Cheryl Gillan MP challenged the Government to define how often a speeding motorist must offend before being labelled as a “serious and persistent offender” - and discovered that the answer is “not three or four times, but twice”.
The Government proposes to levy a surcharge of £5 or £10 on speeding tickets, to raise funds for the victims of crime.
In the Commons on 27 October, Mrs Gillan reminded the Home Office Minister that one motoring organisation, the AA, called the proposal “ill conceived and bordering on the inept”.
The Chesham and Amersham MP said it is not just motoring organisations who have questioned the idea: the Association of British Insurers pointed out that motorists already contribute to the victims of crime through the Motor Insurers’ Bureau, while police forces in the south west and north west of England have expressed caution about the proposal.
Mrs Gillan said the proposal is in effect a “double whammy”, because Greater Manchester Police drew attention to the fact that only 60% of speed fines are paid. The 40% which remain unpaid tend to be fines imposed on vehicles that have been stolen, that are unregistered or cars using false number plates.
“In other words, the 60% who pay up are the generally law-abiding, and the 40% are the criminals who ignore all the rules, including speed limits. Imposing a surcharge on the 60% who pay is therefore a ‘double whammy’ on those motorists, while the criminals are given yet another free ride,” commented Cheryl Gillan after the debate.
Mrs Gillan told the Commons that the Police Federation reported concerns that a surcharge could lead to “an unwelcome backlash” from members of the public. The MP said:
“ There we have it. That is the Police Federation speaking on behalf of all the police throughout the country. It thinks that the Government’s proposals to surcharge the motorist will damage the relationship between the police service and the public. The Minister ought to take that seriously.”
Cheryl Gillan called the measure a “stealth tax” but warned that it might not necessarily bring the financial benefits to victims of crime that had been promised.
“ The Minister told us that 1.7 fixed penalty notices were issued in 2002. The estimated administrative cost of collecting this stealth tax would be approximately £1.6 million. For every £5 that is surcharged, approximately £1 will go in administration costs. Only £4 will ever go into a victims’ fund,” said Mrs Gillan.
The figures might not even be as rosy as that, commented Cheryl Gillan. The Government’s calculations did not add up. 1.7 million speeding fines should raise £8.5 million. But, she said, “ If a quarter of those fines and surcharges are lost in non-payment and if we add in the administrative costs, £3.8 million will disappear straight away. That is not very good value for money. If the Minister was expecting £8.5 million for the victims’ fund, he will find that he gets nowhere near that. However, he will create and build up an enormous bureaucracy and the enormous resentment and problems that were evidenced in those very honest submissions to the consultation.”
Cheryl Gillan concluded:
“ The bottom line is that the criminals will be laughing all the way to the bank. Once again, they will get away without paying for their crimes but the inadvertent, middle-class motorist who is a responsible member of society will end up bearing the cost. For all those reasons, I seriously ask the Minister to think again and remove this unpopular, unnecessary and costly attack on the motorist from the Bill.”
Mrs Gillan defended the use of speed cameras which she said have a “perfectly proper role” in traffic management. She said: “Indeed, I have requested them on certain roads in my constituency. I abhor people who break the speed limit and would not want to diminish the offence.”
The Home Office Minister, Paul Goggins, confirmed that the surcharge would apply to a driver who committed a second endorsable road traffic offence within three years.