My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Road Safety Bill, have consented to place their Prerogative and Interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 21, line 29, leave out from "substitute" to end of line 30 and insert ""3-6 or appropriate penalty points if committed in respect of a speed limit on a restricted road (as defined in section 82 of the RTRA); 2-6 (fixed penalty) in other cases"."
My Lords, before speaking to the amendment I am sure that all Members of the House will join me in expressing our sympathy to the people of Wales following the tragic cycling accident which took place in north Wales at the weekend. I believe it was not caused by any lapse in road safety, but it should draw our attention to the fact that the matters which we are dealing with in the Bill are of considerable moment.
The amendment deals with a matter we have dealt with at some length, that is, the number of penalty points which shall be awarded to somebody caught speeding. The Bill proposes that the number of penalty points shall be reduced from three to a bracketed amount of two to six.
While we reluctantly accept that that is a reasonable measure on roads that are unrestricted, we feel that restricted roads—that is, roads with speed limits—are especially important and that persons who are going too fast on those roads should still receive a minimum penalty of three points. Any resiling by the Government from the present three-point penalty will send out entirely the wrong signal to people. At this late stage of the Bill, we appeal to the Government to reconsider and at least maintain the present arrangements of three points for people caught speeding on a restricted road. I beg to move.
My Lords, I also support this short amendment. We discussed this at some length both in Committee and on Report. Like other noble Lords, I welcome the general tenor of the Government's proposals for the number of points for various offences contained in the Bill. The problem is simple: it is sending the wrong message to some people that, whereas they might have got three points if they were caught speeding in certain circumstances, they will now get only two. That sends completely the wrong message to drivers who may get caught and will negate many of the other really positive provisions on speeding. I therefore sincerely urge my noble friend even at this late stage to agree to take the provision away and reconsider it to see whether we cannot keep the three to six penalty points, rather than the two to six in the Bill.
My Lords, I also added my name to the amendment. Currently, if someone on nine points exceeds the speed limit and receives an additional three points, he will be banned from driving for a period. If he knows that by exceeding the speed limit by only a certain amount he will receive only two points, he will say, "I can do it". That is wrong.
My Lords, I support Amendment No. 1 proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. As has already been outlined, the amendment would keep the status quo for breaches of the 30 mph speed limit. The principle of variable penalties would remain in place, but the minimum penalty would be three points and a fine of £60, as at present.
Research indicates that it is the prospect of the imposition of penalty points that best dissuades drivers from breaking the speed limit. It is in 30 mph areas where children and other pedestrians are most at risk. The chances of death double when impact speeds exceed 30 mph. Current government advertising shows the additional stopping distances required when speeds rise above 30 mph. The proposal that penalties might be lowered for speeding in 30 mph areas therefore runs counter to the message from those government adverts. No doubt the Government may be reluctant to curb variable penalties at all, even if such restriction applied to 30 mph areas alone. However, in the latter case, sticking to three penalty points for speeding offences is surely in the interest of all road users. After all we are all pedestrians, not least when we have parked the car.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. On behalf of the Government, I endorse from this Dispatch Box the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, about sending our condolences to those who suffered in the tragedy at Abergele in Wales at the weekend. As he has indicated, that issue is not germane directly to this debate, but it is the first occasion on which we can record our sorrow at that terrible occurrence.
All noble Lords who have participated in the debate have again, with their customary force and eloquence, reiterated the arguments that we have had at previous stages. In resisting those arguments I do not want to say that the Government are categorically opposed to the thinking behind the views put forward—far from it. We recognise that they are put forward on the basis of seeking to enhance road safety as noble Lords see the position. But I want to emphasise a point that I have made previously. We are still in the consultation stage with regard to these issues. This does not have to be resolved by primary legislation. The scheme which will introduce any new framework of penalty points will be secondary legislation. We are still in the process of consultation.
Today, noble Lords have put forward with great force one very significant viewpoint on those matters, but they will know that contrary viewpoints are being expressed. In fact, the issue of penalty points is being brought into some disregard because drivers may feel that for the most minor infringement they get exactly the same "hit" as drivers who have exceeded the speed limit by a considerable margin and have shown themselves to be much more careless about the safety of other road users than some. We are looking at whether the issue would be tackled better by an element of greater flexibility.
Our mind is not made up on that point, which is why the representations made again today are important. All that I insist on in rejecting the amendment—and I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it—is recognition that this is part of an ongoing debate which awaits resolution. There will be an opportunity for a final decision on the new penalty points structure. We merely seek to preserve the openness of that debate and for the decision to be taken at the appropriate time. If the amendment were to be carried, the debate would be cut short and pre-empted by legislation.
So I emphasise to the noble Lord that I do not seek to contradict his arguments. I am arguing for the necessary flexibility on procedure that enables us to address this issue at the appropriate time and for the debate to continue, because there are many contrasting views on the matter. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment. But before asking him to do so, I will of course give way to my noble friend.
My Lords, it leaves quite a degree of flexibility, but not as much—about 33 1/3 per cent less is my quick calculation—and it is that which I seek to defend.
My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says and I hear that we will have the opportunity to come back to the issue. However, I remind him that that flexibility can be influenced by a decision by the police to prosecute because the courts will have the option to impose a harsher penalty, rather than when someone has driven just over the limit. For example, if someone drives through a 30 mph limit at 45 mph, it may be decided that three penalty points is not enough and that the person should be prosecuted instead whereupon the courts may impose a stricter penalty. So there is flexibility in the current system. It just depends at what level the police decide that a penalty notice should become a prosecution. I ask the Minister to bear that in mind. In the mean time, having listened to what he said and in the knowledge that we shall return to this at some point, I withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 2:
After Clause 18, insert the following new clause—
"ROAD ACCIDENTS INVESTIGATION BOARD
(1) There shall be established a board, to be called the Road Accident Investigation Board ("the Board"), whose purpose shall be to improve road safety by determining the causes of road accidents where—
(a) a specified number of serious accidents occurs over a specified period on a specified stretch of road, and
(b) identifiable common factors make investigation necessary.
(2) The Board shall have neither responsibility for apportioning blame or liability nor for enforcing the law or carrying out prosecutions."
My Lords, I hesitate to raise this at Third Reading because I admit that it is a new issue, but we have touched several times on the fact that the means by which the Government investigate accidents in aviation, shipping and on the railways are very thorough indeed. In fact, inquiries into an accident are conducted not by a prosecuting body, but one whose job it is to establish the cause and to recommend various measures to prevent it happening again.
I will not go into the history at Third Reading, but since the Transport and Road Research Laboratory disappeared, no body is now charged with investigating the causes of road accidents on a systematic basis. I do not suggest that every road accident needs to be inquired into exhaustively because that would take a lot of time, but where trends emerge regarding the vehicle, the piece of road or the particular situation that are common to a series of accidents, there is a strong case for charging a body to investigate such accidents and to make recommendations to vehicle manufacturers, those maintaining the roads or others involved in setting up safety measures on the steps that should be taken to mitigate the problem.
The proposed new clause is in effect a probing amendment to ask the Minister whether the Government have considered this and whether it is the kind of proposal to which they could turn their attention when the Bill is considered in another place. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment although I regret that it has come before us only at Third Reading. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has just said, when noble Lords consider the newly established rail accident investigation body, along with those for aviation and marine incidents which have been around for much longer, they will agree that they have been a remarkable success. Not only have they helped to reduce accidents, they have also been able to establish their causes and to present the lessons learnt in a non-confrontational way. That is terribly important.
We need to reflect on the fact that over 3,500 people are killed on the roads every year, probably 100 times as many as those killed on the railways or in maritime and air incidents. It is therefore ironic that the means of transport which yields by far the greatest number of accidents resulting in death or serious injury—and the enormous pain and suffering attached to those—is the one mode which does not have an accident investigation board. I trust that my noble friend will look with favour on the ideas behind this proposed new clause.
My Lords, I regret to say that I cannot agree with this amendment because it seems unnecessary. The Minister already has plenty of power to collect information that becomes available on various kinds of motor accidents. In any event, the amendment itself is very strangely worded. The purpose of the board would be to,
"improve road safety by determining the causes of road accidents".
But there is plenty of opportunity to do that already. Moreover, the new clause suggests a "specified number of serious accidents" that are unspecified, "over a specified period" that is unspecified, which take place "on a specified stretch of road". Does that mean that only accidents over particular stretches of road are to be considered relevant? That seems to me to be a wrong purpose.
We then find that,
"The Board shall have neither responsibility for apportioning blame or liability nor for enforcing the law or carrying out prosecutions".
Making such a provision when an obligation has been placed on a department surely means that you are depriving the department of expressing its opinions.
There are various other ways in which this amendment seems quite unsuitable. I certainly hope that the Government will not support it and that your Lordships will not vote for it.
My Lords, I agree with a great deal of what my noble friend Lord Renton has said, but there is some merit in the amendment. Obviously powers already exist. I do not like to keep repeating in the House what happens in my own county council, but the county council highways service certainly investigates every major road accident problem in the county. We have a target of reducing deaths in Essex by a half over the next few years and we have a programme of spending money on black spots. There is a considerable black spot in my own constituency on which we have just agreed a programme. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that I am surprised that that does not happen in Oxfordshire.
Certainly we will reduce deaths in Essex. We will spend money on those black spots and we will investigate all areas where there are major road problems. Any responsible local authority with a highways duty should do that. That is—going back to localism and what happens in a local area—something that we should probably encourage, more so than establishing a lot of national quangos or making national laws. It is in what happens locally that a great many of these problems could be solved.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has moved an interesting amendment with which I have some sympathy. The amendment provides that the board does not apportion blame. A disadvantage with the current arrangements, which are police-led investigations, is that motorists involved in accidents are very reluctant to be completely frank. It is a little late in the progress of the Bill to look at this issue in detail, but some form of confidentiality arrangements may be beneficial. At an earlier stage, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and I tabled amendments about black boxes. They would also be helpful in working out what actually went wrong in an accident.
My noble friend Lord Renton suggested that the Minister already has the necessary powers. The difficulty is that any activity by the department, by central government, would be confrontational—there would be a worry on the part of the motorist—whereas if a motorist involved in an accident knew that he was dealing with an impartial organisation that would not use his frank contributions to the investigation in a prosecution, he would inevitably be much more frank.
My noble friend also said that the proposed arrangements were unnecessary. If he is right, then the Marine Accident Investigation Branch and the Air Accidents Investigation Branch are also unnecessary, but I do not think anyone would want to scrap them. However, it is a little late in the Bill to look in detail at this.
My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. Certainly it comes a little late, as has been pointed out, and my noble friend Lord Renton has drawn our attention to certain inconsistencies in the words and the purport of the amendment. But surely it would be an excellent thing—in the same way as we have branches for accidents in the air, at sea and on the railways—to have a branch with a similar remit for accidents on the road, not least to identify common trends and to recommend solutions. Therefore, I believe that such a body would succeed in complementing the existing work of the police and local authorities.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken. However, as a probing amendment, this is a little late, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, indicated. That does not mean that we cannot take it seriously but this is the first time the issue has arisen in this respect.
The proposal seems to ally the concept of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch with what happens on the roads. The same could be said of other modes of transport, such as marine transport. Marine and rail accidents are few and far between; they are very serious when they occur. Quite frequently there are technical lessons to be learnt from them, and human error is often of quite a low order.
Everyone in the House, particularly those who have spoken in these debates and have a great knowledge of road safety issues, knows that there are a very large number of accidents. Last year there were 2,978 accidents involving a fatality. The numbers involved are of a very different order of magnitude from those involved in railway accidents. A very large number involve human error. Technical and mechanical failures are of a relatively low order in accidents, although lessons are learnt about the issues the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, described, such as accident black spots. Local authorities and local police are best placed to make judgments about those.
Of course accidents are investigated very carefully by police forces. Wherever a fatality occurs, they are obliged to do so because they need to consider the possibility that charges may be brought against someone involved in the accident. Local authorities are apprised of where accidents occur. The local community is very alert to accident black spots. In fact, it often identifies areas which are not black spots but which cause concern given the potential for accidents. We recognise that local authorities play a very significant role. The police carry out their investigations. As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said, a range of resources is available to the authorities in examining the causes of accidents. In addition, our department carries out research into accidents and academic studies are made of them. We are not short of evidence in identifying factors which contribute to accidents.
We all aspire to a situation in which safety on the roads is comparable to that of the railway, air or marine industries. We all recognise why that is a difficult objective. We are far from achieving it because of the very large number of people who drive on the roads and the human factor involved. We cannot draw easy comparisons between the undoubted effectiveness of the investigations into rail, marine and air accidents and say that this concept could be easily translated to the thousands of accidents which happen, regrettably, on British roads during the year.
Although we do not see the need for the body the noble Lord has proposed, I assure him that we take very seriously the necessity for examination of and research into accidents and for the identification of factors which can increase road safety. There is always a great deal to be learnt from accidents. As we have indicated in this debate, those with direct responsibility—often local authorities rather than central government—take action to ensure that there is improvement at accident black spots. I hope that the noble Lord will feel reassured and able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am sorry but I do not feel particularly reassured because the number of traffic police has been significantly run down and the investigations that they undertake into accidents, especially fatal accidents, are almost always done in discharging their duties as coroners' officers and rarely lead to a prosecution because the person has often killed themselves in the process. I find the reply rather complacent in view of the huge numbers of people killed on the roads. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that it was never my intention for this to become law. This is a probing amendment. However, I wish that the Government would set in train a mechanism for formalising more their approach to road accidents. The accident rate will not be reduced as we wish unless they do so. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 3:
After Clause 19, insert the following new clause—
(1) There shall be a national speed limit of 30 miles per hour for villages.
(2) A "village" for the purposes of this Act shall be a settlement of 20 or more houses located along more than 600 metres of the highway.
(3) The limit referred to under subsection (1) shall come into force twelve months after the day on which this Act is passed."
My Lords, the amendment would improve road safety by reducing speed limits in rural areas. I remind the House that rural roads are the one category of road in which there has been no improvement in the accident rate. Amendment No. 3 would introduce the national default speed limit of 30 miles an hour in English villages. Ministers from the Prime Minister downwards have repeatedly said that 30 miles an hour should be the normal speed limit in villages. Indeed, in Committee—which was a long time ago now—the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, said that 30 miles an hour in villages was government policy. So I do not intend to argue the case for 30 mile an hour speed limits in built-up areas because the correlation between speed and accidents is well understood, as is their impact on the quality of life of particular communities.
All urban communities have the security of knowing that their streets will be protected by a default 30 mph speed limit. So why on earth do we not give the same level of protection to rural residents who live in villages as a matter of course?
Despite having argued that 30 miles an hour in villages is government policy, the Government unfortunately have no record of action to back that up. No target date was set for when 30 mile an hour limits should be achieved. There are no government data on how many villages in this country do or do not have speed limits. There have been no additional financial resources to make this policy a reality and there is nothing in local transport plan guidance about such speed limits.
The Council for the Protection of Rural England has carried out a survey of English county councils to ascertain how far they were able to introduce such a policy. The results show that the introduction of individual 30 mile an hour speed limits on a case-by-case basis costs around £6,000 per time. It is therefore not surprising that demand is outstripping supply. Many councils have reported that they receive requests for speed limits on an almost weekly basis. Buckinghamshire has reported that it still has 100 villages with a default 60 mile an hour speed limit. Cambridgeshire believes that it will be 2027 before it reaches the end of its speed limit waiting list.
