Thursday 23 February 2017
[Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]
Disabled People: Publicly Accessible Amenities
I beg to move,
That this House has considered publicly accessible amenities for disabled people.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for disability, I have the privilege of hearing about the lives of disabled people from across the United Kingdom. From what I have heard, it is clear that disabled members of our communities are being prevented from obtaining full access to fundamental services, including public transport, sports grounds and shopping centres, to name but a few.
To begin with, I would like to share the experience of one of my constituents who was prevented from attending his Department for Work and Pensions fitness to work interview because the assessment centre was unable to provide access to him in his mobility scooter. To reiterate, he was not able to be assessed regarding the impact of his disability on his social and occupational functioning because the very building in which assessments occurred was not accessible to him.
The assessment was rearranged for a different centre in a separate location, at great inconvenience to the gentleman. At that centre, the car park, including both of the two disabled parking bays, was occupied. As such, he struggled to make his way to the building for the assessment. That situation effectively summarises the lack of consideration that widely abounds for individuals with disability, such that they are prevented from seeking support for their disability as a result of the lack of reasonable adjustment for it. It is particularly shocking that that occurs even in Government-approved contractors’ buildings. How can we expect individuals to seek support to reach their full potential in life and lead full lives when they are prevented from accessing basic public services?
There are currently about 11.6 million disabled people in Great Britain, constituting 16% of the working age adult population. That means that about a sixth of our population is likely to hold factors that, by definition, could act as a barrier to their engaging in valued activity.
As we know, legislation exists to support the access needs of disabled individuals. The Equality Act 2010 makes clear that service providers must take reasonable steps to ameliorate the substantial disadvantage experienced by an individual as a result of their disability. That requirement holds whether the cause of disadvantage is the manner of provision, a feature of practice, a physical feature of a service or, in fact, the absence of an auxiliary aid. Similarly, the 2006 United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, which the United Kingdom has signed up to, states that member countries
“are to guarantee that persons with disabilities enjoy their inherent right to life on an equal basis with others”.
Given the legislation, it is remarkable that such substantial disadvantage continues to take place.
The House will be aware of the recent experiences of Anne Wafula Strike, an award-winning Paralympic athlete, who was unable to access a toilet on a three-hour train journey and was therefore forced to urinate herself. That demonstrates the huge practical and emotional toll of the lack of equitable access for people with disability. In Ms Wafula Strike’s situation, the train did have an accessible toilet but it was out of order and no appropriate alternative was provided. Simply providing a basic level of service and assuming accessibility is achieved in insufficient. It is surely reasonable in this day and age to expect access to a disabled toilet. Anything less than that is simply unacceptable. As Ms Wafula Strike stated:
“People with disabilities don’t want perfection, we just want the basics and to have our independence. But lack of access and inclusive facilities make us feel as if we are an afterthought.”
The Government, working alongside business, industry and public service providers, need to ensure that individuals with disability are not an afterthought, and indeed that services are designed with accessibility right across the United Kingdom.
Experiences similar to Ms Wafula Strike’s were reported in the BBC investigation of late last year in which two researchers with disability attempted to engage in leisure activities such as going to a restaurant or taking a taxi. That highlighted the vast proportion of companies and service providers in the United Kingdom that do not act in proper accordance with the 2010 Act. Disabled individuals are being marginalised and excluded from public services every day of the week. As a result, they are excluded from a wide range of leisure activities. Data indicate that disabled individuals are less likely than non-disabled peers to participate in cultural, leisure and sporting activities.
I would like to spend some time speaking about three important areas: public transport; sporting and leisure grounds; and shopping centres. I am sure colleagues will add other issues to the debate. In terms of public transport, the key issue for the disabled population is accessibility. It is a basic issue: simply being able to gain access to public transport services. The recent Supreme Court ruling in the case of Paulley v. FirstGroup PLC, the bus company, gives a good example of the difficulties faced by disabled individuals.
In February 2012, Mr Paulley, a wheelchair user, was refused transport on a bus, as the dedicated wheelchair space was in use by a non-disabled service user. We must support the calls made by Lord Toulson in the ruling for greater clarification of the law. Clarity in legislation will ensure the appropriate and consistent application of the law such that disabled individuals can be confident that it will be applied on all occasions and in all settings. One such opportunity presents itself with the upcoming Second Reading of the Bus Services Bill, which includes recommendations for improved information to be provided to passengers in an accessible format on all bus services nationally.
Achieving a fully accessible public transport system is a key element of policy. Some work has been done on UK railways, with the Access for All programme ensuring that 150 of the UK’s 2,552 railway stations—a small proportion—are step-free, with smaller-scale adaptations at other stations. However, I understand that funding for the programme is being cut. I would be obliged if the Minister responded to that point. Work is already being done at only a proportion of stations, and cutting the programme would simply make accessibility even poorer for the disabled population.
That situation can be contrasted somewhat with London, where Mayor Sadiq Khan has committed a further £200 million to increase the number of step-free underground stations from 70 to at least 100. That still represents just over one third of all the capital’s underground stations, leaving the rest inaccessible. With recent increases in disabled individuals using rail transport—research indicates a rise in train assistance for disabled individuals of 21% over the three years up to 2015—further support to facilitate use is sorely needed.
I for one would like to know whether providers anticipate meeting targets. If not, what steps can be taken to ensure that they do so in as timely a fashion as possible? A programme of clear checking of improvements with timescales and appropriate penalties when an Act is not adhered to will help to ensure that disabled individuals can have faith in the frameworks used to ensure their wellbeing and inclusion. In that regard, we can look for guidance from excellent third sector organisations, including, for example, Changing Places, which is doing admirable work to ensure that toilets are accessible for all of those who might need them.
In relation to sports grounds, I am sure that colleagues will join me in the assertion that the many impressive achievements of UK athletes in the Olympic and Paralympic games have been a source of tremendous national pride, and an opportunity to increase participation in sporting activity throughout and across our communities. The stated legacy of the 2012 Olympic games included that:
“Every man, woman and child can find a sport they enjoy and in which they are able to get involved easily, regardless of their ability or disability”.
However, sufficient progress has not been made in the infrastructure and accessibility of sporting centres to successfully capitalise on the national mood.
The Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport recently published its “Accessibility of Sports Stadia” report, which details the results of the investigation in to the basic accessibility of sports stadia, primarily football stadia. It found
“a shocking lack of provision for supporters with disabilities of all kinds, including in some cases a failure even to train staff in basic disability awareness.”
Despite the assertion from all premier league football clubs that accessibility would be improved by August 2017, a recent update has demonstrated little discernible improvement. We should also be looking at stadiums right across the United Kingdom—people enjoy sports, particularly football, in other nations too. The Committee reports:
“Detailed best practice guidance exists at both national and European level, but some clubs seem content to do the minimum legally required, without considering whether access is really adequate.”
That strongly echoes the findings on accessible travel I already discussed. Although legal and policy frameworks exist to protect the accessibility rights of disabled individuals, there is a fundamental absence of appropriate mechanisms to monitor adherence to that guidance and to follow up with reasonable consequences for breaches.
If we consider that access to grounds for disabled spectators is insufficient, it is not unreasonable to suspect that the direct involvement of disabled individuals in sporting activity is similarly poor. It is important to note that, where accessible leisure facilities are already available, they are not invulnerable to the pressures of our current climate. For example, I understand from people across the United Kingdom who have contacted me in my capacity as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for disability that the council-run Jubilee pool in Bristol, which has a range of accessibility aids, is due to be closed following recent council budget cuts. Surely that is a retrograde step. It cannot be taken. Given the paucity of freely accessible sports and leisure facilities, it is particularly sad that increasing financial restrictions are stopping local councils from continuing to support their citizens with disabilities to access vital public services.
The final area of accessibility I would like to discuss today is shopping centres—I am a bit of an expert on them, as my husband would attest. The 2014 DisabledGo investigation audited 27,000 high-street retail outlets and found that one fifth of stores failed to provide wheelchair access, only one third of department stores had wheelchair accessible changing rooms and one third did not have an accessible toilet. Only 15% of retailers had hearing loops to support customers with hearing impairments. Again, despite the framework provided by the Equality Act, shoppers with disabilities are restricted in the simple act of shopping. A follow up to that investigation to track more recent advances would certainly be welcome.
The situation is also an economic error. As a large segment of our population, disabled individuals and their families hold a combined spending power of £200 billion—what the Department for Work and Pensions has termed the “purple pound”. For us to block the financial contribution of this segment of the community from our economy is both unnecessary and absolutely illogical.
Furthermore, the employment capabilities of individuals with disability are vastly underused, with a gap in employment between disabled and non-disabled individuals of 32%, which clearly results in further economic disadvantage. Accessibility—accessing potential workplaces or public transport to workplaces—is relevant in that respect. It is my belief that tackling accessibility will take us in the right direction towards the Government’s stated aim of halving the disability employment gap.
In Scotland, the 2010 framework, “A Working Life for All Disabled People”, underscores the importance of local authority support for employment, and the need to work with business partners to improve support and access for disabled people to enter the workplace. A new Scottish employability programme that will be introduced from April 2018 emphasises working in tandem with stakeholders to tackle the barriers to employment that face disabled individuals. It goes without saying that people with disability have a vast ability to contribute to their communities, their places of work and our society, and problems of accessibility should not prevent them from so doing. Further investment in creating advanced accessibility on the high street, in our stadiums, across our leisure facilities and in the workplace is needed.
The needs of disabled individuals throughout our communities and across the UK are not being met by the accessibility of our shops, transport and leisure facilities. We are therefore marginalising and excluding one sixth of our society—one sixth who are able to contribute so much, but who are prevented from doing so by simple, solvable issues of accessibility. I call that we amend the legislation so that consequences are put in place for business and industries who do not act in accordance with the law. In doing so, we can protect and support the rights of our fellow citizens to engage with valuable community activities, live the lives of which they are capable, and achieve their full potential.
We may also follow the guidance of our Scottish Government counterparts, who in 2016 developed a cross-governmental disability delivery plan, in which accessibility problems were identified as a significant barrier to improving outcomes for people with disability. A series of clearly defined actions, including, for example, the development of a Government-moderated accessible travel hub to collate information and share good practice on accessible transport, and a help guide with practical advice for businesses in increasing accessibility, have been identified and can now be monitored.
I have a number of questions for the Minister. What plans do the Government have to continue to increase access to public and leisure services for disabled people in our country? What power are the Government willing to use to ensure industry compliance with the terms of the Equality Act? Do Ministers anticipate any barriers to obtaining ongoing compliance, and how will they deal with them? What steps are the Government willing to take to ensure compliance with the Equality Act within publicly provided services? What value do the Government place on ensuring access to leisure activities for disabled people? Can they indicate whether it is held in parity with work access, which I am aware is a priority? I suggest that the Government undertake a wide-scale investigation into the inaccessibility of leisure activities, so that the full scale of the current situation is understood, and so that well-targeted plans to ameliorate disadvantage can then be devised. Will the Minister lend support to the development of a UK Government disability delivery plan, detailing commitments and actions to improve accessibility for all members of our communities?
