§ Order for Second Reading read.4.52 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is the first time I have had the pleasure of appearing at the Dispatch Box in my new incarnation——
§ Mr. Rifkind
I start as I mean to go on.
I cannot claim to have been other than surprised at the responsibilities that I have been given. Indeed, I could not help but recollect the splendid words from a sonnet by Wordsworth:Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind I turned to share the transport".My joy was enhanced by the realisation that, as a result of that translation, I would enjoy the company of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) for many weeks, months and perhaps years to come—a veritable transport of delight.
I pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Parkinson). During his period as Secretary of State for Transport he achieved a great deal. He not only identified the great priority that must be given to the subject but ensured that the resources which will be available over the next few years will be substantial. My task and that of my hon. Friends has been made much easier by my right hon. Friend's achievements.
Today we are to consider the details of the Road Traffic Bill, but perhaps I could precede my comments by one or two brief remarks about wider transport matters which arise out of the legislation. I begin by commenting on what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said. Arising out of the events of the past two or three days, I have asked my Department to review the current arrangements for dealing with sudden weather crises to see whether further improvements can be made to assist the movement of passengers and freight at such times. That review will also take account of arrangements in comparable countries. I am satisfied that action for dealing with snow on motorways, trunk roads and railway lines was put into hand quickly and effectively, but there is always room for improvement and it is right that we should make the effort to see whether further improvements would be appropriate. I hope to report to the House on that matter as soon as possible.
I shall now make a couple of brief comments on general transport policy, which will be of interest and relevant to the Bill. For many years we have been conscious of how transport is crucial to the economy of the country, given that we are a great trading nation and that the movement of our freight, imports and exports is the lifeblood of our economy. I am conscious also that transport is highly relevant to the convenience of members of the public as they go about their normal business. What has become clear in recent years is the extent to which a new dimension is relevant to the debate on transport—the environmental 684 dimension and the impact on the quality of life of our people as a whole which the current transport circumstances inevitably produce.
For millions of our fellow citizens, particularly in the south-east but also to some extent in every town and city across the land, the sheer growth in the volume of traffic as a consequence of the increasing prosperity of the country has brought major problems, frustration, congestion and irritation. I have no doubt that, in the months and years to come, that environmental dimension —the implications for the quality of life of people arising out of the huge and increasing volume of transport that the country will experience—will capture our attention to an even greater extent than in the past.
For some time I have been conscious of what I can describe only as a rather sterile debate as between road and rail transport and the priorities that should be attached to either. That debate is often conducted on a rather superficial level. Only last week, when some journalists discovered that I regularly travel by train from Edinburgh to London, I was immediately declared to be a new champion of the railways. No doubt, the discovery that I flew down to Heathrow this morning will be a cause of depression to the same commentators. In fact, like the vast majority of our fellow citizens, I choose road, rail or air transport depending on convenience and cost. That is the only sensible basis on which to expect the public to choose their method of transport.
§ Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)
Although I am delighted to hear that my right hon and learned Friend travels to Scotland by air and train, has he ever done so by road? What was his experience?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I have travelled regularly by road. On most occasions I enjoyed the experience enormously, but there are occasional exceptions to that general principle. My hon. Friend must speculate as to when they are likely to have been.
There will be increased commercial opportunities for the use of the rail network. That would clearly be beneficial to the country as a whole. One of the great delights in the past few years has been the enormous increase in the number of railway stations which have been opened or reopened under the present Government. That process is opening a new chapter in railway history. However, I am conscious also that nine times as many people use the roads as passengers and for freight. Therefore, any sensible investment policy must reflect both requirements of our national infrastructure.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
What concerns many people about the rail-road debate is that British rail appears—in the north of Scotland, at any rate—to be throwing aside opportunities to increase rail freight. It also seems to be throwing aside opportunities to retain passenger transport. Does the Secretary of State accept that one of the problems in Aberdeen is that British Rail is busy cutting its through services to London while at the same time claiming that there is no need for electrification between Aberdeen and Edinburgh because we shall have a better service? How can that be so when it is destroying conditions to improve services?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman's description of what is happening is unnecessarily alarmist. He referred to freight services and one is obviously aware of the problems 685 faced by Speedlink, and British Rail's current examination of them. The way in which British Rail is finding alternative ways of carrying freight on the network, which has been traditionally carried by Speedlink, is particularly encouraging. No doubt, that will be welcomed. For all services—both passenger and freight—it is necessary for British Rail to identify not only the public interest, but the proper use of what will always be finite resources. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is the only logical basis on which these matters can be considered.
I recognise that, increasingly, the debate on transport cannot be conducted purely at the national level. If there was ever a theme to which both the European dimension and the wider international dimension are relevant, it is transport. While the Government continue—as we shall —to emphasise the liberalisation of transport in the public interest, the debate will increasingly be conducted on both the European and the wider levels because that is the appropriate way to make progress in the interests of the public as a whole.
The purpose of the Bill is to save lives—it is as simple as that. Many of its provisions will make an important contribution towards continuing the significant improve-ments in road safety that we have seen in recent years. Although there has been considerable progress. I am conscious that much remains to be done. Nevertheless, it is right to recognise what has been achieved in the past 10 years. There is some comfort in the fact that, since the 1960s, despite a 250 per cent. increase in the volume of traffic on our roads, the number of fatalities has been substantially reduced from 8,000 per year to 5,000 per year. If we compared the United Kingdom's achievements with the figures for most other comparable European countries, again, some comfort can be taken from what has been achieved here in the past 10 or 15 years. The casualty rate in the United Kingdom is 9.2 deaths for every 100,000 persons. In the western part of Germany—the old Federal Republic—the figure is 13.4 per 100,000, while in France it is 20.6, in Spain it is 21.1 and in Portugal it is 33.2.
§ Mr. Conal Gregory (York)
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his new and elevated position as Secretary of State for Transport. He has made a telling point about comparisons with other countries. Will he confirm that Australia and Scandinavia have also reduced their fatalities by opting for random breath testing? Will my right hon. and learned Friend use the opportunity of his introductory remarks now, as we come towards the Christmas festivities, to state that he accepts that logic and the fact that more than 91 per cent. of people have said in opinion polls that they would support a Government who introduced random breath tests?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I acknowledge the progress that has been made in Australia, although I understand that that country still has a higher casualty rate than the United Kingdom. Random breath testing is a difficult and sensitive issue. It is right constantly to consider the experience of other countries, and it is important to remember that the existing legislation permits the police a wide discretion—which is virtually identical to random breath testing. At present, any police officer in the exercise of his duty can require a vehicle to stop. If the police officer then has any reason to believe that that vehicle, which might have been stopped randomly, is being driven by 686 someone under the influence of alcohol, the police officer can require a test to be taken. Therefore, there is an enormously wide discretion at present. However, I wish to continue to study the experience of other countries, which have different statutes, to see whether anything further can be learnt from their experiences.
§ Mr. Rifkind
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall not give way because I am conscious of the time and I have given way to him already. No doubt he will make his comments later, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
§ Mr. Rifkind
No. I shall not give way on this point.
I have made certain comparisons with other European countries which are favourable to the United Kingdom. However, I am conscious that the current position remains extremely serious. Every day, 15 people are killed on our roads and 170 are seriously injured. It is against that background that the Government adopted the target of seeking to reduce those casualties by a full one third by the end of the decade.
The proposals in part I of the Bill have the potential to make a valuable contribution to achieving that target. They implement the recommendations of the White Paper which was published in February 1989. This was the Government's response to the recommendations of the review of road traffic law, which was carried out under the chairmanship of Dr. Peter North. I pay tribute to Dr. North and to the review, which played an important part not only in the Government's thinking but in the wider public debate.
The law has a vital role to play in promoting the safety of all road users, whether as drivers, passengers, riders or pedestrians. It provides for those who infringe or threaten the safety of others to be dealt with. The knowledge that such action will be taken means a higher overall standard of driving and riding behaviour. There is no doubt that without good traffic law and its robust enforcement the toll on our roads would be very much higher. If we can improve and update that law and make its enforcement even more effective, there is every prospect that the casualty rate can be reduced. That is what the first part of the Bill is intended to do.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
First, I offer my congratulations to the Secretary of State on his sideways transfer. Does he agree that causing death by dangerous or careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs has often led to amazingly light sentences being imposed by sheriffs? I exclude Greenock sheriffs from that criticism. Can the Secretary of State assure me that drivers who are convicted of culpable homicide and dreadful offences of this kind will receive the heavy sentences that they so manifestly deserve?
§ Mr. Rifkind
A person convicted of culpable homicide in Scotland could be subject to any sentence because, so far as I am aware, there is no statutory limit. Sentences for those guilty of causing death by dangerous or drunken driving are dealt with in the Bill, under which a maximum penalty of five years will be available to the courts if that is judged appropriate.
687 We are attacking the problem on three fronts. First, we are reforming the main road traffic offences. We are determined to crack down on bad driving. It has not always proved possible in the past in England and Wales to secure convictions for the existing offences of reckless driving and causing death by reckless driving because of the need for juries to be satisfied as to the driver's state of mind at the time the act of bad driving took place. We are therefore creating new offences which should more satisfactorily permit convictions for bad driving. We are also creating a new offence to deal more effectively with the drunk driver who drives badly and kills. There is never any excuse for drink-driving. A drunk driver who kills in these circumstances must expect the most severe penalty. We are also plugging a gap in the law with a new offence in England and Wales to deal with the vandals who put lives at risk by placing or throwing objects such as concrete blocks on to roads. If my Scottish colleagues are interested to know why that does not apply in Scotland, it is because the existing law on malicious mischief adequately deals with such matters.
