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Westminster Hall

Thursday 17 October 2002

[Sylvia Heal in the Chair]

Road Traffic Speed

[Relevant documents: Ninth Report from the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee, Session 2001-02 HC557-I, and the Government response thereto, Cm 5621.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Heppell.]

2.30 pm

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Last year in this country, we killed 3,450 people, seriously injured 37,110 and slightly injured 272,749 on the roads. There was, however, no great public outcry. There was no mass lobby of Parliament, nor people running into the streets producing banners because we have, extraordinarily, almost become accustomed to the fact that people die in road accidents. It is as if the great hand of God has fallen on them to bring down some well-deserved punishment, whereas in reality there is a direct connection between the human being, the motor vehicle, and death on the roads.

It is tremendously important that the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions decided to look into the issue because it was so concerned, not only about public attitudes but about the attitudes of Government and elected representatives to the startling and frightening facts. Had there been an equal number of deaths from any other cause, there would have been an enormous outcry and we would all have received vast numbers of letters. We have talked for some time about the need to do something about the number of deaths on the roads, but many of the contributory elements have become obscured. This is one of the most important reports that the Select Committee, under the previous banner of Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, managed to produce. It certainly received an enormous response from the general public.

I am used to receiving letters that refer to me as an antisocial old socialist bitch— and to that I might even plead guilty; I see no reason to discount any such gentle descriptions of my character—but many of those letters encompassed exactly what is wrong with our attitude towards road death. Many of them were intensely personal, not in the sense that people recounted only their personal experiences, as one might expect, but in that they argued that we must have cars, we must be able to drive them as fast as we like and, in many instances, we must not comply with the more irritating rules of the road, the deliberate purpose of which is to restrict the motorist. That is revealing because it shows how large the gap is between the reality of what we do with motor vehicles and the public perception. We wanted to address that gap in the report.

We were able to say:

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We were able to highlight the number of children who are injured or killed by motor vehicles. We were able to point out the facts—not new, but well known—that large numbers of children suffer because they live in more deprived areas, are more likely to be playing out in the street close to dangerous roads and are often not as well supervised as they might be.

We considered who was responsible for speeding, why they speed and what reasons they give. It became obvious that many drivers did not know the speed limits. They do not regard speeding as a serious offence, and think that they are unlikely to get caught. They do not appreciate the damage that they do, because others bear most of the cost. They may be in a hurry or feel pressured—many of those who break speed limits are on work-related journeys. The comfort of their cars and the design of the roads mean that it "feels right"—a frequently given reason—to drive quicker than is legal or safe.

Lest hon. Members think that the Committee was exaggerating, I should say that individual Members expressed frightening views during our attempts to reach an agreement on the text. People said, "Of course I ought to be able to drive my car very fast after I reach Manchester in the middle of the night, because I am a good driver and I am totally in control of the car." Indeed, I learned a new declension: I am a good driver; he, she or it is not as good as me but ought to be allowed to drive; he, she or it is totally incapable of driving and should not in any circumstances be allowed to drive. That seemed to relate to everyone who those people met on the road. None the less, all of them were clear about motorists' need for a policy that enabled them to drive as they thought fit.

After many years of large-scale road safety campaigns, we are failing to convince even large numbers of motorists that there is a direct connection between speed and death. Anyone who worked in accident and emergency, or anyone who watched the mangled bodies being taken off motorways, could tell us about it. Any member of the motorway police could tell us of the strain put on them by constantly having to attend frightening accidents. They all know the cost of disastrous road accidents not only in terms of bones broken and lives destroyed, but in terms of the effect on large numbers of families. Despite that, we still do not appear to be putting the required drive, energy and sums of money into our concern about what is important.

The Government are serious about wanting to do something, but we were considerably worried by lacunae in the reply to our report. We considered how Departments across Whitehall did not necessarily work together to achieve the ends that are needed. We looked at the fact that the Home Office did not put sufficient emphasis on the likes of road traffic policing. One would have thought that that was obvious, but when people talk about the core policies for policing, road traffic work is not at the top of the list where it should be—even though it must constitute a large amount of the costs and difficulties presented to police forces.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): On that point about Departments supporting the priorities for casualty

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reduction, the Home Office is about to produce the first national policing plan. Would my hon. Friend expect to see a reference to road traffic policing in it?

Mrs. Dunwoody : I most certainly would. We said that we ought to have a national speed management strategy, so that is exactly the type of measure we want.

The national health service bears not only the practical brunt of having to deal with many policies, but the costs of having to deal with those injured and sick. It should therefore be one of the key bodies that decide policies, where they could be improved and how we could change public attitudes towards what we think is essential.

We said that a national speed management strategy ought to be established that would

and encourage local authorities to be active in setting targets and reducing numbers of casualties. We also said that we ought to consider

However, there were several points that the Government clearly failed to address, and I want to put them in context.

We said that it was important to have a hierarchy of rural roads. There is already a clear set of distinctions, because people assume rural roads are safe when they are not. The reason why we spent so much time discussing the need for specific controls outside rural schools and in rural villages was because we recognised that fact. However, the Government reply said:

I am not sure what that means. Does it mean that because it is going to cost a lot and is difficult to do, we should not start? Frankly, the problem costs a lot at the moment, especially to Government Departments. What do the Government mean when they say that

Too long for what—for the current Government or the next, or for the people whom we represent, or for the 2010 targets? I want a clearer statement than that. We must assume that the policy is a long-term one and get on with it. Of course, it will take time to implement, but does that mean that we should never start, even if we can show that it would bring significant casualty reduction benefits? I do not think so.

We were also concerned about those famous safety cameras. I may as well be honest with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, as he is a straightforward Minister who does his best to reply to all the difficulties we raise. The Government sometimes seem to allow themselves to be led a bit by the press—especially, dare I say it, the tabloid press. What research have the Government done and what evidence is there that we would do much better if we had bright yellow cameras that are clearly visible to the motorist from a great distance? How do they know that that would be more successful than continuing our existing policy, which is not to hide the cameras but to put them where they are not necessarily immediately noticeable, and to use the evidence that that produces?

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We have research on what safety cameras achieve, but no evidence to suggest that we should have a policy whereby motorists are told that they are being monitored when they break the law. People do not put notices on their houses saying, "If you burgle here, you will be in a certain amount of difficulty." We assume that people know that they will be in trouble if they break the law. Why are bright yellow speed cameras that can be seen from a considerable distance essential? The evidence is that, far from improving road safety, such devices slow down motorists where they can see the camera and allow them to speed up as soon as they get around the corner. I do not think that that is what anyone wants, and I am certain that it is not what the Government want. They are simply responding to pressures, when the issues should be considered more closely. Why is there no consistency about where we direct resources? Either we decide that we should have camera partnerships and that the police should have the same duty, or we leave the situation as it is.

Turning to the question of leadership, the Government have a responsibility to show that they take road casualty figures seriously all the time, and not only occasionally. They must show that their measures are part of a long, consistent and urgent policy, because that is the only way to persuade the general public. Even today, we received a briefing from a normally responsible motoring organisation that suggested that people wore seat belts only because they had had a long period of education. People wear seat belts because it is the law. They started to wear seat belts because it was the law, not because someone was seeking to persuade them.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is when the law changes that attitudes change? Seat belts provide an example: before the law was changed, there was a great hostility to them; straight afterwards everyone accepted them.

Mrs. Dunwoody : In one accident and emergency department in the middle of London, the day after the seat belt legislation came in, some 40 per cent. of the accident work disappeared. That was as clear as daylight. The Government should push hard to ensure that people understand these things and that they respond to them.

We can ask the Government to do a better job in several respects. Why have they not responded to the recommendation that they should identify how much a comprehensive national package of traffic calming measures would cost? The reality is that people do not respond to being told to drive slowly; they need some form of control.

How are local authorities expected to produce the large transport programmes that they are required to deliver, having received large capital allocations? We heard evidence that more and more local authorities face difficulties in finding trained staff—not people who are prepared to accept responsibility, but people with very specific skills. They need the sort of parallel investment in training and revenue that would enable them to employ staff who are capable of carrying out the type of policy that the Government want implemented.

I finish on what is, for me, one of the most important parts of this important report—the matter of child pedestrian deaths. The Government's response, which is

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that they are going to "commission further analyses" of the very high child pedestrian fatality rates throughout the United Kingdom is extremely disappointing. Why was there a three-year delay before further research was requested? Why are we still waiting for what we already know to be underlined? Why are we waiting for so many traffic safety schemes that will separate major traffic streams from pedestrians? That is one of the easiest and most sensible ways of contributing to safety.

We need lower speed limits. More local authorities must look into what happens not only near schools, but in residential areas. Why is the design of local distributor and residential roads, which could provide a more forgiving road environment, or the provision of money needed to encourage local authorities to go ahead with such policies, still not being pushed at Government level? Why have we still not got right our attitudes towards simple things like road crossings?

Such policies are vital. The developments to which we would have expected the Government to respond have been quietly brushed aside. The Government say that intelligent speed adaptation should be taken forward by industry in response to public demand, not by the introduction of a mandatory requirement for suitable devices, but we know that industry does not respond with either the speed or the urgency that are essential for major policy change.

Those well-meaning media programmes that constantly refer both to vehicles and to speed do not require viewers to consider the implications of a public education policy about speed. We tried hard to get evidence from the television companies, and they were prepared to talk to us, but even the BBC did not seem to understand that part of its public remit ought to be to persuade people of the harm we are doing to so many children and other people through our neglect and carelessness.

I pay tribute to those who helped me with this report. That is not just the Members of Parliament from the previous Committee, but our senior Clerk, Dr. Harrison, and Mr. Rob Gifford, who was one of our most valued and important advisers.

I want to say one thing to the House. As elected Members, we have special responsibilities. Sometimes, we have responsibilities to lead, and sometimes to follow. In this case, I hope that we will lead. I hope that we will not continue with the carnage that we accept day by day. We cannot allow emergency services to be diverted so frequently to dealing with the effects of people's carelessness and incompetence. We must be prepared to sort out the money to change not just the mechanical things that Government and local authorities can do, but the attitudes of those who respond to them.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend's peroration. There is one area that does not directly affect the new Ministry, but which has had an enormous impact on a small number of cases in which I have been involved, and that is sentencing. One talks about fines and disqualification, but in the ultimate cases—those of death or serious injury—there is certainly confusion in the criminal law over which sanctions should be applied. There also seems to be much confusion concerning the role that insurance

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companies play in protecting the injured party, or the party who may have committed the offence. Would my hon. Friend like to say a few things about our need to sort that area out, as well as the lesser offences?

Mrs. Dunwoody : That is why I said specifically that we needed to consider all of Government policy throughout Whitehall. I certainly do think that the insurance industry has a very specific role to play. Through training, magistrates can be encouraged to take such matters very seriously. On bad days, I sometimes say that if I wanted to get rid of anybody, I would do it with a motor vehicle not only because it is more efficient, but because I could escape suitable punishment more often than not.

We should be looking at the involvement of the police, the highways authorities, the Government and all the relevant private sector organisations. We should really be saying to the public at large, "You have in your hands, in partnership with the Government, the ability to reduce road deaths and injuries, and that is something we desperately need to do in this country. We are careless of human life. Help us to change that." I say to the Government that they must lead and urgently implement policies that will have a material effect. Above all, they must understand that to be popular in this particular field is to finish up abandoning many adults and children to an uncertain future.

2.53 pm

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): I start by echoing the words of thanks of the Chairman of the Committee to all those who worked with us on the preparation of the most substantial report that the Committee has produced during the past year. Its coverage of an important subject is comprehensive in breadth and depth. As ever, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) for the customarily expert and fair way in which she chaired the inquiry, which has made a valuable contribution to an important debate in this country.

