HC Deb 25 November 1994 vol 250 cc835-900

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Lightbown.]

9.35 am
The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris)

I am delighted to be opening this morning's debate on road safety. By common consent, it is a matter of vital importance to us and to all our constituents, and one to which the Government devote a great deal of effort—and they will continue to do so.

On a personal note, it is now about four months since road safety was added to my other responsibilities in the Department of Transport. I was delighted that the challenge was offered to me. It is a particular pleasure to be the first Minister to have the words "road safety" as part of his official title. I am sure that we all want a specific commitment to the concept of road safety in everything that the Department does.

Modern road safety history began in 1987, when the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), announced what has become known as the casualty reduction target to reduce all road casualties by one third by the year 2000, compared with the average numbers for the years 1981–85.

Setting that target was a historic decision, and in some ways rather a gamble. I dare say the officials who advised my right hon. Friend might have called it a courageous or brave decision—as followers of "Yes Minister" will appreciate. He made it against the background that target setting has never been a popular practice in this country. Delivering the target depends on not just the actions of Government or official bodies but the behaviour of millions of individuals.

My right hon. Friend's decision proved entirely right and, paradoxically, that is precisely because so many other people are involved in delivering road safety. Nothing is gained from setting a target when achieving it is entirely in the Government's hands—that is simply a hostage to fortune. But in a case such as this, where so many other players are involved, setting a target can act as a focus for attention and activity, and a beacon to remind people that they are not working alone, but that we are all striving for a common objective. In many ways, we set a trend. Since the road safety target was set, there have been others. I cite in particular "The Health of the Nation" targets, which included the reduction of accidental death as one of its prime objectives.

Road accidents are the most common single cause of accidental death, especially for the young. In 1992, they comprised 38 per cent. of all accidental deaths in the whole population. Among 16 to 19-year-olds, 79 per cent. of accidental deaths and 35 per cent. of deaths from all causes occurred on the road. "The Health of the Nation" target is to reduce the death rate from accidents among children under 15 by at least one third, and among young people aged 15 to 24 by at least a quarter by the year 2005.

We cannot build for the future unless we do all that we can to ensure the survival of young people. In that context, reducing road casualties is an important plank in the Government's overall strategy to improve the nation's health and well-being.

It is worth looking for a moment at our assumptions in 1987 when we set the casualty reduction target. It was not a panic measure simply prompted by ever-rising casualty figures. As hon. Members here, all of whom have considerable experience of these matters, will be aware, casualty figures at all severities had fallen steadily throughout the 1970s, but were levelling off in the early 1980s. At the same time, there seemed to be no end to the steady growth of traffic volume. Our research at that time had shown that we could maintain casualty figures at effectively the same level against an annual 4 per cent. growth in traffic, but if traffic volumes grew any faster, casualties would also rise. So to maintain and, preferably, accelerate the downward trend in casualties, we needed to push a bit harder.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

Has my hon. Friend read the recent article in The Times, which said that although we should not be complacent about the number of road accidents, the number per road mile in the United Kingdom is lower than in any other country in the European Union?

Mr. Norris

I shall say a little more about the context of accident rates in this country. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the link between the absolute number of accidents and the growth in traffic, which is the point that I was just making. It is appropriate to put that on the record at an early stage in the debate, and my hon. Friend is noted for always getting his point on the record at a very early stage. Indeed, taking the Minister's best ballpoint is another practice at which my hon. Friend is a master. I yield to no one in my admiration for him in that respect.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will be delighted to acknowledge the fact that Britain's record on road safety generally is literally second to none in ihe developed world. It is from that basis that we start looking to do even more. It is an extraordinary commentary on accident rates that fewer people were killed on our roads in 1993 than in 1926, when we started to collect accident statistics. That is an extraordinary statistic. I forget the precise rate of increase in traffic growth between then and now.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)

Fourteen times more.

Mr. Norris

My hon. Friend prompts me to say that the figure is about 14 times more traffic. Yet traffic deaths are fewer. The other side of that tragic coin is that nearly 4,000 people lost their lives as a result of road accidents of some kind. That is the important context of the debate that we shall have today and why the House should devote time to this vital subject.

The target that we set was simple. It did not distinguish between different levels of severity or types of road user. With hindsight, it is easy to question whether it would have been better to set different targets for different levels of severity. Arguably, there is a considerable distinction between causation of minor accidents and that of accidents in which people are killed or seriously injured. But the important proposition, which Ministers rightly accepted at the time, was that that, would have meant sacrificing the clarity and simplicity that have proved so valuable in galvanising into activity the various agencies involved in road safety. We were well aware that some measures would reduce accidents altogether while others would simply reduce severity. But it was important at the time and remains important today simply to get the overall numbers down.

In the event, the best results have been in reducing really bad accidents. Fatal and serious casualties have fallen far more rapidly than even the most optimistic might have hoped. In the 12 months up to June 1994, there were 33 per cent. fewer road deaths than the average for 1981–85 and 39 per cent. fewer serious casualties. That means that, when we take fatal and serious accidents together, we have hit the target that we set for the year 2000 seven years early. That is an extraordinary performance and a tribute to a range of organisations and individuals, including excellent officials in the Department of Transport and countless thousands of volunteers, individuals and local authority road safety.officers, who have all played a part in that staggering achievement. [Interruption.] If my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) would like to intervene, I should be delighted to give way to him.

Mr. Ottaway

I apologise for intervening from a sedentary position. I simply said that the Minister, too, should take much of the credit for that achievement.

Mr. Norris

I owe my hon. Friend one. I am merely the rapporteur in this matter. I am not a protagonist. But several of our hon. Friends, especially the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), who was a distinguished roads and traffic Minister, deserve credit, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), who, during his time in that post—he was there far longer than I have been—devoted a great deal of attention to the matter. Ultimately, Ministers simply indicate the importance with which a subject is to be treated in a Department's range of priorities. I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend on that score. My antennae must have picked up the fact that my hon. Friend was going to say something nice, which is why I fear that I embarrassed him by asking him to say it formally. But it is an important point.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

Before the Minister forgets the point of the debate, with the plaudits coming from behind him, may I make a serious point? The publication, "Statistical Report on Road Accidents in 1991", produced by the European Conference of Transport Ministers, rightly says that, apart from Norway, Britain has fewer road casualties per road mile than the rest of Europe, the United States, Japan and Canada. That is a remarkable statistic. But throughout Europe, the rate of road accidents is falling consistently. It would be interesting if the Minister identified areas of research that have shown where the real successes have come from. Some countries have adopted a legislative approach, some have looked at vehicle design and others have considered the question of speed. Which research has been useful in that matter?

Mr. Norris

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The reduction has in some respects been mirrored elsewhere in the world and is attributable to three main causes, all of which have many complex subheads. First, it is, of course, attributable to vehicle design, a matter on which I intend to expand later but which I mention briefly now in response to his intervention. Secondly, it is related very much to the work carried out by the Department of Transport and local authorities to make the road system itself inherently safer. Thirdly—this is the absolute key—it is attributable to driver behaviour.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Transport Research Laboratory, many independent institutions, the manufacturers of safety products and others have all carried out extensive research. Manufacturers alone have spent literally billions of pounds, but not one single reason can be isolated as either the single or most common cause of the reduction.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is ironic that car manufacturers are designing ever-more powerful car engines which can go from zero to 60 mph in X seconds? When I ask car manufacturers why they make such powerful cars, bearing in mind the fact that there is a 70 mph speed limit, they say that drivers like them. Surely powerful cars need to be curbed—[Interruption.]

Mr. Norris

I might have to protect my hon. Friend from the blandishments of my substantial colleague, the notionally silent Whip on duty—my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown)— who, to judge from his sedentary intervention, appears mildly to disagree with what she said and whose disagreement was audible at least at the top of Whitehall if not as far as Staffordshire. At the risk—and it is a substantial risk—of incurring the wrath of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-East, I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) makes a valid point.

Generally speaking, the more powerful engines are safer in the hands of experienced, capable and responsible drivers because such engines give drivers the opportunity to escape from potentially dangerous situations provided that they act properly. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam was also referring to advertising that stresses the transfer of libido that occurs when one buys a nice red sports car such as that owned by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant), whom I remember seeing exit from here in a rather natty Lotus, something that he no doubt enjoys hugely.

I shall refer later to the encouraging trend in the design and manufacture of motor vehicles. That trend has been identified not by selfless, charitable manufacturers but by hard-headed and sensible ones. Largely because the climate is changing, they are beginning to accept that customers are finding safety and security elements in the design of cars increasingly attractive.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Has my hon. Friend noted that insurance companies now take a very serious view of the issue and that their line on insurance premiums means that many young, irresponsible idiots with over-powered cars are deterred whereas responsible drivers, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant), are not?

Mr. Norris

I was able to agree with all that my hon. Friend said—until his final remark. My hon. Friend makes an observation which I am sure that many other hon. Members will develop if they are lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Ninety-five per cent. of all accidents are caused by human error. My hon. Friend is a stalwart of the Guild of Experienced Motorists and is the first to acknowledge that it is experience and responsibility behind the wheel, rather than the technical specification of the vehicle alone, that prevents accidents.

I was talking about the accident reduction target. We allowed 17 years to make the one-third reduction, but achieved it in 10. The peak of road deaths in the mid-1960s was about 8,000 a year and, as I said, the number last year was well below 4,000, although traffic has increased 14-fold. Those people who believe that nostalgia is not what it used to be and who look back on a golden age when it was apparently safe to walk, cycle and play in the streets should think again. One is often tempted to look back on a mythical bygone age that may have felt safer, but, in fact, a great many more people lost their lives.

We are doing remarkably well in reducing the number of fatal and serious road accidents, but we have not finished our work. One should not rest on one's laurels. We must ensure that the trend is not halted or reversed. All our projections have assumed that at least the present level of road safety effort will be maintained and we still have a long way to go to reduce the number of slight casualties to the target level. In addition, we must remember that the target is not a destination but merely a milestone. Every accident is, of course, one accident too many and it is extraordinarily intolerable that, in an average week, 75 people die on our roads.

If we consider separately the different classes of road user, we find that the best progress in reducing accidents is made among what are commonly called the "vulnerable" groups. That is not a patronising term; it is simply a matter of physics that people are more likely to.be injured in a crash if they are not surrounded by a metal.box. Pedestrian deaths have been reduced by 36 per cent., pedal cycle deaths are down by 44 per cent. and motor cycle deaths by 56 per cent. However, in my opinion, the most gratifying news is the reduction in the number of child casualties which, by the end of 1993, was 40 per cent. below the average for 1981–85.

Those figures reflect the priority that we have all given to safety measures directed at the vulnerable road user. Of course, some, but by no means all, of the reduction reflects a drop in distance travelled by those modes. For example, the average distance walked fell by only 4 per cent. between the national travel surveys of 1976 and 1991.

More than half all road accidents involve car drivers and passengers. In this sphere, too, we have reduced fatal casualties by 19 per cent. and serious casualties by 24 per cent., but, unfortunately, there has been a steady rise in slight casualties involving car users. They are now 49 per cent. higher than in the early 1980s which, sadly, is almost enough to offset all the gains that we have made among other groups of road users. Of course, as I said to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), some of that shift from the "serious" to the "slight" category is due to safer vehicle design, the use of rear seat belts and compliance with seat belt legislation and, of course, increased car use in general. However, it is still a matter of some concern that we have not done better in this regard. There is still a substantial amount of time until the target date in which we can continue to act.

Lady Olga Maitland

Can my hon. Friend give any figures about the accident rate among cyclists, bearing in mind the fact that there are more cyclists on the roads than ever before? They are extremely vulnerable to the risk of traffic knocking them off their bicycles, which can cause quite severe injuries.

Mr. Norris

The point made by my hon. Friend is immensely important. One of my concerns when I first came to the Department of Transport two and a half years ago was that we appeared to stress that cycling was dangerous, as my hon. Friend says, because the cyclist was very vulnerable in modern traffic conditions. The Department did not feel that it could encourage an activity that involved such danger. It has been of tremendous benefit to us all to have changed that psychology to an approach that represents best practice in pretty much every other country in Europe. The centrepiece of cycling policy there has been that cycling is healthy and environmentally friendly, that it eases congestion and that it should be encouraged in many ways.

If one wants to treat cyclists sensibly, one must protect them from their vulnerability to much larger and heavier pieces of metal travelling at speed. The separate cycle way is far more a feature of the continental landscape than it has been in the United Kingdom. I am delighted that we are now looking much more positively at the role of the bicycle.

If one asks people in a city, such as London, why they do not bicycle more, they say first, ironically, that they do not want to run the risk of getting wet. Our weather is hardly likely to alter hugely despite the direst predictions of the ecological lobby. Secondly, they say that cycling is dangerous: they do not want to have to navigate roundabouts where one seems to takes one's life in one's hands. I believe that we can make real progress in that.area.

I draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam to some figures that I found very telling. The other day, I looked at a graph that showed two statistics which were overlaid and contrasted with each other. The first concerned the proportion of all trips made by bicycle, and the United Kingdom was compared with Germany and Holland. In this country the proportion is, as I suspect the House knows, about 2.5 per cent. to 3 per cent. In Germany, the average was 15 per cent. Other research shows that in individual towns and cities, the figure can be as high as 30 per cent. The figures cannot be dismissed, as people who should know better have done in the past, on the basis that Holland is flat. I am afraid that it is not good enough to suggest that there is a topographical difference which explains the figures. In many European capitals, there is a lattice-work of cycle ways, which are an embarrassing comparison with the British experience.

The figures for accident rates to cyclists in the three countries were very telling. There are several times more accidents to cyclists per cycle mile in this country than there are in countries where cycling is practised so much more. In other words, as part of their culture, those countries have built a far larger safety margin into cycling. There is a real lesson for us. There is an environmental gain there, as the royal commission has pointed out, in terms of the nation's health and people's individual health. There is also a gain in terms of traffic safety. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam for raising the issue of cycling.

Mr. Miller

The Minister is quite right in his analysis of the European picture. It is interesting to see the tables on page 35 of the European report to which I referred earlier. The Netherlands is down close to the UK level of accidents. I know that the Minister is right to suggest that increased use of cycle ways and planning cycling into road traffic design schemes would have saved some of the 189 lives that were lost in 1993. How much of the road budget has been allocated for that purpose? Will the Minister ensure that in all road schemes, moneys are ring-fenced for that purpose?

Mr. Norris

The hon. Gentleman is precisely right to point to the need to ensure that when we spend money on our road system, cycling is taken into account. I heard a depressing story the other day from Graham Webb, who is a member of the council of the Confederation of British Industry and a very successful business man. He is also a keen cyclist who lives near Tonbridge in Kent. Although I do not know the scheme personally and, therefore, would not draw too many conclusions from what Mr. Webb says, I trust his judgment. He tells me that a local authority scheme in the area involved the spending of about a quarter of a million pounds, as a result of which cycling in the area is now more difficult than it was before.

That story stresses one point that I want to make clearly on the subject. The answer is often not huge additional resources. As the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston suggested, it is important to ensure that when schemes are designed, they are designed with cycling in place. I can go further to give the hon. Gentleman the assurance he seeks, although I cannot, of course, speculate on the shape of the public expenditure settlement because that is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor. The hon. Gentleman will know, however, that we have made it clear to local authorities that we believe that the package approach to transport solutions is the right way in which to proceed. That package, in essence, stresses the multi-modal approach to congestion and pollution issues, and to the movement of people in town centres.

There have been some excellent examples, such as the scheme in York. The local authority has built cycling provision very well into what is still a healthy and vibrant town centre. It has lost none of its economic force as a result of fewer private cars travelling there. I have made it clear in all my discussions with local authorities that I want them to build cycling much more centrally into a budget which, in any year in recent times, has generally been about £1 billion a year, to give the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston a broad idea. The transport supplementary grant settlement from which local authorities generally benefit is a substantial sum. I hope that the hon. Gentleman can take some comfort from that reassurance.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I am pleased to hear about this refreshing change of attitude towards cycling, which is long overdue. The Minister has just spoken.about the importance of integrating cycling into what happens at local authority level. Will he issue written guidance so that all the schemes devised by local highways authorities, within the package approach, will have to address the whole issue of cycling? What will he do within his Department to ensure that what was British Rail and is now a collection of business operators has a policy of encouraging cyclists on to trains? If we do not have a multi-modal approach, we shall not have an increase in cycling at local level, given that we have to fit the whole country together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Mr. Norris

I believe that it will be a beneficial exercise to build in some specific guidance from the Department on how cycling should be fitted into schemes, especially the town centre solution. The other day I and, I believe, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) attended the launch by Sustrans of its national cycle way scheme. It is an ambitious and attractive scheme, much of which concentrates on recreational cycling. I was especially interested in the way in which the project lattices into town centres. There is a double benefit. Such an approach would facilitate safer cycling and would attract people out of the car and on to the cycle to make a straightforward business journey.

There needs to be a substantial culture change if we are to integrate cycling much more into the fabric of urban transport. That is about employers providing employees, especially in larger buildings, with facilities that enable those who come to work on a cycle to change their clothes or at least to present themselves slightly more attractively than might otherwise be the case. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire needs no assistance in that respect, but others are not so fortunate. There should also be places where cycles can be left safely. There must be a separation of cycles and motor cars.

At the same time, it should not be assumed that cycles should be put at the top of a list of priorities within modes. We have made a great mistake in the past in thinking in terms of a priority list of modes, save that the most important priority in terms of traffic and road safety must always be the individual, starting with the pedestrian. That is essential to the debate.

I return to the statistical analysis. The total casualty figure, taking account of the increase in slight accidents, has fallen by 3 per cent. since the early 1980s. That has to be set against the increase in traffic, which was 40 per cent. during the survey period. If we consider the overall casualty rate per 100 million vehicle km we find that it has decreased dramatically from 108 during 1981–85 to 74 in 1993.

In recent years, as I have said to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam, customers have been getting more concerned about the safety of their cars. That has encouraged manufacturers to install features such as airbags, seat belt pretensioners and webbing grabbers, for example. Indeed, they have gone further. They have been working to improve the overall crashworthiness of cars. We see that every day when watching car advertising on television. The days when marketing people argued that "safety does not sell" are, mercifully, long past. I was talking recently to a representative of one of the major car manufacturers, who told me that safety and security are now at the top of the customer wish list. That, of course, is the basis on which manufacturers will make their production decisions. Increased customer concern about safety has come about for a complex variety of reasons to which, I am sure, my hon. Friends will wish to refer.

There is still a long way to go. For all the improvements of recent years, the pace of legislative change in vehicle standards is slow. We must continue our efforts to negotiate higher vehicle construction standards in the European Community.

The public are more concerned about the safety of their children when travelling on coaches and minibuses. That is understandable, as there have been some tragic accidents involving school and voluntary transport. It is little comfort for those affected to know that, statistically, it is about twice as safe, mile for mile, to travel in a minibus or coach as in a private car.

