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Roads: Speed Cameras

Volume 716: debated on Thursday 28 January 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to reduce the number of speed cameras in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, any decision to remove a camera is for local road safety partnerships, not the Government. The Department for Transport’s guidance on the deployment of cameras encourages road safety partnerships regularly to review their camera sites. Cameras in Scotland and Northern Ireland are a matter for the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

I thank the Minister for that reply. The Government would find it easier to persuade motorists that cameras are there for safety rather than revenue reasons if they made greater use of the devices often seen at road works which show the speed of the oncoming car. Does the Minister agree that those devices have more impact and effect on the behaviour of drivers than speed cameras; and that the effect would be greater if there was recourse to the suggested smart traffic lights that would be triggered by the excessive speed of motorists?

My Lords, I hope I will not embarrass the noble Lord if I pay tribute to his contribution to road safety in Northern Ireland when he was First Minister. He is credited with putting road safety firmly on the political agenda: the Northern Ireland safety camera scheme was instituted on his watch. The point that he makes about speed indicator devices and vehicle-activated signs is a good one. They are popular with local authorities because they tell motorists what speed they are doing. The difficulty we find with them is that their effect on driving patterns is short-term. Speed drops for a couple of weeks, but then creeps up again because there is no penalty attached to breaking the speed limit shown on the devices.

Will the noble Lord assure the House that local police forces are not using speed cameras as a substitute for highways policing? While cameras undoubtedly pick up speed, they do not pick up drink-driving, dangerous driving, tailgating and such practices.

My Lords, the days of ring-fencing government funding for safety cameras ended in 2007. A decision on whether safety cameras are installed is now a matter for local determination. In some cases, it is appropriate for local authorities to decide this: others may decide to do it in a different way. We would not want to see cameras used as a means of replacing police or other ways of enforcing speed limits.

My Lords, is not one of the problems the drop in the number of traffic police? There is no more effective way of controlling bad behaviour on the roads than having the physical presence of policemen.

My Lords, our police have many demands on their time and priorities. While there are 16,000 more police now than there were 10 years ago, matters of operational policing are not for the Department for Transport. However, I will draw to the attention of the Home Office the points made by the noble Viscount.

My Lords, will my noble friend comment on the increasingly common use as a deterrent of cardboard police cars on motorway bridges; and does he believe that these things are cut out for the job?

My Lords, did the Minister read the excellent article by Simon Jenkins in Tuesday’s Evening Standard, in which he exposed the predatory policies against motorists planned by Westminster City Council? It proposes to make single yellow lines subject to parking restrictions in the evening and to continue charging for parking bays. It is clear that this is intended entirely as a means of taxing the motorist in order to meet Westminster’s funds deficit. Can the Government do anything about it?

My Lords, the noble Lord tempts me, but the Question is about speed cameras in the United Kingdom, not about parking policies in the City of Westminster. I would have thought that there were other ways in which the noble Lord could draw attention to the points that he makes.

I can comment on the role of Transport for London, which is very keen on installing safety cameras. However, it would not be appropriate to comment on Westminster council’s parking policy.

Are Her Majesty's Government in favour of the much reported increased use of average-speed cameras on motorways?

Yes, indeed, we are, my Lords. Average-speed cameras are certainly a way of getting speed limits observed on motorways. I should make it clear—and this goes for the previous questions—that speed cameras are not a way of raising revenue.

We would be delighted if they led to not a single fine being imposed because motorists were observing speed limits.

Does my noble friend agree that while the cameras may not be aimed at raising revenue, they are clearly having a deterrent effect on speeding? However, a side-effect has been the vast increase in the number of us who have now become criminals. Does this concern the Minister?

I would have more sympathy with my noble friend if he admitted that what he is doing if he is speeding and picking up fines is wrong and dangerous. Speed kills, and safety cameras are one way of reducing excessive speed.

My Lords, in view of the number of speed cameras now on our roads, can the Minister tell the House what data are kept on each camera to justify it being where it is placed, as well as on the reduction in accidents before and after it is put in place and the amount of fines generated by each camera? Is that information published? If not, why not?

My Lords, the noble Baroness, as is her wont, asks a number of detailed questions. On her first question, what data are kept is a matter for the local safety partnership, which will hold those data. On her other questions, I am afraid that I shall have to write to her.

The Minister said that the cameras are not means of raising revenue. Could he explain why, on the approach to my village, there is a speed limit of 30 mph, which goes up for just a few hundred yards to 40 mph and then down again to 30 mph? I keep meeting people in the village who complain that they have just had the first ticket in their lives for speeding, because they cannot get down to 30 mph again quickly enough after they have just gone up to 40 mph.

My Lords, one of the urban myths in our country is that safety cameras are in place to allow local authorities to raise money. That is not the case. The money from fines imposed as a result of safety camera offences goes into the Consolidated Fund. Up until 2007, the income was hypothecated; it is no longer hypothecated. Whether there should be safety cameras in the noble Baroness’s village is a matter for her local road safety partnership.