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New Clause 11 — Secondary Locking Devices

Orders of the Day — Road Safety Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 8th March 2005.

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'The wheels of every heavy goods vehicle shall be fitted with a secondary locking devices.'. —[Mr. Knight.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 13—Reflective clothing—

'The Road Traffic Act 1988 (c.52) is further amended, by inserting after section 16 (wearing of protective headgear):—

"16A Wearing of protective clothing

The Secretary of State shall make regulations requiring, subject to such exceptions as may be specified in the regulations, persons driving or riding in motor vehicles of any class specified in the regulations to wear EN471 compliant reflective garments when leaving the vehicle at a roadside, except where the vehicle is parked.".'.

New clause 15—Protective headgear for children under 16 riding cycles—

'(1) Except as provided by regulations, it is an offence for any person to whom this subsection applies to cause or permit a child under the age of 16 years to ride a cycle on a road unless the child is wearing protective headgear of such description as may be specified in regulations, in such manner as may be so specified.

(2) Subsection (1) above applies to the following persons—

(a) any person who—

(i) for the purposes of Part 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (c. 12) has responsibility for the child, or

(ii) for the purposes of article 5 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (S.I. 1995/755 (NI 2)) has parental responsibilities in relation to the child, or

(iii) in relation to Northern Ireland has care of the child or is, otherwise than by virtue of article 5 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, legally obliged to maintain the child, or

(iv) for the purposes of Part 2 of the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937 (c. 37) has parental responsibilities (within the meaning given by section 1(3) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 (c. 36) (parental responsibilities)) in relation to the child, or has charge or care of the child;

(b) any owner of the cycle, if the owner is above the age of 15 years;

(c) any person other than its owner who has custody of or is in possession of the cycle immediately before the child rides it, if that person is above the age of 15 years;

(d) where the child is employed, his employer and any other person to whose orders the child is subject in the course of his employment.

(3) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) above is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 1 on the standard scale.'.

New clause 18—Amendment of Road Traffic Act 1988—

'The Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) is further amended, by inserting after section 80 (approval marks)

"80A Retro-reflective markings

The Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument require the fitting of retro-reflective tape complying with ECE 104 to international category vehicles N2 and N3 and on goods trailers under the international classification 03 and 04 newly registered in the UK.".'.

New clause 21—Amendment of Road Traffic Act 1988—

'In section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (regulation of construction, weight, equipment and use of vehicles), at the end of subsection (2) insert—

"(m) for prohibiting the modification or retrofitting to the front of a motor vehicle any equipment which in the opinion of the Secretary of State may render the vehicle more likely to cause injury to a third party in the event of an accident.".'.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:45 pm, 8th March 2005

New clause 11 may seem to some Members to be dealing with a rather obscure point, but the reference to wheels is to road wheels not steering wheels. Although the provision covers a fairly rare occurrence, it is nevertheless a serious problem that some experts estimate leads to 10 fatalities a year on our roads, when lorries shed not their load but one of their wheels.

I draw the attention of the House to a report in the Daily Express of 23 October 2004. Under the headline, "School run mother of five killed by runaway truck tyre", it stated:

"A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall Police said its officers were working with Department of Transport vehicle examiners to investigate how the nuts and bolts holding the wheel came free or broke. Several were found at the side of the road close to the spot where the lorry stopped. Police Sergeant Bryan Hancock said: 'Most incidents we attend would involve some element of driving, but this is something that has happened with the vehicle. We are now carrying out an investigation with our vehicle examiners and the Department of Transport, and a report will be prepared for the coroner.'."

Mr. Mark Louch of the company, Wheelsure, wrote to my hon. Friend Mr. Yeo about the incident and the report in the Daily Express to which I have just referred. The letter stated:

"It is of course inappropriate to comment on the individual circumstances that surround this case. However you should be aware that an incidence such as that described is neither a 'freak' nor 'unexplained phenomenon'. Instead it is highly likely that the wheel-loss has occurred due to vibration nut loosening, an engineering design problem that has beset the transport industry for years. Wheel-nut loosening and wheel loss are frequent occurrences and well known to those who operate professional logistics businesses."

The letter confirms a point I made a few moments ago, adding:

"It is estimated by Brake, the leading Road Safety Charity, that up to 10 fatalities each year are caused by wheels flying off vehicles."

I have first-hand experience of the problem. About eight years ago, I purchased a new set of wheels for a sports vehicle that I owned. As I was approaching junction 10 of the M1, travelling at 70 mph, I suddenly felt a violent vibration from one of the wheels. I managed to stop the vehicle in time and on examining the front wheel I saw that four of the five studs that held it in place had sheered off. It later transpired that that was a wheel design problem and I understand that subsequently the wheel was redesigned. That is not only a frightening experience for the driver, but a dangerous experience for other road users.

Various hon. Members have raised this issue with Ministers over the years. In 1997, it was raised by Mrs. Clark, who asked

"when the results of the wheel loss survey . . . will be published."

