Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence


Exmination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)

MR RICHARD BRUNSTROM

WEDNESDAY 30 JANUARY 2002

Chairman

  20. We want your views, Constable, not other people's views.
  (Mr Brunstrom) Chairman, forgive me, it is relevant. I must specify that I can only talk about safety and you cannot justify raising a motorway speed limit on safety grounds. You could on other grounds, which are beyond my remit.

Mrs Ellmann

  21. In your evidence you refer to local transport plans. Do you think that local transport plans should designate appropriate speeds in their own areas?
  (Mr Brunstrom) I think there is scope for them to do so. Again, I must be careful not to speak beyond my expertise. I very much welcome local transport plans, I think they have a lot to offer speed management in areas. We would welcome transport plans taking more account of that, because we feel now that there needs to be a little bit more logic attached to speed limits and it is not clear. It is obvious from the research evidence that motorists are now in difficulty working out what the speed limit is and why. It has become a little bit confusing. It would be very welcome, I think, to have some more clarity in that, and local transport plans have a part to play.

  22. How do you think that could work? Do you think it would work if in the local areas under those plans appropriate schemes were decided locally and varied to suit local circumstances? Or would that make things more confusing?
  (Mr Brunstrom) Broadly speaking, the powers already exist for that to happen. "Appropriate speed" is a very appropriate phrase because it is clear that it is not easy to defend every speed limit that we have, and many could justify being raised in specific circumstances as well as many lowered. If we are to retain public confidence in speed enforcement, speed limits must be seen to be appropriate to the environment. Some of them clearly are not and more needs to be done on that. It cannot be done, I think, at a national level because the problem is just too large. It needs to be in bite-sized chunks, and it seems to us that a local transport plan with local input is an appropriate way to do that.

  23. How important do you think it is that people understand the reason for speed restrictions and accept that it is right to lower speed? How much does that matter compared to the impact of the deterrent, of what happens if you get caught speeding?
  (Mr Brunstrom) The old legal response that ignorance of the law is no excuse is ridiculous. It does not help at all. We know from research evidence that most people—the RAC report confirms it—believe in our current speed limit regime, and then go on and break it. We clearly have got a task to get people not just to believe it but then to behave in compliance with it. There is no future in us trying to reduce road casualties by prosecuting motorists. The future has got to be in persuading motorists that for good reason they should choose to keep their foot off the accelerator pedal and drive at an appropriate speed and comply with the law. That is the task. If we try to do this simply by issuing more fixed penalty tickets, we will fail, because eventually the enforcement will become so draconian that we would lose public support and that cannot be in the interests of the country or the police service. It has got to be about persuading people to comply with the law voluntarily, and that requires of course the speed limits to be appropriate such that people want to comply with them. It is a bit of a circular argument, but it is desperately important.

  24. Who should be responsible for organising that campaign?
  (Mr Brunstrom) The statutory authority rests almost equally now with local authorities and chief constables, and I think that is absolutely right. I think there is no need for any change there at all. It works very well indeed. It is taken up in local crime disorder plans and local transport plans. We have got the communications in place to do that. The safety camera partnerships are strengthening that dramatically, so I think the system eventually is going to work very well.

  25. The emphasis in much research is to do with the impact of speed on safety. What about the impact of speed on the quality of the local environment, of perhaps deterring people from walking around and enjoying the environment because they are worried about speed as they perceive it?
  (Mr Brunstrom) I need to speak on this, Chairman—and I am mindful of your comments to keep to my own remit, but this is very relevant.

Chairman

  26. There are very few opportunities in my life, Chief Constable, to tell a chief constable what to do!
  (Mr Brunstrom) I would be happy to offer more, Chairman, if you wish. Seriously, this is an issue where I do have a bone of contention with the Government. It is an area that we will increasingly start calling environmental enforcement. One of the problems we have is that the speed camera work has been done purely and simply on the basis that the public support the enforcement of speed limits for road safety purposes. Speed limits actually exist for other purposes as well. The best example is on the M25 motorway around London, where the variable speed limits, the 50 limits, are there for traffic management purposes and environmental purposes, for people living near the roads, not for safety purposes, but the distinction is not clear. If they are going to be enforced in the same way, via a fixed penalty ticket and potentially a court appearance, that could cause significant problems in public support for the safety camera scheme. There is enormous public demand for speed limits for environmental purposes. Everybody wants the traffic to go slower down their street or through their village or through their town. There are interesting consequences for the environment in pollution terms because slower moving traffic can in some circumstances cause more pollution. There are noise pollution issues to consider . At the moment, all this is mixed up together and enforced by the police as a criminal offence. That is not wrong, but there is a great danger of confusion arising in the mind of the public as to what the police are doing and why we are doing it.

Mr Donohoe

  27. Do you think there should be a dedicated police force for traffic alone?
  (Mr Brunstrom) No, I absolutely do not. It is my very strong belief that the public do not either. The best example I think I could recently give of that is New Zealand, where they used to have a Department of Transport police service and they abolished it and merged it with the national police because it did not work very well. The only significant difference, though, is that the Department of Transport continue to fund just over 20 per cent of the national police force budget in New Zealand and therefore can directly influence police policy. That is not the case in the UK and it is an interesting idea.

