Motoring

Motoring
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.-(Mark Tami.)

9.30 am
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Martlew, in this important debate about motoring in the United Kingdom. I was wondering if it might otherwise be termed “the Jeremy Clarkson memorial debate”, but clearly Jeremy is not dead. None the less, it is a debate that could be held in his name. In this country, motorists are seen as the bane of society and as something almost to be despised. Clearly, that assessment is not true, but one could be forgiven for thinking that it is.

The cost to the average motorist of running a car has soared in recent years. It has been tacitly implied that motorists are a problem and therefore that it is justifiable to clobber them at every turn. However, the fact is that for many people the car is a necessity, not a luxury. It is a fact that we all seem to have lost sight of. In rural areas, such as my constituency of Ribble Valley, access to public transport is poor and the car is a fundamental facet of everyday life for families, the elderly and the disabled.

From the moment that a car is bought, there are three essential items that must be purchased, which are insurance, a tax disc and fuel. Car insurance premiums have been rising at record rates in the past year and they took their biggest ever upward jump during the last quarter of 2009, according to the latest benchmark AA British insurance premium index. The average quoted premium for an annual comprehensive car insurance policy rose in the fourth quarter of 2009 by 7.2 per cent. to just over £1,000. Simon Douglas, the director of AA Insurance, has said:

“The cost of accident damage has also been rising steadily, despite a fall in the number of accidents on Britain’s roads.”

I am sure that the Minister will agree that that is indeed a very large sum to pay for car insurance. Perhaps the Government will commit to working with the insurance companies to ensure that Britain’s motorists get a fair deal on something that they have no choice but to purchase.

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): Does my hon. Friend also recognise the fact that, under this Labour Government, motor insurance tax has doubled, which has also contributed to the increased cost of insurance?

Mr. Evans: That is another stealth tax. I am sure that most people would not be able to say exactly how much they are paying in taxation on whatever item they are purchasing, whether it is insurance or any other item. So that tax is another stealth tax, which is to be regretted.

As The Observer reported in January, plans published by the Department for Transport will soon make it an offence purely to be the registered keeper of an uninsured vehicle, with fines of up to £1,000 being imposed even if the vehicle is not being driven. On top of that, the bad weather that we have had this year and the poor gritting that has taken place throughout the entire country have meant that there has been a lot of accidents. No doubt, insurance premiums will rise again.

Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman carefully. He is attacking the idea of forcing people to have car insurance. How would he deal with the fact that there are up to 2 million uninsured motorists driving on our roads, which is a risk for all of us? He has got an analysis, but no solutions.

Mr. Evans: Actually, I am not attacking the insurance on vehicles generally; I think that it is essential that people have vehicle insurance. I fully appreciate the fact that a lot of accidents occur on the roads involving people who do not have insurance and I think that people should be clobbered hard if they are found not to have insurance on their vehicles. So, I have no problems with vehicle insurance. What I do have a problem with is the rate at which insurance premiums have risen in the past few years and particularly in the past year. If everybody paid their vehicle insurance, I suspect that we could get the premiums down. So that is an issue that we ought to focus on far more readily than is the case.

Next we have the tax disc. Again, I have no problem with its existence, but I have a problem with the manner in which it is applied. A larger car has a larger engine. Therefore, it follows that a larger car requires more fuel. So the driver of a larger car pays more tax at the pump. That makes perfect sense. What does not make sense, however, is the fact that a tax disc costs more for a larger car. Why is that? There are no extra administrative costs for the issuer, so the answer is that that tax is punitive, or in Government-speak, a financial disincentive. Again, that conveniently ignores the fact that there is a natural financial disincentive in place already with fuel tax. Those who drive more or who use more petrol to drive the same distance as other people with smaller cars should and do pay more tax. Therefore, there is no reason to tax them twice unless it is for revenue purposes, and if that is the case, the Government should be honest about it.

I hope that the Minister will say something about the fact that so many foreign vehicles, particularly lorries, use British roads and pay nothing to do so. By contrast, if British lorries are on foreign roads, the drivers either need to have an appropriate tax disc or they pay separately under separate charges.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this issue to the House. It is, of course, very important for his constituents in Ribble Valley.

I will now say something that Jeremy Clarkson may not want me to say. Why should we not get rid of the tax disc altogether and put all the tax on the fuel? Then there would be no avoidance, it would be an environmentally very sound policy, it would raise more tax, and it would save an awful lot of money that is currently being spent on administration.

Mr. Evans: I must say that there is an argument to be made for doing just that. People cannot avoid having to put petrol or diesel into their vehicles, so there is a common-sense argument that the more that people drive, the more that they pay. The “polluter pays” argument is very important, so that is something that needs to be looked at seriously. However, I object to the fact that this new stealth tax has been introduced on bigger cars and I just do not see the sense in it, other than that it is another stealth tax to raise taxation revenue to pay for the deep hole that the Chancellor has helped to dig in the past 13 years.

So we are at the petrol station, as it were, and I see that there will be an Adjournment debate shortly in the House on garages and their valuations, which will determine what rates garage owners have to pay. I hope that the Minister will look carefully at that issue too, because a lot of independent petrol stations out there have been clobbered by the new valuations. That means that either the extra money that they have to pay will be passed on to the customer in the form of higher prices, or we will see a lot more independent petrol stations closing, with the supermarkets filling the void.

According to the AA, the average price at the pumps at the moment is £1.12 a litre for petrol and £1.14 a litre for diesel. In April 2008, unleaded petrol retailed at an average price of £1.07 a litre, according to the House of Commons Library. This debate was secured last Wednesday. In last Friday’s edition of the Metro newspaper, there was an article that said that, according to the AA:

“since the end of November 2008, the burden of fuel duty and VAT on a tank of petrol in Britain has soared by 11.46 per cent compared with 2.23 per cent in Austria. The average rise for ten European countries, including France and Germany, was just over 5 per cent.”

Can the Minister please explain how that has come about? Does he think that those price rises are fair or proportionate, or does he perhaps feel that motorists are carrying the jerry can for the Prime Minister’s financial ineptitude?

Bob Spink: Very good.

Mr. Evans: Thanks very much.

The Daily Telegraph carried the same story on its front page, but it added that the EU is planning its own tax on petrol. The article stated:

“The European Union is drawing up plans for its first direct tax with a “green” levy on petrol, coal and natural gas that could cost British consumers up to £3 billion.”

