HC Deb 25 July 1989 vol 157 cc952-73
Mr. Speaker

I must inform the House that I have not selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken).

10.14 pm
The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 4303/89 on road safety, 9228/88 on seat belts, 4252/89 on maximum permitted alcohol concentration for vehicle drivers, and 4156/87 and 4305/89 on speed limits; and endorses the Government's commitment to resist proposals in this area which are outside the field of Community competence, and not clearly related to the objectives of a common transport policy of the internal market. This debate comes late in the Session, for reasons that I have explained. It deals largely with road safety matters. First, it might be appropriate to say how inadequate to the task I feel. One would normally have expected to see here my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) who has long been associated with road safety matters. He gave evidence to the Select Committee on European Legislature whose report we have.

It is obviously important that the House should have the opportunity to express its views on the Commission's overall approach to road safety and on the specific proposals now under consideration. I am sure that the House is grateful to the Select Committee for its most helpful report. The Committee fitted in an oral evidence session and should be congratulated on producing a report very quickly so that we could have this debate. It is a fair report, summarising the arguments on both sides, and there is nothing significant in it with which the Government disagree.

In one crucial respect, there is nothing between the British Government, other Governments and the Commission. We all want to reduce the appalling toll of death and injuries on Europe's roads and we all want to find the most effective ways of doing so. However, we must recognise that the task cannot be carried out by simple solutions. Safety measures need to be suited to different geographical, cultural and economic conditions. They need to be carefully judged, targeted and monitored.

Two separate groups of issues are involved in the debate. First, there is the broader political and legal question about the rightness of community action in this area. Secondly, there are the safety merits of the Commission's proposals. The basic issue is whether it is politically sensible for the Community to act on road safety matters which relate almost entirely to human behaviour. Clearly, where the Community has to grapple with difficult areas to ensure the achievement of its primary objectives—economic progress and the completion of the internal market—the British accept that, and we play a constructive part in trying to find a Communitywide solution. However, we do not see road safety as one of those areas. Road conditions, social habits and outlooks, driver behaviour and police enforcement practices vary enormously from country to country within the Community.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

We seem to have a potential problem. The British people thought that road safety laws were a matter for the competence of the United Kingdom. The European institutions, probably aided and abetted by the European Court, using procedures based on a majority vote on the basis of initiatives coming from the Commission, composed basically of bureaucrats with no democratic control, seem to have taken from the British people the power that they thought they had over road safety. If that proves to be the case, how shall we recover those powers?

Mr. Portillo

My hon. Friend puts his finger on the crux of tonight's debate and that is the very issue that I am addressing. The issues have been clearly set out in the Select Committee's excellent report. I was trying to expound some of those issues. I was saying that road conditions, social habits and outlooks and driver behaviour vary from country to country, as does police enforcement practice. I agree that to try to legislate effectively from Brussels to encompass such variation risks imposing over-simple solutions on complex issues. We do not need harmonisation in this area to obtain the primary objectives of the treaty. The principle of subsidiarity should apply. Road safey measures are best decided by national Governments to suit different circumstances. I think that my hon. Friend would agree with that.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

I am grateful for what the Minister said. It gives us a splendid idea of what the Government think. But my hon. Friend must be aware that the Commission's representatives have said clearly and categorically that practically all these measures are covered by the common transport policy which enables any other appropriate provisions to be made. The House would like to know whether the Government take the same splendid view. If the Commission's view is wholly different, as it is, what can we do about the proposal before us and a host of other imminent proposals, in which the Community is extending the EEC's powers by stretching the treaty of Rome and the Single European Act?

Mr. Portillo

We are dealing here with a disagreement between the Commission and the British Government, which the Select Committee report describes well. I point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) that all the matters covered by the report and which are the subject of tonight's motion were taken before the Council of Ministers but did not find favour there. The British Government opposed Community competence, and fortunately our view found favour with other member States. None of the provisions included in the motion has been adopted by majority voting, contrary to the wishes of the British Government, because a blocking minority in the Community clearly shares our view.

Mr. Marlow

My hon. Friend said that there has been a blocking minority, but I understand that when it came to tyre tread depths, that blocking minority evaporated. Therefore, we found that we were outvoted and that the measures were imposed on us. These are more important measures, to do with road safety, drink-driving, seat belts and road speed signs. My hon. Friend said that he is opposing what the Commission is trying to put forward. Supposing that my hon. Friend is defeated.

Supposing that the Government are defeated, and the Commission, through its various machinations and through use of the European Court—to help it to use majority voting where the Government do not believe that it should use majority voting—succeeds? What then will we do about it? How then are we going to get the powers back to this House? That is what we are here for—to exercise powers, to exercise the sovereignty of the British people. We had it recently over signs on cigarette packets, when we lost that one. How are we going to get it back?

Mr. Portillo

My hon. Friend asks a series of hypothetical questions. He is saying that, so far, our Community partners and ourselves have formed a blocking minority so that the proposals in question could not be adopted. Therefore, our policy must be to continue to oppose the proposals and to encourage our Community partners who form the other part of the blocking minority to maintain the same view.

My hon. Friend asked me also about the measure on tyre tread depths. He will appreciate that that is not the subject of tonight's motion, but he is right to say that, in that instance, the blocking minority evaporated. The motive behind the decision by some of our Community partners not to back us on that issue related to their belief that there were broader considerations relating to freedom of trade within the Community. Whether or not one agrees with that point of view—as the British Government do not, they voted against that proposal—the same argument was advanced by other member states. Therefore, that would not be a promising case to take to the European Court.

As to the proposals now before the House, I give my hon. Friend a pledge that we shall continue to resist the Commission's proposals. If we are defeated in due course—although I have no reason to think that we will be—we should have to consider taking our case to the European Court.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

With this measure, as with 1,001 others emanating from Brussels, we are witnessing the continuing diminution of British parliamentary sovereignty. To answer the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), there is little or nothing that the Government can do about Community measures relating to road safety or to the fishing, steel, and many other industries. We are witnessing the remorseless diminution of our parliamentary sovereignty.

Mr. Portillo

We are witnessing the consequences of a series of decisions, taken by Parliament over a period, to bring the United Kingdom into the European Community and to make it a signatory to the Single European Act. The British Government doubt the Commission's competence to advance proposals arising from that.

