Road Safety Bill [HL]

– in the House of Lords at 4:05 pm on 27 June 2005.

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House again in Committee on Clause 1.

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Labour 4:32, 27 June 2005

moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 9, at end insert ", with particular regard to schemes aimed to reduce child casualties in areas of high deprivation"

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Labour

My noble friend will recognise that the amendment may not be in quite the right place in the Bill. However, when examining this piece of legislation, which contains many good things, I was struck by the lack of explicit attention given to improving road safety for child pedestrians and cyclists. I therefore thought it might be useful to have, at this early stage in Committee, a discussion about that lack.

Overall, it must be said that we have a good road safety record in this country, but that is overshadowed by our poor record on child pedestrian safety. The latest figures show that 2,381 child pedestrians were killed or seriously injured on our roads in 2003, with more than 10,000 child pedestrians injured. That is not a record of which any of us could be proud, and compares unfavourably with many other European countries. We also have a high number of child cyclist accidents on our roads. In 2003, 595 children on bicycles were killed or seriously injured on the roads.

Furthermore, research shows that there is a strong correlation between deprivation and the number of child road casualties. That was referred to by my noble friend Lord Simon earlier. Children from the lowest social class are five times more likely to die in road accidents than those from the highest social class. The research also highlighted that child pedestrians in the most deprived areas were more at risk, with more than a quarter of child pedestrian casualties occurring in the most deprived 10 per cent of wards. Anyone would agree that that was not acceptable.

I remember a speech made by the Prime Minister in March 2000, in which he outlined the Government's road safety strategy. He rightly pointed out the need to reduce the number of child pedestrian casualties and to do more to target those children who live in deprived areas. The amendment, which has the support of a coalition of over 75 children's organisations—and NCH, the children's charity, and the End Child Poverty campaign—aims to do that by targeting resources to schemes that aim to reduce child road accidents in areas of high deprivation. Of course, this is only part of a package of measures that is needed—but is very important. I am pleased that other amendments, such as imposing a 20 mph speed limit for restricted roads, have been tabled.

I am pleased that the Government have put in place an ambitious target to reduce the number of children who are killed or seriously injured. But, if we are to achieve those targets, special attention needs to be given to reducing child pedestrian and cyclist casualties in highly deprived areas, otherwise we shall not reach the targets that we have set. As ever, words and targets alone are not sufficient. Action and funding are required.

The amendment sends a clear message: that reducing child road casualties should be a priority for the Government and I hope that the Minister will take seriously the points that I have raised. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen Labour

I rise briefly to support the amendment. As my noble friend said, and as my noble friend Viscount Simon said in the debate on the previous group of amendments, there is an increased likelihood of fatalities in areas of high deprivation. This seems a sensible amendment and I hope that the Minister will look at it favourably.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

I think that I support the amendment. In fact, the best ways to reduce child casualties are through such initiatives as the Better Ways to School campaign. But, the competition in our county for money for those schemes is fierce—I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, knows that. I received a copy of a letter from a head teacher of a local school, which said that a little bit of money was available and that she had seven days in which to submit a scheme. Her area is deprived and many children walk to school along busy roads. I know, as do the county council, of a number of measures that could well be taken to make the way safe.

We return to the question that we raised at the beginning—it is a matter of resources. The reason that children in the higher social categories are not killed is that most of them do not walk or cycle along roads—they are conveyed in various types of vehicle, to which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, frequently refers. They are not exposed to danger. They are inside safe vehicles.

It is also necessary that after school such children are looked after, because the children to whom the noble Baroness referred are those who often go home to an empty house and need to be cared for. That means that people have to pay for it, certainly in my local authority area—there is no local authority funding for after school clubs. We shall return to the question of how we fund the areas to which the noble Baroness referred and I hope that she will support us when we divide the House over the need for more money to be spent on road safety, because I am at one with her. These people's lives can be saved, but it takes money.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

I support the amendment in principle but, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, it is a question of resources. It is also a matter of localism. Every school and area has a different solution. We cannot sit here and debate, and have a national scheme. It is up to local people to work out what the scheme should be in their area to benefit its children. Knowing my county as well as I do, I know that there are different solutions all over it. There is no magic solution for one area.

Furthermore, with the development of extended schools that will support families as well as children there will, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, be many more pre-school classes, breakfast classes and classes in the evening. There will also be more training. What happens now in deprived areas is that families do not give their children the training on using the roads that they ought to have. That solution needs to be sorted out in school as well. But that is what localism is about. The Government have spoken about localism a lot; I am trying to practise it in my area. We do not have central schemes or central initiatives. Local initiatives are needed to solve these problems, but with money, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said. I am certain that they can be sorted out with some resources. I support the amendment in principle and will look at it as we go on through the Bill.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

I support the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lady Thornton. It is moving towards the questions that came up in the debates we had during the previous Parliament on the School Transport Bill, which did not get through. Last week, I participated in a debate with some local authority people about the problems of school transport.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is quite right. In less deprived areas people bring their little children to school in large Chelsea tractors, as I call them, and there is no problem. But those people are usually very vociferous in asking for whatever money there is for road safety improvements, school improvements or whatever. It is not just that fewer children go to school by car in areas of high deprivation and more of them walk, but that there is less likely to be restrictions on speeds and access for cars and I hope we will discuss those matters later in this Committee. Everything conspires against schools in deprived areas getting the facilities and safety features on the roads that are necessary to reduce the terribly high level of child casualties. I support my noble friend's amendment and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

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)

I welcome the debate that we have just had because my noble friend's amendment has given rise to an opportunity to highlight a key road safety priority for the Government. We are aware that in international comparisons we do well over a range of comparators, but child deaths is not one of them. Our record is not good. The problem has been identified for a number of years and it is important that we address ourselves to the issue.

If I ask my noble friend to withdraw the amendment, which I shall certainly do, it is not because in any way, shape or form I shall make any contribution that detracts from the value of her remarks and those of other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. All the points have been valid. My noble friend indicated that she was not entirely sure that this amendment was located in the right place in the Bill. I shall identify to her why it would be detrimental to the quality of the legislation that we are putting before the House, while recognising the validity of her argument.

The amendment would prioritise schemes addressing child casualties in deprived areas over other schemes. We recognise the need for prioritisation. The 2002 spending review White Paper strengthened the Government's casualty reduction target,

"to tackle the significantly higher incidence of road accidents in disadvantaged areas".

Our aim is to reduce casualties in deprived areas by a greater percentage than in the country as a whole. In April 2003 we published guidance called Tackling the Road Safety Implications of Disadvantage, which, as my noble friend indicated, impacts very significantly on children in disadvantaged areas, but of course on the whole area of disadvantage. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that many factors contribute to this situation. Therefore, we need a strategy which deals with the total problem.

As a result of our guidance, Tackling the Road Safety Implications of Disadvantage, English authorities have been asked to submit a statement as part of the local transport plan annual progress report outlining how they plan to tackle road safety problems in their deprived areas.

Through the Neighbourhood Road Safety Initiative, the Inner City Road Safety Demonstration Project and Kerbcraft—Child Pedestrian Training, we have allocated over £33 million to local highway authorities. In quoting that figure I may raise that hoary issue of whether we are going to spend the whole of our time on the Bill debating resources. I am seeking to keep on the path of the righteous by concentrating on the structure of the Bill. I merely emphasise that to convince my noble friend and other noble Lords who supported the amendment that this is an important area of concern to the Government.

All those initiatives are aimed at tackling road safety problems, including child road safety problems in areas of high deprivation. But—and I am afraid there is a "but", and it is on this basis that I hope my noble friend will withdraw her amendment—Clause 1 allows for payments to be made for all road safety initiatives. Depending on who the scheme is aimed at, grants have the potential to improve road safety for children and for disadvantaged groups. While there is a specific focus on disadvantage, in our current grant-funded projects we need—and against a background where we expect our legislation to be valid over a considerable number of years—to ensure that Clause 1 is as flexible as possible so that we can respond to particular road safety issues as they arise.

So, although it is important—and one recognises that currently this is a key priority for us—it would not be right to establish in stone, or at least in the Bill, a priority which would last against developing events when we might need areas of flexibility and the ability to operate change.

Therefore, we should not seek in the clause to highlight one particular current road safety issue, we should recognise what the clause does, which is to create the framework for the allocation of resources. However, I would reassure my noble friend, who has spoken with passion, as have other Members of the Committee, about the issue, that it is a key priority, but I ask her not to write the provision on the face of the Bill. I hope she will withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Labour 4:45, 27 June 2005

I start by thanking noble Lords for their support and for their informed remarks in support of the amendment. Before the Minister's remarks I thought that this modest amendment might not be in the right place, but as I listened to him talking about priorities I wondered whether it is in the right place if we want to set priorities about what the Bill aims to do. In a way, the test against which this Bill needs to be measured is the impact it will have on, particularly, children and children in deprived areas.

I thank my noble friend for his remarks and, indeed, for reassuring us that the issue is a priority for the Government. I shall read his remarks with care. I beg leave to withdrawn the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 3 to 5 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

moved Amendment No. 6:

After Clause 1, insert the following new clause—

"NATIONAL ROAD SAFETY ACCREDITATION SCHEMES

(1) The Secretary of State may, if he considers it appropriate to do so for the purpose specified in subsection (3), establish and maintain a scheme ("a national road safety accreditation scheme").

(2) A national road safety accreditation scheme is a scheme for the exercise nationally by persons accredited by him under section (Accreditation under national road safety accreditation schemes) of the powers conferred by their accreditation under that section.

(3) The purpose of a national road safety accreditation scheme is to contribute to national road safety by ensuring compliance with the Goods Vehicles Licensing of Operators Act 1995 (c. 23) and section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (regulation of construction, weight, equipment and use of vehicles).

(4) Before establishing a national road safety accreditation scheme the Secretary of State shall consult such persons as he thinks fit."

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

It may be convenient if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 7, 8 and 21. I remind the Committee of my interest listed at col. 915 on 8 June at Second Reading.

VOSA, the Vehicle and Operators Services Agency, formerly the Vehicle Inspectorate, has the power to stop the vehicle on the road for the purposes of a test. That power derives from the Police Reform Act 2002. Section 41 provides for accreditation under the community safety accreditation scheme. Those are normally local schemes with local employees accredited by local police. VOSA inspectors operate on a much wider area, even in a region or across regional boundaries. For instance, a VOSA vehicle inspector operating out of Reading, west of London, will need to be accredited by the Metropolitan Police, the Hertfordshire Police, the Thames Valley Police and the Surrey Police merely to look after the western half of the M25. That is not efficient use of scarce resources of either VOSA or the police.

Those VOSA employees are either employees of the Secretary of State or of his agent. The powers that they enjoy are much tougher because they can already prohibit the vehicle moving if it has a defect under powers in the Road Traffic Acts. Having to accredit each VOSA inspector with many police forces is both unnecessary and bureaucratic. Also, police forces do not like doing it because they can add nothing to the process. My amendment would allow the Secretary of State to accredit those officials instead of the police. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, referred to the amendments made by the Police Reform Act 2002. In Northern Ireland, VOSA inspectors have always—or for many years—been able to stop vehicles. It was adjudged too dangerous for police to do so, because it set them as up as targets for terrorists. The VOSA inspectors did the necessary stopping.

I simply add that while the powers of the VOSA inspectors are being considered, the Minister should also examine what other things they might do. At the multi-agency checks that take place around the country, which I have attended, Customs and Excise inspectors dip the tanks of vehicles to see whether they are running on red diesel; inspectors check on the welfare of animals being transported; trading standards officers—formerly weights and measures inspectors—check the vehicles to see whether they are correctly weighed and the load is properly distributed; and people working for the Department for Work and Pensions—as I think it is now—check whether drivers have paid their national insurance and are bona fide employees.

In fact, you have to assemble an army of people—now not the police, fortunately—comprising Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all to check whether a lorry driver is working legitimately. It is worth considering not only whether VOSA inspectors should stop people, but whether they should make all the necessary checks instead of assembling various other individuals each to do a little job. One person could carry out the whole inspection effectively if it were not for the bureaucrat divisions between the departments involved. Will the Minister consider that when he replies?

