HC Deb 13 April 1989 vol 150 cc1072-102

Order for Second Reading read.

4.14 pm
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Peter Bottomley)

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

Driver licensing is designed to improve safety and reduce casualties. May I quote "Another Voice": Others have lost sisters before. Every day people lose husbands, wives, parents, children and friends they have loved, whose loss reduces every perspective to dullness, misery and pain. In many cases they carry the pain around with them for the rest of their lives. At moments like this, one realises that under the surface of a polite society there is a great well of sadness and bereavement, an aspect of the human condition which is as inescapable as it is seldom remarked, yet looming larger in many people's lives than any of the things they pretend to think important. The only excuse for allowing my own howl of anguish to he heard is to give those as yet unbereaved a glimpse into the hellish blackness lying under the surface of their lives before they sensibly turn away and think of something else. Those words, written by Auberon Waugh, come from the Spectator of 15 February 1986.

This Bill, introduced in another place at the beginning of December, makes provision for a number of improvements in road traffic law. It should again be widely welcomed as a sensible and largely uncontroversial piece of legislation. This debate will give the House a chance to discuss broader issues of transport policy. Some were highlighted during our consideration last Friday of the Parking Bill. We welcome each opportunity to publicise the Government's sensible policies for traffic management.

The Bill is in two main parts. I shall start with the reduction of road casualties which is relevant to two proposals in part I.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has today announced provisional road casualty figures for 1988. These show a fall of 2 per cent. in deaths compared with 1987 and a 1 per cent. drop in serious injuries. To put that in a more historic context, since 1975 there has been an average reduction of deaths on our roads of 30 a week. With just over 5,000 people killed on our roads last year and over 63,000 seriously injured, that reduction is not enough.

Over 400 children under 14 were killed last year, with nearly 8,000 seriously injured. Of those aged between 15 and 59, more than 3,200 died and nearly 47,000 were seriously injured. Of those aged 60 and over, nearly 1,400 were killed and over 8,000 seriously injured.

Parents, relatives, neighbours, colleagues and friends shared the tragedy of over 68,000 loved ones lost through death on the roads or with lives wrecked by serious injury. Over a quarter of a million more people of all ages were slightly injured. More than 320,000 people suffered directly last year as a result of accidents on our roads.

In July 1987, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set the target of reducing road casualties by one third by the year 2000. Overall, deaths are now down 10 per cent. on the 1986 figure of 5,600 a year. That is encouraging when set against a 25 per cent. increase in traffic over the same period. Overall, for deaths and serious injuries, casualty rates have fallen by 20 per cent. but we still have a long way to go to meet the target in the year 2000.

Clause 6 deals with training for new motor cyclists. It will make a significant contribution. Motor cyclists are one of the most vulnerable groups of road users. Motor cyclists' casualty rates are the highest for any type of vehicle. Motorcycles and mopeds make up less than 2 per cent. of road traffic. A seventh of all deaths and a fifth of all serious injuries are to motor cyclists. In 1988 that meant that over 670 motor cyclists died and over 12,000 were seriously injured.

Lack of skill, lack of experience and inadequate defensive riding techniques are the reasons. I do not want to hide the fact that in many accidents involving motor cyclists another road vehicle is involved and the driver of that vehicle often was a contributory fault. In the past five years some 40 per cent. of all motor cyclist casualties were under 20 years of age. That means that over 100,000 families have been affected.

There is no requirement for motor cyclists to take any training at all. Learners can ride for two years on a provisional licence. If they wish to carry on riding, they must pass both parts of the motorcycle test. In practice, many riders take neither training nor tests. They simply give up riding after two years—or sooner, if they have a serious accident.

Clause 6 will make training of new motor cyclists compulsory by introducing new limitations on the condition of use of provisional motor cycle and moped licences. It will become illegal to ride on the road unless the motor cyclist has successfully completed the prescribed basic training course or is in the process of being trained.

This proposal has been widely welcomed by road safety organisations and the police, by motor cycle manufacturers and dealers, by training centres, individual motor cyclists and by motor cycling groups and their representative bodies. We are discussing the content of the new course with training groups. We shall introduce the new system as soon as possible.

Our road safety record may be the best in Europe but it is still not good enough. Accident rates are falling but not fast enough. This proposal will make one good contribution to the reduction of deaths and injuries on our roads.

Clause 2 deals with a different road safety issue. It provides that in future licences to drive any prescribed class of goods vehicle or fare-paying passenger-carrying vehicle will generally need to be renewed every five years once drivers pass 45 years of age. Drivers of more than 65 years of age will need to renew their licences annually. A medical report will be needed with each application for renewal. This change will ensure that drivers of large vehicles are subject to regular medical checks. It will reduce the risk of the driver of a lorry or a bus collapsing behind the wheel and endangering a great many lives.

The remainder of part I paves the way for a new unified driver licensing system in Great Britain.

At present, the familiar car licence is issued by the Secretary of State through the driver and vehicle licensing centre at Swansea. Licences to drive heavy goods vehicles and public service vehicles are issued through independent traffic commissioners in 11 traffic area offices. One professional driver can therefore have two or even three separate licences and is answerable to two different licensing authorities—the Secretary of State and the traffic commissioners.

Professional drivers who go abroad can face problems. Authorities in other Economic Community countries are not used to the idea of dual licensing. Virtually all other member states use a single licence showing all driving entitlement.

The Bill provides for the United Kingdom to introduce a single licence showing all driving entitlement. The Secretary of State will become the sole licensing authority. All driving licences will be issued centrally from Swansea. Professional drivers who go abroad will have the benefit of an internationally recognised licence. All drivers will benefit from a more efficient streamlined licensing system, because the DVLC's lower costs will be reflected in the fees charged for all licences.

The introduction of the new licence will enable the United Kingdom to meet its commitments under the first Council directive on driver licensing. The Economic Community initiative to harmonise driver licensing systems was fully debated by the House on Tuesday night. As I explained then, this Bill does not compromise our position on the Commission's proposal for a second directive to complete harmonisation.

In particular, this Bill enables us to maintain our opposition to the proposal that drivers of minibuses and light goods vehicles should take two tests and meet higher medical standards. I repeat that we are distinguishing here between professional drivers of minibuses with fare-paying passengers and the non-professional drivers of minibuses whose passengers do not have to pay fares.

We shall continue to press the Commission strongly on this issue. The firm support which the House expressed for the position will be helpful. The Bill is drafted on the assumption that we shall win the arguments in Brussels. If we were unsuccessful in Brussels and had to adopt any of their proposals, we should need to come back to Parliament before we could implement further changes. I am not contemplating failure.

Part II of the Bill provides for the licensing and regulation information systems. These are systems which give drivers, through special in-vehicle equipment, route guidance and warnings on traffic conditions. The best known example of a driver information system is autoguide. Some hon. Members have had an introduction to autoguide through the demonstration scheme which the Department of Transport is now running in the Westminster area. I take this opportunity of inviting other hon. Members who would like to see the demonstration to let me know. We believe that autoguide and systems like it can do much to ease congestion and speed up traffic.

Road spending has increased substantially under this Government. Provision in this financial year for motorways and trunk roads is over £1.2 billion. New roads alone will never provide the complete answer to congestion.

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

Can my hon. Friend tell the House now, or ensure that it is told in the winding-up speech, the answers to the following questions? First, in the explanatory memorandum at the beginning of the Bill, page iii, under the heading "Financial Effects of the Bill", in the second paragraph, should not the reference be to clause 10 and not clause 9? Secondly, on the subject of clause 10(8), can my hon. Friend tell the House why the Government feel it necessary to regulate the charges that may be made by a licence holder to motorists for information from a driver information system? Does this not smack of Socialism? What is wrong with a free market operating in this area?

Mr. Bottomley

I am tempted to remind my hon. Friend of the various other Bills and Acts of Parliament which have gone through recently and which seem to me to do a hit more on regulating charging by various larger bodies which do not face an enormous amount of competition. But it may be better to take his invitation to answer his questions in winding up.

Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

On the second of the two points which my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) raised, am I right in thinking that it is planned that the Government will make a choice of which system is to operate, that it would be very difficult to have competing systems operating in this country and that therefore it is inevitable that there should be some kind of regulatory regime?

Mr. Bottomley

My hon. Friend is right to say that it is not likely that two people will set up a pilot scheme in London, or a full scheme in some part of Derbyshire, for example, or on the Airedale route. I do not think that I am regarded as one of those who are most likely to want to regulate the price of these things. Perhaps it is a detailed point which, if not today, could be discussed in Committee. Perhaps we can reach a conclusion if the House gives the Bill a Second Reading today.

I was saying that new roads alone will never provide the complete answer to congestion. Scope for new roads in the middle of towns and cities—where congestion is worst—is strictly limited. New roads will not solve the problem of the lorry that overturns on the motorway and causes a 10-mile tailback.