The second area of action is penalties. The current offence of causing death by reckless driving already carries a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment. That will be retained for the new dangerous driving offence where death is caused. There will be be a similar penalty for the other new offence of causing death when under the influence of drink or drugs. Offences of this gravity should be severely punished.
§ Mr. Prescott
I am grateful for what the Secretary of State has said and I add my congratulations to him on his new appointment. He has started well, but I shall say more about that later. As Dr. North was concerned about deaths on the road which are caused by fatigue—not only by drink and drugs—does the Secretary of State intend to include provisions on fatigue in the Bill?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I should like to hear the hon. Gentleman state with slightly greater care exactly what he has in mind. We did not think it appropriate to create an offence of careless driving that causes death because it could involve sentences which might be disproportionate to the gravity of the behaviour, that is, the careless nature of the driving of the individual concerned. If the hon. Gentleman will expand on that point, I will deal with it in more detail.
In other circumstances the maximum penalty for the new dangerous driving offence will be two years in prison —again the same as for the current reckless driving offence. We shall also introduce two new sentencing options, which should have a major effect on the behaviour of road users. People convicted of the most serious driving offences will have to take a much tougher driving test before being allowed back on the road at the end of a period of disqualification. We are also providing for an experiment in rehabilitation courses for offenders convicted for drink-driving offences. Experience from experiments abroad has suggested that such schemes, which encourage offenders to rethink their attitudes to drinking and driving, can have a significant effect on rates of reoffending. There will be powers to mount a national scheme if the experiment proves successful.
Finally, there are measures to improve enforcement of the law through the more effective use of camera 688 technology to detect speeding and red light jumping offences. Cameras will be placed where road safety benefits can be maximised. Their presence should have a major deterrent effect. And they could lead to a reduction of as much as 5 per cent. in road accidents.
§ Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)
On technological aids, as I understand it, the aim of the Bill is to give the Secretary of State powers to introduce their use and to rule on the admissibility of evidence from them. Is he aware that one of the most serious causes of accidents is driving too close behind the car in front? Is he further aware that technological aids are available to give a warning that someone is driving too close or to prevent it? Such aids are not mentioned in the Bill and my right hon. and learned Friend may not wish to answer now, but will he consider the possibility of making the clause sufficiently wide to enable provision for such technological aids to be incorporated in the Bill? I understand that they are available abroad.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I shall be happy to look into the matter raised by my hon. Friend. Technology constantly produces new opportunities. If new devices can make a significant contribution to saving lives and preventing injury, we shall consider them in a constructive spirit. I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point.
Before I turn to part II of the Bill, I shall deal with the clauses in part I. Clauses 1 and 2 replace the existing reckless driving offences, as I have earlier explained, with new dangerous driving offences. These will be based more closely on the actual standard of driving. Clauses 3 and 4 deal with the menace of drink-driving, in particular by creation of the new offence of causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs. Clause 5 contains the new offence, which I also mentioned earlier, of causing danger to road users by placing or throwing objects on to roads.
Clauses 7 to 13 extend the existing powers to test vehicles on roads and to prohibit the driving of dangerous vehicles. Henceforth, it will he possible to test vehicles on roads for conformity with all construction and use requirements including emissions. The powers of prohibition will apply to private cars as well goods vehicles and public service vehicles and will, in circumstances of immediate danger, be exercisable by authorised police officers as well as the Department's vehicle examiners.
Clauses 17, 19 and 30 provide for the more effective use of camera technology. They make provisions as to the admissibility of camera evidence, provide safeguards on the reliability of the equipment and simplify follow-up procedures through the fixed penalty system. Proper enforcement, with proper safeguards, will bring valuable road safety benefits.
Clauses 23 to 25 make changes to the operation of disqualification and the penalty points system. In future, people disqualified for a specific offence such as drink-driving will no longer have the penalty points from previous unrelated offences wiped from their licences. This will act as a reminder to them that they must act responsibly once their licence is returned. It will also encourage the courts to make more use of their existing powers to order short periods of disqualification, for which provision is made in clause 29.
§ Mr. Holt
In a recent case in my constituency, involving the death of one of my constituents, the person who 689 perpetrated that death was given penalty points which were made to run concurrently with the eight points that he already had—they were not totted up. Under the new legislation, will my right hon. and learned Friend stop the current magistrates' practice of allowing concurrent penalties?
§ Mr. Rifkind
In general, it is appropriate for the magistrate to have discretion to decide whether a penalty should be concurrent or consecutive, but my hon. Friend has drawn the point to my attention and we shall consider whether it would be appropriate to stop the practice.
Clauses 26 and 27 set out the arrangements for the rehabilitation courses for drink drivers. The courses will be designed to influence offenders' attitudes to drinking and driving and to encourage self-examination. Offenders who complete courses successfully will be entitled to a reduction in the period of disqualification. The scheme will initially take the form of an experiment in selected areas. We shall need to monitor the experiment carefully before deciding whether to embark on a full-scale national scheme.
Clause 28 places courts under a duty to order re-tests for those convicted of the new dangerous driving offences. The extended test will probably be twice the length of the normal driving test and consequently more demanding. Courts will also have wide discretion to order a re-test for people convicted of other offences which result in disqualification. These optional powers will be particularly helpful where offenders' driving behaviour suggests that the discipline of a test will be useful in determining whether they should be allowed back on the road.
Clause 32 simplifies the procedures for local authorities to vary parking charges at designated parking places, and clause 33 deals with the power of local authorities in London to appoint parking attendants.
Part II of the Bill contains a major package to deal with traffic in London. Demand for travel in London is forecast to grow. It reflects and reinforces the prosperity of the capital, the benefits of which flow to the whole country. The increase in commuting to central London has been carried entirely by public transport. Since 1983, the number of people commuting by rail has increased by 22 per cent. and we have a massive investment programme in London Underground and Network SouthEast to cater for them. By contrast, the numbers commuting by car has fallen by more than 10 per cent. But other traffic in London has been increasing—for instance, the number of vans coming into central London has risen by more than half—and major new developments are bound to generate some extra traffic, so it is not realistic to set limits on traffic growth in London. Our aims are to cater for growth in London's economy and to relieve the worst congestion where this can be done without unacceptable environmental and social costs. We have a major programme of road improvements in hand, particularly to upgrade the North Circular road and to improve access to east London and Docklands. However, we have to accept that the scope for new road construction is limited, particularly in inner London.
Without any action, the problem would steadily worsen. Over the past 20 years, average speeds have gradually fallen—for example, peak hour speeds in inner London have fallen from 14 mph to about 11 mph. Drivers 690 increasingly use side roads to avoid overcrowded main roads, causing disturbances and accidents in residential areas.
Therefore, we are creating a network of priority routes, or "red routes", which will help people and goods to move around London more easily. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), who called for such an innovation some time ago and has campaigned tirelessly for it. He mentioned to me that he would have liked to be here today but he explained that lie is attending a conference in France. I pay tribute to his pioneering work in this respect. The routes will be subject to special controls on stopping, loading and unloading, which will be strictly enforced, with appropriate penalties for non-compliance. They will be managed by our traffic director, who will ensure the efficient operation of the network. The reduction of avoidable hold-ups will increase reliability and cut waste of resources and the pollution caused by stop-start conditions.
There will be special provision for buses, the performance of which suffers due to congestion. It will be possible to make room for better facilities for pedestrians and cyclists, and measures will be introduced to keep traffic out of residential areas, which will have safety benefits.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way to me on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box as Transport Secretary. While I agree with much of the description that he gave, will he take it from me that, although the remedy may help marginally, it is not the most effective one and that there was insufficient consultation on that part of the Bill, which is a bureaucratic nightmare?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I await with considerable interest and anticipation a description of the remedy which the hon. Gentleman believes would solve the problem more effectively than the Government's proposal.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
The Secretary of State must be aware that the proposed experimental red route runs through my constituency and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). During the consultation period, there was overwhelming opposition to the imposition of the route on the area—not least by the local authority, which is elected by the people of the area. The opposition was mounted following the successful opposition to the building of a major through-route in the area. The red route will bring an increase in traffic through the area, and that traffic will travel at higher speeds. In effect, we shall see the construction of a large barrier through the middle of communities. Does the Secretary of State agree that the real solution to London's traffic problems is to invest more resources in public transport and to reduce the number of vehicles entering London? London cannot cope with any increase in traffic. In effect, the Government will sit idly by and watch an increase in London's traffic take place.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The Government are increasing resources for public transport, and by a far greater amount than for many years. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and others will welcome that. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I remind him that whatever measures might be taken, including the sort of measures which I have no doubt he has in mind, there will still be a considerable volume of 691 traffic throughout London. It is important that that traffic should, if possible, be able to move more easily and without congestion. Congestion frustrates drivers, in-creases the dangers for pedestrians in the part of the town where it exists, and is likely to lead to an increase in casualties.
