Road Safety Bill [HL]

– in the House of Lords at 3:06 pm on 29 November 2005.

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

Clause 29 [Compulsory surrender of old-form licences]:

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

My Lords, I have read very carefully our debates in Committee and with the passage of time I find them no more reassuring than I did at the time. Indeed, I find the situation even more disturbing. We still have no clear justification for this sweeping power to recall all existing driving licences, no justification for charging motorists for this bureaucracy, no costing of the process, no statement of what the charge to motorists will be and no denial of the obvious potential link to the identity card project.

There is a growing suspicion that the Government are being less than candid with the public about their ID card plans. I absolve the Minister from this; he has always been very helpful to the House; but he needs to say today whether the Government will rule out ever designating driving licences as documents with which people will be made to register with the ID cards scheme when they seek a new one. If he cannot give that categoric assurance, there must be one obvious conclusion—the Government are designing this gigantic bureaucratic engine to recall and reissue all driving licences at least partly in order to force people into the ID cards scheme. It is hard to see what other purpose there could be. After all, in Committee the Minister gave three rather flimsy explanations as to why this sweeping new power was required. On 17 October (at col. 665 of the Official Report) he said that it was nothing to do with Europe. It is odd, though, that the existing photo licences are in a common form and bear the EU flag, but, of course, I accept unreservedly what he said. These clauses are nothing to do with Europe. Therefore, it must be a purely internal policy consideration that is driving a potentially massive bureaucratic exercise to recall all existing driving licences.

The Minister said (at cols. 665-6 of the Official Report) that the matter was to do with security, nothing more, nothing less. He said that almost every day there was a case of fraudulent abuse of identity involving paper licences. One case a day does not seem to me to be massive in the context of tens of millions of licences in issue, but I grant that the matter needs addressing. However, does it require this massive sledgehammer built at undisclosed cost to the taxpayer and inconvenience to the public to deal with it?

The Minister said (at col. 668 of the Official Report) that we need to improve the quality of the paper licence. Frankly, that could be done in time and is being done without these powers. The Minister said that there were already 20 million photograph licences in circulation, with 2 million being added each year.

That would mean 22 million possible recalls of photo licences under this clause if it were decided to recall them all or limit their term of validity for less than the existing 10 years. Is there any assurance that the Government will not do that? We would like some explanations on these points as there were none in Committee.

The Minister said that he could not be drawn on the cost of the process, nor could he say what charges would be imposed on motorists who have perfectly legal documents withdrawn so that they have to get new ones. He said nothing about the concern that I have raised about ID cards. When I asked about a link to ID cards, the Minister said:

"I would be straying somewhat far afield from my brief if I discussed the issue of identity cards, which the Committee will recognise are the subject of intensive consultation at the present time".—[Hansard, 17/10/05; col. 667.]

That is hardly illuminating. It is widely acknowledged by those involved that part of the Government plan to force people to volunteer for ID cards and be registered on the national ID register is to designate driving licences under Clause 4 of the Identity Cards Bill and force people to be registered when they apply for a driving licence. Indeed, you would not be allowed to drive unless you agreed to be registered in the Prime Minister's ID register. By a pincer movement of designating both passports and driving licences it is hoped that in the shortest time 80 per cent of the population will be forced to volunteer to be registered. Perhaps the Minister did not know that; if not I hope that it is helpful to the House for me to have informed him. If he did know that, I hope that he will be a little more forthcoming on this occasion about the intention of the Government if it is so, and if it is not so that he will be forthcoming in a firm undertaking to Parliament that driving licences will never be a designated document under the Identity Cards Act.

Even if the ID card issue were not involved I would be cautious about the need for the powers being taken here. The justifications given are slight, the cost and inconvenience are potentially enormous and the bureaucracy is unnecessary and avoidable. A potential link to the ID card scheme would be better made in the Identity Cards Bill, rather than taking powers in this legislation to facilitate it. I see no proportionate case for these powers, and I believe that they should be omitted from the Bill. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I agree almost entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said. We believe that the identity card as proposed, as far as we know, is a way of getting people on to the identity card register. We are concerned about what information is to be carried on the driving licence; are they in fact to be surrogate identity cards? What sort of charges are people going to be forced to pay, both now and in the future, for what is going to be a quasi-identity card? Is this not a way of getting around the debate in which this House is already engaged with the Government on the future of identity cards?

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

My Lords, I am grateful to the two noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, although the arguments have not advanced a great deal since Committee. Let me deal with the suspicion that has been articulated that this is all about the identity cards legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, thought that it would be better if the driving licence issue was brought within that legislation.

In the Identity Cards Bill there is provision for any official document to be designated. That would mean that in order to obtain the designated document—for example a passport or driving licence—an applicant would have to possess an identity card. But there are no plans at present so to designate the driving licence. I sought to make that clear in Committee. Any order to designate the driving licence would be subject to further parliamentary scrutiny under the terms of the Bill, and that scrutiny would be through affirmative resolution procedure. So we are making it as obvious as we can that if in due course that was thought to be desirable, Parliament would have to consider it as a separate issue through the affirmative procedure.

But we are not anticipating that that will happen and we are not making provision for it to happen. If the driving licence remains a non-designated document, an applicant may be offered the option of proving his identity by evidence of an entry on the national identity register. That would be voluntary, as against the current procedure in which applicants have to submit physical evidence of identity, such as a passport, to the DVLA. Officials are liaising with the Home Office to examine how that would work. Therefore, if, as I think it is, the main burden of the noble Lord's amendment is that this is all a precursor to the Identity Cards Bill, I am merely indicating that our thinking is very different from that.

Why are we concerned about the driving licence? First, when I say, as I did in Committee, that it has nothing to do with Europe, I meant to imply—I hope to clarify this matter now—that it is not imposed on us by any European legislation or directive. It has something to do with Europe in that some fraud is perpetrated in European countries by people using British driving licences, which in their present form are rather inadequate as identification, in other European countries. Those people obtain the opportunity to drive and then succeed in getting into Britain as drivers without ever having passed the test.

How many cases are involved? The noble Lord says that there are not many, and he is right—the number is not huge. I believe we identified 60 cases last year. But, as the noble Lord freely stated, it is fraud. That should be dealt with and we are seeking to do so. There are many other illustrations of occasions when these cards are used—not abroad but in the United Kingdom—in counterfeit ways. The police bring to the attention of the DVLA some 300 counterfeit licences a year. The DVLA provides the police with witness statements confirming that a licence is counterfeit.

Perhaps I may make the obvious point. First, the right to drive is a privilege, not an automatic right; it is a privilege won through competence so that one is safe on the road. Secondly, the whole House will recognise that there is often a strong correlation between the right to drive—particularly the opportunity taken to drive at excessive speeds—and criminal activity. I recognise that there are many features which increase crime in our society and therefore I will not make this point too strongly, but if there is one feature which contributes to criminality, it is the use of the motor car for access to the place where the crime is going to be perpetrated and for the getaway. We all know that, and that is why we are concerned about the right to drive and whether people are fraudulently able to avail themselves of these rights.

I remind noble Lords that this is a Road Safety Bill. I cannot think of anything that countermands the concept of road safety more than a person in control of a vehicle which can travel legally at speeds of 70 miles per hour and, in the hands of some people who have never qualified to drive because they have counterfeit records, a good deal faster than that.

Last year, the police also brought to the DVLA's attention approximately 1,200 cases where the individual had set up more than one identity on the DVLA's record. Some of the more extreme cases result in several separate identities being recorded. I wonder why that should be so if it does not indicate a level of criminal activity that has been easier to pursue than it would be under our new proposals.

The noble Lord then spoke about inordinate costs. I recognise that cost factors are involved and I believe he will forgive me—although I am not sure that he is in a forgiving mood today—if I am unable, at this stage, to cost this issue. I am not in a position to do that. I shall give way to the noble Earl.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative 3:15, 29 November 2005

My Lords, the noble Lord says "at this stage". How long have the Government had to work out how much it will cost? This stage is the last stage of the Bill—not the first stage. I understand that this fact may not have been known when the Bill went through the Commons, but for the Government not to have any idea how much it will cost at the last stage of this Bill in this House does not strike me as joined-up government.

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

My Lords, we still have some way to go with this Bill but the principle behind it is straightforward; namely, that the DVLA is a trading fund. It is a government agency, but it is obliged to meet its costs. The nature of the driving licence has finally to be identified. We are still subject to probing and challenging amendments from the other side, as the noble Earl may have noticed, so I cannot be categoric about costs. However, I have indicated that there are costs. Photographic renewal will cost the DVLA an additional £60 million per annum and it does not have a budget from which it can produce a subsidy for that. There are costs but many renewals will be free. Following a fee restructuring in March last year, licence renewals for those aged 70 and over for large and passenger carrying vehicle licences and for licences with a restricted duration as a result of a medical condition are now issued free of charge and that will continue. Replacement licences for those categories will remain free. Nevertheless, noble Lords will recognise that we cannot expect a government agency, which is meant to operate on a not-for-profit basis, but which has to meet its costs, to write off such significant costs, so charges will be made. I accept that the noble Lord has identified a point on that.

Taken in the round, we are seeking to guarantee the security of the British driving licence when we are all too well aware of the inadequacy of the present form. It is true that more recent forms of the driving licence have been a great improvement. A police officer has a real problem when he stops an individual who shows him a piece of paper without a photograph but which contains the general details that we all know appear on the driving licence. The police have real difficulties in establishing that the owner of the licence is the person driving the car at the time.

As regards road safety measures, we cannot think of anything that is much more important than guaranteeing the security of driving licences. We need to combat fraud. This is an area where fraud clearly occurs, in Britain and through our licences being used elsewhere. I hope the noble Lord recognises—if I am not given fresh arguments today—that I have reinforced and clarified some of the arguments I made in Committee and that he has had a sufficient answer to enable him to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, we are debating Clause 29. The heading to the clause is:

"Compulsory surrender of old-form licences".

That is strangely inadequate. Is the Minister satisfied with the terminology "old-form licences"? When one buys a new radio it is out of date yesterday or the day one buys it. Does the phrase "old-form" adequately define the present licences or is it important to designate an exact time to which the phrase "old form" relates?

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

My Lords, I can satisfy the noble Baroness on that point. She will recognise that the modern driving licence is very different from the old one, in particular with regard to the photograph. We can define when the improvements to the driving licence occurred, and we will call in licences issued in the old form that do not match current specifications.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Work & Pensions & Welfare Reform

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I am sure he is aware that a modern photographic driving licence card is accompanied by a piece of paper. The owner of such a licence is supposed to keep them together and when asked to produce his licence at a police station within three days, he has to produce them both. This is total nonsense. Should not all the necessary information be on the photographic card, not partially on a separate piece of paper?

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he tell me why the Government have no plans to designate driving licences under the Identity Cards Bill? I would have thought that the scheme for designated documents suggests that, of all the different kinds of documents that might be designated, a driving licence would be the most useful. Why do the Government have no plans to designate it?

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

My Lords, the noble Baroness may have noticed that we have a few minor problems with the Identity Card Bill and its passage through both Houses. We do not think that we ought to have a problem with the driving licence. As I have indicated, we are not proposing to designate the driving licence. We want to eliminate fraud and make the driving licence an accurate and effective document. We are setting about that within the framework of the Bill. I reiterate to the House that identity cards are outwith this argument. Just before I sit down, I can see other noble Lords rising, but there is a limit to the contributions I can make before I sit down.

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

My Lords, I normally thank the Minister for his answer but today, as he said himself, he has not given us any information other than what we debated in Committee. I shall repeat our concerns. The Minister said that the Government "have no plans" to designate the driving licence as part of the identity card scheme and that this matter will be put to Parliament in the form of an affirmative order. We all know that that means that, although there may be some debate, the matter will sail through. We feel that there is far too close a link between the potential identity card legislation and this suggestion from the Government.

We want to stop fraud and make certain that driving licences are used legitimately, but to replace 22 million licences would involve enormous cost. The Minister gave us no idea the cost, but he did talk about £60 million a year for a proportion of the licences, so we are talking about a tremendous cost, either to the state or to the individual. A lot of that money would be better spent on other road safety measures. We are debating a road safety Bill and if we are talking about, possibly, hundreds of millions of pounds, I am sure that many noble Lords have better ideas for saving lives and improving safety than spending this enormous amount on licences.

I have an old paper licence. They are being phased out. As one gets one's new licence, one gets a new photographic licence. As the Minister said, fraud has been less prevalent with the new type of licence. So, under the current situation with no new legislation—no new clauses—people will have a better licence. I feel that these two clauses are a step too far. They give the Government too many powers and pose enormous potential cost on either the motorist or the state. I think that we should test the feeling of the House on the matter.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 38) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 166; Not-Contents, 158

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Road Safety Bill [HL]

Aye: 164 Members of the House of Lords

No: 156 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

Clause 30 [Fee for renewal of photocard licence and issue of certain alternative licences]:

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

My Lords, in view of the result of the previous testing of the opinion of the House, I hope that I will not have to test the opinion of the House on this amendment as well. I hope that the Government will accept the previous result. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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

moved Amendment No. 40:

After Clause 33, insert the following new clause—

"YOUNG DRIVERS' SCHEME: PASSENGER CARRYING VEHICLES

Schedule (Young drivers' scheme: passenger carrying vehicles) shall have effect."

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

My Lords, we talked about the young drivers' scheme on the last day in Committee. I propose that drivers who undergo a proper scheme of training will be allowed to drive vehicles once they have passed the test and before they are 21 years old. I am given to understand that the Confederation of Passenger Transport has had a meeting with Karen Buck, the Minister in another place, who has undertaken to raise these issues with the European Community because there is some argument about whether present European law allows those drivers to drive.

If the Minister can give us an undertaking that the Minister in another place will raise that matter, and seriously means to raise it in Europe, we may allow the matter to pass. But I will be very interested to hear what the Minister has to say. I reiterate that in the passenger transport industry there is a grave shortage of drivers. Many companies are now importing drivers from places like Poland, but that is not an inexhaustible source of drivers. We need to replenish our stocks and set up a proper vocational scheme for drivers. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. I have heard the Minister say, and we all agree, that there is a shortage of drivers of heavy goods vehicles and public transport. A vocational scheme such as this would be a great way to train people and bring them into the profession. I wait with interest to hear what the Minister has to say. I support the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, on this amendment.

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

My Lords, I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is resting rather more on the meeting which my honourable friend in the other place will have on European issues than perhaps is merited. Of course, we are concerned about aspects of the European directive and we are carrying out discussions in Europe. But his amendment seeks to achieve something to which the Government are not committed at present, nor can I give an assurance from the Dispatch Box that we will argue the case in quite the terms of the amendment.

As I said in Committee, I share entirely the noble Lord's wish to increase the skills of our young people. Driving is an important area and the acquisition of such skills can be extremely useful. We have a shortage of skilled drivers and I am at one with the noble Lord in looking at ways, through the sector skills councils, of improving opportunities. We are involved in secondary legislation which will need to be passed by both Houses of Parliament to implement a European directive providing for the introduction of a certificate of professional competence for bus drivers and its renewal on a five-yearly basis. That will link in with European rules on minimum driving ages. The implementation of the directive will provide a suitable opportunity to introduce a coherent stakeholder-supported scheme for young PCV drivers that will enable them to work commercially while acquiring their certificate of professional competence.

However, I should say that we are not absolutely committed to the concept outlined in the noble Lord's amendment. Our position is clear. We understand the argument regarding truck drivers and the noble Lord knows that we support schemes in that area. The problem with public service vehicles is obvious; that is, passengers are being carried. The noble Lord's amendment would open the prospect that a person who learned to drive such vehicles would be in charge of passengers at a very young age. I repeat that we are in discussions in Europe on this. My honourable friend Karen Buck in the other place is going to Europe to discuss the Council directive. We are also at one with him on the objective of improving training opportunities. But I hope he will accept that if the amendment were agreed to, we would be operating within a framework that might not suit us in relation to the European directive, which still needs a considerable amount of work. In any case, separate legislation would have to be proposed in this House to give effect to the objective of the amendment.

This is a live issue, and a constructive one. We have much the same aim as the noble Lord, but to introduce such a provision at this point would not advance the cause. Indeed, it might set us back. On that basis—that we are in talks about the implementation of the European directive and that secondary legislation will have to be brought before this House and another place—I hope that the noble Lord recognises that we will meet his objectives in large part, but we cannot be tied to the introduction of this amendment.

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

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. He has indicated to the House that we are seeking to permit drivers to drive passengers in vehicles where at present they are not allowed to do so. In fact they are allowed to do so for distances of up to 21 kilometres. That is a very restrictive agreement, allowing drivers little scope to exercise the skills which the Government have legislated for in setting up learning and skills councils. So, to be consistent, it should be possible for the drivers concerned to gain experience by easing the restriction on distance by raising the limit to 50 kilometres. That would be much more useful to drivers seeking to develop their skills. If the Minister will say that the distance over which young drivers can drive might be increased and that this issue will form part of the discussions that the Transport Minister is having in Europe, I shall be happy to withdraw the amendment.

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

My Lords, that would be an odd procedure, and I cannot give the noble Lord that assurance in categorical terms. The noble Lord has identified, and I agree with him entirely, that we have to thrash out this issue in the European directive. We are involved in negotiations and the Minister is on the point of going to Europe to discuss these issues. We have the same objectives as the noble Lord in regard to skills training which we aim to achieve as best we can. I merely indicate to him that there is a process through which those objectives will largely be achieved. If there are imperfections in the process when the matter comes before the other place and this House, then no doubt the noble Lord will articulate any criticism of our position at that time. However, it is not necessary to have this amendment in the Bill. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that argument.

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

My Lords, I will accept the Minister's assurance that he will do his best to ensure that this issue is included in the discussions. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 not moved.]

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

moved Amendment No. 43:

After Clause 38, insert the following new clause—

"LIMOUSINES

(1) The Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 (c. 14) is amended as follows.

(2) In section 13(1) (classification of licences), omit the word "either" and before the word "or" insert "limousine licence".