There are two ways in which those proposals can be resisted. In the first instance, the British Government can oppose them and seek to make common cause with other Governments who take the same view: that tactic has been deployed successfully in the case of the measures that we are discussing this evening, which were not adopted owing to a blocking minority. If, however, we were unable at some future time to sustain that blocking minority and some of the measures were adopted, and if we continued to doubt the competence of the Commission or the Community, it would be open to the British Government to take the matter to the European Court, where the treaty of Rome and any other relevant provisions could be interpreted.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

If our Government and the legal advisers to the Select Committee on European Legislation consider that a measure goes beyond the competence of the treaty, there are other options, not least the opportunity to exercise a veto. It really is not good enough to assume that the only possible route leads to the European Court of Justice: that is a protracted and uncertain route, especially in view of the political integrating policy of that court. Will my hon. Friend be good enough to tell us whether the Luxembourg accord has been considered, and whether we propose to exercise it in this case?

Mr. Portillo

So far, consideration of that has not been necessary, because it has been possible to bring about a blocking minority in the matters that we are discussing. The United Kingdom Government will, of course, be willing to consider any means of carrying forward their view that such matters go beyond the competence of the European Community.

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

May I pursue a slightly different tack? Why can we not adopt a common policy on drink-drive levels within the European Community? Presumably we have common standards for airline operation because the flights transcend national boundaries, but does not the same apply to motor cars, heavy goods vehicles and coaches? What is wrong with arriving at common standards on a voluntary basis?

Mr. Portillo

In the unlikely event that I am allowed to progress with my speech, I intend to deal with that later. I see no reason why we should not have the same standards in every country, but I think that there is a strong argument against the imposition of that by the Community. Perhaps my hon. Friend's question should be my cue to make faster progress.

We consider our line of argument to be one endorsed by the treaty of Rome. The founding fathers were political realists as well as idealists; nothing in the general articles at the beginning of the treaty—or in the transport chapter—suggests that the development of common road safety policy and rules was ever perceived as a necessary part of Community activity.

Arguments may be put to the contrary: the issue has never been tested head-on before the European Court. One particularly relevant case, mentioned in the Select Committee report, is the Schumalla case, which goes a long way to suggest that the court would share our view if the matter was ever tested to the full. In that case the Court's Advocate-General, in his analysis of the legal issues involved, suggested that road safety could be seen as an objective of the treaty, and it is on that opinion that the Commission relies. In its final judgment, the court seems studiously to have avoided endorsing the wider arguments suggested by the Advocate-General. The omission of any endorsing comment suggests that the full court, when confronting those arguments, had serious misgivings about them.

The Commission relies on what it calls the "precedents" for legislation on transport safety. The main examples are the drivers' hours legislation on road transport and various maritime transport measures which have significant safety implications. In each case, the primary purpose of the measure is something other than "pure safety". The drivers' hours legislation is primarily about competition; the maritime measures are primarily about Community trade. We have no problem with measures which serve the primary objectives of the treaty arid have related safety benefits. We give a positive welcome to the concept that the Commission should give more weight to safety considerations in many of its proposals, but that is different from bringing forward pure safety measures which have little or no relevance to the Community's primary objectives.

The House may wish me to go into the safety merits of each of the proposals later, so for the moment I shall be brief. The essential point is that the content of the proposals heavily underlines why it is unnecessary and inappropriate for measures such as this to be enacted at Community level. We are far from satisfied with the United Kingdom's road safety record, which is why we set the target of reducing road casualties by a third by the year 2000. We are constantly on guard against complacency, but the fact remains that we have the best road safety record in the European Community. Although we are not among the best on some specific aspects of road safety, the Commission's proposals are concerned not with any of them but with driving and occupancy of motor vehicles, on which our record is second to none.

On drinking and driving—this answers the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King)—the Commission proposes setting a legal limit of 0.5 per cent. The legal limit in the United Kingdom is 0.8 per cent., as it is in most other Community countries. Even in the United Kingdom, where drinking and driving has been falling significantly over recent years, over half those convicted have consumed more than twice our current legal limit. Moreover, there is little evidence of a significant accident or casualty problem for drivers who have consumed between 0.5 and 0.8 per cent., although evidence is not easy to obtain.

In the light of those considerations, we do not believe that it makes sense to invite the police to diversify their enforcement effort instead of continuing to concentrate on the worst offenders and those above the current limit. We believe that the same applies for most Community member countries. If circumstances in other countries are different, we should be the last to suggest that they should adopt a strategy that does not fit their circumstances.

Much the same is true for the proposal on speed limits. The Commission has addressed only passenger transport and goods vehicles. In general, those vehicles have a better than average safety record. In this country at least, many coaches are equipped with speed limiters. As 75 per cent. of casualties occur on local urban roads, the speed limits suggested by the Commission have little relevance to casualty reduction. If another car or person is hit by a bus, coach or lorry, even at much lower speeds than those under discussion, the results can be serious.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

We have been provided with helpful papers showing that under the EEC's proposal we might have to spend many millions of pounds changing our road signs from a speed limit of 30 miles per hour for vans and goods vehicles to 31 miles per hour, which is quite a significant change. Will permanent derogation ensure that that will not happen? Does the Minister accept that it would make not only the Common Market but the Department of Transport look terribly stupid if we were made to change our signs from 30 mph to 31 mph? May we be assured that we have a permanent derogation from the metrication which would make 50 km an hour apply?

Mr. Portillo

Although I am anxious to answer my hon. Friend's question, I fear that my inadequacy must show, being a late stand-in for my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham, who would have been able to answer immediately. I shall, however, take pains to answer my hon. Friend before the end of the debate.

As to whether I believe that it would be foolish for us to have to change our 30 mph speed limit to 31 mph, I concur with my hon. Friend, who gave an extremely good illustration of the problem that faces us in this area. He has done more than anybody to point out the ludicrousness of some of the suggestions that are being made.

There is the proposal to make seat belt wearing mandatory. Here, the content causes us fewer difficulties. Front seat belt wearing is already compulsory in this country, and we have already made it clear that the compulsory wearing of rear seat belts is our aim. The point at issue is, again, whether it is sensible to legislate on this at Community level.

