Road Safety Bill [HL]

– in the House of Lords at 3:06 pm on 8 June 2005.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 3:06, 8 June 2005

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

The United Kingdom has one of the best road safety records in the world. It is a record we can rightly be proud of. The Government are working to improve that record still further. We launched our Road Safety Strategy in 2000, and reviewed it last year. Our aim is to reduce deaths and serious injuries by 40 per cent by 2010, and by 50 per cent among children, against the baseline of average casualties over 1994 to 1998. We have made good progress. The latest figures, for 2004, show that the number of people killed or seriously injured had fallen by 28 per cent compared with the baseline; that is 10,000 fewer injuries every year, halfway towards our target. The number of children killed or seriously injured has dropped by 41 per cent—over three-quarters of the way towards the 50 per cent reduction target for children.

But 3,500 people still die on our roads each year—that is, 10 deaths every day. There are still over 4,000 children a year killed or seriously injured. That is why the Government have introduced the Road Safety Bill, which contains a range of measures aimed at reducing the number of deaths and injuries and making our roads safer. It will make an important contribution to meeting the Government's targets in 2010.

Road accidents are caused by a very wide range of factors. Road safety calls for action across many fronts, and the range is clear in our Road Safety Strategy. It includes issues from drink driving to training standards; seat-belt wearing, which is simple but as important as ever; the Think! information and advertising programme; safety cameras; and proper mobile phone use.

The year 2005 has seen a number of key developments in road safety. The first fully fledged National Motorcycling Strategy was published in February. In January, Ministers from the Department for Transport and the Home Office issued a Roads Policing Strategy jointly with the Association of Chief Police Officers. That reaffirmed the shared commitment to a highly visible police presence on the roads, and identified four particular dimensions of unlawful, disorderly and dangerous use of roads and vehicles; namely, drink and drug driving; speeding; failure to use seat belts; and driving which is dangerous, careless or threatening to other road users. Finally, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act was given Royal Assent in April. It brought in measures to combat uninsured driving, as well as enabling the police to undertake evidential breath-tests at the roadside. The Road Safety Bill will continue in that wide-ranging approach. It will cover many different issues from dealing with vehicle fraud to ensuring that penalties for road traffic offences are effective, proportionate and fair.

Research surveys show that nearly everyone thinks that they are a better than average driver. That is not possible and it is not true. Behaviour is a key factor in as many as half of all car fatalities. It is essential that we send a clear message to those who commit driving offences, particularly in the case of severe or repeat offences.

The Bill increases penalties for careless and inconsiderate driving, for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving, for failing to have proper control of a vehicle, and for repeat offences of using a vehicle in a dangerous condition.

Nowhere is the impact of driver behaviour more apparent than where drivers speed. Excessive speed contributes to nearly 30 per cent of fatalities—more than 1,000 deaths each year. It is a factor in another 40,000 more injuries. Research tells us that the greatest reduction in these casualties would come from reducing the speed of those who break the speed limits most seriously.

Penalties need to reflect this. The Bill provides for graduated fixed penalty points for various offences, including speeding. These will be more effective, proportionate and fair, helping motorists to understand the dangers of excessive speed and encouraging them to respect the law.

This will allow tougher punishment for those who speed the most seriously, as well as scope for lesser penalties for less severe speeding. This will help to ensure that speeding law and penalties command public support.

The Bill sets out the enabling powers for graduated fixed penalty points. It provides that there will be formal consultation to help to determine the detailed proposals, which will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and debate in Parliament.

However, the law is not the only solution. Several police forces offer "low-end speeders" the option of going on speed awareness courses, at their own expense, where this looks to be a more effective way to help them to drive more carefully and considerately. The Association of Chief Police Officers is putting in place a national programme of awareness courses. The Government welcome this police initiative.

An independent report last year showed a 32 per cent drop in speeding and a 40 per cent reduction in deaths and serious injuries at safety camera sites. However, devices that detect or jam speed assessment equipment can remove the need for drivers to watch their speed. They threaten to reverse the gains that we have made recently and to make other police speed enforcement procedures useless. The Bill will enable the fitting and use of these devices to be prohibited by means of regulations.

In addition to these measures, we propose: retraining courses as a "court disposal" for the more serious speed offenders, based on the successful Drink-Drive Rehabilitation Scheme—they will also extend to careless driving offenders—raising the penalty for failing to identify the driver to six penalty points; and clarifying the law on speed exemptions and associated training requirements.

We have made great strides in tackling drink driving over the past two decades through a combination of powerful information campaigns and police enforcement. There has been a real change in Britain's culture when it comes to drinking and driving. Yet alcohol is still a factor in about one in seven of all fatal crashes. It is responsible for more than 500 deaths a year on the roads.

Up to 20 per cent of drink-drive convictions are repeat offenders. Statistics of road accidents indicate that younger, predominantly male drivers are the ones more likely to be under the influence of alcohol.

The Bill will allow us to make repeat drink-drive offenders retake their driving test. It will ensure that repeat offenders are kept from driving until they have completed the necessary medical examination. It also enables the future use of alcohol ignition interlocks which have been shown to be very effective in discouraging reoffending.

The Bill will also allow unlicensed and non-GB licence holders to be given fixed penalties in respect of endorsable road traffic offences. In addition, the Bill will enable police and enforcement officers to require offenders who cannot supply a satisfactory UK address to pay an immediate deposit in lieu of a fixed penalty, or pending a court hearing. This would prevent drivers who leave the country before payment of a fixed penalty is due escaping punishment, as can happen all too easily now.

Since the launch of continuous vehicle registration in 2004, vehicle licence evasion has dropped to 3.4 per cent, from 4.8 per cent in 2002. We aim to reduce this number to 2.5 per cent by 2007. However, unlicensed vehicles are still a problem. They may slip off the record and be used in vehicle fraud or other criminal activity.

The Bill extends the regulation of registration plate suppliers to Scotland and Northern Ireland. It enables us to share driver and vehicle data with foreign authorities. These measures will help the fight against cross-border vehicle crime and vehicle-related fraud and make it harder for vehicles to slip off the record. In addition, the Bill will enable us to require the surrender of paper driving licences, which will be replaced by photocard driving licences. This will improve the security of the licence held by all drivers and overcome the fraudulent use of the paper licence.

The Bill will also enable us to require vehicle mileages to be reported to the DVLA. This will help to combat the fraudulent practice of "clocking" vehicles—that means reducing the number of miles shown on the clock to make the vehicle more attractive when it is resold.

One of the most important elements of our Road Safety Strategy is to improve people's awareness on the roads so that fewer accidents happen in the first place. We are working towards this goal for drivers, motorcyclists and pedestrians as well as driving instructors.

We have introduced advanced learning packages for these groups, such as the Pass Plus post-test driving scheme for newly-qualified drivers and the Arrive Alive road safety awareness course for young people. We have also brought in the hazard perception test for driving instructors. These are supported by the Think! road safety advertising campaign. It is a fact that young and newly qualified drivers have a higher risk of collisions than older and more experienced drivers, as we discussed at Question Time earlier this afternoon.

The Bill will put in place measures to provide higher standards for professional driving instructors. It will improve the regulation of driving schools, including not just the instructors themselves but also those involved in running a driving instruction business or franchise.

In addition, the Bill will enable the registration of instructors for vehicles other than cars. Currently instruction for these vehicles is unregulated and standards vary widely as a result. In addition, the Bill will introduce a power to impose higher-quality training for driving instructors, while recognising that some will come to the job with vast existing experience. The Bill will also enable the publication of information about the performance of registered driving instructors, allowing learner drivers to make a more informed choice of instructor.

The Bill will help to ensure that drivers and riders of all types of motor vehicles are trained to a high standard according to the demands of today's road conditions.

"Tiredness kills"—an estimated 300 people each year are killed where a driver has fallen asleep at the wheel. The Government's message to drivers is "Take a break". The Bill will enable the building of motorway picnic areas to enable drivers to do just that.

The Bill will also contain measures to provide inspectors with additional investigative powers to ensure the safe transport of radioactive material; to improve the licensing arrangements for London private hire vehicles; and to bring in inspection and certification of vehicles modified to run on fuel stored under pressure.

Finally, casualty statistics show how important local action is with a big margin between the police force areas that are doing best and some areas where casualties have actually increased since the baseline was established. The Government are supporting local action through demonstration projects, working with local authorities to develop and demonstrate good practice, and through transport funding. In order to encourage new and innovative local road safety schemes, the Bill will allow the Government to pay specific grants to local authorities that are bringing ground-breaking new measures to promote road safety.

In conclusion, the Bill will help to create a safer environment for all road users. It takes a wide-ranging approach to road safety, tackling each of the issues with specific measures. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport 3:20, 8 June 2005

My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to speak from these Benches on this important and timely Bill. First, let me state that any measures to reduce both danger and casualties on our roads are to be welcomed. We all share the same objective of improving road safety, and relatively small differences exist in relation to the means of achieving that objective. Regrettably, the need for such legislation is all too apparent.

It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves, as the Minister said, of the true scale of the problem facing us on British roads. The fact remains that there are still 10 deaths each day on our roads. The Department for Transport's own figures show that 3,508 people were killed on Britain's roads in 2003; that is 2 per cent more than in 2002. The number of people seriously injured was 33,707; while total casualties for 2003 amounted to an alarming 290,607. Provisional estimates also indicate that the number of deaths in accidents involving drink driving was 2 per cent higher than in 2002. The Minister commented particularly on that. Of course, we cannot put a figure on the trauma, distress and difficulties that such a loss or serious injury causes families and others.

Were that the situation for any other mode of transport, there would be a public scandal. We can certainly do much to tackle those appalling figures. A number of measures can and should be introduced, including many that are in the Bill. However, as I shall explain, there are some serious omissions. We are happy to give the Bill our support on Second Reading, and we will give it a general and broad support in Committee. I hope that some of our suggestions might be taken on board at that stage.

We can support a number of measures in the Bill, including the proposal to increase maximum penalties for various road traffic offences and the introduction of a graduated fixed penalty scheme for various roadworthiness and other offences that will match the punishment to the severity of the offence. On this issue, the Government have adopted Conservative Party policy, which is to be welcomed. The range of penalty points that can be imposed for speeding offences is a good idea, and I am glad that the Government have seen the light. In fact, I would have two points instead of six had the scheme been brought in earlier. I declare an interest there.

We also support the new measures designed to improve the enforcement of existing road traffic legislation. The Bill gives police the power to detect uninsured driving through the use of automatic number plate-reading technology and confers new enforcement powers on vehicle examiners. Again, we support any attempt to crack down on the menace that is uninsured drivers. We are happy to see driving tests made more flexible, with new powers to deal with impostors taking other people's driving tests. After our discussion at Question Time this afternoon, I was pleased to hear the Minister say that driving tests were important. It will be interesting to hear whether he has any further thoughts about how to improve the quality and standard of driving tests. Provision is to be made to prevent foreign drivers escaping punishment in the UK by requiring them to pay a deposit where an offence is committed, which is welcome. Therefore, as I have tried briefly to outline, we are happy to lend our support to a range of proposals. My noble friends on these Benches will highlight and discuss specific measures in a little more detail during the course of the debate.

However, there are other points that could have been included in this Bill. The opportunity to pass primary legislation on road safety is rare. Current trends of rising traffic levels, casualties and significant intimidation from speeding traffic means that the title of the Government's road safety strategy—Tomorrow's roads: safer for everyone—regrettably rings hollow for many. In short, we have before us today something of a missed opportunity. Where, for instance, is the requirement on the relevant authorities, the Highways Agency and others, to assess what steps could be taken to reduce accident rates on roads classified as high-risk, marked in black on the AA EuroRAP map?

Where, for instance, are greater powers for the police to give evidence against drug drivers? We have legislation for drink but nothing particularly for drugs. Where, for instance, are the measures to cut speeding and accidents on country roads and lanes? Can we have a more sensible and practical approach to the rather vexed issue of speed cameras? There seem to be different regulations in use around the country. Indeed, while the Government are introducing a more flexible approach to penalties for speeding, many motorists would still be unduly and harshly penalised by the broad-brush approach to speed cameras at the expense of experienced road traffic professionals.

We have concerns regarding the safety camera partnerships, about their role and how they are funded. If the speed cameras were operated by traffic police, it is more likely that they would be situated where they could genuinely prevent accidents. It would also mean that a higher proportion of the money paid in fines could be used by the traffic police to promote road safety.

On a related issue, the Bill effectively outlaws devices that detect the presence of equipment used to assess the speed of motor vehicles and other devices that jam that equipment. I draw a distinction between those two types of device, and I have no objection to the proposed measures against the devices that jam. However, devices that detect the presence of speed equipment belong to a different category. If the Government believe their claims that speed cameras are sited so that they slow down traffic in places where accidents are likely to occur, it is clearly helpful for drivers to have advance warning of them, as they will then approach the high-risk sections of road at a moderate speed. The only reason to outlaw detection devices is that the number of drivers who might get caught for speeding would be reduced, with the result that the revenue generated by speed cameras would be reduced. I have no doubt that we shall return to the issue of speed cameras in Committee, but I would be grateful if perhaps the Minister could comment on whether the Government have thought again on this issue; from the contents of this Bill I wonder if they have.

Given the good safety record of many motorways and trunk roads, with fewer accidents on motorways, it is surely time to consider raising the upper limit to 80 mph in certain places. Indeed, we on these Benches believe that the speed limit can safely be raised on motorways, but in other areas such as roads near schools, hospitals and parks, the maximum should be lowered to 20 mph, particularly when children are about. The limit on motorways was set decades ago when cars were less safe than they now are and when roads were less well designed. Motorways are our safest roads; road design and car design have improved over the decades since the 70 mph limit was first introduced. Research from Europe shows that where the speed limit on such roads is higher there is no corresponding increase in the accident rate. It is time that the Government moved into the 21st century and understood the realities of modern motorway driving. Again, I would be pleased to hear the Minister's thoughts on that.