(3) After subsection (1) insert—

"(1A) A limousine licence authorises the use (whether on national or international operations) of—

(a) limousines not adapted to carry more than eight passengers, or

(b) limousines not adapted to carry more than sixteen passengers."

(4) After section 13 insert—

"13A DEFINITION AND CLASSIFICATION OF LIMOUSINES

Subject to the provisions of this section, in this Act "limousines" means a motor vehicle which being a vehicle not adapted to carry more than sixteen passengers, is used in the course of a business for the purposes of carrying passengers with the services of a driver for hire and reward where the arrangements for the payment of fares by the passenger or passengers carried are made before the journey began."

"13B ADAPTED LIMOUSINE

(1) A limousine adapted to carry more than eight passengers shall not be used on a road unless an examiner appointed under section 66A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 has issued a certificate (to be referred to as a limousine certificate) that the prescribed conditions as to fitness are fulfilled in respect of the vehicle.

(2) If a vehicle is used in contravention of subsection (1) above, the operator of the vehicle shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale."

(5) Sections 8, 10 and 11 of Part II shall apply to limousines adapted to carry more than eight passengers.

(6) Section 12 of Part II shall apply to a limousine operators' licences.""

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

My Lords, the Minister will be pleased to hear that this is a probing amendment which we certainly do not wish to press to a Division. It concerns the issue of what are known as "stretch limousines". These are the huge white vehicles that you see cruising around the streets. If you go to places such as Blackpool or Brighton, you will see even longer ones with even more people in them, who are notable for their consumption of alcohol and the few clothes they wear.

This is an unregulated section of road traffic vehicle legislation and the object of the amendment is to ask the Minister whether it is the Government's intention to introduce regulation into this sector, particularly in regard to the number of people who can be conveyed in the vehicles and the total length of vehicle allowed. These vehicles tend to get longer and longer and to carry more and more people. There must be a limit somewhere. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld Labour

My Lords, perhaps I may make a brief intervention. I declare an interest as an adviser to the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK. This is a serious matter. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, have done the House a favour in bringing it to the attention of the Government.

I recently attended an exhibition of buses and coaches at the National Exhibition Centre which was organised by the CPT UK. At that event I was asked to chair a number of seminars on the problems facing the industry, and the issue that recurred and recurred—it was raised by coach operators in the main—was that of stretch limousines.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is absolutely correct: these vehicles are of indeterminate length; we are not certain about the quality of their construction; and we are not satisfied about whether the skills of those who drive these vehicles are suitable for driving what is essentially a public service vehicle. There is also the serious question of the safety of passengers, particularly children. Apparently it is quite a thing to give a ride in a stretch limo as a present at a birthday party and so on. The whole question of the safety of these young passengers should exercise us.

I wrote to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Mr Alistair Darling, and got back a personal reply very quickly, assuring me that the Government would look into this important matter. I should like to reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has said. I am grateful that he will not test the opinion of the House on this matter because of the assurance I have received from the Secretary of State that it is under active consideration. I hope that when the Minister replies to this brief debate, he will reinforce what we know to be the Government's position.

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 Lords, there are two issues, among others, that interest me. The first is whether these vehicles are properly regulated because they often have more than eight occupants. The second is whether they have adequate insurance and, indeed, whether it is possible to get adequate insurance for that type of vehicle.

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

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. Personally, I would not be seen dead in one of these vehicles, but I am worried about their construction. Some of them may have been modified, so they will not have been built in that way by the original vehicle manufacturer, and inadequate attention may have been paid to their strength. They are rather like a very long bridge; they are terribly long, and I doubt whether the chassis is strong enough to support the load, especially if there are a lot of people inside, getting up to all sorts of mischief, as the noble Lord, Lord Hogg, pointed out.

What approval requirements are applicable to such vehicles? Is it the single vehicle approval scheme or are we merely relying upon a North American-type approval? Is the approval related to the vehicle's original design or its design when it is stretched?

Photo of Lord Bridges Lord Bridges Crossbench

My Lords, the points raised by the noble Earl are very real. We should be aware, as I am sure we all are, that these vehicles are mostly out of Detroit, they are made to American standards and they are running on our roads which are generally less wide and have different conditions. But if we pass an amendment to this effect, it might be seen by some in the United States to be directed at a particular American artefact, and they might think we were doing it to annoy them, which I am sure is not the intention. Let us make it clear that such an amendment would be made on the basis of security, not for any other reason.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken on this issue, and I say this with my customary genuine approval. This issue did not come up in Committee and it is causing the Government concern. It is clear that we have work to do in the licensing of stretch limos.

I recognise fully the concerns that have been outlined. We do not believe that a new category of licensing is required. What is necessary is that those who operate these vehicles know what the licensing regime is and are compliant with it. As has been said in this debate, the vehicles are meant to carry eight persons within the framework of the existing licence and it is known that more persons than that are carried in some of them.

Virtually any motor vehicle used in Great Britain to carry passengers for hire or reward on a commercial basis needs a licence of some kind. The type of licence required depends upon the capacity of the vehicle and the type of hire or reward operation undertaken rather than the type of vehicle used. Operating without the requisite licence is a criminal offence. Hire or reward includes indirect forms of payment in cash or in kind. For vehicles constructed or adapted to carry more than eight vehicles, the licence required is the public service vehicle operators' licence issued by the traffic commissioner. For vehicles which are adapted to carry eight vehicles or fewer—

Photo of The Countess of Mar The Countess of Mar Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister has twice said, "For vehicles adapted to carry eight vehicles or more". He perhaps means, "Eight passengers or more".

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) 4:00, 29 November 2005

My Lords, I apologise; I meant "eight passengers" or more. I am grateful to the noble Countess for clarifying that. I was seeking to identify that if the vehicle carries more than eight passengers, a public service vehicle licence is required. If the vehicle is to carry eight passengers or fewer, the private hire vehicle licence is the appropriate one. That is the one that applies to taxis and other private hire vehicles that can take only pre-booked hirings. Those licences are administered by the relevant local authority, which has discretion on which vehicles they will licence. It is therefore at present a matter for local decision. I think that the noble Lord is indicating that these local licensing authorities have some difficulty with regard to stretch limousines, which is why we need to address the issue.

A vehicle can also carry these numbers of passengers if they are separate fares and are being carried,

"in the course of a business . . . of carrying passengers".

In that case, however, a public service vehicle operator's licence would be issued by the traffic commissioner. So we are clear on the two categories of licence that are issued.

As noble Lords will recognise, some stretch limousines arguably are constructed to carry more than eight passengers. However, because of the nature of their current construction, they are allowed to be registered for use on UK roads only if they carry no more than eight passengers. That is the restriction. To carry more than eight, they would need to comply with Schedule 6, on minibuses, of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986. Vehicles of the stretched limousine type currently do not comply. In particular, they do not comply with the minibus requirement because minibuses have emergency exits. One of the obvious problems that we have with stretch limousines is that they do not have any form of emergency exit.

Schedule 6 could not be modified unilaterally so as to authorise non-conforming stretch limousines as a separate class without the absence of objections from right across the European Community. We think that that would be unlikely given the arrival shortly of a new European-type approval regime for large passenger vehicles which does not specifically provide for stretch limousines to the numbers that would be required. If constructed to meet the required standards, there is absolutely nothing to stop a limousine from operating as a public service vehicle. But it would need to meet the required standards. Some manufacturers are looking at how they can adapt their stretch limousines to meet the public service vehicle requirements, which would need to include some element of emergency exit.

Because of the construction requirements I have just outlined, limousines on our roads today can in practice operate only as a vehicle constructed or adapted to carry eight passengers or fewer. They are not constructed to carry more. As I have already explained, vehicles adapted to carry eight passengers or fewer which are used for carrying passengers for hire or reward can be licensed by either the local authority or the traffic commissioner, depending on the type of operation undertaken. The type of operation envisaged by the noble Lords in the amendment—that is, a vehicle provided with a driver and arrangements for payment of fares made before the journey—is already provided for under the private hire vehicle licensing system. Creating two types of licence for the same type of operation would be far from ideal and create significant confusion and difficulties for both the licensing and the enforcement authorities. So we do not want two types of licence. We want to get the stretch limousines within the existing framework of licensing arrangements.

We recognise that proper enforcement is an important issue on a number of safety grounds, not just in relation to the type of vehicle but also in terms of the type of driver. After all, the driver is responsible for a significant number of people in his charge.

I should just say that the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency takes to court those operators found to be carrying nine or more passengers and thus operating illegally, and those cases are resulting in successful prosecutions. So we are concerned enough about the situation to seek to monitor the successful prosecution when these vehicles are being used illegally.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, will the Minister explain how you will be able to tell whether there are nine or more people in the car? I see those vehicles all the time, and they have black windows. Will the police have the right to pull the vehicle up?

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

My Lords, that is certainly an interesting point, although they are not the only vehicles on the road with opaque windows. There is no opacity with regard to the driver's window, for a start—so the police can make a challenge. It is also the case that if a police officer suspects that something illegal is being done, he is perfectly entitled to make the necessary checks. It would not take him long to open a door to discover how many passengers there were inside.

So I do not believe that enforcement is a difficulty. What is at stake here—and what the noble Lord is trying to resolve with his amendment—is how the vehicles are rendered safe and proper and meet our licensing requirement, which is to guarantee safety on the road. We believe that the current legislation fully provides for any form of operation envisaged. We are aware of concerns in this area and officials are actively looking at what can be done to clarify the position for all parties. We recognise that we will need to get the licensing regime absolutely clear so that the licensing authorities know what kind of vehicles they are dealing with and deal with them properly. But we are absolutely certain that, when vehicles are operating illegally, prosecutions are occurring, because we are concerned about that.

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

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that fairly lengthy explanation of the current situation and his assurances that officials are aware of the problems. We particularly draw his attention to vehicles carrying more than eight passengers, because some of the longer vehicles that are supposed to carry 16 are carrying considerably more. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 39 [Disclosure to foreign authorities of licensing and registration information]:

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. 44:

Page 50, line 1, leave out from "territory" to end of line 4 and insert "that has ratified the Treaty on European Vehicle and Driving Licence Information System (EUCARIS)"

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

My Lords, as noble Lords will recall from Committee, this clause is designed to enable the DVLA and its Northern Irish counterpart to disclose certain licensing and registration information to foreign authorities, ostensibly for the purposes of ratifying the EUCARIS treaty. That is a worthy end to which we have no objection—a fact reflected in the design of these amendments to enable ratification of the EUCARIS treaty.

I am sure that we all agree that we want to do our utmost to support genuine measures to prevent and punish vehicle crime. However, that desire is tempered by our paramount concern for the protection of the British driver against misuse of valuable personal information by a foreign body. There were several reports last weekend, which noble Lords may have seen, about the potential selling of information about individuals by the DVLA, not necessarily to other countries but to other consortiums—perhaps crime consortiums, and so on. That is a worrying issue on which the Minister may like to comment.

These amendments are designed to restrict the disclosure of information exclusively within the nexus of the EUCARIS treaty. When I asked the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, in Committee about the necessity of making the power so extensive as to include any country or territory outside the United Kingdom—be it north Vietnam, or anywhere else—she replied that the Government,

"do not want to preclude the ability to exchange outside the EU in the future".—[Hansard, 26/10/05; cols. 1201-2.]

However, in citing the examples of Japan and the USA, she mentioned that the USA has already shown some interest in EUCARIS. Am I correct in taking her reference to mean that the extension of the disclosure of licensing and registration information can be facilitated with non-European Union countries through the mechanism of the existing EUCARIS treaty? If that is the case, and in the light of the fact that the Minister has already assured the House that EUCARIS enshrines the principles of the Data Protection Act, it would seem eminently sensible to progress any extension of disclosure to other nations in this way, thereby utilising the benefits already inherent in the existence of the EUCARIS treaty, rather than renegotiating incessantly on a bilateral basis each time.

In Committee I drew attention to the fact that very few countries have actually signed the treaty. In her answer, the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, claimed at col. 1202 that

"the EU Commission is looking at using the EUCARIS system as the technical solution for exchanging information between all EU countries".

I take this as further evidence of the versatility and broad possibilities of this treaty, qualities that seem to make it a most suitable mechanism and vehicle for the purposes of exchanging licensing and registration information with foreign authorities, and obviating the need for alarmingly loose provision. The original wording,

"to make available to any country or territory outside of the United Kingdom", is totally less than satisfactory.

I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments, and in particular any information he may share about the development of the EUCARIS treaty. I only hope he can provide these answers to your Lordships' House, since the last letter I was promised seemed to get lost in the post. 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)

My Lords, I certainly apologise for the fact that the noble Lord did not receive the letter that was directed to him. I hope that I can make good that deficiency in this contribution.

The issue of stolen vehicles is a significant problem, not just in Europe but worldwide. We have problems with stolen Japanese vehicles, as does Australia. We all know that there is a fairly flourishing illegal trade in the marketing of stolen vehicles. If a householder has lost a rather valuable car and they ask what chance they have of getting it back, the police officer is likely to make the depressing statement, "If it is this side of the English Channel I would be somewhat surprised—and if it is ever recovered, it might be a good deal further away than that". It is a problem, and I think noble Lords will recognise this issue.

The EUCARIS concept is only one strand in our general strategy to try and tackle the issue of vehicle crime. The problem with the amendment is that it would restrict the information to those countries that have ratified EUCARIS, of which there are not very many. It is not Europe-wide; not even all the European states have signed up to it. It costs £35,000 a year to join, but for some countries that may be a sum of money that they could spend more easily elsewhere, because they have very few inquiries about the issue and it is of limited concern. Not everyone in the smaller states is seized of the necessity for action in this area. Some countries have such small volumes of inquiries that they wonder what all the fuss is about, whereas, as we know, it can be a significant problem for other countries.

I want to put a more positive gloss on the rather dismal report I am giving at this stage, however. Other countries can join EUCARIS that are not part of the European community. It is possible for them to join if they so wish. We are certainly in favour of encouraging that, but we do not want a restriction on our ability to provide information to other countries outside the framework, which the amendment would require. As I have indicated, this is a worldwide problem.

To restrict the exchange of information to those countries that ratify the EUCARIS treaty would undermine the effectiveness of the system by restricting the number of participants—and that number is not large enough at present—and would require an amendment to legislation each time the DVLA, or the authority in Northern Ireland, needed to disclose information to any other country.

I hope noble Lords will recognise that, given the safeguards we have with regard to the transfer of information under the Data Protection Act, this information would be used purely in relation to stolen vehicles. I hope that the noble Lord will accept my assurances on that front. We see no reason why we should be restrictive about this when our problem at the present time is that there are not enough participant countries within the framework to enable us to deal effectively with this form of criminality.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport 4:15, 29 November 2005

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I agree that we have to provide and exchange information to prevent crime. I am slightly concerned about the possibility of information being sold to countries to which we would not want it to be sold. I trust that the DVLA will take that into account. I am concerned about recent press reports but I shall not discuss those today. We might address that matter on another occasion. I shall reflect on what has been said and on whether we need to return to this whole area of information at Third Reading. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 45 not moved.]

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. 46:

After Clause 39, insert the following new clause—

"MOTORCYCLES IN BUS LANES

All bus lanes when buses are moving in the same direction as traffic in the adjacent vehicle lane shall be open to use by motorcycles."

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)

My Lords, I return to the discussion that we had in Committee on the possibility of motorcycles using bus lanes. Primarily that would deliver important improvements in road safety, particularly for motorcyclists themselves. Moreover, increasing the safety of motorcycling would perhaps encourage more people to take up this environmentally friendly alternative to the car, which in turn would make significant contributions to the alleviation of local traffic problems.

I was grateful to the Minister for her responses in Committee and I hope that she will be kind enough to clarify a number of issues for me. First, as the noble Baroness stated in Committee, at present only a minority of local authorities have taken the innovative step of allowing motorcyclists to use bus lanes. Consequently I should like to probe further on the provision to which the Minister referred that enables local authorities to exercise the discretionary powers which would allow motorcycles to use bus lanes.

Secondly, the Minister reminded noble Lords that the Secretary of State has powers to permit motorcyclists the use of bus lanes in respect of trunk roads and motorways. The example of the M4 bus lane was given, although it seems to be available for all kinds of things. Is the Minister aware of any plans to introduce these measures elsewhere? In Committee the Minister assured noble Lords that, upon the result of the London trials, the Government would review,

"the guidance, which presently recommends that motorcyclists are not normally allowed to use bus lanes".—[Hansard, 26/10/05; col. 1224.]

Will the Minister inform us when these experimental trials will finish and whether the results will be made publicly available?

Furthermore, will the noble Baroness reassure the House that there will be no repeat of the analytical mistakes made in the interpretation of data in the interim reports on the three London studies? As noble Lords will recall, failure to give proper consideration to the impact of external factors; namely, the extensive roadworks on the A13 portion of the trial, led to somewhat skewed results and misinterpretation of the scheme's road safety benefits. I should be grateful if the Minister would respond to those points and in particular give us some encouragement that what we see as a useful road safety initiative might gain support from the Government. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for setting out her case so clearly once again. I am afraid that I shall disappoint her in that we probably have not moved on the matter as far as she would like. However, there has been some movement.

As noble Lords will know, the purpose of designating bus lanes is to give priority to buses over other classes of traffic. The more other motorised vehicles are allowed to use those lanes as a statutory entitlement, the more their purpose becomes devalued. I am sympathetic to the principle of improving facilities for motorcyclists, including their use of bus lanes where appropriate. Local authorities have powers to allow other vehicles to use bus lanes if they consider that it would be desirable, and probably a minority of local authorities are pursuing that practice. We do not have the exact figures of the number of local authorities that allow motorcyclists to use bus lanes, but as the noble Baroness has said, the provision is there for local authorities to take up.