I can reassure the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) that the proposed red route is a pilot scheme. The experiment will be carried out and we shall be able to see the effect that it has. The Government and, I am sure, the local authority will be examining it with great interest to ascertain whether the implications and consequences are helpful or otherwise. Where red routes have been applied elsewhere, there has been a beneficial consequence for the movement of traffic. We hope that that will be replicated in London.
Along with red routes, the Bill will also provide for the establishment of a new and more rational system of permitted parking, mainly at meter and residents' bays, to be administered and enforced by local authorities. This will release significant numbers of police traffic wardens to enforce legal parking controls on red routes and elsewhere. At the same time, we are providing traffic wardens with wider powers to clamp and impound vehicles. The potential benefits are enormous. More than 200,000 parking offences are committed in the capital each day. Some estimates suggest that the economic cost in central London alone is about £140 million a year. The initiative is the first of its type for more than 20 years, and the widest ever. It is part of the Government's aim to make the best use of existing roads throughout London and forms part of our broad strategic approach to the development of London's transport system.
§ Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that in Westminster, where the police have pioneered the use of wheel clamping and towing away, there has been a dramatic improvement in the control of parking and the movement of traffic? My right hon. and learned Friend is right to say that the most significant increase in the volume of traffic arises from the use of commercial vehicles and not from private cars.
§ Mr. Rifkind
My hon. Friend is correct. I believe that the number of cars coming into London has decreased over the years by 10 per cent., but the number of vans and commercial vehicles has continued to increase. We are seeking to respond to that phenomenon.
Clause 35 gives the Secretary of State the power to designate a network of priority routes to ease the flow of traffic on London's main roads. Clause 36 gives the Secretary of State power to issue new traffic management guidance to London's local authorities and the Traffic Director for London. The guidance will focus on the Secretary of State's aims for the network, and explain how the routes fit into the Government's approach to the development of transport in London. Clause 37 gives the Secretary of State power to appoint an independent Traffic Director for London to co-ordinate the establishment of the routes and monitor their operation. It also gives the Secretary of State power to set the director's objectives.
§ Mr. Corbyn
The Secretary of State is dealing with a serious part of the Bill. The people of London lost the power to elect a London-wide authority when the Greater 692 London council was abolished. It now appears that we are to have a traffic authority for London by appointment, thrust upon us by the Secretary of State. Where is the democracy in that? Or do Londoners get no say any more in the planning of London's traffic?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The director's responsibilities will be limited to the proposed red routes. I hope that he will be working alongside the local authorities. He will submit a report to Parliament on the way in which he has exercised his duties. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman's criticisms are justified.
Clause 38 requires the director to issue a network plan to the London local authorities, setting out the overall framework for the routes, the way in which the priority route measures are to be introduced and the timetable for their introduction.
Clauses 39 to 47 cover the preparation and implementation of local plans, which will set out in detail the priority route measures to be introduced. There will be a duty on relevant London local authorities to prepare and implement plans for priority routes for which they are the highway authority. The plans will need to be approved by the traffic director. The director will have a similar duty to prepare and implement local plans for trunk roads designated as priority routes where he is directed to do so by the Secretary of State. The traffic director and the Secretary of State will have fall-back powers where the local authorities fail to meet their duties. However, the implementation of the network will be very much for the benefit of all London's residents, so we are looking forward to the local authorities' co-operation and envisage the fall-back powers being used only as a last resort.
Clause 48 requires the Secretary of State to issue parking guidance to local authorities in London to ensure a co-ordinated approach to parking. The aim will be to avoid distortions between one area of London and another, to maximise the benefits of the priority routes and to improve the movement of traffic throughout London. Part of the guidance will cover the introduction and operation of the new system of permitted on-street parking in London.
Clauses 49 to 58 make provision for the new system. Excess charges set by individual local authorities will be replaced by standard penalty charges set by a joint committee. Instead of being backed by the threat of prosecution, they will be collected as a civil debt, and all enforcement at permitted parking places—meter bays and residents' spaces—will be carried out by local authority parking attendants instead of police traffic wardens. They will have the power to wheel-clamp vehicles parked in breach of the orders. It will be the function of the committee to set the charges associated with wheel-clamping and removal. It will also appoint parking adjudicators to whom aggrieved drivers may appeal.
Clause 59 provides for the Secretary of State to make grants to the traffic director to cover the reasonable expenditure that he incurs in relation to the priority routes. As the local authority roads in the network will comprise only about 30 per cent. of the total, and the work on these roads will be for the benefit of the network as a whole, it is proposed that the director will make appropriate payments to the local authorities from the grant.
I believe that this Bill will make an important contribution to the efficiency and safety of transport, both in London through the major programme for the easing of 693 congestion, and nationally through the reform of road traffic law. It has already been welcomed by a number of important commentators and organisations involved with road transport matters. The Automobile Association saw the Billas a means of keeping dangerous, aggressive and antisocial drivers off Britain's roads.The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents welcomed the provisions set out in the Bill and has said that it views the Billas a very positive step.A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers has written:Seldom have the recommendations of a Government review body met with such unanimous support from interested parties. It is hoped that the Bill will serve to reduce the tragic waste of life on our roads.I am sure that the House will wish to give the Bill a Second Reading, and I so commend.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
First, I offer my congratulations to the Secretary of State. Having listened to him this afternoon, I think that I shall find more agreement with him that I have with his predecessors. I presume, however, that once we get into the area of transport policy, disagreement will begin.
We start on a good note with the Bill, which is about road safety. If its aim is to improve road safety, that will unite both sides of the House. I am delighted to be able to give it that support. The introductory remarks of the Secretary of State reflect, I think, the way in which he will approach his job. I am delighted that that is so. I wondered what sort of character the right hon. and learned Gentleman was. Those of us who represent constituencies south of Scotland hear of the battles that are taking place in Scottish constituencies.
This morning I read a profile of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in Transport Week, a magazine published by the Freight Transport Association. The headline described him as theScot who could knock Transport into kilterThe profile is complimentary and we already know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has a great reputation as a thinker and debater. I was particularly impressed on one occasion when he made a speech without notes, but I note that the practice was not followed today. No doubt the detail of transport will exercise his mind and he will have to keep close to his notes. I am glad that, at last, he has joined the normal mortals of the Chamber.
The profile describes the Secretary of State a s an ambitious lawyer. He will certainly need to be that if he is to understand the technical matters behind the Bill. The article also says that his promotion was a necessary climb up the ladder. I am not sure that the same could be said of previous Secretaries of State and we shall wait and see what happens to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
The Secretary of State has already realised that it is important to pursue a different policy from that pursued in the past and that that is more important than a different face at the Department. That change of emphasis was clear from his speech today when he spoke about the consequences for the environment—presumably that means more than just planting trees on roadsides, which was the policy advocated by the previous Secretary of State. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also spoke about integration and planning, which are important 694 issues and are at the heart of Labour party policy. Given that his Department seems to be pinching most of our ideas, I suggest that the right hon. and learned Gentleman consults two documents produced by us, "Moving Britain into Europe" and "Moving Britain into the 1990s". They would add to his thinking on transport.
I noted that the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that it was important to recognise that Europe will have an important effect on our transport policy. I recall a television interview with the Minister for Public Transport when it was pointed out to him that the European railway system was much better than our own. He replied that it was the job of the United Kingdom and not the Europeans to run our railways. Perhaps the Minister will heed what his Secretary of State said about learning from the Europeans, as they have produced a better rail system than our own. I accept, of course, that there is also much to be gained from our railway system.
Today gives me the opportunity to make an unusual pact with the Secretary of State: can we agree to take ideology out of transport? The tragedy is that arguments about planning and intervention have been described in terms of ideology, but those arguments are all about achieving a better transport system. In Europe, Governments of the left and right have agreed that there is a role for Government, public money, planning arid intervention. If both sides of the House recognise that, we have a good opportunity to turn Britain's transport system into a good one. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must accept that he has inherited a mess and a transport system in crisis. I hope that he will make the necessary changes.
The profile in the FTA magazine also described the right hon. and learned Gentleman as a winner in Scotland. I was rather confused about that, because, as an outsider, I thought that he had had more than his fair share of problems. After all, the poll tax was pretty disastrous when it was introduced up there; there was civil war in the Conservative party and support for it had rapidly declined. I should have thought that any job in this Cabinet was better for him than staying in Scotland. Whether he is a winner or not, I hope that he will do much better when dealing with the United Kingdom's transport system.
We must recognise that the role of the Government is important. It is also important to consider the role of the Department of Transport in terms of problems associated with bad weather. The Department could do a lot about co-ordinating policy and I am not satisfied that the Home Office is the right Department for that. I am glad that the Secretary of State has also recognised that we could learn a great deal from Europe about how to cope with such adverse weather.
Access to motorways and the use of railways are crucial in severe weather. It was interesting to note that, today, most hon. Members complained about problems associated with motor cars. If our public transport system were more effective, however, it could make a much greater contribution in such circumstances. Many car drivers use their vehicles because they are more reliable than our transport system. That is a sad reflection on what has happened to transport services in the past few years.
