New Clause 12 — Retro-reflective markings

Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 9th October 2006.

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'In the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52), after section 80 (approval marks) insert—

"80A Retro-reflective markings

The Secretary of State shall, by 31st December 2007, 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 United Kingdom.".'.— [Mr. Drew.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 21— Passenger-side mirrors on HGVs

'All vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, operating in the UK, must have a mirror positioned on the exterior of the vehicle on the passenger side, which enables the driver to have a full view of vehicles and other road users in the neighbouring lanes, when driving on all roads in the United Kingdom.'.

New clause 22— HGV audible warnings—

'All HGVs with trailers, registered in the UK, shall, by 31st December 2007, be fitted with an audible warning system that shall sound if the driver exits the vehicle when the brakes are not applied.'.

New clause 27— Daytime running safety lights for motorcycles—

'(1) All motorcycles used on a public highway shall continuously display a dipped headlight beam and a red light during daylight hours.

(2) Any motorcycle manufactured before 1st January 1973 shall be exempt from the provisions of this section.

(3) Any person riding on a motorcycle which is not displaying daytime running lights and which is not exempt under subsection (2) commits an offence punishable by a fine not exceeding level 2 on the standard scale.'.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

It is with a feeling of déjà vu that some of us will approach the new clause, which stands in my name and that of several other hon. Members. I make no apology for bringing the matter back on Report, given that currently we have an unsatisfactory situation. We were sure that the Government had seen some sense; with the Lords accepting the amendment, it seemed that the Government would let it ride.

There were arguments in Committee about whether this very minor change could be brought in at the earliest possible stage. I pay due regard to my hon. Friend Dr. Iddon, who tabled an amendment in Committee to ensure that this measure could be introduced as early as 2007. Not only did the Government not accept it, they voted against clause stand part, meaning that we had no opportunity to introduce this very minor but important amendment.

I will not speak for very long. I hope that the Government have rethought their position, but I want to deal with some of the canards relating to this very small change. The biggest stumbling block appears to be that if we made the change we would be outwith some marvellous EU ability to deal with the matter. However, it appears that the EU is likely to accept the placing of retro-reflective materials on the side of heavy goods vehicles. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East raised a point of order, as did Mr. Paterson, to point out, in the nicest possible way, that what the Minister was saying was not the whole truth. Italy has passed the measure into law and the EU does not appear to be chasing Italy around. Italy does not seem to be having difficulties; it is to be congratulated on getting on with this minor but important change.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

My hon. Friend is right. Italy did move on this matter, but there were objections to that not only from Great Britain, but from France and Germany. The European Commission is almost certainly—it has started the preliminary stages—about to begin infraction proceedings against Italy. As I have said repeatedly, no matter how strong the merits of retro-reflective tapes, we have to conform to ECE—United Nations Economic Commission for Europe— regulations. We cannot move ahead of those regulations without facing the same measures that Italy will face.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I am not sure that that helps, but it does put the matter into perspective. If we are to proceed at the speed of the slowest vehicle—in this case, the EU—we are all doomed. This is a simple measure and it makes sense to do it now to save lives. If the argument is that we must proceed at the speed of the EU, it is a crass abdication of responsibility. This should be introduced now.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

Does the hon. Gentleman agree therefore that slow moving and overloaded juggernauts should be removed from the legislative road as quickly as possible?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

If only we had that power. I will stick to the retro-reflective tape, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

I wish to address other canards. It is argued that the measure would be too costly. All the research—including the Government's research done by Loughborough university, for which I am grateful, because I have been pursuing the issue for more than two years—suggests that this is not a cost issue. The addition of £100 will not break the bank for those buying new vehicles worth £100,000.

I would like to go much further; we could do more retrospective work. Another canard is that such changes will make very little difference, but the evidence shows that although accident rates are declining, the rate of accidents involving heavy goods vehicles has increased by 8 per cent. There is also evidence that the greatest threat is at night. Many heavy goods vehicles are well lit, but not all, and the minimum we expect is that British HGVs have the tape fitted to make them clearly visible and further to decrease the number of road traffic accidents. I do not understand why the Government are so reluctant to accept that point. As Lord Berkeley said in the other place, this issue is a "no-brainer". It is a straightforward minor measure, but the Government have got very steamed up about it.

The final canard is that the pressure to adopt the measure comes from those who manufacture the tape. I have worked with lobbyists on the issue, but if it saves people's lives it is appropriate for the industry to promote it. Many companies have already installed the tape, and drivers and cyclists—as I am—know that it can be seen clearly at night. That gives cyclists especially a chance to get out of the way. Too many accidents are caused because people simply do not see the poorly lit vehicles that do not have the appropriate reflective tape.