I do not want to get into the semantics of the farce that was the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, but suffice it to say that I implore the Minister and the Government to resist such developments with vigour. Taxation should be set by sovereign Governments.

My final point about the taxation of fuel is that motorists will also face petrol pump increases from 1 April that could add another 2.5p per litre to the price of fuel, according to the AA. In the past, I have implored the Government to freeze the fuel duty escalator and I wish to put on record yet again my opposition to it. Families are already cash-strapped. We should not be squeezing more money out of them by increasing duty on what is, for many of them, a daily necessity.

Once the motorist is on the road, insurance and tax paid and tank full, more charges are to be found, from congestion charges to speed cameras, toll roads and parking. Motorists are constantly dipping into their wallets.

Bob Spink: The hon. Gentleman has tempted me to my feet by mentioning toll roads. People in south Essex must pay the added cost of the Dartford crossing toll, which can add up to £15 a week for essential journeys across the river to go to work or visit and care for relatives. Neither the Tories nor Labour will remove the tax, as was promised in the original Act fixing the toll. It was said that when the bridge was paid for, the toll would be removed. The bridge has been paid for, but an amendment to another Bill was passed to allow the tolling to continue. That is dishonest and wrong. I hope that Tory and Labour Front-Bench Members will promise to remove that tax.

Mr. Eric Martlew (in the Chair): Order. Interventions should be short.

Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman has made a strong point. If that promise was made, it should be adhered to. People should adhere to their promises. My goodness me: we are in election mode, and a lot of promises will be made over the next few weeks. If people make promises, it is important that they should be kept. The particular instance that he mentioned is nothing more than a stealth tax to raise revenue. It is an easy hit. If anything, I suspect that the Government will seek to do more of that in future rather than less, but I hope that they will listen to what he said.

I have long argued that many speed cameras are purely money-making exercises, with no tangible link whatever to road safety or proven effectiveness in reducing speed. I spoke with David Bizley of the Royal Automobile Club recently, and we discussed speed cameras. The RAC’s view, which I endorse, is that greater use should be made of average speed cameras and speed-activated warning signs. They help to educate motorists to stay within the limit and promote safe driving, rather than simply penalising them. I also agree with the RAC that a nationwide audit of existing speed cameras is necessary to ensure that each can demonstrate a proven effect in reducing accidents. Those that cannot should be removed. I understand that to be my party’s policy, which will be implemented as soon as we are elected.

Speed cameras earn the Government a staggering £88 million a year, or approximately £250,000 every day, and the number issued each year has doubled under this Administration. Overall, drivers have been hit for almost £1 billion in speeding fines during the past decade. At least two tickets are handed out every minute. Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers Alliance, said:

“The fact that more speeding fines are handed out every year suggests that speed cameras are more about raising revenue than reducing speeds on the roads. Fining anyone should be about justice, not fundraising”,

which is exactly what is going on.

I suspect that over the years, we have all seen cameras at the bottoms of hills and police using handheld speed guns in similar positions. In Clitheroe recently, I saw a mobile camera placed on top of a postbox at the bottom of a hill. The camera was being hidden. There was no warning and no indication that it was there to help promote safety; it was merely a potential cash cow.

Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman know whether the Government are paying rent to Royal Mail for that?

Mr. Evans: I hope so. The camera will at least deter people from using the postbox.

If we are serious about reducing accidents on the roads and reducing speed in certain areas, we ought to be open about using cameras. Static cameras must be yellow, and there must be signs telling people that they are approaching an area of potential problems. Hiding cameras shows clearly that there is no intention to indicate to motorists that they should slow down for a black spot; it is all about nabbing them, giving them three points and fining them. That simply should not be allowed. The Minister is nodding, but I have seen somebody hiding behind a letterbox. That should not be allowed. Speed cameras ought to be about road safety and speed awareness, not revenue raising. Average speed checks are better. The sooner we hold a review of speed cameras, the better.

Graham Stringer: As the hon. Gentleman continues his rant against speed cameras and taxes, will he tell us two things? First, seeing that he wants to get rid of all those taxes, what extra cuts will the Conservatives make if they abolish the fuel duty escalator and give up the income from speed cameras? Secondly, what does he think of the 2005 evaluation of speed cameras that showed that speeds and road accident deaths had decreased?

Mr. Evans: Generally, it is because there are more cars on the road. I love driving under gantries that say “50 mph”. I look at them and dream of driving 50 mph. The amount of congestion on the roads is an issue.

The hon. Gentleman represents a Manchester seat. I know that Manchester recently held a vote on congestion charging. As I remember, he was against it. It was a great victory for the people of Manchester that congestion charging was not introduced into the area, because they all saw it as another tax. The Government tried to bribe the people of Manchester into voting for it, but they would not be bought.

All that I am asking for is transparency in everything having to do with motoring. I do not think that motorists should be used as cash cows. I can think of all sorts of similar issues. I know that the Government are considering putting VAT on food to raise extra revenues to fill the black hole that has grown over many years. No; we must just be more careful about how we spend our money and more transparent about how we raise it. We should not use the motorist as a cash cow at every turn. I hope that any future Government will consider that. Speed cameras ought not to be about revenue raising; road safety and speed awareness should be at their core.

On clamping, there is a public perception among those in the motoring industry that clamping is done for monetary reasons alone. There is still a suspicion that people are given official or unofficial commissions for reporting or carrying out clamping. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), during debate on the Crime and Security Bill, said:

“clamping appears to be one of the few growth industries under this Government. I find it objectionable that so many of our fellow citizens are being ripped off by wheel-clampers.”-[Official Report, 18 January 2010; Vol. 504, c. 89.]

Paul Watters, the AA’s head of public affairs, has observed:

“Private parking enforcement is big business generating millions of pounds and no one notices and acts when the rules are broken. The public have absolutely no protection if a private parking firm acts unfairly-it is a civil matter and no one is interested in helping.”

The number of vehicles clamped has risen by 75 per cent. in the past 19 months, and 2,100 individuals are licensed to clamp.

The same is true of parking. We have all seen parking attendants waiting by a car for the meter to run out. Parking laws exist to be enforced, of course, and for good reasons, but why promote the attitude that it is all about the money on the back of actions taken? The Government’s problem is that there is a wider sphere of suspicion about the motives behind the charges. Councils received a total of £328 million pounds in on and off-street parking fines in 2008-09. Peter Roberts, chief executive of the Drivers’ Alliance, said:

“Parking enforcement has become a massive money-making industry and we are seeing unscrupulous and target driven enforcement of parking laws where the penalties far outweigh the offence.”