Autoguide was conceived in the United Kingdom by the Government's transport and road research laboratory. TRRL has estimated that an autoguide system throughout London could help drivers to reduce their average journey times by about 10 per cent. and reduce mileage by about 6 per cent. The system has the potential to make even better use of existing roads and cut congestion. The success of autoguide will depend on co-operation between a number of different interests. The Government have been involved in the early development of the system and in promoting this legislation. Under clause 9, my right hon. Friend will be the licensing authority for autoguide and other driver information systems.

The future development and financing of autoguide will fall to the private sector. The success of the system depends on commercial development and marketing. It should therefore be promoted and financed by the private sector. My right hon. Friend has invited the private sector to make proposals for a large-scale autoguide pilot scheme in the London area. If the scheme were successful, the operator would have the right to upgrade it to a fully commercial system to which the public could subscribe. Proposals are due to be submitted to the Department by 21 April.

The autoguide pilot scheme will involve participation by local authority associations and the police. They will want to be sure that the system will not prejudice road safety or good traffic management. So will the Government. A special group is being set up, comprising representatives of local government, the police and the Department of Transport, to oversee the monitoring of the pilot scheme.

Autoguide involves collaboration with our European partners. There is already an Anglo-German draft standard covering an important part of the technology. Discussions with other member states are starting. An experimental autoguide-type system is already operating in West Berlin. Trade barriers within Europe are disappearing. In time, and with further successful collaboration, it may become possible to drive from London to Paris, Rome or Berlin, receiving route guidance all the way.

The fact that part II of the Bill is concerned with autoguide-type systems does not mean that we are pursuing advanced technology at the expense of other approaches. The Department of Transport is engaged in a number of initiatives to improve information to drivers. At the other end of the technology spectrum from autoguide, we are doing a major review of the statutory traffic signs regulations. We have designated 1989 the "year of the sign".

Part II of the Bill is necessary for two main purposes. An operator of autoguide—and possibly of other types of driver information system—will need powers to install roadside beacons and certain other apparatus. Much of the infrastructure will be installed by the existing public telecommunications operators—currently British Telecom and Mercury. Other parts will be installed by the operator of the system, using the new powers in clause 12.

Legislation is also necessary to ensure that the introduction of advanced driver information systems can be properly controlled. Clause 10 will enable my right hon. Friend to attach conditions to licences to operate driver information systems. A licence could, for example, provide that a particular system could direct traffic only on certain roads or classes of roads. The proposed autoguide pilot scheme will give us a good idea of what licence conditions are necessary for a commercial system.

Perhaps I could take this opportunity to spell out our policies for transport in London. It is our policy to improve the quality and capacity of rail and underground links into and around central London. It is our policy to secure more reliable bus services which are better matched to the needs of customers. It is our policy to make the best possible use of existing roads, through good traffic management, support for enforcement of parking controls and the use of advanced technology such as autoguide and like systems, now being extended to most of outer London, which give buses priority at traffic lights. It is our policy to provide through traffic with good alternative routes around London. It is our policy to build new roads to relieve the very worst congestion black spots and to provide for better orbital movement and better access to poorly served and developing areas.

It is equally important to state what are not our policies. It is not our policy to drive new motorways through London. It is not our policy to build any new roads unless they can be justified within the normal planning procedures which provide for consultation with local residents and others. It is not our policy to pander to those who wish to commute to central London by car in traffic jams when they could get to work more easily and safely by rail. It is not our policy to write a detailed master plan which would be out of date before the ink was dry.

The more vociferous commentators and pressure groups should take note of these policies. In particular, groups such as the Association of London Authorities should stop misleading people with visions of a new motorway box being cut through leafy suburbs. That is emphatically not our policy.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

The Government must be sensitive about that.

Mr. Bottomley

It is not just a question of being sensitive.

Mr. Prescott

They have to be sensitive on that one.

Mr. Bottomley

If the hon. Gentleman would listen with his ears rather than with his mouth, he might hear what I am saying. Radio stations such as LBC, which cannot distinguish between motorways and other roads, needs to listen clearly because its listeners are interested, and I suspect that many others in London are interested as well.

We can consider the details of the Bill in Committee. This is not a major piece of legislation. Its provisions will be of benefit to many road users. Drivers of lorries and coaches will be able to obtain their licences quicker and at lower cost, new motor cyclists will be properly trained and less likely to be killed or injured and all road users will benefit from less traffic congestion and fewer delays when systems such as autoguide are in use.

I hope that the House will agree that the Bill should be given a Second Reading.

4.31 pm
Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

I thank the Minister for his explanation of the Bill's provisions. As he knows, I am quite new to this brief, though I am having to learn quickly this week. Indeed, such is the speed of political events, if not of the traffic around Westminster, I thought that I should have to ask for a statement this afternoon.

I am delighted to learn that the Department has today denied that it has ordered an inquiry into Sir Keith Bright's allegations about the London emergency services which so sullied the debate on the Fennell report yesterday. We believe that Sir Keith's allegations had more to do with his contract than with anything else, but I shall be writing to the Secretary of State about the matter.

As I said, I am new to this brief, but even as a lay person I had grasped what were the major transportation concerns and problems of this country, and certainly of London. In my naivety, when I saw that the Government were introducing a new piece of legislation, I thought it just had to be the Road Traffic (Integration of Transport Policy) Bill that we had all been waiting for. Might it, I asked, be the measure to set in motion the backlog of proposals necessary to bring some order to our transport chaos? But that was not to be. We are delivered instead of the Road Traffic (Tinkering with the Problem) Bill, not to mention the Road Traffic (Private Funding Solution) Bill.

None of the measures in the Bill is necessarily objectionable and, as the Minister pointed out, its provisions, by excluding non-commercial minibus drivers, protect our common position of opposition to regulation of the voluntary sector. Most of the measures are commendable, but we have grave reservations about aspects of part II. Together, however, the measures are unlikely to have more than a marginal effect on our transport problems, particularly in London, which will be the location of the pilot scheme for autoguide. I hope the Minister can give an assurance that, as parliamentary time is being made available to facilitate commercial transport schemes, it will be made equally available to provide for and resource public transport improvement.

The first part of the Bill is consequent on the EC directive on the Community driving licence and will centralise the issuing of drivers' licences, bringing all forms of licence entitlement together in one document. This part of the Bill also lays down more stringent requirements for the renewal of vocational licences. Drivers with those licences will have to seek renewal from the age of 45 every five years and from 65 annually, accompanied by mandatory medical checks. In general, we support this part of the Bill, although I have some questions for the Minister.

The Government estimate that savings of 100 jobs or £1 million per year will be made by centralising the process at Swansea. I questioned the Minister about that on Tuesday but as he failed to give a concrete answer, I shall ask him again. Will he take the opportunity to increase the number of staff at Swansea so that delays in obtaining licences are reduced?

My second question relates to the medical tests proposed for all holders of vocational licences. I am aware that many drivers already complain about the appeal system and I foresee apprehension among drivers about the new proposals. Perhaps in Committee the Minister will give us some comparisons about how such procedures are carried out in other European states. It is clear from the proposals that some drivers who undergo more rigorous medical tests may find that they are debarred from driving and thus lose their livelihood.

The Minister will remember that, in 1984, his Department's medical advisory committee recommended paying compensation to drivers who were prevented from working because they failed medical tests. What is the Minister's attitude to that? As he has not taken this opportunity to introduce compensation arrangements at the same time as imposing more severe requirements on drivers' ability to do their jobs, what does he plan to do? We shall return to this question in Committee if we fail to receive a satisfactory answer this afternoon.

I turn now to clause 6, which implements one of the Government's proposals on motor cycling as set out in their White Paper, "Motor Cycling Safety". As the Minister said, increasing motor cycle safety must be a top priority. Motor cycling has by far the worst accident risk, as the Minister outlined so clearly. However, many motor bike accidents result from other drivers paying insufficient attention to bike riders and there is clearly a need for car, bus and lorry drivers to be made more aware of road safety in relation to bikes.

One of the encouraging signs for us—and I am sure for the Minister—and one which we applaud is the way in which the motor bike organisations are now encouraging riders to take training courses. I hope that the Minister will consult the motor bike organisations thoroughly, because we politicians often disregard too easily the needs, problems and aspirations of young people. The fact that those organisations opposed the introduction of crash helmets in the past and that they were clearly wrong to do so has meant that many of us have perhaps not given them enough credit for a more positive attitude today. I understand that the motor bike groups, as well as safety organisations, are readily supporting the Bill's compulsory training course to replace part I of the motor bike test. We are delighted that that is so and wholeheartedly give our support to the measure.

However, concern has been voiced by the organisations that are responsible for safety and for running the courses which the Government failed to meet in the debate in the other place. I take this opportunity to raise those concerns here, although, again, we shall doubtless return to them in Committee. First, there is concern about the number of training places available. In the other place an assurance was given that there are over 900 training centres. However, an informal survey shows that the centres are by no means evenly distributed throughout the country and there are gaps, especially in rural areas. In some places, therefore, aspiring drivers will be unable to take the course that would allow them a provisional licence. Does the Minister agree that the scheme should not come into effect until it has been ascertained that there is adequate national provision for the courses?