Amendment No. 3 therefore seeks to facilitate what is already government policy. In this I wish to be helpful to the Government. The amendment does not remove the discretion of local communities to have a different speed limit if that is what seems appropriate. It would be a matter for them to move from a 30 mile an hour limit to something else. The change would be from the default of 60 miles an hour. For that reason, the amendment has the support of the National Association of Local Councils, which sees it as entirely beneficial. It also has the backing of 29 organisations which make up the Safer Streets Coalition. I beg to move.
My Lords, I totally support the principle of villages having a 30 mph and perhaps even a 20 mph speed limit in certain circumstances. However, I also believe that it is up to that village to decide what speed limits it wants. My own village is about two miles long—it is a small village but is long and stretched out with just a few houses—and has a 40 mph speed limit for each end of it and a 30 mph speed limit in the middle. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, said that at the moment there is a 60 mph rule anyway and that some local authorities still have a waiting list, but in the majority of counties where there are villages, there are already speed limits of one kind or other, designed by the local people.
As with the last amendment, I believe that we have a habit in Parliament of wanting to create too much central direction all the time. I am trying as much as possible to move it back to local decision-making processes, and I believe that this issue is one that a village should decide for itself, without any change in the national law. Let villages decide what their speed limits should be—and I, being involved in a local authority, will do what I can to facilitate what villages want, as I know that police and other people do. As long as government supports what villages want, that is the best way in which to do it, rather than changing the law as it is.
My Lords, I support the amendment. In previous discussions on the matter, the Minister took the view that councils should decide on it. I understand that he shares the objective. I do not want to traduce him—that is the last thing that I want to do, because he is conspicuously fair himself—but the fact of the matter is that if you allow such a laissez-faire approach, most of it will not get done at all. Just one or two councils, such as the efficient ones that we have in the east of England, will do something about it, but the majority of them will not.
The fact is that villages are extremely vulnerable areas with indifferent lighting, appalling pavements and other traffic hazards; they are full of children, infirm people, animals and the elderly. That latter fact alone must surely commend itself to this House, above anything else. I ask noble Lords to support the amendment.
My Lords, I support the amendment, too. We have talked about it many times in your Lordships' House. It is no big deal to slow down to 30 mph in a village; I do not know why people get so upset about it, because it ought to be the normal thing to do under the definition in the amendment.
I was interested in the noble Baroness's estimate that it would cost £6,000 a village. It is interesting to compare that with the Government's figure for the cost of a fatality, which is about £1.25 million. The cost that I was given in a Written Answer last year of the costs of death and delay on the A34, that wonderful dual carriageway that goes past Oxford, was about £300 million. We are not talking about spending big money here; if the proposal saves a few lives—and prevents not just deaths but injuries as well—it deserves every support.
My Lords, I cannot support the amendment. First, I believe that local authorities can impose appropriate speed limits, but I was interested to hear what the noble Baroness said about the difficulties for local authorities in getting approval for those speed limits. The Minister needs to look at that.
What happens if all or most of the houses in a village are on one side of the road? There is very little risk of pedestrians crossing the road. What happens if the road is a dual carriageway, with or without a service road? Default speed limits drafted in this way could have most peculiar results. For instance, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, cannot understand why people are so upset about 30 mph speed limits, but the main A15 road goes right through the edge of my local village and through several other villages. It has a 40 mph speed limit through those villages already; if it had to have a 30 mph speed limit, first, there would be a difficulty in compliance, because motorists would get rather fed up. We must be careful not to keep imposing unrealistic speed limits that are flouted by everyone. In addition, if it were necessary to have 30 mph speed limits in villages on trunk roads, we would have to start building more bypasses, because you would not be able to get around large parts of the country—particularly the east of England, where I come from. So while I understand the problem to which the noble Baroness referred of getting approval for a speed limit, I cannot support a blanket speed limit.
My Lords, in response to the point made by the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, what has been proposed does not affect the ability of the local authority, or indeed the parish council, to say that they want a different speed limit. It sets the default limit at 30 mph, but people may vary that limit up or down.
My Lords, I cannot see where the amendment says that either. I thought the intention behind the amendment was to universalise the 30 mph limit, an objective to which the Government subscribe. We have announced and made clear that we think villages should have a 30 mph limit, but there may be departures from that. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, indicated instances where that might not be the appropriate limit.
If we did universalise 30 mph in legislation, what is then to be said to those who say that some villages ought to be protected by a 20 mph limit? How, with primary legislation in place and with 30 mph set out in statute, do we make advances on that front? I know many people wish to see that in certain villages. It is because of that factor that the argument presented by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, is the cardinal one: we believe, and we have indicated, that for the protection of rural communities the most appropriate speed limit is 30 mph, but that local people should have the right to make their decisions on this matter. We have indicated that when traffic authorities are asked to review the speed limits on their A and B roads, as they have been asked to do by 2011 in accordance with updated guidance on setting local speed limits, village speed limits will be included in these reviews. The guidance will restate the government policy of 30 mph limits for villages, and we will encourage their implementation where appropriate.
So we are clear about what we would like to see, but the appropriate traffic authorities already have the necessary powers to set the appropriate speed limit through villages. A large majority of them are of course taking advantage of this, and therefore I see no reason to accept an amendment to the primary legislation represented by this Bill when we have declared a national policy, and it is for local people to take the decision on when they abide, and wish to abide, by that national policy.
My Lords, when we introduced the 30 mph limit into villages in Oxfordshire—as, I imagine, was the case in Essex, although I do not know about Essex—every parish council was consulted. They set the limits that were laid down. Each parish council said where the 30 mph signs were to go, and if they wanted 40 or 20, those have been applied. There is variation, and I think that responds to the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee: once you make a national speed limit, it is for each parish council that is consulted to come back with the limits of various speeds throughout the village area.
My Lords, if that is the point which the noble Lord makes, which I accept entirely, I do not see the advantage of the amendment.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who supported the amendment. I put on record that I am very disappointed by the lack of support both from the Conservative Benches and from the Government. We all agree that what we are aiming to achieve here is a 30 mph speed limit in most of our villages. Everyone accepts that there are villages where that is not suitable. We already have a default speed limit of 60 mph. There is a huge amount of statutory bureaucracy, and local authorities have to jump through a lot of hoops to give villages what they want and deserve—a 30 mph speed limit.
Local authorities are getting more and more cash-strapped. We have had a lot of debate in this House about the shortfall in funding that local government is reporting, yet we are asking local authorities to find extra money from their budgets to implement 30 mph speed limits which, as the Minister himself has said, is government policy. What I am asking now, and have asked repeatedly, is: if this is government policy, what are the Government actually doing about it? The Minister has come up with not one suggestion on how this measure can be made easier for local authorities and how the cost burden can be reduced. If the Government are serious about reducing speed limits in villages and introducing 30 mph limits, they could at least try to reduce the bureaucratic burden, even if they do not feel that they can support this amendment.
I reiterate that this measure is not about reducing any element of local choice or discretion—that would remain the same—it would simply move the default speed limit from the current 60 mph to 30 mph. Clearly, I am not happy with what I have heard from the Minister and I wish to test the opinion of the House.
moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 25, line 1, Column 4, leave out from "(a)" to "the" in line 5.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments Nos. 4, 5 and 7, and will not move Amendment No. 8, which is also tabled in my name. Although I do not want completely to rehearse the debate that we had on Report, I want to repeat the serious concerns of many Members of your Lordships' House—concerns with both the important implications of the clause, and its late introduction to the Bill.
As the House will recall, in response to concerns expressed on Report the Minister generously offered a meeting to further discuss the issue. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend. However, my noble and learned friend Lord Lyell, who spoke so eloquently against the relevant amendment on Report, was in attendance; he is here today. In the light of his extensive experience as both Attorney-General and Solicitor-General, I defer to his legal expertise on this matter and accept his opinion that the meeting failed to allay those grave reservations that he expressed on Report. His was not the only voice of caution. As the Minister conceded on Report, on the whole the legal profession was not in favour—not without good reason.
The clause means that a prison sentence can be imposed through pure accident and simple carelessness. Gaol is not a suitable punishment for an act of carelessness. The provision will result in the criminalisation of many ordinary members of society. Of vital importance is the absence of criminal intent necessary in the conviction of other crimes that carry similar custodial sentences. Careless driving is very different from dangerous driving and carelessness resulting from drink and drugs, even though the effects of careless and dangerous driving may be similar. According to the current wording, a person would be guilty of careless driving if their driving fell below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver. That is markedly different from the test of culpability pertaining to dangerous driving.
In the determination of the offence of dangerous driving, a driver must be driving in such a way that it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous—in other words, a person is doing something that they know they should not be doing. There is no such requirement in this new offence of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving. Instead, according to the current wording, a person may commit the offence not only without intent, but without even realising the nature of such carelessness.
We are not arguing for this new offence to be struck from the Bill. We are trying to ensure that the punishment fits the crime. Importantly, the punishment should reflect the standard of driving, not the consequences. The Minister admitted that much on Report when he stated:
"It is certainly true that the standard of the driving must be the most important factor in judging culpability".—[Hansard, 22/11/05; col. 1544.]
As my noble and learned friend Lord Lyell of Markyate, Justice and members of the legal profession have argued, the standard of careless driving is too low to generate liability for causing death. Furthermore, as responses to the Home Office consultation indicate, the automatic prison sentence will not necessarily provide the deterrent effect that is desired. As Greenwoods Solicitors noted in its response to the consultation,
"the deterrence of the sentence will largely go unnoticed by the majority of drivers . . . From my experience the majority of motorists will not in any way associate themselves with the possibility that they might cause a fatal accident until such an accident happens".
The offence of careless driving must focus on the standard of driving involved. As the Law Society of Scotland argued,
"To punish more severely a driver for a fatality, which results from a minor error in driving because of the consequences of the driving, rather than the driving itself is difficult to justify in the criminal law. As this is a crime of negligence, there is insufficient guilty intention to justify a punishment of disproportionate consequences".
A much more fitting punishment would perhaps be a more severe ban from driving. I remind the Minister that the Government's manifesto commits them to implementing tougher penalties for careless and inconsiderate driving, not excessive ones.
As I said, this is a subject that would have benefited from the same detailed consideration enjoyed by other parts of the Bill. While we can and will support the creation of a new offence of careless and inconsiderate driving, we cannot and will not support the excessive punishment that the Government propose. The punishment must fit the crime. An obligatory custodial sentence is completely disproportionate to such an offence. Furthermore, it should be left to the courts to decide the severity of punishment and the actual offence committed, not to governments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment. It is now almost universally agreed that the law as it stands does not provide for adequate penalties for causing death by careless driving. The penalties need to be stiffened up with higher maximum fines, the possibility of imposing a community service order and, above all, automatic disqualification for a minimum of 12 months. The disqualification period could be substantially longer.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, the sticking point is imprisonment. Is imprisonment really appropriate for an act of simple carelessness, however grave the consequences, where no element of recklessness is involved? After all, no human being can be expected to remain at a state of maximum alert hour after hour. It is a pity but that is a law of nature.
It can be argued that train drivers who drive through a signal set at red, skippers of ships who carry out a slipshod manoeuvre, and hospital doctors and nurses who inject the wrong solution into a patient's vein, all resulting in death, are often charged with manslaughter, essentially for acts of carelessness, and, although frequently acquitted by juries, they are sometimes convicted. That is undeniably true but, in practice, such convictions rarely seem to result in actual sentences as distinct from suspended sentences of more than about 12 months. That is why I submit that if custody is to be an option—and it is a big "if"—then a two-year maximum is appropriate.
There is a further important reason for this two-year maximum. As I argued at some length on Report, if a five-year maximum were put in place, the public and the increasingly vocal media would expect everyone convicted of this offence to be sent to prison as a matter of course, even if only for a year or two, and they would explode with rage and indignation if anyone were merely fined or given a community service order. A two-year maximum, on the other hand, would subliminally indicate that prison was reserved for the relatively few cases where the careless driving had bordered on the reckless or dangerous.
On Report, I proposed a somewhat higher—three-year—maximum in the hope that the Government might find that an acceptable compromise. However, alas, that was not to be. The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, indicated a willingness to compromise on the maximum at Third Reading, but so far the Government have not come up with a compromise amendment of their own.
Since Report, I have been persuaded by the weight of judicial and other highly experienced legal opinion that imprisonment of any length should not be an option at all for this offence—hence the adding of my name to this amendment. However, if the majority of your Lordships are not persuaded by the force of this argument, my Amendment No. 6 remains as a fallback compromise option.
My Lords, my two amendments are intended to close a loophole in the existing legislation and are in addition to what has been discussed at previous stages of the Bill. I raised the matter at a previous stage when another noble Lord discussed his amendment.
By failing to stop after a crash, an offender can escape or significantly reduce the consequences of his actions by evading police attention completely or for long enough to remove incriminating evidence such as alcohol consumption. There is already an offence under Section 170(4) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 of failing to stop after an accident. However, this is a summary offence carrying a maximum sentence of six months' imprisonment and with a six-month time limit for prosecutions to be started. It seems that a growing number of drivers are willing to ignore their legal obligation to stop after an accident to avoid a much harsher penalty, especially where they have been drinking prior to the crash.
It seems to me that there are two possible approaches which could remove that six-month time limit. I seek to amend Section 3A to include the specific offence of failure to stop after an accident caused by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs. That would address the specific problem caused when a drinking driver flees the scene of a fatal crash, intending to deprive the police of valuable evidence.
Alternatively, the Government may wish to consider amending Section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to change its status from a summary offence to an offence triable either way, thus removing the six-month limit for starting proceedings, and then to increase the maximum penalty to reflect the full range of penalties for Sections 1 to 6 of the Act—in other words, 14 years.
There is precedent for such a move. Section 7 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 creates an offence of failing to provide a specimen for analysis or laboratory test in drink driving cases. Section 7 was inserted in the original Road Safety Act 1967 to penalise drivers who attempted to evade prosecution by failing to give a sample, and the penalties are exactly the same as for driving with excess alcohol.
My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity to support noble Lords who seek to overturn the five-year—or indeed any—prison sentence being available for the punishment of careless driving in circumstances where death has been caused. It would be an enormous mistake if this House and Parliament were to pass this law. It is contrary to principle, as I shall briefly explain. There is a serious danger that it would cause injustice to a significant number of people if the Government's estimate of something like 150 prison places a year for people found guilty of causing death by careless driving were to turn out to be accurate.
Alternatively, it will have the undesirable consequence that the judiciary—who are very widely opposed to this proposal; I know of no exception right up to the very highest level of the previous Lord Chief Justice, who was rightly consulted—will prevent it by imposing very few sentences of this nature. We shall then simply find the searchlight of criticism turning on the judiciary and seeking to second-guess what they who have heard and considered the cases have none the less decided to be right.
Before I make my criticisms, I offer sincere thanks to the Minister and his colleague the junior Minister at the Home Office for their courtesy and definite willingness to explore this subject with us. I have had the benefit of attending two meetings, about which I shall say a word in a moment.
The provision is contrary to principle. As noble Lords have rightly said, there is nowhere else in English law where we provide for a custodial sentence for something that does not go beyond negligence or carelessness. I see that in the footnotes there are references to the Proceeds of Crime Act, but that is so different from these circumstances that I do not qualify what I have said.