I thank all the organisations, constituents and individuals from across all parts of the United Kingdom who contributed their thoughts and experiences for the debate today. We are in 2017—let us make 2017 the year in which we deliver for people with disability.
I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this important debate—I apologise if I got my pronunciation completely wrong there.
It is absolutely right that we consider how we as a society can be as inclusive as possible. Too often, people with disabilities are left in uncomfortable, inconvenient and distressing circumstances because of the lack of adequate facilities.
In particular, I want to raise awareness of a local campaign in my constituency, which has the innocent-sounding title of “No More Floor”. I am pleased to be involved with the initiative, which seeks to install changing facilities in Leamington to make a huge difference for children with severe disabilities and their families. As the name indicates, those children and young adults often have to be changed on the floor of a public convenience. I admit my ignorance: until I was approached by the campaigners, I thought that a disabled toilet would be perfectly adequate and cover all eventualities. I now understand the need for a hoist, which is the only alternative to changing someone on the floor. Such facilities are absolutely imperative and, as the hon. Lady mentioned, Changing Places is one of the organisations that helps to install them.
I am grateful to the Royal Priors, a shopping mall in my constituency, for giving up the necessary space to make such a changing facility possible and for making a financial commitment to the campaign. It is a shame, however, that a private sector organisation has had to deliver something that ought to be accessible to all. There is certainly an argument to be made that provision of such facilities ought to be put on a statutory footing, so that local authorities construct them within a particular radius or for a certain size of population. There is a facility in Shire Hall, the county hall in Warwick, but the next nearest is in Solihull, which does not give people many options. Such heavy restrictions on families must be addressed.
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the two families involved in the campaign, and specifically to Emily Naismith and Francesca Anker, for their hard work and persistence in their aim to make a real difference to their community. I look forward to continuing to work with them. I have tremendous respect for the families who—I am sure they will not mind me saying—have already had to jump through a number of hoops just going through their daily lives. I wish they did not have to fight for such facilities but, as the campaign gets going, there will be a great deal of support for what they are trying to achieve.
Also in Warwick, I am delighted that Network Rail’s Access for All programme includes the installation of lifts at the train station. Warwick is a wonderful town and attracts thousands of visitors every year. Making access easier for people who need wheelchairs or have other disabilities will be a major step forward. The Rail Minister, the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), is not present, but I thank him for taking the time and trouble to look at that issue so we can bring the date of the project forward.
I look forward to the response of the Minister present today. In particular, I am interested in hearing his views on whether to put such matters on a statutory footing.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for securing this important debate. I am delighted that we are having it at a crucial time for disabled people.
Disability policy should be based on the social model of disability—that disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by the person’s impairment or difference—and it is hugely important to look at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people. When barriers are removed, disabled people can be independent and equal in society, with choice and control over their own lives. It is therefore not the impairment or condition that disables, but society’s inability to adapt and to accommodate different needs. Our duty as parliamentarians is to ensure that disabled people are not left at a disadvantage when using facilities and services, that they are not disadvantaged in accessing employment or education and that we seek to remove the barriers that many people face in their everyday lives.
Much work has been done on the issue, and we have come a long way in recent years. The Equality Act 2010 provided some statutory protections, but we cannot sit back and suggest that means we are now all equal—we are not. The Act does not spell out what “reasonable adjustments” are in all cases, and it does not place a duty on all service providers to make specific disability adaptations. We have seen great improvements in accessible toilets, but wheelchair and ambulant-accessible toilets do not meet the needs of many people with profound learning disabilities, for example, or of those who need the help of at least one carer to lift or change them, such as people with muscular or neurological conditions, a stoma or limb loss, so I understand why people continue to campaign for facilities with additional space, hoists or an adult-sized changing bench.
I have spoken in this place before on behalf of the many people in my constituency with inflammatory bowel disease. Almost 2,000 public toilets have closed throughout the UK in the past decade, which has had a direct impact on people with IBD. A survey by Crohn’s and Colitis UK found that a quarter of young people with IBD believed that their condition made socialising almost impossible, and many cited the need to know the proximity of a toilet as a key factor. Members will be familiar with the “Breastfeeding Welcome” signs displayed in many shops, cafés and public buildings. I want to see a similar initiative for people with the “Can’t Wait” card, issued to those with Crohn’s disease, colitis and IBD. I am aware of a pilot scheme for the card, and we would welcome a national roll-out, because it could give people with IBD more confidence to take part in the kind of everyday activities that the rest of us take for granted.
A substantial number of buildings in the UK receive public funding, from libraries and museums to council buildings and town halls, and they could all be open to people with conditions such as IBD. The impact on those people’s lives would be significant. The issues faced by people with IBD are indicative of many of the barriers faced by people with hidden disabilities. I have heard repeated reports of people being berated for using accessible toilets or parking bays when they “do not look disabled”. The issue of hidden disabilities is very close to my heart, and I was delighted to hear of the moves made by Asda, which will hopefully be adopted by other major supermarket chains, to adapt its signage to reflect the reality that many conditions are not immediately apparent. That kind of action helps to combat stigma for many people, and it should be applauded.
Disabled people can live the life they choose, participating equally alongside other citizens, their families, communities and workplaces—but only if they are given the support to do so. There are many examples of good practice across the country, where voluntary groups have identified barriers to participation and come up with innovative solutions to enable access to services and amenities.
I take this opportunity to highlight the sterling work of the Girvan Youth Trust in my constituency to make the beach at Girvan accessible to wheelchair users. Its Family Sandcastles initiative will allow wheelchair users the opportunity to feel the sand between their toes and to spend time at the beach with their friends and family, rather than having to sit on the prom watching from a distance. The only other barrier to their enjoyment of this part of our fantastic Ayrshire coastline will be the one we all face—the Scottish weather. Another local group, the Carrick angling club, has installed wheelchair-accessible fishing platforms to ensure that mobility issues are not a barrier to participating in that popular activity. The club has been investigating further options to extend its accessible offerings.
We need to encourage those kinds of local initiatives to remove barriers to involvement and participation, and we need to emulate them when setting Government disability policy. It is extremely disappointing, therefore, to see UK Government policy so utterly condemned by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities inquiry. The findings of the UN report starkly illustrated that the Government are undermining the rights of disabled people by imposing their obsession with austerity and social security cuts on some of the most disadvantaged people in our society. In this job I have witnessed the real hardship and distress caused by the Government’s policies. The Government’s Green Paper on disability employment support alludes to reform, but the process is fundamentally flawed and needs a radical overhaul. The Green Paper was a critical opportunity to get the system right for sick and disabled people, but one cannot help but be sceptical when the Government continue to insist on pressing ahead with cuts to employment and support allowance.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one outcome of those cuts is a drastic reduction in people’s accessibility and mobility due to the removal of Motability cars, which they depend on and feel are a lifeline that has helped them to get into employment and achieve full lives?
I completely agree.
In Scotland, we aim for a fairer, more equal and more inclusive society. To that end, the Scottish National party-led Government announced just before Christmas their plan to transform the lives of disabled people in Scotland. That plan was developed with disabled people, because we believe that the more than 1 million disabled people who contribute to our society should have control, dignity and freedom to live their lives as they choose and be supported to do so. That is in stark contrast to the cuts agenda that runs through every UK Government announcement about disability support, and we now face a further hurdle to equality for disabled people: a hard Brexit. That poses a real threat to disabled people’s rights. The Government must ensure that rights and protections for disabled people are not diluted as a result of us leaving the EU and stop paying lip service to equality issues.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), who is a great champion for disabled people’s rights.
It is always a pleasure to speak in debates where there is, broadly speaking, so much consensus. We all want disabled people to be socially included to the fullest possible extent. We all want to live in a society that sees the person, not the disability. We all want to remove the barriers that fate has placed in the way of any individual so that they can play a full role in society.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the challenge that some councillors and individuals undertook in Inverness during the week? They took to wheelchairs in the streets to get a better idea of those barriers. Would she encourage other people to do that in cities around the UK?
I would indeed. That useful initiative gives those of us who are lucky enough not to have to live with a disability a unique insight into the kinds of challenges that disabled people have to face every single day of their lives, and I commend such practices.
We have heard poignant and human examples of such barriers and the effects that they can have on individuals who live with a disability, such as the constituent that my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow mentioned. She also outlined the distressing example of Ms Wafula Strike, which I am sure is not an isolated one. Like the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White), I commend the work that Changing Places has done to promote fully accessible toilets. The problem is that work still needs to be done, which throws into stark relief how far we still have to go in catering for people who live with a disability and removing the barriers they face.
The Equality Act 2010 is important legislation. It contains the public sector equality duty and requires “reasonable adjustments” to be made to avoid a person with a disability being placed at a “substantial disadvantage” to a non-disabled person when accessing services and facilities. However, we have heard that there are loopholes in that Act. It does not prescribe what a reasonable adjustment is in particular circumstances or place a duty on all service providers to make specific disabled adaptations such as installing lifts or hearing loops, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Corri Wilson) so clearly set out.
There is no doubt that we have an absolute duty as a society to ensure equality of access to facilities. That ought to apply equally in the private sector and the public sector. It was absolutely correctly pointed out that equality of access should not be an afterthought. We must always guard against the marginalisation of disabled members of our communities. The disability employment gap shows that that is a real and present danger, and we cannot afford to be complacent, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow so eloquently pointed out.
This issue is not just about access to work, important though that is. It is about all elements of life: work, social life and leisure. Justice and fairness demands that. I commend the No More Floor campaign in the constituency of the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington, but the fact that such a campaign is needed should be cause for shame. It is a reminder of how little progress we have made in reality. A shortage of basic facilities consigns some people with a disability to being trapped in their homes, which can have a hugely negative impact on their lives, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock pointed out. It is surely bad enough that people living with a disability often face negative attitudes without finding themselves excluded in and from public spaces—although perhaps those negative attitudes lead to exclusion.
It is worth repeating that there is an economic dimension as well as social and moral elements. Some 7 million working age people have a disability. That adds up to an awful lot of spending power. The so-called purple pound is apparently worth £249 billion to the economy. Is it not madness for 7 million people to be excluded from the ordinary, mainstream life that so many of us do and should take for granted? As has been mentioned, many people with a disability rely on Motability vehicles to access amenities in our communities, and Motability must continue to be supported.
I am proud that the SNP Scottish Government have devised a new disabled delivery plan—a policy commitment to disabled people—based on the need to remove any further barriers and ensure full access to buildings, including disability-inclusive housing, transport and communication. Some 93 actions will be achieved by 2021. We aim to secure transformational change in support for disabled people in Scotland. I urge the Minister to look at the Scottish Government’s plans to see what can be learned from that policy commitment.
It would be remiss of me, while we are debating publicly accessible amenities for disabled people, not to mention that, with their new powers, the SNP Scottish Government are committed to establishing a social security system based on dignity and respect that will allow people with a disability to live as full and independent a life as possible, which I am sure we all agree with. Unfortunately, the UK Government have made cruel and punitive cuts to support for people living with a disability, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock set out.