Far too often, we allow ourselves to be distracted by high profile and distressing incidents in other modes of transportation, while forgetting the serious issues affecting our roads, where there are casualty numbers that would be totally unacceptable in any other form of transport. It is therefore all the more appropriate that the Select Committee should have worked on this useful contribution to the debate. I hope that the Government will take note of many of the recommendations made in shaping future policy.

It is important to note in any discussion on road safety that we have some of the safest roads in Europe, but within an overall picture of good, albeit still unacceptable, figures on accidents and casualties on our roads compared with our European partners, the report identifies a specific problem in urban areas. The number of fatalities and serious injuries, including injuries to children and other pedestrians, is unacceptably high and needs to be tackled.

It is clear from our discussions that improvements could and should be made to Government policy on the deployment of resources and to the regulations that affect how our roads are monitored and policed. The resourcing of policing in particular does not fall within

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the remit of the Minister's Department, but in an environment in which Ministers need to talk across Departments, he needs to play an important role in the debate.

The Minister will be aware that the Government are currently reviewing the resources available to police forces throughout the country. That review is likely to lead to significant changes in future funding for police forces. The evidence to date suggests that there is likely to be a transfer of resources from what are undoubtedly the most congested parts of the country, such as the south-east of England, to urban areas and parts of the north. The likely consequence of that is serious for the policing of our roads.

If, as a result of Government formula changes, a home counties force is faced with the loss of 2, 3 or 4 per cent. of its budget every year for the next few years, that cannot but have an impact on the policing issues to which the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich referred. The home counties are the most congested parts of our country: their motorways are jammed and over-congested, and people take diversions down country roads and narrow lanes in an attempt to find a faster route to work. I hope that the Minister will impress on his colleagues that the Government cannot afford to allow traffic policing to be eroded, with the consequent adverse effect on safety standards on our roads.

That is happening at a time when the behaviour of some motorists is alarmingly inappropriate. Anyone who travels outside London at the weekend will be aware of the sometimes erratic behaviour of motor cyclists and motorists on country roads, such as driving at high speed and other dangerous driving. If that sort of behaviour is not properly monitored because our police forces do not have the resources to watch roads where they know a problem exists, not only will that problem not disappear, but it will worsen. I hope that the Minister will have a quiet word with some of his ministerial colleagues and make clear to them the consequences of under-resourcing policing in areas where road policing is a particular issue.

I draw the Minister's attention to the signage of speed limits in urban areas, which the report touches on. The issue concerns me because there are too many roads in this country where it is unclear to most drivers how fast they are allowed to drive. Too many roads have the feel of a 40 or 50 mph limit, but are actually 30 mph. Local authorities throughout the country would dearly love to provide clearer signage on urban roads to remind people that they can travel only at 30 mph. It is madness that in this day and age it is illegal for a local authority to put up a 30 mph repeater sign. That rule exists for historic reasons dating back to the 1930s, but when local authorities are putting up cardboard signs on street lamps, painting diamonds on roads, and finding any way they can to remind people that they are in a 30 mph zone, surely it is not beyond the wit of the Government to find a legal framework that will allow them to do that properly and effectively wherever they perceive a problem. I hope that the Minister will take that relatively simple step and ensure that authorities have the powers that they need to take local decisions where they believe a problem threatens or one already exists.

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The principle of local decision making is also relevant to the rules about the siting of speed cameras, on which the report touched. As the Committee discussed the issues, we found it extraordinary that the framework for decisions about the siting of cameras was so rigid. I do not argue for a mass proliferation of speed cameras, but surely a police force or local authority should be able to draw attention to a stretch of road where circumstances have changed. Perhaps there is a new housing estate or a new road connection that has increased traffic levels, or perhaps traffic flow in general has expanded dramatically.

The police force or local authority might perceive a risk of a serious incident occurring. Perhaps there have been several minor incidents, and they fear something more serious. Surely it should not be Government policy to insist that they may not site a speed camera at that potential black spot until the accident that they are trying to prevent has happened. I hope that the Minister will think through that element of the Government guidelines again. Common sense suggests that a simple modification of the rules to allow local decision making would not distort the system, but could prevent some of the problems that the Chairman of the Committee and other hon. Members identified in the report.

The third element we picked out was the bias in Government safety spending towards other modes of transport. Huge resources go into the railways to prevent accidents on the mode of transport that is undoubtedly the safest. If a tiny fraction of the money spent on rail safety were spent on school pedestrian crossings, it could make a significant difference to safety standards on urban roads throughout the country.

I hope that as the Government review policy for the future, they will take a step back and say, "Yes, of course we need to invest in safety on our railways. We need to invest in safety for our aviation systems and on buses and coaches, but we must ensure that not all the money goes to other modes of transport and that enough is left over to pay for schemes that can make a real difference." When parents have to mount a vigorous campaign to secure the money for one crossing, as they had to in my constituency recently, we realise just how little is in the pot. However, I hope that when the Government consider how the cake is distributed, they will consider the impact on safety that the smallest schemes can have and ensure that they are not squeezed out by grand projects.

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): On that very useful point, does the hon. Gentleman recognise that, on occasion, the Government do stump up the money, and we are grateful for it? In my constituency, for example, one trunk road across the Pennines was an accident black spot. After two four-year-olds were killed, there was a huge local campaign and petition that, in a six-month period—not long in Government terms—resulted in their stumping up £500,000 for speed cameras. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the message is starting to get across, although we need to go much further?

Chris Grayling : I thank the hon. Lady for those comments. In many ways, she shares the experience of my constituents, because the campaign to which I referred followed the tragic death of a small girl. No one

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would suggest that the Government get everything wrong. This Government, like previous ones, have done many good things on safety. Our roads have become much safer in recent generations, which is down to the good work of good people in Governments of all political persuasions. However, as the hon. Lady says, that does not mean that it is not the job of hon. Members to bite the ankles of Ministers and say, "You could do more if you did this."

We must all encourage people to take greater responsibility for safety issues. That includes not only motor cyclists going around country lanes at extraordinarily high speeds, or car drivers who take delight in racing each other on a Sunday afternoon, but also people who ride bicycles in urban areas. They may be the victims of inappropriate driving practices and are often killed or injured as a result, but many themselves break the rules of the road on too many occasions. I suspect that everyone in this Room has stood at a pedestrian crossing in London when the traffic lights were at red and a cyclist has sped through at high speed, paying no attention to the rules of the road.

There is a responsibility on the shoulders of pedestrians who jaywalk, on cyclists who ignore red lights and on those who use the roads irresponsibly to take a step back and say, "Perhaps I shouldn't be doing that." It is the job of hon. Members in our community roles, the job of Governments, who have a remit in public education, and the job of the other agencies with which we come into contact and can encourage, to steer our society towards better behaviour when safety is at stake.

The report is a useful contribution to the debate. I hope the Government will take up the many ideas, insights and pointers it offers. I have already apologised to the Minister for being unable to stay for the winding-up speeches, but I know from his previous comments, and from his nodding head while I have been speaking, that he is listening and taking on board what is said. I hope that some of the ideas in the report will not be merely discussion points but will be followed through as actions in due course.

3.6 pm

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting): I start by congratulating the Committee on the report, especially the Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). The report contains a great many facts and the experiences of people throughout the country. It seeks to deal with an ever-increasing problem: speeding on our roads and the dangers that it causes.

I learned a great deal from the report, which clearly shows what we can do if the will to do it exists. Many of the changes proposed in the report would not cost a lot of money. I represent a constituency in inner London and, week-by-week, I receive letters from residents of all ages, but especially from youngsters and elderly people who speak of their concerns—often their fears—about the dangers that they face in the area where they live from vehicles that travel too fast. Often, the drivers of those vehicles have no concern whatever about the driving conditions in the area. That is something that all hon. Members will have seen in their constituencies.

The report spells out clearly, on pages 5 and 7, what excessive speed does. Page 5 states:

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We know what is happening. We are also clear about the cause of deaths and injuries. Page 7 of the report says:

We are clear about the cost to our communities of excessive speed. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich referred in her speech to something that I find extremely sad. Many drivers, whatever vehicle they drive, do not fully understand what can happen to a pedestrian who is hit by a car. The report says:

Why is there not a greater Government campaign to make drivers more aware of what speed can do to pedestrians?

The report should be compulsory reading for anyone who is caught speeding and for people taking their driving test. It shows not only the dangers of speeding but the cost. On page 12 it states:

Sadly, many drivers have no knowledge of the dangers. The report points out that:

What can we do? Indeed, what must we do? This excellent report highlights the issue. We must ensure that there is more effective enforcement. That could be introduced without any great cost. A much greater education campaign is needed. I realise that that could take longer, but a start must be made. We need to change people's attitude to driving at excessive speeds. As others have already said, nothing makes me check my speed more than the presence of traffic police. The report says that there has been a significant reduction in the number of traffic police. Is the authorities' attitude to that changing? If the Government are committed to reducing speed and the dangers that it presents, it surely cannot be right to reduce the numbers of police traffic patrol officers in the areas that we represent.

There is no doubt that what the driver of any type of vehicle most fears is disqualification. That is the real deterrent, not a fine. A fine may present problems, but people find the money. That is why I and, I am sure, the overwhelming majority of people, support a policy of disqualifying more drivers who are caught speeding.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) made an important point about the attitude of the courts. Many aspects of law and order that come before the courts are debated in this House. I have spoken about several matters that have caused untold harm and

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disruption to my local community, but when the people responsible for the disruption appeared before the courts, the magistrates who heard the cases had no idea—even when they reached a guilty verdict—about the extent of the damage to the community. Equally, many courts and the magistrates who sit in them do not, when they hear cases of people driving at excessive speed, fully realise the dangers and problems that it causes.

The report demonstrates what can be achieved. It was interesting to read about comparisons between the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, where many under-20 mph zones can be found, the total number of accidents has been reduced by 56 per cent.; accidents in which people have been killed or seriously injured by 90 per cent.; accidents involving child casualties by 64 per cent.; and pedestrian accidents by 54 per cent. That clearly shows the enormous benefits—for cities and rural areas alike—of tightly enforced speed limits.

We must educate motorists far more than we do now. The report states clearly how we could achieve that. We should

Mrs. Dunwoody : The motorist is trying to fight back.

Mr. Cox : The report is excellent—[Interruption.]—and much work has gone into its preparation. All Members of Parliament hope—[Interruption.]—that in six months or a year's time, the report will not be forgotten. The report clearly shows—[Interruption.]—what speeding can and does do to so many people throughout the country. It also shows what could be done if the authorities, national or local, were truly committed to tackling the problem. That is the challenge faced by the Government and local authorities throughout the country. I hope that in the coming months, the right policies will be introduced and followed.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Nicholas Winterton): Before I call Mr. Brake, may I apologise for the false fire alarm. On behalf of the authorities of the House, I apologise profusely to the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) for the unnecessary interruptions to his speech.

3.19 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I welcome this important debate, so ably initiated by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). In common with other Members, I am sorry to hear about certain people—Government Members—describing her as an old socialist. I shall not repeat the word that she used next.

Like the hon. Lady, I have encountered people who believe that their freedom to drive should not be constrained in any way. However, what they must realise is that a driver's free and fast-flowing traffic is a

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pedestrian's nightmare. Pedestrians end up taking their lives in their hands when they try to cross a road, especially in urban environments.

Did the hon. Lady notice the editorial in the Evening Standard a couple of days ago? Although that paper has run an aggressive campaign against congestion charges, the editorial was supportive of the need for measures to be introduced to slow traffic down. It agreed that statistics had established beyond doubt that speed kills, that too many people drive too fast and that we should slow down. The hon. Lady should be more confident about support for the type of measures recommended by the Transport Committee.

In research on traffic speed, Direct Line insurance found that more than half Britain's motorists favour speed limiter technology being fitted to all new cars on a compulsory basis, and 53 per cent. are in favour of limiters being fitted to all cars retrospectively. Hon. Members may be surprised at the level of support for such measures.