I can remember a time when there were no parking charges in Clitheroe. When they were introduced, I said to my local authority, “Why have you introduced charges?” The charges hit many local shops, because having to pay for parking deterred people from coming into town to shop. I was told, “The Government assume that we are raising a certain amount in revenues, and that amount is taken off the support that we would otherwise get.” Basically, the Government are promoting car parking charges in towns and villages. That is a great shame. As we all know, they will be seeking other ways to raise revenues as well. I suspect that in my lifetime, car parking charges will be introduced for people using supermarkets and out-of-town shopping centres. That is to be deplored.

Charge by charge, stealth tax by stealth tax, the Government have created the impression that motoring is wrong, that people ought not to drive and that it is acceptable to charge them increasing amounts of money at every turn. As I have said, for many people, owning a car is not a luxury, but a necessity. When the 4×4 Chelsea tractor tax was mooted, the Government seemed not to have even considered the effect that such blanket legislation would have on people such as farmers who use such vehicles in the course of their profession. So blinded were Ministers by the possibility of another revenue stream that they lost sight of the bigger picture.

People in rural areas need a car. They cannot rely on public transport because the infrastructure does not exist. Cars are needed to get the children to the bus stop for the school run. For many elderly people, the nearest doctors’ surgery or supermarket is 3 or 4 miles away with no bus stops en route. That is like walking from Westminster Hall to Parsons Green. Over the last 13 years, this Administration have had a tendency to neglect the countryside, which can be seen from their attitude towards farmers, village schools, pubs, phone boxes and post offices, to name just a few. Their attitude towards motoring has also been formed without considering the needs of people living in rural areas.

The UK’s disabled population is heavily reliant on cars. There are approximately 1.7 million disabled drivers and 2.3 million blue badge holders. There are 600,000 Motability-supplied vehicles and about 10 per cent. of new cars sales are to the disabled sector. The annual spend of the disabled sector is approximately £60 billion. It is patently unfair continually to penalise disabled motorists, many of whom have no choice but to drive.

The current piecemeal approach-a small rise here, a new charge there-cannot go on. People do not know what they are being charged for, why they are being charged for it or where the money is being spent. We must have a more transparent system, not revenue streams dressed up as green taxes, speed cameras or clampers. The RAC has called for an overhaul of the motoring taxation system. At present, it believes that every new tax and reform of the system is

“merely a sticking plaster over the problem”.

I could not agree more.

Two years ago, I introduced a ten-minute Bill proposing transparency in the taxation of petrol. I argued that when people fill up their cars, their receipts should say not just how much VAT they have paid, as most receipts do, but how much taxation they have paid on the product. I think people would be shocked to see how much taxation they pay on every litre of petrol.

As we have seen, the Government’s attitude towards motorists is found wanting not just in the taxation system, but across the board. It goes from simple matters such as not providing the option to pay for the Dartford crossing and Severn bridge tolls by card, thereby catching many drivers unawares, to not removing speed cameras that are clearly in place only to augment revenue. The Government’s policy agenda is clear: “Show me the money!” The 2009 Budget states that the Treasury projects it will raise £26.6 billion on fuel duties alone this year, which is up £2 billion from 2008-09. It will raise £4.7 billion on VAT and £5.6 billion on car tax. Why, according to the RAC, is only a third of that spent on motorists? That is a serious indictment of Government policy.

This is a broad debate. I want to touch on one more area before I finish. When people break down, they park on the hard shoulder to wait for the emergency services. I hope that the Government or any future Government will consider allowing the emergency services, the RAC, the AA and other such organisations to use the hard shoulder to get to people who have broken down. Sadly, accidents also happen on the hard shoulder. People have lost their lives waiting for the emergency services to arrive. I hope that the Government will consider the simple measure of allowing the emergency services to use the hard shoulder.

Bob Spink: The hon. Gentleman has focused on taxation and the cost of motoring, but has not mentioned safety because he could not broaden his speech that much. He will be aware of the report that Gwyneth Dunwoody released as Chairman of the Transport Committee on the safety of driving, which focused particularly on young male drivers between the ages of 17 and 25. Will he ask the Minister to look carefully at that report and to take action to make our roads safer for our girls and boys?

Mr. Evans: In the time I have, I cannot be comprehensive on all matters, but I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s point. There is no bigger fan of Gwyneth Dunwoody in this Parliament than I. She was a doughty fighter and an amazing politician. She loved Parliament and fought for what she believed with relentless energy. Parliament is poorer for the fact that she is no longer with us.

An overhaul is needed of the way motoring is approached in the UK. That can be done only by looking at the full picture, not at individual aspects. When all of the aspects are added up, they do not represent a level playing field for motorists, who are targeted and punished disproportionately. Motorists are not the scourge of society and the Government should not treat them as if they are.

9.55 am
Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): I did not expect to have the opportunity to speak so soon, Mr. Martlew. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) on securing the debate. It is a shame that we do not debate transport issues more frequently. Shadow Transport Ministers seem to get far fewer opportunities to speak in Westminster Hall debates than our colleagues who shadow other Departments. However, as the old saying goes, “You wait for a bus and then two come along at once,” because there are another two transport debates tomorrow-one in Westminster Hall and one in the main Chamber. I suspect that this is the only week during my five years in Parliament in which there have been three transport debates, and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on being a part of that.

The subject of the debate is fairly broad, so I thank the hon. Gentleman’s staff for giving me an indication of the areas that he would cover in his speech. In my brief remarks, I will talk about the cost of motoring and touch on policies for improving road safety, specifically regarding the use of speed cameras, the drink-drive limit and the use of 20 mph zones.

The hon. Gentleman made an interesting point about the transparency of taxation and suggested that the amount of tax paid should be shown on people’s receipts when they purchase fuel. Does the Minister know the likely cost of doing that? If it was minimal, it would be a good thing to pursue to bring about transparency.

Mr. Evans: I thank the hon. Gentleman for pursuing this issue. I think that the cost would be minimal because these days the tills are computers. Receipts show how much VAT is paid, so it would take only a slight amendment to the programme to show the amount of taxation paid on the petrol.

Mr. Leech: I, too, suspect that the cost would be minimal. It would be interesting to know whether the Minister has any idea of the cost that would be entailed.

