WEDNESDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2002
Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody, in the Chair
Examination of Witnesses
RT HON JOHN SPELLAR, a Member of the House, Minister for Transport, KATE McMAHON, Head, Road Safety Division, ADRIAN WADDAMS, Head, Speed Policy Branch, Road Safety Division, DTLR, examined.
(Mr Spellar) I am John Spellar, Minister for Transport. On my right is Kate McMahon, head of the Road Safety Division and, on my left, Adrian Waddams, head of the Speed Policy Branch within that division
(Mr Spellar) Very briefly, Chairman, I would just like to thank the Committee for taking on the task of investigating all aspects of traffic speed. We in government take speed very seriously but, within that context, I think we should emphasise that, along with Sweden, we have the safest roads in Europe and, indeed, amongst the safest roads in the world. There is still the issue, however, that motorists exceed the speed limit or drive too fast for the road and conditions, and that can seriously injure far too many people. So we have a target to reduce casualties; we have developed and published a strategy to achieve those reductions; effective speed reduction is a vital element of that strategy, and I look forward to answering any questions or issues you feel may not have been covered in the Department's memorandum to the Committee, or that might have emerged in the earlier sessions
(Mr Spellar) I think you are absolutely right that one of our concerns is that while we have been very successful in reducing motoring casualties, and I think that is acknowledged by the Committee and more widely, we still have to do work not just here but also we have to look at some of those other countries that do have lower rates of casualties, particularly amongst children as part of the overall pedestrian issue, and Kate McMahon's division has been doing quite a bit of work on those comparisons.
(Ms McMahon) One thing I could add is that I, at present, chair an OECD expert group on child road safety which will bring a lot of lessons from other countries who have better records than us, so we can learn from their good practice.
(Ms McMahon) Yes. The Netherlands are part of the committee and I particularly asked that the Netherlands would be represented on the group because they have such a good record.
(Ms McMahon) We should report in the spring of next year.
(Ms McMahon) Yes, and the OECD will publish a report in their normal research series which will also be available on their website.
(Ms McMahon) We would certainly take account of them and see how they would fit in with our policy here, yes.
(Mr Spellar) I think the perception of speed is partly an issue, certainly for many cyclists. The availability of dedicated track which is improving considerably under the SUSTRANS programme is improving that. Also one of the key issues has been the security of cycles when parked, and one of the factors that has been helping us to increase cycling in a number of areas has been the availability at stations of safe parking facilities for cycles. I think whatever we do in terms of provision while people are cycling, they are not going to be encouraged to cycle to other modes of transport or, indeed, to work or, indeed, to school unless the bike will be there when they go back to it.
(Mr Spellar) But it is also less likely that people will be encouraged then to continue, or to start to cycle, if they have a perception that there is a high level of cycle theft.
Chairman: We will come back to the business about the plans and SUSTRANS, I think.
(Mr Spellar) Or within which speed is a significant factor, because there may be other factors but speed may well be significant, and the estimates, as I think you will have heard from the Transport Research Laboratory, are that in about a third of accidents it is a significant factor. There may be other factors as well but in some cases they can also be partially related to levels of speed. In other words, reaction times to take account of some of these other factors are obviously less at higher levels of speed, so that leads us to believe it is in about a third of the cases.
(Mr Spellar) Certainly we intend to achieve that and I think that we have already been moving down in the levels of killed and seriously injured. I think that is encouraging, but at the same time I think we need to be looking further. That is partly about driver behaviour but also about road design and about issues that have come out related to, for example, the sort of walking strategies that have been reported by this Committee - in other words, enabling pedestrians to be safer as well.
(Mr Spellar) It is a mixture. That is why we have been undertaking the scheme, for example, on speed cameras, on a whole number of unsafe stretches of road, and we have had significant impact on accidents on those stretches ---
(Mr Spellar) My recollection is something of the order of 29 per cent on some stretches.
(Mr Waddams) It can be higher. For the eight pilot areas which have been running since 2000, in the first year the results showed that at camera sites there was a 47 per cent reduction in the number of killed and seriously injured people. Over the areas as a whole there was an 18 per cent reduction in killed an seriously injured people.
(Mr Spellar) Because what the police forces together with the local authorities have been looking at is the evidential base where there has been a high incidence of accidents and where those have been speed-related and, therefore, where they have been introducing cameras, and that is why we are insisting that they are going to be painted bright yellow, clearly indicated - in order to adjust people's behaviour on those stretches, and what we are seeing as a result of that is a significant reduction in accidents. On stretches of road where we do not have those difficulties, it then becomes less relevant and it is very important I think that it is structured towards particular areas of road which, for a variety of reasons, show higher levels of accident. Now, apart from looking at speed we do also, as you rightly indicate, have to look at the structure of the road, whether people are emerging from side turnings in those particular areas; whether there therefore needs to be stronger signing so that people stop; whether there needs to be greater visibility on those stretches of road. All of those factors we know can lead to accidents but that needs to be very much locally focused and, if necessary, with local re-design of those roads and traffic lights as well.
(Mr Spellar) There are a number of aspects to that. One is the impact of what are described generally as utility works - sometimes, of course, it is actually work by the Highway Authority as well - and the concern is both the numbers of them, whether in any way they are co-ordinated, and also the length of time that is undertaken on those works ---
(Mr Spellar) Very seriously and that is why just about this week we will be starting the pilot schemes on lane rental in both Camden and in Middlesbrough to get a different experience from different areas where, therefore, utilities who will be digging up the road will be having to pay a lane rental to the authority for using that section of road. That, to us, will give a much greater incentive to the companies both to co-ordinate their work but also, where they are undertaking the work as an individual utility altogether, to speed that work up. Previously there would have been agreement reached as to the length of time and then penalties beyond that, and there was a feeling that in many cases the utilities were going for far too long a period of time in order to build in an area of safety for them in order to avoid payment, yet the disruption to traffic was considerable. Few things irritate the public more than queueing up for a great period of time, not just motorists.
(Mr Spellar) The first thing is earlier information to indicate that those works are being undertaken and then proper signing for people going through those roadworks, particularly if they are elongated and therefore there is a change in the speed limit. That slightly moves on to, with trunk roads and arterial roads, the question of speed --
Chairman: We will come back to that.
(Mr Spellar) My recollection is that the estimated average cost for a casualty that has been drawn together across the various departments £1.4 million, roughly.
(Mr Waddams) For a fatal.
(Mr Spellar) Yes. Obviously for accidents it varies according to the degree of the accident with partly, of course, cost to the National Health Service but also earnings loss from the injury.
(Ms McMahon) I can give you a figure of about £25 million as our best estimate.
(Ms McMahon) The cost benefit value of the savings in casualties that have been made in the pilot areas, using our standard values.
(Ms McMahon) Eight.
(Ms McMahon) A year.
(Mr Spellar) That has already been taken into account because it is extremely unusual, as you will know, for the Treasury to agree to any degree of hypothecation and, therefore, the netting-off scheme of the fines that have been collected for the management, capital installation and operation of the camera system is extremely unusual. That is a recognition of the cost effectiveness of this, and I think that is now being understood by other authorities. We are in negotiations with a considerable number of other police forces in order to be able to extend this scheme elsewhere.
