HC Deb 14 March 1988 vol 129 cc842-4
Mr. Boyes

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what new proposals he has to increase safety standards in transport during the next year; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

We keep transport safety standards under regular review and shall continue to develop proposals whenever the need arises.

Mr. Boyes

Will the Minister acknowledge that the interdepartmental committee on road safety has attempted to produce a comprehensive and objective report of road safety matters? Nevertheless, it fails to acknowledge a proven range of counter measures against drink driving, and that omission has marred the credibility of the full report. Is the fact that drink driving measures, particularly random breath testing, have been ignored, another example of the Government behaving in an ostrich-like way with their head in the sand over this vital matter?

Mr. Bottomley

No. I welcome the sustained interest of the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) and the House in drink driving. There may be an opportunity for some hon. Members to listen to an Adjournment debate this evening on the subject. In simple terms, I am surprised that anyone should accuse the Department or the Government of being soft in the action against drinking and driving.

Mr. Higgins

Given the appalling number of accidents to motor cyclists and the fact that every other form of commercial operation requires the driver of a vehicle to be fully qualified, would my hon. Friend be sympathetic to a private Member's Bill which prohibited motor cycle couriers from employing learner drivers who have passed no test at all?

Mr. Bottomley

I am not sure that I have the authority to prejudge that suggestion. I make the point made by the Highway Code, that the dangers to motor cyclists often come from other road users. I would welcome further attention both to our training and testing proposals for motor cyclists and to those for leg protection, which I am sure will come. I also hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pays little attention to the petition with 250,000 signatures asking for me to be removed. I fear that I may be condemned to stay in transport for four years.

Mrs. Ray Mitchie

Given the problems in increasing the scope of driving tests—for example, it is difficult for all drivers to have experience of motorways, as many would have to travel hundreds of miles to find a motorway—will the Minister consider introducing a probationary year after the driver has taken the test?

Mr. Bottomley

Perhaps it would be better if I wrote to the hon. Lady and put a copy of the reply in the Library. It would take too long to give the answer now.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my hon. Friend accept that most of us agree that there is no need for random breath tests, because the police have enough powers already? Does he also agree, however, that many of us who are with him on that issue are rather disturbed at the idea of carrying out tests on drivers who will then escape prosecution? We all know already that drinking and driving is dangerous. Why should there be any need to go in for more tests, when we all know the results before we start?

Mr. Bottomley

What we do not know is how far we are succeeding in cutting out drinking and driving. In the 350,000 tests administered by the police, every one of 120,000 who fail—one in three—will be considered for prosecution. We are proposing to add 2,500 tests carried out by researchers, not by the police, which will give us a baseline to see how effective the advice "Don't drink and drive" will be.

Mr. Robert Hughes

On this first transport Question Time since the anniversary of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster, will the Minister and his hon. Friends turn their attention to ferry safety and to dangerous working practices?

Is the Minister aware that attempts are being made to bring in 24-hour shift working, with only two breaks of two to three hours, and four return trips a day? Does he accept that that is dangerous? Will he use his powers, or will the Secretary of State use his, to prevent such dangerous practices from being imposed? Given its background, P and O ought to have more shame than to try to impose them.

Mr. Bottomley

It is normally accepted that the House should not become involved in negotiations. It is plain that any working practices must meet the statutory requirements.