Clause 110 - Short title

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 11th March 2003.

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Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:15 am, 11th March 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 28, in

clause 110, page 48, line 27, leave out 'and' and insert 'Road, Aviation and Maritime,'.

I did not realise when I drafted the amendment that the title is always considered last. Most people would, when writing a press release, for example, do the same.

It is highly regrettable that the Bill deals only with the rail, air and sea matters that we have considered. I refer to the words of my hon. Friend the Member for

Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins), shadow Secretary of State for Transport, on Second Reading:

''our starting point should be the fact that a life is a life is a life. Saving a life on the roads or in the air is at least as valuable to society as saving one in any other context.''

He continued:

''One aspect that Conservative Members will want to explore in Committee and on Report is whether we should be thinking about moving towards a system whereby the Government seek to save life and to commit resources that are likely to save life on the same basis across all modes of transport without differentiating, as sometimes happens now, between expenditure that would save our lives on the railway as opposed to that which would save lives in other contexts.—[Official Report, 28 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 778.]

It is deeply regrettable that, given the number of deaths and offences, road safety is not covered by the Bill. The figures speak for themselves and show that, each year, about 1,000 people are killed or seriously injured on icy or snow-covered roads. Snow and ice deterrent is essential to prevent the toll from rising and we want that covered by the Bill. We want the Committee's approval of the amendment. Hon. Members may not be aware that there is currently no legal responsibility for local authorities in England and Wales to take reasonable steps to clear ice and snow from roads, whereas, under Scottish law, it is abundantly clear that local authorities must take such action. Public and highways authorities need the protection that extending such provisions to England and Wales would bring.

When preparing for the debate, I sought from the Library the most recent drink-driving figures to show why the Bill should cover road safety and why the lack of that is a serious omission. The figures—adjusted for under-reporting—show the number of fatal accidents involving illegal alcohol levels and consequent casualties between 1979 and 2001. There has been a steep decline since 1979 from 1,380 fatalities, but accidents still account for 420 fatalities each year. The number of serious injuries was 1,820. The number of slight injuries was 9,780, leading to a total of more than 12,000. The figures, based on the details held by coroners and procurators fiscal, show that the percentage of all riders and drivers who are killed and who are over the limit—

Photo of Mr Alan Hurst Mr Alan Hurst Labour, Braintree 10:30 am, 11th March 2003

Order. The hon. Lady will need to convince me that her argument relates directly to the amendment.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am justifying our wish to amend the title of the Bill. Our proposal covers other provisions that we wish to insert into it. The Bill's present title relates specifically to proposals that we have discussed at some length in Committee, such as setting up a rail accident branch and the creation of new aviation and maritime offences. I was presenting arguments to persuade the Minister that, were we to amend the title, it would create the legal basis to enable us to consider other new clauses.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

Perhaps the hon. Lady, like me, is optimistic that new clauses relating to the establishment of a road accident investigation branch

will be successful. Therefore, it is appropriate at this stage to change the name of the Bill to encompass what we know will happen later.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am only partly with the hon. Gentleman. We would stop short of creating a separate body with a whole new bureaucracy. I referred earlier to STATS 19, the road accident survey, which is the least bureaucratic method and very effective. Forms are filled in by the police at the scene of a road traffic accident. The police send the completed forms to the Transport Research Laboratory where the information is collated and conclusions are drawn that are then shared with the Government. It is less clear whether the conclusions are shared with all hon. Members. I wished to explain why it is necessary to consider road safety and the tightening-up of road safety provisions. We will return to the matter when we consider the new clauses.

The Minister said only this morning that the Government do not envisage that there will be a great deal of testing of aviation pilots, and I am sure that he would say the same of sea pilots of commercial vessels or recreational craft. I do not expect that massive numbers would be involved. There has been only one notable but devastating disaster to date in this respect—that of the Marchioness. However, the evidence speaks for itself: the scale of the casualties was enormous.