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

I support the amendment. The net result of what the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, outlined, is that there are probably very few inspections when there should be many more because of the complexity of getting accreditation. When driving around the country, one is aware of a lack of checks. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, may have missed out compliance with the Working Time Directive, but he gave us a pretty good list, which, again, is enough to put anybody off organising such checks.

I repeat what we have said many times in this House over the years: such drivers are supposed to drive legally; there must be enforcement and they must be checked out. The amendments in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, are a very good start, but I support the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that all the other agencies that he mentioned should be included.

A similar thing happens on the railways. When the Channel Tunnel was built, an enormous building had to be constructed at the rail freight terminal in Willesden, not just for immigration—immigrants were supposed to be checked further on—but also for Customs. In those days, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had to carry out a phyto-sanitary check there. The building, which is half as long as your Lordships' House, not just the Chamber, was fitted out at the taxpayers' expense but has not been used in the past 12 years. Such agencies require all those buildings when changes occur but checks are never made. If they spent less time requiring bricks and mortar and more time working out how to get out on to the roads to check people, the roads would be a much safer environment.

Photo of Viscount Simon Viscount Simon Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I have been out on traffic patrol with the police on numerous occasions specifically to inspect large vehicles, and the police are highly trained in that respect. However, I suspect that the number of qualified vehicle examiners is decreasing rapidly and that they do not have the time or make the effort to do such work. I therefore support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Bridges Lord Bridges Crossbench

I wish to approach the question from a different angle: the problem of securing road safety in rural areas such as the one in which I live. I am conscious that most of our roads are class C, originally for horse-drawn traffic, I suppose, and are now used extensively by large delivery vehicles. Somebody living in the area who wishes to buy a new refrigerator may find that it comes in an enormous vehicle that has travelled for 50 miles.

As a member of a Select Committee of this House examining proposals from Brussels about the maximum weight of heavy vehicles, I suggested to a representative from the Department for Transport that we should have maximum weights and dimensions for class-C small roads. The official replied, "Oh, it is quite impossible because that is the task of a local authority. There are no national schemes for minor roads".

That must be examined, in the interests of road safety. Why should we not have a conference of all local authorities to agree a national scheme for the maximum dimension and weight of minor roads? In that way we could greatly reduce the number of accidents, which occur quite regularly on minor roads. Enormous juggernauts come sweeping around such roads, and if you wish to stay alive you have to drive into the hedge, which may not always be sufficient to protect you. There is a problem here which ought to be considered in this context.

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) 5:00, 27 June 2005

The problem is that almost anything can be taken into account in the context of inspection. I accept entirely the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, that safety in rural areas is important—there will be several occasions during the passage of the Bill when we shall have extensive debates on the issue—but, of course, the amendments are concerned with the exercise of inspection and roadworthiness and therefore are not specific to any particular part of the country or any particular environment. However, I bear very much in mind the comments made by the noble Lord.

I ask the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, to withdraw his amendment and not to move the others. I cannot accept any of them in their entirety, but I congratulate him on putting forward some extremely useful concepts, which have been reinforced by other contributions in the Committee. I assure him that we are involved in discussions on those very issues in which my department will wish to take into account of the debate today.

The discussions will involve the Scottish Executive and, as the noble Earl will recognise, inevitably the Home Office because of the legal aspects involved. The debate has advanced the cause. Had the noble Earl included Amendment No. 9 in it, I would not have been in such a benign mood. He will find out when he moves it that I have more difficulty with Amendment No. 9.

The concepts behind Amendments Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 21 have some merit, and we want to take them on board in our discussions. I assure the noble Earl that that will be done. He is an exceedingly reasonable man, and I know that he will accept this gesture of goodwill on my part and that it will be sufficient for him not to press his amendments too vigorously. I would not want to go in for a minute, detailed dismantling job on the amendments, posing as a critic of the noble Earl when, in moving the amendment, he has done the Committee a service. I hope that that gesture of good faith illustrates that we appreciate a number of the points that he has made, which have been reinforced by other contributors to the debate. We are involved in consultation, we need to make progress, and we recognise that the present situation is not satisfactory. On that basis, I hope that the noble Earl will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

I am grateful for the contributions of all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, particularly that of the Minister.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said that multi-agency checks required many different experts. That is of course the point—they are experts. I may have knowledge about vehicle safety, but I am not an expert on animal welfare.

I would not support too many agencies having the power to stop a vehicle on the road. There was always a risk attached to giving VOSA the powers to stop a vehicle on the road, but its vehicles have a distinct livery and commercial vehicle drivers can recognise a VOSA vehicle. If many different agencies were able to stop a goods vehicle that may be carrying a high-value load on the road, we could increase the difficulties associated with hijacking exponentially.

Multi-agency checks are a valuable tool of enforcement. They are an addition to the activities of VOSA in pulling over a vehicle on the road. We must not lose sight of the efficiency of multi-agency checks. Often, when one problem is found with a vehicle or with a driver, there tend to be many more.

I am grateful to the Minister for his kind response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 not moved.]

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

moved Amendment No. 9:

After Clause 1, insert the following new clause—

"ACCREDITATION FOR PURPOSES OF ESCORTING LOADS OF EXCEPTIONAL DIMENSIONS

After section 41 of the Police Reform Act 2002 (c. 30) (accreditation under Community Safety accreditation schemes) insert—

"41A ACCREDITATION FOR PURPOSES OF ESCORTING LOADS OF EXCEPTIONAL DIMENSIONS

(1) This section applies where the Secretary of State is of the opinion that it would be beneficial to ordinary road users for certain members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces to be accredited persons for controlling traffic for the purposes of escorting a load of exceptional dimensions.

(2) The Secretary of State may grant a general accreditation to any person who meets the requirements of subsection (4) below.

(3) Paragraph 9 of Schedule 5. Power to control traffic for purposes of escorting a load of exceptional dimensions shall have effect to persons accredited under this section.

(4) The requirements to be met before the Secretary of State grants accreditation are—

(a) that the person is a member of Her Majesty's Armed Forces and is otherwise a suitable person to exercise the powers that will be conferred upon him by virtue of the accreditation;

(b) that the person is capable of effectively carrying out the functions for the purposes of which those powers are to be conferred on him; and

(c) that the person has a military trade qualification of either—

(i) a military policeman, or

(ii) a driver of abnormal load carrying vehicle, and is specially trained and qualified to exercise the powers specified in paragraph 9 of Schedule 5.""

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

With some trepidation, I move Amendment No. 9. I remind the Committee that I am a serving TA officer involved in logistics. The amendment also relates to accreditation under Section 41 of the Police Reform Act 2002. Schedule 5(9) to the Act allows accredited persons to give directions to traffic to facilitate the efficient movement of abnormal loads. I understand that no police force has accredited anyone under paragraph 9 for those purposes, which may have something to do with the way in which the provisions were included in the Police Reform Act.

The same problem of accreditation applies to military personnel as applies to VOSA officials with regard to the need to accredit with every police force. Service personnel who want to escort an abnormal load and use the powers of an accredited person will also have to be accredited with all 40 or so police forces. The reality is that military personnel already stop ordinary traffic and motorists, who would expect the military to have that power. Of course, we know well that they do not. So the reality is no change.

The key part of my amendment is Section 41C, which states that the person must be either a military policeman, who obviously is trained to stop vehicles, or the driver of a heavy equipment—abnormal load—transporter. In both cases, he must be specially trained and qualified. That would provide a better quality control system than would be available from civilian industry. I beg to move.

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)

As I indicated, I was a little less happy with this amendment on what I hope will be recognised by the noble Earl as quite significant grounds. The amendment would, in the main, duplicate provisions in the Police Reform Act 2002 that already provide for accredited persons to be designated with the powers of a police constable to control traffic for the purpose of escorting loads of exceptional dimensions.

There is a certain superfluity about the amendment, but my first real objection is that it would move operational decisions on the suitability of persons to be conferred with police powers from where, I think the House will agree, they are best made; namely, at chief constable level. They would be transferred to the Secretary of State, which is not a wise course of action.

The second problem with the amendment is that it would go far beyond its apparent purposes. I hear what the noble Earl says: members of the public are used on occasions to having defence police direct traffic when a particularly heavy load is being conveyed by Ministry of Defence personnel, which happens rarely. However, I am not sure that the citizens of this country would take too kindly to fixed penalty notices being issued by a Ministry of Defence officer or that alcohol or tobacco should be confiscated by him or her. The noble Earl's amendment would confer those powers on such officers.

I know that that is not the noble Earl's intent or, let us say, his interpretation of that intent, which is wholly benign, but it would have that effect, and the Committee will recognise that that is a cause for severe reservation about the amendment. The noble Earl made considerable progress with his earlier amendments, and we want to work on those ideas. However, this is a bad idea, and I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

I never have bad ideas; I have interesting ones. Can the Minister first explain why, since the Police Reform Act was passed in 2002, no one has been accredited for the purposes of paragraph 9 of Schedule 5? No one has become an accredited person for escorting abnormal loads. The police are simply not taking part. Secondly, my amendment refers to paragraph 9 of Schedule 5, which deals with the escorting of abnormal loads. I suspect that that slipped into the Minister's notes because I have tidied up my amendment. The original version may have had that defect, but I took advice from the Clerks, and my amendment is now perfect.

I thank the Minister for his response, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 [Graduated fixed penalty points]:

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

Clause 2 amends Section 53 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 to enable the Secretary of State to prescribe by order graduated penalties. The amount may vary depending on the circumstances of the offence, which include in particular the nature of the offence; its severity; where it took place; and whether the offender had committed other prescribed offences during a prescribed period. However, the wording of the clause is not restricted, which gives us a chance to question the Government on the thinking behind the criteria set out in paragraphs (a) to (d) and to probe further on why certain factors that they believe are sensible have been left out.

In particular, we are concerned about the use of the phrase, "how serious it is" in paragraph (b) and whether it is sufficiently precise. Who will judge that? How will the judgment be made, and what criteria will apply? I believe that something specific about, say, the number of vulnerable road users and pedestrians in the vicinity at the time would be relevant to assessing the gravity of the offence, as set out in Amendments Nos. 11 and 17. Indeed, our amendments provide some alternative and additional criteria. Amendments Nos. 10 and 16 would add the time of day that an offence is committed because often it is a highly relevant factor. Amendments Nos. 12, 13, 18 and 19 are designed to deal with issues that might arise due to weather conditions.

We are in effect probing the Government on whether additional factors should be taken into account and whether, as highlighted in Amendment No. 20, the offender in question has an opportunity to put forward any other information or reason why the offence was committed. In short, we are concerned that, as it stands, the clause may be too rigid to deal with the nature of circumstances that may be beyond the powers of the driver.

The fixed penalty regime has proved convenient for administrators and forces and, on occasion, for the perpetrators of offences. We would all welcome more flexibility in the system. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

I strongly support the amendments, although I feel that they do not go far enough. The question of danger to pedestrians is important, but recently I have been approached by many people who have been issued with a fixed penalty notice for driving at 35 miles an hour in what they believed to be a 40 miles-per-hour zone. I stress that I have no personal interest in this, as I am not one of those people.

That seems terribly wrong. These are people who intend to keep to whatever is the speed limit, but the signing is so bad that the sign indicating 30 mph is barely visible and, in some cases—particularly in my area of Oxfordshire; the Thames Valley police force seems to be the worst in this respect—the authorities seem determined deliberately to catch people by putting up 40 mph notices and following those with a rapid 30 mph limit. Drivers cannot reduce their speed from the higher to the lower one over the distance. I have tabled a Question on this for later in the week.

I know where the signs are near Lower Heyford. Therefore, I am aware in advance, and I take care. Why do we not have the sort of thing that they have in America, where signs say, "Reduce speed ahead"? We sometimes see those signs on the motorway, but otherwise there are random signs saying "30" and "40", backwards and forwards. In the case that I am quoting, there is an extremely visible "40" sign and one saying "30" that is almost invisible, and people who would not dream of exceeding the speed limit have been receiving fixed penalty notices.