There is no logical reason why the provisions of Clause 21 on the use of hand-held mobile phones should not apply to cyclists as well as to motorists. Will the Minister comment on that? Furthermore, where is the proposal championed by the British Red Cross to include first aid as part of the practical driving test? That relates to my comments that we should perhaps rethink the driving test. Some 57 per cent of deaths caused by road accidents happen in the first few minutes after a crash, before the emergency services arrive. The Red Cross believes that up to 85 per cent of those could be prevented if first aid were administered immediately. Incorporating basic first aid training as part of the driving test is a sensible step forward that would add little burden or cost to the test and add considerably to safety. I hope that the Minister can give us some positive news on that measure, as I give notice today of our intention to bring forward amendments in Committee on this issue.

Equally, there is much merit in the proposal for car occupants to wear retro-reflective jackets when they leave their cars at the roadside—for example, in the event of a breakdown or accident. We often hear of people killed as they get out of their cars when they break down. Similar measures have already been implemented in Italy, Spain, Austria and Portugal. When this issue was discussed in another place, the Minister said that the Government would consider such a scheme. Again, I hope that the noble Lord can provide us with some better news on the Government's current thinking on this issue.

There are a number of other areas where we believe that we could improve the Bill to take account of modern road conditions and behaviour. Increasing speed limits from 40 mph to 50 mph for heavy goods vehicles on single carriageway roads would cut congestion and the temptation for motorists to risk a dangerous overtaking manoeuvre. Motorcycles should be allowed to use bus lanes. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that local authorities could take their own initiatives.

As noble Lords will know, I am leader of Essex County Council. The particular problem in Essex is people over 40 returning to the use of motorcycles. They have suddenly prospered in their later years but think that they are still 20. Many men are buying fast motorcycles, they do not have the reflexes that they had when they were 20 and the heaviest death toll in Essex is now among men over 40 on motorcycles. We are now taking certain measures, including courses, to try to encourage safety in that area. No doubt we shall talk about that during the course of the Bill.

Penalties for causing death by dangerous driving and for driving while under the influence of illegal drugs need to be strengthened. We also believe that we need more police enforcement of our road traffic laws. Road traffic law enforcement is not included in the core responsibilities of chief constables—that issue was recently investigated by the Select Committee. We are also concerned over the decline in the number of dedicated traffic police. Figures obtained from the Government earlier this year showed a drop of nearly 3,000 traffic officers since 1997—a quarter of the total. Regrettably, we are seeing more and more technology, notably speed cameras, take the place of dedicated traffic police. If the Government are properly to bring in new road safety legislation, it can be enforced effectively only if there are sufficient traffic police, and the dramatic decline in their numbers should not continue.

The Bill can be improved and we shall seek those improvements in Committee. The Bill falls short of being a comprehensive strategy. We support the endeavours behind the Bill and we shall do all that we can, in co-operation with the Government and other parties, to adopt a pragmatic, commonsense approach to these important issues—to restore a downward trend in the number of people killed and injured on our roads.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport 3:33, 8 June 2005

My Lords, we, too, welcome the Bill and will seek to give it God speed through the House. However, there are a number of issues that I shall draw to the attention of the Minister to which we may return in Committee, with or without the support of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield.

The first concerns seat belts. The Bill makes the use of a mobile telephone an endorseable offence. I have concerned myself with seat belts—I declare an interest as a member of the Thames Valley Police Authority—and caused some work to be done on the issue. In the past three years, 40 per cent of people killed in Thames Valley were front seat passengers, and 54 per cent of rear seat passengers were not wearing seat belts. Making the wearing of seat belts an endorseable offence is an obvious safety measure that is available to the Government. A car occupant is 25 times more likely to be killed if he is not wearing a seat belt. Unrestrained drivers and passengers are also a danger to other occupants.

The current fine, a fixed penalty notice of £30, is derisory. Research by Professor Frank McKenna of Reading University on Thames Valley's speed awareness scheme, to which the Minister referred, has shown that the avoidance of penalty points is a major motivator. It revealed that 60 per cent of offenders went on a speed diversion course to avoid the fine and 85 per cent to avoid the points on their licences. Yet, although we have a scheme for seat belt diversion, only 10 per cent of people take it up. In fact, people are in contempt of the seat belt legislation and something needs to be done. I urge the Minister to include this matter within the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, such Bills do not come along often. It will probably be the only one that we will have in this Parliament.

It is also an anomaly that people of 14 and 15 who are in rear seats, but do not wear seat belts, must be taken to court if the law is to be enforced, but the court has no effective penalty against them. The driver should be responsible for all passengers under 16 and Section 28 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 could apply. So, I ask that seat belts are made an important part of the Government's initiative. In Ireland, the wearing of seat belts is being made compulsory and it is ironic that we should not follow that example. I have some awful photographs here of incidents where people wearing seat belts survived horrendous crashes, while those who were not wearing seat belts were killed in relatively minor crashes.

I am sure that other noble Lords have received the same material as I have regarding my second point—that the conspicuousness of HGVs would be aided by the addition to the sides and edges of these vehicles of the retro-reflective material to which the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, referred in relation to jackets. This country is alone in Europe in not marking the sides and backs of vehicles, so that people driving can clearly see those in front of them.

The next issue concerns the promotion of good driving. The Learning and Skills Council has a young drivers' scheme for drivers of passenger-carrying vehicles, under which 16 year-olds can be taught to drive properly and taught other areas of customer care, including looking after the disabled. It would be possible under this legislation to give the scheme recognition as the proper route into the passenger-carrying vehicle industry—the bus and coach industry. It is important, because the number of people coming forward to drive buses is small. We are bringing in people from abroad to do the job, because people here do not want to do it, and it needs to be invested with more status. I commend that idea to the Minister.

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, referred to country roads, for which the Bill does nothing. Increasingly, county councils have made the speed on main roads 50 mph—I do not know whether that is the case in Essex, but in Oxfordshire, where I am a county councillor, many single carriageway main roads have a 50 mph limit. But it is an anomaly that if one turns into a country lane, which is often wide enough only for one vehicle, there is no speed limit and one may accelerate to 60 mph. More accidents take place in rural areas than on main roads—and the number is growing. There is a case both for a default limit of 30 mph through villages and, where a road has no central white line—where it is, effectively, a single carriageway—for a speed limit of 40 mph. When one turns off a road that has a 50 mph limit it makes no sense at all to be allowed to go faster on what is obviously a minor road. This is a serious problem.

We have talked before about the problem of large vehicles using country roads. I suggest that the law could be amended so that if a large vehicle is on a country lane its driver should be required to produce to a police constable a waybill showing that he has to collect or deliver on that road. The nonsense of policemen following vehicles for miles to prove that they have had access—which is not followed because the police do not have time—should be replaced with a responsibility on the driver to prove to the police that he needs to have access.

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, referred to drugs. They are a serious problem and the police are singularly ill equipped to deal with the increasing number of people who drive under the influence of drugs. Policemen are forced to rely on asking somebody who they suspect of being under the influence of drugs to touch the end of his nose or to put out his right arm before they can arrest him and take him to a police station where he can be tested for drugs. But there is no evidential test that can be applied at the roadside that shows a policeman that a driver has impaired ability and should not be driving. That needs to be looked at.

The introduction of an offence of causing injury by dangerous driving ought to be considered. We have an offence of causing death by dangerous driving, but injuries can be grievous. I am not talking about someone who gets his arm bruised, but about people who are permanently injured as a result of an accident. That could be included in any change in the law.

We will join the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, in supporting the proposals of the British Red Cross and we will bring forward a number of matters in Committee. However, I have sketched out some of the matters to which we will give attention, and I particularly ask the Minister to give attention to the seat-belt issue. If the intention of the Government is to get injuries down and to get on track for the target that they hope to reach, this is one way in which we could see some improvement.

Lastly, it is questionable whether picnic sites will be used as family picnic sites or whether they will become dumping grounds, places where lorries exchange loads and where all sorts of other unpleasant things happen. I hope that if picnic sites are introduced it will be done in a regulated way that ensures that they are proper rest sites.

However, we will support the Bill and look forward to receiving it in Committee.

Photo of Viscount Tenby Viscount Tenby Crossbench 3:44, 8 June 2005

My Lords, I welcome many of the proposals in the Road Safety Bill, although I regret that the opportunity presented by its appearance has not led to a raft of initiatives which in themselves might not amount to much, but which, taken together, could create a safer driving climate. Some of the provisions in the Bill touch on major matters, while others are largely of a technical nature and there is inevitably an element of tidying up about the Bill.

I begin with speeding. I am not one of those in this House once described in a memorably witty phrase by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester—who I see is in his place and who is due to speak after me—as the "poop poop tendency". Such noble Lords rail against the use of cameras, which is a crusade much favoured by the tabloids. Indeed, I would go further than the present formula allows. I do not feel that the installation of cameras should rely on the somewhat callous and mechanistic formula of four deaths or serious injuries over a measured stretch of road over the past three years. It must be right to let common sense and local knowledge play a part as well.

I speak as someone living in a village where the driving conditions are extremely hazardous. It is regularly used as a rat run, often at speeds greatly exceeding the limit. We are weary of the constant emphasis on urban speeding, and would welcome similar attention being given to villages where there should be far more blanket 20 mph speed limits.

The move towards mobile cameras, while predictably creating bleats of anguish from those same quarters, is surely another essential element in this continual campaign. We all speed at one time or another. My interest in studying the speeding characteristics of motorists arises from having had some 25 years on the bench—I apologise to the House for not having declared an interest earlier as a magistrate now on the supplementary list.

I am convinced that many motorists are completely unaware of limit signs because they are distracted for one reason or another. The situation is not helped by the reckless way in which we spray speeding zones around, often over comparatively short distances. I know of a road where over the distance of a mile the limit goes from 60 to 40 to 30 to 20 and back to 30. Some people will, and indeed do, argue that the limits are all there for a reason and, up to a point, that is undeniable. But if the lack of attention to which I have already referred is present in the driver, such confusion only makes matters worse.

The fact is that much of our speed control policy dates from the time when someone carrying a red flag preceded the vehicle. Is there a possibility of an undertaking from the Government that over the next few years there will be a national review of speed limits to bring them into line with the 21st century, modern conditions and modern automobile technology?

Over a period of about 20 years—and such social changes are inevitably gradual—a sea change has occurred in the way in which society views driving with excess alcohol. As our roads become ever more crowded, that kind of stigma must attach itself to unacceptable and persistent speeding as well. I think, in particular, not of the proverbial little old lady—even though, theoretically, she may inflict just as much damage—but of habitual, reckless and anti-social speeders who specifically, and with calculation, defy the law.

All young men like speeding until they grow up. Unfortunately, some of them never do and are catered for not only by the motoring pages of respectable newspapers and magazines, some of which ought to know better, but also by some spine-chilling specialist publications that were referred to in a recent Question in another place. Examples cited were claims of going through the Hatfield Tunnel at 188 mph and of doing an estimated 140 mph in a quiet country lane near Bath that, according to the driver, would be kamikaze at a speed of 70 mph. We all cherish the freedom of the press, but I ask the Minister whether the Government would be happy with a publication that advocated housebreaking, described its virtues in detail and egged readers on to follow suit? Why has there been no prosecution? These people have admitted what they did and have bragged about it. What are the police doing about it?

Finally on speeding, I shall make a point about the rigidity of electronic speed surveillance where, unlike the human intervention of the traffic policeman, no allowance can be made for driving conditions, circumstances and so on. There should be an agreed policy about discretion where the limit has been exceeded. If drivers are to be prosecuted for going 2 mph over the limit, as one chief constable has reportedly urged, there will be no allowance for faulty speedometers and I confidently predict a substantial increase in the number of minor shunts as drivers check the speedometer rather than the car in front of them.

Speed is an important topic and it is one of the reasons why I welcome the graduated penalty points proposal. I also welcome the banning of speed detection devices and the speed limit exemptions for emergency service vehicles, though I have to admit that I have in my time been in a police car that exceeded the motorway limit for about 20 minutes when the only emergency was that we were late for a meeting.

The increased provisions for the retraining of serious drink-driving offenders and the introduction of alco-locks are to be welcomed, but I remain concerned—I want to emphasise this point—that we are still failing to get to grips with the problem of those driving under the influence of drugs. I would welcome an assurance from the Minister that this is now a priority objective, particularly as recent newspaper reports suggest that the means to provide accurate roadside testing will soon become available.

Making the offence of using a mobile phone while driving an endorsable matter is long overdue. Nothing is more infuriating than someone who says, "I told you so", but on this occasion I have to say it. Many of us knew that without the additional sanction of penalty points, some motorists will continue to take risks and ignore the law. I take the view that it is not holding an object that is the main distraction, but the holding of a conversation, perhaps with disturbing news or requiring considered thought, which provides a danger element. So I would include hands-free phones in the ban as well. I accept that that is not a popular position and in any case it would be almost impossible to enforce. Unenforced and unenforceable law is, by definition, bad law.

I make a plea for the Government to share in the justifiable anxiety of the police about the practice of tailgating which has been identified as one of the principal causes of accidents on our roads. Driving without due care may not be a sufficiently effective way to stamp out that pernicious and dangerous habit, so the Government might think about bringing in a specific offence.

If the regulations proposed for the supervision and regulation of number plate suppliers are what I take them to mean, a tightening-up exercise is welcome news indeed. Time was—a long time ago now it seems—when the slightest deviation from the prescribed formula was jumped upon, but nowadays tolerance seems to be stretched to its limits and some number plates are almost unreadable, even at close quarters. Personal vanity on the one hand and so-called humour on the other are poor ingredients for legibility and identification.

I also add my voice to that of other noble Lords on introducing a Red Cross course for first-time drivers. I think that makes it a straight flush and perhaps the Minister will, accordingly, take note of that.

Another area that the Government might have looked at concerns road signs. Quite apart from the inordinate amount of time that it appears to take to repair roads in this country, in my experience, frequently signs are not removed immediately a job has been completed. Similarly, on motorways, for example, ad hoc speed restrictions for early-morning mist sometimes remain on long after the danger has passed, presumably because someone has forgotten to switch them off. It does not require Einstein to realise that irrelevant signs will come to be disregarded, with all the dangers that that implies when they refer to a real hazard. Accordingly, some kind of penalty system should be in place to ensure that tidying up is done as a matter of course. If the Government claim that such a provision is already in place via other legislation, surely more should be done to implement it vigorously.

