Clause 18 - Speed assessment equipment detection devices

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 6:15 pm ar 21 Mawrth 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:15, 21 Mawrth 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 57, in clause 18, page 21, line 35, leave out ‘detection’ and insert ‘interference’.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 58, in clause 18, page 21, line 37, leave out ‘detection’ and insert ‘interference’.

No. 59, in clause 18, page 22, line 6, leave out ‘detection’ and insert ‘interference’.

No. 60, in clause 18, page 22, line 23, leave out ‘detection’ and insert ‘interference’.

No. 61, in clause 18, page 22, line 33, leave out ‘detection’ and insert ‘interference’.

New clause 12—Amendment of Traffic Signs Regulation and General Directions 2002—

‘(1)The Traffic Signs Regulation and General Directions 2002 (S.I. 2002/3313) are amended as follows.

(2)In Regulation 4, after the definition of “excursion or tour”, insert—

“Fixed speed camera” means a camera of a type approved by the Secretary of State that is situated at a fixed site and that operates continuously or from time to time for the purpose of monitoring the speed of road vehicles and securing compliance with the speed limit in force at that site.”.

(3)After Regulation 58 there is inserted—

“Fixed speed cameras

59Every fixed speed camera shall—

(a)be painted bright yellow, and

(b)be clearly visible from the carriageway at which it is directed, and

(c)be adequately illuminated during the hours of darkness, and

(d)have affixed to it a clearly visible indication of the applicable speed limit.”.’.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We turn to an issue that attracted quite a lot of press attention after Second Reading, when it was revealed that the Minister and I both have devices in our cars to advise us where speed cameras might be located. It was also revealed that, sadly for him, the hon. Member for Glasgow, South does not   have one. He has six points and we have not—[Laughter.] We thought that there was a bit of a lesson there.

The Minister intervened on me in that debate. There was not a huge amount of time to go into it, but there are three possible devices, two of which we think are perfectly legitimate and one of which we think definitely is not. The purpose of our amendments is to make changes regarding the word “interference”. We do not have to spend an enormous amount of time on this, Sir Nicholas.

The device that I have has an updated memory and is effectively a global positioning system map. It tells me when, according to its memory, I am likely to approach a place where there is either a fixed camera or something called a “mobile”, and it squawks in a tiresome manner at something called a “blackspot”. I have never quite understood what a blackspot is, but I suspect that it is a section of road that is frequently patrolled by police cameras; I have not bothered to check what it is.

I do not see anything wrong with that device. There is no doubt that it has made me drive better in the two years since it was given to me as a Christmas present. I am more aware of where cameras are, and, above all, it stops me looking for them. This point was made to me by some drivers’ groups, and I touched on it in the last debate. There is a danger that when people have six or nine points on their licences, they are so paranoid about getting clocked by a camera that they frantically look for cameras everywhere. The device obviates things. It makes an audible sound—it bleeps in quite a tiresome manner—to tell me that I am within 100 yards of a fixed camera or one of the other spots I mentioned. It also has a digital monitor showing my exact speed. The variation between what the gadget and my speedometer say is interesting. The Minister has touched on this. There is quite a variance, sometimes as much as 3, 4 or 5 mph. I think this is a legitimate device; it has certainly helped me. I hope the Minister will endorse that this sort of device is legitimate.

There appears to be a second type of device, and mine may come under this category, because it occasionally starts bleeping. It did so on one occasion when I was going to an agriculture show in Cornwall, and I noticed that I was approaching a policeman with a speed gun. I have not gone into the technology of how it works, but it may count as a detector, and therefore be an illegal device, under the clause.

It seems to me that a detector of that sort, which picks up—by radar or whatever—that a monitoring gun is nearby is a good idea. We have detectors in our heads. You have them, Sir Nicholas, and so do I; they are called eyes. I think eyes are a good idea. I think seeing what is going on is a good idea. I think being told things by a detector is a good idea. I cannot see that there is anything illegitimate in having such a device in a car that informs the driver.

I recently talked to the heads of technology at Renault and BMW, and also to some people from DaimlerChrysler. We know that all car companies are looking into creating more intelligent cars that give   drivers more information, and what we are discussing now is probably rudimentary stuff compared with where we will be in five or 10 years. However, it seems to me that the more information a driver has, the less time he needs to spend actually assimilating information, so that, instead, he can just react to it. Interestingly, the head of technology at Renault said that cars today are rather like old Vickers Viscounts, where the driver has to do all the mechanics, absorb all the information and make the decisions. He thought that in five or 10 years’ time cars will be like an Airbus, in that the vehicle will basically be able to do things itself but the car manufacturers will give the driver all the information required so he can just make decisions.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

Is the hon. Gentleman telling me that he is therefore in favour of intelligent speed adaptation being fitted in cars?