The noble Lord, Lord Monson, raised the question of what can happen to doctors, or to those steering ships and so on, who are occasionally brought forward and unnecessarily charged with manslaughter. But the test for manslaughter is a heavy and high criminal standard. If it is thought right to charge with manslaughter, nobody seeks to take that off the statute book. It is very tragic when a doctor gives a wrong dose which leads to death, but the circumstances when that actually leads to a manslaughter case are very few and far between, and they involve gross negligence, which is quite different from what is involved in careless driving. If there were anything equivalent in driving, it would rightly produce a charge of causing death by dangerous driving. The penalties for that, as the House knows, are very high indeed—indeed, up to 14 years in aggravated circumstances.
I briefly repeat what I said on Report. I am no softie when it comes to the penalties for dangerous driving which causes death. My predecessor—my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew—and I consistently brought cases before the Court of Appeal under our power to refer unduly lenient cases. In consequence, the level of sentence for causing death by dangerous driving was very substantially and rightly increased by the courts. It is the courts who should always decide on sentence.
Why would the provision cause injustice? The main reason is that it will fail to maintain the distinction to which my noble friend Lord Hanningfield rightly drew attention between dangerous driving—driving that falls far below the standard to be expected of a normal and careful driver—and careless driving, which is driving that simply falls below that standard. Such driving is often described as "mere inadvertence". I am not sure that I particularly like the word "mere", because we must all try to drive carefully. However, every noble Lord will realise, as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, rightly said, that every so often, one's attention does lapse.
I did a great many careless driving cases in my early days at the Bar. I became only too familiar with circumstances in which the driver had approached usually a T-junction or from a small side road, looked to the right, saw—according to his evidence which was obviously absolutely sincere—that it was clear, looked to the left, looked to the right again, moved forward and hit the motorbike or the cyclist whom he had failed to see. The driver was not necessarily going fast. If he had been approaching in a thoroughly irresponsible and fast way, there would be a basis for a case of causing death by dangerous driving.
My second point is how does the defendant defend himself against causing death by careless driving? With causing death by dangerous driving the prosecutor will spell out very carefully the essence of the dangerous driving and why it falls far below the standard. But if the driving simply falls below, are we going to invite prosecutors, the CPS, to carve up different portions of the case and invite the jury to look at this portion rather than that? That would change our court procedures very substantially and would be likely to lead to a great deal of muddle and unfairness to the defendant, who will not know exactly the case that he has to meet and who may be put off pleading guilty in a case where there obviously was careless driving in order to contest he knows not exactly what.
Why is this being proposed? It is not as new as people think. The present Government have been in power for eight years and I recently read a report by the Director of Public Prosecutions that seemed to suggest that a lot of the issues were new during his term of office. I have great respect for him, but the issues are ones we dealt with 10, 15 or 20 years ago. There was worry then because people whose loved ones had sadly been killed felt that drivers got away far too lightly with a penalty for careless driving. There are answers to the proper way of dealing with this which I shall deal with in a moment.
The proper way is for the CPS to be, as it usually is, extremely careful about the charging level. Nobody should go and say that the CPS should just broaden charging levels if it is unjust to do so, which is what the Bill would desire. It would leave the CPS effectively charging both dangerous and careless driving in all cases. After all, there is already the power to find careless driving in a death by dangerous driving case. There would be a vast spectrum.
There are two great safeguards against miscarriages in British justice. The first is that we have an independent prosecution service which looks carefully at the right level to charge. The second is that the case goes before a jury which applies the standard of the ordinary man and the ordinary standards of the day and is one of the bulwarks of our liberties.
The real answer to this, even if it is not a new answer, is good liaison between the prosecuting authorities, the police, witnesses and victims and their families. It is really explanation. This is very much like the problem of deaths in hospital. People do not necessarily want vengeance. I attended two meetings, one with the Minister and Fiona Mactaggart from the Home Office and one—which was held upstairs in Committee Room 3, I think—with victims' families, who were far less vengeful than they are sometimes thought to be. They were reasonable people, and I do not believe that they wanted to see a sacrificial injustice, which can never bring back the sadly lost member of their family.
It is worth looking at who opposes this provision. One tends to say "the legal profession". The reason why we in the legal profession nearly all oppose it is that our lives are closely involved with it. The reasons are clearly stated in the pamphlet put out on the subject by Justice, the organisation of which so many lawyers and others are members. It is interesting to see that it is vigorously opposed by the Council of Circuit Judges. Circuit judges have enormous experience They try more cases of this type than anybody else. They explained the likely injustices if you ask for a prison sentence to be given for what is, as they described it, almost always in a careless driving case "mere inadvertence".
The third group is very interesting. It is the justices' clerks. Justices' clerks, by definition, hear every careless driving case, and they would almost certainly hear every one in which death was involved. Their society goes so far to say, and it will have trawled its members on the subject, that it is unable to cite any careless driving case where a custodial sentence would have been appropriate.
Let me turn to what Ministers in their very difficult task seek to do. A Home Office Minister was presented—and I have no doubt that the Minister saw the same documentation—with a small sheaf of cases which were supposed to indicate that somehow driving was of a standard which merited a custodial sentence, and that the sentence had been too lenient or the charging had been too low. I would caution very much against trying to draw things from summaries of cases as regards which one has neither seen the papers nor, as the courts have, seen and heard the witnesses and evaluated them. Perhaps arrogantly—but I hope not—I could just see on reading four or five of these, which the Minister was kind enough to show me, exactly how that view could be reached and exactly how somebody experienced in these driving cases could see that it was probably very different in fact. We have a system of a professional prosecution service and we have our independent courts. We must rely on them and not seek to go against them.
Limited statistics are available on this. We know, and the Minister has kindly told us today, that there were some 2,970 fatalities on the roads last year. There were some 320, I think, convictions for causing death by dangerous driving—it may have been cases; so about 10 per cent involved charges of causing death by dangerous driving. A significant proportion of those charged were convicted and appropriate penalties were given. What we do not know—and I think that the Government will wish to find this out over coming years, whatever happens—is how many cases of careless driving were involved in those 2,900 fatalities. That would be interesting. I am not sure it would answer the question, but we would at least be better informed. At the moment we have very limited statistics on those particular matters.
So, in summary, I believe that there are profound reasons of principle and justice why we should oppose a five-year or any custodial sentence. I think the noble Lord, Lord Monson, is absolutely right—and he has obviously thought about it very carefully—to oppose any custodial sentence and only to put in the other as a possibility. But the principle is that there should be no custodial sentence.
I support the increased fine of up to £2,500. I think that that is quite right. I would be quite happy to think favourably on guidance which might lead to longer periods of disqualification in an occasional case. But, I very much hope that the House will not allow custodial sentences to go through in this case and will encourage better communication with victims, witnesses and families as the right solution.
My Lords, I opposed the idea of a custodial sentence for offences of careless driving earlier in the Bill and I continue to oppose it. I do so with trepidation after the very learned words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, who has really said everything there is to say on this subject, and the powerful speech from my noble friend Lord Monson.
Briefly, there are two strands. One is legal. If we go down that road, the consequences become dominant, rather than culpability, which overturns everything that happens in the courts. To the list of honour expounded by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, I add the Magistrates' Association, which is also unhappy with the provision. There is a second strand: the practicality. Throughout the passage of the Bill, noble Lords have been saying how difficult it is to get a conviction before a jury on dangerous driving grounds. It is indeed difficult. How much more difficult will it be to get convictions on careless driving, where the incident is entirely accidental, although there will be some fault, such as tiredness? No jury will convict under those circumstances, because the jurors will all be thinking, "There, but for the grace of God, go I". Even on those practical grounds, it is a mistake. Also, my noble friend Lord Monson touched briefly on the fact that it will unduly raise the hopes of relatives and others affected that they will get what they regard as justice—people being put in the slammer for two or three years. In fact, that may not come to pass and great will be the anger when the defendant is acquitted.
For all those reasons, and for the much more powerful reasons that have already been advanced this afternoon, I urge noble Lords to support the amendment.
My Lords, we support the amendment. I ask the Minister one question. Community service is available as a disposal only as an alternative to custody. One could argue that in order to make community-based sentences available, one must stipulate a period of imprisonment. Can the Minister clarify whether I am right?
My Lords, I support my noble friend. I was a little disappointed not to be invited to any ministerial meeting after Report. I am not sure why that was; perhaps I misheard what the Minister said on Report.
I do not even agree that a 12-month automatic disqualification for a momentary lapse is appropriate. The motorist could have been driving absolutely perfectly—faultlessly—until he made one stupid but fatal error. Can that really be right? I remind your Lordships that nowhere outside Her Majesty's Armed Forces can a momentary lapse cause a fatal accident without some underlying health and safety failing. Any motorist charged with the new offence in Clause 20 would fight like hell rather than say, "I am very sorry. I fouled up. I will plead guilty to the charge of careless driving". Why? Because of the stigma for a momentary lapse, because of the potential penalties, especially prison and the 12-month automatic ban, which could well lead to a loss of job—again, for one momentary lapse.
Also, there is possible disappointment for relatives if a jury does not convict because it feels, "There, but for the grace of God, go I"—exactly the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby. Or the jury may accept counsel's skilful argument that another party was responsible. If the motorist emerged from a side road and failed to see a motorcyclist, counsel could argue, "It was not my client's fault. The motorcycle was going too fast". The jury will struggle to convict in those circumstances in the face of a very compelling argument from counsel.
Another difficulty that I raised on Report is that an affluent motorist could be heavily fined and disqualified for 12 months, which would be a heavy penalty, but an out-of-work teenage yob may not have a valid licence in the first place, so the disqualification will not worry him. He may not have any money, so he cannot be heavily fined. The only option left is a prison sentence—I hope that the Minister will respond to the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, about a community sanction. Clause 20 is fatally flawed, will not work and is extremely inadvisable. Your Lordships may think that its target may be the classic teenage yob, but my fear is that it will also unfairly hurt a breadwinner or a housewife who is taking her children to school.
My Lords, at Report, I supported the government amendment which introduced this new offence of causing death by careless driving, and I still do. In speaking to this amendment, I shall speak also to my Amendment No. 23 because, while supporting the Government, there is possibly a problem with the definition of the words "careless" and "dangerous", to which many noble Lords have alluded today and at Report stage. One of the problems is that application in the legal system is at odds with what one might call common parlance. The answer might be to try to set definitions on a more objective basis.
Many people may say that they witness a dangerous driving situation on many days, but that is a long way from proving it in law where the standard of driving must fall far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver. It should be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous, which is probably accepted. I was told in a Written Answer in December that, in practice, the number of convictions is fewer than 250, even though there are about 3,500 deaths on our roads each year. It seems difficult to believe that the remaining 3,000 plus deaths involve merely carelessness or that they are the fault of the victim, particularly as the Government acknowledge that speed is a factor in at least one-third of all accidents.
As other noble Lords have said, the discrepancy arises because juries, possibly unconsciously, interpret the definition as meaning far below the standard of driving that they would normally expect rather than far below the standard of a competent and careful driver, which I suggest would be rather higher. That leads to the problem of proving the offence of dangerous driving, which means that probably in legal practice the term "careless" ends up being used to catch all of those offences which fall far short of the "far below" definition, including some of the examples that noble Lords have referred to today.
When the Government proposed the new offence of causing death by careless driving, there was strong criticism of the suggestion that drivers could face up to five years in prison for a momentary lapse of attention, which I can understand. But possibly it would be resolved by having a better definition of the word "careless". The lack of it probably hampers the Government getting wider support for this effort to treat bad driving with the seriousness that it deserves.
My Amendment No. 23, which of course I will not press, would make it a duty to drive safely and might help to put a more objective bottom line under existing bad driving offences so that the standard of driving must be safe to other road users. Of course, it would not affect existing wording in the Road Traffic Act 1988, as amended, which refers to standards of driving which fall below or far below what would be expected of a careful and competent driver. That would still be retained to distinguish the words "careless" and "dangerous". I hope that the proposed amendment is helpful. I look forward to hearing my noble friend's response.
My Lords, I listened to the debate on this issue on Report, but I did not speak. I do so now simply to indicate my support for Clause 20 and the new offence of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving. I also support a term of imprisonment as a maximum, but not the automatic or only penalty for the offence. I appear to be one of the few magistrates in your Lordships' House, perhaps the only one, who does.
I do not intend to take up the time of the House by repeating the arguments made in support of Clause 20 on Report, but during that debate references were made to specific and general cases where it was felt that it would be unreasonable to have the option of sending a person to prison for what was described as either a "momentary lapse of concentration" or a "minor driving transgression" which led to the unintended death of one or more individuals.
I also want to refer to a specific case and in so doing I gather that I may well incur the displeasure of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell. It was a case heard in a Crown Court at the end of last year. According to the newspaper report, the driver of the car had been drinking from a bottle of vodka before he got behind the wheel of a four-litre XJ6 for the first time. The car overturned and the passenger, his best friend and an off-duty police officer, was killed. The driver lost control of the car and hit a series of railings before taking out a Gatso camera and traffic lights, and then overturning. He was cleared of causing death by dangerous driving. Despite his counsel having said that his client was filled with utter remorse for the loss of his best friend, as he left the court the defendant jumped in the air with a raised fist, saying "Yes!", before the court door could close behind him. He had been found guilty by the jury of the lesser offence of careless driving and was fined £500 and banned from driving for three years. According to the newspaper report, the judge told the defendant that this was a serious incident of careless driving and that although he had been drinking that night, it had not been possible to establish the level of alcohol in his blood. The victim had to be cut out of the wreckage and the defendant was also taken to hospital. One witness claimed at the trial that the car had been travelling at around 70 mph in a 40 mph speed zone, but the defendant maintained that he had had only one drink that evening and was driving quite normally when the accident happened. He was unable to remember exactly what took place because of his injuries.
I do not conclude my description of the report of this case by saying that the victim's family was outraged at the sentence. In fact the victim's father told the newspaper that he believed in forgiveness and peace, and that he bore no malice towards anyone. I do not know, of course, what the outcome of this case would have been if we had an offence of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving, but the judge took the view that this was a serious incident of careless driving and I think that the option of a prison sentence should have been available in a case like this.
My Lords, I should like to speak in support of Amendment No. 23, tabled by my noble friend Lord Berkeley and which is included in this group. My interest is that for many years I have been a cyclist. I would like to associate myself with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and the Minister at the start of our debate at Third Reading. I also declare an interest as a longstanding member of the Cyclists' Touring Club because those members drew my attention to the matter which the amendment of my noble friend Lord Berkeley seeks to clarify.
I agree with my noble friend that it is important to bring greater objectivity and clarity to the offence of bad driving. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, pointed out that the words "careless" and "dangerous" mean one thing to the ordinary man in the street, but something completely different in law. Most of us know of examples of what we would call dangerous or careless driving and they are obvious when we see them. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, pointed out that in law the carelessness and the danger have to be obvious to a competent and careful driver and must be far below the standard expected of the competent and careful driver. The Minister told us that last year there were 2,970 deaths on the roads. As I have said, we all often see examples of dangerous driving, but the percentage of convictions for causing death by dangerous or careless driving is below 10 per cent a year. Perhaps the number of convictions is low because, as my noble friend Lord Berkeley has suggested, juries confuse the everyday and the legal meaning of the words "careless" and "dangerous". This is probably more the case, rather than "there but for the grace of God go I", which other noble Lords have suggested. To avoid this confusion, it seems sensible that the Bill should move away from these words and say that we have a duty to drive safely,
"with proper regard to the safety of any person who may be affected by a breach of that duty".
My noble friend's amendment brings greater clarity and avoids the confusion of the different interpretations.