This is a minor road safety measure that could make a difference and I plead with the Government to accept it. Everyone seems to want it and I suspect that opposition to it comes from within the road transport lobby, although I do not know. That lobby is split on the issue, and given that people's lives are at risk, we should be prepared to make our case. Otherwise, we will be surrendering to the basest instincts and I am not prepared to do so.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am delighted to follow Mr. Drew, who managed to get his name down first on our amendment. We are happy to join him, because this is a ridiculous situation. We debated the issue at some length in Committee and the facts are clear. Indeed, the Minister agrees with us. We had all-party support, because everybody agrees that night-time collisions are a problem.

In 2001, there were 9,000 collisions in which an HGV was struck by another vehicle. In 34 per cent. of those cases, the HGV was struck on the side. Research by the university of Darmstadt found that 37 per cent. of all collisions with trucks at night occurred because they were seen too late. The same study also found that adding retro-reflective contour markings reduced accidents involving trucks and passenger cars in conditions of poor visibility by 95 per cent. In the USA, where retro-reflective markings are mandatory, side and rear impact collisions involving HGVs have fallen by 41 per cent. The Loughborough report, which was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, showed that fitting ECE 104 markings to new HGVs would cost about £100, or just 0.001 per cent. of the vehicle's cost.

The measure is inevitable. As long ago as 2004, the Commission recommended that all new HGVs in the EU weighing over 3.5 tonnes should be fitted with ECE 104 retro-reflective tape. It is not only the Italians who have broken ranks. They went ahead and imposed this simple measure, which has a remarkable impact, and the Greeks, Spanish and French are also considering similar action. The Dutch transport safety board has also recommended the compulsory use of retro-reflective contour marking. We do not, therefore, understand why our Government are being so timid. I am astonished that the Minister said that he had been involved in action against the Italians. That is bizarre.

The total cost of road accidents in 2001 was £17.76 billion. The markings cost only £100 per lorry, but the cost of having a lorry off the road is £212 a day.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should find it surprising that we seek to defend British industry from anti-competitive practices in other countries. That is the rationale for a commitment to the whole of Europe moving together on such issues. It is not an EU matter alone. The UNECE is the body that has to agree the measure on behalf of all the states in Europe, not only those in the EU. The simple reason why we argue that the change cannot be achieved before 2010 is that we believe in the rule of law and it would be illegal. I do not know how many different ways I can say that. Even if we accept the new clause tonight, it would be illegal and we would be breaking treaties to which this country is a party.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That is a bizarre way of looking at cost. To hauliers, costs arise when their trucks are not running on the roads. If trucks are not run into, they carry on running, and the haulier does not have to bear the cost of having to repair them, will not have them off the road, and will not lose business. The Minister's way of looking at the issue is completely inverted— [Interruption.] Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury's and John Lewis have already started to use retro-reflective tape voluntarily, because they know that it is worth while to do so.

It is extraordinary that this should happen in what is supposed to be a sovereign Parliament. Members of all parties agree that this very simple and cheap measure would save lives. Dr. Iddon—it is a pity that he is not here—made a very good comment in Committee:

"I do not like breaking the law, although I am tempted to break certain European laws because they are barmy. It is a personal opinion, but I think it is barmy that we have to wait until 2011 to save lives."—[ Official Report, Standing Committee A, 23 March 2006; c. 149-150 .]

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport 8:00 pm, 9th October 2006

There is a United Nations committee treaty to which we have signed up; the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe is not a European Union body, but we signed a treaty to say that there must be type approval in accordance with the UNECE agreement. That is a treaty to which our sovereign Parliament signed up.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

But the Italians, the Greeks, the French and others are going ahead, because they know that the measure will save lives.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I shall say this one final time: they are not doing so. The Italians have gone ahead and will face infraction proceedings as a consequence. The others may have talked about it, and bodies may have recommended the measure to them—just as bodies have recommended it to me—but if they go ahead, they will face the same infraction procedures.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

So it is a choice between infraction procedures and hanging around until 2011, by which time there will have been 1,540 more collisions. We are discussing a road safety Bill at a time when more than 3,000 people a year are killed on our roads, and before us is a measure that is backed by responsible Members of Parliament of every single party. The Minister is being utterly pusillanimous—absolutely feeble to a degree. We will push the new clause to a Division later, and I hope that the hon. Member for Stroud will join us. The situation is utter nonsense. Our very simple measure would save lives, and we feel strongly about it. We believe that given that Members of Parliament think that the new clause would save lives, they should have the right to vote on it, and it should be made law.