The then Minister replied that the Government were looking into the matter, but

"expect to make these results known by the end of January 1998."—[Hansard, 19 December 1997; Vol. 303, c. 353.]

Also in 1997, Mrs. Dunwoody asked a similar question, and the then Minister—Glenda Jackson—said:

"Data on the specific causes of accidents are not routinely collected".

However, she continued:

"Following joint discussions with the Vehicle Inspectorate and the Association of Chief Police Officers, a nation-wide survey looking at the extent of the problem of wheel detachment from heavy goods vehicles and passenger vehicles was started in February this year."

Of course, that was February 1997. She went on to say:

"The survey has recently finished and the results are being analysed."—[Hansard, 10 June 1997; Vol. 295, c. 410.]

We and, I think, the House would like the Minister to tell us what is the present state of play with regard to the analysis of that problem. Are we any nearer establishing the cause of the problem?

I am lucky enough to own a 1950s Bentley, which is now regarded as a classic car. Bentley, realising that cost was less of a problem when that car was new, designed it so that the wheel nuts on one side loosen the opposite way to those on the other side. Clearly, Bentley had concluded that, with the movement of the car, it would be safer for some nuts to tighten clockwise and some to tighten anticlockwise, so that the movement of the vehicle would not tend to loosen the wheel nuts on one side only. That practice is not widespread today. Certainly most motor cars in production today do not have that extra safety feature present, and all wheel nuts tighten clockwise.

Is that safety feature present on heavy goods vehicles? Perhaps the Minister will tell us. Has the lack of such a feature been identified as the reason for the problem? Is an added problem perhaps that wheel studs become stressed, thus lengthening or fracturing?

We are talking about the loss of life, so we would like a progress report from the Minister. In effect, new clause 11 is probing in nature. I hope that she can reassure the House that the issue is being looked at and that the Government are seeking to reach an early conclusion.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

The right hon. Gentleman may be aware that, certainly until recently—it may still be the case—certain specialist sports cars were produced in north America with left-hand threads for the wheels nuts on one side. Does he agree that it would help if we had some comparative information from other countries about whether such a safety device, in contradistinction to the one directly referred to in new clause 11, were fitted?

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That would certainly be helpful. I have no knowledge of any vehicle with counter-running threads on one side suffering the problem of its wheels loosening. That may well happen in a few cases, but I am not aware of it. I should have thought that producing a vehicle with threads that tighten in the opposite direction on one side would cost relatively little. The House would welcome such a feature if it led to vehicles becoming much safer on the road, particularly when travelling at speed.

New clause 13 is entirely probing in nature and is intended to tease out from the Minister whether the Government are considering best practice in reducing accidents and considering the experience of other countries. Being a Conservative, I always hesitate to argue for more red tape, especially when my right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood, the Cabinet Minister for deregulation, is sitting behind me—[Interruption.] I am sorry; he is a member of the shadow Cabinet, certainly until 6 May.

Although we do not want to accept the one-size-fits-all attitude of many Labour Members when considering our European partners, we should look at the practices of other countries if statistical evidence has been gathered about them, if only so that we can dismiss them and look for an alternative solution. A similar regulation to new clause 13 forms part of Spanish law. Motorists who travel in Spain must ensure that they have coloured jackets in their vehicles. The regulation applies if a vehicle is stopped, but not parked. For example, motorists who discover that they have a flat tyre on a motorway are required to wear a yellow jacket if they leave their vehicle to replace it.

I raise the matter against the background that, in the past seven days, a person on the hard shoulder of a motorway in the UK was killed after he and his car were hit by a heavy goods vehicle. Eighteen months ago, there was a widely reported case in which four female passengers who got out of a car that had broken down on the third carriageway of a motorway were killed. Several motorists each year are injured, some fatally, while on the hard shoulder. Unfortunately, not all stretches of this country's motorways have the benefit of lighting.

I would like to tease out from the Minister what the Government are doing to bring home to drivers how dangerous it is to get out of their vehicles on motorways in the United Kingdom. If she does not intend to follow the practice adopted by Spain, what else is being done to educate drivers about the danger that exists?

We wait with interest to hear what the hon. Members who tabled new clauses 15, 18 and 21 will say. May I perhaps pre-empt what John Thurso will say about new clause 21? I think that it has been drafted to address bull bars. Although it is widely accepted that bull bars fitted to a vehicle can be dangerous to pedestrians in certain circumstances, not all bull bars pose such a danger. I understand that one company produces the equivalent of traditional bull bars, but made out of rubber, and people who study such matters have taken the initial view that they make vehicles safer. Additionally, given the number of foreign vehicles on our roads, might not the matter be better addressed internationally rather than unilaterally? I look forward to hearing what the hon. Gentleman will say with interest.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

I want to speak to new clause 15. Hon. Members might realise that it is similar to a private Member's Bill that I introduced last year, which unfortunately did not get a Second Reading. I have tabled the new clause to try to find out whether the Government have changed their policy on the measure.