I hope the Minister will pledge that any laws regarding disability rights and equality will be fully repatriated to Scotland in the wake of Brexit. It is essential that the SNP Scottish Government’s good work continues and develops. [Interruption.] The Minister really should pay attention. There is a very real concern among disabled people that their rights in law will no longer be protected by European Court of Justice judgments post-Brexit. That could lead to equality rights being more narrowly interpreted, as well as the loss of vital research funding and pooling of expertise that EU membership provides. Through European research, important treatments have been developed for diseases so rare that no one country could have developed them alone. As we agree that people living with a disability must have access to amenities, so we should agree that the rights of disabled people should be protected in the widest sense. I hope we do.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I thank the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for securing this important debate.
Disabled people were not necessarily born disabled. In fact, 90% of disability is acquired. I am one of the 90%. As some Members may know, I have a disability. For the last 20 years, I have worn a bone anchored hearing aid, without which I cannot hear a sound. I understand the difficulty facing many disabled people and the trauma that they go through.
Since the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, it has been illegal to discriminate against a disabled person. The Equality Act 2010 places a duty on providers of goods, services and facilities to make “reasonable adjustments” in order to avoid a disabled person being placed at a “substantial disadvantage” compared with non-disabled people when accessing services and facilities. Service providers’ failure to comply is a form of disability discrimination.
How many times have we seen disabled people denied basic access to vital services such as public transport? As recently as mid-January, the Supreme Court ruled, on a case bought by disability campaigner Doug Paulley, that bus drivers must ensure that there is sufficient space for wheelchair users to ride the bus safely. Outside the big cities and in many rural communities, the local bus service is often the only lifeline for disabled people to get out and about. Without access to that vital service, many disabled people may be left alone and housebound.
Many hon. Members here will have heard the frankly appalling story—the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow outlined it—of Anne Wafula Strike. How disgusting that she was forced to urinate on herself. That is humiliating, inhumane and totally unacceptable; unfortunately, it is not uncommon. Last week in Bristol, I came across a disabled lady in a wheelchair who told me how she was pushed to the sidings and left sat in her wheelchair while she waited for assistance to get on a train that she had booked some days previously. For too long, transport providers have failed to provide adequate basic facilities for disabled passengers. When will the Minister liaise with rail providers to ensure that they make the correct adjustments, so disabled passengers can travel in dignity and comfort?
I will quickly discuss the term “reasonable adjustments”. It seems to mean one thing to disabled people and a completely different thing to many employers. To some employers, it means doing the bare minimum to meet the legal requirements. Will the Government legislate for all employers to provide disability awareness training for their staff, and provide the right support for small to medium employers to achieve that? A Government review found that the number of cases taken to employment tribunals has fallen by 70% since court fees were introduced. It has therefore become very difficult for disabled employees to bring their employers to task for failing to make reasonable adjustments. Will the Minister urge the Government to scrap the extortionate fees that make it harder for disabled people to challenge bad practice in the workplace?
Disabled people who believe that they have experienced discrimination as a result of not being able to access a good, a service or a facility are typically responsible for taking action themselves, via the courts, against their employer. That is often a difficult, daunting and arduous process—more so for a person with a disability. Reasonable adjustments do not only mean adjustments to accommodate physical disabilities. Many people have learning disabilities or a mental health condition. Those so-called hidden disabilities are often forgotten. They require a different set of reasonable adjustments to someone who has a physical impairment.
I have experience of a case involving one of my constituents, who suffers from autism, learning difficulties and a severe form of tinnitus. He was called in for an assessment by the Department for Work and Pensions and was escorted by his 84-year-old mother. When she tried to explain that her son was not able to hear because of the noise around the room, she was told that the hearing would be terminated if she did not refrain from interfering. His assessment resulted in a major reduction of points, from 32 to six. He and his 84-year-old mother were left traumatised. It placed him in a difficult situation, and he was placed in what they call a support group. Anyone who meets this gentleman—he is a gentleman—will fully realise that he should not have been put in that group.
I took the case up. He had a reassessment in an appropriate place where there was no noise, his mother could accompany him, and there was someone who empathised with his difficulties. He wears ear muffs around his neck. He puts them on. Just one sound can set him off and make him severely ill. His reassessment resulted in the reinstatement of the original points. It was the most traumatic experience that that man has gone through. His mother still suffers from the after effects of being with him.
For too many disabled people, the legal requirements are nowhere near good enough. It is a shame that the Equality Act 2010, which replaced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, failed to set out exactly what reasonable adjustments entail. That lack of clarity has a real impact on disabled people’s ability to live full and independent lives.
I thank the hon. Lady for the great case that she is making. I have spoken to a number of organisations based in my constituency that work with deaf people, which have also found it difficult to get around the phrase “reasonable adjustments”. They feel as though they do not get access to the interview stage, never mind getting past that and getting a job, because people think that they will unable to do it because of their disability.
I concur. I know of and have been involved in many cases like that. I urge the Minister to provide urgent clarity on exactly what constitutes reasonable adjustments to stop irresponsible employers from skirting around the law.
There are too few disabled people in public office, including in this place. The access to elected office fund, which enables disabled people to stand for elected office and meet additional access requirements, has been suspended, and the Government’s evaluation report has been kicked into the long grass. Will the Government publish that evaluation and ensure that disabled people seeking to represent any party have support to meet the additional costs they face in standing for election?
A recent report by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on the accessibility of sports stadiums highlighted the failure of some clubs to provide adequate facilities for disabled fans attending matches. Having a disability should not prevent someone from attending and enjoying a sports match. Provision for disabled fans should not be patchy depending on which club they support. Everyone has the right to see their favourite sports team win or lose. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that premier league clubs, with their huge revenues, prioritise improving access for disabled fans?
The majority of the daily problems faced by disabled people arise from confusion over the rules, poor or insufficient communication, inadequate training of service providers and/or a lack of enforcement by the relevant authorities. Will the Minister explain what mechanisms are in place to enforce the Equality Act to ensure that disability discrimination does not go unchallenged?
Organisations such as Euan’s Guide offer information on accessibility for disabled people by offering access reviews of a range of service providers. It aims to inspire disabled people to try out new places and
“remove the fear of the unknown.”
What are the Government doing to ensure that more organisations like Euan’s Guide are better supported to ensure that disabled people get the information that they need to access all facilities? That fear of the unknown prevents too many disabled people from being able to fully participate in society—and society suffers for that. The Government must do more to provide disabled people with the right information. By doing so, they would empower so many more disabled people to go out and lead full and independent lives.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Buck. I begin by thanking the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron)—I got a nod there, which is a good sign—for bringing this important issue forward for debate. I know that as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for disability, she has a particular interest in issues that have an impact on disabled people.
We need public amenities in the right place. We want to be sure they are well managed, clean and open, and we need to find toilets with the right layout for our needs. I will focus my comments on the issues that the hon. Lady mentioned in relation to facilities for disabled people. I will also try to answer some of the wider questions that have been raised.
First, I will talk about building regulations, which play an extremely important role in ensuring that facilities are available for disabled people. The aim of building regulation requirements is to ensure that toilet layouts work for as many people as possible. The first building regulations on accessibility were introduced in 1984, and requirements have been updated regularly to ensure that new building work takes the needs of disabled people into account. Building regulations already set out minimum standards for accessible toilets in most public buildings. That includes standards for unisex accessible toilets even in small buildings and additional provision in larger buildings.
Because people’s needs and expectations evolve over time, my Department has commissioned a research project to look at the existing standards in part M of the building regulations. That research is looking at how well standards perform in meeting the needs of disabled people. The finalised report will help us to establish where a change to guidance is necessary and how guidance on accessible toilet provision might evolve to suite a range of needs. I understand that consistency of provision is important and that even small changes in layout, such as the position of wash basins or the omission of features such as shelves or coat hooks, can become awkward. Another area that may need to be considered is compliance with the requirements.
The number of people who need specialised toilet accommodation has increased in line with broader demographic and social change. We recognise that the availability of facilities such as Changing Places helps people to plan activities away from home. It is heartening to see that here in the UK, we have developed a new generation of accessible toilets, most commonly known as Changing Places. That model is now even being followed by other countries such as Australia and Germany.
Several hon. Members mentioned Changing Places, and I think we can all agree that having more Changing Places is a good thing. They provide an adult changing bench, a hoist, washing facilities and space for carers and users to use the facilities safely. Part M of the building regulations, entitled “Access to and use of buildings”, was amended in 2013 to refer to Changing Places toilets as desirable and to provide links to information on their installation and use developed by the Changing Places Consortium. However, building regulations are not retrospective, and building control relates primarily to new buildings or works that involve major refurbishment. They do not apply to all buildings, so railway stations, airports and ports fall outside building control. Important locations such as high streets may not see the major development that would trigger building regulation requirements.
In his evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee, my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning said that we need a mixed economy in increasing provision. He is determined to look at the evidence we are now gathering to see what more needs to be done to provide the facilities needed for people with disabilities.
I am pleased to say that my Department has worked for the past 10 years, and continues to work, to encourage more Changing Places. We are working closely with Mencap, the British Toilet Association, PAMIS and the Changing Places campaign. The Government have supported great progress, which at the moment has been mainly on a voluntary basis.
Since the Department for Communities and Local Government became involved with Changing Places toilets in 2007, the number of Changing Places in the UK has increased from around 140 to 926 today. In March 2016 the figure was 813, and it is now 926, so we can see that the take-up is quite considerable and that momentum is growing.
We have also funded the development of a website to help people find the nearest Changing Places toilet quickly and easily. Using the site, anyone can find a Changing Places toilet on their planned route or wherever they are. However, I take on board the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White); we certainly need more Changing Places, because they are not available in every place that people might want to visit or across the transport network.
It is great to see my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work on the Front Bench today, listening intently to this debate. I know that she raised the issue of access and accessible toilets for disabled people at a Premier League event last autumn. At the time, only three premier league clubs had Changing Places facilities. That has now risen to five clubs with registered facilities and two further clubs with similar unregistered facilities. I understand that 10 other clubs are now looking into the issue to see what further action they can take, following significant work from the Changing Places Consortium and others.
Of course, other legislation supports the provision of more publicly available disabled toilets. Section 20 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, for example, gives local authorities the power to require toilets to be provided and maintained for public use in any place that provides entertainment, exhibitions or sporting events, and places serving food and drink for consumption on the premises. Environmental health officers review plans and premises’ licence applications, which includes advising on whether the sanitary facilities provided are sufficient in number, design and—most crucially in the context of our debate—layout. Once buildings are in use, there are duties on employers and service providers under the Equality Act 2010, which has helped to ensure that the needs of disabled people are anticipated and catered for.
Through the planning system, local authorities can also impose requirements or negotiate with developers to ensure that enhanced accessible toilets such as Changing Places are brought forward in new large-scale developments or in buildings with strategic importance. Furthermore, the Department for Work and Pensions has taken forward initiatives on the wider accessibility agenda, such as the accessibility hack, which explores ways to harness technology, people power and its work with sector champions to tackle the issues that disabled people face as customers.
Figures for the spending power of people with disabilities were mentioned on a number of occasions, which is a very important point. The figure I have is that people with disabilities and their families have £250 billion to spend. That reinforces the reason why people developing new shopping centres, motorway services and so on should really think about providing proper facilities, particularly Changing Places, that would be supported by customers with disabilities and their families.
