HC Deb 03 February 1995 vol 253 cc1340-56

Order for Second Reading read.

11.2 am

Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)

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

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam), who has presented three Bills during his time in the House, this is my first in nearly 12 years. Whereas my hon. Friend hoped that he would be third time lucky, I hope to be first time lucky. The subject of my Bill is of importance and concern—the behaviour of newly qualified drivers, most of whom are young. At the stage in their driving careers when they are inexperienced, it is all important that they drive safely and pay attention to traffic regulations and the Highway Code. Even young drivers whose behaviour is blameless will be more at risk of accidents than the experienced driver, simply because situations develop that they have not anticipated or do not know how to handle.

That risk increases greatly if young drivers overestimate their skills, try to impress their passengers or flout the law. My Bill is primarily aimed at that irresponsible element. They are a minority, but the trouble that they cause is disproportionate to their numbers. The Bill is targeted. It does not propose new laws and regulations for all drivers but for a small group of new, principally young drivers who cause a disproportionate number of accidents.

That problem causes concern in my constituency and elsewhere in Essex. My hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London represents an Essex constituency, and I am delighted that he is in his place to contribute to the debate. Two years ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) introduced a ten-minute Bill on newly qualified drivers. Although it was different from mine in detail, it also would have made progress towards improving the driving performance of newly qualified young drivers. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend's Bill did not make progress, but I hope that mine will enjoy better luck. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford for being present to support my Bill.

The problem that I described exists throughout Britain, not just in Essex. Essex man may reign in Essex, but some of his mentality reigns elsewhere in the country. We are increasingly a nation of car drivers and owners. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency issues about 1 million new provisional driving licences every year, which means that that number of new learner drivers or motor cyclists start using our roads. Most of them will eventually pass a driving test and become qualified. About half begin learning at 17, and a quarter of those who pass the driving test do so before their 18th birthday. Many more do so by the age of 21.

Those can be dangerous years for other road users as well as for the young driver. Ten per cent. of all driving licences are held by people under 21, yet they are involved in 25 per cent. of fatal accidents producing 1,000 deaths each year. The figures might be even worse if they drove long distances, as older drivers do. Even driving short distances, young drivers have a disproportionate effect on road accidents and fatalities. Mile for mile, a young man of 17 is seven times more likely to have an accident than a middle-aged man.

In most cases, that is not because young drivers have not learnt basic driving skills. After all, they passed the driving test. However, too often they choose not to apply those skills, thinking that they have become expert drivers overnight. They want the world to know how well they can drive, and to prove to themselves and to their friends how fast they can accelerate, how ably they can corner and how suddenly they can brake—and they may cut up other motorists to prove that to themselves. However, they lack the ability to read the road ahead, anticipate hazards and know when to react—in other words, experience. They may also lack tolerance towards and consideration for other road users whose reactions are slower—so in that sense they lack maturity.

Even among young inexperienced motorists, there is a difference between the accident risk of a responsible driver and a tearaway. The Transport Research Laboratory made a detailed examination of new drivers and found that those who commit offences in the first year after passing their test are more than twice as likely to be involved in accidents as drivers who do not. They remain twice as likely to have accidents even in their second and third years. So there is a clear link between offences and the risk of an accident.

That is why it makes sense to target the offenders and make them pay for extra lessons, take another test, and perhaps come in for a great deal of humiliation as they have to put on their L-plates once more. It is better to do that—to aim the Bill at these drivers—than to make the driving test harder and more lengthy and expensive for everyone.

This Bill is not aimed just at young drivers: it is aimed at all new drivers. All young drivers are new drivers, but not all new drivers are young drivers. So why should we include the older new drivers at all? At any age, inexperienced drivers are at greater risk than experienced ones. Both youth and inexperience are associated with greater risk.

What is more, people can do something about their lack of experience—they can take advanced training, for instance—but there is nothing they can do about their age apart from wait. If the Bill applied only to young drivers, where would the cut-off point be—21, 25 or older? There seems no consensus about that, so it is better to make the Bill comprehensive and apply it to new drivers in general, not young drivers in particular.

My Bill will therefore apply to every new driver for the first two years after he or she passes the test for the first time; but only those who commit offences will be any the worse off. On the whole, they will be younger drivers, and predominantly male.

Clause 1 defines the scope of the Bill. Anyone learning to drive or ride a motor cycle or moped starts with a provisional licence and L-plates. As soon as these drivers pass their tests, in a car or on a two-wheeler, they are entitled to the full licence for that class of vehicle. From that point on they are deemed to be qualified drivers. The two-year probationary period mentioned in the Bill starts from the moment people become qualified drivers. They may go on to pass a test in some other class of vehicle, but that does not make them probationers all over again. It is only on the first occasion that this clause will bite.