Secondly, I hope that the Minister will give the House an assurance also that the instructors on the courses will be of a sufficiently high standard. The instructors have an examiners' role, so they should be tested themselves. I understand that every training centre must be authorised by the Secretary of State and I suggest that a scheme similar to that for car examiners should be introduced, with every examiner having to be qualified. It is important at the outset of a scheme to ensure that the highest standards are obtained and that there is uniformity of testing throughout the country. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what arrangementss he is making for regular monitoring of the training centres.

Has the Minister any ideas about the likely level of charges? He has the power to set the maximum charge for the course. Perhaps he would like to comment on an unofficial suggestion that a course might cost up to £50. As he will realise, that is a lot of money for a young person, and the course lasts only one day. As no minimum figure is set, the cost is likely to be less in areas where there are more training centres according to the rules of supply and demand, but in rural centres the cost may be near the maximum permitted figure.

I am sure that many motor cyclists who read the reports of our debate will want to know what sort of figure the Minister has in mind. Clearly, it will be desirable for motor cyclists to continue training beyond this inevitably cursory one day. What steps is the Minister taking to encourage more people to take up advanced training courses? Will the Minister give us an idea of the likely time scale for the changes in the length of the provisional licence, the right to carry pillion passengers and the entitlement of car drivers to ride motor bikes?

We have some disagreement with the Government over autoguide. The Minister has explained to the House how autoguide operates and I do not propose to repeat his explanation. I acknowledge that autoguide could have some useful effects in helping drivers find a quick, less congested route to a given destination. It would doubtless be useful, as the Minister suggested, for longer journeys and for journeys throughout Europe. It would be especially valuable for diverting motorists from accidents on motorways, and it could therefore clearly contribute to preventing the motorway snarl-ups with which we are all so familiar. I am aware that the Transport and Road Research Laboratory in its original research suggested that autoguide could result in 500 fewer casualties a year and a saving of journey time of about 10 per cent.

Naturally, the Opposition, like the Minister, are in favour of such reductions. However, I suggest that it is impossible to judge the effects on casualty figures of one specific proposal in isolation. Ministers have not always favoured schemes because casualty figures would be reduced. I remind the House of the Government's attitude towards the GLC's low fares policy which was specifically designed to take people off the roads and put them on public transport to reduce accidents, which it did.

Where is the Minister's strategic plan for dealing with the chaos and congestion on our roads? We have heard nothing about that today. It is extraordinary that, of all the measures which the Minister might have brought to the House, he has prioritised this measure. As the impact of autoguide will be felt principally in London, at least in the first instance, I want to consider its likely effect here while accepting that it will be useful on long-distance journeys outside the capital city.

The scale of the traffic problem in London can scarcely be over-estimated. According to Government figures, about 160,000 people commute into London every day by car. About 3 million vehicles are registered in London and the home counties. People sit in traffic jams every day, get impatient and try to make progress by driving via residential roads and rat runs. They park illegally, thereby aggravating the problems and the dangers. In 1986, about 500 people were killed and 50,000 injured on London's roads. The emergency services are now severely affected by delays, sometimes with fatal results. In 1975, the average speed of an ambulance was 25 mph. Now it is little more than 11 mph.

Public transport in London has become less reliable and more overcrowded. The Minister talked about his hopes for improvement. I was delighted to hear that, and I look forward to those hopes being realised. Because of the difficulties with public transport, especially with buses, people are tempted to drive to work, and that leads to increased congestion. There is widespread agreement between the Government and the Opposition that urgent action is needed. A recent Confederation of British Industry report said that London was "strangling itself to death". That report draws special attention to the need to move quickly on repairing roads, on completion of road works and on cracking down on parking offenders. The difficulties caused by such matters could be eased by proposals that are already drafted and agreed by the relevant organisations and that are waiting in the queue for parliamentary time.

The Minister says that autoguide will help to ease London's traffic problems. I doubt it. There is even a danger that autoguide will encourage greater use of the car. That was denied in the other place, but will a measure designed to aid the motorist through London not encourage more people who might previously have decided to make the journey by public transport to attempt car journeys? The Minister must assure the House that, if it appears from the pilot project that more people will be interested in using their cars as a result of the autoguide, he will reconsider authorising its use. At the very least, autoguide will do nothing to discourage the use of the car and the Minister has said that there must be such discouragement.

I accept that, in their consultation documents, the Government have acknowledged the danger of encouraging the use of rat runs. I appreciate that the Secretary of State has the power to tailor licence applications to the needs of particular areas. We think that that safeguard is insufficient, especially given the lack of prior consultation and participation by local authorities. I shall return to that matter.

The Minister will be in something of a dilemma when he comes to license different routes. He will be under pressure to agree as many roads as possible. If only the main trunk roads are authorised, the usefulness of the scheme will be severely limited, but there are major problems in authorising the use of unclassified roads in London. The primary problem is safety, to which the Minister gives top priority.

Several organisations have already expressed concern about the safety aspect of autoguide. The Department of Transport document entitled "Transport In London" draws attention to the fact that about 48 per cent. of accidents here were among the most vulnerable road users—pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists. The majority of child pedestrian accidents occur within 400 m. of home. That means that they occur on residential roads. Any measure that increases the likely use of residential roads increases the possibility of accidents on those roads, even if accidents on trunk roads were to decline as a consequence.

A further danger may arise from the expectations of people who purchase autoguides. The motorist who buys it will do so in the expectation that he—I expect that the majority of purchasers will be men—will have a quicker journey. That will give rise to the danger of cars speeding down unsuitable roads and the drivers paying less attention to road safety than they would have done if they had not been directed to a specific road. There are ways to control the use of residential roads and the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety and local authority organisations have said that the involvement of the highway authority is absolutely crucial.

Our concern has been heightened by reports emanating from a recent consultation by GEC, which is a member of the RAC consortium, with London boroughs. I understand that the boroughs were told that autoguide would be commercially viable in London only if it included roads other than categories A and B and aimed at 20 per cent. of the traffic flow. Perhaps the Minister will tell us if that is an accurate assessment and just how many vehicles that would be.

In my constituency I am dealing with a strong residents' protest movement in Gellatly road where residents face the passage of 15,000 vehicles a day. It is a typical south London rat run. Lewisham council and I are desperately seeking a solution to the problem, but we see it immediately being exacerbated by autoguide. The Minister must tell us how he would view such a case.

The response of a local authority to a newly created rat run is likely to be environmental measures to slow down the traffic and restraints to limit it. What will happen when a local authority publishes a traffic order to that end and autoguide objects? Arguably autoguide could show traffic going back to the designated network, thus bringing the Department of Transport into the argument. How does the Minister propose to adjudicate in such cases when the Department is so wholeheartedly behind the autoguide proposals?

I give notice to the Minister that in Committee we shall seek to give the highway authority statutory involvement in the planning and monitoring of the system. Only in that way do we think that the needs of ordinary people can be protected from the development of more rat runs and more danger in their neighbourhoods and more difficulties in their homes. At least the rights of the authority should be guaranteed. The minimum should be the right of an authority to intervene if something goes wrong. We shall table an amendment to that effect. I hope that the Minister will take on board the concerns of local authorities in that respect.

I have explained in detail our misgivings about the autoguide system. We are aware, of course, that a similar project is being carried out in Berlin, but there is one crucial difference. That project is being carried out as part of a set of traffic management measures, financed predominantly by the public sector and integral to already existing traffic management schemes. That is not the case here. None the less, despite our misgivings, I assure the Minister that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and I will take the opportunity that he has offered us to see autoguide in operation for ourselves.

There are other measures in the pipeline that could have a real and lasting effect on London's transport problems. We welcome the publication of the White Paper, "The Road User and the Law", following the North report. I hope that legislation will be brought forward on that in due course. However, the Minister will be aware from the debates in the other place that there is a strong feeling on this side of the House that no more time should be wasted before bringing forward legislation on the Home report.

New street works legislation becomes more vital every day as the level of building activity in London increases. New legislation is needed desperately to deal with the problems caused by holes in the road. Hon. Members will appreciate the irony of giving priority to the measure before us rather than to street works legislation. By providing the operator of a private information system with power to install apparatus in the highway, the Bill will add to the problems and complexities that the Home recommendations are designed to tackle.

I have concentrated on our differences in approach and on the contentious points in the Bill. No doubt we will return to those in Committee. It will help the whole House if the Minister can give a further account of the Government's attitude when responding to the points that I have raised.

4.53 pm
Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

I want to concern myself with one part of the Bill, clause 6. I think that everyone is in favour of training for young learner motor cyclists. I have had discussions recently with the Motor Cycle Association of Great Britain Ltd., so I think there are various points that it is important to raise at this stage. I begin by declaring an interest; I think that I am one of the few Members who ride a motor cycle regularly—in the summer months, I hasten to say. I often use a motor cycle to go to and from the House during that period.

Motor cycles, especially big ones, are potentially very dangerous machines unless they are treated with the greatest respect and concentration. If one rides a motor cycle, one soon learns that there is very little between oneself and the road, and one remembers that an accident is nearly always more damaging to a rider of a motor cycle than to a driver of a car.

