HC Deb 24 May 1982 vol 24 cc671-4 'The following section shall be substituted for section 37 of the 1972 Act

"The Highway Code.

37.—(1) The Highway Code shall continue to have effect, subject however to revision in accordance with the following provisions of this section.

(2) Subject to the following provisons of this section, the Secretary of State may from time to time revise the Highway Code by revoking, varying, amending or adding to the provisions of the Code in such manner as he thinks fit.

(3)Where the Secretary of State proposes to revise the Highway Code by making any alterations in the provisions of the Code, other than alterations merely consequential on changes in statutory provisions on which any provision of the Code is based or to which any such provision refers, he shall lay the proposed alterations before both Houses of Parliament and shall not make the proposed revision until after the end of a period of forty days beginning with the day on which the alterations were so laid.

(4)If within the period mentioned in subsection (3) above either House resolves that the proposed alterations be not made, the Secretary of State shall not make the proposed revision (but without prejudice to the laying before Parliament of further proposals for alteration in accordance with that subsection).

(5)Before revising the Highway Code by making any alterations in its provisions which are required by subsection (3) above to be laid before Parliament, the Secretary of State shall consult with such representative organisations as he thinks fit.

(6)The Secretary of State shall cause the Highway Code to be printed and may cause copies of it to be sold to the public at such price as he may determine.

(7)A failure on the part of a person to observe a provision of the Highway Code shall not of itself render that person liable to criminal proceedings of any kind but any such failure may in any proceedings (whether civil or criminal, and including proceedings for an offence under this Act, the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 or the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981) be relied upon by any party to the proceedings as tending to establish or to negative any liability which is in question in those proceedings.

(8) In this section 'the Highway Code' means the code comprising directions for the guidance of persons using roads issued under section 45 of the Road Traffic Act 1930, as from time to time revised under this section or under any previous enactment.

(9) For the purposes of subsection (3) above—

  1. (a)"statutory provision" means a provision contained in an act or in subordinate legislation within the meaning of the Interpretation Act 1978;
  2. (b)where the proposed alterations are laid before each House of Parliament on different days, the later day shall be taken to be the day on which they were laid before both Houses; and
  3. (c)in reckoning any period of forty days, no account shall be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which both Houses are adjourned for more than four days.".'.—[Mrs. Chalker.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

5 pm

Mrs. Chalker

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take Government amendment No. 83.

Mrs. Chalker

In Committee I said that two amendments tabled by the Opposition relating to the Highway Code procedures were acceptable in principle. Their intention was to find a more efficient means of reviewing the code which still allowed for changes to be fully debated. I think that all members of the Committee agreed that the procedures had become far too lengthy. On the one hand, making a revised Highway Code subject to negative resolution in Parliament, rather than the affirmative procedure as at present, would undoubtedly simplify and expedite future revisions of the code. On the other hand, a requirement about consultation before any changes were laid before Parliament is not unreasonable, even though it would simply enshrine in law what has already become standard practice.

We felt that we could improve on the wording and at the same time bring forward a further amendment which would permit the code to be changed in the intervening years, between full-scale revisions, for the purpose of reflecting changes in the law. When the last revision of the code was issued in 1978, about nine years had elapsed since the previous one, and before that the gap had been 10 years.

An interval of that order is not unrealistic for a code that is made up largely of common-sense advice which does not need constant attention. However, it is unfortunate, as things stand, that significant changes in the law often have to wait longer than we would like before there is an opportunity to reflect them in the text of the Highway Code. We have to have an affirmative resolution.

Subsection (3) aims to overcome that difficulty. I stress that, under our proposals, the bulk of the text of the code, which consists of common-sense advice on road user behaviour, would remain subject to parliamentary consideration. I hope that this move, which is in line with the conclusion that the Committee reached, but did not vote on, will make it easier to have a Highway Code which is up to date and avoid the long gaps which have elapsed between the updating of the code on previous occasions. I hope that the House will welcome new clause 3 and the associated amendment.

Mr. Roger Stott (Westhoughton)

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I thank the Minister for tabling the new clause, which is wholly in line with the debates that we had in Committee on this issue.

The House had a preliminary debate on the issue last year in respect of part of the Transport Act 1981, which contained road traffic regulations. My noble Friend Lord Underhill raised the matter in the House of Lords, because at that stage we had received no satisfactory reply from the hon. Lady's predecessor. The Government said in another place that they intended to bring forward regulations to meet some of the more important demands made in the House about revisions of the Highway Code.

Almost a year to the day, we have gone nearly full circle, and the Minister has now accepted the demands made by the Committee and the House about the Highway Code. The hon. Lady said that the Highway Code was last published in 1968, with a minor revision in 1978. It seems ludicrous that we have to proceed in this way, particularly when innovations such as the zig-zag lines at pedestrian crossings did not appear in print until 1976. They affect all road users, but they were not fully explained in the code.

This provision is widely welcomed by my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself, and I am sure that it will be welcomed, too, by Conservative Members who were members of the Standing Committee, which discussed in detail the revisions of the Highway Code and the way in which we should proceed. I am convinced that this will have the support of the motoring organisations, because it is something that they have wanted for many years. It is a sensible provision, and I thank the hon. Lady for having listened to what we said in this connection.

Mr. Sheerman

This spirit of unanimity in the Chamber cannot go on for ever, but let us enjoy it for a little longer.

As a member of the Committee, I, too, welcome this sensible new clause 3. It facilitates a change to the Highway Code's format and to items within it. In the past 18 months there have been profound changes in highway safety. As one who is active in this connection, I hope that that will continue. However, I hope that the Highway Code will not change so much that it loses all continuity. As the hon. Lady will know, many of us eagerly await the implementation of the legislation on seat belts, which involves the introduction of the exemptions. That change will be much more readily put into the Highway Code under these proposed arrangements. The method in the past was somewhat cumbersome.

I suspect that there will be some resistance. I have visited Swansea, and I suspect that the physical act of changing the code and getting rid of the hundreds of thousands of stock-piled Highway Codes before the new ones are introduced will be a formidable task, but I am sure that the Minister will be able to deal with that. This measure contains the innovations that we want. I have a pragmatic approach to safety, and I therefore welcome the flexibility that the new clause contains. I join my right hon. and hon. Friends in welcoming this change.

Mrs. Chalker

I am grateful to the hon. Members for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) and for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman) for the welcome that they have given to the new clause. I do not believe that there will be any difficulty in producing the new updated Highway Code, with the changes in printing methods and so on that are coming along. If there are any difficulties in Swansea, the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East knows that I shall be the first to be on to the people there to try to alleviate the difficulties.

The hon. Gentleman was right in the example that he gave of the changes that the House has passed on seat belts. They are now advisory, and, depending on the outcome of our debate on the regulations in that respect, should become mandatory before long, in line with the decision of both Houses. That change will be put into the Highway Code. At present, it simply refers to the advisory situation.

This is a worthwhile change, and I am grateful for the continued pressure from both sides of the House to find a better way of keeping our Highway Code up to date.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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