Chairman: I am going to have to ask you for a little bit more precision in your answers.
(Mr Spellar) No. That would be an option to the local authority and the local police force. It is for them to evaluate local circumstances
(Mr Spellar) There is no restriction on them in looking at that but obviously they need to be looking at where they would achieve the greatest effectiveness in terms of reducing casualties. As you rightly say, they are able to look at a new development taking place which may lead to substantial increase in traffic and a possible range of difficulty therefore changing the circumstances on that road, but the first priority is quite bluntly looking at the evidence base of the high levels of accident incidents and, therefore, where speed is a significant factor in order to reduce those.
(Mr Spellar) Obviously we rely on the scientific reports that we get.
(Mr Spellar) Yes.
(Mr Spellar) Local transport plans and Highways Agency plans are involved not just with new road building or the maintenance of existing roads but also the re-design of roads or the provision of additional road capacity. A lot of the applications that we have from local authorities under local transport plans for bypasses are partly about relieving traffic congestion but also, quite often, about dealing with removing dangerous traffic situations.
(Mr Spellar) We could always do with more but --
(Mr Spellar) -- equally we are looking at very significant expenditure. For example, over the last couple of years, the amount of money allocated for local transport plans has doubled, and many of the roads that you are describing are, in fact, local roads and we are now getting this growing disparity, for example, between urban and rural roads - not that the situation is not improving on rural roads but it is not improving as fast as our success rate on inter-urban and urban roads.
(Mr Spellar) We believe it is a significant investment and will make a very significant improvement. I am sure we could find additional schemes for which additional money would be appropriate but we need to be striking a balance between the various modes of transport within our transport budget. I think it provides for a considerable improvement in many roads.
(Mr Spellar) We will have to send you a note as to the actual timing on that. We are working on that.
(Mr Spellar) Essentially we will be looking at road design and urban design, and the extent to which, therefore, that can be more encouraging to pedestrians to reduce, where possible, conflict between pedestrians and traffic and the extent to which, for example, traffic calming methods or safer zones or, indeed, in some urban areas - particularly near schools but in others as well - 20 mph limits combined with traffic calming measures may be appropriate in order to reduce risk to pedestrians. For precisely the reasons that the Chairman said, while we have a very successful record of reducing car collisions, we are less successful on pedestrians and particularly children.
(Ms McMahon) We are doing an assessment of their plans at the moment so I cannot answer that question just yet.
(Ms McMahon) I would not like to single out any particular authority.
(Ms McMahon) Yes.
(Mr Spellar) We are in agreement with our Home Office colleagues that there should be no increase in the motorway speed limit.
(Mr Spellar) In a number of areas it is the flow of traffic that is significant. As we have seen, for example, on the western section of the M25, keeping all the traffic moving at roughly the same speed can ensure more predictable journeys and probably quicker journeys than having vehicles stopping and starting, and also a much wider difference in speed between different vehicles which is one of the considerations that leads to high rates of crashes.
(Mr Spellar) Within the speed limits vehicles obviously have to drive in accordance both with the road conditions and also with the position of other vehicles.
(Mr Spellar) No. Traffic flow on motorways is extremely important but our view, looking at the evidence on both environmental grounds and safety, and also having consulted with the motoring organisations and others, is that the current speed limit is appropriate on the motorways. As you rightly say, they are far and away the safest roads although, of course, there is obviously less conflict with pedestrians in that area which is the difficulty on other roads, or indeed the particular problems we have on many rural roads where, as I said, our rate of success has not been as great as on urban and motorways.
(Mr Waddams) Can I clarify the question?
(Mr Waddams) The work that we have available does not apply to motorways but, clarifying that, there is work by TRL who have been looking at rural roads particularly where, on the highest quality roads, a one mph increase in the mean speed of the traffic could result in something like a 2 per cent increase in casualties. If you then extrapolate and increase the speed limit by, say, ten miles per hour, not everyone would take advantage of that. Again, there is an estimate of perhaps 2.5-5 mph increase in the mean speed so, if you take your 2 per cent and multiply that between 2.5 per cent and 5 per cent you have something between 5 and 10 per cent, in fact a bit more --
(Mr Waddams) We do not have our own evidence for the UK.
(Mr Waddams) That is right.
(Mr Spellar) Yes, and I think you are interviewing a Home Office minister shortly! But vehicles would also be less fuel-efficient at the higher speed as well.
(Mr Spellar) Motorways are safer: they are the safest roads that we have. That is certainly true. At the same time, however, the underlying question was whether that would be improved or worsened by an increase from 70-80 mph and we believe it would increase the rate of accidents, along with the fact that it would also be less fuel efficient and, therefore, less environmentally friendly.
(Ms McMahon) If I could just clarify the figures in the Highways Economics note, the higher figure for rural roads reflects the mixed severity of the accidents that happens on rural roads. A lot of them are head-on crashes and therefore the severity is greater than in the average motorway accident. That is the explanation for those higher figures which reflect the value that will be achieved by doing safety measures rather than the cost of them.
(Mr Spellar) And I think the AA had a different view when you interviewed them on that. As I said, when the police are asked to give an indication, they can put up to four factors down for a particular accident. Also, in some cases, where, for example, it is an action by a pedestrian that has caused the accident, sometimes I think the evidence would suggest that that is put down as the cause whereas the severity of the accident may well be related to the speed of the vehicle - the fact that an accident was likely to happen although there might have been a better chance of avoiding it had the pedestrian not behaved in that way. Also the severity could well be affected by the speed. In response to that, the TRL have looked at the figures: and, as I said, speed will be a factor in something like a third of the accidents but in many cases some of those other factors will also be affected to a greater or lesser extent by the fact that the vehicle was going faster. Quite a bit of that is to do with reaction times and also the severity of impact.
(Mr Spellar) Quite simply, historically, because of the desire to prevent accidents.
(Mr Spellar) I think it is a case that higher levels of speed above a certain level on motorways do have an impact on safety.
(Mr Spellar) I mentioned the fuel efficiency issue earlier in my contribution but I think there is strong evidence that moving to much higher levels - and this is not just our experience but, with one significant exception, the experience of all other European countries as well - and maintaining a reasonable level is consistent with not just the ability of the vehicles to withstand crashes, and I accept there has been changes in vehicle design over a period of time, but also, quite straightforwardly, reaction time of drivers. While vehicle design may have improved, the basic design of drivers has not.
(Mr Spellar) I think you would have to ask the manufacturers that --
(Mr Spellar) That would be a matter for European-wide competence of vehicles but there is a lot of work, as you know, being undertaken in order to improve the safe characteristics of vehicles and also the effect that an impact has between vehicles and vehicle design and pedestrians, and a vehicle that may be able to go an excessive speed might well be easier to drive at lower levels. If you are driving right up to the capacity of a car, it makes it much harder to drive.
(Mr Spellar) The evidence you had from the Chief Constable of North Wales indicated that had been a policy but was slowly being rationalised out because there was a danger that that was bringing the reactions into a degree of disrepute. They are therefore focusing much more on drawing people's attention to cameras where they are in operation, and that is designed very much to modify and change people's behaviour on those sites with the favourable impact that we have already indicated.