I well remember being in the Isle of Man, and riding with the marshals around the 37½ mile track between races, "sweeping up" after a great parade of the champions of the past. I came to Braddon bridge after one of those great heroes had spurted oil all over the track. I found myself arriving at the bridge at 50 miles an hour on my bottom, an extremely uncomfortable experience. I think that I was Chief Whip at the time, so that was probably the least that some hon. Members would have liked to happen to me.

We must always remember that riding a motor cycle is one of life's most exhilarating experiences. I hope that no misplaced zeal by any Government will reduce further the enormous pleasure that motor cycling brings. I applaud very much the Government's desire to encourage better training through clause 6. According to the explanations that we have had up to date, the provisions of clause 6 will lead to serious problems in rural areas. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) said that it has not been made clear how many training centres will be established. I have heard a similar figure to the one that she heard.

Let us say that there are to be 1,000 training centres around the country. I understand that that would be one for every 80 square miles. Even then, in many parts of the country there would be only one for every 150 square miles. I shall be surprised if many people in my constituency, for instance, do not live more than 20 miles from a training centre. That will cause a major problem for those who have to travel long distances to training centres from their homes or from wherever they purchased their motor cycles.

I am told that the courses may last between four and six hours. No doubt at certain times of the year it will not be possible always to fit in the course in one session. If there have to be two sessions to complete a course in a rural area, a considerable distance may have to be travelled within the triangle of place of purchase, training centre and home. Especially, there will be the problem of the person who fails to satisfy the examiner and who finds himself, perhaps fairly late at night, more than 20 miles from home, with no public transport available. What is he to do? It is a serious problem to which the Minister must address himself.

The Motor Cycle Association of Great Britain believes, as I do, that there is only one solution. There must be a special exemption for those who live, let us say, more than five miles from a training centre. There is a dispensation in the MOT test for cars when the previous MOT certificate is out of date. The Government will have to think about making a similar dispensation in respect of motor cyclists travelling directly, on a single occasion, within the three-cornered route that I described.

An amendment was made to clause 6 in another place to allow certain exemptions. That may be the means by which the Government will be able to meet my point. It is important that, during the Bill's passage, the Government make their intentions clear. They have already said that they understand the problems of islanders, and have promised to consult on that point. However, the Government must give specific answers. If that is not done, the situation will become impossible for many young people in rural areas, many of whom have low incomes.

A motor cycle provides the young man living in a rural area with the only reasonable method of getting around, but it could become an impracticable option—especially if the cost of the test is prohibitive. The hon. Member for Deptford was right to ask about that aspect. I heard that the cost might be nearer £25. Even so, that is a large sum of money for a young man living in a rural area who has already laid out money for his motor cycle.

I am very bothered by those aspects. I hope that the Government will grant exemptions of the kind that I have described. My hon. Friend the Minister might reflect on the fact that many young men in rural areas in particular learn to ride motor bikes at 10 or 12 years of age. My own sons could ride a motor bike around my farm like demons when they were aged about 10. Many young men in the country learn to ride off the roads and are perfectly competent. They have much greater opportunities to learn the basics of riding a motor cycle than do young people in the towns. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to respond sympathetically to the points that I have made.

5.1 pm

Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

The clauses dealing with the proposed unified driver licensing system are sensible enough. However, I note that there were two substantial debates in another place on amendments relating to eye testing of drivers. Substantial arguments were made for requiring regular eye checks for older drivers and for extra resources to be made available for research into how many road accidents are attributable to bad eyesight with a view to amending driver licensing legislation the next time around.

My belief, based on personal experience and on private anecdote, is that regular eye tests are an important factor in road safety in respect of older drivers. I am sorry that the Minister in another place was not more forthcoming. I hope that, before the Bill reaches the statute book, the Department will be able to say that more resources will be made available for research. I note also that we shall have to return to this subject in the comparatively near future, because of the European harmonisation programme and the regular system of consultation with our European partners. Several member states have more stringent eye tests in the granting of driving licences than we have. We shall inevitably be compelled to return to that aspect in 1991, if not before.

I welcome those provisions of the Bill that deal with the training of motor cyclists. I recognise, as do all right hon. and hon. Members, that motor cycling can be exceedingly dangerous and that a motor cyclist is 14 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured than the driver of a motor car. That was brought home to me when I was a duty Minister in Northern Ireland about nine years ago. One weekend, nine motor cyclists were killed on the roads of Northern Ireland. Had nine residents of Northern Ireland been killed in a terrorist attack, on Monday afternoon there would have been a statement in the House and everyone would have expressed concern. But because those killed were just motor cyclists, no one bothered about them, and those deaths were barely reported this side of the Irish sea.

I welcome also the Bill's provisions for training. It is ludicrous that we have gone for so many years without making any requirement for training motor cyclists. However, I would not place too much store by this measure. About 45 years ago, in the Army, I was given excellent training by former TT riders. We learned to ride faster than otherwise we would have done, and very exhilarating it was. However, I am not sure that we became much safer riders.

The Bill's provisions will result in a cut in the number of casualties, but I attach more importance to the proposals, to which my hon. Friend the Minister has referred before, for limiting the engine size of motor cycles that young, inexperienced riders can use. My hon. Friend referred to limiting engine capacity to 400 cc for riders with only two years' experience. I hope that a measure will soon be introduced giving force to that recommendation. However, in that respect we are being held back by European consultations, because not all our EEC partners agree on that proposal, which has been around very much longer than our membership of the Community. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to confirm that action will be taken.

I welcome also the Government's proposals for autoguide, which is an exciting and important potential development. I notice that the Government say that the system will have to be linked to an urban traffic control centre and that the pilot scheme will take place in London. I hope that means that we shall soon have a proper urban traffic control centre in London, because one of the glaring deficiencies in London at the moment is the absence at the highest level of a London traffic management unit. I hope that the introduction of this autoguide pilot scheme will mean that we shall soon have a traffic management unit at a high level.

The great majority of drivers will certainly not have autoguide before the end of the century. I hope that more effort will be devoted to warning ordinary motorists about road works which may lie in their path. Earlier this afternoon, I drove up the M3 from a meeting in Southampton; warning signs about road works ahead were admirable in size and placing, and motorists were warned well in advance of any problems that lay ahead.

In London, in the course of last week, I wasted more than an hour in traffic jams that were caused by road works, for which absolutely no warning was given in time for motorists to take evasive action. I hope that the Department of Transport will take this matter seriously, because it affects traffic flow in London.

It would be churlish not to congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the fact that road traffic casualties have reached a record low for 34 years. I do not always agree with my hon. Friend on these issues, but he has done a great deal to raise the political visibility of this issue. The Bill is another small step towards improving road safety. I hope that, in the next Session, a much bigger Bill will be introduced to implement the sensible recommendations of the North report and the Government's White Paper.

5.12 pm
Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

I welcome the Second Reading of the Bill, which contains some extremely valuable proposals. With regard to part I, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that the road freight industry is entirely in favour of the change to a unified system. Even if that had not been a requirement of the European Commission—a directive laid down for us to follow—we would have been wise to get rid of our present system and adopt the system proposed in the Bill. The present system is extremely confusing, and can be described as an anachronism. The new system will be an improvement for employers and drivers because it will make life simpler for them and improve their relationship.

We should consider a number of consequences which flow from the change. The licence system for heavy goods vehicles and public service vehicles will be brought into line. There is nothing in the Bill about how the provision for medicals will operate. As I understand it, that will be incorporated in regulations. It would be helpful if, when winding up, my hon. Friend the Minister said a word or two about the system of medicals, which is important for drivers.

The changes that implement the first European Community directive—the proposals in the Bill—can be related to the further draft directive debated in the House on Tuesday. During that debate, concern was rightly expressed about a requirement for a new threshold requiring drivers of minibuses used by voluntary groups to be tested, and for there to be a requirement to obtain a licence to drive public service vehicles.

The new draft directive also requires a change in the threshold from the present 7.5 metric tonnes to 3.5 tonnes for heavy goods vehicles. Identical concern has been expressed by those who operate smaller goods vehicles, and this is something we should consider when talking about the proposals that are incorporated in the Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take as vigorous a view on that point as he has said he will on many other matters in the second draft directive. If implemented, the change would double the number of drivers needing heavy vehicle tests and put an additional strain on resources. We must ask—as with so many other issues—whether that is justified in road safety terms. Is this merely a matter of harmonisation which in itself is good only if it achieves a valuable objective? The consequences of that change will be much more severe in Britain than in other Community member states.

All organisations—as I do—welcome the proposal for training motor cyclists. A report recently published by the Institute of Motorcycling entitled "Characteristics of Urban Motor Cycle Accidents" has just come to my notice. It draws some interesting conclusions.