I disagreed with the hon. Lady about the effectiveness of covert versus overt speed cameras. As far as I am aware, no research has been carried out to establish which type is more effective. I suspect that research was not conducted on covert cameras before they were all painted yellow; so little comparison can be made.

To what should the Government respond in the Transport Committee report? First, the Government should be bold. The Evening Standard editorial that I mentioned was prompted by its front page, which referred to the shock cut in speed limits that the Government were apparently going to announce. I understand that the moment the front page came off the printing presses, the Department for Transport contacted news outlets to deny that there was any truth in the matter. That would concern me because the article seems to be picking up on the Transport Committee's recommendations and the Government's response.

The Government are supportive of the Committee's recommendations in relation to revised guidance for local speed limits. For example, recommendation O states:

The Government's response states:

In recommendation P, the Committee recommended specific guidance for local authorities on speed limits. In their response, the Government did not say that they disagreed with that recommendation. When the Government disagree with Select Committee recommendations, they say so. If the Government do not disagree, the Evening Standard editorial correctly picked up on what the Government were hinting at.

I am alarmed that the Government felt it necessary to deny so quickly that anything was in the pipeline. They should be bold. I have referred to the body of evidence from Direct Line insurance and to the Evening Standard editorial which suggest support for the measures, so there is no need for the Government's apparent timidity. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) rightly highlighted the need for action to be taken on rural roads. A one-size-fits-all speed limit for roads of different classification is illogical. A flat-rate

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speed limit for motorways is equally unreasonable and illogical, and it is appropriate for the M25 to have variable limits.

We urgently need the rural road hierarchy that has been promised. Unfortunately, all that we are getting are plans for demonstration projects—there appears to be nothing concrete in the pipeline. I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to set out precisely the demonstration projects that the Government will support and to tell us in which parts of the country they will be.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): I agree that we need variable speeds on rural roads. Does the hon. Gentleman think that there should be variable speeds through rural villages? There are villages in my constituency in which there is a 40 mph limit and there are those that are lucky to have a 30 mph limit, but there are 40 villages in East Sussex in which there is no speed limit whatsoever. Speed limits should not vary throughout rural communities. All villages want a limit of 30 mph or less.

Tom Brake : There are places in which variable speed limits might be appropriate, but it is equally clear that there are many villages, settlements and towns where it is appropriate to have a 30 mph zone that everyone understands and, we hope, respects. Several speed limits are dictated by weather conditions and so on and we should be more flexible. I hope that the Minister will set out the demonstration projects that the Government will support and the funding that will be available.

Several hon. Members referred to policing and enforcement. It is fortunate that I asked a question on 25 January about the number of mobile traffic units that operate radar guns in the Met police area. I received a response on 14 October. I did not think that that was a particularly speedy response as I had an eight-month wait for it, but I am pleased that it eventually arrived. The response reveals:

If the police say that there are at least seven devices, let us assume that there are a maximum of 10—I am sure that they would have used a larger number if that were appropriate. At a rough guess, if there are 4 million cars in London of which about 1 million are in use at any moment in time, the statistics suggest that people have a one in 100,000 chance of having their speed checked by a mobile hand-held speed detection device. In other words, people have a very small chance, if any at all, of being caught or checked by the police.

The information that the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety supplied to hon. Members for the debate highlighted a report by Claire Corbett of Brunel university. She has identified, as hon. Members know, that the way to stop people offending is to increase their chance of getting caught. There is very little chance of being caught, in London at least.

I would like the Minister to set out the Government's position on congestion charges. We had an interesting visit to Transport for London yesterday. Its representatives commented on the role that they expect

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congestion charges to play in reducing accidents. That is why I want a clear statement from the Government on whether they support congestion charges and, especially, the charges that will be introduced in London. There is confusion about the Government's position on congestion charges and whether they think that the charges will reduce accidents.

Mrs. Dunwoody : Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am afraid that you will not be aware that the Committee that I have the honour of chairing is about to start an inquiry into congestion charging. Part of the work that we did yesterday was a preliminary look at what is happening. Therefore, when the Minister begins his reply, I hope he will bear in mind the fact that we would like him to hear the evidence before he reaches a final conclusion—although he must have a view, of course.

Tom Brake : I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. She has discreetly wrapped my knuckles, but I am sure that the Minister will respond appropriately.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): The hon. Gentleman says that the Government's policy on congestion charging is unclear. I refer him to what Lord McIntosh of Haringey said in the other place on Tuesday of this week:

Therefore, although the Secretary of State was ducking and weaving on this issue yesterday, a senior Minister in the other place has confirmed what we have always believed to be true.

Tom Brake : I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He has correctly highlighted the fact that there are differences of opinion between Ministers on congestion charges, which are easy to focus on.

My final point is about joined-up thinking. This report identifies that a countrywide package of traffic-calming schemes could be introduced at a cost of £3 billion, and that that could result in the national health service saving about £100 million a week. I know that the Committee wants the Government to look at that package again. I hope that the Government will allow some joined-up thinking and action to take place by recognising the substantial savings—potentially £100 million a week—that could be derived from introducing those traffic-calming measures, and that they will therefore offset the expenditure against the savings that will be made elsewhere. If the Government were to do that, it would be a good example of joined-up thinking.

Mrs. Annette L. Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole): Does my hon. Friend share my concern that many local authorities currently seem very reluctant to introduce 20 mph zones, even though they can do so? I am also concerned that, in my experience, the local police say that if there is not an enormous amount of capital expenditure they will not police such zones.

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Therefore, in my area at least, it has been impossible to have 20 mph zones outside several schools where we would like to have them.

Tom Brake : I thank my hon. Friend for that timely intervention. If the Government were to allow this joined-up thinking to operate, and if they recognised all the possible savings that could be made, they might be willing to assist local authorities to introduce the measures to which she has just referred, and which, on cost grounds, local authorities are probably not in a position to introduce at present.

The Transport Committee has clearly set out measures—many of which are very simple—that could greatly improve road safety. I urge the Government to be bold; they should implement these recommendations. With thousands of lives at stake, everything is to be gained.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Nicholas Winterton): Before I call the next speaker, I should point out that 10 hon. Members want to participate in this debate, and that they include the two Front-Bench spokesmen. Clearly, it is important that the Minister and the shadow Minister should have an opportunity to make positive contributions to this debate. Therefore, I ask all hon. Members to be as disciplined as possible in their remarks, so that everybody can have their say.

3.33 pm

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): I declare an interest. I am a co-chair of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, a charity that provides parliamentarians with research-based solutions to transport safety issues.

When I started reading the report, I was immediately struck by its trenchant language; it was biffing the Minister about the head. However, by the time I had reached the end of the report, I realised that the language was justified. The report is nothing less than a clarion call for action on behalf of all those who lose their lives, suffer ridiculously serious injuries or are bereaved when loved ones lose their lives on the roads. We should not wait a minute longer to take the action that we know needs to be taken to reduce the number of casualties.

In the light of those comments, the Government's response is disappointing. It does not address the seriousness of the issue or of the report itself, which deserves a much better response than the Government have given so far. I welcome the Government's support for the position of the Transport Research Laboratory, which sometimes receives unfair criticism for its reports of research findings. From all the research in this country and around the world, we can say that high average speeds and variability in speed lead to more crashes on the roads, and that a driver is six times as likely to be involved in a crash if he is travelling 25 per cent. faster than average speed. Our priority should clearly be to reduce the fastest speeds to achieve the greatest gain in road safety. As a rule of thumb, we can achieve a 5 per cent. reduction in crashes for every 1 mph reduction in average speeds.

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I want to touch on the four themes of leadership, public support, resources and the future. In terms of leadership, the Prime Minister launched "Tomorrow's roads: safer for everyone", which contains our casualty reduction targets for the next 10 years. The targets are challenging. They will require leadership and a consistent approach across the road safety lobby. However, we have seen several mixed messages from the Government so far.

Outside the subject of road traffic speed, we have seen the Government duck the issues of pedestrian protection and the reduction of the alcohol limit for drinking and driving. On road policing directly, last year saw the second round of local audits of the crime and disorder reduction local partnerships. I conducted a survey of every police force in the country, to ask them whether their audits had included requests to the public for their responses on road traffic policing. Only about half of them did so. Naturally, that reduces the opportunities for the public to say that they want road traffic policing to be a priority.

When I asked police forces why they had not consulted on the issue, I received responses such as that of one assistant chief constable who said:

A second force wrote that it had positively been advised by the relevant Government office that road traffic matters should not be included in the audit process. What sort of message is that to the country about the Government's determination and leadership in driving down road casualties?

Worse may be to come. The first national policing plan is due to be published at the end of November. The Home Office is now up to the 10th draft, and I understand that it contains not a single mention of road traffic policing. I hope that the Minister will make inquiries about that and have something to say about it to the Home Office if it is the case. The Government clearly have to get a grip and provide leadership, not least so that they do not let down all those dedicated individuals in councils, the police, health services and other organisations who are trying to reduce the number of casualties. The Government have to show leadership to the public and the commentators.

I come now to the issue of public support. Generally, the public would ask three questions about speed. First, what is the limit? They need to understand what the speed limit is for the road that they are on, which means that the Government have to say something about the national pattern of speed limits and the signing of them. The Committee made a simple and sensible suggestion about permitting repeater signs for 30 mph speed limits. The Government have responded disappointingly even to that basic recommendation.

Secondly, is the limit realistic? Drivers want to obey the law, but if they cannot see the sense of a speed limit and think that it is positively unreasonable, they will be hard pressed to obey the law even if they want to, unless, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich said, they are positively made to by a strong police presence. It is important to adopt a consistent approach to setting speed limits and to be able to justify them, so

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that when drivers see a speed limit sign, they trust that the limit is reasonable. Then it is important to enforce limits consistently, so the third question is whether the limit will be enforced.

The first element in enforcing speed limits is signage, but there are other issues, such as engineering—whether we can use traffic-calming measures to make people keep to a certain speed limit—safety cameras and police officers. I have said enough about signage. Engineering is probably the simplest, cheapest and most effective way to reduce speed limits. We have had some success in Stafford, where the authority introduced 20 mph speed limits. We recently received a report on the first of those schemes after it had been operating for 18 months. A whole-estate approach was taken on the Highfields estate, and there was no rat running as a result of the traffic calming. In the five years before the implementation of the scheme there were 20 crashes resulting in serious or slight injury; fortunately, there were no fatalities. In the 18 months following the introduction of the scheme, there was just one crash causing slight injury—a dramatic improvement in safety achieved for a reasonable financial outlay.

Mr. Drew : I thank my hon. Friend for organising the PACTS briefing this morning, during which I was able to raise the issue of the safer city project in Gloucester. I shall be careful what I say, however, because the last time that I raised the issue I received more correspondence in the vein described by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) than I care to mention. That shows that we cannot take it as read that people understand why traffic calming is used and why we try to make drivers behave more responsibly. It is not always the natural speedsters who are critical. It is often those who are disabled or people who work for the ambulance service who seem to have a problem with some of the measures, so education must be part of the process, not a final add-on. Will my hon. Friend comment on that?

Mr. Kidney : I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that we show leadership. Both as a Government and as politicians, we have a responsibility to explain why traffic calming is necessary in certain areas in our constituencies. It is important that we justify the measures and stand up to be counted. That is why I raised the subject of speed cameras.

We have received the first-year reports of those forces that have taken advantage of the netting-off scheme, which uses some of the income from speeding fines to pay for speed cameras. In those areas covered by the scheme, 47 per cent. fewer people were killed or seriously injured at camera sites. In the eight pilot areas, where the scheme has been running for longer, there has been an 18 per cent. reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured at camera sites.

Speed cameras are popular with the public. I differ slightly with the Committee in its criticism of the Minister's decision on the conspicuity of cameras. I believe that his decision is an example of good old-fashioned political nous, heading off possible criticism that the scheme is more about tax revenue than road safety, which would make it unpopular.

