Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460-479)|
WEDNESDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2002
460. There are over one million unlicensed and
uninsured cars in London alone, so how is that going to help at
(Mr Ainsworth) Well, it will be able to help because
it will be able to identify those vehicles that do not have tax.
Mr Wiggin: Well, we know who they are already.
We know because we know that they have not paid for their licence,
for their road tax.
461. Can I just lastly ask you, I think you
probably heard during the previous piece of evidence the discussion
about forces and the implementation of cameras on sites where
there have been accidents. The Minister from the DTLR said that
it would be his hope and expectation that forces would actually
put cameras in places where there was a potential risk as a result
of changed road usage. What guidance do you give to police forces
about this issue because I know many of them are shielding themselves
behind the "there have been a number of incidents here already"
defence to prevent the implementation of cameras in places that
could be needed in the future?
(Mr Ainsworth) The reason for pushing forward the
netting-off scheme was precisely to do that, to enable a funding
scheme which would pay for the revenues which are necessary in
order to run cameras in such areas. Now, that was agreed last
August. All the guidelines have been agreed by all of the partners
that are necessary, local government, the police, the Home Office
and DTLR, and we want to see that happen. We want to see those
cameras used in the most effective ways. We want to see them used
where there is evidence that there are accident hot-spots and
where there is evidence that speed is a contributory factor to
that. We want to see the best use from the resources that we have
because they are finite, and we want to see them reproduced and
not turn motorists off and motorists get the impression that speed
cameras are some kind of monetary gain, but that they build up
the support of motorists and motorist organisations for the fact
that speed cameras are being used to reduce accidents and save
462. Nearly a year has passed since the consultation
on plans for increased penalties for road offences and speeding
was produced. Why has a year gone before anything has happened?
(Mr Ainsworth) Well, the consultation was published
last December and we gave until last March for responses. The
Committee may not be aware, but we had over 1,000 responses to
that, quite incredibly and at some surprise to ourselves. They
are not straightforward responses. Some of them are quite detailed
responses which not only answer the questions that we asked, but
make serious proposals in themselves, so it has not been possible
to conduct that evaluation yet. We are trying to do that and we
will do that as fast as we can in order that we can publish our
proposals and move forward in the area.
463. When are you going to come to a conclusion?
(Mr Ainsworth) Within the next couple of months.
464. Has Downing Street told you to lay off
(Mr Ainsworth) Nobody has told me to lay off the motorists
465. Or anyone else in the Department?
(Mr Ainsworth) Let's be very clear about this if there
is a suspicion from the Committee. There is no ministerial activity
that has caused any delay with regard to the response to the consultation
document. It has been sheer volume with regard to the responses
that we have had. Let me equally say and be honest with the Committee
that we have not been, as Ministers, putting the whip behind officials,
saying, "Where is it? Where is it? Can we have it now?"
We have had an awful lot on our plate. It is something now though
that we do need to bring to a conclusion. There is no political
pressure from anyone that I am aware of to say that we should
not do so.
466. Is it true that the Home Secretary wants
an 80 mph speed limit on motorways?
(Mr Ainsworth) I think the Committee would be very
surprised if Ministers, if any Ministers came into a situation
and simply accepted the handed-down version of what was right
and proper without first of all questioning it.
467. Also we would be very surprised if you
took major policy decisions without basing them on information
that had been researched by the relevant department.
(Mr Ainsworth) Do we have any evidence that anybody
has suggested that we should do?
468. Well, we are asking. We are asking, Minister,
and it is a very valid question.
(Mr Ainsworth) I think the Committee will be aware,
there is no desire from Ministers in the Home Office or any other
department, and there is no difference, I do not think, between
the departments, to see an introduction of the level of speed
that people are travelling at on the motorways, but the Committee
will know that there are issues surrounding enforcement, that
the most effective way of enforcing the speed limit is with regard
to the use of cameras and the police have accepted that. Motorways
are the safest roads and if we are actually going to use cameras
where they are going to save lives, the motorways are going to
be a long way down that route, so it is right and proper, where
we have laws which are not being complied with by substantial
numbers of the public, that we look carefully at whether or not
we can get better compliance. As I say, I do not think there is
any desire from anybody at all to see an increase in the speed
at which motorists travel on our motorways. I think the earlier
question from Mr Betts about the number of enforcement decisions
for speed below 79 mph was quite informative in that effectively
speeds of that limit are not being enforced and the ACPO guidance
on the enforcement of speed limits is now available on their website
for everybody to see. Now, I think that is a step forward. I think
people ought to know the way in which the police are operating
with regard to enforcement and it ought to be an open issue and
not one which is clouded in secrecy or causing confusion.
