HL Deb 05 June 2003 vol 648 cc249-308GC

(Second Day)

The Committee met at a quarter before four of the clock.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Carter) in the Chair.]

Clause 77 [Professional staff on duty]:

Viscount Astor

moved Amendment No. 33: Page 32, line 32, at end insert ", and (d) a professional harbour master acting in accordance with his duties

The noble Viscount said: In moving Amendment No. 33, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 34. We touched on the issue briefly at Second Reading. Clause 77(1) states that the provision relates to a professional master of a ship, a pilot of a ship or a seaman while on duty.

If one compares that with those who are described for aviation functions in Clause 93(1) on page 40, one will see that there it is a much longer, more detailed list. Rightly, the Government believe that aviation needs to be more subscribed because it is more complicated. The list includes, for example, engineers, maintenance engineers and so on.

However, included in Clause 93 are air traffic controllers. At Second Reading, I suggested that harbour masters should be included, too. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that it was a different job. Anyone who has been into a modern control room of a large harbour will know that it resembles an air traffic controllers' office. It has a similar function and is equally as complicated and computerised.

If we are to have restrictions on alcohol for masters of a ship, their pilots and seamen, at least we should ensure that those who are responsible for making sure that ships are going in the right direction, entering and leaving harbour and parking in harbours, if "parking" is the right word—I am sure that my noble friend will correct me if I have used the wrong nautical term—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey


Viscount Astor

"Docking". Thank you. I had not realised that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was such an accomplished sailor or that he had expertise in sailing vocabulary.

Amendment No. 34 is a probing amendment. I want to know whether small passenger vessels carrying people for a fee—be it four, five or six people—around a harbour are covered by the Bill. If not, should they be covered? If they are, I am unhappy with the Bill as it stands. This is a probing amendment. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

We on this side of the Committee are happy with these two amendments. However, Amendment No. 34 would benefit from a little expansion. There are usually two watchkeepers on board a vessel; one is on the bridge and the other is in the engine room. It is important that the engineering watchkeeper should also be free of drink.

Lord Greenway

I can see where the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, is coming from in moving the amendment. He is right in saying that harbour masters, as part of their duties, control shipping within their harbours. As in the days of old, they do not necessarily spend their time going around the harbour in boats, when perhaps they could come under the auspices of the Bill.

We are in danger of widening the scope of the Bill. What would be the position, for instance, of the Marine and Coastguard Agency which monitors shipping going through the Dover Strait? Would it, by association, be brought in through Amendment No. 33? I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that.

As regards Amendment No. 34, I believe that the noble Viscount's concerns are misplaced. Those people would already be covered under the Bill because it would be a professional master in charge of a ship. "Ship", as we know from the definition in the Bill, covers almost anything down to a rowing boat. I believe that the amendment is unnecessary.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey:

I shall start with Amendment No. 33. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, compares what we are doing as regards shipping and as regards aviation functions. As he said, a long list of aviation functions is covered by the stricter alcohol limits, but only two are other than on the flight; that is, the air traffic controller and the licensed aircraft maintenance engineer. If we were to extend land-based professionals in the shipping area, we would be widening the scope of the Bill considerably.

If harbour masters are on board a vessel and exercising a navigational function, they are covered by the Bill. But if they are on shore, the analogy with air traffic controllers is not as strict as the noble Viscount suggests. Air traffic controllers have the sole responsibility for the movement of aircraft and aircraft have to obey their rules. Therefore they are in constant two-way contact with the aircraft. The navigators are responsible in the harbours. There is on many occasions, although not always, radio contact, but it is not the same control function that is exercised by an air traffic controller. They are not responsible for ma king split-second decisions, which is the definition required for the stricter alcohol requirements. However, we would expect harbour authorities to enforce company policy that is designed to combat alcohol and drug abuse among its workforce.

As regards Amendment No. 34, a person whose primary and main function is the command of a vessel carrying passengers for a fee is already covered, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, suggested, by Clause 77(1). It states that the offences created by this part apply to, a professional master of a ship … a professional pilot of a ship … a professional seaman on a ship while on duty".

That covers the point of the person on watch in the engine room.

In relation to this amendment and Amendments Nos. 41 and 49, the definition of a ship is contained in Clause 88(1)(a). The formulation is that a 'ship' includes every description of vessel used in navigation".

That clearly includes vessels carrying passengers for a fee. I suggest that the amendment is superfluous in that sense, as are Amendments Nos. 41 and 49, which also relate to the definition of a ship.

4 p.m.

Lord Berkeley

Does subsection (1)(a) include rowing boats and boats as small as that?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

There is still going to be consultation, as we know. We discussed on Second Reading that there would be consultation about the extreme limits of a vessel. There is an issue about jet-skis as well, for example. We do not want to put a final definition in the Bill while we are still consulting.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

The description "professional seaman" strikes me as slightly wrong. I had the honour of being a seaman with the Royal Navy's auxiliary service for a short while, and I noticed that "seaman" referred to those who worked on the deck and the bridge, but that "engineer" was the term used for those who worked, obviously, in the engine room. Should the provision read "professional crewman"? That might not upset half the crew by calling engineers "seamen".

Lord Greenway

It is almost not the done thing to refer to "seamen" any more. I think that "seafarers" is the generally accepted term, to bring in both sexes.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

In the interests of political correctness, if for no other reason, I had better look at the matter again.

Viscount Astor

I have something more to say on Amendment No. 41, but I will wait until we get to it. I am not entirely convinced with the Minister's explanation on Amendment No. 33. I am not an cexpert, so perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, could help me. The Minister referred to those responsible for navigation—for example, boats that cross the English Channel—which seem to me to be directed. They do not set their own course; they are directed to follow various routes and paths.

Lord Greenway

The noble Viscount is right on that, but they are directed more by the coastguards who monitor the Dover Strait. Ferries have to stick to an accepted route, whereby they cross the main shipping separation lanes at right angles, to minimise the crossing time.

Lord Berkeley

I am sorry, but I cannot let the matter go by. I know about directions in the Dover Strait, but there is a shipping channel in the middle of the English Channel, between Cherbourg, the Channel Islands and the UK. Last week, a ship that was alleged to be registered in Monrovia knocked down and cut a yacht in two. I happened to be around there at the same time, and the fog was very thick. That bloke must have been doing 20 knots in 50-metre visibility. Who was directing him? From whom does one seek redress if one happens to be cut in two?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Not a harbour master, and it is them that the amendment is about.

Viscount Astor

I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have spoken. I am not sure that I am much clearer and who is responsible for whom. I am certainly not trying to widen the scope of the Bill beyond a fairly narrow definition. That is the main point that I hope the Minister will take on board. I may be wrong, or may have to add something or make changes. However, my point is that, in the same way that there are air traffic controllers, those who are responsible for issuing instructions to ships in busy shipping lanes, whether they are entering or leaving a harbour, should be subject to the same restrictions on alcohol intake, because it is an extremely important and safety-related occupation.

I have probably not got the amendment right, and I will have to go away and consult. Perhaps I will talk to the Minister about it. However, that is my concern. I am not trying to widen the Bill: I merely think it quite important that we ensure that those who give instructions to ships come under some scrutiny. I am grateful for the Minister's help and, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 34 not moved.]

Lord Dixon-Smith

moved Amendment No. 35: Page 32, line 34, leave out "or drugs

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 35, I am also speaking to Amendments Nos. 38, 42, 47, 52 and 55. On the Floor of the House, these would be probing amendments because I am really seeking information. Part 4 of the Bill deals with shipping. Part 5 deals with aviation, and we are entirely familiar with that. These parts create offences of acting while under the impaired influence of drugs. I should like to ask the Minister whether he is satisfied that this Bill, as drafted, is enforceable in so far as drugs are concerned.

We know easily, simply, straightforwardly and well how to make a judgment in respect of alcohol. There is a well-established practice as regards drivers who have had an excess of alcohol. That makes it very simple to translate that regime into this field with appropriate embellishment. Drugs has been a more difficult area in the past, but none the less it is very important. The offences committed by someone under the influence of drugs can be just as serious as anything that anyone can do under the influence of alcohol. I should like to hear that these offences, if they are observed, can be properly enforced and properly penalised. I beg to move.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

This might be an appropriate moment for me to declare an unremunerated interested as President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. I shall speak about further road safety issues later today. I, too, support what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said on these amendments. I supported the Private Member's Bill which he introduced in your Lordships' House some months ago, the Prevention of Driving Under the Influence of Drugs Bill. I was convinced that as the incidence of drug-taking in society has increased, so the incidence of drugs being found in people who have been concerned in road accidents has been increased. It is necessary for us to know a great deal more about this problem. I hope that by these probing amendments we shall be able to move this matter forward today.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

We have already debated these matters at very considerable length at Second Reading of the Bill sponsored by my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith. I do not know that I have a great deal to add to that. I find the way in which these amendments are framed slightly odd. They would take out the issue of navigating or flying under the influence of drugs, whereas Amendment No. 62, which is being debated separately, deals with the more complicated issue of driving under the influence of drugs. I should have thought that if one was to take out drugs in these amendments, one would want to put something comparable in for shipping and aviation. But that opportunity has not been taken.

These amendments are copying the wording which is in current use for roads. I must say that I believe that is the right thing to do for the moment, but we are seeking to improve the situation for roads. The major problem is that there is no single test of prescribed limits for drugs because there is such a wide variety. Their effects and the time for which they are retained in the body varies very much. There would have to be a whole variety of prescribed limits.

Therefore, we have to rely on improved roadside tests of impairment and the comparable test would have to be done for shipping and aviation. All I can say is that we are working on that. We are looking to improve the number of police who are capable of conducting impairment tests. We are looking to improve the enforcement of impairment tests at the roadside. If and when we can do that then, of course, we would seek to apply that also, where appropriate, to aviation and shipping. But I am convinced that that is the way forward rather than taking out the drugs element of the offence as provided here for shipping and aviation.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I immediately plead guilty to the illogicality of arranging the amendments in such a way, but I did say that they were probing. There is a serious aspect to the matter. Although I entirely accept that what we are doing is forming the legislation so that it is consistent with extant road-traffic legislation, we are indulging ourselves in, if I may put it this way, cosmetic legislation—if the Minister's response is too depressingly true—and we are not yet in a position to enforce it. I do not accept that.

I accept that there are technical difficulties; I accept that we need high levels of training and may need some fairly sophisticated analytical equipment and experts to use it. However, that does not necessarily imply that we need very complex legislation to cover the offence. That is an entirely separate issue. We are now debating later amendments and not Amendment No. 35.

The group of amendments is tabled simply to elicit information. Sadly, I have not received the information that I particularly wanted. I had hoped that the Minister would say that it would be straightforward to enforce the drug offences. I never had any intention of not making the use of drugs an offence—I have every intention of leaving the Bill as it is—but I thought it legitimate to put the questions now in order to seek answers.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am very sorry that I do not seem to have communicated well. The noble Lord knows that we are making progress with road safety legislation. I understood him to be asking whether we would apply that progress to shipping and aviation. The answer is yes.

Lord Dixon-Smith

There is nothing between us and our purpose is the same. Our mental processes may be somewhat different but, at this stage, I am very happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith

moved Amendment No. 36: Page 33, line 7, leave out "fishing

The noble Lord said: This part of the Bill contains an oddity. We are dealing with shipping and we provide a defence for those who use drugs for medical reasons or under doctor's orders. Subsections (1) to (4) all deal with shipping in general. However, subsection (5), which deals with the defence, is apparently restricted to fishing vessels. I find that slightly difficult to understand. I thought, again, that we had better find out what was going on. I think that the word "fishing" might have slipped in by accident. If it has, it would be sensible to remove it. I do not think that there would be any difficulty with that because, if the offence is general, the defence should also be general. I beg to move.

Lord Clinton-Davis

The matter was originally dealt with in 1974, so I congratulate the Opposition on catching up with the times. The substance of the argument at that time, if I recall, was that fishing vessels and other vessels were dealt with in separate regimes. Is that still the case?

Viscount Astor

Amendment No. 37 is grouped with that of my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith arid not only takes out "fishing vessel" but inserts "ship", which comes to the same effect. That is intentional. I carefully studied the debate in another place. Perhaps it would be helpful if I quoted the Minister when a similar amendment was moved in Standing Committee. He stated: Commercial vessels with smaller crews are likely to be operated on shorter voyages. In those circumstances, crew members who are unwell but still working should be able to wait until going ashore before taking medication that they know will impair their performance. Not doing so would risk not only their health but the safety of the vessel".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee D, 27/2/03; co1.371.]

The point was that those in fishing boats would not be able to wait and therefore that should be a defence. Fishing boats sometimes have very small crews. We do not want at any time someone to be on a vessel, whether it be a fishing vessel or otherwise, in need of medication but not able to take it.

I am sure that this was done in the days when the fishing lobby was perhaps stronger than it is now. Sadly, the fishing fleet is now a lot smaller in this country. However, it seems to me that the same rules should apply across the board, whether for fishing vessels or small craft. Both types of vessel suffer the same issues and face the same problems, which are entirely different from those of larger vessels with a number of crew working on them.

I read carefully Hansard from another place and was unable to discern the argument put forward by the Government for why this provision should be specific to fishing vessels. I would have been much happier if the Government had said that it applied to a smaller vessel or to a vessel with a limited crew. If there is one rule for fishing, that rule should apply across the board to other smaller vessels with professional staff.

4.15 p.m.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

If my memory serves me correctly, the Minister gave the reason that it was traditional that those in charge of fishing vessels should be allowed to use the medicinal defence. However, I remain unconvinced about that. Subsection (5) seems to allow someone to be in charge of a fishing vessel while their performance is impaired because of drugs. It seems unusual that legislation should allow that to happen.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am being pulled in two opposite directions. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, do not want to take away the fishing vessel defence. They had better not or—

Lord Clinton-Davis

I did not come down one way or the other. I was merely seeking information.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful for that. There are those in the Committee who would want not to take away the fishing defence, which has been in existence for a very long time, but to extend that defence to all commercial vessels. We really do think that that is going too far. If there is any compromise that might be reached to talk about smaller commercial vessels on a short voyage where the arguments which are applicable to fishing vessels would apply, we could think about that and discuss it between now and Report. However, we would be reluctant to do what the amendments do; that is, to extend the fishing defence much more widely.

On the other hand, the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, wants to abolish the fishing exemption. I suggest that he keeps away from some of the ports in his home country if that becomes known.

Earl Russell

Am I right in supposing that there are certain circumstances in which medication may impair one's concentration but not taking medication might impair it even more? Let us suppose, for example, that the medication makes one drowsy and that not taking it puts one at risk of a heart attack. If that were the helmsman, I would rather he went on taking the medication.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am sure that that is right.

Viscount Astor

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, makes an extremely good point, and one which I was going to make. Very often in the summer I take a small water taxi on the west coast of Scotland from Crinan, and there is a crew of one. It is licensed to take 10 or 12 passengers. It is an extremely safe vessel, but I would be concerned if the captain of that assigned fine vessel was somehow unable to take any medicine if he needed to following the very clear logic of the noble Earl.

