'The Road Traffic Act 1988 (c.52) is further amended, by inserting after section 80 (approval marks)
''80A Retro-reflective markings
The Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument require the fitting of retro-reflective tape complying with ECE 104 to international category vehicles N2 and N3 and on goods trailers under the international classification 03 and 04 newly registered in the UK''.'.—[John Thurso.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The new clause seeks to make provision for retro-reflective markings in primary legislation. I should declare an interest, in that I am patron of an organisation called Reflect, which brought the matter to my attention. International standard ECE 104 requires that retro-reflective tape—tape that can be seen from the side of, and from behind, the vehicle—is fitted to heavy goods vehicles, as it makes them easier to see and therefore less likely to be involved in an accident.
I understand that it is possible through existing secondary legislation to make such tape a requirement. I tabled a new clause because I believe that there is some resistance in the Government to doing that. The view is that Europe should adopt ECE 104 and that it is not appropriate for the United Kingdom to act unilaterally. However, one EU country, Italy, has already implemented the legislation and has not been subject to any action by the Commission. If Italy can do it, we can do it.
It has been said that not all vehicles can be fitted with the tape, but the number of those that cannot is minuscule. I am sure that regulations could be made in such a way that that could be dealt with. Obviously, the Government's position is that ECE 104 should be made mandatory throughout Europe—certainly that would be the best way forward—but I do not understand why we should wait for that to happen before we implement it.
For members of the Committee who are interested in the full details, there was an excellent debate in Westminster Hall. The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) powerfully set out the case in a debate on 30 March 2004, at column 381WH of Hansard. Because of the time limit, I shall not go into detail, other than to ask Members to bear it in mind that HGVs represent approximately 1.4 per cent. of the traffic on our roads, yet are involved in 15.5 per cent. of accidents. It is interesting to note that the occupants of HGVs represent 8 per cent. of the total casualties on our roads, whereas occupants of vehicles that collide with HGVs account for 26 per cent. Clearly, the danger is to those who fail to see and who collide with an HGV, rather than those who are in the HGV.
Since the matter was first discussed in 1998, when a cost-benefit analysis was done, there has been considerable movement. Loughborough is examining the evidence. I understand that the time required to fit the tape is now 90 minutes, not four hours, as was stated in 1998. That brings the cost down, and the cost of the tape itself has come down.
I was trying to paraphrase to keep the discussion short. The Department has commissioned Loughborough university to update a cost-benefit analysis of making ECE 104 mandatory. Furthermore, publication of that analysis is expected in February 2005. However, we know that the cost of the tape has gone down, as has the time taken to put the tape on, while the estimated cost of road deaths has gone up, so the cost-benefit ratio is clearly improving. There is a strong case for ECE 104 becoming mandatory. It is a simple, relatively cheap measure that would save some lives on our roads. I commend it to the Government and hope that the Minister will consider it sympathetically.
I fully understand and share the hon. Gentleman's interest in the use of retro-reflective tape. I note that he read the account of the Adjournment debate in which I responded to the right hon. Member for Bracknell. On the new clause, however, my bewigged lawyers inform me that we do not need primary legislation to make the alteration, but only a statutory instrument to amend section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.
Earlier research conducted on behalf of the Department showed the potential for the wider fitment of reflective tape to reduce accidents by increasing conspicuity. It also highlighted the disproportionate cost. That work is now several years old, and the Department is reviewing the benefits and costs of mandating the use of that material on goods vehicles, trailers and large passenger-carrying vehicles. The research project is nearing completion and the results will be made public, in accordance with our commitment to open government. It would be unwise to do anything where the benefits were outweighed by the costs of introduction, so we will await the results of the report.
For completeness, as the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire asked who in Loughborough examined the evidence, I note that it was the university's ergonomics and safety research institute. Its new buildings were opened recently by my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed), carrying out excellent constituency work.
I should mention that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) is also a patron of Reflect. I am sympathetic to that the new clause. It clearly would be sensible if this were a mandatory EU-level requirement, because the lorries travel across the continent. Are our Government pursuing that matter in any negotiation? Would it be sensible to introduce the measure in two stages, with brand-new vehicles having to have them fitted before they could be on the road, which would reduce the costs further?
Yes, there would be great sense in that. I understand that the matter has not been subject to wider discussion in the European context, but it would seem sensible to move to unanimity in Europe if we decide that the measure is good for the UK, as there are large numbers of foreign vehicles on our roads. I am deeply sympathetic to the proposal, but I want to see the research, which will be ready shortly. Should we decide, on the basis of that research, that this is the way forward, we can lay a statutory instrument before the House, which would involve a much simpler process. I want the Committee to wait for that report, and I ask it to resist the new clause.