We still have the problem that more than 500 children suffer serious head injuries and more than 36 are killed due to incidents involving cycles each year, but about a third could be saved if they wore helmets. The new clause would require children under the age of 16 who were cycling on a public road or in a public place to wear helmets. Things have changed, however, since I introduced my Bill. Much was made by its opponents, some of whom are here today, of the fact that the British Medical Association did not support it. Since the Second Reading of the Road Safety Bill, the BMA have looked at the issue again, and they support making the wearing of a helmet compulsory for both children and adults. I do not believe that we can make helmet wearing compulsory for adults, because once they are 16 people can make up their own mind. However, it is the responsibility of the Government and the public to protect children.

When I introduced my Bill, I encountered a great deal of opposition from organisations that sell bicycles. I received many letters, especially from small cycle shops, which have been given misinformation by the Cyclists Touring Club. Since then, Halfords, the largest retailer of cycles in the country, held a board meeting at which it concluded that, even though the measure could affect its business, it would be unethical not to support the Bill. It therefore supports making the wearing of helmets compulsory for children. Hon. Members will remember receiving little cards from the CTC giving seven reasons for opposing the Bill. A complaint was made to the Advertising Standards Authority, which found that many of the CTC's claims were spurious and ruled against the organisation.

The last time that we debated this issue, therefore, the House and hon. Members were misled. The position has changed, but what we really want is a change in the Government's view. Before I introduced my Bill, there was a great deal of debate about the issue in Cabinet. Some Cabinet Ministers supported the proposals, some opposed them, and they decided that they could not agree. That was a great pity. However, the problem remains. The number of youngsters who are being injured is probably increasing.

Photo of Ms Jane Griffiths Ms Jane Griffiths Labour, Reading East 4:00 pm, 8th March 2005

Does my hon. Friend agree with the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust, which is based in my constituency, that between 70 and 80 per cent. of head injuries affecting child cyclists take place off road? If the provision were accepted, we would prevent only a very small proportion of injuries to children.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

I agree with the trust more than my hon. Friend, who is one of the measure's main opponents. The new clause makes provision for helmet wearing on roads and other public places, because it is difficult to legislate for behaviour off road or on private property, as she knows. That is one reason why we find it difficult to enforce seat belt legislation in such areas. Every year, we allow the equivalent of a primary class of young children to die, because we will not introduce legislation. I am afraid that the Government's policy of trying to persuade the target group of teenaged boys between 12 and 16 to wear helmets is failing. The Minister might be able to give us some figures showing that the number of youngsters in that age group who wear helmets has gone down, despite the fact that a considerable amount of money has been spent on advertising.

The Government's policy is failing because of peer pressure. Youngsters are saying, "Look at mushroom-head over there". They do not think that it is cool to wear a helmet, even though some of them are extremely well designed. They are pressured into thinking that if they wear one they are a coward. They would therefore like legislation to be passed, because then they could say, "I have to wear a helmet, because it is the law." There is a similar problem with school uniforms. If children are told that wearing school uniform is optional, of course they will not wear it. They will wear trainers and so on. But if it is compulsory to wear school uniform, all the youngsters do.

I hope that when the Minister responds, she will take into consideration the facts that I have highlighted—that the BMA now supports the compulsory wearing of helmets; that Halfords, the largest cycle retailer in the country, says that wearing helmets is ethically right; that the CTC's propaganda has been discredited; and finally, that the Government's policy of trying to persuade youngsters to wear helmets has failed. Sooner or later, the Government will have to legislate on the matter.

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Labour, Manchester, Withington

As the House knows, I am a member of the Select Committee on Health. We recently produced a report on obesity, and childhood obesity in particular. One of the reasons that we identified for that was lack of exercise. The number of children who walk or cycle to school has fallen because of dangers on the road. Is it not incumbent on all of us to try to increase children's level of activity, and to make children as safe as possible by promoting safer routes to school and the wearing of appropriate equipment, such as helmets, to encourage that activity?

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

My right hon. Friend is right. I was pleased to see that the Select Committee did not fall into the trap of saying, "We know it is unsafe, but if we want fitter children, we should allow this practice to continue." What the Committee wants and what I want is for more children to cycle, but to cycle safely.

In conclusion, the Minister must realise that the slaughter of youngsters—I do not use emotive language—must stop. [Interruption.] Jane Griffiths scoffs. I find that quite distasteful. We must stop the slaughter. The Government have it in their power to stop it, and sooner or later they will do so. Obviously, that will not be part of the Bill, but I hope legislation will soon be introduced to do it.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I shall speak principally to new clause 21 in my name and that of my hon. Friend Richard Younger-Ross, but before I do so, I shall comment on the other clauses grouped with it.