It seems to me that in those cases boats with a crew of one or two which are professionally licensed should have a similar defence, if that were necessary. I believe that the Minister offered to discuss that between now and Report to see whether there is a sensible solution. I am grateful for his offer. I leave it to my noble friend to deal with his amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Again, I was seeking to find out exactly what was intended. As I see it, fishing vessels are a very specific vessel whereas the problem can be a general one. The reality is that even on a large vessel with a crew of 20 or 30 which nowadays might be a super tanker with 200,000 tonnes of crude oil on board, although there is a multiple crew, there could be a flu outbreak on board. Half the crew or more could be acting under medical orders from the shore. That may or may not be reasonable. I agree that there are risks and one needs to be extremely careful. This is a transport safety matter.

However, I am glad we have had the debate. I believe we need to think about the wording a little more carefully. I am quite sure that "fishing" is too narrow. Whether we can arrive at a satisfactory wording, I do not know. The reality nowadays is that even ships in the middle of the Indian Ocean are capable of receiving medical advice. There might not be a doctor on board, but they all have satellite communication and so forth. They are not entirely adrift.

I hope that we will think about this more. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 37 not moved.]

Clause 77 agreed to.

Clause 78 [Professional staff off duty]:

[Amendment No. 38 not moved.]

Viscount Astor

moved Amendment No. 39: Page 33, line 30, at end insert— ( ) Nothing in this section shall relate to voluntary members of a lifeboat crew.

The noble Viscount said: Amendment No. 39 concerns the national lifeboat service. Clause 78 concerns professional staff and lays down sensible conditions. It also refers to medicinal matters. Some lifeboat crew are professional, some are volunteers. Perhaps I should have included in the amendment the coastguard, and here I have an interest to declare. I am a member of the auxiliary coastguard. When I get on my water taxi in the summer I go to an extremely nice Scottish island where I have a small cottage and spend the summer there. Some 26 years ago I became a member of the local coastguard. I know that it is 26 years ago because last year they awarded me a 25-year long-service medal.

It used to be that ships got into trouble and the coastguard and lifeboat turned out, but now it happens more with yachts. On Saturday evenings, just as the pubs are closing, people trying to get back to their yachts or into their dinghies fall off, or drop the oars. Someone comes rushing in and says "Call out the lifeboat or the auxiliary coastguard". The problem is that we are all in the pub too and in not much better a state; a marginally better state. We would not want to have to feel that we are unable to do our duty because we have either had medication or for some extraordinary reason that medication and perhaps two pints of beer had impaired our judgment or ability.

This is a probing amendment to ensure that in an emergency those who are voluntary members of various organisations will not be prevented from carrying out their role. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

I wonder whether the amendment will be necessary. The Bill will allow such people to have 80 millilitres, or whatever, of alcohol in their blood.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

It is 80 milligrams.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

Eighty milligrams. Members of lifeboat crews will not be required to live a totally abstinent life. They will be allowed to have their two pints of beer which I believe does come within the 80—I shall not mention again the units.

Lord Greenway

I declare an interest as a member of the committee of management of the RNLI. I should be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on this issue. The noble Viscount is quite correct. Now, roughly half of lifeboat crews are paid, but those who are unpaid are largely those who man what we call the inshore lifeboats, the fast response, semi-inflatable boats.

It is true that in the old days some of the lifeboat men could even be employed in the pub and when the maroon went up they dashed off regardless to save lives at sea. Things have changed a little since then, but I would be intrigued to hear the response of the Minister.

Viscount Simon

I have one comment to make on the introduction to the amendment by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. There is one point with which I disagree. He stated that alcohol taken with medication might disagree. However, one should not take alcohol with medication when it is stated that one should not do so.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I hoped that my noble friend Lord Fyfe would confirm my recollection of the films, "Whisky Galore" and "Local Hero", but he was not entirely willing to do so. The killer argument against the amendment is that the Royal National Lifeboat Institution supports the proposal within in the Bill.

Looking at this purely from a safety point of view, it would be slightly odd if people doing the same thing should have a different regime according to whether they were full time or volunteers. Certainly, they have the same regime if they are on shore because whether they are professional, paid lifeboat men or volunteer lifeboat men, they are subject to the normal drink/ driving rules when they are driving to the launch, jetty, or whatever it is.

Lord Greenway


Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The slipway of the lifeboat. Surely, if that applies on shore it should apply at sea, purely from the point of view of safety. Incidentally, I hope that the 25-year award to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, was for long service and good conduct, not just for long service.

Viscount Astor

Sadly, it was just for long service. I do not think there was any mention of good conduct.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who spoke in this short debate. As always, I shall study carefully what the Minister said. I am much reassured by the views of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. However, it was an interesting aspect to raise so that we all clearly understand what will be the new duties, which are significant. On the west coast of Scotland half the crews are voluntary. They are on standby and certainly this will be a matter of which they must be aware. When they are on standby and there is a limited number of them, some will have to behave in a rather more sober fashion than their compatriots who are not on standby. That will have to be disseminated throughout. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 78 agreed to.

4.30 p.m.

Clause 79 [Non-professionals]:

Viscount Astor

moved Amendment No. 40: Page 33, line 32, after "person" insert ", subject to their being in a position to pose a substantial safety risk,

The noble Viscount said: Again, this is a probing amendment. As regards regulations, we felt that the Secretary of State should be governed by certain criteria. Occasionally, we risk being over-prescriptive. The amendment introduces the words: pose a substantial safety risk".

That is by way of giving guidance to the Secretary of State as regards recreational craft. There are always examples, both for non-professionals and professionals, where behaviour is not as one hopes, whether in ships, cars or anything else. However, in general it seems to me that the marine fraternity are fairly well behaved and we should not be over-prescriptive.

There does not seem to be a huge problem or a substantial threat to safety. However, the amendment is an attempt to understand the way in which the Government are thinking when considering regulations. Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether draft regulations will be available during the passage of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Greenway

This has to do with what the Minister described at Second Reading as a proportionate approach reflecting on safety risks. As the Minister said, at present consultations are taking place with the boating authority. Can he give us any information as to how those consultations are proceeding? We shall have more to say on this matter in an amendment soon to be debated.

The whole nub of non-professionals is a difficult issue. Many people are involved. We are talking of millions of people who go to sea in leisure craft. This is a matter which should be carefully considered. I am sure that that will happen in the consultation process. However, I should like an opportunity to discuss such matters in detail when we have seen the draft regulations.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

I am concerned with the declaratory effect which would arise if through the Bill Parliament were saying that it is okay for people in private vessels to be over the limit. I believe that would be unhelpful. Therefore, I hope that considerable thought will be given to the idea of exempting.

Viscount Astor

My amendment says nothing of the kind.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

It could say something of the kind. It could be interpreted to override the limit of 80 milligrams per millilitre in cases where there is no substantial safety risk. I am grateful for the amendment and the attempt to guide the consultations which are taking place on which vessels or which people should be exempt in the regulations being produced under Clause 79(4).

However, as it stands, in addition to being slightly ambiguous about allowing people to exceed the limit, the amendment is difficult to interpret, to define and to legislate. The uncertainty would affect both those who are regulated and the police who would have the task of enforcing the provisions. In the absence of guidance from regulations, how are they to know what is a substantial safety risk?

Consultations on the regulations are proceeding. I cannot give an undertaking that they will be available before the passage of the Bill. However, I can give the assurance that they are proceeding well and that they will come to a positive conclusion. I suspect that the result will be a more precise definition, such as distinguishing between a rowing boat and a jet-ski rather than a phrase such as that in the amendment.

I recognise that the amendment is well-meaning and seeks to tease out what is happening as regards regulations. I am sorry that I cannot be any more precise than I have been.

Viscount Astor

I am grateful to the Minister. If I had a better memory, I would think back to debates on other Bills where the Government have argued that "substantial" is a perfectly reasonable word and that it is perfectly possible to define it in many circumstances. Luckily for the Minister and the rest of the Committee I am certainly unable to remember any of those circumstances today.

As I said, the amendment was largely an attempt to try to understand the Government's thinking, and certainly not to override. It is also to say to the Government that when they come forward I hope that the approach will be proportional and not too prescriptive. If it is, clearly, it will not work. I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Astor

moved Amendment No. 41: Page 33, line 36, at end insert— (1A) For the purposes of subsection (1) a ship includes a vessel used in a private capacity for sport or leisure purposes.

The noble Viscount said: This is what we might call the jet-ski amendment. The Minister was helpful in an earlier amendment and said that we really do not need this amendment because of Clause 88(1)(a). It is generous and kind of the Minister to point me in the right direction. For the benefit of noble Lords, that clause states: (1) In this Part— (a) "ship" includes every description of vessel used in navigation".

The question is whether a jet-ski, or something like it, fits that description. If one reads subsection (1), one thinks it might be more helpful. It states: a reference to the navigation of a vessel includes a reference to the control or direction, or participation in the control or direction, of the course of a vessel".

I do not know about the rest of the Committee, but to those of us who occasionally watch people on jet-skis it seems that they have no control of the course or the direction. They seem to roar around in an entirely random fashion. The only direction they seem to have is to get as close as they can in order to disturb one as much as possible.

I hope that people control jet-skis. I am sure that most do but some do not. The amendment seeks to determine the Government's thinking. For example, will something with an engine be defined by the Bill? It would be helpful to know that. Would that include something with an outboard or an inboard? It would be helpful to know the kind of definition involved. I do not ask the Minister to draft regulations in his head today. However, perhaps he could give some help on how this will be considered in future. I beg to move.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I express the hope—a hope against hope—that the Opposition will refrain from tabling amendments simply for the sake of it. Clause 88 includes everything the Opposition want included. For that reason I believe that they should exercise a small degree of reticence. I cannot see any point in the amendment they have tabled; I wish I could. Nothing that has been said in its favour has advanced the view that there is a point.

It is not the job of this Committee, whether we meet here or in the Chamber, to debate pointless amendments. I express that view because it governs a whole lot of other points.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

We have a duty to examine exactly what it is that the Government may choose to exempt from the alcohol limits. It strikes me that the amendment tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, helps us to have a debate and determine exactly what type of mariner the Government might, by regulation, wish to exempt.

Lord Clinton-Davis

It is perfectly possible to look at the clause as a whole and have a debate about that. But the noble Lord has omitted to do that.

Lord Greenway

The amendment tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, is unnecessary here because jet-skis is one of the areas which is under specific watch as regards this Bill. It is one of the areas that concerns all users of the sea. There is absolutely no way that jet-skis or personalised water craft, which I believe is the correct description, would in any way be omitted from this Bill.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I must distance myself from my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis. Much as I have been tempted on the Communications Bill to wish that amendments had not been tabled, and despite the fact that I hope that in response to an early amendment I have drawn attention to the definition of a ship in Clause 88 which clearly includes the subcategory included in the amendment, nevertheless, I am grateful for the amendment. It enables me to say particularly about jet-skis that it is our intention that they will be brought within the Merchant Shipping Act definition by means of an order to be made under Clause 109 in Part 6 of the Bill.

Lord Clinton-Davis

If my noble friend had encouraged the debate about Clause 79, very well and good. But to have amendments simply for the sake of putting forward the point of view that he has expressed seems to be irrelevant.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The Government cannot take that view about any amendment—not publicly. It has enabled me to say where and in what way jet-skis will be brought within the Merchant Shipping Act definition. I cannot say what the definition will be but I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, will be reassured to know that it is in hand.

Lord Dixon-Smith

The Minister has been very helpful. Strap-on power packs are available now which can be hitched on to one's back or stomach, or one can even be pulled by them. In thinking about these definitions, I wonder whether the Minister might also take those into account because they, too, can be very dangerous.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

That sounds scary, although it sounds as though it would be more dangerous for the person doing it than to anyone else.

Lord Dixon-Smith

If they go out of control, it is a danger to everyone else.

4.45 p.m.

Viscount Astor

I am grateful for the Minister's response. I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that I am slightly surprised by his tone and attitude. I could certainly have opposed clause stand part; instead, I chose to table a probing amendment. That is perfectly reasonable. One reason why I feel especially aggrieved with the noble Lord is that I remember when he was in opposition having to reply to hundreds of amendments that he had tabled to a Bill, to which he spoke at inordinate length. The proceedings were tiresome; but I did not complain.

Lord Clinton-Davis


Viscount Astor

I shall let the noble Lord intervene in a moment. I have kept my speeches comparatively short. We will get through the Committee much more quickly if we all stick to that rule. I hope that the noble Lord does not feel that trying to insult the Opposition will improve the Committee's proceedings.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I may have spoken at inordinate length in opposition, but I always understood what it was all about. That is what this Opposition have proved incapable of doing.

Viscount Astor

The noble Lord may have understood it, but I must say that many of us did not at the time. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Astor

moved Amendment No. 43: Page 33, line 43, at end insert "after consultation with relevant trade associations and recreational boat user groups

The noble Viscount said: I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, will dislike this amendment almost as much as the previous one.

However, I shall not be deterred, because it is our job to probe the Government. I shall make an even shorter speech than last time, because this is a probing amendment to ensure that the Government will consult various organisations. I am sure that the Government will, but it would be helpful if they would say who they are and how the process is going. That is the purpose of the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I can certainly give a positive response to the amendments. We are already holding preliminary discussions with the British Marine Federation and the Royal Yachting Association on the nature and extent of the proposed regulations on the recreational mariner exception. When those preliminary discussions are complete, we shall have more formal consultation. Clearly, anyone who desires to be consulted or whom we can identify as having a relevant interest will be consulted.

On consultation with Parliament, the regulations on the exception will be made using the affirmative resolution procedure; therefore, Parliament will have its say.

Lord Berkeley

Is there a royal jet-ski association? If so, do the Government plan to consult it?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I have no idea. Does my noble friend wish me to write to him about that?

Lord Berkeley


Viscount Astor

I am grateful for the Minister's reply, which is enormously helpful. In the process, he has enabled the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, to put his name forward to be the patron of yet another organisation, whose interests I am sure he will serve with great skill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 44 and 45 not moved.]

Clause 79 agreed to.

Clauses 80 to 82 agreed to.

Clause 83 [Detention pending arrival of police]:

[Amendment No. 46 not moved.]

Clause 83 agreed to.

Clause 84 [Arrest without warrant]:

[Amendment No. 47 not moved.]

Viscount Astor

moved Amendment No. 48: Page 37, line 14, leave out paragraph (b).

The noble Viscount said: This short amendment concerns a simple subsection about in-patients and other medical matters. Clause 84(3)(b) states: is not on a ship".

Is the Minister aware of my noble friend Lord McColl's fine institution, called Mercy Ships, which runs hospitals on ships? The provision appears to exclude the charity Mercy Ships and other charities that operate hospitals on ships. The Government should consider that, because this clause concerns arrest without a warrant; there are hospitals on ships; should not paragraph (b) affect them? I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

No, I was not aware of the organisation of the noble Lord, Lord McColl. Perhaps either the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, or I could have a word with him about it. The noble Viscount says that the provision is simple; it is not at all.

