Clause 36 - Driving tests

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:15 pm on 28th March 2006.

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Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport 6:15 pm, 28th March 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 6, in clause 36, page 44, line 26, after ‘tests”,’ insert—

‘(aa)in paragraph (b), after “conducted” insert “, conditions which must be satisfied during the currency of an appointment, the charging of reasonable fees in respect of applications for appointment or appointments or in connection with any examination or assessment which may be required before appointment or during the currency of any appointment”,’.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendments Nos. 7 and 8.

Amendment No. 103, in schedule 5, page 108, leave out lines 30 and 31.

Government amendments Nos. 9 and 10.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

Section 89 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, “Tests of competence to drive”, enables the Secretary of State to make regulations about such tests. Section 89(3)(b) provides for those regulations to cover the qualifications, selection and appointment of persons to conduct driving tests. That provision is used to enable employees of certain organisations, such as the Ministry of Defence, the police, fire brigades and some bus companies, to conduct driving tests on behalf of the Secretary of State as delegated examiners.

In the modern environment we need flexibility as to the training that a person may need to undertake to become, and remain, approved as a delegated examiner. For example, as delegated examiners need to maintain and develop their expertise following their initial appointment, we would want to discuss with them the introduction of continuing professional development. Thus amendment No. 6 would amend section 89(3)(b) to make the scope of the regulation-making powers more explicit. It would also permit the Secretary of State to charge reasonable fees in connection with the initial, and continuing, approval of delegated examiners. That links with clause 36(5). The combined effect of the provisions is to create an environment in which we can move away from the existing arrangements for recovering the costs  incurred by the Driving Standards Agency and the appointment and subsequent quality assurance of delegated examiners.

The DSA currently charges delegated examiners for the supply of the test result certificates that they issue for the driving tests they conduct. Those charges are intended to cover the costs that the DSA incurs in respect of delegated examiners. This is an unsophisticated and blunt recovery mechanism, as the agency’s costs are not directly related to the number of tests conducted by an individual examiner. It is therefore inequitable and at odds with the “user pays” principle. Amendment No. 7 is a consequential amendment, arising from amendment No. 6.

Clause 40 and schedule 5 are on driving instruction. Paragraph 14 of schedule 5 introduces proposed new section 132 examinations. That proposed new section is to the Road Traffic Act 1988, and it permits the Secretary of State to make regulations providing more modern and flexible arrangements in respect of

“examinations of the ability and fitness (or continued ability and fitness) to give driving instruction”,

including

“the qualification, selection and appointment of persons” who may conduct such tests. Proposed new section 132(1)(b) generally replicates for persons conducting driving instruction tests the provisions in section 89(3)(b) of the Act in respect of persons conducting licence-acquisition driving tests.

Amendment No. 8 makes more explicit the scope of the proposed new section 132 regulation-making powers. It also extends the provision by permitting the Secretary of State to charge reasonable fees in connection with the initial and continuing approval of persons who may conduct driving instruction examinations. The effect of amendment No. 8 is to extend to that class of examiners many of the provisions contained in amendment No. 6 that apply to persons conducting licence-acquisition driving tests.

Amendment No. 9 creates an offence where a person with intent to deceive forges a document evidencing the passing of a driving instruction examination, or part of an examination, required by regulations under proposed new section 132. Amendment No. 10 creates an offence where a person knowingly makes a false statement for the purpose of obtaining a document evidencing the passing of a driving instruction examination, or part of an examination, required by regulations under proposed new section 132. Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are prudent measures to discourage those who might otherwise consider abusing the driving instructor examination arrangements.

I am sure that the Committee is now far wiser about what each of the amendments is intended to do.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I thank the Minister for making such rapid progress. I am sure that the Committee is wiser—although it may not be so at this precise moment. It is my understanding that the Government  are taking powers to ensure the continuing competence of driving examiners. On that basis, we are happy to support the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 7, in clause 36, page 44, line 27, leave out “paragraph (b)” and insert “that paragraph”.—[Dr. Ladyman.]