The first two were introduced by Mr. Knight and described by him as probing amendments. New clause 11 deals with secondary locking devices. I had a briefing some months ago from the company with which he has been in correspondence. As I understand it, the problem, which mostly affects heavy goods vehicles, is that the normal wear and tear of road use could cause a securely and tightly locked nut to become loose through vibration. The secondary device deals with that. I shall be interested to hear what the Government have to say in that regard. The proposal seems straightforward and sensible, if the problem that has been highlighted is, indeed, caused by vibration. It would be interesting to know the outcome of any relevant research.

New clause 13 deals with reflective clothing. We had an interesting debate on that in Committee. I am not sure that I am ready yet to legislate that everybody should have a reflective jacket in the back of their car. It is bad enough remembering to have the red triangle, although when I broke down outside Edinburgh not long ago, it was a very useful thing to have in the boot of the car. I wonder whether any research has been done to see whether there is a genuine lifesaving impact. I wait to hear the Government's response.

On new clause 15, which Mr. Martlew has just discussed, I was here when his private Member's Bill was debated, although I was prevented from contributing because the Bill was talked out. At that point, I examined the evidence, and although I fully understood the safety case, I was seduced by the fitness case. Although I did not agree with the hon. Gentleman then, I have since attended many briefings and discussions, and my views have changed.

The terms in which new clause 15 is couched make it easier to support than the private Member's Bill, some aspects of which I did not agree with—for example, the hon. Gentleman has introduced the important distinction that the legislation will be confined to the road. I have also heard that some of the facts that were adduced at that time were not accurate, so I am moving in his direction.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

I am grateful for the way in which the hon. Gentleman is addressing new clause 15, but I shall be churlish. On Second Reading, he wrote me a nice letter saying that he had not made up his mind on which way to vote. However, somebody slipped me a copy of a letter that he sent to Liberal Democrat Members, which stated that although the Liberal Democrats oppose the Bill, responses should be couched in personal terms to avoid their looking like part of a campaign. He has now seen sense, for which I am grateful.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

That point is not churlish; it is an accurate reflection of the truth. When I wrote to the hon. Gentleman, I had not made up my mind, but I would have opposed the private Member's Bill, had it come to a vote. I gave that advice to my hon. Friends, but I added that they should make up their own minds, because I should not dictate what they should do on such an issue. I also said that my hon. Friends should couch their responses in suitable terms.

We have not yet discussed new clause 18, which I hope that we reach. At this point, I should declare my non-pecuniary interest as a patron of Reflect. I tabled an amendment on that matter in Committee, so I can safely say that I completely agree with new clause 18.

As the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire has rightly said, I tabled new clause 21 to deal with the question of the retro-fitting of bull bars, which serve no purpose in this country. Bull bars may have a purpose on safari, but they serve no purpose on the M4.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I have never seen a rhinoceros on the A9. Hitting deer is a problem, but it can be dealt with by means other than bull bars, which nobody seriously suggests would help in that situation.

Turning to the points raised by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, I was fascinated to discover that rubber bull bars are available. If rubber bull bars work and are not dangerous, new clause 21 would not cover them. Given that the vast majority of bull bars in this country are fitted to vehicles as adornments to make a fashion statement, I suspect that wobbly rubber bull bars that do not cause danger will not attract the same adornment value as shiny chrome bull bars, but if they are safe, I have no particular objection to them.

The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire has raised a serious point about foreign vehicles. I agree with him that this is one of those areas in which the European Union could successfully introduce a helpful pan-European law and would welcome his party's support for such an obviously correct European initiative. However, we should not be deflected from legislating domestically because we may cover a few foreign cars.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Is not the drafting of the hon. Gentleman's new clause defective in that any vehicle that had, for example, a snow plough attachment fitted to the front would fall foul of his definition? I happen to know of someone in the construction industry who has more than one JCB, and in the winter fits a snow plough scoop on to one vehicle to help him to clear snowbound roads. As I read it, the new clause could oblige the Secretary of State to ban such vehicles.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland) 4:15 pm, 8th March 2005

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that point, but I do not agree. I worded the new clause as carefully as I could. That does not mean that it is not defective—it means that it is the best effort that I could come up with. I deliberately did not include a prescriptive list detailing specific equipment, but referred instead to

"any equipment which in the opinion of the Secretary of State may render the vehicle more likely to cause injury to a third party in the event of an accident."

I suspect that the Secretary of State would, on balance, be of the opinion that a snow plough, used properly, would not fall into that definition because of the vehicle's likely speed and location. The same might apply to other equipment, as long as it is properly fitted—for example, winches are required on some 4x4 vehicles that are used in the country.