The hon. Gentleman also made a point about insurance. I should declare an interest because I used to work for the RAC on its Norwich Union contracts before entering the House. As hon. Members might be aware, Norwich Union introduced a trial for pay-as-you-drive insurance. I was disappointed that it decided not to go ahead with that idea because it could reduce the cost of insurance for safer drivers, people who drive on safe roads, people who drive at times of the day when accidents are less likely and those who drive only occasionally, such as people who use their car once a week to go to the shops. I urge the insurance companies to consider that issue again, because that proposal would be a fair way of reducing insurance premiums for a number of less regular drivers.

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman about the cost of motoring because it is simply a myth that it has become more expensive. The Road Users Alliance claims that motorists pay huge amounts of tax but get nothing back. It is certainly true that the price of petrol and diesel has increased significantly in the past 12 months, but the overall cost of motoring has gone down significantly since 1997. That has happened for a number of reasons, for example because cars have become significantly cheaper. I do not tend to tell people this, but I bought a Daewoo Lanos in 1999. Those people who like cars claim that they are pretty rubbish-I would have to say that I probably agree. However, I purchased the car for £8,000 in 1999. When I changed my car eight years later, in 2007, the price of a better model Daewoo Lanos was less than what I paid in 1999.

People can also now make smarter choices to affect the amount of vehicle excise duty that they pay. When I bought my new car in 2007, my VED decreased to £35, because of the vehicle that I chose to buy. The cost of my fuel halved because I went from a very fuel-inefficient car to a fuel-efficient car-I now get twice as many miles to the gallon than with my previous car.

My boss, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), tabled a parliamentary question through which he uncovered the real cost of motoring and the proof that the cost of motoring had actually fallen. The reply told him that there had been a 13 per cent. reduction in the real-terms cost of motoring between 1997 to 2009. In comparison, there has been a real-terms increase in the cost of bus and coach travel of 17 per cent. over the same period, and a real-terms increase in rail fares of 7 per cent. My hon. Friend said:

“These figures show starkly just what a raw deal train and bus passengers have had out of this Government, and that car drivers, for all the moans about fuel prices, have done rather well. While Ministers are busy preaching about cutting carbon emissions, the Department for Transport has allowed polluting transport to become cheaper and cleaner transport to become more expensive. The Department is clearly part of the carbon problem rather than part of the carbon solution.”

Mr. Evans: The situation seems rather perverse. I agree with the sentiment about public transport being incredibly expensive-particularly trains, given the plethora of train prices. When the Government want to do something about green energy, they throw money at inefficient and ugly wind turbines with the expectation that more will be erected, yet they do the reverse when they try to attract people on to public transport. That does not make sense.

Mr. Leech: Much needs to be done to attract more people on to public transport. The statistics show that more people are travelling by train than for many years, but bus patronage has decreased in most areas outside London, which is a worrying trend given that 86 per cent. of public transport is by bus. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, however, that the cost of motoring disproportionately falls on people in more rural areas.

Graham Stringer: As we are making party political points, which is a bit unusual in this Chamber, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the base cause of higher bus and train fares is the deregulated system that was left behind following the Transport Act 1985 and the privatisation of the railways, which has been unbelievably costly?

Mr. Leech: I absolutely agree, and the point is proved by the fact that bus patronage has increased significantly in London, where we have a different model of bus usage. I hope that the Local Transport Act 2008 will result in better bus services across different parts of the country, but I worry that quality contracts and proper quality partnerships will not work in some areas. There will still be significant resistance from bus operators to going down that route, but doing so can only be good for improving bus services throughout the country.

Graham Stringer: The hon. Gentleman is being very generous with his time. I agree with his point about using the 2008 Act to bring in quality contracts. Is he willing to try to persuade the chair of the Greater Manchester integrated transport authority-his Lib Dem councillor friend-to start introducing quality contracts in Greater Manchester, which he seems particularly reluctant to do?

Mr. Leech: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have had numerous discussions with my colleague, the chairman of the ITA, about how bus services can be improved across Greater Manchester. I am sure that he would agree that the chairman of the ITA is very keen to ensure that bus services improve across the whole of Greater Manchester.

I was about to go on to a point about the disproportionate cost of motoring faced by people in rural communities. When public transport is limited or non-existent in remote rural communities, the people who live there are completely reliant on their cars. The situation has got worse in recent years because the closure of local shops, post offices and banks has forced people to travel further to access local services. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) proposed a rural exemption on the fuel duty rise, based on EU rules, to help people in such areas.

Rises in fuel duty are a blunt instrument. Although such a policy acts as an incentive for people to use public transport, that works only when there is a public transport alternative. Rises in the cost of motoring must go hand in hand with improvements to public transport, which is why the Liberal Democrats would dramatically cut the roads budget by 90 per cent. while at the same time investing more of that money in public transport. We do not think that the solution to congestion is the extensive building of new roads. Instead, we want to give more people the opportunity to access improved public transport.

Bob Spink: I apologise for intervening again, but I am astounded by the hon. Gentleman’s reference to a 90 per cent. cut in the roads budget because I was not aware of that proposal. Would that affect the repair of our roads after this devastatingly bad winter, during which there has been a lot of ice and water?

Mr. Leech: No. The cut relates to road building.

Bob Spink: New roads?

Mr. Leech: Yes; it does not relate to road maintenance. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that an awful lot of additional investment needs to be put into repairing the roads. Road maintenance is a difficult job for all local authorities. In my constituency, I do not believe that the council can be held responsible for the bad weather destroying the roads, but a lot of extra effort needs to be made to ensure that those repairs are carried out, even if that means putting extra, up-front investment into repairing roads and drawing money down from future years to try to solve the problem straight away.

Mr. Goodwill: When did the Liberal Democrats decide on their policy of cutting the roads budget by 90 per cent., because it certainly was not announced in a blaze of publicity to the world’s media?

Mr. Leech: It will be in our manifesto. We see the introduction of a road-user charging scheme that is cost-neutral as the long-term solution to both congestion and the cost of motoring, as the typical motorist would pay no more than they do at present and those making greener choices would pay significantly less. That would go hand in hand with the abolition of vehicle excise duty and a reduction in fuel duty.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley referred to the fact that foreign lorries currently pay nothing to use our roads. We would deal with that by ensuring that the lorry element of the road charging scheme would raise revenue and that foreign lorries, as well as British lorries, would pay to use the roads.

I am not sure how long I have to speak, given that few other Members wish to make speeches, but I will move on to road safety and say a few words about speed cameras. I must disagree with the hon. Gentleman because, in my opinion, speed cameras are a good thing. If people do not speed, they do not pay the speed camera tax, or whatever one calls it. The fact is that speed cameras save lives.