There would obviously be great road safety benefits if seat belts were fitted to all seats on all minibuses and coaches. Many schools and voluntary organisations have already fitted seat belts to their vehicles and many others are planning to do so. Virtually all new minibuses coming off production lines have seat belts fitted. But a legal requirement for all new vehicles can be arrived at only through the European Union. We are pressing it extremely hard, and meanwhile we are doing what we can to progress faster within the United Kingdom.

In the summer, we announced that we would seek agreement to make seat belt fitment compulsory on all minibuses and coaches used specifically for the transport of children. We have been having urgent discussions with the European Commission on this. Where seat belts are fitted, we shall be ending the concession allowing three children to be carried on two seats.

The voluntary sector plays a vital role in providing transport in minibuses to many people whose mobility would otherwise be restricted—especially children, the elderly and disabled people. Those people rely heavily on volunteer drivers. Our legislation has long enabled those volunteers to drive minibuses on the strength of their ordinary car driving licence. When we were negotiating the second EC driving licence directive, we fought, successfully, to preserve that important concession through a derogation.

We had to consider especially carefully in the light of some recent extremely tragic minibus accidents whether to continue the concession after the directive comes into force in 1996. We took account of all the views of those responding to our consultation on the issue. It must be said that opinions were strongly divided, some opposing the adoption of the derogation and others favouring it. I announced earlier this month that we came down on the side of adopting the derogation. It was not an easy decision. Shortly thereafter I received a letter from Bert Massie, whom many of us know as the director of RADAR, the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation. In that letter he says how delighted I am at your decision to use the right of derogation from some of the requirements of the directive. This will ensure the mobility of many tens of thousands of disabled people. It is, of course, right to consider these issues from time to time, but I am convinced that you have made the right decision.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Is my hon. Friend aware that there are many youth organisations—notably the Scout Association and parent-teacher associations throughout the land—that rely on voluntary drivers to enable them to carry out their many pursuits, and that they are extremely grateful to him for the close attention that he has paid to their concerns?

Mr. Norris

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I had much in mind precisely the sort of groups to which he has referred. The drivers whom we are talking about are all volunteers. The volunteering element is, of course, the whole spirit of voluntary and community work. It is one of the country's great strengths, and has been across generations. It is not only a matter of cost. It would have been sad to have lost that element. It is an important feature of our social and community life and it is immensely important that we protect it. I am glad to have the confidence and backing of disabled people and of others, as my hon. Friend has said.

Voluntary organisations have always taken, and continue to take, a responsible attitude to road safety. Both the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and the Community Transport Association have produced guidelines on voluntary minibus driving. The CTA has only this month published a code of practice covering all aspects of voluntary minibus operation. The Government are therefore confident that adopting the derogation will not endanger road safety.

I have mentioned examples of greater safety awareness among the consumers of road transport. It seems to be part of a wider change in attitudes, and one which was not foreseen when we launched the casualty reduction target. As I said earlier, much of the credit for this belongs to my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham, who was, and still is, one of the most persuasive advocates of road safety. He certainly started a national debate, especially on drink-driving, which has continued to this day.

It is with drink-driving that the change in attitude and behaviour has been most striking. We have had the same drink-drive limit since 1967. When it was introduced, the fall in accidents was quite dramatic. That effect lasted for only about a year before drink-driving crept up again. That shows that changing the law does not of itself produce real changes in driver behaviour. Too many people were still unconvinced that the law was necessary, that it was their drinking and driving that needed to be curbed and that they should do something about it. In any event, the law was so full of procedural loopholes that enforcement and prosecution became something of a lottery. That was the position which we inherited in 1979. During that year there were 1,650 road deaths where at least one driver was over the legal limit. Since then, we have tightened the law and we have introduced evidential breath testing so that taking blood samples is rarely necessary. We have increased penalties, especially where a death is caused, and we have started to carry out medical checks on high-risk offenders. We have also begun experiments with rehabilitation. In short, we have used a wide range of measures and it seems that their effect in combination has persuaded large numbers of drivers to change their drinking habits. In 1993, there were about 550 deaths from drink-driving, but that is one third of the level in 1979.

The role of the police in the campaign has been extremely constructive. Last year in England and Wales, they conducted just short of 600,000 roadside breath tests. That is about two and a half times the number in 1983, the first full year of evidential testing under the Transport Act 1981. Back in 1983, no fewer than 41 per cent. of drivers tested either gave an alcohol-positive reading or refused to give a sample, which is also an offence. In 1993, that percentage was down to 15—the lowest yet.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the good progress that has been made in reducing drinking and driving, in seeking to persuade potential drink-drivers not to drink and drive it is very important that publicity and propaganda should not shy away from bringing home to those drivers the tragic consequences which can arise from their drinking and driving—for themselves and for others?

Mr. Norris

I hope that my hon. Friend will develop his thoughts on that later because he has hit the point absolutely squarely. The great change occurred the day we recognised that the message, "If you drink and drive, you are breaking the law and you might lose your.licence," powerful and perfectly accurate though it was,.was never going to work.

We had to bear that point in mind in relation to the results that were obtained—and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) will agree that the advertising material we have used in this respect has been particularly powerful—when we said to people, "You are a perfectly respectable individual. You are not the kind of person who would ever knowingly commit violence on another individual, but you could in a moment do something which would result in a perfectly innocent person losing his life. Not only will that mean that you will carry a serious criminal record with you for the rest of your life, but you will never forget what you have done. You will be haunted by it until your dying day."

God forbid that that should happen to anyone. However, that is, of course, the tragic consequence of just a little excessive drink on an occasion when a perfectly normal person believes that he or she can handle what he or she is drinking. While the law is well intentioned, and these are law-abiding people, they do not believe that it need apply to them.

That is a crucial change. I have taken an interest in practice elsewhere in the world over the past few years. It is clear that our campaign has been a real achievement for this country. There are far more breath tests in other countries. France carries out many more breath tests than we do, but because it has not understood the psychology of drinkers and drivers—I am referring not to people with a substantial medical problem, but to the occasional drink-driver who is the real difficulty—the French have not made anything like the progress that we have been able to make.

Mr. Miller

Before the Minister leaves his point about breath testing, a Victim Support report published in 1994 contains a survey of breath testing by police authorities after road accidents. The pattern is not consistent and that is worrying. Only half of police authorities will test the blood alcohol level after an accident as a matter of course. Will the Minister talk to his colleagues in the Home Office and try to increase that ratio? Such tests should happen as a matter of course.

Mr. Norris

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will develop that point. I will certainly draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friends, as I quite understand his point.

Before we leave this important area of road safety, I must point out that there has been quite a radical change in the attitude of the drinks industry, among the brewers, distillers, licensed victuallers and so on. The Portman group, which represents many of those interests, has played a very positive role in promoting the separation of drinking from driving in several ways. Two months ago, the group collaborated with the Department of Transport to organise a joint seminar on drinking and driving which was opened by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. That seminar brought together experts from research, medicine, police, advertising and the media to look at ways to bring new life into the drink-drive campaign.

There had been a perception in the media and among some road safety professionals that the campaign might be running out of steam. There was no sign of that in the statistics as drink-related deaths are still falling at much the same rate. However, in that area, as in many others, people's perceptions are almost as important as the reality. The seminar produced several interesting suggestions on how we might reduce the number of drink-driving cases.even further.

People in the road safety world have often said, "If only we could do as well in reducing speeding as we have done in reducing drink-driving, we would be able to take a great step forward." Excessive speed is a factor in between 22 per cent. and 32 per cent. of all road accidents. International experience suggests that a reduction of average speed of only 1 mph could save 5 per cent. of all injury accidents and 7 per cent. of fatal accidents.

Other things being equal, the faster one drives, the more likely one is to hit something and the greater the damage will be. That can make the difference between passengers surviving unscathed, especially if they are wearing seat belts, and being killed. That does not mean that the fastest roads are the most dangerous. Motorways have been designed for high-speed traffic and are by far the safest roads because many of the features that cause collisions have been eliminated. In fact, over half the fatal and serious road injuries occur on roads with a 30 mph speed limit.

The problem is not absolute speed; the problem is relative and inappropriate speed. That is the important distinction between speeding and going too fast. No one would call driving at 25 mph speeding, but if one happens to be travelling at that speed outside a school when children are setting off home, one would almost certainly be travelling too fast.

Sir Anthony Grant

Especially if the road is wet.

Mr. Norris

As my hon. Friend says, the condition of the road surface is relevant in such circumstances.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West and the House will be aware of the new campaign on the "kill your speed" theme in which we have focused on urban and mainly residential roads where most of such accidents happen. We will have to continue to plug away at that theme. We want to make speeding take on in people's minds the same status as drink-driving. However, other things are going on.

Engineering measures are being taken to control speed. Traffic calming has moved in from the fringes of road safety and is now playing an increasingly important role. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans), as a private Member, brought in the Traffic Calming Act 1992. That legislation has placed beyond doubt the legality of the way in which techniques such a chicanes and road narrowings are applied in local areas. The variety of measures made possible by that Act are explained in an excellent booklet entitled "Safer by Design", which was launched by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in August.

Lady Olga Maitland

With regard to traffic calming, does my hon. Friend agree that some traffic calming guidelines, particularly in relation to road humps, have been taken on board by local authorities with almost excessive zeal? There is, rightly, a great deal of objection in my constituency to humping down a mile-long road. Should we not encourage a greater variety of traffic calming facilities of which there is a considerable dictionary?

Mr. Norris

My hon. Friend may have to revisit the way in which she phrased that point.

Lady Olga Maitland

I am sorry.

Mr. Norris

There is no need for my hon. Friend to apologise. I am grateful to her for making a perfectly serious point. Funnily enough, we find that people in many parts of the country are concerned about the potential danger to their children, particularly on residential roads. They want measures to stop cars travelling too fast. They know that simply putting up a roundel with a number on it does not achieve the desired effect. Therefore, they have considered taking a variety of measures, of which road humps are one, to stop traffic travelling at excessive speed.

People realise that road humps will pose issues for emergency service vehicles, for example, and that they will constrain people who have been used to using the road perfectly normally and who will find it rather irritating that they must slow down substantially in order to make progress. That demonstrates the importance of always taking such decisions as openly as possible and considering all options before one assumes that one technical solution is necessarily the only one that can deliver the desired effect.

We have also been considering the design of road cushions, which can have the same effect. There are several around Westminster, which hon. Members might have encountered, and they can facilitate emergency service vehicle access and bus access. Low-floor buses are again on the agenda for a very important social reason, which all hon. Members .welcome. From time to time, certain low-floor design features might be incompatible with some types of traffic calming measures. It is important to have a variety or a menu available—that is what our "Safer by Design" booklet says—and to make sure that people understand the full implications of what they are seeking to achieve.

Sir Anthony Grant

In my constituency, the problem is not road humps but the narrowing of roads to such an extent that poor old farm vehicles cannot get through. That is a great problem for farmers.

Mr. Norris

That underlines the crucial importance of never reacting too quickly. It is said that hard cases make bad law. There is the problem in this country—I suspect that it occurs in every country—that, as I know from my postbag, the minute an accident occurs, the natural reaction is to want to change the law in some respect or take an instant measure as a result. From time to time, that might be necessary, but, in general, common sense has to prevail. As my hon. Friend suggests, serious thought must be given to all the implications of introducing measures such as chicanes, road narrowing, speed humps, tables, cushions and so on. Those measures are all useful in their way, but they must be introduced with care.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

On road desiign, does my hon. Friend agree that some people in the anti-roads lobby lose sight of the fact that, broadly speaking, motorways are safer to drive on than dual carriageways, which in turn are safer to drive on than single-track roads?

Mr. Norris

Yes. That is broadly the point that I was making. The motorway system has generally designed out a number of the hazards which cause accidents. As I have said, more than half the fatal and serious accidents occur on roads with a 30 mph limit. It is important to remember that.

In that context, we have been considering a 20 mph zone, which is a fairly new phenomenon. I opened the 100th scheme in my constituency in August. We introduced the scheme in a rather unusual way, because we had a considerable accident problem in Epping forest, which had been used by a few motorists as a race track. By definition, Epping forest is a rather rural environment in which the roads were never built for modern vehicle.numbers or speeds and in which street lighting would be.absolutely impossible. Indeed, there would be no public support for street lighting there. Such schemes can work in context, but that does not mean that the answer to every serious injury accident is the introduction of a variety of measures or 20 mph schemes. It is a matter, as I.am sure the House will expect, of putting such matters into proportion.

Much road safety engineering is paid for through the local roads capital settlement. We have made more than £170 million available over the past four years, thereby saving more than 250 deaths and 15,000 casualties every year. On the basis of local authorities' returns and some recent research by the Transport Research Laboratory, we have calculated that the money invested in that way produces a first-year rate of return of more than 250 per cent.

We have also been attacking speeding in another way—that is, by more effective enforcement. Since the Road Traffic Act 1991, automatic speed cameras have been installed, especially in London. As Minister for Transport in London, I have been associated with the west London pilot scheme from its start. It was introduced in October 1992. I remember introducing it on Twickenham bridge. Our monitoring and evaluation shows an average speed reduction of 10 per cent., and that accidents are down 21 per cent. and deaths and serious injuries are down 37 per cent. In the first year of operation there were seven deaths, which is tragic, compared with an annual average of 23 over the previous three years.

If we could replicate that improvement nationally, we would really make an impact on casualty statistics. It is a matter of resources, of course, and of enormous fixed penalties and many court hearings. We continue to encourage well-targeted camera enforcement, concentrated on the roads most subject to accidents at speed. The more traditional types of speed enforcement still have their place.

Mr. Fabricant


Mr. Norris

We have had a very interesting hour, but it is about time I allowed other hon. Members to make more than just interventions. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am disappointed that that is the only remark that I have made this morning which has been universally applauded. However, I inform my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire that, when we introduced traffic speed cameras, I made it clear that the objective was not to prosecute motorists. The objective was to show motorists that they would be monitored and to give them the opportunity not to be an accident statistic. Large signs warn motorists when they approach every camera. That has been a requirement from the beginning of the scheme and it will continue to be so. That is why I regard it as successful not when we prosecute but when we see large reductions in deaths and serious injury accidents.

A large number of casualty reduction measures are being introduced in various areas. We cannot monitor them all individually, but we have a fairly good idea of their impact. The effect could be even more dramatic if one town used the whole range of existing measures, and perhaps some new ideas as well, as a safe town demonstration project. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West will remember the Slough experiment in the 1950s, which pioneered several road safety ideas that later came into general use. We are talking now to local authority associations about the possibility of a demonstration project in a suitably sized town. That project is at an early planning stage, but it will be very exciting.

Engineering measures can be effective, but, as I have said, human error is a feature of about 95 per cent. of road accidents. New and inexperienced drivers in particular are likely to be involved in accidents. There are some obvious reasons for that. Some have been taught to perform well in the driving test and they pass it first time, but they lack the subtle skills that they need to be good drivers. Some, particularly young males, are over-confident or naturally inclined to show off and take risks. Others are just plainly irresponsible—they deliberately break the law and they know that they are putting lives at risk.

Last year, we put forward several proposals to try to improve such matters. We must influence the attitudes of young people even before they start to drive. Some of them think that road safety is just kids' stuff—for example, the green cross code and cycling proficiency—and that, once they are old enough to drive, they can forget all about it. We need to put the message across that, as drivers, they will have to take on some adult responsibilities for the safety of themselves, their passengers and all other road users. However, it is no use preaching or talking down to that age group. A much more direct, hard-hitting, street-wise approach is better. Alexei Sayle hit the right note in the BBC's "Drive" series early this year. We are reworking that series into a video, with a full supporting pack of teachers' notes for use in sixth forms and colleges.

Changes will also be made to enhance the theory element of the driving test, which should have an impact on the way in which people are taught to drive. Early in the new year we will launch a scheme for those who have passed their driving test but who want further training. The scheme is being promoted in conjunction with a large number of major insurance companies which will offer insurance discounts sufficient to meet the entire cost of the training.

However, I believe that we also need more appropriate sanctions for new drivers who pass their tests but who then go on to drive badly and commit offences. Research shows that new drivers who commit offences are twice as likely to be involved in accidents as those who do not. I will be frank: I am talking about young men who think that they are great drivers, that they can drive on water, and that somehow the law does not apply to them. Sadly, they are wrong.

The House has to hit those young men where it hurts.most—in their egos. They might lose their licences and.find themselves back with their fathers sitting beside them and L-plates on the front and back of the car. It might bring home to them how seriously irresponsible driving is viewed. That proposal will involve the introduction of primary legislation which we hope to put on the statute book at the earliest opportunity. I am confident that this package of measures will reduce the unacceptably high number of road casualties involving inexperienced drivers.

Mr. Ottaway

I apologise for intervening again when I know that the Minister is trying to conclude his speech. Might not amendments to the daylight saving regulations have some impact on saving lives? It is believed that a change to the regulations could save hundreds of lives.

Mr. Norris

My hon. Friend is perfectly right to draw attention to this important subject in which, as he knows, a number of Departments of state are interested. The daylight hours issue involves consideration of a variety of important aspects, ranging from business interests, to transport operators needing to harmonise timetables, and the needs of travellers, the rural community and so on.

I do not suggest that what I am saying represents the definitive Government position precisely because all those interests need to be synthesised. I also appreciate that views about the matter vary greatly in Scotland and between the north and south of the United Kingdom, because geographical differences impose different daylight regimes on communities.

There is no doubt that the proposed legislative changes will reduce significantly the number of road accidents. It is true that there may be more accidents in the morning, but the saving in the number of accidents that occur in the evening will more than compensate for that. I have no emotional, business or other interest in the subject, but I have to say that, merely from looking at the analysis of road statistics and at the time profile of when accidents occur, that conclusion is clear. We cannot escape from debating this important issue; it should be central in our minds. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making his point.

We have achieved a great deal since we embarked on the casualty reduction programme. We are also doing very well by international standards. Great Britain had 7.5 road deaths per 100,000 people in 1992—a figure lower than any other OECD country. Norway had 7.6 road deaths per 100,000 people, as the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston will no doubt confirm. The Netherlands had 8.5 road deaths; Germany, 13.2; the USA, 15.4; France, 17.3; and Spain, 20. So there is no need for Brussels or anywhere else to lecture us about improving road safety.

But we still have plenty to do. We must keep up the activity that has enabled us to make those achievements. We must now begin to look to the longer horizon beyond the year 2000 and set a new target for 2005 or 2010. It is easy to pluck a figure out of the air, but there is no point in doing that. We must set a target which is both challenging and realistic.

We set the 1987 target on the basis of a careful assessment of what could be achieved given the possibilities open to us. We now need another assessment of what we can reasonably aim for in the first decade of the new millennium. We must decide whether to set another global target—reducing all casualties by a specific percentage—to concentrate on fatal and serious casualties, or to set targets relative to distance travelled. We intend to consult widely with the various road safety authorities and organisations to develop a shared target that will maintain the momentum and make our roads even safer.

I know, from the many interventions that we have heard this morning and from the number of letters in my postbag, that many hon. Members are interested in the subject and are prepared to make significant contributions to the debate.