The fitting of bull bars, however, would be covered by the new clause. We have to take into account the fact that large 4x4 vehicles have become far more popular in urban settings, whereas 20 or 30 years ago they were broadly found where they were designed to be used—in the countryside—and by their very design tended to be suited for that use. Since then, they have been developed as vehicles that are also comfortable to drive on motorways and in towns and are therefore extremely popular in urban use. As I walk to the House from my flat in Pimlico, I pass a school, and at 9 o'clock in the morning it is bumper-to-bumper with extremely large 4x4 vehicles—none of which, I suspect, has ever seen mud in anger. When living at home in the Scottish countryside, I sometimes use a Land Rover and other 4x4 vehicles. I have never seen any working 4x4 on any farm in my constituency that has bull bars. Some have protective grilles in front of the lights—I fully understand why those are in place, and they would be exempted by my new clause—but none has a full set of chrome bull bars of the kind that it is aimed at.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

As the hon. Gentleman appears to be trying to deal exclusively with the problem of bull bars, why does not his new clause refer only to them?

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

There are two reasons for that. First, it became obvious as we discussed the matter that there would be considerable difficulty in defining bull bars. As is often the case in such circumstances, we may know broadly what we mean, but that is entirely different from defining it in legislation.

Secondly, although bull bars are the most obvious example of what I am considering, it seemed rather stupid to devise a new clause that dealt specifically with them and might have exempted another piece of kit that could be abandoned equally usefully. Consequently, the new clause was drafted to give discretion to the Secretary of State.

It is important to consult users and to allow people to present evidence before the Secretary of State makes his decisions. I have also learned a little from considering the odd Bill: it is easier to draft a new clause and let somebody do the work afterwards than to try to get the primary legislation spot on from the start.

Some 60 per cent. of fatalities and serious injuries occur on roads that have speed limits of 40 or 30 mph. We have often discussed the number of child pedestrians who are killed. Bull bars make the likelihood of serious injury or death that much greater and therefore effectively negate the purpose of the 30 mph speed limit. We all know that the probability of the victim being killed is twice as great at 35 mph as at 30 mph. The lower speed limit is effectively negated by fitting such equipment.

There is no practical reason why that equipment is required in this country. It is only an adornment and many people who have such items on their vehicles are unaware of the possible consequences. The new clause is therefore reasonable. It gives the Secretary of State the power to make the decision and is not therefore prescriptive. I feel strongly that it could usefully be included in the measure. When we reach the appropriate moment, I would like to test the opinion of the House. I commend the new clause to hon. Members.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I want to consider new clause 18. It stands in my name and that of Mr. Mackay but, as John Thurso rightly said, he tabled an identical new clause in Committee. I am also pleased to receive the support of my hon. Friend Mr. Kidney.

Like the right hon. Member for Bracknell and the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, I am a patron of Reflect, and we shall continue to advocate the cause of adding retro-reflective tape to heavy goods vehicles because the problem of conspicuity will not go away. Until the Government sign up to regulation ECE 104, all the issues that pertain to that will not be resolved. In passing, I emphasise that I heartily support the views of my hon. Friend Mr. Martlew, but I intend to concentrate on new clause 18.

I shall not go through all the debates that have been held on the matter, except to consider the stage that the study, which is looking into the matter, has reached. I want to ask my hon. Friend the Minister whether she has any additional information on that.

Those who support the change can feel somewhat aggrieved that the usual arguments are used against it. It is argued that the change does not need to be included in primary legislation, yet Italy has done so. It is contended that such a provision would be excessively costly, yet we are considering between £50 and £100, which is not a great sum for those who own or drive heavy goods vehicles to pay to save someone's life. Other arguments focus on whether such a change would be effective.

No one has proved to my satisfaction that the proposal would involve anything other than a minor change to vehicles. Most heavy goods vehicles, not only the newest, are eligible for it, although it is sometimes argued that it would be easier to introduce it for new vehicles. So the reality is that this would be a minor change, but anyone who drives at night, as I suspect most of us do, knows that coming across a heavy goods vehicle—particularly side-on—that is neither lit not fitted with retro-reflective tags can be highly dangerous. I take that as read.

I would like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister to give us some additional information. We were led to believe that the study being undertaken by the ergonomics and safety research institute at Loughborough university should have been completed in February 2005. It would be good to know what results it has produced, and whether any recommendations that it has made are with the Department for Transport. If so, may we have some reassurance—in another place, if not here—that they will be looked at, so that this minor change can be put into place sooner rather than later, through secondary legislation if not through primary legislation?

Reflect has run a very good campaign on this issue, and many lobby groups have worked very hard on it. This is a very specific and—dare I say it—almost minor issue, but those groups have really put their shoulders to the wheel to get this change introduced. I hope, therefore, that the House will listen to them, that the Minister will provide us with the information that I have requested, and that we can be assured that we shall get some satisfaction on this matter even if the new clause is not adopted, and that the provision can be introduced. We should all feel safer when driving at night if that could happen.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

In replying to the debate on new clause 11, I would like to say that the extent of HGV wheel loss is still uncertain. I know that Mr. Knight cited Brake's figure of 10 fatalities, and that might well be accurate. However, we are not clear as to the scope of the problem, and we would need to have that information before contemplating any action. Having said that, we are committed to carrying out further research, and that research has been approved by Ministers. It will look into HGV wheel loss, update existing data and explore the current situation on wheel detachment. In particular, it will look at wheel fixing standards and the advantages and disadvantages of directional wheel stud threads and methods of tightening, and carry out an assessment of after-market wheel locking and indication devices. Some of those devices can be misleading, so we need to ensure that we are not going to make the situation worse.