Bob Spink: Will the hon. Gentleman at least acknowledge that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley was absolutely right to say that average speed cameras change behaviour and improve safety, whereas the flash cameras do not?

Mr. Leech: Perhaps I should not have given way to the hon. Gentleman, because I planned to mention that point in a minute or so. I agree with the hon. Member for Ribble Valley that speed cameras should be visible, because when people know that there are speed cameras about, they are far more likely to drive more slowly. Speed cameras should be about not just raising revenue, but changing behaviour and persuading people to drive more slowly.

The fact is that speed cameras, including fixed cameras, save lives. I was involved in the introduction of the first speed camera in Manchester. Two cameras were introduced at the same time, one of which was in my constituency-that was before I was its Member, but I was a local councillor in the area. The speed camera was introduced at an accident black spot on a road that is an extension of the M56. The spot is close to a school and two churches, so there is a busy crossing, and there had been numerous accidents there. After the speed camera was introduced, there was a clear and dramatic decrease in the number of accidents, so no one can tell me that speed cameras do not save lives.

In some areas, however, people certainly slow down for speed cameras but then speed up again once they know where the cameras are. The kind of speed cameras I am talking about work only in specific locations where there is a particular problem. In the location in my constituency to which I referred, where many children cross the road to get to and from school and many people cross to get to and from the two churches, having a speed camera is a good idea, even if it reduces speeds only around that junction, simply because it is an accident black spot.

Although I do not have any statistical evidence, I have heard anecdotal evidence suggesting that average speed cameras have led to a dramatic decrease in the speed at which people drive in the areas where they have been introduced. We have all been on a motorway when roadworks have been going on and average speed cameras have been set up, and we know that almost every driver will reduce their speed as very few people speed through the sections covered by those cameras. I do not know whether the Minister has any statistics on the number of accidents at those spots, but having heard anecdotal evidence, and from seeing with the naked eye the way in which people drive through roadworks that have average speed cameras, it seems to me that they are incredibly successful.

Mr. Goodwill: Does the hon. Gentleman also recognise that when time over distance cameras are in place on roadworks, the number of vehicles managing to get through those works actually increases?

Mr. Leech: Again, I have not seen the statistics, but I rather suspect that that has a positive impact on traffic flow. The idiots who still drive at 90 mph in a 50 mph restricted zone in which average speed cameras have been introduced are certainly very much in the minority. It is unusual to see people speeding through those areas, and the fact that everyone is driving at the same speed appears to have a positive impact on traffic flow.

I welcome the support the Government have shown for 20 mph zones, particularly around schools, but I feel that that does not go far enough. It is a statistical fact that cutting speed saves lives, and my view, and that of my party, is that we should reduce the default speed limit on urban roads from 30 mph to 20 mph. Local authorities could then exempt certain roads for which a 20 mph speed limit was considered inappropriate. Opponents of 20 mph zones often argue that that speed is too slow for driving and that people feel compelled to drive faster because it does not seem natural to drive at 20 mph. The problem is that 20 mph zones are the exception, rather than the rule. If the default limit was 20 mph, people would get used to driving at that speed and would not feel that they were driving slowly but, at present, someone driving through a 20 mph zone clearly feels as though they are having to slow down. I urge the Government to change their view on 20 mph zones and to consider a reduction in the default limit from 30 mph to 20 mph.

Finally, I would like to mention drink-driving and the drink-driving limit. I am delighted that the Government appear to be changing their view on a reduction in the drink-driving limit from 80 mg to 50 mg. My party has argued for a reduction to 50 mg, which would be in line with most other European countries. The Government appear to have changed their view on that, as I remember that the former Minister, the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), appeared to be completely opposed to reducing the limit. That view was shared by several Members, and it was the view taken by the Transport Committee-I was one of the minority of its members who supported a reduction.

I am aware that Sir Peter North has been asked to examine the possibility of reducing the drink-driving limit, and I am also aware that he has spoken to the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety for its views on whether a reduction in the limit should go hand in hand with a reduction in the level of penalty. In my view, that would be a big mistake, and I hope that the Minister will assure hon. Members that the Government will press ahead with a reduction in the drink-driving limit and ensure that a mandatory ban for drink-driving would remain in place for those caught between the old limit and what would be the new limit. It is fair to say that, over the years, the very real threat of a definite ban has helped to get the message across to people that drink-driving is unacceptable, and we should not do anything that could put that in jeopardy.

10.20 am
Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) on securing this debate. I am not a petrol head to rival the likes of Jeremy Clarkson, but I believe that, on balance, the car has been a force for good. I am told that back in the 1920s, the first car that came to our village was a Vulcan made in Southport, which my grandfather had purchased, and then, in the ’40s and ’50s, the doctors and bank managers would be seen in cars. It is only in the past 30 or 40 years that the car has become ubiquitous, and now everyone aspires to own one.

For many people, the car is a machine of freedom. It means that students can access education where they wish to study, and people can work and live where they want, whereas previous generations had to be able to walk to work. We understand from the statistics that, in cash terms, inequality has increased over the past 12 years, but cars have become more affordable, particularly because of the availability of good second-hand cars that do not rust in the way that they used to. Many people can now own a car, take pleasure in it, and use it to get to work and access all the things that they need in their lives.

Of course, there has been a downside. Congestion has increased and, in many cases, people find that journeys can take longer than they did even in the days of horses and carts, particularly in London. In the ’60s, there was a big increase in pollutants-lead from fuel, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, volatile organic solvents and particulates-but we must pay tribute to the motor industry, which has risen to the challenge set by politicians in the UK and at European Union level to reduce pollutants from vehicles, to the extent that now a car running on the motorway at 70 mph has fewer emissions than a stationary car did in the 1960s. On the hottest, most polluted day of summer in the middle of one of our European cities, a Ford Focus will actually clean the atmosphere, such is the performance of the vehicle’s catalytic converters and other technology that clean exhaust emissions.

Of course the other big challenge facing us is carbon dioxide, and it is important that we do not confuse two arguments. Certainly, around Heathrow airport and in London, for example, other pollutants have been dealt with, but we now need to take CO2 just as seriously. I am pleased that progress has been made in reducing the average level of CO2 emitted by vehicles. In fact, later today I will attend a Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders event, where results on CO2 emissions will be announced.

