Examination of Witnesses (Questions 444-459)|
WEDNESDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2002
Chairman: Perhaps we could have Members' interests
Mr Betts: Member of the TGWU.
Chairman: Member of the Rail Maritime Transport
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.
444. Good morning, Minister. Thank you for joining
us. Would you be kind enough to identify yourself?
(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.
445. Could I ask you, did you want to make some
(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.
446. You know, Minister, if I wanted to murder
somebody in this country, I would do it with a motor vehicle because
we actually kill four times as many people in road traffic accidents
as we do in homicides. We also have one of the worst child pedestrian
casualty rates in Europe. Do you think this means that the Home
Office and the police should take road traffic policing more seriously
or that they are not aware of the implications of our existing
(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 Chief
Constable 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.
447. The thing which interests me is that in
a previous Parliament, responsibility for road traffic safety
was the responsibility of a Minister of State. Now, you will understand,
Minister, that I mean no personal cruelty if I say that you are
not of the same level in the ministerial pecking order. Now, does
that mean that this signal is an indication of the importance
of road safety within the work of the Home Office?
(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
11 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.
448. The difficulty is that the Association
of Chief Police Officers asked for a clear statement in the National
Policing Plan that road policing is core police work. Now, are
you going to provide that?
(Mr Ainsworth) Well, I listened and I have to say
I was surprised by some of the comments which were made by Chief
Constable 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.
449. No, although the White Paper on police
reform did not mention it.
(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.
450. It is about how the Home Office chooses
to define "core responsibilities".
(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.
451. What about this proposed Standards Unit?
What is that going to say about road traffic policing?
(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.
453. So what kind of indicators are you going
to use for best value in relation to roads?
(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
454. Believe me, I am sorry to interrupt, I
think this is admirable, but we are not talking about the number.
I am saying to you what are going to be the best value indicators,
not how many are there?
(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
455. Can I take you, Minister, to the issue
of speed cameras and, first of all, the technology. Clearly the
technology that speed cameras can use is accelerating at an extremely
fast rate. There have been issues around whether the police should
be allowed information going straight to the police station and
processed automatically by computer. That is an important mechanism.
Mr Brunstrom argued that we should have face-recognition cameras.
Can you set out for us what specifically the Home Office's policy
is on the use of technology for speed cameras and speed enforcement?
(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.
456. Does that mean, therefore, that any reluctance
on the part of the Home Office to allow the introduction of new
technologies of the kind Mr Brunstrom referred to is based on
a technological assessment rather than any kind of policy assessment?
(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.
457. Nottingham City Council wanted to use digital
cameras which enabled the information to be processed in police
stations, but that was rejected by the Home Office. Was that rejection
based on technological grounds then?
(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
458. So based on the technological knowledge
that has been provided to you and other work on the evidential
chain, can you give us a sense of what we can expect over the
next maybe two to three years to see in terms of the arrival of
new technologies within the enforcement area that will enable
forces and local authorities to change the way they operate their
camera systems at the moment?
(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.
459. We are into some very interesting human
rights questions here, are we not, Mr Biddulph? "For those
purposes in which the police might find an interest" is a
fairly wide definition. They are very generally interested in
the population, I find, the police.
(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.