My hon. Friend the Minister conceded that other road users were sometimes to blame for accidents. It is interesting to note, that on the basis of the 9,600 accidents in the Greater London area investigated by the researchers, 62 per cent. of accidents involving motor cycles, mopeds and scooters were primarily caused by other road user groups.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

That does not wash. It is about that proportion of accidents that involve another vehicle. It is incredible to believe that every one of the crashes and collisions is the fault of other vehicles. The plain truth is that some vehicles do turn right without their drivers making the life-saving check in the mirror to see whether a motor cyclist is overtaking. At T-junctions drivers look left and right, do not notice a motor cycle and pull out in its path. However, that is only one part of it. It is easier to find examples—especially in urban areas—of motor cyclists taking action which does not allow other motorists a chance to escape unscathed. I think that what we need to deal with is mutual risk-taking. I hope that my hon Friend will forgive me, but he was saying something that has been said by a number of motor cyclists—a diminishing number, I hope.

Mr. Waller

My hon. Friend interrupted me before I was able to qualify what I was saying. I certainly maintain that a large proportion of accidents are caused primarily by other road users. Of course, by riding defensively motor cyclists can sometimes, perhaps often, avoid accidents that would otherwise be caused by the actions of other road users; an experienced rider will be able to anticipate those actions and thus escape disaster.

I urge my hon. Friend to read the report. The research was carefully carried out and shows that 35 per cent. of accidents were caused by motor cyclists themselves. The findings are based on statistics from the Metropolitan police, and I do not think that we should ignore the report's conclusion that, at the very least, a substantial proportion of accidents involving motor cyclists are attributable primarily to other road users. I hope that my hon. Friend will continue his Department's efforts to make those road users more aware of motor cyclists. At one time leaflets were included with car licences——

Mr. Bottomley

That is still being done.

Mr. Waller

I am glad that the practice continues. Because of the nature of their machines, motor cyclists are peculiarly vulnerable.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the way in which he has listened to what motor cycle organisations have to say. That goes for the British Motorcyclists Federation and for the Motorcycle Action Group, which is not always kindly disposed to my hon. Friend: indeed, the way in which it has directed some of its diatribe at him has been very regrettable. I welcome my hon. Friend's willingness to consider again such matters as leg guards. His attitude contrasts with many motor cyclists' picture of a Department that is deaf to any representations that it may receive.

I share the concern of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) about aspects of the training system. We need to be satisfied that training facilities will be adequate to meet demand, and also that arrangements will be made to ensure that training standards are high enough. All motor cyclists will of course be required to undergo and complete a training course, but I wonder what would happen if a trainee, having completed the course, nevertheless gave indications of unsuitability to ride safely on the roads. There seems to be no requirement for a test to be passed at that stage.

There is also the practical difficulty, referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, of the motor cyclist who needs to get to the training centre. Often suppliers of new machines will arrange for the machines to be delivered to the centre, which is a responsible approach, but many motor cycles are bought second hand and dealers may not be able to deliver them, especially if long distances are involved.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the MOT test exemption. If the keeper of a vehicle needs to get it to the testing centre, because in such circumstances he may not possess a tax disc, special provision is made. That demonstrates that a certain amount of flexibility has been used in the past to deal with practical difficulties. To deal with another such difficulty. it could perhaps be arranged for the trainer to meet the new possessor of a motor cycle somewhere other than the training centre and to accompany him to it. In any event, I hope that further thought will be given to the problem, which will no doubt apply to many new motor cyclists. Like my right hon. Friend, I do not wish to put any obstacle in the way of those who are keen to embark on motor cycling, as I share his enthusiasm.

Mr. Jopling

I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend has said, but I do not think that that last suggestion would work. If two young men wished to attend a training centre and each was more than 20 miles from it, for someone to collect them individually would involve a round trip of 40 miles. That really is not a runner, particularly late at night.

Mr. Waller

My right hon. Friend has a point, although I do not imagine that such a problem will arise in the case of all participants. A certain amount of flexibility would help the minority who may have a problem.

Autoguide is a welcome development. I think that it will be particularly helpful to motorists who are unfamiliar with an area, especially in overseas countries. I hope that it will be possible to obtain a measure of co-operation from other countries—perhaps through the European Community—to ensure compatibility and interchangeability of roadside and car equipment.

There is no doubt that autoguide is not a solution to the problems of congestion. Like many others, I believe that an expansion and acceleration of the road programme must be an important facet of our approach to the problem—which, as we know, costs the country many billions of pounds a year through the companies that operate within it. Nevertheless, autoguide can play its part. It is, of course, only one of many current developments; another is the digital radio system, which I am sure will be used in the next few years by many more drivers than have access to autoguide.

Autoguide, however, has the great benefit of being an automatic and interactive system. It does not necessarily require information to be fed into it, involving the intervention of individuals, as is required for announcements to be given out to motorists through the digital radio system. It is one way in which we can approach the solution of many problems which cost this country dear each year and it should, therefore, be pursued.

I regret the rather negative approach of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) to autoguide. She is, of course, right to say that we have to pursue other solutions as well and I agree that autoguide is not the only answer. But that should not preclude us from seeking a system which has a great deal of novelty and value. The hon. Lady was concerned about rat runs. I understand that the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club and the two consortia involved are very much aware of that concern and are determined that they will not go in for rat runs as a way of enabling motorists to avoid congested areas. We should turn our faces against the idea that one should introduce rat runs through residential areas.

Ms. Ruddock

Can the hon. Gentleman explain to the House how it is possible to avoid creating rat runs in residential areas, as most people in London live in areas where there is a great deal of overcrowding already and autoguide will transfer many people from one road to another? In theory, at least, it is difficult to see how one would not create new rat runs by that procedure.

Mr. Waller

To the best of my knowledge, the consortia are determined that they will not adopt that approach. It is important that we should not allow the scheme to be strangled by red tape. Although we should be aware of the problems and difficulties, we should not allow a preoccupation with bureaucracy to prevent it from taking its place within a reasonable time scale.

The hon. Lady said that she regretted that we were not adopting an integrated transport system at this stage. To me, such a system involves direction rather than choice and that is the difference between the approaches of our two parties to transport. It is interesting to note that, although the Labour Government gave themselves powers to direct freight transport operators, they did not use those powers. Powers of direction are often quite impracticable, however much one may like to theorise about them. The Government are in favour of giving choice to the consumer of transport services. Nevertheless, it is the task of Government to provide the framework in which road transport is safer and more convenient, so that individuals can exercise their choice in a way that is more satisfactory to themselves. The Bill meets those criteria and I welcome it warmly.

5.32 pm
Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

I was intrigued to hear my hon. Friend the Minister say that 1989 would be the year of the sign. He should be aware that motorists, especially angry motorists, are capable of more than one kind of sign and, in his experience and mine, many of them have been directed at the Minister for Roads and Traffic. It would be interesting to know just what the year of the sign will entail. If we are talking about driver information services, a great deal of anger is caused when the road-signing system appears to break down. It would be helpful to know about the programme that will be of benefit to motorists during the year of the sign.

I very much welcome the Bill and the constructive approach from the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) and the Opposition. Despite the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) found the hon. Lady's approach rather negative, I thought that it was fairly positive. She brought to the Dispatch Box an element of charm, a weapon not often deployed by the principal Opposition spokesman on transport, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). I expect that she will be more successful than he is at persuading the House of the merits of the case.

However, when she talked about the autoguide system, she was on somewhat dubious ground, first weeping crocodile tears for the poor motorists caught in traffic jams every day. She then said that she hoped that autoguide would not be a means of attracting more motorists into the capital or other cities. But presumably the object of autoguide is to avoid congestion and to make life easier for motorists, in that they will not be so frustrated. The hon. Lady is trying to have it both ways. If autoguide works—and we hope it will—it will undoubtedly make life better for motorists and perhaps will attract more of them into cities. The hon. Lady must make up her mind whether she espouses the policy of discouraging motorists through congestion or the policy of helping them by making their lives easier.

Ms. Ruddock

The hon. Member will know that whenever there is an easing of congestion it attracts more motorists. If motorists perceive that autoguide will give them a smoother passage, they may exercise the choice about which hon. Members have spoken and instead of making the journey by public transport, which they may perceive to be slightly difficult, they may decide to make the journey by car because of autoguide. That point must be taken on board.

Mr. Moate

The hon. Lady is simply repeating the dilemma, but she has not solved the problem. Autoguide is designed to make life easier for motorists. She is either for or against. I choose to believe that she is in favour of it, judging by her fairly constructive remarks.

I went to see the autoguide experiment at the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. I went in a sceptic, but came out an enthusiast. I want to pay a compliment to the laboratory. It is not often that Government establishments are complimented on the work they do. The laboratory has produced a scheme that is admirable because it is technically advanced. The cost of applying autoguide even to the whole of Greater London seems to be relatively small in capital terms and the system could become available to motorists in a relatively short time scale. It is practical and economical and could contribute greatly to reducing traffic delays, journey times and costs. It is a welcome development and it is also an exportable system which will bring valuable benefits for this country. Equally, it is not a panacea and it is not meant to be. It is simply one method of easing the problems of motorists.