I understand that average CO2 emissions fell 5.49 per cent. to 149.5 grams per kilometre in 2009-not far from the target of 130 grams per kilometre. That shows that the European Union has made progress compared with, say, the United States, which has set its corporate average fuel economy-CAFE-targets at 35 miles per gallon by 2016. Most people in the UK with a vehicle doing 35 mpg would consider that they were at the higher end of the fuel consumption scale.

The dramatic reduction in CO2 has been an effect of the recession, as people seek to buy smaller cars. The scrappage scheme, which has probably been the only successful scheme introduced by the Government to address the problems of the recession and its effects on industry, has meant that people have been buying smaller cars. There has also been more discounting of cars as the manufacturers, which produce a wide range of vehicles with different CO2 emissions, seek to incentivise people to buy smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.

Several new technologies are in the pipeline, and it is important that we as politicians are careful not to try to pick winners. I suspect that if we had tried to pick the video recorder of the future, we would have gone for Betamax. Therefore, it is important that we set tough targets for industry to meet but do not try to pick a particular technology. One possible exception to that would be electric cars, for which we need a network of charging points.

There is another challenge facing us in that regard. I was recently in the US to meet Government people and academics as well as motor manufacturers. There was a real concern that many of the new technologies rely on rare earths, especially lithium and platinum, which may well become a limiting factor in the introduction of some technologies. There was also a concern that the Chinese in particular are managing to buy up many of those resources, which may provide a challenge to the European Union in terms of leading the world in battery technology and so on.

Also, we must not disregard the existing technology that is available and the improvements that have been made to, for example, diesel engines. I do not know whether hon. Members saw a recent repeat of “Top Gear”, in which Jeremy Clarkson drove a Jaguar XJ6 TDVi from Switzerland to Blackpool to turn on the illuminations on one tank of fuel. We must not disregard the tremendous benefits that can accrue from existing technologies, which affect the whole range of vehicles being marketed in the UK, and concentrate only on the small niche markets for some of the hybrids and battery vehicles.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley spoke about insurance costs, and I pointed out that the insurance premium tax has doubled under this Government. The cost of insurance is particularly a problem for young drivers. When one looks at the fines that are levied in respect of their insurance, it is little wonder that they are sometimes tempted to drive without it.

I share the disappointment of the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech) that the Norwich Union pay-as-you-drive scheme was not taken up to the extent that it could be rolled out more widely. I was disappointed because the premiums were loaded on night driving, and we all know that, for young people in particular, many of the nasty accidents happen between 11 o’clock at night and the early hours of the morning. Loading the cost of insurance on night driving would discourage people from using their cars at that time.

I noted that the Minister’s predecessor, who is now the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was on 20 January 2009 considering a consultation on continuous insurance, which I think may be one way of dealing with the problem of uninsured drivers. However, we need to be careful about one aspect: people who cannot afford to insure a car that has broken down but do not have somewhere off road to put it. I assume that if a car has a statutory off-road notification, it will not have to be insured, but I wonder whether the motor insurance industry itself could come up with a type of insurance that would allow such a vehicle to be parked on the road, as a way of helping people who do not have off-road parking but have a car that will not run. Otherwise, people who may not be the richest in society who have cars that they cannot drive will be faced with a major problem.

Last year, I spent some time with the North Yorkshire police automatic number plate detection team and was interested to note the number of uninsured vehicles that went through. There are two big loopholes in the system: first, if one takes out an insurance policy on a monthly payment scheme, they can get their vehicle taxed and then cancel the standing order. We pulled up a driver from Hull who had done that. He waved the insurance certificate at the police officer, but of course the computers at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency showed that the car was not insured.

We still have a problem with vehicle cloning. A couple of years ago, I demonstrated that by cloning the Prime Minister’s ministerial car. The Government may consider that they have ticked the box by ensuring that when one goes to a number plate supplier, one has to take a logbook for the vehicle and photo identification, but it is still possible to purchase so-called show plates on the internet, as I did. I have a pair of plates in my office that exactly match the plates on the Prime Minister’s car. Presumably, if I were to use them illegally, any levied fines would be delivered to the ministerial car service or perhaps to No. 10 itself-who knows? That is a loophole that we need to look at-the box certainly has not been ticked. The estimated 6.5 per cent. of uninsured cars on our roads equates to 2 million vehicles. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley that the cost of that equates to £30 on every person’s premium.

There has been some discussion of vehicle excise duty and banding. Currently there are 13 bands, from band A for vehicles emitting less than 100 grams per kilometre, which is free, to band M, for the most polluting cars emitting 225 grams per kilometre and more, which is set at £405. I should like to put right one misconception: 4x4s are not treated any differently from other cars on the road. The bands relate to CO2 emissions, not to 4×4 or two-wheel drive vehicles. A gas-guzzling Ferrari or a Lamborghini will be in the same band as a gas-guzzling 4×4. Some of the vehicle classes contain some cars that perform well, particularly those with hybrid technology, which is being rolled out on 4x4s.

It is important that we send out the right signals to people when they purchase cars. The VED bands, which they will note when buying, and the information that now has to be available at the point of sale under European Union rules that went through the European Parliament when I was there, mean that people understand more than ever about the CO2 produced by their vehicles.

There have been some big fluctuations in the price of petrol and diesel over the years, which comprised increases in crude prices and VAT and in taxation levied by the Government both as fuel duty and North sea oil taxes. I was pleased when my party announced that it would have a fair fuel stabiliser to try to even out some of the ups and downs in this system, so that the Government’s getting a windfall through higher VAT and North sea oil revenues when crude prices are high is moderated by a reduction in tax. Conversely, when oil prices fell, that stabiliser would come into effect in the opposite way.

May I just say one or two words about safety cameras, the numbers of which have almost trebled under this Government? It is interesting that although there are no fixed speed cameras in North Yorkshire, where I live, and Durham, there does not seem to be any conclusive evidence that road safety has deteriorated there in relation to the rest of the country. The Government stand accused of being a one-club golfer in their reliance on safety cameras to police our roads, particularly as over the past decade there has been a 20 per cent. reduction in traffic police. If there is a change of Government, after the election the Conservatives would not fund any new fixed speed cameras. We would abolish Labour’s camera quangos and expose this system to real democratic control. We will publish information that is currently kept secret on each camera’s record on safety and the fines it generates. In short, we will put an end to Labour’s cash cow camera culture.

Mr. Leech: Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether that information would also include the speed at which people were clocked as being over the speed limit? Some cameras are set several miles per hour above the speed limit and there is a real danger that if this information is available people will know that they can get away with speeding at 6 mph or 7 mph above the speed limit at a particular location.