The presence of police officers is vital. In the summer, I spent a day of the recess on patrol with a police officer on the M6 motorway. In a commendable scheme, four

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police authorities have pooled their officers to police the motorways in a consistent way throughout the west midlands. The scheme shows how thinly resources are spread; with more resources, the police would be able to give a better service to the public who use the roads. That service would include not simply stopping people and punishing them but reducing casualties and congestion. There is a need for police officers to be physically present. That brings me on to resources generally, so I shall say no more about police forces.

Local authorities have received a welcome boost of Government finance for local transport plans. That is appreciated and is becoming noticeable on the ground. Through local transport plans, an integrated approach has been adopted, with an emphasis on public transport, walking, cycling and safety. Staffordshire, which has a casualty reduction partnership, has an impressive record. It took the lead with speed cameras in 1995 and there have been dramatic reductions in casualties on the roads. An estimated 250 people who would have been killed or seriously injured since 1995 are alive and walking about today because the presence of speed cameras reduced road speeds. They are good value for money, and it is a good amount of money. It is ironic that the problem that local authorities are encountering is skills shortages; there is a lack of the right sort of engineer to implement the measures for which they now have the money.

I said that I wanted to talk about the future. Mention has been made of intelligent speed adaptation. That refers to speed limiters, which can recognise the speed limit where a vehicle is and can consequently limit its speed. They are not new; they are used on heavy goods vehicles and public service vehicles and some of the top ranges of motor car offer them as an optional extra, something attractive. I have been to the Motor Industry Research Association premises at Nuneaton and driven the second prototype intelligent speed adaptation car, which is being trialled. It drives like any other car and one does not notice any difference in performance except that it will not let one exceed the posted speed limit. It is a remarkable vehicle. I believe that it represents the future and could cut something like one quarter of deaths and serious injuries on our roads.

The next demonstration of the car for Members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords will be on 20 November at Brent Cross. Six parliamentarians are invited on that occasion. I am sure that if there is more interest, other demonstrations can be arranged. The next stage is a programme that will start in Leeds next year. Twenty vehicles with intelligent speed adaptation will be let loose on the roads of Leeds to see how they work on a bigger scale.

What we need to hear from the Minister is not that it will be left to the market to see how speed adaptation develops but that certain things will be done to ensure that it is a success. The most obvious is the digital mapping of speed limits. The Government should say now that they will provide the resources to make that happen, so that by the time that we are ready for the scheme to be national, the infrastructure is in place. The other little thing that the Government could do is to encourage some fleet operators to offer their fleets for larger trials of speed adaptation and give it the opportunity to prove itself.

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We need five things: a commitment across government, including in guidance on crime and disorder reduction partnership audits and in the national policing plan; to have all Government Departments signed up to the road safety agenda; a clear, consistent message, designed to make speeding as socially unacceptable as drinking and driving; clarity in speed limit policy; and best practice in education, engineering, enforcement and evaluation. Most of all, we need leadership from the Government.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Again, let me give the House more specific guidance. A number of people still want to speak. I have no authority to demand this, but I should be very grateful if Back Benchers would limit their remarks to 10 minutes. That will give the Front Benchers full opportunity to participate.

3.48 pm

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): I am mindful of your words, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and shall endeavour to conclude in much less than 10 minutes.

I pay tribute to the Chairman, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), for her terrific introductory speech and to all the Committee for having produced this excellent report. I am particularly glad that in introducing the subject the Chairman showed such passion and vigour. We should all be passionate about the subject, because it is a matter of life and death. I have particular reason to understand that because, early in September, my teenage nephew was knocked down on a road on the way to school. But for the incredible professionalism and dedication of the East Sussex ambulance service and then the intensive care team of doctors and nurses at the Royal Sussex county hospital, he would not be alive today. Although he remains in hospital, I am glad to say that it looks as though he will make a full recovery.

The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) spoke about the impact that the different speeds of 20 mph, 30 mph and 40 mph can have on the survival rates of those involved in traffic accidents. The points that he made were spot on. They must not be lost amid arguments about expenditure, budgeting and inconvenience to drivers. We must think of the casualties first and last.

I want to articulate the feelings of those in many rural areas, especially in my constituency. People there feel that their areas are blithely given a mandatory 40 mph speed limit, when so many towns and urban areas will as a matter of course be given a 30 mph or even 20 mph speed limit. East Sussex county council is currently undertaking a village speed limit review. In the county, 41 villages have been identified that have no speed limit at all. The council is in the process of identifying the right level of speed limit to be imposed. It thinks that the limit might be 30 mph, but in some cases it might be 40 mph, depending on the investigations into current speed.

I believe passionately that all communities, rural or urban, should as a matter of right be able to put a 30 mph speed limit through the centre of their communities. In my village of Peasmarsh and the

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neighbouring village of Beckley, there is a 40 mph speed limit that takes one straight past the school in Beckley and the village shop in Peasmarsh. It runs past the memorial centre, and there is not even a proper crossing. Elsewhere in my constituency, whether in Catsfield, Herstmonceux, Boreham Street, Bodiam—I could go on much longer—people are desperate to slow down the traffic that runs through the heart of their communities.

East Sussex county council has a prioritised action list of 140 villages identified as in need of traffic calming, but the budgetary restrictions on the council mean that only between four and six of those calming measures can be carried out each year. Even if no further scheme is identified, that means that it will take at least 20 years before all those schemes are implemented. Then and only then can the council begin to think about a mandatory 30 mph limit in all villages. That is clearly totally unacceptable. I want the Government not only to empower local authorities so that they take can action in theory, but to deliver the resources so that they can take it in practice.

Two points occurred to me during the debate. The first is about driver habits and technology. This year, I have bought a more high-performance car, which is capable of faster speeds. In fact, the impact on my driving behaviour has been to lower my speeds, especially in built-up areas, because that sporty car has a digital display in the dashboard that tells me my speed. It has a much more direct impact on my driving than the old-fashioned needle dial. I can see instantly when it flicks above 30 mph. I am aware that the speed indicator is vague on many cars. New technology has a role to play in confronting drivers with their speed.

The second point is about taking a delegation of my constituents last year to Poundbury in Dorset to look at the development there. I was struck by how town planning in the building of that new community had reduced the role of the car. There is no proliferation of signage, but the design of roads has made them safer for pedestrians. All too often in villages or housing estates, there are broad, sweeping roads with wide corners and clear views, which just give a clear indication to a driver to put his foot down. It certainly does in my village, Peasmarsh. In Poundbury, however, blind corners have been built deliberately so it is impossible for drivers to get up any speed at all before they have to brake, halt and turn. Town planning has an important part to play in preventing future accidents.

I know that the Minister is a decent man and will aspire to implement many of the recommendations in this excellent report, but it is no good willing the end if one does not will the means. I would like him directly to address what he is going to do to ensure that the recommendations in the report are actually implemented, on a time scale that will be meaningful to people who have young children now, and who do not want to wait until they have grown up and left school before their roads are made safer. What will he do to ensure that a fraction of a vast Government budget of £418 billion will be diverted to saving the lives of our children?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson) : I hope it is appropriate to intervene, Mr. Deputy Speaker, just in case there is not time later on to cover the point. The hon. Gentleman will know that most of the safety plans

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throughout the country are delivered by local authorities and through the moneys that we put into local transport plans. As has been pointed out, those have been substantially increased in the past two years: one of the members of the Committee says twofold, but I would say they have increased threefold in the last two years. Those are moneys for local councils to take decisions. Will the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) commit a future Conservative Government to those levels of spending on local transport plans?

Gregory Barker : Sadly, I am only a lowly Back Bencher, so I cannot commit a future Conservative Government to anything. A very senior Member sits alongside me, but I have a feeling that he will keep mum. I take on board the Minister's words about the funding of the transport plan. Can I, therefore, have an assurance from him that he will intervene, and contact the Deputy Prime Minister to ensure that the threatened cut of up to £44 million in the funding for East Sussex county council is not implemented? Some £44 million stands to come out of the budget of East Sussex county council.

The Government have vast resources available. They have to wrestle with priorities, but I cannot think of a higher priority than saving the lives of children, elderly people, and the thousands of people who die unnecessarily in car accidents every year.

3.57 pm

Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East): As local authorities, the highways agency and car manufacturers grapple with technological advance, and as the police deal with increasing demands on their time, this grim report has come as a timely reminder to us all that inappropriate speed is one of Britain's biggest killers. We are all trying to achieve, through the initiatives that we have talked about today, a culture shift in driver habits similar to that concerning drink driving in the 1970s and 1980s. I welcome the report's assertion that we should have an evidence-led speed management policy. I was particularly pleased to see that the recommendations of the British Medical Association were adopted in paragraph 15. It now seems that health statistics will be built into the database of accident spots.

Has the Minister considered whether the insurance industry could play a role in establishing an accurate picture of where road traffic accidents occur in Britain? Every time I look at my insurance policy bill, it is always a reminder to me that the industry is aware of every last penny that is spent on road traffic accidents in Britain.

The emphasis in the document on reducing risk is important. The £10 million that the Government are about to spend on the pilot network of pedestrian training schemes, particularly in deprived areas, should be welcomed. At the risk of derision from everyone in the room, I have to say that I am a member of the Tufty club generation, and we have to bring up a new generation of young people who have road safety at the heart of their education.

Paragraph 30 of the report, which recommends an increase in dedicated cycle routes, is timely. In a letter, my neighbouring Member of Parliament, the Minister for Transport, told me that he had doubled the funding

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for dedicated cycle routes. That may have been partly in fear of the Chairman of the Transport Committee and partly because he is a committed cyclist. I was tantalised by the announcement from the Department for Transport, which said that my constituency, West Bromwich, East, was to be the recipient of some of the additional money. Imagine my disappointment when I realised that it had the column wrong, and it was the constituency of Madam Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (Sylvia Heal), which was receiving a grant for a primary care trust to do cycle education training. You cannot win everything; we may have better luck next time.

People know that speed kills, but I am not sure whether they appreciate when they are the wheel of a vehicle what different speeds do. I wonder whether the Department for Education and Skills has a role to play in that respect. For instance, the national curriculum might use the speeds of vehicles when practical examples are required in maths training. Although the information is built into the highway code test, young people are schooled to pass the test rather than to make the correct risk assessment when they are driving. There is no Education Minister present today, but I want us to make progress in that respect.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many young people are allowed to take their cycling proficiency test in school? Lots of American high schools organise driving tests, which the students take in school. What does the hon. Gentleman think of that idea?

Mr. Watson : It is an excellent idea, which we could explore in future debates.

The report focused on particular types of drivers who are most vulnerable to speeding, and I want to focus on the commercial sector. The role of business in accident prevention is often overlooked. Accidents caused by speeding company cars and other working vehicles claim an incredible number of lives each year, and the figures are on the increase. More than 1,100 people die every year in work-related road accidents in company cars or commercial vehicles. Statistically, company car drivers are the worst motorists—last year, almost a third were involved in an accident—and they are significantly more likely to have been involved in a road accident than any other group. For a variety of reasons, company car drivers tend to be less responsible than other drivers. Three quarters of them make telephone calls while in their cars. More worryingly, 16 per cent. admit that they are always under pressure from their bosses to drive to ever-increasing deadlines. No matter how good the speed management of a road, drivers who feel pressurised to speed will continue to do so. The only thing that will change that is a serious call in the workplace to change the way in which businesses treat their drivers, but companies would sooner keep their costs down and increase their short-term productivity by encouraging employees to drive inappropriately fast.

Fortunately, in the long term, statistics can demonstrate financial incentives for companies to change their car-driving policies. The average cost of repairing a company car is £750; a van repair costs nearly £1,400 and a commercial vehicle £4,500. Those figures do not include the cost of lost productivity of an employee taken out of the work environment.