Our 95 per cent. compliance rate with front seat belt wearing stems almost entirely from the fact that public opinion was ready for, and supported, the regulations when they were introduced. If we want the same to apply to rear seat belt wearing, we need to assess again the readiness of public opinion for such a change. With front seat belt wearing so widely accepted, I do not believe that there will be any significant difficulty. We also need to consider the proportion of vehicles that are equipped with rear belts. There is little point in making the requirement mandatory until, at the very least, half the vehicles on the roads are so equipped.

As it happens, that is likely to be the case in this country by about 1992, which is the date the Commission proposes for the introduction of mandatory belt wearing. But although that is true here, it may be possible to move faster in some countries, while others may not be ready for many years longer. In principle, we support the safety aspects of this Commission proposal, but again, it illustrates the difficulties and potential dangers of seeking to legislate, in this sort of area, at Community level.

We are all striving for the same objective—the reduction of deaths and serious injuries on Europe's roads. But for fundamental legal reasons, and for the sake of effectiveness, measures should be considered, initiated and monitored at the political level which is most appropriate. In the case of the proposals under discussion, the right level is that of national Governments in co-operation with local authorities. They are not right for action at Community level.

10.37 pm
Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

I must at the outset acknowledge our disappointment at the departure of the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) from his post and the loss of his unusual sense of humour, which we were beginning to enjoy.

We are considering tonight five European Community documents relating to road safety. As the Minister said, the debate must address not only questions of policy and the issues arising from the European Commission's proposals, but whether, at a more fundamental level, the commission is going beyond its powers in drawing up these proposals.

The Minister argued that there is no competence within the Community's legal framework for these measures— that is, that there are no, or only dubious, legal grounds to justify the Commission's measures. The Government argue that article 75 of the treaty of Rome provides for the adoption of measures within the framework of a common transport policy to implement the treaty's objectives. Those objectives are the removal of restrictions on trade and the removal of obstacles to free competition. The Minister is therefore arguing that. where those primary objectives are not met, the European community has no power or competence to adopt any other measures relating to transport.

The Government have made it clear that they will accept Community competence only in the area of harmonising vehicle standards which relate directly to competitiveness. But they have set their face against measures proposed on safety grounds alone. My hon. Friends and I note that that view is not unanimous in member states, although the Government have said that Germany and Denmark at present share their position.

In an interesting presentation to the Select Committee on European Legislation, to which the Minister referred, the European Commission set out its justification for the measures. According to the Commission, article 25 left it open to the Community to adopt any other appropriate measures relating to the implementation of a common transport policy. Hon. Members may be aware that the treaty of Rome mentions transport, agriculture and fisheries as sectors that are moving towards a common policy and, in the Commission's words, In these sectors you have all room to manoeuvre". The Commission cited a legal case to which the Minister referred, the Schumalla case, in which the Advocate General has advised that road safety of itself was an objective of the treaty, as was rail and inland waterway safety. The Commission argued that safety issues directly affect the play of market forces and that accidents have economic and financial consequences.

It seems clear to us that a court decision is needed to settle the issue, which appears to hinge, as the Sub-Committee states, on different interpretations of the Schumalla case". However, we believe that a legal framework that is so narrowly based on freeing up the market and allowing unfettered competition is an inadequate basis for promoting a coherent and integrated Community transport policy. Much is made of the need to harmonise standards in preparation for 1992 and the single market. Should not equal attention and value be given to the social and human consequences of 1992, to improving working conditions and safety standards and to giving environmental considerations a far greater role and value than hitherto? Unless that is done, if the Government's view prevails, the single market will work for the benefit of the few, not the many.

If the European Commission puts forward sensible proposals within the transport sector that advance road safety or, for instance, stimulate the commitment of member states to protect the environment as a key factor in their transport policy, we believe that the Commission should be supported. The Opposition support good proposals, whatever their source.

Mr. Marlow

The hon. Lady has just said that the Opposition would support good proposals from the Commission. Would they do so even where the Commission did not have competence?

Ms. Ruddock

I have made it plain that the issue of competence is not clear, either in the Select Committee's report or in the Government's statement, and that, to determine this matter, there would have to be a court case. However, the hon. Gentleman will understand from looking at the Select Committee's report and at the evidence of the Commission's legal adviser that the Commission believes that the Government's case would not succeed in court, because article 75 allows for the possibility of proceeding on the ground of road safety measures alone, without additional measures relating to competitiveness.

Mr. Marlow

The hon. Lady's original statement was wider than that. She said that she would support good ideas from the Commission, not necessarily just the ideas that we are considering in the debate. Does she mean that she would support any good ideas, whether or not the Commission had competence?

Ms. Ruddock

We would support any ideas on their merits. It is always possible, even if there is not agreement among all member states, for states to support good ideas and introduce them in their national Parliaments. The Minister has argued that such measures are best left in the hands of national Governments who are more in tune with national behaviour and social norms. I do not see why both paths cannot be pursued.

I acknowledge and applaud the efforts by the former Minister for Roads and Traffic in reducing road casualties and in promoting road safety. I hope that the Minister for Public Transport and his new colleagues will continue to make road safety a priority, as the Opposition have long argued. The former Minister acknowledged in his evidence to the Sub-Committee that, if he were the Commission, he would try to find every peg on which to reduce road casualties, and surely that must be the duty of all of us. He spoke also of the progress that could be made on those measures where there was doubt about Community competence, principally on design modifications to vehicles. We would support all the measures to which he referred, such as technical changes, improved seat belts, softer steering wheels and better protection on motor bikes.

The proposal that is most contentious and most strongly resisted by the Government is the draft directive on the maximum permitted alcohol concentrations for vehicle drivers. We have heard that the Commissioners propose to set the maximum alcohol limit at 50 mg. It is currently 80 mg in the United Kingdom. The Minister has outlined his reasons for his opposition to lowering the limit, and in what he says there is much with which we agree. Working to influence attitudes towards drinking and driving at all levels is vital, and a focus on the drinking limit may have the effect of implying that it is safe to drink up to that limit.