Hon. Members have &ready related the problems that they experienced in their cars at the weekend and I am not averse to relating the difficulties I have had when attempting to catch various trains. On Friday I intended to catch the 5.33 pm Pullman to Hull, but when I reached the 695 Victoria line I found that there was a delay of half an hour because another train was stuck on the line. For the best part of 25 minutes no train appeared and most people missed their connections—I was one of them and I took a later fast train to Leeds. In the past I have spoken about those marvellous trains that travel at 140 mph, but even that train was 40 minutes late getting into Doncaster. That delay could not be blamed on bad weather, as it was still fine on Friday evening. My story illustrates that the problem relates to the reliability of our system. Such reliability is crucial and I look forward to debating that with the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
We support part I of the Bill, but we have many criticisms to make about part II, which relates to London and priority routes. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) will have much to say about that later. I want to concentrate on part I, because, as the Secretary of State said, it is concerned with safety, saving lives and reducing the incidence of serious injury. We recognise that our safety record is better than that of Europe, and the Government can readily claim some credit for that. The death and accident rate among the young and old suggests that the control of speed limits within our cities is crucial if we are to reduce such accidents. The Bill will give powers, for the first time, to reduce speed limits in urban areas and that is welcome.
The Government may talk about centralisation, but, once they abolished the Greater London council and took over control of the underground and bus services, standards grew considerably worse. We were told often enough that hon. Members would be able to debate the accountability of those transport authorities despite the abolition of the GLC. When we asked how that would be possible, we were told that we would be able to debate that issue when considering the supplementary rates. Now, as a result of the poll tax, however, we no longer have a debate on the supplementary rates and, therefore, those transport authorities are less accountable than when they were under the control of the GLC.
The traffic supremo is accountable to no one, save the Secretary of State. He can enforce powers over the local authorities and those authorities will have little control. As far as I can understand it, the traffic supremo is nothing but a quango. I thought that the Government spent most of their time saying that they wanted to get rid of such things.
I agree that it is essential that we must deal with the problems caused by urban traffic, but if the Government want to do anything about improving transport in our cities more emphasis should be placed on the use of buses rather than private vehicles.
I note that the right hon. Member for Birmingham——
§ Mr. Prescott
The hon. Gentleman should not be so ambitious. I meant to refer to the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler). I may have got his constituency wrong, but I am right to say that he did most to deregulate our bus services—a decision which everyone recognises to have been disastrous. When the present Secretary of State was responsible for Scotland he did not make the same mistake. I remember that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield spent a lot of his time 696 welcoming and waving off British Coachways, which he described as a new enterprise with a cutting edge. I am afraid to say that it lasted just 18 months and was taken over by the privatised National Bus system. That great new enterprise could not stand up to the competition because it did not have the necessary resources, let alone a reservation system, to cope. Another great idea, which was part of the cutting edge of enterprise, failed. The deregulation of buses was a catalogue of disasters— catalogued by a number of authorities and not just by me. It is up to people to make their judgment about it.
I disagree with nothing that the Secretary of State said about part I of the Bill—the controversy relates to what has been left out. Hon. Members on both sides have already revealed the strength of feeling about random testing and drink-driving. That is a major issue on which I hope the House has the opportunity to vote. I am sad and sorry that the Secretary of State has not seen his way to include it in the Bill. To be fair, I am also sorry that consideration of random testing was not included in Dr. North's terms of reference. It was unfortunate that, although he spent some time considering drink-driving, he did not look at random testing. Anyone who has met Dr. North will know that he has strong views on the matter. We must take the opportunity of the Bill to deal with that issue.
The drink-driving aspect is important. I appreciate that the Home Office set up a committee which reported on this issue, but rejected the possibility of introducing random testing. However, it is time for the House to make a decision. It is a controversial matter involving balancing the civil rights of the individual and the rights of people to be defended from those who take irresponsible and criminal actions. The House has constantly had good debates on the subjects of abortion, seat belts and hanging, which all involve important principles. It has often been rightly said that the House is at its best when it has such debates.
In many ways, while it is Opposition policy to introduce random testing, I hope that the possibility of giving the House a free vote will be considered. I suggested that in Committee when the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield was Secretary of State. As he knows, three or four hon. Members supported my suggestion in Committee in those early days in the 1970s. Now, the opportunity for such a vote must be provided in the House. In the past, votes have been held in Committee, but there has never been a chance for the whole House to vote on the matter.
The arguments are overwhelming, as the figures show. In 1988, one in six road deaths involved drink-driving, which was responsible for killing 950 and injuring 25,000. There were 120,000 convictions for drink-driving, nearly all the defendants lost their licences and 4,000 went to prison. More than half the drivers and motor bike riders killed on roads between 10 pm and 4 am were over the legal limit. In 1987, the cost of road accidents was £4 billion. Since the introduction of the breathalyser in 1967, the number of excess alcohol detections has quadrupled. The breathalyser has been a success because it has reduced the number of deaths and accidents, as is well proven.
Therefore, the argument before us is whether we should go further and introduce random testing. At present, the police make it clear that they intend to carry out what is basically random testing. In The Independent on 697 Wednesday 5 December, Commander David Ray of New Scotland Yard made the following statement to warn drivers;You will be tested if you are involved in a road accident, whether you are at fault or not, or you commit a moving traffic offence and a police officer suspects you have been drinking or you are drunk in charge of a vehicle, even if it is parked.The last two policies are exactly the same as they are now, but the first policy shows that police will now act as they feel fit, whether or not there is anything wrong with the vehicle. Parliament has not agreed that policy.
It has been said that we should leave it to the discretion of the chief constables. I have a list of all the chief constables in different parts of the country; some believe in random testing and some think that it is not so important. Let us look at the scale of random testing—that is, what is occurring, but without approval from the House. In Nottingham in 1988, there were 32,800 screen testings, in Merseyside—a similar police force—there were 4,700 testings. It depends where one is in the country whether one is subjected to such screening. We should have one uniform policy on that. If we decide to allow random testing, cars should be stopped under uniform conditions in all parts of the United Kingdom. Cars should not be stopped merely for road testing. The questions of when, how and if the driver will be able to appeal against the decision should be contained in legislation; we should not leave such issues solely to the discretion of chief constables and I am surprised that hon. Members believe that we should.
Experiments clearly show that wherever random testing has been introduced—Australia, Austria, south Wales and various other countries—there tends to be a reduction in deaths and accidents of about 35 per cent. If we were to introduce random testing, many hundreds of deaths and serious injuries could be prevented. I am not aware of all the evidence, but I appeal to the Secretary of State to ask his Department to look at all the evidence and provide detailed information for the Committee stage so that we can make some assessment of it.
I am always confused when I hear that people are worried about whether the police have too much power and discretion. In the road safety debate on 16 November, the Minister for Roads and Traffic said:The police have tremendous discretion and, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said earlier this year, it is appropriate to leave the law as it is. I emphasise that there were 22 per cent. more breath tests last year than there were the year before. If the police continue at that rate, it will not be long before we have 1 million breath tests a year.That means that the number of breath tests will have doubled from 500,000 to 1 million. The Minister continued that, in those circumstances,One can always make a case for increasing police powers, but we should be cautious about giving greater discretion to the police in this matter."—[Official Report, 16 November 1990; Vol. 180, c. 815.]The police have discretion which varies from district to district.
The House is prepared to press for votes on hanging —we are about to have one—when there are about 500 murders a year. Some hon. Members are prepared to bring in hanging, presumably as a deterrent—I have heard very few of them argue the case for retribution. Therefore, in this case, where more lives could be saved by one simple action, the House should pay equal attention to saving 698 lives by bringing in random testing, for which there is a powerful argument, and I find it difficult to understand why it does not do so.
The Department contains two "hangers" and two Ministers who voted against hanging. Therefore, perhaps the Department is equally balanced. The House should at least be given the opportunity to vote on random testing. Let us hear the available evidence and have a debate, just as the House will have a vote on hanging——
§ Mr. Greg Knight (Lords Commissioner to the Treasury)
Not random hanging.
§ Mr. Prescott
I am sure that the parents of children killed in drink-driving cases will not find the hon. Gentleman's remark very clever. People do not understand how, despite the big majorities against hanging, the House returns to the subject every 12 to 18 months, but constantly refuses, year after year, to have a vote on breath testing. I assure the House that the Opposition will ensure that there will be a motion to debate that subject and an opportunity to settle the issue once and for all.
§ Sir John Wheeler
The hon. Gentleman makes some important and powerful points with which the House will have a good degree of sympathy. Does he agree that the simplest solution to the problem of drink-driving is not one of law or the debate about the extent of the law and police powers? I agree that, in their enforcement of the law, police officers should have standardised procedures. However, is not the answer to use the modern technology available to prevent people with alcohol on their breath from starting the engine of a car?
§ Mr. Prescott
There is a role for technology, but I am sure that it is not beyond human wit and ingenuity to get round such proposals. I am all for welcoming any technology, whether related to red lights to stop people jumping the lights or speeding, but ultimately it is the deterrent, the chance of being caught, that is the most effective way of influencing people and persuading them not to drink and drive.
The options open to us are not limited to random testing; the blood alcohol level could be brought down to that recommended in Europe. The evidence shows that reducing the level would undermine people who think that they can have two pints or certain drinks, and still be below the limit. Such people are a problem. I understand the logic of the argument that we should not allow any drink, but we must live with reality and bring down blood alcohol levels.