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 82, in clause 36, page 44, line 29, after “surrender”, insert

‘in the presence of a police constable,’.

This is a probing amendment that would require a police constable to be present when a driving licence is surrendered. I understand that under the current law a licence can only be surrendered directly to a constable, and I would like the Minister to explain a little more clearly the prescribed circumstances in which a licence would be surrendered. Is it appropriate that an official should be responsible for removing the licence? Even though it might be counterfeit, the person with it might become obstructive or difficult, and might even get violent.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport 6:30 pm, 28th March 2006

The reason why we need to change the law in the way that we propose is, quite simply, that the current arrangements do not work. Where a driving examiner identifies a suspect licence, they contact the police. Unfortunately, even with the best will in the world, the police cannot always respond before the individual has left the test centre. Sometimes, they do not regard it as their highest priority to attend the test centre immediately, and the individual will simply disappear with the suspect licence. We hope to help crack down on fraud by giving the examiner the power to remove the licence in such circumstances. Of course, if the licence turns out not to be suspect, the matter would be rectified. However, it is not proving practical to require a police constable to be present all the time, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That was a helpful explanation. We actually proposed that the constable should be present when the licence was confiscated, but I understand what the Minister is getting at. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 83, in clause 36, page 45, line 3, at end insert—

‘(e)after paragraph (c) insert—

“(d)for tests of competence to drive—

(i)to include questions designed to ensure that a person submitting himself for a test has a sufficient level of understanding of and competence in appropriate first aid skills; and

(ii)to require such a person to satisfy the person conducting that test that he has a sufficient level of understanding and competence in appropriate first aid skills.”.’.

On Second Reading, we discussed the role of first aid in the driving test, and the Opposition feel strongly about the issue. We support making two simple changes to the theory section of the test to increase the amount of first aid in the question and answer test and to introduce an element of first aid into the hazard perception test.

The background to the issue is simple. On average, as we noted on Second Reading, nine people are killed on the roads each day, and many thousands are injured each year. The vital point, however, is that half of all deaths in road traffic accidents occur before the emergency services arrive. That emphasises the potential for those at the scene to make a real difference. In all cases involving life-threatening conditions, the first 10 minutes are the most crucial if a life is to be saved. Ordinary members of the public who are at the scene might be able to do a few simple things to save a life and they should know what those are so that they can make that intervention.

On Second Reading, I referred to research carried out by Hussain and Redmond in 1994 on whether pre-hospital deaths from accidents were preventable. Their findings, which were published in the British Medical Journal, were astonishing. Some of the injuries in a road traffic are so horrific that the likelihood of survival is very slight. However, the research found that of the significant proportion of cases in which accident victims could have survived, up to 85 per cent. involved simple factors, such as a blocked airway—the lives of those involved could have been saved had the people present at the scene known how to unblock an airway.

That is a key point. A driver who has been involved in an accident might be unconscious and slumped over the steering wheel. They might have no serious injuries, but their head might be bent forward and their airway might be blocked. If it is lucky, the ambulance might arrive in eight minutes, although, as we discussed on other amendments this morning, it could be up to 20 minutes in the country. However, the driver’s luck might have run out, because it takes less than four minutes for a blocked airway to kill. If a bystander or someone involved in the incident could step forward, however, and do something as simple as tilting the driver’s head backwards, that would unblock the driver’s airway and allow them to stay alive until an ambulance arrived.

The Hussain and Redmond research concluded:

“Training in first aid should be available more widely, and particularly to motorists as many prehospital deaths that could be prevented are due to road accidents”.

Other common problems following road traffic accidents might include severe bleeding and unconsciousness. In both cases, the remedies can be extremely simple: with bleeding, the remedy is applying pressure to a wound and elevating it; and with an unconscious person who is breathing, the remedy is turning them on their side to ensure that they do not choke on their tongue or vomit.

The amendment does not expect new drivers to become paramedics overnight. We are talking about rudimentary first aid skills, which are easy to learn and easy to recall and which would simply give the  motorist the power to recognise what the problem might be. The amendment is focused on new drivers for a very good reason: drivers under the age of 29 make up more than a third of those involved in accidents; and drivers between 17 and 20 are six times more likely to be involved in a collision that causes injury than a driver aged 40. The driving test is an ideal time to learn the basic skill of first aid.