The Secretary of State has similar powers in respect of bus lanes on trunk roads and motorways. I am not aware of any plans on the part of the Secretary of State to allow—beyond the M4 bus lane—any further use by motorcyclists of bus lanes on trunk roads. I will make sure that if there are any plans the noble Baroness will know of them by Third Reading. We believe, however, that it should be left to the discretion of local authorities to decide whether they should allow any other vehicles, including motorcycles, to use any of their bus lanes, taking local circumstances into consideration. We should not be second-guessing local circumstances of which only local authorities have experience.

Some local authorities have allowed motorcyclists to use bus lanes, for example Bristol and Birmingham, and the Secretary of State has permitted motorcycles and licensed taxis to use the M4 bus lane. There remain concerns for the safety of other road users, particularly cyclists and pedestrians. Motorcycles can be fast-moving small objects, and when travelling in bus lanes they are in a part of the road where some people do not expect them to be. Noble Lords will know that our guidance to local authorities currently recommends against generally allowing motorcyclists to use bus lanes, but we are reviewing the guidance taking account of the trials in London of allowing motorcycles into bus lanes. I hope that the noble Baroness will see some progression.

The main point about the amendment, however, is that while the department can provide guidance—notwithstanding that the guidance may change to become more relaxed and more neutral—the use of bus lanes by other vehicles is something that local authorities should decide depending on the circumstances of each case. It should not be written into primary legislation. I hope in view of this explanation that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, is it not extremely confusing for motorists, particularly motorcyclists in this case, that the law will not be consistent throughout the United Kingdom?

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

My Lords, the noble Baroness referred to the importance of giving discretion to local authorities, but her noble friend Lord Davies told the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that local authorities should not have discretion about 30 mph repeater speed limits signs.

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

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, the description of "motorcycle" can include motorcycles that have three wheels. I wonder whether clarification is needed in this respect. Should not the word be "motorbicycles"?

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

My Lords, we are not accepting the amendment; we are resisting it, and therefore it is somewhat academic to look at the word "cycle" as opposed to the word "bicycle". But I understand the point that my noble friend makes. Certainly it is important to get the definition of a motorcycle absolutely right in any amendment, together with the fact that the motorcycle is a two-wheeled powered vehicle, although some can be customised to have three wheels. I thank my noble friend for that information.

With regard to the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, in this case local authorities' experience of their local circumstances is most important. People will be expecting a bus to be in a bus lane. A local authority knows about speeds and the timing of congestion and so on in certain areas. While it is not always so, I believe that in this case local authorities should be allowed to use their discretion in coming to a decision with that local knowledge.

I can see the noble Lord's point about there being confusion without a systematic set of standards across the country. However, if local authorities believe that their local circumstances make it appropriate for motorcycles to be in bus lanes, it will be safe for people if there is clear signage. So I think that clear signage is the answer to the noble Lord's concern.

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)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I am slightly disappointed because I thought that in Committee we were probably opening a little door to what seems to be a perfectly sensible proposal for road safety. I understand that local authorities may have their own views on this but, equally, I understand that there is consistency in most road usage. However, there is no consistency about buses using bus lanes. While it is not a matter for this amendment, noble Lords will be aware of many occasions when buses have been not in the bus lane, which takes at least half the width of the road, but in the motorists' part of the road. So some even-handedness is required.

Again, I thank the Minister for her reply, although I am not particularly happy about it. As I said, I think that there is room here for a road safety initiative but, having heard what she said, for today's purposes I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 40 [Trunk road picnic areas]:

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport 4:30, 29 November 2005

moved Amendment No. 46A:

Page 50, line 20, at end insert—

"(aa) in subsection (2), after paragraph (d) insert—

"(e) security, cleaning and maintenance facilities","

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

My Lords, we return to the issue of trunk road picnic areas. The Government have a good idea here. They tell us that tiredness kills and they want people to pull off special roads and trunk roads and take a break. But their thinking rather comes to an end there. They say, "Here is a space", but then the issue of who is going to look after that space, keep it clean, provide lavatory facilities, refreshments—if there are to be any—and security have all been left rather in the air. There is then the prospect that local authorities will be left with a not inconsiderable bill for looking after these places, which could become unsanitary, crime-ridden, fly-tipping sites if we are not careful.

An opportunity arises in that, shortly, the Highways Agency is due to consult on the regulations that govern motorway service areas. That would provide an excellent opportunity for the provision of these additional facilities to be reviewed alongside the present outdated framework for motorway service areas. The Highways Agency could carry out a review of existing sites—motorway service areas—and new sites—the picnic areas—and, I hope, come up with a system that provides proper management at both kinds of site. Contractors could be engaged under the competitive tendering process, which is now used for motorway sites, to encompass new picnic areas so that they can be managed properly and offer people somewhere pleasant, comfortable and attractive to stop rather than somewhere that is very unpleasant and that few people would use. We hope that the Minister will say, in response to the amendments moved by me, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, that there is more work to do on this. Clause 40 is not the end of the story but almost the beginning. I would like to hear whether the Minister intends to put some flesh on the bones. I beg to move.

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)

My Lords, my amendment—Amendment No. 47—is in this group. It more or less replicates what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, proposes but is more concerned with the security of such areas. In Committee we said that, on the face of it, this appears to be a very good idea. However, when one considers the problems associated with having drop-off areas on motorways, more attention is required than has so far been given to the subject. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, who will look after the sites and who will be responsible for them? If the Highways Agency can be pinned with the responsibility, then it must be pinned with it in a way in which it funds the careful maintenance and security of such areas. One can create an area like this wherever one likes on a trunk road, but if it is not secure, clean and there are no toilet facilities, no one will use it legitimately. We are all concerned that the sites will end up being used for illegitimate uses which will stop normal road users using them.

I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some information on the questions that we have asked on both the previous occasion and now. How will the sites be managed? Who will manage them? What security will there be? Will there be management personnel on the sites to ensure that they are properly looked after or will that be done through a remote CCTV system which might or might not contain a film? Will they be open day and night or will someone see that they are secured at night? It is extremely important that we have satisfactory answers to these matters so that we feel able to approve this new clause with this new proposal.

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

My Lords, my amendment is Amendment No. 49. I remind the House of my interest as president of the HTA and patron of the Road Rescue Recovery Association. I am also close to other trade associations. My amendment covers slightly wider issues. At Second Reading, I described the poor state of facilities, particularly for HGV drivers at overnight spots and especially for female drivers. Can the Minister point to any other group of industrial workers that is treated so badly, especially in terms of WC facilities in the morning? It is not surprising that there are so few lady truck drivers. Does the Minister agree that grossly inadequate facilities are resulting in problems in recruiting HGV drivers in general, and females in particular? What will he do about it? Can he offer the industry anything better than a burger bar with inadequate hygiene facilities or a large bush for early morning nature calls? Is that the best we can offer a key sector of industrial workers who have onerous responsibilities, which we discussed earlier on Report?

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

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. As has been recognised, the picnic areas provided for by the Bill are additional facilities and will be recognised as an advance. I take the anxieties of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, on board. We need to improve facilities for truck drivers and others. That is part of the concept of the facilities, but he will recognise that our major concern is road safety. Drivers should have a decent place with limited facilities in which to pull off the road in safety and security while taking a necessary rest. These are picnic sites, not highway services. They are not a replica of facilities on the motorways but are very limited.

Security is an important consideration and I recognise the point the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, makes in that respect, but we believe that it can be covered by closed-circuit television and by people from the Highways Agency dropping in on sites as a regular part of their duties. The concept of these picnic areas is an advance on what we have at present and meets some of the points that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, made.

If these are probing amendments, I hope that I am being sufficiently probed that I give answers that reassure noble Lords. The problem with the amendments is that we do not think that the Secretary of State needs additional facilities. What is being sought here is picnic areas that will provide limited opportunities for rest. They will be an improvement on the very limited facilities that we have at the present time, to which the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, drew attention. We do not see these picnic areas having substantial facilities. They may have a snack bar provided by a private operator, the sort of thing that operates on truck stops up and down the country, but we are not seeking to create anything that looks remotely like a motorway service area. They will be a safe place for rest and recuperation and a break from driving a vehicle. Therefore, on security considerations, regular patrols by the Highways Agency will make sure that road traffic is moving smoothly. I recognise the anxiety about fly-tipping and the illicit transfer of goods and drugs, but we think that the closed circuit television that we will put on sites where we have anxieties will guard against them.

On that basis I hope that noble Lords will recognise that we have thought through this issue of picnic areas. I do not think that a single voice has dissented from the concept. I hope that noble Lords will feel, therefore, that we have thought through the policy and that the amendment can safely be withdrawn.

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)

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask two questions, which I do not think have been raised. Who is going to provide these sites? No money, or extremely limited money, will be made out of them. So, they will not be a money-spinner for a private company buying the land and setting up a picnic area. Is the expectation that this will be done by the Highways Agency on land which is publicly owned, or will these sites have to be purchased, and therefore the money will not necessarily come back, or will they be purchased by local authorities, which are not going to make any money out of them either? I know that there is allowance for such sites on other roads and that this is just an extension of that. Perhaps the Minister would tell me what happens elsewhere as to who, if anybody, will put up the money to run these sites without any return?

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

My Lords, I shall reply to the noble Baroness and then the noble Earl can ask me his question before I sit down again. The point really is whether we can envisage any profit-making aspect to this. We can see perhaps the provision of a limited snack bar, which may be licensed out on that basis. That happens in many of our existing lay-bys where an enterprising individual, who often indicates his presence by the waving of an extremely patriotic flag, provides this facility. We do not anticipate anything more grandiose than that. But, regarding supervision of the site, we believe that the Secretary of State has sufficient powers. We recognise the anxieties that have been expressed, but many of these lay-bys with small facilities exist. We will improve on that. We will have extra dimensions of security, cleanliness and insurance that they are used for proper purposes. In addition, they may have a small snack bar.

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

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I am grateful for the tone of his response to my question. Does he think that it is reasonable for an industrial worker to expect to have access to a WC immediately on waking up from his overnight sleep?

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

My Lords, I hear what the noble Earl says. Vehicles which are parked overnight for a considerable period of time need to be on a reasonable site. I recognise that. We would expect that site, in the best of all circumstances, to have an adequate facility, as he indicated. We have a consultation to carry out on how these sites will be operated, and so on. The noble Earl has made his point that if a site is large enough to encourage a considerable number of vehicles for a considerable period of time we would expect facilities to be present for the drivers' natural needs.

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

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down once more, is he aware that under legislation, which might go back 200 or 300 years, drivers of certain types of vehicles—and I do not know whether it is extended to HGVs—are allowed to urinate against the left rear wheel of their vehicles, providing their right or left hand is touching that vehicle?

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

My Lords, I am ever grateful for the insights into British law that the noble Viscount presents. There was I thinking that that was only a part of French law!

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

My Lords, I must say that I found the Minister's answers to be among the most unsatisfactory that we have received today. The Government are embarking on a process of providing more facilities—bearing in mind, of course, that there is now a huge amount more traffic—but they are almost blundering into it without thinking about what people will need when they arrive.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, makes a very good point about facilities for HGV drivers. I declare my interest as an Oxfordshire county councillor. I assure the Minister that many of the lay-bys that he mentioned are insanitary, awful places. We have had to close some because they were so bad. But that does not get round the problem of where else lorry drivers go.

I shall read what the Minister said, but I let him know that I found his answer very poor and we shall need to return to the subject when the Bill returns for Third Reading, because that answer did not go far and did not specifically address the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, about who will pay, because payment there will certainly be if the facilities are to be anything like they need to be. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 47 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour 4:45, 29 November 2005

moved Amendment No. 48:

After Clause 40, insert the following new clause—

"SPECIAL FACILITIES FOR HIGHWAYS: DUTY TO PROTECT CHARACTER OF COUNTRYSIDE

After section 115 of the Highways Act 1980 (c. 66) insert—

"115L SPECIAL FACILITIES FOR HIGHWAYS: DUTY TO PROTECT CHARACTER OF COUNTRYSIDE

In carrying out their duties under Part VII of this Act (provision of special facilities for highways), when providing special facilities intended to improve road safety, highways authorities shall have regard to the desirability of protecting the character of the countryside.""

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour

My Lords, the amendment would place a new duty on highway authorities to consider the effect of their policies and activities on the character of the countryside. It aims to improve the design of new interventions by those authorities in rural areas and to avoid clutter.

Traffic levels have traditionally risen faster in rural areas than in our already congested towns and cities and are forecast to grow more. Accompanying that growth in traffic has been an increase in the number of fatalities on rural roads. Indeed, they have increased consecutively for the past four years. So authorities have an important role to play in matching the volume and speed of traffic. However, frequently, that involves the installation of new warning signs, road markings and other traffic-calming measures. Those can have the effect of urbanising the countryside. As few authorities undertake audits to consider whether every warning sign or other piece of street furniture is still necessary, the result is an incremental increase in clutter. That is steadily eroding the character of the countryside. That is especially true in the case of temporary road signs relating to road works, which should come down but are left up for months after the roadworks have finished.

Road safety and protection of the countryside are not opposite ends of the same spectrum. In many instances, rural communities are effectively presented with a choice between unsafe villages or the disfigurement of their village by treatment measures that pay little regard to the surrounding character of the countryside. To be concerned about the visual impact of road safety and other measures is not to argue that road safety measures are not vital for many rural communities. The key is to ensure that they are implemented in ways that are sympathetic to the surrounding countryside.

There are examples of highway authorities who have tried to adopt a much more enlightened approach. I know of five county councils—Norfolk, Cumbria, Devon, Derbyshire and Wiltshire—all of whom have adopted sympathetic measures aimed at reducing the clutter in the countryside. None of those has come at the expense of road safety. If you double the number of road signs, you do not double the road safety that they create. Unfortunately, the initiatives undertaken by the five authorities that I mentioned are few in number and frequently restricted to protected areas, such as national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty.

The rural White Paper 2000 stated:

"we want local authorities to seek ways to enrich the countryside as a whole, not just in the protected areas, and maintain its distinctive local features".

It is appropriate, therefore, to place a national duty on local authorities to consider much more carefully the effect of their signing policy on the countryside. I would like local authorities and highway authorities themselves to consider the best way of doing it and of making it relevant to their own area. The amendment is not prescriptive of the method of implementation, although I hope very much that the Government would give some guidance and some support for it. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for setting out his amendment in that excellent way. He makes the persuasive case that road safety measures are extremely important but must be implemented in a way that is sympathetic to the countryside environment. I take note of his campaign against clutter. However, I will disappoint him by resisting his call for a national duty, as he describes it.

The amendment is unnecessary as there are already proper statutory protection and planning policies in place for all the countryside of good character. For example, public bodies are already under a duty to have regard to the Habitats Directive, which provides a legal framework for the protection of special areas of conservation and certain species. There are also general duties under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 to take reasonable steps on the conservation of flora and fauna in sites of special scientific interest.

The White Paper, The Future of Transport, which we published in July 2004, states at page 16 that,

"there will continue to be a strong presumption against schemes that would significantly affect environmentally sensitive sites or important species habitats or landscapes; by keeping the environmental impacts of new and existing transport infrastructure to a minimum, ensuring that mitigation measures are implemented to a high standard".

The White Paper expresses strongly the opinion that we should ensure that safety measures do not significantly affect environmentally sensitive sites.

There is also a requirement for certain types of project to be subject to environmental impact assessment before development consent is granted. I hope that in view of that explanation the noble Lord feels that largely we are meeting his objectives, without going as far as his amendment wishes. I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that thoughtful and very coherent response. I would have preferred to move the amendment in Committee but that stage carried on for so many days that I was unable to attend the final sitting. I agree that it would have been more appropriate for it to be moved as a probing amendment in Committee rather than at this late stage. I shall read very carefully what my noble friend has said, particularly the references to the various directives and other powers already in place. It seemed pretty convincing to me. On that basis, I am very happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 49 not moved.]

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

moved Amendment No. 50:

After Clause 40, insert the following new clause—

"DEVELOPMENT POTENTIALLY AFFECTING TRAFFIC OVER LEVEL CROSSINGS

The Secretary of State shall make provision by a development order under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (c. 8) to secure that, in any case where a proposed development is likely to result in a material increase in the volume, or a material change in the character, of traffic, or may require changes to the level crossing's protective arrangements, using a highway which is part of a highway network which includes a level crossing over a railway situated within 15 miles of the proposed development, the local planning authority shall be required to consult the Secretary of State, the rail safety authority and operator of the network which includes or consists of the railway in question before granting planning permission for the development."

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

My Lords, the amendments in this group are those affecting the railway. The amendments address two problems, the first of which is level crossings. Level crossing are now the most likely cause of a serious railway accident, much money having been spent on such measures as removing broken rails, TPWS to prevent trains colliding, and the elimination of slam-doors.

Level crossings in this country are mostly protected by barriers with or without lights. We have seen films taken in the past few weeks which show alarming pictures of vehicles driving around level crossings, pushing barriers up and being missed by trains by inches and micro-seconds. The first point of the amendments is that Network Rail shall be a statutory consultee when developments affecting traffic over a level crossing are likely to take place.

Amendment No. 51 provides for increased penalties if people deliberately weave around or abuse level crossings. Amendment No. 52 applies to careless or inconsiderate driving, whether it is over a level crossing or on a bridge over a road. We give powers to traffic authorities to provide protective equipment at level crossings and in advance of bridges. There are powers to "stop up" level crossings where safety would be enhanced by so doing. We have tried to say, "Yes, a right of way exists over that crossing. But if a bridge is provided nearby, the sacrificing of the right to go over that level crossing should be weighed against the possibility that a train may be derailed at the level crossing, which may involve great loss of life".

I am well aware that when the Minister in another place spoke to us he said that in his opinion some of these amendments are not necessary. It is a very late stage to say that. I ask noble Lords to agree these amendments knowing that the Government have plenty of opportunity in another place to substitute better amendments which might be devised in the mean time. I do not say that these are the best possible amendments to deal with the problems of abuse of level crossings and collisions with railway bridges—that is, bridge bashing. We know that bridge bashing costs lots of minutes in delay. We know that it has the potential to cause an extremely serious accident. We know that there are accidents at level crossings every day. We are just waiting for the really bad one to hit the headlines, after which newspapers will be screaming as to why something had not been done. That is the sort of scenario I want to avoid. Let us get ahead of the game and not say the day after an accident, "Of course, expenditure on saving a life shall have no limit". That is rather a silly phrase because it obviously does.