(Mr Spellar) What do you mean by "badly understood"?
Mr Donohoe: : There are so many variants of speed limits that there does not seem to be a uniform speed limit in some of the areas of the country, and they are very badly understood because of that. What is the Department doing to have it more standardised, as to what would be then best understood by the person who travels? I was with the police and I was standing with a speed camera pointing it at a motorist who did not have a clue what the speed limit was when he was stopped --
(Mr Spellar) There are a number of issues tied up with that. One is the question whether the speed limits that are applied are appropriate to the road. In some cases it can be that these are too high and in some it may be the fact that they could be higher perfectly safely. One of the issues is having lower speed limits, as we said earlier, in the vicinity of schools. There is an argument about the question of the 30 mph limit and how well that ought to be signed, and I think there is a particular issue - it has been raised with me, for example, by Ed Doolan on Radio West Midlands - concerning a road where the speed has been changed from 40 to 30 mph but has not been properly signed. Particularly where there are changing circumstances, and this ties in with Mr Cummings' point, it is enormously important that those are signed and also signed well in advance of hitting that particular change so that people can adjust their speed.
(Mr Spellar) I thought I said that there are grounds in a number of areas for reducing speed in some areas quite often because, as was indicated earlier, the situation has changed and a new housing estate has been built or industrial estate or sporting facility or whatever that has changed traffic volume and traffic patterns.
(Mr Spellar) I think it is important to be reviewing that but with the objective of looking at --
(Mr Spellar) My understanding is that we are encouraging local authorities to review their position.
(Ms McMahon) Yes. We are doing work at the moment to see whether we can give local authorities better advice on speed limits and that work is on-going.
(Mr Waddams) The existing guidance is called Circular 1/93 and we are in the process of looking at that and we are hoping that, by the end of this calendar year, we will be in a position to start discussing and, indeed, consulting local authorities --
(Mr Waddams) Yes. The guidance already exists and is clear but we are now in a position, and I think it was published in 1993, that we have much more experience and we want to introduce that experience into a revised guidance.
(Mr Waddams) Because any changes that might be proposed would have a impact. For example, if the 30 mph repeater were to be introduced, it would be at enormous cost. There would have to be repeater signs every few hundred yards along every urban street.
(Mr Waddams) There may be other ways of enforcing those speed limits - speed cameras, other engineering methods, 20 mph zones and so on.
(Mr Spellar) The Department were very clear as to what the prime purpose of the --
(Mr Spellar) I did. I said "No" right at the start which I thought --
(Mr Spellar) We had a clear view that clearly marked cameras and clearly visible cameras were going to have a significant effect in modifying people's behaviour in those areas. We believe that that was far more likely than the possibility of there being cameras or hidden cameras. We also understood that we needed to maintain the trust of motorists and maintain public support, and we believe that, by having high visibility, we would modify behaviour while maintaining public support. That is enormously important to us and also the police.
(Mr Spellar) We have very clear evidence that there was very strong public opposition to covert cameras which, therefore, could have a detrimental effect on the relationship between the public and the police. It, therefore, could have weakened support from what we believe was an extremely useful tool in reducing accidents which was the use of speed cameras.
(Mr Spellar) I think we take difficult decisions quite regularly in this Department.
(Mr Spellar) That all depends who "some of us" are. Some of us seem to have objections to some of the difficult decisions we take, but I believe that the evidence we have seen of having visible cameras changing speed levels has had the impact that we desired while still maintaining the broad support of the public. If you talk to the police forces as well, they are very concerned that they maintain that public support for their operations.
(Mr Spellar) This is very much a matter of judgment for the local authorities --
(Mr Spellar) They are not doing that. A considerable number of police authorities and their related local authorities are already in your discussions with our Department. We can send you a schedule of how many police forces have already signed up and how many more are in the pipeline sorting out the details, and then we will be rolling out that programme.
(Mr Waddams) We are in discussions with every police authority. At the moment I can say that from April this year there will be something around 25 partnerships based on police authority areas operating under the netting-off scheme. That is April this year and I would think, within another year to 18 months, all those that wish to join - and I use the word "wish" because it is not compulsory - should be signed up within another year to 18 months after April.
(Mr Spellar) Once we have the great number signed up we will then look at those that are not to see what particular reasons they have, and then look at reviewing the policy.
(Mr Spellar) A number of authorities have cameras but are not on the scheme, but there is a huge financial incentive for them to be able to deal with traffic management in their area and to pay for that by the netting off from the fines, and that is obviously of considerable advantage. Most of the authorities will, therefore, be covering the great majority of the population and then we will have to examine why any other authorities are not part of the scheme, recognising of course the discretion that chief constables have under Home Office discussions.
(Mr Spellar) In that case the cost benefit to society let alone the reduction in human cost will be of enormous value. I would be delighted if we got to that position but we are certainly not there yet.
(Mr Spellar) If that is the case and if the pot of money from fines from speed cameras reduces below the cost of maintaining the scheme, that would be extremely good news and I will deal with that problem when we get there. We are not there yet by any means, unfortunately.
(Mr Spellar) Again, it is the balance of keeping traffic flowing and of enabling the system to operate consistent with safety, but I think that above certain speed limits it is very clear, within that balance, that the benefit is considerably outweighed by the risks, and also, of course, by the environmental cost of that extra speed.
(Mr Spellar) I think that the current speed limit is well understood: we have got the extremely safe motorway network which is probably one of the safest motorway systems in Europe - if not the world - and therefore that current system is working well.
(Mr Spellar) We could do a you on a note on that from your figures or from the Home Office. We will see if those figures are available.
(Mr Spellar) I think in a whole number of debates at conferences and, indeed, in general articles we try and get the facts of the situation across. I think also the Advertising Standards Authority keeps a careful eye on car advertisements. I know people think they are not entirely successful in that but I think there has probably been a considerable shift towards stressing, for example, safety features on cars as opposed to the sort of glamorous speed side of them. I still accept they could probably go further.
(Mr Spellar) We do. I am not sure whether we outline policy on a whole number of areas on that website. I am not aware whether we specifically rebut particular articles in the course of that.
(Mr Spellar) We can certainly look at that, yes.
(Mr Spellar) There is some work being done to see how that would be a good experience for driving, either for individual control or from external control. I think a number of countries are looking at that. That by no means, by the way, concedes the argument as to whether it would be a good or bad idea in order to try and conduct congestion charging by external control and the huge capital cost, let alone a whole number of other considerations, that would have to be examined on what are some interesting ideas - but no more than ideas - that have been put forward on that. You would have to look at whether that was desirable or effective. You could have technically land-based systems that would indicate the speed on a particular road. Now, a number of cars already have speed limiters; heavy goods vehicles have speed limiters by law, of course.
(Mr Spellar) Reasonably effectively. There are a number of heavy goods vehicles that have overridden their speed limiters and that is obviously a matter of concern and this is not just British legislation but it applies broadly across Europe. There are a number of aspects, for example, about collision avoidance or about the ability to --
(Mr Spellar) You mean the technicalities of being able to put that in?