A strategy of public education and stricter enforcement has resulted in a gradual reduction in accidents resulting from drinking and driving, but the toll still remains unacceptably high. About 900 to 1,000 people are still killed on Britain's roads as a result of drink-driving, and more than 20,000 are injured annually. More steps are needed further to reduce the rate, and it may be that a reduction in the limit will be part of a package of measures designed to reduce drink-driving, although, like the Minister, we are doubtful of its effectiveness as a single measure.

A more productive measure, for which there is widespread support in the House and outside, would he the introduction of random breath testing. We would support highly visible, systematic mass testing at roadside check points, but because of the possible abuse of people's civil liberties we would not support providing the police with unfettered powers to stop and test at their own discretion.

The value of random breath testing is as a deterrent to drivers. Its secondary role is as a detector. We would support such a measure, and we hope very much that the new Minister for Roads and Traffic, the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins), will soon be making it clear to the House where the Government stand.

I move on to the draft directive on seat belts. There is little disagreement between ourselves and the Government.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

I think that I might have missed something. Perhaps the hon. Lady will be kind enough to explain what the difference is between random breath testing and calling drivers into the side of the road in a visible way, as she described, which is surely random breath testing as well. I do not understand the difference between the two.

Mrs. Ruddock

There is a significant difference. Accompanying the introduction of random breath testing is the need scientifically to randomise it. The check must be truly random. For example, one would stop one vehicle in 100, 500 or whatever. If discretion is left entirely to the police officer, there is always the possibility that that individual will choose certain types of vehicle or drivers. That can arouse suspicion among drivers that they have been picked on for some purpose other than pure random testing. It is a serious consideration for civil liberties. I can say from my constituency experience that there are many complaints from young black people who consider that they are stopped disproportionately often. If we have a random system, we must be careful that we can demonstrate that it is truly random.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Does the hon. Lady believe that the type of testing which she has described, with which I have much sympathy, should be imposed by national Parliaments' decisions or by the Commission? She appears to be willing to consider imposition by the Commission.

Ms. Ruddock

We are not talking about a measure that the Commission has proposed.

Mr. Wells

Not yet.

Ms. Ruddock

The hon. Gentleman may be correct. We agree with the Government that what the Commission is currently proposing—a reduction in the permitted alcohol level in the blood—is not the present priority. I acknowledge that in the fight to reduce the number of drink-drive offences we need to introduce new measures. The priority of groups such as the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety is deemed to be that of random testing. If the Commission were to bring that forward, I am sure that it would have our support. We know that with 1992, drivers will be constantly crossing national boundaries. There is sense in having measures equalised throughout the Community.

Perhaps, I can continue with my speech, or I shall be taking too much time from other hon. Members who wish to participate in the debate.

There is virtually no disagreement between the Government and ourselves about seat belts. The Commission proposed to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory for all occupants of cars, with certain exceptions. Again, we know from the surveys by the road research laboratory that only 6 per cent. of adults use rear seat belts, but that the use of them could save about 70 per cent. of rear seat fatalities. There were 25,000 casualties in 1987, 4,000 of which were fatalities. We very much support the wearing of rear seat belts. There is a difference between the projections of the Parliamentary Advisory Committee on Transport Safety and of the Government about the percentage of cars that will be fitted with rear seat belts. PACTS believes that 45 per cent. of all cars will be fitted with rear seat belts by the end of this year. I urge the Minister to re-examine the figures, because it may be possible that, even if we are not going to act within the Commission, we can act on the national question sooner rather than later.

The Commission has justified its proposal to harmonise speed limits on several grounds, the least persuasive of which was that speed limits have a direct effect on prices and that a distortion of competition could result from different speed limits in different countries. We tend to agree with the proposition that adequate signing is equally important, so that drivers crossing borders are aware of the different speed restrictions. Secondly, speed limits are closely related to congestion problems in each country and, as such, are not perhaps appropriate for community harmonisation. Having said that, we acknowledge that there are arguments for bringing down some speed limits. Evidence shows that reducing speed limits can reduce the accident rates, although a judgment needs to be made as to at what point a reduced speed limit may result in it being disregarded.

There is a strong case for lower speed limits for buses and coaches, as outlined in the Commission's proposal. Many motorists feel threatened by the speed and size of coaches travelling in the fast lanes of our motorways and passengers in such coaches, especially in double deckers, are frequently concerned about safety.

Mr. Roger King

Clearly, the hon. Lady will have studied the accident record of coach travel in this country and on our motorways. Is she aware that the biggest operator in western Europe has not harmed a passenger in three and a half years?

Ms. Ruddock

I am aware of that. I did not make any claims about safety. I simply referred to the effect on other drivers on the motorways and the feelings of many passengers on those coaches.

Mr. King

They do not feel that way.

Ms. Ruddock

They do.

Mr. King

I travel on coaches.

Ms. Ruddock

The hon. Gentleman may have travelled on them, but many people who have also travelled on them have spoken to me about their concerns. Anyone who is driving down a motorway at 70 mph, and is passed by a double-decker coach, is somewhat intimidated.

The points which I wish to make on speed do not just concern safety. We need to work to increase an awareness among motorists of the environmental consequences of speeding. High speeds produce higher vehicle emissions and lower speeds reduce vehicle emissions, especially nitrates and oxides. The Commission states that a reduction in average speeds in the Community to 100 km per hour could reduce car emissions by 10 per cent. That is an important factor which we also need to take into account.

All the specific proposals are set out in the context of a continuing programme of road safety work undertaken by the Commission, as set out in its document on road safety. The arguments about the legal basis of the Commission's proposals have already been rehearsed. They should not obscure the fact that, with 50,000 people dying and 1.6 million injured each year on Community roads, much work still needs to be done.

We note that the legal adviser to the Commission has said that a proposal related to road safety per se would stand a good chance of being accepted as falling within article 75. However, as the Minister has said, the matter is currently academic because of the blocking action of member states, and we are content to leave it as it is.

10.54 pm
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

I hope that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) will listen carefully to my brief comments. She said that the Commission is saying some wise and knowledgable things. Perhaps it is because I am sure that there is no group of people in the world that does not say wise things from time to time, but we may differ about their wisdom.