I make one further point in support of the amendment, which is about motorists having proper regard for other road users. The Department for Transport has that very much in mind in the work it is doing to achieve a cultural change—a change in hierarchy away from cars—to give more priority to cyclists, pedestrians, public transport and delivery vehicles. With the department's encouragement, transport officers throughout the country are trying to achieve this through a new orthodoxy in local transport engineering and planning—by reducing traffic speed, by different road markings, by segregation, by different priorities at intersections, by radial routes—and it seems to me that my noble friend's amendment is entirely in keeping with those changes.
What is required here is a bit of joined-up government. I know the Minister is in favour of that and I hope that he will demonstrate it by supporting my noble friend's amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. I hope that it will be acceptable to the House if I speak relatively briefly to Amendments Nos. 11, 12 and 23. My noble friends have indicated that they are not proposing to push these amendments to a vote. They raise interesting issues which merit a reply from the Dispatch Box but they differ from the substantive issues in the other amendments, which relate overwhelmingly to the length of sentence. Nevertheless, as anticipated, all noble Lords who spoke to the amendments addressed the issue of principle. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, in particular, both on Report and again today, made a substantial contribution on the issue of principle which I need to address. So I propose therefore to deal with the amendments in that order and to conclude my remarks on the main item of the debate on this group of amendments.
My noble friend Lord Simon has been exploring an interesting angle on the operational side of road traffic law with his amendment. It is known that some drivers—probably where they have been drinking alcohol—leave the scene of an accident before the police arrive in order to evade a breath test. This irresponsible and callous behaviour is even more offensive when it is associated with a road death. Under Section 3A of the Road Traffic Act 1988, a person commits an offence if he causes a death by careless driving while unfit through alcohol or drugs or while exceeding the prescribed alcohol limit. The maximum penalty is 14 years' imprisonment.
In keeping with the general provisions concerning drink driving offences, a driver could also be committing an offence under Section 3A if he causes a death by driving carelessly and then refuses an evidential breath test. The same maximum custodial penalty applies—namely, 14 years' imprisonment. The noble Viscount is proposing a further addition to the offence in Section 3A. His amendment would make a person liable to the offence attracting 14 years' imprisonment if he causes a death by careless driving and then leaves the scene of the fatal accident or fails to report it.
Clause 20 already provides for a new offence of,
"Causing death by careless, or inconsiderate, driving", with a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment. If a person left the scene of the accident he could be open to this charge but the issue, of course, is one of apprehending him. The main difference between my noble friend's proposal and Clause 20 would be the 14-year sentence in the first case. The 14-year sentence is, however, associated only with causing death by dangerous driving or causing death by careless driving while unfit through alcohol or drugs, or over the prescribed limit, or unreasonably refusing to undergo a breath test. I therefore suggest that in other circumstances, including the ones described by my noble friend, the maximum of five years we have adopted for the new offence under Clause 20 is appropriate. It is right, however, that leaving the scene of an accident or failing to report an accident should be, and is, seen as an aggravating factor. But we should leave that for the courts at sentence to make allowance for that additional factor. I hope that my noble friend accepts that point.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley introduced the issue of the way in which driving should be appropriate and the duty to drive appropriately. I suggest that the offence of careless and inconsiderate driving under Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 covers this ground more than adequately. It specifies that if a person drives a mechanically propelled 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. My noble friend's concept of duty is an excellent preface to a driving manual; it is an injunction which we expect all drivers to follow. But it is a transposition of a statutory provision which we already have in the 1988 Act. We think we are fully covered regarding the obligations of the citizen as driver.
I come to the main issues of the debate. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, said, noble Lords interested in the Bill had the great benefit of a meeting with the Home Office Minister in another place. It was extremely useful in clarifying minds, and we understood each other's position. But as the noble and learned Lord accurately reflected in his speech, he is opposed to what the Government are putting forward in principle and is irreconcilable on that point. We defend the principle; it is the product of extensive consultations and representations. We thought it sufficiently significant to put it in the Labour manifesto at the last general election, and we are carrying into law what we promised to do.
At the time, we were reflecting widespread concerns about the inadequacy of sentencing when death was caused by careless driving. I accept entirely that it has to be a matter of judgment on the charge between dangerous or careless driving. There are different degrees of dangerous driving. There are certainly different degrees of careless driving. Momentary loss of concentration gives rise to that well-beloved phrase, "There but for the grace of God go I", because none of us has been a perfect driver on every occasion we have driven. But the Government are clear that the courts will make a judgment on whether the degree of carelessness is momentary, very limited, understandable, or may have extremely adverse consequences but is not of the same order of that degree of careless driving which sends a car through a red light. That is scarcely a momentary loss of concentration; if we regarded such an action as tolerable, it would be a question not of "There but for the grace of God go I" but of "There but for the grace of God an awful lot of us would be seriously injured and killed if people thought they could approach traffic lights without due care and attention".
Of course, careless driving will have a wide variety of judgments. That is for the prosecuting authorities to judge when they bring the case—magistrates or judges will make that judgment at the time. The Government are indicating that, if the degree of careless driving is found to be at the upper end of carelessness, which indicates that the driver has carried out a reprehensible act that resulted in death, the sentence should be custodial although the charge would be careless driving.
My Lords, would the Minister not agree that the difficulty with the example that he has been careful to give is that you would normally expect the Crown Prosecution Service to charge it as causing death by dangerous driving? He said that the example was at the upper end of careless driving, but it is really an example which has been mischarged.
My Lords, the noble Lord thinks that the prosecuting authorities would reach that judgment, but that may not be the case. Death can occur through careless driving charges at present where custodial sentences are not permitted. Yet clearly the families of those who have suffered in those incidents are well aware that the driver caused the death of their relative because they were not conducting themselves in the car in accordance with the law. The Government believe that the consequences of carelessness in those terms must be taken into account.
I understand that the noble Lord disputes that as a matter of principle and he takes with him a body of opinion. I merely attest to the fact that, as my noble friend indicated, the families of victims of fatal road accidents find it impossible to understand that an individual charged with careless driving, which is the appropriate charge, nevertheless cannot be imprisoned.
My Lords, does the Minister not rather astonish himself? He is giving examples of cases where he says that the families "know" in circumstances in which it is pretty plain that the family was not present at the time. They were not witnesses, they just believe something to be the case, just like his noble friend read something in a newspaper and thinks that he knows better than the court. Is the Minister really suggesting that that is a sound basis for this legislation?
My Lords, on the question of the red light, the noble and learned Lord said the Crown Prosecution Service would regard driving through a red light as dangerous driving, but it does not. The Crown Prosecution Service identifies it as an illustration of careless driving. I understand that the noble and learned Lord objects in principle to what the Government are proposing—
My Lords, I remind the House that I am a magistrate who deals with road traffic matters. I am worried about the direction that this debate is starting to take. The subsequent actions of this charge—the increasing of the penalties—seem to be predicated on the, albeit perfectly understandable, base of the emotion of people whose relatives or friends have been killed because of an action.
We are debating the line between careless driving resulting in a death and dangerous driving, as the Minister and my noble and learned friend Lord Lyell have said. Can the Minister give me an example when the Crown Prosecution Service has said that careless driving was the appropriate charge in a case where someone has deliberately driven through a red light and, as a result, has hit another oncoming vehicle—either a bike or a car—and killed the occupant?
My Lords, I am no lawyer, but that is exactly the point—they have not deliberately driven through a red light, which would be dangerous driving; they carelessly drove through a red light. The Crown Prosecution Service identifies that in its list of careless driving offences. It is the very illustration that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, put forward. If careless driving, defined in those terms and subject to a charge of careless driving, results in a death, it is reasonable that we should look at the question of custodial sentences. That is the basis of the principle.
I hear the arguments for different levels with regard to the custodial sentence that should be imposed. The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, asked whether non-custodial sentences were available only in conjunction with custodial ones. When non-custodial sentences, where a custodial penalty is not being imposed, are available the test that the judge would apply is whether the conduct of the convicted was serious enough; he would then make the judgment with regard to the sentence. That particular concept was introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, argued that his objection to the Government's proposals was the possibility of an automatic prison sentence, which would be abhorrent. I stress—and this is where I hope I am at one with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell—that nothing in the Government's proposals says that it is automatic. The appropriate punishment is of course for the court to decide; we are talking about the availability of the range of sentences.
We had a very long debate on Report on this issue; we had conflict on the issue of principle, and met as best as we could in a very constructive spirit to discuss these issues. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, has indicated that he does not accept the Government's position; Ministers at that meeting indicated why we intend to stand by the principles identified in Clause 20; so I hope that it will be recognised that we are quite clear about the concept expressed in the Bill. I accept the chiding from the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, that the Government's amendment was introduced later on in the passage of the Bill than we should otherwise have wished—although it was introduced for a very full debate on Report. We have had opportunities for further informal discussion since then, and we have had a very good debate today. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, will feel that he has expressed his case with his usual clarity and forcefulness and will agree to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, as the Minister said, we have had a long debate—in fact, it has been an hour long—but it is a very important one. It is probably the most important part of this Bill. I am not a legal person in any way, but I have listened to all the arguments on Report and since then, and the considerable debate that we have had during the Christmas Recess and again today.
I am very concerned, as my noble friend Lady Hanham has just said, about the legislation we might be creating. As much as anyone else, we feel for the families—and I want to express sympathy to the families in Wales. But we cannot contemplate legislation for vengeful reasons. There has to be a real reason for creating legislation.
I am afraid the Minister's answer actually made me more convinced that my amendment is the right one. I want to say straight away that we support the Government in their manifesto commitment of increased penalties for careless driving, but we are concerned about the way the legislation is created. We have had a lot of debate about careless or dangerous driving, but if we are not careful this will be careless and dangerous legislation. There are such strong feelings on this matter that I really must test the opinion of the House.
moved Amendment No. 10:
Page 32, line 15, at end insert "except in circumstances where the vehicle has been made safe"
My Lords, we return to a subject that we have debated on the two previous occasions when we have discussed the Bill; the use of mobile phones in motor vehicles. The words of the amendment that we are moving are different, but the argument is essentially the same. I will begin by restating what we have already said on each occasion that we have debated this issue; that these Benches recognise unequivocally that driving while holding a mobile phone to one's ear is a dangerous practice, and it is perfectly legitimate for that to be outlawed. However, we are equally convinced of the necessity of some sensible amendment to the clause to allow responsible drivers to use mobile phones in an urgent situation,
"in circumstances where the vehicle has been made safe".
I shall not endeavour to rehearse the details of previous debates, but shall simply list the essential purposes of the amendment. The clause would render the driver of a vehicle that is not moving, even if the engine is switched off, guilty of an offence if they use their mobile phone. That would result in a mandatory three-point endorsement on their driving licence. We remain unsatisfied with the Minister's earlier responses to the sensible amendment that we moved previously. He has had time since the previous occasion, and the resources, to consider a better form of words if he thought it appropriate to address what we perceive as a deficiency in the Bill. In his recent letter, for which we thank him, he sought to allay our fears about the concern that the driver could be penalised for using a hand-held mobile telephone to contact the emergency services. I am sure that your Lordships will be glad to know of the Minister's assurances that to make an emergency phone call to the police or ambulance service from the inside of a motor vehicle would be acceptable.
I appreciate that point of clarification, but it does not address the reasonable concern that brought our amendment forward in the first place. That concern is on what type of call can be considered urgent. We cited in the past, for example, a senior social worker who was stuck in a traffic jam and was going to a crucial meeting to deal with a child protection case. We might add to that a mother who was due to pick up a child from school but was completely stuck with no means of letting the school know that she was not going to be there, leaving the child vulnerable. She could not then make those phone calls for fear of committing an offence. On Report, with reference to a previous form of words, the Minister argued:
"The fact that a car is stationary need not mean that full attention does not have to be paid".
Of course, if you are stationary in the middle of a traffic jam and your engine is running, you will have to pay full attention to what is going on. However, if you could move yourself to the side of the road, turn off the engine and make sure that the car is immobilised, what would be the harm in allowing someone to make a call for legitimate purposes?
We have carefully considered the Minister's answers and have returned with this new form of words that stipulates what I have just suggested—that the vehicle must be "made safe", which means that it must be parked with the engine turned off before the use of a mobile phone is allowed. It is then incumbent on the driver to ensure not only that the vehicle is stationary and the engine switched off, but that it is in a safe place. The new wording would address the concerning scenario that the Minister described on Report, which was,
"about the person who is in a jam and is just over the top of a bridge that unsights the traffic behind but is busy on the telephone and does not get away as quickly as he should and then is hit by a vehicle from behind, being stationary when he should not be".—[Hansard, 22/11/05; cols. 1594–95.]
For Third Reading, we have endeavoured once again to find a more acceptable form of words that will satisfy the Minister's exacting standards but allow drivers who consider that they have an urgent matter that must be dealt with, and who take the decision to make a phone call, to stop somewhere safe in order to make it.
During the passage of the Bill, I have sensed a great deal of support for this common-sense amendment. I only hope that the Minister will have given it a bit more consideration over Christmas and will agree to it. I look forward to his response, and beg to move.
My Lords, I can see a problem regarding how one defines when a vehicle has been "made safe". If a person switches off an engine, at what point would that be made clear? Why, if that person knows that he or she is being watched and may be committing an offence, should switching off the engine at that point not be committing an offence? Perhaps the better solution would be to say that the prosecuting authority would not prosecute in certain circumstances, if it had duly investigated, or if the matters were of the sort that the noble Baroness mentioned, that there would be ample mitigation and that the magistrate would probably give an absolute discharge.
My Lords, the noble Baroness said that she would try again. She has tried again at Third Reading with a concept that I felt obliged to reject at Report. I appreciate that the amendment is intended to meet objections to the previous suggestion that an exception should be made if a call is made by the driver of a vehicle that is stationary with the engine switched off.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said in Committee that he was concerned that the present law, because of the wide definition of the expression "driving" in road traffic legislation, could mean that people who get stuck in long traffic jams and who switch off their engines and communicate with others to inform them about a delay will, strictly speaking, be committing an offence. The noble Baroness said at Report stage that there must be some leeway to enable people to make a brief emergency telephone call if, for example, they are stuck in a traffic jam and are very late picking up a child from school. She said that it is "absurd" that any driver of a vehicle that is not moving, even if the engine is switched off, who uses their mobile phone to make an urgent call, should be guilty of an offence.
We all agree that it is right in principle that people should not use their mobile phones when driving. The nub of my objection to the previous wording was that an exception for when a vehicle is stationary with the engine switched off would create a perverse incentive to drivers to stop and turn off their engines in what might often be inappropriate circumstances. For example, drivers clearly should not use hand-held phones while at traffic lights or during short hold-ups that may occur during any typical journey—and all too often do. I am not attracted by the idea of exceptions to that general principle—that drivers may consider themselves as having the right to make urgent calls. Who is going to define the nature of the urgent call? The noble Baroness has given an unexceptionable example; where a child has to be collected from some place and it would clearly be of enormous help for the safety of that child if people were informed. However, everyone can think of a reason why they might be frustrated by a traffic jam and that an urgent call would need to be made.
Who will make the judgment about what is a proper telephone call of an "emergency nature" and what is a telephone call for personal convenience? We cannot depart from the general principle of road safety regarding the use of mobile phones on the basis of such uncertain propositions. The new wording in the amendment does not meet those objections. Indeed, it creates others, as my noble friend Lord Anderson indicated. A vehicle must always be safe, even when the engine is running and the vehicle is moving, otherwise the driver is doing something wrong and, therefore, is liable to be prosecuted. The intention may be exactly the opposite—to allow a mobile phone to be used when a vehicle has been made incapable of moving. That may not necessarily render that vehicle safe. In fact, we can all think of circumstances when a vehicle, with its engine switched off, is a potential obstruction which may occasion other aberrant behaviour by other road users.