The Bill applies to holders of British licences who pass their tests in Great Britain, or who got their Great Britain licences as a result of tests passed in certain other places outside the GB mainland—countries with which we have reciprocal arrangements. When the date of passing the test outside Britain is known, as it usually will be in such cases, it is recorded on the British licence and thus defines the starting point of the probationary period.

Clause 2 contains the meat of the Bill. Its effect is that when a driver in the probationary period gets six or more penalty points on his licence, either by a court conviction or by paying a fixed penalty, the licence must be surrendered and sent to the Secretary of State—in practice, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency—to be revoked. The first two subsections cover convictions by a court and the rest cover fixed penalties.

Clause 3 follows on logically. When the Secretary of State receives a licence, he must serve notice on the holder that it is revoked. The person can no longer drive as a fully fledged driver but may apply for a provisional licence and start again as a learner. So the offending person does not lose all ability to drive and does not have his licence completely revoked. He has to revert to being a provisional licence holder and can continue to drive, with L-plates, being accompanied. He must then in due course take the test once more.

Clause 4 goes on to the next stage. Now that a person is a learner again, he or she is not eligible for a full licence until the test has been passed. But to avoid unnecessary harshness, this clause does not require people who had passed more than one class of test before the revocation to pass them all again. Passing just one of them will get back all the lost entitlements. The clause also does not prevent such people from learning to drive a new type of vehicle and passing the test in that—but doing the latter will not win back the old entitlements as well.

Clause 5 deals with special cases when the person affected by the revocation appeals against the conviction that caused it. Provided that the Secretary of State is notified of this, he must issue a temporary licence while the appeal is pending. If the appeal is successful enough to remove the penalty points or to reduce them to fewer than six, the Secretary of State must grant a permanent licence replacing the one that was taken away. Some of the procedural details are to be in regulations.

Clause 6 and schedule 1 cover essentially the same ground as clauses 2 to 5, but apply to the special case of a person who has passed the test but not yet handed in the pass certificate and provisional licence to get a full licence. Current legislation allows a two-year period in which pass certificates and provisional licences can be exchanged for a full licence. Most people exchange there straight away, but there are a few who choose not to CT who forget to. The schedule is necessary to close a loophole which might allow the retesting procedure to be evaded.

Clause 7 has two purposes. First, paragraph (a) prevents a person from being doubly penalised if a court uses its powers to order a retest. The court order takes precedence over anything in this Bill, and once it has been made the person is no longer regarded as being in the probationary period. Often, the re-test ordered by the court will be a double-length test, whereas the test required by the Bill is always of the usual length.

Secondly, paragraphs (b) and (c) prevent a person from being caught in a continual round of retesting, which would be too harsh. Once the person has passed a test, he is no longer subject to the provisions of the Bill. It must be remembered, however, that passing the test and getting back the full licence do not wipe off the six penalty points that caused the retesting in the first place. Those six points are still there, and if the driver gets another six before they are spent, making 12 in all, the court will disqualify him for six months under the existing totting-up procedures and laws.

The other clauses and schedule 2 are supplementary, and I shall not go into detail about them.

I hope that the House will agree that these are tough but fair provisions. They will not make it any harder to qualify as a driver in the first place, but they will make it harder for people to keep their licences if they misbehave. They will therefore act as a powerful deterrent for drivers who are tempted to break the law or who drive without consideration for others.

Research suggests that drivers are more deterred by the threat of losing their licences than they are by fines. At the moment, they need not worry too much until they get close to 12 penalty points, which can mean up to four speeding offences. But this scheme will bite at six points. It will not stop them driving altogether, but it will force them back into the classroom, to the world of L-plates and an experienced driver by their side. There will also be considerable humiliation.

The scheme will also provide an incentive to take further lessons and will give drivers the opportunity to reconsider what it really means to be a responsible adult driver.

I am pleased to have been able to obtain backers for the Bill both from my party and from the Opposition. I am also pleased to have the unstinting support of the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club. I am pleased, too, to have the support of the former roads Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key). I know that he played a major part in putting the subject on the political agenda, and I am grateful for his backing and support.

I hope that I can count on support from all parties to bring this worthy measure to the statute book.

11.20 am
Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North)

First, I declare my interest as a parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation. There is considerable concern among police officers about their difficult encounters with young drivers, who often drive fast cars at high speed. It is a problem that needs to be dealt with, and the Bill seeks to do so. Therefore, I give a warm welcome to the Bill. It is necessary and it will do considerable good in resolving many difficulties.

We know that 1,000 people die each year in accidents involving young drivers. They hold only 10 per cent. of driving licences, but they are involved in 20 per cent. of all accidents. New drivers who are convicted of motoring offences are twice as likely to be involved in accidents as drivers who do not break motoring laws.