Research has demonstrated that a major factor in HGV wheel loss is a lack of regular and effective maintenance. Whether devices are fitted—and whether such fitting is mandatory or not—maintenance must remain of overriding importance. Anti-loosening wheel nuts and other devices aimed at preventing, or warning of the imminence of, wheel loss are on the market. At present, our understanding is that they would not totally prevent wheel loss. However, the new research will, among other things, consult various stakeholders on this issue.

In the Department's view, anti-loosening wheel nuts will not prevent the fundamental problem, which is the loss of clamp force. Research carried out on behalf of the British Standards Institution shows that a loss of clamp force can take place without any rotation of the nut, so the use of locking nuts would not counteract the problem. We need to do more work on this issue before we decide whether the right hon. Gentleman's proposal would solve the problem. It would make matters worse to introduce a system that masked the problem and created confidence that it had been resolved, when in fact the lack of maintenance was the key issue. Further research is therefore needed. For that reason, I hope that the new clause will be withdrawn.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I appreciate the tone and content of the Minister's reply. First, is she able to give the House some idea of when the research will be complete and of the time scale by which the Government hope to be able to reach a conclusion? Secondly, will she undertake to see that the research is published at that time?

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 4:30 pm, 8th March 2005

I am not exactly sure when the research will be available. It will certainly be published, however, and we want to make sure that we investigate the matter in some detail. Although the right hon. Gentleman has expressed his concern about this matter, and it is devastating when it occurs even if it is a relatively small problem, we do not have the information about how often it happens. [Interruption.] I am now reliably told that the research will take about a year. It is therefore important to get it right rather than to dash to some sort of solution. Plenty of products are on the market, but it is not clear whether they will resolve the problem. I repeat that maintenance is the key to ensuring that such wheel loss, with its devastating effects on all concerned, does not occur.

On new clause 13, I am not aware of the Spanish experience of using reflective clothing or of whether they would have greater ease in enforcing such a measure than we would. Certainly, I support the comments about the requirement for everyone to carry reflective gear—we might even be talking about reflective babygros if we are not careful. This is a serious problem, especially if one happens to be on a motorway, and it is important that people can be seen. Clearly, the new clause relates only to reflective clothing worn when leaving a vehicle, except when it is properly and lawfully parked—effectively, therefore, it relates only to circumstances in which the vehicle is illegally parked. Apart from that, we advise pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists to wear fluorescent clothing during the day and reflective clothing at night, to improve their visibility to other road users. The advice is also contained in the highway code, on which we rely in this country to advise people about how they should behave in such an accident situation. This country adheres generally to the highway code and people see it as the bible in this regard.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

Would the Minister make representations to manufacturers that such equipment should be included in the boot of new cars when they are sold?

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Certainly, we can consider that. Whether one is carrying the red triangle or appropriate reflective clothing, anything that helps the motorist and their passengers to remain safer after an accident or when they have had to stop for whatever reason is worth considering. Obviously, we are keen to bear down on unnecessary accidents, and on unnecessary injuries, which happen frequently, after an accident has occurred. Our leaflet, "A guide to safer motorway driving", contains advice on what to do when vehicles break down on motorways. We believe that drivers and their occupants are not at great risk when they follow that advice. Basically, the advice to them is to wait on a nearby bank, if they are on a motorway, not on the hard shoulder. We have all heard of awful incidents in which people who thought that they were safe on the hard shoulder were not. I was involved in an accident in which I managed to get my car half on to the hard shoulder, and was then able to get away from the car to safety, having called the police.

It is important for people to understand what they should do in such circumstances. Others who had been involved in the accident sat in their car, which was very unsafe. If a car had collided with my car, there could have been a huge pile-up.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I am not sure that I entirely understand. Is this an insurance issue?

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I am talking about whether it is advisable to accept new clause 13, which would require people to have reflective clothing to wear if they leave an illegally parked vehicle. Following an accident or breakdown, those leaving the vehicle would have to be visible to all concerned. In the highway code, we advise people on motorways—which is where they are probably most at risk following an accident, or when they have had to stop their cars for some other reason—to leave the site of the vehicle, because it will not be the safest of places. If they have reflective clothing, they should wear it when they leave, but we are not currently in a position to suggest that everyone should be required to have such clothing in their cars and to use it in such circumstances.