I urge the Minister to accept the amendments as the best that we can do to address a very serious problem. If he persists in saying that for some reason or another they are not the best amendments, he should take them away. The Bill will go to another place. There will be plenty of opportunity for them to be considered properly. It was suggested that these issues were suddenly sprung on the Government and we were asked why we did not go to Ministers earlier. For example, the accident at Upton Nervet level crossing in Berkshire was well known to everyone. For days, there were headlines in the newspapers.

I urge the Government to take the proposals away and think about them. I do not expect them to come back to us at Third Reading; time is far too short. But while the Bill progresses through both Houses there will be an opportunity to do a workmanlike job and bring forward modern legislation to protect bridges over railways and level crossings that will save lives—which is what this Bill is about—and giving highway authorities a responsibility to consider the welfare of passengers on the railway. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 5:00, 29 November 2005

My Lords, my name is added to the amendment. I support it, as I have at previous stages. I am grateful to my noble friend for arranging a meeting last night with Stephen Ladyman, the Minister responsible for this legislation in the other place. But as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has said, we need to put this issue on the record. I understand that representatives from Network Rail met with the Secretary of State well before the election. I also understand that similar amendments were tabled to the first road safety Bill introduced in another place before the election, so the proposals have been around for a long time.

The other development since we considered this Bill in Committee is that Network Rail has indicated that it is happy to share with local authorities the costs of any works proposed to protect against bridge bashing and to improve safety at level crossings. I see no reason why Network Rail should pay for everything. In his response my noble friend on the Front Bench may argue that costs will be put on local authorities, but I would argue that the Government are in effect responsible both for the majority of local government finance and that of the railways. I see it as a question of balancing between the pots. Moreover, most accidents of this kind are caused by the road sector rather than the railway sector, and here I declare an interest as chairman of the Railfreight Group. It is only equitable that the costs should at least be shared; indeed, I might go further because Network Rail has been very generous.

I want to mention one issue in relation to Amendment No. 54, which I am not sure was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, in speaking to the group. Amendment No. 54 concerns the:

"Power to impose requirements on traffic authorities as regards to protective equipment at level crossings".

My noble friend argued in Committee that the Level Crossings Act 1983 permits obligations to be put on highways or traffic authorities, but Network Rail is contesting that. The purpose of this amendment, therefore, is to require local authorities, rather than simply allow them, to have regard to the need to reduce the risk of bridge bashing when exercising their functions. That is an important point.

I have a copy of a letter from the Health and Safety Executive to Network Rail dated 23 June which expresses support for these amendments in principle:

"We continue to support fully the objectives of Network Rail's amendments to the Road Safety Bill in respect of level crossings and bridge bashes".

Finally, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, observed, let us not forget that these amendments will save lives. Over the past 12 months there have been about 40 deaths, including suicides, at level crossings. Network Rail estimates that at least half of those lives could have been saved. Some 40 per cent of all train accident risks are caused by level crossings, and last year saw some 1,800 reported acts of misuse at level crossings. If those statistics do not make us sit up and think, the short video referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, which many noble Lords watched last week, rather puts the cap on the argument. I am keen on these amendments and I fully support them. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give us some words of assurance that he too welcomes them.

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

My Lords, I echo the words of the noble Lords, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Berkeley. We on these Benches support the amendments. I, too, believe that this part of the Bill can save lives. I know that there are some problems—as most noble Lords will know, I also am involved in a local authority—but I am sure that a partnership between the railways and local authorities can overcome them.

I am disappointed that, after various meetings and various discussions, the Government have not been able to move further than they have in accepting the spirit of the amendments. The wording of the amendments might not be perfect but the initiatives behind them should be supported. I support what noble Lords have already said.

Photo of Viscount Tenby Viscount Tenby Crossbench

I, too, support this group of amendments and again express my apologies for not having done so during the Committee stage when I was unavoidably detained from attending. I can assure the Minister that my not being able to be there in no way is a diminution of my enthusiasm for not only the amendments but for what is behind them. That is the important thing. I also declare again an interest as a magistrate.

Far more authoritative voices than mine have already said everything there is to be said about this issue and there is no point in repeating the arguments at the Report stage. However, as regards level crossings, I was one of the noble Lords who looked at the video provided by Network Rail and I saw evidence of the staggering recklessness displayed by a lunatic fringe of drivers, any of whom could have caused unimaginable and catastrophic casualties at the scene of such an incident. I hope that when push comes to shove on these amendments, noble Lords will give them a really good shove.

I also warmly support the amendments relating to bridge strikes. No one has much referred to them but there have been more than 2,000 in the past year. It is probably true that many noble Lords have their favourite sites for observing this strange ritual of the British transport system, where the drivers of large lorries and buses follow a route in hope rather than expectation. For example, not a million miles from where I live there is a railway bridge, in the aptly-named village of Wrecclesham, which has been struck on a number of occasions in recent years by a variety of vehicles despite the height being clearly displayed. Mercifully, so far as I am aware, there have been no serious injuries. But if we continue to let drivers and, ultimately, transport managers get away with dangerous disregard for road conditions, once again the consequences will be very grave indeed. I commend all these amendments to the House.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in a previous disposition in the other place, I had to witness the results of several very serious level crossing incidents in my then constituency in Cornwall on the branch line between Parr and Newquay.

I wish to refer swiftly to the issue of costs. I hope the Minister will take account of the fact that every incident is very costly, not only in lives—as it has been on occasion in Cornwall—but costly in accidents which then cause major injury, in disruption to the rail service, which can last for several days, even for weeks and months, and in disruption on the roads. I hope that in his reply the Minister will not look simply at the costs of prevention and the costs implied by the amendment, but will also be looking at the costs of not passing the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Crossbench

My Lords, I, too, apologise for not being able to be in attendance at the Committee stage. I add my support to the spirit behind the amendments. I remind the House that we are not only talking about lives lost in terms of deaths and lives lost in terms of major injury, but also about lives damaged by minor injury. Such an injury—for example, facial scarring—may appear minor but the person has to live with it forever. This also has a cost, both for our health services and within society. All of these factors need to be counted in.

Photo of Lord Snape Lord Snape Labour

My Lords, I do not think I have an interest to declare in this matter but I shall declare one anyway as an employee of the National Express Group. Like previous speakers I do not wish to repeat anything I said at an earlier stage of the Bill, but I do wish to register, first, my support for the amendments and, secondly, my disappointment at the apparent reluctance of the Government to see the sensible reasons for these amendments.

The history of the railways over the past 150 or 160 years shows that we have succeeded in reducing the risks of accidents enormously. The potential for errors for signalmen has been drastically reduced in recent years, for example. Although it is still possible for drivers to misread signals and cause accidents, modernisation, electrification and the provision of modern signalling has, if not eradicated, enormously reduced accidents caused by drivers' errors. But there is one area in which we have not succeeded in reducing the number of accidents. Indeed, in recent years, the number of accidents at level crossings has actually increased. That is partly as a result of the vast increase in road traffic and partly of the more cavalier attitude of many of our driving fraternity.

If we are to tackle the problem of level crossing accidents, two things ought to be done. First, in accordance with Amendment No. 50, highway authorities ought to accept far more responsibility for the protection of level crossings than they do at present. I do not underestimate the power of the driving lobby in this country. Some daily newspapers appear to be obsessed by an organisation called the Association of British Drivers. I have never heard of these people as individuals, but collectively they appear to have enormous influence on transport policy in the United Kingdom. The Daily Mail finds it impossible to talk about any aspect of our transport policy without quoting some representative of, as I refer to them, the petrol-head fraternity.

The fact is that for many years, motorists have been getting away with the sort of behaviour at level crossings that causes accidents. There was one particular accident recently which it would be improper of me to go into detail about, but from what I have read and from what I have heard from my contacts in the railway industry, it would appear that the driver of the road vehicle involved in that accident, who was tragically killed as a result, had zigzagged round a half-barrier level crossing. That sort of behaviour is by no means unusual—it happens, I would have thought, fairly regularly in various parts of the country. It is long past the time that highway authorities accepted far greater responsibility for level crossing safety and protection.

Secondly, I spoke at an earlier stage of the Bill about bridge bashing. Trains these days, particularly the ones that I and some of my noble friends use most often on the West Coast Main Line, are faster and lighter than the trains that previously ran. They are multiple unit trains, to all intents and purposes, although I dare say the purists would not like them to be so called. If we have a serious bridge bashing incident on the West Coast Main Line, the potential for disaster, because of these faster and lighter trains is, in my view and that of people far more expert than I, greatly increased. The department ought to look far more seriously at the penalties for the sort of conduct that we see all too often.

Bridge bashing in a particular area has been referred to; in an earlier stage of the Bill's proceedings, I referred to a bridge at Brandon, just south of Coventry, where the line speed restriction is 100 miles per hour. The bridge is regularly struck and trains are regularly stopped for hours at a time while a thorough inspection is carried out. Sooner or later, some bridge, if not that one, will be so badly struck as to displace the railway line, leading to a tragedy.

Ministers will say, and newspapers will demand, that the maximum amount of money be spent on ensuring that this sort of thing does not happen again. We could do something to prevent it if the punishments were more adequate than they are and if local authorities, as well as individual drivers, accepted far more responsibility for their actions.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport 5:15, 29 November 2005

My Lords, I rise to support these amendments, apart from Amendment No. 52 which I have a little bit of anxiety about. It is only a matter of time before there is a serious accident because of a bridge strike or a level crossing infringement, as so aptly described by the noble Lord, Lord Snape. After that accident there will of course be a public inquiry and there will be only one conclusion—that we should have done something about it and we failed. It appears that the Minister does not want to take any action. He does not want to go for sacrificial structures and he does not want to go for an increase in penalties. My greatest fear is that we will live to regret not taking the opportunity to do something about it now.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour

My Lords, I also rise to support these amendments, which have a remarkable degree of support in every single part of the House. I do not think that there has been a word spoken from any of the Benches with which I disagree. One must take very seriously the warning from the Health and Safety Executive, which says that level crossings,

"hold the greatest potential for catastrophic risk on the railways".

It is where the worst accident is likely to happen, and it will happen because we are not properly controlling the use of road vehicles across level crossings.

We have far too many level crossings that are unmanned and unpatrolled and producing the risk that gives rise to the sort of terrible accident such as took place last year at Ufton Nervet. This was the accident in which a motorist, apparently determined to commit suicide, drove his car onto the crossing, waited there for several minutes and, despite the efforts of an off-duty British Transport policeman to persuade him to move, remained in place and got hit by a high-speed train that derailed, killing the driver and five passengers. That particular crossing is very lightly used, and is one which would undoubtedly be closed by Network Rail if this set of amendments were to be passed. There are many others that come into the same category.

I hope very much that my noble friend will respond to the mood of this debate and give us some reason to believe that the Government will act on the issue of railway level crossings at a later stage of the Bill, and that it will not be necessary for the House to divide on it. But I think that he realises that if the House does divide, the Government will not be able to win a vote on it.

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

My Lords, I am enormously grateful to my noble friend for having done the arithmetic before I have made a contribution to the debate. He calls in aid the Health and Safety Executive with regard to level crossings, and it has identified the dangers here. However, let me assure the House that the Government are not unaware of the dangers and why we need to improve issues with regard to level crossings. The disastrous accident which happened last year at Ufton Nervet concentrated minds as accidents of that nature do. However, the Health and Safety Executive does not think that we need amendments to the legislation. It thinks that we have the necessary powers. What we need to do is to work upon what we have got more effectively than in the past.

I am all too well aware of the fact that Network Rail has communicated its very proper anxieties about the question of level crossings and accidents in this country and the problems attendant upon level crossings. It communicated that to many noble Lords, who have taken its representations very seriously, as indeed do the Government. That is why we have been in extensive talks with Network Rail—to see how we can improve the situation. I will address those particular points in a moment. But before I do so, perhaps I may do the House a service by responding first to Amendments Nos. 55 and 56.

Although we had an extensive discussion about level crossings in Committee, we did not get on to the issues of road stopping and damage to bridges because time was short and noble Lords were extremely co-operative in withdrawing amendments. Therefore I am minded that I have some obligation to respond to those amendments in this debate. I shall address myself to the main issue as well, but I want to discuss and put the Government's position on those amendments, because this is the first time that I have been able to identify the Government's view on these matters.

Amendments Nos. 55 and 56 would enable a local authority by order to stop-up a road when it appears expedient in the interests of safety to members of the public using it or likely to use it. The order would be confirmed by the Secretary of State. Of course, I am mindful of safety issues, but the amendments would go too far in the wrong direction, because of the implications for access and movement, especially in rural areas where road users could be faced with extensive detours and there might be a need for additional new signing of routes because of action taken under these amendments.

We start with the premise that a road exists because it is needed and the public have the right of passage over it. Rights of way are often ancient and removing them could have serious economic and social effects, particularly in rural areas. I should not think there is a noble Lord in this House who is not jealous over aspects of rights of way, but I remember that many noble Lords actually supported legislation on rights to roam, which also indicated how concerned we are about freedom of movement. Of course, it is the case that that freedom of movement historically preceded the railway. We all recognise that, right from the very origins of the railway, it was necessary for the safety of the railway to ensure that there were restrictions on such movements—but we must approach the question of blocking roads with some care.

Closing a crossing could split a village or prevent people accessing work or services, so such decisions are not to be taken lightly or on narrow grounds. If a danger is caused by a crossing on a railway, a first line of action should be to remove or minimise the danger with appropriate crossing works being undertaken, rather than removing the right of passage for the general public. Costs of such works might also be expected to be somewhat less than any alternative highway works. However, the Government have not approached this debate on the basis of costs. The issue arises of relative costs for the railway and local authorities, but we are approaching these matters on the basis of what is necessary for road safety, rather than cutting corners with regard to costs. I have never advanced such an argument, either on the Floor of the House or in private discussions, when the issue has revolved around the question of costs. So it is a bit of a red herring, although I do not underestimate the significance of costs in the long run. But our approach to the amendments is not predicated on the assumption that one solution is less costly than another.

So we have worries on the question of roads closure. In any case, a power exists under Section 116 of the Highways Act 1980 to make an order to stop-up a highway if a highway is considered as "unnecessary" and where traffic can be diverted to make it nearer or more convenient to the public. I believe that that test should stay in place when we are considering how we use powers to stop highways. In the event of an urgent case for stopping up because of danger to the public, a highway authority could call on its powers under Section 14 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to prohibit temporarily the use of the highway, while it was bringing about such works as mentioned above by way of the permanent resolution of the matter.

So we have powers to safeguard the railways in this respect. We do not need additional powers. We need more effective action, and it is to that that I am coming in a moment. But I wanted to predicate the debate with comments on Amendments Nos. 55 and 56, which we have not discussed, and to make it clear why we cannot accept them.

On the more general debate, we are of course well aware of the dangers to the railway represented by problems with level crossings and what happens when things go wrong with bridges. However, it is our contention that local authorities do not need legislation to make the approaches to level crossings safer. They can do it now. We need to improve the mechanism of consultation between Network Rail and local authorities and ensure that this issue is more prominent in the consideration of both parties.

Network Rail has made it clear how seriously it regards this issue with the activity we have outlined that has given rise to this debate. I have no doubt that it will be a feature of parliamentary consideration for some time to come. During consideration of these amendments I was able to organise a meeting, and I am glad that noble Lords reckoned it valuable enough to bring to the attention of the Minister in another place how importantly this issue was regarded on all sides of the House. He has had a discussion with Network Rail to address himself to exactly these concerns against the background of his first proposition, which was, in effect, "We are considering legislation before the Upper House at the present time, and we do not consider that this is an issue that needs a legislative solution".

I congratulate all noble Lords who have been active on this matter, nearly all of whom have spoken in the House this afternoon and in Committee, and have sustained their concern in meetings outside this Chamber. The outcome of these meetings is that I can say that the Government have agreed to continue working with Network Rail to identify the issues of concern and ways to resolve them. We have noted that, in one area, current legislation is not adequate. It is silent in respect of which organisations railway crossing orders may be applied to. We intend to address ourselves to that legislative deficiency—a point I do not think has entirely come out in the amendments. No one amendment addresses itself precisely to that.

I could spend endless amounts of time pointing out defects with regard to the amendments I am now discussing, but I think that that would weary the House, and in any case noble Lords have presented their arguments in terms of principle, rather than suggesting that their amendments are the clear and obvious solution to all our problems. We recognise, however, that there is a deficiency with regard to legislation, and we are prepared to address that. We will therefore take away and consider Amendment No. 54, and we will review the legislation. If it appears to be appropriate, I intend to table a government amendment on Third Reading to address these concerns.

I am not in a position to accept the amendments in their entirety, but there is no doubt that, in proposing these amendments, noble Lords have made an excellent case about a real concern on safety. I congratulate each of the main contributors to this debate, in particular those who have tabled these amendments. We intend to act. We have identified the area where there is legislative failure. It is clear from this debate and from all our concerns in discussions with Network Rail that the process of consultation and action—not law—needs to be improved. I believe that this House has made a substantial contribution to improvement in these terms. I hope that noble Lords will recognise that the Government have therefore been responsive, and that the noble Lord will therefore feel able to withdraw the amendment.

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

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. He rather hit the nail on the head right at the end when he said that what we want is some action, rather than to spend hours debating issues such as how many fairies can dance on a pin. We are not experts at drawing up law, but we have put our reasons forward quite clearly.

Long before the Minister mentioned it, I wrote, "What we need is action". So far as concerns Amendments Nos. 55 and 56, we believe that the powers to stop up crossings need to be enhanced a little to take account of the safety of rail passengers. It is all very well to talk about someone having to make a longer journey, but that has to be balanced against the number of people whose lives are put at risk by not introducing such a measure.