I will answer as many of the specific questions asked by hon. Members as I can. The hon. Member for East Kilbride—I will not push it any further; I will call her constituency just “East Kilbride” from now on—asked whether anything was being done to improve access at DWP buildings where work capability assessments are undertaken. I can tell her that improvements are taking place to assessment centres and DWP offices. While I am on that subject, it is important to refer again to the Green Paper and the work on health, which has been consulted on. The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work is looking at a number of reforms, particularly changes to the work capability assessment, with the aim of ensuring that we have far better data so that we cut down on the number of assessments that are needed in the first place. As I understand it, that would also help with the assessments for personal independence payment.
The hon. Lady made several points about accessibility for disabled people on public transport. That is a very important issue. We have all seen the recent stories and been shocked at some of the things that have happened. Transport is clearly a very important issue. My counterparts at the Department for Transport have recently given evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee inquiry on disability and the built environment. We are looking closely at how transport services can be improved. I will write to the hon. Lady to set out the Government’s position in more detail, and I will also write to the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer) on that point.
The hon. Member for East Kilbride also mentioned what plans there were to increase access and asked about a UK accessibility delivery plan. This is quite a challenging area, because there are many issues that relate to the UK Government, but there are also many issues—for example, building regulations and transport policy—that directly relate to the UK Government only here in England and to the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The hon. Lady made a very good point. The Minister for Housing and Planning recently gave evidence for the Women and Equalities Committee inquiry on disability and the built environment. The Committee has expressed an interest in the possibility of a more strategic approach, as the hon. Lady advocated, and we will certainly look at those recommendations closely.
The hon. Lady asked what powers we can use to ensure compliance. Compliance with building regulations, for example, is a legal requirement. Non-compliance can result in fines, which can be unlimited. Compliance with the Equality Act 2010 is certainly also a legal duty—perhaps we need to remind service providers that that is a duty, not an option. That is a very important message that we can send from the House today. We consider the public sector equality duty carefully and expect every public body to consider it in undertaking its work. Again, that is not an option but a requirement.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington made very important points. I was pleased to hear about the new lifts being installed at Warwick train station. I do not like to say that my own constituency of Nuneaton is in front of Warwick, but we have had lifts at our station for many years. It is really good to hear that, at Warwick, lifts are being installed to support people who have disabilities and need access to lifts because of things such as wheelchairs.
My hon. Friend also talked about putting Changing Places on a statutory footing and requiring Changing Places to be provided. I hear what he says. As I said before, we have commissioned research, and we will look carefully at its findings. The Minister for Housing and Planning will then look carefully at the point that my hon. Friend makes.
In relation to the comments by the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), we are working on improving the issues to do with Motability vehicles, particularly as regards appeals.
The hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston asked a question about elected office. We are working across political parties on this matter. All political parties have signed up to the Disability Confident work, on which the DWP is leading. I am informed by the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work that we are also looking forward to introducing measures to ensure that we enable people with disabilities to hold elected office, which is extremely important. We do not have in this place enough people with disabilities, who have more depth of understanding of these issues when they are spoken about here. The same goes for people who represent their local areas on local authorities, and I will certainly be keen to work on that with my hon. Friend, who is here representing the DWP.
The Minister has given a thorough response so far. Given that a number of research and evaluation projects are under way, would he be able to come to the all-party parliamentary group for disability to update us on the progress being made in that regard and to inform us directly about the way forward?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. It is always a bit risky to put a colleague in the frame to undertake a meeting, but I will certainly bring that point to the attention of the Minister for Housing and Planning, who is always keen to engage with organisations in relation to his area of responsibility.
This is an extremely important issue. We should always take into account the needs of disabled people, and particularly the accessibility of public buildings, public toilets and Changing Places. We look forward to continuing a collaborative approach not just with hon. Members from both sides of the House, but with a number of voluntary and charitable organisations that I have mentioned today. I thank the hon. Member for East Kilbride for bringing these important issues to the House.
I thank all hon. Members who have taken part in this debate, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for enabling it. It would be helpful if a Minister could attend the all-party parliamentary group for disability to update us on the research. I am keen to take that forward.
We did not have a chance to speak about building regulations, but I am keen to understand how the refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster will be undertaken in relation to accessibility. Perhaps we can also look at that issue. I have previously spoken to the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work on the Floor of the House about the possibility of allowing home visits where DWP offices are not accessible.
I thank everybody for taking part in this debate. We will certainly continue to look at this issue.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way—I had plenty of time to speak, but I just want to make two more points. First, my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work is looking at the refurbishment of the Palace, and I am sure she will have a discussion with the hon. Lady about it. Secondly, on building regulations and the work that that the all-party group is doing, my officials are engaged with officials in the Scottish Government on those matters.
To conclude, it is important that we take these issues forward across the nations and Governments of the United Kingdom to ensure that there is not a postcode lottery for people with disability. We must work together in a progressive way to ensure accessibility for all.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered publicly accessible amenities for disabled people.
Road Traffic Law Enforcement
[Mike Gapes in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Second Report of the Transport Committee of Session 2015-16, Road traffic law enforcement, HC 518, and the Government response, HC 132.
Deaths on our roads have decreased over the past decade following sustained efforts to improve road safety. Nevertheless, in 2015, 1,730 people were killed on our roads and 22,144 seriously injured, many of them suffering life-changing consequences. That is the background against which the Select Committee on Transport carried out our inquiry into road traffic law enforcement. Our report was published in March 2016, and the Department responded in June.
There are three strands to road safety—education, engineering and enforcement—and they cut across Departments. Our report concentrates on enforcement, but inevitably touches on the other aspects. The National Police Chiefs Council told us that its task was to act in relation to the fatal four offences: inappropriate speed, drink and drug-driving, non-wearing of seat belts and driving while distracted, which mainly refers to the use of mobile phones but also involves other aspects.
Enforcement requires detection, which is implemented by a combination of specialist officers to apprehend offenders and the application of technology. Deterrence, which includes motorists’ perceptions of the likelihood of being caught, is an extremely important aspect of traffic law enforcement. Over the years, there has been greater reliance on technology than on specialist officers. We expressed great concern about the major reduction in specialised road policing officers, the number of whom fell from a full-time equivalent of 7,104 in 2005 to 4,356 by 2014. Between 2010 and 2014, there was a 23% decrease in their number. There are regional variations on those figures, reflecting the different decisions of the 43 separate police areas overseen by police and crime commissioners. They take their own individual decisions about what they think is operationally appropriate, but all of them do so in the context of deciding different priorities against a background of a reduction in spending. There is no Home Office guidance on the issue, so those decisions are taken in individual areas.
It is interesting to note that although overall detected traffic offences halved over that period, the number of offences related to causing death on the roads, which are always reported, did not fall. That leads to the question whether the reduction in reported offences means that driving standards have improved or that detection rates have fallen. It is an important question to ask. We ask that the Department assess the impact of that drastic reduction in specialist road police officers. It is an important matter that is often not recognised.
Speed can kill. Driving too fast for conditions was a contributory factor in 7,361 accidents in 2015, 167 of which were fatal and 1,380 of which caused serious injury. That represents 11% of all fatal accidents and 8% of serious accidents. Exceeding the speed limit was a contributory factor in 5,272 accidents, 222 of which were fatal, and 1,152 causing serious injury. That constitutes 15% of fatal accidents and 7% of serious accidents. Behind every one of those figures and each of those statistics lies a death or a life changed, perhaps forever.
Some 90% of fixed penalty notices imposed for breaking the speed limit were camera-detected. Speed cameras are frequently controversial. We listened to the experiences about speed cameras that have been put in different places, considered the various responses and concluded that it is important that cameras are placed where they can improve safety and that their financing is transparent, with excess revenues being invested in improving local road safety rather than financially benefiting the Exchequer or local councils. The financing for fixed speed cameras has changed in recent years. Recent changes have caused some local authorities and partnerships to remove such cameras, but they can be extremely important in improving safety, so there must be a proper assessment of where they are placed and how effective they are. We said that we felt the Road Safety Trust should review how the cameras are working and what is the most effective way to deploy them.
Motorists seem to regard penalties imposed for average speeds as fairer than those levied for speed at the moment when the camera flashes. We noted the growth of diversionary courses as an alternative to speeding penalties, with drivers paying for the courses. We asked a number of questions about those courses. We need to know much more about how effective they are. There should be more transparency about how they are financed, and more consistency in their availability across the country. Drivers pay to go on the courses, and they might pay different amounts in different areas; different courses are available in different policing and local authority areas, and it is not entirely clear how effective they are. We felt that a proper assessment should be made.
Although the Department told us that it was issuing guidance, and Highways England is also looking at the issue, it is not entirely clear what works best to make our roads safer. We felt that specialist officers should be deployed in areas where high speed causes fatalities, and that that should be combined with an educational campaign. In many areas, an educational campaign must go together with enforcement.
Recently, there has been a great deal of publicity about the horrendous deaths caused by drivers using handheld mobile phones, which falls under the category of distraction in vehicle. A driver using a handheld mobile phone was recorded as a contributory factor in 440 accidents in 2015, 22 of which were fatal and 75 of which involved serious injury. The wider category of distraction in vehicle was a contributory factor in 2,920 accidents, 61 of which were fatal and 384 of which caused serious injuries.
It is of great concern that fixed penalty notices for using a handheld mobile phone while driving have decreased by 90% from 167,000 in 2006 to fewer than 17,000 in 2015. The Government now state that they are planning tougher penalties, which is welcome, but those penalties will be effective only if drivers believe that they will get caught for using their handheld phone.
I saw the statistics that my hon. Friend has just cited about the 90% reduction. Could the Committee identify what caused that reduction? When I read that, I could not believe it was an accurate figure.
My hon. Friend’s comments are extremely important. It seems to be about a reduction in detection rates and in officers on the roads, which is of great concern to us. When we spoke to police who gave evidence to our inquiry, they told us that they felt the use of handheld mobile phones was an important factor in relation to road safety—perhaps an even more serious one than drinking and driving. The issue must be flagged up as one of great concern on which further action needs to be taken.
Since the publication of our report, I have been approached by people with proposals for using technology to both deter and prevent the use of handheld mobile phones when driving. Some of the proposals were extremely interesting, including a proposal for technology that would switch off the possibility of using a handheld mobile phone while the car was in motion, except for emergency needs. Another proposal referred to technology to detect the use of a mobile phone while somebody was driving. Some of the people who spoke to me were going to meet Ministers to discuss the matter further. I urge the Minister to look at how technology can be used to make progress in this area. It is horrendous when we hear of people being killed—people in cars or pedestrians at the side of the road—because of a driver being distracted by a handheld mobile phone. It is a very serious matter. We should not wait for the statistics that I read out to increase so that the problem becomes even more evident than it is already. Such an important issue should be addressed.