Moving on to the other new clauses in this group, we have a similar case in respect of mirrors. We find it extraordinary that the Minister, as a Kent MP, did not back new clause 21. I cited in Committee the terrible example of what happened to the wife of my hon. Friend Mr. Brazier who was driving in the fast lane of a motorway in Kent. Alongside was a Hungarian truck that was correctly set up according to Hungarian regulations, with mirrors on only the left side of the vehicle—that is, on the driver's side in Hungary. The truck was completely blind on the right-hand side—the offside, where my hon. Friend's wife was driving—and the driver forced her into the central barrier. I am glad to say that she was not hurt, but we have found that there is a consistent pattern, as those accidents are always happening. It is such a simple measure to make it mandatory to install mirrors on both sides of all heavy trucks operating in the UK. The Hungarian driver was aghast and horrified by what had happened, but he was operating within the rules as they stand. Again, the Minister has been utterly feeble, which I find bizarre considering that he represents a marginal Kent seat.

There is a political angle to the issue, because why should not just British citizens but all those who come to this country—there were 1.5 million vehicles from abroad here last year—be put at risk for the simple lack of a mirror on the continental blind side? The Minister appears to be lagging behind the European Commission, which only last week said that it would require large trucks to install blind-spot mirrors. EU member states have to improve infrastructure on vehicles, and the Commission would ensure that vehicles weighing more than 3.5 tonnes installed new mirrors so that they could see not just cars but motorbike riders and cyclists. It said in a statement:

"Every year approximately 400 road users lose their lives in accidents, because lorry drivers fail to notice them when taking a right turn."

All that the new clause would do is pre-empt the European Commission and introduce a measure with profound safety benefits in this country.

Again, other countries have already taken action; the Dutch and Belgians have introduced measures on blind-spot mirrors. I therefore hope that the Minister, who, as I said, has been utterly pusillanimous on the issue of retro-reflective tape, will steel himself to take action on this issue. The measure would be very cheap, as it does not cost much to install mirrors on heavy goods vehicles. It will soon be mandatory to do so, but let us get on and make it mandatory now.

Turning to new clause 22, it is the same old story. Every year, about seven people are killed in this country while hitching up a tractor to a parked articulated trailer. The trailer's air brakes remain on until it is connected to the tractor's air supply. When the tractor reverses, there is a large clunk as the fifth wheel engages with the trailer and the whole unit remains stable, because the air brakes are still locked on the trailer. All too often, however, the driver does not engage the handbrake because he believes that the whole unit is solid. After jumping down from the tractor he climbs on to the trailer to connect the Susie hoses to engage the air. As soon as the air passes into the trailer, the brakes disengage, and the whole unit moves. In some cases, sadly, the driver panics, and while trying to jump off and scramble into the cab he is run over. In other cases, the united vehicle rolls up or down the slope, crushing someone else.

Our extraordinarily simple technical measure would, we estimate, prevent seven deaths a year. The kit would cost about £100, as we are merely suggesting that an alarm be triggered if the tractor is left with the handbrake off. In Committee, the Minister said that he could not proceed with the measure for all the reasons that have just been given, as the infrastructure of vehicles is a European competence. However, the European Commission is not composed of unmenschen—its members are human beings. If he engaged with them and talked to them—he said in Committee that he would, and he has had the whole summer to do so—we could achieve a result. The measure is terribly simple and would save seven lives a year.

Finally, new clause 27, which was tabled by my right hon. Friend Mr. Knight, requires daytime running safety lights to be installed on motorbikes. On the whole, we think that that is a good idea. Indeed, a study by the Institute of Transport Economics at Oslo in Norway discovered that it resulted in a 32 per cent. reduction in multi-party daytime accidents. The proposal therefore has merits, as information about permanent lights on motorbikes from the Transport Accident Commission in Victoria in Australia demonstrates. We therefore support the new clause. Our main aim, however, is to persuade the Minister to steel himself to take action. We have tabled three measures that would save lives, that are very cheap, and that have been introduced in other European countries. Will the Minister therefore accept our new clauses?

Photo of John Leech John Leech Shadow Minister (Transport)

May I begin by congratulating Mr. Drew on the amount of work that he has undertaken on the issue? I shall be brief, because much of what I wanted to say has already been said by him and by Mr. Paterson.

I wish to express my support and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends for new clause 12, which was tabled by hon. Members on both sides of the House and would make the use of ECE 104 retro-reflective markings mandatory on all UK-registered HGVs. Although there would be a minor cost to the owners of such vehicles, the new clause would have a significant impact in improving road safety and reducing casualties on our roads. The new clause would enable other motorists more easily to identify the size and shape of the vehicle, especially in poor light and at night.

Evidence suggests that in 2001 about a third of all collisions involving HGVs were when they had been hit on the side by another vehicle. More than a third of those side collisions at night occurred because the other driver saw the vehicle too late. The same research, which was carried out by the University of Darmstadt, concluded that the number of collisions in poor visibility or at night could be reduced by up to 95 per cent. simply with the addition of retro-reflective markings.