It is good that we have flexibility on the issue. However, as I understand it, the minimum will be two points on your licence, and the minute you have any points, your insurance premiums go way up, which is unfair to conscientious drivers.

I believe that the reason for it is simply to raise revenue. That is appalling. This is the Road Safety Bill, and that is what we should be interested in—road safety. My noble friend's amendments would help to improve the safety element. The West Midlands Police said this week—I am saving up this comment to throw at the Minister on Wednesday—said that there was a danger in sudden braking. This is the Road Safety Bill. Why put up signs that mean, if you see them, that you have to brake so swiftly that you create danger for other vehicles?

Last night, someone phoned me to say that they had just come off the A40. The speed limit goes from 70 to 50, and you have to brake unbelievably hard to slow down in the distance given. Much more needs to be done on this.

My noble friend said that his greatest concern was what is beyond the power of the driver. That is my concern too. Everything should be done to help the driver comply with the law, and the amendment goes a long way towards that.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport 5:15, 27 June 2005

I declare my interest as a member of the Thames Valley Police Authority. In answer to the noble Baroness, I say once again that the Thames Valley Police and members of the safety camera partnership derive no money from the speeding fines. It is an absolute lie, perpetuated by the likes of Jeremy Clarkson and the Daily Mail. By repeating it here, the noble Baroness has done us a great disservice.

As for the location that the noble Baroness mentioned, I shall make sure that it is checked. However, when you come off a motorway, you frequently come on to a road on which the speed limit is restricted to 30, 40 or 50 mph. You know that, and you should reduce your speed accordingly. If you drive off a motorway at 70 mph right to the edge and slam your brakes on, you are behaving irresponsibly and are the cause of great danger to other people.

The point that I wanted to raise with the Minister has nothing to do with the Thames Valley Police. I sincerely hope that he will tell us that the Government have no intention of removing the three penalty points given for exceeding the speed limit.

Speed limits are, for the most part, clearly defined. There is one exception, and we shall come later to an amendment on it. In an area with a 30 mph limit that has street lights, there is at present no need to provide any form of repeater signs. Somebody who is driving through such an area is supposed to know that the 30 mph limit applies throughout, but it can be a long stretch. I believe that a repeater sign in that 30 mph limit area is a good idea, so that people are reminded that they are in a built-up area. But I must stress that, if a driver hits someone at 35 miles per hour, that person has a fairly slim chance of surviving. If a person is hit at 40 miles per hour, their chances of surviving that accident are virtually nil. The responsibility for road safety rests heavily on the driver because it is the driver who is at the control of the vehicle. It is the driver's responsibility to ensure that he or she behaves in a safe manner.

We will go through the various amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, but I do not see that whether it is day or night, whether it is raining or the sun is shining or whatever, has anything to do with keeping to the speed limit. The speed limit is delineated beside the road in most cases and our road safety depends on people observing speed limits. Many of the people who complain about being caught by speed limits are obviously annoyed, but they have speeded. Somebody else has not done that; they have. You cannot say, "Somebody else went at 35 miles per hour and I am being penalised". You have speeded, you have committed the offence and, for my money, you are the person who should pay the penalty.

Normal practice in Thames Valley is that if you are travelling at up to 37 mph—it does vary a bit—and have no record, you are offered the opportunity of going on a speed reduction course as an alternative to getting penalty points, but not as an alternative to the fine and you have to pay for the course yourself. That opportunity is offered only once, not repeatedly. However, we have to get across to people, whatever papers they read, whatever they say and whatever gossip they listen to at cocktail parties, that speeding is dangerous. It is the major cause of traffic accidents and deaths.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

I feel that I must come back because I am being accused of saying things that should not be aired. First, if the money does not go to the local police, I would like to know where it does go because plenty is collected. Apart from that, the noble Lord has entirely missed the point that I was making—these are people intending to remain within the speed limit and unable to do so because the limits are not clearly signed. In some cases, trees overhang the signs. In my own village, which I will quote again, as you approach an intersection, the speed sign says 30. You drive not much further than from here to the Princes Chamber and the limit goes up to 40, but after the same distance again, it goes back to 30. Why do they bother raising the limit to 40 when you can barely get back down to 30 before that sign appears? It is too short a distance to change the speed limit three times.

I was also speaking to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, about was dual carriageways. They are not usually roads which people run across, but if they did, they would certainly take great care. I am delighted to hear that he is a member of the Thames Valley Police Authority because I shall certainly be having a little word in his ear on a number of subjects which I shall not bother your Lordships with tonight.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

I support what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said about speed limits. However, the noble Baroness said that nobody would want to walk across a dual carriageway. There are dual carriageways in towns and urban areas where the only way of getting to the other side is to walk across. Therefore, there need to be speed limits.

On this business about not being able to slow down when one gets to a lower speed limit, with the greatest respect, if you cannot slow down safely, you are going too fast anyway. You should put your foot on the brake gently. The noble Baroness shakes her head—but it is as if people find it difficult to comply with speed limits. If you do not know what the speed limit is, the safe thing is to reduce your speed to 30 until you see a sign. It is quite simple, and it is actually a lot safer.

I have to admit that we are getting slightly off the subject of the amendment, but I am worried not only about these amendments but those to Clause 3(2). So many of the issues listed there, and in these amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, are to some extent very subjective. The more things that are listed as conditions, the more arguments there will be about whether you should get two, three or four penalty points. I shall be interested to hear what my noble friend the Minister says in his response, but I personally think that the fewer conditions, the better. If the speed limit says 30, whatever the circumstances, that is the maximum speed at which you go—and if you go over that, it is your own fault.

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)

One of the joys of being a Minister is that if one sits at the Dispatch Box minding one's own business, you can get answers to the most difficult questions from other informed Members. I have been the beneficiary of that this afternoon.

My noble friend Lord Berkeley, in his last contribution, hit the nail exactly on the head. I agree with him entirely that we have to avoid detail. I understand the principle behind the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, moved so ably, but there is a real problem with putting into the Bill issues of great detail. The problem with what you include is that you throw into high relief that which you leave out. The clause is constructed to maintain a degree of necessary flexibility. That is why my main argument is the one that my noble friend Lord Berkeley put—that we should avoid too much prescriptive detail in these circumstances, because none of us can envisage every conceivable circumstance when a problem might arise, nor can we anticipate every single defence that could be erected. Most magistrates, in my experience, are baffled by the fact that even after 30 years on the Bench they still hear something new every day, because of the extraordinary ingenuity of people when they are confronted with the problem of being arraigned for having broken the law.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, identified another issue. It is one of the great advantages of this House that there is always someone with real interest in a subject, or with talent or position, who is able to answer such questions. I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is going to take up the issue with regard to the Thames Valley police and that therefore I can disregard that particular representation.

As for the rest of the burden of the noble Baroness's remarks about whether the signage is effectively communicated, I certainly agree with the principle that everything should be done to aid compliance. That is obviously so. At times I believe that we over-egg that pudding as well. Quite a number of people who are concerned with our national heritage are greatly disturbed about the number of warning signs, particularly on our urban streets. We may produce such clutter that the message does not get through anyway.

The noble Baroness will forgive me if I do not answer too many of her points. For one thing, she has the willing co-operation of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. A word in his ear on this occasion was the loudest stage whisper that I have heard for a long time—and he will have taken that on board. In any case, the noble Baroness will have a second bite of the cherry because, as she said, she has tabled a Question for later this week, when we shall return to this particular point.

I shall concentrate on the main burden of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. The problem is that the moment one starts to get into detail, one is trapped by whether one can effectively produce such a comprehensive list in the Bill, or whether it would create a clause that would make the Bill many times larger than it is now. Even if one did produce such a list, one might not be successful in being wholly comprehensive. In addition, my noble friend Lord Berkeley referred to some aspect of subjectivity. There is a real problem when one identifies issues such as meteorological conditions and the presence of a certain number of vulnerable road users. In making such a judgment, how would we translate it into effective legislation? Regardless, in a specific case a magistrate or judge can take all the circumstances into account; that is what they pride themselves on doing. But how can we anticipate all of those factors in legislation? Would we not be guilty of producing such a grandiose generalisation that it would be meaningless and not aid the cause?

I think that the noble Lord is absolutely right. It is important to recognise that additional factors can have a bearing on the severity of an offence. It is right that we dispense justice on the basis of the decisions in each case. These amendments are a good shot at a very difficult task. I am merely saying that we do think we have the capacity to meet that task with the rigour and accuracy that would make good legislation. I am not discounting the validity of his points on judgments about speeding. I am merely saying that we cannot do it according to amendments to the Bill that try to take into account all the circumstances.

On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will recognise that we have had a constructive debate and feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport 5:30, 27 June 2005

I thank the noble Lord for his answer. As I said at the beginning, these are probing amendments. We very much support the idea of flexibility in the system. Everyone would agree that one commits an offence by breaking the speed limit. However, as in other offences, there are various degrees of offence. We therefore support the Government in trying to introduce variation to the points system.

As I admitted on Second Reading, I myself have points. However, I gained them by not knowing that I was in a 40 mile per hour limit. I thought that I was on a major road—the A13. Mind you that it did not happen in Essex, where speed limits are clearly sign-posted, but in London. If it had been in Essex there would not have been a problem. I thought that I was in a 40 mile per hour limit, and I was doing 38. That is why I have points. As my noble friend Lady Gardner said, it is incumbent on authorities to have the right signage and the signs need to be clear and understandable by the motorist.

In tabling the amendments I was trying to get the Government's feeling on the issue. I note what the Minister said. I agree that the matter should not be prescribed in such detail. We shall see look in Hansard to see what he said. It is a difficult issue and we do not want to be over-prescriptive. However, we want to ensure that the Bill contains the right words. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 11 to 14 not moved.]

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Graduated fixed penalty points]:

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Liberal Democrat

Before calling Amendment No. 15, I should inform the Committee that, were it to be carried, I should not be able to call Amendments Nos. 16 to 20.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

moved Amendment No. 15:

Page 2, line 28, leave out from "as" to end of line 41 and insert "set out in Schedule (Graduated penalties)"

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

This amendment deals with the same topic and we undoubtedly will have a similar debate. It seeks to shine further light on how the system might work.

Amendment No. 15 introduces a new schedule that would specify in the Bill the graduated penalties that would apply to speeding. I stress at the outset that I have tabled the amendments not necessarily because I believe in these figures, as I said, but to take forward our previous debate. Neither would I say that the penalties specified are correct. However, the amendments will allow us to debate further the issue of where we should set the penalties.

As it stands, we will learn later, in secondary legislation, how the graduated penalty system will apply. As everyone knows, I am not a fan of such legislation—which is why I believe we should debate the issue today. I agree that the subject is entirely controversial. As we have heard, there are many different and sincerely held views on it. However, we have a chance with this primary legislation to discuss the issue and what the Bill should provide—what we as parliamentarians collectively think are the right answers about graduated penalties.

My view, subject to any arguments put forward by the Committee, is that the Government have started on the right lines. However, by tabling this schedule and these amendments I wanted to start a debate on graduated penalties and seek the Committee's agreement, after proper discussion, that it is desirable to include such penalties in the Bill rather than deferring the matter to some point in the future when we have the secondary legislation.

I think that flexibility is the key to a successful system. There is an admission of the need for flexibility, as we have discussed. Regardless of whether that is achieved by order or through this amendment as well as graded penalty points, I should welcome an approach that indicated that there will be a clear difference between an offence that attracts six penalty points and one that attracts two points. That is what I am trying to get out of this debate. I should like to establish what should attract six penalty points and what should attract two.