I believe that the hon. Member for Bath supports me—he is also curious why the Minister did not see fit to extend the provisions of the Bill to cover road safety and tighten up provisions for road safety offences. I part company with the hon. Gentleman, however, because we do not see the value of creating a separate bureaucracy. We all agree with Lord Cullen's recommendations about why we need a rail accident investigation branch. There are compelling reasons for including road safety in the Bill to give a legal basis to the new clauses that we wish to discuss.

We have talked about omissions from the Greater London Authority Act 1999. It may not seem quite as obvious to an hon. Member who represents a Plymouth constituency as it is to me that there should be a legal responsibility to clear the roads of ice and snow. However, we all saw the devastation that was caused recently and the acceptance by the Highways Authority

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

We wish roads to be included in the provisions of this Bill. We were told that the Bill had to be a particular size, so will the Minister say that there was no room and that the Government will return to the issue at a later, albeit not-too-distant date?

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I am sure that the Committee will be delighted to know that it is my birthday on 31 March.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I should be protected from such scandalous assertions, Mr. Hurst.

Importantly, 31 March will also be the third anniversary of the Government's road safety strategy

announcement. Although I join others in congratulating the present and previous Governments on several measures that they have taken on road safety, which have led to a continuing reduction in the number deaths and serious injuries on our roads, it is clear to me, and I suspect to everyone in Committee, that more needs to be done. Many people expected, during the three years since the launch of the Government's strategy, to see road safety legislation introduced. The Bill provides the opportunity for that to be done; if it does not happen, I hope that we will hear from the Minister, perhaps in response to subsequent amendments, further details of the Government's thinking on future activities to improve the situation on our roads.

This country deserves some congratulation for having the best overall road safety figures in Europe, although there are worrying aspects, particularly in respect of young people. I am prepared to pay tribute where it is due, but more action is needed.

We need remember only two statistics when we talk about why it is important to draw attention to the need for additional road safety measures: since the Government came to power, approximately 151 people have died on our railways; in the same period, 17,000 have died on our roads. The difference between those figures is enormous. We have spent a great deal of time debating measures to improve safety on our railways—rightly so—but given that huge discrepancy, it strikes me that the hon. Member for Vale of York is absolutely right, as was the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale on Second Reading, to raise road safety. The Liberal Democrats therefore join them in saying that we need an opportunity to discuss that subject.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Until your timely intervention, Mr. Hurst, there was a danger that the debate would begin to cover matters that appear in later parts of the Bill. The reason why railways are referred to in the Bill's title is because the Bill includes rail measures that do not affect safety. For example, clause 14 establishes the Office of Rail Regulation. I am sure that the hon. Member for Vale of York accepts that to agree to her amendment to change the title, bearing in mind that the Bill includes no provisions for roads, would not be proper. She must accept that even if we were to accept some later amendments, the term ''transport safety'' adequately covers roads, maritime and aviation.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I am not trying to be difficult, but the Under-Secretary has just told the Committee that there are no matters related to road safety in the Bill. He may be optimistic that amendments from our Benches will be unsuccessful—I hope that he is not—but I draw his attention to his new clause 25, which relates to the wearing of seat belts in vehicles on roads.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The term ''transport safety'' is the catch-all. We are talking about the short title, not a title that is rather less short than it was before. The Government are committed to road safety. The fact that it does not greatly feature in the Bill—notwithstanding votes that we may have on later deliberations—does not undermine that commitment.

The hon. Member for Vale of York mentioned icy roads. Serious consideration is being given to such issues, but we did not think that it was appropriate to raise them in the context of the Bill. It is my belief that the current short title is more than adequate to cover issues that we have already deliberated on and issues that we will deliberate on, whether or not the Committee accepts them.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:45 am, 11th March 2003

I heard what the Under-Secretary said. I am grateful for, indeed I am almost embarrassed by, the support from the hon. Member for Bath. The Under-Secretary has had opportunities to consider such issues in the past, most recently during consideration of the Road Transport Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), which received its Second Reading on 9 February 2001. These provisions were considered some two years ago.

