Twenty years ago, transport did not register among the 20 main reasons to vote for a particular party. Today it is in the top five. So when Michael Howard asked me to be shadow Secretary of State for Transport I was delighted to be at the forefront of developing my party's policies for the motorist.
Labour came to power in 1997 promising "immediate benefits" for the travelling public. But what have they delivered? A year after they were elected, Labour cut the number of road-building projects from 140 to 37. It is little wonder traffic has increased by 7 per cent overall, and motorway congestion by 250 per cent in the past four years.
On top of this, Labour has ripped off the motorist through excessive increases in taxes: in 1997-98 the Government took £31bn from road users in VAT, fuel duty and road tax; by 2001 this had reached £42bn, of which fuel duty accounted for £26bn.
Conservatives believe in a fair deal for the motorist, including a sensible programme of road-building and improvements, but which also reviews road-safety measures including speed limits, cameras and bumps.
I have sympathy with the various anti-speed camera campaigns. I am not suggesting we get rid of all cameras but I believe they ought to enhance road safety by being sited in areas prone to accidents. At present, many are just silent tax-collectors.
There has been a huge increase in the number of speed cameras, numbering 5,000 to 6,000, at £30,000 each. But research shows 33 per cent more cameras have been positioned on the UK's 60 safest roads than on the 50 most dangerous stretches. A mere 18 cameras monitor more than 500 miles of our most hazardous roads. So it is hardly surprising that while offences detected by speed cameras increased four-fold between 1996-2001 to more than one million, the number of fatalities has remained static at about 3,500.
Road-safety measures are paramount but there is little proof the fall in road casualties over the past 20 years has anything to do with speed cameras. Cars have advanced enormously in design and safety measures, and the education and training of new drivers has improved. But the biggest factor promoting the lower casualty figures is the creation of safer, straighter roads, often dual- instead of single-carriage way.
The Conservative Party's policy is that speed cameras should be positioned in dangerous areas, and particularly outside schools. We will also abolish the revenue-sharing partnership which allows people to take money from speed cameras and use it for other purposes. We also want a review of our speed limits. We have proposed to raise it to 80mph on the motorways, but reduce it outside schools, and in other sensitive areas, to 20mph.
Instead of relying on cameras to reduce accidents, we need more transport police back on the roads to curb bad driving, and catch those without insurance, tax, MoT or licence, offences speed cameras fail to detect. The British motorist is the most taxed, insulted, persecuted and harassed of any country in the developed world. It is time to offer the motorist sensible solutions to serious problems. I will try to do just that.
Damian Green is shadow Secretary of State for Transport
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