Over the past two decades there has been a change in public attitudes towards drink-driving. Young men in particular used to regard it as a way of proving their masculinity. They were willing to drive after having consumed far too much alcohol. Fortunately, social attitudes have changed, especially among young people.

Before I came to this place I was a lawyer at the criminal Bar. It is my experience that many of those who have been convicted of drink-driving in recent years have been older people. When they were young it was perhaps acceptable to drink and drive. I found that young people were less and less involved in that behaviour as a result of changed social attitudes and pressures.

The Bill will start the process of changing the social attitudes—perhaps not of the present generation—of the generation to come towards driving cars, especially fast cars. There have been problems on several housing estates in my constituency, where young people drive at high speed. Some young people tend to drive their cars—on occasion, stolen cars—at high speed across traffic-calming road humps. This often happens at night. The humps normally serve a good purpose and it is regrettable that the driving that I have described is exactly the opposite of the objective of the humps. Such driving needs to be clamped down upon with vigour.

Apart from dealing with those who are committing motoring offences by way of penalties and penalty points, we need to bring about a change in social attitudes. The law must take the lead. The hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) has introduced a Bill that shows that we in this place take road traffic matters extremely seriously and that we are prepared to support the police in recognising the importance of taking action and dealing with the problem. The Bill shows that we are ready to start the process of changing attitudes.

Young drivers are often less safe than others, especially if they are inexperienced. They should know that if they start to accumulate penalty points by speeding, for example, and arrive at six, they will not have the facility of their "wheels" and all the advantage that they provide, especially at a young age. They should know that they may have to face a second test.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

My hon. Friend is talking about young drivers. I accept that the Bill will apply mainly to those drivers, but it applies also to newly qualified drivers, who are not always young people. I accept, of course, that many of the problems with which the Bill seeks to deal involve all people and the accumulation of penalty points. There is a need for these measures.

Mr. O'Brien

That is entirely right. I agree with my hon. Friend that the Bill does not apply only to young people. When enacted, it will be much broader in its application. That can only be right.

As I have said, there has been a change in social attitudes in recent years towards drink-driving. I have no doubt that behind the Bill is a wish to change social attitudes towards fast or erratic driving. It may still be thought among the older generation that drivers can get away with breaking the law by occasional speeding. That is regrettable. The Bill is an attempt to deal with the problem. I suspect that it would be extremely difficult to frame clauses to deal only with young drivers. There are advantages in having a Bill that is drafted to deal with all new and inexperienced drivers, and I support it. I offer a warm welcome to the Bill. I hope that it will be given a Second Reading with support from hon. Members on both sides of the House.

11.25 am
Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh)

I, too, welcome the Bill. It is an important step forward in improving driver safety. That being said, I would like measures to come before us which go further towards improving road safety. The Bill is important, but it is only one step in that direction.

We must consider and try to deal with the behavioural characteristics of the young male driver if we are to achieve general improvements in driver safety. I accept, of course, that the Bill covers all new drivers of both sexes, whether they are young, in their middle years, or elderly. I shall concentrate, however, on the young male driver, who often poses a problem by engaging in hazardous driving.

It is worth reflecting that most criminal offences are committed by young males. When they reach 25 years of age, most of those young offenders cease to offend. It is important to realise that many of the offences that are committed by males in that age group are motoring offences. Young male offenders are prepared to drive recklessly without insurance and without a licence. That being so, we must question whether the effectiveness of the Bill will be sufficient to curb the committing of motoring offences by such people. Will young male drivers who are prepared to drive while uninsured and without a full licence be sufficiently deterred by the proposal to reduce the number of penalty points leading to disqualification to six?

Recent studies have shown that about 15 per cent. of all male drivers have driven illegally before they have gained even a provisional licence. It is interesting that that is twice the percentage of women who have done that.

I welcome the Bill's proposals, especially the two-year probation period for new drivers and the revocation of licences if six or more penalty points are accumulated during the probationary period. I welcome also the requirement that there must be a further test before a licence is reinstated. These and other measures are steps in the right direction but are only a start towards improving driver safety. They must be considered as only part of a more general package to improve driver safety, especially among young males. If we are to deal with that specific problem, we need to look more closely at the life style factors of that group, as the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) suggested.

We must examine why some 35 per cent. of young male drivers were categorised as unsafe in a study undertaken in 1991 by the university of Southampton near Eastleigh. The work undertaken by the department of psychology is significant in this regard. Its earlier studies found that there were differences in driver behaviour and performance within the 17 to 25-year-old age group. As the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) will know, its more recent work explored the relevance of life-style factors to the differences in driving behaviour.

We must realise that there are indeed different attitudes among male drivers and we cannot assume that all young male drivers should all be labelled as inherently unsafe. Driving behaviour characteristics are far more complex than that. On average, the young male drivers studied by Southampton university rated their driving skills and driving safety as considerably above the average for their own age group. Unsafe drivers rated their driving as more skilled than safe, whereas safe drivers rated their driving as more safe than skilled. The important point is that unsafe drivers tend to test their ability and their car's capacity to a much greater extent than safe drivers, but their so-called skill is of course illusory, as unsafe drivers have a high accident involvement.

