the clause. We, being very moderate and reasonable, are not going that far today. The federation says that the clause is based on the assumption that speed is the main cause of accidents. It believes that too much emphasis is placed on speeding as opposed to dangerous driving, and that the clause militates against improving standards.

Helen Jones rose—

Mr. Bercow: It also argues that the police are over-zealous in prosecuting speeding offences because they are easier to take to court than offences of dangerous driving, and that the clause would reinforce that trend.

Now, as the hon. Member for Warrington, North is so anxious to favour us with her wisdom—I have the highest regard for the intelligent contributions that she normally offers in the House—I happily give way to her.

Helen Jones: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way—eventually. His whole argument rests on the premise that people have something to fear from speed cameras, but law-abiding people have nothing to fear from them. How does he reconcile his attitude to speed cameras with the constant demand from the Opposition for more closed circuit television cameras?

Mr. Bercow: There are other arguments relating to driving, which are of greater significance. Dangerous driving, as opposed to driving in excess of the speed limit, should not be ignored or downgraded by the general focus of the debate.

There is also a real issue of cost and it would be massively expensive to have a universal or even a large-scale rollout of speed cameras throughout the country, despite the enthusiasm of some Labour Members. That is not a realistic proposition, even if it were a desirable one. For them to, deliberately or inadvertently, raise the expectation of such a prospect—when it is about as unrealisable as all the high-falutin' declarations and wild promises of Ministers— is supremely unwise. That is why we raised our concern. We are perfectly entitled to do so, and I make no apology for it.

Mr. Bob Russell: It seems hardly worth while starting. Given that the sitting is ending at 4 o'clock, I shall reserve my comments for when the Bill returns to the Floor of the House. I must put on the record how much I deplore the fact that some members of the Committee have hogged the time available and prevented others from speaking and that the hon. Member for Lichfield made a speech, left the Room, returned and started intervening. We are discussing a serious subject. We have not been given enough time to debate it. I have been given less than 60 seconds to make my point. I shall not even attempt to start to make it; I shall save my arguments for another time.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I shall explain why the clause should stand part of the Bill. We do not agree with the British Motorcyclists Federation. It is important to fight speeding. We do not accept that the measure is a stealth tax. It is a penalty for those who behave illegally and cause danger to the rest of society.

It being Four o'clock, The Chairman put the Question necessary under the terms of the programme resolution to complete the business.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 37 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

        Adjourned till Tuesday 23 January at half-past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Sayeed, Mr. (Chairman)
Bercow, Mr.
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Fabricant, Mr.
Gilroy, Mrs.
Jones, Helen
Kidney, Mr.
McCabe, Mr.
McIntosh, Miss
Miller, Mr.
Pope, Mr.
Russell, Mr. Bob
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.

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