I do not believe that I, any of my predecessors, or the Department is the fount of all knowledge in these matters. We have a great deal to learn. I hope that this debate will introduce some new thinking that will enable us to achieve our aim of making road transport, and transport generally, in this country as safe as is humanly possible.

10.45 am
Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

A debate on road safety is long overdue, but it is very welcome. Unless we have the opportunity for proper and regular debate about road safety issues, we cannot discuss the details of long-term decisions that must be made.

The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) intervened to talk about summer time and how we deal with it. It is right that that subject should be debated in the House. All kinds of considerations are involved in the debate, but clearly those who care about road safety want a full and informed public debate so that the decisions of the House reflect the needs of the country across the board.

This debate is also welcome because it gives us an opportunity to tackle the Government about their road safety record so far. We have heard a great deal about the progress which the Minister says that the Government have made. However, he said that he is not the fount of all knowledge on this important issue, and I agree with him on that.

In the brave new privatised and deregulated world which the Government are busy setting up, it is difficult to see how issues of public safety and road safety can be integrated.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

If the hon. Lady thinks that this debate is long overdue, can she tell us why, when the House spent 24 or more days debating subjects raised by the Opposition, those opposite did not raise road safety once? Today we are debating it in Government time.

Ms Walley

The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the Government have the initiative in determining the business agenda of the House, although a number of days are allocated to the Labour party—and also the other party, whose members are not in their places this morning. We currently have proposals before the House to debate only private Members' Bills and such on Fridays. If the Government were as interested in road safety as the hon. Gentleman suggests, they would have ensured not only that we had this debate in Government time, but that we had this debate when all members of the House were present. However, I am in danger of going down a route that is not in the best interests of road safety, so I shall make some progress with my speech.

We need to ask whether the Government are treating their transport policy any differently from other areas of policy making. We can see from the announcements that have been made this week about the privatisation of Railtrack that the Government are desperate to find money to pay for the tax cuts which they feel that they will need to win votes at the next general election. When there is such an agenda, it is essential that within that framework, which applies just as much to road transport as to rail, the Government should pinpoint the importance of issues such as public safety and road safety, which we are discussing today.

Throughout the country, the public are crying out for safer roads. The Minister was right to recognise that that is what they want. They are right to demand that, nationally and locally, the Government and local councils do what is required to ensure road safety. The Opposition are right to challenge the Government on their failure to provide a framework within which we can adequately—I stress "adequately"—identify, plan, enact, enforce and monitor the effectiveness of the safety measures that people are entitled to demand and expect.

The Minister made a comprehensive speech and we heard a great deal about the progress that he and his Department have made. I am always ready to give credit where credit is due and I was pleased to note the change of attitude—the Minister used the word "psychology"—in respect of cycling. It is long overdue. I acknowledge that the Government have set targets and that considerable progress has been made towards meeting them.

I wholeheartedly welcome the fact that the total number of child road accidents in 1993 was 15 per cent. lower than the 1981–85 average. I note that there has also been progress towards meeting the casualty reduction target for fatalities and serious injuries. We must continue to make progress at each and every opportunity.

However, we must not be complacent. Neither can we ignore the fact that the number of slight injuries has increased, meaning that progress towards the target for all casualties is slower than hoped for. We must recognise that fact and do something about it. The figures for 1993 show 3,814 fatalities, 45,000 serious casualties and 257,199 slight casualties—which is 306,013 too many. Whatever progress we have made, each accident is one too many.

We can cite statistics, but that does not show the human misery, the agony and the remorse behind them. The almost universal response of all involved in a tragedy is that lessons must be learnt in a way that will prevent further such accidents. Other factors include, not least, the victims and their families. That is something that my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) wants to raise in his speech.

It is the Minister's job to plan for safer roads. Who else can? He should have given us some information on the Government's policy to hand so much responsibility to the Department of Trade and Industry's Deregulation Committee, which was set up last night. The new deregulation procedures will not receive full parliamentary scrutiny, so the hon. Gentleman should have given us some sign of what the changes will mean. For example, is it the case, as has been rumoured, that a.large number of road traffic Acts or sections of them will be deregulated in January? What are the implications of that? Will there be an extension in the number of domestic working hours of drivers of heavy goods and public service vehicles? Is that part of the Government's agenda? What are the implications for the underpinning of safety measures?

At the same time, the Minister will be busy deregulating buses. We should not forget that only yesterday London bus drivers presented a petition to the House expressing concern about the safety of the engines in Routemaster buses. He will also be busy dismantling the, in our view, effective system for overseeing the London lorry ban and operating licences for heavy goods vehicles and buses.

Mr. Fabricant

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, my near neighbour, for giving way. Does she not think that there is room for deregulation in the road traffic Acts? Is she aware that under current regulations hackney carriages—black cabs—have to carry a bale of hay in the back? Does that not need deregulating?

Ms Walley

Every time I get into a black cab in London I am made aware of the great concern among drivers about what the Government's deregulation proposals will mean for them. If they were simply about bales of hay, that would not be a problem. However, if the proposals undermine the safety of taxi operations and private hire vehicles, that is a different matter. Much wider considerations have to be taken into account.

The Minister is going to be busy privatising the Transport Research Laboratory. He made much reference in his speech to the importance of research and I believed him when he said that he valued research. But does he not value independent research? Does he not value the independent body of knowledge that has been built up at the laboratory at Crowthorne in Berkshire? What effects will privatisation have on the long-term future of transport research? Of course, the Department of Transport has cut the budget for research, against the express wishes of many distinguished Conservative Members—some of whom are usually in the Chamber for transport debates, but regrettably are not here this morning.

The Minister will be busy making arm's-length agencies such as the Highways Agency responsible, with the private sector, for the construction of motorways and for repair work to motorway service areas. He will also be busy, at a local level, considering even more contracting out of services, which will include the design and building work done by highways engineers. He will be busy cost-cutting by 20 per cent., thereby undermining the effectiveness of civil service departments responsible for vehicle testing, driving standards and vehicle inspections. It is no wonder that people feel a deep sense of unease and anxiety about the effects of all that on road safety. No amount of statistics can gloss over that.

I want to give a few examples of areas in which we could have expected real progress. The prime one is seat belts. I listened carefully to what the Minister said on that issue. Last week was the first anniversary of the tragic accident on the M40 involving a school minibus. A year ago there was a public outcry and widespread demands for seat belts to be fitted to new vehicles. What have the Government done other than to promise on 19 July action ahead of the European Union to seek agreement on the introduction of compulsory fitting of seat belts to all.minibuses and coaches used specifically for the transport.of children? I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman had to say. He promised us action in advance of what could be done through Europe. I have not seen the introduction of any new regulations to implement that promise.

Mr. Norris

This is very important—I want the hon. Lady to say now, on the record, what measure she believes should have been taken in this respect that has not been taken. I want her to say what measure. She knows well that she simply cannot do so.

Ms Walley

It is clear that the issue is complicated and technical. Since it became an issue, the Government have had 12 months to find a way of fitting seat belts in advance of Europe and through the construction and use regulations. That is what people, and especially parents, want. They want to know that there is a seat and a seat belt for every child.

The Minister made many references to ending the three-to-two seats rule. I looked into the matter very carefully and I understand that that has been done and that considerable progress has been made in Scotland where, if I understand the position correctly, there is a difference. Where two children to a two-seater seat is now a requirement, local education authorities have a disregard. When the Scottish Office give grant settlements to local councils, any extra cost that the change has entailed is disregarded. Why has the same provision not been made available in England, as it would do so much to ensure that we have two children to two seats, rather than having mere rhetoric on the subject?

On fitting seat belts in minibuses, the Government have all the expertise of the civil service available to them. We want seat belts fitted and we want an agreement that that will be done in advance of any European directive on the matter. If there is a will to do it, a way will be found.

The public want action. I understand that the issue is technical and complex, but we want action more quickly than Europe can achieve it. That is what the organisation to belt up school kids wants and that is what we want from the Minister.

Mr. Norris

I do not want to embarrass the hon. Lady any more, but that is not good enough. She is simply trading on people's natural concerns about improving safety standards in the most appalling and cynical way. It does not do her or her party any credit. She knows very well that unless changes in United Kingdom law are agreed by the Community and reflected in directives, they are in every 'practical way of no effect. I ask her again to state, among all the words that she trots out so easily, what measure she would have introduced during the past 12 months to remedy the problem that she described so graphically.

Ms Walley

I will answer. The Minister's reply sounds fine, but why did the Department of Transport issue a statement on 19 July—if my memory serves me correctly—to say that it would introduce some sort of regulations in advance of European legislation and that the Government were seeking a procedure for achieving seat belt regulations in advance of a decision by Europe? They did so after suggesting research, which I have no doubt has been carried out.

It is now up to the Minister, who is responsible for road transport, to find a way to introduce those regulations. He said that he had carried out the research and he promised that the regulations would be introduced in advance of European legislation. It is now November and we have not yet seen the regulations. We await them in advance of a European commitment.

Mr. Norris

The hon. Lady must know that the Community must agree before we can introduce legislation in advance of a Community directive. The delay has not been on the Government side. The hon. Lady is also wrong to say that the M40 tragedy triggered the desire for regulation, as the M2 coach accident was the spur. Since that accident, the Government have worked quickly and hard in Brussels to persuade the Community to grant us the right to go faster than it is going—the Community that the Opposition so wholly, enthusiastically and uncritically endorse. The reality is that the hon. Lady cannot produce one shred of evidence to show that we have not acted with all expedition in the matter. By treating it in such a cynical manner, she has done her party no service.

Ms Walley

I am pointing out that parents do not understand the delay. I await with interest a detailed letter from the Minister setting out each and every move that he has made since the matter first became an issuea letter setting out what he has done to ensure that regulations are put on the statute book in advance of European directives. The Government promised us those regulations, but have not delivered them. If there are reasons for the delays, the Minister should tell us what they are.

We will return to that issue time and again because people clearly want the regulations. Although people in some parts of the country might be willing to insist that commercial operators provide seat belts, that is no substitute for regulations so that minibus and coach operators know exactly what should be fitted, in what circumstances, how the belts should be maintained and what should apply retrospectively. We need clear guidance on all those matters.

Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth)

Will the hon. Lady put me out of a predicament? I listened carefully to what she and my hon. Friend the Minister said. Is she saying that she wants the Government to act unilaterally, without a collective decision with our European partners? Does she want us to do as we want and to tell the rest of Europe to go to wherever?

Ms Walley

People outside this place who take an interest in such debates will see how the issue is being turned into a different issue about Europe. We need to know exactly what the Government have done in advance of European legislation. They said that they would find a way.

How councils' stretched budgets can shoulder the price of safety is another issue. More than anything else, the Government's empty rhetoric on seat belts sums up the difference between what they say and what they mean. That is true of road safety education and road safety officers, who should have the resources to do the work—working in partnership with voluntary agencies such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, motoring organisations such as the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club, and other council departments, especially schools, the police and the local authorities that employ them—of co-ordinating road safety at a local level.

I am sure that the Minister will agree that road safety education is essential. Indeed, he said so in his speech. Education has a major part to play in making the changes necessary for improved road safety relevant to people of all ages, especially to the young. One change must be in the attitude to excessive speed and use of the roads.

The debate has various aspects and strands. It is clear that motor manufacturers' advertising campaigns have stressed speed—often at the expense of road safety, and we must study that.

Mr. Fabricant

Does the hon. Lady accept that there is a distinction between acceleration and speed? I take her point. She is right in saying that some advertisements pander to the boy racer. Does she accept, however, that acceleration can get people out of, rather than into, difficulty and that there is a difference between acceleration and top speed?

Ms Walley

Yes. I am talking about excessive speed, responsible driving and the ways in which advertising often undermines that. I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's argument.

As good as they are, unless the Department of Transport's campaigns on speed, drink-driving, pedestrian safety and the use of seat belts in cars are backed up by properly resourced, local road safety officers, their success cannot be maintained. I cannot stress too strongly how important it is that, having made progress, we maintain it. Just because there has been some success with the drink-driving campaign, that does not mean that we can ease off; we must keep up the pressure and maintain the results. Road safety officers can play an important role in achieving that.

We must pay more attention to the proper enforcement of regulations that already exist. Clearly, following the first road traffic legislation, it was natural for the police to be handed powers of enforcement. We could not have anticipated today's world of performance-related pay for chief police officers. How can the Transport Minister guarantee adequate levels of enforcement for traffic officers for motorway incidents and routine patrol work when the interim report of the Home Office review of core functions fails to define traffic police work as the major objective that we would like it to be?

Who is responsible for guaranteeing that police resources are available for enforcement of road traffic offences and how is that to be done in future? There has been a great change in the way that local police forces operate. They will have a set of objectives and targets—it is crucial that road safety should feature among them. When the Minister winds up, will he tell us what relationship he has with the Home Secretary on that issue and how he wants to set objectives in respect of the work of the police?

What priority has been given to ensuring that there are enough police to carry out lorry checks and speed checks? I am sure that those who followed the Sowerby bridge incident and other such accidents will be aware of the dangers ahead on our roads. There are fewer and fewer police carrying out spot checks, and fewer controls on maintenance standards and on the limit on hours worked by heavy goods vehicle drivers and bus drivers. Such factors increase the likelihood of serious accidents—we must take account of that.

I was glad that the Minister said a great deal about speed cameras. From what I have read—I do not have his first-hand knowledge of the west London experiment—I believe that the cameras have led to a decrease of more than one third in the number of accidents, which must be welcomed. That shows that we need far more speed cameras, as well as the resources to buy them and to place them where they are most needed and can make the biggest contribution to reducing the number of accidents. We also need the money to ensure that the evidence from those speed cameras is properly processed. We hear a lot about profit generation and the ways in which, within the police service, different offences can lead to income generation. I am glad that the Minister said that he would ensure that those cameras are placed where they are most needed in the interests of road safety.

There are many new laws and regulations, including construction and use regulations, which will be beneficial. I shall mention one that the Minister did not: bull bars on on-road vehicles. The research carried out shows that the Minister could easily act to outlaw bull bars to ensure that they are not used on cars as they are at present. I should like the Minister to have said something about how that could be done and what he proposed to do in future. It is a cause for worry, particularly as the impact of bull bars is so great that, rather than causing less severe accidents, the chances are that accidents will be severe, if not fatal.

Evidence recently produced by the Department of Transport shows that drivers under the age of 21 are involved in 1,000 fatal accidents a year. We must acknowledge that and act accordingly. I welcome the Government's four-pronged attack, particularly pre-driver training in schools. When can we expect the introduction of the legislation mentioned by the Minister? It is now about a week since the Gracious Speech. I wonder why it did not include such legislation—it is not as though we face a taxing time with a heavy legislative programme. Why did not the Gracious Speech include legislation to enable the Government to respond to the problems mentioned by the Minister in his speech? What is the Government's response, particularly to the proposal advanced by the AA for a graduated points threshold for new drivers?

Developments in Europe provide an opportunity for enhanced safety, but there are more opportunities that the Government could grasp. The Minister said that theory tests would be introduced on 1 July 1996. There is much uncertainty about who will manage the tests, how they will be introduced and to what extent they will be hived off to the private and commercial sector.

I am glad that the Minister mentioned the second European Community directive on driver licensing, which would require voluntary minibus drivers to take a separate official driving test to drive vehicles with a carrying capacity of more than eight passengers. I think that there is some common ground between us over that issue. We are aware that the United Kingdom is different from most other European countries in that voluntary organisations depend far more on their own minibuses than is the case elsewhere in mainland Europe. There are many good reasons for that. One reason is the lack of investment in public transport, which is not on a par with that of other European countries.

The Opposition are also aware of important financial considerations. But, having derogated in that way, is there some way for the Government to introduce national guidance so that volunteers driving minibuses on behalf of organisations do not drive them simply according to a set of guidelines issued by a county council, but drive them to a standard that complies with national guidelines issued by the Government? It is a skilled operation and it is crucial that minibus drivers are competent to handle vehicles. We also need tighter regulations for those employed in the minibus industry.

Fears a out road safety apply as much to rural areas as to urban—some policies impact equally on both. We have heard a lot about drink-driving, and the campaign to kill speed, which must be maintained. We must understand the way in which the creeping privatisation of the arm's-length agencies for inspections and training results in lower standards.

There are worries about the future viability of school crossing patrols. I am concerned that they are being reviewed in many parts of the country. In urban districts, local safety schemes are effective in reducing the number of road accidents. However, the money available for traffic calming and traffic management, which benefits all road users, including cyclists and pedestrians, is not enough to cope with the demand.

Our exchange on cycling was useful. No one is more pleased than me at the change in psychology on cycling, which is now recognised as a healthy pursuit that can drastically reduce road traffic. Stoke-on-Trent is twinned with a city in Germany, Erlangen, which has a wonderful system for cyclists. It is second nature for people to cycle whenever possible and there are facilities for people to leave their cycles so that they can travel to and from work. I am pleased that a school in my constituency has recently received some grants to enable it to build cycling facilities. I hope that that will open up other opportunities. The city engineer will have to integrate those facilities into wider traffic systems.

We must consider ways to change the attitude of engineers responsible for highway policy. Where cycling has been overlooked for many years, we need to ensure that engineers are properly trained and receive national guidance from the Department of Transport to show clearly how cycling can be encouraged. I look forward to seeing a copy of the guidance notes to which the Minister referred.

I am glad that the traditional casual approach to road safety is being challenged. Leeds council, for example, has responded to that challenge by moving out of the ghetto of bright armbands, and poster competitions, and into the realms of sustainable transport, public health and quality of life issues. It has set up a road danger reduction forum. I hope that the Minister will encourage similar forums in other parts of the country. I hope that the Minister will endorse the new approach to road safety, which is based on reducing danger at source while promoting equity and accessibility for non-motorised users.

The accident statistics for rural areas are grim. In 1992, an AA foundation study revealed that rural roads in Cambridgeshire accounted for 89 per cent. of fatal accidents and that 44 per cent. of all traffic accidents occur on rural roads. Those roads were found to be more dangerous and to cause higher casualties than urban ones. Will the Minister tell us what action he proposes to take in rural areas to reduce single-vehicle accidents; accidents at T-junctions and staggered junctions; accidents on private drives and slip roads and those involving heavy goods vehicles and slow-moving traffic?

Many issues deserve to be properly considered in this debate, which is all too brief. I do not think that Fridays are the best time for such a debate. Just as there has been a change in the psychology governing cycling policy, so there is a great wind of change that wants to alter our sitting days and the way in which the business of the House is managed. A debate on a Friday does not guarantee that the subject in question gains the maximum amount of attention. Road safety needs to be properly debated.

To make our roads safer is an enormous task and it can be undertaken only in a consistent, comprehensive and coordinated manner. The Government have fragmented and dismantled many of the agencies that used to underpin road safety and it is clear that their approach to it is piecemeal. We have heard some encouraging policy suggestions from the Minister, but we will look closely to see how he follows them up in the long term.