I should welcome any further information that the Minister can give us about where each limit will be set and what fine it will attract. The amendment deals with an interesting and important issue. I hope that the Minister can inform us of the Government's current thinking on it. I beg to move.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative

As my noble friend suggests, no doubt it would be helpful to have the table of speeding penalties, as eventually agreed, included on the face of the Bill. However, I would strongly oppose that the particular table presented in the amendment should be the one adopted for that purpose. The proposed table would introduce a lower penalty for speeding at up to 39 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour area, and that would send the wrong message on safety to drivers in built-up areas. I shall seek to argue that point in a later amendment on speed limits.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

My noble friend has just made the speech that I wanted to make.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench

The amendment is excellent in principle. However, I suspect that the table itself should not be included in primary legislation. It might be wise to increase speed limits on motorways, for example, which are extremely safe roads. While I shall not argue about what should be the penalties in areas with 30 mile per hour speed limits, I think that the current system of all or nothing is a bit ridiculous. The concept of graduated points according to the severity of the offence is extremely sensible. It will go a long way to avoiding anomalies whereby someone loses his licence and livelihood for a minor infringement in conditions that could otherwise be considered safe.

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)

I took careful note of the assenting voices after the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and he clearly was not speaking alone. However, I was grateful also to the noble Earl, Lord Errol, for putting an alternative viewpoint—which is the one that we take on these amendments.

We still have a lot of consultation work to do. There are many and varied viewpoints on just what the table should look like, and we do not pretend that the debate has been fully thrashed out. We have it in mind that this debate will take some time before we reach a decision on secondary legislation. I hasten to add that I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said about secondary legislation. I assure him that it would be done by affirmative order and would therefore be considered seriously by both Houses. We have to take into account what will be recognised in this Chamber as very diverse views. Our minds are not entirely made up. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, pressed me rather more vigorously on a previous group of amendments. He probably considered that I had evaded the issue and had not addressed them. I apologise for not responding to that important point but I take the opportunity to do so now.

I am not in a position to be definitive. We shall have a substantial debate about speeding as we discuss the Bill further. A significant section of the Bill is devoted to that issue. We shall come to that. The Government have not made up their mind on the issue. We want enabling legislation to be in place to allow the issue to be resolved with an affirmative order being put before both Houses for consideration after the conclusion of debate. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, probed me on the matter of process.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

Perhaps I may probe the Minister a little more. I was trying to discover what offence resulted in six points and what offence resulted in two points. Will the Government indicate their thinking on that matter at the moment?

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)

The amendments that we are discussing concern speeding. We shall discuss speeding when we reach the clauses which address that. However, we shall also debate the broader issue of penalty points, which ranges far beyond speeding. The affirmative order will need to encompass all aspects of road safety. I will not be drawn at this point; otherwise, I face the great danger of having to produce a comprehensive answer on virtually every single amendment in the Bill. First, I am not capable of doing that and, secondly, the answer might be comprehensive but it would not be definitive because, as I have indicated, the Government have not made up their mind.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport 5:45, 27 June 2005

I thank the Minister for that reply. As I have said two or three times, this is a probing amendment to try to get some idea of the Government's thinking. I do not envy the Government in trying to resolve the issue as many different views are held on it. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that much consultation will be undertaken. It is important to consult road users, safety interests, the police and everyone else before a final conclusion is reached. I was also pleased to hear the Minister say that there will be further debate on the issue here as obviously the ultimate reasoning regarding what constitutes two or six points is very much in the public's mind. However, I hear what the Minister said. We shall debate the issues further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 16 to 20 not moved.]

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Giving of fixed penalty notices by vehicle examiners]:

On Question, Whether Clause 4 shall stand part of the Bill?

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

In opposing the Question that Clause 4 stand part of the Bill, I seek further information from the Government.

Clause 4 refers to Schedule 1, which will allow vehicle examiners from the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, VOSA, to issue fixed penalty notices in respect of those offences for which they have enforcement powers. We debated that matter earlier.

The schedule will also empower VOSA to deal with other matters connected to the operation of the fixed penalty system on behalf of the Secretary of State. The right of the recipient of a fixed penalty notice to request a court hearing would not be affected.

In tabling these amendments, I hope that the Minister will be able to set out what the policy of the department will be on the exercise of discretion on whether to impose penalties under the powers set out in the schedule.

There is much concern that, as soon as we get into the fixed penalty regime, discretion will go out of the window. I hope that the Minister will assure us that it is not the intention of the department that every breach of any regulation that is governed by the schedule will automatically result in the imposition of a fixed penalty and that common sense and discretion will be applied in generous measure.

I wish also to ask the Minister about the mechanics of the handling of licences that must be endorsed. Can he give us some assurances about the time-scales in which those licences will be returned? The circumstances would be different if a penalty involved disqualification, but in the routine case of an endorsement someone might be without a licence for a fairly long time, which could be a serious problem for a professional driver.

Perhaps the Minister will also explain why he thinks that making the change is a good idea. I think that we should be wary when more people are put in a position in which they can prosecute or penalise motorists because enough people can do that already. I want the Minister to tell us why he wants to add another group of people and not leave it to the tried and tested way of doing things.

Furthermore, what supervision will there be of the people carrying out the measure? What standards will be set? I know that there is guidance but to what extent will someone who is not one of these inspectors be able to ensure that it is being followed? To what extent will someone be able to compare their practice with that used elsewhere, and, if necessary, will they have the authority to pull a person back into line with other people issuing fixed penalty notices?

Obviously, one of the suspicions when an agency has the power to levy penalties is that it will be motivated to do so to fund its own activities, as some people have claimed is the case with speed cameras—in short, a self-financing regulatory authority. I should be grateful if the Minister would give an undertaking that VOSA's operations will not be dependent on funding which it obtains from penalties that it imposes. That might give it an incentive to impose more penalties than is fair.

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

I follow the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, in using this clause stand part debate to probe the Government on this matter. Will the Minister explain how much more additional work for vehicle examiners will result from Clause 4? Are they largely carrying out this work already but now need statutory cover for that, as it were, or will the clause result in their carrying out additional work?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

I support the concerns of my noble friend on the Front Bench. Often vehicle condition is a matter of opinion and not necessarily a matter of fact. For example, some of the older vehicles that I operate have very heavy steering. However, if an examiner has no experience of such an old vehicle, he will think that it is in poor condition when it is not. Perhaps the examiner's judgment is poor. The person who receives a fixed penalty may decide to pay up as that is easier when in fact he is being slightly unfairly dealt with. It is also important to remember that very few accidents are caused primarily by vehicle condition. They are nearly always caused primarily by driver error. However, it is still important to ensure that vehicles are in good condition. My final observation is that I have much more confidence in VOSA's vehicle examiners than in London parking attendants.

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)

I have one question. I say immediately that as a magistrate I deal regularly with parking and vehicle offences. At the moment, vehicle examiners can be called to a vehicle by a police constable to assess whether or not it is in good condition. The vehicle owner can subsequently be presented with form HORT1, which I believe states that he or she will voluntarily have faults rectified within one week, in which case no penalty will be imposed. It is a voluntary way of having a vehicle's faults put right without incurring a penalty notice. What I am not clear about is whether that system will now be otiose or whether it will sit alongside the fixed penalty system? How will the chicken and the egg line up together?

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench

I gathered from what the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said that some of those fixed penalties could give rise to endorsements. Coming from a rural area, the way in which people can accumulate endorsements—perhaps for a series of offences that are not particularly dangerous or particularly putting people at risk—has always worried me. We do many things in our lives every day that could lead to some sort of risk.

It really concerns me that if people get a few endorsements they could lose their livelihoods or be cut off in rural areas from being able to go anywhere or do anything. That would put a strain on the family. The automatic "12 endorsements and you are out" can be dangerous to family life and to people's employment. We ought to be careful before we allow people to hand out endorsements willy-nilly. They sound terribly nice and easy and simple and not very nasty, but at 12 points they can affect people's lives and economy quite severely.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

The noble Earl raises an important point, but I can give him a little reassurance. Only defects relating to brakes, steering, or tyres are endorsable.

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)

That was an interesting and rather wide-ranging debate, and I have a number of interesting and specific questions to answer. I hope that I can defend the clause as well, as it is important that it stands part of the Bill.

First, on the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, the police can already use fixed penalties. They do not take away the right of the recipient to request a court hearing. Secondly, because the same system is operated by a different group of accredited agents, that does not invalidate the point that the noble Baroness made that a warning could be issued to the offender. That is exactly her point. The police would say, "You have to put those three things right or condign punishment will be invested on you". It is not intended to change the structure in that respect at all.

The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, asked me about the funding issue. There is no netting-off with regard to that. The officers are not going to be funded by the proceeds of the fixed penalty notices that they would be issuing.

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

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I was not asking about funding; I was wondering whether this was a new range of activities.

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)

It is, in the sense that being able to enforce fixed penalty notices is a new range of activities. It is consistent with the role that they play at present, either in pulling a vehicle over and beginning scrutiny of that vehicle, or when the police have called them to carry out an examination of a vehicle. They are not changing their role in respect of this clause; but they will have powers comparable to those of the police as enforcement agents. That is the issue. I am sorry if I misunderstood him with regard to the funding issue; I am getting exceedingly nervous about funding questions after the battering that I have already had this afternoon on that.

I bear in mind the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, about the accumulation of offences. However, in any walk of life remote from motoring the accumulation of offences is a pretty serious process to be involved in, so of course the racking-up of potential punishment is related to the accumulation of offences—that runs throughout our justice system. It may be thought that the problem with motoring is that all of us only commit minor motoring offences and what a terrible thing it is that we have committed a minor motoring offence four times within a space of time and we lose our licence. Well—if breaking the law is a danger to the community, breaking the law four times is a pretty serious danger. That is the answer to his point.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench

I will tell noble Lords the problem. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, mentioned it. If you were not watching your tyres very carefully, and you drove to Scotland and back, you could actually be disqualified if someone spotted you on your return. If you had four slightly under the limit tyres—which would have been perfectly legal a few years back—because it is three points per tyre, that is 12 points—and you are out.

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)

I want to pick up that point. If anyone comes to court with a danger of having 12 points on their licence, in court they can ask for special hardship to be taken into account; which would take into account the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, about suddenly being without a licence. Is someone who suddenly finds themselves with 12 points on their licence because of that limited number of fixed penalties going to be able to go to court, having already racked them up, and issue a special pleading for special hardship? If not, that becomes unfair because they would not have the right that they have now to put those matters before magistrates.

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)

If the individual is threatened with the loss of a licence, and if that is a crippling punishment as far as they are concerned, of course they have the choice of going to court and trying to persuade the court that there are extenuating circumstances. I take it that if in fact there are extenuating circumstances and the person feels very hard done by, and if the consequences of the punishment would be so condign, he or she would undoubtedly go to court. There is nothing in this legislation that changes that at all, as I am seeking to impress on noble Lords.

The clause does empower those inspection officers with the same powers as the police for enforcement against infringements of the law. That is the basis of the clause, and that is why it is such a substantial part of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

The question that I asked was about consistency. Obviously police are trained, and one has faith in that system, but if a new group of people are able to award fixed penalty notices that could lead to possible disqualification, we need to know that they are consistent and that they have the right training. That group of people would have a lot of power that they did not have before. If they have power, they need to have the ability to use that power.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

I offer some reassurance to my noble friend on the Front Bench. The VOSA examiners are technicians—they are specialists in vehicle technology— whereas the police officer has possibly only attended a relatively short course. In fact, I would have much more confidence in a VOSA examiner than in the police.

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)

I am grateful to the noble Earl. As I say, if one sits quietly enough, one gets the answers.

I was going to venture the obvious point that the vehicle inspection officers are not amateurs; they already make significant judgments. If you are driving your lorry from London to Scotland, and the vehicle inspectors decide at Arbroath that your lorry has to be taken off the road, that is a pretty severe punishment. They already have that power and that right. We are not talking about ill-trained amateurs; we are talking about professionals who are concerned with the roadworthiness of a vehicle, which is a crucial aspect of road safety.

I bear in mind entirely what the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, that vehicle defects represent a small percentage of the causes of accidents, and driver error accounts for a much greater percentage. Nevertheless, it is our duty to ensure that vehicles are safe on the roads. We all know the enormous obligations that we all have to maintain vehicles in reasonable states of repair.