Clause 84 gives a police officer the right to arrest a person whom he suspects is committing or has committed an offence under this part, but subsection (2) states that he will not have the right to arrest a person who is in hospital as a patient. Such a person should be protected from the requirement to provide any specimen, if the doctor in charge of his case considers that that would be prejudicial to the proper care and treatment of the patient. If the doctor in charge does not object, specimens of blood or urine may be taken for analysis in the laboratory. That is the same provision as in road traffic legislation, in Section 9 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

The amendment would extend that protection to ships' hospitals. We are far from clear that the analogy holds between a hospital on land and a ship's hospital, which may be a sick bay, an undesignated place or somewhere where someone is receiving medical instruction over the Internet or the airwaves. In any case, it is difficult to establish whether, in the close knit community of a ship, a ship's doctor is sufficiently independent or detached from the suspect.

A hospital comparable with a land hospital will occur only on a large cruise ship or perhaps some military vessels. For the purposes of the Road Traffic Act 1988, a hospital means an institution, providing medical or surgical treatment for in-patients or out-patients"—

the phrase used in Clause 84(3)(a).

The situation is difficult; removing the paragraph would make it even more difficult. Given the problems of definition, it would not be desirable to give up the ghost, as the amendment would in effect do.

Viscount Astor

I am grateful for the Minister's reply. Perhaps I should write to him with the details of charity hospital ships so that we can decide whether anything needs to be done. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 84 agreed to.

Clause 85 [Right of entry]:

[Amendments Nos. 49 and 50 not moved.]

Clauses 85 and 86 agreed to.

Clause 87 [Orders and regulations]:

[Amendment No. 51 not moved.]

Clause 87 agreed to.

Clauses 88 to 90 agreed to.

Clause 91 [Being unfit for duty]:

[Amendment No. 52 not moved.]

Clause 91 agreed to.

Clause 92 agreed to.

Clause 93 [Aviation functions]:

Viscount Astor

moved Amendment No. 53: Page 40, line 41, leave out "or undertaking" and insert "contract or other obligation

The noble Viscount said: This amendment is grouped with a cluster of other amendments, but I shall move mine briefly. I have a simple question. The Bill uses the words, the terms of an employment or undertaking".

What would that include? Is the drafting sufficiently wide to include contract or other obligations? Is my amendment necessary? If the Minister can tell me that that is included, I shall of course be happy to withdraw the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Berkeley

I shall speak to Amendment No. 54, which is grouped. It would close an anomaly in the current proposals to extend alcohol testing to cover aviation. As Members of the Committee will know, the aim of the Bill is to establish consistency between modes. To achieve that, it has been framed to reflect the drinking and driving provision set out in the Road Traffic Act 1988, where a police officer may require a driver to take a breath test if a moving traffic offence has been committed if there is reasonable cause to suspect that a driver has been drinking or if an accident has taken place.

For the record, more than 200,000 drivers or riders involved in injury road crashes were tested in 2001. So the police have extensive experience in post-incident breath testing. The Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety shares my view that much of our success in reducing drink-drive fatalities is due to the rigour of police enforcement.

As drafted, Clause 82 extends the Road Traffic Act 1988 in its entirety to cover shipping, giving the police the power to breath-test in the aftermath of an accident at sea or in a public place. The comparable clause governing aviation, Clause 95, omits that power, granting the police the power to breathalyse only when an offence has been committed, or if there is reasonable cause to suspect the presence of alcohol.

I fail to understand why the power to breathalyse after an aviation accident has not been included. We hope that such accidents will not happen as often, but the power still needs to be available. Aviation does not concern only large planes but small planes. If the aim is to establish consistency between modes, I see no reason to omit the third occasion on which breath-testing can take place, with a comparable approach to enforcement of the law.

It is worth putting on record that extending that power to aviation should not be interpreted as meaning that there is a major problem of alcohol consumption among pilots. The Air Accident Investigation Branch does an excellent job and has been the model for the rail accident investigation branch, which we discussed during our first day in Committee. That is useful, but it is odd that investigators do not have the power to refer a breath test and are unlikely to attend before the immediate effects of alcohol have worn off. Such a power can be discharged only by a police officer.

So I strongly commend the amendment, in line with the policy of establishing a consistent approach between traffic modes and I hope that my noble friend will accept it on the Government's behalf.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 55A and 55B.

On Amendment No. 55A, the presence of uniformed police officers on commercial aircraft could cause undue concern and anxiety to passengers. I therefore propose that the airline or its agents should be made responsible for escorting the individual concerned—whether a member of the flight or cabin crew—to a room where the uniformed officers are waiting. Under existing provision, the police would still ultimately have the right to enter the aircraft, if that were required.

On Amendment No. 55B, I shall listen with interest to what the Minister has to say, but the Government should be rather more proactive on the matter. I refer of course to drugs and alcohol. The Bill should include a requirement to introduce standardised peer intervention programmes within commercial air transportation in the U K; and the CAA should act as the responsible oversight body.

If we consider aviation in the United States, such programmes have already achieved a proven record. What has been done has been achieved under the title of the US Human Intervention and Motivation System. There is a great deal to commend that system to us.

Of course, such schemes will be introduced effectively only if they are required. Without that, the lesser parts of the aviation industry will regard them as a provision that can be overlooked. The standard and content of such provision should not vary significantly. The Bill should be viewed as an opportunity for positive preventive action that will help to reduce the risk of breaches of the prescribed limit in the first place. That would be regarded as a positive step for the travelling public and those suffering from drug and alcohol problems.

Perhaps I should have said at the outset that in this instance I speak as the president of the British Airline Pilots Association.

5 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful for the manner in which all the amendments have been spoken to; I hope that I can set the Committee's mind at rest.

First, on Amendment No. 53, Clause 93(5) extends the offence that would be committed by personnel carrying out aviation functions while under the influence of alcohol or drugs to those holding themselves to be ready to carry out those functions at short notice. Subsection (5) states: A person who in accordance with the terms of an employment or undertaking holds himself ready … shall be treated as carrying out an activity ancillary to the function".

I am advised that, legally, there is no difference between "terms of an employment" and "terms of an employment contract". On the other hand, replacing "or undertaking" with "or other obligation" has dangers.

First, an undertaking is important. A recreational aviator may have given an undertaking to abide by the rules of a flying club. Those rules could provide that the pilot's use of an aircraft on a particular day were subject to the determination of the club on that day; timings may be variable. In such circumstances, the pilot should not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs at any time when he or she is prepared to fly.

It could also be construed that "other obligation" is limited only to obligations relating to employment, which is not what we—nor, I think, the noble Viscount, Lord Astor—intend.

Amendment No. 54 concerns the police power to test suspected offenders provided that they have reasonable cause to do so. An accident may well be a factor taken into account when the officer considers whether he has such cause. The Government consider that to strike the right balance.

The amendment would allow the police to carry out post-accident testing of aviation personnel. There would be problems with applying the amendment. For example, if a licensed maintenance engineer were over the limit when an aircraft was released to service, that could be days or weeks before any accident. There could be the same problem with air traffic controllers. The amendment refers to, accidents where the aircraft is in a public place".

That would exclude a significant number of potential aviation accident sites, including runways.

Aircraft are sometimes involved in minor incidents or accidents caused by the actions of third parties—for example, a ground worker may drive a vehicle into an aircraft. Post-accident testing in such circumstances would cause unnecessary delay while the aircraft's crew were tested, even though the police did not have reasonable suspicion that an offence had been committed. So the amendment is defective in a number of ways.

On Amendment No. 55A, the process of carrying out a test is a procedural matter for the police. We are seeking to agree an appropriate testing protocol with police representatives, so that passengers should not be overly alarmed. In practice, suspected offenders will almost certainly be asked to leave the aircraft for the purpose of conducting a screening test. That ought not to cause alarm among the passengers.

If that request is refused, a uniformed police officer may have to enter the aircraft to remove the suspect. Good practice suggests that anyone seeking to gain entry to aircraft, especially the cockpit, should be readily identifiable as having the authority to do so. That is why we require the police to be in uniform. There is no need to place a separate requirement on operators to escort crew members from the aircraft; the police already have sufficient powers.

Amendment No. 55B concerns peer intervention programmes. I am glad that it has been introduced as an addition rather than an alternative to statutory provision. The Civil Aviation Authority does not have power to approve or oversee a peer intervention programme introduced by an overseas registered operator—which, I think, is the kind of operator with which my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis is concerned. So the new requirement and the inherent costs would fall only on UK-registered carriers.

The CAA already operates its own successful support programme. Peer intervention would be unlikely to address or identify one-off "binge" drinking, for example. The current Bill provides a framework of criminal sanctions on which individual companies can develop their own alcohol or peer intervention programmes. If it is felt that the UK needs to introduce a national peer programme, that should be industry-led, developed with the support of both employers and unions. I suggest that that is a better approach than the statutory framework suggested by the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis.

Lord Berkeley

I am grateful for my noble friend's comments on Amendment No. 54. Obviously, I accept that there are defects in its drafting, but I am slightly surprised that he was not more positive about the principle.

Constables will have the power to breath-test after an accident at sea. That accident may be in a harbour, which is a private place under some definitions. Yes, Heathrow Airport runway is also a private place, as is the local flying club runway, and so on. But if a driver on a public road runs into someone or causes an accident, the police have powers to breathalyse him. The public may well be involved in marine accidents. The Government seem to accept that, but not for air accidents.

I wonder whether my noble friend would accept that there may be further work to be done on consistency across modes. I invite him to draft an amendment to table on Report.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

We must consider the drafting of Clause 95, which states: In place of subsection (3), a person may be required to provide a specimen either … at or near the place where the requirement is made, or … at a police station specified by the constable".

That provision is the same as that on land under road traffic legislation. That seems right. There is no significant restriction on the power of constables to require preliminary breath tests. If the requirement is made in the place identified by my noble friend Lord Berkeley, it is covered by the Bill. However, if he wants to talk to me before Report to give me specific examples of something that he thinks is not covered by the Bill, my door is always open.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I refer again to my amendments. My noble friend has been helpful in his reply. But on Amendment No. 55A, would it not be an advantage if both approaches could be considered? On Amendment No. 55B, although the Minister has been enormously helpful, would it not be advantageous if consultation with the industry, trade unions and any other interested party took place, either during the Bill's passage or afterwards? What is important—there is no difference between the Minister and me on this—is that the provisions should work favourably and positively. All those whom I have mentioned have a real interest in achieving that.

I hope that the Minister can say that at some stage there will be appropriate consultation, which should take place now or in the near future.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I can do better than that. I assure my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis that consultation is already taking place on the matter with the Civil Aviation Authority and air transport operators.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My union, BALPA, the Transport and General Workers' Union and others have a similar interest.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

We shall certainly include the unions.

Viscount Astor

M y small, modest amendment led this group; I am entirely happy with the Minister's reply and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 93 agreed to.

Clause 94 agreed to.

Clause 95 [Specimens, &c.]:

[Amendment No. 54 not moved.]

Clause 95 agreed to.

Clause 96 [Arrest without warrant]:

[Amendment No. 55 not moved.]

Clause 96 agreed to.

Clause 97 [Right of entry]:

[Amendment No. 55A not moved.]

Clause 97 agreed to.

Clauses 98 to 101 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 55B not moved.]

Clause 102 agreed to.

Schedule 6 agreed to.

Clause 103 agreed to.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Berkeley

moved Amendment No. 56: After Clause 103, insert the following new clause—

"ASSESSMENT OF ECONOMIC EFFECT OF PERSONAL INJURIES (1) Section 117 of the Railways Act 1993 (c. 43) (safety of railways and other guided transport systems) is amended as follows. (2) After subsection (2) there is inserted— (2A) If to any extent they would not do so apart from this subsection, the general purposes of Part 1 of the 1974 Act shall be interpreted by taking into account the overall economic effect of personal injuries on the public (whether passengers or not) arising from the use of alternative modes of transport."

The noble Lord said: We now move to Part 6, entitled "Miscellaneous". I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group.

Amendments Nos. 56 and 67, which are grouped, are two of a number of amendments which I have tabled which are designed to subject safety to some interesting discussion, but, more importantly, to a consistent and more rigorous analysis. Much of the work that is done on transport safety—railway safety in particular—is based on recommendations that are either political or are based sometimes on "seat of the pants" opinion.

Amendment No. 56 would require the Health and Safety Executive to take into account the overall effect on the public when personal injury is incurred by travellers and the public are forced to use alternative modes of transport. Members of the Committee will be able to recount their own examples of such incidents. The most recent one was probably the closure of the Central Line for more than two months when a motor fell off a train. We can debate the reasons arid the consequences of that but the fact remains that the public were subjected to serious inconvenience. It is probably not possible to identify the number of people who used road transport as an alternative in that situation and who were killed or injured on the road, or who had heart attacks due to walking too far or whatever, but it must be possible to make an assessment. Similarly, during the recent spate of firemen's strikes passenger lifts were closed at certain stations for safety reasons and passengers using those stations had to walk up and down the stairs. That caused great inconvenience to people.

I believe that the staff of the Health and Safety Executive will say that this matter has nothing to do with them and that they just set the rules and issue guidelines. HSE inspectors occasionally offer encouragement to people as regards the matter that I am discussing but I suggest that they often put the fear of prosecution into people in a very forceful way, as we discussed on the first day of our Grand Committee proceedings. That causes operators to play safe to cover themselves even if the end result of that is to force people on to less safe modes of transport. It would be useful to place a duty on the Health and Safety Executive in this regard which would eventually filter down through its guidance and through the companies that it supervises. That would, I hope, have the consequence of making all forms of transport safer.

Amendment No. 67 addresses the cost of preventing fatalities. I refer to the document, Managing the accidental obstruction of the railway by road vehicles, published in February 2003, which I believe that I mentioned on the previous occasion. I believe that that is the first example of the Department for Transport placing the same value on preventable fatalities on railways as on roads. That is a significant step forward.

Some interesting assessments have been produced of the costs associated with preventing a road fatality. It is estimated to be about £1.2 million. That seems a reasonable figure. The railway figure is set in the Railway Group Safety Plan at £1.30 million per equivalent fatality avoided. But then there is the sting in the tail. The figure is £3.64 million for the prevention of multiple fatalities or where the risk is close to intolerable.

Several years ago I asked a Minister—I think that it was in another place—why the value per unit of a person killed or injured was higher if many of them were killed at the same time. The Minister said that Ministers did not like the publicity attached to a large accident. I shall not say which government were in power at the time as that has been the situation for years, but not liking bad publicity is about the worst possible reason that one could give for attaching a higher value to a fatality. However, in recent years Ministers have taken a much more robust approach, which is excellent. But the fact remains that that figure still exists. When you look at the Uff and Cullen requirements for the train protection warning system, which I believe had a preventable fatality figure of about £10 million, and the European rail traffic management system, which many people still discuss, is alleged to have a preventable fatality figure of £45 million and rising. So, what is the point of having it at all unless we have an infinite sum of money available.

The position has to some extent been exacerbated by Professor Uff who, at a conference in March, said that what we must at all costs avoid is another major catastrophe. Is he talking about a rail crash, a road crash or an airline crash? Some 100 plus people could be killed in an accident on any of those modes of transport. That, I am afraid, is a case of power without responsibility as Professor Uff does not have the chequebook that gives money to the railways. It is important for Ministers—and would be helpful to them—to attribute the same preventable fatality figure to all modes of transport. Then they could say that they would not follow a certain course of action as the money would be much better spent elsewhere. I seek a regularly updated report on the matter from the Government that could be used by the railway industry and others as the basis for assessing standards, priorities and other such matters. I believe that that would result in a safer and certainly more cost-effective railway. I believe that that is what we all want. I beg to move.