Pedal cyclists and motorcyclists are vulnerable road users. In 2015, 100 cyclists were killed on the roads and more than 3,000 were seriously injured. In the same year, 365 motorcyclists were killed and more than 5,000 seriously injured. One of the concerns raised by cyclists who gave evidence in our inquiry was the lack of enforcement of traffic laws and the lack of consistency in reporting near misses—accidents that almost happened. It should always be remembered that for a cyclist, a near miss could mean near death. There does not seem to be consistency in applying road traffic laws in relation to cyclists, and there is no proper national collation of what happens in such incidents, so we call on the Department to investigate and try to get national information about what is happening in different places. That is extremely important.
There are also issues to do with the Department’s actions in relation to local authorities, which should be given the power to enforce civil regulations in moving traffic. The decriminalisation of parking offences shows what role local authorities can play. Enforcing civil regulations in moving traffic includes enforcing laws with regard to bus lanes, one-way systems and ignoring box junction markings. It is regrettable that the Department has again refused to activate part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004. It is not clear why the Government keep refusing, despite repeated requests. We were told that there was no call for it, but that is not correct because local authorities, among others, repeatedly ask for the measure to be activated. The provision is already has already been passed into law, so I would be grateful for further information from the Minister on why the Departments feels it cannot implement that part of the Act. It has already been agreed to, and it would have significant implications for local road management, for road safety and for the saving of lives.
Drinking and driving do not mix. Drivers impaired by alcohol contributed to 4,788 accidents in 2015; 126 of those were fatal and 1,120 caused serious injuries. It is important that information is gathered on whether drivers involved in accidents who have been drinking but are below the legal limit are in fact impaired in their driving. If that information is not gathered at the moment, it should be. It might help us come to a reasoned assessment of whether the limits should be changed. It is also important that the impact of other jurisdictions’ decisions to lower the legal limit be assessed so that we can find out what impact that has made.
Wearing seat belts is extremely important. It is of great concern to know that 22% of car occupants who were killed in 2015 were not wearing seat belts. A major education campaign is required. Since 2014, cars sold in Europe have to have visual and audio warnings about seat belts. However, that applies to new cars, and it will take a long time for that to have an effect on our roads, so I call for a major campaign on that. It could be done simply and could save lives.
Heavy goods vehicles and road freight present their own challenges. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s use of technology and its intelligence-based approach bring real benefits. Joint working in London and the south-east is particularly impressive. We saw how impressive that was in London. It is important that random checks are not abandoned, because they matter as well. The London safer lorry scheme should be assessed for wider application.
Issues surrounding the use of EU cross-border directives when non-UK drivers commit offences must be resolved. There has been a problem in that UK traffic law is based on charging the driver of a vehicle rather than the registered keeper, whereas the directive focuses on the keeper. The Government have been trying to resolve that issue, and we were told it would be resolved by May 2017. It is unclear how Brexit might affect that issue. What progress has been made in dealing with it? Again, this is to do with saving lives.
Penalties must be seen to be fair and consistent. When drivers are found to have been breaking road traffic laws, they should feel that the process is fair and that they were not simply caught in a random way. Since 2013, police officers have been able to issue fixed penalty notices for careless and inconsiderate driving offences. Specialist officers should be visible and act consistently in different parts of the country.
Road traffic law enforcement is essential, as our report has shown. It is, however, part of a wider approach to road safety, including not only enforcement but education and engineering. Those three strands must work together, cutting across Government Departments. The welcome reduction in casualties over the past decade has come about because the Department has given road safety a consistent focus over many years and different Departments have worked together. The Minister has already indicated that he will act on some aspects of our report, and I welcome the interest and commitment that he has shown. I call on him to explain what further steps he will take to reduce the number of people who die or are maimed on our roads, and how he will work with other Departments and local government to achieve that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), who has chaired the Select Committee very well over the many years I have sat on it. I want to pick up on some of the points she has made in a very good summary of our work. I enjoyed taking part in our inquiry. We heard good evidence from road safety experts across the field. I agree with the general thrust of the report. The UK does have a good record on road safety, but there is absolutely no room for complacency. There are a few worrying trends on which we need to take action. I want to say a few words on drink-driving, cycling, using mobile phones, using technology to help, speed cameras, and the regional variations in enforcement policy among different police forces.
Statistics show that, in the past decade, we have made good improvements on drink-driving, but it is still an issue. The improvement is partly cultural. My father’s generation thought it acceptable to go out for a few pints and drive home. That was completely wrong, and the younger generation certainly seems to be much less tolerant of people who have a few drinks and then drive. It still happens too much, and this country has one of the highest drink-driving limits in Europe at 80 micrograms per 100 ml, whereas in most of Europe it is 50 micrograms. We noted in our inquiry that Scotland recently reduced its limit to 50 micrograms. It is probably a little too early properly to assess whether that has materially changed behaviour in Scotland, but it is certainly something we should look at.
I have always been somewhat sceptical about reducing the limit from 80 micrograms to 50 micrograms, something on which the Transport Committee in the previous Parliament conducted an inquiry. I have often felt that there is a risk of sending out mixed messages. At various times, including Christmas, the Department sensibly runs “Don’t drink and drive” campaigns telling people not to drink at all. Yet by reducing the level from 80 micrograms to 50 micrograms, we are saying it is still okay to have a little and drive. If we want to go down the road of lowering the limit, I think we should follow countries such as Finland where it is effectively zero. The limit there is 20 micrograms per 100 ml—there cannot be a zero limit because we all have alcohol in our systems for a range of reasons, such as from aftershave, perfume and deodorant, so 20 micrograms is agreed as the effective zero limit.
It was interesting to learn during the inquiry that statistics show very few people being caught for drink-driving related matters in the 50 microgram to 80 microgram range. Most people were way over the 80 microgram limit. I have a slight concern that it might not be best to focus campaign efforts against drink-driving on reducing the limit. I should like to consider wider measures for tackling it. However, I do not have a blinkered view and if, for example, evidence from Scotland were to show a marked difference we should clearly consider doing the same in England.
It is a concern that the number of cycling fatalities and serious injuries is increasing. That is probably due in part to the fact that more people now cycle, which is a good thing for health and wellbeing and environmental reasons, and for congestion. The Government are doing a lot to help promote cycling. It is not an entirely uncontroversial area, but the introduction of separate cycle lanes in London is making cycling better. However, there is an issue of enhanced law enforcement. Too many drivers pass cyclists without leaving sufficient room and are intolerant of them on the roads. That cuts both ways, however. I have seen plenty of cyclists who do not behave properly on the road. I should be interested to see better enforcement and education in both directions.
In Milton Keynes, we have a completely segregated cycle system. It was one of the design features—a system of “redways” right across the city, primarily to keep pedestrians and cyclists separate from the 60-mph grid roads. I find it incredibly frustrating that cyclists do not use them, and cause risk to themselves and other drivers by using the main grid roads. I should like slightly better education about how to behave. I did my cycling proficiency test at school. I do not know whether that is still a common feature—I understand it changed its name to Bikeability—but the Department for Transport could perhaps work with the Department for Education on promoting it. I should be interested to hear what cycling measures the Government propose.
The Select Committee Chair, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside, was right to say that mobile phone use is a growing worry. It is becoming more of a menace. The idea of recording the number of cycling near-misses has been raised—the number of near-misses caused by drivers using mobile phones is quite high. I have observed it many times: a driver on his mobile phone suddenly pulls out into the fast lane, oblivious of the oncoming traffic. It has not always been an offence. A driver was shown using his phone in a film I saw the other week from the late ’80s, when there were big clunky car phones. We need mobile phone use by drivers to become more of a social taboo, as with drink-driving and not wearing a seatbelt. It should be made clear through increased penalties and enforcement that it is not acceptable, and that it is one of the growing causes of accidents.
I would widen that, too, because mobile phone use is not the only issue. Particularly at the top end of the market, the display panels of more and more cars, which used to have just the radio and the heating controls or whatever, have screens for choosing music. Some even have web access, so web pages can be displayed, which is incredibly distracting. There must be a role for working with manufacturers to ensure that technology is used safely. As an example, a company in my constituency called Two Trees Photonics has developed a system of holograms that projects the information—the car’s speed and similar things—over the end of the bonnet, so that the driver does not have to take his eyes off the road to look at things such as satnav information. I urge the Department to work more with manufacturers and, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside mentioned, to consider technology to block mobile phones when the car is in motion. To go back to the topic of drink-driving, I understand that there is also technology available that can sense the driver’s alcohol level through the hands. If it is over a certain limit, the ignition will not start. There is a big role for technology of that kind.
I want briefly to talk about speed cameras. I absolutely agree that fixed cameras have an important role to play, particularly at dangerous junctions. The Committee also considered average speed cameras. They can be valuable, but that there is a danger of overuse, and of confusion about the grace limit. Some people have said it is only 1 mph or 2 mph above the 50-mph average speed limit. Others say it is 10% plus 2 mph, so that people can go at almost 60 mph. There is a need for greater clarity about what is enforced. Average speed limits should not be used where there is no need for them. I agree that there are dangerous stretches of road where using average speed is very appropriate, even in normal circumstances. Certainly, it is absolutely right to use it to protect the workforce during motorway repair work. Too often, however, Highways England blocks off an enormous stretch of road—20 miles in some instances—when the work is happening in only a very small part of that. It increases driver frustration and the likelihood of risky behaviour. Some care should be used in deploying average speed technology.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion. Notwithstanding the anomalies that he suggests exist with average speed cameras—between where it is 1 mph or 5 mph over 10% or whatever—with fixed speed cameras, we can see people slow down and immediately speeding up again when they go past them. They might go up to 70 mph, 80 mph, 90 mph, below 100 mph or whatever. With average speed, drivers do not go more than maybe 10% plus 2 mph, so they are far more effective in reducing the speeds of every driver, and motorists actually obey them, surely.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point and I agree with him. Fixed cameras have their role, for example where there is a dangerous junction, to get speeds down to 30 mph or whatever it is. That is an appropriate use of them. However, I am guilty of what he described—we slow down before the fixed camera and then accelerate once we are past it. I hold my hands up on that. Many motorists do that and I agree that average speed cameras are a better tool than fixed speed cameras to prevent that.
I do not want to detain Members much further. Lastly, there is the issue of enforcement practice around the country. The Chair of the Committee was absolutely correct to say it varies from police force to police force. In many ways, it is right that we have that local flexibility and that police and crime commissioners can adapt their policies and resources to the specific needs of their area. It also allows innovation to take place with new practices, new technology and the rest.
However, there must be a better system of collating best practice information and then sharing it with other authorities, so that the good new ideas can actually influence the whole country. The Department has a better role to play in doing that. I would not want to see everything absolutely set rigidly from the centre—it is appropriate to have some local discretion on how enforcement takes place—but, as I say, we should learn from the best. That is one of the benefits of a devolved system.
I hope this has been a helpful contribution. It was a very interesting inquiry. We are not trying to fix a dreadful problem, because this country has one of the best records in this area, but one death is too many and anything we can do to improve our safety record must be welcomed. Once again, I thank my fellow members of the Committee and the Chair for this work. It was very interesting and I look forward to hearing what the Minister says.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Gapes. There are at least two members of the Speakers’ Panel who Chair our meetings who are fellow West Ham United supporters. I know that confers no special privilege; if anything, it is probably a disadvantage. However, it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this afternoon.
