UK Election 2005 - the answers

 

OK, we had to wait for a bit before the replies arrived and when they did we had to take one froma prepared press statement and try to extract what we wanted to find out. No, I'm not going to say which party responded late or which gave us such a headache. But it was the same one.

There are no pictures in this article, I'm afraid, for the simple reason that it's difficult to find something appropriate. But here are the answers, as clear as you can ever expect from a politician, I guess.

The Conservative Party answers came from Tim Yeo MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment & Transport.

The Liberal Democrats gave us a response from John Thurso MP, Shadow Transport Secretary.

The Labour Party gave us a quote from an un-named spokesman.

Everything that isn't in black and white from here on is directly from the responses to the questions we asked. We haven't edited anything except to correct grammar in one case and to move an embedded statement to the end section where it belonged in another.

What is your stand on speed limits generally, and on the use of automated enforcement methods as opposed to traffic police? Do you agree that casualty figures have not fallen as hoped and that perhaps it is time to look at an alternative approach to road safety? What would that approach be?

CONS:

Conservatives have pledged to review all speed limits and we believe there is a good case for raising them to 80mph where it is safe to do so on motorways, whilst lowering them to 20 mph outside schools and hospitals. We have made it clear that speed cameras should be used to save lives and not raise money. They should not replace effective policing or investment in better road infrastructure. We will have a full audit of camera sites and get rid of those that are not in place to reduce casualty rates. In the last few years the number of speed cameras has soared whilst the number of traffic police on our roads has dropped by a third. We would reverse this.

77 more people were killed on our roads in 2003 than in 2002. The Government has relied quite wrongly on speed cameras, at the expense of firm, intelligent policing. We want to see more traffic police, and more money spent on worthwhile road safety schemes – especially outside schools and hospitals - with vehicle activated displays and clearer signage of the speed limit.

Instead of pursing a war on motorists - like Labour - with cameras used as cash raisers not life savers, we will ensure speed limits are properly policed. We have pledged to increase the national police force by 5,000 each year, which will release officers for this duty. We will investigate alternative road safety schemes – not just relying on crude methods such as speed humps and restore focus on local road maintenance to make road surfaces safe.

LIBDEM:

I believe there is nothing wrong in principle with reviewing the upper speed limits for motorways, however any increase must be accompanied by stricter enforcement and must consider its impact on road casualties and its environmental impact. The first priority must be to properly enforce speed limits and we believe that speed limits in urban areas should be reduced.

Speed cameras also have a proven track record in reducing road casualties and we support their appropriate use. In local Government councils of all political persuasion – Tories, Labour and Lib Dem, are supportive of their use to improve safety in local communities and we believe the issue should not be used as a political tool. They can be a good way to lower the number of accidents and casualties where there is a proven problem, but they shouldn’t be used as source of revenue raising. Its about getting the right balance, and in some areas this may be the case. We would not automatically get rid of them. If, it should be local areas who decide if they are necessary and if they are working.

Speed cameras clearly can play a role, but this has to be part of a package of measures and education and engineering solutions should play as much of a role, if not more. That’s why it was disturbing to get answers back to my Parliamentary Questions which revealed that there has been a 8% decline in the number of road traffic police officers. There is no substitute for traffic police officers, and we shouldn’t allow speed cameras to be used as a replacement for real policing.

LAB:

Road safety is a major priority for the Labour party. With our road safety strategy there are nearly a quarter fewer people killed and seriously injured on our roads each year than in 1997. And we are committed to reducing these casualties further.

Speed limits are clearly a vital part in this. They are set at a level that balances getting around with the safety of road users. They provide drivers with information that allows them to travel at a speed appropriate to the nature of the road. Within the national framework, local and highways agencies are able to set alternative speed limits where it’s appropriate.

Traffic police and automated enforcement methods both have their place in enforcement of traffic laws. This is why, in January this year, we renewed our commitment to ensuring the policing of our roads remains a priority for the police. We believe roads policing should seek to ensure that people can all use the roads, go about their daily life and get round their towns safely and without being harmed or intimidated by unlawful and anti-social behaviour on the road.

Safety cameras also have an important role to play in cutting deaths and serious injuries on the road. An independent study of UK sites last year concluded they reduce accidents by an average of 40% at each site. This is why we use them. The best camera is, as we’ve always said, the one that saves lives, but doesn’t make a penny.