The issue of liability may be raised by the Minister. That was discussed in another place. The amendment does not place any obligation on drivers to perform first aid. If there is an accident and a driver does not feel comfortable intervening, there is no requirement to do so. However, it is highly unlikely that a successful claim could be made against a member of the public for trying to help an injured person. By giving first aid to a person, one owes a duty of care to carry out that first aid in accordance with one’s knowledge, training and experience. It is worth reflecting on the fact that there is no case law to support the notion that lay people can be sued for trying to be a good samaritan and trying to save someone’s life.

There are increasing calls from organisations such as the British Red Cross and St. John Ambulance for bystanders to do something rather than nothing. That has been given added impetus by the latest scientific findings on the value of bystanders taking prompt action, rather than dithering, trying to remember details about precise technique or doing nothing. For example, the latest guidelines from the European Resuscitation Council in 2005 state:

“It follows that outcomes could be improved if bystanders who would otherwise do nothing, were encouraged to begin resuscitation”.

The case for increasing the level of rudimentary first aid knowledge among new drivers is overwhelming. That happens in other countries. Let us take Slovenia, where a first aid course has to be taken and a certificate produced in order to gain a licence. In Slovakia, one is required to attend lectures from a doctor on first aid issues and to have both theory and practical tests.

Our amendment goes nothing like as far as that; it is much more modest. As the Minister mentioned on Second Reading, the theory section of the driving test already contains an element of first aid. New drivers are likely to get one question on first aid or accident management. However, that is hardly a great motivation for learner drivers to take the issue of first aid seriously.

The Minister also mentioned that the Driving Standards Agency has been working with the British Red Cross to try to find practical solutions. In another place, Lord Davies referred to those discussions:

“We thought that its case had been made and that we would need to extend questions in the theory part of the driving test to include more on first aid”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 November 2005; Vol. 675, c. 1609.]

We strongly support an increase in questions on first aid in the theory test. We also think that there is a strong case for introducing a first aid scenario into the hazard perception test—the interactive, computer-based part of the theory test.

We heard that the Minister was in Brussels yesterday. I understand that the Government are already working on first aid education and testing for commercial drivers through EU directive 2003/59/EC. The directive, which will be implemented by 2008, requires commercial drivers to gain a certificate of professional competence, which includes a mandatory section on assessing emergency situations, assisting casualties and giving first aid. I think that the Government are considering using interactive technology to test first aid competence in that case.

If such skills are clearly acknowledged to be valuable for the drivers of buses and lorries, surely extending first aid education to all new drivers would be better and would improve safety on Britain’s roads. That sums it up. We believe that more questions on basic first aid in the theory test and a scene on first aid in the hazard perception test would encourage new drivers to learn basic life-saving skills. The amendment would strengthen those elements in the driving test.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris PPS (Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State), Department of Health

I support the spirit of the amendment. I welcome the hon. Member for North Shropshire and his right hon. and hon. Friends to the politics of the nanny state. Is that a new departure for the new model Conservative party—supporting such Government intrusion into private lives? It should be welcomed.

Obviously, the Government must look for opportunities to encourage individuals to embark on first aid courses, and to increase their understanding of, and ability to perform, first aid. I support wholeheartedly the campaign on that by the British Red Cross and the work that it does with St. John Ambulance. I am grateful to the Red Cross for supplying information for the debate today, as I am sure is the hon. Member for North Shropshire, who clearly has the same briefing paper.

I sat and passed my test in 1982 and so I have never taken the theory test. I have limited knowledge therefore about how the theory paper works. However, it would seem to be eminently sensible to increase the likelihood that someone taking the test will have a first aid question put to them, although I am not sure how the logistics of that would work. We should be pushing at an open door. After all, this is the Road Safety Bill, and if now is not the appropriate time to talk about increasing individuals’ first aid expertise, I am not sure when would be.