Lord Bradshaw

Before the Minister replies I should like to support the sentiments, if not necessarily the words, expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. The placing of a more consistent value on preventing fatalities and injuries across all modes of transport would be advantageous. However, I do not believe that we should impose a duty on the Health and Safety Executive in that regard. I know from my experience in local government that in assessing road schemes a value is placed on the number of lives saved and the number of injuries incurred. I have seen maps with these things plotted on them and I have seen these values calculated. A hierarchy is used to determine the way the limited resources are spent to promote the cause of road safety.

It would be very easy to devise a system which applied widely to other modes of transport and, if necessary, to add premiums for railway or aircraft accidents. I make a plea to the Minister—if not directly supporting the amendments that we are discussing—to adopt a more rational system of accident avoidance and that we spend the money that is available in an objective fashion. I am afraid that money is often wasted on certain headline schemes when many more lives could often be saved by concentrating on more mundane schemes that would probably also be better value for money.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

I, too, wish to support the sentiments that lie behind the amendments that we are discussing. It strikes me as absurd if huge sums of money are spent by the railways—on the insistence of the various enforcement agencies—which they cannot afford if that has the effect of forcing up fares which in turn drives people off the railways and on to the roads where the risk of accident is that much higher. I hope very much that that matter will be borne in mind when considering the assessment to which my noble friend Lord Berkeley and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, referred. The safety statistics with regard to road and rail travel are overwhelmingly in rail's favour. For that to be lost due to people being driven off the railways and on to the roads as they cannot afford rail fares would be perverse in the extreme.

Lord Dixon-Smith

In principle, I accept the matter of relative valuation. Heaven forbid that any Member of the Committee should have a relative die in a road, rail or aviation accident. The cost to the individual is the same. It is a personal tragedy on a huge scale and has an immeasurable economic effect. That would, of course, vary slightly from family to family but in principle it is the same. To have what I call a class distinction between the road regime, the railway regime and the aviation regime seems to me patent nonsense. If we can introduce a more rational framework in that regard, it would be absolutely right to do so if only because—I refer to some of the more extreme, expensive regimes that have been discussed—spending that money could save far more lives. That surely would be worthwhile.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Needless to say the impulse behind the amendments is very much welcomed by the Government. If I spend a little longer than I sometimes do in setting out what we are doing, that may be helpful. However, I say immediately that Amendment No. 56 would involve a significant change to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, and an amendment to this Bill is not the place to do that. We would never get it through the ministerial and departmental procedures. It would need a lot of extra consultation and further thought.

But we want the fullest consideration of all relevant aspects when safety decisions are being contemplated. There is evidence that rail safety authorities are starting to look at the wider impact of decisions they take. For example, in its advice to the Secretary of State on the European rail traffic management system, the Health and Safety Executive took into account the effect of modal shift as part of its analysis. So I think that we are moving very much in that direction. Rather than putting a measure such as the one that we are discussing on the face of the Bill we should recognise that part of the role of the rail safety and standards board, which came into being only last month, is to review railway operating standards and the process by which they are developed. I would encourage the rail industry, which comprises the members of the RSSB, to play a full part in this work to ensure that it takes into account everything which it considers relevant. That ought to include modal shift.

I turn to Amendment No. 67. It is true that in the past there has been a different assessment of the value of a fatality in a road accident as opposed to a rail accident. It is also true that public perception is very much as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, described it. If you have lost a loved one, it does not matter whether that occurred in a road, rail or aviation accident. That is the direction in which the Government are moving.

For many years we have published an annual report which sets out the value of preventing a highway fatality. That has to be taken into account by the Highways Agency and local transport authorities when they are considering road safety improvements. The current value is £1.2 million at 2001 prices per fatality saved on the roads. We think that there should be the same standards for rail safety as for road safety. That is the principle that we adopt. The rail industry itself has set a higher figure but, clearly, it is up to that industry to review the figure that it uses.

There is not the same agreement with regard to aviation and shipping. Aviation is the responsibility of the Civil Aviation Authority and shipping is the responsibility of the International Maritime Organisation. They are responsible for any appraisal value for safety set by individual countries.

With the assurance that we are moving very much in the direction of the thinking behind these amendments, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, will be reassured by my comments.

Lord Berkeley

I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for that very full response. He must have realised that I had no intention of pressing the amendments. The statements that my noble friend made are desperately important for the industry at this time. I shall study them with great interest. As I say, I am grateful to my noble friend for his comments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Berkeley

moved Amendment No. 57: After Clause 103, insert the following new clause—

"HSE: RESPONSIBILITY FOR ROADS In section 117(6)(b) of the Railways Act 1993, for "guided" there is substituted "land surface".

The noble Lord said: This amendment possibly could have been grouped with the previous amendment. However, it was not. It again concerns the Health and Safety Executive. It is very unclear to me what responsibilities the Health and Safety Executive has for different types of transport. I am tempted to discuss guided buses but I shall leave that for Report stage or perhaps discussions with my noble friend the Minister before that stage.

It is clear from what my noble friend has said that he favours compatibility of responsibility between modes of transport. I believe that on the roads during the year eight people have been killed while undertaking maintenance whereas five have been killed while undertaking railway maintenance. In operations—if I can call it that—on the roads about 3,500 people are sadly killed every year as opposed to an average of about 10 on the railways if one excludes suicides, which we can debate.

My view is that the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act requires the executive to have a duty to protect people. I refer to some Written Answers going back over the past year or two. I asked about a report which was published a year or two ago which stated that 40 per cent of London bus journeys involved serious driving faults and 3.2 per cent involved dangerous driving faults. The response from my noble friend Lady Hollis of Heigham was: HSC is not responsible for monitoring the performance of bus drivers, and will not be taking any action on this particular issue. It has no duty to investigate incidents of unsafe driving in passenger service vehicles and buses".—[Official Report, 15/10/02; col. WA45.]

I suggest that either it should be responsible for that or that it should at least make sure that others are.

However, great interest is taken in the matter of signals being ignored on the railway. In April a very comprehensive report was published on an incident that occurred in Southampton. The first half of the report expressed surprise that TPWS had worked, which I thought was rather odd but there we are. It appears that the driver concerned had not followed the correct procedures and had carried on very slowly into Southampton station where, horror of horrors, there was a train at the relevant platform. The train coming into the station did not hit the other train as the driver stopped. That was a serious incident but if the Health and Safety Executive examined every incident in which one car nearly hit another, it would be rather overworked.

I wondered whether the Health and Safety Executive was responsible for setting standards of safe driving for passenger service vehicles, buses and trains. But the answer is that it is not because other bodies do that. The Health and Safety Executive does not appear to consider it necessary to supervise that matter.

The Health and Safety Executive has certain responsibilities and duties under the Act to which I referred. It is quite clear from what has been said by Ministers and the HSE that people are at work when they are driving down the motorway, or at least there are enough people defined as being at work with a responsibility to be there. I believe that there should be more clarity in that regard. I refer again to the document, Managing the accidental obstruction of the railway by road vehicles. It is a wonderful book. It states on page 12: There are differing views on whether highway authorities have a similar legal duty"—

under the Health and Safety at Work Act. The document continues: Highway law has its roots in common law and authorities generally have powers rather than duties".

In other words, the authors of the document do not appear to know whether the Health and Safety at Work Act applies to roads. That is very honest but I suggest gently that it would not be a bad idea if that matter was clarified at some stage.

I turn to Amendment No. 68. My noble friend the Minister has kindly covered this matter. The European technical standards for interoperability on the railways will be introduced. I think that we all welcome them. However, I have heard Ministers comment that if the technical standards for interoperability are more stringent than the UK standards we shall not be able to afford them, but that if they are less stringent we shall not be able to accept them as they will be less safe than our standards. Ignoring any rather arrogant approach that we are always better than the rest of Europe, which I am sure was not meant by that comment, there is a serious risk that HSE and others in the industry might try to second-guess everything that the rest of Europe does. That would give us the worst of both worlds as we would have to comply with two sets of standards and no money with which to do it.

I seek some warm words of comfort from my noble friend before I withdraw the amendment. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My noble friend Lord Berkeley is a rational man and a purist. He seems to think that if you have a regime which works in one area it can be made to work in another area. I do not know whether I am rational but at least I am pragmatic. My noble friend seeks to make the Health and Safety Executive responsible for roads in the way that it is responsible for rail. Where does the expertise lie? Does it lie with the Health and Safety Executive or with those who are responsible for safety on roads at the moment? Our strategy on road safety, Tomorrow's roads— safer for everyone, sets out the areas where the Government are targeting their activities. It recognises that good road engineering reduces the risk of accidents. Better maintenance, well planned small-scale improvements at accident blackspots and longer-term and more co-ordinated planning and improvement of roads will all help to ensure that road infrastructure is as safe as possible.

But the officials with the expertise in these matters are not in the Health and Safety Executive. They are working for highway authorities, engineering consultants or the Government as the inspectors at the public inquiries into major road improvement schemes.

The Department for Transport works with vehicle manufacturers and dealers to improve further vehicle safety by encouraging the design improvements that help prevent accidents happening in the first place and to reduce the consequences if they do. Again, the expertise in this subject does not lie in the HSE.

My noble friend Lord Berkeley is right to say that some people using the roads are at work but that is a very limited and, as I say, purist interpretation of the responsibilities. I prefer those responsibilities to lie with those who are capable of exercising them. The coda to Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle states that everything shall be with those who are good for it. I shall give the rest some other time.

Amendment No. 68 concerns a complicated area of European law. Technical specification for interoperability—TSIs—apply to individual subsystems only. Thus, compliance with the TSI can only guarantee the safety of each individual subsystem and not the safety of the railway as a whole.

Health and safety dutyholders remain legally responsible for ensuring the safety of the whole railway, including the management of interfaces between the individual subsystems and the safe operation of trains.

If my noble friend Lord Berkeley is asking—as I think he is—whether there is any gap in responsibility, my understanding is that there is not.

Lord Berkeley

I am very grateful to my noble friend for those comments. I was more grateful for the answer on the second amendment than for that on the first. Bearing in mind the Government's recent announcement, or, perhaps, leak to the press, about corporate manslaughter, I have to compare the effort on the part of the authorities—I do not want to specify which authorities—in pursuing railway staff for corporate manslaughter—I do not wish to express any judgment on whether that is done rightly or wrongly—with the lack of activity on the case where a car went over a bridge which happened to have been demolished 25 years ago and landed on a rail track. Sadly, the occupant was killed by a train.

It could be inferred that the relevant highway authority had a responsibility to put a barrier in front of that non-existent bridge or at least a sign. I am told that there was a sign but unfortunately it had gone rusty and one could not read it. When I tabled a Question asking whether proceedings would be taken in respect of corporate manslaughter, the answer was no. I am not sure that the same rules are being applied in every case. I hope that if and when the Government bring forth ideas on corporate manslaughter, there will be no question of Crown immunity. That would simply compound what is already a big inequality in that regard. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 104 [Railways safety levy]:

[Amendment No. 58 not moved.]

Clause 104 agreed to.

Clauses 105 and 106 agreed to.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

moved Amendment No. 59: After Clause 106, insert the following new clause—


  1. (1) The Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) shall be amended as follows.
  2. (2) In section 8(2) leave out "50" and insert "35".
  3. (3) In section 11(2) in the definition of "the prescribed limit"—
    1. (a) in paragraph (a) leave out "35" and insert "22";
    2. (b) in paragraph (b) leave out "80" and insert "50";
    3. (c) in paragraph (c) leave out "107" and insert "67"."
The noble Baroness said: This is the first of a number of amendments which I have tabled under the general theme of road safety. It is appropriate that a transport Bill should contain some significant elements of road safety. I believe that the Government have conceded that point by including in the Bill the duty to clear snow and ice from the highway.

I want to set in context the fact that on the rail network, with which most of the Bill is concerned, there are about 17 deaths a year whereas there are 70 deaths per week on our roads. Other Members of the Committee may share my irritation at the lack of road safety legislation in this Parliament despite pronouncements both within and outside the House. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some assurance to those Members of the Committee who have an interest in these matters. I am sure that, given sufficient comfort today, we need not return to the issues at a later stage in the Bill.

Amendment No. 59 deals with the reduction from 80 milligrams to 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood. That is entirely within the department's own 1998 consultation, Combating Drink Driving: the Next Steps. Since 1998 they have clearly been very long and very slow steps.

Some 520 people die each year in crashes in which one or more of the drivers is over the 80 milligram BAC. It is estimated that something like 50 lives would be saved each year by the reduction I am discussing.

We have the highest permitted levels of alcohol in Europe along with Ireland, Luxembourg and Italy. While it is certainly true to say that the alteration of drink-drive policies and penalties along with the introduction of the breathalyser made a significant difference some years ago, some worrying trends are developing.

Between 1993 and 2001 the number of accidents caused by drink-driving has risen by 27 per cent. That should worry all of us, because it reverses the previous trend and perhaps says something about a diminution in the acceptance that driving having consumed alcohol constitutes a serious problem. For a number of years there was a significant culture change in which people believed that drink-driving was unacceptable. I am worried that there may be a change in that attitude. It would bode well for the Government to show leadership in that regard by reducing the alcohol limit and reinforcing the message that drink-driving is unacceptable.

I do not intend to detain the Committee further on the subject. I have some very detailed briefings which I hope that I shall not have to use. However, I should like to record my thanks to Brake—the road safety charity—the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and the Royal National Institute for the Blind, which have given me much information on the subject. Surveys show that public opinion is very much behind a reduction in the drink-drive limit. I hope that the Government will give the matter serious consideration. I beg to move.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

I should like to speak to this amendment and to my Amendment No. 60—the two are grouped together—which concerns the testing regime. I have no intention of repeating the statistics which the noble Baroness has just shared with the Committee.

The case for the reduction in the drink-driving limit is in fact the Government's own case. It is very convincingly set out in the 1998 paper. They make it very clear that the number of lives that would be saved as a result of reducing the limit from 80 to 50 milligrams would be 50, that the number of serious injuries that would be cut would be 250 and that the number of slight injuries that would be cut would be 1,200. There would be a saving to the taxpayer, or to the country, of £75 million a year. Those are all the Government's figures.

To have adopted a 50-milligram limit would have been entirely consistent with the consultation paper and the recommendation of the European Union. As the noble Baroness said, it would have brought us into line with the overwhelming majority of other European countries. The European Union Committee has looked at the matter twice, most recently last summer when I was fortunate enough to be one of its members. We agreed unanimously that the case for reducing the limit to 50 milligrams was overwhelming. We were very disappointed that the Government declined to accept that.

So far as I can understand, the Government declined to reduce the limit because they felt that it was less important than the scale of penalties that applied in this country, compared with in other European Union members. There is some truth about the penalties, but the evidence is that it is not the penalty that makes the difference in terms of the effectiveness of the law, but the rate at which breath tests are carried out. That brings me to my amendment, which effectively would give the police the power to stop people and conduct random testing, as happens in a number of other countries in Europe.