11.21 am
Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

This is an important debate. At the risk of being ungallant, I regret to say that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) has not made a good fist of it. I agreed with some of the points she made, but the impact of her speech suffered because of the dismal turnout on the Opposition Benches. I am not fussed about the Liberal Democrats—the only surprise in their case is when they turn up. We all know that hon. Members have constituency engagements on a Friday and I would excuse the absence of Opposition Members if it were not for the fact that they are always rabbiting on about integrated transport, as though they knew all about it. Today would give those Opposition Members a wonderful opportunity to explain their case and I am sorry that the hon. Lady does not have the support that perhaps she deserves from her colleagues.

I must declare an interest, because I am not merely a stalwart, but I have the honour to be president, of the Guild of Experienced Motorists, which has about 60,000 members. We consider ourselves to be one of the premier road safety organisations in the land. Our theme, if it can be called such, is care, courtesy and concentration at all times. The guild takes a close interest in road safety.

I entirely agree with the Minister that our accident reduction record is extremely good. We compare extremely favourably with Europe, but we should not be too smug about that. We must keep relentlessly on the job of reducing road accidents. It is sobering to reflect that a Lockerbie-type accident happens every month on our roads. To put it another way, if 4,200 people were killed by shotguns each year, the outcry would be deafening. We would go berserk and demand legislation. That number of people are killed on our roads each year, to say nothing of the 50,000 people who are seriously injured and possibly permanently maimed. For that reason, we must take the subject of road safety seriously.

I was interested to note what my hon. Friend said about drink-driving, because the guild has been active in stopping that practice. It has been a particular success story because young people now consider it normal for the driver not to drink. If there is still a problem, I am afraid that it is still evident in my generation, which is largely at fault.

The great statistic has always been that one accident in five is caused by drink. According to lateral thinking, however, that means that four out of five accidents are not caused by drinking. We must try to reduce those accidents.

In the past, Governments have faced great difficulty—

Mr. Miller

I am not trying to trick the hon. Gentleman into a silly position, because I am sure that he is not suggesting that the 510 deaths that occurred in 1993 as a result of alcohol-related accidents are not serious and do not need to be addressed. Surely he is not saying that his generation, members of which are perhaps not as astute as some younger people, does not need the rod as well as the carrot.

Sir Anthony Grant

Certainly not. I praised young people, but I readily acknowledged that much of the trouble lies with older generations. We must recognise, however, that four out of five accidents are nothing to do with drink. We must aim to reduce that accident rate in the future.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North mentioned Cambridgeshire. Everything in Cambridgeshire and throughout East Anglia is excellent. It is the healthiest region and it has the lowest unemployment rate. You name it, everything is wonderful there, with one exception: the region has the worst record of road accidents. That is a disgrace and I am glad that the hon. Lady referred to it.

In my constituency, the A45 and the A505 are nightmares to drive on. They are straight, narrow roads with sudden bends. People come off the motorway at high speed and then endeavour to overtake. Those roads are a deathtrap. I agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of attempting to reduce road accidents in rural areas. That is one reason why the debate is so important.

Until recently, successive Governments had not caught up with the motor car phenomenon. They recognised that increased prosperity and more vehicles were a good thing—I accept that up to a point. When I started motoring it was a joy, but now all too often it is a nightmare. We know that motorways are an important feature of the transport infrastructure. They are far and away the safest roads to drive on—statistically that is incontrovertible. On the M25, however, one often drives in a 70 mph traffic jam.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) spoke about the dangers of excessively powerful vehicles and I have found that the more powerful the vehicle I drive, the faster and faster I drive from one traffic jam to the next. Apart from the Netherlands, which is smaller than this country anyway, Britain is more overcrowded with vehicles than any other European country. We must address that serious problem. The answer for the future is rather draconian: we must ensure that there are fewer bad drivers and fewer bad cars on the roads.

I was delighted when the Minister spoke of clamping down on vehicle licensing evasion. He pointed out that £145 million per annum was lost because people did not pay their road licence. Let me praise the fact that Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire were used as pilot regions in that clampdown. One million vehicles on the road are uninsured. One might ask how their owners can purchase vehicle excise discs. They simply obtain a temporary cover note and get a tax disc for a year, if necessary. They subsequently continue to drive while uninsured and cause the most appalling accidents, annoyance and injury. One's insurers can help in that respect, but that does not help to get one's vehicle repaired. I hope that the Government will carefully review the scandal of uninsured vehicles.

Mr. Fabricant

Just as one has to display a vehicle excise licence on the windscreen, would it not be a good idea to adopt the practice of many European countries and of the United States, and require drivers to display a certificate of insurance on the windscreen? I mean not the certificate in its traditional format, but a smaller document that could easily be checked by police officers.

Sir Anthony Grant

That is an excellent idea, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will give it thought. It is one thing not to pay one's road tax and to cost the Government money. It is quite another thing to drive while uninsured. I hope that my hon. Friend's suggestion will meet with favour.

I know that the Government are giving serious thought also to improving driving standards. I have always been critical of the fact that one can get in a little Mini, tootle around a suburban road at 30 mph and pass a driving test—then get straight into a Ferrari or Jaguar and belt round the M25. Entirely different driving techniques are required. Everyone assumes that the roads are always as in spring or summer—clear and free of ice. European drivers appreciate that driving conditions can differ.

Good eyesight is a matter of particular interest to the Guild of Experienced Motorists, which makes sight-testing machines available to local authorities and other organisations. The results are staggering. Those tests reveal how many people should not be driving. I shall let the House into a secret. I took the test as the president of the guild and was told, "You ought to get another pair of spectacles."

Lady Olga Maitland


Sir Anthony Grant

I was about to tell a funny story, but I will allow my hon. Friend to intervene.

Lady Olga Maitland

I am sorry to interrupt, and I hope that my hon. Friend's funny story will follow my intervention. Is he aware that it is possible to take a sight test for night driving? That test, devised by Professor Paul Cook, confirms that different perceptions are involved, which may require rectifying by the use of different spectacles.

Sir Anthony Grant

Anything that draws the public's attention to the need for good eyesight and appropriate spectacles is important.

One member of the guild's council is a retired senior police officer. He told the story of a motorist who was stopped for driving erratically, but who was perfectly sober. The officers noticed that he was not wearing spectacles and asked him to read the number plate of the police car parked some yards ahead. The motorist asked, "What police car?"

I am confident that the Department, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister are applying a good deal of new thinking. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), who is a zealot in this respect, and my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), who brought huge enthusiasm to his task. I was interested to hear my hon. Friend the Minister talk of the progress made in achieving the target set for reducing road accidents. I shall suggest one or two more targets.

It is important to get unroadworthy vehicles off the road. The report of the Royal Commission on pollution should be studied carefully. In due course, no car that is environmentally unclean should be allowed on the road. In future, I hope that all vehicles will have catalytic converters and use unleaded petrol. I look askance when I am in a traffic jam and ahead of me is a disgusting old banger belching forth the most filthy fumes, which has in its back window the sign "Nuclear? No thanks". There is a lot of hypocrisy.

Many road casualties involve stolen cars. The level of car theft in this country is among the worst in Europe. We need to address that scandalous and disgraceful situation. Drivers of stolen cars are most likely to cause mayhem and accidents. Another target for the future is that there should be no car on the road that is not fitted with a full security system, an immobiliser so that it cannot be driven away—there are many inexpensive immobilisers on the market—and a tracking device. A tracker allows the police to identify the changing location of a stolen vehicle almost immediately and to halt it at the next junction. Such equipment should be installed as a matter of course, as are seat belts and radios.

The greatest cause of accidents on motorways is vehicles driving too close to each other and failing to allow for their speed and the road conditions. When I drive up the M11, I am appalled to see heavy goods lorries travelling within inches of vehicles in front. That causes terror to some of my constituents. One can imagine poor old ladies driving along on the inside lane. My wife—who is not actually a poor old lady—drives up the M11 and keeps to 70 mph on the inside lane, but enormous juggernauts travel only 2 ft or 3 ft behind her. That practice could be defeated by the use of available technology that shows when a vehicle is too close. I am advised that it is also possible for such a device to govern the vehicle's speed.

I should like also to see vigorous testing of heavy goods vehicles. One police officer in my constituency told me that the police test HGVs whenever they can, and that it would make one's hair stand on end if one knew the condition of the brakes and other equipment on many of them. I will not get into a Euro debate but many such vehicles come from Europe, where standards may not be as high as those in this country.

The courts should make much greater use of the power of disqualification, which is the greatest deterrent that they have. I would add one other. If the courts could confiscate vehicles, that would get bad vehicles and bad drivers off the road and that would be a much more salutary punishment than a fine.

For years, the Ministry of Transport was the Cinderella of Government. Today, transport is assuming a much higher priority. I was afraid that it would change from being the Cinderella to being one of the ugly sisters, but I am satisfied that, under the stewardship of my hon. Friend the Minister and the new Secretary of State, it will become the Prince Charming.

11.39 am
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

I want to spend a little time sharing with colleagues ideas about death on the roads. It is easy to be complacent and argue that we have one of the best records in the world. On that basis, we could all pat ourselves on the back and go home. The figures in the document to which I referred earlier, the "Statistical Report on Road Accidents in 1991" by the European Conference of Transport Ministers, published last year, shows that Britain has 433 vehicles per 1,000 population. Many vehicles travel on this small island, yet we are almost at the bottom of the table on road risk. Therefore, the general advice to motorists and pedestrians is that it is safer to travel in Britain, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands than elsewhere in Europe or in the United States, Canada or Japan.

I am pleased that the Minister acknowledged that we should not be complacent, because 4,000 people still die on the roads every year. Although the figures throughout Europe and the UK are falling, people are still needlessly dying. We can do much to improve road safety. The Minister mentioned road design, and we could educate drivers and improve vehicle design. The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) referred to some of those measures. When all of that has been dealt with, the fact remains that we need to legislate against drink-drivers and the lunatic fringe, who show little responsibility towards others.

How should society deal with a person who causes the death of another while at the wheel of a car? I contend that we should approach the offence just as we approach that of any other culpable death. I hope that hon Members will bear with me while I go through the statistics because it is important to see what is happening and put it in perspective.

In 1992, an estimated 510 fatal accidents involved illegal alcohol levels, with 610 casualties. The corresponding figures for 1990 are 650 and 760 respectively. That shows that the vast majority of road deaths—some 85 per cent.—are not caused by drunken drivers. The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West made that point. Although it is impossible to tell how many of the deaths were accidents and how many were caused by negligent driving or bad vehicle maintenance, the latter category may account for as many as those killed by drunk driving.

On the charges brought, in 1992, 402 people were tried at Crown court level for causing death by dangerous driving, compared with just two for causing death by careless driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Committals for trials at magistrates courts ran at 307 and six respectively. The offence of causing death by dangerous driving is therefore numerically more important than the alcohol-related offence. For that reason, it should be straightforward for the police to charge somebody with that offence.

The Road Traffic Act 1991 replaced the offence of causing death by reckless driving with the offences of causing death by dangerous driving and of causing death by careless driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The change was intended to facilitate a greater number of such charges being brought against a driver who had killed, but it has not worked.

The most detailed figures available from the Home Office statistical bulletin, "Motor Offences, England and Wales, 1992", are for offences causing death or bodily harm. As well as the two aforementioned offences, that category includes causing death by aggravated vehicle taking, which is another point mentioned this morning, and causing bodily harm.

Since 1989, the number of people charged with those offences has remained static at about 600. The conviction rate has not improved, with some 400 people found guilty of those offences every year. Although the number of people charged with such offences is proportionately higher as the number of road deaths has declined, it is not a highly significant improvement. The difference between the number of accidents in 1991 and 1992 was just 1 per cent.

It is difficult to obtain a conviction in cases involving causing death by dangerous driving. In 1992, just 9.44 per cent. of cases of that nature coming before a magistrates court were discontinued. That may seem a small figure—less than 10 per cent—but it compares with just 4.35 per cent. of charges of careless driving. Of the cases heard, 82 of the 402 led to acquittals and two never came to trial. That compares with 24 of the 300 cases of driving without due care and attention heard at Crown courts and 12,606 of the 88,422 charges of driving without due care and attention offences, which is the most common careless driving offence. Proportionately, more cases are discontinued and more are dismissed or acquitted when death by dangerous driving is the charge. That is important as it backs up speculation that it is difficult to gain a conviction for such a charge.

Organisations and individuals concerned with that matter suspect that the Crown Prosecution Service would rather not risk a charge of causing death by dangerous driving but prefers the relative certainty of a guilty plea to driving without due care and attention. That charge, however, is not suitable for such a serious offence. The death of a victim is not a factor in the careless driving charge, and inevitably victims' families are upset when it is not even mentioned in the court proceedings. The sentence is also thoroughly inadequate: fines result in most cases.

In the most serious careless driving cases-those tried in the Crown court-of the 278 findings of guilt, 189 were dealt with by fines; 21 by conditional discharge; 16 by probation or supervision orders; only three by community service; and 49 were otherwise dealt with. No one was gaoled. The average Crown court fine for cases of careless driving was £206 and only one fine was in excess of £800. At the magistrates court, the average fine is £99 when sentences for careless driving are passed by a magistrate.

There seems to be a problem with the concept of causing death by dangerous driving. The acquittal rate is much higher than for any other offence and no different from the old law against death by reckless driving, which was known to be flawed. The police seem to be reluctant to press charges as they charge only the same number of people as they did under the previous charge, which they were widely felt to be reluctant to invoke.

However, organisations such as Roadpeace and relatives of victims of road crashes are understandably upset about sentences. Their concerns seem to be split between the apparent inadequacies of the present system—gaps in the law—and dissatisfaction with the severity of sentence handed down. In 1992, of the 320 people found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving, 70 received a sentence completely unrelated to prison, 27 received a fully suspended sentence, five received a partially suspended sentence, 60 were sent to a young offenders institution, while 156 got an unsuspended sentence.

Mr. Ottaway

May I take the hon. Gentleman back to something he said a few moments ago? It has taken me a little while to reflect on it. He was complaining about the number of acquittals in cases of death by dangerous driving. He might correct me, but I was under the impression that such cases are jury cases. I understood that they are not matters for the prosecution or for the police but that 12 good men and true decide on acquittals.

Mr. Miller

I would not complain about the principle of jury trial. I am merely putting on record the statistics—which are giving rise to a great deal of concern—the greatest of which is that many people who cause a death in a road accident are prosecuted under the Road Traffic Act 1991 not for causing that death but perhaps for leaving the scene of an accident or for some seemingly trivial matter. That is the theme that I am attempting to develop, but I am nevertheless pleased that the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) is listening carefully.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

One of the reasons given for introducing the charge of death by dangerous driving was that, at that time, juries were very reluctant to convict on manslaughter so another charge had to be introduced. However, it followed that juries were equally reluctant to convict on the death by dangerous driving charge. If the hon. Gentleman is advocating some sort of fiercer punishment for death by careless driving, it will probably follow that there will be an equal reluctance to convict. The view might be that, if the death were due to, for example, momentary inattention, the jury would be thinking, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

Mr. Miller

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman, who is my neighbour in constituency terms, is also listening attentively because I shall develop that very point. If he waits for my conclusion he will find that I shall propose an idea for consideration by the House which would accommodate his concerns but which would nevertheless deal with the very real needs of victims and victims' families. I hope that the House will bear with me for a few minutes while I complete my statistical analysis.

Sentence lengths are unsatisfactory and the much-lauded increase of maximum sentences from five to 10 years seems to have had little effect. Groups such as Roadpeace are understandably outraged at such sentences, which they regard as pitifully low. Even after Alison Burgess successfully brought a private prosecution and got her husband's killer, and killer he is, gaoled for three years, she was understandably unhappy about such a sentence for a killer in circumstances which, by any standards, do not fit what the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) called the "There, but for the grace of God go I" cases. That case involved a serious criminal offence.

A reform of the law to ensure that the charge of causing death by dangerous driving can be brought more easily by the police is unlikely to satisfy such campaigners. Many people feel that justice is not done.

Mr. Waterson

I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman is saying about sentences, but is not one of the difficulties, not only in motoring offences but in other cases of unlawful killing, the so-called tariff of sentences? Life sentences do not mean "life" but, on average, 12 years. As, sadly, no death penalty is available, the whole tariff is depressed. Does he agree that, even if we do not restore the death penalty, we could at least ensure that life sentences for manslaughter and murder mean life, which would pull the whole tariff upwards?

Mr. Miller

That is one issue on which I agree with the Prime Minister. I am fundamentally opposed to the death penalty because mistakes are made, as happened recently in the Stefan Kiszko case and many others. Although the hon. Gentleman's logical argument about the suppression of sentences needs consideration, I do not believe that taking his uncivilised approach—I am sorry to have to use that word—in extreme cases is the solution. We must find another way.

In an attempt to find another way, I have examined the law as it stands and, in response to the point made by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), some of the cases that I considered were in countries where the death penalty is enforced. I examined all the states of the United States of America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand for some inspiration about how to deal with this horrific problem. My research involved reading thousands of pages of text, some of which is beside me in case colleagues want to question my conclusions or join me in trying to secure an improvement in the law.

There should be an automatic charge of culpable death by driving when an investigation reveals that an incident was not a pure accident. It should be akin to motor manslaughter, a charge that exists in some of the states in America. As hon. Members will know, the Law Commission, is examining that proposal. In fact, the closing date—31 October—for submissions on its consultation paper entitled "Involuntary Manslaughter" has just passed. I hope that the commission will listen carefully to the spirit of this debate.

I should like the House to consider paragraphs 5.22 to 5.29 and paragraphs 6.5 to 6.7 of the commission's consultative paper No.135. The commission states, among other things, that We do not think it can be sensible for the present law to remain untouched. The two sets of paragraphs to which I referred appear under the heading "Motor Manslaughter".

I believe that the law requires fundamental reform, and that it should include the concept of motor manslaughter. There are arguments for and against calling the offence "manslaughter", "motor manslaughter" or any number of other titles but my assertion is that any title should link three points—culpability, the fact of death and the fact that the person was driving. The penalties should be in line with that for manslaughter; in other words, wide ranging, up to and including long prison sentences.

In an intervention on the Minister, I referred to breath testing which, I believe, should be automatic when a death occurs, as should testing for illegal substances if there are suspicions about the state of the driver. There is a further problem when the person who is alleged to have caused the crash is himself hospitalised. Forensic samples should be taken and analysed, but not released until the accused is in a fit state to give consent. Failure to give consent at that stage should either be interpreted by the courts or become an offence in itself.

Such a scheme should overcome the British Medical Association's ethical concerns, which were voiced by the Government when my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) raised the matter in the Committee that considered the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill in the previous Session. In response to my hon. Friend, the Minister of State, Home Office said: The BMA would be very unhappy about samples being taken from someone who was unconscious and had not given his consent. Although I am sympathetic to the point that the hon. Gentleman made, we cannot move towards such a policy because our law fundamentally depends on the consent of the person." —[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 10 March 1994; c. 133536.] I made inquiries at the House of Commons Library about the history of the BMA's position. The research officer of the ethics, science and information division of the BMA replied to the Library on 23 June this year. He wrote: If a blood sample has already been taken for clinical reasons, it is not acceptable for that sample to be released for police purposes unless specific consent is gained from the patient. I have looked at that point in a number of countries. It is interesting to note that in Germany, a blood sample is taken automatically without any consent. If the investigating police officer believes that the person who is hospitalised was the cause of the accident, he has the right to require a blood sample to be taken. A more liberal interpretation—

Sir Anthony Grant

Where are the Liberals?

