Viscount Simon: My Lords, we have heard noble Lords give interesting speeches on business and the economy. This reminds me that I never know on which days to speak, because I will not be talking about these matters. I intend to address various matters of concern to road safety experts and the police and on road policing.
There was a programme on BBC Three recently called “Barely Legal Drivers” where, at the beginning, three interesting statements were shown:
“1 in every 3 drivers who die on UK roads is 25 or under … 1 in 10 young people have been in a crash that resulted in death or serious injury … 1 in 5 young drivers has a crash within 6 months of passing their test”.
Things do not change very much, I have to admit, because I had a crash within six months of my passing the driving test. This led to my commencing a long attachment, as a civilian, to the traffic police with whom, over the years, I have taken lots of advanced driving courses.
Keeping inexperienced drivers in mind, it has been suggested that graduated licences could be introduced, putting in place certain requirements as to when they are allowed to drive, the number of passengers carried and probably various other bits and pieces. The insurance industry may require recording devices to be fitted to the cars of inexperienced drivers to see how they are driving. They may well adjust the premiums accordingly; I understand that this is already happening with young lady drivers. However, enforcement could well be a problem as there are some difficult issues and logistical considerations to be made in terms of how much time the police would have to enforce any legislation introduced. With the reduction of fully trained roads-policing officers over quite a number of years, this would not be a priority.
At the end of April, six terrorists were found guilty of serious offences against the mainland with the intention of blowing up towns and causing havoc. It was a roads-policing officer who instinctively decided to stop the vehicle they were driving. In view of his expertise, and that of all roads-policing officers, I wonder what plans the Government have to ensure that adequate funding and support is given to chief constables so that roads-policing receives higher priority, and greater investment in technology to ensure more criminals are caught while on the roads. With better vehicle-mounted technology and investment in skills and officers, criminals on the road will fear the risks and know that they will be caught.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents deduced that the currently used method of defining certain priorities is out of date and that the causes of premature deaths that can be prevented should be an area on which to focus. At all ages, cancers and other preventable diseases eclipse accidents. To put another area of premature death into the arena, accidents kill around 14,000 people in this country every year but only about 2,000 of these deaths occur on the road or in the workplace. So, home and leisure accidents now account for the majority of deaths, but this does not detract from reducing death and injury on our roads.
After all, the total cost of each road death is now about £1.6 million, which means that every reduction can be calculated on a financial basis.
On costs, it has been suggested that the purchase of more battery-operated vehicles should be encouraged to reduce emissions. While this is an admirable idea, I wonder how long a battery will last and what it would cost to replace one. I may be wrong, but I have heard that they are very expensive.
In the past two or three years a number of reforms to the police have taken place: the introduction of police and crime commissioners along with pay and pension reforms. Somebody joining the police gets £19,000 a year, yet a new PCSO gets £25,000 a year. What message does this send out? Then there is the potential for the introduction of direct entry at the rank of superintendent, with no experience of policing anticipated. How many people would go to their surgery to be seen by a doctor whose only experience is as a helicopter pilot? These changes, and others that have taken place over the past decade or so, are completely counter to those who label the police as “the last unreformed public service”. In addition, police have to deal with the impact of reforms on other services, particularly in the area of mental health. There are too few areas where places of safety are available on a 24-hour basis to assess individuals who are suffering from mental illness and in need of immediate support. This means that far too many people have to be taken to police cells following their detention under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act due to the lack of an available place of safety.
The next comprehensive spending review is on 26 June. I hope that no further cuts will be made to the police. If there are, there could well be disastrous effects in dealing with the requirements of the public. In order to reduce costs, a few constabularies are working closely together but there are still the same number of chief constables, deputy chief constables and police and crime commissioners within each constabulary. This has led to there being little consistency in approach, with little evidence to demonstrate savings or benefits to the public once these changes have been made.
The Crime and Policing Bill will enable the creation of the police remuneration review body. Police officers are officeholders, independent of state and answerable for their actions to the law. This onerous responsibility brings many restrictions on an officer, not least of which is the fact that they are forbidden in law to take industrial action. The transition from the current national Police Negotiating Board must take into account an officer’s inability to directly influence policy concerning police pay and conditions of service. Mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that officers feel that they will be treated fairly by the Government of the day. A system of appeal that can be influenced by the Police Federation is essential so that the relationship between state and officeholder continues with a common understanding. I would also urge caution with the current proposals to introduce compulsory severance, which could change the independence of the constable. There should be a pause to ascertain the necessity for something drastic, particularly as many no longer see it as necessary. It is the first duty of government to protect its citizens and it is the duty of the Government to be fair to those discharged with this responsibility, the British police service.