Apart from the general points that I sought to make with regard to the Bill, there is an obvious anomaly that the clause sets out to correct. At the moment, two agencies—the police and the vehicle inspectorate—are empowered to enforce traffic and roadworthiness regulations, but do not share the same powers to sanction offenders. Currently, only the police can issue fixed penalty notices. The purpose of the clause is to ensure that the accredited vehicle safety inspectors are in the same position. It is on that basis that I defend the clause and hope that the noble Lord will not press for its deletion.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport 6:00, 27 June 2005

I have a slight anxiety; if the Minister would prefer to write to me, I would I understand. Goods vehicles have to go to goods vehicles testing stations for their annual tests. Sometimes they are detected to have serious faults that mean that they cannot go on the road. They should not be presented like that, but the fact is that they are. It is fair enough to prohibit them, but would VOSA issue fixed penalty notices as a result of an annual test?

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)

I may have to write to the noble Earl. It is obvious enough that you have no defence to any police officer in saying, "I know that my car's an old wreck, but I'm just taking it for a test to make sure of what kind of wreck it is so that I can rectify it". If I am driving the car to a test station, if it is not roadworthy and if I am stopped, I am vulnerable, and the same would apply for a goods vehicle.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

I accept the noble Lord's argument, but the anxiety is that the person taking the vehicle to a goods vehicle testing station is an employee and might not have an awful lot of choice. He is in some difficulty.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

As the Minister said, it has been an interesting debate with all sorts of views from all over the place. I hear what has been said. Some points possibly still need to be answered, so perhaps the Minister could reflect on that and, if need be, write to us on them after the debate has been studied.

Clause 4 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 not moved.]

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

moved Amendment No. 23:

After Clause 5, insert the following new clause—

"GOODS VEHICLE LICENCES

(1) For section 3 of the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995 (c. 23) ("standard" and "restricted" licences), substitute—

"3 LICENCE AUTHORISATION

(1) A licence may authorise a goods vehicle to be used for the carriage of goods—

(a) on both national and international transport operations; or

(b) on national transport operations only.

(2) A person who uses a goods vehicle for carrying goods for hire or reward on international transport operations under a licence which covers the carriage of goods on national transport operations only is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale."

(2) In section 13 of that Act (determination of applications for operators' licensing)—

(a) in subsection (1) omit the word "standard"; and

(b) omit subsections (2) and (4).

(3) Section 4 (temporary exemptions) shall cease to have effect."

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

Under the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995, an operator's licence is required for all goods vehicles used commercially over 3.5 tonnes. The licence can be for national or international operations, and for "own account" or "hire and reward". In the case of a standard licence, a professionally competent manager—the transport manager—is required to run the transport operation.

Over recent years, the "hire and reward" sector, which requires a standard licence, has improved its standards. That may partially be due to fewer very small fleets. Unfortunately, I keep reading in the commercial press, particularly Commercial Motor, of cases of standard vehicle licence holders in serious difficulties with vehicle maintenance and the general operation of the vehicle. Often, that is a result of ignorance. It frequently involves scaffolding and building operators. For instance, last week in Commercial Motor, I read a report of a groundwork contractor who was stopped by VOSA. His vehicle had two defective tyres, loose wheel nuts, a defective speed limiter, inadequate inspection reports, and only a 33 per cent prohibition rate and a 50 per cent pass rate at annual tests.

If my amendment were agreed, all transport operations would be managed by someone professionally competent. I beg to move.

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)

This would be a radical change to existing arrangements. The UK is the only country in the EU that has a system of restricted licences for operators who carry goods for their own businesses, rather than on behalf of other people. Other member states do not follow that pattern of licensing. The requirements that "own account" operators have to meet in the UK are therefore already a good deal stricter than elsewhere in Europe. There is little evidence that restricted licence holders operate their vehicles less safely than standard national or international operators. I hear what the noble Earl says about some articles that appear, and there may be hearsay, but our judgment of the evidence before us is that the present licensing system of two categories does not lead to one being vastly superior to the other.

Applying the full requirements for standard licence holders would be a significant burden on the high proportion of them who run small businesses. Restricted licence holders have to prove to a traffic commissioner that they are fit to hold a licence and have the resources to run their vehicles safely and within the law. They are subject to exactly the same road safety laws relating to vehicle standards and driver behaviour as other operators.

Even if there were a case for revising the operator licensing system in the way that the noble Earl envisages, we could consider making such radical changes, affecting almost half the users of heavy goods vehicles, only after a proper review of the system and full consultation with those affected. We are satisfied that the current arrangements strike the right balance between the need to ensure that vehicles are operated safely and avoiding unnecessary burdens on operators.

I hope that the noble Earl will recognise that the amendment would introduce a significant change, affecting a large number of operators. We could conceive of that only with very extensive consultation. At the moment, we are unpersuaded of the case.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

I have some sympathy with the noble Earl because, particularly in the scaffolding business, the things carried on such lorries are extremely dangerous. The scaffold poles and the boards can and do fall off the vehicles and cause grievous damage to other, properly maintained vehicles. There is a case for making sure that people who use quite large lorries to convey loads that are not well secured conform to some stronger form of governance. The noble Earl has hit a nail on the head. Such people require rather stronger regulation than the Government appear to think.

The advent of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act has meant that far more buildings, including those that require painting, decorating and alterations, require scaffolding than ever used to. Without casting aspersions on the people in the scaffolding trade, I do not think that many of them would qualify for the higher echelons of employment. This is an area to which the Minister might give rather more serious consideration. When such materials are contained in contained vehicles such as vans, I have some sympathy with the Minister's point, but, particularly in the case of scaffolding lorries, the goods conveyed are not contained. They are loose on the lorry, they are often secured only by a piece of rope, and the consequences of scaffolding falling off are devastating.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

I am not surprised by the Minister's response, because I tabled a similar amendment to the Transport Bill. He said that there was little evidence of problems. What is the difference between the annual pass rates at goods vehicle testing stations for holders of restricted licences and those of standard licences? I should be happy for the Minister to write to me. Can he also say now what extra burden the amendment would put on businesses, other than the requirement for a person to be professionally competent?

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)

The noble Earl should not be too dismissive of that last point. It means that a single operator must have a professionally competent person alongside him to do one job—to ensure that his truck meets the standards. The noble Earl may employ people by the thousand, but I know that many one-person businesses, if they were compelled to double their wage bill, would go out of business. So, the matter is not as easy as the noble Earl indicated.

Regarding scaffolding, we all recognise the fact that certain trades carry their loose materials around with them. I would not be as disparaging as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, but he does not receive as many votes from builders as my party—as was in evidence in the recent election. All I am saying is that we have no evidence of vast amounts of scaffolding cascading down our roads that would render the accident rate so appalling that we would need to change the licensing system.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

The Minister has misunderstood the requirement for a transport manager. The amendment does not require the employment of an extra person; it requires that someone in the organisation should have that qualification, holding a certificate of professional competence. I have a certificate of professional competence, so, if I wished to operate a goods vehicle for hire and reward, I would already meet that requirement by being professionally qualified. If you operate a goods vehicle, with all the damage that it could do, you should be professionally qualified.

I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. Although we may have overdone the point regarding the nature of the load on a scaffolding vehicle, people who operate scaffolding, building, tipper or muck-away trucks are often not in a good position properly to maintain their vehicles. A requirement to have someone who is professionally qualified and who knows what should be done and what is not strictly necessary would be beneficial. In the mean time, I thank the Minister for his response and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Driving record]:

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Liberal Democrat

Before I call the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, to move Amendment No. 24, I gather that Amendments Nos. 25, 26 and 27 are grouped with it. If Amendment No. 25 were agreed to, that would pre-empt Amendment No. 26.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 cover paragraph (e), which deals with other prescribed persons, and the subsequent subsections that would introduce it through statutory instrument. Who do the Government have in mind for that category of other prescribed persons? That could raise a real issue about the misuse of official information.

Equally, as noble Lords may have realised, I do not much like secondary legislation, particularly dealing with something as important as this. We are concerned that information on driving records could be accessed relatively easily by a large number of people and, therefore, left open to abuse. Such information could be worth a lot of money to some people. It would be unhealthy if a host of fixed penalty clerks and other prescribed persons could spend their day trawling through records to see whether they could find information of worth—for example, on any of us—that they could supply to the press for profit.

Why is the paragraph needed? What does the department have in mind? What steps can be taken to ensure that such sensitive information is not misused? I beg to move.

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 6:15, 27 June 2005

I hope that the Minister can explain whether such a driving record is new. As a driver, will I be sent one, or does it already exist and is merely being legitimised?

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I was listening to the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and it was as if he was repeating the same questions that I was asking the civil servants earlier about the people who may eventually need access to a driving record. I hope that, by the end of my contribution, I shall also have answered the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie.

Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 would remove the power of the Secretary of State to prescribe, by regulations, other persons to have access to information held on a person's driving record. Clause 7 introduces the concept of a driving record maintained by the Secretary of State that would be the official record of a driver's endorsement history. So, as the Bill wishes to describe it, there will be a new item called a "driving record". As we see it, at present, the police have access to our driving record, but the Bill establishes a new item called a "driving record", and I shall explain how that will come about.

It would enable the introduction at Clause 9 of the new system of endorsement for all drivers, based on inspection of the driving record rather than the counterpart. At present, as noble Lords will know, your driving licence consists of a plastic card and the document that I am now displaying, a driving counterpart. The Bill aims to remove the driving counterpart and, instead, there would be an electronic record that would be available to the police and others.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

No, I am not talking about an ID card, although I am mindful of the discussions that are taking place in another place this week.

It is expected that it will take up to five years before the new system of endorsement can be commenced. That is partly due to the complexity of creating the necessary electronic links between the police, the courts and the DVLA. So the driving record would be established once those links were there. They are not necessarily there at present. In addition to that, once the new system of endorsement is introduced, although the counterpart will no longer have any statutory functions, it will take the DVLA up to five years to establish alternative procedures for all the other information functions that the counterpart currently provides.

In response to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, I say that the department has tried to identify all the persons who at this stage, we envisage, would require access to information held on the driving record. However, when we implement the new system of endorsement, it may become apparent that there are other people who require access for the system to work, hence the reference to other prescribed persons in new Section 97A(2)(e).

What people may eventually need to have access to the driving record? District and borough councils request applicants to declare any endorseable offences, and they inspect applicants' driving licences to confirm their statements. So, local authorities could benefit from direct access to the database. Another organisation could be the military, as the Secretary of State does not have the power to share data directly from the driver record with the MoD. Future direct access to the driving record may therefore be required to check that people who are going to drive for the MoD have the necessary entitlements and have not been disqualified. Those are two examples of organisations that could come under the reference to other prescribed persons in the paragraph.

In its first report of the current Session, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee commented that, in view of the potential significance of the power to extend the categories that we have talked about, the affirmative procedure should apply. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said that it was a step change and that therefore that procedure might be necessary. We fully understand the view of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and we are happy to make an amendment so that the affirmative, rather than the negative, procedure will apply. That will be achieved by Amendment No. 26.

Schedule 2 to the Bill contains legislative amendments about the endorsement of driving records in the case of unlicensed drivers and certain foreign drivers. Amendment No. 27 will correct a minor drafting omission by inserting an amendment to Schedule 2. The amendment will amend Section 30 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, which relates to the modification of penalty points where a fixed penalty is also in question. Although Section 30 of that Act has been repealed in Scotland by the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 2004, it still has effect in England and Wales. It is therefore necessary to amend Section 30 to ensure that it takes account of the provisions introduced by the Bill concerning the new system of endorsement. The amendment will insert a new paragraph 4A into Schedule 2 that amends Section 30 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 to insert references to a person's driving record and to Sections 57A and 77A of that Act, which are to be inserted by this Bill.