Mr. Miller

Indeed, where are they?

A more liberal interpretation of the need to provide vital information to determine the innocence or guilt of the driver in question is found in Australia. New Zealand, incidentally, has a system in which no consent is required, but there are some qualifying caveats. The general philosophy in Australia, as I understand it, enables a sample to be taken and analysed, but the information is not released to the police until such time as the person concerned is able to give consent. That seems a sensible way in which to overcome the understandable objections from the BMA's ethical committee. The question of consent to information being released to the police is not dealt with until the person is fit enough to consent. If the person does not consent, I believe that either the courts should be able to interpret that refusal or refusal should become an offence in itself.

We need to consider how the issue of culpability is dealt with in some cases. The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West made the point that four out of five road accidents involving deaths—"accidents" may be a misnomer—are not caused by drinking and driving. There are cases in which driver schedules, road design, local parking arrangements and the design of vehicles should, perhaps, require other persons to join the driver in the dock. Examples are the lorry company that requires a driver to go out when it knows that the vehicle is not fully safe or the coach company that provides a timetable that is not sensible in terms of getting from A to B. We must consider the possibility that culpability can extend far beyond the driver, The Law Commission is looking at the concept of corporate manslaughter in the broader sense.

One of the tragic cases brought to my attention—such cases are happening all over the country—occurred in the Wigan area. It took place in a narrow road; perhaps the local authority could have done better. The parking arrangements may have been relevant; perhaps, again, the local authority had not addressed needs as well as it could have done. I am not accusing the local authority, but simply speculating about a particular set of circumstances. The driver backed the van and he did not act very sensibly because he backed the van where visibility was poor. The Department of Transport and the Minister himself are responsible for the type approval for that van. That van had no audible means of signalling the fact that it was reversing and it had huge blind spots which meant that it had a questionable level of safety.

A whole series of circumstances need to be looked at carefully when the question of culpability comes up. In the particular case to which I have referred obliquely, a small child died unnecessarily. The van backed on to the pavement over the child and then drove forward over the body of the child. The Minister said in his opening speech that things were getting better. However, we must all remember those tragic cases.

I hope that the Minister will give his support today to encouraging the Law Commission to look at those matters in a positive manner. The consultation period is over and it is now down to the commission to respond.

I give my thanks to the people who have written to me from all over the country. Many of them are victims or the families of victims. They have contributed to my research despite the obvious grief that they are suffering. I extend my thanks to organisations such as Roadpeace, and to the many organisations throughout the world that have written to me. On a light-hearted note, I especially thank the National Commission Against Drunk Driving in the United States, which wrote, "Dear Minister Miller," which may be a little premature. Organisations in the United States, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which has collated enormous amounts of information from all the states, European organisations and people in a good number of countries outside Europe who have also provided information deserve thanks. All the information helps us to examine the possibilities rationally.

I have today floated one possible way in which to eradicate the deaths that take place as a result of the drinkers and the lunatic fringe who still exist on the roads. I am not seeking to penalise the motorist. I have driven large mileages all my adult life in a number of different occupations. I understand the pressures that the Government would face from some of the motoring organisations if they were to take a draconian view. The point I emphasise time and again is that we must never lose sight of the interests of the victims and their families. We should accept that the point made by the Minister at the beginning of this debate was correct. We should not relax in our effort to reduce the number of deaths down towards zero. Our national record may be good, but one death is one death too many.

12.10 pm
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

It should again be emphasised that the Government have a successful record in helping to reduce the number of tragic deaths on our roads. I have a few suggestions to make which, if implemented, would, I hope, help further to reduce such deaths. As I suspect that some of them might be considered controversial, I shall welcome responses from Opposition Members and from my hon. Friends if they feel that I am going beyond the mark.

My hon. Friend the Minister emphasised that deaths and serious injuries as a result of road accidents have been reduced considerably and are at their lowest level since 1926. It is worth emphasising, too, that there are 14 times as many cars on the roads now than there were in 1926. The reduction in serious accidents and deaths is something of which we can be proud. In the European Union table of accidents per road mile, we find that the United Kingdom is the lowest. Again, that is something of which we can be proud. Perhaps I can say in these troubled times that it is a statistic which might reflect on the British sang froid as opposed to the more excitable nature of some of our European neighbours.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, SouthWest (Sir A. Grant) talked about drinking and driving. It was interesting to hear him say that people of his generation are possibly more lax about it than young people. In Lichfield, there is a fair amount of drunkenness on the streets on Friday and Saturday nights. It has been suggested by members of the city council that the young people involved should go to Tamworth, where there are cinemas and discotheques. There is none in Lichfield. Young people do not go to Tamworth, interestingly enough, because they are not prepared to drive there, to drink and then drive back to Lichfield. That is laudable. As much as I condemn drinking, I condemn even more drinking and driving.

There are some important issues that the Government are examining in the long term. My right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor), the former Secretary of State for Transport, said on 9 February that drivers should be retested if they have been convicted of serious driving offences. That is an exciting and interesting initiative. It has been suggested that posttest driver training—"passplus"and better road safety education should be introduced and made available for the 16plus age group. Those are excellent initiatives.

We have heard about the second EC driver licensing directive. I shall be interested to know what the one Opposition Member who is in his place—the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller)—thinks about the proposal to place photographs on driving licences. I consider it an excellent idea. I suspect, however, that some of the bleeding hearts—perhaps I should say heart—on the Opposition Benches will feel that it would be an infringemelt of civil liberties.

Mr. Miller

The hon. Gentleman disappoints me by responding to the debate so frivolously. We are dealing with life and death. I do not think that photographs on driving licences will solve the problems that we are discussing. Identity becomes an issue only in the context of stolen vehicles. An eminently sensible proposal—the hon. Gentleman referred to it earlier—is identifying insurance on a vehicle. That is a better approach. The libertarian argument about whether photographs should be placed on driving licences is a red herring.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman accuses me of approaching the debate frivolously. The frivolity of the Labour party is reflected by the sparse number of Opposition Members in their places.

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands my argument about photographs on driving licences. As he said, the question of identity often arises when vehicles have been stolen. It has already been stated that drivers of stolen vehicles often cause fatal accidents. If we had photographs on driving licences and if there were fewer stolen vehicles, it follows that road traffic accidents would be reduced.

Lady Olga Maitland

I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing such an important topic. Is he aware that Britain is one of the few countries in the European community that does not require photographs on driving licences?

Mr. Fabricant

Indeed, I am aware of that. My hon. Friend will know that I undertook most of my doctoral thesis in the United States. I was proud to hold a United States driving licence, and proud also to have a not very pleasant photograph imprinted on the licence. It was a useful form of identification. All Members have identity cards, on which our faces are imprinted. There is nothing new about identity cards.

Mr. Miller

The hon. Gentleman is going down a blind alley. If his argument were sound, the United States would have better accident statistics than those of the United Kingdom. Instead, they are far worse. The Minister has said that there is a host of issues that are far more fundamental than photographs on driving licences—issues that have been shown to have an impact and that should have priority. Why does not the hon. Gentleman concentrate on some of those?

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman is missing the point. I shall come to other proposals in due course.

As for the United States, I suspect that the hon. Gentleman has not read the statistics accurately. He will recall that I was talking about stolen vehicles. Is he aware that there are fewer cars stolen per car on the road in the United States than in the United Kingdom? That is the point.

I commend my hon. Friend the Minister on the publicity campaigns that have been introduced. In the coming year, £6.5 million will be spent on road safety publicity campaigns. The Government hope to continue the spend at about that level in 1995 and 1996. As my hon. Friend has said, the campaign themes are likely to be speed, child safety and drink-driving. We have heard from the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston about the importance of reducing the number of drink-driving incidents.

The United Kingdom is in the forefront of developing improved standards in Europe for front and side impact testing for new designs of vehicle. The initiatives of my hon. Friend the Minister are to be commended.

My hon. Friend the Minister and his predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), have been proactive, not reactive, in ensuring that seat belts are introduced in coaches and other forms of public transport.

We are hoping to introduce to all new vehicles anti-lock brakes by the end of the century. It is an interesting objective from my point of view. As I have already said, I drive a Lotus, which does not have that facility. It is most unfortunate that a British manufacturer such as Lotus does not provide ABS as standard or as an option.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) rightly referred to cycling. I strongly believe that cycle lanes should be introduced where practicable. When I did my masters degree at Sussex university, many people used to ride from Brighton to the university, which was in Falmer. There was a great campaign at the time, of which I was part, for the introduction of a cycle lane. I am pleased to say that such a lane now exists.

One of the Government's great successes over the past few years with regard to child safety in cycling has been the introduction of hard hats or crash helmets for cyclists. More often than not, children and adults now wear hard hats when they are cycling whereas, five or 10 years ago, that was not the norm. There has been an 80 per cent. reduction in the number of child pedestrian and cyclist casualties and that is partly due to the introduction of hard hats. The Government have introduced 20 mph limit zones and these have also helped to reduce casualties. Eighty such zones are now in operation.

I want to raise specific points about motor cycles. I used to be, and still am to a much lesser degree, a keen motor cyclist. As I pointed out to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North in the debate on European Union regulations last night, I used to ride a Yamaha FJ120D. I used to travel around Europe every year. One year I managed to obtain a three-week holiday from work and I travelled overland from Britain to eastern Turkey and Kurdistan and returned via the Greek islands. Trying to ride a motor cycle up a 4 in wide plank on to a boat is a difficult and dangerous task.

The Motor Cycle Industry Association has said that motor cyclists are the only road-user group to achieve or better the Government's targets. Motor cyclists should be applauded for that. Many people fail to realise that two thirds of motor cycle accidents are caused by other road users—those driving four-wheeled vehicles. It is important that the Government continue to heighten the awareness of car drivers to road users on two wheels—bicycles and motor cycles.

It is important to note that the Government introduced compulsory basic training for motor cycle users in 1990. That was a very important initiative. Before that, motor cyclists did not have any formal training although they had to be tested.

The hon. Member for StokeonTrent, North referred to "modality". I was not sure about the meaning of that word, but I understood it from her context when she said that, if we are to encourage cyclists, they must he able to use other forms of public transport, including the rail system. I fully agree with her and I would extend that to motor cycles. Many fairweather motor bike riders who use their motor bikes in and around urban areas would like to be able to take their motor bikes on trains to travel longer distances.

Mr. Miller

It is particularly important that all road users, including people with bicycles, small motor cycles and invalid vehicles, should have access to trains. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that British Rail should, as a matter of urgency, ensure that its current ludicrous restrictions, including the 63 cm width maximum which is obviously a door constraint, and the rule whereby three-wheeled invalid vehicles can be carried by train, but four-wheeled invalid vehicles cannot, are addressed? British Rail should also consider the transportation of other forms of vehicle on trains.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman has raised a good point. I believe that when the rail services are privatised, there will be very good commercial reasons for taking up the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. Huge sections of the community are not using the rail services for the very reasons that he gave. It will make commercial sense to allow invalid carriages, motor cycles and bicycles on to trains so that more people can use our train services.

I want now to consider several useful improvements. I commend the Minister on the use of cameras on our roads. I am pleased that he reassured the House, following my sedentary intervention, that where cameras are used for checking people who exceed the speed limit, drivers will be prewarned by signs stating that cameras are present. That is very important.

Cameras have another role and that is to catch red light dodgers at junctions and pedestrian crossings. I appreciate that a cost will be involved, but far too often people MSS red lights at zebra crossings. They may think that the light is red and no pedestrians are trying to cross, so they drive through the red light. They might not see a pedestrian at night. It is important that all red lights should be obeyed by motorists. There may be an additional incentive for motorists to do that if they think a camera will catch them if they cross a red light at a zebra crossing as well as at important junctions.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North referred to bull bars. If a young child is hit by a Jeep with bull bars at speeds as low as 5 mph, that child may be killed. However, if the Jeep had normal bumpers, the child would have every chance of surviving. Bull bars serve little or no practical purpose and are fixed purely for cosmetic reasons. They should be banned. I always hesitate to suggest to a Minister that we impose extra restrictions, but I ask my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London at least to consider doing so.

My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned traffic-calming ramps. They have an important role. Several people on buses, particularly in London, have supposedly suffered neck injuries as buses have gone over particularly abrupt ramps. I hope that the Government, if they are not already doing so, will issue guidelines on the shape of ramps. I was reassured by my hon. Friend's statement that the Government are considering soft ramps and means by which emergency vehicles can quickly pass over them. It is in the public interest that their speed is not impeded.

I shall now make some possibly controversial points. I shall welcome interventions if hon. Members think that I am going a little too far. I have mentioned that I attained my masters degree at Sussex university. Most of my work for my doctorate was done at the university of Southern California. When I left university, after a very short career in broadcasting—I was also in broadcasting before I went to university—I became involved in business, which caused me to be abroad for eight months of the year. I have travelled a lot. Some of my proposals come about from my experience of driving abroad. I shall make three suggestions.

Some road accidents occur through driver frustration. Although, at first sight, it might seem that my three suggestions might increase road accidents, there is evidence abroad that they can reduce them. First, many motorists become frustrated when, at 2 am or 3 am, they are held up at red traffic lights for one minute, two minutes or three minutes, when nobody is coming the other way, and there is the greatest temptation to jump the lights. Other countries have solved the problem. I have seen the solution in operation in the United States, Australia, South Africa, and, I believe, certain parts of—

Mr. Waterson


Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend wants to intervene. I have not even made the suggestion yet, but I am happy to give way to him.

Mr. Waterson

I am happy to slow my hon. Friend down a bit. I am most grateful to him for allowing me to intervene. My hon. Friend might be too young to remember that, during the three-day week in the 1970s, when at times there was not the power even to operate traffic lights in central London, if anything, the traffic statistics improved, because people took elaborate care when approaching busy junctions because the traffic lights were not working.

Mr. Ottaway

The traffic ground to a halt.

Mr. Waterson

I wonder whether my hon. Friend had that point in mind when he evolved his threepoint plan.

Mr. Fabricant

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. It is not the point that I was going to make, but it is an interesting observation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) said from a sedentary position, the fact that there were fewer accidents may have resulted from the whole of London grinding to a halt because of the lack of traffic lights. However, I wonder whether there is over-enthusiasm for traffic lights.

I sold several radio station systems to Radio Uganda. In Kampala, not a single traffic light is now working. I am told that the traffic system there works a darned sight better now that the lights are not working. At times, roundabouts or other forms of traffic control might be more appropriate than traffic lights.

Let me now make my suggestion. In the early hours of the morning, or when there is little traffic on the road, we could have a system whereby traffic lights are altered so that, if cars enter a main road from a side road, the traffic lights flash red. The red flashing light would be equivalent to a stop sign. Hon. Members laugh as though that is an odd idea, but, throughout the United States of America, Australia, South Africa, where they strangely call traffic lights robots, and in what used to be Rhodesia—Zimbabwe—that system works.

The idea is that, at certain times of the night, or possibly during the day, a red traffic light flashing on-off would be equivalent to a stop sign. As at pedestrian crossings with traffic light control, drivers would stop at the flashing red traffic light and, if the road were clear, would approach the junction. On the other side of the road there could be a flashing amber light which would be equivalent to a giveway sign. We all know what that means: motorists slow up at the junction and, if the road is clear, they continue. This would alleviate much motorist frustration.

An obvious argument against the proposal is that motorists would become confused. Of course, there would have to be a lot of advance publicity before we introduced the system. However, I am not too young to remember when we introduced traffic lights on zebra crossings.

Mr. Deva

Can my hon. Friend explain how the flashing red light system would prevent accidents from occurring among frustrated motorists, who presumably take care to look left and right before they jump red lights? What additional benefits would the flashing red light system produce?

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. The answer is that at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning the number of cars may build up at traffic lights. An impatient driver, perhaps two or three cars back, may say, "Blow this, I will not wait for three or four minutes because I have already been waiting long enough—something may have gone wrong with the traffic lights." That driver may overtake the other cars and cause an accident. A flashing red light would prevent queuing at traffic lights.

As I have said, I am not suggesting anything new in the context of world traffic methods; it is something new only for the United Kingdom. The system has been in use in the United States, Australia and South Africa for years. At junctions where two important roads intersect, all sets of traffic lights would flash red in the early hours of the morning, creating the same effect as a red traffic light.

Mr. Miller

In his worldwide travels, did the hon. Gentleman bother to look at the statistics for road traffic accidents at junctions? He will find that while that practice alleviates driver frustration—which, in itself, is a cause of road accidents—it does not improve safety at junctions. I invite the hon. Gentleman to think about using available technology to adjust the switching mechanisms of traffic lights in the early hours of the morning, with the timing to be determined by traffic flows in the area. It would be very easy to time such changes using technology which is currently available from road traffic research laboratories.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman raises a reasonable point; that would be an alternative suggestion. However, if we were to study statistical queuing theory, the number of cars coming from different directions when there was not a constant traffic flow, would cause unnecessary delays and driver frustration.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman's first point: yes, I have looked at the statistics. They show that the number of accidents at junctions at night is lower in countries which use the flashing light system than in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Deva

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Certain countries I have visited—I will not go through a litany of them—have a system called the "green wave". This means that when one is travelling at a certain speed on a heavy traffic road one can go through all the traffic lights at a constant speed. This is not the case in Britain. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Minister for Transport in London could consider implementing that system here?

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend has raised an excellent point. Returning from Staffordshire, the most beautiful county in the country, to the House of Commons last week, I was coming down Portland place past the headquarters of my former employers, the BBC, and I had to stop at every traffic light. There was no phasing of the system. There would be less frustration if there were.

Mr. Ottaway

My hon. Friends the Members for Brentwood and Isleworth (Mr. Deva) and for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) have made interesting points about phased traffic lights. However, we must remember that under the phasing system they are all timed for traffic to pass through them at 30 mph, so that motorists should get a green light the whole way through. Of course, some smart Alec discovered that he could go through them at 60, 90 or 120 mph, which rather brought the system into disrepute.

Mr. Fabricant

Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister wants to intervene on this point.

Mr. Norris

I am loth to interrupt my hon. Friend. His speech has been fascinating and he is only on point one. I cannot wait for points two and three.

I must tell a number of my hon. Friends—it may be the fault of the traffic authorities that they are not already aware of this—that although my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) may have been stopped at a series of traffic lights, London has the most sophisticated system of traffic light management of any major city in the world. It allows free flow through a whole series of traffic lights on continuous routes it is called the SCOOT system. I am delighted to say that that technology, which was developed and is used in London, is sold all over the world as an example of how to develop systems to allow continual traffic flows.

I am not suggesting anything about my hon. Friend's driving habits as he cut down Portland place past the BBC. I merely take up the observation of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) that to make the system work it is necessary to stick to the legal speed limit.