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am in favour of drivers being given as much information as possible, to make it easier for them to make decisions.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

ISA devices would not just give information. Potentially, they can take over controlling the speed of the vehicle; they could take that decision away from the driver. If the hon. Gentleman is serious about wanting to free up the driver so he can concentrate on the road, I presume that he is also in favour of that technology.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That is a most helpful and important point. It is vital that the driver makes the decision. I discussed this matter at some length with the technologists from all three of those companies. Their intention is to create a car that provides the driver with information, but they were all emphatic that the decisions must be made by the driver. Otherwise the legal consequences—such as who is to blame if something goes wrong—will become extremely complex. It is a very important principle that the driver is responsible and makes the decisions, in the same way as the pilot of an Airbus is responsible for that; it could probably pilot itself, but the pilot must make the decisions.

We are talking about developments that will come to pass further down the road, and the devices we are debating will look pretty stone age in a few years, but I think that devices that either have a digital memory or actively detect are a good thing, because they help the driver. They tell the driver where other devices of a different sort are, and they remind him of the speed limits.

I am interested in how the Minister will respond to that point. Our amendments deliberately exclude devices that interfere. It must be completely wrong to have a jamming device that interferes with the legitimate surveillance activities of the police or other enforcement authorities. That is a very different sort of device, and there is no way that we would endorse that.

Our amendments are common sense, and they would improve the clause, because I suspect that as the clause currently stands what I have in my car, which is   a most useful tool, would be banned. Elements of it would count as “detectors.” We shall hear from the Minister about such detectors shortly.

New clause 12 is another common-sense measure, and it picks up on an intervention by the Minister on Second Reading. It is part of the confidence debate and goes back to our discussions this morning. Are speed cameras elements of a sort of Bourbon tax farm whose purpose is to pluck as many feathers out of Colbert’s goose as it can, or are they a tool for safety, in which case they should be as visible and as loudly proclaimed as possible?

Our contention is that cameras should be seen by the public as a safety measure and should be loudly proclaimed. They should be very visible. We recommend that they be painted bright yellow. I have a constituency case at the moment involving a construction site in Oswestry with big boards around the side that partially obscure a new camera. The case has caused a huge rumpus locally. It seems quite wrong that a camera should be hidden. It is all part of trust; we must keep faith with the large number of drivers that we talked about before. They should feel that the devices are not out to get them, but there to help them. Making cameras visible will do that; hiding them will do exactly the opposite.

Cameras should be clearly visible from the carriageway at which they are directed, and obviously, if they are to be visible, they should be yellow in daylight and illuminated at night. Most importantly, the relevant speed limit should be placed on them. When I come to London, I notice that people seem unsure of the speed limits when driving on roads such as the A40 or coming off the M1. Where the limit is normally 40 mph, I see people lurching below 30 mph because they are unsure of the limit at that point. It seems a perfectly common-sense measure to put a clear sign on the camera showing the speed limit at that spot. I hope that the Committee will support new clause 12 as a common-sense measure that was partly endorsed by the Minister on Second Reading.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris PPS (Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State), Department of Health 6:30, 21 Mawrth 2006

I mentioned on Second Reading that I would prefer detection devices to be made illegal. I shall come back to that, but I understand from what the Minister said at that stage that that is not the intention of the legislation. I notice in the explanatory notes that the Government will make a regulation clarifying that detection devices will continue to be legal and that only interference devices will be banned.

On that basis, it seems to me that amendment No. 57 is not necessary. On the other hand, it is always advisable to put into the Bill exactly what is meant. If the Government intend to continue to allow detection devices so that the Minister and the hon. Member for North Shropshire can continue to avoid speed cameras, they should accept amendment No. 57 rather than leave it up to regulations. However, that is obviously a matter for the Minister.