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart)—[Interruption.] There you go; there’s fame for you. I am not in the main Chamber, as the annunciator says; I am here in Westminster Hall. Apparently I am in both at the same time. How does that work? Well, that might make a diary piece somewhere.
As I say, I am delighted to follow the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), who is the Chair of the Transport Committee, with whom I had the pleasure of serving on that Committee for a couple of years. I am very grateful for the Committee’s report. I should say that I am vice-chair of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety’s all-party group on road safety, and I am grateful to Katy Harrison for her briefing for this debate.
I begin by quoting from the opening paragraph of the summary of the Transport Committee’s report, which I think needs a little qualification. It says:
“The UK has a very good road safety record in global terms. However, the decline in fatalities in road accidents”—
I always challenge that questionable use of the word “accidents”. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes South said in his comments that people speeding and people on mobile phones cause “accidents”. They do not cause “accidents”; they cause crashes, because they are making decisions deliberately, selfishly and carelessly that lead to collisions. Therefore, these things are not “accidents”; they are deliberate human mistakes and they could be avoided. Calling them “accidents” gets people off the hook, because we all have accidents, such as spilling glasses of water and all the rest of it. Crashes are not “accidents”; they are deliberate human acts.
The Committee’s report goes on to say that the decline in road fatalities
“has slowed in recent years, and the most recent annual figures show a small increase in the number of road fatalities. The increase in injuries among pedal cyclists is of particular concern”
“While Education and Engineering are important, they cannot stand alone”—
as my hon. Friend the Chair of the Committee said. The report also states:
“Enforcement must be adequate and its methods designed to ensure safety in order to continue the trend in reducing road fatalities and injuries.”
The UK’s safety record may very well be in danger, because, as was mentioned by both the previous speakers, the figures are moving in the wrong direction and the number of road fatalities is slightly increasing. Perhaps the Minister, when he responds to the debate, can confirm that the number of people being killed or seriously injured—the KSI figures—in the last two or three years is going in the wrong direction.
As was mentioned by both previous speakers, our record in global terms is excellent—we need to say that. The Minister will know that I am chair of Fire Aid, which supports the UN’s sustainable development goals on KSI reductions, particularly in the area of post-crash response, which includes exporting the British fire service’s expertise and professionalism in extracting victims from vehicles and dealing with road collisions. We are working in 30 countries around the world and taking British expert advice, training and equipment out to those countries, which are in eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and elsewhere.
The Government signed up to the sustainable development goals, which apply to the United Kingdom and not just to other countries, to say that we want a 40% reduction in the 1.25 million people who are killed and the 20 million people who are seriously injured on the world’s roads every year. Those targets—those ambitions—apply to the UK and not just to other countries. The European Union also has KSI targets to which the Government have signed up.
That makes the decision in 2010 by the former Secretary of State for Transport to abandon the UK’s KSI reduction targets all the more disappointing. The Government’s abandonment of a clear commitment to save more lives and reduce serious injuries was not only a signal lack of ambition but a retreat from the 30-year consensus started by the Thatcher Administration in the 1980s, probably by the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) when he was the Minister with responsibility for road safety. As I say, it commanded cross-party support for more than thirty years, but was abandoned because the former Secretary of State for Transport, it was reported, did not want to fail to meet the targets and consequently be accused of failure. However, not having targets basically said, “Well, we’re not really having any ambition,” which was very defeatist.
Let me turn to some of the specific recommendations in the Transport Committee’s report and the Government response. Recommendations 1 and 2 basically deal with the number of traffic police officers and the fact that their number is falling. My hon. Friend, the Chair of the Committee, said that the number of offences for causing death has not fallen, but the number of traffic offences being detected has fallen significantly.
The Government response to those recommendations says:
“The level of effective roads policing is not necessarily dependent solely on one factor, for example all police officers can enforce the law, including road traffic law, and there can be improved targeting of resources on particular problems.”
However, the Transport Committee’s report says:
“The National Police Chiefs Council…emphasised”—
in the evidence it gave to the Committee—
“that road policing is a specialist skill set and a highly technical specialism that cannot be replicated by a ‘regular front-line operational officer’.”
As my hon. Friend the Chair of the Committee said, the number of specialist road police officers has consistently fallen over the last decade and it is now down to about 4,300 from about 7,100. The report states:
“The total number of detected motoring offences has more than halved over the past decade”
between 2004 and 2015. The need for a skilled and adequate road policing presence remains, not least to protect vulnerable road users. My question to the Minister is this: have cuts to the number of specialised road policing officers led to fewer traffic offences being detected? Obviously, if they have, that needs to be examined.
I had a brief exchange with the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South on speed cameras. I was tickled, I must confess, by recommendation 4 in the report, which said:
“Further deployment of average speed cameras (ASC), which are generally better received by motorists”.
“Better received” is a euphemism. They are better obeyed by motorists. There are some motorists out there who do not think we should have speed cameras. We beg to differ on “better received”. I might have argued for a stronger word than “received”, because speed is clearly an issue, as both my colleagues have mentioned.
Recommendation 6 states:
“We recommend that the Government monitor the placement of speed cameras by local authorities to ensure that this is the case.”
I will come back to the strong point that the Chair of the Select Committee made on devolvement to local authorities and using their expertise and technology to enforce the laws. Does the Minister have up-to-date information on how wide the deployment is of civilians in communities trained by the police in using handheld speed radar guns? It empowers local communities that think they have a problem with speeding to take the matter into their own hands and deter people from making the roads where they live dangerous.
Recommendation 15 states:
“We recommend that the Department fund research into the development and effective deployment of technology to detect illegal mobile phone use while driving.”
That point was made by the Chair of the Select Committee. The Government’s response cites the statistic that only 1.6% of car drivers were observed using a handheld mobile phone. I would like to think that that is anecdotal, because certainly in London the percentage seems to be higher. Obviously, this is a study that the Government would have undertaken. Given the serious dangers that the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South pointed out, even 1.6% is an issue.
If I may, I say hello to our civil servants. The last sentence of this part of the Government’s response says:
“Ultimately, use of such a devise”.
There is a spelling mistake, and we rarely find those in Select Committee reports and Government responses. I do not know how that sneaked in.
Will the Government consider the Transport Select Committee’s recommendation to
“fund research into the development and effective deployment of technology to detect illegal mobile phone use while driving”?
That is of great interest to me and other road safety campaigners.
My second point on mobile phone use is that RAC research shows that most offenders are offered educational courses. With the welcome introduction of new penalties by the Government, they appear to be suggesting that courses will not be offered in future. Are they now discouraging the option of educational courses for illegal mobile phone use? The key issue here, as the Chair of the Select Committee said, is detection. People do not commit offences if they think they will be found out. If they think they will get away with it, they will commit the offence. With fewer road traffic police on our roads and less visibility, more people think they will get away with it and more people will offend.
Recommendation 16 talks about how the
“vulnerability of cyclists provides a particular road enforcement challenge.”
That is a huge issue for Members from all parts of the House. Central Government and local government are making great efforts to protect cyclists more, to promote cycling and to reduce the number of people who are vulnerable when they are cycling. I got a briefing from Cycling UK, and I must confess that I baulked at one of its responses to the Government’s response. It said:
“Cycling UK would suggest that the subsequent THINK! Campaign, urging cyclists to ‘hang back’ from lorries, merely added to the perception that cycling was dangerous, whilst also blaming victims.”
I think that is nonsensical. It is absolute rubbish. When I cycle from east London into Westminster, I travel down Lower Thames Street and the Embankment. Before we had cycle superhighway 3 and a dedicated lane, whenever I approached a junction or a traffic light and had an HGV in front of me, common sense would say to me, “Hang back.” It is basic common sense for the THINK! campaign to say to cyclists, “Hang back.” For Cycling UK to say that that is patronising or reinforces the fact that cycling is dangerous demeans the campaign for better cycling. I know what Cycling UK is trying to say, but when we undermine the solid messaging from the THINK! campaign on safer cycling, it does the promotion of cycling no good at all. We all want to see safer cycling, safer cyclists and more of us.
Recommendation 19 states:
“We recommend that the Home Office commission research on how collisions or near misses are handled by the police”.
The Chair of the Select Committee majored on that and outlined why the Committee thought that that was absolutely necessary.
My last reference is to recommendations 37 and 38. I agree entirely with the Committee that devolving powers could be a way forward. I understand the Government’s anxiety, especially given the abuses of unscrupulous parking companies levelling fines and massively increasing fines for people who are guilty of not paying the appropriate parking fee. Given the advances in technology, communities expect to be protected against unsocial and criminal elements. Speeding cars in urban environments, such as in my constituency—we have a rash of it in Wapping at present—should be tackled by the police and the council. CCTV, automatic number plate recognition cameras and other evidence-gathering technology should be deployed to protect communities against those who do not care about the rest of us. Given the support of local authorities, I reinforce the point that the Chair of the Select Committee made: I do not understand the Government’s reluctance to embrace local councils as allies in the fight against illegal, criminal and dangerous activity, especially in a climate of devolution where every level of government is devolving powers to local communities.
Our fellow citizens are more likely to come up against unacceptable behaviour and illegality on our roads than probably at any other time in their lives. Too many will die and far too many will suffer life-changing serious injuries. The report is important, and I commend the Committee and all its members for bringing it forward. The Government need to do more to reassure our communities.
I do not in any way challenge the Minister’s personal commitment to having safer roads. On a personal level, I know he is totally determined to do the right thing. It is the same for the THINK! campaign and all the civil servants within the Department who work overtime to try to ensure that are roads are safer. The Chair of the Select Committee made references to education and campaign activity. Can the Minister tell us how much money was deployed on the THINK! budget last year, and how much will be deployed this year and next year? With no disrespect to the Minister, he inherited a suite of policies and decisions that fundamentally point the Government in the wrong direction on road safety. The reduction in road police, the U-turn on the Green Paper on new and younger drivers, and the abolition of KSI reduction targets, are all fundamental policies that have taken the Government in the wrong direction. We are very keen to see the KSI statistics for 2014, 2015 and 2016. I think they will suggest the Government are going in the wrong direction, and they are the only people who can change that direction. I am keen to listen to the responses of the shadow road safety Minister—my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden)—and the Minister.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes, I think for the first time. I cannot claim to be a West Ham supporter—I very much hope you will forgive me for that.
You should claim to not be a West Ham supporter.
I will not rise to the Minister’s bait, even though he tempts me to do so. I congratulate the Transport Committee and its Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), on securing this debate and on considering the Government’s road safety strategy and, in particular, the issue of enforcement. I thank the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) for their important contributions to the debate. My hon. Friend’s contribution was remarkable. As he observed, he managed—according to the annunciator—to achieve omnipresence, being here in Westminster Hall and speaking in the Chamber simultaneously.