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There is an incentive for companies to introduce risk assessment schemes, but when only one in five commercial drivers and company car drivers receive risk assessment, it is no surprise that the TUC has today called for the Health and Safety Executive to put pressure on companies to give adequate risk assessment training to their employees.

There is a lot more I would like to have said on this matter, but in deference to my colleagues who have not spoken I shall close this part of my speech. I want to mention briefly the engineering involved in road traffic management. It has been said that traffic-calming solutions are often simple, but I wonder whether the pool of expertise in traffic calming on which local authorities can draw is being used appropriately in areas where there are unusual roads.

One of my constituents, a retired police sergeant, Mr. Leonard Phillips, wrote to me recently about the Newton road in my constituency, which has a difficult junction and a blind bend on an incline, and is currently a 40 mph road. After 20 years of savage accidents and in spite of three speed cameras, a speed-checking warning camera and numerous traffic signs, we still have not got the engineering right to reduce the number of road traffic accidents. My personal view is that we should simply lower the speed limit. Council engineers inform me that there would be other safety hazards if they were to introduce traffic lights.

I wonder whether the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions could have a pool of experts to provide a best practice guide for local authority engineers. I also wonder whether there are disparities in road traffic safety budgets between local authorities. If my own borough of Sandwell were to receive an increase, we might be able to get a long awaited zebra crossing on the Hamstead road, which causes many of my constituents great concern.

A mild criticism of the report is that paragraphs 60 and 61 on the siting and colour of speed cameras were a little harsh. It seems logical that we should put speed cameras at the most appropriate places on roads and that we should target accident black spots first. As I said at the start of my speech, if we want to achieve a culture change in Britain, we must take public opinion with us. Motorists and the public alike have a genuine fear that if we allow unfettered use of safety cameras, we will simply have a forest of safety cameras that are used to generate revenue rather than to increase safety. However, I understand my colleagues' concern that the colour yellow might give prior warning to speeding drivers.

I end my remarks here so that everyone can speak this afternoon.

4.7 pm

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): I shall be brief, as many of the things that I would have said have been said already in hon. Members' fine speeches.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who spoke brilliantly. She produced a splendid report that I, like others, support.

I will address my remarks primarily to my hon. Friend the Minister and his ministerial colleagues, as there are historic precedents for changes in the law governing

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driving and motoring that we should bear in mind. In the past, we delayed introducing measures that have since saved thousands of lives, and people died in the mean time as a result. Delay is deadly, and I hope that the Government will take the bull by the horns and act quickly so that many lives are saved.

The introduction of the law on crash helmets is an example. I do many things in my constituency. I am a patron of the local acquired brain injury group, several members of which had crashes on motorcycles before crash helmets were required and were damaged for life. Of course, many others died. After that, we had the issue of seat belts. I was one of the people who bought seat belts for my car, fitted and wore them. I was mocked by some of my more macho friends who thought that it was a little feeble and that I should be bold and drive fast. We all know that culture. I told them that I wanted to live. I studied engineering and applied mathematics when I was younger, so I know about the laws of motion and the forces of deceleration. We know what happens to a tomato when it is dropped from a first-floor window on to a concrete pavement. I think of that when I think of the human body hitting a solid object. We must think in those terms. The human body is frail, soft and easily damaged. I have often said that if one walks along the pavement into a lamp post at 4 mph, one can do serious damage to one's head. Imagine the impact at 40 mph. A little understanding of engineering and science helps in these matters.

Two of my dear friends in my youth died in car accidents. They might not have died had they worn seat belts. As soon as seat belts were introduced, people immediately adapted to them and there was no problem. However, there was a serious problem about wearing seat belts in other people's cars. I used to wear a seat belt in other people's cars and was chastised by my friends, who felt that I was accusing them of being bad drivers. I used to reply, "No, it's not you; it's the youngster who tears round the corner and crashes into you." At that point, they would make some unparliamentary remark about my cleverness, but I shall leave that on one side.

Every year that we delayed implementing the compulsory wearing of seat belts, 300 people died on the roads and many thousands more were seriously injured. Simply by implementing the compulsory wearing of belts, which did not cost much, we have saved tens of thousands of lives. Therefore, acting quickly now that the evidence is before the Government is vital.

A local police officer has made representations to me that, whatever we do in technology terms, we must also have the personnel to police it. Technology is not a perfect substitute for police officers in the traffic division. We need traffic police as well as technology to ensure that the law is enforced.

Tom Brake : I raised the issue of speed cameras and hand-held devices with my local police force, which said that it took four officers to use them: two at the point where they used the gun, and two at the point where they tried to stop the driver, in case there was an altercation. That means that 25 per cent. of the police in the London borough of Sutton are taken off street patrolling to use the hand-held device, so I agree that resources are key to the issue.

Mr. Hopkins : I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention.

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I repeat that the Government must act and should not be nervous about challenging the remnants of the macho culture to which I referred. It is diminishing; people are becoming more sensible and the culture is changing. There was a time when the motorist was such a fearsome beast who would vote against any Government who dared to impose restrictions on driving that every Government trembled every time they challenged him. However, that is not the case now. Families with children, elderly people and the great majority of motorists know that the restrictions are sensible. Therefore, the Government have nothing to fear from public opinion by acting quickly and strongly to reduce death on the road.

4.12 pm

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), the Chairman of the Select Committee, and the rest of the Committee on producing an excellent report, not least because of the wealth of information that it brings together. The wealth of detail that it provides fully justifies, if anyone needed further justification, radical measures to tackle the menace of speeding on our roads.

I endorse in the strongest terms possible the Select Committee's call for the urgent and radical action that is required to effect a dramatic reduction in the numbers killed and injured on our roads. I, too, welcome what the Government have done so far. In my city, thanks to funding from the Scottish Executive, 11 20-mph zones are in operation, and another 20 are in the pipeline.

However, I share some of the disappointment expressed by some hon. Members that more has not yet been done to take the Government's safety strategy further forward. We seem to be caught in a world of feasibility studies, demonstration projects and pilot studies; a more comprehensive approach is needed on implementation. I know that there are demands on civil service time and the Government have limited time to introduce legislation, but it was a pity that, after the end of a consultation on road traffic penalties, the Government took almost a year and a half to come up with a response. It is a little concerning that the response does not say when we might see in legislation some of the required changes. I hope that the Minister will say today when we will see some of the changes recommended in the review.

The problem with a delay in making legislative proposals is that it can give the wrong message and suggest that we are not taking the issue as seriously as others. We must make it clear by legislation and effective enforcement that when we say we want to change attitudes we mean it. The most effective way to change attitudes is to underline it with effective enforcement and powerful legislation.

I urge on the Government early implementation of the recommendations of the road traffic penalties review, particularly regarding two-tier penalties for speeding to make the consequences of speeding over a certain limit even more serious. I support the Select Committee's recommendation about the decision to paint speed cameras yellow and to impose restrictions on where they can be sited. It was a mistake, not just because of the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member

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for Crewe and Nantwich gave earlier, but because it risks sending out the message that catching speeding motorists too effectively is somehow unfair and that a little bit of speeding is okay. We must challenge and change that. I hope that the Government will reconsider the guidance that they have issued on speed cameras.

Mr. Kidney : I mentioned earlier that we have had cameras in Staffordshire since 1995. The police have had no problem with painting them yellow, giving notice about where they are and choosing where to put them. They even put the locations on the internet. None of that has damaged their ability to reduce accidents involving fatalities and serious injuries. Is my hon. Friend making too much of a meal of this point?

Mr. Lazarowicz : I respect what my hon. Friend says, but there is little indication either way of the effects of different approaches to speed camera positioning. I accept that in some cases advance warning about speed cameras can encourage speed reduction but—this point is made in the report—it is dangerous to give the message that it is only at those points that one might be caught for speeding. In Scotland, where the matter is devolved, our cameras are still grey. It would be interesting to see a comparison between the effect on policy in Scotland and England.

Speed cameras are an important method of tackling this problem precisely because installing them is now self-financing. Although some of the measures suggested by the Select Committee to tackle speeding are expensive and we should not shy away from spending, many would not require large sums of money, or much legislative time. On the national speed limit for instance, I find it hard to understand how we allow vehicles to be driven up to 60 mph on so many country lanes and minor roads. Like most hon. Members, I am old enough to remember the time when the national speed limit was 50 mph. The current limit was put in place simply by an order. A one-paragraph order could bring it down to 50 mph again. It would not require Second and Third Readings and Committee stages in both Houses. It could be dealt with very easily and speedily.

We do not need legislation to encourage the police and the prosecution authorities to ensure that they enforce the existing speed limits rather than allow, as they still do in too many places, a 10 mph leeway. Let us spend more money on street safety schemes. Let us also make it easier to put speed reduction schemes such as 20 mph zones in place. I agree with the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) that we must make it legislatively possible for 20 mph zones to be put in place. In my city of Edinburgh, the council tried to operate the schemes and found that carrying out the physical work required by the guidance could be a major task that might inhibit full implementation. The council wants to introduce a 20 mph scheme in Edinburgh's new town in my constituency, but the guidance requires entry points into a 20 mph zone from a 30 mph zone to be marked with physical entry features, not just by signs. As hon. Members will know, the new town is a world heritage site, so it is not a matter of laying down cheap concrete. The entry points must be high quality and prestigious

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architecturally. The council estimated that it would cost £500,000 to introduce a 20 mph zone in an area of only one square mile. Ideally, the default speed limit in urban areas might be 20 mph. It would be easier to declare 20 mph zones in larger areas within towns and cities, which would reduce costs dramatically and help to put speed limit schemes into effect more quickly.

Perhaps because I have young children, I feel strongly about this issue. Having children made me much more aware of our severe accident record for children in comparison with our generally good accident record compared with the rest of Europe. I want to tell the Minister that I am not alone in feeling so strongly about the issue. The attendance of hon. Members at today's debate suggests the strength of feeling on the matter. I have never heard anyone at my surgery complaining about speed limits or speed cameras. Rather, people come to see me time and again demanding action to control speed limits and stop traffic speeding through their streets. Constituents want more 20 mph limits and more home zones—and they want them now. They want speed limits enforced, not ignored. I am sure that the Minister appreciates that, and I ask the Government to build on what they have already achieved with more action, more quickly.

4.22 pm

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): I shall be brief. As always at this stage of the debate, it has all been said. I shall not elaborate on points that have already been made, but I want to respond to a couple of issues that have not been fully covered.

I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) in stressing the extent to which the planning system can cause problems when traffic calming measures are put in place. If I were not present here today, I would be attending a presentation on traffic calming. The area where I live has been fortunate in getting its humps taken out: it is a cul de sac, so the humps did not seem an effective use of funds. For the rest of the estate, however, we are seriously considering putting traffic calming measures in place. Why getting that done has taken so long is partly a question of money. When the process started, the funding did not seem too great, but it turned out that an inordinate amount was involved. Is there enough flexibility in the system for people to have limited but effective traffic calming in their areas?

Returning to this morning's briefing, it was interesting to hear about behavioural changes in drivers rather than physical barriers alone. It may not be cheap, but if physical barriers can be used to make people think harder about how they are driving, it could be a way forward.

I have had previous dealings as a councillor. I am still a parish councillor, as I always tell people, so I have a vested interest because I shall be putting the measure forward and we will ask for a contribution. The planning system involves delay and, in the past, I have visited people with objections to try to persuade them to remove them. I have had some success with that. It is not often that a politician claims success for something that he has done directly, although maybe he does claim success for things that he has not done.

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The way in which a small group of people—sometimes business men with vested interests—can create effective opposition, despite the fact that the vast majority of people want traffic calming, should be examined. I know that that is not the Minister's direct responsibility, but I hope that, if and when we get planning changes, the rule will be examined through negotiation and liaison with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to try to make the desired changes more rapid. Most people want to slow down vehicles and they want action sooner rather than later.