Where those markings were introduced as mandatory in America, it resulted in significant reductions in side impacts on HGVs. Not only has it reduced the number of accidents, it has also had a significant cost benefit in terms of economic savings because there were fewer accidents.

The cost of introducing the markings would be only about £100 per vehicle. When that is factored into the overall cost of an HGV, it is a mere drop in the ocean. I have never bought an HGV, but I have been given information by Reflect, which estimates that the cost of the markings would be less than 0.01 per cent. of the overall cost of the vehicle. By comparison, that would be equivalent to paying only an extra 80p on the cost of my car to improve its safety.

I am slightly disappointed that Mr. Goodwill, who has much experience with HGVs, is unfortunately not in the Chamber to add something to the debate. I am sure that he could have made a number of comments and I was looking forward to hearing what he had to say.

The overall cost would be a small price to pay for saving lives. It would reduce the number of collisions by an estimated 1,185 between now and 2010, if the Loughborough university report is to be believed. Given that the number of deaths from accidents involving HGVs has risen while the overall number of deaths on the roads has dropped, it is clearly time that this practical, cost-effective measure to improve HGV safety was made mandatory.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I rise to draw the House's attention to my new clause 27, which would require all motorcycles used on a public highway to display dipped headlight beams continuously and a red light during daylight hours, with an exemption for historic motorcycles. Any motorcycle failing to comply with that requirement would be guilty of an offence.

It is not a radical innovation. Careful motorcyclists in this country have already developed the practice of using their headlights at all times. Why? Because it increases their visibility and safety, so it is to be welcomed. The practice has been given official sanction. The highway code advises all motorcyclists to use their lights during day-time hours. It even includes a cartoon with a caption pointing out that it is wrong to drive a motorcycle without lights, so there is official blessing for the contents of new clause 27 in the highway code. The new clause would merely enshrine good practice in legislation.

Personally, I am against unnecessary legislation, so if the Minister can tell me that the current position, with the recommendation in the highway code, is an effective practice to which most motorcyclists adhere, I should probably be content and would not wish to push new clause 27 to a vote. But I have a second purpose in speaking to the new clause: I should like to tease out from the Minister his wider view, which I hope is that the provision should not be extended to cover all motor vehicles at all times on our roads. I hope that his support will extend only to motorcyclists, because somewhere deep in the heart of Brussels there is a regulation-ridden, form-filling, pen-pushing nincompoop of a Eurocrat who feels that the one-size-fits-all policy, which we see all too often in the EU, should be applied to day-time running lights and every EU member state should have compulsory day-time running lights on all motor vehicles, and further that such a provision should be retrospective and should thus apply to existing vehicles on our roads. I hope that the Minister, while indicating his support for the aims of new clause 27, will also be able to tell the House that he does not support the proposal currently being debated in Brussels to make every motor vehicle on the road use day-time running lights.

There are a number of reasons why new clause 27 is good, but to go further would be bad—clutter, to start with. One benefit for motorcyclists in having their headlights on is that it makes them more visible to other road users. If every motor vehicle on the road was obliged by EU law to run with headlights or day-time running lights, we should have visual clutter and light pollution. Motorcyclists would be less visible because we would not be able to identify them from other vehicles. Such a law would remove the current safety benefits for motorcyclists.

The one-size-fits-all view is also wrong when we consider the climate and the number of daylight hours of EU member countries. Some European countries have few daylight hours; indeed, in the depths of winter some have no daylight. What might be right for them is not right for the UK. In some EU countries it is not light until 9.30 or 10 in the morning and it is dark again by 2.30 or 3 o'clock. In this country, there are many periods of good, bright weather in winter, so to say that motorists should have their headlights on at all times is inappropriate. It is the heavy hand of the nanny state.

If such a provision came into force, there would be a side-effect as it could affect the use of historic motor vehicles. At this point I declare an interest as the owner of several historic vehicles and as chairman of the all-party historic vehicles group. As the Minister knows, it is a technical issue; some early motor vehicles use gas lighting and the majority of historic and classic motor vehicles use a generator rather than an alternator to recharge their battery. The generator is—

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

Indeed. And a dynamo or a generator is less effective than an alternator and an old vehicle forced to run its headlights all day would soon have a flat battery. One of the side-effects would be to take historic vehicles off our roads because they would be unable to run.

I hope that the Minister will say that although he supports motorcyclists using headlights—as does the highway code—he does not see the need for us to go any further. Of course, new cars fitted with day-time running lights, such as the Volvo, have lights of slightly less intensity than dipped headlights, so older vehicles, manufactured before a change in the law, would experience a bigger drain on their battery.