The Under-Secretary went on to say that there are no road safety provisions in this Bill and that the Government felt that it was more appropriate to introduce them in a separate Bill on a separate occasion. He refrained from giving us a date for when that would be. I point out that the Road Traffic Acts underlie so many provisions of this Bill. Many considerations relating to the Road Transport Bill and subsequent case law underlie many major parts of this Bill, especially relating to the testing of aviation and shipping personnel for alcohol and drugs.

I referred to the figures. The statistic given by the hon. Member for Bath reinforced the statistics that I gave. I mentioned one provision of the private Member's Bill that had its Second Reading on 9 February 2001. Regrettably, there is still no legal obligation on highway authorities in England and Wales to clear the highways of snow and ice. Further clauses of that Bill could equally be dealt with in the context of this Bill. One example is a review of speed limits and the areas where speed limits apply, as drivers currently tend to ignore inappropriate speed limits. We have tabled a new clause to deal with that. In order to be consequential on the new clauses that we hope the Committee will be minded to accept, we need the legal basis in the title. My understanding is that if the title does not embrace those issues they cannot subsequently be raised. This is the appropriate time to amend that legal base.

There is a more controversial issue on which the Government have recently consulted. In the normal sequence of events, after a Government consultation, a draft Bill is brought forward. As we have seen, the Government are minded to create new offences, as with the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire, where a new road traffic offence of driving while operating a hand-held mobile telephone was created. That is deeply controversial in itself.

That Bill also sought to amend the law concerning the wearing of seat belts. That feature could presumably be considered within the context of this Bill, if we were to agree our little amendment to the title. It is only a teensy-weensy innocent amendment. I

am sure that the Under-Secretary would, in the spirit of friendship and companionship and before our little holiday outing in the summer, be minded to accept it.

The Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire sought to amend the Transport Act 2000 in relation to mandatory travel concessions for the elderly and disabled.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, Westbury

On the subject of North Wiltshire, does my hon. Friend not agree that speed is always somebody else's problem and that it does not help when a Cabinet Minister is clocked doing 99 miles an hour in Wiltshire?

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

Indeed. I hesitate to say,

''there but for the grace of God''.

I do not think that my vehicle is capable of reaching such a speed. I sympathise with the point that my hon. Friend made, but I also sympathise with the Solicitor-General.

On the point about mandatory travel concessions for the elderly and disabled, within this Bill we have amended certain parts of the Greater London Authority Act 1999. I hope that we can seek to amend other provisions.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The hon. Lady is making a raft of points about different issues that could be raised on road safety. Notwithstanding that, had she tabled amendments on ice on roads or some of the other issues that she mentioned, does she agree that they would still have been within the scope of the Bill? The Bill's title mentions ''Transport Safety''. The long title sets out the scope of the Bill. Had she chosen to table any of those amendments, they would have been within the scope of the Bill.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

There is yet time. When the Bill leaves the Committee, we will obviously have the remaining stages. We would seek to consider other aspects. Perhaps I am being a little pedantic and legalistic, but my understanding is that, in order to be orderly, the legal basis of the Bill must be amended through the title. I would have thought, and I think that the hon. Member for Bath agrees with me, that that particular aspect needed to be amended. The case is well made.

Several Bill Committees have considered that in order for certain aspects to be admitted to the Bill, the short title must be amended. I would have sought to amend the short title, but I do not think that it would have been in order. I would have had the debate at the beginning of our deliberations. We deem the issue to be of great importance. If the Under-Secretary is not minded to support us, it is something to which we wish to return, painful as it is not to enjoy his support on this occasion. At this stage, however, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendment proposed thereto, forthwith put the

Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 69, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question agreed to.

Clause 110 order to stand part of the Bill.