(Mr Spellar) I will have to drop you a note on that. There would be technical feasibility but I think you would have to look at the much broader issues of whether this would be an effective way of traffic management. We are also awaiting, with the number of vehicles that we are having driven around at the moment on test, to get a feel from the driver's point of view as to whether that makes driving more or less difficult. One of the advantages from a driver's point of view, particularly in an urban area with changing speed limits, is that you do not then need to be constantly looking at your speed dials in order to check whether you are below the current limit.
(Mr Spellar) All of these are issues that will have to be considered in any valuation, and also the effectiveness of whether it would lead to a significant reduction in accidents. It is not just about speed limits; it is also, as I indicated right at the start in my opening remarks, about appropriate levels of speed. You may be within the speed limit but given other traffic or, indeed, the road conditions due to weather or other factors, it may still be an inappropriate speed.
(Mr Spellar) It was particularly accidents between vehicles and pedestrians, and we believe that having a voluntary agreement between the major car manufacturers and the Commission would lead to changes coming in much sooner and more effectively.
(Mr Spellar) Not really.
(Mr Spellar) It shows the voluntary method can work.
(Mr Spellar) Not at all. If you can voluntarily negotiate with the manufacturers steady improvements, that is very much to be welcomed and can bring those changes in sooner at considerable advantage.
(Mr Spellar) Both within the driving test and driving instruction trying to focus their attention and by publicity as well, recognising the considerable difficulties that we do have. One of the questions that we are still trying to get a firm answer on is whether it is the age of the motorist or whether it is in their first year of driving that we have the significant problem.
(Mr Spellar) I think it is an issue we have still not resolved.
(Ms McMahon) We will be publishing consultation documents setting out options and different measures to address the safety of young drivers.
(Ms McMahon) Very shortly.
(Ms McMahon) It will be out on Friday.
(Mr Spellar) I think the other question within that is whether it is within their first year of motoring --
(Mr Spellar) Firstly I should say that the record, which is a very significant reduction in the number of those killed and seriously injured, is a tribute to the work that has already been done, and I reiterate that we do have the safest roads in Europe along with Sweden. That is no reason for complacency but it is a good comparison. That is a mixture of driver behaviour, vehicle design and also road design.
(Mr Spellar) We will be --
(Mr Spellar) Well, we are monitoring the outcomes precisely because we want to see what works most effectively, what works in different environments between urban, suburban, city centre and rural areas.
(Mr Spellar) By the 20 mph reduction zones?
(Ms McMahon) We already have estimates from TRL research and they are continually monitoring --
(Ms McMahon) I do not know whether that one is specifically being monitored.
Chairman: Please look at that and give us a note.
(Mr Spellar) It is an issue raised from a number of areas and one that I want to look at. I understand the argument from the historic perspective but I think in a number of areas - particularly, as I indicated earlier, where there have been changes in speed limits and therefore people have got driving habits on those particular roads - that is a particular issue that I am going to be looking at, but also the broader issue about repeater signs at 30 mph, but I have not come to a conclusion on that.
(Mr Spellar) There are arguments on both sides, and I want to evaluate both the views and the evidence and the cost benefit of this as well.
(Mr Spellar) This is not an issue in Smethwick but I will ask the officials!
Chairman: I think it would be helpful if you would look at the use of bridlepaths and the use of rural roads by horses and riders and whether it is possible to find a useful form of division, and let the Committee have a note. Thank you very much, Mr Spellar. You have been, as you always are, most helpful and informative.
Examination of Witnesses
MR BOB AINSWORTH, a Member of the House, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, and MR GEOFFREY BIDDULPH, Head of the Road Crime Section, Action Against Crime and Disorder Unit (AACDU), Home Office, examined.
Chairman: Perhaps we could have Members' interests please.
Mr Betts: Member of the TGWU.
Chairman: Member of the Rail Maritime Transport Trade Union.
Mr Donohoe: Member of the TGWU.
Mrs Ellman: Member of the TGWU.
Chris Grayling: Occasional work with Toyota in my constituency, which is not on the Register yet, but it will be some time next week.
(Mr Ainsworth) Good morning, Madam Chairman. My name is Bob Ainsworth. I am the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Home Office. With me is Geoffrey Biddulph from the Home Office who deals with these issues and liaises with the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.
(Mr Ainsworth) Just very briefly, if I may, Madam Chairman. You will know that I have just assumed responsibility for this area of policy in the Home Office. Obviously the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions are the legal authority on this, but with our responsibility for policing, we do work closely with them in this area of policy. I will be obviously looking to Geoffrey Biddulph to be able to help me with some background issues and detailed issues in trying to respond to the questions that the Committee ask. I would just like to say one thing and that is just to repeat the comment made by the Minister of Transport at the start of his comments, that we do have, by international comparisons, a very good record on road safety. That is not to say that there is not much more that we can do and we ought to be doing and that it is not a very important area.
(Mr Ainsworth) I always thought you had weapons which were more severe than a motor vehicle, Madam Chairman! I accept the point you make and I heard you make the same point to the Minister of State for Transport. It is not true that the police do not take these issues seriously; they most certainly do, and making a contribution to road safety is one of the overarching objectives of the police force. You have taken evidence from Commander Brunstrom on behalf of ACPO already to the Committee and he has given you details of how they have tried to up their game in this regard in the last couple of years with a degree of success in his opinion.
(Mr Ainsworth) I hope that it does not. We operate as a team within the Home Office, but you will be aware, as other Committee Members will be aware, of some of the pressures that we have been under during this session. We already had a very heavy legislative programme and there were a lot of issues on our agenda from asylum to police reform. Then we had September 11th and other issues that arise from that. You must allow us to try to manage the workload within the Home Office as best we can and not interpret the fact that an area of policy like this has been given to me, as Parliamentary Under-Secretary, as in any way downgrading or a change in the priority that is given to it. If anything, it is quite the reverse in that we are trying to make absolutely sure that we are taking up all of the time of all of the Ministers and making sure that they are taking these areas of policy forward.
(Mr Ainsworth) Well, I listened and I have to say I was surprised by some of the comments which were made by Commander Brunstrom. It is, as I have said, an overarching objective of the Police Service and we have no intentions of trying to detract from that in any way.
(Mr Ainsworth) And it did not mention burglary and it did not mention domestic violence either. It is not about burglary, it is not about domestic violence and it is not about traffic; it is about police reform.
(Mr Ainsworth) I do not think we should go down the road of requiring us to mention every single activity and every single interest that we have in every single document that we produce. As I have said, I found those comments quite surprising, to tell you the truth. Other areas of major concern, I would have thought, to everybody in Parliament and in this Committee are not mentioned in the police reform document either.
(Mr Ainsworth) The Standards Unit that is looking at police reform?
(Mr Ainsworth) Well, it is obviously going to look at the efficiency of the Police Service and try to assist us in making sure that standards are applicable across the piece and that best value and best performance that is given by some of our basic command units are copied in others. Now, that will apply to every single area of police work from burglary through to traffic.
(Mr Ainsworth) We are at the moment, in response to an ACPO request, reviewing the number of best value indicators that we have. They asked us to consider ----
(Mr Ainsworth) I cannot tell the Committee at this point in time what they are going to be because we are at the moment consulting and considering that issue and we hope, before the end of this month, to start to come to some conclusions on that issue.