This country has not yet realised that congestion has nothing to do with party politics or the success or failure of past or present transport policies. This country has not taken on board the scale of congestion we shall face in years to come. If we look at the forecast growth in vehicle traffic on roads for the next few years, not just in the number of vehicles but in the extent of the usage of those vehicles, we ain't seen nothing yet. Our streets will become grossly more congested and none of us has yet come up with the method of tackling the problem, whether in London and our other cities or in our smaller towns. Some pretty painful nettles will have to be grasped in the years ahead. For the moment, we should welcome autoguide, as it will undoubtedly be of help, it will work and it could turn out to be most popular.

The next aspect of the Bill to which I shall turn is uncontentious, but of considerable importance to the motorist. This is not an insignificant or unimportant Bill. The driving licence, for example, carried in 31 million pockets, wallets and handbags, is precious to all motorists. If one tries to take it away from a motorist, one realises how precious it is to him. The format of that driving licence is almost as important and delicate a matter as the format of the passport, which is another contentious matter. Like many others, I deeply regret the passing of our old driving licence, that rather nice, maroon, stiff-covered document that could be tucked away and did not become too tatty. It was replaced by a rather tatty green bit of paper in an awkward plastic container. I believe that the newest licences are pink, but mine is green. They are tatty, bureaucratic pieces of paper.

I welcome in principle a unified licence and a common format for Europe and for the whole world. However, the international driving licence never caught on. A unified driving licence would have great advantages, but I plead for a return to a decent format. We should persuade Europe to adopt a driving licence that drivers would be proud to carry rather than these poor, tatty pieces of paper. Alas, if one has to produce them too often or if one has to have them endorsed too often they soon become very tatty indeed.

On the question of a common format and a unified licence, I understand that it is difficult to endorse the licence of foreign drivers. It is vital, therefore, in the interests of justice, fairness and of the irate victims of foreign drivers that there should be powers to deal promptly with foreign drivers, including the confiscation of their licence, if necessary. I hope that the Minister will say what powers the courts will have to take stringent action against foreign motorists and the drivers of heavy goods vehicles from the continent who infringe our laws and are involved in accidents. Our powers to deal with them are limited.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) referred to eye tests. The Bill provides for more stringent medical tests for the drivers of heavy goods vehicles and passenger service vehicles. However, I am not clear about how much more stringent the tests will be. That should be spelt out, either now or in Committee. Millions of people need a driving licence for their job. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether the requirement that drivers of heavy goods vehicles must have a medical test is to be extended to the drivers of smaller, lighter vehicles—3.5 tonnes as against 7.5 tonnes. How many more people will be affected by the new requirement? If they are to be required to have regular medical checks, that is an important matter for them. We ought to be told about the scale of a change of that significance.

Mr. Waller

In case there is any doubt about the matter, I can assure my hon. Friend that the proposed change will take place only if the second draft directive of the European Commission is implemented. However, there would be a knock-on effect if it were to be implemented in that form. It would have an effect on the medical examinations that are provided for in the Bill.

Mr. Moate

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has made an important point. A number of draft directives affect our licensing procedures. We are entitled to know what chance we have of persuading the European Community to adopt our point of view about minibus and heavy goods vehicle licences and other matters. If we are not successful in persuading the Community, what powers do we have to resist the directives? If we have no power to resist, is it inevitable that these changes will be made? They are not necessarily bad and they are not necessarily wrong, but the implications for British drivers ought to be spelt out.

I do not believe that regular medical tests or eye tests are against the interests of the motorist. They are designed not to hinder but to help him. If the driver of a heavy goods vehicle has regular eye tests, the intention is not to push him off the road but to ensure that he wears glasses, if he needs to do so, or has adjustments made to his glasses. The tests are designed to help drivers to stay on the road without causing accidents.

The Minister knows that I have strongly urged the introduction of regular eye tests for motorists. I should like such a provision to be included in the Bill. However, the Minister and his Department have been somewhat sceptical about eye tests. Their case is that there is no evidence that a significant number of accidents have been caused by poor eyesight. However, one knows from experience that that is wrong. Police forces have carried out eye tests. They believe that bad eyesight causes accidents. A strong case has been made out for regular sight tests.

I am delighted that a few days ago Swinton Insurance —one of the largest motor insurance brokers in the country that arranges insurance for about 1 million motorists—announced that it had issued a notice to all its motorists saying that they ought to have regular eye tests, otherwise they would be in danger of invalidating their insurance.

Stringent Government action would not be needed and it would not involve them in any expense. All that the Government need to do is to encourage the British Insurance Brokers Association to tell all motorists that they are in danger of invalidating their insurance policies if they do not have frequent medical and eye tests. That would help the Minister in the tremendous campaign that he has waged so consistently over the years to reduce the number of accidents on the roads.

While I have been a Member of Parliament I have spoken in debates on various transport Bills. Each time we have referred to new tests for motor cyclists. However, we have not achieved the desired objective. There is to be another requirement. I hope that it will work. I have been visited by groups of motor cyclists in my constituency. We. have disagreed from time to time about crash helmets and other related matters, but generally speaking they have adoped a responsible attitude and have been very responsive. I hope that if new tests are to be introduced we can give to motor cyclists the message that training facilities will be made available for them. It would be frustrating to impose restrictions that caused long delays and made it difficult for new motor cyclists to obtain a licence.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) was a member of the Cabinet when these groups of people came to see me. That helped me greatly. They thought that Conservatives do not like motor cycles and never ride them, but I was able to tell them that the Minister of Agriculture rode a motor cycle. That was a very persuasive argument. Unfortunately, I do not agree with my right hon. Friend that it is an exhilarating experience. I tried it only once. I thought that I was using the brake, but it turned out to be the throttle and I ended up in a rose bush. It was all very painful. Four wheels are very much safer than two. However, I accept that many people gain much satisfaction from riding motor cycles. If we are to introduce regulations that affect motor cyclists, we must ensure that improved training facilities are provided for them.

My hon. Friend the Minister wandered slightly away from the provisions of the Bill. Perhaps I may do so also. He referred to his general policy for transport in London. We have talked a great deal about congestion. Much emphasis has been placed on the rail study. The Government assume that that is the last word to be said about new railway services in London. I do not believe in an integrated transport system. It never works. We shall make a serious mistake if we believe that these rail proposals are the last word.

One part of London directly affects my constituency in Kent, but there are no Underground services in south-east London. The rail study said virtually nothing about easing the congestion on the roads and on British Rail by providing new Underground services to that part of our capital city. It deliberately ignored that matter and argued that its brief and remit did not extend to trying to relieve congestion on the roads, that it was simply a matter of trying to ease the existing congestion on the central railway line. I hope that my hon. Friend will very soon tell us a little more about what studies the Government intend to launch into the question of extending the Underground rail system to other parts of London to reduce some of the congestion, which is massive at present but will increase in intensity in years to come.

With those remarks, I welcome the Bill very much. I am glad that it appears to have the support of all parts of the House.

5.50 pm
Ms. Ruddock

By leave of the House, I would like to respond to a number of points that have come up in this debate and to reiterate briefly some of those that I made earlier.

The right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) talked very effectively about the difficulties in rural areas. Like him, we are particularly concerned about the provision of training centres. It is very clear that young people in these areas need motor cycles. We all know that there is often a lack of public transport suitable for getting a younger person, for example, to a first job, so a motor bike becomes essential to that young person's future. I think the hon. Member referred only to young men. These days, many young women too want to use that cheaper form of transport to help them have a reasonable life in rural areas. I reiterate that the Minister should not begin this scheme unless he can assure us that there will be sufficient centres and that everyone, no matter where he or she lives, will have a choice as to mode of transportation, where that is not in direct conflict—as, in this case, it certainly is not—with community interests as a whole.

It is particularly important that the training proposals be supported. As I said earlier, Opposition Members are very much in favour of mandatory training for motor bike users. However, I am sympathetic to the points that were raised by the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale and by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) about how a young person might be enabled to take the test on his own machine. That is desirable, but within the provision at the moment it would seem to be very difficult. I hope the Minister will be able to help us on that point.

The question of eye tests and the possibility that they will become more stringent was raised. By introducing charges for eyesight tests, the Government have created a particular disincentive to people doing the best for their own eyesight, and we are very fearful that more stringent, difficult and lengthy tests would attract even higher fees.

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) expressed regret about the lack of an urban traffic control centre. I reiterate that what this capital city needs is a strategic planning authoritiy. Nothing will deal with the present chaos unless we can plan strategically and take account of all possible modes of transportation and all possible solutions to the problems that we encounter.

The question of roadworks and the difficulties that people have in circumventing them was raised. That is bound to bring to the Minister's attention just what will be the nature of the roadworks involved in the provision of the autoguide scheme itself. They might be considerable, but we ought to know. Let me reiterate what we are in favour of. We are very much in favour of the harmonisation of the licensing scheme; we are very much in favour of better training for motor bike users; and, of course, we support the Minister in everything he does to bring forward measures to improve road safety. Equally, we reserve our right to be critical of measures which come in isolation—autoguide is an example—when other methods and other measures might produce even better results.