I hope that from the point of view of constitutional democracy, the hon. Lady will be careful about what seems almost an obsession to pass over the right to make decisions to something that is not democratic in the sense in which British people have always understood our way of making laws. I hope that the hon. Lady will accept that when proposals come forward from an unelected body such as the Commission, when the powers of the various organisations are decided by the non-elected European Court, and when the final decisions are made by the Council of Ministers, who often "swop" support in different councils on the basis of what is happening, we are moving many miles away from democracy as we understood it. I therefore hope——

Ms. Ruddock

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is entirely innocent in this matter, but it was his Government who agreed to all these measures and powers for the Community.

Mr. Taylor

I accept that the decisions on the treaty of Rome and on the Single European Act were made by Parliament—I happened to vote against them and that is my own business—but they are now the law of the land. I hope that the hon. Lady will hear very much in mind the fact that if those powers are consistently and regularly extended by the Commission when there is insufficient protection for member states to do something about it, we have a serious constitutional problem.

We know that there are only two things that the British Government can do if a directive is brought before the Council which they think is in excess of the powers of the Community under the terms of the treaties that we have approved. First, they can seek to get the Council unanimously to say no, if it is a question of majority voting. However, it is very rare for that to happen and I am not aware of any decision in which that has happened—[Interruption.] Yes, at its first meeting the Council of Ministers can say no unanimously, but to my knowledge that has not happened.

Secondly, one can go to the European Court. The hon. Lady will be aware that in a large majority of the cases—even in the minority, there were other factors—the court has consistently supported extensions to the powers of the institutions of the Community.

Dr. Godman

Is it not the case that domestic legislatures have little or no control over the decision-making of the European Commission and that domestic Parliaments have no control over Council of Ministers' decisions? Therefore, is it not almost inevitable that over the next decade or so the Strasbourg Parliament will gain more and more power as Parliaments such as this lose power?

Mr. Taylor

I agree with almost all that the hon. Gentleman has said, but there is no question of the Strasbourg Parliament getting all the power. When the EEC is based on the initiating power of the Commission, on the decisions of the Council of Ministers, and on the extension of its powers by the Court, there is no role for the European Parliament. There could be a role if we had a European Government. If we had a European Foreign Secretary, a European Chancellor of the Exchequer and a European Parliament, with nothing but a county council at national level, those powers could rest with that Parliament.

The hon. Gentleman must be well aware that for the present, and in the immediate future, if the European Parliament were to disappear, tomorrow, nobody would notice. Indeed, on these issues, if this Government and this Parliament were to disappear nobody would notice. Even if all of us decided—I exclude the new Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, because he may feel that this is not one for him—to reject this whole business, it would not have the slightest effect on what the Minister might do.

We must appreciate that we are facing a serious democratic issue. That is why some of us have asked the Government, if they think that this is an extension of Community powers, to try to do something about it. We must remember that we have given certain powers to the EEC, and if it is going out of its way to extend those powers unreasonably, the Government must do something about it. That is why we have to go all the way to the European Court. Although the answer might be no, we have to make it clear that we are not happy with the way in which things are going.

Ultimately, given the way in which the Commission is working, almost nothing will be our business. Almost every decision will be taken by the European Community, sadly, in a society which is basically not democratic. That should worry us, and the Government.

The Minister, sadly, did not refer to what I regard as terribly important proposals—those on driver licensing. The Minister will be aware of the Common Market's latest ploy, which involves those wonderful vehicles to which some of us have subscribed—the special minibuses which transport blind and disabled people. They are run by wonderful charities and driven by volunteers, and have fabulous safety records. The latest proposals are for a special licence category and trained drivers.

I have received many letters from charities asking what will happen to them. I have had to reply that I cannot do anything about it, as it has all been decided in Brussels. Will the Minister make the position abundantly clear? Is he saying that the proposals are blocked? Can the charities therefore forget about the matter? Alternatively, is the question still open? The Minister must be well aware that the proposal is causing the charities huge concern and they would like to know exactly where they stand. It is on page 3 of the memorandum issued on 8 March 1989.

Mr. Roger King

I believe that the matter has been resolved successfully and that it is all right for existing drivers to continue operating minibuses with up to 17 seats. In future it may be necessary to have a higher standard of test for such vehicles. We would welcome that as it would improve safety records. Running those vehicles is an important task. We need to ensure that those who drive the vehicles, which are often loaded with scouts, cubs, football teams and so on, attain a very high standard of driving.

Mr. Taylor

My hon. Friend the Minister will probably disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) as he is aware that the standard of driving of those volunteer drivers is about the highest of any group of drivers in the country. My hon. Friend should also be aware that some of our leading charities have written to say that if they are forced to take all their new drivers as trained drivers, unfortunately those vehicles will have to stop carrying blind and disabled people, not because of a decision taken by the Government, but because of the directive. The Commission may consider it appropriate for Europe, but why on earth should we be forced to say that trained drivers must drive the minibuses for which most of us have collected cash or contributed to and believe are important to take disabled people on trips to the seaside and regularly on other journeys?

I hope that the Minister will tell us the score. Will new drivers have to be specially qualified, adding enormously to the costs of operating the minibuses, or has the matter been entirely blocked? It does not say so in any of the documents, and we should like to know.

My second question concerns speed limits. The Opposition did not comment in detail on the proposals for speed limits. I was hoping that they would. I hope that those who study such matters will look at page 2 of the document issued on 22 February which puts forward proposals that for a large number of vehicles, the 30 mph speed limit should change to 31 mph, the maximum rate for certain goods vehicles should be reduced from 70 mph to 62 mph and for others the maximum of 60 mph should be reduced to 50 mph. Those are fundamental and important changes. The Government have said that to change the signs for some of those limits would cost £10 million. There are many worthy causes for which £10 million could be used, but I do not see how it will help society or the cause of the Common Market to spend £10 million on changing signs from 30 to 31. Apart from the road signs, many official forms would have to be changed.

I understand that we can get out of this if we obtain something called a permanent derogation. Even the Commission, despite what the hon. Member for Deptford says—I know that she agrees with it—and a commissioner who wants a united Europe would say, "If they have a 30 mph limit and we want a 31 mph limit, it does not make a great deal of difference." We could split the difference and call it 30.5 mph. I think that it is something that we can resolve.