The hon. Member for North Shropshire must have been a hell of a salesman. He has almost convinced me that detection devices are worth purchasing. His   punch line—that he has no penalty points and I have six—was almost a deal-clincher, but I shall continue to resist it. None the less, I am absolutely convinced that the vast majority of people who have such devices—I exclude present company—use them as a warning so that they can slow down their vehicles when they hear the sound. For the rest of their journey, they break the law.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris PPS (Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State), Department of Health

The hon. Gentleman says the word “good” when I say that people are breaking the law, breaking the speed limit and endangering their own and other people’s lives. He says that that is a good thing—

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I said “good” when the hon. Gentleman stated that the device makes people drive slower to be within the speed limit. That must be a good thing. We have talked all day about appropriate speeds and keeping to limits. Here we have a device that gives an audible warning to the driver and provides information: it tells him to wake up and that he is in an area with a speed limit. That must be a good thing.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris PPS (Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State), Department of Health

What is not a good thing is that drivers using such devices use them to drive within the speed limit only when they know that they are within range of a speed camera. That is not safe driving.

Finally, the Minister made a very interesting intervention in which he asked the hon. Member for North Shropshire whether he was in favour of speed inhibitor technology. I wonder whether the Minister would care to enlighten us in his winding-up speech as to whether he is in favour of it.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

I can be similarly brief. There is something of a divergence between the terms of the Bill, the explanatory notes and my understanding of what was said on Second Reading when the Minister summed up, although I was not present at that time. In some ways, it seems that inclusion of the Conservative amendments would more accurately reflect the position that has been explained to the House.

I am rather with the puritans on this matter, which is about signals. The Minister told us at the beginning of the sitting that a different message had to be sent to the motoring public about the acceptability of speeding. The message that I get from devices that give an audible alert when a speed detection device is in the vicinity is not that it is wrong to speed, but that it is wrong to get caught. The only consequence of such devices is an encouragement to people to drive in excess of the speed limit because they think that they can do so with impunity.

There is an interesting point of jurisprudence here as to why we obey the law. When it comes to an offence such as speeding, the principal reason why people obey the law is fear of the consequences of getting caught. Allowing such devices encourages people to think that they can flout the law but not be caught for it.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

The hon. Gentleman tells us that he was not present on Second Reading. One of the points of interest raised in that debate was the fact that the information used by such devices is compiled using information provided by the Government on their website. As the Minister pointed out, the AA has published a map book that shows the locations involved. Indeed, the devices are presumably programmed on the basis that they can take information from the Government. I assume that the Government bless the idea of detection because they take the view that a repenting sinner is better than the sinner standing there. The Minister pointed out that the Bill seeks to prevent jamming devices from being used. I look forward to hearing him agree that interference is the word that should be used, rather than detection.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

As a good Presbyterian, I have views on sinners who repent, but I fear that if I favoured the Committee with them at the moment I might incur your wrath, Sir Nicholas. The hon. Gentleman is right that I was not present on Second Reading, but I was listening rather more carefully than he was to the hon. Member for North Shropshire. There are three species of device: those that jam, those that use the information and those that use some manner of radar to detect speed detection devices. It is the third species that is at issue. Nobody takes issue with the suitability or appropriateness of using information that is provided about the machines.

Photo of Lee Scott Lee Scott Ceidwadwyr, Ilford North

The hon. Gentleman said that the devices encouraged people to speed and not get caught. Surely the same would apply to the fact that the backs of speed cameras are now painted yellow so that they are visible. That applies the same principle as the devices. Is he against that, too?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

The hon. Gentleman’s logic is correct. He is right that painting speed cameras bright yellow illuminates them, which seems to involve the same approach as the device. I have more sympathy in that regard because of the practicalities of the situation. Everyone knows that where a speed camera is in position, certain chevrons are marked on the road. That is necessary to prove a speeding charge. If that is so, it probably makes sense that the cameras are visible to some degree.

Several hon. Membersrose—

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I wish to say that we are labouring a little on this subject. I am advised by the usual channels that certain progress is to be made today. We are hoping to reach clause 7. I am happy to sit here for whatever time is required, because I am merely a servant of the Committee, but I suggest that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee bear in mind what I have said.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

There are three types of devices. There is a jamming device, which prevents those seeking a reading from obtaining one. There is the detection   device that will detect when a signal is about to be directed at a particular vehicle and a device that relays information that is already in the public domain. The Minister is seeking to ban the first two devices on that list. No one would argue that it is wrong to ban a jamming device, the effect of which would prevent the police from carrying out their duty. We could argue that such a device would obstruct the police in the execution of their duty. Out of interest, however, I should like to know how many jamming devices the police say have interfered with their work to catch speeding motorists during the past 12 months, because I think that such devices are pretty rare.