My next point has been alluded to several times in the past, but I shall make it a direct challenge to the Minister. I cannot understand why we are shilly-shallying around by not banning people from using mobile phones while driving. I speak as a cyclist, which is why I am here today. I ride my bike around Stroud, which is why I am much fitter than I used to be. There is one thing that I find galling and that puts me in more peril than anything else. In my experience, nine out of 10 motorists are very good with regard to cyclists, but one out of 10 puts the safety of a cyclist in the lap of the gods. If that one out of 10 is using a mobile phone, the cyclist prays. Those motorists pay no attention whatsoever.

Mr. Hopkins rose—

Mr. Drew : I have obviously started something here. I certainly give way.

Mr. Hopkins : I wonder how my hon. Friend would deal with several of the motorists in my constituency who use mobile phones but have darkened windows in their cars so that one cannot see them using the phones.

Mr. Drew : There is always somebody who can come up with a worse experience.

I do not know why we cannot ban people from using the damn things. People do not need to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving, although the Minister will probably find a reason why. I know that there was a private Member's Bill relating to this, but I hope that we can get on with doing something.

Mr. Jamieson rose—

Mr. Drew : We will get the answer now.

Mr. Jamieson : Just in case we do not have time to cover this point at the end, my hon. Friend might have noticed that we put out a consultation during the summer with a view to introducing legislation that would ban such use of hand-held mobile phones.

Mr. Drew : I am pleased. I am always in favour of consultation, but sometimes we want action.

I draw a parallel with what we did about drink driving. Evidence showing that we reduced incidents by two thirds demonstrates that if we provide the leadership about which my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) spoke, we can change cultures. It is not easy, but it does happen over time.

I have already intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), so I shall say briefly that the report is good and gives us much to work with.

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I must be careful about what I say about the safer city initiative because it does not extend to my constituency. I shall expand a point that I have made previously. A lot of work must be done to persuade people that holistic changes matter in addition to individual aspects such as traffic calming or the changes to driving behaviour that are encouraged. That requires time, effort and money. The initiative has obviously worked, but no doubt I will receive much criticism from Gloucester citizens for saying that and I will be told to keep my nose out of it. However, I occasionally ride through Gloucester—we do not yet have private estates in terms of cities.

Hon. Members mentioned problems in rural areas. Displacement is the largest current problem caused by congestion. That is the problem that I have with congestion charges, because we must understand where motorists are likely to go. They are likely to use cut-throughs in rural areas. The standard of driving is that of the one in 10 motorists to whom I referred. They drive like a bat out of hell because, if they have been caught up in congested areas of cities, they try to make up time by driving very fast on rural roads. The situation requires enforcement rather than believing that just changing speed limits will make a difference. Many of our villages do not have pavements and people have to rely on walking or cycling to cover short distances—although not sufficiently, in my opinion. If we are to encourage that, we must reduce the speed of traffic. That is achievable. It involves making general changes to speed limits, and the use of repeater signals, so that we can make it clear what speed people should be driving at. I accept that saying, "We did not know that this was a limited area," is an excuse. I hope that those things will happen.

The Government have a big agenda to address, and the Select Committee has done us a favour by setting that big agenda and taking it forward. I hope that all of us—the hon. Members who are present and the people who have come to listen to the debate—agree that this is an incredibly important issue.

I recently received a letter asking why I do not believe in the death penalty, as there are so many child killers out there. My response to that is always, "Well, there are other child killers who—maybe—we do not take seriously enough, and they happen to be people who drive cars." I do not want to use emotive language, but we could do something about that. It would lead to a genuine bonus because many more children would live, due to the changes that we would introduce.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Nicholas Winterton): Before I call the next speaker, I want to say that we are on target, so I hope to call the three remaining speakers before the winding-up speeches.

4.31 pm

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): I welcome the report—although perhaps not quite as much as other hon. Members, judging by the tone of the debate. I agree that speed is a problem when it is excessive or inappropriate—those terms are often used interchangeably.

I am a motorist, and I am conscious of the extraordinary improvements in my life that a fairly fast method of conveyance has made possible. I am the

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Member of Parliament for Hemel Hempstead. In the past, the Member of Parliament for that constituency would not have been able to see his children every morning, but I can do that, thanks to a motor vehicle. After I get the train, I am able to convey myself across the Hertfordshire countryside so that I can take my children to school most mornings when I do not have very early meetings.

Motoring is life-enhancing and enjoyable. I speak as an ex-long-distance lorry driver. I have taken motor cycles over most of the countries of Europe. I have driven a sports car for many thousands of miles. Motoring has been one of the pleasures of my life. The fact that it gets you from A to B faster than a horse and cart or a paddle boat is an integral part of that enjoyment. Motoring extends our horizons and it gives us opportunities that we would not have if we did not have motor vehicles. I therefore do not want to start by condemning speed as such.

I do condemn two things, the first of which is excessive speed, which I define—as did the old highway code—as travelling at a speed at which you cannot stop in the distance you see to be clear. That seems to me to be the most fundamental problem. Accidents are often not caused by the straight-line speed of a vehicle, although I do not deny that sometimes—say, when a crash is caused by a blow out—the straight-line speed of the vehicle might make the resulting injuries more serious than they would otherwise have been. However, for the most part, travelling at excessive speed is not the problem. One must drive one's vehicle not in such a way that one avoids hitting people at 10 mph rather than at 30 mph, but in such a way that one avoids hitting people at all.

In the motoring world, a sense grew that motoring was so enjoyable that roads were entirely for motorists, so I welcome the part of the report that points out, as we did in a debate in Westminster Hall 15 months ago, that roads are meant to be shared by lots of different users. We have already heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) about his cycling. Many people other than motorists are road users—cyclists, horse-riders, pedestrians and children playing.

Mr. Lazarowicz : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. McWalter : In a moment.

We should understand that ownership of our roads is shared—there is a varied set of stakeholders. That creates different characteristics, and people should fulfil their obligations depending on the character of road that they are traversing. There is utter confusion at the moment. I know of a road so full of different colours, markings and scratchings that nobody has a clue what they mean—the markings are supposed to take the place of a pedestrian crossing, which would be more expensive. People did slow down for about the first three days after they appeared, and promptly resumed their speed when they realised that the markings did not mean very much.

I would have liked something about road markings to have appeared in the report. One of the most fundamental and brilliant road markings in British

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motoring history is the speed limit that, in effect, says, "You must go at no miles per hour." It involves painting the road black and white and adding a flashing orange light. It says, "If there is somebody in the vicinity of the entrance to this piece of road, you have no priority and you must stop." It is one of the most brilliant pieces of road safety provision. Now we have a complete mess, which was not sorted out by the debate 15 months ago, and I welcome the opportunity to begin to sort it out. However, that will not happen if we fail to distinguish between excessive speed and speed as such.

I have been fighting tooth and nail in my constituency to get 20 mph limits, so I am pleased to hear that some hon. Members have achieved them. As the report says, in a couple of my villages—Nettledon and Water End—cars whistle through at such a rate that it is impossible for someone sensibly to visit a neighbour living on the opposite side of the road. There is a 30 mph limit—East Sussex will be envious of that—but nobody respects it and it is never policed. In any case, the road is a rat run and the limit is never protected. I do not merely want a 20 mph limit: I want that limit to be policed.

I welcome what the report says about rural roads, where I want a 40 mph limit to be introduced. I said that I enjoy motoring, but I do not enjoy motoring on roads that only have passing places where vehicles are hurtling at me at 60 mph. If I am doing 30 mph, an impact with a another vehicle travelling at 60 mph would be a 90 mph impact, and one or the other, if not both, of the drivers would perish, unless I am quick enough to get out of his way—it nearly always is a "he".

The report is right to urge a 40 mph limit, but it must be policed. However, limits are never policed and where there are clear limits, people will continue not to honour them. Where are all the traffic police? They are on the only roads that are not meant for shared use—motorways. There should be no pedestrians or learner drivers on motorways: they are intended for motorists. It is interesting that the "Toad of Toad Hall" fixation, in which the only people who matter are motorists, extends to policing. If policing traffic is about protecting horse-riders, cyclists, pedestrians and children at play, traffic police should be where those people need to be protected. We have failed utterly to do that.

The fixation with motorway limits is a fixation about the death of motorists, but people are 10 times more likely to perish on a rural road or a council estate road than on a motorway. Because of the fixation with speed, the report appears to be opposed to the idea that cars and motor cycles allow us to do things that we could not otherwise do. I know that the Committee vote must have been fairly close on the matter. As I urged the Minister in the previous debate, there is no reason why motorists should be limited to 70 mph on roads that are entirely for motorists.

I spent most of the summer doing 80 mph on French roads—the limit is 81 mph. That is not especially dangerous, although it becomes dangerous when someone approaches from behind at 130 mph with the intention of blowing the other driver off the road. That is dangerous and causes accidents, and in two weeks in France it happened to me more often than it happens to

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me for the other 50 weeks of the year in Britain, because our driving codes are a great deal better than theirs. Of course, it still happens in Britain, but has anyone ever heard of someone being prosecuted for travelling too near another driver at an unreasonable speed? I never have. What happens is that people are prosecuted for the straight-line speed that they are doing, even if they have temporarily speeded up to 90 mph to get out of the way of a car that is travelling at 130 mph. Both drivers are penalised in that situation. We should try to arrive at an understanding of speeding whereby we prosecute "hurtling", as I called it in the previous debate. That means prosecuting people who travel at a speed at which they cannot stop within the distance they see to be clear.

We have to establish a sense of shared ownership of most of our road system, and the report goes a long way towards doing that. We should give local authorities the opportunity of creating not only 20 mph zones but 5 mph zones in places where children play. We should not conduct the debate in such a way that we think entirely about speed, rather than excessive speed. It is time that we recognise that motoring brings tremendous benefits and value to people in terms of family life and other things. If we can get the balance right, we should accept the report and even entrench it, but we should ensure that the traffic activity is conducted away from motorways. Let the motorways be policed by cameras, but we should also allow higher speeds on motorways to ensure the journey times that people now expect without the dangers that currently oppress them.

4.42 pm

Caroline Flint (Don Valley): I welcome the Select Committee report and the opportunity to take part in the debate. I must own up to the fact that in a previous life I worked in the transport and planning department of the Greater London Council and oversaw some project administration in west London. Some of my babies are still out there. Today, I shall focus on my constituency and its experience in dealing with road traffic management. I shall cite cases of constituents of mine, some of whom have been tragically affected when speeding has caused the death of a loved one.

One hon. Member said earlier that more pedestrian crossings were needed. I do not know if it is the case today and I do not claim to be an expert, but when I worked in transport and planning, the experts' argument was that there were more accidents at pedestrian crossings than elsewhere. That is an easy answer. If a slower speed limit is not imposed on the approach to pedestrian crossings, people may be doing 30 or 40 mph when they come up to the crossings. Pedestrians often have a false sense of security when they walk on to the crossing, thinking that cars are going to slow down.

That is the heart of the debate. An holistic approach is needed to the problem. It is not just that we need to reduce speeds—we must also consider the nature of the community in which the car is travelling and whether we make it easier for the car. Should the road and the built environment be dominated by the motorist's needs or by the needs of the community and pedestrians? I shall elaborate on that later.

The Government should be congratulated on their efforts to encourage speed reduction, as well as on tackling issues such as home zones and urban planning.

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We should not regard roads as separate from the residential areas where we live, or the places where we shop or work. Some of the problems are caused by the officers in charge locally who advise councillors. If they do not agree with communities who want lower speed limits, they can produce dozens of reasons why those lower limits should not be introduced, such as not enough people are being killed or maimed; people will not obey a reduced speed limit; or the route is part of a major road.