So we do not think that the amendment would add anything to the safety of the travelling public, which is the basis of this legislation. We considered seriously whether a new definition of "driving" would help in this area. We looked at that matter when the mobile phone offence legislation was before Parliament in 2002 and we reached the conclusion that we could not make progress on that front. There are very good reasons for not defining the word "driving" in road traffic legislation, and we have come a very long way in legislation for drivers without the need for such a definition. It should be for the courts to judge the circumstances of the case when deciding whether an offence has been committed rather than for legislation to be prescriptive about this question of driving. There are very many examples, such as the present one, where our legal system leaves the enforcing authorities to make a judgment having regard to all the circumstances. That is a strength of our system, not a weakness.
At Report stage, I was asked specifically about people stopping and using a mobile phone to get in contact with the emergency authorities. At that stage, I indicated that I could not see how a prosecution could possibly succeed if it was established that that was what the individual was doing. I could have been more categoric. It is not an offence to contact the emergency services on a mobile phone in an emergency of that kind. But we do not think that making exceptions for using the phone in any other circumstances, however beneficent the intention—I cannot think of a more benevolent intention than safeguarding the interests of a child when one might be late in arriving to pick up that child—would do anything other than create real difficulties for the legislation. I hope that, having had successive tries at this matter, the noble Baroness will accept the Government's argument and withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord quoted from the previous stage of the Bill as I was going to quote back to him what he told us on that occasion. However, what he said slightly conflicts with the statement that he has just made. It seemed to me that he was saying that if the car was incapable of movement and, indeed, was causing an obstruction in the middle of the road, you could not use a phone. But can he confirm that, even under those circumstances, you could definitely use it to make an emergency call? Can he also confirm that if, as was suggested by my noble friend, the car had been pulled into the side of the road, that would be quite a different matter from it remaining in the traffic? I should like clarification on that point. Finally, if there were a real emergency with regard to a child—that is, if you thought the child might be at risk of being kidnapped or whatever—surely that would come under the emergency services phone call.
My Lords, the noble Baroness's last point merely substantiates my case. How on earth could we judge what was a necessary telephone call? But I have made one exception on which I am absolutely categoric: it is not an offence to use a mobile phone to get in contact with the emergency services. On the question of when it is safe to use a mobile phone, the noble Baroness is right. If one pulls off the road, if one is not obstructing the road, if one is in a proper place to park and one makes a telephone call there, of course one is not committing an offence. But it would be an offence to do so on the carriageway, which is the burden of this amendment, and the Government think that that situation should obtain.
My Lords, we have battered away as hard as we can to try to get the Government to come to some sensible conclusions on this matter. The trouble is that this law will now be breached on a regular basis. We all know about people who already drive holding mobile phones and who will probably not be too moved. The whole intention behind the amendment was to enable people to pull up at the side of the road and still not be in breach of the law. However, we have raised this matter one way and another on three occasions and I will not press it any further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, we are all aware of the importance of basic first-aid skills in saving lives on our roads. This amendment returns to this significant issue once more at Third Reading. I shall not rehearse in detail the numerous benefits of increasing basic first-aid training as we have already had two very interesting and productive debates on this big issue.
In Committee, I was very pleased to hear from the Minister that the Government had been involved in discussions with both the Red Cross and St John Ambulance on practical ways to increase vital basic first-aid skills among new drivers. The Minister expressed his desire to prevent any unnecessary increase in bureaucracy and reminded your Lordships of the already formidable burdens borne by young people taking the driving test.
I accepted the Government's point concerning the complexities of requiring all new drivers to take a practical first-aid course in order to pass a driving test. I was pleased to hear that the Minister thought that this issue could be addressed by enhancing the theory element of the driving test to include more basic first-aid questions. Moreover, at Report the Minister underscored the Government's desire to see an improvement in first-aid skills when he informed the House that the Government were,
"considering extending the test to include additional first aid material.—[Hansard, 22/11/05; col. 1609.]
I do not intend to make a lengthy speech on this issue today as we are already well aware of all the facts and have had two very good debates. I simply wish to ask the Minister whether the Government have come to any conclusions in considering extending the driving theory test to include additional first-aid material. I beg to move.
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Hanningfield has indicated, this amendment would simply cause the inclusion of a question about first aid within the driving theory test. Clearly it is desirable that drivers should have some knowledge of first aid. And, as proposed, a modest change in the current driving theory test presents an obvious opportunity to encourage just such knowledge.
My Lords, Amendment No. 13 seeks to make it a condition of being granted any category of full driving licence that the applicant must have correctly answered at least one first-aid-related question as part of the driving test. You cannot pass the test unless you answer the first-aid question correctly. That is quite a serious condition.
Few would disagree with the goal of raising the first-aid skills and knowledge of the general public, and the driving theory test already contributes to the achievement of that objective. It includes questions on both first aid and accident handling within the multiple choice part of the test. The question bank for the learner car driver and motorcyclist theory test comprises more than 1,200 questions on a wide range of road-safety-related topics, including 22 first-aid questions and 56 dealing with more general accident handling. Each theory test comprises 35 questions, and in every test there is one question about first aid and one on accident handling. Candidates must achieve a mark of 30 out of 35 questions to pass the multiple choice part of the test.
The noble Lord's amendment would create a situation in which a candidate who otherwise had an excellent score, correctly answering 34 of the questions—that is, around 98 per cent—would be denied a driving licence for failing to answer correctly a question on a topic that was not directly linked to driving competence, however important we all agree that a first-aid question is.
That simply cannot be right. The purpose of the driving test is to establish a person's competence to drive and so prevent those lacking the appropriate skills and knowledge driving unaccompanied and constituting a major risk to road safety. We believe it would be grossly unfair to deny a person a driving licence solely because he or she had not correctly answered a first aid question.
Refusing to grant a full licence to such persons would have a profound effect upon their lives in terms of employment, education and social exclusion. It would, for example, deny access to employment for those taking the driving test to become bus or lorry drivers. The road transport industries already face significant recruitment difficulties. Representative organisations from those sectors have told us that the requirement imposed by this amendment would make a difficult situation worse. Also, young people who need to drive in order to access training and educational facilities would be denied those opportunities solely because they had failed to answer correctly a question that is not directly linked to the purpose of the assessment, which is driving competence.
However, we take this matter extremely seriously and I am pleased to tell the noble Lord that we are looking at what sensible changes we can make to the driving theory test that will help improve knowledge and understanding of first aid. As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, intimated, since August 2005, the Driving Standards Agency has been engaging with representatives of the British Red Cross, the St John Ambulance Brigade and St Andrew's Ambulance Association on a number of occasions. These groups are working with the DSA, offering their subject experts to help write first aid questions and material published as supporting guidance. I am sure we all welcome this partnership. Better questions, supported by improved educational guidance, are the way forward. I hope that, in view of this explanation and reassurance, the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that answer. As I said in my initial remarks, one is pleased that these discussions are going on. I hope they are going to be fruitful. I was certainly not aware before we started discussing this legislation how many lives could possibly be saved at the scene of an accident if very quick action was taken. It seems that nearly half the people who are killed in accidents could be saved in some way.
However, these discussions are going on, and we have had these debates. As long as they prove fruitful, and we ultimately get something out of it, I am now prepared to withdraw my amendment.
moved Amendment No. 14:
After Clause 36, insert the following new clause—
(1) The Secretary of State may by order establish a pilot scheme to test the effects on—
(a) road safety, and
(b) the incidence of road traffic offences, of identifying new drivers by means of a distinguishing mark on vehicles driven by them.
(2) In this section, a "new driver" means a driver who has just passed the driving test.
(3) An order under this section may specify, in respect of a pilot scheme—
(a) the new drivers to whom the scheme will apply,
(b) the duration of the scheme,
(c) the size, nature, position and colour of the distinguishing mark to be placed on vehicles driven by new drivers to whom the scheme applies.
(4) Following the pilot scheme, the Secretary of State shall submit a report to Parliament on the effect of the scheme on accident rates and the incidence of road traffic offences among the group of new drivers to whom the scheme applied, as compared to control groups of new drivers to whom the scheme did not apply."
My Lords, there is little that I can say on this subject that I have not already said at previous stages of the Bill. However, the amendment differs from my previous amendments in that I have taken away everything that the Minister could possibly object to, and have now left him with a totally free option as to what he would want to do with his pilot. It is simply giving powers to the department to introduce a pilot as and when it wishes to. There is no obligation whatever to have a pilot if it does not wish to, so I cannot see why this would not be a positive addition to the Bill. It might prove enormously useful.
It is terribly difficult to establish what is right or wrong. We know that young drivers have high figures for dangerous driving. We also know that it is not only young people, it is new drivers. They might be older drivers. They might feel insecure when they go out. None of us knows the specific statistics, however, because the answer is always that there has never been any real assessment or pilot. If the day came when we really wanted to make an assessment, we should have the opportunity to have a pilot. I really cannot see what the Minister could object to, but no doubt he will find something. I beg to move.
My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes outlines very eloquently, this amendment would allow the Secretary of State to undertake a pilot scheme looking at the effectiveness of P-plates for new drivers.
The Minister may allege that the experiment on P-plates has not worked in Northern Ireland, and thus infer that it should not be encouraged elsewhere within the United Kingdom. However, that argument, should he seek to advance it, is a weak one. Instead, there are a number of good reasons for welcoming my noble friend's suggestion. First, it is a flexible power here proposed for the Secretary of State. He can carefully choose a particular area for experiment. The pilot is limited to that place, and is limited there in time.
Secondly, evaluation of the scheme is required before its extension nationwide might become mandatory. Therefore, if evidence were to be inconclusive, as some would now wish to argue in the case of Northern Ireland, clearly application elsewhere would not become mandatory.
Thirdly, there is the need to avoid a stick-in-the-mud approach. Let us suppose that the Northern Ireland scheme may not have worked particularly well. That does not however mean that a similar scheme for P-plates may not be able to work perfectly well elsewhere.
For these reasons, I hope very much that the Minister will support my noble friend's amendment.
My Lords, when I passed my driving test many years ago, the examiner said to me, "Now you can go out and learn how to drive". Until you have passed the test and have your own licence, you always have someone beside you to advise you and tell you what to do if there is a problem. The enabling clause that my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes would like to put in the Bill could prove extremely useful if the Government wish to introduce a scheme marking those who have only just passed their test—within a number of months, a year, or whatever it might be—warning other drivers to give them a bit more space.
Can a scheme be put into place now, or would primary legislation be needed in the future? If primary legislation would be needed, I cannot see why the Minister should object to it being put into this Bill.
My Lords, I am grateful for all contributions to this debate, except for the imputation by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, that I was looking for yet another reason to reject her constructive amendment.
Of course, I am in total agreement with her and, indeed, with others who have spoken in this debate, but particularly with the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. They have both campaigned strongly on the problem of newly qualified drivers. There is a problem, and it is right that we should address ourselves to how to reduce the accident rate and improve the driving quality of newly qualified drivers.
The bone of contention is not that I am grubbing around for any reason to reject an amendment by the noble Baroness—far from it. It is that the Government's view is that we should tackle this issue not through regulation, but through enhancing competence in terms of the value of the test.
We looked at the question of pilot studies, and whether we could run one on a voluntary basis. Would drivers recognise the advantages if we issued P-plates to them, which gave them recognition and therefore added protection, and enabled us to identify whether there was an improvement in the accident rate for new drivers? It was made abundantly clear to us that there were few, if any, takers, so, if we were to do this, we would have to make it compulsory. The burden of my comments in the past has been that the trouble with regulation is that it is inevitably restrictive. The approach to the test is restrictive, after all. You do not get what we all know is the surest aid to improved driving, which is experience. You do not get the proper experience of driving until you are qualified. As the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, indicated, that is the first time you drive on your own and it is also only then that you have access to motorway driving and a range of other driving. You need to develop experience, which is not part of the test. We all recognise that we want to see the development of experience, but you cannot readily get experience prior to the test. Therefore, the issue becomes the quality of the test. This is Third Reading, but I shall give way to the noble Lord.
My Lords, there may be an element in that. The only thing is that the figures from other countries where this is carried out are not good. The trouble with experience elsewhere—with the sole exception of Northern Ireland, where the figures are not particularly promising either—is that most other countries which permit people to drive under restriction do so because they are permitting people to drive under restriction on roads and in traffic conditions vastly different from those in the United Kingdom.
In order for people to be safe once they have passed the test, we need a demanding driving test. That is what we have, and what we are determined to enhance. We entirely accept what the pressure from noble Lords in these debates leads us towards; namely, we must teach for the test and improve its quality as regards drivers. We are alert to the opportunities of enhancing the test through new learning techniques and new technology, particularly the ability to simulate road conditions for drivers, which improve the nature of the test. But the choice is between ensuring that people pass a test that equips them to drive safely or saying that when they have passed that test they still need some form of restrictions, regulations and extra defences beyond that point.
We are not convinced on that. It is not a question of me dredging up fresh arguments against the noble Baroness. It is an issue of principle about what we think is the best way forward. Our view is that the quality of the test and enhancing the person's driving ability before he joins other users on the road are crucial, not attempting to restrict his opportunities to drive under certain circumstances or defining him as a category and protecting and enhancing him because his is carrying an additional plate. The evidence on the latter point is not convincing. I repeat that we are at one with noble Lords in their concerns about newly qualified drivers. We think that the answer is not additional regulation, but improving the quality of the test.
My Lords, I take issue on a couple of points the Minister has raised. First, he said that he is out to enhance the standard of the test, so that people who pass will be better. My scheme would enable people to be tested to see whether they are better. How is the Minister planning to test whether the enhanced test is an improvement or not? Then he talked about all sorts of restrictions. My amendment does not put any restrictions anywhere on anything. As my noble friend Lord Swinfen said, this is an enabling amendment to allow the department, if it decides that there is anything to be gained by it, to have a way of assessing and testing through a pilot scheme. The Minister is telling me that nothing has been proven and that there is no real evidence, but what I am suggesting is a means of giving him the evidence for the future. That is the aim of this amendment.
The final and, perhaps, most important point is that this is only an enabling provision. There is nothing to say that the department would have to introduce the system at all. I do not know that the Minister answered this point, although I believe he indicated that primary legislation would be required if we were to introduce a scheme other than in this Bill. If primary legislation is required, heaven knows how many more years we will have to wait before we can make such an enabling provision. I would like the Minister to answer those points before I decide what to do with this amendment.
moved Amendment No. 15:
After Clause 40, insert the following new clause—
"UNDIAGNOSED SLEEP DISORDERS
(1) The Secretary of State shall develop policies which take into account the risks presented to drivers and passengers of all classes of vehicle posed by drivers with undiagnosed sleep disorders.
(2) In doing so, he shall require the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency—
(a) to take reasonable steps to ensure that drivers taking practical tests for all classes of vehicle are provided with information about the risks associated with undiagnosed sleep disorders;
(b) to make the issuance of a full driver's licence for all classes of vehicle conditional on the driver submitting a signed declaration of a registered General Practitioner, certifying that—
(i) the driver has been examined by that GP for symptoms of sleep disorders, and
(ii) that where symptoms have been diagnosed, an appropriate referral has been made and treatment provided to ensure that the driver is medically fit to drive."