Many young drivers fail to recognise how close they have been to having an accident. Furthermore, they seldom recognise that a near miss is feedback to the effect that they are driving badly—it is much easier for drivers to blame their surroundings and other drivers for a near miss. The most obvious feedback in respect of poor driving is involvement in an accident, but, even after an accident, it is easy to find causes other than poor driving.

Young male drivers seem to suffer from the delusion that accidents are chance events and occur at random, but that is not so; poor driving is a significant characteristic of and contributor to accidents. Driving should not be viewed as merely a physical skill. It is all too clear that unsafe drivers are unaware of the risks that they take and, even if they are aware of the risks that they take, because they believe that they are highly skilled they assume that they will not have an accident.

The proposals to improve the skills of young drivers and to impose stiffer penalties on those found guilty of poor or illegal driving are not in themselves sufficient to tackle what I regard as the root of the problem. Pre-licence training in road safety must incorporate things other than the learning of driving skills. The Minister will be aware that the response to the Government's new driver safety consultation paper, which was issued just over a year ago, showed that there was wide support for the retesting of offenders as proposed in the Bill, but the consultation also revealed overwhelming support for a separate mandatory theory test to fulfil the second EC driving licence directive.

I am sure that we are all familiar with the parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety which welcomed the Bill but said that it should be seen alongside other measures to improve the skills of young drivers. In addition to a stick—the removal of a driving licence—we need a carrot, or better training to increase awareness of the difficulties of driving. Like the advisory council, I look forward to hearing proposals from the Department of Transport for the compulsory test involving an element of hazard perception. We could thus ensure that young and new drivers were able to drive competently and less dangerously.

Post-test driver training has been the subject of strong interest by the insurance industry, and the development of road safety and education programmes for the 16-year-olds and above has been supported by colleges and other establishments.

At the time of the consultation exercise the Minister said that a mandatory theory test would be in place by I July 1996 and that the Department was working with the private and voluntary sectors to establish post-test driver training schemes and road safety education programmes. I would welcome confirmation that the Bill is but one part of a comprehensive package to be introduced within the time scale previously set out.

The Liberal Democrats welcome and enthusiastically support the Bill, but we should like an assurance that it is a first step in a package of measures to improve driver safety.

11.35 am
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

I am sure that nothing could be more harrowing than the anguish of a young mother who has lost her child through the foolishness of an inexperienced driver. The driver will be haunted for the rest of his life by the memory that he was responsible for the death of a child and that it could have been avoided. In some instances, the driver does not have the opportunity to look back on the incident, because he too has been killed by his actions. Therefore, anything that we can do to make the roads safer must be worth while. For that reason, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) on promoting this excellent Bill, the provisions of which I strongly support.

It is often observed that if the number of people killed on the roads were killed in any other way there would be a national scandal. What if a series of jumbo jets crashed every year, leading to the equivalent number of deaths, or a catastrophe occurred regularly in industry? If rail accident deaths reached anything near the number of road deaths, there would be an outcry. Nevertheless, we must take satisfaction from the fact that the number of deaths on the roads is falling, and markedly so. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London and his team on their road safety work, which has helped to achieve that fall.

The number of people killed on the roads has declined steadily, from around 5,000 in 1990 to 3,814 in 1993. The control of drinking and driving has clearly been a major contributory factor and I support any measure that strengthens the law in that respect. Of those road accidents, about 1,000 deaths—20 per cent.—are the responsibility of young drivers. Statistics show that youth and inexperience are major factors in accidents, so it is excellent that the Bill is targeted specifically at that group.

In my borough of Bromley, 205 drivers in the 17-to-24 age group were injured in 1994, bearing out statistics showing that group to be especially vulnerable, usually because of their own inexperience. New drivers are twice as likely to break the law but it is not only the statistics but our personal experience that illustrate the risk attached to young and inexperienced drivers, especially young and inexperienced male drivers.

I remember when I first started driving people in my age group were immediately enthused with their new-found freedom and it was only a matter days after taking off the L-plates that they began to drive fast and tried to acquire more powerful cars. There will probably always be a macho image attached to driving but it must be restrained by the law. I can think of no better way in which to restrain that macho urge than the deterrent of the Bill. The most effective means of deterring that 17-to-24 age group from transgressing is to threaten to remove what they regard as most precious: the new-found right to drive without having to display L-plates. Having to display L-plates and to pass another test would be quite humiliating for that age group.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) is right to suggest that the Bill should be part of an overall package of policy. I support what he said about "Pass Plus", an excellent post-test driving training scheme that will shortly come into force. To go with the stick in the Bill, that scheme will introduce a carrot. The introduction and development of theoretical driving tests would add to the beneficial pressure on the target age group.