I do not know whether unanimity is required in any EU discussions on the issue. I fear that it is not and that the issue could be decided by a majority vote, so once again the meddling European Union could impose on this country a new law against the wishes of our elected Government.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Has my right hon. Friend considered that to run headlights or sidelights on every vehicle would consume more fuel, albeit only a small amount? But in total, across the country, a considerable amount of extra fuel would be used if the regulation went through.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I will take advice from the experts on that point. I am not sure that that is correct in every case. Certainly, if one runs air conditioning, it is true, but I am not sure whether a dynamo or an alternator has the same effect. If it does, my hon. Friend has made a very good point.

I hope that when the Minister comes to speak to these new clauses he will tell the House that he will oppose, with all the powers at his disposal, the implementation of mandatory daylight running lights on all motor vehicles in the United Kingdom. I hope that if, in the discussions that he will no doubt attend, all appears to be lost at some point in the future, he will at least plead for an exemption for all those vehicles in the UK that are currently registered or taxed as historic. In earlier interventions the Minister made it clear that when the EU has spoken it is often too late to take the action that we would like to take. I hope that on this issue he can persuade the EU to show us a period of silence.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

I rise to support my colleagues in their new clauses. In answering a point made by Mr. Drew, may I say that as somebody who has worked in road haulage for a number of years I am not aware of any lobbying from within the industry to prevent lorries, particularly new ones, from being fitted with reflective tape? I can understand why a haulier who owns 50 or 100 vehicles would baulk at paying what I think would be considerably more than £100 a time to have that fleet fitted with reflective tape retrospectively. But if this measure is to apply to new vehicles and if the cost is to be only £100 a time, it is a drop in the ocean for any haulage operator. Those who operate new vehicles tend to be the big boys anyway, and they are usually very keen to adopt any new safety procedures.

The hon. Member for Stroud plaintively says, "It's a no-brainer. Where is the opposition coming from?" It is clear that it is coming not from the industry but from Brussels or whoever it is within the bowels of the United Nations who decides what sort of reflective tape should go round a lorry. That is a decision that should be made in a sovereign nation. If we have signed up to legislation saying that somebody else should be making that decision, I say that we should unsign it and say that this is a matter that should be devolved. We are perfectly capable of deciding for ourselves in this country what sort of reflective illuminated tape should go round our HGVs.

Frankly, it was even more astounding that the Minister then went on to say that he had been responsible for taking action against states that have pressed ahead with the legislation before the UN or the EU has got around to it, because it is anti-competitive. I speak as somebody who knows a bit about the hardships faced by people in the haulage industry. If the Minister is worried about anti-competitive measures, why is he not looking at the fact that vehicle fines and tachograph procedures are not properly enforced on the drivers of foreign vehicles that come here? Why is he not looking at fuel duty? Every British haulier could tell him that we are paying far more in fuel duty than anywhere else in Europe, and that we have to pay to use roads on the continent, yet when continental drivers come over here, they do not have to pay for any of that. That is why so many of the very large operators are now registering their companies in the Netherlands and elsewhere—to get out of paying some of the taxes. As a result, British hauliers are going out of business.

I particularly want to speak to new clause 21. This, too, is a bit of a no-brainer. I do not know whether the LGV test has changed significantly since I took it back in the early 1990s. At the time, it involved a minimum of two weeks' training and at least 40 minutes was spent taking the test itself. We got those licences and took that training in a flat-bed vehicle with a tractor fitted with a rear window and a rear-view mirror, so it was relatively easy. As soon as one gets out on to the roads, one is normally driving either a box-type vehicle or a curtain-sider. Even if one is driving a flat-bed, obviously for much of the time it is fully loaded. I have driven many kinds of articulated vehicles both here and abroad, and my recollection is that very few of the cabs are fitted with a rear-view mirror. Even if there is a rear window it is quite distracting for drivers to look in a rear-view mirror because, most of the time, they will be driving a fully loaded vehicle and will be unable to see anything out of it.

It is obvious that if the driver of a 40ft, 40 tonne vehicle has only the driver-side mirror to look into when trying to move back across from the fast lane or, on a motorway that forks, to go into a left-hand lane, they are driving a death-trap. Driving on the continent, the danger is greatly magnified. So once again, we have a new clause that is a complete and utter no-brainer. In fact, it was news to me that someone could drive an articulated or goods vehicle without a mirror on the passenger side. I find that quite extraordinary. No responsible haulier would send a vehicle out like that, although I do know from experience that there are plenty of irresponsible ones around, so it would not surprise me if one or two do.

I can add to the debate only by pointing out that a 3.5 tonne vehicle is still a dangerous one to be driving without a passenger-side mirror. Most people would think of such a vehicle as being a Ford transit, but there are larger vehicles that have a slightly lower payload but nevertheless can travel at 80 mph. I would not know that from experience of course, but many of them will be able to do that. Those vehicles will often be in the middle lane if not the fast lane of the motorway, and the idea that they could be changing lanes without a passenger mirror is absolutely frightening.