Motorcycles are currently not generally allowed in bus lanes. What is your stand on this and how would you justify this position?

CONS:

We have given a clear commitment that motorcyclists should have access to bus lanes. We moved an amendment to allow this in the recent Road Safety Bill, but it was rejected by the Government. We would allow motorbikes access to bus lanes, because they cause less congestion and are more versatile and cleaner than cars.

LIBDEM:

We would allow local authorities to open bus lanes to bikes. Liberal Democrats understand that encouraging motorcycle use in urban areas can help reduce congestion and increase traffic flow.

LAB:

Labour understands the motorcycling community’s interest in being able to use bus lanes. This is something we’re already studying and, though the research is not complete yet, the early results are looking encouraging.

Motorcycle visors are generally made to the same standard, regardless of their target market or the degree of tint they carry. Given that it is perfectly legal to wear cheap, non protective and non impact resistant totally dark sunglasses under a clear visor on a cloudy day, how do you feel about the fact that it remains illegal to wear a well constructed, UV blocking visor that is tinted by more than 50%, regardless of conditions? For that matter, a visor which has the legal tint but is iridium coated is also illegal, which surely is even more of a paradox.

CONS:

This is obviously an important issue that has a bearing on safety for motorcyclists. On taking office I would ask Departmental officials to review the regulations surrounding visors with the intention of developing a more coherent policy.

LIBDEM:

We have the ridiculous and discriminatory situation where motorcyclists are prevented from enjoying the same level of protection from glare as that enjoyed by car drivers. A motorcyclist can wear a pair of cheap sunglasses under a clear visor, but yet would be prosecuted for wearing a darkened visor which is greatly beneficial to their own safety. A BSI committee investigating the safety of darkened visors fully backed this proposal yet the government still chose to ignore their recommendations. The government has wasted a lot of time on this pointless and unwanted law when it could be focusing its attention on more pressing safety concerns, such as driver education and training.

LAB:

In 2002 we re-examined the issue of motorcycle visors with a consultation considering the benefit of dark visors against the potential dangers to vulnerable road users. Arguments were made on both sides, but it was judged the case wasn’t made to alter the position.

Motorcycle theft is a real problem. What measures would you introduce to address this, especially in terms of parking facilities?

CONS:

We will ensure that there are more police on the streets – particularly traffic police – to tackle more of the criminals targeting bikes and motorbikes. We will also mount a campaign to ‘design-out’ crime by asking station operators to ensure that at any newly built transport hubs and at the train stations we designate for refurbishing as part of our plan to modernise the rail network there are secure storage areas for motorbikes, monitored by CCTV.

LIBDEM:

Secure bike parking is a key opportunity which we haven’t yet grasped in Britain. Also identification, and trackers can help. Bike theft will continue to be a problem for some time, but these steps will begin to tackle it and we would in Government look to discuss this with the industry to take this forward. Bike parking also requires a dialogue with local authorities. Proper secure bike parking exists today, but unfortunately not in sufficient numbers. Places like Westminster and the centre of London generally are desperately short of bike parking. It needs consultation and may need some subsidy and, although this is not a promise as we have not costed it, I can assure you the strategy of adequate bike parking is our agenda.

LAB:

We recognise that motorcycles can be especially vulnerable to theft when parked. Security is significantly enhanced where the motorcycle can be chained to a fixing device anchored in or adjacent to the road. That’s one of the reasons why the Labour Government introduced legislation in the Transport Act 2000, to put beyond doubt the legality of highway authorities providing such secure motorcycling parking devices.

We want to see more secure parking facilities for motorcycles and are making local authorities treat the consideration of motorcycling as integral to their parking strategies in their Local Transport Plans.

Vital road improvement measures often seem to be accompanied by a reduced speed limit on the basis that funding will only be forthcoming if this is the case. What is your opinion on using road engineering as a sole means of casualty reduction?

CONS:

Road safety is not something that can be tackled in isolation. A combination of factors needs to be considered – the condition of the road, its location, the past accident rate, the provision of police and other safety mechanisms – when deciding the appropriate speed limit. The National Road Maintenance Survey reported in April 2004 that the condition of local roads is worse than it was thirty years ago with one in three main roads in English and Welsh cities liable to cause motorists to skid.