Chairman

  28. Why did it not work? We are not quite comparable. I mean, we are both islands but there are some differences.
  (Mr Brunstrom) There are some significant differences, Chairman. We would be very seriously against, I think, the creation of a separate police—

  29. Yes. Why?
  (Mr Brunstrom) Because the roads are part of the general policing environment in the United Kingdom. If we tried to separate the road policing from the general me®le«e of policing we will cause significant communication difficulties, dysfunction, we will end up not having a unified service. We know that the public are extremely keen to see more visible policing on our roads, they are concerned that that is suffering a process of attrition at the moment—and you will have seen the figures in my paper. We are after a sort of holistic, unified approach to policing in public areas, which includes the roads. Separating one from the other would, I think, have a devastating impact on our crime fighting ability. I am firmly against it, Chairman.

Mr Donohoe

  30. But you do have traffic police dedicated to that service alone. The problem is that from one county to the other and from one police force to the other there is a different standard.
  (Mr Brunstrom) No, we do not. We have traffic officers who specialise in road policing, in the same way that we have people who specialise in murder investigation, but it is a fundamental principle of British policing that everybody who is a constable—and I am too—has powers to enforce all the law and is expected to use them. It is quite right that when one is looking at a sophisticated specialism, such as road policing, that we give additional training, additional expertise, additional equipment to officers who do that, but traffic police officers arrest travelling criminals, they deal with road traffic collisions, they deal with all aspects of road policing. Hiving this off into a specialism is something that we would not welcome.

  31. The Met Police have reduced numbers quite dramatically—since 1996 to 2000 it is down some 25 per cent—and has removed most of the police officers from traffic policing. Does this suggest that the Met Police treat road policing as a core service? Or does it reinforce my argument, or the point I put to you in a question, that there should be dedicated traffic police?
  (Mr Brunstrom) Chairman, I am not able to speak for the Commissioner of Police for London but, if I could refer to one of your colleague's previous questions, if we are using technology properly, a lot of the work that police officers used to do on the road, particularly enforcing speed, can be done better and more effectively by technology.

Chairman

  32. To the extent of 25 per cent?
  (Mr Brunstrom) I beg your pardon?

  33. The figure actually quoted is that they are using 25 per cent less police officers.
  (Mr Brunstrom) Chairman, I am sorry, I will have to repeat: I cannot speak for the Commissioner of Police for London.

  34. But would you see a gap between the size of that change and the ability of the Met to produce a core policing service in relation to traffic? We are asking for an opinion, Chief Constable, and, whatever the Met do to you, I promise not to hang you out to dry!
  (Mr Brunstrom) I am grateful for the support, Chairman. Can I perhaps approach this in a slightly circuitous fashion.

  35. Not too circuitous.
  (Mr Brunstrom) There is a clear demand from the public, Chairman, to see more police officers out on public roads. It is clear from the evidence to hand that chief constables across the country, including in London, have been posting officers away from specialised traffic duties over the last decade or so.

Mr Donohoe

  36. What have you done in North Wales?
  (Mr Brunstrom) Since I have been the Chief Constable of Wales, which has been two years, there has been effectively no change in traffic policing numbers. However the amount of enforcement we have done has gone up—

  Chairman: That is rather a careful answer.

  Mr Wiggin: Let him finish.

Chairman

  37. What happened before you were the Chief Constable?
  (Mr Brunstrom) I am sorry, I do not know the answer to that question, Chairman. I would have to go back and research that. The point I am trying to make, though, in answer to your colleague's question, is that this is not about numbers; it is about effectiveness of public support. What we are doing on the roads has increased dramatically. If I could refer you to figure 1 in my report, you will see that despite the apparent reduction in police numbers—which I think is real but not as robust as the numbers indicate—we are actually doing a lot more work in this area, dramatically more work, because we have got more effective and efficient. That has been a thrust from government for the whole of the last decade, that we must get our act together, we must not waste time, we must apply ourselves effectively. There are, however, other calls upon the time of chief officers and chief officers' staff. Were I the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, which I am not, I might well do the same as the current commissioner is doing, given the other demands upon his officers' times.

  Chairman: Thank you, that is very diplomatic.

Mr Donohoe

  38. Earlier you mentioned technology in your response and you indicated the use of digital cameras. But digital cameras cannot be used within the police force on any road because they can be tampered with. They can be tampered with, can they not, in terms of traffic offences?
  (Mr Brunstrom) We do use digital cameras regularly and I have the responsibility for ensuring that they cannot be tampered with. The way we have done this, with advice from the Police Scientific Development Branch, which is a scientific arm of the Home Office, is to plagiarise bank security systems, which are now industry standards. We record our evidence at the moment at the roadside on a write-only disk, so that there is hard evidence on a disk. We then encode that and transmit it in encoded fashion, completely encrypted to bank security levels (this is the level of security that is used to transfer cash round the world). It is next to impossible to break into that and to tamper with the evidence.

Helen Jackson

  39. This is the same technology as is used in security cameras that the police also use.
  (Mr Brunstrom) Absolutely. I could not offer you an absolute assurance—I do not think anybody scientifically could—but we are totally satisfied that these systems are secured, and they must be if we are to retain confidence in the criminal justice process.


 
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