In conclusion, the wider the legislative net is drawn in traffic matters the greater is the need for effective enforcement. It is surely an irony that the greater the number of vehicles on our roads, the smaller the numbers of traffic police there are to deal with the problems that they create. Traffic police numbers are down by 12 per cent over the past five years, and although no one would quibble about the need to divert some police to more important and life-threatening areas like terrorism, the fact remains that one cannot go on robbing that particular resource indefinitely, even though the National Police Plan, strangely, does not have traffic enforcement as a priority.

Will the Government undertake to ensure that a proportion of the new officers whom we all need so desperately are assigned to traffic duties? Furthermore, will they ensure—via ACPO, if that is what it takes—that in future traffic division numbers are ring-fenced? With such a government assurance, I hope, ringing in my ears, I sit down and wish the Bill well.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour 3:54, 8 June 2005

My Lords, I too wish the Bill well. I congratulate the Government on introducing it so early in this Parliament. I declare an interest as a former president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. I suppose I am in a unique sandwich in that I am following one former president in the shape of the Minister and I am soon to be followed by the current president, my noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen.

It was unfortunate that the calling of a general election caused the original Bill to be lost. I hope that in one respect the Government have made good use of the time caused by that delay to reflect on what was an original proposal, much trailed in the media, to reduce the number of penalty points for speeding in 30 mph areas. A wealth of evidence, much from government agencies, shows that a person struck by a car travelling at 40 mph is twice as likely to be killed as one hit by a car travelling at 30 mph. The risk to car occupants also rises exponentially at speeds between 20 and 40 mph.

Faced with that evidence, which is reinforced by some very hard-hitting government advertising showing what happens when a car hits a child pedestrian at 35 mph, it would have been perverse of the Government to give the impression that exceeding the speed limits in the 30 to 40 mph areas was seen somehow as a less serious matter than it used to be.

A great deal of work has been undertaken to convince drivers that speeding kills and causes more severe injuries. We know that 70 per cent of drivers have admitted to speeding. We have had a confession from the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, on that subject this afternoon. One particular study finds that drivers regard driving at 40 mph in a 30 mph zone to be more acceptable than dropping litter. That just will not do and I hope that the Minister will make it clear that whatever may happen with marginal reductions in penalties at higher levels, in the 30 to 40 mph zones it is unacceptable for the penalty points to be reduced.

Every road safety and environmental organisation that has written to me about the Bill vehemently opposes the original proposal. Therefore, I hope that the Government will be able to announce, if not at the end of this debate, certainly during the passage of the Bill, that that proposal has been dropped.

The Government have generally done well in resisting what one could call the extremists in the motorists' lobby, or as the noble Viscount put into my mouth, the poop-poop lobby—those who believe that they have a God-given right to drive anywhere at any time and at any speed they choose, often with a mobile phone pressed to their ears and having had a few drinks before taking the wheel. Those are the campaigners. Indeed, they had their own television programme on the BBC, a matter to which I referred in an earlier debate. They are the kind of people who want to see an end to speed humps in residential areas and they want safety cameras removed altogether.

I find the opposition to safety cameras perverse. The Government's evidence, to which my noble friend referred, shows how effective they are. Their three-year evaluation report, published last June, shows that overall 40 per cent fewer people were killed or seriously injured at sites where safety cameras were introduced. There was also a positive cost benefit of around four to one. In the third year, the benefits to society from the avoided injuries were in excess of £221 million compared with enforcement costs of around £54 million. That is an area where there is great public support for safety cameras. Opinion polls consistently demonstrate backing for them, despite irresponsible media campaigning against them.

I am pleased that the Bill gives no comfort to those who behave antisocially and put other people's lives at risk. A number of proposals in it are wholly welcome. The increase in penalties for the use of a non-hands-free mobile phone when driving is just one example. During my noble friend's time as president of RoSPA and during my time, the society carried out a huge amount of campaigning work on this issue which culminated in legislation making it illegal to use a non-hands-free mobile phone when driving. The Bill increases the penalties and applies—crucially, as other speakers have said—a penalty point system for the use of these phones. Certainly RoSPA, and I think other road safety organisations, supports this proposal.

But my noble friend will be aware that there is a lot of support for the view expressed by the noble Viscount that the legislation should extend to the use of hands-free mobile phones generally. Research shows that it is the distraction of the conversation that affects a driver's ability rather than his taking a hand off the wheel. So RoSPA and other road safety campaigners say that a ban on all mobile phone use would allow a much clearer message to be provided to drivers that phone conversations when driving are dangerous and result in road crashes, both during the conversation and in the period immediately after.

The Government have also received advice on the even more controversial issue of drink-drive limits. The closing of loopholes relating to the high-risk offender scheme and the powers contained in the Police Reform Act 2002 are welcome. Also welcome is the plan contained in Clauses 13 and 14 of the Bill to establish a pilot programme to use alcohol ignition interlock devices as a way of dealing with repeat drink drivers.

I am disappointed that more is not being done in the Bill on drink-drive limits because there is alarming evidence that after many years of seeing the numbers decline, the number of drink-drive casualties is rising. In 2002 there were 560 fatalities and 2,820 serious injuries in crashes involving illegal alcohol levels, compared with 460 fatalities and 2,470 serious injuries in 1998; and I suspect that the figures for 2003 and 2004 may show a similar alarming trend.

That increase has been accompanied by a decline in the number of roadside screening tests for alcohol. Indeed, in Britain we now conduct fewer tests per head of the population than are conducted in almost any other country in Europe. The European average probability of being breath-tested is one in 16 inhabitants—the figure for the UK is one in 67. There is widespread public support, particularly among the road safety professionals, for the police to be given power to carry out targeted or intelligence-led breath testing. Therefore, if they know that drinking is taking place they can stop people who are in that area. I for one, although I know that this is a controversial matter, would not be opposed to the thought of random breath testing which exists in other European countries, particularly France.

There is also very substantial support for reducing the drink-drive limit from 80 milligrams to 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. Professor Richard Allsop of University College London says in a recent paper that lowering the limit could save 65 lives a year. It would also bring us into line with most of Europe. I hope that my noble friend can say that the Government's mind on this matter is not entirely closed.

Finally, I turn to a road safety measure which does not feature in the Bill, but which would, none the less—on the Government's own figures, helpfully provided by my noble friend in the response to a Starred Question from me on 21 July last year—save hundreds of road casualties a year. My question then was whether the Government could identify road safety benefits which would follow the introduction of single/double British summer time.

My noble friend Lord Davies replied that a government commissioned report by the Transport Research Laboratory, published in October 1998, concluded that if the UK adopted single/double British summer time—that is, GMT plus one hour in the winter and GMT plus two hours in the summer—thereby making the evenings lighter, it could result in 400 fewer people being killed or seriously injured each year in Great Britain.

My noble friend will recall that there then followed a short debate in which virtually every speaker expressed amazement that if the road safety benefits were so substantial we had not made this change. Perhaps the later stages of this Bill will allow us to return to that issue.

I am conscious that there are a number of other important road safety issues, which there is not time for me to cover this afternoon. For example, I would have liked to have said something about the need for lower speed limits on rural roads, to which the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, referred, as did the noble Viscount, and the establishment of a rural road hierarchy. I commend the Campaign to Protect Rural England on the quality of its briefing on that subject. These are matters to which we can return in Committee. Meanwhile, I am pleased to support the Bill and I thank the Government for bringing it forward.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative 4:04, 8 June 2005

My Lords, I should like to address my remarks this afternoon to one specific problem of road safety which is becoming the bane of many people's lives in my part of the world in North Yorkshire—namely, motor bikers.

The areas around and in the North Yorkshire National Park are now regularly plagued by hosts of these machines on most weekends and bank holidays and they are literally making people's lives a total misery. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, referred to what I think he described as a "national motorcycling strategy". It appears to have had no effect on these particular motor cyclists.

My noble friend Lord Hanningfield talked about these bikers—and I am interested to hear that a similar problem exists in Essex—as being 40 years of age and older. I would concur with that. It is extraordinary that when you see a group of 20 or 30 bikers in, say, Helmsley Square, and they take their helmets off, most of them have grey hair and grey beards. I think that they see their bikes as a source of eternal youth. However, I am absolutely certain that that is not how the residents regard them.

This Bill, much of which I support, introduces a number of steps to outlaw devices which prevent speed cameras operating. However, in North Yorkshire we appear to have a device that prevents the operation of any fixed speed cameras at all—namely, the police. That is perhaps surprising given that the evidence from the independent review of the safety camera programme by University College London and the PA Consulting Group found that cameras significantly reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured at camera sites—a point that has been made by other noble Lords.

Many of these bikers are tragically killed—one was killed recently just outside my house—and many are injured. Yet there seems to be a strange reluctance by the police to tackle the problem.

Like others, I take the view that many speed cameras are unnecessary and are simply designed as revenue earners. In North Yorkshire, however, communities plagued by these bikers have specifically requested cameras because of the problem. But the option appears to have been denied to them.

The activity of this group of bikers is known as "destination speeding". It is deliberate, extreme speeding either by individuals or by packs of 15, 20 or even more. They travel large distances to race their super-powered machines across the county's roads as though they were at Brand's Hatch with little or no fear of being caught. They overtake on blind corners in order to keep up with the ones in front, or in the rare event when they are stuck behind a car, they seem to sit only a few inches from the vehicle's tail, which is very unnerving for the driver concerned. They drive in a menacing and threatening way which upsets local residents and visitors alike.

There was an incident only the other day in my neighbouring town of Middle Ham, which some noble Lords may know is an important area for race-horse training. Strings of race horses were going out on to the gallops. Twenty or so of these bikes came through and the horses went everywhere. It was absolute mayhem and these chaps did not slow down at all.

No one can appreciate why, along with the Department for Transport guidelines, local feelings are being so blatantly ignored. It seems quite wrong to have such a wide variation in the interpretation of the guidelines throughout the country. All that happens is that this menace is exported to areas where these bikers know they can get away without prosecution.

The Bill's introduction of graduated fixed penalties should be welcomed. The idea has a logical ring to it and could go some way towards deterring the problem to which I am referring, but that will happen only if the people are caught.

This time of the year—summer—in North Yorkshire is the main season for destination bikers. I have been told that there are roads through the national parks on which bikers actually boast about reaching speeds—it is hard to believe—of 180 miles an hour. I know that that is eight miles an hour short of the figure cited by the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, but 180 miles an hour in a national park is really quite breathtaking.

I am not one who subscribes to the theory that life in a national park should be preserved in aspic, or that everyday life should be compromised simply because of a boundary, but there is a limit—or not, as the case may be. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, mentioned speed limit reductions on some country roads. In some circumstances that may be justified, but there is no point reducing the speed limit if the present speed limits are not being checked out. That is pointless. Those who so wantonly undermine the principles of the national park ethos deserve special attention.

I am not in any way anti-biker, far from it, but those people—I use my words carefully, and I do not think that I am exaggerating—are wanton criminals endangering not only their own lives but many others besides. It is simply unjust and unrealistic to bracket those dangerous criminal sociopaths in the same category as a driver out with his family who may have thoughtlessly driven at 68 miles an hour in a 60 mile an hour stretch of road or, indeed, my poor secretary, who got done the other day in Kendal for doing 33 miles an hour in a 30 mile an hour zone.

The Bill also introduces retraining courses, and I have no objection to them in principle. However, for the deliberate speeder—such as the bikers to whom I refer—the opportunity to trim a few points off the penalty might seem a good idea, but it will have no lasting effect on their behaviour. Frankly, offering them retraining courses is like teaching good manners to a mugger. He might learn the etiquette—he might even mug you more politely—but he is still a mugger and, sadly, the victim still remains the victim.

I appreciate that the acts of speeding and of installing noise enhancement boxes to exhaust systems—another problem—are both illegal and so the police have the powers to deal with them. I know that the Minister will say that. But why is it not being done? Why are they not taking action against those people?

We know that urban policing takes priority over rural areas—that is a fact—and that that is a contributory factor to the problem not being addressed with greater commitment. No doubt the problem is further enhanced by the fact that crime detection targets are easier to achieve by concentrating on urban areas to the detriment of rural dwellers. Furthermore—and this statistic has already been mentioned by at least one noble Lord—in England, when the Government came to power in 1997, they inherited 9,200 road traffic officers, I think; that figure has now dropped to about 6,280.

Whatever the reason, do the Government intend to take the problem of these lunatic bikers seriously and have regard to the genuine anger and frustration in the areas to which they come and interfere with people's lives? I will certainly consider whether appropriate amendments can be introduced to the Bill to help to address that problem but, in the mean time, I hope that the Minister will take a helpful and constructive approach to trying to deal with it.

Finally, I seek the Minister's clarification on a different matter. In the Explanatory Notes, on page 10, under the heading,

"Speed assessment equipment detection devices", there is an anomaly, for which I should be grateful for an explanation. The note states:

"The amendment defines a 'speed assessment equipment detection device' as 'a device, the purpose, or one of the purposes, of which is to detect or interfere with the operation of equipment used to assess the speed of motor vehicles'. The precise subset of the devices which will be prohibited will be identified in the regulations under section 41 of the RTA but it is not intended to include in the provision those devices that only contain information about camera site locations".

Is the intention behind the Bill that it will be an offence to have a device that interferes with the working of speed detectors, or is it also the intention for machines in motor cars devised to detect the presence of a speed camera to be made illegal? If the Minister could explain that to me, I should be extremely grateful.

Photo of Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen Labour 4:15, 8 June 2005

My Lords, I begin by welcoming the Bill and declaring a major interest in it as the current president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. In particular, I welcome the fact that my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham is the Minister with responsibility for the Bill because, as has been said, he is a former president of RoSPA and so knows its concerns and major interest in the Bill as well as I do. That makes my task a great deal easier.

