Sir Mike Penning speaks in a debate on roadside recovery and red lights, backing calls for a halt to the current roll-out of smart motorways and to allow the use of red lights by the roadside recovery industry.
I will only make a short speech. As I mentioned a moment ago, I had the honour and privilege of being the Roads Minister. That portfolio allows the Minister to make a massive difference to people’s lives—in this case, to save lives. I held the road safety portfolio as well as the roads portfolio.
The roll-out of smart motorways was an integral part of the previous Government’s programme as well as this Government’s, but an unintended consequence of some of that has been that some roadside recovery workers have been seriously injured and others have lost their lives. In a parliamentary question to the Department, I asked how many roadside workers had been seriously injured or killed on managed motorways. The answer came back that the Department did not hold that information and that this was a matter for the police. I completely disagree with that. This is a matter of road safety on a managed motorway.
I do not really understand why Highways Agency—now Highways England—workers should be any safer or less safe than roadside recovery workers. In other words, are their lives worth more? Of course not. No one wants to see the people who help us in our daily tasks, whether in commerce or in getting away for the coming recess, become injured. They come to rescue us, just as I did when I was a firefighter in the fire and rescue service. I saw the sorts of work and skills that the recovery industry has when it delivers them at the roadside. It does not matter whether we are in a 44-tonne artic or in my little Morris Minor that comes out of the shed every now and again: when they come out to rescue us, they rescue us, and their lives are as important as anybody else’s.
I saw the Minister turn round to his advisers when I suggested that the police had been supportive, based on an evidence session with the all-party parliamentary group. I have submitted a letter to the Secretary of State and had extensive correspondence with him about the matter, so I hope that his thoughts will be reflected in the Minister’s reply.
Our suggestion, which I think is picking up credibility in the Department, is that we could pilot something and work it out on the evidence base for what could happen—although it could also be done very quickly by regulation. The vehicles would not be moving with a red light; they would be stationary, which would make it so much safer and much more tangible for the motorist that it is a danger area for them as well as for the people working at the roadside. I had a meeting with the Secretary of State only two days ago and followed it up with letters, which I am sure the Minister has seen.
People in the industry do not want special preference. They just want to be treated exactly the same as any other person working for the Government on the roadside. Their lives and families are just as important as anybody else’s.