The Minister may say, "Do not worry about it, we have a blocking minority"; but he will know that such a minority disappears. We have to ask whether we can stop provision being made long term, and the answer is that we can—if we have a permanent derogation. It would be crazy and confusing if some vehicles had a speed limit of 62 mph, others had a limit of 44 mph, and still others had a limit of 50 mph.

What is wrong with our speed limits? If they are wrong, we can probably sort them out. If the buses are going too fast in the constituency of the hon. Member for Deptford, we can resolve it. What is the need for this obsessive commitment to get everyone harmonised on 31 mph? If, as the driver of a van, my speed limit was 44 mph, I would say not that that improved road safety but that it added to confusion.

The Government agree with me. They say that the proposals would lead to unsafe bunching, to an increase in journey times, to increased costs and to a reduction in the competitive position of road transport and the freight industries in relation to other transport modes. I should have thought that they would appeal to the Labour party—they will undermine public transport. I am sorry to see the Labour party fulfilling the role that we used to expect from the old Liberals, now the SLD or whatever it is called—that everything from the Common Market is to be approved of. It seems that the more that we can give to Brussels, the more likely we are to get the uniform Socialism that Labour wants. In view of that, I hope that the Government will appreciate that we have a problem. We must do something to stop silly, costly measures.

I refer only to the Front Bench of the Labour party. Quite a number of Back-Bench Labour Members are still sensible and do not want this nonsense. They want to try to preserve the rights of a free democracy. I hope that they will exercise the same power over their Front Bench as some of us are exercising, with great success, on our Front Bench, which has resulted in a change in the Government's attitude to these issues.

We must accept that the Government have said that there is a problem of competence here. They told the Select Committee on European Legislation that they have substantial objections on competence grounds. The Commission said that it can do almost anything because article 75 refers to, "any other appropriate provisions". That means a lot.

I was sorry to hear the Minister say that the Schumalla case confirmed that everything is okay because the Commission's chief legal officers took the opposite view. The title of the case was "Road Safety", and a sentence in the penultimate paragraph of the judgment said that the safety of transport by road, rail and inland waterway was indeed an objective of the common transport policy.

I hope that the Government will give us some idea of where they intend to go on this extension of policy. They cannot simply ignore it and say that they have a blocking minority in the meantime. This is a growing and continuing problem, and we would like to hear from the Government what their long-term policy on such matters will be. Can we stop silly things happening? Can we stop a 31 mph speed limit permanently?

I hope that the Government will make it abundantly clear to the Common Market that, although there may be some wise and even sensible men there, we do not like their seizing powers, and that the Government are determined to do something about it.

11.9 pm

Mr. Roger Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)

I know of no proposals from the Commission to abolish miles, nor of any to abolish hours. There needs to be an injection of common sense into the debate. The hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) made points of academic interest. I hope that common sense will prevail and that we shall retain a 30 mph speed limit.

I would like the Minister to reassure us, as his predecessor did some weeks ago, that the problem of volunteer drivers has been overcome. I am a volunteer driver on some weekends and I expect to be able to continue to be one under a licensing system that makes allowances for the vast number of volunteer vehicles on the roads. His predecessor said that he would make strong representations on the matter, and I trust that they have borne fruit. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that later.

The objectives of the documents are desirable, although the means of achieving them are somewhat contentious, and that has taken up much of the debate. However, having signed and voted for the Single European Act, there is little we can do to unscramble some of these matters. The element of common sense should, perhaps, be applied here.

One of our problems is the need to strengthen the European Parliament. We receive many directives, like tablets of stone, from the Commission, which we are supposed to follow to the letter. If the European Parliament were stronger, it might have more impact on the Commission and be able to bring about some reforms in that respect.

Mr. Cash


Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

The hon. Gentleman seems to have stirred up a hornets' nest. Will he remind the House when it was explained to the House, how it was explained to the House and how clear it was to him at the time that the Single European Act meant that transport policy would be totally within the competence of the European Community and that it would be totally within the competence of the European Community on the basis of majority voting? I was here all the time and it never occurred to me.

Mr. Livsey

As I understand it, transport was one of the points incorporated in the treaty of Rome. That is now history. We are involved in a rather academic debate about it now. We are confronted this evening with documents that the Commission wishes to implement.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct in saying that the Single European Act did not particularly affect the issues we are discussing. However, is he aware that, neither under the Single European Act nor previously, would these matters have gone for a second round to the European Parliament after the initial opinion? Is he therefore advocating that they should do and that many other issues should do? In that case, what is he expected to be doing here?

Mr. Livsey

The hon. Gentleman must recognise that we are set on a path to greater European integration. That will undoubtedly take some time, and it is taking a long time already. Some Europeans believe that we are not moving fast enough and there are a variety of views in the House on the topic. However, we should get back to the documents.

The objective of reducing deaths on the roads of Europe is laudable. The figure for those injured—other hon. Members have mentioned a figure of 1.6 million—is enormous and the number of injuries in a single year on the roads of Europe equates with figures for the second world war. When 50,000 people a year die, it is equivalent to wiping out a town the size of Hereford or Merthyr Tydfil, for example, every year. It is a serious problem, and we should not sell ourselves short in wishing to improve matters.

I know that the Government are attempting to improve matters. Britain's record on road safety and road deaths is extremely good, but that does not mean that there is no room for improvement in future. I would certainly support measures to achieve improvement. Successive Governments have introduced measures to reduce the number of road deaths. We are somewhat ahead of other Community countries in that respect.

We must consider each item on its merits. Stringent tyre tread depths have been implemented in Europe, and that will help road safety in this country. It is difficult to achieve the harmonisation of speeds, because there are different road conditions in this country. It is highly desirable to reduce the alcohol limit—50 ml per litre of blood is a controversial figure, but, none the less, it is a move in the right direction. To achieve adequate road safety, no driver should drink at all.

Many crocodile tears have been shed about Europe's powers, but, whether or not we like them, they exist. We must try to see the matter through in the best possible way.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Livsey

I will not give way, as I am coming to the end of my speech.

We must examine road safety and related matters in greater detail. I refer in particular to speed, in relation to which it is more difficult to achieve harmonisation.