Photo of John MacDougall John MacDougall Labour, Central Fife

Many people who travel to Europe discover that there is a different system there, and find that inconvenient. How compatible can we make our regulations with a general move towards deregulation? Everyone would benefit from consistency.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

We are working hard to secure consistency across Europe, as I shall demonstrate when I deal with the issue of bull bars. Everyone who goes to Europe knows what the rules are. I believe that the red triangle was a requirement in Europe before it was a requirement in the United Kingdom. Most people who take their cars abroad should and probably do consult the regulations to ensure that they are obeying them, but we are working on a range of directives with our European neighbours, and trying to ensure that we level up rather than down when it comes to safety requirements.

New clause 15 would make it compulsory for children under 16 to wear cycle helmets. My hon. Friend Mr. Martlew explained his new clause very persuasively. I am familiar with his arguments because he presented them equally persuasively during the Second Reading debate on a private Member's Bill that he tabled, for which I was present. Members in all parts of the House supported him then, but there were some who disagreed with him.

This is a passionate issue. Everyone has to be passionate about child safety. Many parents will require their children to wear helmets when they go out on cycles on the road but do not wear helmets themselves, which seems a little odd. Most parents who are being responsible recognise that children are more vulnerable on bicycles than adults and therefore require them to wear helmets. I am certainly one of those parents. I ensure that my daughter has a helmet and wears it. Clearly, the safety of our children on the roads is a very high priority.

We are trying to increase cycling, whether it be off road or on. Sustrans has done a lot of good work in promoting and building the national cycle network. By 2003, deaths and serious injuries for child cyclists were down by 47 per cent. compared to the mid-1990s, which was our baseline, but we are in no way complacent. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle pointed out that Halfords has now changed its mind about the legislation. That demonstrates that it is taking the issue of cycle safety much more seriously. I hope that that means that it will promote cycle helmets much more rigorously, although I am sure that it does promote them.

We have ensured that we look closely at the education of children and their carers, put in place better child cycle training and improve the infrastructure. We have also improved the promotion of helmets. I will give some examples of what we have done. The highway code includes a section for drivers on using extra care when driving near cyclists. The practical driving test has been lengthened to ensure that the issue of vulnerable road users is addressed. The theory test question bank includes questions on vulnerable road users and hazard perception testing.

Probably one of the most important things that we have done is to introduce a new national standard for child cyclist training. Many people remember the old proficiency test. I in my ignorance a few years ago thought that it still existed. Nowadays, most cycling training is done by local authorities and it is patchy. We have brought back the national standard for child cyclist training. We have published "Arrive Alive", a highway code for young road users, which includes a section on cycling. We have worked with Disney on the cycle smart campaign to promote safer cycling among children.

We know, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle, that helmet wearing among boys is far too low. Against the generally rising trend, the wearing rate for boys has gone down from 16 per cent. in 1994 to 12 per cent. in 2002. Inevitably, a large proportion of those not wearing helmets are young adolescent boys and they have accidents. It is a real problem that they do not consider the cycle helmet to be cool.

I am not able today to accept my hon. Friend's new clause but I give him a commitment, as the Minister who deals with cycling, to continue to look closely at the issue and to ensure that we do our utmost to promote helmets.

1

How ignorant to say that "We are trying to increase cycling, whether it be off road or on. Sustrans has done a lot of good work in promoting and building the national cycle network" when what that means is letting Sustrans waste public money telling cyclists to cycle "traffic free" on pavements without responsibility.

Where is the assessment of how taxpayer's money has been wasted on the so called national cycle network. Let me guess, you'll come up with some overcooked figures from Sustrans. You can't trust them, they make up the numbers and it is a scandal that you don't confront them on this.

Submitted by 1Rate Payer

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the time that she has given to the matter and to the thought that she has given to her reply. Unfortunately, not everyone has a mother like my hon. Friend. As she has said, usage among the most vulnerable groups is decreasing, despite the fact that we are spending a lot of money on it. Surely, sooner or later, we will have to say that the policy is not working and we will have to legislate. Other parts of the world have done so and the results are encouraging. The Government have to stop being too timid on the matter. I do not think that it will lose or win us votes at the election. We have to say that this is an issue, this is how we deal with it and this is how we save lives.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. The issue is not just about having a law, but about ensuring that we can enforce it. Our position on compulsion is to review the matter and I promise my hon. Friend that I shall take the matter seriously. We must ensure that provisions are workable and that there is no problem with enforcement.

D

The simple answer to enforcement of this or any other legislation is to have more police officers on patrol.

Submitted by David Wisdom

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle 4:45 pm, 8th March 2005

I received a letter from the previous Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Mr. Blunkett, who said that it would not be a problem for the police to enforce such a provision. Surely it is a matter for the Home Office and not the Department for Transport.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

There is still a problem. If a youngster borrowed a bike and rode it on the road without wearing a helmet, who would be responsible? Would it be the parents of the child who lent the bike? Would schools and teachers be responsible for enforcing the provision, and if they did not, would they be responsible if someone rode a bike on the road without wearing a helmet?