(Mr Biddulph) We think speed cameras are a valuable tool and all the speed cameras which we use are subject to a type-approval process, part of which includes both scientific tests and operational tests to ensure that they do meet what they are required to meet. Obviously our scientific advisers are continually in contact with the manufacturers to look at their proposals for improvements to those cameras and what they are able to achieve.
(Mr Biddulph) We would have no policy objection to the use of appropriate technology. We would wish to ensure that the technology was sound and that it did not give rise to any other issues, such as quality of the evidence and the acceptability of the evidence for use in prosecution, but not in policy terms. We would hope to see development in technology to enforce the law more effectively.
(Mr Ainsworth) The only thing that we are interested in and that we require is type approval and unless we have got that type approval, then they are not useful for an evidential purpose in any case. There is an issue of the purchase of equipment and the standardisation of equipment within all areas of policing and this is one of the issues which is being looked at under the flag of police reform.
(Mr Biddulph) Could I just add that that particular issue was also being looked at in the context of the evidential chain because there were doubts about the validity of the evidential chain if we could not have the information recorded directly and there was remote recording. We think we have now resolved that issue and that was an issue more for the CPS in terms of what they needed rather than for the Home Office or on the technological side.
(Mr Biddulph) One of the things which is being looked at particularly at the moment is the increased use of ANPR cameras, that is, automatic number plate recognition cameras, for all sorts of purposes, not just for the speeding aspect, but for detecting cars or other vehicles which are of interest for any reason and ensuring that those are checked immediately against a database so that the police can investigate them, if necessary.
(Mr Ainsworth) The technology potentially gives us the ability to track vehicles in real time that are being looked for by the police and they are already in police records, on police computers, so there are uses in the areas of criminality and I think appropriate uses in the areas of criminality and of course there have got to be crossovers to make sure that they comply with data protection and so on.
Chairman: I do not want to get on to this too much, but, Mr Wiggin, briefly.
(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.
(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 lives.
(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.
(Mr Ainsworth) Within the next couple of months.
(Mr Ainsworth) Nobody has told me to lay off the motorists at all.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Ainsworth) Do we have any evidence that anybody has suggested that we should do?
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Ainsworth) No, I do not think that anybody can be satisfied with the situation as it is.
(Mr Ainsworth) We do have a publicity budget, yes.
(Mr Ainsworth) We do.
(Mr Ainsworth) In the last year from the Home Office, Geoffrey?
(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 ----
(Mr Ainsworth) We have a responsibility, but we have a devolved police force and we have no direct power over exactly -----
(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.
(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 licence defraud.
(Mr Ainsworth) We do not dictate to the police their operational responsibilities, and are----
(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 ----
(Mr Ainsworth) Well, I do not know whether they do not understand it. That is maybe a question you should have asked Commander Brunstrom when you had him in front of the Committee. I said to you at the start of my presentation to you that I was somewhat surprised by some of the comments that he made. He was attempting to indicate, or he appeared to be attempting to indicate that in some way the Home Office was not interested in this area of policy. I do not believe that he has any grounds to do that whatsoever.
(Mr Ainsworth) Yes.
(Mr Ainsworth) Well, we have a finite resource that is given to the police and we do not have the ability day to day to tell the police how to conduct themselves.
(Mr Ainsworth) I do not know whether or not Members of the Committee actually want me to try to answer their questions or whether or not they want to try to interrupt me before I can do so. If the former, then they should please allow me to do so. I do not know whether ----
(Mr Ainsworth) Maybe you would repeat the question
(Mr Ainsworth) We do not have the ability to instruct the police from day to day where to apply their resources.
(Mr Ainsworth) We do not have that ability from day to day to ----
(Mr Ainsworth) Will you allow me to answer the question. We have given the police guidance as to what their priorities ought to be and as part of that is one of their overarching objectives, as I have repeatedly said, to contribute to this area. Now, we cannot state the matter higher than that. There are issues within the police reform agenda, some of which are controversial and are resisted by the police, which would effectively give the Home Secretary more say in how the police do their job in certain ways, but the police do guard their operational independence. They are concerned to continue to have that and we have no desire in large part to take that away from them. I do not believe that it is going on, as Mr Bennett throws in, "Well, we do for the Met", but I do not believe that it is the job of the Home Secretary to decide to tell the Commissioner on a day-to-day basis where he ought to put his resources. We know that recently, because of very serious issues that arose within the area of the Met, that the Commissioner decided on a temporary basis to move resources away from traffic and into other areas of policing. That is a matter for the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to make. It was a decision by him. It was not a decision by the Home Office.
(Mr Ainsworth) Yes and he has attempted to do everything he can to encourage the Metropolitan Police to ----
(Mr Ainsworth) ---- and to help them to cut street crime. I would have thought that that was the priority of other Members of Parliament as well as ourselves.
(Mr Ainsworth) Well, I am not aware that there was a massive jump in the problem of road accidents within the area of the Metropolitan Police. There was a problem on street crime which was seriously concerning Londoners which the Commissioner felt that he had to deal with and the Home Secretary supported him in that. Can I just say that it was a temporary move of resources. It was not a permanent move, but it was a temporary move of resources.
(Mr Ainsworth) Since the new team have been placed in the Home Office since the Election, we have had discussions with our colleagues in DTLR about the issues that we have and about the problems that we have with regard to enforcement and about the best way of addressing those. We are in agreement with them and at the present time it is not appropriate that anybody should seek to change that speed limit.
(Mr Ainsworth) There is research that is ongoing, as Mr Spellar just spelt out to the Committee.
(Mr Ainsworth) We will be looking at that and any other representations that are made. We sit on a joint committee with the DTLR and we look at all of the research that is available and all of the information that is available and take decisions in conjunction with them.
(Mr Ainsworth) No.
(Mr Ainsworth) No.
(Mr Ainsworth) We were part of the committee that looked at the netting-off scheme and as part of the netting-off scheme, we wanted to make sure that the visibility of cameras was increased. We fully agreed with that. We think that they need to be looked at if the position is not right and we think that they need to be coloured appropriately to give them a maximum visibility. We are at the moment looking at how and how quickly we can persuade the police forces to bring those cameras that are not part of the netting-off scheme and which are currently coloured grey into line with those when we have got the enforcement ability because what we do not want to see are two different sets of cameras, in different sets of colours and the confusion and the potential undermining ----
(Mr Ainsworth) We want to try to carry motorists with us in the use of cameras and I think we are -----
(Mr Ainsworth) Well, it is not just about superficial public opinion. It is about being effective as well and it is whether or not this Committee or anybody else feels that the way to be effective is to do the business without trying to carry the motoring public with us. Now, one way of carrying the motoring public with us is to convince them that the reasons for increasing the numbers of speed cameras are to cut accidents and to improve road safety and not simply to fine them. Now, that, in our opinion, is very important and that is why we want them to be overt. We think that we have evidence that where they are placed, they are clearly visible, that people do reduce their speed not only in the immediate area of the camera, but in the adjacent road space as well, so we think that the policy will work.
(Mr Biddulph) There has been research which was conducted in the evaluation of the eight pilot areas for the netting-off scheme. We have the report on what happened as a result of the introduction of the cameras in those areas which shows that they are effective in reducing accidents, et cetera.