Indeed, that happened to my son-in-law in France when I was with him a week last Friday. We were returning from a football match in Le Mans and, on the outskirts of his town, the police were stopping about one person in 10. There was a check of documents and a very courteous exchange, and it finished with him blowing into a bag. The result of course was negative, because he is a very responsible citizen, and there was no suggestion that he had committed any sort of offence. However, such tests are accepted by French people as a normal part of road safety legislation. So far as I can tell, there is no great resentment about it.

The number of tests that we perform in this country is not one that puts us on the same level as others in Europe. Only Ireland and Austria have a lower rate of testing than we do. Even if the penalties may be severe, the chances of being caught in Britain are that much worse. In the Netherlands, the figure of testing is one in 16. In Spain, it is one in 30. In Finland, it is one in four. In this country, the chances of being tested are only one in 67. We need to revisit the issues of the limit and how we allow the police to carry out tests. I hope that the Government will think again about the limit in particular.

5.45 p.m.

Viscount Simon

The Committee will be surprised to learn that I added my name to Amendment No. 59 slightly grudgingly, although I admit that I say that with a good tongue in cheek. I regard the proposed new limit as a compromise. On 1st May, the Minister said, regarding air crew, that the reason for the reduction in the BAC limit is that, a combination of concentration, unremitting attention and exceedingly swift reaction is required".—[Official Report, 1/5/03; col. 830.]

What happens if someone is in a car? Do they need a combination of concentration, attention and swift reactions? Of course they do. Therefore the limit should be the same as for pilots, at 20 milligrams. It is as simple as that. The BAC limit of 50 milligrams is therefore a compromise, and I support it. Further on, the Minister said that we had higher penalties than other countries with lower limits. However, the penalty for that lower limit is having more people killed and seriously injured on the roads. That is another reason why the limit should be reduced.

Amendment No. 60, tabled by my noble friend Lord Faulkner, regards random breath testing. Such testing has proved exceedingly efficient as I know from my experience of Australia, where I used to live. People would rather abandon their cars when they saw a random check than be breathalised with the possibility of being over the limit. If they stopped in the middle of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, they would be fined an excessive amount, but they would rather do that than lose their licence.

Lord Berkeley

I support both the amendments. I have a lot of sympathy with the view of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, on the figure of 20 milligrams. Brake has done an excellent job in producing a briefing paper that summarises the facts and figures, alongside the excellent Select Committee report.

Brake says that 70 per cent of people are in favour of lower limits. That seems pretty conclusive evidence. However, having talked to a number of Members of Parliament on the subject from all parties, I was surprised by some of the responses that I received. They said, "Well, there are no votes in that, because my constituents won't be able to drive to the pub", to which my answer was, "Yes, and to kill people afterwards". I hope that that is not a real reason for the Government resisting the suggestion. The figure of 70 per cent of the population seems high, and I am sure that Members of Parliament and their constituents are more responsible. I hope that my noble friend will take the amendment seriously.

Viscount Astor

I want to say something about Amendment No. 60, which is on breath testing. It seems that successive governments, including one of whom I was a part, have always denied that there is random testing. However, we all know that random testing exists, whatever the police say. What happens is that someone leaves some event and is stopped and breathalysed. When they say, "This is random testing", the police say, "No, it's not, because we have a reasonable reason to suppose that you might have had a drink, because you have been at a race course", or a football match or whatever. In practice, random testing happens and I have nothing against it. I have always been perplexed as to why governments and police forces have denied that it happens. The amendment is probably rather unnecessary.

I remain to be convinced on the limit. One can follow the argument that, whatever level we bring it down to, there is always a diminution of accidents. Presumably if we got the level down to zero, someone would say that there would be none because of it. However, I do not think that practical, and a degree of practicality comes into the matter. Not enough testing goes on, and I support all Members of the Committee who have pointed to that. However, I want the Government to produce convincing evidence that such a limit would make a significant difference to road safety and he practical and enforceable.

Lord Clinton-Davis

Random testing goes on anyway, but the police are rather devious about it. I remember an occasion when I was travelling along the M4, and took a by-road that was not part of the M4. Someone in front of me was stopped, and then I was stopped as well. The police officer said that he had reason to believe that I was drinking. That was completely untrue, as I am very observant about ensuring that I do not have anything to drink before I drive. He was pretending, because he wanted to stop me—that was the only cause.

I support what has been said on this side of the Committee, and also by the noble Baroness, because the time has come to abandon in part the hypocritical idea that we do not involve ourselves in random testing, given that we do. There is no reason why there should riot be random testing as well as the provisions that currently apply. I certainly support the idea that limits should be reviewed.

The time has come to abandon the pretence that, somehow or other, people on the Continent and people here are totally different, and that therefore we should not apply the same sort of rules applied on the Continent. There is ample reason why the same sort of rules should apply here as in France, Germany and so on. It is absolutely absurd that we should have a separate regime.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

If we were to go to the general public and ask their interest in most of the provisions of the Bill, the answer would be, on a scale of one to 10, one, two or three. If we asked them about alcohol limits or random breath testing, it would be eight, nine or 10. Although the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, said that she hoped that I would give her some measure of comfort, she knows perfectly well that I shall not. It is not for me, the spokesman on transport in the House of Lords, to announce a major change of government policy on alcohol limits or random breath testing. If that means that she brings the amendment back on Report, so he it, but I cannot help her.

The merits of introducing an alcohol limit of 50 milligrams have been extensively examined and debated over a long period. In March 2002, the Government issued a statement that we had considered whether it would be desirable to make such a change and concluded that we should maintain emphasis on enforcement and publicity. We are mindful of the fact that our penalties are among the toughest in Europe. My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis asked for us to be the same as the rest of Europe, but there are very considerable differences in different European countries.

Penalties in this country are far more severe for exceeding the 80-milligram limit than in other European countries with a 50-milligram or lower limit. We have a mandatory minimum disqualification of 12 months for any drink-drive offence, which can be combined with up to six months' imprisonment and a fine of up to £5,000. Most countries with a lower legal limit impose only minor penalties at the lower alcohol levels, and imprisonment and licence removal are not generally available below 100 milligrams or more.

We changed the law last year so that drivers who cause death while under the influence of alcohol must now retake an extended driving test at the end of their period of disqualification. Courts have sentencing options such as drink-drive rehabilitation courses open to them.

We wish to concentrate on alternative measures, which we believe can be just as effective, or even more so, in cutting drink-drive casualty totals. In particular, we want to emphasise the importance of effective enforcement of drink-drive laws and driver education. We are aiming to make it a requirement for repeat offenders to take a further driving test before being allowed back on the road. We are examining the effectiveness of breath-alcohol interlock devices as a means of preventing re-offending, and we have extended the annual £2 million publicity campaigns.

That approach of powerful publicity and enforcement backed by tough penalties has achieved a two-thirds reduction in drink-drive deaths since the 1970s. We have one of the best overall safety records in the European Union and beyond. It is encouraging that in 2001—the latest available figures—provisional results show that numbers of those killed in drink-related road accidents fell from 530 to 480, and those seriously injured from 2,540 to 2,410. We recognise that there is more to be done, and will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Lord Clinton-Davis

Does my noble friend support the idea that, in the European Union, there should be a common policy so far as the matter is concerned? If so, does he support the idea that Transport Ministers should convene a meeting as soon as possible to discuss the possibility?

6 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

It is not up to this Government. There is no common policy, and we cannot impose one. If anyone wants to start a debate on a common policy on alcohol limits, we will of course take part in it. I have been saying that we have a good record in drink-driving, one that is better than that of many countries with stricter alcohol limits but perhaps worse enforcement and publicity. We emphasise that the safe option is never to drink and drive.

I shall deal with Amendment No. 60. We do not consider that there is a need to give the police unrestricted powers to require breath tests. I shall not venture into the minefield of whether there is random testing at the moment. Police forces in Great Britain as a whole make very effective use of their current powers, which provide that a police officer may require a specimen of breath to be given for a breath test where he has reasonable suspicion that a person concerned has committed an offence. We do not believe that they should have unlimited powers to stop and test. They are already quite adept at targeting drink-drive suspects, and the Government believe that forces should continue to use intelligence-based methods to catch offenders.

Members of the Committee will observe that I read that answer. It is the answer that I would give on any occasion on which the matter came up. It is a matter of government policy on which I have no flexibility.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

I am grateful to Members of the Committee who spoke in support of my amendment. The Minister misunderstood my hope for comfort. I did not want it on the issue in particular, but to understand a little more about where the Government stand on road safety issues. To many of us, it seems that there has been quite a reining back on the Government's part of their commitment to road safety since their strategy came out in 1998.

There are a number of ways in which that lack of commitment has been demonstrated, not least of which is the absence of a road safety Bill in the House. I find myself rather irritated by the constant refrain that there is no parliamentary time, when the Home Office seems to be able to get acres of parliamentary time for any Bill that it wants.

A couple of the Minister's statements caused me concern. As I said, the 1970s and 1980s showed a rapid reduction in the level of drink-driving, but that trend is now reversing in terms of the number of accidents. I do not think that we can afford to be complacent on that, and I do not understand why the Government choose to ignore both their departmental consultation in 1998 and reports from the Select Committee on Transport and independent bodies. I regard that as most unfortunate.

I shall finish on enforcement for drink-driving. As is the case in road safety enforcement generally, cash-strapped police authorities tend to put much less emphasis on enforcement than previously. That is having a marked effect on the extent to which people think that they will be caught. As the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, said, it is the fear of being caught that prevents people from behaving in such a way rather than anything else. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 60 not moved.]

The Earl of Caithness

moved Amendment No. 60A: After Clause 106, insert the following new clause—

"DRIVING WITH UNCORRECTED DEFECTIVE EYESIGHT After section 96(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (driving with uncorrected defective eyesight) insert— (4) It is mandatory that drivers requiring corrective eyewear carry spare corrective eyewear while driving."

The noble Earl said: The amendment is the lead amendment of a group on the Marshalled List, but I have alerted the Minister and one or two others that I have changed the group. The amendments should not have been put in the groups that they were, so at the moment I speak only to Amendment No. 60A.

We move on to another area of concern on which safety on the road is a key issue. It is a forgotten area of government policy. From the variation and consistency of the written replies that I have had to questions that I tabled, it does not seem a very joined-up area of government policy either.

We all take it for granted that we can get into a car once we have passed our test at the age of 17, or soon thereafter, and drive happily. Sadly, our body ages and our eyesight changes. To use a Scottish word, there is a peelywally eyesight test when one takes a driving test, but eyesight alters markedly as people grow older, particularly in their 40s and 50s. However, no further testing is done until one is 70.

That has been the cause of a number of deaths and accidents. One cannot say how many, because there are no great statistics about it. Certainly there is one important case, that of Gordon and Jan Holley, whose 18 year-old daughter Emma was killed in September 2001 by someone who simply forgot to get into his car wearing his glasses, set off driving down the road, could not see and did not see. That ended in a fatality. We will discuss aspects of the matter on further amendments.

Amendment No. 60A suggests that it be, mandatory that drivers requiring corrective eyewear carry spare corrective eyewear while driving".

Had that been law, that person should have had a spare pair of contact lenses or glasses in the car. It is already the law in Switzerland, Spain and certain states of America. It would be beneficial to have something like it in our country, too. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

In one minor respect, the noble Earl is in error. He says that someone takes the peelywally test of reading a licence plate 20.5 metres away when they pass the test and do not do it again until they are 70. I took the peelywally test when I passed my driving test in 1950, and I have not taken it since. When I renewed my licence at the age of 70, I still did not have to do it; I simply had to say that I had short sight and astigmatism corrected by glasses. I still have not been given even that minor test. I conducted it for myself, of course, but that is not the same.

The amendment goes too far. It would impose an additional expense and burden on an individual to keep a spare pair of glasses in the car, and presumably to have a spare pair in other places at other times. I understand that there may be occasions when people forget their glasses, but they should not drive. That is the better solution.

The Earl of Caithness

One should not drink; one should not do a lot of things, but there is plenty of legislation to correct an individual who does not do what an individual should do in a society that we could accept. I was saddened by the Minister's reply, in that he said that the amendment went too far. It is law in other countries, as I said. The issue is serious. Like the previous issue that we discussed, it has caused and is causing accidents and deaths. It needs to be considered. Perhaps on the other amendments we can have a better assessment of how the Government seek or hope to change the law to consider the whole area of eyesight. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Caithness

moved Amendment No. 60B: After Clause 106, insert the following new clause—

"DRIVING WITH UNCORRECTED DEFECTIVE EYESIGHT (NO. 2) After section 96(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (driving with uncorrected defective eyesight) insert— (5) Vision screening equipment shall be used to test drivers' eyesight as part of the driving test."

The noble Earl said: In speaking to Amendment No. 60B, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 60C and 60F. Amendment No. 60B comes back to the point raised by the Minister when he said that he did not have a proper screening test when he passed his driving test. We should take that a stage further. He was right to remind us that there is a visual test in which one has to read letters of about 18 millimetres high at a distance of about 20.5 metres, but surely there should be a proper screening test at the same time. One's eyesight is sensitive. It is clear from research that some people who drive cars at the moment are not visually fit to do so.

Amendment No. 60C is a simple amendment that requires an eyesight prescription to be produced with all applications for a driving licence. That would be a sensible way forward. If one is to get a driving licence, one fills in a form, and one can quite easily mislead the people to whom one will submit that form unless one gives a prescription with it.

Lord Clinton-Davis

Does the regime that the noble Earl wants to utilise in Amendments Nos. 60C and 60F apply anywhere else?

The Earl of Caithness

Is the noble Lord asking whether it applies in other countries?

Lord Clinton-Davis


The Earl of Caithness

I do not know. However, from the evidence obtained in this country so far, it is something that should be considered. The noble Lord might prefer to do only what the rest of Europe does, but perhaps we should be leaders and take it along with us.

Amendment No. 60F would mean that one had one's eyesight tested every five years. That is certainly a legal requirement in many states of America, particularly when people reach the age of 50. From that age on, they have to have their eyes tested every five years and, if they do not meet the standards, they have to have a prescription and wear glasses. It would seem a logical and sensible way to try to increase the level of safety.

There has been a lot of support for that suggestion. The Chief Constable of North Wales Police, talking on behalf of ACPO, said that it had always maintained that the current eyesight test was not rigorous enough, that research clearly indicated public support for some sort of compulsory or mandatory eyesight check for drivers on a regular basis, and that such a requirement would have its support. Mr Jonathan Simpson, campaigns manager for the RAC Foundation, said that it was vital that drivers had their eyes tested at least every two years, regardless of whether they wore spectacles, and had an examination immediately if they were in the slightest doubt about their sight.

By taking the small steps that I propose—they are not draconian—one could improve considerably the level of safety on our roads. I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Viscount Simon

I am in general agreement with the noble Earl's suggestion. I have no idea what my noble friend the Minister will say. There is a possible defect in Amendment No. 60C, which states: A current eyesight prescription shall be produced". It does not state "produced and filled". In of her words, the eyesight prescription and glasses may not have been made up.