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) appeared to support our case that, because of the potential immense growth in car ownership and usage, we can solve these problems only by greater and better provision of public transport.

As I said at the outset, we believe that, while autoguide may be very useful in other parts of Britain, there is no justification for piloting it in London as though it might provide a real solution to London's transportation chaos. I suspect that the results will be marginal. I have yet to encounter in London a road that does not have a lot of traffic, and I believe that the possible problems and risks are very considerable. I know that my consituents in south London will be extremely concerned at the possible creation of rat runs—a question which I believe has not been dealt with adequately in this debate, though I have great hopes for the Minister's response, which is about to come. Perhaps he will tell us specifically whether autoguide routes can be restricted to A and B roads. If so, he will put a somewhat different complexion on these proposals and on the information that I gave him, which I believe came from a meeting involving GEC—a member of one of the consortia—which stated categorically that it would not be profitable if only A and B routes in London could be used.

5.56 pm
Mr. Peter Bottomley

By leave of the House, I thank all Members who have taken part in this debate. Their contributions may make matters easier. It may make it easier to prepare for the Committee stage to have some of the detailed points available and ready. I shall do what I can now to answer many of them.

I am rather surprised that there are no Liberal or SDP Members here. We seem to be missing some of the nationalists also. I am grateful that we are back to two-party politics. It has always struck me that liberals like myself ought to be dominating each of the major parties——

Mr. Greg Knight

On that point, is it not a fact that there is a good case for making the pilot autoscheme available, free of charge, to Liberals and Democrats so that they might on occasions find their way to this Chamber?

Mr. Bottomley

It is true, as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, probably recall, that on Tuesday we were talking about how they could all fit into a minibus. It looks as though they did not have the autoguide system to bring them into the Chamber at the right time.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) did well to ignore totally the beguiling talk of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate). It is not a lack of charm but intemperance that we have noticed in her hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). His storming into the Chamber just after 11 o'clock last night to tell the House what it should or should not be doing, based on a badly sub-edited report from the Press Association, destroyed much of what had been a fairly important debate. The more often that the hon. Lady is allowed to take these debates for the Opposition, the better we will move forward. It may be that her hon. Friend will be promoted back to the Department of Energy fairly shortly.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Michael Spicer)

No, no.

Mr. Bottomley

I welcome my hon. Friend's comment.

I want to turn to some points that have been made in the debate. An important point concerned other Bills that could come before this House in the future. The Home report will be moving towards legislation and we fully accept the case. Obviously it is not possible to give a commitment to a date of introduction, but the time has not been wasted. The utilities, the statutory undertakers, the highway authorities and the Department of Transport have been doing essential development work on fleshing out the Home report, and agreement has been reached on contentious issues. That means that when the legislation comes before the House it should be possible to consider it in detail without too much dissension. It is important to recognise that the Home report and the replacement of the public utilities and streets works legislation should lead to cost reductions both for the statutory undertakers and utilities and for the highway authorities, and should lead to a better deal for those who pay the charges of the utilities, those who fund the local highway authorities, and should provide better movement through the streets for bus passengers, car drivers and, for that matter, pedestrians on the pavement.

There has been a reference to the North committee. The response to the North committee report was published recently. It shows the Government's commitment to improving the contribution that the law can make to road casualty reduction. Legislation will be brought forward when parliamentary time can be found for the major package of reforms. There are some details outside the North committee report on which the Home Office is still expecting responses to its consultations about some police powers.

We need to recognise that it is not legislation that has brought about the dramatic reduction in road casualties in this country. Legislation can contribute but the major change has been a new culture on the roads in which people expect co-operation, care and courtesy and in which people recognise that we all make mistakes and that room must be made for the mistakes of others.

My hon. Friends who have spoken on behalf of motor cyclists rightly said that they are more vulnerable than others, are involved in crashes more often and that the consequences of each crash are worse for them. We should all try to remember that pedestrians and motor cyclists are human beings. Because we are in a one tonne steel vest—a motor car—whether we are commuting or using it as a sales representative or an engineer, we must not forget that we share the responsibility for those more vulnerable than ourselves.

The hon. Member for Deptford asked about the time scale for some of the other measures mentioned in the motor cycle safety package. We hope to announce decisions shortly on some of the other elements. We have done the best we can to bear in mind the views and responses we have received. The Motorcycle Action Group has done a great deal to promote defensive riding techniques and it concentrates on important issues. However, I am not sure that it is necessary for the group to advertise a Loadsatrouble (Riders' Rights Day) T-shirt—as worn by your Transport Minister! Still available. Black on Grey only. £4.99 plus 30p postage and packing. It is available from PO Box 750, Birmingham, B30 3BA.

The serious point made by Mag News on defensive riding techniques is that the road user, who is often at fault—not always—usually manages to pick on an inexperienced motor cyclist with whom to tangle. The ratio of risk for motor cyclists up to the age of 20 used to be 20 times as great as for motor cyclists aged 25-plus—that describes my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling)—and it is now a ratio of 13:1. Therefore, there has been an improvement in safety for the younger motor cyclist. That is important, but the risk is still too great and must be reduced.

I can give an illustration of the importance of training. Research shows that three quarters of motor cyclists do not use their front brake for straight line braking. That is perhaps the biggest single mistake we are making and it shows that the training has not been adopted into the habits and practices of motor cyclists. It also demonstrates the importance of initial basic training so that we do not simply rely on someone's experience as a cyclist. We need them to understand that motorised two-wheel movement—mopeds and motor cycles—is different. It is important to keep what is good about motor cycling rather than to accept that it should be eliminated. No one wants that to happen. I would be happy to see much more motor cycling—there used to be more in the past—as long as the casualty rate keeps coming down. That is the real test for motor cycling.

The hon. Member for Deptford asked about the motor cycle training course fee. It is important to realise that we are not necessarily talking about compulsory basic training as a one-day course or any other fixed format. We want to ensure that people become competent as soon as possible. Some may be able to do that in a day but others may take longer and some may want to train in a collection of hours put together. However, that is not for us to dictate immediately. There may be a range of provisions. We do not have a preconceived idea of what the course fee is likely to be. We hope that it will not be necessary to fix a fee. The powers given by clause 6 are to safeguard the position of trainees so that they will not be faced with exorbitant charges.

We hope that training organisations will offer full packages of training of which the basic element is only one part. It is important that people taking up motor cycling should realise that it will not be a matter of, "Come and see us for a day and then do not bother to come back until the end of the time during which you can ride on your L-plates." It is better to follow the line taken by motor cycle retailers, manufacturers, training organisations and riders groups who say, rightly, that if one is to take up motor cycling, one should have full training in order to gain experience and skill with good instructors and experienced motor cyclists. I pay tribute to many in the police, road safety organisations and other groups who give their time to provide that training for new motor cyclists.

The hon. Member for Deptford also asked whether there would be enough training sites to meet demand. That point was rightly picked up on behalf of the rural interests by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale. There are now 190 different organisations authorised to provide training and the part 1 test. They operate from over 900 approved sites throughout Great Britain and employ more than 4,000 instructors. If all those training sites and instructors were to operate the new compulsory basic training, there would be enough to cope with likely demand. We are currently conducting a survey through local authority road safety officers to find out how many instructors are based at each site, whether training machines are available and to discover the current and potential throughput of trainees. The survey will identify approved sites which are not currently being used and parts of the country that are not well served by training facilities. In those areas, local motor cycle dealers may have a role to play in providing training facilities if they wish to continue to sell learner machines.

As assurance was given in the other place that the scheme will not be introduced until adequate facilities exist. I am happy to repeat that assurance now. We will take full account of the special problems of rural areas. I do not want to be led into giving too full an assurance that exemptions will be given simply on grounds of distance. We would need to find a way to overcome that problem. It is important to obtain safety for new motor cyclists whether they live in rural or built up areas. We need to recognise the widespread nature of the population and the absence of a town or city in which one could obtain a good throughput of trainees on a regular basis.

I was asked about the monitoring of standards of motor cycle instruction. The Department is already responsible for the appointment of training bodies and those who sign part 1 test certificates. The Motor Cycle Association—I pay tribute to its work in discussing the proposals—has made tentative proposals to set up a body to monitor and train the training instructors. I expect to meet the director general of the MCA on 3 May to discuss training and I hope to hear the MCA's proposition. I would not want to prejudge the reaction to the proposals until I hear from the experts how they think we should move forward. We want to move forward together.

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) made the important point that motor cyclists could experience the course and demonstrate to the instructor, rather than the examiner—that is a better way of putting it—that he cannot ride safely. Trainees would successfully complete their basic training only if they demonstrate that they are able to ride unsupervised. I do not want people to believe that we are substituting a new test. We simply want people to demonstrate that they can ride competently. I may be splitting hairs, but that is not supposed to be seen as a test. Hopefully, trainees will accept that they should go on to further training and try to pass the proper test as soon as they reasonably can. The days are gone when people should expect to ride around on L-plates year after year without having to ride a motor cycle under an examiner's eyes for half an hour or more.