(Mr Biddulph) It is available, yes.
(Mr Biddulph) Yes.
(Mr Biddulph) No.
(Mr Biddulph) It relates to whether they were visible or not, ie, not hidden behind trees or in bushes, but visible on the roadside. The decision taken ----
(Mr Ainsworth) When we set up the pilot schemes, as I understand it, there was a desire to make absolutely sure not only that the cameras were in places where there was a perceived problem, but that they were visible. Now, at that point nobody painted them yellow, but it was felt that if we actually want to improve visibility and we therefore want to continue to enjoy the support of the majority of motorists about the use of cameras and the extension of the use of cameras, we should do everything that we can to improve their visibility to convince them that what we are about is reducing speed where it is necessary, saving lives, preventing accidents and not just taking money.
(Mr Ainsworth) No, I do not accept that at all. As Geoffrey Biddulph has said to the Committee, the issue of visibility was looked at. It was looked at in the pilot areas and the evidence from the pilot areas was that it worked and that painting them yellow was an improvement on that attempt at visibility. I do not think that the Committee should dismiss the findings of the report in this regard. I think it is very important that we try to keep them on side and that we convince them as to our motives in doing this. We will then continue to have their support and they will run with us.
(Mr Ainsworth) Well, if the publicity budget for this area were placed in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, then they should be leading on it, but I will look at this and come back to the Committee on this.
Chairman: You are a very tolerant and talented man, Minister.
(Mr Biddulph) There is research, yes. There is research in the areas where the pilot studies took place and there was research conducted by Direct Line, an insurance organisation, which showed support for speed cameras used in this way.
(Mr Biddulph) Support for them being visible. There was a minority of those in the Direct Line survey that thought they ought to be covert. The majority of the report was for them to be conspicuous, visible, and the Association of Chief Police Officers have said that they believe that they should be visible. That does not rule out covert use on appropriate occasions generally speaking. ACPO is also behind having them visible to motorists.
(Mr Ainsworth) This was a joint decision, first of all, to set up pilots and then to expand the scheme nationally. As has been said, this is not the Home Office alone who thinks that visibility is important. The police share our views and the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions share our views as well.
(Mr Ainsworth) Well, I was not around at the time that the pilots were set up and I do not know whether or not the colour of the cameras was considered at that time. It was just felt, as I have said, as an evaluation of that that visibility was important and the colour of the camera could assist.
(Mr Ainsworth) Well, we are consulting on the issue, Madam Chairman, as you know, and we have already been questioned about when we are going to be able to respond to that.
(Mr Ainsworth) I am not aware of that. The Home Office does not have responsibility for collecting fines and I am not aware that there is a difficulty in this area. I certainly would not have thought that the difficulty in this area was higher than it is in other areas of collecting fines.
(Mr Ainsworth) I am sure there are problems in collecting fines in this area, but there are other areas, as I have said. We would want it to be otherwise, but there are always those difficulties.
(Mr Ainsworth) The individual decisions are matters for the courts and it is not appropriate to ask us.
(Mr Ainsworth) We have a consultation document, as this Committee is aware, and we are looking at the responses to that and taking the framework forward.
(Mr Ainsworth) The consequences are a lot more serious.
(Mr Ainsworth) I do not want and, I am sorry, I am not in a position to preempt the decisions that we are going to take in response to the consultation document.
directive to lay on them?
(Mr Ainsworth) Yes.
(Mr Ainsworth) What I have tried to say was that I was surprised when I heard the evidence of Commander Brunstrom. Yes, of course the Home Office take this issue seriously, want the policing in this area and think that we are taking the necessary measures and if we have not, we will continue to update on that to do precisely that. What we cannot do and what I have tried to indicate to you is what we cannot do is interfere with the day-to-day operational decisions which are taken by the police force.
(Mr Ainsworth) I think there was an acceptance by ACPO that in the past there had not been consistency with regard to policing in this area and that they had done a lot, or tried to do a lot since the late 1990s to improve that situation and they believe that they have achieved a lot in so doing. There will always be issues and there will always be pressures which will impact on particular police force areas, particular command units, which will mean that from day to day they will have to shift resources and they will have to shift their priorities. Now, those are decisions to be taken within the flexibility that we give the police force to respond to the issues that face them ongoing.
(Mr Ainsworth) I heard what they said and I can only repeat what I said to you which is that I am surprised by it. It is one of their overarching objectives. When we look to ----
(Mr Biddulph) We have some evidence, but I do not have it with me.
Helen Jackson: Could you let us have it please because clearly it is a huge impact on your budget and police staff time if there were that 40 per cent reduction.
(Mr Ainsworth) I do not think that is an issue which as been looked at lately at all. I am not at all sure whether or not it would be practical to do that. I am not at all sure whether you would get the effective interface between the local police force areas as to what roads would be policed by the national road police force and what roads would be policed by the local police force area. You could well find that there are some splits and divisions and it could be quite damaging.
(Mr Ainsworth) I do not understand what that different approach is, Madam Chairman.
Chairman: Well, we have been given evidence from Nottingham that they want to employ new digital cameras and they want that information processed in the police stations and we have been told that you cannot accept that. Do you want to go away and give us a note on that as well? Thank you very much indeed, Minister. You have been very interesting.
Examination of Witnesses
YVETTE COOPER, a Member of the House (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Public Health), MR GORDON BROWN, Team Leader, Complementary Medicine Team, Department of Health, examined.
(Yvette Cooper) Thank you, Chairman. Yvette Cooper, Minister for Public Health, and this is Gordon Brown with me, who is the lead official in the Department.
(Mr Brown) I do not look like him, do I?
(Yvette Cooper) Only very briefly, as I know you have taken extensive evidence from other Ministers as well. Simply to say that we very much welcome the Committee's investigation in this area. Obviously, our perspective is from the point of view of public health and the broader impact on health these issues can have. We look at the prevention of accidental injury, the promotion of exercise and, also, the prevention of pollution. The one issue I would like to highlight and draw to the Committee's attention is the fact that children from social class 5 are five times more likely to die as pedestrians in a road accident than children from social class 1. So this is an important issue when it comes to tackling health inequalities as well. We have set national targets for the first time in terms of narrowing health inequalities. There is a lot of work going on across government as part of the cross-cutting review on health inequalities to feed into the spending review discussions, at the moment, so obviously this is one of the areas covered by that as well.
(Yvette Cooper) We would not see it in isolation, it is one of many issues. There is a specific issue in terms of the number of child accidents, in particular, but in addition to that there is an issue about quality of life and the impact that can have on health as well. So, for example, it is not simply about the actual accidents and the children who are harmed, or the people that are harmed or killed in accidents, it is in addition to all the other people who do not go out on the roads or do not walk to school, or do not use the roads for fear of accidents or fear of harm as well.
(Yvette Cooper) We obviously support the work being done by the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions in things like the home zones and the 20-mile an hour limit. We work with both the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions and the Department for Education and Skills on issues around safe routes to school and encouraging more children to walk to school or cycle to school as well. What we are looking at, at the moment, is how we might be able to take those partnerships further at the local level. We are looking at that under the umbrella of the cross-cutting review on health inequalities; as to what role in the future, for example, the public health directors in Primary Care Trusts may be able to play in local strategic partnerships, working with the local strategic partnerships and with the local authorities around where are the key accident hot-spots, for example, or what additional work might be done in schools in order to prevent particular problems in particular local areas.