Mr. Fabricant

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his helpful intervention. Is not it another demonstration of how British technology leads the world? I just hope that the British system was not in use in Milan when "The Italian Job" was filmed. As I recall it, Benny Hill reprogrammed the Italian computers to cause a major traffic jam.

Lady Olga Maitland

I thank my hon. Friend for telling me about his night-time driving habits. He praised the system in the United States, Australia and South Africa. Does he have any statistical evidence to show that the accident rate has dropped since those countries changed to the flashing red light system? Have the numbers really gone down? I find that hard to believe.

Mr. Fabricant

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, although it was not totally helpful. Those countries have had that system for so long that I do not think it is now a question of producing figures to show that the accident rate has gone down. Indeed, the United States and other countries have had it for at least 25 years.

I come now to point two, as we have more or less covered point one. The United States—again—has a system that allows traffic to turn right on red. That was gradually introduced state by state, but it is now in use in all 50 states except at junctions that specifically state that traffic cannot turn right. We should have a similar system at certain road junctions in Britain, although, of course, it would be to turn left on red. A motorist wanting to turn left at a junction would treat the red light as a stop sign and would have to stop. However, provided that no traffic were coming the other way, the motorist could filter left. That would be a helpful system and it has been shown to have reduced traffic accidents in the United States. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider introducing a similar system in this country. As no one has sought to intervene, I shall assume that that means that my suggestion meets with the approval of hon. Members.

Finally, my most controversial point—

Mr. Waterson

A man with a red flag.

Mr. Fabricant

I do not know whether they had red flags in 1926, but even if they did I must remind my hon. Friend that there are fewer road accidents now than there were then. Clearly, the red flag was a frustrating influence on drivers, which demonstrates my argument that when motorists are frustrated they can cause accidents.

My final suggestion would certainly reduce the number of people breaking the law. In the early hours of the morning, when there are few cars on the road, many motorists, including myself, often drive at more than 30 mph in a 30 mph zone if there is no traffic around. Everyone does it. I suggest that in zones where the speed limit is under 70 mph the limit should be increased automatically by 10 mph at certain times in the morning. Perhaps, between the hours of 2 am and 4 am—whatever the Minister decides—one might be allowed to drive legally at up 'to 40 mph in a 30 mph zone.

Mr. Waterson

I do not want to disturb the flow of my hon. Friend's radical ideas, but does he not think that if that were the case people would go 10 mph faster than those limits? People will always drive at speeds above the limit when they think that it is safe to do so and that no one is around—or, perhaps more importantly, that no members of the constabulary are around. If there is an informal increase in the limit at certain times, some people will go even faster.

Mr. Fabricant

That is a reasonable argument. Perhaps, in conjunction with the changes, we should increase the penalties for breaking the speed limit. Let us have practical and reasonable limits and a radical increase in penalties for those who break them—perhaps more or less along the lines that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) suggested.

Mr. Deva

On speed limits and breaking them, does my hon. Friend have any views on the radar detection systems that one can buy and instal in a car? I have not done so, but I have seen them in shops. They warn the driver when a speed detection system is ahead. If one is driving a car and at the same time looking at the speedometer and the radar detection system, it would completely divert one's concentration from the road. I see no reason why people would buy them unless they intended to break the speed limit. Does my hon. Friend have any views on those systems in regard to his theory on increasing speed limits?

Mr. Fabricant

I would not condone any device that would assist people to break the law, although I must correct my hon. Friend. He said that people would be distracted by using such a device. I have not bought one and I do not have one in my car, but I know that they bleep, so it is not a question of looking down. If one enters an area in which the police are operating a radar detection system, the device bleeps. I condemn their use and it is wrong.

People should keep to speed limits, but those limits should be sensible. That is why my third point was that they should be increased by 10 mph at certain times of the morning, which would be sensible. After all, did not the Minister or the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North—perhaps it was both of them—mention the use of inappropriate speeds? People should not drive at inappropriate speeds, but it is appropriate and safe to drive at speeds above the speed limit in the early hours of the morning, if that limit is 30 mph and there are no other cars or children around.

I drive a fast car, but when I drive past schools and parked cars where children might be about to come out into the road and one cannot always see them, I drive at a darned sight less than 30 mph and I am always careful to do so.

The Minister will be relieved to know that I have come to the end of my three points. However, will he assure the House that he will not entertain any plans to standardise our legislation with that of the European Union, particularly when it comes to driving on the right?

Hon. Members may recall that many years ago drivers in Sweden drove on the left. The country undertook a costly programme to change the system to driving on the right. Recently, Transport Ministers in Sweden have said that if they were deciding whether to change the system now, they would not do so because of the cost involved, the increased number of cars on the road and the increased number of traffic accidents that occurred following the changeover.

I am reminded of the joke that, when Idi Amin had difficulty with the United Kingdom and called it a toothless bulldog, he said that he would change the system in Uganda so that drivers drove on the right, but to make things easier for the citizens of Kampala and Entebbe, the change would be phased in over a week so that people could get used to the new system. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will assure me that that will not happen.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will assure the House that he will resist any moves to make people in this country drive on the right. If anyone here were foolish enough to say that that would help our motor industry, that would be nonsense. Indonesia, Thailand and Japan, as well as much of the Commonwealth, still drive on the left and continue to be major markets for the United Kingdom.

This country has gone a long way and has taken much innovative action to reduce the number of road deaths. That has been demonstrated by the fact that Britain has the lowest road accident rate in the European Union. Much of that progress is due to what the Government have done over the years. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider some of my proposals which I hope might, in a small way, help to reduce the number of road deaths still further.

12.51 pm
Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)

It is a pleasure to follow the imaginative, thoughtful and provocative speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant). Of his three points, the most interesting was the first, dealing with the technological approach. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, we have a highly sophisticated system in London and many computerised systems. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) will know—her constituency is close to mine—we also have a number of computerised systems in the suburbs. An effective system has been introduced at Purley cross, where the A22 and the A23 merge. A highly sophisticated computerised scheme, introduced by the Department of Transport, has resolved one of London's big trouble spots. Like any system, when it becomes overloaded it grinds to a halt. Utterly predictably, Purley grinds to a halt at 5pm on a Friday night.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire has a point when he talks of modern technology as a solution to many of the problems and as a means of raising safety standards—the issue at the heart of today's debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend on coming up with positive ideas as they will advance debates such as today's.

Only a couple of weeks ago I was reading a hook by Admiral Sandy Woodward, who was in charge of the British expeditionary force to the Falkland Islands. When he was flying home at the end of his 100 days in the Falklands—where he experienced the clamour and noise of battle—he considered the number of casualties in the war. He found that, during those 100 days, more people were killed on the roads in Britain than in the Falklands war. He mused over why it was that we took something like the Falklands so seriously—it was the focus of world attention—when more people were killed on Britain's roads.

The reason is that the Falklands became a matter of national pride, but road safety forms part of our daily life. We have all learnt to live with it—we all went to road safety lessons when we were at school. That is why debates such as today's are so important. They encourage Ministers to report to us on the steps that the Department of Transport is taking to reduce accidents and invite us to sit down and address sensibly the problems which are faced daily, hourly and by the minute on our roads.

Our roads are now busier than they have ever been, with 14 times as much traffic on them as when records began in 1926. The Government have long been encouraging people to be more responsible as road users, both as drivers and pedestrians, but with the ever-increasing volume of traffic, new measures must be constantly sought to improve safety.

Our roads are among the safest in the European Union. However, because of what some observers have entitled the greatest epidemic of our time, about 4,000 people are involved in fatal accidents each year and more than 300,000 people are involved in less serious accidents. Although the figures for deaths and serious injuries caused by road accidents continue to show a welcome, encouraging downward trend—in 1993 they fell by 12 per cent.—we must still do all that we can to make our roads a safer environment for their users.

As well as the terrible human costs of road safety accidents, they impose a massive financial burden on society. According to the Department's own figures, an accident resulting in slight injury costs more than £9,000. If that accident is more serious, the average cost rises to £84,000, but should it tragically prove to be fatal, the cost is in excess of a massive £760,000.

In 1993, road traffic accidents in the London borough of Croydon, part of which I have the privilege to represent, cost society £52 million. That represents a vast waste of human and financial resources which no society can willingly bear without considering how the majority of those accidents can be prevented.

The Government's efforts to reduce accidents on our roads are working and I congratulate the Department of Transport on everything that it has done. The number of drink-driving incidents has reduced, but, unfortunately, drink-driving is still responsible for up to 14 per cent. of deaths on our roads. The need for deterrence is still as strong as it has always been.

I am aware that the Government's annual Christmas advertising campaign, which rams home the awful consequences of drink-driving, is due to start on 6 December. Over the years, that campaign has been successful in reducing the number of those who drink and drive. It has been assisted by the way in which society has come to view those who act in such an irresponsible manner. The attitude to drink-driving has changed drastically and people now view with contempt those who take the wheel when under the influence of alcohol. That shows how effective the medium of television advertising can be.

Mr. Deva

Those of us who drive are careful not to do so when under the influence of drink. People may go to a dinner party or a ball by taxi, consume some alcohol and then take a taxi home. In the morning one assumes that one is sober enough to drive a car, but there is no way or knowing whether one is under or over the limit. 'The instruction and advice available to the average driver on whether he should drive his car in the morning, having consumed alcohol the night before, is scarce. That problem has been on my mind for some time and I wonder whether my hon. Friend has any views on it.

Mr. Ottaway

I would have liked more notice of my hon. Friend's question, but I imagine that one should allow at least eight hours before driving. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister can provide an answer when he winds up. I believe that one can buy a personal breathalyser, but that there is some doubt about their reliability. If one has any doubt, one should not drive. I do not argue that no alcohol should be drunk, because I believe that the present threshold is about right. If one has drunk half a pint of shandy, for example, there is no reason why one should not drive home. Perhaps those of a scientific mind may be able to answer my hon. Friend's question later.

Under revised guidance in the Road Traffic Act 1991, the courts can ensure that drink-drivers and those who cause death through dangerous driving receive the sentences that they deserve and which reflect society's attitude to drivers who recklessly endanger lives by their selfish actions.

New and younger drivers remain high accident risks.Although they represent only 10 per cent. of all drivers,they are responsible for 25 per cent. of all accidental road deaths. I welcome the Government's announcement of new measures to reduce accidents caused by newly qualified drivers. Most important among them is the attempt through education to change attitudes. The Department of Transport has proposed the development of a scheme devised by the Driving Standards Agency in collaboration with the insurance industry, to give newly qualified drivers financial incentives. They would undertake a structured training course to improve the driving standards of that vulnerable group, designed to impart skills such as observation, hazard perception and awareness that are known to make drivers safer but which can take years to acquire. Drivers who successfully complete the six sessions that comprise the course could be guaranteed a discount on their insurance premiums, to reward skills that are so necessary to that high-risk category.

Automobile Association research showed that young, newly qualified drivers do not know how to drive safely and are sometimes known to choose to drive badly, often solely to impress their friends. The AA has asked the Government to consider implementing measures to deter bad driving behaviour with lower penalty point thresholds for new drivers than for experienced motorists. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister carefully to consider those proposals and to work hand in hand with the insurance incentives that I mentioned.

Another major cause of traffic accidents is total disregard for speed limits by a small number of road users. Excessive speed is a contributory factor in 30 per cent. of all road accidents. That single most important behavioural factor endangers, especially in built-up areas, the lives of not only drivers but pedestrians. Of the seven people killed in traffic accidents in the borough of Croydon this year, six were pedestrians—speed being a primary cause.

The introduction of speed cameras in certain areas has reduced deaths and serious injury by up to 40 per cent. That is a remarkable achievement, but detectors that alert a driver when a radar trap or camera is ahead are, according to the police, increasing in popularity. It is not illegal to supply such equipment—only to use it. Until there is a sea change in public opinion against motorists who speed, there will be drivers who continue to believe that the law applies to everyone but themselves and who will look for ways to avoid being caught.

There are more subtle ways of preventing road accidents. For more than 70 years, we have taken part in an annual ritual which leads to more road accidents—caused by the lack of daylight in the darker hours that we experience when the clocks are put back one hour in September. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!] Twilight, when many people are on their way home from work or school, is a time when traffic accidents are notoriously common. I raised that matter when I intervened on my hon. Friend the Minister's opening speech, and his response was fair. I appreciate that the matter embraces a number of Departments, but I hope that the Government will address the issue seriously. As we have just heard, there is a strong feeling that something straightforward can be done to reduce the number of accidents. As most hon. Members know, the Daylight Extra group, supported by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, is actively campaigning on that issue. The transition would be achieved simply by failing to put back the clocks one autumn. We would then go on to double summer time the following summer.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), who has taken a particular interest in that subject, will develop that theme in due course. The pure financial benefit of that inaction has been estimated by the Policy Studies Institute at more than £200 million, but the reduction in the cost of human lives—an estimated 140 fewer fatalities and just under 2,000 fewer injuries on the roads—is a much more compelling argument. British summer time was maintained throughout the winters of 1968–71 as an experiment which the House ended in 1970. Opposition has come mainly from the agricultural and construction industries, but subsequent analysis shows that the experiment was effective in reducing the number of road casualties, especially among pedestrians and children.

The number of lives saved by wearing seat belts in rear seats of cars is about the same as would be saved by an extra hour of daylight. The Government have proved their commitment to safety by implementing the former measure; I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider carefully the benefits of that simple but effective measure.

Another issue that has a great bearing on the number of accidents that take place each year is the urban road environment. Many steps can be taken to make our local roads safer, such as traffic calming through the use of speed ramps; chicanes; improved road markings; and other measures. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam mentioned the need for more humping on local roads. This has become a valuable tool in slowing down traffic and has helped to avoid pedestrian injuries and fatalities. My hon. Friend is probably well aware, however, that local communities are sometimes upset that local roads that they have used for years have become irritatingly slow.

Lady Olga Maitland


Mr. Ottaway

Before I give way to my hon. Friend, may I say that mothers in my constituency want more humps while residents in the same roads want fewer.

Lady Olga Maitland

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way on this extremely important topic. My long-suffering constituents have put up with those wretched humps for years. When I talk to the highways department of Sutton council, however, I discover that people hate them. Councillors make that admission with a rueful laugh. When I ask why they stick to humps without considering the litany of other ideas that would achieve the same objective, the answer is that we are stuck in a groove on this issue. The time has come to look at the wider selection and move away from those wretched humps.

Mr. Ottaway

I partially agree with my hon. Friend. As Abraham Lincoln said, you cannot please all the people some of the time—let alone some of the people all the time.

The most vulnerable sectors of society, but mainly children, have great difficulty judging the speed of oncoming traffic. In Croydon, 80 children on average are injured, some seriously, each year. The Government's successful campaign, "Kill your speed—not a child", helps to force home the message that traffic speed in urban areas all too often has tragic consequences. Thankfully, however, in certain areas including parts of my constituency, traffic-calming measures have reduced accidents in known urban black spots by as much as 20 per cent. The schemes have the benefit of improving road safety without necessarily reducing traffic volume and I hope that many more local authorities will consider using them.

Before dealing with passenger and driver safety, I should like to make a further plea to my hon. Friend the Minister. I took my driving test some 30 years ago and passed it the first time, having been examined on the "Highway Code". But what I was examined on 30 years ago bears no resemblance to the road signs that I now see around the country. One may read in the newspapers what new signs mean—"straight on" or "no right turn", for instance—but it is an ad hoc way of learning about new regulations. It is a fundamental principle of British law that ignorance of the law is no excuse, but that does not help when we are trying to improve road safety and reduce the number of accidents.

I suggest that when a fundamental change is made to road signs or regulations, the Department of Transport might distribute to all holders of driving licences a copy of the new "Highway Code". I do not know how many drivers there are but, if we assumed that there were 20 million and that printing and distribution costs were about £1 a head, the cost would be £20 million. It may be substantial but it would be worth while if it resulted in greater awareness of new road safety regulations.

I have so far confined my comments to accident prevention but I deal now with driver and passenger safety. Although I welcome the reduction in the number of accidents which I have mentioned, users must be able to be confident that, in the unfortunate event of an accident, their vehicle would provide protection. More than 90 per cent. of accidents are due to human error while very few are caused by mechanical failure or the inadequacy of vehicle equipment.

However, poor maintenance of vehicles can have tragic consequences. The fatal accident at Sowerby bridge in 1993, caused by a heavy goods vehicle having poorly maintained brakes, led to the death of six people. The promotion of safer vehicles by the Department of Transport through research and constant updating of standards is crucial. Research has shown that, although enhanced vehicle construction standards do not prevent many accidents, substantial reductions in accident severity can be achieved by using better-built vehicles. Many manufacturers have recently adopted such enhanced standards.

The introduction of passenger and driver air bags, anti-lock brakes and crash bars, has probably made a major contribution to the reduction in the number of fatalities and serious injuries in the past decade. Many features are now being supplied in standard production models in reaction to heightened awareness of safety. Indeed, safety is often a more prominent feature of advertisements than speed, which also assists in the necessary shift in public opinion.

Following the tragic accident on the M40, when the whole nation felt for the 12 pupils from a midlands school who were killed in a minibus accident, the Government introduced a package of measures to improve the safety of minibuses and coaches. First, my hon. Friend the Minister has taken steps through the European Commission to introduce the compulsory fitting of seat belts in all minibuses and coaches used specifically for the transport of children. I do not share the views of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley), who criticised the Government for not taking adequate action in time. Were she ever to be part of the governing party, she would realise that governing the country is not easy, especially when one has to take steps through the European Commission. I believe that the action taken by my hon. Friend the Minister is utterly reasonable and sustainable.

Secondly, the Government have amended the public service vehicle carrying regulations to ensure that the three-for-two concession, whereby three children were permitted to travel in a double seat, was no longer allowed. I congratulate the Department on that. Such measures can and do work.

In a serious road accident involving a Croydon school minibus in 1993, it was generally recognised that pupils were saved from more serious injury by their seat belts. That has led to the borough of Croydon introducing a £40,000 plan aimed at installing seat belts in all Croydon school coaches.

Standards are rising but there is an ever-increasing hidden danger on our roads—the breed of vehicle now termed "cut and shut". As I am sure the House knows, this is a practice whereby two write-offs are welded together to make one complete but corrupted vehicle. Each year in the United Kingdom up to 150p00 written-off vehicles are rebuilt and returned to the roads. They may have been so badly damaged that they are deemed to be beyond repair, but they can he legally reused. In 1993, the Royal Automobile Club and vehicle inspections across the country uncovered some 800 cars that had been created in that way. That figure, applied to the whole second-hand car market, is very disturbing.

There is nothing wrong with making financial write-offs roadworthy if the cars are repaired well, resulting in a safe and reliable vehicle. However, there are increasing examples of substandard work undertaken by unqualified and uncaring profiteers who produce unsafe and potentially lethal vehicles which they then sell to unsuspecting purchasers. As a result, unsuspecting motorists, many buying their first cars, are placed at risk. Some are lucky enough to discover the defect, but others may be seriously injured or even killed when a badly repaired write-off crashes. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can look at that aspect, if not in his winding-up speech, perhaps in the future.