I hear what the Minister says. It is right that this House should put down a marker now and that the Secretary of State, or whoever moves the relevant measure in the other place, should take account of the strong views which have been expressed here tonight. Therefore, I wish to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 50) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 175; Not-Contents, 146.

Division number 2 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Road Safety Bill [HL]

Aye: 173 Members of the House of Lords

No: 144 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport 5:42, 29 November 2005

moved Amendments Nos. 51 to 56:

After Clause 40, insert the following new clause—

"INCREASE OF PENALTIES FOR FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH TRAFFIC LIGHTS AT LEVEL CROSSINGS

(1) A person guilty of an offence under section 36(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (drivers to comply with traffic signs) consisting of a failure to comply with a traffic sign placed at or near a level crossing indicating that vehicular traffic is not to proceed over the level crossing shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or to both and shall have his licence endorsed with six penalty points.

(2) This section applies in relation to offences committed after the date on which this Act comes into force."

After Clause 40, insert the following new clause—

"INCREASE OF PENALTIES FOR CARELESS OR INCONSIDERATE DRIVING CAUSING DAMAGE TO A RAILWAY OR OTHER BRIDGE OVER A ROAD

(1) If a person causes damage to a railway or other bridge over a road by driving a motor vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place, he is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or to both and shall have his licence endorsed with not less than six penalty points.

(2) This section applies in relation to offences committed after the date on which this Act comes into force."

After Clause 40, insert the following new clause—

"MEASURES TO PROMOTE ROAD SAFETY AT RAILWAY AND OTHER BRIDGES

In section 122(2) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (c. 27) (which sets out the matters to which local authorities must have regard in exercising their functions under that Act), after paragraph (c) insert—

"(ca) the need to reduce the risk of heavy commercial and other vehicles from colliding with railway and other bridges crossing highways by installing warning devices and physical barriers on the highways approaching such bridges;"."

After Clause 40, insert the following new clause—

"POWER TO IMPOSE REQUIREMENTS ON TRAFFIC AUTHORITIES AS REGARDS TO PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT AT LEVEL CROSSINGS

(1) Section 1 of the Level Crossings Act 1983 (c. 16) (which enables the Secretary of State to make orders as to safety arrangements at level crossings) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (2)(a), after "order;" insert—

"(aa) may impose requirements on any relevant traffic or highway authority as to the provision, maintenance or operation of any such protective equipment, including the maintenance or operation of equipment provided before the making of the order;".

(3) In subsection (6)—

(a) for "the operator and to each local authority in whose area the level crossing is situated" substitute—

"(i) the operator;

(ii) each local authority in whose area the level crossing is situated;

(iii) in the case of a proposed order which includes a provision under subsection (2)(aa) above, the relevant traffic authority concerned,"; and

(b) for "or local authority" substitute ", local authority or relevant traffic authority".

(4) In subsection (8)—

(a) after "situated" insert "and, in the case of a proposed order which includes a provision under subsection (2)(aa) above, the relevant traffic authority concerned"; and

(b) in paragraph (b), after "local authority" insert "or the relevant traffic authority concerned".

After Clause 40, insert the following new clause—

"STOPPING UP AND DIVERSION OF CROSSINGS

(1) Section 47 of the Transport and Works Act 1992 (c. 42) (stopping up and diversion of crossing) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (2) for "footpath or bridleway" substitute "road".

(3) After subsection (2) insert—

"(3) In this section "road" means any highway or other road to which the public has access.""

After Clause 40, insert the following new clause—

"STOPPING UP OF ROADS CROSSING RAILWAYS

(1) Section 118A of the Highways Act 1980 (c. 66) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1) for "footpath or bridleway" substitute "road".

(3) In subsection (2) for "path or way" substitute "road".

(4) In subsection (5) for "path or way" substitute "road".

(5) In subsection (8) after the definition of "railway" insert—

""road" means any highway or other road to which the public has access"."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

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

moved Amendment No. 57:

After Clause 41, insert the following new clause—

"HIGHWAYS ACT 1980: INTERPRETATION

(1) In section 329 of the Highways Act 1980 (c. 66) (further provisions as to interpretation), for—

(a) the entry relating to "bridleways" after the word "foot" insert "or human transporter";

(b) the entry relating to "cycle track" after the words "pedal cycles" insert "or human transporter";

(c) the entry relating to "footpath" after the word "foot" insert "or human transporter";

(d) the entry relating to "footway" after the word "foot" insert "or human transporter";

(e) at end insert—

"human transporter" means a self-balancing electric device with two driven wheels in a transverse line and a maximum unladen weight not exceeding 50 kilograms and speed limited to 13 miles per hour irrespective of gradients less than 10%."

(2) Nothing in the Highways Act 1835 (c. 50) shall prevent a person from using a human transporter or a local authority or police force from undertaking a trial or evaluation of the human transporter as defined in section 329 of the Highways Act 1980."

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

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 57, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 58, which both concern Segway human transporters. Before doing so, I state that I have no interest to declare. I have decided to pursue this issue on my own volition, but I have been helped by Segway during the passage of the Bill. We gave the concept a good run in Committee, and I will not repeat on Report the arguments in favour of the Segway. Most noble Lords are now familiar with what we are talking about, and many noble Lords have tried it. The software and the electronics inside the device are very much more sophisticated than might be supposed at first sight, but only those who have ridden on the device can appreciate how clever that software is.

I am pleased that we in this House have so positively debated the Segway human transporter, but I remind noble Lords of the problem that under current UK legislation the Segway human transporter cannot be used on the highway because it is not a vehicle; and it cannot be used on the pavement because it is neither a pedestrian nor an invalid carriage. The Segway human transporter is not designed and marketed as an invalid carriage; it is much more useful than that. These devices are coming, rather like King Canute's tide. I urge the Minister to take some order-making power to allow them to be used on the pavement. Primary legislation is required; he cannot do it by means of regulation.

Segway will not sell a Segway human transporter if it believes that if it will not be used legally. If you have a big factory, or a warehouse, or a distribution centre in which to use one, it will sell you a Segway; but it will not sell you one if it believes that you are going to use it on the pavement, because it does not want to encourage illegal use. However, it is inevitable that these devices will come into the UK market via the grey market, just as happens with vehicles. We do not want to repeat the experience of citizens' band radios—CB radios. Under the previous administration everyone was using them, all the kids were using them, but they were illegal and the government had to introduce legislation to allow them to become legal. We need to legislate first in anticipation of their arrival.

In 1835 when the Highways Act was drafted, the Segway would have been regarded as impossible. Even 15 years ago it would have been impractical and prohibitively expensive—but now it is a reality. So what is the Minister going to do about it? I beg to move.

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, 29 November 2005

My Lords, I, for one, support my noble friend on this issue. One cannot escape from legislation wherever one goes. I have been to Washington twice this year; once in April and again last week. Now Washington has little Segway depots, and all the tourists were on Segways visiting the White House and the Washington Monument and so on. There has been a change in six months in Washington; so there is obviously different legislation in the United States. They are very popular and they are selling like hotcakes. My noble friend Lord Attlee probably has an issue here that we have to address. They are certainly a good tourist initiative.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I support the amendment in principle. I will not repeat what I said in Committee, but my concern is that here we are yet again discussing something that is illegal but which people are using. We talked about limousines an hour ago. It is putting the law into disrepute. I know that there is no easy solution to where these things should go, but they are here and they are being used. I wonder whether my noble friend would bring forward an amendment at Third Reading or accept an amendment from someone else at Third Reading that within a period of a year the Government would come forward with construction use regulations or something similar. That would let people know where they could use them legally, what they had to do to licence them—if that was the proposal—and it would allow people to ride them with the maximum safety for other road users and pedestrians and still have a bit of fun. That way they would get the benefit of what for some people is probably quite a useful method of transport.

Photo of Lord Rogan Lord Rogan UUP

My Lords, I also support the amendment. We are delighted that London has been granted the Olympics, but we are told that there might be transportation problems moving personnel around. What better than we legislate that these transporters be made legal to celebrate having the Olympics in London, so that Olympic athletes and officials can be transported from central London to the Olympic stadiums?

Photo of The Earl of Liverpool The Earl of Liverpool Conservative

My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendment, as I did in Committee. I drew some comfort from the Minister's remarks in Committee when he said:

"I can see that the form of transport has great potential".—[Hansard, 26/10/05; col. 1274.]

He said other things that I found slightly less encouraging, but I am hoping that when he comes to reply he will be able to give us some more encouragement, because these things are coming. I spoke to a leading retailer in Oxford Street this afternoon—although I will not mention any names—and it is getting Christmas stock in of these items tomorrow. They are here, they are coming, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some encouraging words.

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

My Lords, both amendments include the phrase,

"two driven wheels in a transverse line".

The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations require that in order to have two wheels the distance between the centres of contact must be at least 460 millimetres.. Does that apply to human transporters? I do not know. Or will a lesser distance apply? In which case, the minimum distance needs to be clearly stated. I only mention this argument so that the vehicle does not fall into the definition of a motorcycle or moped, which require driving licences and insurance.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, the human transporter is just one example of the very rapid movement forwards in technology today. I urge the Government to bring forward a general power for the Secretary of State to make regulations to take account of any new advances in transport.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. The Segway is a motor vehicle for the purpose of road traffic legislation and that creates obvious and real difficulties. All noble Lords who have seen the Segway or have even had a chance to use it must be entranced by the technology. It is a most interesting vehicle. When I said that it had infinite potential, I did not say where it had that potential. The noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, will recognise that. I can think of some very safe places where it could be deployed with great efficiency and approval. But our difficulty is that people want the Segway to be used on the public highway and, in particular, on the pavement, when that would clearly present problems. To a degree, those problems would also apply to cycle lanes.

The new technology is of great interest to us all. It was pointed out to us that it is used in some American states, including Washington DC, and also in some European countries. But there are many others where it is not and where there is also a real problem of how it would fit into road traffic. We have many interests to consult. Without prior full consultation and until we have collated and considered all the available evidence on the use of Segways, it would be irresponsible and inappropriate to make changes in primary legislation. This would be a significant step for us.

The first time that many of us came across this vehicle was probably as recently as a couple of weeks ago. My department officials have met representatives of the company and I know that one or two of them have experienced the—dare I say it?—exhilaration of a ride on the vehicle. I say "exhilaration" because I was privileged to go on a short journey on it. I am never allowed to go more than 15 yards from your Lordships' House when I am on duty so I went 14 yards, and I can testify to the fact that it is a most interesting transport initiative.

We have advised the company to make contact with various groups in the UK which are likely to have an interest in the vehicle, whether they are for or against the concept of human transporters, because a lot of interests have to be taken into account. The department is seeking information from the company and elsewhere about the tests, trials and studies that are carried out in other countries, and obviously, where it has been used according to the law in some states, we will take that evidence into account. We will also carefully examine material relating to other similar devices, and we will consider the next steps to be taken.

However, it will be recognised that it would be inordinately premature for us to use a Bill which is about road safety to introduce such a vehicle on to our highways when it is not certain where it is intended that it should be used. Clearly it does not fit on to the highway so far as concerns road vehicles. It is not a cycle and does not go as fast as a cycle. If it were more like a cycle, I have no doubt that the Segway would have made more progress in places such as the Netherlands, where there is a vast plethora of dedicated cycle lanes. But, at the moment, the Dutch have reservations about the mix between Segways and cycles.

There is a real problem in relation to this vehicle. I know that it has control speeds but its maximum speed is more than 12 miles per hour. We have to consider whether we could conceivably allow on to our pavements or pedestrianised areas a vehicle which goes three times faster than vehicles used by the disabled, which we do permit and which are limited to a speed of four miles per hour.

The House will recognise that I do not want to be a killjoy—far from it. I meant what I said, and the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, referred to my interest in the technology. It is a most exciting concept. But it raises substantial problems for us in terms of the law and it would be exceedingly premature for us to accept an amendment to this Bill. Having given the subject a good airing, I hope that the noble Earl will feel that he can withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, he said that the human transporter was a vehicle and therefore its proper place would be on the roads. But can he tell the House whether we would need primary legislation to make it run legally on the roads or whether that could be done purely by regulation?

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

My Lords, we think that it would probably need primary legislation because it raises such significant issues. It is just possible that we could deal with it if it was felt that it could be accommodated satisfactorily on British highways or pavements. We may be able to deal with it in some other way. But it appears to raise such significant issues that it would require primary legislation, not least because we cannot see where it would fit safely for its own purposes other than on pavements, which is the very place where it is least safe for others.

This is a formidable issue. When we said to the company, "There are a great number of interests that you need to consult in order to make out the case", we meant it. We will watch these developments and will participate in any way that we can to understand the work that is taking place in this area. But we could not possibly accept an amendment to the legislation today.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, does he not agree that rollerbladers are allowed on the public highway, and rollerbladers go just as fast as these vehicles, if not faster?

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

My Lords, first, rollerblades are not powered except by humans and, secondly, they do not have the same weight as the Segway, which involves both a person and a vehicle. So they are different.

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

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Monson, raised the subject of rollerblades. The difference between a rollerblade and a Segway is that a person on a rollerblade cannot stop himself very quickly, whereas a Segway can stop very quickly indeed because the rider has only to lean back and then the software takes care of it, but I am not aware that a rollerblade contains any software.

I believe that in London, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham a Segway would be pretty useless on the road. It should be used primarily on the pavement. In the countryside, where I live, where there is not a hard pavement, it might be useful on the road, but its best opportunity for reducing road traffic—that is, the use of cars—will be in an urban area, and that is where it needs to be used on the pavement.

I am still rather disappointed with the Minister—and perhaps a bit with myself in that I did not line up my ducks in order to have a Division. However, I have not done so. But the fact is that the Segway is coming. If the Minister chooses to do nothing about it, it will be ubiquitous by the time he next has the legislative opportunity to do something about it. It is the duty of the Government to anticipate changes in society and normally a lot of effort is put into doing so.

The Minister referred to the Dutch difficulties, but that is a decision for the Dutch. They make extensive use of pedal cycles—far more than we do—so I do not think that the Dutch situation is a good model for us.

I am suggesting only that the Minister should take an order-making power. It might only be an order-making power for a trial or one to allow a local authority to carry out a trial if it feels that that would be useful. A short while ago Ministers said that local authorities were good at making decisions to suit local needs and sometimes they say that they are not very good.

The Minister talked about pavements and speeds. Yes, a Segway can go at 12 mph. In the country, travelling along a main road one may want to go at 12 mph, but you would be off your trolley—if I can put it that way—to go at 12 mph on a pavement. One could legislate to make it an offence to use a Segway at more than 4 mph on a pavement. A Segway has various settings for maximum speed and the maximum speed setting can be locked in its memory. If someone ran a person down at 12 mph, the speed would be locked in the memory of the Segway, so it could be seen that a person had programmed the Segway to travel at 12 mph when 4 mph is quite sufficient. Going from your Lordships' House to Pimlico, it would be fine to travel on the pavement at 4 mph—it would be wonderful.

I am disappointed with the Minister's response but I was not minded to divide the House. The Segway is coming and the Minister will have to legislate at some stage. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 58 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport 6:00, 29 November 2005

moved Amendment No. 58A:

After Clause 42, insert the following new clause—

"REGULATIONS CONTROLLING DISPLAY OF ADVERTISEMENTS

(1) Section 220 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990 (c. 8) (regulations controlling display of advertisements) is amended as follows.

(2) After subsection (3), insert—

"(3A) A local planning authority must exercise its powers so as to ensure compliance with the provisions of these regulations in its area with respect to advertising that can be seen by drivers on a special road (motorway) or a trunk road.""

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

My Lords, I shall not detain the House long on this amendment. It was debated at an earlier stage and the Minister replied saying that he was not in favour of requiring local authorities to do things. We said that something needed to be done about this. Advertisements are appearing alongside our motorways on trailers and van bodies and they are appearing at prominent places on trunk roads. Some local authorities with enforcement powers do something about it and others do not. Companies have been set up to sell the advertising space, even though it is illegal. The amendment would simply compel a local planning authority—"must" is inserted instead of "may"—to do something about advertisements that appear where they are illegal and where they distract drivers from the duty of looking at the traffic. That is the primary reason why advertisements were banned at those sites in the first place. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, we support the amendment, but as time is moving on and as we have concluded much of our important business, I shall not enlarge further.

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

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords for their contributions. The clause is designed to ensure that breaches of the control of advertisements regulations do not occur alongside motorways and trunk roads. It places a duty on local planning authorities to take enforcement action in every case where the regulations are breached. However, we shall resist the amendment because we believe that local planning authorities' enforcement powers are discretionary. A duty to enforce in all cases, irrespective of the nature and circumstances of the breach, would put an additional and unwarranted burden on local authorities. The Government do not consider that this matter should be subject to specific regulations, but, of course, they are concerned about the proliferation of advertisements alongside motorways, and are working on several initiatives to ensure that where such breaches occur, advertisements are quickly removed.

What action are the Government taking? We have met representatives from local planning authorities, particularly in the north-west where there have been some specific problems about the M6. We have written to all local planning authorities, reminding them of their powers to act in these cases, and urging them to do so. We have had positive responses from them. The ODPM has also written to those companies and advertisers that are displaying advertisements on these sites, setting out the regulations and asking them to remove unlawful advertisements. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has been working with the Highways Agency, the Local Government Association, the Planning Advisory Service and the Planning Officers Society to seek ways to deal with advertisers and to prevent these advertisements from being displayed. We are looking at other measures that we may introduce to help local authorities to deal with the problem and to eradicate unlawful motorway advertising. In view of that explanation of work that has recently been undertaken, I hope the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

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

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. A similar reply was given at a previous stage. I do not believe that the situation is being addressed adequately. I seek to test the opinion of the House.

Photo of Lord Brougham and Vaux Lord Brougham and Vaux Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 6:06, 29 November 2005

My Lords, the Question is that Amendment No. 58A shall be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say, "Content". To the contrary, "Not-Content". Clear the Bar.