(Yvette Cooper) There is some work on data sharing at the local level. I think I might have to pass to Gordon on this.
(Mr Brown) Basically, Chairman, there have been some examples of local partnerships where A&E, ambulance and emergency services work with the police and work with the fire brigade in tackling local problems. We do feel, however, there is greater scope for encouraging partnerships of this type. As you say, one part of the situation has particular data that is of use to another. We would particularly like to see this kind of data fed into the local highway authority.
(Yvette Cooper) Much of the software has been relatively recently introduced and it does not simply include accidents, it is predicting the overall need for ambulances in a particular area. I think what we need to do, Chairman, is get back to you on this. We will look into this in the department. This may be an area where we could do more. I will certainly look into that for you.
Chairman: Thank you very much.
(Yvette Cooper) We have figures on the cost of treating all injuries. Unfortunately, the category includes treating all injuries and poisonings - that is the way the data is collected - which is roughly calculated at 2.2 billion in 2000. I know the DTLR have estimated the total medical and ambulance costs of traffic accidents in 2000 as £540 million. We know that each person who is admitted to hospital as a result of a traffic accident is estimated to cost the NHS an average of £494 per day, and each person who is treated without being admitted is estimated to cost an average of £402.
(Yvette Cooper) Where compensation is paid in respect of a traffic injury the Department of Health is able to recover the cost of hospital treatment from the insurer. So that was put in place. There are some difficult issues to balance here. There is, I think rightly, partly the principle of being able to recover compensation, but at the same time recognising that the health service provides care regardless, and does not make it conditional on being able to recover resources and so on. So we do do that kind of thing already.
(Yvette Cooper) In terms of the cost of actually causing the accident, do you mean, having the impact on the health service? Yes, that is right, and that is one of the reasons why we have got, for the first time, the cross-cutting spending review taking place across all departments. Part of the problem with health is that often many of the causes are actually outside the field of health, they are outside what the NHS does - whether it is unemployment, whether it is road traffic accidents, whether it is poverty or poor housing, and those kinds of things. So we have a wide range of areas where, effectively, health picks up the bill for problems that may be caused elsewhere. What you need to do is to take action across a whole range of fields in order to actually reduce the bill for health as well. So the reason for setting up a cross-cutting review around health inequalities was exactly to try and do that, with the Treasury holding the ring at the centre, to look at all of the different causes of ill-health and, particularly, health inequality, and where the priorities for investment should be if you want to turn that around. I know that is not an individual answer to your particular question, but I think it signifies the right sort of approach across all fields.
(Yvette Cooper) I do not think so. We often find when we are dealing with different health issues that it will cross-cut other departmental issues. I have given evidence to other committees and so on before and there is often discussion about are departmental boundaries drawn in the right place. I think if we tried to include everything which had a health impact in the Department of Health it would be huge. However, other people have, equally, tried to argue that all the things to do with public health should be taken out of the Department of Health. I do not think that would be the right approach either. I think it is right that the DLTR has control of that because, in the end, they have responsibility for implementing speed limits and making sure they are enforced, and all those kinds of issues as well. They also do the detailed research on the impact of speed limits or the impact of different proposals around roads, and on accident levels as well.
Mr Donohoe: What are you doing to get your medical professionals out of their cars?
(Yvette Cooper) We actually have something that was put in the national service framework for coronary heart disease, to get local NHS trusts to draw up their own green transport plans for individual areas in order to try and promote and extend the support for healthy routes to work, ways of using bikes or walking to work, and so on. That is being drawn up as part of the national service framework and that is part of the requirement for the NHS in different areas, and is under way at the moment. Because the NHS is such a big employer in the country, that potentially could have considerable impact over time.
(Yvette Cooper) The mechanisms are at official level, and I will pass over to Gordon to, maybe, say a little bit more about it. At the ministerial level we are in the process, at the moment, of discussions around the spending review process and around health inequalities. That is just taking place at the moment with different ministers. Perhaps Gordon can say more.
(Mr Brown) Thank you, Chairman. There are various levels, as the Minister has said. There are various committee levels and we are invited to attend various transport committees and sit on those committees and be there to represent the Department of Health. There have also been various specialist groups that have been set up.
(Mr Brown) There has not been one on speed but there has been one on the spending review, which has just been mentioned, in which transport played quite a major part, especially in accidents. We also had an Accidental Injury Task Force which has been a cross-government and cross-sectoral task force, looking at all kinds of injury and accident - again, at which we had a DTLR representative.
(Mr Brown) No, I do not recall that.
(Yvette Cooper) I think it is true that there is a greater role that health could play at the local level in this kind of field. One of the constraints, obviously, is around capacity, but there is also a structural issue as well, that it has only been, really, in recent years that closer partnerships between health authorities and local government have been increasingly developed through health improvement programmes and local strategic partnerships, and so on. We have an opportunity with the development of Primary Care Trusts to take that a step further, because the Primary Care Trusts will each have a public health director and will be, effectively, taking public health closer to the community level. The potential, I think, is there for public health directors, potentially using information gathered from the Public Health Observatory, whose job it is to gather health information in different regions, to do much more close work with local strategic partnerships about things like where the hot-spots might be or, where you have got something working, how do you evaluate it and how do you link up the information. The problem that we have at the national level is that Primary Care Trusts are only really just getting going and that the data collection that we ask local areas to do is considerable already. So I think there is the potential to do considerably more than is being done, but that there will be capacity constraints in relation to how fast that is possible to achieve.
(Yvette Cooper) We do not classify the information in that way, at the moment.
(Yvette Cooper) No, as I understand it.
(Yvette Cooper) We have the information on the in-patient data. I will ask Gordon to expand in detail on the things that we do have.
(Mr Brown) The point is, Chairman, that essentially A&E data will cover many, many injuries - many of them being slight, many of them not connected with road traffic incidents. The data we do have is from hospital in-patients; those who have serious injuries and the ones that we want to focus more attention on. Those data are fed back and compared with the police data that come to the DTLR, and an attempt is made to gain a better understanding once the diagnosis has been made and the long-term effect of the accident has been established.
(Mr Brown) What we are merely concerned about is the actual diagnosis of the injury at the time, and therefore when the person has been an in-patient - which, by itself, means that it is a more serious accident - we focus on those cases in particular, rather than what might be a relatively slight injury.
Helen Jackson: Finally, what we get in our surgeries is the staffing shortages in accident and emergency hospitals. If you can cut down, surely, that staffing time because of a reduction in accidents, would that not help throughout?
Chairman: "Yes" will do as an answer, Minister. Thank you.
Ms King: On that point, is data collection not muddied by inaccurate reporting around the severity of injuries? You talk about in-patients, but if they die after 30 days they are recorded as seriously injured not dead. Obviously, that leaves a problem. I wonder if you agree with the BMA who said that under-reporting of road traffic injuries can have implications for assessing what costs traffic injuries impose on the NHS.