We must bear it in mind that any sort of goods vehicle will often be loaded, and any loaded vehicle, whether it is a flat-bed or some sort of a box, will not allow a proper view out of the rear-view mirror. We should therefore not only be pushing for HGVs—anything over 3.5 tonnes—to have a passenger mirror as quickly as possible, but extending that to any kind of goods vehicle.

I am totally anti-regulation, as a rule. I am completely against piling further unnecessary regulation on to the haulage industry because I have seen so many of my friends going bankrupt as a result of unnecessary regulation, but this is one bit of regulation that no responsible operator would want to avoid. It is one thing that we ought to do to increase safety on the roads and ensure that responsible hauliers are not operating at a disadvantage because the irresponsible cowboys are driving vehicles that should not be let loose on the road.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I do not know how many different ways I can say it: the United Kingdom is a law-abiding nation that signs treaties and then tries to live by them. We believe in the rule of law, and when we agree to follow certain rules and laws, we do not break them and we do our best to make sure that everybody else complies with them. That is the way we live our lives, because once we break that rule as a Parliament—once we say that there are some laws that we as a nation can ignore—we are saying that everybody can ignore any law that they do not particularly like.

We signed a treaty that stated that because there are competitive issues involved in the type approval of vehicles, we would abide by rules laid down at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. Why did we choose UNECE to lay down those rules? I cannot tell the House that. I was not involved at the time that we made those agreements. I suspect that that occurred under the previous Government. The reason is that not every state in Europe is a member of the European Union, and we needed a set of type approval rules that would cover not just the European Union but Switzerland, Norway and any other country whose vehicles might be driving through Europe, so we agreed to follow UNECE regulations.

European law—the European Community regulations —requires us to go along with UNECE regulations on type approval. Those regulations provide for retro-reflective tape to be made mandatory. In the discussions we are pressing for that to happen as soon as possible, but that is unlikely to be before January 2010. We will press harder to try and get it done faster. I hope my hon. Friend Mr. Drew will accept that assurance from me, but the date is likely to be 2010.

The measure may involve only a small amount of money on the price of a new vehicle, but it is a point of principle that we must have the type approval. Mr. Paterson accuses me from the Opposition Front Bench of being pusillanimous for not agreeing to break the law, which, as I have explained, is the position he is trying to put me in. He calls that pusillanimous. I call it the reason why we have a Parliament in this country.

The hon. Gentleman then argues that we should obey the same rule in respect of close proximity mirrors and the fitting of mirrors on the side of vehicles. He spoke to the new clause calling for the fitting of close proximity mirrors. The same rules that he says we should break when it suits us are the rules that will require those to be fitted to new vehicles in Europe from the beginning of next year. If we decide not to obey the rules, will we accept that people elsewhere in Europe can decide not to bother with close proximity mirrors and drive into our country in future? Is it only when we agree with a set of rules under the treaty that we will obey them?

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Chair, Education & Skills Committee 8:30 pm, 9th October 2006

My hon. Friend is in danger of rolling two things into one. Those of us who do not take a xenophobic attitude towards Europe, as some Opposition Members obviously do, would argue that we want to abide by the rules, but when my hon. Friend tells us that something as simple as putting reflective tape on heavy goods vehicles cannot become law until 2010, there is something seriously wrong. Our Government should go in with hobnail boots on and deal with the matter. It is not a little matter if someone dies on our roads. It is a big matter if one person dies because of the lack of reflective tape. I hope my hon. Friend will give the House an assurance—the House usually agrees with him on transport safety matters—that he will go in with hobnail boots and do something about the implementation date.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that we will press for as early an implementation as possible. If it can be done earlier than 2010, we will press for that, but I have a duty to give the House a realistic assessment of how long such matters usually take. Our assessment is that it will probably take until 2010. If we can get agreement to implement the measure more quickly, we will do so. There is nothing to stop the voluntary fitting of the tape by anyone who is buying a new vehicle. What we are not allowed to do is require the mandatory fitting of it by everybody who brings a new lorry into Europe in the intervening time, but I can assure my hon. Friend that I will be pressing as hard as possible to try to get the issue resolved as early as we can.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I come now to some of the hon. Gentleman's comments. I shall give him an opportunity to intervene in a moment. I shall be very rude about him and I expect he will want to intervene. When he spoke about passenger-side mirrors, he claimed an expertise which I am not convinced he has. We are not talking about passenger-side mirrors. Of course lorries must have passenger-side mirrors. We are talking about an additional close proximity mirror, which will be required by law—the same laws and rules to which the Opposition object—to be fitted in new vehicles from January next year.