Mr. Goodwill: I understand that the guidelines of the Association of Chief Police Officers are 10 per cent. plus one. It would not be useful to publish the levels at which fines are tripped. On some average speed cameras, the speed might be set slightly higher than that, but it would not be useful in respect of road safety to publish the level at which fines would be levied.

Clamping on private land has become an epidemic and many companies are now engaged in this activity, as my hon. Friend said. Something needs to be done. I am pleased that the Government are engaged in a consultation on that. My party has long argued that we need better policing of the private clamping industry. Not only do we wish companies engaging in this activity to meet the same sort of criteria that other parking organisations have to adhere to, through registration with bodies such as the British Parking Association, but we think that people who feel that they have been clamped unfairly should have access to a parking adjudication service.

I am genuinely interested to hear the Minister’s view of people who feel that they have been unfairly ticketed for parking and wish to appeal. I have not reached an opinion on that. Under the current system in Scarborough, for example, if I pay a parking fine within 14 days, I can pay the lower fee of £35, but if I leave it longer than 14 days, the fee increases to £70. So there is a discount if I pay early. If a person appeals and loses, they pay the higher fine, so it is almost a case of double or quits. Has the Minister or his Department analysed the effect on the numbers of appeals coming forward and revenue for local authorities if the lower fine were held in abeyance pending an appeal? Perhaps fines could be lodged with the parking adjudication service pending the result of that appeal.

Any motoring policies that a future Government introduced should be rural-proofed. I represent a large rural constituency in which many people rely on their cars to get about. There is no public transport in many areas and, given the recent weather and the topography of the North Yorkshire moors, many people require 4×4 vehicles, including Land Rovers and the like. I hope that any future measures on motoring take into account the needs of the rural population.

Finally, I cannot get my head around the fact that the Liberal Democrats are proposing a 90 per cent. cut in the roads budget on top of the 50 per cent. cut over the past 10 years that the Government have already introduced-compared with the previous 10 years of Conservative Administration. I wonder how that will work and the effect that it will have on the economy in terms of contractors, for example. Are we talking about existing contracts that have been signed off or plans in the pipeline, or will this happen in five or six years when all the existing contracts have been rolled out? Will it affect the managed motorway scheme on hard shoulder running?

The Liberal Democrats have not done their sums. It would be irresponsible to impose such cuts. The effects on congestion and our economy are too awful to consider. I hope that they will look again at that policy, but perhaps we need not worry too much, because I suspect that if there were a hung Parliament that would be one of the policies that they quickly discarded during negotiations with Mr. Brown.

10.37 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): It is a pleasure to be under your chairmanship in this important debate, Mr. Martlew, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) on securing it.

The statements and comments that have been made show that anything goes in trying to get a point across. At no point has Government policy said that motorists are a bane of society or that driving is wrong. Indeed, the policies that we have followed have recognised the complex issues facing all transport users in a successful country, whether they are moving around for work or business, delivering goods, supplying customers or going on their holidays to some of the wonderful places in the north-west region, such as the Ribble Valley and, of course, Mr. Martlew, the Lake District and Carlisle. That is why we have followed a sensible policy covering those areas.

It beggars belief that an hon. Member in this Chamber can say that the Government have followed a policy that states that motorists are a bane of society, when the Highways Agency is investing some £900 million in the strategic network today-this year-and has delivered some 71 major road schemes since 2001, and the Government have announced some £6 billion-worth of investment over the coming years, starting with hard shoulder running and active traffic management to ease congestion and improve safety on our roads. That does not suggest that we have no commitment to drivers and motorists, whether for business or pleasure, and that is not the case.

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill), who speaks for the official Opposition, recognised that one successful scheme that we have introduced to help the motor industry and those who work in it and motorists is the scrappage scheme during this difficult world financial downturn. The hon. Gentleman’s Front Bench opposed that scheme, but it has proved to be extremely successful, and I am delighted with his conversion on the route to this debate. I hope that he and all hon. Members will welcome our £400 million fiscal stimulus to introduce road enhancement schemes, because that has been important for the economy at large, and for motorists and those who use our roads.

Mr. Leech: Has the Minister assessed the likely impact of the end of the scrappage scheme on the sale of new cars?

Paul Clark: The hon. Gentleman will appreciate the juncture that we are at in the current cycle in terms of preparations for the Budget. Such matters are kept under review by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Motoring taxes are primarily revenue-raising to serve and support public finances and to fund public services. I note that the hon. Gentleman kept referring to them as stealth taxes. I suspect, frankly, that he does not think that the stealth taxes have provided the £1.34 billion of regional funding allocation for the north-west region, and that that is pie in the sky, and some sort of stealth expenditure. It is not; nor is the 11 per cent. increase in funding for local transport schemes in his region. That is the reality of funding real schemes that are out there and making a difference for all those who travel, let
alone funding such as the £2.3 billion for bus services in this country and the record billions of pounds that are being spent on the railways.

Bob Spink: The Minister is being extremely generous. Does he acknowledge that the toll, which is a tax, on the Dartford crossing, is to raise taxation for public services? It certainly does not stop congestion; it increases it, and it certainly pumps more carbon into our atmosphere. Will he acknowledge that?

Paul Clark: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman refers to the Dartford crossing. I intended to speak about it, and I will do so now. The toll is not a tax; it is a congestion charge, which was changed in 2003 on the basis of modelling that showed that if there were no charge, the level of use of the tunnels and crossing would increase by some 17 per cent. To remove the toll process or congestion charge would lead to even greater congestion than that which I accept now exists at the plazas. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman recognises that no one must pay more than they did, because the charges for the DART-Tag system remain the same, and it eases throughput.

The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that we are undertaking various work and modelling on alternatives-for example, charging for one way only. However, we must consider the effect of that on traffic patterns and the lengths to which people might go to use alternative routes to cross the river. There are complications. The charge that has been introduced is a congestion charge, and the hon. Gentleman is well aware that residents on both sides of the crossing receive generous concessions, including free trips and reduced costs for a number of trips over a specific limit.

Motoring tax revenue is combined with all the other taxes that come in through the consolidated fund, and supports a range of Government spending priorities, so it is misleading to compare motoring tax revenue with road or transport spending by hypothecating revenue to spending on specific programmes. Doing so would reduce flexibility, and could lead to misallocation of public resources, and poor use of taxpayers’ money.