The teaching of driving skills at school plays an important part in encouraging and developing the right approach and attitude before would-be drivers get behind the wheel. Indeed, my borough of Bromley, which may be the only London borough that is taking such major strides in this area, runs an innovative pre-driver programme in secondary schools, which has involved more than 800 pupils so far. It is free and it runs for 11 weeks.

It is co-run by the Intercounty driving school, which provides free cars, and pupils have up to three 20-minute sessions behind the wheel as well as supportive work in the classroom aimed at preparing young drivers, influencing their attitudes, calming them down and getting them used to the control and safety needed on roads, rather than allowing the development of the idea that driving is simply a matter of getting behind the wheel.

The programme has already produced excellent results and I hope that it is developed further not only in Bromley but across the country. I know that Scott Pickering, the road safety export in the borough, who has played a leading role in pioneering the project, would support a Bill aimed at people whom he knows are vulnerable and need protecting from themselves. For all those reasons, I strongly support the Bill and I am glad that it is before the House. For the sake of not only the target group but all potential victims on the roads who we may prevent from becoming victims, I wish the Bill speedy progress to the statute book.

11.42 am
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

I may be no expert on this Bill—I am probably one of the few hon. Members who does not have a car and cannot drive—but I am interested in it because if I decided to try to qualify to drive, I would be subject to its provisions. Therefore, I have a self-interest as well as a wider interest in the Bill.

My constituency is a busy commuter belt between Chesterfield and Sheffield. Regularly each morning, we take our standard spending assessment over the border of Derbyshire into Yorkshire and Sheffield for their benefit. We encounter quite serious transport problems, because the roads are such that a serious accident considerably hinders people getting to work and back.

I always seem to be writing letters to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency about massive problems that people have with their licences. Presumably, the Bill may place further pressure on the DVLA as people lose their licences or have to take another test.

As the Bill is founded on sense and should progress, I want to make a procedural point. I believe that I am correct in saying that, although the Bill was introduced by hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark), it was initiated by the Government. When I promoted a private Member's Bill in the 1992–93 Session, I was contacted by the Minister to see if I would bring it forward through the Government like other hon. Members. Debating the Proceeds of Crime Bill earlier revealed that acceptable legislation, which the Government have in mind, is being introduced as private Members' Bills. Private Members' Bills should address the concerns of hon. Members, who may then seek the Government's support and help with technical drafting.

My private Member's Bill, the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, attempted to extend the franchise and provide access to polling stations for the disabled. I met the Minister of the Department concerned and if he had agreed to support my Bill, I would have been very happy indeed for a great deal of the work to be taken on by the Government and developed to ensure that its wording was parliamentary and procedurally acceptable.

Hon. Members are allowed £200 for legal assistance with a private Member's Bill; it would be worth £1,400 today if it had been adjusted since it was introduced. One cannot get any serious legal advice on the drafting of a Bill for £200. One can only, therefore—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I must remind him that we are debating the Second Reading of a particular Bill and he is dealing with matters not germane to it. There are plenty of other opportunities for the hon. Member to raise the general issues to which he is addressing his remarks.

Mr. Barnes

I accept your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was about to conclude in any case. I was trying to make a point that seemed relevant to this Bill as well as many other private Members' Bills.

I support the Bill and I do not wish to speak at length, but I want to point out that there are other methods by which such Bills, welcome as they are, could progress. The House does not sit often enough in Government time to debate such matters. The Bill could have progressed differently.

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

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) on introducing the Bill. For the record, the House should be told that, far from the implications of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) that my hon. Friend has picked the Bill up at the urging of the Department of Transport, if there is one Member of the House who is not a poodle of the Department of Transport, it is my hon. Friend, whose exertions on behalf of his constituents about the A 13 I feel on my back as I speak. I know from conversations with my hon. Friend that he has promoted the Bill because he has great interest in the subject. He has the full support of the Government and I strongly endorse all that he said about the Bill's importance.

I also agreed with the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey), who said that driving is not just a physical skill. That is exactly the point. Ironically, young drivers tend to be rather good at the physical skill of moving the metal around the road. Indeed, they are so good that they become over-confident, and that is what the Bill is aimed at. The hon. Gentleman was right to refer to the theory test directive.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) said in an excellent intervention, it is right that the Bill should be part of a package of measures. I will refer briefly to each of the elements to which my hon. Friend referred. I also endorse his remarks about the road safety officer in Bromley. He, like many other people in the London boroughs with whom I have a great deal of personal contact, is doing an excellent job.