The new clause would require us to make that mandatory now. By the time we have Royal Assent and we have done all the paperwork and got the lawyers involved, it will be quicker to wait for the new European requirement to be introduced in January. David T.C. Davies kept speaking about passenger mirrors. We are not dealing with passenger-side mirrors. Neither he nor the hon. Member for North Shropshire correctly referred to them as close proximity mirrors. They and other speakers implied that the problem that we face with the side-swiping of vehicles would disappear once close proximity mirrors were fitted.

I challenge that, although I think close proximity mirrors will have a role to play in reducing the incidence of side-swiping. The hon. Member for North Shropshire gave the statistics for the number of accidents caused by side-swiping as vehicles change lane. What he did not tell the House was that 80 per cent. of vehicles involved in such accidents already had close proximity mirrors fitted. So close proximity mirrors are not the solution—or at least they are not the only solution—to this problem.

That is why the Department for Transport has been showing real leadership across the European Union in exploring the question of what is the genuine blind spot that causes these accidents. We are about to start a trial with a Fresnel lens, which we will distribute to a number of lorry drivers coming into some of the channel ports, because we believe that such lenses allow the driver to see not the blind spot that close proximity mirrors reveal, but a blind spot that appears to exist to the side and just to the front of heavy goods vehicles. If that experiment is successful, we will have gone a long way toward preventing side-swiping.

Close proximity mirrors will reduce some of the problem and they will be fitted from the start of the new year, but we should not kid ourselves or anybody else that they will be the solution to the problem, because, as the statistics show, 80 per cent. of side-swiping incidents are caused by vehicles that already have close proximity mirrors. I should also point out to the House that none of the four fatalities caused by this sort of accident involved a foreign-registered vehicle; they were all British vehicles.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I have not mentioned close proximity mirrors. Our new clause 21 is written in very simple language. It states:

"All vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, operating in the UK, must have a mirror positioned on the exterior of the vehicle on the passenger side, which enables the driver to have a full view of vehicles and other road users in the neighbouring lanes, when driving on all roads in the United Kingdom."

That would prevent the traumatising of innocent young Hungarian truck drivers who come here without mirrors on their passenger side, and it would also have an effect on UK drivers.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

The hon. Gentleman has phrased a new clause in a way that requires a mirror to display all parts of the road. What I am saying is that my officials believe that the mirrors currently available, and which it is proposed should be fitted to the vehicle fleet—whether by Europe or by anybody else—leave a blind spot to the front and the side of the vehicle, and that nobody has yet devised a solution to that problem. We are going to test Fresnel lenses to see whether they are a solution to the problem. We will distribute them free in a pilot, along with educational material, to discover whether they help people to see the particular blind spot that we think is causing the side-swiping incidents. For that reason, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree to withdraw his new clause, and that he will accept my reassurance that we are taking this matter extremely seriously, are pushing ahead and will attempt to solve the problem as quickly as possible.

As was rightly pointed out, as I represent a Kent constituency, this matter is of considerable importance to me and I am not going to let it sit on the back burner. I am going to push as hard as I can, but I want a solution that works and that is supported by the evidence—not one that is just a reaction to the knee-jerk xenophobia that says that this must be something to do with foreign lorry drivers with a blind spot on the passenger side.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and I can assure him that he need not spare my feelings: many people in the Chamber both here and in Wales have been a lot ruder to me than he was just then. We have phrased the new clause in simple language, and perhaps the language that I used was a little simple, as well. Perhaps I reverted to a past profession, when I should have remembered that when one enters politics, one should try to use loquacious language. Nevertheless, the Minister knew exactly what we meant.

It is important that we solve this problem. The Minister must travel to the continent quite a lot, so he must know that when we go to France, we have to change the lights on the front of our cars in order to fit in with French regulations. Therefore, for him to say that we cannot do something different in Britain, either with cars or heavy goods vehicles, from what is being done on the continent surely cannot be correct, because different countries on the continent already apply different rules and expect drivers—whether of heavy goods vehicles or not—to obey them.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

French drivers and other continental drivers when they come to this country have to fit lenses to their cars so that the lights dip on the other side. The rule is the same for all of us. When we drive on the right the lights have to dip in one direction and when we drive on the left they dip in the opposite direction, so that is not a good analogy. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman does not think that I was being particularly rude to him. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Gillian Merron, said that I need to try harder.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

May I suggest that when my hon. Friend is considering mirrors with blind spots he should do what we did when I drove buses in the '70s in Canada. On the passenger side we had an arm sticking out on the front on the passenger side, somewhat like a proboscis, with a convex mirror on it. A convex mirror, properly positioned, will get rid of almost every blind spot, and the solution has been around for 30 or more years.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I will certainly ensure that my hon. Friend's suggestion is considered, but I hope that he will accept the general principle from me that resolving the issue of side-swiping is not the simple matter that some people, and some newspapers in particular, have portrayed it to be. However, we are determined to get to the bottom of it.