469. So how hard is the Home Secretary pressing
for the 80 mph limit?
(Mr Ainsworth) The Home Secretary is not pressing
for 80 mph. The Home Secretary is happy with the current speed
limit at 70 mph, but he does not want that situation or for any
area of policy to be ruled or closed off for ever and a day. All
of these issues ought to be kept under review and kept constantly
under review and that is his opinion.
470. What is the Home Office going to do to
change the general culture that speed does not matter?
(Mr Ainsworth) Well, we have a very major problem
with the attitude of motorists, there is no doubt about that,
and non-compliance with speed limits applies as much to the situation
that occurs on motorways as it does to the 30 mph speed limit
and everything else. We need to try to get the agreement of the
motorist. We need them on our side and we need an education job
in order to get them to comply with the speed limits. We are fully
on board with trying to do precisely that and that is the route
down which we travel, using cameras and other technologies and
using enforcement by police authorities where it is necessary
and where there is a proven need because we have accident hot-spots
and we have situations where people are being shown to be disregarding
the speed limits systematically.
471. Are you satisfied with the progress you
are making on that?
(Mr Ainsworth) No, I do not think that anybody can
be satisfied with the situation as it is.
472. You have a publicity budget, do you not,
(Mr Ainsworth) We do have a publicity budget, yes.
473. And you make a number of public interest
advertisements during the year, do you not?
(Mr Ainsworth) We do.
474. How many of those have been an attempt
to raise the question of speed and the fact that speed kills?
(Mr Ainsworth) In the last year from the Home Office,
(Mr Biddulph) I am not aware of any, but the main
responsibility in this area is the Department for Transport, Local
Government and the Regions and they run a campaign
475. With respect, Mr Biddulph, I do not want
to argue with you. I think the Minister is the one we have a go
at. The reality is that you have a responsibility. This is one
of those subjects where there is joint responsibility, where the
Department only has a limited control. If you are serious about
wanting to change public attitudes, can you assure this Committee
that you have used some of your budget in public interest films
to make sure that those points are made?
(Mr Ainsworth) We have a responsibility, but we have
a devolved police force and we have no direct power over exactly
476. But you have a devolved police force with
responsibility for burglary and that does not stop you doing public
interest films that make those points.
(Mr Ainsworth) I understand that, but you are not
really taking on board, I do not think, Madam Chairman, the point
that Geoffrey Biddulph just made and that is that the DTLR are
the lead Department in this. We share responsibility with them,
we work with them, there are joint committees in order to ensure
that that is so, but this main area of policy is the lead responsibility
of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.
Chairman: Well, perhaps you would like to go
away, we will not spend any more time on it now, go quietly away
and give us a little list of the things which you thought worthy
of raising as part of your budget for the last twelve months.
477. How do you intend to catch more uninsured
and unlicensed drivers?
(Mr Ainsworth) Well, there is, as I have indicated,
the possibility of technology being helpful in this and the Parliamentary
Under-Secretary for the Department for Transport, Local Government
and the Regions launched a week or so ago the new camera technology
that potentially will give us a better ability to catch up with
478. You understand that there are something
like 1,000 drivers in every constituency who are either one or
the other. Why in these circumstances then has there been a reduction
in the number of police officers responsible for traffic?
(Mr Ainsworth) We do not dictate to the police their
operational responsibilities, and are
479. Because you do not include it in their
(Mr Ainsworth) Well, we do include it. It is one of
their overarching objectives. Now, I do not see how that can be
higher or more clearly stated than for the Home Office to say
that one of the overarching objectives of the Police Service is