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley also mentioned lorry and bus licensing and many hon. Members have made the same points. We are trying to bring lorry and bus licensing into line. The first full licence will run to the age of 45 and renewals for professional drivers will be every five years until the age of 65. Thereafter, an annual renewal will be needed. Medical reports will be required on each application. The medical profession generally agrees that the mid-forties is the time when serious medical conditions begin to appear. The incidence of medical conditions affecting drivers aged between 18 and 45 is small. That assertion is borne out by the cases coming before the medical advisers at Swansea. In reaching decisions on the fitness of applicants the Secretary of State will be guided by advice published by medical experts as well as by the honorary medical panels.

The hon. Member for Deptford raised the issue of compensation for time lost at work because of more frequent medical checks. I want to take this opportunity of reminding every licence holder that it states on every licence, whether it is a green or a pink licence: You are required to tell the Drivers Medical Branch, DVLC, Swansea, SA1 1TU at once if you have any disability (includes any physical or medical condition) which affects (or may in the future affect) your fitness as a driver if you expect it to last more than 3 months. That is an obligation on each of us.

I welcome the fact that many drivers notify Swansea. They are not always disqualified if they raise a question. In fact, it provides an assurance for the driver just as much as for anybody else. I suspect that many elderly people who notify Swansea of an eyesight or other medical condition are pleasantly surprised when they discover that they can continue driving. They may be subject to continued regular medical checks, but this is an assurance for the driver as well as for the rest of us. So people should not be worried about notifying conditions to Swansea. They certainly will be committing an offence if they hide a condition that should be notified.

We realise that some people in professional driving are worried about the possibility that they may have to give up driving midway in their career. The medical standards are applied to protect other road users from the consequences of collapse at the wheel of bus, lorry or other large-vehicle drivers. It is important that drivers who are not able to meet the standards do not drive such vehicles.

The provision of compensation is not a matter for Government; it has to be worked out through normal employer-employee relationships.

Drivers whose work depends on meeting certain strict health standards may also insure against unexpected deterioration in their health. It is important to recognise that this applies equally to someone who may be a service engineer or a sales person in that their job may depend upon having a driving licence. People should have the opportunity of anticipating whether their health will determine their work, and it is well worth considering insurance and, in organised groups, seeing if that can be part of negotiated contracts of employment. Otherwise individuals can do it.

The hon. Member for Deptford asked about appeals. The vast majority of reconsidered decisions are decisions taken on medical grounds and the medical adviser is the best person to apply the standards in individual cases. The courts are the most appropriate appeal forum in general. They are in the best position to give the necessary weight to additional factors that may be introduced. The ordinary licence holder has no reconsideration procedure. There is no indication that this has resulted in any unfairness, although, as I have said, the loss of an ordinary licence can be just as severe for those who depend on cars for their livelihood as the loss of a vocational licence can be to a lorry or bus driver.

The driver licensing systems and judicial processes in other European Community member states are quite different. We shall be looking closely at their arrangements.

The hon. Member for Deptford asked again, as she did on Tuesday, about the staff implications of the transfer to the DVLC in Swansea and the effect on the speed of service. Vocational licences are currently issued manually by staff in traffic area offices. When these licences are issued in Swansea it will be through the fully computerised facilities there. By replacing a manual licensing system by a computerised system and unifying vocational and ordinary driver licensing within a single system, with the economies of scale at Swansea, we shall both save staff and improve the quality of service. There may well be some increase of staff at Swansea.

The staff and administrative savings have been estimated at about £1 million a year. The turn-round times for dealing with lorry and bus driving licence transactions will be speeded up by about 40 per cent. or more. So we ought to get both a more efficient system and one that provides more advantages to the person applying for a licence or a variation of one.

I turn now to the autoguide system. The hon. Member for Deptford asked whether this would lead to rat-running. I believe that it will lead to a reduction in rat-running because often many of the rats are continuing to move but are taking longer to get to their destination. It is important that the designated roads, the main roads, are the ones that carry the through traffic. I have given strong support over the years to traffic management arrangements, whether they involve physical restraints or efforts to ease the junctions which at present encourage rat-running. That is why we have in London designated roads and some trunk roads. We want to make sure that there are not changes which lead to greater chances of rat-running.

There is no reason to think that autoguide will increase the overall volume of traffic. The main roads generally offer quicker journey times and certainly should. The proposed large-scale pilot autoguide system will allow local authorities, the police and the Department to evaluate in detail the likely effects of a commercial system, including the effects upon minor roads. The Secretary of State would be able to impose licence conditions about the roads on to which the system could direct traffic. This power is in clause 10(8)(b).

It is quite important not to set down in advance that local authorities should be able to have a veto. When the hon. Member for Deptford was talking about integrated transport authorities, I was reminded of the county London Plan 1943, the Bressey report 1938 and "History of the London County Council 1889–1939", by Gibbon and Bell. From those we see that it was local authorities that banned the expansion of the trolley bus system in London because they did not want to see overhead wires. We must regret those decisions; it would have been nice to see an expansion of the trolley bus system.

It is important that we get the experience of the pilot autoguide system. Then we shall have better information on whether my assertion is right that we should end up with less rat-running, or whether the fears which the hon. Lady has quite rightly expressed are justified.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) raised the question of the private sector and whether the Secretary of State would use his powers. We hope that he will not have to use his powers, but we have to make provision in legislation to cover eventualities. Some of us may remember the little difficulty we had on Friday in getting the cashless parking Bill through. That was to provide primary legislative cover for local authorities to charge for off-street car parks without using cash. It would be ridiculous to lose this opportunity of giving the Secretary of State the necessary powers, but we hope it will not be necessary for them to be used.

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley and also, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North asked questions about clause 10 and the conditions which the Secretary of State might seek to include in licences for the operation of autoguide and other systems. As I have said, we hope that it will not be necessary to use these powers.

The hon. Member for Deptford asked about the effect of autoguide and similar systems on road safety. It is quite plain that if people know where they are driving—this applies to autoguide as well as to conventional signing and to the digital radio system to which reference has been made—they get there more quickly and by a shorter route and do not have to cover unnecessary parts of the route. That reduces the exposure to risk. It also means that they can concentrate on their driving instead of wondering whether they are going in the right direction. So all the ways of improving signing are important, including variable message signs on motorways, the BBC's radio data system and a review of the traffic signs regulations.

I mentioned that 1989 is the year of the sign. We reissued our little booklet and also a traffic advisory unit guide to road signs last week in Brighton at an exhibition. We are making major moves forward. Anyone who wants can go and look at the demonstration sign project in Guildford or the A3 signing which is coming forward and will see some of the improvements. We hope shortly to announce new ideas for signing in London and autoguide will fit in with the system, subject to Parliament. I ought to say perhaps that as a result of the agricultural crisis we have changed the name of the illustrative motorway service area from "Good Egg" to "Good Food", in order to keep up with the times.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) has reminded us again of his enthusiasm for a London traffic management unit. At the moment we have organised control of the traffic system. In King's building we have the Metropolitan police with their supervision. My hon. Friend has made various suggestions following up his Adjournment debate in December and more recently there have been reports in the papers of steeper parking fines, red lines on important routes and better parking enforcement generally. All this has been very much welcomed—except by those who have been caught. I met a group of bus and coach operators this morning who also mentioned my hon. Friend's proposals.

The hon. Member for Deptford talked about autoguides and Berlin. Berlin is a scientist's dream. There is no commuting traffic; people cannot drive in from the suburbs. The traffic management arrangement is significantly different from London's. We shall continue with the close Anglo-German co-operation.

There is much support in Europe for the British approach, which places the investment responsibility with the private sector and control and licensing in the public sector with the Secretary of State.

I will finish by referring to the eyesight point. Most of the people who have the highest involvement in injury accidents have the best eyesight. The problem in general is not people's quality of vision but the processing of the information they get through their eyes. It can be befuddled by drink or misguided by youth and inexperience. I can see that the hon. Lady does not agree with me. Perhaps we had better have another meeting with the college of opthalmologists—if that is the appropriate group—and see if we can find scientific evidence from this country or other countries showing that eyesight makes a major contribution. I suspect that if one could get younger drivers to see a psychiatrist one would be able to spot the ones who will have real trouble.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham referred to motorists from other European countries and that is a point that we can perhaps take forward. As I said on Tuesday, there is no provision for endorsing foreigners' licences. Most countries do not have that kind of system. People in many more countries are interested in our systems and are going to Swansea to see how they work. In time, the European Community may move forward to our system, so that people cannot wantonly commit offences in other countries. However, courts have power to seize the licences of foreign drivers when they commit serious offences.

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley talked about light goods vehicles. That point follows the consideration of minibus driver licensing as well. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham talked about the format and durability of drivers' licences. We think that they are reasonably good, but we will see whether we can improve the plastic wallets for licences.

Having heard hon. Members' comments, I welcome the general support for both parts of the Bill. Whether we are concerned with the future of motor cycling, of autoguide or the other provisions, I hope that we can move forward and increase safety and provide a better service for those who use the roads.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).