Hon. Members referred to the fact that, when it is sensible and effective so to do, we link such taxes to other Government objectives, such as environmental objectives, and one instance of that is the vehicle excise duty. Hon. Members are aware that tax-raising activities are matters for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who considers each tax as part of a wider fiscal judgment in the normal Budget process, taking into account social, environmental and economic considerations.

Mr. Goodwill: Has the Minister made any representations to the Chancellor on resuming the rolling exemption for historic vehicles, which was 25 years, but now approaches 40 years?

Paul Clark: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that any Department worth its salt has continuous discussions with the Chancellor and the Treasury, and those discussions continue on a range of taxation issues. I shall leave the matter at that, because it is a continual process.

I have made it clear that fuel duty contributes to the Government’s sound financial provision of services. We announced in the previous Budget that fuel duty rate would increase by 1p a litre in real terms from 2010 to 2013. The main fuel duty is a set rate that is levied on producers when the fuel leaves the refinery, and is currently 56.19p a litre. The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech) referred to lower real-terms costs for motoring today. The rate of tax is lower in real terms than it was 10 years ago. Indeed, if it had risen in line with inflation since 1999, it would be well over 60p a litre. Even after the increases announced in the Budget last year, it will be lower in real terms than it was.

Fuel duty is an appropriate tool to secure public finances, and is in line with the Government’s environmental agenda. It makes an important contribution to meeting our legally binding carbon budgets. As well as supporting public finances, the increases announced in last year’s Budget are estimated to reduce the UK’s CO2 emissions by 2 million tonnes a year by 2013-14. This is not about cash cows or stealth taxes. Apart from ensuring sound public services and public finances, it is about delivering on our environmental agenda, which is critical.

Mr. Evans: What is being done to incentivise the development of electric cars and battery technology? Surely that is the way to go. Rather than caning those who have petrol and diesel cars, we should incentivise people to look into alternative forms of vehicle.

Paul Clark: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has raised that issue. The carbon reduction programme runs across the Government, including the Department for Transport, and I am delighted that the Secretary of State for Transport has announced substantial funding for research and development along those lines, to look at electric vehicles and at investment in charging points, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby.

I reassure the House that the Government are sensitive to the impact of high fuel prices on those who live in rural areas. They often have no choice but to drive and may have to travel further to access those essential services that are perhaps more readily available to city dwellers. I will pick up on one point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer), who has unfortunately had to leave the debate. The Local Transport Act 2008 was introduced specifically because not everybody is able to drive, even if they live in rural areas. There may come a point where someone does not wish to drive, so alternatives are important if we are to avoid social exclusion. That is one of the reasons why, among other things, the Local Transport Act 2008 allowed local authorities a stronger influence on maximum levels of fares, timings and frequencies of routes and, where appropriate, to introduce quality contract schemes such as those found in London. We also changed community transport provisions-if I recall correctly, section 19 and 21 licences-to help to ensure that rural communities are better served. The Local Transport Act 2008 provides excellent opportunities for local authorities, but it needs strong leadership to take that forward.

As I have already emphasised, fuel duty is charged at a single rate across the UK. Higher prices in remote areas have nothing to do with the level of duty and the regime in place. Prices have more to do with market forces such as higher transport costs or lower levels of competition between fuel sellers in the region. It has been suggested, for example, that a reduced rate of fuel duty should be set in rural areas to bring prices down. However, hon. Members will be aware that if that were to happen, there is no guarantee that the reduction would be passed on at the pump, that prices would be any lower for those using those rural stations and would not simply be absorbed into the fuel seller’s margins. Furthermore, such a measure could distort the market and lead to the perverse situation where people would drive many miles to get “cheap fuel”, increasing carbon emissions. Drawing boundaries between high and low-duty areas is likely to be quite arbitrary.

One or two other matters have been raised by hon. Members. Insurance is decided by an assessment of the risk of the individual involved and the group in which they fall for insurance purposes. It is a commercial decision by individual insurers based on their underwriting experience and the statistics and information that is available through numerous sources. Bearing in mind my responsibility for road safety, I have discussed with people in the insurance industry what steps they might be able to take. The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington referred to the Norwich Union pay-as-you-go programme, and that was a matter for it to decide on. There are opportunities out there, and the Government are ready to work with the insurance industry on motor insurance. The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby referred to the continuous registration process which, among other things, is about ensuring that we deal with people who do not have insurance provision and so on. That is essential.

Over the past five years, the hon. Member for Ribble Valley has made numerous statements on speed cameras-in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007, as well as publishing a formal statement in 2009. Let me say clearly that the Government believe that speed cameras have a role to play, and where appropriate-although they are not appropriate in all cases-they are a valuable and cost-effective method of enforcing speed limits. There can be no doubt in the mind of any hon. Member that speed kills. Going over the speed limit, or going too fast, was a contributory factor in 26 per cent. of fatalities in 2008, the last full year for which figures are available. That means that speed was a contributory factor in 586 of the deaths recorded in 2008. Going over the speed limit, as was the case in 14 of those fatal accidents, caused 362 deaths. That is one every single day.

However, the situation has improved. In 1998, 69 per cent. of drivers went over the 30 mile-an-hour limit, but by 2008 that had fallen to below 50 per cent. That is an important development. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley asked about the national safety camera programme and its independent four-year study from 2005. That study found that safety cameras had led to a 42 per cent. cut in the number of people killed or seriously injured on the roads. In other words, 1,745 fewer people were killed or seriously injured last year because of speed cameras. Hon. Members will be aware that speed cameras have been the responsibility of local partnerships since 2007. They are a tool that local authorities and safety partnerships have in their armoury to make the roads safer in their local communities. As part of that process, since 2007 local authorities and those safety partnerships receive a further £110 million every year for road safety measures.

We believe that local authorities should look at 20 mile-an-hour zones and limits in predominantly residential areas around schools, shops or play areas, for example, and that has been widely welcomed. I recently held a consultation on that and we will issue revised guidance shortly. On drink-driving, we are looking at the options. There are complexities involved in reducing the limit to a lower level, but together with Sir Peter North we are taking forward the work that he is undertaking as part of a new road safety strategy.

This has been an interesting debate. Far from considering motorists to be a scourge, as was claimed by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley who introduced the debate, I assure hon. Members that the Government take motorists seriously and seek to ensure that the roads are safe and as free from congestion as possible. We will continue to invest record sums in transport as we have done over the past 13 years.

 

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