Lord Berkeley

I do not support the amendment; I merely seek clarification from the noble Earl. We have been discussing transport across modes. As the legislation involves people in charge of heavy machinery—many people would call them missiles, some with passengers aboard, which run the risk of hitting other people and causing death or injury—what should happen to train drivers, bus drivers, airline drivers and even ship drivers? Should these requirements apply to them? It would help the debate if we knew the answer.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The issue raised by the amendments is comparable to the issue raised by Amendment No. 60A. It is already an offence under Section 96 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 for a person to drive with uncorrected defective eyesight. If a person cannot meet the eyesight test, even with corrective lenses, the driving licence will be either revoked or not issued in the first place.

People such as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and myself, who have defective vision which needs to be corrected, regularly have their eyesight checked for all kinds of reasons—of which driving is perhaps not the most important—and they make any recommended changes. That is perhaps a matter of self-interest which applies to many other spheres and to almost all kinds of work. Driving is not an exceptional case. We might as well say that people should not go to work unless they have a spare pair of glasses or can prove that they have received and filled a prescription within the last two years. Driving is not different from other activities.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My noble friend has referred to the generality of the situation. Can he refer to any specific cases where people have been prosecuted specifically because they have not complied with the rules so far as spectacles or their equivalent are concerned?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

When introducing the previous amendment, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, gave an example of a tragic case when a person died as a result of someone driving without their glasses or lenses. I do not know. I shall be interested if the noble Earl knows of any statistical evidence in relation to the number of accidents that have occurred.

I should say to my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis that last year, there were 123 prosecutions for driving with uncorrected defective eyesight. In 2001, a total of 228 driving incidents in which eyesight may have been a factor were reported by the police to the DVLA. That is another important protection. Cases of that kind are reported to the DVLA, which will no doubt require the kind of protection the noble Earl seeks.

All drivers, irrespective of their age, must be able to satisfy the visual acuity standards for driving—that is, the ability to read a car number plate from a distance of 20.5 metres or, when I took the driving test in 1950, 25 yards. A driver who drives when he is unable to meet that standard commits an offence.

It is not a terrible test—it is simple—but it has served its purpose well. It is equivalent to the standard laid down in the EC second directive on driving licences 91/ 439/EEC. The test has the advantage that drivers can use it at any time to check that their eyesight continues to meet the standard. It can also be used by police to test drivers at the roadside when they stop a vehicle or at the scene of an accident.

In light of the fact that we are talking about only 228 incidents a year—I should like to know how many involved injury; I suspect it is a small proportion—the requirements suggested in the amendments would be excessive.

The Earl of Caithness

The Minister relies quite heavily on the figure of 228 incidents, but the police very rarely use the powers that they have at their disposal. It is a matter that is normally taken into account. I can give the Minister some very disparate statistics. I had hoped that he would provide information to bring us up to date with what is happening.

At the International Motor Show last year, a firm called Specsavers tested the eyes of 3,000 people. Nearly a quarter of them—738—failed a basic vision-screening test. They could well have been driving illegally. That is a substantially different ratio from the 228 incidents which took place in this country.

Specsavers tested people's eyesight at road shows elsewhere around the country. In other places, out of 546 drivers who agreed to participate in a voluntary sight check, 25 were unable to read a number plate at a minimum distance; one person had to be taken to within two metres of the number plate before he was able to read it; 53 drivers were borderline; and 51 drivers admitted that they had never taken an eye examination.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, says, "Well, we are all very good. We are all very sensible. We have our eyes tested at regular intervals". He and I might be doing that, but a great many people out there are not. The statistics show the kind of problem with which we are dealing.

The Government have carried out no research in this area. It is a lacuna in the Government's policy.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

That is not the case. We have undertaken a programme of research into aspects of drivers' vision. We are supporting European Commission plans to review medical standards, including those relating to vision, and we will be represented on a number of working groups of medical experts from EU member states who will take the issue forward.

The Earl of Caithness

I received that answer to one of my written Questions. The wording is identical. But in reply to my written Questions, I did not receive any statistics from the Government of how many people had their eyesight checked by the police at the scenes of accidents to ascertain whether it was defective. In the 228 cases to which the Minister referred, eyesight must clearly have been a problem. The figures that I have given, which show that nearly a quarter of the people tested at the International Motor Show were not up to the required standard, means that there is a latent problem in this area that the Government are refusing to consider and take seriously.

I hope that between now and another stage the Minister and I can sit down and consider the matter. We need to find the basis of the problem. We need to know the extent of the problem and to act on it. These small amendments would go a long way towards improving road safety in this country.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Before the noble Earl withdraws his amendment, I should say that I will of course talk to him between now and Report. However, in terms of cost and intrusion, these are not small amendments. That does not mean that they are necessarily wrong, but they are certainly not small.

The Earl of Caithness

I am grateful for the Minister's offer to meet me between now and Report. I do not believe the amendments would be terribly costly to implement properly. There is a requirement in Amendment No. 60F that one should have one's eyesight tested every five years. If we altered that requirement to apply to people over 50, there would be no extra expense, because at 50 people should have their eyesight tested on a regular basis anyway. Bringing that requirement into law would not cost a great deal of money.

I shall clearly not get much more out of the Minister at this stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 60C not moved.]

The Earl of Caithness

moved Amendment No. 60D: After Clause 106, insert the following new clause—

"DRIVING WITH UNCORRECTED DEFECTIVE EYESIGHT (NO. 4) After section 96(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (driving with uncorrected defective eyesight) insert— (7) Drivers' eyesight should be tested at the scene of an accident where possible."

The noble Earl said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 60E and 60G. During the debate on the previous amendment, we touched on the issue of police powers and the number of times they carried out eyesight tests at the scenes of accidents.

Amendment No. 60D requires that a driver's eyesight should be tested at the scene of an accident. That happens very rarely. On an unfortunate occasion when I was involved in an accident, the police did not carry out an eyesight test on either the person who ran into me, or on me. It would have been helpful if they had done so.

A person should have to produce a prescription and satisfactory proof of appropriate eyesight corrective measures after an accident or at a routine roadside check. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I do not wish to curtail the debate, but I have already offered to meet the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, between now and Report. The matters that he has raised in these amendments should be on the agenda.

The Earl of Caithness

I am grateful, but I had hoped for some reply to the points I have made. Of course they should be on the agenda, but it would be helpful to know the Government's thinking.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

By all means. I repeat: it is an offence for a person to drive with uncorrected defective eyesight. If that cannot be achieved, the driving licence will be revoked. The police already have the power to conduct checks of a motorist's eyesight at the roadside where appropriate, and I have given the statistics of when that has happened.

The police notify DVLA of drivers who do not meet the required standard—that is, the 228 cases to which I referred earlier—and a system is in place for dealing with drivers with defective vision. All reports are investigated by the DVLA. Where a driver's eyesight is found to be so poor that he cannot meet the required standards even with corrective lenses, the driving licence is revoked.

As regards police powers to require a driver to submit to a test, that is a very difficult area at present. The testing of eyesight at the roadside is not a simple task. It might divert police officers from their other responsibilities—for example, after an accident involving injury. The likelihood of proving an offence of driving with uncorrected defective eyesight will be greater where the constable has already had reason to suspect it. A more extensive application of testing could be an unreasonable imposition on the driver and a burden on police time.

I am not convinced that the delivery of a current eyesight prescription would serve a useful purpose. I could not do it. I do not have a current eyesight prescription. I go to my optician; he has my prescription and he makes up my glasses. I do not take it away with me. I do not believe that the amendment would work.

The Earl of Caithness

It was helpful of the Minister to read that part of his briefing. It gives a better basis for our negotiations. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 60E to 60G not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 107 shall stand part of the Bill?

6.30 p.m.

Viscount Astor

This is a very strange clause. There was not a lot of debate on it at Report stage in another place or in Standing Committee. I am not quite sure where it came from. It could be described as the "white van" clause. I have a number of questions about it, some relating to principle and some to detail.

What evidence led the Government to come to the decision to allow drivers not to wear seatbelts while they are delivering? Had there been a flood of letters from freight companies, delivery companies, milkmen and so forth stating, "We have to spend so much time putting on and taking off our seat belts when we are delivering. That is hugely time consuming. We would save an enormous amount of petrol"—or diesel or whatever they use—"if we did not have to bother about putting on our seat belts"?

Where has the pressure come from? I have seen no evidence; I have read no evidence. I am sure other noble Lords are more up-to-date and more in tune with the freight industry than I am and may be able to help the Committee, but I can find no evidence of why this is necessary.

It is a strange clause because it refers to the driver or a passenger. Does that mean that they both have to be delivering? What happens if the driver sits still and the passenger gets out and pops an item through a door? Does he have to wear his seat belt? It makes no sense to refer to the driver or a passenger. If it refers to one passenger, why does it not refer to two passengers or three?

The clause refers to the driver of or passenger in a motor vehicle which is, constructed or adapted for carrying goods".

How does one adapt a vehicle? Does it mean that you turn it into an official goods vehicle or does it mean simply painting a sign on the side of it? What is the definition of "adapted"? After all, goods vehicles are goods vehicles. They suffer a different tax regime; you pay a different disc rate.

It is a very bizarrely drafted clause. It is the kind of clause that might have been drafted late one night when the Minister responsible could not drive home because he had exceeded the limit. But, of course, Ministers have official cars and so that could not possibly have happened. Indeed, as we know, Ministers are very sober people.

The clause goes on to state, while on a journey which does not exceed the prescribed distance".

We do not know what is the prescribed distance. I am interested to know what that means. Does it apply to someone delivering down a street, who goes from No. 1 to No. 2 and moves the van five feet? Will that be the prescribed distance, or will it be to the end of the street? What will it be?

Most bizarrely, the clause refers to a motor vehicle constructed or adapted for carrying goods which is on a journey, undertaken for the purpose of delivering or collecting any thing".

What does that mean? Presumably, if it is a goods vehicle and it is licensed for delivering or collecting goods, it will deliver goods. Why does the clause state "any thing"? What is meant by that? The drafting is bizarre. I do not understand what it means. It is either goods or it is not goods. What is it?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

It can be anything you like.

Viscount Astor

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said "anything you like", but presumably, if it has a goods licence, it should be delivering goods. If it has not, it should not be delivering goods.

This is a bizarre clause. I do not understand where it came from or who promoted it. It could have been promoted from any side of another place. I have failed to discover where it has come from. I do not understand what the clause means. It is incredibly badly drafted. I do not know where the pressure has come from.

It does not seem to me that delivery drivers and freight firms are suffering because they have to put on a seat belt. There are equally as many accidents during short journeys as there are during long journeys. I shall be interested to hear the views of the Committee. I oppose the Question that Clause 107 stand part of the Bill and I await with interest the Minister's reply.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Is the noble Viscount going to refer to the other amendments in the group?

Viscount Astor

I am speaking to clause stand part.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I know, but we have grouped together other amendments with the proposition that the clause should not stand part. There is opposition to the clause standing part and therefore it will be helpful to debate the other amendments in this group.

Viscount Astor

I apologise for interrupting the Minister but I do not see where they are joined on the Marshalled List.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

They are not on mine.

Viscount Astor

Certainly clause stand part has not been grouped with any amendments as far as I am concerned.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

There is an error in the proposed groupings. We have been given notice. It states in the Marshalled List that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and the noble Lord, Lord Luke, have given notice of their intention to oppose the Question that Clause 107 stand part of the Bill. If it is more convenient I shall speak to that now and get it out of the way.

Viscount Astor

Thank you.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

It will teach the Government to be kind to Liberal Democrat amendments in Standing Committee in another place. It is all their fault.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

It usually is.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

But that does not mean that it is badly drafted or wrong. It clarifies the position concerning the existing exemption from the requirement to wear seat belts that applies to people undertaking deliveries over a short distance. The current exemption in Section 14 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 is intended for those making frequent stops. It would be unreasonable to require seat belts to be used every time such a vehicle moved a few yards to its next stop.

The reason why it is a worthwhile provision is that the existing legislation is not well understood. Van and goods vehicle drivers are not clear about the limitation of the exemption. They frequently do not use the seat belts provided in their vehicles at any time—not only when making deliveries—and so the clause proposes a suitable change in the wording of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

The phrase to which the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, takes such enjoyable exception comes from the Road Traffic Act 1988—that is, the motor vehicle constructed or adapted for carrying goods. As to the question of the distance, that is reflected in the clause stating the prescribed distance undertaken for the purpose of delivering or collecting any thing. The "prescribed distance" will be prescribed in legislation with the aim that the distance will be clearly understood. It will set a maximum distance that may be travelled in goods vehicles before users are required to use their seat belts. That distance will be established following consultation with interested parties. We envisage that it will be quite short. A new regulation will provide clarity for vehicle users and make it easier for the police to enforce the exemption.

If seat belt wearing rates in vans and goods vehicles can be lifted to something approaching the levels used in cars, we estimate that up to 20 fatalities and 240 serious injuries might be prevented annually. I defend Clause 107.

Viscount Astor

I am grateful for that explanation. The Minister said that a short distance will be prescribed in regulations. The Minister can write to me if he does not know the answer, but will the regulations come under the Road Traffic Act to which he referred or will they come under this Bill? Will they be produced under the affirmative or negative procedure?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

They will come under the Road Traffic Act and follow the negative procedure.

Viscount Astor

I am grateful. It will help if we can be told during the passage of the Bill the results of the consultation to which the Minister referred.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Before the Bill leaves the House I shall write to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and anyone else who requires it, with such information as I have. There may not be much, if any.

Viscount Astor

I am grateful for that helpful reply. I am delighted that it is all the fault of the Liberal Democrats. For an awful moment I thought it might be our fault. Luckily it is not.

Clause 107 agreed to.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

moved Amendment No. 61: After Clause 107, insert the following new clause—


  1. (1) There shall be a new classification of speed limits for rural roads to be known as a rural road hierarchy.
  2. (2) The hierarchy will set maximum speed limits for different road types, and include speed limits no higher than—
    1. (a) 20 mph for rural roads in the vicinity of schools and roads designated as quiet lanes under the Transport Act 2000 (c. 38);
    2. (b) 30 mph for rural roads passing through villages;
    3. (c) 40 mph for rural roads which have been classified as country lanes;
    4. (d) 50 mph for poor quality single carriageways;
    5. (e) 60 mph for high quality single carriageways; and
    6. (f) 70 mph for duel carriageway roads.
  3. (3) For the purposes of this section, a "country lane" is any road which is primarily used for local access, where there is no white centre line and which has been designated as such by the local transport authority.
  4. (4) Local transport authorities shall have the power under this section to review any restricted and unrestricted non-urban road or roads for which they are the traffic authority, and reclassify them as part of the rural road hierarchy according to the existing or desired function of the road.
  5. (5) Local transport authorities may amend the existing speed limit for a road or roads within that classification, taking into account guidance issued by the Secretary of State.
  6. (6) As soon as is practicable and no later than six months after the coming into force of this Act the Secretary of State shall issue guidance as to the way in which a transport authority shall exercise its powers in developing a rural road hierarchy.
  7. GC 294
  8. (7) Guidance under this section shall include guidance on—
    1. (a) the function of the rural road hierarchy;
    2. (b) definitions of different road types and areas, including country lanes, quiet lanes and villages (subject to the requirements in subsection (4) above and the Transport Act 2000) and how the assessment of road quality is to be made;
    3. (c) the procedures for reviewing the classification of roads and reclassifying them, including the use of appraisal;
    4. (d) requirements for public consultation;
    5. (e) appropriate speed limits for different road types within the hierarchy, subject to the requirements in subsection (2);
    6. (f) the procedures for applying speed limits on an area basis;
    7. (g) how the rural road hierarchy will link to requirements under the Transport Act 2000 for the production of local transport plans; and
    8. (h) the relationship between the rural road hierarchy and urban roads."