11.16 pm
Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Hon. Members are, or should be, dealing with a common-sense matter—the way to reduce deaths and injuries on our roads. The Commission should proceed in the time-honoured and traditional manner in which many European states have constitutionally proceeded, and that is to devolve this type of decision-making to national Governments, local governments and other authorities. These matters concern culture, tradition, and road conditions, which differ greatly in various parts of the Community.

I direct the Minister to the idea of subsidiarity when arguing these matters in the Council of Ministers. Europeans would understand such an argument. It is not offensive to greater European unity. It is a method by which we could proceed harmoniously to produce the road safety measures that we are discussing. Such measures would be understood by the people who use the roads in the Community and they would be enforced by the police. We will enforce such measures only if they are supported by ordinary people in the Community.

Mr. Cash

My hon. Friend invokes the principle of subsidiarity. That is based on the assumption that the Commission is the remotest degree interested in reducing its powers to the point at which it would leave such matters to member states. Does my hon. Friend agree that, if it is proposing to invoke a common transport policy as the basis upon which it would take up this matter and proceed with it as it is at the moment, there is not a cat in hell's chance that it would agree to the principle of subsicliarity?

Mr. Wells

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. The Commission is entrusted with the duty of taking all initiatives and making all proposals to the Council of Ministers. Our hon. Friend the Minister will attend the Council of Ministers, so it is to there that our arguments and ideas must be directed. We want to reject the proposed legislation on the three matters before the House. The Council must ensure that road safety is a matter of subsidiarity. Although there is some dispute about the powers of the Commission, they might prevail in a court. Nevertheless, for the reason of common sense, the Commission should not proceed.

The first matter relates to the amount of alcohol a driver can consume before committing an offence. In this country, the permitted level is 80 ml of alcohol per 1,000 ml. of blood, but in the remainder of the Community the level is 50 ml. The question is, what are the cultural traditions on the drinking of alcohol in the various Community countries? In Bavaria, for example, employers regularly supply workers in their factories with cold drinks—not Pepsi Cola or other soft, non-alcoholic drinks, but Bavarian lager. It is normal practice for them to drink lager throughout the day. In Britain, such a practice would probably induce a large number of people leaving work to drive while over the alcohol limit. That is just one example of how cultural traditions play an important part in the decision on the correct level under which people are permitted to drive.

In other parts of the Community access to alcohol for young people is severely limited. If they took in as much as 50 ml it would be dangerous because they are not used to alcohol and their judgment and driving skills would be affected. Decisions on this matter should therefore relate to national traditions and be covered by national, not Community, legislation.

It has been argued that one should not drink and drive at all, but that is not the law of this country or that of most of Europe. The law allows people to drive below a certain level of alcohol in the blood. The decision on what alcohol limits should be set has nothing to do with competition between the various Community countries, and it is through the anchor of the competitive element that we should try to make Europe a common market.

If, by having different regulations, one Community country achieved an advantage over another, there should be a common European standard. However, alcohol content and back seat belts cannot be anchored to a competitive advantage for any country. There might be a slight argument of competitive advantage on the issue of speed limits. However, as speed limits on roads in any Community country will apply equally to any driver, from wherever he comes in the Community, they are in fact all on the same level. All drivers should check the speed limits applying to roads—whether 30, 60 or 70 mph—and they should remain continuously aware of them. Having the same speed limits throughout Europe—especially the ridiculous change from 30 to 31 mph—would make absolutely no difference to road safety. It would not save a single life or a single limb.

This is not just a matter of whether the Community has competence in this matter, it is simply a matter of common sense. I appeal to the European honoured tradition of subsidiarity—that a law should not be made at a higher level if it can be made at a lower level and thereby gain consent for that law and aid its enforcement.

11.24 pm
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) has put his finger on the important difference between scientific specification, particularly for vehicles, depth of tyre tread or places for seat belts, which is a physical and clear matter which can be tested, and human conduct, social habits and custom. The two are different. One can be measured exactly and the other is local.

I agree with genuine co-operation on standards, particularly on safety matters, but in matters of human conduct, where compliance is subtle, deterrence is important. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) illustrated that in her remarks on random breath testing.

We all know that compliance, deterrence, penalties, sentencing policy and the way in which police operate are sensitive matters even in different parts of our own land. Therefore, it is fundamental that we should leave this to a level where there will be the best practical result. The evidence given by the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) to the Committee was strong in that respect.

However, the evidence given to the Select Committee on competence was not reassuring. One of the Commission's witnesses appeared before the Committee and the Chairman asked: I am wondering if you could indicate to us, on your interpretation of the Treaty, what you would regard as being appropriate for a national government or parliament as legislation within the sphere of transport? As you have explained it, one would assume that there was none. Am I right in that? The reply was ambiguous and at question 44 the Chairman again said: As you have answered that, it would appear to us that as transport is clearly an economic activity, nothing would be excluded. I am not sure whether you would agree with that? Mr. Gosalbo-Bono replied: Legally speaking, according to the Treaty of Rome, every possible subject that will come in the field of transport—there will need again to be established a common transport policy—will fall inside the competence of the Community. That was the view of the legal officer to the Commission's Director General of Transport. It is not necessarily that of the European Court, but that is clearly the case that the Commission would argue if it ever got there.

I would have hoped, along with the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford, that common sense would intervene. Irrespective of whether it is a good thing or not, and even if it could be proved that it was within the competence of the treaty, surely any wise Government would not push legislation to the limits of its own constitution. Some Governments may do that. Some politicians, even some Prime Ministers, may do that. But whether that is wise is a different matter.

I hope that Ministers will argue that, irrespective of whether there is competence—the Commission thinks that there is, but Ministers think not—it would be unwise to use it in this respect. That would be in accordance with good human nature and so would be more likely to yield the practical results that we all wish to see.

11.29 pm
Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

I listened with interest to right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, and agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) in his criticism of the European Community inflicting ideas and legislation on this country. However, in respect of motor transport policy and of motor vehicle construction and usage, it may be to our advantage to arrive at a consensus throughout the Community, in establishing a legal framework within which all member states could operate. The opening of the Channel tunnel and the broadening of Europe's motoring horizons will bring a far higher number of heavy goods vehicles on to our roads. Some commonality of speed limits, driving hours and usage would only be sensible.