It is curious that the Government want to ban the second category of device, the active alert device that warns a motorist that a signal is heading his way. If a signal is intended for a particular vehicle, why cannot the motorist have something in his vehicle that tells him that that is happening? I see no difference between the warning coming from a machine that makes a beep and from a passenger, perhaps a wife, girlfriend or friend, with a pair of binoculars who says to the driver, “By the way, on the bridge but next down the road, there is a white van and a man in a yellow jacket with something on a tripod. It might be a camera.” What on earth is the difference between someone who can look ahead and advise the driver what is coming up and a little device that does the same?

I am with the Government on class A. I am not so sure that there is a good case for banning the active device B, which is just informing the motorist. As for device C, where published information is relayed through GPS, I am pleased that the Government are not seeking to ban it because it would be ridiculous to make something unlawful in a motor vehicle that is lawful for a newspaper to publish, as many do week after week.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport 6:45, 21 Mawrth 2006

The hon. Member for North Shropshire is right. When we discussed these matters on Second Reading, we attracted a great deal of publicity. I was thinking of suggesting that he and I should go into advertising the legal devices, as a sort of Trinny and Susannah of the motoring world—or perhaps not.

The position has been encapsulated pretty well. As the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire said, there are three types of devices: those that jam; those that relay information already in the public domain; and those in the middle, which detect that surveillance might be about to take place. We are all agreed that devices that jam should be illegal. The Bill makes that the case. Even if not many such devices are around yet, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire could bet his life that, were we to say that they were legal, hundreds of them would be on the market within weeks. They will be illegal; we are all agreed on that.

Most of us are agreed that devices that help to utilise information already in the public domain are a good thing. I have such a device in my car. First, it simply tells me when I am approaching an area where there is enforcement. Then it tells me when I am approaching   the camera itself. If I approach an area of mobile enforcement, the device cannot tell me where the camera is; it just tells me when I am entering that zone. The rationale is that the area in question will be one where we have already actively decided that there has been a history of people being killed and seriously injured and of speeding, and that those two things are related. Therefore, we will have effectively identified the enforcement area—called a blackspot by the hon. Member for North Shropshire—as an area where there is a high casualty rate, in which we want motorists to slow down.

Allowing motorists to know that they are entering such an area of high risk and that they should slow down therefore makes sense. That is why we paint the signs yellow. That is why we insist that the cameras are yellow and that they are put where they can be clearly seen—I will come to the new clause in a moment. That is why we publish on the Department and camera partnership websites where all those areas are, and why we encourage people such as those in the AA to publish a map of where all the zones are; they identify dangerous areas where we are open about the fact that speed surveillance and rigid enforcement is taking place. So detecting devices that tell one such things are perfectly legal and will remain so.

The controversial devices are those in the middle. The rationale is that there is a speed limit on every road in this country. There is no unrestricted road where one can travel at any speed one likes. There might be the national speed limit of 70 mph, or 60 mph on a single-carriageway road, a local speed limit or the 30 mph speed limit in a restricted area. There is a speed limit everywhere. We are not going to create a situation in which people are allowed to speed everywhere except where there is a camera. The police have to have open to them covert surveillance as well as overt surveillance. Overt speed enforcement and surveillance take place in the published areas, but the police have the right—indeed the duty—to enforce the speed limit on every other bit of road as well. They can most cost-effectively do so with the ability to do covert speed enforcement anywhere.

That is why a device that detects covert speed enforcement should clearly be made illegal. That is why we have drawn the distinction. We are happy with devices that tell people where overt enforcement is taking place, because those areas have a particular purpose—to slow people down and make the location safe. We are not prepared to accept devices that allow covert surveillance to be detected. People should be following the speed limit everywhere, and that is the only tool the police have available to ensure that speed limits are enforced everywhere. That is our rationale for the distinction between the three categories.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am listening carefully to the Minister, but following the logic of his argument, he should also be arguing that we should ban all the devices. The ones that he says he accepts are also slowing down people who are not abiding by the speed limit. What is the difference between overt and covert? The logic does not seem to hang together.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

The logic is that there is a speed limit on every road, and drivers should be obeying it. However, there are certain roads on which there is a higher risk than on others, and on which we know that people have routinely ignored the speed limits. That has contributed to a high accident rate. We mark those roads clearly and say, “There is enforcement going on on these roads, and we encourage you to know about it in order to slow you down.” We do not want to create a situation in which somebody can speed with impunity on every other road because he thinks that the enforcement areas are the only ones in which he can be caught. That is why the police must have the opportunity to do covert speed surveillance and enforcement, and why a device that detects that surveillance needs to be illegal. That is our rationale, and I hope that I have convinced the hon. Gentleman.