I come now to audible warning devices. The hon. Member for North Shropshire said that I had made certain promises in Committee, and I have honoured those promises. My officials raised the matter at the meeting in September of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe on brakes and running gear. We asked for information from international sources on the incidence of runaway trucks and trailers and the level of the problem that he has identified, and member states represented there have shown considerable interest in the fact that we have raised this issue. We are waiting for responses from them and we intend to pursue the matter through the UNECE and hopefully therefore obtain buy-in from all continental member states in order to resolve the issue in due course. On that basis, I hope that he will not push the new clause to a vote.

With regard to daytime running lights there is the new clause with its literal meaning proposed by Mr. Knight, and then there is his real concern, which I share, that changes in the EU might lead to mandatory fitting of daytime running lights and even their mandatory use on all vehicles on all the roads of Europe. I have strongly opposed that in all forums that I have been represented at. In particular, I made strong representations at the Transport Council that that is not in the interests of road safety—for exactly the reasons that the right hon. Gentleman gave. In this country, because motorcycles use day-time running lights, they have greater visibility than they would do if everyone used such lights.

Given that one of the most serious problems that we face in this country is to bring down sharply the stubborn rate of motorcyclist fatalities, we cannot afford to compromise an important safety concern for motorcyclists. Therefore, I have made strong representations at all the meetings at which I have been represented and I intend to do so again at the ministerial road safety conference in Verona in two or three weeks' time. I am making a presentation about motorcycle safety in general and what we need to do to try to reduce motorcycle casualties, but one of my key points will be the need to maintain the existing state control on the issue, because opinion on whether to compel the use of day-time running lights will vary in different states. In this country, I firmly believe that we should not do so.

However, I am increasingly pessimistic. The tide is running against me. A number of powerful states believe that it is a good idea. I believe that they think that it is a panacea and an easy solution to which their public will not object and which will help to reduce their casualty statistics. I do not think that it will reduce their casualty statistics, but it will affect our casualty statistics. I will continue to fight the good fight, but I cannot promise that I will win.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I am encouraged by the Minister's reply and think that all hon. Members back his position. If it appears that that change is about to be made, will he bear in mind the special case of historic vehicles, in which case perhaps he would make a plea for such vehicles to be exempted?

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport 8:45 pm, 9th October 2006

The right hon. Gentleman is right to identify the fact that heritage vehicles often require special treatment, and I shall do my best to make that case, if the issue arises.

I have covered all the amendments, but I shall briefly return to retro-reflective tape. I hope that the assurance that I have given my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud encourages him to withdraw new clause 12, because I will do my best to push the issue as urgently as I can.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Unilateral action by this country linked to action by other countries that have expressed an interest is one way to bring the matter to a head. It would force the other treaty signatories to address the issue as a matter of urgency rather than waiting for another four years.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

The problem with unilateral action is that it would encourage infraction proceedings against us and that it would weaken our argument on other matters such as close proximity mirrors, blind-spot mirrors and, perhaps one day, Fresnel lenses. My hon. Friend is a firm supporter of the United Nations and understands the need to obey its rules.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I have encouraged my hon. Friend down an avenue that I did not want to encourage him down. We should use the existing structures and work as hard as we can to try to reach an agreement as quickly as possible, but we should not break the laws and treaties to which we have signed up.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud is at least partially reassured. He should know that I am good-hearted in these matters, and I hope that he will withdraw new clause 12.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I did not know that hon. Members had come to this House to start a world revolution by taking on both the EU and the UN, but if that is what we must do to introduce a small measure of sanity into the issue of road safety, then so be it. In two days' time, I will attend an event to which I have been invited by a number of people who ride disability scooters or use wheelchairs. The event celebrates the fact that they are fitting retro-reflective tape to their vehicles in order to be seen more clearly at night. If retro-reflective tape is good enough for people who travel rather slowly, but who want to be seen more clearly, it behoves us to do something about HGVs.

It is with some regret that I say that I will push new clause 12 to a vote. I do not understand the Minister's argument, because we must start somewhere and should adopt this simple measure. It is important that hon. Members show that we support what, as the Minister knows, is a long-standing and popular all-party movement. Even at this late stage, I hope that the Minister will reconsider the matter before it is considered in Europe.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 201, Noes 280.

Division number 297 Orders of the Day — New Clause 12 — Retro-reflective markings

Aye: 201 MPs

No: 280 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Question accordingly negatived.

It being after Nine o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker proceeded to put the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [8 March].

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I understand that a separate Division is sought on new clause 37. As the House is aware, there is a typographical error in the text of the new clause, in that some words are repeated. In lines 5 and 6, the words "six months or to a fine not exceeding" should be omitted. The intention is clear, and I am prepared to allow the clause to be moved in its corrected form.