RoSPA is an organisation covering safety across a wide area of our lives: in the home; at work; when we venture near the sea or inland rivers; in playgrounds and other leisure activities; and in many other areas besides. But it is safe to say that safety on the road is regarded by many who know of and work with RoSPA as a key part of its existence. Together with other organisations such as the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health and the British Safety Council, RoSPA concentrates on major issues of road safety.

One glance at the recent agenda of RoSPA's national road safety committee shows the importance placed on the issue. The May agenda included items on advanced driver training; a policy paper on helping drivers not to speed; the setting of local speed limits; draft responses to consultation papers on the review of road traffic offences involving bad driving; and development training for qualified motorcyclists—something in which the noble Earl, Lord Peel, may well be interested.

Its recent publications include a booklet on rural road safety, two new road safety posters—"Drivers Beware", which covers the law banning the use of hand-held mobile phones; and "The Morning After", which illustrates the length of time for which alcohol can stay in the body—and a booklet being devised with, among others, the Highways Agency and Surrey police aimed at 10 to 11 year-olds, exploring the consequences of throwing or dropping objects from bridges on to roads.

That gives a flavour of RoSPA's work and why the Road Safety Bill, which it has welcomed, is so important to it. The Bill contains a comprehensive package of measures designed to play a major part in achieving reduction targets and raising awareness of the need for everyone to be vigilant to that end.

However, all Bills need amendment and I now turn to the main issues raised by the Bill for RoSPA. Some of them have been raised already, but I make no apology for raising them again, because they are vital. They are: speeding, driver rehabilitation courses, drink driving, mobile phones, fatigue and a ban on speed camera detection and jamming devices.

The first issue is speeding. According to the Government's figures, driving too fast for the road conditions or exceeding the speed limit causes or contributes to one-third of all road accidents. There are 72,000 speed-related road accidents a year in Britain, in which 1,100 people are killed and 12,600 seriously injured. Speed is vital here. If a pedestrian is hit by a car at 40 miles per hour, in nine out of 10 cases he or she is likely to be killed. If a pedestrian is hit by a car at 30 miles an hour, the odds are about even that he will die. But if someone is hit by a car at 20 miles per hour, the odds are only one in 11 that he will be killed. The figures speak volumes.

The Bill allows the introduction of a graduated system of penalties for drivers caught speeding. Instead of the present system, where drivers receive three points on their licence, they would receive between two and six points. Secondary legislation will determine the structure to decide the level of points and fine to be applied.

However, the consultation already completed and published in September 2004 proposed that the lower penalty of two points would apply at speeds up to 39 mph in a 30 mph zone. RoSPA feels very strongly that that proposal is at odds with all the work that has been carried out by the Department for Transport, local authorities and organisations such as RoSPA. Drivers need a clear message that exceeding the speed limit can have severe consequences for vulnerable road users such as children and the elderly, both as pedestrians and as cyclists.

A great deal of work has been carried out to convince drivers that speeding can kill and cause severe injuries. Reducing the penalty from three to two points for driving at 39 mph in a 30 mph zone will reinforce the view of many drivers that such behaviour is acceptable. It is not and that is not the right message for the Government to be giving. I would welcome my noble friend's comments.

I turn to the ban on speed camera detection and jamming devices. RoSPA supports the measures in the Bill, which refers to equipment that can be used to detect or interfere with the operation of equipment used to assess the speed of motor vehicles. Such devices allow drivers to slow down for cameras which are active, or in the case of jamming devices simply ignore the presence of cameras. Cameras are situated on roads where there is an accident history and they highlight to drivers that however safe a piece of road looks, it is not. People have been hurt or killed there, and the road should be driven with caution. Drivers who use such devices choose to break the law and put the lives of other road users at risk. Such behaviour is extremely antisocial and should be seen as such.

My noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester has already spoken adequately and eloquently on mobile phones and I support all that he said. Therefore I turn to fatigue. It is well known that driver fatigue is a problem resulting in many thousands of road accidents each year. The Road Safety Bill proposes the introduction of trunk road rest areas, similar to French aires, which provide an alternative to motorway service areas.

Research suggests that up to 20 per cent of accidents on monotonous roads in Great Britain are fatigue related. Research in other countries also indicates that fatigue is a serious problem. Young male drivers, truck drivers, company car drivers and shift workers are the most at risk of falling asleep while driving. However, any driver travelling too-long distances or when they are tired is at risk of a sleep-related accident. The early hours of the morning and the middle of the afternoon are the peak times for fatigue accidents; and long journeys on monotonous roads, particularly motorways, are the most likely to result in a driver falling asleep. RoSPA therefore particularly welcomes the proposals in the Bill for more rest areas on trunk roads.

I turn to driver rehabilitation courses, which have been discussed: drink-drive courses, which allow drivers prosecuted for drink driving to reduce the length of their ban by successfully completing a drink-drive course as stipulated by the courts, have proved successful. The Road Safety Bill allows the extension of the scheme, a step welcomed by RoSPA.

However, we are disappointed that there is no extension to include drivers who have completed a driver improvement scheme course or a speed awareness course as an alternative to prosecution. RoSPA believes that such schemes should also be taken into account. I ask my noble friend to consider that point.

RoSPA would like to see several other related issues included in the legislation, particularly covering a lower drink-drive limit and enforcement of the drink-driving laws, both of which have already been mentioned. They will be returned to as the Bill progresses through the House.

The British Red Cross and the St John Ambulance have obviously been busy because I too have been asked to raise the role that first aid can play when road accidents occur. As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, told the House, 57 per cent of deaths caused by road accidents happen in the first few minutes after a crash; 85 per cent of those could be prevented if first aid were administered at the crash scene.

The Road Safety Bill is an excellent vehicle to carry a clause for a practical first aid assessment to be introduced into the driving test for drivers of motorcycles, cars, lorries and buses. I would welcome the Minister's views.

Finally I declare a particular interest in the Bill as my father was killed in a car crash outside our home in Market Rasen, a very rural area. I know at first hand how road accidents are life-changing for families and friends of victims, and road safety is very close to my heart.

Photo of The Earl of Glasgow The Earl of Glasgow Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport 4:26, 8 June 2005

My Lords, there is something unusual about this debate. When debating Bills concerning crime and punishment we usually refer to "them" and not "us". This Bill deals with offences that at one time or another nearly all of us have committed and are quite likely, honestly, to commit again. How many of us have never exceeded the speed limit? How many of us have never driven a short distance without fastening our seat belts? How many of us have never driven a car without at least one known or suspected defect? How many of us have never driven a car without a trace of alcohol in our bloodstream?

Of course most of us think that we know our own strengths and limitations. I think that I know when it is safe to overtake, when it is safe to drive at more than 60 mph and how much alcohol I can take before my driving is impaired. However, I am not everybody; and I may be wrong. Road safety laws—some of which will be decided during the Bill's passage—will have to apply to everyone: the responsible, which of course is "us"; and the irresponsible, which is "them". So to a large extent we are here to debate how great a punishment we ourselves deserve when and if we are caught.

We all approve of the Bill's aim: to reduce the number of deaths or serious accidents on the road; 3,400 per year is a shocking figure. In order to reduce road accidents we may have to introduce new, irritating and inconvenient restrictions. Those restrictions should be imposed only if they can be shown to help reduce road accidents, not, for instance, as a means of securing convictions. Speed traps are notorious in some parts of Scotland. Some of us doubt whether they are always set up entirely in the interests of road safety or to enable the police to secure their quota of convictions.

Many of us have talked about speeding, which is a difficult aspect of road safety. It is a question of where to draw the line. I would not draw it in such a severe way as the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson. We all accept the self-evident truth that high speeds kill and moderate speeds can save lives. But restrictive speed limits must be imposed only in places where excessive speed is most likely to cause accidents.

When drivers cannot see the reason for a particular speed restriction they tend to ignore it: for example, 30 mph limits imposed long before reaching built-up areas; or temporary motorway repair signs restricting one to 40 mph two or three miles before one reaches the roadworks. It is surely counterproductive to impose tough speed restrictions too widely. It diminishes the impact of speed limits that really do need to be strictly adhered to.

Equally, the Bill's exemptions for those who do not have to obey speed limits must be looked at carefully. They refer mostly to the emergency services, which must be able to reach serious accidents as quickly as possible, but it is not uncommon for pedestrians to be knocked down by speeding police cars. Do we really approve of police cars pursuing villains through crowded high streets at 90 mph? What about a policeman driving on motorways at 150 mph to test his car's capabilities? Apparently, that was not an offence.

One of the more imaginative aspects of the Bill is the proposals for dealing with drink-drivers. In those cases we are not just talking about binge drinkers returning from a riotous night out but also serious and often very sad alcoholics. Before they can ever be allowed to drive again, they are to be subjected to a medical test, quite rightly. Presumably, although it is not clear in the Bill, they will have to show that they have kicked the habit before being allowed back on the road. I would like the Minister to confirm that.

If a drink-driver wishes the period of his disqualification to be reduced, the courts in certain circumstances are to be given the power to allow the offender to take part, at his or her own expense, in an alcohol ignition interlock programme, which has been referred to several times. I was unaware of the scheme before reading the Bill but I am now intrigued by this wonderful new Heath Robinson device. If you want your car to start, you must breathe into a tube; if you have drunk no more than perhaps half a pint of beer, it will burst into life, however if there is too much alcohol in your bloodstream it will refuse to let you start it. I cannot understand why a young drunk could not get his non-driving, non-drinking girlfriend to breathe into the tube for him, and off he would go. But maybe this ingenious device already has an answer to that. In any event, I am thinking of buying some alcohol interlocks for my friends for Christmas.

As mentioned several times, a continuing road-safety danger is falling asleep at the wheel—in this case I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson. It is more likely to happen on motorways and dual carriageways, therefore I greatly welcome the imaginative idea of trunk-road picnic areas and the prospect of their introduction on motorways as well as dual carriageways. Sleepiness can overcome all of us, sometimes very suddenly and unexpectedly. It does not only happen after a good lunch or a late night; sometimes we have an immediate need to stop and rest. At present on many motorways there are long stretches with no turn-off. The new roadside picnic area scheme is intended to solve that problem. Incidentally, I was once awoken by a policeman while asleep in my car on the hard-shoulder. I think that he let me off with a caution, but I remember it very well.

Many noble Lords have already mentioned another very imaginative idea that deserves serious consideration and should be incorporated into the Road Safety Bill: new drivers taking their driving test for the first time might also be obliged to pass a first-aid course. That is extremely sensible. As the noble Baroness mentioned, according to the Red Cross, 57 per cent of road deaths take place between the time of an accident and the arrival of the emergency services. If first aid could have been administered during that time, many lives may have been saved.

We all surely support the Bill in principle; it is the details that we need to get right. It is surely a question of getting the right balance between too many restrictions and successfully reducing the number of deaths and serious accidents on the road. But I still believe that the best way to reduce road accidents is to encourage more people to travel by train.

Photo of Viscount Simon Viscount Simon Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 4:34, 8 June 2005

My Lords, I apologise in advance for speaking for much longer and in much more detail than I had originally intended. I was interested to hear the opening remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow. I have never driven with any alcohol in my body, as I am teetotal; I have never driven a car with a known defect; I have worn a seatbelt since the very early 1960s; and I regularly exceed the speed limit, usually in a marked or unmarked police traffic vehicle.

The debate about the means both to manage speed and to enforce speed compliance remains heated but I make the generalised observation that very few people have been killed or seriously injured by a stationary vehicle—speed kills. With the creation of 20 mph zones, we will be required to consider for the first time controlling the speed of cyclists.

The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety has drawn my attention to the third report of SARTRE (Social Attitudes to Road Traffic Risk in Europe)(2004), which makes very interesting reading. The report is a survey of opinions of representative samples of 1,000 drivers in each of 23 countries across Europe. The results of the national surveys are shown both separately and as a comparison with the European average. The survey was undertaken between September 2002 and April 2003, and the figures offer a reliable indication of drivers' attitudes across Europe. In a number of countries, they can be compared with the previous two SARTRE studies.

The key conclusions on the views of UK drivers about speed were: 87 per cent see driving too fast as a cause of accidents; 68 per cent support the fitment of speed limiters; 75 per cent support the fitment of black-box recorders to help investigate accidents; 38 per cent have an expectation of being monitored for speed; and 78 per cent support the use of cameras for speed enforcement. In all those cases, UK support for measures is higher than the European average.

It is also interesting to note that, when asked, "Have you been caught for speeding in the past three years?", only 9 per cent of UK drivers answered in the affirmative. Of course, it is an affront to our dignity actually to admit to committing a criminal offence. This was lower than the European average, suggesting that, despite the criticism of enforcement in the media, UK drivers are more likely to obey the law than their counterparts in the rest of Europe. Another interpretation could be that there are more drivers who exceed the limits but who have not been caught—yet. Perhaps that would be a good argument for random, high-visibility, mobile enforcement to complement or enhance fixed-site intervention.

The long-term trend, indicated by the three studies, is that support for lower speed limits in urban areas and for the fitment of speed limiters has grown. Limiters are now required to be fitted to all new goods and passenger vehicles over 3,500 kilos. The Government must build on those studies, which conclude that there is considerable support for road-safety measures among drivers.

PACTS has also drawn my attention to the three-year evaluation of the national safety camera programme—PA Consulting, 2004—which concluded that there was a 40 per cent reduction in those killed and seriously injured at camera sites. As an aside, is there evidence to show that casualty hotspots have been displaced? I do not know. The programme also showed a 33 per cent reduction in personal injury collisions and a 71 per cent reduction in breaking the speed limit at fixed sites. The result of that was a decrease of 100 in fatalities per annum and of 870 KSI. That equated to a positive cost-benefit ratio of around 4:1, with benefits of avoided injuries in excess of £221 million compared with enforcement costs of about £54 million.

Pilkington, in 2005, has attempted to produce a systematic review of the effectiveness of safety cameras. The conclusions of his study, which looked at 14 observational studies of cameras around the world, was that cameras were an effective intervention to reduce road casualties. Collisions fell by between 5 per cent and 69 per cent, injuries were reduced by between 12 per cent and 65 per cent, and fatalities were cut by between 17 per cent and 71 per cent. Some will question the wide differential between the figures but it must be remembered that it covers camera sites around the world. The authors of the study make the important observation that all reviews showed reductions in accidents and injuries, thereby confirming the effectiveness of cameras. But were the authors given the opportunity to compare that to the effectiveness of random high-visibility enforcement?