Division called.

Tellers for the Contents have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order 54. A Division therefore cannot take place, and I declare that the "Not-Contents" have it.

Amendment negatived.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative 6:10, 29 November 2005

moved Amendment No. 59:

After Clause 43, insert the following new clause—

"CAUSING OR PERMITTING CHILD UNDER 14 TO RIDE A CYCLE ON ROAD WITHOUT PROTECTIVE HEADGEAR

(1) Except as provided by regulations, it is an offence for any person to whom this subsection applies to cause or permit a child under the age of 14 years to ride a cycle on a road unless the child is wearing protective headgear, of such description as may be specified in regulations, in such manner as may be so specified.

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

(a) unless the child is cycling in the course of his employment, any person who—

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

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

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

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

(b) any person other than a person mentioned in paragraph (a) above who is above the age of 15 years and who has custody of or is in possession of the cycle immediately before the child rides it;

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

(3) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) above is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 2 on the standard scale.

(4) In this section—

"regulations" means regulations under section (Regulations in relation to section (Causing or permitting child under 14 to ride a cycle on road without protective headgear)); and

"road" has—

(a) in England and Wales the meaning given by section 192(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988;

(b) in Scotland the meaning given by section 15(1) of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 (c. 54); and

(c) in Northern Ireland the meaning given by article 1(2) of the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (S.I. 1995/2994 (N.I.)).

(5) In this section and section (Regulations in relation to section (Causing or permitting child under 14 to ride a cycle on road without protective headgear)) "cycle" means a monocycle, a bicycle, a tricycle, or a cycle having four or more wheels, not being in any case a motor vehicle."

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 59, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 60. Amendment No. 60 empowers the Secretary of State to make the regulations needed for the effective operation of the new clause to be inserted by Amendment No. 59.

These amendments are not the same as those that I moved in Committee. The age at which a child must wear protective headgear has been altered to children under 14, which will bring the law on children riding cycles into line with the law on children riding horses, as laid out in the Horses (Protective Headgear for Young Riders) Act 1990. In Committee, the Minister said that he was concerned that the compulsory wearing of a helmet would put children off cycling. I am not aware that that happened with riding horses. I rather think that the number of children riding horses and ponies has increased since the wearing of protective headgear became compulsory. Children will still wish to cycle. It gives them a measure of independence that they crave. The Minister said that increased exercise is a major part of the Government's strategy to deal with obesity. I strongly agree that children should exercise, but it must be done safely. The wearing of protective headgear by children is compulsory in Australia, and when I was there earlier this year, I saw crowds of children happily riding around on their bicycles, all wearing protective headgear. It does not seem to have put them off in the least.

I now turn to the question of liability. I have given the matter some more thought. I think the Government's concerns on liability are misplaced, even if the amendments were to be left as they were in Committee. That is because the accused must have caused or permitted the child to have ridden the cycle. In most cases, I imagine that only one person could have caused or permitted it to happen. In a case where a child leaves the house with his parents, not knowing whether he will ride a bike or not, and then borrows a bike from an adult, it is clear who caused or permitted it to happen. On the other hand, if the parents allow him out without a helmet, it is also clear. If the child leaves the house with a helmet on, and then takes it off, the parents cannot be said to have caused or permitted it to happen, unless they told him that he could remove it. Nevertheless, I have altered the amendments by leaving out the provision relating to the ownership of the bike. I have also provided for employers by requiring that the cycling must be in the course of the child's employment. I beg to move.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, I have put my name to this amendment. I strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said. Her Majesty's Government are encouraging children and young people to cycle through their Safer Routes to Schools initiative and their advice to local authorities. They wish more children to cycle, for understandable reasons. But with that encouragement comes a responsibility for the Government to take all reasonable measures to protect children from harm. Yesterday, I spoke with a paediatric nurse who is caring for a 13 year-old who fell from his bike, smashed the front of his head and damaged his frontal lobes. He is now unable to manage his emotions and is subject to outbreaks of rage. A friend of mine at school, who I used to cycle with, came off his bicycle. He called me to the hospital, and when I arrived, he had forgotten that he had called me. He experienced concussion. His personality changed following his injury. Some years later, he developed a bipolar emotional disorder—manic depression—that may be associated with that trauma.

The overwhelming case is that helmets protect individuals from injury to the brain and that they are particularly effective in protecting children from brain injury. As the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said, we are all concerned that children should take more exercise. I believe that obesity in children has increased by one-fifth in the past 10 years. The evidence about whether the introduction of cycle helmets in other countries has discouraged or encouraged children and adults to cycle is not clear either way. I remember visiting a Halfords store this summer and seeing a child with his mother. She was speaking to his father on her mobile phone, asking whether they should buy the larger bike. The message from the father was that they should get the larger bike. The boy was jumping up and down with joy at the prospect of buying a new bicycle. When I look in the park and observe children, I have to say, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said, that bicycles are so attractive to children that it seems very unlikely that a significant number of them will be put off simply because they have to wear a helmet.

On the question of enforcement, when the Home Office was discussing this, a two-year plan was proposed. The first year would focus heavily on education, promoting bicycle safety and the wearing of cycle helmets. The second year would involve law enforcement officers. When they saw groups of children, they would warn them that in a year's time, it would be against the law for them not to wear a cycle helmet. Then, once the law was put in place, letters would be sent to parents asking them to purchase a helmet and send a receipt to the office to prove it, or else they would receive other warnings.

Twenty states in the United States, Norway, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as well as several other countries, have introduced these laws. The Government are actively encouraging children and young people to cycle more. For understandable reasons, we have a low usage of cycles in this country. We have a responsibility to take reasonable measures to protect children from harm. When parents and children are consulted about this, they favour a law to make cycle helmets mandatory.

The Bill will provide that careless drivers who kill with no intention to do so can be sentenced to a maximum of five years' imprisonment. The Government have set aside 150 prison spaces to cater for them. Those people are harming adults and children unwittingly so, with the greatest respect to the Minister, it seems somewhat ironic that the Government are encouraging children and young people on to the streets on bicycles without taking all reasonable precautions to keep them from harm. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

My Lords, I am sorry to have missed the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen; it was entirely because of the contretemps over Amendment No. 58A. I told my noble friend Lord Listowel yesterday that unfortunately I would not be able to support his amendment, though I pay tribute to his arguments today. As might be expected, I oppose it mainly on libertarian grounds, but on practical rather than on purist libertarian grounds.

People of my generation cycled every bit as much when we were 11, 12 or 13 as children of that age group do today—probably more so, since there were fewer forms of alternative transport available. Neither I nor any of my great many friends and acquaintances ever suffered anything worse than a grazed knee. If children were falling onto their heads from bicycles in their hundreds every day of the week, I might think rather differently. But that does not appear to be the case, despite the moving example produced by my noble friend. One should not erode—

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the estimate for the number of children going to hospital each year with head injuries following a cycling accident is put very roughly at 26,000? I hope that may be helpful to my noble friend.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

My Lords, of course it is helpful, but we do not know how many of those accidents involve the head, how serious the injuries were, and, indeed, what proportion of the total number of child cyclists it represents. I appreciate, none the less, what my noble friend says, but I do not think that human freedom should be eroded in order to save the occasional individual injury.

There is one other point. The amendment extends, rather surprisingly, to tricycles, which surely are much safer than bicycles. I should not have thought that was necessary. However, that is for the sponsors of the amendment to answer.

There is a further practical objection, which has been touched on obliquely by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. The law requiring equestrians under the age of 14 to wear protective headgear when riding on a public highway is sometimes prayed in aid, but realistically it is difficult—not impossible but difficult—for someone of that age to go riding without adult input or, at any rate, adult co-operation. The horse has to be stabled or, if not stabled, kept in a paddock owned by an adult. It has to be watered and fed daily. The bridle, saddle and other tack has to be provided and kept in good working order. So it is fairly unlikely that a child under the age of 14 would ride out on a public highway without the knowledge of the parent or the guardian. How very different where the bike is concerned. A 12 or 13-year old could grab his bike and zoom off out of sight of older members of his family in no time at all, and children of that age nowadays take instructions from their parents with a giant pinch of salt. For all those reasons I believe that the amendment is misconceived.

Photo of The Countess of Mar The Countess of Mar Crossbench

My Lords, I too missed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, in the Chamber, but I heard it upstairs. I used to work in what we used to call the "blood and bones" department of our local hospital. I saw first-hand a number of children with severe head injuries who had fallen or been knocked off their bicycles. That has left a very strong impression on me.

My two granddaughters, who might, not disparagingly, be described as rather vain little girls, are very happy to wear cycle helmets when they ride their bicycles, so there is no objection from them. Just as children will remind their parents to fasten their seatbelts, and they religiously wear their seatbelts in the back seats of cars when adults do not, I think that children can be encouraged to wear safety helmets. I would very much like to see this become law.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Women & Older People, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

My Lords, I am not competent to take a close view on the validity of the amendment as it is written and its practicality, but I should simply like to follow the noble Countess in her remarks about trying to create an atmosphere, a culture if you like, in which young people automatically wear helmets when cycling.

Cycling is extremely dangerous. Cyclists are the least well defended users of the highway—unless horsemen are even less well defended, because there are a great many riders' accidents. It would be extremely advantageous if we could cultivate a way of making sure that, in the same way as they use their seatbelts, children put on a hard hat when cycling. For that reason, were the noble Lords to take the amendment to a vote, I should be extremely tempted to support them.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench

My Lords, while I think the amendment is extremely well meaning and that it is a very good idea for people to take proper safety measures, whatever it is they are doing that is dangerous, I am against compulsion. There are two sides to it. First, there is enough compulsion about things in life, and it should be up to individuals largely to decide. Children, I realise, are not mentally experienced enough to always make correct decisions, but they can be influenced very strongly by their parents. That brings me on to the business about permission—who is liable?

Living in the country, our children go in and out and pop on a bicycle. They may decide to unlock the bike shed and get one out. We have no idea really what they are up to, where or when. They come and go as they please. On the practicality of suggesting they should be checked every time they want to go on a bike ride or whatever, they have general permission to use their bicycles. I am not quite sure how parents like us, who have a relaxed attitude to the comings and goings of their children, would fare on this. So I feel that that is probably the biggest downside. I do not like the potential liability and the potential chance for some person in authority to bully adults about their children's behaviour when maybe the adult has not been in a position to do much about it. I do not think that we should over control society.

The real fact of the matter is that we are more likely to die of a heart attack, cancer or a stroke, or something related to that. Your chances of being damaged badly in an accident realistically are very low.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. Of course I share the objectives of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, who moved the amendment, that we want to improve the safety of our young cyclists. That is exactly what we have been doing.

Taking the period of 1994 to 1998 as a baseline, we have reduced deaths and serious injury for child cyclists by 49 per cent. So no one should underestimate the Government's commitment to improving safety for our children. We intend to improve on that position. We are not complacent. I want to emphasise that of course this improvement in the statistics is a reflection of a whole plethora of measures that we have taken to improve child cyclists' safety. Our programme includes the education of children and their carers, the education of drivers to take more care about child cyclists, publicity, better child cycle training and improved infrastructure to increase the opportunities for them to cycle safely on our roads and cycle paths. We include in that the promotion of the wearing of helmets because we are not going to contend with noble Lords the fact that the wearing of the helmet is a help to a cyclist if he has a serious accident and lands on his head. So we are at one with noble Lords in this respect.

We know from regular monitoring of helmet wearing that there is a long way to go to increase such wearing. Boys are most reluctant to wear helmets. Set against a generally rising trend, the wearing rate for boys has gone down from 15 per cent in 1994 to 11 per cent in 2004. For girls, the wearing rate has risen to 26 per cent. Inevitably, a large proportion of those not wearing helmets are young adolescents who have accidents. That points to the nature of the difficulty: we start from a low base. I take on board the representations made by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, on the question of personal responsibility; I shall also comment on their points about who is liable in a moment. The problem with the amendment is that we are starting from such a low base, but it would move us up to 100 per cent by law. We cannot safely promote legislation on that basis now. We are aware of the contribution that the wearing of cycle helmets can make to road safety, but to move from a position of low acceptance of that need to 100 per cent compulsion is a significant leap that we do not think is justified.

We have reservations on the issue of liability. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, say that he had listened to my remarks in Committee and I am grateful to him for having done that. I addressed the issue of liability. But the noble Lord, Lord Monson, is right: it is not easy to identify who is liable. It is not clear who, if anyone, will be responsible for the crucial offence of causing or permitting the offence from the range of persons listed in the amendment. Suppose that a child cycles home from school. Are the parents responsible or is the school responsible? Is the school responsible as the person who has custody or possession of the bike before the child rides home? What if the school has a rule that helmets must be worn but the child does not wear one? Where does responsibility lie? We honestly think that there are real problems about ambiguity and who will be responsible. That will always be a question of fact in the circumstances. They are overlapping responsibilities. It may not be clear whether the school or the parent is responsible in such cases.

I recognise that noble Lords will be disappointed by my response. I know that others share their views. The measure was introduced in a Private Member's Bill in the other place last year. The Government will not renege on our major commitment to improving child cycling safety, but we do not think that compulsion at this stage would produce the results that we want. We will keep a watchful and monitoring eye on the situation. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that the Government will not fail in our commitment to improve child cycling safety statistics and, on that basis, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 6:30, 29 November 2005

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, is he aware of research from Australia undertaken by McDermott in which, at secondary school level, before education on bicycle safety, 2 per cent of those cyclists were wearing helmets; after education, 11 per cent were; but, after legislation, 42 per cent of secondary schoolchildren were wearing helmets? There was an even more remarkable response from primary schools.

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

My Lords, if I was not aware of it before, I am now. However, the noble Earl will recognise that if 42 per cent are compliant, the Australians, or that particular state, have a law that the majority of young cyclists are not obeying. In this country, we are concerned about obedience to the law. In fact, the great strength of our safety measures is that we do not propose laws that people can then safely and easily ignore; we propose laws by which we expect people to abide. That is why, as I have argued before, the driving test requirements in this country are so much more stringent than elsewhere in the world. We expect people to reach that level of competence. The same thing applies to observation of the law.

As the noble Earl will freely concede, driving conditions in much of Australia are somewhat different, given the vastly greater population of people in crowded islands. We must address things differently. I hope that he will accept that, although I recognise his statistics, I would not take any joy in a law that the majority of our fellow citizens disregarded.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, the Minister's last remarks are very interesting, bearing in mind adherence to the law on seatbelts. To start with, very few people wore their seatbelts. To start with, it was not compulsory in the back of a car. It now is. If the Minister is fortunate enough to get an empty taxi to take him home tonight, he will find that there is a notice in the back of the taxi telling him that it is against the law not to wear his seatbelt. So the situation changes. It changes with education, I agree—in this respect, education of children on cycles—but in the past it has changed with education of adults in their motor vehicles.

The Minister asked: who is responsible for ensuring that the child wears a helmet? In a car, the driver of the car is responsible for the passengers wearing a seatbelt, as well as himself. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, said that his children took their bicycles when they wanted to go out. When my children were young, there were standard instructions and rules that they had to obey, and they were in trouble if they did not. There can be a standing instruction that whenever they take their bicycles, they wear a helmet. That is not difficult. I know that children do not always obey their parents—I quite agree about that—but it is not difficult to lay down boundaries that they are not supposed to cross. Those boundaries get relaxed as the children get bigger. Later on, they are allowed out beyond nine o'clock at night, and so on. But with small children, you can lay down the rule that they must wear helmets and they are in trouble—sent to their beds, or whatever—if they disobey that rule.

Also, schools can lay down school rules that children leaving school or riding around in school must wear a helmet or they will be punished. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, said that he did not support the amendment because 100 or so children might die or have a head injury every year if they did not have a helmet. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, pointed out to him that 26,000 children were injured with head injuries every year, which is a rather different figure.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said that it was good to create a culture of helmet wearing. I agree. As I said, in Australia, compulsion is creating a culture in which children are out wearing their helmets the whole time. Any new law takes time to bed down and for everyone to obey it because not everyone is aware of it. The Minister pointed out that the percentage of boys wearing a helmet has reduced recently. That is a very good reason for making it compulsory. He also said that we would be starting from a low base and that we would need to move immediately to 100 per cent wearing of helmets. The argument about helmets applies in exactly the same direction as the argument that the Government used on drivers' use of mobile phones, so that point will not wash.

However, my noble friend Lady Hanham has put to me the argument, which she did not reiterate today, that my amendment would make children criminals. I shall look at that before Third Reading because I do not wish to make children criminals if I can help it. But it is important that we make it compulsory for children under 14 to wear protective headgear. I will reserve my right to bring the matter before your Lordships' House at Third Reading. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 60 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour

moved Amendment No. 61:

After Clause 43, insert the following new clause—

"HACKNEY CARRIAGES: SUPPLEMENTARY LICENSING CONDITIONS

(1) In section 6(6) of the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869 (32 & 33 Vict, c. 115) (definition of "matter of fitness" for purposes of grant of hackney carriage licence) after paragraph (b) insert—

"(c) the matters set out in subsection (6A) of this section.

(6A) The matters referred to in subsection (6)(c) are that any vehicle licensed as a hackney carriage under this section shall—

(a) have been constructed specifically for use as a hackney carriage,

(b) be used for no other purpose,

(c) have hinged doors,

(d) have access for disabled passengers at the side, and

(e) have a rear window consisting of a single pane."

(2) In section 47 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 (c. 57) (licensing of hackney carriages), before subsection (1) insert—

"(A1) A district council may grant a licence for a hackney carriage only if the conditions in subsection (A2) are satisfied.

(A2) The conditions are that any vehicle licensed as a hackney carriage under this section shall—

(a) have been constructed specifically for use as a hackney carriage,

(b) be used for no other purpose,

(c) have hinged doors,

(d) have access for disabled passengers at the side, and

(e) have a rear window consisting of a single pane.""