In a pub yesterday I bought a lemonade for 85p. It is scandalous that, in the time of drink-driving laws, one pays as much for a glass of lemonade as for beer, when one person in a group may decide to drink lemonade, as many youngsters do. It is to the credit of youngsters that they are not the targets at which we aim legislation. It is aimed at those aged between 35 and 50, such as business executives, the A1 and A2 social classifications, including company directors and the higher echelons of society, including Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. Prescott
I have no intention of giving way to the hon. Gentleman. He had a number of remarks to make and I have received his apology. He was quite wrong to 699 make the remarks he did in the road safety debate and I have no intention of giving way to him in this debate—he knows what I am talking about.
§ Mr. Prescott
No, sit down.
The changes proposed in respect of careless, dangerous and reckless driving, to which the Secretary of State referred, are good and proper, and are to be welcomed. However, there is concern about the quality of the advice given to the police on what constitutes careless, dangerous or reckless driving. The changes that North suggests are much more sensible.
Clause 3 refers to drink and drugs, but not to drivers affected by fatigue or sleepiness. The White Paper, "The Road User and the Law," makes reference to the offence of driving while unfit. It mentionsdrink, drugs … temporary incapacity due to fatigue, somnolence or temporary disability".I cannot find those categories in the Bill. Incapacity through fatigue, and people driving for longer hours than they should, are important considerations. One can understand the difficulties of bringing charges under that heading, and perhaps that led the Secretary of State to omit it from the Bill.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman will surely acknowledge that there is a high degree of culpability if someone drives under the influence of drink or drugs which they should have been aware they had consumed. Driving while suffering from excess fatigue does not, by its very nature, involve the same degree of culpability—and therefore falls to be treated differently.
§ Mr. Prescott
I was quoting from the Government's own White Paper, and Dr. North also considered the question of fatigue. Although it might be difficult to prove such an offence, perhaps the Secretary of State will address himself to that matter in Committee.
There is undoubtedly a causal link between speed and accidents. I have as much need to understand that as anyone else. People who live in glass houses should not throw stones. There is clear evidence of a correlation between speed, road accidents and deaths that no one can deny and legislators must bear it in mind when drafting new law. The Bill strikes the right balance in that respect. I look forward also to debating the role that technology can play, whether in stopping people from jumping traffic lights or driving at excessive speeds.
Use of deterrents is the most effective way of preventing road casualties and I hope that we shall be able to make progress with that. I am interested that the Government are giving consideration to introducing corporate liability, which I have advocated in many other areas. The Bill appears to confine the application of corporate liability to cases in which a company is required to reveal the identity of the driver of a firm's vehicle that has been involved in an accident. The Government now seem prepared to attach corporate liability to the firm that owns the car concerned. That leaves the controversial question whether, having fined the company, one or more of its directors will also be given penalty points. One wonders whether that would be acceptable and I look forward to debates in Committee on that aspect also.
700 I would like corporate liability extended to heavy goods vehicles. All too often we blame the worker—the driver involved in an accident that has occurred in difficult circumstances. The White Paper suggests that responsibility should not be taken from the driver, and that philosophy is reflected in the Bill. That will simply place the driver under greater pressure from the lorry owner.
The recent BBC "Watchdog" programme on lorries was a powerful piece of work, and clearly showed that of the 19 million cars in the United Kingdom, 5,000 are involved in fatal accidents each year, whereas the half a million lorries are involved in 1,000 fatal accidents. The number of fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles travelled is 1.7 in the case of cars, and 3.4 in the case of lorries—twice as many.
In 1989, 88,000 heavy goods vehicles were tested at the roadside, 16.5 per cent. of which were prohibited from continuing their journeys due to law-breaking defects—a total of 15,000 HGVs. In October 1989, 5,500 lorries were stopped in London, and one in 10—a total of 550—were unlicensed. Of the 100 lorries mechanically tested, 50 per cent. were faulty. Those are serious statistics.
There have already been complaints about ineffectual fines. The "Watchdog" programme also investigated the fines imposed on companies for running vehicles with defective tyres. The average fine was £150, which is less than the price of a single tyre for such vehicles. Also, one third of the HGVs in the sample failed their MOT the first time, and one quarter of them failed at the second attempt. I am glad that the Secretary of State is taking extra powers in the Bill to improve the standing of test stations. However, I hope that he will increase also the number of inspectors, because it has been falling over a period of time.
If there is corporate liability, we are then faced with the problem that many transport companies go bust the moment that any action is taken against them. Many are one-lorry firms. They automatically go bust and cannot be brought to law, yet they are the very people one wants to catch because they undermine the competition. The Road Haulage Association's recent report made it clear that it wants more prosecutions, and heavier penalties:It is recommended that vehicle confiscation would be a constructive move to terminate activities that have given rise to fly tipping, abuse of driver hours regulations, avoidance of vehicle excise duty, and environmental nuisance. Such a measure would have widespread support within the haulage industry and would be welcomed by the public at large.Dr. North also spoke of vehicle confiscation, but no such provision is in the Bill. We intend giving powers to the transport inspectors, who will be able to confiscate an operating licence, but more should be done to penalise the owner.
As to tachographs, the United Road Transport Union under Frank Griffin wants a simple new measure, which could be provided in the Bill, to ensure that tachographs are properly numbered in sequence so that inspectors will more easily be able to locate them when bringing prosecutions. At the moment, a tachograph can simply be thrown in a box and it can be made very difficult to find that evidence. That small procedural change would improve the Bill.
I hope that the Secretary of State will consider also the plight of drivers who cannot gain access to service station facilities, including sleeping accommodation, and an opportunity to have a shave or take a shower. Lorries are banned from many such facilities, which leaves their 701 drivers tired and less alert, and makes it more probable that they will be involved in accidents. In the Birmingham area, the Transport and General Workers Union, under Dennis Mills, has been campaigning for change for a long time. Service stations depend on lorry drivers for their own supplies and livelihoods, as much of the British economy does, yet deny them decent facilities.
Part I at least is a great step forward, though my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford will have something to say about part II. I do not have time to talk about rear seat belts, but I know that the Department is probably about to make the wearing of them compulsory—and if that happens many more injuries and deaths will be prevented. If provisions on seat belts and random testing of drink driving are put into the Bill, they will save many hundreds of lives and thousands of serious injuries. They are worthy of consideration and of inclusion in a Bill devoted to road safety. Those two measures would make the Bill a far better piece of legislation.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)
As one who has campaigned for many years for effective measures to combat drinking and driving, I warmly welcome the Bill. May I also welcome the arrival of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State to his new responsibilities, and the most constructive and challenging remarks made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott)? I enjoyed both their speeches immensely.
Our country's record on drink-driving legislation is already good by international standards. But for two regrettable and notable omissions, the Bill would mark an advance that would make Britain a world leader in road safety. Much of my speech is related to those omissions. We have the time, the opportunity and, I hope, the will to remedy them.
In recent years we have learned that the problem of drinking and driving is not nearly as intractable as it once appeared, and that effective measures can be taken to reduce the toll of alcohol-related deaths and injuries on our roads—a toll that is as appalling as it is totally unnecessary. It is not so long ago since drinking and driving were hardly viewed as a crime in any real sense of the word—save by the victims and their relatives. Indeed, offenders were often regarded as deserving of sympathy —as people who were unlucky to have been caught. Thank God, all that has changed.
Here I should like to pay a special tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), whose tireless work during his time in office as Minister for Roads and Traffic did so much to change public attitudes, and to prepare the way for some of the provisions in this Bill. On behalf of hon. Members on both sides of the House, I should also like to pay tribute to the campaign against drinking and driving. Its influence in the framing of the Bill is evident, especially in regard to the proposed new offences of dangerous driving and of causing death by drinking and driving. Greatly aided by the media—a measure of the seriousness with which people view this subject—the campaign has brought home to the British public, as never before, the full, sordid, human realities of the problems of drinking and driving, which are now 702 almost universally recognised as extreme anti-social behaviour, tantamount to a threat of violence that strikes at random.
Yet despite the welcome progress of recent years, far too many lives are still being put at risk, or destroyed unnecessarily. Drinking and driving remains the single most important cause of death and injury on our roads, and that must be sharply reduced. Let us consider the figures. I think that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East mentioned some of them. The year before last, one in six road deaths happened in an accident involving drink-driving; 840 people were killed and about 22,000 people were injured on the roads in accidents in which drink driving was a factor. I do not believe that the latest figures would show very much improvement.
My anxiety about the Bill, which I know is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House, concerns the extent to which the measures it proposes would help to prevent the social evil of drinking and driving resulting in unacceptable death and injury, as distinct from the measures that seek to ameliorate the situation once the offence causing death or injury has occurred. The Bill proposes improved, or more appropriate, penalties for drinking and driving. Welcome though they are, I am aware of little evidence that increasing the severity of penalties alone has any significant effect in reducing the number of such offences.
Naturally, I fully support the proposed new offence of causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs, but the justification for that proposal is not that it will act as a deterrent but that it is justice—that is, "justice" in inverted commas. That may remedy the defect in the existing law, which results in many drink-drivers who kill other road users being charged and convicted only of driving with an excess of alcohol in their blood. The campaign against drinking and driving has campaigned for that much-needed reform for some years but, frankly, like the campaigners, I fear that that will not, of itself, prevent further deaths.