We must ensure that the message goes from this House that the Commission's proposals are unacceptable as they stand. Annex 1 to the Committee's report shows the percentage distribution of blood alcohol concentration across a sample of 728 road accident fatalities. Thirty-five per cent. of fatalities occurred among drivers having an alcohol level of 0.09 per cent. in their bloodstream. That is a tiny limit, and one wonders whether the accidents could be blamed on other factors or were wholly attributable to the drivers concerned being in a highly inebriated condition. The same question arises in respect of the 29 per cent. of the sample having an alcohol concentration of 0.5 per cent.

The majority of accidents occur among drivers having an alcohol level of 0.8 per cent. and above. Our limit is 89 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood, and experience over many years shows that most fatalities occur among drivers with an alcohol concentration well in excess of that limit. We should try to ensure that the standard adopted throughout Europe is that which the majority of member states already apply.

Much greater controversy surrounds speed limits. British road conditions, widths, signposting and other variables make it difficult to apply to our motorways the limits that are imposed elsewhere in Europe, and the reverse is true in respect of German autobahns. British roads consisting of three lanes and a generous hard shoulder may be classified as motorways, whereas two-lane roads with narrow shoulders in Germany may be designated as autobahns. Nevertheless, it is probably safer driving fast on a British motorway than it is on an autostrada—even though the motorway has a higher speed limit. It would be difficult to establish a pan-European speed limit for motorways.

Nevertheless, a European scale of speed limits seems sensible as we move gradually towards a more integrated Europe. The 30 or 31 mph limit exemplifies the ludicrousness of some of the proposals: what we mean is that we will stick to 30 mph, and if the rest of Europe wants to do 31 mph who is going to argue? Surely it is not necessary to insist on a 30 mph limit if the rest of Europe can accept 31 mph, because of the difficulties involved in translating metric speeds into miles per hour.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) discussed proposals for heavy goods vehicles and coaches. The European requirement that coaches should he restricted to 62 mph on motorways is clearly ludicrous; there is no evidence to suggest that that is much safer than our standard 70 mph limit. Coach travel—which many people have had an opportunity to sample as a result of the rail strike—has become more popular since deregulation, and there is no evidence that passengers travelling at 70 mph on the top deck of a Rapide coach are frightened out of their wits. On the contrary, drivers on the M1 passing Scottish Citylink coaches on their way to Glasgow in the late evening will see the passengers sound asleep, or perhaps watching a video, at speeds at and over 65 mph.

I am also appalled at the suggestion that expressway vehicles—whatever they are—should be limited to 50 mph. We would certainly wish to contest such a restriction. I note from the requirements that coaches will be traveling at, or very near, the same speed as heavy goods vehicles. The present speed limit for coaches makes a good deal of sense, and experience has suggested that coach travel is extremely safe.

Perhaps the European Commission should have a look at our railways: some of the trains do not seem to hold the track nowadays, as we have seen recently. I doubt whether they will get round to it, however, as far too many environmental lobbies favour rail transport and are constantly seeking to place more restrictions on motor vehicles and travel.

We are lucky in this country: because of our attitude to coach travel we have built up a very popular system, which enables passengers to journey from one end to the other at an economic price. That is not possible in Europe. because coaches travelling at 50 or 60 mph cover ground so slowly that it is not an attractive form of transport. If we wish to retain the competitive nature of our transport—road versus rail versus air—we must ensure that all modes of travel are encouraged in the right way. I favour a limit of 75 mph for cars, with higher speeds for quieter motorways.

Let us consider the legislation carefully: we need to get matters exactly right.

11.38 pm
Mr. Portillo

I welcome the generous remarks made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) about my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley): he put his heart into his efforts to improve road safety, and I believe that he has a good deal of achievement to his credit. I also welcome the many points that she made in agreement with the Government's position, as set out by me. I shall, however, study with great interest what she said about giving support for good ideas, whatever their source. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) responded quickly to that feature of her speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East also asked me why I had not mentioned minibus driver licensing. The answer is that it is not included in the documents that we are discussing. I refer my hon. Friend to a written answer given by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham on 21 July 1989, in which he said that he had made good progress in direct discussions with the Commission about minibuses. He thought that the Commission's proposals on the second driver licensing directive could be modified to allow ordinary car licence holders, including the deaf, to drive minibuses with up to 17 seats under wide-ranging circumstances, which are set out in the written answer. Obviously, at this stage, the modifications are only proposed, but the discussions have been highly encouraging. I thank my hon. Friend and other hon. Members for the support that they have given the Government, which has been instrumental in persuading Community officials that they should suggest such a compromise.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) referred to speed limits. It is clear that the Commission has not thought sufficiently about the practical implications of harmonising speed limits or, in particular, the cost of harmonising speed limits or, in particular, the cost of conversion. We robustly pointed out the difficulties to the Commission. Opposition to harmonisation of speed limits among other member countries is so firm that so far no attempt has been made to begin Council negotiations. Derogation does not arise because there is no community law on speed limits. It is clear that harmonisation will not be pressed, because, if it were, ludicrous consequences would result. I am happy to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East that we would be prepared to go to the European Court if necessary, but a strong issue would have to be involved.

The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said that it is not sensible to try to legislate Europewide on local custom or human behaviour. I believe that we have used that argument in the past, but I am happy to endorse the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) stressed subsidiarity, and I agree that we should press that important principle. We should like it to be applied in the United Kingdom as well as in the European Community. We depend on local authorities for much of the good work that is done.

The principle underlying our approach to road safety is that we should concentrate on measures on which we can be reasonably sure that our proposals will reduce casualties. Many questions have been asked about whether the Community has competence to deal with this matter. We doubt whether some of its proposals meet the test of having been proven to improve road safety——

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted Business).

Question agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 4303/89 on seat belts, 4252/89 on road safety, 9228/89 on maximum permitted alcohol concentration for vehicle drivers, and 4156/87 and 4305/89 on speed limits; and endorses the Government's commitment to resist proposals in this area which are outside the field of Community competence, and not clearly related to the objectives of a common transport policy or of the internal market.