I hope that in view of that explanation the noble Lord will withdraw Amendment No. 24, not move Amendment No. 25 and support Amendments Nos. 26 and 27.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

Will the Minister explain why the military should have access to information about points on people's licences? In response to a previous amendment, my noble friend Lord Davies said that the military should not be able to direct traffic or heavy loads. If it is not capable of directing traffic, why should it have access to information about people's points? Is it as an employer? If it is, what about other employers? Why should they not have access too?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

Members of the Committee should avoid repeating each other's speeches; otherwise, I would say exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, just said.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

I am slightly concerned about a different aspect. I understood the Minister to say that the counterpart endorsement would be gone and that a person will not have any proof in his own hands of what endorsements he has. As the Internet is so subject to people cracking codes, is there a danger that someone could falsify a person's record without him knowing, as he would not have his own copy of his record to prove it?

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

I wish to raise two other matters. Does the system apply only to the driver, or is there a record of the vehicle as well? From the point of view of the police, it would be extremely useful if they knew whether vehicles were licensed and insured or whether they had been stolen. Secondly, will the system contain information that would be of use to county councils on the sort of people who they are not allowed to employ to drive school buses and other such vehicles because they have previous convictions for offences against children?

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I shall start with the question asked by the noble Baroness. We envisage that, in place of the counterpart document, which is a legal document, there will be a document containing information useful to a driver that he could keep with him. That document would be available, and the information on it would presumably be updated from time to time. It would not be a legal document as the counterpart is now. If I have more information on what is envisaged to replace the counterpart for the convenience of the driver, I shall ensure that the noble Baroness is written to.

In fact, we might short-cut that letter. I understand that the DVLA intends to write to drivers every time that their record is amended—for example, after an endorsement is made. That will give the driver an opportunity to challenge the amendment, if he thinks that it is incorrect. I think that that was at the back of the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner. In addition, drivers will have access to their record—to the information document, which is not a legal document—by telephone or electronic links. I also understand that it will be available in printed form, but I shall ensure that the noble Baroness receives an answer on that.

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)

Has the Minister ever tried to ring the DVLA as a private person, not as an official? If this is going to happen, the communication system between the public and the DVLA—I do not mean the courts and the DVLA—will have to be improved seriously.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

That is a point well made. I have tried to do so as an ordinary member of the public. It is often extremely difficult to get through. I take that on board.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

Will the DVLA call centre be in the UK, or will it be offshore?

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I do not have that information to hand, but if it is available—I doubt that it is—my noble friend will receive a letter from me.

I move on to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, about whether information would be about the driver only or whether it would also be about the vehicle. As I understand it, it is about the driver. That is how I read the Bill.

I was asked by my noble friend Lord Berkeley and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, about the military. I do not know whether I can give an effective answer, except to mention the importance in security terms for the MoD to ensure that its drivers are properly qualified. I presume that that is the thinking behind why it could be included in this group of persons other than the Secretary of State. Does the noble Earl want to come back on that?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport 6:30, 27 June 2005

What about the petroleum company tanker carrying petrol or a chemical company, maybe a tanker carrying liquid chlorine?

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Earl makes a very good point. I am sure that we shall look carefully at the concerns expressed about the envisaged width of organisations that might possibly need access to driving records. We will be very careful about who has access to the record.

Noble Lords raised concerns about people possibly making money from accessing your driving record. I also asked that question. I was told—and I hope this gives some confidence to noble Lords—that any access to the electronic document that is your driving record at the end of this proposal would have a trail attached to it. So, first, the security would be very tight so far as anyone being able to access that record. Should that security be breached there would be a documentary trail attached to who had access to your record. I think we are being told that that access would be very secure and that even if it were breached there would be evidence.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

I am not sure about the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, but my concern was that surely certain commercial organisations should have access to the driving record. The point is not about why the MoD should have it but that commercial organisations should have access for the reasons I have described.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

I agree with that. This is access to a person's driving record for an employer who wishes to take on a professional driver. Whether he is an oil-tanker driver, an MoD driver or any other type of driver, employers still have the same responsibility for road safety accidents—they may be carrying dangerous goods or whatever. I would have thought that it was equitable that every employer should have access to this record on the same basis. Perhaps my noble friend can consider before the next stage of the Bill how that could be done because we will probably want to explore further the issue.

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

My noble friend Lord Bradshaw asked about social work organisations needing access to establish that the person proposing to drive the minibus for a children's home is not a sex offender. I hope that the noble Baroness can clarify that that will be the case.

Is this driving record a bad driving record, or will it cover any, for example, advanced motoring tests which have been passed, which might be described as "good driving records"?

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

As I understand it, it will be your driving record. Therefore it will be the record of both good and bad, if you like. On appropriate people accessing the record, and the example of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, of the social services, it would be important that appropriate people have access. I was taking the access concerns as meaning people getting into your records who, as it were, have no business to be nosing around them. But as far as appropriate agencies are concerned, that is absolutely right.

I shall reflect on and take up with the department the commercial question which both my noble friend and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, put to me.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

Perhaps on that specific point I may come back to the noble Earl.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

I think we have had an extraordinary debate on the issue. The Minister has surprised us by effectively announcing the end of the driving licence as we know it, which obviously has profound political and public interest. There are a lot of questions to be answered, as we have heard in this debate. Modern technology being what it is, the noble Baroness might be optimistic in thinking it can all be achieved in five years. Most of us are involved in all sorts of projects which seem to take much longer than we ever imagined they would. Whether we can link everyone up in five years to provide this will be interesting.

There are, as I said, a lot of questions to be answered. One of my amendments on Report might be where the DVLA will be situated in the future. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked that pertinent question. We must reflect on the debate and read Hansard. There are lots of points to ponder. Perhaps the noble Baroness will think about the issues and clarify some of them. I am sure that we will return to the matter with renewed vigour on Report. I beg leave to withdrawn the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 25 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 5, line 13, leave out from beginning to "House" in line 15 and insert "No regulations shall be made under subsection (2)(e) above unless a draft of the instrument containing them has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Endorsement: unlicensed and foreign drivers]:

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

moved Amendment No. 27:

Page 58, line 26, at end insert—

"4A (1) Section 30 (modification of sections 28 and 29 in case where fixed penalty also in question) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1)(b)—

(a) after "licence" insert "or his driving record", and

(b) for "or 77" substitute ", 57A, 77 or 77A".

(3) In subsection (2)(b)—

(a) after "licence" insert "or on his driving record", and

(b) for "or 77" substitute ", 57A, 77 or 77A"."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

moved Amendment No. 28:

After Clause 9, insert the following new clause—

"ENDORSABLE OFFENCES

(1) In section 15 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52)—

(a) in subsection (1), for "fourteen" substitute "sixteen";

(b) in subsection (3), for "fourteen" substitute "sixteen".

(2) In Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (c. 53) (prosecution and punishment of offences)—

(a) in the entry relating to RTA section 14, in column (6) insert "Obligatory.";

(b) in the entry relating to RTA section 15(2), in column (6) insert "Obligatory";

(c) in the entry relating to RTA section 15(4), in column (6) insert "Obligatory"."

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

I start from the premise that the Government's intention is to include in the Bill the fact that the use of a hand-held mobile telephone will become an endorsable offence. That has long been expected. Therefore, I want to talk about another endorsable offence; namely the wearing of seat belts.

It has been the case for a long time that the department, which is well represented over there, has resisted the addition of an endorsable offence of using a hand-held mobile telephone because it is not actually a driving offence. It is not actually to do with driving a car. It is something else: it is using a mobile phone. By the same token, I believe that they have regarded not wearing a seat belt as not a driving offence—it is not to do with the conduct of a vehicle; it is an offence that is an adjunct to it, but not an offence of driving the vehicle.

My concern is that to reach the casualty targets that the Government have set themselves during the next few years, a number of bold initiatives must be undertaken. As I said, they have traded strongly on the fact that the design of cars has become so much better over the years that casualty rates had been reduced—not, may I say, through anything that the Government have done but because car manufacturers have made cars much safer and pedestrians and cyclists have been frightened off the road.

The use of pedal cycles and the amount of walking adjacent to roads has reduced. Although people apparently trumpet the fact that motorways are the safest roads in the country, if one takes into account the fact that no one walks on a motorway—or few people do—and no one cycles on a motorway, the reason that they are the safest roads in the country is because there are no cyclists or pedestrians to knock down. The car drivers who drive into each other kill each other, but there are fewer collisions on motorways because there are no road junctions, where most collisions take place. The intersections on motorways are engineered to avoid collisions. That is why they are the safest roads. They are the safest roads not because people behave themselves well on them but for many other reasons.

As far as I know, there are no collision statistics collected centrally about the wearing of seat belts. If you ask people after an accident whether they were wearing a seat belt, if they are alive to answer, they will invariably answer yes. It is similar to signals passed at danger on the railway: if you ask a train driver whether he has passed a signal at danger, he will invariably answer no, because he actually thinks that the signal was green. The driver actually believes that he was wearing a seat belt. It is psychological, not a fact.

Despite the fact that people say that they are wearing seat belts, the wearing rate is very poor. Figures that the DfT has collected show that 7 per cent of car drivers do not wear seat belts and about one-third of adults in the rear do not wear them either. In the Thames Valley, we have come to the conclusion that about one-third of schoolchildren do not wear seat belts. I referred to a more detailed study on Second Reading. In the past three years, those people who were driving or in cars—I am not talking about pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists, because they do not wear seat belts—40 per cent of front seat and 54 per cent of rear seat occupants who were killed were not wearing seat belts. That is an enormous number, and that is a fact. That is not me speculating or telling the House a fable.

Also, if you look at photographs of car accidents, as I have done, I can show you horrendous accidents of cars down banks, up against trees or smashed into lamp posts. Where the occupant was wearing a seat belt, he has almost always walked away. On the other hand, I can show you another series of accidents where the car windscreen may be slightly broken and where the car is not a write-off, but the occupant is dead because he was not wearing a seat belt. The facts are the simple facts; it is not me embroidering them.

If someone is ejected from a car after a collision, he is 25 times more likely to be killed than if he is restrained in the car by a seat belt. It will not surprise the Committee to know that an unrestrained driver, passenger or even a dog is a great danger to everyone else inside the car because, when the car hits something, they fly about inside the car.

We have had these facts investigated by Frank McKenna of the University of Reading, who is an expert on the subject—these are not speculative figures, which is why I am detaining the Committee for longer than I normally would. He has shown that if you catch someone speeding and offer them, as we do, an opportunity to go on a speed awareness course, the take-up rate is about 85 per cent. People do not want the penalty points; they will go on the speed awareness course; that is effective in changing their attitude. Some people it has no effect on, but others it does.

However, if we offer someone whom we have caught not wearing a seat belt the opportunity to go on a course to consider the effects of not wearing a seat belt—we have lots of smashed up cars and pictures of people who are dead—only 10 per cent of them do so. That leads us to believe that the motivating factor is that if you do not wear a seat belt and a police officer stops you—something of an occasion, because you do not often get stopped by a police officer in uniform—he gives you a fixed penalty notice of £30. Nowadays, that is almost less than you pay to park in many places; it is a derisory fine. It has become almost the small change of motoring fines. Yet that is what you are fined if you do not wear a seat belt.

Further, under Home Office circular 7/1997, a fixed penalty can be issued only to people over 16. So although people under 14 are the responsibility of their parents, those between 14 and 16 who are not wearing seat belts are in the anomalous position where the police can take them to court but the court has no means of disposing of the offence. They cannot fine them £30 because they are not 16, and there are no other means of disposing of the case.

I have tried at length to say to the Government that if they are serious about reducing road casualties, they should accept this proposal as a way of doing so. I am fairly certain that if the penalty for not wearing a seat belt were three or even two penalty points, people would wear a seat belt, and I can guarantee that the accident rate in the country would decrease.