The noble Baroness said: I apologise for the confusion. Clause stand part does not appear on the Marshalled List that I am using. I was not sure whether it was due to a lack of visual acuity on my part.

In moving Amendment No. 61, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 63 and 65, which are grouped with it.

Amendment No. 61 seeks the creation of a rural road hierarchy. It is estimated that approximately a half of all deaths on our roads occur in rural areas—that is in the region of 1,800 deaths each year. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in another place has written in a recent letter to Mr Begg, the chair of the Commission for Integrated Transport, that in his view—and the view of the Government, presumably—there is a direct relationship between speed and accidents. However, during the Committee stage of the Bill in another place, when discussing speed limits he said that the issue is not reducing speed in itself, but reducing casualties. I would appreciate the Minister clarifying the Government's thinking on this matter.

There is widespread agreement that there are a number of problems with the current rural road speed limit policy. First, the default limit of 60 miles per hour was set at a time when there was much less traffic on the road and when vehicles tended to travel much more slowly. There was also a more well developed sense of civic duty and adherence to the law.

Secondly, the current system tends to lend itself to a rather piecemeal approach to a traffic management policy on rural roads. Local authorities are encouraged under the current system to deal with accident blackspots—although they are not allowed to call them that—in a rather piecemeal way when a more strategic look at the road as a whole is needed.

Thirdly, we tend to look at speed limit policy almost exclusively from the point of view of the motorist and forget the people who live in rural communities who want to use the roads for cycling, for horse-riding and for walking alongside, although there are not always footways.

It is of great concern to a number of people that the regulations concerning home zones and quiet lanes still have not emerged from the department some two and a half years after they were agreed as a part of the Transport Act 2000. A number of organisations, including the Council for the Protection of Rural England, have formed a coalition to promote changes to the rural road hierarchy. Indeed, the Government have their own road safety strategy, which was launched in March. I had the pleasure of speaking at that event. Clearly I was a considerable draw. However, the Prime Minister was speaking after me and perhaps people had stayed on to hear him quote from the road safety strategy that: We are therefore proposing to develop a new hierarchy of roads defined by their function and quality".

Two years later we still do not have it.

The proposal was moved forward in the Transport Act 2000; a working group has been formed to look at the issue; and in June 2001 the Transport Select Committee in another place suggested that the Government should get a move on. We are still waiting.

Amendment No. 63 concerns the licensing of heavy goods operating centres, particularly in rural areas. There is currently a gap in the system. Noble Lords are looking slightly puzzled.

I am sorry. Amendment No. 63 concerns the duty to hold a licence. It was previously our understanding that the Government intended that all vehicles stopped by the vehicle inspectorate or by the police should have a valid operator's licence. If they did not have one the vehicles would subsequently be impounded. However, a recent decision of the transport tribunal has led to a query to the effect that it might be possible for a leasing company which owns a vehicle simply to say that it had no idea that the operator did not have a licence.

Can the Minister clear up the point? If that is the case, in the interests of safety we have brought forward an amendment which will place a duty on leasing companies to ensure that the operators of their vehicles have valid operators' licences.

Amendment No. 65 also concerns heavy goods vehicles. Currently when someone chooses to use a piece of land as a heavy goods operating centre, unless the proposals are very large they do not require planning permission. That is not a problem in itself except that the remit of the traffic commissioner to grant the licence deals only with the site; he cannot comment on the suitability or safety of the local road network. The local authority cannot comment on it either because no planning permission is required. Planning permission is not of itself an important issue, but the lack of a requirement for it denies the local authority an opportunity to comment on a site.

It means that there are cases when permission is given for an operating centre to exist despite the fact that the local road network is clearly unsuitable. Also, sometimes, although one site on its own might not cause a problem, the cumulative effect of a number of sites along a particular route can cause difficulty to the local area. At the moment, that is outside the power of the traffic commissioners and the local authority to deal with. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Berkeley

I support all these amendments, but I shall speak to them briefly. I will raise Amendment No. 61 when I speak to further amendments. It is disappointing that we have not made further progress on the matter. It is clear that the effect of fast traffic on unsuitable roads represents a threat. There may be the threat of accident, but there is also the threat of fear which sometimes makes people almost prisoners in their own homes or village. We have all had experience of walking along country roads—on the correct side of the road, as advised—when a vehicle comes round a bend and one wonders whether one will end up sandwiched between the vehicle and a high bank. That matter should be taken seriously.

I was particularly impressed by the CPRE's view and the quotation it produced from Wales. Unlike provision here, the road safety strategy of the Welsh Assembly states that the problem with road safety is not simply a question of the number of collisions and the number of resulting casualties. Pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders often perceive Welsh roads as dangerous to travel on. I think that says it all. But it is not just a Welsh problem, it is a United Kingdom problem and it needs tackling. There are some very good points in this amendment which, it is to be hoped, can be developed during the next few weeks.

Briefly turning to the other two amendments, I fail to understand why whether a lorry is hired or not makes the slightest difference as to whether it can be impounded or other action taken against it. The traffic commissioners exist and, in my view, they should be used much more. As most lorries are hired these days, that exemption has the effect of completely negating this clause.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

I, too, support these amendments and speak also to my Amendment No. 65B. I shall not add to what the noble Baroness and my noble friend said about the rural roads hierarchy and speed limits, except to say that I agree with every word. The need for a new and rational approach to speed in the countryside is important. The manner in which it is proposed in the amendments is commendable.

Amendment No. 65B is very much in the spirit of Clause 107, to which the noble Viscount referred. If it is sensible for the exemption for van drivers to wear seat belts to be removed from the Bill, I should be interested to know why it is not sensible for the exemption that applies to taxi drivers and private hire vehicles to be removed as well. Indeed, I would argue that there is a stronger case for taxi drivers no longer to be exempt from seat belt legislation for two reasons. First, their passengers are obliged to follow signs in the back of cabs to belt up, even if the driver is not wearing one. Secondly, if all taxi drivers were obliged to wear seat belts, it would set a good example to everyone else. I suspect that that was included in legislation when the seat belt law was passed simply because the taxi driver lobby was effective and threatened all sorts of reprisals against politicians whom they carried around London unless they were granted that exemption. We have moved on since then and it is time that that change was made.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful for the manner in which the amendments have been spoken to and I shall deal with them in turn.

In November 2001, we published a report on the possible future development of a rural road hierarchy. We are working on a framework to assess what speeds are appropriate and what speeds are actually being driven on rural roads. We expect the first results in mid-2003. We plan to publish advice on village entry signing to assist local authorities introduce 30 mile per hour speed limits in villages.

We have also finished trials on vehicle-activated signs which curb inappropriate speed by warning drivers of hazards ahead or reminding them of the speed limit in force. The revised Traffic Signs Regulations General Directions 2002 allow more flexibility in their use. I anticipate the criticism that we are being slow on some of these issues. I shall certainly have to write to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, about home zones and quiet lanes. The important point is that those speed limits are already available to local authorities if they wish to introduce them.

Viscount Astor

The noble Lord just mentioned Traffic Signs Regulations General Directions 2002. While the Bill was passing through another place, the Minister said that the department was currently preparing guidance in the form of a traffic advisory leaflet, which he hoped would be available within a month. That was on 11th March. Does the Minister know whether it has actually been published? If he does not know now, I should be grateful if he would write to me.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

It clearly has not. I shall have to write to the noble Viscount and other noble Lords who are interested in the subject. My point is more fundamental. Speed limit definitions are available to local authorities now if they want to use them. Rural communities differ enormously from one county to another. Those which have narrow, high-hedge lanes are very different from those in which roads run between open fields. What may be suitable in one area is not necessarily suitable in another. The amendment would prescribe inappropriate limits. I trust local authorities to use their powers effectively. That is why, despite any delays that there have been in specific regulations or guidance, I oppose the amendment.

Amendment No. 63 concerns heavy goods vehicles being operated without the necessary operator's licence. We introduced powers to permit the impounding of illegally operated goods vehicles in the Transport Act 2000. A scheme was introduced in 2002. The Vehicle Inspectorate can detain and dispose of vehicles used by operators without the necessary operator licence. The owner of the vehicle can apply for the return of the vehicle on the grounds that he did not know that the vehicle was being operated illegally. I have been assured that "knowledge" is wider than actual knowledge. Clearly, the lessor must not lose the lorry if he is being deceived by the operator. The lessor is not required to police the operator's licences and we do not believe that he should be.

Turning to Amendment No. 65, traffic commissioners have wide powers to decide whether an operating centre is suitable and of sufficient capacity for use by the goods vehicles that an operator plans to use from the site. It is not within the traffic commissioner's area of expertise to assess the effect of operating centres in introducing additional vehicles onto the local road network. I accept the point that some of those operating centres may be too small to require planning permission, although I should like to know—I shall endeavour to find out—whether that is a widespread problem. But local authorities have other powers than planning powers. They can impose traffic regulation measures around operating centres under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to prohibit, restrict or otherwise regulate the use of goods vehicles. We believe that those powers are the appropriate powers and are available.

Amendment No. 65B concerns taxis. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, might care to he in my position when chairman of the central area board of the Greater London Council. When I offended the taxi drivers they just drove around County Hall until I gave in. If I did not give in, they drove around Parliament Square until I gave in. One offends them at one's peril. However, taxi drivers put it to us that they face a risk of violence or theft from their passengers and they would not wish to be restricted by seat belts. We agreed this exemption in 1983 when seatbelts became compulsory. If anything, it seems that the justification for the exemption is greater now than it was 20 years ago.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Is there no obligation on a traffic commissioner considering an operating centre to consult the Highways Agency?

Baroness Scott of Needham Market


Lord Dixon-Smith

None. I see, thank you.

Lord Bradshaw

Before my noble friend Lady Scott speaks, I should like to say that we received the same answer when we raised the issue of operating centres when the Transport Act 2000 was under consideration. Since then, owing to the policies which have been pursued to make farm buildings more versatile in their use, local authorities have been inundated with applications for the use of centres which, of course, already have access. They find themselves unable to intervene in such cases. In addition, local authorities do not employ officers who know anything about road transport operations generally. Traffic commissioners know about vehicles, turning circles and the width and height of vehicles.

The answer we were given by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in debates on the Transport Act 2000 has palpably failed. It is essential that something is done to stop huge juggernauts trundling through rural villages, making people's lives an absolute misery. The failure of the Government to act in that regard is causing huge resentment and much damage to rural roads. I would press that point very hard.

My second point is that the lessors of vehicles, who are usually the big companies, have an absolute duty, because they are concerned with their vehicles and getting them back again afterwards, to ensure that the people to whom they lease them hold operator licences. Those records are available on computers to anyone who wants them. I warn the Minister we shall press the matter later.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I allowed the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, tacitly to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, by failing to respond myself. Local authorities have a statutory right to object to operator licence applications and they can appeal to a transport tribunal against a traffic commissioner's decision.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

I thank noble Lords who have spoken in this brief debate. This is not the time to engage in a discussion with the Minister about whether one should have 50 or 60 mile per hour limits on rural roads. The point is that a debate should he had about appropriate and default limits. The Minister is right to say that local authorities have a significant amount of choice at the moment. But part of the problem is that any kind of changes—such as, 30 mile per hour speed limits in villages, to which the Minister referred—require vast amounts of signing. A huge number of regulations state that there must be 30 mile per hour signs at particular intervals and that there must be street lighting. A lot of paraphernalia has developed alongside any proposals to change the current default position.

One reason for this amendment is to obtain an understanding that if the default position were changed, all of that would be unnecessary. I agree that villages should have a 30 mile per hour speed limit—my authority in Suffolk was the first authority in the country to introduce a blanket policy of 30 mile per hour speed limits in villages. But it was difficult to do, because it is not the default position. It was expensive and involved vast amounts of what has become known as "signage". The amendments are therefore partly aimed at dealing with that issue. I hope that the current discussions, which I am heartened to hear are still ongoing, will include some of that.

My noble friend Lord Bradshaw made the point well that although clearly no lessor can be expected to deal with someone who leases a vehicle who deliberately misleads them about whether he has a licence, there should nevertheless be a basic duty of care on the part of companies which are making a profit from leasing out vehicles. There should be a duty of care on them to ensure that the people to whom they are leasing have such licences. That is not too much to ask. However, with those comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

moved Amendment No. 62: After Clause 107, insert the following new clause—

"DRIVING A MOTOR VEHICLE WHILE DRIVING ABILITY IS IMPAIRED DUE TO THE INFLUENCE OF DRUGS (1) In the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) after section 40A (using a vehicle in dangerous condition) there is inserted— 40B DRIVING A MOTOR VEHICLE WHILE DRIVING ABILITY IS IMPAIRED DUE TO THE INFLUENCE OF DRUGS (1) A person commits an aggravated offence if he drives a motor vehicle on a road while his ability to drive is impaired by drugs. (2) Where a person is charged with an offence under this section in respect of the effect of a drug on his ability to drive it is a defence for him to show that—

  1. (a) he took the drug for a medicinal purpose on and in accordance with medical advice, or
  2. (b) he took the drug for a medicinal purpose and had no reason to believe that it would impair his ability to drive.
40C FIELD IMPAIRMENT TEST AND BLOOD OR OTHER SAMPLES A constable shall have the right to require any driver whom he reasonably suspects of committing a moving traffic offence to take a field impairment test, or require a blood or other bodily sample for analysis, or both, for the purpose of establishing whether or not that driver is under the influence of any drug. (2) A person guilty of an offence under this Part shall be liable—
  1. (a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, to a fine or to both, or
  2. (b) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum.
(3) It shall be the duty of each coroner to publish each year a report containing a list of all accidents which led to fatalities in which any of the drivers involved tested positive for any drug. (4) It shall be the duty of each police force to include each year in its annual report a report containing—
  1. (a) a list of all motor accidents which led to fatalities in which any of the drivers involved tested positive for any drug, and
  2. (b) a list of all motor accidents causing injury in which any of the drivers involved tested positive for any drug."
The noble Lord said: I feel that I want to go on self-denying ordinance on this one. I should like to make it conditional, but simply in this sense. There is no need for the Minister to repeat much of his remarks that he made in response to my first group of amendments, which were really in response to this amendment. On that basis I shall not say very much at this stage—partly for time and partly because I hope that we might come to an agreement to talk.

The difference between the Minister and myself on this issue is not over getting something done; it is over timing. I should like to see this proposal brought into this Bill. This is a railway and transport safety Bill which is a very logical place to put the matter of drugs and driving. The Minister has told me that he has work going on elsewhere which we hope will result in changes in this area, but the Bill will be aimed at a different problem. In a sense, drugs and driving perhaps will be a secondary issue for that particular Bill.

I cannot help but wonder whether we could find a way to get this matter into a sufficiently good form so that it could be included in this Bill. The amendment as it stands at the moment would not satisfy me if I were in the Minister's position. I admit that because one learns as one goes along. After all, I am an amateur draftsman. I am not a professional. The Government have immense resources behind them which are specifically trained and qualified to undertake this task. I readily acknowledge that.