Since 1979, the Government have been at the forefront of road safety campaigning. Many measures, including the introduction of seat belts, standards for child restraints and tougher penalties for drink-drivers, have resulted in a 40 per cent. reduction in total road traffic casualties, a 44 per cent. drop in serious injuries and a massive 66 per cent. fall in the number of deaths caused by drink-driving. However, the Government cannot ensure that people use the roads responsibly. They can only encourage good driving practice and legislate against those who endanger themselves and others through reckless behaviour on the roads.

The drive for improved road safety is and must continue to be a partnership between the Government, the police, local authorities and, above all, those who use the roads. Motorists and pedestrians must bear responsibility for their own safety and they must ensure that their actions do not endanger themselves or others. Public information campaigns and visible roadside technology are both increasing people's perception of the risk of being caught. However, until we see a change in public opinion, as we have seen on the drink-driving issue, there will always be those who believe that being caught and fined is the worst that can happen to them when they show a total disregard for the law. We must strive to make them understand that the result could be much, much worse.

1.16 pm
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to participate in this important debate and I am even more delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) who, in his inimitable fashion, has put his finger on some of the crucial issues relating to road safety. I shall touch on two central topics. One is the effect of road design on safety statistics and the other is daylight saving, which has already been covered by one or two hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South.

As you may know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for some time, there has been quite a campaign to ensure that we change our clocks so that we are on the same time as most of Europe throughout the year. I genuinely believe that it is an idea whose time has come. One need only run through the host of organisations concerned with road safety and many others that back the proposal to understand the massive support generally for such a proposition.

In October this year, an NOP survey showed that three quarters of British people were in favour of the change including, surprisingly, 62 per cent. of Scots. That is an amazing statistic when one considers that traditionally, the three groups in opposition to the proposal have been the Scots, farmers and builders. The Scots seem to be coming round to the idea, possibly because the statistics show that they would benefit proportionately more than the rest of the country, according to the experts, in terms of saving lives and preventing injuries on the roads. Even the National Farmers Union, at least in England and Wales, has dropped its previous opposition to the proposal, no doubt again persuaded by the road traffic figures.

The honour roll of organisations and individuals supporting the proposal is far too long to go through here. We have heard about the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, about Age Concern, and about the organisation of which I am happy to be a member—the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, or PACTS.

Having considered all the arguments, I introduced a ten-minute Bill, the Summer Time (Amendment) Bill, on the subject some months ago. When I read the Order Paper, I was horrified to find that my ten-minute Bill was on the same day as Scottish questions. Both sides of the House were awash, if I may use that expression, with Scottish Members. Even so, the Bill was carried comfortably by 103 votes to 86. I believe that on a more typical day on a free vote there would be a more significant majority in favour of the proposal. I think that there would be support from all parties and, indeed, from all the countries making up the European Union.

It is perhaps a matter for regret that the fairly simple proposal that I am recommending was not featured in the Gracious Speech. I hope that one of the lucky private Members in the ballot yesterday will take it up. If that happens, I hope that the proposal will ultimately acquire Government support, and it will be seen through.

Apart from road safety, the proposal has a variety of arguments and factors in its favour. It is clear that there would be an enormous benefit to the British tourist industry. I do not apologise for mentioning that during a road safety debate, representing as I do one of the country's premier resort towns. It is estimated by the British Tourist Authority and the English tourist board that an extra £1 billion-worth of revenue would be attracted to tourism by the change that I am advocating.

It is reckoned that £250 million would be saved on electricity bills alone by introducing the change. We often lose sight of doing business with Europe, but there is the irritating difference in time of one hour, or even two hours in some instances, when we travel to the European mainland on business or when we do business on the telephone or by means of fax or telex.

Also to be considered is security in a broad context—I shall deal with roads specifically later in my speech. I have in mind the security of women of any age walking alone after dark, young children going out after dark and the elderly. It is a regrettable fact of modern life that in constituencies such as mine, elderly people often have a sort of self-imposed curfew when it becomes dark. They are unwilling to go out or to answer their door after dark. The change would give an enhanced feeling of security as well as actual security to those groups in our society.

Overwhelmingly, the most important single reason at the top of the list for double summer time, or central European time, as it is sometimes called, is road accidents. We have heard about that aspect already. It is estimated that such a change would mean 140 fewer deaths on our roads and 520 fewer serious injuries. That would result in an annual saving, apart from all the grief and unhappiness caused by such accidents, of over £200 million, including national health service costs.

In Scotland, double summer time would result in an overall reduction of about 60 deaths and serious injuries each year. As I have said, that would be a greater reduction proportionately than that for England and Wales.

If right hon. and hon. Members have not had the opportunity of reading Mayer Hillman's pamphlet entitled "Time for Change", I commend it to them. It is published by the Policy Studies Institute. It sets out with relentless logic and in considerable detail the arguments for the change.

There is still a sort of instinctive reaction against the change that I am advocating because of worries about dark early mornings and children going to school, for example. A mythology seems to have built up since the days of the Wilson Government, which some hon. Members may just remember, when the experiment was tried unsuccessfully.

The expert evidence is clear. It shows that although there might be a modest increase in the number of accidents first thing in the morning, there would an enormous net saving because of fewer accidents in the evenings. The reason for that seems to be principally that drivers' concentration is less acute when they are driving home in the evening than it is first thing in the morning.

Mr. Deva

Is my hon. Friend aware that medical evidence from the Royal College of Surgeons and from opticians shows that, as twilight falls, it is much more difficult for the eyes to adjust to deepening gloom rather than the other way round when the day becomes lighter? It is part of the aging process that people find it more difficult to see properly as it becomes darker.

Mr. Waterson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his obviously expert knowledge of the aging process. I was not aware of that research and I am grateful to him for adding yet another brick to the wall of the inevitability of that provision eventually becoming part of British law.

The PSI report makes it clear that if clocks are put forward one hour, more journeys home in the evening could be made in daylight. As more of our population are fortunately employed in white-collar occupations and start work a little later in the mornings, problems with the darker earlier hours are becoming fewer. The evidence is clear and detailed. The attention paid by all road users, not only drivers but children going home from school and other pedestrians making their way home, deteriorates as the day wears on.

I commend the PSI report to the House. It states: In the four winter months alone from November to February inclusive, and taking into account road accidents on all seven days of the week, there are over 50 per cent. more fatal and serious injuries among adults in the peak hours from 4 pm to 7 pm as from 7 am to 10 am, and nearly three times as many among children in the peak hours from 3 pm to 6 pm as from 7 am to 10 am. As we know, there have been many legislative changes in recent years in respect of the behaviour of all types of road users. As has already been said, in 1992 the then Transport and Road Research Laboratory analysed the likely effects of the introduction of double summer time and I have quoted the figures of 140 fatalities, 520 serious injuries and 1,300 lesser injuries that could be avoided.

My second point relates to the effect of design on road safety. We have heard much about design. One issue when designing roads is that of speed cameras. The Road Traffic Act 1991 introduced new dangerous driving offences and it made the use of cameras for speeding and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) very sensibly pointed out, for traffic light jumping, very much easier. The latest figures show that there has been a 37 per cent. reduction in deaths and serious injuries as a result of the use of cameras. That is very heartening.

There are also much broader questions about the design of roads. In my intervention during the Minister's excellent speech, I pointed out that motorways are, on the whole, safer to drive on than dual carriageways which, in turn, are safer to drive on than single carriageways. The evidence for that is clear.

I want to link that argument with a current issue that affects my constituents most significantly. That is the proposal for the new A27 road between Lewes and Polegate. There are many arguments in favour of that scheme, and I shall adumbrate them again shortly with my hon. Friend the Minister for Railways and Roads. For example, there are environmental reasons. One of the issues that the anti-roads lobby seems incapable of grasping is that, on occasions, road schemes actually assist the environment.

There are many economic arguments for the road scheme in my constituency of Eastbourne and in other parts of east Sussex. There are tourism implications in terms of access to the town, which is very difficult at the moment, and there is linking with other road schemes, including the A22 new route, work on which started at the beginning of the month. As you follow such matters closely, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will know that the Government have allocated £25 million to that scheme.

Therefore, it is all the more surprising that a group of protesters is opposing that scheme. I suppose that, in the modern age, it is inevitable that any road scheme, no matter how innocuous, attracts protesters like a magnet. That rag-tag group of opponents includes some of those who may fairly be called the great and the good who happen to have their second homes near the route, some people, including some local Liberal Democrats, who happen to have their homes close to the proposed route, and, inevitably, the Friends of the Earth. The road is extremely dangerous at the moment and it can be made significantly safer simply by dint of turning it into a standard dual carriageway.

I shall quote briefly some statistics. The Sussex police have recorded 141 injury accidents, resulting in 267 casualties. There have been seven fatalities, 63 serious injuries and 197 slight injuries on that stretch of read during the five years to December 1993. That equates to 31 personal injury accidents per 100 million vehicle kilometres, which is extremely high compared with other types of roads. It is estimated, in a report to the county council's highways and transportation committee, that that has cost the community more than £10.5 million altogether—a very significant figure indeed.

Traffic flows on the A27 are very heavy, with 22,000 vehicles a day. It is well within the ordinary parameters of what is required in respect of traffic flows for modern dual carriageways. In fact, the report also points out that In safety terms, there are significant gains to be made. The accident rate is approximately one third"— that is, for a dual carriageway— of that of a single carriageway. I am indebted to Mr. Brian Stoodley, a leading local surgeon at Eastbourne district general hospital, who has taken an interest in the issue. He is one of the excellent medical team in our local hospital who literally must pick up the pieces of lives and of people when they are injured or killed in tragic accidents.

I underline the point that people in the anti-roads lobby and Opposition Members from time to time oppose roads, often without seeing the safety and other implications in certain road schemes. I do not say that every road scheme is needed. Some road schemes can rightly be criticised, but many road schemes—the A27 Lewes to Polegate is a classic example—will not only enhance the environment and the local economy but will be significantly safer than the existing road. If that means that my constituents will remain alive and well rather than be killed or injured, I am very much in favour of the scheme. I support the Government's integrated, widespread approach to all elements that will make road safety such a success story.

1.34 pm
Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth)

I am grateful to be allowed to follow my distinguished colleagues in speaking in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) has just made a very interesting and articulate speech, putting the case for increasing daylight hours. He has pursued the matter with some vigour, and I commend his efforts to the House.

The people of Brentford and Isleworth, Chiswick and Hounslow are very concerned about road safety. My constituency is bordered by Heathrow airport and is blessed with motorways which allow access to the heart of London. As a consequence, my constituents suffer a daily stream of traffic to and from London and the airport.

In recent months, it has become obvious that the traffic in the area will get worse unless we do something to address it. I refer to the proposal by the British Airports Authority to build terminal 5 at Heathrow, which will double the airport's capacity from 48 million to about 80 million passengers a year. My constituents wonder how those people will be transported to and from the airport. If they are to be carried by road, it will have some bearing on my constituents' safety.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London on attempting to make it safer for motorists to use the road system in my area. I congratulate him particularly on installing the traffic lights system at Chiswick roundabout which has enabled the traffic to flow far more easily. In the past I received letters from elderly constituents who said that they were terrified to go near the roundabout before the installation of traffic lights. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his foresight and vigour in implementing that system.

The Government have a superb record on road safety. As we have heard this morning, the number of road fatalities has decreased by 40 per cent. since 1979, serious injuries have decreased by 44 per cent. since 1979, drink-driving related road deaths are down by 66 per cent., and motor cycle fatalities are down by 63 per cent. Those are bald facts which the Labour party must recognise as a substantial achievement by the Government. The Government have taken the bull by the horns and acted to improve road safety.

The Government have looked at future trends very carefully. It is obvious that the amount of road traffic will increase and in London particularly there must be a balance between road traffic and public transport.

I am concerned—I would like the Minister to take note of this—that my constituents have had to suffer a number of road works on major arterial roads in the area. Many cones have been stuck all over roads, causing motorists to change lanes and creating traffic jams. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) has said, it is not very nice and it is also very irritating and quite dangerous. I ask my hon. Friend: why do cones have to stay in the same place for so long? I recognise that repair and maintenance work must be carried out, but why is it that every time I drive in that area no one is doing very much work, but the cones are still there? I receive letters asking me to explain that, so I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would do something about a matter that causes great concern and irritation to my constituents.

Various new and radical ideas have been suggested by my hon. Friends during the debate. I want to add a radical idea that may prove helpful. I have noted that motorists on motorways, especially in wet or foggy conditions, tend to drive extremely fast. They come close to the car in front and seemingly ignore the fact that stopping distances increase with the speed.

With today's modern technology and with all the radar equipment, is not it conceivable to fit cars with a warning bleep that would be activated if a motorist approached the car in front of him at too high a speed and without allowing a safe stopping distance? That would be an automatic means of telling drivers to slow down and put sufficient space between their cars and those in front. I am sure that the technology to provide such a device exists. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister would encourage research into that. I do not know what the state-of-the-art technology may be, but I am sure that there is a simple solution as it would be based on radar, which we have had since the 1930s.

I hope that the Government will continue to deal with road safety with the vigour and determination they have shown since they took office. I listened carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) and tried to concentrate on her main theme. Unfortunately, I did not find her speech either comprehensive or comprehensible. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will put that right.

1.42 pm
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

I have great pleasure in bringing up the rear from the Back Benches in such an important debate. It is also a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva). He raised a point that I wanted to raise, so I shall simply give him my total support on the problem of what I call motorway madness.

There is an argument for promoting research into developing some sort of radar system to stop cars coming too close or speeding. I dread the experience of a driver of a powerful car roaring up the motorway with lights full on—he would blow his horn if he could—and coming right up behind me, almost trying physically to push me aside. That is not safe driving. Likewise, that monster might come right up behind me and then zip to the left and overtake on the inside. That sort of behaviour is pernicious and extremely dangerous. Currently, the only thing that brings such a monster under control is the sight of a police patrol car.

Mr. Miller

The hon. Lady touches on an important matter—drivers' motorway habits. She described someone overtaking her on the inside. That has some bearing on driver education. Why is it that time and again there are lots of cars in the second and third lanes of motorways, but none in the first lane? Perhaps she contributed to the problem by not moving to the nearside lane at the right time.

Lady Olga Maitland

The hon. Gentleman missed the point. One can be driving along in the fast lane legitimately, but if a car rushes up behind at well over 100 mph it can put normal good motorway behaviour out of kilter. No matter how impatient, it is totally unacceptable for any motorist to weave in and out of the traffic as the hon. Gentleman described, although he has a point as motorists must stick to the appropriate lane. None the less, that does not mean that they have to hop around like jack-in-the-boxes because a road monster has leapt up behind them. That is motorway madness and it spins out of control. We must consider more measures to bring it into proportion.

The debate has touched on many topics, including seat belts. While I congratulate the Government on their enormously important campaign to introduce seat belts and the education that went with it, which has resulted in everyone being aware of the fact that they must belt up if they sit in the front seats, regrettably the campaign to encourage people to belt up in the back seats has not taken off. Far too often they are not doing so. I congratulate the royal family, who seem to be meticulous about wearing their seat belts when they sit in the back—especially the Princess of Wales. I want that campaign to go further.

On car design, hon. Members said that improved technology has resulted in cars with more powerful engines. I hope that the Government will join a campaign to encourage the use of small, nippy and effective cars on the basis that small is beautiful. The Minister touched on that, but if we are to go down the sensible route of getting people into sensible cars, we must get away from the idea that it is smart to drive an enormous, high-performance car. I say so with some feeling. I drive a modest car, a Ford Sierra estate with a roof rack, which is in the motherly rather than the racing mode.

Other Conservative Members looked somewhat askance when my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) outlined his radical ideas for traffic lights at night. Although it caused some amusement, radical ideas often get the brush-off in the first instance and I urge him to continue trying to persuade the Government to legislate for that if the idea has some merit and to back it up with some factual information. It is said that we must think the unthinkable, or we shall never achieve. It is too difficult for me to say whether I would support his ideas, but they should be fully explored.

Mr. Fabricant

I thank my hon. Friend for her kind words. But to paraphrase Disraeli, "You laugh at me now, but the time will come when you will hear me".

Lady Olga Maitland

Speed cameras have undoubtedly played a useful role on the roads and their use should be increased. Unfortunately, drivers are beginning to get the idea that the cameras are not a deterrent as they will not catch up with them. We must therefore ensure that they are backed by some sort of power or sanction. It is not enough merely to monitor motorists. We must catch up with the offenders.

The topic of red routes has not been raised today, but there is great feeling about it in my constituency, particularly in Cheam village. If my hon. Friend the Minister opens his map of London he will see that a red route passes through Cheam village. It is a quiet village with broad streets that could easily take almost six cars abreast. As a result of the proposal to introduce a red route, parking has been driven off the streets and local shopkeepers will lose trade.

Cheam is already suffering from village starvation of services. If the retailers cannot provide their services, they will go out of business, which in turn will affect the elderly, the disabled and quick shoppers because they cannot avail themselves of the services of local shopkeepers. Does the red route have to go through the quiet, safe little village of Cheam, which is way outside the intensely urban area of London? I beg my hon. Friend to reflect on the question. He has doubtless already received representations from my constituents, but I should like to emphasise that the feeling in my constituency is strong and hostile.

On a more positive note, I congratulate the Government on their tremendous success in reducing the level of accidents in this country. It is yet another tribute to our efforts to bring rationality to the roads and to save lives, and the success should be shouted from the roof tops. We should be proud of it as it is a credit to us. I was sorry that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) spoke grudgingly about an achievement that has changed the map of Britain in terms of road safety.

Ms Walley

Does not the hon. Lady understand that if we do not have the same number of spot checks on vehicles, there will be an increase in the number of dangerous vehicles on our roads? The Minister might say that there is no suggestion of that, but he should know what took place during the course of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill.

Lady Olga Maitland

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention—she sounded somewhat defensive.

Families have been tragically torn apart because a loved one has been killed, very often by a drunk driver. I speak with personal experience because the wife of one of my first cousins was killed in an accident, having been smashed into by a drunk driver. She was barely 30, had two young children and left a grieving widower.

All too often my constituency's local papers, the Sutton and Cheam Herald and the Sutton Borough Guardian, feature appalling car crashes that have occurred as a result of drink-driving. In any week one can guarantee at least one third of the court cases reported will cover a drink-driving charge. Last year alone, nationally, more than 500 people died as a result of drink-driving. The encouraging news is that the figure has fallen by a half over the past 10 years. In 1984, more than 1,000 people were killed. That shows that today's programme of stick, carrot and persuasion is changing public attitudes. Drivers involved in accidents are more likely to be breath-tested, but less likely to fail than they were 10 years ago.

As we move into the Christmas season of office parties, now is the time for the Government, as they always do, to step up their advertising campaign on drink-driving. Although some people were startled by the shock approach of those advertisements and the horror they revealed, frankly it was worth it. If that campaign can cut the number of people killed in drink-driving accidents this year from 500 to 250, it would save many more families from suffering a devastating bereavement and a miserable Christmas.