My Lords, this is not a new topic, so I shall not take long to move the amendment. However, new research has been reported about sleep disorders since we last debated them.
The recent study found that about one in six British HGV drivers suffers from a form of sleep disorder requiring medical help. If left untreated it could lead to potentially fatal road accidents, according to experts. Sufferers can experience obstructions of their airway during sleep, resulting in fragmented rest and excessive daytime drowsiness. The Respironics study, which was featured on BBC1's "Real Story" just before Christmas, looked at more than 900 drivers in England and Wales. It was led by sleep scientist Melanie Marshall who said that sufferers,
"are more lethal than drink drivers".
"Obstructive sleep apnoea, or OSA, is present in 1–4% of the population, mostly among middle-aged men.
"During sleep, the airway from the mouth to the lungs collapses either completely or partially, causing oxygen to be lost from the blood, which in turn creates 'micro-arousals'.
"'Sufferers are not physically aware of their awakenings', explained Ms Marshall, 'but they can have hundreds of these over a period which leads to fragmented sleep'."
The findings of her research for Respironics could have serious implications for both the NHS and the road haulage industry. We know that crashes caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel account for around one-fifth of accidents on British motorways.
The "Real Story" programme revealed that some truckers who suspect they may have the condition are too frightened to come forward because once a diagnosis is given their HGV licence is suspended until they have been treated. In this time they risk losing their jobs. In many parts of the country there are long waiting lists for treatment, while in others it is not funded, despite the necessary machines costing no more than £300.
I think what I have said will show noble Lords that this is a serious issue, and I hope that my noble friend will consider that some action should be taken on the matter in the name of safety. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on moving the amendment. Although I disagree with its wording, its substance deserves praise. In support of that, I had better make a confession to your Lordships. Four years ago, when I was only 93, I twice fell asleep while driving—twice on the same day. I have never driven since. I was lucky not to have an accident, but I felt that if one had reached the stage at which one did that, one should not drive any more.
I turn to the amendment, the substance of which, as I said, deserves praise. However, the word "undiagnosed" in relation to sleep disorder seems to me quite unnecessary. Whether it is diagnosed or undiagnosed makes no difference. It is a sleep disorder that can be very dangerous and kill people. Although I hope that your Lordships will not support the amendment as drafted, it deserves attention.
My Lords, I support the amendment. My noble friend's summary of the scale of the problem astonished me. I never realised—I have no reason to doubt the figures—that one-fifth of drivers driving on our roads can suffer from OSA. Furthermore, from what my noble friend said and the briefing that I have received, it appears that this is a long-term condition. Once you have it, you have it until you are treated. I have not heard how you treat it, but it is treatable. As my noble friend said, the statistic of one in five drivers, especially HGV drivers, who could lose their job if diagnosed and who would then have to go through the DVLA to get approval, is frightening. Given that we are short of HGV drivers, to lose one-fifth of them would make the shortage worse. That applies not just to HGV drivers but to car and bus drivers, all of whom have a safety role.
My noble friend has done extremely good service to the road safety industry by describing that issue to us and tabling an amendment asking the Government to take the matter more seriously. We all need to take it more seriously and some action will be required, but how do you get a driver to admit it voluntarily—to go to a doctor and say, "I think that I have this and, by the way, if you confirm it, I will lose my job"? That will be a real challenge but, if it is not done, the road accident statistics will get worse and worse. There is a lot of work to be done here. I congratulate my noble friend and the Working Group on Sleep Disorders for the work that has been done, but there is a great deal more to do and I look forward to hearing from my noble friend the Minister how that will be taken forward.
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Renton, I feel that the principle of the amendment is good but the practicality is not right. For example, it states that before the issuance of a licence you would have to have that certificate. That may be years away from when you develop the sleep disorder. I do not know whether heavy goods vehicle drivers have to be regularly re-tested, but ordinary drivers do not. Once you have your licence when you are fit and well, if there is an undiagnosed condition later, you will not be aware of it. The problem does not only occur with people with sleep disorders; people who are plain worn out or weary also fall asleep at the wheel. There has been a lot of press publicity recently about the fact that a good thing to take if you are at all tired is a very strong cup of black coffee before you set out on the road. That may be very good advice and perhaps there is need for greater publicity of that. It is worrying because a great number of dangerous accidents are caused by someone either falling asleep or almost falling asleep, suddenly discovering what is happening to them and pulling up.
The idea of asking everyone who is to have a licence to produce a certificate from their GP would put a great burden on GPs. This is quite a specialised field. It is not as though every GP has either the equipment or the ability automatically to test for that. The point made by the previous speaker about who will come forward to say, "I am suffering from this and I would like to lose my job", is very relevant. That was a sound point. The issue should be considered and people should be made aware in whatever way possible of the risks of sleepiness during driving.
My Lords, I have sympathy with the amendment, but will the Minister enlighten me in my ignorance? How will the GP examine the potential driver for a sleep disorder? Surely it is a matter of questioning the potential driver and relying on that individual's answers. If the person really needs a licence, will they necessarily answer honestly?
My Lords, this has been a most interesting debate on an important issue that the Government take very seriously. First, the amendment suggests that the Government should have a policy in this area. We have one and I want to describe how it works in a moment. The amendment also requires that those taking practical driving tests should be given information about the risks associated with undiagnosed sleep disorders. We ensure that that occurs.
The Highway Code provides advice in Rule 80. It states:
"Driving when you are tired greatly increases your accident risk".
It tells drivers to ensure that they are fit to drive and to avoid journeys when they are tired or likely to be so. The DVLA has a publication on the current medical standards of fitness to drive, which includes a section on sleep disorders and makes specific mention of sleep apnoea. The guide is freely available to medical practitioners and the public at large from the DVLA website and the DVLA also has a leaflet, Tiredness Can Kill, for drivers and that is distributed to sleep clinics.
The amendment is concerned with undiagnosed sleep disorders. We know that sleep does not normally occur suddenly or without warning although, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said, when it does it comes as a severe shock to the normally safe driver. People are very well advised to take medical advice immediately or to do what the noble Lord did, which was to decide that he ought not to drive if he was vulnerable in that way. We run publicity campaigns to highlight the dangers of falling asleep at the wheel. The most recent major campaign was launched last Easter, on which more than one third of a million pounds was spent. Noble Lords will also be aware that in certain crucial parts of our motorway system we have warning signs saying that tiredness can kill. We are aware of the percentage of accidents where it is fairly clear that loss of concentration has gone beyond that of just concentration when the accident occurred.
We tackle the issue of medical conditions of those who apply for driving licences. All drivers must meet specific health requirements. Every applicant for a driving licence must make a declaration that they are fit to drive. A question on sleep disorders is included, but of course the report covers a great deal more than that. The law already applies not just to applicants for driving licences, but also to existing licence holders. Any drivers who have a medical condition which may affect their ability to drive safely, including one which may cause them to fall asleep at the wheel, are required by law to notify the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. That goes beyond the amendment. It applies to existing licence holders.
We rely on educating drivers about the risks, but the police can take action and prosecute irresponsible drivers who drive carelessly or dangerously because they are sleepy. The courts take this issue seriously. Falling asleep at the wheel is treated as an aggravating rather than a mitigating factor when considering sentencing in respect of accidents that have occurred through careless or dangerous driving. I want to assure my noble friend that the Government share the objectives behind the amendment, but we have a policy and a process which tackles this issue. On that basis, I hope that my noble friend feels reassured enough to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend and all other Members of the House who have spoken in this short debate. My main aim was to raise OSA, which seems to be becoming more considered in various research and medical areas. I wanted to alert the House and my noble friend to the dangers of this problem. I did not know that it was already included in the guide. I am very pleased to hear about that. I take the points made by noble Lords opposite about GPs and difficulties in the amendment, which I realise was not perfect. My main aim was to raise the issue in the House. I am delighted with the response from my noble friend and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 17:
After Clause 42, insert the following new clause—
(1) In Part 1 of Schedule 6 to the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (c. 27) (which sets out speed limits in miles per hour for different classes of road in respect of certain classes of vehicles) the third column of the Table is amended as follows.
(2) In the heading and in respect of each item as shown, after column (b), insert—
|Single carriageway unrestricted road without a centre white line|
My Lords, Amendment No. 17 is similar to Amendment No. 3 which had a full debate earlier. It seeks to reduce the default speed limit on single carriageway rural roads to 40 mph from the current 60 mph. Department for Transport figures show that 63 per cent of fatal collisions occur on rural roads and also demonstrate that progress in reducing casualty rates in the countryside has been half that of urban roads.
On the Friday between Christmas and New Year, in my home town of Needham Market, an 18 year-old friend of my son was buried. He had been in an accident the previous week. I watched his young friends stand by in horror. For most of them, it was their first experience of the death of a contemporary. All too often, young people are the victims of road traffic accidents in rural areas, many of which are, of course, because there is no alternative in such an area but to use a private car. Most young people get to 17 years of age and the first thing that they want to do is to drive.
The amendment seeks to define a country lane as a road without a centre white line, which means that it is a narrow road on which for most of its length two cars cannot pass. It will establish a convention that on this sort of road a 40 mph speed limit will apply. I accept the proposition that the legal speed limit is not the same as the appropriate speed limit. Clearly, currently, on that type of road, 60 mph is the legal speed limit. It is almost certainly never the appropriate speed limit. I would suggest that, on a narrow lane where two vehicles cannot pass, no one thinks that approaching each other at 60 mph is right. I do not think that anyone would accept that. It therefore seems an odd signal to send out that 60 mph is legal, but not appropriate. I hope that the Government will give some thought to that.
The Government's advisory body, the Motorists' Forum, has said that we need a completely new approach to rural speed limits. As far back as 2000, the Transport Act included a government commitment on a review of rural speed limits, which has not been forthcoming. I emphasise that this measure would in no way remove local discretion. Local choice remains in place. It would simply move the burden of proof away from the default of 60 mph to 40 mph, which would facilitate government policy in terms of their road safety objectives. It would certainly respond to the wishes of people living in rural areas and would ultimately save many lives. The Road Safety Bill provides the best opportunity that we will have for many years to achieve those ends. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support this amendment. The noble Baroness has put forward similar amendments for a number of years and must be commended for her tenacity. My noble friend will probably say that this proposal would be very difficult and impossible to enforce, and so on. But on looking at the table, it struck me that in five or 10 years we probably will have road user charging over the whole country. I hope that we will. The same equipment will be able to stop people going faster than whatever speed limit Big Brother says that they should. This seems to be the forerunner of that. One day, we will all accept that these are reasonable speed limits and that we have to stick to them. It looks complicated, but it is a very good idea. I look forward to hearing what my noble friend has to say.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness said in moving her amendment, some aspects of this we had considered earlier. I have to state that we do not have clear statistics to back up what I will now contend, which makes me feel even more vulnerable than usual. We do not have statistics about accident rates and vehicle speeds because we do not differentiate between unrestricted roads with a centre white line and those without. So it is not possible to determine whether those roads are more or less safe than unrestricted rural roads with a centre white line. We cannot easily predict whether reducing vehicle speed limits on these roads would be likely to result in any reduction in accident rates.
I hasten to add that the department is never without resources, even if the particular statistics may not be readily at hand. We have some insight into the suggestion by comparing the accident rates on rural A roads with those on rural B, C and unclassified roads, on the basis that most A roads have centre white lines while quite a number of the B, C and unclassified roads do not. It turns out that the fatal accident involvement rates on rural B, C and unclassified roads for light goods vehicles and buses is significantly lower than the fatal accident involvement rates for those types of vehicles on rural A roads.
It is also worth noting that on rural B, C and unclassified roads, the fatal accident rate of light goods vehicles, which are restricted to a speed of 50 mph, was less than one-sixth of that of heavy goods vehicles, despite the fact that HGVs are already restricted to a lower speed than light goods vehicles—namely, 40 mph. Similarly, the fatal accident involvement rate for buses is also less than that for heavy goods vehicles.
What does this mean? I would say that there is no evidence to suggest that reducing vehicle speed limits on unrestricted roads without a centre white line would bring any notable road safety benefits. Indeed, the evidence we have tends to suggest that, for the most part, motorists adjust their speed appropriately on these roads. So making the changes proposed could well impose additional restrictions on businesses for very little or possibly no road safety benefit. However, having said that, while there are local concerns about certain unrestricted roads without a centre white line, local authorities already have powers to reduce the general speed limit for all vehicles on such roads from 60 mph to 40 mph if that is thought appropriate. This point was adumbrated in our earlier debate.
Our position is that we cannot see how the case can be proven for the gain suggested in the amendment, but we can see clearly the restrictions it would impose on certain road users. Where local authorities are anxious about the position and wish to take action, they already have the power to do so. On the basis of that reassurance, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am lost for words—almost. I have absolutely no idea what any of the statistics just reeled out by the Minister mean. If any noble Lord can make sense of them, they are clearly impressive individuals. There was an awful lot about light goods vehicles, heavy goods vehicles and buses, but I am not sure whether private cars came into it. However, perhaps I should set that to one side.
I am almost sure that I heard the Minister say that he could not see what benefit would arise from a reduction in the speed limit on these roads, yet since 1999 the whole of the Government's road safety strategy has been predicated on the basis that if you slow vehicles down, you will reduce the accident rate. So I find the argument somewhat difficult to understand. The fact is that on these roads what is important is not whether there is a white line down the middle but whether the road is wide enough to accommodate vehicles travelling in both directions. My amendment seeks to slow down to 40 mph the traffic on those roads that are not wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other on their own side of the carriageway. The legal speed limit should be 40 mph.
I am not remotely reassured by anything the Minister said in his response. Indeed, I am almost more concerned than I was before because he did not address the fact that the fatal accident rate on rural roads is significantly higher than that for anywhere else and that it continues to rise. I have heard nothing to assure me that the Government are addressing the issue or are taking a serious look at the problem. That degree of complacency is quite alarming. Despite the fact that we have been here for several hours, I feel that I must test the opinion of the House.
moved Amendment No. 20:
Page 54, line 10, at end insert—
"( ) in subsection (2), after paragraph (d) insert—
"( ) security, cleaning and maintenance facilities,""
My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister a question. We have discussed on several occasions the question of the picnic areas or rest areas—or whatever they are going to be called—on motorways. Has he addressed the issue of the security, cleaning and maintenance of these areas, who is going to do it and what is going to prevent them turning into unkempt tips? It is really just that. We have not had a satisfactory answer to the question. I beg to move.
My Lords, we have discussed endlessly the question of who will maintain these areas and how they will be preserved as places where people will stop. I would support very much a better response than the ones we have had before.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their limited contribution on an issue that we have discussed at length. I can give two assurances. First, we have the powers to meet the requirements and anxieties that have been expressed in debates on Report and in Committee. Secondly, we intend to create a pilot site. We shall create one only. The likelihood is that it will be on the M5 because that is the motorway which leads down to the south-west and may well lend itself to the effectiveness of such areas. We have a potential site identified. We shall see how that works out in relation to all the anxieties expressed by noble Lords and we will progress further only when we think we have tackled the problems adequately.
My Lords, yes. Not only that, but it is spelt "p-i-l-o-t".
moved Amendment No. 21:
After Clause 48, insert the following new clause—
(1) In determining, for the purposes of the enactments mentioned in subsection (2), who was the owner of a pedicab at any time, it shall be presumed, if the pedicab was licensed, that the owner was the person in whose name the pedicab was licensed at that time.