This is a really important report. We all know—it has been mentioned several times in the debate—that the UK has a proud road safety record. At least, it had one for almost two decades, when deaths and serious injuries fell sharply, but the worrying reality is that since 2010 that progress has stalled. The latest rolling figures show that there has been no reduction in total road deaths and a 2% increase in serious casualties in the past 12 months. Meanwhile, even though a great deal was achieved over those decades, drinking and driving-related casualties have been effectively stuck at about 240 a year since 2010.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside, and all hon. Members who spoke, drew attention to the situation regarding mobile phone use at the wheel. I know that at the end of last year the Government introduced more stringent measures on mobile phone use, which are welcome. However, is that really enough when the RAC’s latest report on motoring estimates that almost one in three drivers still thinks it is okay to check their phone while at the wheel? In the way that it was made socially unacceptable to ignore having seatbelts in a car or to drink and drive, we must use every tool at our disposal to change the culture of drivers using mobile phones at the wheel.
Personally, like my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse, I do not doubt the Government’s sincerity on road safety. However, the reality of their record has been one of disappointment in recent years. They are failing on their manifesto commitment to reduce casualties year on year. Some important causes of that failure have already been alluded to. The first, which my hon. Friend was right to mention, concerns road safety targets. They were introduced under Labour, and I have no doubt that they successfully reduced the number of KSIs—those killed or seriously injured. The reduction was about a third. Road safety targets focused minds and attention, and I still do not see the reason and logic behind the Government’s persistent refusal to bring them back. As my hon. Friend mentioned, why, when we support international targets at the UN and European level, do we still reject them as far as our own country is concerned?
We also need to think about whether the Government’s 2015 road safety statement was really up to the mark. I do not think it was. There was no clear statement of resources or guidance for local authorities, and there were no objective measures to improve young drivers’ safety. Throughout virtually all of the last Parliament we were eagerly awaiting a Green Paper on young drivers that never materialised. It was going to be published “next year”, then “at Christmas” and then “shortly”, but then it never came at all. The 2015 statement also had no mention of the “Vision Zero” goal that other countries have adopted—the goal of eliminating deaths as part of a safe systems approach to road safety. As for measures to protect vulnerable road users, we are still waiting for the fully funded cycling and walking strategy that the Government have been promising “shortly”—in their word—for quite an extraordinary length of time.
The fact is that the Government’s approach on this issue has been piecemeal and limited in effect. Central to that failure is the title of today’s debate and the key recommendation underlined by the Transport Committee in its report last year: the question of enforcement. According to the response to my written question on 1 February, official figures show that since 2010 the number of officers outside the Metropolitan police with road policing functions has fallen from 5,337 to 3,436. That is a cut of about one third; it is actually a bigger cut than that identified by the Transport Committee. The Committee is right to say that a combination of education, engineering and penalties is key to improving safety conditions, but also that those things
“must be backed up by effective enforcement with road users knowing that infringements will be detected.”
That brings me to the question of how policing priorities are set and the constraints in that regard. The Government can say that policing priorities are a matter for local forces, and in a sense that is right—it is important that they are set locally and reflect local conditions—but they cannot be in any way meaningful if the police up and down the country simply do not have the resources to deliver the priorities that they want to deliver across the piece.
As the Transport Committee noted in paragraph 7 of the report, road policing is not a nationally set strategic priority, and the variation in strategies appears to be continuing. For example, in quarter 1 of last year, seven forces did not even submit casualty reports to the Government on time, forcing the DFT to estimate the figures. Meanwhile, across the country we have seen fixed penalty notices for mobile phone usage plummet by not far short of 90% over five years. I would like to think that that reflects a sea change in the attitude of motorists to using mobile phones, but I think we know from the RAC report and elsewhere that the reality is likely to be different. In evidence to the Select Committee, the Institute of Advanced Motorists noted that the falling levels of enforcement risk developing a culture in which being caught is seen as a matter of bad luck rather than bad driving.
I therefore ask the Minister to address the question that has been put to him twice in this debate so far. Will he reveal what impact assessment he has done on the effect of falling police numbers on road safety, and if there has been no such impact assessment, will he please undertake one? Can he also assure us that he will speak to his Home Office colleagues to ensure that forces send through accurate and timely casualty reports, which are essential? What meetings has he had with the Association of Chief Police Officers following the report from the Transport Committee and the latest statistics for the number of officers involved in road safety duties?
I have no doubt that every police and crime commissioner and every chief constable in this country wants to see safe roads. I have no doubt that every single one of them wants to devote as many officers as they can to achieving safety on our roads. However, if they do not have the resources to do that, all too often it is road traffic policing that ends up falling off the end of the list of priorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse was right: the Department for Transport has a key role to play if that culture is to be turned around.
There needs to be a cross-Government strategy. It is vital that central Government does not work in silos on this issue and that the DFT steps up to take the lead on how we can ensure that the necessary resources are made available for effective enforcement. I hope the Government will think about how road safety can be integrated into their third attempt at producing a clean air strategy, and will they also think about whether the second road investment strategy can allocate a specific budget to road safety?
I hope that the Minister will address the important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside about ensuring that cross-border work on road safety, particularly in relation to the European Union, is maintained at a high level and that Brexit does not jeopardise or undermine that.
Will the Government also think about what levers can be used to incentivise further the uptake of telematics or black boxes and the use of technology to deter mobile phone use at the wheel, which various hon. Members have mentioned? Could the recently published Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, which has clauses on automated vehicles, be used as a vehicle—pardon the expression—for pursuing some of those agendas?
I hope the Minister will recognise, from today’s debate and others, that there is cross-party concern about this issue. I hope he will agree to take full stock of his Government’s road safety approach and recognise that despite their sincere pledges to improve road safety, the strategy is falling short as things stand. This is a cross-ministerial challenge for not only his Department but the Ministry of Justice and, equally, the Home Office. I hope he will ensure that the Home Office, police and local authorities are all on the same page and have the capacity, in practice, to enforce the law as we all want to see it enforced.
I would like to end with four further questions to the Minister on improving road safety. Will he commit to ensuring that all police forces have sufficient support to deliver reductions in all forms of casualties? What work is he undertaking to review the Scottish drink-drive limits that the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South mentioned? We need to look at what the impact has been of reducing the limit there and whether we can learn any lessons.
Will the Minister give us a timeframe for when the cycling and walking investment strategy will be published and an assurance that it will have the resources to back it up when finally it is published? Finally, will he listen to campaigners within the road safety community and do what my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside has urged him to do, and which I urge him again to do, by reinstating road safety targets? They can perform a valuable role in achieving the vision of nobody being killed or seriously injured on our roads in future.
I am not sure I have served under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I am not a West Ham supporter; I have to put that on the record right away. I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) on securing this debate. Before we go any further, I must say that I will relay the comments on road policing to the Minister responsible in the Home Office. I have regular meetings with colleagues in the Home Office. This is very much a cross-departmental initiative, and we have had some very positive moves. I expect to see that continue.
In the Government’s road safety statement in December 2015, we welcomed the fact that the Transport Committee was looking at this topic, and I am happy to reiterate that welcome in today’s debate. This debate is extremely timely. Three weeks ago, my Department published road casualty statistics for the third quarter of last year. The figures for those killed and seriously injured on our roads showed an increase of 6% in the year ending 2016 compared with 2015. That is clearly a move in the wrong direction, and we must not in any way be complacent, but we must also be cautious before jumping to conclusions. There is not enough evidence yet to conclude that the change can be explained by statistical natural variation in deaths over time. I am very aware that we will want to keep that under close review.
We have a manifesto commitment to reduce the number of road users, including cyclists, who are killed or injured on our roads every year. Enforcing road traffic laws to ensure that offenders pay the penalty for their wrongdoing can help to get that statistic on a downward trend again. I was asked whether I met regularly with the police service on the matter, and I do. The police lead is Chief Constable Suzette Davenport from Gloucestershire. I have also written to each of the forces around the country about their reporting, so I am happy to give confirmation right away on some of the questions asked.
Before the Minister leaves the question of the police, I accept and am pleased about what he said before—that he will talk to his Home Office colleagues—but he was also asked a direct question on at least two occasions today about whether he had undertaken any review of the reductions in police numbers devoted to road policing and the impact on road safety. If he has not undertaken any such review, will he do so?
We look at all the ingredients that combine to influence road safety. On penalties for use of mobile phones, for example, it was highlighted that the number of penalties issued had fallen significantly—that is a fact—but during that time the number of people who have suddenly lost their lives in incidents in which handheld mobile phone use was considered a factor has remained exactly the same. The figure has been consistent. That tells us that mobile phone use is an ingredient, but that there is no direct causal link between one fact and another—a number of factors are in play. Do I think that enforcement matters, however? Yes, I do. I agree entirely with the principles of education, engineering and enforcement. Are we reviewing that? Yes, it is one of the many ingredients that we review constantly.
To go back to the big four, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside, the most common traffic offence is indeed speeding. We know that excessive speed kills, and I agree with the Select Committee that cameras are an important and effective technology in detecting speeding offences. We use technology in every other part of human life, so why on earth would we not use it in something as critically important as road safety? I occasionally get letters saying, “We need to remove cameras. They are an infringement of civil liberties”, or that we are unfairly targeting motorists. That is absolute nonsense. It is, however, for local authorities and local police forces to determine where cameras should be sited for their best effect.
The best effect lies, I agree, in getting drivers to respect the speed limits, not in simply generating revenue. Where a camera generates significant ongoing revenue, the local safety partnership should be asking why and whether, for example, the speed limits are clearly signed. The Government are not generally in favour of hypothecating tax revenues—we are no different from Governments of all colours over many years—but, having said that, we are working to hypothecate the vehicle excise duty to Highways England and the road investment strategy. There is not, however, a parallel between hypothecating speed fines and road safety.
I agree that there is a high level of compliance—the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) called it “obedience”, but it is compliance. That is the word we are looking for when we see the use of average speed cameras, because a marked change in driver behaviour results. That is a personal observation. He also asked if we had information from communities on local camera use and so on. I do not have that information, but I will see whether we can find some. If we can, I will share it with the hon. Gentleman.
Drink-driving is clearly a critical issue. We certainly take seriously the threat that all dangerous drivers, including drink and drug-drivers, pose to the safety of other road users. However, I must be up front and say that we have no plans to change the drink-drive limit. The rigorous enforcement of the limit and the serious penalties for drink-driving in this country are a more effective deterrent than changing the limit. We may have a higher drink-drive limit than other countries, but we also have a more successful culture of enforcement and of removing the issue than other countries.
It is also fair to recognise that we have made other changes. We changed drink-driving legislation in April 2015 to require high-risk offenders to undertake medical tests before they are allowed to drive again. We have also removed the so-called statutory option that allowed suspected drink-drivers the choice of an evidential breath test or a specimen of blood or urine, which afforded the potential for people to sober up during the time lag between the two. That option has now gone. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) is correct in saying that the average blood alcohol level for those stopped and convicted is not in the 50 to 80 mg category, which represents about 2% of those stopped. The average is in the 150 to 180 mg category. The people causing drink-drive problems pay absolutely no regard to drink-drive limits; they just do not think that the limits apply to them. The limits are not the issue here.
The Select Committee report did not explicitly consider drug-driving, but the Government’s response did, noting that drugs in a driver’s bloodstream can pose as much of a danger as alcohol. We have provided £1 million to police forces in England and Wales to support drug-driving enforcement. The evidence so far is that it has been highly successful, and for 2016 we are expecting an eightfold to tenfold increase over the previous year. When the data come out, we will be able to confirm that properly, but that is the indication thus far. We have some time to go before we get the final data, but it is clearly a successful policy.