We are trying to promote cycling to school along cycle routes and along roads, but we want to ensure that people cycle safely. I appreciate the point about helmets. We promote the use of helmets and I am surprised that, given their excellent new design—to my eyes, they look extremely attractive—young adolescents do not think that they are cool. The idea that someone having their head smashed open is cool is ridiculous.

I cannot accept the new clause. I know that that will disappoint the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, although he will not be surprised. However, I promise to continue to consider the matter and to work with the cycling organisations. We have set up a new cycling body, which will consider a range of initiatives and I hope that it will also consider this matter.

On new clause 18, I share the concern of Mr. Mackay about retro-reflective tape. The power to regulate the use of that material by statutory instrument is already available under section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, so the amendment is unnecessary. The Department has commissioned a review of the benefits and costs of mandating the use of that material and the right hon. Gentleman referred to that research. He said that it should have been available in February 2005, and he will be delighted to know that it is about to be published—by the end of March. I will place copies of the report in the Library when it is available.

The review has updated our understanding of the matter and suggested a more favourable cost benefit ratio than the previous research. The Department will now consider how best to take the matter forward. We are making progress. It makes sense to make large vehicles more conspicuous because that increases safety for people who are driving behind or coming alongside such vehicles.

On new clause 21, the Government take the safety of pedestrians seriously and support a new European directive requiring car fronts to be more pedestrian friendly. It will take effect later this year. We debated earlier whether the new clause would affect snow ploughs. I understand that it would apply only to cars below 2.5 tonnes. Normally, snow plough attachments would be attached to 4x4s, and most of those are above 2.5 tonnes. Therefore, such attachments would not be affected. However, we do not believe that new clause 21 is necessary. Although we do not want to see the unnecessary fitting of aggressive, chrome-plated bull bars to vehicles, and we support action to control such devices, we believe that the vehicle market and, to a large extent, the component market is international—as the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire pointed out—and therefore action to control them is best achieved at European level. Car manufacturers selling into Europe have already agreed that from 2002 onward aggressive bull bars will not be fitted to new vehicles. The European Commission has proposed a new directive, which contains strict standards for the design of such devices, both for new vehicles and as separate components. We believe that the directive will effectively ban metal bull bars while permitting devices that are safe, such as the rubber ones that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, which are even safer than the base vehicle itself.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Can the Minister confirm that she would be prepared to consult on a possible list of exemptions to the directive? For example, where would it leave the 4x4 vehicle that is under 2.5 tonnes and has a winch affixed to the front? Can she confirm that the directive will not be retrospective and would not require any changes to be made to historic vehicles and any adornments they may have on the top of their radiators?

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The directive will not be retrospective, and we will consider any exemptions necessary. The directive is being discussed at present, and it will be put forward very soon. It would then have to be transposed into UK law, using the existing provisions of section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1991. Therefore, no changes to primary legislation would be necessary. We all recognise that such adornments can be dangerous. The press has also focused in recent weeks on those vehicles whose front ends are not safely designed, and the impact that they can have on pedestrians.

I hope that I have explained why we cannot accept the new clauses, and I urge the right hon. Gentleman not to press them.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We have had an interesting, wide-ranging and constructive debate. The more I listened to the Minister, the more alarmed I became, because I found myself agreeing with most of what she said. That is always a dangerous position to be in.

The House accepts that Mr. Martlew spoke from the best of motives and with the best of intent, but the Opposition agree with the Government on that issue. Education on the need to wear helmets must come first, and we hope that public acceptance will follow. None of us would want fewer cyclists to take to the roads because of what they regarded as heavy-handed legislation.

I was pleased to hear what the Minister had to say about new clause 21 and I hope that we will have the opportunity to consider a list of exemptions. In the light of the discussion that is taking place in Europe, and given that so many car manufacturers are international—with parts for vehicles of different makes supplied by a relatively small number of companies—I hope that John Thurso will be satisfied by the Minister's response.

On new clause 13, I was pleased and heartened that the Minister suggested that the Government will consider safety measures along the lines of those adopted by our European partners. When I mentioned the new clause in my introduction, I was not suggesting that we should follow the Spanish example. However, there are lessons to be learned from that and I think that the Government should take them on board.

New clause 11 touches on a matter of ongoing concern to heavy goods vehicle operators and to those who want road safety improved. I am pleased that the Government are pursuing research on this matter. Before we reach any conclusion about what new rules and regulations may be necessary, we need to be aware of the effectiveness of any statutory requirement that we may decide to impose.

The Minister said that locking wheel nuts were not the way forward and that more research was needed, which she thought would take another year to complete. I hope that she will stay on the case to ensure that there is no slippage, as action needs to be taken as soon as possible. However, the Minister's positive response to new clause 11 means that I shall not press it to a vote.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.