The sticking point is the difficulty that different drugs have different effects on people. I know that police training is going on so that they are better at recognising people who are driving while under the influence of drugs. But there are the specific problems of defining measurable levels of effect in order to determine impairment to the extent that it is positively dangerous, in the way that one can with alcohol.

However, I cannot help but wonder whether that should not be taken care of by a regulation-making power, which would mean that it could be introduced drug by drug as the information became available. Consequently, one would not have to wait for a blockbuster approach to the whole issue. If we cannot have heavy discussions about this, can we work out a compromise before the next stage of the Bill? I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am much less optimistic than the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. The problems of testing for impairment from the use of drugs are much more intractable than he thinks. I shall be happy to meet him and talk about the issue between now and Report.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 63 not moved.]

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 64: After Clause 107, insert the following new clause—

"DRIVING WHILE USING MOBILE TELEPHONE ETC. (1) The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 (S.I. 1986/1078) are amended as follows. (2) After Regulation 109 there is inserted— MOBILE TELEPHONES 110 No person shall drive, or cause or permit to be driven, a motor vehicle on a road, if the driver is using a hand-held mobile telephone or similar device."

The noble Lord said: I have been got at by the Minister and I shall not move this today, but I shall bring it back on Report.

[Amendment No. 64 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 65 not moved.]

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

moved Amendment No. 65A: After Clause 107, insert the following new clause—

"THE NATIONAL TRAIL (1) In the interest of public health and safety, the following shall have effect. (2) The Secretary of State shall within one year from the coming into force of this enactment make a permanent Traffic Regulation Order to prohibit the use of non-essential mechanically propelled vehicles on the National Trail. (3) Non-essential mechanically propelled vehicles shall mean all such vehicles but shall not include those driven by individuals with an estate or interest in land adjoining the Trail or their lawful visitors or emergency vehicles. (4) A Traffic Regulation Order shall mean an order as defined in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (c. 27) arid as subsequently amended.

The noble Baroness said: I have not been got at by the Minister but, nevertheless, in the interests of the advanced stage which he earlier revealed, much to my amazement, I shall be fairly brief. Amendment No. 65A reflects widely-held concern about developments on the network of national trails. National trails are the long-distance routes which were introduced by an Act of Parliament in 1949 on what are essentially footpaths and are intended to be used by walkers, cyclists and horse-riders. They have become increasingly under threat from the enormous growth in 4 x 4 motor vehicles and off-road motorbikes, which are using these trails effectively as a playground. That has caused clear environmental problems as well as the sort of amenity issues which destroy the enjoyment of walkers and cyclists.

However, there are some real safety issues here. The surface of these routes is being destroyed. They are being turned into a sea of deep and rather unpleasant mud during wet weather. When the weather is dry, these routes are now set into muddy ruts which make walking difficult. Indeed, that makes it difficult for horses and cyclists too. In addition, there are a number of incidents or accidents which have taken place where horses have been startled by off-road vehicles that suddenly appear, particularly motor bikes.

Most people would agree that it is a nonsense that motor vehicles are allowed onto national trails at all. That has happened because of ancient highway law in which, if it can be proved that wheeled vehicles have ever been allowed on a highway, they continue to be allowed to do that. Therefore, if it has been shown that horses and carriages were using ancient routes 200 years ago, such vehicles can now lawfully use them. Most people would agree that for safety reasons as well as amenity reasons it is time that this legislation was changed. After all, we do quite a lot to reduce the use of traffic in city centres. It seems rather absurd that we are unable to do the same on these trails. I beg to move.

Viscount Astor

I support the principle of the amendment. I declare an interest in that I live near the Ridgeway and I assume from the amendment that the Ridgeway is covered by the national trail. This is a very important amendment. I am also an honorary member of GLEAM, a group that encourages and lobbies the Government about national trails and so forth. Recently, national trails have become a nightmare at weekends. There is a voluntary agreement and large signs are put up by various august bodies—whether it be English Nature or the National Trust—stating that there is an agreement with off-roaders that the trails will not be used at weekends. I was on the Berkshire Downs last Sunday for approximately 10 minutes and 40 motor cycles came past, all extremely noisy. I noticed that many had no licence. I do not know whether they were insured. They were certainly off-roaders and should not have been used on the road. There is also a great number of four-wheel drives. None of those are driven by local people. They are not farmers going about their business. They do not need access to fields. They are people who go out for the enjoyment of driving off-road.

There are places one can go if that is one's sport. There are particular off-road sites and parks that can be used. But what is occurring is that bridleways and, to some degree, footpaths, are being generally destroyed. Because of the ruts they are becoming almost impassable for anyone else. This is an issue that has been around for some time. I think it was in 1990 that my honourable friend in another place Robert Key, the Minister, tried to do something about it, but failed for various technical and legal reasons. I always thought it was a disappointment that we never managed to do anything about it.

Quiet rural enjoyment is an important issue. It has become much worse because there are so many more motor cars, 4 x 4 vehicles and bikes around—the jet ski equivalents, as it were. This is an extremely important issue to those of us who live in the countryside. I warmly support the intention behind the amendment.

Lord Bradshaw

I support the amendment. It is slightly wrong; it should read "National Trails", of course, not "National Trail". I think that there are 14 national trails, with three more in the offing. They are very well defined—we are talking about very specific places— because they are nominated in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. They are all long-distance trails that go right across the country, and are a considerable source of enjoyment. However, principally so far as the Bill is concerned, they are becoming extremely unsafe to use. I live on the Ridgeway, as does the noble Viscount, and I can vouch for the fact that they are appalling. We have some photographs that we can give to the Minister afterwards.

I hope that we have drafted the proposed new clause correctly. If we have not, we are perfectly willing to take advice. It is not a case for piecemeal traffic orders. We are trying hard in Oxfordshire to get them, but they take years, are lugubrious, and deal only with parts of the trail because they go from county to county. One needs to keep changing traffic orders. I hope that the Minister can at least hold out some hope that something will be done on the issue.

Lord Berkeley

I have seen the photographs. They were not needed to convince me, but they have certainly convinced me that something has to be done, and I support the amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I want to add my support, too. I live in the countryside and, from time to time, motorcyclists can be a problem. I sympathise with them to the extent that, if they enjoy the sport, they need somewhere to enjoy it. However, as my noble friend said, there are places that set themselves up specifically to provide that facility.

I am sure that the Minister can give me the assurance that I seek that nothing in the CROW Act would actually permit the vehicles to start running around on moorland above the height of 800 metres, or whatever it is, where there is free access. I assume that to be the case but, to be honest, I cannot remember the answer, and nor can my noble friend.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am very glad that the noble Lord referred to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, as we debated the issue at great length and very passionately during its passage. It is under that Act rather than a traffic safety Bill that we shall make improvements. The issue, which does not really belong in this Bill, is not about traffic safety, but amenity. I feel very strongly about it, as it is important and genuine.

We have 189,000 kilometres of rights of way in this country. Unambiguous rights for mechanically propelled vehicles exist on only about 2 per cent of them, which are classified as "byways open to all traffic" or BOATs. There are a further 3 per cent classified as "roads used as public paths" or RUPPS, on which the current legislation is unclear as to whether vehicular rights exist. That was the matter discussed under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.

Under the provisions in that Act, we are reclassifying all RUPPs as "restricted byways". They will have rights of passage for walkers, cyclists, horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles but not mechanically propelled vehicles. The Government will undertake public consultation on proposals for implementing the restricted byways provisions in late July, with a view to bringing them into force late this year or early next year. That means that 5,000 kilometres of RUPPs will become restricted byways.

It is on my next point that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, will not agree with me. Where rights exist for mechanically propelled vehicles, they may be regulated by local traffic authorities making traffic regulation orders under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. I should like to talk to him and to anyone else who is interested between now and Report stage about how adequate that is and whether it can be improved in any way.

We are taking positive action under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act to achieve the purpose of the amendment. I do not want to be picky about the amendment but the national trails are really long-distance routes in legislation. We are not clear what is meant by a non-essential vehicle and that might be a defect in the amendment. Hearing the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, I recognise that there are particular problems about the Ridgeway. There was a traffic regulation order proposed but the inspector, after a public inquiry, said that it was not justified on public safety grounds.

It is already an offence to drive on a footpath or bridleway under Section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. Apart from the Ridgeway, half of which has vehicular rights, only a small proportion of long-distance routes have motor vehicle rights. Let us talk about the detail.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

I am grateful to the Minister for making that offer. In the 10 years that I have chaired the rights of way committee in Suffolk, it has proved to be very difficult indeed to use traffic orders to have the effect that he says. The practical obstacles are immense. I assure the noble Lord that certainly in my case it is not from lack of political will. However. I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to meet with the Minister and discuss this issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 65B not moved].

Lord Berkeley

moved Amendment No. 65C: After Clause 107, insert the following new clause—

"ASSUMPTION OF LIABILITY IN ACCIDENTS INVOLVING A ROAD VEHICLE AND A BICYCLE (1) The Secretary of State shall within one year of the coming into force of this Act, make regulations providing that, in any accident involving a road vehicle and a bicycle, the driver of the road vehicle shall be assumed to be at least 50% liable for any injury caused to the cyclist. (2) No regulations may be made under subsection (1) unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.

The noble Lord said: In this Railways and Transport Safety Bill I thought that cycling should be discussed, very briefly. The Government have a very welcome policy to encourage cycling in its 10-year plan both for health and traffic reasons. However, as a cyclist I am struck by the fear factor which cars engender when they get too close, especially speeding cars. From many discussions I have had, it is clear that fear puts people off cycling.

There is the fear of parents, probably the lost generation who do not cycle and who prevent their children cycling. There is evidence that if children cycle, particularly to school, they carry on doing so in later life. We are all aware of the road congestion caused by people taking their children to school, but it is a vicious circle. The fear factor stops them cycling to school so they go by car, with some justification. Transport statistics show that something like 670 pedal cyclists were killed or seriously injured in 2001 compared with 32 per billion passenger kilometres. Without going into detail, cyclists are 20 times more at risk per kilometre, even more so than pedestrians per kilometre. So, it is pretty serious.

Sadly, the fear factor has been reinforced by the Department of Transport's advertising campaign on the web to make cyclists wear their helmets. I believe it is meant to encourage child cyclists and teenagers. In a letter from Philip Darnton, President of the Bicycle Association to Steven Norris, Chairman of the National Cycling Strategy Board, he complains, quite rightly, about "cranial x-ray pictures" on the web: your brain cut open after an accident.

The advertisement then goes on to state that 3,000 cyclists between 12 to 16 were killed or seriously injured on the roads in 2001. The department has got the figures wrong. Its own figures state that it is not 3,000 but 699. That is really putting the fear of God into people who might be thinking about cycling. I think it is putting people off. I wonder what the department's policy is. It wants to promote cycling and is doing great work in that respect. However, the same department puts the fear of death into those who cycle or who might think about it. I think that a clarification of policy is required.

I cycle in Paris and Brussels quite often, as well as on other parts of the Continent, and find it much less threatening. I get more respect from cars and I have been inquiring why. I find that drivers take great care to avoid cyclists, not only when they are turning left where cyclists and pedestrians have priority, but because apparently they are automatically liable to at least 50 per cent of the damage or compensation if they hit a cyclist.

I firmly believe that the best way to ensure that cycling is encouraged is to carry on what the department is doing to promote cycling but to put a little fear into those who are safely cocooned in a nice, comfortable steel box and take away some of the fear that is currently there among those who cycle which, sadly, is exacerbated by the cross-section of smashed skulls. I believe that the best way to put fear and respect into drivers is for them to know that they will be automatically liable for at least 50 per cent of the damage.

I recognise that this is very much a probing amendment. However, this is an important issue which will need to be discussed in the coming weeks. I beg to move.

Viscount Astor

This is an entirely proper issue to raise but it is an entirely wrong amendment to deal with the problem. To make cycling safer we need to improve cycling lanes and cycling routes, as the Government have done recently. We need to encourage people to wear safety equipment and safety helmets and encourage other safety measures. That is what will make cycling safer.

As regards making car drivers automatically 50 per cent liable, one can understand why the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, got the idea in France or Belgium because under Napoleonic law one is usually guilty until proven innocent. This is against natural justice. Some racing cyclists go through London a great deal faster than some cars. The noble Lord has raised an important issue but I believe that the amendment is entirely the wrong way to deal with it.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

I take almost exactly the same view of the amendment as the noble Viscount. My noble friend said that cyclists had not been referred to very much in the Bill. There is another group of people who have not been referred to much; that is, pedestrians. It strikes me that if we are to pass laws which make life easier for cyclists, there needs to be rigorous enforcement of the road traffic laws which apply to the relationship between cyclists and pedestrians.

The most dangerous road crossing that I know is a few yards from where we are holding this Committee, where cars, vans and other road vehicles religiously stop at the red light to let noble Lords and other members of the public cross the road. The one group which ignores the instruction from hour to hour, day to day, almost universally are the cyclists, in particular those who whiz through red lights at the kind of speeds to which the noble Viscount referred. If there is to be protection for cyclists from motorists, I want protection for pedestrians from cyclists.

Viscount Simon

Perhaps I may add that crossing the particular crossing mentioned by the noble Lord, a cyclist collided with me when he went through a red light.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I shall not take sides between motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. I am far too chicken to cycle in London or anywhere else. But I do have a very profound objection to the amendment, and to any amendment which would make a fundamental change to the civil law on negligence.

The principle of the civil law on negligence in this country is that it is for the courts to decide on costs in relation to the circumstances of the particular case. To restrict the ability of the courts to make a proper decision in a particular case is quite unacceptable. At the very worst, the amendment could have the result that a drunken cyclist who collides with a stationary car would be able to claim compensation in the knowledge that the car owner would be assumed to be at least 50 per cent liable. This is very seriously wrong.

Lord Berkeley

I think I am grateful to all noble Lords who contributed. It has been an interesting debate. My noble friend Lord Faulkner raised the subject of pedestrians, which is another interesting subject. On that happy note, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 108 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 66 not moved.]

Clauses 109 and 110 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 67 to 69 not moved.]

Clauses 111 to 115 agreed to.

Schedule 7 agreed to.

Clause 116 agreed to.

Clause 117 [Commencement]:

Lord Bradshaw

had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 70: Page 53, line 33, leave out "come into force on the passing of this Act" and insert "not come into force until the Secretary of State has issued a letter of comfort to Transport for London The noble Lord said: The Committee will be grateful to hear that I do not intend to move this amendment in the light of comments made by Alastair Darling in another place.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lyell)

If the noble Lord wants to make a speech—

Lord Bradshaw

I do not.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

For courtesy, may I put it to the Committee? If the noble Lord does not want to move his amendment, he should simply say, "Not moved". If he wants to provide an explanation, for the courtesy of the Committee, other Members of the Committee may wish to speak.

Lord Bradshaw

All I was going to say was, "Not moved".

[Amendment No. 70 not moved.]

Clause 117 agreed to.

Clauses 118 and 119 agreed to.

Bill reported without amendments.

The Committee adjourned at twenty-seven minutes past seven o'clock.