The third independent study to confirm the effectiveness of cameras has been undertaken by the university academics Mountain, Hirst and Maher. It concluded that speed cameras had reduced accidents by an average of 22 per cent, with a fall of 11 per cent in fatal and serious accidents and a mean reduction of 4 mph at cameras.

The other area of concern in camera policy has been the apparent link between the increase in reliance on the use of cameras and the fall in the number of police. Critics of cameras have suggested that the growth in cameras has resulted in fewer traffic police officers undertaking less enforcement. However, the figures do not appear to bear out such a conclusion.

In each year from 1997 to 2003, the number of drivers caught speeding by camera has increased. For the same period, the figure for drivers caught speeding by police officers fell to a low in 2001 but has been increasing markedly since. It is interesting to note that the increase in those caught by police officers between 2002 and 2003 of 43 per cent is comparable with the figure for those caught by camera—44 per cent in camera activity for the same period. It is also worthy of note that there has been a steady increase in the number of deaths on the motorway network as the number of dedicated police traffic officers has been reduced between 1994 and 2003.

Where does that get us? The combination of driver attitude to speed and enforcement may explain the growing compliance with the 30 miles per hour limit identified by the DfT. Regular advertising and consistent enforcement at last appears to be reaping results and is, of course, changing behaviour in urban areas where vulnerable road users are most at risk.

Being somewhat specific, I am led to believe that the roads policing section of the Police Federation of England and Wales has concerns on certain areas of the Bill. Before I go further, I remind noble Lords of my hands-on association with roads policing and of the advanced police driving qualifications that I have obtained over the years.

Clause 1 refers to road safety grants yet, although the intention is to be supported, there is insufficient detail or clarity in the clause to ensure appropriate regulation or control of where the funds will be targeted. It appears that the new clause replaces Section 40 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Clause 4 refers to vehicle examiners giving out fixed-penalty tickets. Although it is understandable that VOSA wants its officers to issue tickets for roadside offences, it means that the Bill will create two separate enforcement agencies—chief constables, and the Secretary of State working on behalf of the vehicle examiners. They may not necessarily be working together using the same criteria for the likes of enforcement and cautions. With separate ways of consolidating a fixed penalty fine, it is unclear how that will work in practice. Furthermore, the proposal does little to show how any follow-up inquiries over non-payment or other related offences might be pursued by vehicle examiners. There is much more—I repeat "much more"—to enforcement than simply issuing fixed-penalty fines.

Clause 10 deals with some of the inherent problems that police officers face on a daily basis with regard to the current inability effectively to police foreign or itinerant drivers who commit offences on our roads. At the moment, Section 25 of PACE has to be used but, because of the difficulties in using that section and the very time-consuming procedures involved, it is used only in extreme cases. The initiative to have a careful look at how we can best overcome those problems is to be supported. Provision contained in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act may go some way to overcome that problem, but the Act still omits one very important provision. An offender driver can now have his photograph taken if issued with a fixed penalty notice for not wearing a seat belt, but a photograph cannot be taken for the offence of bad driving. The logic escapes me completely.

However, the Bill proposes in simple terms that a constable or a vehicle examiner can impose a fine against such a driver. That seems fine in theory but, in practice, are police officers expected to carry swipe-card and debit-card machines in their vehicles in addition to all their equipment and paperwork? Where people cannot produce a suitable card, are officers to take errant motorists to the nearest cash machine to withdraw money? It is well known that that happens elsewhere, but will it work here? I do not know. The clause proposes that, in certain circumstances, the officer may seize the vehicle or prohibit further use of it. The logic of the clause is commendable, but very careful thinking is needed on the practicalities of how it is likely to work, as it might well create more problems than it is intended to solve.

I do not intend to repeat what I said in my brief contribution to the debate on the gracious Speech, except to ask my noble friend when Her Majesty's Government will reduce the drink-drive limit. On a news item last week, a professor said that any alcohol impaired driving ability. That is well known, so when is the limit to be reduced? When will breath tests for drivers stopped by the police or involved in collisions be recommended at all times? The constabulary which carries out almost 10 times fewer breath tests than some other forces also has one of the worst accident rates in the country. Is there a connection between the two facts? I wonder.

Clause 13 is about alcohol-operated ignition locks, of which we heard from others. There has to be guarded support for the idea, but more research needs to be done. What is the integrity of the system in operation and what is the impact on the criminal justice system? Can it be foolproof? Can only the driver operate the system or can a passenger lean over and blow into the lock? Will it be accurate?

Clause 15 refers to a variable tier for fixed penalties. Once more, I have no intention to repeat what I said in the debate on the gracious Speech other than to say that, although there is scope to offer a lower penalty-point system for marginal excess speeding—there is not at the moment—that should not include areas limited to 30 miles an hour or lower. Indeed, the penalty should be increased to reflect the inherent danger posed in those limited areas.

Clause 17 gains support for certain exemption from speed limits provided that the driver is trained and qualified to the highest standard, and that the maintenance of the vehicles is of the highest and most rigorous standard. I support that.

Clause 18 is fully supported, but the new consultation on driving penalties for causing death by driving without due care might well lead to some problems in practice. Nobody is going to plead guilty where death is involved, which means going to the Crown Court. Will juries convict? I very much doubt it on the basis of the "there but for the grace of God go I" argument. To be truly effective, the clause should include a custodial sentence on summary conviction. That would lessen the gap between magistrates and Crown Courts and give a clear indication that the Government intended to deal with the issue in an appropriate manner.

Clause 20 refers to using a vehicle in a dangerous condition. Has sufficient thought been given to the clause? What can a "vehicle in a dangerous condition" encompass? It might be a jagged edge on the front wing of a car driven by an otherwise law-abiding motorist who requires the vehicle for work, and thereby commits a minor offence on the scale. It might be a major or serious defect of a goods or passenger-carrying vehicle, given the nature of the danger likely to be caused and the actual use of the vehicle. Therefore, should not certain discretion be allowed, with optional not mandatory disqualification for the second offence within three years?

In Clause 24, a period of disqualification can be reduced by attending a driver rehabilitation course. My only comment is that, where the very serious offence is of causing death by driving without due care and attention while under the influence of drink or drugs, the period of disqualification should not be reduced. Further, that driver should have to prove that they have taken a DSA driving course—not a rehabilitation course—in order to regain their driving licence. Perhaps the driver should take both courses.

A report published a few weeks ago by the DfT found that there was a cost benefit in fitting reflective line markings to newly registered vehicles of more than 7.5 tonnes. That has been mentioned by other noble Lords. It is sensible for seeing larger vehicles on the roads, but why only vehicles of more than 7.5 tonnes? Why should the measure not be extended to all cars and all vehicles? Any vehicle stopped without any lighting—it might be on a major road such as a motorway or dual carriageway—will cause tremendous problems if it cannot be seen and will cause other accidents. This might be a good solution.

I noted from my reading of the Bill published before the election that it included a provision on the enforcement of drivers' hours, which appears to have been omitted from the Bill before us. I hope that we will be able to correct that omission.

I have already said much more than I intended, and I apologise to some worthy organisations that provided me with detailed briefings that I have been unable to address today.

Photo of The Earl of Courtown The Earl of Courtown Conservative 4:49, 8 June 2005

My Lords, I, too, thank Her Majesty's Government for bringing forward this important Bill so early in this Parliament. It will also be appreciated by many people outside this House who will be taking a keen interest in what is said. Much of the Bill is admirable and I wish it well. But this is a road safety Bill and, as my noble friend Lord Hanningfield and many other noble Lords have said, when the Bill has passed through both Houses of Parliament we do not want to feel that there has been a missed opportunity to make our roads safer.

I will try not to repeat too much of what has been said. As regards drink driving, I am glad that the Secretary of State will be able to require the worst offenders to retake their tests. I also note that at the end of a ban reoffenders can be stopped from driving pending medical inquiries. Is the period that they can be stopped from driving part of the ban or an additional period?

It also interests me that there will be a pilot scheme to introduce alcohol ignition interlock systems. As the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, said, I, too, am concerned that there could be abuse of the system. The people involved in those systems are likely to be the reoffenders, who could get up to some tricks.

I notice that the fitting of detection devices, which I understand to include the detection and blocking of speed cameras and guns in the vicinity, will be prohibited. But GPS systems, which show where there are speed cameras, will not be banned. They are one and the same thing. They both show where a speed camera is. Drivers can slow down beforehand and speed up again afterwards. I find the warning signs that tell drivers they are breaking the speed limit extremely useful when I drive around the countryside. Probably, they are produced at far less cost than speed cameras.

Mobile phones have been mentioned by many noble Lords. I am pleased that penalties for using them have been increased. As I understand the legislation, so-called hands-free phones can still be used. There is no such thing as a hands-free phone: a button still has to be pressed in order to use it. Why do the Government not consider a total ban on using phones while driving?

My noble friend Lord Hanningfield and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, mentioned the use of reflective coats. I have a reflective coat in my van to wear when I visit building sites. I must admit that when I visit sites that are close to roads and I am wearing the reflective coat, I feel a great deal safer. I know that I am highly visible.

My noble friend Lord Peel mentioned the problems with motorcycles in his part of the world. I live and work in the Cotswolds, where increasing numbers of motorcycles tour the countryside. I know that many of them are part of perfectly respectable motorcycle groups, but there are some who, as my noble friend said, overtake at blind corners, speed and generally make a nuisance of themselves.

My noble friend also mentioned his secretary who was caught driving at 33 miles per hour. My wife did not really want me to mention her, but she was caught doing 35 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour speed limit. She is an active member of a road safety group and found it rather embarrassing. She took the choice of attending speed awareness training.

I do not know whether the Minister has ever been on such a course or has had the opportunity to look into how they operate, but my understanding is that these courses are open only to those who are just over the speed limit; that is, people like my wife who is probably the safest driver I know. She drives me round the bend, but she is still one of the safest drivers that I know. She has been through unfortunate circumstances. She was shown dire photographs of road crashes, and the consequences of speeding were drummed into her. To a certain extent that is good. If people are aware that any speeding offence could result in someone's death, that must be good. But we are pointing the gun at the wrong group of people.

A number of issues are mentioned in the Bill: particularly close to my heart is the issue of people being killed in road accidents. Many people outside the House feel that due recognition in law is not given. Killing on the road should be treated in the same way as any other killing. Therefore, the proper charge following a culpable road death must be a manslaughter charge. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, there should be a charge concerning injuring people, which causes immense expense to the police, the hospitals and the families involved.

The Minister talked about making roads safer. The Bill looks at the treatment of persistent offenders. The problem with persistent offenders is that they do not have driving licences, insurance or, possibly, roadworthy cars. How do we treat those individuals? They just get back on the road, taking no notice of what the courts have dealt them. I hesitate to say it, but a custodial sentence should be considered for those repeat offenders.

This is an interesting debate and good points have been made by many noble Lords. I look forward to the Minister's response.

A

The noble Lord, makes many insightful comments demonstrating a deep and complete understanding of the topic. I am glad there is someone willing to say what is correct and propper in the upper chamber. His very essence underlies his unpretentious wisdom.

Best wishes,
Hannah Stiven, Alexander Marshall and Richard AStopford

Submitted by Alexander Marshall Esq

Photo of Lord Tanlaw Lord Tanlaw Crossbench 4:58, 8 June 2005

My Lords, the Government have an honourable record on road safety, which goes back to the days of Barbara Castle, who introduced the breathalyser, and pedestrian crossings. I think that the breathalyser did not get much support from the Prime Minister at the time, but nevertheless she got it through.

I find it rather bizarre, but I may have to declare an interest in astronomy and horology because of the two questions that I will ask the Minister. They concern the Earth's rotation, the polar tilt, the seasonal changes, the equinoxes and the solstices. My first question relates to Clause 16, in particular the legality of speed assessment equipment. My second question concerns the summer-time period that seems to be excluded from the Bill, to which the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester referred.

First, we have come a long way from policemen lurking behind the bushes with a stopwatch to the so-called Gatso speed detection device. Some noble Lords will recall that this device is named after Maurice Gatsonides, the popular racing driver of the 1950s, on whose invention it is based. It takes two photographs half a second apart, from which the speed of the vehicle can be calculated and recorded. He invented the device to increase his speed going round corners on the race track.

That led to my late friend Archie Scott-Brown being able to adopt the four-wheel drift, which means that you put the accelerator on when going round a corner while maintaining the curves. But in fact, Archie Scott-Brown could not get a driving licence because he was seriously disabled in that he had only one arm. That was a great tragedy because he was such a successful racing driver and could have shown people what can be overcome.

However, I understand that all automatic law enforcement equipment on the roads must be based on the accurate timing of how and when an offence was committed. I suspect that split-second timing is required to give an accurate picture of a vehicle's speed, and the clock used to undertake this task should also give the time and date of the alleged offence. The clocks and speed assessment devices will, I presume, take their time from the pips at Rugby, which is atomically-based time, known for short as UTC but known internationally as Co-ordinated Universal Time.

That was also the title of a Bill I had the privilege of steering through this House in 1997. It sought to co-ordinate the legal timescale of this country, as defined in the Interpretation Act 1978, with UTC time as transmitted by the pips from Rugby. That is the legal timescale of all the industrialised nations except the United Kingdom. The Bill passed through the House, but the Labour government of the day did not see fit to make it law. Indeed, some noble Lords may recall that during the Second Reading of the Bill, I anticipated that if different timescales were not harmonised, problems would arise in the law courts, where precise timing is an issue.

I shall try to explain briefly the difference between the two timescales, one based mainly on the atomic timescale and the other on the rotational speed of the earth, which is the basis of our legal timescale. GMT is an earth rotation timescale that in the 1920s was renamed Universal Time. There is no such thing as GMT. UT was split into three different forms, with which I shall not weary the House. But GMT no longer has a formal definition. In fact, our legal timescale is Universal Time 1, but no clock in this country to which the civil population has access records UT1.