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour

My Lords, this amendment deals with the law governing hackney carriages and taxis across the United Kingdom. The law is derived from a number of Acts of Parliament, some very ancient. The earliest that I am aware of are the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 and the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869, which the first part of this amendment seeks to amend. The amendment deals with the safety hazards created by hackney carriages that load wheelchair users from the rear, those that have split rear windscreens and those with sliding doors. It also insists that all taxis in the UK are purpose-built and not converted vans. I shall deal briefly with each issue.

Numerous local authorities already ban taxi vehicles into which wheelchair users are loaded from the rear; they include major cities such as London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield. The main reason for my amendment is safety. Where taxis are lined up bumper to bumper at a railway station or airport rank, there is no space to pull forward safely. To load from the back they would have to put their nose into the flow of traffic and create a hazard. It is not surprising, therefore, that charities such as RADAR, the Spinal Injuries Association and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents—I declare an interest as a former president—all support that view. It has also been supported in two Early-Day Motions in another place and by fire brigades, which report that they often find it difficult to extract wheelchair users in rear-loading vehicles involved in rear-end shunts.

Rear windscreens are a road safety issue. Many converted-van taxis have split rear windscreens and provide rear access through van-type doors. They have a central pillar in the rear windscreen that restricts the driver's rear view and creates a large blind spot where children could be hidden and consequently hit when the vehicle is reversing. It also leads to drivers colliding with parked cycles and motorcycles hidden in the blind spot when they are reversing. The amendment insists that all hackney carriages should have a one-piece, single-pane rear windscreen.

On hinged versus sliding doors, the amendment would adopt the same practice as exists in the city of New York, where sliding doors on taxis for non-disabled passengers were outlawed by Mayor Giuliani in 1996 and all vehicles with sliding doors had to be converted to use swing doors. Passengers who get out of vehicles through sliding doors on to a road are often at risk, as drivers coming up from behind will often not notice that a sliding door is opening. The first thing that they see is a leg or body emerging from the vehicle. Swing-hinged doors provide a visible barrier and create space for the passenger to exit.

I should say a word about why all taxis should be purpose built. The iconic London black cab is the ideal for others to emulate. If all hackney carriages looked like those, the travelling public would be less confused and much safer. I beg to move.

Photo of Viscount Simon Viscount Simon Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 6:45, 29 November 2005

My Lords, my noble friend has introduced his amendment exceedingly well. I have only one further thing to add: I support it.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for moving his amendment. We certainly agree with his main proposition that accessibility for disabled people is an important factor in taxi provision. That is why my honourable friend the Minister in another place has made clear our expectation that, within the next decade, vehicles will comply in those terms in prescribed areas. We say "in prescribed areas" because there is a difference between taxis used in urban areas and those used in rural ones.

I accept that we want disabled access but we may be prepared to tolerate different forms of that in different parts of the country. I fear that my noble friend is proposing that the black cab should be a universal model for taxis in all areas, which would have significant implications for the employment, use and provision of taxis in many parts of the country. Whole livelihoods would be destroyed if all taxis had to be black cabs. The technical specifications of the black cab are extremely significant, onerous and expensive. The noble Lord will know the cost of a black cab. A lot of taxis across the country provide an exceptional service to the many citizens who depend upon them but are run by people who could not invest in a black cab.

I shall give one obvious illustration: one specification of black cab design is that they should have the extraordinary and hugely admired limited turning circle. Drivers of ordinary vehicles are left in glorious envy of that feature when they see London taxis and other vehicles spin on the proverbial sixpence. But turning-circle specifications are not needed on cabs in other parts of the country. They are needed in some cities, which is why we see the so-called London cab in Manchester, Leeds and elsewhere, but a turning circle is of limited concern to users in many other places.

I understand that my noble friend seeks to ensure that the taxi trade serves citizens to the best of its ability. There is no doubt that we will insist on that. My honourable friend the Minister in the other place has indicated that he works to a timescale for compliance in that respect. But that is vastly different from an amendment that would produce a universal design concept. Although the black cab is the glory of London and greatly used in some of our other major cities, it is scarcely the basis for the design of taxis for hire across much of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his considered reply to this very short debate. It is too late at night, and too late in the Bill, for a lengthy debate about the role of the hackney cab in the United Kingdom. I am glad that he pays tribute to the status of the London cab, as it is much admired by cities elsewhere in the world. I was also reassured by my noble friend's remarks about provision for disabled passengers. I will read very carefully what he has said but I do not wish to press the amendment at this stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

moved Amendment No. 62:

After Clause 43, insert the following new clause—

"REMOVAL OF VEHICLES BY POLICE CONTRACTED RECOVERY SCHEMES

In section 99 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (c. 27) (removal of vehicles etc.), after subsection (2)(c) insert—

"(d) may, subject to paragraphs (e) and (f), provide for Police Contracted Recovery Schemes;

(e) any regulations for a scheme under subsection (2)(d) shall provide that—

(i) all appointed recovery operators are accredited to an International Standards Organisation standard;

(ii) a person whose vehicle falls within subsection (1) is, subject to sub-paragraph (iii) or (iv), given the opportunity to arrange removal himself;

(iii) sub-paragraph (ii) shall not apply if a constable believes safety or other road users would be compromised and the customer is unlikely to be able to arrange for the vehicle's removal before the appointed recovery operator;

(iv) sub-paragraph (ii) shall not apply if the road on which the vehicle is permitted to rest is a special road and the customer is unlikely to be able to arrange for the vehicle's removal within a time specified in the regulations or one hour, whichever is the greater;

(v) if a person whose vehicle falls within subsection (1) arranges removal of the vehicle himself and his choice of recovery operator arrives before the appointed recovery operator, he shall be under no obligation to the appointed recovery operator or the authority;

(vi) neither the authority, the chief police officer or the police authority may benefit from a preferential scale of charges or free services from an appointed recovery operator;

(vii) when a vehicle has been abandoned by the owner or registered keeper the authority shall pay the appointed recovery operator the charges prescribed under section 102 of this Act;

(viii) an appointed recovery operator shall not be required to give any financial or other consideration for being appointed;

(ix) the police authority may make a financial charge, as prescribed, against the person whose vehicle falls within subsection (1), for despatching the appointed recovery operator, and such a charge may be collected by the appointed recovery operator;

(x) any Scheme must allow for competition, new operators joining the scheme, and aim to have operators no further than a prescribed distance from each other;

(xi) no person shall be appointed under a Police Contracted Recovery Scheme if he is not of good repute as defined in sub-paragraph (xii);

(xii) a person is of good repute if he meets similar requirements to paragraphs 1 to 6 of Schedule 3 to the Goods Vehicle (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995 (c. 23);

(xiii) appointed recovery operators shall not charge more than the amount prescribed under section 102 for removing a vehicle weighing no more than 3500 kilograms unless approved by the chief officer of police on each occasion;

(xiv) appointed recovery operators shall not charge more than the amount prescribed under section 102 for removing a vehicle weighing more than 3500 kilograms unless there are unusual difficulties requiring extra facilities, but rates shall not exceed those published under sub-paragraph (xv); and

(xv) appointed recovery operators shall publish their scale of charges in such form as may be prescribed in one or more local papers;

(f) before making any regulations under subsection (2)(d) the Secretary of State shall consult such organisations as he considers necessary and in particular the authorities empowered by regulations under section 99(1).""

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

My Lords, Amendment No. 62 concerns breakdown schemes operated by the police. Clearly, it is very important that roads are kept clear in the event of a breakdown and that the police will have to operate a scheme. Before much longer, on very high usage roads such as the M25, we will have to consider a free compulsory scheme to remove broken-down vehicles very quickly. As we all know, they cause serious problems. We are not there yet, but we will need a scheme which is along the lines of the schemes for roadworks.

Currently, there are serious problems, which I will describe in a moment. I am a little disappointed that I have to move this amendment. I suggested to the Minister that he might organise a meeting with a Home Office Minister and officials at some time in the future—not during the passage of the Bill—possibly in the new year. Unfortunately, he was unable to offer that. I suspect that my comments about the Home Office in respect of the amendment about causing death by careless driving were less than helpful.

Amendment No. 62 is on page 12 of the Marshalled List. It may be useful for your Lordships to glance at it because I intend to go through it. I propose a list of factors that need to be considered in a police scheme, but there are some difficulties. Sub-paragraph (i) of Amendment No. 62 provides that all operators should operate to an International Standards Organisation standard. Sub-paragraph (ii) reiterates the current situation; that is, when a motorist breaks down he has a choice of how his vehicle is recovered. Unfortunately, the police sometimes are economical with the truth and let the motorist think that he has no choice and that he has to use a police-appointed garage, which is not the case. Later, I shall describe some problems with the police-appointed garage. The amendment suggests that the motorist should be able to exercise his choice. However, sub-paragraph (iii) puts a time limit on that, stating that the motorist should not be able to compromise road safety, which is particularly important on a motorway where it is vital that vehicles are removed quickly. Sub-paragraph (iv) would set a time limit for how long a vehicle should be allowed to stay on a motorway. I suggest regulations but, in any case, the time limit should be no more than one hour.

The amendment also provides for what happens if the police appoint a recovery operator against the wishes of the customer, but the customer's garage gets there first. In that situation, it would be hard luck for the appointed garage. I do not understand why the police should be allowed to insist on using their appointed garage when the customer's choice of recovery firm arrives first.

Sub-paragraph (vi) is very important. At the moment, the police or police authority benefit from those schemes because they obtain free services on the back of the schemes. These services are not free. They are paid for by the motorist who breaks down. For example, the police will seek to obtain free storage of vehicles involved in crime and free recovery for their own vehicles. I hesitate to use the word "corrupt", but if the average motorist knew that police vehicles were recovered for free and that the ordinary travelling public must pay, he would be a bit disappointed, to say the least. The amendment also provides for the current system where abandoned vehicles can be removed by the police.

The amendment also provides that an appointed garage should not have to pay for the privilege of being on the police list. At the moment, it has to pay a considerable sum of money to be on the police rota when it wants to provide a service for the public. Perhaps the Minister will explain why that is desirable. My amendment also provides for when an appointed garage recovers a vehicle. The motorist has to pay for that recovery. It will not be free.

Sub-paragraph (xi) makes it clear that the scheme must allow for new operators in the scheme. Sub-paragraph (xii) provides that a recovery operator must be of "good repute". Clearly, the recovery operator might deal with a vulnerable motorist who has broken down in the middle of the night. We do not want people of no good repute involved in the industry. Sub-paragraphs (xiii) and (xiv) allow for different rates for different sizes of vehicles. Obviously, it is much more expensive to recover a heavy commercial vehicle than a light vehicle. Under sub-paragraph (xv), when an operator wants to charge very high rates in order to recover the cost of extremely expensive equipment, it must advertise its rates in the local paper, which might make interesting reading if an operator wants to charge extortionate rates.

My greatest concern about current police schemes is that the police or police authority benefit from free recovery services. In addition, operators have to pay to be on the scheme. There have been a number of court cases involving police schemes. During the Police Reform Bill I tabled exactly the same amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, in his customary way, accepted that there was a serious problem, but I am not convinced that we have made any progress. I was a little disappointed that the Minister was unable to arrange a meeting with me and officials at leisure; that is, at some time next year and not while the Bill is in progress in your Lordships' House. That is always difficult. This is an additional amendment which deals with some road safety as well as wider issues, and Home Office issues to boot. I will be grateful to hear what the Minister has to say on this important subject. 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)

My Lords, I have been remiss in not arranging that meeting, although the noble Earl will recognise that there were one or two quite significant issues with the Bill which inevitably had priority and which directly concern officials in my department. He is right that the meeting that he wants involves Home Office officials. Let me assure the noble Earl that of course I will arrange such a meeting. I will let him know as soon as I have done so. We hope to achieve that possibly in the new year rather than at this stage. My priority now is to deal with the passage of this Bill, which I had hoped we might complete before Christmas. But it may be a new year's present rather than the Christmas present that we all desired.

I understand the points that the noble Earl has made, some of which are very valid. But they are points of detail about the way in which things are done. We do not think that the amendment is necessary. After all, the police have been removing vehicles as necessary under the Act for more than 20 years and have not felt that the lack of regulations relating to their contractual arrangements affect their efficiency in any way. We do not see why we need to increase the regulatory burden without a proven and obvious need. I do not think that the noble Earl has made out his case in those terms, although he has identified certain weaknesses which we intend to address. But we do not think that we need statutory change in order to do that.

A great deal of work is under way in the context of the Highways Agency that will lead to its traffic officers, where appropriate and authorised—the noble Earl will know that that comes into force under legislation that has been passed only recently—arranging removals on the strategic road network and adjoining roads.

The agency will need its own contracts for this purpose, but the police will retain their powers on the network and continue to be responsible for removals on other roads, so their contractual arrangements will also continue. Obviously we want consistency between the two groups of operators, if I can define them in those terms, and to that end we see the necessity for effective collaboration. The agency, the Home Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the insurance industry and the operators are engaged in discussion at regular meetings and, recently, at a workshop which was deemed by most as very successful.

I recognise the concerns underlying the noble Earl's amendment, and if I thought they were not being addressed I would be less confident about asking him to withdraw it. He has identified where additional work needs to be done. I can assure him that we are doing that work and that we do not need to change the law in order to effect improvement. On that basis, I hope he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport 7:00, 29 November 2005

My Lords, I am extremely grateful for that response from the Minister. He has acknowledged that there are some difficulties and he has done so in a more helpful way than I had anticipated. But I think he does not quite appreciate one of the changes that has taken place in recent years. In days of old, the police headquarters would ring up a garage on the rota. No one used to have to pay to be on that rota, at least not legally. Today, however, they are often managed by commercial concerns which take a big cut for themselves, funded by the motorist. The Minister has given a guarded acknowledgment of the difficulties here.

I want to sound a word of caution regarding the insurance industry, because it is part of the problem. If a vehicle of very low value is involved in a write-off collision, the recovery operator still has to keep the vehicle in a secure compound for some time. Insurance assessors are very poor at getting to the recovery firm to assess such vehicles and declaring them as write-offs. That links in with problems I discussed in relation to the Vehicles (Crime) Bill where vehicles are not declared to be write-offs fast enough. So the insurance industry itself has something of a case to answer.

I have no intention of returning to this issue. I am grateful for the Minister's response and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 44 [Minor corrections]:

[Amendment No. 63 not moved.]

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

moved Amendment No. 64:

Page 52, line 14, at end insert—

"(6) In Schedule 1 to that Act (offences to which certain sections apply), after the entry relating to section 94A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) insert—

"RTA section 99(5) Driving licence holder failing to surrender licence and counterpart. Section 6 of this Act.""

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

My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to reintroduce the entry for Section 99(5) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 in the table in Schedule 1 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 so as to provide for Section 6 of that Act to apply to Section 99(5) of the Road Traffic Act 1988. The entry was repealed in error by the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 2004, which came into force on 22 July 2004. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, can the Minister explain what effect the omission has had? If this provision has not been in force for a year, but is now being replaced, have we missed it?

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

My Lords, I hope that it has had a minimal effect, but I shall be happy to write to the noble Baroness to let her know whether it has had more than that.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 44, as amended, agreed to.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative

moved Amendment No. 65:

After Clause 44, insert the following new clause—

"GRADUATED LEARNING

(1) The Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) is amended as follows.

(2) In section 97 (grant of licences), after subsection (6) insert—

"(7) The Secretary of State may, by regulations, require a new driver prior to driving accompanied on the road to pass an initial test of competence.

(8) In considering such regulations, the Secretary of State shall consult with such persons as he considers appropriate.

(9) In setting such regulations, the Secretary of State may limit the scope and applicability to such times and places as he considers appropriate.""

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative

My Lords, the background to this amendment is the anomaly reflected by new young drivers. As we know, while 17 to 21 year-olds account for roughly 10 per cent of driving licences, nevertheless they are involved in 20 per cent of crashes. Most of those accidents occur within the first six months of their licensed driving. In Committee a number of amendments were moved to address this anomaly, all on the theme of restricting newly qualified drivers. The Minister was reluctant to support any of them. However, in explaining his position he did say that he favoured a graduated approach to learning. This amendment seeks to achieve just that.

First, it would require some training before a provisional licence is issued at all. Secondly, it would enable pilot schemes for particular regions and for certain lengths of time. Thirdly, it would permit the Secretary of State to set up pilot training schemes so that later on he could extend to the whole country a good system of graduated learning based on properly accumulated evidence.

The proposal for training in advance of the provisional licence issued to car drivers borrows from the current procedure for motorcyclists. They have to go through a compulsory basic training test. This ensures a level of competence in handling and manoeuvring before going out on the road and before the motorcyclist can ride with L-plates. Early training before the provisional licence equally applied to car drivers could well include hazard perception. That component is already included in the main driving theory test. As such, it is one of several examples of early training which could come before the provisional licence to good effect, and without much extra cost or complication.

However, the Minister may well argue that it would be premature to deploy any of the measures in this amendment until next year when we have the results of the research being conducted by the Department for Transport. That research is on the training and testing of young and novice drivers. Its timing and substance are therefore particularly welcome and useful. There are two ways in which this amendment precisely assists those endeavours. First, if adopted, it can provide a framework for action on graduated learning. And secondly, if not adopted, the Minister may feel able to give us instead a guarantee now that the Government will definitely take action on the department's report once it is published next year. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, of course I must support this amendment in so far as I heard mention of the words "pilot schemes". As the Minister knows, I am terribly keen on enabling the introduction of pilot schemes. The amendment we discussed earlier was perhaps a better one, but there are aspects of this one that are quite interesting. I certainly hope that the Minister will meet with us over the next few days to discuss what could be done. If anything, this amendment may be too prescriptive and it may be preferable to introduce a form of enabling legislation along the lines we talked about on my earlier amendment.