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend will probably not recall it because she is far too young, but when the then Minister of State for Transport, Barbara Castle, introduced penalties against drink-driving she was interviewed by the BBC and other media. They portrayed her action as draconian because it was considered that she was trying to deter people from having a good time. Surely that demonstrates how far we have moved on from those ignorant days.

Lady Olga Maitland

I agree with my hon. Friend. I pay tribute to Baroness Castle for her efforts to prevent drink-driving.

How interesting it is to note how social habits have changed. It is now the normal way of life for a couple invited to a party to discuss who will drink and who will drive. It is quite normal for a host to serve soft drinks and a party goer who sticks to orange juice or tomato juice is no longer regarded as a wimp or a killjoy.

Parents also play a vital role when their children give parties by insisting that all the guests should stay overnight. That may mean we have households of sleeping bags all over the floor and no space at the breakfast table in the morning, but, as parents, we are acutely aware that we should not allow young people to drive after going to a party.

When I attend constituency association dinners I notice that many people determinedly leave their cars at home and arrive by taxi. When we have a dinner at the House of Commons the guests hire a coach. Attitudes have not changed by accident, but because the Government have taken determined action to promote good behaviour on the roads and I congratulate them on that.

I think that we could still go further and we should look at banning drivers from drinking any alcohol. I know that that is the subject of much debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) has already suggested that perhaps one or two drinks is permissible. I have the feeling that we have reached the point when drivers should not be allowed to drink. For one thing, it is extremely 'difficult to know what is one's real limit—everyone has a different benchmark. Three glasses of wine may knock one person out, while another person may be safe to drive. I think that it would be better to say that drivers should not drink at all.

Such a prohibition would help to reach the worst offenders—those heavy drinkers, usually male, in their mid-20s. Research shows that young men reach their peak age of misbehaviour in terms of drink-driving at 24. Next comes 29-year-old men, who are also high-risk offenders and, when stopped, are found to have drunk themselves blatantly over the limit, as though they could not give a damn.

The other road menace is the white spirit drinker, who sticks to gin or vodka and who takes advice from no one—that is, until we make the penalty really fit the crime. We need to create that deterrence. Unless we hit those drivers hard and impose penalties that hurt, they will carry on regardless.

I welcome the considerable powers that the courts have been given as a result of Government concern. Although the maximum penalty for someone who kills a person while under the influence of alcohol is five years' imprisonment, the courts should not hesitate from passing more custodial sentences when appropriate. They should certainly not hesitate about withdrawing a driver's licence and banning someone from the roads, not just for two or three years, but at least for 10 years or even for life. When I have suggested that to lawyers and judges they have argued that that is not practicable because such people would return to the roads anyway. I do not accept that argument, and we should examine seriously the question of banning drivers for life.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister wishes to reply to the debate, but I will make two more points. My hon. Friends the Members for Croydon, South and for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) expressed their concern about changing to double summer time. It is iniquitous to have rolled along all these years with an inconvenient mode, which makes life difficult for business men and is dangerous for road users.

It is estimated that 2,000 accidents a year occur when dusk falls earlier in the afternoon, including 120 deaths. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to press on with supporting double summer time. I cannot imagine anyone who would object. There is a myth that children can go to school only in daylight and that people can wake up only in daylight. It is a fact that people are most alert in the morning, even if it is dark. In the afternoon and early evening, people are weary and do not concentrate so well. That is when they need all the light available.

I was lucky enough to be drawn 17th in the ballot for private Members' Bills. I have not yet decided the subject of my Bill, but I am seriously considering whether the rules and regulations for newly qualified drivers should be stiffened, and penalties imposed in the first year or two of their driving lives. Drivers under 21 are involved in 1,000 of the almost 3,500 fatal accidents that occur every year. They are positively lethal and it is time to give serious thought to measures that could bring them under control.

If such drivers committed offences that exceeded a minimum limit in their first year of driving, they could be compelled to retake their driving test.

Ms Walley

Is the hon. Lady able to say whether the Minister would approve such legislation introduced under the private Member's Bill procedure?

Lady Olga Maitland

I have every reason to believe that it would have his support. I am sure that it would receive across-the-board support. It should be a non-contentious issue, and I should be sorry if the Opposition obstructed its passage.

Mr. Miller

No. It would find sponsors among Opposition Members.

Lady Olga Maitland

That is good to know.

In an earlier intervention, I raised the question of traffic calming. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to encourage local authorities to adopt more flexible attitudes to traffic-calming measures. I am not convinced that road humps are the only way to control speeding drivers. Local authority traffic departments take the view that they must follow the Department's guidelines, but they should not follow only one route.

The Department of Transport has produced some colourful booklets about alternative schemes, but somehow the message is still not getting through. Not only is it unpleasant to go over those humps in a conventional car, but, as the Minister has admitted, we should look at the problems faced by low-platform buses that are coming on stream throughout the country to help not only the disabled but many other people. They would find the humps difficult to cope with. Ambulances that must drive up residential streets riddled with those humps have a dangerous task. Imagine what it is like when an ambulance carries someone with a spinal injury. It defies belief that patients are subjected to journeys that could make them more devastatingly ill than they already are. The point has been made and I have the impression that the Minister will look into it further.

I congratulate the Minister and his Department on the enormous progress that has been made in attitudes towards road safety. We have changed society's attitudes through schools, teaching children how to ride bicycles, and educating people on how to behave on the roads and on drink-driving. My hon. Friend should not flinch from taking the credit which is entirely due to him.

2.5 pm

Mr. Norris

With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have had an excellent debate this morning and I am glad of an opportunity to refer to a number of the points that have been made and to try to answer as many as I can.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) and I have sat on opposite sides of the Dispatch Box for several years and I have heard her make a number of speeches. In all honesty, today's was not one of her best. A classic error that permeates the Opposition's thinking and which we heard trotted out again today is that, the minute we try to make an organisation with the slightest responsibility, direct or tangential, for safety even remotely more efficient, it necessarily results in reductions in safety standards.

Mr. Miller

My hon. Friend did not say that.

Mr. Norris

With respect to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), I listened carefully and the record will show that that is exactly what she said. Moreover, it was the tenor of what she said, and what she was not prepared to say explicitly she implied. To put the matter to rest, may I make it clear that we have made it a cardinal principle of all the deregulation legislation that we have introduced—it is a cardinal principle of the concept of deregulation—that it means getting rid of unnecessary regulation that does not contribute to safety, better health or higher living standards but is simply bureaucratic nonsense.

The hon. Lady was not on the deregulation Bill Committee whereas I was. I sat there month in and month out, as did the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston. Try as they might during the Bill's proceedings, there was not one occasion when the Opposition could show that there was even the possibility that safety standards might be compromised. That was a given, and it remains a given.

In the context of road safety, I admit that we have required efficiency savings from the Vehicle Inspectorate, for example. The inspectorate responded constructively, as it always does, and those savings will be available to taxpayers to spend in areas where there is a need. The savings will be derived from eliminating waste, from restructuring and from redesigning responsibilities, which responsible organisations are doing all day long. There will be no reduction in enforcement activity or in safety levels because the Government are fundamentally committed to the concept of safety in the office, in factories, homes, schools, the workplace and, more important, on the roads. Let there be no doubt about that.

The hon. Lady mentioned the availability of police resources. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary recently wrote to chief constables about key policing objectives. There is general agreement that one of their objectives should be to ensure that road traffic law is properly enforced in the most efficient and cost-effective way. He has commissioned a thorough study of the use of public resources and established a working group of officials, including members of the police and HM inspectorate.

It appears that some functions are not central to the police's responsibility—for example, escorting abnormal loads, although the hon. Lady mentioned a number of others which could be said to fall into the same category—where it might be possible to release expensive and expert police resources for more useful work. They would, by definition, be areas of activity where no great technical expertise was demanded or fairly straightforward supervision jobs. Before anyone says that escorting an abnormal load requires expertise, I must point out that it is a discrete skill and it may be possible with such activities to obtain a more rational deployment of services. If so, we would be keen to do so.

Ms Walley


Mr. Miller


Mr. Norris

I will give way first to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North as a matter of protocol.

Ms Walley

I have listened carefully to what the Minister says. The important point of principle in this instance is that the police have the power to stop vehicles on the road. That power needs to operate in conjunction with safety checks carried out on vehicles or in respect of any other problems that may arise. Is the Minister saying that he does not foresee a continuing role for the police with regard to their stop and search powers?

Mr. Norris

Of course I foresee a continuing role for the police in respect of stop and search powers, the Vehicle Inspectorate and traffic. The hon. Lady will know that in Northern Ireland Vehicle Inspectorate officials as well as the police have the power to stop. It provides an interesting opportunity to see what happens when one extends the principle. There may be merit in it and, if so, we should explore the notion further.

Mr. Miller

I am sure that the Minister will be aware that professional drivers of abnormal loads are deeply worried about the proposal that has been floated to remove police officers from escort duties as they feel that it would further the tendency described by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) in her peroration about motorway madness. Does he accept that solving the problem mentioned by the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant)—taking breath tests at the scene of all deaths on the road—will have resource implications and can be dealt with only by involving more police officers?

Mr. Norris

Let me make it clear that I am not suggesting—nor has it been suggested during the consultation—that there should be no escorts for abnormal loads. That is not the issue. It is perfectly proper for people to express their concern. It is part of the innate conservatism of this country that the minute one suggests any change, people rush to defend the status quo. It is important that one always ensures that a change is for the better before one makes it. It is clear that there are some advantages to be gained from at least considering the proposal and the caveat mentioned by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston is sensible. In contrast to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North, he made a useful contribution to the debate on the issue of prosecution policy. I do not accept that there is evidence that it is a question of police resources. I gave the House some impressive statistics—I shall not repeat them—about police stops where breath tests are administered. The hon. Gentleman's point is a serious one and I may touch on it in a second. I do not think that the resources issue is the key to it. The key to it, as he quite rightly said, is how one reconciles the principle of consent, which neither he nor I would willingly set aside, with the important benefit that might be derived from a change. He expanded on that point very well.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North mentioned bull bars. I was grateful to her for that, as it is an important point. As I am sure she knows, the technical position is that, unfortunately, some vehicles which have bull bars fitted as standard have European type-approval; there is also the question of after-fitting. I am afraid that it is not easy to take immediate action, as she suggests. Although in theory great danger could arise, we are concerned to be sure of the effect of bull bars in practice. The first question I asked when the matter was put to me was whether we could relate bull bars to a given number of additional accidents. The evidence is not great.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North is right to say that it is a real irony that although manufacturers have made great progress with crumple zones and soft fronts to reduce the impact of accidents on pedestrians, one sees fitted to vehicles, often for purely cosmetic reasons, as the hon. Lady said, pieces of equipment that have no practical use. In practice, such vehicles are unlikely to encounter a bull; we can be reasonably certain of that. Most bull bars are fitted to vehicles which are capable of driving up the side of Everest, but which scarcely ever leave the metalled road.

Ms Walley


Mr. Norris

Does the hon. Lady want to say something? Incidentally, I know that she cannot be here for all my remarks and I quite accept that.

Ms Walley

Certain organisations, such as the Staffordshire Ambulance Trust, have voluntarily withdrawn bull bars from their vehicles. Would it be possible for the Minister to devise a way in which to redefine bull bars that were not being used for the purpose for which they were specifically designed—that is, for off-road vehicles? Would that be a way in which to deal with the problem? That would mean that fewer people would be likely to be involved in serious accidents caused by collisions.

Mr. Norris

I understand the hon. Lady's concern to try to seek a solution to the problem. As I said, there is the difficulty that certain vehicles have European type-approval for the fitting of bull bars. As with seat belts in coaches, one can make progress only at the rate that the Community allows. In some countries in the Community, there may be a more genuine need to have this fitment than there is in the United Kingdom.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Sir K. Carlisle), when Minister for Roads and Traffic, took action because he was especially concerned about the issue. I erred in not referring earlier to his contribution at the Department. He contacted the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and pressed upon it the desirability of not fitting bull bars as standard. In general, there has been a good response from manufacturers, though sadly not a unanimous one.

Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, especially as I have had to flit in and out of the Chamber all morning. While he is on the topic of European directives, could he say a few words about the Government's intentions as regards the proposed directive on the design of coaches? I have had a letter from a Mr. Masterton of Delta Coaches in Elderslie in my constituency who is concerned that the directive will greatly endanger road safety.

Mr. Norris

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's concern, and that of coach operators and coach builders. We intend to be scrupulous in examining the details of the proposed directive to ensure that it is compatible with sensible construction and use regulations and will not unduly hinder the operations of responsible coach operators. I understand that the hon. Gentleman has written to me about the matter. That is excellent, and I will ensure that he receives a prompt reply to his constituent's concern.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) was right to invite us to engage in some lateral thinking and it is an invitation that I willingly accept. Several hon. Members have made suggestions on which I shall reflect seriously. When my hon. Friend said—it was a phrase that I shall use on other occasions—that we are looking for fewer bad drivers and fewer bad cars, that summed up exactly what we are trying to derive from the debate and from our current thinking.

My hon. Friend rightly said that it is a scandal that perhaps nearly one in 10 motorists may not be properly insured. His argument that an insurance certificate should be displayed on the windscreen is a serious one. There is a case, too, for an MOT test certificate to be displayed.more obviously, when appropriate. I undertake seriously.to consider the proposition.

I hope that my hon. Friend will not mind my saying that it is not the first time that I have heard the argument that insurance certificates should be placed on windscreens. However, there are factors to be taken into account such as the need to show that vehicle excise duty has been paid, clutter on the windscreen and difficulty of enforcement, for example. If I may, I will write to my hon. Friend to tell him about the recent work that we have undertaken. Perhaps I shall be able to discuss the matter with him on another occasion. He has raised a serious proposition.

My hon. Friend's point about the progressive deterioration of eyesight was extremely well made. The deterioration takes place one day at a time. It is only when circumstances such as my hon. Friend described come about that we realise that we shall not live for ever and that we are deteriorating day by day. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his contribution to the debate.

The arguments that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston advanced about statistical analyses of convictions and prosecution policies were well made. They raise complicated matters and we must take account of issues such as a reluctance to convict and the implications of the tariff system before we take action.

I undertake to draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary because I think that they merit that referral. I am grateful to him for what he had to say.

Mr. Miller

I hope that I made it clear in my earlier remarks that we have just passed the closing date for consultation with the Law Commission. I understand that the commission, as a matter of course, will read the report of what we have to say on these issues when framing its recommendations. As for the motor manslaughter charge, it would be helpful if the Minister would put his views on record.

Mr. Norris

I do not want to be drawn into a debate on that issue at this stage, for several reasons. First, we are coming to the end of our allotted time, and the matter was not raised earlier. It might be an abuse—

Mr. Miller

I raised it.

Mr. Norris

The hon. Gentleman is right. I withdraw what I so recently said. He raised the matter, but not specifically in terms of addressing the Law Commission.

Secondly, the matter is not exclusively the responsibility of the Department of Transport. It comes within the responsibilities of other ministerial colleagues. Thirdly, I would want to reflect carefully on the precise form of words that one might want to use to make a submission.

Mr. Miller


Mr. Norris

Those who suggest that the absence of one clear statement is ducking away from a problem tend to be the sort of people who always assume that there is a straightforward answer to all life's great and complex issues. That is invariably the wrong answer and I fear that that might well be the case here if we were to respond intemperately.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) raised several points. With regard to photographs on driving licences, let me make it clear that we propose no alteration to the arrangements whereby an individual may or may not carry a driving licence. As is the case now, a licence will be required to be produced in appropriate circumstances. The important point is that there is an issue about impersonation in driving tests and when specific licences, such as HGV, PSV and taxi licences, are being sought. It has been acknowledged that photographs would go a long way towards dealing with those problems. Some 85 per cent. of respondents to consultation on the proposition have already said that they believe photographs would be a great asset.

The use of cameras at pedestrian crossings is entirely.consistent with our thinking. The use of cameras in.relation to bus lane enforcement will increasingly become necessary because, as our traffic system becomes more sophisticated and, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North said, as police resources are stretched, we will have to consider how we can use technology to help us maintain a proper system of enforcement.

I have an important point to make about traffic lights. I am aware of the "amber flash to proceed with caution" system and the discreet left turn when the lights are at red. One of the features of the systems in the United States is that they generally work on fixed-time traffic lights whereas we tend to have vehicle-sensitive systems so that the lights change only when vehicles approach. Therefore, there would be few gains from the American system in this country.

I hope that my hon. Friend will not mind me saying that I slightly disagree with him about frustration. I fear that my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva) got it exactly right when he questioned why a driver who is prepared to go through a red light now—and who one presumes at least bothers to stop and look both ways first—will be less safe if he drives on, perhaps without bothering to look both ways, because having seen the proceed with caution signal, he assumes that he can proceed without taking the elementary precautions.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire for his suggestions. He did say that he did not expect everyone necessarily to agree with him, but that his comments would be thought-provoking and worth while and that they certainly were.

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) referred to the greatest epidemic of our time—a timely phrase. He mentioned the reissue of the "Highway Code." My hon. Friend might be interested to know that when we reissued the "Highway Code" recently after updating it, the demand from ordinary members of the public was quite extraordinary. One million copies were issued in the first month after the new "Highway Code" was issued. That illustrates the fact that my hon. Friend's point was common sense. We believe that there is merit in people reacquainting themselves with what is nowadays a more complex road safety situation than it was hitherto.

I noted what my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South said about issuing the "Highway Code" to the 25 million drivers in this country and the many more people who should be aware of it. That would obviously be a significant exercise. However, I hope that my hon. Friend is encouraged by our experience.

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South made a good point about cut-and-shut cars and we will keep that issue under review as there are some worrying aspects. However, the fact that a vehicle has previously been seriously damaged does not prevent it from being perfectly safe provided that the repair has been carried out expertly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) carried on from his successful ten-minute Bill and went into some detail on the advantages of the Daylight Extra campaign. I will not repeat the point that I made. One of my colleagues was kind enough to say that I had acknowledged that there is a technical advantage which is simply undeniable in relation to road safety and I am happy to confirm that. I noted my hon. Friend's points about his scheme in relation to the A27.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and.Isleworth made several worthwhile points. The cones hotline number is 0345 504030. This is a good opportunity to make one point absolutely clear. The other day, I read a wonderful article by Richard Littlejohn. It was the usual wonderful trenchant stuff with which squire Littlejohn normally regales us, saying, "It can't be any use; they have moved the cones only three times." That is the classic misapprehension of what the system is designed to do. It is designed to explain precisely why the cones are present, rather than to move them. The three occasions on which we have had to say, "Goodness, we have obviously got it wrong," were the failures of the system. The success of the system is that many people who ring the hotline receive a good response, and they acknowledge that the cones are there for a reason.

On distance-measuring technology, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth will be pleased to know that the Prometheus project is going on in Europe, in which Jaguar is playing a part—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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