Like many Members present, I represent a mining constituency. It includes urbanised areas as well as villages in the countryside. There are many A-roads where the speed limit changes from 60 to 40 mph, and there is no effort to reduce the speed limit when the road goes through a small village. One such area is Austerfield, which I shall mention again.

There is a real problem with changing the mindset of people who have operated in a pro-car, pro-road culture for many years. Many councillors in Doncaster—certainly the cabinet member responsible for the matter, councillor John Hoare—are engaged in trying to consider the community's needs, which are not merely based on statistics that determine that a certain number of accidents or deaths must take place before speed reduction can be considered. I urge the Government in their guidelines to local authorities and through the Local Government Association to ensure that the voices of communities that demand lower speed limits are heard, not simply dismissed if they do not fit in with the technicalities of calculating the statistics on road deaths.

Austerfield is on an A-road, and people wanted to reduce the speed limit from 40 to 30 mph. It took two years for them to obtain an order, and I am pleased to say that the notice has now been put up on a lamppost. I do not want to be too partisan, but two Conservative councillors went along with the recommendations from officers that the speed limit should not be reduced. That is a classic example of councillors listening to the experts rather than to the local community and not feeling able to counter the experts' arguments.

In that case, we successfully opposed the recommendations, but there are many other communities in which the people want to reduce speed limits. In Warmsworth, residents raised a petition for a 20 mph zone, but were told that it would not be possible to implement it before 2004. Auckley parish council wanted to introduce a 20 mph zone outside three local schools and has been specific about which areas it wants to target, but it has been told that the issue is low priority. There is a problem with the mindset of some highway officers who are unresponsive to public demands.

Resources have also been mentioned, but so many issues have been raised today that a bottomless pit could be required to take them all. It is often argued that road safety measures cost too much. As I have seen when I have gone in to do battle with highway officers, they sometimes provide so much for one particular area—chicanes, road bumps, signs, road markings—that traffic-calming measures can be introduced only in a few other areas.

I am not an expert in the matter but, as a layperson, I question why it is necessary to overload one stretch of road with so many different types of traffic-calming

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measures to achieve a result. As a driver, and as one who has listened to constituents who live in areas where such schemes have been introduced, I have found that the flashing sign is one of the most effective measures. If a sign starts flashing when a driver approaches a village, it has a huge psychological impact. More is not necessarily best. If a measure is effective, and if it would allow us to cover more areas, so be it. It is not good enough to deny some communities a simple flashing sign on the basis that millions of pounds have been spent on one or two stretches of road in Doncaster.

Also on the subject of resources, we should look laterally at the other pots of money from which the Government provide funding. Some hon. Members say that such money is not allocated to their constituencies but we in Doncaster have neighbourhood renewal money and new deal for communities money. Some of that money can be used to examine the built environment to make it safer for people and to improve the quality of their communities and homes. If the way in which traffic and the road environment has an impact on the home environment is not examined, it should be. If the money were used, that would relieve pressure on the Highways Agency's other budgets so that it could get on with dealing with those areas that currently receive no money.

Much more lateral thinking is needed across departmental boundaries about how we can examine the whole picture. The Department of Transport should ensure that other Departments with responsibilities for regeneration, planning for quality homes and streets, and policing have a budget to examine that important issue. I have seen for myself how urban planning in communities throughout Europe has had a huge impact in slowing cars down by, as was mentioned earlier, creating obstacles for them to go round and making it difficult for them to go from A to B. In this country, we are sometimes too focused on detail such as high-quality lighting. I am not against that, but the danger is that we will create an environment in which the car is king—or queen—and rules the roost.

Several new housing developments are being built in my area. If we must change, let us assess the impact of planning on such developments and how we can make what can be very large estates much more amenable to communities. We should have kids playing in the streets, not just another outpost of car culture. We need planning to determine how roads are built around an estate.

Town and parish councils are another source of resources, although they might not like me saying that. I pay tribute to Mr. Barry Livsey and his town council, Finningly, which paid for a speed gun for the local community constable. In partnership, one can work with others to find resources. The Countryside Agency has a fantastic fund called the "Vital Villages Campaign", which provides several types of grant for transport and for slowing down cars going through communities. The key point is that we must make people aware of such sources of money so that they can work in a more imaginative way across different funding lines to achieve what they want to achieve.

We know that not wearing seat belts was a major cause of road deaths. It is a fantastic tribute to a Labour Government and to Barbara Castle that we managed to change the law on seat belts. Speeding, drinking alcohol,

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driving without a licence or insurance, driving when disqualified, and the use of mobile phones all present real challenges for the Government.

In concluding, I should mention Mr. and Mrs. Fox, who tragically lost their son in a road accident because of speeding and who keep me informed of their campaign for reducing speed limits. The Department of Transport should discuss with the Home Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Solicitor General how the criminal justice system deals with survivors and victims of road accidents and their families. I sometimes think that dealing with speeding offences is not seen as warranting the same sensitivity as when someone is raped, murdered or severely injured. I will not go into detail, but there are many questions to be asked about how Mr. and Mrs. Fox's case was dealt with. It is important to note that people deserve justice, and it needs to be understood how seriously a speeding offence can affect real people's lives.

4.53 pm

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): I would like to declare that I am joint chairman of the all-party road safety group along with two other Members, one of whom is here this afternoon.

I congratulate the Committee on its report. I would also like to thank the Select Committee Chairman, who addressed a public meeting in my constituency in September in Carver. Concern was expressed at the meeting about the road traffic regulations and a speed limit that is believed to be excessive—a belief with which I agree. There is also an attempt to reduce to 30 mph the speed limit on the A623 through Carver. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) would doubtless agree that the presentation was very effective.

I would like to echo the point made by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). When we make representations to local authorities on the introduction of new speed regulations, they seem to come up with a huge number of things that need to be done to put them into place. Perhaps the Minister should review the type of regulations that local authorities insist are complied with before they will even consider putting in 30 mph speed limits or any road-slowing mechanisms. We tend to go for a gold-plated job, rather than considering whether more could be done for similar money that would have a far greater impact.

There is another matter on which the Committee should be especially congratulated. The very nature of its report means that it has brought plenty of publicity to the issue. If I have a criticism of the Government it is that I recall we had a debate in the Chamber on road safety every year until 1997. Since 1997, similar debates have not taken place on the Floor of the House, which I regret. They enabled us all to think a little about some issues that surrounded road safety. I do not think that there is a problem with the commitment of any politician on road safety. We all come across fatalities in our constituencies. West Derbyshire has a huge number of visitors, with more than 20 million people coming into the Peak national park each year. Obviously, the result is serious road congestion problems, but also fatalities on the roads.

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It is important that the Minister consider how local authorities bring in regulations and other speeding measures. When I was at the Department of Transport with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), we launched a campaign that still runs today—the "Kill your speed, not a child" campaign. The report shows the difference that speed makes to the likely outcome of an accident. Nine out of 10 pedestrians would be killed if a car hit them at 40 mph, but half of them would be killed at 30 mph. At 20 mph, nine out of 10 pedestrians would survive. We have to put that message across.

We must also tell the Government that they should look closely at how local authorities implement safety measures. When roads are constructed, the implications for and the impact on neighbouring roads should be considered. The A50 in my constituency is basically a link road between the M1 and the M6. I have never regarded it as the Doveridge bypass, as I was pressing for it to be. The impact of its completion on subsidiary roads in the area has not been dealt with at all, and such matters can bring serious problems.

I was told that the speed limit on the A623 could not be reduced to 30 mph because it would cost a lot to put up all the necessary signage, make certain road pattern changes and possibly put down differently coloured tarmac to make people aware that they were entering a 30 mph area. One night, I drove through a village called Idridgehay that had a 30 mph speed limit. There was no warning, only a 30 mph sign as one enters the village. People respect the limit because they know that there is danger, but they need to be warned of the danger in such areas.

Although I congratulate the Committee and thank its Chairman personally for coming to West Derbyshire to listen to that specific case, I urge the Government to consider how local authorities sometimes use all the regulations that have to be implemented as a reason not to do anything, or to do deal with an extremely limited number of cases. The Minister could make a quick impact in that regard, which would benefit everyone. I could say much more on the issue, but as time is short I shall leave him with that message.

4.59 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): This has been a really good debate. Following up on the point made so excellently by my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), when I was the Minister responsible for roads and road safety, we had an annual debate in the House of Commons main Chamber, which went on for five hours. We can see from today's debate that three hours is not enough to do justice to one aspect of road safety. I hope that the Minister will take back a strong message to the powers that be that we need a full debate on the wider issues of road safety in the main Chamber during the new Session. I congratulate the Committee and all who have spoken in this debate on the wisdom that they have brought to it. We know that the issue is serious for so many of our constituents.

It is a mistake for us to be caricatured as anti-motorist. I know that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs Dunwoody) was only joking when she said, in response to an interruption, that that was the motorists fighting back. That sort of joke can be

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misinterpreted. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) brought a degree of balance to the debate. We must emphasise that we have, for the most part, highly responsible and good motorists in this country. We have the best road safety record in Europe, but our motorists have to put up with the highest tax burden on motoring—£38 billion a year. They also have to put up with the lowest investment in roads anywhere in Europe, apart from Greece, and they have to put up with that lack of investment at a local level as well.

Let us pay some tribute to our motorists, and give some balance to the debate. As the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead said, what is important is that speed should be appropriate for the circumstances. Obviously, all speed limits can only be a proxy for the requirement set out clearly in the highway code that people should not go too fast for the circumstances. One does not need a PhD to explain that if it is raining, icy, dark and windy, or if there are children around, people will have to moderate their speed more than in cases where those circumstances do not apply.

We thought at one moment that the Government were going to adopt a completely new 20 mph speed limit for all urban areas. That would be a very big mistake. I do not know if the Minister is going to announce it this afternoon, but I think that if he were, it would be a big mistake. It is quite obvious to people that on many urban roads, in particular circumstances, a speed of 30 mph is perfectly all right. To have a mandatory 20 mph speed limit would be the wrong solution.

When I was in government, we introduced the 20 mph zones, and we introduced the idea that to reinforce those zones we had to have engineering measures that would reinforce the requirements on the motorist to respect any changes in conditions. When I was a Minister I went to Holland—I do not know if the present Minister has been there—to look at some of its zones, in which there is a very good road safety record.

I want to concentrate on one aspect: road engineering. Inevitably, if a Committee produces a report just on speed, it will miss out other areas in which the Government can assist. Traffic-calming measures are largely issues of engineering. The Transport Research Laboratory report No. 382 is entitled "The Numerical Context for Setting National Casualty Reduction Targets". It is an important report and one of the speakers has already referred to the laboratory and the expertise it brings to the subject. It says that in setting out the different policies and the different impacts that they can have on reductions in road casualties, new road safety engineering measures are highest in the league table. Some of those are the areas covered in this excellent report. Road safety engineering measures require resources.

Perhaps it is just spin or leaks from the Department, but I am concerned about what the Government may do to try to meet the demanding but quite proper road safety targets that they have set. The previous set drove down road casualties significantly. Perhaps the Government are worried, as I am, that in 2001 there was the first increase in deaths and serious road injuries for many years. However, it would be wrong of the Government to think that they can just blame motorists and say that it is all because motorists are driving too

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fast. Many accidents are caused by errors of judgment that have a disproportionate impact. A small or momentary error of judgment, as the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead will know from his experience as a lorry driver, can result in a fatality.

The essence of engineering measures is to try to reduce the impact of those errors of judgment in terms of road casualties. That is why we introduced motorways and dual carriageways. That is why we have crash barriers down the middle of motorways and white lines. It is amazing that, under this Government, a special pressure group has been set up to try to have white lines painted more clearly on some country roads. That should go without saying. The local highway authority should be responsible for keeping white lines clear. Those steps and traffic-calming measures are designed to mitigate the impact of errors of judgment.