LIBDEM:

Improving the road transport network in Great Britain, and specifically road safety, is dependent on recognising the importance of engineering enforcement and education. Appropriately designed and well maintained roads can help to reduce the number of accidents by reducing the risk to road users and creating an environment which encourages responsible driving and does not allow for excessive speed. A well thought through road layout can negate and contain the effects of an accident which can help to reduce the risk of death and serious injury, and need not mean there has to be a reduction in any speed limit. Engineering alone can’t bring the benefits we need to see, and education has just as, if not more, important a role to play.

LAB:

Often traffic authorities will use a range of measures to address particular road safety problems when improvements to the road are being undertaken. But road improvements are not automatically accompanied a requirement for reduced speed limits.

Similarly the other E of the safety triangle – Education – seems to be somewhat neglected. What is your position on both basic and advanced road user training and the qualifications needed to allow a person in charge of a vehicle on the Queen’s Highway? How do you feel about the difference licensing standards for drivers and riders?

CONS:

We will investigate working with insurers to develop a 'pass plus' type financial incentive for riders to continue their training, which would mean that the competence of drivers to ride large vehicles is regulated in part by the insurance market. We will continue to support the 'Bikesafe' scheme run by the police to improve rider safety.

We want to ensure that people are trained effectively to be competent and safe drivers and riders - not just to pass tests. We will investigate the best way of ensuring people are licensed in the most comprehensive way possible.

LIBDEM:

We would take a long look at the training regulations, to make sure we’ve got a common sense approach. Of course safety matters, but it’s also a matter of risk management, not risk elimination and we would not allow motorcycles to be squeezed off the roads by the incessant addition of new regulations.

Our European colleagues believe that the Third European Driving Licence Directive is bad for biking and not good for the British bike industry. It stands to mess about with the access ages for motorcyclists, and the training regime. If the Government really does prevent 19 year olds riding bikes above 125cc, it secures the primacy of the car as the transport choice for young people. There is probably a lot more in it than that, but even these elements contradict my commitment to environmentally friendly transport alternatives as well as placing a limit on individual freedoms.

Education of course is not just about motorbikes, and biker awareness is even more – if not more – of a key challenge with car drivers. There isn’t a proper bike awareness aspect to learning to drive, and that could easily be addressed.

LAB:

Education also has an important role in motorcycling safety. Although we’ve made our roads safer overall – with nearly a quarter fewer deaths and seriously injuries each year than in 1997 – but recognising that biking accidents still remain too high, we’ve listened to the biking community and are committed to improving education by changing driving tests for bikers and, crucially, for car drivers to make them more aware of the need to look out for motorcyclists.

Green Lanes are – rightly – an area of concern in that they are being damaged and sometimes rendered unusable by inappropriate vehicular traffic. What is your standing on motorcycles using green lanes in general and how will you justify that in the face of opposition either from ramblers or from motorcyclists?

CONS:

We will investigate the option of allowing motorcyclists the right to use Green Lanes and the effect this will have on other road users and pedestrians. This will allow us to make an informed choice, based on the safety implications.

LIBDEM:

Liberal Democrats are concerned about environmental damage to sensitive areas from off-road vehicles, and indeed in 2003 Baroness Ros Scott tabled a successful amendment to prevent 4x4 off road vehicles from driving on National Trails which led to the Government introducing their own amendment to prohibit the use of non-essential mechanically propelled vehicles on National Trails. However, there are many green lanes where the use of motorbikes and/or other motorised vehicles has not caused a problem, and we see no need for this to continue to be the case where no problem exists. Its about getting the right balance.

LAB:

We have been working with industry on the inappropriate use of Green Lanes to address the real problems this can pose. We are happy to work with the responsible representatives of motorcycling to seek to protect legitimate use and prevent misuse.

What is your view on congestion charging, road charging and tolls generally, as well as in particular relation to motorcycles? How about parking facilities?

CONS:

We will only permit congestion charging in cities where there is a direct benefit to those who pay the charge and where the local community supports the scheme. Motorway charges should not be introduced to penalise drivers or riders for congestion caused by the Government, but only to help pay for new capacity, in the belief that motorists will accept the principle of a direct charge for a direct benefit. Motorcycles should be exempt from congestion charging as they do not cause congestion on the same scale of cars.