The anecdotal feedback from police services around the country is that it has been a great addition to their toolkit, and that they have used the drug-driving laws to disrupt far more criminal activity, such as drug-dealing rings, tackling the drivers to take the rings out of circulation for a period. That is interesting. It is not exactly why we introduced the drug-driving rules, but it is a welcome side effect nevertheless. In March last year, just as the Select Committee report was being published, we launched a THINK! campaign to educate people about the dangers of drug-driving and send a clear message that it is unacceptable. A point was made about social unacceptability. We want drug-driving to be as socially unacceptable as drink-driving. We as a society are a little further back on that journey, but it is clearly the direction that we want to go in. I want everybody to know that the consequences for drug-driving will be serious.
We talked a little about mobile phone use, particularly under the heading of distractions. I know that the Select Committee welcomes the higher penalties that Parliament has approved for drivers who use their mobile phones. Whether they are calling, texting or using an app, motorists caught using a handheld device will receive a fixed penalty notice of £200 and six penalty points on their driving licence. The changes will come into effect next week, on 1 March, making it one of the toughest fixed penalties. Drivers risk losing their licence after two offences, totalling 12 points, and new drivers who reach six points in one offence will lose their licence right away and have to retake both theory and practical driving tests. Such penalties will be effective only if drivers believe that an offence will be detected.
The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse asked whether fixed penalty notices were still appropriate. Our police service has operational independence. It is fair to say, though, that the Government would like more fixed penalty notices to be issued, particularly at the start of this major change to the penalty regime, so that the heavy penalties are understood and widely communicated and are used to effect behaviour change, because that is what this is about. If people see others losing their licences, it will effect a behaviour change.
Does that not reinforce the point that the Select Committee made about devolving some responsibility for fixed penalty notices to local authorities and other bodies, so that there can be allies in the field to detect and punish the people who breach the regulations that the Government want enforced?
I will come to the local enforcement of moving traffic offences, but the hon. Gentleman’s underlying point is correct. Do we need alliances? Progress on road safety issues is achieved by campaigners—they often lead the way—local government, national Government and various agencies, such as Highways England and High Speed 2, which have road safety budgets, all working together. That is how we have made progress as a country, and I see that as the way forward, too.
I certainly want to ensure that we get this message across, and there will be a strong THINK! campaign to warn drivers as part of the launch of the changes on 1 March. We are also working with the police on an enforcement campaign, but prevention is better than cure, and we have the opportunity through that advertising campaign to make clear the risk that drivers take. I want to make using a handheld mobile device at the wheel—including texting—as socially unacceptable as drink-driving. I am sure that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside is absolutely correct that technology can help. Indeed, I will meet mobile phone companies next week and have already met other technology companies. Technology is moving pretty fast in this area. I am not normally at the cutting edge of technology, but I am happy to learn and I certainly see that technology can help here.
Seatbelts were mentioned. We recently had the 50th anniversary of seatbelt legislation, and I do not think any other single policy has generated a better return in terms of improving road safety than seatbelts. I am pleased that compliance with seatbelt wearing remains very high. The awareness-raising work that has been done over a long period has clearly struck home, and wearing a seatbelt is now automatic for the vast majority of us. However, we are not complacent, and we will conduct a roadside survey later this year to establish whether there has been any significant change from the last time we conducted a survey, which was 2014.
Many colleagues mentioned vulnerable road users. It is a tragedy that three cyclists were killed on London’s roads in just a week earlier this month—two of them in just 12 hours. I will come to that later, but the stories that one learns are truly tragic. All road users have a responsibility to those with whom they share the road. That responsibility is all the greater to road users whose mode makes them more vulnerable. London leads the way on cycling, ensuring that goods vehicles are properly equipped for seeing other road users and keeping them apart. We believe that decisions about restricting vehicle movement are best taken locally, although we recognise that having different standards in different places could be operationally quite difficult for road users.
The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse highlighted the THINK! Hang Back campaign, which actually had two strands. He mentioned the strand for cyclists, but there was a further strand of communication targeted at HGV drivers, including through trade organisations. That campaign was developed because research revealed that around 30% of cyclists were unaware of the dangers of being on the inside of an HGV that might turn left. Given that so many people thought that was a safe space to be in, we were quite robust in some of our communication to get the message across. There was no suggestion of apportioning blame—that is obviously ridiculous. We are trying to make people aware and get them to take responsibility for themselves and other road users. I made the point earlier that people have a responsibility to those with whom they share the road.
On fixed penalty notices and diversionary courses, the Sentencing Council has announced that penalties for people found guilty of serious speeding offences will increase on 24 April. Most speeding is not wilfully over the posted limit, and in such cases a fixed penalty notice is often the best way to remind drivers of the need to monitor and control their speed. The last increase in fixed penalty fines for speeding was in 2013. We keep them under review. Where there is a clear case for change, as with mobile phones, we have acted and will continue to act.
Police officers have discretion to decide how to dispose of an offence. Where an officer believes that the driver will benefit, the offer of a diversionary course is an effective way to proceed. What we are seeking to do is to change behaviour. The police officer makes a call on how that might be best achieved and we want to maintain the operational independence of our police.
As the Committee noted, we are evaluating the national speed awareness course, the most widespread of the diversionary courses that are offered. We hope to complete that work later this year. The Committee recommended that the costs of diversionary courses be standardised. I have some sympathy with drivers faced with a range of different costs for the same course, without any explanation for the variation. However, I can also see that the cost of delivery will vary from place to place. Where courses are delivered by an external provider, contractual commitments may need to be taken into account. For the time being, therefore, we do not intend to mandate a single national charge for each type of course.
The Government’s response to the Committee’s report noted the objective of 188,000 vehicle compliance checks this year. So far, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency has checked 167,555 vehicles at the roadside, so it is well on track to meet that target. It has also found just over 20,000 serious defects and offences, which is well ahead of where it expected to be at this point in the year. We are therefore confident that the agency will meet both targets by the end of this financial year. The London industrial HGV taskforce uses the combined powers of the two bodies to target those identified as at the biggest risk of non-compliance. That targeting is working well, but we have not yet been able to develop similar programmes in other parts of the country.
On the cross-border enforcement directive, in our response to the Committee report, we stated that we would attempt to influence the European Commission to amend the directive in the future. Quite a bit has happened in policy in this area over the last few months. The purpose of the directive was to support member states in the investigation of eight different kinds of offence committed by drivers when driving in other member states and the legislation mandates sharing information about vehicle keepers. However, the UK prosecutes only drivers for the offences in question—a point that was made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside. There is nothing in the directive that obliges member states to compel their citizens to admit liability or to name the driver.
Parliament has seen our explanatory memorandum on the European Commission’s review of the directive, which recognises that there is an issue for member states that have driver liability in place. We have some support from other member states on the topic and we continue to press for change.
My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South made an important point about sharing best practice. We feel that there is a role for the Department in sharing best practice. I have attended and spoken at roads policing conferences, which bring together enforcement leaders around the country. The sharing of best practice is not just carried out in this part of our departmental activity, but is spread much more widely.
We made clear in the Government’s response to the report that the devolution of parking enforcement has not been without considerable concerns from motorists—a point that was noted by the Committee in its 2013 report, which expressed concern about the way in which local authorities used CCTV for parking enforcement. There have been concerns about revenue raising, penalty levels and the number of penalty charge notices issued. In response to that, new legislation was enacted in March 2015 to restrict the use of CCTV for parking enforcement. I received a letter in the last few days from a councillor suggesting that the powers be granted so that they could use them precisely for revenue raising. That is not quite what we were seeking—this is about safety and behaviour change.
Against that backdrop, the Government remains to be convinced about the case for giving authorities the powers to enforce moving traffic contraventions. I am not keen to see local authorities installing a raft of new cameras on yellow box junctions and elsewhere, only to see penalty charge notices issued. Equally, I have seen freedom of information requests, often from the media, that indicate that some councils have made large sums of money from some specific box junctions. We therefore have no plans to change the current position to give local authorities outside London greater enforcement powers, and in that context we do not consider it appropriate to give London further powers either. However, I have met the Local Government Association to discuss the issue, and will continue to do so to see if we can find areas on which we agree.
I will highlight a few of the questions from hon. Members. Is this a matter for cross-departmental activity? Yes, of course it is. One only has to see the Treasury’s positive response to road safety issues, with a £175 million budget announced in the autumn statement to tackle the top 50 problem roads in the EuroRAP assessment, or the way the Ministry of Justice is consulting on increasing sentencing. Do we have a publication date for CWIS—the cycling and walking investment strategy? I cannot give the House a specific date yet, but I can say that it will be published very shortly.
I am aware that the Government have signed up to the sustainable development goals. I am actually very keen to see us share some of our expertise and insights to help other countries to learn from the journey that we have been on over many years. I have spoken at conferences with representatives from many countries around the world, and I have said repeatedly that, if somebody would like information from my Department, we will make it available. We are happy to help as they go on the journey that we have been on. Equally, I am also happy if we can steal ideas, too; I am acutely aware that not all ideas will come from this country. I do not really mind where the ideas come from, so long as we make some progress.
A number of points have been made on whether to have targets. If other countries wish to have targets, that is obviously fine, but frankly I do not think that we need them. I do not think that targets have a direct cause and effect on policy in quite the same way that some colleagues here do. I do not need a target to tell me that this is an important issue or to bring forward ideas and initiatives: I just do not think it is related. We are bringing forward ideas because this is an issue that matters. It is simply not the case that policy is as simple as publishing a target and then seeing a cause and effect like that. We have seen many other areas of Government policy in which targets have even had a perverse effect—most notably in health targeting. We have no plans to introduce targets, but we have plenty of plans to continue what we are doing to make our roads safer.
The Select Committee report noted that effective enforcement was one of the three E’s, and a necessary adjunct to the engineering and education initiatives that help to deliver our road safety initiatives. The report also noted that road users should know that infringements will be detected. I agree, and I hope that I have demonstrated to the House that the Government take road safety seriously. I am grateful for the comments about my personal commitment to the subject from colleagues across the House. It is actually the first policy area upon which I commissioned work when I became a Minister, which I hope gives an indication of my personal commitment to it.
I am acutely aware of the importance of this issue. Behind every statistic is a shattered life or a shattered family. I have met many such families, and those are hard meetings, but they spur me on to do more in this area. It is clear that we have taken and are taking action. We have some of the safest roads in the world, and I will work to make them ever safer.
This is very much ongoing business. I thank all hon. Members present for the important comments that they have made, and I thank members of the Select Committee, who have contributed so well—particularly the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) who, as hon. Members will have heard, made insightful and informed comments. We will continue to work together. I say to the Minister that resources are needed to make progress, and that a cross-departmental approach is required. If it is Government policy not to have targets, how will we know whether sufficient progress has been made? The Transport Committee will continue to pursue all of these issues.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Second Report of the Transport Committee of Session 2015-16, Road traffic law enforcement, HC 518, and the Government response, HC 132.