There are few measures requiring no expenditure that would result in an immediate reduction in casualties; this is one of them, and it is why I am moving the amendment. I seriously want the Government to take notice. I am not making up the evidence; it is real. I should like to know that the Minister will at least consider it seriously. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative 6:45, 27 June 2005

I have listened very carefully and found the noble Lord's remarks very interesting. There is slight confusion in the assertion that if we all wore seat belts there would be fewer casualties. Speaking as a dentist, clinics show that wearing seat belts results in fewer fatalities but there is more patching up to do because people who would otherwise have been dead must come in for treatment. I cannot guarantee that wearing seat belts will stop us being injured.

I wish to focus on the practicalities. I have reached the point where if I do not wear my seat belt in the car I almost feel undressed, because it has become second nature to wear one. I have been in cars where someone's chauffeur has turned around and said, "Please put your seat belt on because otherwise I am liable".

The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, has pointed out in your Lordships' House that few of us wear a seat belt in black cabs. I must admit that I never do. Going around London in a black cab I have never felt at risk. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, referred to 14 to 16 year-old passengers. They do not have a licence to endorse, so the driver's licence must be endorsed. What would be the position of drivers of black cabs or, outside London, other such vehicles? Would we be obliged to put on a seat belt on getting into any licensed passenger vehicle, and who would insist on that? Presumably, the driver would have the onus of insisting on it, as he would lose out otherwise. That practical aspect is slightly difficult.

The policy for all private drivers and anyone travelling long distance in a faster hired vehicle is different. Another point not covered is the policy on coaches, not all of which have seat belts—there has always been an argument about whether they should. The practicalities are slightly more difficult than the principle, which I support.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

Many noble Lords will not be surprised to learn that I oppose the amendment. I shall not challenge the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, on comparative statistics concerning seat belts at this time of the evening, although I would be delighted to do so at a later stage. I could argue about it for half an hour if I had time to marshal all the comparative tables that I have.

I invite the noble Lord only to examine the interim fatality statistics for taxi drivers, who have never been obliged to wear seat belts, although perhaps 0.5 per cent of them choose to do so voluntarily. I would guess that the improvement shown by statistics for fatalities and serious injuries among taxi drivers over the past 20 years is broadly in line with that of the motoring population as a whole.

The noble Lord talked about people being thrown out of cars. He will not remember the late Lady Alma Birk, who was a Minister on these Benches 25 or so years ago. She was strongly in favour of the introduction of compulsory seat belt wearing yet she admitted that if she had been wearing one at the time of a very nasty accident she would not then have been standing at the Dispatch Box. She had been in a car that ran underneath a lorry, and she was thrown out on to a grass verge and survived. The car was reduced to a height of 18 inches. So it cuts both ways. Of course, on balance it is safer to wear seat belts rather than not, but it is not all one way.

The obvious reason for the discrepancy between the law on the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving and the law on wearing a seat belt is that if you use a hand-held mobile telephone you are quite likely to run into somebody else and kill or severely injury them, whereas if you do not wear a seat belt the person you are most likely to kill or seriously injure is yourself.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, gave a guarantee that if the amendment were agreed to the accident rate would go down. That suggests that there would be fewer collisions. I think not. Surely he has heard of the risk-compensation hypothesis. Perhaps the injury rate would go down but not the accident rate. The hour is late so I shall take up cudgels on the matter at greater length another time.

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)

I do not have the Road Traffic Act 1988 before me therefore I am not clear how either amendment would introduce penalty points. The first amendment changes the age from 14 to 16 and the second makes a whole raft of things obligatory, but neither indicates where the penalty points system would come in.

My second point picks up that made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner. It depends who would have responsibility under the penalty points system. Is it the driver or, under the new system of drivers' records, would passengers have three penalty points foisted upon them regardless of whether they had a licence?

Thirdly, as I understand it, the insurance industry is very hot on whether people were wearing seat belts at the time of an accident. If someone is lamentably hurt in an accident, an insurance company takes into account whether a seat belt was worn.

I would have difficulties in supporting the amendment but the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, may wish briefly to comment on the points that I have made in response.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for introducing the amendment. I am not happy with some of his arguments about motorways and vehicle safety but his amendment builds on my Amendments Nos. 87 to 89, which were not quite properly drafted. I believe that the noble Lord's amendments taken together provide for penalty points.

The legislation is weak in this area. It is obvious that seat belts save lives. The noble Lord talked about improvements in car design but overlooked improvements and comfort in seat belt design. The seat belts in an early Land Rover were static and worse than useless but seat belts are now brilliantly designed and have many clever features.

Motorists do not care about small fines. The noble Lord talked about the £30 fine, which is considerably smaller than the one you would acquire if you forgot to pay the congestion charge. Penalty points concentrate the mind very well. If drivers are prepared to expose themselves and their youngsters to a totally unnecessary risk of severe injury, they must put their licence in jeopardy.

The noble Lord talked about unrestrained drivers. A particular problem arises with lorry drivers. If they are involved in a relatively minor accident they can get thrown from their driving seat and go on to be involved in a devastating accident because they can no longer fully control the vehicle. We should ensure that lorry drivers always wear seat belts, when fitted.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 7:00, 27 June 2005

There will be an interesting debate about whether this amendment or the amendments of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, or both, achieve the objective that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, seeks. The noble Lord has shown me some of the pictures to which he referred, and they certainly concentrate the mind.

I do not believe that we can argue about the statistics. We have to recognise that, whatever individual cases there may be of people surviving because they happened not to be wearing a seat belt—or people getting away with something or not being as badly hurt as they might have been—the statistics tell you that wearing a seat belt gives you a major advantage of being less hurt or staying alive. The objective, after all, is to keep people alive and reduce the severity of any injuries they might receive. I agree that the imposition of penalty points would concentrate the mind.

Surely the driver should be responsible for ensuring that passengers wear seat belts. People say it is difficult but, if you are the driver, it is quite easy to turn around and ask your passengers, "Have you all got your belts on?" If someone says, "I am not going to wear it", you say, "Well, I am not moving". It is quite simple; you do not have to move.

Reference has been made to black cabs and taxis. My understanding of why taxi-drivers do not have to wear belts is that they argued that they might be attacked from behind by one of their passengers and they could get out the cab quicker. I do not know what would happen to the cab if they were moving. Slow moving vehicles such as milk floats are another issue.

It all comes back to the faster you go, the more protection you need. You must have a belt on. If one of your passengers has not got it on, you do not move.

At Second Reading, reference was made to the horrific accident that took place on one of the Oxford by-passes about a month ago when a car went across the central reservation. I am not sure whether the driver was wearing a belt but there were six, seven or eight teenagers inside and in the back who had no belts on. Several were killed and some of them are still in hospital. Why they crossed the central reservation we do not know; it was an accident in which these people were either killed or seriously injured. But if the number of people in the car had been the number for which the car was designed, and if they had been wearing belts, there might have been a very different outcome.

I hope that we can sort out a suitable amendment to achieve this very important aim.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

Before the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, sits down, can he tell the Committee what a driver is meant to do if he is driving a large, bolshy teenager of the kind depicted by Harry Enfield who, when travelling on a motorway at 70 miles per hour, suddenly decides to take his seat belt off? What is a driver meant to do in such circumstances?

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

I suggest that the driver stops and waits for the teenager to put his belt on again. If the police come along, he can have an argument. It is an issue that has to be resolved. When he is being stroppy the teenager may say "I'm not going to wear a belt", but he might equally say, "Well, I'm going to thump the driver". It is the same thing—you have got to stop—but it is not an argument for not wearing seat belts and not having a penalty for drivers who do not make their passengers wear belts and keep them on. It is an issue that has to be dealt with.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

The carefully thought-out answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, of course, is that the driver drives to the nearest safe place and then tells the passenger to get out.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

Yes. But then you have the problem of a teenager without any money in his pockets looking at how he is going to get home.

We have had a useful and wide-ranging debate about seat belts. In response to the call of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that the Government should take seriously his amendment, I should tell him that we of course take all amendments very seriously. I hope to have some positive news for him extremely shortly.

As to who should be responsible for 14 and 15 year-olds, I understand the concern of noble Lords that the police should be able to deal with children who do not use their seat belts. That is why the current law makes the driver responsible for those under 14 and the matter can be dealt with under the fixed penalty procedure. However, the question of responsibility for tackling offences committed by those under 16 raises wider issues than those related to seat belt offences. The Government believe that this matter should be considered as a whole and not in a piecemeal way, offence by offence. It would be unwise therefore to change existing requirements until we have had an opportunity properly to consider the ramifications across all government departments.

However, I understand that the Home Office is willing to take this issue forward, which is a very positive and serious response from the Government. I cannot be more prescriptive today than that but, as I said, our understanding is that the Home Office is willing to look at this and take it forward.

In the mean time, the present penalties apply. By virtue of Schedule 3 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 a seat belt offence may be dealt with by the fixed penalty procedure. However, in accordance with guidance set out in Home Office circular 92/85, it is police policy not to issue fixed penalty notices for failure to wear a seat belt to 14 and 15 year-olds.

I can assure the Committee that this does not mean that the police cannot deal with juveniles. In exercising their judgment they take whatever action they think appropriate. In many cases they will aim to educate drivers. The police feel that it is more important to hammer home the message of why it is important for young people to wear their seat belts. But if the police consider that the circumstances justify greater action, they may issue a summons to require a young person to appear in court, where the normal penalty for seat belt wearing offences would apply—a fine of up to a maximum of £500.

As to the issue of licence endorsement, while I do not doubt the importance of the intentions behind the amendment, the Government consider that the endorsement of licences with penalty points should be reserved for the most serious driving offences. While we are in no way complacent, we are pleased to say that in Britain we already have what we consider—and I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw—to be very high seat-belt wearing rates; that is, more than 93 per cent of people in the front seats of cars, a similar level for children in the rear of cars but a lower level for adults—65 per cent—in the rear of cars.

In view of this, the Government believe that the proposed level 2 fine of £500 is right for this offence. A level 3 fine of £1,000 and endorsement for those convicted in court is simply too high and would put the offence on a par with unlicensed driving, speeding and traffic light offences. We believe that the best approach is to continue to educate drivers about the importance of seat belts, supported by police enforcement as appropriate.

The Committee may wish to know that in England and Wales the police issued 145,000 fixed penalties in 2003 and took some 5,000 cases to court for seat-belt wearing offences.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, asked about black cab drivers. Our understanding is that black cab drivers are not liable for their passengers if there is a partition between themselves and the passenger. That I believe covers the points made to me, although during the debate a number of concerns were raised.

The £30 fixed penalty fine is the standard fine level for all non-endorsable offences. If seat-belt wearing offences were to become endorsable, the level would automatically rise to £60. The Home Office keeps penalties under review to ensure that fine levels remain appropriate and would, of course, consult on any proposals to change them.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

I am grateful for the Minister's reasonably positive reply. She spoke about penalties, but I am not sure she understood that my intention and, I suspect, that of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, was significantly to increase penalties. The Minister also talked about other government departments, particularly the Home Office. Does she speak for Her Majesty's Government or the Home Office?

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

I am a little confused and somewhat disappointed by the reply that I have received. The education of people who do not wear seat belts is almost a dead letter. I reiterated very clearly that only 10 per cent of people who are prosecuted by the police elect to go on an education course: 85 per cent of people caught for speeding do so. In other words, people do not care. The reason they do not care is that the fine is totally derisory. The offence needs to be endorsable. I am not saying that the endorsement should be three points, just that there should be something in the way of points. Then people will go on education courses and will see the consequences.

I hope for a better reply on Report, because I will put the matter to a Division. I will make sure that the Government are very firmly put in the position that the seat belt deaths that are occurring week by week are their responsibility. They are not the responsibility of anyone else and cannot be brushed off on the public at large or someone else. I assume that it is because the Government refuse to take action. There must be something better: a £30 fixed penalty notice is nonsense. I cannot think that a £30 penalty is in any way appropriate for offences that may lead to the deaths of people. On Report, I hope that the Minister will have reconsidered her position. The position of the department is untenable and will not lead to the necessary reduction in deaths to reach the Government's targets. It is a serious matter.