The campaign secretary, Mr. Graham Buxton, in a letter that many of us recently received, said that that clause of the Billsatisfies the demands of justice but not of prevention.There is a simple explanation for that. When he sets off on his journey, no driver believes that he will cause an accident. If he believed that he would not drive; he would not even begin. Instead he is unthinking—sozzled—he is sozzled because he is unthinking.
I greatly welcome the proposal for a major experiment in education courses for drink-drive offenders. Almost exactly 10 years ago, when I was still chairman of the National Council on Alcoholism, in a Second Reading debate on the Transport Bill of 1981, I argued for just such a development and I am gratified to learn that it is finally to be introduced. It is pleasing, even after a decade, that something that one advocated all those years ago is now accepted. It is entirely right and proper that a person who has been convicted of a drink-driving offence should be expected to attend a rehabilitation course in his own as well as in the public interest.
However, I have some anxieties on that score. To my knowledge, there is little evidence that rehabilitation schemes, however desirable or successful they may be in certain cases in reducing recidivism, have any marked effect on the overall level of drink-drive accidents and casualties. Indeed, American research had estimated that 703 even if all persons convicted of drinking and driving were prevented from repeating their offence, fatal crashes would decrease by 3 per cent. only.
Therefore, I am especially concerned about the Government's proposal to trade off attendance at rehabilitation courses against the period of disqualifica-tion. That is wholly the wrong approach. Licence suspension is the principle sanction against drinking and driving and, arguably, it will always be a more powerful tool than rehabilitation courses are likely to be in ensuring road safety. I trust, therefore, that the Government will reconsider that aspect of the Bill.
The Government hope that the Bill will be a major means of achieving their goal of a one third reduction in the number of road deaths and injuries by the end of the century. All of us share that aim. However, I am not optimistic in regard to the proposals on drinking and driving, and I shall tell the House why.
The first omission from the Bill is related to the legal limit. I find it strange that, as we embark on another publicity campaign exhorting the public not to drink and drive, the Government should insist on retaining a legal limit of 80 mg—substantially above what doctors and scientists have been telling us for a long time is the maximum compatible with road safety. For some years, the scientific consensus has been that a maximum of 50 mg of alcohol to 100 ml of blood is far more consistent with the known effects of alcohol on driving competence, and it is certainly more consistent with the message of the Government's own publicity campaign.
It is often said that we are now dealing— or attempting to deal—with the hard core of people who continue to drink and drive. No doubt we are; but that still seems to comprise a great many who have not been dissuaded by any publicity campaign. A survey carried out by Gallup for General Accident Insurance Group, released last week, found that 30 per cent. of all drivers—or 41 per cent. of all business drivers—admitted to drinking and driving. That is, of course, a minority of the driving population, but it is a very substantial minority. In fact the evidence suggests that the main factor influencing the behaviour of such people is not the size or nature of the penalty, but the perceived risk of being caught in the first place.
§ Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)
Does my right hon. Friend accept that there has been an enormous change in attitudes over the past decade? Is not it now acceptable for people who are offered a drink to say, "No, I am driving"? Those who advocate random breath testing seem to ignore the fact that, according to the Department of Transport, that change in attitudes has reduced the number of drink-drivers by half. It was encouraged by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) when he was Minister for Roads and Traffic, with the co-operation of the brewers. Is not it wrong to ignore changes in public attitude, which have had more effect than any other factor?
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I do not know what my hon. Friend was doing earlier, when I thanked the Almighty for that very change in public attitudes. I was not born yesterday; I have been in the business of alcohol abuse for a long time. As I said, there have been changes, thank God—but obviously my hon. Friend did not hear me say it.
704 I am not talking about that; I am talking about the continued carnage on our roads. I do not know about my hon. Friend's constituency, but every now and again I have to face a constituent who has lost a loved one because of some drunken driver. I suspect that every hon. Member has experienced that, and it must cease. No mild words can be expected from me about what I regard as a disgrace.
My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) is tempting me to go into more detail. Regardless of the improvements in public perceptions and attitudes—which I do not deny—the principal failure of the Bill lies in the omission of a measure to deal with the aspect of the problem that I have just described. The Bill does not prevent the Commission of the crime and the subsequent suffering of the victims' families, and in that respect it is inadequate.
Virtually the whole community—including the police and the overwhelming majority of the public—know what is required. I find it extraordinary that the Government have not included a clause to introduce random breath testing: experience in other countries strongly suggests that that would provide the single most effective means of reducing the number of alcohol-related deaths and injuries, thus achieving the Government's declared objective.
In Australia and the Nordic countries—countries whose societies are not far removed in character from our own—random breath testing has proved the principal counter-measure, and there is no reason to believe that it would not be effective in preventing drunken driving in Britain. Moreover, random testing carried out by means of properly authorised and designated roadside checkpoints provides built-in safeguards relating to the liberty of the subject and relations between the police and the motoring public. In that important respect as well as others, it is superior to our existing legal framework.
I am certain that, on reflection, many hon. Members will make the case for random testing during the Bill's progress through the House. I agree with the contention of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East that this matter concerns all Members of Parliament, wherever their constituencies may be. There should be a free vote on the issue—unless, of course, the Government recognise the strength and validity of my arguments and act accordingly.
I sincerely hope that the Government will listen. If they have a better proposal, we and the public outside would like to hear it, but I hope that they will think again about the omissions from the Bill before the Report stage. I do not deny that progress has been made—it would be dreadful if it had not—but that does not justify complacency or inconsistency.
On 16 November, speaking in the debate on road safety, my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic justified the Government's intention to enforce the wearing of rear seat belts on the ground that it would save 100 lives and prevent 1,000 injuries. He said:With such huge benefits available, we must not delay." —[Official Report, 16 November 1990; Vol. 180, c. 807.]That is quite right—but, paradoxically, those words are in direct opposition to the Government's reaction to the proposal for random breath testing, although that would certainly prevent a much greater number of casualties.
I cannot comprehend why the Government continue to fly in the face of public opinion. I warn them, here and now, that the safety of innocent people using our roads 705 —young and old, in my constituency and in every other constituency in the land—must no longer be fettered by vested interests or faint-heartedness.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
It gives me particular pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), the Father of the House. Nearly 40 years ago, as a student, I was responsible for assembling a non-party platform of Members of Parliament; the right hon. Gentleman travelled some distance to attend, along with some Labour Members. It is also a pleasure to follow him because I can endorse almost everything that he has said: I do not think that his logic can be faulted. He is entirely right in saying that the licensed trade is now showing a degree of enlightened self-interest. We should commend that and hope that it will show even more.
I have encountered a slogan which reads: "If you drink, do not drive; if you drive, do not drink". If we are not to copy the Swedes, who do not allow people to drink and drive at all, perhaps we should introduce a limit of 50 mg. Certainly there is a strong case for reducing the maximum to the level suggested by the right hon. Gentleman.
I have a third reason for welcoming the opportunity to follow the right hon. Gentleman. This is a non-party occasion. As far as I know—I cannot imagine why this should not be the case—both parts of the Bill involve good citizenship and good administration; it is relatively rare for such a measure to be debated on the Floor of the House.
I intend to address my remarks solely to part II. Before I do so, however, I should say that I consider it a scandal that we are debating part II at all. More than 20 years ago, I was involved in this very matter as a co-opted member of the GLC highways and traffic committee, latterly the planning and transport committee. This should be a matter not for the House of Commons but for a properly constituted London authority. Alas, there is no properly constituted London authority. The former Secretary of State for Scotland, who is now the Secretary of State for Transport for the United Kingdom, would not be very popular if he suggested that part of the traffic responsibilities for Glasgow should be handed over by statute to the civil servants in St. Andrew's house, Edinburgh. That, in effect, will be the result of this measure.
The Government will have to do something about traffic in London. Unfortunately, there is no Greater London council or any other London-wide authority that is sufficiently competent to deal with it. We have to ask whether the Bill deals with the right priorities and whether the measure will work. My answer is no to both questions.
London has clearways that were established about 20 years ago. Locally elected people—in both the Greater London council and the boroughs—spent much time considering how they could be established. Bit by bit, clearways were established. A great deal has changed since the old red zones that were established by Mr. Magpies. About 20 years ago a gyratory traffic management system was instituted. Parking is controlled. There are traffic wardens and linked sets of lights. Moreover, co-ordinated traffic management was achieved by the GLC before it was abolished. That led to equilibrium. I understood at the time from the traffic engineers that the flow of traffic, measured in passenger car units per hour over the 706 network, increased by 25 to 30 per cent. without the construction of any major new roads. The aim was to keep traffic flowing to the maximum possible extent, taking into account the physical limits of the roads.
Leaving aside the controversy over the creation of additional new roads, it was accepted at that time—and it still is—that Professor Buchanan's thesis in his epoch-making "Traffic in Towns" was right: that if we provide even more facilities we generate even more traffic and even more congestion. We need to create equilibrium. Public transport facilities must also be included if we are to reduce congestion to a minimum and improve to the maximum possible extent the flow of all means of transport.