(Yvette Cooper) I think I would accept that. Our data collection is not designed around road accidents. It has been designed around the needs of the NHS, specifically, to treat people and to fund appropriately within the NHS. That is the way the data system has been designed. Inevitably, the way that the data is collected has to cope with a lot of different demands on it. We have to balance the interests of not asking for too much data so that we have our health service spending its whole time collecting data. I do take the points that you are making, that there may well be better ways in which we can collect data around road accidents, and we will certainly look at that. The only caution I would give is that we may not be able to do it, given the other constraints on it. So I cannot give any guarantees about what is possible, but I will certainly look further at that issue.
(Yvette Cooper) That is an issue, probably, about the data held by ambulance departments, but the issue we were discussing about what we had in terms of the data that is collected in A&E departments may be a more difficult area.
(Yvette Cooper) I think that the whole issue of inequality is picked up everywhere really. The concern about the class differences seems to be about deprived areas having higher incidents of speeding than less deprived areas, but also having more children on the streets and less places to play. Some of these issues are not simply about the transport side of it, it can be that the kids have no where else to go so they are playing on the street, there could be broader quality of life issues. There is much picked up in Neighbourhood Renewal Units as well in focussing on the whole quality of life issues and about giving children other places to play as well.
(Yvette Cooper) I think the issue is how we use the resources we have to best tackle the inequality issue. That is one of the things that the cross-cutting review round health and equality is trying to pick up, whether it be home zones, whether it be about issues about speed restrictions or whether it be about the work done through healthy schools. We have a lot of programmes at the moment where we could focus increasingly round inequality. The Healthy Schools programme, which includes issues about safe routes to schools, have not been heavily focussed on inequalities before and that is one of the things we are looking at as well and making that more focussed on inequality. If your question is, could we do more to focus to on the inequality, yes, I am sure we could and that is what we are trying to do at the moment.
(Yvette Cooper) We found when we have had the discussions under the umbrella for the cost-cutting review a lot of commitment on the transport side on looking at the health and equality issues. Have we got there yet? The answer is no, but we have certainly found a lot of commitment from the Department to look at health and equality issues in terms of their policies and how it impacts.
(Yvette Cooper) Some research has been funded. The research you are talking about was part funded by the Department of Health round asthma. In previous years there had been some mixed evidence round asthma in children but this, I think, was quite important. The Department of Health Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants is going to consider a whole series of studies round traffic pollution and closeness to roads because it does seem to be, as you say, about the proximity to roads having an impact on asthma. I think one of the interesting issues will be whether there is further work that we can then do as a result of that. The difficulty is what interventions you can then do that would work. I think that that study did not so much look at speed it looked at the density of traffic.
(Yvette Cooper) I think 20 mph speed limits are extremely important, they have a big impact on accidents and that is why we support the implementation of those. There is a separate issue between the accidents which are linked to speed and the pollution linked to traffic density.
(Yvette Cooper) I think that is why a lot of the work round the 20 mph zones speeds have been in heavily pedestrianised areas but you are right, there is a tension between maintaining traffic flow, so you do not have slow, concentrated traffic making pollution worse as well, that is a tension and I do not think there is an easy solution to it. We need further study and further research into the issues round asthma and pollution.
(Mr Brown) I entirely agree with that. I understand that basically highway authorities do have a variety of approaches they can take to traffic flows and were further research possible in this area that might help them to direct how traffic flows and how it could be directed away from the areas of pedestrian density.
(Yvette Cooper) We take the evidence and the advice of the experts in this area and that is why we have asked the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution to look at this study in the light of all of the other studies, as well as advising us. We can certainly write to the Committee again when we have further advice on that.
(Yvette Cooper) Yes, but in the end it has to be sorted out at a local level.
Chairman: We have "yes", we will let you worry about the rest.
(Yvette Cooper) I am not aware of the discussion that took place at that time. In the end it is the responsibility for their department to actually enforce the speed limits and enforce the issues round speed. We are concerned about the impact that it has on accidents but in the end they are the ones with the expertise on how you enforce that and how you have the impact.
(Mr Brown) The task force were, in fact, aware of work that had been done in Lancashire on this very area and as a result of that work were supportive of the evidence this was showing, the emerging evidence that these speed cameras could have a great effect in reducing accidents. Had we been consulted I am sure we would have been very supportive.
(Mr Brown) In supporting interventions which are shown to have good success for reducing accidents.
(Mr Brown) Compliance is always an important factor
(Yvette Cooper) In the end public acceptability does matter. If you were purely concerned about health you would say, "do not let anybody smoke", on other hand if people want to smoke they have a right to smoke. In the end all of the issues round public health do have to take account of public attitude, what is acceptable to the public as well. From the Department of Health we cannot simply take a view that only health concerns matter, we can provide the advice and the response in terms of health considerations but every department has to take account of public acceptability.
(Yvette Cooper) Not that I am aware of.
(Yvette Cooper) That is one of the aims of the cost-cutting review on health and equality, to make sure we have structures in place at a national and a local level that increasingly where these health issues are raised in other departments that we have the proper mechanisms in place to make sure everyone is consulted in the right way. That is certainly our intention.
(Yvette Cooper) It is hard for us to do that just yet because the work is still in progress but as soon as we are able to we will.
(Yvette Cooper) There is deadline for the cost-cutting spending review, it is not a never-ending process.
(Yvette Cooper) The Comprehensive Spending Review will report in July, at what point the work is completed between now and July I cannot give you a precise time scale at the moment. We can certainly give you information as soon as we can.
Chairman: I think we may return to that subject later!
(Yvette Cooper) I think from a health point of view it is moving in the opposite direction, it should actually be simpler and more local rather than introducing more bureaucracy, that should be about taking away a layer of bureaucracy. What you are doing is that in place of the health authorities you have the primary care trusts which are based round the delivery of primary care and GPs, and so on, in each local area and each of these primary care trusts has to have a public health director. The public health director being more locally based than the health authorities should be well placed to work with local government on exactly these kind of issues in the future, so the structure should be improving to encourage that.
(Yvette Cooper) It is improving and it should give us more opportunities for closer working. The other thing that has also happened is that the regional directors of public health who used to be based in NHS regional offices are going to be based in the government office of the regions so that means at a regional level if you are looking at issues round transport you also have the NHS tied into the local government structure at a regional level, rather than being two parallel structures as has been the case in the past.
(Yvette Cooper) Yes. That is exactly why we set up the cost-cutting health and equalities review because it does come back to the same thing, because in the end a lot of the responsibility for doing something is with other departments.
(Yvette Cooper) We also have the Accidental Injury Task Force, which is due to report to the Chief Medical Officer very shortly, which has been looking specifically at targets round accidental injury and suggesting a series of interventions to actually do that. That has come up with, I think, four priorities areas that it has looked at, one round falls at or near home; secondly round road accidents; thirdly round fires in the home and fourthly round play and recreation, primarily round accidents and injuries to children. I have not seen the Accidental Injury Task Force Report, it has not come to ministers yet, and it is just going to the Chief Medical Officer, but there will be more than we can say to you when that reports as well.
(Yvette Cooper) Yes.
Chairman: Then we can also ask you later what you have achieved. You have been very helpful, Minister, thank you very much.