I fully understand the situation of black cab drivers, who are in a special position. There is a big partition in a black cab. It is very unlikely that people in the back will be thrown through. They are also professional drivers. We may all have our stories about black cab drivers and their behaviour, but they drive all of the time in the worst possible traffic conditions. They are professional drivers. Nor do they drive very fast in London because it is not possible, although occasionally they may try.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

When I referred to black cab drivers, I was talking about the drivers themselves, who I contend show the same improvement in their fatality and serious injury rate as motorists taken as a whole.

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)

As regards the point about who will be penalised with penalty points, I do not think that any of us is arguing about the fact that people ought to wear seat belts. We are not. It is the sine qua non that they save lives. I am trying to extract who will be the subject of the penalty points. Will the driver be responsible for making sure that everyone in the car is wearing a seat belt? If they are not, is he or she likely to be subject to the penalty points or will it be the person not wearing the seat belt; that is, a passenger, either in the front or the back?

It would be very difficult for the police or courts to bring in a judgment about penalty points, whereas it is not so difficult to impose a fixed penalty fine for not wearing a seat belt. If the noble Lord is to produce these amendments, we must have real clarity on where the penalty points will impinge.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport 7:15, 27 June 2005

The answer to my noble friend's question is that it must be the driver, but he needs to have a reasonable defence. If he can show that he tried to get the passengers to wear seat belts, he may be able to prove mitigating circumstances.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, if the person who was not wearing a seat belt was a driver, I cannot see why he should not get the penalty points. He knows as well as anyone the importance of wearing a seat belt. The driver is responsible for children, about whom I am most concerned. I am well aware of the accident to which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, drew attention when a number of children were killed on the Oxford bypass about three weeks ago. It was a most dreadful accident. That does not necessarily make good law, but, assuming a passenger who is a driver is a responsible person, he may well be the person who will suffer the penalty.

The penalty is derisory and ridiculous. It is a sticking point, to which I will return and divide the House because it is a point of principle. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 3 [Endorsement: all drivers]:

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

moved Amendment No. 29:

Page 72, line 13, at end insert—

"35A (1) Section 30 (modification of sections 28 and 29 in case where fixed penalty also in question) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1)(b)—

(a) omit "the counterpart of his licence or", and

(b) for "57, 57A, 77" substitute "57A".

(3) In subsection (2)(b)—

(a) omit "on the counterpart of his licence or", and

(b) for "57, 57A, 77" substitute "57A"."

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

In moving Amendment No. 29, I speak also to government Amendments Nos. 30, 31 and 32, which correct minor drafting errors and omissions in Schedule 3 to the Bill. Clauses 7, 8 and 9, together with Schedules 2 and 3, introduce a new system of endorsement of driving licence which, when extended to all drivers, will mean that the counterpart will no longer have any function, as we discussed earlier.

As a result, Schedule 3 contains further legislative amendments about the endorsement of driving records in the case of all drivers, much of which is concerned with removing all references to the counterpart. The amendments ensure that all relevant legislative references are properly updated to take account of the provisions in the Bill concerning the new system of endorsement. I urge Members of the Committee to support the amendments.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

moved Amendments Nos. 30 to 32:

Page 74, line 24, after "licence)"" insert "and for "his" substitute "the alleged offender's""

Page 76, line 24, after "(interpretation)" insert "—

(a) in the definition of "the provisions connected with the licensing of drivers", for "91ZA to 91B" substitute "91ZA, 91A", and

(b) in the words following the definition of "the Traffic Acts""

Page 79, line 23, leave out "subsection (3)(b)" insert "subsections (3)(b) and (4)(b)"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Financial penalty deposits]:

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)

moved Amendment No. 33:

Page 9, line 16, at end insert—

"( ) that the person committing the offence is not normally resident in the United Kingdom,"

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)

Before turning to the amendment, perhaps I may put a question to the noble Baroness, or to the noble Lord if he is to respond to this amendment. I ask forgiveness if this is just ignorance, but it is an opportunity to put me right. In the new system of deposits, I am not clear who is entitled to collect them. My question is this. Are the people who issue the fixed penalties or the notices requiring the deposit able to collect them; that is, is a policeman or vehicle inspector able to take a deposit immediately? If so, that is a big step away from what we understand has been the position in the past.

I preface my amendment with that question because it is relevant to Amendments Nos. 33 and 34. They would limit the requirement for a deposit payment to a non-resident offender driving a vehicle registered abroad. They would also restrict such a requirement to an offender not normally resident in the United Kingdom.

These amendments are designed to probe the Government on why they are making the ambit of the financial penalty deposit system set out in the clause much wider than any sensible justification for it would suggest. The justification for the system is that it would enable an enforcement authority to ensure that foreign drivers who break UK traffic laws with impunity can be dealt with expeditiously. That is to be welcomed. Some 44,000 offences committed by the drivers of foreign-registered vehicles went unpunished during the last year for which figures are available. That gives an idea of the extent of the problem.

However, the Government are taking extra catch-all powers in the clause which can be used against United Kingdom citizens and residents and those with UK-registered vehicles, when in effect it deals only with foreign lorry drivers who break the law and commit other offences.

We understand that there is little opportunity to catch those drivers and that a financial deposit scheme will be of only limited use. Indeed, the clause will not give immediate relief because nothing in it would ensure that the driver of a lorry that has triggered, say, a speed camera at a site where no one is present will be stopped. The lorry driver will not pay the penalty before he returns to the Continent, which is where most of the lorries come from. In that case, why do the Government intend to extend the scheme to local residents as well as foreigners?

In view of the co-operation between EU member states in many areas, are not negotiations taking place on the matter? Can the Minister give a précis of the stage we have reached in achieving an agreement with our European partners on this problem?

How will this clause be used in light of the real concerns about the growing problem of, for example, Travellers, many of whom do not have fixed addresses let alone roadworthy vehicles? Moreover, what exactly is meant by a "satisfactory address", and more to the point, how will the police decide whether it is satisfactory?

That brings me back to my original point. If the police cannot take a deposit immediately, but still have to issue a notice to someone who will be on the ferry by the next night, it seems that the whole thing will be a complete waste of time. I am sure that the Minister will say that that is not the case, but perhaps he will enlighten me on these points. I beg to move.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

I share many of the concerns of my noble friend Lady Hanham, in particular with regard to taking cash at the side of the road. At the moment, if I see a policeman taking cash from a motorist, I know that something is going badly wrong. But, on the other hand, I do not see how the deposit system will work if he does not do so. No doubt the Minister will be able to help us.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

The problem of drivers who do not hold a British driving licence is serious, be they truck or car drivers. We hear stories of them not paying the congestion charge because no one can catch up with them. It is extraordinary that after all these years the European Union does not have a common clearing house for sorting out these problems. However, clearly we do not have one. Perhaps it is something for the British presidency to take up next month.

Many people are fed up with the fact that if you hold a British driving licence you can be caught—admittedly quite rightly—for all kinds of offences, but if you have a foreign number plate or hold a foreign driving licence you can get away with it. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that only a couple of weeks ago a report in the press described a famous person driving a very fast British car on the French motorway on the way to his second or third home in Tuscany. He was stopped by the police for doing 150 or 180 kilometres per hour. He had to pay the best part of a €1,000 fine and had his licence taken away on the spot. The report ended by saying that his wife carried on driving the car. Even so, it must have been quite a shock. I do not know whether the French police take credit cards. I do not believe that they do so and I do not know whether we plan to. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, also asked that question.

When it comes to things like this, we must ensure common treatment of everyone on the roads, be they British or foreigners. I hope that my noble friend can explain how that is to be done.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

I rise on this occasion to say that I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. The problems with foreign drivers are serious, as I know to my cost. I have mentioned this before in the House. On the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is right in saying that the French police can take cash from motorists. There is no problem about that. Ten years ago in Spain I was fined the equivalent of £20 for turning left when I should have turned right or something like that. Again, the fine could be paid in cash and I received a receipt. Unless the police can take cash, I do not see how this can be enforced. That possibility must be left open.

Photo of Lord Brougham and Vaux Lord Brougham and Vaux Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I agree totally with every word of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. We are caught for committing misdemeanours and we are fined, but they come over here and get away scot free.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

Perhaps I may detain the Minister a moment with one tip from the Kent police. The police should turn off the air-conditioning system and take away the car keys. That has a salutary effect in producing the money on the spot.

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)

Once again, if one listens long enough one gets the answers to all the questions. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, although I imagine that switching off the air-conditioning system is likely to be more effective at this time of the year than on others. However, the answer to the main question that has been put in our debate is that we want to treat all road users the same when hazardous or dangerous offences are committed. It does not matter where a person comes from. The issue is that an offence has been committed and we want to ensure that a punishment is dealt so as to improve driving behaviour. That is the whole point of this legislation. So the answer is yes. The vehicle examiners and the police will be able to take the deposit in cash on the spot. It will not work any other way, and that is the intention.

The amendments would restrict that to only those who were registered abroad. We want everyone to have the same treatment. We recognise that there are difficulties with drivers from abroad, for all the reasons that have been clearly enunciated and defined in this debate. It can be difficult to trace people's temporary address in this country, or they can blissfully ignore the penalties once they are on the other side of the Channel where it is more easy to evade them.

We want to make sure that we deal properly with offences. We intend to be quite clear about the action to be taken. If the address is not satisfactory, according to the enforcement agency, then a deposit will be required. I am sure that we all recognise the fairness of that.

We are working on the principle which is expected from all our fellow citizens—that people who commit offences are treated in the same way for the offence, irrespective of where they reside. We intend to ensure that if there is uncertainty about the residence and the officer concerned is not sure that he would be able to pursue the case further effectively on the basis of the evidence submitted, cash will have to change hands as a deposit against that eventuality. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport 7:30, 27 June 2005

I think that the Committee will be very happy with the Minister's response. But is not the reality that he has to have these provisions in place? He cannot accept my noble friend's amendment for the simple reason that if he did, the Bill would not be compliant with EU competition law and a raft of other directives because it would be discriminatory against foreign drivers.

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)

That is certainly so, but there is a plethora of reasons I could advance against the amendments. I was being, I hope, constructive in merely indicating that the amendment did not add to justice in these circumstances, which is the basis on which the legislation is being prepared.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

I hope the noble Lord may be able to inform the Committee that any outstanding fines attributable to a driver or firm will also be collected and that in the event of a deposit or an address not being forthcoming, the vehicle will be detained. Unfortunately, you have to deal quite viciously with some of these people because they flout almost every law.

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)

I do not think it is the role of officers to act viciously; they should act effectively. A vehicle is stopped for the driver to be interrogated and the circumstances to be determined. If the driver is not able to give the assurance that he is meeting his obligations, then the stopping of that vehicle continues.

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)

I have had an answer to at least some of my questions, particularly the one relating to vehicles of travellers, for example, who may not have a fixed address. They would be subject to these regulations in the same way as anybody else who does not give an address. That is recognised. I guess that Mickey Mouse of Neverland probably would not go down frightfully well.

I am not sure under what legislation enforcement authorities, and that includes the police, are entitled to take cash against a fixed penalty in this country. I asked the Minister that question early on because I hoped that he would have the answer for me. They have to be empowered to take the money and issue receipts. Perhaps the noble Lord will tell me what that legislation is, because I do not know. If it exists already, perhaps it should be referred to in the Bill.

All subsection (4) of new section 90A says is that a satisfactory address is one at which,

"the constable or vehicle examiner considers it likely that it would be possible to find the person whenever necessary to do so in connection with the proceedings, fixed penalty notice or conditional offer".

It says nothing at any stage in Part 3A or under Clause 10 about officers being entitled to take money, in the form of a deposit, from people on the road. The Minister may have the answer to that; if not, perhaps he would be kind enough to write to me with the details. In addition, what will the deposit amount to? Will it be the same as a fixed penalty charge or will it amount to the maximum penalty that can be imposed by the courts?

There remain a lot of questions surrounding this. The Minister may be able to answer some of them. If he cannot, I would be grateful if he could write to me before the next stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 34 not moved.]

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)

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begins again not before 8.37 pm.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.