Whatever we do, however, there will always be congestion at times. That is inevitable, for a number of reasons. We have, therefore, to ask ourselves how it can be minimised. That would lead to a reduction in delays. People quite properly object to delays. There are massive and terrible delays in London at times. Generally speaking, however, the big delays are not caused by traffic. That may be so occasionally, due to a football match or other public events. Congestion is usually caused by a number of other factors. Accidents cause delays. Unfortunately, there will always be accidents. Mechanical breakdowns, shed loads and the routine renewal of roads also cause delays. Those are different from the routine renewal of the infrastructure. Moreover, emergency work causes delays. Burst water mains are in a category of their own. They cause delays at the time and the hole that is made in the road takes a long time to repair. Traffic light failures cause delays, as do official events, particularly in central London. Demonstrations lead to delays. An increasing number of delays are caused by vehicles parking by building sites, and by vehicles entering or leaving those sites.
Another cause of delay is illegal parking. Such parking —and parking of any kind, if it is allowed—is only one of all the reasons that I have mentioned. Nevertheless, it is the major issue on which part II is predicated. The red routes are designed to increase traffic flows along certain designated roads in the former GLC area where congestion occasionally occurs. A traffic director is to be appointed for that purpose. I have tried to demonstrate, however, that the flow of traffic on such roads is influenced by a whole host of considerations. The needs of local people—pedestrians, for example, and cyclists—must be taken into account. If traffic flow is to be the only criterion, with no account taken of other legitimate balancing factors, we shall place the wrong emphasis on the director's duties.
Many hon. Members will remember Mr. Bob Bean, a former Member of Parliament for Rochester. Alas, he died early. Bob Bean was a local authority man of great experience. The best story told about him concerns the time when he attended a road engineer's demonstration of a new gyratory system for the middle of his home town of Chatham. The road engineer said, "We are going to have this slip road here and that gyratory there; the flow of vehicles will increase by X per cent., the buses will come in there and speed will increase on average from X to Y miles per hour." The road engineer looked at Mr. Bean, because he knew his Member of Parliament, and said, "And what do you suppose we will do for the pedestrians?" "Give 'em starting blocks" said Bob Bean. All too often in the past 707 that has been the attitude of some road engineers. I hope that that will not happen, but the emphasis on traffic flow alone suggests that it will.
Other measures ought to be taken immediately. Part II contains 24 clauses. It is a complex measure. Conservative Members often ask why we need so much legislation. The Secretary of State for Transport could implement certain measures straight away. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) who was responsible for these matters. The A13 in east London was blocked for months on end. When it was being widened at one point, there was only one traffic lane; vehicles travelled at between six and 10 mph through the cones.
I wrote to the hon. Gentleman to find out why that was so. I found out that it was because the contract for that stretch of road contained no requirement that minimum flows should be maintained. The hon. Gentleman changed that. I hope that what he achieved will be achieved elsewhere. It ought to be written into all contracts. I realise that it will cost money and that the Government do not like spending money. However, the congestion on that stretch of the A 13 caused immense delays for weeks and months on end in Newham.
There was trouble with the Blackwall tunnel. Again, I suppose that it was because the Government wanted to save money. One of the tunnels was closed at weekends, which led to terrific traffic jams throughout east London. One does not expect congestion on Sunday afternoons, but buses and private cars had to endure hours of delay. Further renewal of the Blackwall tunnel is now being undertaken and it is carried out without closing one of the tunnels. The work is taking a long time because it is being done at night. The hon. Member for Eltham was again responsible for reducing what would otherwise have been great congestion. He used common sense. Unfortunately, common sense is not used in many similar places.
I have spent a good deal of time with the Metropolitan police talking about congestion in the London area. Not so long ago there were terrible jams in this area. One reason for the congestion was that when road works were being carried out on the embankment, the right hand turn into Northumberland avenue was not rephased on the lights. It would have been common sense to do so, but nothing was done about it. I understand that the Metropolitan police do not have a central traffic division, so even they experience difficulties.
The police are not mentioned in clause 38, but they are the people on the job and they have been given a rather difficult job. Co-ordination with local authorities does not work The other Sunday in Newham, Bishop road and Commercial road were reduced to one lane, delaying the buses for half an hour or more. There was not a policeman in sight. I got on to Scotland Yard, which said, "The borough did not let us know; it is an unauthorised closure of the road." It is a question of nitty gritty. Planning is not done in London, but it should be. If it were, the proportion of avoidable delays would decrease.
Earlier, I listed some of the causes of delays. About a year ago, I asked the Department to give a breakdown of the general causes of major delays. Not every cause can be identified, but it did not know; the research had not been done. I am not saying that figures could be given to the 708 nearest percentage, but at least some analysis should be done or Scotland Yard should be given the resources to do it.
The purpose of clause 38, I suppose, is to show that the Secretary of State is doing something about a problem of which hon. Members are only too well aware. I am saying to him, first, that much can be done and, secondly, that the clause will not work in any case. The hapless traffic director will not be the traffic director. He will look after only the red routes, about which, as I know from my involvement in the clearways, there will be plenty of controversy. It took much time and patience. If the director is to have reserve powers and to be able to crash through, as I suspect he will—I regret that my confidence in the Department of Transport is somewhat limited, but one goes as far as one can—there will be trouble. The poor chap does not have enough powers. Under clause 37, he will have powers "in relation to" the red routes. There will be arguments about whether a road is a red route or not, but, having so designated it, he has powers not over traffic that is on the red route but traffic that is "in relation to" it. There is hardly a road in London that does not come within that category.
Will the Secretary of State—I know he has come from Scotland to take up his new job and may not know the answer, but perhaps someone will tell him—say whether the traffic director has control of the traffic system? Following the demise of the GLC, there is layer upon layer of organisation for the maintenance of traffic lights in London, which are controlled quite properly by computer. I believe that they are now controlled by a unit for the City of London. I am not complaining about that, but saying that the traffic director will not have the powers that his name implies and the powers that he will have will be only partial because they will apply only to the red routes. Although there is a need to achieve good traffic flows, as I have suggested, those flows can be achieved in a far simpler, down to earth and efficient way.
I fear that I cannot support part II of the Bill, however much, in spirit, I support part I. They are really two separate Bills. I do not believe that the Bill will work in common-sense practice. I travel 4,000 miles in central London annually and I am able to look around and see what goes on. Will the Secretary of State please consult the people on the job, people in local authorities and the police? He may have done so already. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) is not here. I fear that the Bill will be of limited use and there there are much better ways of achieving its aims without presenting the House with 24 clauses that will set up yet another body in London that we can do without.
§ Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his appointment as Secretary of State for Transport. I do not wish to limit his political career, but I hope that he stays in the job for some time. Since I left the Department in September 1981, there have been no fewer than seven Secretaries of State for Transport. A Secretary of State every 15 months is a little too high. I warn my right hon. and learned Friend that, although I spent three years in opposition and two and a half years on the Government Front Bench, it brought me 709 no acceptance with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). Nevertheless, it is an important subject.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East—I do not know where he is—referred to my work on deregulating coach services. I have nothing to apologise for, because that provided good, cheap coach services up and down the country. Labour Front-Bench spokesmen opposed that all the way, and in retrospect it was sad that they did so.
On returning to this subject after almost a decade, what strikes me is how public opinion has shifted. It has shifted in respect of traffic offences and traffic restraint. Although I am a director of the National Freight Consortium, I wish to confine my remarks to motorists and passengers rather than freight.
In the 1970s and much of the 1980s, the prevailing view was that traffic laws should be enforced according to some unwritten code, that they were not like other offences and that they were not as serious as those offences. When I was at the Department, I initiated changes that distinguished between major and minor offences and introduced the points system. I therefore accept that some offences should be dealt with more administratively. There is no question about that, and I think that it is accepted by the public.
The other side of the coin is that other traffic offences are undoubtedly criminal. They cause danger, injury and death to the public. Among those, drinking and driving is unquestionably one of the most serious. I entirely back the introduction of all the new offences in the Bill, none more so than causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink. Public opinion rightly condemns such offences and it is entirely right that the law should set out the consequences for such motorists.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) eloquently stated, we should now go one step further and have the so-called random tests, about which over the years we have been rather equivocal. I heard the defence uttered by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State—I have uttered it myself in the past—that the police do not need such powers. The argument is that if the police have reasonable suspicion, they can stop a car in any event. In some circumstances, that seems to rule out the universal roadside check. If it does not do so, there can be no argument against clarifying the law so that the public know what the legal position is. We are getting into a rather curious position on random tests. We are being told that the power to require random tests exists—we are being told that in the House—but the public are not being told that.
It is not satisfactory to talk with two voices on the issue. If we want random tests, there should be clear provision for them in legislation and that should be clear to the police and the public. The prospect of such checks on Friday and Saturday nights would have quite an impact on conduct in city and town centres. Many of us deplore the present behaviour. A new look at the issue of random checks should be on the agenda of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State.
My major contention is that, whatever the law is, it should be enforced. At present, traffic laws are not enforced extensively. Anyone who doubts that has only to wait for the snow to lift and the roads to return to normal and then conduct an experiment on the M1 or M6, without contraflows. We all know that any motorist who sticks to a steady 70 mph will be overtaken by a great flow of traffic 710 going faster. I am not attacking the police—I recognise that our means of enforcing traffic laws have not been kept up to date.