The civil timescale, the pips from Rugby by which we all set our watches and clocks, is a hybrid based in part on the atomic timescale and in part on the rotation of the earth. Every year it is adjusted by what some people call the leap second. In 2007, because of the intricacies of GPS satellites and the forthcoming new Galileo satellite to be used for navigation purposes, it is quite possible that we will have to stop the leap second. That will mean that the legal timescale of this country will continue to become slower and more out of synch with the civil timescale by which we all set our clocks.

I say again what I said in 1997. This issue could arise with the time-stamping of important mail, which has legal connotations and, indeed, in things like speed assessment devices. The devices use UTC, not the legal timescale. I feel that it is important for the Minister to say whether these devices are legal or illegal because they do not use the legal timescale of the country.

I have tabled a Parliamentary Question for 22 June next in order to note that there is in fact a difference of seven seconds between the pips transmitted for digital radios and those transmitted for analogue radios. In relation to this Bill, where particular lengths of road are subject to timed systems so that at certain times a speed limit applies and at others it does not, if someone has a digital radio fitted in their car it will be seven seconds out. It is not fair for someone to be caught by an automatic system timed to the Rugby pips when in fact they would not have really broken the law. Some direction on that would be helpful.

My next point concerns a matter raised by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, of which the Minister is a past president, and we have heard a very good speech from its current president. However, have they not read the parliamentary briefings that were distributed to myself and others on summer time? Having read the briefing, I went immediately to the Library in order to find out whether any reference is made to it in the government paper, Tomorrow's Roads: safer for everyone—the first three year review. I asked the staff to pick out the paragraph in which summer time would be covered so as to prepare for this debate. But I was told that it could not be found. I asked for the entire 51-page document to be printed out, and not one mention of summer time is made.

I then asked about the first paper, Tomorrow's Roads: safer for everyone 2000, again 51 pages long. How many noble Lords have read this stuff, I do not know. On going through that paper, I found in Chapter 5 some five lines which state:

"The conclusion was that this might save over 100 deaths per year and taken together with serious injuries save well over 400 such casualties . . . A saving of this magnitude is something we must take seriously".

How serious are five lines in all the bumf produced here? I do not call that serious at all. It states:

"But a change to SDST would have much wider ramifications which need to be considered".

What are we doing about this? How is it to be considered? I have raised the question about summer time on many occasions, as have other noble Lords. But it gets exactly the same answer as that of noble Lords on the other side of the House. Indeed, I think that the Liberal Democrats make the same link. They are dominated by their party managers. The party managers are advising the Government, Ministers and the parties opposite not to get involved with time change.

We have before us a road safety Bill and they have avoided the question: only five lines among 75 pages of stuff on which the Bill has been based. Is this Bill about saving lives or not? I believe that it is. The detail of the Bill almost suggests setting roads tests for kids on tricycles. It goes right down the line, but it misses the point.

Of course it has an answer for Scottish hill farmers. I have a declared interest as a Scottish hill farmer. My cows and sheep cannot read the hours on a clock. I have said that before. My shepherd does not mind an extra hour in bed. Anyway, most farming is now done indoors. People complain about buildings. Builders today work in plastic cocoons which are not affected by temperature and are supplied with plenty of internal light. It is a nonsense and it is for a purely political reason that this is not brought in. That is a disgrace. It ruins the whole of this well intentioned Bill that is in the tradition of Labour's efforts to improve road safety.

When the Minister responds, I think that he must explain why the issue has been missed out this time. I just do not know. Will there be an amendment to the Bill? The motoring organisations, the AA Trust and the RAC Foundation, have both said that they would strongly recommend, along with RoSPA, the reintroduction of a trial period of continuous summer time. What on earth is wrong with that? The statistics we have to go on are years out of date. Why can they not be brought up to date? They are not brought up to date for political reasons. Tell the political managers to get lost and go back to road safety. I want to suggest that to the Minister.

Will the Government incorporate an amendment or bring forward a separate Bill to introduce a trial period for lighter evenings similar to the one they threw out of the Commons only the other day, and similar to the experiment tried from 1968–71? If not, then on the last Saturday of this October, when we savour our extra hour in bed while we turn back the clocks, let us remember that we will be sentencing to death more than 100 unnamed men, women and children and consigning more than 400 unnamed children to hospital. Soon they will all have names, when they have been incorporated in an updated edition of the Government's document Tomorrow's Roads: safer for everyone on which the Road Safety Bill has been built.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 5:10, 8 June 2005

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, on the wonderful case he has made for double summer time, which I have supported for many years, as did my noble friend Lord Faulkner today. I shall certainly put my name to an amendment; I might even help draft one. I do not know how we will get round this business of UTCs and leap seconds, but I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, will be able to sort it out for us. As he said, this is terribly important.

I declare an interest as president of the Road Danger Reduction Forum. Like other noble Lords, I very much welcome the Bill. It has been a long time coming, and its proposals are really good. But as others have said, there are many lost opportunities. We cannot stop reminding ourselves that 3,500 people a year are killed; I suspect that we all know at least one person who has been killed or seriously injured in an accident. We have to ask what we are doing about it.

I support many of the suggestions that have been made today, probably most of them. If one tries to put these accidents in the round, virtually all of them are caused by inappropriate speed and lack of enforcement. It is not just the car speed in itself. We must not forget the pedestrians and the cyclists, particularly on narrow roads where there is no pavement. Something called the fear factor arises—people do not go out, cycle or walk. So even if you think, in your large air-conditioned car, that it is all right to go over the speed limit, you may be causing fear in someone who will not go out. Pedestrians and cyclists have just as much right as motorists to use our roads.

I support the lower speed limits that have been suggested. But we must not forget that whatever they are, if drivers exceed these limits, they are committing an offence, possibly a criminal offence, and increasing the risk of accidents. Why are the Government continuing to pussyfoot around this argument about fixed or movable cameras and whether they are painted yellow? I think that the yellow paint was the idea of a former Minister for Transport, Mr John Spellar, who clearly liked yellow paint.

What is wrong with random breath tests? If you have not broken the law, you have nothing to fear. The evidence quoted by my noble friend Lady Gibson and other colleagues shows overwhelming support for better enforcement and lower limits.

I was interested in the comments of the noble Earls, Lord Glasgow and Lord Courtown, which I summarise as "People like us aren't criminals". That is probably unfair, but there is a terrible tendency for politicians to think in that way. But if we exceed the speed limit and our alcohol intake is over the limit, then we are criminals and we have to be treated as such.

My noble friend Lord Simon talked about speed limiters on vehicles exceeding 3.5 tonnes. The Euro NCAP website shows the accident rating of all different types of cars in Europe. There is a rating for safety inside the car and one for safety outside the car. Unsurprisingly, the heaviest ones, which might be called Chelsea tractors, have the worst accident rate outside the car. Since they are probably also the heaviest, it might be interesting to consider lowering the 3.5 tonne limit to 2 tonnes, which would mean that these beastly things would have speed limiters on them. That would be another way of making sure that they obeyed the law, at least on motorways. That is something to consider, possibly in Committee.

The two issues I want to focus on concern police car speeding and railway bridges, level crossings and roads. The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, talked about police cars speeding; Clause 17 seeks to exempt the police and other emergency vehicles from compliance with speed limits. I am very worried about that.

While I was cycling down St Giles in Oxford one morning, I was overtaken by a police car that I estimated was doing about 70 mph, with its blue light flashing and hooter going. Everybody was scattering to get out of its way. I wrote to the chief constable and asked why the driver felt that he needed to do 70 mph. The chief constable was very helpful but his staff could not actually find the record of a police car going down St Giles that morning with its blue light flashing, or any other police car. It was suggested that it was probably part of the police driving school and they do not have records of where police drivers play chasing criminals with flashing lights. I suggest that if the chief constable does not know where his cars are, there is something wrong with his system.

The second example is that of the chief superintendent, Les Owen, who was caught doing 82 mph in a 40 mph zone on the North Circular when he was late for a meeting. It was lucky he was caught because that is not always the case. The third example is that of the chief constable of a Midlands police force who was caught doing 140 miles an hour down the M1, not with his blue light flashing.

I received a Written Answer in March showing that in 2003–04, one policeman was killed and 38 were seriously injured in accidents involving police cars. But 30 other people were killed and another 100 were seriously injured due to police car accidents. It is interesting, because the information in the Answer showed the difference between the various police forces. The wide variation in numbers between forces must indicate something about the instructions that drivers are given because it cannot just be a coincidence.

There is an argument for exploring, possibly in Committee, something that would restrict police cars speeding to times when they can demonstrate that they are responding to a genuine emergency call. I have no evidence that fire engines or ambulances behave in this way. I think it is a police car thing—we see it around Westminster all the time. It is sad to have to say this, but they need reining in if more people are not to get killed. Frankly, to have 31 people killed in a year by police cars and 138 seriously injured is far too many.

On roads crossing railways, I should like to raise two issues. The first is bridge bashing, which happens when vehicles—usually heavy lorries—hit bridges and get jammed underneath. The trains have to stop while an engineer comes out, because if the bridge had been damaged there would be a serious derailment. The lorry driver sits there or maybe he runs away. Last year there were 2,343 such incidents in the UK and they caused 25,000 train delay minutes. That is a difficult concept to appreciate, but if each train is delayed by 10 minutes, it amounts to 2,500 trains delayed in that way. And that is before you consider the safety issues.

I should like to explore in Committee the creation of a specific offence of driving into a railway bridge—there is no such offence at the moment—as well as one of failing to report a collision with a railway bridge, which is equally serious.

My third proposal is to make it easier for Network Rail to erect free-standing bridge protection beams; in other words, a square arch in front of the bridge. If a lorry hits that, there is a good chance that it will stop before it hits the bridge. A lot of local authorities oppose this idea, but we ought to explore it because it would mean that the bridge is not damaged and that drivers might take more care. If they hit it, it is at least to be hoped that they will not do it again.

A second issue relating to railways is level crossings. As noble Lords will know, most quoted railway accidents are caused either by suicides or by people having accidents on level crossings. By "people", I mean road users, who are usually drivers.

We could go into all the accidents that have taken place, but two issues ought to be explored. The first is to make Network Rail a statutory consultee for any planning application which affects the amount of traffic passing over a level crossing. There have been some ridiculous cases of new estates being built whose only access is across a railway. People wonder why traffic jams and accidents occur. But Network Rail is never consulted about it.

The second issue to be explored is to make the relevant highways authority responsible for the safety of the highway users, so that, one hopes, it would not put up a bus stop 10 yards beyond a level crossing which creates a tailback across it, with somebody getting stuck on it.

These issues have been discussed with officials. I hope that my noble friend will be able to look at them with favour. Other than that, I look forward to some interesting times in Committee and thereafter.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport 5:21, 8 June 2005

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing this wide-ranging Bill. I commend the Government's efforts on road safety.

We the usual suspects have the opportunity to save far more lives than all the efforts of the Home Office team looking at anti-terrorism legislation. All noble Lords will be pleased that this Bill is an early Lords starter, with plenty of time to examine it.

Before making any substantive comments, I should remind the House of my interests. I am president of the Heavy Transport Association; an active patron of the Road Rescue Recovery Association; and a serving TA officer involved in logistics. I hold a class 1 HGV licence, which is not as good as the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and I am a time-expired qualified army driving instructor, but I could requalify quickly if Mr Blair made it necessary. Finally, I privately operate some very heavy goods vehicles.

I have an anxiety that the Government may be responding to pressure from road safety organisations to increase penalties for road traffic offences in order to take greater account of the consequences of an offence; that is, if someone is killed or seriously injured. I have two difficulties with this approach. First, why does one bad motorist who causes a fatal accident receive a heavier penalty than an even worse offender whose victim does not die, perhaps because he was wearing a seatbelt or perhaps because of the rapid intervention, one hopes, of a doctor or first-aider?

Secondly, we know perfectly well that the majority of bad accidents involve young drivers. They are rarely deterred by penalties and they think that they are immortal. Before any noble Lord intervenes on me, I have some suggestions to deal with the latter.

I make no apologies for using the word "accident"; it is very useful. Many noble Lords, and those outside the House as well, believe that there is no such thing as an accident, and they are right. Many accidents are unnecessary and involve offences, but, most importantly, they are avoidable and reducible, as the Minister and many other noble Lords have pointed out. Our record is good and improving, but we all know that we can do even better.

On roads, I draw particular attention to the desirability of grade-separated junctions on trunk roads, and I am grateful for those that I have seen built on the A1 south of Stamford. Every one of them prevents a brutal, high-impact accident occurring at its location. Roundabouts can reduce severity of accidents, but there is a heavy penalty in fuel consumption, particularly for goods vehicles, and in slow-down of traffic flow.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, talked about the problem of bridge-bashing. He suggested the use of a "sacrificial structure", if I may put it that way, and I strongly support him. Noble Lords should be aware that a bridge-bashing accident can be fatal.

We need also to remove all possible confusion as to the height of a bridge. Therefore, bridge heights need to be shown in metric measurements only. In fact, all dimensions and distances on UK roads ought to be expressed metrically; that is, in metres and kilometres. Why are we persisting with medieval measurements while we are, or at least we were, considering joining a single currency? If we worked only in kilometres, our speedometers would have a much clearer display, making it easier to comply with speed limits. When I was working with Smiths Industries, we made 3,000 speedometers containing the wrong odometer gearing mechanism. They were fitted to cars and every single one had to be withdrawn.

What does a continental businessman think when he comes to the UK and sees a sign which states: "London 56 miles"? It means nothing to him. Most of us will have experience of kilometres on the Continent, but what would we think if we saw a sign in France which stated: "Paris 80 leagues"? It would mean nothing to us.

We religiously test our cars and goods vehicles every year, but few accidents are caused primarily by failure of the vehicle. Incidentally, I need some reassurance about Clause 20, which may have some unintended consequences. It deals with compulsory disqualification for the second offence of driving a dangerous vehicle. I am not suggesting relaxing the testing regime, far from it. If we did so, we would soon have far more accidents caused by defective vehicles. But the vast majority of accidents is caused by a failure on the part of the driver or, to put it more charitably, driver error. Most of the offences which your Lordships have mentioned have an underlying cause of poor driver skills. If a motorist speeds, his driving is simply not up to standard.