LIBDEM:

Liberal Democrats understand that encouraging motorcycle use in urban areas can help reduce congestion and increase traffic flow.

Our policy on lowering Vehicle Excise Duty on less polluting vehicles would mean that this would be much less for most motorbikes, some paying none at all, and would make two wheelers an even more attractive, and environmentally friendly, alternative to cars.

We will encourage Local Authorities to exempt two-wheeled motor vehicles from congestion charging and we promise exemption from road tolls and congestion charges nationally, as much as it is in central Government’s power to achieve this as some places, such as Scotland, aren’t regulated by Westminster.

LAB:

We are addressing congestion through increasing road capacity – with 100 schemes built and major upgrades planned for key arteries like the M1, M6 and M25 – and by better management of the road network, for example, by introducing new traffic management officers and reducing time lost to road works. But it’s clear we will never just be able to build our way out of congestion – the economic, environmental and community cost would be far too high. So we need to examine whether we can make use of new technology to make more efficient use of roads. In order to do this, we will seek political consensus in tackling congestion, including examining the potential for moving away from the current system of motoring taxation towards a national system of road pricing. Such a system is some way off yet, but a recent study suggests it could halve congestion and save £12 billion to the British economy. If the right scheme can be developed it could help bikers and drivers get around more easily. We recognise that a switch from cars to motorcycles increases road capacity and that there is a benefit to this in terms of reducing congestion. The congestion charging scheme introduced by the Mayor of London reflects this by specifically exempting motorcycles from the charge.

Finally, is there anything you would like to add about motorcycling or transport in general that has not been covered here? (Ed: This is the Party Political Broadcast)

CONS:

Labour has let down bikers and the transport industry as a whole. They promised to make ‘Britain's transport the rival of any [country] in Europe’ (The Independent, 19 July 2000). They promised to reduce congestion, but congestion will rise by 20 per cent by 2010. They promised to improve train reliability, but 1 in 6 trains still run late – more than in 1997. Mr Blair’s major transport policy, their Ten Year Plan, has been a total failure. Launched in 2000, it has failed to meet the majority of its key objectives. It has not reduced road congestion; it has failed to meet its targets on increasing rail use and reliability; and it has failed to improve rural transport links.

Speed cameras have been used to raise revenue rather than improve safety. In 1996-7 the Government took £21.4 billion off motorists in Vehicle Excise Duty and Fuel Duty. By 2004-5 the total had risen to £28.3 billion. Even though the number of speed cameras on our roads has increased massively, 77 more people were killed on the roads in 2003 than in 2002. It is clear that Labour has failed the country on transport, and the situation is not improving. Conservatives have a clear timetable for action to improve conditions on our roads and railways. On the Environmental front, we will also promote greener road use by encouraging people to drive less polluting vehicles – such as motorcycles - through tax reforms, and by encouraging manufacturers to develop cleaner engines and fuels.

LIBDEM:

When it comes to motorbikes, Labour haven’t delivered what they promised. In 1997 they said they’d put motorbikes at the heart of their transport strategy, but they haven’t. There are simple things they could do, like opening bus lanes to two wheelers, improving the road tax regime for bikes and so on. But it hasn’t been a priority for them. Every step seems to require great effort by the biking community, especially MAG, the BMF and the Motor Cycle Industry Association. Credit to them, but it’s a shame they’ve had to push so hard for a sympathetic hearing from Ministers.

LAB:

The Labour Government is the first to really take motoring cycling seriously. We’re committed to supporting motorcycling as an important part of the transport mix, working together with the motorcycling community to address the needs of motorcyclists. Recently we have seen a significant increase in motorcycling, with people turning to motorcycles to beat congestion, and, as we have become more wealthy as a nation, an increase in biking as a leisure activity with people riding for the sheer fun of it. We have introduced our Motorcycling Strategy this year which has been very well received by the motorcycling community.

Labour is serious about motorcycling – as we’ve demonstrated through our dialogue with the motorcycle community, as we’ve demonstrated through our Motorcycling Strategy and as we’ve shown on listening to the views of bikers to identify and address the main challenges they face – in rider safety, vehicle security and design standards. And, if re-elected, we will continue this engagement into the future.

If you there is a political party whose opinion you would like to see here then why not get them to reply to the questions and we will extend them the same courtesy as we have to the 'Big Three.'

 




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