I welcome the fact that the Bill enables photographic evidence of a speeding car to be used. No doubt that will be attacked outside the House as not quite cricket—if cricket analogies can still be used in the political world. The function of enforcing speed limits will never be entirely carried out by patrolling police cars. The police have a range of other priorities that the public place high on the agenda. Photographs are a sensible way of checking speed. They are a random check, but they are likely to be a much greater deterrent to a motorist than being picked up by the occasional police patrol. Their use is not unknown in other countries. In the 1970s, when I wrote a book about the police in Europe, they were used in Germany, and I am sure that they still are.
My concern is about not just the motorways but the enforcement of traffic laws in our cities. On many main routes, congestion slows traffic, but many cars still speed along the side roads and residential roads whenever there is an opportunity. Some local authorities remain almost entirely reluctant to build traffic humps, although that power exists widely. It was first given under the Transport Act 1981, which I introduced. The danger in our cities and towns is to children, old people, pedestrians, cyclists and a range of our citizens who have just as many rights as motorists.
I support the red routes, which are introduced in the Bill, but with one proviso: I believe that, at the same time as those routes are introduced, efforts must be made to deal with traffic on side streets and residential streets. Action must be taken to exclude through traffic and bring down traffic speed. Although the red routes provision will apply only to London, my remarks apply to many other cities.
The congestion and general environment in London are a disgrace to a European capital city. In part, the chaos is inevitable, but when cities such as Birmingham invested in roads such as the Aston expressway, London stood back and did nothing. London faces the traffic projections of the 21st century with roads that are adequate to deal with the conditions of the 19th century. We may regret that, but there is not much that we can do about it now. The opportunity has gone and I cannot think of any road building scheme that will bring relief to London this century.
The inevitable question is how to deal with commuting motorists coming to London in the morning, usually one to a car, and leaving in a great traffic jam in the evening. The red routes are a major part of the Government's strategy. Sympathetic though I am to that proposal, it is only a partial solution, as I said when it was discussed. It is just conceivable that the prospect of open roads will attract more cars into the city, not fewer. If that is not the intention—it should not be our aim—we must do something more about parking restrictions.
I shall listen carefully to the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock), although I should counsel her against regarding this as a knockabout, party political issue. I live in Sutton Coldfield and in London, where I live in Hammersmith and Fulham. That Labour borough provides free, unrestricted parking for commuters throughout much of its length. In vast stretches of the borough there are no parking meters or parking restrictions. I am therefore delighted to hear that the hon.
711 Member for Kingston upon Hull, East favours greater use of public transport, but his views would carry greater conviction if we did not have Labour councils providing the obvious means of escaping using public transport or paying a price for using roads.
I assume that that issue can be tackled in due course. I hope that the Labour Front Bench will seek to do so. But this still leaves the question of traffic restraint in general. The least convincing part of "Traffic in London" dealt with traffic restraint. I am less than overwhelmed by the argument on road pricing, that we facemajor problems for which there are no easy answers".That summarises the challenge that faces all central Governments and all local authorities on all issues. I do not see how we can cope in London and, conceivably, in some of our major cities and towns without some restraint on the motorist.
Over the next 10 or 20 years, we face a major increase in traffic. Car use will increase dramatically. We should recognise that the car gives the individual a freedom that he values. I, for one, value the car highly. But life is about balancing freedoms. It does not follow that a motorist's freedom extends to the absolute right to drive into the middle of an already congested city free of charge. Whether by supplementary licensing or by some form of electronic road pricing, we should urgently study the different methods used in other countries and consider how they could apply here. It is for the Government to lead such a study and discussion.
It is argued that the beneficiaries of such a road pricing policy should include passenger transport and other road users such as pedestrians, and I broadly agree. Bus services, for example, would substantially benefit if commuter traffic were reduced and the main routes kept open. I do not turn my back on the idea that some of the revenue from such a pricing policy should go to passenger services. Equally, I hope that more pavement space will be given to pedestrians, and, above all, that cities will be given back to the people who live in them.
Whatever changes are made, the law will have to be enforced. Part of the Bill deals with local authority parking attendants—as opposed to traffic wardens employed by the police. The Bill makes a number of sensible changes, but I am unimpressed by the gradations in the work of the enforcement authorities. Parking attendants can enforce regulations governing permitted parking but cannot enforce controls on illegal parking. Traffic wardens can enforce controls on illegal parking but cannot do anything about moving traffic offences. The police can do everything but will never have the time to enforce all the traffic laws. The time has come to see how we can break down some of those barriers and whether we can develop some form of unified traffic corps for cities such as London, so that all the traffic laws can be enforced all the time.
My main message to the new Secretary of State is this: I believe that we need radical solutions in transport, whether we are dealing with traffic offenders or with the chaos in some of our cities. I also believe—and this is most significant—that the public today are prepared to accept such radical solutions. There has been a great change in attitude since the 1970s and early 1980s. I wish my right hon. and learned Friend well and I hope that he will 712 urgently consider those radical solutions. If he does, he will go down in history as a great Secretary of State for Transport. I hope that that will be his future.
§ Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)
I shall deal mainly with clauses 1 and 3 but, before doing so, I wish to comment on corporate liability, particularly as it relates to fatigue. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) raised the matter in his expert review of the contents of the Bill and the measures that we should consider during its passage to deal with drink-driving. He also referred to the need for new legislation governing the involvement of the police. We must find some way of intervening, while maintaining the balance of personal rights, to ensure the protection of the general public.
Last week I discovered for myself the dangers of fatigue. On Tuesday morning I took part in an early morning programme on Radio 4. The BBC sent a private hire minicab to my flat to collect me. Within 10 minutes of our leaving the flat, the driver had twice been on the wrong side of the road. On the second occasion, I asked him whether he felt unwell and whether there was anything I could do for him. He told me that he had been driving all night and all the previous evening and that I was his last customer. He promised me that when he dropped me off, he would go home to bed. Within minutes of the conversation, the taxi driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. He went through a red light and involved us in an accident. There was severe damage to both cars, but the minicab driver, the driver of the other vehicle and I were lucky: we came out with a few bumps and bruises, a sore neck and a sore back. That incident brought home to me the effects of our inability to police the arrangements, allowing someone to drive for hours on end, to the point at which his fatigue becomes a danger to himself, his passengers and the travelling public. Were it not for pure luck, I should not have been taking part in this debate. I should have been just another figure in the statistics of those killed in road accidents.
Fatigue can kill and it can cause accidents. It is vital that we should legislate to implement practical solutions to deal with the problem. The tachograph is one possibility, although I know that it is controversial in both the public and private sectors of transport. We should seriously consider its introduction into the minicab and private hire businesses because it could act as a deterrent. We cannot allow employers to force their employees to work long unsociable hours—perhaps 10 or 12 hours on end—without having any liability in the event of an accident. We should also ensure that those who drive licensed black cabs work sociable and safe hours and cannot be forced to do otherwise.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East also referred to corporate liability as it affects the owners of heavy goods vehicles and their ability to force their employees to drive dangerous vehicles. I used to organise the private office of my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott). One day, the driver of a heavy goods vehicle owned by Calor Gas came to our office. He had been taken on on a temporary contract and told that, if he came up to scratch at the end of the period of that contract, he would be taken on as a full-time regular employee. Some days earlier, he had been stopped by a 713 police officer and advised that his vehicle was seriously overloaded. He was told that he must return to the depot immediately or face prosecution. The driver complied with that request and returned to the depot in Wigan. The depot manager told him that he must take the vehicle back out or face suspension. He replied that he was not prepared to do what was requested of him because the police had told him that the load was unsafe and in contravention of the Road Traffic Acts. He was not suspended; he was sacked on the spot for failing to obey the depot manager's orders.
I am sure that such occurrences are not unusual. The gentleman concerned had no recourse to an employment tribunal because he was a temporary employee. He had no redress for the fact that his employer had tried to force him to act illegally. Despite an exchange of letters between my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan and the managing director of Calor Gas, that individual was never reinstated. He had to sign on unemployed and seek employment elsewhere in the industry. Such behaviour on the part of employers is quite unacceptable, and I am sure that that case is only the tip of the iceberg. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East found in his own survey, a substantial number of heavy goods vehicles should not be on the road and should not be allowed to return to the road. There is absolutely no doubt that corporate liability is involved. After all, it is not the decision of the driver to take a dangerous vehicle on the roads. The Secretary of State owes it to the House to consider my hon. Friend's valid argument about corporate liability.
I wholeheartedly support the concept and principle behind clauses 1 and 3. Unlike hon. Members who have been here for many years, I cannot claim that I have regularly campaigned for those changes in the House. As a member of the public, I concluded many years ago that the House must take drastic action in relation to drinking and driving. I thought that the House should review the law so that it acts as a deterrent and, when the deterrent does not work, the person responsible for the accident, injury or death should pay in an adequate fashion.
As the law stands at the moment, someone can kill an individual and get off with a fine of only a few hundred pounds even if that person had several other serious convictions against his name and had a long record of having killed or maimed people on the road. Therefore——
§ It being Seven o'clock, and there being private business set down by THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, under Standing Order No. 16 (Time for taking private business), further proceedings stood postponed.