As a result of that excellent work, there has been a 34 per cent. reduction in road deaths in this country. We should not lose sight of that; our record is excellent. Reducing road deaths by 34 per cent. since 1986 is an extraordinary success. That has been achieved despite 'the growth of traffic in the intervening period. That is an extraordinary performance. It is not a political achievement; it is the achievement of many people working nationally and locally and it involves many bodies, private companies, voluntary organisations and motoring organisations all working together.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham referred graphically, but very accurately, to the number of road deaths being equivalent to losing a jumbo jet every five weeks. There are still 80 deaths a week and that fact underpins everything that we do and it provides us all with the motivation to continue to find ways to eradicate that horrendous total.

Some people might think that the Bill is an unreasonably oppressive measure and that it is aimed at killing the joy of the young. They might think that it is unfair to impose this additional measure on the young. The underlying principle behind the Bill is straightforward. The principle says, "If you manage to accumulate six points, which will mean a minimum of two endorsable offences in the first two years after you have passed your test, the assumption is that you did not actually learn the lessons that you were supposed to have learnt in order to pass the test in the first place. Would you please go back and have another go and this time understand what you are being asked to qualify for?" That principle is not unreasonable.

None of us can put our hands on our hearts and say that we have not driven faster than the legal speed limit on a fairly regular basis because life is like that. The only exception in the Chamber to that rule is the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East. He follows a very important principle in this House which is never to let the arguments be bedevilled by the facts and always to ensure that one speaks on subjects about which one has not the slightest personal experience. He is a pastmaster of that art, and he demonstrated it again today.

Mr. Barnes

As a pedestrian, I have great experience of the matters that we are discussing today. I can barely cross the road in front of my house. I am very concerned that people should drive safely. If new drivers are not driving safely, the measures in the Bill should be applied to them. In addition, probably more people have cars in my constituency than in any other.

Mr. Norris

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman supports the measure and I hope that we can bring its Second Reading to a fairly speedy conclusion.

I will not speak at length, because my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford clearly set out the need for the Bill and how it would work in practice. However, I want to add a piece of information that might not be known to many hon. Members, including those who take a particular interest in this work. A study was published today that follows on from the Transport Research Laboratory programme involving new drivers and a major research programme, which examined the reasons for new driver behaviour.

The study published today showed that 18 per cent. of drivers are involved in at least one accident in their first year after passing the test. However, 42 per cent. of drivers who received fixed penalty notices or a summons in their first year were involved in car accidents. The risk is more than doubled. I am afraid that that emphasises why the measure is necessary, and why I believe that it will do a great deal to reduce the hazard that young people cause on the roads. It is worth recalling the statistic advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford: that 10 per cent. of licence holders are under 21 and are responsible for 20 per cent. of accidents and 25 per cent. of fatalities. That is a very sad statistic.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

Although this point is not included in the terms of the Bill, has my hon. Friend the Minister considered probationary licence plates?

Mr. Norris

We have considered probationary licence plates and the Northern Ireland Office has supervised the use of such plates. It produced results on the project only very recently, showing that probationary licence plates are popular in the community and that people support the idea. Sadly, the results also show that plates do not have a discernible effect on accident reduction. The principle is very attractive, but I am not minded to press forward with measures that cannot show—as I believe the Bill can—a demonstrable link with accidents.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh and my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham referred to the need for a package of measures. The post-test driver training scheme called "Pass Plus" will be launched by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport on Monday. A substantial number of insurance companies are involved in the scheme and it will make a major contribution. It is, of course, training after the licence has been acquired, but it offers a genuine discount to the motorist for having bothered to take on the additional training and it will allow insurance companies to lower their premiums. There is gain for each of the parties involved. The greatest gainer is the person who is not now likely to be the victim of an accident.

We have also prepared an educational resource designed to make over-16s aware of their responsibilities when they drive a car. That is a very important part of the package. We intend to introduce the enlarged theory element by July 1996. We are working on the practical details of the package at the moment. I agree with the hon. Member for Eastleigh that it will be a useful addition and it might even allow us to test some of the skills that the existing driving test does not allow us to test.

Even in its present form, our driving test in Britain is among the most demanding in the world. We should not ignore the principle behind the Bill: that some newly qualified drivers do not maintain the high standards that they have learnt in preparing for and taking the test. The Bill will encourage safe and considerate driving and it will allow new drivers to build up the essential experience of traffic and road conditions and the skills of hazard perception that they need to make them safer drivers.

The deterrent effect of having to use L-plates again and to be accompanied by an experienced driver should be sufficient to prevent newly qualified drivers from behaving irresponsibly and foolishly. It should thus result in a reduction in road accidents and injuries to those drivers and to other road users.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford has done the nation a service by introducing his Bill. I congratulate him on the way in which he introduced it today and I am delighted that hon. Members on both sides of the House have seen its wisdom, and I wish it every success.