If the results due next year of the department's review highlight the need for a pilot scheme, we will have missed the opportunity to provide for it in this legislation. That is yet another argument for introducing a form of enabling provision. But as I said when speaking to my amendment, it is not the words but the principle that we are keen for the Minister to accept.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for moving the amendment, and the offer of a meeting from the noble Baroness of course delights me. I happen to be busy in London on Friday and therefore would be delighted to meet her and the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, at five o'clock in the afternoon if that is mutually convenient. If not, we will have to postpone it to a slightly later date, and I shall work towards an arrangement. I shall be happy to discuss these issues further but, as the House will recognise, my role today is to deal with the amendment.

The noble Earl understands the principle in regard to these issues. I hope that I successfully adumbrated them in Committee; namely, that the Government want to ensure that graduated learning happens before the test. The amendment, as the noble Earl explained, is directed at the period before someone is issued with a provisional licence. That is a sticking point because it would require a new driver to pass an initial test of competence prior to driving on the road.

I have to say to the noble Earl that we are in fundamental disagreement about the best way of equipping people to learn competence on the road. I am not sure what the test would seek to assess at such an early stage. It could not assess practical competence on the road because, by definition, the individual concerned would not have had any practical experience, and we believe that practical experience on the road is fundamental to the process of learning to drive. All research shows that those who have more practice do better and that there is nothing to match the experience of being behind the wheel—suitably supervised, of course, as all learner drivers must be.

Let me say en passant that learner drivers do not comprise a high accident statistic. That should not come as a surprise to anyone in the House as we know that learner drivers drive under supervision. We do not have significant accident rates of people who are learning to drive under the supervision of a driving instructor—although most driving instructors will often indicate that they are somewhat surprised when things do not happen in the way the statistics indicate.

I am not in favour of making people take the driving theory test or some other form of assessment before getting a provisional licence. As the noble Earl will recognise, our theory test has two elements to it; that is, knowledge and understanding of the Highway Code and other matters relating to safe driving; and a hazard perception skills test which uses film clips of real driving. I continually offer an open invitation to noble Lords to participate in that test. They will take it under my strict supervision—not that I am any authority on the test at all but I had the good fortune to sail through it with flying colours—and woe betide anyone who sits the test in my company and achieves a lower score. Nevertheless, everyone is very welcome to join me on that account.

It would be an obvious problem to say to some people that they cannot have a provisional licence without taking a preliminary test when that is not the general rule. That is the problem with the pilot. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, has emphasised the virtue of pilots—that is fine—but the problem with a pilot in this area is that the people participating in it would be putting themselves at a lower stage than every other member of the community. That is why we have difficulty with the concept.

Our approach is illustrated by the driver's record, published by the Driving Standards Agency and issued with all provisional licences. It is a form of logbook. We know there are others, sometimes prepared by driving instructors. It is a simple tool to measure competence as people progress with their learning. The department wants to understand how the driver's record is working and whether it can be improved. That is why we have invited tenders for research into this and intend to let a research contract on this issue next year. So we are being proactive in this area and I am sure the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, will welcome that.

It is also very important that learning does not stop on passing the test. That is why newly qualified drivers have—as the noble Earl and the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, have emphasised to me on many occasions—a higher risk of accident than more experienced drivers. It is scarcely surprising that this happens. We are running a very large-scale research project on this issue. Participants have been randomly selected in "cohorts" from those taking the practical test. The study looks at how they learned and how they performed in the driving test. For those who have passed the test, it also looks at their first three years as qualified drivers, including their accident record. It is too soon to discuss the results but it will be recognised in all parts of the House that this is valuable work.

Finally, I draw attention to the importance of training for driving for work. There is more training and a further test for driving larger commercial vehicles, buses and coaches, as the House will be aware.

I emphasise to the noble Earl that I cannot accept his amendment but I certainly accept his aspiration to improve the quality and standards of people as they go through the process of learning to drive. We have a series of strategies which are producing those results. On that basis, I hope he feels reassured enough to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative 7:15, 29 November 2005

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his remarks. The central point at the back of what we are discussing is the inconsistency concerning young drivers: 17 to 21 year-olds comprise 10 per cent of licence holders but account for 20 per cent of crashes. Many of us believe that pilot schemes are an effective way of tackling the problem, as my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes reminded us when she brought forward her very good amendment earlier. For these pilots are able to investigate a variety of expedients, including graduated learning, here discussed, and the system of P-plates for young drivers which my noble friend Lady Gardner advocates.

There may be very little between the Minister and myself on this issue. I believe from his remarks that he continues to support the whole idea of graduated learning, although he may take exception—and perhaps have good reason for so doing—to my proposal to begin graduated learning before the provisional licence is issued. There is no particular reason why graduated learning should begin there. At the same time, it is quite logical that it should. Yet if the Minister brings forward his own scheme to encourage better driving at different stages, then he has achieved the same purpose.

However, what many of us consider more important than anything else in the interest of saving lives is the resolve to take action on the evidence of the anomaly before us. Certainly we await the department's report with great interest. I shall study what the Minister has said and may well return to the matter at Third Reading. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

moved Amendment No. 66:

After Clause 44, insert the following new clause—

"REGULATIONS

(1) The Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) is amended as follows.

(2) In section 41 (regulation of construction, weight, equipment and use of vehicles), after subsection (2), insert—

"(2A) The Secretary of State's data port."

(3) After subsection (3) insert—

"(4) "The Secretary of State's data port" means an electrical connector fitted to a vehicle which, when connected to other suitable components, will provide data that reveals—

(a) if the brake pedal is being operated,

(b) if the indicators are being operated,

(c) if the ABS or EBS system is being active,

(d) the input or position of the accelerator control, and receive data that will cause the vehicle to reduce speed.""

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

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 66, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 67 and 68.

These amendments concern the future—they are blue skies amendments. As we heard on my Segway amendment, "The future is nearly here!". One of the difficulties with new technology in vehicles is what to do about the legacy fleet. I am not talking about historical vehicles but the previous generation of vehicles. Amendment No. 66 provides for what I call a "Secretary of State's port", rather like a computer USB port, which would allow future black boxes to be plugged in—perhaps even as a daisy chain—as new devices become available. This could include an accident data recorder, a road user charging unit and devices to limit a vehicle's speed so that the driver cannot inadvertently exceed the speed limit. I apologise for not moving my earlier amendment in regard to the adaptor speed control but my amendment about the Secretary of State's port provides a means of implementing it. We have the technology now to prevent drivers from inadvertently exceeding the speed limit. Why do we not use it?

I fully appreciate one of the Minister's concerns about the Secretary of State's data port. It should be done at European level; it is not appropriate to do something like that at national level because the motor manufacturers will want to make all the vehicles, engine management computers and wiring systems the same throughout Europe at least, if not throughout the world. It would be no good the UK insisting on a special port. I am sure the Minister has that in his brief.

I suggested at an earlier stage of the Bill's proceedings terminating the requirement to register number plate suppliers. In that case, the Government were trying to control number plates used to identify a vehicle. But number plates are very cheap and easy to make. Would it not be far better very strictly to control the sale and supply of a vehicle's engine management computer? It is a very expensive device, so it could justify careful controls. It is generally reliable, not easily stolen and could easily be made to emit an identifying signal to the authorities. The Dart Tag, used to travel across the Dartford river crossing, is a good example of a very small electronic device that enables the authorities—the Dartford river crossing, in this case—to register that a vehicle has passed.

Engine management computers are very difficult to interfere with; it would be possible to introduce severe penalties for interfering with them because doing so would need special equipment and it could not be done by accident. If we use the engine management computer to identify the vehicle, we would still need the number plates, just for convenience, to avoid accidentally trying to get into someone else's vehicle.

Amendments Nos. 67 and 68 would introduce a choice of two accident data recording devices. I suspect that the Minister will reject both. Unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is not here to speak to his amendment. I know that he is very keen on the issue but it would have been bizarre if we had both put our names to each other's competing amendment.

During the debate on causing death by careless driving, noble Lords identified that it is very difficult to secure a conviction. Dangerous driving is difficult to prove; it is difficult to convince a jury that dangerous driving was involved. Very often, a component of dangerous driving is harsh acceleration and deceleration. These accelerations are very easy to measure and record electronically. Harsh cornering can also be measured as a lateral acceleration. Therefore, harsh and inappropriate cornering can also be measured and recorded.

In the event of an accident, a point of dispute is often the signal being displayed. Let us suppose that an accident occurs when someone emerges from a junction, but his defence is that the vehicle which drove into his side was displaying a turn left signal so that he believed the approaching vehicle was going to turn into the road from which he was emerging. That is difficult to prove—it is one man's word against another's. But an accident data recording device could prove that; not only could it prove what signal the driver was attempting to display, it could also show whether the lamps were shining.

I have no intention of testing the opinion of the House. I regard this as an opportunity for the Minister to tell us his thinking about the future, what we can do with technology, particularly in respect of adaptive speed control and the accident data recorder, which is the key point in Amendments Nos. 67 and 68. 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)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving me the opportunity to look into the future and have a perspective that is much wider than our normal humble concerns. I do not always share his enormous enthusiasm for the technology of the future. In 30 years of loyally, and with great reward, driving Rover cars, the only time I ever had trouble with one was when I was driving past an RAF station on the A1 which succeeded in producing an electronic signal which cut out all Rover cars of that year and make that went past it. Consequently, the noble Earl is proposing this engineering monitoring system before a rather prejudiced Minister. Of course, I recognise that as technology moves on, these small imperfections are things of the past and will never happen again.

The installation of electronic recording devices to capture data on the behaviour of a driver of a road vehicle or certain functional parameters of the vehicle might bring great benefits to accident analysis. We recognise how that would improve our position on enhancing road safety.

The noble Earl will recognise that we cannot tread too heavily in this area without due care. There are human rights issues involved in being able to track vehicles in such a way. He hinted that there ought to be some international dimension to this from the point of view of the car manufacturers. There would certainly be a European perspective on this with regard to the human rights of the individual and the extent to which such devices could be used against the individual, contrary to basic rights. There are problems in this area, which the noble Earl needs to take on board. That is why we are not likely to move with great rapidity to amend this Bill, in any event, in such a controversial area.

However, there is significant international interest in such devices. In the United States, there has been consultation with vehicle manufacturers concerning the voluntary fitting of a standardised recorder. The European Commission has awarded a research contract to evaluate their potential usefulness. This research will consider the competing technologies, their compatibility with all classes of vehicle and their usefulness in accident reconstruction. It is a two-year programme, so it will be some time before we have the results, but the noble Earl will recognise that there is activity on an international level which may bring some of the benefits that he has identified.

We are awaiting the publication of the outcome of the US consultation on the standardised approach to this technology, particularly the views of the manufacturing industry. The noble Earl was kind enough to recognise the implications of his amendment for the industry. We intend to contribute to this international study and we are discussing this with European colleagues. We have already opened discussions at official level with the French Government, with a view to a joint programme of vehicle trials to evaluate the potential of accident data recorders.

This is an area fraught with difficulties; we have many matters to consider. I welcome the chance the noble Earl has given me to look into the future, but he will not mind if I concentrate principally on getting the Report stage of the Bill completed. I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.

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

My Lords, the Minister can be satisfied on his last point, because I have already said that I will not press the amendment.

I thought that in the Bill the alcolock was rather futuristic. It will be interesting to see what happens when that comes into play. I expect that it could have some snags. Was the Minister prejudiced regarding the technology behind the lorry road user charging scheme that has died a death?

The Minister also mentioned human rights. The same issues arise concerning lorry road user charging schemes and the wider road user charging. I hope that we will be talking about that a lot in the future.

My amendment was not intended to track; the accident data recorder specifically covered that point. Subsection (4) of the amendment refers to,

"the five minutes before being subject to any deceleration of more than 0.5g".

That is a very heavy application of the brakes, about as much as a vehicle can achieve. I am not suggesting in my amendment that we record all vehicle activity; I am suggesting recording the five minutes before an incident occurs.

I will look very carefully at what the Minister has said about what work is being done at a European level. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 67 to 70 not moved.]

Photo of Viscount Simon Viscount Simon Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 7:30, 29 November 2005

moved Amendment No. 70A:

After Clause 44, insert the following new clause—

"ROAD TRAFFIC OFFENCES: PROCEDURE

(1) Designated members of a relevant police authority shall, for the purposes of this section, have the powers and rights of audience of a Crown Prosecutor in relation to the prosecution of—

(a) the offences listed in paragraphs 1, 3, 4 and 5 of Schedule 1 to the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 (Specified Proceedings) Order 1999 (S.I. 1999/904);

(b) specified offences that cease to be specified when a magistrates' court begins to receive evidence in those proceedings where the defendant does not enter a plea.

(2) A designated member of a relevant police authority shall not have rights of audience when an offence ceases to be specified where the defendant enters a not guilty plea and the case proceeds to trial.

(3) A member of a relevant police authority shall be designated for the purposes of this section if that member is a recognised designated court presentation officer employed for that purpose."

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

My Lords, in Committee my noble friend the Minister did not like the wording of my amendment regarding police rights of audience in certain traffic offences. This amendment seeks to address those imperfections.

The Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 (Specified Proceedings) Order 1999, (SI 1999/904) specifies certain low level road traffic offences. The 1985 Act places the duty on the CPS, under statute, to take over the conduct in all criminal proceedings other than specified proceedings. Currently, therefore, the police have conduct of all specified proceedings unless these proceedings become de-specified. An offence will only become de-specified when the court begins to hear the evidence presented.

This happens in the following cases. First, where the court starts to hear the evidence in the event of the defendant pleading not guilty and the case proceeds to trial; and secondly, where the court starts to hear the evidence in the event of the defendant not entering a plea of any description. In these cases the court hears the evidence by way of statements read out either by the CPS lawyers or CPS staff members—who are not lawyers but designated case workers.

I am sure that my noble friend would like to learn that the police have recruited a central resource pool of trained and experienced dedicated court presentation officers and it is hoped that these people will be given the same rights of audience as provided to the CPS non-legal staff under Section 7A of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985. The cases where this would take place would be those non-contested, lower level road traffic offences as listed in the Specified Proceedings Order.

Safety camera offences and those subject to fixed penalty notices are a couple of areas of concern, where people might go scot-free if this change were to be rejected. It is therefore necessary for these court presenters to acquire those rights, as the police are seeking the use of more court space to optimise prosecution ability. The CPS, in turn, is questioning its role in the prosecution of these cases and the police are only able to present cases where there have been confirmed guilty pleas. In these cases the police present cases by means of reading out the statement of facts and not the statements themselves, which would require the CPS. The CPS would benefit from assistance in matters of non-contested cases with no plea entered at all in that as many as possible would be proved in absence at the first hearing by using these specialised dedicated court presenters.

To summarise, this would free the CPS for more serious roads policing cases in the knowledge that there are people, duly qualified by appropriate training, who can work effectively in minor cases. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I rise briefly to support what the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, has said and I declare my interest as a member of the Thames Valley Police Authority. The Crown Prosecution Service is already burdened with more work than it can do so that—certainly in the courts in the area to which I go—cases are being presented by "journeymen lawyers", who are not members of the CPS, but people that the CPS buys in to do the work and they are often not as expert in matters as they might be. They are certainly not as expert in many matters which the police officers—dealing in particular with traffic offences as we are discussing here—would be expert in.

In their haste to pass the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and the other reforms that the Government brought to bear on the criminal justice system, there were good reasons for taking away from the police the presentation of certain facts before the court. But where the matters are technical, and particularly in the circumstances which the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, outlined, there is a strong case for allowing the police to present the case rather than—as is the system now—writing down the evidence for the CPS lawyer to read out. It is a convoluted system which is not in the interests of either the economy or justice.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend and to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for moving this amendment. While I continue to applaud the good intentions behind this amendment, which has changed significantly since it was first introduced by the noble Viscount, the Government remain of the view that any individual exercising a right of audience before a magistrate should be required to demonstrate his competence to do so.

The proposed amendment would allow a police authority to designate certain members of that authority to have the same powers as a crown prosecutor, and an automatic right of audience in a number of road traffic cases. Subsection (3) of the amendment does not make it clear as to who would be the designated member of the police authority. I imagine that it is intended that the police authority would only designate police officers but that is not clear.

As noble Lords will know, a police authority is an independent body that holds the local police force to account on behalf of the people who live and work in that area. Most police authorities have 17 members made up of nine local councillors, five independent members and three magistrates. I am not convinced that any of these individual members would be best placed to act in the capacity of a prosecutor in road traffic cases.

As my noble friend is aware, judges have discretion to allow police officers to appear in court before them. If the road traffic case were straightforward, I expect that the judge would choose to exercise that discretion. We believe that this mechanism is more preferable than the creation of an automatic right that is not subject to any scrutiny or oversight. Such powers, given to those who are not trained or qualified in prosecuting may actually create delay or damage the case, thus potentially undermining confidence in the justice system. If this were to be the case, this amendment does not allow for any mechanism by which to remove those powers and rights from the designated individual, thus exacerbating the difficulties. For these reasons, and while thanking my noble friend for his persistence and for the excellent intentions in this amendment, I hope that he will withdraw it.

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

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her reply. I will study what she says and I strongly suspect that the police, who have instigated this, will come back at Third Reading. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 71 not moved.]

Schedule 6 [Repeals and revocations]:

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)

moved Amendment No. 72:

Page 114, line 4, leave out "entry relating to section 98A(7)" and insert "entries relating to sections 98A(7) and 99(5)"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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)

moved Amendments Nos. 73 to 74:

Page 52, line 38, at end insert—

"(3A) Section 2B of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (inserted by section (Causing death by careless, or inconsiderate, driving)) has effect only in relation to driving occurring after the coming into force of that section; and section 3ZB of that Act (inserted by section (Causing death by driving: unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured drivers)) has effect only in relation to driving occurring after the coming into force of that section.

(3B) In relation to an offence under section 2B or 3ZB of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) committed before the commencement of section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c. 44), the references in column 4 of Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (c. 53) relating to offences under those sections have effect with the omission of the words "12 months (in England and Wales) or" and "(in Scotland)"."

Page 53, line 19, at end insert "but section 44(6) has effect only in relation to offences committed on or after that day."

On Question, amendments agreed to.