(2) Those enactments are—
(a) Part II of the Road Traffic Act 1991 (c. 40) (traffic in London);
(b) Part II of and Schedule 1 to the London Local Authorities Act 1996 (c. ix) (bus lanes);
(c) regulations made under section 144 of the Transport Act 2000 (c. 38) (civil penalties for bus lane contraventions);
(e) regulations under section 72 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 (c. 18) (civil penalties for road traffic contraventions);
(f) any other enactment whether passed before or after this Act which provides for the service of penalty charge notices or notices to owner on the owner of a vehicle.
(3) For the purposes of the enactments mentioned in subsection (2) above, a pedicab business is not to be treated as a vehicle-hire firm.
(4) An authority responsible for the licensing of pedicabs shall, on request, make available to a traffic authority the name and address of the person in whose name a particular pedicab is licensed.
(5) In section 15(12) of the Greater London Council (General Powers Act 1974 (c. xxiv) (parking on footways, grass verges, etc.), in the definition of "vehicles", after "means" insert "a pedicab (within the meaning given by section (Parking and traffic enforcement for pedicabs) of the Road Safety Act 2006), or".
(6) The London Local Authorities and Transport for London Act 2003 (c. iii) is amended as follows.
(7) In section 4(5) (penalty charges for road traffic contraventions), for "motor vehicle" substitute "vehicle".
(8) In section 4(16), omit the definition of "motor vehicle" and at the end insert the following definition—
(a) a mechanically propelled vehicle intended or adapted for use on roads; and
(b) a pedicab within the meaning given by section (Parking and traffic enforcement for pedicabs) of the Road Safety Act 2006.".
(9) In this section—
"licensed" in respect of a pedicab means licensed under any enactment by virtue of the pedicab's use for the conveyance of passengers, and "licensing" shall be construed accordingly;
"pedicab" means a cycle constructed or adapted—
(a) to seat one or more passengers; and
(b) for the purposes of being made available with a driver in the course of a business for the purpose of carrying passengers;
"pedicab business" means a business which consists, in whole or in part, of—
(a) the ownership of pedicabs;
(b) the letting out of pedicabs to riders for use as a pedicab; or
(c) taking bookings for the use of pedicabs by passengers."
My Lords, I am very conscious of the time but I am also conscious that I may need to be a little bit longer than one would prefer at Third Reading.
The House will recall that I tabled an amendment at Report to try to deal with the burgeoning cycle rickshaw—or pedicab—industry in London. The amendment differs from the one at Report in that it focuses on the need for highway enforcement powers rather than the setting up of a registration system. I have again been briefed by Westminster City Council on the issue and I understand that its concern is supported by Transport for London.
As I set out at the previous stage, pedicabs are becoming increasingly popular. About 200 operate each day in the West End during the spring, summer and autumn. They obviously provide an exciting service for tourists but they also potentially pose a very serious road safety problem for pedestrians and other road users. This includes parking on the footway and the carriageway, obstructing both pedestrians and general traffic; parking in pedestrianised areas—particularly in areas around theatres, such as Covent Garden—causing dangerous obstructions around emergency escape routes; parking in bus lanes, forcing buses to swerve into the path of general traffic; and there have even been examples of pedicabs blocking the routes of ambulances.
Yet despite these obvious problems a local authority or other highway authority including TfL cannot control pedicabs through the issue of penalty charge notices. Many pedicab riders exploit this immunity with a total disregard of the moving and stationary controls which apply to them as well as to other road users.
The purpose of the amendment is not to introduce a system of registration, which was my line at Report. TfL has plans to introduce a full licensing regime for pedicabs as soon as possible, and I understand that it is about to start consulting. But a licensing regime on its own will not be able effectively to tackle the road safety problems associated with pedicabs.
The amendment would give highways authorities the necessary powers to issue penalty charge notices for traffic contraventions, bringing such powers into line with those they have for all other classes of vehicles. Therefore, as soon as TfL's licensing regime came into force, the amendment would be of immediate use to councils inside and outside London.
The proposal is being put forward in this Bill because a key issue is that any future Transport for London legislation which introduces a licensing regime cannot introduce the powers to issue penalty charge notices for traffic contraventions because a TfL Bill, as we discussed last time, cannot address issues that are of concern to both Transport for London and local authorities. It is one of the mish-mashes between the two administrations. The Bill presents an ideal opportunity to introduce a legislative framework for issuing PCNs to pedicab drivers as soon as the future licensing regime comes into force.
At Report, the Government were unable to support the amendment because they felt they could not legislate for a registration scheme in advance of TfL's licensing regime proposals. I have also had sight of correspondence in December between Westminster City Council and the Department for Transport's Minister, Karen Buck, that again explains why support could not be given at the previous stage because of the proposed registration scheme. But with TfL's assurance that it fully intends to implement a full licensing regime as soon as it can, the amendment now focuses purely on the enforcement of highways regulations.
While TfL cannot itself legislate for powers that would also apply to local authorities, we need to grasp this legislative opportunity to give authorities the powers they need. Without these provisions, any forthcoming licensing scheme could, in effect, prove completely useless in its attempts to increase standards and improve the conduct of pedicab drivers because of the difficulty of finding other legislation to introduce the PCN regime.
The amendment has changed so that it can deal with the situation whereby the licensing system will be introduced by TfL and to pre-empt that by having the regulations for PCN and other highways legislation in place so they can be picked up at the same time. I beg to move.
My Lords, when we were discussing the previous amendment on pedicabs at Report, I said I thought that this was the taxi driver's revenge. I have subsequently met people from TfL who explained the purpose of the noble Baroness's amendment and some of the background. I listened carefully and questioned the definition of a pedicab. A pedicab is exactly the same as something that is not a pedicab if it is being plied for hire. If you have a pedicab that you just use for taking your family out on a Sunday afternoon, it is not a pedicab because you are not plying it for hire. In theory, a pedicab could be a two-wheeled tandem; it could probably not be one-wheeled, but it could certainly have three or four wheels. Therefore, I worry about the definitions in the amendment.
I have heard from TfL that it intends to move forward with a licensing system. That is clearly essential. Any vehicle that is plying for hire needs to have insurance and registration so that it can be identified. I do not have a problem with that. I am pleased that TfL is doing this, providing it does it fairly. I worry that there is no process for doing it outside London. TfL appears to be going down the route of calling them stage carriages under the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869. Other authorities have tried to call them hackney carriages, which they clearly are not and could never be. There is a problem which is not addressed by this amendment or any other. I hope that my noble friend will make a commitment to look into a national system of registration that is appropriate for pedicabs.
I talked to the London Pedicab Operators Association—there is one, my Lords—which produced some very good arguments. I have also seen part of the London taxi drivers' campaign against them which is quite incredible. Cab Trade News of
"Whilst the third world is doing all it can to lose the last of these degrading pedal powered contraptions, some unscrupulous operators are clogging up the streets of the Metropolis with the same slow, traffic halting bikes".
In other words, it is preventing us taxis using our monopoly. Whether we think we can find a taxi late at night and would prefer to have one of these or one of the unlicensed cars that one sometimes has to take, I do not know, but the campaign is pretty horrible. There is a picture of the grim reaper and a scythe outside Big Ben, with a Transport for London sign saying "Licensed to Kill".
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I was not implying that in the least. I am simply saying that this is the background to a campaign by taxi drivers, including a picture of a taxi running into a pedicab.
What is quite so important about the offences in the amendment? One of them is driving a pedicab the wrong way up a one-way street. That is illegal for a bicycle, so one does not need separate legislation to stop a pedicab going the wrong way up a one-way street. Pedicabs would not be allowed to park on double yellow lines. Taxis stop on double yellow lines, and the difference between a taxi and a pedicab is that taxis usually ply for hire on the move, whereas a pedicab does not because the driver would get tired. That is why they congregate on pavements.
There have to be some rules surrounding parking and moving offences for pedicabs, but I really do not think that this is the right way to do it until we have a national structure for licensing and for what pedicabs are allowed to do which does not smell strongly—as many of these campaigns and proposed restrictions do—of the taxi people wanting to maintain their monopoly. Yes, pedicabs occasionally congregate outside fire exits, and that should not happen. Pedicabs occasionally clog up the corner of streets outside some of the West End theatres, but the clogging is done as much by people as it is by pedicabs. Why blame pedicabs? Why should a pedicab be fined for clogging up a pavement or a street if somebody has come along in a similar vehicle, which is not plying for hire, and locked it to the lamppost? It all seems wrong to me.
There is a great deal more work to be done on this. In the mean time, I urge my noble friend not to accept the amendment and to look at the situation carefully so that pedicabs, taxis and private hire vehicles can all work and live together in what I hope will be harmony.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, for explaining the changes in this new amendment. However, I shall be resisting the noble Baroness's amendment.
The proposed new clause seeks to define a pedicab and make pedicabs subject to the civil enforcement of parking and traffic contraventions by local authorities. A number of rather uncomplimentary and critical things were said about pedicabs in the previous debate and I took careful note of that. In resisting the amendment today, I should again make clear that I am aware that concerns have been expressed about the operation of pedicabs, particularly in London. I agree that steps are necessary to address these concerns, not least in respect of safety but also in respect of the civil enforcement of certain parking and traffic offences which are the focus of this amendment. However, to pick up some of my noble friend's comments, I note that there is also a school of thought that pedicabs perform a useful service and that they add usefully to the diversity of London life and the range of transport choice in the capital.
The amendment refers to a licensing system that is not yet in existence in London. It is important to note that Transport for London has already promised to bring forward proposals which would introduce a licensing system for pedicabs in London. It hopes to have such a system in place by autumn this year, but we have not seen even an outline of what is proposed. We therefore cannot judge whether the proposed amendment would operate properly alongside it.
When this licensing system is in place it should provide the means of exercising more comprehensive control over pedicabs in London, including, importantly, the question of their safety, standards and area of operation. Transport for London will be drawing up its proposals in full knowledge of what is required and allowing for public consultation with all the interested parties. We do not know whether the amendment has been the subject of public consultation and debate with those concerned, so we do not know the reaction of the pedicab industry itself.
Outside London, pedicabs are already part of the taxi licensing system administered by taxi licensing authorities. We have not yet received calls for civil enforcement powers in respect of parking and traffic offences committed by pedicab riders other than in London. It is far better that we await the impact of the comprehensive licensing regime which Transport for London proposes and then consider whether parking and traffic offences by pedicabs remain a substantial problem to be addressed.
The identification and tracking down of offenders is of course crucial and I recognise that it is a problem in respect of pedicabs. Licensing as now proposed in London should provide just that means of identification as part of the wider system of control. We await London's detailed proposals, but our understanding is that the licensing regime will be enforced in the same way as the taxi licensing regime in London.
Pedicabs are already subject to police enforcement in respect of some moving traffic offences, obstruction of the highway and some cycling offences under the Road Traffic Act 1988. However, I recognise that this still leaves the question of powers for the civil enforcement of offences. Officials have discussed these matters with Westminster City Council and Transport for London since Report stage. The department has come to the preliminary view that regulations could be brought in under existing legislation—the Traffic Management Act 2004, for example—to provide for the civil enforcement against pedicabs of many or some of the offences covered in the noble Baroness's amendment. In view of that explanation, I hope that noble Lords will withdraw their amendment.
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, she noted that officials had been in consultation with TfL. Have they been in consultation with the London Pedicab Operators Association, whose members, after all, will be affected by this?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that really helpful reply. Within the course of this Bill, we have if nothing else raised the whole question of pedicabs and the necessity for some form of regulation. I understand that the organisation concerned which has the riveting title of Bugbugs—the name of the major fleet owner, which seems to be at the forefront—is not anti-regulation. It is clear that if there is going to be consultation it needs to be included. So Bugbugs is the name if somebody would like to take that up. It is unlikely that pedicabs will ever become a serious threat to the London taxi. So we need not detain ourselves on that for very long.
I am also grateful to the Minister for her assurance. The reason for bringing the amendment forward was to get the necessary legislation in place, but as it will not require primary legislation, it could be introduced after the TfL legislation comes in. All in all, I am not unhappy with the Minister's reply and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 22:
After Clause 58, insert the following new clause—
"REGULATION OF HUMAN TRANSPORTERS
(1) Within one year of the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State shall publish regulations on the construction and use of human transporters.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), a "human transporter" is a self-balancing, electric-powered, software-controlled device, with the two wheels on the same axis and a top speed controlled by encrypted keys not exceeding 12.5 miles per hour."
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked me to apologise on his behalf because he cannot be here, but he supports this amendment. This is another attempt at a different way to try to persuade the Government to bring forward regulations to make these "human transporters"—I do not particularly like the name, but Segway is the name of the manufacturer at the moment—legal somewhere, be it on a footpath, going slowly on a cycle track or a bit faster on the road, where it will presumably operate like a powered bicycle. Some noble Lords tried one out in the car park earlier.
I remind noble Lords that these transporters are already in use quite widely in Italian cities by the police for catching people. They are clearly effective there. One of the people who gave us a demonstration before Christmas sent me an e-mail this morning saying that he had been stopped by a police car in the middle of Hyde Park Corner going through Wellington Arch and told that he was riding a power-assisted vehicle illegally. He replied that the policeman was also driving his car illegally on a footpath or cycleway but I do not think that it did much good. It was actually harassment. Why is this man being harassed by the police just because there is no regulation? Why should he not use his vehicle? He is happy to comply with any regulations, but there are none. Therefore, I thought, "Let's put this amendment down and hope that within a year the Government will bring forth regulations".
The key to the "encrypted keys" is that there can probably be three different maximum speeds which could be preset depending on whether you are on a footpath, cycleway or road. With that short introduction, I beg to move.
My Lords, I support this amendment. I had a ride on one of these vehicles. I thought that it would be terrifying but it was really very good. It might be a great asset for someone who has difficulty walking. However, I wonder whether an electric scooter would not come under the same category. I am not sure that it could not just be used as it is. I wonder whether regulations are required.
My Lords, I feel that the Government should consider the amendment very seriously, and I should like them to accept it so that it can be given further consideration in the other place. It is obvious that, like wild boar that have escaped from domestic premises, these new devices will escape with human assistance on to our public highways, cycle ways or footways, and we need to know how they will be used and what the regulations are. After all, at the moment the police are not even sure when they stop someone whether they are acting within the law. The Government should help their own police in this respect—and one of the best ways in which to deal with the matter is to allow the amendment to go through for further consideration in the other place.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate. We have discussed the issue of the Segway on previous occasions, and it seems that this amendment would be rather more facilitative than regulatory. But let me make the obvious points: such a vehicle would be regarded as a motor vehicle for the purposes of motor vehicle legislation, and the transporter would need to meet other statutory requirements, including type or single vehicle approval, insurance and so on, which are prerequisites for being licensed and registered for the roads. If it is suggested that such vehicles could be used on footpaths and cycle ways, we would need changes to primary legislation to permit these vehicles to have access to those areas.
We would need to ensure that legislation that enabled that interesting means of transport to be used was generic and not specific. It is not the duty of government to promote one proprietary product; it is the duty of government to facilitate aids to transport that are safe in the appropriate circumstances. So we would need to be very careful that we were not putting forward legislation designed to facilitate one product—which the amendment does. The amendment is also very prescriptive, in obliging the Secretary of State to make regulations and to make them by a specific date; that is rather more sharply defined than much significant legislation that many Members of this House can readily recollect.