On Second Reading, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire mentioned that because he had passed his test some time a go, it was reasonable to assume that had he been coached in and tested on first aid techniques, he would, by now, have forgotten most of them. That is a valid point, but it is also valid to expect that the vast majority of people, having learned some of the rudimentary first aid skills at an early age, would hang on to most of those throughout their lives, even if they lost some of the more detailed ones.

Of course, if we passed the amendment, only vastly younger drivers taking the test for the first time would be affected. It would be hoped that, over the years, as more and more people took the new test, the skill level and the proportion of the driving population with an understanding of such skills would increase.

I understand that the Minister might resist the amendment, or ask the Committee to reject it. The wording of the amendment might be one of the reasons for that. From a legal point of view—not for the first time in Committee, I shall boast of the fact that I am not a lawyer—I am not sure that “sufficient level of understanding” has any meaning. An “appropriate level of understanding” might have been a better use of words, but it is of course up to the Minister to decide whether that is an ambiguous phrase.

The Driving Standards Agency is to review the test. Even if we do not put in the Bill the form of words suggested by the hon. Member for North Shropshire, we have an ideal opportunity to look again at the test and to highlight the importance of first aid. Occasionally, people taking the test have to answer a first aid question, but we have an opportunity to say to future candidates that there definitely will be, for example, at least four questions on first aid. That would encourage people to learn basic first aid, and I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to assure us that he will at least consider making what would be a small but important change to the future driving test.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

My hon. Friend is right; I will encourage the Committee to reject the amendment. That is not because I do not have sympathy for it. The Government support strongly the raising of the level of first aid proficiency in the population, but if the objective is to ensure that the population of the country is better informed about first aid, the driving test is not the appropriate place to force it on them. By all means let us campaign to include first aid in the national curriculum. By all means let us make courses widely available for people who wish to attend. But let us not try to tag it on to a test that tests only people’s competence to drive without causing accidents.

That is not to say that the subject should have no part in the test. It should, which is why we include a substantial number of questions relating to first aid and accident management in the question bank from which questions are drawn for the theory test. It is therefore likely that those taking the test will have questions on first aid and accident management. Anybody who is swotting for the test must assume that they can reasonably expect to be asked such questions, and must therefore have learned the basics of first aid and accident management.

We are already doing quite a bit to encourage people to be aware of what they can do in an accident situation. However, making a golden question out of first aid is a disproportionate response, because it will test people on something completely divorced from their driving skills. That will have an impact on their ability to get a driving licence, when the failure rate for driving tests is already significant. The pass rate is only 43 per cent. Failure affects people’s employment and their quality of life.

The rigid provisions in amendment No. 83, with which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris) has sympathy, are not appropriate. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept the assurance that that does not mean that we cannot do anything. DfT officials have had meetings with the British Red Cross and St. John Ambulance to discuss the possibility of increasing the number of questions in the test and other ways that we might reform it to ensure that people have more experience of first aid matters.

I have even made an offer to those organisations. We are prepared to consider the cost of distributing an interactive DVD on first aid and accident management in the learning materials that we routinely sell through bookshops and stationers. People use those learning materials to swot for the hazard perception test and the theory test. A pack of interactive DVDs for those tests retails at around £8. If it will not substantially increase the cost of that pack to include an equivalent interactive DVD on first aid, I am prepared to consider it. I am not making any commitment, but I am prepared to consider it and any other ideas that St. John Ambulance and the British Red Cross might come up with. However, I am not prepared to make it an absolutely rigid requirement that people should be tested on something that is essentially ancillary to their driving skills. I hope that after those assurances, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:45 pm, 28th March 2006

I am disappointed by the Minister’s response. My point was that the most basic, elementary knowledge of first aid can save lives—I mentioned the four minutes.

In the light of the comments made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, South, I think that there might be support in the House for my amendment. I am happy to acknowledge my total indebtedness to the Red Cross and St. John Ambulance for their briefing and background information. I should like to discuss it further with them and return to the subject on Report. For the time being, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 36, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.