On new clause 12, we have made it clear that speed cameras need to painted yellow and installed where they can clearly be seen. That is ensured through the guidance that we issued to the road camera partnerships—the rules for overt surveillance in published locations. We are clearly not going to restrict the police to using such techniques, because they may want to have covert surveillance in place in some areas. There has been press speculation that, once the new partnership arrangements are introduced in 2007, people will be able to go back to making the cameras grey. If they do, we will regulate to stop it, but I have no reason to believe that that will happen.

The intention of the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for North Shropshire is already covered in the instructions that we are giving to the camera partnership. There is one exception: the point about putting a speed limit on the camera. That is something that I explored thoroughly. The problem is that road traffic legislation says that the limit on restricted roads on which people have to do 30 mph is marked not by speed signs, except where they enter the zone, but by the fact that the streets are lit by lights 200 yd apart in England and Wales or, for some reason, 185 m in Scotland; I can only assume that the Scots have metricated before the rest of us. Our concern is that, were we to put what is called a repeater sign into a 30 mph area, the legislation would become moot and people might be able to argue that, as there was not a repeater sign in a 30 mph zone, they did not know the speed limit and should not be fined.

The cost of putting 30 mph repeater signs on every mile of restricted road would be horrendous. We therefore cannot put a 30 mph sign on the camera itself. We have said, however, that the people who deploy cameras must in future either ensure that drivers can see a camera and a speed limit sign in the same field of vision, or put a speed limit on the road as a reminder. Without incurring billions of pounds of extra expense on additional speed limit signs, that was the best compromise to ensure that people will know the speed limit when approaching a camera. I hope that, with those assurances, the hon. Gentleman will be prepared to seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We have had an interesting and illuminating debate. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon; I do not quite see the logic of why it is wrong to give the driver as much information as possible. If a driver is made aware by a device that the police are around, that will probably have a knock-on effect for the rest of the day and for several weeks after, because it rattles people. I have talked to constituents in villages where there have been police checks. Such checks have a knock-on effect for years afterwards, when people say, “You want to watch out if you go to that village, because there are policemen.” That will be the impact of a detection device, and I do not agree with the Minister’s belief that people will whizz off as soon as they have gone past; the device will jolt them and remind them, as does the device that we currently have, which is basically just an electronic map.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Llafur, Northampton North

If the hon. Gentleman believes in the need to reduce speeding, as he said he does, does he not accept that it is essential that the police should be able to enforce the speed limit? That includes detecting and catching people who break the speed limit, but the instruments that he mentions will help criminals to evade legitimate police detection.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I do not agree entirely with the hon. Lady, and until now, I was holding back from making the obvious point that there are far fewer traffic policemen around. The number has dropped from 9,201 in 1997 to 7,103, so the belief that universal policemen are enforcing all this law is, sadly, not true.

I do not adhere to the hon. Lady’s view that detection devices are interfering with the work of the police. The police are there to make sure that speed limits are enforced. If drivers are made aware that the police are carrying out enforcement activity, that is a good thing because it will put the frighteners on those drivers. Detection devices do not, therefore, interfere with the work of the police, but they encourage drivers to be more aware of the limits, and I believe that quite emphatically.

The lesson that I have drawn from my device is that the more one is aware of the limits, the better one will drive. The more information a driver has, the better, and that ties in with the research that I picked up from the major car companies. In a few years’ time, this debate will be seen as completely ancestral, because cars will give us all the relevant information, which will be tied up with satellite navigation and all the rest of it. To be honest, I therefore do not entirely agree with the Minister’s logic, and I believe that the amendment would improve the clause enormously.

On the colour of speed cameras and so forth, I was very much reassured when the Minister said that the current ruling to the road camera partnerships is that cameras should be painted yellow. Although I take on board his point about having to print hundreds of thousands of speed signs, he might like to take another point on board. When people come into towns that they do not know and see a camera but no sign—he says that there will be one a few hundreds after, and it would be a very good idea if, as he said, the speed could   be printed on the road—there is a noticeable tendency for them to slam on the brakes in case the speed limit is 30 mph. One sees that when one comes into places such as north London, where the limit is 40 mph.

As regards new clause 12, I feel better for having heard what the Minister said.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield

Does the hon. Gentleman wish to press amendment No. 57 or will he seek leave to withdraw it?

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

On the issue of speed devices, we will not press the amendment to a vote, although we leave the matter unhappily, because we are not convinced by the Minister’s argument. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.