I have had a ride on this vehicle, too, and enjoyed it hugely. I found it a good deal safer for my aged frame than I expected, and I got on and off safely without hitting anybody else. There is no doubt at all, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, indicated, that they are a good deal better than walking—but they raise significant issues for other road users. Therefore, the Government believe that we should proceed cautiously on these matters. A great deal needs to be thought through, and we could not possibly accept an amendment which was so specific to one proprietary development, although we recognise the dangers of looking "stick in the mud" and not receptive to new technologies. It is important that we embrace new technologies when they advance our transport interests—but there is a real problem with regard to this particular device. I hope that my noble friend will recognise that he has given the subject a good airing and will withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I hope at least that a message could be given to the police not to harass people unduly, if they are operating safely; otherwise, they do not have any way forward. If they go on the road, they will be done for not having insurance, tax, two lights in the front and two lights in the back; if they go on a cycle way, they will be caught by police for driving in a car; if they go on a footpath—well, a policeman on foot probably cannot chase them. But I hear what the Minister says, and I am sure that either here or in another place we shall revert to this subject many times in future years. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 24:
After Clause 58, insert the following new clause—
(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) above 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;
(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 17 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
(b) in Scotland has the meaning given by section 15(1) of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 (c. 54) (emergency work in relation to private roads); and
(c) in Northern Ireland has the meaning given by Article 1(2) of the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (S.I. 1995/2994 (N.I. 18))."
My Lords, in moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 25, which is also in my name. These are similar to the amendments that I moved in Committee and Report, but I have altered them in an endeavour to take into account concerns raised by a number of your Lordships at Report. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, did not like the inclusion of,
"tricycle, or a cycle having four or more wheels", and I have removed that reference in the amendment, which will I hope make it more acceptable to him. I can quite see his point. My noble friend Lady Hanham, speaking to me outside the Chamber, told me that she did not approve of the possibility of children being liable for a criminal conviction, which was a possibility under my previous amendment. The amendment has been redrafted to take account of that; I am assured by the legal eagles that liability now rests entirely with adults.
The Minister has opposed my amendments in Committee and at Report, but seems to have no objection to it being compulsory for children to wear safety helmets when riding ponies or horses on roads. I find that illogical. I raised that question at an earlier stage and the Minister failed to comment on it.
I have with me a photocopy of an article from the Daily Mail of
"A police force has banned its civilian bobbies from patrolling on specially-bought bicycles—because they haven't got helmets.
Five months ago Enfield borough police invested in 12 bikes to help its Community Support Officers patrol parks.
But not one officer has used the cycles yet because the North London force will not risk sending them out on to the roads in case they have an accident".
I find it extremely odd that when a state-funded organisation insists on its adult officers being properly protected when cycling on the road, the Minister opposes the same level of protection for children who are likely to be much more vulnerable due to their age and inexperience. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will look more kindly on the amendment at this stage. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendment. The Minister may object to it and point out that the Government already encourage the voluntary wearing of helmets. He might also observe correctly that helmet-wearing is of particular benefit to children off-road in parks and playgrounds. Yet helmet-wearing is very necessary in lower-speed collisions, wherever they may occur. That is what all research evidence confirms. Of course, every year there are a great many accidents and collisions when death and serious injury could have been avoided if helmets had been worn. A voluntary code will only ever achieve a small benefit or a limited improvement in helmet-wearing. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will heed my noble friend's advice and adopt the amendment.
My Lords, I gladly pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, for the improvements that he has made to the amendments, and I pay tribute to his conviction in pursuing this matter, whether I agree with it or not. But even if one ignores libertarian considerations and objections to any further extension of the nanny state, the amendment still fails on practical grounds.
Children nowadays, particularly older children aged 12 or 13, are far less inclined to obey their parents or their guardians, be they temporary or permanent, than was the case 50 years ago. Most parents today are in no position to keep permanent watch on their children's outdoor activities. If the amendment confined itself to children under 12, rather than under 14, it might just be workable, although whether it is desirable is another matter. I do not think it is workable as it stands.
My Lords, I support strongly the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. Her Majesty's Government are encouraging children to cycle to school, providing funding for this and guidance to schools. That is very welcome, and will be of benefit to many children in terms of exercise. As an indirect consequence, however, more children will inevitably be exposed to the risk of having an accident on their bicycle.
I think I am correct in saying that the Minister does not dispute the efficacy of cycle helmets in protecting children from brain and facial injuries, so I recognise her serious concern about the enforcement of this measure. But there is a careful balance to be made here between that concern and the certainty that, if this legislation is not enacted, more children will experience severe head and facial injuries and their lives will be blighted, or they may lose their lives. Their families will have to care for a child who has been damaged in this way, perhaps to the end of their days. That might have been avoided, and the risk significantly decreased, if they had been wearing a helmet.
So the Government are encouraging children to get on their bikes, and I applaud that, but in that case they have a duty to minimise the risks these children experience in following the Government's wishes. I hope therefore that the Minister can accept this amendment.
My Lords, I rise only because my noble friend mentioned me, and I want to say that subsection (2)(b) has certainly improved since we last saw it, in that it ensures that the person who is to be made culpable for this offence is at least an adult. I have not had a chance to talk to my noble friend about this much, but I still have concerns, because I am not sure many parents would like it suggested that they either were in possession of the cycle immediately before the child rode it, or had custody of it. My recollection of my children is that half the time I did not know where the bicycle was, and I was jolly lucky when I knew where they were along with it. The amendment would pin a criminal responsibility on any parent if their child went out on the cycle without them knowing about it.
None of this belies the importance of children wearing safety headgear. The difficulty we are encountering here is where and how you lay that responsibility, and where the culpable area is. I do not want anyone to misunderstand. A hat on the head is essential, but how you pin the responsibility is much more difficult in legislation.
My Lords, I took the riding hat legislation through your Lordships' House some years ago so that children wear riding hats on roads. They use riding hats now in fields and when they are jumping, and you hardly ever see a child without one. It is important for children who ride cycles on the roads also to have protection. They are at risk from muddy roads, icy puddles and being hit by vehicles.
Helmets for those who ride cycles should be improved. The present helmets do not seem to cover enough of the head, and this is something on which research ought to be considered and done. Head injuries should be avoided if possible. The results of a head injury can be devastating, long-lasting and very expensive—an expense to that child for the rest of their life. I hope the Government will consider this, and do something about it.
My Lords, I shall not repeat what I said on Report. As a cyclist, I am afraid I cannot support this amendment. I believe strongly in wearing helmets, and that everyone should do so, but I am aware that this country's cycling organisations are totally split as to whether this should be voluntary or compulsory. They, after all, are the people who wear them and are responsible for them. We need to look further at the statistics on wearing helmets, but I still think it is impractical, as many other noble Lords have said, to make people over 17 responsible for what younger people do.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, for explaining the alterations in the amendment. However, as he probably surmises, I will be resisting these two amendments, which would make it compulsory for children under 14 to wear cycle helmets. I am grateful to noble Lords, but the useful debate we have had suggests that there is a fairly even split on the compulsion or non-compulsory argument. The arguments are familiar to those of us who have debated this at previous stages of the Bill.
I have every sympathy with the noble Lord's intentions. The safety of our children on the roads is a high priority for us. We are doing well on cycling. By 2004, deaths and serious injuries of child cyclists were down by 49 per cent compared to our baseline, which is the average for 1994–98. However, we are not complacent. We are doing a lot to improve child cyclists' safety. Our programme includes the education of children, of their carers and of drivers. It includes publicity, better child cycle training and improved infrastructure. It also includes the promotion of helmets, which we believe is very important.
When it comes to compulsion, however, our view is to review the option from time to time, and we do so. Due to the current relatively low voluntary helmet-wearing rates, we will continue to try to persuade children to wear helmets. We remain concerned, though, that compulsion would affect cycling levels when we want to see an increase in cycling, and that the proposed amendment would cause enforcement difficulties, as several noble Lords have suggested. Rather than the Government interfering at this time, we think cycling is best encouraged by leaving these matters for parents, and other adults responsible for the welfare of a child, to determine.
We also feel that the greater use of cycling is more likely to be promoted by allowing parents and other responsible adults to decide for themselves how best to encourage their children to cycle. The parents will know the children in question and the local circumstances, and can decide for themselves what kind of enforcement is appropriate. We do not think that making a parent potentially criminally liable is conducive to promoting and encouraging the use of cycles at this stage.
We also remain concerned that, when it comes to enforcement of this proposed offence by the state, there may well be practical difficulties in determining who is actually responsible for causing or permitting the offence, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, suggested. Suppose a parent has given a general permission to their children to use their bicycles, but only if wearing helmets. Will a parent then be expected to check whether their child is using a helmet every time that child leaves the house? If not, is the parent expected to remind the child at regular intervals? As we know, children sometimes hear only what they want to hear. What if the child claims to have forgotten an instruction given perhaps some time ago or not to have heard it in the first place? Then suppose a child cycles home from school. Are the parents responsible or is the school responsible, or is it both the parents and the school? What if the school has a rule that helmets must be worn but the child simply decides to take off the helmet half-way home? Who, if anyone, is responsible then?
For these and other reasons I have given, unfortunately we cannot accept the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, pointed to a different approach by government to other road users and quoted the Horses (Protective Headgear for Young Riders) Act 1990, which made it compulsory for children to wear hard hats when riding. But it was a Private Member's Bill taken through the Commons by Harry Greenway and through this House by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, as she said. The government at the time felt unable to support the Bill. It was considered disproportionate to the road accident problem, as only 0.08 per cent of road accidents involved horse riders. That figure dropped to 0.06 per cent in 2002, which is the last date for which we have figures. It is also notable that at the time 80 per cent of riders were already wearing protective headgear. One of the reasons we resist the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, is because as yet we are nowhere near that figure as regards the popular voluntary wearing of cycle helmets by children. When motorcycle helmets became compulsory, 80 per cent of people were already wearing them voluntarily before compulsion was introduced. In the case of cycle helmets being worn by children we would be making an enormous leap from a figure far less than 80 per cent. For instance, in 2004 the wearing rate of cycle helmets by boys was 11 per cent.
We appreciate the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, but I hope that with the explanations I have given, he will withdraw it.
My Lords, the wearing rate of cycle helmets by boys may be only 11 per cent now but we should bear in mind that when the wearing of seat belts was made compulsory the relevant figure was a great deal less than 11 per cent. The measure started from a much lower base. In my view it is now unusual to see someone driving not wearing a seat belt. You have to start from somewhere. Don't tell me, as the Irish do, "Don't start from here"—we are here today and now, and this is where we have to start from.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, with regard to children under 12 rather than those under 14. I know that at 14 children are becoming much more independent. I also appreciate what he and other noble Lords said about children not always obeying their parents or doing as they were told. I know that from my own personal experience as a child when I did not do as I was told, as a father and as a grandfather. Children grow up and learn from their mistakes but if you lay down the guidelines firmly, in my view as a non-lawyer you have some defence under the law. I realise that my amendment may not be perfect as regards the criminal responsibility of either the parent or the school, but I am not a lawyer and I hope that that could be tightened up and improved in another place—that is the whole point of the Bill passing from one House to another.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, said that she was not very happy with current headgear. However, subsection (1)(b) of my Amendment No. 25 would give the Secretary of State power to prescribe,
"(by reference to shape, construction or any other quality) the descriptions of protective headgear to be worn by children".
So I hope that I have covered that point.
As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, some cycling organisations are split on the issue. Some want the wearing of headgear to be made compulsory whereas others do not. It is interesting to note that the racing organisations have now made the wearing of headgear compulsory for racing. Perhaps that is more dangerous than cycling gently down to the village for a bag of sweets at the local shop, but children race on their bikes on the roads as well as off them.
I do not think that compulsion will stop cycling. There has been no reduction in the riding of ponies or horses since it became necessary for children to wear headgear while riding on the roads. I have already mentioned that seat belts are now much more likely to be worn than they were when compulsion was introduced in that regard.
In view of the hour and the fact that it would be extremely unlikely that I would win a Division, I will not divide the House on the amendment tonight but will rely on colleagues in another place to take the matter forward. I am sure that it will not be dropped. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 26:
After Clause 59, insert the following new clause—
After section 19 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (prohibition of parking of HGV's on verges, central reservations and footways) insert—
"19A PROOF NECESSARY TO DRIVE HGV ON RESTRICTED ROAD
A person shall not drive a heavy commercial vehicle (as defined in section 20 of this Act) on a restricted road (as defined in section 82 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984) unless he has documentary proof of his need to drive on that road.""
My Lords, I believe that this is the seventh day of debate on the Bill and I do not propose to prolong the discussion. However, I feel strongly about the subject of Amendment No. 26. The driver of a lorry travelling on a restricted road should produce proof of why he should be there rather than the police having to follow him all the way along the restricted road to prosecute him after seeing that he has not stopped. It is an awful waste of police time and means that many restrictions are not enforced. At this stage I simply ask the Minister to seriously think about the waste of police time, the ineffectiveness of the present regulations and the ease with which it could be made possible for a constable to stop a lorry driver on a restricted road and ask him for the weigh bill to show that he is delivering to or collecting from premises on the relevant road. It is a very simple transaction and would not involve much alteration to the law. I trust that the Minister will commend the measure to his colleagues in another place. It is a simple amendment which I know would be welcomed by police forces. It would offer to many people living along restricted roads protection from the unwanted passage of lorries. I shall listen to what the Minister says, but I shall not press the amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the problem of heavy goods vehicles in rural areas is a growing one? It is not simply a question of people living in rural areas not wanting to be bothered by nasty lorries; that really is not the case. The problem is that over the past decade there has, quite correctly, been a policy of diversifying farm sites. Quite often these are turned into heavy goods operating sites. It appears to be a sensible use of some of these sites. But the problem is that there is a lacuna in the system for licensing them in that the required operating licence takes into account only the confines of the site up to where it joins the highway.
The local planning authority, the highways authority, has no say in the matter at all if it is a small site, say, with fewer than five vehicles, because then it does not come within the remit of the planning system. Even if it is a slightly larger site, the local authority is allowed to take into account only the effect that that one site has on the local traffic system. It is not allowed to take into account the cumulative effect of having lots of small sites in one area. Left with that problem, many local authorities attempt to manage the HGV traffic with weight restrictions on some roads, particularly where they go through larger villages and towns, but as we have heard from my noble friend there is a real problem with enforcing those restrictions. The police have to follow the vehicle from the start of the weight restriction to the end, and if the vehicle does not stop at any point the police can prove that it did not need to be there. As noble Lords can imagine, the police have far better things to do with their time. I hope that the Minister will give this some serious thought and that his department might think about a slightly different way in which those sorts of sites could be licensed.
My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate. The Government are sympathetic to the points that have been raised and are all too aware that heavy goods vehicles can cause problems on unsuitable roads. We are also aware that for various reasons it is a growing problem; but we do not think that the amendment would solve it. We are not at all sure that it would have its intended effect. We certainly will continue to examine the issue with great care.
As both noble Lords have indicated, it is an issue of enforcement. Under the Traffic Management Act 2004 local authorities have the ability to ensure that there are environment weight limits on roads and can pursue civil enforcement procedures, but that is difficult to do. We also accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that this is not a high priority for the police, who have many other demands on their time. I accept the spirit in which the amendment is proposed, that we should address ourselves further to the issue, and I undertake that we will look at it further. I hope that noble Lords will recognise that this amendment would not hit the target, and we are unpersuaded of its merits. Perhaps on that basis the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.
Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)
On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.