11.58 am
Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) on his success in the ballot and on introducing his Bill. The Bill will clearly have great importance for the public and it is supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It certainly has the very full support of those on the Opposition Front Bench.

We have had an interesting debate this morning. It is quite appropriate that my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) should take part in it. He follows in an honourable tradition of people who have made great contributions to transport issues but who have not been drivers. I am thinking, of course, of my own political heroine, Baroness Castle, who was a distinguished Secretary of State for Transport but who was a non-driver. She certainly made a considerable impact on driving and transport issues.

Mr. Barnes

I thank my hon. Friend for her kind comments. The Minister has great expertise in these matters. On this occasion it works, but on many occasions it is counter-productive.

Mrs. Roche

My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) made an interesting speech and drew a welcome contrast between male and female drivers. The machismo that is often shown by male drivers, who sometimes have poor regard for road safety and poor car control and display anti-social behaviour, is not shared by their female counterparts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien) made an interesting point about the police view. There is no doubt that the police are concerned about accidents involving new drivers. It is good to have my hon. Friend's expertise as we consider the matter.

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) made a graphic point about road fatalities and the tremendous grief that they cause. Although I welcome the reduced figures that the Minister recited, I feel that there are too many fatal accidents. One occurred in my constituency this week. When I speak to some of the families concerned, I see their grief at having a loved one—husband, wife, son or daughter—suddenly and tragically taken away. That will always stay with me. I am sure that all hon. Members have had the same experience. It is important to take the issue very seriously.

Southampton university has found that a significant minority of young drivers—about 35 per cent.—could be categorised as unsafe. As has been said, when we talk about driving, we talk not only about driving skills but about judgment, maturity and courtesy. We need much more common courtesy on our roads. It would have a tremendous impact not only on tragic fatalities but on day-to-day road incidents.

Although I warmly support the Bill, may I pose a couple of questions? The Bill does not take into account newly qualified drivers of heavy goods vehicles or public service vehicles. Will the hon. Member for Rochford clarify that point? Also, if newly qualified drivers of heavy goods vehicles or public service vehicles accrue six penalty points, will they automatically lose their licences? Obviously, that is a small part of our anxiety about newly qualified drivers, but it is valid to draw it to the hon. Gentleman's attention, and I shall be interested to hear his response.

The House will be aware of the great concern about road safety and drivers' conduct. In my constituency, there is a tremendous problem with drivers who, particularly early in the morning, think that they have a straight run and speed with complete disregard for members of the public. Last week, I took my six-year-old daughter to school. We were just about to cross at the zebra crossing, when, without any regard for pedestrians, a car sped by. That is a daily occurrence for many people, and we should be aware of it.

I welcome the Minister's honesty and candour in saying that not one of us can say that he or she has not regularly exceeded the reasonable speed limit—

Mr. Norris

The legal speed limit.

Mrs. Roche

The Minister says, "The legal speed limit." With the greatest respect, we should not encourage that attitude. Speed limits are to be obeyed, and we must do everything we can to encourage drivers to abide by them.

Mr. Norris

Of course, the only hon. Member who has never exceeded the speed limit is the hon. Lady. I am quite happy to put that on the record if that is what she would like me to do.

Mrs. Roche

I am grateful to the Minister. Although I hold a full driving licence, I am an extremely reluctant driver, as my husband will testify, and I therefore hardly drive at all. I am afraid I am one of those drivers with whom the Minister obviously becomes very irritated. I drive very slowly—far too slowly. I am grateful for the Minister's approval. I shall have great pleasure, this weekend, in passing on that approval to my family.

I cannot resist the temptation, with the Minister present, to raise a matter of great concern in London in relation to speeding, road safety, and newly qualified and existing drivers. I refer to red routes. The Minister will be aware of points that colleagues and I have made about the Government's accident figures on those routes, which have been shown to be inaccurate. On a serious point, he will be aware also about road fatalities. They cause us great concern.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochford on introducing the Bill. It has our support. I hope that the public, who have closely followed our proceedings, will know that the whole House is concerned about this important issue.

12.7 pm

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

I apologise to the House for not being present earlier.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)


Mr. Miller

The hon. Gentleman says that it was disgraceful. I was doing some work on road deaths—a matter to which I drew attention on Friday. I listened intently to this debate upstairs. A couple of weeks ago our road safety debate, regrettably, was poorly attended by hon. Members. This Bill neatly follows that debate.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochford (I)r. Clark) on bringing the Bill to the House. I sincerely hope that it is supported by all hon. Members. The way in which the Bill fits in with the discussions to which I referred is clear.

Young drivers who speed are dangerous, and the young are statistically among the group most likely to cause death on the roads. The issue of handling death on the roads is extremely tortuous. I am having detailed discussions with a number of people in the legal profession, such as the Law Commission, and I made arrangements to go to the Crown Prosecution Service to discuss the way in which the courts deal with such cases.