We cannot force people to use pedestrian crossings, but we can encourage them to do so if we provide them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) said, one sometimes wonders whether there is a mismatch between the resources allocated to safety on the trains, for example, and those allocated to safety on the roads. For a relatively modest investment, one can put in pedestrian crossings and get a very good return.

Another example of something that provides a good return on an investment is 20 mph zones. On page 5 of the response to the Committee's report, the Government say in answer to recommendation (d):

Let us consider exactly what that means in context. It means that 28 local authorities will have £125,000 each to spend over two years. However, £125,000 scarcely buys one zone or pedestrian crossing. By giving so little money, the Government are washing their hands of the responsibility to go for it in a big way. If we could get motorists to travel at much lower speeds in urban areas, particularly where there are children, we would have an enormous dividend in improved road safety and be able to reverse the awful statistic that this country has a much higher number of child deaths than elsewhere. I hope that the Government will consider the issue of resources and not just play party politics with it.

Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Transport announced that there would be an extra £145 million a year to deal with some pinch points on our main road network, but what is £145 million, given that motorists collectively pay £38 billion a year in taxes? Spread over five years, £145 million is only £1 per motorist per year. That is not big money, yet the Government dressed it up as a major announcement. They need to put many more resources into this area, as the Committee identified. However, just talking about putting more money into transport plans is not the whole answer, because those plans embrace public transport as well as expenditure on roads. I hope that the Minister will respond to the legitimate cry for help and more resources for local authorities.

5.9 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson) : This has been a full and interesting debate in which 14 contributions have

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been made. First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and her Committee on their report and on giving us the opportunity to debate such an important matter. My hon. Friend did not do herself proud: I have enormous admiration for her. She is dogged and determined, but I have always found her most charming. The report has given us the opportunity to review a number of important matters. My hon. Friend started with chilling statistics. Nine people a day are killed on our roads and about 10 times as many are seriously injured. The figure for minor injuries was so large that she struggled with it for a moment: more than 250,000 each year suffer a minor injury. Although we have one of the best records in the world for casualties on roads, those figures are not satisfactory and are certainly not matters for complacency.

Together with the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy), I did a project with schoolchildren in my area. We asked them what they would like local government to do. It was interesting that the top issue was road safety, speed and the danger they felt when on the road. We have taken that forward with the local authorities and have taken some of the matters back into central Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) made an important point. It is not speed in itself that concerns us, but the casualties of speed. We must tackle the problem of inappropriate speeds and people simply ignoring speed limits. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) raised the case of his nephew who was knocked down and is still in hospital. Will he convey the best wishes of the House to his nephew? We wish him a speedy recovery.

I shall make some general remarks and then try to answer as many of the specific points as I can. The report makes a vital contribution to the road safety debate. It is just over two and a half years since the Prime Minister announced our road safety strategy. The strategy sets challenging targets of a 40 per cent. reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured, and a 50 per cent. reduction for children, which reflects the large numbers of children who are killed or injured. The information that the Select Committee has provided will help us to reform and refine our policies as we progress towards our targets and objectives.

We have a generally good record on road safety, but we want to improve it. It will not be easy. We noted the Select Committee's concerns that on the surface we appear to be moving too slowly and that the promises made in the strategy are taking too long to come to fruition. We in government share the Select Committee's impatience to get action on so many of the matters that my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich raised. However, we must ensure that the action that we take and the resources that we use on any matter of road safety, particularly where speed is involved, are proportionate and appropriate to achieve the desired outcome.

I am aware of the re-education and effort needed to deal with complex matters involving engineering and human behaviour. However, we are confident that we are well on target to meet those ambitions to reduce casualties on our roads by 2010. As a number of hon.

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Members have pointed out, inappropriate and excessive speed accounts for about one third of all road deaths and injuries. In real terms, that equates to over 1,000 deaths and 10,000 serious injuries each year. Although some commentators have challenged that, there is plenty of evidence and we have had a realistic estimate. We welcome the Select Committee's support, based on the evidence that it received during its deliberations. We are not surprised that it found the scale of the speeding problem unacceptable. I assure the hon. Lady, the members of the Select Committee and the House that it is unacceptable to the Government as well. We are aware of the need to take action to deal with excessive and inappropriate traffic speed and to reduce its effects on accidents, with the tragic consequences and suffering that they bring.

We are working on many fronts with local authorities, as it is they that have the local knowledge and, in many instances, are best placed to introduce measures, supported by guidance and funds from the Government. A good example is the success of the Gloucester safer cities project. For five years it has considered road safety, in particular how speed management can be addressed over a wide area. Although its final report is not due until next spring, the results so far are very encouraging—deaths and injuries are down by as much as 38 per cent. I commend the project to those who have not had a chance to see it as an example of the efficient use of resources to achieve interesting and valuable results.

The "Road Safety Good Practice Guide" was published in 2001 to assist local authorities and practitioners. A number of hon. Members have said that good practice should be distributed. This guide is an excellent example of how we can pass experience from one area to another, so that they can learn from each other. I strongly commend the document to those who have not seen it. We shall keep it regularly renewed so that it is always relevant.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich made some important points in addition to the matters raised in the report. She spoke about the importance of Government departments working together. I agree with that. We have worked particularly closely with the Home Office on matters of sentencing and with the police. A number of hon. Members have questioned the commitment of the police force and the Home Office to road policing. A brief statement has been sent to me by the Home Office. It says:

I hope that that will assist hon. Members who raised the point.

Mrs. Dunwoody : Does the Minister interpret that as meaning that there will be a clear statement to chief constables that road traffic policing must be part of their core responsibilities, or as being a general statement that we are worried about road safety?

Mr. Jamieson : Of course, that is a matter for the Home Secretary, but I think that the statement that I

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read out is clear. There is no intention to change the fact that it is an over-arching aim of the police service to commit itself to traffic policing.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the important fact that safety cameras and the safety camera partnerships have reduced casualties. I strongly believe that cameras should be clearly visible. They show that that is a place where casualties and hazards occur. However, the proof of the pudding is the fact that, at the sites where cameras have been placed, there has been, on average, a 47 per cent. reduction in casualties. That is the evidence that we need that the cameras should be clearly visible.

Tom Brake : If research were to demonstrate that covert cameras were more effective in reducing accidents, would the Minister support a change?

Mr. Jamieson : If good evidence were produced to show that any road safety measure was effective, of course we would look at it carefully and implement the measure where appropriate. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, on the sites that were chosen because they suffered from having a considerable number of casualties, the presence and visibility of the camera substantially reduced the number. That is not mere academic research, but practical and tangible evidence before our eyes, which we cannot ignore.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich spoke about sharing good practice and traffic-calming measures. My previous comments on the document suggest how to achieve that. To underline an important point, it is local authorities that deliver many road safety schemes that help to reduce casualty rates, particularly in connection with speed. We have provided guidance to local authorities, so that their local transport plans include appropriate measures for improving road safety. Most important, we have provided the resources for local authorities to carry that work out.

I referred in an intervention to local authority funding. My hon. Friend's authority has had twice as much funding for local transport plans in its current financial year as it had two years ago. Substantial resources will help local authorities to deliver their plans. It is important for hon. Members to examine the local transport plans in their constituencies carefully to establish whether they are meeting their constituents' objectives.

The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) chided us for not spending enough. We may not be, but I can assure him that we are spending substantially more than was spent under Conservative Governments. If the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle will not, perhaps the hon. Member for Christchurch will intervene to clarify whether the Conservative party would meet and match our funding targets for local transport plans.

Mr. Chope : The Conservative party is committed to doing all that is necessary to reduce casualties on our roads. Unlike the present Government, who have presided over an increase in fatalities for the first time in a generation, we had consistent policy success in reducing such fatalities.

Mr. Jamieson : I think that that was a no, but it is good to have that cleared up.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich also spoke about child casualties and asked why we are waiting for schemes to be developed. Several good schemes, such as the home zone scheme, already involve schools. One in my own constituency has been hugely successful, even within the short period in which it has operated. The safer journey to school initiative and many others adopted by local authorities are a response to people's needs in their own locality. There is no blueprint for improvements, which must be appropriate to local needs.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) made some interesting points, although sadly he is no longer with us. Other hon. Members referred to signage of speed limits and 30 mph repeaters. The problem is that they would have to be rolled out throughout the country. Every authority would have to follow the same system; otherwise, confusion would arise between areas that did and those that did not follow it. This has been part of our law and has proved effective during the past 70 years. It is probably one of the most understood aspects of our road speed system.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about placing cameras in areas where no casualties had occurred. It is rather like sending healthy people to hospital. In a new development where a road had been built dangerously, we have to ask how that had happened. These matters should be considered at the early stages of the planning and development process. They were not considered on many estates years ago, but then many people living in estates had no cars. Today they do and these matters should be built into the design of our estates.

Mr. McWalter : I note with interest my hon. Friend's idea that an estate can be built dangerously. Surely the only danger is if the estate is used inappropriately. If the local authority is properly empowered, there is no reason why an estate should not be built where low speeds are an expectation. There is no such thing as a dangerous estate.

Mr. Jamieson : I beg to differ. Some of the estates built in my constituency in the 1960s had long straight roads with many intersections and were very dangerous. Now they have been traffic-calmed and given chicanes and traffic islands, and the casualty rate has substantially reduced. When we are building estates where people will be living, working and shopping, we should construct them so that pedestrians are safe to go about their business.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) made important points about the effect of speed on pedestrians. He may recall the advertisement from my Department about the effect of travelling just 5 mph over the speed limit. The advertisement had high recognition value and, I believe, quite an impact. However, he was right in saying that we must change people's attitudes to driving and speed. We have recently studied the training of new drivers and completed a consultation on that matter. We were given some good ideas, especially by young people.

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Another project that will start in a few weeks is the hazard perception test, which will be part of the driving test. It will involve putting hazards up so that people can see whether they are driving appropriately, as people may approach hazards at too great a speed.

Mr. McLoughlin : Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Jamieson : I will not give way, as there is little time left and the hon. Gentleman was not present for the whole debate.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) raised several points, not least about the Evening Standard report, which came as a considerable surprise to us. We did not know that we had made an announcement that all road speeds were to be reduced to 20 mph, but it is a newspaper's job to speculate. I think that the paper was anticipating some guidance that we shall give authorities on how they may introduce lower limits. In the end, such matters are for local authorities to decide. On local roads, local authorities must make the decisions, as they are best placed to respond to the local communities and take appropriate action, using the extra money that comes through the local transport plans.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) has a good record on road safety, and I appreciate his contributions. However, I shall gently take him to task on a couple of issues. He said that we had ducked the issue of pedestrian protection, but we certainly have not. By getting a voluntary agreement with manufacturers in Europe on pedestrian protection, we have brought forward by two years the

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implementation of the proposals. More people will be alive and fewer will be injured because of the action that we have taken.

My hon. Friend also said that we had ducked the issue of drink driving, but we certainly have not. We have the toughest penalties in Europe, some of the most stringent enforcement and the most powerful advertising. We have not ducked those issues but faced them head-on with appropriate and proportionate action.

This has been an excellent debate. Unfortunately, as always, there is insufficient time to cover all points. If hon. Members want to raise further points and want to correspond with me, I shall be happy to respond. However, I must conclude to give my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich the opportunity to make some concluding remarks.

5.28 pm

Mrs. Dunwoody : With the leave of the Chamber, I seek briefly to commend my colleagues who have taken part in the debate. The debate has been serious and has acknowledged the importance of our report. It is important that when the House considers a specific safety problem, whether it is safety on rail, on road or in the air, it gathers evidence that informs elected Members of the size of the problem and the urgency of the need for change, and emphasises the need for our constituents to do something in their general interest. I believe that my Committee has contributed to that process, and that the Government realise how serious the matter is.

I make only one plea: do not let us have to come back here in 12 months' time and have the same debate for the same reasons and with the same difficulties. We are all motorists, pedestrians and users of transport, so let it be safe.

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