We could address this problem by making the driving test even harder, but it is already quite hard; it is a high hurdle. Incidentally, a question has to be raised about the driving test. About 50 per cent of candidates fail, but are we failing the right 50 per cent? For instance, girls tend to fail for failing to make normal progress, but few accidents are caused primarily by failing to make normal progress.

The driving test should be seen only as a start and not a once-in-a-lifetime event. Pass Plus is welcome, but those who take it are not the problem. They are already taking their responsibilities very seriously. So, in summary, we are testing vehicles annually and we test drivers only once in their lives at the age of 17 or 18. We then assume that their driving skills will improve continuously thereafter. Thankfully, in most cases, they do, at least in some respects.

Where a fleet driver training scheme is implemented, accident rates in that fleet can be reduced by about 20 per cent, irrespective of the age or the experience of the drivers. This is because everyone's driving skills can be improved. There is no such thing as a perfect driver.

It would be political suicide to suggest that every driver should be retrained every five years, but it could reduce accidents by another 10 or 15 per cent. That would of course impact on the cost of insurance and would probably be cost effective.

Clauses 23 and 24 deal with driver training courses. I cannot avoid detecting some timidity on the part of the Government, and in Committee I shall table amendments to provide for retraining for most drivers who commit moving traffic offences. Experience of pilot schemes shows that those courses are taken seriously and that most of the students enjoy them. Some noble Lords may query the cost. First, I should not be surprised if the cost of the training was not exceeded by the direct avoidable costs of the accidents to the drivers and operators of the vehicle, in terms of insurance costs and vehicle operating costs. Secondly, there is a high avoidable cost to the state of road traffic accidents. But finally, and perhaps more importantly, it is morally wrong to allow motorists to continue to drive when we know that their driving is not up to standard and we do nothing about it.

I hate overtaking anything on a single carriageway. It is inherently dangerous, with potentially a very high impact speed that is often in excess of 100 mph, which is not survivable in the event of an accident. Many noble Lords may not be aware that the speed limit for a heavy goods vehicle on a single carriageway is 40 mph, no matter how good the single carriageway is. Unless there is a central reservation in the road, the speed limit for a heavy goods vehicle is 40 mph. I shall support my noble friend Lord Hanningfield in his amendment to increase the speed limit to 50 mph for a heavy goods vehicle on a single carriageway. Of course, there will be single carriageways for which that is not suitable, but then we can have a lower speed limit for a heavy goods vehicle.

The Minister will probably claim in winding up the debate that HGVs are not able to stop as quickly. But he may be forgetting that HGVs enjoy much better visibility because the driver is higher up. Also, most of the time, HGVs braking potential is limited by tyre adhesion and not by the efficiency of the brakes, which is probably why they all have to have anti-lock braking systems.

I also fear that there may be a hidden statistical problem. A head-on collision involving two cars, one of which is overtaking a heavy goods vehicle, might not be recorded as an accident involving a heavy goods vehicle. If any work has been done on that problem—perhaps by the TRL—I should be extremely grateful if the Minister could draw it to my attention by writing to me.

Many noble Lords have referred to alcohol. The Bill covers compulsory retests, but I am not sure why they click in after a two-year ban. Why not a one-year ban? In addition, some noble Lords have pointed to other countries with lower blood-alcohol levels. I am pleased that the Government have not gone down that route; most of the countries with lower BACs also have lighter penalties, which would send entirely the wrong signal. It would almost certainly increase the number of inadvertent incidents of "morning-after" offences, even if the consumption the night before was quite modest.

I am intrigued about the alco-lock provisions in Clause 13, but am concerned about the drafting of new Section 34D(12), to which the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, alluded. The provision does not appear to catch a sober person giving the alco-lock a clean blow. It catches any interference with the mechanism, but if a completely sober passenger blows into the device, that is not caught. We shall have to look at that matter carefully.

I welcome the proposals for rest places on trunk roads and motorways, but I am extremely concerned about the provisions for truck-stops for drivers of goods vehicles. The situation is not good; our provision is very poor compared to that of our continental partners. The truck-stops at South Mimms, Thurrock services and Clacketts Lane are all grossly overcrowded, especially at night, and heavy goods vehicles are obliged to park on slip roads, which then causes the police terrible problems of enforcement. In many cases, the facilities are well below standard; often the ablutions in those establishments are frankly disgusting. As a result a very large number of heavy goods vehicle drivers sleep in their cabs overnight in lay-bys. Of course, there are no toilets, no ablutions and no security—and no alternative. It is little wonder that there are very few female truck drivers and a severe HGV driver shortage. I appreciate that there are severe planning difficulties associated with those service areas, but I do not believe that it is right either morally or in terms of efficiency for a large number of workers in an economically essential activity to have to work in such conditions.

Many noble Lords have supported the idea of a first aid test. They will not be surprised to hear that in my time I have undertaken a lot of first aid training, but I was not aware of its potential to save so many lives. We need to think very carefully of how, not if, we can take advantage of that possibility. In any case, we ought to consider whether HGV drivers should have to hold an in-date first aid at work certificate.

There is a problem with speed cameras and penalty points. I know of one retired army officer and one Baroness on the Benches opposite who have nine penalty points. Neither of them has had accidents for many years. I suggest that the Minister has to introduce graduated penalties; if he does not, at the current rate of issuing penalty points, there will be a large number of mature, low-risk drivers who will be banned from driving under the totting-up procedure.

Many noble Lords have referred to the recreational use of motorbikes and 4x4s. I believe that there is a desperate need for proper off-road playgrounds in suitable locations, but I recognise that there are planning difficulties.

Many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, will be concerned and disappointed with the behaviour of a very small number of police officers. There was one court case in which the police officer was accused of driving at 159 mph. I would be grateful if the Minister could write and tell me what the speed rating was of the tyres on the vehicle in question. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, will join me in an amendment to require records of training runs to be kept by the police. That could easily be achieved by using satellite tracking technology, which is already used for heavy goods vehicle commercial operations.

The tone of this debate bodes well for the later stages of the Bill. I apologise for taking so long.

Photo of The Earl of Mar and Kellie The Earl of Mar and Kellie Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport, Spokesperson in the Lords (Scottish Home Affairs), Home Affairs, Whip 5:37, 8 June 2005

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Earl. There was I thinking that the cubit, the span and the palm were good measurements—and he wants us to adopt something else!

This Bill can be welcomed in the main. It is largely sound, although there is controversy about the graduated penalty points proposed for speeding. There is a whole long list of subjects which could contribute to road safety which are not mentioned in the Bill; I shall refer to some of them later.

I reiterate the fundamental view on these Benches that while it is inevitable that most journeys will be made by road, the Government should do all that they can to provide alternatives and to promote the use of those alternatives. As there is considerable reluctance by many car drivers to use other means, it is worth acknowledging that various degrees of coercion will be necessary. Let me applaud the most recent pronouncements about road pricing made by the Secretary of State for Transport. I expect to hear about plans to improve the alternative means—and not just in Scotland and Wales.

The Minister identified that the British road system is safer than most by international comparison. However, he also reminded the House of the steady statistic of 3,500 deaths on the road each year, which comes to nine or 10 per day. My noble friend Lord Bradshaw referred to serious concern about the non-use of installed seatbelts and the greater chance of death in accidents. He also referred to the difficulties that occur in the detection of drugged drivers. At Question Time today my noble friend also mentioned the merits of the Northern Ireland probationary period with its "P" plate, which the Minister praised, but unfortunately it gets no mention in the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, mentioned the use of single and double summer time as a road safety measure. The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, added to that. That triggers complaints from north-west Scotland regarding dark mornings but I refer to evidence on that matter from the west of Ireland and, indeed, from Iceland. Iceland maintains GMT despite being in what ought to be the GMT plus one zone, as it is mainly 20 degrees west.

My noble friend Lord Glasgow encouraged me and others to enjoy some self-flagellation. Therefore, I shall seek a religious solution in the statement, "I am a sinner too". The noble Earl, Lord Peel, spoke about motorcyclists. One of the matters that worries me about the groups of motorcyclists who charge about the countryside is that I believe that the tail-enders are at risk because they are trying to keep up with the others on lesser machines and, frankly, they do not know where the group is going to which makes them extremely dangerous.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, spoke about bridge strikes. We certainly agree with him that these have a disproportionate effect on the railway concerned. I also agree that the railway gets the implied presumed blame for level-crossing accidents, and that Network Rail must become a statutory consultee.

I believe that the contents of the Bill will be generally helpful in small ways. Few will disagree with the mobile phone penalty enhancement. If only all forms of driver distraction could be eliminated by legislation. The means of tackling unlicensed and foreign drivers and the financial penalty deposit seem to be a way of dealing with motorists who are currently getting away with certain offences, or are believed to be getting away with them. The introduction of tests for identified bad drivers and the trialling of alcohol ignition locks may well reduce road accidents—I hope that they will. However, I also hope that the penalty for tampering with an alcohol ignition lock will be substantial and that it will be used in exemplary fashion.

The tightening up of standards for number plate suppliers will end what may well be a lucrative trade. At least the new plates will be readable even though the observation of the correct spacing may frustrate some wags. I was amused by the convertible and its female driver in Alloa whose plate officially read B 17 CH.

Clause 40, dealing with LPG gas conversions and presumably hydrogen cells, reminds me that I had expected that in London there would be issues of "dodgy" LPG conversions following the exemption of LPG cars and vans from the congestion charge.

Clause 41 concerns the transport of radioactive material. I hope that the hierarchy of transport for that kind of material is by rail and sea first and by road only as a last resort.

The most controversial element of the Bill seems to be the graduated penalty points for speeding. We have all received lobbying material on that. The Bill seeks to punish even harder the most blatant of speedsters, and with justification. However, others point out that pedestrians have a very reduced chance of surviving a collision with a vehicle which is travelling at any more than 30 miles per hour. They quote a mantra that 50 per cent will survive a 30 mph crash but 90 per cent will die in a 40 mph crash. The question is whether the reduction in penalty points from a standard three to a scale of two to six will downplay the importance of observing the urban and village speed limits.

I am also interested in one aspect of Clause 16 that concerns speed assessment equipment detection devices. Will any compensation be paid and how much notice will be given to motorists and manufacturers? I see many advertisements in magazines and newspapers offering these devices. Does that clause include a ban on GPS-based devices that advise on the whereabouts of cameras?

Like other noble Lords I have received much lobbying material that points out many subjects which would contribute to road safety but which are not included in the Bill. If the Bill were a Christmas tree I believe that it would disappear under the weight of all the matters which lobbyists would like us to hang on it.

There is no mention of road pricing with its presumed decongesting and hence safety effect although it is being talked up elsewhere. There is a need for the technology to improve. There may also be a civil liberties issue about the Government knowing where all vehicles are.

We have heard much about rural road hierarchies but there is no mention of that in the Bill. While urban speed limits may well be catered for, rural speed limits are in need of attention. Most motorist deaths occur on rural roads. There is a surprising rule that there cannot be a speed limit in a small village if there are no street lights. That really does not make sense.

I read a good complaint that no attempt was being made to introduce a new offence of causing death by careless driving. That was allied to a call for a non-criminal damage liability for motorists involved in accidents with vulnerable pedestrians. I have seen calls for more traffic police, for event data recorders to be fitted in all vehicles—the veritable "black box"—for default speed limits in urban areas of 20 miles per hour and in villages of 30 miles per hour and for local authorities to have a duty of road danger reduction imposed upon them.

It is a pity that there is no mention of a penalty points offence for parking in a bus lane or on a bus stop, as favoured by my noble friend Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay. That practice can make boarding a bus very difficult for the immobile and thwarts the efforts to introduce low floor buses with level access.

The issue of conspicuity came up twice. Motorists should be encouraged to wear fluorescent jackets on the road at night and lorries should be marked along their sides with retro reflective tape and not just across the rear. It seems that although lorries account for just 1.4 per cent of vehicles, they are involved in 15 per cent of accidents, but are not necessarily the cause of them.

The Red Cross raised with me the issue of introducing first aid training in the driving test, reflecting the preventable deaths that occur before the casualty reaches hospital. Others called for restrictions on the size of vehicles on our unclassified rural roads and for a blanket 40 mile per hour speed limit wherever there is no centre line marking. I am sure that there are many more such issues but those I have mentioned caught my attention. Will the Minister indicate whether the Government will welcome amendments that would add to the scope of the Bill?

In conclusion, the Bill is largely administrative but the trend is towards greater road safety. Whether it can be added to will determine whether it can be made even more effective.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Spokespersons In the Lords, (Also Shadow Minister for Women & Equality- Not In the Shadow Cabinet) 5:49, 8 June 2005

My Lords, when I first saw the Bill I was not sure whether it would generate substantial debate. In fact, the debate that we have had has been very reflective and extremely interesting. Noble Lords' personal points of view—I was going to say prejudices but perhaps I do not mean that—have come very much to the fore. That is inevitable when you have a Bill that is—I do not mean this disrespectfully—a bit of a hotchpotch of provisions and proposals. The Bill covers a multitude of areas, many of which are already the subject of legislation, so it is either building on or changing that legislation.

One clause in particular drew my attention as being one of those small snippets that appear in a Bill such as this. I draw the attention of noble Lords to Clause 42, on private hire vehicles in London. After giving a whole lot of references, it simply says, "omit 'to the public'". I am fascinated by what this clause is about; there is nothing about it in the Explanatory Notes. It is one of those areas that I will be delving into before we start again to make sure I know what it is about.

A number of serious issues have been raised, and one or two have come up over and over again. Noble Lords have done them full justice this afternoon. I start with the speech made by my noble friend Lord Peel on motorcycling. He gave a graphic description of what happens when a lot of motorcyclists get together in the middle of the Yorkshire moors, hell-bent on having fun and riding their motorcycles at a huge rate. That is a specific and extreme example of what happens all the time. He was talking not only about speed but about disregard for the law. It would not be unfair to him to paraphrase his questions, which are, "what is the law doing about such issues", and secondly, "if it is not doing it, why is it not doing it?". He then led on to the question that has been raised about a number of areas in the Bill, which is, "what resources are available for seeing that the law is upheld?".