It is, of course, a process which takes place after the event, and the important thing about the approach adopted by the hon. Member for Rochford is that it is part of a process of deterrence of the crime of causing death on the roads. The jigsaw puzzle must be put together in that way, and the Bill is an important part of that.

In my discussions with eminent people in the legal profession, the thrust of the debate has been how on earth we can stop the crimes taking place in the first place. The hon. Member for Rochford has hit upon an important aspect of that. We know that the drink-driving laws changed attitudes, and there is an extraordinary difference in the attitudes of people in their 40s and 50s, and of young people, towards the drink-driving laws. It is not unusual to see a group of 18 to 20-year-olds, out for an enjoyable evening, deliberately making arrangements that one of them will not drink. The cult of having to have the macho six pints before one drives a car has gone. It is perfectly accepted that one person in a group, or a number of people, should have soft drinks or low-alcohol drinks.

That positive change followed a lead from the House. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) said, the lead given by Baroness Castle had an important impact. I hope that education will create a climate that will bring sense to some road users. As my hon. Friend said, some road users are totally oblivious to the rights of others. A measure such as this will help in that regard.

I urge the House to think that the Bill, while important, is not a panacea. It will not in itself stop the huge number of deaths which occur on the roads each year. Last year, 510 deaths were caused by drinking and driving. We must carry on working hard as a Parliament to find the right set of rules and regulations which will bring that figure down to zero.

The police and the motoring organisations welcome the Bill which, I am sure, will receive widespread support. There is a recognition of the stark difference in accident statistics between young drivers and more mature and experienced drivers. I admit openly to the House that the first accident I had while driving was in the early 1960s. I have driven 20,000 miles every year of my adult life, and I know full well that—given the same situation 30 years later—I could have driven out of the circumstances which caused that accident. It was somebody else's fault, but experience does help in driving.

We must instil in young people the firm belief and understanding that one does not simply pass the test and become an expert driver. If that were true, the figures would look healthier. It is important that the House gives the Bill an unopposed passage, but let me emphasise that this must be a part of a series of approaches aimed at tackling all the causes of death on the roads. We may need to think positively about the design of vehicles, and about whether, for example, heavy vehicles have adequate vision.

We must also consider the way in which some companies impose schedules upon drivers which make it impossible for them to drive safely. We know about that in the context of coaches, and the Minister has taken positive steps recently in that respect. There are a host of issues and the House must address them in its efforts to tackle the huge numbers of unnecessary deaths. The Bill forms an important part of the strategy, and I once again congratulate the hon. Member for Rochford on promoting the Bill. I wish it a speedy passage through its remaining stages.

12.26 pm
Dr. Michael Clark

With the leave of the House; I should like to thank all of those hon. Members who have taken part in the debate for the support that they have given without reservation. I would particularly like to thank the hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien), the advisor to the Police Federation, for conveying to the House the support that the police give to the Bill. He pointed out that drink-driving was a problem of past generations, while macho driving may be a problem of this one, and welcomed the Bill in that regard.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) pointed out that young males offend under the age of 25, but that the rate of offending tends to fall once people are over 25. The Bill might help them to get through that period. I was pleased with the hon. Gentleman's comments, and I thank him for them. He also pointed out that young drivers have skills, but generally choose not to use them. We must persuade them to use those skills, and I am grateful for the work done by the university of Southampton in that respect.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh described the Bill as being one measure in a series of steps, and my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) wenton to outline what those steps are. They include "Pass Plus", a driving test on theory and driving teaching in schools.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) pointed out that he is a non-driver and, were the Bill to come into law, he—a man of mature years—would be caught within its provisions if he were to apply for a licence. Despite that, he welcomed the Bill.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for his support, and I am also grateful that he pointed out that I am not a poodle of the Department of Transport. We both know that that is true. He mentioned that road deaths have reduced by 34 per cent. since 1987, despite more miles having been covered by drivers.

I was pleased that the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) spoke from the Opposition Front Bench. She will know that my constituency takes its name from the principal river—the Roche—so it was appropriate that she responded this morning. I thank her for her support.

She asked about HGVs and public service vehicles. Those are not included in the provisions of the Bill, principally because drivers of those vehicles must be 21 years of age at least before they can hold a licence. They must also hold a car licence before they can apply for those licences. It is thought, because of their age and the fact that they must have a car licence first, that they will be caught within the provisions of the Bill in those stages rather than later when they have a more advanced licence.

I thank the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) for his support. I know that he was busy this morning on road safety matters in the privacy of his office. I am grateful that he could break away to come here to support the Bill. He, too, pointed out that young people are more responsible with regard to drink-driving. Let us hope that the Bill will make them more responsible in other ways, too.

I am pleased to see you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thank you for the time that you have given me. I thank all hon. Members for the support that they have given the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

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