It seems inexplicable that the police watch on roads and on sub-roads has been reduced. Plenty of evidence has been quoted today to show that the number of traffic police is far less than it was. Of course, one understands that in the case of terrorism, or where there are other major concerns, police may be diverted, but they cannot and must not be diverted for ever. Road safety is of enormous importance, and even if they are testing out their vehicles at 150 mph there must be other policemen who are able to chase others who are doing 150 mph along motorways.

What is the Minister's view on resources? Is there anything else that we should put in the Bill to ensure that there are sufficient traffic police to deal not only with the existing legislation but particularly with legislation concerning rural areas? My noble friend Lord Peel talked about rural areas, and other rural issues were touched on today such as speed limits on country roads. Perhaps we all like to think that the country looks after itself, but it does not; and there are matters here that we need to consider, particularly speed limits on country roads.

One of the most serious and difficult areas in road safety is drink-driving. That concerns not only people who are slightly over the limit but those who are hopelessly and completely over the limit. You have only to read this morning's newspaper reporting the deaths of an elderly couple who were forced off the road by a couple of drunken youths who were playing chicken. They were driving at high speed trying to overtake and then pulling back in just before they were hit by oncoming traffic. That is a road safety issue. Again, why is that happening when there is legislation that should be enforced to ensure that people are not killed in that terrible way?

Other noble Lords have asked whether hands-free mobile phones should also be the subject of legislation. We all have our own views on that. I am not clear whether, if someone pulls up at the side of the road to make an emergency call, or just a call, that is covered by the clauses in the Bill, which seem specifically to say that using a hand-held phone while the car is moving is an offence. I should have declared earlier that I am a magistrate, and I deal with road traffic cases all the time. In many cases, it is unclear whether legislation refers only to a moving vehicle or to a moving vehicle and a stationary vehicle. The Minister might be able to answer that for me; it may be that we need to look at it.

The other difficult area is drugs and drug testing, which has been referred to by a number of noble Lords this afternoon. It is undoubtedly one of the most serious ways in which people cause accidents. They do not appear to know when they get into a vehicle that they are incapable, and the police seem to be unable to decide when they find them whether they are capable and whether they have taken drugs. The current technology does not appear to be up to testing for drugs, unlike the breathalyser, which detects alcohol. I hope that there will be some news during the passage of the Bill on what may be available, and we may need to move amendments to that effect about drugs and drug testing. At the moment, people's hands are tied, and it is as serious an issue now as drink driving.

The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, referred to road pricing. It is partly a question of road safety, and I am sure that there will be many opportunities to discuss the matter. I return to the perennial problem of congestion charging, which has been introduced in London partly for congestion purposes and also partly for road safety purposes. I suggest that we might return to this issue, on the basis that perhaps congestion charging and road pricing should be seen to have the support of a large majority of the people in whose area they are about to be introduced before they are introduced. We suffer in London from a great amount of consultation having taken place on this subject and not one jot of attention having been paid to it. It would be helpful if we were able to introduce referendums into the legislation for this and for other pricing matters. Maybe that is a bit tenuous to this legislation, but that is what legislation is about; to see what we can get from Ministers during the course of it.

Road safety grants appear in Clause 1. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, referred to them. It is not clear from the legislation how they are to be administered. They are left in the hands of the Secretary of State, which is always dangerous. There is no indication—and the Local Government Association is interested in this—whether those grants would be ring-fenced, or top-sliced, or whether they would be handed out by bids, or as part of a grant. We should like to explore that.

Finally, motorway picnic areas sound absolutely fantastic, but they would be a nightmare if they were not maintained, looked-after and supervised. We do not want to give permission for something that ends up being another area that people avoid like the plague because they cannot go there safely and find clean facilities.

It has been an interesting afternoon. I look forward to the Minister's replies to some of the matters that have been raised.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 6:00, 8 June 2005

My Lords, I certainly echo that last sentiment. This has been a very interesting afternoon. I wish that I had at my disposal an hour or an hour and a half to reply—so many points have been raised, all of them salient—but I am restricted in time. I hope the House will recognise that if I do not cover every point. There is the obvious long-stop that this is Second Reading and we will investigate many of the points at some length in Committee, though I am not sure of the degree of enthusiasm with which we will do so. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked whether I would be enthusiastic about additions to the Bill. The answer is "No". Governments always introduce Bills that are perfect but then have their imperfections identified to them. We never engage in amendments with any enthusiasm. But I shall put a best face on it. I am reconciled to the obvious fact that the Bill will be subject to considerable scrutiny in Committee—as we would expect.

I should first welcome the new opposition Front-Bench transport team. I am not sure whether they regard their new positions as promotion, but they can join me, a glorified amateur, among a considerable range of specialists and experts in the Chamber who contribute to our transport debates, from which we all benefit. I welcome them aboard these debates. I am sure that we will have interesting times in working out how best together to promote the issues of transport and—particularly in this Bill—safety.

Let me deal with one or two points that have been brought to the House's attention by several Members. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and the noble Earls, Lord Peel and Lord Mar and Kellie, asked what the question of detection equipment was all about. What are we seeking to ban? In simple vernacular, we are seeking to ban jamming. We are not seeking to ban detection or devices that can be spotted by GPS systems or anything else. We want our cameras to be visible. That is why they are painted bright yellow. People need to know where speed restrictions are imposed. But we need to deal with the development of sophisticated devices in cars which enable people to jam cameras and even devices in a following police car which are seeking to measure the vehicle's speed. So there is nothing obscure or malign about this. It is straightforward issue: we need to protect law enforcement. I am sure that the House would recognise the importance of that.

The second issue—raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, who was supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham—was about resources. Enforcement is of course crucial to road safety, and that relates to the resources available to the police. I should point out that a strategy on roads policy has been jointly agreed by the Home Office, Department for Transport and the Association of Chief Police Officers. We have committed ourselves to ensuring that there is a highly visible police presence on the roads. It is not just for catching those who have committed offences; it acts as a deterrent to ensure that people do obey the law. As we all recognise, our most effective guarantee of road safety is good behaviour on the road.

I subscribe to the comments of all noble Lords—including those of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who has made them many times before—who emphasised that the real problem in road safety is behaviour rather than vehicle maintenance or other technical aspects of road safety. The issue is how we behave on the road. By far the largest element in accidents is, unfortunately, driver error or driver malfeasance in committing offences and taking risks with their own and other people's lives.

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, raised two issues on speed limits. I know that the party opposite managed to drag one or two small points on speed limits into their manifesto—about extending the speed limit on motorways, because cars are so much safer these days. But motorways are a good deal more crowded these days, too. One runs into the back of slow-moving traffic on motorways a jolly site more quickly than one would like almost all of the time on almost all of our motorways. So despite the improvements to cars—no one underestimates improvements in stopping distances—we need to protect safety on our motorways and 70 mph is quite fast enough. Increasing that speed would, in our view, lead to greater danger.

The same argument applies to heavy goods vehicles. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said that they have greater visibility and that their stopping distances are increased by the fact that the driver sees a problem earlier. It might also be added that the driver is a professional and, therefore, might have sharper reactions. But the simple fact is that a greater number of accidents involve heavy goods vehicles than cars. Secondly, heavy goods vehicles travelling at 50 mph cannot stop as fast as cars doing 60 mph. That is why we have not moved towards increasing the limit on HGVs on single highways beyond 40 mph, due to the stopping distance.

Noble Lords raised the question of where cameras were placed. The greatest canard running through all circles—certainly in political circles, because it has been placed there firmly by those who canvassed this line of argument—is that the cameras are there as revenue-raisers, that there is a lot of money being made from them and that they are nothing to do with safety. That is not so. Cameras can be placed only on the basis of partnership and agreement. It is not only the police who place cameras. They are not revenue-raisers. The resources raised by cameras must be devoted to safety procedures.

Therefore, the suggestion that we have increased numbers of cameras on our roads in order to produce another "stealth tax"—the only phrase that I can drag up—just will not do. Cameras are there because the roads on which they are placed have a clear history of safety problems. We will continue with that policy and will continue as assertively as we can to deny the concept that cameras are there for purposes other than to safeguard against bad driving on our roads.

A number of noble Lords raised the issue of making first aid part of the driving test. In fact, I cannot remember a noble Lord who did not raise it. It is an attractive proposition. The indication from the Red Cross lobby is undeniable: giving immediate expert or competent attention to an individual hurt in a road accident can save a life. Failure to do so sometimes causes people to suffer greater injuries or even death.

The problem is that we are constrained with regard to the driving test. We cannot reduce great sections of the driving test because, first, in our experience it has been built up to include measures that actually improve driving standards. Secondly, we are governed by European legislation in certain aspects of the test.

The problem with first aid is obvious: it would add a substantial component to the driving test. There is also a problem with disabled drivers. Will they have to be able to administer first aid? What about those who are just squeamish? I had a friend who was a wonderful sportsman. He once came with me to the theatre to see "This Sporting Life". He collapsed into the aisle of the theatre because blood of any kind, even stage blood, had an instant effect on him. Are he and his like—I do not think that he is unique in this country—to be denied the ability to drive a motorcar because they could not cope with first aid requirements?

This is a concept that has some merit. I have no doubt that we will examine it thoroughly in Committee, but we must be careful about the driving test. The test is there to ensure that people can safely enjoy the freedom and privilege of driving a motorcar. We have to tread with care if we are to inhibit that freedom. There are worries about that aspect of the first aid suggestion.

The noble Earl, Lord Peel, raised the issue of motorcycles with great assertiveness. I have every sympathy with the point that he made. As he knows, there are several roads in Britain where bikers go to test their vehicles to the limit on the public road. The roads are nearly all in the north of England, largely because roads in southern England are more boring and do not have the same inclines, hills, sweeps and bends to produce the excitement that the bikers are seeking. We are aware of the issue. We do not need anything in the Bill to deal with it. We need effective policing. That is not easy because these bikers do not announce that they are going to do this. After a time, intelligence comes through that certain roads have become the focal point of such activity. We want to see a crackdown on it, but that is a question of resources rather than legislation. The police have all the powers they need to deal with lawless driving of that kind, particularly as, as has rightly been hinted, some of the bikers exceed the speed limits by a substantial margin.

Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative

My Lords, before the noble Lord moves on, perhaps I may press him on the last point. He said that it is a question of resources. I suggest that it is not simply a question of resources, but is also to do with the determination of the police to carry out their duties and responsibilities to solve the problem. As we know, there was a problem in a rural area of north Wales. It was solved because the chief constable was firmly committed to solving it, and he did so. I suggest that the reason it has not been solved in my part of the world is that there does not appear to be a willingness to do so.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, policing in this country is local. It is therefore a matter of the judgment of the local police authorities. When public concern is expressed, they are mindful of it. The noble Earl has made his case today and that will no doubt assist them. We know that this phenomenon moves round the country and, as the noble Earl rightly says, there must be a determination to deal with it.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, commented on a number of issues. I do not think that the issue of the 30 mph limit is one for the Bill. Such decisions should be made locally. We have to be careful with legislation that is going to be imposed countrywide. We must be careful that we do not take away from local authorities and local areas all discretion in how these issues are tackled.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, were pessimistic about picnic areas on motorways. The French—dare I say this a week or so after the referendum?—do not set a bad example in their picnic areas. On the whole, they are maintained as well as it is possible to do it. I do not think that the French are congenitally tidier and more careful than the British. I have seen no evidence of that in other aspects of their national life. But picnic areas and rest areas on big autoroutes in France seem to work very well. I therefore adopt a position of considerable optimism about our initiative here.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for emphasising a point that I made a moment ago—that bad driving is the issue. When dealing with road safety, we must concentrate on bad driving.

The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, said that there should be a national review of speed limits. We intend to issue updated guidance to highway authorities on setting local speed limits, but they will still have areas of flexibility and decision taking, as is proper.

I recognise the disappointment of two of my noble friends—Lady Gibson and Lord Faulkner, both of whom have served as presidents of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents—that aspects of the Bill seem to soften the penalty points for bad driving. We are concerned to graduate the points to fit the crime. We shall be exceedingly tough with those who infringe the law in an outrageous way and are a menace to other road users.

The noble Earl, Lord Courtown, indicated that his wife was the victim of the allocation of three points for the most marginal infraction of the law. We are mindful of such cases. We want proper respect for the speed limits and for the way in which law enforcement works. We therefore think that an element of flexibility is necessary in the points count, so that two points can be allocated against an individual who has marginally passed 30 mph in a 30 mph area. But, as we will discuss in Committee, that does not indicate that we are going soft on speeding motorists.

The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, made a most interesting contribution. My first note from the Box indicated that he had raised a "technical" issue. "In spades" is the only phrase with which I can respond. I am in no position to match his expertise on issues to do with time, save to say that, as he will recognise, the Department for Transport is a minor though important player in the debate on British Summer Time and double summer time. On the whole, we are convinced of the road safety advantages of such a change. But it is not just transport and roads that are affected by such a significant change. Consequently, the issue is not for my department. The Department of Trade and Industry takes responsibility for it. I know that because I answered a question on it from the noble Lord a short while ago. We are not convinced across the board that it is in the country's interest to make such a change, but the Department for Transport knows the contribution that it could make to road safety. I therefore welcome very much the noble Lord's contribution and the contributions of other noble Lords who also referred to this point, including my noble friend Lord Faulkner. It is important that we recognise the gains that would be made by such a change.

I could go on for a very long time. However, I have already reached what is meant to be my sticking point of 20 minutes and I have not even begun to answer all the points that have been raised in the debate. That will guarantee a most lively and interesting Committee stage. I maintain again that the Government will, of course, produce the best Bill that they can. I look upon it as a rather perfect little Bill at this present time, but I have heard sufficient evidence today to recognise that it will undoubtedly be subjected to improving speeches in Committee.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.